Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 101

VOLUME 11, NUMBER 1 A JOURNAL FOR THE THEOLOGY OF CULTURE And here is the biggest stipulation of all: “God exists,” classical theists say, “but we are going to talk about him as if he does not. Because if we talk about him as an existing being, then our definition of God as simple will not make sense.” So Being must be defined in such a way as to preclude God’s being, and thus God is thought of as being infinite even though God cannot be an infinite being. The term infinite is especially useful because its definition can be infinitely redefined to prevent it from being applied to God in any way that might suggest that God is actually related to finite things in a knowable way. “God is not finite” is as close to infinite as classical theists can get. In fact, classical theists must shift their definition of prime matter to accommodate their definition of God. God is pure actuality, they say, which is another way of saying that God is Being Itself, or a necessary existent, and all other existence requires actuality (or form), because they do not have to be (they are contingent). It follows that something that is only or purely potential does not exist at all. Yet that will not do, since prime matter is pure potentiality, so we have to redefine its potentiality as a special kind of existence! Prime matter is in the end just like God, in that both violate the basic rules of classical metaphysics. They are each formless and thus unknowable, even though classical theism has quite a lot to say about them. Sherlock also accuses me of confusing Platonic forms with properties. I have a long discussion of Plato’s forms in my book and never commit this fallacy, although there is more to this connection than Sherlock seems to know. Scholastic metaphysicians and analytic philosophers do not use the term property in the same way, but there are similarities. Property as it is used today is what scholastics called a proper accident, which belongs essentially to a thing’s nature.8 How forms and properties differ is very hard to say. Even Aristotle fails to adequately explain what a substance is over and above its essential properties. A substantial form for both Aquinas and Aristotle is more than just a sum of the properties by which it is known in the world, but what is that “more”? And if forms are nothing more than properties, why isn’t matter also identified by those same properties? It is hard not to be sympathetic with the empiricists, who rejected the need for a substratum to be the subject of its accidents. Prime matter is practically begging for an empiricist response. If prime matter is as close to nothing as you can get, then why not eliminate it (together with the category of form) altogether and define objects by their properties? 8. See Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Books, 2014), 191–192. 100