Karl Barth’s Encounter with the Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius: Prejudices, Criticisms, Outcomes and Open Questions


Karl Barth’s Encounter with the Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius: Prejudices, Criticisms, Outcomes and Open Questions

I. A sequential outline of Barth’s encounters with Cocceius[1]

I.1. Romans II (1921)

‘Federal theology, no way !’ (‘keine “Föderaltheologie”!’), one can read in the second edition of The Epistle to the Romans.[2] Barth is dealing with the end of Romans chapter 11. The totally unexpected divine mercy towards the gentiles also implies a new mercy towards the Jewish people (vs. 31), but all that depends – as Barth reads vss. 33-36 – on God being veiled in his Judgment, in his own acts of electing and rejecting. It is not possible for men to grasp him, to bind him, to obligate him. There does not exist any reciprocal relationship between God and man. ‘Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him?’ (Is. 40:13). He is God, he himself, he alone, and he has his own way to say yes.[3]

This radical eschatology leaves no room for a category of binding in which two partners make agreements on the course of the historical process. Apparently Barth feared exactly that in the phenomenon of a ‘federal theology’, whatever he may have known about this phenomenon at that point.

I.2. Reading Gottlob Schrenk (1923)

During the Christmas holidays of 1922/1923 Barth studies the newly published dissertation of  Gottlob Schrenk, at that time lecturer at the Theological School of Bethel (near Bielefeld), which analyses two main categories in the old Protestant federal theology in general and in the thinking of Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) in particular, namely the Kingdom of God (‘Gottesreich’) and the Covenant (‘Bund’), and in addition sketches the influence of this theology on Pietism and on the theology of the ‘History of Redemption’ (‘Heilsgeschichte’) in the 19th century in Germany.[4] In letters to his friends and former colleagues in Switzerland he informs them of his findings. First he says to expect some clarification from the book (not unimportant for his Honorary Professorship in Göttingen) regarding the Reformed identity in Germany, and at the same time he (again) expresses  his suspicion against federal theology as a ‘misunderstanding’ – presumably: with regard to the relationship of eschatological eternity and the place of man in history – and a glue (‘Leim’) – probably: with regard to the attempt to combine different biblical stories with the glue of a historical series of successive ‘covenants’, which were intended to check the explosive character of the biblical witness.[5] In the end his suspicion seems to be confirmed: the book of Schrenk is commendable, although it lacks decisive insights (because of the material, which lacks them). Of the two main categories that of the Kingdom is a good one – in agreement with Barth’s own theology until then (a remnant, among other things, of his religious socialism) – and he is happy to have discovered now that this goes back to Calvin (and about Calvin he is enthusiastic after his main lecture in the summer semester of 1922), and that of the Covenant is a bad one – this seems to go back to Zwingli in his fight with the ‘Täufer’ (Barth tends to be disappointed in Zwingli midway through his main lecture on him in this winter semester 1922/1923).[6] Last remark: the influence of the historicizing trend in federal theology does not seem to be confined to Württemberg Pietism or the Erlanger theology of redemption (J.C.K. von Hofmann), but, although Schrenk does not see that, can be extended to modern historicizing in theology in general.[7]

It is unlikely that someone who received these letters in the early twenties could have imagined that the category of the ‘covenant’ would become such an important concept in Barth’s main work as it in effect became in the Church Dogmatics.[8]

I.3. Reading and explaining Heppe; the Göttingen Dogmatics (1924-1925)

From the summer semester of 1924 onwards Barth taught dogmatics (which, as we know, he refused to call ‘Reformed’ dogmatics but with a twinkle he allowed the course to be called ‘Instruction in the Christian Religion’).[9] Heinrich Heppe’s obscure textbook from 1861 served him as a guide. In that work he ran into the federal theology (not only in its Cocceian shape) again, mixed with other forms of Reformed orthodoxy as if there were no problem with such a mixture.[10] There is deep respect for Reformed Orthodoxy in this encounter, but because it was mixed together with federal theology it was now impossible to only be prejudicial and disapproving in that direction. His judgment becomes more nuanced now, but not without an inner struggle. ‘My lectures now are really a first experiment, surrounded by many dangers and suspicions. Recently it happened to me that I realized at three o’ clock a.m. that what I had written for the next morning on the topic De foedere was nonsense and blatant heresy. Therefore I had to simply cancel the lecture at eight o’clock, as if I were ill, and for once slept in peacefully.’[11]

Barth is obviously dealing with Heppe’s Locus XIII, De foedere operum et iustitia legali, in § 24, ‘God and man in the covenant’ (U.I., 381-398) and with his Locus XVI, De foedere gratiae, in § 27, ‘The faithfulness of God’ (U.II, 1-25).[12]

I.3.1. The covenant in the doctrine of man

Barth starts § 24 with a historical remark.[13] The doctrine of the covenant you shall only find in Reformed Dogmatics – and when in Lutheran works, then not earlier than the beginning of the 18th century (but then ironically influential!). This is related to the federal theology school of thought, which is as interesting as it is ambivalent. Cocceius was not the discoverer of its principle, but the influential pioneer. It meant a tremendous liberation of scholastic method in theology and at the same time unintentionally had the effect of an accommodation with the Enlightenment and Pietism. It marked the beginning of thinking of revelation in terms of a continuous and gradual sequence of divine acts. In the end ‘history’ would be seen as sacrosanct (and put aside ‘church’) in the sense of a crude historicism, that had forgotten real eschatology.[14] But then – and this is new after quite a few years of only being critical – Barth says: one should not transfer all one’s distrust to such honorable men as Burmann and Heidegger (main witnesses of Heppe). In spite of some ambivalences they were  representatives of a better tradition and provided us with many good formulations. And, most importantly, one should resist the temptation to give up the concept of the covenant itself, which long before Cocceius[15] had already belonged to the family estate (‘Stammgut’) of Reformed Dogmatics, for it has a legitimate place in it.

And then follows the main positive result of this concept.[16] The locus de foedere fulfils in the doctrine of man (the second main part of U.I) a function that is analogous to that of the locus De praedestinatione in the doctrine of God (the first main part). That God is an electing God in his election of grace stresses the actuality of God. It is not saying anything that is really new about God, but it reminds one of the free speaking, non-‘metaphysical’ character of this God. And in the same way speaking of man as being bound by a divine covenant is not really saying anything new in terms of the doctrine of man, but it reminds one of the fundamental, non-‘psychologistic-pragmatic’ character of man as a being that is listening to its God. The concept of man is only complete when one bears in mind that he is a bound being, connected and under obligation to his God from the beginning. In this way the locus de foedere refers back to the main point of the Prolegomena of the Instruction in the Christian Religion: ‘all that is said is staying on the pin’s head of the “Deus dixit”’[17]. The category of the covenant is closely linked to that of revelation. ‘The relation to this “God speaks”, the formal principle, is itself the material principle. (…) For that which eventuates from God’s speaking, if we assume that He is speaking to us, they (the older Reformed) used the concept of the foedus, which in revelation, that is, in Christ, is made between God and us.’[18] Early on here we are already prepared for a dominant thesis in the Church Dogmatics: man can only be thought of as a man of the covenant (‘Bundesmensch’), in no way as an ‘abstract’ man, apart from Gods election of him.

In this connection Barth can find some sense in the term foedus naturae, that is used in Reformed Dogmatics since Ursin.[19] Lutheran anthropology begins with man in temptation, man in crisis, fallen man. But there was a man ‘before’ and there will be a man ‘afterwards’. Human being is not to be identified with human sin. There is man as such, who is addressed by his God. Of course, the contrast of grace and sin marks the main reality. Without the foedus gratiae there is no sense in speaking of the foedus naturae. But when dealing with the foedus gratiae, the foedus naturae comes along with it. With the saving work of Christ, man as such can be understood as well. A historicizing order is confusing here, and again shows the ambivalence of the federal theology. The foedus naturae is not a stage before the foedus gratiae, but the implication of it. But as such it is meaningful to speak about it. See, e.g., how a theologian as Burmann speaks of the ‘sacraments’ of this covenant. Paradise promises the creature a way of life to hope for, and the tree of life in the middle of it is a particular promise of him, who would say ‘I am the eternal life’. So Adam could know that he was destined to live in Christ. In this (typically Reformed) way of speaking of the sacramental life of man as such, we are dealing with revelation, and that not in an incomplete, but in the full sense of the word. In any case the concept of a foedus has to be understood cum grano salis. It depends fully on the free decision of God, who is not obliged to bind himself to man, but who in his predestinational grace has wanted to do this. The covenant is monopleuron, ‘a kind of Treaty of Versailles for good’,[20] and also when man accepts it, the asymmetric relationship remains. Therefore the mercy of God, is essential to the entire covenant and the responding existence of man participates in that divine mercy and should never be considered apart from that.

Where there is promise, there is also obligation.[21] This, for Barth, is the last aspect of the concept of foedus: revelation contains gospel and law (in that sequence!). What is promised is the mutual love of God and man, what is demanded is the lex naturae, as Barth through Heppe reads with Witsius, and at the same time a lex positiva (i.e. not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), so that mankind will understand that it is bound as a creature, and cannot live on earth as a tyrant. Barth doesn’t criticize all these statements under the condition that the commandments to man as such are not seen as the first stage in a gradual process, but as an implication of the lex Christi, of revelation in the full sense of the word.

‘For the rest[22] you shall enjoy Heppe’s Locus XIII only with caution. He has left too much room for the leaven of federal theology. It was not good, when one[23] called the foedus naturae also a foedus operum.’ For the thought of a relationship between God and Adam as two contractual partners, in which man promises to fulfill the law and God therefore promises him life eternal, is a Pelagianism that one should not even recommend to the homo paradisiacus. Therefore ‘one has to speak of the foedus naturae in such a way that one has nothing to be ashamed of when one speaks of the foedus gratiae later on, and the other way round, so that one doesn’t have to go to the historians of religion, but so that one can say the same things again in a more detailed and powerful way in the new context of the foedus gratiae, which is determined by the contrast between sin and grace. For there is re vera only one covenant, as there is only one God. The fact that Cocceius and his followers could not and would not say that, is what one should not follow them in, not in the older form, and even less in the modern form’. In this way paragraph 24 ends as it began: demarcating sound theology from federal theology in its Cocceian shape is as sharp as before, but the category of covenant itself is ‘rescued’ for Barth’s own dogmatic thinking.[24]

I.3.2. The covenant in the doctrine of reconciliation

Barth begins his lecture course in the summer semester of 1925 – Chapter 6: the doctrine of Reconciliation – on the 4th of May with a paragraph, ‘The faithfulness of God’, which, as we have already said, is mainly inspired by Heppe’s locus De foedere gratiae. Reconciliation is the ‘central theme’ of Christian Theology, and the treatment has to begin with its ‘most fundamental’ aspect.[25] It is[26] Gods love for the world, the covenant of grace, as the novum[27] or the tertium between and above all things that can be said about God and about man. Grace is a step across a boundary, a wonderful realization of a very concrete relationship with man, a one-sided accomplishment by God. Already[28] the axis of Dogmatics I, predestination and covenant, i.e. characterization of God and characterization of man, has compelled us to speak in terms of grace, how much more must we do that – and we have to resist all attempts to diminish the divine initiative here –, when we now, in Dogmatics II,– speak of God’s actions  to heal the covenant that was broken by man.

We speak about reconciliation, i.e. about Christology and Soteriology.[29] But before doing so, 17th century Reformed theology used to speak of the covenant of grace, and that made sense.[30] We will adopt that in our approach. For this locus presumably intends to stress God’s merciful initiative in His deeds that must be declared. But we also remember the ambivalence of this tradition as discussed in § 24. There was a fatal historicizing element in this theology, insofar as it was subject to the influence of Cocceius. A first covenant was introduced, and through the different stages between the first and the second covenant the character of revelation as really a novum was actually undermined. Although it was acknowledged that the foedus operum had become obsolete by the establishment of the foedus gratiae,[31] there was also the possibility that exactly the other way round the covenant of grace was conceived of as a special case of the covenant model exemplified by the foedus naturae as a mere modification or extension of it[32] – and then the idea of Christianity as a special case of religion in general is not far away any more. Therefore we hear again: beware of this leaven! Do mistrust it! This federal theology is not a fruitful continuation but a corruption of Reformed theology. On the other side: there were ‘happy inconsistencies’ in this tradition also, such as also stressing the monopleuron-character of the foedus naturae, or as Burmann’s doctrine on the sacraments of this first covenant. Here you could learn that the first covenant already was a covenant of grace that as such cannot be destroyed, just as the faithfulness of God cannot be destroyed.[33]

We find more solid ground, when we study how an attempt was made to give a more or less ‘metaphysical’ foundation to the doctrine of the foedus gratiae, as could not be found for the foedus naturae.[34] From this asymmetric constellation we can conclude that the foedus naturae in fact was meant as a backward projected modification of the foedus gratiae, a way to say that the real novum of grace has to be seen as the most original thing there is, and had therefore to be there also before the fall of Adam. The covenant of grace, it was said, is the execution in time of the eternal testament of God, his libera dispositio (Cocceius), in which he  promises eternal life and justice to humanity in Christ. The execution of this testament rests on[35] a free and mutual pact between God the Father and God the Son, in which the Father  gives the Son as redeemer and head of his people (which has already been made known for him, and for which he as a partner in the pact is acting as a vicar at the same time), and in which the Son in turn offers himself to fulfill the work of redemption. It is clear now, Barth remarks, that the covenant of grace (‘der Gnadenbund’) is closely linked to predestination (‘Die Gnadenwahl’). The eternal decree of election = (nothing else than) the mutual pact between the Father and the Son = (nothing else than) the eternal testament = (nothing else than) the presupposition of the covenant of grace in time. ‘Cocceius himself has acknowledged and expressed this’.[36] This is not very precisely formulated (especially the thrice repeated ‘nothing else than’ is questionable), and we will have to qualify it later on in this paper. For the moment, however, it is important to observe how Barth, who sharply criticizes Cocceius in the same paragraph as a corruptor of Reformed tradition, also discovers a very important thought in him: the (supposed) identification of the decretum aeternum and the pactum salutis, of the ‘Gnadenwahl’ and the eternal ground for the ‘Gnadenbund’.[37] And Barth will not forget this discovery!

The last part of the paragraph deals with the relationship between the ‘eternal testament’ and the testaments that are distinguished in time (the Old and the New Testament).[38] In fact Heppe also spends a great deal of his locus on this material. The question, and also the decisive answer of Reformed theology – one substantia of the covenant, two administrations –, had already been touched on by Barth in the prolegomena (§ 6.3), but apparently he did not yet know at that time where it could be found in Heppe.[39] For our goal this material is less interesting.

I.4. The years in Münster (1925-30) and Bonn (1930-35)

When Barth’s former teacher, the great Adolf von Harnack, 75 years old and visiting Münster during the winter semester, entered the study of Karl Barth, he found his pupil, to his surprise, reading in Cocceius’ commentary on John (1670).[40] Indeed at that time Barth had already started his collection of works by early Protestant theologians.[41] The first fruit he obtained was the Synopsis theologiae by Franz Burmann.[42] From Cocceius he in the end also possessed the commentary on the epistle to the Romans (1665) and the Summa Theologiae ex scripturis repetita.[43] From other members of the Cocceian School we find direct references to the Corpus Theologiae Christianae of the Cocceian Cartesian Abraham Heidanus from Leiden[44] and (later on) to the instructive Medulla Theologiae Christianae of Johann Heinrich Heidegger from Zürich.[45]

About the Münster Dogmatics we have recently been informed by Amy Marga.[46] The structuring principle of Dogmatics I and II is no longer The doctrine of God – The doctrine of Man and then The doctrine of Reconciliation – The doctrine of Redemption. Instead, the new design is structured in a Trinitarian way: The doctrine of Creation (including the doctrine of God!) – The doctrine of Reconciliation – The doctrine of Redemption.[47] It is striking, that the former § 24 no longer forms part of anthropology as such, or of the doctrine of creation, but is placed at the beginning of the doctrine of reconciliation: Chapter 10,[48] ‘God and Sin’, four paragraphs (§§ 46-49, cf. Göttingen Dogmatics §§ 24-27), § 46 ‘God’s covenant with man’ (the former § 24) § 49: ‘The faithfulness of God’ (the former § 27) now together form an inclusion of the doctrine of sin as the first aspect of the doctrine of reconciliation. It seems to be clear to me that Barth in this manner was on the way to a more structural integration of both manifestations of the one covenant. Sin must be seen in light of the covenantal faithfulness of God, not of a norm that is found outside of the covenant (but Barth is not yet saying: outside of Christology in the strict sense of the word). Actually Barth still had in mind this same structure when he was planning the structure of the Church Dogmatics at the end of the prolegomena, 1937: the doctrine of reconciliation should consist of four parts or ‘circles’ (three of a dogmatic, and one of an ethic character): ‘the first (circle) is the covenant between God and man which God ratifies and confirms; it is only at this point, and therefore from the very outset in the light of the doctrine of grace, that we shall have to think of its corresponding shadow, and therefore develop the doctrine of sin.’[49]

After three semesters on dogmatics, Barth taught two semesters on ethics in Münster. From the insight he gathered in the encounter with the Reformed doctrine of the covenant in Göttingen (and with Calvin as well) one would expect that he would explore here, how the covenant as a promise, as a witness of the love of God towards man, implies an obligation. And this is indeed what happens.[50]

I.5. A provisional conclusion and a thesis

In his encounter with the texts of federal theology, especially in his work on the Göttingen Dogmatics, Barth held the opinion that federal theology exerted a regrettable influence on the school of Cocceius by historicizing revelation. At the same time he discovered the importance of the theological concept of the covenant itself and he apparently saw possibilities for this concept in his own dogmatic project. For him the main features of this concept were:

* The covenant is a one-sided initiative of God, a fully free arrangement on His part and purely an act of grace and mercy towards humanity (this becomes especially clear, when one, as Cocceius did, identifies the eternal decree of election with the pactum salutis as the presupposition of the covenant of grace in time);

* The covenant is closely linked to revelation: the God who wants to be a God of this covenant speaks to his people, and man from his side can only be seen as a being addressed by his God;

* The character of the covenant as a covenant of grace comes out most clearly, when Christian preaching speaks of the divine grace for sinners; but that does not exclude the existence of a modification of the one covenant, where man as such is seen as a being bounded by his free choice for God from the beginning; and neither does it exclude that the covenant has the character of a promise and an expectation, that it bears the eschatological mark of all Christian preaching;

* The covenant is not only a promise, but also an obligation; not only as gospel but also as law it binds human beings;

* The concept of the covenant is corrupted when it is split into a duality of works and grace, justice and mercy; in that case it becomes dependent on influences that are alien to its own properties.

In my view Barth could profitably put the covenant concept  to work in his own project, when defined in this way.

And now the thesis:

Heinrich Heppe says: ‘from the beginning German-Reformed theology described the fundamental concept of revelation with the expression foedus Dei (also regnum Christi, koinonia cum Christo’).[51] Karl Barth indeed tried to use all these expressions as a ‘fundamental’ or (perhaps better:) integrating concept for his theological project. He began with the concept of the regnum (in Safenwil),[52] he drafted (for methodological reasons?) a theology of revelation (i.e. of the Word of God) in his years in Germany,[53] and from the forties onwards he placed the (more material than formal?) concept of the covenant[54] at the center of his endeavor. To this last phase we will turn now.

I.6. The Church Dogmatics: covenant and election – creation – reconciliation

I.6.1. Covenant and election (CD II/2)

Volume II/2 as a whole is divided into two parts that represent gospel and law, respectively. The common denominator that holds the two parts together, however, appears to be the category of the covenant. We hear of it at the beginning of Chapter VII dealing with the election of God, as well as at the beginning of Chapter VIII dealing with the command of God.[55] Election is to be understood as the divine decision and self-determination to enter into a covenant relationship with his people and to institute, maintain, and direct it in a ‘covenant history’. The command is directed towards a man, who is destined to be the partner in this covenant, i.e., to be taken into His service, to be commissioned for a share in His own work, to witness of Him – in his own human self-determination. Both elements – the free decision of God to be a God who is willing to bind himself and his creature in the covenant on the one side, human obligation as an implication of its being bound on the other side – are already familiar to us from what was said above about the development of the concept of the covenant in Barth. What may be surprising is that ‘covenant’ here is, as it were, a ‘higher’ category even than predestination. It has become an all-embracing denominator. This is certainly not in accordance with Reformed orthodoxy, where the covenant primarily deals with the execution of the divine decision in time, or at best finds itself alongside the decree of predestination as an ‘eternal’ covenant (which has certainly not been acknowledged by all orthodox Reformed currents[56]). If I see it correctly, Barth will not return to this proposal later on.

It is interesting to find a well-known term in Barth-research returning on the first pages of this volume, the term ‘primal history’ (‘Urgeschichte’). From the beginning of its appearance this find of Franz Overbeck had an anti-historicizing and anti-evolutionist tendency: it was to make clear that revelation in no way could be seen as part of the historical process, but that it had its own particular strength on its own terms.[57] We hear now: ‘The primal history which underlies and is the goal of the entire history of His [God’s] relationship ad extra, including creation and man in general, is the history of this covenant’.[58] So we can say: the ‘old’ category of an ‘Urgeschichte’ can disappear in Barth’s vocabulary, since the prejudice against the covenant category as a historicizing category has disappeared. And positively: whenever the covenant category henceforth appears in Barth, we must understand it in terms of what he meant by ‘Urgeschichte’ in the past.

And now this – in Barth’s eyes – purified doctrine of the covenant has to support the critical revision of the traditional doctrine of predestination. Earlier readers, who could not have been familiar with the Göttingen Dogmatics, must have been surprised to see how Johannes Cocceius here suddenly emerges as a promising exception to a depressing orthodox tradition. In a passage that is preparing for deeper insights one can read: ‘We are following an important insight of J. Cocceius when we trace back the concept of predestination to the biblical concept of covenant or testament, the (divine) self committal…’[59] And then, more in particular, Cocceius appears in the list of theologians, who may have deviated from the main-stream doctrine of the decretum absolutum and praedestinatio gemina, by suggesting a more Christologically rooted correction of it (as Augustine, Athanasius and Polanus).[60] ‘It is no mere accident’, Barth remarks, ‘that Cocceius came from the theological school of Bremen, which already at Dort lodged a protest.’[61] ‘The merit of Cocceius consists primarily in something which we have already mentioned – that he reunites two things which would never have been separated if the Bible had been properly studied: the eternal election of grace and the eternal decree of salvation.’ ‘Cocceius thought of that decree as identical with the decree of predestination.’ Here again we find the identification that Barth is already supposed to have discovered in May 1925 (the ‘nothing else than’-sentences), but now he finds them not only in Heppe, but in the actual sources themselves.[62] All references (as far as Cocceius is concerned) are to Locus XIV of the Summa Theologiae, De concilio gratiae et irae (‘On the decree of grace and wrath’, Chapters 33-39), i.e., apparently Cocceius’ description of predestination. From the first chapter (Chap. 33), ‘On the decree to exercise grace; also on the Testament’, he omits the first paragraph on the differentiation within the one decretum of God. Rather, he begins his quotation with par. 7: ‘God’s testament is his ultimate will, in which he recorded the heirs of justice and salvation by faith, but not without a mediator of the testament’ – therefore: no election without Christ. Then the paragraphs 16-20, on the ‘three parts’ of this testament: 1. sending the Son in the flesh (§ 16), 2. (according to Joh. 3:16) justification in order that they who believe in Christ as the surety (sponsor) should not perish (§ 18), 3. the designation of the heirs of this justice (§ 20). From the next chapter (‘On the Mediator and Surety of the testament’), ‘the decisive point’ in Barth’s eyes: in this decree, which constitutes an economy full of comfort and kindness, the Father has given the Kingdom to the Son, and the Son has been anointed King and Priest to restore and to manifest the glory of the Father (Chap. 34 § 22). Finally from Chapter 37 (‘confirmation of this doctrine of the decree of grace’ with quotations from Scripture): ‘it is fully clear that there is actually a testament with God, and that He has elected some people as heirs to life, to whom he wanted to give life through his testament’[63] (Chap. 37 § 2 – for Barth the evidence that Cocceius identified the eternal testament with the decree of predestination); and moreover from the explanation of Eph. 3:4 (‘he has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world’): I. ‘he (God) has at the same time [italics by Barth] appointed Christ as the head and the firstborn and them as members and brothers of Christ’ (so in Barth’s reading the election of Christ and of his people cannot be separated here); II. “in Christ” must be understood in a twofold sense: ‘by Christ and with Christ, i.e. Christ as the elector and the work of a surety’ (Chap. 37 § 31 – we remember the title of paragraph 33.1 of the Church Dogmatics: ‘Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected’).

‘To sum up: Cocceius saw three things:

  1. that the decree of election is identical with that of salvation [← 37.2, rrb],
  2. that the decree of salvation relates primarily to the mission and people of the Son

[← 33.16-20; 34.22], 

  1. and that, like the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son participates in the decree as divine Subject, so that He is both electus and eligens [← 37.31].

These three things enable us to overcome and set aside the Calvinistic decretum absolutum.’

Unfortunately, Barth continues, Cocceius and his followers did not exploit the identity of the two decrees as they might have done in relation to the whole doctrine of election. The discovery did not gain acceptance in the Reformed world. And so it was understandable that Cocceius gained a name [also for Barth himself in his earlier years, rrb] as a pioneer in the ‘heilsgeschichtliche’[64] understanding of the divine covenant of grace actualized in time, but not as a pioneer of this important correction of the Reformed doctrine of predestination. Also Schrenk and Alexander Schweizer did not recognize this.

In the second part of this paper we will treat the question, whether Barth himself saw this correctly.

I.6.2. Covenant and creation (CD III/1 and III/2)

As is well known, the concept of the covenant occupies an important place in the third main volume of the Church Dogmatics. CD III/1 § 41 is called ‘creation and covenant’. In the beginning it seems clear. ‘The distinctive element with regard to creation consists of the fact that it comes first among God’s works. The Bible begins with it and so does the creed. All things distinct from God begin with it. If the eternal and determinate will of God’ – we now know: that for Barth is the testamentum aeternum or the decree of grace or (with a term of some federal theologians) ‘the covenant of redemption’ – ‘is the source of their internal beginning, creation is the source of their external beginning.’ And then the ‘Leitsatz’ says, ‘the purpose and therefore the meaning of creation is to make possible the history of God’s covenant with man which has its beginning, its center, and its culmination in Jesus Christ. The history of this covenant is as much the goal of creation as creation itself is the beginning of this history.’[65] So far, so good. Covenant as purpose (‘Absicht’), meaning (‘Sinn’) and goal (‘Ziel’). In Aristotelian terms one could say: covenant as the causa finalis of creation. Tradition had already said that, although it was speaking of a covenant of works, while Barth from the beginning is speaking of the (history of the) covenant of grace in Jesus Christ.[66] But is it possible to think that without crossing the boundaries between creation and reconciliation? Perhaps because Barth is searching for such a possibility, the surprise comes further on in the paragraph: then the covenant appears to be also the causa interna (‘der innere Grund’) of creation, a conception which is probably not included in the scholastic reflections.[67] This shows to what extent Barth is struggling for a renewal of the concept of the covenant itself.

In the anthropology § 45 is called ‘Man in his determination as the covenant-partner of God’.[68] It would have been possible here to borrow some sentences from § 24 of the Göttingen Dogmatics, but it does not happen. The slightest explicit reference to tradition is lacking. The farewell to any foedus operum is meant to be so radical that even combating it must be excluded. Instead the foundation here is totally of a Christological nature, for being partner in this covenant means living by grace alone. Nevertheless, as we heard from the text of 1925, if one speaks of the covenant of grace correctly, and if one wants to avoid speaking of God only in connection with catastrophe and crisis, it must be possible to speak of the covenant of nature too. Nowhere does Barth use this find of Ursinus in this paragraph. But in any case, about ‘nature’ he is not silent. ‘Even in his being distinct from God, even in his pure creatureliness, or, we might also say, in his human nature [sic! rrb], man cannot be man at all except in conforming to and matching up to his destination to be in covenant with God, to be dependent and prepared for the fulfillment of this destiny, his existence within the grace of God. Even here below he does not exist in neutrality, but with a view to the decision and history in which he is real.’[69] Such sentences can be read as a argument in favor of the concept of a foedus naturae, interpreted ad bonam, yea, ad optimam partem.

I.6.2. Covenant and reconciliation (CD IV/1)

The category of the covenant in the mean time did become so important for Barth that he was considering to call the whole fourth part of the Church Dogmatics a ‘doctrine of the covenant’.[70] Instead he decided only to begin this part with a treatment of ‘the covenant as the presupposition of reconciliation’ (CD IV/1, § 57.2). In this way the relationship between covenant and creation (‘causa interna’) now found a parallel in the relationship between covenant and reconciliation (‘presupposition’).[71] In federal theology, as has been said, the covenant of works used to follow the doctrine of creation, and the covenant of grace marked the transition from the doctrine of sin to Christology and Soteriology. In Münster Barth still followed this tradition. Although he began the doctrine of reconciliation with the ‘first’ covenant there, both covenants together included the doctrine of sin (see above, I.4). From 1951 onwards, however, he treated sin after the doctrine of the person and the work of Christ, so that the two paragraphs that together formed the inclusion in 1927/28 (§§ 46 and 49), now came together and could be integrated. So the old maxim (of February 1925, see above, I.3.1) came to its fulfillment: ‘there is re vera only one covenant, as there is only one God’, and that should be the covenant of grace. In this manner grace could become the simple first word as a heading above all that had to be said of Christ, sin, Holy Spirit, salvation, church (and ‘sacraments’) in CD IV as a whole.

§ 57.2 begins with a long excursus on the covenant in the Old Testament, including its meaning for the gentiles and its perspective of a ‘new’ covenant in the last days.[72] The federal theologians of the 17th century, who often were also philologists in the semitic languages, would have been happy with that.[73] Then in the main passage follows the unfolding of the proper doctrine of the covenant.[74] The most important theses run as follows, on the one side: ‘what is revealed in the work of the atonement in Jesus Christ, as its presupposition, is that God does not at first occupy a position of neutrality in relation to man’ (italics mine, rrb). ‘I will be your God: that is the original emergence of God from any neutrality’, in His freedom, His beneficence, His engaging man as His partner. And on the other side: ‘which is also revealed in the atoning work accomplished in Jesus Christ, and as the presupposition of that work, that man cannot first be neutral towards God’, that man cannot but obey God. Therefore both sides together: ‘just as there is no God but the God of the covenant (der Bundesgott), there is no man but the man of the covenant (der Bundesmensch).’ The reason for underlining this, in my opinion, seems to be the need for a sharp demarcation between the foedus gratiae as the only possible foedus of Christian theology and any foedus operum. For the idea of a contract between an abstract God and an abstract man in paradise that could be broken according to actually neutral rules, cannot have any place in a reformational dogmatics. This intent is finally stressed in the last pages of the main section dedicated to the Christological foundation of the argument.[75] Firstly, Christ cannot be thought of as the evolutionary immanent telos of a development, since He stands at the beginning of all things and is the foundation of all the acts of God, precedes all of His deeds (the debate is here with Schleiermacher, but presumably also with him as a moment in and a fruit of the history of Protestant theology), and secondly: ‘the first and eternal Word of God, which underlies and precedes the creative will and work as the beginning of all things in God, means in fact Jesus Christ.’ And this is not the Word of an abstract logos asarkos, an eternal being as such, for ‘according to the free and gracious will of God the eternal Son of God is Jesus Christ as He lived and died and rose again in time, and none other; He is the decision of God in time, and yet according to what took place in time, the decision which was made from all eternity; the decision was made freely and graciously and undeservedly (..), yet it was also made compellingly, inescapably, and irrevocably.’ With this position, I suppose, Barth summarizes the self-clarification which resulted from his last conversation with federal theology in general and with Cocceius in particular, for he ‘represents this theology in a form which is not only the most perfect, but also the most mature and strongest and most impressive’. The report on that conversation closes the sub-paragraph.[76]

I.6.2.1. The excursus on federal theology

This excursus begins with a short historical survey of federal theology. Cocceius with his monograph of 1648 is mentioned first. Then we briefly hear about the theologians before him who developed the concept of the covenant in, e.g., Zürich, Heidelberg, Basel, Herborn, and Bremen. In addition to him and after him three theologians are mentioned whose works Barth possessed: Heidan, Burmann, and Heidegger. Finally Schrenk’s opinion on the influence of Cocceianism on Lutheran theology, Pietism and the ‘heilsgeschichtliche Schule’ are mentioned. But then quickly the dogmatic debate starts. The argument unfolds in five points.

1. Dynamics and historicizing. The first point goes right to the prejudice Barth already entertained in the days of Romans II that was confirmed by reading Schrenk in 1922/23. He praises the dynamic character of the dogmatics of federal theologians, who want to tell a story instead of only summing up static loci (‘baroque’ against ‘renaissance’, Barth says with Schrenk), but he immediately diagnoses the disease here: ‘can we historicize the activity and revelation of God?’ And when that happens in federal theology, is not at that same time Scripture becoming a (divinely inspired, to be sure) source-book that narrates a ‘biblical history’ as part of world history, which can be observed from a neutral position? It could be that this was the beginning of Biblicism as well as of a philosophy of general religious history. ‘It is clear that we cannot follow this theology even in its first and formal statement’. The statement, however, is not confirmed by the results of Barth’s own research. It seems simply to repeat his impression at his first acquaintance with Gottlob Schrenk. Apparently, on this point Romans II is not outdated for him.

2. Universality and particularity. Barth, in Schrenk again, reads about the covenant category as it started out in Zürich with the intent to support infant-baptism, and therefore: the importance of a church for the whole societas, and therefore: the unity of Israel and the congregation of Jesus Christ, or broader still: God’s benevolence towards the whole of the human race. The beginning of the doctrine was thus universalistic (Barth now thinks more positively of Zwingli – and of Bullinger – than in the heat of the struggle with this reformer in 1922/23). But, as we have seen,[77] for Cocceius and his followers the foedus gratiae was only intended for sinners who were elected in Christ to life eternal. And so, the ‘grim’ conception of predestination in the tradition of Calvin was not contradicted by these so-called ‘modern’ Reformed theologians. In this way this theology of the covenant ended in a very particularistic way. And therefore one can imagine why Cocceius should become an influence in a pietistic current ‘of a gloomy and pessimistic and unfriendly type’. So ‘historicism in theology always involves psychologism’: an echo of Romans II, again.

3. The ambivalent character of the covenant(s). What is the meaning and character of the covenant according to this theology? The reformers were unambivalently teaching a covenant of grace, but soon the conception of a twofold covenant arose. Again Barth provides us with a short historical sketch. It is evident for me (rrb), that he borrowed his data almost completely from Schrenk.[78] Ursin, influenced by the later Melanchthon, introduced the foedus naturae. Already here nature and grace were seen on the same historical level. Olevian resisted this conception, but his influence was waning over against mainstream Reformed theology. Gomarus in his inaugural address (1594), as a supralapsarian, was inclined to a certain unity of outlook and tried to imagine two covenants (f. naturale and f. supernaturale) which are established at the same time, operate concurrently, and everywhere merge into each other. But he could not resolve the rivalry between the two principles. Polan (Sylloge, 1602) and Wolleb then seem to have introduced an alternative description of the foedus operum for the foedus naturae.[79] Barth skips Schrenk’s reference to the German teachers of Cocceius, but like Schrenk he ends his survey with a reminder of the confessional status that the doctrine of the two covenants had obtained in the Westminster Confession of 1647.[80]

What follows is a summary of Cocceius’ own doctrine of the covenant and the testament of God. I (rrb) am sure this survey is also completely borrowed from Schrenk’s extract of the monograph of 1648 (SD). For this text Barth cannot have consulted his own copy of the Summa theologiae, for in that case some things would have turned up in a different light.[81] Cocceius begins (SD Chap. 2) ‘with the covenant of works, which for him is the ruling principle. This covenant is based on the Law with its promise and threats.’ ‘Adam (and with him the human race covenanted with God in his person) was fully equipped to keep the command.’ ‘According to Cocceius everything else follows as a series of abrogationes from the covenant of works’ – we call to mind that Barth did not see this in May 1925, because Heppe neglected and softened this unique model of Cocceius! ‘The first one (of these abrogations) is through sin’ (SD 3). ‘Adam does that which is forbidden. In so doing, he and all his descendants forfeit their friendship with God (…), falling under the divine curse and judgment.’ ‘The second is related to the first and consists in the institution of the covenant of grace’ (SD 4). God ‘adopts man into a new agreement by which He wills to give man a Mediator and therefore in this just person new fellowship and peace with Himself and the promised eternal life – not now as a reward which has been earned but as a free gift.’ ‘This second abrogation is understood by Cocceius as the unfolding of a pre-temporal occurrence, an eternal and free contract (pactum) made between God the Father and God the Son, in which the Father represents the righteousness and the Son the mercy of God, and the latter adopting the function of a Mediator and pledge in the place of men’ (SD 5). ‘In the third abrogation, we return to earth and history. It is the announcing of the covenant of grace in the economy of the Old Testament prefigured in the proto-Gospel of Gen. 3:15’ (SD 10). ‘The fourth abrogatio Cocceius calls the death of the body, the sanctification which in the work of Christ goes hand in hand with justification’ (SD 15). ‘The fifth and final abrogation is the reawakening of the body. He is thinking here of the eschatological redemption and consummation’ (SD 16).

Barth’s commentary follows. ‘There was one point in which the successors of Cocceius departed from his scheme.’ ‘This is his initially exclusively negative estimate and presentation of the whole history of the covenant in relation to its beginning, as a gradual abrogation of the covenant of works.[82] In this respect two discordant features have to be noted: ‘that the second and obviously decisive abrogation as distinct from all the others is not a temporal event, but – like a scene in heaven in the religious plays of the Middle Ages – an eternal happening between the Father and the Son’, and that ‘the New Testament economy has no autonomous place among these temporal events.’[83] ‘In my estimation the main strength of the thinking of Cocceius is at the very point where formally the main objection was made against him, and at the point where these two discordant features are to be found.’ ‘Certainly he took over from his predecessors that idea of a covenant of nature or works which was alien to the reformers. But – and it was because of this that he felt so strong an affinity with Olevian – he had such a strong sense of the uniqueness of the divine covenant as a covenant of grace that, although he could begin its narration with the covenant of works, he could understand everything that followed only in antithesis to it.’ And with regard to the ‘scene in heaven’: ‘did he not contradict his own historicism and say that in this covenant we are dealing with a Prius and not a Posterius’ (after the supposedly first foedus naturale etc.)? And regarding that other architectonic failure, that he did not try to explain the particular subject of the New Testament witness: was for him not ‘everything that can be said of the New Testament economy included and stated in and with what has been said in relation to that (second) abrogation which had already taken place in the bosom of the Godhead? ‘For him the new thing of the New Testament is the oldest thing of all, that which goes back to the very beginning.’[84]

The real problem with Cocceius is that, although he spoke about it mainly in the way of antitheses, he never stopped to insist on a covenant of works in the beginning. This covenant is defined in terms of do ut des. It shows ‘the strange spectacle of man in Paradise to whom eternal life is promised as a reward which he has earned, whose works can perfectly fulfill the command of God’ (in 1925 Barth had spoken here of Pelagianism). ‘There is only one historical explanation for this innovation [of Ursin cum suis], the introduction of this first stage in history for which federal theology thought that it had biblical reference. This is that biblical exegesis had been invaded by a mode of thought in which this history (…) could only unfold itself and therefore only begin as the history of man and his works, man who is good by nature and who is therefore in covenant with God – a God who is pledged to him by virtue of his goodness. Conversely to this mode of thinking it became more and more foreign to think of history as the history of God, who had originally turned to man in grace, and His works and in particular therefore in its inception as the history of the covenant of grace. ’Actually none of the abrogations of Cocceius could really bring the primacy of this thinking to an end.[85]

What Barth is suggesting here may be illustrated with an excursus that can be found in the context of the doctrine of sin of the same volume CD IV/1.[86] Here he gives some examples from Reformed theology that are supposed to show that an abstract idea of human nature and human law and not grace in Christ served as a presupposition for the idea of sin, and this increasingly so in the course of the 17th century. He ends with two important representatives of federal theology from the Cocceian school. The first one is Franz Burmann from Utrecht (1671). For him, with the foedus naturae there is given to man (represented by Adam) by nature and through the conscience, a knowledge of the lex naturalis, which is founded in the essence of God and therefore is at the same time lex aeterna. This law is the sacred guarantee of all human laws. So we can say that there is a normative concept of good by which we can measure evil.[87] The second witness, even more striking, is J.H. Heidegger from Zürich (1696). In the person of Adam God implanted the knowledge of honesty and malice in the rational nature common to all men. They know the existence of God, the strict demand for obedience, and the necessity for ordered human society. We have to see the dictate of this natural law in what agrees with the recta ratio, with the principles of every rational being, with the social character of all human life as obviously sought by all men and affirmed by all civilized peoples. The Decalogue is an instrument to facilitate the recognition of this law. God allows us to judge even Himself by the standard of natural law. Sin is therefore in the first place a failure to keep the law written on the heart.[88] Barth’s historical conclusion: ‘in many respects, orthodoxy itself was engaged in a wholehearted transition to the Enlightenment.’

4. The discrepancy between the one eternal foundation and the dualistic elaboration of the covenant. We heard that Cocceius described the institution of the covenant of grace in the second abrogation as a pre-temporal and inter-Trinitarian happening. Burmann calls this ‘the mutual pact between the Father and the Son, in which the Father gives the Son to be the redemption and head of the people that was known beforehand, and in which the Son on his part offers himself up for the accomplishment of this redemption’.[89] ‘In content this decree could only be the eternal divine election of grace. Cocceius and those who shared his view could also understand that which they described as the testamentum aeternum or the sponsio aeterna between the Father and the Son as an aspect of the decree of predestination (in so far as this has positive reference to election to salvation in Christ)’ – in comparison to May 1925 (‘nothing else than’) and also to 1942 (‘identification’) Barth is becoming more cautious in his formulation! ‘But’, Barth continues, ‘the question we must now ask is as follows. When this supreme basis was ascribed to the covenant of grace, how was it thought possible that another covenant, the foedus naturae or operum, could be placed alongside it and even given precedence over it – a covenant which had already been superseded and rendered superfluous by this eternal basis of the covenant of grace?’ ‘If the covenant of grace alone was seen to be grounded in God, did not this mean that any dualism in the concept of the covenant was at once negated?’ ‘How was it possible to think of the eternal basis of the covenant of grace and then not to think exclusively in the light of it, to understand and present it as the one covenant of God, as though there were some other eternity in God or elsewhere, an eternity of human nature and its connection with God and its law and the works of this law?’

5. Objections to the idea of a pactum salutis as presented by Cocceius. In a further step it appears, however, that there are problems with the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, if we examine more closely how Cocceius conceived of it. There are three doubtful features in this conception.

5.1. ‘For God to be gracious to sinful man, was there any need for a special decree to establish the unity of the righteousness and mercy of God in relation to man, of a special inter-Trinitarian arrangement and contract which can be distinguished from the being of God?’ ‘We have to reckon [then] with the existence of a God who is righteous in abstracto and not gracious from the very first, who has to tie the fulfillment of certain conditions by man to the fulfillment of His promise, and punish their non-fulfillment.’ ‘It is only on the historical level that the theologoumenon of the foedus naturae or operum can be explained by the compact of federal theology with contemporary humanism. In finds its origin in the fear that there might be an essence in God, in which, in spite of that contract, His righteousness and His mercy are secretly and at bottom two separate things.’

5.2. ‘The conception of this inter-Trinitarian pact as a contract between the persons of the Father and the Son is also open to criticism. Can we really think of the first and second persons of the triune Godhead as two divine subjects and therefore as two legal subjects (‘Rechtssubjekte’) who can have dealings and enter into obligations with one another? This is mythology for which there is no place in a right understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity as the doctrine of the three modes of being of the one God, which is how it was understood and presented in Reformed orthodoxy itself.’ ‘When the covenant of grace was based on a pact between two divine persons, a wider dualism was introduced into the Godhead.’ ‘The question is necessarily and seriously raised of a will of God the Father which originally and basically is different from the will of God the Son. And this naturally carries with it the hypothesis of a covenant of quite a different structure and purpose preceding and underlying the covenant of grace, the hypothesis of a law in the relationship of God to man which is not the Law of his grace…’.

5.3. The thought of an inter-Trinitarian pactum may be found ‘both sublime and uplifting’. But definitely it is that too much. For the decision is made here in the absence of a real second partner, as it is man.[90] Therefore Barth again (as before in his main text[91]) mentions his  alternative: ‘a particular act of the will which has its basis neither in the essence of God nor in that of man’, ‘which we can call a decree, an opus Dei internum ad extra[92] and therefore a pact: God’s free election of grace (‘Gnadenwahl’), in which even in His eternity before all time and the foundation of the world, He is no longer alone by Himself, He does not rest content with Himself, He will not restrict Himself to the wealth of His perfections and His own inner life as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ ‘In this free act there is already present and presumed and assumed into unity with His own existence as God, the existence of the man whom He intends and loves from the very first and in whom He intends and loves all other men, of the man in whom He wills to bind Himself with all other men and all other men with Himself. In this free act of the election of grace the Son is no longer just the eternal logos, but as such, as very God from all eternity, He is also the very God and very man He will become in time. In the divine act of predestination there pre-exists the Jesus Christ who (…) will become and be the Mediator of the covenant between God and man, the One who accomplishes the act of atonement.’ ‘He is also the eternal testamentum, the eternal sponsio, the eternal pactum between God and man.’ ‘This is the point which Cocceius and federal theology before and after him missed.’ And missing that point was the deepest origin of the other problems in their doctrine: the dualism, in which the covenant of grace could only be seen as ‘a secondary and subsequent divine arrangement’ (point 4), the hidden dominance of (the humanistic concept of) a covenant of works (point 3), the particularism (point 2) and the historicism (point 1).

II. Barth conversing with Cocceius, Cocceius conversing with Barth. An attempt.

After we have seen the different stages of Karl Barth’s encounter with federal theology in general and with Johannes Cocceius in particular, we will try to carry out two more tasks simultaneously and in connection with each other: A. To test to which extent Barth’s reading of Cocceius can be considered to be in accordance with what the latter theologian actually said. B. To suggest questions that admirers of Cocceius might let Barth put to them, and, the other way round, questions that admirers of Barth might let Cocceius put to them.[93] We will organize the accomplishment of these two tasks in three rounds: on the relationship of the decree of predestination to the decree of salvation (II.7), on the doctrine of the abrogations of the covenant of works (II.8) and finally on the shaping of the mutual pact between God the Father and God the Son (II.9).

II.1. The relationship of the decree of predestination to the decree of salvation

We saw that Barth’s initial idea (already discovered in May 1925 and renewed and deepened in 1942) that Cocceius identified the decree of predestination with the eternal testament or the decree of salvation, already was partially retracted in 1951 (point 4 of the excursus, see above – most of the critics of Barth’s treatment of Cocceius in CD II/2 did not notice this retractatio). Instead he now speaks of the eternal testament as an ‘aspect’ of predestination. That is much better.

A. Reconstruction of Cocceius’ view

The construction of Cocceius’ system is quite complicated and moreover not without contradictions. One can imagine that a reader like Karl Barth tried to simplify it for himself. With the help of recent studies by (Dutch) specialists, we will now try to reconstruct it in six points.

A-1. The decree in general. Locus V, Chap. 14 of the Summa Theologiae deals with the Consilium Dei in genere, God’s decree with regard to the origin and the predetermined end of all things. What is ‘general’ in the consilium is that it is a new thing with reference to the essence of God; it is not with necessity associated with it (we heard that Karl Barth would adopt this idea: see above, point 5 of the excursus). But the ‘general’ includes more aspects than only predestination. In fact, the latter only reflects a particular aspect of the former. There is a ‘differentiation’, there are ‘layers’ in the concept of the consilium, and predestination is one of them and an important one, but not the only one.[94] Actually, the argument is from the general to the particular here.[95]

A-2. Predestination. The category of predestination also refers to different objects of God’s will, be it in creation or in recreation[96] – in that respect it would be possible to draw a line from predestination not only to the covenant of grace but also to the covenant of works. Insofar as it refers to the destiny of human beings, it includes the election of the people of God as well as the reprobation of those who are left under divine wrath (S.Th. Locus XIV, Chap. 37 §§ 1-24). The election ‘in Christ’ of Eph. 1:3-5 is very important, but – as in the whole of orthodox Reformed tradition – it characterizes predestination as such only to the extent that the elect are meant. The suggestion of Karl Barth that outside of the election in Christ there can be thought of an eternal logos that is not known to us through the story of the logos incarnatus, seems not to be without foundation.

A-3. Eternal testament. The image of a ‘testament’ is borrowed from references in Scripture like Gal. 3:15 and Hebr. 9:16, but it is made to carry a theological weight that is heavier than can be derived from such texts. Properly said, two images are used that do not have exactly the same tendency.[97] In the first place God the Father can be seen as the testator and his Son as the heir. The inheritance then consists in the elected people that Christ will receive (this can be read in the Summa Doctrinae de foedere et testamento Dei, Chap. IV § 86 and Chap V § 89). In the second place, however, the sinners who are elected to be adopted as sons can be seen as the heirs (e.g. S.Th. Loc. XIV Chap. 33 §§ 15-20). In that case the eternal Son who became man must be seen as the Mediator of the testament, i.e., the one who announces and executes the settlement of the inheritance (ibidem, Chap. 34), which consists of the justification and sanctification of the heirs, so that it comes into their possession.

As a component (pars) of the testament the ‘designation of the heirs of justice’ is mentioned (Chap 33 § 20). That leads one to suppose that bringing about the election of the heirs is a part of the testament itself.[98] Of all the identifications, most of which rest on misunderstandings, the identification of the eternal testament and the act of election – or perhaps better: simply identifying the intimate proximity of the two – is the best one to be argued. Both are eternal , because the decree of God is unchangeable and cannot be repented.

A-4. The mutual pact between God the Father and God the Son. This making of a pact, which was identified by Cocceius with the ‘counsel of peace’between JHWH and the promised king-priest of Zech. 6:13 (SD Chap. V § 88), is certainly not identical to the decision of the decree of predestination. It says explicitly there: ‘he (Christ) brings the given blessing and election and pre-definition [of Eph. 1:3-5], according to the good pleasure of the divine will, as a preceding cause’ (tanquam causam precedentem, S.Th. Loc. XIV Chap. 37 § 40). Thus predestination precedes the pactum. This corresponds to saying that in this treaty the Father is giving the elected people that were known beforehand to the Son (SD Chap. V § 88[99]). The decision about the people who are elected is (logically, not so much temporally) presupposed here, but now the moment has arrived, or better: now the aspect is stressed, in which the Son can ask for these elected people who are promised to him.

As we have heard in a quotation from Barth, Cocceius read in Eph. 1:4 that Christ would be eligens, electing. He is that in connection with this, and thus in a derived sense: starting the execution of his task, he can demand the heirs and can then participate in electing them.[100]

The Son here assumes the function of the sponsor, the surety of the testament. He guarantees that the justice which the testament presupposes will be upheld. That guarantee he will fulfill by his sacrifice (in the end: by going to the cross). The sponsorship of the Son is thus related to his vicarious work. This too has its foundation in eternity.

It can be seen as an ambivalence here that Christ in this idea of a eternal pact is presented on the one side as the logos incarnandus, the eternal one who promises to sacrifice himself, but on the other side as the second Adam (SD Chap. V § 90), who fulfills the work of justice that the first Adam (in the covenant of works) failed to fulfill. This ambivalence is not fully brought out by Coccejus himself.[101] We will return to this point below in this paper.

A-5. Testamentum and pactum. Of all the identifications in interpreting the doctrine of Cocceius, the identification between the eternal testament and the mutual pact is the most impossible one. Both phenomena exhibit a structurally different shape. The testament is a one-sided decree on the part of the Father, the pact is a result of negotiation (negotium) between the Father and the Son. ‘The testament describes the salvation-economic aspect of God’s eternal will, and, as the result of the inter-Trinitarian transaction, it remains directed toward history. The eternal pact is a description of the inter-Trinitarian aspect of God’s eternal will, which forms the legal foundation for the economy of salvation described in the testament’ (Van Asselt, italics mine, rrb).[102] Because the Son binds himself in the eternal pact, the eternal testament can become active.

A-6. The covenant of grace. After having dealt with the eternal decree in Locus XIV of the Summa theologiae, Cocceius continues in Locus XV with ‘the execution of the testament in time’ (Loc. XV: first period, Locus XVIII: the adoption of the sons of Israel[103]). The locus begins with a treatment of the proto-evangelium, Gen. 3:15 (Chap. 40), and is followed by the exposition of the ‘covenant of grace’ (Chap. 41).[104] So the relationship between the testamentum (with its legal foundation and assurance in the pactum) on the one side, and the foedus gratiae on the other side is primarily one of eternity and time. The discussion between Barth and Cocceius is partly also a discussion between two conceptions of this relationship.

B. A conversation between Barth and Cocceius

B-1. The question of Barth to Cocceius. One cannot always speak about the council of God in the same way, Cocceius says at the beginning of his locus De consilio gratiae et irae (S.Th. Loc. XIV, Chap. 33 § 1). It makes a difference whether one speaks of it with regard to God’s will in terms of good and bad things, or in terms of good things only. Here we have again the ‘differentiation’ and the ‘layers’ we have spoken of before. In a desirable way Cocceius connects Christology and decree when he speaks of the eternal testament and its institution in the mutual pact. But this connection does not and cannot influence the decree ‘in genere’ nor predestination to grace and wrath. Therefore his argument on creation and providence (including the idea of a ‘covenant of works’) as well as on eternal rejection did not substantially change the orthodox Reformed tradition. Here Barth has been thinking things through: where do you come to, when you dare see the eternal covenant of salvation as the ‘inner ground’ also of creation, of (in the words of Cocceius) the ‘origin and goal of all things’ (Loc. V)? And where do you come to, when you dare see rejection as part of the decree that of all beings precisely God in Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself?[105] Adherents to Reformed theology after Barth have to ask themselves these and similar questions.

B-2. The question of Cocceius to Barth. But there may also be another perspective. In the same paragraph we just mentioned above, at the beginning of Locus XIV, Cocceius says: although the decree of God is one and eternal, the disposition of this doctrine with regard to its unfolding in time may differ.[106] This is the reason for the structural fact that Cocceius in his Summa first speaks of the eternal decree, after the locus on sin (XIII) and before the Locus on the proclamation of the eternal testament as the presupposition of the covenant of grace in the proto-evangelium (XV).[107] He does this not because of a tendency to ‘historicize’ the doctrine of the decree, for Cocceius never historicizes that. Nor, I am sure, does one have to characterize this ordering as evidence of a supposed ‘infralapsarianism’ in Cocceius.[108] Rather, what seems to be the case is that Cocceius, as a biblical theologian, wants to make clear that the eternal decrees of election and rejection always become visible and bright in the midst of story and history, in the dramatic real dialectic of human life.[109] It could be a problem of the ‘supralapsarian’ disposition of Church Dogmatics II/2, with the unintended impression of deductive ‘system-building’ it can raise that this real dialectic has been more presupposed than developed. Therefore adherents to the solution of Barth may also have to ask themselves some questions in connection with this theological conversation.

II.2. The doctrine of the abrogations of the covenant of works

Barth, in his famous excursus in CD IV/1, regretted that Cocceius adopted the conception of a ‘covenant of works’ from his predecessors. But he welcomed the fact that Cocceius did so from a negative perspective, i.e., from the point of view of the abrogation of this covenant (in the five stages already mentioned). In this way he kept alive a memory of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith and not by works.

We will now hear some voices of Cocceius interpreters to determine whether this thesis on the part of Barth can receive their approval.

A-1. Schrenk and Faulenbach. In the eyes of Gottlob Schrenk the doctrine of the abrogations meant a ‘process of liberation’, in which the remnants of the covenant of works were increasingly cleared away. In his opinion grace is a positive force that attains its end in a progressive movement.[110] This view of Schrenk was sharply contested by Heiner Faulenbach in 1973.[111] He denied that Cocceius was an evolutionist thinker, who was interested in the immanent process of history. Instead Cocceius had an apocalyptic mind. Again and again he saw flashes of lightning vertically coming to earth. Because of this verticality, Christ with his eternal design is present with the same intensity at all moments. The covenant of works, however, does not have any structural function in this theology. It appears only ‘by contrast’ in relation to the central happening of grace.[112] Therefore not the history of redemption, the economy of salvation, is decisive for the theological structure, but the ordo salutis, the meaning of grace for the individual believer.[113] All in all – especially in his denial of any historicism in Cocceius – Faulenbach seems to be more ‘Barthian’ than Barth himself, in making Cocceius almost a 17th century predecessor of Barth. He has found very little praise for that.

A-2. Van Asselt. In the past decades Willem J. van Asselt has tried to find a way out of the dilemma between the interpretations of Schrenk and Faulenbach.[114] He speaks of an ‘evolutionary’ and a ‘synthetic’ model, respectively, and intends to combine both models. He proposes to begin with Schrenk’s method of interpretation, for in orthodox Reformed theology the historical series – reading Scripture from the beginning to the end – was a generally accepted organizational principle. And like Schrenk he reads the abrogationes in a positive way: they do not imply a process of degradation, but of transformation of the old.[115] But at the same time he wishes to acknowledge that there are not only ‘salvation-historical’, but also ‘order of salvation’ elements in the abrogation doctrine. Actually they are not an alternative of one another, but rather they each reflect the other. The processes of the acts of the biblical God in Israel and the church in the one sphere, and His working in the soul of the individual believer on the other are connected by a deep analogy by virtue of a hidden correspondence to one another. Both processes are ultimately components of the divine work of sanctification in mankind and in each individual person at the same time, either in a broader or in a more restricted sense. And both processes deal with progressio / vivificatio (decreasing evil through the offensive of the Reign of Christ[116]) on the one side, abnegatio / mortificatio on the other side.

With regard to the ‘covenant of works’ Van Asselt stresses to a certain extent the genuine theological character of it. It is synthetically rather than analytically related to creation (as Barth also discovered in February 1925, thanks to Heppe).[117] And God is not obligated to grant eternal life as a fitting reward for Adam’s obedience to the law, rather, it is God’s free pleasure that He promises eternal life upon obedience to his commandments (ex pacto; SD Chap. II § 41; S.Th. Loc. VIII, Chap. 22, § 27). But because of the differentiation between the decretum in genere and the decretum speciale (see above, II.7, A-1), there is also a differentiation in the way God communicates with man in the successive covenants. In creation the divine goodness, bonitas, dominates; only after breaking the original covenant man also needed grace. Therefore the covenant of works depends on a divine act, and on a monopleuron act alone, but it is not an act of the same divine manifestation as later on in Jesus Christ. The attributes of God that confront man with the divine promises and demands are notably his sanctity and his justice, not yet his mercy (cf. SD Chap. II § 57). And in this first covenant one cannot speak of Christ as the Mediator, because in the order of creation we are only dealing with the logos asarkos (cf. SD Chap. II §§ 45.46).[118] Because the covenant of works is a covenant in its own theological right, it cannot totally be eliminated in the course of the further process of abrogations. It offers some structural elements to the covenant of grace, although it also will be transformed.

In this manner Cocceius is seen here as unique, because he was able to combine what would become alternatives in the time that followed (i.e. historical interest and pietistic devotion). But that he had maintained a reformational interest in justification alone, as Barth (desperately?) wished it to have been, no, that we do not hear.

A-3. Critics of Cocceius’ doctrine of the abrogations in his own time. Contrary to our last remark there is a fact that Van Asselt mentions[119] without explaining it in the form of an answer to the question of Barth. Actually it is remarkable that Cocceius was not followed in the doctrine of the abrogations even by his own followers. Franz Burmann is the one exception: in its structure his Synopsis reflects the succession of abrogations. That the static, Voetian orthodoxy would not follow Cocceius is clear. But why did this doctrine disappear also in the midst of federal theology itself? Is the suggestion of Karl Barth that ‘the offensive of the dominant thinking of the time was too strong to maintain it’ mere nonsense?

Let us take a look at a work, very popular in its time, of Herman Witsius, De Oeconomia Foederum. Witsius is a federal theologian, but he is not a Cocceian one (although he admired Cocceius during his student years ). In the first book, at the end of the introduction, he explains the common structure of both covenants, that of works and that of grace. They share their main components: God and man as contractual partners, the promise of life eternal, the condition of perfect human obedience, the goal of divine glory. So the structure is the same. What differs is the nature of the relationship between God and man (justice versus mercy), the absence versus the presence of a Mediator, the person who fulfils the obligations (Adam and Christ respectively). As such this comparison can already be found in Cocceius. But Witsius argues:[120] when there are so many remaining elements, it is totally unnecessary to speak of an ‘abrogation’ of the covenant of works. For what Christ is fulfilling as the Mediator of the covenant of grace, is in fact merely the condition of the covenant of works that no longer could be fulfilled by Adam as a sinner. What differs is only the ‘substitution of the person’, but the structure remains. The covenant of grace is the confirmation of the covenant of works under new conditions.[121] Of course there is progress or inner growth in the order of salvation (the subject of the famous third book of De oeconomia foederum). But the structure has already been given from the beginning. In this way, one might think, Cocceius ought to be corrected. But does one not have to ask here, what were the factors that forced these theologians after him to correct him in this way?[122] Stolzenburg already said in 1926: it was the spirit of the Enlightenment and its legal thinking which was announcing itself that became dominant here also in the reign of the theologians.[123] Before we continue with the conversation between Barth and Cocceius, it could be useful to look at this thesis in more detail.

An historical intermezzo: the doctrine of a ‘covenant of works’ and the contract theories in the 17th century[124]

Two tendencies have to be touched on here: the legal reflections about the contract during the 17th century and the political philosophical discussions about the ‘social contract’ going on at the same time.[125]

1. Legal thought. The nature and function of the ‘contract’ has been subject to considerable development in history. A general tendency is that the thinking of feudalism in terms of static relationships based on status and family ties is increasingly replaced by the thinking of the bourgeois world in terms of a fundamentally endless number of individuals that can freely engage in an unlimited number of relationships with each other.[126] This evolution in western social forms was coupled with a gradual loosening of the relationship to Roman law. The latter’s ‘closed’ system of well-defined contractual relationships continued to be replaced by an open system in which an agreement could have whatever content one wanted and could come about in whatever way possible as long there was consensus (common consent of the will) among both parties to the agreement (‘consensualism’).[127] As a jurist Hugo Grotius played an important part in this evolution. The old system, where unequal relationships like the one between master and slave or the total subjugation of a vanquished people come under the ‘contractus’, still affected him to some extent.[128] But at the same time he was one of the first to formulate consensualism, as well as what is now sometimes called ‘possessive individualism’, the view that a person is distinguished by the ability and the right to decide to preserve body and limb as he deems fit, and that a society consists of such people.[129] In any case, the rule, crucial to a ‘commercial society’, that agreements need to be kept (pacta sunt servanda)[130] – this was not considered a general rule in Roman law, but it did end up in general law by way of incidental stipulations from canon law – also found a place in the consciousness of natural law with Grotius (‘surely every individual realizes that, once given, one has to keep one’s word’) – although it did not return in his empirical description of the Dutch legal system. Thus he characterized a transitional period in a development that would only find its conclusion in the revolutions of the late 18th century and the legal reform initiated by them. The contract then became the only thing that provided security in an otherwise always uncertain market. Freedom of contract functioned as a principle that regulated the mutual relationships between parties, and private law, which made this freedom possible, performed a key part in the continuation of these conditions in a society that was dominated by the market.[131]

Now, to what extent does this outline of the development of contract law and the issues it involves help us with reading federal theology texts? On the one hand there have been theologians with strong juridical interests (like Olevianus and Crocius), who have allowed this interest to ring through in their formulations of the successive foedera of salvation.[132] On the other hand there are the more popular preachers, especially in Puritanism, that liked to use the metaphor that God was willing to pay a lot for you and also made you good offers for that.[133] Obviously the weight that should be attributed to this connection merits further investigation. (a) It seems to me that the complete inequality of power of the two parties, God and Adam, in the covenant of works rather points back to the older forms of Roman law rather than forward to a more modern notion of a contract between free and equal partners. It is possible, however, that a desire emanating from a more modern legal consciousness started to establish itself in the tradition of the old conception in the course of time.[134] (b) A similar thing is true for the relationship between natural law and positive law. As we have already said (above, I.3.1), by nature the covenant of works is an institution of positive law, but the presupposition for its success, namely the realization that one should keep one’s word, had already been bestowed to Adam’s conscience at creation (though it didn’t help him much, when it came to living up to the specific promise of not eating of that one tree). Some scholars think (as Stolzenburg had already done earlier) that these latter natural law presuppositions gained an increasingly stronger position in theology in the course of the 17th century in order to occupy an almost dominant place in the early 18th century.[135]

2. Political philosophical discussions. Reformed federal theology here is involved in a double simultaneity.[136] In the first place covenant doctrine in theology is going hand in hand with the practice of ‘covenant-making’ in ecclesiology (covenant partners joining together to form Reformed churches) and in the struggles for liberation that often coincided with the spreading of the newly discovered gospel. In the Scottish tradition in particular ‘covenanting’ was a much pursued political practice from the onset of the Reformation. In the second place the elaboration of the doctrine of the covenant of works into a story about the relationship of God with Adam in the beginning in terms of an agreement between the two is going hand in hand with the almost simultaneous contemplations of political philosophers, conceived of outside and to some extent against the Reformed churches, regarding an original agreement between by nature equal subjects in which their legal rights are delegated to a sovereign authority that acts on their behalf. In and of itself the notion that subjects of a country were connected by their representatives’ ‘contracts’ with their sovereign, was a feudal, if not pre-feudal legacy. The Dutch revolt justified itself with this even up to the Verlatinghe [desertion] of 1581. The tyranny of Philip II and his governors constituted a breach of contract and thus his subjects no longer considered themselves bound.[137] However, this rather more backward looking line has repeatedly become a starting point for a more modern line of thought, in which the basis for any kind of sovereignty is laid down in a contract by way of a more abstract line of reasoning involving natural law. It seems that one can already observe this swing with Althusius, who taught with John of Nassau in Herborn.[138] From this basis he also derives a modern version of the right to resistance, which is much less the case with the later 17th century constitutional lawyers, whose political preferences were much more on the side of Absolutism. Of course, the divine covenants in federal theology are unilaterally imposed from above, the social contract is drawn up from below. One can demonstrate (i.e. from Scottish political history[139]) that unilateral theology and bilateral political practice can go hand in hand. But will not a desire play up sooner or later to also allow theology to arise from below?[140] 

II.3. The mutual pact and the covenant of grace

A-1. On the correctness of Barth’s objections to the doctrine of Cocceius. In point 5 of the famous excursus on federal theology in CD IV/1 Barth formulated three objections against Cocceius’ doctrine of the ‘freely accepted but legally binding mutual obligation between God the Father and God the Son’ as the presupposition of the whole work of reconciliation. We will now test the validity of these objections.

The first one: in this pact there appears to be a clash between the divine attributes. The Father in His abstract justice, measured by the likewise abstract natural law of the covenant of works, cannot at the same time be gracious from the very beginning, and is only able to become merciful through the Son’s willingness to fulfill the law and save the elect after the breaking of the first covenant by man.[141] This objection actually corresponds with what Cocceius himself said (i.e., SD Chap. V § 89). Meanwhile we have found that  there is an additional clash between the divine bonitas in creation and his gratia in recreation.[142]

The second objection: the form of this pact as a legal contract between two ‘legal subjects’ brings a mythological element into the doctrine of the Trinity.[143] Also here Barth’s analysis is correct, insofar as the dualism between the divine attributes implies a certain dualism between both divine persons, and in that respect there is a problem with real Trinitarian thinking. On the other hand Barth, like most of the older interpreters of Cocceius, omits to ask about the work of the Holy Spirit in the eternal pact. Again, it is Van Asselt who draws attention to this forgotten aspect of the theology of Cocceius.[144] The Spirit is not a party to the pactum, although He is engaged in the inter-Trinitarian conclusion of it, but he has a function in the working of the pact ad extra.  For He brings ‘to bear the power (potentia) of the Deity in the work of regeneration within us, as well as the love (charitas), through which he unites us to God as a seal of our inheritance’ (SD Chap. V, the end of § 89). In this way the Spirit represents two other divine attributes besides the justice of the Father and the mercy of the Son (power and love). With these attributes he links the distinct works of creation, reconciliation, and regeneration to each other. One is inclined to think that Barth would have problems with the shape of this thought too.

The third objection (according to Barth the decisive one): the inter-Trinitarian pact is made as a covenant between two persons of the Godhead, not as a covenant between God and man. We saw already (above, II-7, A-4) that this is only partially right: Christ is also the second Adam, he also acts as the vicar of mankind, and he never acts alone with regard to the work of salvation, but has to be seen here as the totus Christus, the head with his members, the mystical body of the Savior.[145] But what is true, is that Cocceius did not take the identification of eternal decree and decree of salvation to an final conclusion and did not want to do so. Therefore Christ could not fully be electing God and elected man at the same time, God’s binding of all other men to Himself in his own person, as Barth wanted to say it. Nevertheless, for me it is questionable whether Barth’s critique here against Cocceius really carries the weight Barth assigns to  it.

A-2. What Barth did not see. Together with the emphasis Van Asselt puts on the pneumatological aspect of Cocceius’ theology, he also underlines (as Jürgen Moltmann had already done before him) the importance of Cocceius’ covenant thought in itself as a form of friendship (amicitia).[146] Barth did know this when he quoted Cocceius through Heppe in February of 1925: in the covenant man in his provisional being and his desire for God may say: Deus meus, my God (S.Th.  Locus VIII, ‘De foedere operum’, Chap. 22 § 34).[147] But apparently by 1951 the legal elements in Cocceius’ conception disturbed him too much to see this dimension, which in Van Asselt’s view actually was the dominant one.

B. A conversation between Barth and Cocceius

B-1. The questions of Barth to Cocceius. Recent research on Cocceius has certainly better equipped us to see to which extent Barth’s questions to Cocceius were to the point. It is my impression that all necessary clarifications can not wash away some serious objections against him, such as: (a) the legal shaping of the concept of the covenant, and with it the adoption of an abstract form of natural law;[148] (b) the unjustified splitting of the divine virtues and (c [= above, II.7]) the regrettable distance between the decree of election and the decree of salvation. In these respects I do not see any argument for carrying on (from the point of view of Barth) with federal theology in its orthodox Reformed shape.

B-2. The questions from Cocceius to Barth. On the other side, in my opinion, some elements of a cleaned up form of the Cocceian doctrine of the eternal covenant as the foundation of the covenant of grace could have been taken over by Barth as a complement, but also as an improvement to his own line of thinking.

B-2-1. In the first place Cornelis Vermeulen has proved that Barth himself in his doctrine of election uses a variant of the model of an eternal pact.[149] In the main text, before quoting any Cocceius material in CD II/2, we read: ‘In the beginning it was the choice of the Father Himself to establish this covenant with man by giving up His Son for him that He himself might become man in the fulfillment of His grace. In the beginning it was the choice of the Son to be obedient to grace and therefore to offer up Himself and to become man in order that this covenant might be made a reality. In the beginning it was the resolve of the Holy Spirit that the unity of God, of Father, and Son should not be disturbed or split by this covenant with man, but that it should (…) being confirmed and demonstrated by this offering of the Father and this self-offering of the Son.’[150] Here, the ‘counsel of peace’ and the decree of predestination are fully integrated. It is not only a decision on the execution of one of the divine decrees, but it is the sum of all the decrees, the one name in which all other names are included, the very particular will of this God that is very universal in its tendency, the only ‘history of the one covenant’, in which all biblical ‘histories’ are implied. So Barth could say it in the way of CD IV/1 – ‘in his free act of election of grace there is already present, and presumed, and assumed into unity with his own existence as God, the existence of the man whom He intends and loves from the very first and in whom He intends and loves all other men’ –, but he could also say it in the way of CD II/2: the eternal decision of the Father, echoed by the eternal decision of the Son[151] and confirmed in their unity by the eternal decision of the Holy Spirit.

Barth is really speaking in a Trinitarian way here. And it is remarkable how he speaks of the decision of the Spirit. In Cocceius (if Van Asselt is right) the Spirit diversifies: He shapes a connection between the Godhead and the covenant of works, and He causes the work of reconciliation of the Son to be experienced in the regeneration of the elected people. In this way the Spirit does not deny, but actually confirms the clash of the divine attributes (and actually increases this clash by bringing in several new attributes, namely power and love). For Barth the work of the Holy Spirit is a uniting one: it is keeping the one covenantal will of grace of the triune God.

B-2-2. With my last remarks I seem to assume that Barth’s statements on the work of the Spirit do not need any improvement. But that is not the case. For in the quotation from CD II/2 Barth is indeed speaking of the internal work of the Spirit, but he is silent on His real work ad extra. And there, in my opinion, the recent emphasis on  Cocceius’ concept of the covenant as amicitia can be important. For with regard to this concept the excursus seems to be very clear mainly in terms of his negative remarks: the concept of grace must not be shaped after the example of the structure of the covenant of works, the rule for the work of Christ must not be formulated by an abstract natural law, the relationship between the Father and the Son must not be seen as a relationship of legal subjects etc. All these assessments are very important to underline the difference between a biblical covenant of grace and the logic and language of the modern market. They tell us how we must not speak of the mutual relations between God and man and between men. But what about the positive side? What about the alternative way of speaking? Barth stresses the monopleuron-character of the covenant: God in his eternal decision has taken the initiative for the history of the covenant and keeps it. It becomes dipleuron in the person of the Son, who is electing and elected, God and man in a dialogical way. And in the Son all other members of humanity are included, too. But how do they participate in the history of the covenant?

As we know Barth was increasingly interested in such questions. In the last volumes of the Church Dogmatics the ‘unio cum Christo’ (as Heppe shows: in the orthodox Reformed tradition a synonym for foedus) will become very important. If the misunderstandings are removed, human subjectivity in the covenant can become a subject to deal with. Christ should live in the Christian through the Holy Spirit, and this life takes the form of a ‘fellowship of action’.[152] But even then Barth chooses for this community, this fellowship, the image of the minister, the servant, the slave of God.[153] Apparently, he hesitates to call it friendship.[154] Could it be that he could learn something here from Cocceius?

[1] In Maarten den Dulk’s dissertation, …Als twee die spreken. Een manier om de heiligingsleer van Karl Barth te lezen, ’s Gravenhage 1987, one can find a passage on ‘the discovery of the concept of covenant in the theology of Karl Barth’ (186-203 and 213-219). I will gratefully make use of this research, although it needs completion (especially with regard to the volumes of the Göttingen Dogmatics that appeared after 1987) and sometimes correction.

[2] K. Barth, Der Römerbrief. 2. Auflage in neuer Bearbeitung, München 1922, (397-) 409.

[3] It may be instructive to compare Barth’s explanation of the end of Romans 11 here with his earlier and later exegeses of the same passage. In the first edition of The Epistle to the Romans of 1919 (337-345; cf. the new edition in the Gesamtausgabe of Hermann Schmidt, Zürich 1985, 450-461) the non-messianic Jews of the text of Paul are read as the obsolete church in our eyes; however, we have to identify ourselves with the divine ‘Zentralblick’, i.e., the eyes of God, in which the foreshadowing shapes of history may have their function in the process as a whole. The exclamation at the end of the chapter does not warn us to respect the inscrutability of an irrational God, but rather invites us to follow this broader vision on history on the part of God. In 1921 the mysterion of vs. 25 is no longer a solvable puzzle, but an unbearable and actually incomprehensible paradox. The second ‘nun’ (now) of some manuscripts in vs. 31 is no longer deleted: that the Jews will experience unmerited mercy now causes an eschatological tension, the twinkling of an eye in eternity (‘der ewige Augenblick’). In 1940-1941 (Kurze Erklärung des Römerbriefes, 176-179; Die Kirchliche Dogmatik II/2, 328-336; Church Dogmatics 299-305) the tension remains and so does the second now. But the latter no longer refers to an ‘obsolete church’, but to the real Jewish people, and not only that of the days of the Apostle, but also that of Barth’s own days. They participate in the mysterion of God, they are already now partaking of the divine mercy, and they also deserve our mercy, the mercy of men, now: it is impossible that Christian anti-Semitism should postpone this mercy to the realm of eschatology (CD II/2, 305). In this way the divine council, with its veiling and unveiling, its electing and rejecting, has at last become a story to be told, a story that at the same time intervenes in actual history. Cf. Rinse Reeling Brouwer, ‘Heden, zo ge barmhartigheid doet. Barths zwenkingen in de uitleg van het nun in Rom. 11:31’, in: G. Westra (ed.), Liturgisch centrum. Taal in Schrift en Eredienst. Opstellen voor Dirk Monshouwer, Hilversum 2001, 63-74.

[4] G. Schrenk, Gottesreich und Bund im älteren Protestantismus, vornehmlich bei Johannes Coccejus. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Pietismus und der heilsgeschichtlichen Theologie, Gütersloh 1923, 2. Auflage (Nachdruck der ersten Auflage) Gießen 1985.

[5] Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen, Briefwechsel. Band 2, 1921-1930, Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Eduard Thurneysen, Zürich 1974, (120-129)123 (‘Rundbrief’, 18 and 19 December 1922). Cf. Barth’s remark in the letter of September 24th, 1923, after visiting the ‘Hauptversammlung’ of the ‘Reformierter Bund’ in Emden (where he himself held a lecture on ‘Reformed Doctrine’), op. cit. (182-189)186: ‘[Karl] Bauer held a good presentation on Cocceius. Now I definitely am convinced that he was a great man, but at the same time a great bore [‘Leimsieder’, literally: ‘glue cooker’], who is a substantial accessory to the decay of modern Christianity’.

[6] Letter of January 23rd, 1923 (‘Rundbrief’), op. cit. (129-137)129. Cf. Schrenk on Calvin and the Reign of God, op. cit. 163-168; Schrenk on the covenant concept in the Reformation of Zürich: op. cit. 36-44 (but after Zwingli and Bullinger Calvin is not lacking in this respect! 44-48).

[7] KD IV/1, 68; CD IV/1, 55 mentions: ‘indirectly it had a certain exemplary significance for the philosophy of history of German Idealism, and in this way even for the Marxist view on history’.

[8] And how, at the same time, the concept of the Kingdom, so important yet in 1923 should tend to disappear (at least until the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in CD IV/4).

[9] Now edited as: K. Barth, “Unterricht in der christlichen Religion”. Erster Band: Prolegomena. 1924, ed. by Hannelotte Reiffen, Zürich 1985 (abbreviated here as U.P.); “Unterricht in der christlichen Religion”. Zweiter Band: Die Lehre von Gott / die Lehre vom Menschen, 1924/1925, ed. by Hinrich Stoevesandt, Zürich 1990 (abbreviated here as U.I.); “Unterricht in der christlichen Religion”. Dritter Band. Die Lehre von der Versöhnung / Die Lehre von der Erlösung, 1925, ed. by Hinrich Stoevesandt, Zürich 2003 (abbreviated here as U.II – for Barth is speaking, in a 19th century way, of ‘Dogmatics I’ and ‘Dogmatics II’, e.g. U.II, 6 and 8). English translation: The Göttingen Dogmatics. Instruction in the Christian Religion, trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Volume I (§§ 1-18), Grand Rapids (Mi.) 1991. In the introduction by Daniel L. Migliore, see on Cocceius XXXVII-XXXVIII.

[10] Cf. Barth’s remark in his ‘Zum Geleit’ in Ernst Bizer’s second edition of Heppe, Neukirchen 1935 (21958 = HpB), IX: ‘Heppe has paid his debt to the spirit of the 19th century in such a way that its penetration into the older presentation of Reformed doctrine of the federal theology of Cocceius and his pupils, connected with Cartesianism [this is correct for later Cocceian theologians as Braunius and Heidanus, not for Cocceius himself, rrb] did not seem to have produced any serious problem for him, so that one wonders in vain how it was possible that even and in particular Reformed orthodoxy could become “rational”, i.e. pietistic-rationalistic, so remarkably painlessly.’ See also KD IV/1, 58; CD IV/1, 55.

[11] Letter of Sunday  February 15th, 1925 (Rundbrief), op. cit.  (301-310)303. It must have happened on Thursday the 12th of February (see K. Barth, U.I., 360: (Tu.) 9 Feb.; 373: (Fr.) 13 Feb, 381; (Mo.) 16 Feb., Beginning of De Foedere; 388: (Tu.) 17 Feb). Barth held his lectures on four days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

[12] Other loci where Heppe – from different sources of his – uses the word ‘covenant’ in the title, are XIV, De violatione foederis operum (the Fall), XVII, De mediatore foederis gratiae (The person of Christ) and XXIII, De contantia foederis gratiae (Perseverance).

[13] U.I., 382-383 (point 1, the first half).

[14] Although Barth knows from Schrenk how important the Apocalypse of John was for Cocceius and most of his successors and followers – they were sometimes also millenarians, which is controversial with regard to Cocceius himself – , and does not want to exclude millenarianism totally from his own concept of consistent eschatology.

[15] Most important witnesses in Heppe: Bullinger, Ursinus, Olevianus (Gomarus and the English Puritans are lacking).

[16] U.I., 383-385 (point 1, the second half).

[17] Cf. U.P § 3 (Polanus, Bavinck).

[18] U.P., 366; ET Göttingen Dogmatics Vol. I, 303. Again U.I, 388. Barth refers here to Locus III of Heppe, De fundamento Sacrae Scripturae (after the example of Cocceius, Summa Theologiae 1665, Caput I.8: De Fundamento). Heppe says there: ‘in this way the concept of the foedus Dei is the sum (‘der Inbegriff’) of all the truths of revelation’ (HpB 35).

[19] U.I., 388-395 (point 3 – after point 2, 385-388, that stressed the provisional character of revelation, in line with the eschatological outlook of the whole project of the Göttingen Dogmatics).

[20] From the beginning Barth and Thurneysen, with their clear political intuition, were opponents of the ‘dictation’ of Versailles, and Barth would not have neglected to communicate his view on this with his German students.

[21] U.I., 395-397 (point 4, the first half).

[22] U.I., 397-398 (point 4, the second half).

[23] The concept ‘foedus operum’ was perhaps at first connected with the covenant of Mount Sinai (in the context of the exegesis of Galatians 4:24), and then projected backwards into the state of man in paradise. In this sense it is used for the first time by William Perkins in his Armilla Aurea of 1590, and shortly afterwards by the Scottish theologian Robert Rollock in his Tractatus de Vocatione efficaci of 1597. See B. Loonstra, Verkiezing – verzoening – verbond. Beschrijving en beoordeling van de leer van het pactum salutis in de gereformeerde theologie, ’s Gravenhage 1990, 76-77.

[24] For the rest it is striking that Barth does not take into consideration here that when Cocceius is speaking about the covenant of works he is doing so from the point of view of its abrogation. Heppe, to be sure, in Locus XIV (‘Belegstelle’ 15, HpB 253-254) only mentions authors, who soften Cocceius’ doctrine of the abrogationes (Witsius, Heidegger, Braun) and neglects the voice of Cocceius himself on this point. Barth, however, could have taken note of this doctrine from Schrenk, who gives a full report of the Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamento Dei (1648), op. cit. 82-115.

[25] The ‘central theme’ is here indicated with the text John 3:16, as in the corresponding passage in CD IV/1 § 59 the heart of the message (‘die Mitte der Botschaft’) will be marked with the name Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.

[26] U.II, 2-8 (point 1).

[27] Gerrit W. Neven, Barth lezen. Naar een dialogische dogmatiek, Zoetermeer 2003, 18, in his treatment of the Prolegomena sees this as a characteristic of the Göttingen Dogmatics: ‘God’s Word does bring something very new’ (U.P. 332, ET 274).

[28] Barth says ‘already’ (‘schon’, U.II, 6) where the older historicizing theology used to say ‘not yet’ (‘nondum’: the foedus operum is not yet the foedus gratiae etc.).

[29] U.II. 8-12 (point 2) gives a provisional characterization of this reconciliation.

[30] U II, 12-14 (point 3, the first half).

[31] Now, by reading ‘Belegstelle’ 38 in Locus XVI (HpB 321-322) Barth discovers elements in Reformed tradition that had contributed to Cocceius’ doctrine of the abrogationes.

[32] Barth found this possibility, terrible in his eyes, in W. Schneckenburger (1855).

[33] Cf. the sentence U.II, 18: ‘The doctrine of the foedus naturae has its worth, insofar as it is saying that God is no deus ex machina, whom one only remembers when the catastrophe is there’ with the passage on the regnum naturae in the Tambach lecture of 1919: ‘it is musty and ungodly, to think of Christ always only as a redeemer, rising from a incomprehensible sinking, or rather as a judge of the present world, that lies in wickedness’ (Das Wort Gottes und die Theologie, München 1924, 50-51).

[34] U.II, 14-18 (point 3, the second half).

[35] Barth says: ‘the testament has a further background in God’. Later on in this paper we will speak on the relationship of pactum salutis and testamentum in Cocceius.

[36] U.II, 17, referring to HpB 306 (Belegstelle 7: Summa theologiae cap. XIV.33.1). Barth could have also read Schrenk, op. cit. 114.

[37] Barth is so enthusiastic about his discovery of the preponderance of predestinatorian thinking in Cocceius that he calls him, with Burmann, a supralapsarian (U.II, 17). This seems certainly exaggerated for Cocceius (with regard to Burmann it is correct). Van Asselt (Johannes Coccejus. Portret van een zeventiende-eeuws theoloog op oude en nieuwe wegen, Heerenveen 1997, 139) interprets the chapter Summa theologiae XIV.39 as infralapsarian, Loonstra as a methodical reservation on the possibility for humans to identify the thinking of God (Loonstra, op. cit. 91).

[38] U.II, 18-25 (point 4). In a textbook like the Medulla Theologiae Christianae of J.H. Heidegger (Zürich 1696) the locus XI de foedere gratiae is followed by a locus XII De oeconomia foederis gratiae sub patrarchis and by the loci XIII-XVI De oeconomia foederis gratiae sub lege Mosis; subsequently the doctrines of the person and work of Christ (XVII-XIX) are followed by locus XX: de oeconomia foederis gratiae sub evangelio.

[39] U.P, 174-187; ET 142-152. The main witnesses there are Irenaeus and Calvin (the ‘propria fidei doctrina’ of the second book of the Institutes 1559 as a whole, and II.9-11 in particular: Law and Gospel as both speaking of the covenant in Christ). In 1933, when Barth again reflects on the relationship of both testaments (Church Dogmatics I/2, § 14) in Bonn, he mentions Cocceius and his school once: ‘Their attempts to show the unity of the Old Testament and the New Testament were, like those of Calvin, discreet and comprehensive, in spite of the very questionable nature of the historical viewpoint and methods. If any objection can be raised against them,’ – again! – ‘it is the irruption of a philosophy of history into their thinking, which obscured theological clarity’: KD I/2, 103; CD I/2, 94. For the rest the category of covenant is not explored by way of a conversation with federal theology, but with the Theologie des Alten Testamentes I of W. Eichrodt (KD I/2, 87ff., CD I/2, 79ff.) that had just appeared at that time and could very well be used against the ‘völkische’ theology of those tense days. Cf. the analysis of Den Dulk, op. cit. 192-195.

[40] Eberhard Busch, Karl Barths Lebenslauf. Nach seinen Briefen und autobiographischen Texten, München 1975, 179 (source: a letter of Barth to Agnes von Zahn-Harnack). We find references to this commentary of Cocceius in nine places in K. Barth, Erklärung des Johannes-Evangeliums (Kapitel 1-8). Vorlesung Münster, Wintersemester 1925/26, wiederholt in Bonn, SS 1933, hrsg. von Walther Fürst, Zürich 1976 (the last two references, mentioned in the index by mistake, refer to Calvin).

[41] Cf. his ‘Zum Geleit’ (1935), HpB X: ‘it is self-evident that one cannot stop with Heppe (and with Schmid for Lutheran Orthodoxy), but that one must search and go the more difficult way to the sources, where all things frequently will show quite a different face than one should have surmised from the extracts of Heppe.’

[42] Franscisci Burmanni, Synopsis theologiae et speciatim oeconomiae foederum Dei, ab initio saeculorum usque ad consummationem errorum, Genevae 21678; for the first time mentioned in U.I, 125 (2 Dec. 1924). In § 24 Barth borrowed his insights on the sacraments of the first covenant from this work (U.I., 390-92; cf. U.II, 14). Ernst Bizer calls this work ‘the proper dogmatics of the school of Cocceius’ (HpB, LXXVI; apparently he considers Cocceius’ own Summa theologiae too Biblicist to be that). For historicism as the organizing principle in this work of Burmann see Cap. I.13: ‘initium sumemus a Deo et eius aeternitate, transituri per omnia secula (‘we will walk trough the ages’), donec iterum desinamum in aeternitatem.’ Burmann will be quoted 29 times in the Church Dogmatics.

[43] Cocceius, Summa theologiae ex scripturis repetita (first edition 1662), editio novissima 1669. See W.J. van Asselt 1997, op. cit. 107 footnote 44 (reference to a letter of H. Stoevesandt 27 May 1991 to the author). Cocceius will be quoted 25 times in the Church Dogmatics.

[44] Abr. Heidanus, Corpus theologiae Christianae in quindecim locos digestum, Leiden 1686. Heidanus will be quoted 26 times in the Church Dogmatics (frequently in a  fairly critical way).

[45] Joh. Hein. Heidegger, Medulla theologiae christianae, Zürich 1696. This work is not his major dogmatics, but an easily reviewable textbook for students. It is understandably often quoted by Heppe. Barth apparently became acquainted with the work around 1950. Heidegger is quoted 21 times in the Church Dogmatics, but always indirectly through Heppe until KD IV/1 (1951), 347 (CD IV/1, 314), where the first quotation from the Medulla appears.

[46] Amy E. Marga, Karl Barth’s Second Dogmatic Cycle, Münster 1926-1928. A Progress Report, ZDTh 21(2005)1, 126-138.

[47] Amy Marga, 138. This structure of the ‘three points of view’ is in line with (the Tambach lecture of 1919 and subsequently with) the lecture ‘Die Kirche und die Kultur’ of June 1926 that could function as a program for the second dogmatic cycle.

[48] The doctrine of reconciliation consists of three chapters. These three aspects are vaguely referred to in the lecture on ‘Justification and sanctification’ of January 1927 (Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1925-1930, ed. from H. Schmidt, Zürich 1994, (57-98)64; cf. Den Dulk, op. cit. 190.

[49] KD I/1, 987; CD I/2, 882.

[50] Ethik I, Vorlesung Münster 1928, wiederholt in Bonn, SS 1930, ed. by D. Braun, Zürich 1973, 147-154. Cf. Den Dulk, op. cit.  191.

[51] Heppe, op. cit. 34-35 (Locus III: De fundamento Scripturae sacrae).

[52] Cf. the Tambach lecture: regnum naturae – regnum gratiae – regnum gloriae.

[53] Cf. the three attempts at the Prolegomena: Göttingen (‘Unterricht in der christlichen Religion’), Münster (‘Christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf’), Bonn/Basel (‘Kirchliche Dogmatik’ I/1 and I/2).

[54] Later on (CD IV/3) also ‘unio cum Christo’.

[55] KD II/2, 5-11 and 564-567; CD 7-12 and 509-512.

[56] But which is adopted by Barth. See the indexes of CD II/2 on ‘Covenant, eternal’.

[57] In § 15.1 of the Christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf of 1927 it functioned as a characterization of the incarnation taking place (but in the corresponding § 14 of the Church Dogmatics it was replaced by a new attempt to formulate a theological doctrine of time).

[58] KD II/2, 7; CD II/2, 8-9.

[59] KD II/2, 109; CD II/2, 102; reference to Cocceius, Summa theologiae XIV.37.2 (see below).

[60] KD II/2, (113-123)122-123; CD II/2, (106-115)114-115. The appeal to Augustine, Athanasius, and Polanus is criticized by E.P. Meyering, Von den Kirchenvätern zu Karl Barth. Das altkirchliche Dogma in der ‘Kirchlichen Dogmatik’, Amsterdam 1993, 244f., 257-260.

[61] About this protest see K D II/2, 73f.; CD II/2, 68-69. Matthias Martini, the main spokesman of the Bremen delegation, was not only Cocceius’ teacher at the Gymnasium Illustre in Bremen, but also inspired Moyse Amyraut in his ‘hypothetic universalism’ (cf. Loonstra, op. cit, 69f.), a line of thought that would certainly not have been supported by Cocceius or Barth.

[62] The references are to Cocceius, Summa theologiae Locus XIV, and Burmann, Synopsis, op. cit. I, 38. In Cocceius’ Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamento Dei of 1648, which was not in Barth’s library,  no passage can be found on predestination.

[63] Not earlier than KD II/2, 338; CD II/2, 308 Barth will quote the end of this sentence: ‘… and that he rejected and hated others; Mal. 1:2.3, Rom. 9:19.’ Cocceius had no doubts regarding double predestination, as can already be seen from the title of Locus XIV (‘De consilio gratiae et irae).

[64] The translation of the CD, ‘soteriological’, is not very helpful here.

[65] KD III/1, 44-45, CD III/1, 42-43.

[66] Cf. HpB, 34 (Locus III): ‘the constitution of a covenantal relationship with man is the goal (‘der Zweck’) of all God’s revelations’; 224 (Locus XIII): ‘man, as creature in the image of God, is created for covenantal community with God.’

[67] KD III/1, 258; CD III/1, 228 (‘internal basis’). For the traditional discussion on the causa interna of creation cf. HpB, 155 (Locus IX. Belegstelle 13). Den Dulk (op. cit., 218) assumes Barth is playing a game here with the scholastic distinctions.

[68] KD III/2, 242; CD III/2, 203.

[69]  KD III/2, 247; CD III/2, 207.

[70] See E. Busch, op. cit. 391 (no reference to a source).

[71] One is curious to know what would have been the relationship of covenant and redemption at the beginning of CD V.

[72] KD IV/1, 22-35; CD IV/1, 22-34; Eichrodt again appears as an expert, and in addition G. Quell of the Theological dictionary of the New Testament.

[73] My teacher Frans Breukelman used to compare the title of the sub-paragraph, ‘Der Bund als Voraussetzung der Versöhnung’ with the formula in the second part of Adolf Harnack’s Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte: ‘Die Vorausssetzungen der Erlösungslehre oder die natürliche Theologie’. With Barth, he said, the Old Testament took the place the natural theology of the gentiles (‘gratia praesupponit naturam’) used to have as the presupposition for telling the story of Jesus Christ.

[74] KD IV/1, 35-45; CD IV/1, 34-44.

[75] KD IV/1, 46-57; CD IV/1, 44-54; cf. already KD 37; CD 36: ‘the work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the communion of Himself with man and of man with Himself which He willed and created at the very first’.

[76] KD IV/1, 57-70; CD IV/1, 54-66. Quotation on page 60, below.

[77] Actually in his chapter on the ‘Gnadenwahl’ Barth mentioned this in referring to Cocceius only in KD II/2, 338; CD II/2, 308. All the other times the reference to him is quite positive. See above, note 63.

[78] G. Schrenk, op. cit. 36-82. Only the quotation from the Summa theologiae of Ursin (CD IV/1, 59 above) is more precise than in Schrenk (op. cit. 57-59); unfortunately the work is quoted nowhere else in the CD; also the reading of Olevian’s De substantia foederis gratiae of 1585 could be his own (although all the other quotations of Olevian in the CD are borrowed from Heppe).

[79] However, see note 23 above, about the term emerging in British Puritan theology.

[80] Schrenk, op. cit. 82. In his lectures in Göttingen on Die Theologie der reformierten Bekenntnisschriften. Summer Semester 1923, ed. Karl Barth-Forschungsstelle at the university of Göttingen, Zürich 1998, Barth had already mentioned this (216), and then he had also found, that the Westminster documents already had their own example in Usher’s ‘Irish articles’ of 1615 (210 – with a critical remark in the direction of Cocceius).

[81] Cf. Schrenk, op. cit. 82-113. All the details of Barth’s rendering can be found in Schrenk. Barth did not possess Cocceius’ Summa doctrina de foedere et testamento Dei himself  (Cf. note 9, the letter of Stoevesandt to Van Asselt). Heiner Faulenbach, Weg und Erkenntnis Christi. Eine Untersuchung zur Theologie des Johannes Coccejus, Neukirchen 1973, in a footnote on page 86-87 offers a synoptic comparison of De foedere and the Summa theologiae. Better, however, is the overview with description of the contents of the Summa in Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Coccejus (1603-1669), Leiden/Boston/Köln 2001, 54-60. Van Asselt, unlike Faulenbach, makes clear that the pactum salutis in the Summa is not treated in the locus on predestination (Locus XIV), but in the one on the Trinity (Locus IV Chap. 13). Barth certainly did not see this.

[82] Barth may have found this point in his own lecture on Heidanus, Witsius, Heidegger and others.

[83] Both points Barth may have found in Schrenk, op. cit. 126-137.

[84] Reading between these lines we can see Barth’s judgment on conflicts in which Cocceius was implicated, such as the question of paresis and aphesis, or the Sabbath-question: he could very strongly emphasize the differences between both testaments, because the really New Testament was not the same as the historic period after the Old one.

[85] I am not sure, whether this last point of criticism in point 3 is really fair. Barth himself makes the distinction between reconciliation and redemption and seems to suggest with that, that the victory of grace is not totally visible in the economy of reconciliation, i.e., in this world that is not yet redeemed.

[86] KD IV/1, (407)409-411; CD IV/1, (369)370-372, in § 60.1: ‘the Man of Sin in the Light of the Obedience of the son of God.’

[87] Barth quotes the Synopsis theologiae, which he possessed, op. cit. Liber IV, De oeconomia Federis Gratiae sub Lege Mosis, Locus XVIII, Caput 3, ‘De Lege Morali in Genere’, the §§ 2-4, 7, 11 and 18.

[88] Barth refers to the Medulla theologiae christianae, which he possessed, Locus IX, De Foedere operum, the theses 11-18 (‘De lege divina’) and Locus X, De peccato hominis, thesis 3 (‘Peccati definitio’).

[89] Burmann, op. cit. Liber II, De Oeconomia Foederis naturae, seu operum, & Foederis gratiae in genere, Caput XV, De Sponsione Foederis gratiae, § 2. The quotation could also be found by Barth in Heppe, Locus XVI, De Foedere gratiae, HpB 305 (‘Belegstelle’ 6) and already appeared in U.II, op. cit. 16. A comparable formula can be found in Cocceius, SD Cap. IV § 88.

[90] Of course Barth knew that for Cocceius in this pact the Son as the logos incarnandus is given as the ‘head and redeemer of the people that were known from beforehand’, and that he therefore represents the (elected part of the) human race. See above, note 89.

[91] KD IV/1, 37, 54-57; CD 36, 52-54. It may be that Barth wrote the main text after having written the excursus.

[92] Cf. KD II/1, 583-84; CD II/1, 519.

[93] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 9, footnote 20, correctly regrets that most authors who appeal to Barth’s criticisms of Cocceius, seldom consider the question of whether Barth’s interpretation of him is really accurate. On the other side, a historian as Van Asselt may be invited to give his opinion on the question whether the theology of his hero, particularly in an ‘accurate’ interpretation (supposing that such a interpretation should be possible), actually can be seen as tenable today.

[94] Cf. C. Graafland, Van Calvijn tot Comrie. Oorsprong en ontwikkeling van de leer van het verbond in het Gereformeerd Protestantisme III. Deel 5 & 6, Zoetermeer 1996, (279-324) 286 (with reference to a thesis of D. Kroneman).

[95] Cf. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. (201-211) 204. We are dealing here with a variant of the classic scholastic doctrine of praedestinatio as pars providentiae.

[96] Cf. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 212-218.

[97] I am borrowing this from Graafland, op cit. 285 and Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 219-221.

[98] Cf. Loonstra, op. cit. 88, 91.

[99] Cf. above, note 89; Van Asselt 1997, op. cit. 222; Graafland, op. cit. 287; Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 216 (point 8).

[100] S.Th. Loc. XIV Chap. 37 § 31 (point 5). Cf. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 215.

[101] Cf. Van Asselt 1997, op. cit. 217-218.

[102] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 225 (see also 221-222 and 226); Loonstra, op. cit. 91-93.

[103] Barth missed this when he remarked that Cocceius only had an individualistic view of election; KD II/2, 338; CD II/2, 308.

[104] Cf. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 222-224 (‘the implementation of the testament in time’).

[105] Cf. in the well known ‘Leitsatz’ of CD II/2 § 33: ‘in Jesus Christ he (God) takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences…’.

[106] S.Th. Locus XIV Chap. 33 § 1, with reference to Locus V, Chap. 14 § 14-15 (this was the quotation Barth had found in Heppe in 1925, from which he drew conclusions that were exaggerated in May 1925; cf. above, note 36). Unfortunately, the justification of this sentence is found in an abstract concept of eternity as divine unchangeability, not in a positive way in the oneness and uniqueness of Gods gracious and covenanting will.

[107] Quotation in KD II/2, 91; CD II/2, 84 (§ 32.3 ‘The place of the doctrine of election in Dogmatics’): ‘In the same group [of a similar ordering] there belongs above all the Summa Theologiae of Joh. Cocceius. In this work Locus XIV forms the point of transition from the doctrine of sin to that of grace. And yet here Christology and the doctrine of election seem to be most closely interrelated.’

[108] Cf. above, note 37.

[109] Cf. Graafland 1996, op. cit. 292-293; Van Asselt 1997, op. cit. 225-226.

[110] Schrenk 1923, op. cit. 134-137.

[111] H. Faulenbach 1973, op. cit. passim. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 14, is suggesting that Faulenbach is to a large extent dependent on Charles S. McCoy, The covenant theology of Johannes Cocceius, Yale 1956, whom he, however, never mentions.

[112] Faulenbach 1973, op. cit. e.g. 146-155; critical of this thesis is Loonstra 1990, op. cit. 96-97.

[113] Faulenbach 1973, op. cit. 231. A similar preference for the more individual, relational aspect of Cocceius’ doctrine we can find in Graafland, op. cit. 320, 322. He therefore likes the Pietist followers of federal theology best.

[114] Van Asselt 2001 offers an English translation (and at the same time improvement) of his PhD dissertation of 1988 (Utrecht, in Dutch). For the doctrine of  the covenants and the abrogations see op. cit. 248-339 (chapters 11-14). Also: W.J. van Asselt, ‘The Doctrine of the Abrogations in the Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669)’, Calvin Theological Journal 29(1994), 101-16.

[115] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 277.

[116] Van Asselt 1997, op. cit. 227.

[117] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 260; cf. above, paragraph I.3.1.

[118] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 261, 303.  Barth probably read this last-mentioned insight in Heppe: ‘Nur Christus war in diesen Bund nicht mitaufgenommen’ (HpB 225 below) – for had it been otherwise, Christ (in this historicizing line of thinking) would also have been part of the breaking of the first covenant by Adam and could then not have become our savior.

[119] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 275.

[120] H. Witsius, De oeconomia foederum Dei cum hominibus libri quatuor, Utrecht 11677, Liber I Chap. 1 § 15. Cf. Nico T. Bakker, Miskende gratie. Van Calvijn tot Witsius, een vergelijkende lezing, balans van 150 jaar gereformeerde theologie, Kampen 1991, 170-177.

[121] H. Witsius, De oeconomia foederum, op. cit. Book I Chap. 9 (‘de antiquatione foederis operum a parte Dei’) § 23.

[122] Cf. Barth’s above-mentioned (note 86ff.) excursus in CD IV/1 § 60.1 on the legal thinking as the pre-supposition for the doctrine of sin in the works of Burmann and Heidegger.

[123] A.F. Stolzenburg, Die Theologie des Jo. Franc. Buddeus und des Chr. Matth. Pfaff, Berlin 1926, 321-377 (‘3. Der Föderalismus als Überleitung von der Frömmigkeit zur Aufklärung’).  Karl Barth  refers to this book when dealing with the locus on religion in the works of the Reformed federal theologian Salomon van Til and the Lutheran Buddeus, KD I/2, (313-)315; CD I/2, (288-)290. An alternative to the interpretation of Witsius by Stolzenburg, Bakker, and others is given by Richard A. Muller in his article ‘The Covenant of Works and the Stability of Divine Law in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodoxy: a Study in the Theology of Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus à Brakel’, Calvin Theological Journal 29(1994)75-101. Muller disputes the thesis that the legal thinking of Witsius is a consequence of the ‘decay’ of reformational theology in a century and a half. For him this doctrine forms a direct implication of the reformers’ own doctrine of the duality of Law and Gospel. For the Pauline renewal of the Reformation involved the question of Romans 3:31: ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.’ The doctrine of the covenant of works is an attempt to systematize this ‘establishment’ of the law besides the gospel. I would say: for the discussion of federal theology with Barth this makes no great difference. For this discussion is not about a historical theory (‘decay’?) but about theology. And if the reformers already knew a certain independence of the Law with respect to Grace, there is also a problem with the reformers. Similar things have to be said about the article of Lyle D. Bierma, ‘Law and Grace in Ursinus’ Doctrine of the Natural Covenant: a Reappraisal’, in: Carl R. Trueman and R. Scott Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, Carlisle UK 1999, 96-110.

[124] The following paragraph offers a very short extract of my presentation at the congress commemorating the 400th anniversary of Coccejus,  June 4th,  2003 in Utrecht. See R.H. Reeling Brouwer, ‘Verbond, contract, verdrag. Het dwarse van Johannes Coccejus’, Kerk en Theologie 54(2003)336-346. Unfortunately an English translation has  not become available so far.

[125] Perry Miller, The New England Mind. The 17th Century, 1939, 3Cambridge – London 1967, already wrote: ‘Men of the seventeenth century could not organize their church and state upon the premise of voluntary relations until they had found a larger sanction for voluntarism than economic interest’ (400). And: ‘the federal theology was essentially part of a universal tendency in European thought to change social relationships from status to contract’ (399).

[126] See R. Feenstra and M. Ashmann, Contract. Aspecten van de begrippen contract en contractvrijheid in historisch perspectief, Deventer 21988, 1, and especially the text they quote by Henry Sumner Maine (1883), 61-63.

[127] Feenstra en Ashmann 1988, op. cit.  5-7.

[128] Hugo Grotius, De iure belli ac paci, Libri tres (1625),  I.III § VIII.3.

[129] Hugo Grotius, Inleidinge tot de Hollandsche Rechts-geleerdheid (1631), III.6.1-3 (‘Van overkoming in ‘t gemeen’).

[130] Hugo Grotius, De iure, Prolegomena 8; II.XI.1-4.

[131] Cf. Lucien Goldmann, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. The Christian Burgess and the Enlightenment, London 1973, 18-24.

[132] See Van Asselt 1997, op. cit. 101-102.

[133] Cf. David Zaret, The Heavenly Contract, Ideology and Organisation in Pre-Revolutionary Puritanism, Chicago/London 1985, especially 163-198.

[134] The terminology covenant theologians use turns out to date back in part to terminology developed by Franciscan theology especially in the 15th century in connection with the doctrine of merits. On the one hand the conception of God becomes detached from substantialist definitions there. It becomes possible to think of God as a God, who voluntarily commits himself and who therefore can attribute merit to human beings ex pacto, (cf. above, II.8, A-2) because He wants to be faithful to what He has purposed to do. Cf. Stephan Strehle, Calvinism, Federalism and Scholasticism. A Study of the Reformed Doctrine of Covenant, Bern etc. 1988, the first Chapter. Also W.J. Courtenay, Covenant and Causality in Medieval Thought. Studies in Philosophy, Theology and Economic Practice, London 1984, IX, 94-119. These roots of federal theology show how, just like the conception of the contractual agreement took centuries to break free from the earlier ‘closed system’, the conception of what exactly the partners in an agreement are will have gone through a similar evolution as well.

[135] Therefore it must be said against scholars like, e.g., Richard A. Muller: in the 150 odd years that separate Witsius from the reformers much has happened in the general cultural climate. The sense of what a foedus as an agreement is, what the lex naturae is, and how it works in keeping your promises, has considerably shifted. It seems odd to me to want to ignore this in one’s theological evaluation.

[136] Cf. Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker in their introduction to the English translation of Bullinger’s De testamento seu foedere Dei unico et aeterno (1534): Fountainhead of Federalism. Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition, Louisville, Kentucky 1991, 11-98. They try to show a development starting from the Zürich Reformation in the context of the Swiss federative ‘Eidgenossenschaft’ and leading to the Presbyterian teachers (i.e. John Witherspoon) of the fathers of the Constitution of the United States, e.g., James Madison. Their thesis of a ‘symbiotic’ federalism as a Reformed alternative world view in contrast to ‘individualistic’ liberalism shaping modernity seems to me (rrb) to be rather speculative. The same can be said of the study of David A. Weir, The Origins of the Federal Theology in Sixteenth-Century Reformation Thought, Oxford 1990.

[137] Cf. Feenstra en Ashmann, op. cit.  80-83 (a text of J.K. Oudendijk, ‘Het “contract” in de wordingsgeschiedenis van de Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden’, 1961).

[138] Cf. McCoy and Wayne Baker, op. cit. 50-62; already Schrenk 1923, op. cit. 69 and through him also Karl Barth, KD IV/1, 58; CD IV/1, 55.

[139] One of the leaders of the ‘Covenanters’ of the ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ of 1643, Samuel Rutherford, would give a foundation of his politics of covenanting (Lex, Rex, 1644), and would at the same time contribute to

the development of the doctrine of the inter-Trinitarian ‘mutual pact’ between God the Father and God the Son in terms of the daily ‘negotiations’ (Rutherford even speaks of the ‘bargaining’) of a marketplace; Cf. McCoy en Baker 1991, op.cit.. 42-44, Graafland Volume II (1994), op. cit.. 314-315 en Loonstra 1990, op. cit. 125.

[140] Cf. already James B. Torrance, ‘Covenant or Contract? A Study of the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland’, in: Scottish Journal of Theology 23(1970)1, 51-76 (unfortunately not without some anti-judaistic formulations). The study of his pupil David N.J. Poole, The History of the Covenant Concept from the Bible to Johannes Cloppenburg “De Foedere Dei”’, San Francisco 1992, has been criticized very sharply by Richard A. Muller, op. cit. 79.

[141] Cf. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit.  242: ‘the character of the eternal pact (and of the covenant of works) is thus one of obligation, not of grace, as is the case with the covenant of grace.’

[142] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit.  247 reproaches Barth that he did not recognize this. But would it have made any difference in his judgement, if Barth in fact had known this?

[143] Cf. Abraham Kuyper, who accused Cocceius of a tendency to ‘tritheism’; quoted by Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 233.

[144] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit.  233-236; cf. Loonstra, op. cit  87-90.

[145] e.g. Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 241.

[146] Van Asselt 2001, op. cit. 310-319 (Amicitia Dei was the title of his dissertation). Cf. J. Moltmann, ‘Geschichtstheologie und pietistisches Menschenbild bei Johann Coccejus und Theodor Undereyk’, Evangelische Theologie 19(1959)343-361.

[147] Cf. HpB 230 (‘Belegstelle’ 10) and K. Barth, U.I. 385. See also above, note 51: Heppe’s identification of foedus with koinonia – communio and note 66 (man created to live in communio).

[148] The point here is the ‘abstract form’ of natural law. One can object that Barth’s own shaping of the doctrine of justification in CD IV/1 is ‘legal’ in nature as well. But Barth is far from offending the category of justice as such. He ‘only’ wishes by means of Christology to transform this concept in a radical way.

[149] C. Vermeulen, Cor ecclesiae. Een onderzoek naar de pneumatologische consequenties van Karl Barths verkiezingsleer in het geheel van zijn Kirchliche Dogmatik, PhD dissertation Utrecht 1986, 36-39 and 309-310; cf. Den Dulk 1987, op. cit. 217.

[150] KD II/2, 109; CD II/2, 101-102.

[151] Cf. also CD IV/1 § 59.1 on the Godhead of the Son precisely in his obedience to the Father.

[152] KD IV/3, 685 (‘Tatgemeinschaft’); CD IV/3, 598.

[153] KD IV/3, 689; CD IV/3, 601.

[154] In the ethics of 1928 friendship was part of the ethics of creation (cf. Ethik I, op. cit. 317-325. In the Church Dogmatics its does not occupy an important place. Was Barth planning a treatment of this category in the eschatology of CD V?

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R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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