Saturday, November 30, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §9.3 "Triunity" pp. 368-375

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 §9.3 ("Triunity"), Barth would like to move beyond the terms 'unity in trinity' and 'trinity in unity', preferring instead the phrase, "triunity", which has, in his estimation, some advantages (but is not itself perfect):
In the doctrine of the Trinity our concern is with unity in trinity and trinity in unity. We cannot advance beyond these two obviously one-sided and inadequate formulations. They are both one-sided and inadequate because a slight overemphasis on the unity is unavoidable in the first and a slight overemphasis on the trinity is unavoidable in the second. The term “triunity” is to be regarded as a conflation of the two formulae or rather as an indication of the conflation of the two to which we cannot attain and for which, then, we have no formula, but which we can know only as the incomprehensible truth of the object itself.
In practice, however, this concept of “triunity” can never be more than the dialectical union and distinction in the mutual relation between the two formulae that are one-sided and inadequate in themselves. We see on the one side how for those who hear and see revelation in the Bible the Father, Son and Spirit, or however we name the three elements in the biblical revelation, come together in the knowledge and concept of the one God. And we see on the other side how for them the source and goal of this knowledge and concept are never a sterile one but are rather the three, whatever we call them. In practice the concept of triunity is the movement of these two thoughts (368-369).
According to Barth, 'triunity' primarily implies (though other things are implied as well) that God's essence is one:
The triunity of God obviously implies, then, the unity of Father, Son and Spirit among themselves. God’s essence is indeed one, and even the different relations of origin do not entail separations. They rather imply—for where there is difference there is also fellowship—a definite participation of each mode of being in the other modes of being, and indeed, since the modes of being are in fact identical with the relations of origin, a complete participation of each mode of being in the other modes of being. Just as in revelation, according to the biblical witness, the one God may be known only in the Three and the Three only as the one God, so none of the Three may be known without the other Two but each of the Three only with the other Two (370).
Barth now makes reference to the perichoresis. In trinitarian thought “perichoresis” was used in Greek theology by John of Damascus to describe the inner relation between the persons of the Godhead. Barth says of this, “The divine modes of being mutually condition and permeate one another so completely that one is always in the other two” (370). Trinitarian perichoresis begins with the unity of natures or a strict consubstantiality and affirms a reciprocal interrelation. Each person has “being in each other without any coalescence” (John of Damascus). Perichoresis is a necessary implication of orthodox trinitarian thought. Also, to repeat what Barth has said in the immediate quote, in the Godhead, the three "modes of being" (to use Barth's phrase) are three in distinction but not in separation (370).

Barth then makes an important point - the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit among themselves corresponds to the unity outside of God.
God’s essence and work are not twofold but one. God’s work is His essence in its relation to the reality which is distinct from Him and which is to be created or is created by Him. The work of God is the essence of God as the essence of Him who (N.B. in a free decision grounded in His essence but not constrained by His essence) is revealer, revelation and being revealed, or Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer. In this work of His, God is revealed to us. All we can know of God according to the witness of Scripture are His acts. All we can say of God, all the attributes we can assign to God. relate to these acts of His; not, then, to His essence as such. Though the work of God is the essence of God, it is necessary and important to distinguish His essence as such from His work, remembering that this work is grace, a free divine decision, and also remembering that we can know about God only because and to the extent that He gives Himself to us to be known. God’s work is, of course, the work of the whole essence of God. God gives Himself entirely to man in His revelation, but not in such a way as to make Himself man’s prisoner. He remains free in His working, in giving Himself (371)
What then of the distinctions among the Godhead given this unity? Well, individual acts or works are more specifically referred to one "mode of being" (or person) than the others, thus distinctiveness among the Godhead (which, using an older dogmatic term, Barth refers to as 'appropriations'). These appropriations are valid just so long as they are biblical, and not arbitrary or exclusive.

Barth closes this little subsection with this,
From creation by way of revelation and reconciliation to the coming redemption it is always true that He who acts here is the Father and the Son and the Spirit. And it is true of all the perfections that are to be declared in relation to this work of God that they are as much the perfections of the Father as of the Son and the Spirit. Per appropriationem [by appropriation] this act or this attribute must now be given prominence in relation to this or that mode of being in order that this can be described as such. But only per appropriationem [by appropriation] may this happen, and in no case, therefore, to the forgetting or denying of God’s presence in all His modes of being, in His total being and act even over against us (375).