In my Medieval Christian Thought class, we’re getting close to the end of a solid two-week block of Aquinas. One of the guiding principles of my pedagogy is that one should read a “whole text” to the extent possible, and I chose to use Book I of Summa Contra Gentiles, meaning that we’re close to knowing all that it is possible for human reason to know about God without the aid of revelation — certainly a good thing to have under one’s belt.
The more I really think through Aquinas’s concept of God, which is a fairly representative account of the traditional monotheistic concept of God, the more I find it to be appalling and even a little terrifying. It’s as though God is a black hole into which all meaning, all value, and all power fall, an impression that is only increased by the tendency to constantly “collapse” apparent distinctions within God into a single identity (God’s will is his essence, which is his goodness, which is God himself, etc., etc.).
In this setting, I can see the appeal of the analogia entis, although it seems to me that the only coherent options given Aquinas’s concept of God are either that God creates the infinite fullness of possible universes or creates none at all (and just “virtually” knows all those possibilities as various ways of participating in his goodness). The problem with the infinite multiverse theory is of course that it would then seem as though there was another infinite being beside God (i.e., the totality of the multiple universes) and, more troublingly from Aquinas’s perspective, it would also seem as though God necessarily willed all those universes, that God somehow needs to actualize himself “out there” in every possible way — whereas Aquinas is absolutely determined to preserve God’s freedom.
Since this God is complete fullness in himself, it seems that going with the non-creation option makes the most sense. On an empirical level, yes, of course we know that our universe exists and must account for it somehow — but on the a priori level, how we get from this concept of God to just one universe is really unclear to me. (It’s perfectly clear to me why Aquinas has to come to that conclusion: the deep logic of Christianity mandates that our universe be the only one, because it is the historical field in which God’s one revelation in Christ plays out.)
In any case, this whole process of teaching Aquinas — something that I’ll also be doing next year, and presumably in most future years, assuming I get a job — made me understand more fully the necessity and radicality of Laurel Schneider’s project in Beyond Monotheism, and in fact, it makes me wonder if I should make room for that book on my syllabus for Feminist Theologies next time around, to show them what a huge difference feminist thought can make for theology — particularly given that so many other feminist theologians seem so weirdly reticent to talk about God, leading to the continual question, “But how is this theology?” (Interestingly, we’ve noticed that the same thing is true of the biblical texts “starring” women as well.)
I wonder, though, if it might not work for undergraduates, especially since it’s a 100-level class.