|First edition of Barth's "Romans"|
Before I move on to the next section of Barth's Dogmatics, here are some thoughts lifted from my doctoral dissertation concerning Barth’s theological pilgrimage toward Volume 1 of his Church Dogmatics.
Barth’s discovery included several points, (1) The self-accreditation of the Bible as God’s Word apart from any human judgments. Barth discovered “the event character of revelation, that is, God’s initiative in revelation, rather than a condition of revelation or an “objective” revelation as taught in Protestant Orthodoxy and, in other ways, Roman Catholicism. (2) The distinction between the Bible itself and the revelation; scripture itself is a witness to revelation. (3) God’s word is connected uniquely with these worlds; although revelation itself is not historical, God’s Word is is connected with this historical witness wherein the eternal God makes himself known in human temporality. (4) Although the Bible is a witness, others could, even more than the Bible, witness to Christ. “The conception of faith as obedience offers Barth a view of the authority of Scripture that does not depend on the incidence or quality of certain experiences… Barth is now able to emphasize all the more the infinite qualitative difference between the motions of the Spirit and the autonomous motions of the human soul.”
Therefore, (5) the internal witness of the Spirit to us and the witness of the Spirit in the Bible are mutually corrective. The dialectic of his earlier period, the Yes and No of God, becomes now the dialectic of subject and object, both involving this corrective and revelatory power of the Holy Spirit.
Barth’s 1924-1925 lectures on dogmatics, Unterricht in der christlichen Religion, provide an interesting glimpse into the positive, constructive potential of Barth’s pre-Dogmatics theology but also provide the most completed form of dogmatic theology that he accomplished. This book was published in English in 1991 and is often called The Göttingen Dogmatics.) He retains the forceful aspects of his dialectical theology: the modern theologian finds dogmatics strenuous, bitter, and feature, because its object is God who gives his command to proclaim his Word, and thus dogmatics is necessarily under divine judgment. The expression “God is God” prevents any human word from seizing God’s initiative, particularly in theological matters.
|Barth's 1927 "Christian Dogmatics"|
God is known only in God’s own freedom. As in Barth’s Letter to the Romans, the problem of God’s otherness is stated in terms of God’s entire otherness. But here in the Christian Dogmatics, Barth weds the “infinite qualitative difference” between God and humanity to the position which he discovered in Calvinism: finitum non capax infiniti. God is free subject who cannot become an object to us; but God is a free subject who nevertheless wills to be in encounter with human beings. Knowledge of God rests upon God’s freedom to be known.
As in Romans, the encounter reveals the ultimate contradiction between us and God; true relation, according to Barth, is an exclamation to God of our unfaith. Thus Barth retains a dialectical pattern: he speaks of “the great divine disturbance and question” which stands over against us. But Barth shifts from the mystery of the origin wherein the Word may be found, to the positive World of God that is given by God who wills encounter—and who gives us his Spirit to accept his world. Thus, we return to God’s triune being. God’s triune being is the way in which God is other to us, as free Lord and not simply as contradiction. Religion as the human self-justifying impetus negates God’s free Lordship by seeking to unite consciousness with God’s being. This free Lordship is a discovery that Barth retains for the Church Dogmatics.
The Word of God is only accessible to existential thinking, to the perceiving human subject. Barth’s long-time concern for normative preaching is answered in the address of God to the existential situation of the person who is called to a decision to accept God’s Lordship.
But Barth was still concerned about a possible philosophical a priori in human consciousness. So his next step was to retain the concreteness of God’s Word and the importance of proclamation in a way that did not necessitate a foundation for knowledge of God other than God.
His next step was his 1931 book Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum, where he found a way to maintain God’s self-relationship not only as the sole basis of knowledge of God but also as the basis of theological intelligibility.
Anselm finds the necessity of both subjective faith and the object of faith in the Name of God revealed to him, aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit. That which exists only intramentally is not superior to something which is both intramental and extramental. The superiority of this theology is that it does not proceed from idea to reality. Rather, the name of God prevents argument from idea to reality (from creature to creator) because that name reveals god as he who establishes the very possibility of knowing him. The name reveals God as he who is greater than that which can be thought, as he who can therefore be conceived only as he allows the governs the conception. Against Feuerbach, Barth argues that one does not conceive God in the same manner as other creatures at all. The knowledge of this “object” wholly depends on its gracious establishment of the possibility of knowing it—and God’s self-givenness is so compelling that unbelief is foolish.
In the Dogmatics, Barth, using these insights to develop the self-givingness of God in contrast to “modern Christology” which fails to account for the otherness of God in his Word and thus lacks the “mystery” of God’s revelation. God’s special otherness, rather, is found in the Word which is incomparably superior to any human word.
Contrasting Barth’s view with Schleiermacher’s: In the latter, God is the primal ground of consciousness and the Other is the codeterminate, and in the former, God cannot be had or found, but rather the Other comes, and satisfies the need for God.