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Thomas Aquinas on Analogy | Analogy Part 2

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Now that we've spent a considerable amount of time discussing Van Til's analogical reasoning in part 1, we can turn to discussing Aquinas (or what Van Til called the romanist) view.

Why, first of all, is the question of analogy so important? What is involved in the question of analogy? It is the question of the relation of God to man. It is the question, more specifically, as to the priority of these two. There are those who worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. There are also those, having been saved by grace, who worship and serve the Creator rather than the creature.

Romanism also speaks of human knowledge as being analogical [like Van Til does]. But Rome does not make the sharp distinction we have made between God as the original being and man as created being. It introduces this distinction after it has made many assertions about being in general. It follows that in the Romanist view human knowledge is not always and everywhere dependent upon a prior original act of God. In fact on the Romanist view human knowledge is never wholly derivative and re-interpretative. Rome therefore cannot really claim to think of human knowledge as analogical to God’s knowledge.

Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology

[For Aquinas], the starting-point and the method of the Christian are assumed to be the same as the starting-point and the method of the non-Christian. The only thing that the Christian needs to do is to show that the Christian position accords better with fact and with logic than does the non-Christian position.... [The] best result that the Christian has any right to think he is able to offer is that Christianity is an interpretation of life that offers something additional to what the non-Christian already has and that the addition of Christianity to non-Christian views produces a totality view, that is probably but not certainly true. In the case of Aquinas, Christianity is the addition of the Christian principle of grace to the principle of nature constructed by the method of Aristotle.

Van Til, Herman Dooyeweerd and Reformed Apologetics

To understand Van Til's statements above, we need to note three assumptions that Aquinas made:

  1. Human reason is at least semi-autonomous. Many things about the world and about God may be known without reference to revelation. For example, we (including unbelievers) can know certain things about nature and the world around us without the requirement to first be informed by divine revelation.

  2. For Aquinas, as for Aristotle, all knowledge begins in sense experience. “Our knowledge,” he writes, “taking its start from things, proceeds in this order. First, it begins in sense; second, it is completed in the intellect.” Stated another way, “There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses.” Such an epistemology may be designated as a semi-empiricism. All concepts, even those used by revelation, are ultimately produced by the reason operating on sense experience.

  3. Being exists proportionately, or analogically, on a scale, ranging from pure being at the top to non-being at the bottom (analogia entis).

Aquinas' view can also be illustrated as follows:

The crucial fact to take note of, is that for Aquinas there is no fundamental differences in the starting point of knowledge for either the Christian or the non-Christian. Both are equally qualified in investigating and reasoning about the external world.

I'd like to spend more time on assumption 3 listed above.

Basics: The Essence Existence Distinction

We apply "being" and related terms to different things in the same manner. The existence of man is to his essence, as the existence of an angel is to his essence, as the existence of God is to his essence. The existence of each is related to its essence in a different way. In the case of God His existence is identical to His essence. In the case of an angel, his existence actualises an essence that is not identical to its existence, where what is actualised is the essence of something essentially immaterial. In the case of man, existence actualises something both material and immaterial.

Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics

Essence, is properly described as that whereby a thing is what it is. Existence is that whereby the essence is an actuality in the line of being. This post by Evolution News provides a good summary of the essence existence distinction.

Essence can be understood as all the characteristics that are knowable about something. For example, for a particular dog the essence will contain the fur colour, fur softness, bark, length of snout etc. But let's say I describe a particular dog to you in exquisite detail, would that mean that dog I'm describing exists? For example, I'm thinking of a particular dog with brown fur, black spots of great size that likes to eat Scooby Snacks called Scooby-Doo. Does he exist? Well of course not. So for Aquinas, there is a distinction between the essence of something and it's existence. You cannot infer from the essence of Scooby-Doo whether he exists or not.

Evolution News then writes that existence is that a thing is, rather than what a thing is. The existence of a thing is different from the essence of a thing. I can know the essence of a rock, but it is the rock’s existence by which I stub my toe. I can’t stub my toe on essence, no matter how hard it is.

In Thomistic terms, in order for something in nature to exist, its existence must be joined to its essence. In fact, that is what nature is: distinct essences joined to existence. Stated differently, something can only exist IF it possess the act of being. If an essence has the act of being (which Scooby has not), than the existence (act of being) would be limited by the essence (e.g. Scooby is not a cat).

Food for Thought

The above discussion on the essence existence distinction is a big part of what is sometimes called an 'Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysic'. If all knowledge begins in the senses, how did Aquinas determine the above to be the case? If all knowledge is a posteriori then Aquinas should not have known the above to be the case as this is a more rationalistic (in the philosophical sense), a priori view.

The Analogy of Being

At the beginning of his project, Aquinas adopts Aristotle’s metaphysical model of the universe as a combination of eternal rational “forms” and time-bound “material” (hylomorphism). The various forms [essences] of existence may be organized on a scale, or as he calls it an “analogy of being” (analogia entis) with those that are more rational at the top (man, angels, etc.), and those that are relatively more material/chance-laden at the bottom (animals, rocks, etc.).

Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox

Since all that exist relate to each other ontologically on this chain of being, Roman catholic apologists argue that we can speak (predicate characteristics) about God and other all other beings in an analogical sense.

Why do they relate ontologically? Because all being has at least one thing in common: They are the actualisations of different essences in different proportions. Everything that exists shares this ontological bond. So what does this relation look like practically?

Feser, a Thomist, notes the following:

Because the relations [between essence and existence] are not absolutely identical the predication is not univocal (e.g. A is B and C is B, but in not exactly the same sense); but because there is nevertheless similarity between relations, the predications are not equivocal. They are predications of a sort of intermediate between equivocal and univocal predications - in particular, predications by an analogy of proper proportionality.

Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics

According to Feser, then, we can say that God is wise, or that God is good, but we will never be able to apply the terms 'wise' and 'good' on an univocal manner to both God and man, as God's wisdom is on a different level than ours. God has a different essence than man. So for man to say that God is wise, man would know that by the analogy. The statement that God is wise is made from a "bottom-up" approach.

Take the following example:

Socrates was good and wise

God is good and wise.

Aquinas would argue that we come to understand the meanings of terms like ‘good’ and ‘wise’ through creatures. So, we have some understanding of those concepts in FINITE things. Hence, the predication that God is good and wise is made by way of analogy for Aquinas. Good and wise are not applied unequivocally (meaning it doesn't apply to God), or univocally (meaning it describes God exactly right). Rather, it is applied analogically:

Thus, when the term ‘wise’ is said of a human being, it in some way describes and comprehends the thing signified; this is not true when it is said of God, however, for what is signified remains incomprehensible, exceeding the signification of the name.”

Aquinas, I.13.5

So when we say, ‘God is good,’ the meaning is not, ‘God is the cause of goodness,’ or ‘God is not evil’; but the meaning is, ‘Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God,’ and in a more excellent and higher way.

Aquinas, I.13.2

We cannot know the essence of God in this life, as He really is in Himself; but we know Him accordingly as He is represented in the perfections of creatures; and thus the names imposed by us signify Him in that manner only.

Aquinas, I.13.2

Edward Feser also demonstrates this here:

... at least for Thomists, when attributing intellect, knowledge, etc. both to God and to us, we have to understand the relevant terms analogously rather than univocally.  It’s not that God has knowledge in just the sense we do, only more of it.  It’s rather that there is in God something analogous to what we call knowledge in us, even if (since He is absolutely simple, eternal, etc.) it cannot be the same thing we have.  

Feser, The Divine Intellect

Why does Aquinas think that he is justified in believing that qualities we find in ourselves are reflective of the qualities in God? He answers this in I.4.2:

First, because whatever perfection exists in an effect must be found in the effective cause... Since therefore God is the first effective cause of things, the perfections of all things must pre-exist in God in a more eminent way... Secondly, from what has been already proved, God is existence itself, of itself subsistent (I:3:4). Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being.

Aquinas, I.4.2

It is helpful to note that the reason Aquinas believes he is justified in making the above analogous predication because he has already proven the existence of God in the famous 5 ways. For Aquinas natural knowledge of God is mediated by our knowledge of the created order. The observable facts of that order reveal an efficient cause that is itself uncaused (see Aquinas' second way that argues for a first cause that is itself uncaused), a self-subsisting first mover that is uncreated and is not subject to any change. Hence the above quote. According to Aquinas, God, from whom everything else is created, “contains within Himself the whole perfection of being”. So whatever perfections we find in ourselves, we can predicate this to God analogously.

The sun cannot produce heat unless it is itself warm. A human cannot produce a cat. Hence, as creatures we can predicate analogically (our perfections) unto God because we are His creations.

What we have written so far we can see how assumption (1) and assumption (2) comes into play. As semi-autonomous creatures, we investigate the world around us and discover certain characteristics. We are able to deduce certain proofs of God's existence (e.g. that He is the unmoved mover), and from there, knowing that He is the creator of all being, predicate certain creaturely characteristics unto Him by analogy.

Thomas Aquinas

Van Til on Analogy, Summarised

Before we start looking at Van Til on analogy, let's first avoid the most basic pitfall. Just because both Aquinas and Van Til used the same term, does not mean that they meant the same thing.

Most secondary discussions of Van Til’s doctrine of analogy have correctly contrasted it with the metaphysical assumptions of Thomism ..., but have fallen short of directly explaining how he avoids their same basic pitfalls. In an endeavor to accomplish both ends, we begin with the observation that Van Til’s doctrine of analogy concerns the relationship between different sorts of minds—that of God and man—and not between concepts and different grades of objects.

Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox

More can be read by on Van Til's use of the term "analogy" in our article on the subject. The confusion between Van Til's and Aquinas' use of "analogy" has led some to make the incorrect conclusions with regards to what Van Til taught. This was made clear by Gilbert Weaver in Jerusalem and Athens.

Aquinas presupposes that being exists as a scale so that all creatures below God are involved to some extent in non-being as well as being. But for Van Til, there exist only two levels of being, the uncreated and the created, and on this created level the existence of an ant or a flea is as much genuine existence as that of man...
In their views of the nature of analogy, Aquinas and Van Til also diverge. The basic difference is that for Aquinas analogy purports to be a middle way between univocal and equivocal predication of names or words to subjects. This is not the case for Van Til. For him analogy applies not to terms, but to the overall process of human thought: man is God’s created analogue in both his being and his knowledge. Man can know because as the image of God, he is ordained to mirror in a finite way God’s infinite knowledge of all things.

Gilbert B. Weaver, Jerusalem and Athens | Man: Analogue of God

Van Til therefore does not agree that our knowledge is of God is an analogy in the same sense that Aquinas did, but rather, Van Til's use of the term analogy describes a process. The process (the correct and proper way to think) for Van Til was man thinking as God's created analogue (image of God). The only correct and proper way to think and go about in this world is as a created being in the image of triune God.

With regards to knowledge then, Aquinas uses a bottom-up approach. He either describes God by what He is not, or predicates creaturely categories to the Creator by analogy (in the Thomist sense). Van Til, on the other hand, prefers a top-down approach. We start with the existence of the triune God who positively identifies Himself through revelation.

So, what's the controversy?

To understand Van Til's critique we need to understand the central thrust of Van Til's thought: We need to make the Creator-creature distinction BASIC in our thought. If we don't think properly as creatures, created in the world of the triune God we won't ever have any true knowledge. For Van Til, analogy meant man thinking as God's created analogue which is a more top-down approach to thinking rather than Aquinas' bottom-up.

The idea of analogy of being [Aquinas] means primarily that [natural] man may start with an objective state of affairs.

Van Til, Analogy of Faith

Thomas starts from the abstract concept of Being and introduces the Creator-creature distinction afterwards. He reduces the Creator-creature distinction to something that is consistent with the idea of God and the cosmos as involved in a chain of being, with varying degrees of intensity. His philosophy and psychology thus make any true Christian theology impossible.

Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought, p. 91

The Christian, however, will not talk about being in general, as if somehow all reality is on the same scale of being, and only afterwards, make a distinction between God and the universe. The Christian denies the ontological correlativity between Creator and creation. This is because fundamental to the Christian theory of reality is the Creator–creature distinction. God is Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. His name is “I AM THAT I AM.” He is in no sense dependent for anything upon His created universe (Ps. 50:10–12; Acts 17:25). The universe and man, to the contrary, are created, finite, continually dependent upon God’s “upholding” powers (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, properly to conceive of reality, the Christian thinks in terms of God’s uncreated being and then the created being of all other things.

Robert Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge

Keith Mathison in his article published in 2019 titled "Christianity and Van Tillianism", wrote that "According to Van Til, Aquinas taught that God and His creatures participate in the larger category of “being in general.” Thomas “reduces the Creator-creature distinction to something that is consistent with the idea of God and the cosmos as involved in a chain of being, with varying degrees of intensity.”He claims that Aquinas based his views on Aristotle’s idea of the “analogy of being.”All of this is a fundamental misreading of Aquinas. The irony of Van Til’s claim is that Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy is actually necessitated by Aquinas’ radical distinction between the Creator and the creature, the very thing that Van Til says Aquinas denies."

What this means is that Aquinas' doctrine of analogy is a direct result of the Creator-creature distinction applied to his metaphysics. If Aquinas ignored the distinction, he would have had no problem predicating characteristics to God in an univocal sense. It is precisely because God has a different essence from humans that we predicate analogously from creature to Creator.

But is this a sufficient response from Mathison? I don't believe so. Van Til for example does not deny the essence existence distinction, so Van Til would agree with Aquinas that God's essence is identical with His existence and that God has a different essence from humans. The issue that Van Til takes is that Aquinas does not START by presupposing God whose essence is identical with His existence. The Creator-creature distinction is merely compatible with Aquinas' metaphyisc, not basic to it.

Note that Aquinas believes we demonstrate the existence of God at the start of His Summa Theologica, but that we can know nothing of the divine essence. To that Van Til asks, given the truth of what Aquinas is saying, "Thomas should tell us therefore what is existence apart from essence in God so that the former may be proved apart from the latter. This would be flatly contradictory [since God's essence is equivalent to His existence] were it not for the fact that the analogy concept has given him the right, so he thinks, to hold to God as transcendent without being wholly out of reach of the intellectual concepts of man. We have seen how untenable this position is. He loses the probative force of his argument in exact proportion to the extent that he holds to the transcendence of God." [The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought].

If one does not begin with presupposing God in the scriptural meaning of the term, if one does not presuppose the ontological trinity and the idea of the plan of God as the principle of individuation, there is nothing left but either complete scepticism or pure blind faith. If one does not think analogously in Van Til's sense as a created creature in God's creation, we lose all knowledge.

Van Til hits the nail on the head when he writes the following:

The orthodox notion begins with God as the concrete self-existent being. Thus God is not named according to what is found in the creature, except God has first named the creature according to what is in himself. The only reason why it appears as though God is named according to what is found in the creature is that, as creatures, we must psychologically begin with ourselves in our knowledge of anything. We are ourselves the proximate starting point of all our knowledge. In contrast to this, however, we should think of God as the ultimate starting point of our knowledge, God is the archetype, while we are the ectypes. God’s knowledge is archetypal and ours ectypal.
If we realize this fact that God is the original and man is the derivative, we may safely apply the way of eminence [knowledge of God derived from predicating the creature's perfections of God in the most perfection and supreme fashion] and the way of negation. We need not fear that we shall reach an empty concept or that our knowledge will be subjective. Our attempts to say something about God then have back of them the original fact that God has said something about himself.
On the other hand, if we do not keep clearly before us this fact of the self-existent God, who has self-consciously and by an act of self-determination revealed himself, then we shall invariably be led by the way of negation into an abstract notion of the essence of God, and by the way of eminence into uncertainty and delimitation of God. Our reflection on the knowledge of God should always begin with the positive self-revelation of God. The way of negation is the way by which creatures, made in the image of God, realizing that their position is a derivative one, reach up to their original. As made in the image of God, these creatures have received a positive revelation of God. It was only after the entrance of sin that man could think of himself as no longer the creature of God. And it was then that he invented the abstract rather than the concrete way of negation. That abstract way of negation is a convenient tool for the sinner by which to remove the positive attributes of God from making direct demands upon him. Man made himself believe that when he spoke of the righteousness of God he was merely ascribing something of his own feelings to a being who in reality lives above all such distinctions.

Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology

Consistent with the assumptions listed at the start of this article, the whole approach of Thomas is to the effect that man does know the relations and even the essences of created things without at all referring them to their Creator and controller. Van Til disagrees as does Calvin as is evident from the first chapter of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Calvin argued that no man can know himself without at the same time knowing himself as a creature of God. No man can observe the facts of nature and history round about him without seeing clearly manifested in them the all-controlling and judging activity of the Creator-Redeemer God. Thomas starts from the abstract concept of Being and introduces the Creator-creature distinction afterwards.

Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought

Note that Van Til does not deny the way of eminence and the way of negation when talking about God (and hence divine simplicity is not thrown out of the window). But rather, starting with the ontological trinity, we are able to safely say something about God BECAUSE He has FIRST said something of Himself. We can thus be assured that what we say about God will not be empty or subjective precisely because we have a standard to measure it against, and because we are thinking properly as a creature should.

The preceding can be visualised as follows (more detailed visuals follow in the next section):

Digging Deeper

In the previous section it was mentioned by Van Til that Aquinas, failing to make the Creator-creature distinction basic in his thought is, if he was to be consistent, reduced to fideism (blind faith) or scepticism. Why?

To say that God is good and that man is good and intend a univocal meaning by the word “good,” for Aquinas, was to ignore the differences between the essence of God and man. But neither should one intend these statements in an equivocal sense, for then there would be complete ambiguity prevailing between God and His works, leading thereby to epistemological skepticism. Thomas saw the via media between these two as the way of proportionality or analogy (analogia entis). In other words, God is not known directly but rather proportionately.

Robert Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge

Thomas admits that there is no univocal element of relation existing between God and creation, and yet he turns to the analogy to lead us to the Almighty, when the very–thing which saves analogy from being sheer equivocation is its univocal element… The success of any analogy turns upon the strength of the univocal element in it… Without fear of confutation we may say that the basis for any analogy is non–analogical, i.e., univocal.

Apologetics, p. 147; cf. also J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Systematic Theology, I, 29–30

Basically, when Aquinas states that there is NO univocal element in his analogical predication throws into the waters of equivocal predication, which destroys the knowledge of God. Hence, anything Aquinas believes about God (since he is not making the knowledge of God basic in his thought) must be taken in blind faith, or must be questioned.

Gordon Clark made this similar charge against Van Til's analogical reasoning, but he failed to appreciate the difference between Van Til and Aquinas. For Van Til, man can know truth about God (univocally in Clark's sense, univocal predication as Bahnsen put it, anthropomorphically) based on the Word of God (e.g. God is eternal). Hence, for Van Til, the predication is univocal (in some sense), but the thinking is analogical. E.g., to say God is eternal is perfectly true even though we might not comprehend exactly what is meant when we predicate this of God. This is why Van Til wrote that the human mind cannot know "even one proposition in its minimal significance with the same depth of meaning with God which knows that proposition", and just as importantly, "man can yet truly know God the meaning of the proposition" although "not exhaustively." For Aquinas, the predication is analogical with no univocal contact point, which destroys knowledge and makes the predication meaningless.

Christopher Lee, fellow admin of the facebook presup group provided me with the following example to describe Van Til's position: "Imagine we live in 2-D land. And a 3-D being (say, a sphere) came in to 2-D land. Since we are only 2-D creatures, we would only see the sphere as a circle. We are locked in to our 2-D reality, and so we cannot think of any other way to describe the sphere other than a circle. From our 2-D point of view, it is not wrong to describe him as a circle and we can only describe him in our 2-D language, but it is an incomplete description and not exhaustive. Hence, it is the same with us trying to use creaturely categories on God. That is all we have in our tensed and contingent language to use to describe God."

Describing the sphere as a circle does not mean that it's false. It is perfectly true as far as it goes, and the standard that confirms this truth is God Himself. The mind of the God is the contact point for both human and divine knowledge. So for Van Til we don't predicate analogically in the same sense of Aquinas, as we don't merely have an analogy of the truth to some unknown extent. We predicate univocally (in Aquinas' sense) in an analogical fashion (in Van Til's sense).

God and man are metaphysically different, which is evidenced in their differing acts of knowing, but man is to think the same things that God does. What man knows is literally the truth, not an analogy to the truth - the same truth known by God, accepted or verified by the same standard or point of reference for both man and God, namely God's own mind.

Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic, pg. 228-229


... [the Van Tillains are charged to teach] that "man can grasp only an analogy of the truth itself" Van Til did not teach that what we know is only an analogy of God (or truth about Him), much less that univocal predication regarding God must be rejected, but rather that we know God (as well as His creation) analogously to His knowing Himself and His creation. A few years following the dispute between Clark and Van Til, Clark again (falsely) portrayed Van Tillians holding that propositions have a different meaning (equivocation) for God and man, and that man is ignorant of the truth that is in God's mind, possessing only an analogy of the truth rather the truth itself. Thus he charged Van Til with unrelieved skepticism...

Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic, pg. 228-229 footnote 159

Bosserman's example of how this works from the Bible, was quite eye-opening for me. Bosserman provides an amazing example of how we can know a proposition to be true whilst not knowing it in its fullness:

Van Til’s theory of knowledge accords remarkably well with the idea of redemptive-historical development. As each successive covenant furnishes more information about God, it carries with it certain discontinuities in the symbols, sacraments, and laws which define the divine-human relationship (Heb 10:1; cf. Matt 5:17; Gal 3:24–25; Col 2:17). Quantitative differences in information carry with them qualitative differences in man’s impression of the said information. And although an economic priority must be given to the new covenant revelation of God in Christ (Heb 1:1–2; Matt 11:11) since the earlier vantage points exist for the latter (Heb 11:39–40), they are all equally true.

Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, pg. 116-117

Another range of visualisations will prove helpful at this point to explain what is meant by univocal, analogical predication and why Aquinas and Van Til took issue with some of the concepts. If any of my explanations or visualisations are lacking feel free to let me know in the comments.

It is difficult to capture on an illustration, but note that Aquinas doesn't start with the Creator-creature distinction (hence the designation of "man" instead of "creature" when compared to Van Til).

For Aquinas, the Creator-creature distinction is something that is compatible with his metaphysics. For Van Til, the Creator-creature distinction is something that governs his metaphysics and epistemology. The Creator-creature distinction is applied at step 2 for Aquinas, whereas for Van Til, it is present from the start.

The following quote from Bosserman is captured in the above illustrations:

The Word of God testifies that finite words may reflect the mind of God truly, even though not identically (John 1:18), by utilizing and authenticating them himself (Matt 5:18)... with Christ’s word as a reference point, true and false beliefs can be sharply distinguished. A true belief corresponds to the mind of God because it is formed in faithful submission to the Word of Christ, while a false belief does not correspond to the mind of God, because it refuses the illumination of Christ. A true belief is coherent because it is informed by that Being Who holds all things together

Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox

The Problem of Sin

Another problem with Thomas' approach is that Paul teaches that God's invisible attributes are understood according to Romans 1. Not that they can be but are not yet understood by some. Hence it's not something we argue to, but something that is evident within us. This is consistent with Van Til. However, Paul doesn't stop there in Romans 1, he continues to teach that that which is known of God is suppressed by men in their unrighteousness. Sin makes the thoughts of men foolish.

Romans 1 in teaching that man know God from the created order is not saying that when someone looks at a tree they immediately think of the unmoved mover or the cosmological argument. The verse does go on to say that all men are without excuse, or without a reasoned defence. The created order presses against the knowledge of God men already have inside them because God has made it evident to them. God is the one who reveals Himself to men. It's not some act of unaided reason.

For Aquinas, natural man can reason properly about nature to arrive at the existence of God and some of His attributes apart from divine revelation. We've already shown that this is not the case, as we must make the Creator-creation distinction BASIC in our thought. We need to start there and think in the only proper manner as God's analogue.

But the issue for Aquinas strikes deeper than the discussion we had above. For Aquinas, sin doesn't seem to affect the unbeliever at all. Are really going to say that natural man is actually reasoning to God‘s attributes, even with the total depravity of man and the effect of it on their mind? The Bible is incredibly clear on numerous occasions that the natural man "does not seek God" (Romans 3). Sinners hate God, and they will hide from and flee from Him whenever they get the chance. Man's mind is not ethically geared toward God at all.

The reason why the one type of apologetics does and the other does not wish to make the Creator-creature distinction basic at the outset of all predication is to be found in the differing conceptions of sin. The natural man does not want to make the Creator-Creature distinction basic in his thought. The sinner does not want to recognize the fact that he is a creature of God, as such responsible to God, and because of his sin under the judgment of God. This is to be expected. But why should Christians who have confessed their sins to God, who have therefore recognized him as Creator and Lord, and especially why should evangelicals who confess that they hold to the Bible as their only infallible rule of authority, not wish to bring their every thought captive to the obedience of Christ?

Van Til, The Basic Difference

The Solution

A truly Protestant and Reformed analogy of faith... must start with the clarity of God’s revelation in Christ in Scripture. Only thus does man have a theology that works from above. Only thus can he have a philosophy which derives its original motivation from Scripture. Only thus will theology, philosophy, and science harmonize with one another. The analogia entis [analogy of being / Aquinas' analogy] idea rests finally on the notion that man can interpret himself in terms of himself. The God of the analogia entis idea is wholly beyond and therefore wholly meaningless, or else He is wholly within and therefore wholly useless. The historic Protestant idea of God’s revelation in Christ through Scripture... is the true answer to the analogia entis idea.

Van Til, Articles of Cornelius Van Til: The Analogy of Being

Both Thomas and Barth then stand over against the Reformed understanding of how God and man relate. For the Reformed God and man relate covenantally. They both have a relationship in absolute distinction from the beginning. The way in which they relate, then, is not through some kind of ontological bond. Rather, the bond is covenantal. It is a relation established by God and guaranteed and sealed by divine fiat – not through bringing God and man in under a common ontological reality (being for Thomas).

James Cassidy, The Essential Van Til – Aquinas and Barth: Their Common Core

Sinners don't want to know God. As creatures we weren't made to think autonomously. At every point of our existence we are dependent on God's continued grace and revelation to operate.

As sinners, without the atoning work of Jesus Christ and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, we would not seek God. The solution to our problem therefore lies in the Gospel. Only after the person has been regenerated will the new Christian think properly about the world around him. And only after the Christian has been regenerated will the Christian accept the revelation of God and accept his rightful position as creature in God's creation.

We can now clearly see that it is Van Til's view on analogy that comes out on top.

Conclusion and Summary

A lengthy quote from Van Til.

It is, therefore, the Protestant rather than the Romanist who may be expected to challenge the wisdom of the world. It is the genius of Protestantism to make the God of the Scriptures the final reference point of all predication. In Protestantism man is really taken to be the creature of God. Man is not thought of as participant with God in some principle of being that is above and exemplified in both.
Protestantism does, in contrast with Romanism, make the Creator-creature distinction basic in its thought. The true Protestant refuses to say as much as one word about ‘being in general.’ To speak about ‘being in general’ is, in effect, to deny the self-sufficiency of God. It is to subject God to a standard that is above Him. It is to shift man’s final allegiance away from God to an abstract principle of being and logic. And this in turn amounts to shifting man’s allegiance away from God to man himself.
This is precisely what ‘the philosophers,’ as Calvin speaks of them, have done. They, with all men, are sinners and therefore have an axe to grind. They do not want to find God, their Creator. Though they cannot help being confronted with Him all the time and everywhere, they seek assiduously to suppress this revelation. They seek for an exclusively immanentistic principle of explanation of all the phenomena with which they deal. They say that all is water, that all is infinite, that all is air, that all is number, that all is change, that nothing is change. Or, when driven to the recognition of mystery and ‘transcendence,’ they say that nothing intelligible can be said about the really transcendent one.
Whatever the differences between them, they are agreed in assuming that the Creator-creature distinction is not to be taken as basic for all possible prediction. If they introduce the Creator-creature distinction at all, they introduce it after they have said or assumed at least some basic things about ‘being in general.’ The ‘wisdom of the world’ is always monistic in the sense that it does not make the Creator-creature distinction basic in its thought.
A true Protestantism, therefore, will differentiate its thought from that of the wise men of this world. The Romanist seeks for an alliance between a system of thought which affirms and a system of thought which denies the basic character of the Creator-creature distinction. The Protestant builds his system squarely upon the Creator-creature distinction and opposes those who build on the idea of ‘being in general’ and ‘thought in general.’
In consequence there is also a fundamental difference between Romanism and Protestantism on the concept of revelation. Romanism is willing to make common cause with those for whom the very idea of revelation is absurd. Those who deal with ‘being in general’ or ‘thought in general’ cannot entertain the idea of revelation. The idea of revelation is based upon the Creator-creature distinction. Those who themselves claim to participate in some measure in ‘being in general’ and in ‘thought in general’ have no need of revelation; they already assume the presence within them of a principle of continuity that is beyond God and man. For them God can at best be a ‘bigger brother’ or a ‘greater scientist.’
Nor could the ‘fall of man’ change all this. He who in any wise speaks of ‘being in general’ cannot think of sin as a wilful transgression of the revealed will of God on the part of the creature. Sin will be thought of as basically a failure to live up to the part that he feels he ought to play in ‘reality as a whole.’ Thus his own experience, rather than the revelation of God to sinful men in Scripture, will be the final test for him of what is right and wrong. For the Protestant, however, it is the Bible that is the supreme rule of faith and life.

Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology

I pray that this article proved as edifying for you to read as it was for me to research.


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