Beyond Dogmatic Enquiry

If what I am setting out is a different agenda for Christology today, these essays are only exercises that go towards fulfilling such an agenda. Nothing here is systematic, but the essays written here over the last ten years are trying to clear a space in which a more systematic work can appear. Nevertheless, it would be worthwhile indicating as clearly as possible how, specifically, does the approach to Christology in these essays differ from (and supplement) the approach found in more traditional dogmatics. I will do

13 The distinction between being made known by us (a nobis) and to us (nobis), I take from 1a12 of Aquinas's Summa Theologiae where he moves between both terms.

14 In a fascinating study on 'The Face and Physique of the Historical Jesus', the New Testament scholar Stephen D. Moore, in his book God's Beauty Parlor: And Other Queer Spaces in and around the Bible (Stanford University Press, 2001), examines the presentations of Jesus Christ from Warner Sallman's Head of Christ (1940), The Lord Is My Shepherd (1943), Christ Our Pilot (1950) and Portrait of Jesus (1966) to Willem Dafoe's performance of 'Jesus as a Zen hippie' (p. 125) in Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and the jacket illustrations of John P. Meiers, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vols. 1 (1991) and 2 (1994) and E.P. Sanders's The Historical Figure of Jesus (1995). Moore points to the idealised figures of male virtue and beauty, to the implicitly gay iconography of 'the radiantly handsome hero' (p. 129). What his essay illustrates is the ongoing production of Christology, a production inseparable from wider cultural concerns, values and agendas.

this through briefly examining the construction of Christology by Karl Barth, for Barth too was responding to the historicist method of treating Christology evident in his own teacher Wilhelm Hermann, and wished to emphasise revelation as an ongoing event or action. But by proceeding this way I can point up how my own approach differs, and why, and with what results. In what follows I am not then invalidating dogmatic enquiry but showing how it requires supplementation. For Barth, this supplementation will entail challenging the heart of his dialectical method.

Karl Barth's most detailed examination ofJesus Christ is located in Church Dogmatics I.2, IV1 and IV2 — that is, with his expositions of the doctrine of the Word of God and his elaboration of the doctrine of reconciliation (Versöhnung — atonement). In particular, I will treat volumes 1.2 and IV.1, although Barth would be the first to remind us that since all our knowledge of God issues in and through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, his Christology actually knits together (and makes possible) the whole of the Church Dogmatics. In what follows, the doctrine ofJesus Christ that Barth offers is not my foremost concern. I will not be arguing, then, with whether this doctrine is Alexandrian, Antiochene, Nestorian or just downright incoherent (as some critics have argued).15 Nor am I concerned with whether the resulting dogmatics is Christocentric or Christomonistic (as other critics have argued).16 My concern is to give an account of the ways by which his doctrine of Christ emerges, the implicit philosophical assumptions or values implicit in his approach, and the limitations that accrue from it.

We can begin with a telling exegetical remark concerning John 3.16 — 'God so loved the world that He sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.' Barth observes: '[T]he divine loving in the form of the sending of the Son is the confirmation of the will of God not to acquiesce in this [nicht bewenden zu lassen] ['this' = the lostness of human beings] but to cause [haben zu lassen] man to

15 Given the centrality of Christology to Barth's dogmatics, the critical literature on his Christology is legion. See John Thompson, Christ in Perspective: Christological Perspectives in the Theology of Karl Barth (Edinburgh: St Andrew's Press, 1978); Charles T. Waldrop, Karl Barth's Christology: Its Basic Alexandrian Character (New York: Mouton Publishers, 1984); Bruce Marshall, Christology in Conflict: The Identity of a Saviour in Rahner and Barth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987); Jeffery C. Pugh, The Anselmic Shift: Christology and Method in Karl Barth's Theology (New York: Peter Lang, 1990); Bruce McCormack, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development (Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 327—463; George Hunsinger, 'Karl Barth's Christology: Its Basic Chal-cedonian Character' in John Webster ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 127-42.

16 See George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth (Oxford University Press, 1991), especially his conclusion on Christ as the centre, pp. 225-33.

have the eternal life which he has forfeited.'17 The revealing clause is 'to cause man to have eternal life'. It is revealing because it states the purpose of God's act — a purpose that because of the sovereignty of God's will will necessarily come about — but it tells us nothing about the process of that act, namely, how God causes human beings to participate in him and have eternal life. Barth insists that there is a participation,18 but the effect of not giving an account of the process, or economy, of redemption is that relations between God and human beings appear autocratic. The qualification that human beings respond 'by faith' in this act of divine sovereignty is only a partial answer, especially when that faith paradoxically 'even in its emptiness and passivity ... has [trägt] this character of supreme fullness and activity'.19 For faith is itself an operation; it is a relational process whereby something comes to pass. Faith is time-bound. Furthermore, it is an engagement that can take many different forms, not just passive obedience. What is missing from Barth's account of faith is the experience and practices in which faith becomes operable and evident: the formation of the one who is being faithful. What is missing is a sociology and a phenomenology of believing. On its own, 'by faith' is simply a theological abstraction. Faith is a response to that which constitutes a relation with; response and engagement enable participation in an economy that is shared. We can agree with Barth that God is the initiator of this redemption, and we do not wish either to deny the ontological difference between creator and creation or to fall into some Pelagian heresy. But faith, I would argue, is an operation in response to a recognition of love, and what is missing in Barth's account is the process whereby love is received and responded to. We might put this in another way (a way that finds repeated expression in the essays that follow): there is in Barth no account of the economy of desire and the productions of faith, discipleship, and personal formation.

There is a second consequence of this failure to account for how redemption is brought about. That is, for all Barth's emphasis on covenant, 'God for us' and his 'being present and active in the world in Christ',20 he constitutes God as an alienated acting subject, even when it is God incarnate. The heart of the matter here concerns the human nature ofJesus Christ. For while we can admit that all our conceptions of what it is to be human (and in Church Dogmatics III Barth labours the point that to be human is not to be a solitary individual but to be in relation) find their perfect expression in Christ,

17 Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, IV. 1, p. 77; Church Dogmatics, IV. 1, p. 72.

nevertheless equivocity cannot dictate two uses of the term human: a use for Christ and a use for other human beings. We may, in the manner of Aquinas, have to admit our ignorance of what it means to be human if Christ is the perfection of that humanity, but without an analogical relation between these two uses of 'human' how does the operation of redemption take place? How would human beings ever know it had taken place?21 The problem here concerns what Hegel would call 'recognition' — to recognise demands an exchange in which one is recognised. One can observe in descriptions by Barth of the 'yawning abyss [ein weit aufgerissener Abgrund]'22 between God and creation a tendency towards equivocity:

Those who believe in Jesus Christ will never forget for a single moment that the true and actual being of reconciled man [Menschen] has its place in that Other who is strange, and different from them, and that that is why they can participate in it [the reconciliation between human beings and God] with a fullness and clarity the knowledge of which would be broken if they were to look aside to any other place.23

There is a double-bind here in which Christians are caught. It has two characteristics. First, radical difference enables participation. Second, the logic of that enablement is neither prima facie nor open to human investigation. Even putting aside this double-bind, Barth's language itself distinguishes between being human and being other, strange and different. In other words, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ always separates him from the world he entered into which was his own (John 1.11).

It is at this point that we have to turn to Church Dogmatics I.2, for Barth would justify the theo-logic of this double-bind on the basis of a unique Christological formula — anhypostasis—enhypostasis.24 Following Bruce Mc-Cormack's narrative of the anhypostasis—enhypostasis as the turning point in

21 On the difficulties of Barth's notion of 'analogy' see Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Barth: Darstellung und Deutung: Seiner Theologie (Cologne: Verlag Jakob Hegner, 1951), pp. 93—181; Horst Georg Poehlmann, Analogia Entis oder Analogia Fidei? Die Frage der Analogie bei Karl Barth (Gottingen: Van-derhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965); Henri Chavannes, L'analogie entre Dieu et le monde selon saint Thomas d'Aquin et selon Karl Barth (Paris: Saint-Paul, 1969); and my Barth, Derrida and the Language of Theology (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

22 Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, IV.1,p. 87; Church Dogmatics, IV1,p. 82.

24 Barth himself does not view his formulation as innovative, but see U.M. Lang, 'Anhypostatos-Enhypostatos: Church Fathers, Protestant Orthodoxy and Karl Barth', Journal of Theological Studies 49 NS, pt. 2, October (1998), pp. 630-57: 'If there is indeed anything like a "dual formula" anhypostasis—enhypostasis, it is Barth's own innovation rather than that of Protestant orthodoxy', p. 632.

Barth's theology,25 a debate ensued concerning the coherence of Barth's Christology with regard to Christ as both anhypostasis and enhypostasis. The debate opened with F. LeRon Shults's essay, 'A Dubious Christological Formula: From Leontius of Byzantium to Karl Barth',26 the main thrust of which claimed that Barth had received this doctrine through Heinrich Heppe's and Heinrich Schmidt's summaries of Protestant Scholasticism. For Shults, Barth's account is incoherent and badly misinterprets the Patristic thinking on this doctrine. Subsequently, two detailed articles appeared: the first by U.M. Lang27 and the second by Matthias Gockel.28 The argument of these essays — which involved extensive exegetical treatment of the doctrine by the Church Fathers — is that the Protestant Scholasticism that Barth worked through to formulate his Christological position was very much in line with the more traditional readings of this teaching. In fact, Gockel even compares the Christologies of Aquinas and Barth that rehearse the anhypostasis— enhypostasis formula and declares they are entirely congruent. Significantly, neither Lang nor Gockel return to Barth's text in Church Dogmatics I.2 to examine Barth's examination of the teaching. Furthermore, neither Lang nor Gockel explain how, given practically identical Christologies between John Damascene, Aquinas and Barth, both Damascene and Aquinas develop highly participatory accounts of the relationship between the Creator and Creation such that they articulate a sacramentum mundi.

In returning to Barth, we have to recognise that his adoption of the 'dual formula' (that he alone is the innovator of29) was determined by its dialectical character. Having set out, in #15 of I.2, that the theological necessity for revelation of God lay in God becoming fully human ('His complete solidarity with us'30), Barth then strikes the dialectical chord: 'In becoming the same as we are, the Son of God is the same in quite a different [ganz anders] way from us.'31 It is from this point in his argument that he outlines how the Word 'assumes' true human existence (to which the commission of sin is not attributable32). What he will finally outline as enhypostasis is this 'assump-

25 Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, pp. 327—463. This essay has been developed in F. LeRon Shults, Reforming Theological Anthropology: After the Philosophical Turn to Relationality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 147-50.

26 Theological Studies 57 (1996), pp. 431-46.

27 'Anhypostatos-Enhypostatos', pp. 630-57.

28 'A Dubious Christological Formula? Leontius of Byzantium and the Anhypostasis—Enhypostasis Theory', Journal of Theological Studies NS, 51 pt. 2, October (2000), pp. 515-32.

29 Lang, 'Anhypostatos-Enhypostatos', p. 632.

30 Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, I.2, p. 167; Church Dogmatics, I.2, p. 153.

tion': 'the Word of God becomes flesh, assumes [Annahme] or adopts [Aufnahme] or incorporates [Hineinnahme] human being into unity with His divine being'.33 Putting to one side the range of Christological positions opened by those three different prefixes 'an-', 'auf-', and 'hinein-', to the German verb nehmen (translated as assumes, adopts, incorporates), enhypo-stasis defines this unio personalis — according to the Protestant Scholastics Quenstedt and Hollaz. And, if the arguments of Lang and Gockel are correct, then this understanding of enhypostasis is in accord with Patristic (and Aquinas's) teaching. But Barth goes further — and this going further results in the innovation of the 'dual formula'. He writes, with important theological consequences: 'Jesus Christ is described primarily as an unio personalis sive hypostica and only secondarily as an unio naturarum.'34 This hierarchy of descriptions — primary and secondary — then allows not only for the positive teaching of the enhypostasis but also for the negative teaching of the anhypostasis: 'Apart from the divine mode of being whose existence it [Christ's human nature] acquires it has none of its own; i.e., apart from its concrete existence in God in the event of the unio, it has no existence of its own, it is anhypostasis.' Anhypostasis safeguards two theological axioms for Barth: first, the utter uniqueness of this unity and, second, the lack of a point of contact between God and human beings in creation. Anhypostasis accords emphasis to a unio personalis sive hypostica rather than a unio naturarum. Anhypostasis withdraws the Godhead deep into its own mystery; enhypostasis speaks of an indwelling human being in Christ — just as all things exist in and through Christ. The reason why this dual formula and distinction between primary and secondary description is important for Barth is that enhypostasis can then not suggest a communis participatio — which he views as the Lutheran error in Christology. For such enhypostatic unity, 'does not this give us a kind of reciprocal relation between Creator and creature?'35 In fact, there is a wide range of distinctions to be made between 'reciprocity' and 'relation'. There can be a relation between Creator and creatures without that being reciprocal (understood as symmetrical). There can be an asymmetrical relation in which creation is sustained in its utter gratuity from God while nevertheless responding eucharistically to such grace. This is a communio rather than a communis participatio; theologically it makes possible a sacramental and participatory understanding of the relationship between Creator and creation. But Barth's inability to think through an asymmetrical relation that would bind more closely a unio personalis sive hypostica with a unio naturarum —

Barth's modern and uncritical construal of 'nature' — forestalls such an exploration.

As such the work of Christ cannot be characterised in terms of the ordinary human operations of that world — its politics, economics, social and cultural milieu, his friends, his family, his enemies, his admirers. Christ becomes the perfect expression of Cartesian subjectivity: autonomous, self-determining, self-defining, the atomised subject of a number of distinct properties or predicates;36 as Barth himself puts it, the 'epistemological principle'.37 Christ becomes either the absolute subject or the absolute object: he 'who is the subject and object of the basic act of God, the subject and object of the consummating act of God that reveals that basis'.38 The self-authenticating nature of Christ is reflected in the self-referential nature of the dogmatic enquiry. For Barth can only characterise the work of this Jesus Christ in terms of a number of theologumena, namely, intra-ecclesial abstractions such as grace, covenant, atonement, sin and revelation. And so, despite the matrix of relations in which the New Testament situates Jesus Christ, Barth's Jesus Christ is not a social animal; he is an other, an alien, a 'pure act[s] of [the] divine grace'39 of God.40

The question raised here is where is this figure of Christ as the 'epistemological principle' and the 'pure act' to be found? How do we have access to the principle or the pure act so that we recognise them to be such? In these terms are we not dealing with logical inferences, speculative inferences, that Barth himself has made on the basis of his exegeses of the Scriptures? Are we not dealing with a construction, a portrayal of Christ that is Barth's own? For Barth is clear, we have no immediate access to Jesus Christ. All we know

36 See Bruce Marshall, Christology in Conflict, for an examination and analysis of Barth's Christ-ology in terms of a particularised subject of certain unique predicates, the first and most fundamental of which is 'incarnation'. Enhypostasis, as George Florovsky observes, does not occur by itself. It therefore cannot be conceived in Cartesian terms. It is constituted by an interaction of natures, so that our being in Christ is enhypostasis. See The Byzantine Fathers of the 6th to 8th Centuries, tr. Raymond Miller et al. (Vaduz: Buchervertriebsanstalt, 1987) especially chapter four (pp. 191—203) on Leontius of Byzantium, who defined en- and an-hypostasis. Enhypostasis (which determines incarnation from the human perspective by defining a theological anthropology) is a condition of being in relation. We might then understand the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as the bringing into being of a new relation. Relations, as these essays demonstrate, are not static states but continual operations.

37 Die Kirkliche Dogmatik, IV1, p. 21; Church Dogmatics, IV. 1, p. 21.

40 In terms of the Chalcedonian Creed, it is difficult to avoid concluding that Barth's theological position approximates to that of Eutyches, who refused to accept that Christ is homoousios with us in all things sin only accepted'. See R.U. Seller's classic study The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey (London: SPCK, 1953), p. 212.

we know as mediated. Charges of revelatory positivism cannot be levied against Barth at this point in his theological thinking. But here, with his construal of mediation, we reach the heart of the matter.

It is interesting, and significant, that in Barth's wish to argue for a description of Christ's atonement in terms of the judge judged in our place — as distinct from a priestly, sacrificial understanding of atonement that is important to Roman Catholic theologies of divine reconciliation — he writes of the need for 'a salutary reminder that in dogmatics we cannot speak down from heaven in the language of God [Sprache Gottes], but only on earth as strictly and exactly as we can in human language [Menschensprache]'.41 The old priestly and cultic metaphors in the New Testament present 'a form which is now rather remote from us'.42 Here are signs that Barth is conscious of the mediation of both the New Testament material and contemporary dogmatics. But his investigations into this mediation are limited. In fact, there is a sense in which mediation itself is fallenness for Barth; something we must get beyond. That there is a place where interpretation stops finds two particular locations in Barth. Not in order of importance, the first concerns those places in the Scriptures (like the resurrection narratives) where we no longer are dealing with a time, materiality and human perception as we know it. Here we are advised to 'stick to that which is told us, not trying to replace it by something that is not told us on the pretext that it needs interpreting'.43 The second location is in the final parousia itself when the living presence of Jesus Christ is directly encountered. As such, to look towards the eschaton is to live 'with a burning longing [brennenden Sehnsucht] for the sight denied them in this time, for the liberation and redemption which are still to come, for an immediacy of contact [Unmittelbarkeit ihrer Beziehung] with the Lord without the help or the distraction of mediation [Mittelbarkeit]'.44 Mediation, then, like the world, is something to be overcome.

The root of this response to mediation (which is so unlike Augustine, Aquinas, or any Christian theologian with a developed sense of the sacra-mentum mundi) lies in the way Barth focuses any theological attention to mediation on Jesus Christ himself—Jesus Christ as the mediator of God to humanity and humanity to God. Two consequences follow from this, both of which are further outworkings of his theological method. First, the processes of mediation are never materially delineated — they are only theologically delineated in terms of Barth's pneumatology: the Spirit's noetic

41 Die Kirkliche Dogmatik/Church Dogmatics, IV1, p. 301/274.

working out of a new ontology wrought by Christ. Secondly, the fallenness of humankind is such that Jesus Christ can only mediate himself to himself: all human perception and modes of thinking are inadequate. The depth of the alienation of the world from Christ renders mediation impossible unless Christ himself does it (what Barth terms God's 'self-attestation') — and even then there is a question of how we would ever recognise or understand such mediation. Of course, Barth is not oblivious to this question. In fact, as so often in his work, he anticipates it:

The kernel of the question is simply the incompatibility of the existence of Jesus Christ with us and us with Him, the impossibility of the co-existence of His divine—human actuality and action and our sinfully human being and activity, the direct collision between supreme order and supreme disorder.45

But to raise the question does not necessarily mean that it is answered decisively. And it cannot be answered decisively because any answer is predetermined by the dialectical method that divides the subject from its opposite, and seals not only the truth of Christ within the self-attestation of Christ himself but also dogmatic thinking within the endless hermeneutical spiralling between Christ and his Church. The hermeneutical spiralling may not, as Barth claims, constitute a vicious circle, but I suggest it limits theological reflection somewhat. Most particularly, it limits operations. Because there is inadequate enquiry given to the mediation itself, there is no space open for evaluating the extent to which one's figuring of Christ is itself profoundly imbued with the values, assumptions (or the reactions to those values and assumptions) of the culture in which it was conceived.

To sum up, then, Barth's dogmatic approach to Christology (a) all too thinly defines the economies of salvation in which the gracious love of Christ finds a responding desire; (b) this finds expression in the thinness of his account of mediations (c) such that his mediating Christology remains tied to specific cultural assumptions about the subject and nature; (d) this binds Christology to the logic of dualism, itself a product of a certain cultural heritage in modernity;46 (e) this logic and these assumptions, on the basis of which he develops his dialectical method, render him unable to reflect upon his own cultural production of Christology. The world is so lost, so secularised, so ignorant of God that both Christ and subsequently a theology of Christ operate above and beyond such a world, in contradistinction

46 For the relationship between Barth's theological thinking and modernity see my 'Barth, Modernity and Postmodernity' in John Webster ed., The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth (Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 274-95.

to it. Dogmatics is fundamentally a countercultural activity. Hence, for him, Christian apologetics is an anathema.47

To some extent, the problem here lies with the nature of modern dogmatics itself and the professionalisation of systematic theology such that every theologian worth his or her salt must attempt at least a three-volume enterprise. For modern dogmatics has an inherent tendency to pursue the normative, to essentialise, to seek to present a theology and therefore a religion such as Christianity as a self-contained doctrinal system. This tendency emerges from — to go back no further — Protestant Scholasticism and, later, Enlightenment rationalism. Evident in Kant's Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, it is summed up in a distinction used by Tocqueville in Democracy in America between 'dogma itself, which is the substance of religion' and 'worship [which] is only the form'.48 This idealist tendency, fostered by Enlightenment rationalism that separates doctrine as substance from praxis as form, is amplified when theology appeals only to its own theological resources in order to define itself (as in Barth). The Patristic scholar Richard Hanson makes a valid point when he observes with respect to second- and third-century Christian theologians: 'it is impossible to interpret the Bible in the vocabulary of the Bible'.49 If Christianity is to offer a different approach — an approach that can nevertheless acknowledge imaginative inflections and alternative possibilities while still speaking in accordance with a grammar of the faith — it has to move beyond modern dogmatics.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment