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Chapter Four | Transcendental Thomism—I
‘The trouble with philosophers’, said Agathon, ‘is that you cannot find out whether they are usefully employed or not.’
—Douglas Woodruffe, Plato's ‘Britannia’, p. 91.
Having discussed in the last lecture in some detail the ontological approach to theism, I propose now to consider the cosmological approach, that is to say the approach which takes as its starting-point the world which our senses disclose to us and of which, so far as our bodily constitution is concerned, we ourselves are part. Arguments of this type take two main forms, according as they are based upon the mere fact of the world's existence or upon the character which examination shows it to have; the two can, of course, be combined. A very impressive example of the combined method is provided by the late F. R. Tennant's massive work Philosophical Theology
, published in 1928 and 1930, which I have discussed at length in my book He Who Is
Tennant's argument reaches its climax in the chapter on ‘The Empirical Approach to Theism’, which bears the sub-title ‘Cosmic Teleology’. Its key-word is ‘purpose’, and five fields of fact are examined in which purpose has been alleged to be evident. These range, from the epistemological adaptiveness of things to thought, to the purpose which some have discerned in the evolutionary process and in human morality. Again, William Temple, in his Gifford Lectures Nature, Man and God
(1934), argued that the fact that the world has, in the course of evolution, given rise to minds that can reflect on the very process out of which they have emerged provides strong justification for the belief that the world is itself the product of a transcendent Mind. I shall, however, restrict myself to the more metaphysical type of argument, though it is not always easy to fence it off strictly from more general considerations; of this the classical example is, of course, provided by the famous ‘Five Ways’ expounded by St Thomas Aquinas at the beginning of the Summa Theologiae
These all have the same general form; starting from some very general character of finite beings, they argue to the existence of a being correspondingly unlimited, and this, the arguments triumphantly proclaim, is universally recognised as God. (The five characteristics in question are change, causation, contingency, gradedness and purpose.) There is something ironical in the fact that this absolutely basic part of St Thomas's system is that in which, above all others, this outstandingly lucid thinker seems to have become for once obscure. His most enthusiastic disciples disagree about the precise nature of his arguments and about what it is that each of them demonstrates. His critics condemn them as entirely fallacious. Dr Anthony Kenny, who has recently made an extremely minute dissection and assessment of them, certainly seems to have shown that, taken as strictly technical examples of metaphysical and logical argumentation, they are open to question at many points.3
Comparison with other places in the Angelic Doctor's writings suggests that he may have been elaborating and decorating what is fundamentally a very simple and forceful insight for the sake of the ‘beginners’ for whom the Summa
was professedly written. Dr Victor Preller has taken the heroic course of suggesting that, when St Thomas opens his discussion with the words ‘The existence of God can be proved in five ways’, he merely intends to summarise the arguments current in his time, without very seriously committing himself to any of them.4
I have myself suggested that the five ways are not so much to be seen as five different arguments for the existence of God—if we take them as such there is the difficulty, among others, of seeing that they all lead to the same divine being and not to a celestial ‘Council of Five’—but as five different ways of exhibiting the radically un-self-sufficient character of finite beings and so of leading us to see them as dependent on a transcendent self-sufficient creative Cause. ‘Their function is to exhibit to us five different characteristics of finite being, all of which show that it does not account for its own existence. In the last resort St Thomas has only one datum for an argument for the existence of God, namely the existence of beings whose existence is not necessitated by their essence; that is, beings in which essence and existence are really distinct.’5
I still think that this is true, but I would wish to add that the real point now seems to me to be that St Thomas has adopted implicitly an extremely minimal definition of ‘God’. I have in an earlier lecture stressed the importance in any context of being clear about the definition of God that one is using and of not sliding from one definition to another in the course of the argument. It is, I think, this, and not any real ‘agnosticism’ on the part of St Thomas, that accounts for such well-known assertions as ‘We do not know what God is, but only what he is not and how other things are related to him’.6
After having proved that God exists, St Thomas does in fact go on to prove a great many things about him, even if these things are simply ‘what must necessarily belong to him as the first cause of all things’.7
He argues that God is immaterial, altogether simple, perfect, good, infinite, immutable, eternal and one.8
And, while fully recognising the problem that is involved when we enquire how our finite minds are to conceive the attributes of an infinite God, we can, I think, see that the fact that St Thomas goes on to argue
that God has these attributes after
he has proved that God exists shows that these attributes could not have been included in the definition of God which he had originally assumed. The definition of God which he assumed was, I suggest, simply that of a transcendent ground of finite beings, and everything beyond that is a matter of rational deduction or of revelation. If this is so, then St Thomas's conclusion of each of the five ways with the almost casual remark that ‘all men agree that this is God’ (or a similar phrase) becomes less puzzling. It is not implausible that the prime mover, the first efficient cause, the absolutely necessary being and the rest are all identical with a transcendent ground of finite being, whatever that transcendent ground may later on be seen to be like. I have no desire to defend the details of St Thomas's Five Ways against the strictures of Dr Kenny, but I am disposed to maintain that when the Angelic Doctor puts the question ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Is there a God?’, what he is asking is simply ‘Has the world a transcendent cause or not?’ To anticipate a little, I will add that this is the definition of God which I shall adopt in formulating my own argument.
I do not wish to imply that this is the only definition of God which a theistic philosopher could legitimately adopt; all that I maintain is that he should know what definition he is using and should stick to it. Mr H. P. Owen, to give one example, in his very fine work The Christian Knowledge of God
, takes a much ampler definition which includes the chief attributes of God as Christians believe in him;9
as he himself recognises, the task of arguing for God's existence is thus made the more difficult. And at the end of the day the results may be very much the same. One thinker may define God by the attribute A and go on to prove subsequently that God possesses the attributes B, C, D and E. Another may define God as possessing the attributes A, B and C and go on to prove that God possesses the attributes D and E. Both of them (if their arguments are valid) will have ended with the same God, one who possesses the attributes A, B, C, D and E. All that is essential, I repeat, is that extra attributes shall not be smuggled in without proof in the course of the argument.
In the palmy days of the logical positivist school it was widely held that all statements purporting to make assertions about God are simply meaningless and that therefore no question of their truth or falsehood could arise. They were neither logical tautologies nor registrations or elaborations of empirical observations; and therefore, by the requirement of the verification principle, they asserted nothing at all. More recently, in line with the indefatigable Professor A. G. N. Flew,10
theological statements have been condemned as meaningless on the grounds that the people who make them refuse to admit that they could be falsified by any evidence whatever; in Flew's famous phrase, they die ‘the death of a thousand qualifications’. What I feel needs saying about the earlier phases of the situation I have said in a small book called Words and Images
; the more recent phases have been very faithfully dealt with by Dom Illtyd Trethowan in an article in Religious Studies
for October 1966.11
It would, I think, be otiose to refer to the great mass of writing that has appeared on both sides of the dispute. I will simply repeat what I said in a previous lecture, that, since meaningfulness means the capacity to be understood, the only way in which to discover whether a statement is meaningful is to see whether, in the linguistic context and community in which it is used, people can understand it. The question ‘Has the world a transcendent cause or not?’ is, I maintain, a perfectly intelligible question, admitting of the answer yes or no according to the evidence. I shall, however, show later on that for many modern theists the cosmological approach to theism does not consist in constructing an argument of syllogistic form, but in pointing to an awareness by us of finite being in relation to its transcendent cause.
It has been widely held that the cosmological argument for theism, like the ontological argument, was demolished by Immanuel Kant and that the Sage of Königsberg did in fact show that the cosmological argument itself depended upon the ontological. This view can hardly survive a careful reading of the relevant sections of the late A. E. Taylor's article on ‘Theism’ in the twelfth volume of the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics
The Kantian critique has, however, had a great influence, whether rightly or wrongly, on many apologists for theism, and it may be well to recapitulate the story.
The story begins in the seventeenth century with the distinction between the primary and secondary qualities of objects, first apparently made by Galileo but better known to English students from the writings of John Locke.13
Secondary qualities, such as colour and smell, obviously depended to a great degree on the sensory equipment of the percipient and indeed did not exist except when perceived; whereas primary qualities, such as shape, solidity and mass, were inherent possessions of the object, so it was held, and they existed whether they were being perceived or not. Thus, for Locke, substances existed with their primary qualities beneath the superficial array of secondary qualities with which we perceived them. Berkeley had little difficulty in showing that Locke's primary qualities were just as subjective as were the secondary; indeed, that, in Locke's sense, there were no primary qualities at all. Physical objects thus became entirely subjective; esse est percipi
, to exist is simply to be perceived. Berkeley tried to preserve their substantiality and continuity by holding that even when no one else perceived them God did; and that to exist in the mind of God was a sufficiently exalted status for any finite object to have. Later thinkers and in particular David Hume, eliminated God and, with him, the last vestiges of physical substantiality. Physical objects were simply concatenations of impressions in the mind, though Hume never managed to give a satisfactory account of the mind in which they were concatenated.
The story continues through Kant and Hegel, though the dominant British school of linguistic analysts, unlike their idealist predecessors, attach their allegiance, in so far as they have any respect for the past, to their fellow-Briton Hume. On the continent of Europe, however, the influence of Kant is still strong and it accounts for the existence of a school of Christian philosophers whom most English readers find both obscure and perplexing and whom they suppose mistakenly to derive their thought chiefly from Martin Heidegger.
Kant tried to preserve the objective character of physical objects by holding that, although the actual object of perception is the product of the very act in which it is perceived, so that we can never know things as they really are, there is nevertheless at the root of the phenomenal object a being-in-itself, a Ding an sich or noumenon, which is wholly real and non-subjective. It has always been difficult to see how Kant accounted for his knowledge that there is a noumenon at all, in view of his doctrine that all we can know is the phenomenon which the mind has constructed in the act of perceiving. Some have indeed thought that for Kant the noumenon (and probably God as well) was only a regulative principle for human thought and not a constituent element in reality. Now there is, I believe, a way in which the Kantian subjectivism can be countered and I shall discuss it later on. Many Christian thinkers, however, felt obliged to accept the basic Kantian position, at least in so far as it found its starting-point in the mind of the human percipient, and a very distinguished example is found in the person of Joseph Maréchal, S.J., who, in a tremendous work entitled Le point de départ de la métaphysique, whose publication began in 1927, set out on the formidable task of constructing a transcendental Thomism. His basic conviction was that, if we start from the ‘conscious phenomenon’ or ‘object of thought’ as it is initially and unavoidably given and analyse the object with all its constituent conditions, we find in it the objective existence of an absolute. It was at this point, a quite basic one, that Maréchal found the fundamental flaw in Kant. In the words of Otto Muck:
For Kant, this relation to the unconditioned does not operate constitutively in the object known, but only regulatively, and thus the categories remain bound to phenomena and have no relation to the absolute order of the unconditioned. Knowledge remains phenomenal. Maréchal with the help of transcendental analysis, tries to show that the relation to the unconditioned is constitutive for the phenomenal object and that knowledge thus reaches the fundamental order of being. This means that the phenomenal object cannot be viewed as phenomenal in the exclusive sense.14
Maréchal thus feels obliged to adopt the ‘transcendental method’, that is the method which begins by investigating the conditions of the possibility of knowledge, but he is claimed by his followers as a transcendental Thomist
. Critics such as Gilson, as we shall see later, hold that such a programme involves putting the cart before the horse. In any case, Maréchal, like St Thomas, insists on the dynamic
character of knowledge; knowledge is not a mere pressure of the object on the knower, analogous to the impact of one material object on another. There is a real assimilation of the object to the knower; the knower becomes
the object, not ‘entitatively’ of course but ‘intentionally’. And, it is argued, ‘noetic activity could not have the structure which necessarily belongs to it if it were not orientated towards absolute being in such a way that this absolute is co-posited or co-apprehended in every mode of knowledge even though it is not explicitly in awareness.’15
How far this absolute being is seen as demonstrably God, and if so what definition of God is assumed, it is not easy to make out. What, however, is clear is that Maréchal attempted to correct the Kantian view by arguing that absolute being is a constitutive and not merely a regulative principle of human knowledge. In Muck's words:
The main point of Maréchal's five-volume work, especially the fifth volume, is clearly expressed viz. the overthrow of Kant's phenomenalism by showing, by means of Kant's method, that the phenomenal object is absolutely impossible unless it is contained in a knowledge which transcends the phenomenal method.16
One may perhaps wonder whether the same result might not have been attained by a shorter route.
On the whole, the reaction of French-speaking Catholic philosophers seems to have been conservative, though Maréchal would appear to have a good deal in common with such thinkers as Maurice Blondel and Louis Lavelle. M. Étienne Gilson, in his Réalisme thomiste et Critique de la connaissance
(1939), discussed the writings not only of Maréchal but of several other representatives of ‘critical realism’, namely the ‘immediate critical realism’ of L. Noël, the ‘realism of “I am”’ of G. Picard and the ‘realism of “I think”’ of M. D. Roland-Gosselin. He sees them as being under the influence of Descartes as much as of Kant and has little use for the concept of a ‘critical realism’, that is to say an attempted realism taking its starting-point in a Kantian or quasi-Kantian critique of knowledge. ‘In brief’, he says, ‘when it claims to signify anything other than philosophical realism
, the expression critical realism
is contradictory. The only case in which it is not is when it signifies nothing at all.’17
M. Jacques Maritain, while agreeing on the whole with Gilson, holds that the term ‘critical realism’ can be given an acceptable meaning; he denies, however, that an authentic critique of knowledge is a prerequired condition of philosophy.18
Commenting on Gilson's book he writes: ‘Between M. Et. Gilson's position and ours there is no substantial difference.’19
Both of them are convinced that unless one frankly accepts the position that it is of the very nature of the mind to grasp and assimilate extra-mental being one will never be able to escape the toils of one's own subjectivity.
Maréchal's disciples in the German-speaking world have been much more thorough-going in their allegiance than the French. They are also much more difficult to read. The most distinguished of them is undoubtedly Karl Rahner, whom Dr John Macquarrie has acclaimed as the most outstanding of living theologians.20
He studied philosophy under Martin Heidegger and, like many German theologians today, he shows in his writing a marked influence of the idiom of existentialism. His thinking is, however, far more in the line of Maréchal than of Heidegger; this is also true of his fellow-Jesuit Emerich Coreth, who, as we shall see, starts from a slightly different point. Rahner's largest work Spirit in the World
(Geist im Welt
), written in 1939, revised in 1957 and translated into quite extraordinary English by William Dych in 1968, is an avowed attempt to bring together Thomist epistemology and metaphysics on the one hand and the transcendental method on the other. Coreth's chief work, Metaphysik
, consists of 584 pages in the German, but has had the much happier fate of appearing in English in a beautifully written and much shortened version by Joseph Donceel, whose accuracy is certified by the original author. Rahner's basically Thomist outlook is shown by the fact that his book opens with a full quotation of the article of the Summa
in which the Angelic Doctor expounds his doctrine that in perception the human intellect makes use of the ‘phantasm’ or, as a modern philosopher would say, the phenomenon, sense-datum or sensibile
, as the medium through which it apprehends the intelligible being which is its proper object and that it turns to the ‘phantasm’ as the natural climate in which it functions.21
Knowing, Rahner tells us, does not come about through a contact
of the intellect with an object, but by their becoming the same
; and for St Thomas conversion to the phantasm is the same as the abstractive illumination of the phantasm by the light of the agent intellect.22
The essential features of this line of approach to theism are excellently summarised by Fr Donceel in the following passage, in which he begins by contrasting with the transcendental method those more pedestrian types of approach which he describes pejoratively as ‘demonstration’:
He who wishes to ‘demonstrate’ God's existence, starts from premises which are finite, contingent and relative, and hopes to arrive at a conclusion which is infinite, necessary and absolute. An impossible task. We cannot ‘arrive’ at God; the distance is infinite. We start from him and we end up with him. He is present implicitly in the premises and explicitly in the conclusion. We reach God right away or never at all.
That we reach God right away can be shown by pointing to the fact that we know everything as finite and limited. But a limit can be known as limit only by him who is, in fact or in desire, beyond this limit. We are not beyond every limit in fact. But we are beyond every limit in desire, because we strive past it. Man is the being who is ‘always already beyond’ every knowledge, every truth, every beauty, every possession and pleasure. Of every object which he knows man affirms that it is. He keeps striving towards an object about which he can really say that it is, that it fully exhausts the fullness of this predicate. Only the Infinite comes up to this fullness, only God really is. All other objects are this or that.
Such is the meaning of the excessus of St Thomas, of the dynamism of Joseph Maréchal, of the Vorgriff of Karl Rahner and Emerich Coreth.
We can put it in another way by calling man the being which possesses an infinite horizon. The horizon which we see with our eyes is finite, we share it with animals. The horizon which we know with our intellect is infinite. It is the horizon of being. This horizon of being is the main topic of [Coreth's] work.23
Somewhat aside from Rahner and Coreth, as not employing their existentialist idiom, but nevertheless deriving his inspiration from Maréchal and sharing their ambition of constructing a transcendental Thomism, is the Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan, whose monumental work Insight, of nearly eight hundred pages, was published in 1957. I shall attempt later on to indicate its special features, but before doing that I shall say something more about the three thinkers whom I have already mentioned.
We have seen that the basic disagreement of Maréchal with Kant is in Maréchal's assertion that the reference of the conscious phenomenon or object to a transcendent and unconditioned absolute beyond its horizon involves that the absolute is not, as for Kant, a regulative principle for knowledge but a constitutive principle of reality; in Francis P. Fiorenza's words: ‘the analysis of the orientation towards the absolute in the affirmation of every judgment is the central and critical point of Maréchal's evaluation of Kant.’24
Dr Fiorenza discerns a difference between Maréchal's disagreement with Kant and Rahner's, on account of the influence upon Rahner of Heidegger. ‘Many aspects of Maréchal's position are close to Husserl and the Neo-Kantians, even though Maréchal does differ from them and Kant in so far as he attempts to deduce from the universal validity of man's judgment an ontological and metaphysical significance in the strict sense. Karl Rahner, on the other hand, differs quite distinctly from Husserl and the Neo-Kantians because he has assimilated Heidegger's critique of their position… [For Rahner] man's question concerning being presupposes a knowledge of Being and reveals the nature of man as a finite being, who questions about being.’25
Fiorenza sees the basic difference between Kant and Rahner in their different replies to Kant's basic question: How is metaphysics possible if all human knowledge is necessarily referred to a sensible intuition? He continues:
Rahner's answer to this question departs from the traditional scholastic and philosophical positions and offers a transcendental understanding of being. Since he is aware that all human knowledge is related to sense intuitions, he rejects those philosophical positions which maintain that a metaphysics of transcendence is possible because of a special innate idea or because of a specific and immediate intutition of a metaphysical object, be it an eternal truth or an objectively conceived absolute being. He denies explicitly that the absolute is known as some object or that the human mind could form an adequate objective concept of God. Instead he proposes a transcendental understanding of God, who is not known by man as an object of reality, but as the principle of human knowledge and reality. This fundamentally non-objective transcendental knowledge of God as the principle of knowledge and reality is central to Rahner's whole theology.26
In all knowledge, Rahner tells us, there is a pre-apprehension (Vorgriff
) of being, in which the existence of an Absolute being is also affirmed simultaneously; this is implicit, unformulated and ‘unthematic’. And, in Rahner's own words, ‘this is in no sense an “a priori
” proof of God's existence. For the pre-apprehension and its “whither” can be proven and affirmed as present and necessary for all knowledge only in the a posteriori
apprehension of a real existent and as the necessary condition of the latter.’27
Fiorenza points out that when Rahner goes on (as he does in his sequel Hearers of the Word
) to account for this transcendental orientation of man to God, he explains it in terms of what, in his existentialist idiom, he calls a ‘supernatural existential’. ‘Man's relation to God’, he writes, ‘is not an abstract or “natural” openness to God, but is the result of God's historical calling of man to himself in Christ and thereby constituting the historical nature of man.’28
Here, I may interpose, I part company with Rahner; as will appear later on, I hold that, by his natural constitution as a creature, man has an inherent openness to God, though I would agree that the way in which God has in fact bestowed himself to man's openness is the concern of revelation and history, of Heilsgeschichte
, salvation-history indeed.
To follow up this point would take us beyond the bounds of natural theology, but we may remark with Fiorenza that, unlike many of Maréchal's followers, Rahner prolongs his discussion from the realm of philosophy into the realm of history.
In the final phase of his metaphysical exposition it must be admitted that Rahner is not easy to understand. Nevertheless, two points seem to emerge. One is that, on the level of metaphysics, God is not known as the object of religion, sub ratione deitatis
, but only as the absolute ground of finite being, sub ratione primi entis
. The other is that, the finite being of which God is known as the absolute ground is not, at any rate in the first instance, the world which is the object
of human perception but man himself who is its subject
. Rahner indeed maintains that this follows from the very nature of human perception as mediated by the senses and of human mentality as ‘turning to the phantasms’, to use the Thomist phrase. He lays great stress upon St Thomas's assertion that, through our sense-involved perceptions, ‘we know God as cause both by way of eminence (per excessum
) and by way of negation’.29
This ‘and’, Rahner tells us, ‘joins excessum
not with cause, but with negation (both… and), and so distinguishes it from the “as cause” as the presupposition for the fact that God is able to be known as the ground of the existent.’ He continues:
To know God as the ground of the existent does not mean: to know that God (as already known beforehand) is the ground of the thing, but: to know that the ground, already and always opened simultaneously in knowing the existent as being, is the Absolute Being, that is, God, and thus to know God for the first time. This explanation of the sentence is only a paraphrase of the statement that God is accessible to metaphysics only as the ‘principle of its subject’, not as the subject. But if this explanation of the ‘knowing God as cause’ is the only correct one, then it is self-evident that the fundamental act of metaphysics is not some causal inference from an existent as such to its ground, which also would not have to be more than an existent, but the opening of the knower to being as such as the ground of the existent and its knowledge. But that is given precisely in the excessus
Rahner admits that this excessus
cannot simply be identified with the via eminentiae
because ‘the excessus
as the pre-apprehension of being as such is as a matter of fact a condition of the possibility of the way of eminence’,31
and the word ‘pre-apprehension’ is significant here, for, as we have seen, it denotes the unformulated and ‘unthematic’ awareness by the mind of itself in every cognitive act. Thus Rahner appears to be telling us that God is grasped not in his character as the ground of the objects
of our perception but in his character as the ground of us who are the subjects
of perception. And, since God is not himself a sensible object, Rahner maintains that, even when we examine the subjective element in perception in order to make this unthematic grasp of God explicit and thematic, we know God not as an object
but only as the principle
of our knowledge. He writes as follows:
Although [the excessus
] must open up the metaphysical realm, of itself alone it cannot immediately present any metaphysical objects in their own selves as objectively visible. For otherwise it would be the intuition of an object manifesting itself from itself and received by man as different. But such an intuition is essentially sensible, hence as such it gives no metaphysical object. Therefore, the excessus
can only be the actuality of a formal principle on the side of the subject of the knowledge.32
When man takes as the ‘object’ of his knowledge in metaphysics that which he affirms simultaneously in the pre-apprehension which makes possible his knowledge of [the] world, then he necessarily makes it a represented object in the only way in which he can have such an object at all: he represents it as a thing, as the things of the world are, because he can have no represented object at all without a conversion to the phantasm. But in so far as he again makes this representation of the metaphysical ‘object’ itself possible by a pre-apprehension, while the pre-apprehension already and always negates what is represented, man has already and always negated the limitation of esse
to mobile [i.e., changeable] being by this judgmental pre-apprehension. Therefore in a judgment he can remove this limitation by a negation (remotio
), and thus in a judgment think the metaphysical object through excessus
and negation without the object as such being immediately represented.33
Thus, Rahner, tells us, negation and comparison, as means by which we pass from the experience of our senses to the primary being,
are always founded upon the excessus
as the pre-apprehension, as the act which pre-apprehends absolute esse
merely in the apprehension of mobile being, and thus they give the metaphysical not in its own self, but only as the ‘principle’ of the real object of the one human knowledge, the world.34
Rahner is thus emphatic about the extremely limited knowledge of God which we can acquire by purely natural and rational means.
is in itself the full ground of every existent, nevertheless, this fullness is given to us only in the absolute, empty infinity of our pre-apprehension or, what is the same thing, in common being with the transcendental modes intrinsic to it. And so it remains true: the highest knowledge of God is the ‘darkness of ignorance.’35
And in his final section, on ‘Man as spirit in the world’, Rahner writes:
The world as known is always the world of man, is essentially a concept complementary to man. And the last known, God, shines forth only in the limitless breadth of the pre-apprehension, in the desire for being as such by which every act of man is borne, and which is at work not only in his ultimate knowledge and in his ultimate decisions, but also in the fact that the free spirit becomes, and must become, sensibility in order to be spirit, and thus exposes itself to the whole destiny of this earth.…
Insofar as man enters into the world by turning to the phantasm, the revelation of being as such and in it the knowledge of God's existence has already been achieved, but even then this God who is beyond the world is always hidden from us. Abstraction is the revelation of being, as such which places man before God; conversion is the entrance into the here and now of this finite world, and this makes God the distant Unknown. Abstraction and conversion are the same thing for Thomas: man.36
Nevertheless, for Rahner revelation both completes and fulfils this limited, obscure and still open natural awareness of God. “If man is understood in this way”, he writes,
he can listen to hear whether God has not perhaps spoken, because he knows that God is; God can speak, because He is the Unknown. And if Christianity is not the idea of an eternal, omnipresent spirit, but is Jesus of Nazareth, then Thomas's metaphysics of knowledge is Christian when it summons man back into the here and now of his finite world, because the Eternal has also entered into his world so that man might find Him, and in Him might find himself anew.37