Monday, May 19, 2008

Berkouwer on Barth, Analogy and the Analogia Entis

I’ve been rooting around in Berkouwer’s famous treatment of Barth, and I have been amazed by how perceptive he is. The quality of exposition is superb. In particularly, he understands Barth’s rejection of natural theology and the analogia entis. I highly recommend that you check out that section of the volume (pages 181-195, approximately). Here are a few short lines that tie this matter together well:

Berkouwer, G. C. The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Translated by Harry R. Boer. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.
On basis of the analogia entis, natural theology posits an essential readiness, an openness for the knowledge of God as that knowledge is already present in natural man prior to and apart from the encounter with the gracious God. This man of the natural theology is the man who knows God without the miracle of grace, he is the rich man who can know God without standing in need of grace…In natural theology man denies his being completely closed to revelation…For this reason it must be rejected without mercy.

It is therefore plain that in his struggle against the analogia entis, Barth is not concerned about the problem of analogical concepts in general, as these played a role especially in the Middle Ages, but that his concern is with the analogia entis (of God and man) in connection with our knowledge of the truth, the gracious God. In distinction from this analogy, Barth points to the ‘experiencing’ of God’s grace which is founded in God’s readiness, and which can never be explained in terms of an already present readiness in man. (185).
Berkouwer goes on to argue that von Balthasar has erred in thinking that Barth changed his mind and came to essential although implicit acceptance of the analogia entis.

Coincidently, one of my colleagues here at PTS - Keith Johnson - has recently completed a dissertation that was at one time entitled, "Rethinking Barth and Aquinas: The Analogia Entis and the Söhngen-Barth Exchange." Keep an eye out for its publication and, if possible, get a hold of a copy of the dissertation. It is well worth your time. If one wanted to track Keith down, he will assume a teaching position at my undergraduate alma mater (Wheaton College, IL) this Fall.

14 comments:

jordan said...

What is your recommendation of the best way to track down (and get a copy of) a dissertation like this one?

WTM said...

It will eventually enter the PTS library's catalog, and from there should be accessible through your reference librarian. Another method is to contact the author. If you wanted to pursue that line, I would wait for Keith to get settled into Wheaton and then contact him there.

Luke said...

I agree about “God’s grace which is founded in God’s readiness, and which can never be explained in terms of an already present readiness in man”. The natural man is not able to find salvation by means of his own capabilities.
But is important to distinguish that from the pre-understanding of God. If man had not had an idea, probably wrong and misguided, about what “God” means, Jesus message would had been totally irrelevant to people.

WTM said...

Luke,

I have to disagree with you as to the importance of human pre-understanding of God. It seems to me that Jesus Christ is inherently and objectively relevant and meaningful for people regardless of what, if any, pre-understanding of God they may have. Could you elaborate on why you think pre-understanding is important?

Luke said...

Travis, here is an excerpt of an article where I try to focus on pre-understanding.

“Heidegger’s conceptual turn is decisive for our analysis. Instead of speaking of consciousness, he speaks of “Erschlossenheit” (“openness”) and of “lumen naturale” (“light”). He subordinates theoretical knowledge to a more original understanding from which it derives. This original understanding is indiscernible from existence as openness. To the extent that this openness entails a certain degree of comprehension, Heidegger identifies human being with her speech. Yet this is not a representative kind of speech, but one that embraces the diverse modalities of consciousness. It is practical, because it refers to being oriented; and reflexive, because it echoes in the subject and its capacities. All this presupposes that speech is always already an understanding or, rather a “Vorverständnis”, “pre-understanding”, between the subject and the object. In its clearest formulation (Bultmann’s definition of the hermeneutical circle, cf. Glauben und Verstehen, III, pp. 142-150) it says that all understanding presupposes a pre-understanding, which is basically a self-understanding (Selbstverständnis).”

Would you accept that? Although as a good Barthian you are, you may have some difficulties.

WTM said...

Thanks, Luke.

If the point is that we must first be to know, or that we must first be self-aware to know, and that therefore without first being self-aware we could not know God, that seems fine to me. This would seem to me to be an exposition of the notion that we know God as the sort of creatures that we are, namely, human creatures.

Now, if the question is speech about God, then it makes sense to me that we must know the true God to speak about him, and thus "pre-understanding" or the knowledge we have of God prior to our speaking of him is significant.

Is this the sort of thing you are getting at? I'm afraid that I am woefully ignorant of Heideggar.

Luke said...

No doubt about the first point. Without the appearance of human being, no question about God would have been posed at all.

About the second point, there are a lot of speeches about God. But I don’t think they understand by “God” the same thing. In other words, what for ones is the real God, for others is heresy. Yet this is an old argument against all religions in general. I think all humans, even atheists, understand a speech about God. In the same sense that without a certain familiarity one is not able to learn a foreign language (although never heard before); without a certain familiarity, one will not be able to understand what Jesus is talking about.

WTM said...

Sure, but the familiarity is not something that we posses but something that God creates. This is analogous to the difference between Barth and Brunner. For Brunner - as I understand him - human language and rationality are necessary preconditions for the knowledge of God that human beings posses. For Barth, the only reason human language and rationality are important for the knowledge of God is because God became incarnate. Had God not become a human being, human language and rationality would have no significance for the knowledge of God.

Luke said...

I am not sure about your last statement. If that was the case, what about Socrates, for instance? He was killed for heresy, that is to say, for confusing people about God. Do you mean that rationality and language were meaningless, at least in relation to God, in Greece? So, both Socrates and his accusatory were talking about something they did not understand at all? I think this is going too far.

Yet another question underlying is interesting in relation to incarnation. Do you think incarnation is an historical fact? More precisely: an historical fact happened in the past? I advance my position: no historical evidence may be found to support such supposed fact. In my opinion it is a confession of faith. God has become human being then as well as now for those who believe. Without faith, God incarnation is only a possibility with some sense, as far as it talks about something reasonable or at least understandable. Besides, only this, let’s say, natural language and intellect, will be capable to belief, to find a meaning to the incarnation.

I don’t agree with your last statement, for this confusing reasons, but it is a pleasure to talk to you.

WTM said...

Luke,

I enjoy talking to you as well, even as we struggle to understand each other!

Of course language and rationality were important for Socrates and the Greeks in their philosophical contemplation of what they understood to be God. But, I tend not to think that the deity they contemplated was in fact the God and Father of Jesus Christ. There may have been certain formal similarities to what they concluded about deity and who God reveals himself to be in Jesus, but this is not the same thing as knowing the Christian God.

As for the incarnation, I think it is a historical reality, but I don’t think it is a “fact” if by fact we mean something accessible and verifiable to human beings generally. In other words, I don’t think that one could look at the human Jesus and deduce that he was the eternal Son of God. Thus, the reality of the incarnation – though occurring in history – is known only to faith and as a result of the illumination of the Spirit.

Luke said...

I agree on all you say in this last post!!

jonmackenzie said...

Luke,

Look out for my opening post on the relationship between philosophy and theology in the work of Eberhard Jungel which is an opening post to the Karl Barth Blog Conference 2008. I look at Jungel's mediating point between Bultmann's Sebverstendnis and Barth's revelatio-centric starting point.

Luke said...

Sure, it sounds interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

Selbstverständnis requires an ä [a - umlaut]