Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lactantius on Divine Revelation

Lactantius considers divine revelation immeasurably superior to human reason: “Even when he refers to the nature and reason of man, it is always God who must make accessible the way to real cognition.”[1] Therefore, the North African primarily is apophatic in his theological orientation, fervently seeking to persuade his audience that rational creatures cannot immediately apprehend God’s quiddity through the senses or the mind.[2] In Lactantius, one encounters another Christian writer maintaining that it is less difficult to predicate what God is not (quid deus non est) than to predicate what God essentially is. Humans cannot penetrate the divine oracles or mysteries unless the Most High deigns to reveal sacred truth to finite intellection (Divinae institutiones 3.6.3-4).[3] Advocating supernatural revelation over against unilluminated reason, Lactantius insists that neither sensory experience nor human intellection can bridge the yawning chasm that demarcates infinite being and finite beings.[4] He professes that spatio-temporal bound agents grasp the infinite only when God unveils himself to rational agents having pious inclinations.[5] The disclosure of transcendent reality evidently occurs through God’s revelatory initiative. For if the finite could grasp the infinite apart from the infinite condescending to the finite, then divine supremacy or otherness would severely be compromised.[6] However, since “it is impossible for divine thinking to become known to man by his own efforts,” both God’s preeminence and otherness remain unscathed in the transcendent act of revelation.[7]

[1] Van Campenhausen, Latin Church Fathers, 70.

[2] DI 1.1.5.

[3] DI 1.1.5.

[4] Ibid. Compare Cyprian, Idol 9: “He cannot be seen-He is too bright for vision; nor comprehended-He is too pure for our discernment; nor estimated-He is too great for our perception; and therefore we are only worthily estimating Him when we say that He is inconceivable.”

[5] DI 1.1.6-7.

[6] Ibid. 1.1.5.

[7] DI 1.1.6.


Diane said...

You do not comment on Lactantius' thoughts. Your thoughts....?

Jeff Downs

Edgar Foster said...

I would concur with the Lactantian insistence that the finite cannot apprehend the infinite unless the infinite revels himself to the finite. However, strict apophatic theology is problematic, IMO. Duns Scotus argues that one cannot know that God is unless one can know what God is. The Scriptures seem to be on the side of Scotus. As I read the NT, we can know God, if God reveals himself to us. As a matter of fact, knowing God is essential for our salvation. See John 17:3; 1 John 2:14; 5:20. As the apostle Paul also made known to the first century citizens of Athens, God is not far off from each one of us.