I recently submitted the following blog to theomag.com which prompted a need for further clarification of the analogia entis (analogy of being). This clarification took place over email with someone who subscribes to openness theology (this is why there are references to open theism below). My response is included below the initial post for those interested in a very amateur explanation of the analogia entis…
What’s all this debate about pre-destination and free-will?
With both sides having valid biblical resources to draw upon, how are they to be reconciled?
For Thomas Aquinas, God is not a being that is included in a metaphysical system. Therefore God’s agency differs from ours. This means that when we compare how God acts in the world (Divine agency, or will) to how humans act in the world (human will) a careful ‘distinction’ (not ‘difference’) must be maintained. If this ‘distinction’ is not maintained, we get…bad theology.
Philosophers and theologians have two common terms they employ in discussions like ours (they really like them for ontological discussions like when they ask, “what is ‘being?’ but they work for our topic too because they are related). These terms are: univocal and equivocal. Put simply, univocal means ‘sameness,’ equivocal means ‘difference.’ Juxtaposed, these two terms form a dualism, which we should always try to avoid in Christian theology.
What does this have to do with predestination and free-will? Well, this is precisely what is taking place behind the scenes in this ‘modern’ debate. What we have is “a plague on both houses;” two sides, using the same logic, forming a dualism that cannot be overcome without addressing the underlying metaphysic from which it emerges. In one corner stands the “Armenians” (free-will), and in the other, those we call “Calvinists” (predestination). The latter tend to think of God’s relation to mankind univocally. This means that when God acts upon us we are simply passive recipients of His will (the choice is entirely God’s). Furthermore, our actions are entirely directed by God, as is the future of the world (determinism). In an odd way, His will is our will. The former, however, tend to think of this relationship equivocally, whereby God’s will is entirely different from the human will. Thus the active choice of the human will determines not only one’s own destiny, but the plight of the entire cosmos. Entirely separate from God’s will, the human will can be for or against God’s will, it may even determine God’s will (one may see how following this logic of “Open Theism” becomes a viable theological option… unfortunately). Now these are obviously exaggerated, oversimplified examples. But, this is done for two reasons: 1) to exemplify how far this logic takes us; and 2) to reveal that dualism really doesn’t exist (but, only conceptually). For God’s sake, there must be something that works better than this. There must be another option.
The opening paragraph states that when a ‘distinction’ is not maintained the inevitable result is dualism. Here is the important part: between the dualism of univocal and equivocal language there exists analogy. Analogy is often employed theologically because it maintains a ‘distinction’ (between an apparent dualism) but not a complete difference (as in the case of dualism). Analogy suspends ‘sameness’ and ‘difference.’
In pre-modern times analogy was frequently employed in metaphysical attempts to explain the objective nature of ‘being’ when human understanding proved inadequate. Thomas Aquinas understood the necessity of analogy and would be surprised and certainly disappointed with the sort of dualism that emerged in the centuries following his death. Aquinas was a master at employing analogy. Relevant to our topic, Aquinas extends the use of analogy to explain the relations of divine and human agency. In utilizing analogy he suspends univocal and equivocal language. In following the Platonic tradition, Aquinas states that “God has immediate providence over everything…even the smallest.” It is, therefore, God who “gives them the power to produce those effects” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia. q. 22 a. 3). Stopping here suggests a univocal explanation of God’s agency. As we have earlier suggested, this response lends itself to doctrines of predestination as all human activity is controlled by God’s agency. Aquinas, however, does not stop here. In this portion of his treatise on agency one would expect Aquinas to offer an equivocal response to his initial claim. But Aquinas is careful not to counter with a dualism; rather, he completes his explanation by slightly amending his primary statement. He continues that, “there are certain intermediaries of God’s providence; for He governs things inferior by superior, not on account of any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness; so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures” (Ibid). Out of God’s “goodness” creatures act as “intermediaries” that participate in God’s plan.
In his apophatic style, Aquinas realizes the limits of language and is careful to avoid strict univocal or equivocal categorization of God. In doing so Aquinas portrays human actions as subject to God, yet free. Humans therefore, “do not create in the strict sense, but they are not denied a role in the temporal achievement of the realization of the idea.” (Robert C. Miner, Truth in the Making: Creative Knowledge in Theology and Philosophy, 9). Humans then, work in a way that mirrors the divine, creative power without usurping it (Miner, 34).
This is just one of the many dualisms that continue to plague Reformation and Post-Reformation theology. What should be clear is this underlying theological issue emerged with the concomitant loss of analogy and the advent of Nominalism (numerous books have been dedicated to this issue; so much so, that it is simply ‘old news’ to theologians and philosophers).
In closing, I hope that the reader takes away three points from this article; 1) modern thought is fraught with dualisms; 2) there is no place for dualisms in the Christian tradition; and 3) a point that wasn’t mentioned but can now be deduced, most contemporary attacks on Christianity are directed against this sort of bad theology, and in fact it was bad theology that opened up a space for this opposition (dualism). Following this, I want to suggest that a rich understanding of the Christian theological tradition is the only apologetic in our current climate. So next time someone asks you if you’re an Armenian or a Calvinist tell them you’re a little bit of both, or better yet, tell them that dualisms are not a part of the tradition. The latter response will always leave pop-culture atheists confused, and scrambling for a more robust critique of Christianity.
 The theologically minded will no doubt chuckle at the lack of theological and philosophical depth of the following explanations. This is in no way intended to be an adequate account of the intricacies of the analogia entis or causality in the Thomistic corpus. But rather, it is a horrendous oversimplification of inconsistencies in Reformation/Post-Reformation theology that is intended to shed light on a much broader metaphysical issue which underlies these respective fields. By doing so, I hope to point evangelical readers beyond one of several ‘modern’ dualisms that simply do not exist in the orthodox Christian tradition. Thomas Aquinas is cited because he is the theologian par excellence who masterfully and intentionally avoided this metaphysical issue throughout his work.
 By “not difference” I mean that there is an analogical relation between the way Divine and human agency are be related. Analogy indicates that things can be ‘distinct,’ but not utterly ‘different.’ This is further clarified below.
Clarification: (my response to questions over email)
thanks again. what is that analogy of being, and how does it overcome our topic? ill do my best to answer these as concisely as possible without references here and without any reference whatsoever to open theism so im not misreading it. its just best to leave that out. I want to say that i personally dont think the platonists were top down, aristotle although a platonist was a bit, but thomas certainly not. participation is both horizontal and vertical in plato, and in the christian neoplatonists, no question. As i said before lots of people have skewed views of classical theism, and i really dont think they read plato or aristotle or aquinas. otherwise they would not make those claims. there are just lots of bad modern readings of it. im actually writing my disseration on this, because as youve said, its important.
I hope this makes sense but this is a heavy theological discussion thats been waging for centuries. sorry for the length, there are several books out there on this and im no expert at all, im a first year phd student, there are plenty of people that have done a much better job than i could ever attempt to do.
the analogy of being: in the relation of god and man, we have three choices of being: 1. our being or esse is the same as gods (univocal), 2. our being is different from gods (equivocal), 3. its a little bit of both (analogical). so, as with most doctrines in the faith the third seems to be the ‘truth’ if we are to hold to the biblical account of god and man and the incarnation. Therefore analogy has become a defining way to talk of God (see 4th lateran counsel). Once this was decided, subsequent Scholastic Thomists, in their attempts to formulate a doctrine of the analogia entis (which thomas never did!), ended up using ratio by misreading thomas. this ends up in the modern critique of thomas calling him a univocist (as you have mentioned).
But this, as i have tried to point out is a modern misreading of aquinas. aquinas purposely use what is called analogy of attribution by citing an example of ‘health,’ to explain the analogy of being and the relation between god and man to avoid this type of language.
Jean-Luc Marion refers to this the univocist drift that analogy undergoes with scholastics like Suárez and others. The largest failure could very well have been the attempt to make analogy metaphysical. To make analogy logical and perhaps epistemological, where “being” or ontology is subordinate to logic. From here on out analogy was all but lost from theological endeavors and rarely shows its face, but in small strands of theologians, that in my opinion, really understood the tradition (like de lubac, nouvelle theologie, DBH the cambridge platonists, and John Milbank etc.).
Here is where i pick up in my post to show that in modernity we now have epistemological doctrines that lack an account of being, and begin to develop theology in this way. hence the free will predestination division (as a small example).
How does thomas overcome this: i want to just note something in dont have time to articulate, the fact that causality in our time is considered only as first cause and efficient cause, whereas thomas following aristotle held to a first, efficient, formal (cant have without analogy), and final cause. Regardless, the real thomas constantly utilized in the platonic theory of participation (a word used probably more than any other in his corpus, so i dont know how anyone could ever read him as a determinist or equivocally, or univocally, because participation only works with analogy). It is THE crucial aspect in the analogy of being. THis means that while god is being, creation participates or shares in that being. God is being, we have being (analogicallly). Why analogically? If god is one (im not denying the trinity) and we share univocally, we would then reduce his being as we would have a part of it (panentheism). But rather, and to give you an ‘attributive’ analogical example of this would be to say Mike is good, and bill is good, mike and bill share in goodness, but this doesnt reduce or change what goodness is. otherwise the ‘good’ (to use platonic language) is reducible because we have a ‘part’ of it. this is why god is unique altogether and our sharing in his being doesnt reduce who he is, but it also doesnt disconnect us from him in relationship.
Now the crucial thing about the analogy of being is that it applies to not just to our topic but to the entire account of creation. its not just an ad hoc theological principal used to describe our topic. Most fundamentally it sustains everything. This is the beauty of it. It is the ontology of christianity and i would argue it is what separates christianity from all other faiths. It is the heart of the incarnation. God creates the world, and sustains it, through the logos. the entire creation remains in analogical relation to the godhead through jesus. he is the completion, if you will, of the analogy.
Now here is the beautiful part to me (which i hint at in my post): In the 4th Lateran council (and displayed in the work of thomas which i note), a decision was made that even with the analogy of being, there would always be an apophatic element (a negative statement to follow). this means that whenever positive statements are made about god or articulated by the analogia entis, i.e. creation shares in god, a negative statement would alway be posited following this because they believed that even statements like these could never be fully knowable without the element of faith. so in other words, the analogy of being is as close as we can get to understanding all of this, but it still requires an element of faith, in christ the logos, who is analogically holding this together…. somehow (at this point you have to believe).
Analogy of being is really beautiful for so many other reasons, sacraments, the relation of nature and supernature, etc. but i have already taken too much time. In other words it works for all of creation, not just our topic. Its even emerging in quantum physics, as scientist are moving beyond classical physics. I hope this makes sense, even if you dont agree.
How does all this relate to the topic: Im not going to use the traditional free-will or predestination terminology here cause thats always a turn off. For thomas, creation participates in god. man, sits at the hierarchy of creation and therefore is given the most freedom or self determination (man sins plants dont, man has freewill, plants dont). Man in participation, by grace, “co-operates” (this is a common word used by thomas) with god to complete gods plan. the best way i could describe it would be like a soccer coach (god) lays out a gameplan for his team (creation) but they play the game (the coach’s mark-the gift of being through grace- is left on the team as they play and in a way they are both responsible for the outcome). I know this is a horrible example but i think it suits how thomas suspends the two sides. (and in all honesty you and i both know no one, outside the audacity of modern science ever viewed the world as entirely ‘determined’). so analogically speaking, man couldnt do anything if god didnt create him, put limitations on him, and is continually sustaining him (i hate to use the term, but in these ways, god determines mans ways), but on the other side man was created with free will to make choices and cooperate in gods plan no entirely free, because of limitations.
What the analogy of being does, is that it actually explains how this all can be conceived, ontologically, as a foundation of our epistemology, and is the story of the incarnation (which unfortunately is nearly absent in the protestant tradition) as ive tried to articulate briefly. I truly believe that the loss of analogy is the reason why christianity today finds itself as a religion amongst others, because without a strong ontology we are another religion (again in our rational articulation), and it bad ontology gives room for a secular space that isnt there (im sure you are hearing the radical orthodoxy coming out)
thanks again for reading all of this, i did my best to explain a centuries old tradition in an email…