God of Metaphysics?

God of Metaphysics? February 16, 2018

Toward the end of a chapter on divine simplicity in his Engaging the Doctrine of Creation, Matthew Levering favorably quotes the following what Oliva Blanchette:

“Metaphysics,more than anything else in philosophy, has to do with the question of transcendence, especially the kind of transcendence that is presupposed in properly religious belief. . . . Metaphysics may not begin with any idea of God in mind, but pushed to its ultimate limit, metaphysics ends up with such an idea, as of something that is totally transcendent to anything that can be given in our experience. As a rational discourse it is an ontology, a science of being as being, not a theology, much less an ontotheology. If the idea of God or of the first universal Cause enters into its discourse, it is not as part of what is taken to be its subject, namely, being, which is inclusive of all that we can know immediately in experience, or mediately by reasoning from effect to cause. God is not known as another thing we can know in the universe, nor can be numbered among the things or finite spirits we do find in the universe. Metaphysics knows God only as totally transcendent to the universe” (105, fn 97).

But, pace Blanchette, this is a theology, a theology of a “totally transcendent” God. Whether that is a true or false theology depends on how we take “totally” in that phrase. If it excludes immanence, then it’s a false theology; if the totally transcendent God is immanent precisely because of His total transcendence, we are talking about the Creator God who actually is.

The quotation also raises questions about the data on which metaphysics muses. Blanchette says that it is concerned with “being” and that this includes what we know “immediately in experience” or “mediately by reasoning.” That seems to exclude things we know by testimony, which is the source of much, perhaps most, of what we know.

We can state the objection pointedly: Is the incarnation and crucifixion of the Son of God part of the data of metaphysics? It would seem not, since the incarnation is neither known immediately in experience or mediately by reasoning. But then, a Christian metaphysician (much less a theologian) will wonder if Blanchette has excluded the most important bit of information we have about God.

More positively: Shouldn’t the incarnation of the real Son of the real God have some place – a central or foundational one – in defining what we mean by “God” or “divinity”?

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