Stephen Webb’s recent article, “The End of the Analogy of Being,” follows a now familiar pattern. Webb sets forth a characterization of some thinker that bears almost no resemblance to what that thinker said, and, on consulting that thinker’s works, I usually find him to be saying the exact opposite. Webb is hardly ever clear, when he attributes a belief to someone, if that belief is explicitly held or a consequence (welcome or otherwise) of that thinker’s views. And, if the latter, Webb never says what the specific propositions are that lead to the portrait Webb paints.
In “The End of the Analogy of Being,” for example, Webb chides John Betz for saying that for Przywara “there is an analogy between the unity of essence and existence in creatures and the unity of essence and existence in God.” Instead, Webb says, Przywara holds the opposite, viz. “that our incomprehensibility to ourselves is the negative reflection of God’s infinitely rich being.”
You might be wondering how the foregoing phrases are any more opposed than “Kant is an idealist” and “Kant liked to stretch his legs daily.” One could hold both of them without contradiction, and if Webb thinks that auxiliary premises of Przywara’s render these inconsistent, he should say what they are. As it is, he doesn’t.
But more importantly Przywara obviously does believe there is an analogical relation between the unity (a dynamic unity, not an identity, which Betz recognizes) of creaturely essence with creaturely existence on the one hand, and God’s essence and existence on the other. And he says so. Przywara even charted it out helpfully on page 160 (of the English translation) and later spends a good chunk of Part 6 expounding on precisely this! Frankly, I can’t see how someone who has actually read Analogia Entis could have missed this.
But this was not all that flew below Webb’s radar. Webb declares “I want to point out that there is actually no specific analogy of God to be found in this book, let alone any help in distinguishing between better and worse analogies.” This is quite like reading War and Peace and reporting no evidence of Russians.
In fact, Przywara discusses multiple analogies–not every analogy is the analogia entis–and it is not hard to find the ascending analogy (discussed, for example, at 206-213), the descending analogy (discussed, for example, at 213-219), Aquinas’ analogy between pure potentiality and God as pure act (from 219-230, among other places) and the analogia entis (discussed at 231ff, among numerous other places). Przywara even draws helpful charts of the analogies (see e.g., 190).
Webb also declares that Przywara never offers any help “in distinguishing better and worse analogies.” Perhaps uncharitably, this makes me wonder if Webb is confusing analogies with metaphors. The fact that Webb never mentions the taxonomies of analogy or how they fit into Przywara’s argument lends some support to that suspicion. In fact, Przywara does discuss which sort of analogies are best suited to show the relation between God and the world (e.g., on 232 he opts for the analogy of proportionality over the analogy of proportion).
Indeed, one finds not a trace of recognition of the differences between the analogy of attribution and the analogy of participation, for example. Perhaps Webb understands these perfectly well and has good arguments about them, but he never offers his readers a hint of what these arguments might be, requiring sheer faith in spite of the textual evidence. And Webb’s claim that an ever greater dissimilarity “nullifies” any similarity within the analogy between creature and creature betrays an ignorance of what the analogy of proportionality is. Or else, Webb has some argument against the analogy of proportionality hidden away somewhere, but does not reveal or even allude to it.
And, in the end, that is the problem. One can’t tell how Webb’s explication of Przywara actually relate to what Przywara said, or what Webb’s arguments for the “end of analogy” are or even might be. It seems that any possible similarity between Webb’s characterization of Analogia Entis and the work itself are always infinitely exceeded by an inexplicable dissimilarity and where one looks for coherent premises, one finds only silence.