Knowing God: Being versus Faith

I have recently been having a discussion with someone that has revolved somewhat around what has been called the analogia entis or “the analogy of being.” My book chapter for our forthcoming book also orbits around this same place of discussion. The “analogy of being” was first given cogent articulation by medieval theologian par excellence, Thomas Aquinas. Since Thomas there have been other iterations of this same basic approach to knowledge of God. In its most basic form the “analogy of being” can be said to be a way of knowing God that looks to the creation for providing basic building blocks for entering into an understanding of God. In other words, reality is seen in hierarchical terms so that all of reality is interconnected in a way that allows for humanity to reason its way back or up to the “Unmoved Mover,” or God. Another way of explaining the analogy of being would be to note that it is a philosophical system of thought wherein man reasons from the effects of creation to what the cause of said effects must require in order for the cause to be the cause. In other words by a series of negations man looks at creation, reflects upon what kind of power it must have taken to accomplish the feat of creation; looks at man himself, identifies that man does not have this kind of all encompassing, power, knowledge, and foresight thus positing that what they are, the cause of creation must not be. Instead the cause of creation must be much much greater than humanity. This then provides the categories for how we ought to conceive of God (according to the analogy of being).

Karl Barth, of all people, did not agree with this approach; he was a proponent of what he appropriated as the analogia fidei or the analogy of faith. Stated simply, the analogy of faith holds that knowledge of God must proceed from God’s self-revelation; not the creation. The push back to this from those who follow the analogy of being is that creation is all that we have as humans to know God through, and thus to posit any other idea of knowing God apart from this reality is the height of naivete. They would argue that even the self-revelation of God in Christ—the Incarnation—involves creation, given the fact that Jesus assumes a real human body and nature in order to communicate God to humanity. This seems to pose a problem for those who would want to maintain the analogy of faith (like I do). Modern Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar thinks so, and he directs his concern towards Barth. Bruce McCormack doesn’t think so, and he responds, in Barth’s defense, to Balthasar’s problem with Barth by articulating how Barth avoided the analogy of being (even though Balthasar didn’t think so) in a way that elides Balthasar’s belief to the contrary. Here is McCormack and Balthasar:

In his famous 1951 book on Barth’s theology, Hans Urs von Balthasar concluded that Barth had not been able to eliminate the “analogy of being” after all; indeed, the “analogy of faith” as taught by him required an “analogy of being” to complete it.

If revelation is centered in Jesus Christ, there must be by definition a periphery to this center. Thus, as we [Roman Catholics] say, the order of the Incarnation presupposes the order of creation, which is not identical with it. And, because the order of creation is oriented to the order of the Incarnation, it is structured in view of the Incarnation; it contains images, analogies, as it were, dispositions, which in a true sense are the presuppositions for the Incarnation. For example, interhuman relationships—between man and woman or between friends—are a true presupposition for the fact that Jesus can become our brother. It is because man is a social being that he is capable in the first place of entering into a covenant with God, as God intended. And this natural order is for its part only possible on the basis of God’s interpersonal nature, his triune nature, of which the human being is a true image. [Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth, 163]

Von Balthasar is right to find an “analogy of being” in Barth, but he is right for all the wrong reasons. That the order of the incarnation presupposes the order of creation, that Jesus can become our brother because human being is by nature (i.e., as created) interpersonal, and that humans are able to enter into a covenant with God only because  of their (inherent?) sociality—-all of these claims give expression to an “analogy of being’ which remained throughout Barth’s life utterly foreign to his thinking. But there is a true “analogy of being” in Barth’s thought which was first adumbrated as the predicate of the divine act of relating to the human creature and which was then given concreteness in the doctrine of election set forth in CD II/2. “Analogy of being,” understood in Barthian terms, is an analogy between an eternal divine act of Self-determination and a historical human act of self-determination and the “being” (divine and human) which is given in each. Human being in the act of faith and obedience in response to the covenant of grace corresponds to the being of the gracious God; this is the shape of the analogy. Barth’s conflict with the Roman Catholic version was and always remained a conflict between his own covenant ontology and the essentialist ontology presupposed by the Catholic tradition, which von Balthasar’s thought continued to embody. To that extent, it was also a conflict between modern and, in its way, “historicized” mode of reflection on the being-in-act of God, on the one hand, and tradition theism, on the other. . . . [Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox And Modern: Studies In The Theology of Karl Barth, 199-200]

Ultimately the conflict that Barth was seeking to avert was to make God’s being and persons dependent upon creation. The fear, simply stated; was that if the analogy of being was given creedance, then who we know God to be is not Self-determined by Him, but instead, it would be Pre-determined by the categories man had constructed based upon man’s reflection upon creation. Barth’s genius was to conceive of a theological grammar that honors both God’s Self-determinating freedom to be who He is in Himself, and at the same time that honors man’s self-determining freedom to be who He is through Christ’s decision to be human (election). As it can be observed by McCormack’s analysis; Barth operated with an actualistic metaphysic that grounds God’s being in His choice to be man in Christ (Covenant of Grace). And it is the execution of this choice in historic time wherein the corresponding Yes to this choice (of God for man, and not God without man) by the God-Man, that the analogy of faith finds its proper orientation. In this way there is space for God to be God for creation (not because of it), and for man to know this choice through the actualisation of it in Christ. It is in this relationship that God has freely chosen to give Himself being, and in the process of this giving; He has given humanity their being by electing their humanity for Himself. This is the realm wherein creation finds its taxis, and it is within this ‘order’ that knowledge of God comes to fruition; that is, by God acting on us, for us. In so doing the only ‘being’ that provides interpretive friction for knowing God, is His own being given to us in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The only reason I wrote this out like this, really, was to engage in an exercise that would make me articulate my own interpretation of what I just read. If this has been  helpful to you; then good! If not, sorry :-( !

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18 thoughts on “Knowing God: Being versus Faith

  1. How would you read ” faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” in both views? It would seem “hearing” is a prerequisite and if that is the case the faculty of the ear (and how the mind and ear work together, which is a creation) would have to be taken into account. I want to be with Barth on this, but it seems creation is a necessity in all knowledge therefore I side with Balthasar. The speech act of a prophet/teacher/evangelist by definition is a creation at the moment it is actuated.
    you said, “The fear, simply stated; was that if the analogy of being was given creedance, then who we know God to be is not Self-determined by Him, but instead, it would be Pre-determined by the categories man had constructed based upon man’s reflection upon creation.” Why? Couldn’t god had made creation to contain the “categories” which would mediate a close knowledge of him? Or couldn’t it be closely related to how evangelicals view scripture in the sense that mans categories and gods speech both communicated who God is and what he wants. Anyway, it’s nice to be back on your blog, I promise I’ll try not to be foul mouthed and jerky. Peace B.

  2. Hey Kenny,

    Thanks for the promise ;-) .

    And glad to hear from you again!

    I don’t think “creation” and the physical ear is at stake, but instead as Jesus says “he who has ears to hear and eyes to see” is the point. So the issue is what capacity is there to hear and see in the way that Jesus believes is necessary for knowledge of God to inhere in the mind and heart of man? What is required is that reconciliation takes place which only comes through the Revelation of God in Christ through his Incarnation and cross-work; and most importantly resurrection and ascension.

    It seems to me to an issue of of consistency of what God “did;” based upon the theo-logical implications required by his Self-revelation in Christ. So there are ways of thinking theologically (like the “negative way”) that might engage in the speculative process, but, I think, the better way is to simply stick with what God’s Self-revelation demands. An aspect of that is to honor who He is as Creator; which means that creation cannot have any stipulation in shaping who God is or how he acts. I think the analogy of being does that, and so I cannot go that way.

    Anyway, I am still working through all of this stuff; and so my post here shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a “position” statement or something :-) .

    Glad to be in contact again, brother!

  3. Consequently, it must be said that knowledge is predicated neither entirely univocally nor yet purely equivocally of God’s knowledge and ours. Instead, it is predicated analogously, or, in other words, according to a proportion. Since an agreement according to proportion can happen in two ways, two kinds of community can be noted in analogy. There is a certain agreement between things having a proportion to each other from the fact that they have a determinate distance between each other or some other relation to each other, like the proportion which the number two has to unity in as far as it is the double of unity. Again, the agreement is occasionally noted not between two things which have a proportion between them, but rather between two related proportions—for example, six has something in common with four because six is two times three, just as four is two times two. The first type of agreement is one of proportion; the second, of proportionality.

    We find something predicated analogously of two realities according to the first type of agreement when one of them has a relation to the other, as when being is predicated of substance and accident because of the relation which accident has to substance, or as when healthy is predicated of urine and animal because urine has some relation to the health of an animal. Sometimes, however, a thing is predicated analogously according to the second type of agreement, as when sight is predicated of bodily sight and of the intellect because understanding is in the mind as sight is in the eye.

    In those terms predicated according to the first type of analogy, there must be some definite relation between the things having something in common analogously. Consequently, nothing can be predicated analogously of God and creature according to this type of analogy; for no creature has such a relation to God that it could determine the divine perfection. But in the other type of analogy, no definite relation is involved between the things which have something in common analogously, so there is no reason why some name cannot be predicated analogously of God and creature in this manner.

    But this can happen in two ways. Sometimes the name implies something belonging to the thing primarily designated which cannot be common to God and creature even in the manner described above. This would be true, for example, of anything predicated of God metaphorically, as when God is called lion, sun, and the like, because their definition includes matter which cannot be attributed to God. At other times, however, a term predicated of God and creature implies nothing in its principal meaning which would prevent our finding between a creature and God an agreement of the type described above. To this kind belong all attributes which include no defect nor depend on matter for their act of existence, for example, being, the good, and similar things.
    – Aquinas. De veritate, q.2, art. 11

  4. From Peter Sloterdijk’s “Spheres I: Bubbles”, p597, there is a quote and discussion of John of Damascus (c.676-749) when he writes:

    >”Accordingly, it is impious to say that time intervened in the begetting of the Son and that the Son came into existence after the Father”

    Is it right here to say that John’s position here is the same as McCormack’s, in a way? I think so, since following McCormack, there would be *both* pre-determined call (being) and a historizied Yes in response (faith). John of Damascus would simply be hitting at the first part, and would be in need of articulation of the second in terms of “the humility of the eternal Son”.

    Thus, you have a generational sort of theory take hold, where the faith is carried over in time. Sloterdijk classifies Tritarian theology as the discovery of a language for the “strong relationship”, and I think sets the ground for a very potent critique of what may be or otherwise look like McCormack’s position in Volume II, if only I could read the German. :P

    In any case, thank you very much!

  5. I’m a bit of a heretic, so I’m going to have to skirt that question the best I can.

    I will say that I think it is necessary to adopt a trans- or otherwise post- religious orientation. In this sense, I am most definitely not a Christian. That is, I do not identify as a Christian, nor am I a Christian “in secret” or what have you.

    Yet, insofar as I feel questions of “identity” are a bit misguided on the whole, and to be a bit more provocative one could say markedly un-Christian, I hope you can see there’s more to it than meets the eye. There is, to be sure, a whole journey behind me as well as ahead of me. Let us just say that I have good reasons, theological reasons even, for practicing theology in the way I do.

    Here is a recent post of mine which may interest you, on what I call “Wilderness Theology”: http://inthesaltmine.com/wilderness-theology/

    In any case, I may be attending seminary in the not-so-distant future. It’s an option for me. Thank you & Peace be with you.

  6. David,

    Who isn’t a heretic … if a person thinks, then I would suppose they have heresies ruminating from time and again.

    I should have asked if you have a relationship with Christ, but asking are you a Christian signifies the same thing. My issue is that I do have an intimate relationship with Christ, one that sustained me in very personal and tangible (and I mean He showed up in miraculous ways during that season) ways—indeed so tangible that I survived a cancer that is usually terminable an not curable.

    I’ll check out your post some time soon.

    What seminary?

  7. Hey Bobby, I just came across your blog and wanted to drop you a note to say I am enjoying reading your articles. I also had a couple of questions. Have you read “A Good God” in the UK “Delighting in the Trinity” in the US by Michael Reeves? And do you know Ron Frost who was at Multnomah?

  8. Hi Steve,

    Yes, Ron Frost was a mentor of mine. I also served as his TA for awhile when at Multnomah. I know of Reeves, and have not read his book (but have heard him speak of it). I want to read his book on the Trinity.

    Do you know Ron?

  9. Thanks for the reply Bobby and Yes, I have gotten to know Ron a bit and went out to Portland and went to an intensive with he and Peter Mead with CorDeo ministry. I have been in contact with Ron through email and his blog A Spreading Goodness as well as really enjoyed his doctoral dissertation on Richard Sibbes. Have you read it? It was a very good read and have recommended it to a quite a few men. I just wondered about Delighting in the Trinity and thought that you might like Reeves book in light of some of your writings and would love to hear your thoughts about the book. Steve

  10. Hi Steve,

    Yes, I’ve read Ron’s dissertation a couple of times now over the years; it is rich, and has a great emphasis on God’s triune life. I also, of course, had personal interaction with him as both his TA, Student, and friend; Ron is a great brother.

    Reeves and Frost are definitely in concert with each other, and I know Reeves and Ron work together in the UK; I once heard Reeves interview Ron in regard to Ron’s Affective Theology.

    Great to be in touch, Steve. Do you live in Portland, then? I’m in Vancouver, WA.

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