Monday, January 17, 2011

Catholics Take Notice of Keith Johnson's Work on Barth and the Analogy of Being

Those of you who have noted my persistent promotion of Keith Johnson’s book, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis, might be interested to know that a Roman Catholic blogger has now engaged with Johnson’s work. Actually, I should say that this blogger has engaged with a very fragmentary aspect of Johnson’s overall argument, namely, that portion set forth in Johnson’s recent Modern Theology article. There is much, much more in the book.

That said, this blogger’s response to Johnson (and Barth) is by turns puzzling and problematic:
  1. In terms of puzzling, we have this blogger’s insistence that RC theology is interested in denying that sin “goes ‘all the way down.’” To anyone who has read Augustine, such a claim sounds scandalous, even without considering one’s possible Protestant sensibilities.
  2. In terms of problematic, this blogger seems not to have paid sufficient attention to Johnson’s whole essay, and therefore does not deeply engage with Barth's position. He quotes from one of Johnson’s paragraphs, but seems not to have encountered the next – which addresses what Barth thinks about the internal constitution of the human creature, doing so in a way that keeps faith with Augustine and the Protestants on the radical effects of sin. To get more concrete, our RC blogger wants to define human nature apart from the complex of sin and reconciliation revealed and enacted in Jesus Christ. Barth, on the other hand, will hear of no such thing. Thus, Johnson (from the MT article):
    "In short, in his mature theology, Barth adopts an analogical understanding of God-world relation that leads to continuity between God's act in creation and justification, but this analogy works in reverse from the Roman Catholic one: the human as created stands in continuity with the human in grace precisely because justification is the condition of the possibility of creation. This construal does, in fact, leave Barth with a type of an analogy of being, but Barth's analogy of being is substantively distinct from Przywara's version of it. That is, for Barth, 'being' itself is determined by God's free and eternal decision to enter into human history in Jesus Christ in order to reconcile sinful humans. Any talk of 'being' at all, therefore, and any talk of an 'analogy of being' between God and humans, must be based solely upon this act of reconciliation and the human's being 'in Christ' that occurs as a result of the justification of his or her sin. Barth's mature version of divine-human continuity, therefore, leaves no room for any knowledge of God apart from the knowledge of humanity's reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ." (645)
    It is hard to see how such an account could be accurately described with language about opposition between human nature and divine grace, or with denying continuity between fallen and re-created human being.
One might well hope that future Roman Catholic engagement with Johnson’s work on Barth, Przywara and the analogia entis, and - therefore - their engagement with Barth, will exhibit more care than is in evidence thus far. At the same time, engagement is engagement.

13 comments:

X-Cathedra said...

Travis,

Thanks very much for your feedback. I am glad to be in conversation with the disciples of Barth and generally those who have read more of his work than I. I'll be making another post soon clarifying some of my points and I'd welcome any more comments you have that could illuminate things and carry the conversation forward.

Pax Christi,

Pat

Bobby Grow said...

Johnson's description of Barth's "analogy of being," sounds very much so like TFT's accounting in the way that he starts out his discussion in his "Christian Doctrine of God" (which I'm just re-reading). That "being" is grounded in God's inner-life and he makes us part of that through the homoousial linkage in the hypostatic union and the spiritual union that He accomplishes for us in His humanity.

teresa said...

Interestingly, I am at this moment reading a handbook of Catholic Dogmatic, and it mentions Karl Barth, Eberhard Jüngel etc. And yes, on Analogia entis. I myself RC. The problem, as I understand, is that the Roman Catholic understanding of the God-World-Relationship is based upon the Creatio ex nihilo, that is the real and ontological creation of the world as such, in its material and form. While the Protestant theologians tend to dismiss this ontological way to view this. They concentrate on the theologia crucis of Luther to define the relationship between God and world as the Act of Incarnation and Salvation, to put in the word of Eberhard Jüngel, the Being consists only in the Coming into Being of God, (Gottes Sein ist im Werden).

We have certain differences. But I tend to think that theses differences should not be grasped as marking who is right or wrong, they only show that we, as Catholics and Protestants, have different accentuations.

By the way it would be great that we can discuss further about theological subjects.

My friends and I have a blog site:
www.catholicismpure.wordpress.com
You are welcome to visit us, if you are interested.

W. Travis McMaken said...

X-Cathedra, I'll be sure to watch for it.

Bobby, TFT must have gotten it from somewhere. ;-)

Teresa, thanks for the invitation. If only we could get the curia to take a position like yours concerning Catholic / Protestant difference! You are on to something with the "ontological" / "theologia crucis" distinction, but this is still rather crass. Johnson helps us think through some of these things.

Anonymous said...

I think your analysis of the Catholic blogger's specific objections are rather, if I could be so kind, slight indirections because you neither address them specifically except with more generalizations than actual real discussion, especially when you notably leave out in your post his point about Balthasar's further refinement concerning analogia entis. Unfortunately, the blogosphere's nature of brevity is probably more to blame here than you or the Catholic blogger. Blessing to you.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Anon,

I think I'll turn off anonymous comments.

In the mean time, the point of my post was to point out considerations (i.e., Johnson's wider work, and Barth's mature position) that deserve attention.

JKnott said...

Trav.,

Are you sure about Augustine? Seems to me that, at least at times (e.g., in certain letters of his I've read), he does think sin doesn't go all the way down. So in his argument that God loves his creature insofar as he made it, etc., the argument quoted by Calvin, does he not assume that there is some point or aspect of us that is not marred by sin, and therefore allows God to love us? Barth spoke of the "sweet poison of Augustinianism," probably referring to this very kind of thing. I'm just not convinced at this time that it is possible to say Protestants are more or less Augustinians. (See Barth's discussion of a similar issue in his exchange with Brunner, "Nein!")

W. Travis McMaken said...

It all depends, of course, on which Augustine. I would make bold to say that such a notion is not to difficult to find in the later Augustine, and might even be identifiable in middle Augustine.

Bobby Grow said...

I would agree with Travis. There is pre and post-Pelagius Augustine that needs to be considered; esp. on the definition of sin and Augustine's move from simply privatio (pre-Pel.) to concupiscence (post-Pel.).

W. Travis McMaken said...

I don't think I'd make the distinction so hard and fast, Bobby. There is no inherent reason why an account of sin as privatio should not involve what the Reformed later called "total depravity" (the notion that every aspect of human life is deformed beyond our capacity for repair).

Bobby Grow said...

@Travis,

I didn't say you said privatio should preclude total depravity, in fact this is the typical understanding. My point was only to illustrate a shift in Augustine's understanding of the grace/sin symmetry pre/post Pelagius.

So my only point of agreement with you was the idea that there are different ways to read Augustine relative to his maturation (or not) upon a natural continuum of personal theological development.

My point on privatio/concupiscence is something I picked up from a former prof who did extensive research on Augustine for his PhD work; that's all :-).

W. Travis McMaken said...

Gotcha

Bobby Grow said...

Gotcha, back ;-)