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

Advent with Barth: The Virgin Womb and The Empty Tomb

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The mutual relationship between these two limits may perhaps be defined thus.

The Virgin birth denotes particularly the mystery of revelation.

It denotes the fact that God stands at the start where real revelation takes place — God and not the arbitrary cleverness, capability, or piety of man.

In Jesus Christ, God comes forth out of profound hiddenness of His divinity in order to act as God among us and upon us.

That is revealed and made visible to us in the sign of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but it is grounded upon the fact signified by the Virgin birth, that here in this Jesus God Himself has really come down and concealed Himself in humanity.

It is because He was veiled here that He could and had to unveil Himself as He did at Easter.

The empty tomb, on the other hand, denotes particularly the revelation of the mystery. 

It denotes that it is not for nothing that God stands at the beginning, but that it is as such that He becomes active and knowable.

He has no need of human power and is free from all human caprice.

Therefore even the ultimate extremities of human existence, as He submits to them and abandons Himself to death, offer no hindrance to His being and work.

That God Himself in His complete majesty was one with us, as the Virgin birth indicates, is verified in what the empty tomb indicates, that here in this Jesus the living Go has spoken to us men in accents we cannot fail to hear.

Because He has unveiled Himself here as the One He is, we may and must say what the Christmas message says, that unto you is born this day the Savior.

The mystery at the beginning is the basis of the mystery at the end; and by the mystery of the end the mystery of the beginning becomes active and knowable.

And since this is so, the same objective content is signified in the one case by the miracle of the Virgin birth, in the other by the miracle of the empty tomb.

Once we have looked into this self-enclosed circle, we shall have to meet the attack upon the natus ex virgine (born of a virgin) with the further reflection that by it an indispensable connection is destroyed which is actually found in the creed, to that the tertia die resurrexit a mortuis (rose again from the dead), too, is actually called in question.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 182-183

Advent with Barth: Of Wombs and Tombs

Monday, December 10, 2018

Now it is no accident that for us the Virgin birth is paralleled by the miracle of which the Easter witness speaks, the miracle of the empty tomb.

The two miracles belong together.

They constitute, as it were, a single sign, the special function of which, compared with other signs and wonders of the New Testament witness, is to describe and mark out the existence of Jesus Christ, amid the many other existences in human history, as the human historical existence in which God is Himself, God is alone, God is directly the Subject, the temporal reality of which is not only called forth, created, conditioned and supported by the eternal reality of God, but is identical with it.

The Virgin birth at the opening and the empty tomb at the close of Jesus’ life bear witness that this life is a fact marked off from all the rest of human life, and marked off in the first instance, not by our understanding or our interpretation, but by itself.

Marked off in regard to its origin: it is free of the arbitrariness which underlies all our existences. 

And marked off in regard to its goal: it is victorious over the death to which we are all liable. 

Only within these limits is it what it is and is it correctly understood, as the mystery of the revelation of God. 

It is to that mystery that these limits point — he who ignores them or wishes them away must see to it that he is not thinking of something quite different from this.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 182

Advent with Barth: The Miraculous Mystery

Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018

Are the signs of which the biblical witness to revelation speaks arbitrarily selected and given?

Is the outward part, in which according to this witness the inward part of revelation is brought to ear and eye, merely and accidental expression of the inward?

From what standpoint will we really want to establish this point, if we are clear that revelation is something else than the manifestation of an idea?

But if we cannot establish it, how can we really want to achieve this abstraction, holding to the thing signified but not to the sign unless we freely choose to do so? 

When we do this, is it not the case that openly or tacitly we have in mind something quite different? 

This is the question we have to put to ourselves even in regard to the Virgin birth.

Ultimately, the only question that we can ask here, but we very definitely have to ask it, is this: When two theologians with apparently the same conviction confess the mystery of Christmas, do they mean the same thing by that mystery, if one acknowledges and confesses the Virgin birth to be the sign of the mystery while the other denies it as a mere externality or is ready to leave it an open question?

Does the second man really acknowledge and confess that in His revelation to us and in our reconciliation to Him, to our measureless astonishment and in measureless hiddenness the initiative is wholly with God?

Or does he not by his denial or declared indifference towards the sign of the Virgin birth at the same time betray the fact that with regard to the thing signified by this sign he means something quite different? 

May it not be the case that the only one who hears the witness of the thing is the one who keeps to the sign by which the witness has actually signified it?

According to the dogma the mystery of revelation is described as the occurrence of a miracle, “miracle” taken in the special concrete sense, not in the general on just mentioned above.

At this stage, we do not inquire into its special content: conceptus de Spiritu sancto, natus ex Maria virgine (conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary).

We merely make the point that by these assertions is meant an event occurring in the realm of the creaturely world in the full sense of the word, and so in the unity of the psychical with the physical, in time and in space, in noetic (mental) and ontic (physical) reality.

It cannot be understood out of continuity with the rest that occurs in this world, nor is it in fact grounded in this continuity.

It is so unusual an event that it may be misunderstood subjectively as an error, illusion, poetry or symbol, or objectively as a creaturely mystery unexplained to begin with but explicable in principle.

It can be properly understood, however, only as a sign wrought by God Himself, and by God Himself solely and directly, the sign of the freedom and immediacy, the mystery of His action, as a preliminary sign of the coming of His Kingdom.

This is because in itself it really is nothing other than such a sign.

A sign must, of course, signify.

To do so it must have in itself something of the kind of thing it signifies; it must be in analogy with it noetically (mentally) and ontically (physically).

In this respect the miracle of Christmas is in analogy with what it signifies, the mystery of Christmas.

But it also consists in the fact that amid the continuity of the creaturely world, yet independently of it, both as regards our understanding of His action and as regards His action itself, God Himself has the initiative.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 179-182

Advent with Barth: Revelation of the Mystery

Saturday, December 8. 2018

It is the mystery of revelation that our dogma describes.

If revelation is a mystery and is understood as such, then it is at least possible in principle for the necessity of it to begin shining through.

But now we must emphasize the fact that it is the description of this mystery that is the purpose of the dogma.

Objections might, of course, be raised to what we have said up till now.

Is acknowledgment and confession of this mystery of the divine origin of the person of Jesus Christ completely tied up with acknowledgment and confession of the Virgin birth in particular?

Is the form in which we speak here of this mystery as if it were the content of it inseparable from this content, or this content from this form?

Must it not be left to Christian liberty or even to the historical judgment of the individual whether he can and will acknowledge and confess this content in precisely this form?

To this the answer is that the doctrine of the Virgin birth is merely the description and therefore the form by and in which the mystery is spoken of in the New Testament and in the creeds.

Similarly we might say that so far as the New Testament witness to Easter is the account of the empty grave, it merely describes the mystery, or the revelation of the mystery, “Christ is risen.”

It describes it by pointing to this external fact.

No one will dream of claiming that this external fact in itself and as such had the power to unveil for the disciples the veiled fact that, “God was in Christ.”

But was it revealed to them otherwise than by the sign of this external fact?

Will there be real faith in the resurrection of the Lord as revealing His mystery, as unveiling His divine glory, where the account of the empty grave is thought to be excisable as the mere form of the content in question, or where it can be left to Christian liberty to confess seriously and decisively the content alone?

With this form are we not also bound in fact to lose the specific content of the Easter message for some other truth about the resurrection?

Sign and thing signified, the outward and the inward, are, as a rule, strictly distinguished in the Bible, and certainly in other connections we cannot lay sufficient stress upon the distinction.

But they are never separated in such a (“liberal”) way that according to preference the one may be easily retained without the other.

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 178-179

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

Advent with Barth: The Compelling Light of Revelation

Thursday, December 6, 2018

It certainly was not their age and source-value that brought the narratives of the Virgin birth in the text of the Gospels and out of this text into the creed.

But a certain inward, essential rightness and importance in their connection with the person of Jesus Christ first admitted them to a share in the Gospel witness. 

At first this was announced with great reserve but in the last resort quite definitely, and then admitted also to a share in the Church confession and dogma in contrast to some other elements in this testimony which outwardly (and apparently inwardly too) were much more distinctive.

The question to which we must address ourselves here and give a serious answer is, whether this rightness and importance, which they must have had at the rise of the canonical New Testament, and then again at the framing of dogma, are so compellingly illuminated for us that we, too, must acknowledge the essential rightness and importance of the narratives of the Virgin birth.

By putting the question in this way we shall be quite clear that in answering it we are concerned only with an a posteriori understanding (understanding from experience) of the rightness and importance which belong to this matter in revelation itself, for only in so far as the rightness and importance arise out of revelation can they shine upon us with compelling light.

Behind literary as behind dogmatic investigation there arises the quaestio facti (question of fact), which cannot be answered either by literary or by dogmatic investigation. 

It is fitting, however, that in the realm of theology literary and dogmatic investigation should both be undertaken in the first instance (i.e., until the utter impossibility of this procedure is demonstrated) sub conditione facti (In consideration of the facts.)

from Karl Barth, “The Miracle of Christmas”, Church Dogmatics I.2, page 176-177