In this series of “illuminations” I will be citing passages that I have found particularly instructive from the essays collected in The Hidden and the Manifest, followed by a question or brief comment. I hope they will generate good discussion.
“I regard the analogia entis as the invention of Antichrist,” Karl Barth famously pronounced in 1932, “and I believe that because of it it is impossible ever to become a Roman Catholic, all other reasons for not doing so being to my mind shortsighted and trivial” (Church Dogmatics I/1). David Bentley Hart, however, believes that Barth has misunderstood the point of the analogy of being and has sought in his writings to retrieve it from the metaphysical abyss into which Protestant (as well as some Orthodox) theologians have cast it. So what is the point of this controversial teaching?
At its most elementary, what [Erich] Przywara calls the analogia entis is simply the scrupulous and necessary rejection of two opposed errors, each the mirror inversion of the other: the equally reductive and equally “metaphysical” alternatives of pure identity and pure dialectic. For neither approach to the mystery of God—neither the discourse of God as the absolute One nor the discourse of God as the absolute “Wholly Other”—can by itself truly express the logic of divine transcendence; both resolve the interval between God and creation into a kind of pure and neutral equivalence, somehow more original and comprehensive than that difference, and so more original and comprehensive than God in himself as God (though this is perhaps easier to see in the case of the metaphysics of identity).
As Przywara understands the analogy, it is first and foremost an affirmation that creation comes about ex nihilo, and that God therefore is not merely some “supreme being,” but is at once utterly transcendent of all beings and also the only source of all beings. Thus the analogy presumes what no self-sufficient and perfectly systematic metaphysics could ever properly admit into its speculations: the radical contingency and nonnecessity of the created order. One cannot begin to understand the principle of the analogia entis unless one first grasps that, before all else, it is the delightful and terrible principle of the creature’s utter groundlessness; it is the realization that we possess no essence, no being, no foundation that is not always, in every moment, imparted to us from beyond ourselves, and that does not therefore always exceed everything that we are in any moment of our existence. Or, said differently, essence and existence never coincide in us as they do in God, but subsist, from our perspective, only in an altogether fortuitous synthesis, and are given to us at once, separately and together, in a movement of purest gratuity, from a transcendent source upon which we have no “natural” claim. Thus the sheer dynamism of creaturely existence … can never be resolved into the stability of any ground of identity belonging to us; only in him do we live, and move, and have our being. … Before all else, one must grasp that, for Przywara, the ontological analogy does not treat “being” as some genus under which God and the creature—of the infinite and the finite—are placed as distinct instances. Quite the reverse, in fact: it is precisely being that is to be understood as analogous; and it is precisely any univocal concept of being—any notion that God and creatures alike are “beings” comprehended by “being as such”—that the analogia entis, as a principle, denies. The proper proportion of the analogy, after all, is that of the maior dissimilitudo (or as Przwara would prefer, the semper maior dissimilitudo) that separates God from any creature. So, transcendence is God, one might say, that even being—that barest, most basic, most primordial of attributions—is only analogous between him and his creation….
Nevertheless—and this touches upon the other “false path” to transcendence—the being of the creature must indeed be analogous to God’s pure act of being; otherwise, all talk of God would be confined within an arid dialectical theology of the “Wholly Other” so extreme as to posit—even if only tacitly—a logically absurd equivocity of being. Absolute otherness is not transcendence, but merely a kind of “negative immanence”; for true transcendence must be beyond all negation. If creation were somehow something simply “outside of” or “other than” God, like one object outside another, then logically one would have to say that there is something more than—something in addition to—God; God, thus conceived within whatever wider abstract category is capacious enough to contain both him and his creatures under its canopy, without confusing their several essences (and inevitably that category will be called “being,” in the barren univocal sense). It is one of the great oddities of most debates concerning the analogia entis that those who reject the principle in order to defend God’s sovereign transcendence against the encroachments of human reason are in fact effectively denying God’s full ontological transcendence and replacing it with a concept of mere ontic supremacy. If being is not susceptible of the interval of analogy (even though it is an interval of ever greater unlikeness), then God and creation exist in a reciprocal real relation to one another, which means an extrinsic relation between two mutually delimiting objects; not only is this a degrading concept of God, but inevitably it must presuppose the mediations of some tertium quid, some broader context of “reality” that somehow exceeds the difference between God and creatures. Nor is it enough to answer such concerns with the essentially magical claim that the “divine will” alone mediates between God and world; for, unless God is understood as the ontological source and ground of creation, creation itself must be understood as a thing separate from God, founded upon its own potentiality, and the creative will of God must then be understood simply as the spontaneous and arbitrary power of conjuration possessed by a very impressive—but still finite—divine sorcerer. (“The Destiny of Metaphysics,” pp. 98-100)
Why an analogy of being? Because of the radical difference between that absolute reality in whom existence and essence coincide and the contingent beings he has made from out of nothing.