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Book review: Christ the Logos of Creation: An essay in analogical metaphysics John R. Betz

09 February 2024

Two theologians here for the price of one, Andrew Davison finds

ERICH PRZYWARA (1889-1972, pronounced Pshi-va-ra) is re-emerging as one of the 20th century’s most significant theologians. John Betz is his best advocate and interpreter (having translated his Analogia Entis with David Bentley Hart) and an important writer on his own terms, not simply a guide to this great Polish Jesuit.

Analogia entis means “analogy of being”. The phrase picks up Aristotle’s comment that we use the word “being” (or say that things “are”) in different but related ways: as when we say that a dog is and then say that it is brown. Theology extends that, in talking about the being of God (the great “I AM”), and saying that creatures have their being from God. Betz’s book is about being in its various guises, and especially about the relations between them.

Karl Barth decried any talk of analogy between God and creatures, as risking an extrapolation from creatures to Creator. Here, unfortunately, Barth did not do justice to Przywara’s thought. Betz shows the profoundly Christocentric character of Przywara’s work, which would have made a collaboration with Barth all the more fruitful. (Nevertheless, just as Betz should not be reduced to a bit part in Przywara’s drama, neither should Przywara in Barth’s.)

In typically Jesuit style, Przywara concentrated on the events of Christ’s life, not on abstractions (though Przywara was no stranger to abstraction). It is striking how often sin and redemption are in view, and yet almost always by attending to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, not through a doctrine of atonement.

On the Trinity, Betz’s central question is what Christ’s life, lowliness, and suffering tell us about God, Przywara mediating between Hans Urs von Balthasar (for whom God is humble, and we can speak about eternal self-abasement in God, even a woundedness of love) and Balthasar’s Thomist critics (who think that Balthasar sold the doctrine of God down the river). Betz criticises the Thomists for theological vandalism, but castigates Balthasar only lightly, for being incautious.

In contrast, I came to this chapter wary of Balthasar, and this chapter served only to confirm that, not least because the account of love which Balthasar reads back into God is so often unhealthy, lying closer to Tristan und Isolde than to the less dramatic but more valuable idea of love as a calm, creative, long-term project. Yet I cannot doubt Betz’s eagle-eyed perception, of heart as well as intellect; so I will return to that chapter expecting that I have more to learn.

A Roman Catholic of profoundest commitment, Betz is also a remarkable ecumenist. Analogy sees difference in similarities and similarity across differences; it gathers up and relates. These essays are full of ecumenical ingathering, whether from close fellow travellers (among them Johann Georg Hamann, Rowan Williams, John Milbank, or Catherine Pickstock) or from others whose criticisms he finds at least as helpful as the resources that they offer (among them, Luther and Barth).

Betz’s book has a foot in both philosophical theology and doctrine. It offers a profound justification for doctrine’s need of philosophy. Even more, he is concerned to show that Christianity is the theological consummation of philosophy, not vice versa.

The book covers religious language and revelation, God and creation, the Trinity, nature and grace, the sacraments, sin and redemption, and Christology. The emphasis is on analogy within each doctrine, but it cannot help also attending to analogies between doctrines, which I found particularly worth while. This is one of those books that moves the conversation on for a whole raft of topics at once.

Canon Andrew Davison is the Starbridge Professor of Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow in Theology and Dean of Chapel at Corpus Christi College.

Christ the Logos of Creation: An essay in analogical metaphysics
John R. Betz
Emmaus Academic £49.32

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