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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


White, Thomas Joseph [Ed.]


The Analogy of Being. Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God?


Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans 2011. XIV, 440 S. gr.8°. Kart. US$ 48,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6533-5.


George Pattison

The papers collected in this volume have grown out of a conference under the same title held in 2008. One imagines the conference to have been an especially focussed and hard-working occasion and the volume is a good addition to reading lists on analogy. Historically the book takes its starting-point in Karl Barth’s comment in the preface to Church Dogmatics I.1 that the analogia entis is »the invention of Antichrist« and the major reason why he could never envisage becoming a Roman Catholic. As White goes on to show, this assertion specifically reflected the view of analogy developed by the Jesuit Erich Przywara and Barth and Przywara provide the two poles between which the book as a whole is constructed. Przywara himself seems to have taken the ›Antichrist‹ accusation in good part, as a manifestation of humorous hyperbole, and personal relations between the two great theologians seem to have been not only respectful but cordial – even though Barth also regarded Przywara as »the giant Goliath incarnate«!
Almost a third of the book is taken up with the first three ar­-ticles, by the editor Thomas J.White, John R. Betz, and Bruce McCormack that, respectively, set the stage, show the place of analogy in Przywara’s development, and expand on Barth’s reaction to it. There then follow three further sections focussing on ecumenical perspectives, analogy in Thomas, and the significance of the concept and debate about analogy for contemporary theology. In his article White suggests that the debate became as important as it did »be­cause it concerns the attempt by each to redefine the significance of Christianity in confrontation with an acutely modern, post-En­lightenment crisis of meaning« (2). Both protagonists are even said to be »postsecular«, a claim justified by reference to Scheler’s comment on the impossibility of humanism after the First World War. The debate therefore concerns »the conditions of possibility for Christian belief and discipleship in a deeply secularized age. This required in turn a clarification of the sources of the irremediable otherness of Christianity with respect to secular modernity« (3). (Although this might sound like a prompt for the postsecular theo­logy of John Milbank and Radical Orthodoxy, neither Milbank nor the movement associated with him is mentioned in the entire book. The theological axis is firmly Catholic/Calvinist and seems largely to cut out the Anglo-Catholic middleman!)
Like most of the subsequent contributors, White argues that the doctrine of analogy ultimately privileges the element of dissimi­larity between creature and Creator, following the assertion of the Fourth Lateran Council that »between the Creator and the creature there can be noted no similarity so great that a greater dissimilar­ity cannot be seen between them« (5). This assertion is subsequently a point of reference for several of the contributors. David B. Hart goes so far as to invoke the Kierkegaardian »infinite qualitative distinction between God and creatures« (401) as integral to Przy­-wara’s notion of analogy. A significant minority report, however, is provided by Bruce D. Marshall’s contribution »Christ the End of Analogy«, who argues that whilst most discussions of analogy focus on Thomas’s logic and metaphysics, his Christology makes claims for a strictly univocal knowledge of God, namely, the knowledge which becomes available on the basis of the Incarnation. The need for a Christological grounding of analogy is, however, already flagged by White, who sees this as common to both Przywara and Barth, although the one moves from anthropology to Christology and the other from Christology to anthropology.
Betz, also citing the Fourth Lateran Council, shows how Przywara was wrestling with the dynamic polarity of human existence, following in the footsteps of Augustine’s experience of God as both supremely interior to the self and as equally supremely above it. However, Przywara develops this thought in a modern, phenomenological manner to reveal what, in its most succinct form, is the ›in-and-beyond‹ structure of religious existence (53 – although the literal translation ›in-above‹ would compress Przywara’s teaching even further). The human person thus emerges as ›upwardly open‹ (73) – although against anticipated criticisms that this is to reduce theology to anthropology, Betz emphasizes that, for Przywara, it’s all about Christ (85).
As Bruce McCormack follows Barth’s progression away from the analogia entis to the analogia fidei and on to the analogia relationis, we learn that it is precisely Barth’s change of focus from the category of the Word of God to Jesus Christ that leads to his declining interest in the analogy of being. But Barth’s trajectory is not only Christological, it is also Trinitarian, and it is in the inner relations of God’s Trinitarian being that the ultimate ground for analogy and knowledge of God is to be found. This offers »an ›analogy of being‹« that is »an ecumenical achievement of the highest order« (144).
As stated these three essays constitute approximately a third of the book. Many of the themes they state are taken up and reworked in the other contributions, with some significant variations. Part III, where the focus is on Thomas himself rather than his interpreters, reminds us a deeply complex commentatorial tradition still flourishing in Catholic theology that allows for widely differing assessments of just what Thomas meant by the doctrine (e. g., whether it was purely logical or also metaphysical, Marshall opting for the former, White for the latter). Another Barthian contribution, from John Webster, seems to offer a characteristically sober assessment of the whole debate, referring to the doctrine of ana­logy as »a somewhat recherché bit of Christian teaching« (394).
These comments fall far short of doing justice either to the essays on which I have commented or to the collection as a whole. Yet a reader who does not already subscribe to some particular theo­logical school may be left wondering just what a doctrine of analogy really achieves, even on the most positive reading. Gerd Theißen once commented that we probably do know quite a lot about the historical Jesus, but the problem is that we don’t know what it is. In the same way the doctrine of analogy seems to say that whilst believers will claim that they can speak truthfully of God, they cannot finally specify a precise meaning to the words they use and therefore cannot say exactly what it is we do know when we claim an analogical knowledge of God – a comment that applies equally to the application of analogy from above and from below. In the end, the conviction that an analogy of being provides grounds for anything we can seriously call ›knowledge‹ seems to involve just as much of a leap of faith as the analogia fidei – though whether this results in a vicious or a virtuous circularity will depend on one’s prior philosophical inclinations.