Saturday, June 14, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §24.2 "The Dogmatic Method" pp. 853-884

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §24 states: "Dogmatics summons the listening Church to address itself anew to the task of teaching the Word of God in the revelation attested in Scripture. It can do this only as it accepts itself the position of the teaching Church and is therefore claimed by the Word of God as the object to which the teaching Church as such has devoted itself."

In section §24 ("Dogmatics as a Function of the Teaching Church") and in subsection §24.2 ("The Dogmatic Method"), Barth is wrapping up his prolegomena material. It's been nearly a 1400 page journey. Marvelous. He begins with some general comments:
We understand by dogmatic method the procedure which dogmatics must adopt if it is successfully to handle its material task, i.e., the unfolding and presentation of the content of the Word of God. In this respect, too, dogmatics can place itself only alongside and not above preaching. Essentially the dogmatician can do only what the preacher does: in obedience he must dare to say what he has heard, and to give out what he has received. With the intention and purpose of summoning the hearing Church to new exertions in teaching, dogmatics for its part adopts the attitude of the teaching Church, makes the task of teaching its very own, and attempts to offer an exemplary performance of this teaching task. It takes part in the proclaiming, just as, from the formal point of view, it takes part in the hearing of the Word of God. What in this connexion distinguishes it from preaching is a shift of emphasis. When the Church in general teaches, its meaning and purpose are mainly concerned with the reconstitution of a hearing Church. But this is impossible without a new invitation to teaching, to the service of witnessing, to the giving out of the received message by the congregation which hears it: just as it is impossible for the Church to teach without submitting the rightness and validity of its teaching to constant investigation and control. But when dogmatics teaches, on the material as well as on the formal side its most prominent and decisive question is one which, though unavoidable for the teaching Church in general, is kept in the background. On the material side, this question concerns the inciting and arousing of the Church to a fresh teaching of the Word of God. In this respect, the point of departure for dogmatics will naturally be the hearing Church which creates and receives from the Word of God as source (853-854). 
In Barth's mind, the dogmatic method is contained and centers upon the Word of God:
Again, dogmatic thinking and speaking have to be differentiated from all other types by the fact that they have capitulated to this object, so that they take place in the confinement, but also, of course, in the freedom, of this object. At this point we must repeat and reverse the image used in § 23. In dogmatic work a type of thinking is expressed which is bound by its object, by the Word of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in the revelation which Scripture attests. It reminds us, therefore, of the gate which is also a barrier (855-856). 
The dogmatic method is, then, the way necessarily taken by dogmatic work, as claimed by its object, Like the dogmatic norm, it must be identical with the revelation which Scripture attests as the Word of God, to the extent that this is not merely a norm but also a way: a specific integrated and ordered content. At the very deepest level, this content prescribes for dogmatics, as for Church proclamation, its way and its method. In its unfolding and presenting of the content of the Word of God, it has no option but to proceed in this way. The content of the Word of God itself must command, and dogmatics and Church proclamation must obey. Therefore the content of dogmatics can only be an exposition of the work and action of God as it takes place in His Word (856).
The freedom of the dogmatic method is the freedom of obedience:
The freedom of dogmatic method is the freedom of obedience. This obedience will not be the obedience required, if it is not rendered freely, and if it does not leave freedom to others. Nor will the freedom be the freedom required, if it makes possible anything other than obedience, and does not therefore summon all others to render obedience in freedom (861). 
Given this insight, Barth turns to the task of thinking about dogmatics as a system. Is there a dogmatics system? No "system" classically defined will replace the most important thing: the Word of God. Barth contends that the Word of God will be the object and the director of the theologian, in such a way that, the loci will flow from the Word of God.
In dogmatic systems the presupposed basic view acquires inevitably the position and function which according to all our previous considerations can be ascribed only to the Word of God. But the Word of God may not be replaced even vicariously by any basic interpretation of the “essence of Christianity”, however pregnant, deep and well founded. The simple reason for this is that while its content is indeed the truth, it is the truth of the reality of the work and activity of God taking place within it (862). 
In proportion as the Word of God is in fact replaced, dogmatics shuts and separates itself off from its true object. It loses contact with the event which impels both the Church and dogmatics itself to teach. Its natural dynamic is, therefore, impaired. All that it can do is to move within the sphere marked out by the presupposed world-view. In doing this, it does not have in any form the comfort of obeying the law of God (862-863).
In dogmatics, therefore, traditional notions as to what is fundamental or not, central or peripheral, more or less important, have to be suspended, so that they can become a matter for vital new decision by the Word of God itself. Basically, dogmatics has no presupposition on its material side, i.e., it is an ecclesiastical science which presupposes only the Word of God self-attested in Scripture. Otherwise it is not open to hear the Word of God; it cannot challenge and guide the Church to a right teaching of the Word of God. Of course dogmatics, including the confession and Church proclamation, can report about the content of the Word of God only from the standpoint of a specific situation. But in the relationship between the Word of God and the Church it is a question only of encounters. In these encounters the Word controls and the Church complies. The Church is taken prisoner but the Word remains free. All that the Church can do, therefore, is simply to recount its experience. But dogmatics is also a report of this kind. And its task is to impress on the mind of the Church the fact that this relationship is always open. It is, of course, a confession as well, just as it is proclamation. Hence it makes certain distinctions and choices with regard to the contents of the Word of God (865).
In a Church dogmatics the position usually occupied in dogmatic systems by an arbitrarily chosen basic view belongs by right to the Word of God, and the Word of God alone. It does not belong to a conception of the Word of God. It is another matter that in every dogmatics a conception accompanies and ought to accompany the confession both of the Church and also of the individual. But in a Church dogmatics this conception must not assume the dignity and function of a positive principle. It must not usurp the position of the object of dogmatics. This object, which must dictate dogmatic method, is the Word of God itself. It is not a conception of it. It is not, therefore, a basic dogma, tenet, principle or definition of the essence of Christianity. It is not any kind of truth that can be controlled. Dogmatics certainly has a basis, foundation and centre. But—and we must remember this point, especially when we are thinking of the autonomy of dogmatics—this centre is not something which is under our control, but something which exercises control over us. The autonomy in which dogmatics has to choose its method must consist solely in the recognition of its theonomy, i.e., in its free submission to the sovereignty of the Word of God alone (866).
If, then, there is no a priori basic view in dogmatics, but, as its foundation and centre, only the Word of God which presupposes itself and proves itself by the power of its content, it is quite evident that there can be no dogmatic system. Rightly understood, it is the material principle of dogmatics itself which destroys at its root the very notion of a dogmatic system (868).
Concretely applied, all this means that the unfolding and presentation of the content of the Word of God must take place fundamentally in such a way that the Word of God is understood as the centre and foundation of dogmatics and of Church proclamation, like a circle whose periphery forms the starting-point for a limited number of lines which in dogmatics are to be drawn to a certain distance in all directions (869). 

When this is what dogmatics teaches, its teaching is pure and exemplary: and it is a summons to the whole Church to do, and to do only, what it may not leave undone. Dogmatic method is only genuinely method, and therefore a path, a plan, an order, a programme, it only goes to the heart of things, and is therefore different from a shoreless, rudderless cogitation and chattering, when it allows the starting-point for some of these lines and axioms to be prescribed for it by the object of Church proclamation, when it then goes on to draw them out under the sovereign control of the object itself and the guidance of what it has to say about itself, or, that is to say, when it goes on to understand and explain, speaking where it thinks it hears the object itself speak, silent where it thinks it silent, pushing on where the object guides, halting where it can only go forward under its own arbitrary selfguidance. The autonomy of dogmatics consists in the decision to be radical in this sense, and concretely to accept whatever basic tenets it may involve (869-870).
Rejecting the 'analytic' method in Protestant theology which arose in the 17th-century, Barth prefers instead the loci method and intends to follow this "system" in his project.
From a historical point of view, it may be said, therefore, that we have to dismiss the so-called “analytic” method which made its entry into Protestant theology at the beginning of the 17th century, and finally received expression in the doctrine of fundamental articles. We must return to the method of the Loci, the method of Melanchthon and also of Calvin, which was wrongly set aside as unacholarly by the more progressive of the contemporaries of J. Gerhard and A. Polanus. For this is the only truly scholarly method in dogmatics. The Loci of the older orthodoxy were in fact basic dogmatic tenets which did not pretend to proceed from a higher unity than that of the Word of God itself, or to express any higher syntheses than arise out of the Word of God, or to be rooted and held together in any higher system than that of the Word of God. When it was supposed that they were no longer enough it was not realised that the true basis of dogmatics and Church proclamation was in process of being lost. In dogmatics, too, the truth comes home inexorably: it cannot save its life by willing to do so; it can save it only by losing it for the sake of the name which alone can and will rule in the Church and therefore in dogmatics too (870).
Having said all that, Barth now turns to an explanation of the dogmatic method he intends to pursue. Barth considers whether or not reconciliation might be a centralizing theme around which to order his project. It is a tantalizing prospect. But he ultimately rejects this.
But it can be shown that the Word of God itself does not urge us along this path. On the contrary, although the course may seem very illuminating at a first glance, it actually restrains us from it. It is true enough that in the account which Church proclamation and dogmatics have to give of the work and activity of God their business is wholly with the work and activity of God in His Son Jesus Christ. It is in Him and Him alone that the Father is revealed. It is He and He alone whom the Holy Spirit reveals. Therefore dogmatics must actually be Christology and only Christology: but not Christology in this rather limited sense of the term; not as if the revelation of the Father by the Son and of the Son by the Holy Spirit is in fact identical with the action of God in overcoming human rebellion and human need. It is incontestable that it is this too, even at its very centre. But it is not only this. It is this at its centre. But it is also more than this, and with such weighty authority and independence that although as more it is only to be understood together with this centre and with constant reference to it, it cannot be understood from this centre, as though the latter were a vantage point which the dogmatician himself could adopt, or as though it were given us as a fundamental principle of interpretation by means of which the whole could be understood, surveyed and ordered. Jesus Christ is given to us as the Word spoken by the Father. But it in no way follows that the atonement is singled out specially or in abstracto. The atonement is only one moment in the whole happening which is—and again we can only say, also—described in this way. Undeniably it forms the centre of this happening. Undeniably the Bible shows it to be the centre. And in the Reformation its positive meaning was recognised with new power. But we cannot isolate this moment. We cannot make it the centre of a system. If we do, we may give the other moments in this happening their proper value in the system constructed, but we shall still be guilty of a limitation of Christology itself which is not justified at any rate by its object (871-872).
Barth makes a case for using four primary loci or tenets for his project: God, Creation, Reconciliation, and Redemption. Barth argues that all four loci are derived from the Word of God (as are the divine unity and the trinity):
At all four points, the Word of God itself provides the basis of our knowledge, and similarly the coherence of the lines which we have to draw from these four points (with a hint, but only a hint, at infinity). At the centre, in the Word of God itself as the original point from which they diverge, they are one. But inevitably this point from which they proceed remains invisible. It cannot be the function of either Church proclamation or dogmatics to try to effect their union, or to use its own power or fancy to initiate it. The aim of initiating the unity of dogmatics is one which never has been and never will be accomplished except as one of the four given points throws the other three more or less into the shade, thus doing violence to the real content of the Word of God, not least in the particular point emphasised. If we keep these points separate and distinct and allow the lines that are to be drawn from them to retain their independence of each other, we are in no sense guilty of an arbitrary dismemberment of the one Word of God (877).
At this point we must not overlook an objection which may be raised from the opposite side, namely, our own presupposition that dogmatics should be systematically without presuppositions. The question arises whether behind the unfolding of the content of this Word of God in these four specific Loci, there is not implied a fundamental principle from which these four Loci may be systematically developed, viz., the dogma of the unity and trinity of God, which we have placed at the head of our doctrine of the Word as the revelation of God. In §§ 10, 11, 12 we thought it necessary to understand God in His revelation as Creator, Mediator and Redeemer in order to see as the foundation of this threefold division of His self-revealing action the fact that in Himself and to all eternity God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But this is itself the essential answer to the question. For we did not derive our differentiation of the Loci from the doctrine of the Trinity. We derived the doctrine of the Trinity itself from the same source as that from which is now derived the differentiation of the Loci, viz., the work and activity of God in His revelation (878).
Moving towards the end of the section, Barth considers the order in which the loci should be treated. He concludes:
Our own decision, then, following the classical tradition of dogmatics, is to begin with the doctrine of God. Even in this position its content need not be an empty speculation nor its purpose a systematisation. Is there anything more unpretentious than the affirmation that God is God, which is what we shall have to discuss in this first section? And can anything be more meaningful and sensible than to begin with this beginning? When we begin in this way the dangers arising from the absolutising of each of the succeeding sections are to some extent warded off. To put the doctrine of God first in dogmatics necessarily exercises on everything that follows a calming and leveling effect (880). 
Having set the order, Barth closes with a quick review of each of these sections concerning the loci and how they will be treated (881-883). He then concludes the prolegomena in this way:
It is we who think and speak. And in dogmatics we ought to—no, must speak, just as in Church proclamation, too, it is man who is summoned, authorised and empowered to exercise his own thinking and speaking by the grace of God. But not even for a moment can we forget that, when and in so far as we do think and speak the truth in Church proclamation and dogmatics, it is God Himself and alone who, using man as His servant, and without incurring any obligation to him, has actually thought His thoughts and spoken His word. It is only in this modesty that we do think and speak the truth. And this modesty includes the realisation that in God’s light we are shown to be darkness, in God’s judgment we are exposed as liars, and that we shall think and speak the truth always against our own selves.
The Church dogmatician, like the Church preacher, will always have to say of himself what Ignatius of Antioch once wrote of himself: Ἐὰν γὰρ σιωπήσητε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, ἐγὼ λόγος θεοῦ. Ἐὰν δὲ ἐρασθῆτε τῆς σαρκός μου, πάλιν ἔσομαι φωνή [For if you are silent on my account, then I will be a word of God; but if you cling on to my life, I will merely be a voice again] (Ad Rom. 21). In this modesty, which combines the greatest courage and the greatest humility, the greatest awe and the greatest joy, the relationship of the dogmatician and the preacher to their object may be summed up in the words of the Psalmist (Ps. 103:1) : “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (884).