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The Grammar of Barth's Theology of Personal Relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Gary Deddo
62 Rokhy Brook Rd Cranbury, NJ 08512


In much contemporary theology, pastoral/practical theology, and much of the more popular ‘Christian’ literature there is a concern for exploring and discovering various aspects of right relationship. These relationships might be political, marital, familial, sexual, economic, those within the church, or between the church and the greater society. What seems to be lacking in many of these discussions is an adequate theological foundation upon which to carry out the exploration. There are assumptions made about the nature of human relationships which seem to have no connection to theological underpinnings or are only loosely, or thematically related.

Research Article
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 1994

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1 Several things need to be said at the outset to avoid misunderstanding. For Barth, our being in relationship with God and with others is a graciously established given. It is anticipated in the eternal Triune life of Father, Son, and Spirit and accomplished in the incarnate life death, resurrection and ascension of jesus Christ, the hypostatic (personal/ontological) union of the Son of Cod with all humanity. Barth's term for this givenness of our existence is die Bestimmung, translated most often as ‘determination’.

2 C.D. III/2, p. 66. ‘[The self-giving of Jesus is] the same thing, only in its aspect as self-revealing work, as is elsewhere (3:16) described as God's so loving the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The giving of the Son by the Father indicates a mystery, a hidden movement in the inner life of the Godhead. But in the self-sacrifice of the man jesus for His friends this intra-divine movement is no longer hidden but revealed. For what the manjesus does by this action is to lay bare this mystery, to actualize the human and therefore the visible and knowable and apprehensible aspect of this portion of the divine history of this primal moment of the divine volition and execution.’

3 ‘It is clear that in this matter [of mutual glorification] we have to do with a regular circle. It is the circle of the inner life of the Godhead.For the complete explanation of it we should have to return to the perception of the unity and trinity of God—to the Paraclete, too, there is ascribed His own doxázein of the Son (14:16)—and therefore indeed to the…fine theologumenon of the perichoresis of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost…according to the Fourth Gospel it is not merely the eternal but the incarnate Logos and therefore the manjesus who is included in this circle.’ Ibid., p. 65.

4 C.D., III/2, p. 243.

5 We must point out that Barth's claim that the relations are analogous is the conclusion of his exploration. It is not an a priori definition or a methodology by which he does his theological reflection. Discussions concerning Barth's understanding of analogy often overlook this crucial fact. What Barth means by analogy is conditioned and qualified by his understanding of the actual nature of the relations revealed in Jesus Christ and not vice versa. Whether or not it is proper to identify the relations as analogous can only be decided after the actual relations themselves are investigated. The logic must fit the reality. If Barth failed to use the term analogy in a traditionally or philosophically appropriate way it is because the reality constrained him to modify it to fit the nature of the relations he was attempting to explore. For Barth the theological task consisted largely of doing this very thing. Human language and concepts must be appropriated and transformed in communicating the truth embodied injesus Christ.

6 C.D., III/2, p. 64.

7 C.D., III/2, p. 208 ff.

8 C.D., II/l, p. 317 ff.

9 C.D., III/2, p. 219.

10 C.D., III/2, p. 140 f.

11 C.D., III/2, p. 246 f.

12 ‘My own being and positing takes place in and with the fact that I am claimed by that of the other and occupied with it. That of the other sets limits to my own. It indicates its problems. It poses questions which must be answered. And there are answers for which it asks…I am under the conditions imposed by this encounter….As I myself am, and posit myself, I confront the other no less than he does me with his being and positing. He is my Thou, he is reached and affected by me no less than I am by him.’ C.D., III/2, p. 246–7.

13 C.D., III/2, p. 157 ff.

14 C.D., III/2, p. 158.

15 ‘And this obedience of Jesus is the clear reflection of the unity of the Father and Son by the bond of the Holy Spirit in the being of the eternal God Himself who is the fullness of freedom Himself’ (CD, II/2, p. 605). ‘As we look at Jesus Christ we cannot avoid the astounding conclusion of a divine obedience.’ C.D., IV/1, p. 203.

16 CD, III/2, p. 251–252.

17 Ibid., pp. 256–157.

18 Ibid., pp. 258–259.

19 See CD, III/2, pp. 68 f., 73–74, 132–134, 140.

20 See CD, III/2, pp. 140 ff. In this section the first two points Barth makes describe the form of the relationship. The content is described in the third and fourth points.

21 See CD, III/2, pp. 214–219. Here it becomes evident that Barth has never left behind his six-fold Christological characterization of humanity which stands at the beginning of his anthropology.

22 CD, III/2, pp. 217.

23 ‘There is freedom in God, but no caprice. And the fact that from all eternity God pitied and received man, the grounding of the fellow-humanity of Jesus in the eternal covenant executed in time in His being for man, rests on the freedom of God in which there is nothing arbitrary or accidental but in which God is true to Himself.’ CD, III/2, p. 218.

24 ‘We obviously have to do with the final and decisive basis indicated when we spoke of the ontological character, the reality and the radical nature of the being of Jesus for His fellow-men. It is from this context that these derive their truth and power. The humanity of Jesus is not merely the repetition and reflection of His divinity, or of God's controlling will; it is the repetition and reflection of God Himself, no more and no less. It is the image of God, the imago Dei.’ CD, III/2, p. 219.

25 CD, III/2, p. 220.

26 CD, III/2, p. 221.

27 ‘The personification of the concept of the Word of God which we cannot avoid when we remember thatjesus Christ is the Word of God, does not signify any lessening of its verbal character. But it signifies …the knowledge of His personalness as distinguished from all thingness or materiality…. Personalness means being one subject not only in the logical sense, but also in the ethical sense, being a free subject….[we] recognize him as a Person precisely in His Word.’ CD, I/I, p. 157.

28 CD, II/1, p. 276.

29 ‘Man is not a person, but he becomes one on the basis that he is loved by God and can love God in return…. He is then (in his own way as a creature) a person wholly and exclusively in the fellowship of Him who (in His way as Creator) is it in Himself.’ CD, II/1, p. 284.

30 Barth puts together in one comprehensive statement the personal covenantal love with the triune life and its extension to us in Jesus Christ. It begins:

‘God is He who, without having to do so, seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us…. It implies so to speak an overflow of His essence that He turns to us…. God is He who…seeks and creates fellowship with us, and who (because His revelation is also His self-revelation) does this in Himself and in Hiseternal essence…. He wills to be ours, and he wills that we should be His. He wills to belong to us and He wills that we should belong to Him. He does not will to be without us, and He does not will that we should be without Him…. That He is God—the Godhead of God—consists in the fact that He loves, and it is the expression of His loving that He seeks and creates fellowship with us.’ CD, II/l, pp. 273–275.

31 CD, III/2, pp. 250–274

32 CD, III/2, pp. 250–252.

33 Ibid., pp. 252–260.

34 Ibid., p. 260–264.

35 Ibid., pp. 265–285.

36 Ibid., p. 267.

37 ‘The externality of the different fellow-man who encounters me has this in common with the very different externality of the God distinct from me—that it is also inward to me; inward in the sense that this external thing, the other man, is inward and intrinsic to me even in his otherness.’ CD, III/2, p. 268/269.

38 Jüngel, Eberhard, The Doctrine of the Trinity. God's Being is in Becoming. Translated by Harris, Horton. Edinburgh & London: Scottish Academic Press, 1976Google Scholar. German title: Gottes Sein ist im Werden. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1966., p. 63Google Scholar. Cf. Gunton, Colin. Becoming and Being: the Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshome and Karl Baith, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 143.Google Scholar

39 CD, I/1, pp. 369–370. See Jüngel, p. 32.

40 CD, I/1, pp. 370–374, II/l, p. 284, ‘the One who loves in himself’.

41 CD, IV/1, p. 203.

42 CD, III/3, p. 109f.

43 ‘Become what you are’, means therefore: ‘Grow into your character, accept the outline of your particular form of life…’ CD, III/4, p. 388, cf. p. 387.

44 CD, III/3, p. 6.

45 Ibid., III/4, p. 53.

46 Ibid., III/2, p. 180.

47 Ibid., III/4, p. 606.

48 ‘Man is not a person, but he becomes one on the basis that he is loved by God and can love God in return.’ CD, II/l, p. 284.

49 ‘[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.’ CD, III/2, p. 275.

50 ‘We emphasize again that there can be no question of there being simply and directly that which Jesus is alone. They are not simply and directly the covenantpartners of God as His creatures; they are destined to become this. And this means concretely that they are destined to participate in the benefits of the fellow-humanity of that One, to be delivered by Him.’ CD, III/2, p. 225.

51 ‘Men become and are God's children, then, by God's grace, which is His possibility and not theirs, by the goodness of the Father. It is not originally intrinsic to them… Rather it is freely intended for them and addressed and promised to them as this grace and goodness becomes a present event in their life and thought, in action and suffering, so that they acquire thereby the genuine freedom to cry “Father”.’ CD, IV/4, p. 73.

52 CD, II/2, p. 780.

53 CD, III/2, p. 284.

54 CD, II/2, p. 607. We could recall the witness of the NewTestamen t here: ‘Beloved we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hope in him purifies himself as he is pure’ (I Jn. 3: 2–4). Cf., Rom. 8:19, 24; Col. 3:3, 4.

55 ‘It is life in expectation, in a strained looking forward and upward, with this person, Jesus Christ, as the object…. This life is a ‘waiting’ and hoping because the glory of the unity of Jesus Christ with us, and of our unity with Him, is hidden and not manifest, present and certain to faith but withdrawn from sight, as long as we live here and now…’ (CD, II/2, p. 607).

56 ‘Salvation is the perfect being which is not proper to created being but is still future…. To that extent salvation is its eschaton…being which has a share in the being of God…not a divinized being, but an eternal being which is hidden in God’ (CD, IV/1, p. 8; cf. II/1, p. 181 concerning our participation).The theme ofbecoming throughout the Dogmatics is one significant way Barth presents the eschatological truth of the Gospel.

57 It is also the stumbling block of so many of his interpreters. Ingolf Dalferth has brought this out more clearly than perhaps anyone. He argues that Barth is ‘an unashamed realist’ (p. 14). He further clarifies this by saying it is an ‘eschatological realism’ of the risen and present Christ and the ‘new life into which we are drawn by the Spirit’ (p. 21). This is the personal presence of the risen Christ. It is this ‘reality which determines what is to be counted as real and what isn't’ (p. 22). Dalferth's analysis of Barth's contribution is that it ‘constitutes a massive and conscious contradiction to everything thought epistemologically acceptable in the light of post-Enlightenment restriction of meaningful truth claims to the formal truth of logic and mathematics and the empirical truths of science and history’ (p. 22). He sums up Barth's position: ‘…our world is permanently in the process ofbecoming real (or unreal for that matter) by its eschatological assumptio in Deum. What we experience is a preliminary, penultimate, abstract reality which as such is in a permanent danger of relapsing into non-existence’ (p. 29). This points up both the radical claim that Barth is making and the inimical context into which his teaching comes. See his ‘Karl Barth's Eschatological Realism’ in ed. Sykes, S. W., Karl Barth: Centenary Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).Google Scholar

58 CD, III/2, p. 166.

59 ‘If God gives Himself to man to be known in the revelation of His Word through the Holy Spirit, it means that He enters into the relationship of object to man the subject…. Man knows God in that he stands before God.. But this always means: in that God becomes, is and remains to him Another, One who is distinct from himself, One who meets him…. Man cannot and must not know himself apart from God, but together with God as his “opposite”.’ CD, II/l, pp. 9–10.

60 ‘That the knowledge of God in its fulfillment by the revelation of the Word of God is bound to its one, determined and uniquely distinct object, and that it is knowledge of this object and not another—knowledge of the God who gives Himself to be known in His Word. …God becomes, is and remains to him Another, One who is distinct from himself, One who meets him.’ (CD, II/1, p. 9 and p. 274: ‘There is no lack of contrariety in this conduct. It establishes and embraces the antithesis between the Creator and His creatures.’)

61 CD, III/4, p. 480.

62 [So humanity] is not enclosed within the circle of its intrinsic possibilities, but opened towards that other and new reality of God its Creator which has broken through to it in His Word, and in that Word as His promise has come to dwell within it…. He is, as, called by this Word, he is ready, and already in the act of transcending himself. CD, III/2, pp. 165–166.

63 Speaking of Jesus Christ: ‘But the fact of this one man is prior to the existence of all other men. It is thus through their relationship to Him that they are what they are…. The new and other which God is directly for the man Jesus, Jesus Himself is for all other men, and therefore He is the basis which makes their being history, a being which is transcended in his limitation from without and transcends its limitation outwards. Man is what he is as a creature, as the man Jesus, and in Him God Himself, moves towards him, and as he moves towards the man Jesus and therefore towards God. Man is as he is engaged in this movement in this ‘to him’ from without and ‘from him’ outwards…’ CD, III/2, pp. 161–162. ‘[In the history of Jesus Christ we have] both the transcendence and transcending of such a sphere—its transcendence by a new and different factor and its transcending in response and relation to this factor. It is the identity of the Creator and the creature. And the Creator is for the creature the utterly new and other.’ CD, III/2, p. 159.

64 CD, III/2, p. 133.

65 Ibid., p. 134.

67 CD, II/1, p. 317.

68 CD, IV/1, pp. 105.

69 CD, IV/1, p. 106.

70 CD, IV/2, p. 511.

72 CD, IV/1, p. 759.

73 CD, II/l, p. 317.

74 ‘He has that which he seeks and creates between Himself and us. We must certainly regard this overflow as itself matching His essence, belonging to His essence.’ CD, II/l, p. 273, cf. p. 274. Cf.. ‘If God comes to man in His divine Word He does not do so because He needs man. God does not flee to man for refuge. He is not obligated to be the Creator, nor be gracious to man. He is glorious in Himself. He could be content with that inner glory. The fact that He is the Creator of man and is gracious to man is a free overflowing of His glory.’ CD, III/2, p. 187.

75 CD, III/2, p. 221.

76 CD, III/4, p. 473.

77 Ibid., p. 478.

78 ‘It is the fact that God is for him which binds and commits man himself, and that unconditionally. It is this which completely excludes, therefore, everything which would in anyway mean that he for his part wanted to be for himself. Since God is for him, he is relieved from the post of being for himself by the One who alone can be actually and effectively for him. He is relieved of all the care and all the fear of being for himself.’ CD, II/2, p. 597.

79 Ibid., p. 134.

80 CD, 1/2, p. 425.

81 See Mark 9:37–41, Matt. 25.

82 In Barth's section on ‘The Active Life’ he writes: ‘Human life participates in the freedom of all God's creatures to the extent that it does not have its aim in itself and cannot therefore be lived in self-concentration and self-centeredness, but only in a relationship which moves outwards and upwards to another.’ CD, III/4, pp. 477–478.

83 The mystery of creaturely existence is revealed in man ‘in the fact that he is summoned by the command of God to the active life and therefore beyond himself. When he is called to action and therefore to service, it is not merely the closed circle of his individual being in the creaturely world which is burst wide open. What breaks forth and is revealed when man is summoned to the active life by the command of God is the true need of every creature for another and the profound ultimate dissatisfaction with every relationship between creature and creature, as also with the relationship between the individual creature and the creaturely cosmos as a whole. The true outside and beyond is now declared in relation to which all the relationships between creature and creature are constantly moving antithetically in ever widening circles and finally within in asupreme circle. The true ‘wholly other’ in distinction from every partial and relative other now comes upon the scene—the other which has the power to satisfy the creature as a partner, the authority to justify him as a judge, the reality, majesty and dignity to give him meaning and purpose and to satisfy his needs. In what happens to man there is disclosed the other with which the whole world is confronted.’ CD, III/4, pp. 478–479.

84 CD, III/4, pp. 490–505.

85 CD, III/4, p. 521

86 CD, III/4, p. 224.

87 CD, III/4, 54.3, pp. 285–323, ‘Near and Distant Neighbours’.

88 For recent works exploring the relational nature of human being from a theological perspective similar to or even based on Barth see Anderson, Ray S. and Guernsey, Dennis, On Being Family (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985)Google ScholarPubMed; Anderson, Ray S., On Being Human (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982)Google Scholar; McLean, Stuart, Humanity in the Thought of Karl Barth (Edinburgh: T&T. Clark Ltd., 1981)Google Scholar; Zizioulas, John D., Being as Communion (New York: St. Vladamir's Seminary Press, 1985)Google Scholar; Zizioulas, John, ‘Human Capacity and Incapacity: A Theological Exploration of Personhood’, Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 28 (1975), pp. 401448Google Scholar. For a contrasting approach see Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, English Translation by O'Connell, Matthew J. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985)Google Scholar. German title: Anthropobgie in theologischer Perspektive. From a Roman Catholic perspective see Mühlen, Heribert, Der Heilige Geist als Person. (Münster: 1963).Google Scholar

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