The God of reason and the God of Christ

The starting point of my argument was the standpoint of faith, and the negative,' defensive', proposition that the exclusion on grounds of faith of any possibility in principle of a rational demonstration of the existence of God is to get something wrong about the nature of faith. The conclusion arrived at by the end of the last chapter was that to exclude that same possibility on rational grounds is to get something importantly wrong about the nature of reason. What linked these two propositions together was a complex argument, which was intended to show that the God of reason' - the God whose existence is rationally demonstrable - is, in the opinion of Thomas Aquinas at least, none other than the God of the Hebrew scriptures, the God of 'Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob'. Ipsum esse subsistens is none other than the ' I am who I am' of Exodus, whom ' all people know as God'. And perhaps I should emphasise for the last time: such an equivalence does not depend upon any tendentiously un-Hebraic (because ' metaphysical') exegesis of Exodus; it is not an exegesis of Exodus of any kind.

I argued, further, that Thomas's God ofthe five ways' is the Creator of all things out of nothing, and that the logic of those five proofs withstands critical examination - and is meant to - only in its dependence on the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. But if that is so, and the Creator God may with justification be identified with the God of the Hebrew scriptures, then it is in the light of their revelation of just that God that the truths of Christian faith - of the Trinity, of the incarnation, of the Holy Spirit in the church -are to be accepted in the Christian's act of faith, by which Christians are made to be sharers in the divine life itself. In short, Thomas's God, known in faith but shown also by reason to be our Creator, is the ratio Dei in the light of which is constituted equally the act of faith itself and the ' formal object' of Christian theology. Therefore, Thomas's ipsum esse subsistens is not only the ' object' of Christian theology, as that whose inner life is thereby explored, but also the light in which that exploration is conducted, the ratio of his theological enquiry. Thomas's God of the proofs is the God of Christian theology.

But then if it is true that this God of reason is demonstrably the God of the Hebrew scriptures, revealed to the people of Israel through their history and traditions and writings, then it can be said not only that this God is the God of Christian theology but also, and a fortiori, that this God is the God of Jesus' own faith. For the God whom Jesus knew as his Father, and ours, and whose Spirit constituted his own very life, was none other than the 'I am who I am' of Exodus. It seems to me that all these connections of thought are obvious to any Christian whatever, except for the one proposition which, on the grounds of all the others, is so frequently excluded nowadays as incompatible with them: Thomas's demonstrable God of reason.

And here, apart from seeking to demonstrate that there is no such inconsistency with faith as is so commonly supposed, I have offered a Christological reason of a positive kind in support of the decree of the first Vatican Council which declares it to be, on the contrary, a matter of faith that the existence of God can be known by reason. As I have put it in the course of my argument, the 'shape' of Thomas's proof is 'proto-sacramental' and so has the shape of Christ; and the shape of Christ is the shape of Christian belief and so of Christian theology. Reason, as we might put it, is governed by an incarnational logic: it has that 'kenotic shape' because, rooted though it is in our animality, reason opens up, in its own kind, into the mystery which lies unutterably beyond it, for it can, out of fidelity to its own native impulse, ask the question which it knows it could not answer, the asking being within its powers, the answering being in principle beyond them. Of such a kind, I say, are Thomas's proofs. And so it is that 'reason' is a point of entry into the 'darkness of God' in its way, just as, in its own distinct way, the human nature of Christ is, as Bonaventure tells us, a transitus into the Deus absconditus of Christian faith.

Dominus illuminatio mea . . . quem timebo? Why, I ask, in conclusion, this theologically motivated resistance to proof of God, this fear of the light of human reason, this faith-induced loss of intellectual nerve? There are all too many explanations of political, economic, social and cultural kinds for a nihilistic post-modern irrationalism: for, contemplating the vicissitudes of the last appalling century, strewn as our inheritance of it is with the debris of officially declared military violence, of systematic economic exploitation, of racism, genocide, and of the consequent near to manic explosions of terrorism, who should be surprised if our age should look into the mirror of such a history, and declare itself to be 'post-modern', since all its values appear to have been dissolved in the corrosive acid of 'alterity'? Yet it can seem to be an intellectual and moral betrayal of their God-given task that the theologians too should with such casualness and with careless inattention to their own traditions, and on their own ground of faith, find reasons to collude in this trahison des clercs, and should abandon so lightly their responsibilities to engage our athe-ological age on terms of argument. Whenever responsibilities to reason have been shirked, either on the side of belief in God or in its mirror-image of atheism, then space is left free for its occupation by the exercise of mere, irrational, power. There is, I have claimed, an argument to be had with disbelief; and if, as it would seem, there is a prior argument to be had about the nature of argument itself, about what by way of truth can and what cannot be won by means of rational discourse, there are at least moral reasons of their own, as well as intellectual, why theologians should be among the first to see the importance of staking a claim for reason. For rational is what we are by nature, and it is that nature which the Christian God assumed so as to save; it has that form which the Christian God took on so as to transform.

I do not imagine that in this essay I have done more than to have offered some case for a greater theological trust in reason than is customary today, and to have cleared away a little of the clutter of misconception, philosophical and theological, which has for several centuries stood in the way of a more theologically positive understanding of reason. It is no case of mine that rational argument, even in that expanded and deepened sense for which I have argued in this essay, has much apologetic power to dissuade the atheist of his convictions; but the believer who, of set theological purpose, refuses to stand on the ground of the atheists' denials and to challenge them on shared rules of contest concedes the territory of reason, and so of the human, at a price which in the end will be paid in the quality of faith itself.

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