Fr George ADIMIKE
Though reflection on religion, which is about a relationship between God and humanity, can be viewed from different perspectives, its core appreciates a qualitative difference of infinite dimension between the Creator and His creatures. In this difference, one gleans a substantial distinction of immense magnitude between the divine and the human. The implication is that a proper understanding of religious language needs to note this reality, avoiding unnecessary obfuscations that confuse more than they enlighten. Ordinarily, equivocation seems a natural pattern of speaking about God; however, since an object is known from its maker, it presupposes that humans share some degrees of similarity with God. Hence, humanity’s origin in God confers on her a participation in the divine nature, which naturally obviates the principle of absolute equivocation relative to God-talk (cf. Genesis 1:26-27).
Our likeness to the divine lays the broad foundation that deeply imbues human words with the capacity to mediate divine-human communication. However, without a proper interpretative framework, the human word retains an inbuilt capacity to distort the knowledge of God. Both ministers and recipients of the Word ought to appreciate that the Word cannot be pigeonholed, for there will always be more to it. God-talk, therefore, has to exclude equivocation and univocation. Precisely, human words are susceptible to generate discordant voices that advance vague ambiguities, misleading exaggerations and reign of confusions when isolated from their proper context. Owing to the great harm that can inadvertently be done by this culture of abuse to the Word of God by its claimants, there is a great need for some caveat and the fact that the eternal Logos comes to us in mythos advances the need for the caveat a notch. The Word of God is always delivered in and within human words; hence, the search for understanding is ongoing, for stagnant water becomes dangerous.
Ordinarily, human words conceal more than they reveal God because of His ineffable otherness. Equivocation is problematic relative to God-talk to the extent it holds that we can say nothing right about God, and in contrast, univocation has it that our words relate to God in exactly the way they relate to us. By its nature, equivocation deletes identity and exaggerates distinction, while on the contrary, univocation obliterates distinction and accentuates identity. For the religious language to escape the weaknesses of these two concepts, it must appreciate that the mystery of God’s outreach to humanity―God’s primordial katalogy―paves the way for humanity’s response, analogy. Accordingly, analogy creates a vale of meaning in-between mountains of equivocation and univocation. While equivocation absolutises the transcendence of God, univocation exaggerates His immanence, and each brackets off the other. Religious language, especially God-talk, has the functional task of creating a space for interpretation and exegesis. This task is a prerogative of the community of faith, a community of meaning, both to culture and religion. And indeed, the community enjoys a high premium relative to understanding the faith.
As a matter of faith, analogy helps humans access and express mysteries in concepts that neither exhaust nor fully encompass the meaning they designate. Because the concepts can only imperfectly contain the meaning of the mysteries, there is an overflow between mysteries and concepts. This truth rescues our appreciation of the mystery of God from being locked in human concepts. In that regard, it allows the conception of God to grow as our understanding grows, cognizance of the fact that human knowledge cannot master God’s being. The appreciation of this reality will demonstrate that the problem is not God but the human culture of religion. The error is always with humans within the complexities of their limitations. In conveying God-thought, religious messaging that overlooks the analogical nature of God-talk will likely violate God’s Word piously. Such wrong and superficial approach to God-talk takes little notice of its grandeur and limitation and may distort the message, thus giving a bad name to God. For instance, God’s Word might be an alibi to promote hate in the name of God of love, killing in the name of God of life and hostility in the name of God of peace.
This message is critical in this era when many claim to be speaking in God’s name. Their arrogant ignorance not only corrupts the content of the true faith but also advances fundamentalism a notch. No doubt, their utter disregard for the importance of perspective relative to faith misrepresents Christianity. Context funds a proper understanding of religious truth, and its exclusion is a recipe for fanaticism and fundamentalism. Negligence of the essential role of context in appreciating religious truth paves the way for the theological influencers, priestcrafts and pastorpreneuers, who abuse the Scriptures for selfish gain. They harm Christianity by their unconscionable acts of fundamentalism, deceit, and unbridled arrogance that seek to dethrone God and enthrone pastorpreneurs. Undoubtedly, fundamentalism tackles the true faith. The ethos of grace frees our ego of this fundamentalist disposition by forming the teachers and preachers of the faith to appreciate their role as ministers and not masters of the Word.
In our groping for meaning, direction and truth, the Christian faith not only illuminates our paths in our existential journey but also orients our pilgrimage. The authentic understanding and expression of the Christian faith never fail to accommodate the inaccessibility of God’s aseity and freedom of God-in-Godself. It unfolds, acknowledging the constant of God’s necessity and human contingency. A proper appreciation of religious messaging enriches one with the true message of God sieved from the particularities of its medium of transmission. Oracles of God owe the faithful the duty of respecting God’s freedom in their presentations, knowing full well that God alone has the final word. It has to be well noted that even an analogy is still an imperfect medium that helps us employ human words in speaking about mystery. According to the 4th General Council of Lateran (1251), “one cannot note a likeness between creature and Creator without having to note a still-greater unlikeness”.
In speaking about our Father, we recognise that we are infinitely different even in our likeness to Him. Thusly, our words have to be nuanced to establish a proper understanding of His message. Though His love overwhelms our unworthiness, He is still our sovereign; and being His oracles does not make us equal to Him. He retains the right to the Final Word, for which we create the space for His ultimate Word by employing analogy. Given the analogous nature of God-talk, we exercise humility knowing the limitedness of our understanding and speaking, especially of revelations.
Fr George ADIMIKE