Erich Przywara: In Memoriam

Occasionally great thinkers are neglected and sometimes forgotten. Sometimes this is a function of the philosophical trends of the time or the theology à la mode; sometimes it is a function of the difficulty of the thinker in question or the lack of a sufficiently popular style; sometimes, too, it is a function of categorization (e.g., is the thinker in question a philosopher, a theologian, a literary and cultural critic, or perhaps a poet?); and sometimes it is a function of all these factors, which together conspire to produce a perfect storm of obscurity. Such is the case with the remarkable Jesuit philosopher, theologian, critic, and poet Erich Przywara, S.J. (1889–1972), who is virtually unknown today except as a quondam interlocutor of Karl Barth or a mentor to Edith Stein and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

In their eyes, though, he was perhaps the most brilliant Catholic philosopher-theologian of his time, whose work decisively shaped their own. As Barth described him in 1929, Przywara was “the giant Goliath incarnate” in comparison with whom all his other opponents were “dwarfs.”[1] For her part, Stein’s Finite and Eternal Being grew out of an intensive dialogue with Przywara and his Analogia Entis (1932).[2] And Hans Urs von Balthasar, who knew him best, goes so far as to say that Przywara was “the greatest spirit” he ever knew, whose “profundity and breadth is without comparison in our time.”[3] Others, too, were profoundly influenced by him. As Karl Rahner put it in 1965, “For the Catholics of Germany in the twenties, thirties, and forties [Przywara] was considered one of the greatest minds. He had a great influence on all of us when we were young.”[4]

To be sure, after the Second World War, Przywara’s star began to fade, but Balthasar and Rahner continued to refer to him as an unparalleled example from whom we “still have critical things to learn.”[5] Indeed, Rahner suggested that “the whole Przywara, especially the late Przywara, is yet to come. He stands at a place in the road that many in the Church have yet to get past.”[6] And in 1980 John Paul II concurred, declaring Przywara to be one of the great theologians of the German Catholic tradition, along with Albert the Great, Nicholas of Cusa, Johann Adam Möhler, Matthias Scheeben, and Romano Guardini, “who have enriched and continue to enrich not merely the Church in Germany, but the theology and life of the entire Church.”[7]

What is one to make of such statements today? Clearly, Przywara was important in his time, but do we “still have critical things to learn” from him? And can he really continue to enrich the theology and life of the universal Church? I think so. But given the noted obstacles to Przywara’s reception, even in his own time, it is a serious question as to how many readers Przywara will ever have—and how many Rahner could have expected in the future. After all, Przywara’s corpus is at once so monumental and occasional, comprising as many as forty monographs and 800 articles and reviews, that few have bothered to investigate it.

It is therefore impossible for his thought to be packaged and readily passed on to posterity—especially since what he gives us, aside from the content of his works, is a rhythmic, analogical style of thinking that can be learned only from careful study. But we can at least provide some orientation for adventuresome readers who are prepared to undertake it. So, to this end, and on our way to an assessment of his continued relevance to the Church, let us begin with an overview of his life and works.


Przywara was born in 1889 to a German mother and a Polish father in the upper Silesian city of Kattowitz, today Katowice, in southern Poland, in a land, as he later described it, of intersecting empires (Germany, Russia, and Austria) and a culture full of contradictions: between Pole and German, East and West, Romanticism and modern technological rationalism.[8] Not surprisingly, therefore, he speaks of his roots in terms of a “unity of opposites,” a theme that plays into his understanding of “polarity,” “unity-in-tension” [“Spannungseinheit”], and ultimately “analogy.”[9] In 1908, given the anti-Jesuit laws that were still in effect in Germany, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Exaten in the Netherlands. Among those who influenced him were his novice master, Johann Baptist Müller, who modeled for him the life of a Jesuit as one of selfless service as a “friend of the bridegroom.”[10]

From 1910 to 1913 he continued his formation with philosophical studies in Valkenburg, during which he began an intensive study of Aquinas. Other notable influences at this time include the philologist and literary critic Gerhard Gietmann, the biblical scholar Franz von Hummelauer, and the philosopher and psychologist, Joseph Fröbes, who likely introduced him to the concept of the analogia entis.[11] In no sense therefore is the term analogia entis original to Przywara. On the contrary, it was a common topic among Jesuits ever since Suarez’s Disputationes Metaphysicae, and can be traced back even earlier to the Dominicans, specifically to Cajetan and John of St. Thomas.[12]

From 1913 to 1917 Przywara served as the prefect of music at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria, where he and Josef Kreitmaier produced a collection of hymns entitled Unsere Kirche (1915). During this time he also studied Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, German mysticism, as well as what he refers to as the “dynamic” and “aporetic” thought of Goethe, Baader, Görres, Nietzsche, Simmel, and Troeltsch.[13] From early on, therefore, Przywara was never a scholastic in the narrow sense of the term—as much as he regarded Thomas Aquinas as “the teacher”—but was decidedly engaged with modern thought.

In fact, anticipating the Second Vatican Council, he was one of the first Catholics of his generation to break free from a narrow scholasticism, engage modern culture, and show how its own problems ultimately demand a religious answer. As he put it in the epigraph to his first work, Eucharistie und Arbeit (1917), which was subsequently translated into four languages, “The question of our time is fundamentally a religious one, and politics and society are nothing but the wrappings of its hidden existence.”[14] But as this first work also shows, while Przywara was always engaged with modern culture, his thought was centered upon Christ in the Eucharist. Indeed, the express content of his first work is none other than a series of meditations on the empowering Eucharistic presence of “Christ in you,” which should transform everything we say and do.

Przywara subsequently returned to Valkenburg, where he continued his theological studies and was ordained to the priesthood. While he continued to study the Church fathers, especially Augustine, he also studied Max Scheler (who broke through the subjectivism of Descartes and Kant and made it possible for Catholic theology to have a serious conversation with modern philosophy) and Newman. In fact, he was so impressed by “the great cardinal,” whom he defended against suspicions of modernism that he edited and introduced the first German edition of Newman’s works, which appeared in 1922.[15] These studies in turn led to Przywara’s first major work, Religionsbegründung, which is an appreciative, but qualified reception of Scheler in light of Newman.[16]

In 1922 Przywara took a position on the editorial staff of the Jesuit journal Stimmen der Zeit in Munich, where he flourished until the journal was shut down by the Gestapo in 1941. During this period he was enormously productive. In 1923, for example, in addition to producing 17 articles (not counting reviews) and delivering 26 lectures (roughly one every other week) he authored three books: a five-volume devotional work on Christ’s parables, Himmelreich der Seele; Gottgeheimnis der Welt, in which he began to spell out his philosophy of polarity; and a book of meditations on the liturgical calendar also inspired by the theme of polarity, entitled Kirchenjahr. Die christliche Spannungseinheit. Then in rapid succession came Liebe: Der christliche Wesensgrund (1924); Wandlung: Ein Christenweg (1925); Majestas Divina: Ignatianische Frömmigkeit (1925); Gott (1925); and, as a capstone to his phenomenal early period, his Religionsphilosophie katholischer Theologie (1926). In sum, between 1922 and 1932 he authored as many as 17 books and 230 articles and reviews, while giving 237 lectures all over Germany and central Europe.

As a result, Przywara was beginning to be recognized as an important Catholic thinker both in Germany and abroad, speaking in such distinguished venues as the first and second international Davos conferences in 1928 and 1929. As one commentator observed, “Next to Guardini and Peter Lippert, Przywara is the most important intellectual [geistige] phenomenon in the realm of contemporary German Catholicism.”[17] What most seems to have impressed his contemporaries, however, was his “genuinely Catholic range of intellect,” i.e., his ability to feel his way into all kinds of systems and redeem from them at least a kernel of truth. Thus, in 1930 the Courrier de Geneve commented on Przywara’s great “intellectual charity,” adding that “when he criticizes, it is not to tear down, but to build up, so that in between the years 1920 and 1930 one could call him Germany’s greatest constructive critic in the area of philosophy.”[18] The most instructive example of this aspect of Przywra’s thought is his two-volume collection Ringen der Gegenwart (1929), which is a treasury of theological commentary and an important resource for our knowledge of this period.

It was also around this time that, in a modern clash of titans, Przywara met Karl Barth.[19]  In some sense their clash was inevitable. In a series of articles, which had appeared in Stimmen der Zeit between 1923 and 1925, Przywara had presented from a decidedly Catholic perspective his assessment of the dialectical theology of what he called the “Barth-Gogarten-Thurneysen” school. On the one hand, he viewed this school as a “genuine rebirth” of the spirit of the Reformation, in comparison with which the liberal Protestantism of Otto and Harnack represented a “falling away.”[20] On the other hand, he let it be known that Barth, Gogarten, and Thurneysen were at odds with Catholicism inasmuch as they were committed to Luther’s doctrine of God’s Alleinwirksamkeit and a corresponding denial of any analogical understanding of secondary causes within God’s Allwirksamkeit.[21]

In other words, in Przywara’s view, the fundamental differences between the confessions, even and precisely their different views of justification, were rooted in a fundamental metaphysical option: is creation genuinely related to God as an analogical “other,” or does every analogy between God and creation finally vanish into the God who does everything alone, in which case a well-meaning doctrine of grace inadvertently ends up destroying the doctrine of creation? This was the fundamental and, up to this point, unresolved issue between Barth and Przywara when Barth subsequently invited Przywara to his seminars in Münster in 1929 and Bonn in 1931, in part, presumably to get a better understanding of Przywara’s views. In 1932, however, in the preface to the Church Dogmatics, Barth stuck to his Reformed principles. Not only did he reject the analogia entis, he did so in the most strident of terms, calling it “the invention of Antichrist” and a sufficient reason, what is more, the most important of all possible reasons, “never to become Catholic.”[22] Thus, three years after Barth generously opened the door to ecumenism, he loudly shut it, never, to Balthasar’s chagrin, seriously to engage with Przywara again.[23]

Around the same time as Przywara was clarifying Catholic teaching over against Reformed theology, he was also engaged with the philosophical issues of the time, producing monographs on Kierkegaard (1929) and Kant (1930). Then in 1932 came the Analogia Entis, which is itself, in part, a response to Hegel. In no sense, therefore, is the Analogia Entis a pre-critical, scholastic metaphysics. On the contrary, it was developed precisely in conversation with the entire history of philosophy, up to and including the various strands of phenomenology represented by Scheler, Husserl, and Heidegger.[24]

While the Analogia Entis is his most important work from this period, indeed his magnum opus, he also produced three works of religious poetry: Karmel (1932), Homo (1933), and Hymnus (1936); an anthology on Augustine (1934), which includes a book-length introduction; several works that addressed the larger existential and cultural crisis of the time, including Christliche Existenz (1934) and Heroisch (1936); a three-volume commentary on Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, entitled Deus Semper Maior (1938); and, finally, Crucis Mysterium (1939), in which he engages Nietzsche, contrasting him with Ignatius Loyola and, poignantly, Thérèse of Lisieux.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Przywara’s authorship ground to a halt. He produced no monographs, but only occasional articles and reviews, and in 1941 his editorial office was shut down by the Gestapo, which says something about how he and his fellow Jesuits were perceived by the Nazi party.[25] In the meantime, he was commissioned by Cardinal Faulhaber with the pastoral care of elderly academics, but he continued to give private talks on such topics as Hölderlin, Nietzsche, and Rilke, and held regular lectures in the old Bürgersaal and in the basements of local churches. Apparently, these lectures provoked the suspicion of Himmler, who came to investigate them—and understandably so given some of the things that Przywara was suggesting about the regime, as, for instance, in a sermon delivered in 1944 in which he indirectly likened Hitler to Nebuchadnezzar, who exalted himself, incurred divine judgment, and ended up like a deranged animal (Dan 4:33).[26]

Although nothing came of the investigation—the content of the lectures was apparently judged to be too elevated to constitute a serious threat to the regime—the war years nevertheless took their toll. As Thomas O’Meara put it, “The priest who had appeared to possess energy without limits became anxious, incapable of work, and erratic, a condition only heightened by the opinions of others that it was partly psycho-somatic, exaggerated, or easily remedied.[27] By the war’s end the matter of his health had reached a point of crisis, involving considerable plans and efforts on the part of Balthasar to help him, which did not succeed.[28]

Even so, suffering from intermittent breakdowns, Przywara managed to produce the following works, which incorporated some of the insights of his war-time sermons and lectures, including Gebete in die Zeit (1946); Was ist Gott? Summula (1947); Vier Predigten über das Abendland (1948), in which, in Balthasar’s words, he saw through the apocalyptic flames of a destroyed Germany to the final depth of things; Nuptiae Agni (1948), a quasi-expressionistic translation of the Roman liturgy; Hölderlin (1952), in which he reads the poet as a Johannine prophet of this “apocalyptic time”; Humanitas (1952), a massive 900-page compilation of breathtaking scope; Christentum gemäß Johannes (1954), the first of a planned series of scriptural commentaries, and Alter und Neuer Bund (1956), which opened, in the words of the reviewer Joseph Ratzinger, “new horizons of theological thought,” presenting the analogia entis in light of Scripture and a “masterful exposition” of the Catholic understanding of the analogia fidei.[29]

In 1950 Przywara’s health took another turn for the worse and he permanently retired from community religious life, eventually settling in a village on the outskirts of Murnau in view of the Zugspitze. Still, he managed to deliver a series of radio talks for the Südwestdeutsche Rundfunk, a handful of which were eventually gathered into a volume entitled In und Gegen. Stellungnahmen zur Zeit (1955). It was also here that he edited and produced his last works, among them: Ignatianisch (1956); Idee Europa (1956); Gespräch zwischen den Kirchen (1957); Mensch: Typologische Anthropologie (1959); Demut, Geduld, Liebe. Die drei christlichen Tugenden (1960); Christ und Obrigkeit (1962); Kirche in Gegensätzen (1962); Hymnen des Karmel (1962); Logos (1963); and Katholische Krise (1967). The most impressive of these late works was Mensch. Upon its publication, Vatican radio announced it as “a formal anthropology of all anthropologies, a history of the spiritual life of man in all its forms, a comprehensive vision of which Przywara alone is capable.”[30]           


Needless to say, it is impossible to digest all of these works here, so let us focus in conclusion on the analogia entis, which is the principal theme of Przywara’s thought. While the term is not original to him, what is original to Przywara is that he was the first to elaborate the analogia entis as a formal principle of Catholic theology and to do so in view of the whole history of ideas, from Heraclitus and Parmenides to the most recent developments in philosophy and theology, as we have already noted with respect to Barth’s dialectical theology and Scheler’s phenomenology. Another example is an article from 1928 in which he briefly engages Husserl and Heidegger as well, not to mention his Analogia Entis, which is a masterful metaphysical response to all these developments.

Throughout these works, however, Przywara’s point was not simply to distinguish the Catholic worldview from other philosophies and religious confessions and to give Catholic thought a distinct standing among them. It was also to show how a Catholic philosophy of the analogia entis could help to defuse the explosive dialectics of modernity, which, having no analogical middle, tend either to deny the world in the name of God or to deny God in the name of the world. As he prophetically put it in 1929:

As for this identity of God and world, which took the place of polarity and its unity-in-tension of God and world, what does it really matter whether one call it God or world, whether one call it the world-denying theopanism of Spinoza or the God-denying pantheism of Schopenhauer-Nietzsche? In either case the inevitable consequence was the frightful reeling of modernity between a sensual, pleasure-seeking intoxication with the world and a fanatical, eschatological hatred of the world: Is not this the deadly fever that is shaking Europe even now?[31]

As much as these words applied to the cultural and political situation of the time, they have lost none of their relevance. In fact, their relevance is as apparent as ever. For whereas theopanism is the tendency of all religious fanaticisms, which tend to make nothing of the world and the relative integrity of a free, created order, leading to theocratic regimes that in the name of God suppress human freedom, the latter is the tendency of all naturalisms and secularisms, which in the name of human freedom make nothing of God, flout any notion of a divine order (or a divine law or Logos or Tao or Dharma, which is given to be found), regard nature and other human beings as a standing reserve to be exploited at will, and condemn humanity to the futility and ennui of a life without any final meaning or purpose.

To be sure, these are types, and Przywara tended to see things in terms of types, but this does not make them any less real. On the contrary, like Plato’s forms, they are in some sense more real than their manifestations. For does this typology not describe, quite precisely, the state of emergency, the Notfall, that we find ourselves in today? Are we not caught and imprisoned in a dreadful dialectic between the extreme right and the extreme left: between those who would impose divine law by decree and subject the whole world to Islam (or Christendom) by force and fiat (n.b. not the voluntary fiat of the Mother of God), and those who in the name of human freedom would be free of God (whom they have confused with the real oppressor of the human race), and would therefore suppress any Word of God and every redeeming revelation to human beings, leaving schools empty of any revealed wisdom and the world empty of signs of a sacred vocation or, indeed, of any sense of why we even exist? And does this not describe the tensions that we see all around us—both nationally and globally? 

But if this is an accurate typological description of the dialectic, what, then is the answer to it?  What if someone should say, “Very well, you have correctly described the situation, but you have merely made the decision clearer. For if the reality of the world is dialectical, then it is even clearer that we have to take sides.” This, however, is precisely not the answer to the crisis, because such an answer hands the world over to the two horns of the dialectic, when the reality of things is fundamentally an analogy of divine Being. But how can we see through the dialectical distortion and ultimately through the deception that makes the world appear to be at bottom a theater of violence, of agony, and ultimately tragedy, as though we were doomed to play out the script that has been written into the nature of things? First, we have to see through the apparent opposition between the political right and the political left that would make them seem to be antitheses, when in fact they are simply two sides of the same coin. But how could this be? Is not the political right the opposite of the political left, and is not western secularism the opposite of religious fanaticism? Are they not mortal enemies? And is not this the clash of civilizations that is “shaking [the world] even now”?

On the face of it, it would surely seem so. In truth, however, each is equally idiotic (in the etymological and everyday sense of the term) and therefore each tends to be fanatical. For if the one is given to the denial of liberty and reasonable human rights, the other is given to the denial of God, divine revelation, or anything that has been handed down as wisdom. Of course, we tend to think that only the former is dangerous, and we may reasonably prefer to live in a secular society than a theocratic one. For at least in the former we are free. But both can be terrifying inasmuch as both are given to purges of one kind or another. Moreover, precisely because each is totalizing, each is always on the verge of totalitarianism. And let us note, too, this disturbing commonality: each masquerades as “righteousness” (cf 2 Cor. 11:14–15), for in this way they gain their adherents. Thus, concretely, each speaks of religious or social justice of one kind or another, but, nota bene, never of mercy; for their shared modus operandi is one of negation or, as it is commonly called nowadays, “cancellation.”

Granted, these are types and tendencies, which one rarely finds in their purity—at least not until one of them becomes explicitly totalitarian and one experiences a purge. The point, however, is that a dialectical world, which is another word for a fallen world, is always about to explode, because it has no redeeming relation to transcendence, which in both forms of fanaticism is usurped and pressed into immanence, whether in the name of the theocratic or secular state. In other words, what both secular and theocratic governments have in common and constitutes their eerie fealty to the god of this age is that both collapse the Creator-creature distinction that the analogia entis holds open. As a result, each destabilizes the metaphysical structure of the word, turning the more fundamental analogy of being into a duplicitous two-faced identity of God and world (which is why the quintessentially modern philosophies of Spinoza and Hegel can appear at once both world-and-God denying, and why it scarcely matters whether one call the former a pantheist and the latter a theopanist, or vice versa).

Now, finally, it may be hoped, in view of this dialectical alternative that amounts to an identity, we can begin to see through the distortion of being to the more fundamental analogy of being, which relates immanence and transcendence without collapsing one into the other. By the same token—it may be hoped—we can appreciate what Przywara was trying to do with his various elaborations of the analogia entis. For what he was trying to show us was a Catholic way out of modern dialectics—and all the idiotic ideologies of the left or right that usurp divinity for themselves—back to the patience of being a creature in all humility before the ever-greater God, whose greatness inspires us to be like children and frees us from every liberal or conservative presumption.

So, as we remember Przywara, who deserves to be remembered, as both Rahner and John Paul II reminded us, let us conclude with a brief, but necessary clarification. In the preface to the Church Dogmatics Karl Barth called the analogia entis the invention of Antichrist and the chief reason why he could never become Catholic. I think it is safe to say that he was wrong about this, as I have tried to show elsewhere. Rather, one might dare to say that the rejection of the analogia entis is the invention of Antichrist, and that the affirmation of the analogia entis is a good reason, if not the only one, to be Catholic.

[1] See Barth, Letter to Pastor Horn, February 12, 1929 (Karl Barth Archive). See also Barth’s letters to Eduard Thurneysen in Karl Barth-Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel, vol. 2, 1921–1930 (Zürich: TVZ, 1974), 638, 651–654, 708f.

[2] See Finite and Eternal Being, trans. Kurt F. Reichardt (Washington: ICS Publications, 2002), xxix. See Analogia EntisMetaphysics: Original Structure, Universal Rhythm, trans. John Betz and David Hart, with an introduction by John Betz (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014).

[3] My Work: In Retrospect (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 50, 89.

[4] See Paul Imhof, ed., Karl Rahner in Dialogue. Conversations and Interviews 1965–1985 (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 14.

[5] Karl Rahner, Gnade als Freiheit. Kleine theologische Beiträge (Freiburg: Herder, 1968), 272.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Papal address to theologians in Altötting, Germany (November 18, 1980): “Sie stehen in einer großen Tradition, wenn ich nur an den hl. Albert den Großen, Nikolaus von Kues, Möhler und Scheeben, Guardini und Przywara denke. Ich nenne diese hervorragenden Theologen stellvertretend für viele andere, die in der Vergangenheit wie in der Gegenwart nicht nur die Kirche des deutschen Sprachraums, sondern die Theologie und das Leben der ganzen Kirche bereichert haben und noch ständig bereichern.”

[8] In und Gegen: Stellungnahmen zur Zeit (Nürnberg:  Glock und Lutz, 1955), 12f.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Wilhelmy, “Erich Przywara.  Ein Überblick,” 9.

[11] In Fröbes’s codex on ontology, for example, we find a heading that included the following explanation: “Conceptus entis ut sic est analogus, et quidem quoad Deum et creaturam, quoad substantiam et accidens analogia attributionis intrinsicae.” And in the same textbook we also find the following: “non possunt Deus et creatura connumerari quasi duo entia, quia modus essendi tam infinite distat in utroque casu.” See Julio Terán-Dutari, “Die Geschichte des Terminus ‘Analogia Entis’ und das Werk Erich Przywaras,” in Philosophisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 77 (1970), 164f.

[12] Ibid.  See, for example, Disputations 28, §3 and 32, §2.

[13] See the preface to the first edition of the Analogia Entis.

[14] Schriften, vol. 1, 1. The quote is from Martin Deutinger.

[15] See J. H. Kardinal Newman, Christentum.  Ein Aufbau, 8 vols., trans. Otto Karrer (Freiburg: Herder, 1922), the fourth volume of which is Przywara’s perspicacious summary of Newman entitled, Einführung in Newmans Wesen und Werk. An English edition of Przywara’s selection of Newman’s texts was published under the title A Newman Synthesis (London: Sheed and Ward, 1930) and has since been reprinted under the new title The Heart of Newman (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997).  Unfortunately, in both English editions Przywara’s commentary was omitted, leaving the reader without a sense of how Przywara actually read Newman and his reasoning behind this particular arrangement.

[16] Przywara, Religionsbegründung.  Max Scheler – J. H. Newman (Freiburg:  Herder, 1923). What Przywara especially valued in Scheler (and the early Husserl, for that matter) was his reversal of Kant’s “Copernican revolution,” his reorientation of philosophy toward an objective realism, and the prospect this presented, after centuries of opposition, of a rapprochement between modern philosophy and scholasticism, most specifically, Thomas Aquinas. In other words, with the so-called “Kant crisis” and the rise of phenomenology, it was once again philosophically respectable to claim that we can actually have knowledge of an objective order of being. As Scheler himself noted around this time, the phenomenological movement “has a profounder affinity with the basic principles of traditional Christian philosophy than any other modern philosophical school since Cartesius.” See Scheler’s preface to Otto Gründler, Elemente zu einer Religionsphilosophieuf phänomenologischer Grundlage (München:  Kösel & Pustet, 1922). In the end, however, Przywara criticizes Scheler’s essentialist phenomenology, above all his principle of an “immediate” knowledge of God, for failing to appreciate the scholastic analogia entis, the tension between essence and existence, and the mediate, earth-bound quality of any knowledge of God that this implies. See also Przywara, Christliche Existenz (Leipzig:  Jakob Hegner, 1934), 13f.

[17] From Berliner Börsenkurier, February 24, 1926.

[18] Courrier de Geneve, September 18, 1930.

[19] Przywara first came to the attention of Barth in 1923 through his friend Eduard Thurneysen, who had read an article by Przywara in Stimmen der Zeit. See “Gott in uns oder Gott über uns? Immanenz und Transzendenz im heutigen Geistesleben,” Stimmen der Zeit 105 (1923), 343–362. Reprinted in an abbreviated version, in Ringen der Gegenwart, vol. 2 (Augsburg: Benno Filser-Verlag, 1929), 543–578. 

[20] Ringen der Gegenwart, vol. 2, 553f.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Church Dogmatics I/1, 2nd edition, tr. G.W. Bromiley (London:  T&T Clark, 1975), xiii.

[23] See Manfred Lochbrunner, Hans Urs von Balthasar und seine Theologen-Kollegen (Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 2009), 270. It is notable, too, and a pity, that Barth did not write anything but an empty “greeting” for Przywara’s Festschrift.

[24] See “Drei Richtungen der Phänomenologie,” in Stimmen der Zeit 115 (1928), 252­–264. See “The analogia entis as a Standard of Catholic Engagement: Erich Przywara’s Critique of Phenomenology and Dialectical Theology,” Modern Theology 35 (2018): 81–102.

[25] The question of Przywara’s attitude toward the Nazis has been raised and sufficiently answered. See Betz, “A Study of Erich Przywara’s Engagement with National Socialism: A Critical Response to ‘Historical Criticism,’” Modern Theology 37 (July 2021), 567–594.

[26] See Alter und Neuer Bund: Theologie der Stunde (Vienna: Herold Verlag, 1956), 340. The late date of publication is due to obvious historical factors.

[27] See O’Meara, Erich Przywara: His Theology and his World (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002), 9. 

[28] Since 1942 Balthasar had tried to arrange for Przywara to be transferred to Switzerland, where they could once again live and work together, and where he could more readily care for him, but the war years had made this impossible. By 1947, Balthasar resumed his plan: in September he would pick Przywara up in Bad Wiessee and take him back to Switzerland. In a letter dated May 11, 1947, he writes to Przywara, “I am looking forward beyond words to see you again and to pick you up; it will be a new life for you as well as for me.” Unfortunately, the plan failed: Przywara soon had to be taken to the Claraspital in Basel (where on October 1 Karl Barth also visited him); and despite von Balthasar’s (and Adrienne von Speyr’s) good intentions, Przywara returned to Munich, where he was cared for by Sigrid Müller, a very capable nurse, until his death. See Lochbrunner, Hans Urs von Balthasar und seine Theologen-kollegen, 54–70.

[29] See Joseph Ratzinger, “Erich Przywaras Alterswerk,” in Wort und Wahrheit 13 (1958), 220f. Inasmuch as this work is critical to any final assessment of Przywara’s theology, which stands fixed at the intersection, the crossing, between philosophy and theology, between an analogia entis and an analogia fidei, it is also critical to any final assessment of the debate between Przywara and Karl Barth—and, by implication, between Catholic and Reformed theology.

[30] See Gustav Wilhelmy (Sigrid Müller’s pseudonym), “Erich Przywara. Ein Überblick,” in Erich Przywara. 1889–1969. Eine Festgabe (Düsseldorf:  Patmos Verlag, 1969), 28f.

[31] Ringen der Gegenwart, 960f. 

Featured Image: Josef Kreitmaier mit Erich Przywara: Gloria - 24 neue religiöse Lieder für Kirche, Schule und Haus. Regensburg 1931; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-70.


John Betz

John Betz is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, specializing in systematic and philosophical theology. He is the author of After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J.G. Hamann and the co-translator of Erich Przywara's Analogia Entis.

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