The Protestant orthodox systems, both Reformed and Lutheran, consist in revealed theology, and manifest little or no attention to the exposition of a positive natural theology. This characteristic is manifest in the identification of Scripture and not reason as the cognitive foundation or principium cognoscendi [the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation] of theology. This revealed theology, inasmuch as it is a reflection of the divine self-knowledge or theologia archetypa, is also characterized as a form of theologia ectypa, or ectypal theology, and as theologia in via, theology on the way to God, or theologia viatorum, theology of pilgrims or those on the way.
The alternative to this way of understanding theology is known as the analogia entis, or “the analogy of being”. This is primarily the Thomist method of reasoning from things that we know on earth to, primarily, arrive at a knowledge of God “from below”, as it were. Muller gives this definition:
the analogy of being; specifically, the assumption of an analogia, or likeness, between finite and infinite being which lies at the basis of the a posteriori proofs of the existence of God and at the heart of the discussion of attributa divina. The analogia entis is associated with the Thomist, as distinct from Scotist and nominalist, school in medieval and subsequent theology and philosophy.
Since the proofs of God’s existence play only a minor role in the Protestant scholastic systems and, when stated, are usually expressed informally and seldom at any length, the analogia entis receives little emphasis among the Protestant scholastics. Beyond this, the Protestant scholastic statement of fundamental principles (principia theologiae), critical of the pure Thomistic approach of the Middle Ages and quite sensitive to the separation of reason and revelation argued by Scotism, recognizes the inability of theology to rest its arguments on a principle of analogy between Creator and creature and, instead, tends to argue the use of ideas and terms on the basis of scriptural revelation.
This tendency coheres with the Protestant scholastic view of the use of philosophy.
Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the best known and most articulate expositor of the analogia entis. In this respect, Aquinas cobbled together something of an Aristotelian metaphysic with a Pseudo-Dionysian notion of “remotion” – that “we can’t know God as he is”. Of course, Aquinas also relied on “the Psalms, the Wisdom books of the Greek Old Testament, the patristic tradition, and so on”, to achieve his “grand synthesis”. “The assumption is that the world reveals the glory of God: the divine presence is more or less evident”.
It is this “grand synthesis”, this Medieval version of “why can’t we all just get along”, that has caused the train wreck that is Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism is not a Biblical faith; instead, it is an agglomeration of disparate and unrelated thoughts and activities. The notion is that “all truth is related”, but the contexts are so different, the result is a mish-mosh of philosophical concepts that may or may not resemble the God of the Bible in any discernible way.
Fergus Kerr, citing Wolfhart Pannenberg, agrees: “Thomas derives a good deal about God in the course of considering ‘the things pertaining to the divine essence’ (ST 1.2 prologue) [“ST” is the abbreviation for “Summa Theologica”]. But what did Thomas come up with?
Briefly, the account goes as follows. God’s existence in the world is not obvious. On the other hand, that God exists, as beginning and end of all things, is not solely a matter of faith. God revealed himself to Moses; inferences from the nature of the world confirm the immanent activity of the one whom everyone calls ‘God’ (ST 1.2.1-3).
And here comes the train wreck:
We cannot know of God what he is but only what he is not; so we begin by denying of God the marks of the creaturely condition. This results in the doctrine of the divine simplicity: in God there is no real distinction between his essence and his existence (1.3).
There is no imperfection about God (1.4).
Perfection of being implies perfection of goodness (1.5); so God is the sovereign Good (1.6).
God is not finite (1.7); thus God is in everything, ‘not as a part or property but like the agent in an action’ (1.8).
God is not subject to being changed by anything external to himself (1.9).
God is not subject to time or temporal change (1.10).
God is one, unique, singular: otherwise something would be added to God, from outside so to speak, constraining him (1.11).
Given this entirely negative description of God, how is God to be known and named by creatures such as we are (1.12-1.13)?
In this life, Thomas thinks, we never know God as he is. That happens only in the beatific vision (1.12.1, citing 1 John 3:2).
(Citing Fergus Kerr, “After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism”, Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2002, pgs 35, 185).
What we have here is “knowledge of God by using our heads” – a description of God using unaided reason (though a lot of Aristotelian and Pseudo-Dionysian concepts) without the Scriptures. But even so:
What more is provided by Christian revelation? Even with the benefit of revelation, Thomas thinks, we know nothing of God as he is in himself. In faith, hope and charity, we are at best always united to God as to one unknown. Yet we do have some more knowledge of God by revelation, such as the information that God is both one and three (disclosed by Jesus, Thomas assumed). Moreover, God has shown us more – and more remarkable – effects, though the example Thomas offers, disappointingly and instructively, is the Holy Spirit’s appearing in the form of a dove at Christ’s baptism (1.12.13) – whereas one might have thought of Christ’s humanity or the sacraments or martyrdom, to keep to disclosures of divine agency that are acknowledged elsewhere in Thomas’s theology (Kerr, pgs 185-186).
The bottom line: “We speak of God as we know him: since we know God from creatures, we can speak of him only as they represent him. ‘Any creature, in so far as it possesses any perfection, represents God and is like God, for God, being simply and universally perfect, has pre-existing in himself the perfections of all his creatures’ (ST 1.13.2). Thus, we predicate of God perfections we are familiar with in ourselves – meaning them, however, ‘in a higher way than we understand’. (Kerr, 186).
It is said that the Reformers focused on Salvation and not on the Doctrine of God. That may be true. But the Reformed Orthodox, concerned with a need “to present theology in close dialogue with the world of thought around it” (Muller, PRRD, Vol 1, pg 220), chose to develop its theology, its understanding of God from that which was revealed. I’ll have more to say about that in a future blog post, Lord willing.