Sunday, September 6, 2009

"I mean, theologians' theology, not the variety knocked together by the profs de philo"

"is it not also true that, in the final analysis, believing in God is, in a sense, refusing the world as it is and as it appears to an unprejudiced eye, with the result that according to a logic of 'communicating vases' (found, for example, in Nietzsche), all that we take from God would be that much gained for the world?
"It is true that I have had occasion to note in Nietzsche a fairly unsophisticated representation of the relationship between the divine and the human according to which the one gains what the other loses. To be sure, Nietzsche said many powerful things. But his writings contain a fully worked-out version of the hydraulic image: 'There is a lake which one day refused to flow off and erected a dam where it had hitherto flowed off: ever since, this lake has been rising higher and higher. Perhaps that very renunciation will also lend us the strength to bear the renunciation itself; perhaps man will rise ever higher when he once ceases to flow out into a god.' This image already appears, discreetly, in the young Hegel, and emphatically in Feuerbach. Today even more mediocre minds wallow in the idea: man must demand his good, supposedly projected in God, and so on. . . .
"If the relationship between the world and God were of this sort, Prometheus (in the Romantic interpretation of that figure) would be right. But how much naïveté does that imply! To begin with, man and God exchange homogeneous goods, in finite quantities, within the same system. One of the first rules of theology, however, is that it is not in the same sense that we attribute properties (justice, power, knowledge, etc.) to God and to man. A bit of Neoplatonic therapy is called for: ideas do not possess the qualities that they confer. As well as a small dose of theology--I mean, theologians' theology, not the variety knocked together by the profs de philo. Let me offer you two phrases of Thomas Aquinas for your meditation: 'To detract from the creature's perfection is to detract from the perfection of divine power'; 'We do not wrong God unless we wrong our own good.'"

Rémi Brague, "Interview with Christophe Cervellon and Kristell Trego," The legend of the Middle Ages: philosophical explorations of medieval Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, trans. Lydia G.Cochrane (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009): 10-11 (1-22).

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