Wolf Krotke on Barth's Doctrine of Sin

Wolf Krötke, Sin and Nothingness in the Theology of Karl Barth, 73-4.
If the 'good nature' of human beings is not a condition in and of itself, it certainly only exists at all insofar as it is lived out by men and women. Persons who do not live out their being are not human persons; they have no being. Hence, if humans are only human insofar as they live out their good nature, and if they live out their good nature only as those who sin, then they only possess their good nature as a perverted, totally corrupted nature. Accordingly, Barth can only think of the corruption of human being or nature as the 'event of their corruption.' No sphere of human existence is exempted from the event of this corrupting. The human creature is 'godless precisely in the good as good...and has fallen prey to nothingness precisely in his essentiality.'

In sum: the being of the human creature qua sinner remains ontologically constituted by the grace of God. Humans constitute their being as sinners by sinning. Several things follow from this. First, there is no perennially good 'relic or core of goodness which persists in man and in spite of his sin'; the being of sinners does not relate to human being as one quantum to another. Humans remain totally human and are totally sinners. Second, there is no 'time in which man is not a transgressor.' And third, there are 'in the whole sphere of human activities...no exceptions to the sin and corruption of man,' for under God's grace there are 'no spheres which are neutral, but only spheres of decision,' and humans have chosen in favor of sin.

The momentousness of human guilt is reflected in the enacted existence of their being: sinful humans can no longer turn to God of their own accord and by their own power. indeed, through the misuse of freedom, the liberum arbitrium given humans by God becomes a servum arbitrium.



Matt Frost said…
Terribly interesting and beautifully put!

There's so much to unpack, but I'm presently enjoying the use of both "event" and "being" here. Part of me wishes to quibble with the possible implications of the being-human and the being-sinner as one and the same quantum. (Something about a heresy somewhere in which sin replaces the image of God...) But that it does away with the idea of an ontological remnant of the imago dei has advantages -- especially if one is inclined to talk about simul iustus et peccator as a valid anthropological statement. The iustitia is never ours; it never belongs to some lingering pre-lapsarian portion of our being that God helps along in its fight against sin. We are peccator in re; iustus in fides et spe. What ought to be impossible for us, our disobedience, is our reality; what ought to be possible for us, our obedience, is that impossibility toward which the command of God frees and calls us. And those moments, rather than being ontological, are constituted in events of action, just as the nature of the agent is a history of agentic actions.

All of which is awfully longwinded to say that Krötke resonates usefully with my readings of Barth and the tradition, and that I think I need to pick up this book. :) Thanks!
Philip Ziegler said…
The whole text of this translation is available on line from the Princeton Theological Seminary Library at this web address:

Bobby Grow said…
Yes, this sounds really good to me too! Thanks, Travis.

And thank you Philip.
Matt Frost said…
More thanks! It has now become impulse reading instead of simply being book-listed.
Thanks for pointing that out, Phil. Will you be at the impending Barth conference?

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