The argument

The decrees of the Vatican Council maintain, then, that we know by faith that it is possible to know God by human reason with certainty. In what follows I propose to defend this proposition in three distinct but interlocking stages, which relate, respectively, to 'reason', to 'the knowledge of God', and to 'certainty'. First, then, I will consider on what account of 'reason' it can be said that rational knowledge of God can be had, here showing that in a certain general character human reason replicates, as it were 'by anticipation' and in an inchoate way, the 'shape' of faith itself, first because the shape of reason in its deployment in proof of God 'anticipates' that interactivity of'affirmative' and 'negative', of the 'cataphatic' and 'apophatic' moments, which are inherent to the epistemic structure and dynamic of faith itself. Reason, in this respect, therefore has the same

'shape' as faith, for, at any rate according to Thomas, while we may and must speak of God, and while we can show by reason the necessity of doing so, we know that we do not know what God is, whether by reason or by faith. And showing this will occupy us in chapters 2 and 3.

As a second stage of argument in chapters 4, 5 and 6 I shall attempt to clarify more fully what Thomas means by 'reason'. I argue for a much expanded conception of what reason is by comparison with our contemporary conceptions of it, here showing that in its complex character on the one hand of being inherently self-transcendent, and on the other hand of being firmly rooted in our nature as animals, reason possesses, now by a more particular 'anticipation' of faith, the 'shape' of the sacramental, an openness of embodied existence to that which altogether lies beyond its grasp. And that will conclude the argument of Part One.

Part Two will, then, be concerned with the nature of the divine unknowability, for what reason could know about God is principally that ifit is indeed God that it knows, then what it knows is unutterable mystery. But within the inevitable discussion of some medieval, as also of some recent, accounts of the apophatic - essentially the business of determining the nature of God's unknowability - the central problem for my argument begins to press with ever greater urgency. If the 'gulf of unknowability must be fixed so unfathomably deep between the human mind and God as it must - on pain otherwise of an idolatrous theological reductivism -then how could reason in principle be said to bridge it by means of its own native resources of 'proof'? And the solution to that problem forms the agenda for Part Three.

Part Three, then, is concerned with the nature of that 'certainty' with which reason may be said to know God and so with the nature of'proof' -for I take it that reason's characteristic certainty lies in proof in a strict sense, such that 'proof is obtained when a conclusion is validly drawn by inference from true premises. Specifically, I argue that reason can demonstrate the intelligibility of a question - a question which therefore lies within its own reach - but one of such ultimacy that its answer must be unknowable, and that the name of that unknowable answer must be 'God'. Here, though, the argument becomes increasingly complex and impossible to paraphrase in advance, for, in the course of seeking to clarify the 'argument-strategy' of Thomas's proofs of God the link needs to be established between that narrower expression of reason which consists in 'ratiocination' from premises to conclusion in the course of proof, and that broader sense of 'reason' which, in chapter 6, was said to possess the 'shape' of the sacramental. For only through that link may the central proposition of this essay be secured, namely that not only does reason as deployed in proof of God have the shape of the sacramental, but also that this is so because creation as such - the world's being created -is itself quasi-sacramental and that reason is a sort of human participation in that 'sacramentality' of the world. It is, that is to say, in its grasp of the world as brought to be 'out of nothing' that reason knows God: indeed, it is just that knowledge of the world in its character as created -and so in its form of the sacramental - which is our rational knowledge of God. And here my argument ends, leaving unsaid and merely gestured towards, perhaps for another occasion, much that needs to be added of a Christological character by way of securing it fully in place: for, as everyone knows, any account of sacramentality gets its form and character from a Christology, the human nature of Christ being the form and character of every sacrament. Hence it is precisely because of what is revealed to us in Christ that we know that reason too, as the Vatican Council says, can 'know the one true God, our creator and lord, with certainty from the things which have been made'.

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