PTS Barth Conference, Day 2

Day 2 did a fine job keeping pace with the first day, and the combination of a great conference and too little sleep is starting to get to me. But, it will be back to the dissertation grind tomorrow afternoon.

There were two sessions again today, each with one speaker from the Roman Catholic side and one from the protestant side. The first session was on Christology, and Keith Johnson went first. His title was something like the following: "In him, through him, and for him: a reconsideration of Karl Barth’s historical development with an eye toward...something about the conversation between Barthians and Thomists" (I couldn’t type fast enough to get the end down. Oh well!). Barth’s development after Romans 2 is a series of internal adjustments in four stages within Barth’s christology. Took time toward the beginning to survey three prominant accounts of Barth’s development: von Balthasar, Jungel, and McCormack. McCormack’s feat was to recover a distinctively Protestant Barth, which Johnson argues is a more ecumenically fruitful Barth. On Johnson’s reading, Barth does theology like a good pastor preaches: trying to do justice to the subject matter while addressing a concrete situation. Only when we understand how Barth was addressing his context at any particular time can we truly understand what he is rejecting or affirming. I don’t want to steal his thunder, so you’ll have to wait for the published version to see his developmental schema. This I will say, however, and it should be no surprise: Erich Przywara proves important.

Thomas Joseph White rounded out the session, with the following title: The crucified Lord: Thomistic reflections on the communication of idioms and the theology of the cross. How do Christ’s deity and humanity relate to each other, and how does our account of this play in our understanding of the cross and salvation? White argues that Thomas’ position on these matter are preferable to Barth’s. For Barth, properties of the human nature in Christ are definitive of God’s being, although he also affirms that God is unchangeably God in the incarnation. In other words, there must be an analog in the divine being for Jesus’ human life, an antecedent character that corresponds with - for instance, and to recall yesterday - humility and obedience. Thomas, on the other hand, maintains the instrumental character of Christ’s humanity, and believes that Jesus was humble and obeyed out of love (charity) rather than because there is an antecedent form fo humility and obedience in the divine being. To learn precisely why White believes Thomas’ position to be superior, and engage the arguments that he deploys - and to hear what he had to say about the relation of philosophy and theology - must await publication.

The second session was on Grace and Justification. Joseph Wawrykow went first. He began with a highly technical and very interesting discussion of Thomas’ understanding of grace, as well as to the relationship between grace and various sorts of merit. Part of this discussion is directed toward elucidating Thomas’ claim that consideration of merit has primarily to do with giving glory to God. On the basis of this, there appear to be wide avenues of conergence with Barth. For instance, each believes Barth and Thomas on these matters; for instance, both affirm diine priority in grace. But there are also differences as well. For instance, Thomas lacks an affirmation of simul iustus et pecator. Wawrykow identifies a number of these and then offered possible responses from Thomas’ side. It was all very interesting and I look forward to reading it someday.

Amy Marga entered the lectern next. She argued that Barth’s doctrine of grace and justification shares some common ground with Thomas in terms of the doctrine’s structure and the concerns behind it; they differ, however, in terms of how the justified sinner relates to the reality of salvation. At the outset, Marga talked through the meta-structure (or, architecture) of Church Dogmatics volume 4 in order to highlight the ways in which Barth’s soteriology mesh with his hamartiology, christology, and pneumatology. This was, I thought, a helpful exercise since non-speciallists would likely not be aware of this big picture. Another point that Marga highlighted was that Barth’s reading of Thomas by contemporary Thomists must be judged against the backdrop fo the contemporary Roman Catholic theologies and Thomisms on offer in Barth’s context. Marga’s paper drove - like Wawrykow’s - toward a consideration of convergences and divergences between Barth and Thomas on grace. It will be instructive one day to study the two papers together in their published form.

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