In the Göttingen lectures Barth refers repeatedly to his mentors in the Reformed tradition as “the older writers”, “our older Protestant predecessors”, “the older Orthodox” theologians, “our forefathers”, “our older Protestant fathers”, “the older dogmaticians”. Indeed, he cites them far more often than either Calvin or Luther. Barth not only takes the Reformed scholastics seriously, but finds their theologoumena impressive despite their “baroque garb”.Of course, we in our own day must approach Barth in much the same manner.
But while he often employs the categories and distinctions of the scholastics, he does not slavishly follow them. Wishing that theology today could regain something of the “remarkable objectivity and perspicacity” of the “masters of the old theological school”, he nevertheless tries to say better what they intended to say, and not infrequently diverges explicitly and sharply from their positions. While Barth considers continuity with the Reformed school a mark of his theological method, this does not mean for him a “repristination of the older Christian or Reformed dogmatics”. What he is after is something quite different from mere repetition of the Reformed traditions. His aim is to explore to what extent the lines drawn by the elders are necessary and right. The material must be thought through again from the very foundations. While respect is owed to the teachers of the church, their work cannot be simply repeated. True dogma is not something given but something sought. Received dogmas are only preliminary stopping points in what is a continuing task of theological reflection within the church. According to Barth, it is necessary initially to suspend the validity of any given dogma in order to test it and see to what extent it can be established anew. Even the decisions of Nicea and Chalcedon are in principle open to correction.
Monday, February 07, 2011
Barth on How to Approach the Theological Tradition
Daniel Migliore, “Karl Barth’s First Lectures in Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion” in Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991): xxxiv-xxxv.