Crossing the Threshold of Hope: John Paul II on Thomas’ Five Ways

Pope John Paul II considers some questions from journalist Vittorio Messori — Does God really exist? Is Proof still relevant?, and Is God Hiding? John Paul II considers Aquinas’ proofs to be decisive – he said that Thomas “celebrates all the richness and complexity of each created being.”  He laments tat fact that his thought has been set aside in the post-conciliar period because he is the master of “philosophical and theological universalism.” He provides a context for reading the proofs.

First he considers the objection of Pascal who separates the God of the philosophers from the God of the Patriarchs. But Romans and Wisdom indicate a path from the created visible world to the invisible God. Dei verbum confirms the way of reason. Early Christians did not pay much attention to this way, even found it to have little meaning. But Thomas did not abandon the way of philosophy. The question, Deus – an sit, whether God is, “reverberates throughout a highly developed western civilization.” Thomas’ work remains important.

John Paul II finds a context for reading Thomas in Vatican II, Gaudium et spes. He quotes a long passage from GS §10

The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are ed with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways; on the other he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions he is constantly forced to choose among them and renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would. Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society. . . .

Nevertheless, in the face of the modern development of the world, the number constantly swells of the people who raise the most basic questions or recognize them with a new sharpness: what is man? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? What can man offer to society, what can he expect from it? What follows this earthly life? The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history.

  John Paul II provides this passage as a context in order to explain why the significance of the proofs for God must strike us beyond a purely academic or intellectual register. The question, an sit Deus, whether God is, involves our whole being, imbalanced and limited as it is, in head, heart, and will. The meaning and significance of human existence, the very purpose of human life — these things are intertwined with the question about God’s existence. But this means both the purported proof and the denial of proof, or the indifference to the proof (many years ago MacIntyre said most people now just shrug their shoulders at such a question), all approaches or counter-approaches reveal who man is as much as they reveal whether God is. There is the grain of truth, I say, in Feuerbach’s claim that conceptions of God unveil conceptions of man.

In the subsequent two chapters John Paul II shows why the question of the relevance of proof and the concern or despair over the hidden God must be engaged on the level of philosophical anthropology.
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