Analogy: The Only Answer To The Problem Of Religious Language -- By: Norman L. Geisler

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 16:3 (Summer 1973)
Article: Analogy: The Only Answer To The Problem Of Religious Language
Author: Norman L. Geisler


Analogy: The Only Answer
To The Problem Of Religious Language

Norman L. Geisler

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois 60015

Most contemporary religious language theory vascilates between equivocation and analogy in a desperate struggle to provide a meaningful vehicle by which God can be expressed. The root of the problem is twofold: Medieval Mysticism and Modem Empiricism. A brief background will help focus the problem.

I. The Background Of The Problem Of Religious Language

Following Plotinus, Medieval mystics from Proclus to Nicholas of Cusa stressed the ineffibility of God. All agreed on one point: nothing positive can be affirmed of God; God is named only by the via negativa.

A. Plotinian Mysticism: God Is Inexpressible

Plotinus is the fountainhead of negative theology. In him Greek Rationalism culminated in Neo-platonic Mysticism. And through his Neo-platonic followers, Proclus and Dionysius, the Middle Ages inherited a strong negative emphasis in language about God.

The entire Plotinian system is based on the notion of unity. Since all multiplicity is made up of unities, there must be a prior unity which is absolutely Simple (God). And since all thought and language involves multiplicity, God is beyond all reason and words. The only way God can be known is via ascending from the multiplicity of the sensible and intellectual worlds and becoming one with the One in a mystical union.

God “can neither be spoken of nor written of” (VI, 9, 4).1 Even “this name, The One, contains really no more than the negation of plurality.” And, Plotinus adds, “If we are led to think positively of the One, name and thing, there would be more truth in silence.” For the very term “One is nothing but an aid to enquiry and “was never intended for more than a preliminary affirmation of absolute simplicity to be followed by the rejection of even that statement” (V, 5, 6).

The means by which these preliminary affirmations are made is via God’s offspring or emanations. Plotinus wrote, “We can and do state what it is not, while we are silent as to what it is: we are in fact speaking of it in the light of its sequels [offspring]” (V, 3, 14). That is, since we cannot know It we may only speak of It in terms of what comes from It.

However, what we speak of the One is not really found in It, because

It bestows what itself does not possess” (VI, 7, 15). God is a “nobler principle than anything we know as Being; above reason...

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