Friday, December 6, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §11.2 "The Eternal Son" pp. 414-447

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §11 states: "The one God reveals Himself according to Scripture as the Reconciler, i.e., as the Lord in the midst of our enmity towards Him. As such He is the Son of God who has come to us or the Word of God that has been spoken to us, because He is so antecedently in Himself as the Son or Word of God the Father."

In subsection §11.2 ("God the Son: The Eternal Son"), Barth begins by asking the question, "Who is the Son of God?"
Jesus Christ as the One who reveals the Father and the One who reconciles us to the Father is the Son of God. For as this One He reveals Himself to us as the Son who has come to us or God’s Word that has been spoken to us. (414).
Barth makes the case in a number of ways that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the second "mode of being" of God, and the effective Revealer of God and Reconciler to God because it is in his nature to be Barth says "antecedently in himself." Because of this, the scriptures bear witness as does Church dogma:
The Church dogma of Christ’s deity as compared with the New Testament statement about Christ’s deity says no other than that we have to accept the simple presupposition on which the New Testament statement rests, namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son because He is (not because He makes this impression on us, not because He does what we think is to be expected of a God, but because He is). With this presupposition all thinking about Jesus, which means at once all thinking about God, must begin and end. No reflection can try to prove this presupposition, no reflection can call this presupposition in question. All reflection can only start with it and return to it. The Church dogma of the deity of Christ arose out of this insight and it expresses this insight. For when it explicitly takes the deity of Christ to be eternal deity, when we say that the Son who has come to us or the Word that has been spoken to us is antecedently the Son or Word of God per se*, we are simply saying in practice that the statement about Christ’s deity is to be regarded as a basic and not a derivative statement. This is how the apostles understood it, the dogma says, and this is how we, too, must understand it if we are to understand the apostles. This is how we must understand the apostles and the statement, then, if our own understanding is not to be led astray from the understanding of the early Church which expressed and deposited this understanding in the dogma. Our own understanding as we have attempted it here has not so far led us astray from the dogma of the early Church but has rather led us to it. Things might have been different. The dogma does not have divine dignity for us but only human pedagogic dignity. We might have turned our backs on it, but we have no cause to do so. As an expression of our own understanding of the New Testament too we can and we must say what the dogma says. We cannot understand the New Testament statement about Christ’s deity in any different or better way than by studying it in harmony with the early Church, i.e., by directly comparing with it the dogma of the eternal deity of Christ. The dogma as such is not to be found in the biblical texts. The dogma is an interpretation. But we can convince ourselves that it is a good and relevant interpretation of these texts. We thus accept it. The deity of Christ is true, eternal deity. We see it in His work in revelation and reconciliation. But revelation and reconciliation do not create His deity. His deity creates revelation and reconciliation.
Jesus Christ is the true and effective Revealer of God and Reconciler to God because God in His Son or Word does not posit and make known a mere something, however great or meaningful. He posits and makes known Himself exactly as He posits and knows Himself from and to all eternity. He is the Son or Word of God for us because He is so antecedently in Himself (415-416).
Barth then proceeds (in an extended small print section on pp. 416-419) to challenge the Modernist Protestant attempts to discredit this "antecedently in Himself" and also their attacks upon the early Protestant Reformers and their suggestions that the reformers did not agree with the early and medieval church about Christ's deity. To this Barth says 'Nein!' (oh, and read more of the reformers).

To the charge that the assertions about Christ's deity and the "antecedently in Himself" is speculative, Barth says, that what is speculative is the critic's untheological understanding that what makes Christ the Son of God is the "for us." There are three problems with this kind of thinking:
It is strange but true that the Church dogma of the true and eternal deity of Christ with its “antecedently in Himself” is the very thing that denies and prohibits an untheologically speculative understanding of the “for us.” And the very man who thinks he must reject the Church dogma undoubtedly does this because he is in the grip of an untheologically speculative understanding of the “for us.” This may be be shown in three respects. 
1. If we will not listen to the fact that Christ is antecedently God in Himself in order that in this way and on this basis He may be our God, then we turn the latter, His being God for us, into a necessary attribute of God. God’s being is then essentially limited and conditioned as a being revealed, i.e., as a relation of God to man. Man is thus thought of as indispensable to God. But this destroys God’s freedom in the act of revelation and reconciliation, i.e., it destroys the gracious character of this act. It is thus God’s nature (c’est son metier [that's his job] - Voltaire) to have to forgive us. And it is man’s nature to have a God from whom he receives forgiveness. That and not the Church dogma which forbids this thought is untheological speculation. 
2. If we will accept only the Son of God for us without remembering that He is antecedently the Son of God in Himself this certainly cannot be called the knowledge of faith—if, that is, the knowledge of faith is the knowledge of a divine act, of an unveiling of the veiled God, and therefore of a coming forth or a way of God; if the knowledge of faith is distinguished from other knowledge by the fact that it is knowledge of the mystery of the speech of God—the speech of God which arises out of a silence of God, which is truth as an actual event between a terminus a quo [starting point] and a terminus ad quem [ending point] and not otherwise. If we think we can understand the benefice Christi [benefits of Christ] apart from this event, then it is we, and not the Church dogma that reminds us of this event, who are engaged in untheological speculation. 
3. If we want to restrict the task of theological reflection to an understanding of Christ in His revelation but only in His revelation in itself and as such, then what standard and criterion can there be for this understanding, this highly vaunted beneficia Christi cognoscere? [knowledge of Christ's benefits]? Obviously the criterion will have to be something man himself has brought. It may thus be, within the limit of our capability, either the evaluation of human greatness or the evaluation of the idea of God or a divine being. Since Christ is to be rated highly according to this humanly possible evaluation, we may to that extent, on the basis of our value judgment, call Him the Son of God. We are thus confronted again by the two christological types which we have learned to know as the Ebionite and the Docetic (420-421).
And so Barth does a bit of scolding of the critics (but only a little): "How could a theology which does not know the freedom of God’s grace, which does not know the mystery of His way, which does not know the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom, how could such a theology come to call itself a theology of revelation and faith? How could it be knowledge of the beneficia Christi? [benefits of Christ]? Is not this defiant arrogance, all the worse because it pretends to be so humble? But there is no sense in scolding here (422).

Then Barth turns his mind towards the "most important record of the Church dogma of the deity of Christ" - The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which he uses to more deeply (in six points) discuss the deity of Jesus Christ.

The "one Lord" is God:
We believe in the one Lord Jesus Christ. The term “Lord” points in the first instance to the significance of Jesus Christ for us. In relation to us He is the Bearer of authority and power. He has a claim on us and control over us. He commands and rules. But He does not do so accidentally and provisionally, nor partially and restrictedly, like other lords. His lordship is not derivative nor grounded in a higher lordship. It is lordship in the final and definitive sense of the word. It is self-grounded lordship. [...] The phrase “the one” Lord relates Jesus Christ directly to the Father of whom the confession has said emphatically in the first article that He is the one God. If there can be no rivalry between the words “God” and “Lord” when they refer to the one being—to the one being in the same way as the statements about creation and reconciliation refer to the one work of this one being—then this phrase already makes the decisive point that Jesus Christ is Himself this being, that He is not just His legate or plenipotentiary, but that He is identical with Him (423-424).
The "only begotten" is unique and exclusive:
The only-begotten Son is according to Jn. 1:18 the one God. God Himself, God in Himself, is in the mode of being of the only-begotten of the Father. This is why this Only-begotten is the object of the Father’s love and this is why He can be the object of our faith. Before all revelation and all faith, before it is given to man to behold the glory of this Only-begotten (Jn. 1:14), this glory is the glory of God Himself. And this is why it is “grace and truth” in its revelation. This is why its revelation has to be unique. The uniqueness of its revelation and of reconciliation corresponds to what God in His own being is antecedently in Himself: the Son of the Father, beside whom there can no more be a second Son of the Father than there can be a second God alongside the one God (425).
"Before all time" means that Jesus Christ does not first become God's son when He is it for us - He becomes it from eternity:
“Begotten of the Father before all time” means that He did not come into being in time as such, that He did not come into being in an event within the created world. That the Son of God becomes man and that He is known by other men in His humanity as the Son of God are events, even if absolutely distinctive events, in time, within the created   p 427  world. But their distinction does not itself derive or come from time. Otherwise they would be only relatively distinctive events, of which there are others. Precisely because they have divine power, because the power of this world is here the power of the world to come, because the power of God’s immanence is here the power of His transcendence, their subject must be understood as being before all time, as the eternal Subject, eternal as God Himself, Himself eternal as God. Jesus Christ does not first become God’s Son when He is it for us. He becomes it from eternity; He becomes it as the eternal Son of the eternal Father (426-427).
"Light of light, very God of very God" means that there is distinction, but unity in distinction:
We believe in Jesus Christ as light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made. In this clause we have the true and decisive trinitarian definition of Christ’s deity. It states two things: First, that in God’s work and essence we have to distinguish light and light, God and God, to distinguish them in the same way that in the created world we have to distinguish a source of light and a light that emanates from it, or a light that kindles and a light that is kindled, or father and son, or speaker and the word spoken. Then we have to understand this distinction as a distinction in God Himself. We have not to understand it as though there were God on the one side and a creature on the other, but in such a way that the one God is found equally on both sides (427).
"Begotten not made" refutes creaturehood and acknowledges derivation from God the Father, though in the end this is a mystery:
That the “begotten,” along with the whole metaphor of father and son, says nothing, or does not say the truth, respecting God, does not in the least follow from all this. What it says is inappropriate, but it does say something and it says the truth. If we call what is said about Father and Son figurative, it should be remembered that this can apply only to our human speech as such but not to its object. It is not true, then, that the father-son relation is itself originally and properly a creaturely reality. It is not true that in some hidden depth of His essence God is something other than Father and Son. It is not true that these names are just freely chosen and in the last analysis meaningless symbols, symbols whose original and proper non-symbolical content lies in that creaturely reality. On the contrary, it is in God that the father-son relation, like all creaturely relations, has its original and proper reality. The mystery of begetting is originally and properly a divine and not a creaturely mystery. Perhaps one ought even to say that it is the divine mystery. 
Nevertheless, in naming God thus we are expressing the truth. His truth. In this sense the “begotten” says precisely what a confession of faith can and should say at the necessary distance from but also in the necessary relation to its object. It explains God’s mode of being in Jesus Christ as a real “Thence” and “Thither,” as the bringing forth from a source which is real in God Himself. Though we cannot, of course, perceive it, this is the proper and original Father-Son relation, the fatherhood and sonship of God. And we must add that the force as well as the clarity of the “begotten” does at least also lie in its opposition to the rejected “made.” Begetting is less than creating inasmuch as the former denotes the bringing forth of creature from creature whereas the latter denotes the bringing forth of the creature by the Creator. Yet begetting is also more than creating inasmuch as—and here the closed circle of creature and creature as we see it in what we know as begetting is a figure—it denotes the bringing forth of God from God, whereas creating denotes only the bringing forth of the creature by God. 
In the superiority of bringing forth from God in God over bringing forth by God, in the superiority of the freedom in which God posits His own reality over the freedom in which He posits a reality distinct from Himself, in the superiority of the love in which He is an object to Himself over the love in which the object is something that exists by His will in distinction from Himself—in this superiority lies the significance of the “begotten, not made” (432-433).
"Of one substance (or essence) with the Father" means of equal essence with the Father and is a safeguard against Arianism (understanding Christ as a demi-god) and is a safeguard against polytheism when we might be tempted to divide essences and have multiple essences distributed among the different modes of being.
We believe in Jesus Christ as being “of one substance (or essence) with the Father.” Historically the incorporation of this phrase into the original Nicaenum was a bold anticipation, dubious in many respects, but ultimately justifiable both historically and materially. 
“Of one substance or essence,” i.e., of identical essence, is the meaning of ὁμοούσιος or consubstantialis as a dogma. 
“Of equal essence” is included in this sense, for if the Son is of one essence with the Father He is also of equal essence with Him. On the other hand “of equal essence” does not have to mean “of one essence”; it might be construed polytheistically. 
“Of one essence” is first and obviously a safeguard against the Arian understanding of Jesus Christ as a “demi-god from below” or a superman who is indeed like God but, being only like Him, is ultimately and in the last resort different from Him. It underlines and accentuates the γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα [begotten not made]. It places Jesus Christ on the side of the Creator in contrast to every creature, even the highest. 
But “of one essence” is also secondly a safeguard against the idea, current from the days of Origen, that Jesus Christ is a “demi-god from above” on a lower stage and of lesser quantity within the Godhead itself. It underlines and accentuates the ἀληθινὸν θεόν [very God]. 
“Of one essence” is also thirdly a safeguard against the differentiation or multiplication of God’s essence through the distinction in modes of being. That is, it is a safeguard against polytheism. If forces us really to understand the “persons” as modes of being, i.e., not as two subjects but as twice the same subject (in indissoluble twofoldness of course, as may be inferred from the context of the creed), as two who are two only in their mutual relations and not in themselves, not in their essence. Ὀμοούσιος τῷ πατρί [of one substance with the Father] means “I and the Father are one”—I and the Father, for only in this distinction does the “one” apply—yet “one,” for only in this unity is there the I and the Father (438-439).
Finally, to declare that we believe in Jesus Christ "by whom all things were made" means affirming His divine distinctiveness from creation and the very ground of our being:
The idea does not have merely the abstractly trinitarian significance of making it clear that the work and therefore the essence of the Father and the Son are one and the same. In so doing, it also illumines and explains once again who and what Jesus Christ is in His revelation: not a stranger whom we might encounter as a stranger, interpreting and choosing according to our own thought and evaluation; not even a semi-stranger whom we should judge according to a knowledge of the God that sent Him which we have derived from some other source. But “he came to his own possession” (Jn. 1:11), to the world, to us whom He Himself created, who are from the very first His own, and He theirs. The Word which we hear in revelation, the Word by which  we are summoned to the unmerited and from our standpoint impossible fellowship of God with sinners—this Word is none other than the Word by which we who should hear it are called into being along with all the reality that is distinct from God, without which we would not be either sinners or righteous, without which we would not be at all. The One who in revelation calls us out of our enmity against Him to Himself, who calls us out of death into life, is the One who in so doing also makes Himself known as the One who previously called us out of nothing into existence, into existence as pardoned sinners, yet into existence as pardoned sinners. We cannot hear the Word of justification and sanctification without being reminded that it is through this Word, in no other way and from no other source, that we who are justified and sanctified by this Word even exist. This Word is the ground of our being beyond our being; whether we hear it or not, whether we obey it or not, it is in virtue of its superior existence that our existence is a reality. This Word came to us before we came or not, and as we come or not. Our coming or not coming is possible only because this Word is real. The same Jesus Christ through whom God unites us to Himself even while we are His enemies has already united us to Himself as those who belong to Him because He alone holds us over the abyss. And it is by this first union with Him, manifested to us in and by the second, by revelation, that the significance of the second for us is measured. To be sinners, as we are shown to be in the revelation of Jesus Christ, means that we have separated ourselves from the One without whom we would not be even in this separation and yet, separated from whom, we cannot be in any true or proper sense. To be sinners means that we have come to a place where our existence is absolutely inconceivable because at this place it can be only a plunge into nothing, where our existence can be understood only as an event of inconceivable kindness, or it cannot be understood at all. And to attain to grace, as we are again shown to have done in the revelation of Jesus Christ, means that notwithstanding our separation He without whom we would not be, and yet from whom we have separated ourselves, not only does not let us fall into the nothing from which He called us, but also, addressing and claiming us as sinners. He grants to us over and above existence no less a gift than Himself, fellowship and intercourse with Himself. What does this mean? It means that in His revelation Jesus Christ the Word of God does not need to get from some other source the authority to address and claim us; He already has it antecedently in Himself. It is not a question of whether we want to respond to Him or not. We are already responsible to Him and in different ways our whole being is response to Him. In relation to Him there is no possibility of appealing or withdrawing to some domain of our own where we were once alone and where He does not yet reach us or does so no longer, to a neutral human existence, as it were, where it is first up to us to place ourselves or not under the judgment and the grace that He declares to us, and from which we might comfortably come to an understanding with Him. In fact we do not know anything about our human existence except through the Word which declares to us judgment and grace. In declaring this, it tells us that it is itself the ground of our being as men; on this ground alone are we men, and not otherwise. It comes to us because it already applies to us even before it comes. It is the hand that already holds us even as it grasps us. It is the ruling act of the king who was already a king before and who has both the might and the right to perform this act. It encompasses us on every side (Ps. 139:5). It is the Word which has power, the Word of the Lord. And it is the Word of the Lord because it is the Word of the Reconciler who is also the Creator (443-445).