Welcome to week one of Wednesday’s With Barth! I hope you were blessed by what you read. Below I have placed what I found to be rather significant from my reading this week. I have some comments but for the most part I am still taking so much in.
I love how Barth understands that words need to be defined in their context. He is so sensitive to complexity of the meaning of words and their need to be clearly defined by the communicator (sender) for the sake of the communicant (receiver). It’s almost as if words are living organisms to him. I love how he understands the role of experience in relation to theology.
What we have read from so far…
- THE TASK OF DOGMATICS
- The Church, Theology, Science
- Dogmatics as an Enquiry
- Dogmatics as an Act of Faith
- THE TASK OF PROLEGOMENA TO DOGMATICS
- The Necessity of Dogmatic Prolegomena
Concerning the task of dogmatics, Barth first states…
“As a theological discipline dogmatics is the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God.”
“Theology is the science which finally sets itself this task, and this task alone, subordinating to this task all other possible tasks in the human search for truth.”
Barth then quotes
Augustine… “Not granting to this science everything whatever that can be known by human beings in the realm of human affairs, but only that by which that most beneficial faith, which leads to true blessedness, is birthed, nourished, defended, strengthened”
F. Turrettini… “Theology…is thus the judge and lord of all things, so that it judges concerning them and is itself judged by no other science; for all other disciplines must be examined according to its criteria, so that whatever they have that is not consonant with Theology is to be rejected”
Some thoughts: I love how theology is not some mere cold science but one that seems indicative of a relationship with it’s object here. Barth will continue to unfold the doxological nature of theology via the work of dogmatics. The practice of dogmatics is more of an adventure in learning to hear and respond with the Church by saying “Hey! Christian Church. This is what I hear you saying and I’m going to write it down!” In this respect considering the size of Barth’s CD he must be hearing a lot.
Barth knows that the word science has many meanings depending on the context in which it is being used so he says…
To the question what is the “science” to which theology must fully adhere G. Wobbermin gives (op. cit., p. 29) the ingenuous answer: “Striving after the most exact and complete possible knowledge of the reality accessible to us.” But what good theology will include its object in the “reality accessible to us”? And will a bad theology which does this really be granted by other sciences the recognition which it seeks?
There are three practical reasons why we should quietly insist on describing theology as a science.
1. In so doing, theology brings itself into line. As a human concern for truth, it recognises its solidarity with other such concerns now grouped under the name of science. It protests against the idea of an ontological exaltation above them such as might easily be suggested by its emphatic and distinctive designation by older writers as doctrina (teaching) or even sapientia (wisdom). It remembers that it is only a science and therefore that it is secular even as it works in its own relatively special way and in the highest spheres.
2. In not just resigning the title to others, with all due respect to the classical tradition it makes a necessary protest against a general concept of science which is admittedly pagan. It cannot do any harm even to the most stalwart representatives of this concept, or indeed to the whole university, to be reminded by the presence of the theologian among them that the quasi-religious certainty of their interpretation of the term is not in fact undisputed, that the tradition which commences with the name of Aristotle is only one among others, and that the Christian Church certainly does not number Aristotle among its ancestors.
3. Finally, in grouping itself among the sciences for all the radical and indeed indissoluble difference in the understanding of the term, theology shows that it does not take the heathenism of their understanding seriously enough to separate itself under another name, but that it reckons them as part of the Church in spite of their refusal of the theological task and their adoption of a concept of science which is so intolerable to theology. It believes in the forgiveness of sins, and not in the final reality of a heathen pantheon. If there can be no question of establishing this belief, there can be even less of denying it. But such a denial might well underlie too clear-cut a distinction between theology and the sciences. These are the external and less basic reasons which we have for not making this distinction
Some thoughts: So first true theology or perhaps the “science of dogma” is science based on the fact that we observe HOW it “brings”, “recognizes”, “protests”, and “remembers”. Second true theology is not what some “theologians” derive from the “quasi-religious certainty of their interpretation” Third Barth sees science as a thing capable of being as fallen as it’s practitioners. True science believes in “the forgiveness of sins” because it’s Lord is God. Removing God from science makes the purpose of it’s heathen practitioners obvious… to make themselves God.
Barth sees that what the church says and does can be examined by those within it. If one is within the church examining what the church is distinctly saying they are working (scientifically) to a greater or lesser degree in what Barth has defined as Dogmatic’s.
Barth says this in relation to Dogmatic as an inquiry…
It is in terms of such conformity that dogmatics investigates Christian utterance. Hence it does not have to begin by finding or inventing the standard by which it measures. It sees and recognises that this is given with the Church. It is given in its own peculiar way, as Jesus Christ is given, as God in His revelation gives Himself to faith. But it is given. It is complete in itself. It stands by its claim without discussion. It has the certainty which a true standard or criterion must have to be the means of serious measurement. Dogmatics presupposes that, as God in Jesus Christ is the essence of the Church, having promised Himself to it, so He is the truth, not merely in Himself, but also for us as we know Him solely by faith in Jesus Christ. To the extent that dogmatics receives this standard by which it measures talk about God in Jesus Christ, in the event of the divine action corresponding to the promise given to the Church, it is possible for it to be knowledge of the truth. What is or is not the true content of such talk about God is dear at once and with complete fulness and certainty in the light in which we are here set. The fulfilment of this knowledge, the event of human action, the appropriation corresponding to this address in which, through the stages of intuitive apprehension to formulated comprehension, the revelation of the analogia fidei* and the resultant clarity in dogmatics (in dogmatics too, but not first or solely in dogmatics) take creaturely form, is, of course, a second event compared with the divine action itself, united with it in faith, yet also in faith to be distinguished from it. The second event, however, does not abolish the first. In, with and under the human question dogmatics speaks of the divine answer. It knows even as it seeks. It teaches even as it learns. In human uncertainty like any other science, it establishes the most certain truth ever known. In relation to its subject, every statement in dogmatics, as a statement of faith, must be ventured with the assurance of speaking divine and not just human truth. In distinction from the academic reserve of, e.g., a philosophical proposition, it cannot evade the severity of the dogmatic. The necessary corrective is supplied by the matter itself: “in relation to its object … as a statement of faith.” The intractability of faith and its object guarantees that divine certainty cannot become human security. But it is this intractable faith and its intractable object which make possible the certain divine knowledge which is at issue in dogmatics…
…Dogmatics as an enquiry presupposes that the true content of Christian talk about God must be known by men. Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ. This conformity is never clear and unambiguous. To the finally and adequately given divine answer there corresponds a human question which can maintain its faithfulness only in unwearied and honest persistence. There corresponds even at the highest point of attainment the open: “Not as though I had already attained.” Dogmatics receives even the standard by which it measures in an act of human appropriation. Hence it has to be enquiry. It knows the light which is intrinsically perfect and reveals everything in a flash. Yet it knows it only in the prism of this act, which, however radically or existentially it may be understood, is still a human act, which in itself is no kind of surety for the correctness of the appropriation in question, which is by nature fallible and therefore stands in need of criticism, of correction, of critical amendment and repetition. For this reason the creaturely form which the revealing action of God assumes in dogmatics is never that of knowledge attained in a flash, which it would have to be to correspond to the divine gift, but a laborious movement from one partial human insight to another with the intention though with no guarantee of advance.
Concerning faith in relation to inquiry, Barth says…
Dogmatics is possible only as theologia crucis (a theology of the cross), in the act of obedience which is certain in faith, but which for this very reason is humble, always being thrown back to the beginning and having to make a fresh start. It is not possible as an effortless triumph or an intermittent labour. It always takes place on the narrow way which leads from the enacted revelation to the promised revelation.
ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν* (Rom. 1:17). Augustine in an important passage evolves the doctrine that credere (Beliefe) must precede intelligere (understanding) to the extent that it is established by the vox de coelo (voice from heaven) (verbum Dei meaning… Word of God), but that it must follow it to the extent that it is to be established by the sermo propheticus Prophetic speech) (verbum meum meaning My word). as in Mark 9:22. Faith as faith in God stands on its own feet and is the basis of knowledge. Faith as the faith of man requires knowledge and is established by it (Sermo, 43, 4–9).
Dogmatics is a part of the work of human knowledge. But this part of the work of human knowledge stands under a particularly decisive condition. Like all work of human knowledge, it naturally demands the intellectual faculties of attentiveness and concentration, of understanding and appraisal. Like all serious work of human knowledge, it demands the best will to utilise these faculties and ultimately the giving of the whole man to this utilisation. Over and above this, however, it demands Christian faith, which does not simply come of itself even with the deepest and purest surrender to this task. Dogmatics is a function of the Christian Church. The Church tests itself by essaying it. To the Church is given the promise of the criterion of Christian faith, namely, the revelation of God. The Church can pursue dogmatics. Even in the Church dogmatics need not be the work of a special dogmatic science. But there is no possibility of dogmatics at all outside the Church. To be in the Church, however, is to be called with others by Jesus Christ. To act in the Church is to act in obedience to this call. This obedience to the call of Christ is faith. In faith the judgment of God is acknowledged and His grace extolled. In faith self-examination is necessary in view of responsibility before God. Faith grasps the promise that we shall be led into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Faith knows God. Faith is the determination of human action by the being of the Church and therefore by Jesus Christ, by the gracious address of God to man. In faith, and only in faith, human action is related to the being of the Church, to the action of God in revelation and reconciliation. Hence dogmatics is quite impossible except as an act of faith, in the determination of human action by listening to Jesus Christ and as obedience to Him. Without faith it would be irrelevant and meaningless. Even in the case of the most exact technical imitation of what the Church does, or the most sincere intention of doing what the Church does, it would be idle speculation without any content of knowledge.
Some thoughts: Um Wow!
Barth say this in regard to Exegetical theology…
Exegetical theology investigates biblical teaching as the basis of our talk about God. Dogmatics, too, must constantly keep it in view. But only in God and not for us is the true basis of Christian utterance identical with its true content. Hence dogmatics as such does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets. This task is not taken from us because it is first necessary that we should know the biblical basis.
Some thoughts: Why are we reading Barth’s Dogmatics together? “Hence dogmatics as such does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets.”
Barth talks about the necessity of a real encounter with God as essential to dogmatics…
in dogmatics there can be no construction outside the real encounter between God and man, which is faith. Nor can the real content, i.e., Jesus Christ, be simply equated with creaturely reality. For He is revelation, divine-human reality.
If there is such a reality, and if there is knowledge of it, as the Church and dogmatics presuppose, then this knowledge can only be that of faith, and we have good reason to ask if faith is really faith unless it is for better or for worse. Omnis recta cognitio Dei ab obedientia nascitur (All right knowledge of God is born of obedience) (Calvin, Instit., I, 6, 2).
It is in this light that we have to ponder what was once much discussed as the demand for regeneration or conversion in the theologian and what is to-day being debated afresh as the prerequisite of what is called existentiality in theological thinking. Urgent warnings that theologising is powerless unless there is a relationship between the theme and the theologian in which the true and total man is claimed may be found already in Anselm, who tells us that the credere underlying intelligere cannot be merely a credere id but must be a credere in id, quod credi debet (Monol., 76–78).
God’s contingent visitation does affect the existence of man, and therefore the gift of its promise by faith is a divine determination and claiming of the concrete being of man, of myself. Without this, theology would become the irrelevant wisdom of spectators outside the Church. There would be knowledge only in the dependent form of an imitative formal participation in the knowledge of the Church and faith. If the latter were to fail, then, as Anselm rightly stated, such a theology would lose its power of knowledge. But theology neither does nor can at any time find human safeguards against the danger of becoming the irrelevant wisdom of spectators outside the Church, and therefore a-theology. Faith, regeneration, conversion, existential thinking on the basis of a preceding existential encounter, are no doubt indispensable prerequisites of dogmatic work, yet not to the extent that they imply an experience and attitude, a desire and activity, a knowledge and achievement of the theologian, so that his theology is a personal cry, an account of his biographical situation, but to the extent that they imply the grace of divine predestination, the free gift of the Word and Holy Spirit, the act of calling the Church, which must always come upon the theologian from the acting God in order that he may really be what he does and what his name suggests.
the decision as to what is or is not true in dogmatics, is always a matter of the divine election of grace. In this respect the fear of the Lord must always be the beginning of wisdom. This is the often discovered difficulty of all theology, especially dogmatic theology.
Cognovi, explicationem dogmatum Ecclesiae propter multas causas opus esse difficillimum et quamquam necessarium est, tamen plenum esse ingentium periculorum (I know that the explanation of the Church’s dogmas is for many reasons an extremely difficult though necessary task, but it is full of enormous dangers) (Melanchthon, Loci communes, 1559, C.R., 21, 602). It was more than a monkish trick of style when Anselm referred to the imbecillitas scientiae meae (feebleness of my knowledge) (Cur Deus homo?, I, 25) and Bonaventura to the pauper portiuncula scientiolae nostrae (poor sample of our little science) (Breviloq., Prooem.), and when on the first page of his Sentences Peter Lombard compared his achievement to the widow’s mite or the two pence which the Good Samaritan gave to the inn-keeper with the promise to pay him more when he returned. The story is also told of Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa theologica obviously remained a torso, that when asked to write more he replied: “Reginald, I cannot, for all that I have written is like chaff to me. I hope that God will soon put an end to my life and thinking” (M. Grabmann, Das Seelenleben des hl. Thomas v. Aq., 1924, p. 51). As against this, the other story that when he was engaged in the christological part of the work Christ appeared to him with the words: Bene scripsisti de me, Thoma*! seems to be less in accord with the facts! Thomas himself was rightly prepared to leave it to eschatology to invest the doctor ecclesiae* with a halo (S. theol., III, qu. 96, art. 6).
Dogmatics must always be undertaken as an act of penitence and obedience. But this is possible only as it trusts in the uncontrollable presence of its ontic and noetic basis, in the revelation of God promised to the Church, and in the power of faith apprehending the promise. This is no less true in the case of the teacher than the scholar, of the author of dogmatic works than the reader. The act of faith, which means, however, its basis in the divine predestination, the free act of God on man and his work, is always the condition by which dogmatic work is made possible but by which it is also called in question with final seriousness.
Barth says this concerning prayer…
Prayer can be the recognition that we accomplish nothing by our intentions, even though they be intentions to pray. Prayer can be the expression of our human willing of the will of God. Prayer can signify that for good or evil man justifies God and not himself. Prayer can be the human answer to the divine hearing already granted, the epitome of the true faith which we cannot assume of ourselves. We do not speak of true prayer if we say “must” instead of “can.” According to Rom. 8:26f the way from “can” to “must” is wrapped in the mystery at the gates of which we here stand. With this reference we do not give anyone a means by which he can count on succeeding in his work. It must be said, however, that it is hard to see how else there can be successes in this work but on the basis of divine correspondence to this human attitude: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
Under the heading “The task of Prolegomena to Dogmatics” Barth writes…
Prolegomena to dogmatics is our name for the introductory part of dogmatics in which our concern is to understand its particular way of knowledge.
Prolegomena to a science, in so far as they are necessary and possible, will always consist decisively in discussions and expositions of how knowledge is attained in it. By prolegomena to dogmatics (praecognita Theologiae*, as many older writers called it with even greater fulness of meaning), we understand the attempt to give an explicit account of the particular way of knowledge taken in dogmatics, or, as we might also say, of the particular point from which we are to look, think and judge in dogmatics.
At this point the customary procedure, followed with new zeal in modern work, is to indicate the change in general cultural awareness and the general world-picture which has taken place in the last 300 years and called theology as such in question. Attention is drawn to the wave of paganism which obviously seems to be engulfing everything and to carry with it a particular threat to the Church and theology. Note is taken of the radicalism of rational thought which supposedly distinguishes our age from all others and which negates all revelation as such.
“Already in the second half of the seventeenth century, and even more so in the first half of the eighteenth, so many questions, objections and doubts were brought by naturalists, rationalists and free-thinkers against the doctrines of the Christian faith and their scholarly presentation that a short introduction was not enough and preliminary discussion became indispensable before dogmatics could begin” (Carl Daub, Prolegomena zur Dogmatik, 1839, p. 3). “The problem to-day is not the nature of God but His existence, not what is revealed but whether there is such a thing as revelation, not rationalistic corruption at individual points but the questioning of the miracle of revelation as such. It is the problem of the sign and norm of all Christian theology, of the concept of revelation and not its contents. In short, it is the problem of reason and revelation” (E. Brunner, Z.d.Z., 1930, p. 414).
I love being able to read all the references in Latin (thanks Logos!). So what did you read this week that you found significant? I look forward to your comments!
Book I.1: The Word of God as the Criterion of Dogmatics; The Revelation of God
*Post and Discussion Day on the blog.
Learn more about Karl Barth here.
Buy his Church Dogmatics in LOGOS here.
*Reading list generated by Logos Bible Software.
I want to ask Barth what he sees as being significantly different between “dogmatics” and “systematics.” Are they, as some suggest, one in the same? Or are they related to confessional identity? I always find that issue of interest when I am reading Reformed or Lutheran dogmatics.
His explanation of the “science” behind what he is doing is of interest. I wonder if we could improve on that metaphor by acknowledging what a lot of people say concerning hermeneutics: it is both a “science” and an “art.” Thoughts?
We need to get Michael R. up in here?
I think Barth saw his Dogmatics as something different than systematics. In book I.1 Page 137 concerning The Nature of the Word of God Barth says this…
“The equation of God’s Word and God’s Son makes it radically impossible to say anything doctrinaire in understanding the Word of God. In this equation, and in it alone, a real and effective barrier is set up against what is made of proclamation according to the Roman Catholic view and of Holy Scripture according to the later form of older Protestantism, namely, a fixed sum of revealed propositions which can be systematised like the sections of a corpus of law. The only system in Holy Scripture and proclamation is revelation, i.e., Jesus Christ. Now the converse is also true, of course, namely that God’s Son is God’s Word. Thus God does reveal Himself in statements, through the medium of speech, and indeed of human speech. His word is always this or that word spoken by the prophets and apostles and proclaimed in the Church. The personal character of God’s Word is not, then, to be played off against its verbal or spiritual character. It is not at all true that this second aspect under which we must understand it implies its irrationality and thus cancels out the first aspect under which we must understand it.”
Okay, I’m finally here (partly because I’m procrastinating grading the 100+ papers waiting on me). I think the distinction between systematics and dogmatics was important for Barth. Any systematic approach is necessarily a synthetic approach, where some preselected framework becomes to some degree determinative of the content it seeks to order. The chosen framework leads to certain results and also winds up not fitting well with other aspects. This is why systematic approaches tend to unravel or get messy toward the end. The leftover round pegs are forced into square holes.
The commitment Barth makes in writing a dogmatics is that no framework can be more determinative than Jesus Christ fully God-fully human. This is the core dogma that the science of dogmatics seeks, not as much to explain, as to explain the ramifications of. The entire CD (and especially parts I and II) takes on a dialectical feel for this very reason, not so much because of Kierkegaard’s influence on Barth (though that is a factor), but more because he wanted to build around the core dogma of Christ. Even the Creed, the Trinity, and Scripture get explained Christologically. Dogmatics is a science, and Christology is its scientific method.
Understanding this methodologically also marks a difference from a systematic approach. Barth did not have the framework of the CD laid out as he was writing. There is a real sense of openness (or perhaps open-endedness); he is using the method and following where the method leads, not to some predetermined (and thus artificially controlled) end.
There is also a lot to say about why this is a “church” dogmatics, but I think that is the issue you take up in the second week, so I will comment there.
Michael I want to thank you for your contribution here. All week during my reading I have kept in mind what you said here… “The commitment Barth makes in writing a dogmatics is that no framework
can be more determinative than Jesus Christ fully God-fully human. This
is the core dogma that the science of dogmatics seeks, not as much to
explain, as to explain the ramifications of. The entire CD (and
especially parts I and II) takes on a dialectical feel for this very
reason, not so much because of Kierkegaard’s influence on Barth (though
that is a factor), but more because he wanted to build around the core
dogma of Christ. Even the Creed, the Trinity, and Scripture get
explained Christologically. Dogmatics is a science, and Christology is
its scientific method.”