Advent with Barth: God’s Own Work is Seen in God’s Own Light

Friday, December 7, 2018

In order to reach the dogmatic a posteriori understanding (understanding from experience) in view, it is, above all, necessary to realize that the dogma of the Virgin birth, in fact the New Testament basis of the dogma, is of a different kind, and lies, as it were, on a different level of testimony from the dogma or New Testament knowledge of the true divinity and true humanity of Jesus Christ.

It denotes not so much the Christological reality of revelation as the mystery of that reality, the inconceivability of it, its character as a fact in which God has acted solely through God. 

The dogma of the Virgin birth is not, then, a repetition or description of the vere Deus vere homo (very God and very Man), although in its own way it also expresses, explains and throws light upon it. 

As a formal dogma, as it were, which is required to explain the material, it states that when the event indicated by the name Emmanuel takes place, when God comes to us as one of ourselves to be our own, to be ourselves in our place, as very God and very Man, this is a real event accomplished in space and time as history within history. 

In it God’s revelation comes to us, in it our reconciliation takes place; yet it is such an event that to every Why? and Whence? and How? we can only answer that here God does it all himself. 

The dogma of the Virgin birth is thus the confession of the boundless hiddenness of the vere Deus vere homo and of the boundless amazement of awe and thankfulness called forth in us by this vere Deus vere homo.

It eliminates the last surviving possibility of understanding the vere Deus vere homo intellectually, as an idea or an arbitrary interpretation in the sense of docetic (the belief that Jesus seemed to be fully human but was not fully human) or ebionite (the belief that Jesus was the Messiah but not God) Christology.

It leaves only the spiritual understanding of the vere Deus vere homo, i.e., the understanding in which God’s own work is seen in God’s own light.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 177

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