The Metaphysics of Exodus

In chapter 22, as in all of Aquinas's applications of the eliminative method, he draws his conclusions not regarding Alpha but, of course, regarding God, taking the existence of God to have been shown in chapter 13. Eliminating predicate K provides him with new and different grounds for identifying the first cause as God, however. After providing his arguments to show that the essential end p.128


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved nature of the entity that 'is, through itself, necessary being' must be identical with its being, he steps outside the confines of natural theology to observe that 'Moses was taught this sublime truth by the Lord' when (in Exod. 3: 13-14) Moses asked what he should tell the Israelites if they asked for God's name and the Lord answered 'I am Who Am (Ego sum qui sum). Say to the children of Israel, "Who Is (Qui est) has sent me to you' ". Aquinas interprets the oracular reply, not implausibly, as the Lord's revealing 'that God's very being is his essential nature (quod ipsum divinum esse est sua essentia vel natura)' (22.211). No doubt biblical scholarship would dismiss Aquinas's interpretation, even as applied to the Latin text of the passage. I'm in no position to defend it as an interpretation, though I can imagine, and perhaps even share, the intellectual satisfaction he seems to have felt on seeing this connection between the abstrusest sort of metaphysical thesis and the epiphany at the burning bush. In any case, whether or not Aquinas's reading of Ego sum qui sum is warranted as biblical interpretation, the argumentation of chapter 22, leading to the identification of the first cause with its own necessary being, picks out the first point in Aquinas's natural theology at which I think we might be said to have some warrant to begin replacing the non-committal designation 'Alpha'with the name 'God'. Very many unmistakably divine attributes have yet to emerge, and what has emerged so far, taken all together, doesn't constitute a condition indisputably sufficient for deity. But the fact that Aquinas aptly draws on the theistic tradition in recognizing the metaphysical thesis of SCG chapter 22 in 'the sublime truth' of Exodus 3 marks a noteworthy advance in that direction.

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