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God's Essence According to Ghazali and Augustine

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 12 (2963 words)
Categories: God, God The Creator, Philosophers, Philosophical concepts, Philosophical Theories, Philosophy, Philosophy Of Religion
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Ghazali studied various branches of the traditional Islamic religious sciences in his hometown of Tus, Gurgan and Nishapur in the northern part of Iran. He was also involved in Sufi practices from an early age. Being recognized by Nizam al-Mulk, the Vizir of the Seljuq Sultans, he was appointed Head of the Nizamiyyah College in Baghdad in 484 AH (1091 AD).Aurelius Augustinus (Augustine, 354-430 AD) was one of the greatest and most influential of Christian philosophers (Pojman, 2003, p. 407; concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2000, p.

63; Blackburn, p. 28; Honderich, 2005, p. 66; Audi, 2001, p. 60; Matthews, 1998), Theologian (Blackburn, p. 28; Audi, 2001, p. 60; Matthews, 1998), a source of Christian thought (Audi, 2001, p. 60; Matthews, 1998) and a seminal influence permeating every branch and every period of Western Christian ethics (Macqarre and Childress, p. 46). He was perhaps the most influential philosopher between Aristotle and Aquinas (Pojman, 2003, p. 407).

For well over eight centuries after his death, in fact, until the ascendancy of Thomas Aquinas at the end of the thirteenth century, Aurelius was also the single most influential Christian Philosopher (Matthews 1998; concise Routledge Encyclopedia of philosophy 2000, p.

63). As a young student at Carthage he developed an ambition, according to his Confessions (397- 400 AD), to lead a philosophical life, which pursued truth. The opportunity to fulfill this ambition came when at the age of thirty-one; he resumed his childhood Christianity at Milan (386 AD) and gave up his career as a schoolmaster. From that time onwards, he was never free from pastoral business. He did not stop writing. His written output – nearly all of which survived, was bulkier than from any other author of ancient times. His subject matter however, became mainly polemical, against the schismatic and heretic. Even his masterpieces – The Confession and City of God (413 – 426 AD), had a pastoral purpose. The first was a public meditation on his slow journey towards Catholic Christianity, and the second was an attack (which was to have important historical effect) on the pretentious claim of pagans about having a valuable and independent culture.

Ghazali and Augustine were chosen to be compared for this book considering important points about their way of life, kind of personality, thinking process, scope of influence, type of expertise and many other factors. On the other hand although the two were both a theologian and a philosopher, their philosophy was investigated and compared because of being strongly influenced by their theology. The interactive effect of theology and philosophy meant that their philosophy could be considered with an emphasis on some important aspects of their theology. Philosophy could be considered as a discipline, a method, an activity and an essence. For the purpose of this research, philosophy was being considered as a discipline, which consisted of the branches ontology, epistemology and axiology. Anthropology was a subject of ontology. Thus a comparative study of Ghazali and Augustine in these fields was carried out with the aim of discovering the similarities more than their differences.

Extraction of their similarities was expected to constitute a shared model of Islamic-Christian philosophy, which could be applied by all Muslims and Christians of the world. Ghazali considered existence’ to be a subject of theosophical science and the greatest sought after truth. He believed that existence of being’ really existed. The doubt that Ghazali presented in this regard was an attempt to destroy uncertainty and ignorance. It was not to deny knowing. Ghazali paid attention to the nature of existence. He wanted to know what existence was. He considered existence as a simple and indivisible concept, and not a combined nature of several things. Existence for him was of one the most obvious concepts upon which the cognition of all things was based. Therefore, he deemed it unnecessary to define existence.

For Ghazali, referring to anything in existence was in fact a reference to God. Existence could be of high and low ranks, all of which remained a manifestation of the single Truth. Existence was deemed to be restricted only to God and His Actions. Ghazali believed in existential unity. Existence was a beam of the Divine Beauty and, all that things belonged to Him. All things existed because of Him. Nothing had a reality without Him; and the existence of all things was a beam of Light reflecting His Being or Existence. According to Ghazali, there was nothing in the state of being save God and His Face. Therefore, the real being or existence was peculiar to God, and all things other than Him were a manifestation of His Face.Whithersoever you turn; there is the Face of God; God is All-Embracing; All- Knowing (Baqarah: 115)Lasting existence was deemed to be of only for one, and that was GodO which of your Lord’s bounties will you deny? All that dwells upon the earth is perishing.

Yet still abides the Face of thy Lord, Majestic Splendid. (Al-Rahman. 25 – 27) Ghazali’s view and attitude towards existence was monistic. In such a view, existence or reality of being was one basic Reality or Unity. In the light of this view, the difference between different particles of being was focused on a spiritual and meta-material Unity. This opened the way to illuminate the relation of the beings and the Creator. This view also gave a general meaning to the beings and the particles that formed it, within a spiritual frame. It saw man, as a part of a harmonious whole, not as a remote particle separate from the whole. Man was seen as a being in the world and as interested in leading himself towards the aim of his existence, which was the same as the origin of the world – that is – God. And, he aimed to do so in harmony with that meaningful whole (Rafiei 2002, p. 28-36).

Ghazali considered cognition of God to be the supreme knowledge. He believed that this kind of cognition was the very knowledge that the Prophet of Islam had ordered to be acquired even if necessary through long and troublesome journeys. Ghazali, like most Muslim scholars, admitted that one should not try to understand the Essence of God because His Essence was such that it was impossible to put forward any question about it. Man’s intellect stood to be quite astonished by comprehension of His quiddity. He maintained that God was beyond our imagination and controversies. Instead, Ghazali spoke about God’s essence, attributes and actions. He explained such topics as proof of God and His Being (existence and nature, seeing God, God’s essence, attributes actions and names, etc ” Rafiei 2002, p.37).

Since believing in God was a natural predisposition, Ghazali had deemed that it was unnecessary to prove God, although he did sometimes spoke about proving God. Ghazali considered proving existence of God from epistemological point of view and he found out that one could not understand presence or non-presence of God through experience. Therefore, he put forward some reasons for proving God and tried to prove him through establishing the fact that this world needed a Creator. He said that there could be no phenomenon unless there was a Creator. And, since the world itself was a phenomenon, then it could not be without the need of having a Creator. Another way that Ghazali chose to prove God was a posteriori argument. With this approach, it was possible to understand through observation of the creatures that there was a Creator of the world. This was the reason why Ghazali invited people to undertake external and spiritual journey.

Ghazali spoke of the epistemological benefits of the familiarity with the Creation’s secrets. He called the phenomenal world, as a mirror for the unseen world and claimed that one could see in it the manifestations of the Essence, its attributes and actions of the Exalted Truth (Rafiei 2002, p. 37-38). Ghazali thus proved the existence of God (the Creator) from the existence of the world. An atomistic ontology was presupposed here, and yet there were also philosophical arguments to refute the criticism of other philosophers. As for God’s attributes however, Ghazali regarded them as something’ different from, yet adding to God’s essence and His acts. According to Ghazali, God had attributes such as knowledge, life, will, hearing, seeing and speech. These were included in God’s essence and were coeternal with it. Concerning the relationship between God’s essence and His attributes – both were said to be not identical, but not different’. The creation of the world and subsequent changes had been produced through God’s eternal knowledge, but this did not necessarily mean a change in God’s attributes in line with the changes in the empirical world (Nakamura 1998).

The essence of God

No person knew about God’s essence and it was impossible that anyone could know His essence. God has said in the Quran: they comprehend Him not in knowledge (Taha: 110). From Ghazali’s viewpoint, God had some attributes. The negatives in His essence were that He had no partner, no need, no corporeal substance, no dimensions to measure and no change, etc.The positive attributes in His Essence were – life, knowledge, power, etc. His attributes of action meant that God had created all things, all things were in accordance to His will and providential scheme, etc. (Rafiei 2002, p. 41-43).Ghazali asserted that humans could see God in the hereafter. The more a man’s cognition of God was, the better and more they would be able to see Him. In his mystical approach, Ghazali spoke of love, affection and pleasure of vision of God in this world, which could be made possible through purification from carnal desires (Rafiei 2002, p. 45-47).Ghazali admitted that the world was real, and a trifling ray of God’s infinite power. Some of the most important topics that he discussed about the world could be summarized as follows: (Rafiei 2002, p. 47-53):In Ghazali’s viewpoint, God was the axis of existence and all things were dependent upon His will.

Ghazali referred to God as the Writer of the Book of existence. God was the cause of all existence and existence is the effect. Ghazali was of the opinion that it was the knowledge of God that necessitated the creation of creatures. The world had been thus created for this knowledge. The time’ and the world’ had been created along with each other, because in Ghazali’s view, time’ had a beginning and an end like the world. The world belonged to God, it remained with God, and it existed for God. Ghazali believed that God’s creation of the world had been decided in the eternal past, and therefore it did not imply a change in God because time itself was God’s creation. If God had complete knowledge of a person from birth to death, there would be no change in God’s eternal knowledge, even though the person’s life changed from moment to moment (Nakamura 1998). For Ghazali, the world as a whole proceeded not by eternal or logical necessity, but from the will of God (Audi 2001, p.21).

Ghazali considered the world as the supreme possible world. In a posteriori argument, he emphasized the wonders of creation, and tried to lead the reader to believe that the world was the best system by reminding them of the creative and dedicated marvels of God’s creation. In a priori demonstration Ghazali tried to prove that the world had the best system, through proving that its Creator was the best. He tried to show that it was impossible that such a Creator (God) did not have the best action (the world itself) by emphasizing on some of God’s attributes such as power, wisdom, knowledge and justice. He said that this world was the most perfect and best possible world (Nakamura 1998). For Augustine, knowing God included knowing that God exceeded our powers of comprehension and the powers of description. As he put this point in a sermon ” If you have been able to comprehend it, then is it God you contemplate? (Matthews 2006, p. 183).

According to Augustine, the recognition that God was a true Being was accompanied by awareness that beings other than God were distinct from God and depended on God for their existence. Thus, their existence was contingent and dependent. Augustine held that the universe was fundamentally comprised only of existing realities, that is, of natures or substances that had an existence. If one looked for something strictly contrary to God, they would find absolutely nothing, for only non-being was contrary to being. Therefore there could be no nature contrary to God (MacDonald 2006, p. 83). All existing things other than God depended on God for their being (ibid, p.84). God was the only Creator. Created things could not bring other things into existence out of nothing (Knuuttila 2006, p. 103). Augustine’s God was not only the cause of things but also the cause of our knowing them. God illuminated truths as the sun illuminated all visible things. It was not the senses that supplied knowledge, because objects perceived by them were mutable (Honderich 2005, p. 66). Knowledge was obtained through enlightenment from God – the only teacher who could do more than provide an occasion for learning (ibid, p. 67). Instead of supposing that what we know could be abstracted from sensory particulars that imparted such knowledge, Augustine insisted that our mind was so constituted that it could see intelligible realities’ directly from an inner illumination (Matthews 1998).

Augustine’s talk of illumination was, in part, simply the deployment of an apt and traditional metaphor – that of light. He often used this metaphor in discussions about cognition, saying that whoever apprehended what was transmitted in the sciences and admitted without any hesitation that this was absolutely true, must believe that it could not be apprehended as it were, of its own accord, if it was not illuminated by another sun. Augustine concluded that no outward’ teacher could teach what anything really was by asking or telling us something about it. At most, the outward’ teacher could admonish or remind us to look within’. Augustine was also of the opinion that God created the world out of nothing (ex nihilo) (Mautner 2005, p. 56). He maintained that the true God was the author of things (Honderich 2005, p. 66). Augustine’s assumption was that nothing existed, except that it existed because God existed. Moreover, because everything changeable had a beginning and the heavens and the earth were certainly changeable as God had created them (Matthews 1998). According to Augustine, God was Absolute Being and Absolute Good; the created being depended upon Him both for its own existence and for its goodness. That God was our happiness then, was not determined by an arbitrary change of taste’ on the part of human beings, but on the ontological fact that God was good in Himself while we are good only when dependent upon Him (Macquarrie & Childress 2001, p. 46). Augustine asserted that God Himself being without any beginning must be outside time: His years do not pass but, stand simultaneously (Honderich 2005, p. 67). According to Augustine, God created movement in the universe (Knuuttila 2006, p. 103). Time depended upon movement, and since God was unmoving, there was no time before creation (ibid, p. 106).

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God’s Essence According to Ghazali and Augustine. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/gods-essence-according-to-ghazali-and-augustine-essay

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