Milbank on Thomas and proof

In chapter 2 I considered Gunton's reasons for denying the consistency of Thomas's natural theology with Christian faith, and then set out, very briefly and without comment, Milbank's different, indeed opposed, argument to the same general effect. Milbank's case needs to be revisited, because, unlike Gunton, who maintains that Thomas does offer what may be called an 'onto-theological' natural theology, Milbank denies that Thomas offers any such thing, though on grounds similar to Gun-ton's, namely that any proposal for a natural theology would be at least potentially onto-theological. Hence, since Thomas clearly resists all onto-theological forms of metaphysics, Milbank concludes that Thomas, at any rate in his last and most mature work, the Summa Theologiae, did not offer, and logically could not have offered, any sort of'stand-alone' natural theology, and that he eschews any formal, strictly probative arguments for the existence of God.

In that second chapter I made the case for saying that, at least in the most general terms, Thomas's conception of natural theology has, in virtue of its articulation of the interplay between the apophatic and the cataphatic, the same shape as that of formally revealed theology, for, as I argued in chapter 3, those dialectics of natural reason respond exactly to what the formulation of a Christian theology of the incarnation and of the Eucharist demand of it. Hence, in chapter 4, but especially in chapters 5 and 6, I was able to argue the case more specifically that, for Thomas, reason in principle has the 'shape' of the sacramental, that it embodies a certain 'proto-sacramentality', as I put it. In so far as it takes us beyond the issues canvassed in those first six chapters, my argument thus far has been confined principally to resisting objections to the main theses of this essay, a case, as I have put it, of the truth of these matters consisting in whatever survives the elenchus.

To this end, then, in chapter 7 I set out, as fairly as I was able, Scotus' view that a natural theology is possible only if in principle some terms, above all 'existence', are predicable univocally of God and of creatures, a position which has been seen in recent literatures to be haunted by the ghosts of'onto-theology'. This is because in general and in principle whatever account you give of the logic of inference from creatures to God will have to be such that it can cross the gap of 'difference' between God and creatures, and so in Scotus' case it would seem that he buys the possibility of crossing the gap only at the implicitly onto-theological price of closing it down to a difference within a community of univocity between them. But if, in chapter 8, I set out in emphatic terms the radical nature of 'the' difference between God and creatures, and in chapter 9 offered an account of the predication of esse of God in Thomas which is resistant to the virus of onto-theology, it may seem now that I have thereby set an insuperable obstacle in the way of the next step of my argument. For if the 'gap' is as radical as I claim it to be for a pseudo-Denys, an Eckhart and a Thomas, then, to put the matter as plainly as possible, the issue is forced whether that gap between God and creatures is not now so great as to be beyond the power of any possible inference to cross it. That, then, is the problem which we must now face in this and the next two chapters.

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