By Keith Starkenburg
According to John Betz, Barth’s difficulty with the analogia entis comes from “an aesthetic prejudice for the sublime against the beautiful” (John R. Betz, “Beyond the Sublime,” Modern Theology (2005), 370). David Bentley Hart, who is a close collaborator of Betz, makes similar claims in The Beauty of the Infinite (229-230). If aesthetics has to do strictly with the escapability of the known from the knower, then the analogia entis will be difficult to maintain. Conversely, for Hart, the analogia entis is a way to maintain properly both the beauty of the Triune God’s and creation. As Hart makes this claim, he positions himself against Barth. In this essay, I approach this question indirectly. Instead of analyzing Barth’s concepts of the analogia entis and the analogia fidei, I argue that Barth’s doctrine of glory achieves the same purposes that Hart sets out for his own theology of beauty. Thus, as a consequence, Hart’s claims about Barth’s analogical mechanics are misleading or incomplete.
Hart claims that the question he answers in The Beauty of the Infinite is this: “Is the beauty to whose persuasive power the Christian rhetoric of evangelism inevitably appeals, and upon which it depends, theologically defensible” (1)? Beauty is “theologically defensible” if it allows the Christian tradition to provide a bulwark for the claim that the evangel is “a gospel of peace” (ibid). Thus, Hart’s thesis is that “beauty belongs continuously to the Christian story (as, indeed, a chief element of its continuity), and that it appears there as peace…that for theology beauty is the measure and proportion of peace, and peace the truth of beauty” (33). Is the Christian proclamation of reconciliation in Christ simply, as Nietzsche suggests, a power grab for the sake of one’s own aesthetic vision of order? Or, is its proclamation really a proclamation that does not oppose peace and the beautiful?
There are two large moves in Hart’s argument. First, Hart claims that “the most elementary statement of theological aesthetics is that God is beautiful: not only that God is beauty or the essence and archetype of beauty…God is beauty and also beautiful” (177). The trinitarian life of God fuels Hart’s argument, despite the book’s title: “The Father’s entire being, which he possess in his paternal depth, is always both filial – manifest, known, imparted – and spiritual – loved, enjoyed, perfected – and this event of God’s knowledge and joy is the divine essence – exteriority, happiness, communion – in its infinite unity” (176). Since God is Father and Son, God’s life has mutuality and reciprocity. Since God is Spirit, God’s mutuality has an exteriority and that mutuality can be “differently inflected…as plenitude” (ibid). This allows Hart to say that the Christian God is “infinitely formosus, the supereminent fullness of all form…always possessed of his Logos” and is “delight, the whole rapture of the divine essence” (177). God is beauty since beauty is “the distinction of the different, the otherness of the other, the true form of distance” (ibid). God is beautiful in that God enjoys God’s own beauty without lack.
How is this connected to peace? Given God’s triune life, to be God is to move, to enact difference in unity and unity in difference. Thus, God is peace, since Christian language is able “to place difference at the origin” (180). The triune God “is not that which negates – or is unveiled through negating – difference, he has no dialectical relation to the world nor any metaphysical ‘function’ in maintaining the totality of being…he shows that difference is…peace and joy” (181). Against modern ontologies of difference, such as Hegel or Deleuze, Hart aims to show that the Christian story declares a Triune God who creates difference without self-alienation or a merciful self-recession. As a result, it is only the Christian, Trinitarian God who is peace, and thus elicits a peaceful ontology in which differences on the surface of created being do not compete with one another or with an infinite which establishes that created order.
This brings us to Hart’s other central claim. The Christian gospel is peaceful because it announces that creation participates in the divine life. While the most elementary statement of theological aesthetics is that God is beautiful, according to Hart, the “cardinal axiom of any Christian theological aesthetics” is that “creation is without necessity” (256). Creation is without necessity because “God is Trinity, who explicates himself, utters himself, and responds eternally, and has all fellowship, exposition, and beauty in perfect sufficiency” (ibid). This is a common Christian motif, but Hart converts it into an aesthetic claim that is distinctly expressed in an analogia entis. Hart’s general point is that creation manifests the Creator because it participates in the self-manifesting love of the Triune Creator (243, 245). The creature and the Creator have the Creator in common, not some third entity called being. But, more specifically, the creation bears an analogy to God precisely because of its unlikeness to the Triune God, not despite its unlikeness. Hart’s claim becomes precise when he says that “the analogy is a disjunction and a difference, while also being the interval of creation’s participation in the being that God gives as his gift: creation tells of God’s glory precisely because it is needless, an expression of a love always directed toward another” (251, cf. 158, 180). In other words, the shape of being – its form – is one of “absolute contingency” (250). Creation is marked by its fragility or needlessness, and that shape or form bears witness to God’s life, providing for its “analogy” to the divine life. Precisely as it expresses God’s ever-sufficient self-expressiveness by its non-necessity in relation to the Triune God, creation is analogous to God. Creation is infinitely different from the Triune life insofar as it is unneeded by Triune life. If it were not infinitely different, the Triune God would need the creation in order to act with love. However, because it is infinitely different – more concretely, it is absolutely unnecessary for God – it can bear witness to the Triune God. An unnecessary creation, insofar as it is unnecessary, bears witness to the Triune God. Thus, it is the gratuitous shape of creaturely existence – its beauty - that ensures the peacefulness of the Christian Gospel.
Hart is quite dismissive of Barth’s claim that the analogia entis is the invention of antichrist. According to Hart, this is “inane (and cruel) invective,” and Barth’s later analogia relationis “reduces God to the status of a mere being, in some sense on a level with us” (241). It is difficult to respond to these claims because Hart does not interact with Barth’s multiple deployments of analogy within the Church Dogmatics. However, as Keith Johnson has recently made clear (Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis), Barth never withdrew his criticisms of certain versions of the analogia entis. I will not adjudicate these claims directly, but I think we can see why Hart dismisses Barth on this score. Hart handily connects a version of the analogia entis to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and to peacefulness of the Gospel. If Barth is right that the analogia entis is not a Christian doctrine, then that undercuts Hart’s case for a non-violent Christian theological ontology. However, given Hart’s material moves summarized above, we can test Barth’s theology of beauty to see if it is capable of doing similar work.
Barth’s theology of beauty appears within his presentation of the divine glory in paragraph 31 of CD II/1, the first half of Barth’s doctrine of God. God’s glory “is God Himself in the truth and capacity and act in which He makes himself known as God” (II/1, 641). God’s glory is “the fullness of God’s deity” because it is “the emerging, self-expressing, and self-manifesting reality of all that God is” (643). For Barth, glory is God’s self-expressiveness, that which makes God accessible. Barth’s purpose is to absolutely affirm God’s “freedom to love” in relationship to the creation: “in the fact that He is glorious He loves” (641). If God’s life in the creation can be accessed by the creature, then God’s freedom to love the creature would be conditioned by the creature’s capacity to recognize God’s life. God is graceful, holy, unified and omnipresent and thus has de jure fellowship with creatures. But if de facto fellowship with God is to be achieved, then that gracefulness, holiness, unity and omnipresence within creation must be declared by God alone. God’s glory accounts for his lordship over God’s own transition to creatures.
Barth develops this thesis in three parts. First, he delineates the subjects and objects of glory. God is glorious because he excels all other beings absolutely (646). However, God in God’s self is given to the creation and creatures are induced to participate in God’s own glory and mediate God’s glory to other creatures, especially as creatures worship. At this point, Barth will define glory as “the indwelling joy of his divine being which as such shines out from Him, which overflows in its richness, which in its superabundance is not satisfied with itself but communicates itself” (647). Second, Barth queries the mode of God’s glory and how it is that God is joyful and thus desirable for creatures. Barth’s answer is that God is beautiful; God is “the perfect form” (657). He clarifies, “the form of the perfect being of God is…the wonderful, constantly mysterious and no less constantly evident unity of identity and non-identity, simplicity and multiplicity, inward and outward, God Himself and the fullness of that which He is as God” (ibid). Since God’s life is beautiful in that it is a life of unified distinction and a distinguished unity, God’s life is characterized by “movement” and “peace” (658). It is this movement and peace which God enjoys, which satisfies God and which overflows into the life of creatures. Lastly, Barth unfolds in more depth what it means for creatures to be glorified.
How does Barth’s doctrine of glory achieve the same purposes that Hart sets out for his theology of beauty? A subsidiary purpose of Barth’s treatment of the divine glory is to delineate a non-violent relationship between divine and human activity. God’s glory is a presence “which opens them…which also looses at once tongues which were bound” (647). Since God is glorious, God has “the power of attraction” (650). More specifically, it is beauty which attracts and persuades: “If we can and must say that God is beautiful, to say this is to say how He enlightens and convinces and persuades.” God does not enact the transition to creatures simply by “ruling, mastering, and subduing with the utterly superior force.” This way of presenting the matter would not be “worthy…of the God who is the truth.” For Barth, just as we saw for Hart, God’s life is irresistible and attractive, powerful and persuasive, and overwhelming and non-violent. Another way to put it is that God’s beauty accounts for creaturely joy. It is God’s beauty which “attracts us to joy in Him” (655). Creatures are joyful because they are persuaded by the form of God’s life, God’s beauty. Thus, just as Hart opened his book with the question of the persuasiveness of the Gospel, Barth states quite directly: “But where this element is not appreciated – and this is why the question of the form is so important – what becomes of the evangelical element in the evangel?”
Second, does Barth actually achieve a peaceful ontology, and how does he do this? Barth formulates a peaceful theo-ontology with the same Trinitarian strategy that Hart employs. For Barth, “the triunity of God is the secret of His beauty” (661). Why? He writes, “Here first and in final truth we have to do with a unity of identity and non-identity…it certainly follows from God’s triunity that the one whole divine being, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit whose being it is, must be at the same time identical with itself and non-identical, simple and multiple, a life both in movement and at peace” (660). God’s triunity has no “disparity or dissolution or contradiction” (ibid). In other words, the triunity of God is beyond negation for Barth, as it is for Hart. God does not achieve God’s identity through self-negation or self-recession in order to make room for creatures. God’s self-achievement is peaceful since God is triune. For Barth, as for Hart, peace is at the origins.
Barth is also careful to mention that God’s triunity makes creation unnecessary, and that creation expresses God’s life. Just as with Hart, God’s self-satisfaction establishes creation and divine co-existence with creation as gifts. Since God has no need of the creation, the creation’s existence and the self-giving of God to the creation are gratuitous. Also, as with Hart, Barth makes it clear that it is the “utter creatureliness” that is “the echo of God’s voice” (668). Given what happens in Jesus Christ, creatures correspond to the divine life by giving themselves entirely, just as God gives God’s self entirely in Jesus Christ (671, 674). As God’s self-giving in Christ is grace, creatures give themselves entirely to the Triune God with gratitude. Gratitude participates in the divine glory because it “becomes as such the confirmation of the divine existence” (673). Grateful creaturely existence, in the face of its gratuitous participation in the divine glory, expresses the divine life insofar as it expresses its difference from the Triune life. Creaturely unlikeness to God makes for creaturely likeness to God, for Barth as well as Hart.
In conclusion, I highlight two substantial differences between Hart and Barth. First and unsurprisingly, for Barth the glory of creation is actuated because of the history of Jesus Christ. Creation, apart from Jesus Christ, does not express God’s life. It is only the incarnation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the creation which makes that possible. Hart, however, thinks of Jesus Christ’s work as one of restoration and perfection, not initial establishment. He affirms the practice of natural theology - not a “naïve natural theology” (BOI, 242) - but a natural theology nonetheless. In his doctrine of glory in paragraph 69 of CD IV/3 (“The Light of Life”), Barth does affirm that creation expresses itself and that all of creation shares in the history of God’s revelation in Christ. That may be a kind of natural theology. But more likely it is a way to say that creation expresses the Triune God, but only because of the history of Jesus Christ.
If Hart and Barth agree that trinitarian theology is the heart of a peaceful ontology and a workable analogia, then it is unclear whether Barth’s trinitarian theology can achieve what he sets out to achieve. As Barth often does, in II/1 he describes the unity of the triune God simply in terms of the Holy Spirit (660). This sort of trinitarian theology will not work as a description for the Trinity’s glory because glory is God’s self-illumination or self-declaration. Barth specifies that creatures receive God’s self-illumination, as they participate in God’s self-glorification. But, if God is to be free to self-illuminate, and is to be able to share that freedom, then God would need to be God’s own audience. As Barth says, God is inwardly what God is outwardly (667). The immanent God must be fully externalized, fully shining outward and fully receiving that shining. But, Barth does not clearly specify the receiver of this shining in terms of the divine ways of being, because he cannot do so. The Holy Spirit is the relationship between the Father and Son: the Holy Spirit is their unity; the Holy Spirit exhibits no agency within the Triune life. If he had been able to maintain the Holy Spirit’s immanent agency, his theology would have enunciated a God who loves in freedom more successfully. That may be where Hart offers Barth an important corrective, given the similarity of their work.
Response - Beauty, Glory and Trinity in Karl Barth or in David Bentley Hart?
By Han-luen Kantzer Komline
Keith Starkenburg’s essay makes a cartographical contribution. Through the landscape of Barth’s Reformed theology he maps an alternative route leading to the fulfillment of the very “same purposes that Hart sets out for his own theology of beauty.” Hart constructs his defense of the beauty of God, the beauty of creation, and their compatibility via the analogia entis. In Barth’s theology, Starkenburg argues, the doctrine of glory leads to these aesthetic desiderata.
Starkenburg’s essay thus offers a succinct variation on the type of argument Ken Oakes has advanced in his essay, “The Question of Nature and Grace in Karl Barth” (Modern Theology, 2007). In the face of John Betz’s charges that Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis led to a number of undesirable consequences in and surrounding Barth’s understanding of the relationship of nature and grace, Oakes enjoins that “sympathy for one’s subjects requires considering the possibility that Barth might have used other doctrinal resources to express something similar” to a natural desire for the supernatural (597). Oakes shows how Barth’s understanding of humanity, as both creature and covenant-partner, in analogy to Christ, as both human and divine, constitutes a doctrinal alternative to the analogia entis that at once performatively exemplifies Barth’s capability of analogical modes of thought and affirms something like a natural human openness to God. Like Oakes, Starkenburg aims to uncover a hidden path in Barth’s theology to an endpoint with which an advocate of the analogia entis (Hart in Starkenburg’s case, though Starkenburg notes Betz’s critique of Barth as well) might be satisfied.
I have some questions about this kind of methodological or formal approach in general, as well as about its instantiation in Starkenburg’s defense of Barth. Neither Oakes nor Starkenburg wants to say simply that theological ends are all that really matter in the final calculus, or that all theological roads lead to Rome. To dismiss these kinds of apologies for Barth as relying on methodological presuppositions reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham, or even of John Hick, would be to overstate the point. Certainly different theologies offer different strategies for resolving the same perennial puzzles, in this case, the puzzle of how to affirm God’s utter transcendence without falling into either nihilism, dualism or immanentism. Starkenburg, like Oakes, points to this phenomenon in a case where it has been overlooked. He has the flexibility and charity to make room for more than just one answer to a theological difficulty. I wonder, though, if the accent of such approaches on ultimate doctrinal destinations incurs (though by no means inevitably succumbs to!) the risk of obscuring the irreducible particularity of the peculiar paths chosen by each theologian. Is it legitimate to leave that irreducible particularity behind when pronouncing two theologians to be in agreement? If not, to what extent does this particularity of theological means always demand a qualification of any agreement of theological ends? I wonder, in other words, if two different paths actually can lead to the same place in the realm of theology, or if a unique theological journey necessarily corresponds to a unique theological destination.
Applied to Starkenburg’s thesis, for example, what, if any, are the implications of the fact that Hart’s affirmation of creation’s beauty rests on the analogia entis while for Barth “we must keep strictly to Jesus Christ. It is indeed only of Him that we can speak when we dare to say such extravagant things about ourselves and the rest of creation”? (CD II/1, 668). Does this difference in the basis of creaturely beauty in Barth and Hart entail a concomitant difference in each theologian’s understanding of what creaturely beauty actually is? I believe it does. For Barth, a kind of participation that could be described as koinonia supplies the form and content of creaturely beauty whereas for Hart this beauty lies in a kind of participation closely akin to platonic methexis. As I have argued previously, there could be a way of constructively synthesizing two such accounts (“Finitude in The Beauty of the Infinite,” Heythrop Journal 2008), but such a synthesis presupposes an acknowledgment of their differences.
Although Starkenburg never mentions the Christological core of Barth’s treatment of creation’s beauty in his comparative essay, he does hone in at the conclusion of the essay on what, according to him, sets Hart and Barth apart with respect to trinitarian aesthetics. The argument becomes extremely compressed at this point, making it difficult to determine the meaning of Starkenburg’s key terminology, the fairness of his argumentation to Barth’s own views, and his implicitly operative premises. Difficulties with Starkenburg’s criticisms of Barth aside, however, it is worth noting that in the final analysis Starkenburg himself seems to acknowledge (though certainly not in a way flattering to Barth!) that the unique features of Barth’s doctrine of the trinity could ultimately demand a reconsideration of the thesis he stated at the beginning of the paper, that “Barth’s doctrine of glory achieves the same purposes that Hart sets out for his own.” In the end Starkenburg’s paper suggestively qualifies its identification of a sameness between the theologies of Barth and Hart, implicitly raising the question of whether it would not be better to see any analogia theologiarum that might relate the two as a matter of similarity amid greater dissimilarity.
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