TEACHERS EXPECTATIONS: Choose one theologian from Chapter 2 and two of the three above assigned theologians (Athenagoras,
Aquinas, Luther), and show their consistency or inconsistency in confessing the Christian God.
STUDENT Expectations: Aquinas, Luther, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, and show their consistency or inconsistency in confessing the Christian God.
SOURCES: Alister McGrath, Theology. The Basics. 4th ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2018.
2) Allister McGrath, Theology. The Basic Readings. 3rd ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2018.
2.2 Thomas Aquinas on analogies of God
Allister McGrath, Theology. The Basic Readings. 3rd ed. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2018.
Cite: ; ([Aquinas] in McGrath, The Basic Readings, [Pg. 31])
Talking about God involves using words. So how does this work? How can words be used to refer to God? This question, along with many others, is considered in the works of the great medieval scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225–75). Of those works, the greatest is generally agreed to be his Summa Theologiae (“The Totality of Theology”), written during the years 1265–74, when he was based at the University of Paris. This work is widely regarded as a landmark in Christian theology, and is one of the most widely used and widely cited theological sources.
One of the issues which Aquinas discusses in his Summa Theologiae is whether human language that is used to refer to God – as in the phrases “God is righteous” or “God is wise” – bears any relation to the same words, when used to refer to human beings – for example, in the phrase “Socrates is righteous” or “Solomon is wise.” The basic idea that Aquinas explores is that these words are used analogously in these different contexts. Although they are used with different meanings, there is a clear relationship between them, reflecting in part the fact that the created order bears the likeness of its creator. The way in which the word refers to God is similar to, but not identical with, the way it refers to earthly objects.
Basing himself on Paul’s statement (Romans 1:20) that “the invisible things of God are made known by those things that are made,” Aquinas argues that there is an analogy between God the creator and the creation – between the invisible things of God, and the visible things of the world. This basic idea provides a theological gateway from what we see in this world, and what lies beyond it. On account of it having been created by God, the physical world is able to point beyond itself, and – providing it is correctly interpreted – point to God.
We can distinguish two kinds of analogical uses of words. First, there is the case of one word being used of several things because each of them has some proportion to another. Thus we use the word “healthy” in relation to both a diet and a complexion because each of these has some order and proportion to “health” in an animal, the former as its cause, the latter as its symptom. Second, there is the case of the same word used because of some proportion – just as “healthy” is used in relation to both the diet and the animal because the diet is the cause of the health in the animal.
In this way some words are used neither univocally nor purely equivocally of God and creatures, but analogically. We cannot speak of God at all except on the basis of creatures, and so whatever is said of both God and creatures is said in virtue of a certain order that creatures have in relation to God as their source and cause in which all their perfections pre-exist.
This way of using words lies somewhere between pure equivocation and simple univocity. The word is used neither in the same sense, as in the case of univocation, nor in totally different senses, as with equivocation. The several senses of a word which is used analogically signify different relations to something, just as “health” in a complexion means a symptom of health and in a diet means a cause of that health. […]
All words used metaphorically in relation to God apply primarily to creatures and secondarily to God. When used in relation to God they signify merely a certain likeness between God and the creature. When we speak of a meadow as “smiling,” we only mean that it is seen at its best when it flowers, just as people are seen at their best when they smile, according to a similarity of proportion between them. In the same way, if we speak of God as a “lion,” we only mean that he is mighty in his deeds, like a lion. It is thus clear that, when something is said in relation to God, its meaning is to be determined on the basis of the meaning it has when used in relation to creatures.
This is also the case for words that are not used metaphorically, if they were simply used, as some have supposed, to express God’s causality. If, for example, “God is good” meant the same as “God is the cause of goodness in creatures,” the word “good,” as applied to God, would have contained within its meaning the goodness of the creature. “Good” would thus apply primarily to creatures and secondarily to God.
But it has already been shown that words of this sort are said of God not just causally, but also essentially. When we say “God is good” or “God is wise,” we do not simply mean that God causes wisdom or goodness, but that these perfections pre-exist supremely in God. We conclude, therefore, that from the point of view of what the word means it is used primarily of God and derivatively of creatures, for what the word means – the perfection it signifies – flows from God to the creature. But from the point of view of our use of the word we apply it first to creatures because we know them first. That, as we have mentioned already, is why it has a way of signifying what is appropriate to creatures.
In this major analysis of the way in which the created order mirrors its creator, Aquinas points out that speaking about God involves using words that normally apply to things in the everyday world. So how do these two different uses relate to each other? Aquinas draws a distinction between the “univocal” use of a word (where the word means exactly the same thing in every context) and the “equivocal” use (where the same word is used, but with different meanings). Thus the word “bat” is used univocally when it is used to refer to a horseshoe bat and a long-eared bat, in that the same word is being used to refer to nocturnal flying animals in each case. But the word “bat” is used equivocally when the same word is used to refer to both a nocturnal flying animal, and a piece of wood used to strike a ball in baseball or cricket. The word may be the same, but the meaning is quite different.
In this important passage, Aquinas argues that words cannot be used univocally to refer both to God and to humanity. Thus the word “wise” does not mean the same in the statements “God is wise” and “Solomon is wise.” The gulf between God and humanity is too great for the word to mean the same. Yet the word is not used equivocally, as if it referred to something totally different. There is a relation between its use to refer to God and its use in human contexts. The word “wise” is used analogously, to mean that divine wisdom is not identical to, nor totally different from, human wisdom. There is “an analogy, that is, a certain proportion, between them.”
2.4 Hans Urs von Balthasar on the glory of God
Theology: The Basic Readings, Alister E. McGrath
Cite: [Balthasar] in McGrath, The Basic Writings, [Pg. 38])
What does it mean to speak of God’s “glory”? And in what way is this glory reflected in nature, when seen as God’s creation? It is a theme that is explored in one of the more familiar verses of the Old Testament: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord” (Psalm 19:1). This verse has often served as the basis of a natural theology, offering a defense and an explanation of how the glory of God can be mediated to humanity through the natural order.
The idea of “glory” is difficult to put into words. The Hebrew word for glory (khavod) literally means “weight.” It points to God being distinct from the created order, possessing qualities which set him utterly apart from nature. Perhaps the most famous discussion of this point is found in the writings of Rudolf Otto, especially his landmark work The Holy (1917). Otto uses the Latin phrase mysterium tremendum to refer to the qualities of the human encounter with the divine, and argues that this experience has three elements: awfulness (that is, inspiring awe, a sort of profound unease), being overwhelmed (inspiring a feeling of humility), and energy (creating an impression of immense vigor).
The twentieth-century theologian who is most associated with the exploration of the theme of the glory of God is the Swiss Catholic writer Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–88). A prolific writer, von Balthasar never held a formal university teaching position. His masterpiece is generally regarded as being his Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics (1961–9), occupying seven volumes in English translation. Our extract is taken from this work.
The passage begins by making brief reference to Otto’s account of “the holy,” before departing from it. God, for von Balthasar, is an adorandum – something or someone that is to be adored and worshipped. This is the insight that sets any discussion of the glory of God in its proper perspective.
The God of the Bible is neither a tremendum nor a fascinosum, but first of all an adorandum. He is and remains the unutterable first origin from which everything that exists, everything that is good and full of grace, comes forth – he is the Father who gives only good gifts (Luke 11:13). But, as the one who lives and is free, he is present in his creatures and gifts in such a way that he distances himself from them in order to leave them a space of freedom. Therefore his power, divinity, wisdom and radiant majesty fill the universe, and can be perceived by intellectual beings (Romans 1:19, 20, 23; 1 Corinthians 1:21); yet, at the same time, they permit the freedom to recognise God’s majestic freedom or not (Romans 1:21). As the “holy one,” God makes known especially his divinity in its supramundane character separated from the world; as the “glorious one,” he makes known both his “being present” in the world and, united to this, his sovereign superiority to the world. It is precisely this interplay of the immanence of God’s power and wisdom in all that exists in the world, and his transcendence over the creatures (as the free creator who remains free), who thereby receive a space for their own existence and freedom, that is the foundation of the biblical doxa, and precisely this free elevation above what is not God gives God again the freedom to reveal himself in his free divinity personally – in the “Word” – to what is not God. Thus the distinction here is not one between a ground and what it grounds (for a ground can express itself completely in what is based upon it), but rather one between free creation (as the setting-free of existence that is other than God) and the free gift of God (who is the foundation of its being) to the free creature. Theology has termed this the distinction between the “natural” and the “supernatural”; it is never wholly reducible.
As was suggested above, one may call the immanence of God’s divinity in the world his “sovereignty” or “majesty”; one may term his permanent free elevation above the world his “sublimity” or “dignity,” to which “honour” and adoration are due; and one may finally term the free turning of his personal divinity to the creature his “glory” in the strongest sense. This glory can further take on ascending stages in the dispensation of salvation, from God’s address, which in him will always be creatively active (dabar as word and deed), through the creation of his image (eikon, homoioma) which takes root in the created order, to the definitive expression (charakter) of his invisible “face” (panim) in the visible face of Christ.
There is a succession of variations between the majesty of the creator in the circle of his creatures, and the sublimity of his elevation above them which leaves him fully free to express himself to them; this makes it possible to subsume everything under the same cipher of doxa. Besides this, at every stage there is an interpenetration (circumincessio) of the various aspects or “properties” of God, which are not separable but can certainly be distinguished from one another, and must be so separated. We have already seen how God’s holiness is distinct from his glory, although this too (in his free “sublimity”) points to God’s inability to be mingled with the created world. Glory and power are close to each other; and not only the “eternal power” (Romans 1:20) that displays itself in the corruptible creatures of time, but also – and much more so – God’s far more astonishing power to give comprehensible and appropriate expression to the utter otherness of his being in his supernatural “word”-revelation for the world. This means that, without ceasing to be the one who is unfathomable, he can cross over the boundaries of the human “search” for God “in the hope that they might feel after him and find him” (Acts 17:27), and can establish a valid and finally definitive word concerning himself. This power that dwells in the glory is most clearly seen where God’s revelation takes account of, and overcomes, man’s guilty turning-away, which had led to the “loss of doxa for all sinners” (Romans 3:23): this he does through the superior power of his grace (Romans 5:15, 17, 20f.), but in such a way that this power of grace is displayed in the event of the Cross as the sheer momentum of the judgement over sin.
Von Balthasar is not the easiest of writers for those who are new to studying theology, and makes considerable demands of his readers. The extract is studded with Greek, Latin, and Hebrew words, including dabar (Hebrew for “word”) and doxa (Greek for “glory”). Nevertheless, most readers will find that they can follow von Balthasar’s line of thought on the second reading. Read the text through slowly, trying to summarize his thought. A central theme of the passage is that God’s inexpressible glory is somehow manifested in the natural order.
You may find it helpful to read the biblical account of Paul’s famous sermon at the Areopagus (Acts 17:22–31), which von Balthasar mentions in this passage. This sermon is traditionally interpreted to represent an early attempt to correlate some elements of the Christian gospel with themes of classical culture. What use does von Balthasar make of this?
3. Martin Luther, On God (Large Catechism) 17-24