Monday, December 29, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §31.1 "The Unity and Omnipresence of God" pp. 440-490 (Part 1)

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §31 states: "The divinity of the freedom of God consists and confirms itself in the fact that in Himself and in all His works God is One, constant and eternal, and therewith also omnipresent, omnipotent and glorious."

In paragraph §31 ("The Perfections of the Divine Freedom") and subsection §31.1 ("The Unity and Omnipresence of God"), Barth turns from the perfection of divine love to a discussion of the perfections of divine freedom. This ordering, and the way he approaches the subject, is quite interesting in the history of exploration of the divine attributes, i.e. classical treatments of the attributes. Barth rules out the idea that metaphysical perfections, for example, omnipotence or omniscience, are more real to the life of God than those attributes or perfections concerned with the relation between God and humanity, perfections such as mercy and righteousness. As we saw previously, Barth treated with six perfection of divine love in particular: grace and holiness, mercy and righteousness, patience and wisdom.

In paragraph §31, Barth turns his attention to the perfections of divine freedom, which like the perfections of divine love, are paired with one another: unity and omnipresence, constancy and omnipotence, eternity and glory. As Barth notes in the discussion of both types of perfections, these are not exhaustive descriptions. Yet, there is a unity in them, between the perfection of love and freedom. How did he come to choose these particular perfections of freedom as discussion points? Barth explains these perfections (generally) in this way:
The question may be raised again at this point how we come to mention these six attributes of the divine freedom in this particular juxtaposition. And again we have to acknowledge that we certainly cannot rely on, or appeal to, any direct (or verbal) precept of Holy Scripture or even to the precedent of any other dogmatics. We have to admit that basically this selection and juxtaposition can possess and claim only the character of an attempt or suggestion. In the light of the biblical witness to revelation—not of some general idea of the being of God—we are asking two questions. First, what are the specific determinations in which the love of God attested in the Bible becomes event and reality in the freedom of God, so that we can and must see them as determinations of His being? The answer to this first question is given by the series: unity, constancy and eternity. And second—again in the light of the biblical witness to revelation—what are the specific determinations of this love itself in so far as it is the love which becomes event and reality in His freedom, so that we can and must understand these determinations as those of the divine being? The second series, omnipresence, omnipotence and glory, is the answer to this question (441).
He begins then with the unity of God.
All the perfections of God’s freedom can be summed up by saying that God is One. And to this extent all the perfections of His love, real and operative in His freedom, and all the perfections of the divine being taken together, can be summed up in this one conception. If we understand it rightly, we can express all that God is by saying that God is One. By this He differentiates Himself from everything that is distinct from Himself. By this He rules and determines it, and by this He is also in Himself what He is. He is One. The word oneness has two meanings. It can mean both uniqueness (singularitas) and simplicity (simplicitas) (442).
By uniqueness, Barth does not mean that God alone exists, this is evidently untrue, but he means that God alone is God. None can be compared to Him. No other One is to be worshiped. It is He alone that possesses these divine perfections in the way He does. In comparison with everything else, God is unique.

There are some real gems here in the small print, surprise, surprise. Here's a taste:
There is a real basis for the feeling, current to this day, that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion, its life and richness and peace. It is bound to be so. Olympus and Valhalla decrease in population when the message of the God who is the one and only God is really known and believed. The figures of every religious culture are necessarily secularised and recede. They can keep themselves alive only as ideas, symbols, and ghosts, and finally as comic figures. And in the end even in this form they sink into oblivion. No sentence is more dangerous or revolutionary than that God is One and there is no other like Him. All the permanencies of the world draw their life from ideologies and mythologies, from open or disguised religions, and to this extent from all possible forms of deity and divinity. It was on the truth of the sentence that God is One that the “Third Reich” of Adolf Hitler made shipwreck. Let this sentence be uttered in such a way that it is heard and grasped, and at once 450 prophets of Baal are always in fear of their lives. There is no more room now for what the recent past called toleration. Beside God there are only His creatures or false gods, and beside faith in Him there are religions only as religions of superstition, error and finally irreligion (444).
By simplicity, Barth means that "in all that He is and does, He is wholly and undividedly Himself" (445). In His simplicity, He is incomparably free, sovereign and majestic. The divine simplicity means that there is no additional or subsequent being with the Godhead. There is no "God beside God." It follows from the simplicity of God that He is utterly distinct from the world. Recognition of this is recognition of the trinitarian and Christological unity:
From the same standpoint there are also no effluences, emanations, effusions or irruptions of God into the world, in virtue of which, apart from God Himself, there are in a sense islands or even continents of the divine in the midst of the non-divine. We must not understand or interpret creation, or even the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, either as a commixture or identification of God with the world, or as a kind of outgoing of God from Himself. God’s creation of the world out of nothing means that He does not abandon or give His glory as Creator to anyone else. The fact that Jesus Christ is very God and very man means that in this oneness of His with the creature God does not cease for a moment or in any regard to be the one, true God. And the strength and blessedness and comfort of His work of creation as of reconciliation and revelation consists in the fact that in these works of His too He is never less than wholly Himself (446).
The early battle for a recognition of the simplicity of God was the same as for the recognition of the Trinity and of the relation between the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. We can put it equally well both ways. The Church clarified its mind about the simplicity of God by means of the essential unity of the Son and the Holy Spirit with the Father, and the undivided but unconfused unity of the divine with the human nature in Jesus Christ. But it also clarified its mind about the homoousia of the Son and the Holy Ghost in the one divine being, and the unity of the two natures in Jesus Christ, by means of the simplicity of God. Properly considered, the two things are one. The unity of the triune God and of the Son of God with man in Jesus Christ is itself the simplicity of God (446).
Just to put a bit of punctuation on it, Barth reminds us that when we say God is one, we mean something different than we ascribe unity to something other than God.
When we say that God is one, unique and simple, we mean something different from when we ascribe unity to any other quantity. Anything else to which we can ascribe unity is one side by side with one or many others which are comparable with it and belong with it to a species. It is one instance in a genus. It is, therefore, only relatively unique. But God is an instance outside every genus. God is, therefore, absolutely unique, in a way that is itself unique and cannot be denoted by any concept (447).
And we need to be reminded that to expound upon God's simplicity is not to say that the simple is God. Barth notes, "when the unity of God is turned into the divinity of unity there can only result what are actually caricatures of God" (450). Further, knowledge of God's unity comes from meeting the God of electing love:
It is in His love above all that God reveals Himself as the One who is incomparable and therefore unique; which means that He reveals Himself as the true and essential God. This revelation is of such a nature that He accomplishes at one stroke what the idea of uniqueness is unable to accomplish in any of its various forms and applications. We have referred already to the fact that divine revelation has the character of election, and to the twofold aspect, that as He chooses man in order to reveal Himself to him as God, God also chooses Himself, that He may be revealed to man as God. It is not, however, from the principle or concept of this twofold election that the knowledge of the divine uniqueness comes. It is not unique in this character of election as such. The idea of election itself leads us back only to the idea of uniqueness. Knowledge of this does not give or complete knowledge of the divine uniqueness. This takes place in the actuality of the twofold election as it occurs in God’s revelation according to the witness of the Old and New Testament (450-451).
Barth reviews the witness of the OT and NT sayings on the unity of God in a small print section on pp. 451-457.
The simplicity or indivisibility of God too, the deeper essence and ground of which we have still to investigate, reveals itself to us with the invincible truth of a determination of the freedom of God only when we allow ourselves to be reminded, by the witness of Scripture, that God’s freedom and therefore His simplicity are the freedom and simplicity of His love. Not an idea of simplicity, for, as we have shown, this could only draw us away from the knowledge of God. In Scripture the utterly simple is “simply” God Himself in the actuality, the superior might, the constancy, the obviousness, or even more simply, the factuality, in which He is present as God and deals as God with the creature, with man (457).
We will continue in the next post with a discussion of God's omnipresence.