Natural Knowledge of God, Part 1
Archival Number: CD/mp3 477
Author: Lonergan, B.
CD/mp3 477. A lecture delivered at the twenty-third annual convention of the Catholic Society of America, Washington DC 1968. Corresponds to A Second Collection 117-33. Sponsored by Fr. Rénal Dufour. ‘Natural knowledge of God’ refers to the knowledge of God intended by Vatican I in Dei Filius. What is claimed is not fact but possibility, the ‘physical’ possibility that the light of reason can reach certain knowledge of God. The knowledge in question is mediated by creation. Its object is God as principle and end of all things, as the one true God, Creator and Lord. Reason is defended against fideists, faith against rationalists. Difficulties with this position are rehearsed and then addressed. Three preliminary clarifications are offered. First, is God an object? Not in the etymological sense, in the Kantian sense, or in a sense acceptable to a logical atomism, positivism, or empiricism. But as what is intended in questioning and what becomes better known as our answers to questions become fuller and more accurate, God may be considered an object.
Second, there is the question of verification. If human knowing consists in asking and answering questions, if ever further questions arise, if the further questions are given honest answers, then we can and do arrive at knowledge of God. Third, what is the continuity of the intellectual with the moral and religious, of the mind with the heart? This is answered in terms of the four-level analysis of human intentionality as it yields accounts of intellectual, moral, and total self-transcendence. What, then, is the relevance of the doctrine of natural knowledge of God? It means that God lies within the horizon of our knowing and doing, that religion is a fundamental dimension in human living. what about the technical terms ‘nature’ and ‘the supernatural?’ If we are going to sayu what precisely we mean by speaking of God’s grace, we are going to have to find some third term over and above grace and sin. Can a person be an object? If ‘object’ means that towards which self-transcending heads, yes. But is not philosophy totally different from religion, and the God of philosophers totally different from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Philosophy are quite distinct but not totally different; they are two of the three phases of that single thrust by which the human spirit moves towards self-transcendence. And just as the intellectual, moral, and religious are three phases in the single thrust to self-transcendence, so too moral and religious development only reveal more fully the God that can be known by the natural light of human reason. Finally, one misinterprets Vatican I if one fancies it is speaking, not about a quaestio iuris, but about a quaestio facti. Natural knowledge of God is affirmed if one holds that there is a valid argument and if one holds that apprehending the argument is intrinsically natural. The conditions of actual occurrence are another matter. ‘I do not think that in this life people arrive at natural knowledge of God without God’s grace, but what I do not doubt is that the knowledge they so attain is natural.’
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