Tuesday, 14 November 2006

The analogia entis makes a comeback: David Bentley Hart

This week’s meeting of the Karl Barth Society of North America sounds excellent, and the session on David Bentley Hart will no doubt be of great interest. Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) is one of the most important and brilliant theological works of recent years – so if you haven’t yet managed to read it, this might be a good opportunity. On Saturday there will be papers by George Hunsinger and Archie Spencer, with a response by Hart himself, on the topic: “The Analogia Entis Makes a Come-Back – David Bentley Hart.”

Karl Barth famously remarked that the analogy of being (analogia entis) is both “the invention of antichrist” and the only good reason for not becoming a Roman Catholic. And in a shrewd reversal of this statement, Hart suggests (p. 242) that the rejection of the analogia entis might in fact be “the invention of antichrist” and “the most compelling reason for not becoming a Protestant”!

Hart is not, however, interested in reviving “any naïve natural theology.” For him, the analogia entis has nothing to do with an essentialist analogy between created being and divine being: “the analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogization of being in the difference between God and creatures; it is as subversive of the notion of a general and univocal category of being as of the equally ‘totalizing’ notion of ontological equivocity.” (pp. 241-42).

Being itself always already differs, and our being lies before us “as gratuity and futurity,” so that “the analogy of being … is the event of our existence as endless becoming” (p. 243). In this event of becoming, we participate in the beauty of God’s own infinity: “God is the infinity of being in which every essence comes to be, the abyss of subsistent beauty into which every existence is outstretched” (p. 245). Precisely as we participate in God, our own differences are accentuated ever more sharply – indeed, Hart suggests that the eschatological kingdom itself will simply be “the endless liberation of difference into the light” (p. 400).

For Hart, therefore, the analogia entis does not concern my being as such, but rather the event in which my act of being participates in God’s transcendent act of being and thus receives from God its own otherness and particularity. The analogia entis thus describes my freedom to be, my emancipation from the totalising violence of identity (p. 245).

Ironically, then, while the analogia entis has often been understood as the reduction of differences to some essential similarity (e.g. that God and creatures share in common something called “being”), Hart brilliantly reverses this line of thought, so that “the analogy of being finds truth in the ever greater particularity of each thing as it enters ever more into the infinite that gives it being” (p. 247). Or, to put it more sharply: the analogy of being describes the triumph of the infinite over every kind of totality. Hence, although Hart seldom uses the term “analogy of being,” one could perhaps argue that the reformulated analogia entis is really at the core of his entire dogmatic proposal.

What will contemporary Barth studies and contemporary dogmatics make of all this? I for one would love to know! So if you happen to be there for the Barth Society Meeting this week, please feel welcome to drop me a line afterwards with some details about the discussion.

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