Academic journal article Theological Studies

Service in the Analogia Entis and Spiritual Works of Erich Przywara

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Service in the Analogia Entis and Spiritual Works of Erich Przywara

Article excerpt

RECENT SCHOLARSHIP SHOWS growing interest in the work of Jesuit scholar Erich Przywara (1889-1972), best known for his (sometimes polemical) friendship with Karl Barth, as well as for his influence on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Edith Stein, and Karl Rahner. (1) Studies on Przywara have typically focused on Analogia entis, his dense and elusive treatment of "creaturely metaphysics." (2) Although there is good reason to believe that Przywara himself saw that project as central to his theology, (3) an exclusive concern for analogia entis might suggest that his main academic interest is purely metaphysical, that is, an effort to provide an intellectually compelling, systematic account of the basis of all reality. Yet many of his most important writings focus on spiritual topics, especially as they relate to Ignatius of Loyola and the religious order he founded, the Society of Jesus. Indeed, some commentators have argued that Przywara's Deus semper maior, his monumental commentary on Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, is the true key to understanding his philosophical and theological projects. (4)

Przywara's approach to spirituality centers on the model of the Jesuit as the simul in actione contemplativus. (5) Contrary to what one might expect from so abstract and speculative a thinker, Przywara pays less attention to the ascetic and monastic goal of mystical union than to the intramundane activity that characterizes the Jesuit charism. As Christian Lagger has argued, Przywara's account of the nature of religious life and mysticism depends on his notion of "service" (Dienst). (6)

Przywara's notion of service differs from a program of humanitarian or philanthropic work. Drawing on a range of Catholic thinkers, especially Thomas Aquinas, Przywara relates human service to the "analogy of being." This framework allows him to defend his account of good works against charges of Pelagianism insofar as he can locate human causality within an economy dependent on divine primary causality. At the same time, by maintaining that this primary causality simultaneously guarantees the integrity of creaturely secondary causes, he can avoid a radical passivism that would present the individual as a mere vessel for spiritual experience (Erleben) or feelings. This "ontology of service" is central to Przywara's account of the history of Ignatius and the Jesuit order.

In this article I first offer an introduction to Przywara's theological vision and a synthesis of his notion of Dienst as it appears in Analogia entis. I then examine the presence of the notion in his spiritual writings, especially the Deus semper maior. I seek to show, first, the centrality of service to his understanding of the Spiritual Exercises and, second, the role of service in linking individual spirituality to participation in the church, especially in the Society of Jesus.

While acknowledging the limits of Przywara's method, especially in its lack of attention to sources and history, I conclude by proposing that his insights offer a valuable resource to contemporary studies of the Spiritual Exercises. By paying careful attention to the dimension of service implicit in the text and a rigorous account of its metaphysical status, students of the Exercises might be equipped to articulate a spirituality that does not prioritize sentiment and often unstable notions of personal experience, but rather offers a robust vision of authentic human spiritual flourishing in self-giving service of the Lord.


Since Przywara's thought remains relatively unknown to English-speaking audiences, some introduction to its outlines and influences is necessary before considering his peculiar account of service. His corpus includes a number of monographs on the thinkers who came to affect his understanding of God, creation, and anthropology. (7) Among his works are "syntheses" of Augustine and Newman, which consist of excerpts from source material that are structured to reflect the general thought pattern of the original author. …

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