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Philosophische Gotteserkenntnis bei Suarez und Descartes im Zusammenhang mit der niederlandischen reformierten Theologie und Philosophie des 17. Jahrhunderts. (Reviews).

Aza Goudriaan. Philosophische Gotteserkenntnis bei Suarez und Descartes im Zusammenhang mit der niederlandischen reformierten Theologie und Philosophie des 17. Jahrhunderts

(Brill's Studies in Intellectual History, 98.) Leiden, Boston, Cologne: Brill, 1999. xi + 327 pp. Euro 82. ISBN: 90-04-1627-3.

"Philosophical knowledge of God according to Suarez and Descartes in the context of Dutch reformed theology and philosophy in the seventeenth century" -- this is the title and the program of this book, a theological thesis of the University of Utrecht (The Netherlands). It draws upon the largely accepted importance of the Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) and of Rene Descartes for the birth of modern philosophy. However, here the history is presented from a specific angle, the perspective of Dutch reformed theology. Since a long time it has been handbook knowledge that both the Jesuit author of the Disputationes metaphysicae (1597) and Descartes were intensely read and received among the Calvinist philosophers and theologians. Therefore a careful look at their sources was needed. Goudriaan's result is that in the major issues of philosophical theology the influence was much less than one would have thought. What actually happened was a detailed critique of both Suarez's and Descartes' attempts at justifying knowledge of God by means of rational arguments. Therefore the merit of this book is that it reassesses both philosophies from this perspective and shows their "inner tensions and inconsistencies" (283), which only thus can be made apparent.

In two parts Goudriaan examines first Suarez's concept of metaphysics, which seems to be uncertain whether including God as the "primary object" is justified or not. Then follow chapters on the ontological status of God, on proofs for the existence of God, his properties, and on the possibility of knowing God. The second part discusses Descartes in focusing on his turn towards epistemology and subjectivity in metaphysics. This results in his new concept of the Idea of God from which certain properties may (or may not) be derived. Descartes' arguments for the existence of God are extensively explained. Here is also the place to connect Suarez with Descartes. Goudriaan shows convincingly that the Jesuit's hesitating treatment of the knowledge of God as visio beatifica and Descartes' optimism about the possibility of knowing God (which came close to such vision) are a common feature of both -- and both were rejected by their Dutch readers.

The discussions are thoroughly argued and documented. However, specialists of seventeenth-century intellectual history might have the works of both major figures at hand, but this is not sure for Goudriaan's Dutch sources, such as Franco Burgersdijk, Adriaan Heerebord, Abraham Heidanus, and Jacobus Revius. None of these has been reprinted since the seventeenth century, but the author is preparing an edition of some of Revius' texts. Therefore instead of quoting diligently Descartes and Suarez more service would have been given by quotations from their critics. Given the style of this book it would be of little help to argue about details of scholastic intricacies. No doubt the author is familiar with these, as well as with the problems of Descartes' metaphysics. He himself is largely influenced by the French interpretation, of his sources, especially by Jean-Luc Marion and Jean-Francois Courtine. As he takes seventeenth-century reformed thinkers as a lead in his interpretation he seems to underestimate the no minalist influence on both Suarez and on Descartes. But, in the first place, the author endorses a biblicist standpoint: while philosophical (or rather, natural) theology strives at establishing the truth of Christian belief by exclusively referring to rational arguments, this position does not exclude the existence and validity of revelation. But for the Dutch readers this seems to have been an original sin. They couldn't accept from the very beginning that Descartes' skepticism extended (if only methodically and temporarily) even to the Bible. They also could not understand the Jesuit's approach when he tried to prove the existence of God without referring to God as the creator. Suarez argued that even if we take the whole of what there is as a "collection" (i.e. a whole without any statement about its inner structure and dependencies) there must be 'something independent' (63 sq.). Reformed theologians insisted on the teaching of St. Paul and others that the world yields some knowledge of its creator, and therefore they didn't see Suarez's strategic move against materialism -- and Goudriaan doesn't either.

Renaissance scholars will profit from this book as it presents two major figures of late Renaissance philosophy on their way into the baroque era. Early modernists will appreciate the theological discussion between a Catholic, an ex-Catholic and the Calvinists. Present day philosophers of religion will find quite a number of problems in the area of justified belief and of the existence of God, which are unknowingly lurking behind ongoing discussions.
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Author:Blum, Paul Richard
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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