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The texture of religious language

Anthony Kenny


From time immemorial poetry and religion have been linked. Lucretius, Thomas of Celano, and St. John of the Cross provide iconic examples. Both involve non-literal discourse, as spelt out by Origen, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. We need to distinguish allegory, parable, metaphor, and analogy. In talking of God we use both bodily and mentalistic predicates: both can only be understood metaphorically. This is illustrated by an examination of “Our Father who art in Heaven”. Even for Aquinas the notion of fatherhood was metaphorical, and the biblical notion of heaven cannot survive in any literal sense in a world of Newtonian physics. The metaphorical nature of religious language does not rule out the possibility of prayer, as illustrated by A.H. Clough.

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