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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 March 2013
The dogmatic constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council held as a matter of faith that it is possible to prove the existence of God through the natural light of reason and apart from the aid of revelation. The doctrine has been criticized for its abstractness and lack of historical consciousness, in that it neglects the conditions in the human subject for the possibility of such a proof. Denys Turner has recently defended this claim of Dei Filius. In Faith, Reason and the Existence of God (Cambridge, 2004), however, Turner does not address the nuanced position of Bernard Lonergan, who interpreted Dei Filius in a way that defended its conclusion but severely limited its applicability. I propose to bring Turner and Lonergan into conversation on the matter of Dei Filius' doctrine regarding the possibility of proving the existence of God.
2 First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (Dei Filius), in Tanner, Norman P., ed. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 2:806–10.Google Scholar
3 For two diverse examples of theologians who argue that it is impossible to prove through unaided reason the existence of God, see Küng, Hans, Does God Exist?, trans. Quinn, Edward (New York: Random House, 1981), 529–51Google Scholar and Milbank, John and Pickstock, Catherine, Truth in Aquinas (New York: Routledge, 2001), 21–39.Google Scholar
4 Lonergan, Bernard J. F., “Natural Knowledge of God,” A Second Collection, ed. Ryan, William F. J. and Tyrrell, Bernard J. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 117–33.Google Scholar
5 Lonergan, Bernard J. F., Insight: An Essay in Human Understanding, ed. Crowe, Frederick E. and Doran, Robert M., Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992).Google Scholar
19 See Turner, Denys, “Atheism, Apophaticism, and Différance” in Théologie negative, ed. Olivetti, Marco M., Biblioteca dell'Archivio di Filosofia, 29 (Padova: CEOAM, 2002), 225–41.Google Scholar
20 How to be an Atheist, 39. Turner is taking aim at Bertrand Russell's famous “brute fact” approach to the “why is there anything at all” question.
23 The same crucial point regarding Christology is made by Sokolowski, Robert, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982).Google Scholar
24 Turner's notion that a proof for the existence of God would entail the simple recognition that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” reveals a basic similarity to Bernard Lonergan's proof, in Chapter 19 of Insight, that “If being is intelligible, then God exists.”
25 Faith, Reason and the Existence of God, 201.
27 Ibid., 197–202. Turner's position is that, in order to avoid Scotus' position that univocity between premises and conclusion is required and possible in a proof for the existence of God, Milbank affirms an a priori experience of God (and reads such into Aquinas' proofs). Scotus (and Milbank) are mistaken in assuming that such univocity is required for a valid proof. Mention of such experience, of course, brings Rahner's Vorgriff to mind. However, a comparison of Milbank-Pickstock and Rahner on the question of what precedes explicit reflection, while an important issue, stretches beyond the limits of the present essay. For a compendious presentation of the development of Rahner's position, see McCool, Gerald, “Karl Rahner and the Christian Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas” in Kelly, William J. S.J., ed., Theology and Discovery: Essays in Honor of Karl Rahner, S.J. (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980), 63–93.Google Scholar
28 For a summary of the concerns of the authors of Dei Filius, see McCool, Gerald A., Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century: The Quest for a Unitary Method (New York: Seabury, 1977), 216–24.Google Scholar For the historical context of Dei Filius both McCool and Lonergan rely on Pottmeyer, Hermann Josef, Der Glaube vor dem Anspruch der Wissenschaft: Die Konstitution über den katholischen Glauben, Dei Filius des 1. Vatikanischen Konzils und der unveröffentlichten theologischen Voten der vonbereitenden Kommission, Freiburger theologische Studien, vol. 87 (Freiburg: Herder, 1968).Google Scholar
29 Lonergan, Bernard J. F., Insight: An Essay in Human Understanding, ed. Crowe, Frederick E. and Doran, Robert M., Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992).Google Scholar
30 Note Turner's tongue in cheek comment that one can learn to be an atheist by “being careful to suppress any [questions] which might seem to push thought off civilized limits; be reasonable, lest you find yourself being committed to an excessive rationality; have the good manners to scratch no itches which occur in intellectually embarrassing places—at least not in public” (How to be an Atheist, 39).
31 Lonergan, Bernard J. F., “Philosophy of God and Theology,” in Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965–1980, ed. Croken, Robert C. and Doran, Robert M., Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 17 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 159–218.Google Scholar
32 Reason, being a part of creation, shares its capacity to reveal the sacred, and thus displays its sacramentality. See Faith, Reason and the Existence of God, 224–25.
33 Lonergan, Bernard J. F., “The Form of Inference,” in Collection, ed. Crowe, Frederick E. and Doran, Robert M., Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 3–16, at 5.Google Scholar The essay was originally published in 1943 but probably written earlier (see the editorial note in ibid, 256).
37 See McShane, Philip, ed. Language, Truth, and Meaning: Papers from the International Lonergan Congress, St. Leo College, 1970 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972).Google Scholar
38 “Philosophy of God, and Theology,” 171–72, at 172.
39 Method in Theology (New York: Seabury, 1972), 364.
41 Faith, Reason and the Existence of God, 262.
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