A Taste For God: De Lubac & Aquinas

The Aquinas 101 Team at the Aquinas Institute has a new video series: “What Would it Mean to Prove God Exists?” An introductory blurb invites you in with this:

Everyone agrees that Aquinas’ famous “five ways” are supposed to be proofs of God’s existence. But what does it take to prove something? Is it enough just to persuade or convince the person you’re talking to? Or does proof require something more?

For St. Thomas the answer is clear. Proof requires something else.


Botticelli. Thomas Aquinas
Sandro Botticelli. Thomas Aquinas (15th C.)


I did not stay to hear St. Thomas’ answer. Later, perhaps, but not now. I am not an academic, not an evangelist. I do not inhabit any circles that require me to digest and restate scholarly postulates. Belief in God is something simpler for me, more fundamental. It is in my DNA, in the weight of my bones. The sorrow of living has not drained it from my blood. Not yet. Not ever, I pray.

For that “something else” I keep at hand Henri de Lubac . He devoted a chapter to “The Proof of God” in a marvelous little book The Discovery of God. (The original 1960 hardcover translation carries the subtitle: “The roads that run from God to man and from man to God.”) Toward the close of his discussion of proofs, de Lubac wrote:

So, in the matter of God, whatever certain people may be tempted to think, it is never the proof that is lacking. What is lacking is taste for God. The most distressing diagnosis that can be made of the present age, and the most alarming, is to all appearances at least, it has lost the taste for God. Man prefers himself to God. And so he deflects the movement which leads to God; or since he is unable to alter its direction, he persists in interpreting it falsely. He imagines he has liquidated the proofs. He concentrates on the critique of the proofs and never gets beyond them. He turns away from that which convinces him. If the taste returned, we may be sure that the proofs would soon be restored in everybody’s eyes, and would seem—what they really are if one considers the kernal of them—clearer than day.

That passage transcends all scholarly—technical—thought. It contains a footnote citing a comment on proofs of the existence of God delivered by one H. Geursten to an international congress on philosophy in 1948: “The value of the argument does not depend upon our voluntary acceptance of it, but we consider that the inclination to accept it is the essential condition for perceiving its intellectual force.”

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A taste for God! A fearsome phrase in some way. Without a leaning—a readiness, an appetite—all proofs are impotent. How to cultivate that taste within someone who has no palate for it?

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photo of Henri de Lubac
Cardinal Henri de Lubac, S.J.


It was Thomas himself who told us that at the summit of our knowledge of God is the knowledge “that he exceeds everything that we could conceive about him.” De Lubac does not diminish the long traditions of exegesis and representations of the divine: “Peguy with his sound sense said: ‘One does not go beyond Plato.’ Nor, we might add, beyond St. Thomas.” Rather, Father de Lubac leaps over theses and exposition to an exultant intuition: “Every creature is, in itself, a theophany.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins phrased it similarly: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

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From the first chapter of de Lubac’s The Discovery of God:

One cannot say that this knowledge [of God], at its root, is a human acquisition. It is an ‘image,’ an ‘imprint,’ a ‘seal.’ It is the mark of God upon us. We do not construct it; we do not borrow it from elsewhere: it is in us, for all our misery; it is our very selves—more, even, than ourselves. . . . God himself is our authority about God; otherwise he is not known . . . no one can have any knowledge of God, unless God teaches him. . . . Forget, then, your greatness and confess your dependence. Reflect upon the splendor you bear within you. Do not neglect the light that is given to you, but do not attribute the source to yourself.

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Gerard Manley Hopkins. Pied Beauty:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.


Postscript to Readings: A Ramble

When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

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Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities, and commercials.

From Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in The Age of Show Business.