Monday, October 24, 2011

Barth, Anselm, and Analogy

(Ed. note: given that Keith's book was recently reissued in paperback, making it far more affordable, it seemed like a good time to post this...)

This is a particularly good footnote from Keith Johnson on a proper understanding of the place Barth’s Anselm book plays in Barth’s theology, in continuity with McCormack and contra von Balthasar. Although undermining HUvB’s pictures of Barth’s development does not put the final nail in the coffin of the popular picture on Barth and the analogy of being (that he didn’t understand it, that he changed his mind about it, etc.), it does (or ought to) at least shift the burden of proof off of opponents of the popular picture, and onto its proponents.

As usual, bold is mine and italics are original to the text.

Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia entis, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London; T&T Clark, 2010).
This book [Barth’s Anselm book] plays an important role in von Balthasar’s reading of Barth, as he locates Barth’s decisive turn ‘from dialectic to analogy’ precisely here. However, under the reading of Barth’s development offered here – one that stands in line with Bruce McCormack’s thesis that Barth’s use of analogy was the result of dogmatic decisions that occurred much earlier in his development – this book on Anselm does not play a pivotal role as we consider Barth’s interpretation of and response to the analogia entis. Two observations will suffice to demonstrate why this is the case.

First, Barth’s interpretation of Anselm’s methodology stands in line with the methodology that Barth himself employed as early as 1924. For example, in a section on ‘The Conditions of Theology, Barth notes that when it comes to the knowledge of God, Anselm understands that the human cannot understand this knowledge ‘as such’, but rather ‘has to understand it in its very incomprehensibility’. This knowledge would not occur, in Anselm’s view, ‘if God did not “show” himself, [and] if the encounter with him were not in fact primarily a movement from his side’. That the intellect can reach this knowledge, therefore, stems from “grace”, both with regard to the perception of the goal and the human effort to reach it’ (pp. 38-40). These descriptions of Anselm’s thought could be lifted and placed into Barth’s lectures on dogmatics at Göttingen as representative of Barth’s own. In other words, if Barth’s description of Anselm’s method in some way reflects Barth’s own view (a tricky, if often ignored, question underlying any reading of this book), then it reflects the theology he had articulated six years earlier.

Second, Barth’s discussions of the way analogy is used in Anselm correspond to the way he already had used analogy in Göttingen and ‘The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.’ To illustrate: in a discussion of Anselm’s interpretation of ‘the revelation of God in his world’, Barth notes that this occurs ‘per analogiam’ only ‘as far as God wills to reveal himself and has in fact revealed himself’. Note the language here, and how it focuses on the event of God’s self-revelation per analogiam rather than the always-existing fact of it. It must take place in event, Barth notes, ‘because of the Fall’. That is, humans cannot acquire the knowledge of God apart from God’s activity because they are, in and of themselves, incapable of it in their sinful state (p. 117). This use of analogy falls directly in line with the account of analogy in Göttingen as well as in Barth’s account of the ‘true analogia entis’ in 1929. Inasmuch as this book represents development in Barth’s own theology, therefore, it represents simply a confirmation of insights Barth had already developed and defended earlier. It does not mark a break or a shift in his theology – or in his interpretation of the analogia entis. (150n80)

1 comment:

Bobby Grow said...

I really want to read this book!