des göttlichen Wortes in freudigem Geist und Sinne…”
--F.D.E. Schleiermacher, Sermon at Nathanael’s (his son) grave on 1 Nov 1829
On Theology as the Science of the Divine Word
By: Matthew J. Aragon Bruce
Von Balthasar writes: “Schleiermacher gave Barth a powerful intuition into the unity, grandeur and totality of theology as a scientific discipline” (Theology of Karl Barth (1992), 199). With this, von Balthasar proposed that Barth’s thought exhibited a degree of genetic dependence on that of Schleiermacher at both a formal and material level. The concern of this essay is not to inquire into such genetic dependence, but with the phrase “theology as a scientific discipline.” How did these two modern theologians conceive of theology, and in particular dogmatics, as a “scientific discipline”? What is the nature and task of theology under the conditions of modernity, conditions prominently marked by the ascendancy of “science” and the modern research university?
In §1 of his Brief Outline (1830) Schleiermacher writes: “Theology… is a positive science,” i.e. “a compendium of scientific elements which have their common bond not as if they form a necessary component of the organization of the sciences by virtue merely of the idea of science, but only in so far as they are required for the accomplishment of a practical task.” With the adjective “positive,” Schleiermacher defines theology as a practical science, i.e. a critical inquiry that cultivates human knowledge for the purpose of addressing practical individual and social needs. The elements of theology (Schleiermacher has in mind all of aspects of the four theological fields and not simply systematic theology or dogmatics) are bound together as a science not by virtue of the idea of science, but by the task that theology seeks to achieve, viz. the training of Church leaders for the task of proclamation. The conception of “positive science,” though it has earlier precedents, emerges in large part in the midst of the foundation of the University of Berlin, an event in which Schleiermacher played a central role. Moreover, the question concerning the scientificity of theology has continued to be shaped in conversation with the role of theology in the university until today. It is thus necessary to examine Schleiermacher’s notion of science in light of the developments surrounding the formation of the university and the reform of the German educational system in the early 19th Century.
Schleiermacher borrows the definition of a “positive science” from the idealist philosopher F.W. J. Schelling. In his 1802 Lectures on the Method of University Studies, Schelling develops a philosophy of education founded on the notion of science as an “organic whole” and thus a collective undertaking in which all members of the scientific or university community are involved. This is in contrast to the current understanding of the sciences as distinct, relatively independent fields of inquiry. For Schelling and Schleiermacher, on other hand there are not sciences per se but only science, for “the more something is treated in isolation, the more incomprehensible and convoluted it appears” (Gelegentliche Gedanken über Universitäten in deutschem Sinn, in Ernst Anrich, ed. Die Idee der deutschen Universität (1964), 223). Each member of the academic community contributes her part to the whole, i.e. to the collective development of scientific knowledge. Schelling contended that it was the philosophy faculty alone (more akin to the liberal arts faculty in our day though heavy in what we call philosophy) that could put forth this vision of the unity of thought and impress it on young minds. It is no surprise then that theology and other “positive” faculties of the German Universities, law and medicine, were considered scientific not in themselves but only in their relation to philosophy. Philosophy, in this sense nearly synonymous with science, was considered the pure pursuit of knowledge for its own sake whereas the other faculties were designated “positive,” i.e. were undertaken out of practical concerns, viz. for the spiritual, moral, and physical health of the state. Schleiermacher’s treatise, Occasional Thoughts on Universities in the German Sense (1808), written specifically to address the foundation of the University of Berlin, contains, for our purposes here, only insignificant differences with Schelling. Both give the three positive faculties a place in the university because the state has an interest in the training of ‘instruments for the state’ (e.g. pastors, lawyers, and doctors), because the common good depended on these bürgerlich social roles (the positive faculties are what we today refer to as professional schools). The training of the individuals who will serve the state in such roles, so contend Schelling and Schleiermacher, should be shaped by science: “Without doubt such instruments should surely be formed by science… but science ceases to be science as soon as it is reduced to a mere means rather than promoted for its own sake” (Schelling, Vorlesungen über die Methodes des Akademischen Studiums in Schellings Werke (1958), 3.251). Their common argument is that the state should provide for and promote scientific knowledge pursued for its own sake, divorced from utilitarian concerns including those of the state. In so doing, the state will, contrary to common wisdom, gain the very thing it seeks from the university, citizens formed by science and as such equipped to be the very best of civil servants.
Both Schleiermacher and Schelling give theology a place in the collective whole of science but there were others that sought to exclude or severely reduce the role of theology in the new University. Schleiermacher’s defense of theology as a science must be understood in this light; he appeals to the common understanding of science as an organic, collective whole in order to argue for a place for theology in the university. Thus his definition of science is external to theology itself; theology is one part of the collective human enterprise of science. In this conception Barth and others will find resultant problems. Before turning to Barth however, it is still necessary to lay out the particulars of Schleiermacher’s understanding of theology as a science.
In BO §5, Schleiermacher writes: “Christian theology is therefore the compendium of scientific knowledge and techniques, without which the possession and application of a united leadership of the Christian Church, i.e. a Christian Church governance, is not possible.” Much criticism of Schleiermacher attacks at just this point. Troeltsch, upon whom Barth’s criticism is dependent, argues that Schleiermacher’s understanding of theology and especially dogmatics is merely an expression of the contemporary theologian’s personal belief undertaken in order to inform the preaching and teaching of the Church; as such, it cannot be designated scientific since “science… is concerned only with the general and universal” (Geesammelte Schriften 2 (1913), 516). This is the seed for Pannenberg’s criticism, which contends that Schleiermacher’s definition reduces theology to the practical task of church leadership and that this is tantamount to making the educational needs of church leadership determinative of the content of the Christian faith, at least as taught in the university (cf. Theology and the Philosophy of Science, 250-255). Pannenberg counters that the opposite is actually the case and that in fact the content and even the form of Schleiermacher’s work proceeds on just this basis contrary to his own definition. The danger Pannenberg sees in Schleiermacher’s supposed reduction is the risk that theology comes to be understood not as the search for the truth about God and God’s relationship with human beings, but rather as an ideology that defends the existence and interests of the Church and the educational needs of its leaders in a bourgeois society. Pannenberg’s interpretation is understandable as such Ideologiekritik justly takes to task much later 19th century thinking. Schleiermacher, however, is not susceptible to this charge.
In the explanation of BO §5, Schleiermacher writes that its content is already contained in §1. What he means by this is far from obvious and thus requires interpretive explanation. Recall §5: “theology is…the compendium of scientific knowledge and techniques.” Schleiermacher explains further that the Christian faith has no need for such a compendium but the Church does; this is supported by §3 where Schleiermacher states that theology is not the responsibility of everyone in the Church but rather those in leadership. Theology, in the sense of critical inquiry and it is this sense Barth has in mind in the discussion below, is essential for the life of the Church but not for the faith of the individual Christian – faith is a given, whereas theology is human reflection on this faith. We must ask, however, if this does not support Pannenberg’s criticism? It does not if Church leadership is understood, as with the Reformers, as the calling to a spiritual office rather than the as a legal hierarchical office for the establishment (sacramental or otherwise) and management of the institutional Church.
Such an interpretation enlightens our understanding of the Brief Outline, e.g. §11: “Every treatment of theological subjects as such…always belongs within the province of Church leadership.” All theological work is properly called “theological” only if it is undertaken for the sake of the Church. Theology for Schleiermacher is a Church discipline; it is the Church’s critical self-reflection on its own being and experience. It is the Church’s reflection on its own history in order to understand its present location and to guide it into the future. The theologian, be she a professor or pastor, is called to understand the place of the Church in history. This involves both knowledge of the Church’s past and also its contemporary form and doctrines, understood as the product of the Church’s historical development (BO §26). These two aspects, the past and present of the Church, are when taken together the sum total of historical theology, “the actual corpus of theological study” (BO §28) as well as “the indispensible condition of all reflective effort toward the further development [of Christianity]” (§70), i.e. the future of the Church (cf. §81).
The reason for Schleiermacher’s placement of dogmatics within historical theology should now be clear: “Dogmatic theology is the science of the system of doctrine prevalent in a Christian ecclesial community at a given time” (Der Christliche Glaube, §19; cf. BO §97, §195). Historical theology is divided into three sub-divisions: exegesis, dogmatics, and church history. Theology makes uses of the various historical tools available to other sciences in investigating the primal Church in which all ecclesial communions are rooted. Inquiry into the further development of the Church after the apostolic age is undertaken by Church History (the history of the Church as community) and the history of dogma (the history of the writings and teachings of the Church)
Dogmatics is that aspect of Christian theology which through critical inquiry into the history of the dogma, exegesis (for Schleiermacher unfortunately only the NT, a feature for which he must be faulted) and Church history – the three of which taken together form the sum total of the historical experience of the Church – explicates the contemporary doctrinal content that is prevalent in a particular ecclesial communion. Dogmatics is a descriptive discipline, which traces the history of doctrine to its contemporary state; it is “the systematic presentation of the doctrine that has currency at any given time” (BO, §97). The emphasis on the empirical, descriptive task of dogmatics, let alone its definition as “the science of the system of doctrine prevalent…at a given time,” once again brings Pannenberg’s criticism to the fore. Is dogmatics concerned with the truth, with the reality of God and God with humanity, or is it merely a description of what the church believes at a given time, rightly or wrongly? In other words, if dogmatics is descriptive, does it have the ability criticize and correct “the system of doctrine prevalent in a Christian ecclesial community at a given time”? And if it does, how and on what basis?
According to Schleiermacher the historical material of Christianity is the basis of theology and in particular dogmatics. Thus, knowledge of the present moment is the most significant aspect for Church leadership, for the very reason that it is that from which the future of the Church will develop. Historical theology is the discipline which, when it functions properly, exerts a “right and appropriate influence upon both the healthy and diseased conditions” of the contemporary ecclesial community (§81). The present state of the Church, however, can only be understood from its past. As the Church is “occupied in the process of expansion,” and continually comes to contact with other social forces, it is necessary to ascertain the purest perspective possible of its distinctive nature. This is possible only though knowledge of “primitive Christianity (§84).”
Schleiermacher’s development of the tripartite form of historical theology is in large part behind the 19th Century obsession with the “essence of Christianity.” Schleiermacher approaches this issue through ecclesiology. Some explanation is needed here. The science of theology as a whole is also organized triadically; the three sub-divisions are philosophical theology, historical theology, and practical theology. In his treatment of philosophical theology, Schleiermacher lays the ground for his ecclesio-centric theology. The task of philosophical theology (we must set aside all contemporary meanings of the term) is to determine the nature of Christianity by contrasting it with other religious communities (§32). In addition, philosophical theology has the task of determining what developments in the historical expression of Christianity are in accord with its essence and what developments are derivations and therefore “diseased conditions.” Philosophical theology is thus neither a purely scientific nor a purely empirical practice, rather it proceeds critically by comparing what is historically given in Christianity to both other religions and, in light of the current division of the Church, the theologian’s own confession in comparison to other confessions. Philosophical theology is also a historical discipline, for it “presupposes the material of historical theology as already known; its prior task, however is to lay a foundation for the properly historical perspective on Christianity” (§65). This feature of philosophical theology is made explicit in Glaubenslehre, §11: “Christianity is a monotheistic faith…and is essentially distinguished from other such faiths by the fact that in it everything is related to the redemption accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth.”
The essence of Christianity, the Christian form of piety, is faith in Jesus Christ as the redeemer: the historical fact upon which the Church is founded, the concreteness of the Christian experience, is faith in Christ the redeemer. Or perhaps better put, the material principle of the Christian theology is the feeling of absolute dependence upon Christ; this feeling is what makes a person a member of the Christian Church. The often misunderstood “Introduction” and its “borrowed propositions” in the Glaubenslehre is better understood in this light. Schleiermacher is not trying to base the veracity of the Christian faith in either speculative deduction or rational proof. Rather his aim is to give a description – description here needs to be understood as the verbal articulation of the feeling of absolute dependence upon Christ – of the Church’s experience of its faith in Christ. He does so by placing Christianity alongside other forms of religious consciousness in order to demonstrate and describe what makes it distinct from other religions. Schleiermacher’s notion of the feeling of absolute dependence is an abstraction from particular forms of religious consciousness. He does not hold that there is a religious consciousness in general, a general feeling of absolute dependence, but rather that we can artificially abstract similar features found in all human forms of religious consciousness. For Schleiermacher, all religions demonstrate some form of absolute dependence. The distinctive Christian form is the redemption accomplished in Jesus Christ.
Schleiermacher’s aim is not to determine the essence of human religiosity, but to describe the essence of Christianity. In doing so he found it necessary to inquire into the origins and subsequent development of the Church’s faith, i.e. to make clear its distinctiveness. This critical inquiry, along with the tools of modern historical consciousness developed in the modern sciences, make possible scientific description of the Christian faith’s essence, and in turn allow for the continual critical development of doctrine and judgment about appropriate and “diseased” developments of the Church’s faith. The Church for Schleiermacher “is a being in becoming, in which the present must always be grasped as a product of the past and as a seed of the future,” (BO 1811, §33). Schleiermacher conceives of dogmatics as the theological science based on this concept of the Church. It is the discipline that learns from exegesis and the church history about the past dogma of the Church and in this light informs Christian leaders of the current developed state of Christian doctrine, giving them tools to judge the appropriateness of such judgments and to continue along such paths or initiate reform in order to serve the future Church. The Church is a product of history; it has developed and will continue to do so. As it moves through time, the Church must borrow language from its historical context to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is because its message, like the God in Jesus Christ who proclaims it to the Church and world, is not static but alive. The Church for Schleiermacher is a being in becoming, a community that continues to be formed by the living God. Theology is scientific to the degree that it functions as the community’s critical self-reflection as it continues to develop in conformity to the living Word of God.
The treatment of Barth is more brief as I assume readers of this blog will 1) be more familiar with Barth’s thought and 2) more likely to be sympathetic to the great Basler than the great Berliner; Schleiermacher simply needed more unpacking to give him a fair hearing. I’ve restricted the discussion of Barth to §1.1 and §7.2 of the Church Dogmatics; leaving aside both the details of his debate with Heinrich Scholz and any questions of development in the latter volumes of the Church Dogmatics.
I take it as uncontroversial that there is little disagreement between Barth and Schleiermacher that theology is a science (CD I/1, 3) that serves the Church’s task of proclamation. The necessary question is: Does Barth understand theology to be a science in the same sense as Schleiermacher? At the beginning of the CD, Barth writes: “Theology as a science…is a measure taken by the Church in consideration of the vulnerability and responsibility of its speech” (4). For Barth, the scientificity of theology is directly related to the Church’s critical self-reflection and examination of its God-talk and the Church and creation’s relationship with God. As we turn to Barth then, it appears at first glance that he shares Schleiermacher’s conception of theology as a positive science, i.e. as a science motivated by a particular practical task.
Looking at §1.1 and §7.2, Barth gives six principles for the scientificity of theology, and dogmatics in particular; these are summarized below.
- Theology is concerned with truth; with the designation ‘science’ it recognizes that it shares this concern for the truth with other human disciplines that are classified by tha designation. Consciousness of this similarity reminds theology that it too is a human discipline and that it is not superior because of its subject matter. “Dogmatics is in fact an ars among artes,” (284).
- By not giving up the designation science, theology protests against “a general concept of science that is admittedly pagan” (11). By its very presence, theology unsettles the confidence of the modern scientists and fellows of the research university who are self-assured in their understanding of science.
- By adopting the designation science, theology demonstrates that it does not take the paganism of such an understanding (in 2.) seriously, but rather counts these persons as part of the Church in spite of their refusal of the theological task and their adoption of a definition of science which excludes theology. Theology does so because it believes in God’s justification of sinners.
- Theology is scientific only if it is devoted to Church proclamation, i.e. devotion to the task or act of Church proclamation and not ancillary issues that arise relative to proclamation. Inquiry into the realm of knowledge of theology that is not motivated by the task of proclamation is unscientific. In short, “Dogmatics is preparation for Church proclamation, it formulates the statements to be pondered before Church proclamation formulates its statements. But it is by this relation that that statements of dogmatics are to be tested” (280). In other words, theology informs the task of proclamation but, if its statements are unintelligible to the preparatory task of proclamation, it is unscientific.
- Theology is scientific only if it is devoted to the development (in Barth’s terms, “criticism and correction”) of Church proclamation rather than the mere repetition of some classical historical expression of the Christian faith. The scientific character of dogmatics, “consists in unsettling rather than confirming Church proclamation” in either its past or contemporary forms. Historical and contemporary accounts of Christian dogma are only a means to an end. Barth terms a theology that simply conforms to some past or present understanding of the Christian faith as “comfortable [bequem].” A comfortable theology is an unscientific theology. The question put to dogmatics, writes Barth, is “Whether dogmatics should be a part of Church history, or a part of current ecclesial affairs, or whether it is itself a part of church action. Only in the final case is it a science in the sense of its assigned task,” (282). Barth is critical of Schleiermacher on this point: he ranks Schleiermacher’s dogmatics as merely the “clarification and presentation of the faith as the dogmatician concerned personally thinks it should be proclaimed” (p. 281). Barth contends that Schleiermacher reduces theology to a concern with current ecclesial affairs and to this he writes: “one might ask whether here all the criticism and correction amounts to, and wants to amount to, a grandiose conformity” (282).
- Decisively, and above all else, theology is scientific only when it asks whether or not the Church’s proclamation agrees with the revelation testified to in Holy Scripture. Scripture is the criterion of theology and must not be usurped by or confused with other subsidiary criteria. Theology stands or falls to the degree to which Scripture is made the standard of the Church’s proclamation. However, the theologian must have an education in and be familiar with other sciences, viz. philosophy, psychology, history, etc. “The dogmatician also,” writes Barth, “must think and speak in a particular age and should thus be a person of his or her age, which also means a person of the past that constitutes his or her age, i.e. an educated person. But no element of his or her education makes a person a dogmatician besides the one that is not provided in all those disciplines, which consists in unsubstantiated and unassuming regard for the sign of Holy Scripture around which the Church gathers and becomes the Church again and again” (283). Theology is more than a mere ars among other artes. Theology is autonomous and this means that it is free from any definition of science coming from other disciples. Theology is the science of the Divine Word testified to in Holy Scripture. To the degree that it pursues its own special path of knowledge defined by the object testified to in Scripture it self-defines as a science. When theology takes as its primary criterion something other than the self-revelation of God which God makes available in Holy Scripture, it is rightly judged to be unscientific.
Dissimilarities of Barth and Schleiermacher
Thesis I: Barth and Schleiermacher share a notion of theology as a “positive” science and of the material content of this science. For both, theology is not a science pursued for its own sake; rather, it is the science of Church proclamation. It is the science that forms and continues to inform Church leaders by enabling them to hear and proclaim the Divine Word revealed to the Church.
Thesis II: Furthermore, both understand theology as a part of the whole, a particular realm of inquiry with an overall coherent discipline (Schleiermacher) or a science among the sciences (Barth). Theology is a human discipline and should not be exalted above the other sciences because of its subject matter. This also means, however, that the other sciences likewise have no basis to exalt themselves over theology. Differences remain however. For Barth, the other sciences have no basis to exclude theology from the scientific table because it does not conform to some a priori definition of what constitutes a science. For Schleiermacher, theology, as knowledge of the community’s faith and of the being of God, is part of the general theory of science.
Thesis III: Barth’s material criticism of Schleiermacher is inaccurate. His conception of the scientificity of theology is not, as Barth claims, the particular theologian’s concern for what should presently be proclaimed. Like Barth, Schleiermacher conceives of theology as the Church’s critical self-reflection upon its continual reception of the revelation of the Divine Word. Questions remain as to the location of the Church’s reception of revelation. For Barth, this location is clearly the witness of Scripture whereas for Schleiermacher the location is in the Church where the inherited tradition, including Scripture, is developed. The role of Scripture in theology had often been put forward as a primary dividing line between Schleiermacher and Barth in the scholarly literature. However, when the role of the Spirit is taken into account, particularly in the case of Schleiermacher, it appears the two are far closer than one might expect. While this claim is unsubstantiated here, it cannot be denied that Barth developed the received tradition with just as much freedom as did Schleiermacher. The question of the Spirit and Scripture is a clear area for future scholarship to pursue in comparing Schleiermacher and Barth.
Thesis IV: Schleiermacher’s understanding of science is rooted in the rapid social developments that led to the formation of the University of Berlin. More precisely, his conception of the scientificity of theology is, from a contemporary standpoint, unduly motivated by the concern to guarantee theology a place in the university. In order to secure a place for theology it must be defended as an essential element in the complete system of science. This requires a general theory of science, i.e. an overarching conception of science that organizes the “sciences” into a complete system with theology having a particular place within the system. The nature and task of “science” is defined a priori, i.e. prior to the actual practice of theology or any other of the individual sciences. For Barth, this will not do. On the contrary, a science is a human inquiry in which the norms that make it a science emerge only in the act of theologizing. As distinctly human disciplines, the standards of the various sciences are created in the act of the particular domain of inquiry: “No science holds the lease rights to the name ‘science’ and there is no scientific theory which the final authority to grant or withhold this title” (CD I/1, 10). For Barth, such the determination of what is a science cannot be defined transcendentally, i.e. prior to the actual practice of theology (or any other science). Thus according to Barth, when it comes to judgments about the scientificity of theology – if I might borrow a phrase from Schleiermacher – “beginning in the middle is unavoidable” (Dialektik (2001), 1.353). Barth defends this view of science in order not to concede even an inch to the “pagan” sciences in regard to the scientificity of theology. This in part explains Barth’s ultimately unsatisfactory treatment of the role of theology in the university; he would not allow it to be judged by anything but methods appropriate to its object, and it must be admitted that if God is the object of theology, then theology is unique in comparison to the other sciences and has a likewise unique and somewhat uncomfortable and even disruptive role in the university. And this is the very role in which Barth envisioned its continuing practice in the academy. It is up to the contemporary generation of theologians to continue to define theology’s rule in the university without forgetting that our task is primarily in service to the Church’s proclamation that God is for us in Jesus Christ.
By Matthias Gockel
Matt Bruce has chosen a central topic for the discussion about Barth and Schleiermacher. His method is exemplary in two respects. First, he presupposes that both men have something important to say to theology and the church today. Second, his interpretive maxim is that Barth’s reflections on Schleiermacher shall be evaluated on a case-to-case basis and independently from one’s own allegiance to one or the other side.
My response elaborates on central claims and topics, with the two-fold goal of delineating trajectories for future discussions as well as clarifying particular issues in the current debate about “Barth and Schleiermacher.”
- Connections between Schelling and Schleiermacher have been noted before, especially in regard to their affirmation of the “identity” of subject and object as the precondition of human knowledge and action. Matt Bruce suggests that they also share the idea of science as “an organic, collective whole.” This connection deserves further attention, since Schleiermacher himself uses the same image when he speaks of ethical concepts as forming an organic whole (Grundlinien einer Kritik der bisherigen Sittenlehre, 1802/3).
- In regard to the place of theology in the larger chorus of sciences, Schleiermacher and Barth agree that theology is “a part of the whole.” But the agreement extends even further, since Barth also assumes the “unity of all human strivings for knowledge” (Einheit aller menschlichen Erkenntnisbemühungen, KD I/1, p. 291), which he qualifies eschatologically.
Barth calls theology a science because, like other sciences, it has a specific object and proceeds on a specific path, for which it can account to itself and to others (KD I/1, p. 6). Schleiermacher probably would not share Barth’s strict dissociation from a general concept of science, since he still could be more optimistic about the acceptance of theology in the general concert of sciences. Nevertheless, he also implies the criterion of Sachlichkeit (KD I/1, p. 292), when he says that the self-proclamation of Christ provides the “text” for dogmatic theology (The Christian Faith 1830/31=CF, §16.2).
- For Schleiermacher as well as Barth, theology is not purely constructive. It does presuppose certain “external” conditions. Its task, however, is not conceived a priori (unlike Matt’s concluding thesis IV), that is, in a speculative fashion. Theology is not a function of the state for the promotion of ‘civil religion,’ nor does it pursue the theoretical goals of a general science of religion .
- For Schleiermacher, dogmatic theology is descriptive in a critical sense, since it asks whether actual expressions of Christian piety correspond to “the basic teachings of our faith” (Brief Outline 1830=BO, §206). Schleiermacher rejects a “servile comfort” that accepts everything, as long as it only is “edifying for many” (ibid.), and he affirms the possibility of “corrections and new developments of Christian doctrine” (CF, § 19.3).
The critical quality of theology in Schleiermacher’s and Barth’s approaches is understood differently. This is mainly due to the diverse historical conditions. Systematically, they share a central assumption. This leads us to the next point.
- For Schleiermacher, dogmatic theology in the Western churches is either Protestant or Roman-Catholic. The Christian character of dogmatic propositions is determined by the latter’s correspondence to the New Testament (the “norm of Christian doctrine”), whereas their Protestant quality is determined by the relation to the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (CF, §27). The New Testament is at once the sufficient “norm of Christian doctrine” (CF, §131) and the “first member” (CF, §129) in the historical series of expressions of the Christian faith. Dogmatic propositions are verified (bewährt) by tracing back their content to the New Testament and by the overall coherence of their “scientific expression” (BO, §209).
Barth defines the quality of dogmatic propositions according to the correspondence between the Church’s proclamation and the revelation attested to in Scripture. Such correspondence he calls “dogma.” The church must carefully distinguish between the Word of God and its own word. Scripture is authoritative in an indirect sense. Both Scripture and proclamation are dependent on revelation, not vice versa. The doctrine of revelation, which addresses the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit, is the basis of Barth’s doctrine of the three-fold Word of God.
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