That God, as conceived by Christians (and I’m not really interested in any other God), is not a being among beings is so utterly obvious to me that I honestly do not know how to argue against it. One of the very first theology books I read back in the 70s was He Who Is by Eric Lionel Mascall. When I look back now on my theological development since then, I have come to realize how profoundly he influenced my understanding of God, even though it was decades later before I read even a little Aquinas. My paperback copy of the book is filled with underlining (ditto for my copy of Existence and Analogy). Here’s one passage that I underlined:
We cannot lump together in one genus God and everything else, as if the word “being” applied to them all in precisely the same sense, and then pick out God as the supreme one. For if God is the Supreme Being, in the sense in which Christian theology uses the term, “being” as applied to him is not just one more instance of what “being” means when applied to anything else. So far from being just one item, albeit the supreme one, in a class of beings, he is the source from which their being is derived; he is not in their class but above it. … In the technical term, when we apply to God a term which is normally used of other beings, we are using it not univocally but analogically; for he is not just one member of a class with them, but their ground and archetype. (p. 9)
Although I incline to the view that God is not a being among beings, I don't think it is at all obvious that this is so. We all agree that God is the source of the Being or existence of everything other than God. What exists other than God exists because God has created it, and would not exist if God had not created it. So far, so good. But how is it supposed to follow that God is not a being among beings? How is it supposed to follow that God is not a being in the very same sense in which Socrates is a being? I think my friends Dale Tuggy and Alan Rhoda -- theistic personalists to slap a label on them -- are on solid ground here. They could reply to Fr. Kimel that the following is a non sequitur:
1. Everything other than God has been created by God ex nihilo and so depends on God for its very existence.
2. 'Exists' in 'God exists' and 'Socrates exists' cannot be taken in the precisely the same (univocal) sense.
Dale and Alan might plausibly maintain that while (1) is true, (2) does not follow because the negation of (2) is consistent with (1). The theistic personalist might reasonably insist that 'exists' in both of the above occurrences has exactly the same sense -- this is a semantic point -- and that the corresponding ontological point holds as well, namely, that God and Socrates exist in the very same way.
So we are in need of some supplemental premise to mediate a valid transition from (1) to (2). Note that Mascall above uses the phrase "ground and archetype." I think Dale and Alan could be brought to accept the term 'ground' as in 'ultimate metaphysical real-ground or first cause.' Surely God is that. But archetype? Here Dale and Alan might reasonably balk at this Plato talk. 'Archetype' suggests that God is more than an efficient cause, but a formal cause as well, something like a Platonic Form. (I recall a passage wherein Aquinas speaks of God as forma formarum, form of all forms.) Now if God is something like a Platonic Form, then the relation of creatures and creator is something like Platonic participation (methexis): Socrates, a being, an ens, is by participating in the divine Being or To Be (esse). The Latin ens is the present participle of the Latin infinitive esse (to be), and this linguistic relation suggests the metaphysical relation of participation.
Now if God is something like a Platonic Form, then he is the Being of creatures. But God also is. Now if God is Being (esse) and God is, then God is self-subsistent Being, ipsum esse subsistens. That is, God is Being (esse) and being (ens). Both! But then it follows that God is not a being among beings, a being on a par with other beings. Why not? Well, the other beings, creatures, are not identical to their Being (esse) whereas God is the being that is also Being. In God and God alone, esse and ens 'coalesce' if you will: they are one in reality; they are not really distinct ever though we perhaps cannot think of them except as distinct. In Socrates, however, esse and ens are really distinct, distinct in reality, outside the mind.
As St. Augustine says, "God is what he has." So God has Being by being (identical to) Being.
God cannot be a being because that implies that he is just one of an actual or possible plurality of beings. God is rather the being who is also Being. God is Being or Existence (Deus est esse), and Existence itself exists. This is why in my book I speak of Existence as the Paradigm Existent.
Thus we have at least two ways of Being, the creaturely way and the divine way. But they are connected: creatures participate in divine Being. Thus we have an analogia entis, not an aequivocatio entis.
Now what could Dale and Alan say in rebuttal of this? They could say that there is no justification, scriptural or philosophical, for thinking of God as an archetype, to use Mascall's word. Thomists typically invoke Exodus 3:14, "I am who am" which suggests to some of us that God is referring to himself as Being itself. In conversation, Dale told me he rejects this reading and said (if I understood him) that the Hebrew just means that God is telling Moses that he is and will remain constant. Dale and Alan could say that the God of the Bible is nothing like a Platonic Form.
1. It is not obvious that God is not a being among beings. (Contra Fr. Kimel)
2. It is not obvious that God is a being among beings. (Contra Drs. Tuggy and Rhoda)
3. In general, "It ain't obvious what's obvious." (Hilary Putnam) Leastways, not in philosophy.
4. For Dale and Alan, God is a being among beings in the precise sense I attached to that phrase in my first post in this series. They are mistaken if they think that can show that God is not a being among beings by making such obvious points as that God creates everything distinct from himself or that God is unique or that God has properties that nothing else has, or that God is a metaphysically necessary being, etc. Those sorts of points are logically consistent with God's being a being among beings.
5. 'Being among beings' is a technical phrase; it doesn't mean whatever one wants it to mean. Nor is it a 'dirty' or pejorative phrase. It is not a 'kosher' move in a philosophical discussion, once a term or phrase has been defined, to ignore the definition and use it in some other sense.
6. The question whether God is a being among beings or rather ipsum esse subsistens is a very difficult one with no easy answer.
7. The question cannot be answered apart from a deep-going inquiry into general metaphysics. One has to tackle head-on such questions as What is existence? What are properties? What is property-possession? What is creation? What is the difference between primary and secondary causation and how are they related? and plenty of others besides.
8. It may well be that the problem whether or not God is being among beings is insoluble, a genuine aporia, and that the arguments on both sides cancel out.