Home > Uncategorized > Univocity of being–a cliche?

Univocity of being–a cliche?

For those who have taken to heart the works of Jean-Luc Marion–or Martin Heidegger, for that matter–it goes without saying that the history of the concept of being, particularly of the univocal concept of being which begins to gain prominence after Scotus, has been detrimental to theology.  I do not dispute this claim.  But I do wonder to what extent it has, over the years, become a cliche.  At least, it strikes me that more time could be spent thinking about why this claim might be true than simply reiterating it as something obvious. 

It bears remembering, for instance, that for Scotus and Suarez, to say that being is, at least in one respect, univocal is not to imply that God and creatures are the same.  God’s being is infinite, simple, absolute, necessary; ours is finite, composite, relative, contingent.  But the fact that we use the word “being” in each case suggests that something unites these radically dissimilar . . . . what can one even call them?–realities?  beings?–language breaks down here.  But in order to go on speaking, a provision will have to be made, and the concept of being could be read precisely as such a provision. 

But if God and creatures are not the same, then has not God been reduced to an element within a larger horizon, and thereby dethroned?  This objection would also be hard to sustain for Scotus and Suarez, insofar as God is nothing other than the simple fullness of being, upon which all other beings depend.  The same question, moreover, could be repeated with respect to any alternative name that is used theologically: e.g., love, beauty, goodness, grace, holiness, power.  Any divine name comes with the risk of subordinating God to a concept, but this is certainly not Scotus’ or Suarez’s intention, even though they have recourse to concepts. 

Is the problem, then, that scholastic writing in general is not overtly prayerful?  Is it that scholastic theology is divorced from spirituality?  Perhaps.  And yet, how can we be sure that the appearance of such a divorce does not stem from a failure of interpretation on our part?  After all, Suarez was a devout Jesuit; Scotus was a faithful Franciscan.  Arguably, their religiously vowed lives indicate the influence of an admirable spiritual practice.  Who is to say that their theological systems did not emerge out of  daily participation in the liturgy of the hours or (at least in Suarez’s case) the practice of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius? 

I, myself, have a preference for speaking of being in more explicitly analogical terms, because I think that this preserves the God-creature difference more effectively.  And yet, I cannot help but wonder whether a relatively uninformed prejudice has started to inform our assessment of the great representatives of scholasticism.

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  1. August 29, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    *applause*

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