Harvard Theological Review

Research Article

Language, Metaphor, and Chalcedon: A Case of Theological Double Vision*

Stephen W. Needa1

a1 L.S.U. College of Higher Education, Southampton, England

The question of how human language functions in relation to God constitutes one of the most difficult problems in Christian theology. I contend that Christian notions of language about God should be constructed in light of christology, since both are concerned with the relationship between the human and the divine. Northrop Frye, drawing on the poetry and thought of William Blake, speaks of the importance of “the double vision of a spiritual and a physical world simultaneously present” in understanding how religious language works. This fundamental quality of double vision or tension characterizes the relationship between the human and the divine both in language about God and in christology. In this article I shall examine several aspects of the relationship between the human and the divine: first, the basic problem of theological language as discussed by George Lindbeck; second, the notion of theological language as metaphorical, as discussed by Sallie McFague; and third, christology as found in the Chalcedonian definition of Christian faith. I shall conclude that it is appropriate to construct notions of language about God in light of Chalcedonian christology.


* I would like to thank Professor Sarah Coakley, Professor Helmut Koester, and Mr. David Lamberth for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this article.