Sunday, June 11, 2017
Also For Trinity Sunday: The Identification of the God of the Philosophers with the God of Revelation
I appreciate the point of Kevin Walsh's post for Trinity Sunday (here) in which he quotes Catherine Mowry LaCugna's book God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, and her contention that an adequate response to the fundamental questions posed by late modern thought "cannot [be] answer[ed] by taking refuge in the classical metaphysical properties of God," and that the only appropriate response "is for Christian theology to start afresh from its original basis in the experience of being saved by God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The only option for Christian theology, in other words, is to be trinitarian."
I wholly agree with LaCugna's injunction that Christian theology must be thoroughly trinitarian. And, while I confess that I have not read her book (so she very well may address this in the text) I think that her dismissal of the Church's teaching concerning the inner life of God -- what she calls "the nonsoterialogical doctrine of God" -- is mistaken. We must be prepared to give an account for our reason for hope (1 Peter 3:15) to explain what we mean when we say that we are "saved by God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit." That is, we must be prepared to say what we mean by "God," "Christ," and "Holy Spirit."
To reflect on "the classical metaphysical properties of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, impassibility, incorporeality, and simplicity" is not to "take refuge" in a metaphysics divorced from God's self-disclosure to the people of Israel and in Jesus Christ. Rather, it represents the Church's effort to know God, and to explain how the Christian God differed from the gods of the ancient world, whether Zeus, or Osiris, or some other god.
As Joseph Ratzinger explains in his Introduction to Christianity (a beautiful and erudite reflection on the Apostles Creed that he wrote shortly after the Council), in the milieu of the pagan world, the early Church "boldly and resolutely made its choice and carried out its purification by deciding for the God of the philosophers and against the gods of the various religions" (p. 94). Against the "deceit and illusion" of the ancient religions, the Church declared "When we say God, we do not mean or worship any of this; we mean only Being itself, what the philosophers have exposed as the ground of all being, as the God above all powers -- that alone is our God" (p. 95).
This movement was "the movement of the logos against myth" (Id.). This choice was the choice of truth over custom, that is, over a preserved ritual that was "devoid of reality" and "divorce[d] from truth" (p. 97) -- for all that remained of pagan cosmology, after being subject to the critique of the philosophers, was custom "as mere furniture and outward form of life" (Id.). Here Ratzinger quotes Tetullian who articulated the Church's position "with splendid boldness": "Christ called himself truth, not custom" (Id.).
Yet in deciding for the logos, for truth, for the God of the philosophers, the Church did not opt for a lack of religion -- for a lack of relationship, for an arid philosophical belief. As Ratzinger explains:
"By deciding in favour of the God of the philosophers and logically declaring this God to be the God who speaks to man and to whom one can pray, the Christian faith gave a completely new significance to this God of the philosophers, removing him from the purely academic realm and thus profoundly transforming him. This God who had previously existed as something neutral, as the highest, culminating concept; this God who had been understood as pure Being or pure thought, circling round for ever closed in upon itself without reaching over to man and his little world; this God of the philosophers, whose pure eternity and unchangeability had excluded any relation with the changeable and transitory, now appeared to the eye of faith as the God of men, who is not only thought of all thoughts, the eternal mathematics of the universe, but also agape, the power of creative love. In this sense there does exist in the Christian faith what Pascal experienced on the night when he wrote on a slip of paper which he henceforth kept sewn in the lining of his jacket the words" "Fire. 'God of Abraham, God of Issac, God of Jacob', not 'of the philosophers and scholars'." He had encountered the burning bush experience, as opposed to a God sinking back completely into the realm of mathematics, and had realized the the God who is the eternal geometry of the universe can only be this because he is creative love, because he is the burning bush from which a name issues forth, through which he enters the world of man. So in this sense there is the experience that the God of the philosophers is quite different from what the philosophers had thought him to be, though he does not thereby cease to be what they had discovered; that one only comes to know him properly when one realizes that he, the real truth and ground of all Being, is at one and the same time the God of faith, the God of men." (pp. 99-100).