Metalanguage and Revelation: Rethinking Theology’s Language and Relevance

  • Andrea VestrucciEmail author


What distinguishes theology (in specific Christian theology) from the other uses of language? Is theology a specific language, or is it a specific situation of language, a specific way to consider language? I start with the issue of language’s inadequacy before (and because of) divine revelation. By analyzing the variety of answers to this inopia verborum, I show that the theological inadequacy of language is not conceptual, but formal: it concerns the metalinguistic definition of inadequacy. Then, I formalize the relationship between metalanguage and object language, and I argue that theology applies precisely to this formal relationship. From this, I deduce that the function of theology is to question the need for metalinguistic foundation and validation—given that this need characterizes human language, that is, what is not divine revelation. I end with two applications: on one hand, to the axiomatization of theology; on the other hand, to the methodology for inter-religious dialogue.


Theology Foundation Metalanguage Logic Paradox Axiomatism Inter-religious dialogue 

Mathematics Subject Classification

Primary 03A05 Secondary 03B65 03B80 



  1. 1.
    Abbott, E.A.: Flatland. A Romance on Many Dimensions. Seeley & Co, London (1884)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Askani, H.-C.: The paradox of faith. In: Askani, H.-C., Chalamet, C. (eds.) The Wisdom and Foolishness of God: First Corinthians 1–2 in Theological Exploration, pp. 341–358. Fortress Press, Minneapolis (2016)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Augustine: Contra Iulianum haeresis pelagianae defensorem libri sex [421–422]. In: S. Aureli Augustini Hipponiensis Episcopi Opera Omnia vol. 10.1 [Patrologiae cursus completus. Series latina vol. 44]. Edited by J.-P. Migne. J.-P. Migne, Paris (1865)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bader, G.: Assertio. Drei fortlaufende Lektüren zu Skepsis, Narrheit und Sünde bei Erasmus und Luther. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen (1985)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bader, G.: Luther’s theologica paradoxa in Erasmus and Cusanus. In: Askani, H.-C., Chalamet, C. (eds.) The Wisdom and Foolishness of God: First Corinthians 1–2 in Theological Exploration, pp. 139–165. Fortress Press, Minneapolis (2016)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bielfeldt, D.: Luther, metaphor, and theological language. Mod. Theol. 6(2), 121–135 (1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bielfeldt, D.: Luther on language. Lutheran Q. 16, 195–220 (2002)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bonhoeffer, D.: Akt und Sein. Transzendentalphilosophie und Ontologie in der systematischen Theologie. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, vol. 2. Kaiser, Gütersloh (2008)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Büttgen, P.: Enslaved judgment. In: Cassin, B. (ed) Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon. Translated by S. Rendall et al. Translation edited by E. Apter, J. Lerza and M. Wood. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, p 256 (2014)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Chalamet, C.: Dialectical Theologians: Wilhelm Herrmann, Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. Theologischer Verlag, Zürich (2005)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Erasmus, D.: De libero arbitrio diatribē sive collatio. In: Lesowsky, W. (ed) Id.: Ausgewählte Schriften, vol. 4. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, pp. 1–195 (1969)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hampson, D.: Christian Contradictions: The Structure of Lutheran and Catholic Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Joest, W.: Ontologie der Person bei Luther. Vandenhöck & Ruprecht, Göttingen (1967)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Jüngel, E.: Metaphorische Wahrheit. Erwägungen zur theologischen Relevanz der Metapher als Beitrag zur Hermeneutik einer narrativen Theologie. In: Id.: Entsprechungen: Gott – Wahrheit – Mensch. Theologische Erörtungen. Kaiser, München, pp. 103–157 (2002)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jüngel, E.: Gott als Geheimnis der Welt. Zur Begründung der Theologie der Gekreuzigten im Streit zwischen Theismus und Atheismus. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen (2010)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Luther, M.: De servo arbitrio (1525). In: Id.: Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Weimar, pp. 600–787 (1998–2009)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Martin, W.: Ought but Cannot. Proc. Aristot. Soc. 109, 103–128 (2009)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Milz, B.: Der gesuchte Widerstreit. Die Antinomie in Kants Kritik der Praktischer Venunft. Kant-Studien, vol. 39. De Gruyter, Berlin (2002)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Nietzsche, F.: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. In: Colli, G., Montinari, M. (eds.) Id.: Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 5. De Gruyter, Berlin (1988)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Oppy, G.: Ontological Arguments and Belief in God. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1995)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Pettoello, R.: Un nuovo mondo dal nulla. In: Pettoello, R. (ed.) Bolyai, J.: La scienza assoluta dello spazio, pp. 7–22. Melquiades, Milan (2009)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Quine, W.V.: The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays, Revised and Enlarged Edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1966)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Tarski, A.: Truth and proof. Sci. Am. 220/6(63–70), 75–77 (1969)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Vestrucci, A.: Music, analogy, and the beauty of everydayness. On music’s sense: first movement. Knowl. Cult. 3/3, 42–70 (2015)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Vestrucci, A.: Music, wandering, and the limit of any method. On music’s sense: second movement. Knowl. Cult. 3(3), 71–92 (2015)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Vestrucci, A.: Theology as Freedom: On Martin Luther’s “De servo arbitrio”. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen (2019)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    White, G.G.: Luther’s view on language. J. Lit. Theol. 3, 188–218 (1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    White, G.G.: Luther as Nominalist: A Study of the Logical Methods used in Martin Luther’s Disputations in the Light of their Medieval Background. Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, Helsinki (1994)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Theological UnionBerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations