The God of the Philosophers (Herbert McCabe)

It is true that philosophers, generally speaking, are the most dogmatic of men, but they cannot claim any divine authority for their dogmatism.  The kind of philosophical reflection that is called “natural theology” exists because God made the world and men.  I think that this reflection can lead to the conclusion that there is a “beyond” that transcends all that we can know.  Broadly speaking, we look at the world and it has a created look about it, which is as far as we can go.  There used to be an idea (invented, I think, by Pascal) that the God of the philosophers was a different kind of being than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Now of course the God of the philosophers that Pascal had in mind may very well be different from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the God of my philosophy (and here I am at one with St. Thomas) is not well known enough to be different from Yahweh of the Old Testament.  Philosophy tells us almost nothing about God, certainly not enough to set up a rival religion.  –The New Creation

4 responses

  1. Is God also not well enough known to be differentiated from the Atman of the Upanishads or the pantheism of Spinoza? My impression, speaking as an outsider, is that Thomas Aquinas’s natural theology provides a great deal of knowledge (or, at a minimum, conceptual clarity) concerning the God of faith. For example, that god does exists, is immaterial, is not delimited by form, is distinct from his creation while fully present to it, is all-powerful and all-knowing, is supremely good, is the unity of his predicates, is “named” analogically, etc., etc. Of course, Aquinas always prefaced his natural philosophy by saying that the truths of reason are also fittingly believed by those (most people) who don’t have the time, aptitude, intellect, or energy for philosophical reasoning. Indeed, he said that the truths of reason are fittingly believed even by natural philosophers themselves, since reasoning is long and toilsome and always prone to error. So, yes, apparently the conclusions of natural theology are taken on faith even before the arguments “prove” them. Still, without natural theology the Christian is reduced to stammering and vociferation, not to mention sweaty nights, in the face of the “Greeks” and their infectious doubts. I myself am not a Christian, but it’s my little exposure to Christian philosophy that causes me to respect and even revere the faith. Even so, I can understand how non-philosophical Christians might experience philosophy as a torment and wish to call it bad names. Perhaps they confuse the limitations of their own reason with the limitations of reason as such? I for one wouldn’t feel comfortable in a religion that lacked the backing of a Thomas Aquinas, one to whom my puny mind could look and say, “He’s got me cover, intellectually.” (Did I just admit that to myself? Out loud?)

    • Steve, that’s a rich and really quite wonderful comment, but I am not equal to responding to it just now. I will think on it and get back to you. One thing I can say now is that I have come to think of Aquinas on God in a different way than I used to, largely because of Josef Pieper’s *The Silence of St. Thomas*. I’ve quoted from that on the blog–here, for example.

      • Well thank you. I just noticed that I said “natural philosophy” and “natural philosophers” instead of “natural theology” and “natural theologians.” That could get confusing. I’ll take a look at Pieper’s book.

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