Sonderegger’s ‘Systematic Theology’ (so far)

Sonderegger takes an interesting and potentially controversial line with her work: beghinning from de Deo Uno. Her work may lay claim, however, to being the most Biblically informed account of the One God – God’s oneness is couched firmly within the freedom of God and a rejection of idolatry as seen within ancient Israel’s life.

The method here is profoundly apophatic – God’s oneness, for Sonderegger, is always seen in contrast to the created, visible idol. In fact, the contrast to the visible or the created serves as a way to highlight the absolute qualitative distinction between the being of God and the being of everything else:

‘Radical oneness, radical uniqueness, demands thought beyond any class, any universal, any likeness. This is an annhilating concreteness.’ (p. 25)

Sonderegger develops this theme in conversation with Aquinas – where we see that God doesn’t belong to oneness or any kind of genus or concept – the conclusion is drawn that oneness isn’t an attribute of God, but rather God’s oneness just is His being:

‘Now, God is His existence. His essence and existence are One, and God is therefore the Necessary Being. Just this is what it means for God to have “life in Himself.” God’s reality is then utterly unique. God’s oneness does not add to His unique reality; it is not “a number” nor an addition or “accident” to His reality. Rather, Unicity just is His being.God does not “share being” with all that is, nor is He supreme among them. God is real, utterly and perfectly and ineffably real.’ (p. 34)

Sonderegger next treats God’s omnipresence and develops an account of divine hiddenness:

‘…the principle lesson of these repeated movements upward, beyond the earth into the heavens, is not to disclose that God is there and not here, not in one place and so absent in another, but rather that in virtue of His invisible habitation, the Lord’s modal Reality as the Hidden one is compatible with His earthly presence among his creatures.’ (p.67)

Sonderegger shortly after turns to what she calls ‘theological compatibilism’, which is a major part of her doctrine of divine hiddenness. In her reading of Exodus 3:1-8, she notes some major metaphysical and epistemological themes, which can be summarized roughly as (1) God is compatible with his creatures and (2) ‘God is known a se in our words turned towards Him’ (p. 86):

‘The Lord God can Himself dwell with creatures. and the creature endure, abide, speak. Note what follows. When the burning bush is placed in the center of dogmatics, every other doctrine radiates its light: the cosmos is phosperic, Light bearing. God’s Presence – His Omnipresence – is compatible with nature, with human history, with human flesh, with bread and wine and water and oil, with the saints, militant and at rest. God Himself! Exodus makes it plain that the Reality of God is present in the fiery bush, not simply a divine effect or sign or “energy”.’ (p. 81)

Perhaps most interesting so far is Sonderegger’s position on divine predication, which is neither strictly analogical, univocal, or Barthian but rather affirms that our words can, and do, refer to God – even going so far as to say that our words are (gasp) instrinsically fitting to refer to God:

‘Now, for my part, I say that there is indeed a fittingness, intrinsic to the creaturely word, that allows our language to reach out and lay hold of its Divine Object: just this is the “negative” Attribute”, most especially, the Attribute of Divine Hiddenness and Invisibility. Now we do not expect too much of these negative terms. They point; they glimpse; they say in ordinary and rough-and-ready way the exceeding Mystery and Dark Light of Almighty God, his Nearness as the Unseen One. Or to echo Barth’s own idiom more closely: Divine Invisibility is revealed to us in Holy Scripture. But it is not in virtue of its being revealed – and only that – that the words Hidden and Invisible aptly draw near to the one, formless, and Unique God. It is indeed that the Lord wills that His very own Reality is compatible with our naming him; he makes the creature a fit home for himself. But God is the “most liberal giver”, as Thomas Aquinas famously says, and He has set up for Himself a temple, a house, in the land of creaturely words; He gives us this gift and settles there.’ (p. 105)

These are a few of the more interesting points Sonderegger makes within the first third or so of the book (which is about how far I am). There is a lot here – a lot – and I’ve not even skimmed the surface. A lot could be said about her methodology – explicitly defying Kantian strictures, for example, or refusing to start from christological principles – and no doubt a lot will, both here and in the wider theo-blogging world. But for now, these are a few of the choice parts of the book. More to come.

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