The analogous names of God developed by philosophies of dialogue

The analogous naming of God strives to balance the reality that natural theology knows God through creatures with the fact that there is no single concept that includes God and the creatures- and this is even true if we take “concept” in the very broad sense that allows for us to speak of a “concept” of being. Said another way, we claim both to know God from creatures while at the same time saying that God is never included in the view that we get of creatures.

One way to develop this idea is through philosophies of dialogue – particularly Buber or Levinas. Analogy denies us a synoptic view of God and creatures, as though we might stand outside this relation and see its two “terms” as somehow reversible, homogeneous, or as two things laid out in front of us on some common field of cognitive space. But this sort of relation does not exhaust the possible relations that a self can enter into, and for Buber, such a relation is not even the foundational relation or the one that we enter into with our whole being. To relate to a person is not done from this detached, synoptic point of view, as though I could look at, say, “my marriage” or “my mother” as being nothing in addition to a set of homogenous terms (Me and spouse; me and mother) which my self relates to as an outside observer. Such a view of ones spouse or parent would be a terrible disease – a strange form of autism if not a sociopathic disorder. Thus, one way to interpret the necessity of analogous names in speaking of God is to see the doctrine as requiring us to relate to God personally. Our inability to make a single concept of God is creatures is because God is calling us to relate to him personally. Our theology, while stating completely intact in all of its truth, testifies to the further truth that we cannot be content to relate to God in merely third person terms because it is God’s very nature to be a pure “Thou” – a pure person. It is true that we can speak of “this thou” or say that “God is a pure thou”, and so speak of him in third person terms, but this is a feature of grammar and not of reality. The truth that one is trying to express is that theology itself testifies to our need to be personally related to God – that he can never be merely some capstone to a system or a solution to some philosophical riddle or some exalted species that we merely prove and discover and then file away in an ontological catalog. If we do not personally relate to God: in relationships modeled on  father, brother, spouse, etc. then we do not understand him. A purely detached theology is a kind of mental disease – a spiritual autism or psychopathology.


  1. Trev said,

    May 7, 2012 at 6:30 pm


  2. Alan Aversa said,

    May 11, 2012 at 2:14 am

    I like this concise argument St. Thomas gives in Summa Contra Gentiles lib. 1 cap. 32:

    [W]hat is predicated of many things univocally is simpler than both of them, at least in concept. Now, there can be nothing simpler than God either in reality or in concept. Nothing, therefore, is predicated univocally of God and other things.

  3. said,

    July 9, 2012 at 10:52 am

    How to relate to God personally a bit more…

    How do we get to know who people are? We come to know who people are in different ways; one, by being able to relate to them in some way. There is no exception and the same thing applies to knowing and understanding who God is. Put yourself in God’s place: Imagine yourself as the first mechanized motion machine of natural space particles coming together and becoming the first being to come into consciousness. Now… see yourself all alone out in space; what would you do? Do you think you would be lonely? What would you long for or desire? You know what you would long for and desire because you can relate and would want the same, but how would you accomplish it?

    Now… imagine, in time, being able to construct a perfect bioligical machine that looks and acts like a human with the intention of allowing it to become as advanced as you are; a being capable of knowing who you are, a being capable of becoming family! You can’t just tell a machine who you are and expect them to become not unlike yourself. In the beginning of this creation of human machines… how would you teach these new wonderful biological machines that have no information, no experiences or stored data on their computer hard drives to learn what love, compassion, forgiveness, giving and caring for others… thus building character… the true essence of integrity and what is needed to live in an eternal community with our Creator![more…]

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