Stephen H. Webb on God

I’m soon off to my weekly duplicate bridge game, but before I go I wanted to bring to the attention of the brethren this just published blog article by Dr Stephen H. Webb:  “Is God More Like a Rock or the Idea of a Rock?

In answer to his question, Webb writes:

We could answer that God is infinitely dissimilar to both an idea and a thing. That move, however, would leave us with very little idea of what God is. And it would go against the grain of classical theism, a formidable consensus that includes Plato, Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas.

This passage immediately jumped out at me. Can you guess why?

Read the entire article and share with us what you think about it.

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11 Responses to Stephen H. Webb on God

  1. something to with the idea that plato, origen, aquinas, and augustine all agree with him?

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  2. Terence says:

    So we do know something about God !

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  3. Matthew Petersen says:

    Ok, so the article is meant as a critique of Classical Theism. But I don’t think he gets classical theism correct.

    “God created us to share in his thinking, which makes our intellect infinitely closer to God than our physical bodies ”

    This seems confused. As Gregory of Nyssa (or was it Nazanzius) says somewhere, since God is infinitely removed from both matter and form, neither can be said to be further from Him. And while it is true, in some sense, that God created us to share in His thinking, we do not do so by creaturely thinking, since what God is infinitely surpasses thinking–his “thinking” should more technically be called hyperthinking, or beyond thinking. And he also created our bodies for fellowship with Him (this is Palamas point). Thus our eyes will be enlightened by the uncreated light.

    So in that we are creatures, both our intellect and bodies are infinitely far from God, and so equally far from God. And in that we will be divinized, both our intellect and bodies will share in that divinization.

    “We cannot leave our bodies in this world, but we can rise above them in our minds.”

    This is perhaps true, in a sense, but again, 1) this is not by “thinking”, but by mystical experience. And 2) we can rise above our minds in our bodies (as it were), when we *see* the uncreated light. (Though, the mind leads the body. But the whole person is leaving behind “created” then.)

    “All physical things, according to classical theism, will come to an end when God is all in all, because matter, being formless, is the absence of the divine.”

    Actually, Aquinas says that there will only be persons and elements after the Resurrection. Last I checked, rocks are physical. 😛 But setting that aside, we will have *bodies*, and our bodies will participate in the Uncreated Energies just as much as our minds–and both need divinization just as much.

    “There will be no bodies, or persons, since persons are bodies with their own individual thoughts.”

    Maybe I’m missing his point. this sounds like a denial of the Resurrection.

    “Needless to say, God will no longer think about rocks, or even the idea of a rock, since God’s thinking is identical to his creating.”

    Ahem. God’s *speaking* causes his creation, not his thinking. But, setting that aside, “Now the heaven will be renewed by an increase of brightness. Therefore the earth and likewise the other elements will also. Further, the lower bodies, like the higher, are for man’s use. Now the corporeal creature will be rewarded for its services to man, as a gloss of Ambrose seems to say on Romans 8:22, “Every creature groaneth,” and a gloss of Jerome on Isaiah 30:26, “And the light of the moon shall be,” etc. Therefore the elements will be glorified as well as the heavenly bodies. Further, man’s body is composed of the elements. Therefore the elemental particles that are in man’s body will be glorified by the addition of brightness when man is glorified. Now it is fitting that whole and part should have the same disposition. Therefore it is fitting that the elements themselves should be endowed with brightness” (ST. Supplement to III Q 91)

    “There is no idea more beautiful than the idea that God is like our ideas.”

    Well, at least, save God Himself. But God is definitely *not* like our ideas. “After everything thing which our intellect taught by creatures is able to conceive of God, that which is God Himself remains dark and unknown. For not only is God not a stone or sun, qualities apprehended by the senses, but neither is he that kind of life or essential quality able to be understood by us and thus what God is Himself, after exceeding all which is apprehended by us, remains unknown to us.” (Aquinas, commentary on On Divine Names).

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  4. Well, I think one might object at the statement: “That move would leave us with very little idea of what God is.” An apophaticist might say that’s the whole point.

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  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    The inclusion of Aquinas in Webb’s list surprised me, especially given my recent reading of Denys Turner’s book on Aquinas. Aquinas begins his discussion of divine simplicity with these words:

    When the existence of a thing has been ascertained there remains the further question of the manner of its existence, in order that we may know its essence. Now, because we cannot know what God is, but rather what He is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how He is not. Therefore, we must consider: (1) How He is not; (2) How He is known by us; (3) How He is named. (ST I.3)

    I cannot speak about the role of negative theology in either Origen or Augustine, but I believe that it has a decisive role in Aquinas’s theology, as it does in most of the Eastern Church Fathers.

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    • Oxford Journal of Theological Studies on St. Augustine.
      http://jts.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/1/330.extract

      Origen, having a huge influence from Plato even more-so than the other fathers, is going to be highly transcendent in his understanding of God.

      Click to access ApophaticTheology.pdf

      Apophatic theology maintains strong in Catholicism (by Catholicism I include too Eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome) and Eastern Christian (by Eastern Christian I mean Eastern Christian churches not in communion with Rome) thinking but has dissipated with the rise of emphasis on sola scriptura (Bible alone as final authority in doctrinal matters) within various forms of Protestantism.

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  6. Karen says:

    Dr. Webb’s theology seems deficient to say the least. He is certainly not following the biblical language when he claims God “thinks” created things into being. Matthew has stated concerns I would have much better than I could have stated them. Is Dr. Webb Mormon, or something?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Webb is actually a convert to Catholicism from evangelicalism. I am not familiar with his work, though I did earlier read his FT review of David Hart’s book.

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      • Matthew N. Petersen says:

        That article makes a mistake here too:

        “[For the Classical Theist] God is outside of space and time.”

        For the Classical Theist, God is outside space and time, but He isn’t stuck out there. (To say he’s stuck out there would be to limit Him.) Particularly, He has *come into* space and time in Jesus.

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  7. Danielius says:

    The last sentence of the piece was a sucker punch: “God is a person, like us.” That “like us” after the comma was like a poke in the eye.

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    • Matthew N. Petersen says:

      “For those who are passionate about themselves, there is no idea more beautiful than the idea that God is a person like us. This beautiful idea is not a good idea, however, because it reduces God to the idea that all of us have about ourselves.”

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