White, Thomas Joseph, O.P., ed., The Analogy of Being: Invention of Antichrist or the Wisdom of God?, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), xiv + 440 pp. $48.00 (paperback).

Reviewed by Jeffrey Skaff (October 21, 2013)

“I regard the analogia entis as the invention of Antichrist, and I believe that because of it it is impossible ever to become a Catholic.” Karl Barth’s famous statement in the preface to the first part-volume of theChurch Dogmatics—directed at the work of Roman Catholic philosopher Erich Przywara—does not immediately suggest itself as a springboard for launching ecumenical dialogue. The essays by leading Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox theologians collected in this volume, however, testify to the breadth and depth of the conversation between Barth, Przywara, and others, a conversation in which Barth’s “soundbite” is only one moment. The contributors first presented their pieces at a 2008 conference in Washington D.C. They approach their specific topics with erudition, make careful judgments, and, for the most part, practice charity towards those with whom they disagree.

Readers should note that this is the second of three volumes that have become something of a series. It is preceded byDivine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering(James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P. 2009) and followed by Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: An Unofficial Catholic-Protestant Dialogue (Bruce L. McCormack and Thomas Joseph White, O.P. 2013). These volumes are written by a group of scholars who are committed to particular theological traditions, and though they are ecumenically-minded, they have no interest in what Hans Urs von Balthasar referred to as “a false irenicism in dogmatics.”

This particular volume begins with an introductory essay by Thomas Joseph White, in which he characterizes “the single most important ecumenical controversy of the twentieth century” as being rooted in different responses to modernity (1). Przywara believed that analogy offered an alternative to modern thought, which tended towards either univocity (pantheism) or equivocity (God is unthinkable). He drew upon Augustinian themes to argue, “where the self seems the most irrefragably separated from God (most godless), there the wholly other dissimilarity of God in transcendence may also appear anew” (12–13). Barth, on the other hand, did not seek to explain modern godlessness “by recourse to a philosophical or metaphysical explanation” (9). Rather, he “depicted the state of modern atheism as only a more or less vivid unveiling of what has already, always been the case in fallen human nature. . . . We are . . . incapable of rejoining God in any way by our own powers” (9). His response was to emphasize “the agency of God in Christ breaking into the created order” (11).

The first section, “Reconsidering the Theological Contours of the Original Debate,” contains the two essays that most directly engage not only the debate, but also the thought of Przywara and Barth themselves. John Betz emphasizes two things in his account of Przywara’s analogy of being, both of which frequently appear in the other essays. First, he argues there is “an analogical ordering of philosophy to theology” (or faith to reason), which follows the rule: fides (theologia) non destruit, sed supponit et perificit rationem (philosophiam)” (66). Second, Betz emphasizes that the analogy of being simply repeats the definition of the Fourth Lateran Council that “one cannot note any similarity between Creator and creature—however great—that would not require one always to note an ever greater dissimilarity” (75); that is to say, the analogia entis is an analogia proportionalitatis. With these principles in hand, Betz tries to ward off common Barthian criticisms: “The analogia entis is not a metaphysical superstructure connecting the being of God to the being of creatures; nor does it compromise divine transcendence; nor is it reducible to a form of natural theology” (75). To his credit, he realizes that more fundamental criticisms might remain, and names two of them. First, the analogy of being posits that creation is “already always looking to God and already intended for God—indeed, always already in touch with God on the basis of its mere being” (80). Second, that the analogy of being determines a relationship between God and creatures independent of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ in such a way that “Christ appears ultimately as the fulfillment of an already existing reality and knowledge” (83). Betz briefly tries to address these objections, and admits that sticking to them does risk positioning oneself in opposition to fundamental teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Betz’ seeming recognition that Barth’s opposition to the analogy of being ultimately rests on ontological, rather than epistemological, concerns segues nicely into Bruce McCormack’s chapter. Among other things, McCormack traces Barth’s outworking of “the ontological implications of his theological epistemology” from the second edition of Romans through the fourth volume of the Church Dogmatics. One significant moment in this narrative is the publication of Barth’s 1929 essay “The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.” It was occasioned by Przywara’s visit to Barth’s seminar and takes issue with “the alleged ‘continuity’ that joins Creator and creature as a consequence of creation” (102). In McCormack’s reading—and against Balthasar’s and others’—Barth never wavered in the fundamental move made here, that of shifting “the basis for a concept of analogy from creation as such to revelation” (104, original emphasis). Whereas Balthasar believed revelation in Christ provided Barth with an epistemological basis for establishing the ontological “givenness” of creation (because the incarnation presupposes the order of creation), McCormack is only willing to grant this with regards to the first volumes of the Church Dogmatics (and even then, only with hesitation and qualification). In a move that will be unsurprising to anyone who has followed Barth studies in recent years, McCormack argues that it is only with Barth’s revision of the doctrine of election in II/2 and its outworking in the Christology of Volume IV that Barth is able to provide a coherent theological ontology, and thus the basis for his mature account of analogy. The “I-Thou relation” of the Father and Son in eternity serves as the concrete basis for the relationship of God and the creature; in III/1 Barth refers to this as an analogia relationis. There is, then, an analogy of being within the analogy of faith not only epistemologically—as Balthasar believed—but ontologically as well. On its own, this final point seems rather noncontroversial among Barth scholars, and so those who disagree with McCormack’s account of Barth’s development and its implications (which he defends here in part by appealing to German-language scholarship of the last several decades) will have to decide whether the point can be maintained through different means.

The three essays of the second section, “Ecumenical Proposals,” address the Roman Catholic theological legacy of the exchanges of the 1920s and 30s. Kenneth Oakes tries to narrow the distance between Barth and Przywara by drawing attention to the latter’s theology of the cross. This theme is prominent in Przywara’s 1956 Alter and Neuer Bund. Here Przywara distinguishes his understanding of the analogy of faith from that of Barth, Balthasar, and Söhngen. Rather than an “analogical knowing in faith . . . Przywara intends by the term analogia fidei the far more traditional sense of the practice or art of reading Scripture in light of Scripture” (160). Christ stands at the center of this analogy of faith because “the old and the new covenant . . . are ‘nailed together’ by ‘the nails of the cross’” (161). Within this scheme, the analogy of being, here taken to refer to the “ever yet greater” of the “unfathomable mystery of [the life of the triune] God in himself” (163), “intensifies and amplifies what we wish to say about this story of Jesus Christ and his own unique work” (164). Whether or not one is convinced by Oakes’ claim that Przywara’s theology of the cross in his later work successfully mediates between Barth and Przywara on the doctrine of revelation, Oakes’ call for future discussions between the two theologians on topics such as Christology, the doctrine of God, and biblical exegesis is welcome.

Richard Shenk’s essay also tries to connect the analogy of being with the cross, though he is finally more interested in Thomas Aquinas than Przywara. He begins by showing how both Przywara and then Gottlieb Söhngen offered a staurological interpretation of the axiom fides (theologia) non destruit, sed supponit et perificit rationem (philosophiam). Söhngen in particular looked to Bonaventure to find such an understanding, and they both believed such a view was at odds with Thomism. Shenk then shifts to a fascinating discussion of the origin of the nature and grace axiom, showing its origin in the Neoplatonism of Dionysian thought. When Thomas is situated within this context, it is clear that, for Thomas, “the nature that is not destroyed by grace, far from being the self-glorifying nature that the critics of analogy feared, was the nature that would experience its own failings” (188–89).

In the next essay Peter Casarella considers Balthasar’s attempts to integrate Barthian considerations into Roman Catholic theology. In part, this involves relating Balthasar’s defense of Przywara. Balthasar claims that Przywara’s analogy of being “is not the starting point of an absolute metaphysics” (196), and emphasizes the christocentric elements in Przywara’s thought, especially with regards to the doctrine of creation. Balthasar was not always uncritical of Przywara, however, especially later in his life when the controversy between Barth and Przywara had faded. In Theodramatik II/2, Balthasar questions the christological adequacy of Przywara’s system of thought. Casarella summarizes, “Przywara’s metaphysics can be a great aid to a theologian to see the order of being in creation with Christ as its ground. His theory of analogy is grounded in the concreteness of revelation, but the living form of Christ and the Christological determinations of the analogy of being are still too vague” (204).

Part III is titled “The Analogy of Being and Thomistic Ressourcement.” The four essays in this section all seek to defend Thomas, and especially his understanding of analogy, against criticism from Barth and his followers. Against Wolfhart Pannenberg and Eberhard Jüngel, who he thinks are too indebted to Hegel and Kant, respectively, Reinhold Hütter holds up Thomas’ ontology of “causal participation.” In his chapter, Thomas Joseph White defends a provocative claim: “[W]hile knowledge of Christ implies a natural capacity for knowledge of God by natural reason (natural theology), the absence of an intrinsic capacity for the latter would render belief in the divinity of Christ impossible. This suggests that to the extent that there is a Christological analogia entis (an analogy between creation and God disclosed in Christ), this mystery presupposes a natural analogia entis intrinsic to creation” (250–51). Like Hütter, in his conclusion he attempts to bolster his argument by criticizing Barthians for their overreliance on “Kantian epistemological premises” (279). Bruce Marshall’s essay takes a different approach to Thomas. He maintains that we can never know the precise relationship between our naming of God and God’s perfections. At the same time, he argues that Thomas affirms the christological possibility of univocal talk of God, writing, “univocal human speech about God becomes possible . . . from the moment the Word becomes flesh” (306). He reconciles these two pieces of his argument by claiming, “Nothing it is true for us to say univocally of God in virtue of the humanity of the Logos tells us of God quid est, what he is in his divine nature” (311). In the final essay of the section, Martin Bieler reads Thomas alongside Ferdinand Ulrich and emphasizes that the analogy of being describes a gift given from God to the creature that invites a free positive response. The logic of giving is the basis for the adequacy of analogy as the proper way to speak of the relationship between God and creation.

Though the contributors to this section are united in their defense of Thomas, their arguments demonstrate the various ways Thomas can be interpreted, even on foundational matters. It is best left to specialists to sort out the details of the debates here, but the biggest issues at stake seems to be: (1) whether Thomas’ account of analogy is ontological, logical, or both, and (2) what this implies about the character of our knowledge God (the question of apophaticism).

The final section of the volume is titled, “The Analogy of Being and the Renewal of Contemporary Theology.” The first essay of the section, by Michael Hanby, is noteworthy for its relative lack of interest in dogmatic theology (compared to the other essays), focusing instead on theology and science. Over against what he takes to be the dominant understanding of the world in modern science (a deficiency he traces to Ockham), Hanby emphasizes the need for an account of the inherent nature and meaning of the material world. The analogy of being is ideally suited for this task since it can provide an account of what the world is as world, while also maintaining the otherness of God. This allows for the autonomy of the natural sciences and theology while also providing opportunities for mutually beneficial conversations.

Next, John Webster appeals to “God’s wholly realized triune life in himself” (379) in order to defend a classical Reformed account of the relationship between God and creation. He stakes out a position in opposition to accounts that hold that “the real is the historical” (380)—Robert Jenson is mentioned—and accounts that heavily rely on “the idiom of participation” (380)—David Bentley Hart is taken as representative. In opposition to the former, Webster maintains that a robust doctrine of God’s aseity is not only compatible with, but secures and bolsters the divine missions. As to the latter, rather than strong participatory language, Webster argues for the superiority of “dramatic” language, in which covenant, and thus election, is emphasized. He urges Reformed theologians not to concede too quickly to criticism of their tradition and encourages them to engage in fresh readings of Scripture, arguing, “dogmatic failure is not only the outworking of philosophical error but also—more often—the consequence of thin, tired, or unexpectant exegesis” (389). Following his own advice, he exegetes Ephesians 1:3-14, drawing attention to its description of God’s fullness, and finding that it is “God’s will, directed to creatures as sovereign decision and determination in their favor” which “ties together the realities of God in himself and God’s economic presence” (391).

The final essay belongs to David Bentley Hart, the scholar most responsible for revitalizing the debate over the analogy of being. He first sweeps aside criticism of the analogy of being: “In itself, there could scarcely be a more perfectly biblical, thoroughly unthreatening, and rather drably obvious Christian principle than Przywara’s analogia entis” (395). The analogy of being alone maintains the infinite transcendence of God while also providing means for affirming God’s true immanence, God’s “transcendent immediacy” (408). In the second half of the essay, attempting to assuage critics’ fears, Hart elucidates how Nicene theology demands the analogy of being. “Fully developed Christology is . . . impossible to conceive apart from a proper understanding of the true difference between transcendent and immanent being. . . . The ‘ever greater difference’ . . . lifts the doctrine of the incarnation out of the realm of myth, for it marks the difference between the divine and the human as an infinite qualitative difference” (409, original emphasis). An epilogue by Richard Shenk follows in which he attempts to tie the essays together and point the way forward, especially for Roman Catholic theology.

The Analogy of Being is a model for ecumenical dogmatic theology, and several of the essays are essential reading for anyone interested in the debate between Barth and Przywara and its legacy. That said, and although the collection is already quite long, additional essays defending Barth’s position—or even substantially interacting with it—would have been welcome. As it stands, of the twelve essays, only McCormack’s explicitly defends Barth (though Webster certainly defends some of Barth’s most basic concerns). Readers will have been misled if they think this reflects a scholarly consensus against Barth. Keith L. Johnson’s carefully researched recent book, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis (Keith L. Johnson 2010), makes impossible flippant dismissals of Barth on the grounds he misunderstood Przywara. One wonders how some of the arguments here might have changed if they had taken Johnson’s book into account—unfortunately it was not yet available in published form.

More careful attention to Barth, even by those who finally oppose him, might also have eliminated supposed counterarguments to his position that are simply red herrings. For example, attempting to render Barth’s critiques innocuous, more than one contributor appeals to the ultimate apophatic moment in the analogy of being—an appeal that entirely misunderstands Barth’s concerns about any givenness of revelation. Barth’s problem with Przywara’s account of the analogy of being is not that it claims to know too much about God or that it does not leave sufficient space for God’s transcendence. His problem is with what it implies about the basis for one’s knowledge of God, about how—not how much—one can claim to know God. As Barth himself puts it: “Man as creature is not in a position from which he can establish and survey (e.g., in a scheme of the unity of like and unlike) his relation to God and thereby interpret himself as ‘open upward’…and consequently describe his own knowledge as if it meant that God’s revealedness were within the compass of his own understanding by itself” (quoted on 103, original emphasis).

In a similar vein, as this welcome and fascinating debate continues, as it is sure to, one would do well to consider that, especially for the later Barth, the question that most concerns him is not: is there true knowledge of God apart from special revelation? While this is not unimportant, it is not primary. His question, rather, is this: is there a creator/creature relationship that is not wholly determined by God’s eternal will for fellowship with humanity historically enacted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.