Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §29 "The Perfections of God" pp. 322-350

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §29 states: "God lives His perfect life in the abundance of many individual and distinct perfections. Each of these is perfect in itself and in combination with all the others. For whether it is a form of love in which God is free, or a form of freedom in which God loves, it is nothing else but God Himself, His one, simple, distinctive being."

In paragraph §29 ("The Perfections of God"), Barth now turns to a discussion of God's perfections. For Barth, to know God is to know His perfections. In his opening statement, Barth asserts that God's being consists in the fact that He is the One who loves in freedom and yet God's perfection is known in the abundance of His perfections:
God’s being consists in the fact that He is the One who loves in freedom. In this He is the perfect being: the being which is itself perfection and so the standard of all perfection; the being, that is, which is self-sufficient and thus adequate to meet every real need; the being which suffers no lack in itself and by its very essence fills every real lack. Such a being is God. He is this being because He lives as such. It is as we return to life as the fundamental element in the divine being that we also move forward to God’s perfections. The one perfection of God, His loving in freedom, is lived out by Him, and therefore identical with a multitude of various and distinct types of perfection. There is no possibility of knowing the perfect God without knowing His perfections. The converse is also true: knowledge of the divine perfections is possible only in knowledge of the perfect God, of His loving in freedom. But because God lives His perfect being the knowledge of His perfections is also a way—the way which in the presence of the living God we must tread. In other words, even in the knowledge of the one perfect God we are confronted by His richness. The real God is the one God who loves in freedom, and as such is eternally rich. To know Him means to know Him again and again, in ever new ways—to know only Him, but to know Him as the perfect God, in the abundance, distinctness and variety of His perfections (322).
Since God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost, i.e., loves in freedom, every perfection exists essentially in Him (323).
Of course, we must not become confused in the abundance of God's perfections, there are many things which God is not - death, a creature, sin, etc. (323). The attributes are not something that God merely possesses - they are a part of his being (323). He exists in His perfections, and He is not only the Lord, He is the Lord of Glory (324). Barth cautions us here - we should not see God as something different behind these perfections, as if these are economic projections of Godself which differ significantly from true God. At the same time, we shouldn't think these perfections are all that God is - like forces - and a force - that we worship. God is a personal God. As Barth remind us from scripture (1 Cor. 2:8 and James 2:1) - God is the Lord of glory and we should see His glory as the glory of the Lord (324-325).

Barth now moves to a new thought: can we speak of the perfections of God in the plural? Behind this question is a historical problem: nominalism and expressivism, both which are lacking in that they insist, in different ways, that the perfections are not connected to the being of God, but are rather chastened, subjective statements which arise from human beings themselves or from God accommodating Himself to us, as if God is expressing a different nature other than His own being for our benefit. In reply to these historical appreciations of the perfections, Barth offers the following observations:
1. The multiplicity, individuality and diversity of the divine perfections are those of the one divine being and therefore not those of another divine nature allied to it. In regard to the realistic understanding of the divine perfections, the question has been asked whether it does not imply the existence of a second, alien divinity in God. To such a question our answer must be a flat negative. In so far as God is almighty, eternal, wise and merciful, it does not add anything new or strange or half-divine to His being as the One who loves in freedom. On the contrary, the divine being as the One who loves in freedom is the divine being in the multiplicity, individuality and diversity of these perfections. He does not possess this wealth. He Himself is this wealth. He is not what He is in a height or depth beyond these His perfections in their multiplicity, individuality and diversity. But He is Himself the perfect One in the abundance and variety of these His perfections. Every question: Of what nature is God? can be understood only as a repetition of the question: Who is God? and any attempt to answer the former question can be only a repetition of the answer which is given us by God Himself to the latter question—an answer which makes possible and necessary both the question: Who is God? and the question: Of what nature is God? In describing God as almighty, eternal, wise, or merciful, we are only repeating this answer; we are only naming Him again and yet again as the One who loves in freedom. But by reason of the fact that it comes from the living One who loves in freedom this answer is so framed that we must continually repeat it, not speaking of any other but God’s one being, but in continual recognition and confirmation of the plenitude and richness of this one being of God. God is in essence all that He is. But He is in essence not only one, but multiple, individual and diverse. And these are His perfections (331).
2. The multiplicity, individuality and diversity of the perfections of God are those of His simple being, which is not therefore divided and then put together again. In God multiplicity, individuality and diversity do not stand in any contradiction to unity. Rather the very unity of His being consists in the multiplicity, individuality and diversity of His perfections, which since they are His are not capable of any dissolution or separation or non-identity, and which again since they are His are capable of genuine multiplicity, individuality and diversity. The plurality which is to be predicated of God can therefore, even in its multiplicity, because it is the multiplicity of God, signify only the unity. The unity which is to be predicated of God must with equal necessity, because it is in reference to God, signify the plurality. Every individual trait which is to be affirmed of God can signify only the one, but the one which is to be affirmed of Him must of necessity signify also every individual trait and the totality of all individual traits. Every distinction in God can be affirmed only in such a way as implies at the same time His unity and therefore the lack of essential discrepancy in what is distinguished. But again, it would not really be the unity of God if no distinctions were recognised and confessed. Our doctrine therefore means that every individual perfection in God is nothing but God Himself and therefore nothing but every other divine perfection. It means equally strictly on the other hand that God Himself is nothing other than each one of His perfections in its individuality, and that each individual perfection is identical with every other and with the fulness of them all (332-333).
3. The multiplicity, individuality and diversity of God’s perfections are rooted in His own being and not in His participation in the character of other beings. The recognition of divine attributes cannot be taken to mean that for us God is subsumed under general notions, under the loftiest ideas of our knowledge of creaturely reality, and that He participates in its perfections. It is not that we recognise and acknowledge the infinity, justice, wisdom, etc. of God because we already know from other sources what all this means and we apply it to God in an eminent sense, thus fashioning for ourselves an image of God after the pattern of our image of the world, i.e., in the last analysis after our own image. Even less in the ontic sphere is it that God shares in truths and realities distinct from Himself, that He is subordinated to certain general laws of being, so that He can be defined in accordance with this participation and subordination and therefore to have such and such qualities. God is subordinate to no idea in which He can be conceived as rooted or by which He can be properly measured. There are not first of all power, goodness, knowledge, will, etc. in general, and then in particular God also as one of the subjects to whom all these things accrue as a predicate. But everything that God is, and that is in God, is—as the origin of all that is distinct from God and that can be the predicate of other subjects too—first and properly in Him. Indeed, it is first and properly God Himself as the One who loves in freedom, He Himself in His own being. Therefore God does not borrow what He is from outside, from some other. On the contrary, it is the problem of everything that exists outside of Him that it can be what it is only in virtue of the truth and reality imparted to it by God. God is the being of all beings, the law of all laws, and therefore the nature of every nature. In Himself, then, He is rich, multiple, individual and diverse. He does not need to become this by entering into relation with the “golden outpouring of the world” (333-334).
Barth now turns to a discussion of how the perfections exist. He reviews a number of erroneous ways/groupings from the tradition which he rejects (335-340). He will ultimately conclude that the correct way to distribute, orient, etc. the perfections is along the axis of God's love and freedom. He concludes that God reveals His perfections in unity and distinction corresponding to the unity and distinction of love and freedom in his own being:
The further fundamental question to which we must now turn, is this: To what extent do these many individual and various perfections of God exist? How do we come to recognise them as such, and to speak of them proprie (correctly), i.e., on the basis of God’s revelation, and in responsibility to this revelation, without reservation in respect of their truth? In traditional theology this question is known as the problem of the derivation and distribution of the divine attributes. The apparent unsuitability of these ideas is obvious at once. We can see how close and tempting at this point is a total or partial nominalism. For what is there to derive and distribute when it is a question of the being of God and His perfections? (335). 
In this connexion we may consider as obvious errors all those types of a doctrine of attributes which attempt to define and order the perfections of God as though they were the various predicates of a kind of general being presupposed as known already, whereas in reality each of them is the characteristic being of God Himself as He discloses Himself in His revelation. The right way, on the contrary, will consist in understanding the attributes of God as those of this His special being itself and therefore of His life, of His love in freedom (337).
A fully restrained and fully alive doctrine of God’s attributes will take as its fundamental point of departure the truth that God is for us fully revealed and fully concealed in His self-disclosure (341).
This unity and this distinction corresponds to the unity and distinction in God’s own being between His love and His freedom. God loves us. And because we can trust His revelation as the revelation of His own being He is in Himself the One who loves. As such He is completely knowable to us. But He loves us in His freedom. And because here too we can trust His revelation as a self-revelation, He is in Himself sovereignly free. He is therefore completely unknowable to us. That He loves us and that He does so in His freedom are both true in the grace of His revelation. If His revelation is His truth, He is truly both in unity and difference: the One who loves in freedom. It is His very being to be both, not in separation but in unity, yet not in the dissolution but in the distinctiveness of this duality. And this duality as the being of the one God necessarily forms the content of the doctrine of His perfection (343).
As Barth points out, even though he is going to treat with God's perfections through the categories of love and freedom, this does not mean that he is speaking of two different subjects. There is a unity of these in God's revelation and His being. Barth concludes (344-350) with several observations about the way that the perfections should be ordered (and also not misunderstood). In the end, he suggests that the divine reality suggests an ordering to which the account of the perfections must correspond. Those which correspond to the sphere of divine love come first (that is, those which correspond to the reality that God is for us); those which correspond to the sphere of God's freedom come next (that is, those which suggest that God is his self-giving remains Himself).