Is it possible, we therefore ask, for statements expressed in human language to mean anything when made about God-that is to say, are theological state­ments meaningful or meaningless? (The relevance of this discussion to the questions raised by the logical positivists will be immediately clear to those who have any acquaintance with their works.) Starting from a famous dis­tinction made by Aristotle,[1] we remark that, even within the realm of dis­course about finite beings, one and the same word, when applied to two things, sometimes bears the same sense in both applications and sometimes different ones. In the former case it is used univocally (sunοnΰμωζ), as when Carlo and Fido are both called dogs. Even if Carlo is a great Dane and Fido a Pomeranian, we mean the same thing about each of them when we call them both dogs; the characteristics in each that distinguish Carlo as a Dane from Fido as a Pomeranian, while they cannot be found in their totality except in dogs, are additional to caninity as such. But sometimes we use words purely equivocally (όμωnμωζ), as when we apply the word "mug" both to a drinking utensil and to. the victim of a fraud. (The neglect of this distinction can lead to unfortunate consequences, as the choirboys found who were starting a cricket team, when they asked the vicar for one of the bats which the verger had led them to believe were in the belfry.) But in addition to these two uses, it is alleged, a word is sometimes applied to two objects in senses that are neither wholly different nor yet wholly the same, as when we say that Mr. Jones and Skegness are both healthy, the former because he enjoys, and the latter because it induces, health; in this case we are said to use the term "healthy" analogically nάλογωζ). 

        At first sight the introduction of this mode of predication might seem to be unnecessary and trivial, and certainly Aristotle did not accord to it any­thing like as much attention as the scholastics do. We might be tempted to suppose that analogy is only a dignified kind of univocity, and that it is quite sufficient to say that the healthiness of Mr. Jones and the healthiness of Skegness are merely two ways of being healthy, just as the Danishness of Carlo and the Pomeranianity of Fido are merely two ways of being canine. Or, alternatively, we might go to the other extreme and say that analogy is only equivocity in sheep's clothing, that to enjoy health and to induce health are two altogether different activities and that only for the sake of economy in words can there be any justification for using the same term "healthy" tout court to denote them both. Furthermore, it might be asked, even if we admit this tertium quid of analogy, can we ever be quite sure when it applies?  When we say that Mr. Jones is alive and that an oyster is alive, is the differ­ence between the life of Mr. Jones and the life of the oyster something additional to a quality, namely life, which is found univocally in both, as the Danishness of Carlo and the Pomeranianity of Fido are additional to their common caninity? Or, on the other hand, is the life which is attributed to Mr. Jones and to the oyster, as the scholastics would say, an analogical per­fection, contracted to each subject not by external differentiae but by differ­ent internal modes of participation? Can one possibly settle this kind of question? Can we even give the distinction any real meaning?

         Now, so long as we are merely considering qualities and properties of finite beings, the introduction of analogical discourse, in addition to univocal and equivocal, might well appear to be an unnecessary and artificial complica­tion. There are, however, two instances in which it-or something like it­seems to be unavoidable, namely when we are discussing transcendentals and when we are discussing God. And it is worth noting that, in Christian thought, it is precisely the necessity of talking about God that has given rise to the great development which the doctrine of analogy has undergone. Let us consider these instances in order.

         The transcendentals, in scholastic thought, are those six primary notions ens, res, unum, aliquid, verum and bonum-which, because of their very uni­versality, refuse to fall in any of the Aristotelian categories, but cut across them all.[2] The last five ultimately reduce to the first, so it Will be sufficient to consider that. What, then, is meant by the analogy of being? Why is it denied that being is univocal? Simply because there is nothing outside being by which it could be differentiated. When we say that Carlo and Fido are both dogs, the word "dog" means precisely the same when applied to each of them; the differences that distinguish them as dogs are, as we have seen, extrinsic to caninity as such. But when we say that Carlo and Fido are both beings, the differences that distinguish them as beings cannot be extrinsic to being as such, for being, in its altogether universal reference, must embrace everything, including differences; if differences were not instances of being, they would be non-existent, and then no two things could be distinct from each other. So the scholastics tell us, being is not a genus,[3] since there is noth­ing outside it which could act as a differentia to it, to subdivide it into species; nevertheless everything is an instance of being, and being is differen­tiated by its own inherent analogical variety. To be is to be in a certain way, and the way is the very heart of the being. So the whole order of beings, of entia, from the triune Deity down to the speck of dust and the electron, consists of nothing more and nothing less than analogical instances of being: self-existent being and dependent being, actual being and possible being, sub­stantial being and accidental being, real being and notional being, not in any pantheistic or monistic sense, as if being were some kind of cosmic material, a metaphysical modelling-clay appearing now in this shape and now in that, but in the far more profound sense that every being must be, and must be in some determinate way, and-the theist will add-in the sense that the way in which it has being depends in the last resort upon its relation to the self-­existent Being which is the prime analogate of all.

         Now what is true about beings as such in their relation to one another must be true a fortiori about finite beings in their relation to the God who is self-existent Being. If being is not a genus, then the. supreme Being tran­scends all genera, and the principle of analogy, which we have seen applies even between creatures when they are considered as they participate in the transcendentals, will apply with even greater force when creatures are brought into comparison with the altogether transcendent God and when God is spoken about in words whose meaning is derived from their application to finite things. Here, if anywhere, the distinction between the perfectio significata and the modus significandi will hold; here, if anywhere, will the classical definition of analogy apply, namely that it is the application of a concept to different beings in ways that are simply diverse from each other and are only the same in a certain respect, simpliciter diversa et eadem secundum quid.[4] It is noticeable that St. Thomas does not deny that ana­logues are equivocal but only that they are purely so.[5]

        Let us now proceed to consider in more detail this classical doctrine of analogy. The precise classification of the various types of analogy that can be distinguished is to this day a matter of considerable controversy; the method that I shall adopt will, however, bring out the salient points.



In the first place, we may distinguish between analogy duorum ad tertium and analogy unius ad alterum; this is the fundamental distinction made by St. Thomas in both the Summa Theologica and the Summa contra Gentiles.[6] Analogy duorum ad tertium is the analogy that holds between two beings in consequence of the relation that each of them bears to a third (the analogy considered is, it must be noticed, between the two; the tertium only comes in as something in the background to which they are both related). For example, if the adjective "healthy" is applied both to Skegness and to the complexion of Mr. Jones who lives there, this double attribution of the ad­jective can only be seen to be legitimate if it is grasped that in its strict and primary application the adjective applies neither to Skegness nor to the com­plexion but to Mr. Jones. It is he who is (in the scholastic sense) formally healthy and is the prime analogate. His complexion is healthy only in the sense that it is a sign of health in him, Skegness is healthy only in the sense that it induces health in him (or in others like him); we cannot rationally justify the attribution of the same predicate "healthy" to things as diverse as a complexion and a seaside town except by referring them both to human beings to whom the predicate formally and properly belongs.

         This type of analogy can, however, have little or no application to the case where we are attributing the same predicate to God and to a creature, for there is no being antecedent to God to whom the predicate can apply more formally and properly than it applies to him. We therefore pass to the other type of analogy, analogy unius ad alterum, which is founded not upon diverse relations which each of the analogates bears to a third, but upon a relation which one of them bears to the other. And this type of analogy itself subdivides into two.

         The former of these sub-types is that which is known as analogy of attribu­tion or of proportion, analogy unius ad alterum in the strict sense. In this case the predicate belongs formally and properly to one of the analogates (which is thus not merely an analogate but is the prime analogate), and only relatively and derivatively to the other. Thus it is by an analogy of attribution or proportion that Mr. Jones and his complexion are both described as healthy; health is found formally and properly in Mr. Jones, and his com­plexion is described as healthy only because it bears a certain relation to his health, namely the relation of being a sign of it. In its theological application, where the analogates concerned are God and a creature, the relation upon which the analogy is based will be that of creative causality; creatures are related to God as his effects, by all those modes of participation by the creature in the perfection of its creator which are indicated, for example, by the Thomist Five Ways. Thus when we say that God and Mr. Jones are both good or that they are both beings, remembering that the content which the word "good" or "being" has for us is derived from our experience of the goodness and the being of creatures, we are, so far as analogy of attribution is concerned, saying no more than that God has goodness or being in what­ever way is necessary if he is to be able to produce goodness and being in his creatures. This would not seem necessarily to indicate anything more than that the perfections which are found formally in various finite modes in creatures exist virtually in God, that is to say, that he is able to produce them in the creatures; it does not seem to necessitate that God possesses them formally himself. (In the case of Mr. Jones, of course, his complexion did indicate his formal possession of health, but there is, literally, all the differ­ence in the world between the relation between two analogates in the finite realm and that between God and a creature.) Analogy of attribution certainly does not exclude the formal possession of the perfections by God, but it does not itself ascribe it to him. The mode in which the perfection which exists in the secondary analogate also exists in the prime analogate will de­pend on the relation between them; and if this relation is merely that the latter analogate is the cause of the former, the possession by the latter of a perfection that exists formally in the former will not, so far as the present mode of analogy is concerned, be necessarily anything more than a virtual one. Creatures are good (formally but finitely), God is the cause of them and of all that they have, therefore the word "good" applied to God need not mean any more than that he is able to produce goodness.[7] It is at this point that the second sub-type of analogy comes to the rescue.

         This is analogy of proportionality, also called analogy plurium ad plura. In it there is a direct relation of the mode in which a perfection is participated to the being by which it is participated, independently of any relation to a prime analogate. (There may be a prime analogate, and indeed some would maintain that there must be,[8] but it does not come in at this stage.) A spurious, though sometimes useful, form of this type of analogy is metaphor, in which there is not a formal participation of the same characteristic in the different analogates but only a similarity of effects. Thus, to take a classic example, the lion is called the king of the beasts because he bears to savage animals a relation similar to that which a king bears to his subjects, but no one would assert that kingship is to be found formally in the lion. Again, God is described as being angry, because his relation to the punishments which he imposes is similar to that which an angry man has to the injuries which he inflicts, but no one (at least, no scholastic philosopher) would say that anger was to be found formally in Gods.[9]  In the strict sense, an analogy of proportionality implies that the analogue under discussion is found formally in each of the analogates but in a mode that is determined by the na­ture of the analogate itself. Thus, assuming that life is an analogous and not a univocal concept, it is asserted that cabbages, elephants, men and God each possess life formally (that is each of them is, quite literally and unmetaphorically, alive), but that the cabbage possesses life in the mode proper to a cabbage, the elephant in that proper to an elephant, the man in that proper to a man, and finally God in that supreme, and by us unimaginable, mode proper to self-existent Being itself. This is commonly expressed in the follow­ing quasi-mathematical form, from which, in fact, the name "analogy of proportionality" is derived:[10]



                                                       =  =


We must, however, beware of interpreting the equal sign too literally. For the point is not that the life of the cabbage is determined by the essence of the cabbage in the same way as that in which the life of the man is deter­mined by the essence of the man, but that the way in which cabbage essence determines cabbage life is proper to cabbagehood, while the way in which the human essence determines human life is proper to manhood….



        Such a reply would, I think, go a very long way, though I am doubtful whether it is altogether sufficient. For the fact remains that we have denied that our equal signs really stand for equality and we have not indicated any­thing definite that they do stand for. Can we in some way re-establish this bond that we have broken? Clearly we cannot by analogy of proportionality, but I shall suggest that we can by analogy of attribution, and that the two types of analogy, while either in separation is insufficient, can in combination do what is required.3ut this is an anticipation. I will pass on now to consider the second objection, which is specially concerned with analogical dis­course about God.



Let us therefore see what happens when we attribute life both to a creature and to God; any other perfection which can be formally predicated of God would, of course, do as well. Analogy of proportionality asserts:




Now, the objector urges, even if the first objection has been successfully overcome, so that we have no longer to bother about the fact that the equal sign does not indicate an exact identity of relationship, our formula will not in fact tell us in what sense life is to be predicated of God. For the essence of God is as little known to us as is his life; indeed his life is, formally con­sidered, identical with it. Our equation has therefore two unknowns and cannot be solved. Nor can we get out of our difficulty by comparing essence with existence and saying that the essence of a being will correspond to, and be determined by, the act in virtue of which it exists:




Once again, both the terms on the right-hand side are unknown. Sheer agnosticism seems to e the outcome. What reply can we make?

        Some scholastic philosophers, of whom Garrigou-Lagrange is one, claim to answer this objection, while remaining in the realm of analogy of propor­tionality, by denying that there are two unknown terms on the right-hand side. This last-mentioned writer, for example, taking the analogy




asserts that only the fourth term is in fact unknown. "We have," he says, "(1) the very confused concept of being in general, which a child possesses from the moment of its first intellectual knowledge, (2) the concept of finite being, of which we know positively the finite mode and which is nothing else than the essence of the things that we see, stones, plants, animals, etc., (3) the concept of analogous being, imperfectly abstracted from the finite mode ... ; it is a precision of the first very confused concept possessed by the child, and the metaphysician acquires it by recognizing that the formal no­tion of being does not in itself include the finite mode which accompanies it in the creature, (4) the concept o f the divine being, the cause of created be­ings. These latter," he continues, "not having in their essence the reason of their existence, require a cause which exists of itself. In the concept of the divine being, the divine mode is expressed only in a negative and relative way, e.g. as non-finite or as supreme being. What is positive in this analogical knowledge of God is what God has that is proportionally common to him and the creature." 18 Again, he writes, "being designates that which has rela­tion to existence; this relation is implied in the very nature of that which exists and it is essentially varied according as it is necessary or contingent. The created essence in its inmost entity is altogether relative to its contingent existence, which it can lose; the uncreated essence is conceived only relatively to that necessary existence with which it is identified. . . . Analogous perfec­tions are thus not pure relations. They are perfections which imply in the creature a composition of two correlative elements, potentiality and act, but which in God are pure act. Our intelligence conceives that they are realized more fully according as they are purified of all potentiality; in God they exist therefore in the pure state. We thus see that there are not two unknowns in the proportionalities set up by theology."19

         For this distinguished French Dominican, therefore, the third term in the formula is given us as that in which essence and existence are identical, and this gives us a limited and analogical, but nevertheless genuine, knowledge of the fourth term, while remaining within the realm of analogy of proportionality.  We can transfer the notion of any perfection from a finite being to God, remembering that the difference of mode is that which corresponds to the difference between a being whose essence involves merely a possibility of existence and one whose essence involves existence of necessity. Of course, we do not know positively what the mode of the perfection in God is; to demand that would be to demand a quidditative knowledge of the divine essence and to abolish analogy altogether in favour of univocity. We are given all that we have a right to ask for; the comparison of the finite and the infinite modes of perfection is based on a comparison of the relations to existence which are proper to finite essence and to the divine essence respec­tively.

         Now all this seems very satisfactory so far as it goes, but does it go far enough? Is it sufficient simply to base the comparison of the finite and infinite modes of a perfection upon a comparison of the finite and infinite modes of the essence-existence relation, without bringing in an explicit refer­ence to the concrete relation which the creature has to God? There are indeed traces in Garrigou-Lagrange's own discussion of an awareness of the need of this further step; the very form in which he writes the formula last quoted suggests this. For he does not describe the finite being as a being in whom essence does not necessarily involve existence, but as a "creature"; and he does not describe God as a being whose essence necessarily involves existence, but as the "first cause." "In these equations," he writes, "two created terms are known directly, one uncreated term is known indirectly by way o f causality and we infer the fourth term which is known indirectly in a positive manner as regards what is analogically common with creatures and in a negative and relative manner as regards its proper divine mode."  And the first cause and the creature are directly related by the relation of creation, which thus, as it were, cuts horizontally across the analogy of proportionality with an analogy of attribution.22 The equal sign does not, as we have seen earlier, express a mathematical identity, but, on the other hand, the two sides of the formula are not left in complete separation. They are bound together by an analogy of attribution unius ad alterum, of the creature to God in the case which we have just been considering. In the cases considered earlier, where the two sides of the formula both refer to finite beings, the linking analogy is an analogy duorum ad tertium, which holds in view of the fact that each of the analogates is in an analogy of attribution unius ad alterum, of itself to God. The figure below may help to make this plain.



        The conclusion would thus seem to be that, in order to make the doctrine of analogy really satisfactory, we must see the analogical relation between God and the world as combining in a tightly interlocked union both analogy of attribution and analogy of proportionality. Without analogy of propor­tionality it is very doubtful whether the attributes which we predicate of God can be ascribed to him in more than a merely virtual sense; without analogy of attribution it hardly seems possible to avoid agnosticism. Which of the two forms of analogy is prior to the other has been, and still is, a hotly de­bated question among scholastic philosophers.





<>E. L. Mascall (1905-93 ) was an Anglican theologian and a professor of historical theology at King's College, the University of London. His major writings include He Who Is, Existence and Analogy, and Words and Images. From Existence and Analogy by E. L. Mascall.

[1] Categories, I. It is true that in this text Aristotle mentions only univocity and equivocity, though elsewhere he makes considerable use of the notion of analogy. Cajetan remarks à propos of this text that logicians (in contrast to philosophers) call analogy of attribution equivocation (De Nom. Anal., cap. ii, no. 19).

[2] It should be noted that they are called transcendentals because they transcend the categories. This is not the meaning which the word "transcendent" has when applied to God to indicate that he transcends the realm of finite being. Nor is it the meaning that "transcendental" has for Rant: "I apply," he says, "the term transcendental to all knowledge which is not so much occupied with objects as with the mode of our cognition of these objects, so far as this mode of cognition is possible a priori" (Critique of Pure Reason, Introduction, ch. vii, trans. Meiklejohn). Cf. Garrigou­Lagrange, Dieu, p. 200, n. 1.

[3] It should be noted that they are called transcendentals because they transcend the categories. This is not the meaning which the word "transcendent" has when applied to God to indicate that he transcends the realm of finite being. Nor is it the meaning that "transcendental" has for Rant: "I apply," he says, "the term transcendental to all knowledge which is not so much occupied with objects as with the mode of our cognition of these objects, so far as this mode of cognition is possible a priori" (Critique of Pure Reason, Introduction, ch. vii, trans. Meiklejohn). Cf. Garrigou­Lagrange, Dieu, p. 200, n. 1.

[4] This is the Thomist definition of analogical discourse. For the Suarezians, however, with their conceptualist bias and the consequent sharp line drawn between thought and the extra-mental thing, an analogical concept applies to different beings in ways simpliciter eadem et diversa secundum quid.

[5] Hoc modo aliqua dicuntur de Deo et creaturis analogice, et non aequivoce pure neque univoce (S. Theol., I, xiii, 5c). We may compare the well-known statement of the Fourth Lateran Council that "between the creator and the creature no likeness can be discerned without a greater unlike­ness having to be discerned as well" (inter creatorem et creaturam non potest tanta similitudo notari quin inter eos major sit dissimilitudo notanda, cap. ii; Denzinger-Bannwart, Enchiridion, 11th ed., no. 432). It is easy to see what this means, but it would be difficult to defend it as a precise philosophical statement, as it appears to assume that likeness and unlikeness are two different species of a measurable genus. One can validly say that two objects are less alike in one respect than they are in another, but to say that they are less alike in one respect than they are unlike in another does not seem to be strictly intelligible.

[6] S. Theol., I, xiii, 5c; S.c.G., I, xxxiv.

[7] It is important to observe that we are not arguing that the formal possession of goodness by creatures does not prove that goodness is formally in God; the argument is not here on the metaphysical but merely on the linguistic and logical plane. All that is asserted is that if the only analogy between God and creatures was analogy of attribution then the word "good" applied to God would not necessarily mean any more than that goodness was in God virtually. In fact the metaphysical relation of the world to God implies analogy of proportionality as well, and it is at this latter stage that the formal attribution of goodness to God becomes clear.

[8] S Thus Garrigou-Lagrange writes: "It is not necessary here to mention the principal analogate in the definition of the others, but there nevertheless always is a prime analogate. In metaphorical analogy of proportionality, it is the one to which the name of analogue belongs in the strict sense. In strict analogy of proportionality, the principal analogate is that which is the higher cause of the others: the analogical similitude that exists in this latter case is always based on causality; it exists either between the cause and the effect or between the effects of the same cause" (Dieu, p. 532, n. 3). This last remark seems to imply the assertion that will be made later on: that in its theological application analogy of proportionality needs to be reinforced by analogy of attribution; Garrigou-Lagrange does not, however, explicitly make the assertion. We.may add here, as a point of terminology, that the word "analogue" (analogum) refers to the common predicate (or com­mon quality or transcendental signified by it), while the word "analogate" (analogatum) refers to the various subjects to which it is attributed, or to its diverse modes in them. An alternative nomenclature refers to the analogue as analogum analogans and the analogate as analogum analogatum.

[9] A further example of purely metaphorical proportionality is provided by Canning's celebrated epigram:

Pitt is to Addington

As London is to Paddington.

[10] "Let magnitudes which have the same proportion (Xoyo:) be called proportional (av&Xoyov)" (Euclid V, Def. 6). For the sake of clarity it may be useful to indicate by a diagram the classifi­cation of analogy which I have adopted:

I. Analogy duorum ad tertium.

II. Analogy unius ad alterum.

(i) Analogy of attribution or proportion, strictly unius ad alterum. (ii) Analogy of proportionality, plurium ad plura

(a) in loose sense (metaphor)

(b) in strict sense.

Slightly different classifications may be found in Garrigou-Lagrange, Diezz, p. 351; Maquart, Elem. Phil., III, ii, p. 36.

19 Ibid, p. 542.