Regarding Father Patrick's comment on St. John Damascene, I am in no position to contradict Fr. Patrick's scholarship, but St. John, in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox faith, begins by stating emphatically that God is incomprehensible. That seems to be the starting point for any theologically grounded thought, but has sadly been discarded by most believers in the West, having been replaced by a doctrine of certitude.
Owen, I need to challenge you directly on this. As a generalization about Catholic theology, this is simply wrong; it's a caricature. I do not deny that there have been Western theologians whom one might accurately describe as rationalistic, who might have believed that God was comprehensively comprehensible, but this is most certainly not true for most of the contemporary Catholic theologians with whom I am acquainted--Ratzinger, Balthasar, Rahner, de Lubac, Congar. Nor do I think it is true for most Catholic theologians of the past, including the scholastic par excellence
, St Thomas Aquinas. As Fr Herbert McCabe explains:
Thomas Aquinas thought that theologians don't know what they are talking about. They try to talk about God, but Squinas was most insistent that they do not, and cannot know what God is. He was, I suppose, the most agnostic theologians in the Western Christian tradition--not agnostic in the sense of doubting whether God exists, but agnostic in the sense of being quite clear and certain that God is a mystery beyond any understanding we can now have.
He was sure that God is because he thought that there must be an answer to the deepest and most vertiginous question, 'Why is there anything instead of nothing at all?' But he was also sure that we do not know what that answer is. To say it is God who made the whole universe, and hoilds it continually in existence from moment to moment (as singers hold their songs in existence from moment to moment), is not to explain how the universe come to exist. Forwe do not know what we mean by 'God'. We use this word just as a convenient label for something we do not understand. For Aquinas, only God understands what God is. Aquinas thought that in the Bible God has promised us that one day he will give us a share in his self-understanding, but not yet. Until that day, although God has begun to reveal himself in his Word made flesh, we grasp his self-communication not by coming to know, but only by faith. Faith is an illumination that appears as darkness: we come to know that we do not know. (Herbert McCabe, Faith Within Reason, pp. 96-97)
Now I suppose we might debate whether McCabe reading of Thomas is accurate, but I lack the competence to engage in such a debate. I can say that many Thomas scholars would agree with him.
I have read a great deal of Western theology. Perhaps I have not read with great understanding--I know less everyday--but I have read a great deal. I have yet to encounter a Western theologian who would deny that God is infinite, ineffable, incomprehensible mystery. Perhaps I have led a protected life, but I think that my experience here is sufficient to refute your generalization about Western theology.
Neither the Western nor Eastern tradition is uniform, simple, and monolithic. Neither can easily be put into a pigeon-hole. We are, for both, talking about traditions that are 2,000 years old. Western theology is diverse, complex, conflicted, paradoxical, contradictory, rich and profound. Though scholasticism dominated Western theological reflection for 600 years, it is but one of many Western ways of doing theology, and it has been out of favor for decades. And to make matters even more interesting: the Catholic Church does not understand herself as essentially "Western." Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, and Ephrem the Syrian are considered just as much doctors of the Church as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux.
Cordially in Christ,