A Christological “Analogy of Being”


I am still thoroughly enjoying D. Stephen Long’s book, Saving Karl Barth. He is illuminating the central questions with which I have been wrestling for the roughly ten years that I have been studying theology. And he manages to do this with admirable clarity.

As with the previous post on the book, I will provide a relatively self-contained excerpt, though it should be remembered that this is part of a much larger discussion. This is from the chapter on the doctrine of God (ch. 4), where Long again revisits both “Thomist Ressourcement” of recent years and another extensive critique of McCormack’s post-metaphysics, following from the third chapter. I was very tempted to provide something from Long’s engagement with McCormack’s work, but it would require too many extensive quotations to do it justice. But on a related front, here is Long’s summary explication of Balthasar’s “Chalcedonian analogy of being”:

Balthasar never rejected the duplex ordo of Vatican I, nor did he argue that metaphysics conditions revelation in Garrigou-Lagrange’s strong sense. He defended metaphysics and natural theology on Barthian grounds. For Balthasar, Vatican I’s twofold order of knowledge takes Christ’s two natures as its starting point. Metaphysics does not condition theology, as if human nature could condition God. In fact, if human nature conditions God, the neoscholastic position does not significantly differ from a radical Barthianism where Jesus Christ elects God. Both positions differ from the logic found at Chalcedon, in which the two natures come together into a unity without God ceasing to be God or creature ceasing to be creature, but in such a way that God conditions creatures without creatures conditioning God. The doctrine of the an- and enhypostaton affirms the nonreciprocity between God and creatures. The man Jesus has a human nature without a human hypostasis; his hypostasis is in the Second Person of the Trinity, which is why for Aquinas and Barth any analogy between God and creatures cannot be reversed. The analogia entis tells us how creaturely being depends upon God without in any sense affirming God’s being depends on creatures.

Chalcedon presupposes intelligibility to both human and divine natures. They remain unconfused even when in Christ a single subject acts in both natures, but this single acting subject, who acts in two natures, requires that “nature” is understood as a theological concept, as Balthasar taught. Philosophy offered nothing like a single acting subject in two natures with one hypostasis; revelation required it. It is a theological concept, however, that then marks out a space for metaphysics. It also shows a “limit” to nature, which Balthasar also taught. We know nature by abstracting from what we do know about God and reminding ourselves that God is not a creature. Balthasar stated, “The theological concept of nature, which can be obtained only by the way of abstraction, is primarily a negative, limiting conception.” This does not make it a “vacuole.” There is a limit that distinguishes nature from grace; neither is collapsed into each other. The decisive question is how firmly this limit can be drawn, as if we can say everything on this side is nature and everything on the other is grace. Balthasar simply refuses to draw such a line.

For Balthasar, “everyday reason” thinks it can draw the limit precisely, but the more it tries, the “more difficult” the task. What constitutes something “natural” over and against the “supernatural” often eludes us because God’s creation is “always already graced.” But a limit is acknowledged. Grace is not nature, nor is nature grace. Liberal Protestantism collapsed grace into nature where affirming nature (or culture) was affirming grace. Barth saw the consequences of this collapse in all its horror in Germany in the 1930’s. Balthasar feared another version of it occurred after Vatican II among Catholics (without the horrifying consequences of the German Christians but also without the capacity to be critical of culture or nature rather than always blessing it). At its worst, Barth’s early reaction to liberal Protestantism reversed the polarities, evacuating nature and turning it into grace. The only agent was God’s electing grace. Take for instance Keith Johnson’s interpretation of Barth’s opposition to the analogie entis. He writes, “For Barth, there simply is no natural capacity for faith, nor is there any inherent capability to hear and understand God’s revelation.” The only agent is God. Here is a strong rejection of any language in which metaphysics conditions revelation. Instead, for this postmetaphysical interpretation, any such natural capacity “is given to the human anew and afresh in each moment in the event of God’s self-revelation.” Balthasar thought otherwise. Citing Barth, he wrote, “faith awakens ‘man to an action that is proper to him. This action not only lies within the scope of created nature, it actuallly corresponds to the highest natural determination of his creatureliness’ (understood once more in the concrete Augustinian sense.) The model for how the act of faith relates to human nature is the Incarnation.” That faith is not an “inherent capacity” for faith is not true of these traditions. If there is no natural capacity, then the only acting subject is God, and the unity of divinity and humanity in Christ cannot be communicated. Human creatures are redeemed by evacuation of their creatureliness and not by a creaturely participation in divinity.

[Saving Karl Barth, pp. 159-161. Long is quoting from Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth, sometimes translating from the German edition. The Keith Johnson quote is from Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis, p. 168.]

It should be noted that Long is careful to distinguish where Balthasar goes further than Barth and challenges Barth, which will presumably become more pronounced in the following chapters on ethics and the church.



  1. Good interaction between the different traditions here. I think there’s something to be said for the idea of theological concepts marking out space for metaphysics – David Bentley Hart has made similar points as well.

    • Yes, that is what I’ve gleaned from Hart, the little I’ve read so far. If metaphysics is rejected wholesale, as is common among certain folks coming out of Princeton Seminary or those overly fond of Lutheran existentialism, then there is no possibility whatsoever of mediating between the traditions. I don’t see Rome or the East accommodating, in any substantive way, to nominalism, historicism, and rationalism — however supposedly Christo-centric and “objective” it may present itself. The object of faith has creation as its content, which is something that existentialists will never understand or accept, for fear of idolatry at every turn.

  2. So, I’ve added this book to my wish list now…..hmmm. Long’s book does seem like an important resource in providing a fresh lens with which we can view Barth’s thought. I especially liked this phrase: “Metaphysics does not condition theology” – could we say that this could be restated as: theology should never be surrendered to ideology?

    There seems to be a loud criticism of a Barth given because of negative experiences with a theological ‘culture’ surrounding Barthian theology. This seems to be resulting in a rejection of Barth’s work. e.g.:http://www.faith-theology.com/2013/09/on-not-reading-karl-barth-anymore-white.html (particularly interesting reading is provided in the comments). Not sure if you’ve read this Kevin. To me it is more a criticism (or rejection) of academic arrogance than a total rejection of Barth.

    BTW: Ten years studying theology? congrats bro. I am only starting my sixth and haven’t lost a love for how relevant, broad and inclusive every avenue – even the less exciting ones, are.

    • Yes, ideology, like metaphysics, should not condition theology, but an ideology can be anti-metaphysical (in its own self-understanding) as with Ritschl or, most obviously, the materialist Young Hegelians…or the American Pragmatists, and the list could be much longer.

      Yes, I am familiar with the piece on Myers’ blog and the original one at WIT. I encourage those who favor contextual theologies and identity theologies to eschew Barth, as they should. At best, they like the early Barth because he serves their interest in unmasking the powers, and maybe they like Barth’s rejection of natural theology because it serves their interest in unmasking “essentialism.” There can be some value in all of this, of course, but I am opposed to these projects on the whole, to put it mildly. And, once again, I am happy to see Barth distanced from them.

      The perceived “arrogance” can be applied to anyone, whichever theological camp he or she chooses. I assure you that critical theory and liberationist types are not exactly the most heart-warming crowds when it comes to those with whom they disagree.

      Continue with the studying!

      • Thanks. Yes, that arrogance is encountered in most fields, was worked out in the comments section of that blog post. Further study is on the cards, just now I’m finding a need to pinpoint a specific direction and translate that into an job.

    • By Barth: I recommend R. Michael Allen’s edited volume of selections from the Church Dogmatics. The selections are well-chosen, cover the whole spectrum of the CD, and are introduced by Allen for the newcomer.

      About Barth: I recommend Joseph Mangina’s Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness, which is just $5 at christianbook.com. Also, though it is beyond “mid-level,” Balthasar’s book on Barth is the best treatment of Barth…ever…bar none.

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