The Rhythm of Metaphysics
The words ‘metaphysics’ and ‘rhythm’ are not frequently found in the same sentence, let alone the same title. As most attendants of the average undergraduate philosophy lecture can attest, the study of Being is not usually associated with interesting tempo or timbre, nor does it inspire much in the way of dancing. At face value, then, metaphysics and rhythm seem a rather unlikely pair. I would contend, however, that such a creative combination could not be more fitting for the subtitle to Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis: Metaphysics – Original Structure and Universal Rhythm. The interplay of such unexpected elements is essential to Przywara’s project, as he draws the dissonant and diverse into dialectical interplay, improvisationally advancing multiple motifs into a harmonious whole. Likewise, in employing the universal rhythm providing Analogia Entis with its title, Przywara’s writings resonate with a nuance, patience, and erudition that is, unfortunately, uncommon in the often-contentious universes of philosophy and theology.
Despite its influence upon thinkers including Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, and Joseph Ratzinger, Analogia Entis’ potential applications in contemporary philosophical and theological discourse have gone largely unexplored. This is regrettable, as Przywara’s writings provide a welcome alternative to the reductive categorizations and classifications dominating contemporary conversation. Pryzwara is empirical without being an empiricist. He is conscious of historicality and historicity without falling into relativism. He is intimately familiar with the philosophy being written in his time, yet he is not swayed by appeals to novelty. He draws from the history of metaphysical thought, but he is seemingly immune to any tendencies toward nostalgia or stagnation. He has universal aims, yet he does not totalize or violently systematize.
Although he eludes classification along typical intellectual party lines, Przywara falls quite clearly within the categories of ‘philosopher’ and ‘theologian,’ living up to the fullest sense of each term. The central question of Analogia Entis relates to the simultaneous similarity and dissimilarity between God and creatures, and Przywara grounds his response to this tension in both an impassioned pursuit of knowledge and a respect for the teachings and traditions of his faith. In fact, he sees the latter as the culmination of and condition for the former. In his preface to the first edition of Analogia Entis, Przywara points to the formal unity of philosophy and theology, describing his desire “to comprehend the individually diversified fullness of things: a differentiated universalism of the ‘unity-in-tension between individual and community,’” while always maintaining “a radical humbling of every (ontic) end-in-itself of self and community and of every rounded (noetic) calculation under the sovereignty of God: a theocentrism–relativizing all things human–of ‘God in Christ in the church.’”1
In this quotation, we are given a glimpse of Przywara’s dialectical dynamism, as well as his insistence on understanding all of creation as both oriented toward and ordered under God. This theocentric sensibility places Przywara firmly in continuity with the Christian intellectual tradition, and the creativity and craft with which he can approach the question of the analogia entis puts him in the company of the church’s most masterful minds. Mapping and navigating the tensions between ontology and phenomenology, object and subject, being and becoming, essence and existence, a priori and a posteriori methodologies, etc., Przywara suggests that analogy ought to be understood as “the formal principle” of metaphysics. (191)
According to Przywara, analogy is rightly defined as a suspended relation, a tension between two poles, not reified as its position, but always pointing beyond itself. Just as this principle is operative in the doing of all metaphysics, so too creatures reach beyond themselves toward fuller realization of their being, and “[the] liveliness within the ‘self-transcending’ of perpetual becoming is that of Augustine’s ‘restless till it rests in Thee.’”(217) As the source of Being toward which all beings strive, as well as the origin, ground, and condition for the possibility of all that is, God is perfectly in all things, but “it is precisely here, within this greatest proximity, the ‘ever greater dissimilarity [within a similarity between God and creatures]’” becomes most obvious.(426, citing Lateran IV.) The analogia entis is the principle by which the movement of this relation inheres, pointing all creatures toward and situating all things relative to the God in-and-beyond-creation. Despite the similarity inherent in this relation, its rhythm illuminates the primacy of the difference between God and creation, as God alone is first cause, “the creative primordial ground of all being.” (292) Creaturely being is always participatory, dependent, and secondary, so there is a very real sense in which it is “set apart” from its source. (292–93)
The prioritization of difference between creature and Creator may seem at odds with a project so intent on maintaining humanity’s orientation toward God (or, for that matter, philosophy’s orientation toward theology), but it is precisely in the asymmetry of these relations that Przywara highlights the beauty of God’s self-gift. As self-revealing, God offers a theological correlate to philosophy’s orientation from the immanent to the transcendent, a movement matching the rhythm described above, “for the essence of God, from which theology comes and towards which philosophy goes, [is] already the apex.” (189) Although we are never capable of autonomously attaining the end toward which we strive, God traverses this gulf on our behalf, freely giving the revelation culminating in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The divine is always infinitely beyond the creaturely, providing the very possibility of any and all essences, all existences, and all analogies. And yet, through a gratuity beyond limitation, we are invited to know the composer of the universal rhythm by and in which all things live, move, and have their being.
This movement is dynamic, and Przywara’s work exemplifies the corresponding vitality of the tradition from which he draws. His Analogia Entis resources the Church’s teachings, the philosophical developments of his era, and a profound reverence for the person of Christ, drawing them into a powerful polyphony. A robust principle of analogy provides Przywara with the precision to enter into nuanced engagement with diverse thinkers and theories, promoting and transposing a tradition that is always actively reaching in-and-beyond-itself toward the Beautiful, the True, and the Good. As we begin the present symposium, I look forward to the opportunities Przywara’s Analogia Entis will afford our efforts at continuing this dynamic movement, improvising within this universal rhythm.
Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics – Original Structure and Universal Rhythm, trans. John R. Betz and David Bentley Hart (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014), xxiii, emphasis Przywara’s. All subsequent references are in the parenthetical citations.↩
Analogy and the Furrows of Imagination
The analogia entis has a PR problem. As a metaphysical principle, the analogy of being has been rejected by almost all theologians and philosophers of religion since Barth who are not Roman Catholic or associated with Radical Orthodoxy. However, if this problem was sparked by Karl Barth’s rejection of Erich Przywara’s initial articulations of the analogia entis, then the new translation of his mature Analogia Entis by John Betz and David Bentley Hart emerges into a different world in which the conversation has slightly shifted and the players have changed. No longer primarily a Catholic vs. Protestant issue, the cause of analogy has been taken up by a trans-denominational group of thinkers who nevertheless share certain theological and ideological tendencies. They call their theology “Radical Orthodoxy” and they often defend analogy over against, not only Barth, but also philosophers in the continental tradition, which in turn have defended their own immanent ontologies by attacking metaphysical analogy.
Both sides are in part responsible for the current standoff. Certainly, its critics sometimes reduce analogy to a caricature. However, this caricature is in part derived from some of the ways proponents of Radical Orthodoxy describe analogy. They tend to describe it either in quasi-mathematical terms, as a two-tiered system in which God and being have their own proper mode of being with little relation indicated,1 or, in accordance with Neoplatonism, creation appears as the finite expression of God’s self-realization, a lesser form of God’s eternity.2 Words like “order” and “hierarchy” suggest a static relation that keeps creaturely dynamism in check. Even when the significance of motion is suggested, it is as a circular motion that preemptively determines legitimate movements through a top-down structure rather than as new creative expressions.3 This ontology then spills over into a concern for social consensus through political hierarchy,4 and in accordance with this conviction, the objective of Radical Orthodoxy is to “reclaim the world.”5
Whether or not this is an absolutely fair depiction of Radical Orthodoxy, it is the impression shared by many, and it is certainly aided by RO’s own rhetoric. Unfortunately, metaphysical analogy is now almost exclusively associated with this movement and consequently with concepts like hierarchy, order, emanation, mathematical form, and the rejection of time and history.6 Critics object that the analogia entis is a “metaphysics of presence” that denigrates history and the created world, prevents the irruption of the new by holding everything within a system of preestablished possibilities, and closes over cracks and disagreements by forcing a premature eschatological harmony.
This is the reason that the new translation of Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis is so timely and important. The recovery of this articulation of analogy furnishes us with new ways to imagine analogy. I emphasize imagination because I suspect that many objections to analogy are not in fact objections to the doctrine as such but to the particular ways that the idea is presented to the imagination. When we hear “analogy,” the image just described has already formed in our minds according to the repetitive ruts of description that have been given to us.
Przywara breaks these conventions open, and this is appropriate to his belief that one of the functions of analogy is a sort of iconoclasm. As a creaturely construct, the analogia entis is a form that always points beyond itself (190–91). It is not the basis of a finished system, but enables one to see beyond all systems to the ever new (312). For Przywara, this is the implication of “similarity in ever-greater dissimilarity” or “intimacy in alterity,” which is the heart of analogy. These phrases indicate the nature of the relation between God and creature, in which “every closed system of mutual relatedness is exploded by an ‘above-and-beyond’” in accordance with the ever-greater-dissimilarity (287). Analogy thereby frees the imagination to anticipate the new.
So, how can the relationship between God and creature be imagined in a way that explodes closed systems and invites the ever new?
Przywara achieves this by conceiving of analogy, not as a relation between two things—God and creature—the nature of which is known in advance, but as an interplay of movements between two analogies that are themselves in motion. If this sounds complicated, it’s intended to be. Reading the Analogia Entis, it can feel like one is being tossed about on the waves. Przywara’s descriptions of the various movements, orientations, oscillations, and intersections becomes very complex, and one is carried along by these motions, not quite able to grasp onto a solid perch from which these movements could be seen from the outside and articulated as some sort of whole. Analogy is not a static principle; its aim is to indicate the dynamism of the relation as experienced by the creature.
Here is how Przywara uses analogy to indicate this dynamism, best as I can describe it: First, intra-creaturely reality is already, in itself, an analogy, by which Przywara means an oscillation of the creature in its essence-in-and-beyond-existence. The creature is not a circumscribable thing unto itself, but a taking-place that is only held together through an encounter with something beyond itself. Second, the implication of beginning with this intra-creaturely analogy is that the second analogy between the intra-creaturely and the beyond, which Przywara calls the theological analogy, cannot be thought independently of the oscillating, creaturely perspective and therefore also has the form of an oscillating tension, this time between intimacy and alterity: God-in-and-beyond-the-creature. Finally, the encounter between these two analogies—the intra-creaturely and the theological—is the analogia entis. Przywara describes the movements of God’s relation with creation from the perspective of the creature, rather than attempting to directly grasp the internal life of God and then extend this form to creation. The two analogies are not held together in a principle that could be observed at a remove, but through movements in which the human creature is always already a participant.
Rather than a system of preestablished possibilities that denigrates time, Przywara’s analogy is a creaturely, temporal principle. For the creature, it is not possible to grasp the whole of history, truth, and reality at once, but only to move with the current and to allow oneself to be ever more deeply grasped by it. To know is to open oneself to being known (151). The function of the analogia entis is therefore soteriological; it sets the creature free for the movements appropriate to it (310), which in turn opens the creature to the divine, and is not primarily a mechanism for enabling the creature to grasp the nature of reality as a whole. According to Przywara, this means that there is a plenitude of configurations of analogy (310). It is a current that swells into different waves through the tradition of its articulation, always recognizable as a wave but always slightly different in form. Analogy does not grasp the whole of the current but rides it faithfully.
According to the way that Przywara describes it, then, the analogia entis is not a metaphysics of presence. In fact, I think it has more in common with Jean-Luc Marion’s Christian phenomenology than with a metaphysics of presence. In a footnote in his book In Excess, Marion praises Przywara’s Analogia Entis, “despite its title,” for indicating the ever-greater dissimilarity “in an exceptionally strong fashion.”7 Marion associates the ever-greater-dissimilarity with a “pragmatic theology of absence” which is “opposed to the ‘metaphysics of presence’ at least as much as deconstruction is.”8 This pragmatic theology of absence is neither a positive nor negative theology, but “a radical apophasis which, precisely as radical, opens—by means of a paradox that is to be taken into consideration—onto knowledge of another type.”9 Marion here intends to associate his own approach to revelation as saturated phenomenon with this pragmatic theology of absence. Revelation saturates the horizon of creaturely experience, meaning that it is encountered by the creature as an experience, but only as an experience that re-shapes the conditions and contours of experience itself. A pragmatic theology of absence is the attempt to open the creature to an event that cannot be contained within the conditions of knowledge of experience but that nevertheless has an impact on the creature by making possible a new sort of knowledge and experience.
I think Marion is right in suggesting that Przywara does something similar. In the analogia entis, relation at its peak reveals the alterity between God and creature and vice versa. Intimacy—an encounter with God in experience—is the same point at which the confines of experience itself are exploded. The analogia entis can only indicate the movements through which the temporal creature participates in this paradox, movements of harmony, oscillation, and interruption, for the same purpose as Marion, namely to open up the creature to a knowledge of God that is a knowledge of a different sort. The relation between God and creature is primarily experienced and performed, rather than primarily conceptualized (365). It is not a static, logical form, but a dynamic, lived rhythm (308). The rhythmic movements in which humans are always already embedded make up the horizon of experience in which God is encountered, but this encounter manifests as a productive interruption to those everyday rhythms, forming those rhythms in new ways.
So, rather than imagining analogy according to the furrow of a preestablished structure of correspondence between eternity and time, in which created reality is merely a lesser manifestation of the form of eternity, Przywara invites us to imagine analogy differently and in the process, to imagine the role of imagination itself differently. The analogia entis is the rhythm generated by the encounter between the movements of the creature’s relationship to itself and the movements of the creature’s relationship to that which is beyond itself. While it indicates a metaphysical situation, it does so only provisionally, as if indicating a paradox, and always for the purpose of opening the creature to this encounter. Przywara’s expectation is that in the course of this encounter, as it unfolds through time, the ways in which the creature indicates this metaphysical situation will change, as the creature occupies different perspectives. In the end, then, Przywara gives us not just a particular vision of analogy, but a way of imagining doctrine differently. Rather than attempt to articulate a doctrine as a discreet circumscribable object, he approaches doctrine rhythmically, articulating it as a process of moving between perspectives because one can never see the whole from a single position. The “full concreteness” of participation is not a given reality, but achieved only at the eschaton (367). The relationship between theology and imagination is such that theology is always responsible to incite the imagination to reach beyond its habitual furrows, something sorely needed in the current conversation surrounding analogy.
Przywara thus attempts to adopt for theology what Virginia Woolf embodied for writing in general, namely that a piece of writing is a manifestation of the rhythm of a particular person as he or she moves between ideas. In her book The Waves, published only one year before Analogia Entis, Virginia Woolf uses wave imagery to describe how various persons experience and interact with the rhythms of surrounding reality and their own inner experience. These characters are personifications of the diverse and variable meanings that surround rhythm, arising out of the intersection of large cosmic and social movements with individual experience. What Woolf reveals is the difficulty involved in talking about rhythm in any direct way due to the multiplicity of its meanings and manifestations, and its inextricability from the roots of human perception. She writes, “With intermittent shocks, sudden as the springs of a tiger, life emerges heaving its dark crest from the sea. It is to this we are attached; it is to this we are bound, as bodies to wild horses. And yet we have invented devices for filling up the crevices and disguising these fissures.”10 Erich Przywara’s contribution is his using the doctrine of the analogia entis to understand how, in being bound to the wildness of life, we might resist filling crevices and disguising fissures and yet patiently open them up to something beyond themselves.
Stephen A. Long, Analogia Entis: On the Analogy of Being, Metaphysics, and the Act of Faith (University of Notre Dame, 2011), 24–33.↩
John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 295, 410, 429; Adrian Pabst, Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), xxviii, 90–91.↩
Simon Oliver, Philosophy, God and Motion (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005).↩
See, e.g., the previous Syndicate symposium on Milbank’s Beyond Secular Order: https://syndicatetheology.com/symposium/beyond-secular-order.↩
John Milbank, Graham Ward, and Catherine Pickstock, eds., Radical Orthodoxy (London: Routledge, 1999), 1.↩
The most recent version of which is by Daniel Colucciello Barber, Deleuze and the Naming of God: Post-Secularism and the Future of Immanence (Edinburgh University Press, 2014).↩
Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess: Studies in Saturated Phenomena, trans. Robyn Horner and Vincent Berraud (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 158n68.↩
Marion, In Excess, 157.↩
Virginia Woolf, The Waves (London: Vintage, 2004), 40.↩
Przywara on Aquinas’ Analogy of Being
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to give an accurate account of Erich Przywara’s notion of analogy without reference to Thomas Aquinas. Przywara himself traced the beginnings of his interest in the analogia entis to a reading of certain Thomistic texts that emphasize the contingency and sheer gratuity of creaturely being in distinction from the self-subsistent existence of God. A radical differentiation between created and uncreated being that Przywara ultimately grounds in the dogmatic formulation of the Fourth Lateran Council: “No matter how great the similarity of God to creatures, the dissimilarity is always greater.” According to Przywara, the analogia of Lateran IV is elaborated by Thomas as both a theory of predication—or a means of coherently thinking and speaking about God—and as an ontological model of how God as creator relates to his creation. God-talk is regulated along analogical lines because God’s transcendence undermines any simplistic correspondence one may assume to hold between creaturely forms of predication and God’s divine attributes.
Created beings participate in the perfect esse or act of existence of God in various gradations of derivative perfection which all ultimately fall short of the fullness of the divine paradigm, yet this partial participation nonetheless allows for a certain measure of conceptual relationality to be established between the necessarily perfect and contingently imperfect. Long before the Middle Ages, in Metaphysics IX Aristotle had already explored the possibility of that relative relation which also forms the basis for a linguistic comparison that would establish the sort of similitude within the greater ambit of dissimilitude that is analogous predication; a measure equilibriums that delineates how we may say that various things exist in a distinctive yet nonetheless corresponding manner to other things. When addressing this problem of how being can be predicated alike to a plurality of existential modalities, Aquinas similarly responds by pointing out how diverse things that share a common denomination are related to one thing—that is, to a primary ontological referent from which their distinctive existential modalities may be subsequently derived. Accordingly, analogousness designates a similarity of relation—a relational unity-in-difference—which in the case of substances, of things that exist, accounts for both their ontological sameness and differentness by positing an analogy of being predicated on categorization, since when something is said “to be” it is always said in combination with a predicate that catalogs the distinctive existential mode of that being. In other words, one not only can say that an existing entity shares in a common notion of being, but also indicate the particular nature of its distinctive manner of participating in existence.
Aquinas developed this understanding of analogousness beyond the realm of Aristotelian epistemology, since unlike the Greek philosopher, Thomas must account for the metaphysically discontinuous relation of the Christian creator to his creation. For Aquinas, God is not merely the highest or most powerful instance in the order of essences, nor the greatest and most perfect exemplar of being among other beings, but rather the transcendent first universal principle of existence itself, to which the created order, which participates in being precisely by dint of its creaturely status, must relate as to the first cause or prime analogate in a transcendental analogy, an analogia that nevertheless preserves the ever-greater ontic difference-in-unity between divinity and the universe.
This Thomist insight was developed by later thinkers, but perhaps most fruitfully by Erich Przywara, who expands upon Aquinas’ insight that analogicity has both noetic and ontological applications, so that analogy becomes a singularly rich and inclusive principle that enables us not only to predicamentally relate diverse types of experiential realities to each other, but also indicates that our full apprehension of esse is directed beyond itself, since our knowledge of objects within the continuum of existence is never complete, but looks beyond itself to the fullness of reality. As Przywara explains, the analogous nature of human cognition manifests itself in our experience of the multiform plurality of things that participate in being, but which can never be captured by univocal language, since this surpassing diversity of entities exceeds all our attempts to capture the commonality of the actus essendi—the act of being—which ultimately binds the multiplicity of existent things together. Hence, the sheer fecundity and dynamic process of becoming that characterizes the things of this world cannot reduce speech to sheer incomprehensibility, because such linguistic confusion utterly fails to account for the reality of likeness within difference of creation.
Even more fundamentally, the inherent tensions between being and becoming that are apprehensible at the very heart of existence points toward a transcendent unity beyond contingent existence that serves to explain the commonality-in-plurality of the world. In this regard, the other crucial Thomistic insight which Przywara develops in conjunction with predicamental analogy is a profoundly creative understanding of the Thomistic real distinction between essence and existence. A notion he takes up in order to describe the metaphysical condition of the human being as created in relation to a Creator who is at once both intimately immanent to the creature yet also utterly transcendent. Indeed, it is the basis for Przywara’s absolutely central yet somewhat cryptic notion of Sosein in-über Dasein (essence in-and-beyond existence), which stipulates that the human person as an actually existent being is not identical with his essence (essentia), but only tends continually to become identical to that essence during the course of its existence.
As Aquinas memorably postulated, the quiddity (that which answers the crucial question “quid est”—what is it? That is to say, a thing’s essence) is always distinct from its act of existence. In fact, one can think of the quiddity of a horse without knowing whether that particular horse actually does exist. This is because esse is accidental to the quiddity of a horse or any other contingent being, which may or may not exist. The actus essendi of God, on the other hand, is not accidental to his essence, for God’s divine quiddity is identical to his divine act of existence. This entails that in the created order a thing’s quiddity does not cause that entity’s existence.
Building upon this Thomistic breakthrough, Przywara will contend that the fundamental character of the human person may be described according to the analogous formulation that the essence of the human being is some both “in” and “over” existence (Sosein in-über Dasein). In order to explicate this notion Przywara posits two basic tensions or polarities within humanity’s esse, which conforms to the esse/essentia distinction in Thomas. As Aquinas had argued, Przywara contends that the human person is not identical to its human quiddity, a state of affairs that derives at least partially from the irreducible distinction between the act of existence and our specifically human mode of being. As a consequence, humans are never in full possession of their own personal esse; as contingent and created entities, they need something which transcends their limited quiddity to complete their essence.
Unarguably, this crucial definition of the human person as intrinsically incomplete, and hence the locus of dynamically developing event of becoming, thereby derives in part from and builds upon Aquinas’ pivotal observation regarding the fundamental discontinuity between being as such and our particular mode of participating esse. Since we are never in total possession of being, the realization of our quidditative finitude necessitates an ontic reference point beyond the limits of essence to a trans-categorical notion of existence itself, to esse as a transcendental. In point of fact then, the culmination of Thomas’ metaphysical intuition is that relation between essence and existence in the human person is analogical; the realization that our distinctively human mode of being is itself an analogia entis.
For Przywara, this indicates that as humans we perdure as an oscillating tension between two poles, noetic and ontological, that stays precariously open to that which is beyond itself. It is precisely this expansive adumbration of Thomistic analogicity, of existence as comprised of a plenitude of entities, each of which actively presents itself to other real beings through its own distinctive esse, with its own set of characteristic self-manifesting and self-communicating actions, and which in turn receives the actions of other objects upon itself, so that collectively they belong to that almost infinitely interconnected structuring community of actualized things that is the analogically intelligible cosmos; and at its center the human person held in creative tension, balanced analogously between the creator and our creaturely givenness, a suspended middle between two analogical relations, not as a separate tertium quid, but as a description of an intersectional structure of rhythmic motions at both the epistemic and ontic levels of being, which makes Przywara the authentic recipient and expositor of Aquinas’ analogy of being.
Creatures at Hazard: A Brief Introduction to Dialectical Traditionalism
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Erich Przywara does not introduces his notion of tradition alongside the Analogia Entis’s treatment of theological metaphysics. In light of Przywara’s exchanges with Karl Barth (which John Betz’s fine introduction goes a long way to illuminate for even the relatively uninitiated reader), one might expect the topic to arise there in section 4, on the field where reason and revelation would meet. Instead, he introduces it in the prior, third, section, on the tensions between the a priori and a posteriori. Now, the intervening wranglings between Gadamer, Habermas, Ricoeur, and Foucault on questions of understanding, history, authority, critique, and difference might have tempered my surprise. Instead, I found myself flipping to the early pages of Betz and Hart’s translation several times, verifying that in fact this work was first published in 1932. One must admire—even marvel at—such philosophical prescience. But why was my surprise pleasant? Przywara’s anticipation of those later developments in philosophy go some way to confirm my own suspicion that the problem of theological tradition is a special case of a more general, philosophical notion. Przywara has helped me articulate how that notion of tradition is grounded in our creatureliness.
In what follows, I intend to register my appreciation of Przywara’s account of creatureliness, of tradition, and of critical reflection upon tradition as a method. And yet my appreciation radiates from the vantage of our present cultural, philosophical, and theological circumstances, and not Przywara’s. I approach his work not as a historian, but as a fellow philosopher, inquiring after the ground, end, and definition of (our) being through the character of (our) being as established, directed, and determined. Accordingly, I will acknowledge differences between how he formulates the problematic of truth and history, and how the tension of the question is felt in me today. These differences press me, in turn, to press Przywara’s thought on tradition in some directions he himself did not take it. I hope in this way my reading of Przywara on the philosophical notion of tradition can be seen as at once an effort to embody his method of critical reflection and to enrich that method by integrating it with an incipient mentality I have taken to calling “Dialectical Traditionalism.”
Creatureliness, Tradition, and Critical Reflection
Przywara’s formal account of metaphysics can be understood on analogy with Kierkegaard’s formal account of the self in the opening pages of The Sickness unto Death. Any particular metaphysics will be an object within its own philosophical purview, and so will be an account of the ground, end, and definition of being, and that must include its own. Considering metaphysics as an object in this way, it is “a relation that relates itself to itself.” With metaphysic’s self-knowledge (of itself as object) comes cognizance of itself as “giving an account,” and so as produced by an intellectual operation. Considering metaphysics as an act, it is “the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation.”1 On the first side, then, we have what Przywara calls meta-ontics. On the latter, we have what he calls meta-noetics. (119–24.) But as a being among beings, metaphysics is established, directed, and determined by the ground, end, and definition of which it seeks to give an account. The relation that metaphysics is in itself, to return to Kierkegaard’s idiom, is derived from another. And so, while it has the ground, end, and definition of its being as its prius, as its goal, and its ultimate meaning, it cannot leap away from this more fundamental relation to reach its goal. It strives to give its account from the vantage of what is first (the “a” in a priori, Przywara says), but that it must strive indicates that it begins always already after what is first. (133)
Thus is the creatureliness of metaphysics: that it cannot be itself without both an objective and conscious relation to the ground, end, and definition of being, but at the same time it cannot take full compass of that to which it is fundamentally related. That which is superhistorical cannot be excluded, but neither can one bracket out that which is intrahistorical, nor can the two be completely synthesized, for this would lead “either to a historicism of truth . . . or to a logicism of history.” (149) Between the Scylla of radical historicism and the Charybdis of totalizing logical system, Przywara sails his reader on a philosophical current he calls “tradition.” History, in his estimation, cannot be subsumed under a single logical system, nor even sublated within some fundamental dialectic or aporetic, precisely because history is never simply a steady progression. “History displays originary moments,” he says, and what originates attains a qualified superhistoricality. It establishes, directs, and defines not everything about everything, but a course of history that unfolds from its disclosure. But what originates is, because superhistorical, in itself ineffable. As we’ve already intimated, to give an account is already to be ineluctably intrahistorical. Nonetheless, the boundary between what originates and history is not impermeable, or there could be no origination at all. Instead, these originary moments take their historical course, “to some extent” declaring themselves in an intrahistorical development.
Lest we too quickly associate this “original appearing” and its historical unfolding with theophany and its religious responses (Christian or otherwise), Przywara reminds us that the reason he has invoked the notion of tradition is explicitly not to unify the historical manifestations of Truth under a single genealogy. Przywara writes,
By contrast [with an Enlightenment-style notion of progress], “regressive” tradition means an intensified limitation: the limited “thus”—the “So”—of a particular truth (of, say, the Peripatetic system), which unfolds itself not only gradually, but also always only within the limits of its originary form. It is precisely a sober historical account of these “traditions,” however, that shows very clearly that here no inner synthesis between history and truth actually comes to pass. (149)
Invoking tradition pluralizes truth in history. Originary moments are multiple, irrupting through the eventuality of history, and changing its course. Traditions, then, develop those moments, vitally declaring their form “in ever new ways.” (148). Przywara’s notion of tradition, in other words, is an effort to name the creatureliness of truth in history and of the historicity of the creaturely relation to truth. Because metaphysics are formally traditional, there cannot be only one tradition in metaphysics.
This inescapable plurality means that metaphysics cannot rest on the aspiration that, if only it could maintain impeccable genuineness, it might in C. S. Peirce’s infinite long run take being’s full compass or close the gap between history and truth. Instead, Przywara acknowledges that history is not even just perspectival, but is—in the Augustinian sense—distended (distentio) across three perspectives: past, present, and future. 2 Przywara writes:
For the retrospective view of historically conditioned thought, [the historically conscious medium of knowledge] means that [knowledge] must grow out of the tradition, positively and consciously. For the contemporaneous view (looking at the present), it means that this outgrowth of the tradition must be one that is fecundated by being made to live as universally as possible in community with the intellectual motifs of the present. For the prospective view, finally (looking into the future), it means the anticipation of a creative thinking that will not obstruct the flow of historically enduring thought (of a living philosophia perennis) with the unyielding rock of the latest “infallible systems.” (150)
In light of this intrahistorical temporalizing of knowledge, Przywara proposes a method that bands together temporality’s threefold avenues of distraction into a more creaturely aspiration: “to live the life of the sources now, today, in the current that flows from them.” He calls the method that emerges from this effort “Critical Reflection,”
Critical, insofar as one remains conscious of the difference between the way one formulates the question today and the ways in which it was posed by the authors of the tradition. Reflection, insofar as such discriminating critique nevertheless has the positive purpose of making contemporary life sensible to the force of the current of the one tradition. (151)
One shares with the flow of a tradition the memory of an animating, ineffable glimpse at being’s luminosity and from its glint arises each generation’s nexus of questions. “Critical reflection on the original tradition,” Przywara writes, “cannot be prosecuted without an inner knowledge of the objective problems that lie at its foundation.” But in addition to the singularity of each glimpse, there is the compounding uniqueness of each age’s effort to name the tension felt between the Truth and our creatureliness. “[A] treatment of these objective questions,” he continues, “. . . [will be] already intrinsically determined by the thinker’s historical position.” As a tradition develops, then, we can move with its current and get a better sense of its “fundamental law,” at once comprehending something of its truth, but always also “being comprehended” by its source and unfolding. (152)
I’ve gone to the trouble of articulating Przywara’s philosophical notion of tradition because it skirts a number of philosophical and theological disjuncts that seem to have persisted from his age to our own. Still, there remain some correlations implied by Przywara’s notion of tradition he leaves unstated and unexplored, two of which I will mention here. One such correlation is between the received determinations of a tradition’s unfolding and the metaphysical thinker as him or herself an originary source. Another is the correlation between the determinations of a contemporary metaphysics and the mass of future, as-yet-undetermined metaphysicians it faces from behind the opaque veil of inescapable temporality.
Earlier, I mentioned “Dialectical Traditionalism,” a mentality complementary to Przywara’s method of Critical Reflection. With friends and colleagues (several of whom are participating in this symposium), I have been kicking this label around out of dissatisfaction with the present binary on offer. On one side there exists what Bernard Lonergan called “a solid right that is determined to live in a world that no longer exists.” On the other, “a scattered left,” captivated by now-this and now-that vision of unquestioning and unquestionable “progress.” 3 Often, these camps see in those who voice dissent only agents of their opposition, witting or otherwise. The binary is exhaustive in its own self-understanding. In a climate dominated by “right or left,” I’ve wondered if there isn’t anything else. Dialectical traditionalism is one effort to name those efforts (in theology especially) that subvert this binary. Part of its charm consists in that, for now, no one can assume they already know what it means. I want to conclude with some preliminary introductions on Dialectical Traditionalism’s behalf.
In one sense, Dialectical Traditionalism is a species of traditionalism, but in a primarily philosophical rather than theological sense. The traditionality I have in mind for Dialectical Traditionalism is consonant with (if not nearly identical to) Przywara’s account as described above. However, I would want to balance his account by placing a greater accent on the critical side of Critical Reflection. Przywara sketches tradition’s unfolding as a current with which one tries to swim, at once laboring under one’s own power, but foremost being carried along with its originary force. To be traditional, it seems primarily that one must surrender. Now, I am convinced enough by Gadamer’s and especially by Ricoeur’s account of tradition that, at some fundamental level, I don’t think this element of being “carried along” can be avoided. However, this treatment can elide the respect in which each person, in his or her intellectual being, is also a participation in the intellectual light glimpsed in the tradition’s origin. This light is the source of both the objective problematic of a tradition but also of the creative and determinate forms of questioning that give rise to the motifs of an age and the philosophical projects of each thinker, each school.
Dialectical Traditionalism, then, is “dialectical” in the sense that it is mobilized by the dynamism of questions. The greater part of being “carried along” involves active and critical appropriation of the tradition’s intra-historical self-declarations. In one respect, this must be a ratification of the tradition’s current. As metaphysicians work to appropriate their tradition, they find their way of living and thinking calling into question. The sovereign common sense of his or her age becomes doubtful. Its meanings and values are relativized. At the same time, the very process of inquiry that brought the tradition to light can call aspects of the tradition itself into question. Our forebears wagered their finite intellectual being to give account of the originary source in a manner meeting the level of their own times. Some of these risks fail. We feel intellectually and morally obligated to point out those we judge to be (at best) blunders. To make such judgments is not to set out on a witch hunt through the tradition, puritanically disqualifying figures or schools or epochs for their various misdeeds. It is instead to carefully sift that to which should still say “yes” from that to which we must, if we would retain our intellectual and moral integrity, say “no.”
If we remain faithful to Przywara’s account of our creatureliness and traditionality, this saying “yes” and “no” cannot be a critique from beyond our tradition(s). Inasmuch as we referee the risks taken by our forebears, we share their precarious footing. On the one hand, we stand just as blindly facing the future and its judgments. Our intellectual descendants may judge our judgments in the stark light of historical reflection foolish, hasty, immoral, etc. Indeed, were we privy to the unfolding of history, we might share their estimation. But we are not, and so we too risk. And in making judgments about us, they too will risk. Dialectical Traditionalism is thus triply dialectical: our received tradition(s) call us into question, we interrogate them in return, and the results of our inquiry will in turn be called into question by generations to come.
The way in which Dialectical Traditionalism is dialectical also suggests the respect in which it remains a form of traditionalism. That we are called into question by our tradition(s) is, perhaps, a readily recognizable traditionalist trope. On this view, however, our critical interrogation of the tradition is equally traditional. After all, not only is the deposit of the past that which occasions our critical questions, but its effective history (wirkungsgeschichte) constitutes the material resources we can marshal in defense of both our affirmations or our condemnations. An emphasis on our responsibility to appropriate and be formed by our tradition(s), and so to be faithful to them, is also a readily recognizable traditionalist trope. But for Dialectical Traditionalism, this responsibility to the past includes an exigence for critique. Here and now, our traditions’ past places upon us a demand to be (and so think as) some particular, finite, determinate, and historically located person, to be that person in the current that flows from the luminous original source of our tradition, and thus open ourselves up to the “yeses” and “nos” of future judgment. But offering these judgments is a self-concretizing before the other, and so is a risk. But it is a risk we share. It can and should be accompanied by compassion, and so also by a requisite humility—the very humility proper to our creatureliness.
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening, trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton University Press, 1980), 13.↩
See Paul Ricoeur’s excellent exegesis of Augustine’s philosophy of time and the soul’s dialectical play between intentio and distentio in Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (University Of Chicago Press, 1990), 1:5–30.↩
Bernard Lonergan, “Dimensions of Meaning,” in Collection (University of Toronto Press, 1967), 245.↩
Method and Metaphysics
Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis, it must be said from the outset, deserves every word of praise that it has courted in the eight decades since its publication, even if contemporary Anglophone readers are only now slowly showing up on the scene a little breathless and a little late (to borrow a phrase from Bernard Lonergan). The labors of John Betz and David Bentley Hart to bring this work at last into English makes possible nothing short of a reexamination of twentieth-century theology, both what actually transpired in the wake of Przywara’s work, and how that legacy might have been different had he more decisively won the day. This latter issue has been the one foremost on my mind while reading the text. For all the importance accorded Analogia Entis as a source for theologians like Barth, von Balthasar, Rahner, and others, what one finds in its pages is not a pre-conciliar artifact, whose discovery is of interest only to antiquarians. Instead, one encounters a mind that is somehow still ahead of us, a thinker to whom we are still trying to catch up. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in his methodological reflections on metaphysical analysis with which Przywara begins the work.
That Przywara writes of method at all may seem strange to modern readers. Having made the linguistic turn through Gadamer’s hermeneutical phenomenology, theologians and philosophers today have a well-worn mistrust of “method,” imaging it an a priorist project aiming to control the results of inquiry through axiomatic rules and logic or a misguided effort to recast Geisteswissenschaften into the mold of the more successful and respectable Naturwissenschaften. To even utter the word invites accusations of a nefarious Kantian contagion, a kind of modernist poison for which repristination to the pre-subjective is the only antidote. That so rigorously an anti-idealist philosophy like Lonergan’s should be so inaccurately portrayed as an effort of a so-called “transcendental Thomist” to make peace between the Angelic Doctor and Kantian philosophy simply because he uses the word method is a perennial cause of frustration.
Beyond all the suspicion surrounding this oft-vilified term, however, there remains an inescapable exigence at the heart of philosophy and theology, an exigence best described as methodic. It is with this exigence that Przywara begins his work, with metaphysics as a formal problem. Analogia Entis opens from the ambiguity that accompanies all metaphysics, the ambiguity of philosophical analysis. Does metaphysics—as a structured intellectual practice, as a tradition of philosophical reason—begin on the side of the subject, in his or her interrogative performance, or does it instead begin on the side of the object, in its concreteness and unity?
Przywara resists an absolute answer. He, in fact, shows absolute answers to be counter-positional. He does not privilege either a priori or a posteriori analyses as the proper posture of metaphysical science. He shows instead that there are hidden a posteriori elements in any a priori approach, and vice versa—in fact, doubly so. But recognizing that a pure approach does not yield a pure metaphysics does not proscribe of the methodic altogether. Instead, from the very beginning of Analogia Entis, Przywara shows that an adequate metaphysical analysis—one that has come to terms not only with Plato and Aristotle, but also with Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger—will have to take the more difficult route that variously selects both the meta-noetic and and meta-ontic valences of investigation. With the ancient tradition, Przywara affirms that metaphysics is most fundamentally concerned with being as the meaningful unity of all that is, and from Hegel and Hegel’s phenomenological descendants, Przywara asserts that the consciousness of the philosopher is as much a site of philosophical reflection as any object of intentional consciousness.
In Przywara’s analysis, the consideration of twin foci of consciousness and being undergoes a series of what he calls “intensifications.” The initial problem of choosing between the meta-noetic and meta-ontic starting points, dilates into the consideration of the structure of the transcendental (in the classical sense of the True, Good, and Beautiful), and ultimately to the interrelation of an a priori and an a posteriori metaphysics of objects and acts. These intensifications have a sublating relationship, the earlier perspectives are maintained in the later ones, even as the latter go beyond the earlier. In the limit, though, the sublations reach a breaking point; they give way suddenly to the realization of the concreteness of the relationship between the finite and the absolute. And with the recognition of that relationship, new methodic problems arise, ones not confined to the problem of consciousness and being, but emerging from them in unanticipated ways.
Owing to the inescapabilty of the emergence of the question of the finite-infinite relation in metaphysical method, there is a philosophical temptation to immanentize the absolute by mapping the earlier relationships (e.g., the meta-ontic and the meta-noetic, the a priori and the a posteriori) onto the dynamics of finite and absolute. For Przywara, Hegel’s philosophy of absolute spirit is the most articulate attempt at this immanentizing. Despite its ambition, though, all such endeavors, even ones sophisticated as Hegel’s, are eventually refuted by their own contingency, historicity, and finitude, because in the concreteness of the relationship between them, one discovers that the absolute differs from the finite not in terms of degree, but of kind. The disproportion between these orders of being means that, at the end of metaphysics, the philosopher experiences a jarring short step, an impossibility and impracticability only discovered at the limits of the philosophical craft. “Hence,” Przywara writes, “the pure formal problem of metaphysics as such leads to the question of the relation between God and creature” (AE, 157).
With the posing of this question, it suddenly becomes untenable—for methodical reasons—to parse the relationship of the finite and the absolute in terms of the lower perspectives of the meta-noetic/meta-ontic, a priori / a posteriori, etc. Instead, “the only possibility that remains is that of distinguishing it from them” (157). The relationship between God and creation, then, is a philosophical question that arises through the intensifications of philosophical or metaphysical perspectives, yet, precisely because it asks after a super-mundane reality, it intends an answer unattainable through the concepts that provoked the philosophical form of the question. In methodical terms, the philosopher is compelled for philosophical reasons to ask a question whose answer transgresses the performative boundary between philosophy and theology. The relation of between God and creation, as Robert Sokolowski observers, is “glimpsed at the margin of reason” (Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason, 57). This liminality signals the need for both a way of speaking of this mysterious relation—a relation that is also a distinction—and a way of affirming the entitative disproportion between the relata. This way of speaking—both philosophical and theological—is analogy. I’ll leave it to other contributors to parse how and why Przywara does what he does with analogy, but it is important to recognize that his account of analogy follows upon his dynamic interpretation of the praxes proper to metaphysical analysis itself, to those performances involved in asking and answering the questions of being. There need not be a difficulty between advocates of analogy as principally “grammatical,” as a way of thinking and speaking “the distinction” (see David Burrell’s early work on the subject) and those that understand it as the structure of being itself. There is only a problem here if meaning is being’s adjunct, but Przywara’s entire approach reveals such a notion as fraudulent. In the wonderful introduction to the work, Betz suggests that Burrell’s later work on Thomas and Scotus evinces precisely this point, and he is certainly right.
Przywara’s ability to trace out the distinctions and linkages between philosophical and theological analyses corroborates the efforts of Maurice Blondel’s l’Action a generation earlier and Bernard Lonergan’s Insight a generation later. Both Blondel and Lonergan demonstrate how profoundly a formally philosophical analysis of human action or operation proceeds through a series of intensifications similar to those in Przywara’s account. This coincidence keys us into the fact that thinking is not something other than incarnate action. Blondel’s methodic commitment to a separated philosophy, and his focus on human action as a philosophical problem, even on a maximalist interpretation, leads to a philosophy of God, but not, it must be stressed, to a theology. The same can be said for Lonergan’s Insight. His philosophical moving viewpoint advances from an invariant cognitional theory, to an epistemology, a critical metaphysics, an ethics, and a philosophy of God. Yet, Lonergan is willing, in a way that Blondel is not, to move from one abstractive viewpoint to another. And so Insight closes with an appeal to special transcendent knowledge, to the supernatural gifts of the conjugate forms required for the healing and elevating of the human spirit, to the mysterious law of the cross that is the divinely originated solution to the problem of evil. Like Blondel and Lonergan, Przywara is sensitive to the demands of particular modes of inquiry, and while always keeping clear about the mode he is in, his account of meta-ontic and meta-noetic interplay of philosophical methods bring him to the precipice of a theology, and so takes him directly to the thorny issue of the relationship between theology and philosophy in general, and a distinctively Catholic account of that relationship in particular.
The need to clarify what is Catholic in the dialogue of faith and reason occasions Przywara’s engagement with controversial passages from Vatican I’s De filius especially the vexed “duplex ordo cognitionis.” Przywara goes so far as to claim that De filius (at least that anti-Hegelian chapter, “De fide et ratione”) is “the most precise formulation of the method we are here attempting to sketch out” (186). But while subsequent twentieth-century controversies over the meaning of the duplex ordo were couched within more perennial disputes about rationalism, fideism, natural and elicited desires, etc., Przywara calls attention to the intellectual polemics of the council itself, highlighting that the position on faith and reason it put forward is a response to Hegel, and Hegel’s growing influence in Catholic thought. In its Hegelian contestation, Vatican I affirms both the principiis and the methodo of the various distinct (but not separate) departments of human knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. What Przywara highlights, though, is that the stability of the objective principles and subjective methods of the various forms of human inquiry and insight rest on Trinitarian and ecclesial grounds, within the proceeding Word that is the act-from-act procession of the Son of God from the Father: “The profound significance of this, therefore, comes from Trinitarian doctrine: submission to the church is a being-formed-in-Christ, who as the Eternal Son of the Father is the Logos, the Intellectus Sui within the intra-divine life. Thus, what might look like ‘disciplinary cowardice’ is actually a noetic mysticism of participation in the intra-divine procession of Eternal Truth” (187).
Situating Dei filius’s position on faith and reason within a Trinitarian context transcends any interpretation of the duplex ordo that ruptures the theological unity of both reason and faith. But Przywara, by interacting with Husserl and Heidegger, also integrates developments in philosophy since Dei filius and Aterni patris that, as Kevin Hart has argued, subsequent papal reflections on the council and the Leonine program have largely ignored. There is a freshness to his meditations on faith and reason that can and should be instructive for theologians today. Analogia Entis is evidence that the predictable pendulum-swing between the poles of rationalism and fideism need not forever determine the conversation, that a critique of the modern subject need not be a retreat to a premodern subject, that ressourcement and aggiornamento go hand-in-hand, that a Catholic philosophy can be faithful to the past, conversant with the present, and yet remain in large part undiscovered until into the future.
1.7.17 | Anne Michelle Carpenter
Why Analogia Entis?
Erich Przywara (1889–1972) is quite dead. It is a strange decision, then, to feature a work of his at Syndicate Theology, which has spent its efforts exclusively among living authors thus far. And yet, when asked what new book I was most excited about, Analogia Entis, first written in 1932 and revised in 1962, translated into English for the first time in 2014, was the book that came to mind. It was also the one that would not let me leave it aside for the sake of something else. This is a Syndicate symposium on a book written by a dead author, on an old book that is new in English. This is, rather fittingly, a symposium very much about the delicate pairing of apparent opposites.
This symposium is in many ways a ressourcement: we look upon someone who deeply affected the path of Catholic thought in the twentieth century—most notably in the figure of Hans Urs von Balthasar—and whose influence needs to be remembered for a more authentic sense of our own recent history; at the same time, we look upon Przywara not only for an understanding of the past, but more importantly, to help us think in new ways about present problems. I wanted to have this symposium precisely for its collision of opposites, and I wanted to feature Przywara precisely for his ability to navigate them. It is my hope that this symposium can help us to see how Przywara is important to contemporary theological thought both because he profoundly influenced it, and because the elemental form of his thought is decisive for how contemporary thought could be.
Przywara himself is so little known, especially in English, that I asked my friend and colleague Brian Bajzek to provide readers with a brief summary of Przywara’s main work, Analogia Entis. This essay is designed to help readers familiarize themselves with Przywara and to help them participate in the symposium. His essay is available through a link on this page.
John Betz, one of the primary translators of Analogia Entis, has been kind enough to provide an overall response to the panel and its contributors, and his first note to us sets the tone for what is to follow.
The symposium proper consists in several contributors, each of whom—save a couple of exceptions—writes a primary response to Analogia Entis and also writes a response to one of the other panel members. They speak on their own and to one another. It is meant to imitate what a conference panel on Przywara might look like, or to imitate the dialogue of voices Przywara himself employs, and each set of responses is meant to incite further discussion beyond what panelists themselves have arranged ahead of time. Syndicate readers are encouraged to contribute their own responses at each successive turn. Though Przywara himself cannot respond to what each scholar says, his “silence” is meant to be filled both by his text and by contributors.
The symposium’s contributors focus in various ways on “re-sourcing” Przywara, bringing him to bear on problems new and old. Lexi Eikelboom places Przywara in dialogue with the metaphysics of Radical Orthodoxy, presenting Przywara’s version of analogy as the richer and more effective alternative. Ryan Hemmer writes on Przywara’s method, uncovering both its inner logic and its rich potential. Jonathan Heaps takes Przywara to be a major example of a way to go about the project of theology itself, in a method Heaps calls “dialectical traditionalism.” Finally, Gregorio Montejo writes as a specialist in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, and he examines Przywara’s work from the perspective of the theologian Przywara himself gives highest honor.
I want to thank each of the contributors to this panel for their care and effort, for their thoughtfulness and dedication. I greatly look forward to the discussion we have now that the symposium begins.