I’ve been mostly busy working on other projects this week, so I haven’t done much blogging, but I wanted to point out this comment from Jim:
You could show that there is a rationality inherent in the universe, and yet the transcendence of that rationality is a non sequitur. Perhaps my confusion–which I will say has not been abated by anything anyone has yet written, here or elsewhere–is due to the fact that “transcendence” and “utterly other” are such slippery concepts. Are they equivalent?
Jim’s excellent question underscored for me my own lack of clarity on the issue of transcendence. I have, to this point in my life, affirmed it. I wholeheartedly expect to continue to affirm it. But as I have thought about it more with Jim, I am also not sure that I understand it. I remain unpersuaded by any argument against the rationality of God that he has yet advanced, or any proof text he has asserted without argument. Nor do I agree with his interpretation of the Pope’s speech, especially his attempt to find irony where it isn’t.
But I do find common ground in his question above: what, exactly, does it mean that God is transcendent? I have not read contemporary, analytic accounts of the term, so I am sketching in the shadows. That, though, has never stopped me before.
I would offer two thoughts on the doctrine of “transcendence.” One, God is sui generis. Even if we disagree with Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God–and I don’t–what they demonstrate is that God is in a separate category than creation. He is the Being on which the whole temporal and contingent creation rests. Aquinas, of course, thinks that Being is coextensive with Goodness. That is, if God Is, then He Is Good. While most of modern philosophy rejects this prima facie, I accept it prima facie. It is the axiom that drives medieval thought, and I think it true.
That said, predications of God that are based on human categories–reasonable, good, loving–point to something beyond the human categories, but not in such a way that they are meaningless or in such a way that the opposite qualities are in danger of breaking out. Rather, our categories–good, loving, reasonable–are accurate insofar as they approximate the Goodness that is God. Hence Ephesians 3:14-15: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Fatherhood–a predication–is most properly God’s, and only ours derivatively. So also with rationality–Jesus as Logos–and Goodness.
What this means, of course, is that for us to know which qualities God has, he must enter our framework and reveal Himself to us in our categories. He must, in fact, incarnate Himself and enter our conversation. But all the while, our conversation rests upon His Logos, not the other way around.