Aquinas, God, and ontotheology

Joseph Gerard Trabbic, Fordham University


The purpose of the dissertation is to see how Aquinas's thought relates to ontotheology. Although the term "ontotheology" was probably first used by Kant, it is Heidegger's use and understanding of the term that has become better known. For Heidegger, "ontotheology" denotes any way of thinking about God that compromises God's transcendence. Heidegger appears to think that the whole tradition of Western theological discourse is ontotheological. In the dissertation's first chapter I explicate Heidegger's understanding and critique of ontotheology. Heidegger has little to say about Aquinas and his concept of God but what he does say does not suggest a very deep understanding of Aquinas. In the second chapter I look at how several Continental authors—Marion, Caputo, Hart, Westphal, and Hemming—have developed the concept of ontotheology and related it to Aquinas. The early Marion, Caputo, and Hart all regard Aquinas as an ontotheologian. The later Marion, Westphal, and Hemming all argue that he is not. Of the authors I consider in this chapter, it seems to me that the later Marion and Westphal have the best, most sophisticated understanding of Aquinas. And yet I do not find either reading of Aquinas completely satisfactory—Marion because he seems to attribute an agnosticism to Aquinas that is more fitting for Maimonides than Aquinas, and Westphal because of his claim that, on Aquinas's epistemological principles, all our beliefs about God must be, strictly speaking, false. In the third and fourth chapters I focus on Aquinas's own texts and argue that while Aquinas regards God as the cause of the world and maintains that there is a real manifestation of God in the world that is accessible to both reason and faith, he also manages to safeguard God's ontological and epistemological transcendence. Aquinas takes God's nature to be radically different from any creature's and although he argues that the world depends on God, God in no way depends on the world. And despite the fact that Aquinas thinks that we can know something of God's nature and form true propositions about this nature, he says that the mode of God's nature escapes our comprehension both in this life and in the beatific vision. My conclusion, then, is that Aquinas is not an ontotheologian. The God of whom he speaks radically transcends the world and the human mind even as he is the source of the whole of finite reality and manifests himself in this reality.

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Recommended Citation

Trabbic, Joseph Gerard, "Aquinas, God, and ontotheology" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3310427.