Difference and the difference

Whatever view one takes of Scotus' arguments that the possibility of a natural theology depends on the most general terms used of God and creatures being univocally predicable, at the very least they can be said to address a genuine problem about theological language in general. What is the difference between God and creatures? How are we to talk about that difference? Does such talk have a 'grammar'? And however we do talk about that difference - the 'gap', as it were, between God and creatures -is that gap so to be understood that any inference purporting to 'cross' it must, perforce, be invalid?

Today, and especially in some recent French philosophy and theology, the question of 'difference' as such has become much vexed both as a highly general question about language as such (in fact as a much too general question to be profitably disputed) and as a particular question about theological language. In this latter case, it arises as a question about 'the' difference between God and creation. But when it comes to that question, it is none too easy to know whether or not to say that 'the' difference between God and creatures is the 'ultimate' difference. Moreover, theologians are likely to be at a degree of loss to know what to say about that last question to the extent that they are in thrall to a 'deconstruction-ist' account of difference for which it would seem that, since difference itself is what is ultimate, there is not, and could not be, any one difference which is the ultimate difference. For to say that there is one ultimate difference, foundational of all the rest, would be, it is thought, 'onto-theological', and/or 'foundationalist' error, albeit dressed up in apophatic guise. Hence, the question arises: must our account of'difference' be such that either theology is impossible, being dissolved into an endlessness of 'difference', or, if not impossible, then idolatrous and onto-theological, because settling down on a stably divine difference? The question taxes

Derrida,1 and Caputo2 and Marion,3 in different ways, largely, it would seem, because Nietzsche much taxes all of them.4 But all three are as much preoccupied with determining the relation of their own post-Nietzschean considerations about 'difference' to those of theologians in the high medieval, especially the high medieval apophatic, traditions. For this reason, and because their questioning of'difference' raises some critical issues about how to read some authorities central to those medieval apophatic traditions, they form a convenient and contemporary point of entry into the question of 'difference' in so far as it is discussed within them.

Of course, the post-modern indebtedness to Nietzsche is as contentious in its reading of him as it is in its reading of the medieval traditions which it interprets in that Nietzschean light. But because it is with how in particular Jacques Derrida reads medieval apophaticism as a form of decon-struction, and because it is at least in part on account of his peculiarly 'French' reading of Nietzsche that he reads the medievals as he does, it is not my concern to debate with modern Nietzschean scholarship as to how far Derrida's interpretation of Nietzsche can be defended. For what matters to us is a question of our own: how far may Derrida's understanding of language and 'difference' throw light on the theological issue, addressed in its own terms in the Middle Ages, of God's difference, and of the capacity of language to identify and then cross it.

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