Together with other researchers on the Theology, Science, and Knowledge project, I am working on a series of papers applying the insights of great medieval philosophers to present day problems in theological epistemology. The goal is to enrich our own conception of God’s transcendence today, while yet appreciating the beautiful and powerful gift that is our ability to know and describe him.
A core problem in the history of philosophy concerns whether and to what extent we are capable of understanding what we are saying when we talk about God. On the one hand, anything worthy of the name ‘God’ ought to be transcendent—that is, we should expect God as he is in himself to be beyond the grasp of our normal capacities for understanding in some way. On the other hand, if God totally or entirely transcends our intellectual capacities, then the very enterprise of theology is threatened accordingly. Avoiding the horns of this dilemma—that is, articulating a coherent account of “theological epistemology”—is therefore a critical enterprise for philosophers and theologians.
If it is true that God’s way or mode of existence is profoundly and irreducibly distinct from that of creatures, then there is reason to think that the meanings of terms truly predicated of both God and creatures (e.g., ‘exists’, ‘good’, etc.) are quite different, as well. Something like an account of divine transcendence follows here: that is, God transcends our understanding on account of his uniquely divine mode of existence. Even if it is true to say “God is x,” to do so is to say more than we can fully understand.