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.↩