Friday, November 29, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §9.2 "Trinity in Unity" pp. 353-368

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §9 states: "The God who reveals Himself according to Scripture is One in three distinctive modes of being subsisting in their mutual relations : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is thus that He is the Lord, i.e., the Thou who meets man’s I and unites Himself to this I as the indissoluble Subject and thereby and therein reveals Himself to him as his God."

In subsection §9.2 ("Trinity in Unity"), Barth moves from the last subsection on unity in trinity, where he protected the affirmation God is One, to a subsection which shows that the divine unity does not rule out the divine trinity. This particular subsection in CD I,1 has garnered much discussion because of Barth's introduction of the phrase Seinsweise "mode of being." - but more on that in a moment. 

Barth begins by pointing out that many religions and philosophical systems are monotheistic, but the unity of God is a unique reveled unity: 
As the doctrine of the repetitio aeternitatis in aeternitate [repetition of eternity in eternity] the doctrine of the Trinity confirms the knowledge of the unity of God, but not any knowledge of any unity of any God. As we now know, a kind of monotheism is represented not only by Judaism and Islam but in some form, whether in the background or as the culminating superstructure of its pantheon or pandemonium, by almost every religion right back to the animisms of the so-called nature religions of Africa. A kind of monotheism—this cannot be sufficiently emphasised—had also permeated for a long time the philosophy, the teachings of syncretistic cults, and especially the feeling for life of later antiquity in the West when Christianity arose and, e.g., Paul’s epistle reached the Rome of the time. One need not expect that the dogma and dogmatics of the Church will simply confirm any monotheism or let itself be measured by any monotheism. The antitrinitarian heresies arose and will continually arise on this false presupposition. At issue here is the revealed knowledge of the revealed unity of the revealed God—revealed according to the witness of the Old and the New Testaments. The unity of God confirmed in the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be confused with singularity or isolation. Singularity and isolation are limitations necessarily connected with the concept of numerical unity in general. The numerical unity of the revealed God does not have these limitations (353-354).
The unity of God includes 'distinctions' of course (God is trinity) and the Church has historically described these distinctions as "persons" - a point (and grammar) which Barth wants to examine a bit more closely.
At this point, not only we but without exception all who have studied this matter before us enter upon the most difficult section in the investigation. What is meant here by the commonly used word “person”? Or, more generally, what is meant by what is distinguished or ordered in God as Father, Son and Spirit? Under what common term are these three to be understood? What are these three—apart from the fact that all together as well as each individually they are the one true God? What is the common principle of their being, now as Father, now as Son, and now as Spirit? We have avoided the term “person” in the thesis at the head of the present section. It was never adequately clarified when first introduced into the Church’s vocabulary, nor did the interpretation which it was later given and which prevailed in mediaeval and post-Reformation Scholasticism as a whole really bring this clarification, nor has the injection of the modern concept of personality into the debate achieved anything but fresh confusion. The situation would be hopeless if it were our task here to say what is really meant by “person” in the doctrine of the Trinity. Fortunately this is not our task. Yet the difficulties in which we are involved in relation to this classical concept are only a symptom of the general difficulty of the question itself, to which some answer must now be given (355).
Barth notes that Tertullian is likely the first to have used the term 'person' in the Church's wrestling with the Sabellian heresy. He finds it significant that even Augustine acknowledged that what was meant by 'person' was simply a 'necessity' or a 'protocol for speaking.'  Reviewing the concerns of no less than Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, and Calvin, Barth then turns to a problem he sees arising in the 19th century - one that justifies a new grammar for speaking of the 'personhood' of the Godhead:
What is called “personality” in the conceptual vocabulary of the 19th century is distinguished from the patristic and mediaeval persona by the addition of the attribute of self-consciousness. This really complicates the whole issue. One was and is obviously confronted by the choice of either trying to work out the doctrine of the Trinity on the presupposition of the concept of person as thus accentuated or of clinging to the older concept which since this accentuation in usage has become completely obsolete and is now unintelligible outside monastic and a few other studies (357).
Barth then opts - in light of the concern that modern, individualistic interpretations of persons conceived as personalities will color the understanding of trinity in unity - to use the phrase Seinweise ("mode or way of being") - in place of 'person' to describe the members of the Godhead.
The truly material determinations of the principle of threeness in the unity of God were derived neither by Augustine, Thomas nor our Protestant Fathers from an analysis of the concept of person, but from a very different source in the course of their much too laborious analyses of this concept. We prefer to let this other source rank as the primary one even externally, and therefore by preference we do not use the term “person” but rather “mode (or way) of being,” our intention being to express by this term, not absolutely, but relatively better and more simply and clearly the same thing as is meant by “person.” The fact that God is God in a special way as Father, as Son, and as Spirit, this aspect—not that of the participation of Father, Son and Spirit in the divine essence which is identical in all and which does not, therefore, describe Father, Son and Spirit as such, nor that of the “rational nature” of Father, Son and Spirit, which can hardly be called threefold without tritheism—is usually stressed in analysis as the first and decisive element even by those who think that they must analyse the concept of person at this point. Hence we are not introducing a new concept but simply putting in the centre an auxiliary concept which has been used from the very beginning and with great emphasis in the analysis of the concept of person. The statement that God is One in three ways of being, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, means, therefore, that the one God, i.e. the one Lord, the one personal God, is what He is not just in one mode but—we appeal in support simply to the result of our analysis of the biblical concept of revelation—in the mode of the Father, in the mode of the Son, and in the mode of the Holy Ghost (359).
Barth defends his choice of phrase in a small-print note on p. 360 which shouldn't be missed if one wants to understand the introduction of a term which (admittedly) has a bit of historical baggage to attend it. Some critics (e.g. Moltmann) are concerned that Barth's move is a slide towards to the ancient heresy of modalism. Geoffrey Bromiley, perhaps one of the most important interpreters of Barth, called this idea 'absurd.' It is perhaps beneficial to quote from Bromiley's Introduction:
The term raises its own problems. Where its orthodox credentials, both in the early church and in Protestant orthodoxy, are not known, and where the Dogmatics is read carelessly or superficially, or known only at second hand, the term is even cited in favor of the absurd idea that Barth advocates modalism. He himself, of course, excludes this with his definition that God is the one personal God in the three essentially and ineffaceably distinctive modes of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These "modes" are not parts or departments of deity, nor are they divine attributes, for the attributes of God are the attributes of each of the modes, and each of the modes is essentially in unity and distinction (16).
So where does the distinction lie? Revelation suggests it lies in the relations of origin of the three modes - the begetting, being begotten, and proceeding - i.e. the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt - of the trinitarian God, though in the end the why of the modes of being is a mystery:
The difference in ways of being, the alius—alius—alius [one- another-another], which is the theme of our present enquiry, cannot have its basis here. But if not here, where? The only possible answer which can be given, and which has in fact been given from the very beginning, confirms us in thinking that we have done well to put in the centre of our whole investigation the concept of mode of being rather than that of person. This answer is that the distinguishable fact of the three divine modes of being is to be understood in terms of their distinctive relations and indeed their distinctive genetic relations to one another. Father, Son and Spirit are distinguished from one another by the fact that without inequality of essence or dignity, without increase or diminution of deity, they stand in dissimilar relations of origin to one another. If we have rejected the possibility of deriving the difference in the three modes of being from the material differences in the thought of God contained in the concept of revelation, because in the last resort there can be no question of any such differences, we can and must say now that formal distinctions in the three modes of being—that which makes them modes of being—can indeed be derived from the concept of revelation. These are the distinctions in their relation to one another. The Why of these distinctions can no more be explained, of course, than the Why of revelation. But it is possible to state and describe the That of revelation, as we have tried to do, and one cannot do this—as we could not—without encountering, in and with the material distinctions that are not our present concern, certain formal distinctions in the three modes of being which prove to be also irremovable distinctions as distinctions of the one essence of God the Lord. Quite rightly reference has been made here first and foremost to the New Testament names of Father, Son and Spirit. If these three names are really in their threeness the one name of the one God, then it follows that in this one God there is primarily at least—let us put it cautiously, something like fatherhood and sonship, and therefore something like begetting and being begotten, and then a third thing common to both, which is not a being begotten, nor a proceeding merely from the begetter, but, to put it generally, a bringing forth which originates in concert in both begetter and begotten. But then, applying our ternary of revealer, revelation and being revealed, we can also say quite confidently that there is a source, an authorship, a ground of revelation, a revealer of himself just as distinct from revelation itself as revelation implies absolutely something new in relation to the mystery of the revealer which is set aside in revelation as such. As a second in distinction from the first there is thus revelation itself as the event of making manifest what was previously hidden. And as the result of the first two there is then a third, a being revealed, the reality which is the purpose of the revealer and therefore at the same time the point or goal of the revelation. More briefly, it is only because there is a veiling of God that there can be an unveiling, and only as there is a veiling and unveiling of God that there can be a self-impartation of God (362-363).
In the end, Barth concedes the difficulty of the topic and the limitations which can be offered. The uniqueness of God also means the mystery of God. As Bromiley contends, "none of our terms and concepts can dispel this" (Introduction, 16). Barths closes in this way:
And who is not constantly faced by the question whether these terms are really an indication to him or whether, by clinging to their immanent possibility of meaning, he is not caused endless vexation? The axiom non sermoni res, sed rei sermo subjects est [the subject matter is not subordinate to the language, but the language to the subject matter], without adopting which we cannot really be theologians, is not really a self-evident axiom and never will be. The fact that this is so is obvious here too and here especially. The truth is that all the concepts which we have tried to use here have some value in relation to what we have to say, but that they then cease to have any value or their only value is that in their valuelessness, and with other valueless things of the same type, they point beyond themselves to the problem as it is set before us by Scripture. When we have said what that is: Father, Son and Spirit, we must then go on to say that we have said nothing. Tres nescio quid [three I know not whats] was the final answer that Anselm, too, found that he could and should give to Augustine’s question. But the danger incurred here in relation to all concepts as such also arises in relation to the object. The inadequacy of all concepts not only implies the menacing proximity of a philosophical criticism based on the immanent possibilities of meaning of these concepts—this can be borne, because in the long run it is incompetent as such. What it also implies is the menacing proximity of theological error. We, too, are unable to avoid the fact that every step of ours in this field is exposed to danger, whether the threat comes from the tritheistic heresy or the modalist heresy, or whether there be on either side suspicion of the opposite error. We, too, are unable to take a middle course in such a way that every misunderstanding is ruled out and our orthodoxy is unequivocally assured. We, too, can in this respect return only a relatively satisfactory answer to Augustine’s question. On all sides good care is thus taken to see that the mysterium trinitatis [mystery of the trinity] remains a mystery. There can be no question of rationalising because rationalising is neither theologically nor philosophically possible here. That is to say, as philosophers we cannot give a full interpretation of the object with an apparatus of concepts already elucidated—for we always come up against the fact that from the standpoint of the object the decisive act of interpretation is an elucidation of the conceptual apparatus which is so radically ill-suited to this object. Again, as theologians we cannot really safeguard ourselves by means of this conceptual apparatus against the two opposing errors that threaten us here, for we always come up against the fact that in contrast to a theological language which uses this apparatus and is thus insecure, the truth creates the necessary safeguard for itself. Theology means rational wrestling with the mystery. But all rational wrestling with this mystery, the more serious it is, can lead only to its fresh and authentic interpretation and manifestation as a mystery. For this reason it is worth our while to engage in this rational wrestling with it. If we are not prepared for this we shall not even know what we are saying when we say that what is at issue here is God’s mystery (367–368).