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Analogous analogies? Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2010

Timothy J. Furry*
University of Dayton, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469-1530,


This article attempts to show that Karl Barth and Thomas Aquinas are not as divergent as often thought. Taking Eugene Rogers's argument as a working hypothesis, I argue for two points of convergence between Barth and Aquinas, specifically on their understandings of analogy. First, both root analogy in christology. Using Christ as the great magister, Aquinas shows how Christ teaches us to see him, despite its difficulty, in his trinitarian divinity. Barth, using the imagery of the prodigal son, discusses how the incarnation places humanity in an ontological relationship within God's own dialogue within the Trinity. Second, both understand analogy as a theological practice, not a metaphysical mechanism or abstract doctrine, though metaphysics and doctrine are at play in their work. Both Aquinas and Barth attempt to train their readers in the judgement necessary to speak truthfully about God. This analogical relationship between Barth and Aquinas I call the analogia Christi.

Research Article
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2010

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1 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics, II/1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963), p. 82Google Scholar.

2 For one critique see McCormack, Bruce, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: Sacred Doctrine and the Natural Knowledge of God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1995). Theologians such as Robert Jenson use Rogers's work as authoritative. See Jenson, Robert, The Works of God: Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 154–64Google Scholar.

4 Thomas Aquinas, p. 7.

5 Thomas Aquinas, pp. 17–70.

6 Ibid., pp. 157–65, for a quick summary of Rogers's conclusions about Thomas's commentary on Romans.

7 Summa Theologiae, I, q. 13, a. 10 cited hereafter as ST. All English quotations are taken from the Fathers of the Dominican Province translation, 1974.

8 ST, I, q. 13, a. 10.

9 Ponitur is the Latin verb Aquinas uses, meaning to be put, placed or set.

10 I want to note I am not saying Aquinas does not do metaphysics. More specifically, I am noting what kind of metaphysic he does not have.

11 David Burrell, Analogy and Philosophical Language (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973), p. 170. For Gilson's discussion that Burrell uses see Gilson, Etienne, The Christian Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Shook, L. K. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956), pp. 103–10Google Scholar. See also Pickstock, Catherine, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 121–35Google Scholar.

12 See ST, I, q. 12.

13 For a fuller account of this critique of analogy on which I am heavily dependent see Burrell, Analogy, pp. 12–20. For a contemporary argument supporting univocity see Thomas Williams, ‘The Doctrine of Univocity is True and Salutary’, Modern Theology 21 (Oct. 2005), pp. 575–85.

14 See e.g. ST, I, q. 13 a. 2.

15 See Leget, Carlo, ‘Christ the Teacher in St. Thomas's Commentary on the Gospel of John’, in Dauphinais, Michael and Levering, Matthew (eds), Reading John with St. Thomas Aquinas: Theological Exegesis and Speculative Theology (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2005), p. 184Google Scholar.

16 Michael Sherwin, ‘Come and See’, in Dauphinais and Levering, Reading John with St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 179.

17 Ibid., p. 181.

18 See Pasquarello, Michael III, Sacred Rhetoric: Preaching as a Theological and Pastoral Practice of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), pp. 7385Google Scholar.

19 Barron, Robert, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (New York: Crossroad, 1996), p. 20Google Scholar.

20 For an erudite account of christological language in Aquinas see Schoot, Henk J. M., Christ the ‘Name’ of God: Thomas Aquinas on Naming Christ (Nijmegen: Leuven, 1993)Google Scholar.

21 ST, I, q. 12.

22 ST, I q. 12 a. 13.

23 ST, I, q. 34 a. 3.

24 Emery, Gilles, Trinity in Aquinas, trans. Levering, Matthew, Buttery, Heather, Williams, Robert and Bede, Teresa (Ypsilanti, MI: Sapientia Press, 2003), p. 152Google Scholar.

25 Ibid., pp. 163–4.

26 Weinandy, Thomas, ‘Aquinas: God is Man. The Marvel of the Incarnation’, in Weinandy, Thomas, Keating, Daniel and Yocus, John (eds), Aquinas on Doctrine: A Critical Introduction (London: T & T Clark, 2004), p. 83. CfGoogle Scholar. ST, III, q. 17 a. 2.

27 See ST, III, prologue.

28 ST, III, q. 40 a. 1 ad. 3.

29 ST, III, q. 42 a. 2.

30 ST, III, q. 42 a. 2 ad. 1.

31 ST, III, q. 42 a. 2 ad. 2.

32 Hauerwas, Stanley, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church's Witness and Natural Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2001), p. 186, n. 26Google Scholar.

33 Ibid., p. 191.

34 Barth, CD, IV/1, p. 192.

36 Hunsinger, George, ‘Beyond Literalism and Expressivism: Karl Barth's Hermeneutical Realism’, Modern Theology 3/3 (1987), p. 215CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37 McCormack, Bruce, ‘Grace and Being: The Role of God's Gracious Election in Karl Barth's Theological Ontology’, in Webster, John (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 96–7Google Scholar.

38 Barth CD, IV/1, pp. 184–5. Neil MacDonald does put the matter in more epistemic-ontological terms: for Barth there can be no distinction between God and his revelation. As MacDonald puts it, ‘God reveals Himself through Himself with the result that God reveals Himself’. In other words, revelation is not something that merely points to or ‘mediates’ God; it is God himself. If God's revelation were not himself, humanity would be left trying to find God on our own terms – the natural theology that Barth repudiated. MacDonald, Neil, Karl Barth and the Strange New World within the Bible: Barth, Wittgenstein, and the Metadilemmas of the Enlightenment (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2001), p. 149Google Scholar.

39 CD, III/2, p. 135.

40 CD, III/2, p. 132.

41 CD, IV/1, p. 480; see also Krotke, Wolf, ‘The Humanity of the Human Person in Karl Barth's Anthropology’, in Webster, John (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 161–2Google Scholar.

42 CD IV/2, pp. 344–5; cf. Krotke, ‘Humanity’, pp. 163–4.

43 The section that follows is greatly indebted to Webster, John, Barth's Ethics of Reconciliation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)Google Scholar.

44 CD, IV/1, p. 101.

45 CD, IV/2, p. 500.

46 CD, IV/2, p. 513.

47 Karl Barth, CD, The Christian Life, IV/4 Lecture Fragments, pp. 50ff.; hereafter cited as simply IV/4.

48 CD, IV/4, pp. 50–1.

49 CD, IV/4, p. 56.

50 CD, IV/4, p. 63.

51 CD, IV/4, p. 64.

52 Mangina, Joseph, Karl Barth on the Christian Life: The Practical Knowledge of God (New York: Peter Lang, 2001), p. 172Google Scholar.

53 For a further discussion on the Christian life being a participation in the life of the Trinity see Karl Barth on the Christian Life, pp. 65–75.

54 Hauerwas, With the Grain, p. 174.

55 Ibid., p. 179.

56 Ibid., p. 184.

57 I am indebted to Michael Pasquarello III for helping me put the matter in this way.

58 A previous version of this article was delivered at the Lilly Fellows Program National Research Conference in coordination with the Pruit Symposium, Baylor University, 10 Nov. 2006. I am grateful to those who offered advice and suggestions for improving the article, particularly David Burrell, Eugene Rogers and Brad Kallenberg. I also want to thank the University of Dayton Graduate School for funding the research of this article.

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