Archives For Church Dogmatics II.I

Karl Barth's CD II 1 2016 GVLWith the time constraints and work outside my study of theology and political philosophy, I’ve managed to complete Barth’s Church Dogmatics II:1[i]. This leaves me thinking about the remaining nine.  Will they be as great a learning experience? Will the journey ahead be as arduous and beneficial as the one before it?

The task now is II:2,  the most recommended starting point for Barth’s work in this 13 book series[ii].Beginning with IV:4 then I:1 and I:2, I’ve deliberately taken the long road to get to it.

To mark a finish line and starting point, I’m adding a few of my thoughts and notes from the remaining pages of II:1. There is a large amount of worthy mentions. However, I’m aiming for brevity. So tattered note-book in hand, here’s the most significant.

What does it mean for theology to say that God is beautiful?

Although Barth considers it dangerous for theology to speak of God’s beauty because “only God can speak of God.” Barth provides a way for theology to speak of God’s beauty without it falling into idolatry. Theology should first acknowledge that good does not come from beauty. Beauty comes from that which is good.  Our idea of beauty mustn’t derive from its secular definition (p.651, clarified further on p.656) The reason for this is that God is much more. God is free. God is love and His love is ‘majestic, holy and righteous.’ (p.651)

 ‘…if we allowed aestheticism to have and keep the last word it would inevitably be as a false and unChrisitian dynamism or vitalism or logism or intellectualism or moralism which might try to slip into the doctrine of God. For all that, it is as well to realise that aestheticism which threatens here is no worse than the other “isms” or any “ism.” They are all dangerous.’ (p.652)

What is God’s glory?

According to Barth in II:1, God’s glory is

‘His active grace, mercy, patience and love[iii] […] the revelation of Jesus Christ par excellence […] the Son is the prototype of God’s glory.’ (pp.653, 661, 667)

Glory is to be viewed in the same light as dignity. Here Barth writes,

it is a glory that awakens joy […] God’s glory radiates it […] because it is God who Himself radiates joy […] His glory is radiant, and what it radiates is joy. It attracts and therefore it conquers.’ (pp.655, 654, 661)

What of theology as a science?

Within his discussion on God’s glory and beauty, Barth stops to make a few side remarks about theology as a science. He notes,

‘…theology as a whole is the most beautiful of all the sciences. To find the sciences distasteful is the mark of a philistine. It is an extreme form of Philistinism to find, or to be able to find, theology distasteful. The theologian who has no joy in his [or her] work is not a theologian. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons to be one of the seven sins of the monk – taedium {tedious or boring}’ (p.656)

What is the human response to God to be?

Two of the pillars of Barth’s theology are prayer and gratitude. What does God require in response to grace[iv]? Prayer and radical gratitude.

Grateful obedience (p.229)
‘To believe in Jesus Christ means to be thankful. This is to be understood as radically as it must be in the context.’ (p.669)

To be in Christ, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthian church[v], means to be a new creation. Barth tells us that be a new creation,

‘is not merely  a change of temper or sentiment or conduct and action. It is a change of the being of man before God, brought about by the fact that God has altered His attitude toward humanity. It is the change from ingratitude to gratitude, full of hope. Gratitude is to be understood not only as a quality and an activity but as the very being and essence of this creature. It is not merely grateful. It is gratitude itself.’ (p.669)

Further along, Barth adds,

‘The Holy Spirit begets the man [or woman] in Jesus Christ whose existence is thanksgiving (p.670) […] it is only by a heart’s willingness and readiness to live unto God that God can be honoured, thanked and served.’ (p.674)

Why is eschatology important to the Church?

In a rather large side note Barth breaks to discuss his early theology and rejection of Liberal Neo-Protestantism, writing without hiding it’s political overtones,

Back then, ‘I even dared to say that: “Hope that is visible is not hope.’ Direct communication from God is not communication from God. A Christianity that is not wholly and utterly and irreducibly eschatology has absolutely nothing to do with Christ. A spirit that is not at every moment in time new life from the dead is in any case not the Holy Spirit. ‘For that which is seen is temporal’ (2 Cor.4:18) What is not hope is a log, a block, a chain, heavy and angular, like the word ‘reality.’ It imprisons rather than sets free. It is not grace, but judgement and destruction. It is fate, not divine fulfilment. It is not God, but a reflection of man unredeemed. It is this even if it is an ever so stately edifice of social progress or an ever so respectable bubble of Christian redeemedness. Redemption is that which cannot be seen, the inaccessible, the impossible, which confronts us as hope. Can we wish to be anything other and better than men [and women] of hope?” Well roared, lion! There is nothing absolutely false in these bold words. I still think I was right ten times over and against those who then passed judgement on them and resisted them.’ (pp. 634-635)

II:1 displays some of Barth’s best work. In it his theology bursts to life.  Each chapter is deep and well thought out. Barth is consistent. He’s bold and doesn’t cease to be. That he carefully speaks his mind has only strengthened my opinion of him as a theologian.Reading Church Dogmatics is a spiritual discipline. I don’t see how a careful reading of Barth should be done in any other way.

In our divided world the division between left and right once again threatens to claim or reject theology as a buttress for ideology. Once again it threatens to subdue theology into propping up, in absolute agreement, the pretensions of humanity. And, once again as his words point us towards the holiness, grace and freedom of God in Jesus Christ, Barth’s “roar” finds relevance and commands attention.



[i] Barth, K. 1940 Church Dogmatics, II:1 The Doctrine of God, Hendrickson Publishers

[ii] Excluding the index

[iii] ‘God’s glory is God’s love’ (p.645)

[iv] Barth: ‘Grace/charity (caris) calls forth thanksgiving (eucaristia). But thanksgiving is itself the substance of the creature’s participation in the divine grace/charity.’ (p.670. See also p.216)

[v] 2 Cor. 5:17

Related CD II:I posts:

Barth: ‘God Does Not Will To Be Without Us’
Anger, Angst, Amps & An “Appetite” For Definition (God is not a species)
Revelation Over Religion: God’s Mind Is Not For Rent
A Dose Of Dodgem: Dads
Karl Barth: God Is The One Who Loves In Freedom
Directing Light Under The Shadow Of Real Hate
Gnade: The Importance Of Karl Barth’s Non-Separation Of God’s Holiness & Grace
Every Genuine Proclamation Of The Christian Faith Is Destructive To The Advance Of Religion
Barth’s Impossible Possibility: It’s Not That We Can Fall From Grace, It’s That Grace Can Be & Is Rejected
George Orwell & Karl Barth: On The Irruption Of a Third Reich Of Madness
May God’s Omnipotence Be With You


Karl Barth CD II_1554Five key statements by Barth in C.D 2:1 help to deliver a better understanding of his belief that ‘sin can only ever be the impossible possibility’ (p.505)[i].

In God permitting us to respond to grace, the rejection of grace [sin] is made possible.  Essentially, this is the possibility of self-annulment; the rejection of our own existence, primarily attached to an outright rejection of God’s.

If I’ve heard Barth correctly, his idea of sin as an impossible possibility is formulated as follows:

First: ‘The fact that the creature can fall away from God and perish does not imply any imperfection on the part of the creation or the Creator.’ (p.503)
Second: ‘[It is an] incomprehensible fact that the creature rejects the preserving grace of God.’ (p.504)
Third: ‘It is not by His abandoning His opposition [to sin], but by His maintaining and exercising it that the world is saved from the evil of its own opposition [to itself and Him].’ (p.504)

Fifty pages on and the idea pops up again.

Fourth: ‘We may fall into sin and hell, but whether for salvation or perdition, we cannot fall out of the realm of God’s knowledge and so out of the realm of His grace and judgement. This is the comfort and the warning contained in the truth of the divine knowledge.’(p.554)

Finally, Barth claims that although God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, God is not the author of defects. He is not the author of sin. In creating the possibility of a human response to grace, God also grants us along with the answer to sin, the possibility to sin or not to sin. God is not, therefore, the author of sin.

God hasn’t changed: He wills to be with us and that we should not be without Him[ii].

God does not will that we should be puppets. Even though God in His power is capable of commanding puppets, for Him to do so would be inconsistent with who He is and has revealed Himself to be.  In His loving freedom and patience, He allows. This allowance is His will; a gracious permitting that does not desire the absolute rejection of Himself. Nor does He desire the total annihilation of His creature.

As Barth sees it, within God’s omnipotence and constancy we are summoned to walk away from sin. Here we are not abandoned. We are given an empowering permission, not to sin. More precariously, this permission also contains the potentiality to sin. However, God does not desire that we should sin willingly, thereby exchanging what Bonhoeffer termed as costly grace for cheap grace. Instead, God wills, as Paul Tillich rightly stated it, for us to “accept that we are accepted.”

According to Barth,

‘God has thereby done what we cannot do. He has made a distinction between the sinner and his sin. He has hated the sinner’s sin but does not cease to love the sinner (IV/ 1, 406).[iii]

The impossible possibility is a human paradox. The battle against sin is, in Christ, won. Sin has been answered by the holiness and grace of the free and loving God. Yet, sin still oppresses humanity.  In it a state of deceptive revolt exists against the omnipotence, knowledge and will of God.

Even in the grip of grace humanity is still held back by its own will-to-power. Sin is possible in that humanity acts on the gift of freedom God gives and rejects the very fact that in Jesus Christ, God ‘condescends and humiliates himself to befriend us’ (p.517-518)

The consequence of possibility rests on God’s omnipotence and constancy. God acts in freedom and in condescending gives humanity the gift of freedom[iv].

Put simply: That we have an empowered freedom not to sin, means we ought not to sin. That God has already acted means we can act. That we can sin, doesn’t mean we should give in so easily to it.

Barth’s use of the phrase “fall from God” should not be read as a “fall from grace.” As such, there is no “fall from grace,” but rather only a rejection of it; or the possibility of rejecting it.

In this volume of his Dogmatics, Barth outlines that God’s omnipotence and constancy is grounded in the fact that He is the one who loves in freedom. God is free. He gives freedom and that gift of freedom includes the principle of taking responsibility for that gift. The onus of responsibility in freedom falls on men and women, who are recipients of it.

 ‘Surrounded by His knowledge and His will, governed by His Spirit as by His omnipotence, they can have their creaturely independence and even the freedom of self-determination. But they can also be subordinated to the all-predestinating omnipotence of God as the concrete power which differentiates and judges.’ (p.544)

God’s gift of freedom means that humanity is held to account for how it employs and has employed that freedom.  Because of God’s act in freedom, he is not the cause of all things that contradict or seem to contradict Him; or contradict what God does or who He has revealed Himself to be.

What He allows and disallows is to be equated with who He is; ‘the one who loves in freedom’[v]. E.g.: what God does comes from who He is[vi]. On the other hand, what God allows and disallows is not to be equated with what He does. E.g.: God’s disallowing is not His disavowing. The creature in relationship with Him is granted the responsibility to act. Not just the responsibility to act responsibly, but the grace to do so.

Instead, we find ourselves contradicted. God’s grace shows us our sin and empowers us towards personal, communal, religious, political and ideological reformation.

As Busch noted:

‘We discover sin only in the encounter of divine opposition to it. We discover that we have evaded the knowledge of our sin by denying our existence as sinners[vii] […] God’s opposition to sin is also the command of the gracious God that frees humans to rise up from their sin, humans in their sloth do that which is almost “impossible . . . has no true basis . . . cannot be deduced or explained or excused or justified” (IV/ 2, 411).[viii]

Since, God has in His freedom lovingly and decisively chosen to save us from ourselves, the capability of rejecting the only genuine source of our true freedom becomes a potentiality, even under grace.

God is almighty. God is constant.  Humanity changes, the Almighty doesn’t. Humanity enslaves itself, God sets us free.

In Jesus Christ, God has chosen not to reject us. Yet, the possibility exists where the rejection of God is made a potentiality. This human rejection contains the possibility of self-condemnation; total extinction – (self-annulment). Any attempts made by humanity to save itself outside of God’s will, furthers this rejection by displacing God with false gods, false religion, false ideologies or idolatry.

In the wilful rejection of His grace and self-revelation humanity commits itself to the task of circumventing God and by doing so commits itself the reality and freedom of the impossible possibility.

God wills freedom for His creature.  This means permission. Risky, but all of this is encompassed within the sphere of God’s omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. God is the full-stop. He knows what He is doing. Nothing passes Him. By allowing His creature the freedom to sin, God willed to make it possible for humanity to be free from sin. Subsequently, God desires that we act, in, through and on His grace. Working with Him in participation against that which seeks our’s and our neighbour’s total annihilation.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.


[i] This is also a phrase repeated by Barth in, Prayer.

[ii] Barth, K 1940, CD.II.I p.274

[iii] Busch, E,  Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology) Abingdon Press. Kindle Ed. – This is also a distinction pointed to by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the final chapter of Life Together, 1938 (p.111)

[iv] ‘The truth is that both freedom and the necessity which belong to the creature exist only by the will of God.’ (Barth, p.563)

[v] Barth K 1940, CD.II:1 pp.328-350

[vi] Ibid, p.334

[vii] Busch, E, Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology) Abingdon Press. Kindle Ed.

[viii] ibid

Image is mine. The photo is of the Hunter Valley Gardens chapel in NSW.

See also:

‘The grace of God is not merely an optional extra; it is the solid basis and wholly effective condition of existence…Of all creatures only humanity seems to have the impossible possibility of repudiating our preservation [salvation/liberation] by God as a preservation within appointed limits. [Grace may be rejected] But we cannot alter [reverse what was achieved in Jesus Christ]; the fact that humanity is preserved [by God] in this way.’

(Karl Barth, God the Father & Lord of His Creature, CD.3.3:85-86)