God in Philosophy
GOD IN PHILOSOPHY
This article deals with the place, existence, and nature of God in philosophy, as philosophy has come to be understood since the High Middle Ages. For the ancient Greek philosophical views of God, see god in pagan thought. For the rise of Christian philosophical reflection on God, see god, 2. christian tradition.
A survey of views on the place of God in philosophy would have to be as universal as the history of philosophy itself. While there is no consensus on this matter, one generalization based on the history of the question does seem valid. The term or idea "God" has most often been a religious, cultural, or theological presupposition accepted anteriorly to the philosophical enterprise. Philosophers have built their systems on this presupposition; or they have sought to justify it or to demolish it or to show that it lies outside reason's grasp. Often enough the prephilosophical assumption has led to nonphilosophical procedures and conclusions. There is, then, need to separate what is assumption from what is truly philosophical discovery in dealing with this question.
Catholic Views. Among Catholics there are widely accepted attitudes toward God's place in philosophy. For the Catholic to speak of God at all means the one true God, Creator of all things, visible and invisible. "God in philosophy" means this much before any particular philosophical endeavor, namely, that the God of the Creed can, by the resources of reason alone, be shown to exist and to have certain attributes, that this knowledge can be knowledge derived only through God's effects, and that it is not a direct understanding of His proper nature. These are religious teachings, the principal points of Catholic doctrine on the question of God and human reason [H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (Freiburg 1963) 3026, 3041; cf. 2841–47]. They need not jeopardize the authenticity of the philosophical procedures; they should, however, be acknowledged as presuppositions that serve to orient the Catholic who philosophizes about God toward reaching God the Creator, to disorient him from any alleged direct experience of the divine, and to suggest the search for proofs that proceed from sensible effects to a transcendent cause.
The way in which the neo-scholastic tradition in philosophy among Catholics has matched these indications came to be quite common, at least in its general lines. God is reached through metaphysics, in its highest phase, called natural theology (see theology, natural). There is also basic agreement that metaphysics attains a knowledge of God by its answer to the question: Does God exist? From the way this question is answered, the rest of reason's yield about God is shaped. The methodology employed in facing the basic problem is simple. A proof rising from effect to cause is required. The conclusion of the proof is a proposition, "God exists," "God" being the subject and "exists" the predicate. In such a proof the medium of demonstration, the middle term, is a nominal definition of the subject, i.e., one that merely expresses what the term "God" means. The proofs developed amount to this: God is first mover, or first cause, or first necessary being, or most perfect being, or governor of the universe; now one, or more, or all of these exist; therefore God exists. The burden of the proof is in establishing the second, or minor proposition; this is usually done by referring to the "five ways" of St. thomas aquinas (see god, proofs for the existence of). What is involved is an analysis of the dependencies found in the beings of experience, which the terms themselves suggest. The conclusion signifies God under all these "names," and from its implications the rest of the philosophical discoveries about the divine nature and attributes are derived.
There is no doubt that this mode of proceeding satisfies the religious presuppositions of Catholics. But the demand has been felt to justify a philosophical encounter with God on the basis also of philosophy's own epistemological canons. Generally this has been done by stating that the question of God belongs to metaphysics, since God is "given" in the very division of being into created and uncreated; thus a part of philosophy must be devoted to God. But since this way of proceeding seems already to presuppose God's existence, at least implicitly, another has been more recently espoused. A Christian philosophizes as a Christian; the Christian experience of God is the basis for philosophy and should be frankly admitted. On this basis any proof of God's existence must lead to the "I am who am" of Exodus. Thus, in the one case a questionably "pure" philosophical approach to God rests on an implicit religious assumption; in the other, the religious assumption is made explicit in a christian philosophy of God.
Thomistic Teaching. One can, however, formulate a philosophical approach different from the foregoing. This views metaphysics as a purely rational, philosophical account of experienced reality that proceeds along lines demanded by the human mind's gradual opening upon the world of experience. The statement of Aquinas that the science (scientia ) of metaphysics considers God not as its subject, but as a principle of its subject, implies this sort of inquiry about God (In Boeth. de Trin. 5.4). Metaphysics does not set for itself the task of discovering God; the task is thrust upon it by its subject, being. But this is not based on a presupposition that being is created or uncreated. Nothing is presupposed; metaphysics remains a process of discovery throughout.
The first step is the discovery of being as an intelligible value of the experienced real, one that is not attained properly by the natural philosopher's consideration of the things of experience as changeable or animate. With this initial discovery comes the realization that things need to be evaluated as they are existents, and further that through this distinctive grade of intelligibility something of the nature of any reality whatsoever can be known and expressed. At this point metaphysics is already self-conscious of its status as first philosophy, of its being an ultimate and absolute account of all reality. In its apprehension of being as such, it is already on the way to being self-vindicating through its awareness of being's own evidence. On the basis of the distinctive character of the subject of the science, metaphysics proceeds to evaluate the beings of experience, those at the level of the corporeal and the human. Through observation and experience of the ways in which these are beings, there is a discovery of composition, imperfection, and limitation. With this comes the knowledge that such beings are not self-explanatory. It is then that the inquiry for an explanation leads to the affirmation of their dependence on a first cause. This very dependence demands that the first cause be free of the same dependence; as cause, the first cause must be a being not composed of essence and existence (esse ) as really distinct principles. From this truth, in turn, metaphysics is in a position to demonstrate that being in every other case is so composed, and thus must necessarily manifest all the aspects of limitation that started the inquiry in the first place.
Such a process does lead to philosophical knowledge about God, but not by presuppositions of a nonphilosophical nature. No nominal definition of God need be tailored to fit these assumptions. The knowledge of God is really the knowledge of the dependence of all being upon Him. The Christian's recognition of God in this discovery does not have to be incorporated into the philosophical enterprise. The basis and vindication of metaphysics are autonomous, relying on the self-assurance afforded by being, the subject of the science. A metaphysics that remains true to itself and has its own interior criterion does lead to certitude about its affirmations concerning God, that these are not pure equivocation, and to the awareness that the proper being of God can be neither experienced nor directly known by reason alone. It faces any denial of God's existence with the resources of its own apprehension of being. The religious presuppositions of the Catholic are served; but they do not substitute for, or distort the fulfillment of, the task to which they point, viz, to achieve an authentically philosophical knowledge of God.
Contemporary Thought. The problem of knowing God shifted in the late twentieth century from metaphysics to the question of religious language, i.e., whether non-empirical language can express any meaning whatsoever. Ever since Ludwig Wittgenstein overthrew Hume's epistemological principle (that the meaning of any assertion can be sought only in its verification) by distinguishing truth from meaning and locating meaning in usage, theistic endeavor has been directed to establishing the truth value of God-talk as something more than emotive or performative language by authenticating how it can refer to a Transcendent which really exists outside consciousness. This has had implications for both theology and philosophy.
Faith Alone. The classical Protestant distrust of natural theology continues to allow affirmations of God's existence and nature only from within an ambit of faith, even though the discussion has recently moved beyond the Barth-Bultmann axis into hermeneutical and eschatological theology. The former emphasizes faith as language event and, using categories of the later Heidegger, allows for knowing God not as object but as subject, to which the believer relates himself (by way of Scripture and exegesis) in a stance of nonobjectified "primal thinking" (Heinrich Ott). Eschatological theology prefers to equate faith with universal history, refusing the distinctions between the events of history (Historie ) and their appropriated meaning (Geschichte ), and contends that history delivers its own interpretation. According to this view, the ultimate meaning of all human history is proleptically offered in the Resurrection of Christ, in which God manifests who he is for man (Wolfhart Pannenberg).
Reason Alone. Some theologians have dismissed the above approaches as fideism, and have sought to ground the knowledge of God in human rationality. Negatively, this has issued in new dismissals of the logic and intellectualism of traditional theism (Anthony Kenny). Positively, these efforts have taken several directions: 1) Charles Hartshorne and Norman Malcolm have tried to rehabilitate the ontological argument by arguing that if "necessary being" has any meaning then what it means must actually exist. 2) Process thought establishes a knowledge of God by extrapolating from a metaphysics of becoming in which God, who really exists in both a primordial nature and a nature which undergoes change through the processes of finite existents, is understood to perfect the world and himself through realizing in himself whatever of value is achieved within the world (Alfred Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, John Cobb, Jr.). 3) In Anglo-Saxon circles linguistic analysis often substitutes for metaphysics, but presses beyond the narrow positivism inherited from Hume (Bertrand Russell, early Witt-genstein) to justify a rational but nondemonstrative "logic of reasoned beliefs." This approach employs epistemological techniques of emergent probabilities, etc., in an empirically based knowledge of the nonempirical in which knowing God is regarded as interpretative knowledge, analogous to knowing, for instance, that something is beautiful (John Wisdom, Anthony Flew, James Richmond).
Reason under Faith. By and large contemporary solutions have assumed some form of coherence between faith and reason. In the tradition of American Empiricism the notion of experience has been broadened to include the encounters of faith, experienced as offering answers to questions of ultimacy posed by human existence on the plane of immediacy (John Smith). In phenomenology, human existence comes to appearance within consciousness as radically contingent and precarious, thereby pointing to God as necessary, not by way of rational inference from the finite but as a discernment within the finite of clues of a Transcendent. God is signaled in a purely symbolic knowledge, therefore, not as Cause but as Presence (Langdon Gilkey, Louis Dupré). The empirical approach suggests Tillich's principle of correlation between the evident realities of man's existential situation and any philosophical/theological solution, reduced, however, from the ontological to the ontic realm. Phenomenology, on the other hand, seems to surmise God somewhat after the fashion in which the Transcendental Ego is surmised as undergirding the Empirical Ego (Husserl).
Among Catholic thinkers, this outlook surfaces in a marked tendency to understand Romans 1:18–20 and the dogmatic constitution Dei Filius of Vatican Council I (DS 3004), in which the natural knowability of God is asserted, as referring to something that is achieved, historically and in fact, only by those who already believe; the claim then is one of possibility not of fact. This amounts to reconstruing natural theology as a movement wherein prior faith knowledge, through conscious reflection, articulates itself in structures which in themselves are not rationally convincing or probative.
Significant attempts at implementing this project are represented by Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, and Emerich Coreth. Each has, in his own way, evolved a critical epistemology, loosely designated as Transcendental Thomism. In this approach, all explicit knowledge is a conceptual explicitation of a prior nonconceptual preunderstanding of the totality of Being. This preunderstanding is rooted in a prehension (Vorgriff ) by finite spirit of Being as the unrestricted horizon of its consciousness, on which basis knowing is a "performing" of Being. Thus, all knowledge is a subjective dynamism of spirit toward God, affirmed not by demonstrative logic in service of faith but by the method of transcendental reduction. An analysis of this unthematic preknowledge, insofar as it is the condition for the very possibility of all other knowledge, enables the believing theologian to recognize this unlimited horizon as materially identifiable with God (Rahner). So conceived, knowledge is heuristic, first posing the question of God conditionally and then, upon intelligent satisfaction of the conditions, rendering the affirmation of God as a condition for the intelligibility of the real which is only virtually unconditioned (Lonergan).
Dominic DePetter and Edward Schillebeeckx have presented an alternative to this approach, rejecting the analysis of subjectivity in favor of an objective dynamism of knowing wherein judgment is a nonconceptual activity that implicitly intuits, in its own order of intentionality, the realm of real, extramental, finite Being. This implicit intuition of the real in its very finiteness and contingency releases a dynamism on which basis the intellect is led to affirm God as Infinite Cause. The intellect is led to this affirmation objectively and noetically, i.e., from within the intelligible contents of its own concepts (the transcendentals) as these provide a perspective out of which God can be designated without being represented. Underlying this is a metaphysics of participation whose epistemological counterpart is analogy, sc., the expansive and projective power latent in human intelligence to affirm the Unknown in its pure relationality to what it does know.
Bibliography: t. c. o'brien, Metaphysics and the Existence of God (Washington 1960) 264–269, complete bibliog. w. a. wallace, "Metaphysics and the Existence of God," The New Scholasticism, 36 (1962) 529–531. j. owens, "Existential Act, Divine Being, and the Subject of Metaphysics," ibid. 37 (1963) 359–363. w. j. hill, Knowing the Unknown God (New York 1971). l. gilkey, Naming the Whirlwind (Indianapolis, New York 1969). j. richmond, Theology and Metaphysics (New York 1971). l. duprÉ, The Other Dimension (Garden City, N.Y. 1972). r. j. roth, ed., God: Knowable and Unknowable (New York 1973).
[t. c. o'brien/
w. j. hill/eds.]
God is not an object of human experience, and hence His existence is not immediately evident to man and must be demonstrated. Thus arises the problem of God's existence, a problem that lies at the summit of philosophical endeavor and whose solution has direct bearing on the meaning and purpose of human life. If God does not exist, then man becomes a law to himself and the norm of his own acts; but if God exists, man must acknowledge his essential dependence on a creator, who is also his conservator, legislator, and judge, to whom he is responsible for all his acts and operations. This is the striking disjunction that somehow or other confronts every individual with a cogency that admits no delay or alternative.
Philosophers are acutely aware of the importance of this problem and attempt to offer a solution in line with their own systems. Their attitudes toward God's existence may be reduced to three: theists affirm it, atheists deny it, and agnostics question it. Along with these three main positions there are systems of philosophy that admit the existence of God but deny some of the basic characteristics of the Supreme Being, such as His personal nature, transcendence, and providence. There are also those who refuse to admit the problematic nature of the issue and claim that man has a quasi-intuitive knowledge of God or a direct experience of His presence. This article sketches, in broad outline, various philosophical errors regarding the existence of God, alternative approaches to the existence of God that have been advanced by philosophers, and philosophical proofs for God's existence.
Philosophical Errors. The chief errors of philosophies with regard to the existence of a Supreme Being may be classified under the headings of atheism, agnosticism, and ontologism.
Atheism. atheism is the theory of those who deny the existence of God. This definition does not apply to practical atheism, which is a way of life rather than a philosophical theory, or to negative atheism, i.e., the attitude of those who have no knowledge of God or do not care to acquire it. The definition applies only to positive theoretical atheism, or the kind of atheism that presents a problem to the philosopher inasmuch as it attempts to destroy belief in God by demolishing its rational foundation. Whether or not it is possible for a man to be absolutely convinced of the nonexistence of God, at least for an extended time, is questionable. But the fact remains that there have always been philosophers who have challenged belief in a Supreme Being and who have worked to recast and reconstruct their thought and estimation of human values on a purely atheistic, or antitheistic, basis. This is particularly true in an age that has witnessed the tragic and solitary atheism of a man such as F. W. nietzsche, the literary and fashionable atheism of some extreme existentialists, and the revolutionary atheism of dialectical materialism.
Agnosticism. The major threat to theistic belief is not so much atheism, with its ruthless and irrational attacks on God, as it is the more subtle and therefore more insidious form of error named agnosticism. The term means literally "lack of knowledge," and was coined by T. H. Huxley in 1869 to describe the attitude of a person who asserts the inability of the mind to know the realities corresponding to man's ultimate scientific, philosophical, and religious ideas. There are various types of agnosticism. Modern religious agnosticism assumes two principal forms, the rigid and the moderate. Rigid, or pure, agnosticism considers the problem of God as being entirely beyond the reach of human intelligence. Man can know absolutely nothing about God, not even whether He exists or not. Moderate or dogmatic agnosticism believes in the existence of God, but denies any rational foundation for such a belief. As far as the nature of God is concerned, moderate agnosticism goes along with rigid agnosticism in professing complete ignorance.
Two antimetaphysical schools of thought have contributed to the affirmation and spreading of modern agnosticism, viz, Comte's positivism and Kant's criticism (see criticism, philosophical). Although the two doctrines differ widely from each other, both are indebted to Hume's subjective empiricism and both attempt to reduce the notion of knowledge to scientific knowledge. Since God is not the object of empirical observation, it follows that in their view man cannot have any concept of Him. But whereas for comte the belief in God is useless and even harmful to mankind, inasmuch as it hampers the natural development of human reason, for kant it becomes an act of faith for which no rational justification is given. Comte is a pure agnostic; Kant a dogmatic agnostic.
The impact of these two philosophies is manifest in Herbert Spencer's theory of the Unknowable. spencer admits the existence of the absolute as a necessary postulate for the intelligibility of the relative objects of human experience, but he denies any knowledge of the Absolute. The mentality created by Spencer and his predecessors influenced the religious theory of William james. Following the pragmatic principle that an idea is true if it works and produces good results, James maintains that the belief in God, which is largely a matter of feeling, is true because it has a definite value in concrete life. The empirical study of such belief shows in effect that it expresses confidence in the promise of the future and has beneficial results for one's life, both as an individual and as a member of society. James spurns the traditional proofs of God's existence and settles for the "hypothesis of God" as more satisfactory than any alternative hypothesis. Truth is thus sacrificed to expediency; and belief in God, whom James prefers to consider as a finite Being with limited power, is deprived of any metaphysical foundation.
The intellectual movement known as Modernism was influenced by similar ideas. As St. Pius X's encyclical pascendi indicates, agnosticism is at the basis of the religious philosophy of Modernism. Because of their fundamental phenomenalism, the Modernists make it impossible for human reason to attain any supersensible and transcendent reality. While eliminating all rational demonstration of God's existence, they also attempt to discredit the historical fact of God's actual intervention in the world. Hence Modernism is a theological error as well as a false philosophical system.
Among more recent versions of agnosticism mention may be made of logical positivism, according to which a proposition is meaningful, and therefore true, only if its composing elements can be reduced to experimental data by careful linguistic analysis. In this conception of philosophy—if one can still speak of philosophy—all statements about God are meaningless because they are incapable of experimental verification.
Modern agnosticism, under whatever form, distrusts the power of human reason. Such distrust is based on an erroneous conception of the limits and value of knowledge in general and of inferential knowledge in particular. Thus in the last analysis agnosticism is the consequence of a false epistemology. By way of criticism it may be pointed out that although human knowledge starts with the particular data of sense experience, man can form ideas that abstract from all individuating notes and represent the nature of a thing as it is in itself. These ideas have the characteristic of universality, which is in direct contrast with the datum of sense experience. Just as man can form ideas of the essence of sensible things, so he can form ideas of spiritual substances, such as the soul and God. The existence of these substances is proved by rational inference from the nature of their effects. Since every effect demands an adequate cause, from the nature of an effect one can infer the nature of its cause. The fundamental principle of positivism, as well as of Kantian criticism, viz, that the sensible alone is knowable, is a gratuitous assumption that is neither demonstrated nor demonstrable. It is in effect a self-destroying principle, for all attempt at demonstration leads to a rejection of the principle itself.
Ontologism. At the other extreme from agnosticism stands ontologism, which maintains that since man has a quasi-intuitive knowledge of God, all rational demonstration of His existence is unnecessary. According to one of its chief exponents, Nicholas malebranche, man envisions all things by means of a direct intuition of God's ideas. Since there is no distinction between the divine essence and its ideas, it seems to follow that God is present to the human mind in every act of knowledge. Vincenzo gioberti defined and developed Malebranche's mild ontologism and identified the ontological order with the logical order of knowledge. Thus, for him, God is the first object known by man's mind. Antonio rosmini-serbati, whose name is often associated with the ontologists, held that all knowledge is through the innate idea of being in its supreme ideality (l'essere ideale ), and this makes the soul intelligent. The idea is not the result of abstraction or reflection, nor is God Himself. Rosmini called it an "appurtenance of God," or something divine and pertaining to God, which may be compared to the impression of the divine light on man's soul. Since the ideal being is for man the vehicle of ascent to the Real Being (Essere Reale ), God, it is only improperly that Rosmini is classified as an ontologist.
Ontologism in the strict sense of the term has never been a popular system. It runs against man's experience and does not account for men's persistent errors concerning the existence and nature of God. Moreover, if man had an intuitive knowledge of God or the divine ideas, his knowledge would always be infallibly true, which evidently is not the case.
Approaches to the Existence of God. Although there are many approaches to the problem of God's existence, not all have the same value and appeal. Along with the highly rationalized metaphysical arguments suitable to a philosophically trained mind, there are other approaches of a more subjective nature, as well as a spontaneous, prephilosophical knowledge of God that precedes any scientific elaboration. The nature and value of such knowledge is the subject of the present discussion.
Prephilosophical Knowledge. Knowledge of God's existence is so deeply rooted in human nature that St. john damascene speaks of it as being "implanted in man" (De fide orthodoxa 1.1.3), St. bonaventure calls it "innate to the rational mind" (De mysterio Trinitatis 1.1), and St. thomas aquinas explains that "it is through principles which are innate in us that we are able to perceive that God exists" (In Boeth. de Trin. 1.3 ad 6). Aquinas goes so far as to say that "all knowing beings know God implicitly in every known object" (De ver. 22.2 ad1), while Duns Scotus affirms even more emphatically that "in the knowledge of any being as this particular being, God is conceived in a most indistinct manner" (Opus Oxon. 126.96.36.199). While it is wrong to interpret these statements as meaning that the idea of God is innate to man in the way that the idea of the infinite is for R. descartes, they do point to the natural and innate facility with which the human mind can attain the knowledge of the Supreme Being.
In the teaching of the schoolmen, such knowledge is at first obscure and confused, and is the result of intuition rather than of an inferential judgment. It becomes gradually more distinct as man begins to think of the magnitude and wonders of the universe, the inexorable laws of nature and his own helplessness in the face of natural events and calamities, the many evils that go unpunished, and his unsatisfied craving for unlimited truth, goodness, and happiness. These reflections, which arise naturally in the mind of every man regardless of his background, milieu, and education, suggest the idea of a superior Being who is the cause of the universe and judge of mankind. This is roughly the idea of a personal and transcendent God, whom man has tried to propitiate by prayer and sacrifice from the dawn of history up to the present. As man progresses and develops his intellectual abilities, this primordial idea of God acquires new traits and more closely approximates the reality of the Supreme Being. Imperfect though it may be, this spontaneous, prephilosophical notion of God can hardly be overrated, since upon it a large segment of humanity will be judged by the same God who chose this way to reveal Himself to their minds.
Subjectivist Approaches. Many persons are content with the idea of God obtained as a result of spontaneous thought or acquired through faith and education. A philosopher wishes to go further and analyze the contents and ultimate foundation of such an idea. In so doing he may start from himself and his personal experiences, or from the nature and existence of extramental reality. In the first case, one has the subjectivist approach to God; in the second, the objective, traditional approach of scholastic philosophy. The subjectivist approach, which goes back to St. augustine and is strongly emphasized by Descartes, has assumed various forms in modern and contemporary philosophy. One of these is the sentimental school of thought, so called because of the importance attached to sentiment or subjective feeling in human knowledge. Its chief exponents are Pascal, Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Otto.
B. pascal challenges the demonstrative value of traditional metaphysical proofs of God's existence on the ground that their abstract and purely intellectual character fails to convince man in his state of fallen nature. Instead he appeals to the heart, which grasps intuitively the truths that escape rational demonstration. The heart is for Pascal a complex faculty having the immediacy and certainty of sense perception and the intellectual apprehension of first principles, as well as the appetitive acts of desire and love. The heart has a logic of its own that includes all the foregoing acts but consists preeminently in supernatural faith. Here is where Pascal's sentimentalism comes close to fideism, a system holding that faith alone is the source of man's knowledge of God.
F. D. E. schleiermacher, a 19th-century German theologian, reduces the essence of religion to what he calls "a sense and taste for the Infinite," or "a feeling of absolute dependence." God's existence cannot be demonstrated by human reason, but man feels and experiences his dependence on God, whose existence he admits only because of the inclination of his heart and will. Schleiermacher is considered a forerunner of Modernism. So also is Albrecht ritschl, for whom the idea of God is the result neither of intuition nor of rational inference, but is rather a necessary postulate of human nature in its attempt to establish spiritual supremacy over the inferior world. Rudolf otto distinguishes between the rational and nonrational elements in religious experience, the unique quality of which is holiness. While the rational element is indispensable for understanding some characteristics of the "holy" or the divine, it tends to overshadow the deeper nonrational core, which he calls the "numinous," the "awe-inspiring and fascinating mystery." To grasp the nonrational element in the divine, man has a sensus numinis. This is not mere emotion or natural feeling but an affective state of mind involving some kind of preconceptual knowledge. Otto links it to the "faculty of divination," a special faculty enabling man to know the "holy" in its appearance. Both the rational and nonrational elements of religion are described in Kantian terms as an a priori category.
Another subjectivist approach to God is contained in the philosophy of immanence of H. bergson, who conceives reality as a dynamic, creative becoming, a vital impetus (élan vital ). In its evolutionary process the vital impetus is continuously striving to overcome the drag of inert matter, which in a way is its own by-product. In so doing, it gives rise to different levels of being, inanimate nature, plants, animals, and men. Thus the vital impetus appears to be the source of all reality, the God of Bergson's philosophy (although not all interpreters agree on this point), whom he describes metaphorically as a center from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a display of fireworks. Man grasps this all-embracing reality by intuition, a self-conscious instinct that can actually feel the flow of becoming because of a certain "sympathy." Intuition is superior to intellect, the chief function of which is to form concepts that furnish mere "snapshots" of reality. To prove his doctrine of man's knowledge of God, Bergson appeals to the experience of the great Christian mystics and attempts to show the superiority of a dynamic religion stemming from vital intuition over the static religion of conceptualized knowledge.
Edouard le roy, Bergson's disciple and a leading figure in the Modernist movement, tried unsuccessfully to reconcile the doctrine of immanence with Catholic teaching. Like his master, he reduces all reality to becoming. God himself is not, He becomes. After questioning the ontological validity of abstract knowledge and attacking the classical arguments for God's existence, he claims that the only way to arrive at God is by analyzing consciousness. This manifests to man an exigency for a growing realization, an infinite progress, and a perfect spiritual life. At the root of such moral exigency there is an absolute: to recognize this is to affirm the existence of God. Briefly, there is no metaphysical certitude of God's existence but merely "a moral certitude based upon a direct experience of a moral reality." Yet Le Roy, like Bergson, rejects the charge of pantheism.
Still another form of subjectivist approach to God is the "method of immanence" of M. blondel; this may be defined as a psychological way of stating all religious and philosophical problems, starting from the self. It differs from the "theory of immanence" in that the source of religious truth is held to be internal observation rather than consciousness or subconsciousness. According to Blondel, man arrives at God not by mere speculative thought but by action. Action includes thought, but it is much more than that. It is the entire human experience conceived within the framework of man's basic needs and tendencies; it is the synthesis of thought, will, and being itself, the activity of the whole man. The infinite disproportion that man observes between his exigencies in life and his ideals makes him realize his deficiencies and the need for a transcendent and necessary Being. Thus the order of nature finds its integration in the super-natural order of grace and revelation as manifested in the Christian religion.
The foregoing theories must be credited for their emphasis on the important role that subjective factors play in man's knowledge of God. However, they overlook the fact that feelings and emotional states are relative to individuals and subject to change, while intuition and, especially, mystical experience are the privilege of the few. Hence it is wrong to consider them as a universal criterion of man's knowledge of God. The traditional theistic arguments of scholastic philosophy retain their demonstrative value even without subjective elements. This holds true also with regard to Blondel's method of immanence; although of unquestionable merit, it cannot be considered a substitute for more objective reasoning.
Phenomenological and Existentialist Views. phenomenology, worked out chiefly by Edmund husserl and Alexius Meinong and consisting in a descriptive analysis of the essence of the given, the phenomenon, is explicitly applied to the problem of God by Max scheler. Scheler holds that God, like any other essence, is reached by man through emotional acts of a religious nature, such as faith, worship, fear, and love. By these acts man attains to God, not merely as being in the ideal order but as a supreme value in the order of existence. The starting point of man's knowledge of God may be any object of human experience, for all things are effects of God in such ways that they have a symbolic relation to Him. This relation is grasped by an intuitive emotional act apart from any discursive reasoning. Yet a religious predisposition is necessary, and God has to reveal Himself through some sort of illumination.
The phenomenological method of investigation has found supporters even among the existentialists, who apply it to existence rather than essence, and especially to man in his concrete existing reality. The results of their investigation are quite different, just as their systems are different, for one can hardly speak of a unique and homogeneous existentialism. As far as the problem of God is concerned, one can roughly draw a line between theistic and atheistic existentialists, even though some existentialist philosophers defy any strict classification. Theistic existentialists, such as S. kierkegaard, G. Marcel, L. Chestov (1866–1938), and N. berdiaev, have certain traits in common. They all believe that God is discovered or encountered by the individual as he strives for the free realization of his true self rather than as the term of impersonal objective reasoning. Thus God is for them the foundation of existence in which man, like all other beings, participates. Atheistic existentialists, such as J. P. Sartre and A. Camus, consider the idea of God as contradictory and describe, in vivid and often crude terms, the irrationality and absurdity of the world and human existence. M. Heidegger and K. Jaspers, the two main representatives of German existentialism, seem not to exclude God from their philosophy and strongly resent the charge of atheism, but at the same time they develop a system in which there seems to be no room for the God of traditional philosophy. Heidegger's "Being" and Jasper's "Transcendent" are such vague and ambiguous terms that they inevitably perplex the reader as to their real meaning. Inadequate as it is, existentialism under all its forms has served at least one purpose: it has proved beyond doubt that God is at the center of all solutions to the problem of human existence. With God, life has a meaning and a purpose; without God, life and the world itself become meaningless as well as absurd.
Proofs for the Existence of God. In his Summa theologiae (1a, 2.2) St. Thomas asks whether it can be demonstrated that God exists. He answers in the affirmative, explaining that from the knowledge of the effect it is possible to infer the existence of its proper cause, since no effect can exist without a preexisting cause. Hence, insofar as the existence of God is not self-evident to man, it can and must be demonstrated from effects that are known to man. Such demonstration must utilize arguments a posteriori, i.e., from effect to cause, and thus presupposes the ontological and transcendental validity of the principle of causality.
Traditional Arguments. Using this principle, St. Thomas sets forth his "five ways" (Summa theologiae, 1a, 2.3; Summa contra gentiles, 1.13, 15), or "the arguments by which both philosophers and Catholic teachers have proved that God exists" (Summa contra gentiles, 1.13). The structure of each of the five ways is basically the same. Each starts from a fact of experience—motion or change, caused existence, corruptibility, composition and imperfection, finality—and they all lead to the existence of a self-subsistent Being considered as the ultimate cause or explanation of that particular experimental datum—Immovable Mover, Uncaused Cause, Necessary Being, Absolute Perfection, Supreme End. Aquinas applies the principle of causality when showing that in a series of essentially subordinate causes one cannot proceed in infinity, but must rather come to a first cause that is independent of all other causes and responsible for the causality of the entire series. In such a series the causes are so dependent on one another that no inferior cause can exert its causality without the actual influence of the superior cause. If no first cause existed over and above the entire series and as the actual source of all causality, there would be no effect now, and hence no being, which is obviously not the case. The five ways can perhaps be reduced to one single proof expressed by the axiom that "the greater cannot proceed from the less," or that a limited and contingent being finds its ultimate explanation only in an infinite and self-subsistent Being. (see god, proofs for the existence of.)
As to whether, in view of the many discoveries of modern science, the traditional arguments for God's existence are still valid, the answer can only be in the affirmative. Philosophy and science are two distinct fields of knowledge; they follow different methods and pursue distinct objectives. The problem of God's existence is philosophical, and its solution rests on metaphysical principles that are not subject to change. Thus to reject the existence of God in the name of physical science is to give a scientific answer—and a wrong one at that—to a philosophical question. Besides, far from invalidating the traditional theistic arguments, the findings of modern science seem to confirm their conclusions. (see god and modern science.)
Confirmatory Arguments. Other arguments for God's existence do not have the cogency of the traditional metaphysical proofs but perhaps have greater appeal to the philosophically untrained and to thinkers who are not metaphysically oriented. The argument from moral obligation, also known as the argument from conscience, is a case in point. It is a fact of experience to which the conscience bears witness that man perceives within himself a law commanding him to do certain acts because they are good and avoid others because they are evil. This law is not merely subjective and artificial; it is imposed upon man by virtue of his very nature, and violation of it brings a sense of guilt and remorse. It is an absolute command, a categorical imperative, to use Kant's terminology, that admits of no exception, and is found in every man having the use of reason. Training and environment may help to develop knowledge of this law, but a general agreement seems to exist among men concerning its most universal principles. Since there is no law without a lawgiver, and man cannot possibly be held responsible for imposing upon himself an obligation that restricts his own freedom, it must be concluded that the natural law owes its origin to the author of human nature, a supreme lawgiver, God.
The same conclusion can be arrived at from consideration of the need of sanctions to ensure the observance of the natural law. A law that cannot be enforced loses all practical value, and the only way to enforce it is by adequate rewards and punishments. Yet cases in which the good suffer and the wicked prosper throughout life are not rare, showing that proper sanctions are not attached to the natural law in this life. Must one admit that in this world—where all things act according to a rational plan obeying the laws of nature—only man is free to violate with impunity the natural law he discovers within himself? An affirmative answer would be inconsistent with the entire plan of the universe. The only explanation is that since perfect justice is not done in this life, there must be a future life where adequate justice is done by a supremely wise and all-powerful judge, namely, God.
A related theistic proof is man's desire for happiness. Man is so constituted that he always strives for happiness but never completely attains it. He does not seek just any kind of happiness but happiness to the utmost degree. Since this tendency cannot be fully satisfied in this life, where all goods are limited and imperfect, a supreme good must exist that completely satisfies man's aspirations, and that is God. To hold the contrary is to admit in man a natural tendency destined for frustration rather than for fulfillment because of the absence of an object to satisfy it. Man would find himself in a more miserable condition than brutes and animals, since they can obtain in this life all the satisfaction of which they are capable, whereas man would be prevented from attaining the good toward which he strives.
Another subsidiary proof for the existence of God is the argument from universal consent. The human race as a whole has always recognized the existence of a superior Being deserving of worship and on whom man and the world depend. But mankind cannot be wrong in a matter of such importance without jeopardizing the trustworthiness of the human mind and man's final destiny. Hence God's existence is demanded as a sufficient reason for that universal conviction. Needless to say, this argument, like all other confirmatory proofs, has only a relative value inasmuch as no strict metaphysical reasoning goes to support it. However, it cannot simply be dismissed on the ground that universal convictions, such as popular belief that the sun revolves about the earth, have later proved to be wrong. A scientific theory of this type has no direct bearing on man's final destiny. It is therefore conceivable that man be mistaken about it as long as no adequate means of verification are available. Nor can it be objected that individual persons or tribes may never have had a notion of a Supreme Being, and that many people even today refuse to accept the existence of God as a well-established doctrine. Universal consent does not preclude the existence of individual men or groups of men who do not share the common belief. The credence of the vast majority of the human race is a sufficient ground for the argument under discussion.
Ideological Argument. Known originally as the argument from eternal truths, which was hinted at by plato and suggested by St. Augustine in De libero arbitrio (2.2–15), the ideological argument has assumed different forms in the course of history. Its proponents seem to agree that the argument is an attempt to prove the existence of God from the nature of the intelligibles. These are either the possible essences of things (argument from the possibles), or the eternal truths, namely, those statements that express necessary relations among the possibles or the first principles of reason (argument from eternal truths). The argument may be stated as follows. There are intrinsically possible beings whose essence and essential principles are necessary, immutable, and eternal. But such beings demand as their ultimate foundation an actually existing being that is absolutely necessary, immutable, and eternal. Therefore such a being exists, and men call this being God.
The ideological argument, its defenders maintain, is not based on ideas considered only in their logical or analytical order. Rather, ideas are considered from the point of view of mental concepts with a foundation in reality; not inasmuch as they represent an actually existing thing or the truth of an actually existing object, but inasmuch as their content reflects a being or truth in the essential order. They are ideas of a possible or potential essence for which an ultimate reason is sought in a necessary and eternal being. Thus understood, the argument keeps its distinctive feature as an argument from the ideal order, and at the same time it obviates the inconsistency of involving an illicit passage from the ideal to the real order. The ideal, in this case, is also real; it belongs to the realm of the intelligibles, and the transition is simply from one order of reality to another order of reality. The principle of demonstration used for such a transition is either the principle of sufficient reason or the principle of causality. When the principle of causality is used, then the argument is conceived within the framework of St. Thomas's five ways, especially the fourth way, which argues to God from the various degrees of being.
To the objection that the possibles and their characteristics of necessity, immutability, and eternity can be sufficiently explained through an abstractive intellect and the object, the upholders of the argument answer that the human mind and the object are the proximate causes and foundation of the possibles, but not their ultimate reason. Indeed, by their very nature, the possibles transcend all created mind and reality; they are such even if no contingent being or human intellect ever existed. Far from being the ultimate foundation of the possibles, the human mind and all created beings would not exist at all, were they not intrinsically possible.
A similar answer is given to the objection that truth depends on the existence of contingent being and is therefore purely hypothetical. The existence of contingent things, the defenders of the argument rebut, is the immediate cause of man's knowledge of truth, but it is not the ultimate foundation of truth, which prescinds from both contingent reality and the human mind. If nothing ever existed, there would be no truth; but there is truth, and so there must be an eternal and necessary foundation without which truth and its properties of eternity and necessity are inconceivable. The foundation is God.
See Also: deism; theism.
Bibliography: r. garrigou-lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature, tr. b. rose, 2 v. (St. Louis 1934–36). É. h. gilson, God and Philosophy (New Haven 1941). f. j. sheen, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (New York 1925); Philosophy of Religion (New York 1948). c. hartshorne and w. l. reese, eds., Philosophers Speak of God (Chicago 1953). American Catholic Philosophical Association. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (Baltimore 1926) 28 (1954). j. maritain, Approaches to God, tr. p. o'reilly (New York 1954). j. d. collins, God in Modern Philosophy (Chicago 1959). m. r. holloway, An Introduction to Natural Theology (New York 1959). t. c. o'brien, Metaphysics and the Existence of God (Washington 1960). j. a. baisnÉe, Readings in Natural Theology (Westminster, Md. 1962). g. l. abernethy and t. a. langford, eds., Philosophy of Religion (New York 1962). j. macquarrie, Twentieth-Century Religious Thought (New York 1963). b. m. bonansea, "The Ideological Argument for God's Existence," Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy 1 (1961) 1–34. m. chossat, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951) 4.1:874–948. p. ortegat, Philosophie de la religion, 2 v. (Gembloux 1948). f. van steenberghen, Dieu caché (Louvain 1961). m. f. sciacca, Il problema di Dio e della religione nella filosofia attuale (Brescia 1953).
[b. m. bonansea]
The proofs for God's existence, each in its own way, lead one to knowledge of God as first on all levels of existence, as Ipsum Esse Subsistens. The aim of the present section is to make explicit what is implicitly contained in this concept. One may well wonder to what extent such explicit knowledge is possible. All Christian thinkers have recognized the depth of this "sublime truth," possessing as it does an infinity of intelligibility—far more than man can grasp. Thus gregory of nyssa wrote: "To have true knowledge is to understand that seeing is really not seeing, because God transcends all knowledge." God, moreover, cannot be defined. Man may indeed name Him, but this is not to define Him. For definition would assign Him to a genus, and since God calls Himself "He who is," the genus would have to be being. Now being is not a genus, for a genus is determined by specific differences that are not contained within itself. Nothing can be added to being, since outside of being there is nothing (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1a, 3.5). Is one therefore constrained to silence and reduced in the final analysis to affirming that in a philosophical sense man can know nothing of God? Catholic thinkers respond in the negative: God can be known, to a certain degree, yet not to His innermost depths. This reply need offer no stumbling block to reason; rather the human mind's inability to comprehend God may itself be taken as a sign of truth.
Extreme Views. Though man is unable to define God, he may at least indirectly "characterize" Him, using the conclusions of the proofs of His existence. In this attempt, however, two extremes are to be avoided, viz, anthropomorphism and agnosticism.
Anthropomorphism. The first consists in thinking of God and man under the same univocal concept. Sometimes such univocity is mythological and psychological in origin: this is the anthropomorphism of the masses who attribute to God the feelings and reactions of man and judge Him according to human standards. At other times the conception presents itself under an intellectual guise, crediting God with all the perfections of which man has knowledge. Between God and man, in this view, there is no difference of nature but only one of degree—a position very close to that of pantheism, which identifies God and the world of human experience. To avoid this extreme, one must constantly refine his concept of God, who is in fact far beyond man's representations and concepts. The safeguard against anthropomorphism is therefore purification; but solicitude for purification should not lead to the other extreme, that of agnosticism.
Agnosticism. This maintains the possibility of a type of demonstration of the existence of God, but denies that man is able to affirm anything about God's nature. It invokes equivocation rather than univocity. What one says of God, in this view, is either attributed to Him in a purely negative fashion or signifies only that He is a cause; for God is unknowable in His nature. Certainly this position is not new; it was found among the Neoplatonists and during the Middle Ages, especially in maimonides. But in recent times it has assumed a new form, that of Modernism. One should, of course, seek always to refine his concept of God, but must beware of refining that concept to nothingness in the process. Analogy is the surest means to attain such refinement, for it allows man to consider the universe as a screen through which he may come to know divine being and life (cf. Rom 1.20).
Means of Knowing God. To know God philosophically, two means are available: negation and analogy. The passage from the world to God is assured by a twofold dialectic, one negating and the other constructing. One is suppressive, the other progressive; yet their movements enmesh so that the one cannot function without the other.
Negation. The way of negation consists in denying of God anything that belongs to a contingent being as such. Thus, to know God through this way is not to show what He is, but rather what He is not. Instead of beginning with an inaccessible essence to which are added positive differences leading to better and better understanding, one collects rather a series of negative differences that indicate what this essence is not. Such a method leads to knowledge that, admittedly, is not positive; it is imperfect. Yet, by denying all the limitations found in creatures, it allows one to say with ever greater precision what God is not and what He cannot possibly be. Thus, by distinguishing God from what is not God, one attains some knowledge of His essence (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 1.14).
Analogy. The way of analogy consists in attributing to God, to an eminent degree, everything that can be considered as a perfection pure and simple, that is, a perfection that is without any trace of imperfection. To describe the nature of God is to name Him variously as just, powerful, wise, etc. The principle behind such predication is this: because God is First Cause, He must possess to an eminent degree all the perfections found in creatures. The problem is to discover how these perfections may be predicated of God. One may not attribute them in a univocal sense, for God does not produce creatures as one man engenders another. The human offspring has the same nature as his parents, whereas the effects produced by God do not conform to the divine nature. Nor is the equivocal sense applicable, for the mere sharing of a name implies no real relation, no resemblance at all between the things compared. When it obtains, knowledge of one through the other becomes impossible.
A certain likeness, however, must exist between things and God, and this is the likeness of an effect to its cause. This relationship is the basis for analogy—the only way one may speak of the Uncreated while avoiding both anthropomorphism, which pretends to understand God as He knows Himself, and symbolism. Analogy is a relationship between two beings that, while different, bear a certain likeness to each other. Just as there are different types of resemblance, so too there are different analogies: metaphorical analogy, analogy of simple attribution, and analogy of proper proportionality. In speaking of God, there is no question of metaphorical analogy, which involves a simple likeness of relations. Such a comparison reveals no more than the accidental aspects of things. Nor can analogy of attribution be involved; things said to be analogical in this sense share in the relationship to a single term that properly, by its intrinsic nature, possesses the perfection being considered. Between God and man there are no common denominators. The only type of analogy left is that of proper proportionality: the application of a concept that is analogous in itself to two subjects that are essentially different; an application based on their proportionate participation in the ontological reality signified by the concept. It is this analogy that allows one to say, for instance, that in God there is something that bears the same kind of relationship to the divine nature as intelligence does to human nature. This expresses a parallel relationship between divine nature and divine intelligence on one hand and between human nature and human intelligence on the other.
Since effects manifest their causes, those perfections that denote positive realities in creatures (e.g., life, intelligence, and will) are found also in God. It is not sufficient, however, to affirm that God is intelligent, just, or wise simply as man might be. The likeness between divine and human perfections must be stated in these terms: a perfection that is realized in a finite being to the degree consonant with its proper mode of being is similar to that found in God according to His mode of being. This analogy is legitimate, for any being or perfection that can be assigned to a creature must have its root in God. Consequently, one cannot remove from God the positive value of this being or perfection, no matter what the form (or lack of form) it may take in God.
Divine Attributes. The foregoing furnishes a basis for understanding what is meant by a divine attribute. In general, a divine attribute may be defined as an absolutely simple perfection that exists in God necessarily and formally, and that, according to man's imperfect mode of knowing, either constitutes the essence of the Divine Being or is deduced from this essence. Divine attributes that do not constitute the divine essence are further divided into entitative attributes and operative attributes. Entitative attributes relate to the very being of God; they are perfections such as unicity, truth, goodness, infinity, immensity, ubiquity, and eternity that in themselves bespeak no relation to contingent being. Operative attributes, on the other hand, relate to the divine operations, i.e., to the immanent operations of God's intellect and will, from which proceed effects that are extrinsic to God, namely, creation and conservation.
The divine attributes do not designate perfections really distinct from one another; rather there is only a virtual distinction among them, in the sense that each perfection explicitly states what is implied in the others (see distinction, kinds of). Thus, all the divine attributes designate one and the same, absolutely unique, Entity, but as understood under multiple and diverse aspects. Moreover, such multiplicity does not impair the divine perfection, because if God appears to human reason as simultaneously one and many, this is owing only to the limitations of man's intellect.
Divine Essence. Among the divine attributes it is possible to isolate one or more that can be said to be the formal constituent of the divine essence. This manner of speaking refers only to a logical determination of the divine essence, for in God all reality is His very essence. The formal constituent, in this sense, is the fundamental perfection from which all others can be logically deduced. Such a perfection must appear to man as absolutely first, prior to any other attribute, and should be the basis for his distinguishing God from what is not God.
It is commonly taught that God is Being itself, subsistent by itself, and that this aseity (aseitas), or "by-itself-ness," is the constitutive perfection of God. Aseity is fundamental, for God's fundamental perfection consists in being absolutely independent, self-sufficient, and self-existent. Everything else is said of God precisely because He exists of Himself. The perfection of aseity, furthermore, properly belongs to God and distinguishes Him clearly from His creatures. Though all other divine perfections can be imitated analogically, only existence of Himself is absolutely proper to God. This perfection, moreover, does not allow any equivocation. Finally, it can be said that the divine attributes are implied one in the other only because each one contains being. Infinity, for example, implies intelligence, eternity, etc., because infinity is nothing more than an infinity of being. "Absolute being contains all other perfections eminently within itself" (St. Thomas, Summa theologiae, 1a2ae, 2.5 ad 2). Divine aseity thus fulfills all the conditions necessary for it to be considered the formal constituent of the divine essence. God is indeed Ipsum Esse Subsistens, and St. Thomas adds that the name most proper to God is "He who is" (Summa theologiae, 1a, 13.11), that is to say: He in whom essence and existence are one.
There are some, however, who do not accept this teaching. The nominalists, following william of ockham, deny that in God one attribute can be the source of all other perfections, since the divine essence is the complexus of all these perfections. From the nominalist point of view, the universal is but a collective term; thus, the formal constituent of the divine nature serves only to designate the collection of divine perfections. Moreover, for them, this synonym for the ensemble of divine attributes is purely equivocal and has no proper content. It is only a symbol for a reality that is in itself unknown and unknowable. Such a position borders on agnosticism.
Duns Scotus maintains that the formal constituent consisted in a radical infinity, that is, in a demand for all the perfections possible (Op. Oxon. 1.3.2). It must be admitted that infinity is one of the concepts that better explain the divine nature, for all God's perfections do flow from it. But one can say as much for any of the divine attributes, since each implies all others. The logical essence must not only imply all the divine perfections, but must express their radical source and basic explanation.
john of st. thomas places the formal constituent of the divine essence in subsistent intellection; for in God, as in man, intelligence is the perfection upon which all others depend (In Summa theologiae, 1a, 16.2.10). Yet intellection presupposes a subject or essence, as John of St. Thomas undoubtedly intends when he speaks of subsistent intellection. But if one considers essence as more fundamental than its operation, then one must hold that Subsistent Being itself is the formal constituent of the divine essence.
Entitative Attributes. Among the attributes related to the very being of God, simplicity and infinity give man direct knowledge of God's personal nature.
Simplicity. God is absolutely one in Himself, perfectly simple, that is to say, excluding any composition, whether physical, metaphysical, or logical. (1) Since God is pure act, He cannot, on the physical level, be composed of matter and form, both of which necessarily imply potentiality and essential imperfection. A fortiori, He is not composed of quantitative parts since these indicate indetermination and passivity. (2) On the metaphysical level, God cannot be composed of essence and existence since He is Being of Himself (Esse per se ); neither can He be composed of substance and accident, since He is Pure Act and thus not in potency to further determination. (3) On the logical level, God is not contained in a genus or a species because, as universal principle, He transcends all genera and all differences of being. (see simplicity of god.)
One must understand clearly the significance of this divine simplicity. It is not by eliminating the limitations found in creatures that one arrives at Esse Subsistens per se; this would be to place this Being in the same genus with creatures, undoubtedly to an eminently superior degree, but nonetheless sharing a common nature with them. Such a position leads directly to contradictions. Thus, to pretend to eliminate any limitation is to consider essence and existence as two realities, separable at will. Similarly, one cannot consider Subsistent Being as entering into the genus of created being. For created being is properly characterized as a composition of essence and existence, of potentiality and actuality. Consequently, if Pure Act were found in this genus, it would no longer be Pure Act, that is to say, identifiable with itself, which is obviously a contradiction. Thus, divine simplicity is the mark of a Being in which essence and existence are identified without any limitation. Here one is no longer concerned with a relation between essence and existence; such a relation is swallowed up in identification—the essence of God is none other than His existence (St. Thomas, De ente 5).
The unicity of god is a necessary result of the absolutely divine simplicity. If divinity were multiple, one would have to distinguish, in divine beings, the divinity common to all as well as their individual differences. In consequence, one would find in these beings a composition of genus and difference; thus, no one of them could be termed Ipsum Esse Subsistens, and no one would be God. Moreover, on these terms God, being His very nature, would have no cause to multiply Himself. If a man were what he is by reason of human nature rather than by reason of individual characteristics that distinguish him from other men, he would be humanity itself; thus, there could be no other men besides him. The same reasoning applies to God: He is His very nature. Thus there can be only one God (Summa theologiae, 1a, 3.3).
Infinity. Infinity means the same as "without limits." But there are many ways of being without limits. Thus, matter is infinite in a privative sense: it cannot be completed by itself. In this sense, the infinite connotes indefiniteness or basic indetermination, and therefore essential imperfection. In a contrary sense, the infinite can also bespeak something that is without limits by reason of its very perfection. From this point of view, one can distinguish (1) the relative infinite, which has no limits within the genus of a certain perfection, and (2) the absolute infinite, which has no limits within the genus of all perfections possible.
The latter infinity of perfection is the type attributed to God. In fact, God is infinitely perfect insofar as He is Esse per se. In Him, existence is not received as in an essence capable of existing; God is unreceived, and therefore absolutely unlimited existence. From another viewpoint, moreover, one can say that if God had limitations, He would be susceptible to some new perfection; He would be composed of act and potency, which is a contradiction. Again, if He had limitations, He would be subject to them, and therefore, in a sense, passive. In either case, He would no longer be Pure Act. God is therefore infinite by His essence and by the fulness of infinity. His infinity is not to be understood as indetermination, since all indetermination is imperfection. Divine infinity, since it is that of Pure Act, is rather absolute determination; that is to say, it implies the total and perfect actuality of all perfections. (see infinity of god.)
Operative Attributes. These attributes refer to God's immanent operations, or, in other words, to the divine life as this is known to natural reason. Emphasis here is on God's intellect and will, for these attributes enable man to conceive of God as a personal being.
Divine Intelligence. God's intelligence can be deduced from His infinite perfection and supreme actuality. Since God possesses all perfections to an absolute degree, science, the perfection of the intellect, is His first operative attribute—it specifies the divine nature, the principle of divine operation. Again, God is known to be immaterial from His excluding all potentiality. Now knowledge is proportionate to the degree of immateriality, and a being is intelligent to the degree that its being is pure. God, the Pure Spirit, therefore possesses supreme and absolute knowledge (Summa theologiae, 1a, 14.1). Furthermore, since the act of knowing is essentially immanent and since whatever is in God is the divine essence, divine intelligence is identified with the divine essence; it is, properly speaking, subsistent intellection.
To say that divine intelligence is subsistent intellection is to affirm that God understands Himself perfectly, that He is Thought Thinking Itself (cf. Aristotle, Meta. 1072b 13–30). Knowing that the degree of a being's intelligibility increases with its immateriality, one may conclude that any being that is fully immaterial is fully intelligible. In God the supreme degree of knowledge and the ultimate degree of intelligibility merge within His essence. It is quite true to say, then, that God knows Himself perfectly (De ver. 2.2). This is not to say that God knows nothing apart from Himself. To know a thing perfectly is to be fully aware of its power, and consequently, to grasp fully the effects to which this power extends. In knowing Himself, God knows everything else. He knows things in His essence, which He understands to be imitable to different degrees of participation. He knows all singular beings, since whatever shares in being finds its origins in the divine essence: Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
To clarify further the field of objects comprehended by divine knowledge, one may inquire whether God knows (1) possibles, that is to say, things that do not actually exist but can exist and (2) future contingents, namely things that can be made to exist or not, at will. As for the first type of objects, it is commonly taught that since God is the source of all existence, and knows everything that exists, whatever the kind of existence it may possess, He does know possibles. The teaching with regard to contingents is more complicated. Since God is by nature outside of time, His knowledge bespeaks a relation to eternity. Now eternity embraces all of time in an immobile present. God, therefore, knows future contingents as actually present and realized (Summa theologiae, 1a, 14.13); yet the necessary knowledge He has of them does not in any way affect their contingent character.
Divine Will. From the fact that God has the power to know, one may conclude that He also has the power to will. Indeed, since the good as known constitutes the proper object of the will, once any good becomes known it must also come to be desired. Thus, a being that knows the good must be endowed with a will. Now God, as perfectly intelligent, knows being under its formality of goodness. From the very fact that He knows, He also wills (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 1.72). Just as God's intellect is identical with His essence, so too is His will, since He wills insofar as He is intelligent. The will of God is His very being.
Since the object of the will is the good as apprehended by the intellect and since the divine intellect apprehends the divine essence directly, this essence is in consequence the primary object of the divine will. Further, every being endowed with a will naturally tends to communicate to others the good it possesses. But if natural beings communicate to others their own proper good, with greater reason does the divine will communicate its perfection to others, to the extent that such perfection is communicable. To say this is to assert that God loves all being, for love is nothing other than the first movement of the will in its tendency toward the good. Again, for God to love His creatures is for Him to love Himself. For creatures possess goodness only to a degree proportionate to their being, i.e., a degree that corresponds to their perfection (Summa theologiae, 1a, 20.2).
Thus is God's freedom manifested. In fact, God is supremely free: on the one hand, God is free relative to all contingent beings, for divinity as the absolute good is sufficient unto itself; on the other, God is free regarding the means He uses to achieve the goals of His infinite wisdom. One could say that God is bound only by His science, by His wisdom, and by the natural necessity of things. God's science and wisdom, however, are not something foreign or superior to Him, for they are His very self. In like manner, the natural necessity of things cannot limit God's liberty, for this necessity flows from His perfection and from His free decision. God is therefore not only supremely free, He is freedom, for this also is His very being.
Transcendence and Immanence. From the foregoing it is evident that God, if He exists at all, must be Infinite Being, radically distinct from the universe He has created and maintains in existence. The conception of this distinction became a matter of much discussion in the late twentieth century. The specific problem connected with divine transcendence and immanence is not God's existence but His identity in relationship to the world, i.e., does His reality bear some continuity to things of the finite order or is it so disparate in kind as to remain unknown?
Biblical man, in the immediacy of religious experience, encountered God at work effecting salvation within a people's concrete history, but a history God entered only at His own initiatives. This assumed God's transcendence of first, history, and second of the natural world He had summoned into being. Beyond this the question was not urged until later confrontation with Hellenic thought necessitated posing the ontological question. Here, the Platonic categories adopted, in preference to Stoic ones that tended to divinize the logos element immanent in the cosmos, allowed a dualistic conception of God who was independent of the cosmos in Himself, yet operative in it by way of a divinely decreed "economy." Thomas Aquinas, modifying Aristotle's metaphysics into a notion of being as "act" (esse ), viewed God as the Pure Act of Being, qualitatively different from all finite essences yet necessarily omnipresent within them as the exclusive cause of their beingness (Summa theologiae, 1a2ae, 3, 8), thus emphasized the simultaneity of God's transcendence and immanence. The Reformation, insisting upon the absolute autonomy of faith, introduced a new dichotomy: God, remaining transcendent in His wrath, becomes immanent only in the offer of forgiveness in Christ (Luther). In the nineteenth century, Schleiermacher's Pietism compromised this absolute otherness of God by allowing for a religious a priori within human consciousness, a "feeling" (Gëfuhl ) of dependence upon the Infinite. This led to a collapse into pure immanentism, notably with the use of Hegelian thought by thinkers such as Feuerbach; God was now constrained to remain within the processes of human consciousness as Absolute Idea objectifying itself in the dialectical moments of thought.
A restoration of transcendence, inaugurated by Kierkegaard, was achieved within Protestant theology with Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics in the twentieth century, and furthered in the U.S. by H. Richard Niebuhr. Barth urged an understanding of God's Word as antithetical to any word of man. Thus God's radical otherness makes impossible any disclosure of Himself from within the structures of nature or culture. Encounter occurs only through God's initiatives in faith (not religion) in which language itself is "appropriated" to bear meaning dis-continuous with that available outside of faith-experience. Rudolf Bultmann, accepting this faith, founded in the existential meaning of history, insisted upon rendering the "message" into the language of contemporary man, in such a way however that its content became existential self-understanding rather than under-standing of God's own reality. Paul Tillich pushed this approach into the search for the God beyond theism.
An abrupt reversal to this radical removal of God from nature, history, and culture occurred in the 1960s with what was known in the U.S. as the "Death of God Movement" (Paul Van Buren, Thomas Altizer, William Hamilton). Theology, already collapsed into Christology, collapsed further into anthropology in which the New Testament was interpreted as summoning man to authentic living with Jesus independently of all theistic considerations. The emptying kenosis of God in the man Jesus was meant to denote a shift in the meaning of the name "God," sc., from designating an existing Transcendent Being to a mere symbol of human values realized in Christ as the "man for others."
An alternative to this was Christian secularity in which the death of God was recast in terms of under-standing only a cultural eclipse of the idea of God, but one manifesting the intentions of God Himself for mankind come of age. God's transcendence was affirmed not in categories of power posing a threat to the autonomy of the world, but outside all perspectives of nature or cosmos and primarily in categories of love and freedom; God's immanence within the finite order was precisely His freeing of the world to be worldly, i.e., nondivine, and to pursue its own values in true evolution rather than merely executing the predetermined designs of Divinity. Yet the pursuit of these values would ultimately bring the world to God as its "Omega point" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teilhard de Chardin, J. B. Metz, Edward Schillebeeckx).
A distinct nuancing of man's historicity gave birth to "theologies of hope" in which the utter transcendence of God is preserved precisely by deferring it to the future. God is thus seen not as the Totally Other but as the Totally New. Immanence is explained as God's presence within the radically altering processes of history, operative in a proleptic way in fidelity to His promises (Jürgen Molt-mann, Wolfhart Pannenberg).
Vastly different in kind are theological adaptations of Whitehead's philosophy of becoming in which the transcendence of God is acknowledged to be merely relative. God, while superior to the world, is necessarily dependent upon it, forming with it the larger whole which is process itself. Within the metaphysical system reintroduced here, the notion of God is no exception but a component part extrapolated from it. Obviously, this Christian use of process thought marks a new return to immanentism (Norman Pittenger, John Cobb, Jr.).
Recent Catholic thought continues to affirm the simultaneity of God's transcendence and immanence through the use of classical metaphysics, shifted however to the plane of subjectivity in which Being is viewed more as Meaning, of which man is coconstitutor (Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan). This transcendental thomism defines man as "spirit in the world," as God's self-communication into the Void, so that God is at once immanent to man's process of bestowing meaning and at the same time the Infinite and Transcendent Meaning always "intended."
Conclusion. At a philosophical level, one cannot penetrate into the intimacy of the divine nature. Although man can know that God exists, that He is perfect, intelligent, free, etc., he does not know what it means for God to exist or to be perfect, intelligent, and free. The "how" of all these attributes escapes him. In view of this, one can say that the more man penetrates into the infinite, the better he understands that it is beyond him. What little he knows of God is but a small fraction of all there is to know. And yet his intellect, in its philosophical search, neither destroys nor diminishes the mystery, but rather deepens it. Doubtless, this is the justification for his intellectual efforts, for reflection is always a deepening of thought, a springboard to higher truth.
See Also: perfection, ontological; omnipotence; omnipresence; omniscience.
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[r. le. trocquer/
w. j. hill/eds.]