Is Word prior to Idea?

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 4

Yesterday I posted on Anselm’s apparent preference of locutio over verbum as his term of choice for God’s knowledge of himself and creation, arguably on account of locutio‘s stronger, active linguistic tones in comparison to the more intellectualist and hence passive connotations of verbum. Tying in with this discussion is John Milbank’s argument for the priority of word over idea in contrast to the more Hellenistic tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas:

But in this reconception of analogy one has to say that the imitation of the divine power spoken of by Aquinas (an imitation which in the elusive yet concrete centre of the Christ-figura and in the eschatological prospect of the spirit is actually an identity with) must also include the creation of language itself, because language does not stand for ideas, as Aquinas thought, but constitutes ideas and ‘expresses’ things in their disclosure of truth for us. In this case language itself in its expressive relation to beings belongs to the analogatum. Language is also ‘like God’, and our linguistic expression mirrors the divine creative act which is immanently contained in the Ars Patris that is the Logos. ‘Analogy of being’ becomes ‘analogy of creation’ because our imitative power is a participation in the divine orginative-expressive capacity (this also accords with a more dialectical conception of the esse/essentia difference). Teleological constraint is here mediated through our sense of the ‘rightness’ of our emergent linguistic product. (Milbank, Word Made Strange, 29)

In a footnote, Milbank continues:

It is in fact with Thomas Aquinas, in relation to both the Trinity and the verbum mentis, that a certain conflation of the forma exemplaris with the imago expressa begins, so transforming the notion of an exemplary idea, such that the idea now only is in its constant ‘being imaged’. Taken further by Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa, this development dynamizes our participation in the divine ideas and finally makes our creativity the reflection of the divine rationality. Yet at the same time, teleology remains fully in place, because our ‘art’ is always a ‘conjecture’ concerning the completion of the divine ‘art’.  (Milbank, Word Made Strange, 35n38)

This idea of human art as a ” ‘conjecture’ concerning the completion of the divine ‘art'” fits with my Tolkienian account of Anselm’s understanding of theology as “sub-creative,” that is, as a mere approximation–accurate but never complete–of the inherent logic or inner consistency of revelation and the Christian faith. At the same time, as Tolkien might put it, our theology is always “more” than a mere approximation, but a veritable “effoliation and multiple enrichment” of God’s own work of creation and redemption.

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