Sunday, March 13, 2011

Barth I.1 §7.1

In this section, Barth tries to further define the problem of dogmatics.  He has been discussing the doctrine of the Word of God, and he does not cease to do so here, and that is because the Word of God is the criterion of dogmatics.

What, then, is dogmatics?  It is the measuring of church proclamation by the criterion of the Word of God.  That is, to what degree does church proclamation line up with the Word of God.

Barth continues with his primary sparring partners in this section, Roman Catholics and Modernists (liberal protestants).  Both, he claims, have replaced the true and proper criterion of dogmatics, i.e., the Word of God, with surrogates.  The Roman Catholic Church replaces this proper criterion with the teaching office of the church, and the Modernist with the "Christian Principle," (by which I believe Barth means the "point of contact" between humanity and the divine).  In the end, Barth claims that both the Roman Catholics and the Modernists fall into the same trap, they have domesticated the Word of God and are now left to fall on their own resources.  For Barth, it makes little difference whether the criterion of measuring church proclamation against the Word of God is the Pope or a liberal professor, the result is the same, namely human words that are not God's Words.

Hence, the need for a Word of God that has not become the property of the church.  A free Word of God that can stand over against the church, a Word that can not be grasped or manipulated by the church.  Enter the Bible.  In this section, Barth speaks most highly of the Bible, the necessity of the Bible, even the "absolute authority" (CD I.1 §7.1 p. 265) of the Bible.  Yet, one must not stumble here and assume that the Bible IS the Word of God, that the two can ever be simply equated.  The Bible is only a pointer, it points to the Word of God.

Barth sums up the discussion of the first half of this section nicely:
"the task of dogmatics is to deal with the problem of the equation of the Word of God and the word of man in its form as Church proclamation with a view to the confirmation of this equation, and it does this by measuring Church proclamation as man's word by the second form of the Word of God, i.e., Holy Scripture, in so far as this itself is in turn a witness to its third and original form, revelation." (CD I.1 § 7.1 p. 265).

Therefore, dogmatics measures how closely church proclamation points to the Bible, which in turn points to revelation, i.e., Jesus Christ.

In the second half of this section, Barth, in a sort of excursus, gives a treatment of the word dogma, especially in relation to his attack on the Roman Catholic system of dogmas.  For the Roman Catholic system, dogmas are doctrinal propositions that the church puts forward as "revealed truth."  Yet, Barth will have none of this.  The only revelation of God is his Word and all of the facets of that word that we have discussed.  It is, most fundamentally, God's revelation, i.e., Jesus Christ.  It is also from time to time found in the Bible and Church proclamation as God actually speaks through them in a specific event.  Yet, the Word of God is always a command requiring action on the part of the human.  This is where Barth finds no relation between doctrinal propositions and the Word of God (revealed truth).  The Catholic Dogmas (doctrinal propositions) are purposefully "neutral" truths, that is, they are not commands and do not require action.  They are meant to be objective statements of truth.  Yet, for Barth, they are so dissimilar to the actual event of the Word of God, that they cannot be considered "revealed truth." They are merely human words, not the Word of God.  While Barth specifically levels this attack against Roman Catholic dogmas, his attack would hold against all attempts to limit the Word of God to a set of doctrinal propositions.


  1. Keith
    Thanks for an excellent summary of 7.1. I could not find any points to disagree with. Wouldn't you agree that Barth today would take issue with conservative Protestantism as well because of the widespread assumption that the Bible IS the word of God? And so, joining Catholics and Modernist Protestants in the common error?

  2. Barth Student,

    I certainly think Barth would have take issue with many aspects of conservative protestantism. I think two issues in this post would be huge areas of disagreement of Barth with conservative protestants. The first, as you mentioned, would be the equating of the Bible with the Word of God. The second would be with the desire to set up doctrinal propositions as the Word of God and as litmus tests for true or right belief in God. Barth takes great issue with the setting up of doctrinal propositions as the final Word of God.

    By the way, are you blogging through Barth? Do you have a blog?

  3. Keith
    I'm not a blogger on Barth, but get a lot out of blogs such as yours where I can compare my understanding with other folks.
    I haven't noticed Kirk posting lately and wonder if they gave up.
    I found another group in Philadelphia through the Center for Barth Studies web page and they are going to email me their minutes as they work through CD. In my first view of their work I was very impressed, especially with their background and experience. You might look them up. Presbyterians, though, so be careful they don't proselyte you :).