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At the Heart of All Being

Christ the Logos of Creation:
An Essay in Analogical Metaphysics
By John Betz
Emmaus Academic, 592 pages, $59.95

In this ambitious work, John Betz aims to reinvigorate the place of metaphysics in the theological enterprise, specifically in Catholicism, but ecumenically as well. For him analogy is shorthand for proper theological method, and in its defense he jousts, predictably, on the theological side against Karl Barth (in his debate with Erich Przywara), and on the philosophical side primarily against Martin Heidegger. In the former case, Betz thinks that Barth failed to see the implications of his own position, while in the latter Heidegger lacked the courage to follow the implications of being and language to their true conclusion. Along the way Betz takes the reader on a lively journey through an array of modern Catholic authors and theological loci (after acknowledging the accidental similarity to a work with a similar title by Rowan Williams).

Analogy is first of all to find a similarity between how the creature and Creator can be described, together with the acknowledgment of a yet greater dissimilarity. Betz goes on to argue that the premise for this pattern of continuity and discontinuity is a prior act of self-offering by the triune God who creates the world as gift (e.g., pp. 172ff., 453ff.). There can be analogy, with our minds reaching up toward God because he has first stooped down toward us. (One thinks naturally of Eph. 4:10 and its ascending that is descending). To Betz’s mind, Barth should have been satisfied that the priority of revelation would be a safeguard against metaphysics as a human project such as he thought modern theology in general had become.

Betz (in his treatment of Wittgenstein) eschews what he calls “nominal” analogy for the fuller, metaphysical claim (p. 433). But I cannot help but think that my teacher, George Lindbeck, would both have appreciated this deeply ecumenical work, and would have read it in his own “grammatical” way. Betz by this account is offering a kind of rule for theological discourse: a) avoid univocity and equivocity and b) make sure the “incarnational” moment of divine initiative precedes and enables such speech. In such a way the Cappadocians deployed and overcame Platonism, just as Thomas did the same for Aristotle. It could be argued that Barth himself did this for modern German philosophy, by a kind of “ad hoc apologetics” (Werpehowsky), as may be better seen in his later writings. Theologians have to speak, and in so doing are bound to use someone or other’s philosophical parlance, and, in so doing, should cleave to Betz’s twofold rule. As a result, Barth and Przywara were saying things that were non-contradictory, though leaning to one side or the other of the rule. So a “grammatical” reading appreciates Betz’s point.

This book has something important to say to Christians of all traditions in our theologically lean time. But a review needs a worry, so here is mine. Betz says that it is too little to call Jesus Savior and Redeemer (p. 1!) — he must also be the Word of creation, and so he is. But only by being the latter can he accomplish the former; they are already knit together theologically (Luke 7:48-50). Furthermore there is another account of us humans for which metaphysics is less helpful: the human as sinner. Christian theology is an interconnected web of claims, and hamartiology would add yet another layer of complexity, another gloss on the Scriptures, in whose service all theology, all doctrine, and so, all metaphysics too, are servants.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks, Bp Summer.

    If I were to summarize my intellectual journey over the last two decades I’d say this:

    There are significant realities that are logically prior to Scripture, including liturgy & metaphysics. History shows this: the Church was worshipping in a Trinitarian way before the texts of the NT were even written; Greek philosophy forms the backdrop of OT & NT in all sorts of ways;

    I suppose this means that I’m very sympathetic to Baetz’ posture, though I’ve not read the book.

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