God as Black Hole

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.

5 thoughts on “God as Black Hole

  1. But isn’t it that precisely because God is this total effervescent fullness he is distinguished him from the finite creation he freely undertakes to create? There’s nothing that would necessitate him creating an infinite array of universes. But I admittedly don’t fully get the whole ‘divine simplicity’ thing that does the collapsing, perhaps because I’m not so up on neo-Platonism as I should be.

  2. You are correct about what distinguishes God from creation in Aquinas’s argument and why there’s no necessity that he create infinite universes — in fact, there’s no necessity that he create at all. What I’m saying is that it’s unclear to me how one can coherently hold this concept of God and say that he created this one particular finite universe. Talking about the “mystery” of God is just hand-waving — the whole reason that we even know there’s a God, for Aquinas, is because we can tell he’s the creator.

  3. Hmm, I haven’t actually read the Summa Contra Gentiles myself. As far as I know, it’s because Aquinas is a kind of empiricist that he can reason from the existence of this one universe to an infinite Creator, yes? Following Aristotelian causality? (Though he tweaks Aristotle so the quality is more perfect in the cause than the effect.) With these givens, the existence of only one universe–or at least, human knowledge about God as Creator of this one universe–would be unproblematic I think.

    As to the ominous ‘black hole’ bit though, that would go away once revelation comes and God is shown to be love. But within the confines of reason, that would remain. At least, that’s my guess.

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