07 July 2008

St. Augustine and the analogia entis

CAUTION: The following is advanced material, in a relatively unformed state. If you aren't well-grounded, please avoid it!

After a long hiatus, back to St. Augustine's De trinitate. In Book 3, at the end, he writes,

"But now, when the Lord was born of the virgin, and when the Holy Spirit came down in bodily form like a dove, or in visible fiery tongues and a sound from heaven on the day of Pentecost after the Lord's ascension, what appeared to the bodily sense of mortals was not the very substance of the Word of God in which he is equal to the Father and co-eternal, nor the very substance of the Spirit of the Father and the Son in which he is co-equal and co-eternal with them both, but something created which could be formed and come into being in those ways."

Following the example of St. Augustine himself, I apologize at the outset for any unclarity of thought or infelicity of expression in what I'm about to say, and I welcome those who are better-schooled to correct whatever error I might make.

In the Middle Ages, the west spilled quite a lot of ink over the question of the nature of talk about God. Three options were offered:

  1. Such talk is univocal--that is, when we use terms about God they have the same meaning as they do in our normal talk. This, I take it, was (in some form) the position of Duns Scotus.
  2. Such talk is equivocal--that is, when we use terms about God they have nothing at all in common with those terms as we use them in our normal talk.
  3. Such talk is analogical--that is, terms about God are related proportionally to those same terms in our normal talk. This, I take it, was the answer given by Thomas Aquinas and was in turn founded on the analogia entis (analogy of being).
I wonder if this whole discussion was necessitated because the west did not make the essence/energy distinction in God? If all you have is essence/persons, then (since the divine essence is utterly unlike any creature) there is no ontological foundation for our speech about God; it must be somehow equivocal. Yet even if we cannot say that the Lord's humanity is the divine essence, we ought to be able to say that his flesh is divine, and that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and in the form of tongues of flame.

But if the energies are divine, and yet distinct from the divine essence, then you have an ontological foundation for talk about God--precisely in his revealing himself to us. "God is the Lord who hath shown us light"--the uncreated light of his glory.

Mone me si erro.

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