Is Karl Barth the rescuer of the modern Protestant church; is that how he is being appealed to by some Protestants, as Thomas Aquinas was for Tridentine (Roman Catholic) theology? What about Augustine? Was and is Augustine underneath most, if not all Western theology (Roman Catholic and Protestant alike)? If he is, and I would contend that in general, he is, then what makes Augustine’s theological categories more sacrosanct than those of Barth or even Aquinas? Has Augustine become so wedded, so conflated with Reformed Protestant theology (even Lutheran), not to mention Roman Catholic, that it is hard for us to critically make this distinction? Maybe we just don’t want to.
Phillip Cary just recently wrote a post somewhat critiquing Barth and the role that he has been given by Protestants as a kind of rescuer of failing Protestant theology (at least as that is perceived among some sectors). Cary writes:
That is the kind of modernity we don’t need. It is an unhealthy situation when a brilliant mind is put in the position of rescuing the Church and rebuilding its theology. This is not just a Protestant problem. Thomists in modernity have seen in Aquinas “an ark of salvation”—as the blurb on my copy of the Summa Theologica attests. It was a great service to the Roman Catholic Church when scholars of ressourcement such as Henri de Lubac and Jean Marie Daniélou retrieved the writings of the Church Fathers and thus restored Thomas to his position as one great theologian among many, not the sole standard of sound doctrine. (source)
I guess this kind of assessment still leaves me wondering; why Augustine, but not Barth? I can’t help but think about the kind of impact Augustine has had upon Western theology; like I already intimated it is so ubiquitous, I think, that Augustine’s presence is almost absent, even when it his voice that is the most prominent in so much of theological discourse.
So why is it okay for the theologoumena (theological opinion) of Augustine to be so critically determinative for so much of the theological enterprise and not someone else of the same kind of stature (i.e. Barth, Aquinas, et al)?
I’m not sure Cary would say that it is okay for Augustine to serve in the kind of role that he has for the church, but then he turns around and chides Barth for (at least the role Barth ostensibly has been placed in by some) functioning in the same type of role that Augustine has in the determinative type of capacity he has for the Western church? It seems as if Cary is advocating for ressourcement, but I couldn’t help noticing that he forgot to mention Augustine. Maybe Augustine is so present for Cary that he does indeed keep Augustine in a separate category of his own; I don’t know.
But if we are choosing traditions, I choose Barth’s.