Some Quotes and Comments on the Natures and Wills of Christ in Barth

This post had its origin as a Facebook comment, in the context of a discussion on the divine/human natures and wills in Christ (written very hastily, so I’ll be editing/supplementing this one for a little while):

The first point that should be noted is that Barth did *not* explicitly affirm monothelitism. In fact, he expressly condemned it, on page 158 of I.2 of his Church Dogmatics. Thus Paul Daffyd Jones:

‘…Barth criticizes monothelitism (MO from here on out) and offers a ringing endorsement of dyothelitism (DY). Though proponents of both MO and DY christologies could in principle appeal to the Definition of Chalcedon, Barth notes that ‘one can see the justification of those who, in the so-called MO controversy of the seventh century, defended and finally led to victory the claim that, with the true human nature of the God-human, there must not also be denied his true human will, different from the will of God, though never independent of it’ (I/2, p. 158). Barth’s measured rhetoric at this point ought not to distract: these words form a historical postscript to a section in which Barth thinks about Christ’s human volition in a way that eschews talk about the will as a ‘faculty’

and prefers a more radical affirmation of the ‘unity of act and being’ that characterizes Christ’s divine-human person.

Barth articulates this expansive DY during a discussion of Christ’s humanity as ‘flesh’. Having affirmed the coessentiality of Christ’s huamnity with ours, and having blocked adoptionism with remarks about Christ’s humanity as an individual ‘possibility’ that God actualizes, he launches a line of reflection that continues throughout the entire Dogmatics:

‘God Himself is actively present in the flesh. God Himself in person is the Subject of a real human being and acting. And just because God is the subject, so – and not otherwise – are this being and acting real. It is a real and true human being and acting…(I/2, p. 151)

Barth here adverts the understanding of the concurrence of divine and human action that pervades the Church Dogmatics II, III and IV…Divine action does not displace human action. Divine action grounds and enables human action, making that action coterminous with it, though still ontologically distinctive.’ (‘The Humanity of Christ’, p. 42-43)

And thus George Hunsinger:

‘Barth’s rejection of MO should not be neglected here. In line with the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Barth upheld the abiding distinction in Jesus Christ between his human and divine will. ‘The early Church knew what it was doing’, he wrote, ‘in the MO controversy when it distinguished and juxtaposed the divine and human wills in Jesus Christ’ (II/2, 605)

The assertion that Barth explicitly affirmed MO is without warrant.The divine and human wills in Christ concur, without the former displacing the latter.

This Barth grounds in the election of Jesus by the Eternal Son – in which the Word, unincarnated, elects Jesus. For Barth, the eternal Son elects Himself, in unity with the Father as an active subject of eternal predestination, and by doing so elects the man Jesus of Nazareth, and in doing so ‘has united himself with the man Jesus of Nazareth’ (Barth). This is the prolepsis of the Son – Hunsinger again:

‘The election of Jesus of Nazareth in and with the self-election of the eternal Son is what makes the whole God-Man Jesus Christ present as such (proleptically) at the eternal beginning of all things.

The word prolepsis means ‘anticipatory realization’ as opposed to simple ‘real anticipation’. Through the coinherence of simultaneity aand sequence in eternity, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, is present at the beginning of all things. He is conceived as present by virtue of God’s eternal foreknowledge, in which something is true and real because it is divinely foreknown (not the reverse.)

Note especially that the idea here in Barth is prolepsis, not incarnadus. The claim at this point is not merely that the eternal Son ordained to become the incarnate one. The claim is rather the more radical one that in the mind of God the earthly Jesus is already present as such to the eternal Son and assumed into hypostatic union with him in pretemporal eternity.’ (Reading Barth With Charity’, p. 62-62)

Thus by virtue of the eternality of the hypostatic union, the obedience of the eternal Son is the obedience of Jesus of Nazareth:

‘What is materially decisive here is not the distinction of the operations of the two natures but rather their concurrence. Barth’s concern, after all, is not with the metaphysics of natures and energies but the common activity of the God-human seen in the new testament.

‘When the Son obeys the Father, he is executing the one divine will. And yet Barth insists that this obedience is a genuinely human decision, rendered by the one who in humility does what Adam did not. In his exegesis of the story of Gethsemane, Barth is in fact utterly disinterested in the competitive influence of a divine will in Jesus’ prayer (‘not my will, but yours done’, Luke 22:42). Instead he is concerned to show how this prayer shows that Jesus’ obedience is a ‘genuinely human decision’ and a ‘decision of obedience. He chooses, but he chooses that apart from which, being who He is, He could not choose anything else’ (C/D IV/1 p. 166) The obedience of the Son is therefore also a human obedience; his activity is commonly actualized.’ (Darren Sumner, ‘Obedience and Subordination in Trinitarian Theology’, in ‘Advancing Trinitarian Theology’, p. 142-143)

Thus, the divine and human wills are commonly actualized via the eterntality of the hypostatic union. The obedience of the Son is *also* a human obedience. With regard to the peccability – for Barth, it was sinful, after-the-fall flesh that the sinless Son assumed, not an abstract humanity but concrete, damned and lost flesh.

Rant on Youthful Christianity

I have a feeling that if Christianity in America ever decides to stop patterning itself after the youth it generally spends most of its time either converting or trying to keep converted, things might go a little smoother for it. We might have quiet virtue and devotion, instead of having to constantly be in ‘FIRE! PASSION! RUNNING! CHASING! DANCING! YOUTHFUL ENERGY! MORE! MORE! MORE!’ Perhaps we’d have less ‘Acquire the Fire’, and fewer corresponding burnouts because of people being unable to maintain such a level of ENERGY for very long. Perhaps, just perhaps, we might have more focus on doing the will of God in the world and living in faith, instead of having to pursue teenage-esque romance under the guise of A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, and being burned out when we simply get tired of trying to be teenagers.

Believe it or not, Christianity is not defined by the traits of horny teenagers.

No, this isn’t a false dichotomy, and yes, I know we are told not to despise our youth.

Karl Barth on the Covenant

‘What, then, we gather from the Noahic covenant, and everything that belongs to this strand, is that according to the Old Testament conception itself the special divine covenant made with Israel does not exclude the human race as a whole from the gracious will of God towards it. What we find in Isaiah’s view of the status of Israel as a representational and messenger to the nations is that the covenant made with Israel has a meaning and purpose which reaches out beyond the existence of Israel. And now, from the prophecy in Jeremiah of a new covenant of forgiveness and of the Spirit and of free obedience on the part of man, we learn that the Old Testament looks beyond the past and present to a form of the relationship between God and Israel in which the covenant broken by Israel will be set up, that the Israelite, for whom ultimately God has nothing but forgiveness, but does have it actually and effectively, must now take his place directly alongside his Gentile fellows, and that if at all he can hope for the grace and salvation of God on this presupposition. In the light of this passage from Jeremiah 31 we are indeed enabled and summoned to give to the concept of the covenant the universal meaning which it acquired in the form which it manifestly assumed in Jesus Christ.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics IV.1 p. 34)

The Natural Theology of Negation

In ‘Christianity and Classical Culture‘, Jaroslav Pelikan spends a good deal of time on the topics of both natural theology and negative theology, or apophatic theology, in the thought of the Cappodicians. The Cappodicians were concerned not only with the dogmas of the Trinity, Holy Spirit and so on but also with interacting from the classical Greek culture in which they were steeped, and they had no hesitation in appropriating what they took to be parallels between classical thought and Christian thought.

A key example can be found in Gregory of Nyssa, whose overall method was what we might call a method of ‘circumcision’ – so named because he took there to be a number of doctrines in classical thought (creation, for example) that in and of themselves were sound but needed to have the corrupting aspects cut away, as it were (in this case, Gregory cuts away Plato’s doctrine of the co-existence and co-eternality of matter with the creator).

Gregory’s method, then, looks something like this:

(1) find parallels between classical thought and Christian thought

(2) tease out the truths in the parallels

(2a) from (1) and (2) establish a kind of ‘natural theology’

(3) cut away the contrasts – the corrupting philosophy attached to the parallels

Gregory can thus point to a ‘natural theology’ or ‘natural religion’ – he is fond of saying ‘Does not nature say the same?’, when arguing for Christianity, and provide some answers to objections to his faith. This was a key task for the Cappodicians and indeed their apologetics overlap considerably with their evangelistic and pastoral concerns (at times it is difficult to even distinguish between the three).

Taken in an unqualified sense such a method poses grave dangers – it is but a step from the above method to drawing positive statements about the divine on the basis of created, finite things, and this was a danger of which the Cappodicians were fully aware. It was with this danger in mind that they expounded their negative theology:

‘To protect themselves against distortion, whether accidental or deliberate, any “proper conceptions about the divine nature”, therefore, needed to begin from the fundamental premise that the divine nature was “unlike anything known” that might be used in speaking about it.’ (Jaroslav Pelikan, ‘Christianity and Classical Culture’, p. 45

Such was the language of negation – the recognition that there was no way for human thought or language to ever comprehend fully the divine. There is no perfect analogy – any analogy had to proceed with the presupposition that while it may be an understandable analogy it is ultimately an inadequate one. Apophatic theology thus serves as a guide or a boundary marker within which reason is free:

‘For negative theology could be construed not only as a limitation on the mind but at the same time as a liberation of the mind, setting the human reason, as the image of God, free to pursue its speculations within the boundaries that had been set for it.’ (p. 57)

It is not reason itself, however, that recognizes these limits. This recognition comes through faith, a mode of knowing given through grace, and it is faith that recognizes and accepts the transcendence of God – for Gregory, the divine has its being where thought does not reach.

An interesting contrast may here be noted between the Cappodicians and Aristotle. The latter held that being qua being is the proper object of human inquiry and the end of human reason – the former held that apart from faith, the divine being was hidden from human reason and in fact was not comparable to any other thing that existed or could be known:

‘Apophatic metaphysics, then, was inseparable from apophatic epistemology, whose fundamental axiom was: “The divine being is to be known only in the impossibility of perceiving it.” The divine being – to whom, at Athens in the very first confrontation between Christianity and classical culture, the apostle Paul had applied a quotation from a pagan Greek poet, “In him we live and move, in him we exist” – could not be compared to any other beings to which the terms “being” and “knowing” had ever been applied. In the case of these other beings, a growth in human knowledge meant an increase in understanding and comprehending the subject, but here it meant the opposite, an ever deepening awareness of the incomprehensibility of the subject.” (p 55)

There is, then, a twofold payoff to be seen here: faith both fulfills and refutes reason. The former it does by means of the latter: faith allows us to know God – thus fulfilling reason – by showing us that we cannot know God – thus refuting reason – by showing us the limits of reason.

Notes on Stephen’s Speech

– Two things should be noted right off the bat: it’s the longest single speech in the New Testament, and it doesn’t jive to well with a lot of the other New Testament in terms of critique – Stephen is much harsher in his condemnation of the temple than Luke is, for example.

– The two main passages of Scripture that Stephen quotes are Amos 5:25-27 (in verses 42-43) and Isaiah 66:1-2 (in verses 49-50. Respectively, these deal with the themes of idolatry and God using the world as a footstool – i.e., not contained in a house built by hands. I think from these two specific quotations and the general theme of the speech, it can reasonably be assumed that Stephen saw the temple as not only superfluous in light of Christ but as totally unnecessary and even wrong from the very beginning. The entire temple apparatus simply allows the idolatry that Stephen takes to be part and parcel of the Hebrew people a greater reign.

– Being rather convinced by Wright’s thesis that the temple at the time of Jesus was more or less a talisman of a violent and nationalistic religion, I think it can Stephen’s speech can also be reasonably seen as a critique of Jewish privilege. Stephen traces a lineage of turning from God and his oracles in v. 38-41 – and note that it is the oracles of God that Paul connects with the advantage or privilege of the Jew. Stepehen also effectively turns the tables on his accusers by arguing that in their betrayal and murder of Jesus, they were the ones who broke the law as delivered by angels (an invocation which establishes its legitimacy). So, whereas Paul points to the receiving of the oracles of God as a privilege or advantage of the Jew, Stephen sees the idolatry present in his fathers as causing them to reject these oracles. Being also generally convinced of Wright’s thesis that a problem with the Judaism of the time was that it had developed into a closed-off ethnic religion or identity, I think that Stephen can be taken to be arguing that the privilege of the Jew had turned into a hoarding of the oracles of God.

– More evidence here could be cited from the examples Stephen gives of God’s revealing and workings in Hebrew history – such revelations are not restricted to certain people in the Holy Land but rather wherever God’s faithful servants can be found – Egypt, Mesopotamia, wherever. In his narrative, Stephen seems to connect the building of the temple with the stagnation of Israel’s religion.

– A very interesting transition occurs between v. 39 and v. 51 – in the former, Stephen refers to ‘our fathers’, who refused to obey Moses. In the latter, Stephen refers to ‘your fathers’, who resist the Holy Spirit in the same way that Stephen’s accusers do. What I think is happening here is summed up by Bruce Metzger in ‘The New Testament, It’s Background, Growth and Content’:

‘The reader can detect in the speech overtones of a growing awareness that the new faith could not be limited by Judaism and that it was the true goal of Hebrew history. The seeds of theological revolution lie within Stephen’s challenge of the alleged privilege of the Jews, and the logic implicit in his argument opened the way for a Christian mission to the Gentiles. In short, Stephen stands for a Christianity that was coming to realize its independence and self-sufficiency and was beginning to feel that it must either absorb Judaism or break with it.’ (p. 189)

Postmodernism, a Failure of Nerve?

‘Postmodernists nearly all reject classical foundationalism; in this they concur with most Christian thinkers and most contemporary philosophers. Momentously enough, however, many postmodernists apparently believe that the demise of classical foundationalism implies something far more startling: that there is no such thing as truth at all, no way things really are. Why make that leap, when as a matter of logic it clearly doesn’t follow? For various reasons, no doubt. Prominent among those reasons is a sort of Promethean desire not to live in a world we have not ourselves constituted or structured. With the early Heidegger, a postmodern may refuse to feel at home in any world he hasn’t himself created.

 Now some of this may be a bit hard to take seriously (it may seem less Promethean defiance than foolish posturing); so here is another possible reason. As I pointed out, classical foundationalism arose out of uncertainty, conflict, and clamorous (and rancorous) disagreement; it emerged at a time when everyone did what was right (epistemically speaking) in his own eyes. Now life without sure and secure foundations is frightening and unnerving; hence Descartes’s fateful effort to find a sure and solid footing for the beliefs with which he found himself. (Hence also Kant’s similar effort to find an irrefragable foundation for science.)

Such Christian thinkers as Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Kuyper, however, recognize that there aren’t any certain foundations of the sort Descartes sought—or, if there are, they are exceedingly slim, and there is no way to transfer their certainty to our important non-foundational beliefs about material objects, the past, other persons, and the like. This is a stance that requires a certain epistemic hardihood: there is, indeed, such a thing as truth; the stakes are, indeed, very high (it matters greatly whether you believe the truth); but there is no way to be sure that you have the truth; there is no sure and certain method of attaining truth by starting from beliefs about which you can’t be mistaken and moving infallibly to the rest of your beliefs. Furthermore, many others reject what seems to you to be most important. This is life under uncertainty, life under epistemic risk and fallibility. I believe a thousand things, and many of them are things others—others of great acuity and seriousness—do not believe. Indeed, many of the beliefs that mean the most to me are of that sort. I realize I can be seriously, dreadfully, fatally wrong, and wrong about what it is enormously important to be right. That is simply the human condition: my response must be finally, “Here I stand; this is the way the world looks to me.”

There is, however, another sort of reaction possible here. If it is painful to live at risk, under the gun, with uncertainty but high stakes, maybe the thing to do is just reduce or reject the stakes. If, for example, there just isn’t any such thing as truth, then clearly one can’t go wrong by believing what is false or failing to believe what is true. If we reject the very idea of truth, we needn’t feel anxious about whether we’ve got it. So the thing to do is dispense with the search for truth and retreat into projects of some other sort: self-creation and self-redefinition as with Nietzsche and Heidegger, or Rortian irony, or perhaps playful mockery, as with Derrida. So taken, postmodernism is a kind of failure of epistemic nerve.’ (Alvin Plantinga, ‘Warranted Christian Belief)

A Few Thoughts On My Neighbor

This post is also a comment, in reply to Alastair Roberts take on the prophet Oded and the Good Samaritan (there remains a lot of work to be done here, as this is a very rough sketch):

Immediately preceeding Levitucs 19:18, which Jesus quotes in the parable (as you noted) is a series of injunctions of Israel’s practice of justice – treating the poor fairly, no injustice in judgement, no stealing, no swearing, fairly well-known moral teachings. These sayings/teachings/whatever have a fairly universal quality – I have a hard time seeing these commands to properly execute justice as pertaining to *only* Israelites/covenant people.

Having said that, I fully agree that the background question relates to the question of membership in the people of God. I don’t think it follows, though, that the status of ‘neighbor’ is restricted to those who are alienated (sp?) covenant members.

Following from that (my Barthianism is about to show – take that, Wright!) I think that all people are, in a sense, the people of God by virtue of God’s election of humanity in Christ. What follows from that is that while all people are elect, not all people accept said election, and hence resist (I strongly agree with Lewis when he says that hell is locked from the inside out) the grace of the covenant, and are hence alienated from the covenant. So I see there being a distinction between the people of God who are in the Messiah, and the people of God more broadly as those who are elected by God in his election of Christ. The former are charged with, as you said, restoring the alienated and wounded, who are the latter.