Knowing God: Analogy of Being or Faith? Barth, Balthasar, McCormack

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 😦 !

An old post from 2011


2 thoughts on “Knowing God: Analogy of Being or Faith? Barth, Balthasar, McCormack

  1. Pingback: Knowing God: Analogy of Being or Faith? Barth, Balthasar, McCormack — The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

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