Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §15.2.3 "Very God and Very Man (Part 3)" pp. 159-171

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §15 states: "The mystery of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ consists in the fact that the eternal Word of God chose, sanctified and assumed human nature and existence into oneness with Himself, in order thus, as very God and very man, to become the Word of reconciliation spoken by God to man. The sign of this mystery revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the miracle of His birth, that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary."

In subsection §15.2 ("Very God and Very Man"), Barth says of the title to this section, "Very God and Very Man"...
We understand this statement as the answer to the question: Who is Jesus Christ? and we understand it as a description of the central New Testament statement, Jn. 1:14: “The Word was made flesh.” Therefore this New Testament verse must guide us in our discussion of the dogmatic statement that Jesus Christ is very God and very man (132).
In subsection §15.2, Barth undertakes a three-part exegesis of John 1.14 - "The Word was made flesh" - and today's summary looks at part three. In part three Barth focuses on the "became" part and the fact that the Word became flesh. For Barth, the fact that the Word became flesh by no means insists that there was a surrender of the divinity of the Word. In other words, there is no surrender of being as the Word:
“The Word became flesh,” ἐγένετο, we read in Jn. 1:14. To this decisive factor in the whole christological question we must now turn. “The Word became”—that points to the centre, to the mystery of revelation, the happening of the inconceivable fact that God is among us and with us. If there is any synthetic judgment at all it is this one, that “the Word became.” But can or will the Word of God become? Does He not surrender thereby His divinity? Or, if He does not surrender it, what does becoming mean? By what figures of speech or concepts is this becoming of the Word of God to be properly described? “The Word became”—if that is true, and true in such a way that a real becoming is thereby expressed without the slightest surrender of the divinity of the Word, its truth is that of a miraculous act, an act of mercy on the part of God (159).
His becoming flesh is not an act that befalls him, therefore Barth advocates for the somewhat less problematic term "assuming" - as in the Word assumed flesh. He also counters the idea that in becoming, the Word becomes a type of 'third' thing:
If we paraphrase the statement “the Word became flesh” by “the Word assumed flesh,” we guard against the misinterpretation already mentioned, that in the incarnation the Word ceases to be entirely Himself and equal to Himself, i.e., in the full sense of Word of God. God cannot cease to be God. The incarnation is inconceivable, but it is not absurd, and it must not be explained as an absurdity. The inconceivable fact in it is that without ceasing to be God the Word of God is among us in such a way that He takes over human being, which is His creature, into His own being and to that extent makes it His own being. As His own predicate along with His original predicate of divinity, He takes over human being into unity with Himself. And it is by the paraphrase “the Word assumed flesh” that the second misunderstanding is also guarded against, that in the incarnation, by means of a union of divine and human being and nature, a third is supposed to arise. Jesus Christ as the Mediator between God and man is not a third, midway between the two. In that case God has at once ceased to be God and likewise He is not a man like us. But Jesus is the Mediator, the God-Man, in such a way that He is God and Man. This “and” is the inconceivable act of the “becoming” in the incarnation. It is not the act of the human being and nature. How can it be capable of such an act? Nor is it the act either of the divine being and nature as such. It is not the divine nature that acts where God acts. But it is the triune God in His divine nature, One in the three modes of existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, too, in this assumption of human being by the eternal Word. He, the eternal Word, in virtue of His own will and power as well as in virtue of the will and power of Father and Holy Spirit, becomes flesh. The unity into which the human nature is assumed is thus unity with the Word, and only to that extent—because this Word is the eternal Word—the union of the human with the divine nature. But the eternal Word is with the Father and the Holy Spirit the unchangeable God Himself and so incapable of any change or admixture. Unity with Him, the “becoming” of the Word, cannot therefore mean the origination of a third between Word and flesh, but only the assumption of the flesh by the Word (160-161).
Historically, there have been theological struggles (even heresies) in the attempt to describe the union between Man and God. How is it that there are two natures in One Person? This confusion has given rise to the doctrine of the anhypostasis and the enhypostasis. Technically, hypostasis refers to each of the three concrete and distinct trinitarian persons who share a single divine nature or essence. The hypostatic union, in contrast, is an important christological designation. At the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 the church declared the doctrine of the hypostatic union. The doctrine is an attempt to describe the miraculous bringing together of humanity and divinity in the same person, Jesus Christ, such that he is both fully divine and fully human.

Bruce McCormack tells us, in his Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectically Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936, that...
In May 1924, Barth made a momentous discovery. During the course of his first lectures in dogmatics, he came upon the anhypostatic-enhypostatic Christological dogma of the ancient Church in a textbook of post-Reformation theology. He saw in it an understanding of the incarnate being of the Mediator which preserved that infinite qualitative distinction between God and humankind which had been at the forefront of his concerns throughout the previous phase [of his theological development - MD]. The central thrust of the ancient dogma was that the Logos (the second Person of the Holy Trinity) took to Himself human flesh (i.e. a human "nature", complete, whole, and entire) and lived a human life in and through it. The proximity to Barth's dialectic of veiling and unveiling was obvious. In that God takes to God's Self a human nature, God veils God's Self in a creaturely medium. He enters 'the divine incognito' - a situation of unrecognizability. Outwardly (and inwardly!), He is a human being like any other. But the Subject of this human life - we may liken this to Kant's conception of an unintuitable, noumenal self - was at every point the Second Person of the Trinity; a Subject who, because of the veil of human flesh, remains unintuitable. Because of His unituitability, God can only be known in Jesus where He condescends to grant faith to the would-be human knower; where He unveils Himself in and through the veil of human flesh.
For Barth, he sees the unity of God and man in Jesus as being presupposed in the "becoming" - and this finds expression in the doctrine of anhypostasis-enhypostasis. He writes:
...from the utter uniqueness of this unity follows the statement, that God and Man are so related in Jesus Christ, that He exists as Man so far and only so far as He exists as God, i.e. in the mode of existence of the eternal Word of God. What we thereby express is a doctrine unanimously sponsored by early theology in its entirety, that of the anhypostasis and enhypostasis of the human nature of Christ. Anhypostasis asserts the negative. Since in virtue of the ἐγένετο ['became'], i.e., in virtue of the assumptio [assumption], Christ’s human nature has its existence—the ancients said, its subsistence—in the existence of God, meaning in the mode of being (hypostasis, “person”) of the Word, it does not possess it in and for itself, in abstract [in the abstract]. Apart from the divine mode of being whose existence it acquires it has none of its own; i.e., apart from its concrete existence in God in the event of the unio [union], it has no existence of its own, it is ἀνυπόστατος [anhypostatic]. Enhypostasis asserts the positive. In virtue of the ἐγένετο ['became'], i.e., in virtue of the assumptio [assumption], the human nature acquires existence (subsistence) in the existence of God, meaning in the mode of being (hypostasis, “person”) of the Word. This divine mode of being gives it existence in the event of the unio [union], and in this way it has a concrete existence of its own, it is ἐνυμόστατος [enhypostatic] (163).
Understood in this its original sense, this particular doctrine, abstruse in appearance only, is particularly well adapted to make it clear that the reality attested by Holy Scripture, Jesus Christ, is the reality of a divine act of Lordship which is unique and singular as compared with all other events, and in this way to characterise it as a reality held up to faith by revelation. It is in virtue of the eternal Word that Jesus Christ exists as a man of flesh and blood in our sphere, as a man like us, as an historical phenomenon. But it is only in virtue of the divine Word that He exists as such. If He existed in a different way, how would He be revelation in the real sense in which revelation is intended in Holy Scripture? Because of this positive aspect, it was well worth making the negation a dogma and giving it the very careful consideration which it received in early Christology (165).
Barth further states that the incarnation - the 'becoming'- is a completed event. One should not look for the Word anywhere other than in Jesus.
Ἐγένετο ['became'], the event of the incarnation of the Word, of the union hypostatic a [hypostatic union], has to be understood as a completed event, but also as a completed event.
What the New Testament tells us of the reality of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly meant to be heard as the news of an accomplished fact, namely, that in the fulness of time it became true—and it was this that made this time fulfilled time—that once and for all God became Man and so His Word reached the ears of us men, and so we men were reconciled to God. The reality of Jesus Christ is an objective fact. It is this that gives Christology, so to speak, its ontological reference. And we undoubtedly have to do justice to this reference (165). 
The miracle of the incarnation, of the unio hypostatic a [hypostatic union], is seen from this angle when we realise that the Word of God descended from the freedom, majesty and glory of His divinity, that without becoming unlike Himself He assumed His likeness to us, and that now He is to be sought and found of us here, namely, in His human being. There is no other form or manifestation in heaven or on earth save the one child in the stable, the one Man on the cross. This is the Word to whom we must hearken, render faith and obedience, cling ever so closely. Every question concerning the Word which is directed away from Jesus of Nazareth, the human being of Christ, is necessarily and wholly directed away from Himself, the Word, and therefore from God Himself, because the Word, and therefore God Himself, does not exist for us apart from the human being of Christ (165-166).
Dividing the line between Lutherans, who have stressed the completed nature of the event, and Calvinists, who have stressed the dynamic aspect of the completed event -- Barth suggests that both emphases are needed:
To summarise: We may look at the ἐγένετο ['became'] from the standpoint of the completed event, or we may look at it from the standpoint of the completed event. Christology may have a static-ontic interest, or it may have a dynamic-noetic interest. But either way, when fully developed, it will give rise to very definite questions against it, which are very difficult to answer. The achievement of a synthesis of the two views, with a satisfactory answer to the questions on both sides, proved to be unattainable, at least in the great dispute within Evangelical theology in the 16th and 17th centuries in which it was last debated (170).
Does not the question of the completed event, the view that revelation is a divine act, merit a position of primacy and superiority, in so far as from this standpoint it is at least easier to do justice to the second view? Is not the first view more directly, more naturally tenable in the second itself than vice versa? In the second view, is it not a matter of a necessity of faith, which ought as such to take precedence of the former need for faith, however justifiable? If this is so, the practical result is that in future Reformed theology will have to express itself even more clearly than was the case at least in the i6th and I7th centuries, how far, as it maintained at the time, it does not mean to abandon one iota of what Luther rightly intended to express. But Lutheran theology will have to abandon or to modify the isolated assertion of its view, its denial, its inherited distrust of the more comprehensive way of putting the question; it will have to expound its special thesis on the basis and in the framework of the superior orderliness of a theology of the divine action. But when we recollect that in the centuries after the Reformation both sides strove genuinely and seriously, but unsuccessfully, in this direction for unification, when, above all, we recollect that there is a riddle in the fact itself, and that even in the New Testament two lines can be discerned in this matter, we will at least be on our guard against thinking of oversimple solutions. Perhaps there can be no resting from the attempt to understand this ἐγένετο ['became']. Perhaps there can be no amicable compromise in Evangelical theology as regards the order of merit between these two views. Perhaps if it is to be Evangelical theology at all—and truly so, it may be, only when this necessity is perceived—there always has to be a static and a dynamic, an ontic and a noetic principle, not in nice equilibrium, but calling to each other and questioning each other. That is, there must be Lutherans and Reformed: not in the shadow of a unitary theology, but as a twofold theological school—for the sake of the truth about the reality of Jesus Christ, which does not admit of being grasped or conceived by any unitary theology, which will always be the object of all theology, and so perhaps inevitably of a twofold theology—object in the strictest sense of the concept. It may even be that in the unity and variety of the two Evangelical theologies in the one Evangelical Church there is reflected no more and no less than the one mystery itself, with which both were once engrossed and will necessarily be engrossed always, the mystery that ὁ λόγος σάρξ ἐγένετο [the Word became flesh] (170-171).