Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vestigia Trinitatis: More than a Hermeneutical Problem

Contributed by Jason T. Ingalls. Page numbers in the text refer to Jüngel's God's Being is in Becoming, unless otherwise indicated.

Good day, and welcome to my post. I hope you’ve been enjoying this year’s DET Karl Barth Blog Conference. I, for one, have found it rather engaging.

So, I should start with a statement which I will then unpack: Jüngel’s idea of revelation lends itself to an Evangelical humanism. It might be better to say a “revelatory” humanism because its ‘mechanism’ is tied to the dynamic of revelation, of God’s self-giving on our behalf. It is precisely in the way that Jüngel unpacks Barth’s doctrine of revelation (and, therefore, the doctrine of God) that drives the connection I would like to make more explicit here.

It should be said from the outset that the argument I will unpack here is based on a reflection of Jüngel’s argument in God’s Being is in Becoming, not on a reading of the Church Dogmatics. It is only a reading of Barth insofar as it is a reading of Jüngel’s reading of Barth. There is not the space here to do a close comparison of Jüngel, in which the connection I would like to make is explicit, with the relevant sections of CD. That I will leave for another time and place.

I’ll begin our discussion with the vestigia trinitatis, that very interesting idea in Christian theology that one can find vestiges of the Trinity throughout the created order that was most famously expressed in St. Augustine’s De Trinitate and further expounded through medieval and protestant scholastic theology. The definition of the vestigia that Jüngel works with is derived from Barth: “It was thought that it was possible to discover ‘an essential trinitarian disposition supposedly immanent in some created realities quite apart from their possible conscription by God’s revelation’ as ‘traces of the trinitarian Creator God in being as such’” (17, quoting CD I/1, p. 334). The vestigia, as they came to be seen in medieval and protestant scholastic theology, had three traits: they were essential, immanent, and revelatory.

That the vestigia were essential means that there was something left over in the very being of the created order, especially in human beings created in the image of God, that left a trace of God. That is, these vestigial remnants of God’s creative hand were actually revelatory, they signified in a meaningful way God’s trinitarian being. That might not be so bad for Barth, except the vestigia were also immanent, that is, they were in a sense cut off from God’s being, free-floating, objective, and observable.

But this causes a problem for both Jüngel and Barth, for “if one accepts that there are such vestigia trinitatis and that they can be identified as such, the problem arises whether these are not to be regarded as the root of the doctrine of the Trinity” (17). If they are the root of the doctrine of the Trinity, then every Protestant ground is taken: revelation itself is called into question and therefore the notion that theology might be grounded in revelation alone, which finally might undermine the very “meaning and possibility” of theology itself. For Barth, the real problem is one of theological language, a hermeneutical problem (18). “There is no dispute about the fact that revelation is spoken about in this language, indeed, appropriately spoken about. The dispute rather concerns the possibility of this state of affairs” (19).

Jüngel insists, following Barth, that for revelation to take place, then human language much be stretched beyond itself to accommodate the coming of God (which is, by the way, the very definition of revelation for both thinkers). Language has to be “commandeered” “by revelation for revelation” (23). Ironically, it cannot be a latent possibility in human language or the possibility of God coming to speech would be lost. Instead, since revelation does comes to language and commandeer it, there is a gain to human language. “The gain consists in the fact that God comes to speech as God” (23). Revelation means that human language, by God’s grace alone, does the impossible. It is to this gain that we should pay special attention, both by seeing what it is, and what it is not.

This gain is the entering of God’s Word into human words. It is the reiteration for us of God’s internal self-interpretation. As such, “revelation is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity,” and not something essential, revelatory, and immanent within the created order itself (27). “Thus the revelation of God itself is that which makes the interpretation of revelation possible,” that is, it is perfectly reasonable, and even faithful, to look for ways to interpret revelation immanent within language, but the reverse cannot be true.

For Jüngel, the gain may also be described as faith. Faith, in a sense, is the recognition of the language’s inability to talk about God, but, in so recognizing, faith speaks anyway (cf. 60). In faith, God comes to human language and takes it up by taking up human beings themselves into His salvation. Here, Jüngel quotes Barth extensively to elucidate this dynamic:
The taking up of humanity into the event of the knowledge of God is grounded in the taking up of humanity into the event of the being of God. That sounds strange, and in no way does Barth think of it in the sense of a […] [deification] of the being of humanity. The taking up of humanity into the event of God’s being is, rather, humanity’s salvation. And ‘salvation is more than being. Salvation is fulfillment, the supreme, sufficient, definitive, and indestructible fulfillment of being. Salvation is the perfect being which is not proper to created being as such but is still future…. To that extent salvation is its eschaton…being which has a part in the being of God…not a divinized being but a being which is hidden in God, and in that sense (distinct from God and secondary) eternal being’ [IV/1, p. 8] (75).
This taking up in response to God’s coming in revelation “makes history,” that is, it moves through the impossible and creates and actualizes a non-latent possibility in the very act of God’s coming. The possibility is grounded in the event of God’s revelation in Jesus of Nazareth through which God “brings human being into correspondence with the being of God which corresponds to itself” (112). God has “brought himself to speech in a human way” in this irreducible and decidedly transcendent event (112). In this sense, the gain to language is an ontological gain to human beings in general. Human beings are caught up in the one Human’s life in God. In this way, the doors are open for more possibility for human beings than was possible ‘before’ this event by God’s grace.

Having sketched the gain to language, we need to briefly sketch the loss to revelation that would result if the vestigia trinitatis were indeed essential, revelatory and immanent. In this case, we are no longer talking about revelation commandeering language and endowing it with an impossible possibility. We speak instead of language commandeering revelation “on the fundamental structure of the analogia entis per analogiam nominum” (23). “The loss consists in the fact that God does not come to speech as God but as nomen” (23). In revelation, God comes to speech as God. Based on the analogy of being, God comes to speech only as another word among words.

But, in the end, what a reified vestigium trinitatis ends up representing not only threatens revelation, in Jüngel’s view, but also threatens language itself: “When language seeks to be itself revelation, it loses itself as language” (26). If the commandeering of language leads to its gain and a loss of revelation leads to its losing its proper place as human language, we begin to see a pattern of relationship between revelation and human language that resonates with John Webster’s description of divine and human freedom at his recent Kantzer lectures (; lecture #3, 01:11:50f). Instead of conceiving of human and divine freedom/agency as inversely proportional such that if God is acting then human beings must be passive in His wake, Webster suggested the clue is that these two are actually directly proportional. In such a relationship, the more God acts upon us the more free we are. In a similar way here, the commandeering presence of God in revelation is not the presence of a “dumb aggressor but rather gets involved with and in language through speaking” (27). The more God acts upon our language, the freer it is to interpret God’s self-interpretation in Christ.

We should pause, as did Jüngel, and point out that Barth himself thought there must be “something in” all the talk about the vestigia. The question was “what” that something might be (18). If the what starts from revelation and moves to find language with which to interpret it, that would be fine. But, if the vestigia are used to prove some latent capacity for God in language or human being, then Barth believes it deserves the utmost censure. Here we find the classic Barthian opposition of the analogia entis by the analogia fidei. “This, at any rate, is how Barth understands it when he fears that in the doctrine of the vestigia trinitatis we are concerned—probably counter to the intention of its discoverers—with ‘a genuine analogia entis’” (20, from CD I/1, p. 340).

Having come this far, it might be prudent to recap where we have been. There was a hermeneutical problem raised by the vestigia trinitatis. Revelation, according to Jüngel and Barth, constitutes a gain to language in that God comes to us in it as God, and we are enabled by this presence of God as God in speech to respond in faith, to actually speak about God’s coming to us in Jesus Christ and to be drawn up in Christ into God’s salvation. In this connection, the problem raised by the vestigia is far more than hermeneutical, it is soteriological and anthropological as well. Revelation not only constitutes a gain to language but also a gain to human being in its salvation. Without revelation, these are negatively affected, i.e., a loss of revelation leads to a plateauing of humanity. But in revelation, we begin to see the actualized God bringing creation and its creatures to their ultimate and eschatological fulfillment.

Barth’s view of God is based on revelation so conceived. With this God we’re dealing with the actus purus et singularis, the self-moving, self-giving God of the Bible (cf. 79). In revelation, we are dealing with the place in which “‘the fullness of the original self-existent being of God’s Word reposes and lives’, [and, therefore, with] that event in which the being of God comes to word” (27, qt. CD I/1, p. 304-305). The perfect God does not remain at a distance but – precisely in God’s Lordship – God come to us as the One who loves in freedom. This movement of God’s being towards us is the problem of revelation and also the basis of its glorious benefits.

And here we find the connection towards which I have been driving, that Jüngel’s idea of revelation lends itself to an Evangelical humanism. There is far more than a gain to language - there is a gain to human being and society. From his 1975 epilogue to God’s Being is in Becoming, in response to the apparent falling apart of dogmatics and social responsibility that had begun to dominate the theological discourse (as it still does today), Jüngel wrote the following:
In this, I see one of the most important contributions of Christian theology to the question of ontology: God is at one and the same time the interruption of the coherence of being and its intensification; and, therefore, the correspondence between person (mind) and reality, which occurs in all true knowledge, means, in the case of knowledge of God, a gain to being which at the level of practice makes more possible in the actuality of the world than that actuality is capable of granting to itself. If God’s being is in becoming, then for us, too, more is possible (138-139; emphasis mine).

Why an Evangelical humanism? Because the idea here is one of an opening vista. Human beings can flourish. We can order ourselves into just societies that treat the least of these with love. We can exist in a world in which turning the other cheek is neither mocked nor ignored. We can finally and fruitfully live as human beings whose freedom it is to steward a world full of endless and yet increasing possibilities.

Why an Evangelical humanism? Because everything about the increase in possibility for human being is firmly rooted in God’s grace. Unlike the classical use of vestigia, this humanism is not essential - it is not as though we had the capacity in ourselves to move upward - nor is it revelatory - the growth of human potential is not somehow the basis for our understanding of God as the Big Human in the sky (cf. Feuerbach). As a non-essential and non-revelatory humanism, it is also not immanent. There is room for human freedom not because God has withdrawn Himself from our creatureliness, but because God has Himself entered it and reconstituted it in Himself. Insofar as God moves upon us, we have our freedom, and this freedom is the freedom of the children of God. “For us, too, more is possible” (139).

If we appreciate Jüngel’s linking of revelation and this special type of Evangelical humanism, we can see that the world left in the wake of the vestigia is a damned place. Conversely, the world in which the light of God’s revelation enables us to find vestigia trinitatis exists at the doorstep of heaven.

Response to Jason Ingalls

Contributed by Shane Wilkins.

"God is a Noun, and There’s Absolutely Nothing Wrong With That"

Ingalls deserves credit for trying to chart a path through this tangled thicket of Jüngel’s ugly prose, but he seems much more willing than I to humor Jüngel’s bald assertions and unargued assumptions.

As far as I can tell, the basic structure of Jüngel’s argument goes like this:

- (1) If you believe there are vestigia trinitatis, then there is a question whether they are the roots of the doctrine of the trinity.

- (2) If the vestigia trinitatis are the roots of the doctrine of the trinity, then some creaturely reality is revelatory, or perhaps better, adequate to the task of revelation.

- (3) But creaturely reality is not of itself revelatory, or is inadequate for the purposes of revelation, hence the vestigia trinitatis are not the roots of the doctrine of the trinity and, in fact, there are no such things as vestigia trinitatis.

This is the basic form of the argument. For “creaturely reality is inadequate for the purposes of revelation” one could also substitute “there is an analogia entis” or “natural theology is successful” to discover two basic variations on the theme. So this is just the familiar Barthian position. However, there is a further, final claim:

- (4) Nevertheless, in the doctrine of the vestigia trinitatis, Augustine, et al. were looking for the right thing, namely a language in which to speak about God.

This last bit is what Jüngel is really hot and bothered about. As per (3), it seems to be his opinion that natural human language is unable to speak about God unless “commandeered by revelation” (23). The conclusion is that language itself is unable to speak about God by any intrinsic power of its own, unless commandeered by revelation. If there were vestigia trinitatis or analogia entis, then Jüngel believes this would constitute a loss to revelation because God could not come to speech as “God but only as nomen.”

By ‘nomen’ Jüngel is presumably alluding to q. 13 of the Summa Theologiae. Thomas Aquinas never uses the expression ‘analogia entis’, and the quasi-aristotelian theory of the grades of being and the analogy between substances and accidents and so forth has little direct application to the question of theological language. But, Thomas does discuss an analogia nominum in the context of the adequacy of theological speech. The ‘names’ here are also nouns, like “justice.” The question, as the scholastics would ask it, is this: “Is justice predicated univocally of God and creatures, equivocally or in some other way?”

So, I take it that Jüngel means his position to be a criticism of Thomas’s view. Further, seems to be insinuating that Thomas’s position makes creaturely reality revelatory or that Thomas would somehow ground his doctrine of the trinity in the vestigia trinitatis.

Now, that is all nonsense, of course.

To show what’s wrong with this, let’s start with Augustine. In De Trinitate VI, Augustine does say that, “When we regard the Creator, who is understood by the things that are made we must needs understand the Trinity of whom there appear traces in the creature, as is fitting.” However, I doubt that Augustine intends to claim that we can gain knowledge of the trinity from creatures independent of revelation. In the first place, I think Augustine famous credo ut intelligamwould make us suspect that Augustine believes that one understands the vestigia trinitatis in the creation after having come to know the creator, not the other way round. Second, just sentences later, Augustine characterizes this knowledge as knowledge “in part, or through a glass and in an enigma.” I take it that Augustine’s point here concerns how we understand the trinity by means of analogues, not the actual origin of the doctrine itself.

Citing this passage from Augustine, Peter Lombard agrees that “through the contemplation of creatures a sufficient knowledge of the Trinity cannot be had nor could it without the revelation of doctrine and/or of interior inspiration” (I Sent d. III). In his sentences commentary on this passage from Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas also agrees, “that by natural reason one is not able to come to the knowledge of the persons of the trinity, and therefore the philosophers have written nothing about it, except perchance by revelation or hearing from another.”

So, contrary to Jüngel’s insinuation, the existence of the vestigia trinitatis does not seem to tempt any Christian theologian (that I know of) into claiming that the doctrine of the trinity is knowable by natural reason alone. The only person who believes that absurdly implausible claim is Hegel. Augustine, Lombard, and Aquinas all had a healthy appreciation for the necessity of revelation and the mystery of the trinity.

Let’s compare very briefly compare then, Jüngel’s view on theological language with that of the augustinian tradition. On Augustine’s view, “human speech labors under a great dearth of words. So we say ‘three persons,’ not in order to say that precisely, but in order not to be reduced to silence” (De Trin, V.10). Later in the tradition, for instance, Thomas develops an analogical account of theological language which expresses precisely this point: there are things that we must say of God but these are never completely correct because of the inadequacy of finite creaturely language to an infinite transcendent creator.

Analogical predication is a mean between univocity and equivocity. If theological language was univocal, then perhaps there would be a legitimate worry that creaturely realities are somehow revelatory. On the other hand, if theological language were purely equivocal, then everything we said about God would not be merely inadequate but actually false. Therefore, Thomas opts to say that the predicates we apply to God are like the ones we apply to creatures, but not identical. So, it is true to say that God is just, and his justice is not wholly dissimilar from our understanding of it, but our understanding is never truly “adequate” in this life.

I think that is all that Barth or Jüngel ought ever to want in terms of trying to safeguard the distinction between God and creatures and the necessity of revelation. But Jüngel’s wants something further. He wants revelation to “commandeer” language to prevent God from being just a nomen. But what the hell is that supposed to mean? When revelation commandeers language, God is no longer a noun? The only evidence I am able to detect for a claim’s being “commandeered” is that it has some paradoxical, dialectical character: “Faith is an impossible possibility” and so forth. I find this claim preposterous for the following reason.

Suppose Jack and Jill both say “God is good”, and Jack says this without the benefit of revelation, and Jill says it with revelation. Is it Jüngel’s view that Jack’s statement is false and Jill’s is true? (Or perhaps Jill says “God is good” where the italics indicate that God has commandeered ‘good’, so that it is no longer a mere creaturely adjective.) Obviously the proposition about God is either true or false, independent of who says it. Revelation makes one to believe the proposition to be true—it does not change the proposition’s truth-value. But, this does not make the word “good” itself to be revelation, because revelation happens when Jack comes to believe that the proposition “God is good” is true. This might occur through special revelation—by a direct illumination by God’s grace; or it might occur through common grace—as mediated by reason, say.

In sum, I think Augustine and Thomas Aquinas’s view are to be preferred above Jüngel and Barth’s. Augustine and Thomas give you all the mystery you need to safeguard transcendence, but do not imply the obscure absurdities Barth’s view leads to. Nor can I see how Thomas’s position implies that the creaturely order is revelatory apart from divine grace in some problematic sense.

I invite you to look at some of the primary sources from which I have been working.


Shane said...

wow, i really should have edited that for clarity. having criticized jungel's prose, I ought to have paid more attention to my own!


Luke said...

This a good presentation of Jüngel’s hermeneutics. Obviously, a full account on the topic needs to link to “God as Mistery”, where deeper arguments are presented. But a first presentation is done in GBB.

In my opinion, Jüngel’s basic hermeneutical presupposition is God self understanding in Jesus. This needs also a fundamental presupposition: Jesus is God. In other words, it presupposes revelation, faith.
And this is not to be overlooked because, in a sense, encloses the entire question. For, what does it mean to have faith in Jesus? To believe a doctrine, a historical fact in the past, an ecclesiastic dogma? No, it means to believe in the Real Living God. This happens when the Word develops his full power upon someone’s life. Thus, the Word forces the subject to the decision: will you believe in me? In other words, will you understand your life under my light and, thus, will you make me a real event?

If we stop here, faith becomes somewhat static. But Jüngel goes ahead and wants to develop that real event in its full implications. The discussion about trinity is intended to pay account of the dynamic meaning of faith in Jesus.

Only perhaps you should work to achieve more clarity in your prose.

Shane: I think this is very interesting, and Hegel very useful at that point. I don’t think Hegel is absurd, although his views are not always true. But at that point, and from a believer point of view, it seems to me correct.

You are a loyal scholastic, and that is good, especially at Rome. But I still prefer Hegel, Barth and Jüngel. On the other hand, the authors you mention, specially Augustine, could also be claimed to be on Jüngel side.

Jason said...

I really appreciate your post. What do you think of Jungel's linking of being, becoming, and revelation which he says he finds in Barth and upon which he bases God's Being is in Becoming?

jonmackenzie said...

Don't forget as well that Jungel develops his theology of language far beyond that propounded in GSW.

ericdarylmeyer said...

Thank you, Jason and Shane, for both the post and the response.

Shane said...

To Luke,

I don't think loyalty is a virtue in philosophy. Precision and accuracy, however are tools without which the enterprise of rational reflection cannot proceed. Nevertheless, what matters is the truth, not who said it.

I happen to think Jüngel is wrong here because his view simply does not make sense to me, not because he is contradicting Thomas Aquinas or Augustine.


In general, I'm suspicious of Barth and Jüngel's claims that their "non-metaphysical" metaphysical claims derive from exegesis of scripture. For instance, one of Barth's theological axioms is that "anything actual is necessarily possible" and he claims to get this from exegesis.

Now, of course it is true that anything actual is necessarily possible, but you certainly don't need revelation to find that out. It's a self-evident axiom of modal logic. However, Barth and Jüngel can't just come out and say that it's self-evident because they are in the grip of this anti-metaphysical theory that says that nothing self-evident to reason can be used in theology, so they have to create some exegetical pretext to try to make it look like that axiom came from "Revelation" rather than ordinary human experience.

My strong suspicion is that the anti-natural theology rhetoric drives Jüngel into eisegeting metaphysical or pseudo-metaphysical claims back into the text when it is convenient for him to do so all the while railing against the supposed metaphysical tradition. (I can't prove this--that's why it's a suspicion, but it seems likely to me that that is what is happening in this text).

My position is this: everybody has metaphysical theories, we might as well bring them out into the open and figure out which of them are true and which are false.

Alex Abecina said...

Thanks Jason, I enjoyed reading your post! I'm only just now working through Barth's Dogmatics I.1 and his take on the vestigia trinitatis, so this post has come at a good time.

Shane, I appreciate your critique of Jungel (and Barth). So far I don't think anyone has properly responded to your concluding Jack and Jill illustration directly, which I thought deserves one. On face value I think that your argument stands.

Luke, I understand why you might "prefer" Hegel, Barth and Jungel on this point, but this can't really be an adequate response to Shane's argument, can it?

Well, unfortunately, I'm not able to offer any more insight to the discussion beyond this... ;)

jonmackenzie said...

I'm still not convinced by your Jack and Jill story. You start of by asking "What the hell does that mean?" of the notion of language being commandeered and God no longer being nomen. I throw the phrase back at you - "Suppose Jack and Jill both say “God is good”, and Jack says this without the benefit of revelation, and Jill says it with revelation. " What the hell does that mean? We're talking some sort of developed language philosophy here not some arbitrary one-to-one mapping of bald assertions. Jack says God is good which is true. But the truth of the statement bears nothing on the meaning of the subject. For example, Jack could be lodging the statement within some notion of the appreciation of the grace of God in which he is seeking to express what God has done for him - "God is good" may sound a little pithy, but he is using the best he can use linguistically. Jill on the other hand could lodge her statement in a different way - "I was walking past a group of religious people and they were singing "God is good"" Again, the statement God is good remains true - and yet Jill does not hold this position via revelation. She is fulfilling the claim that God is merely nomen. What is going on here is simply at the level of linguistic assertion.

The issue here is not merely how revelation works but how language works. I imagine, in true scholastic style, you probably have a deficient language philosophy. With a one-to-one mapping as the metaphor used to understand how this all pans out, there is no suprise that you misunderstand Jungel's attempt to discuss revelation. Jungel holds a understanding of language in which there are strong links between language and reality - there is not a simple dualism between the signified and the signifier - the two are symbiotically related.

Jason said...

Your talk about metaphysics is interesting to me, because (though it's been a while since I cracked GBB) I don't remember that explicitly anti-metaphysical strain. I do recall an anti-natural revelation strand, which I sympathize with at the moment.

What I do not sympathize with (and you're not doing this, of course) is some kind of bald, naive assertion that we can do theology without metaphysics (or vice versa, I suppose). The only question for me is what governs the discourse. Are we doing theology on the basis of a "natural" metaphysics, or are we seeking a "corollary metaphysics" (John Webster) that helps us make sense of the specifics of the biblical witness.

I think the latter is what the tradition did with the metaphysics of its time, especially in Christological and Trinitarian theology when it stretched synonymous words like ousia and hypostasis into usages unfamiliar to the context. We shouldn't assume that we can do the same things with the metaphysical norms of our time because we shouldn't assume that we are up to the task. But, I do think we should appreciate the direction of theology: Revelation --> metaphysics, and not vice versa.

Just my two cents...

Shane said...


You seem to use the word "scholastic" the way I use the word "fascist", i.e. to mean "so obviously wrong it is in no need of disproof."

"What the hell does that mean?"

It means that I think Jack is a philosopher, who is impressed with purely rational arguments that there exists some being who is the first cause of the universe and that this being is absolutely good and the source of all goodness. Therefore Jack says "God is good". (Now, personally, I'm not sure if we've got convincing purely philosophical arguments that get us all the way to those conclusions, but humor me for the sake of the example.)

Now Jill doesn't know or care for anything about philosophy. Jill is, however, a devout Christian. She prays, reads the Bible and goes to Church. She too believes that "God is good".

That's as clear as I can make it.

"But the truth of the statement bears nothing on the meaning of the subject."

I'm not clear what this means. Are you making a point about speech-act theory, such that Jack says "God is good", but the actual illocutionary force is something else? That could certainly be correct, but it wasn't what I was looking for. I think people do sometimes predicating attribute of God in level earnest and not just as circumlocutions. (Otherwise, why not analyze all religious claims as simply circumlocutions about one's own private religious experience rather than claims about the way things really are?)

So, let's draw some distinctions. First distinguish the meaning of words and sentences from their psychological significance.

"La niege est blanche" means that snow is white, even if you don't speak French, i.e. even if the words have no significance to you.

Second, divide "meaning" into intension (or sense) and extension (or reference). In the sentence "Cicero is Tully", "Cicero" and "Tully" have the same referent, but different senses.

It seems to me that when Jack and Jill both assert that "God is good", then they have exactly the same referent in mind. There may be shades of difference in the sense of the word 'good' which they predicate of him. Jack may be thinking about God as the origin of goodness and Jill may be more inclined to think of his goodness with reference to specific acts of benevolence. But, clearly these are two very closely related sense, not so radically divergent that one could just say categorically that everything Jack could ever say about God is false because he doesn't have revelation.

With a one-to-one mapping as the metaphor used to understand how this all pans out, there is no suprise that you misunderstand Jungel's attempt to discuss revelation. Jungel holds a understanding of language in which there are strong links between language and reality - there is not a simple dualism between the signified and the signifier - the two are symbiotically related."

I'm not sure why you are attributing this odd view of language as "one-to-one mapping" to me. At any rate, it certainly is not my view. Nor for that matter was it the view of the scholastics. (Wittgenstein introduces a 'language game' like this early in his Philosophical Investigations as a foil. But he's set up a straw-man version of Augustine's theory there.)

At any rate, here's a popular scholastic view on language: Words are the spoken signs for concepts which represent things to the mind. These concepts are formed at the end of the process of cognition. I see Socrates and Callias and then abstract from them their particularities and form a concept of "human being" which represents this kind of thing.

Now, you're saying that Jüngel's view of language sees a symbiotic relationship between sign and signifier. Is the 'sign' the word and the 'signifier' the thing? If so, it sounds like Jüngel is neglecting the conventional aspects of language. There is nothing snowy about the word "niege".

"La niege est blanche"
"Snow is white"

Presumably "snow" and "niege" have both the same referent and the same sense, so the only thing that differs is the sign. But if the sign differs and the sense and reference remain the same, then there cannot be any necessary connection between the sign and what it signifies.

[Things get more complicated outside of this toy example of course, concepts may differ somewhat from language to language. Color concepts are a notorious example of this.]

So let's return the discussion to the theological question at hand, which is, "What difference does revelation make?"

I think the difference is epistemological, not linguistic. In other words, I think revelation helps one to see that some proposition about God is true. Perhaps revelation also changes the sense of the proposition "God is good". Jack perhaps believed this was true on purely philosophical grounds, but after receiving revelation, Jack feels its significance psychologically in a new way.

On the other hand, Jüngel believes that language is so inadequate to speak about God that revelation must "commandeer" language. So on his view, it isn't that revelation changes the significance of the religious language, but must somehow change the very ontology of the language, it's meaning. That does not sound like a very attractive position to me, for reasons I've already elaborated in an objection to David in the tenth comment at this post.

Shane said...

@ jason,

I agree that we cannot do theology without some kind of metaphysical implications.

I suppose that what I'm arguing for is that there ought to be a bit more dialectic back and forth between the philosophers and the theologians.

For the scholastics, theology was the queen of the sciences and it was the job of the lower sciences (including metaphysics) to accept as premises it's conclusions. And the conclusions of a lower science can never overturn the conclusions of a higher one. This is the philosophical principle that got Galileo in trouble.

I think that picture is wrong. I think there is a back and forth because metaphysics and the natural sciences condition our reading of scripture. Nobody on this side of Galileo thinks that we ought to read the psalms as advocating geocentrism. But, evidently, the reason we don't read the psalms that way is that geocentrism has been proven false.

Luke said...

Shane, you are so alone, that I sympathize with your cause. What you say about loyalty, I share it, and I suppose everyone here will too.

To me, the main problem of your position is that you understand God as a substance, and not as a subject. On the contrary, Jüngel understands God as a subject who tries to produce some kind of understanding of his own. Said in other words, as a subject he is, he has to develop some kind of self-consciousness. I am afraid, scholasticism has no concepts to think that main assumption we own to Hegel. Is that a sound argument?

Luke said...

Shane: I can't share revelation is an increase of knowledge. This is a typical gnostic position, where only the disciplies knew the misteries of Eleusis.
Nothing of that is to be found in Christianty, at least as I understand it.

Shane said...

@ Luke,

Please don't misunderstand my position here. I've already said, in my response to the very first post that pistis in the New Testament is not the same as the lower kind of knowledge in Plato. At any rate, I am not reducing faith to the possession of secret knowledge (which was the gnostic position).

My claim is that believing in God, even in the NT sense of trusting, confiding, etc. commits one to the truth of a proposition, namely "God exists". If God gives an atheist faith, then he also eo ipso causes him to believe the proposition "God exists" is true.

Consider someone who says "I trust in God for my salvation and I think that there is no such thing as God." This is a ridiculous and impossible. So faith is not reducible to propositions about God and his existence or properties, but it implies or relies upon some of those propositions.

Moreover, merely to understand that those propositions are true is not yet to have faith in the required sense. As Thomas puts it, to have faith is "to think with assent" (Summa theologia, 2a2ae, q. 2, a. 1). To sum up--faith without propositions is blind and propositions without faith is dead.

Perhaps there is also exegetical support for my position that revelation causes an increase of knowledge.

Consider Luke 11,27:

πάντα μοι παρεδόθη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου, καὶ οὐδεὶς γινώσκει τίς ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ, καὶ τίς ἐστιν ὁ πατὴρ εἰ μὴ ὁ υἱὸς καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν βούληται ὁ υἱὸς ἀποκαλύψαι.

All things have been handed down to me by my father, and no one knows who the son is except the father, and no one knows who the father is except the son and him to whom the son wishes to reveal him.

I take it that Jesus means that I don't know who the father is until Jesus reveals him to me, and then once Jesus has revealed him, I do know who he is, which implies that in Jesus's revealing the father, I gain some new knowledge. Now "knowledge" here is not knowledge in the philosophical sense, i.e. it isn't a true belief justified by a demonstration. I think it's an open question whether we "know" anything about God in that philosophical sense.

Now perhaps the wily David Congdon will try to use this passage to point out that nobody can know anything whatsoever about God metaphysically, since to know metaphysically would be to know by some other means than through the son.

I don't think that is right either because I think there is a difference between knowing God and knowing some of his properties. I think revelation is absolutely required for the former (as the passage above clearly states), but perhaps not for the latter.

Suppose that Thomas has a successful demonstration that there must exist uniquely one first uncaused thing which is the cause of all other things. If he has, then he has discovered some properties of God. Namely his uniqueness, his being uncause and his being a creator and the like.

Now, of course, to believe any of these things is not yet to have faith. These are mere praembula fidei, so there is a real sense in which the person who knows (in the philosophical sense) merely these things does not yet know (in the ordinary sense, which is also the NT sense) God, and precisely because God has not yet revealed himself to him.

In response to your other query, I'm not sure whether to say God is a substance or not. But, why would being a subject stop one from being a substance? Presumably I'm a substance and also a subject.

Jason said...

Though I am sure that Shane can come to his own defense, I do not think your treatment of him is fair. Shane's is nowhere near a "typical Gnostic" position. Of course Revelation is a gain to knowledge. And unless everyone until the 20th century were Gnostics, then the Church has always considered Revelation to be a gain to knowledge.

In my summary of Jungel's work in GBB, I quoted Jungel arguing that Revelation is a gain to language. I am not sure we could talk about a gain to language without also talking about a gain to knowledge.

The issue at stake is whether or not Revelation is merely a gain to knowledge. Shane and I might disagree on this point (though I'm not sure we do), but even if Shane thinks that Revelation is merely a gain to knowledge this in no way makes him a Gnostic. There is nothing in his rhetoric that encourages any of the dualisms (such as matter/spirit, etc.) that are actually typical of that movement.

He might be wrong. He might be right. But he's not a Gnostic.

Shane said...

Thank you Jason for confirming my non-Gnosticism!

I don't think we disagree, incidentally.

D.W. Congdon said...

"I think there is a difference between knowing God and knowing some of his properties."

Ah ha! So, Shane, we've reached the basic presupposition supporting your position at last. You clearly haven't reached this conclusion from Scripture. And here I clearly have Scripture on my side. I can cite passages from the other gospel as well, most notably Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ.

Seriously, what grounds your premise that God and God's attributes can be separated? At the end of the day, your position requires lessening the significance of Jesus Christ in order to make room for philosophical speculation about the being of God. You can speculate all you want, but how do you finally know whether you are actually speaking about God? That seems to me to be the crisis for philosophical metaphysics.

Kip said...

I am trying to follow the conversation about language. It seems to me that the phrase "The snow is white" can mean and refer to many things. One spy could use it as a code phrase to pass along information to another. It could be an approving remark by a cocaine dealer. It could be a phrase in a song referring to an imaginary character (Snow White). It could be used to express different things: achievement by a child who just learned to read it, difference in the weather by an onlooker who saw grey snow the day before, etc. All of these uses, and more, could be true in english or in french. I don't think the options are only verifiable sense/reference on the one hand, and circumlocution on the other. Am I missing something?

I think Jungel's theology of language is much more comprehensive and subtle than has been depicted in this conversation. For example, see his early essay, "Metaphorical Truth," particularly the sections where he engages Aristotle, and the last section where he offers 25 theses on metaphor.


Shane said...


If I say, "The Snow is white" as a codeword to a drug dealer, this does not change the meaning of the sentence itself. It means there is another sort of communication going on--what speech act theorists would call an illocutive or perlocutive force. However, those additional senses don't change the basic meaning of the sentence itself because the sentence is still true if and only if snow is actually white. Illocutive and perlocutive uses of language are in fact parasitic upon the ordinary locutionary sense.


"And here I clearly have Scripture on my side."

Alright, I call. Let's see it.

Show me exegesis which shows that "there is no difference between knowing God and knowing one of his properties" or "one cannot know any of God's properties without knowing God in the full sense." Or that there is no such thing as common grace, which is what your position really amounts to. Because you know full well that my position on this question is that all creaturely reality, including ordinary creaturely knowledge is dependent upon the grace of God.

Here's my exegetical evidence that there's a difference between knowing God and knowing one of his properties:

Romans 1,18-21

Ἀποκαλύπτεται γὰρ ὀργὴ θεοῦ ἀπ᾿ οὐρανοῦ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ἀσέβειαν καὶ ἀδικίαν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ κατεχόντων, 19 διότι τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς· ὁ θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν. 20 τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται, ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης, εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους, 21 διότι γνόντες τὸν θεὸν οὐχ ὡς θεὸν ἐδόξασαν ἢ ηὐχαρίστησαν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐματαιώθησαν ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐσκοτίσθη ἡ ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία.

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all the uncleanness and injustice of those who confine the truth in injustice, 19 for that which is known about God is apparent among them; for God revealed it to them. For the unseen things of him are clearly seen, being understood since the creation of the world by means of the things that were made [reading τοῖς ποιήμασιν as a dative of means], even his eternal power and divinity, in order that they would be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they did not praise him as God, nor give him thanks, but they became worthless in their reasonings and their foolish hearts were darkened.

These carnal people against whom God's judgment is coming were possessors of some knowledge kind of knowledge of God, including knowledge of his properties, namely his power and divinity. However, they did not recognize him as God, presumably because they did not have faith. So clearly there is a difference between recognizing God in the sense which faith allows and a knowledge of some of his properties based on reasoning from created things, which was my claim.

Furthermore, St. Paul says that their reasonings were futile because they did not give God thanks, but he simply does not say that it would have been impossible for their reasonings to have been otherwise than futile. I don't see any way to read this text as making that claim.

Although Barth in his Romans commentary is surprisingly willing to allow that "God's voice can always be heard in the whirlwind," and so on (p. 46), still he thinks that all "that which can be known of God" is his utter unknowableness. Hence, "our ignorance is precisely the problem and source of our knowledge." But St. Paul seems to think the unrighteous pagans have considerably more at their disposal than simply a sense of ignorance, they have knowledge of at least two of God's properties, his divinity and his power.

Now, that might be fairly slender evidence, but Paul believes they constitute sufficient grounds to hold the pagans guilty before God for not having lived in accordance with what they did know about God. If all they had known was that they knew nothing, it would have been hard to see why they were culpable for not living up to what they knew--namely that God was to be praised. If all you know is that you know nothing, how are you supposed to be able to know that God is to be praised?

"What grounds your premise that God and his attributes can be separated?"

The exegesis of Romans 1. What grounds your premise that they can't?

Luke said...


I apologize for not engaging in the interesting debate before; I was abroad and had a limited access to internet.

You don't need to be defended, because I am not attacking you. Concerning what I said about Gnosticism, I just was claiming your position tend to that, as all true scholasticism also does. Please, don't be offended if I make you a correction. Your quotation of Luke is not 11,27; but 10,22. Its parallel is Mt 11,25. It is a late and deep Hellenistic elaboration concerning the self-consciousness of Jesus, that has no parallel in Mark. On the other hand, you can find it in Q (10, 22) and in Thomas (62). As you may know, Q and Thomas are deeply indebted to Gnosticism. This suggests these words were not uttered by the historical Jesus, but were added to his mouth by Hellenistic communities influenced by Greek thought.

I maintain faith is not an increase of knowledge in any sense, but a change of attitude.

Shane said...

Hi Luke, thanks for catching the mistaken attribution. I don't know how I ended up with a verse in a completely different chapter.

Personally, I don't care for most source-critical scholarship because it seems like presuppositions such as "Jesus didn't care about knowledge" drive the methodology about whether x can or cannot really be a saying of Jesus. I don't know how in the world these critics are supposed to know what Jesus could or could not have thought, said or done.

At any rate, what is important to me is the final, canonical form of the text. And it says right there in the text something that I think supports my view that revelation is an increase in knowledge.

Do you think the text is wrong or that I am wrong. I'm perfectly willing to continue discussing the issue if you think that I am wrong. But if you are asserting that the text is a gnostic addition that should be excised, I don't think there's anything profitable that I could respond. We would simply be undertaking quite different activities if that were the case.

Luke said...

I hope when I commit a mistake you will also come to my help!

I am not saying you are wrong or that the text is wrong. The text is simply what it is. But you take too much seriously the Gnostic influence upon the New Testament. I don’t see any problem in that, as well as the Jewish or Oriental influence on it. The New Testament is a text under the same historical conditions as any other in the world. That those called Christians see in it the word of God, and so, presuppose its true or uniqueness, is another question.

About what you say about what Jesus did, said or thought, I think is difficult to find certainty, but not impossible. If that was the case, we would be in front of a mythical image without any kind of historical engagement. I tend to take exegesis very seriously.

Concerning the content of the text, I agree it seems to support your theses that faith or revelation is an increase of knowledge. The question consists in interpreting what kind of knowledge it is. In my opinion, the closest exegetical interpretation is to link this knowledge to correctly understand what parables intend to transmit. But I see your point linking that to Thomas, although I not share it. Can you, please, repeat again, in a few words, what kind of knowledge is the one increased by revelation?