Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §20.2 "Authority Under the Word" pp. 585-660 (Part 2)

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."

We're working in section §20 ("Authority in the Church") and in subsection §20.2 ("Authority Under the Word"), and in my last post I considered the first part of this section (pp. 585-603). Continuing on then, Barth continues with a discussion of the second historical form of authority - the Church Fathers. He writes:
We assume that between the Church now and here and the Church then and elsewhere there exists a unity of confession in respect of the authority of the word of specific ecclesiastical teachers, i.e., specific expositors and preachers of the Bible, whose word has in fact emerged from all the words of other expositors and preachers and spoken to the Church of their day and of a later day, and still speaks to the present-day Church, in a way which cannot be said of other teachers of their own or other periods. Because the Church then and since has heard these teachers especially, because it has received their word with particular attention and gratitude, it has made confession of the point. And as the present-day Church we ourselves are summoned to give our assent to this confession of the particular attention which ought to be paid to these teachers. It is a fact which we cannot prove to be theologically necessary, which we cannot postulate, which theologically we cannot prove to be real, but which we can only explain on the assumption of its actuality: that there are “Church fathers” and that these fathers have a definite ecclesiastical authority (603).
Barth develops an interesting historical overview of what constitutes a Church Father and how the Reformers, (e.g. Luther and Calvin) fit into all of this (pp. 603-612).
Neither in principle nor in practice, therefore, can we deny the existence of the ecclesiastical authority of specific teachers in the Church. But if this is the case, then it is of itself understandable theologically—assuming that it is a fact—that in the Evangelical Churches it was the Reformers who acquired this authority. If our Churches confessed that they were reformed by the Word of God and not simply by Luther and Calvin, their reformation did take place by the witness borne to them by Luther and Calvin. Therefore the witness of Luther and Calvin is decisive and essential for their existence as this Church, as the Churches reformed in this way, and therefore for the whole contingency of their existence as the Church of Jesus Christ. This may not be true as a constitutive, but it is certainly true as a regulative principle. If they free themselves from this witness they are no longer these Churches and therefore no longer contingently the Church of Jesus Christ. But supposing that by a new contingent fact they were brought beyond the Reformation and therefore loosed from the authority of the Reformers, and that they recognised the fact just as consciously and definitely as they formerly recognised the Reformation and therefore the authority of the Reformers? Why should such a development be impossible? (609)
But how should the Church assess and recognize authentic Church Fathers? Barth offers four criteria  by which the Church can recognize Church Fathers:

1) They must be correct expositors of Scripture.
Has the one proposed been an expositor of Scripture who, like the Reformers, has helped and can still help the Church to understand the Word of God rightly? There are many of whom that definitely cannot be said, even though we cannot deny to their Christian thinking, speaking and writing, depth, seriousness and force, even though they perhaps led a most godly and charitable life. We have to remember that both these appearances, the intellectual and the religious and moral, are of themselves equivocal: they are to be found even in notorious heretics. The question and only question which has to be asked—in the light of Scripture itself—is whether the teacher in question has expounded Scripture and proclaimed the Word of God, and done it correctly. It is not the acuity and depth, nor even the holiness of the Christian which builds the Church, but only the Word of God. Therefore when we ask whether and to what extent anyone can have authority in the Church, the question which is ultimately decisive is whether he has served the Word of God (613).
2) Their teachings must stand in harmony with the Reformed (or evangelical) confessions:
If it is true that we have to recognise this authority first in the Reformers—because they rightly expounded the Word of God, then a second question which we have to put to all teachers before and after them is how their teaching stands in relation to the confession of the Reformation? The primitive and mediaeval Catholic Church which had not yet been reformed by the Word of God, but as distinct from the post-Tridentine Church had also not denied the Reformation, is for us the one Church of Jesus Christ, whose witness we must therefore be ready to hear in principle. And we also cannot refrain from believing that there may be a real if secret fellowship of saints and therefore the Church of Jesus Christ in post-Tridentine Catholicism and the Neo-Protestant aberration. We have therefore no a priori cause to stop our ears in any direction when we ask concerning the fathers of the Church. An Athanasius and an Augustine were for the Reformers themselves so obviously fathers in this special sense, and their struggles and achievements were so plainly the presuppositions of the Reformation confession, that it would be good for us to hear them as they were heard in the 16th century and in the later Evangelical Church. In their case, as in all the others, even the oldest, we. must also not hear them in so far, that is, as they could and did become not so much the fathers of the Reformation as of post-Tridentine Catholicism. The Reformation and the authority of the Reformers does undoubtedly involve retrospective selection and decision, and of such a kind that we cannot count unreservedly with the authority of any one of the older fathers (613-614).
The same question has to be put even more sharply to post-Tridentine Catholic and Neo-Protestant theologians. Modern Catholic or Neo-Protestant teaching may voluntarily or involuntarily state and accentuate Evangelical truth. If it does us this service, why should we not gratefully acknowledge it, and there, too, hear the voice of the fathers? There is a right exposition of Holy Scripture and therefore an attestation of the confession of the Reformation even in the Church which resists the Reformation and in that which later repudiates it. As correct exposition it must be heard, no matter where it comes from. But within the Evangelical Church which holds the Reformation presupposition we can never put this question too sharply (614-615).
3)  They should be responsible to the Church in their word and witness:
A real teacher of the Church who can be seriously accepted as such can be definitely recognised by the responsibility to the Church which is peculiar to his witness. There has always been a right exposition of Scripture, in the sense of the Reformers, which has lacked this characteristic because it has, so to speak, been done in its own strength and at its own risk. Neither as hearers and learners nor speakers and teachers have its authors had before them the whole Church, the universality of its needs and hopes, errors and genuine experiences, knowledge and confession, but only a specific part, the problems of their own life and their more immediate temporal, geographical or spiritual environment. This need not be a lack in every respect. In some respects it may be an advantage. Exposition and teaching of this kind has often had most important results. But only that expositor is qualified to be a teacher of the Church who is not essentially or strictly an improviser and individualist but who sees clearly that he must state his case and bear his witness to the whole Church before and after him, who has not merely been alone with God and the Bible and the writings of the Reformers, but who has stood before the whole Church with God and the Bible and the writings of the Reformers, and is therefore confident and competent to speak not only to himself or to an incidental or selected circle, but intelligibly, responsibly and authoritatively to the whole Church (615).
4) They should speak and teach in such a way that calls the Church to a decision, even after their earthly lives are over:
It has to be asked further whether as an expositor of Scripture, in agreement with the witness of the Reformers and in responsibility to the Church, the proposed father has spoken and still speaks a word which means actual decision for the later Church. Both in the past and more recently many things have been said which are true and important and also responsible and of universal relevance but which do not have this significance later, and perhaps can never have it again, or may perhaps some day recapture it. Some words which have been spoken in the Church and for the Church come home to us, and others do not come home to us for a variety of reasons. A teacher of the Church is the one who in exposition of Holy Scripture has something to say which comes home to us. But that means that we must always reckon with the existence of latent teachers of the Church. Many of those whom we no longer hear to-day will never be heard again. But there are also others who, although they are not heard to-day, will one day be heard again. What remains of their authority is in the first instance only a memory: the neutral memory of a great name, bound up with facts and relationships and his reactions to them which are also neutral. Their authority is then suspended, as it were. It would be a very arbitrary undertaking to try artificially to assert them again. If they come to life again in the power of the Holy Scripture which they are concerned to expound, Scripture itself will see to their authority. We have to reckon with this possibility. We cannot, therefore, ignore such recollections of former authority which have now become neutral. Their hour might suddenly come. Those who are now silent might speak again, as according to the confession of the Church they once spoke to their age. The facts and circumstances in relation to which their names and reactions and word were once significant may suddenly return—for there is nothing new under the sun—and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one. We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened. In the modern period the Reformers themselves were for a long time only latent teachers of the Church. And it is to the Church’s good that it has not ceased to give them its attention. We have to see to it that we are open and ready on every side. Already the past history of the Church has become its up-to-date story in the most unexpected places. Something which we thought to be a thing of the past perhaps becomes suddenly alive. And as in the case of the Canon it is perhaps our fault if many who can and ought to be fathers to us are simply dead and have nothing to say (616).
Barth finishes his discussion of the Fathers with a reminder that, though there are in every age teachers who might fit these criteria, not all will come to eventually be thought of as the great Fathers of the Church. But they do, they have authority, and the Church does well to listen to them. That being, their authority is one which always sits underneath the authority of the Word. That could go without saying...but it should be said anyways.
The existence of prominent teachers of the Church creates a concrete inequality in the Church. If there are many teachers in the Church, not every one is called to be a teacher of the Church. Within the same office some are of higher rank, some of lower, some have to sketch out the Church’s line, others to copy it. Does that mean that an ecclesiastico-theological hierarchy is set up? From this standpoint would it perhaps be possible to justify the special office of the bishop or even the Papacy? Certainly not, if the teacher of the Church is rightly understood in his character as a copy and token of the form of the doctrine given to us, which can only be Jesus Christ, i.e., Holy Scripture itself. The small inequality in the Church posited, of course, with its own existence cannot then actualise the great inequality between its Head and members—which is the usual intention when a special episcopate is instituted—but only denote it. But it will denote it—and this is the special dynamic of the existence of an ecclesiastical teacher—on the basis of an event which really took place in the life of the Church and of the corresponding confession of the Church itself. Compared with this, of what significance is the existence of an episcopate furnished with even the most exalted prerogatives? In the existence of a real teacher of the Church the human direction of the Church has become a fact, while the demand for a special episcopate is always based on and leads to the postulate that while this direction is a good thing, and a necessary thing, in effect its existence is always bound up with the charismatic endowment of those who exercise it. As that direction which is event and fact, and recognised and acknowledged as such by the Church, it is the task of the existence of a teacher of the Church, in so far as it is understood as a mission and charge of Jesus Christ, quite independently of the question of charismatic endowment which is unavoidable in relation to a bishop, to denote and display and emphasise the power and the true and in the last resort only direction of the Church by Jesus Christ or by Holy Scripture itself. And the Church always needs this denoting, displaying and emphasising. It is not a matter of indifference whether the Church and especially those who hold teaching office in the Church in their mode of thought and teaching are always looking to the human pattern of the attitude and direction of Luther and Calvin, and also of the fathers of the Early Church, or whether alone with God and the Bible they are looking to create and fulfil individual ideals of prophecy, priesthood and pastorate, or may even be looking to constitute and realise the fortuitous pattern laid down by the then representatives of a superior episcopate. Obviously the authority of a Reformer cannot be replaced either by our own authority on the basis of individual Bible study or by that of the changing representatives of such an office. It is as a spiritual authority, and in its restricted character as a copy and token of the real “form of doctrine,” that the authority of an ecclesiastical teacher will be a real and effective and not a fictitious authority, able to exercise with the Canon and confession of the Church that concrete discipline, especially within the teaching Church, for the sake of which authority is necessary (619-620).