In my previous blog regarding the use of the terms “metaphor”, “symbolism”, “model” etc., Anon (who comments here quite regularly) commented that “Aquinas’s treatment of metaphor and analogy and their role in talk about God is as pertinent today as the day it was written”. That may well be so. I am not a scholastic. To tell the truth, as a Lutheran (ex-Lutheran?), I have deep suspicions of the scholastic method. My reading of Tracey Rowland’s “Ratzinger’s Faith” has only made me more aware of how scholastic (or neo-scholastic) theology has led the Church up a garden path on more than one occasion in history.
I have, for instance, often been told by Aristotelian/Thomistic types that God is beyond suffering. Poppycock. The God who is “beyond suffering” may be a perfectly satisfying philosophical “model” of God, but it bears little resemblance to the Biblical God of the Old and New Testaments.
I was struck by the way in which Pope Benedict took this usual picture of the God who is “infinitely beyond us” and brought the whole discourse down-to-earth (so to speak) in his Christmas address. Note how far the God he describes is beyond the God of the Philosophers. Note how personal such a God gets. When one has a “personal faith” at this level – based on the knowledge of God that comes from personal experience and trust – it is very hard to fall into the trap of modernistic liberal gnosticism.
The folk such as Fr Dresser have such a problem with the idea of God becoming a man because they are stuck more with a neo-scholastic idea of God than the real God who reveals himself in the Scriptures – the God who actually becomes man, the God who actually suffers, the God who is NOT “beyond all names”, but who actually has a human name: Jesus.
Anyway, here is the first paragraph of the Pope’s Christmas Eve Homily:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?” This is what Israel sings in one of the Psalms (113 , 5ff.), praising God’s grandeur as well as his loving closeness to humanity. God dwells on high, yet he stoops down to us… God is infinitely great, and far, far above us. This is our first experience of him. The distance seems infinite. The Creator of the universe, the one who guides all things, is very far from us: or so he seems at the beginning. But then comes the surprising realization: The One who has no equal, who “is seated on high”, looks down upon us. He stoops down. He sees us, and he sees me. God’s looking down is much more than simply seeing from above. God’s looking is active. The fact that he sees me, that he looks at me, transforms me and the world around me. The Psalm tells us this in the following verse: “He raises the poor from the dust…” In looking down, he raises me up, he takes me gently by the hand and helps me – me! – to rise from depths towards the heights. “God stoops down”. This is a prophetic word. That night in Bethlehem, it took on a completely new meaning. God’s stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. He stoops down – he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity’s neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable. In the Old Testament the Temple was considered almost as God’s footstool; the sacred ark was the place in which he was mysteriously present in the midst of men and women. Above the temple, hidden, stood the cloud of God’s glory. Now it stands above the stable. God is in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child: an impenetrable cloud, and yet – a cloud of glory! How, indeed, could his love for humanity, his solicitude for us, have appeared greater and more pure? The cloud of hiddenness, the cloud of the poverty of a child totally in need of love, is at the same time the cloud of glory. For nothing can be more sublime, nothing greater than the love which thus stoops down, descends, becomes dependent. The glory of the true God becomes visible when the eyes of our hearts are opened before the stable of Bethlehem.