Saturday, June 14, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §23.2 "The Dogmatic Norm" pp. 812-843

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §23 states: "Dogmatics invites the teaching Church to listen again to the Word of God in the revelation to which Scripture testifies. It can do this only if for its own part it adopts the attitude of the hearing Church and therefore itself listens to the Word of God as the norm to which the hearing Church knows itself to be subject."

In section §23 ("Dogmatics as a Function of the Hearing Church") and in subsection §23.2 ("The Dogmatic Norm"), Barth follows up on his previous section by first insisting that dogmatics (in the midst of a comparison to preaching) should be the listening arm of the Church - in fact, it teaches by listening:
Dogmatics is contrasted with and distinct from preaching only in so far as by this shift of emphasis from outside to inside, from teaching to listening, it makes this basic and controlling question evident and urgent. It is specifically a summons to listen only in so far as, within the sphere of the teaching Church and itself sharing in its teaching, it assumes the office of the listening Church, and in that capacity consciously brings into the foreground and makes its special theme the necessary relation of teaching to listening. It is not in the position to confront the teaching Church with the Word of God itself and to explain and apply its judgment upon it. It can bring to bear only a human, relative judgment. And it can do this only by itself submitting to the judgment of the Word of God, thus giving an example to the teaching Church (and in this consists in concreto the summons to which we have already referred) of what it demands from it: namely, a thinking and speaking about God which is controlled and determined, assailed and disquietened, delimited and confined by the norm of the Word of God. As dogmatics itself teaches by listening, it reminds the teaching Church of the listening which is so necessary. It attempts to do justice to its formal task by allowing itself to assume this form. It works at Church proclamation in accordance with the law laid upon the Church, by working upon itself in accordance with the same law (813).
Barth goes on to suggest that the function of dogmatics is to be a sign and a witness of the presence and validity of the Word of God.

The function of dogmatics is this. Within the teaching Church, and therefore within the sphere of the human word of Church proclamation, which is in itself always threatened and in need of a higher qualification and attestation, it has to be a demonstration and proof, a sign and witness of the presence and validity of the Word of God, in whose service alone the human word can receive its qualification and attestation, if it is to receive it at all. Dogmatics cannot desire to be anything but a witness to this transcendent point of view, just as preaching itself and Holy Scripture, and even, on its human side, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, can only be a witness to it. The dogmatician, too, has the Word of God only in virtue of the freedom and sovereignty of the Word itself, and therefore in the hiddenness of his faith and obedience which are the gift of the Word. In dogmatics, too, the Word of God can become visible only as the divine is reflected in human being and action. Dogmatics, too, can only be what it ought to be through God’s sovereign action. But, by God’s sovereign grace, dogmatics can be this definite sign co-ordinate with Church proclamation; and its created human character will be the exemplary determination of its form as human thinking and speaking of God which is entirely determined by the revelation attested in Holy Scripture (814).
How does it remind us of God's Word? By acting as a gateway and a barrier.
Dogmatics as such can only remind us of the essential relation of the human word of Church proclamation to the divine Word; it cannot bring about and produce it. Moreover, it can remind us only in human words. Precisely by reminding us of the revelation attested in Holy Scripture and of the Word of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, it reminds us of the barrier which is also a  gateway. How else can it remind us of God’s Word? But, again: How else can it do so except by showing us that the gateway is also a barrier? The supremely critical but supremely positive task of dogmatics is to remind the preacher and the teaching Church as a whole of this gateway and barrier, and always of both together. It is to watch at this place. It is to say to the unauthorised that—not by itself but by the nature of the case—they are held up. It is to say to the authorised that they can pass, again not because dogmatics authorises, but the transcendent authority, of which dogmatics has to. remind us. It is loudly to proclaim the decision which has been made at this gateway and barrier, and will be made again and again. Dogmatics must remind Christian preaching of its Lord. It does so in concreto, aware that it too can perform only a human service, by trying itself to think and speak as we have to think and speak when we remember the Lord (814-815).
Thus, the dogmatic norm is this - the revelation attested in Holy Scripture as God's Word - which itself is governed by God (i.e. theonomy):
The dogmatic norm, i.e., the norm of which dogmatics must remind Church proclamation, and therefore itself first of all, as the objective possibility of pure doctrine, can be no other than the revelation attested in Holy Scripture as God’s Word. We shall have to speak, therefore, of the theonomy, and only of the theonomy, of Church proclamation and therefore of dogmatics itself. But again we have to bear in mind that the theonomy established, recognised and effectual in the human sphere is not in any sense an empty abstraction, which cannot be grasped in practice, or can be grasped only arbitrarily or accidentally. On the contrary, where it is established, recognised and accepted, it has a definite, relative form. Therefore in the sphere of the human thinking and speaking of the teaching Church, it is not the direct and simple counterpart of an autonomy of man (815).
To be the dogmatic norm, what expectations ought to be demanded of a dogmatics?

1) First, that it be biblical.
The first concrete requirement which is made of dogmatics, and in obedience to which it has to be an example to all Church proclamation, is that its investigations, formulæ and demonstrations must have a biblical character. We do not mean by this the primary, general and fundamental fact which applies to every movement of Church life. We do not mean that it should come into existence and be formed only in the Church as the home of the revelation attested in Scripture, and only in the obedience of faith to the Word of God and not otherwise. All this is, of course, true of the work of the dogmatician. But as from the absolute authority of Holy Scripture as the Word of God there results the relative authority of the biblical Canon, so from the absolute requirement of the obedience of faith to the prophetic and apostolic witness there results the relative requirement of a basic mode of thinking and speaking which corresponds with this obedience of faith. This is what we have to describe and understand as the biblicism or biblical attitude of dogmatics (816).
We call it “biblical” because it has its prototype and exemplar in the attitude of the biblical witnesses themselves, because it consists in the regard for and imitation of this prototype, that is, in the institution of a kinship between the outlook, approach and method of the biblical writers and those of the Church preacher and therefore of the dogmatician (816).
By the attitude of the biblical witnesses, we mean that orientation of their thinking and speaking which is still that of witnesses to the revelation of God even though they are conditioned by their historical and biographical situation, by their particular speech and outlook, by their concrete situation and intention (817).
Finally, it should be noted that the requirement of a biblical attitude in dogmatics is not interchangeable with the task of reproducing and explaining the text of the Bible. In theology, this is not the task of dogmatics but of exegesis (820-821).
Dogmatics must have the freedom to take up questions and concerns which cannot be answered directly either by individual scriptural phrases or by reference to specific biblical contexts of thought, and which cannot be those of exegesis, because they arise only in the Church which listens to the voice of Scripture and teaches on this basis. It is natural, of course, that dogmatics will seize every possible opportunity to deal with these matters by direct reference back to Scripture. But it is not to be expected that such opportunities will always and everywhere exist. What has to be said is that dogmatics has no freedom to be an autonomous branch of Church theology in independence of the witness of Scripture (821-822). 
2) Second, that it has a "confessional" attitude. And boy, oh boy there is a rich discussion here:
To determine the second concrete formal characteristic of dogmatics and Church proclamation, we refer back to what we said in § 20.2 about the authority of the “fathers” and of dogma, and we define the resultant requirement as the requirement of a confessional attitude. In its concrete manifestation, utterance of the Word of God in the revelation attested in Scripture is conditioned for us by the voice of the teachers and doctrinal decisions which have established and moulded the listening Church of to-day, of which dogmatics is one of the functions. But if this is true, it necessarily has a definite effect on our understanding of the dogmatic norm to which this Church as a listening Church is subjected. Dogmatic thinking and speaking must be distinguished from undefined religious thinking and speaking, not only by its orientation to the Canon and text of the Bible, but also by a right connexion with the history which has moulded this Church and the confession which obtains in it (822).
It is, of course, a criticism, examination and correction of Church proclamation by reference to the sole standard of the Word of God. It remembers that the only existence of the Church is in its one Lord and Head Jesus Christ. Necessarily, therefore, it is strictly ecclesiastical. It is so in a universal sense. It is, therefore, ecumenical (823). 
Properly speaking, there is no such thing as dogmatic tolerance. Nor, properly speaking, is there a Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed dogmatics in undisputed and even deliberate independence and co-ordination. Where dogmatics exists at all, it exists only with the will to be a Church dogmatics, a dogmatics of the ecumenical Church (823).
It is as dogmatics takes itself and other dogmatics seriously in their relative determinateness, not taking its stand on the ethereal heights above Church differences and schisms, but right in their midst, in the midst of the divided, disunited Church, that it will obviously cleave more steadfastly to faith in the invisible una sancta [one, holy] and do more for the ecumenical Church, and even satisfy better the justifiable meaning of the idea of tolerance, than when it chooses the contrary part of phantasy. Church dogmatics cannot, therefore, be at one and the same time Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Neo-Protestant and Evangelical. It cannot be ecumenical by an attempted combination of them all (824).
We must be consistent here and confess that it is not possible for us suddenly to speak undogmatically about the confessional attitude of dogmatics, instead of standing ourselves within the confessional attitude. Negatively, the confessional point of view undeniably means this at least, that other confessional positions are excluded with a final seriousness, i.e., as heretical. Therefore we cannot concede that the compulsion may equally well be a compulsion towards the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Neo-Protestant or Evangelical positions. On the contrary, we can only say that the compulsion of the Word of God leads to one, the only possible, confessional position—that of the Evangelical Church. Church dogmatics is what it is only in the determination of the Evangelical confession. Church dogmatics is Evangelical dogmatics or it is not Church dogmatics. By “Evangelical dogmatics” is here to be understood the dogmatics of the one holy, universal and apostolic Church, as it was purified and founded anew by the reformers of the 16th century and by the confession which adopted their testimony, and as it hears the Word of God in this as the only possible and normative determination (825).
Dogmatics, then, approaches its work with a confessional attitude in this sense. It does not admit the possibility that it could be anything else but Evangelical dogmatics. But this being the case, in answer to the more formal question, it will necessarily refuse to act or even to announce itself as “Evangelical dogmatics,” or the “dogmatics of the Evangelical Church,” or the like. It does not have to represent its Evangelical character as a specialised concern, but as the concern of the whole Church (827). is obvious that the Evangelical Church is not a unity. At least three great forms are to be distinguished in it. And to some extent they have distinguished themselves with the same definiteness as if it were a question of an opposition between the Church and one of the heretical sects. These are the Lutheran, the Reformed and the Anglican branches of the Evangelical Church. Let us admit at once that when we speak of the Evangelical Church and therefore of the Church generally in this presentation of dogmatics we mean the Evangelical Reformed Church, in conformity with our own Church position, and the fathers and the dogma to which we owe loyalty in obedience to the Word of God until we are led by that same Word to something better (829-830).
Our next step is simply to repeat and apply positively the characteristic features of dogmatics as Evangelical dogmatics. Even within the Evangelical Church we have only the one choice, which is no choice. A false choice jeopardises the whole character of dogmatics as Church dogmatics. We must take upon ourselves a necessary opposition to other types of Evangelical dogmatics. We cannot practise indifferently Anglican, Lutheran or Reformed dogmatics, but only Reformed dogmatics. For us, therefore, Church dogmatics is necessarily Reformed dogmatics. By this we mean the dogmatics of the particular Church which was purified and reconstituted by the work of Calvin and the confession which sealed his testimony. We mean the dogmatics of the Church which hears the Word of God in this determination imposed upon it and recognised and confessed by it to be the best (831). 
On the other hand, it is clear from our previous formulation, in which this has already been suggested, that the antithesis within the Evangelical Churches confronts us with a different situation from the antithesis to the non-Evangelical “churches.” Here, too, of course, it is a question of tension, of an inevitable, exclusive choice and decision. But in this case it must take a different form. What we are going to say does not rest on individual opinion and historical or systematic judgment. It belongs to the attitude of Reformed confessionalism, which the Reformed confession and Reformed dogmatics have always adopted with Calvin himself. No matter what Lutherans or Anglicans may say on the same point, when it is a matter of the meaning and reach of confessionalism in the antithesis between the Evangelical Churches, our own attitude tells us that when we speak of the Lutheran, Reformed or Anglican Church, we are not speaking of three different Churches, but of the three present forms of one and the same Church—the Evangelical Church, the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church (831).
It is true that, rightly or wrongly, conflicts of theological schools and movements may lead, and often enough have led, to open schism. But again it is not clear why they should necessarily lead to it. It is not clear why there should not actually and historically be developments in opposing directions. It is not clear why certain Church schisms should not be regarded as belonging to the category of misunderstood theological differences, and why they should not increasingly be reduced to this position. The responsibility which one assumes in accepting such a view is obviously a large one, and it will have to be examined from time to time. But an equally grave responsibility is assumed, which it is equally necessary to examine, where it is thought that such a view should be excluded. Obviously, where it is thought that there is a place for this view, there must be no lapse into indifferentism. The existence of different theological schools or movements within the same Church presupposes their real unity over against all third parties, and therefore their unity in the confession of the Church itself and as such (833).
The existence of different theological schools and tendencies within one Church presupposes, on the other hand, that the points at issue are not indifferent, superficial or superfluous. They are important, real and significant antitheses which it is worth while, because it is commanded, to raise; and which must therefore be raised and decided in all seriousness. Purely individual differences originating in the personality of this or that theological leader, or differences due to the influence of secular movements influencing the Church from outside, are no proper basis for the formation of theological schools and tendencies (833-834).
If it is allowed that in the tensions within the Evangelical Churches we have to do with genuine theological tensions between schools and movements, this cannot finally mean a perpetuation of these tensions. They can be genuine only when they intend not to be or remain tensions. Therefore in the last analysis to assert them implies that they will finally be overcome. The existence of different schools and movements in the same Church means that the Church is engaged in the task of understanding better and taking more seriously than it has done the traditional confessions, which have brought out the points in dispute but have not so far succeeded in reconciling them. Obviously, the goal of this work must be the resolution of these tensions, the working out of a common interpretation of the confession, and therefore the drawing up of a new confession, not setting aside the old in the sense previously discussed, but superseding it (835). 
By the confessional attitude required of dogmatics, we understand that as a Church and therefore as an Evangelical dogmatics it will necessarily be opposed to all heretical dogmatics (837).
3) Finally, that it be "churchly" in that it is modern and it listens to the Church today:
The third concrete requirement with regard to the norm to which dogmatics must submit arises from the fact that, as it must listen to Holy Scripture which is the basis of the Church, and to the fathers and the confessions which have shaped the Church, so also it must listen in a very definite way to the teaching Church of to-day. Such a requirement we term the requirement of a Church attitude. What we understand by it is as follows: that in its testing of Church proclamation dogmatics must orientate itself to the actual situation in the light of which the message of the Church must be expressed, to its position and task in face of the special circumstances of contemporary society, i.e., to the Word of God as it is spoken by Him, and must be proclaimed by the Church in the present. Therefore along with the teaching Church it must throw itself into this contemporary situation, entering into the position and the task of the teaching Church in face of this situation, and seeking to listen attentively to the Word of God, as spoken to the present in the present (839-840).
We can better understand the requirement of a Church attitude if we indicate certain delimitations. A Church attitude precludes the possibility of a dogmatics which thinks and speaks, as it were, timelessly. It fails in its task if it interprets itself as a finely detached inquiry into the ontic and noetic suggestions opened up by the Bible and dogma and a presentation of them as such—as a Christian philosophy competing or co-operating with other philosophies (841). 
The Church attitude precludes further the possibility of a dogmatics which thinks and speaks æsthetically. It is true, of course, that the object with which it has to do has its characteristic and quite distinctive beauty which it would be unpardonable, because ungrateful, to overlook or to fail to find pleasing. But the moment dogmatics even temporarily surrenders to and loses itself in the contemplation of this beauty as such, instead of letting itself be held by the object, this beauty becomes the beauty of an idol. No doubt certain formal requirements of completeness, symmetry and balance can and must be satisfied, because they are requirements of the object itself (841-842).
Again, a Church attitude excludes the possibility of a romantic dogmatics, a dogmatics which does not start honestly from the Church of the present day, but goes back more or less successfully to the past and critically or uncritically tries to think and speak from the standpoint of a past century of the Church (842). 
Finally, the Church attitude precludes the possibility of a secular dogmatics which goes to the opposite extreme and serves the spirits of every present. And we must add that these may be spirits of the Church and theology. The requisite modernity and actuality of dogmatics cannot consist in the fact that it speaks to any time, to any political, intellectual, social or ecclesiastical structure of the present, as though this can be the standard of Church proclamation. Nor can it consist in the fact that it becomes the mouthpiece and advocate of the cares, concerns and wishes which contemporary society, religious or secular, bears on its heart when faced by the Church’s proclamation. And it certainly cannot consist in the fact that from its knowledge of the history of the Church, it has to produce a new revelation as the content of its proclamation. That is why we have to lay so decisive an emphasis on the fact that dogmatics must seek its norm in the most essential function of the Church itself, that it has to orientate itself to the prayer of the Church, that is, to the Church which speaks before God and to God and therefore on behalf of men (843). 
Barth concludes:
In the present and for the sake of the present, dogmatics will not inquire about the voices of the day, but about the voice of God for the day, and it will have to give expression to the anxieties, concerns and wishes which arise from this point, just as the preaching of the Church must also do. If dogmatics tries to do otherwise, if it tries to speak, not from the Church, but from the world to the Church, then at best it will only do for the Church what is in any case daily done for it by the world itself. It will again underline the fact that the Church is in the world and that there is enough of the world in the Church itself. It will not do its real work, which is to summon and direct the Church to reflection in the light of its own basis and nature. And in all probability it will then become a downright temptation to the Church. The Church attitude of dogmatics means that it must persist in its solidarity with the teaching Church, and that therefore it must prove the spirits of the time both inside and outside the Church. But it must not exceed its calling by becoming their witness. Its own testimony will always be the very different testimony, which the spirits of the time are not able to give, but which they must hear from the Church and therefore from dogmatics (843).