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The Humanity of Man in Karl Barth's Thought

  • Stuart D. McLean (a1)


One purpose of this article is to explicate what Karl Barth means by the man-to-man relationship, or, in his terms, ‘humanity’, and to discuss the variety of forms involved in this basic dynamic-form. Another purpose is to make the reader aware of the way dialectical-dialogical thought functions in describing the relationship between God and man, and man and man.



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page 127 note 1 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics, ed. Bromiley, G. W. and Torrance, T. F. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1960), III, trans. Knight, Harold, Bromiley, G. W., Reid, J. K. S, Fuller, R. H., part 2, p. 207.

page 127 note 2 ibid.

page 127 note 3 Barth distinguishes between four uses of the terms ‘man’ and ‘humanity’. First, ‘real man’ refers to man whose soul and body, man-man relationship (humanity), and God-man relationship are fulfilled. The man-man relationship is fulfilled and actual because of his God-man relationship. ‘Real man’ is primarily Jesus Christ and secondarily other men in their redeemed state. Second, ‘humanity’ refers to the form and content of man, which is man-man or I-Thou in structure. It can exist as either fulfilled or contradicted, but in either case it remains humanity. Third, he refers to ‘man's nature’. This can mean what man is as humanity or a whole man (soul and body). Fourthly, the term ‘man’ is used in a similar way to the term ‘man's nature’. Distinguishing between these various usages clarifies much misinterpretation of Barth.

page 128 note 1 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics, p. 208.

page 128 note 2 ibid.

page 128 note 3 ibid., p. 214.

page 129 note 1 ibid., p. 215.

page 129 note 2 ibid.

page 129 note 3 ibid., p. 216.

page 129 note 4 ibid.

page 129 note 5 ibid. Also see pp. 5–10 following.

page 129 note 6 ibid., p. 217.

page 130 note 1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics.

page 130 note 2 ibid., p. 218.

page 131 note 1 ibid.

page 131 note 2 ibid.

page 131 note 3 The crucial link between the inner Godhead (Father-Son) and the humanity of Jesus (man-man, hence our humanity) is the being of the man Jesus for God (man-God; his Divinity). Since action defines being, for Barth, God's act or action of deliverance in Jesus Christ means his being and reality ad extra. Ensconced within action is the form of the relationship. ‘Proving’ or assuming this link establishes the relationship between God in himself and humanity.

page 131 note 4 ibid., p. 219.

page 131 note 5 The imago Dei has both dynamic (material, as defined by Barth) and form (structured) elements. Although we are lifting up the aspect of form for consideration at this point, we are also speaking of the material dimension, or actional, or dynamic dimensions of the relationship.

page 131 note 6 Barth's, KarlTable Talk, ed. Godsey, John D. (John Knox Press, Richmond, Va., 1962), p. 57.

page 132 note 1 Karl Barth's Table Talk.

page 132 note 2 ibid.

page 132 note 3 There are limitations implicit in the term ‘image’. The humanity of Jesus is only indirectly identical with God. There is difference as well as correspondence. The differences are the following: (1) The humanity of Jesus belongs to the cosmos, the outer sphere of the work of God, not ‘the inner sphere of the essence’ (Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 219) of God. (2) ‘It does not present God in Himself and in His relation to the reality distinct from Himself’ (ibid.); rather than God and God, we have to do with God and man. (3) There is no unity of essence between God and man as there is between God and God (the Father and the Son and the Son and the Father), but disparity.

‘There is total sovereignty and grace on the part of God, but total dependence and need on that of man.… Nor does man become a second God when He takes part in this covenant and is delivered by this Deliverer. The one who enters into this covenant is always the creature, man, who would be absolutely threatened without this help and lost if thrown back upon his own resources.’ (ibid.)

page 133 note 1 ibid.

page 133 note 2 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 220.

page 134 note 1 The material definition of real man (the God-man relationship) differs from the formal definition in that it refers to the dynamic-actional elements of the interaction between God and man. First, the being of man as the being with Jesus, rests on the call (election) of God and the hearing of the Word of God. Secondly, this relationship is understood as a ‘history’. Thirdly, the being of man is more precisely defined by thanksgiving… as being-in-gratitude. Finally, the nature of real man is defined as responsibility further understood as knowledge, obedience, invocation and freedom, ibid., p. 143–97.

page 134 note 2 ibid., p. 223.

page 135 note 1 ibid., p. 243.

page 135 note 2 ibid.

page 135 note 3 Barth elucidates this statement: Humanity is described as a being of man with the other. But only the humanity of Jesus can be absolutely described as being for man. The extent to which the being of the one man with the other also includes a certain being of the one for the other will have to be shown.

Barth describes ‘humanity as a being of the one [italics mine] man with the other’, (ibid., p. 243.)

‘Fundamentally, we speak on both sides in the singular and not in the plural. But we are not thinking here in terms of individualism. But the basic form of humanity … is a being of the one man with the other. And where one is with many, or many with one, or many with many, the humanity consists in the fact that in truth, in the basic form of this occurrence, one is always with another, and this basic form persists. Humanity is not in isolation, and it is in pluralities only when these are constituted by genuine duality, by the singular on both sides. The singular, not alone but in this duality, is the presupposition without which there can never be humanity in the plural.’ (ibid., p. 244.)

page 135 note 4 ‘We need not be surprised that there are approximations and similarities. Indeed, in this very fact we may even see a certain confirmation of our results—a confirmation which we do not need and which will not cause us any particular excitement, but of which, in view of its occurrence, we shall not be ashamed. Why should there not be confirmation of this kind? In this context we are not speaking of the Christian in particular but of man in general, and therefore of something which has been the object of all kinds of “worldly” i.e. non-Christian wisdom. And surely it need not be, and is not actually, the case, that this worldly wisdom with its very different criteria has always been mistaken, always seeking humanity in the direction of Idealism and finally of Nietzsche, and therefore establishing and describing it as humanity without the fellowman, the humanity of man in isolation. It would be far more strange if not the slightest trace had ever been found of fellow-humanity, of the humanity of I and Thou' (ibid., p. 277).

page 136 note 1 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 249.

page 136 note 2 ibid.

page 137 note 1 ibid., p. 250.

page 137 note 2 ibid.

page 137 note 3 ibid., p. 251.

page 137 note 4 ibid.

page 137 note 5 Barth's explication of the I-Thou relationship has many aspects similar to the understanding of the self in G. H. Mead's and Joseph Haroutunian's thought, as well as to much literature that is current in the social sciences. Mead, George H., Mind, Self and Society, ed. Morris, Charles W. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1934); and Haroutunian, Joseph, ‘Grace and Freedom Reconsidered’, God With Us (Phila.: The Westminster Press, 1965). Haroutunian restates the problem of the relationship between God's grace and human freedom. He says that both human freedom and grace are aspects of the interaction of selves. This idea is brought out in Pfuetze, Paul E., Self, Society, Existence: Human Nature and Dialogue, in the Thought of G. H. Mead and Martin Buber (New York: Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Bros., 1961 (original 1954). Although Barth does not arrive at his understanding of humanity empirically or ‘scientifically’, in the strict sense in many ways this thought is not alien to what is being confirmed experimentally and empirically in the social sciences.

page 138 note 1 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 252.

page 138 note 2 The complexity of Barth's thought is at most points difficult to summarise without doing an injustice to it; however, the problem is especially acute when dealing with his analysis of the very complex interactional phenomena of speech and hearing.

page 138 note 3 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 253.

page 139 note 1 ibid., p. 254.

page 139 note 2 ibid., p. 255.

page 139 note 3 ibid., p. 256.

page 140 note 1 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 258.

page 140 note 2 ibid., p. 259.

page 140 note 3 ibid.

page 140 note 4 ibid.

page 140 note 5 ibid., p. 260.

page 141 note 1 ibid., p. 262.

page 141 note 2 ibid.

page 141 note 3 ibid., p. 263.

page 141 note 4 ibid.

page 142 note 1 ibid., p. 264.

page 142 note 2 ibid.

page 142 note 3 ibid., p. 265.

page 142 note 4 Before we go further, it should be noted that in the comparative schema ‘gladly’ functions in an equivalent role to the term freedom in the God-man relationship; thus, it is possible to suggest that these two terms are analogous to one another.

page 142 note 5 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 265.

page 143 note 1 This is not redemption, but neither is it independent of constant action; rather, it is related to God's activity operating in creation and providence.

page 143 note 2 ibid.

page 143 note 3 ibid.

page 144 note 1 Dogmatics, III, Part 2, p. 272.

page 144 note 2 ibid.

page 144 note 3 ibid.

page 144 note 4 ibid.

page 144 note 5 ibid.

page 145 note 1 ibid., p. 274.

page 145 note 2 Christian love or agape ‘is the action and attitude of the man who only becomes real and can only be understood in the course of his history with God. Love is the new gratitude of those who have come to know God the Creator as the merciful Deliverer. As such it is the gracious gift of the Holy Ghost shed abroad in the hearts of Christians convicted of sin against God and outrage against themselves. … In love they respond to the revelation of the covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in which God comes to them as their merciful Father, Lord and Judge, and they see their fellow-men as brothers and sisters, i.e. as those who have sinned with them and found grace with them’ (italics mine), (ibid., p. 275.)

page 145 note 3 ibid.

page 145 note 4 ibid., p. 276.

page 145 note 5 ibid.

page 145 note 6 ibid.

page 145 note 7 ibid.

page 146 note 1 ibid.

page 146 note 2 Barth also sees a relationship between agape and eros. The opposition between them has been too simple. Eros is understood by Barth as associated with the ‘gladly’ of humanity. Therefore, in so far as there is some correspondence between the ‘gladly’ of humanity and Christian joy, there is a similarity between eros and agape. But eros, which is associated with the vitalities of life by the Greeks and is seen as the impulse from below upwards, is only the formal ‘gladly’ of the humanity, not the real content of the ‘gladly’ as it is given in Christian agape. Man exists against his nature in eros, in a state of sin. Therefore, eros is seen as a sign that contradicts humanity, whereas agape is seen as a sign that fulfills humanity. In each, man exists in a ‘gladly’, but the one is formal and the other the real content. Barth says:

‘And if his nature, his humanity, now acquires a positive sign and content, if the freedom of his heart for the fellow-man is for himself and the other a saving, upbuilding, beneficial and helpful freedom, if he is together with his fellowman not just with a formal “gladly”, but gladly in the good sense; i.e. a common thankfulness, in praising the divine mercy, this is not due to himself or his human nature, but this fulfillment of the natural is the gracious gift of the Holy Ghost and Christian love’ (ibid., p. 281). Thus,

‘it must… be said of Christian love that in it and it alone is it a question of the freedom of the one for [italics mine] the other. This is the new co-existence of man and man which is not merely formal but filled out with positive content’ (ibid.).

Eros is understood, therefore, as a sign, albeit contradictory and negative, of the humanity of man, in which man expresses his human nature. But it remains his human nature, as interactional and interpersonal, and with some form of the ‘gladly’.

The Humanity of Man in Karl Barth's Thought

  • Stuart D. McLean (a1)


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