_Cities of God_: Two Views of Language

In Graham Ward’s _Cities of God_ he does a good job (see chapter 3, “The Ontological Scandal”) of distinguishing between two kinds of speaking & “naming.”

One view, what we might call the “speech of man,” represented by the likes of the early Wittgenstein and British Empiricism, thinks that, through our language, we have direct control of the things of this world. (This presupposes all kinds of things, such as that our perception links up with discreet objects, which in turn presupposes an atomistic view that reality is primarily composed of discreet units of stuff, of matter. Both of these assumptions are at odds with Christian theology.)

The other view, which we might call “the speech of God,” is that we are creatures of God who speak not because we are in control of anything (or even that we know what we are doing) but rather because we are always already in a prior relationship with God and his creation. We speak and name because we cannot help it, in terms of efficient causality. We speak and name because we are images of a relational and speaking God, in terms of formal causality.

Two implications, both of which are key to Ward’s theology:

1. The “hermeneutic ontologies” of postmodern, continental philosophy (Vittimo, Derrida, Foucault, et al) seem to have much more in common with the Christian view than with the former view.

2. The latter, Christian view has a much greater openness to the “ontological scandal” prompted by Jesus when, gesturing toward a loaf of bread, he says, “This is my body.”

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