Advent with Barth: Conceived by the Holy Spirit

Friday, December 21, 2018

We now turn to the previous clause in the confession, conceptus de Spiritu sancto (conceived by the Holy Spirit).

The natus ex virgine (born of the virgin) described the negative side of the miracle of the miracle of Christmas.

The birth of the Lord was a birth without a previous sexual event, without a male to beget.

It is thus the sign of the inconceivable, of the incarnation of the Word, the Holy One, the Lord of all things.

As just shown, an independent meaning cannot attach either (in the sign) to the person or the sex of Mary, or (in the thing signified) to human nature.

Actually no one is left to be God’s fellow-worker.

All that “Mary the virgo” actually signifies is that man is really the other upon whom and with whom God acts in His revelation.

We have had to say all this already in elucidation of the negative formula.

Its necessity, i.e., that it is spoken with exegetical correctness, is established by the first and positive formula, conceptus de Spiritu sancto.

It states that the conception of Jesus Christ prior to His birth of the Virgin Mary was the work of God the Holy Spirit.

To that extent it was a miraculous birth and as such the sign of the incarnation of the eternal Word.

The formula conceptus de Spiritu sancto thus fills the blank, as it were, indicated by the formula natus ex Maria virgine.

It indicates the ground and content, where the latter indicates the form and shape, of the miracle and sign.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 196

Advent with Barth: The Sign of Divine Agape

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Human virginity, far from being able to construct for itself a point of connection for divine grace, lies under its judgment.

Yet it becomes, not by its nature, not of itself, but by divine grace, the sign of this judgment passed upon man, and to the extent the sign of divine grace.

For if it is only the virgo who can be the mother of the Lord, if God’s grace considers her alone and is prepared to use her for His work upon man, that means that as such willing, achieving, creative, sovereign man is not considered, and is not to be used for this work.

Of course, man is involved, but not as God’s fellow-worker, not in his independence, not with control over what is to happen, but only–and even that because God has presented him with Himself–in his readiness for God.

So thoroughly does God judge sin in the flesh by being gracious to man.

So much does God insist that He alone is Lord by espousing the cause of man.

This is the mystery of grace to which the natus ex virgine points.

The sinful life of sex is excluded as the source of the human existence of Jesus Christ, not because of the nature of sexual life nor because of its sinfulness, but because every natural generation is the work of willing, achieving, creative, sovereign man.

No event of natural generation will be a sign of the mystery indicated here.

Such an event will point to the mighty and really cosmic power of human creaturely eros.

If our aim is to discover and set up the sign of this power, the event of sex still forces itself upon us as the sign which is unmatched by any other in importance and persuasiveness.

The event of sex cannot be considered at all as the sign of divine agape which seeks not its own and never fails.

It is the work of willing, achieving, creative, sovereign man, and as such points elsewhere than to the majesty of the divine pity.

Therefore the virginity of Mary, and not the wedlock of Joseph and Mary, is the sign of revelation and of the knowledge of the mystery of Christmas.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 192.

Advent with Barth: The Freedom of God

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

In the form of the natus ex virgine (born of the virgin) sinful sexual life is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ.

But this is understandable and significant only if we keep in mind the fact that the limitation of man achieved in the ex virgine, the meaning of the judgment on man therein expressed, cannot be discerned at all from the side of that which is limited or judged, that is, of the sin of man, but only from that of Him who limits or judges, that is, of what God is, wills, and does here in excluding the sinful life of sex.

The mystery of revelation and reconciliation consists in the fact that in His freedom, mercy, and omnipotence, God became man, and as such acts upon man.

By this action of God sin is excluded and nullified.

And to this particular action of God the natus ex virgine points.

It is the sign that the sinful life of sex is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ.

In that God in His revelation and reconciliation is the Lord and makes room for Himself among us, man and his sin are limited and judged.

God is also Lord over His sinful creature.

God is also free over its original sin, the sin that is altogether bound up with its existence and antecedent to every evil thought, word, and deed.

And God–but God only–is free to restore this freedom to His creature.

This freedom will always be the freedom of His own action upon his creature, and so the negation of a freedom of this creature’s own.

Since it lives by His grace, it is judged in its own will and accomplishment.

If the natus ex virgine with its exclusion of the sinful life of sex points to this gracious judgment of God, it really signifies the exclusion of sin in the sense of peccatum originale (original sin).

That it does actually point to this gracious judgment of God, we realize when we consider that in the birth without previous sexual union of man and woman (of which Scripture speaks), man is involved in the form of Mary, but involved only in the form of the virgo Maria, i.e., only in the form of non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign man, only in the form of man who can merely receive, merely be ready, merely let something be done to and with himself.

This human being, the virgo, becomes the possibility, becomes the mother of God’s Son in the flesh.

It is not, of course, that she is this; but she becomes it.

And she does not become it of her own capacity; she acquires capacity by the act of the Son of God assuming flesh.

It is not as though this non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign, merely ready, merely receptive, virgin human being as such can have brought anything to the active God as her own, in which her adaptability for God consists.

It is not as if virginity as a human possibility constitutes the point of connection for divine grace.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 191-192.

Advent with Barth: The New Beginning

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

But how far is it the ex virgine (of the virgin) that points to this penetration and new beginning?

Virgin birth means birth without previous sexual union between man and woman.

Speaking generally, it is what it lacks that distinguishes the birth of Christ, that marks it as the mystery of God, the penetration and new beginning within humanity.

But what is it in this lack that acts as a sign?

Here we cannot consider the quite un-biblical view that sexual life is to be regarded as an evil to be removed, so that the active sign is to be sought in the fact that this removal is here presumed to have taken place.

But if, to be precise, we add that it is not to be excluded here as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ, we still do not give a valid account of the ex virgine.

It is not because of the sin actually involved in all sexual life that man is altogether a sinner who continually lives in disobedience by living it out.

He is altogether a sinner from birth, who all through his life lives out the disobedience in which his life is already involved.

And so all sexual life is involved in sin as well, and is itself sin.

Thus the exclusion of this sinful sexual life does not mean the exclusion of sin in the sense of peccatum originale (original sin), and so this exclusion is still as unsuitable as ever to be the sign of the penetration and new beginning in the existence of Jesus Christ, to be the sign of His sinlessness.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 189-190.

Advent with Barth: The Gracious Judgment of the Nativity

Monday, December 17, 2018

But how far is it the ex virgine (of the virgin) that points to this penetration and new beginning?

Virgin birth means birth without previous sexual union between man and woman. Speaking generally, it is what it lacks that distinguishes the birth of Christ, that marks it as the mystery of God, the penetration and new beginning within humanity.

But what is it in this lack that acts as a sign?

Here we cannot consider the quite un-biblical view that sexual life as such is to be regarded as an evil to be removed, so that the active sign is to be sought in the fact that this removal is here presumed to have taken place.

But if, to be precise, we add that it is not the natural but the sinful element in sexual life which caused it to be excluded here as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ, we still do not give a valid account of the ex virgine.

It is not because of the sin actually involved in all sexual life that man is altogether a sinner who continually lives in disobedience by living it out.

He is altogether a sinner from birth, who all through his life lives out the disobedience in which his life is already involved.

And so all sexual life is involved in sin as well, and is itself sin.

Thus the exclusion of this sinful sexual life does not mean the exclusion of sin in the sense of peccatum originale (original sin),and so this exclusion is still as unsuitable as ever to be the sign of the penetration and new beginning in the existence of Jesus Christ, to be the sign of His sinlessness.

In the form of the natus ex virgine (born of the virgin) sinful sexual life is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ.

But this is understandable and significant only if we keep in mind the fact that the limitation of man achieved in the ex virgine, the meaning of the judgment on man therein expressed, cannot be discerned at all from the side of that which is limited or judged, that is, of the sin of man, but only from that of Him who limits or judges, that is, of what God is, wills and does here in excluding the sinful life of sex.

The mystery of revelation and reconciliation consists in the fact that in His freedom, mercy and omnipotence, God became man, and as such acts upon man.

By this action of God sin is excluded and nullified.

And to this particular action of God the natus ex virgine (born of a virgin) points.

It is the sign that the sinful life of sex is excluded as the origin of the human existence of Jesus Christ.

In that God in His revelation and reconciliation is the Lord and makes room for Himself among us, man and his sin are limited and judged.

God is also Lord over His sinful creature.

God is also free over its original sin, the sin that is altogether bound up with its existence and antecedent to every evil thought, word, and deed.

And God–but God only–is free to restore this freedom to His creature.

This freedom will always be the freedom of His own action upon His creature, and so the negation of a freedom of this creature’s own.

Since it lives by His grace, it is judged in its own will and accomplishment.

If the natus ex virgine with its exclusion of the sinful life of sex points to this gracious judgment of God, it really signifies the exclusion of sin in the sense of peccatum originale.

That it does actually point to this gracious judgment of God, we realize when we consider that in the birth without previous sexual union of man and woman (of which Scripture speaks), man is involved in the form of Mary, but involved only in the form of the virgo Maria (Virgin Mary), i.e., only in the form of non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign man, only in the form of man who can merely receive, merely to be ready, merely to let something be done to and with himself.

This human being, the virgo, becomes the possibility, becomes the mother of God’s Son in the flesh.

It is not, of course, that she is this; but she becomes it.

And she does not become it of her own capacity; she acquires capacity by the act of the Son of God assuming flesh.

It is not as though this non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign, merely ready, merely receptive, virgin human being as such can have brought anything to the active God as her own, in which her adaptability for God consists.

It is not as if virginity as a human possibility constitutes the point of connection for divine grace.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, pages 189-191.

Advent with Barth: A Judgment Upon Man

Third Sunday of Advent, December 16, 2018

In the ex virgine (of the virgin) there is contained a judgment upon man.

When Mary as a virgin becomes the mother of the Lord and so, as it were, the entrance gate of divine revelation into the world of man, it is declared that in any other way, i.e., by the natural way in which a human wife becomes a mother, there can be no motherhood of the Lord and so no such entrance gate of revelation into our world.

In other words, human nature possesses no capacity for becoming the human nature of Jesus Christ, the place of divine revelation.

It cannot be the work-mate of God.

If it actually becomes so, it is not because of any attributes which it possessed already and in itself, but because of what is done to it by the divine Word, and so not because of what it has to do or give, but because of what it has to suffer and receive–and at the hand of God.

The virginity of Mary in the birth of the Lord is the denial, not of man in the presence of God, but of any power, attribute or capacity in him for God.

If he has this power–and Mary clearly has it–it means strictly and exclusively that he acquires it, that it is laid upon him.

In this power of his for God he can as little understand himself as Mary in the story of the Annunciation could understand herself as the future mother of the Messiah.

Only with her Ecce ancilla Domini (Behold the handmaiden of God) can he understand himself as what, in a way inconceivable to himself, he has actually become in the sight of God and by His agency.

The meaning of this judgment, this negation, is not the difference between God as Creator and man as a creature.

Man as a creature–if we try for a moment to speak of man in this abstract way–might have the capacity for God and even be able to understand himself in this capacity.

In Paradise there would have been no need of the sign ex virgine to indicate that man was God’s fellow-worker.

But the man whom revelation reaches, and who is reconciled to God in revelation and by it, is not man in Paradise.

He has not ceased to be God’s creature.

But he has lost his pure creatureliness, and with it the capacity for God, because as a creature and in the totality of his creatureliness he became disobedient to his Creator.

To the roots of his being he lives in this disobedience.

It is with the disobedient creature that God has to do in His revelation.

It is his nature, his flesh, that the Word assumes in being made flesh.

And this human nature, the only one we know and the only one there actually is, has of itself no capacity for being adopted by God’s Word into unity with Himself, i.e, into personal unity with God.

Upon this human nature a mystery must be wrought in order that this may be made possible.

And this mystery must consist in its receiving the capacity for God which it does not possess.

This mystery is signified by the natus ex virgine.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 188-189

Advent with Barth: The Revealer of God

Saturday, December 15, 2018

But now let us turn to the main point, ex virgine (of the virgin).

What is meant by that?

Certainly the general and formal fact that the becoming, the actual human existence of the Revealer of God who is God Himself, is a miracle.

That is to say, it is an event in the world of ours, yet such that it is not grounded upon the continuity of events in this world nor is it to be understood in terms of it.

It is a sign set up immediately by God, and can only be understood as such. 

But just because like all biblical miracles the ex virgine is essentially a sign, in our interpretation of it we ought not to be content merely to make clear its discontinuity, its “supernaturalness.”

Miraculous and marvelous as such, indispensable though that is, we still remain in the sphere in which there are marvels according to heathen religion and cosmology too, marvels with a strong resemblance to the biblical marvel, even to the natus ex virgine itself.

The way in which the natus ex virgine appears in the New Testament and the way in which it has been expounded in the Early Church give us no right to abide by that founding and to regard the marvelous as the original motive of the dogma.

With full recognition of its formal importance we can as little abide by this finding as by the ex Maria (of Mary) which has an equal claim on our notice and emphasis.

By the ex virgine the essential point is plainly expressed that by the Word being made flesh, by God’s Son assuming “human nature,” this human nature undergoes a very definite limitation.

Grace is imparted to it. 

But this cannot happen without its coming under judgment as well.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 187

Advent with Barth: The Word Became Flesh

Friday, December 14, 2018

God Himself and God alone is Master and Lord.

This cannot be stated strongly enough, exclusively enough, negatively enough against all synergism or even monism.

It must not be so stated, however, that what is simple and definite is forgotten or obscured.

It is he, man, who is central in this event.

It is not an event in the loneliness of God, but an event between God and man.

Man is not there only in a supplementary capacity.

In his own place, his own sharply defined manner, he participates in the event as one of the principals; not as a cipher or as a phantom, but as the real man that he is.

The Word became flesh.

He participates in it as a real man can, where God Himself, God alone is the Subject, Lord and Master. 

It is not that he is not in it.

But even more refined and precise statements we make regarding the sovereignty of God in this event can only describe how real man participates in it and to what extent he can do so.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 186

Advent with Barth: The Real Son of a Real Mother

Thursday, December 13, 2018

But we must at once make it clear that the negative in the first clause also includes a positive, a very important, positive assertion.

It does not speak only of something utterly enigmatic that becomes an event within human reality, and therefore of the sovereignty of God which has to be borne in mind in view of this event.

It also speaks of the human reality of Jesus Christ, although it speaks of it with unheard-of limitation, and by the proclamation of pure enigma.

Otherwise it would not describe this mystery, the mystery of Christmas, the sovereignty of God manifested in the fact that here God’s reality becomes one with human reality.

By is natus ex Maria it states that the person Jesus Christ is the real son of a real mother, the son born of the body, flesh and blood of his mother, both of them as real as all the other sons of other mothers.

It is thus that Jesus Christ is born and not otherwise.

In this complete sense, He, too, is a man.

In this complete sense, then, He is man in a different way from the others sons of other mothers.

But the difference under consideration here is so great, so fundamental and comprehensive, that it does not impair the completeness and genuineness of His humanity.

Thus in the words natus ex Maria the second clause also defines the positive fact that the birth of Jesus Christ was the genuine birth of a genuine man.

And in this way the sign signifies the thing signified, the inexpressible mystery that the Word was made flesh.

That and nothing else is the act of the divine sovereignty which we call the mystery of Christmas.

Only because that really happened is it the mystery of God’s revelation to us and of our reconciliation to God.

It is important for the whole concept of revelation, grace, faith, and in the last analysis for all departments of theological investigation and teaching, to be quite clear that this natus ex Maria is included in the dogma, that the miracle of Christmas has as one of its elements the not at all miraculous reality of man.

If Emmanuel is true the miracle is done upon him.

It is man who is the object of sovereign divine action in this event.

God Himself and God alone is Master and Lord.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 185-186

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