Monday, September 05, 2011

Karl Barth on Eberhard Jüngel’s “God’s Being Is In Becoming” - from a new book by Eberhard Busch

And now for a DET exclusive...

As some of you may already be aware, Eberhard Busch has recently published an incredible new resource for Barth studies, namely, a compendium of his notes from his time as Karl Barth’s assistant (Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth). Those who know the Barth studies landscape don’t need to be told how significant this is; to those of you who don’t know the landscape so well, suffice it to say that this volume will be of great interest.

As a case in point, I present the below. Busch’s publishers have made a tract of his text available as a bit of a sample, and my friend and colleague from Princeton Seminary, Matt Bruce (also, coincidently, a friend of the blog and the Karl Barth Blog Conference), passed along those pages and a rough-and-ready translation of a couple interesting paragraphs. These paragraphs recount a discussion with Barth concerning Eberhard Jüngel’s then recently published, God’s Being Is In Becoming. Barth provides an appraisal (positive, by the way), as well as some thoughts on Jüngel himself and other pertinent theologians like Helmut Gollwitzer and Rudolf Bultmann. So, without further ado, the text:

From: Eberhard Busch. Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth: Tagebuch 1965-1968. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011. pp. 13-15. Translated by Matthew J. Aragon Bruce, 3 September 2011.

July 1965

I gather together here notes that I wrote down sometime ago without without dates. After Barth had completed all his University activities, he formed a small working group that met at his home in which new theological literature was discussed. In the summer of 1965, we discussed in this group Eberhard Jüngel’s book God’s Being Is In Becoming over the course of three meetings. Barth was present at the first meeting; however Thurneysen presided over the other two meetings because Barth was again laid up due to his illness and also was in the hospital. In that first meeting, Barth expressed the highest satisfaction with the book. Fundamentally, he had no objections to the book, apart from that the fact that Jüngel’s linguistic style was not always accessible to him. In this regard he was of the opinion that in part, “This is his culpability, not mine.” Jürgen Fangmeier on the other hand was of the opinion that something must be wrong with Jüngel because of the strong polemics he directed against Gollwitzer’s critique of Bultmann and his disciples. Barth countered: No, he feels that he has been well understood. Jüngel criticizes Gollwitzer only in order to resist the mistaken account that the being of God “arises (aufgeht)” in the event of a determined relationship. In this manner, Gollwitzer remains stuck in the old thinking of a static concept of substance. Therefore he [Gollwitzer] is not to be spared from the objections that are indicated in the book. But, said Fangmeier: Jüngel still brings Barth into a connection with Ebeling’s statement: God is not an extramundane essence. Barth replied: “Yes, that is factually correct. God is in fact not such an essence. I have not taught such an essence.” In regard to what is at stake in the relationship between him [Barth] on the one had and Bultmann or his disciples on the other, which Jüngel so emphatically highlights, Barth feels that the respective passages are not at all instances of “mediation” or “compromise” in which this or that important insight into the matter has been ceded or relinquished to the other side. But he rather had the impression that Jüngel adhered to his line [of thought] on the whole. By means of these suggested relationships, astute insights are thus attributed to the other sight that in fact run counter to some extent to the direction of their thought. In this way something is served to them on their plate, which they otherwise could not afford. Jüngel’s appeal to Barth is credible, but less so his assertions about cross-connections between Barth and Bultmann and his associates. Ernst Fuchs has written in his copy of the book, under the subtitle (“A paraphrase of the doctrine of God of K.B.”): “A paraphrase – and more than that.” What does that mean? Barth referred to the main title as the most enigmatic part of the book: “God’s Being is in Becoming.” “What is meant by this ominous word ‘becoming’? It is not clear to me, to what extent this word is useful here and much less essential.” He may certainly not approve of Schelling’s discourse about the “becoming God.” Certainly, God is God in movement. If and in so far as it is this that is meant with this phrase “becoming God,” Barth can go along with him. His critique of Schelling begins with the question: Is it not the case with him, that the ground for the movement or for the becoming lies in a lack, in a deficiency in God. Does this mean that the “motive” of his becoming exists in the necessary compulsion in which God wants to satiate and satisfy his need for self-enrichment? However Barth on the other hand would like to emphasize that God is in movement, because he is rich in himself and because he has no need for anything himself, but wants to give something of himself, beyond himself.

Jüngel’s remarks about the doctrine of the Trinity are thus “entirely right.” But Barth would have preferred it if he had presented the argument by means of exegetical and historical-theological investigations, in this case above all with recourse to the theology of the early church. In the form in which Jüngel currently explains it, it seems almost as though the doctrine of the Trinity is “a special invention of Karl Barth.” His “modest contribution” to the churchly doctrine of the Trinity has only been the one that he saw, understood, and developed in close, indissoluble connection with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. “It is the consequence of the christological dogma of true God and true man, and it [the doct. of the Trinity] is so closely linked with it [christology], that it [the doct. of the Trinity] falls if this is contested. Naturally it is not the Trinity that falls but the Church’s doctrine of it [Trinity]. But also this insight is still not simply new compared with the most interesting discoveries in the early Church.

There certainly is a lot there to digest. And just think – there are 760 pages of this (for quite a low price-tag, I must say). We can only hope that this volume makes it into English very quickly – there is no doubt in my mind that it is essential reading for any student of Barth, and that it will be engaging enough to attract comparatively wide reading should the linguistic barrier be surmounted. So if Tom Kraft and any of the folks over at the T&T Clark Blog are paying attention, I have this simple message for you: “Do anything necessary to acquire the translation rights for this book and get it into print, ASAP!”

14 comments:

Andy Browne said...

Great selection. I echo you plea, being that i cannot yet read and translate German. I would be very excited to see this work in english. Thank you and Matthew

Matt Frost said...

It's always very interesting for me to hear Barth's take on writers writing about him. He approves of things on an internal, "I have no argument with that" basis -- even as expositions of his own thought -- that cause us to make mistakes if we try to say, "Yes, this is what Barth meant, because he said he agreed with this representation of his thought." Kung and von Balthasar, for example.

And I think at least part of that is his habit of agreeing in public and disagreeing in private. (Obviously, until the disagreement reaches a point where it must become public.) So I find this sort of en famille discussion very fruitful as a kind of halfway-house, the Table Talk version with more frank explanations.

Alexander said...

At one point the translation is a bit off (not only at that word provided in German): "Jüngel criticizes Gollwitzer only because the latter mistakenly negates so strongly that God is nothing more than the event of a particular relationship."
Best, Alexander Maßmann

Alexander said...

Barth's answer does make me chuckle a bit though - "I have not taught such an essence.” That is, according to my spontaneous mental quick scan of the 9000 pages of the Church Dogmatics and all the other stuff I wrote... ;P

W. Travis McMaken said...

Yeah Alex, that is a bit humorous. ;-)

You're definitely right, Matt, that such an glimpse behind the curtain is very helpful. I wish my German was better so that I could plow through the whole volume quickly. Alas! I must hope for the publication of an English translation!

Justin said...

That's funny man - when I got my hand on that book, the very first thing I did was search for any and all mentions of Jüngel as well (well, maybe it was the second thing...). Anyways - yeah, Tom Kraft needs to get on this - it's like theological heroin.

Rolf said...

aufgehen : I don't think the translation of araising is correct here. I think it is more likely to be: dissolve, become part of, join, merge, absorbe - to be completely absorbed in sth.

But then I am not sure about the wider context...

mjabruce said...

@Alexander and Rolf - agreed. My initial translation is in error. "Aufgehen" is a rather polyvalent term that forces one to make some hard decisions rendering it into English. Quickly running through this the other night I stumbled at the this point and signaled this accordingly by inserting the German verb and going with a rather generic meaning of the term.

So after spending some more time with this afternoon, it seams that
"aufgeht" here could mean "merges into" / "is completely absorbed into" / "becomes one" or any one of the meanings given by Rolf.

Currently I'm of the opinion of something like this - with a little interpretive liberty:

"Jüngel criticizes Gollwitzer only for mistakenly opposing so strongly the notion that the being of God “is realized” in the events of a particular relationship. [dass das Sein Gottes im Geschehen einer bestimmten Beziehung „aufgeht“]."

What all of this points too is the need for a professional translator to pick this project up. E.g. someone like Darrell Guder who translated Barth's book on the Reformed Confessions and several pieces by Eberhard Busch.

mjabruce said...

BTW, I'm currently working on a translation of Barth's Safenwil Antrittspredigt [inaugural sermon]. If any of you native German speakers out there would like to critique after I have a first draft it'd be much appreciated.

Matt Frost said...

@Alexander -- "according to my spontaneous mental quick scan of the 9000 pages of the Church Dogmatics and all the other stuff I wrote..." Brilliant!

I love his ability to do that, even if I think he defaults to conciliatory agreement. (Or charitable reading, perhaps.) It demonstrates that for him, the whole thing really does fit neatly in his head. That it's grown, but the roots still lie in the bike rides between Safenwil and Leutwil. "And some seed fell on good soil, and brought forth 100-, 60- and 30-fold increase." Maybe it's false hope, but if the root structure of all of those years of lectures fits in one man's mind, it can fit in another's. :)

Tom Kraft said...

Hi Travis,

already underway. Will take some time to get translated though...

W. Travis McMaken said...

Great news, Tom!

Rolf said...

@mjabruce. Haven't read much Theology in 10 years- so might be a bit rusty = and my knowledge of Barth is limited too - am a Lutheran...

Apart from that. Sure. Do you have access to my email address?

BrandonFrick said...

Many thanks to both of you for the translation! Very interesting stuff here.