Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Divine transcendence: a philosophical inquiry

Divine transcendence: a philosophical inquiry Thumbnail


In religions in which a supreme being is worshipped, he is often said to be transcendent. The reason for this is that a transcendent being surpasses one not transcendent - and only an unsurpassable being is worthy of worship. Transcendence involves being beyond knowledge, understanding and language of which created rational beings are capable. In particular, unsurpassable goodness would transcend in various ways the understanding capacities of created rational beings.
Anti-realist theories of meaning might be thought to challenge the coherence of epistemological transcendence. However, these theories have serious weaknesses and their challenge ultimately should not worry the Theist. Epistemological transcendence might also be thought to present a problem to anyone wishing to speak about God, and have beliefs about him.
But by invoking causal theories of reference we can see that this problem can be overcome. In order that members of communities of Theistgcan see each other as talking of, believing in and worshipping the same transcendent God it may well be that these members will need the capacity to believe things they cannot fully understand, and to believe things which are inexpressible in language mastery of which they are in principle capable. On the face of it, such requirements are fraught with philosophical difficulties. But if we look carefully at what it is to believe something, and at the various kinds of understanding failure that there may be, we see again that the philosophical difficulties may be overcome.
Finally, an ontologically transcendent God still has to be spoken of in language developed firstly in connection with created items. Aquinas’ theory of analogy is touched on in this regard, and a positive theory of how the language of created rational beings may be applicable to God is presented, with help from theories of comparison metaphor.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1983


Downloadable Citations