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.

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George Hunsinger on the Eternal Word

‘As a composite divine-human reality, Jesus Christ enjoys an unprecedented eternal-historical location. He necessarily belongs to history, but not only to history. He also belongs essentially to eternity as the eternal divine Word (Logos asarkos) who elects to become one with a particular human being (Logos ensarkos), namely, with the historical man Jesus. As the eternal divine Word who elected to become flesh for the sake of the world, Jesus Christ belongs to the complex dynamics of eternity without any detriment to his full and genuine historicity. He is the eternal God in the form of time and a historical human being with the content of eternity. He stands in the midst of history in connection with all other histories as eternity’s presence and self-attestation. He is therefore historical but not merely historical, because he is also and primarily eternal. He transcends time even as he partakes of it, and he partakes of time even while eternally transcending out. This is the mystery of Jesus Christ, the eternal word made flesh, as confessed by faith.’ (George Hunsinger, ‘Reading Barth with Charity: a Hermenutical Proposal’, p. 48)

The Prolepsis of the Son and the Eternity of the Hypostatic Union

I originally wanted to write this post on the idea of functional subordination in Barth, but two things steered me in a slightly different direction: (1) that becomes a huge topic very quickly, and (2) while reading George Hunsinger’s new book ‘Reading Barth with Charity‘, a slightly different but very related topic jumped out at me: prolepsis within the context of the Son’s obedience to the Father. For a good overview of the issue of subordination in the Trinity, head to Kevin Davis’ two helpfulposts, ‘Subordination in God, modal not personal‘, and ‘In God, subordination is not deprivation‘. Prolepsis is, briefly, a kind of anticipation of something as if it already exists. I kind-of blogged on this here though I don’t use the term there explicitly. Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book ‘Divine Discourse’ noted that Barth was the most relentlessly Chalcedonian of theologians, and by fleshing out Barth’s use of prolepsis I think we will see just how true that statement is.

Barth, in a nutshell, holds that the eternal Son elects Jesus of Nazareth, and that logically prior to this the eternal Son elects himself. So in electing himself, the eternal Son also elects Jesus of Nazareth. Thus Hunsinger:

‘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.’ (‘Reading Barth with Charity’, p. 62)

This is an interesting and important point and should be understood rightly. Barth isn’t simply saying that the eternal Son’s Incarnation was foreknown or foreordained – he’s saying that Jesus of Nazareth is eternally present to the Son and to the Father. Hunsinger again:

‘Through the coinherence of simultaneity and sequence in eternity, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, 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).’ (p 62)

Because Barth effectively puts the hypostatic union into eternity, he is thus able to argue that the divine Son’s obedience to the father is a human obedience – the two natures and two wills of Christ reach into eternity. Darren O. Sumner, in his fantastic contribution to ‘Advancing Trinitarian Theology‘ (the published papers of the Los Angelos Theology Conference) entitled ‘Obedience and Subordination in Trinitarian Theology’, (and seriously, it’s a brilliant essay – my favourite of those I’ve read so far) draws out the implications for putting the hypostatic union into eternity on Barth’s scheme:

‘…while there are two natures and two wills in Jesus Christ, Barth insists that each of these is determined (or “commonly actualized”) according to their personal union. The human essence is drawn into obedient conformity to the divine, while the divine essence is given a new determination that, without the Incarnation and the unio hypostatica, it would not otherwise have had. What Jesus does in his divine essence he does not only in conjunction with his humanity but in the “strictest relationship” with it. If the divine essence is determined by its union with humanity, then Barth is able to say further that God’s willing in his second way of being is not necessarily identical with his God’s willing in his first way of being. While there is one divine will, in God’s second way of being that will is in relation to a particular human will as well – a relation of openness and receptivity to the humanity of Christ.’ (p. 141-142)

How does this enable Barth to say that the obedience of the Son to the will God is a genuinely human obedience? Since, by virtue of the prolepsis above, the Son has never not had his humanity – the hypostatic union is eternal in this sense – and since the two natures and wills are mutually determining, the divine obedience to the will of God by the eternal Son is a genuinely human obedience, and the human obedience to the will of God by Jesus of Nazareth is a genuinely divine obedience.

A Few MidWeek Links

A few fun links I’ve found on the web:

What N.T. Wright does with the early high christology of Hurtado, Tilling and Bauckham, by  Andrew Perriman

‘Wright aims to take the EHC argument a step further—in a way that effects some measure of reconvergence between the two strands, though he doesn’t put it in such terms. He accepts Hurtado’s thesis that it was the experience of the presence of the risen Christ that led the early Christians to worship Jesus and then develop a high christology through a rereading of the scriptures. Chris Tilling’s relational christology gets an approving mention in passing. But the more important hypothesis to emerge in recent explorations of early christology is Bauckham’s argument that Jesus is included in the unique “divine identity” of the one God.’

To Trust the Person Who Wrote the Books, by Francesca Aran Murphy  (review of Stephen Long’s book on Barth/Balthasar, with a reply by Long)

‘The thesis of this book is that von Balthasar spotted that when Karl Barth criticized the Catholic idea of an analogy of being between creatures and God, he had confused the Catholic analogia entis with the doctrine of a “pure nature,” used by Tridentine Catholic theologians to theorize a virtual reality which is emptied of grace. Long’s thesis is that von Balthasar thought that when Karl Barth heard “analogy of being between creatures and God” the word “creatures” got itself translated into “pure nature” and so Barth imagined that Catholics were constructing a real (rather than hypothetical) foundation for theology upon this “pure nature,” which is graceless and Godless. Long observes that von Balthasar has not only this negative observation about Barth to contribute, but also a positive perception of a “turn” toward acknowledgement of the “analogy” made by Barth round about the time he wrote his book on Anselm, and which is apparent in the Church Dogmatics. Barth may prefer to call it “analogy of faith” rather than “analogy of being,” but in effect he has perceived that, in the person of Christ, there is an analogy between creature (created human nature) and God (uncreated divine nature), and that this analogy is the operative center of theology. Long’s thesis is, moreover, that von Balthasar was right about this, and not merely right about that as a textual claim with regard to Barth’s writings, but right about reality—there is a Christ-formed analogy of being between creatures and God, and above all there is no non-hypothetically, actually existent pure nature.’

Wagner and German Idealism, by Roger Scruton

‘Wagner was to the end of his life a philosopher. All the currents of philosophical thinking that were important in his day, from Fichte’s idolisation of the self to Marx’s critique of the capitalist economy, and from Feuerbach’s repudiation of religion to Schopenhauer’s theory of the will, left traces in his dramas. There is no work of philosophy that delves so deeply into the paradoxes of erotic love as Tristan and Isolde, no work of Christian theology that matches Wagner’s exploration of the Eucharist in Parsifal, and no work of political theory that uncovers the place of power and law in the human psyche with the perceptiveness of The Ring. While taking us into the heart of philosophical concerns, however, Wagner never sacrifices concrete emotion to abstract ideas. Indeed, Tristan and Isolde, to take what for me is the greatest example of this, succeeds in displaying the philosophical mystery of erotic love only because Wagner creates a believable drama, and music that moves with the force and momentum of desire.’

The Conversation Shifts, by Scot McKnight

Some thought this new perspective on Paul — typified in the writings of Sanders, Dunn, and N.T Wright — would unravel the guts of the Reformation doctrine of sin (self-justification) and justification if one did not check the new wave of thinking. All the while at the foundation of this new perspective was a genuinely radical revision of what Judaism was all about. As it turns out, the “old” perspective assumed and in some ways required that Judaism (and especially Paul’s critiques) be a works based religion. With the growing conviction that Judaism was a covenant and election based religion (Sanders, Wright) there came a radical change in how Paul’s opponents were understood and therefore what Paul was actually teaching. He was, to use the words of Dunn, opposing “boundary markers” more than self-justification.’

T.F. Torrance on the Unity of the Divine and Human in Christ

”The hyper-Calvinist, however, argues in this that, that in Christ’s life and especially his death on the cross, the deity of Christ was in repose. He suffered only in his humanity. On the cross, Christ merited forgiveness for all mankind. It was sufficient to cover the sins of all, for it was of infinite worth, but it held efficaciously only for those whom the Father had given him. We shall examine later the difference between ‘sufficient’ and ‘efficacious’, but here we must look at the relation posed here between Christ in his human nature on the cross and God in heaven. If Christ acted only in his human nature on the cross and God remained utterly apart and utterly transcendent, except that he agreed in will with Christ whom he sent to die, then all that Christ does is not necessarily what God does or accepts. In that case the sacrifice of Christ may be accepted as satisfaction only for the number of the elect that God has previously chosen or determined. But if God himself came among us in Christ his beloved Son and assumed upon himself our whole burden of guilt and judgement, then such an arbitrary view would be impossible. And we must hold the view that it is indeed God *himself* who bears our sins, God become man and taking man’s place, standing with humanity under the divine judgement, God the judge becoming himself the man judged and bearing his own judgement upon the sin of humanity, so that we cannot divorce the action of Christ on the cross from the action of God. The concept of a limited atonement divides Christ’s divinity from his humanity and thus rests upon a basic Nestorian error.’ (T.F. Torrance, ‘Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ’, p. 184-185)

Christological Note

Barth seems to effectively collapse all Christian doctrine into christology. The answer is Jesus – what’s the question? That seems to be his method of working, and, as far as I can tell, is pretty much right on. Christ and christology is pretty much it for Barth (and for a lot of guys who are in the same vein as he is – Torrance, Bonheffer, etc) – I’ve heard his method called christological monism before. Doctrine of election? Christ. Revelation? Christ. Word of God? Christ. I do not see a problem with this.

Christological Note

Torrance makes some pretty interesting observations in his book ‘Incarnation: the Person and Work of Christ’, – he notes that when considering doctrines such as the atonement, reconciliation, election, that they cannot be thought of abstracted from the person and work of Christ. Torrance locates the crux of the incarnation in the hypostatic union – for him that is the key issue in christology. Atonement cannot be thought of as a doctrine apart from the HU, the union of two natures in one man – it is essential for reconciliation and revelation that the HU be made the central theme in christology for Torrance.

I haven’t delved into a massive dogmatics study – though for the interested parties, should there be any, there are christological posts here in there in the Bonhoeffer/Barth categories. I’ll probably post a bit more in this vein since I recently got a lovely book on the christology of the later fathers I’ll have to go back through Bonhoeffer’s christology lectures as well. N.T. Wright also has some interesting thoughts on christology, and what’s interesting about his approach is his thoroughly Jewish framework for the doctrine.

For my part, I love Torrances focus on the unity and holism of christology – something I imagine he picked up from Barth. The extreme christocentric approach is, in my very humble opinion, absolutely critical in theology/dogmatics. God’s self-revelation in Christ (which should be a household phrase for anyone remotely acquainted with Protestant dogmatics after Barth) is, and has to be the starting point for theological reflection.

Some of my own thoughts on Torrances approach:

He stresses the assumption of fallen humanity by Christ. That’s a really big point for him – however, this is not the universal opinion of the church. The Eastern orthodox church by and large (some Orthodox theologians have been influenced by Barth/Torrance) holds that Christ assumed mans natural nature- i.e. not fallen. There are compelling reasons to think that Torrance may have been wrong here, and it ends up basically being about theological anthropology. See Maximos the Confessor, et al. Does Jesus assume fallen human nature so as to heal and sanctify it? Well, is human nature fallen? Again, this is a disputed question – human nature is created good, and fell away from God. The Orthodox emphasis is that the fall results in disunion from God and not so much of an ontological change in the nature of man – if evil is privation, then the fall isn’t so much about what we are so much as what we are not, to paraphrase a good friend of mine. But there are compelling arguments to both sides. I flip flop between the two, myself.

Anyway, I’ll stop here and hopefully pick up on this theme again soon. In the meantime, discussion is as always more than welcome.