Sonderegger’s ‘Systematic Theology’ (so far) pt. IV

Previous installments here, here and here.

Continuing with the doctrine of divine omniscience, we come to Sonderegger’s explication and application of Augustine’s doctrine of illumination:

Illuminationism is the name given to Augustine’s doctrine of theological knowledge, a name taken to be broadly Platonist in character. Augustine held that we creatures know – gaze upon but also grasp, understand – by seeing the objects and concepts of this world as they are lit up from Beyond, by heavenly Light.’ (p. 419)

‘As it is the merciful Lord who must act in grace towards the sinner, so it is the Divine Light that must radiate into darkness to ease our ignorance and teach us the truth.’ (p. 425)

As we’ve seen before, Sonderegger couples omniscience with, and sets it within, God’s presence and God’s humility, which, as we’ve also seen, is a mode of God’s presence, and by virtue of this coupling, argues that it is God who makes things true, or is the truth of all things, as it were:

‘The humility of God governs the whole doctrine of Knowledge, the whole of Omniscience. God is Light, eternal Radiance and it is by His Light that earthly things are lit up and made known. Note that in Augustine’s doctrine we do not see God directly: He is not the Object of our intellectual sight. Rather, He makes things known. He is the light by which we see; but it is the world of His own making, the creatures and all that dwell below the skies, the earthly facts, concepts, categories, truths of all kinds, that fill our minds and dazzle our senses. He makes others to shine, to stand forth from the darkness, to appear. He, the Light, makes Himself an instrument in His own created world: He makes earthly realities clear. Just so, as the Truth itself, he lays bare the truths each of us grasps in the act of understanding. He is content to lie behind our act of knowing – He, the true Knowledge itself.’ (p. 425)

Here, to me, is one of the most interesting things Sonderegger does with omniscience: by tying together knowledge with presence and humility, Sonderegger is able to explicate in a brilliant way how God truly takes on the form of a servant:

‘He ministers to us as the Source and Instrument of our knowing: Behold, I am at the table as One who serves. He, the Lord, becomes invisible, transparent in our cosmos. We look through Him, and by Him, we know our world, material and intellectual. He is content to stand quietly in our world, the Eternal Spirit, to grace and perfect the creature through the act of knowledge. Those who would be great must be least of all: that is the condescension of the Divine Light, hidden in the material and intellectual world of the creature.’ (p. 426)

God, then, makes His created world visible by His invisible and humble presence. And it is this, Sonderegger says, that allows us to fully love both God and our neighbor:

‘…when we consider the entire idiom of sight, as did Augustine in the Soliloquies, we discover a startling truth: when we look directly at the world, we see not God, but the creature! Directly in front of us, manifest before our very eyes, is not our Maker, but the creature He has made and made known. He trains our eyes to see the natural world; He opens our eyes to the neighbor. We are to love God above all things, yes. This is the first and great commandment. But the Love who is God is the good God, the Dear Lord, the One who steps aside, who veils Himself, so that our neighbor rises up, full and concrete and visible, fresh before our eyes. We know our neighbor; we know our world. And just this is the sight the Spirit of God bestows upon us.’ (p. 426)

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