Analogia Entis & Catholic Metaphysics

MetaphysicsErich Pryzwara’s work, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics, Original Structure, and Universal Rhythm, provides important insights for understanding the analogy between God and creation. The introduction, which is 117 pages, is itself an important manual bringing to light the relevance of the debate between Pryzwara and famous reformed theologian Karl Barth concerning the analogia entis. Although these two men were friendly towards one another personally, they were in fact intellectual rivals. Barth’s claim was that the “analogia entis” is the invention of the anti-Christ, which seems fitting given the historical flamboyance of reformed detractors towards anything Catholic.

David Bentley Hart (who is a translator of Pryzwara’s book) says this regarding the rivalry between Pryzwara and Barth,

“It is, one must acknowledge, a controversial turn of phrase among some Christian thinkers: Karl Barth’s notorious, fairly barbarous rejection of the analogia entis as the invention of the antichrist, and the principle reason for not becoming Roman Catholic, was directed at Pryzwara’s book – a verdict that, frankly, speaks only of Barth’s failure to understand Przywara. Whether one takes Barth’s pronouncement, as Jungel and others have done, as a reaction against the remoteness from God that so empty a concept as ‘being’ actually suggests or, rather more correctly in all likelihood, as a rejection of what Barth took to be a form of natural theology, it is ultimately nothing but an example of inane (and cruel) invective. Nor does Barth’s later acceptance of the ‘principle’ of analogy, in the etiolated but more ‘dramatic’ form of an analogia relationis, improve the picture, as this more ‘existential’ proportions between God’s act and our response, without the correct ontological grammar to support it, has the very effect he so dreaded: it reduces God to the status of a mere being, in some sense on a level with us. To state the matter simply, the analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogization of being in the difference between God and creatures; it is as subsersive of the notion of a general and univocal category of being as of the equally ‘totalizing’ notion of ontological equivocity, and thus belongs to neither pole of the dialectic intrinsic to metaphysical totality.”[1]

Intrinsic to reformed theology is a denial of any analogical understanding of the creation’s secondary causes with the Creator’s primary causal action. Pryzwara calls this reformed theology, dialectical. Consider this summary of Barth from Pryzwara,

“whatever belongs to the divine is diametrically opposed to whatever is human… The only relation to God and creature is… that of the absolute ‘No.’ We thus see here the actual antithesis to the Catholic concept of God in that the ‘analogy’ between God and creature is replaced with a pure ‘negation.’ Whereas the analogia entis proper to the Catholic concept of God entails the mysterious tension of ‘similar-dissimilar’…, in the Protestant conception of God the ‘similar’ is completely abolished. God is the absolutely and completely ‘Other,’ as Rudolf Otto conceives it, or the ‘No’ to the creature, the ‘No’ of a ‘Yes’ that alone is real and effective.”[2]

Continuing the explanation from the introduction,

“In other words, in Pryzwara’s view, inasmuch as it places all the emphasis upon divine transcendence, dialectical theology ends up denying the reality of God’s analogical immanence to creation. Accordingly, it fails to register the ‘both-and,’ which Catholicism affirms, of divine immanence and divine transcendence. Moreover, Pryzwara’s view, inasmuch as (in the name of revelation) dialectical theology overrides human nature and reason, making them strictly passive with regard to the divine, and inasmuch as it denies any natural knowledge of God, rendering null and void the revelation of creation, dialectical theology unwittingly falls victim to a form of ‘theopanism’ (inasmuch as salvation is the work of God alone, who works the salvation of human nature essentially without human nature and human cooperation.) Here again, therefore, Pryzwara sees a fundamental incompatibility with Catholic theology, inasmuch as the latter affirms the analogia entis, i.e., an ultimately inscrutable but real analogical relation between the saving God who works “all in all” and the real secondary causes of creation, which are vitiated by the Fall but whose integrity (and ability to correspond to grace) is never fully destroyed. For Pryzwara, however, in Barth’s early, dialectical theology, there is no relation – not even the vaguest of analogies – left to redeem; there is only contradiction: for human nature, which is fallen tout court, stands entirely under divine judgment. Thus, Pryzwara avers, for this type of theology, which rules out any notion of divine immanence, ‘Religion is essentially eschatology, and therefore essentially the opposite of Church.’”

A thoroughly Catholic understanding of analogia entis and participation are vitally important for Christian metaphysics; Analogia Entis: Metaphysics, Original Structure, and Universal Rhythm, is a unique contribution to the conversation.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] The Beauty of the Infnite, Pg. 241 – 242

[2] Pg. 18

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