Analogically, Univocally, and Equivocally

Discussion in 'Exegetical Forum' started by C. Matthew McMahon, Aug 2, 2005.

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  1. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    What does it mean to know: analogically, univocally, and equivocally? How would you explain them?
    Which do you hold to and why?
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Notes from Turretin, Vol. 1 4th topic: "The Decrees of God in General..."

    Concerning the first question...
    ...God and man are herein described differently. In man the idea is first impressed then expressed; in God the idea is only expressed. "In man, the things themselves are the exemlpar and our knowledge is the image; but in God the divine knowledge is the exemplar and the things themselves the image or its expressed likeness." (p. 312). Everything we know, we know subsequently. Everything God knows, he knows antecedently. All our knowledge is original with God.

    All ideas whether possible or future are in the mind of God. But we do not therefore conceive of him either as possible or as future, but as actual and eternal. All things, possible and future--as far as we are concerned--depend on him. He is all things not essentially (as if he could be equally two contradictory things), but in the manner in which things actually come to pass. An idea presumes some connection between theprototype and the image. But the creator-creature distinction remains, seeming to imply that no similitude is possible between man's thoughts and God's. Yet it must exist at the level of analogy, though not at the level of univocation.
    As a perfect being, God is not one to act according to any external ideas, only internal and essential ones. Neither can there be any such thing as an external, independent idea. Every idea has its source and origination in him.
  3. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    God knows the tree outside my window univocally, and I know it analogically. If this is true, we know the same tree, but to different extents. Correct?
  4. crhoades

    crhoades Puritan Board Graduate

    For what it's worth from a Van Til Glossary by John Frame:

    Univocal: (1) (Aquinas) Language that describes its object literally. (2) (VT) Thinking autonomously rather than analogously (q.v.), as if one were divine.

    Analogy, analogical reasoning: (1) (Aquinas) Thinking in language that is neither literally true (univocal), nor unrelated to the subject matter (equivocal), but which bears a genuine resemblance to that subject-matter. (2) (VT) Thinking in subjection to God´s revelation and therefore thinking God´s thoughts after him.
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Back in seminary I had time to think deeper than today. :lol:

    Yes, I think Turretin is getting at something like that.

    Turretin is one reason why I will never think of Van Til as one who spoke "outside the pale of Reformed Orthodoxy." Thornwell is another. If I can find those notes, I'll post them too.
  6. crhoades

    crhoades Puritan Board Graduate

    Thanks for the Turretin quotes...never read them before.
  7. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Can we say this:

    Analogically "“ understanding at the level of analogy.
    Univocally "“ understanding things as they are in themselves (only God can accomplish this), or having one meaning only.
    Equivocally "“ of the same name and category, but different; like a real man and a picture of a real man.
  8. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    univocal knowledge etc

    This is not quite correct. JMF is following CVT's rather misleading account of Thomas. CVT was correct that Thomas was wrong, but he was wrong about what Thomas said.

    What Thomas taught is that the human intellective faculty can, at some point, intersect with the divine. Thus is doctrine of analogy was vitiated by his neo-Platonism. Thomas didn't teach a genuine analogy. He cheated.

    He did not teach "autonomous" knowledge - he wasn't Kant or Butler. CVT had only a few slots to put folks with whom he disagreed, so he tended to slot Thomas into the Kant/Butler slot.

    Which leads me to a second point.

    We probably don't want to define "univocal" as knowing things "in themselves."

    Until Kant, we agreed that we can know created things "in se" (Ding an sich). Only after Kant did we begin to assume a sort of epistemic skepticism about our ability to know things as they are.

    Kant took the traditional Protestant distinction (see below) between God's knowledge and ours and applied to everything. So, instead of God in himself (Deus in se) being "hidden" from us, which is certainly true, he made everything "in itself" hidden. Hence the need for a new ethic and a new deistic religion.

    The answer lies in the traditional Reformed distinction between archetypal (original) knowledge which only God has and ectypal (derivative) knowledge which creatures can have.

    Ectypal knowledge is true, but analogical. An analogy is parallel to, but does not intersect the original.

    Plotinus' scheme had it that we can only know truth if we climb up the scale of being. Thus, anything that isn't divine/ultimate is false and to that degree non-existent. Unfortunately, this scheme (chain of being) was widely assumed in medieval theology and tends to undergird much modern theology also.

    G. Clark (as I understand him) and Herman Hoeksema likewise seem to argue that unless we know something as God knows it, if only momentarily, we are forever doomed to skepticism.

    CVT, on the other hand, defended the traditional distinction on the ground that the alternative makes divinity a prerequisite for knowledge. Such a schem, in effect, agrees with the serpent.

    Hence for CVT and for the confessional Protestant theologians (both Lutheran and Reformed) analogy merely means derivative, true, creaturely, finite, knowleldge.

    Equivocation is saying two, contradictory, things about the same term at the same time or using the same term in two ways simultaneously.

    God knows and speaks about reality univocally.

    Because of sin, humans too often speak equivocally. Of this, Christians ought to repent and seek to speak analogically, thinking God's thoughts after him.

    See R. Muller's _Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics_ vol 1

    Mike Horton's _Covenant and Eschatology_

    You might also see my application of these principles in an essay on the Clark/Van Til controversy in _The Pattern of Sound Words_. The Strimple festschrift published by P&R.


  9. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    How can knowledge be true unless it at some point intersects with the divine knowledge?

    Col. 2:2-3
    ...that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and[a] of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
  10. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Nicely done, sir. Would you say, then, that the question presents a false dilemma? It seems implied in you post. In other words, would you say that these terms are not necessarily exclusive of each other, but are used variously, and perhaps even complimentarily at times, as they relate to different aspects of our knowledge?
  11. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman

    I second Dr. Clark's citation of Horton's _Covenant and Eschatology_.

    He taught a course out here at RTS-C this summer called "Ministry in a Postmodern Context", and we dealt with these categories at length. The whole history of philosophy is a wrestling match between the universals and particulars, and with how seriously to take Plato's attempted reconciliation of Parmenides and Heraclites (and their univocity and equivocity).

    I think I'm saying that right?
  12. ARStager

    ARStager Puritan Board Freshman


    It's analogical, true knowledge. It's divinely sanctioned as analogy. Not just ANY analogy will do (we'd err all over the place, and it'd be called heresy and/or idolatry in that case), but only ones with the divinely revealed stamp of approval.

    Am I right here, Dr. Clark, others?
  13. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    I don't think it was Paul's intention to teach here that by virtue of faith in or union with Christ Christians have access to divine knowledge or knowledge that only God can have. On such a reading, we would have to say that when Paul says "all the treasures" that we have archetypal knowledge. This just isn't true. We don't even know ourselves truly let alone everything else. We don't know the future. We only know what is revealed to us (Deut 29:29).

    This isn't to say that we can't have true knowledge. We can and do, but it is derivative, not original.

    Scripture seems to make clear that God, in Calvin's words, "lisps" or more literally (balbutire) "speaks baby talk" to us. What he says and what we know is true, but it is accommodated to our finitude. The Reformed orthodox taught that the "finite is not capable of the infinite" (finitum non capax infiniti). This is what CVT called "the Creator/creature distinction."

    If we can have God's knowledge of one thing, why not everything? If we can have a little divine knowledge, why not a lot? To say we have such is to do as the medivals and Plotinus and put us on the scale of being. The Reformation was rightly a rejection of that very notion.

    God made us as creatures and image bearers. To say we must have divine knowledge (of the sort God has) to know truth is to say that we cannot be an image bearer without being God. Gen 1:26 and Eph 4:24 beg to differ. We were made to know God as he reveals himself, not to be God or to know as God knows in himself.

    I hope this clarifies.

  14. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Thanks for the good word.

    No, not exactly. I think univocity is one thing, equivocity another and analogy a third thing. They belong to different orders.

    As humans were capable of analogy and equivocity. Only God is capable of true univocity.

    You are correct that analogy and univocity are not absolutely opposed, however. If so, then God could not speak to us, but he does speak to us. It is not we who can overcome the Creator/creature distinction, but God who has graciously overcome it in revealing himself to us, in nature (contra Barth) but chiefly in Christ and the Word written.


  15. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Yes, that's correct. Some assume that any analogy is necessarily false. That doesn't follow. God is able to overcome the ontological distinction.

    Its true that there is some falsehood (or at least things not literally true) in analogy or it wouldn't be analogy. An analogy is *like* something without being that something.

    For example, God reveals himself as repenting, having a body etc. We understand these images as they were intended: as divinely revealed and authorized illustrations of Himself but not to be absolutized or made literal.

    God is not bodily but spirit. God doesn't change his mind. He is not surprised by the future he decreed! Still, he speaks this way (using homely images) in order to communicate important truths to us.

    In that way CVT was quite right. All our speech about God is analogical and all his speech to us is analogical.

    In my (as yet unfinished) book on this and related topics, I describe the refusal to accept these divinely sanctioned analogies as "the quest for illegitimate religious certainty."


  16. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Playing the DA: So God lies in order for us to understand important truths about Him that are not necessarily true? (i.e. God repents).
  17. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Fair question.

    Scripture is clear that God does not lie, but Scripture is equally clear that God does not reveal himself to us as he is in himself.

    Everything he says to us is true, but its also true that everything God says is accommodated to our finitude. We must not assume that "true" means "univocal" or "archetypal."

    If God spoke to us without that accommodation we would be consummed. Ask Isaiah.

    It is the case that the distance between God means that Scripture is necessarily analogical.

  18. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    I understand the point being made here, and I agree with it to some degree. That being said, it seems to me that to say ALL knowledge we have of God is analogical leads to a denial of the image of God in man and/or revelation being just that....revelation.

    Also, in order for us to understand what analogies mean, we must first understand them LITERALLY. In other words, the bible says that God repented that he made the fact that God can repent (i.e. he can change/have emotion etc.) what He is trying to convey to us in Genesis 6? Or is he trying to convey the fact that God will not tolerate sin, but will punish it (or the literal interpretation of this analogy). All analogies must be understood literally, or you don't really understand what is MEANT by the analogy.

    What about literal statements like the WSC:

    What is God?

    God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangable in his being wisdom power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

    Is there analogy in this statement? Maybe I'm just not seeing it. If not, has not given this to us as revelation (the concept, not the WSC)?

    Just some questions/thoughts. Good discussion so far.
  19. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The following is running notes/quotes from J. H. Thornwell, vol 1, 4th Lecture. All of it is germane, but the language in question starts coming out on pp116-17 thereabout.
  20. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Thank you for your answer. Could I impose upon you for another? What, then, does it mean that we as redeemed in Christ have the mind of Christ (contra Barth: reducing Christ's mind to ours)?
  21. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    DA: Does God repent and not repent at the same time and in the same sense?

    Malachi 3:6 "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (NO)

    Genesis 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (YES)

    Both are the Word of God. What makes one more analogical than the other?
  22. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Briefly, in a word, the literal is the analogical and the analogical is the literal. The words of Scripture are meant to be understood in their intended sense. I would encourage you to see Horton, Muller et al on this.

    God is literally all of his attributes, but we must not assume that we understand those attributes as they exist in God. We have analogies of them, i.e., we have some idea of holiness and to the degree it conforms to Scripture it is true, but we must not think that we know what holiness is in God. This gets back to J B Phillips' line, "Your God is too small."

    God transcends our ability to understand as he is in himself. He is the God who says, "I am." We cannot say that. We cannot even really, fully comprehend it. We can apprehend it, we can think of rough analogies, but we cannot enter into God's existence as he experiences it.

  23. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    All of God's word is analogical, but not all analogies are identical. There are varieties of literary genres in Scripture so must attend to those particularites.

    Richard Muller wrote a brilliant essay in 1982 or '83 in the Westminster Theological Journal in defense of classical theism against Open Theism (to which they've never responded!) in which he gave an very good exegesis of Mal 3.

    The figurative language used in Mal 3 only makes sense against the background of the literal truth of God's immutability. We're he actually mutable as the open thesists teach, the passage makes no sense at all.

    The same is true of Gen 6. When Scripture posits repentance (Nacham) of God, it presumes we can tell the difference between literal truth and figuarive language.

    Its not that Gen 6 and Mal 3 are more analogical (analogical does not equal figurative) its that all Scripture is analogical, all of it is a condescension, and in so condescending, God made use of more and less figurative language in the history of revelation.

  24. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Christ is THE Word par excellence. He is the face of God, the self-disclosure. By virtue of our union with him we are progressively conformed to his image. As part of that process, we are imbued with the mind of Christ.

    The Reformed, contrary to the Lutherans, argued that in his humanity, even Jesus had only a sub-species of ectypal theology. They called it "the theology of union." Muller is very good on this. The theology of union (theologia unionis) means that the deity has archetypal knowledge, but the humanity does not have archetypal knowledge. Jesus was true man, and as such, in his humanity, never had archetypal knowledge. Not even the glorified have archtetypal knowledge. The Reformed call their knowledge, "theologia beatorum" (theology of the blessed), another subset of ectypal theology. The other is pilgrim theology, more or less what we're doing here.

    Therefore, to have the mind of Christ is not to achieve archetypal knowledge, but to "have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus." The category there less epistemic than ethical.

  25. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

    This topic seems to be very closely related to the relationship between God's eminence and his transcendence. I believe that a fair balance must be kept between the two so that one does not enter into the liberal camp, or err in the other direction leading to neo-orthodoxy.
  26. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Yes, liberalism has denied God's immanence (that he is with us; deism) and his transcendence (pantheism; he's so totally identified with creation that he is indistinct from it).

    The classical Reformed approach to analogy that I'm advancing does neither of these. In this approach it is God who comes to us in his revelation (Word and incarnation), we do not climb up to heaven, as it were. It is God who gets to set the terms of his relations to us.

    Sadly, this approach has been eclipsed in the modern period by fundamentalism (a sort of climbing into heaven) or the illegitimite quest for religious certainty (intersection of the human and divine intellective faculties) and revivalism (the illegitimate quest for religious experience.

    The medievals sought the "beatific vision" or the "vision of God" (visio Dei) wherein they expected to see the Father without any mediation. In our day, there are great "blissed out" religious services wherein folk expect to "meet God" (the Father) without any mediation (means of grace or preached Word). Or the pietists have led us to think we can achieve the vision of God via private devotional exercises.

    My point is that Christ IS the image of God, the vision of God, the Word of God (John 1.1!). God has become immanent (!) but, in himself, he remains transcendent in his glory. In his immanence he has accommodated himself truly, infallibly, wonderfully. Therefore we must give ourselves to wholly to his self-disclosure to settle (what a compromise!) for God's mediated revelation rather than seeking the illegitimate paths to God.

    Neo-Orthodoxy errs by removing the revelation from Scripture to an existential encounter. It will not submit to God's self-disclosure. It is embarrassed by the humanity of the Word. In its own way, despite all their talk about Christocentrism, they really have trouble with the incarnation, with Jesus' humanity.

    Classical liberalism, otoh, won't have his transcendent deity. If it cannot have "all" God immediately, it will shut him in a closet, as it were.

    The confessional Reformed say: a pox on both your houses. We will let God be God, we will let God be true and every man a liar.


  27. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate

  28. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I understand. Barth is avoided; pretention of godhood ( what some call "neutrality" ) is avoided; creator/created distinction upheld; Christ maintains His true mediatorial place; and man can still know.

    Perhaps another, if I may? How does man have certainty? Is not univocity implied in certainty? In fact, is not univocal knowledge implied in the assertion that man cannot know univocally? Or, to put the same question another way: is objectivity possible within analogy and equivocity?

    [Edited on 8-4-2005 by JohnV]
  29. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Last one John :)

    No, that's the point of distinguishing between analogy and univocity. As I understand it, we're not capable of univocity. If univocity belongs to God, then we're restricted to analogy.

    Objectivity is not the same thing as absolute certainty. To predicate objectivity of something is to say it is outside of me, not the product of my experience (contra Kant).

    Reality is objective to our experience of it. God establishes it and we conform to it. Because it is given (data) we can know it. That's why we've traditionally not been idealists/rationalists but tended toward a sort of restrained empiricism. Here I'm influenced a bit by A. Plantinga, some of whose program I think coheres well with CVT's presuppositionalism.

    How do we know that we know? Well, we're made to know and God has revealed himself.

    Can we obtain certainty beyond our sensory apprehension of revelation? Yes, inasmuch as the Spirit witnesses to us that it is true. Is there anything beyond that? No. Not unless we claim special revelation - but we're not pentecostals so we're shut up to Scripture illumined and preached.

    Can we confirm revelation with some other authority? No. If we could then we should call that revelation. There can't be anything beside or above divine revelation or it no longer norms.

    We cannot have the sort of knowledge or certainty God has. We are to be thankful then that Jesus let Thomas touch his side. That is a wonderful picture of his condescension to us in revelation.

    There will be absolute certainty in the parousia, but by then (as in the flood and in the Red Sea) it will be too late for those who've not hid behind the doorposts of God's house, under the blood of the lamb.

  30. JohnV

    JohnV Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    That's enough to chew on for a while. I appreciate your patience and thank you for your answers. I'll have to give these some thought.
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