Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Barth on Christ’s Person and Work

Church Dogmatics 4.1, 126-7:
[T]he being of Jesus Christ, the unity of being of the living God and this living man, takes place in the event of the concrete existence of this man. It is a being, but a being in a history. The gracious God is in this history, so is reconciled man, so are both in their unity. And what takes place in this history, and therefore in the being of Jesus Christ as such, is atonement. Jesus Christ is not what He is – very God, very man, very God-man – in order as such to mean and do and accomplish something else which is atonement. But His being as God and man and God-man consists in the completed act of the reconciliation of man with God
Then, in the accompanying fine print:
We must not forget that if in the doctrinal decision of Nicaea and Constantinople and Ephesus and Chalcedon it was a matter of the being of Jesus Christ as such, these decisions had a polemical and critical character, their purpose being to delimit and clarify at a specific point. They are to be regarded as guiding lines for an understanding of His existence and action, not to be used, as they have been used, as stones for the construction of an abstract doctrine of His “person.” … An abstract doctrine of the person of Christ may have its own apparent importance, but it is always an empty form, in which what we have to say concerning Jesus Christ can never be said.
Finally, he turns the screws:
Again, it is almost inevitable that a doctrine of the work of Christ separated from that of His person will sooner or later give rise to the question, and perhaps even impose it, whether this work can be understood as that of someone other than that divine-human person.

5 comments:

David W. Congdon said...

Great stuff. A remarkable rejection of his own christology in CD I.2.

Andrew Esqueda said...

I love reading CD IV. How's that rigorous reading schedule going?

W. Travis McMaken said...

I'm ~300 pages into 4.2

Benjamin Wu said...

Hi,

I was reading the same passages just a few days ago, and found a lacuna in the English translation of your first quote. While the ET goes:

the being of Jesus Christ ... takes place in the event of the concrete existence of this man ...

the German original goes:

das Sein Jesu Christi ... findet statt im Ereignis der konkreten Existenz Gottes und der konkreten Existenz dieses Menschen. (KD IV/1, 138)

This does not alter the main tune of Barth's mature Christology in CD IV/1, which so differs from its previous form in CD I/2. But we are at least told that the being of Jesus Christ is the concrete existence, not only of the one human Jesus, but also of God Himself.

Good luck on the ambitious reading project!

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks for filling that in, Ben! One of these days I'll read it all in German...