Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §7.2-7.3 "The Word of God, Dogma, and Dogmatics" pp. 275-292

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 §7.2 ("The Problem of Dogmatics"), Barth begins by reminding us of an earlier point he made in §1.1: "when theology generally, and with it dogmatics, understands and describes itself as a science, it does not do so in principle, i.e., it does not raise the claim as one by whose recognition it will stand or fall, but it raises it without being able or even desiring to argue and justify it before an external tribunal" (275).

In this section, Barth is going to explore the idea of what it means to call dogmatics a science. As one might guess from this opening statement in the section, he does not mean - in calling dogmatics a science - that it must in any sense borrow from the human or natural sciences - universal criteria of meaning or truth. As he contends, "it does not recognize the need to understand and legitimate itself as a science at all." 

Barth makes a distinction about dogmatics at this point: "there is a regular dogmatics and an irregular dogmatics" (275).

Regular dogmatics is the dogmatics of the schools - the academy: "By regular dogmatics we mean an enquiry into dogma which aims at the completeness appropriate to the special task of the school, of theological instruction. If it is to be a good school, the theological school must offer training in independent enquiry into dogma. For this reason it must be as complete as possible. It must impress on the student how one question breaks up into many questions and how in every respect and from every possible standpoint all these many questions are in fact open and inter-related. Thus a regular or academic dogmatics must cover the whole field in respect of the range of concepts and themes that are significant for Church proclamation, in respect of the biblical witness in which this proclamation has its concrete criterion, in respect of orientation to the history of dogmas and dogmatics, i.e., to the concrete forms of Church proclamation existing thus far, in respect of real and possible difficulties and contradictions that one will find in every individual question, and finally in respect of the implicit and explicit distinctness of the path of knowledge. These are the demands which naturally arise if dogmatics is to be taught and if this instruction is to be planned guidance, i.e., guidance to independent dogmatic work, and not just the imparting of the specific results of the work of a specific teacher" (275-276). This is the theology not just of free intellectual exchange but of instruction. Here he references a number of "academic" instructional works, e.g. Augustine's Enchiridion, the Catreheses of Cyril of Jerusalem, the great "Discourse" of Gregory of Nyssa, etc.

Irregular dogmatics is the dogmatics which has no particular instructional purpose and does not aim at completeness: "By irregular dogmatics, on the other hand, we mean the enquiry into dogma in which there is no primary thought of the task of the school and there is thus no primary concern for the completeness mentioned above. Dogmatics as free discussion of the problems that arise for Church proclamation from the standpoint of the question of dogma can and must be pursued in the Church outside the theological school and apart from its special task. Such free dogmatics existed before there was the regular dogmatics of the school, and it will always have its own necessity and possibility alongside this. It will differ from it by the fact that it does not cover the whole ground with the same consistency, whether in respect of Church proclamation itself, the decisive biblical witness, the history of dogma, detailed systematics, or strictness and clarity of method...The dogmatic work that has come down to us from the early Church, even from the pens of its most significant and learned representatives, is not for the most part regular dogmatics but irregular dogmatics in the sense described" (277). This is the theology of sermons, pamphlets, commentaries, even works like  Calvin's Institutes could in some way be described as devotional but also fit nicely into both categories. Some of the greatest works of theology fall into this category. Irregular dogmatics in no less scientific than regular dogmatics. Only in the sense that it must be submitted to the examination of regular dogmatics could it in any way be considered subordinate. That being said, Barth muses on whether the "aphoristic" style of irregular dogmatics or the systematic style of regular dogmatics does more or less justice to the task of dogmatics.

He also makes it clear that what he is doing in the Church Dogmatics is regular dogmatics: "What is to be attempted here is regular dogmatics. At no time, even and especially in times of greatest flux, can the Church do without this, and on every hand there are indications that especially for Protestantism to-day an orderly school dogmatics might be healthier than a further plethora of irregularities in which it has always been so dangerously rich, particularly in the modern period. The results of irregular dogmatics are more exposed than those of regular dogmatics to the danger of being purely accidental, for in form at least they nearly always tend to be strongly influenced by the person and biography of their authors" (278-279).

Barth suggests that three things need to be demanded of a scientific dogmatics, whether regular or irregular:
  1. First, it must stand in relation to proclamation: "It must devote itself to the problem of Church proclamation as such and not to problems of thought which might arise in proximity to certain concepts in Church proclamation but which have nothing to do with proclamation itself. A system of Christian truth can be the task of dogmatics only to the extent that we are dealing with Christian truth that is proclaimed and is to be proclaimed, so that the exposition of it is less a system than the report of an event" (280). 
  2. Second, it must engage not merely in exposition but in clarification and correction: "Scientific dogmatics must devote itself to the criticism and correction of Church proclamation and not just to a repetitive exposition of it. Dogmatics cannot just be a historical account of the classical expression of the faith proclaimed by this or that period in the Church’s past. Nor can it just be the clarification and presentation of the faith as the dogmatician concerned personally thinks it should be proclaimed. Nor again can it be just the phenomenology of a cross-section of the common faith proclaimed in a given present" (281). Scientific dogmatics (to be truly scientific) is a part of the present Church's current action and not just the task of doing historical theology.
  3. Third, it must focus on agreement only with revelation: "Scientific dogmatics—and now we come to the decisive point—enquires into the agreement of Church proclamation with the revelation which is attested in Holy Scripture. This is what we called the meaning and point of dogma in the first sub-section. If the scientific nature of dogmatics consists in its specific objectivity, i.e., in its orientation to the question of dogma, then we have here the decisive test by which its scientific character has always to be proved. We have already seen that Church proclamation could and can be criticised and corrected from very different standpoints too. What might happen when this is done could even be science from these different standpoints. But it would certainly not be dogmatic science...Dogmatic work stands or falls by whether the standard by which Church proclamation is measured is the revelation attested in Holy Scripture and not a philosophical, ethical, psychological or political theory" (283).
On pages 283-284, Barth engages in a fun little pseudo-excurssus which does a nice job of detailing the vocation of the theologian: "Now it is obvious that everyone who works at dogmatics works more or less with specific intellectual presuppositions. The only question is whether in addition to these he also knows the sign of the divine promise which is set up in the Church and whether he is able and willing, in a way that admits of no proof, to take this sign so seriously that in this context its direction takes absolute precedence over all the directions he might owe to the humanities. If and so far as this is so, his work is scientific, and if and so far as it is not so, his work is not scientific, no matter how scientific it may be considered from other angles. It is quite right—and we are not questioning this here but emphatically underlining it—that an education in the arts and a familiarity with the thinking of the philosopher, psychologist, historian, aesthetician, etc., should be demanded of the dogmatician or the theologian. The dogmatician, too, must think and speak in a particular age and should thus be a man of his age, which also means a man of the past that constitutes his age, i.e., an educated man. Nevertheless, the only element in education that makes him a dogmatician is the one which is not provided in all these other disciplines and which consists in indemonstrable and unassuming attention to the sign of Holy Scripture around which the Church gathers and continually becomes the Church. By this attention, and by nothing else, the theologian becomes a theologian."

In subsection §7.3 ("The Problem of Dogmatic Prolegomena") the final subsection of Chapter I -Barth begins by reminding us that a scientific theology is scientific in as much as it "treads its own very specific path of knowledge as specifically defined by its own object." Barth argues that what is needed (and here he is telegraphing where he will start going in Chapter II) is a theology of the three forms of revelation (defined previously as revelation, scripture, and preaching). As he stated in his GD: "The Word of God on which dogmatics reflects is...one in three, three in one: revelation, scripture, and preaching - the Word of God revelation, the Word of God scripture, the Word of God preached, neither to be confused nor separated..." (14-15). He wants to investigate these three forms more deeply. He proposes to first study revelation itself - the revealed Word, which will entail an analysis of the Holy Trinity- of Jesus Christ as the objective possibility of revelation, and of the Holy Spirit which constitutes the subjective possibility. Here is Barth in the closing paragraph of chapter one:

"But how can we perform this investigation? Clearly only by first considering and analysing the fact of this revelation—obviously the revelation which is attested to have taken place in Scripture and is promised as coming in proclamation; clearly only by analysing how the fact “God reveals Himself” is itself brought before us in the Bible and revelation; clearly only by analysing it as required by the fact itself and by the way it makes itself known to us. Again it is from the fact itself that we are to learn how far it may be understood as intrinsically possible and as self-actualising. But analysis of this fact itself can only be a development of what has always played a distinctive role in dogmatics under the name of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The answer to the question of the inner possibility of this fact will be provided on the one hand by the basic propositions of Christology and on the other hand by the basic propositions regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. But we shall first investigate the concept of revelation in order to clarify the presuppositions of the doctrine of Holy Scripture and the doctrine of Church proclamation which are our practical concern. The concept of revelation will have to show us how far the Bible and proclamation are to be understood as God’s Word, what correspondence there is between them, and how the latter is to be measured by the former. Investigation of the concept of revelation belongs, therefore, to the beginning of the whole. In the further course of our prolegomena we shall have to have three chapters on revelation, Holy Scripture and the Church’s proclamation in which we shall speak of them in such a way that the whole can be regarded as an exposition of the doctrine of the three forms of the Word of God intimated in § 4. The only point is that we shall no longer be concentrating on a demonstration of the forms but rather on their inner structure and mutual relations. We shall thus have to reverse the order. Previously we began with proclamation as the problematic factor in the whole nexus. Revelation must now form the startingpoint and proclamation the goal" (291-292).

I can't wait!