We are all wardrobes—Part 1


I wonder if the univocity insisted upon by advocates of “relational theologies” doesn’t actually suppress human aspirations for the relational by corralling it within the limits of what can be said determinately. The relational becomes a real experience only when we’re able to “say it” because we only really experience what we can describe given the laws of univocal apprehension. But I think we know the sequestering of experience to determinate language is impossible, and attempting it ends in despair, or perhaps it’s motivated by despair. We fear losing our identity, our very self, to an undomesticated infinite. So language domesticates God and we become happy the way a child addicted to playing the same pinball game again and again is happy with an endless repetition of the same – same game, same features, same distances. God will not – cannot – offer us this kind of happiness. There are no predictable borders to the ecstasy of knowing God, and I suspect that in our most honest moments of reflection, we realize that this is what we truly want. The indeterminacy of language is where and how that divine adventure calls to us. We are all Lewisian wardrobes, and only the childlike find Narnia.

Recent conversations I’m enjoying have focused on the well-worn problem of theological predication, which is shoptalk for how our language apprehends God, how it captures and expresses the truth about God. It’s a very old conversation that few master. Anyone remotely familiar with the conversation knows that it concerns the relationship between God’s transcendence and the reach of our concepts.

The standard options on the menu are three:

Univocity (in which “Being” is predicated of God and creatures in the same way. “Love,” for example, has the same sense predicated to God that it has when predicated of creatures.)
Equivocity (what is predicated of God and creatures is predicated with entirely different senses)
Analogy (what is predicated of God is predicated analogously to what is predicated of creatures)

Equivocity is yoked to univocity as its contrary mode of predication. Both represent options of a single all-inclusive understanding of predication that supervenes upon a single reality, ‘being’, whether we’re talking about divine or created being. Analogical predication (itself a slippery concept prone to endless qualification) represents the ancient and, say classical theists, only viable alternative to the facile reductions of a univocal theology. I’m assured by people who know better than I that these options exhaust the possibilities, and while I appreciate and agree with various concerns expressed by those who argue these approaches, I’d like to suggest a completely different way to approach these concerns – an approach that’s performative and functional.

On a recent out of town visit to my sister-in-law, she reminded me, “The water here is hard.” As we know, hard water is water that has a high mineral content. The phrase “hard water” lodged in my brain and set me thinking of how strange, almost illusive, language is that a word like “hard” can mean so many things. Take for example:

“Possesses high mineral content” used of water
“Dense or resistant to change” describing the mass of a physical object
“Intellectually challenging” of solving a math problem
“Stable in value” used of stocks or commodities
“Not prone to displays of sympathy or affection” describing a strict or severe father
“Potent or powerful in effect” of liquor
“Harsh or unpleasant” of a long and cold winter

272_-_words_as_artSome of these meanings are more closely related than others, but taken together they form the semantic field (the scope of possible meanings) of the word “hard.” Several interesting points this observation yields are that (1) there is no one meaning to the word “hard” (or to all but a small number of highly technical terms). There are only possibilities of meanings. And (2) the possibilities are contextually and socially determined, and they all describe aspects of our experience of the world. Language never escapes this existential grounding and social context. It is an attempt (and never more than an attempt) to map our experience of ourselves in the world we inhabit.

This grounding in experience is crucial to me because I’m going to suggest that existentially speaking, the distinctions between univocity/equivocity and analogy disappear (or it might be that they converge) in one and the same attempt to make sense of the experiences we have. Instead of assuming that language is our immediate reality and then adopting a deflationary view of our experience, let us explore the possibility that our experience is the more fundamental reality and that we should take a more deflationary or circumspect opinion about the adequacy of language to capture reality – whether the reality we’re talking about is God or the world. It seems to me that language fails at rendering both finally determinate.

I’d like to explore this debate and its subject (theological language and predication), then, from an entirely different approach, one that sidesteps the three standard options (univocity, equivocity, and analogy) and suggests a fourth, which I’ll call:


Or we might say that language predicates of God:


Theological predication is functionally related to theosis – to empowering, facilitating, and sharing the experience of God to the end that we become finally transformed in and – carefully said – into Christ. Christ-formation (in one’s self and the extent to which one is instrumental in empowering it in others) ought to be the measure of the success of our God-talk and not particularly which theory of reference one might adopt to express that transformation. Keeping this point central gives us a different vantage point than the standard options from which to think about our God-talk.

Let me state up front in this post a tentative conclusion and then explain in a Part 2 what reasons I think I have for taking this view. Simply stated, I’d like to suggest that there is no such thing as univocal predication when it comes to God-talk (and probably when it comes to talk of anything at all for that matter, but I’ll leave that for now), that analogy is probably the only thing we have but that as it is argued in the context of this debate, analogy also ends up failing. The chief reason I think these all fail is because they tend to excuse themselves from certain irreducible existential givens that define all human experience and end up becoming just theories of language and reference.

csm_asawa_bmc76_nd-1_7ffa4cfd83As strange as it may sound, I do mean to say that even univocal theories of theological language fail to take proper account of certain existential givens, which explains my opening paragraph. I mention this because proponents of univocity will appeal to the fact that we do experience God – not an analogy of God – for a view of reference that seeks to secure the integrity of this encounter but whicch ends up being very uncomfortable with the possibility that there is might be no conceptual horizon within which God can be circumscribed. I will agree we truly experience God within the givens of our finite, created capacities, but I’ll also agree (with Pryzwara) that all our experience has an irreducible transcendence about it to begin with which we never overcome or exhaust whether it’s the experience of God or the world around us that we’re describing. Because our capacities bear the image of God and are grounded and sustained in God, they remain irresistibly open to forever expanding our experience and enjoyment of God, an experience of one’s own self as unbounded and uncircumscribed.

Transcendence is experienced as an overwhelming presence to which our created natures answer with existential (never linguistic) fulfillment and ecstasy which at the same time perfectly anticipate the unknown the way awakened desire knows what it anticipates and anticipates what it doesn’t know. As far as one explores outwardly or inwardly, one finds no horizon that draws a final end to the possibilities of the ever-new, ever-surprising, and ever-enticing beauty of God which will not permit us to speak with finality. Language does what it can, and because we create our languages to map our shared experience, and new experiences (like the transforming ecstasy of experiencing God) will always stretch and exceed language.

The vantage point from which I’m suggesting we consider the purpose and function of theological language is a ‘functional’ view of language – functional relative to the “formation of Christ in us” (Gal. 4.19). The concern for language, then, ought to be about the success to which our language serves to increase conformity to Christ—period. From this vantage point, proponents of the standard alternatives – univocity and analogy – are not so much wrong as they are irrelevant. Why do I say this? Because proponents of both agree that we truly experience God, not an analogy of God, and that our natures are fulfilled and perfected as Christ is truly formed in us. This agreement I believe makes irrelevant to a large extent theories of predication. Disagreements between these theories become a bit like arguing over whether the words “red” and “round” apprehending an apple univocally or analogically has anything to do with the experience of enjoying its sweetness when eaten. I’m suggesting the experience of the apple transcends (surprise) that entire disagreement.

33 comments on “We are all wardrobes—Part 1

  1. This is great, Tom!
    It seems we can reduce this to the difference between telling about X and telling the experience in X, which, if I read the Gospel aright, is the ultimate object of X, at least in this environment. How both pre-modern AND post-modern: the story supersedes the data, perhaps the meaning of Logos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      The question and problematic of predication and discourse about God however is not content (ie. data, story, ‘God is living’, ‘God seeks to save his people’, ‘the living God exists’) but rather what is signified of God when any data or story is predicated of God. If God were on the same plane of being as creatures then there would be no such difficulties for our language. But alas, or rather, thankfully, there are such difficulties!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It seems, Robert, the problem with such predication is that upon making the pronouncement subsequent energy is expended in shoring it up instead of expanding the experience.

        The trigger for me was in the 1st para.: “There are no predictable borders to the ecstasy of knowing God.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:


        Herein lies the beauty of analogous predication – acknowledging similarity within an ever greater (indeed infinitely!) dissimilarity. God, in other words, cannot be comprehended. Mystery pervades all theological doctrine and marks discourse about God. Analogous predication affirms (the need for) expanding our experience of God and insists this needs to be reflected in our speech about God.

        As to ‘energy is expended in shoring it up’ I am not 100% sure I understand you. The Mystery that expands our experience requires that we expend our energy. But be it as it may, the task is far from simple and certainly not easy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    Looking forward to Part 2 and see where you are going with this…

    The challenge of divine predication remains not one of our experience of God but the problematic of expressing the infinite proportion of difference as far as mode of being. If there’s a fourth way of predication (not semantics), I am looking forward to hearing what you are suggesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom says:

    Thanks Robert. Hey, how about this California weather? You getting as much rain down south as we in Sacramento? I’ve been here since Jan 3 and have seen maybe 3 or 4 days of sunshine. The drought has to be over! By the way, I think my coming to California might have occasioned the end of the drought! Pentecostals bring the latter rain. ;o)

    So, we all agree God is truly experienced. As Cyneath said, there’s something to the difference between predicating something of our experience of God and predicating something of God. I’m suggesting we do the former. I’m less interested in theorizing about predication in the latter sense. Perhaps what I’m trying to describe isn’t a view “of predication” at all. That’s fine too.

    To me, Robert, there’s a kind of knowing in your not-knowing that exceeds what’s implied in our experience of God. For example, you know that God is timeless, that he cannot change in any conceivable respect, that he has no conceivable unfulfilled potential (even with respect to his knowing of the temporal world). I don’t “know” these things because I have no experience of them. I’m OK with abstracting out from our concrete experience to some belief in what God is that best explains our experience of him. We do that. That’s how we get to creation ex nihilo and other essential truths.

    But the abstractions have to be an account of the concrete experience, and I don’t see how “no unrealized potential,” for example, is implied in any experience of God. I do think that our experience of God implies that God cannot be merely the projection of our own notions and concepts. That would constitute the kind of horizon I also want not to draw. But I’m not sure “no horizon” excludes from God the possibility of some mode of temporal relations, especially if we who truly experience him are irreducibly temporal. Otherwise we get into the sort of qualifications (we experience God but God doesn’t experience us, we know God but God doesn’t know us [except in knowing himself as willing us]) which in my view aren’t entailed in any experience of God. So I’m trying to sidestep predication as a theory about whether and how our language apprehends “God” and reassign language the job of confirming, sharing, and empowering Christ-formation (or theosis).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      I’m more interested in “unsayability” than in “negation.” To me they’re not the same. The former is implied in our experience of God (of all things, including ourselves, really). I don’t see that the latter is equally so implied. Does that make sense?

      Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      We are getting soaked! which is great, it hasn’t rained like this in years, very thankful!!

      Making experience the determining factor in God’s mode of being or any theological abstractions is quite problematic. Let’s forget simplicity, pure act and all that jazz. How much concrete experience do we have of God as triune as defined by Nicaea? And of the Holy Spirit as person spirated of the Father? Christ as begotten without preexistence and beginning?

      Classical theism does not claim God cannot or does not have real temporal relations, or that God does not experience or does not know creatures. That is a serious misread of classical theism, which I have previously pointed out to you, but since you bring it up, I will mention it again. (Creation does not constitute a real change in God, that is the claim, and this is understood along the lines of my becoming a grandfather – which does not constitute a real change in me.)

      Language about our experience of God is of course necessary, but that is quite different from divine discourse. It’s one thing to predicate ‘man beholds God’s beauty’ and quite another to say, ‘God beholds beauty in man’. I know from first hand experience what it is for a man to behold – but what it is for God to behold, this I know not from first hand experience. And therein lies the challenge to discourse about God. By reassigning the language to be about our experience one has simply sidestepped the problem. And problems don’t get solved by ignoring them – judging by my experience. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tom says:

    By ‘side-stepping’ (I think I used the phrase) standard approaches, I don’t mean ‘ignoring’ them. I mean finding a different location or space from which to view things.

    I have to confess I don’t know what “similarity within infinitely greater dissimilarity” means. It seems to me that, logically speaking, an “infinite dissimilarity” is just that – infinitely dissimilar. To posit within that a “similarity” that’s not negated by the dissimilarity – I get lost in the math. I can see an excess of plenitude that’s incomprehensible, and existential ecstasy, the indeterminacy of language, the limitations of our concepts, our failure to reduce God to what we are. I have some grasp of these, and if that’s what is meant by “similarity within infinitely greater dissimilarity,” then maybe we’re saying the same thing but drawing different implications from it about God and time, etc.

    It’s so interesting that this conversation right here demonstrates the concern I’m trying to describe, and that is the preference to make how we say things the issue and not the underlying experience. I’m not suggesting you ignore the experiential. But we tend to drift from its shores too quickly. That’s why I elsewhere asked so much about what ‘experience’ you have that tells you God can have no conceivable unrealized potential? What is it about your experience of God which saying “God has no unrealized potential” names? Maybe classical theists far and wide can point to aspects of concrete experience and say, “Right here is where I infer ‘no conceivable unrealized potential in God’,” or “I can’t conceive of this aspect of my experience being possible without it being the case that God ‘has no unrealized potential’.” Those are stories I’d be very interested in.

    (An important note – I don’t think any one person’s experience of God is the basis upon which the Church determines its faith. We all experience the gospel. We read Scripture together. We exchange notes on what faith and prayer and mission do in us – and together we find a way to express things.)

    When you affirm that “our expanding our experience of God…needs to be reflected in our speech about God,” I totally agree. That’s all throughout what I’m saying – the failure of our categories to capture the truth about God without remainder, the indeterminacy of language, the inherent weakness of language (as a ‘map’) to re-present the ‘territory’ of our experience.

    I don’t doubt that classical theists affirm God’s knowledge of us. But it’s hardly a “serious misreading of classical theism,” Robert, to repeat the well-known account of this knowledge – i.e., that God knows us in knowing himself, more precisely, in knowing what he wills in sustaining us. I’m not making up that account of God’s knowledge of the world.

    God’s having temporal relations is such a complicated topic. I wish it wasn’t so. But in my view, I don’t see how it’s the case if God has ‘no conceivable unrealized potential’ that he has ‘temporal relations’ (as you say). You see God as having temporal relations. I see that – temporal actualities are related to God (really), but God is not equally (really) related to them. I’m not unaware of point re: “real” relations here. And I’m on record as agreeing that the fully realized, personal plenitude of God’s triune relations is necessary and self-constitutive and cannot be subject to temporal becoming. If “real” refers to the sense in which that fullness and those relations are not in any conceivable sense contingent upon creation, then I agree God has no such “real” relations. But I don’t see that this plenitude is undermined or contingent by supposing that God’s knowledge of the world’s temporal actualities changes in/with/as the changing world is sustained by God. It’s temporal relations of this latter sort that you deny and I affirm.

    Sorry for the length here. But quickly, re: the relationship between our concrete experience and theological abstractions. It seems fairly obvious to me that we have nothing whatsoever but our experience to go on in speaking (theologically or regarding anything at all). I can’t think of a single belief any of us has about anything that isn’t grounded in and born in and as sentient experience. So when you ask how much concrete experience we have of God as triune as defined by Nicaea, or of the Holy Spirit as personally spirated of the Father, or of Christ eternally begotten, my thought is – we’re in the deepest sort of trouble if these doctrines are not born of and in turn express an underlying experience. They have to be. Where else did we go to derive the contemplations necessary to forming those beliefs? Every rational belief we have is grounded in the givens of rational, sentient, embodied experience. It’s all we have. My own sense is that this is precisely what consolidated conciliar agreement on the doctrines you named. Nicaea expresses beliefs believed to be implied in and expressing the experience of the salvation the gospel brought to their lives and the worship and transformation it produced in them. Why must Christ be consubstantial with the Father? Because Christ saved us as only God can. Experience.


    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      re: doctrine grounded in experience – I don’t deny the role of experience but it is uncontroversial to say that no one has a direct and concrete experience of the inner triune life, the homoousia, God’s timelessness, God’s pre-existence, to name but a few abstractions. I don’t see then how an to appeal to concrete experience is going to be of help to you here. You ask ‘Why must Christ be consubstantial with the Father? Because Christ saves us as only God can.’ Yes indeed, but my point is that no one has a concrete experience with or of ‘consubtantiality’, an abstraction of abstractions. People have an experience with Christ, but not consubstantiality. Based on our experience we can conclude the truth of abstractions such as consubstantiality, pre-existence, trinity, transcendence, simplicity, pure act, and so forth.

      In my understanding God as having ‘no conceivable unrealized potential’ does not rule out ‘temporal relations’. Where have you read that? Not in my reading of Basil, Nyssa, Aquinas can I come to a conclusion otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Robert: It is uncontroversial to say that no one has a direct and concrete experience of the inner triune life…

        Tom: I agree. My point about experience didn’t require that we experience ‘the’ begetting of the Son, spiration of the Spirit, etc. I’m only saying that (a) we do experience the God who is this Triune God, and (b) we conclude the relations (i.e., reason our way to them) because of the kind of experience we have with God.

        Robert: I don’t see then how an to appeal to concrete experience is going to be of help to you here.

        Tom: I’m not sure you see what it is I’m trying to say via an appeal to experience. What do you see me trying to say by appealing to experience as I am?

        Robert: You ask ‘Why must Christ be consubstantial with the Father? Because Christ saves us as only God can.’ Yes indeed, but my point is that no one has a concrete experience with or of ‘consubtantiality’, an abstraction of abstractions.

        Tom: I recognize that. We’re agreeing on this. We conclude consubstantiality (as you agree) based on the nature of what/how we do experience God. That’s all I’m saying – what we reason our way to conclude about God needs to name some experience or aspect of experience logically entailed in our experience. Is that better? That’s what I mean when I say our doctrines and beliefs about God must “name something about our experience of God.” If that much is the case (and we seem to be agreeing on that much), then the question is what notion of divine transcendence is present in or entailed by our experience of God.

        Robert: In my understanding God as having ‘no conceivable unrealized potential’ does not rule out ‘temporal relations’. Where have you read that? Not in my reading of Basil, Nyssa, Aquinas can I come to a conclusion otherwise.

        Tom: By temporal relations I mean changing states of mind/knowing in God relative to his knowledge of the changing world. You’re OK with that?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        I am hesitant to use divine ‘changing states of mind and knowing’ but would cautiously use it with two provisos, that 1) this is not understood univocally (nb. ‘change’ does not mean for God what it means to us), and that 2) anthropophatic meanings and conclusions are not drawn from this. Given these qualification I find ‘changing states of mind’ and such expressions less than helpful – God knows all temporal free choices creatures make, ‘He’s more intimate that my innermost.’

        ‘What do you see me trying to say by appealing to experience as I am?’ – well my understanding was to sidestep univocal and analogous predication by means of an appeal to Christian theosis.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        Robert: I am hesitant to use divine “changing states of mind and knowing” but would cautiously use it with two provisos…

        Tom: What did you just say?


        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        What I meant Tom is that man’s freedom is not to be understood in opposition to God’s creative agency, as this would construe transcendence as difference and otherness encountered in creatures. God’s difference is not an opposition as difference constituted by the ‘you’ as opposed to the ‘I’. To be a bit more more Aquinesque: human openness is not defined in opposition to God’s efficient causality. Divine causality constitutes the grounding for human freedom, a freedom which depends entirely on it.

        My concern with ‘changing states of mind and knowing’ is that it implies a model of divine/human causality which is external and linear – God and humanity are externally related by a successive order of action and reaction. Such a relation describes creaturely interactions – however such univocal predication is wholly unbefitting divine transcendence in which God is understood to differ differently, according to which difference does not denote opposition.


  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    In reading your article over again, I had a revelational moment. “Of course, Tom is a Pentecostal! How did I forget that?”

    The real topic that needs to be addressed, I think, is not whether God-talk is univocal, analogical, or metaphorical (or some combination of the three), but rather “What does it mean to say that we experience God?” What is an experience of God? How does the experience of God differ from the non-experience of God? Etc. Until these kinds of questions are addressed, all theories of God-talk are beside the point.

    Aquinas’s theory of analogical predication is far more modest than the project you have undertaken. Thomas begins with the metaphysical dissimilarity between God and creature and then proposes a theory of how it is that we meaningfully speak of the perfections of God despite this dissimilarity. I think Robert is gesturing toward this when he comments: “The challenge of divine predication remains not one of our experience of God but the problematic of expressing the infinite proportion of difference as far as mode of being.”

    But you are trying to do something, Tom, that I suspect is impossible. For example, you write: “Transcendence is experienced as an overwhelming presence to which our created natures answer with existential (never linguistic) fulfillment and ecstasy which at the same time perfectly anticipate the unknown the way awakened desire knows what it anticipates and anticipates what it doesn’t know.” I read this and I think, huh? I suppose my “huh?” may simply reflect the poverty of my own religious experience … or perhaps not. As Robert Sokolowski writes, “But if the Christian God is not a part of the world, there is a sense in which we cannot hope to perceive or experience him, because he would have to be presented as one of the kinds of things in the world, differentiated from other kinds, and the experience that presents him would have to be differentiated from our other perceptions” (The God of Faith and Reason, pp. 133-134).

    So do you think I’m on the right track in my identification of that which may be the abiding point of incomprehension between us?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Tom says:

      So interesting. I must truly suck at articulating myself! Part 2 should probably wait a while.

      When you say “The real topic that needs to be addressed is not whether God-talk is univocal, analogical, or metaphorical but rather ‘What’s it mean to say that we experience God?’,” I’m like – exactly. You could reduce my entire post to that statement.

      But you apparently read me as trying something far more ambitious than Aquinas who seems very occupied with what you say isn’t the real topic, namely, whether God-talk is univocal or analogical. However, the something impossible I’m trying to do is ground our ‘saying’ in our ‘experiencing’ – which is all I meant by the “Transcendence is experienced as an overwhelming presence to which our created natures answer with existential (never linguistic) fulfillment/ecstasy which perfectly anticipates the unknown the way awakened desire knows what it anticipates and anticipates what it doesn’t know.”

      I’m honestly surprised. I assumed the idea that our ‘saying’ is grounded in our ‘experiencing’ (or the ‘knowing’ that is experiencing) would be uncontroversial. That portion you quoted is a smattering of Marion’s ‘saturated phenomenon’ (which begins with experience) and Pryzwara’s description of transcendence as “performative” and his beginning with the irreducible transcendence we confront in our experience of the world before we ever get around to deriving a language to express it.

      When you say “Thomas begins with the metaphysical dissimilarity between God and creature and then proposes a theory of how it is that we meaningfully speak of the perfections of God despite this dissimilarity,” it looks to me that Thomas is attempting something far more ambitious than I. It’s right there in your description that Thomas “begins with the metaphysical dissimilarity between God and creatures.” I would ask where he derives that dissimilarity? How’s he “know” it? (I’m not disputing that God is dissimilar; I just want to know what experience or aspect of experience it names.) My guess is Aquinas would concede that in the end that he’s deriving it from the experience of God. What must be true about God for him to save us as he does, for him to be the source and fullness of our healing, to incarnate and rise from the dead as he did? What I’m trying to do is not rush into theories of ‘saying’ (i.e. of predication). I want to do what you suggested – contemplate the experience of God as the real topic. When I do that, at least, I sense a lot of the energy we invest in debating theories of predication fades into the background of the immediacy of experience we all seem to share. Maybe that counts for something?


      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Darn. My apologies for misunderstanding you, Tom. So much for my epiphanies.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        No problem. I get wordy and can be vague. It’s the Pentecostal in me. 😀


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        I fail to understand then your point, Tom. You state that predication is made ‘irrelevant to a large extent’, which does not hold because how discourse of the divine is predicated greatly matters and is greatly relevant as to the understanding of experience, viz. univocal predication presumes an understanding of the nature of God greatly at variance with analogical and equivocal ways of predication of God. Experience requires context, awareness, reflection and interpretation. There’s no escaping that experience requires Word and words. If you mean to warn against turning discourse into mere theory (marginilizing experience IOW), then you will find no disagreement from me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        So you take pre-linguistic experience to be impossible? We have no meaningful experiences until we have a language adequate to express them? Whence ineffable experience?


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        . .


      • Tom says:


        I’m not disputing the necessity of language to many important things. As soon as we venture beyond the immediacy of our deepest subject experience of Christ, we have to ‘say’ it, map it out, for others. I’m not dismissing the importance of ‘maps’. What I’m saying is that there’s a difference between ‘maps’ and the ‘territory’ they describe. As soon as we ‘say’ what our experience of God is, we’re a step away from the experience itself.

        Unborn babies have meaningful experiences. Infants beholding their mother’s face “experience” the security and warmth of love, of being held, the power of a smile as opposed to hateful scowl. We know that pre-linguistic experiences are possible, and that they have their own aesthetic, existential depth of perception. Beauty can be perceived and enjoyed without even the capacity for language.

        That’s where I’m going with Part 2.


        Liked by 1 person

  6. Robert Fortuin says:

    Tom you may find Gregory’s comments on Fr Behr’s remarks of interest, posted here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/what-is-god/#comment-18784

    The link to Gregory’s post on Fr Behr explains his position and concerns further. It is apropos to the topic here: Gospel experience requires theological discourse.


    • Tom says:

      Thanks again Robert. I do appreciate your encouraging me to greater clarity.

      I’m not suggesting language simpliciter is unimportant or unnecessary. Yes, gospel experience requires theological discourse. But what’s it required ‘for’? We certainly need language to communicate, promote, and maintain the experience of Christ in the Church. After all, the Church has a “shared” experience of Christ that it propagates using language. I’m not saying the answer to the debate over theological predication is for everyone to become Trappist regarding God-talk. I’m saying (a) language doesn’t constitute the God we experience (God help us if there’s disagreement here!), (b) nor must language constitute the “I” who experiences God, even if language must attempt to narrate our encounter with God.

      It doesn’t seem even debatable that “pre-linguistic experiences” occur and that even adults have meaningful experiences that are neither constituted by language nor capable of any linguistic expression (Rom 8). I’m not suggesting language never has a role in talking about our experience of God. I’m suggesting quite the opposite – that it is precisely our ‘experience of God’ in which we ought to ground all our God-talk. We’ll discover the limits of language as we try to ‘say’ that experience and THERE we’ll discover the indeterminacy of language. I honestly don’t see you disagreeing with this, so I don’t understand your objections.

      Regarding the link to Gregory’s comments, thank you. Yes, I like Fr Behr’s distinction between the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ of God. I think these can meaningfully distinguished but not divorced. We can speculate all we need to about ‘what’ God is so long as our speculations are limited to giving an account of our experience of God. That’s my point.

      I agree with Behr’s basic point (from the little Gregory mentions – I don’t know Behr first-hand on this) that there’s a distinction between metaphysical (natural) theology and confessional theology. Gregory says Behr thinks the two “don’t mix.” But if indeed creation (human reason included) is as shot through with God as Orthodoxy holds, then public philosophical discourse can’t be absolutely at odds with confessional theology. We’re not talking oil and water here. Confessional theology gets its language from the same repertoire of terms that philosophy uses. There’s one pool of words out there. The difference comes in that confessional theology is seeking – here’s my point – to describe an ‘experience’ of God that secular philosophy hasn’t had and doesn’t assume. It’s not that they don’t “mix.” It’s that they’re explaining different experiences.

      Then Gregory concluded by saying, “Of course, if God has no content or ‘whatness’, then we need to clear up, in language, what we mean by that….” But Fr Behr isn’t deny God has ‘content’ or ‘whatness’. He’s saying we haven’t any access to it. We can only “talk” about our experience of God’s acts, which means we can only really talk about ‘who’ God is. I don’t mind this distinction at all. I’d simply add that extending language to describing God’s ‘what’ is fine with me so long as we speculate only insofar as is helpful to provide us an account of ‘who’ God reveals himself to be in our experience of his acts. And I agree that that account means in an important sense God is his acts (God’s ‘what’ is his ‘who’), which I don’t think Behr would disagree with. It seems to me he just wants to situate ‘language’ properly in relation to our experience of God.


      Liked by 1 person

  7. paxamoretbonum says:

    Tom, I hope your California adventure rewards you in every way!

    My take-away from your reflection (perhaps eisegesis) is that you’re saying that the 1) analytical and 2) empirical, if necessary, are not sufficient for Gospel value-realizations.

    These distinctions brought to mind Walker Percy’s essay: “Message in a Bottle.” Like you, Percy was not satisfied with only analytical (including propositional, predicate and modal logics) and empirical approaches to information, so he insisted also on 3) an existential or “performative” category, which drew on the distinction between knowledge and NEWS.


    Also, I was reminded of Eugene Peterson’s pastoral reflections on the human participatory imagination:

    We have Jesus as the centerpiece of what we’re doing, but he almost never talked in terms of explaining. He was always using enigmatic stories and difficult metaphors. He was always pulling people into some kind of participation.

    It’s essential for us to develop an imagination that is participatory. Art is the primary way in which this happens. It’s the primary way in which we become what we see or hear.

    I think a pastor is in a unique position to cultivate this participatory imagination. We shouldn’t just be giving information, because so much of what we’re dealing with is entangled with the invisible, the inaudible, the unsayable.


    end of Petersen quote

    In my own take on axiological epistemology, most human value-realizations indeed derive performatively via our participatory imaginations, grounded in our shared belonging, shared desiring and shared behaving and further cultivated by our story-telling, whereby we share our experiences or our knowledge OF.

    Most cognitive map-making derives informatively, grounded in our hypothetico-deductive reasoning and inductive empirical testing, whereby we share our (provisional) conclusions or our knowledge ABOUT.

    Our deepest value-realizations are interpersonal and robustly relational. Still, while they take us beyond our cognitive map-making, analytically, empirically and informatively, engaging our participatory imagination (hometown knowledge) existentially and performatively, they best not proceed without it. Our interpersonal value realizations do require some knowledge about other people and certainly rely on successful descriptions. While our knowledge about God will not render successful descriptions, still, it certainly will rely on successful references.

    For example, our conceptual map-making and successful description may, not unimportantly, be essential in the value-realizations enjoyed via physical intimacies with one’s wife, if only by ensuring that one has not otherwise been seduced by her scheming twin sister. Similarly, theo-logically, successful references can help us avoid adulterous relationships with idols.

    Philosophy plays another important role vis a vis story-telling, serving as a lingua franca between cultures and religions whenever we aspire to inculturate the Gospel in places where we lack shared hometown knowledge, for example, interreligiously, even ecumenically.

    My axiological epistemology defines a hermeneutical spiral: the normative mediates between the descriptive and interpretive to effect the evaluative as augmented by the transcendent. Put differently, using Lonergan’s imperatives: Being responsible mediates between being aware and being intelligent to effect being reasonable as augmented by being in love. The evaluative or being reasonable corresponds to an aesthetic primacy or telos, which culminates in love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      John: My take-away from your reflection (perhaps eisegesis) is that you’re saying that the 1) analytical and 2) empirical, if necessary, are not sufficient for Gospel value-realizations.

      Tom: I would assume “empirical” refers just to the “existential” and isn’t something else. What did you (or Percy) mean by “empirical” then?

      Liked by 1 person

      • paxamoretbonum says:

        Right. The existential is a subcategory of the empirical. In that essay, Percy was playing Kierkegaard off of Aquinas, siding with Aquinas in affirming two types of empirical knowledge: 1) scientific knowledge where assent is achieved by reason, experiment, reflection or insight, alone, and 2) faith, vis a vis “news,” where scientific knowledge and assent are undertaken simultaneously.

        Both are empirical but the latter entails an “existential disjunction” or a “living as if” by an observer who’s not disinterested but in a predicament, where the news hearer’s performative stance considers vital and forced options. Percy offers some criteria for when such existential responses might be considered truly live options but doesn’t really develop them much beyond the notion of a sufficient degree of intersubjective trust between the news bearer and hearer.

        Knowledge conforms empirically for and/or may be deducible by detached observers, i.e. sub specie aeternitatis, while news calls forth a response from vitally involved observers.

        In my view, Percy’s distinctions pertain to what I would simply call rubrics for “practical reasoning under uncertainty,” especially in those circumstances where speculative reasoning has been confronted by its limits, methodologically, or by ontological boundaries, metaphysically.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Been in CA 3 weeks and have maybe had 4 days of sun. Heavy rains and cold temps otherwise. Not impressed!


    • Tom says:

      A lot to chew on there too. But just looking at it briefly – yes, yes, and yes.


      Liked by 1 person

      • paxamoretbonum says:

        I’m reminded of the hermeneutical needle threading between an overemphasis on the 1) speculative & apophatic, encratism, 2) speculative & kataphatic, rationalism 3) affective & apophatic, quietism and 4) affective & kataphatic, pietism / fideism. But the apophatic or via negativa in those distinctions is still too logocentric, especially as approached in the West.

        Some Orthodox theologians precisely point out that both the via positiva and via negativa are RATIONAL approaches, both sharing the same trajectory of increasing descriptive accuracy, whether through affirmation of what something is, univocally and ontologically, or is like, analogically, or through negation of what something is not, literally, or is not like, analogically.

        For example, when Lossky employed an apophatic, perichoretic strategy, he referenced a trans-rational mystical experience and moreso in terms of ineffability. He aspired merely to a successful relational reference but did not ambition a successful metaphysical description.

        Dumitru Staniloae, according to some, was more rigorous and nuanced than Lossky. He would refer to our ineffable experiences as trans-rational and trans-apophatic, which are robustly relational, participatory, practical, existential.

        At any rate, I take Peirce, Lonergan, Percy, Lossky and Staniloae all to be speaking directly to your concerns, all affirming an epistemic primacy of practical, existential & participatory experience and axiological primacy of the relational, interpersonal and communal, going WAY beyond but not without the scientific or metaphysical.

        This is all to say that I’m deeply sympathetic to a critique of any metaphysic or speculative theology that seems to prove too much and that doesn’t authenticate its orthodoxy in terms of how well it fosters the orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic trajectories of theosis or fosters Lonergan’s conversions, which culminate in being-in-love.

        There’s not much natural theology COULD accomplish, metaphysically, other than demonstrating the reasonableness of faith. There’s not much a theology of nature SHOULD accomplish, metaphysically, beyond an inculturation of the Gospel, which is …

        a type of Good News, the performative significance of which doesn’t rise and fall with each novel, putative resolution of this or that metaphysical antinomy, paradox or enigma but, instead, cashes out its value in terms of lives 1) oriented to truth, 2) dedicated to and sanctified by beauty, 3) nurtured & healed by goodness, 4) empowered by community & solidarity and 5) saved by love, forgiveness and compassion (the 5-fold missiology, Christology & pneumatology).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        John: I’m deeply sympathetic to a critique of any metaphysic that doesn’t authenticate its orthodoxy in terms of how well it fosters the orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic trajectories…

        Tom: Not orthopedic? ;o)


  8. Tom says:

    Ran across this Richard Rohr statement today: “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”

    That is what I’m I’m saying.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am just seeing this whole conversation now — over two years late. Missed it totally.

    Liked by 1 person

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