Intellect

If we may fairly say that in the general character of an argument for the existence of God (as Thomas conceives of it) there converge the twin pressures of the knowability and the unknowability of God - of the cat-aphatic and the apophatic; and if, as we saw in the last chapter, those pressures converging in a rational proof but replicate the structural exigencies of faith itself; and if, more specifically, they replicate a certain sacramentally 'mystical' structure of faith, we must next, in this and the next two chapters, begin a more explicit exploration of how reason, in the exercise of its own native powers, in some way 'replicates' or 'anticipates' this shape of faith. But it will be clear from the outset that any such conception of reason will, in principle, run counter to those current within our own contemporary culture, whether formally philosophical, or more casually prevailing. For it is, it seems, a characteristic of many of our contemporary theological epistemologies that this delicately constructed tension between the apophatic and the cataphatic within both reason and faith has been readjusted into a polarity between the negative possibilities of reason and the positive possibilities of faith. Among theologians the view which predominates therefore tends, by comparison with that of Thomas, to a generalised sceptical negativity concerning reason, combined with a theological positivism concerning faith.

That being so, it may come as something of a surprise that Thomas insists so resolutely upon an apophaticism across the whole range occupied by both reason and faith. For as to reason, Thomas's optimistic insistence that, as I hope to show, a rational proof of God is possible, combines with the pessimistic insistence that such proof proves the existence only of an unknowable God. Hence, his position contrasts sharply in two ways with the mainstream tendencies within modern theology: first, with that pessimistic rational scepticism which denies proof on the grounds that to permit it would concede too much to a rationally know-able God; and secondly, as to faith, Thomas's pessimistically apophatic account of it will perhaps all the more surprise, since the theological pos-itivists will ask: 'Do we not, then, know more about God through the revelation of Jesus Christ than we can know by reason?' After all, is not Christ the 'image of the invisible God'?

As we have seen, Thomas's articulation of the relations between the 'cataphatic' and 'apophatic' cuts across both reason and faith. It does not in any way cut between them. And Milbank is therefore right to insist upon the most fundamental principle of that articulation, which is that you cannot construe Thomas as having opposed a simple apophaticism of reason to a simple cataphaticism of faith. For whatever Thomas's view of the distinction may be between a philosophical and a revealed theology, it cannot consist in philosophy's being capable of an answer to the question whether God exists (an est), but incapable of an answer to the question what God is (quid est), of which revealed theology is capable: for 'both can do the former', he says, and 'neither can do the latter'.1 This is clearly Thomas's view, though Thomas's apophaticism is from one point of view even more radical than Milbank's formula might suggest: unaided reason's is the less powerful theological capacity, for it knows only the half even of our ignorance. For through revelation we know that there is more to the unknowability of God than reason could ever have suspected: after all, reason does not know that it knows nothing of the inner trinitarian life of God, or of the incarnation of the Word in Jesus. Even more, reason only half-knows even what it does know that it cannot know. For through faith that unknowability is deepened experientially, and not merely extended; for faith is the manner of our participation in the unknowability of God, so that that unknowable mystery grounds not merely our thought - as philosophy does, knowing the divine darkness only, as it were, from within its own incapacity for it and from the outside -but also our personhood and identity and agency and our community. As Thomas says, through grace 'we are made one with [God] as to something unknown'.

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