Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Latens Deitas

August 12th, 2014 by G.


I’m thinking about Paul in the Athenian Aeropagus.

The men of Athens had an altar there, inscribed “To the Unknown God.” Paul saw it. He made it into an open-air sermon, recorded in the scriptures in this way:

Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

He goes on to say that God is accessible to us, if unknown, then not unknowable:

And [He] hath made of one blood all nations of men, . . . that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him.

He preaches that God is intelligible to us, through our ordinary human experience

though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being

—and through our family relationship with Him

as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Finally, Paul preached that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant to be an assurance, of the kind adapted to the understanding of people of every kind, that Christ was from God.

Friends know that I am sympathetic to conventional Christianity. This kind of thing is in my wheelhouse, if you could drain off all the “La, those ignorant modern prophets’ overtones. We Mormons criticize classical Christian doctrines, but we don’t always understand them. The doctrines sometimes respond to real metaphysical problems that, in many cases, we have no better answers to: how can Christ be both a God, capable of transcending the mortal experience for us, and also a Man, capable of having a mortal experience to transcend? Their metaphysical doctrines also respond to genuine religious feeling. The awe and majesty of the Almighty and the vast differences between us and Him is what anyone will properly feel when they contemplate His works and His glory.

And yet, defensible as these doctrines might be, when classical Christians emphasize the difference between us to the extent of saying, as negative theologians do, that anything we might say of God is essentially false, because we are incapable of understanding and knowing him, then I hear them trying to reverse the work of Paul. I see that altar to the Unknown God being built back up.

The fact is that Christ is and was a man. We can know him as well as we can know anyone. Better, through the indwelling Holy Ghost. And Christ was and is God. God the Father and God the Son are not different in kind:

The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

Similarly, the fact is that God is our Father. I have it on the best authority. Christ says so. We can know him deeply, like a child that lives in the intimacy and presence of his father every day of its life.

Christ is not a Potemkin God.

God is not a Potemkin Father.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Classical Christians worry that if we don’t emphasize the greatness and grandeur of God, believers will take Him for granted. I am not worried. Anyone who genuinely recurs to the throne will kneel of their own volition.

Comments (9)
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August 12th, 2014 12:23:40

August 12, 2014

“if you could drain off all the “La, those ignorant modern prophets’ overtones.”

If you really did drain the swamp, it wouldn’t be the Old Country any more. It would no longer be interesting to most of its regular participants.

August 12, 2014

“Classical Christians worry that if we don’t emphasize the greatness and grandeur of God, believers will take Him for granted.”

I must be missing something since I’ve never understood this dispute.

August 12, 2014

I meant to add: Can’t he be both transcendent and knowable?

August 12, 2014

the Incarnation says He is. The Incarnation insists on it. If not knowable, then not Man. If not transcendent, then not God.

August 13, 2014

Here’s a typically excellent Charlton post. He points out that if the difference between us and God is vastly quantitative, but not qualitative, then it is possible to both be in awe of Him but also to understand Him.

August 13, 2014

As usual I don’t see eye-to-eye with Charlton on this.

I can somewhat understanding his calling the difference between us and God, in the Christian paradigm, a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one.

We’re obviously like in some ways, even before the Incarnation, since we are made in God’s image. That, in fact, is the only reason the Incarnation makes any sense: God could not have become one of us if we were totally unlike.

On the other hand, God being infinite and we finite, there can be no proportion between us. He’s not “more” than us by a certain amount, he’s infinitely more (intelligent, powerful, etc.).

But as far as us understanding God, I don’t see why it matters whether our differences are of quality or quantity, or of finite versus infinite quantity. We understand him because there is some likeness between us. How can creatures of intellect like ourselves, who live in our minds every bit as much as our bodies, if not more so, have no understanding of a being that is pure intellect?

God’s taking on a body is just a bonus: Now we can relate to him not only as having a mind like us, but also as to a man who lived on the very earth that we live on. Knowing that he who sees Jesus sees the Father, we are confident that in knowing Jesus we know God. Which applies equally to Mormon and non-Mormon Christians.

Bruce Charlton
August 14, 2014

@Ag – It is that word ‘infinite’ – that philosophical/ mathematical, abstract and incomprehensible concept!

Infinite is not Biblical – the ancient Hebrews didn’t have a concept of infinite. Neither do you or I.

God cannot be *understood* as infinite, because we cannot understand infinite – indeed the concept utterly blocks understanding.

How can we know the infinite? Whatever we can know is infinitely insignificant. How can we have a loving relationship with the infinite? How can a finite human life be important?

*Everything* is utterly submerged and obliterated by the word infinite!

God is vast, unbounded, nothing is greater… all those kind of things, yes – but not “infinite”.

August 14, 2014

I think in a sense you are attacking a straw man, in talking about the infinite God as if “infinite” were the only thing he is.

Yes, if infinite is all he is, then we can’t know him, understand him or love him. But the same would be true if “just” were all that he is, or “holy”.

But in fact he is also personal and merciful and intellectual, which are all things that we can relate to. He has made himself a man and laid down his life for us, and (for Catholics) makes himself physically present in the form of bread and wine. We understand him to have revealed himself to us in the things he has made, and to be always present to us. We believe we have his law written on our hearts.

I don’t see why any of these things, which make him intimately relatable to us, must be affected or diminished by the fact that he is also infinite.

“It can be seen that the Infinite and Absolute, when defined in accordance with the accepted doctrine of God, are not self-contradictory notions, but readily conceived by all who make reasonable efforts to learn what they signify. If we can form an intelligible conception of the finite, we can with equal facility conceive of the Infinite. These terms are correlatives, and their meaning consists in their mutual distinction. We conceive of neither except from the point of view of our conception of the other. And our conception is as truly relative and partial in the one case as in the other. In other words we do not conceive of either in its full reality, but of both in so far as their attributes are comprehended in our conceptions. The same is true of the Absolute and the conditioned. Each is known as distinguished from the other, and to distinguish two correlatives is to know somewhat of both.”

The Being and Attributes of God, Francis J. Hall, D.D., New York:Longmans, 1918, pp. 38-39.

Neal Maxwell
August 21, 2014

I testify that He is utterly incomparable in what He is, what He knows, what He has accomplished and what He has experienced.

Yet, movingly, He calls us His Friends

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