Lost in translation—Part 1

Lost_in_Translation_posterNot that ‘Lost in Translation’. Rather, the feeling I and a friend both have whenever we talk about what it means to talk about God.

Here’s a bit of our conversation over past couple of weeks. It has to do with how language captures the truth about God. I’ll say up front that I’m comfortable denying particular assumptions or beliefs about what in fact is going on when we claim or deny that God is this or that (loving, just, good, etc.). It’s harder to state positively exactly how language apprehends God. (Or is it that language is already to be apprehended by God?) Truth is, I find myself more comfortable these days with silent modes of speech? Some might balk at even that: Silent speech? “Silence,” Juana de la Cruz wrote, “is not having nothing to say; it’s being unable to find words for all there is to say.”

This categorical failure of language is the greatest surprise faith has brought my way the last ten years or so. I would say today that my most positively apprehending, truth-bearing, reality depicting modes of speech are forms of silence – either a ‘groaning that words cannot express’ (Rom 8), or, at other times, ‘an inexpressible/ineffable and glorious joy’ (1Pet 1).

I wish I had better answers, better “definitions”; a way to cordon off the divine reality within the categorical reach of language for my friend here (who I’ve named Webster to keep him anonymous). The conversation included much more than I’m posting, but I hope what’s here will invite comments and suggestions.


Tom: We possess our life as temporal “becoming,” an ever-moving process in which we determine ourselves in the present by relating our perceived past (the data of past experience; i.e., memory) to perceived possibilities at which we aim ourselves in the hope of becoming what we are not – a perpetual negotiation between the perceived effects of the past and the perceived possibilities of the future. So when you ask what I mean by “being” when I say God is not “a being among beings,” this is what I mean. I don’t see how God can be an instance of such “becoming” even if the process that is his essential life is qualified by saying it occurs “necessarily.”

God is not that ‘kind’ of thing, and since every kind of thing in creation is, by virtue of being created, the kind of thing that has its being in and as ‘becoming’ (through the grace of participation in that which it is not), it seems to me that saying God cannot be “a being among beings” better captures something truth about God and ourselves.

Webster: To plausibly explain anything ‘by’ God as a least a necessary condition, if not the sufficient condition, I have to know something about God in terms of his attributes. Since I can’t manufacture attributes by manufacturing new categories, those attributes will be intelligible to me in terms of my existing categories unless God gives me new categories with which to conceive of his attributes.

Without knowing some of God’s attributes, God can’t explain any event whatsoever except as an absolutely spontaneous cause unrelated in any way to his attributes. This is why I say that without defining God as having certain relevant essential attributes, we couldn’t predict anything he will ever do or even whether he will ever do anything else. And that would also rule out any standard teleological thinking about any aspect of the universe. But once we conceive of God as having attributes that are conceived of in terms of our categories (which renders them intelligible), like for example your claiming that God has felt-experience (i.e., God is sentient), then in that one sense, God is a being as we are in ‘that’ one sense.

We [shouldn’t] reject analogy where it explains things that would otherwise be unexplained, like how the validity of induction is entailed in certain relevant attributes of a Designer/Creator of the universe. Only the right kind of theism gives us that kind of ontology. Neither atheism nor deism does. And I contend that impassibilistic theism doesn’t either. Because it can’t get us beyond absolutely spontaneous divine action, which renders divine explanation absolutely arbitrary.

I know you will say that you aren’t being arbitrary. But you always put words that would normally be truly explanatory in quotations. Like God “cares” about us, e.g. Why the quotes? Because you’re not using the dictionary meaning of the word “care,” or “love,” etc. But you never say what meaning these words have after stripping them of their normal definitions. And as far as I can tell, once you take the divine “impassibility” route, there’s no analogy left between human love and caring and God’s putative “love” and “caring” that gives those terms any explanatory power whatsoever. What you seem to be doing to me is arbitrarily assigning divine causality to some event that, if God ‘actually’ loved you by the dictionary meaning of that term, would ‘probably’ have been caused by God – the teleological God that the rest of us believe in. But you’ve already stripped God of all the attributes that make the “probably” an actual “probably.”


Tom: Everything in our universe is contingent. Things come into being, are caused, subsist temporally through participation in that which is other than themselves, pass out of existence, etc. That is the ‘being’ of the world. God isn’t an instance of it, and for that simple reason I don’t describe God as “a being” (without appropriate qualification). If I put quotation marks around something God is or does, it’s only to note this point.

You say that “To plausibly explain anything by God as a least a necessary condition, if not the sufficient condition, I have to know something about God in terms of his attributes.” True. But it’s also true that God explains nothing if he’s just another instance of that which we’re trying to explain.

You say that “once we conceive of God as having attributes that are conceived of in terms of our categories (which renders them intelligible)” like my claiming that God has felt-experience (viz., beatitude), then “God is a being as we are in that one sense.”

There’s likeness – the way a mirror might reflect my likeness while being very unlike me (the reflection will be two- and not three-dimensional, will not share the original’s ontology/being, etc., though it does reflect an image). So, for example, to say God is “cause of all things” is to attribute the being of the world to God, but this is not to say that with respect to causation God is an instance of what we observe between any finite cause and its effects within the causal changes that comprise our world. As the world’s “cause,” God doesn’t stand in relation to the world the same way any finite cause within the world stands in relation to its effects. If that were so, we’d have to ask what caused God and thus would face an infinite regress. The infinite regress is prevented, however, not through logical cosmetics (by virtue of parsimony or by the magical effect of saying “uncaused” before we say “cause” in the case of God) but because God in himself is indeed not another cause among causes.

You wonder whether God’s being ‘impassible’ in the sense I’ve argued (i.e., the beatitude or bliss of his triune experience cannot be diminished or improved upon by the world) means we are at a complete loss to predicting God’s behavior. I’m not seeing why this follows. If the character of God’s beatitude just is his benevolence (i.e., don’t divorce the beatitude of being from its benevolent character) then we can know that God will (predictably) love and not hate, seek the highest good of others, not their destruction, etc. So when you ask, “What do you think God will eventually do, and based on what attributes?” my answer is that God will consistently love what he creates, pursuing its highest good in him, and he’ll do it because he is love.

Webster: I’m not sure how you’re using certain words. On the one hand you say there is no ‘actual infinite’, hence there can be no infinite past. But then you, like Hart, throw the word “infinite” around about God like I’m supposed to understand what you mean by that.

By category I mean those very fundamental conceptions and relations that are at the foundation of all propositional thought. I consider the substance-attribute corollary something at that fundamental a level, as is cause, final-cause, temporal relations/concepts, spatial relations/concepts, etc. So if God doesn’t have attributes as per something as fundamental as what we mean at the abstract level of substance-attribute, I have no idea what we’re saying when we speak of attributes of God.

Also, I’m not sure I know what is being meant by analogy. When I say something is analogous, I mean it is the same in some respect. It matters not to me whether there is such a thing as infinite love, because I can’t conceive of how God will ever infinitely love me or any finite being. Any experience I’ll ever have will be finite. And I will always have existed a finite amount of time. So I can never experience ‘infinite’ love at all. So I see no point in obscuring a conception of God based on what I can never fathom or experience. I conceive of God per what can be known of him by a finite mind, regardless of whether God is infinite in any sense. Since I’ll never experience any infinite experience, even if God is somehow infinite, it explains nothing I’ll ever apprehend. For I have no reason to believe that any finite experience requires an infinite capacity to cause. So I don’t get what role such speculations play in a theology that is to have practical implications.

Tom: Regarding analogical language. Maybe it’s all beyond my pay-grade, but I don’t think one has to assume a shared ontology between two relata in an analogy. There can be a shared ontology between relata, as there undoubtably is between vegetables and me when I say “Vegetables are healthy” and “I am healthy,” where “healthy” describes the same reality but differentiates the possession of it by vegetables (which are healthy because they ‘give’ health) and by us (who are healthy because we’re ‘made healthy’ by vegetables). But vegetables and we are equally created things. We could perhaps span this difference with something approaching a univocal sense of the word. I don’t know. But when we say “Vegetables are healthy” and “the economy is healthy” or “my marriage is healthy,” we’re not talking about a univocal sense of the word “healthy” in the economy or marriage which is derived from the meaning as we find it in vegetables. If our language of God is thought to apprehend an essential unity between God and the world (as relata) on an ontological level, then I don’t see how God can be an ‘answer’ to the question of being/ontology (Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?), for he would just be “one of” the things that creates the question.

Webster: I can’t see how we could know induction is valid if benevolent, competent teleology (a teleology of risk for God, not a guaranteed boon for God that would imply compatibilistic creation) isn’t the impetus for the existence of the universe we inductively infer.

Tom: I agree, except for the fact that the competent teleology we posit needn’t be a risky one for God in the sense you  mean and for the reasons you suppose. An accomplished, benevolent beatitude/bliss can will the existence and pursue the highest good of that which it creates without putting itself at risk.

You say, “transcendence, per se, doesn’t automatically amount to something worthwhile about the destiny of humans” and that “Deism is intelligible transcendence.” But I have to disagree. Deism’s God isn’t transcendent, for transcendence is not absence (as it is in Deism). If God is either locked out of creation or he opts out of intimacy with it, he’s not transcendent in the Christian sense.

face_in_the_crowd_by_smashmethodWebster: If you can’t articulate what I’m misunderstanding, it’s probably because you really don’t understand it yourself. But surely by now you know that there is literally no idea pertinent to any practically-relevant theistic thinking that all intellectuals agree on. If you can’t articulate your own arguments using words that you can define or that I can find in a dictionary, it’s still the case that I can’t read minds.

Tom: I don’t mean to be so frustrating. I thought I’d defined the way I used the words you asked about (“being,” “infinity,” “transcendence”). So let me try again. If I were asked to try to narrow it down, I’d say that by “a being” I mean a subject of temporal becoming, an entity whose existence is a temporal movement toward some final end…and so forth. That’s the realm from which we derive the abstract categories that supervene upon all that is. I don’t include God in this because he’s none of these things. Rather, he is that in which all becoming participates, toward which all teleology tends, and in which all categorical perfections (truth, beauty, goodness, difference, unity, etc.) rest (to be participated in by us).

What about “infinite” as attributed to God? I take it that by saying God is infinite, Hart and others mean to describe the fullness or plenitude and fecundity of God’s life, a plenitude fully realized as love in all its perfections, without needing to be determined by anything outside himself, and that these perfections however endlessly they obtain in creation, are immeasurably actual in God. Since this plenitude is not quantifiable, is immeasurable (because no finite standard can encompass it), is unconditioned by the pathos of contingent becoming, and is its own source and ground and end, “infinite” seems a perfect term for expressing such a radical thing. I think I have this right in Hart’s case, but if not, then let me just say that it is what I mean by saying God is infinite.

I take transcendence to basically capture the same idea. It’s precisely because God is infinite/transcendent in this sense that transcendence does not become ‘absence’, which is basically what happens when we make God “a being among beings” (i.e., a subject of temporal becoming, an “instance of” some category or other, determined by the pathos of the contingent, achieving the plenitude of his being dialectically through relations external to himself, etc.).

Take note too – I don’t take these as “definitions” in the “dictionary” sense of the word. I take these (the good, the true, the beautiful, etc.) to be “names.” And a “name” is not exactly a “definition.” There’s no “defining” God if you mean standing in a relation to God as we do, say, when defining any discrete object in the world. This is so because to define something is to assume a certain relation of sufficient competency to it as an observer, a certain perspective that encompasses its act of being within the terms available to the one doing the defining. But in my view this ia not a relation we can sustain to God. So we “name” God from our experience of him, from his acts in creation, etc., but he’s not some object in the universe (even if we locate him at every point in it) that our categories “supervene upon.” God is not “supervened upon,” and for that reason can’t be de-fined (you like definitions – from the Latin: de + finis/finire [end] = to bring to and end).

Webster: If (a) what are poised as words “about” “God” aren’t really words (i.e., symbols for defined concepts) that can communicate anything “about” God, and (b) the only way I can “get” anything “about” God is to see God seeing me, with words failing me, then: reading those essays you recommended using definitions that don’t apply to their words isn’t going to advance me a wit towards that end, is it? Wouldn’t God just have to reveal himself to me for me to see him, thus? And if God doesn’t, well then, God doesn’t. And there’s nothing that anyone, including me, can do to aid my advance thereto. This is why I have no idea why you ever talk to me at all, unless you just enjoy telling me you have something that I don’t.

Tom: Obviously we have to use words to talk about God, to maintain a corporate faith (with language of evangelism, worship, prayer, etc.) and to talk to ourselves. All I’m saying is however much we must talk (and the more the better, says Denys Turner) we never succeed in drawing a line around God, we never “make an end” (de + finis) of God categorically, packaging him up neatly within our cognitive grasps as do our definitions generally with finite objects.

Is there anything ineffable about your experience of God? Can you reduce everything about your experience of God to neat syllogisms and dictionary entries? Do your categories ever collide in an experience of God that escapes their grasp? Is it really that frustrating to contemplate God as escaping your cognitive grasp?

95 comments on “Lost in translation—Part 1

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Short on time so just a quick response. Analogy precisely forestalls the either/or of the equivocal-univocal binary of value bearing of language; your friend is stuck on this binary: either words mean exactly as we know it, or else there’s no meaning these words bear at all. It is helpful to point out that analogy functions because of the categorical difference between Being and beings; to be more precise, that the analogy is one of the dissimilarity between cause and the resemblance of its effects. The inexhaustible cause is beyond a full grasp, for the similarity is within the analogy of dissimilarity, conveying knowledge by resemblance in the infinite span of difference. This shouldn’t alarm, for this is theology, this is what it means to know God in finite capacity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Robert.

      I think the difficulty comes in saying “how” one does this (i.e., analogical predication) linguistically. What are the actual steps one takes to establish (for us creatures) the meaning of a term like “person” or “love” within a larger infinite distance?

      For example:

      Let’s say STEP ONE is the biblical language itself. So we take ‘God is love’. And the mistake to avoid is the univocal step, and that mistake amounts to believing the following: Since our loving another involves , God’s loving us must mean the same thing; hence, God affirms, celebrates and pursues our good.

      I confess that while I am confident God isn’t just another ‘being among beings’, an instance of some category embracing both himself and us, I actually just start out (STEP TWO) with the univocal meaning of love. Then (STEP THREE) I peel off from that understanding any acceptation intrinsically related to created/embodied/finite being. Those layers might involve (a) my being a mixture of selfish and disinterested desire, (b) my being a participation in a (transcendental) love that is other than I am, and so (c) pursuing a good in/for the other which is also other than the person I love whose good I seek, and (d) an act of becoming what I’m not (i.e., increasingly conforming to that transcendent love that God naturally is), etc. I’m sure there are more layers. But once I make these adjustments, I’m still left (STEP FOUR) with a core of what ‘love’ means univocally and I understand God’s ‘loving us’ as just the fullness of what I know univocally. ‘God loves us’ thus MEANS the same thing as our loving others means WITH the qualification that God just is this love (he doesn’t instantiate a transcendental other than himself through participation or becoming – as we do) pursuing our highest good in God.

      But if you notice – the steps I’ve taken are (don’t tell anyone) precisely what Scotus recommends. The term “love” maintains a univocal acceptation in both cases, but the modal distinction between the divine and human instantiation means carefully qualifying the attribution to each by withdrawing all those essentially created/finite/embodied acceptations from one’s understanding of divine love.

      What one ends up doing is attributing love rather univocally to God but always within the grip of a qualifying transcendence. But this transcendence, practically speaking, doesn’t make the concept ‘love’ essentially MEAN anything different than it means for us in our experience. Rather it decenters or resituates us and our speaking within a reality (God) that’s irreducible to our meaning-making frame of reference. I think this is the real beef with the univocal assumption (or my beef with it anyway): it tends to assume our language ‘supervenes upon’ God just as it supervenes upon us; so univocity becomes more than just semantics (which MIGHT in itself be OK), it betokens an underlying shared ontology (which isn’t OK).

      But since the Orthodox don’t like Scotus, I assume the steps I’ve described are not what you do. So if this univocal semantics is invalid – how do you do it? As far as I can tell, after protesting the Scotist’s ‘concentem univocum entis’ and insisting there is no such thing, Hart ends up DOING precisely what I’ve described above. He begins with the univocal meaning of ‘love’ but then qualifies it by saying the essential meaning we associate with the term is infinitely, perfectly, transcendentally actual in God. What else does he have in mind when he says:

      “In the words of John Stuart Mill, ‘To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?”

      Yet I hear from some (even Hart at times) that transcendence means precisely that our love is infinitely different “in kind” from God’s. Hence the confusion.


      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        …i.e., set aside all the contested ‘terms’ in the debate and just show me, a step at a time, how one determines what is being said when one says ‘God loves us’.


      • Tom says:


        Is it possible to construe language as ‘being supervened upon by’ God (language itself as passio essendi) as opposed to thinking of our language as ‘supervening upon’ or apprehending God. Turn the whole thing on its head; and learning to live in the change is life as conatus essendi).


        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes, that is one way to put it Tom. Our language is supervened upon by the ontological resemblance. No matter where you look you can find the image of God, for he is the ‘interior intimo meo’ as creation’s first and final cause.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Turning this thing on its head has been precisely how I’ve come to approach this all. The more jargonistic way of condensing my other contributions is to wit:

        Determinate syllosistics are derived from divine syllogistics. If one begins with the Athanasian Creed, then formalizes it, one gets Abelard’s 3 modes of identity: essential, personal & formal. The first 2 modes do not apply to determinate being, precisely due to radical dissimilarities in predications of ousia & exemplifications of hypostases.

        For determinate realities, the only mode of identity is formal & we can consider it a derivation of divine syllogistics (rather than taking them to be an ad hoc strategy of our Aristotelian-like syllogistics).

        Of course, for determinate realities, essence, hypostases & forms (the last = generalities, laws, regularities) reflect modes of being.

        This doesn’t gift us a formal systematic accounting but it very much entails a rather robust semi-formal heuristic. This is the intersection where determinate effects interact, inter-participatively, as they variously ensue from divine nondeterminate or self-determinate realities or from creaturely determinate realities, either which can, variously, generate “effects proper to no known causes” whether putatively theological, metaphysical, scientific or common sensical.

        It’s from the synergistic divine vestigia, energeia & oikonomia that we abductively infer a putative divine cause, Actus.

        We can thus affirm Rahner’s axiom that the economic trinity is the immanent trinity, even though many of us would hesitate regarding any vice versa. At least, I can’t go there.

        Rahner spoke of a divine quasi-formal cause. Inverting the script, though, perhaps it’s better said that it’s our Aristotelian-like categories that are quasi, not the divine categories: quasi-formal in potency to quasic-telic, quasi-actus (efficient) in potency to quasi-substantial (material), quasi-existential in potency to quasi-essential, whereby, imitatively, we realize our authentic human nature as we grow from mere image (quasi) to clear likeness (REAL-ly), co-creatively fulfilling our created potential.

        Not sure I’ve connected any dots or successfully unpacked my divine imaginary, but those are my categories, their semantic rules & implications for intelligible god-talk.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tom, language proceeds from metaphysics; I (and I think you do too) favor a metaphysics of participation and analogy. The key principle of such a metaphysics is that effect resembles its cause. Another key principle is the absolute modal dissimilarity between Being and beings. Theological predication accordingly acknowledges the modal disjunction between God and creation in the affirmation of resemblance. This is an ontological similarity of participation of beings in Being and not merely a similarity on a superficial conceptual or semantic level. Here’s the most important aspect to consider: the proportion of the analogy is the modal disjunction in which the resemblance is revealed, and one could rephrase this to say that the difference between God and creation is the revelation of God. The disjunction is constituted by the coincidence of essence and existence in God: God loves because he is love, and by His being love all other love is measured, for all other love is a gratuitous gift of the unnecessary conjoining of essence and existence. We are not love, but we can become ever more love as God is love. This is step one. On to step two, the positive cataphatic affirmation in light of step one. God loves us. We know true love by experience, such as that of parent and child; furthermore, we know when such love is absent (by way neglect, harm, abuse, and so forth), we know what love is not. Love observed in humans and animals truly resembles divine love.

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      • When I say “successful reference” to God, I mean that literally in a robustly ontological sense. From divine vestigia of the gratuity of creation via general revelation & energeia-oikonomia of the gratuity of grace via special revelation, I say we can infer from those divine effects, which are proper to no known causes, a putative Actus Purus.

        Because the nondeterminate divine ousia & hypostases involve Act sans potency, similarities to the acts of determinate beings are far outnumbered by dissimilarities.

        From a separate conversation, I’d written:

        A practical take-away from Neville (following Peirce’s semantics):

        Modally, if one takes an analogy to be a type of possibility (e.g. along w/ icons, images, diagrams, similes & metaphors, which are similarity-invoking), then, as a form of indeterminacy, it might be treated as a case of vagueness, where noncontradiction [PNC] wouldn’t apply?

        We’d thus distinguish it from that form of indeterminacy, modal generality, where excluded middle wouldn’t apply but a continuum of probabilities could (scalar).

        Without PNC, a great deal of epistemic humility’s warranted in all analogy-discourse!

        Dissimilarities abound!

        Apophasis thus redounds!

        When DBH gets outdone with some neo-scholastics, it’s because they apparently give more weight to the Analogia than it can epistemically bear. <<<

        We believe, then, that nondeterminate divine realities cause determinate effects – vestigia, energeia & oikonomia & invite our participation. But what is the "nature" of our participation, considering divine acts are nondeterminate and/or self-determinate & ours determinate? Is there anything univocal going on?

        It seems to me that when we cooperate with the divine gratuities of creation & grace, we as creatures foster the very same doxological & theotic effects as the Trinological Synergy, soteriologically, sophiologically, ecclesiologically, eschatologically & sacramentally. We do this imitatively & instrumentally, by actively surrendering, kenotically, thereby becoming passive conduits, pneumatologically.

        Correcting Bulgakov w/Bracken, I imagine a panentheistic, divine matrix, which, participatorily, not only involves us creatively & imitatively, but, which neo-platonic-like, also influences us diffusively & substratively, as the divine telos gently coaxes us toward the fulfillment of our human nature (sustained authenticity).

        I guess I'm suggesting that there's a participatory univocity of loving effects via our determinate kenosis, imitating Jesus self-determinate kenosis, unleashing the Spirit's gifts, charisms & universal salvation?

        Thinking out loud. I think I understood your thrust?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    What interesting conversations you have!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. formerlyjeff says:

    Webster, here 🙂 . I think one of your final comments to me summed up how much you agree with my own assessment of how impotent you think humans are to “know” God in any sense apart from his own unilateral and effectual revelation of himself when you said: “The only way to see God is to see him seeing you, and when you have that, Jeff, words will fail you …” So it seems you’re saying that even if I see God as you do, all my attempts at articulating anything true about God in words would still fail. If that’s not what you’re saying, write me one sentence in plain English that says something true about God that is not a negation. And I’m glad you concede that for you “It’s harder to state positively exactly how language apprehends God.”


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Ok I will take the challenge. But I would like to get a code name too if I succeed in your estimation.

      “Jesus wept.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Hi Jeff (Webster! Ha!). Well, I did try to just float the convo out there anonymously for others to contribute their thoughts.

      To your comment/question…

      What kind of “knowing” are we talking about? Knowing ‘about’ God (the rational perception that there’s uncaused cause, the source and end, of all that is? That’s out there for the knowing, sure. But there’s a “knowing God” that isn’t simply convertible with perceiving truth about the dependent-contingent nature of all things – an encounter of a more personal nature. THAT encounter is what I refer to when I say “the only way to see God is to see him seeing you,” meaning that our direct personal knowledge of God is always our response to his knowing and loving us; that experiencing him can never be a third-party observation. We can’t spy on God. I fail to understand what the problem is here. You don’t have to see God ‘as I do’. He’s not offering himself to you through me. You can see him as he is present in you addressing you, not as he’s in me addressing me.

      I didn’t say that all our attempts to articulate “anything true about God” will fail. “Anything true” includes the sort of 3rd party observations that any rational mind can conclude about the necessity of a transcendent source and end of all things based on the contingent nature of existence. Articulating THAT is possible without every knowing God in personal encounter. Where language fails is in rendering God present as an object of inspection for which our language itself constitutes such a personal encounter.

      One sentence about God that is not a negation? Sure – ‘God loves you’. I don’t have any doubt this is true. In my note to Robert you’ll see how I tend to account for it. What I don’t suppose it means is that God’s loving me is an ontological carbon copy of all the finite instances of love I’ve known. But that’s not to say the experience of God doesn’t satisfy everything in us we rightly give the name ‘love’ to.


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        I think Tom it is important to point out that analogy does not function to provide knowledge about God, but rather analogy functions to explain how it is that we have such knowledge.


    • formerlyjeff says:

      I’m also glad you have difficulties squaring all of Hart’s comments, Tom. Because I do too.It’s always possible to take some of what you all say and make sense of it. But like Hart, you seem to finally end up taking away what you give. Not saying you do, mind you, but your language seems to just mean that you do per conventional understanding of your terms. I think, Tom, that what you say about God supervening on language is the least confusing. Because then the language is never supposed to function as does conventional language in the first place, and those like me will realize that for at least those cases where I’m told that, as in this one, if you end up landing there.

      And BTW, my issue with what I think you’re saying about divine love has nothing to do with transcendence (and the dictionary has at least 2 distinct meanings of that term). It has to do with impassibilism and the sense in which it seems to preclude an ability to expect or predict God to DO ANYTHING AT ALL other than just perpetually experience unchanging bliss.

      It doesn’t help to predict or explain divine action to merely say God is aesthetic if nothing created is ever experienced by God aesthetically.It would merely mean that God has one single, unchanging aesthetic experience that can’t change. So what’s left to account for change of divine state if a cause is defined as the sufficient and necessary conditions of some change of state. Why would God ever change state from not creating to a creative act, e.g.? What would have changed prior to the new state of creation that for me would count as an ability to explain said act of creation by God? I’m seeing nothing in my explanatory tool-box to have a clue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • formerlyjeff says:

        I should add that the absolutely spontaneous causality that Greg talks about in his book would qualify as a type of causal accounting. But because such is absolutely spontaneous, it can’t help us predict when or whether any given event or quality of event will occur. John (below) speaks of making a leap. But even then, if you make a leap to an unintelligible, how is it a leap at all? On the other hand, one can “leap” to explain retroactively by an absolutely spontaneous causality, attributing it something that is otherwise intelligible. But why anyone would think that one of those kinds of leaps is more plausible to humans qua humans than any other is what I can’t understand. For at that point you’ve abandoned rational explanation altogether. Why wouldn’t everyone just leap consistently with their own personal comfort zone at that point?


      • Tom says:

        Jeff: I’m also glad you have difficulties squaring all of Hart’s comments, Tom. Because I do too. It’s always possible to take some of what you all say and make sense of it. But like Hart, you seem to finally end up taking away what you give.

        Tom: I’d like to see a more practical, hands-on, ‘how-to’ description of how Hart derives meaning from “God is love.” Not that I doubt that he ends up thinking divine love might turn out to be human hate, for example. I agree with him on the qualifications to be made en route. It just seems to be that the sort of Scotist process that I described with Robert above captures those qualifications fine. The univocal ‘meaning’ of a term like “love” seems to be operative throughout the process. But Hart’s not a Scotist, so I’m looking for his ‘how to’.

        Jeff: I think, Tom, that what you say about God supervening on language is the least confusing. Because then the language is never supposed to function as does conventional language in the first place…

        Tom: Right. My entire point from the get-go has been to argue that in the case of God, language doesn’t (can’t) simply “function conventionally.” God isn’t just another object in the temporal world of becoming (but who just happens to exist necessary) who is apprehended by and submits to our observations the way any finite object in the universe might. God isn’t conventional, nor is incarnation, nor resurrection, nor the transcendent healing presence of Christ, etc.

        Jeff: And BTW, my issue with what I think you’re saying about divine love has nothing to do with transcendence (and the dictionary has at least 2 distinct meanings of that term)…

        Tom: The dictionary?

        Jeff: …it has to do with impassibilism and the sense in which it seems to preclude an ability to expect or predict God to DO ANYTHING AT ALL other than just perpetually experience unchanging bliss.

        Tom: After pages of describing it, with analogies taken from human experience, we’ll have to just part waves here.

        Jeff: I should add that the absolutely spontaneous causality that Greg talks about in his book would qualify as a type of causal accounting. But because such is absolutely spontaneous, it can’t help us predict when or whether any given event or quality of event will occur.

        Tom: Greg’s account of creation in terms of ‘play’ is not an “absolute” spontaneity. An “absolute” spontaneity would be absolutely unexpressive of, unrelated to, God’s character, and absolutely ungrounded teleologically. And it’s definitely not (in my case) a “type of causal account” if you mean an instance of that causation which defines the becoming constitutive of contingent objects and events. As I said – it’s not my view that with respect to ‘causing’ the world God stands in relation to the world he creates precisely the way other non-divine ‘causes’ stand in relation to their ‘effects’ – for that would place God in need of the same explanation we seek with respect to the causal chain of being we call ‘the world’. It seems this latter sort of explanation is exactly what faith is about for you, no?


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: “As I said – it’s not my view that with respect to ‘causing’ the world God stands in relation to the world he creates precisely the way other non-divine ‘causes’ stand in relation to their ‘effects’ – for that would place God in need of the same explanation we seek with respect to the causal chain of being we call ‘the world’.”

        I define causality as fundamentally as I know how. I.e., the only only relation a condition/cause or conditions/causes has to its/their effect is that the instantiation of the former is/are necessary and sufficient for the effect condition to instantiate. I don’t know how to get it any more fundamental than that and still explain anything causally. So I have no way of distinguishing the relation into divine and non-divine. If there’s some other relationship that works as an explanation in meaning, I’m not aware of it.


  4. One afternoon, one notices that the glass vase, which normally rests on an outdoor table in their backyard, has been shattered into so many pieces & that one of the bricks on the house’s rear wall has been cracked. One immediately infers that a projectile from over the back fence did the damage, then tries to muse to the best explanation, unable to find the offending object.

    Taking out one’s compass, protractor & sliderule, estimating the projectile’s velocity, angle of trajectory, distance travelled, putative weight & such, the resident rules out the object having been thrown, fired from a potato cannon, tossed by a pitching machine, flung by a lawnmower and so on. For now, the determinable effects remain proper to no known causes.

    Those effects were not entirely dissimilar to those one might expect from zinged marbles, fired potatoes, thrown baseballs or flung rocks, but, at bottom, were inconsistent with such acts even though, in certain other ways, very much like them.

    The resident cleans up the mess & replaces the vase. It happens again! The resident, again, does forensic measurements, cleans up the mess & replaces the vase. It happens a third time! Still, the effects remain proper to no known causes. But, now, the resident starts to take the cause “personally.”

    What kind of person is doing this and how? Well, it can’t be the sweet little old childless widow, who lives there. Of course, then, not any grandchild. And it’s positively not her yardkeeper, house-cleaner or physical therapist. It must be a neighborhood prankster, but one without a name or motive.

    We’ve talked very intelligibly about this unknown personal cause, only able to make successful semantic references but unable to make good ontological descriptions of the actor or the actor’s specific machinations. We have employed analogies that apply literally, qualifying them with all manner of apophatic negations. You see, there’s nothing occult or gnostic about apophasis. It’s quite quotidian in application, with a positive epistemic valence, even, as a supplemental way of increasing descriptive accuracy by saying what something is not or is not like.

    Pip did this in Great Expectations, searching for – not a malefactor, but – benefactor. Ralph McInerny has described us as Characters in Search of Their Author.

    Not just the fast & frugal heuristics of common sense employ such abductive inference, ananoetics & apophasis, this has long been the tradecraft of our highly speculative theoretic sciences, of quantum interpretations & philosophies of mind, of undiscovered elements on the Periodic Table & putative genes carrying the traits of Mendel’s peas.

    Yes, our God-talk traffics only in successful references not ontological descriptions and takes back, apophatically, more than what it gifts, analogically. But that’s just the philosophical part of our human episteme. It, at least, renders our beliefs reasonable, partly intelligible even if not wholly comprehensible.

    For some, that serves as the praeambula fidei to making the leap in responding to special revelation, musing that, if Jesus of Nazareth & his People Gathered are that loving, that beautiful, that good, that liberative, then, maybe just maybe, I can reasonably hope He & They are also that True!

    This may be the most concrete thing I’ve ever written, for I’m naturally inclined to abstractions. But that’s what my own blog is really all about, reconciling Plato, Plotinus, Proclus, Palamas & Peirce. Hope this helps. Back to my obfuscations.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Tom says:

    Jeff, I don’t mean to throw it off onto another essay, BUT I did send you Hart’s “The Offering of Names: Metaphysics, Nihilism, and Analogy.” I think he does a good job there of laying the issues/questions out. I’d love to know what you think of it. I’ve read it a couple times (over a couple weeks) and am just letting it simmer.



    • formerlyjeff says:

      I read a few paragraphs this morning, Tom. I can’t conceive of how any analogy is left if there is an infinite difference between two “whatevers” that are supposedly analogous. This would be true, as far as I can tell, whether the analogical aspect is one of degree or quality. Either way, I can think of no better non-literal way to express the idea that there is ABSOLUTELY ZERO analogy between creature and creator than to say that the analogy is infinitely stretched. But of course, that can never be for me, since to even be a creator means to be a cause, and hence a substance with causal capacity.

      So I agree with Hart that his approach creates an “irresoluble tension” of a sort, but I don’t know what he thinks that means exactly. To me, it means that he takes away cataphatically everything he ever gives. And then he turns right around and starts making positive claims again. As I understand his language, he is non-stop contradicting himself. At bare minimum he admits that we can never “properly” know what even the “names” mean.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Well, in retrospect, I think analogy could work with infinite DEGREES of difference in some cases. In some cases, it would be unintelligible but not problematic (for example God’s love vs. our love). I don’t know what infinite love in a finite time would even be like since I’m finite and can’t conceive of what that would mean for me. But so what, I’d say. I don’t even need to believe God IS infinite in that sense to be able to explain what’s relevant to my experience insofar as God’s role in it. That’s not where the problem lies for me. The problem for me lies in saying that God can’t experience any felt experience because of me. That, per my definition of love, means God doesn’t love me. It means God is less explanatory than even a deistic God since at least the latter can explain events NON-ARBITRARILY by having real desires that actually motivate unto action.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        let me do a thought experiment to make clear what I’m saying about what I mean by love. Suppose John Doe hates Jane Doe and wants to do her harm. So he comes up with a plan whereby he thinks he can do Jane harm such that he will not be known to have virtually guaranteed it. It so happens that John Doe loves his wife dearly. And as Murphy’s law would have it, some utterly expected event happened on the day that Jane was to be harmed by some series of events that John had theretofore initiated. And unfortunately, this unexpected event caused John’s wife to be harmed and yet caused Jane to end up buying a winning lottery ticket where she would not normally have bought one.

        So, did John love Jane just because his actions resulted in a boon for her? I would say no. And I would say that John’s actions also indicated no hate for his wife. I say love can be a purely subjective feeling caused by contemplation of the attributes of the beloved (i.e., passibilism). Or it can be a benevolently intended action that benefits the beloved because the happiness of the beloved is DESIRED by the lover (i.e., passibilism).

        If love can be something quite apart from these, then it would seem that John could be said to have loved Jane since John’s attributes (except for his ability to cause effects) are irrelevant to having anything to do with whether or not his actions are loving or not. But I just don’t define love that way. And I doubt many people do.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        I meant to say “utterly UNexpected event” in my thought experiment. DUH


  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    “To plausibly explain anything ‘by’ God as a least a necessary condition, if not the sufficient condition, I have to know something about God in terms of his attributes.”

    Jeff, I suggest that your analysis goes off the rail right at this point, and the only way to get back on it is to stop thinking of God as a being with attributes. This is where Aquinas is so helpful. He does not begin with the notion of a perfect and necessary being with attributes. He begins, rather, with the identification of features of reality that bespeak its contingency, features that cry out, as it were, for a transcendent Creator. As he proceeds with his negative theology analysis, we learn that this “God” is metaphysically simple and infinite, and perhaps most importantly, that its essence is identical with its existence i.e., God is not a being but Being. This recognition immediately leads into a metaphysics of participation: creatures exist, and can only exist, by participation in the One. At this point we can begin to consider the perfections (not attributes) of God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • formerlyjeff says:

      “As he proceeds with his negative theology analysis, we learn that this “God” is metaphysically simple and infinite, and perhaps most importantly, that its essence is identical with its existence i.e., God is not a being but Being.”

      The only meaning I can interpret from that statement, Aidan, is that God exists but has no attributes. I don’t believe that to be true, but if it were even possible, it would mean that God has no causal capacity (since a capacity is an attribute per my conception of “attribute”) and hence explains absolutely nothing. So when you say I go off the rails, you’re gonna have to a bit more clear to get me back on the rails. 🙂


    • formerlyjeff says:

      “God is not a being but Being.”

      I don’t even know what the means unless you mean God is not a being that exists, but just a word that means the exact same thing we mean by “existence.” Because apart from “being” being used to communicate the idea of “A being” the only other intelligible meaning for “being” I have is “existing” or “existence.” If that’s all you mean by “God,” then we could throw “God” out of our vocabulary and just use “existence” or “existing” in its place and communicate equivalently. I don’t think an atheist would have any problem with that. Because it’s consistent with atheism best I can tell.

      “This recognition immediately leads into a metaphysics of participation: creatures exist, and can only exist, by participation in the One.”

      From my above explanation of what I think “being” can mean, you will realize that for me it’s simply not the case that “This recognition immediately leads into a metaphysics of participation….”

      “a metaphysics of participation: creatures exist, and can only exist, by participation in the One.”

      I don’t know what that means unless by it you mean creatio continua or divine emanation (more probably the latter). Even if so, I have no idea how that gives me a clue as to what the perfections of God are as opposed to how a non-emanationist or non-creatio-continua view of creation would. Either way, we have a mix of utopian dreaming/hoping with what seems (superficially, at least) to be (and to have been) inconsistent with that dreaming/hoping; namely, seemingly inescapable and horrendous natural evil that is not easily seen as a means to a greater good for all. How does either approach get us to God’s perfections better or easier than the other?

      I don’t think it’s impossible to work it out teleologically with at least some plausibility, but not in a way to where either of those 3 metaphysics fares better than another in any obvious way. I would just rule out the first 2 on the grounds that they require an additional axiom for the validity of deductive and inductive logic and yet yield us no better predictive/explanatory power.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        My apologies for taking so long to respond. Jeff, you say that you do not know what it means to say that God not a being. I confess that at this point I’m not sure how to reply, given that the identification of God as Being is basic to understanding patristic and medieval theology, as well as contemporary renditions of deity under the category of “classical theism.” Given that you appear to have read a great deal of DBH, is it that you do not understand what is meant or that you find the classical metaphysical tradition incoherent?

        Perhaps the place to start is with the identification of God as “a being.” What could that possibly mean? Let’s say that we are counting up all the entities that exist in the universe. When we finally come to the end of our exhaustive listing, do we then say, “Oh, don’t forget to add God to the list”? Does God plus the moon equal 2 entities?


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Aiden: Perhaps the place to start is with the identification of God as “a being.” What could that possibly mean? Let’s say that we are counting up all the entities that exist in the universe. When we finally come to the end of our exhaustive listing, do we then say, “Oh, don’t forget to add God to the list”? Does God plus the moon equal 2 entities?

        Jeff: I’m not sure why the word “being” would be limited to “entities that exist in the universe.” I think God existed, to use John’s words (17:5), “before the world was.” And I don’t know what you mean when you say God is “being.” If there’s a particular dictionary definition of the word that you’re using, which one is it? And if it’s not a dictionary definition of “being” that you’re using, what do you personally mean by the word?

        Tom at least once seemed to say that God has felt experience. That means to me that God is sentient and conscious. There’s 2 attributes right there, per my definition of attributes. If he causes anything to boot, there’s at least one more attribute – a causal capacity of a sort.

        But if you turn around and say God is not conscious, but consciousness itself, then all I can say is that the sentence “Consciousness itself is conscious and sentient” has no intelligible meaning to me based on what I understand “consciousness” to mean. I stay utterly confused by the language if that language has some connection to any english dictionary. And if it doesn’t, how would I know what the language means since it’s not otherwise defined.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Jeff, consider what “a” being is: namely, a determinate, intelligible finite something, a something with a nature and limits that allows it to be distinguished from other somethings, a something that can be counted alongside other somethings, a something that is “this” rather than “that.”

        Is this who and what you believe God to be? If it is, then what we have is precisely a god, a being within the cosmos of beings, the only difference between your god and the gods of the pagans being that there is only one of them.

        I see that Tom has recommended to you some really difficult David B. Hart essays (at least I find them very difficult and often impenetrable), but if I were going to recommend DBH to you, I would recommend his more accessible ‘The Experience of God’ (though perhaps you have already read it). For the short version, see his “God, Gods, and Fairies” (https://goo.gl/inDxeW).

        As far as God and “felt experience,” let’s just say that Dr Belt and I disagree on this. I have no idea what “felt experience” could mean for the transcendent, infinite, eternal creator and source of the universe who is sustaining in existence every being, every activity, and every event at every moment. We don’t stand over against God as objects to be experienced.

        Liked by 1 person

      • formerlyjeff says:

        Aidan: Jeff, consider what “a” being is: namely, a determinate, intelligible finite something,

        Jeff: What is unexplained if God is not infinite? Alternatively, if everything is explicable if God is finite, how could I know that God is infinite? In fact, I have the suspicion that you don’t really think that God’s putative infinitude is intelligible in the first place. If so, you aren’t even contrasting God with the finite in the first place by saying God is infinite. As you say, …

        Aidan: … a something with a nature and limits that allows it to be distinguished from other somethings,

        Jeff: So if I can’t distinguish God from you, for all I know, you are God? I think, rather, you’ll say “God” isn’t even a word or a concept. Which is to say that every word concatenation that superficially looks like a sentence with the letter concatenation g-o-d in it isn’t really a sentence. I.e., it conveys no meaning whatsoever. But correct me if I’m wrong.

        Aidan: Is this who and what you believe God to be? If it is, then what we have is precisely a god, a being within the cosmos of beings, the only difference between your god and the gods of the pagans being that there is only one of them.

        Jeff: Given what I think are absolutely fundamental categories and relations, that doesn’t follow at all. I think it’s perfectly intelligible to say that God is a being that creates all other beings that exist or ever have existed. That alone renders that conception of God different than pagan gods in a way other than number. And this is where I think you are in agreement with Hart. And I disagree with him if so for the same exact reason.

        Aidan: … but if I were going to recommend DBH to you, I would recommend his more accessible ‘The Experience of God’ (though perhaps you have already read it). For the short version, see his “God, Gods, and Fairies” (https://goo.gl/inDxeW).

        Jeff: Thanks for the link. I’ll add it my reading list.

        Aidan: As far as God and “felt experience,” let’s just say that Dr Belt and I disagree on this. I have no idea what “felt experience” could mean for the transcendent, infinite, eternal creator and source of the universe who is sustaining in existence every being, every activity, and every event at every moment. We don’t stand over against God as objects to be experienced.

        Jeff: I think you and I would agree that what Tom is describing there is a bona-fide BEING with multiple attributes. And I’m glad to hear that you too find some of Tom and David Hart “impenetrable.” But there are things that all of you say that amount, to me, to just saying “God” has no meaning whatsoever.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Aidan: Aidan: As far as God and “felt experience,” let’s just say that Dr Belt and I disagree on this. I have no idea what “felt experience” could mean for the transcendent, infinite, eternal creator and source of the universe who is sustaining in existence every being, every activity, and every event at every moment. We don’t stand over against God as objects to be experienced.

        Jeff: I have a hard time reconciling what you say there with the reality of human free-will. Do you believe in human free-will?


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        So you really do understand “God” as a finite, limited entity? Where is he located? Is he (potentially) detectable by empirical or scientific means? Of what is he composed and from what did he make the universe? Are there more than one of these divine beings?


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Aidan: So you really do understand “God” as a finite, limited entity?

        Jeff: I’d say that to the extent that God is intelligible to me, it’s in terms of what I think God explains about the universe of created beings that I infer to exist. And that will always necessarily be finite since creation itself is finite. If God is also infinite in some sense, I don’t know what that sense is and therefore whether it contradicts what I think I do know about him. Do you know in what sense God is infinite? Can you put it in words so I can see if it contradicts any of my theological beliefs?

        Aidan: Where is he located?

        Jeff: I’m not a materialist. For all I know, even created spirits and souls are not located existentially. Maybe they only have a sense of perspective that seems to be sort of “somewhere.” When I feel a sensation in my hand while it seems that my mind is thinking between my two ears, am I existing in 2 places at once? I don’t think so. The only sense in which I could think of spirits and souls being existentially located is if they were 3-dimensionally-extended; i.e., matter. But I have no reason to believe that.

        Aidan: … and from what did he make the universe?

        Jeff: He didn’t make it “from” any pre-existing materials. But that doesn’t mean God is infinite in any sense that I know of.

        Aiden: Are there more than one of these divine beings?

        Jeff: By my definition of “being,” yes.

        So my turn to ask you a question. If God isn’t a being (not even a spirit-being) or an attribute, what can we say that’s true about God that has intelligible meaning in the English language that isn’t a negation? I think Tom says some things about God that are intelligible in the English language when I take his language to be contradicting Hart. But I’m not sure he’s meaning to contradict Hart. So I’m still confused even as to what Tom is actually saying.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Jeff: “Do you know in what sense God is infinite?”

        No I do not. That is the point. It’s a negative term. It points us, as do all the negative terms, to the illimited and incomprehensible fullness of Being that God must be if he is the One who has created the world ex nihilo and is therefore the answer to the question “Why does the world exist instead of nothing?” or to put it in existential terms “What is the meaning of it all?” All finite beings are contingent. We need not be. Or as Aquinas would put it, our essence is not identical to our existence. This is the point, as I take it, of Aquinas’s Five Ways: they point us to features of reality that reveal the contingent nature of things.

        Jeff: “He didn’t make it “from” any pre-existing materials. But that doesn’t mean God is infinite in any sense that I know of.”

        Finite beings do not create anything from out of nothing. Finite beings make things out of preexisting energy or materials or whatever; but they do not create ex nihilo. Ex nihilo nihil fit (nothing comes from nothing)–the saying goes back to Parmenides and was a standard maxim in Greek philosophy. The creatio ex nihilo, on the other hand, is an “invention” of early Christian theologians, as they reflected upon the biblical revelation. It went totally against the philosophical grain back then, and still goes against the grain today. It doesn’t make sense within the terms of of everything we know in our finite cosmos.

        I have written extensively on the creatio ex nihilo and divine transcendence on my blog over the years. Basically I have summarized the reflections of others far brighter than me. You may therefore find these series of interest:



        I need to withdraw from the conversation. It’s become difficult for me to follow the discussion. Cheers, everyone.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        [Jeff: “Do you know in what sense God is infinite?”
        Al: No I do not. That is the point. It’s a negative term.]

        Just to insert a thought. As you know, Hart argues that divine infinitude is a positive notion, not in the sense that its purely cataphatic (since we can’t ‘say’ everything it is, hence the reservations) BUT in the sense that it’s a surplus (abundance, plenitude, fullness) of being, and that the transcendentals (truth, goodness, beauty, unity-diversity, etc.) name that plenitude. We’re talking about something so “off the map” (in terms of our experience of becoming, composite being, unfulfilled desire, etc.) that “infinite” is the best word to express that plenitude. But that’s the positive point I suppose – God’s infinity is an infinite plenitude (not an infinite deferral or absence).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes, and hence analogy to hold the concepts and words we use to capture this excess, without ever exhausting the impossible-to-exhaust-fullness which is the plenitude of God’s perfection. The take away though is that the analogy is a positive and real resemblance, although ‘slippery’ in all its indeterminate expression of the fullness in cannot ever fully capture. I can think of no other way, other than by analogy, to do so although I am open to hear alternative approaches.


  7. […] The musing, above, dialogues with this conversation at Pastor Tom Belt’s Open Orthodoxy blog. […]


  8. Tom says:


    At a couple of places in that chapter Hart describes the absolute/qualitative difference between God and the world “rather like that between truth and truths.” Similarly, ‘being’ and ‘beings’ differ infinitely, he writes, “more or less as does goodness from anything good.” All he’s doing is pointing out the necessary difference between the transcendentals (goodness as such, truth as such, beauty as such, being as such) and discrete finite instances of them. Is the difference really infinite? I don’t mind using the word at all. I’m not sure there’s a better word.

    ‘Truth as such’ is not simply convertible with any particular proposition which is true, or even with the totality of truths. Similarly ‘beauty as such’ isn’t simply the totality of ‘beautiful things’. Same thing with the difference between ‘being as such’ and ‘beings’. That’s what Hart is talking about. These transcendentals must, logically speaking, perfectly coincide in/as some necessary plentitude (the reality we give the name ‘God’ to) so immeasurable as to be source and ground of the very possibility of there being ‘truths’ at all, or ‘instances of beauty’, or particular ‘beings’. And since the number of possible variations, relations, expressions, modulations upon these transcendentals over time is infinite, and since they all preexist (as it were) in God whose actuality is their possibility, God can meaningfully be said to be infinite. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp.

    Now, you may disagree. Fine. But it’s hardly the case that those who, in response to contemplating the nature of finite things in a contingent economy of ‘becoming’ that is obedient to so transcendental an orientation, posit God as that infinite-transcendent source of all becoming have, as you say, “abandoned rational explanation.”

    Gotta run. I’ll try to catch up soon!


    Liked by 1 person

    • formerlyjeff says:

      “And since the number of possible variations, relations, expressions, modulations upon these transcendentals over time is infinite, and since they all preexist (as it were) in God whose actuality is their possibility, God can meaningfully be said to be infinite.”

      Are you saying an actual infinite of transcendentals all preexist in God? I’m guessing not. So I’m not sure what you’re meaning there. But if all of existing variations, relations, expressions, modulations of all created reality is finite at any given time, then there will never be an accumulated infinitude of them “over time.” Because we can’t attain an actual infinite of duration over time since we, as created, have a beginning. And you say God has no eternal past either. So it seems that infinity is just a poor choice of words for Hart if he’s not trying to cataphatically render God unintelligible altogether. I’ll read more when I get time. Maybe I can figure out where else he’s actually trying to go.


      • Tom says:

        Jeff: Are you saying an actual infinite of transcendentals all preexist in God? I’m guessing not.

        Tom: Right. The transcendentals would perfectly coincide in God not in a discrete, consecutive, ordering of all the possibilities that unfold within creation. It’s not like God is an infinitely large closet with infinite hangers lined up and every hanger has a particular possibility on it, etc., ad infinitum. It’s more (to offer an analogy that I’m sure can be made to dissolve when pressed beyond its limits) like the manner in which light is (in the completeness of all its wave-lengths) always all the possible color combinations inherent to it. Those color combinations are not discretely, consecutively “counted” as lined up (each one taking up “its own space” so to speak). They inhere in the nature of light in its completeness but can manifest themselves as blue, red, etc., under certain circumstances.

        I don’t at all take ‘goodness’ as such to be, in God, a distinct mode of self-relation distinct from ‘beauty’ or ‘truth’ as such. These can be prismated (is that a word?) within creation under the conditions of finite experiences and so be observed by us as ‘love’ here, or as ‘justice’ there, or as ‘beauty’, or as ‘truth’, etc. And while how God manifests himself is certainly under the command of his own will, relevant to what’s happening in the world, it’s still the case that ‘divine justice’ over there is not ‘other than love’, not ‘other than beautiful’, not other than ‘true’ (that’s the point I think), just as all the combinations of colors might differ from one another upon the inspection of a finite observer within a given frame of reference while all being one and the same ‘light’.


    • formerlyjeff says:

      Maybe I should read Hart’s paper on infinity first. Or at least together with the “Names” paper.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Maybe the Names paper first. It’s a bit broader.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        If all Hart means by the infinite-finite contrast with respect to, say, God’s love is that God’s love is ABSOLUTELY perfect in the only way it could be given whatever teleological constraints there are for creation, then I have no problem with that. But then why would I say, as he does in Consciousness, Being and Bliss (or whatever that book was called), that God only has one attribute? Once you say God loves us non-coincidentally, you’re no longer saying God is pure act in my mind. You’re saying God is benevolent. And that’s saying MORE than that God is pure act or only has one attribute.


  9. formerlyjeff says:

    k, names first it is.


  10. I’m still following with interest. I added, at url below, an Afterward re Univocity, Apophasis & Analogy, which contextualizes those approaches in relationship to different forms of inference.


    Liked by 2 people

  11. […] The musing, above, dialogues with this conversation at Pastor Tom Belt’s Open Orthodoxy blog. […]


  12. […] post over at Tom Belt’s Open Orthodoxy blog—“Lost in Translation” (part 1 and part 2)—which developed into a conversation about a conversation. The post and the […]


  13. Tom says:

    Jeff: I’m not sure why the word “being” would be limited to “entities that exist in the universe.” I think God existed, to use John’s words (17:5), “before the world was.” And I don’t know what you mean when you say God is “being.” If there’s a particular dictionary definition of the word that you’re using, which one is it?

    Tom: I’ll take a swing at this too, but I may just amount to repeating myself. To start with, I’d agree with Al that perhaps Hart’s book ‘The Experience of God’ might be a way better place to start.

    I think what complicates this conversation for someone unfamiliar with how Christians traditionally employed language with respect to God is that a certain ‘logic of transcendence’ is operative though language otherwise behaves the same. Our language is what it is and has to be put to use as it is to describe God.

    Jeff sees ‘words’ being used of God and makes all the same conclusions about how those words apprehend, or supervene upon, God as he makes generally with respect to how language relates to all the other items within creation. I can appreciate Jeff’s frustration, because I’ve been there, but I don’t know how to show him the ‘failure of language to supervene upon divine transcendence’ other than just to state it as such and then recommend God himself.

    It helps to describe what’s being denied of God when God is said not to be “a being among beings.” It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t appear within our speech in ways that obey the grammar respective of nouns and verbs. God does appear as a word among words in our language. We distinguish him from creation, and saying God is not “a being among beings” doesn’t mean our concepts don’t reference him discretely in sentences that distinguish him from other “things” within a single grammar.

    All I take “not a being among beings” to mean is that God does not exist (as we do) as a dialectical process of temporal becoming whose telos is always his future (as with us), who doesn’t participate in transcendental perfections (like goodness, beauty, truth, etc) as we do but instead is essentially the fullness of those perfections as such. Once we say this (and I think logically speaking that has to be said) then we’re saying something about God so ‘off the map’ (so ‘not in the dictionary’) that all the words we use to describe it end up failing. Failing how? Failing in the sense that our words fail to relate to God the same way they relate to any other “thing” (tree, cow, house, car) that happens to exis. Thus our words ‘unsay’ while they ‘say’ – they ‘anticipate the future’ while they ‘possess the present’, ‘reach out into mystery’ while they ‘enjoy what they know’. In this way the truth of transcendence just is: ‘God within creation as the antecedent and utterly immanent plenitude of the world’s truth, beauty, goodness, unity, diversity’. No dictionary embodies that. And if it did, the God it describes would be Zeus or Ra or what have you, and we’d be off to the races longing for something more to worship, i.e., the true, the beautiful, the good as such.

    So, Jeff – my definition of ‘Being’ as such (maybe the Orthodox would agree – I think so) would be: Being just is the plenitude of truth, beauty, goodness, unity, and diversity as such, where ‘being’ as such is not “an instance among instances of…” these perfections, not even a transcendental per se alongside other transcendental perfections, but ‘being’ is their perfect, loving, living actuality. That’s at least what I have in mind when I say God is being per se. The difference between ‘being as such’ and ‘a being’ is like the difference between ‘truth as such’ and truths, ‘beauty as such’ and instances of beauty. So – to the extent that “beings” are instantiations of, and partiticants in, “being” as such, God is rightly said not to be “a being among beings.” And to my mind this makes good sense and it doesn’t cut language absolutely from all meaningful connection to God (anymore than the word ‘truth’ is equivocal within the difference between ‘truth as such’ and ‘truths’).


    Liked by 3 people

    • This may help (or hurt), but my reconcilation of DBH & Scotus:

      Scotus does not univocally predicate all essences of being between God & creatures, only attributions in quale (as denominative modifiers or participles). Attributions in quid (as
      determinative nouns, genera & species, quid est?) are predicated analogically.

      Realities predicated in quid could include nouns like the truth & the life, or truth, beauty & goodness, or whiteness, whereas, when predicated in quale, could include participles like true, living, beautiful & good or white.

      Love, itself, & Being Itself, would be predicated in quid, hence only ever analogically, while loving & being would be predicated in quale, ergo univocally.



      • Robert Fortuin says:

        would you explain what you mean by quale vs. quid, beyond the explanation already offered? Perhaps some examples of each. I am having difficulties understanding what you mean by them, and therefore also the distinction between them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This is my 3rd attempt to reply after having my phone “lose” the first 2 responses. So, here’s to brevity.

        To predicate “in quid” is to express an essence (genus and/or species) and answer the question “What is it?”.

        To predicate “in quale” is to qualify an essence and answer the question “In what way is it?”.

        Scotus also applies these 2 predications to whatever is not contained under any genus, that is, to what he calls “transcendentals.” Faber breaks out 4 categories of transcendentals here: http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/2012/01/divine-simplicity-iii-univocity.html?m=1


      • Tom says:

        I’ve been agreeing for a long time here that God does not achieve the plenitude of his life dialectically through temporal becoming or participation in anything (whether concrete actuality or abstraction) outside himself, and that his essential triune plenitude is what we properly call the transcendental perfections in their unity and fullness. So there’s nothing new there. I think too that I’ve been saying for a while that our language can’t relate to God exactly the way it relates to other created things it describes. I like Hart’s describing the difference to be “like the difference between ‘truth as such’ and ‘truths’, etc.”

        My frustration (beef?) has been trying to understand what deniers of ‘univocity’ are really after, i.e., what they’re really denying. I would think what they’re after is making sure we don’t think of God as essentially a temporal act of becoming that is also a participation in something other than himself (i.e., a univocity at the level of ontology). If that’s the mistake we’re giving the name ‘univocity’ to, then fine, I’ll deny univocity.

        But – what makes me doubt whether all proponents of univocity make the mistake of thinking God is essentially a temporal act of becoming that also participates in something other than himself is Scotus (the great demon who spawned univocity) who did not believe God achieves the infinite fullness of his perfections through temporal becoming or participation in realities outside himself. As Cross argues, for Scotus univocity functions purely on the level of semantics. It doesn’t pretend to comprehend the divine mode of being. It just takes as a starting point that terms (semantically) mean the same thing – as Robert says (in Part 2):

        “Yes of course ‘love’ encountered in creation has the same meaning as God’s ‘love’, for the effect bears a real resemblance to its cause. In God, however, love is a purely actualized and necessary perfection.”

        Scotus would agree. Robert replies, “Yes, but Scotus attributed love to God univocally.” But I say – OK, but Scotus is not understanding God in terms of the univocal ontology we’re concerned to avoid. He doesn’t believe God to a God who achieves his life through temporal becoming, etc. And if Scotus doesn’t understand God that way, then obviously he’s not making the mistake that objectors give the name “univocity” to.

        Our love bears a real resemblance to God’s love, hence love in both cases “has the same meaning” – that right there is “univocity,” at least as I would be comfortable using it (as Cross says, purely within the reach of ‘semantics’). But because the mode in which God ‘is’ love is as different from the mode in which we ‘participate in’ love as ‘truth as such’ is different from ‘truths’, then how it is that love obtains in God (‘as’ God’s very essence) is of course ontologically absolutely unlike how we participate in love. If univocity is limited to describing the semantic range of terms, I don’t see the problem. It doesn’t have to have ontological implications. Again, not even Scotus thought univocity implied a single shared ontology between God and Creation.

        Granted, Jeff means something more radical by univocity. He thinks our terms applied to God HAVE to imply the temporal becoming, passibilism, and finitude which are the created mode in which we experience and know things.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “But the whole point, the very core, of Scotus’s separation of the semantic from the metaphysical is precisely the claim that our possession of a concept under whose extension both God and creatures fall does not imply that there is any feature at all in extramental reality that is a common component of both God and creatures—let alone that there is such a thing as ‘purely punctiliar essential univocal being in quid’, whatever that would be. Scotus has a number of exceedingly complex and subtle arguments to show that such an inference from univocal concept to ontological overlap is invalid. If the proponents of Radical Orthodoxy can show that his arguments fail, well and good. But in the absence of such a showing, the charge that Scotus’s doctrine of univocity destroys the transcendent uniqueness of God and thereby introduces idolatry is a gross libel.”

        Modern Theology 21:4 October 2005


      • Precisely, the Scotistic univocity has no caloric value in terms of ontological nutrition. Even semantically, it’s pretty thin gruel. It’s thick enough, though, to preserve the Analogia from sheer equivocation.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        Tom: Granted, Jeff means something more radical by univocity. He thinks our terms applied to God HAVE to imply the temporal becoming, passibilism, and finitude which are the created mode in which we experience and know things.

        Jeff: No, I don’t think God has to be confined to what I can think (and therefore say with conventional language intelligible in human categories). I contend, rather, that if absolutely NOTHING about God is intelligible in terms of fundamental human categories (like cause, substance-attribute, etc) and relations (like correlativity, more-less, etc), then nothing about God is intelligible to humans qua humans. I don’t see how this is even deniable.

        And if by temporal becoming you mean some kind of temporal and continual coming-into-being, that’s exactly what I deny of all beings. I don’t think continued existence requires a cause at all. To be created “ex nihilo,” though, does require a cause. I think annihilation would be required for me to cease to exist. And I don’t even know if it’s possible for God to annihilate anything.

        And the senses (per you, Hart etal) in which God can supposedly be known by analogy to something I can conceive of has not been clarified to me to a degree to where he amounts (yet, anyway) to anything more than a a deistic-like god. I see nothing better about that kind of intelligible theism than rank atheism.


      • Tom says:

        Jeff: And the senses (per you, Hart etal) in which God can supposedly be known by analogy to something I can conceive of has not been clarified to me to a degree to where he amounts (yet, anyway) to anything more than a a deistic-like god. I see nothing better about that kind of intelligible theism than rank atheism.

        Tom: Well, I’ve got nothing new to add, and if all I’ve said thus far doesn’t add up to anything better than rank atheism, then we’ve probably reached the end of conversation.


      • formerlyjeff says:

        To be clear, Tom, I wasn’t trying to suggest that atheism is way bad compared to deism or most theists’ conception of God. I’m just saying that the analogy route that Hart etal talk about seems so nebulous in meaning to me that I can’t even see how it renders induction valid, etc. If I can’t at some point see that God is loving in a way that gives me a clue how to better live that’s also consistent (or intelligible) with all the apaphatic denials Hart etal say I must make, I’ve still got nothing unless I’m willing to make the kind of “leap” mentioned early in this discussion. But I’m not willing to make a leap since the theistic ontology and metaphysics I currently hold to doesn’t seem incoherent to me and doesn’t require a leap. No disrespect was intended. Love ya, Tom. Grace and Peace.

        Liked by 1 person

      • From Faber: This is the whole problem of analogy/univocity with respect to Aquinas and Scotus. They use the terms ‘univocity’ and ‘analogy’ differently.

        Aquinas takes it in the sense of Aristotle’s categories, Scotus in the sense of Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle’s categories (unity sufficient for causing contradiction if simultaneously affimred and denied, if not present in syllogism, fallacy of equivocation results).


        Liked by 1 person

      • Faber, cont’d: The problem with reading Aquinas and Scotus is that the term “univocal” turns out to be equivocal: they use it in slightly different senses.

        Scotus makes distinctions that Aquinas doesn’t, such as:
        conceptual univocity/analogy vs. real, metaphysical univocity/analogy.


      • Tom says:

        When I read Thomists I’m like, “Yeah, darn right! Those dumb Scotists.” And when I read Faber I’m like, “Well, that’s a good point. Stupid Thomists!”


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        You got it. And a likeness of terms in a syllogism is definitely not what analogy is all about!!


      • Taken semiotically, Scotus also distinguishes between immediate significates and mediate significates. In the former, an intelligible species is immediately signified, an extramental, existing physical thing. In the latter, a thing may be signified not as it physically exists, but as an object of the intellect, insofar as it is known or understood, what Scotus called objective being. 

        Signs as univocal ontological relations can refer to existent or nonexistent objects with equal facility, an important distinction if abduction is to work – hypothesizing, for example, putative unknown causes from determinate effects. (This distinction doesn’t straddle idealist vs realist accounts, but is strictly constructivist.)

        Such a Scotistic semiotic account of mediate significates, objective being, univocal conceptions & formal distinctions, operates semantically  — but not over against Thomistic metaphysical accounts of either univocity or analogy. 

        As for Aquinas’ metaphysical approach,  some might imagine that he was denying univocism & equivocism prior to, apparently, affirming their amalgamated version in an ad hoc manner, i.e. not defending that leap or deriving its

        But Aquinas needn’t be interpreted as denying Scotus’ univocal predication of God (via mode of conceiving), so, in that sense, also wouldn’t need to be interpreted as objecting to taking same (univocal predication) as defined per its successful use as a middle term in a syllogism. i.e. a univocal grounding, semantically.

        However, there’s another grounding, metaphysically, which goes beyond mere intelligibility & avoidance of fallacy (equivocation) to make the predication true, i.e. not just consistent & valid but in a truth-making sense regarding how any given attribution is true. 

        There not only can be but there must be a heterogeneity, here, in how the attribution is metaphysically grounded, because the same claim will be true but for different reasons when, on one hand, talking about divine realities in their modes of identity, versus, on the other hand, determinate realities in their modes of being.

        For a concrete example, see Pruss’ discussion regarding Wisdom:


        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Some examples of both to keep this from getting to abstract


      • quid: predicated as a noun, e.g. substance, life

        quale: predicated as modifier, adjective, adverb or participle, e.g. substantial, living

        When we respond to the question “What bird was that?” with “It was a Red-headed Woodpecker.” – the bird was defined “in quid.”

        When one speaks of red-headed creatures, describing qualities one finds appealing, the modifier “red-headed” refers to creatures “in quale,” not “speci”-fying whether one’s describing a duck, woodpecker or lady. “Diving” could similarly refer, in quale, to hawks or ducks, paratroopers or Navy Seals.
        “Whiteness” as a noun refers to a concept grounded in reality, an in quid reference, but when one says I just saw some-thing white (adj), it refers in quale while conveying nothing in quid re: what it was – a bird, a car, a cloud.

        Because “being” gets used as a noun and participle, when used as a noun, it’s predicated “in quid,” but gets predicated as a participle “in quale.”
        When we say “Homo sapiens is a rational being,” being is being predicated “in quid.” Being in this case refers to a thing or things.
        However, being can’t be predicated univocally & “in quid” of final differences, e.g. disjunctive transcendentals like infinite & finite, because, conceptually, it is the ultimate in the order of commonness, determinability & potentiality, while final differences are ultimate in the order of uniqueness, determination & actuality. Hence, final differences are denominative & purely qualitative (a simplicity avoiding an infinite quidditative regress) or in quale. So, even though the elements of a composite concept like “infinte being” are related as potency & act, it would not follow that God, as Actus Purus, is metaphysically composite. That’s because being, here, is purely determinable with no-thing determining it, ultimately nondetermined, while ultimate differences have nothing determinable in them, as they’re purely determining, ultimate actuality. Which differences are ultimate can be debated.

        How does Scotus bridge the seeming unbridgabilty of the finite & infinite without undermining transcendence? That’s a separate discussion. The answer will be a “participatory” solution & of course is empirically grounded in our reasoning from effects to causes.

        I would suspect Fr Kappes could convey this far better than I. 🙂


      • formerlyjeff says:

        One more clarification. I do think that the one leap we do ALL have to make is the belief that we really are experiencing effects of an “external world” rather than just pure subjective experience. I think we do this inductively and virtually inevitably at first. I would love to know if Hart agrees with this much.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Tom says:

    If anyone thinks Scotus rejected an ontology of participation, here’s Scotus (Reportatio II d. 16 q. un. | Wad.-Viv. 23, 70-71):

    Ad aliud alterius Doctoris dicit unus Doctor quod nihil agit per essentiam, nisi solus Deus, et ipse semper agit. Vel potest dici quod ‘per essentiam’ potest accipi dupliciter: aliquando ut distinguitur contra illud, quod est per participationem; aliquando ut distinguitur contra per accidens. Primo modo, dico quod nihil est per essentiam nisi Deus, quia omnis veritas, et entitas creata est talis per participationem, et isto modo agens per essentiam semper agit. Secundo modo agens per essentiam, hoc est, non per accidens, non semper agit necessario.

    To the other [argument] of the other doctor, one doctor says that nothing except God alone acts through essence, and he always acts. Or it can be said that ‘by essence’ can be understood doubly: sometimes as it is distinguished against that which is by participation, sometimes as it is distinguished against ‘per accidens’. In the first way, I say that nothing is by essence except God, because every truth and created entity is such by participation, and in that way an agent always acts through its essence. In the second way an agent by essence, this is, not per accidens, does not always act necessarily.


    So we can at least be clear – Scotus didn’t espouse a univocal ontology that holds God to be subsumed under some reality greater than himself in which he participates.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      That, however, is not the contested issue – what is contested is how one goes about attributing the perfections properly to God who is not a being in the hierarchy of beings. Aquinas insists the ontological difference can only be represented by way of analogy. I surmise with this he is denying the ability of a univocal semantic to properly signify the ontological similarity within an ever greater dissimilarity. It just can’t be done, for the univocity favors similarity at the cost of dissimilarity in a semantic zero sum game.Analogy maintains the tension of the two in a none zero sum equation for the reason that the theological object of predication does not belong in the pleroma of being.


      • Tom says:

        But it sounds like you’re just insisting that the term ‘univocity’ be understood as an ontological operator, as describing a univocal ontology. But why must it function that way? It seems some (namely, Scotus; maybe me! Haha!) want to say that’s not how we’re employing the term. All we’re using the term to express is what you get at re: the meaning of words when you say, “Yes, ‘love’ encountered in creation has the same meaning as God’s ‘love’.” See the word “same” there in your sentence? That – some folks want to say – is all ‘univocal’ means. It doesn’t mean there’s no dissimilarity. They just want to know whether God’s being God (and not a creature) means his love is what we call love, or hate, or indifference, or what have you. You agree – it’s what we call ‘love’.

        Certainly there’s room to worry about someone thinking this “same meaning” obtains because God is just a big version of human being (i.e., they share in the ‘same ontology”), in which case God’s ‘love’ has to mean everything involved in our loving. But if that’s a danger to address, why not just address it explicitly? It’s not like there are zero dangers to avoid in rejecting univocity (as Hart noted). Just a thought.

        That said, it might be that EVEN IF Scotus is not guilty of making the mistake you think ‘univocity’ names, the term ‘univocity’ is too shot full of holes to be useful. It might take too much effort to rehabilitate, though I do think it worth acquitting Scotus personally of being a quasi-pagan theological-personalist who single-handedly plunged Western Civ into the abyss of nihilism. So while I’ll probably default to “analogy” when having these rare discussions with insiders, I don’t think I’ll be riding shotgun with the RO blaming Scotus for everything that’s wrong with Christianity in the West. (Not that you’re doing that Robert! I’m just speaking more generally.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Here’s where I struggle a bit…

        …when someone like Jeff wants to say the word “univocal” has to imply a single/shared ontology between divine and human being, such that God has to be a subject of temporal becoming, has to be passible, has to be ignorant of this or that, etc., I’ll go for “analogy” so as to avoid being understood as believing about God what Jeff believes. Same thing with Roberto Sirvent’s work. I’d stay clear of the term “univocal” because he is so locked into a ontological usage (which is not Scotus’ deal). I’m very much about using language within the context of the specific conversation I’m in – and so with Jeff I’d shy away from “univocal” because he insists it means God is passible, temporal becoming, and with the Orthodox I’d like to steer away from “analogy” and use “univocal” precisely because of the history of equivocation that Hart laments there.

        Does that make any sense (univocal or analogical)?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I distinguish between THAT an objective being has “the same” meaning regarding two different realities, univocally & semantically, and HOW it can be “the same” for (more so “true of”) those two realities, analogically & metaphysically.

        Even for those of us who stipulate (not uncontroversially?or, at least, “it’s complicated!”) that neither a semantical nor metaphysical grounding is sufficient and that both are necessary in the Analogia, the HOW of the analogical sameness is far more interesting, philosophically, and way more compelling, existentially, because its truth-making speaks directly to & literally of the Reality of God, while the THAT of a univocal sameness, alone, wouldn’t convey whether we’re even talking about existents or nonexistents, divine or determinate realities.

        Scotus’ account of the transcendentals, including univocal & coextensive qualia, seems to be, itself, pre-suppositionally grounded analogically, implicitly articulating an Anselmian-like ontological proof of noncomposite Being (in a disjunctive relationship to modal beings).

        I get the legitimately equivocal references to both types of sameness.

        I even more so get why there’s a much stronger emphasis on analogy’s metaphysical import, which must be argued with rigor, philosophically, than on univocity’s semantic logic, which can almost be taken for granted, intuitively?


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes if we remain on a purely horizontal level then indeed univocal, ordinary semantics is quite proper, self evident, and intuitive. However the theological task doesn’t remain on the horizontal level, we are concerning ourselves with a cause of an altogether different and higher mode of being then creaturely being. Ipso facto likeness and difference is analogous: the resemblance in the lower effect of the higher cause is not univocal but analogical.

        Liked by 2 people

      • For those of us who stipulate that analogical metaphysical resemblance is necessary but insufficient, that a univocal semantic resemblance is also necessary, it is precisely because our inferential account-taking of determinate effects necessarily begins on the horizontal level, whether implicitly or explicitly, whether intuitively or discursively. Before the “ipso,” there are no too few factos to be explored.

        Because I only ever engaged metaphysical questions via my interest in a philosophy of science, when I did eventually take up theological metaphysics, I discovered many of the very same dynamics in play!

        For example, your succinct statement – the resemblance in the lower effect of the higher cause is not univocal but analogical – is not just apropos of the theological task, it’s crucial to our highly speculative theoretical sciences, too.

        I thus composed my explication of same, but desisted from placing it here for it became quite the digression.

        At any rate, I sense a general d’accord, once we’ve plowed thru quite a few disambiguations?

        For any interested, my digression is here:


        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Oui oui, d’accord. Vous êtes tous beaucoup plus intelligents que moi!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes I think there is a general agreement if ever there was a disagreement – I don’t have an axe to grind against Duns Scotus nor the need to defend a Thomistic account or what have you. I just don’t care. What I do care about is how to make the world intelligible, or rather what account of God makes the world intelligible. Remaining at the level of the meaning of concepts within their semantic context, I argue, cannot adequately account for a cause whose qualitative mode of being transcends the hierarchy of being (and only such a cause makes the world intelligible). This is where I find Scotus failing, or at least moving in a direction which leads to the dead end of nominalism, a semantic suicide of sorts. The analogy of causal participation prevents this sort of echo chamber of the immanent determinate. The analogy functions on the principle that meaning is established not primarily by concept but by judgment.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert, it is immensely gratifying to me that we’ve a great deal of normative consensus regarding how different realities are predicated and properly grounded, metaphysically. That’s where my interests lie in this conversation. And, it’s further satisfying that we all, of course, eschew the corrosive axiological effects that necessarily ensue from nominalism, voluntarism, relativism, etc that all decay into an ultimate nihilism. As if ever there was (or could be) a disagreement …

        Which Scotus narratives are eisegetic or exegetic, descriptively, is above my paygrade (and I work for free, SO … ) & of no consequence to my normative approach.

        Of course, the principle of meaning refers to judgment. That’s why I continuously invoke jargon like icon, index & symbol – not b/c others find it informative, but b/c it helps me think straight, for any robust conception of meaning requires both denotation & connotation. Denotation merely references things. A sign representation that only denotes but does not connote is only an index. A sign representation that only connotes but does not denote is only an icon. As usual, each is necessary, neither sufficient.

        The trick is not to move toward or away from nominalism, on one hand, or toward or away from essentialism, on the other, for these are but the obverse sides of the same bankrupt coinage of our epistemic realm. Instead, we must approach reality as moderate realists, precisely by perceiving, understanding, judging, deciding & acting in a complete hermeneutical spiraling of descriptive, interpretive, evaluative, normative & relational approaches to reality.

        For the most part (not necessarily mapping perfectly), Aquinas met this moderate criterion with his “metaphysically real” distinction & Scotus with his “formal distinction.” Peirce met it with his category of Thirdness (regularities & real generalities), which was inspired by but not developed directly from Scotus. Moderate realisms vis a vis approaches to universals, as far as nominalism goes, have no need of that hypothesis.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tom – “See the word “same” there in your sentence? That – some folks want to say – is all ‘univocal’ means.”

        That resemblance, that sameness, however is analogically understood to apply between God and creature, not univocally. Hence the use of the word “same” is not what can be substitutes to mean univocity. It denotes an analogical resemblance, a likeness within unlikeness, and not a simple 1 to 1 likeness.


  15. Robert Fortuin says:

    Norris Clarke’s does think we can equate Scotus’ univocity with Aquinas’ analogy:

    “The difference in approach between the two positions might be summed up thus: The Scotus-Ockham analysis is geared primarily to the demands of deductive reasoning and the logical functioning of concepts. It also takes the word and concept as the fundamental unit of meaning, which remains intact in its own self-contained meaning no matter how it is moved around as a counter in combination with other concepts, including its use in a judgment, which is interpreted simply as a composition of two concepts, subject and predicate, without change in either. The Thomistic analysis is geared much more to the actual lived usage of the concept in a judgment, interpreted as an intentional act of referring its synthesis of subject-predicate to the real order, as it is in reality. Hence it tends to look right through the abstract meaning of the concept to what it signifies, or intends to signify (intendit significare), in the concrete, and so adjusts the content of the concept to what it knows about its realization in the concrete. The difference in perspective—and in theories of the relation of concept to judgment—leads to quite different conclusions, which I think are considerably more than a merely verbal dispute over different terminologies for the same thing.”

    I’m with Norris on this, for concept refers to the real order and thus a clear separation between language and metaphysics cannot be parsed out. Semantics makes a claim on metaphysics. “God is love” is not merely a semantic arrangement of words with meaning strictly constrained to or within creaturely reality, for what is conveyed is a claim about the nature of reality as it pertains to God (what Norris may call the real order). So our semantics, the meaning conveyed by our words, has to communicate truth from the ‘within of the creature’ to the ‘without of the Creator’. The only way this can be properly done is by way of analogy. The ‘within of the creature’ always has to be understood to be an analogical reflection of the real order of the prototype. So we can say, as Aquinas insists, while perfections pertain literally to God, they nonetheless are attributed analogically and this is because the perfections only formerly pertain to God, and not the creature: consequently, the likeness is analogical and therefore our semantic representation can only ever be analogical.

    Here again Norris is insightful:
    “Let me explain now how I think Thomistic analogy actually works, building it up genetically from its actual origin and use in living language. I take it as understood that from now on when I speak of analogous terms and concepts I am referring only to what Thomists identify as properly and intrinsically analogous terms, i.e., those that are intended to express a proportionate intrinsic similarity found in all the analogates (hence not analogies of the so-called “extrinsic attribution,” such as “healthy” applied to man and to food, which is not designed to express similarity but some relation of causality, belonging to, etc.). Such intrinsic analogies are found in terms like “knowledge,” “love,” “activity,” “unity,” “goodness,” “being.”

    We construct and use analogous concepts in our language-life to fit occasions wherein we cannot help but use them. This occurs when we notice some basic similarity-in-difference, or proportional similarity, across range of different kinds of subjects (or on different levels of being, of qualitative perfection), such that the similarity we notice does not occur in the same qualitative way in each case but is noticed to be found in a qualitatively different way in each case. When we form a univocal concept, on the other hand, we pick out some similarity, usually some form or structure or quantitative relation, which we judge or notice to be found with significant qualitative variation in each case, usually falling within the same species or a genus with closely related properties. In such a case we notice that, even though a few examples are needed to get started, the meaning content, what the term objectively signifies, once grasped, remains neutral, indifferent, unchanged with respect to any further instances. Such a content is thus quite well defined, determinate, and fixed.

    Not so with an analogous concept. The similarity we notice here is not some one thing or characteristic that remains exactly the same in all cases, except for some new additional note being added on each time from the outside. It is rather that the similar property itself is more or less profoundly and intrinsically modified in a qualitatively different way each time, so that through and through the whole property is recognized as at once similar yet different (not just found in some new instance that in other ways is different). An analogous concept is not a composition of one part exactly identical and another part different, as Scotus, Ockham, and Nielsen seem to imply; rather it is an indissoluble unity where the similarity itself is through and through diversified in each case. As a result there is quite a bit of “give,” flexibility, indeterminacy, or vagueness right within the concept itself, with the result that the meaning remains essentially incomplete, so underdetermined that it cannot be clearly understood until further reference is made to some mode or modes of realization.”

    I take Norris to mean by “further reference is made to some mode or modes” that meaning is not, indeed cannot be, established within semantic self-reference. Words have to point beyond themselves, and hence the need for analogy. As Norris continues, “the similarity involved cannot be isolated from its qualitatively diversifying modes and expressed by itself clearly, as it can be in the case of a univocal concept.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Robert Fortuin says:

    Norris Clarke’s does NOT think

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Robert, in my view, the Analogy of Being is metaphysically indispensable. All Scotus’ univocity does is to defend the intelligibility of same, semantically, explicating what’s going on conceptually. They’re neither over against each other nor complementary approaches. At least that’s my appropriation of same, if not a proper exegesis.

    Clarke wrote: “When we form a univocal concept, on the other hand, we pick out some similarity, usually some form or structure or quantitative relation, which we judge or notice to be found with significant qualitative variation in each case, usually falling within the same species or a genus with closely related properties. In such a case we notice that, even though a few examples are needed to get started, the meaning content, what the term objectively signifies, once grasped, remains neutral, indifferent, unchanged with respect to any further instances. Such a content is thus quite well defined, determinate, and fixed.”

    That is: “USUALLY falling within the same species or a genus with closely related properties.”

    This is manifestly what is NOT going on in the Univocity of Being as the univocal conceptions, some indeed transcendental & coextensive, precisely do not refer to realities falling within the same species or genera. Being as a concept predicated of God & creatures is ontologically analogical and semantically univocal, in my view. And in the view of no too few others to whom I could only authoritatively appeal and who are far more articulate than I, since my grasp remains terribly incohate (and, who knows, maybe idiosyncratic, yikes!).

    I DO take your point FOR analogy & its indispensability. I don’t receive it as against a semantic univocity, which, for me, remains integral to & presupposing of analogy. I’m not literate enough to say how anyone else sees it all, including Scotus. Thanks!


  18. PHILIP TONNER writes:

    Scotus is not flatly rejecting analogy. There must be some grounding concept of being shared univocally by analogous and proper notions as they apply to God and creature. If there were not, then these concepts would not in fact be analogous. Rather, they would be purely equivocal and natural knowledge of God would be impossible. What Scotus rejects is the theologians’ reliance on analogy as sufficient for determining a concept of God since, as Dumont puts it, an intellect’s grasp of a relation (in this case analogy) is posterior to its grasp of the terms so related. As such, analogy presupposes a grasp of being proper to God and creature.

    Scotus is explicitly confronting Henry of Ghent who implied that predicates when applied to God and creatures are equivocal. Against this Scotus insists that if Henry were right, then every argument which moved from creature to God (or back again) would be fallacious, involving a fallacy of equivocation.

    Being can be said of God and creatures in the same sense
    in terms of their respective opposition to nothingness. Scotus’ point is that even though God and creature are opposed to nothingness in different ways, they are nonetheless opposed to nothingness. If a concept of being is formed that implies opposition to nothingness, then this concept can be predicated univocally of God and His creatures. Scotus further held that unless it is possible to form a univocal concept or term that can be used as the middle term of a syllogism, then no argument from creatures to God could ever be valid. Scotus takes it as a fact (but not dogmatically – he has argued for the position) that it is possible to form a univocal concept of being that is indifferent to such notions as finite and infinite, created and uncreated.
    This is a fairly accessible article:


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tonner is wrong. There is no univocal grounding whatsoever, this is a common misunderstanding of the meaning of analogy. Being can definitely not be said of God and creatures in the same sense, regardless of the terms. I will respond more substantially when time permits.


  19. When we refer to Scotus’ univocity as semantical not ontological, that is not to suggest it doesn’t have ontological implications:


    Liked by 1 person

  20. Milbank wrote: To the contrary, to read the univocity of being as “semantic” (a description never given by Scotus himself) must in Scotist terms imply that it occupies a kind of middle ground. <<<<

    Why Milbank was wRong:



  21. It seems that an analogy certainly needs nonanalogical grounds (positive & negative, dis/similarities) as a univocal foundation. And it further seems that, semiotically, there can be inconic & indexic signs and syntactic & semantic logics in play that can involve direct experience, existential significance & immediacy, via Scotus’ cognitive intuitions — all apart from & prior to conceptualizations. Signs & images can evoke analogous realities, including causes, effects, events & activities — again, without words, apart from discursive reasonings. This is what Fr Clarke’s excursus seemed to describe, at least in some parts, which lent themselves to my Peircean categorizations. Such signs would provide univocal foundations when “having one meaning,” but need not be conceptual, semantically. The semiotic logic of such intuitions would be intact & implicit, subject to eventual explication. Scotus’ semantical univocal predication of concepts would thus be a special case of a more general univocal grounding, which could be either intuitive or conceptual. Analogy could certainly be subverted by equivocation without any univocal grounding, whatsoever, but it would only require univocal conceptions for our discursive reasonings & not our quotidian participatory imaginings? I’m trying to locate & articulate the impasses. If not, I’m still listening & am grateful for the patient hearts & erudite minds!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I mean to suggest, then, is that Fr Clarke is correct in that the Scotistic semantical-conceptual univocity does differentiate itself as a deductive approach. At the same time, the Thomistic approach that he describes does not differentiate itself vis a vis a univocal grounding. What both approaches, unavoidably, have in common is an irreducibly triadic inferential process of abduction, induction (nod to Jeff) & deduction, each presupposing the others. In higher animals, abduction is hardwired as an instinct, an adaptation gifting more behavioral plasticity than available from mere stimulus-response algorithms (lower lifeforms). In humans, we have the same teleo-nomic S–>R reflexes & abductive instincts plus the teleo-logical triadic inferential capacity, which is unleashed by our symbolic language capabilities. Whether implicitly & instinctively or explicitly & inferentially, the same syntactic & semantic logics are in play, and, for the symbolic species, Homo sapiens, pragmatic, contextual logics are added. There’s no secret formulae kept in Scotistic, Thomistic or Palamitic vaults. There are only the fast & frugal, semi-formal heuristics of our biosemiotic legacy.

      I will re-up, below, what I wrote last week regarding abduction. I think it may indeed hold the key to distinguishing matters in order, as Maritain would say, unite them.

      An Afterward Regarding Univocity, Analogy & Apophasis

      Our irreducibly triadic inferential cycling of abductive hypothesizing, deductive clarifying & inductive testing can fall into a sterile, nonvirtuous dyadic cycling of abduction & deduction, never gaining the realist traction that can only come from, at least, some inductive rubber hitting the epistemic road.

      To be sure, sometimes, despite our mindful exploratory excursions, this happens because we’ve encountered a genuine explanatory aporia. In such cases, our alternating univocity, analogy & apophasis can make a salutary contribution to enhanced intelligibility by presenting then discarding one heuristic device after another in the form of more icons, images, diagrams, similes, metaphors & analogies.

      This is analogous to our Popperian alternation of conjecture & criticism in the falsification of our abductive hypotheses via inductive testing, but unlike falsification in that, unable to critically engage inductively, it simply generates more hypotheses, more potential pathways to serve as candidates for testing, sometimes via rather weak forms of inference &, if lucky, sometimes using more robust methods.

      So, the role of univocity, analogy & apophasis might best be conceived as an inference generator, souping up the abductive engine we already have. It can be thought of, too, as a meta-heuristic device, which keeps churning out heuristics.

      When it does this using icons, images, diagrams & metaphors, our heuristics are poetic (e.g. theopoetic).

      When using univocity, apophasis, similes & analogies, our heuristics are logocentric (e.g. theological).

      When actively engaged by our participatory imaginations (e.g. liturgically, doxologically, theotically), such heuristics can foster interpersonal relations, trans-rationally, trans-apophatically & axiologically.

      In my view, then, we best engage our Scotist, Thomist, Palamist, Aristotelian & Peircean approaches – not as explanatory metaphysics, but – as exploratory heuristics, setting forth metaphysical contours in the same way that our creeds define the theological boundaries of essential dogma.


  22. Tom says:

    There is a LOT to process here – wow.

    I think Scotists (rightly understood) make good points (about the continuity of meaning for theological terms within the embrace of the infinite/finite distinction between God and Creation). I also think Aquinas (to the extent he’s being represented here) makes good points (about the nature of divine transcendence and how that renders God-talk unique). Whether I use ‘univocal’ or ‘analogical’ I suppose would depend entirely upon what my conversation partner thought those terms meant (and I confess I’m not entirely clear on what they mean within the Thomist/Scotist conversation).

    I’d never introduce either word on my own when talking to an average person who had questions about what it means to speak meaningfully of God. What I would do is:

    (1) Point out the infinite (a word I ‘would’ use in this instance, and I’ve previously defined how I’d use it) difference between God and creatures in terms of God being the fullness of perfections (divine being = truth, beauty, goodness, unity-diversity as such) which are transcendentally present in all created realities such that where we participate in and reflect this perfections as a telos that moves us as such toward our increasing conformity to these perfections, in God they are perfectly convertible with his very being…
    (2) thus where creaturely existence is essentially a movement of temporal becoming toward a telos outside itself which is never perfectly convertible with its essence, God’s existence is ‘being as such’ (as he is ‘truth as such’ as opposed to truths, and ‘beauty as such’ as opposed to an instance of beauty, ‘goodness as such’ as opposed to an instance of goodness), and that…
    (3) since our language is as creaturely as we are, we should be mindful about maintaining both likeness and difference in our talk – thus our terms never equivocate into a despairing nihilism nor do they make God out to be just another being among beings (in the sense of denying (1) and (2) above). We bear God’s image – and the original transcends the image within and as ‘difference within likeness’ (the way any image is reflected in a mirror) – the original never being reduced without remainder to the image. Language of image and reflection is poetic (it’s meant to arouse desire that rests in God’s transcendent immediacy), not a mathematical description.
    (4) (3) amounts to the apophatic/cataphatic marriage, to a “glorious and unspeakable joy” (1Pet 1), “knowledge of love that is beyond knowledge” (Eph 3), etc. Christ is the “Image of the Invisible God,” says Paul (Col. 1), hence any worries we have about our humanity not properly reflecting its invisible/divine source and ground are laid to rest Christologically. Love, goodness, truth, beauty, unity/diversity as such are personally incarnate in Christ, God’s own (theological) “word” to us – manifesting the being of the invisible (the transcendentals – truth, beauty, goodness as such) in the visible-creaturely. We know our language works, that it can be trusted to describe God truthfully (as love, as goodness, as beauty) because in Christ God has become creation.

    I don’t know whether to call this univocity or analogy. I prefer “means the same thing without making God out to be an infinite history of becoming that strives (like us) for teloi extrinsic to his always realized fullness.”

    (I appreciate that Jeff considers this to be vacuous and meaningless because he reasons that if God is not a subject of ‘passible becoming’, he cannot ground the validity of induction.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps Norris Clarke could be a resource here, too, re: passible becoming?

      Norris Clarke goes on record at this point as saying that the doctrine (oof an absence of real relations between God and the world) should be quietly dropped, that we should say that “God is really and truly related to the world in the order of personal consciousness”.

      In my view, we can distinguish between an essential impassibility and affect passibility (and certainly affirm both).


      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Tom. This contribution deserves the status of LIT Part III.

      Coming full circle back to DBH, while he retrieved & affirmed the Analogia (I think to counter some radical aphophaticism in certain Palamitic cohorts), my impression is that he doesn’t countenance its being deployed in a naively realist manner that, in turn, overemphasizes the speculative & kataphatic, i.e. rationalism. We must continue to strike a careful balance between overemphases of either the affective or speculative as well as the apophatic or kataphatic, thus navigating past the shoals of rationalism, encratism, fideism, pietism & quietism. A modicum of epistemic humility is called for.

      We mustn’t imagine that either our syllogisms or heuristics have proved anything. What I refer to as divine syllogistics (modes of identity) & determinate syllogistics (modes of being), which I won’t explicate here but which is consonant with the general consensus of neo-platonist, scotist & thomist classical theisms, should not be employed to say way more than can possibly be said or to tell untellable stories. Those very same modes of identity can similarly be used to properly predicate and to consistently & intelligibly formulate other “Theories of Everything.” Different a priori mereological presuppositions can articulate, for example, either a pantheism or materialist monism, the latter which is nihilistically corrosive of ultimate meaning. Other dualist & pluralist ontologies similarly compete, speculatively.

      What the Analogia gifts us is the speculative reasonableness of our faith. And the modes of identity gift us a demonstration of the consistency & intelligibility of even the Trinity. They don’t, however, eliminate nihilism or other approaches via speculative reason — at least, not in a manner as is repeated way too often by “apologists” engaged with atheists in cyberforums & chatrooms.

      What vaults the believer past nihilism is, instead, a form of practical reasoning under speculative uncertainty, employing what I like to call an equiplausibility principle, which then guides us toward the most eminently actionable live options, existentially. There’s an existential disjunction or “living as if” that takes hold of our participatory imaginations as we choose to pursue, in each uncertainty, the most life-giving &:relationship-enhancing response available. Such is the calculus that leaves a materialist monism in the dustbins of history, whether philosophically or existentially, along with its corrollary skepticism, solipsism, nominalism, voluntarism, relativism & ultimate nihilism. As a matter of practical reasoning, it’s not existentially actionable and, however uncertain one may be speculatively regarding 1) What can we know? 2) What can we hope for? & 3) What must we do? —- we can be practically certain in a most eminent manner: We can “hope” to “know” what we “must do,” which is to love!

      And this is not just logically consistent, internally coherent, existentionally actionable & philosophically intelligible, but is externally congruent, inductively & probabilistically, with a great deal of historical evidence, whether historically (N.T. Wright re: Resurrection), ecclesiologically (Luke Timothy Johnson re: our living witness) or pneumatologically (Amos Yong re: Spirit in the great traditions) and notwithstanding marginal voices like John Dominic Crossan (Jesus Seminar).

      I think DBH would rightly extoll the rolls of both our metaphorical theopoetics & participatory doxologies & theotics, while deemphasizing what the Analogia contributes (as necessary but woefully insufficient). I’m also deeply sympathetic with DBH’s critique of what Natural Law reasoning might truly contribute beyond the most general of precepts; only the most rationalistic approaches (devoid of an authentic personalism) would imagine that it can deliver concrete norms for virtually every conceivable circumstance.

      If I’m reading DBH correctly, at least his general thrust, it seems he’s asking us to cast off both an epistemic hubris & an excessive epistemic humility vis a vis speculative reasonings, but to put on a confident assurance in things hoped for & always eschew living as those who have no hope!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom the ‘difference within likeness’ is not univocity, the difference adverts the analogical proportionality. To be more precise, due to the implicit metaphysical commitments (effect bearing a resemblance to its cause, the cause is greater rather than equal to its effects) which are presumed, it is an analogy of causal participation.

      When time permits I will respond more substantially.


      • Tom says:

        Not sure I’m following you, Robert. I wasn’t suggesting that ‘difference within likeness’ is univocity. As I end up saying, I’m not sure whether what I was describing was univocity or analogy. I actually don’t want to go to a specific ‘term’ and work from there. I was trying to lay out the broader convictions (God not being a subject of temporal becoming by which he participates in something greater than himself, God being the non-composite actuality of the transcendentals, the beatitude of this union being impassible, etc.) and then let language function within those controls. You’re convinced the the word “univocity” can only mean all the bad stuff you associate with denying these broader convictions. I’ll keep that in mind when talking to those who can’t imagine the word representing anything else. But in other cases what code words works best will depend on who we’re talking to, where they’re at, etc., provided we’re clear on those broader convictions.

        In other words, set aside the labels ‘univocity’ and ‘analogy’ for a moment and just listen to my affirmations of those broad convictions. When someone says what I said about God’s plentitude, about his life being the fullness of the transcendentals, about this fullness not being subject to temporal becoming, about the infinite qualitative difference, etc., and I end with saying ‘our language functions within the truth of these convictions’ to assure us that while ‘love’ “means the same for us that it means for God” (your earlier statement) these broader convictions re: God’s transcendent immediacy remain true, what ‘label’ is one then likely to attach to my view? I honestly don’t know. Some might say I’m maintaining an analogical approach. Others might say I’ve made the mistake of speaking univocally of God. But once one affirms those broad convictions, isn’t the real issue? I hope so.


      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tom, what I am saying is that what you are describing is not univocity, but analogy. (answering your inquiry, “I don’t know whether to call this univocity or analogy.”) This is not about trivial labels but about what we are really signifying and how we are going about establishing meaning. Meaning is established by way of analogy through and through (Clarke’s ‘lived use of concepts in judgement’ is quite apt and informative), not a univocal common ground from which we add on snippets of isolated pieces of similarity or dissimilarity. There is no univocal ground.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Robert: Tom, what I am saying is that what you are describing is not univocity, but analogy.

        Tom: OK – then – slowly…do you see that Scotus himself would (did) say everything I said (i.e., all the broad convictions about God’s transcendence and how those convictions shape how theological language works)? Labels apart (just suspended for the moment) – there’s agreement on the transcendent difference between God and creation.

        So….cigar time?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:


        From my understanding of Scotus’ theology he would indeed be in agreement with you in regards to the transcendence of God. This is not even a debatable question, not in my view – where I surmise to be a parting of ways between Aquinas and Scotus is the function of concepts in the formation of meaning. While for Aquinas meaning is obtained by way of the use concepts in the context of concrete determinations of lived experience (judgment is made by an evaluation of a concept in a range of cases to which it applies) Scotus stresses the logical structure of the concept in itself (I may add analytic philosophers have a tendency to this too). Clarke follows Gilson’s reading of Aquinas that analogy is the ability to make “the kind of judgments that we do” on the level of judgment not of concept.

        Now you may say, why make this so complicated, this is obscure. Well yes, but we are attempting to do theology, duh. Normal (univocal) use of language does not pertain to the theological Subject, it is not up to the task, as you well know and you agree. But this has ramifications as to how to establish meaning contrary as we do with concepts and terms in ordinary, non theological usage – we must come to know how it is terms may have meaning when we speak of God. Enter Norris Clarke to clarify why there is no univocal ground:

        “it is in fact impossible to define what we mean by an analogous concept, to grasp the similarity involved, except by actually running up and down the known range of cases to which it applies, by actually calling up the spectrum of different exemplifications, and then catching the point. The similarity involved cannot be isolated from its qualitatively diversifying modes and expressed by itself clearly, as it can be in the case of a univocal concept.

        We can therefore not begin with univocally conceived concepts to obtain meaning as it applies to God. “God is love”. A judgment has to be formed about what love means and this is done by analogy.

        Norris continues to explicate this process of forming meaning by way of analogy:

        “The meaning of the term, therefore, must be completed and made determinate in each case by reference to some concrete qualitative mode. That is why the notion always contains within it, at least in an implicit way—which can easily be made explicit, as St. Thomas does in the example of knowledge—the parenthetical indication (like a kind of metalinguistic instruction or warning) that the property in question will be present in each case “according to the mode proportionate to the nature of each.” Yet the concept itself, as an abstract predicate by itself, fit to be used in many different predications as somehow the same one concept, does not mention or contain within its expressed content any of these particular modes in any of its predications, but is understood as transcending them all. Otherwise, it is clear, it could not be used to refer to any other instance with a different mode. However, when this indeterminate abstract concept, unified as such, is actually used in a concrete judgment, its meaning, as understood in the whole concrete act of knowing that is the judgment, then molds itself or shifts to take on the particular determination of the case in hand, while at the same time continuing to recognize the intrinsic proportional similarity-in-difference of this instance with all the others in the range outlined by the concept.”

        I have mentioned before that analogy presumes metaphysical commitments. Let’s hear what Aquinas himself has to say:

        “Effects which fall short of their causes do not agree with them in name and nature. Yet some likeness must be found between them, since it belongs to the nature of action that an agent produce its like, since each thing acts according as it is in act. The form of an effect, therefore, is certainly found in some measure in a transcending cause, but according to another mode and another way. For this reason the cause is called an equivocal cause. So God gave all things their perfections and thereby is both like and unlike all of them.” SCG 1.29

        And here is Aquinas’ explanation why there’s no univocal ground:

        “An effect that does not receive a form specifically the same as that through which the agent acts cannot receive according to a univocal predication the name arising from that form. Now the forms of the things God has made do not measure up to a specific likeness of that divine power; for the things which God has made receive in a divided and particular limited way that which in Him is found in a simple and universal unlimited way. It is evident, then, that nothing can be said univocally of God and other things. For all attributes are predicated of God essentially… But in other beings these predications are made by participation” SCG 1.32

        Because we are not exactly like God, but only bear a likeness in difference, what we know and say about God is only known and said analogously. The infinite difference of mode of being is that “all attributes are predicated of God essentially… But in other beings these predications are made by participation.”

        Liked by 1 person

  23. Tom says:

    I’ll let my son David contribute his thoughts…

    Liked by 1 person

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