Analogy of Beings, Prolongations of God-Consciousness, and Mediation of Knowledge of God: Jesus

Analogia entis (analogy of being) has been on my radar ever since I heard the term; the first time I heard it, just on a purely linguistic/semantic level, it intrigued me—the sound of it when verbalized. It is something I’ve written on in published form, and something that continues to intrigue me at very base levels. I think the primary reason this is so—beyond its linguistic value (for me)—is that it is seriously basic to how we as human beings think we can know God. Discussion about the analogia entis is clearly an intramural one that takes place among those who inhabit the various expressions of the church catholic, and as such should not ultimately be seen as something that keeps people from fellowshipping with each other as Christians. Nevertheless, it remains a fundamental point of impasse, in regard to a serious issue, among Christians; in other words, it isn’t something I think we can remain neutral over.

The aforementioned noted, there is a bigger framework, an ecclesiological frame within which the analogia entis has developed. This post intends on speaking to this broader framework, with some reference to the analogia itself. Karl Barth (I’m reading his CD I/1 currently) offers critique of two paradigmatic expressions of the church; 1) the Modern Liberal, and 2) the Roman Catholic. He identifies how the analogia entis, in one form or another is present and regulative for either one of these expressions found in the Christian church; and he offers critique of both by appealing to a doctrine of God’s freedom to be the Lord and God of his church apart from the types of expressions of ecclesial reality that are prone to give rise to a locus like the analogy of being.

We will read along with Barth’s development and critique of these types of ecclesiologies, and the attendant theological-anthropologies, and then observe how he critiques them accordingly.[1] He writes (in extenso):

In distinction from the conception of the already contested, Roman Catholic dogmatics describes the place from which it ascertains its way of knowledge as the self-originating and self-grounded reality of divine revelation and the corresponding supernatural faith. Here, then, dogmatic prolegomena consist in the assertion that in the form of Holy Scripture, Church tradition, and the living teaching apostolate of the Church infallibly representing and interpreting both, there is to be found the objective principle of knowledge, and in the form of the fides catholica, which accepts revelation as proposed by the Church, there is to be found the subjective principle.

It is self-evident that these assertions are already statements of faith and therefore in their scientific form dogmatic statements. But we can regard these statements, too, only as those of another faith and an alien dogmatics. Their presupposition is that the being of the Church, Jesus Christ, is no longer the free Lord of its existence, but that He is incorporated into the existence of the Church, and is thus ultimately restricted and conditioned by certain concrete forms of the human understanding of His revelation and of the faith which grasps it. Again, there can be no mistaking the common Christian character of this faith to the extent that the concept of the acting God, of that which is radically beyond all human possibilities, is taken seriously as the source of dogmatic knowledge, at least in intention. But again our fellowship with this faith is broken by the way in which grace here becomes nature, the action of God immediately disappears and is taken up into the action of the recipient of grace, that which is beyond all human possibilities changes at once into that which is enclosed within the reality of the Church, and the personal act of divine address becomes a constantly available relationship. Roman Catholic faith believes this transformation. It can recognise itself and God’s revelation in this constantly available relationship between God and man, in this revealedness. If affirms an analogia entis, the presence of a divine likeness of the creature even in the fallen world, and consequently the possibility of applying the secular “There is” to God and the things of God as the presupposition, again ontological, of that change or transformation, of that depriving of revelation and faith of their character as decision and evasion and neutralisation.

If this faith is not ours; if we know nothing of such a change and its presupposition; if we can as little say: “There is revelation,” as we can: “There is faith,” then we cannot possibly adopt the standpoint which yields this particular dogmatic knowledge.

The only possibility of a conception of dogmatic knowledge remaining to us on the basis of Evangelical faith is to be marked off on the one hand by the rejection of an existential ontological possibility of the being of the Church and on the other hand by the rejection of the presupposition of a constantly available absorption of the being of the Church into a creaturely form, into a “There is.” On the one side we have to say that the being of the Church is actus purus, i.e. a divine action which is self-originating and which is to be understood only in terms of itself and not therefore in terms of a prior anthropology. And on the other side we have to say that the being of the Church is actus purus, but with the accent now on actus, i.e., a free action and not a constantly available connexion, grace being the event of personal address and not a transmitted material condition. On both sides we can only ask how it may be otherwise if the being of the Church is identical with Jesus Christ. If this is true, then the place from which the way of dogmatic knowledge is to be seen and understood can be neither a prior anthropological possibility nor a subsequent ecclesiastical reality, but only the present moment of the speaking and hearing of Jesus Christ Himself, the divine creation of light in our hearts.[2]

Todd Billings in his book Union with Christ calls what Barth is referring to, in regard to the Roman Catholic church, as the ‘prolongation of the incarnation.’ The idea that Jesus Christ is so conflated with the church that the church herself becomes the only location wherein human beings have to do with the living God.

We see Barth challenging not only the Roman Catholic analogia entis, but also another form of that in the type of ‘point of contact’ we find in someone like Schleiermacher (according to Barth’s reading), or someone like Emil Brunner; for Barth it’s the same issue. Either the subject, of Christ, becomes absorbed and circumscribed by the consciences of particular human beings in the church, or that is sublimated by the church herself (as in the Roman Catholic expression); as if there is a point of contact between God and humanity in an inherent creational way (i.e. actus purus). And this point of contact, as such, serves as an epistemological port wherein human beings can have an inherent knowledge of God, even if that must needs be attenuated by Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

I actually believe this is THE issue we are seeing played out in the church today. This implicates a theory of authority, and how people believe they have access to a knowledge of God. Even among evangelicals and the Reformed, there is a tacit, seemingly un-critical reception of the idea that the church herself, and her judgments have become the foundation that God has chosen to reveal himself through over and again to those seeking him. But as a Protestant, in principle, I would contend that the spirit of the insights that Luther and Calvin et al. came upon in their study of Scripture is that God’s Freedom in Jesus Christ must be the reality upon which we as Christians see as the place of mediation between God and humanity; and if we value God’s Freedom then we will not collapse that into our sub-conscious or a church with an address.

 

 

[1] We pick up with Barth as he is more precisely engaging with the Roman Catholic side of this equation; he has already spoken to the Modern-Liberal (i.e. Schleiermacher, De Wette, et al.). Yet, he does, towards the end of the section I am sharing from him bring up the Modern-Liberal.

[2] Karl Barth, CD I/1, 48-50.

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4 thoughts on “Analogy of Beings, Prolongations of God-Consciousness, and Mediation of Knowledge of God: Jesus

  1. Very perceptive and profound topic. I could not find in CD 1/1 48-50 the quote “If this is true, then the place from which the way of dogmatic knowledge is to be seen and understood can be neither a prior anthropological possibility nor a subsequent ecclesiastical reality, but only the present moment of the speaking and hearing of Jesus Christ Himself, the divine creation of light in our hearts” is it further on in CD 1/1? I am interested in further study of the operation of this freedom of God to speak. Do you consider the pattern that points to this encounter EX. 25:22? Since Jesus is set forth a mercy seat Rom 3:25?

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