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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More on Barth and Analogy

I will try not to qualify my last post out of existence. But in light of the concerns that Travis raises, I think some unpacking is in order.

First off: as stated, my knowledge of Johnson's project is restricted to his Modern Theology article, since I have yet to read the expanded argument of his book. Therefore, my comments are naturally restricted to his position in the article.

Second: my grasp of the analogia entis is something like a patch-work quilt of insights from Thomas and Przywara; and since everyone has a different take on what Thomas means, and almost no one has read Przywara, it should be clear that my thoughts don't by any means exhaust what the concept could mean. Given that much, however, I don't think there is much daylight between Thomas and Przywara concerning what is relevant to the Barth debate.

Third: my Barthian credentials. I don't really have any. My reading of him has been almost wholly restricted to his work on Romans and scattered pieces of the Church Dogmatics; and within the KD, almost all of what I've read is limited to I/1 and I/2. Thematically speaking, I've addressed Barth's understanding of kenosis and some of this thought on reconciliation in classes with Randall Zachman. Practically speaking, I rely almost entirely on the extensive knowledge of a close Barthian friend (unequivocally the "Barth guy" around Duke Divinity school). So suffice it to say that I am more than open to correction, and my criticisms should be taken more as "suspicions" than demonstrations since there is always the chance that Barth has resources to draw upon elsewhere. I'm currently embarking on a directed readings course on Przywara's Analogia Entis, so over the next few months my understanding of both Przywara and Barth will no doubt deepen.

All those nuances in place, I don't think Travis's concerns alter the plausibility of my overall point: namely, that on Johnson's reading, the disagreement between Barth and Przywara over the analogia entis is reducible (at least in large part) to more fundamental doctrinal differences separating Catholics and Reformed. Johnson's essay is pretty clear on that much. His major argument seems to be that Barth never changed his mind about the analogy of being even when he began to adopt a version of analogy. His earlier and seemingly more dialectical reasons for rejecting the analogia entis are actually upheld and fulfilled by his notion of an "extrinsic" analogia relationis. And this reflects his enduring fidelity to certain Reformed doctrinal principles:
Specifically, it points us to the fact that the distinctions that propelled both Barth’s initial rejection of the analogia entis as well as his mature alternative to it stem from his recognition that he and Przywara had very different interpretations of the doctrines of revelation, creation and justification, and that these differences were the same kind of differences that traditionally had divided Protestants from Roman Catholics. Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis was not the result of a misunderstanding, therefore, but the consequence of his recognition that Przywara stood on the other side of a doctrinal fault line that had existed for centuries. Despite developments in his thought in the years that followed his initial critique of Przywara, Barth always remained on the same side of that line...To dismiss Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis as if it were the result of a mere mistake is to fail to recognize why this debate, and these doctrines, matter at all." (Keith L. Johnson,"Reconsidering Barth's Rejection of Przywara's Analogia Entis," Modern Theology 26:4, Oct. 2010, pp.645-646)
The flip side of this, of course, is that to dismiss Przywara's affirmation of the analogia entis as if it were the result of a mere mistake is to fail on the same point. This has at least some power to explain why Barthian critiques of the analogy that try to challenge it on metaphysical terms have been decidedly unconvincing: not a one has been able to demonstrate that the inner logic of the analogy results in something like onto-theology without presupposing from the start what analogy itself guards against: either 1) univocal or generic predication; 2) a Kantian epistemology; 3) or some restrictively theological notion of "being." In other words, every such critique is already committed to denying that the analogia entis is what it claims to be. Responding to Archie Spencer's repetition of the charge that the analogy of being includes God and creatures within a single genus, Fr. Thomas Joseph White rightly notes that such a fundamental misunderstanding of "one of the most basic structures of classical metaphysics...renders a serious dialogue between Thomists and Barthians nearly impossible." (Thomas Joseph White, O.P., "How Barth Got Aquinas Wrong: A Reply to Archie J. Spencer on Causality and Christocentrism," Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol.7, no.1 (2009), p.252).

The controversial part of what I've written is my questioning whether or not Barth's appropriation of analogy sufficiently maintains continuity between God and creation. Though I think at least a good deal of the scandal in a negative answer should be removed if one accepts Johnson's point: if the debate, to a large extent, maps onto denominational differences, shouldn't we expect for Catholic's to find Barth's position insufficient, insofar as it reflects that deeper fault line? Here perhaps I should clarify: my claim is not that Barth lacks an account of the inherent goodness and continuity of the created order. I acknowledge fully that he has one; a point noted not only by Johnson, but also by Balthasar. My claim is the following: Barth's mature account of analogy will, from a Catholic perspective, fail to do justice to intrinsic goodness of nature, it's relation to God, and its relation to justification. If Johnson's argument is correct, and Barth's analogy upholds his reasons for rejecting the Catholic analogy, then Catholics should expect to be as dissatisfied with his version of analogy as they are with his pre-analogical idiom.

I don't intend for any of this to be un-ecumenical, no more than Johnson himself does. I'm not trying to draw a line in the sand; rather, just correctly note that the line was already drawn elsewhere and certain things understandably follow from this. I take Johnson seriously when he writes "Consequently, any attempt to deal with Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis must address these doctrines [creation, revelation, justification] and the question of why Barth thought the differences between Przywara’s interpretation of them and his own were so crucial" (p.646).

So I suppose to respond to Travis's worries: only in an indirect and unsurprising way have I failed to engage Barth, because (aside from the listed qualifications), well, I remain unconvinced by his position. But in a much more important and interesting way I've simply confirmed Johnson's point. My disagreement with Barth should be the greatest testament to my agreement with Johnson.

In another post, I'll go into more detail about the content of my enduring suspicions...

Pax Christi,


  • At 1/20/2011 6:14 PM, Blogger W. Travis McMaken said…

    Well put. My only scruple concerns the explanatory power of Barth's late position compared to his earlier, dialectical elucidations. In my experience, the breadth, depth, and (consequently) power of Barth's mature position is often not recognized due to a previous engagement with his earlier statements. While the same concerns drive him in each case, the quality or thickness of his constructive thought differs greatly.

    Since you're undertaking a guided study of Przywara, you should be sure to work through Johnson's book. He spends considerable time explicating Przywara's work, including the pertinent stuff that hasn't been translated.

    I very much respect Zachman.

    Who is your Barthian friend at Duke?

  • At 1/23/2011 1:42 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    After reading your first, fine, post on this issue, then reading Travis's rejoinder, and now your response, I can only say that your dialogics is impressive and far more patient and grace-ful than my own.

    With all due respect to Travis, his rejoinder to you, in my view, did not merit the quality explanation you have provided here simply because the critique it contained was rather less than substantive.

    Not only was it somewhat condescending, but it appears that the whole thrust rests upon an excerpt he provided with no follow up interpretive hard work; as if simply presenting a different segment of the text verifies anything whatsoever!

    Rather than doing some serious difficult and philosophically complex work, he simply slaps up an excerpt and then reiterates his initial critique with greater thrust.
    Contrary to his assertion, however, the excerpt does not smooth over "language about opposition between human nature and divine grace, or ... continuity between fallen and re-created human being."
    This excerpt certainly does contribute to the discussion but it does not solve the matter. In fact, in some sense, it can be said to exacerbate the issue since it (relative to this stream) introduces new dimensions that require more interpretive work.

    In any event, I wanted to express my admiration for your very generous, polite and cordial dialogics.

    One might well hope that future engagement with your posts will exhibit more care than is in evidence thus far. At the same time, engagement is engagement.

  • At 1/23/2011 4:08 PM, Blogger W. Travis McMaken said…

    I certainly didn't mean to come off sounding imperious, condescending, etc. However, two important points remain:

    (1) There is an expert who has produced significant work on these matters and warrants consulting at greater length - a point that I simply wanted to call attention to.

    (2) The except I quoted does, in fact, point toward the full scope of Barth's mature position which - I would contend - solve the problems in question. It does so, however, from the opposite direction (as it were) as Pat suggested in his own discussion.

    In all this, I am simply trying to facilitate engagement on an important topic, not provide independent engagement. I have my own dissertation on an entirely different topic to worry about.

  • At 1/25/2011 3:57 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Your points of caution are well taken. I can see how my original post might give the impression I did not take into account what Johnson has said about Barth's mature position. As will hopefully become clearer when I post again, my point is that because Barth remains, as it were, on the Reformed side of the line (regarding sin, justification, revelation, etc.) in his analogical as much as in his dialectical modes, even his analogical thought (as Johnson I think expresses it quite well) will not in fact provide sufficient solutions to the problems that his earlier rhetoric raises. That seems to me what's at stake for Catholics sympathetic to the analogia entis.

    These are, as stated, my enduring suspicions, and they will remain suspicions in lieu of a more comprehensive reading of both Johnson and Barth. As our reading list in the directed study is currently rather flexible, I'm hoping I'll be able to get Johnson's book into the mix; particularly because he treats Przywara at length.

    Pax Christi,


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