More on the analogia entis (from my inbox)

I emailed my last post to a couple friends and asked them to spot any errors. They came back with some helpful clarifying comments and questions, so let me post some of them below along with my responses.

Friend #1:

I like the first half of this. I think you’re right to make the doctrine fundamentally metaphysical (with the latter allowing certain epistemological moves). I read the analogy of being in Thomas as shorthand for the whole metaphysical process of emanation and return, and with that of the corresponding epistemological moves of affirmation and negation in positive and negative theologies.

The second half (the Barthian bit!) raises some questions for me. Firstly—and this is a predictably historicizing point—when you say things like “the analogy of being makes the claim,” what exactly do you mean? To put it bluntly, the doctrine “the analogy of being” doesn’t obviously say anything it all. Doctrines don’t make claims. People and texts make claims about doctrines. And particular people in people texts make different claims about them (sometimes subtly different, sometimes altogether different)? So, to bowdlerize MacIntyre, which  doctrine of the analogy? Whose? Thomas’? As defined at Vatican I? Prsyzwara’s? Barth’s?

If (as I suspect) the kind of language you use (“the analogy of being states…”) really means something like this—the doctrine as I am interpreting it qua constructive theologian on the basis of my reflection on Scripture and engagement with and respect for the traditions of the Church—all well and good, but it just seems to me that not being more explicit about that is historically distorting. It may be that you have an implicit commitment to a pre-Newman Catholic, or Laudian Anglican view of doctrine and tradition, where you are making a faith claim about an essential uniformity of doctrine across time. I think as Newman et. al. found, it’s hard to do that given modern historical investigation into the history of doctrines, and I hope and think that’s not your view. I think instead what you’re saying is something more like “I think this what is true about this doctrine, and I think it speaks to the best that I have found in the tradition.”

With all that in mind, the second problem I have about part two is that I think it holds for Barth (and might also be the best way of thinking about the doctrine), and I think it serves well as a kind of ecumenical constructive appropriation of Thomas (which might be the Thomas that finally matters most), but I don’t think it's what Thomas himself thought, and again, I think it’s historically misleading. The analogy of being in the Summa at least, which is being written as he’s lecturing on Pseudo-Denys, is relying on a basic metaphysical scheme (from Proclus) that isn’t specifically Christian, but Neo-Platonic in origin. Of course, in Denys it’s already being used as a vehicle for understanding Christian revelation, but there seems to me something disingenuous about the claim “this is only possible by special revelation,” when, in fact, it’s basic provenance is pagan and philosophical. In other words, your second half has something like what bothers me about the later Augustine (although of course he’s my favorite Augustine too). We’ve conceded that the pagans through contemplation in someway see God (Conf. Bk VII), and this will remain basically consistent given a basic metaphysics and epistemology adopted from Platonism, but we recognize too that the horizontal Christian story of sin, fall, redemption, consummation is supposed to complicate the picture, so that we have to go through the valley of the cross to get to the city on the hill that we see only in the distance, etc., etc. But the two claims sit oddly together, or, are never fully harmonized/reconciled. 

I think there are wider problems here about the the Barthian Thomas emerging in our own day and circles. Ultimately this is probably a good Thomas and maybe even the one we want; the synthesis of the great theological dialectic of the past millennium. But all this “of course Thomas isn’t doing natural theology (who would be so naive as too do "natural theology” after reading de Lubac, Barth, Wittgenstein, Foucault, etc.?)" is basically wrong as an historical assessment, and relies on a different nature/grace picture to the one Thomas operated with (this is what the Neo-Thomists had mostly right, etc., etc.). Concretely that might mean that the historical Thomas did think that an unregenerate pagan could attain to the knowledge of something like the analogy of being, even given the reality of sin and its noetic effects. That strikes me as not only theologically plausible (Rom 1, etc.), but also historically more honest if the doctrine does come in the first place from Proclus and the pagan Neo-Platonists!

My reply:

You're right that (a) I'm not doing historical theology here and (b) I'm cheating a bit by making the doctrine palatable in a constructive way, in accordance with contemporary concerns. Here's what I was trying to do, briefly, and let me know if you think it's objectionable.

I wasn't per se trying to do a Barthian spin on analogy. I was actually coming from the other direction: Reading a book on Jenson by someone doing the typical Barthian anti-analogy routine, and finding myself frustrated at what felt like the usual rhetorical moves inspired by Barth without charitably articulating the best, most substantive Christian theological approach to analogy.

So this was an attempt at simple clarification, first of all: "If you're going to disagree with anything, disagree with this." My mention of Barth in the second half is then a way of saying, "It isn't obvious or clear why the Barthian has to reject all this. Say more if he still does."

Obviously I'm both reducing a lot and doing some constructive work. Doctrines don't speak or act, their interpreters do. (All praise to Dale Martin.) But part of what I was trying to do, at a simple level, was show the necessary rather than accidental commitments of analogy, ontologically construed, as well as some of the non-necessary entailments. So that, e.g., a Barthian in my view basically has to admit analogy after the fact, and it's silly to then call it analogy of faith, when you're still doing ontology, and locating it at the level of creator/creature distinction and not soteriology.

As to the provenance of analogy, I have less to say about that. Given that Denys and Thomas and their reception are (to me, clearly) modifying the Neoplatonists in their Christian theological explication, I have less of a problem with infection-at-the-source. And I should also add that the post is meant to be ambivalent about natural theology: i.e., that it doesn't seem to me that natural theology necessarily follows from a doctrine of analogy, though it can, as it has been, made complementary to it. In other words, Thomas can affirm some kind of knowledge of God apart from the revelation in Christ, but that is a logically independent claim from analogy, which secures something different.

Friend #2:

As I see it, you're basically asking the Barthians what's wrong with the analogy of being when paired with a strong doctrine of sin, esp. the noetic effects of the fall. That seems like the right question. But some quibbles:

"Third, God speaks to human beings, as the rational embodied creatures they are, thus eliciting their reply and constituting a unique relationship (compared to other creatures' relationship to God)."

If "speaks" here refers to revelation, as I take you to mean, then it is not entailed by the analogy of being, which holds even in the absence of revelation. But if God's speech refers to God speaking creation (and God said...), then this is basically the heart of the doctrine.

"...not being an epistemic principle, it is not concerned with the source or medium of knowledge of God, whether through revelation or nature or anything else."

Analogy at its most basic means that nature and indeed any existant is in principle a medium for knowing God, though we may be blind to it. Not sure if you mean to deny that here.

"...it does not make a claim to be itself a generic or universally perspicuous or philosophical doctrine: it is a Christian theological claim about the ontological conditions 'on the ground,' so to speak, that in fact obtain, conditions necessary for knowledge of and speech about the triune God to occur."

I think the analogy of being has to be necessarily true: if there are creatures, then their being is analogically related to God's. So it's not about what just happens to obtain. But it may be that we only know this necessary truth through revelation. Like the trinity: a necessary truth that we do not know necessarily but only through God's free revelation. Unlike the trinity, the analogy of being is classically held to be knowable through natural reason, though of course there is room for debate as to how much this holds of corrupted natural reason. But this much is consistent with both Calvin and Vatican I.

"Finally, the analogy of being does not make any positive claim about the human capacity for speech about God, whether it is pre- or post-lapsarian humanity in view."

I think some kind of prelapsarian natural theology is implied by the analogy of being, though I'd probably need to bring in more Christian Platonism to say why. But I also don't see the problem with that, given Rom 1, the Institutes, etc.

My reply:

Yes, to your summary of what I'm up to. As to your particular quibbles:

–No, by speech I don't mean "revelation." I mean the twofold speaking of Genesis 1: God speaking creation into being, and God addressing humanity personally—however one wants to construe the latter.

–Yes, I'm not meaning to deny that. Not only may we be blind to it (and need that only be because of sin?), but God is free to choose to use this or that existent as a medium of knowing him, or not.

–Yes, agreed about your analogy to the Trinity: analogy is necessarily true but we do not necessarily know it. And agreed about the classical claim regarding analogy's being knowable through natural reason, but apart from the effects of sin, my further claim is that it doesn't seem to me to follow necessarily from the doctrine itself that the doctrine of analogy must be knowable through natural reason. Sin levels this disagreement anyway, in my opinion, but that's my claim.

–And yes, agreed: I've never really known what's at stake in the denial (does anyone deny it?) of prelapsarian natural theology/natural knowledge of God. Particularly if natural theology is not specified such that God is somehow inactive or passive in being known.

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