Musings on Analogy, Univocity, and the Metaphysics of Being

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

The perfect being god of theistic personalism (or as David Hart prefers, mono-poly-theism) is the perfection of any possible creature times infinity. Yet because such a god is on the same plane of existence as that of creatures (univocal being), a divinity of that sort is part of the set that includes creaturely being. One does not get a true analogy of being from such a metaphysics, because analogy requires an infinite difference between Being that possesses existence as essence and being that is dependent and contingent. Note that any notion of analogy that would be rooted in univocal being can only understand analogy as a kind of hyperinflation of known qualities: power, goodness, knowledge times infinity (it’s a “geometric, mathematical” conceptualization). Analogy and metaphor  requires a qualitatively differentiated notion of being, a crossing of  genuine boundaries that is true transcendence.

Here is another implication. If god and creatures are both subsets of univocal being, being is the larger category that explains both god and creatures. Whatever necessity one might apply to the god, it must derive from a being that is shared by both god and contingent creatures. The relation between such a god and creatures would then also be relatively extrinsic. However, if one understands the absolute uniqueness of divine Being, such that in comparison to creaturely existence one could say (apophatically) that God does not exist, then it becomes possible to understand the relation between God and creatures as much more intimate, a creaturely participation in being that is granted as gift, a receptivity made possible by a constantly attentive and renewed loving origin.

The “brute fact” of the necessary supreme being of theistic personalism implies that for theologies based on such a view, the deep metaphysical question of why there is something and not nothing is not asked with sufficient perspicuity and wonder. The kind of being theistic personalists imagine that would include both god and creatures is not rich enough or mysterious enough to avoid the exact same kind of shrugging of the shoulders and lack of wonder that one discovers in modern positivism. As I say about fundamentalists, all these sort are moderns—their dissociation from classical Christian metaphysics is indicated in a deeply impoverished understanding of transcendence. Divine simplicity is one of the best “names” for transcendent Being. Those who find it puzzling, abstruse, unbiblical have not thought through the implications of Triune God and creation from out of nothing.

Perfection is an attribute of God, but those who espouse perfection within the context of univocal being are making a fundamental mistake. The whole point of the analogy of being is that there is a genuine connection between our finite, intelligible knowledge and the God who transcends all finite horizons. If one stays within the plane of univocity, there is not enough room for difference, mystery, growth into ever deeper appropriation of what one obscurely (yet truly) knows. The real live actual universe is never univocal. Univocity is a mode of perception one can adopt, but one is not limited to it and a more acute and reflective mind will recognize in “ordinary experience” a perduring mystery. What we know and experience has an in-built “vector towards transcendence” that is “always already” the trace of “many dimensions.” Identity, non-contradiction, all that, has its legitimate uses, but theo-logic will ask that one sometimes break the logic of the world. Chesterton’s paradoxes may become facile at times, but his basic sense that God must be approached through paradox is correct.

God’s similarity to His creatures is always contained within a greater dissimilarity, but the trace is nonetheless genuine. If our language for God doesn’t mean anything at all like what we know from creaturely existence, analogy is meaningless and one is left with nihilism.

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6 Responses to Musings on Analogy, Univocity, and the Metaphysics of Being

  1. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    What about the charge that the “theistic personalists” are unfairly criticized, or perhaps misunderstood? (If I recall, I heard such intimations).

    Also, it seems then you agree with me that we are not merely dealing with an epistemelogical limitation (i.e. cataphatic vs.apophatic), but the “theo-logic” more fundamentally concerns ontology?

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    • brian says:

      I don’t think “theistic personalists” are unfairly criticized. I do have some sympathy for ordinary folk who hear that term and think one is saying God is not a Person when one criticizes them. A lot of bad, pseudo-theology is content to follow along a narrative of psycho-social nature. If it doesn’t touch on ontology, it isn’t serious.

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  2. Interestingly enough, this idea of “perfect being” in the sense that God is simply just more “perfect” leads to Arianism. Arius stressed Jesus’s subordination to the Father apart from the causal hierarchy in the Trinity of Father as begetter, Son as begotten, Holy Spirit as bond, to an extent it made Christ a creature. This is because Jesus says “the Father is greater than I”. Arian theology thus operates under the assumption that God is perfect being in his supremeness and neglects his distinct nature as Creator. So the NWT renders Jesus as “a god” instead of as “God”.

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    • brian says:

      I have sometimes wondered if some Protestant objections to Marian devotion are due to a kind of crypto-Arianism. They see the veneration of Mary as encroaching on the sacred space they have accorded Christ, but it’s not Mary who is wrongly construed.

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  3. David Kontur says:

    Thank you both for taking this issue of theistic personalism (TP) on in the posted articles. It would seem to me that this approach leads to some consequences that would be totally unacceptable.

    First, in regard to the Trinity – it seems that TP eventually, at its logical end, ends up with a Tri-theism that the early fathers and church clearly rejected.

    Second, it seems to me that the TP approach eventually ends up with a “supreme being” standing somewhere in the universe at his “control board”, exercising omniscience, etc., rather than Him who is every where present as the source of all being even in the depths of our own being. This is clearly a step back to the idea of the clock maker who is dispassionately removed from His creation.

    Third: It seems like the TP approach has a lot of bad consequences in how we understand ourselves as persons. This seems to me to lead down the path of the Aynn Rand understanding of persons as self-contained individuals, each pursuing their own self-interst, and away from any notion of communiion and union – with God or others.

    In all fairness, I have not read any of the TP works and so these are my impressions of the potential consequences based on what I have seen posted here and elsewhere about TP.

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  4. AR says:

    Brian, I look forward to catching up on this post. I’m commenting here because the other post on which we were interacting has closed comments. After weeks and weeks of pondering, I’ve finally put together a response to your final comment to me under the David Hart video. I posted it on my blog.

    https://alanaroberts.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/response-to-dr-brian-c-moore-on-eclectic-orthodoxy-is-goodness-without-its-own-terrors/

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