The Doctrine of Analogy

On the one hand, St. Thomas opposes the analogous names of God to names that are said by way of causality or negation; and on the other hand he opposes an analogous name of God to names that are univocal or purely equivocal. This means that there is a double answer to the question of whether we know God by analogy. Taken in the second sense, the answer is “yes, and only by analogy”. Taken in the first sense, the answer is “yes, but only because we know him by way of causality”.

The question of analogy in the divine names first comes up when St. Thomas asks whether we name the substance of God. The obvious first answer is “no” because we don’t know the substance of God. St. Thomas concedes that we don’t know the substance, but he still argues for how we can’t account for what we say about God merely by way of causality or negation. In other words, because naming God by causality and negation is not enough, we must also name God analogously. The critical thing to notice here is that even if one denies analogy in this sense, he still has a perfectly robust natural theology, and can prove God’s existence and speak of his attributes just fine.

In the second sense of analogy, to deny analogy is to deny knowledge of God altogether, for one either places God in a genus (univocal naming) or he says that all names are said of God and creatures by complete chance (pure equivocation). The important thing to notice here is that when this question comes up, St. Thomas has already shown that we have to speak about God analogously in the first sense we spoke of above. If St. Thomas had not proved the first sense of analogy, he would probably speak of How we name God neither univocally or purely equivocally, but causally or negatively.   

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