Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §20.1 "The Authority of the Word" pp. 538-585

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §20 states: "The Church does not claim direct and absolute and material authority for itself but for Holy Scripture as the Word of God. But actual obedience to the authoritative Word of God in Holy Scripture is objectively determined by the fact that those who in the Church mutually confess an acceptance of the witness of Holy Scripture will be ready and willing to listen to one another in expounding and applying it. By the authority of Holy Scripture on which it is founded, authority in the Church is restricted to an indirect and relative and formal authority."

In section §20 ("Authority in the Church") and in subsection §20.1 ("The Authority of the Word"), Barth (in another longish reading!) starts by articulating what is really the heart of his scripture principle:
Holy Scripture attests to the Church (and through the Church to the world) the revelation of God, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. The power in which it does so is the power of the object to which it bears witness and which has also made and fashioned it as that witness. The witness of Holy Scripture is therefore the witness of the Holy Spirit. He is indeed the power of the matter of Holy Scripture. By Him it became Holy Scripture; by Him and only by Him it speaks as such. In doing so it mediates revelation; it presents Jesus Christ; in the servant form of a human word it speaks the Word of God. Those who hear it, hear Him. Those who wish to hear Him must hear it. This is the Evangelical principle of Scripture as such: the universal, fundamental and self-sufficient thing which has to be said about the attestation and mediation of revelation (538). 
How does obedience to the Word of God in Holy Scripture arise?
The question is analogous to the basic question: how is the revelation of the triune God effected? And if in the latter case a closer explanation of this very revelation compels us to reply: objectively by the incarnation of the divine Word in Jesus Christ and subjectively by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God, so too in relation to obedience to the attestation and mediation of this revelation, in relation to the Word of God in Holy Scripture, we have to distinguish between an objective and a subjective element, i.e., an outer and an inner determination of this obedience (538).
Barth argues that the Church has an authority which itself is overseen by a higher authority, that of Scripture itself. But though the authority of scripture is itself singular, it is still mediate and relative (540ff.) and stands underneath the ultimate authority, which is revelation. In as much as the human voices of scripture act as authors in concert with the fact of their calling to be witnesses, thereby having a unique relationship to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, Holy Scripture is the Word of God for the Church:
This authentic copy of revelation and this authentic model of obedience to it is therefore the content of the witness of the prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture. It is therefore true that Holy Scripture is the Word of God for the Church, that it is Jesus Christ for us, as He Himself was for the prophets and apostles during the forty days. The result is that in their witness the Church itself has to do personally with its Lord. Therefore in the per se mediate, relative and formal quantity of Scripture, in which their witness is presented to us, it has to do with the self-subsistent and self-maintaining direct and absolute and material authority, with its own existence, nature and basis. Consequently the Church cannot evade Scripture. It cannot try to appeal past it directly to God, to Christ or to the Holy Spirit. It cannot assess and adjudge Scripture from a view of revelation gained apart from Scripture and not related to it. It cannot know any “normal dignity,” which has to sanctify Scripture as the earliest record of its own life and make it its norm. It cannot establish from any possession of revelation the fact and extent that Scripture too is a source of revelation. Scripture confronts it commandingly as Holy Scripture, and it receives revelation from it in an encounter which is just as concrete and concretely ordered as that which according to Scripture originally took place between the Lord and His witnesses. It obeys Holy Scripture. Not as though it were obeying some long deceased men and their humanity and theology. But it obeys the One whom it has pleased to give certain long-deceased men, in and with and in spite of their humanity and piety and theology, a commission and authority. Therefore it serves the Word of God in the sign and guise of the word of these men. As it hears them, it hears it. And as it hears them, it hears it. The incarnation of the Word of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has happened, is happening and will happen for the Church (and through the Church for the world) in every age, because in face of the uniqueness of revelation the Church is ready to receive its authentic witness and to accept and transmit it as authentic (544).
There again is Barth's scripture principle (which is thorough Reformed): Holy Scripture attests to the Church (and through the Church to the world) the revelation of God, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. In a long, small print excursus on pages 544-572, Barth rehearses the historical development of the scripture principle, reviewing the Church Fathers (548-551.), the Reformed confessions (546ff.), and Roman Catholic takes on the doctrine which differ significantly from the Evangelical Churches (560ff) [with an interesting discussion on papal infallibility and the teaching office in pre-Vatican II terms, N.B. this will have changed a bit since Vatican II). In contrast to the pre-Vatican II understanding of scripture in Roman Catholicism, Barth fleshes out the "Evangelical" scripture principle and it's relationship to the authority of the word:
All that now remains for us is to describe positively and negatively the nature and the meaning of the Evangelical decision on this matter as it was made at the Reformation, and as it must be made again and again wherever the Evangelical Church is true to its name. The Word of God in the revelation of it attested in Holy Scripture is not limited to its own time, the time of Jesus Christ and its Old and New Testament witnesses. In the sphere of the Church of Jesus Christ it is present at all times, and by its mouth it wills to be and will be present at all times. This is the Evangelical confession of faith. In this confession of the vitality and therefore of the presence of the Word of God as already actualised and to be actuallsed again and again there is included the Church’s confession of itself, i.e., of its institution and preservation by the Word of God for the authority entrusted to it and the mission enjoined upon it (573).
And then Barth unpacks this confession:
The confession includes first a confession of the reality of a fellowship of the Church in space as well as time, i.e., of a unity based upon the Word, which the Church has within itself in past, present and future: a unity in faith and proclamation, a unity of that which it receives in the gift which constitutes it and of that which it does in fulfilling what is enjoined upon it. The confession includes therefore a confession that where the Church is there are also brethren in faith and proclamation. The present-day witnesses of the Word of God can and should look back to the witnesses of the same Word who preceded them and away to those contemporary with them. In this matter it is impossible to speak without having first heard. All speaking is a response to these fathers and brethren. Therefore these fathers and brethren have a definite authority, the authority of prior witnesses of the Word of God, who have to be respected as such. Just because the Evangelical confession is a confession of the vitality and the presence of God’s Word actualised again and again, it is also a confession of the communion of saints and therefore of what is, in a sense, an authoritative tradition of the Word of God, that is, of a human form in which that Word comes to all those who are summoned by it to faith and witness in the sphere of the Church and by its mouth—of a human form which is proper to it in the witness of these fathers and brethren, before they themselves come to faith and witness, and which is to that extent prior to their faith and witness—of a human form with which they have always to reckon, and, in virtue of that priority, with a definite respect proportionate to the witness of the Church as such.
Second, this confession includes a confession that the witness of the presence of the Church has a definite authority to the extent that it is the witness of the living and present Word of God, and takes place in that response to its transmission and in recognition of its definite authority. Where men speak in the Church according to the manner of the Church, i.e., in fulfilment of that witness, and where to that extent the Church itself speaks, it means that that priority is again set up and established, that that hearing, which is respectful in the true sense, is presupposed and demanded, that for the hearers there is again created that responsibility, without which, of course, the Church itself could not speak, but which is a matter for the hearers now that it does speak responsibly. But again, in so far as the Church speaks, there arises a human form of the Word of God, which as such always precedes the faith and witness of the hearers, and with which the latter have to reckon in the same way as in the fellowship of saints in faith in the vitality and presence of the Word of God we have to reckon with that prior witness of the fathers and brethren. Once again, therefore, we have a tradition of the Word of God which is authoritative in a definite sense.
In this twofold form, then, the Evangelical confession of the Word of God includes a confession of the authority of the Church. We shall return to the meaning and content of this confession in the second part of the section. But before we say a single word about the authority of the Church—and this is the parting of the ways where the Evangelical decision is ineluctably and irrevocably made—we have to insist that there is an authority in the Church which is also an authority over the Church. This authority is itself the basis of all authority in the Church, from which it has its definite value and validity and without it would not possess it, without which it never has and never will really exercise it. But this authority limits the authority of the Church, that is, it does not destroy but defines it. By it the authority of the Church is not only instituted but directed, so that whenever the authority of the Church is heard this authority has also to be heard with it as the first and final and decisive word (573-574).
Thus Scripture resists the autonomous authority of the Church while at the same time giving the Church's authority a grounding as the Church is obedient to this word. Barth continues:
It is at this point, then, that the Evangelical Church on the one hand divides from the Catholic and Neo-Protestant Churches on the other. In the 16th century—not as an innovation, but in re-discovery and restoration of an order disturbed in the very earliest days—the Evangelical decision was taken that the Church has not to seek and find the Word and authority of Jesus Christ except where He Himself has established it, that it and its word and authority can derive only from the word and authority of the biblical witnesses, that its word and authority are always confronted by those of the biblical witnesses, and are measured and must be judged by them. This is what the Reformation was trying to say and did say in its affirmation that Holy Scripture alone has divine authority in the Church. It was not ascribing a godlike value to the book as a book and the letter as a letter—in some sinister antithesis to spirit, and power and life. But it wanted Jesus Christ to be known and acknowledged as the Lord of the Church, whose revelation would not have been revelation if it had not created apostles and prophets, and even in the present-day Church can only be revelation in this its primary sign (581). 
Further, and here we see again the connection to authority...
The fact that the primary sign of revelation, the existence of the prophets and apostles, is for the Church book and letter, does not rob it of its force as witness. If the book rises and the letter speaks, if the book is read and the letter understood, then with them the prophets and apostles and He of whom they testify rise up and meet the Church in a living way. It is not the book and letter, but the voice of the men apprehended through the book and letter, and in the voice of these men the voice of Him who called them to speak, which is authority in the Church (581).
Not merely for the 16th century but for the Church of every age Holy Scripture as such is the final point and sharpness of the fact which the Evangelical decision makes unavoidably necessary. In every age, therefore, the Evangelical decision will have to be a decision for Holy Scripture as such. As such, of course, it is only a sign. Indeed, it is the sign of a sign, i.e., of the prophetic-apostolic witness of revelation as the primary sign of Jesus Christ. Of course, the Church can only read Scripture to hear the prophets and apostles, just as it can only hear the latter to see Jesus Christ with them, and to find in Him—and properly, ultimately and decisively only in Him, the prior direct and material and absolute authority on which its authority depends, on which it is founded and by which it is everywhere and always measured. But again, it can distinguish between seeing Jesus Christ, hearing His prophets and apostles and reading their Scriptures, and yet it cannot separate these things, it cannot try to have the one without the other. It cannot see without hearing and it cannot hear without reading. Therefore if it would see Jesus Christ, it is directed and bound to His primary sign and therefore to the sign of this sign—if it would see Jesus Christ, it is directed and bound to Holy Scripture (583).
And so Barth concludes:
It is here that we come to the final positive meaning of the Evangelical decision: it is taken in the thankful recognition that the Church is not alone, that it is not left to its own discussions and especially that it is not left to itself. It would be, the moment its authority ceased to be confronted by that divine authority. For then clothed with divine dignity the Church would have to stand and live by itself like God. And however grand it might seem to be in its godlikeness, for the creature which is distinct from God that means only misery, the misery of sin and death. From this misery of the solitariness of the creature fallen in sin and death the Church is snatched away by the fact that God in Jesus Christ is present and gracious to it in concrete authority, which means in an authority which is different from and superior to its own. It is the Word of God as Holy Scripture which puts an end to this misery. Because Holy Scripture is the authority of Jesus Christ in His Church, the Church does not need to smooth out its own anxieties and needs and questions, it does not need to burden itself with the impossible task of wanting to govern itself, it can obey without having to bear the responsibility for the goal and the result. Because Holy Scripture is the higher authority established within it, the Church has a higher task than that which is at issue in those party conflicts, namely, the task of confession, which itself can only be again a thankful confirmation of the fact that its Lord is among it in His witness. Under the Word, which means Holy Scripture, the Church must and can live, whereas beyond or beside the Word it can only die. It is this its salvation from death which it attests when it makes, not the Catholic or Neo-Protestant, but the Evangelical decision (584-585).