Dialectical theology to Christian Dogmatics in Outline 1927

No doubt the cry expressed in the 1919 Commentary on Romans captured the imagination of a generation confused, empty, and dismayed by the horror of World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, rampant inflation, political uncertainties, and immensely difficult living conditions in the traumas during and after the war.

But it was also undeveloped theologically, and Barth soon began again, rewriting Romans between late 1920 and mid-1921 before leaving for Gottingen.7 His principal question was: "how can God make Himself known to human beings without ceasing ... to be the Subject of revelation,"8 that is ceasing to be God by subjecting himself to human control. And Barth's modes of expression were now different -anger, indirect and paradoxical speech - reflecting the condition of crisis, almost tangible at the time. But the actuality of full relationship with God remained, through belonging to Christ as the decisive occurrence of grace for historical human beings as they were enabled to receive it by the Holy Spirit.9 The occurrence places human beings in "a final, unavoidable KRISIS": "there is only life under His judgment and under His promise; there is only life characterized by death but qualified, through the death of Christ, as the hope of life eternal.10

Although such views were intelligible enough when juxtaposed with biblical texts, they also invoked some of the key questions of philosophy and theology, especially the relation between eternity and time, and the placing of eschatology. Renewed study led Barth to see in the historical figure of Jesus Christ God's eternal act in him; hence he "dehistoricized" eschatology in order to avoid confusing God's act of self-revelation with history.11 The key issue for Barth was S0ren Kierkegaard's "infinite qualitative distinction between time and eternity," between the sphere of humanity and that of God.12 This "dialectical" phase of Barth's thinking found that the only basis for Christian faith was in the contrast between the Holy God and sinful humanity, Creator and creature, revelation and religion, gospel and church, sacred history and profane history, in each case the contrast between the free grace of God in Jesus Christ and that which resists it and therefore stands under judgment. At the same time, Barth struggled to free "dialectical method" from its associations with nineteenth-century idealism. His notion of dialectic was of a particular kind, and derived from ethical and theological considerations.

When Barth arrived in Gottingen, and found himself engaging not only with the scriptures but also with the history of the Reformed tradition,13 and with Orthodox, scholastic, and patristic theology, he began to see theology as a science serving the church - an "ecclesiastical science" - and to see the value of sustained theological exposition. The result was three cycles of lecturing and writing on dogmatics, at Gottingen, and later at Münster and Bonn. This was dogmatics not as a theoretical science detached from its expression in preaching and ethical practice - in the fashion common in English-speaking countries - but as a science whose discipline establishes true believing and true living in the life of the church.14 This was its logic, but theology needed continually to modify, correct, refine, and develop its vision; in that sense, the theologian is free to experiment with what is best, and to engage anew with centuries of tradition.

In Barth's first cycle of dogmatics, this dialectic continues throughout, holding in tension the hiddenness and the communication of God. The center-point is now, however, not in dialectic as such, but in Christology. Here is a major step forward, the placing of the incarnate Mediator within the "infinite qualitative distinction" between God and humanity, within the veiling and unveiling of God. The divine Yes in the union of divine and human natures in Christ, in which the dialectic of the incomprehensible and comprehensible is focused, freed Barth from the dialectic of eternity and time (which had encumbered his previous work) and became the prototype of every relationship of God and creature. This move was important: the radicality of Barth's earlier theology remained, but now became the beginning of dogmatics. It opened up the possibility of much fuller treatment of the person and work of Jesus Christ as informing all of dogmatics and its implications for the here and now.

Barth's brief time in Münster, in a small Protestant theological faculty in a predominantly Roman Catholic city, concentrated his attention on Catholicism as a conversation partner instead of neoliberalism. In a Catholic context, Barth consistently found himself addressing the same realities - dogmatics and church - but within a different frame of reference from Catholics: the issue was the "distinction ... to be made between the direct authority of Christ and his mediated authority which he granted to the Church."15

The same issue was at stake in conceptions of analogy. For Catholics as he understood them, God's creation endowed the creature with the capacity to "establish and survey (for example, in a scheme of the unity of like and unlike) his relation to God, and thereby interpret himself as 'open upwards,'" placing God's revealedness as "within the compass of his own understanding by itself."16 Barth saw things otherwise: if created reality is posited by God, with a reality distinct from but next to God's by virtue of God's love, then the uncreated cannot be revealed to, cannot belong to, the creature except through the Creator's relating to the creature - as a "second miracle" of God's love and gift. Barth's use of analogy was not analogical in the sense then accepted by Catholics; it was always a notion of analogy which derived from God's renewal of the graceful gift of the relation which human beings have with God.

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