Augustine’s ‘Si comprehendis, non est Deus’ : to what extent is God incomprehensible?
Article [Version of Record]
Is part ofAnalecta Hermeneutica ; vol. 9.
Publisher(s)International Institute for Hermeneutics
The idea of God is one from which contemporary philosophy, to say nothing of Western society at large, seems to have turned away from or replaced by other quests. There is however no greater and more vital subject than the idea of God. It is essential because it is difficult to see how life can have an overriding meaning if there is no God. Or, as Ivan Karamazov puts it in Dostoyevsky’s novel, if there is no God, all hell breaks loose. For philosophers and inquiring minds, God also happens to be one of the most cogent answers to the question as to why there is Being and not nothing. There is little to be gained by looking down on such an answer, which was revered as the highest Good in all cultures and epochs.Can God be positively understood? The very respectable tradition of negative theology would claim that this is impossible and that God could only be understood by saying what God is not. There is a saying of Augustine that is often quoted in this context, “If you understand it is not God.” What did Augustine mean by this? Does this dictum not entail a contradiction in that we all understand the meaning of the word God? Did God not also reveal himself in Scripture and creation, thus opening himself to understanding? This study sorts out the meaning and context of this saying in Augustine’s Sermon 117 and argues that an understanding of God and indeed a “touching” of God are possible for Augustine. It also argues against the obsessive, if widespread attempt of some to debase humankind’s capability of understanding.