Advent with Barth: Born of the Virgin Mary

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Have we now proved the need for our dogma? Undoubtedly not.

We have made the point that, however scattered and problematic the relevant statements may be, the content of the dogma answers to biblical attestation.

In particular, it is related to the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ.

It is connected with it as sign with thing signified.

It describes this mystery by a miraculous event in analogy with the mystery.

In this way, and by incidentally disputing the various denials of the Virgin birth, we have merely hinted at its necessity.

We have called attention to the points of view from which this necessity can be made clear. 

It becomes clear only as we hear the biblical witness, in spite of and amid its reserve.

If we hear it as it was obviously heard in the Early Church, we will discern the uniqueness of its content as a sign and the relation between this sign and the mystery of revelation, and so come to understand the miracle constituting this content in its essential appropriateness.

Everything in the end depends on the one thing, on the mystery of revelation speaking and being apprehended through this sign.

Theological explanation at this point can as little anticipate this or compel it to happen as in the case of revelation generally.

To this extent the necessity for this very dogma cannot be proved.

It can only be shown what the elements are which lead us to acknowledge its necessity.

If we affirm this necessity, we must regard the acknowledgment involved as a decision, which in the last resort can only authenticate itself by virtue of its conformity to object which is demanded of it. 

It can and will receive further confirmation, however, in the detailed exposition of the dogma, to which we have now to turn.

The most suitable starting-point is the quite unambiguous second clause: Natus ex Maria virgine (born of the Virgin Mary).

It is unambiguous because  it describes the sovereignty of the divine act, and therefore the mystery of Christmas, by an express and extremely concrete negative. 

“Born of the Virgin Mary” means born as no one else is born, in a way which can as little be made clear biologically as the resurrection of a dead man, i.e., born not because of male generation but solely because of female conception.

The first and in substance more important clause, conceptus de Spiritu sancto (conceived by the Holy Spirit), which is interpreted by the second, describes in positive terms the same sovereignty of God in the coming of His Word into human existence.

It states that the free will of God is the meaning and solution of the enigma.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 184-185

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