Thursday, December 02, 2010

2010 KBBC: Week 3, Day 3

Beauty, Glory and Trinity in Karl Barth and David Bentley Hart
By Keith Starkenburg


According to John Betz, Barth’s difficulty with the analogia entis comes from “an aesthetic prejudice for the sublime against the beautiful” (John R. Betz, “Beyond the Sublime,” Modern Theology (2005), 370). David Bentley Hart, who is a close collaborator of Betz, makes similar claims in The Beauty of the Infinite (229-230). If aesthetics has to do strictly with the escapability of the known from the knower, then the analogia entis will be difficult to maintain. Conversely, for Hart, the analogia entis is a way to maintain properly both the beauty of the Triune God’s and creation. As Hart makes this claim, he positions himself against Barth. In this essay, I approach this question indirectly. Instead of analyzing Barth’s concepts of the analogia entis and the analogia fidei, I argue that Barth’s doctrine of glory achieves the same purposes that Hart sets out for his own theology of beauty. Thus, as a consequence, Hart’s claims about Barth’s analogical mechanics are misleading or incomplete.

Hart claims that the question he answers in The Beauty of the Infinite is this: “Is the beauty to whose persuasive power the Christian rhetoric of evangelism inevitably appeals, and upon which it depends, theologically defensible” (1)? Beauty is “theologically defensible” if it allows the Christian tradition to provide a bulwark for the claim that the evangel is “a gospel of peace” (ibid). Thus, Hart’s thesis is that “beauty belongs continuously to the Christian story (as, indeed, a chief element of its continuity), and that it appears there as peace…that for theology beauty is the measure and proportion of peace, and peace the truth of beauty” (33). Is the Christian proclamation of reconciliation in Christ simply, as Nietzsche suggests, a power grab for the sake of one’s own aesthetic vision of order? Or, is its proclamation really a proclamation that does not oppose peace and the beautiful?

There are two large moves in Hart’s argument. First, Hart claims that “the most elementary statement of theological aesthetics is that God is beautiful: not only that God is beauty or the essence and archetype of beauty…God is beauty and also beautiful” (177). The trinitarian life of God fuels Hart’s argument, despite the book’s title: “The Father’s entire being, which he possess in his paternal depth, is always both filial – manifest, known, imparted – and spiritual – loved, enjoyed, perfected – and this event of God’s knowledge and joy is the divine essence – exteriority, happiness, communion – in its infinite unity” (176). Since God is Father and Son, God’s life has mutuality and reciprocity. Since God is Spirit, God’s mutuality has an exteriority and that mutuality can be “differently inflected…as plenitude” (ibid). This allows Hart to say that the Christian God is “infinitely formosus, the supereminent fullness of all form…always possessed of his Logos” and is “delight, the whole rapture of the divine essence” (177). God is beauty since beauty is “the distinction of the different, the otherness of the other, the true form of distance” (ibid). God is beautiful in that God enjoys God’s own beauty without lack.

How is this connected to peace? Given God’s triune life, to be God is to move, to enact difference in unity and unity in difference. Thus, God is peace, since Christian language is able “to place difference at the origin” (180). The triune God “is not that which negates – or is unveiled through negating – difference, he has no dialectical relation to the world nor any metaphysical ‘function’ in maintaining the totality of being…he shows that difference is…peace and joy” (181). Against modern ontologies of difference, such as Hegel or Deleuze, Hart aims to show that the Christian story declares a Triune God who creates difference without self-alienation or a merciful self-recession. As a result, it is only the Christian, Trinitarian God who is peace, and thus elicits a peaceful ontology in which differences on the surface of created being do not compete with one another or with an infinite which establishes that created order.

This brings us to Hart’s other central claim. The Christian gospel is peaceful because it announces that creation participates in the divine life. While the most elementary statement of theological aesthetics is that God is beautiful, according to Hart, the “cardinal axiom of any Christian theological aesthetics” is that “creation is without necessity” (256). Creation is without necessity because “God is Trinity, who explicates himself, utters himself, and responds eternally, and has all fellowship, exposition, and beauty in perfect sufficiency” (ibid). This is a common Christian motif, but Hart converts it into an aesthetic claim that is distinctly expressed in an analogia entis. Hart’s general point is that creation manifests the Creator because it participates in the self-manifesting love of the Triune Creator (243, 245). The creature and the Creator have the Creator in common, not some third entity called being. But, more specifically, the creation bears an analogy to God precisely because of its unlikeness to the Triune God, not despite its unlikeness. Hart’s claim becomes precise when he says that “the analogy is a disjunction and a difference, while also being the interval of creation’s participation in the being that God gives as his gift: creation tells of God’s glory precisely because it is needless, an expression of a love always directed toward another” (251, cf. 158, 180). In other words, the shape of being – its form – is one of “absolute contingency” (250). Creation is marked by its fragility or needlessness, and that shape or form bears witness to God’s life, providing for its “analogy” to the divine life. Precisely as it expresses God’s ever-sufficient self-expressiveness by its non-necessity in relation to the Triune God, creation is analogous to God. Creation is infinitely different from the Triune life insofar as it is unneeded by Triune life. If it were not infinitely different, the Triune God would need the creation in order to act with love. However, because it is infinitely different – more concretely, it is absolutely unnecessary for God – it can bear witness to the Triune God. An unnecessary creation, insofar as it is unnecessary, bears witness to the Triune God. Thus, it is the gratuitous shape of creaturely existence – its beauty - that ensures the peacefulness of the Christian Gospel.

Hart is quite dismissive of Barth’s claim that the analogia entis is the invention of antichrist. According to Hart, this is “inane (and cruel) invective,” and Barth’s later analogia relationis “reduces God to the status of a mere being, in some sense on a level with us” (241). It is difficult to respond to these claims because Hart does not interact with Barth’s multiple deployments of analogy within the Church Dogmatics. However, as Keith Johnson has recently made clear (Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis), Barth never withdrew his criticisms of certain versions of the analogia entis. I will not adjudicate these claims directly, but I think we can see why Hart dismisses Barth on this score. Hart handily connects a version of the analogia entis to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and to peacefulness of the Gospel. If Barth is right that the analogia entis is not a Christian doctrine, then that undercuts Hart’s case for a non-violent Christian theological ontology. However, given Hart’s material moves summarized above, we can test Barth’s theology of beauty to see if it is capable of doing similar work.

Barth’s theology of beauty appears within his presentation of the divine glory in paragraph 31 of CD II/1, the first half of Barth’s doctrine of God. God’s glory “is God Himself in the truth and capacity and act in which He makes himself known as God” (II/1, 641). God’s glory is “the fullness of God’s deity” because it is “the emerging, self-expressing, and self-manifesting reality of all that God is” (643). For Barth, glory is God’s self-expressiveness, that which makes God accessible. Barth’s purpose is to absolutely affirm God’s “freedom to love” in relationship to the creation: “in the fact that He is glorious He loves” (641). If God’s life in the creation can be accessed by the creature, then God’s freedom to love the creature would be conditioned by the creature’s capacity to recognize God’s life. God is graceful, holy, unified and omnipresent and thus has de jure fellowship with creatures. But if de facto fellowship with God is to be achieved, then that gracefulness, holiness, unity and omnipresence within creation must be declared by God alone. God’s glory accounts for his lordship over God’s own transition to creatures.

Barth develops this thesis in three parts. First, he delineates the subjects and objects of glory. God is glorious because he excels all other beings absolutely (646). However, God in God’s self is given to the creation and creatures are induced to participate in God’s own glory and mediate God’s glory to other creatures, especially as creatures worship. At this point, Barth will define glory as “the indwelling joy of his divine being which as such shines out from Him, which overflows in its richness, which in its superabundance is not satisfied with itself but communicates itself” (647). Second, Barth queries the mode of God’s glory and how it is that God is joyful and thus desirable for creatures. Barth’s answer is that God is beautiful; God is “the perfect form” (657). He clarifies, “the form of the perfect being of God is…the wonderful, constantly mysterious and no less constantly evident unity of identity and non-identity, simplicity and multiplicity, inward and outward, God Himself and the fullness of that which He is as God” (ibid). Since God’s life is beautiful in that it is a life of unified distinction and a distinguished unity, God’s life is characterized by “movement” and “peace” (658). It is this movement and peace which God enjoys, which satisfies God and which overflows into the life of creatures. Lastly, Barth unfolds in more depth what it means for creatures to be glorified.

How does Barth’s doctrine of glory achieve the same purposes that Hart sets out for his theology of beauty? A subsidiary purpose of Barth’s treatment of the divine glory is to delineate a non-violent relationship between divine and human activity. God’s glory is a presence “which opens them…which also looses at once tongues which were bound” (647). Since God is glorious, God has “the power of attraction” (650). More specifically, it is beauty which attracts and persuades: “If we can and must say that God is beautiful, to say this is to say how He enlightens and convinces and persuades.” God does not enact the transition to creatures simply by “ruling, mastering, and subduing with the utterly superior force.” This way of presenting the matter would not be “worthy…of the God who is the truth.” For Barth, just as we saw for Hart, God’s life is irresistible and attractive, powerful and persuasive, and overwhelming and non-violent. Another way to put it is that God’s beauty accounts for creaturely joy. It is God’s beauty which “attracts us to joy in Him” (655). Creatures are joyful because they are persuaded by the form of God’s life, God’s beauty. Thus, just as Hart opened his book with the question of the persuasiveness of the Gospel, Barth states quite directly: “But where this element is not appreciated – and this is why the question of the form is so important – what becomes of the evangelical element in the evangel?”

Second, does Barth actually achieve a peaceful ontology, and how does he do this? Barth formulates a peaceful theo-ontology with the same Trinitarian strategy that Hart employs. For Barth, “the triunity of God is the secret of His beauty” (661). Why? He writes, “Here first and in final truth we have to do with a unity of identity and non-identity…it certainly follows from God’s triunity that the one whole divine being, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit whose being it is, must be at the same time identical with itself and non-identical, simple and multiple, a life both in movement and at peace” (660). God’s triunity has no “disparity or dissolution or contradiction” (ibid). In other words, the triunity of God is beyond negation for Barth, as it is for Hart. God does not achieve God’s identity through self-negation or self-recession in order to make room for creatures. God’s self-achievement is peaceful since God is triune. For Barth, as for Hart, peace is at the origins.

Barth is also careful to mention that God’s triunity makes creation unnecessary, and that creation expresses God’s life. Just as with Hart, God’s self-satisfaction establishes creation and divine co-existence with creation as gifts. Since God has no need of the creation, the creation’s existence and the self-giving of God to the creation are gratuitous. Also, as with Hart, Barth makes it clear that it is the “utter creatureliness” that is “the echo of God’s voice” (668). Given what happens in Jesus Christ, creatures correspond to the divine life by giving themselves entirely, just as God gives God’s self entirely in Jesus Christ (671, 674). As God’s self-giving in Christ is grace, creatures give themselves entirely to the Triune God with gratitude. Gratitude participates in the divine glory because it “becomes as such the confirmation of the divine existence” (673). Grateful creaturely existence, in the face of its gratuitous participation in the divine glory, expresses the divine life insofar as it expresses its difference from the Triune life. Creaturely unlikeness to God makes for creaturely likeness to God, for Barth as well as Hart.

In conclusion, I highlight two substantial differences between Hart and Barth. First and unsurprisingly, for Barth the glory of creation is actuated because of the history of Jesus Christ. Creation, apart from Jesus Christ, does not express God’s life. It is only the incarnation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the creation which makes that possible. Hart, however, thinks of Jesus Christ’s work as one of restoration and perfection, not initial establishment. He affirms the practice of natural theology - not a “naïve natural theology” (BOI, 242) - but a natural theology nonetheless. In his doctrine of glory in paragraph 69 of CD IV/3 (“The Light of Life”), Barth does affirm that creation expresses itself and that all of creation shares in the history of God’s revelation in Christ. That may be a kind of natural theology. But more likely it is a way to say that creation expresses the Triune God, but only because of the history of Jesus Christ.

If Hart and Barth agree that trinitarian theology is the heart of a peaceful ontology and a workable analogia, then it is unclear whether Barth’s trinitarian theology can achieve what he sets out to achieve. As Barth often does, in II/1 he describes the unity of the triune God simply in terms of the Holy Spirit (660). This sort of trinitarian theology will not work as a description for the Trinity’s glory because glory is God’s self-illumination or self-declaration. Barth specifies that creatures receive God’s self-illumination, as they participate in God’s self-glorification. But, if God is to be free to self-illuminate, and is to be able to share that freedom, then God would need to be God’s own audience. As Barth says, God is inwardly what God is outwardly (667). The immanent God must be fully externalized, fully shining outward and fully receiving that shining. But, Barth does not clearly specify the receiver of this shining in terms of the divine ways of being, because he cannot do so. The Holy Spirit is the relationship between the Father and Son: the Holy Spirit is their unity; the Holy Spirit exhibits no agency within the Triune life. If he had been able to maintain the Holy Spirit’s immanent agency, his theology would have enunciated a God who loves in freedom more successfully. That may be where Hart offers Barth an important corrective, given the similarity of their work.

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Response - Beauty, Glory and Trinity in Karl Barth or in David Bentley Hart?
By Han-luen Kantzer Komline


Keith Starkenburg’s essay makes a cartographical contribution. Through the landscape of Barth’s Reformed theology he maps an alternative route leading to the fulfillment of the very “same purposes that Hart sets out for his own theology of beauty.” Hart constructs his defense of the beauty of God, the beauty of creation, and their compatibility via the analogia entis. In Barth’s theology, Starkenburg argues, the doctrine of glory leads to these aesthetic desiderata.

Starkenburg’s essay thus offers a succinct variation on the type of argument Ken Oakes has advanced in his essay, “The Question of Nature and Grace in Karl Barth” (Modern Theology, 2007). In the face of John Betz’s charges that Barth’s rejection of the analogia entis led to a number of undesirable consequences in and surrounding Barth’s understanding of the relationship of nature and grace, Oakes enjoins that “sympathy for one’s subjects requires considering the possibility that Barth might have used other doctrinal resources to express something similar” to a natural desire for the supernatural (597). Oakes shows how Barth’s understanding of humanity, as both creature and covenant-partner, in analogy to Christ, as both human and divine, constitutes a doctrinal alternative to the analogia entis that at once performatively exemplifies Barth’s capability of analogical modes of thought and affirms something like a natural human openness to God. Like Oakes, Starkenburg aims to uncover a hidden path in Barth’s theology to an endpoint with which an advocate of the analogia entis (Hart in Starkenburg’s case, though Starkenburg notes Betz’s critique of Barth as well) might be satisfied.

I have some questions about this kind of methodological or formal approach in general, as well as about its instantiation in Starkenburg’s defense of Barth. Neither Oakes nor Starkenburg wants to say simply that theological ends are all that really matter in the final calculus, or that all theological roads lead to Rome. To dismiss these kinds of apologies for Barth as relying on methodological presuppositions reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham, or even of John Hick, would be to overstate the point. Certainly different theologies offer different strategies for resolving the same perennial puzzles, in this case, the puzzle of how to affirm God’s utter transcendence without falling into either nihilism, dualism or immanentism. Starkenburg, like Oakes, points to this phenomenon in a case where it has been overlooked. He has the flexibility and charity to make room for more than just one answer to a theological difficulty. I wonder, though, if the accent of such approaches on ultimate doctrinal destinations incurs (though by no means inevitably succumbs to!) the risk of obscuring the irreducible particularity of the peculiar paths chosen by each theologian. Is it legitimate to leave that irreducible particularity behind when pronouncing two theologians to be in agreement? If not, to what extent does this particularity of theological means always demand a qualification of any agreement of theological ends? I wonder, in other words, if two different paths actually can lead to the same place in the realm of theology, or if a unique theological journey necessarily corresponds to a unique theological destination.

Applied to Starkenburg’s thesis, for example, what, if any, are the implications of the fact that Hart’s affirmation of creation’s beauty rests on the analogia entis while for Barth “we must keep strictly to Jesus Christ. It is indeed only of Him that we can speak when we dare to say such extravagant things about ourselves and the rest of creation”? (CD II/1, 668). Does this difference in the basis of creaturely beauty in Barth and Hart entail a concomitant difference in each theologian’s understanding of what creaturely beauty actually is? I believe it does. For Barth, a kind of participation that could be described as koinonia supplies the form and content of creaturely beauty whereas for Hart this beauty lies in a kind of participation closely akin to platonic methexis. As I have argued previously, there could be a way of constructively synthesizing two such accounts (“Finitude in The Beauty of the Infinite,” Heythrop Journal 2008), but such a synthesis presupposes an acknowledgment of their differences.

Although Starkenburg never mentions the Christological core of Barth’s treatment of creation’s beauty in his comparative essay, he does hone in at the conclusion of the essay on what, according to him, sets Hart and Barth apart with respect to trinitarian aesthetics. The argument becomes extremely compressed at this point, making it difficult to determine the meaning of Starkenburg’s key terminology, the fairness of his argumentation to Barth’s own views, and his implicitly operative premises. Difficulties with Starkenburg’s criticisms of Barth aside, however, it is worth noting that in the final analysis Starkenburg himself seems to acknowledge (though certainly not in a way flattering to Barth!) that the unique features of Barth’s doctrine of the trinity could ultimately demand a reconsideration of the thesis he stated at the beginning of the paper, that “Barth’s doctrine of glory achieves the same purposes that Hart sets out for his own.” In the end Starkenburg’s paper suggestively qualifies its identification of a sameness between the theologies of Barth and Hart, implicitly raising the question of whether it would not be better to see any analogia theologiarum that might relate the two as a matter of similarity amid greater dissimilarity.

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15 comments:

Jon Coutts said...

I appreciate these thoughtful and (for me) thought-provoking explorations. Pardon my ignorance, but I have a few questions for clarification.

1) The Creator may not need creature, but would Hart not say that the creature needs the Creator? Can it offer an analogous self-manifesting love?

2) If "the creation bears an analogy to God precisely because of its unlikeness to the Triune God, not despite its unlikeness," what becomes of the usefulness of this analogy if there is enmity in the mix?

3) If the "immanent God must be fully externalized, fully shining outward and fully receiving that shining" but "Barth does not clearly specify the receiver of this shining in terms of the divine ways of being" because for him the "Spirit is the relationship between the Father and Son" -- what does it mean that for Barth the incarnate, resurrected Son is the True Witness and the Spirit is the power of that resurrection?

It is entirely possible that I am out of my depth, so I hope my questions are on the mark and relatively answerable or contestable rather than preemptive derailments of some kind. Thanks regardless.

Keith Starkenburg said...

I have just a few minutes to spare at this point, and so I'll come back later in the day. I wanted to say a couple of things now.

Han-Luen: You are absolutely right to point out that the last two paragraphs are thin, but I kept myself rigidly to the word count Travis et al set to me. My dissertation explores these issues in much more depth :).
But, more substantively, you suggest that Hart and Barth have different accounts of beauty because of the differences in how they depict the relationship of the creation to Jesus Christ. In other words, for Hart, the creation as such bears an analogy to the triune life. For Barth, the creation bears an analogy to the triune life only because of the incarnation. Hart would say that too, but it is simply an act of restoration and perfection for him. For Barth, creatures, as creatures, do not bear an analogy to the triune life without the incarnation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. However, Han-Luen asks whether provides a different account of beauty. It is and it isn't. When Hart and Barth specify the content of beauty and glory, I am hard pressed to find substantive differences in their initial descriptions - Barth's term of glory covers the same ground as Hart's beauty and joy. They have differing ontologies (if we can use that word!) of the divine life - Barth depicts the being of God as a pattern of activity, while Hart depicts the being of God as the actus purus. In other words, Barth never eliminates some sense of potential in God; while Hart does.
Han Luen's second point is very, very interesting to me, and I am willing to say - along with many others - that material of Barth's trinitarian theology/theology of the Spirit does not rise to the promise of trinitarian theology he sets forth. That applies here with regard to beauty/glory, as it does elsewhere (sacraments, etc.). This is where Barth scholarship will breathe down my neck a little, but I am willing to affirm what Han-Luen notes I only gesture toward in my post.

More later, especially in response to Jon.

David W. Congdon said...

First, let me thank both Keith and Han-luen for your excellent contributions to the conference. I found both pieces very interesting and well-written.

Second, I was wondering, Keith, if you'd be willing to say more about how you think Barth doesn't fulfill the trinitarian promise of his theology. I'm not going to "breathe down your neck," because I think there are problems, too, particularly the role that the Spirit plays. But I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter, if you're willing to share them.

Peter Kline said...

"But, if God is to be free to self-illuminate, and is to be able to share that freedom, then God would need to be God’s own audience."

I want to hear more about this. Why does God need to be God's own audience? Does God need to fulfill some lack in God's own life before God can turn outwards?

Keith Starkenburg said...

Jon:
1)
Yes, along with many Christian theologians, Hart would say that the creature needs the Creator - and, further, that's precisely where the analogia entis is located for him. Since the creation needs the Creator, but the Creator does not need the creation, an analogy exists between them. That difference of the creation is the signal of the creator. I believe that addresses your question, but I'm not sure . . .

2) I'm not sure I quite follow this question, perhaps clarify?

3) This is a question at the heart of my work right now. I will talk about this later tonight, in response to David and Peter, but the short version is that the Barth's witness theology in IV/3 founders for me because the incarnation/creation is required due to the fact that there is no witness to the Triune life without a creation/incarnation. That would be the wrong kind of potential to describe in God, because then God addresses a lack through the creation, as opposed to electing to be God for the creation in utter freedom. So, a richer theology of the Spirit is imperative, otherwise Barth cannot quite claim all the stuff he wants to claim in his doctrine of glory in II/1 and IV/3 and throughout the doctrine of reconciliation. More in 2/3 hours.

Keith Starkenburg said...

First, I'd like to combine a response to Peter and David, because they are deeply related for me.

Peter asked why I say that God needs to be God's own audience and whether God needs to a fill a lack in order to turn outward. What I'm saying is that Barth's attenuated pneumatology sets his doctrine of glory in an unfortunate position. As I mentioned in my initial post, one of Barth's purposes is to show that God's glory induces human activity, induces human being itself, induces human action as authentically human - that is, free - human action. In part, for Barth, God's glory does this because God's election of the creation (and reconciliation and redemption) is unneeded for God because God is self-satisfied in being triune. The creation responds in joyful, wonderful gratitude because God's election is gracious, unneeded. But, once we look carefully at what Barth says about glory, I have found that Barth depicts the creation as fulfilling a role that God cannot fulfill for God's self - that is, God has a witness because of the existence of creation - the creation is a witness to God's glory and thus mediates that glory (as a witness) to other creatures. It seems to me, and I'm arguing this at much greater length in my dissertation, that God does not fulfill this role for God's self because the Spirit is the relationship between the Father and the Son (or the pattern of action that arises between the Father and the Son). However, if the Spirit is as fully a person (whatever that means) as the Father and the Son, then God's life would be its own audience - God would be a witness of God's own life. Then, when God elects the creation as a witness in Christ, that election is an act of utter freedom, utter gratuity (which in turn, is what induces the free gratitude of the creation - beginning with Jesus Christ). Then, God would be outwardly what God is inwardly. Or, to be more precise, God would be outward in an immanent way and would be outward in relation to creation, and thus God's outwardness in relation to creation is sheer gift.

Also, Han-Luen's response worried that I was not coloring in the differences in the ontologies of Barth and Hart, and the resultant differences in their theology of beauty. She mentions a distinction between koinonia and methexis. I believe that she is alluding to Barth's claim that beauty (or glory or anything else that specifies a correspondence to the creator) cannot be specified as a habit, as a possession, because we would be hardening God's being into something like a material substance - like a fire that heats up an iron (to pick a metaphor that Aquinas loves). But, God is a Triune Person - a person to be encountered in fellowship, in God's freedom - and so beauty happens as the Triune God continues to encounter the creation in Christ. She seems to be alluding to the fact that Hart's theory seems to make it possible for the creation to bear an analogy without the encounter brought on by incarnation. That is precisely what I was getting at in my penultimate paragraph, and it is linked to the fact that Barth and Hart simply cannot be reconciled with regard to natural theology.

Peter Kline said...

Why is there a role that needs to be filled in God's own life? Again does not this signal some lack in God that the Spirit makes up for?

David W. Congdon said...

Keith,

Your project sounds very interesting. My initial question is: what do you do with Barth's articulation of Christ as witness in his explication of the prophetic office in CD IV/3? Doesn't this fulfill precisely the role of divine self-witness?

Now, I suppose you would respond that this makes creation necessary to God, since God's internal self-witness depends upon the incarnation. But this is precisely what I think Barth does: he makes creation to be, in a certain sense, necessary – but in a way that is beyond the logic of necessity and contingency. This is what I take Barth to mean when he speaks of an "inner necessity" within the freedom of God (CD IV/1), or when he rejects the notion of a "liberum arbitrium" in God. Barth's christocentric starting-point means that he refuses to speculate about a life or activity of God apart from the actualization of God's trinitarian life in history.

Put differently, what I think Barth does is to collapse the notions of divine witness and creaturely witness by establishing Jesus Christ as the actualization of both divine and human witness to God. There is not an immanent trinitarian witness in eternity prior to and apart from the economic witness in time. They occur simultaneously as a single event in Christ.

Han-luen Kantzer Komline said...

Keith:

Many thanks for your careful and detailed follow-up postings to my response!

A brief note on your last comment:

We are in agreement that there is a difference in the conditions for the possibility of beauty in Barth and Hart. I am still curious, however, about how that difference plays out in their accounts of beauty. The further description you provide in your last comment with regard to Barth is very helpful. But after reading this most recent post, as after reading your initial essay, I still wonder if, and, if so, to what degree, you see the incompatibility you observe between the two figures (also in their views of the possibility of natural theology; doctrines of the trinity, etc.) translating into a contrast between the two figures’ descriptions of beauty. If, for Barth, “beauty happens as the Triune God continues to encounter the creation in Christ” how does this compare with the way beauty looks for Hart? Is there no difference in the end?

Perhaps I’ll have to defer my interest on this point until your book comes out, but in the meantime thank you again for your thoughtful comments.

Jon Coutts said...

Keith, thanks for your answers. I'm curious what more you have to say to David and others about Jesus as the true witness (in line with my third question), but what remains of my other two questions I'm sure I can search out through study of analogia entis on its own.

Keith Starkenburg said...

“He does not will and posit the creature necessarily, but in freedom, as the basic act of His grace. His whole relationship to what is outside Himself—its basis and history from first to last—rests on this fact.”
“ For everything that the creature seems to offer Him—its otherness, its being in antithesis to Himself and therefore His own existence in co-existence—He has also in Himself as God, as the original and essential determination of His being and life as God.”
“ Without the creature He has all this originally in Himself, and it is His free grace, and not an urgent necessity to stand in a relationship of reciprocity to something other outside Himself, if He allows the creature to participate in it, if, as it were, in superfluity He allows its existence as another, as a counterpart to Himself, and His own co-existence with it.”
“ In superfluity—we have to say this because we are in fact dealing with an overflowing, not with a filling up of the perfection of God which needs no filling.” (page 201 of CD IV/1)

“He does not change in giving Himself. He simply activates and reveals Himself ad extra, in the world.” (page 204 of CD IV/1)

Keith Starkenburg said...

Han-Luen:
Thanks again for your keen attention. I can’t get too far into this, but I’d like to say a few things. In the longer version of my original post, I wonder a little whether Hart needs to be a more forthcoming about his debt to Barth in the whole enterprise. Their depictions of form/beauty are parallel and consistent, although I think that Hart’s pneumatology has something to offer Barth. Their depictions of joy are also basically parallel, but I think that Barth has something on offer here that Hart does not quite see, which is related to their differing ontologies. What’s interesting is that Barth constantly uses the word form throughout the Dogmatic after II/1, but beauty is so rare as to be insignificant. For instance, where glory appears again in the structure (IV/3), there is no reference to beauty in a way that corresponds to II/1. However, form occurs over and over, and so does joy. In the end, the term beauty is dispensable for Barth, but not form, glory or joy. The term glory seems dispensable for Hart, but not beauty, form or joy. However, given all of this (and this is still preliminary and sketchy), I do stand by my claim that they are getting to a similar place through different routes, as you note.

Thanks again!

Keith Starkenburg said...

Peter:
It was interesting to me that David brought up one of the key lines from IV/1, territory which is near some of the stuff that motivates my methods here. I take Barth to be saying in these texts that God’s perfection is located in God’s triune identity – God is perfect because God is triune (although he doesn’t say that directly in these texts, he does say it in the territory of these quotes). That is a contestable point, and I think that your questions are attempting to contest that point. But, part of what I am saying is that these texts invite us to scrutinize Barth’s trinitarian theology for formulations that allow the creation to “fill up” God’ s triunity. For Barth, according to these texts, those would be the kind of formulations that do what Barth is trying to avoid. Those kind of formulations would risk lots of problems – the loss of the gratuity of God’s election, the arbitrariness of God’s election, the erasure of encounter between God and creation in Christ, etc. Barth is deeply committed to avoiding any of these pitfalls, and so what I’m doing is saying that Barth has difficulty showing that there is witness to the triune life without the creation/incarnation and the condition for that difficulty is Barth’s depiction of the Spirit as the mode of being whose action can, almost everywhere, be reduced to the common action of the Father and Son (not everywhere, almost everywhere!).
David:
I’m addressing your concerns here as well. It seems to be that the “inner necessity” is constituted by a trinitarian theology in which the Spirit is as much an immanent agent as the Father and Son with regard to glory (or any other divine attribute). For Barth, God does not change in giving God’s self because God gives in Jesus Christ what God has. But, Barth has trouble with saying that God has a self-witness without creation because of his deficient pneumatology. This might feel like speculation, but actually I’m just trying to follow up on and elaborate on Barth’s comments on the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God who constitutes the history of Jesus Christ in the resurrection section of IV/2 (“Direction of the Son”). In other words, the history of Jesus Christ does indeed depict the Spirit as witness of the Triune life, if we can use the same method that Barth pioneers in his theology of triune obedience in IV/1 (to which you referred). There is another claim I’ve not talked about yet, which the first part of your comment draws out - how is it that Jesus can be his own witness? I think that Barth is quite properly following biblical lines in this. But the trinitarian theology which he asks Christian theology to provide as a kind of funding for this claim (if we take those initial texts I have quote above to mean what I say they mean) isn’t quite provided. In other words, Jesus’ own self-witness, for it to be something gratuitously offered from within the inner life of the God, depends upon the Holy Spirit as mode of being/person with an agency irreducible to the action of the Father and the Son. Just what is the Son witness of?

David W. Congdon said...

Keith:

Maybe I didn't make my question clear enough, so let me restate it. I read Barth to be saying that the very notion of an inner-trinitarian mode of witness apart from the creation is "out of bounds," i.e., it does not take the self-revelation of God as the sole origin and basis for our speech about God. I take it that you disagree with this reading of Barth, is that right? If so, then I think we need to assess the more fundamental issue being addressed here: viz. to what extent Barth advocates an actualistic ontology. Can we speak about a being-in-act of God apart from the concrete actualization of God's being in the historical event of Jesus Christ? That's the question that has to be answered, it seems to me.

Keith Starkenburg said...

David:

Just to let you know I'm not avoiding you - I'll respond on Monday at some point - and after I do that I want to hear how you make sense of those quotes I posted (after I respond of course!).