Monday, September 14, 2009

Analogia Entis Revisited

The Princeton Theological Review, a journal with a long and fascinating history, recently took up the issue of the analogia entis (Spring 2009), a matter which I've discussed here before. While I summarized the 2008 Washington D.C. conference on the subject with a photograph, others might prefer Benjamin Heidgerken's helpful encapsulation of the proceedings:
The Catholic participants recognized and attempted to avoid the devastating charge that a philosophical analogy acts as a competitor to Christ, the One Mediator. The Protestant participants, for their part, were willing to put some distance between themselves and Barth's more polemical articulations of his position.
Heidgerken continues his article by complaining that even if certain Catholic theologians promote the Christocentric analogy of being, this doesn't mean it has yet percolated into Catholic theology as a whole. Unless this happens, Heidgerken tell us, "the Churches will remain divided." The assumption, happily, is that should this kind of Catholicism emerge, then the churches would reunite. Heidgerken works towards the goal of church unity with an important discussion of Maximus the Confessor's Christocentric analogia entis, one that "explicitly and adamantly defends the gulf between created and uncreated being."

In the same issue, Ry O. Siggelkow also provides a compelling contribution, engaging two - it must be said - brilliant articles by John R. Betz (Modern Theology July 2005 and January 2006). Siggelkow suggests that Betz is unaware of the latest twists in the work of Eberhard Jüngel, twists which advance the analogia entis discussion since Barth considerably. Jüngel, Siggelkow informs us, makes a statement that anyone exasperated by Protestant attacks on the analogia entis will find profoundly refreshing:
[T]he debate about the analogy has usually been carried on within recent Evangelical theology with an astonishing lack of understanding and horrifying carelessness... on the side of Protestant theology, the criticism of the genuinely Catholic doctrine of so-called 'analogy of being' (analogia entis) is directed against the very thing against which this doctrine itself is directed (282).
Jüngel realizes that the analogia entis "protects the holy grail of the mystery, and as such is really the opposite of what Protestant polemics have made it out to be." While a quick read of Summa I.13 could have gotten Protestant critics there much earlier, it's nice to hear such an assertion from a Protestant voice as authoritative as Jüngel's. Protestants were attacking a phantom Catholic doctrine after all. We can therefore lay down the polemics and get back to the business of unity, right?

Wrong. Siggelkow relates how Jüngel resumes the attack on analogy by criticizing the very mystery of God that the analogia entis hopes to protect. Notwithstanding the fact that Aquinas is a rather vigorous defender of the Incarnation, Jüngel insists that "the theological critique to be directed against the great accomplishment of [the Catholic] metaphysical tradition focuses on the fact that in its obtrusiveness the unknownness of God has become an unbearably sinister riddle." Jüngel's alternative to normative Christian theology is an eschatologically charged "analogy of advent," one that is free from Catholic metaphysical constraints.

A point of clarification for the uninitiated: Protestant critics like Jüngel are not arguing over the fact of the advent, to which Catholics would obviously assent; they are instead arguing over the placement and priority of such crucial doctrines; arguing over whether or not such doctrines are sufficiently determinative, over whether or not they have leavened the entire lump of the theological system. It may seem like quibbling, but nuance matters, and these discussions have their place. However, when one considers that such distinctions are the hangers upon which church divisions continue to be suspended, such discussions lose much of their intrigue and appeal.

To summarize, the sad reality is this: Once Protestants railed against the analogia entis because it made God too near. Now, Protestants rail against the analogia entis because it makes God too far away. One wonders, then, if this debate is telling us more about Protestant attitudes towards Catholicism than about the analogia entis itself. But the real irony, at least the one presented by this incisive issue of the Princeton Theological Review, is even sadder: The mystery of Catholic theology that Jüngel calls an "unbearably sinister riddle" is the common inheritance of Orthodox theology, which of course includes Maximus the Confessor. Which is to say, this issue builds an ecumenical bridge, torches it, and watches it burn.

So what of Heidgerken's optimistic proposal that disseminating the ideas of Catholicism's most Christ-centered theologians throughout Catholicism will lead to church unity? My guess is that the churches will remain divided even if there was a papal mandate that "Christocentric analogy of being" be imprinted onto every Catholic eucharistic wafer; for ecumenical dialogue, in our day and age, has become - strangely - an end in and of itself.

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