Kenneth Oakes’ book Karl Barth on Philosophy and Theology, which I reviewed a few years ago for the blog, presses the same point that Keith Johnson does in his book Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis. The point is the way Barth sees the relationship between philosophy and theology; he doesn’t, not in the way that post-mediaeval classical theism does in its effort to synthesize so-called faith-and-reason. This is one of the primary factors that has drawn me to Barth over the years. His prolegomenon is conditioned solely by what he considers to be both the formal and material principle of a genuinely Christian theology: i.e. submission to God’s Word. The way he does that is different, of course, than the way someone like Catholic Thomas Aquinas submits to divine revelation, and/or the way that scholastic Reformed theologians do that in the Post Reformation Orthodox period of Protestant development. Again, this point cannot be overstated in regard to the work I have been doing for the last many decades; indeed, my work has been driven by this sort of kataphysical, as TF Torrance would identify it, mode of theological development. That is, I see a need, along with Barth et al., to be slavishly submitted to the reality of Holy Scripture’s object in Jesus Christ. Not just in a cursory way, or as Richard Muller might say it, an “extensive way,” but in a principial or “intensive” way, such that Jesus Christ is understood as the warp and woof of every dot and iota within Holy Scripture. To see Jesus as the regnant telos of the heilsgeschichte found in the deposit of Apostolic (depositus per Apostolicum) witness entailed by its canonical reality.
Johnson helps the reader understand Barth’s mindset as he engaged with the analogia entis (analogy of being1) articulated by his theological nemesis (but friend), Erich Przywara. Here it becomes clearer in just what way Barth thought the relationship of the philosopher to the theologian, and how that, at its very principled base, contradicts the way Przwyara understood the analogia entis as that was conditioned by his ecclesioncentric mode of thinking as a Catholic theologian. Johnson writes,
That Przywara was on Barth’s mind is apparent in the first lecture as Barth explains the title and his objective for the talk. The title, Barth explained, refers to the ‘two boundaries of human thought’, realism and idealism, which form the ‘basic problem of all philosophy’. Barth’s goal is to use those “boundaries’ as the framework from which to ask questions about the proper relationship between philosophy and theology. To flesh out his reason for taking up this task, he draws an analogy between the relationship between theology and philosophy and that of the church and the state. Just as ‘the church finds itself in the framework of the state but does not exist in competition with it . . . so theology understands itself as (the) fundamental reflection about human existence as discussed within the framework of philosophy’. Theology is a human enterprise, and as such, is uses the same tools of language, concepts, and categories that philosophers use in their own attempts to describe the human situation. This correspondence leads to a temptation, Barth says, because while the theologian can speak about the human situation only in the ‘crabbed, constricted, and paradoxical way’ forced upon it by its adherence to divine revelation, the philosopher ‘is in a position to say it all so much better, more freely, more universally’. This situation places the theologian ‘under the insufferable pressure of a situation where [he] can speak only humanly and where this occurs so much better in philosophy’. Hence, just as the church must deal with the temptation of trying either to become the state or be absorbed into it, theology must deal with the temptation of trying either to become philosophy or be absorbed into it. The fact that the shift from theology to philosophy occurs by only a ‘few small shifts in accent’ or a ‘few minor adjustments’ makes it all the more dangerous. Theology can avoid these dangers, Barth says, only if it realizes its true task: adhering to God’s Word. He will develop what this means in more specificity as the lecture progresses, but at this point, he simply means that theology proper is that which ‘thinks and speaks not about those boundaries of human thought, but with all possible objectivity about God’.
The fact that Przywara’s project centers upon the relationship between philosophy and theology — and their point of connection in the analogia entis —is working in the background of Barth’s thoughts here, and the way that he frames this relationship points to a key difference he recognizes between Przywara’s project and his own. As we have seen, Przywara’s account of the analogia entis is built upon the notion that philosophical thought about God failed to recognize the proper relationship between the boundaries of divine immanence and transcendence and thus failed to arrive at any true knowledge of God. The analogia entis is then posited as the alternative that resolves the false dichotomy left by philosophy, since it maintains the proper ‘tension’ between immanence and transcendence. This argument stands directly in line with the Catholic dictum that Przywara cited in Barth’s seminar: ‘revelation does not destroy but supports and perfects reason’. That is, Przywara describes the problem of philosophy, which works form reason, and then proffers the analogia entis, which was derived from divine revelation in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, as the solution to that problem. Revelation, in short, works in concert with reason because the two are engaged in the same basic task, and revelation ‘fulfils and perfects’ reason because the Catholic analogia entis accomplishes, on the philosopher’s own terms, what the philosophers themselves could not.2
What must be born in mind is that Barth was a dedicated Protestant theologian, whereas Przywara was, of course, Roman Catholic. What’s at stake in this tussle, as often is the case, is really an anthropological point. Przywara would have been committed to the Thomist Intellectualist anthropology wherein the intellect remained morally solvent, even after the fall. Thus, the noetic effects of sin weren’t as death-dealing for Przywara as they were for Barth. As such, Przywara could and did imagine a world wherein human beings could still think after God even without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit; that there was still a ‘spark,’ as it were, of the imago Dei operative that simply needed to be ‘restored’ or ‘perfected’ by revelation. For Barth, not only as a Protestant, but a Reformed theologian, this premise does not work. For Barth, as for any principled Protestant Christian, the noetic effects of the fall were so deep and sweeping that humanity itself, in its ruptured status from God, who is the ground and being of all human being, was plunged into an Athanasian ‘subhumanity’; since humanity, according to Scripture is only humanity when it is in right and reconciled relationship with God. Because of this rupture the only hope for a knowledge of God to obtain was if God unilaterally irrupted into humanity, re-create it in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and give humanity the capacity to rightly think God as God thought Godself for humanity in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ, as humanity is brought into an actualized union with Christ (unio cum Christo) by the Spirit.
The really crazy thing in this story is that the Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries, namely, the Post Reformed orthodox, took up the anthropology that ended up informing Przywara’s own Catholic anthropology. As such, what has come to be known as historic Protestant Reformed theology, by and large, is really nothing different, in anthropological-principle, than what we find in the analogia entis way of someone like Przywara. I personally know people, Reformed guys, who will argue with me all day about the value and need of some form of the analogia entis. These guys (and gals) are in the process of retrieving the ideational seeds that gave rise to both Thomas Aquinas’ and Erich Przywara’s analogia entis, respectively, as if this is the Protestant way. And so, in my view, they sadly betray the very Protestant principle (the Scripture Principle, and the attendant anthropology with that as far as the extent of the noetic effects of the fall etc.) they say they are intent on retrieving. They ironically operate like Catholic thinkers rather than genuinely Protestant ones as we see in Barth. Przwyara was an intellectualist, just as his counterparts in scholasticism Reformed are, that’s what this is all about in our current theological cultural moment of recovery. But these recoverers don’t understand the sources of their own religion; they don’t understand how they are really just Catholics in Protestant dress.
I digressed, somewhat. But maybe the digression will help the reader see how all of these types of things are related in the end. Maybe the reader will see why I still feel compelled to alert people to what is going on in regard to current theological developments. At the end of the day this isn’t simply a matter of arid academic complexity, ideas have real life consequences that impact real life Christian spirituality.
1 Johnson cites Przywara’s basic definition of what he means by analogia entis:
By virtue of the objective and actual ‘God over us and God in us’ of the analogia entis, all aspiration after God, and all experience of God which solves its riddles, is the dynamic and contemplative consciousness of Being described by Paul in the words, ‘He created the human race . . . if haply they might feel after God and find him, though He be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17.26-28). Thus all movements towards God, all illumination by God of the human experience which seeks to enlighten itself, presupposes a tranquil condition of ‘God in me and I in God’, because precisely by reason of the nature of the analogia entis, the relationship between God and man is not a function of man’s activity, but of God’s condescension. (Przywara, Religionphilosophie, p. 410)
See, Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 78.
2 Ibid., 94-5.