Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gregory Nazianzen on the Problem of Trinitarian Analogies

"I have very carefully considered this matter in my own mind, and have looked at it in every point of view, in order to find some illustration of this most important subject, but I have been unable to discover any thing on earth with which to compare the nature of the Godhead.  For even if I did happen upon some tiny likeness it escaped me for the most part, and left me down below with my example.  I picture to myself an eye*, a fountain, a river, as others have done before, to see if the first might be analogous to the Father, the second to the Son, and the third to the Holy Ghost.  For in these there is no distinction in time, nor are they torn away from their connexion with each other, though they seem to be parted by three personalities.  But I was afraid in the first place that I should present a flow in the Godhead, incapable of standing still; and secondly that by this figure a numerical unity would be introduced.  For the eye and the spring and the river are numerically one, though in different forms." St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31, Chapter 31, emphasis mine.  *note: eye = source

Hmm, I wonder what Greg would think of the Cerberus analogy.


  1. All analogies fall short simply because they rely on language, and language, as an artifact of the created order, is inherently limited with respect to the uncreated order.

    Happy Friday,

  2. Hey Steve,

    I tend to agree with this statement, but I also do not want to say that divine revelation (scriptures) is in any way limited, even though communicated through human language. This is an area that I will need to study and develop further at some point in my life. Do you subscribe to Aquinas' analogia entis?

  3. Hi Justin,

    Do you subscribe to Aquinas' analogia entis?

    Yes, I think the doctrine of analogy, as understood by the scholastics, follows from what is entailed when attributing the same predicate to that which is a mix of act and potency, and to that which is pure act. So, I suppose it's because I subscribe to the aseity of God that I also subscribe to the doctrine of analogy.

    You may need to qualify for me how you think scripture is unlimited. After all, it always requires an interpreter. Also, I could memorize all of scripture, but I still wouldn't know what it's like to be God.


    1. Hey Steve,

      What I mean is that God's revelation of himself is in no way limited even though used through the vehicle of created language. It basically comes down to the tension between trying to maintain the creator/creature distinction, but at the same time believe that what we have in revelation is truly the mind of God.

      So for example, I want to maintain that the proposition "God is love," is the same idea in the divine mind as the human mind, rather than some created idea that closely resembles what God knows.

    2. I see, and agree. Aquinas would say that "love" is used univocally here, but has a different mode of being between us and God. It is transcendental with God, but participatory with us. So, I can say that God IS love, but I would never say that Justin IS love; however, I could say something like Justin loves his wife. That's how I understand the doctrine of analogy, anyway...