Some surprise may not unreasonably be felt that in grappling with the problem of how man can talk meaningfully about God I have found no occasion to mention the celebrated ‘Doctrine of Analogy’ in terms of which scholastic theologians have formulated the officially approved solution of what is fundamentally the same problem. The omission is certainly not due to any lack of respect. On the contrary holding the views that I do I cannot but deem it an outstanding merit of the scholastic theology that it has shown itself so consistently and conspicuously aware of the paramount importance of this problem and I admire profoundly the concentration of intellectual power that has been directed not least in modern times to evolving and elaborating a solution that might satisfy the demands of faith and reason alike. An extensive examination however was not practicable in these lectures; and it seemed to me plain that nothing short of a very extensive examination indeed could hope to do even approximate justice to a doctrine which is not only supported by extremely subtle and complicated reasoning but which has the further difficulty for most students of philosophy and theology outside the Catholic communion of being formulated within a somewhat unfamiliar framework of ideas. Add to this the fact that even among Catholic scholars themselves there is very far from unanimity as to the exact interpretation of the doctrine and the futility of attempting to say anything worth while about it in brief compass becomes too glaring to ignore.
Part Two (Second Course): On Godhood
Appendix D: The Doctrine of Analogy
Nevertheless I am loth to leave altogether unnoticed a solution of our problem which has such high authority. I am the more loth to do so since it is common knowledge that the official sponsors of the ‘Analogy’ type of solution condemn with some vehemence the ‘Symbolist’ type of solution which is the type I have myself preferred. A symbolic theology is condemned I understand primarily on account of its dangerously agnostic tenor; and plainly some element of agnosticism is inseparable from it in whatever form it may be propounded. But the element of agnosticism in the symbolic theology for which I have argued in the foregoing pages seems to me to be certainly no greater and quite possibly less than the element of agnosticism implicit in the Analogical theory. It is the main purpose of this short note to try to show that such is the case.
As already indicated there is considerable diversity of opinion among the authorities themselves concerning the precise significance of the doctrine of analogy for our problem. Since a choice of interpretation must here be made I cannot do better I think than follow in its main lines the critical exposition offered by Dr. Mascall in his recent Existence and Analogy a distinguished work which has elicited respectful tributes from Catholic and non-Catholic thinkers alike.
The problem may be posed as follows. How is it possible to predicate significantly of God who ex hypothesi transcends the finite and temporal qualities which are derived from experience of the finite and temporal and which in their literal meaning seem inseparably bound up with the finite and temporal? How to take a single important example can we significantly describe God as ‘good’?
The solution in general terms is that significant predication about God is possible only in virtue of certain analogical relations which obtain between God and man.
Two kinds of analogy—each a sub-type of the general type unius ad alterum—have a special relevance for the solution. The first is the Analogy of Attribution (or Proportion); the second is the Analogy of Proportionality.
In the case of the Analogy of Attribution ‘the predicate belongs formally and properly to one of the analogates… and only relatively and derivatively to the other.’1 Thus we can say intelligibly both that St. Andrews is healthy and that its inhabitants are healthy though it is clear that ‘healthy’ has not the same but only an analogous meaning in the two propositions. Health is present ‘formally and properly’ in the inhabitants only. When we call St. Andrews ‘healthy’ we mean no more than that in virtue of its climate St. Andrews is the source of health in its inhabitants.
But this type of analogy it seems clear is inadequate to justify the ascription to God of predicates like goodness in the way that we want to ascribe them. If we assume that we are entitled to assert a relation of creative causality between God and man we can no doubt say that inasmuch as there is goodness in the creature goodness must in some sense be present in God the Creator. But we want to be able to ascribe goodness to God as a quality that belongs ‘formally and properly’ to Him—in the same manner as we ascribe goodness to man. In terms of the Analogy of Attribution the sense in which we are justified in ascribing goodness to God apparently amounts to no more than saying that goodness (and of course other ‘finite perfections’ likewise) ‘exist virtually in God that is to say that He is able to produce them in the creatures.’2
The second type of analogy however the Analogy of Proportionality may help us over this hurdle; if at any rate it should prove capable of application to the God-man relationship. For ‘in the strict sense an analogy of proportionality implies that the analogue under discussion is found formally in each of the analogates but in a mode that is determined by the nature of the analogate itself.’3 Suppose for example that ‘life’ be the analogue. We can assert life to be formally present both in a cabbage and in a man; but not univocally; it is present in each of the analogates in the mode appropriate to that analogate's specific nature. The ‘proportionality’ is brought out if we express this in the form ‘life of man is to essence of man as life of cabbage is to essence of cabbage’.
Now may we not apply this analogy of proportionality to God and man in respect of the analogue ‘goodness’ and say that Divine goodness is to the essence of God as human goodness is to the essence of man? If so we would seem to be getting much nearer to what we are after since goodness is now being predicated of God's nature formally not just virtually—precisely as it is of human nature. God we are saying is characterised by the goodness that is appropriate to Divine nature as man is characterised by the goodness that is appropriate to human nature.
On reflection however it does not look as though we were succeeding after all in saying thereby anything intelligible about the Divine goodness. Divine goodness may bear the same relation of appropriateness to the Divine essence as human goodness does to the essence of man but that seems to tell us nothing about the Divine goodness unless we are in a position to frame some concept of the Divine essence. How can we have any inkling of what kind of goodness is appropriate to the essence of a being if that essence is wholly unknown to us? But we cannot frame a concept of the Divine essence. It looks therefore as though the analogy of proportionality leaves us in a state of sheer agnosticism.
Dr. Mascall is of course well aware of the difficulty; but he thinks it can be overcome. The first step (if I understand him aright) is to recall that though we cannot frame a concept of the Divine essence we do know something very important about it. For we know that God is a being whose essence is identical with His existence; and we know further that as the necessary being upon Whom all contingent being entirely depends He stands in the Creator-creature relationship to finite man. Now in virtue of our knowledge that the Creator-creature relationship holds we can apply the analogy of attribution and say (as we have already seen) that the quality of goodness which characterises the creature is somehow present in God also; and because in God in contradistinction from finite beings there can be ‘no accidents no qualities that are not included in His essence’4 we can say that goodness characterises the Divine essence; and because in God essence and existence are identical we can say that in God ‘goodness exists self-existingly.’5
If these steps be granted it follows that in saying that God's goodness is appropriate to His essence as man's goodness is to the essence of man we are saying something significant about the Divine goodness. ‘The goodness of God is thus declared to be self-existent goodness and as such identical not merely with God's essence but with the act by which God exists. Analogy does not enable us to conceive God's goodness as identical with his essence but to affirm it as identical with his existence.’6
This brief paraphrase I need scarcely say does scant justice to the subtlety and refinement of Dr. Mascall's presentation of the case. I may even (though I trust not) have unwittingly misrepresented links in his chain of argument. Fortunately that is not of any great present consequence. For my purpose here is not to pick a quarrel either with Dr. Mascall's premises or with the steps in his argument. My purpose is simply to point to the outcome of his argument in the form in which he himself acknowledges it. ‘God's goodness’—the same applies to His possession of other finite perfections—‘exists self-existingly’. And we are expressly told that of self-existing goodness we can frame no concept. We can only affirm that this inconceivable kind of goodness is the kind of goodness that God has. ‘All our assertions about God are grossly inadequate in so far as they apply concepts to him.’7 Indeed they are on this showing. But how it is supposed that we can maintain this position—denying by implication that when the ordinary believer speaks of God's Will and Purpose and Wisdom and Compassion what he has in mind (the literal signification of his words) has any conceivable resemblance to these qualities as they exist in God—and at the same time maintain a theology that can escape being what the ordinary believer would describe as dangerously agnostic I confess I cannot see. And what is more to my present point I cannot see one single respect in which the knowledge of God justified by this doctrine of analogy is less agnostic than the ‘symbolic’ knowledge of God which I have sought to justify in the present work.
Of course one can well enough imagine and indeed there have not been wanting instances of Symbolist theories to which the Catholic Church's strictures upon Symbolism are clearly applicable; and it is no doubt such theories that the Church has especially in mind. Let me here quote Dr. Edwyn Bevan's summary of the Symbolist theory as depicted by the distinguished Dominican philosopher Father Sertillanges:
‘The theory of Symbolism is said to be erroneous because it is really only Agnosticism in disguise. The terms by which God is represented—wise loving just—are adopted according to the symbolic view we are told simply to satisfy certain human cravings as useful fictions helping to produce desirable modes of conduct or sentiment. But there is nothing in the Reality on this view apart from human fancy to correspond with them. Some people regard it as quite legitimate to satisfy human cravings in this way and since there is nothing in the great Unknown Reality to which these symbols correspond any symbol which satisfies human craving or produces desirable conduct serves the purpose and the Symbolist theory can thus extend a general blessing to all contradictory varieties which human religion shows according to differences of time and race.’8
I hope it will have been evident to the reader that to this kind of Symbolist theory the symbolic theology I have been advocating bears no resemblance. Everything turns on the nature of the connection held to exist between symbol and symbolizandum. According to the Symbolist theory just described this connection is purely subjective. The symbols are factitious and arbitrary adopted not on account of any inherent compulsion upon the human spirit so to construe the ultimate reality but from frankly utilitarian motives. This is hardly even ‘Agnosticism in disguise’ and I should heartily agree in condemning it as offering the merest pretence of religious knowledge. But from it the view I have been endeavouring to establish in this work differs toto coeh. It has been with me from first to last a major preoccupation whether dealing with the problem within the framework of the religious consciousness (the relation of ideograms to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans) or from the standpoint of metaphysical theory (the relation of the imperfect unities attainable by thought to the perfect unity taken to characterise the ultimate reality) to show that the connection of symbol with symbolizandum rests on an inner necessity of the mind. Between symbol and symbolizandum I have argued there exists a natural ‘affinity’ which the human mind finds itself obliged to accept even while it cannot ‘understand’ it. It is this that confers on symbols like wisdom love and justice objectivity and necessity as symbols of the Divine nature in the sharpest possible contrast with the capricious subjectivity of symbols invented to ‘satisfy human cravings’ or ‘produce desirable modes of conduct’.
I conclude then that the ‘knowledge of God’ founded on the Symbolist principles enunciated in the present work is no more agnostic than the ‘knowledge of God’ permitted by the Doctrine of Analogy. On the question whether it is perhaps less agnostic I should not care to express an opinion without a much more detailed understanding than I can at present claim both of the doctrine itself and of the actual use to which scholastic theologians put it in the exegesis of credal formulae.
From the book: