“If there were no God, there would be no universe to be mysterious, and nobody to be mystified”

Although we do not and cannot know what God is, we can know that he is. Or, more exactly, we know and can prove that there is something or someone which human beings call ‘God’ or ‘Divine’. We know this, not because we know his existence directly, but because we do know the existence of other things. We have direct acquaintance with all sorts of happen­ings, changes, productions, things, values, strivings. The famous Five Ways set out to prove that these things simply could not exist, indeed nothing at all could exist or happen, unless something Unknown, which we call divine, somehow existed (I.ii.3). More will be said of the Five Ways in a later section of this volume. They are nowadays commonly called ‘proofs for the existence of God’, which is rather unfortunate and misleading: they are never so called by St Thomas. For what we can prove, we know, and St Thomas holds that we can no more know the existence (or esse) of God, than we can know his essence (they must be, in fact, one and the same). The Five Ways enable us to know, not the being or existence of God (Dei esse), but only that what men call God is, or exists (Deum esse) (I.iii.4 ad 2). They show that unless there is some unknown ground or source (causa is St Thomas’s word, but this does not of course mean ’cause’ in the restricted sense in which it is used in modern science) on which everything ultimately depends, then nothing could ever exist or happen at all. This is not to say (as is sometimes claimed today) that God is an ‘explanation’ of the universe, for we cannot ‘explain’ what is to some extent known by what is unknown. But we do claim that if there were no God, there could not be anything else. St Thomas’s position differs from that of modern agnostics because while modern agnosticism says simply, ‘We do not know, and the universe is a mysterious riddle’, a Thomist says, ‘We do not know what the answer is, but we do know that there is a mystery behind it all which we do not know, and if there were not, there would not even be a riddle. This Unknown we call God. If there were no God, there would be no universe to be mysterious, and nobody to be mystified.’

Victor White

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