Monday, May 19, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §21.2 "Freedom Under the Word: pp. 695-740

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §21 states: "A member of the Church claims direct, absolute and material freedom not for himself, but only for Scripture as the Word of God. But obedience to the free Word of God in Holy Scripture is subjectively conditioned by the fact that each individual who confesses his acceptance of the testimony of Scripture must be willing and prepared to undertake the responsibility for its interpretation and application. Freedom in the Church is limited as an indirect, relative and formal freedom by the freedom of Holy Scripture in which it is grounded."

We're working in section §21 ("Freedom in the Church") and in subsection §21.2 ("Freedom Under the Word"), Barth continues a discussion about the written Word in relation to the Church. He is tackling the complementary theme of the freedom of the Church and we've seen the first subsection already - the freedom of the Word - and now we'll see the second subsection: the freedom under the Word. Barth begins with an explanation of what is meant by freedom under the word:
We have seen in the previous section that the testimony of Scripture cannot be received unless the members of the Church are willing and ready, in its interpretation and application, to listen to each other. Correspondingly, we must now say that this testimony cannot be received unless those who accept it are ready and willing themselves to assume the responsibility for its interpretation and application. This readiness and willingness to make one’s own the responsibility for understanding of the Word of God is freedom under the Word (696).
Let us immediately point out a fundamental presupposition of all that follows. It will have to be borne in mind in everything that we say. We have seen already that authority under the Word, that is, the authority of the Church, is not a final and absolute court of appeal, confronting the authority of the Word with its own dignity and validity. It exists and can be considered only in proper subordination to the authority of the Word, to serve its proclamation and establishment. In exactly the same way, freedom under the Word, that is, the freedom of conscience of individual members of the Church, is not a final thing which exists in its own right and therefore without boundaries. That it is contingent is already clear from the fact that it is counterbalanced by an authority under the Word, that is, by a willingness and readiness which the reception of the witness of Scripture imposes on members of the Church to listen to each other notwithstanding their individual responsibility. But this counterpoise of human freedom and authority points beyond itself to the common origin of both without which there would be neither authority nor freedom in the Church, nor indeed any Church at all. The original basis, limitation and determination of human freedom in the Church is the freedom of the Word of God. This human freedom is, therefore, neither something which is already proper to man, nor a freedom which man assumes in reaction to the Word of God. It is an event, in which the Word of God, in the freedom of God Himself, assumes the freedom to found and maintain and govern the Church. Because this happens, and happens within a human gathering, and therefore happens to men, it results in an emancipation of these men, in their being endowed with a possibility which they did not have before and which they could not have from their own resources (697). 
Barth reminds us that the Word comes to us in human form, and we are in service to it, it lays claim to us corporately and individually, and it clarifies and determines us:
Our present starting-point is that at all events it has in it its foundation. God’s Word comes to man as a human word. This is the process in which it exercises its freedom, in which it founds, maintains and governs the Church. The purpose of this process consists in the arousing of men so that they become believers and witnesses, believers in God’s Word and witnesses to it. But this process cannot fulfil such a purpose except in the form of God’s Word coming to man as a human word. Just in this form it is the continuing witness to God’s revelation, i.e., to the event that God’s eternal Word became flesh for us men. It is because God’s eternal Word became flesh that there are prophets and apostles and Holy Scripture, and it comes to us in the form of a human word (699).
If we ourselves in our humanity stand at the end and goal of this process, this cannot mean only that something encounters us, that we are placed in a receptive position, that something has been decided and ordained for us. But inasmuch as all this happens, because it happens to us in our humanity, it must also and primarily mean that our self-determination, our spontaneity and our activity are engaged in the service of the Word of God. This self-determination may be limited by its creatureliness and perverted by its sinfulness, but it is the characteristic essence of the humanity by which we are distinguished from the life of nature (at least in so far as we know or presume to know the latter) (701).
We have seen that at the end and goal of the process in which God’s Word comes to mankind as a human word, a man is what he is as a man, and therefore decides in his self-identification with the decision of the Word of God about him. We have also seen that in virtue of the special divine decision made about him he is precisely this man. Our third point is that as such he becomes clear to himself in the individual decision in which his self-identification with the divine Word takes place (705). 
All this, therefore, is human freedom under the Word based upon the freedom of the Word of God. We see that it is a question of genuine human freedom, of us ourselves in our decision, of each of us personally, in the special events of our life in which it becomes clear to us that our whole existence is at stake. But we see also that this genuine human freedom is based in its entirety upon the freedom of God’s Word, upon the all-embracing decision which through the Word has been pronounced upon mankind, upon the particular grace with which the Word comes to this or that man, upon the uniqueness of the events which form the content of the Word. Therefore, human freedom cannot encroach upon divine freedom. Always and in every respect the latter precedes the former. Yet, on the other hand, divine freedom cannot destroy and suspend human freedom. Always and in every respect the former draws the latter to and after itself (709-710).
Barth now turns to a discussion of the fundamental scope of our freedom under the Word. What are the implications of this freedom under the Word and how do we participate in it?

1) We hear, receive, and believe it. "If the members of the Church have a responsibility towards Scripture, this clearly means that the founding, maintaining and governing of the Church by Scripture does not happen in such a way that the members of the Church are only spectators or even objects of this happening. It takes place rather in such a way that in their specific place and function they become subjects of it. To be a member of the Church in relation to Scripture which founds, maintains and rules the Church, means not only to hear, receive and believe the Word of God, and so in one’s own life to become a man directed and consecrated by the Word; more than all this it means to take seriously and understand as one’s own responsibility the effective operation of the Word, its being continuously expressed and heard, its being continuously proclaimed and made fruitful (710-711)." By becoming subjects of it and participating in it, Barth means the work of interpreting and understanding scripture, which is not a task for just specialists, but for all Christians.

2) We yield to it. "In Holy Scripture we are dealing with a Word of God coming to us in the form of human words, and, in the activity the Word demands of us, we are dealing with the explanation of this Word, in so far as in its human form it needs an explanation. That the essential form of its explanation must be subordination is based, of course, on the circumstance that it is God’s Word in human form. What make the Word of God, in the form in which we encounter it, obscure and in need of interpretation are the ideas, thoughts and convictions which man always and everywhere brings to this Word from his own resources. When the Word of God meets us, we are laden with the images, ideas and certainties which we ourselves have formed about God, the world and ourselves. In the fog of this intellectual life of ours the Word of God, which is clear in itself, always becomes obscure. It can become clear to us only when this fog breaks and dissolves. This is what is meant by the subordination of our ideas, thoughts and convictions. If the Word of God is to become clear to us, we cannot ascribe to them the same worth as we do to it. We cannot try to appraise the Word of God by reference to them; or to cling to them in face of the Word of God. The movement which we have to make in relation to it—and quite freely, of course—can be only that of yielding, surrender and withdrawal (716)."

"To [the] testimony of [human words of scripture] we must subordinate ourselves—and this is the essential form of scriptural exegesis—with what we for our own part hold to be true, beautiful and good. With the whole weight of our reason and experience we have to follow in the path of this   testimony and become compliant to it. It is another matter that in the process elements in the stock of our experience will be set aside as superfluous and discordant, others receive quite a new form and yet others be newly added to this stock. The decisive point is that in scriptural exegesis Scripture itself as a witness to revelation must have unconditional precedence of all the evidence of our own being and becoming, our own thoughts and endeavours, hope and suffering, of all the evidence of intellect and senses, of all axioms and theorems, which we inherit and as such bear with us (718-719)."

3) We exegete and interpret the scripture. "The first plainly distinguishable aspect of the process is the act of observation. In this phase, exegesis is entirely concerned with the sensus of the word of Scripture as such; it is still entirely a question of explicatio, explanation, i.e., as the very word suggests, the unravelling or unfolding of the scriptural word which comes to us in a, so to speak, rolled-up form, thus concealing its meaning, that is, what it has to say to us. We remind ourselves that what is concealed is objectively a self-concealment of the divine Word only in so far as in the form of the scriptural word the latter has adjusted itself to our human world of thought, thus exposing itself to the darkening prism of our human understanding, although, of course, clear in itself (even in the form of the scriptural word). Yet even in this darkening, it still retains its power to explain itself, which means above all to present itself" (722).

4) We meditate on the scripture. "The second plainly distinguishable moment in the process of scriptural exegesis is the act of reflection on what Scripture declares to us. What is meant is not, of course, an act which follows the first in time, nor a second act which takes place independently of the first, but the one act of scriptural exegesis considered now in the moment of the transition of what is said into the thinking of the reader or hearer. We are now just at the middle point between sensus and usus, explicatio and applicatio. Even in the moment of transition, scriptural interpretation, in which Scripture is primarily explaining itself, is an act of our human freedom and to be valued as such. It is inevitable, as we have already seen, that the way and manner of this transmission will influence and limit our observation and representation of Scripture. Even in the act of observing and representing, no interpreter is merely an observer and exponent. No one is in a position, objectively and abstractly, merely to observe and present what is there. For how can he do so without at the same time reflecting upon and interpreting what is there? No one copies without making this transition. In affirming and representing what is written, and what is because of what is written, we accompany what is written, and what is because of what is written, with our own thinking (727)."

"Above the picture observed, like the second rainbow which is distinct from the first, although related to and dependent upon it, there inevitably arises the picture contemplated, in which the reader or hearer tries, as it were, to assimilate the former. It is at this point that we see that it is really quite impossible for us to free ourselves of our own shadow, that is, to make the so-called sacrificium intellectus. How can we objectively understand the text without realising it subjectively, in our own thinking? How can we let it speak to us without at least moving our lips (as the readers of antiquity did visibly and audibly) and ourselves speaking with it. The interpreter cannot help this. Even in what he says as an observer and exponent, he will everywhere betray the fact that, consciously or unconsciously, in cultured or primitive fashion, consistently or inconsistently, he has approached the text from the standpoint of a particular epistemology, logic or ethics, of definite ideas and ideals concerning the relations of God, the world and man, and that in reading and expounding the text he cannot simply deny these. Everyone has some sort of philosophy, i.e., a personal view of the fundamental nature and relationship of things—however popular, aphoristic, irregular and eclectically vacillating. This is true even of the simplest Bible reader (and of him perhaps with particular force and tenacity). But it is definitely true of the educated Bible student, who in appearance and intention is wholly given up to observation (727-728)."

5) We apply and appropriate the scripture. "The third individual moment in the process of scriptural exposition is the act of appropriation. From explicatio we must pass over the bridge of meditatio to applicatio. The sensus must also show itself to be the usus scripturae. Again, it is not a question of an act which is to be viewed in abstraction as complete in itself, but of the one totality of scriptural interpretation. No appropriation of the Word of God is possible without critical examination and reflection. But similarly, of course, there is no possibility of a valid and fruitful examination of what is said to us in Scripture or reflection upon it, unless, proceeding further, it develops into appropriation of them (736)."

Barth concludes with this: that the process of participating in the Word, of having freedom under the Word, means that our attention is turned from ourselves to the primary object, Jesus Christ:
Precisely in order that he may really appropriate what Scripture has to say, the reader and hearer must be willing to transpose the centre of his attention from himself, from the system of his own concerns and questions (even if he thinks he can give them the character of concerns and questions typical of his whole epoch) to the scriptural word itself. He must allow himself to be lifted out of himself into this word and its concerns and questions. It is only from this that light can ever fall upon his own life, and therewith the help which he needs for his life. How can that happen if, on the contrary, he insists on remaining rigidly at the focal point of his own life (or that of the life of his time, as he thinks to know it), as though this could give any illumination? How can he live out his faith if he repudiates faith itself, that is, a looking away from self and to the word? Everything depends on the fact that this looking away from self and to Scripture should not be a preliminary stage which we have to leave behind us, but that for the sake of redeeming our life we abide by faith and therefore by this looking away from self and looking to Scripture. This assimilation of Scripture cannot be split again into two parts, of which the first consists in faith and therefore in this looking away from self and to Scripture, and the second, in which we turn our backs on Scripture, because we have now been taught and comforted by it, involves the transition to an independent answering of our own concerns and questions. The impatient question: And now?, with which we now so easily think that we can finally come to grips with the matter, can only be a sign that in reality we have not got down to the matter at all. The issue in question can only be the unconditional sovereignty of the Word, or, from our standpoint, an unconditional confidence in the goodness of its sovereignty. But this question, and its impatience, is the surest token that in reality we have already evaded the usus scripturae* in which scriptura* is the subject, and that we propose to make of Scripture that profane, because arbitrary, use which we are accustomed to make of all other things, but which we cannot make of Scripture. The confidence which we apparently accorded it at the first stage will be shown to be spurious, if later we tire of faith at a second stage. We have failed in advance to expect from its sovereignty everything that we ourselves need. We have failed in advance to give scope to its true sovereignty. We have reserved to ourselves the right to be wise and just again at this later point, and to be able to comfort and exhort ourselves. If there is to be a real appropriation of the Word of Scripture, we must believe wholeheartedly. For always we either believe wholeheartedly or not at all. When we look away from ourselves and to the scriptural word, when we transfer to Scripture the focal point, the centre of gravity of our attention, this cannot be merely an episode. It cannot be followed by a second act under a different rule. Necessarily everything has already happened and will continually happen in this first and single act. Necessarily this first and single act will have been performed and will continually be performed with perfect confidence; not in an abstract confidence in its salutariness as our act, but in a concrete confidence in its object—the object we encounter in the image reflected in Scripture. This object requires and justifies our confidence as perfect confidence. Jesus Christ is this object. Only when this is forgotten can this act remain undone, or become an act in which we wish to consume instead of allowing ourselves to be consumed, to rule instead of to be ruled, or become merely a first act alongside which we have to place a second in which we have something better to do than believe. Only if Jesus Christ is forgotten can we understand the assimilation of Scripture which we have to make as something other than the continual adoption by us of an attitude to the act of appropriation by which in its own wisdom and power it claims us. And only if we forget Jesus Christ can we understand by this attitude something other than faith. By faith we ourselves think what Scripture says to us, and in such a way that we must think it because it has become the determining force of our whole existence. By faith we come to the contemporaneity, homogeneity and indirect identification of the reader or hearer of Scripture with the witnesses of revelation. By faith their testimony becomes a matter of our own responsibility. Faith itself, obedient faith, but faith, and in the last resort obedient faith alone, is the activity which is demanded of us as members of the Church, the exercise of the freedom which is granted to us under the Word" (739-740).