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Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Modern Pluralism by David Tracy and John B. Cobb, Jr.


David Tracy is Professor of Theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. He is author of Blessed Rage for Order (Seabury). John B. Cobb, Jr. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. He is the author of many books, including The Structure of Christian Existence (Seabury). This book was published in 1983 by Seabury Press. The text was prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.


Chapter 2: The Analogical Imagination in Catholic Theology by David Tracy


If the first chapter established the conditions for public discourse in theology, this second chapter will attempt to advance the discussion by concentrating upon one little-noticed language in one major theological tradition, the Roman Catholic. The exercise seems entirely appropriate since little attention has been devoted to this question; yet, as I hope to show, only an understanding of what I here name the analogical imagination can allow one to understand the God-language employed by Catholic theologians.

There exists an increasingly deliberate attempt among many Catholic thinkers to explicate the particular vision of reality shared by Catholic Christians. These latter persons have become increasingly more interested in attempting either to define or at least to locate some understanding of the common reality shared by Catholic thinkers. As a single contribution to that wider effort, I propose in this chapter to examine a linguistic feature of Catholic theology in order to test my hypothesis that a central factor in the Catholic vision is what I will describe as an analogical imagination. That language-game -- the various kinds of analogical language expressed by Catholic theologians -- once analyzed, begins to disclose a Catholic form of life or, alternatively, possible mode-of-being-in-the-world that bears more investigation than it has thus far received.

It is important to note, however, that my present analysis is confined to strictly theological language. I understand that language to be a second-order, reflective language that claims fidelity to the originating religious languages of image, metaphor, symbol, myth, and ritual expressive of the religious sensibility. Although much reflection has recently been devoted to analyzing those originating religious languages -- for Catholicism, ordinarily under the general rubrics of the Catholic use of image and ritual or the Catholic sacramental or symbolic understanding of all reality -- very little work seems addressed to explicating the form of life disclosed in that properly theological language of analogy, so widely, if not universally, used by Catholic theologians.

The Catholic Model for Theological Reflection: Vatican I Revisited

Analogical language, I shall suggest below, can be found as the pre-dominant language employed by Catholic theologians from Thomas Aquinas to Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. Still, before discussing those more contemporary expressions, it would be well to examine for a moment the too seldom noted model for theology articulated in the First Vatican Council. This curiously overlooked passage in the documents of Vatican I was, in its day, a liberating expression for Catholic theology and is, to this day, the dominant model for theology present, however unconsciously, in the major Catholic systematic theologians. The passage states that theology is the partial, incomplete, analogous but real understanding of the mysteries of the Catholic faith. It achieves this understanding in three steps: First, by developing analogies from nature to under- stand that mystery. Second, by developing -- by means of the analogy -- interconnections among the principal mysteries of the faith (Christ, Trinity, Grace). And third, by relating this understanding to the final end of humanity.

The key to understanding how liberating this model for theology was in its time is to note that theology is clearly distanced from any attempt at deductive proof of mysteries (so favored by the Cartesian scholastics of the day). Instead, after proper tributes to Anselm and Aquinas, theology is described as consisting of analogous but real understanding (intelligentia) of those mysteries. Moreover, this passage is placed in the wider typological context of the document wherein two alternative types described as rationalism and semi-rationalism (proofs of the mystery) on the one hand, and fideism and traditionalism (no analogous understanding) on the other are declared inadequate theological models.

Any historically conscious reader of contemporary Catholic theologians like Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Edward Schillebeeckx, Johann Baptist Metz, and Hans Kung will note both significant similarities and differences between their theological language and that of Vatican 1. The most significant differences can be found in the post-nineteenth-century material understandings present in these theologians of such crucial concepts as "faith" (now as fundamental attitude or orientation; then as cognitive beliefs) or "mysteries" (now usually understood as the radical incomprehensibility of human existence and divine reality; then as specific and articulated mysteries). The second significant difference may be described as the attempt by such theologians as Schillebeeckx, Metz, and Guttierez to incorporate more explicitly dialectical modes of reflection into the general theological model. And therein lies an important factor in the contemporary debate on a Catholic theological social ethic. Sometimes this dialectical turn (as with the Latin Americans) takes a Marxist form because the social-ethical as analogical view of society -- articulated principally by Jacques Maritain in Europe and Latin America and by John

Courtney Murray in the United States and expressed institutionally in the Christian Democratic parties of Latin America and Europe and in the American Catholic commitment (witness Murray) to the American 'civil religion' -- have proved, so the argument runs, inadequate to the present complexities of contemporary politics, economics, and society. Theologically, however, as far as I can see, these dialectical moves (largely dialectical negations of oppressive structures) are transformed eventually into a Catholic analogical context that considerably shifts the final or ultimate envisioned-in-hope reality.

For example, the dialectical methods in the social ethics or, as the Europeans prefer, the political theology of Johann Baptist Metz are finally themselves transformed in Theology of the World into an analogical -- as sacramental and incarnational -- vision of reality constituted by the ordered relationships disclosed in the focal meaning of the God-human relationship incarnate in Jesus Christ. This cannot but strike an alert reader as worlds apart from the seemingly similar political theology of Jurgen Moltmann. The latter thinker, faithful to his Reformation heritage, sees the dialectical logic of contradiction disclosed in the central symbol of the crucified one as challenging, at its root, all claims to the possibilities of an analogical vision informed by the logic of ordered relationships. Sometimes dialectical methods are employed on less social-ethical and more centrally theological motifs -- as in the understandings of justification in Kung, Rahner, and Metz, or the Christologies of Schoonenberg and Schillebeeckx. Although I can only state my conclusion rather than demonstrate it here, the fact seems to be that after those dialectical moments have been employed, an analogical model and its correlative vision reemerge to provide the basic theological horizon of meaning for Catholic theologians. Indeed, I believe that future historians will probably view those present works as an at- tempted Catholic ecumenical theological incorporation of modern negative dialectical principles into the fundamentally analogical vision of Catholic Christianity.

In sum, the fundamental model of theological understanding as intrinsical analogous rather than either equivocal or univocal always seems to reemerge in Catholic theologians as the basic linguistic form and thereby the fundamental existential vision of reality informing their work. A historian of Christian theology, I suspect, would find this relatively unsurprising insofar as the common mentor of Vatican I and most Catholic theologians alike, Thomas Aquinas, has ordinarily been interpreted as fundamentally and irretrievably analogical in his vision of reality. Although I agree with this familiar judgment, I have nevertheless become convinced that recent linguistic studies of the logic of metaphor, analogy, and models provide a surer clue to understanding not only Thomas' basic language and vision but that of Catholic Christianity as well. Before trying to spell out the latter factor, however, a brief review of some representative modern interpretations of Thomas on analogy would seem in order.

What, Then, Did Aquinas Mean? The Thomist Battle Over Analogy

The much-covered, indeed much-littered, terrain of contemporary Thomist interpretations of analogical language on theology cannot be adequately covered short of a full-length book. For the moment, however, I hope you will bear with me as I present my own heuristic device for understanding some of the representative moments in that twentieth-century Thomist self-discovery. That heuristic device will take the form of suggesting that there are five principal schools in the development of modern Thomist understandings of analogy, the fifth or linguistically formulated of which is the most important for the present concern with languages and forms of life. The schools can be named as follows: first, the modern defenders of the commentators; second, existential Thomism; third, participation Thomism; fourth, transcendental Thomism: fifth, linguistic analyses of Thomism. In the first group, the prevailing interpretation held that Thomas possessed a single and metaphysical doctrine of analogy' that was fundamentally a doctrine of proper proportionality between creatures and Creator. The principal interpreter here, is, of course, Thomas de Vio Cardinal Cajetan whose 'single doctrine' theory, mediated through John of St. Thomas, finds contemporary metaphysical expression in Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain and contemporary logical defense in Bochenski and James Boss. The difficulties with this position -- a position of both logical and metaphysical sophistication -- are several. Chief among them is the fact that textual analysis (here Klubertanz is the central figure) has argued that Thomas never possessed a single doctrine of analogy but employed several uses of analogical language. Moreover, a systematically essentialist position in the Commentators and thereby in Garrigou-Lagrange -- has been condemned on both historical and philosophical grounds by all four other contemporary schools as radically un-Thomist.

Indeed the central insistence of both the second and third major schools of modern Thomism -- the so-called existential Thomism of Etienne Gilson and the Anglican theologian Eric Mascall and the participation Thomism of Fabro and Geiger and others -- have united, in spite of their otherwise prevailing intensive and important differences, to insist that Thomas' own metaphysical position withdrew from the essentialism of Aristotle (wherein form finally dominates act) to articulate a metaphysics where esse, or the act of existing, is the central key. Consider the theological formulation of this claim in Eric Mascall. For Mascall, following Gilson, this is the case because Thomas as a theologian (or, alternatively, as a "Christian philosopher") was informed by the biblical vision of God as He Who Is -- as Creator and sustainer of all reality, origin and end of all things. This biblical vision transformed all of Thomas' more explicit philosophical commitments. The proper understanding of analogy, therefore, must give (as in Mascall) a central place to an analogy of attribution wherein the esse of any creature participates in the pure Esse of the Creator in such manner that this metaphysical and theological position informs any analogy of "proper proportionality" between God and creatures.

Indeed the latter is sometimes formulated by Mascall as the proportionality based on a distinction between essence and existence in creatures and the absence of such distinction in God (for God --and God alone -- is The one whose very essence is to be -- Ipsum Esse Subsistens). Therefore, in its clearest theological expression, the work of Eric Mascall, the theological claim is precisely that a metaphysics of esse, itself informed by the biblical view of God as Creator, allows for the development of both an analogy of attribution securing divine immanence and an analogy of pro- portionality securing divine transcendence. Two other modern philosophical movements emerged within the Thomist circle to rearticulate this latter, more traditionally formulated, metaphysical analogical vision. Cryptically stated, those two movements may be called the incorporation of the modern turn to the subject and then the linguistic turn within Thomism itself.

More exactly stated, the fourth -- and now dominant -- school of Thomism in theology has come to be called transcendental Thomism and is most familiar to modern readers in the work of Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. What interests me here, however, is not to engage in yet another exposition of Rahner and Lonergan, but to note what happens to analogical language once the transcendental question moves to the forefront of the discussion. The clearest expression of what happens, in fact, may be found in the work of Karl Rahner, more specifically in the too seldom noted change of vocabulary from the first to the second edition of his foundational work in the philosophy of religion and theology, Hearers of the Word. In the first edition, one finds the more familiar Thomist vocabulary, "the analogy of being"; in the second edition, the vocabulary shifts to "the analogy of having being." That shift, I believe, is of central importance for understanding Rahner and his extraordinary influence on contemporary Catholic theology. Summarily stated, the shift has the following form and significance: the analogy of attribution now takes the form of having as the prime analogate (or focal meaning) the conscious experience of the knowing, willing, and historically incarnate subject. The analogate is no longer any finite being (as with Mascall) but only that being-human being -- who is conscious of its being as a spirit-in-the-world, always already in the presence (through its conscious as dynamic intentionality) of Pure Being.

The focal meaning for all analogical usage thereby becomes human subjectivity in relation to God as Absolute Being -- and theologically as Absolute Mystery. The key to all proper theological usage thereby becomes an explicitly transcendental analogical language developed first in a transcendental philosophy ("analogy of having being" language) and then applied -- analogously --to a transcendental theology ("analogy of faith" language). If my interpretation is correct, then it bears noting that however much Rahner may have incorporated either Kantian transcendental, Hegelian dialectical, or Heideggerian ontological modes of inquiry into his own theology, Rahner's entire theology (as Lonergan's) remains profoundly analogical in its fundamental vision of reality.

The theologies of Rahner and Lonergan can be interpreted by their neo-transcendental formulation of the traditional Catholic analogical vision. In this Rahner and Lonergan emerge as splendid modern Catholic mediating theologians of our day whose work, like their Protestant counterparts Bultmann, Barth, Tillich, and the Niebuhrs, must be taken into account by every serious contemporary Christian theologian. Indeed, their transcendental version of the Catholic analogical vision of all reality, I continue to believe, remains an authentically modern and Catholic

resource for understanding both the uniqueness of the fundamental Catholic modern, productive imagination as an analogical one and for deciphering the peculiar logic of Catholic theological -- as analogical -- language. Moreover, the explicitly linguistic interpretations of Rahner and Lonergan in recent years by Victor Preller and David Burrell approach those languages and that vision in a manner which, although in my judgment flawed in a final moment, is genuinely suggestive of a way of understanding theological language for all students interested in the analyses of theological languages as disclosive of a particular form of life or a specific vision or imagination of the whole.

I cannot hope to do justice to Burrell's important linguistic studies of Aquinas' analogical language in these brief remarks. Suffice it to say, therefore, that the explicitly linguistic approaches Burrell has espoused (to a chorus of disdain from many Thomists and an echoing silence from other theologians) are an excellent modern linguistic key to the questions of analogical usage. Indeed, since I share Burrell's judgment that the interpretive works of Rahner and Lonergan on Aquinas are the central contemporary Catholic theological texts needing explicitly linguistic analysis, my own position is not as distant from his as either one of ours is from the more familiar analyses expressed by proponents of the first three schools. Summarily stated, Burrell argues that the key to analogical language in Aquinas can be found in the category "focal meaning."

Employing G. E. Owen's interpretation of Aristotle's own insistence on focal meaning in analogy, Burrell argues at considerable textual and historical length that Aquinas in fact employs several specific forms of analogy. Yet central to all those uses for Aquinas is an understanding on the part of the authentic and reflective inquirer (in Lonergan's Thomas interpretation) -- now reformulated by Burrell as the good language user -- that the focal meaning character of analogical language must be proportionally extended to all other analogous usages. The influence of Lonergan's form of transcendental Thomism here is obvious and, although admittedly arguable, is, I believe, fundamentally sound. What is novel is the insistence that the logic of analogy bears striking resemblances to the more familiar logic of metaphor.

Since this same insistence is the major burden of my own constructive remarks, I will now depart from these brief and more con- textual comments in order to concentrate upon the constructive proposal which I will advance for your critical attention: that the recent and more familiar studies of the logic of metaphorical usage in religious language parallel the linguistic studies of the logic of analogical usage in properly theological language. Correlatively, a linguistic analysis of that logic discloses an analogical vision of reality as that religious mode-of-being-in-the-world which is distinctively Catholic. I hope that the more historical and hermeneutical approaches of these first two sections may serve to show that my own constructive position here on Catholic Christianity is more than an idiosyncratic one. At any rate, if these analyses of the first two sections have been at all cogent, then the constructive alternative of my third and final section may be stated in properly summary terms.

Metaphor, Analogy, and the Catholic Imagination

Three widely shared conclusions from recent linguistic studies of the character and logic of metaphor bear striking parallels to the less widely known results of linguistic studies of analogy. The first conclusion is a negative one: the assumption that metaphors are merely rhetorical and decorative substitutions for the true-as-literal meaning has been effectively challenged by recent linguistic study. On the question of the logic of the Kingdom of God language in the New Testament parables, for example, the implications of this negation have called into serious question former allegorical and moral interpretations of these central Christian language forms for many among the present generation of New Testament scholars.

The second conclusion is more positive: whatever theory of the logic of metaphor is employed by its various proponents, the crucial factor to note is that a meaning (not expressible without loss in literal terms) emerges from the interaction of words not ordinarily -- that is, in terms of their literal meanings -- used conjunctively. Good metaphorical usage, as Aristotle long since observed, cannot he learned by the rules: the capacity to recognize similarity in dissimilarity is a mark ot poetic genius. As new emergent meanings explode in a culture's consciousness, the older and spent ones become merely dead metaphors and thereby enter our dictionaries.

The third conclusion is, from the viewpoint of theological language, the most important. Since I have tried to defend this controversial conclusion at length elsewhere, I trust you will bear with me if I simply state it here. The conclusion can be variously formulated: in its more familiar form in linguistic philosophy of religion, one may recall Ian Ramsey's lifelong attempt to show what he nicely called the 'odd logic' of religious language; in its less familiar, but for my part, more adequate formulation, one may cite the recently developed theory of Paul Ricoeur that the specificity of religious language lies in its character as a limit-language, or, alternatively, if I may presume to cite it, one may note my own development of Ricoeur's position to suggest that a careful attention to the "limit-to" character of the language of both limit-situations and limit-questions of our ordinary experience and discourse and the "limit-of" intensified character of explicitly religious language disclose a defining characteristic of the religious use of any language form. That characteristic is its limit-character wherein, by stating a limit-to the ordinary situation one also shows and partly states a language ex-pressing some limit-of, that is, some vision of the whole of reality (God-cosmos-humanity). In relationship to the religious use of metaphor, this linguistic analysis may be viewed in recent New Testament exegeses of the limit-use of the metaphors in parables to disclose distinct religious visions or modes of being-in-the-world in the New Testament itself.

I have summarized this more familiar discussion on the religious language use of metaphor in order to suggest that an exactly parallel analysis is available for the more properly conceptual and reflective language of theology. More specifically, that parallel can be found in the properly analogical language of the Catholic theological tradition.

Indeed that parallel, I have come to believe, applies to each step of the analysis of metaphor. In the first place, the same kind of negative move is made by recent linguistic studies of Aristotelian and Thomist uses of analogical language. For the most important criticism of the Commentator tradition (whether articulated metaphysically, epistemologically, or here, linguistically) is that the great Commentators (Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, and others) failed to understand Aquinas' own highly pluralistic usages of analogical language in their scholastic attempt to systematize a single Thomist doctrine of analogy. That latter and almost canonical doctrine sometimes ended, ironically, in disclosing some form of Scotist univocal language (the language of common being) to bolster the elusive analogical language of Thomas himself. Just as metaphors were once considered mere substitutions for literal meanings, so analogies now implicitly rather than explicitly -- were considered by their major exponents in modern theology to be finally substitutions for the real -- the univocal -- meaning.

The second and more positive point of these recent linguistic studies of analogical language parallels, once again, the "emergent meaning through interaction" theory of metaphor. For good analogies, like good metaphors, depend on the capacity to recognize what Aristotle called similarity in dissimilarity. This native capacity allows us to break out of accustomed and deceptively univocal usage to describe either the unfamiliar or a forgotten dimension of the familiar. More specifically, analogical usage in both Aristotle and Aquinas is fundamentally a matter of good usage of focal meanings proportionally employed for extended and discriminating meanings -- at the limit, to the whole of reality .The most important focal meanings, moreover, may be found both in that evaluative language in ordinary discourse used to disclose our purposive projects and in that context-variant language (is, true, good, beautiful) used in ordinary

discourse in a manner oblivious of the usual categorical distinctions (namely, the language of the transcendentals -- one, good, true) to make cross-categorical or interlinguistic sense of our actual ordinary usage. In sum, the emergent meanings of our analogous terms are not substitutions for a real -- a univocal -- meaning. Rather analogous terms are good language usage which -- precisely as analogous -- relate all other usages to the focal meaning of a purposive subject: in Christian language usage, to a purposive subject only in relationship to a God of purpose and action.

The third parallel is likewise relevant. For the final clue to the proper use of analogical language in Catholic theology may be found in the use, starting with Aquinas, of perfection terms. The logic of perfection, as Aquinas knew as well as Hartshorne, is an odd, even a limit-logic -- indeed, for him, a metaphysical logic -- involved in the logical differences among all, some, or none. The dispute between process theologians and Thomists is not primarily, on this reading, a dispute between one group that understands the peculiar logic of perfection terms and one that does not. Indeed, the dispute is usually not even focused upon whether analogical language is the appropriate language for God-talk as perfection-talk. Finally, as the process commitment to the paradigm of human experience expressed in the reformed subjectivist principle of Whitehead shows, the dispute between transcendental Thomists and process thinkers is not even over the choice of the primary focal meaning for all analogical God-talk as the subject: experiencing, inquiring, reflecting, and purposive in relationship to God. Rather, on this reading, the central dispute between these two major contemporary theological expressions of the analogical language of perfection-terms as the key to proper God-language is fundamentally a dispute not over the odd or limit-logic of perfection or over the intrinsically analogical-as-focal-meaning character of such language. The heart of the dispute is focused on the philosophical and religious anthropology operative in the different understandings of what constitutes those human aspirations providing the focal meaning for the perfection-language analogously employed for God-language.

In either of these two major theological traditions of our day which employ analogy as their primary language (the Catholic incarnational and the American process traditions), therefore, a vision of the whole of reality is disclosed that is intrinsically analogical; a vision of proper speech for God-language, for example, is articulated which ends in declarations -- as in Karl Rahner or, in more muted tones, in Schubert Ogden -- of the disclosure of the radical mystery and intrinsic incomprehensibility of the God religiously encountered in faith. Yet the route to this declaration is a familiar Catholic theological route: a route which insists that reason can be trusted to bring one to this point of disclosure of mystery; that reflective language -- if properly analogical language -- can be trusted to lead the good language-user to that self-discovery; that this theological language -- precisely as faithful to the limit-logic of perfection-terms -- becomes properly metaphysical language; and, finally, that this analogical language of reflective theology is hermeneutically faithful to the logic and thereby the experience and insights of the originating biblical religious language of metaphor, parable, narrative, symbol, and myth.

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