Advent with Barth: A Pure Divine Beginning

Saturday, December 22, 2018

To the full elucidation of the conceptus de Spiritu sancto belongs the recollection that where in the sphere of Christian revelation and the Christian Church legitimate and significant language is used about the Holy Spirit, what is meant is invariably God, God Himself, God in the fullest and strictest sense of the term–namely, the Lord of all lords, He who is Lord because of Himself and not because of another, the Lord to whom man belongs before ever, and to an infinitely greater extent than, he belongs to himself, to who he owes himself entirely, and to whom he remains in utter obligation, the Lord upon whose grace he is utterly thrown, and in whose promise alone his future consists.

He and no other and nothing else is the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus Christ was conceived according to His human nature, in order to be born of the Virgin Mary.

It is important to make this quite clear, first, because in so doing we reject in anticipation the attempt to parallel the saying about the Virgin birth of Christ by assertions from the realm of heathen mythology which sound very similar.

In the case of these alleged parallels the similarity can never be more than verbal, because the divine agents in the miraculous births spoken of in this connection are definitely not God in the full and strict sense of the word, but at best gods, that is, hypostatizations of the feeling of man for nature or his reflection on history, hypostatizations behind which man is everywhere only too visible as the proper lord of the world and as the creator of deities.

Accordingly, these mythical miracles are not real miracles, i.e., signs of God, the Lord of the world, signs which positively limit this world of ours as a created world.

They are prodigies, i.e., extraordinary occurrences within this world of ours, and therefore objects of our human worldview.

It follows from this, secondly, that when we regard the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus Christ is conceived as in the strictest sense God Himself, God the Lord, we forestall and eliminate any attempt to come to the assistance of the saying about the Virgin birth of Christ with any speculation from physics or with any more or less genuine scientific information of a biological sort.

In other words, if we are clear that with the Holy Spirit God Himself is declared to be the author of the sign of the Virgin birth, then we know that in acknowledging the reality of this sign we have a priori renounced all understanding of it as a natural possibility, even when we are tempted to do so by a consideration so inviting as that of natural parthenogenesis, for example.

We are already committed, then, to an acknowledgement of a pure divine beginning, of a limiting of all natural possibilities, and this forbids us at the very outset to indulge in any reflection as to whether and how this reality can be anything else but a pure divine beginning.

It is this strict acceptance of the divinity of the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus Christ is conceived, and along with that the strict acceptance of the miraculous character of the Virgin birth, that makes the latter the sign of the mystery of Christmas.

It is of significance for the thing signified, of which it is the sign, because here, too, in the incarnation of the Word in the strict sense, we are concerned with the action of God Himself, with a pure divine beginning.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 197-198

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