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Annual Aquinas lecture explores duality of interpretations of God

| Friday, March 23, 2018

Thursday evening, Dr. Eleonore Stump of Saint Louis University gave the annual Joyce McMahon Hank Aquinas Lecture. Her speech, “The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers,” aimed to reconcile the duality seen in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

Katelyn Valley | The Observer

Dr. Eleonore Stump presents the annual Joyce McMahon Hank Aquinas lecture Thursday evening at Saint Mary’s. The lecture explored the duality of interpretations of the nature of God, from both a traditional and personable perspective.

Stump said that she feels the God of philosophers tends to reflect a view of classical theism, while the God seen in the Hebrew Bible is more human. As an example of this humanistic interpretation of God, she said to turn to the mercy present in the the story of Jonah.

“[The Hebrew Bible is] so present to human beings that they know God and they can relate to God in highly personal ways,” Stump said. “You might say that the God portrayed in the Hebrew Bible is very human.”

In contrast, Stump said she sees the God of philosophers to be “simple, immutable and eternal,” Stump said these qualities directly contradict the qualities of the God seen in the Hebrew Bible.

“The claim that God is immutable has seemed to many philosophers and theologians that God cannot be responsive to human beings … and an immutable God cannot be affected by prayer,” Stump said.

Stump’s exploration of “an immutable God,” continued when she said that he must exist outside the boundaries of time, rather than within them.

“An eternal God does not exist within time but outside of it,” she said. “An eternal, immutable God cannot do anything after something happens in time. But, such a God can certainly act because something that happens in time.”

Stump said she sees the classical view of God being eternal as “something that is outside of time and cannot interact with something inside of time.”

“An eternal God cannot engage personally with someone like God is with Jonah in that story,” she said.

Stump said she feels Aquinas would respond to the idea of an eternal God by acknowledging that God exists outside of time, but does also interact with people in the present.

“Eternity is a mode of existence characterized by the absence of succession and by limitless duration,” Stump said. “God’s life consists in the duration for a present that is not limited by either future or past.”

Stump said many argue God’s simplicity in the traditional viewpoint is not compatible with the more human-like interpretations of God.

“No human being can know a simple God,” she said. “God is being itself and not a being.”

However, Stump also said she believes responsiveness and simplicity do not exist completely separate of each other.

“God has free will and creates the world freely, but God does what God does,” Stump said. “It is also the case that God’s simplicity does not by itself rule out God’s responsiveness.”

Stump said she wrestles with two questions that address the duality of these Gods.

“How is it possible that these [Aquinas and Augustine] and other great thinkers could believe in the God of the Hebrew Bible? And, is it at all possible that the God of classical theism can be the same as the Hebrew Bible,” she said.

Stump also said the God of the Hebrew Bible is almost unrecognizable in classical theism.

“The God of the Bible looks nothing like the God of classical theism,” Stump said. “How could the God that was so present and attentive to Jonah be the same simple, immutable and eternal God of classical theism?”

Stump then said that Aquinas believed the personable God seen in the Hebrew Bible is not in opposition to the God of classical theism, but rather the two interpretations of God are one in the same.

“Thomas [Aquinas] accepts both the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the ideas of classical theism,” Stump said. “He believes that simplicity, immutability and eternity are not inconsistent with the Holy Spirit.”

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