Christian doctrine

My second claim is that Christian doctrines (though ultimately derived from divine revelation) are the high expression of human imaginative insight. Because God is a poet, as Augustine suggests, and communicates with us in the imaginative mode, our most appropriate response is also in that mode. Theology does its work in the realm of analogy. Doctrines as the authoritative ultimate outcome of theology—privileged theology, we might say—are equally stated by means of analogy. There is no escape from analogical theology. Our task, therefore, in this section will be to try to show that there is a connection, a continuity, between metaphor and analogy—so that analogy is seen as an unravelling of primal metaphors, a spelling out of the similes that are compressed in metaphors. As Farrer asserts, analogy 'is only another name for sober and appropriate images' and all our significant thinking about ultimate, unique meanings, whether in metaphysics or theology, is 'irreducible analogizing' (Farrer, 1948, pp.71, 74).

Doctrines are elicited from the Church as it comes under the sway of the pattern or form of revelation. The Church sees or perceives (or thinks it does) the import of revelation and articulates that perception in the most strenuous act of God-given reason. That act of reason is filled with ethical and aesthetic perception. The doctrines of the creed (to use Oliver Quick's phrase) are not divinely revealed in prepositional form. As William Temple famously said, there are no revealed truths but there are truths of revelation. Divine revelation and human discovery are correlative terms not because revelation is not real or because the Bible is not full of it, but precisely because of the nature of revelation and its reception. It can only be given in the medium of the imagination and can only be appropriated in the same way.

That does not mean that doctrines are a matter of individual preference—every man his own magisterium—nor does it make them frivolous and ephemeral. Doctrines are weighty matters and carry the authority of the Church that teaches them. But, because the Church is not generally infallible, doctrines are not irreformable. In practice, the symbols are permanent but the way they are interpreted is constantly evolving. No one in their right mind wants to 'monkey with the creed' (in Hilaire Belloc's immortal phrase), but it is simply the case that the profoundly symbolic character of revelation constantly generates new insights in response to the contemplation of faith.

The contribution that metaphor, symbol and myth make to Christian doctrine— together with their refined, sophisticated and critical development into analogy—will be explored in Chapter 6.

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