With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Even More on Barth and Analogy: Option I

From a Catholic point of view, it seems that Barth is mistaken in one of either of two ways. He is either 1) diagnostically mistaken about the incompatibility between his analogia relationis/fidei and the analogia entis, seeing a dichotomy where there is none; or 2) he is doctrinally mistaken: he correctly judges the incompatibility, but his mature version of analogy reflects a doctrinal position that Catholics are bound to find dissatisfying and even in tension with some of the more positive statements Barth makes about the goodness of created nature.

Johnson argues strongly that Barth was correct in his diagnosis of the incompatibility. The gist, I take it, is that Barth’s analogical thought does not represent a change in the substance of his earlier position, let alone a concession to his Catholic interlocutors. Rather, Barth’s analogia relationis/fidei confirms and even fulfills his earlier reasons for rejecting the Catholic analogia entis. As Johnson puts it:

He [Barth] does not adopt a version of the analogy that Przywara originally offered, but rather, he adopts the strongest possible rejection of such an analogy, because the structure of Przywara’s analogy is reversed in order to account for the problem that initially prompted Barth to reject Przywara’s analogy: the problem of human sin. Barth’s mature account of divine-human continuity thus stands as the fulfillment of his early rejection of Przywara’s analogia entis rather than a retreat from it. (Johnson, p.645)

Johnson’s argument poses a challenge to Balthasar’s interpretation, which understandably tries to emphasize points of compatibility between Barth and Catholic dogmatics. According to Balthasar, Barth was able to understand and speak to Catholic concerns about analogy. And some of the things he’s written certainly seem like the kinds of things Catholics are prone to write, including some lines that appear to chasten the more dialectical rhetoric of man’s alienation from God. As Balthasar puts it: “he finally admits that creation vis-à-vis God is thoroughly good and positive in itself, that is, in its very being as not-God.”

By the power of faith and its profession, the Word of God becomes a human thought and a human word, certainly in infinite dissimilarity and inadequacy, but not in total human strangeness with its model. The human copy is a real copy of its divine counterpart. (KD I, 254)(TKB, 108)

Such total dissimilarity would then mean that we could not in fact recognize God. For if we recognize God, this must mean that we see God using our prior views, concepts and words; thus we see God not as something totally Other. (KD 3, 253-54) (TKB, 109).

There can be a real world that is not threatened or extinguished by God’s absoluteness. On the contrary, the world has been established by virtue of his absoluteness. Far from being self-contradictory with the concept of God or shameful to it, the world is his confirmation, set up to give glory to his name. (KD 3, 347-48) (TKB, 111).

He can leave room and time for the existence of another. And he can exercise his will over this other in such a way that the other is not absorbed or destroyed but accompanied, borne and protected. (KD 3, 461) (TKB, 111).

Creator and creature both exist, and exist together; but this does not imply there is any parity between them but rather a strictest superordination and subordination. Even so, they do coexist. (Credo, 33) (TKB, 111).

In the Credo, when we profess that God is the Creator, we admit not only God’s transcendence but also the immanence of this so utterly transcending God. As counterpart to the world, God is present to this world he has created, not only far but also near, not only free in his relations to it but also closely tied to his creation. He sustains the creature in its relative self-subsistence and uniqueness, ruling it without suspending the freedom of the human will, either partially or totally. (Credo, 33-34) (TKB, 111).

God sustains his creature in a reality different from his own: relative and dependent. But in its relativity and dependency, creation is autonomous vis-à-vis God, truly there on its own, precisely because it owes its being-there to God alone…Because it has not emanated directly from God’s own essence but was freely created by God, the creature cannot dissolve back into God or abandon its own relational autonomy. (KD 7, 98-99) (TKB, 112).

God’s revelation presupposes that there exists a world distinct from him in which he can reveal himself and that there is someone to whom he can disclose himself…The fact of revelation already tells us that God and man exist together; it is the witness of the reality of God’s creation…The fact of revelation already says that there is a human person to whom God has turned in his revelation, affirming his existence and taking seriously his fate, addressed as God’s real partner and thus honored in his autonomy.(Gotteserkenntnis, 69) (TKB, 112-113).

In other words, “the existence of a reality distinct from God cannot be a source of embarrassment solely because of its distinctness from God” (TKB, 111). Balthasar argues that in the Church Dogmatics Barth is forced to take “the concept of the creature” seriously, in a way quite different from his approach in The Epistle to the Romans. Far from claiming that creation is alien to God, “Barth increasingly came to sing the praises of the goodness of creatureliness as such” (TKB, 112).

More specifically, Barth acknowledges that “Sin presupposes freedom and selfhood, but it is not to be equated with them. This clearly implies that the sinful creature does not plunge into nothingness or chaos, becoming a mere shadow of a shadow, as would be the case if creatureliness coincided with sin” (TKB, 111) (Note here Balthasar is expressing- more eloquently- the same concern I had in the first post about the tendency of dialectical theology to equate human nature with sin). Barth appears to speak of sin and its relation to human nature in ways that both account for traditional Catholic concerns and at the same time thoroughly qualify his earlier rhetoric of alienation:

Human relationships are all affected by sin, but they are not altered [Barth’s emphasis] in their basic structure. And the inner essence of these relations is the created nature of man. Thus it is quite correct to say that the contrasts of sin, reconciliation and redemption do not affect human being. (KD 6, 46) (TKB, 116).

And so we have not followed the usual practice in theology of first denigrating human nature as much as possible in order then to make God’s grace working in man all the more effective. (KD 6, 330-331) (TKB, 116).

[Speaking of humanitarianism and Christian love] “Indeed, what good would it be for Christians to have all knowledge of God’s forgiveness,…what benefit would they get from the holiness and justification of their new-found life or from their praise of God in worship or their zeal in his service if they lacked this basic humanity?” (KD 6, 339) (TKB, 117).

And perhaps most strikingly:

It is not by nature that man is hostile and opposed to God. He is of course in fact so opposed, but only by acts of rejection, by an abuse of nature. But all man’s perversity cannot make wrong what God has wrought as good by nature…Sin indeed wreaks inconceivable havoc, but precisely because human nature is so good…But sin never becomes, as it were, a second nature for which man need not be held accountable. Man has not become a stranger to God in his sin. His position vis-à-vis God remains what it was when God created him…To dispute this would be to deny the continuity of the human subject as a creature, sinner and redeemed sinner.” (KD 6, 330-31) (TKB, 117).

This last passage from the Church Dogmatics is particularly helpful because Barth makes exactly the kinds of distinctions I think are crucial to understanding the reality of sin. When I claimed in my first post that Catholics have traditionally held that sin does not go “all the way down” (a statement that worried Travis a bit), I meant nothing more than what Barth means here: sin cannot go so far down as to blur the distinction between man’s nature and the sin that wreaks havoc in it. This is not to define human nature apart from God’s revelation in Christ; it is only to uphold that in one very important sense, sin does not make humanity some other kind of thing. To deny such a distinction would be, as Barth realizes, to deny that a prelapsarian, fallen, and redeemed human being is, in each case, still a prelapsarian, fallen, or redeemed human being. That is why I claimed too close an identification of sin and human nature ultimately makes nonsense of the act of salvation: when that ontological continuity of humanity across its different states is rejected, there can only be the annihilation of human nature and a creation of something else in its place. No matter what language one uses to describe that, it no longer makes sense to call that an act of salvation.

Anyway, back on point. This collection of passages, drawn from different parts of different works, and largely separated from their contexts, gives the impression of proof texts. But my point is minimal and I think discernable in the passages regardless. It is only that Barth is entirely aware of some of the concerns that Catholic dogmaticians have had about creation, sin, and relation to God. And further, he seems to acknowledge that even a Protestant dogmatics needs to address these issues. The interesting thing is that what Barth seems to affirm in these passages is precisely what the analogia entis supplies for Catholic thought. There are at least two points here: 1) the claim that creation is not opposed to God in virtue of being other than God; or to rephrase it, creation is positively related to God qua created; 2) and that this positive relation to God is, in one important sense, unaffected by sin: it is the relation that sin presupposes in order to be sin at all. In other words, to acknowledge that creation bears a positive relation to God as created (as not-God), and to acknowledge that this relation subsists in spite of the warping effects of sin, is in principle to affirm the analogia entis.

Balthasar claims that “all of these statements” are “Catholic in the fullest sense of that word” only because Barth saw Jesus Christ as the “real ground of creation” (TKB, 118; cf. KD 6, 580). For Barth, Christ’s positive relation to the Father eternally foregrounds the act of creation, and it is only in virtue of this relation that creation is positively related to God:

Just as he is the guarantee of the Creator’s fidelity, so too is he the guarantee of the continuity of his creation, the guarantee of its being maintained and preserved. (KD 6, 627) (TKB, 118).

In view of his Son, who was to become man and bear the sin of the world, God loved the human race and with it his whole creation even before he created them…He created the world because he loved it in his own Son, who stood before him as an outcast and a dead man, all on account of our sins. (KD 5, 53-54).

Christ, as both God and man, is “the true prototype upon whom and in view of whom the world was created” (TKB, 118-19). This foregrounding is, as it were, the fundamental presupposition of any analogical relation between God and his creatures.Yet if Barth wants to hold both to the two points mentioned above (drawn from his statements about created goodness) and the Christological presupposition of analogy, it seems reasonable that, at least initially, an affirmation of the analogia entis and Christ’s prototypicality are entirely compatible. Indeed, for Catholics like Balthasar and Przywara, the formal priority of Christology and the analogia entis are not only compatible, but the former fulfills the latter. As Balthasar writes:

But Christ is not simply man, he is God. And so the idea of what it means to be human as such cannot be derived or deduced from the Incarnation of Christ but can only be presupposed in it. Because God has become one of us, there must already be the possibility for humanity at the start, not just theoretically but in a true sense, to be capable of God, a capability that does not adversely affect Christ’s prototypicality… (TKB, 119).

Following this option, therefore, leads one to conclude that there is no reason to reject the analogia entis in adopting an analogia relationis/fidei. This would mean that Barth is only incorrect in his judgment that such a dichotomy exists.

In fact, however, the evidence against this option is pretty substantial. As Johnson emphasizes, and even Balthasar admits, Barth’s understanding of analogy gives expression to a doctrine of justification that inflects his account of created goodness in a very particular way; a way that actually inverts the reasoning of the analogia entis. Everything turns on how Christ’s prototypicality is conceived. If this interpretation (option 2) is correct- and I find it convincing- then my suspicion is that Barth’s analogy ultimately fails to do justice to the affirmations of created goodness cited above. In short, without the analogia entis, he can’t have his analogical cake and eat it too. And this is precisely what we should expect Catholics to think if Johnson’s interpretation hits the mark. Whether or not my suspicion that a serious tension results in Barth will be convincing to Barthians is another question (I suspect it won’t). But I will have to show this in greater detail in another post.

Pax Christi,


Keith L.Johnson,"Reconsidering Barth's Rejection of Przywara's Analogia Entis," Modern Theology 26:4, Oct. 2010, pp.632-650

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation (TKB), trans. Edward T. Oakes, S.J. (San Francisco: Communio Books/Ignatius Press, 1992).

Karl Barth, Credo (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1935). English trans.: Credo (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962).

Karl Barth, Gotteserkenntnis und Gottesdienst (Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1938). English trans.: The Knowledge of God and the Service of God (London: Hodder and Stoughten, 1938).


The references to the Church Dogmatics (Karl Barth, Die Kirchliche Dogmatik; KD) are taken from Balthasar, who was using the German editions and citing the volume number followed by page number. If anyone wants a corresponding citation in the English translation, let me know and I can hunt it down using the appendix Oakes provides in the TKB.

Bold indicates my emphases; italics indicates emphases original either to Barth or to Balthasar.


  • At 2/20/2011 1:46 PM, Blogger Robb and Keri said…


    I think you're argument is spot on. Thanks for taking the time to carefully lay this out.

    I'm curious: vonB criticizes Barth for entertaining a "theopanism," a "monism of beginning and end" that leads to the world looking "so forlorn and hopeless" (94, cf 84). This seems to be the early Barth for vonB as opposed to the Barth of the KD.

    Would you say, perhaps unlike vonB if I'm reading him correctly, that Barth remains consistent throughout his work? And that this might mean that the criticism of theopanism still holds? Would you say this specific critic is related to your own arguments against Barth (re human sinfulness)?

    I realize this is a loaded term by the way. Though I am curious to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks again.


  • At 3/03/2011 2:18 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Thanks for your comments. Yeah, that basically names my suspicion (which is still, in lieu of further reading, but a suspicion). The scholarship of folks like Johnson and McCormack suggests a much greater consistency between Barth's earlier dialectical and later analogical thought than Balthasar seems to allow for. But if that's right, it does suggest that precisely those things about Barth's earlier work that give Catholics pause are actually upheld in his later work. Which is why, short of adopting a much more Reformed account of sin, revelation, justification, etc., we shouldn't expect Catholics to find Barth's understanding of divine-nature continuity to be satisfying.

    I imagine Balthasar drew the notion of theopanism from Przywara, since for Przywara (though he doesn't name Barth at this point of the AE) all dialectical theology ultimately denies the enduring and positive difference of creation from God. Hence, to put it crudely, God is "all in all;" but not in a good way.

    I hope to draw this out a bit in another post (soon! when the gods of academia allow it).

    Pax Christi,

  • At 3/05/2011 10:49 AM, Anonymous Robb said…

    Thanks! Looking forward to it.

  • At 10/27/2011 6:56 PM, Anonymous Kerberos said…

    "As Balthasar puts it: “he finally admits that creation vis-à-vis God is thoroughly good and positive in itself, that is, in its very being as not-God.”"

    ## IMHO this concedes far too much to creation, by failing to say that "One Alone is Good", as Jesus is shown saying in one of the gospels. Compared to God, nothing is good, all is utterly and radically unclean. St. Augustine and St. John of the Cross could see this.

    If one is unrealistic & leaves God out of the picture, it becomes possible to speak of things as good in themselves. That might suit a pagan like Aristotle, who lacked a Christ-centred vision of the universe, and a divine revelation, and an recognised experience of the infinite Grace of God in Christ; but it should not suit Christians.

    That ISTM is where Calvinism is much truer to reality than Catholicism - it does not allow created things to be autonomous in any way; better yet, it refers all glory to God alone. Maybe we need to get the dregs of the godless Renaissance nonsense that sees man as the centre of all things out of our theology, and become much more Augustinian.

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