Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §1 "The Task of Dogmatics" pp. 1-24

Before he gets into the first paragraph in the first volume of his magnum opus, Barth states in his preface that both criticism of his work in his volume called the Christian Dogmatics in Outline (a precursor to the Church Dogmatics) and a detailed study of Anselm have led him to make a fresh start, which Church Dogmatics represents.

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §1 states "As a theological discipline dogmatics is the scientific self-examination of the Christian Church with respect to the content of its distinctive talk about God."

In subsection one of §1 ("The Church, Theology, Science"), Barth sets out the general relations between church, theology, and science. Theology consists of talk about God, both individually and corporately in the church. In terms of "science," Barth explains,
Theology as a science, in distinction from the “theology” of the simple testimony of faith and life and the “theology” of the service of God, is a measure taken by the Church in relation to the vulnerability and responsibility of its utterance" (4).
Further he states,
If theology allows itself to be called, and calls itself, a “science,” in so doing it declares 1. that like all other so-called sciences it is a human concern with a definite object of knowledge, 2. that like all others it  treads a definite and self-consistent path of knowledge, and 3. that like all others it must give an account of this path to itself and to all others who are capable of concern for this object and therefore of treading this path. But it would make not the slightest difference to its real business if it had to rank as something other than science (7-8).
He is not overly concerned that theology be understood (as an investigation) as 'scientific' or that it manage itself by scientific precepts. What does matter greatly to Barth is the relation between theology and its object:
Theology follows the talk of the Church to the extent that in its question as to the correctness of its utterance it does not measure it by an alien standard but by its own source and object (4).
In subsection two of §1 ("Dogmatics as an Enquiry"), Barth explores dogmatics as enquiry and states the important presupposition that the content of theology as enquiry (the special concern of dogmatics) is divine truth which has a very personal character--Jesus Christ:
Talk about God has true content when it conforms to the being of the Church, i.e., when it conforms to Jesus Christ (12). 
Also, as an enquiry, Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ, meaning, as Barth states,
Dogmatics is possible only as theologia crucis [a theology of the cross] in the act of obedience which is certain in faith, but which for this very reason is humble, always being thrown back to the beginning and having to make a fresh start. It is not possible as an effortless triumph or an intermittent labour. It always takes place on the narrow way which leads from the enacted revelation to the promised revelation (14). 
In subsection three of §1 ("Dogmatics as an Act of Faith"), Barth develops his thesis that theology can take place only in the church and only in obedience.
Dogmatics is a part of the work of human knowledge. But this part of the work of human knowledge stands under a particularly decisive condition. Like all work of human knowledge, it naturally demands the intellectual faculties of attentiveness and concentration, of understanding and appraisal. Like all serious work of human knowledge, it demands the best will to utilise these faculties and ultimately the giving of the whole man to this utilisation. Over and above this, however, it demands Christian faith, which does not simply come of itself even with the deepest and purest surrender to this task. Dogmatics is a function of the Christian Church (17). 
Barth grants that those outside the faith can still talk about God, but not in relation to the true object which is divine truth. Of course, even the believing theologian can do theology as an abstract theological pursuit. That is why dogmatics must always be undertaken as an act of penitence, obedience, and prayer:
Prayer can be the recognition that we accomplish nothing by our intentions, even though they be intentions to pray. Prayer can be the expression of our human willing of the will of God. Prayer can signify that for good or evil man justifies God and not himself. Prayer can be the human answer to the divine hearing already granted, the epitome of the true faith which we cannot assume of ourselves. We do not speak of true prayer if we say “must” instead of “can.” According to Rom. 8:26f the way from “can” to “must” is wrapped in the mystery  at the gates of which we here stand. With this reference we do not give anyone a means by which he can count on succeeding in his work. It must be said, however, that it is hard to see how else there can be successes in this work but on the basis of divine correspondence to this human attitude: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (24).