from The Collected Works
Christianity’s Decisive Difference
Part 4–A Great Cooperative Enterprise
This is the famous long letter written by Eric Voegelin to his closest friend, Alfred Schütz, the distinguished sociologist. It was written exactly 60 years ago this month. It appears here in four parts. Part 1 may be read HERE.
A Letter to Alfred Schütz [concluded]
January 1, 1953
[My dear friend,]
The fourth achievement, linked to the three proceeding ones, is the critical understanding of theological speculation and its meaning, attained above all by Dionysius Areopagita and Thomas Aquinas.
The centerpiece of Thomistic theology is the analogia entis, i.e., the recognition that theological judgments are not judgments in the sense of statements about the content of the world.
The proposition “God is almighty” combines a transcendent subject (one of which we have no innerwordly experience, only an experience of faith) with an “idealized,” infinitized, innerwordly predicate.
The proposition is therefore meaningless if both the subject and the predicate are taken literally; it makes sense only if the predicate is added analogically to the extrapolated subject of the experience of faith.
What the men of the 18th-century Enlightenment held against Christian dogmatics (enlightened thinkers are repeating it today), namely, that theological statements–unlike statements concerning sense perception–are meaningless because they cannot be verified, is the very starting point of Christian theology.
On this point Thomas would agree with every Enlightener. Dogmatics is a symbolic web which explicates and differentiates the extraordinarily complicated religious experiences; furthermore, the order of these symbols is a descriptive system, not a rational system capable of being deduced from axioms. (We must note the insistence of Thomas that Incarnation, Trinity, and other doctrines are rationally impenetrable, i.e., rationally meaningless.)
Here, it seems to me, lies the greatest value of Christian theology as a store of religious experiences amassed over more than a thousand years, which has been thoroughly analyzed and differentiated by Church Fathers and Scholastics in an extraordinary cooperative enterprise.
To set up against this treasure hoard (without having an exhaustive knowledge of it) philosophical speculations of a monotheistic, pantheistic, dualistic, or any other kind, speculations which inevitably rest on individual thinkers’ very limited experiences, seems to me, I am bound to say, brash mischief-making, even if the mischief is committed by thinkers such as Bruno or Hegel or William James.