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  • Erich Przywara, S.J.: His Theology and His World
  • James V. Zeitz
Erich Przywara, S.J.: His Theology and His World. By Thomas F. O'Meara, O.P. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 2002. Pp. xi, 254. $35.00.)

Erich Przywara, S.J. (1889–1972), was a prominent spokesman for Catholicism in German intellectual and religious circles between the two World Wars. As thinker and visionary of God's "greater glory," he demonstrated the dynamic relevance of Catholicism for the modern world. As writer, he demonstrated in his book reviews and critiques of contemporary philosophies their basic insights and relevance to the Christian's search for God. His retrievals of patristic and medieval theologies demonstrated the greater horizon of this God for Catholic life. Students of twentieth-century German theology have been aware of Przywara's creative development of the Neo-Scholastic notion of analogia entis (the analogy of being). However, until O'Meara's book, his wide-ranging interests and his place in German Catholic life have remained largely unknown, in part because little of his voluminous work (sixty books, over six hundred articles) has been translated. Thus this excellent work fills a gap for both theologians and historians.

The historical context of Przywara's meteoric rise to prominence is German Catholicism emerging from Bismarck's Kulturkampf, which had excluded Catholics from public life. Ordained in 1920, Przywara began his lifelong work on the staff of the Jesuit periodical Stimmen der Zeit starting in 1922. This work was combined with speaking engagements. O'Meara fills in the historical and cultural context for lectures Przywara gave at a German Symposium for Academics at Ulm in 1923. His discernment of the "hidden presence of God within the world" (Gottgeheimnis der Welt) is an early sketch of a basic "Catholic" structure which he identifies as "analogy of being": the "balance-in-tension" of nature and grace—a sacramental view of the world as vehicle for God's presence.

Przywara's conversations were wide-ranging. O'Meara (chapter 4: "A Theologian's Contemporaries") records Karl Barth's invitation of Przywara in 1929—the beginning of an extended ecumenical dialogue about "the Protestant principle" and the "Catholic principle." Other correspondents were Edith Stein and poet Gertrud von Le Fort. Through book reviews, articles, and books he also grappled with important contemporaries such as Paul Tillich, the Jewish thinker Leo Baeck, and Martin Heidegger.

Przywara's major works also show the relevance for the contemporary Church of three Catholic sources: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Newman. O'Meara's own works on Neo-Scholasticism provide new insights and greater breadth to Przywara's work on Thomism. Przywara's Thomism—tempered by his interest in Augustine and Newman—retrieves an "authentic" Thomism: not a static reaction to Modernism, but a dynamic thought capable of discerning the hidden presence of God and providing a structure to understand modern philosophies. [End Page 291]

The wider significance of Przywara's overall work becomes apparent in O'Meara's book. He demonstrates how Przywara was and is a resource for a Catholicism grounded in a sound philosophy of religion (chapter 3). Finally (in chapter 5: "The Christian in the Church") he looks critically at Przywara's central "balance-in-tension" principle—which he continued to use in his declining years after World War II, and which—after Vatican II—was bypassed by new approaches in contemporary theologies.

Overall, this is an important work—the first in English that informs us about the historical setting of Przywara and critiques not only Przywara's main philosophical and theological works, but also his secondary works and secondary interests that demonstrate Przywara's broad scope that includes poetry, music, spiritualities, and popular cultural movements. Finally—for those interested in further information—this is a valuable compendium of other studies of Przywara in German, Flemish, and English.

James V. Zeitz
Our Lady of the Lake University
San Antonio, Texas


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