Saturday, June 02, 2007

Arnobius and Theological Discourse

Since rational creaturely essences seem capable of knowing by means of general revelation whether God exists but utterly incapable of fathoming his essence (i.e. his immanent being), Justin and Philo insist that rational creatures should utilize expressions such as “He That Is” or “The Being” (o` w;n) which signify authentic divine existence.[1] Nevertheless, on this view, created entities cannot verbally reveal anything pertaining to God’s quiddity since to do so would define the Most High’s whatness; the act of defining, in turn, would ontologically limit the boundless Creator.[2] Therefore, Arnobius contends that the only legitimate alternative to defining God is reverential silence: “There is but one thing man can be assured of regarding God’s nature, to know and perceive that nothing can be revealed in human language concerning God.”[3] However, is reverential quietude a plausible option for devout theists seeking understanding (quaerens intellectum) of the deity, whom they religiously profess? Frank Kilpatrick ostensively addresses this question when he remarks that hardly any theist withdraws into theolinguistic silence when referring to the Christian divinity. Rather, theists usually choose to articulate something definitive about the divine one through corporate worship or theological discourse: “As the language about God as ‘act-of-being’ makes clear, some words continue to be used with respect to God.”[4] Deferential silence thus does not appear to be a viable theolinguistic option.[5]

[1] Carabine, Unknown God, 209.

[2] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 27.

[3] Adversus nationes 3.19: Unus est hominis intellectus de dei natura certissimus, si scias et sentias nihil de illo posse mortali oratione depromi.

[4] Kilpatrick, Together Bound, 35. One is here reminded of Wittgenstein’s concluding proposition in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen).

[5] Compare ST Ia.13.1. See Vincent Brümmer, Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 36-37.

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