“…Karl Barth sought to develop a distinctive kind of dogmatics in which constant account is taken of the fact that it is none other than the Lord God himself who meets us in Revelation. By his very nature revealed to us in Jesus Christ God encounters us as he who is infinitely greater than we can ever conceive, who transcends all our theological formulations, but who nevertheless actually gives himself as the object of our knowledge in Christ. This is not to say that our knowledge of God is false because it is inadequate to his nature, but rather that inadequacy of this kind belongs to its essential truth in pointing away from itself to the ultimate Truth of God. Hence in order to be really faithful to God as he has revealed himself, dogmatics must build recognition of its own inadequacy into its basic structure. It must never lose sight of the fact that even when God makes himself known to us, his Truth retains its own boundless mystery, majesty and wholeness, in virtue of which it far outreaches the creaturely limits of human thought and speech. This is why Barth felt constrained to draw a clear distinction between dogma and dogmas. In dogma the theologian is concerned with the fundamental Datum of divine Revelation, the one source and norm of all our knowledge of God, to which it points and by which it is judged. Dogma is not itself the Truth of God’s Revelation, but the unformalisable intuitive recognition of it evoked in us by Revelation, and which implicitly exercises a regulative force in all faithful attempts to give our understanding of Revelation explicit formulation in dogmas. In this sense dogma constitutes the informal base upon which all formal accounts of our knowledge of God rest, and from which they cannot be cut off without becoming theologically empty and meaningless. Everything would go wrong, however, if it were thought that dogma could be reduced to explicit formalisation in dogmas, for that would imply that dogmatic formulations of the faith are to be regarded as transcriptions or even constitutions of its essential substance. It was in rejecting any such idea that Karl Barth insisted that dogmatics is the science of dogma, not that science of dogmas.”If you want to dig around in Barth for the material that Torrance is riffing off of, look in paragraphs 1 and 7 in Church Dogmatics 1.1, and in paragraphs 25-27 in CD 2.1. The CD 1.1 material deals more with dogmatics as a science, and its method, while the CD 2.1 material deals with the knowledge of God.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Dogma, Dogmas and Dogmatics: As Explained by T.F. Torrance
Posted by W. Travis McMaken
Thomas F. Torrance, “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy,” Scottish Journal of Theology 39 (1986): 467-8.