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Analogy, Theological use of


Analogy is a word that stands for many different meanings. The most important are: (1) a form of reasoning, i.e., reasoning by analogy, also called argument from convenience; (2) a mode of explanation (the parable); and (3) a mode of predication, i.e., analogous predication. The present article is concerned with analogy as a form of predication and with the use of analogy in theology.

Aristotle. Called by some scholars the father of analogy [see A. Goergen, Kardinal Cajetans Lehre von der Analogie (Speyer 1938) 86], aristotle was the first to deal systematically with analogy as a form of predication. In the Organon (106a-108b) he divides the predicates, according to their modes of signification, into three classes. To the first class belong the terms that are predicated of many subjects according to the same meaning, to the second the terms that are predicated of many subjects according to meanings that are entirely different, and to the third the terms that are predicated of many subjects according to a meaning that is partly the same and partly different. Aristotle calls the terms of the first class univocal and the terms of the second class equivocal. Then one would expect him to call analogous the terms of the third class. But this use of the term analogy does not go back to Aristotle, who defines this class of words as terms that do not differ by way of equivocalness. It is only later, in the Middle Ages, that the word analogy is used for this form of predication.

Aristotle did not content himself with elaborating a perfect logical theory of analogy: in his metaphysical and ethical works he applies this theory to metaphysical and ethical language, and says that terms such as being, substance, cause, good, etc., are predicated neither univocally, nor equivocally, but according to a certain analogy (κaτ' ναλοίαν). However, he did not go so far as to elaborate a systematic theory of theological language. But from what he said about metaphysical language (of which theological language is the most conspicuous part) and about God's transcendence it is necessary to draw the conclusion that the words used when one talks about God have, according to Aristotle, an analogous meaning.

Aquinas. st. thomas aquinas distinguishes three kinds of predicative analogy. There is (1) attributive analogy, e.g., when "healthy" is predicated of Peter, medicine, food, climate, color, etc. In attributive analogy a quality is predicated properly and intrinsically of the first analogate, and it is predicated of the other analogates because of the relation that they have to the first analogate. There is also (2) metaphorical analogy, e.g., when "to smile" is predicated of Peter and of the meadow. In metaphorical analogy a quality is predicated properly only of the first analogate; of the others it is predicated only because of some similarity between their situations and the situation of the first analogate. There is, finally, (3) proportional analogy, e.g., when "substance," "nature," "being," "cause" are predicated of man, animals, trees, stones, etc. In proportional analogy a perfection is predicated properly and intrinsically of each analogate.

According to Aquinas all three kinds of analogy may be used in theology. Attributive and metaphorical analogies help one to talk about God's dynamic perfections. Proportional (and also attributive) analogy enables one to talk about God's entitative perfections, i.e., about God's nature as it is in itself (see C. gent. 1.3034; ST 1a, 13).

Bonaventure and Scotus. The other great scholastics, also, especially bonaventure and John duns scotus, have made careful studies of analogy, the former more from an ontological, the latter more from a logical standpoint.

According to Bonaventure every creature bears some analogy to God because every creature is an imitation of God inasmuch as it is caused by God and is conformed to Him through the divine idea. Bonaventure distinguishes between two main levels of likeness: the vestige and the image. The vestige is the likeness that irrational creatures bear to God. The image is the likeness of rational creatures to God.

Duns Scotus, in his study of theological language, recognized that it is essentially analogical, but he insisted that analogy presupposes univocity since one could not compare creatures with God unless he had a common concept of both. God is knowable by man in this life only by means of concepts drawn from creatures, and unless these concepts were common to God and creatures one would never be able to compare the imperfect creatures to the perfect God: there would be no bridge between creatures and God.

After the Middle Ages analogy tends to disappear from philosophy but continues to be used by both Catholics and Protestants in theology. The main effort of Catholic theologians is to interpret and systematize Aquinas's teaching, whereas the aim of Protestant theologians is to elaborate a theory of theological language consistent with their views of the relationship between God and man, nature and grace.

Cajetan, Suárez, and the Modern Thomists. The official interpretation of Aquinas's teaching has been for centuries that of Thomas de Vio, better known as Cardinal cajetan (d. 1534), who in his famous little book De nominum analogia "solved the more metaphysical difficulties concerning analogy so thoroughly and subtly that no room is left to find out anything further" [John of St. Thomas, Cursus philosophicus thomisticus (Marietti ed. 1:481)]. Cajetan's interpretation (an interpretation based on an isolated text of St. ThomasIn 1 sent. 19.5.2 ad 1) starts out with a threefold division of analogy: attributive, metaphorical, and proportional. He then goes on to show that attributive and metaphorical analogies can be of little use in metaphysics (and in theology): the first because it is always extrinsic, the second because it is always improper. Therefore the only analogy capable of saving metaphysics (and theology) is analogy of proportionality, since it is the only analogy apt to express the true being of something.

Although this interpretation of Aquinas's doctrine of analogy became for centuries the official interpretation, there was from the very beginning a powerful dissenting voice, the voice of suÁrez, who was not willing to grant to Cajetan either that attribution is only extrinsic or that proportionality is the safeguard of metaphysics and theology. In his Disputationes metaphysicae (Vivès ed. 26:1321) Suárez attempts to prove that Cajetan misinterprets Aquinas's doctrine of analogy on two main points. The first misinterpretation, according to Suárez, is of his doctrine on analogy of proportionality, since this analogy includes an element of metaphor and of impropriety, just as "smiling" is said of a meadow through metaphorical reference. Therefore Cajetan would be wrong in giving such prominence to the analogy of proportionality. And he is wrong, claims Suárez, also on another point: his identification of Aquinas's analogy of attribution with analogy of extrinsic attribution. Now, shows Suárez, analogy of attribution can be intrinsic and extrinsic, and Aquinas teaches both of them. Besides analogy of extrinsic attribution (i.e., the analogy where the denominating form exists only in the primary analogate), Aquinas teaches also analogy of intrinsic attribution, i.e., the analogy where the denominating form exists in all the terms, in one absolutely and in the others relatively, through a relation of efficient and exemplary causality of the latter to the former. The analogy between God and creatures is of this type. Therefore, to leave it out, as Cajetan did, is a fatal blow for theology.

For centuries Suárez's view was an isolated one. But in recent years many students of St. Thomas have joined him in his criticism of Cajetan's version of analogy. The reaction was led by É. Gilson's important essay, "Cajétan et l'existence" [Tijdschrift voor Phil. 15 (1953) 267286], in which he attacked Cajetan's Aristotelian and essentialist interpretation of Aquinas, as well as the "minor" problem of Cajetan's version of analogy. This interpretation of the philosophy of St. Thomas, says Gilson, has been "the main obstacle to the diffusion of Thomism." By explaining Aquinas in the light of, and according to, Aristotle, Cajetan misses the great novelty of his philosophy, the discovery of being (esse ). To Cajetan the supreme perfection continues to be essence, not existence. He is an essentialist, not an existentialist.

Encouraged by gilson's authority, more and more Thomists have denounced Cajetan's version of analogy and have propounded some new interpretation of Aquinas's teaching. The interpretation that is now receiving almost universal consent (it is supported by É. Gilson, C. Fabro, J. Nicolas, B. Montagnes, A. Hayen, and many other scholars, as well as the present writer) can be summarized as follows: Aquinas teaches both analogy of intrinsic attribution and proper proportionality. At the beginning of his theological career he seems to emphasize proportionality more than attribution, but toward the end of his life his preference is for attribution, although he never rejects proportionality. He prefers attribution, because proportionality is inadequate to express at the same time God's transcendence and immanence. Proportionality is certainly able to express God's transcendence, but fails to express His immanence adequately, since it cannot express the dependence of the finite on divine causality. In analogy of proper proportionality there are no primary and secondary analogates. All analogates are primary. For this reason Aquinas came to the conclusion that analogy of proper proportionality cannot give an adequate interpretation of the God-creature relationship, and dropped it in theology but kept it in metaphysics.

Aquinas believes that an adequate interpretation of the God-creature relationship can be provided by analogy of intrinsic attribution. Analogy of intrinsic attribution is able to signify both that there is a likeness between primary and secondary analogates, and that the secondary analogates are imperfect imitations of the primary. Intrinsic attribution is able to stress the likeness between analogates as much as their difference. It says that the analogous perfection is predicated of the primary analogate essentially and of the secondary analogate by participation.

Analogy in Protestant Theology. Up to 1965 no systematic historical study of the doctrine of analogy in Protestant theology has been made [although there is an outline drawn up by the author of the present article in The Principle of Analogy in Protestant and Catholic Theology (The Hague 1963)]. However, it is probable that a good history of analogy in Protestant theology could be written by distinguishing three periods: (1) the period of the reformers and orthodoxy, during which Protestant theologians were still attached to Catholic tradition and considered analogy as the only proper way of talking about God; (2) the period of Hegelian and Kierkegaardian theology, during which analogy was replaced by dialectic; and (3) the period of the great modern theologians, K. barth, P. tillich, and R. bultmann, during which a remarkable revival of analogy has taken place. These theologians recognize that analogy is the only proper way of talking about God, but do not agree about its nature: Tillich conceives it as symbolic, Barth as an analogy of faith (analogia fidei ), and Bultmann as an existential analogy.

Both classical and modern Protestant theologians have tried to elaborate a theory of analogy coherent with their doctrine of the relationship between nature and grace, which are conceived as opposites that can never be reconciled. Sin has caused in human nature a corruption that cannot be healed; it has raised between God and man an infinite qualitative difference that will last forever. This principle of the infinite qualitative difference is reflected in the Protestant theories of theological language: in the theory of analogy of extrinsic attribution of classical theology, in the Hegelian theory of dialectic, in Tillich's theory of symbolic analogy, in Barth's theory of analogy of faith, and in Bultmann's theory of existential analogy. While in the Catholic theory of analogy it is legitimate to use human concepts and human language when one talks about God because of a permanent analogy existing between God's being and man's being, according to the Protestant theories of analogy any such use is condemned, because after the Fall there is no longer an analogy of being between God and man. Therefore men's words are such that they can never, of themselves, be properly predicated of God. They can express divine reality either by a purely extrinsic attribution, or dialectically, or symbolically, or mythically, or by a divine choice.

What should one say of these Protestant theories of theological language? Are they satisfactory? Are they such as to give one some knowledge of God? Catholic and Protestant theologians generally agree that the very possibility of any knowledge of God, both natural and revealed, rests on analogy: in the natural knowledge it is man who takes some concepts from nature and applies them to God; whereas in the supernatural knowledge it is God Himself who chooses some of the concepts used by man in order to tell him something about Himself. The first kind of analogy is called analogia entis, the second, analogia fidei. According to the Catholic doctrine on the relationship between grace and nature, there is no conflict, but harmony, between the two analogies: grace does not destroy analogy, but, by raising it into analogy of faith, fulfills it. On the contrary, according to the Protestant doctrine on the relationships between nature and grace, there can be no harmony between the two analogies but only conflict: analogy of being cannot be redeemed and therefore it cannot be raised into analogy of faith. Between analogy of being and analogy of faith there is a permanent "ontological" conflict.

From the Catholic point of view such a conflict is inadmissible: "to separate the supernatural from the natural knowledge of God in this radical way is to render the former unintelligible and impossible, since revelation, and this is clear, does not change our natural mode of knowing, but utilizes the natural instruments of our knowledge, our acquired concepts, and our mental constructions" [J. H. Nicolas, "Affirmation de Dieu et connaissance," Revue thomiste 64 (1964) 201].

See Also: analogy; analogy of faith; anthropomorphism (in theology); methodology (theology); reasoning, theological; theological conclusion; theological terminology; theology, history of; theology, influence of greek philosophy on.

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