Monday, January 11, 2010

The god of Aquinas and Aristotle: Reasonable but Unrelational?

I had the pleasure of sitting at Mike Reeves' feet last week listening to him teaching on Anselm and Aquinas, essentially from his new book The Breeze of the Centuries which covers the last three years of historical theology at our staff training conferences. Mike tries to hide his own feelings about these theologians as he introduces us to them. Whereas there is much in Athanasius to inspire, Anselm and Aquinas rather show us better how not to approach theology. It's an excellent book, with a second volume to follow (since this one finishes with Aquinas and a monk who found Aristotle's disciple (Aquinas) to give us darkness instead of light...

What's striking about Aquinas is his level of influence on the church (in 1998 John Paul II said that the angelic doctor gives the model of how to do theology) and the way that he's a reason-first Aristotlelian kind of theologian.

I was struck that his view of God begins with reasoning which attributes God should have, like unchanging, everlasting, firm foundation, unoriginate, uncreated etc. Arguing essentially for God as that than which nothing greater exists.... Eventually Aquinas talks about the God who reveals himself as Triune, in which Jesus is more the Father's conception of himself (a thought) than personally his beloved Son. It's all troublingly unpersonal and worringly familiar.

It's a pattern followed by most Systematic Theology following Aquinas that we begin with attributes of God rather than meeting the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father (as we might if we followed Athanasisus). Even the mighty Wayne Grudem does this...

I've been reminded that reason only really gets us to a distant divine, whereas revelation gets us to our relational, personal God - the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who love one another and overflow in love to catch us up into fellowship with themselves. That's not to say we should be anti-reason, nor that we should view God's revelation as some kind of verbal-magic - when God speaks he speaks persuasively and clearly.

Christopher Ash was also with us, to warm our hearts from John's Gospel and he did so wonderfully by showing us just this kind of Trinitarian vision of salvation and life where God makes his home with us and catches us up into the fellowship of the Father and the Son, something truly beautiful. More on that another day.