The God of the Philosophers vs. The God of Revelation

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This past week, I read Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss’s The Thinker’s Guide to God (O Books 2003).

The authors are Catholics, and it’s a really great read. Here, for example, is a wonderful distinction that they make with regard to how God gets defined (18):

Two ideas of God have dominated the history of the great monotheistic religions—these can crudely be described as ‘The God of the Philosophers’ and ‘The God of Revelation.’ Although this is too simple a distinction, there has been a debate between which shall have priority—philosophy or revelation—when deciding on how to conceive God. The two understandings of God are very different and whilst the God of philosophy can be explained in relation to sacred texts and the God of the sacred texts can be explained in terms of philosophy, it is nevertheless true that there is a tension between these two ideas of God which has been recognized for thousands of years. Within the Christian tradition, in general and simplistic terms, ‘the God of the Philosophers’ is adopted by the Catholic Church and the ‘God of the Bible’ by Protestant Churches, although most members of both churches are not aware of the differences.

In discussing this distinction with my wife, we both concluded that, were we ever to arrive at a definite belief in God, it would most likely be in the God of philosophy—God as conceived of by Aristotle as an ontological mystery, an ‘Unmoved Mover’, and elaborated upon by Thomas Aquinas—as opposed to the land-obsessed deity of, say, the Hebrew Bible or the sex-obsessed weirdo underpinning John Calvin’s Geneva.

And of Aristotle’s idea of the Unmoved Mover as a universal final cause to which all things are tending, I’ve never seen it put quite so clearly (16):

To explain Aristotle’s idea of God’s action, Fr. Gerry Hughes SJ uses the following example: Imagine that there is a room with a pink carpet and there is a cat at one side of the room. Now imagine that a bowl of milk is put into the room. The milk will cause the cat to cross the room—not by the milk doing anything, but just by its being there it will attract the cat. There is a real sense in which the milk causes the cat to move even though the milk does not act.

All things are drawn toward, and ultimately rest in, the Unmoved Mover.

Isn’t that great?

This suggests that the human intellect impelled to seek the truth, the heart drawn to love, and the eye beholding beauty are converging on the same Strange Attractor—the Unifier, the One who makes of chaos a cosmos—which you might be inclined to ultimately call God. As Keats put it (at the end of his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”):

Beauty is truth; truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Maybe it’s nice to know at least a bit more than this, but Keats’s spiritual path—which can be summarized as “follow the beauty”—appears to be at least one route in.

But into what?

Hmm.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to The God of the Philosophers vs. The God of Revelation

  1. Gato Precambriano says:

    in general and simplistic terms, ‘the God of the Philosophers’ is adopted by the Catholic Church and the ‘God of the Bible’ by Protestant Churches,

    Laughable. “Simplistic” they say? Arbitrary and disingenuous I say.
    Santi, are you who are saying that the “Phylosopher’s God” = “Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover”? Because Roman Catholic Church’s God I learned in catechism when I was a kid, and what I heard about any time I attend masses, or some catholic official speaks, sounds a very “land-obssessed deity” as far as I can tell. So these catholic authors are just bullshiting as usual.

    • Colin Hutton says:

      Gato, my experience as well, including a Jesuit boarding school, and theyr’e supposed to be the intellectual elite of the RC church.

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