Divine Mångata

12725078_1704032533176899_126138029_nMångata is a Swedish word that refers to the Moon’s road-like reflection cast upon water. You’ve seen it on clear nights when the Moon is bright. Its reflection stretches out like a winding road of interrupted shards of light. It’s a true reflection, but given the nature of the water’s rippling surface, the moon’s reflection appears partial, broken, and imperfect.

Should this remind us of the way we (and our language) reflect God? We truly are a reflection of God, but finitude’s surface ripples with the inherent limitations of our ignorance, the pressing necessities of survival, the vagaries of mortal existence—need I go on?—which at the very least attenuate or impair our ability to determine the Moon’s precise shape, size, and nature. There’s a lot of the ‘water’ in the reflection. Indeed, any reflection is bound by the limitations and nature of the surface upon which an image is cast.

However perplexing it may be to think as deeply upon how our language (as mediating surface) appropriates God as we do upon God himself, I don’t see any happy ending for theologies that pretend there is no such tension. There may be no permanent rest from this tension in the middle ground between univocity and equivocity, but as unsettling as the middle is, the options on either end are dead on arrival. David Bentley Hart (“God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilho” (Radical Orthodoxy: Theology, Philosophy, Politics, Vol. 3, Number 1 [September 2015]: 1-17) laments (to be fair, Hart simply “states” it, but to me it amounts to an honest “lament,” for there is as much ‘letting die’ in theological language as there is hoping for a new day):

It must be possible to speak of God without mistaking him for a being among beings, an instance of something greater than himself. Between God and creatures lies an epistemological chasm nothing less than infinite, which no predicate can span univocally. Even Scotists believe that, within the weak embrace of a largely negative conceptum univocum entis, the modal disproportion between the infinite and the finite renders the analogy between God and creatures irreducibly disjunctive. But neither can theological language consist in nothing but equivocal expostulations, piously but fruitlessly offered up into the abyss of the divine mystery; this would evacuate theological language not only of logical, but of semantic content; nothing could be affirmed—nothing could mean anything at all. And yet, down the centuries, Christians have again and again subscribed to formulations of their faith that clearly reduce a host of cardinal Christian theological usages—most especially moral predicates like “good,” “merciful,” “just,” “benevolent,” “loving”—to utter equivocity, and by association the entire grammar of Christian belief to meaninglessness.

I want to play the Devil’s advocate here and ask “Why?” Why “must” it be possible to speak of God without reducing him univocally to the catagories inherent to our very thinking? Why “must” we be able to speak meaningfully of the identity and nature of that which we name “God”? And are not all possible answers to these questions dictated by the very categories and existential needs from which God is expressly said to be qualitatively, infinitely removed?

5 comments on “Divine Mångata

  1. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Dear Playing the Barrister of the Evil One,

    It must, if it is to be communication of or about God which can qualify as meaningful language. A language, that is to say, which must point to something beyond itself, if it is to speak of God, while yet corresponding to that which is known, if it is to speak meaningfully, and to speak at all. It must, due to the infinite interval between what is signified and its signification, be the language of analogy.



    • Tom says:

      Barrister of the Evil One! 😀

      I agree that IF language is to speak meaningfully of God, something along the lines of what you say should be the case. My question is why must we think meaningful talk of God is possible? I know it’s a strange question, but I wanted to push the conversation beyond the assumption that meaningful talk of God is possible and of how we might construe it as possible to asking why we should think it is possible.


      • apophaticallyspeaking says:


        Not exactly sure if I understand what you mean, but the way I see it, it is possible because God spoke about himself to us (Nicaea’s “He spake by the prophets”), the infinite using the finite: people, language, places, things – not to mention the incarnation which we believe to be the ultimate self-revelation of God-self. In Thy light shall we see light – so we speak because He spoke, and less frequently, some speak and it is God speaking. It is a gift.


  2. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    I suppose we will both be in typo hell.

    Liked by 1 person

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