The Paradox of God : Thoughts on Christian Theism

Augustine Holmes OSB FAITH Magazine May-June 2002


Thinking about the unfathonable God

Where is God?, a priest in South India once asked a group of children. The young Catholics pointed to the sky, but the Hindus pointed to their breast. Both responses are in fact valid for Christians, as tradition teaches us that God is 'closer to us than we are to ourselves' but also 'hid in unapproachable light'. If we examine the way we speak about God, we constantly find ourselves coming up against paradox: he is both immanent in creation and utterly transcends it; he is loving and concerned but also 'thou that changest not'. It is clear that God is too big for our language; but many modern theologians also hold that our doctrine is wrong. They believe that the pure teaching of the Gospel has been corrupted by Greek philosophy.In thinking about God we cannot avoid the question of therelationship between theology and philosophy, recently highlighted by the Holy Father in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio, though we also need to listen to the Christian Mystics who actually experienced the paradox of God within themselves. In all these areas a determining factor is that we relate to God from within his creation, which alone supplies the language by which we speak of him. Our attitude to the divine paradox will thus influence our presentation of God to our contemporaries in the context of a world shaped by modern science. In the rest of this article I aim to interrogate this divine paradox by making a brief tour of these sites: reason and revelation; speaking about God; the language of mystical experience; the suffering of God; God and creation. One can do no more than touchon the important issues involved, but first a question about the nature of paradox.

Should we resolve the paradox?

If paradox is taken as a holding together of two truths that seem contradictory, then it is clearly an essential part of Christian doctrine: God is three and one; Jesus is true God and true man; Mary is virgin and mother, etc.. One could say that it is part of the 'deep grammar' of Christianity and expresses its eschatological orientation, as Henri de Lubac notes: "Paradox is the search or wait for synthesis; it is the provisional expression of a view which remains incomplete, but whose orientation is towards fullness"[1]. As such, to resolve a theological paradox is to make absolute the provisional, it is a denial of Christian hope. An insight of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel can help us see the implications of de Lubac's definition.

He notes that a field of enquiry can be approached either as a problem or as a mystery, and that many of the post-Enlightenment difficulties in philosophy are a result of an illicit extension of the former attitude[2]. As the new post-mediaeval science gradually solved problems and unlocked the secrets of nature, so the Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century applied the problem-solving methods of science to society, philosophy and religion. While the French Revolution illustrates the evil this could unleash in society, it had particularly disastrous results in theology where rather than resolving paradoxes one should affirm them, aiming to discern and elucidate the mystery they proclaim. This will be made particularly clear when weexamine the difficulties involved in using language of God.

The Anglican Thomist Eric Mascall gives a number of examples of other unfortunate resolutions of the paradox of God. An overstress on transcendence produces the detached God of the Deists and the harsh God of militant Islam. He also mentions the twentieth century Protestant theology of Karl Barth, where divine transcendence is preserved at the cost of intelligibility: God is so 'other' that we can have no common language with him.

On the other side one finds pantheism, the nothingness and impersonal absolute of the East, and the totally involved God of the process theologians, who is part of the evolutionary process and so implicated in our predicament he can be neither Judge nor Saviour[3]. Christian orthodoxy avoids these errors, but is it guilty of an aboriginal fault of mixing God's word with profane speculation?

Reason and Revelation: Athens or Jerusalem?

Christian hostility to Greek philosophy has a long history, for example in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16 and Tertullian's "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" In modern times the idea that most Christian dogma is a "work of the Greek spirit" and therefore alien to the Gospel is particularly associated with the liberal Protestant historian of dogma, Adolf Harnack (1851-1930). This 'Hellenistic corruption' is thought by those who follow him to be most evident in the doctrine of God. A process of 'de-Hellenisation' is thus usually advocated by those who propose an immanent suffering God as more true to the Biblical witness. Does the Old Testament support this view?The concept of God develops throughout the period of the Old Covenant. Israel first encounters a God who acts in history and choosesthem as a people; only through reflection on this revelation, especially in the context of the Exile, do they develop the mature understanding of Yahweh presented in Deutero-Isaiah and the Deuteronomic writers. The development of the strict monotheism of Deutero-Isaiah, "there is no other God besides me" (Isaiah 45:5), goes with a strong sense of God's transcendence, which builds on earlier texts.This is the God of the theophanies: of the burning bush, of Sinai and the Temple cult. Such an impression of transcendence was reinforced by the idea of God as the ruler of all the nations and Creator of all, prominent in the priestly writer and Deutero-Isaiah. In the priestly account of Genesis 1 God is presented as the sole operative cause, creating by his word alone, in contrast to otherancient Middle-Eastern creation stories where the world is produced by a conflict between the gods.

The poles of transcendence and immanence

The Old Testament thus presents God as both immanent in history and creation and transcendent of them. The two poles of this divine antinomy are held together by the use of 'verbal insulators'[4]. These are terms such as God's Angel (in the early angelophanies), Name, Word, Glory, Wisdom or Spirit, which express God's action in a particular area but emphasise that his power exceeds his action. These 'personifications' are God and not separate 'persons', but they have a developmental dynamic: the divine angel in Judges 6 & 13 has become one of a distinct set of heavenly beings in Daniel and Tobit.

They also provide some of the raw material later used in understanding the Holy Trinity. Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple well illustrates their function: God's name dwells there, symbolised by the glory and the cloud, but: "Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven, the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built" (1 Kings 8:10-13 & 8:27). The many anthropomorphisms, God described as being and acting like a man, show his presence in history as the Israelites first encountered him, but they should be interpreted in the context of the holy God known as 'wholly other' as this was the God Israel knew it had met.

Greek thought in the Hebrew scriptures

In the Deuterocanonical books we begin to see, under Hellenistic influence, a more philosophical understanding of God, who, for example, creates out of nothing in 2 Maccabees 7:28, or "out of formless matter" in Wisdom 11:17. It is wrong to posit an impassable chasm between the God of Israel and the language of the philosophers; Greek and Hebrew concepts are different but authentic religion demands a realist view of truth which allows dialogue between different conceptual worlds.

Thomas Weinandy expresses this well: "Inherent within the Bible's Hebraic, more functional and relational thought forms lie principles and notions - ontological in nature - which pertain to a philosophical understanding of who God is and how he relates to what is other than himself"[5]. The Jews and the Greeks do not have two different Truths, they both speak of the same Truth but in different ways. Given this, it is clearly possible to express a Biblical truth in the language of Greek philosophy. Harnack is thus wrong, but the question remains: is philosophical language used to express the Biblical God or is he inevitably changed to fit the preconceptions of philosophy?

For the ancient Stoic philosophers, God was purely immanent as the energy sustaining the cosmos and the reason (logos) within it. In the Platonic tradition the absolute form or principle is utterly transcendent and is only in contact with lower realities via emanations or a hierarchy of beings; which system was taken to its extreme in the super-transcendent 'One' of Neoplatonism. Aristotle's God is creator and conserver, but apart from his attractiveness to beings he has no real interest in the world. The God of the New Testament is that of the Old Testament explained by the revelation of Jesus.

Christianity corrects and adapts Greek philosophy

Following the lead of St Paul and the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, the Fathers attempted to present the God of revelation in contemporary terms. It is significant that they totally rejected pagan polytheistic religion but critically used pagan philosophy. Whereas the Greeks tended to believe that God or the Demiurge (a 'mediating god' to preserve the transcendence of the 'One') created out of pre-existent matter, the Fathers interpreted Genesis to say that God created everything ex nihilo[6]. They affirmed the paradox of a transcendent and immanent God by rejecting both the Stoic pantheism and the Platonic cosmic dualism mentioned above.

This process was not without conflict and some writers compromised Biblical teaching; Justin tended to use the Word (Logos) of St John's Gospel as a sort of Christian Demiurge in order to isolate the Father from creation. In general, though, one can agree with the great patristic scholar G.L. Prestige that the Fathers' eclectic use of philosophy was controlled by Scriptural teaching and precedent. There was thus no major corruption of the Christian doctrine of God caused by alien philosophy; rather the philosophy was transformed to fit the revealed God, as we will see later when we look at the question, "does God suffer?" Language is therefore important in dealing with our question, but it is not the sole determinant. In creatio ex nihilo we already have a hint of 'negative theology'. Inspeaking of God to our contemporaries we must have a strong sense of the limitations of language lest we resolve the paradox and present a God who is less that God.

Speaking of the Absolute: God the Unknown?

St Thomas famously said we can know that God is, not what he is. This needs qualification, but the way Christian thinkers speak about God, especially their use of affirmation and negation, shows that we must hold both his transcendence and his immanence; and, as we have seen in our discussion of the Old Testament, transcendence has a certain priority within this paradox.

The first Christian writer to use the Greek terms cataphatic and apophatic for the positive and negative ways of speaking about God was the Syrian who wrote c. 500AD under the pseudonym Denys the Areopagite (cf Acts 17:34). They had previously been used by the Neo-platonist Proclus (c.410-485AD), for whom the way of negation applied to the utterly transcendent 'One' we have already encountered, and the way of affirmation to the separate manifestations of the One described in Plato's dialogue Parmenides[7]. As a Christian, Denys transcended Neoplatonic dualism by uniting these terms so that they both referred to the same God, thus affirming our paradox: God reveals something of himself in creation and revelation, which we can affirm, but thisis not "the hidden Being that transcends being"[8].

Denys has been unfairly suspected of being more Platonist than Christian, but he was in fact part of a long Christian tradition of affirming the incomprehensibility of God and developing Biblical themes of divine transcendence. Following Philo and the Christian Alexandrians Clement and Origen, the Cappadocian Fathers also stressed this divine incomprehensibility in their battle against the heretic Eunomius (died 394 AD). Denying the divinity of Christ, Eunomius taught that the divine essence was only held by the Father and could be exactly defined and known as 'unbegotten': an example of Greek philosophy corrupting the faith because if we could know exactly what God was we would then be God.St Thomas is heavily indebted to Denys. He uses his positive and negative theology and also his'negation of negation' by the Greek prefix huper, the 'way of eminence': God is not just not good, he is super-good. It is, however, in his doctrine of analogy that Thomas most classically allows us to speak of the unknown God. This is a way of using a term to describe two things which is neither univocal, the word means the same in both instances, nor equivocal, it means something different in each; nor is it even metaphorical, the word conveys truth but not literally.

The limits of created analogies

In analogy the meanings are related but different, and in speaking of God one must remember that "between Creator and creature no similarity can be expressed without implying a greater dissimilarity"[9]. When Thomas says we cannot know what God is, "this does not mean that we may say nothing at all about him, but we must realise that he always transcends anything we can say about him"[10]. For Thomas we know what something is when we can define it, but God is outside all classes and categories and thus we must use analogy. Again we return to creation: since God is not a material object and we can only know anything by abstraction from material things, he is unknowable in his essence; intheir perfections, however, creatures resemble God their source and therefore on this basis we can speak of God by analogy.

The depth of mystery

This mixture of knowledge and ignorance, with the latter predominating, is a constant of Judaeo-Christian thought about God and it allows one to realistically affirm divine transcendence. It enables one to speak of God while retaining the mystery; but to speak of God in any way is impossible for many who are influenced by certain trends in modern philosophy. Analogy is an answer to pure empiricism (all knowledge derives from experience- as in materialism), but when one denies any constant referents of meaning (denying what 'post-modern' theorists call 'foundationalism') there can not only be no valid God-talk but also no objectively valid discourse about anything: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps 11:3).One could argue that only by grounding things in atranscendent God can one affirm anything at all and thus avoid nihilism; paradoxically only God can preserve modern secular society. Much post-Enlightenment philosophy must be rejected before one can speak of God today, but mere intellectual affirmation is not enough. An authentic doctrine must relate to the whole person and thus I would argue that it must have some contact with mysticism: the experience of the paradoxical God.

Mysticism: Vision of God or of Oneself?

Religious experience is not a good rational proof of God as it is so personal and ambiguous, but it is very relevant to our subject as the Christian mystics usually describe their experience in terms where the two poles of our paradox are held in non-contradiction: "One can only approach God via the cloud of unknowing; yet the only place one can find him is in the apex of the soul"[11]. In holding together divine immanence and transcendence, however, one needs to ask whether, as many key modern thinkers affirm, mysticism is really only making statements about human subjectivity. Once this question is dealt with, two themes in Eastern Christian mystical theology may help our understanding of the paradox: natural contemplation and thedistinction between divine essence and energies. These are often held to be in opposition to Western Catholic theology but there are actually remarkable points of contact.

Karl Rahner said that "dogmatic theology today must be theological anthropology" as "it deals with man's salvation and really with nothing else"[12]. His interpretation of man's unsettled nature as a capacity for transcendence is traditional, being found for example at the start of Augustine's Confessions, but it has more recent roots in nineteenth century German thought. FDE Schleiermacher emphasised 'feeling' as "an existential self-awareness which conveys an intuition of the human condition as a relation of total dependence on God". (To which Hegel is said to have replied, "If the feeling of absolute dependence is the touchstone of religion, then a dog would be the most religious of beings"). Subjective feeling alone is not enough, andthe problem for orthodox belief and mystical experience is whether one can really say that this 'supernatural existential' is an immanent experience of (desire for) the transcendent God or just a projection of the riches of the self to which the divine name is attached.

The modern critique of religion has moved "from fraud to Freud". While the Enlightenment attack of such as HG Reimarus attempted to disprove the Gospel evidence, more recently any appeal to 'God within' or to a sense of his transcendence can be dismissed as "nothing but a projection of banished desires or repressed fears"[13]. Freud's God is a Father substitute and for him religion results from 'desire for incest'. For Alfred Adler it springs from the 'will to power', but Jung, who noted that patients' dreams were full of God-imagery, was not satisfied and took religion seriously, interpreting it using archetypes in the unconscious. The problem here is whether these inherited images from the collective unconscious have any referent outsidethe unconscious mind. The English Dominican Victor White argued that they represent "an innate aspiration for God", but Jung himself remained agnostic.

He deliberately argued from an empiricist point of view while allowing the possibility that "God himself created the soul and its archetypes"[14]. In his autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung notes that his break with Freud was over the latter's dogmatic opposition to religion, but he also reveals his own agnosticism and his ambivalent interest in alchemy and the occult. While depth-psychology can be given a Christian interpretation, it may be just a foundationless game with words. Similarly 'atheist-theologians' such as Don Cupitt who hold an anti-realist 'coherence' view of truth can use God-language: "'God exists' is true, not because the word God refers to an everlasting Being or a timeless substance but because thephrase has a use and a purpose within the... believing community"[15].

The mind’s ascent to God by contemplating his creation

Thus one must beware of presuppositions that neutralise seemingly orthodox discourse about God. Talk of God's presence in creation can be just as subjectivist as that concerning his presence in us, but the patristic doctrine of natural contemplation (in Greek theôria physik) is a convincing way of affirming divine immanence while preserving transcendence. This is the contemplation of the logoi within things as taught by Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Denys and Maximus the Confessor. The Fathers held that at the heart of each created thing is its interior principle or logos, implanted in it by God the Word (in Greek Logos) through whom the Father creates (Jn 1:3). By contemplation of the material world and the events of history we enter via their logoi into communion with God, who isabove and beyond all things yet as Creator within all things. The advantage of this seemingly esoteric theory is that it inserts a cosmic dimension into mysticism which is generally lacking in the West, at least in theory. It is thus a useful antidote to New Age pantheism[16].

Attaining to the Divine Essence?

Natural contemplation leads to theologia: an imageless contemplation of God in himself to which one is raised by grace and which results in deification: "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2). In affirming this many Eastern Fathers posit a distinction between the essence and energies of God which safeguards the paradox of divine immanence and transcendence; a distinction elaborated by St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359). The essence is absolutely inaccessible but we can have union with the uncreated energies which are God himself in his self-manifestation. St Thomas, however, follows the Western tradition in teaching that man can be raised by the grace of the light of glory to the vision of the divine essence itself, although there are degrees of glory and we willeven then not know him fully.

For many Thomists the essence/energies distinction introduces an unwarranted division into God, but Palamas emphasises that each energy is truly the one indivisible God, and that the distinction is only to be maintained from our point of view to preserve the paradox. The controversy reflects two interpretations of Dionysian apophaticism: 1) Aquinas: the unknowability of God is caused by the limitations of the created mind, which must be raised beyond itself to see God; 2) Palamas: unknowability is a property of the divine nature, although God can reveal himself[17]. Thomist and Palamite both reject Eunomian comprehension of God, however, and the contradiction is largely at the level of language, as they both aim to hold the same mystery ofour participation in the transcendent God: the same God reveals himself and remains transcendent in his own revelation.

The Problem of Evil - Does God Suffer?

Christian tradition has rich resources for understanding and presenting our relationship to the transcendent God, but in some quarters today the Christian view of God has radically changed. Rather than unchanging and impassible, the God who is love is now called "sensitive, emotional and passionate"[18]. Like the 'historical Jesus' of liberal exegetes, this new God looks rather like an ideal projection of its academic creators; but, although it resolves the paradox away from transcendence, there are genuine modern concerns which have caused this change.

A return to the God of the scriptures

The historical-critical method of exegesis separated Biblical studies from systematic theology and encouraged an examination of the thought-forms of the Bible itself. The Biblical God, especially that of the Old Testament, is often presented in an anthropomorphic manner and is even said to change his mind (e.g. Ex 32:14; Ps 77:10; Jer 18:8). This fits well with a key trend in modern thought identified thus by Vatican II: "A dynamic and evolutionary concept of nature is being substituted for a more static one" (Gaudium et Spes 5). This is true in all areas: social theory, philosophy, theology (e.g. the idea of development of doctrine), psychology, as well as biology and physics. It is thus not surprising that 'becoming' has invaded the sphere of perfect Being, and in process theology wehave a limited God who grows and develops as he interacts with the world[19].

The more immediate roots of a suffering changing God, however, are in the horrors of the twentieth century, Auschwitz etc.: the problem of evil. So compelling are these arguments, taken seriously by important Catholic theologians such as Jean Galot and Hans Urs von Balthasar, that the Protestant Jurgen Moltmann could write in 1991, "The doctrine of the essential impassibility of the divine nature now seems finally to be disappearing from the Christian doctrine of God"[20]. Thomas Weinandy rightly argues in his recent important work Does God Suffer? that this view results from a misunderstanding of divine impassibility; it not only resolves the paradox but destroys the Christian and Biblical understanding of God.

We have seen that the God of the Bible is both wholly transcendent and fully involved. As well as the texts cited by the passibilists, those who reject divine impassibility, Scripture also explicitly teaches that God does not change: "I, the Lord, do not change" (Mal 3:6); Tthe Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of change" (Jas 1:17). The argument that this is an ethical not an ontological changelessness falls for the same reasons which reject an absolute division between Biblical revelation and philosophy. Passibilists all agree, however, in believing that classical theism, the traditional Christian view of God, is a replacement of the Biblical view by Greek philosophy. From within authentic Christian tradition, however, the standard 'patristic' response to theproblem is to affirm both divine apatheia (God does not suffer change) and a strong understanding of the communicatio idiomatum: the doctrine, associated with St Cyril of Alexandria, that, with the divine and human natures of Christ, the attributes of one may be predicated of the other because they are perfectly united in the one person of the Word. This enables one to say of Christ, "God suffers". The Incarnation is thus the key, but why can one not say that it reveals the essentially passible nature of the Godhead?.

God’s passionate care is not disordered passion

The answer is in this patristic notion of divine apatheia. Like the philosophers, Christians opposed the passionate and emotional gods of pagan mythology. While doing so, however, they understood the 'passion' (in Greek patheia) lacking in apatheia as an imposed external misfortune or an internal movement contrary to reason. Both of these are connected to sin and thus have no place in the revealed God, whereas pity, love and concern are shown by Scripture to be his essential properties. Jerome famously said that a human claiming apatheia is "either God or a stone". The passibilists consistently interpret patristic doctrine as saying God is like a stone: static, lifeless, inert; but it is clear from patristic texts that God's immutability is not opposed to his vitality. Thomas Weinandynotes: "What God and rocks have in common is that they do not change... they are thus for polar-opposite reasons.. God is unchangeable because he is so dynamic that no change can make him more active"[21].

While not always avoiding mistakes, the Fathers generally transformed philosophical language such as apatheia when they used it to describe revealed truth. St Thomas Aquinas builds on their work to provide a deeper understanding of divine immutability. It is not primarily an indication of self-identity but rather shows the dynamic and boundless perfection of God as 'pure act': he is so fully realised that there is no room for any potential. It is because God is both wholly other and 'Pure Act' that he can be present to and active in creation.

The suffering Christ is truly God

The Incarnation is the supreme presence of God in creation, one part of tradition actually says it is the goal of creation, and, as man, God suffers and dies. Passibilists invariably have a crypto-Nestorian Christology: by this I mean they follow the fifth century heresiarch Nestorius in being reluctant to identify the one Person of Jesus Christ with the second Person of the Holy Trinity. In criticising Karl Rahner's opposition to the 'theopaschite' formula "one of the Trinity has suffered", Balthasar detects a similar error. He says that if this formula is not true and one cannot affirm that God suffers in Christ, one could rightly say: "Jesus may be having a hard time, but so what? That does not help me when I'm having a hard time"[22].

In rejecting a realist communicatio idiomatum, passibilists underestimate the Incarnation and tend to take Christ's passion as a symbolic expression of what is happening in God as God. In orthodox Catholic thought, however, only the God who suffers in the flesh can both redeem us and give meaning to our suffering: otherwise he is merely an understanding friend and fellow sufferer. Thus again it is only his transcendence that gives meaning to God's immanent activity.

Balthasar and Galot take the traditional doctrine one stage further and suggest that God's ability to suffer in Christ is grounded in the mutual self-giving and love of the intra-Trinitarian relationships. Galot speaks of two levels in God, in a way reminiscent of Palamas, but Balthasar aims to preserve the paradox in the immanent Trinity itself[23]. We cannot discuss this here, but it does mean that a full presentation of our paradox demands reference to the mysteries of Trinity and Incarnation. That would take another article, but another key theological theme has recurred throughout this discussion: Creation. We shall therefore finally investigate how divine immanence and transcendence can only be properly understood and proclaimed byholding the orthodox distinction between the uncreated Creator and his creation.

A View From Creation: Can Modern Man Accept God?

We have noted that the paradox of God's transcendence and immanence is relative to our position in the created order. Some theologians even see John Duns Scotus' teaching that it is possible to consider Being in abstraction from the question of whether one is considering created or creating Being (i.e. creation or God) as at the root of modernity: the declaration of secular independence from God[24]. Certainly as 'post-modern' theorists have pointed out, the modern attempt to find alternative 'foundations' instead of God has failed and secularists have been left with creation without a Creator. For them there is no guarantor of reality and all collapses into the void of nihilism. Fortunately the Christian view of creation both groundsreality and affirms the paradox.

In his famous five ways of proving the existence of God Aquinas moves from the world of change and degree to the First Cause and Unmoved Mover: thus God is both Creator and Sustainer. Eric Mascall relates Aquinas' project here to our paradox: "God is transcendent because a First Cause involved in the contingent cosmos would not provide a foundation for himself or anything else; God is immanent because unless every finite being was sustained at its ontological root by his incessant creative action (present by essence, presence and power), it would collapse into non-existence"[25]. This seemingly complex philosophical presentation confirms the insights of the Bible: God is the Creator of all and sustains all in being. Aquinas' vision of thepresence of God sustaining every thing at its core is also similar to the Greek Fathers' doctrine of the logoi outlined above, and could form the basis of a Western theory of 'natural contemplation'.

In addition, this vision fits well with the science which informs modern culture. The sustaining God can be seen as active in the evolutionary process which follows laws present in the first moments of the 'big bang': he is not a 'God of the gaps'. Stephen Hawking's finite four dimensional universe of space and time without boundaries causes him to ask: "What place, then, for a Creator?"[26]; but it only rules out the Deist God who starts it all and then walks away. Time is a property of creation and so the act of creation was not in time; but even with an eternal universe one still needs a simultaneous First Cause as sustainer as St Thomas allowed in his 'five ways'.

Christ the key to ultimate Mystery

An authentic doctrine of God thus makes sense of modern science, especially as most scientists hold that the universe began in a singularity: the Big Bang. Science only describes, however, and, despite aiming at a 'theory of everything', it does not give ultimate explanations. The mystery remains and, while affirming the compatibility of Christianity and modern science, one must emphasise the otherness of the transcendent God if one wants to proclaim God to the modern world.A final thought is that such a proclamation must be Christian from the start. As has been suggested above, it is only through the Incarnation and Trinity that one can begin to give a convincing response to the problem of evil, although a definitive answer must obviously wait until the beatific vision. It is also onlyin Christ the Logos that one can begin to form a valid picture of the paradox of our question. Our proclamation should therefore be of a mystery expressed in paradox, not of the solution to a problem; and, as proclamation is an act of language, it is itself a paradox as it proclaims him who cannot be expressed: as Augustine said: 'If you comprehend it, it is not God'.

[1] Henri de Lubac, Paradoxes of Faith (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 9.

[2] Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being I: Reflection and Mystery (London: Harvill, 1950), 204-219. This is explored in Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).

[3] Eric Mascall, He Who Is: A Study in Traditional Theism (London: Longmans, 1943), Chapter 10 "Transcendence and Immanence".

[4] I am indebted to Fr Richard Conrad OP for this concept.

[5] Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer?, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), 41.

[6] Some such as Justin Martyr, Apology 1:59, and Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5:14, followed Wis 11:17 in accepting the Greek view, but this was decisively rejected by Theophilus of Antioch, Apologia ad Autolycum 2:4, and the other Fathers who fought Gnosticism.

[7] Plato and Parmenides, tr. F.M. Cornford (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1979). Plato ends the Parmenides with a series of Hypotheses on the One and the Many. While earlier Platonists such as Albinus saw them as an exercise in logic, the Neoplatonists interpreted them theologically. Proclus is so apophatic that he denies that one can even say of the One that it is the One!

[8] Denys, The Divine Names 1. Generally speaking Denys speaks of God cataphatically in his treatise The Divine Names and apophatically in the shorter Mystical Theology. A good translation of all his works is found in Dionysius: The Complete Works, tr. Colm Luibheid (London: SPCK, 1987).

[9] Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Lateran Against Abbot Joachim, DS 806.

[10] Thomas Aquinas In Boeth. De Trin. II 1 ad6

[11] Mascall, 142.

[12] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations IX (London: DLT, 1972), 28; cf. his article "Transcendental Theology" in Sacramentum Mundi 6:287-289.

[13] From Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, quoted in Victor White, God and the Unconscious (London: Harvill, 1952), 27.

[14] From a letter of 1948 from Jung to Gebhard Frei, cited in White, 257.

[15] Gareth Moore OP, quoted in Peter Vardy, The Puzzle of God (London: Fount, 1990), 64.

[16] A good introduction is found in Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Oxford: Mowbray, 1979).

[17] The first has its roots in Plato and Origen, and the second is rooted in Clement and Gregory of Nyssa. The distinction was first suggested by Vladimir Lossky in his 1936 article "La théologie négative dans la doctrine de Denys L'Aréopagite", but has been criticised by Jean Daniélou in Platonisme et théologie mystique (1954).

[18] M. Sarot, quoted in Weinandy, Does God Suffer? What follows is influenced by this excellent book, which gives a full survey of modern views.

[19] The movement started in 1920s America and its exponents include AN Whitehead, C Hartshorne and WN Pittinger. They reject 'static metaphysics' and 'classical theism' and instead of transcendent/immanent speak of divine 'bi-polarity' as primordial/consequent. In Process and Reality (1929) Whitehead called God "the fellow-sufferer who understands". A Thomist would say that the process 'god' points beyond himself to a First Cause i.e. God.

[20] J Moltmann, History and the Triune God (London: SCM, 1991), p.xvi. His The Crucified God (London: SCM, 1974), played an important role in this change. Jean Galot, Dieu souffre-t-il? (Paris: Lethielleux, 1976); Balthasar, Theo-drama 5: The Last Act (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 212-246. Balthasar identifies the centrality of Hegel to this modern project, 224-6, and identifies Moltmann's ideas as 'Lutheran Hegelianism', p229.

[21] Weinandy, 124. Balthasar, 221, notes how Origen and other Fathers both speak of divine apatheia and attribute passions such as pity to the eternal God in analogical ways which go beyond allegory and mere anthropomorphism.

[22] Balthasar, 13.

[23] Balthasar, 239-46, where he gives his source as an article by Jacques Maritain.

[24] A central thesis of the important modern Anglican theologian John Milbank, see his, "The Theological Critique of Philosophy in Hamann and Jacobi", in Radical Orthodoxy. ed Milbank, Pickstock, Ward (London: Routledge, 1999), 21-37.

[25] Mascall, 126.

[26] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (London: Guild Publishing, 1988), 141.

Faith Magazine

May - June 2002