- Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis
Keith L. Johnson has recently published his doctoral dissertation (Princeton Seminary) analyzing Karl Barth’s view of the analogia entis (analogy of being). In 1962 Barth was invited as a guest to speak at a forum at Princeton University. By his own admission on that occasion, when responding to a question concerning his analysis of the analogia entis, Barth acknowledged that his characterization of the analogy in Erich Przywara as the “invention of the anti-Christ” in his Church Dogmatics I/1 was “very nasty” (11). The metaphysical analogia has theologically sought to articulate the very being (ens/entis) of the created world in order that it might serve correlatively as an analogy (analogia) through which human beings, though in a most limited way, might comprehend the dynamic interrelationship of the Triune God. The analogia entis has been reflected for centuries in the works of numerous theologians since Augustine and Aquinas and thus became an essential component in Roman Catholic theology for envisioning the dynamic relationship of the intrinsic Trinity and the economic Trinity. This makes Johnson’s thorough exploration of Barth’s understanding of the doctrine significant.
At the outset, Johnson confronts the question of whether Barth understood the ana-logia entis, at least as it was described by his Roman Catholic contemporary, the Polish Jesuit theologian Erich Przywara. Johnson concludes categorically that Barth’s interpretation of the analogia as it had been developed and explicated by Przywara was not the result of any mistaken interpretation. Johnson methodically examines the historical background that gave rise to Przywara’s understanding of the analogia entis, which Przywara published in the essay “Gott in uns oder über uns?” (God in us or over us) subtitled “Immanenz und Transzendenz im heutigen Geistesleben” (Immanence and transcendence in today’s spiritual life), first published in 1923. Johnson very astutely analyzes a major issue that gave rise to both Barth’s theological development and to Przywara’s. For Przywara it was essential to examine the human condition in the aftermath of the Great War through the lens of the analogia entis. Barth, whose Reformed Protestant tradition had tended to dismiss the analogia entis as sophistry and intellectual natural theology, was drawn more to use and speak of the analogia fidei (analogy of faith).
Johnson traces the thread of Barth’s theological maturation from his first and second commentaries on Romans, and parallels the shifts from his aborted Christian Dogmatics, to the Church Dogmatics I/1, and II/1. The maturation reflected in the shifts from Barth’s former to his latter Dogmatics was the result of his break with the theology of his liberal Protestant teachers whom he had seen as all too eagerly to have endorsed and embraced German militarism prior to the First World War. At the same time in Barth’s later work, Johnson sees Barth in fact articulating a perceptible analogia entis. Thus, Johnson’s historical methodological approach helps the reader to see that what separated Barth and Przywara was not so much the analogia itself, but the way the two viewed the Church’s role in the lead-up to the Great War. For Barth the issue was that the Church did too much by endorsing the actions of the state on the basis of “theological convictions” (15). For Przywara, the Church’s role had been just the opposite: the Church had been complacent and had failed to be the embodied and visible sign of God’s justice in the world. As such the Church had done too little in its response to the militarizing and engagement in the horrors of the First World War. Herein lay the problem for Barth. For him what was at stake was that the Christians might and even did use the analogia entis as a way to justify their own political ends. Amid the rise of National Socialism, the potential for abuse...