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Language, Metaphor, and Chalcedon: A Case of Theological Double Vision*

  • Stephen W. Need (a1)

The question of how human language functions in relation to God constitutes one of the most difficult problems in Christian theology. I contend that Christian notions of language about God should be constructed in light of christology, since both are concerned with the relationship between the human and the divine. Northrop Frye, drawing on the poetry and thought of William Blake, speaks of the importance of “the double vision of a spiritual and a physical world simultaneously present” in understanding how religious language works. This fundamental quality of double vision or tension characterizes the relationship between the human and the divine both in language about God and in christology. In this article I shall examine several aspects of the relationship between the human and the divine: first, the basic problem of theological language as discussed by George Lindbeck; second, the notion of theological language as metaphorical, as discussed by Sallie McFague; and third, christology as found in the Chalcedonian definition of Christian faith. I shall conclude that it is appropriate to construct notions of language about God in light of Chalcedonian christology.

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1 Frye Northrop, The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991) 85.

2 Lindbeck George, The Nature of Doctrine: Theology in a Post-Liberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984). In the last decade this work has continued to provoke and influence discussion. See, for example, Modern Theology 4 (1988); Lints Richard, “The Postpositivist Choice: Tracy or Lindbeck?JAAR 61 (1993) 655–77; and Stell Stephen L., “Hermeneutics in Theology and the Theology of Hermeneutics: Beyond Lindbeck and Tracy,JAAR 61 (1993) 679703.

3 McGrath Alister, The Genesis of Doctrine (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990) 34.

4 Ibid., 29.

5 Lindbeck, Nature, 16.

6 See Wittgenstein Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (trans. Pears David F. and McGuiness Bernard F.; London: Routledge, 1974) 21.

7 Lindbeck, Nature, 16.

8 See Wittgenstein Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations (trans. by Anscombe Gertrude E. M.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1967) 20.

9 Lindbeck, Nature, 69.

10 Ibid., 19.

11 Ibid., 94.

12 Ibid. For further discussion of this matter, see Williams Stephen, “Lindbeck's Regulative Christology,Modern Theology 4 (1988) 173–86.

13 Barth Karl, Church Dogmatics 1/1 (trans. Thompson George T.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961) 189.

14 See, for example, Soskice Janet Martin, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985); McFague Sallie, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982); Ortony Andrew, ed., Metaphor and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Kittay Eva Feder, Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic Structure (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987).

15 On Aristotle, see Soskice, Metaphor, 3–4. For Enlightenment views, see Locke John, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” in The Works of John Locke (1823; 10 vols.; reprinted Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1963) vols. 1–3. Locke says that figurative language, which includes metaphor, is made up of “perfect cheats” (2. 288). See also Hobbes Thomas, Leviathan (ed. Macpherson Crawford B.; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). Metaphors, he says, “deceive others” (p. 102).

16 Caird George, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (London: Duckworth, 1980) 133.

17 Barfield Owen, “The Meaning of the Word ‘Literal,’” in Knights Lionel C. and Cottle Basil, eds., Metaphor and Symbol (London: Butterworth, 1960) 48.

18 Soskice, Metaphor, 15.

19 See Richards Ivor A., The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936) 90; Black Max, “Metaphor,” in Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962) 2547; Beardsley Monroe, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1958) 134–47; and idem, “The Metaphorical Twist,” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 22 (1962) 292–307.

20 See Ricoeur Paul, The Rule of Metaphor: Multidisciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978) 224.

21 McFague, Metaphorical Theology, 4.

22 Ibid., 4.

23 Ibid., 65.

24 Ibid., 92.

25 Ibid., 101.

26 Ibid., 73.

27 Ibid., 20.

28 This danger also permeates McFague's more recent work, for example, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987); and idem. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). See also Bromell's David J. discussion of McFague's work in “Sallie McFague's ‘Metaphorical Theology,’JAAR 61 (1993) 485503.

29 McFague, Metaphorical Theology, 196.

30 Ibid., 48.

31 Ibid., 42–43.

32 It is interesting that in The Body of God McFague moves clearly toward a dynamic incarnational view of the relationship between God and world.

33 White Roger, “Notes on Analogical Predication and Speaking about God,” in Hebblethwaite Brian and Sutherland Stewart, eds., The Philosophical Frontiers of Christian Theology: Essays Presented to D. M. Mac-Kinnon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 224.

34 For the text of the Chalcedonian definition and some discussion, see Bindley T. Herbert and Green Frederick W., eds., The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith (4th ed.; London: Methuen, 1950) 183–99. For the wider historical and theological background, see Sellers Robert V., The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey (London: S.P.C.K., 1953).

35 For a fuller discussion of these two traditions, see Sellers Robert V., Two Ancient Christologies (London: S.P.C.K., 1940).

36 Waldrop Charles, Karl Barth's Christology: Its Basic Alexandrian Character (Amsterdam: Mouton, 1984) 25.

37 Pannenberg Wolfhart, Jesus—God and Man (London: SCM, 1968) 287.

38 Greer Rowan, Theodore of Mopsuestia (London: Faith, 1961) 61.

39 For more details on this, see Kelly John N. D., Early Christian Doctrines (London: Black, 1977) especially chap. 12.

40 Young Frances, From Nicaea to Chalcedon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 188.

41 Relton Herbert Maurice, A Study in Christology (London: S.P.C.K., 1917) 19.

42 Wolfson Harry Austryn, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970) 441.

43 Nazianzen Gregory, “Epistle 101,” in Schaff Philip and Wade Henry, eds., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (14 vols.; 2d ser.; trans. Charles G. Browne and James E. Swallow; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978) 7. 440.

44 For a thorough study of these words, see Stead Christopher, Divine Substance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977).

45 My translation. The original Greek is ὁμοούσιον τῷ πατρὶ κατὰ τὴν θεότητα, καὶ ὁμοούσιον τὸν αὐτὸν ἡμῖν κατὰ τὴν ἀνθρωπότητα. See Bindley and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 193 and 234–35. For a full translation of the Chalcedonian definition, see ibid., 232–35 and Stevenson J., ed., Creeds, Councils, and Controversies. Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church A.D. 337–461 (London: S.P.C.K., 1966) 334–38.

46 LPGL, s.v. οὐσία.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Stead, Divine Substance, 193.

51 Prestige George L., God in Patristic Thought (London: S.P.C.K., 1956) 197.

52 Ibid., 209.

53 Stead, Divine Substance, 241.

54 For a comprehensive account of this word's background, see Lohse Eduard, “πρόσωπον,TDNT 6 (1968) 768–80.

55 My translation. The original Greek is εἰ ς ἓν πρόσωπον καὶ μίαν ὑπόστασιν συντρεχούσης, οὐκ εἰς δύο πρόσωπα μεριζόμενον ἢ διαιρούμενον. See Bindley and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 193 and 235.

56 Prestige, Patristic Thought, 157.

57 For a comprehensive account of this word's background, see Koester Helmut, “ὑπόστασις.TDNT 8 (1969) 572–89.

58 Ibid., 574.

59 Sellers, Council of Chalcedon, 139.

60 See Bindley and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 193.

61 LPGL, s.v. ἐνυπόστατος.

62 See McIntyre John, The Shape of Christology (London: SCM, 1966) 100101.

63 For a comprehensive account of this word's background, see Koester Helmut, “φύσις,TDNT 9 (1968) 251–77.

64 Translation by Sellers, Council of Chalcedon, 211. The original Greek is ἐν δύο φύσεσιν … γνωριζόμενον. See also Bindley and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 193 and 235.

65 LPGL, s.v. φύσιζ.

66 For ἐν δύο φύσεσιν and μίαν ὑπόστασιν see Bindly and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 193 and 235.

67 See Schleiermacher Friedrich, The Christian Faith (3 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928) 393; and Tillich Paul, Systematic Theology (trans. Mackintosh Hugh R. and Stewart James S.; London: SCM, 1978) 2. 148.

68 Macquarrie John, “Foundation Documents of the Faith III: The Chalcedonian Definition,” ExpTim 91 (1979) 6872.

69 See Koester, “φύσις,” 252–53.

70 Aristotle Metaph. 1014b (trans. and eds. J. A. Smith and William D. Ross; 12 vols.; London: Oxford University Press, 1908–1952) 5. 4.16.

71 Translation from Bindley and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 235. It is worth noting that not only are these four terms not wholly negative in intention, but they are also actually adverbs not adjectives. This makes the usual translation “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” less appropriate. The translation I have used draws attention to the fluid and dynamic nature of the relationship between human and divine in the Chalcedonian definition.

72 My translation. The original Greek is οὐδαμοῦ τῆς τῶν φύσεων διαφορᾶς ἀνηρημένης διὰ τὴν ἕνωσιν. See Bindley and Green, Oecumenical Documents, 193 and 235.

73 My translation. Bindley and Green have “concurring into one.” See Oecumenical Documents, 235.

74 For a discussion of music and christology, see Gunton Colin, Yesterday and Today: A Study of Continuities in Christology (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1983) 115–24.

75 Barth Karl, Dogmatics in Outline (trans. Thomson G. T.; 1949; reprinted London: SCM, 1957) 66.

76 Neither Lindbeck nor McFague doubts, in principle, that theological language has meaning and achieves reference. Broadly speaking, both operate from a position of critical realism in which theological language has meaning but must not be absolutized. It is not my concern to enter into the problems of reference in relation to theological language. The notions of the fixing of reference found in the following discussions, however, would certainly be continuous with my overall argument: Kripke Saul, Naming and Necessity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981); Donnellan Keith S., “Reference and Definite Descriptions,” in Schwartz Stephen P., ed., Naming, Necessity and Natural Kinds (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977) 4265; Boyd Richard, “Metaphor and Theory Change: What is ‘Metaphor’ a Metaphor for?” in Ortony Andrew, ed., Metaphor and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) 356408; and Soskice, Metaphor, chaps. 7 and 8.

77 Many factors have contributed to this decline, one of the most obvious being the development and predominance of logical positivism, especially as found in Ayer Alfred J., Language, Truth and Logic (1936; reprinted Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971).

* I would like to thank Professor Sarah Coakley, Professor Helmut Koester, and Mr. David Lamberth for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this article.

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