In my theology courses the words “allegory” and “analogy” come up frequently. I tend to confuse the two with each other, saying “allegory” when in fact “analogy” is the proper word. Why do we have these two words? What is different about them?
Encarta defines allegory as “a work in which the characters and events are understood as representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning.”
Analogy is “a comparison between two things that are similar in some way, often used to help explain something or make it easier to understand” (Encarta).
One blog editor I found says that, although similar, there is an “enormous difference between the two words: all analogies break down at some point. When one makes an analogy, one’s simply indicating that the two things in comparison are ‘similar in some way’ – then using the similarities to increase understanding of an entirely different item, idea, or situation.”
But I think this distinction comes out of an imbibed modern illusion that difference = alienation. That is, it sounds to me like this writer is saying there is no real unity between different things. The Catholic approach has always been (according to my professors here at Franciscan University) one in which finding distinctions between two things becomes a way to bring them into unity. It is not a matter of “breaking things apart” as the blog writer suggests. So perhaps moderns have the first step right – finding the difference – but then the Catholic scholar will finish the work by seeking to discover the unity.
So what is the difference between allegory and analogy?
My thought is that allegory is a mode of expression and a way of understanding expression whereas analogy is something built in to reality. We use the expression “the analogy of being” to describe how being itself is analogical.
Allegory is a way of understanding expression (whether fictional or factual). But allegory depends on the fundamental reality in being that two things can be like and unlike at the same time. This is analogy. Without analogy, allegory would not be possible. And without a true understanding of analogy, the characters and events of allegory would become useless and purposeless once the deeper meaning which they represent had been found.