Barth and the Analogy of Being

Every now and then, the question of Barth’s position on the analogy of being – or, as it is called by those who like to sling even more esoteric jargon, the analogia entis - pops up on this blog. As recently as June it was the occasion for a brief blog interaction between Millinerd and myself. In my comments, I mentioned a (very) recently published volume by PTS alumn and current assistant professor of theology at Wheaton, my alma mater, on this very topic. The time has come to provide you, my gentle readers, with a more formal introduction to this book, which certainly deserves to be considered a standard work on the question. So, without further ado, I give you…

Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia entis, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London; T&T Clark, 2010).

Among the many outstanding qualities of this book, I want to highlight at the outset that I know of no more in-depth consideration of Przywara’s position by a Barth scholar – that alone makes the volume invaluable. What I would like to do now is give you an introduction to Johnson’s introduction, lifting up key themes, questions, and arguments that he will make. Further posts will dip in with more focus to various of these (as they catch my attention while reading the published version for the first time).

Johnson begins by sketching the scholarly literature around Barth’s alleged change of mind concerning the analogy of being. It is commonly held that Barth’s rabid rejection of the analogy of being softened as he aged and got deeper into his own constructive enterprise. One of the reasons that this view is held so widely, points out Johnson, is that “if accepted as an accurate portrayal of Barth’s views, it frees theologians to talk about the analogia entis without engaging Barth’s arguments against it or his alternative to it” (p. 8). Little seems to get people as excited as a Barth-sanctioned reason for marginalizing Barth!

For his own part, Johnson identifies two key questions: “(1) Did Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis result from a mistaken understanding of it? and (2) Did Barth, either in response to the realization that he had made a mistake or due to changes in his theology, withdraw his critique of the analogia entis and accept some form of it into his own theology” (p. 9)? In response to these questions, Johnson registers a resounding Nein! He makes two counter-claims (pp. 9-11):
First, I will argue that Barth’s rejection of Przywara’s analogia entis is not the result of a mistaken interpretation. That is to say, Barth understood the analogia entis accurately and he rejected it on grounds that are theologically coherent and justified.
[S]econd…while Barth never changed his mind about his rejection of Przywara’s analogia entis, he did change his response to the analogia entis in three ways. First, he drops his polemic against the analogia entis because he becomes convinced that the Roman Catholic description of it has changed…in part, [because of] insights that he had given them. Second, Barth acknowledges that his analogia fidei necessarily implies a participation in ‘being’…However, because his account of this ‘participation in being’ stands in line with the same distinctions that he used to justify his initial rejection of the analogia entis, it does not mark a change of mind about that rejection. Third, Barth’s view develops because, in his mature theology, he finally accepts that there is a relationship of ongoing continuity between God and humanity. His account of this divine-human continuity does not correspond to Roman Catholic accounts, however…[His account] does not mean that he has adopted a version of the analogy he initially rejected, but rather, it stands as the strongest possible rejection of such an analogy, because nothing at all like that analogy is conceivable on Barth’s terms. In short, Barth’s mature theology fulfils his early rejection of Przywara’s analogia entis rather than retreats from it
There you have it – some provocative claims, indeed! As I said, I will be posting more as I continue working through the book (in the little spare time I have while writing my dissertation…). I encourage you to go take a look at this volume yourself in the meantime.

P.S. Bold is mine; italics are Johnson.

P.P.S. For a quick, down-and-dirty glimpse of (some of) what you will encounter in this volume, I am happy to direct you to Johnson’s recent article in Modern Theology, “Reconsidering Barth’s Rejection of Przywara’s Analogia Entis” (26.4, 2010; 632-50).


Bobby Grow said…
Sounds quite good!

You don't happen to have an "e-copy" of that article you point to in "Modern Theology," do you?
Of course I do, but I doubt MT would like it if I posted it...
milinerd said…
Yes, Johnson shows that Barth consistently rejects Przywara’s analogia entis, but Johnson also presents evidence for an (admittedly qualified) Barthian analogy of being!

In other words, I would argue you change your bold face font to the following sentence from the same quoted paragraph:

"Barth’s view develops because, in his mature theology, he finally accepts that there is a relationship of ongoing continuity between God and humanity."
Of course there is an analogy - the question is where it is grounded: in the doctrine of creation (as in the mainstream tradition, cf. Hart) or in Christology and election (cf. Barth). Did we touch on this in our previous discussion?

In any case, I'm sure I'll post something pertaining to that chapter in Johnson's book.
millinerd said…
"All this talk of analogy is an abstraction if considered apart from the form of Jesus of Nazareth.... It is Christ, the Logos and measure of all things, who calls analogy forth, who shows the proportions, forms, and bounty of creation in their truest light." - David B. Hart
"Shows" means too much for Hart; "constitutes" would be better, and that makes all the difference. For Barth, you need a christologically modified supralapsarianism - the tradition (and Hart) lacks this.
Bobby Grow said…
WTM said:

. . . you need a christologically modified supralapsarianism - the tradition (and Hart) lacks this.

Amen, a Christ-conditioned supra is certainly where it's at!
ken oakes said…
I think that Przywara would say that the doctrinal location of the analogy of being is not primarily the doctrine of creation, but every doctrinal loci that presupposes a distinction between creator and creation (which includes christology, and particularly Reformed christology!). The analogy of being pops up whenever this distinction is invoked, which one will need to do at times throghout the whole gamut from creation, election, christology to eschatology.
Hey Ken,

I know Hart and others much better than I do Przywara, so I'm looking forward to learning more as I go through Keith's book!
millinerd said…
Travis says, "the tradition lacks this" [Christological supralapsarian]. First off, saying things like that automatically excludes Orthodox and some Catholics from your discussions, which may make for a pure Barthianism (which would have frustrated Barth), but it does nothing for ecumenism. As Pelikan writes in the beginning of the second volume of the history of Christian dogma, "The greatest insult one could pay to any theologian interpreted here... would be to call him a 'creative mind.'"

Secondly, and more importantly, the tradition doesn't lack this, because - as you all know - Barth got it from Athanasius! Far better, I think, to say (riffing off of John Henry Newman's development of doctrine) that the tradition always had this, but Barth was the one who most succeeded in discovering and best articulating it for the entire church.
Mea maxima culpa


I always forget that something like this is inchoate in Althanasius, and since it is also inchoate in the Bible, it is - most definitely - in the tradition.

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