Joseph Bracken is steadily doing for Whiteheadian thought what Aquinas did for Aristotle's, revising it and giving it further metaphysical depth for use in Catholic theology. The Divine Matrix (Orbis Books, 1995) was an important contribution to this project; The One in the Many is equally significant.
The religious philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead has provided a framework for many seeking positive relations between religion and science. Philip Clayton, who writes the Preface, is becoming as well known for this as some of the earlier generation such as Ian Barbour. But Bracken provides process thought with an extra philosophical richness it has needed.
In the mid 20th century when Charles Hartshorne extended Whitehead more fully into the religious realm, Hartshorne agreed with Whitehead to accept the universe as a given. Hartshorne's goal was to use Whiteheadian categories and analysis to describe the ultimate structures and most basic processes of the universe, and not to worry about the ultimate cause of the existence of the universe. Categories that in Thomistic philosophy are only cosmological - about the nature of the cosmos - included both the cosmos and the divine in Hartshorne's thought. In The Divine Matrix Bracken explores a deeper metaphysics, working with Whitehead's underdeveloped concept of creativity, to show how it is possible to find God not just immanent in the universe as in Whitehead's thought, but also as the truly Transcendent Creator. A special bonus is that this notion of the Creator allows Bracken to make stronger connections among various world religions which also believe in a transcendent Ultimate. Bracken's accomplishment in The Divine Matrix is too little appreciated.
Now in The One in the Many Bracken again breaks the boundaries of standard process thought, drawing upon resources in Whitehead's works. First of all Bracken shifts from actual occasions to social relations as the focal point of his analysis. Bracken's move makes it clear that Whitehead was something of an unintentional reductionist. Whitehead said that the sequence of the minute moments of coming-to-be and perishing called "actual occasions" are the basic stuff of the universe. Out of the long evolutionary process more complex realities emerge in social relations. God exerts the divine influence, however, on each actual occasion, inviting it to its next best possibility. Bracken agrees that these atomic moments are the most basic elements of reality. But he argues that they are not ordinary reality. Everyday reality is made up of social structures, of the interrelations among actual occasions, interrelations that have achieved an enormously complex coherence in life forms and especially in people. Bracken also agrees with Whitehead that every actual occasion has both a physical and mental "pole." But Bracken emphasizes the degree to which mental activity achieves ordinary fullness in humans, whose consciousness is formed by complex social relations. "Intersubjectivity" is one of the most important truths of the universe. Each person is a society of actual occasions; and each person grows into personhood through interaction with other such societies. Reality is social.
In one of Bracken's more complex expressions, societies are "enduring structured fields of activity for successive generations of dynamically interrelated 'actual occasions'" (165). He offers this as a replacement for the traditional notion of substance, and does so precisely to show how a religious philosophy can use this to communicate better with the scientific worldview which today has no place for the traditional notion of substance. In particular this gives Bracken an entry into discussions about the relation between mind and body. Traditional notions of the soul tend to portray it as a static substance. Some modern science is solving this just by getting rid of the soul. But a structured field of activity can exert top-down influence, as the soul is said to do. In The One and the Many Bracken illustrates again his engagement with world religions. He analyzes the Buddhist philosopher Kitaro Nishida's treatment of Absolute Nothingness in Zen Buddhism, "a religion of awakening," in contrast to that of his student Hajime Tanabe's Amidha Buddhism, like Christianity a "religion of grace." Then Bracken uses his expanded Whiteheadian framework to agree with Masao Abe, that that a transpersonal notion of the Ultimate like Nishida's and an interpersonal notion like Tanabe's can be theologically united. Bracken's transpersonal is not Absolute Nothingness, however; it is the divine matrix.
Building on his earlier works on the topic, and in reaction to Karl Raher, Catherine LaCugna, and Elizabeth Johnson, Bracken connects all this to a Trinitarian theology. The divine matrix is the inner life of the Trinity, which is the all-embracing field of being for all creatures in their own interrelations. There is a horizontal dimension to the intersubjective in human social relations, just as there is a necessary horizontal intersubjectivity among the persons of the Trinity. There is also a vertical intersubjectivity in the relations between God and the world, achieved through the active relations a Christian would call grace, as well as an through a human awakening to or contemplation of transcendence.
Throughout this book Bracken proceeds by comparing his position to countless others. There are not only the now familiar names of Habermas, Gadamer, Lonergan, and Derrida. The reader finds brief and clear thumbnail sketches of the thoughts of Kitaro Nishida, Jean-Luc Marion, Ervin Laszlo, Louis-Marie Chauvet, and many others. Bracken ends by defining his ongoing research program through crisp comparisons between his position and that of eight other philosophers. Bracken writes with directness and clarity, almost fooling the reader into missing the sophistication and comprehensiveness of this lucid text.