Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Church Dogmatics 1.1.1

Why does Barth care about science? Right away, with this obsession with science, we twenty-first century readers realize we’ve crossed over into a different way of things. Einstein yet lives. Science has shoved the epistemology of the West under the iron lid of its own method. What concord should Jerusalem have with Athens? Why does Barth care about science?

Earlier today, I commented on Daniel Owen’s blog Beginning Barth that it seems to me as if “Barth is offering theology on the altar of post-enlightenment scientism.” But having read the whole of this section, I do not think this is the case. Barth does flirt with science, but the word and thing are not identical to what is commonly understood. Theology can be called a science in that it has internal consistency that is defined according to its object. But it cannot be called a science if it must submit to “the idea of unity, the possibility of myth, and the humanistic relevance of Christianity” (Arthur Titius, Berlin 1932. Note Barth's attentiveness to the scientific pronouncements of his day).

What emerges is a taking up of the term “science” as an act of solidarity, an act done from forgiveness and for evangelical hope (or judgment). That which is not assumed cannot be atoned for, and theology extends an invitation to every other science, saying, “come and be assumed.” Theology is no different from them. It also is a flawed, human discipline. And it is weaker than they, for rather than being fixed solidly in this age, theology hovers in gossamer fragility between the times. “It cannot think of itself as a link in an ordered cosmos, but only as a stop-gap in a disordered cosmos.” There is a signpost here pointing decades forward to Jürgen Moltmann’s assertion that eschatology is the only foundation of dogmatics. And there is also a statement made about the possibility of natural theology. It is possible, if I understand Barth, but it is improbable. “Might it not be that Jer. 31.34 is in process of fulfilment? . . . There might be such a thing as philosophia christiana.” “Now if God be wisdom (sapientia Deus est), as truth and scripture testify, then a true philosopher is a lover of God” (Augustine. De Civitas Dei Chap 8 Sect 1).

The difference between those sciences and this theological one (Augustine’s de divinitate ratio sive sermo), is the central principle. Those other sciences judge “the utterance of the Church about God in accordance with alien principles” whereas theology has its own principle: Jesus Christ, the “basis, goal and content” of the Church.

Barth’s treatment of Christ the Center is amazingly apophatic. Biblical theology (Does Christian utterance derive from Him?), practical theology (Does it lead to Him?), and dogmatic theology (Is it conformable to Him?) are three circles overlapping in a venn diagram from whose center one respectfully turns “it is well neither to affirm nor to construct a systematic center”. The threefold pattern of theological disciplines, its questions, and the three-fold adjectives he uses of Christ (basis, goal and content), loosely correspond and together beat the tempo of a trinitarian schema to come. The apophatic Christology of a center that is “neither affirmed nor constructed” and the apophatic nature of the one ousia at the center of three hypostasis. This is poetic metre. Aesthetically pleasing, yes, but is this a truly necessary trinity? Did Barth begin with science and end with . . . worship?

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