Pope Benedict: there exists a real analogy

When Pope Benedict XVI gave his lecture on “Faith, Reason and the University,” almost all of the discussion (and outrage) focused on his comment regarding Islam, even though this was actually a quote from another thinker whose statement he calls “unacceptable.” But what no one touched on was his statement on the doctrine of analogy. Here is his comment in full:
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul - “λογικη λατρεία,” worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).
Some questions for discussion in light of Pope Benedict’s statements:
  1. Why must our reason be “an authentic mirror of God”? Why must our thought alone, which is inherently individualistic and self-contained, reflect God and not some other facet of our being?
  2. Where is the effect of sin upon our reason? Where is the fall? What are the ontological and noetic effects of our estrangement from God?
  3. Is God revealed us in our natural reason? Where is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ? Is it not problematic that Benedict limits God’s revelation to the form of logos, that is, as reason and not as the person, Jesus of Nazareth? The words “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “grace” are not mentioned once.
  4. Where is the nearness of God in Jesus Christ? Where is the coming of God to the world in the incarnation? Is not this the proper locus of any doctrine of analogy? And must we not understand Christ in much broader (and less gnostic) terms than as Logos?
  5. What is the relation between analogy and divine freedom? Does the analogy of being confine God to a rational correspondence between divine being and human reason? Could not God be free in the sense that God can overcome the infinite unlikeness between God and fallen humanity in the revelatory likeness of the incarnation of Jesus Christ?
  6. While I agree with Benedict that a split between the ordained will of God and the hidden will of God creates the horrific possibility of a capricious God, are we actually limited to the dichotomy between a voluntarism which renders God unknown and capricious and the doctrine of analogy which insists “that between God and us ... there exists a real analogy”? Are not both options rooted in our natural, inherent human capacities—the capacity to push God away and the capacity to rationally understand God by means of an analogia entis?


Point #2 is especially relevant. It also points to longstanding differences between Protestants and Catholics.
Anonymous said…
This is fantastically interesting. I'm going to have to think some more before I say more about this.

Anonymous said…
some quick off-the-cuff remarks before i go to bed.

1. Our reason has to be a 'mirror of God' in some sense since we can think of truth, which is precisely not something "inherently individualistic and self-contained". As Augustine says (De Trinitate, Book VIII--i think), by considering this good and that good we are led to the contemplation of the source of all goodness.

i don't think the pope is claiming that revelation has no value or that the content of the faith is exhausted by rational reflection. what he is saying is that sin cannot utterly abnegate the power of the mind to apprehend truth.

2. There are noetic effects of the fall. We don't reason perfectly, we tend to corrupt what knowledge we can acquire. But it seems simply contrary to the facts to say that nobody knows anything except through regenerating grace.

3. Benedict does not 'limit' God's revelation to reason. Rather, I think he is saying that there is some (perhaps even quite minimal) truth available to reason, despite the fall.

4. Why should Jesus by the locus of analogy? Isn't this to contract theology to a rather narrow ambit?

5. I don't see how analogy impugns God's freedom.

6. Analogia entis doesn't give you the rational ability to understand God. To understand X is to understand the essence of X. The analogy of being (at least in Thomas) does not do that. One of the things that isn't being said here is that there are lots of kinds of analogy in medieval philosophy. There is the analogy of proportionality, in which the analogates are all known and the relationship between them is capable of expression: 2:4::4:8, we can say what makes them analogous, namely the second term is twice the first. The analogy between God and his creatures is not an analogy of proportionality, precisely because we don't understand God. (We know of God, not through his essence, but through his effects, i.e. from the existence of creatures we can prove that they must have a Creator. ST 1a.2.1)

byron said…
All great questions. I think that #3 is the key - he seems in this speech at least to be working primarily with an asarkos logos.
Douglas_Coombs said…
Regarding #1 and #2: The Pope is not saying that your reason *must* be an authentic mirror, but that it can be. The effect of sin is that there are real differences betwen our reason and God's reason: large differences such that "...unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language." To repeat, it is not that our reason must reflect God, but that God has deigned to make himself knowable to some extent through reason.

This seems to me to be analogous to natural law. There are some things we can know about God and about right and wrong by observing nature and using our reason, though we can't know the law of God perfectly in this manner. I'm an engineer and not a philosopher, so folks like Shane would be able to shed much more light on the natural law analogy and whether I'm off base there.


D.W. Congdon said…
This is confirming a lot of my fears. First, to respond to Doug, the reason why dissimilarity is always greater than similarity should not be because of sin, but rather because we are created! The infinite qualitative distinction is not between holy and unholy (although there is a great distinction there) but between Creator and creation. For the Protestant, sin is what then eliminates any natural similarity.

Now regarding reason: why does our natural knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong, have anything to do with out natural knowledge of God? Is not this the great error of Catholicism? To believe that God is an object of knowledge which our reason, however limited, is capable of understanding? And is it not rather unbiblical, since the knowledge of good and evil came with the Fall into sin and thus the estrangement from God?

I think the underlying issue here is the image of God. The imago Dei being presupposed by the Catholic line of argumentation is that reason is the center of our likeness to God. And the fact that this facet of our being is presupposed to bear God's likeness irrevocably (based on Gen. 1:26) means that the analogy of being is fixed irrevocably. Furthermore, this ensures that knowledge of God, however limited, is always a natural possibility.

So ... if it can be shown that the image of God has nothing to do with our reason, does the Catholic argument still hold?

It seems to me that their argument works sort of like a Kantian transcendental argument. First, one posits the datum that knowledge of God is a reality for all people. From this assumption, the argument then seeks to find something that unites all human creatures naturally. The conclusion is reason. Ergo, reason is the basis for our knowledge of God.

However, the Protestant responds: Even if all people made statements about the nature of God, how would we know which statements were actually right? What objective, external standard would we have to judge the correctness of such statements? Personal experience? No. Logic? No, because even if our logic was impeccable (i.e., untainted by sin), how would know such logical conclusions actually conformed to reality and were not simply the idolatrous creation of a God that conforms to the finite limitations of our mind? In other words, even positing analogous and metaphysical reasoning, how would we know whether or not the being we posited (as the antithesis of the humanity, the infinite projection of humanity, or the cause of humanity) was actually the true God over humanity?

We are left then with only one sure and true means of knowledge of God: God alone must reveal God. Here we stumble upon the central Protestant axiom. And how does God reveal Godself according to the Christian faith? In Jesus Christ. And how do we know about Jesus Christ? From Holy Scripture. And how can we read Scripture appropriately so that we encounter the living God? Only by faith in the God who speaks.

Ergo, true knowledge of God comes by faith alone.
Kevin Davis said…

We are left then with only one sure and true means of knowledge of God: God alone must reveal God. Here we stumble upon the central Protestant axiom. And how does God reveal Godself according to the Christian faith? In Jesus Christ. And how do we know about Jesus Christ? From Holy Scripture. And how can we read Scripture appropriately so that we encounter the living God? Only by faith in the God who speaks.

Ergo, true knowledge of God comes by faith alone.

Seriously, by the beginning of the 21st century, I would think that we are beyond such simplistic understandings; in other words, we've moved beyond a simple restatement of Barth (Barth, I believe, at his least compelling, even if at his most thought-provoking). Such a Catholic-Protestant divide is only in the minds of so-called Barthians. The Reformers and the Protestant tradition, whether Lutheran or Reformed, were never so hostile to "natural theology" (an unfortunate term) as to say that God only reveals himself (sorry, not "Godself") in Christ, as if the whole OT witness of the Law and Prophets was not God's revelation. Also, we do not encounter the revelation of Jesus Christ in the scriptures only by faith, we use reason as well and, dare I say, emotions and the will. Plus, I would say the witness of the Church today and yesterday play a crucial role in our coming to the faith of Christ. A so-called "Protestant axiom" that locates the revelation of God in Christ alone is nonsense (unless the great Lutheran and Reformed theologians from the 16th to 19th centuries don't really count as Protestant, not to mention the likes of Pannenberg today).
D.W. Congdon said…

Just so you know, the axiom "God alone reveals God" is not really a Protestant axiom. As far as I can tell, it was first articulated by Irenaeus. Protestants had to recover it only because it had been lost under the layers of Scholastic natural theology. And I think "natural theology" is an important and necessary term which we need to consistently reject.

And just so you know, I have never limited God's revelation to Christ alone to the exclusion of the revelation of God to the patriarchs and prophets in the OT. The point is that if God has definitively revealed Godself (yes, "Godself," because God has no gender) in the person of Jesus, then Jesus is the criterion for all knowledge of God. God of course can reveal Godself in other places and times, but Christ serves the sole and definitive criterion for all knowledge of God. He is God's self-definition.

Finally, knowledge of God is only available by faith, but that does not exclude our reason, will, and experience. It only means those are not independent sources of knowledge apart from faith; faith is the gate. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ (and in the Scriptures that are the authoritative witness to Christ), our knowledge of God has no objective basis or standard and is essentially the formation of rational idols.
Kevin Davis said…
As for "natural theology," I find it an unfortunate term not because I reject it (I obviously do not, and neither did/do the great majority of Protestant theologians) but because to speak of a "natural" theology falls into the erroneous natural/supernatural, sacred/profane, nature/grace divide that has plagued Western theology for the last 500 or so years (as Henri de Lubac and others have shown, this was a distortion of Aquinas during the late Middle Ages and Reformation). Natural theology, and the analogia entis, need not be utterly cast aside but rather recasted with an understanding of the supernatural end of our natural being, such that all rational inquiry to be truly rational has its end in the transcendental of Truth that is the Divine. Barth was greatly important in exposing how insufficient certain analogies of being were, but de Lubac and von Balthasar were rightly more tempered in their approach to the problem (even Barth recognized that he had perhaps swung the pendulum too far, at least according to Hans Kung in recounting a meeting they had).

As for "Godself," if indeed, as you write, "Christ serves the sole and definitive criterion for all knowledge of God. He is God's self-definition," then God is in some sense gendered; unless we take it as accidental (as many feminist theologians do) that God took a male incarnation or that God was subjecting his incarnational mode to societal standards of the patriarchical times as to be more effective as a leader. And, of course, there's the whole thing about Jesus telling us to call God, "Our Father...." An appropriate (and faithful to God's revelation in scripture)understanding of gender is to see God as the active male and the church (including males and females) as the receptive female. The beautiful and purposive gendering of humanity is replicated in God's revelation to mankind. If indeed we are to take seriously, in true Barthian fasion, God's self-revelation, and not human refashioning, then we cannot simply dismiss the gender distinctions of himself and his church, the bridegroom and the bride. If we are to be truly theologians of the Word, then "Godself" talk is ridiculous.
Anonymous said…
i think as someone else pointed out, your #3 is crucial. and none of the significant catholic theologians of the 20th c., with whom ratzinger rubbed elbows, would really agree that we ever encounter such a thing as "pure reason" or "pure nature". we are graced; which pretty much makes any discussion of "natural theology" misguided (especially for delubac and von balthasar; and in the case of rahner it means a humanity that needs, to the very core of its being, revelation).

and of course it is christologically grounded in most catholics; you are talking about the point at which god takes humanity to godself, which is the whole basis for grace.
Douglas_Coombs said…

I'm not so sure that knowledge of God through reason is so intimately united with the concept of the image of God as presented above. Certainly, many Protestants also believe that God can be known, however imperfectly, through reason without relying on the concept of the image of God outlined above. There are many ways to approach the same idea. Personally, I don't see the idea of God being in some small way knowable through reason as a big divider between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox.

Later on in the post, you state, "We are left then with only one sure and true means of knowledge of God: God alone must reveal God... And how can we read Scripture appropriately so that we encounter the living God? Only by faith in the God who speaks."

I would posit that we are meant to read Scripture with both the mind and heart, with both reason and faith. In other words, it is when faith and reason unite that we are able to most fully understand God. However, at the same time, I do believe it possible to understand God to a lesser extent via faith alone or reason alone. God has given us multiple ways to understand small finite aspects of His nature, though some means and combinations of means are more productive than others.

Feel free to resond, though I should warn you that I won't have time to respond. That said, I'm sure there are others following this thread who both by and large agree with me and are far more adept at explaining things than I.

Have a swell day!

Kevin Davis said…
By way of coincidence, I happen to be reading Emil Brunner's Dogmatics: Volume II. Here's some of what he says in regard to the analogia entis:

How fundamental it is for all theological statements comes out in the fact that we preserve this element of analogy in two constituent elements of all Biblical theology: in the idea of the Word, and in that of the Person. The fact that man can speak is similar to the fact that God speaks; the fact that man is Person, is an analogy to the Being of God as Person.

The phrase [analogia entis] may be recent, but the thought behind it -- the principle of Analogy -- has long played an important part in Catholic doctrine; yet none of the Reformers, and no later Protestant writers who were loyal to the spirit of the Reformation, have ever treated this subject as a point at which the paths of Protestant and Catholic theology diverge.

...Barth, however, ignores the fact that this analogy [his reformulation of the analogia fidei] which he uses inheres as such in all existence created by God, and is not an addition created by faith. We can only speak of a "Word" of God, of a "thinking" or "willing" of God, because the divine speech -- in spite of all dissimilarity -- still is similar to human speech, just as divine personal being is similar to human personal being -- in spite of all dissimilarity -- so that in both cases we may use the same word, "speech," "person."
D.W. Congdon said…

The nature-grace distinction is necessary, but not because we need a natural-supernatural distinction, as if God is simply the infinite extension or the antithesis of creation (that is the fault of metaphysical scholasticism). No, the nature-grace distinction is necessary precisely because we need to distinguish between creature and Creator, and within this distinction, a distinction between sin and grace, since the world is naturally caught in the nexus of sin and nothingness.

The ontological divide between Creator and creation is not popular among Catholic and Orthodox thinkers, but we need to preserve some kind of ontological distinction here. Once again, this does not mean that we must posit some metaphysical Being, nor does it mean that our end is not itself Transcendent in nature. All it means is that we are not God, and God is not a creature. And this is doubly so because we are sinful and God is righteous; we are violent and God is peaceful; we are self-contained and God is self-giving. Such distinctions are essential to the Christian faith and we must continue to make them in order for our faith to be sensible.

I find your point about God as male to be far more interesting, and far more off-base. I will address your different points one-by-one:

(1) Christ is the self-definition of God. Because Christ is male, God is male. The counter-argument which you point out, that gender is accidental, is not unique to feminist theologians; it is a counter-argument which many theologians have made and one which I believe all theologians must make. The reasoning is simple:

(a) Whatever is not essential for salvation is accidental.

(b) The gender of Christ is not essential for salvation.

(c) Ergo, the gender of Jesus is accidental.

If you do not accept (a), then what was the purpose of Christ's incarnation? Simply to show us that God is male? No, that is simply untenable for many reasons, some of which I will address below. If you do not accept (b), then we have serious issues. For starters, if the gender is essential, then how can Jesus mediate salvation to women in addition to men? If (a) and (b) are acceptable, then you must accept (c).

(2) Jesus called God "Father," so clearly God is male. Jesus calling God "Father" tells us nothing about the sex/gender of God. The term is metaphorical, not literal. The Son is not begotten like a human child is begotten, or else we simply have a crude Arianism. God is Father in the mysterious, spiritual sense of being the one who brings forth life and abundance. God cannot have a sex/gender because God is spirit, not a created being (John 4:24). Since you seem to like the Catholic argument, I will quote Hans Urs von Balthasar:

"It is because [God] bears fruit out of himself and requires no fructifying that he is called Father, and not in the sexual sense, for he will be the Creator of man and woman, and thus contains the primal qualities of woman in himself in the same simultaneously transcending way as those of man." (Credo, 30)

(3) God is the active male, and the church is the receptive female, both men and women included. This is the paradigmatic Catholic argument. First, it is inherently sexist, in that it views masculinity as active and femininity as passive. This is a view which is simply unacceptable and has led to domestic abuse, rape, and a whole host of other social and moral ills. I will grant that there is biblical warrant for seeing God as the male (bridegroom) and the church as the female (bride), but this is a metaphorical description of the God-church relation which arose within a patriarchal society. We would be far better off finding other descriptions which are not prone to such great misunderstandings (e.g., that God is indeed male or best described in male terms).

Second, we can still say, as I do repeatedly, that God is active and the church passive without using gendered language. Why the need to attach masculinity to God and femininity to the church? This is unnecessary. You made some very convoluted statements about how God's self-revelation is one that replicates in the God-church relation the male-female relation among humans. But this makes no sense and is simply a wild assertion. God's self-revelation is Jesus Christ, which reveals nothing about the gender of God or the gender of the church.

Finally, I should be clear: All Christians must, to some extent, be feminists. I am, and you are, as long as you believe that women deserve equal voting rights, equal opportunities in work and education, etc. It only follows that our language adapt to our egalitarian values -- unless, of course, you are a hierarchicalist. John 4:24 is a biblical axiom for any theology which wishes to speak appropriately about God. Only creatures have a sex, and God is not a sexed being.
D.W. Congdon said…

I do not mean knowledge of God sola fide to exclude our reason and experience. Far from it. Such a view of faith falls into the highly problematic dichotomy between faith and reason — as if these are two different means of knowing. Faith is not a separate method of knowledge; it is the starting-point for all true knowledge of God. Reason starts in faith, specifically faith in the triune God who came in Jesus Christ. Reason apart from faith is vain (i.e., cannot know God with any assurance). Faith without reason is empty (i.e., has nothing to say).

All that is to say, unless we confess that Jesus is Lord, we can say nothing verifiably true of God. And our verification is in the authoritative witness to God in Holy Scripture, which demands faith.
D.W. Congdon said…

What do you "get" from Emil Brunner? I do not see anything particularly helpful. Brunner is simply making a very poor argument, that Barth is wrong to reject the analogia entis because we need analogy to speak of God. But Barth does not reject analogy, only the idea that this analogy inheres naturally in creation in such a way that we could use it as a means of knowing God or being like God apart from faith in Christ.

Brunner, as is well known, wants to maintain natural theology as a reality for the church. In this, he is simply wrong. As Barth said, "Nein!"