Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §2 "The Task of Dogmatics" pp. 25-44

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §2 states "Prolegomena to dogmatics is our name for the introductory part of dogmatics in which our concern is to understand its particular way of knowledge."

In subsection one of §2 ("The Necessity of Dogmatic Prolegomena"),  Barth simply states that in principle, dogmatics does not need to engage in dogmatic prolegomena. Despite conversations to the contrary, there is nothing fundamentally different about this modern day than in past ages when the church did theology. In fact, dogmatic prolegomena (or "apologetics") risks becoming a focus unto itself and ultimately a distraction. Barth writes,
Theological thinking which by the grace of God is truly responsible and relevant, and stands in true connexion with contemporary society, will even to-day show itself to be such by not allowing itself to be drawn into discussion of its basis, of the question of the existence of God or of revelation. On the contrary, it will refrain from attempted self-vindication as its theme demands, and thus show its responsibility and relevance by simply fulfilling itself as thinking on this basis, and therefore by simply existing as the witness of faith against unbelief. There can be no question, of course, that with the Christian Church generally dogmatics, too, has everywhere to speak in the antithesis of faith to unbelief and therefore apologetically and polemically. But there has never been any effective apologetics or polemics of faith against unbelief except that which is not deliberately planned, which cannot possibly be planned, which simply happens as God Himself acknowledges the witness of faith (29-30).
The best apologetic happens when theology is doing its job:
Theology is genuinely and effectively apologetic and polemical to the extent that its proper work, which cannot be done except at the heart of the conflict between faith and unbelief, is recognised, empowered and blessed by God as the witness of faith, but not to the extent that it adopts particular forms in which it finally becomes only too clear to the opposing partner that it is either deceiving him when it proposes to deal with him on the ground of common presuppositions, or that it is not quite sure of its own cause in so doing. Either way, there can be no shattering of the axiom of reason along these lines, but only as theology goes its own way sincerely and with no pretence. Apologetics and polemics can only be an event and not a programme (31). 
Barth goes on to suggest in this section that if prolegomena (or apologetics) are needed, the necessity likely arises from heresy inside the church, not outside. He references two divergent movements--Roman Catholicism of the 16th and 17th centuries and Liberal Protestantism.

In subsection two of §2 ("The Possibility of Dogmatic Prolegomena"), Barth engages with these two divergent movements. Barth demonstrates that liberal protestantism roots its prolegomena in anthropology and history, a project which he rejects. Roman Catholicism, though grounding its prolegomena in Holy Scripture, Church tradition, the church, and the faith of the church, still commits a similar mistake by ultimately grounding it in the church (again, anthropology).  Barth is troubled by the two moves, stating that,
Their presupposition is that the being of the Church, Jesus Christ, is no longer the free Lord of its existence, but that He is incorporated into the existence of the Church, and is thus ultimately restricted and conditioned by certain concrete forms of the human understanding of His revelation and of the faith which grasps it (40).
Barth suggests, quite apart from these two moves, that:
The only possibility of a conception of dogmatic knowledge remaining to us on the basis of Evangelical faith is to be marked off on the one hand by the rejection of an existential ontological possibility of the being of the Church and on the other hand by the rejection of the presupposition of a constantly available absorption of the being of the Church into a creaturely form, into a “There is.” On the one side we have to say that the being of the Church is actus purus, i.e., a divine action which is self-originating and which is to be understood only in terms of itself and not therefore in terms of a prior anthropology. And on the other side we have also to say that the being of the Church is actus purus, but with the accent now on actus, i.e., a free action and not a constantly available connexion, grace being the event of personal address and not a transmitted material condition. On both sides we can only ask how it may be otherwise if the being of the Church is identical with Jesus Christ. If this is true, then the place from which the way of dogmatic knowledge is to be seen and understood can be neither a prior anthropological possibility nor a subsequent ecclesiastical reality, but only the present moment of the speaking and hearing of Jesus Christ Himself, the divine creation of light in our hearts" (41). 
Thus, Barth locates the possibility of prolegomena in the speaking and hearing of Jesus Christ. Barth closes by suggesting that the true norm of dogmatics lies in the Word of God--"i.e., a doctrine of Holy Scripture in the context of an embracing doctrine of the Word of God" (43).