Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Force of Analogy

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Force of Analogy

Article excerpt

The article outlines twenty theses for rethinking the doctrine of analogy in a postmodern context. The pivotal claim is that the paradigmatic and decisive force of analogy is to extend and create new meanings by "forcing" an affirmation of identity that fundamentally alters our fields of meanings. Thus analogy in the case of terms properly predicated of God has to do more with the conceptual moves that create changes in our fields of meanings than with recognizing a "similarity in difference" or a proportion of some sort. The argument draws on Mary Gerhart and Allan Russell's theory of metaphonc process, on David Burrell's and Gregory Rocca's studies of Aquinas, and Robert Sokolowski's phenomenology of the "Christian distinction."

The concept of analogy was a pivotal theme in the theology of the previous generation and its centrality persists in contemporary appeals to the singular role of analogical imagination in religious and theological reflection. The received notion, however, is closely associated with the metaphysical conception of the "analogy of being" and with related theories of language. Can a concept of analogy responsive to the challenges of postmodern linguistic theories and critiques of onto-theology play the pivotal role in theology that the "doctrine of analogy" had exercised in the fundamental and systematic theology of the previous generation? If so, what would be some key features of a revised conception? How would it differ from the received doctrine? And what sort of role would it play?

Of course, it is painting with very broad strokes to speak of "a" received doctrine on analogy, "the" theology of the previous generation, and postmodern critiques. Analogy has long been a contested notion. Contemporary currents in theology have origins in a plurality of crisscrossing generations. And postmodernity axiomatically recoils against grand narratives purporting to lay out such "total" pictures. That is precisely what is problematic for postmodernity in any metaphysical conception of a hierarchy of beings with God as its highest instance. Such onto-theologies know too much about God and too little of the ambiguity and hubris in such grand schemes. Nevertheless, attention to such a broad canvas is warranted: first, because there is a crucial and common assumption that is shared in explanations of analogy and that is common in their popularizations and receptions among ordinary believers; and second, because the theological issues and implications entailed in the discussion of analogy are pivotal for theology as such and for the faith understanding of all believers.

Thomas Aquinas is usually credited as the first to appeal systematically to analogical predication as a means for explaining how concepts can properly and meaningfully signify God. He was responding to the problem that arises from the religious conviction that God as "creator" radically transcends the realm of created beings. As one who "creates from nothing" God is not simply the "first" in the long series of "creating" that ultimately gives us our world. Creation from nothing, and so "creator" as applied to God, signify something qualitatively and radically different from what we mean by "creator" and "creating" in every other instance. But if God's essence as "creator" is sui generis and so God's reality is beyond the grasp of concepts that refer to created realities, then how can any concept properly refer to God? If we predicate "creator" of God univocally, that would mean that God creates the way others create. We would thus implicitly deny God's transcendence. If we predicate "creator" of God in an entirely equivocal way, then we would have no way of grasping the meaning of the predicated term, and so the affirmation would not have any genuine signification for us. At best it would be a metaphorical and improper stretching of language, and at worst, empty talk.

Aquinas appealed to analogous predication as a third distinct manner of signifying that makes possible proper and meaningful affirmations about God. …

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