Does Theology Perfect Philosophy? Barth’s Nein / Przywara’s Ja

Kenneth Oakes’ book Karl Barth on Philosophy and Theology, which I reviewed a few years ago for the blog, presses the same point that Keith Johnson does in his book Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis. The point is the way Barth sees the relationship between philosophy and theology; he doesn’t, not in the way that post-mediaeval classical theism does in its effort to synthesize so-called faith-and-reason. This is one of the primary factors that has drawn me to Barth over the years. His prolegomenon is conditioned solely by what he considers to be both the formal and material principle of a genuinely Christian theology: i.e. submission to God’s Word. The way he does that is different, of course, than the way someone like Catholic Thomas Aquinas submits to divine revelation, and/or the way that scholastic Reformed theologians do that in the Post Reformation Orthodox period of Protestant development. Again, this point cannot be overstated in regard to the work I have been doing for the last many decades; indeed, my work has been driven by this sort of kataphysical, as TF Torrance would identify it, mode of theological development. That is, I see a need, along with Barth et al., to be slavishly submitted to the reality of Holy Scripture’s object in Jesus Christ. Not just in a cursory way, or as Richard Muller might say it, an “extensive way,” but in a principial or “intensive” way, such that Jesus Christ is understood as the warp and woof of every dot and iota within Holy Scripture. To see Jesus as the regnant telos of the heilsgeschichte found in the deposit of Apostolic (depositus per Apostolicum) witness entailed by its canonical reality.

Johnson helps the reader understand Barth’s mindset as he engaged with the analogia entis (analogy of being1) articulated by his theological nemesis (but friend), Erich Przywara. Here it becomes clearer in just what way Barth thought the relationship of the philosopher to the theologian, and how that, at its very principled base, contradicts the way Przwyara understood the analogia entis as that was conditioned by his ecclesioncentric mode of thinking as a Catholic theologian. Johnson writes,

That Przywara was on Barth’s mind is apparent in the first lecture as Barth explains the title and his objective for the talk. The title, Barth explained, refers to the ‘two boundaries of human thought’, realism and idealism, which form the ‘basic problem of all philosophy’. Barth’s goal is to use those “boundaries’ as the framework from which to ask questions about the proper relationship between philosophy and theology. To flesh out his reason for taking up this task, he draws an analogy between the relationship between theology and philosophy and that of the church and the state. Just as ‘the church finds itself in the framework of the state but does not exist in competition with it . . . so theology understands itself as (the) fundamental reflection about human existence as discussed within the framework of philosophy’. Theology is a human enterprise, and as such, is uses the same tools of language, concepts, and categories that philosophers use in their own attempts to describe the human situation. This correspondence leads to a temptation, Barth says, because while the theologian can speak about the human situation only in the ‘crabbed, constricted, and paradoxical way’ forced upon it by its adherence to divine revelation, the philosopher ‘is in a position to say it all so much better, more freely, more universally’. This situation places the theologian ‘under the insufferable pressure of a situation where [he] can speak only humanly and where this occurs so much better in philosophy’. Hence, just as the church must deal with the temptation of trying either to become the state or be absorbed into it, theology must deal with the temptation of trying either to become philosophy or be absorbed into it. The fact that the shift from theology to philosophy occurs by only a ‘few small shifts in accent’ or a ‘few minor adjustments’ makes it all the more dangerous. Theology can avoid these dangers, Barth says, only if it realizes its true task: adhering to God’s Word. He will develop what this means in more specificity as the lecture progresses, but at this point, he simply means that theology proper is that which ‘thinks and speaks not about those boundaries of human thought, but with all possible objectivity about God’.

The fact that Przywara’s project centers upon the relationship between philosophy and theology — and their point of connection in the analogia entis —is working in the background of Barth’s thoughts here, and the way that he frames this relationship points to a key difference he recognizes between Przywara’s project and his own. As we have seen, Przywara’s account of the analogia entis is built upon the notion that philosophical thought about God failed to recognize the proper relationship between the boundaries of divine immanence and transcendence and thus failed to arrive at any true knowledge of God. The analogia entis is then posited as the alternative that resolves the false dichotomy left by philosophy, since it maintains the proper ‘tension’ between immanence and transcendence. This argument stands directly in line with the Catholic dictum that Przywara cited in Barth’s seminar: ‘revelation does not destroy but supports and perfects reason’. That is, Przywara describes the problem of philosophy, which works form reason, and then proffers the analogia entis, which was derived from divine revelation in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, as the solution to that problem. Revelation, in short, works in concert with reason because the two are engaged in the same basic task, and revelation ‘fulfils and perfects’ reason because the Catholic analogia entis accomplishes, on the philosopher’s own terms, what the philosophers themselves could not.2

What must be born in mind is that Barth was a dedicated Protestant theologian, whereas Przywara was, of course, Roman Catholic. What’s at stake in this tussle, as often is the case, is really an anthropological point. Przywara would have been committed to the Thomist Intellectualist anthropology wherein the intellect remained morally solvent, even after the fall. Thus, the noetic effects of sin weren’t as death-dealing for Przywara as they were for Barth. As such, Przywara could and did imagine a world wherein human beings could still think after God even without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit; that there was still a ‘spark,’ as it were, of the imago Dei operative that simply needed to be ‘restored’ or ‘perfected’ by revelation. For Barth, not only as a Protestant, but a Reformed theologian, this premise does not work. For Barth, as for any principled Protestant Christian, the noetic effects of the fall were so deep and sweeping that humanity itself, in its ruptured status from God, who is the ground and being of all human being, was plunged into an Athanasian ‘subhumanity’; since humanity, according to Scripture is only humanity when it is in right and reconciled relationship with God. Because of this rupture the only hope for a knowledge of God to obtain was if God unilaterally irrupted into humanity, re-create it in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and give humanity the capacity to rightly think God as God thought Godself for humanity in the risen humanity of Jesus Christ, as humanity is brought into an actualized union with Christ (unio cum Christo) by the Spirit.

The really crazy thing in this story is that the Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries, namely, the Post Reformed orthodox, took up the anthropology that ended up informing Przywara’s own Catholic anthropology. As such, what has come to be known as historic Protestant Reformed theology, by and large, is really nothing different, in anthropological-principle, than what we find in the analogia entis way of someone like Przywara. I personally know people, Reformed guys, who will argue with me all day about the value and need of some form of the analogia entis. These guys (and gals) are in the process of retrieving the ideational seeds that gave rise to both Thomas Aquinas’ and Erich Przywara’s analogia entis, respectively, as if this is the Protestant way. And so, in my view, they sadly betray the very Protestant principle (the Scripture Principle, and the attendant anthropology with that as far as the extent of the noetic effects of the fall etc.) they say they are intent on retrieving. They ironically operate like Catholic thinkers rather than genuinely Protestant ones as we see in Barth. Przwyara was an intellectualist, just as his counterparts in scholasticism Reformed are, that’s what this is all about in our current theological cultural moment of recovery. But these recoverers don’t understand the sources of their own religion; they don’t understand how they are really just Catholics in Protestant dress.

I digressed, somewhat. But maybe the digression will help the reader see how all of these types of things are related in the end. Maybe the reader will see why I still feel compelled to alert people to what is going on in regard to current theological developments. At the end of the day this isn’t simply a matter of arid academic complexity, ideas have real life consequences that impact real life Christian spirituality.

 

1 Johnson cites Przywara’s basic definition of what he means by analogia entis:

By virtue of the objective and actual ‘God over us and God in us’ of the analogia entis, all aspiration after God, and all experience of God which solves its riddles, is the dynamic and contemplative consciousness of Being described by Paul in the words, ‘He created the human race . . . if haply they might feel after God and find him, though He be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17.26-28). Thus all movements towards God, all illumination by God of the human experience which seeks to enlighten itself, presupposes a tranquil condition of ‘God in me and I in God’, because precisely by reason of the nature of the analogia entis, the relationship between God and man is not a function of man’s activity, but of God’s condescension. (Przywara, Religionphilosophie, p. 410)

See, Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 78.

2 Ibid., 94-5.

 

Knowledge of God: Irruptive Rather Than Domestic

I think sometimes folks aren’t appreciating the rub between what Barth (Torrance et al.) are doing when they offer an alternative—to classical theism—theory knowledge of God. It orbits around a question; a question Keith Johnson articulates with great clarity:

Romans I

Barth began concentrated study on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans a few months after delivering ‘The Righteousness of God’. The experience was slow-going, at least by the standards of his later output. The extra time spent on the manuscript, however, meant that Barth’s understanding of the distinctions and categories that had been working subtly throughout ‘The Righteousness of God’ had time to develop and mature to the point where they could become more prominent and central to his theology. We see the fruit of this development in the final manuscript of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans. One of Barth’s concerns as he works through Paul’s text is to explain how the relationship between God and humanity can be a relationship-in-distinction. His goal, as becomes clear in the text, is to find a way to remove the human consciousness from the centre of our understanding of the creator-creature relationship while also upholding some way of talking about true human knowledge of God. Barth is convinced that human knowledge of God cannot be conceived as something constant or always available—since this leaves it under human control—but rather, it must be understood as something that comes afresh and anew in each moment. But what does this kind of knowledge look like in practical terms? In other words, how can one see God as, on the one hand, existing prior to and apart from all human knowledge of him, and, on the other, as one who really is known by the human?1

Before further comment, one point of quibble. When Johnson writes: “Barth is convinced that human knowledge of God cannot be conceived as something constant or always available . . .” it almost leaves one with the impression that knowledge of God for Barth, theoretically, isn’t ‘always available.’ Of course, the rest of the context from Johnson helps to clarify, but I think this could “sound” a certain way for the casual reader. It isn’t that, for Barth, knowledge of God isn’t always available, it’s just that the way it’s always available comes from the miracle of God’s irrupting grace into our lives moment by moment, afresh anew. And this gets us to the point: as Johnson is eloquently developing, Barth is intentionally operating with a non-possessive or dispossessive theory of knowledge of God. Instead of the ‘classical’ model wherein ‘grace perfects nature,’ thus collapsing grace into nature, for Barth, and I think the Apostle Paul, grace is a constantly in-breaking reality into the lives of Christians in particular, and the world in general. It isn’t something, but someOne, Jesus Christ, who by the Holy Spirit confronts, contradicts, and challenges the would-be knower of God to know God on God’s terms, and not the abstract human agent’s terms. This is implicit in what Johnson is after: i.e. the critique of the classical theist notion that as corollary with its actus purus (pure being) God, there is a natura pura (pure nature) operative such that grace becomes the natural predicate or end of nature’s perfection independent of the immediacy and agency of God; something like a ‘deistic’ notion of a God-world relation wherein God relates to the ‘pure world’ mediated through secondary and middle causative powers (decrees etc.) at a ‘distance.’ When this is applied to a theory of knowledge of God, knowledge of God becomes immediate and ‘constant’ to the human agent in abstraction from God, per se, and instead in concreto by way of the creature’s active accessing of the created order as a vestige by which God is known (from effect to cause in a chain of being).

Barth, as Johnson is underscoring, is registering a resounding: Nein! For Barth, nature presents no independent access to God, even through a ‘created grace’ provided for ostensibly by God. For Barth, the created order is so befuddled by sin, that in order for it to be redeemed, it must be re-created. But this requires a miracle from the type of resources that only God has available to Him; which we see in creatio ex nihilo. As such, knowledge of God can only be provided for by God of God; not by way of an abstract accessing of vestiges of God woven into the taxis of the fallen created order, but by way of God’s re-created order in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only through a relation of faith, the faith of Christ for us, that this knowledge of God can obtain. Only after God has thought Himself for us in Jesus Christ, wooed us into His womb through participation with the Son’s humanity, that the human comes into the center of God’s inner-life and theological knowledge of God obtains (from the evangelical to the theological, as TF Torrance would say it). But this an ongoing miracle of God’s parousia, of God visiting us moment by moment in the freshness of the breath of the Holy Spirit as He enlivens Christ’s voice into ours. This naturally leads to witness. Knowledge of God for Barth reduces to witness insofar as this is the organic unfolding of the Christian’s knowledge of God. The point being that human agents cannot think God in abstraction from God on their own created energy, since such energy is fallen energy that required a total scrapping, which occurred in the incarnation and the cross of Jesus Christ. There is a new way, a new creation, a new time that Christian’s bear witness to: the Kingdom has come, is coming moment by moment, and is to come in its eschatological bliss of the many finally seeing their One, the One for them, God in Jesus Christ.

As Johnson leaves us with, what Barth is left with is how to think God, and knowledge of God under his proposed terms, in such a way that the Godness of God’s transcendence, His hiddenness (Deus absconditus), becomes accessible to the creature; accessible in a way that retains the integrity of God’s Godness, and the creature’s creatureliness. The answer is always Jesus; what’s the question?

 

1 Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analgia Entis (New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 21-2.

 

Zwingli, The Pluralist Universalist

I am just finishing up Bruce Gordon’s excellent book Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet. In it, Gordon, almost in passing, notes that in Zwingli’s final theological confession, his Exposition of the Faith, in his dedication to France’s king, Francis I, he writes the following. You will notice the universalistic intonations of Zwingli’s correspondence; Luther, and the Germans most certainly did. Indeed, in the following quotation, Gordon also supplies Luther’s acerbic response to what I would take, similarly, to be a highly unChristian way to think about the salvation of pagan peoples.  

In his dedication, Zwingli urged the king to rule well, that he might join the heavenly company of exalted monarchs: 

Then you may hope to see the whole company and assemblage of all the saints, the wise, the faithful, brave, and good who have lived since the world began. Here you will see the two Adams, the redeemed and the redeemer, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Phineas, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and the Virgin Mother of God of whom he prophesied, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, the Baptist, Peter, Paul; here too, Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos and Scipios, here Louis the Pious, and your predecessors, the Louis, Philips, Pepins, and all your ancestors, who have gone hence in faith. In short there has not been a good man and will not be a holy heart or faithful soul from the beginning of the world to the end thereof that you will not see in heaven with God. And what can be imagined more glad, what more delightful, what, finally, more honourable than such a sight? 

As Luther and others quickly noted, Zwingli’s words were arresting. Alongside the kings of Israel and France, the blessed included Socrates and the Catos. The virtuous pagans would find their place among the elect. From Wittenberg came the caustic reply: 

Tell me, any one of you who wants to be a Christian, what need is there of baptism, the sacrament, Christ, the Gospel, or the prophets and Holy Scripture, if such godless heathen, Socrates, Aristides, yes, the cruel Numa, who was the first to instigate every kind of idolatry at Rome by the devil’s revelation, as St Augustine writes in the City of God, and Scipio the Epicurean, are saved and sanctified along with the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles in heaven, even though they knew nothing about God, Scripture, the Gospel, Christ, baptism, the sacrament, or the Christian faith? What can such an author, preacher, and teacher believe about the Christian faith except that it is no better than any other faith and that everyone can be saved by his own faith, even an idolater and an Epicurean like Numa and Scipio? 

The list was not the first time Zwingli had expressed himself on the salvation of non-Christians. Against his beloved Augustine, he was adamant that unbaptized infants would be saved. On the noble heathen, he had made his point most emphatically in his sermon on providence in 1530, when he claimed that Seneca was ‘the unparalleled cultivator of the soul among pagans’. He was a ‘theologian’ and his works ‘divine oracles’.  

Salvation was not limited to Israel or the visible Church. Zwingli’s conviction was consistent: God is entirely free in election to choose whom he wills with reasons completely beyond human comprehension. Profound attachment to divine freedom led Zwingli to find God working through the deeds and thoughts of non-Christians. God was the source of all goodness, and faith and goodness were to be found among virtuous pagans as they were somehow part of God’s election. Unlike John Milton later, Zwingli felt no need to explain the ways of God to humanity.1 

Interestingly, Zwingli himself, according to Gordon’s commentary, has no problem imposing his soteriology on God’s freedom; this is precisely what Karl Barth would not do. Barth, like Zwingli, had a high view of Divine freedom, but just because of that, definitionally, Barth rightly saw that a person, like Zwingli, could not foreclose on said freedom; and “make” God’s freedom the cipher by which an array of theological adiaphora might be smuggled into the Divine way. This is what kept Barth et al. from following Zwingli’s apparent universalistic-turn. At most, for Barth, God’s freedom could allow for a hopeful universalism, but not of the sort that we find, ostensibly, in Zwingli’s absolute, and even pluralistic form of universalism (I say anachronistically after Paul Tillich). Indeed, I find this rather striking; Zwingli seems to have an incipient form of what would later come to be Karl Rahner’s anonymous Christian notion. Again, to read modern theologians, and their respective categories, back into someone like Zwingli would be, at best, anachronistic. But at a conceptual level it is interesting that there is at least some inchoate corollary between him and some moderns who would follow latterly.  

I found this nugget interesting, and something I didn’t know in regard to Zwingli’s soteriological imagination. Maybe you’ll find this interesting as well, which is why I’ve shared this. Solo Christo  

 

1 Bruce Gordon, Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2021), 238-39.

 

A Quick Sketch on My Constructive Doctrine of the Church After Barth

The Church is radically important. I’m afraid some in the Barthian trad are wrongly understood in regard to their ostensible de-emphasizing of the Church as the historic body of Christ. But this would be wrong. It is instead, that Barthians want to emphasize the esse of the Church’s reality in Christ. Barthians see the Church as the place where encounter with the risen Christ obtains afresh anew through the proclamation of the Word. It is in this encounter that the Church experiences the power required to bear witness to its reality in Christ. Barthians are first and foremost Protestants, and ones who radically emphasize the Reformed scripture principle vis a vis a theology of the Word. The historical nature of the Church, in this frame, entails the history of God’s life for the world in Jesus Christ. This is the evangelical basis by which the mediation of God to the world is actualized; that is, by the Son become flesh. For the Barthian trad the basis and inner reality of the Church is the Covenant of God’s life for the world in Christ. There is no ‘grace perfecting nature’ in this frame. Instead, as TF Torrance rightly took Barth’s sacra doctrina it is ‘grace all the way down’; both protologically and eschatologically, with the latter conditioning the former. In the end: for the Barthian trad the Church is all important in the sense that this is the ordained place of God wherein the people of God participate in the fellowship of God as they are elevated into the presence of God as mediated through the vicarious humanity of Jesus. In this frame, the Church is not a prolongation of Christ’s body, as in the Catholic tradition, but instead is a witness to its own reality as it encounters that afresh anew in Christ. In short: the Church does not possess its reality, but it is given it as gift afresh as the event of God’s life for the world is actualized in intense ways as the communio sanctorum comes together as the very body of Christ. The Church’s role, in this trad, is primarily one of witness; witness to the One she knows as her Lord. 

On the Christological Exegesis of the Biblical Text: Christ the Centraldogma of Everything

The Old Testament makes no sense without Jesus as its centraldogma. It was really only after the advent and development of a post-Enlightenment deconfessionalized naturalist biblical studies movement wherein my thesis statement would make no sense. For the Christian, the idea that the Old Testament has any meaning other than its witness to Jesus, and its fulfillment therein, in principle makes no sense. Jesus himself thought as much: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me . . . .” There is historical nuance, descriptions of historical narratives, development of historical characters, and much more in the Old Testament. But without their ultimate referent in Jesus Christ, they have no meaning, no context. They only remain a series of potentially inspiring, and variously interesting stories about a nation amongst the nations, but without Jesus Christ as its canonical-contextual ground, again, these stories remain largely aloof to anything relevant towards the meaning of life before God (coram Deo). Barth agrees:

But when they say that this subject is Jesus Christ, who according to the will of God was slain under Pontius Pilate and was raised from the dead by the power of God, we can only say again that the ultimate exegetical question in relation to these passages—the question of their subject—is identical with the question of faith: whether with the Synagogue both then and now we do not recognize Christ. This question obviously cannot be settled by the Old Testament passages as such. The final result of the passages as such is the difficulty. Again, it is naturally impermissible to accept the reply of the apostles solely because we cannot solve these difficulties in the exegesis of the text itself, or because, on the other hand, we share with them an idea that Jesus Christ is supremely fitted to occupy the place where we are pulled up short. The apostles themselves did not reach their answer as a possibility discovered and selected by themselves, or as a final triumph of Jewish biblical scholarship. They did so because the Old Testament (Lk. 24.27f) was opened up to them by its fulfilment in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because in light of this fulfilment Old Testament prophecy could no longer be read by them in any other way than as an account of this subject. If we accept the decision of the apostles—for the same reasons as they did, compelled by the affirmation that the elect king, of whom they speak, is Jesus of Nazareth, will be not merely possible but necessary as the last word in the exegesis of these passages, the last word! So far we have mentioned His name in our investigation of these passages. We have remained within the Old Testament world and its possibilities. We have tried in this world to bring out and think through what is said there about the elect king. But we have been forced to the conclusion that the entity in question cannot be brought out or apprehended within the Old Testament world: whether we think of it in terms of the monarchy as willed by God, or of the person of the elect king; whether we think of the matter itself or of its unity. Therefore the decisive question: What is the will of God in this matter? and whom does He will for this purpose? is not a question which can be unambiguously answered from the passages themselves.1

Thomas Torrance summarizes what Barth is after this way:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.2

Some people, like Helmut Thielicke, see Barth, and Torrance, respectively, as Christomonist. The idea being that Barth et al. so reduce the contours of Holy Scripture to Jesus, that nothing else is seemingly significant in itself. For the Lutheran, Thielicke, his critique largely stems from his desire to read the Bible through the Law/Gospel dialectic, but for others, the critique of Christomonism simply arises from the facile notion that Barth and company reductionistically reduces all of reality, including Scripture’s, to Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I am left scratching my head in regard to this critique. The Apostle Paul writes, “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” If Paul is right, and he is, then in what way is seeing Jesus everywhere, and in every way, monist and/or reductionistic? It seems to me that people who make such critiques have already posited a priori some other meaning of Scripture, constructed from some other place than Scripture, about Scripture’s principial meaning as that is found in Jesus Christ alone (Solo Christo).

In certain sectors, there is a lot of talk about theological interpretation of Scripture or theological exegesis these days. But for my money, the only game in the Kingdom, hermeneutically, should really be designated Christological exegesis; at least for the genuinely Christian approach to all things. Barth, and Torrance following, reflect the sort of Christological exegetical approach that I believe every Christian should be about. We see this, even radically so, in someone like Martin Luther, and John Calvin in lesser ways, and I think we ought to see this more today among the exegetes wherever and whenever (which is a huge ask these days) they might actually be found. To not be a Christological exegete only leads to the sort of impoverished biblical exegesis we see attending so much of the evangelical world in our contemporary culture. If all of reality is about Jesus, then this, at least, ought to imply that all of biblical exegesis is self-same. How this gets fleshed out can only happen insofar that the analogy of the Incarnation is allowed to inform our exegetical efforts. Some form of the Chalcedonian Pattern, as George Hunsinger would call this, needs to be the imprimatur of the exegete’s Christian existence. But will the Lord really find such biblical exegetes on earth?

 

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §35: Study Edition Vol 11 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 196.

2 Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, 196. 

The Great Peace of the Barth Wars: McCormack’s Recanto to Hunsinger and Molnar

Maybe you’ve heard of the ‘Companion Controversy,’ which later came to be called The Barth Wars, by some. I have been published, a wee bit, on this hereas far as some commentary. In nuce, it entails an embroilment within Anglophone Barth studies; that is, between, in particular, Bruce McCormack and George Hunsinger/Paul Molnar respectively. It has to do with the way McCormack reads Barth’s doctrine of election as a sort of organizing dogma for his doctrine of God; in a highly actualistic sense. Hunsinger/Molnar demur and claim that the ‘textual’ (Hunsinger’s word) Barth, and his doctrine of God, has an antecedent reality (which is the classical position), and as such the economic God cannot be fully read back into the immanent (in se) God, as McCormack proposes. That’s a very rough sketch of the matter.

In general, Hunsinger’s critique, in particular, has been that McCormack offers a revisionist Barth; and thus, doesn’t actually offer Barth’s theology at all—at least when it comes to a doctrine of God proper. McCormack has maintained that he has been offering something of the logic of Barth’s doctrine of election vis-à-vis God proper, even if Barth didn’t follow through with the logic itself. Even so, at the end of the day, McCormack has claimed to be reading the grain of Barth’s theology faithfully; more so than his ‘opponents,’ Hunsinger/Molnar. And now, in his most recent work,1 McCormack seems to finally admit that he is doing something different than Barth when it comes to Barth’s textual doctrine of election (although read me below, as I’ve been thinking this through, even as I write this, I’m developing). In other words, as I’ve been reading McCormack’s new book (which is excellent thus far), a rather striking thing gets communicated. He acknowledges that he disagrees with Barth, or that Barth’s doctrine of election represents “the limit of how far I [McCormack] can follow him.”2

Here is the full passage from McCormack:

Looking back at Barth’s early appropriation of Calvin’s exegesis of Phil. 2 in support of a Reformed Christology, which laid its emphasis upon the preservation of the “natures” of Christ in their original integrity subsequent to their union, Barth’s understanding of the divine kenosis in his later Christology clearly points in the direction of providing an explanation for the susceptibility of the eternal Son to the human experiences of suffering and death. His way of upholding divine immutability was to anchor the existence of the Logos “in the form of a servant” in the divine election — understood as a “primal decision” (Urentscheidung). Barth’s later Christology thus became the epistemological ground of our knowledge of election. Election then was posited as the ontological ground of Barth’s later Christology. Clearly, he wanted to understand the human experiences of suffering and death as essential to God in his second mode of being. Whether his doctrine of election was fully adequate to this task is debatable — which marks the limit of how far I can follow him.3

So, what is rather interesting about this development is that McCormack seems to be affirming his reading of Barth’s doctrine of election, the one that Hunsinger says is a revisionist reading, but then coming to the conclusion that he cannot follow Barth down this path; i.e. of reading human suffering and death into the second mode of being of the triune God into the essential or ‘eternal’ or in se being of God. As I reflect on this, even in this moment, it almost seems as if McCormack says he cannot follow Barth here; and yet on the other hand Hunsinger/Molnar are saying you don’t have to, because you never were to begin with. In other words, it’s almost as if McCormack is de facto agreeing with Hunsinger/Molnar, in the sense that if one were to follow through on McCormack’s “revisionist” Barth, that that theologian would be the pantheist, or panentheist that Hunsinger/Molnar have said “McCormack’s Barth” indeed reduces to. So instead of admitting that he has been misreading Barth’s doctrine of election, which would be a sort of recanto to Hunsinger/Molnar, he continues to maintain that he has indeed read Barth’s doctrine of election correctly, but that he cannot follow Barth in that direction. He seems to be making a “classical turn,” potentially, albeit one that seeks to repair Chalcedon’s Cyrillian misstep with the resources that he seems to have found in a burgeoning ‘Spirit Christology’ (I’m still reading, so we’ll see).

 

1 Bruce Lindley McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021). 

2 Ibid., 121. 

3 Ibid., 120-21. 

Christological Objectivism::Not Dogmatic Christian Universalism

The Incarnation implies the actualist salvation of all of humanity; or at least so goes the logic of Karl Barth’s ‘Christological objectivism.’ I believe that this is indeed the logic of the Incarnation; viz. that all of humanity has been objectively (extra nos) justified (‘saved’) before God. This is the case precisely because humanity, at a primordial level, I would contend, is Christ’s vicarious humanity; His humanity is humanity. As such, what it means to be human before God, as all humans now are, is what it means for Christ, our high priest, to stand before God for us, as the imago Dei. Some believe that the logic I am forwarding, qua Barth, necessarily leads to a dogmatic Christian universalism, wherein all will finally be saved. I will respond to this latterly, but first let’s hear from Bruce McCormack as he describes Barth’s Christological objectivism vis-à-vis a soteriological frame:

I have already hinted at a major conclusion of my own research on Barth that will have bearing on what is said in the remainder of this section of the current chapter. A final significant development (one of may even speak of an ever-so slight “turn”) took place within the bounds of the Church Dogmatics that would force a recapitulation of all that went before and even a few retractions. The final modulation took place in the revision of election and its most significant result was what I would like to call Barth’s “Christological objectivism” — that is, the understanding that God’s work of reconciliation and redemption is fully accomplished and already effective “for” all human beings even before an awakening to faith makes it effective “in” any particular one of them. What is accomplished by God in Jesus Christ is the reality of reconciliation and redemption, not merely its possibility — a possibility to be made actual later by the work of the Spirit. No, the work of the Spirit in awakening an individual to faith and obedience does not make Christ’s work effective; it simply brings Christ’s work in its efficacy to conscious awareness so that the individual is redirected, reoriented to a future of which they had been unaware. Ex opere operato is a phrase well-suited to describe Barth’s mature understanding of Christ’s work.1

This sits well with what I have highlighted in my sidebar from TF Torrance; he writes:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.2

First, we have an explication of how Barth came to understand the objective nature of salvation in Jesus Christ, as described by Bruce McCormack. Second, we have an iteration of this type of Christological objectivism as that found its way into the inklings of Barth’s greatest English speaking student, TF Torrance. I wanted to share TFT’s rendition of this doctrine because I think it is important to see how such deep theology has real-life practical implications towards thinking and proclaiming the Gospel.

But certain theologians might spy a Christian universalism in all of this. Indeed, there is a biblical universalism at play here, but it isn’t of the sort of mercantile or causal type that causes these theologians to panic. That is to say: the only way something like Barth’s (and TFT’s following) Christological objectivism leads to a dogmatic Christian universalism is if the theologian applies something like an Aristotelian causal theory to the kerygmatic logic being deployed in the thinking of Barth/TFT. But if the theologian were to simply think from the logic determined by the sui generis Gospel itself, the theologian does not conclude at a dogmatic Christian universalism; such as the aforementioned theologians fear. That is how this works in the theologies of Barth and Torrance; they are not metaphysicians, they are Christian theologians. As such, they think from the theo-logic inherent to the Gospel. As Torrance might qualify: the Christian needs to operate from the kata physin (according to the nature of) of the Gospel itself. As if the Gospel creates and recreates reality, and out of this reality the theologian comes to have the fertile soil needed to think from the foundations which no one else has laid but God Himself. That is, the theologian needs to allow the pure Gospel, rather than some discursive notion of a pure nature to supply the categories by which the theologian thinks God, in a God-world relation.

So let it be written so let it be done.

 

1 Bruce Lindley McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 104-05. 

2 T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94. 

God’s Eternity and Infinity Thought in Terms of God’s Time in Jesus Christ

I am reading Bruce L. McCormack’s (BLM) new book The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon currently. This is the first volume of three forthcoming. BLM has been one of my teachers along the way, in regard to Barth studies in particular, and the constructive theological effort that necessarily follows; BLM, is a premiere voice in constructive theological work After Barth. That said, BLM is not simply a Barth commentator, as this volume portends, he is a constructive theologian in his own right. Indeed, he sort of models the sort of theologian I aspire to be.1 The following will be an excerpt from BLM’s introduction wherein he gives a brief sketch on what it means to think theological proper loci like eternality and infinity from within a center of God’s life for the world in Christ, rather than from the abstract peripheral of the philosopher-theologian-kings. What BLM here treats reflects the sort of narratival biblicist theology that I believe represents a genuine Protestant theology; a theology intensively grounded in the Protestant Scripture Principle, which finds its lifeblood in and from a radically conceived theology of the Logos. McCormack writes:

What that means, among other things, is that terms like “infinity” and “eternity” do not define the being of God; it is rather the being of God in God’s relation to the world in Christ that defines them. To think about the being of God out of a center in God’s lived relation to the world in Christ is to forsake each and every abstractive tendency to treat, for example, the relation of eternity and time as strictly oppositional rather than committing oneself to thinking about God’s eternity as God’s irreducible otherness in God’s relation to time. It is to think of time not as alien to the innermost being of God but as taken up in Jesus Christ into God’s inexhaustible life without detriment to God so that time itself is transformed into the new time of a coming world in which death is no more and the experience of time—and, indeed, of “change”—is no longer controlled by the inevitability of dying. It is to think of eternity not as the negation of time but as both its ground and goal, as its origin and as its redemptive completion.2

BLM, if you know Barth’s Church Dogmatics, is clearly riffing on Barth’s doctrine on ‘new time,’ but in a way that will go beyond Barth (potentially against Barth in certain ways). What BLM writes above is the sort of theological endeavor that I believe leaves so much of the so-called ‘classical’ theology behind (insofar as that is reified by mediaeval categories of synthesis). That is not to say that what BLM is doing here leaves ‘orthodox’ or ‘conciliar’ theology behind, but it is to say that he is having a different [constructive] theological discussion that itself is regulated, even conditioned by a concentrated focus on the Christological categories that ground, what is in my view, a properly conceived theological proper. That is to say, what BLM is presenting, while acknowledging the hard work of the classical theologians, even building on it in particular ways, ends up eliding the ongoing debates in regard to retrieving and receiving say Protestant and/or Catholic scholastic theologies. As the above excerpt reveals, for BLM (and I’d say for me following), to think about God’s eternity or infinity apart from God’s Self-revelation and ‘lived’ life for the world in Jesus Christ is an inconceivable game of theatrics.

Per the material implications of the above quote: when eternity and infinity are thought from ‘a center in God’s lived relation,’ what ends up happening is that the theologian no longer has space to speculate about a ‘God behind the back of Jesus’; that is to say: there is a concreto ground for thinking about God that ironically transcends the philosophers’ efforts to do so abstractly. And as BLM underscores, this ground in God’s life for us, is an eschatological ground that gives time and space its telos from its ultimate reality as that is funded by God’s superabundant life of triune Love.

On the personal side: what this has done for me, that is when I think about God as He has freely chosen for me to do so, from the face of His Son made flesh, is that I no longer get lost in the twists and tangles of speculating about a notion of Godness that I may have artificially conceived of as I peer up at the seemingly limitless heavens. I have a face (prosopon) to look at when I think God; a face that looks like mine, but is distinct from mine, even as the Creator is distinct from the creature. I can look at the veil of God’s hiddenness, in the flesh of the Son’s humanity, and by a Spirit-formed faith, can see the depth reality of the flesh of Christ as that is provided for by His life as the eternal Logos (an/ -enhypostasis). Indeed, I was just recently able to comfort my 21-year-old daughter with this type of thinking as she is struggling with issues surrounding reality and God. God wants us to know Him, He wants us to experience His time, which is grounded in the new time actualized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

1 That said, he and I are poles apart when it comes to socio-cultural-politico matters.  

2 Bruce Lindley McCormack, The Humility of the Eternal Son: Reformed Kenoticism and the Repair of Chalcedon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 22-3. 

God’s Eternal Time For Us: How Constancy is Better than Immutability

Thomas Torrance, Barth’s greatest English-speaking doctoral student, and lifelong friend, from that point onward, gained many insights from Barth. But he had his own way of articulating dogma; he was his own theologian, so to speak. Torrance had great respect for Barth’s magnum opus the Church Dogmatics; he had such great respect that along with Geoffrey Bromiley, he translated it from Barth’s native Swiss-German tongue into the English. Torrance’s favorite volume of the CD was II.1, on a Doctrine of God. It is in this volume that Barth offers an alternative, or reification of the classical doctrine of divine immutability; Barth calls his treatment of this doctrine, Constancy. As the theologian reads one of Torrance’s most mature books (The Christian Doctrine of God), in regard to the stage of TFT’s thought and development as a theologian, the reader will see how he riffs on Barth’s doctrine of divine constancy but in his own unique way. He writes:

This means that we must think of the constancy of God which is his unchanging eternal Life as characterised by time, not of course our kind of time which is the time of finite created being with beginning and end, and past, present and future, but God’s kind of time which is the time of his eternal Life without beginning and end. While he creates time along with all that is changeable, he does so without any temporal movement in himself. The time of our life is defined by its fleeting creaturely nature, but the time of God’s Life is defined by his everlasting uncreated Nature in which he transcends our temporality while nevertheless holding it within the embrace of his divine time. Just as we distinguish sharply between the uncreated reality of God and the created reality of the world, between the uncreated rationality of God and our created rationality, or between the uncreated Light of God and our created light, so we must distinguish between God’s uncreated time and our created time. On the other hand, just as we think of our creaturely being as contingently grounded upon the eternal being of God, so we must think of our creaturely time as contingently grounded upon the eternal time of God. Thus we may think of the time of our world, which God has created out of nothing along with the world he has made, as unceasingly sustained by him in a created correspondence to the uncreated time of his own eternal Life. And so far from being some kind of timeless eternity or eternal now that devalues or negates time, the real time of God’s eternal Life gives reality and value to the created time of our life through coordinating its contingent temporality with its own movement and constancy. What does this have to say to us about the unchangeableness or constancy of God which is identical with his self-moving eternal Life? The fact that God has time for us in the partnership he maintains with us in which our fleeting time for all its dissimilarity reflects his eternal time, reinforces the conviction that the nature of God’s time is not static but essentially dynamic and as such is the constant power upon which our contingent temporality rests.1

I think at this point it would be helpful to see how Barth, who TFT is writing after, develops a doctrine of the constancy of God. The reader will see where Barth and Torrance converge, and also where they depart in their own unique and prescient ways. The reader might come to see the types of questions both Barth and Torrance are attempting to address, respectively, from their own informing theological pressures. But I want my readers to understand just how close Barth and Torrance are on fundamental doctrinal points. I can think of no better example of that than as we come to their respective doctrines of divine constancy. Barth writes:

But it is not true that the immutable as such is God. The real truth is—and it is very different—that God is “immutable,” and this is the living God in His freedom and love, God Himself. He is what He is in eternal actuality. He never is it only potentially (not even in part). He never is it at any point intermittently. But always at every place He is what He is continually and self-consistently. His love cannot cease to be His love nor His freedom His freedom. He alone could assail, alter, abolish or destroy Himself. But it is just at this point that He is the “immutable” God. For at no place or time can He or will He turn against Himself or contradict Himself, not even in virtue of His freedom or for the sake of His love. What He does in virtue of His freedom for the sake of His love will never be the surrender but always at every point the self-affirmation of His freedom and His love, a fresh demonstration of His life. This self-affirmation is never anywhere an act of holy egotism, but always everywhere an act of the righteousness in which He establishes His glory over all things. And as an act of His righteousness His self-affirmation must be understood as necessary, not subject to any doubt or temptation. The answer, therefore, to the question: “What is immutable?” is: “This living God in His self-affirmation is the immutable.” The immutable is the fact that this God is as the One He is, gracious and holy, merciful and righteous, patient and wise. The immutable is the fact that He is the Creator, Reconciler, Redeemer and Lord. This immutability includes rather than excludes life. In a word it is life. It does not, therefore, need to acquire life from the impulse of the created world, or above all from the emotions of our pious feeling. It not only has nothing whatever to do with the pagan idea of the immobile, which is only a euphemistic description of death, but it is its direct opposite. It does not require, then, and sentimentalisings in sham concealment or embellishment of its terrible reality. For it is not this fearful reality. It is the reality of life and not of death. God’s constancy—which is a better word than the suspiciously negative word “immutability”—is the constancy of His knowing, willing and acting and therefore of His person. It is the continuity, undivertability and indefatigableness in which God both is Himself and also performs His work, maintaining it as such and continually making it His work. It is the self-assurance in which God moves in Himself and in all His works and in which he is rich in Himself and in all His works without either losing Himself or (for fear of this loss) having to petrify in Himself and renounce His movement and His riches. The constancy of God is not then the limit and boundary, the death of His life. For this very reason the right understanding of God’s constancy must not be limited to His presence with creation, as if God in Himself were after all naked “immutability” and therefore in the last analysis death. On the contrary, it is in and by virtue of His constancy that God is alive in Himself and in all His works. The fact that He possesses selfhood and continuity itself makes Him the living One that He is, and is the basis and meaning of His power and might, the inner divine secret of the movement and wealth itself in which He is glorious on His throne and in all the heights and depths of His creation.2

Both Barth and Torrance, respectively, are intent on demonstrating to the Church, that God is not immobile, but that He has an eternal movement, or an eternal time in Himself. Barth, as we have just read goes so far to say that classical sacra doctrina on divine immutability implies a ‘death’ in God; I agree. What we know of God, as both theologians are committed to, is only the Deus revelatus; the God who is revealed. If this is how the Christian first encounters God, as a God who has moved toward us in Jesus Christ, then to think God in static unmoved mover terms indeed would be to think God in terms of a type of death. We only know God as activity, as eternal and gracious movement; we only know God as His prosopon shines on us like the rays of the Sun shine upon the earth. This is the constancy, or stability of God’s life for the Christian knower; it is indeed an ‘unchangeableness,’ but one that is defined by the perichoretic interpenetrative koinonial Life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in processive intimacy. God’s life is an eternal activity of sabbath rest and shalom. Not immobile, but mobile to the point that He graciously stoops to us, gifts us with an echo-life, one in correspondence with His type of Life, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

It is within this creaturely structuring, within His gracious movement and humanity for us (Deus incarnandus), that we can come to share in the inner reality of that movement as that is funded by the eternal fount of His forever Life of love for the other. This is what characterizes the changelessness, and thus constancy of God’s Life; it is the triunity of time funded by the ineffability of His eternal threeness (de Deo trino) in oneness (de Deo uno). As such, as we are graciously included in that Life by participatio Christi we experience His eternal time as that has been given its total correspondence in the time of His life for us in the temporality of Life, in the skin and bone of Jesus Christ. As the Christian moves from this temporal life into the consummate eternal Life of God there is a seamlessness to it precisely because we aren’t experiencing something different, relative to the two aspects of time, but simply a transition from one sphere, one seen by the faith of Christ, to another sphere, one seen by the sight of Christ for us; both finding their visio Dei in the Light of God’s free life to be for and with us. There is great hope and expectation here; of the sort that the angels long to understand. And so, they observe us in order to gain some semblance of this strange grace of God for whom they serve at His pleasure; even when they don’t fully grasp just how great this God is.

 

1 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 241.  

2 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1 §31: Study Edition Vol 9 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 58-9. 

 

On a Knowledge of God: Natural Theology and its Antichrist Nature

I wrote the following three years ago. This locus remains my primary point of theological interest. That is, how the Christian claims to know God, under what pressures, has the greatest theological, political, sociological, and ethical implications we could fathom. As you will see, beyond the programmatic entailments engaged with in the following, natural theology, and adherence to it, has clear and present impact on the daily lives of real-life people; whether personally or collectively (as a society). If it is maintained that God and His ways can be known in an abstract ground latent in human reason, consciousness, or brute nature itself, then this will frame the way the Christians under this specter develop their respective ethics and politics; indeed, in light of their ostensible theological soundings. This is why, for Barth, this was all so pressing; particularly as he inhabited the range of two World Wars. In the Reich context it was evident for all to see how a form of natural theology could be deployed for the evilest of ends. In my view, there is no way to massage natural theology into a form that magnifies the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, along with Barth, I believe that the analogia entis (as a subset of natural theology) is Antichrist! We can see how so-called Christian leaders today are equally committed to natural theology, and how that is allowing them to capitulate to the global politics of the day; particularly as that is focused on the politicization of the “health crisis,” so-called “climate change,” and the deployment of critical race theory. All of these things fall under the rubric of natural theology. Confidence in the natural human capacities leads people to the conclusion that we have the powers to manipulate “naked” ideas, or brute natural forces, just the same, to our own beneficial ends. All we end up doing under this sort of posture, though, in my view, is to take by force what alone belongs to God; who alone searches the hearts and minds of all humanity.  

With the aforementioned, we now turn to the body of this post.  

How do we know God? There are traditions for answering that very question; I follow a particular tradition in contrast to another prominent tradition. This post will explore this question by providing some lengthy description of its unfolding in 20th century modern theology. We will read along with David Congdon, at length, as he describes Karl Barth’s relationship to the analogia entis tradition, and the alternative that is situated in Barth’s dialectical theology. After we have read along with Congdon we will bring what Congdon has surfaced for us in Barth’s theology into a brief discussion on a doctrine of creation in general. I recognize that I write about this issue frequently and often here at the blog, and this should alert you to the importance I see in it. 

In the process of developing Barth’s (and Bultmann’s) style of dialectical theology Congdon breaks off in a section and gets into the issue of knowledge of God vis-à-vis the infamous analogy of being; most commonly associated, in medieval theology, with Thomas Aquinas, and in modern theology with Roman Catholic theologian, Erich Przywara. The version of analogia entis that Barth is most animated by is the version of his German theological counterpart, Przywara. Barth’s reasons for being so animated are indeed contextual to the Third Reich milieu he was situated within, and the way that the Volk (national) church deployed things like the analogy of being, and natural theology in general, towards their evil ends. Some want to relativize or marginalize Barth’s animus towards the analogy of being by arguing that that was only a consequent and development per his idiosyncratic situatedness. Thus the marginalization goes, Barth’s stance against the analogy of being may have served his purposes towards an attempt at assassinating the Nazi conflation of church and state, but for our current purposes, theologically, such animus would be misdirected. But what this critique fails to appreciate is that the forces Barth was contesting are the dark forces and principalities and powers that have always already been present in this space-time continuum. In other words, there is nothing idiosyncratic about Barth’s stance against the analogy of being or natural theology in general that aren’t just as prescient and present in the 21st century—look around, we are currently in a corporatist oligarchic globalist state wherein the principalities and powers are just as heavy upon us (in their own expressions) as they were in the Deutschland of Barth and the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer. 

In the following David Congdon helps elucidate what in fact this whole debate is about; in particular in Barth’s contest with Przywara (and then by application to the German civilization and Emil Brunner). You will also see the way Condgon, per his thesis, ties this particular debate into a theology of mission (which ties into colonialism and nationalism). We will leave that particular discussion to the side (i.e. mission) to focus on Barth’s problem with the analogia. Congdon writes (in extenso): 

The year 1932 marks the climax of the confrontation between Barth and Erich Przywara. Three years earlier, in February 1929, Barth invited Przywara to Münster to participate in his seminar on Thomas Aquinas. In December 1931, Przywara visited Barth again in his seminar on “The Problem of Natural Theology” while at Bonn. These debates, together with Przywara’s request in April 1932 that Barth review his book, Analogia Entis, and the rising political unease in Germany, resulted in Barth’s famous statement in the preface to KD 1.1 that the analogia entis is “the  invention of the anti-Christ.” It was the 1929 meeting that really set the stage for their disagreement, and in particular a comment Przywara made on the morning of February 6. According to the student protocols of the seminary, Przywara began by defending his position regarding the manifestation of God’s revelation in history, including in human consciousness. In his defense he cited the Thomistic axiom “gratia non destruit se supponit et perficit naturam” (grace does not destroy but supports and perfects nature). Przywara understood grace to be both created and uncreated, both native and alien. The justification of the sinner does not annul but rather brings to fulfillment the grace already present in us by virtue of our creaturely participation in the being of God. 

Within weeks after this seminar visit Barth delivered his response to Przywara in the form of his lecture in Dortmund, “Schicksal und Idee in der Theologie.” While Przywara is not mentioned, he is the “silent conversation partner throughout.” This is especially clear when he addresses the Thomistic axiom directly: 

“Gratia non destruit, sed supponti et perficit naturam.” Analogia entis: thus each existing being as such and also we human beings as existing beings participate in the similitudo Dei. The experience of God is for us an inherent possibility and necessity. . . . The word of God does not mean for human beings a confirmation and reassurance of the naïve confidence that the experience of God is, but rather . . . in contrast to the whole range of possible experience it says something new and not merely more strongly and clearly what people could know anyway and even experience elsewhere. Indeed, this is how things always stand between God’s word and human beings, in that it proclaims something new to them and comes to them like light in the darkness. It always comes to them as to sinners, as forgiving and thus as judging grace. . . . Therefore that ability and necessity, that capacity for experiencing God, cannot be understood at any rate as something “natural”—meaning something given with our existence as such or subsequently associated with our existence as such, nor can it be understood by an appeal to a “gratia inhaerens,” by virtue of which the knower and known would simply and in themselves be in the relation to God of the analogia entis. 

Barth explicitly rejects the very axiom to which Przywara appealed to support his position. Grace, Barth says, neither has a basis in nature nor does it become subsequently part of nature. The grace of God is always a judging and forgiving grace, and for this reason it never becomes a “given” (datum) that lies at our disposal. It remains wholly nongiven even in the concrete event of Christ wherein God gives Godself to us. Grace always confronts us as a new event. 

Keith Johnson makes this astute observation that much more is at stake here for Barth than simply the old Protestant-Catholic debate over justification, though that is certainly at the heart of the dispute. What concerns Barth is, in fact, the same colonialist logic of the gospel’s cultural captivity that prompted his dialectical revolt against liberal theology fifteen years earlier. 

The link between humanity and God [Barth] recognized in 1929 followed the pattern he had seen in 1914 when his former teachers enlisted God in support of their own cause by giving their blessing to the war. Barth’s theology, from that moment on, had been driven by his goal of overcoming this mistake. In Przywara’s analogia entis, he discovered a sophisticated version of the same error, and in the Germany of 1932, the political winds were stirring in much the same way they had in 1914. 

Barth’s remark in 1932 about the analogia entis as the “invention of the anti-Christ” is therefore “a direct function of his context. . . . The political turmoil around him had to be on Barth’s mind, and in his view, the church appeared to be complicit in the events that were unfolding.” In other words, the danger in Przywara’s thinking was that he provided a robust theological framework capable of justifying the nationalist propaganda and colonialist endeavors of the German nation. The fact that Przywara’s theology had such a strong internal consistency and grounding in the tradition made if far more dangerous than the liberalism of Barth’s teachers and Protestant contemporaries. It is for this reason that Barth was compelled to sound a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the analogia entis. 

To make matters even more interesting, Przywara developed his account of analogy for missionary reasons. He understood the analogia entis as a “missionary principle” whose purpose is to prompt the church to positively engage German culture as the place where God is presently at work. The analogia entis accomplishes this task because “it attempts to meet the world on its own ground rather than insist that the world move to its ground.” We have to recall that, during these years of conversation with Przywara, Barth was simultaneously engaged in a debate with Brunner regarding the “point of connection” between nature and grace. And like Przywara, Brunner also viewed his account of the Anknüpfungspunkt as a missionary concept. A pattern quickly began to emerge. In each of these three situations—the liberal capitulation in 1914, Przywara’s analogia entis in 1929–32, Brunner’s Anknüpfungspunkt in 1929–35—Barth faced a theological position that claimed mission as its ground and aim, and on the basis of this appeal to mission sought to find a point of connection or continuity between God and humanity. The liberal theologians found it in German civilization, Przywara in human consciousness and experience, Brunner in the faculty of reason. In each case the will and work of God became continuous with what is already given and native to human beings in their creaturely existence, and so in each case Barth rendered a decisive verdict in the form of, respectively, the “No-God” in Der Römerbrief (1922), the “invention of the anti-Christ” in KD 1.1 (1932), and the famous Nein (1934).1 

After this lengthy and enlightening treatment offered by Congdon, I think the primary point of reduction comes to the issue orbiting around a “point of connection” (Anknüpfungspunkt) between God and humanity. As Congdon underscores this has taken various expressions through the centuries, whether that be with Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Przywara, the German nation (of the third reich), or Brunner; it is the issue of ‘the point of contact’ between God and humanity that is significant. It is significant, particularly in Barth’s context, because of the ethical and theopolitical implications this locus entails. 

If God can be thought from nature (or natural capacity), if the boundaries between God and humanity, God and the nations can be forcefully brought together by identifying an inherent capacity with nature itself that is gestationally waiting for God to activate and give it birth, then who’s to regulate this sort of grounding between God and humanity; the theologians, the politicians? Barth says Nein. He seeks to take away this seduction for the ‘natural’ human heart, and place the ground for “the point of connection” within the life of Godself in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. This is why the type of analogical knowledge of God that Barth supports is grounded in what he calls an analogia fidei/relationis (analogy of faith-relation). Barth recognizes the role that analogy plays in the correspondence of our knowledge of God with God’s knowledge of Godself; but again, even as Barth recognizes the ‘infinite qualitative difference’ between God and humanity, and precisely because of that, the shape of analogy he can support is one where it is objectively grounded not in a faceless apophatic God, but only in and from a center in himself that is for us in Jesus Christ. For Barth, within the Calvinian frame, faith is knowledge of God, and faith itself is the bond that God alone in the humanity of Christ has in se but for us as he transcends the ditch between himself and us within a creational nexus wherein all of creation has always already been attenuated and teleologized by Christ who is the Supreme and Firstborn of and for Creation. 

I said at the beginning of my post that I was going to also get into a doctrine of creation. At the close of my paragraph above I start to hint at that discussion, but because of the length of this post I am going to close it now. I hope you can at least appreciate what is at issue in this discussion as a result of reading this post. Indeed, Barth had a context, but so has all of theological development; even so called catholic or ecumenical developments. The contextual and conditioned nature of theological development doesn’t negate its global availability or reduce its force to the period or circumstances of its locational unfolding; instead, the merit and weight of various theological developments, such as Barth’s anti-natural theological / anti-analogia entis posture, are weighed strictly by their proximate value in bearing witness to the res (the reality) and power of God’s Gospel who is Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll consider that if you are prone to writing Barth’s position off simply because Barth wrote his theology in the context and shadow of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. Just maybe Barth’s theology, even though his heretic was partly German nationalism instead of Arius, has angel’s wings under it; in such a way that it might be a ministering spirit to the thirsty souls adrift in the 21st century evangelical theological wasteland (and I’m referring to the lacuna of Christian Dogmatics for the evangelical world). 

 

 1 David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 292-95.