Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §7.1 "The Word of God, Dogma, and Dogmatics" pp. 248-275

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §7 states: "Dogmatics is the critical question about dogma, i.e., about the Word of God in Church proclamation, or, concretely, about the agreement of the Church proclamation done and to be done by man with the revelation attested in Holy Scripture. Prolegomena to dogmatics as an understanding of its epistemological path must therefore consist in an exposition of the three forms of the Word of God as revealed, written, and preached."

In subsection §7.1 ("The Problem of Dogmatics"), Barth begins by reminding us that " the three preceding sections we have described the criterion of dogmatics, its three forms, its nature and its knowability (248)." Barth now returns to the initial question of the relation of the Word to dogma and dogmatics. He states the function of Dogmatics right up front:
The task of dogmatics is the examination of Church proclamation in respect of its agreement with the Word of God, its congruity with what it is trying to proclaim. In the human form of the proclamation offered by the Church, the Word of God should, of course, be present too. This is the claim with which the Church advances its proclamation and also the expectation by which it is surrounded. Dogmatic work begins by taking this claim and expectation with full seriousness, by taking the Church at its word, so to speak, in respect of this claim and this expectation. In dogmatics the Church accepts what it is undertaking in its proclamation. It tests this undertaking by confronting it critically, by suspending the claim and expectation for a moment to the degree that it dissociates proclamation and the Word of God in thought, not in order to measure the Word of God by its proclamation, but in order to measure its proclamation by the Word of God. The Church does not cease to believe that God will confess it and its work, that He will put His Word in its proclamation and thus make its proclamation real proclamation. But the fact that it believes this means that it grasps God’s promise. “It believes” does not mean “it thinks it possesses,” but “it hopes it will be given.” The reflection of faith, then, consists in the fact that the Church holds apart God’s Word and its own and questions the latter in the light of the former. Faith knows that it is asked whether as a human work it is also obedience. To faith the judgment of God to which all human work is subject as such is no idle thought. It is a summons to judge itself regarding this work. The corresponding critical concern for Church proclamation is the task of dogmatics. But can it do justice to this task? How and where may it see the Word of God as an entity distinct from Church proclamation so as to compare the latter with it and measure it by it? Is there any possibility of this at all? If there were no such possibility, we should be faced by a remarkable dilemma (250).
Thus, Dogmatics has the function of testing Church proclamation by the criterion of the Word. Now, one could test the proclamation by a great many things - congruity, philosophical adaptation, or relevance, but this is not the criteria Barth champions (he seems to be taking a shot at Liberal [Modernist] Protestantism and Roman Catholicism here). Barth summarizes his thought on the whole matter with this on pg. 255:
Church proclamation is not an undertaking which can come under other criteria than God’s Word in respect of its content. What is undertaken in it is exempt from the claim to be judged by any philosophy or ethics or politics, if not in respect of its human motives and forms, at least in respect of its believed intention. The introduction of other criteria here can only mean that the undertaking itself has become a different one, that it ceases to be the Church’s undertaking laid upon it by commission and accompanied by the divine promise. For the introduction of another criterion means renunciation of the believed intention of this undertaking. To the extent that another standard is really applied here and not the Word of God itself, only confusion and destruction can actually result, no matter how true or weighty the other standard may be in and for itself.
Thus, Barth concludes, "It is indeed a decisive mistake to think that other criteria can be sought and chosen and set up in matters of Church proclamation. The criterion to which the Church knows it is subject is not one it has chosen and adopted; it has been given to it (256).

And on this basis Barth objects to the Roman Catholic and Liberal Protestant projects:
In this possibility we are primarily confronted again by the Roman Catholic view of the relation of the Bible to the teaching office, which we discussed already at an earlier stage. According to this view the Church has, of course, a lord and judge over its acts. It has, of course, the Word of God over it. But it has this over it as it has it in it, indistinguishable from itself. Though it puts tradition alongside the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church, too, has and reads and honours the Bible. But this is not the Bible in itself, the emancipated Bible, the Bible which confronts the Church as an authority...
The regula proxima fidei, the nearest immediate plumbline of Catholic faith, is not, then, the verdict of the Bible but the verdict of the teaching office on the Bible... Even and especially in relation to the Bible the Church keeps in its own hand both proclamation and also the norm of its necessary criticism, i.e., the Bible correctly understood and applied, which is in fact the norm employed in this criticism. There is in fact only a relative difference between the two, and their synthesis can cause no surprise to the Church which in its head is both norma normata and norma normans, both ecclesia audiens and ecclesia docens, for at least in its head, i.e., its teaching office, it has oversight of both and full authority and power to effect the synthesis and therefore to pursue dogmatic criticism according its own free judgment. But in this possibility we are not merely confronted by the Roman Catholic view of the teaching office. For according to the  teaching of Protestant Modernism as well we ultimately find the Church dependent on itself and left to its own devices. Here again this does not have to mean that the Church is necessarily without the Word of God and consequently without the criterion of its proclamation. Here again the Bible has not just been pushed aside in favour of philosophical, historical, political and other criteria. Here again the connexion of proclamation with the Bible and therefore a certain critical participation of the Bible in dogmatics remain. There even remain as a rule—and this largely serves to obscure the issue—strong traditional theoretical statements about the normativity and even the sole normativity of the Bible. “I am quite serious in bringing to full and unrestricted validity the principle of Luther that the Word of God alone has to set up articles of faith … that Holy Scripture alone must be accepted exclusively and unconditionally as the source of dogmatic work, all so-called subsidiary sources being sharply rejected.” So Wobbermin! (Chr. u. Wiss., 1932, p. 179). But here again the Church does not have the Bible over it as a concrete and supreme criterion. Here again it has the Bible over it only as it has it in it (257-258).
Barth argues that Scripture needs to be free as it represents God's Word to the Church. It represents God's Word to the Church as it points to the truth of revelation. Dogmas do have a part to play, but as a means, and not an end.
Dogma is the agreement of Church proclamation with the revelation attested in Holy Scripture. Dogmatics enquires into this agreement and therefore into dogma. This brings us into conflict with the Roman Catholic definition of the terms dogma and dogmatics. According to this view a dogma is a truth of revelation defined by the Church and dogmatics is the collection of these dogmas and commentary on them (265).
So what is 'dogmatics' in the thinking of Barth? Paul McGlasson in the Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth suggests that
The primary focus of dogmatic responsibility is on the humanly impossible task of church proclamation. Through the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit, the word of the preacher becomes God's own word in the world. And yet, as a human word, it is always subject to the temptations of human frailty and fallibility. The ongoing task of dogmatics is to test current proclamation of the gospel; to ask whether it is speaking the Word of God in the world (56).  
And Barth:
Dogmatic propositions, dogmas and dogma have this in common: They are not the truth of revelation. Dogma aims at the truth of revelation and dogmas and dogmatic propositions seek to do so (and do, with the proviso that by the grace of God they come to do so through watching and prayer) (268).
Now seeing that knowledge of real dogma will never take place before the end of all things, this must be the point of our enquiry into dogma. It is not in the first instance the enquiry of a pupil who is anxious that his thoughts should agree with the superior thoughts of his teacher. It is primarily the question of a servant who has to ask whether his actions agree with his master’s intentions and who undoubtedly in so doing will also learn something that he did not know before. When we call the dogma into which dogmatics enquires a concept of relation, we mean that it is the concept of a relation which exists between a demand and the decision corresponding to the demand. Dogma is the relation between the God who commands and the man who obeys His command, the relation which takes place in the event of this commanding and obeying (274).
Above all, the task of dogmatics as a discipline of the church is to ask the question of truth. The question is not one the church asks itself; rather, the church is called by the one whom it serves to ask the question, and it gives its answer with joy and humility in prayerful obedience to the Word.