Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Doctrine of Analogy


1.  Next, St. Thomas asks whether the names we use to describe God are used univocally of both God and creatures.  Here we should pause for a brief note on univocity and equivocation.

2.  A term is used “univocally” to describe two different things if it designates the same thing or form in both of them, under the same aspect or ratio.  For example, if I say “that bucket is heavy” and “your backpack is heavy” I am designating weight in both cases in the same way, though the extent of the form may differ between them.  But if I then say “the plot of that movie is very heavy”, I am not using the term in the same way—I am equivocating.  Equivocation is the use of one term to describe things under two different aspects or rationes.  

3.  Here, however, things become complex.  In some cases equivocal terms are actually unrelated to each other, and simply grasp two different senses of a word: “late” can mean both “unpunctual” and “dead”.  In other cases the terms are related to each other by comparison to a single primary meaning in various ways.  This is called “analogy to one” or (in Cajetan’s classic treatment) “analogy of attribution”.  The famous example is the word “healthy”.  If we call a person’s diet, or their medicine, or their urine “healthy”, it is by reference to the health of the body: diet is a cause, medicine is a restorative, and urine is a sign.  Notice that this bottle of urine is not itself actually “healthy”.  It does not have the form of health in any way, because it is not alive.  Though the equivocation has an analogical character, the predication of “healthy” to everything other than the primary term in the analogy (my body) means something different in each case, which does not entail any determinate relationship between what this medicine is, or this food, and what my body is.  

4.  In the earlier articles of this question (especially 1.13.2) St. Thomas has argued that when we speak of God we employ a mode of predication that is neither purely equivocal nor equivocal by an analogy of attribution.  In this article, he identifies a further mode of predication, which entails a real proportionality of form between the two uses of a term, without being strictly univocal.  

5.  He gives three objections in support of the univocity of names given to both God and creatures.  The first is that, since every equivocation must be reducible to something univocal (since otherwise a given word would have no determinate meaning), it seems that God, to which all agents are reduced, should be a univocal agent, and therefore that what is said of God and creatures is said of them univocally.  (This argument, amusingly, is based on a very simple equivocation of “reducere”, which is concealed by the way the objection is presented, leaving a large gap between the major and minor premise.)

6.  The second objection is from the first chapter of Genesis.  It is said that man is made in God’s image and likeness.  But if the names applied to God are all applied equivocally, then there can be no likeness.  Therefore some must be applied univocally.

7.  The third is from the idea of God as the measure of everything that exists.  Since a measure must be homogeneous somehow with what it measures, there must be some univocity between the characteristics of God and those of creatures.

8.  The Sed Contra of this article is unusually long.  In it St. Thomas provides two arguments against the univocity of names applied to God and creatures.  These arguments are meant to provide a second set of objections running in the contrary direction, which while correct, are not complete in their analysis.  The first is from the categories to which names given to creatures belong.  For example, “wisdom” is a quality in creatures, i.e. a kind of accident, but in God it cannot be an accident, because God has no qualities distinct from his own act of being.  Likewise with any other name we could give to God.  Since a name that does not belong to the same category when it is applied to two different things is not applied to them univocally, it is clear that we do not use names univocally of God and creatures.

9.  The second argument in the Sed Contra comes from the distance or diversity between God and creatures.  He points out that among creatures, diversity is frequently sufficient to make univocal predication impossible: this fish and that rock belong to such different genera, so that it is not possible to call them both “living” univocally.  But God is not in any genus with other things (1.3.5), and is in fact more different from creatures than any two creatures are from each other.  So any univocity must be ruled out.

10.  The Corpus of this article is divided into three parts: first, he provides further demonstration that names are not used univocally of both God and creatures; second, he reiterates reasons why the names attributed to God must not be purely equivocal; third, he gives an account of the kind of analogy by which affirmative names are applied to both God and creatures.

11.  His chief argument against univocity is simple and very powerful.  When an agent causes an effect, the form of the effect bears some relation to the form of the agent causing it.  It can be the full form of the agent (as in biological reproduction), or it can be some incomplete likeness of that form (as when a fire heats iron).  If the effect is not adequate to the full power of the agent cause, then the form of the effect falls short of the form of the cause, and not just accidentally, but essentially: the form imposed is of a different species from the form of the cause.  And in this case whatever form is imposed is imposed according to a partial likeness to the agent cause, so that many different things can receive the fullness of the agent’s effects under different forms and rationes, which bear a real likeness to their source, without having a full community of form with it.  Thus a name derived from an effect which shares the form of its cause imperfectly, under a different ratio, will not univocally signify the full perfection of the cause, but will grasp some aspect of the form of the cause, which exceeds the signification of the name.  And since, as has been abundantly shown, there is only one God, and he is uniquely and utterly simple, infinite, perfect, etc., and no creature draws close to his perfection, none of the terms we derive from creatures concerning the substance or perfection of his being are adequate to the extent of the perfection actually in it.  Thus none of them apply to him univocally.

12.  However, Thomas says, the divine names are not said in a purely equivocal way either, for reasons stated above (1.13.2).  He reiterates: if the divine names were said in a purely equivocal way, reasoning about God would be impossible, because the ratio of each name could not be taken to have any real correspondence to its object, and thus any inferences from the content of a particular name to the fittingness or unfittingness of other names for God would be worthless.  In fact, as stated earlier in this questions, the ultimate implication of pure equivocation would be that no name is really superior to any other when we speak of God.  Thomas cites St. Paul, saying that the invisible things of God are clearly seen through the things he has made.  And thus by the light of those things something about God is known.

13.  Next, Thomas provides his solution to the problem.  Between pure equivocation and pure univocity he describes a third kind of relation between the uses of a given name, which is called analogy, or proportion of one to another.  The analogical predication of a name to two different things is based on the proportionality of the form of one, as an effect, to the form of the other, as the cause of the effect.  Notice that in the analogy of attribution described above, any sort of logical relation to the primary analogate will do, because the analogy of attribution is a mode of simple equivocation which does not depend on the real relation between the forms of the things described, just on the logical referability of all of them to the prime analogate.  But in the analogy of proportionality, the predication of the name to one depends on its being similar to the other because they have a certain type of causal bond.  Up to this point we have spoken of “equivocal causes”, but it is clear that it would be more correct to speak of “analogical causes”, i.e. causes the form of which is present in their effects in an imperfect and attenuated way, and which can be known from their effects only indirectly and by the synthesis of many partial impressions into a fuller understanding.

14.  To summarize, then: Names applied to both creatures and God cannot be said univocally, because no creature is adequate to the power or essence of God, and therefore every creature, differing in essence from God, receives his effect not in a way equal to the divine power, but in an imperfect and partial way.  However, this imperfect and partial resemblance to God still retains the divine likeness, and by virtue of being an effect of God’s power as agent cause, every creature can be said to reflect the perfection of the divine essence, in so far as that creature is, and is perfect.  So what results when we take terms which refer to the perfection and being of creatures without including the idea of their limitation, are terms not capable of applying to God by mere metaphor based on the arbitrary association of ideas or impressions (the way we would apply the name “dog” to a kind of fish, horizontally across diverse genera), but based on the real resemblance that follows in an effect from the fact of its proceeding from a cause.  Common names of this variety are said to apply to the agent cause and its effects neither equivocally nor univocally, but analogically, and this “analogical” predication is the foundation for all theological speech and reasoning about God.

15.  In response to the first objection, St. Thomas explains that if we distinguish between non-univocal and univocal agents, the non-univocal agent must ultimately come first, because the univocal agent produces its own likeness within the same species and genus, whereas the non-univocal agent causes the species or genus as a whole to come into being.  So if we ask of any particular species or genus what agent caused it to be, the answer cannot be a member of the species or genus, but something outside it, to which the form of the species or the genus is proportionate.  Thus the warmth of grains of sand on a summer day cannot be reduced ultimately to warm bodies making contact with each other, but must ultimately be referred back to the radiation of the sun.

16.  An aside: notice that it is impossible for there to be a purely equivocal agent cause, because then the form of the effect it brought about would be totally unrelated to the cause itself (not by any proportion or likeness), in which case it would be impossible to say in what way the agent cause was a cause at all, and the effect received would be left unexplained as a sort of brute transformation in the thing effected.  Pure equivocation occurs not in relations between cause and effect, but in horizontal relations among things of different kinds, where the attributes proper to one kind are related logically to similar attributes in another kind.  The real similarity is the occasion of the common attribution usually, but it is not the basis of it, which is more or less arbitrarily imposed by the one conferring the equivocal name.

17.  He answers the second and third objections very briefly.  To the second he refers back to (1.4.3), where it was established that creatures have an imperfect likeness to God, and thus this likeness cannot be the basis for any univocal names.  To the third he says that God as measure of everything else is not proportionate to the things measured.  Things are proportionate to God by a likeness which is real, but also of infinite inferiority.


—Every equivocation must be reducible to something univocal.
—Likeness between God and man requires at least some univocal attribution.
—The measure must be univocal with what it measures.

—Names applied to creatures are applied in categories not applicable to God, and therefore are not said univocally.
—God and creatures aren't in any genus together, since God is not in any genus.

—(See above.)

—The non-univocal agent produces the entire genus, and thus every univocal cause is reducible to an equivocal one.
—(See 1.4.3)
—Creatures are proportionate to God, but God is not proportionate to them.

Are all the words we use to describe God synonymous?


1.  Next, he asks whether all the names said of God are synonymous.  He gives three reasons for this view.  First, because two words are synonymous if the things they signify are altogether the same.  But in God everything we name in God is really identical, because he is utterly simple, so that his goodness and his life and so on are all the same thing.  

2.  Second, because even if the various names of God differ secundum rationem, i.e. differ logically according to the aspect of the thing understood in the name, because they do not differ at all secundum rem, i.e. as to the thing designated, the this diversity would be vain and empty.

3.  Third, because it redounds to the unity of God that there should only be one idea of him, and therefore only one name which expresses who he is under the proper ratio.

4.  For the Sed Contra he observes that if all the names of God were synonymous, then it would foolish to say that “God is good” or “powerful”, etc., because these would add nothing to the name “God”.  He appeals to the authority of Jeremiah.

5.  In the Corpus he resolves the question as follows: the ratio of a name is the intellectual conception of the thing signified by the name.  But our intellect, when it knows God from creatures, forms conceptions of God proportionate to the perfections proceeding form God into creatures.  And since these perfections exist in creatures in a diverse and partial way, though they exist in God perfectly and simply, by each ratio of perfection taken from creatures our intellect grasps some partial aspect of the united perfection of God.  The names signify God, each under the ratio of a perfection found in creatures, but taken in such a way that the mode of signification suspends the limitations of the name as applied to creatures, and refers instead to the supreme and simple perfection of God.  But, since the names differ secundum rationem, they are not synonymous.

6.  To the second he says that the diversity of rationes is not empty, because even though all the names reference the same, simple thing, they do so each under a different partial aspect.

7.  To the third he says that the perfection of God requires that what is multiple and divided in other things is simple and united in him, so that if we know him through creatures, we will know him in the multitude of imperfect and divided ways that creatures represent him.


- All these names have one simple object, so they must be synonymous.
- If they are diverse in ratio but the same in reference, then their diversity is empty and their rationes are contentless.
- God, being supremely one, should be known only under one ratio, and therefore should have only one name.

- We know God through creatures by the perfections they receive from him.
- In creatures these perfections are partial and diverse.
- Therefore the ideas of God we gain from creatures are partial and diverse.
- When we suspend the mode of signification proper to these names as applied to creatures, and apply them to God by way of eminence, the names signify one thing: God.
- But because we do not know the essence of God, each name grasps the nature of God through an imperfect ratio based on the perfection in the creatures from which it was abstracted.

- The object is simple and perfect, but the ratio of the name follows the mode of knowledge, and the mode of knowledge, through creatures, is diverse and imperfect.
- The many rationes of the divine names each imperfectly grasp some aspect of the simple reality of God.
- The names represent God in a multiple and diverse way, because he cannot be known through creatures as he is in himself.

Can names taken from creatures apply properly to God?


1.  Next he asks whether any name is said of God properly.  He gives three objections.

2.  The first is from what was said earlier in this question, that the names we give to God are taken from creatures.  He reasons that if these names apply properly to creatures, they can only be said of God metaphorically, and therefore not properly.  (Note that the standard translation uses “literally” for the latin “proprie” here.)

3.  The second objection is that if a name is more truly removed or denied of a thing than predicated of it, then the name is not properly said of that thing.  For example, if someone asks “Did you see the movie?” and I say “I saw the movie, but it would be more true to say that I did not see the movie”, then it is not difficult to deduce that properly speaking I did not see the movie.  A name properly predicated of a thing should be predicated without any reservation.  But Denys says that all the names we give to God are more truly removed from God than predicated of him.  So none of them must be properly said of God.

4.  The third objection is from the fact that the names we give to God are all abstracted from corporeal things, and therefore imply in them some sort of corporeality, either spatially or temporally or on account of material composition.  And therefore they can only be applied to God, who is incorporeal, metaphorically.

5.  For the Sed Contra, he cites St. Ambrose, who explicitly says that some names name properties of God’s divinity, and others him only metaphorically.

6.  In the Corpus he reiterates the core of the previous article: we know God from the perfections that flow from him to creatures, and we name him based on the names of those perfections as we discover them in creatures.  He then distinguishes between the perfection itself signified in each of these names (goodness, life, wisdom, etc.) and the mode in which it is signified.  Now, because they are derived from creatures and are ordinarily used in reference to creatures, their primary mode of signification is proper to creatures.  But as regards the perfection itself that each of these names references, they are said properly and God has priority of predication.  Here we can see the distinction between the order of discovery and the real order: in the order of discovery, the names belong properly to creatures because they are derived from creatures, but what they designate in creatures belongs primarily to God in the real order, so that ultimately these names are more properly said of God than they are said of creatures.  However, insofar as the logic of these names is derived from creatures, their mode of signification is often limited by the accidental features of the creatures by which we come to know them, so that their ordinary mode of signification is not proper to God, but is proper to the creatures from which the names are taken.

7.  In response to the first objection, Thomas distinguishes between names taken from creatures which include in their meaning some imperfection present in the creature (e.g. “stone” includes the ideas of materiality and lifelessness), and names which express perfection absolutely without reference to any creaturely imperfection.  The former can only be said of God metaphorically, but the latter can be said of him properly.

8.  He answers the second objection (which is a variant of one we have seen previously) by explaining that Denys only means to deny that the names in question (living, good, etc.) are predicated of God in the same way that they are predicated of creatures.  Denys carries this line very far, denying as well that God is a being, because his mode of existence is above that which we speak of in creatures.  However, this is a difference of the mode of signification, not of the thing signified itself.

9.  He answers the third objection similarly: names taken from creatures that are said properly of God imply corporeality only in the mode of signification in which they are used to speak of creatures.  E.g. when we speak of the perfection of a tree, this idea of perfection brings along with it certain corporeal features.  But when we take the notion of perfection and abstract it from the corporeality of sensible things, it is capable of referencing God’s perfection according to a higher mode of signification.  More will be said about this as we move forward.


- Names taken from creatures cannot be said of God properly.
- Denys says that none of our names are said properly of God.
- Every name taken from sensible things involves the idea of corporeality.

- Two things need to be considered in a name: what it signifies and its mode of signification.
- The thing signified in notions of perfection taken from creatures can be such as to reference God properly.
- But the mode of signification in these cases must differ from their ordinary mode of signification as applied to creatures, since God is more perfect than creatures.
- Thus under a higher mode of signification certain names which signify perfections in creatures can be predicated properly of God.

- Names taken from creatures can be said properly of God, if they signify perfections without including the idea of some creaturely defect.
- Denys means to deny the possibility of using these names of God under the same mode of signification.
- Some names directly imply corporeality, and these are said of God metaphorically.  But others can be taken in abstraction from the corporeality of the things they originally designated, and these can be said of God properly.