I’ve been engaging with someone named Thomas over at Al Kimel’s blog. Al or Aidan (as I originally know him) wrote a blog post on the so called analogia entis, or analogy of being. Essentially the analogy of being was something posited by Thomas Aquinas as an apparatus by which humanity might come to know who God is. It is a mode of theology that comes from what is called in mediaeval theology, the via negativa or ‘negative way’; i.e. it is a mode of negation, and it presupposes a hierarchy of being, one where God is the UnMoved Mover (in an Aristotelian sense), and all other ‘being’ comes from his ‘being’ as its first cause. In other words there is a necessary linkage between the being of God and the being of all else, and it is connected in a descending and hierarchical way (we can see how this would fit well with Tridentine or Roman Catholic theology wherein the church and its Pope sit above the rest of humanity in this type of chain-of-being relationship). The analogy of being basically looks at humanity, and its component attributes (insofar as those can be discerned), negates those, and says for example: ‘since human beings are finite, God must be infinite’ so on and so forth. Anyway, Al ends his post with a reference to Barth and his disdain for the analogy of being (a disdain I hold in common with Barth). Anyway, Thomas, my interlocutor, makes many criticisms of Barth in response to my defense of Barth’s view against the analogia. Here’s what Thomas wrote:
My original point was simply that it is of course true that some of the apparatus of the analogia entis could be repurposed, but that is not what is controversial about Barth. The controversy is concentrated more on the question of how well Barth understood the analogia entis doctrine and the related question whether there is a philosophical approach to God.
It’s pretty clear Barth didn’t understand the doctrine of analogia entis as it was classically articulated. In fact, Barth had a quite poor understanding of Aquinas. In 1909, he gave a lecture claiming that Aquinas’ cosmological proofs depend upon an ontological proof. He’s simply parroting Kant here, of course; if you’ve read Aquinas you will recognize how bizarre that claim is. And, to his credit, he admits that he’s relying on Franz Hettinger for his interpretation of Aquinas. (This episode is recounted in the book by Oakes that you cite, on pages 29-30.) I don’t think Barth ever retracted that analysis.
Later in Barth’s career, Barth himself seems to recognize how limited his understanding of Aquinas is. He told Hans Frei that “I have also studied Thomas, but I am not so sure about what he is saying.” (‘Podiumsdiskussion in Chicago,’ 463). And indeed he is not.
As to the substantive question, Barth famously denies natural knowledge of God. I don’t think many people really take his Scriptural exegeses on this point seriously anymore; I would hope not. In the event that you do, you may want to consult James Barr’s 1991 Gifford lectures on the subject, published as “Biblical Faith and Natural Knowledge.”
Really, though, Barth’s strenuous denials of philosophic proofs for the existence of God rest on his insistence that such natural knowledge is simply impossible. And this is Barth’s way: his writings are propelled by the force of his assertions, not his arguments or scholarship. I am reminded Hegel’s rebuke to skepticism in the opening of the Phenomenology of Spirit: the apparent energy with which some deny the possibility of true knowing (Science) operates simply “to be exempt from the hard work of Science, while at the same time giving the impression of working seriously and zealously ….” And just as the best way of refuting skepticism is to go ahead with the business of knowing, leaving the skeptics behind to fret about its abstract possibility, so the best way of responding to Barth’s oracular pronouncements about the impossibility of e.g., demonstrating the existence of God is to go ahead and do it, leaving the Barthians and their worries behind.
Fortunately, these sorts of philosophical demonstrations are easy to come by these days. I’ve written about them myself at some length. Robert Spitzer’s and Joseph Owens’ works on the topics would be a good place to start.
I am not going to respond tit for tat in regard to Thomas’s criticisms; they really don’t deserve that much work. But let me just offer some quick responses which might throw his comments into some relief.
Thomas seems to think that if he can demonstrate a genealogy of Barth’s thought that this somehow marginalizes Barth’s material theological output. Thomas’s way is much like the Van Tilian approach to critiquing Barth’s critique of Federal theology with its absolutum decretum and decretal God; they, like Thomas, seem to think that if they can identify Barth’s sources (in the Van Tilians critique of Barth they like to bring up Barth’s reliance on Heppe’s accounting of Reformed theology), that this in and of itself marginalizes Barth’s theological counterpoints. The thing is, responses like this always seem to have a way of staying right there. Those making such critiques of Barth never really supply the type of sustained development of their assertions that one would expect. In Thomas’s case he asserts that Barth didn’t understand the basic premises of the ‘analogia entis’; yet, I don’t think the threshold Barth needed to meet was his ability to understand every nook and qualification that someone like Thomas Aquinas or Erich Przywara made in their respective developments of the analogy of being. What Barth offers, in contrast, is a whole new paradigm; one where the grace/nature matrix is scratched. And all of this comes from Barth’s reformulated doctrine of election and how that implicates a doctrine of creation and everything else. I am not going to be able to get into examples of all of this here (although I have elsewhere in many other posts which you can try and find here at the blog).
The fact that Thomas wants me to read and engage with Barr’s critique of Barth is telling. Suffice it to say that Barr’s reading of Barth is just as off the mark in regard to Barth as is Van Til’s reading of Barth; both of them seemingly attempting to read Barth in their own rationalistic ways. Yucky.
The primary issue I have with Thomas’s comment is his assertion that Barth doesn’t make arguments, and doesn’t base his thought on actual scholarship. Does this even require a response? Barth, in his Church Dogmatics alone offers six million words of argument with footnotes the size that would make any scholar feel squeamish in comparison. The problem Thomas seems to have with Barth is that Thomas doesn’t like revelational theology, instead he likes philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. It is this that makes the most sense of Thomas’s dislike of Barth, and his (Thomas’s) desire to see the analogy of being have pride of place in theological endeavor. The difference between Barth and Thomas, is that Barth follows the tenor of Scripture, and Thomas follows the tenor of the classical philosophers; the former attempts to engage with reality as it is revealed by God in Christ and attested to by Holy Scripture—without feeling any type of burden to defend, in rationalist ways, how that revelation came to be. Barth allows God’s revelation in Christ to confront him as is without feeling like he has to prop it up with a bunch of proofs; Barth’s approach is confessionally and genuinely Christian. It starts from the vantage point of a Christian, without apology, and works out things dogmatically from there. Thomas’s approach, on the other hand, feels the burden of intellectualistically proving God’s existence; he feels like he has to rationally establish the viability of God before God can be real and speak to us. One serious fall out of this is that God always remains captive to my capacity as a philosopher to keep his existence viable in order for this God to speak. Of course the problem with Thomas’s approach, no matter how “venerable” the history of this line of thought might be in the history of Christian ideation, is that a God who can and needs to be proven will always tend to be more of a ‘projection god’, a god founded upon the philosopher’s ability to discover who God is through elaborate “proofs” and negating ‘human being’ in order to posit what the ‘being’ of God must be (i.e. the analogy of being).
Thomas’s critique of Barth is really rather basic and too facile to take all that seriously, but for some reason it has irked me enough to spend the time it has for me to write this. I obviously have written all of this off the top, and haven’t provided quotes from Barth and others in order to establish all of my points. But hopefully, at the least, what I have noted points up a fundamental point of difference between Barth and the classical theism that Thomas is thinking from as he attempts to critique Barth. There’s much more to all of this than Thomas would have us to believe. Barth is a virtuoso, of the Thomas Aquinas sort, that one cannot simply write off through a blog comment.
Another commenter named Brian offered a well argued, but ultimately faulty response in regard to Barth’s rejection of philosophical theology. You can read all of this here. I’ll footnote the whole exchange via footnote, here is Brian’s comment, and then my response. You will notice in Brian’s comment that he attempts to distinguish his approach from a neo-Thomist approach by aligning himself with Nouvelle Théologie and Henri DeLubac, but as you will also notice that even as he qualifies his position this way, he then almost immediately takes that away as he returns to a grace perfecting nature discussion.
 Bobby Grow, I don’t wish to antagonize you by impugning the philosophical acumen of Barth. I have read some relatively late comments of his where he admits that he was uncertain how well he truly understood the thought of Thomas. Regardless, the more fundamental issue, Barth aside, is indicated in Father’s most recent comments. There is a certain sort of Thomist (which I dissent from,) who posits a “two-tier” approach to God — one of supposedly “pure nature” that generally limits anthropology to Aristotelian potentialities and an additional “supernatural destiny” accomplished through grace and revelation. I surmise it is possibly this sort of conceptual approach that you reject as spurious. The Catholic ressourcement movement, especially Henri DeLubac’s Surnaturel, asserted the contrary view that the only real creation available to us was “always already” taken up into a supernatural teleology. One can conceptually distinguish, but not metaphysically separate nature from a single, supernatural destiny. However, the abiding questions of the relations between nature and grace remain. The early Christological controversies were precisely driven by confusion and lack of clarity over these matters. In Aaron Riches’ Ecce Homo, he delivers a compelling argument for the consistently “high Christology” of the Church whereby one must ultimately “unite to distinguish.” What he means by this formula, among other things, is that human nature is itself not clarified until the revelation of Jesus Christ. Christ illuminates how human nature is intrinsically constituted and made capable of truly human action by the enabling presence of the divine. However, Christological imbalance can occur in many ways. Nestorian tendencies falsely thought that human integrity would be abrogated by too close an intimacy with the divine. A converse temptation would be to understand (as may have been the danger in Apollinarian views) divine personhood as evacuating human nature of its own constitutive faculties. It seems to me that one can understand Christian revelation as overpowering nature rather than fulfilling it. This is tantamount to a one-sided Christology that ironically saves human nature by doing away with it. Likewise, Christ does not eliminate nature or suspend the need to live out a searching inquiry into the depths of creation. Rather, Christ validates the philosophic impulse; indeed, revelation infinitely extends the “ecstatic reach” of reason that is now shown to be “always already” “beyond itself,” founded upon the gift of a reality that dynamically exceeds any attempted intellectual closure. To forget or denigrate philosophy as radically superceded, then, is to court the danger of an overweening theology that unwittingly takes revelation for an overwhelming divine act that rides roughshod over the creature. Then the nuptial destiny of cosmos and Christ becomes a mere play acting and one is left with the kind of crypto-monism that hides a metaphysical occasionalism hard to separate from Spinoza where the creature acting is a modal figure for the divine alone.
 Brian, Yes, your points of Christomonism are well rehearsed when it comes to Barth’s theology. But, really, your whole argument here ends up being petitio principii. You’re presupposing the Thomist ‘grace perfecting nature’ mode that Barth rejects; if anything Barth flips that on its head as he speaks of creation being the exterior reality of which the covenant (i.e. God’s life of grace) is the internal reality. In other words, for Barth it is all grace, the ground of creation is ‘election’, and in Barth’s world that means God’s free choice to not be God without us but with us (Immanuel). Instead of ‘evacuating human nature of its own constitutive faculties’ this supplies a Christ concentrated bases for them not only teleologically, but protologically. Yes, Barth (along with Thomas Torrance) sees an independent integrity to creation itself, but one that is contingent upon God’s choice (i.e. election) to be for creation (humanity as its crown) rather than not; and this choice is primal to all else. There is nothing in Barth’s theology, from this perspective, that does away with human nature, instead human nature is always understood to be an image of the image(Col 1.15), and a reality that only finds its true and genuine taxis from God’s being Deus incarnandus. This is why resurrection is so important for Barth’s theology; contra your critique, what resurrection does in Barth’s theology is provides the type of integrity to human nature that you seem to think is elided by Barth’s theology. The resurrection/re-creation singles that God’s telos for creation, always already, has been realized as its ground is taken up within the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; in other words, for Barth, humanity’s integrity has integrity because of the archetypal humanity of Jesus Christ (i.e. election). The Creator/creature distinction is honored in Barth’s theology, and even elevated, insofar as it is understood that humanity’s integrity was and is always already only what it is as conditioned by the humanity of God in Jesus Christ (before the foundations of the world). I don’t think the premise of your comment really works when confronted with Barth’s actual theology. What you haven’t really attended to is how Covenant and election function in Barth’s theology, particularly as that relates to a doctrine of creation and re-creation. There is no “overweening” of revelation in Barth’s theology, what’s operative in his theology, instead, is premium on God’s Triune life as normative for everything else. There is no ‘grace perfecting nature’ in Barth’s theology, but at the same time there is not a collapse into or conflation of grace into nature with the monist results you are wanting to charge Barth with. There is simply an attempt to think God from God’s Self-exegasato in Jesus Christ (Jn 1.18) in a principial way; in a way that avoids the chimera of a natural theology in favor of a de jure revealed theology and reality; an attempt to think God from God and not before but after this Christian God has spoken (Deus dixit). Even with your qualifications, in reference to Nouvelle Théologie, you still operate with the type of ‘grace perfecting nature’ and a type of naturum purum that Barth’s theology intentionally seeks to avoid; and he, again, does this by following his prolegomenon of God reveals God with no latent potentialities for that hidden somewhere in nature. So we seriously disagree.