Saturday, December 16, 2006

Who's Afraid of the Analogia Entis?

For those wondering what the analogia entis is (the "analogy of being"), allow me to explain in a way that probably won't satisfy full-time theologians (whom I respectfully don't intend to satisfy), but hopefully will satisfy newcomers to the term: It is the notion that the very being (entis) of the created world offers an analogy by which we can (in a very limited way) comprehend God. For example, if you've looked at a sunset and wondered that perhaps God is similarly beautiful, you've intuitively employed what theologians call the analogia entis.

This way of thinking is well expressed in contemporary idiom in addresses like this, but because of its heyday in the Medieval world, the analogia entis is best articulated by Medieval theologians such as Bonaventure: (continue...)
"All created things of the sensible world lead the mind of the contemplator and wise man to eternal God... They are the shades, the resonances, the pictures of that efficient, exemplifying, and ordering art; they are the tracks, simulacra, and spectacles; they are divinely given signs set before us for the purpose of seeing God. They are exemplifications set before our still unrefined and sense-oriented minds, so that by the sensible things which they see they might be transferred to the intelligible which they cannot see, as if by signs to the signified" (Itinerarium mentis ad Deum, 2.11, as quoted p. 165).
For those pleased by the preceding passage, it may surprise you that the analogia entis comes under severe Protestant attack. Why? Because of the dangers of abuse.

The 20th century Protestant theologian Karl Barth, in an overstatement that recalls Luther's remarks on the Mass below, called the analogia entis the "invention of the antichrist"(x). I imagine he did so because of its potential to obscure the mediating role that belongs to Christ alone. Instead Barth proposed the analogia fidei, (the "analogy of faith"), meaning the only link between ourselves and God is one of faith in Christ, recalling of course the Reformation's sola fide. In so doing, Barth burned all bridges but one, remembering that there is "one mediator" and "one foundation."

And in this Barth was right.

But consider the words of Pope Benedict in his recent Regensburg address, which, were they paying attention might have upset world Barthians as much as Muslims:

"The faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason, there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf" (9/12/06).
Benedict, speaking for the largest Christian tradition on the globe, makes three essential moves that when properly understood reasonably alleviates the fear of abusing the analogy of being:
1. First, he recalls the words of the Fourth Lateran Council ("maior dissimulitudo in tanta similitudine"), explaining that the church has for quite some time been on record saying that the world's dissimilarity to God is somewhat greater than the similarity to God. Woops - did I say somewhat? I misquoted. Let me start again: He said "unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness." This is, after all, a fallen world. Anyone therefore fearing that the analogia entis obscures God's transcendence, or leaves no room for apophatic (negative) theology, needs to run by Benedict's statement again.

2. Secondly, in words that could be addressed directly to postmodern reductionists, Benedict shows that the analogia entis is important because it's easy to overdose on negative theology (a danger especially near to wounded ex-evangelicals on a positivist hangover who just discovered that negative theology exists). Benedict says that "God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism," by which I take him to mean that the analogia entis safeguards us from the dangers of mysticism and subjectivism, thereby indirectly securing the essential benefits of both.

3. Finally, and most importantly, Benedict explains that the analogia entis is related to the logos - the ordering principle by which God created all that is. And this logos is none other than the Logos, Jesus Christ. The reason the analogy of being makes sense, even after God has definitively revealed himself in Jesus Christ, is because Christ is the one "through whom all things were made" and in whom "all things hold together." Therefore to contemplate an analogy between the being of the created world and the being of God is, properly understood, not something done independently of the Logos, Jesus Christ.
So, who'll it be? Bonaventure, Barth or Benedict? I'll take 'em all, the Barthian insight being wonderfully framed by the wider perspectives of Bonaventure and Benedict. All shed important light on an enormous truth. What cannot be accepted is Barth's (or Luther's) hyperbolic desertions of large swaths of the tradition. Just as Protestant condemnations of the Mass cannot reasonably be sustained in light of the Catholic Church's emphatic clarification (see pt. 1367) that the Mass is not a repeated sacrifice (which was the basis of the original protest), so Protestant condemnations of the analogia entis cannot in my judgment be sustained in light of Benedict's qualifications without running on the fumes of anti-Catholic prejudice (of which there is plenty).

For a more heavyweight discussion of this issue, consider how Hans Urs von Balthasar (p. 163) suggested that he could subsume Barth's analogia fidei into the Catholic analogia entis, or how David Bentley Hart (see p. 242) playfully turns the tables on Barth (a move which was debated at a recent session covered here and here), but as stated above, that may be more interesting to full-time theologians.

The matter is not whether there is more than one mediator or more than one foundation, but just how big that mediator and foundation is. The question is not which of the two analogies is true. They both are (with priority, I would submit, going to the analogia fidei). The question is in which can we afford to neglect. The answer is neither.

update: Since 2006, this conversation continued far longer than you'll care to keep up with, but Keith Johnson's book, the conference volume, Stephen Long's and now the finally completed translation are the places to go.