Jüngel – God as the Mystery of the World (Part III)

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The fourth and fifth sections of Eberhard Jüngel’s God as the Mystery of the World are nothing short of extraordinary.  How does one possibly attempt to summarize almost two hundred pages of brilliantly and meticulously charted argumentation that outlines the positive mystery of the Triune God?  Well, here is my best shot.

In a sense, Jüngel encapsulates his project with this simple sentence: “If God is one who justifies mankind, then that is already a statement about who or what God is” (231).  All speech about God is made possible by and directly flows from the doctrine of justification.  With this affirmation, Jüngel stands in opposition to much of Christian tradition, which confesses that God is ultimately ineffable and incomprehensible.  While Jüngel highlights the various distinctions between theologians such as Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, Aquinas, and John of Damascus, all of these Church fathers maintained a form of apophatic theology.  One gets the impression that despite Jüngel’s charity and even-handedness when discussing and critiquing apophaticism, he seems rather baffled that the tradition could miss the central truth that belief in justification is already a positive statement about God’s identity.  God justifies humanity through the crucified Christ.  Still, the belief that God’s identity can truly be known is not presumptuous.  In order for humanity to speak about the God revealed in Christ, God must already have revealed Himself in history.  Speech about this God who is historically revealed in the crucified Christ then requires thought about God.  But how is this thought possible?  Here Jüngel offers a Barthian theological orientation.  The possibility for humanity to think about God comes exclusively through the continual event of God’s self-revelation.  Despite these confident affirmations, Jüngel states the goal of theology is to “prevent the misuse” of the word God.  The ever-present problem of theology is how true speech about God can occur while still maintaining true speech about God.  Thus, the pertinent question necessarily becomes this: how can one speak about God?

The path to answer this question is quite laborious yet rewarding. Jüngel, despite his Heideggerian prose, feels like an analytic philosopher at times through his scrupulous and dense writing.  As already mentioned, Jüngel disagrees with the apophatic impulse that God is ultimately ineffable and incomprehensible.  But in agreement with these negative thinkers, God is still a mystery.  The question becomes how exactly this mystery is defined.  Jüngel maintains that God is a positive mystery because this mysterious God “wants to be grasped” (250).  But even in God’s desire to be grasped by creatures, God “can not be resolved, uncovered or exposed” since God always reveals Himself precisely as mystery (251). Jüngel retains the mystery of God, but does not travel down the same path as the Enlightenment in allowing this mystery to lead to the concession that God can’t be known.  Moving forward a bit, the only way that God as a positive mystery can be communicated is through analogy.  God cannot be expressed through equivocal speech (ambiguous) since He can be differentiated from creatures yet God also cannot be expressed through univocal speech (unambiguous) since He is differentiated from creatures.  This leads one forward to the use of analogy.  One thing is certain for Jüngel: analogy is essential for any possible “responsible” speech about God because this is the only means by which correspondence occurs between human speech and the reality of God.  So where is this analogy properly located?  In the Gospel.  The Gospel is the human word, which corresponds to the positive divine mystery through the context of an analogia fidei.  The correspondence is located in the person and work of Jesus Christ: “…the mystery of the God who identifies with the man Jesus is the increase of similarity and nearness between God and man which is more than mere identity and which reveals the concrete difference between God and man in its surpassing mere identical being” (288).  In Jesus Christ, the mysterious God radically displays His desire to be known by His creatures as the One who justifies humanity.

The last part of the book offers a christocentric grounding for a Trinitarian exposition of revelation.  God reveals His identity through the crucified Christ as the One who lavishly loves humanity.  The being of God is love.  Because of this reality, the very task of theology is “to think God as love” (315).  Only in safeguarding the reality of God’s being as love will theology “do justice to the being of God which remains so distinctive from the event of human love that ‘God’ does not become a superfluous word” (315).  This love is not a tautology but an event, which unfolds not only in Godself but also between God and humanity.  The statement God is love (1 John 4:8) finds it’s meaning in the person and work of Jesus Christ as true man and true Son of God.  To be clear, God is still mysterious since He remains invisible outside of Jesus Christ.  God’s invisibility maintains His identity as mystery.  But the mystery of God’s invisibility never negates the truth embraced by faith that God has intimately revealed His identity in the justification of humanity through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Since I have already taken up quite a bit of space, I would like to highlight one aspect of Jüngel’s book, which left quite the impression.  In his treatment of analogy, Jüngel makes the provocative claim that the debate between the analogia entis (AE) and the analogia fidei (AF) is not about the Creator/creature distinction.  This is often how the debate is framed and it is an irresponsible misrepresentation of both positions.  Both AE and AF maintain the Creator/creature distinction.  The question becomes how God’s revelation is known or how speech about God is possible once the notion of distinction is already on the table.  Does humanity come to know God and build the bridge (so to speak) in the midst of the distinction from the side of humanity (through an analogy of being) or is correspondence made possible only through the continual and exclusive self-initiation of God?  I don’t know how this understanding of the common ground between AE and AF existing in the Creator/creature distinction is received.  In my experience, most speak about the AE as collapsing the distinction when the analogy of being is upheld while AF always maintains strict separation.  In Jüngel’s formulation, AF offers a radical “identity” between God and humanity in the man Jesus.  I would be interested to hear thoughts or insights regarding the framing of the debate between the AE and the AF in this way.

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6 Responses to “Jüngel – God as the Mystery of the World (Part III)”

  1. Darren Says:

    This is really fantastic stuff — thanks, Kait. I picked up the book over Christmas and hope to make time to read it sooner rather than later.

    It’s an important observation about the analogia entis that it seeks to cross the Creator-creature divide from the human side, but not to obliterate that distinction. Nevertheless, it still seems vulnerable to the critique that it does so, insofar as the AE presumes that “being” is some thing which the Creator and creatures have in common — even if it is infinitely different. Do you think, or does Jungel suggest, that this point of commonality upon which the analogy rests does not threaten the infinite qualitative distinction between God and humankind? Should we refrain from using the word “being” for both, so as to avoid this (anthropomorphizing?) presumption that God and humans have this thing fundamentally in common?

  2. Kait Says:

    Hi Darren, That is a great question and really gets to the heart of what I find to be unclear. This is where Jüngel becomes provocative to a certain extent. Jüngel states that from the Protestant side of things (meaning those who hold to the AF), “the criticism of the genuinely Catholic doctrine of so-called ‘analogy of being’ (analogia entis) is directed against *the very thing against which this doctrine itself is directed*” (282). This is why the discussions between Przywaras and Barth are so critical since it was later recognized that the AE *ASSUMES* a pre-existing and ungirding AF. Now, even though Jüngel remarks that Barth was concerned with the Creator/creature distinction perhaps more than any other theologian since Luther (282), that was *not* why he still rejected the AE even after the clarification of the preexisting and assumed AF was made. Here is the kicker: “But in contrast with the rest of Protestant polemics, the “late” Barth feared that the so-called analogia entis would not do justice to the difference between God and man by overlooking the *nearness* of God” (282). In some sort of perplexing dialectic, seemingly identical to the one Jüngel makes, the radical Creator/creature distinction is known precisely in the unity between God and man in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  3. Kait Says:

    Also, this is my own synthetic insight, but I can’t help but wonder if for Jüngel and Barth, *even* God’s transcendence can’t be postulated through sheer extension of human reason. God must tell us, christocentrically, how distinct He is from human beings. And we can only know about His distinction through the nearness of the Incarnation. Anything else would defy the post-metaphysical christocentric orientation that both theologians wish to maintain.

  4. David Congdon Says:

    To help clarify matters, I’m going to quote myself from an unfinished essay that I began working on years ago. So apologies if it seems less personal and blog-friendly:

    Jüngel critiques the analogia entis because it ends up making God unthinkable. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215), in its statement that “between the Creator and the creature there cannot be a likeness so great that the unlikeness is not greater” (canon 2), provided Catholic theology with the axiom that has since come to define the analogia entis. Jüngel, following Erich Przywara, simplifies the council’s statement by referring to “the still greater dissimilarity within so great a likeness.” Unlike many Barthians who made the mistake of thinking that the analogia entis compromises the “infinite qualitative distinction” between God and the world, Jüngel recognizes that the axiom of the Fourth Lateran Council makes the opposite mistake. It’s not that the analogia entis fails to protect the difference between God and the world—this is, in fact, precisely what it intends to do—but rather that it fails to protect the nearness of God. As Jüngel says, “the ‘late’ Barth feared that the so-called analogia entis would not do justice to the difference between God and man by overlooking the nearness of God” (282). Jüngel discerns two ways of understanding the distinction between Creator and creation. The way of the analogy of being is to establish an “ever greater dissimilarity,” an infinitely greater unlikeness, between God and the world. Because the scholastics presuppose that God and creation are two species of one genus “being,” they preserve the distinction by making the distance between these two species infinitely great. But this is only a quantitative distinction, no matter how infinite the difference may be. Jüngel exposes this by showing that a truly qualitative difference between Creator and creation would enable God to be intimately near to the world. But this is precisely what the analogia entis cannot account for, and as a result, the God posited by the analogia entis remains unthinkable and unspeakable. In other words, the analogia entis only provides us with “the knowledge of the unknowability of God” (283). “Analogy serves, therefore, to make expressible in speech the unknowable God in his unknowability” (ibid.). This explains why classical metaphysics always stresses the ineffability of God. In this analogical relationship—formulated by Jüngel as x:a=b:c, in which God occupies the position of x—“God is inaccessible, and remains beyond the boundaries of all grasping and any concept that could define him. All talk about him has ultimately no other meaning than to preserve his mystery” (ibid.). In the relations x:a=b:c, Jüngel states that “three of these relata [things related] may be presupposed as known, [while] the fourth will be known only as something unknown” (284). In other words, the analogy of being relates God and the world as entities that are known and defined prior to their relationship to one another. God is already known as that being which exists in “still greater dissimilarity.” The analogical relations are therefore static in nature: they “remain completely external to [the relata].” At the end of the day, the analogia entis fails to think the relation between God and the world as a relationship which creates a new situation—for God, for the world, and thus for language. Nothing new occurs within the straightjacket of the analogy of being: God remains a statically other being who is inaccessible, unknowable, and ineffable. And so Jüngel closes his critique of the analogia entis by suggesting that “its symbol is the night which bears within itself the origin and all new becoming” (285). Against this, Jüngel says that “our task is to develop an understanding of analogy in the light of the gospel whose metaphor would be the rising sun of the new day” (ibid.).

  5. David Congdon Says:

    Here’s some more from that essay:

    The theological ground for the analogy of advent is found in Jüngel’s reversal of the traditional formulation of the analogia entis. Against the axiom that God is the “still greater dissimilarity in the midst of a great similarity,” Jüngel posits the opposite: “The difference between God and man, which is constitutive of the essence of the Christian faith, is thus not the difference of a still greater dissimilarity, but rather, conversely, the difference of a still greater similarity between God and man in the midst of a great dissimilarity” (288). The ontic reality which grounds this theological reversal is the advent of God in the incarnation: “The Christian faith confesses that God’s becoming man, the incarnation of the word of God in Jesus Christ, is the unique, unsurpassable instance of a still greater similarity between God and man taking place within a great dissimilarity” (ibid.). The difference between God and humanity is not a static difference between two entities known apart from the incarnation. Rather, according to Jüngel, the difference between God and humanity is a difference defined by the incarnation as the instance of a still greater similarity. Put differently, Jüngel is here arguing that what is central to the Christian faith first and foremost is the nearness of God to the world, and this nearness—this event of God’s coming to us—is a nearness which determines what it means for God to be different from us. In other words, we cannot define God and humanity as first different, and then figure out what it means for God to be with us and near us in Jesus. Instead, Christian faith knows that God is near us in Jesus, and solely on that basis it comes to understand how God is also radically other than us. For Jüngel, the coming to God to the world is our theological starting-point. God’s advent is thus the basis for theological speech about God, and so he proposes his alternative analogy of advent.

  6. Darren Says:

    Very helpful — thanks, David!

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