Monday, June 12, 2006

A Solution to Talking About God?

I was covering some shifts at Johnny Zee's last night, which equals me sitting around reading all night and getting paid to do so.

Anyways...I was reading up on St Anselm and it came to me.

Let me give you the background...

There is a problem of language when one talks about God. It involves a basic principle (both logically and mathematically). I will communicate this via what is known as Set Theory.

Set Theory claims the following, that a finite set cannot contain an infinite set. That is to say, finite sets are limited in scope of numbers, while infinite sets are boundless. Thus, an infinite set cannot be contained, period.

So God, who is infinite, thus can't be contained by a finitie mind. This is easy enough to understand. But then we have a problem. Our language is finite in nature, yet it attempts to describe something infinite. This seems to be quite a perplexing thing.

Pseudo Dionysius attempts to solve the problem by his 2 roads of talking about God.

The first way is the Via Positiva, the Positive Way. This way states that when we say God is good, it is true, because God is good, He includes that concept of good which we conceive. However, God is really super-good, that is, the good which is in God is so far beyond our understanding of the good (thus keeping the infinite gulf that exists between God and creation). So our concept of good conveys some truth about God, but it is minimal, but can be said in an affirmative fashion.

The second way is known as the Via Negativa, the Negative Way. This way states that since our language is finite, it cannot possibly grasp any fact about God. God's goodness is so far beyond our understanding of goodness that it makes sense for us to say that God is not-goodness. That is to say, God is not what we conceive goodness to be, because He is infinitely beyond that. This is the way of the mystics and deeply rooted in Neo-Platonic philosophy.

So, there is great debate as to which way is better. Pseudo-Dionysius will state that the Via Positiva is rooted in the Via Negativa. Because our idea of goodness is so far beyond what goodness is like in God, it is essentially negative.

Now...I think there is a way to solve this. If you recall in one of my previous posts, St Augustine's Theory of Evil states that evil isn't an ontological reality, that is, it doesn't have being and existence like goodness has. Instead, it is a twisting, deprivation, lacking of good.

I argue that language is the same (though not as evil, just that it isn't what God is). Since language does not reach the heights of God, it does not affirm things the way they are. However, The Word is God. Thus, our language, our words, are simply a lesser degree of the Word. They express the reality, though in a limited lesser degree. Words are a "deprivation" of the divine reality which they signify. Thus, they express truth because they contain a bit of that which they are deprived of. Thus, via St Augustine's theory of evil, our language can express truths about God, rooted in the via negativa (because of the of deprivatio), but expressed in both ways.

1 comment:

KA said...

Our language is also rooted in a sense of time. Every single word has a time limit on it. Yet time is finite, so it can't be applied to God. When we talk about God, we talk about him in the context of time because it's the only common tool we all have; it's when we talk about God in his dvinity that faith allows us to connect our finite minds to the infinite nature of God.