I was reading Summa Theologica the other day and couldn’t get his imagery out of my head. So I dreamt up this dialogue:
Kathy: I think you can know that God exists.
Carl: What does it mean to say that God exists anyway? Whether God “exists” necessarily depends on your definition of God. If there is only one God, can there be more than one correct definition, and if you don’t or can’t define God, how can you know he exists? But, if you alone decide the definition of God, then “knowing God exists” is simply affirming a personal belief in a certain definition. Right?
Kathy: St. Thomas Aquinas tells us:
To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him.
This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.
Norman: In terms of that example, I know God exists because I have met Him in my personal experience. I can positively recognize Him every time as the same Spirit. I define God by the doctrines and teachings that are spoken through the Spirit.
Chris: I have felt God as well, I know God as Christ, a historical person. I have a lot of beliefs about God but I really only trust what comes from the Bible. If you don’t believe the Bible, you can’t really know that God exists, because you won’t know who or what God is.
Kathy: But wait, in order to identify God you must be able to identify God’s interaction with humanity, If you can’t identify God’s church—you can’t really know assuredly God exists, because whatever you call God will either be your interpretation of your experience, or your personal interpretation of the text. And these subjective interpretations will always result in a morass of different definitions. The Church provides the tangible basis for the existence of God and is the only reliable basis to define and identify God.
Carl: So does the entire question come down to whether your church is also part of God’s church?
What do you all think?
Are you restating the objections in the suma?
No, just thoughts. I am no scholar of Aquinas, that passage stuck in my head for some reason.
We can know (as St. Paul tells us) that God exists. His creation is evidence enough (‘God not preached’).
But can we know that He is for us, apart from ‘God preached’? I think not. The saving God can only be known in His Word (“faith comes by hearing…”) and in His sacraments (Baptism and The Lord’s Supper)…which are all really just part of that one Word.
I think Thomas is talking about God being self-evident naturally without the external testimony of spiritual experience, the revelation in the Bible or the Church
Thomas uses ROM 1:20 as the basis that God can be demonstrated from nature.
Yes, God is quite demonstrable from nature.
But that God might as well be the devil…apart from the person and wok of Christ Jesus (who is only known in preaching and the sacraments).
Maybe Jesus cooks Asian food, though. I know that He could.
Israel is in Asia, so by broad definition Jesus cooked and ate Asian food (and thanks to John, we know Jesus cooked). Though not necessarily the kind you cook with a wok.
Thomas is responding to the contention that everybody has (must have?) a sense of God that must must mean that everybody knows God exists. I like the passage because of the way he points out the distinction between the foggy image and a human identification.
I would agree that everybody has the foggy image of the figure approaching. But who can you trust to reasonably identify the stranger?
@oldadam— If Jesus had a wok, it must have been a marvelous wok and a wonder.
You think General Tsao’s chicken was good…
From the context, St. Thomas is arguing that God’s existence is not self-evident. This doesn’t mean that people can’t know he exists, nor does it mean that we can’t know him “personally”. It just means that we have to deduce or arrive at his existence, and his nature, so far as we can know it, based on the things that we’re familiar with, which are caused by him.
He’s not addressing revelation but only discussing whether God’s existence is demonstrable, i.e. whether we can know it by reason alone.