Unity In Diversity - Essays in religion by members of the faculty of the Unification Theological Seminary - Edited by Henry O. Thompson - 1984

Reason, Revelation, and Romans 1:18-21 - Theodore E. James

The desire to investigate more thoroughly some of the meanings, implications, and interpretations of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 1:18-21 was aroused and stimulated by the reading of a paper written by Dr. James M. Penton, which he presented at a seminar on Revelation at San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 21-25, 1981.1 In the paper Dr. Penton states (p. 2):

St. Paul tells us at Romans 1:15-20(NE. V): "For we see divine retribution revealed from heaven and falling upon all the godless wickedness of men. In their wickedness they are stifling the truth. For all that may be known of God by men lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to them. His invisible attributes, that is to say his everlasting power and deity, have been visible, ever since the world began, to the eye of reason, in the things he has made."2 In a similar passage St. Augustine of Hippo remarks: "Let your mind roam through the whole creation; everywhere the created world will cry out to you: God made me."3 Hence, for nearly two thousand years certain Christians have taken a naturalistic approach to their religion and have tried to understand God through a rational study of the physical universe. Unfortunately this assumes that God's nature is reflected in the universe and that He is not transcendent or "wholly other." Neither does it take into consideration (1) the imperfection of the world since the Fall, (2) the "exceeding sinfulness of sin," and (3) it denies the fundamental Pauline doctrine of the spiritual adoption of the individual Christian and the inner testimony of (p. 3) the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8) For the above reasons I strongly believe the fundamental rationalism of Roman Catholicism, much of Fundamentalist and sectarian Protestantism and the Unification Church creates important theological problems for them. While I believe that one may admit the truthfulness of Romans 1:20 (in spite of serious philosophical problems), to go from a fundamental assertion that God is and has created to a determination of His nature is unwarranted. We know that "God is love" not through reason but rather through revelation and the testimony of the spirit. (2) WHAT DO WE KNOW WHEN WE KNOW GOD? Knowing God may mean several things to different persons. Frankly, however, since I firmly believe in the transcendent nature of God and feel that He is "wholly other," I feel that He can be known through revelation only.

Before entering into an analysis and evaluation of the main points of the above, I would like to present my understanding of the positions of the "fundamental rationalism of Roman Catholicism, much of Fundamentalist and sectarian Protestantism and the Unification Church," which do not appear to me to "create important theological problems for them," though they may for Dr. Penton's position, if I understand him correctly.4

I will begin with the position of the Unification Church as presented in Divine Principle and other related explanatory material. The other points of view will be presented tangentially as I consider appropriate. In the beginning of Divine Principle the question is asked:

How can we know the characteristics of God, who is an invisible being?5 We can know them by observing the world of creation. For this reason, Paul said:

"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

Using the principle of analogy, in Unification Thought, nature is considered to be the work of art produced by the Divine Artist: "Just as the work of an artist is a visible manifestation of its maker's nature, every creation is a 'substantial object' of the invisible deity of God, the Creator. His nature is displayed in each creation. Just as we can sense an author's character through his works, so we can perceive God's deity by observing His creation."6 There follows a very detailed account of what one may and does learn about God from a study of the physical universe.

The first characteristic of God is positivity and negativity which is revealed in the dual reciprocal relationship of the particles that form atoms and molecules of non-living things, the stamen and pistil in plants, and the male-female relationship in animals (p. 20-21). All things in existence have an external form and an internal character. In the make-up of man there is a body, or "external form" and mind or "internal character" (p. 22). God is understood as the absolute being which is the ultimate cause, First Cause, of all beings, containing the absolute and subjective character and form (p. 23). God's subjective character and form are called His "essential character" and "essential form" (p. 34). These two latter characteristics form a reciprocal relationship with the characteristics of positivity and negativity so that the latter are the attributes of the former essential character and essential form. Positivity and negativity "also have a reciprocal relationship existing between internal and external, cause and result, subject and object, vertical and horizontal."(ibid.) The positivity and negativity are also called "masculinity" and "femininity." "... in relationship to the whole creation, God is the masculine subject representing its internal character" (p. 25). God is the Creator and is eternally self-existent, transcendent of time and space so that the fundamental energy of His being is also absolute and eternally self-existent and the source of the energy which enables all things to maintain their existence (p. 27-28). The Universal Prime Energy of God is a vertical power while the power of the give and take action of creatures is a horizontal power. The universal presence of the horizontal power is a means by which the omnipresence of God is known (p. 39). In man there is intellect, emotion and will which are reflections of the knowledge, love and beauty of God. God is a personal being,7 having all the characteristics of the human person, such as intellect, will, etc., in an analogous way. But the most fundamental characteristic of God is not mind but heart, the essence of His personality.8 God is a God of heart. "What does this mean? It means that our understanding of God must be based on an appreciation of human feelings. God feels at least as sensitive to what goes on in the world as we do. If He is a God of heart, then He experiences the whole range of emotions from loneliness and intense grief to wonderful joy. If He is forgiving, He is also wounded by pain. God can love and express righteous indignation. Consequently, because God is a God of heart, He must be profoundly affected by everything which takes place in His creation."9

There seems to me to be no doubt that Divine Principle does accept and utilize the conviction that a natural theology can be developed from an intelligent contemplation of the physical world and that this does not "create important theological problems for them." Au contraire. The theology of the Unification Church is presented in Divine Principle and elaborated and explained in other official publications.10 By this I do not mean to say that the theology is entirely natural theology; that it is not is clearly seen in the many references to the writings of the Old and New Testament as well as to the special revelation claimed by Rev. Moon.

As regards the "rationalism of Roman Catholicism" it is quite evident that theologians and philosophers in the general tradition of Catholicism did and do accept Paul's viewpoint. I think that he developed that viewpoint as a result of the personal revelation made to him by Jesus, by the study of the Hebrew Scriptures, and by the comparing of what he understood thereby with the opinions of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers who were familiar with the opinions of Plato and Aristotle.11 Paul seems firmly convinced that a human person by using natural God-given reason and applying it to the facts of experience could and did reach a knowledge of the existence and basic nature of God. This conviction was strengthened by Paul's knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Psalms and Wisdom, wherein the basic Pauline conviction is anchored.12

The tradition in Catholicism can be traced from Paul through Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, John Chrysostom and Augustine, to mention but a few, to Thomas Aquinas and to Vatican Council 1, and to many contemporary theologians and philosophers.13 In agreement with the Psalms, Wisdom, and Romans 'rationalistic' catholics accepted and developed a substantial natural or philosophical theology in which, from the contemplation of the works of God, His existence and something of his nature can be known.

In his commentary on this passage in Romans,14 John Chrysostom states that the letter of Paul is contending that the knowledge of God was placed in men from the beginning but that they applied it to 'stocks and stones' (p. 351). It is plain that God placed this knowledge in them because "that which may be known of Him is manifest in them." "Whence was it plain then? Did He send a voice from above? By no means. But what was able to draw them to Him more than a voice that He did by putting before them the creation, so that both wise and unlearned, and Scythian and barbarian, having through sight learned the beauty of things which were seen, might mount up to God. Wherefore he says (v. 20) "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made." What also the prophet said, "The heavens declare the glory of God." (Ps. xix, 1 [xviii, 2]) Again, "all things abiding in order and by their beauty and their grandeur preaching aloud of the Creator." It seems clear that Chrysostom interpreted the passage in Romans as involving the assertion of a natural theology of the existence and attributes of God. God did not express this by a voice of personal revelation in the literal sense but by creating a universe which is a natural voice or natural revelation of the eternal power and Deity of God.

Many people become acquainted with Augustine through the reading of his Confessions.15 In that work he recounts what he considers the most significant stages in his own personal development which led him to an intimate relationship with God. One memorable event was the reading of Cicero's Hortensius which, at the age of 18, stimulated in Augustine a deep and abiding love for philosophy. That work of Cicero, which was influenced by the Protrepticus of Aristotle, "changed the direction of my mind" and "with an incredible intensity of desire I longed after immortal wisdom. I had begun the journey upwards by which I was to return to You" (Conf. p. 45). The one thing "that delighted me in Cicero's exhortation was that I should love, and seek, and win, and hold, and embrace, not this or that philosophical school but Wisdom itself (p. 46). The reading of Aristotle's Categories turned out to be a positive help for his knowledge of God later, though his evaluation of it was considered as negative because "Not only did all this (i.e. the explanation of the 9 accidents) not profit me, it actually did me harm, in that I tried to understand You, my God, marvelous in simplicity and immutability, while imagining that whatever had being was to be found within these ten categories" (p. 79).

After Augustine became able to think about God as a spiritual being, through the influence of some books of the Platonists,16 he realized how Aristotle's Categories, which deals with material beings, had impeded his journey of the mind to God. But in the De Trinitate" he recalls the contents of the Categories and employs them per viam negationis to illustrate the nature of God.

The next stage in his spiritual journey is preceded by a prayer in which we find echoes of Romans 1:20. "Without ceasing Thy whole creation speaks Thy praise -- the spirit of every man by the words that his mouth directs to Thee, animals and lifeless matter by the mouth of those who look upon them: that so our soul rises out of its mortal weariness unto Thee, helped upward by the things Thou has made and passing beyond them unto Thee who hast wonderfully made them; and there refreshment is and strength unfailing" (p. 83). Later in the same context he quotes apparently from memory different New Testament statements incorporating parts of verses from Romans 1:21-23, denying that he followed in the footsteps of the Egyptians and had fixed his mind upon their idols, "changing the truth of God into a lie and worshipping and serving a creature rather than the Creator" (p. 144). He goes on to relate how by turning within himself he was enabled to see that God is " 'I am who am'... and there was from that moment no ground of doubt in me: I would more easily have doubted my own life than have doubted that truth is: which is clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (p. 145). Here he again cites Romans 1:20. In chapter XV of the Confessions Augustine says, "And I looked upon other things, and I saw that they owed their being to You, and that all finite things are in You; but in a different manner, being in You not as in a place, but because You are and hold all things in the hand of Your truth; and all things are true inasmuch as they are" (p. 148). This method of reaching God is expressed in detail when he says:

I was altogether certain that Your invisible things are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made; so too are Your everlasting power and Your Godhead... Enquiring then what was the source of my judgment, when I did so judge I had discovered the immutable and true eternity of truth above my changing mind. Thus by stages I passed from bodies to the soul which uses the body for its perceiving, and from this to the soul's inner power, to which the body's senses present external things, as indeed the beasts are able; and from there I passed on to the reasoning power, to which is referred for judgment what is received from the body's senses. This too realized that it was mutable in me, and rose to its own understanding. It withdrew my thought from its habitual way, abstracting from the confused crowds of phantasms that it might find what light suffused it, when with utter certainty it cried aloud that the immutable was to be preferred to the mutable, and how it had come to know the immutable itself; for if it had not come to some knowledge of the immutable, it could not have known it as certainly preferable to the mutable. Thus in the thrust of a trembling glance my mind arrived at That Which is. Then indeed I saw clearly Your invisible things which are understood by the things that are made; but lacked the strength to hold my gaze fixed, and my weakness was beaten back again so that I returned to my old habits, bearing nothing with me but a memory of delight and a desire as for something of which I had caught the fragrance but which I had not yet the strength to eat (p. 149-150).

It is evident that Augustine would disagree with Dr. Penton for his contention that "We know that 'God is love' not through reason but rather, through revelation" for Augustine says:

And indeed heaven and earth and all that is in them tell me wherever I look that I should love you, and they cease not to tell it to all men, so that there is no excuse for them... And what is this God? I asked the earth and it answered: "I am not He"; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they answered: "We are not your God; seek higher. "I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it answered: "Anaximenes was wrong; I am not God." I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered: "Neither are we God whom you seek." And I said to all the things that throng about the gateways of the senses: Tell me of my God, since you are not he. Tell me something of Him." And they cried out in a great voice: "He made us." My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty... Man can interrogate it (the earth) and so should be able clearly to see the invisible things of God understood by things which are made (p. 215-216)

An obvious proof of the existence of God is also given in the Confessions when Augustine says:

We look upon the heavens and the earth, and they cry aloud that they were made. For they change and vary. (If anything was not made and yet exists, there is nothing in it that was not there before: and it is the essence of change and variation that something should be that was not there before.) They cry aloud, too, that they did not make themselves. "We exist because we were made; but we did not exist before we existed to be able to give ourselves existence." And their visible presence is itself the voice with which they speak (p. 264).

Such a proof is a condensed example of a proof from causality. The heavens and the earth are, they exist (fact of experience); they cry aloud that they were made. Why? Because they change and vary, and whatever changes and varies needs a cause to bring about that change and nothing can cause its own existence.

There are many other places in the writings of Augustine which utilize the text from Romans to substantiate his expressed conviction that one can and does acquire a knowledge of the existence and of the invisible characteristics of God by means of the application of human reason to the facts of experience. In Tractate II, 4 "On the Gospel of St. John" he says:

"But truly there have been some philosophers of this world who have sought for the Creator by means of the creature; for He can be found by means of the creature, as the apostle plainly says, "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and glory; so they are without excuse." And it follows, "Because that, when they knew God;" he did not say, "Because they did not know," but "Because that, when they knew God, they Glorified Him not as God."18

The same text is quoted by Augustine and the same comments made in Tractate XIV, 3.

In "On The Spirit And The Letter"19 there is a lengthy commentary on Romans and C. 19 is entitled "The Knowledge of God through the Creation." In it he states:

For the wrath of God... is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood through the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity; so that they are without excuse;... Observe, he does not say that they were ignorant of the truth, but that they held down the truth in unrighteousness. For it occurred to him (Paul), that he would inquire whence the knowledge of the truth could be obtained by those to whom God had not given the law; and he was not silent on the source whence they could have obtained it: for he declares that it was through visible works of creation that they arrived at the knowledge of the invisible attributes of the Creator. And, in very deed, as they continued to possess great faculties for searching, so they were able to find.

There are many other places in Augustine which attest to his respect for philosophy and natural human reason as the handmaid of revealed theology20 I think that a careful reading of the works of Augustine show that he did develop a natural theology which is not only a logical prelude to his Biblical Theology but a useful instrument, even a necessary one, in the understanding of the contents of the special revelation contained in the Word of God. The De Trinitate, especially, shows the limitations of that natural theology regarding the basic dogmas of faith concerning the Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption etc. In these areas a special revelation is absolutely necessary for a knowledge of what is to be believed, though human reason is of help in the attempt to understand the content believed.

In the arena of discussion about natural theology the position and weapons of Thomas Aquinas are, perhaps, better known than those of any other antagonist, especially among those on the Catholic side. It is significant that Aquinas begins his presentation of Sacred Science by an inquiry into the problem of "Whether, Besides the Philosophical Sciences, any further Doctrine is Required?"21 The second argument on the negative side contends that "everything that is, is considered in the philosophical sciences, even God Himself; so that there is a part of philosophy called theology, or the divine science, as is clear from Aristotle. Therefore, besides the philosophical sciences any other doctrine seems superfluous."22 As Aquinas views the problem, then, it is not whether there is a philosophical or natural theology, but, rather, whether there is a need for a revealed theology. His students have already acquired a knowledge of the philosophical disciplines including theology; is there a need for a Sacred Doctrine?23 In his reply to that question, Aquinas states that "it was necessary for man's salvation that, besides the philosophical disciplines which are investigated by human reason, there be a doctrine according to divine revelation." The basic reason for a revealed theology is that "man is ordered to God as to an end (goal) that exceeds the comprehension of reason." If one does not know this, one may not take advantage of the means necessary to reach that end. Though salvation is not restricted only to those who have accepted a divine revelation, "in order that salvation may come to pass in men more suitably and certainly it was necessary that they be instructed about divine things by divine revelation." And in the reply to the second negative argument Aquinas explains that sciences are distinguished by their different points of view, what is technically called by the scholastics their different "formal objects." Hence there is no prohibition that the same things can be treated by the philosophical disciplines, insofar as they are known by the light of natural reason, and by another science, insofar as they are known by the light of divine revelation. As a matter of fact each discipline should be helpful to the other rather than segregated in unrelated compartments.

With this point of departure let us investigate the contents of Aquinas' natural or philosophical theology. First of all he points out in the Summa Theologiae (Q.2) that the existence of God can be proved in five ways, in each case by means of a demonstration quia, that is, by a demonstration that begins with what is more known to us, for example an effect, what comes into existence, and proceeds by means of the principle of causality, to a knowledge of the existence of the cause of the effect. This type of demonstration has also been called an inductive demonstration or proof in distinction from a deductive demonstration or proof. For Thomas the first question to ask about something is an est, does it exist? If that question is answered affirmatively, then one can inquire about what it is. Being convinced that human reason can and does prove the existence of God as the pure act of existing, from things or events in the realm of human experience, Aquinas proceeds to show that from the same source one can derive many attributes of God.

First he considers the simplicity of God (Q. 3). He argues that God is an absolutely simple being, that is, involving no complexity or composition of parts, because wherever there is a composition the parts composed are related as potentiality and act and God is pure act, i.e., contains no passive potentiality. Thus God is not a body, does not have quantitative parts, is not composed of matter and form, His individual substance does not differ from His essence or nature, His essence and existence are the same, God is not in a genus, a class of beings, with others, in God there are no accidents and God cannot enter into composition with anything else so that God is a part of something else or something else is a part of God.

God is shown to be absolutely perfect (Q. 4) because a thing is said to be perfect in proportion to its actuality and God is total, complete, pure actuality. God is good (QQ. 5,6) because the good is what is desirable, the desirable is such insofar as it is perfect, the perfect is such insofar as it is actual, and God is purely actual as Ipsum Esse. God is not just a good but goodness itself in all its perfection. God is infinite (Q.7) because the principles of limitation can be considered either as matter as regards form or form as regards a limit of matter. Again finitude may be considered as related to potentiality: what is finite is potential in some restricted way as regards the potentiality to be or act in a certain way. None of these types can apply to God who is not a body involving matter and form and not involved in potentiality in any way. God is not an infinite magnitude because any magnitude would either be a natural or mathematical one. God is not a natural magnitude because such is a body. He is not a mathematical magnitude because such would have some figure or shape which involves the quantitative. God is "outside" any limitation whatsoever.

Thomas shows that God is not only transcendent as being itself, "outside" and "above" in dignity and perfection all other things, "the wholly other," but He is also immanent, (Q.8) God with us, because He is the agent giving us existence and preserving us in existence. He is the immediate and necessary cause of our being and the being of everything else. An effect depends on a cause in the precise respect in which the cause is the cause. God is the immediate cause of our being. If He left us, we could not continue to be. If God were not immanent to us and all other things, nothing would be in a created world. For the same reason God can be said to be everywhere, not as confined to a place but He is wherever anything is, by His power, by His presence, by His essence. God is immutable because in Him there is no potentiality for change, since He is pure act (Q.9). He is eternal (Q. 10) because as First Cause and wholly immutable He has no beginning, no end, and no succession of any kind. God is simultaneously complete and perfect in the possession of unending life. No other thing can be eternal in the sense of being absolutely immutable with no beginning of any kind and no possibility of change.

Aquinas shows (Q. 11) that unity can be applied to God because unity involves the notion of being undivided and since God is absolutely simple He is undivided both actually and potentially. There can be only one God, because if there were more than one God, each would be identical in essence, since each is considered as God, and each would differ from the other gods, because each has its own act of existing whereby each would differ, i.e., be more than one. In each one essence would differ from existence. Hence none of the so-called Gods would be God, because in God essence and existence are the same. No created intellect by its natural powers can see the divine essence (Q. 12). There is a discussion in Q. 13 of the names we use to talk about God. Since we know God from creatures by way of excellence and remotion, any name which is originally constructed by human persons to express human knowledge of things, is applied to God in either of two ways. If the name signifies a characteristic which does not involve a limitation in itself, such as wise, that name may be applied to God analogously as indicative of the excellence of wisdom; if a name signifies what is limited in itself, such as mobile or finite, it can only be applied by adding a negative prefix or suffix, such as immobile or in-finite or change-less.

Is God personal(QQ. 14-20)? Proceeding analogously from our knowledge of what characterizes a human person Thomas understands that immateriality is the basis of knowledge acquired by intellect, and that since God is absolutely immaterial He is intellectual knowledge. God knows Himself and all other things without any discursiveness whatever. Since God is an intellectual being, He also possesses will, which is free as regards all activities related to creatures. Since love in persons is naturally the first act of will and since there is will in God, which is the same as His essence, God is Love Itself.24

Hence being personal, as regards God insofar as He can be known by natural reason, means that we can refer truly to God as a Being who possesses life which involves intellectual knowledge and free will and love. God is a personal being. However, any conviction that God is Three Persons in One Being depends upon a special divine revelation. If one stresses knowledge, God may be said to be Truth Itself and the source of all truth; if one stresses will, God may be said to be Love and the source of all good. In the area of distributive justice, which is displayed in the order of the universe, God can be said to be just, but not in the area of commutative justice, which relates to buying and selling, and other kinds of exchange.

Thomas shows that the God he has come to know by natural reason is not a deistic type, an uncaring, absentee God, but one who has care for His creatures (Q.22). Divine providence is the intellectual plan in the mind of God, the model of all creatures as ordered to their ends or purposes. The execution of the order of Divine Providence is called Divine Government. Providence is eternal; government is temporal.

Since power is directly related to an active principle, and since God is pure act, absolutely and without any limitation, He is all-powerful (Q.25). This doesn't mean that He can make a square-circle or donkey-man or any contradiction, because these are absolute impossibles and no-things. God is omnipotent because he can do all things that are possible absolutely, i.e. whose characteristics are not contradictory or where a predicate is compatible with the subject. So "whatsoever has or can have the essential elements of a being is numbered among the absolute possibles in respect of which God is called omnipotent." God is known as Creator because He is the First Cause of all beings other than Himself (Q. 2). This does not mean that God is first in a line of causes stretching out in time, but that He is First in the order of Being, value, dignity, the Source of all other things and values. The question of God as Creator is taken up later in the Summa Theologiae (Q.44) where Thomas employs the notion of participation. "It must be said that every being, that is in any way, is from God. For whatever is found in anything by participation must be caused in it by that to which it belongs essentially... Now it has been shown above, when treating of the divine simplicity, that God is self-subsisting being itself, and also that subsisting being can be only one... Therefore, all beings, other than God, are not their own being but are diversified by the diverse participation of being, so as to be more or less perfect, are caused by one First Being, who possesses being most perfectly." Thomas gives a precise meaning to creation (Q. 45) by pointing out that creation is the emanation of all being from the universal cause, which is God. Such an emanation is not necessary but free. To be more exact about the meaning of creation Thomas emphasizes that the emanation of all beings presupposes non-being which is nothing. The emanation which is called creation is the free production of something by God from nothing where "from" does not refer to a material cause, something worked on to give it a new structure, but only an order of what is now to its previous non-being. A creature is "made from nothing", i.e., it is not made from anything.

Presented in a very superficial way the above tells us of many of the "invisible things" of God that are contained in the natural theology of Thomas Aquinas. In addition to the references to the Letter to the Romans scattered throughout his writings, he also wrote a Commentary on Romans. It is considered to have been written sometime between 1259-65 whereas the Summa Theologiae Part I is assigned to the years 1269-70.25 If this is the exact chronology, the contents of the Summa Theologiae presented above should be an illustration in detail of the principles expressed in the Commentary. Let us see if that is the case.

Thomas comments that when Paul says, "quod notum est" (v. 19), "what is known," he agrees that the wise Gentiles knew (my emphasis) the truth about God. Secondly, he indicates from whom they accepted this kind of knowledge, "For God revealed it to them." In the third place, he presents the means by which, the invisibles of God are revealed. Therefore he says, firstly, that rightly (Paul) says that they held back the truth of God, for it was in them insofar as there was a true knowledge of something of God, because what was known of God, i.e., what is knowable by reason about God by man is manifested in them; it is manifested in them from the fact that there is in them an intrinsic light. Therefore we must know that something about God is entirely unknown to man in this life, namely what God is... because man's knowledge begins from those things which are connatural to him, namely, from sensible creatures, which are not proportioned to the representation of the divine essence. However, man can from these creatures know God in a three-fold way... indeed in one way per causalitatem: because natural creatures are defectible and mutable they must be reduced to an immobile and perfect principle and in this manner it is known that God is;26 per viam excellentiae all creatures are reduced to a first principle not as to a proper and univocal cause as man generates man but as to a common and more excellent cause; per viam negationis because the finite and limited characteristics of creatures are denied of God. Just as art is manifested by the works of the artist, the wisdom of God is manifested by his creatures, not by sense or imagination but by the intellect. Then when he says, "God manifested it to them" he points out by what author the knowledge was manifested to them... God, indeed, in a two-fold way manifested something to man: one way by infusing the interior light by means of which man knows... In another way by proposing exterior signs of his wisdom namely sensible creatures. Thus therefore God manifested it to them by infusing the interior light and by proposing exteriorly visible creatures in whom, as in a certain book, the knowledge of God is read. The essence of God is designated in a plural fashion by the word "invisibles" because the essence in itself is not known according to what it is in itself, as it is one However, it is manifested to us by certain similitudes found in creatures and thus the unity of the divine essence is known under the notions of goodness, wisdom, and the like. Something else is known about God, namely His power as evident by the fact things proceed from Him as from a source. The divinity of God is said to be known insofar as they knew God as the last end toward which all things tend. For the divine good is considered as the common good in which all participate; because of this Paul says divinity, which signifies participation rather than deity which signifies the essence of God... The invisibles of God are known by the way of negation, his everlasting power by the way of causality, the divinity by way of excellence... When it is said, 'a creatura mundi'(v. 20) in one way man can be understood. In another way it can be understood as referring to the whole of creation. In another way it can be understood as the creation of things, as if it were said, 'from the creation of the world' which can be understood that from the creation of the world man began to know God by means of those things which have been made. It is possible that this commentary be taken as a blueprint for the development of a natural theology by Aquinas. The Commentary does lack something of the clarity, precision, and detail of the later Summa Theologiae, which is characteristic of the difference between these two types of works. Nevertheless the basic point comes over clear that one can know a lot about God by natural reason by means of the way of causality, negation, and excellence.

Vatican Council I is very clear in its statement, in agreement with St. Paul, that God can be known by natural reason:

Holy Mother the Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude from created things by the natural light of human reason for the invisible things of Him are seen being understood from the creation of the world through those things which are made. (Romans 1:20)... If anyone has said that the one and true God, our creator and Lord, cannot be known by the natural light of human reason through those things which have been made, let him be anathema.27

Some have tried to avoid the obvious meaning and purpose of the declaration by the Council by contending that the Council states that "Deum certo cognosci posse," that God can be known with certitude but that the Council does not contend that anyone has ever done so.28 Such a clumsy attempt at semantical evasion is quite inaccurate when one reads St. Paul carefully and notes that he is quoted by the Council. One of Paul's basic points is not that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon the irreligiousness and unrighteousness" of those men who were just able to know God but upon those who "held back the truth of God in unrighteousness." Paul is obviously saying that "they are inexcusable" because "God manifested to them his invisible characteristics even His everlasting power and divinity and they transferred this information to the likeness of the image of corruptible men and birds and four-footed animals and serpents."

It is evident that Augustine and Thomas Aquinas were not just able to know the existence of God and some of His attributes, but they actually developed a very formal natural theology. Semantically and logically one cannot conclude from "posse" (can be) to "esse" (to be, is) or from "cognosci posse" (can be known) to "cognoscitur" (is known), but the scholastics generally admitted, as everyone should, that from "esse ad posse valetillatio" (the inference from to be, [is] to, to be able, [can], is valid). Because men have developed a knowledge of the existence of God and of some of His attributes by the use of human reason applied to the facts of experience without any special revelation, it is quite obvious that such knowledge can be acquired.

If one consults Martin Luther's interpretation of the passage in Paul's Letter to the Romans, one finds that Luther agrees with Paul about the actual fulfillment of the natural possibility of knowing the existence of God and His power and Divinity from a contemplation of the created universe. In his Lectures on Romans Luther admits the natural knowledge of God and the real actual possibility of a natural theology29 He states in the "Glosses" that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven "against all ungodliness on account of their turning from the true God, and wickedness, on account of their turning to idol worship... " (p. 9). He adds:

But that they have had the truth of God and have held it back he now shows. 19. For what is known of God, that is, the knowledge of and about God, is manifest in them, that is, they have this manifestation about Him in themselves, because God has shown it to them, that is, He has shown them amply how they may recognize Him, namely as follows: 20. For the invisible things, such as goodness, wisdom, righteousness, etc., of Him, ever since the creation of the world, that is, since the act of creation, by the things that have been made, that is from the works, that when they see that there are works, they also recognize that a Creator is necessary, are clearly seen, perceived not by the senses but by the understanding, His eternal power also, His strength, for this His works declare, and deity, that is, that He really is God. So they are without excuse, as much those who have thus sinned knowingly in the first place as those whom they have made their followers through such great ignorance." (p. 9-10)

Later in the "Scholia" he comments,

19. What is known about God. This is a Greek way of expressing what might be better translated in our language in an abstract way; "the known things of God," that is, "the knowledge of God,"... 20. From the creation. Some people (and, if I am not mistaken, also the writer of the Sentences, Book I, Distinction II)30 interpret this to mean: "By the creature of the world," that is, by man, "God's invisible things are seen." But this can be rejected easily on the basis of the Greek text, where we read: "Ever since the creation of the world," or as Matt. 25:34 has it: "From the foundation of the world," or this way: "From the creation of the world" (that is "ever since the creation of the world," not only from the present time on) it has always been true that God's invisible nature is seen and recognized in His works... Therefore the meaning is: Even if the wise of this world did not perceive the creation of the world, they could have recognized the invisible things of God from the works of the created world" (p. 154).

Again Luther:

19. Because God has shown it to them. With these words Paul makes it clear that also all gifts of nature must be credited to God as the Giver. The fact that he is speaking here of the natural knowledge of God is clear from the following addition, in which he shows how God has manifested Himself to men, namely thus (v. 20): For the invisible things of Him ever since the creation of the world are clearly seen in the things that have been made (these things are recognized in a natural way by their effects), that is, from the beginning of the world it has always been true that the "invisible things of God, etc." He states this so no one should quibble and say that only in our time could God be known. He could be, and can be known from the beginning of the world (p. 156).

In his Commentary on Romans 21 the Lutheran Anders Nygren seems to have some ideas of his own on the problem at hand. As I understand his interpretation the natural knowledge of God expressed by Paul refers only to those who are worthy of the wrath of God because they have turned to ungodliness and unrighteousness. A natural knowledge of God does not lead to a positive approach to God. He says:

Romans 1:20 is one of the places in the New Testament which has been subject to the worst misunderstanding. From what Paul says about God's self-revelation to the Gentiles men have sought to educe an entire "natural theology" or "natural religion." But Paul has also been misunderstood by those who deny that there is any natural theology in his thought. We must give further attention to this matter. Is it proper in any sense to speak of a "natural theology" or a "natural knowledge of God" in Paul? Before we can answer that question we must examine the problem which confronts us in the concept of a natural knowledge of God. Belief that man is able to attain to knowledge of God grew up outside of Christianity and in a wholly different climate of thought. When this view is confronted with God's revelation in Christ, the question arises as to the relation between the natural knowledge of God and the divine revelation mediated through Christ... It is clear that he (Paul) cannot be made an advocate for any sort of natural theology or natural religion in the accepted meaning of these terms... They who have thought that he did understood his words thus because they came to him with their own concept of natural theology... We are left in the dark about the apostle's purpose. He tells how God through Christ has, in the new aeon, revealed a new righteousness and thereby bestowed life on us. But, formerly, in the old aeon, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness. It is in connection with this declaration about the wrath of God that verse 20 speaks... In so far as he touches the question of a natural knowledge of God, he does not do so with the positive intent of declaring that natural man is possessed of the ability to come to a knowledge of God. As to that his thought is found clearly stated in I Corinthians 2:14; the natural or "psychic" man cannot understand the truth about God (p. 105).

However, it seems to me, the statements in Corinthians here are not concerned with the problem of a natural knowledge of God but with the contrast of a sensual man and the perceiving of the Spirit of God. What Nygren skirts is that man can be without excuse only if he has the ability to know God as God and then makes God into a lesser reality or image of a lesser reality. One must know and misuse before being guilty of the wrath of God.

Paul touches the problem of the "natural knowledge of God." But does he actually get into it? It is certainly not his idea that "the natural man" has the ability to find his own way to God. What is the result when the man who has turned away from God would be pious and God-fearing? Paul answers that such a man searches creation and turns to the worship of idols. Paul never says that the natural man finds the marks of God in nature. That idea, imposed on his words by 'natural theology' is quite opposed to his meaning (p. 106).

It is quite obvious that Nygren's interpretation of Paul hinges on Nygren's conviction that a natural knowledge of God is only relative to the wrath of God or what is deserving of the wrath of God. To be sure it is obvious in Paul that the 'natural man' cannot come to God in the sense of being justified by his own knowledge or acts. But it is difficult to understand how a man "who has turned away from God" could be "pious and God-fearing" and would turn to the worship of idols. If it is true that "Paul never says that the natural man finds the marks of God in nature" I wonder about whom Paul is talking in Romans 1:18-21. Moreover, it seems to me that Nygren's statement conflicts with what Luther says in his treatment of those verses. Nygren continues his understanding of Paul:

It is thus easy to see why Paul can have no dealings with "natural theology,"... Natural theology assumes a deistic view. It postulates a God who, after creation, withdrew from the world and concealed himself behind that which He had made. And it looks upon men as left to themselves and desiring nothing more than to find God by means of the evidence of Him which creation bears; for they worship and serve Him (p. 107).

This is a very poetic view of deism, but I do not-agree that all forms of natural theology are deistic. This may be the case with the people whom Nygren knew to advocate a "natural theology," but deism is not essential to natural theology, as is evident in the natural theology of Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther.

Karl Barth's interpretation of a natural knowledge of God is conditioned by his general view of the role of knowledge and of the fallen nature of man regarding his knowledge of God. If human reason were vitiated by the fall, it would be impossible for a man to discover the truth about God through his own efforts. Now such a consequence follows if "the truth about God" is the truth of God revealed in the Scriptures and, especially, in Jesus Christ. But the fact of the fall of man does not destroy human reason so that it can no longer function as reason. If such were the case, Paul would seem to have no justification for his contention that men before and during the dissemination of the "Good News" of Christianity, "from the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen -- his everlasting power and divinity -- being understood through the things that are made." Granted that Paul does not contend that these people knew that God is Creator in the precise sense, he does assert forcefully that men can and did know about God "from the creation of the world."

It seems to be a general opinion that Karl Barth did not accept a natural theology. In his work Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum32 he appears to contend that theology is "Faith Seeking Understanding" and thus could not be natural, if by natural one means knowledge preceding Faith. In Credo33 Barth contends that it is "by faith that we understand that the worlds were fashioned by the Word of God" (p. 29) and that "the Reader of the Old and New Testaments remembers that in this book the Church has up to now heard God's Word" (p. 177). If this is the case a natural or philosophical theology is impossible and superfluous (p. 183-186). Barth does not accept the concept of a natural theology because theology cannot be carried on within "an edifice of thought constructed on certain fundamental conceptions which are selected in accordance with a certain philosophy by a method which corresponds to these conceptions. Theology cannot be carried on in confinement or under the pressure of such a construction. The subject of theology is the history of the communion of God with man and of man with God. This history is proclaimed, in ancient times and today, in the Old and New Testaments... The subject of theology is, in this sense, the "Word of God. "34 It is quite clear that "theology" for Barth means "Biblical Theology" and more especially "Christian Theology," and as such cannot tolerate the adjectives natural or philosophical. As he says, "... there would perhaps be no theology at all, unless the Church's task consisted centrally in the proclamation of the Gospel in witness to the Word spoken by God" (p. 11). "If one would trust in... the gods set up, honored and worshipped by men in ancient and recent times: the authorities on whom man relies, no matter whether they have the form of ideas or any sort of powers of destiny, no matter what they are called... Faith delivers us from trust in such gods" (p. 19). Barth further emphasizes that "God is hidden from us outside His Word. But He is manifest to us in Jesus Christ" (p. 20). These statements may be difficult to reconcile with Romans 1:19-20 unless one qualifies "God" with the adjective Christian as referring only to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul seems to say that one can have some kind of accurate knowledge of God prior to and/or distinct from the Christian faith whereas Barth identifies faith and knowledge (p. 23, 25) and qualifies his concept of knowledge of God:

Of course it is of the nature and being of this object, of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that He cannot be known by the powers of human knowledge, but is apprehensible and apprehended solely because of His own freedom, decision and action. What man can know by his own power according to the measure of his natural powers, his understanding, his feeling, will be at most something like a supreme being, an absolute nature, the nature, the idea of an utterly free power, of a being towering over everything. This absolute and supreme being, the ultimate and most profound, this "thing in itself' has nothing to do with God. It is part of the intuitions and marginal possibilities of man's thinking, man's contrivance. Man is able to think this being; but he has not thereby thought God. God is thought and known when in His own freedom God makes himself apprehensible... God is always the One who has made Himself known to man in His own revelation, and not the one man thinks out for himself and describes as God. There is a perfectly clear division there already, epistemologically, between the true God and the false gods. Knowledge of God is not a possibility which is open for discussion.

I am not contending that, in opposition to Barth, man can know independently of Christian revelation that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But it is at least possible that man can know "by his own power that there is a supreme being and that that being is not a false god but a being of everlasting power and Divinity and Creator," what Paul states in Romans 1:19-20. Moreover, Paul is stating that that knowledge of God is authentic and can be acquired and, with the exception of God as creator in the strict sense of the source of creatio ex nihilo, such knowledge has already been acquired. In contrast Barth says "Knowledge of God is a knowledge completely effected and determined from the side of its object, from the side of God" and "Knowledge of God takes place where divine revelation takes place, illumination of man by God, transmission of human knowledge, instruction of man by this incomparable Teacher" (p. 24).

For Barth the well-known arguments for the existence of God that have been and are still presented in natural or philosophical theology are humorous and fragile (p. 38). "...God is not only unprovable and unsearchable, but also inconceivable." (ibid.) Such statements may appear somewhat controvertible coming as they do after he states "When we Christians speak of 'God' we may and must be clear that this word signifies a priori the fundamentally Other" (p. 36), and the Biblical references to "God is love" and "God is Creator." It is even more questionable when Barth says, "He whose nature and essence consists, whose existence is proved, in His descending into the depths..." (p. 40). "Once a man has understood 'God in the highest,' it becomes impossible for him to want any imagery in thought, or any other kind of imagery" (p. 41). It is possible that Barth is using the terms "unprovable" and "unsearchable" and "inconceivable," which have a very definite meaning in philosophy, logic, and traditional theology, in an equivocal way. Even so, this does not help in the clarification of the problem.

When dealing with God the Creator, Barth contends, "When we approach the truth which the Christian Church confesses in the word 'Creator,' then everything depends on our realizing that we find ourselves here as well confronted by the mystery of faith, in respect of which knowledge is real solely through God's revelation" (p. 50). If one admits that God the Creator is solely a mystery of faith and if Barth is using 'mystery' and 'faith' in the sense that it cannot be known otherwise, then by revelation, we have an obvious instance of circular redundancy: what is only known by revelation is only known by revelation. The history of philosophy and theology is not so dogmatic in excluding from the Christian Church those Christians who contend that the knowledge of God the Creator is obtained by direct contemplation of the physical universe, including Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas, to mention just a few. Barth would not react very kindly to the statement of Vatican I, "If anyone has said that the one and true God, our creator and Lord, cannot be known by the natural light of human reason through those things which have been made, let him be anathema." In a very poetic way Barth says, "The world with its sorrow and its happiness will always be a dark mirror to us, about which we may have optimistic or pessimistic thoughts; but it gives no information about God as the Creator." (p. 52)

When we turn to Barth's treatment of The Epistle to the Romans we are somewhat amazed because he does not take up the same questions. As a matter of fact he seems to be oblivious of their importance. Verses 19-20 are passed over without any awareness of their controversial contents. After some preliminary asides Barth states, "We know that God is He whom we do not know, and that our ignorance is precisely the problem and the source of our knowledge... The recognition of the absolute heteronomy under which we stand is itself an autonomous recognition; and this is precisely that which may be known of God" (p. 45, 46). In regard to v. 20 "For the invisible things of God are clearly seen," he refers to the fact that "Plato in his wisdom recognized long ago that behind the visible there lies the invisible universe which is the Origin of all concrete things" (p. 46). If this statement is compared with the Dynamics in Outline, quoted at great length before, it may stimulate a doubt that the author of the former is the same as the author of the latter. Or is Barth attempting by silence to avoid the apparent teaching of the Credo and Dynamics in Outline as related to Romans 1:19-20?

Hans Kung asserts what he considers some presuppositions for a valid proof of the existence of God.36

1. an immediately evident external or internal experience.
2. methodical reflection and strictly logical deductive thinking.
3. a valid universal metaphysical principle.

I grant that the first one is obviously the only valid starting point, because to conclude to the existence of God, the existence of something must be given at the very start of the proof. I think that the second point is quite inaccurate, because the procedure is inductive rather than deductive. The existence of God is not deduced from some universal principle, but by applying a valid metaphysical principle to the fact of experience one is logically compelled to conclude that there is a God. A deductive argument is a means of inferring a conclusion contained in certain premises. But that God is not contained in the premises in a way to be deductively inferred. Starting with an instance of something existing, by means of a metaphysical principle, the principle of causality, a bridge is established from this fact of existence to Existence Itself. Since the principle is metaphysically valid it is applicable to all instances of existing. From finite existing to Existence Itself is a valid transition. So a valid proof starts with existence and ends with existence. How can the positively infinite be implied in the finite? There is no deductive thinking here. But granted the validity of the metaphysical principle one can turn away from the finite, as inadequate to explain its existence, to infinite being, Existence Itself, as the only sufficient ground for the existence of finite being.

Kung's main difficulty seems to be in another area. He asserts (p. 529) "There must be a proof that is... obvious to everyone." If such were a general prerequisite for any proof, any proof in mathematics, science, and even, everyday living would be a priori impossible. Such a prerequisite is totally unrealistic. Again (p. 531) he says, "If however all these proofs of God... are supposed to be conclusive, why is not any single one of them universally accepted?" (emphasis mine). Again (p. 533), "There is not a single proof that is universally accepted." Again (p. 534), "But a supreme goal (or a supreme order) cannot be proved rationally in a universally convincing way..." Again (p.548), "It cannot be proved in a universally convincing way that God exists." All these Kungian dogmatic pronouncements fail to show that the validity of a proof fundamentally and ultimately and necessarily depends upon its universal acceptance. If such were the criterion for a valid proof, there would be an absolute skepticism about the validity of any proof in any area of human thought or activity. The criteria for a valid proof of the existence of anything, including the existence of God, are:

1. a contact with existence in the facts of experience.
2. application of valid metaphysical principles.
3. application of the valid laws of logic.
4. application of the valid laws of Epistemology.

If some existence is a fact, if the metaphysical principles are true, if the valid principles of logic are applied correctly, and if the principles of Epistemology are correctly applied, the conclusion must follow and be true. To consider that these points that are intrinsic to a valid proof are ultimately irrelevant to a proof and that a proof is a proof only if there is acceptance, universal or otherwise, is to consider that what makes a proof a proof is really extrinsic to the proof and arbitrarily, i.e., without utilizing the factor of experience and the value of metaphysics, epistemology, and logic, conferred on something. Why is this done? There should be some reason or reasons. They would not be logical, metaphysical, epistemological or experiential, What could they be? John Hick employs a similar absolute criterion for the validity of any proof. He says:37

The existence of God can undoubtedly be proved if proof is equated with a formally valid argument... This first sense of "prove" is referred to here only to be dismissed as an inconvenient and confusing usage. It is much better to follow the more normal practice and to distinguish between an argument being valid and its conclusion being true. The validity of an argument is a purely formal characteristic of the relation between its constituent propositions, and does not guarantee the truth of any of them. It guarantees that if the premises are true the conclusion is true also; but it cannot guarantee that the premises, and therefore the conclusion, are true... A second sense of "prove" is that in which a conclusion is said to be proved, not merely if it follows from premises, but only if it follows from true premises... It is surely the third sense, in which to prove something means to prove it to someone, that is really in question when we ask whether the existence of God can be proved.

First I would like to clarify a point in formal logic. Actually a "formally valid argument" can be constructed of false premises as well as with true ones and in either case the conclusion follows necessarily, and must be true, if the premises are true, but may be true or false, if the premises are false.

It is obvious that Hick and Kung both consider that the main characteristic, the absolutely essential one, of a proof for the existence of God is extrinsic to the proof itself and based totally on extrinsic acceptance. If Kung and Hick are attempting to prove that acceptance is essential to any proof, I think the argument is self-destructive. If I accept what Kung and Hick say in their argument that acceptance is the essential factor without which there is no proof, I could refute their argument, in a way they assert is valid, by merely asserting that I don't accept their argument in this context and therefore their argument is not universally accepted and therefore not probative at all. Of course it is a truism to say that if an argument doesn't convince me, I don't accept it. But then it would be intelligent to ask why does the argument not convince me. What does one require in order that a "proof would convince? Again, the response could only be in terms of something that is extrinsic to the proof itself, something extra-logical, extra-metaphysical, extra-epistemological, and extra-experiential.

Many of the problems connected with Romans 1:18-21 are directly related to the semantics of the contents and their relation to the overall message of Romans. I would like, therefore, to concentrate a little on the area of semantics, especially v. 18. Paul states that the wrath (drge -- ira) of God from heaven is revealed upon all impiety (asebeian -- impietatem) and injustice (adikian -- iniustitiam) of those men who hold back or suppress (katechonton -- detinent) the truth of God in injustice or unrighteousness (en adikia -- in iniustitia). The wrath of God is a metaphorical expression of the displeasure of God regarding what some men do and that God has withheld any positive relationship with those who suppress the truth of God "in injustice or unrighteousness." Thus there is introduced the reason why God is angry with some men and why later God allows them to sink to idol worship and immoralities of all kinds (v. 21 -23). Note that it is not a fact that some men become idol worshippers because they develop a natural knowledge of God, as some interpreters contend, but because they suppress the truth of God in ungodliness and unrighteousness. The reason why the wrath of God is revealed upon them is (v. 19) because what is known of God (quod notum est del -- tognoston tou theou) is clear to them, (Manifestum est in illis -- phaneron estin en autois), for God manifested it to them (Deus enim illis manifestavit -- O theos gar autois ephanerosen). Here there is some dispute about the meaning of what is known (gnoston -- quod notum est). The Greek and Latin both use the past participle of the verb to know, which indicates that Paul says, "what is known," but, as some contend, this would be redundant in connection with "manifest" (phaneron -- manifestum) and so it must be rendered as what can be known. But it may be that Paul means just what he says. He is not saying that the wrath of God is revealed upon those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because they were able to know God, but that they knew God and this was evident to them because God had manifested it to them. God manifested it in the things that He made for they mirror the Divine Artist and by giving man an interior light by which he knew this. So what was known of God is clear to them because God manifested or made it clear to them.38 And how did God manifest it to them? For his invisible attributes (aorata autou -- invisibilia ipsius) from the creation of the world (a creatione mundi -- apo ktiseos kosmou) are clearly seen (conspiciuntur -- kathoratai) by means of the things which have been made (per ea quae facta sunt -- tots poiemasin), also his everlasting power and divinity (sempiterna quoque eius virtus et divinitas -- e te atdios autou dunamis kai theiotes). So they are inexcusable (ita ut sint inexcusabiles -- eis to einai autous anapologetous).

To return now to the statements of Dr. Penton quoted at the beginning of this paper, I would like to point out, first, that his use of the word 'naturalistic' as descriptive of the approach of certain Christians to their religion is inappropriate, if one takes the term in its usual meaning in philosophy and religion. The suffixes "ism" and "istic" usually refer to any system, doctrine, theory, etc., that is considered as inferior, disparaged, discredited, belittled. "To disparage is to attempt to lower in esteem, as by insinuation, invidious comparison, faint praise. "38 In philosophy 'naturalistic' involves the denial of the supernatural and spiritual creation; in religion it denies divine revelation and contends that all religious truth may be derived from the natural world.39 I do not think that it is true, also, to state that an attempt to understand God through a rational study of the physical universe assumes that "He (God) is not transcendent or 'wholly other.' " The Christians who do attempt to acquire a knowledge of the invisible characteristics of God "from the creation of the world" even God's "everlasting power and deity (divinity)" stress the transcendence of God and the fact that the Divine Artist does mirror something of Himself in His products. God is considered as "wholly other" and also immanent. One does not have to deny that "God is with us" in order to say that God is "wholly other," since the statements consider God from different aspects that are simultaneously true.

I fail to see how a natural theology could not take into consideration "the imperfection of the world since the Fall" providing that the Fall does not vitiate the very nature of the physical universe. The created world is always imperfect both before and after the Fall, since it is created. Yet when it was created God saw that it was good and every creature is perfect in its own kind. The Fall of man from friendship with God does not destroy any natural perfection from the sun, moon, stars, planets, including the earth with its rivers, fish, birds, animals, and men. The grace of personal friendship with God was lost by the Fall, but that is not a natural perfection, but supernatural. The loss of this grace may make it more difficult to see God in his works, but it does not make that impossible.

I am at a loss to understand how one can talk about the "exceeding sinfulness of sin," except in an exaggerated mythological way. 'Sin' is a word that is privative in meaning; it refers to a lack of what should be. How a lack could be full of sin, a lack full of exceeding lacks is a puzzle to me.

I cannot understand how a natural theology "denies the fundamental Pauline doctrine of the spiritual adoption of the individual Christian and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. "(Romans 8) The doctrine of the spiritual adoption of the individual Christian concerns a supernatural activity of God whereby a Christian becomes an adopted son of God and brother of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that such a situation would make the Christian better able to perceive the "Hand of God" in the formation of the universe and some of the characteristics of the Artist. On the other side the natural knowledge of the "invisible attributes" of God could help man approach closer to a Being of "everlasting power and deity (divinity)." How a natural theology could deny "the inner testimony of the holy spirit" is beyond me, even if one adopts the negative view of some Christians that the natural knowledge of God is that which draws down from heaven the wrath of God, because it leads to ungodliness and unrighteousness. Paul does not say that all people who have known God, from those things which have been made, have suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness. What he does say is "We see divine retribution revealed from heaven upon all the godless wickedness of men of those who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness." So it is not all who search for God in nature that are worthy of the wrath of God but only those who have suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness.

Moreover, though Dr. Penton claims that "we know that God is love not through reason, but rather, through revelation and the testimony of the spirit," we have seen that there are some who know that God is love by contemplating the great gifts that He has given them in the universe. Also, though Dr. Penton may believe in the transcendent nature of God and feel that He is "wholly other" and feel that God can be known only through revelation, there is a strong suspicion that these statements or affections are not compatible with the explicit statements of Paul in Romans 1:18-21.

The discussion of the contents of Romans 1:18-21 and their meaning for or against a natural theology or philosophical theology or a proof for the existence of God and nature of God has been carried on by people who consider that Romans 1:18-21 is an authentic part of the Good News of Christianity. It is accepted as part of the word of God. It is considered to be an inspired statement based on faith whose truth is guaranteed by God in some way. It is considered as something to be believed. But if one would bracket this belief and accept the statements of Paul in Romans 1:18-21 as statements of an individual living at a certain time in history expressing his intellectual conviction that one can and does know that there is a God of everlasting power and divinity, some of whose invisible characteristics can be known by intellectual activity, then Paul's statements may be considered to have even greater and broader force and persuasive power for those who do not admit that the Bible contains a special form of revelation to men. I mean that it would no longer be necessary to restrict the force of the argument to those who believe in Romans as expressive of the word of God in some special way. If I am a Christian believer I must believe that I do not have to believe that there is a God; I can know it by human reason by contemplating the things in the universe. Armed with the natural knowledge of God I am in a position to evaluate any claim for a special revelation made by that God. Without a natural means to know that there is a God, would any belief in a revelation made by an unknown God be based on a blind act of faith that may entail some serious psychological difficulties as to the way one may distinguish the authentic revelation from a spurious one?40


1. The conference was sponsored by the Unification Theological Seminary.

2. The New English Bible: New Testament, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, 1961, p. 256. In the Revised Standard Version and others these verses are indicated as 18-20. In fact 15 seems to be a typing error.

3. This may be Confessions Bk. 10, 6, ff. or 17, 17. John Gibb and William Montgomery in The Confessions of Augustine, Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed. 1927, p. 279, note 7, interrogavi terrain quote Plotinos, Enn. v. 1-4 as expressing similar ideas.

4. The basic issues of disagreement between Dr. Penton and me were discussed by us in great detail publicly and privately during the conference. Subsequently (4/22/81) I wrote to him and explained my desire to deepen my analysis and evaluation of Romans 1:18-21 and asked him to write me in more detail about his point of view and especially to inform me of what the "official position" of the Jehovah's Witnesses was, if any. So far I have had no reply.

5. Divine Principle, The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, N.Y, 1973. (Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version.) Chap. 1, Principle of Creation, Section 1, The Dual Characteristics of God, pp. 20-64.

6 Ibid., p. 20.

7. Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology (NY: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity), p. 66.

8. Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, Outline of the Principle, Level 4 (NY: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1980), p. 13.

9. Unification Theology, p. 67.

10. In addition to those cited vide Unification Thought, Unification Thought Institute, N.Y, 1973. First full translation from the original Korean. Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology and Christian Thought, revised ed. (NY: Golden Gate Publ. Co., 1976). Although I agree that a natural theology can be developed by the application of human reason to the facts of experience and that Divine Principle and supplementary writings have accepted this, I do not think it is valid to require a univocal or literal one to one correspondence between the facts of experience and the inferences drawn from them. For example, the fact of bi-polarity among things in Nature, their negativity and positivity, their masculinity and femininity does not necessarily require such contrasts in the nature of God. It is necessary to be aware of the literal implications, as well as of the metaphorical/allegorical ones.

11. Vide Acts 9:29; 14:7-17; 17:16-31; 20:15-18. It is possible that Paul met and discussed with the Greek philosophers at Miletus and Ephesus as well as with the Epicureans and Stoics, etc., at Athens.

12. E.g. Job 12:7-10; Psalms 18:2 (19:2); Wisdom 13:5-9; 12:23-27.

13. Justin Martyr, "Exhortation to the Greeks," "Discourse to the Greeks," "The Monarchy or The Rule of God," The Fathers of the Church, by Thomas B. Falls, (NY: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1948); Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Patrologia Latina VIII-IX; John Chrysostom, Homily III. The Epistle to the Romans, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. P. Schaff, Vol. XI (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1956), pp. 351-352. Augustine, Exposition of Romans; Sermon 71; On Christian Doctrine 1.4; City of God, passim; On the Gospel of St. John, passim; On Psalms, 19, 50, 106, etc. Aquinas, Summa Theologiael. 1-26; Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, Opera Omnia, Parma ed., Vol. XIII, (NY: Musurgia, 1949), pp. 15-16. Thomas refers to Romans 19 and 20 in many places in the Summa Theologiae.

14. Ibid, note 13.

15. The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans, by F. J. Sheed. (NY: Sheed and Ward, 1943).

16. De Civitate Dei VIII, 12.

17. De Trinitate V 4, 5, 8.

18. "Tractate II on St. John," A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff (NY: The Christian Literature Co.. 1888). vol. VII p. 14

19. Ibid., Vol. V, c. 19, p. 91, The Knowledge of God Through the Creation.

20. Ibid., De Civitate Dei, 8, 12, p. 152; "I have specially chosen them because their juster thoughts concerning the one God who made heaven and earth, have made them illustrious among philosophers... the most illustrious recent philosophers, who have chosen to follow Plato, have been unwilling to be called Peripatetics, or Academics, but have preferred the name Platonists. Among them were the renowned Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Porphyry, who were Greeks, and the African Apuleius, who was learned both in the Greek and Latin tongues." The translator of the books from Greek to Latin is considered to have been Gaius Marius Victorinus Afer, a celebrated rhetorician and theologian. Vide Marius Victorinus, Traites Theologiques Surla Trinite, Latin text by Paul Henry, trans. Pierre Hadot, vol. I, Introduction, pp. 7ff, (Pans: Les Editions du Cerfi, 1960).

21. Summa Theologiae, I, I, 1.

22. Ibid., Aristotle, Metaphysics, V 1 (1026a 19).

23. In the view of Thomas doctrina is the knowledge possessed by the professor while disciplina is the knowledge as received by the pupil.

24. In direct opposition to Dr. Penton, Aquinas claims that one can know that God is love without a special revelation.

25. Angelus Walz, Vide Saint Thomas Aquinas: A Biographical Study, English translation by Sebastian Bullough (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1951), rear-piece.

26. The word 'reduce', 'reducere' is used in logic to indicate the fact that something is known by indicating that to which it is related for the fact of its existence or its meaning.

27. Vatican Council I (1869-70) Sess. 3, c. 2 (Denz 1785).

28. Hans Kung, Does God Exist? An Answer for Today, trans. Edward Quinn (NY: Doubleday and Co., 1980), pp. 513,"770. Such a statement by Kung is contradicted by his evaluation of the Vatican statement against Barth "according to Romans 1, it is quite clear that the pagans had a knowledge of the fact of God without any special revelation." This is what Paul stated and Vatican I quoted. In A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 1107, 843f, rev. 19, 20 of Romans, "Vatican I (Denz 1785) was referring only to the capacity of human reason to acquire knowledge of God."

29. Luther's Works, Vol. 25, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia, ed. H.C. Oswald (St. Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 1972).

30. Ibid., p. 154. n. 37 refers to the fact that the reference is to Distinction III, Patrologia Latina, CXCII, 529.

31. Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, trans. CC. Rasmussen, from Romarbrevet, Sweden, 1944 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 9th printing.

32. Karl Barth, Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum (Faith in Search of Understanding), trans. Ian W. Robertson (NY: Meridian Books, The World Publ. Co., 1962).

33. Karl Barth, Credo (NY: Chas. Scribner's Sons, 1962).

34. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (NY: Harper and Row, Harper Torchbooks, The Cloister Library, 1959), p. 5.

35. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. E.C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 7th imp.

36. Ibid., p. 530.

37. The Existence of God, edited with an introductory essay by John Hick (NY: The Macmillan Co., 1964).

38. Webster's New World Dictionary, 1966.

39. Humanist Manifestos I and II, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1973).

40. There are many other Commentaries on the Letter to Romans 1:18-21 and many other analyses of the significance of the words expressed, but time and space do not permit me to present them in detail. Vide:

Ahern, Barnabus M., The Epistle to the Galatians and Romans; New Testament Reading Guide, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1960.

Brunner, Emil, The Letter to the Romans: A Commentary, London: Lutterworth Press, 1959. First published in 1938. "The denial of such a 'general revelation' of grace in Jesus Christ can appeal neither to Paul nor to the Bible at large... If man did not know God, how could he be responsible? Man cannot excuse himself by pleading that he could not know God prior to his revelation in Jesus Christ; he could very well know him, namely his majesty as Creator and therefore also the fact that he belongs to God" (pp. 17, 18).

Dictionnaire de la Theologie Catholique, Paris: Librairie Le Touzey et Ane, 1937, vol. 13, partie 2, col. 2879: "Dieu se fait connaitre a I'homme par la creation... La raison ou Vintelligence, s'exercant sur los choses cries, permeta I'homme de connaitre clairement ce qui est connaissable de Dieu... Saint Paul marque bien la transcendance de Dieu, son independance du monde."

Dodd, CH. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, NY: Harper and Bros., 1932, pp. 24-25. "There is no other passage where Paul so explicitly recognizes 'natural religion' as a fundamental trait of human nature... the created universe offers sufficient evidence of its 'divine Original'... Paganism... in Paul's judgment, has not the excuse of ignorance. The truth is there, but the impiety and wickedness of men hinder it."

Franzmann, M.H., "Romans" in Concordia Commentary, St. Louis: Concordia Publ. House, 1968, pp. 39, 40.

Hunter, A.M., The Epistle to the Romans, introduction and commentary, London: SCM Press, 1955. "Clearly Paul is thinking of what we call nowadays 'a General Revelation' of God independent of the Special Revelation to the Jews," p. 32. Hunter's emphasis is on "the wrath" of God.

Kasemann, Ernst, Commentary on Romans, trans. G.W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980, pp. 36-43. "A. The Revelation of God's Wrath on the Gentiles (1:18-32)" is the section heading and the main concern. There is an extensive bibliography, mostly in German. There is a great deal of exegesis, e.g. to gnoston tou theou is said to be understood as "knowable" rather than "known" because of an apparent tautology. "It still remains questionable... whether it should be translated as 'what is knowable of God' (the common view) or... 'God in his knowability'...In any case this catchword raises the hotly contested issue of a natural theology in Paul." Kasemann presents something of the popular Hellenistic philosophy, Stoic theology, refers to Pseudo-Aristotle De Mundo 399a-b, Corpus Hermeticum V, Seneca Naturales questiones, Cicero Tusculanarum, Epictetus Discourses, Philo De praemiis et poenis, etc., and though Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-29 draws on the same tradition "and here one surely can and must speak of natural theology," he contends that "would in fact be advocating a natural theology which could scarcely be reconciled with his eschatology and christology." (39-41) Presumably, if Paul said no more than Hellenistic Judaism and Acts, he would be advocating a natural theology but that such would conflict with what Paul maintains in his eschatology and Christology. Kasemann does not substantiate that claim here.

Lenski, R.C.H., The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, MN: Augsburg Publ. House, 1961, (originally published 1936). "He insists that to gnoston must be translated as what is known not knowable, though many use knowable in order to avoid what they consider a tautology" (p. 95). "Clearly seeing the unseen regarding God is simplicity itself. It is done with the mind or reason (nous) by means of a mental act (noein one that is not abstract speculation but sane and sober thought on the things made by God, all of which advertise his existence and his power and divinity" (p. 97). "We see the things made, see them with our physical eyes, but they convey more to us than their own undeniable existence; having a mind, by mental perception and by means of the visible we fully see the invisible, God's omnipotence and divineness. This is natural theology which is universal in scope" (p. 99).

Lyonnet, Stanislaus, Quaestiones in Epistulam ad Romanos, la series, Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1962, C. II, De Natural! Dei Cognitone (Romans 1,18-23) p. 59-88. He contends that although to gnoston tou theou, quod notum est de Deo is understood as what is known by many of the Fathers and ancient writers and the word gnostos was used in ordinary speaking and in the New Testament for known, in classical writing and philosophy it signifies what can be known, because there seems to be a tautology. However, phaneron, if rightly understood, would not make a tautology (p. 64). Lyonnet's work is scholarly throughout and is recognized in the literature.

Maly, Eugene H., Romans, Wilmington: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1979. Though he admits that Paul is speaking of a "natural revelation" and that the knowable of God includes those divine attributes manifested in the creation of the world, he passes over these points in order to stress the wrath of God and God's punishment. (Only a small part of one page is devoted to vv. 18-23 concerning these points).

Murray, John, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1959. A lot of detailed exegesis.

O'Neill, J. C, Paul's Letter to the Romans, Penguin Books, 1975. "20. This is a concise summary of an argument for the existence of God that was already at least 500 years old when Romans was published, having been stated by the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras... The argument had been taken over into Jewish apologetics by Jews who were living scattered in the Hellenistic cities, where they spoke Greek and attempted with some success to win their Gentile neighbors to Judaism... I think the proof here summarized is valid."

O'Rourke, J. J., "Romans 1, 20 and Natural Revelation," CathBiQuart 23 (3, '61), 301-306. He emphasizes the fact that Paul does not say that the human mind of itself can obtain knowledge of God as Creator. The extension of the text is not necessarily universal. New Testament Abstracts, vol. 6, (1961-62), Weston, MA: Weston College, p. 200.

Owen, H.P., "The Scope of Natural Revelation in Romans 1 and Acts XVII," NTStud5 (2, '59) 133-143. New Testament Abstracts 3, (3, 59) p. 262. "From the NT, therefore, the theologian will not try to prove by the use of unaided reason the existence of the Creator from poiemata, but will see that Paul implies that the knowledge gained by natural revelation constitutes a "point of contact" for the gospel. Finally, although the Apostle is not speaking of philosophers such as Plato, yet even these failed to understand God as the Creator; and this failure only Judeo-Christian revelation could redeem." When Owen states in the body of his article that no Gentile attained the belief in God as Creator of the world, I think that such a statement cannot be objectively verified though it is true that none of the ancient philosophers whose works we possess, attained to this belief. One who would study Genesis, even as a work of literature, may be able to attain a "belief in God as Creator." If Owen is asserting that it is only by faith that one can understand that the world was created in the strict sense of created, he would be in direct opposition with many of the great philosopher-theologians of the Christian Church, such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Robinson, John A.T., Wrestling with Romans, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1979. "... Whatever men can know of God they have en autois, within them or among them. For God has disclosed it to them... Paul thus specifically contradicts the Barthian denial of any point of contact, any revelation, outside Christ. Brunner convicted Barth here of being unbiblical; mankind has no excuse precisely because there is a general revelation through creation. Equally Paul contradicts the Thomist view that man can by his own reason know God apart from revelation. Man does not know some things by reason and some by revelation -- but all by revelation. Even the pagan world can know only 'because God himself has disclosed it to them' (verse 19). But while Paul fully allows for a natural revelation he provides little confidence for a natural theology. Here St. Thomas Aquinas is, I believe, clearly unbiblical. He assumes that man's reason working on the natural revelation can build up a coherent and, as far as it goes, entirely correct view of the nature and attributes of God. The whole of his Summa Theologica I, up to the doctrine of the Trinity... is grounded on natural reason alone, and this foundation is never subsequently modified or corrected in the light of biblical insights. It need not be, because natural reason is a perfectly adequate instrument as far as it goes. But this is precisely what Paul proceeds to deny" (p. 21- 23). There is quite a lot of equivocation in the use of the word "revelation." There is said to be a general revelation through creation, which disagrees with Barth, and a contradiction of Paul with Aquinas because Aquinas claims that men can know God by human reason apart from revelation. This equivocation is again utilized when Robinson asserts that Aquinas thought he could set up a natural theology based on reason and a natural revelation. I think that Robinson is not correct when he goes on to imply that Paul considers that human reason itself is perverted because some men who know God refused to honor Him as God. As Robinson adds... "knowledge of God is not just something intellectual: it is an acknowledgement of God as God, a recognition which is given only in the true worship of God... " (p. 23).

Rosin, H., "To gnoston tou Theou," Theolzeit 17, (3, '61) 161-165, New Testament Abstracts, vol. 6, (1961-62), Weston MA: Weston College. The usual translation of these words, as "that which can be known of God," does not suit the context of Romans 1: 18-32.

Schelke, Karl H, The Epistle to the Romans, NY: Herder and Herder, 1964. Only a part of a page devoted to our text. He does emphasize that man cannot know "the entire mysterious nature of God with reason alone; nor God as the Father, whom Jesus Christ has revealed."

Taylor, Vincent, "The Epistle to the Romans", Epworth Preacher's Commentaries, London: The Epworth Press, 1962. 1:20. This verse implies the truth of what is called "Natural Theology," the belief that God makes known His power and divinity in creation, so that men are "without excuse." 

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