instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Divine naming

When Catholic theologians speak of "divine naming," they mean, roughly, identifying attributes God can be said to possess. "Almighty" and "Omniscient" are two such divine names. (As opposed to the Name of God, obviously, although "I Am Who Am" is also an attribute of God, probably the attribute.)

Traditionally, theologians have favored the "negative theology" of saying what isn't true of God. We think of "omniscient" as meaning "all knowing," but more properly it means "unlimited in knowledge." Similarly, "omnipotent" means "unlimited in power." This "negative" way of putting things is thought to be better, because we as finite creatures don't really know what "all power" is, and God's power is not limited by finite creaturely concepts of power.

Br. Bernhard Blankenhorn, OP, has written a very lucid article, "Balthasar's Method of Divine Naming," which looks at the, er, method Balthasar used for divine naming. As the opening sentence of the paper observes:
One of the most original elements of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology is his method of predicating attributes of the triune God, combining divine immutability and divine suffering love.
In other words, Balthasar accepts the traditional negative theology, but unapologetically adds a hefty dose of positive theology whose compatibility with traditional understanding is, shall I say, not trivially apparent.

As I've mentioned before, I have some difficulties with Balthasar, or what I've been told is his theology. Often, I don't understand what he writes. Often, when I think I do understand what he writes, I'm not convinced he's written anything intelligible. Often, when I'm convinced he's written something intelligible, I'm not convinced it's true.

This, as any good Balthasarian should be quick to note, says more about me than about Balthasar.

Still, I appreciate Br. Bernhard's paper for at least explaining, in a way I find intelligible, the principles Balthasar used to derive many of his ideas:
Balthasar's method of divine naming can be summarized thus. First, philosophy is indispensable, yet it must be elevated and perhaps radically transformed by grace. Second, negative theology is also necessary, but a philosophical negative theology cannot be allowed to exclude certain characteristics from the process of divine naming, if supernatural revelation points in another direction. This naturally leads to the third point, that only the revelation of Christ can determine the true nature of potentiality and finitude. Fourth, the economic Trinity must be the basis for any description of the immanent Trinity, and so one must look to Christ as the revealer of his relationship to the Father. Fifth, an understanding of true love as communio, as letting the other be, giving the other freedom, a doctrine of love inspired by dialogical philosophy and the visions of Speyr, is a hermeneutical key in the approach to supernatural revelation.
I have no problem with the first two principles. I think the third and fourth are worth keeping in mind, but should not be as absolute as Balthasar seemed to say. The fifth one is where I pretty much slam on the brakes. Nothing against dialogical philosophy or the visions of Speyr, neither of which I'd recognize if we were stuck in an elevator together, but I'm not prepared to hand either of them the keys to Scripture.

Standard disclaimer: My opinions and judgment have no authority, and I am not qualified to comment on these matters. I post stuff like this because I usually wind up learning a lot from the responses.