Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lactantius on Divine Revelation

Lactantius considers divine revelation immeasurably superior to human reason: “Even when he refers to the nature and reason of man, it is always God who must make accessible the way to real cognition.”[1] Therefore, the North African primarily is apophatic in his theological orientation, fervently seeking to persuade his audience that rational creatures cannot immediately apprehend God’s quiddity through the senses or the mind.[2] In Lactantius, one encounters another Christian writer maintaining that it is less difficult to predicate what God is not (quid deus non est) than to predicate what God essentially is. Humans cannot penetrate the divine oracles or mysteries unless the Most High deigns to reveal sacred truth to finite intellection (Divinae institutiones 3.6.3-4).[3] Advocating supernatural revelation over against unilluminated reason, Lactantius insists that neither sensory experience nor human intellection can bridge the yawning chasm that demarcates infinite being and finite beings.[4] He professes that spatio-temporal bound agents grasp the infinite only when God unveils himself to rational agents having pious inclinations.[5] The disclosure of transcendent reality evidently occurs through God’s revelatory initiative. For if the finite could grasp the infinite apart from the infinite condescending to the finite, then divine supremacy or otherness would severely be compromised.[6] However, since “it is impossible for divine thinking to become known to man by his own efforts,” both God’s preeminence and otherness remain unscathed in the transcendent act of revelation.[7]

[1] Van Campenhausen, Latin Church Fathers, 70.

[2] DI 1.1.5.

[3] DI 1.1.5.

[4] Ibid. Compare Cyprian, Idol 9: “He cannot be seen-He is too bright for vision; nor comprehended-He is too pure for our discernment; nor estimated-He is too great for our perception; and therefore we are only worthily estimating Him when we say that He is inconceivable.”

[5] DI 1.1.6-7.

[6] Ibid. 1.1.5.

[7] DI 1.1.6.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Metaphor and the Depiction of Reality

Gerald O’Collins and Daniel Kendall argue that theological metaphors “refer to and describe reality.”[1] Concurring with Janet Soskice, they reason that metasememes speak about one thing in terms that appear suggestive of another thing.[2] For example, God does not instantiate the literal mind-independent properties of a crag, but the ancient Hebrew prophets articulate speech regarding YHWH in ways that appear suggestive of a rock. Likewise, YHWH is called “a sun and shield” in Psalm 84:11(12).[3] Yet, he apparently does not exemplify the matter-of-fact predicates that structurally constitute the Sun or a shield.[4] In these instances, the Bible writers presumably are employing tropes to speak about one entity (God) in terms suggestive of other entities (rock, Sun or shield). Metaphor permits the writers of Scripture to describe the supreme reality adequately, though indirectly. Far from being linguistically insufficient or vulnerable, theological metaphors seem to accomplish what “proper terminology” (De oratore 3.152-155) cannot achieve; they convey truths that non-tropic expressions attributing matter-of-fact properties to a particular subject are incapable of communicating.

[1] Bible for Theology, 83.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cite the version.

[4] David H. Aaron, however, espouses the view that “historical intervention” is what the writer of Psalm 84:11(12) intends. He maintains that the psalmist (by stating that “God is shield” or “God is sun”) predicates that YHWH literally is sun or shield. While Aaron denies that “God is sun/shield” asserts an ontological identity between YHWH and sun/shield, he nonetheless holds that ontological identity is not the only genuine alternative to metaphorical signification. See Biblical Ambiguities: Metaphor, Semantics, and Divine Imagery (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 57-59. Other scholars, conversely, view the language composing the psalm in question as metaphorical (Schneiders, Women and the Word, 26; Tate, Psalms 51-100, 361). Tate notes that although “sun” evidently is not utilized metasememically for YHWH elsewhere, the term is a rather “common royal epithet” found in ANE texts. Cf. Isaiah 60:19; Revelation 21:23; 22:5 for text that use sun imagery for God.