Monday, April 11, 2011

Barth I.1 §9.3-§10.2

In these sections Barth wraps up his discussion in the Trinity proper and then begins to discuss God the Father (which turns out to be more discussion on the Trinity).

The mystery of the trinity.  God is three in one.  God is unity with distinction and distinction in unity.  All analogies break down.  As Barth writes:
"In the doctrine of the Trinity our concern is with unity in trinity and trinity in unity.  We cannot advance beyond these two obviously one-sided and inadequate formulations." (CD I.1 §9.3 p. 368).  
Barth's term for God is thus the "Triunity" of God (Dreieinigkeit, three-in-oneness).

There are two big concepts that are perhaps helpful to state here.  The first is perichoresis or what could be translated as "mutual interpenetration." That is, when speaking about the different modes of being in the Trinity, while distinct, they mutually participate in all of the actions and attributes of the other.  Therefore, for Barth, the Father is the creator, but so is the Son and the Spirit.

The other is that of appropriation in which we attribute certain aspects of Godhood to one or another of the different modes of being.  Therefore, the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Reconciler, and the Spirit is the Redeemer. This is proper, according to Barth because it is thus in the Bible. 

As an example of this "appropration" Barth writes,
"One cannot say of God the Father that He was conceived and born, that He suffered, died, and rose again.  One also cannot say of Him that there had to be prayer for His coming and that He was to be poured out on all flesh.  For one think all these statements stand in affinity to the relation of the Son or the Spirit to the Father and not vice versa." (CD I.1 §10.2 p. 397). 
To me, these two aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity border on the nonsensical.  It is proper to say that all members of the Trinity interpenetrate one another but at the same time they do not.  Once again, I understand what Barth and other theologians are trying to do (I think), but it stretches logic beyond its breaking point.

My favorite quote, by far, with regard to the Trinity is as follows:
"All theological favoritisms are thus forbidden: the one-sided belief in God the Father which was customary in the Enlightenment; the so-called Christocentrism which Pietism loved and still loves, and finally all the nonsense that is and can be perpetrated with isolated veneration of the Spirit." (emphasis added, please, Barth, what nonsense are you talking about? CD I.1 §10.2 p. 395).
Briefly, in the section on God the Father as Creator, Barth makes some important points.  God is the eternal Father, that is, he eternally has a fatherhood relationship with the eternal son.  God does not become father, but is father eternally.  Perhaps more importantly, the analogy of God as father only works one way.  God is not father like human fathers are fathers, that would be to reverse the analogy.  Instead, any dignity that is found in human fathership is only so derivatively from God's eternal fatherhood.

One of the most interesting sections in this reading was when Barth spoke about Jesus as seen in the Bible.  He goes out of his way to say that the Bible represents Jesus not as God, or specifically as the Lord (i.e., Yahweh), but rather as separate from the Lord and a representative of the Lord. This of course is in the small print section and Barth does not counter these statements.  Here is one snippet:
"What is beyond question is that the κύριος  Ἰησοῦς Χριστός [Lord Jesus Christ] is separate from and subordinate to Θεὸς πατὴρ." (CD I.1 §10.1 p. 385).


  1. Keith,
    I like what Barth said that only in revelation as God steps toward us in the gap between divine and human comprehension is there a true knowledge of the triune God.
    I am sorry that you are finding nonsense in his work at such an early stage of learning the entire compass of his work.
    I wonder if, after you have gone through several volumes, you will wish you had been less judgemental in your early assessments. For example, in the gap between human and divine comprehension, isn't the role of logic quite secondary?

  2. Barth Reader:

    First, do you have a blog and are you blogging on Barth? If so, I would love to read your comments.

    Thank you for reading mine and offering conversation.

    I do not mean to be flip or overly judgmental about Barth who is probably the best theologian of the 20th century. I like Barth, in fact at times I love Barth. Other times he frustrates me to no end, but I do not mean to stand above him and offer rash critiques, but in the blog format I do want to make my frustrations known.

    I think that a lot of the difficulty comes with the rift between theologians like Barth and Biblical scholars like myself. Years ago, Bruce McCormack at Princeton Seminary told me that I did not have the mind of a theologian. At the time I was very offended, but as I have continued in my studies I have seen that he was right. The mind of the biblical scholar is very different than the mind of a theologian. This project of blogging through Barth is a discipline that I am undertaking in an attempt to broaden my thinking.

    I read a fair amount of Barth in seminary, but it was very scattered so I am enjoying reading straight through. I hope you are right that as I read more of his corpus I will be more magnanimous.

  3. Keith
    God appointed some to be theologians and some to be Biblical scholars and both are flowers of his church. I am enjoying reading Barth very much and appreciate interacting with someone else who is reading him, especially someone with such an excellent background as yours. I hope to be reading your work for a long, long time.
    I have no blog on Barth and, really, do not feel qualified to have one.