Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thomistic Atheism

Deep down are we all atheists? Fr. Davies thinks so, and apparently Aquinas might too.

God, [Aquinas] says, “is to be thought of as existing outside the realm of existents, as a cause from which pours forth everything that exists in all its variant forms”. For Aquinas, there is a serious sense in which it is true to assert that God does not exist. He would readily have agreed with Kierkegaard’s statement: “God does not exist, he is eternal.”

Or we can put it another way. There is a sense in which Aquinas holds that only God really exists. Creatures are there, right enough, but, for Aquinas, their being is derived or dependent. All that they are and do is God’s work in them. They have no reality from themselves. Creatures are temporal, finite, and caused to exist, while God is none of these things. Aquinas puts all this by saying that God’s existing does not differ from his substance, that God, and only God, exists by nature, that God is “subsistent being” while everything else “has” being — has it as given to it. [...]

Traditionally speaking, therefore, it makes sense to say both that God does not exist and that only God exists, which means we should be careful when it comes to what we mean when we declare ourselves atheists or not. And there is surely a further sense in which all Jews, Muslims, and Christians can be thought of as atheists. For they do not believe there are any gods. They believe there is a Creator of all things visible and invisible, not that there is a class of gods to which the Creator belongs. The first of the Ten Commandments tells us to have no gods. It effectively tells us to be atheists, to stop being interested in extremely powerful creatures and to focus instead on the unfathomable mystery behind and within the world that we can, to some extent, fathom. God the maker of all things cannot be a part of what He brings forth. He belongs to no category. He is not a god. There are no gods.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Nice. I like that. It's just good for clarifying how we think about things and remembering what we are compared to God. Calvin's principle of the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God - that they are meant to inform one another and increase our fear and appreciation of God because He is so different from us.