Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §22.3 "Dogmatics as Ethics" pp. 782-796

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §22 states: "The Word of God is God Himself in the proclamation of the Church of Jesus Christ. In so far as God gives the Church the commission to speak about Him, and the Church discharges this commission, it is God Himself who declares His revelation in His witnesses. The proclamation of the Church is pure doctrine when the human word spoken in it in confirmation of the biblical witness to revelation offers and creates obedience to the Word of God. Because this is its essential character, function and duty, the word of the Church preacher is the special and immediate object of dogmatic activity."

In section §22 ("The Mission of the Church") and in subsection §22.3 ("Dogmatics as Ethics"), Barth wants to briefly investigate the relation between ethics and dogmatics:
...we must give an explicit answer to a question which is posed by the history of theology and academic custom, and which forces itself upon our notice at this juncture. This is the question whether alongside Church dogmatics there is a special and independent Church ethics. According to our previous assumptions, this would necessarily involve a special and independent examination of Church proclamation with regard to its suitability as instruction for human good conduct in the Christian sense; or, according to current ideas, a special and independent description of the Christian life. Is there such a thing, and do we not therefore have to do with ethics as well when we treat of dogmatics? Or conversely, have we to understand and treat dogmatics itself as ethics? (782).
Barth opposes any kind of independent existence of ethics, divorced of dogmatics and rooted in, say, anthropology. In doing this, dogmatics has been swallowed by anthropology (as well as biblical and practical theology):
Moreover, the execution of this enterprise seems always to have involved that the Christian character definable in this way should be construed as a distinctive form of human conduct generally, so that to demonstrate and describe it and set it up as a norm it is necessary to reach back to a general anthropology quite abstracted from the assumptions of revelation. But this process of making ethics independent has always become difficult or impossible in proportion as the opposite opinion has prevailed, that the holiness of the Christian character is not less visible in Jesus Christ, but also not less hidden in the life of Christians, than the remaining content of Christian proclamation ; and therefore in proportion as the exclusive authority of revelation over everything that is to be taught in the Church has been recognised or again come to be recognised. Where there have not been these safeguards, where ethics has therefore been able to secure independence, the fact has always had to be reckoned with that an independent ethics has always shown at once a tendency to reverse the roles, replacing dogmatics as the basic theological discipline, absorbing dogmatics into itself, transforming it into an ethical system with a Christian foundation, and then penetrating and controlling biblical exegesis and pastoral theology in the same way. Since independent ethical systems are always in the last resort determined by general anthropology, this inevitably means that dogmatics itself and theology as a whole simply becomes applied anthropology. Its standard ceases to be the Word of God. It is the idea of the good which controls its investigation of the goodness of the Christian character. But this idea is both sought and found apart from revelation. The Word of God is retained only in so far as it can be made intelligible as the historical medium and vehicle of this idea. The Church which sanctions this theology has subjected itself to an utterly alien sovereignty (782-783).
Barth roots the objection to an independent ethics rooted in anthropology (and its tendency to swallow up dogmatics) in a small print historical overview ranging from Basil of Caeserea to Martin Kähler in the 19th century (781-786) which demonstrates both low points and high points of this problem. He concludes the excursus this way:
In view of the history of the problem it is certainly impossible to say that the unified treatment of dogmatics and ethics necessarily implies in itself an agreement with the Reformers’ outlook. What we can say is that the divorce between them involves a necessary alienation from this outlook. This conclusion, and therefore the decision for a unified treatment of the two disciplines is confirmed by a factual investigation of the question.
When this separation takes place, dogmatics itself takes on a negative accent. Its scope then becomes narrowed and emptied in a way which, from our previous understanding of this study of the Church’s mission, we cannot approve, and which also can find no confirmation in all that this introduction itself has had to say concerning dogmatics (787).
If this separation is insisted on, dogmatics incurs the grave suspicion of being no more than an idle intellectual frivolity. If it really has to accept this disjunction, we ought not to be surprised if at times it acquires the reputation of being aloof from life and of doubtful value, in view of its pure “intellectualism" (787).
But, again, the positive accent which ethics acquires by such a separation may well prove to be a source of error in regard to the sense in which human conduct and its goodness can alone be the object of theology. If we wish to make a fundamental distinction between dogmatics and ethics, we necessarily take it upon ourselves to show the fact and the extent that a distinctive approach and method lies at the basis of each. But as far as can be seen, it is impossible to show this except where, in a common statement of both questions, the theme of theology has in some way been openly or tacitly surrendered (788).
The attempts methodically to separate dogmatics and ethics are dubious even from the point of view of ethics itself, because in the process there regularly occurs a change of focus, a fatal interchange of the subjects God and man, which, though impossible in theology, becomes the true constitutive principle of ethics. Appealing to the supposed consequences of dogmatics as the revelation or work of God to man, in ethics we suddenly allow ourselves to open a new book: the book of the holy man which is the sequel to that of the holy God. But in theology we can never have to do with the consequences of God’s revelation, or work to man, but only with the revelation and work itself. What theology has to learn and teach with regard to the holy man can be derived only from the one book. In this book it is, of course, very emphatically a question of the holy man as well. But in this book the holy man has no independent existence. Therefore he never becomes an independent object of thought. He exists only in the course of the existence of the holy God and of the study of His speech and action (790).
In other words, if we separate dogmatics from ethics, there will be two problems. Our dogmatics will become a dry intellectual exercise, and our ethics will adopt the wrong approach to human conduct once it is unmoored from dogmatics. Barth demonstrates evidence for this in another historical small print excursus (788-790). Furthermore...
The problem of ethics is undeniably a theological problem. We can say without qualms that it is the great theological problem. We will have to substantiate and explain this truth. How can it be otherwise if theology is really the representation of the Word of God turned towards man and redeeming him? Included in the reality of the Word of God, it obviously has to present the reality of man to whom the Word is turned and who is redeemed by it. What is theologically impossible is a study of these two realities as though they are on the same plane, as though there can be between   them co-ordination, continuity or interchange, or as though in the last resort they are somehow identical. In this way we can, of course, co-ordinate above and below, receptivity and spontaneity, gift and demand, indicative and imperative, inner and outer, being and becoming (in the general neutral sense of all these conceptions). But we cannot co-ordinate in this way God’s Word on the one side and the man who hears God’s Word on the other. It is not true that this second reality stands over against the first in a relationship of polarity and tension. It is not true that the believing man must work for the coming of God’s Kingdom. It is not true that he is related to the Word of God as the subject to the object. All these are ideas which are possible only on the basis of the view which ruined the old Catholic Church, that there is co-ordination, continuity, interchange and finally identity between nature and supernature. It may all be very true with regard to “nature” and “supernature.” But theology is concerned, not with the encounter between nature and supernature, but with the encounter between nature and grace, or concretely, with the encounter between man and the Word of God. The reality of the man addressed by the Word of God cannot be related to the reality of the latter as a subject to an object, but only as a predicate to a subject. That is, in and for itself, it can never at any point or in any respect be this reality. It is only implied in it. It is only to be discovered in it. It can be spoken of only in the context of it. Christians are found only in Christ, not independently. They are seen only from above, not from below, only by faith, not by sight. They do not exist, therefore, as do Mohammedans, Buddhists, atheists, Catholics or Protestants. If we speak of Christians, Christendom and Christianity in this way, we must realise that we are speaking of the Christian world which is a cosmos (like the rest of the world in the sense of St. John’s Gospel). We are speaking untheologically. And why should we not speak untheologically of Christianity? There is no doubt that in himself the religious man and even the Christian can be a rewarding, interesting and instructive object of learned investigation. There is even a whole ancillary theological discipline—Church history—in which dialectically, for the sake of instruction, the object of theological investigation and scholarship is the Christian man as such, and the history of scriptural exegesis rather than Holy Scripture itself. But it is just Church history which makes it so clear that this Christian man is not in himself the man addressed by God’s Word, and it can never at any point be a question of a sanctity intrinsic to himself, even though he may be an Augustine or a Luther. It is Church history which shows us that the Christian and Christianity are in themselves phenomena in the cosmos alongside many others. It is Church history which makes it clear, with its (dialectically framed) untheological questioning, that we must ask and answer theologically when it is a question of understanding the Christian as something other than a part and parcel of the cosmos. And that is clearly the question when in theology we ask about the goodness of human conduct and the Christian life, that is to say, when the problem of ethics is raised (790-791).
Yes! Why the discussion of ethics in the first place? Because the question of ethics is inevitable raised in dogmatics as we affirm that humanity is not merely a hearer, but a doer of the Word.
Man, however, is existing man. He is not mere thinking man. As he thinks, he lives and acts and suffers. He is absorbed in the actuality of his existence. We are only repeating what we have often said before when we state again that only the doer of the Word is its real hearer, for it is the Word of the living God addressed to the living man absorbed in the work and action of his life. If a man does not hear it in the actuality of his existence, if he does not exist as its hearer, then he does not hear it at all. Even if he tries to think of it, he is necessarily thinking of something else. And if he tries to speak of it, he is inevitably speaking of something else. Therefore dogmatics loses nothing more nor less than its object, and therefore all meaning, if it is not continually concerned as well with the existence of man and the realities of his situation, if its problem concerning the purity of doctrine and the Word of God in Christian preaching is not also the problem of the Christian life of man, i.e., the life of man as determined by the Word of God: the problem what we ourselves must do (792).
Barth concludes that ethics must be integrated with dogmatics - dogmatics itself needs this too:
Our task, then, is to include ethics within dogmatics, and it can be undertaken in various ways. Nothing that we have said entitles us to affirm the radical impossibility of a literary or academic treatment of ethics which is outwardly separated from dogmatics. It is feasible if the following conditions are observed: (1) the separation must be merely technical in character, not based on principle and method; (2) dogmatics thus separated from ethics must be pursued in thoroughgoing relation to ethical problems; (3) ethics thus separated from dogmatics must be pursued in thoroughgoing subordination to dogmatics (794-795).
A direct inclusion of ethics in dogmatics has the advantage of greater consistency, unambiguity and clarity. If once it is fundamentally realised that dogmatics itself must be ethics and that ethics can be only dogmatics, then it does not seem quite clear why even externally we should not proceed in accordance with this insight. Further, why should we allow it even to appear, from an externally separate treatment of dogmatics and ethics, that the harmful opinion is maintained that there is such a thing perhaps as an unethical dogmatics or an undogmatic ethics? And is it not the case that that which necessarily appears as two things, dogmatics and ethics, if treated separately, will gain in intelligibility if presented with the integrality which we cannot deny it in substance? We decide for this second method. Even outwardly, we understand and treat dogmatics itself and as such as ethics. Therefore, as in the final section of the prolegomena we attempt a general survey of the plan of dogmatics, we shall have to take into consideration the material and problems which according to the modern academic and literary tradition constitute the particular material and problems of ethics (795-796).