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Betz on Przywara

I’ve just finished reading John Betz’s two-part article called “Beyond the Sublime: The Aesthetics of the Analogy of Being” (Modern Theology 21.3 [2005]: 367-411 and 22.1 [2006]: 1-50).  Although it’s long for an article, it’s impressively short given what it accomplishes.  In the first place, Betz provides one of the clearest, most concise, and in my opinion most accurate interpretations and defenses of Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis (1932) that I have encountered.  Although Betz is perhaps a little more unsympathetic to Barth and Heidegger than one might hope (if one wants the most balanced possible assessment), nevertheless I think he does show clearly that Przywara’s position is much more subtle than these influential critics allow.

Secondly, Betz demonstrates Przywara’s relevance for today by deploying his theory of analogy in an argument against the (post-Kantian) conflict between the beautiful and the sublime and the totalizing (post-Heideggerian)  preference for the latter.  Essentially, Betz suggests that Przywara teaches us to see two things: (1) the analogical relationship between beauty and sublimity, in such a way that both are preserved, and (2) the greater theological analogy between the beauty/sublimity of the ever-greater God and the beauty/sublimity of creation.  In these two ways, Przywara corrects the modern and postmodern aesthetic preference for purely immanent secular sublimity which has excluded both beauty and transcendence.

Betz’s aesthetic reading of Przywara is an innovation, but one consistent with Przywara’s doctrine regarding the unity of the transcendentals (truth, goodness, and beauty).  The creativity of the argument does not, then, entail any eisegetical missteps.  On the contrary, it seems to attest to the astonishing pliability and yet usefulness of Przywara’s original concept, which he would have tended to express more generally in terms of (1) an inner-creaturely analogy in which essence is to be sought in-and-beyond existence and (2) a vertical analogy from God to creation (and only thereafter back to God) in which the divine mystery lives above-and-within creaturely being.  The only step that Betz needs to make is an interpretation of essence as sublime (precisely insofar as it remains beyond us) and existence as beautiful (precisely insofar as its essence really does become manifest within the particular forms of our experience).

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