‘On Mystery and recta ratio. Karl Barth’s Elaboration of a Series of Disputations from the Leiden Synopsis: Scripture, Trinity and Incarnation’

On mystery and recta ratio

Karl Barth’s Elaboration of a Series of Disputations from the

Leiden Synopsis: Scripture, Trinity, and Incarnation[1]

I. Introduction

I.1. The Synopsis Purioris Theologiae

In the second decade of the seventeenth century two professors were teaching at the Theological Faculty of the University of Leiden: Johannes Polyander, a moderate Calvinist and former minister in Dort, and Simon Episcopius, a Remonstrant and until 1612 minister in Bleiswijk. These two men had succeeded Gomarus and the late Arminius, respectively, and students could choose which of the two they wanted to consider as their master. After the Synod of Dort decided in favour of the Contra-Remonstrants, Episcopius was removed from his teaching post. In 1619 the Curators of the university appointed Antonius Thysius, who had been serving as professor at the ‘kwartierschool’ of Gelderland in Harderwijk, and Antonius Walaeus, until then professor at the ‘illustrious school’ of Zeeland in Middelburg, to join Polyander as his new colleagues. These three men had all been present at the Synod, each delegated by their own province as professor. Not much later André Rivet, at that time minister in Thouars (France), was invited to join this corps as its fourth member.[2]

The four Leiden professors were determined to maintain unanimity among themselves. They subscribed to the decisions of the Synod of Dort, and, by request of the Synod of South-Holland, wrote a joint refutation of a Remonstrant Confession.[3] In the Preface to the Synopsis purioris theologiae,[4] addressed to the authorities in Holland, they specify a threefold purpose for publishing this work: first, “that the entire globe may acknowledge that you are the most stalwart and steadfast defenders” of this theology; secondly, “that those candidates of the sacred letters who are entrusted to us may fix their gaze upon this North Star and direct their way by it in the course of their studies”; and, finally, that “it may be clear to anyone and everyone that there is a total single-mindedness in what we believe and think, and that we share a consensus in all the headings of theology”. This third and final stated purpose, whereby the four professors praise their cooperation and mutual complementarity, was quoted in part by Barth in his Preface to Church Dogmatics III/1. When Barth asks (seriously or ironically?): “will this ever be possible again? It is not so to-day”,[5] one might observe that the situation the Leiden professors described could not in fact be found in the earlier days of their faculty either, nor at other faculties of that time. In Franeker, for example, where Maccovius and Ames refused to speak to each other, the rabies theologorum prevailed.[6]

The primary intention of the Synopsis to establish a purer theology – that is, a theology purified after the Synod of Dort and to be purified even further – was thus to stabilize the relations in church and theology after the great Remonstrant troubles, and to provide a survey of commonly accepted Reformed doctrine at the time. The second purpose related to the educational function of the professors in their work for their students and future ministers. Nevertheless, the genre of the Synopsis is not that of a Compendium or textbook; the text is rather formed by a series of academic disputations. Recently an informative overview of the practice behind the Synopsis was given by Sinnema and Van den Belt.[7] The disputation practice had functioned as a tried-and-true scholastic educational practice for many centuries, along with lectures (reading and commenting on texts) and preaching under the supervision of theologians (sermon practice). At Leiden public disputations were conducted about twice a month in the large Auditorium, and they were open to anyone. One of the professors would preside, and a number of theses drafted by him on the given topic would be defended by a student (called the ‘respondent’) against the attacks of one or more fellow students (the ‘opponents’). Sometimes theses were drafted by the student respondent himself, but approved by the professor. In Leiden the common practice was for the professors of theology to take turns in presiding over disputations on specific topics or loci. These disputations together formed a series or cycle (called a collegium), although they could be interrupted by random disputations (cf. the medieval ‘quodlibetal’ disputations). At Leiden, a new cycle was started on 6 February 1620 after Polyander had received his two new colleagues, and in this cycle he, Walaeus, and Thysius each presided in turn. Rivet then contributed to the new collegium beginning with the eleventh disputation (on providence; 28 November 1620). The 52nd and last disputatio was held in the summer of 1624.[8] The Preface to the Synopsis, as well as the edition of the whole cycle, is dated 28 December 1624.

The text of the Leiden Synopsis mentions the name of the presiding professor and of the  student defendant (‘respondent’) and is for the most part composed of positively formulated theses (around forty of fifty per disputation), but does not refer to the actual course of the debates as they were held in the auditorium. Sometimes a number of antitheses (on heresies) or corollaries can be found at the end of a disputation. Later in the century, namely in the famous successively edited selections of Voetius’s disputationes, also the lines of thought of the whole course of the debate would be made visible. Some caution should therefore be exercised in quoting loose theses from the Synopsis without consideration of the context of the disputations (as Barth would do), which were conducted in order to exercise the debating skills of Leiden’s students of theology.

Like the disputation cycles that were held before the Synod of Dort, the Synopsis-series underwent several repetitions. As a book the Synopsis was reprinted four times in the seventeenth century.[9] Even in the days of Heidanus and Cocceius in the 1650s, the work still functioned as the basic textbook for the academic practice of disputations.[10] However, as a result of the new influence of Puritanism, the rise of Cartesianism, and the new exegetical approach promoted by the Cocceian current in theology, the Synopsis was gradually lost to oblivion. Yet before that happened, it had for more than a generation functioned as a leading theological text in academic practice, honoured by both Voetius and Cocceius. In 1881 Herman Bavinck published a sixth edition. He did this, as he wrote, out of his conviction that Reformed theology first had to be studied before one might dare to produce one’s own outline of dogmatics. Thus Bavinck’s reading of the Synopsis preceded his own Reformed Dogmatics in a way that is similar to how Barth’s ‘Sentence Commentary’ on Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics preceded his Church Dogmatics![11]

I.2. Karl Barth and the Leiden Synopsis

In the Göttingen Dogmatics, that ‘Sentence Commentary’ on Heppe, Barth quotes the Leiden Synopsis directly six times in the main text,[12] and another twenty times indirectly (that is, only documented in the references by the successive editors of the three volumes in the Gesamtausgabe)[13] from Heppe. The topics of the quotations were mainly the same as they would be later on in the Church Dogmatics.[14]

Initially the new edition of the Prolegomena published in 1927 (that is, the Münster Christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf)does not offer a shift in perspective.[15] However, the pattern changes the moment Barth received a copy of the Synopsis from Albert Eekhof in March 1928.[16] At that time he began to make notes in the margins to his printed text for a future new edition. Those notes have been added as ‘Zusätze’ in the scholarly edition of Die christliche Dogmatik in the Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe. Here one can find two of the original quotations, together with ten new quotations taken directly from the source text. These quotations pertain to the disputation complexes on Scripture, Trinity, and Incarnation.[17] Also in his lecture on the locus De sacramentis in genere, given in 1929, Barth makes grateful use of Disputatio 43 (presided over by Rivet) on this topic.[18]

In the Church Dogmatics the Synopsis would eventually emerge as a continuous conversation partner. There it is referred to no less than 41 times, 19 of which can be found in the Prolegomena. In connection with the Synopsis Barth repeatedly quotes also the Loci Communes of Walaeus, whom he described as that ‘Dutch pupil (holländischer Schüler) of Polanus’ (apparently ignorant of Walaeus’s Flemish origins!),[19] and even a member of ‘the older Leiden school’.[20]

Although Barth does not explicitly say so, one of the things that may have fascinated him could just have been the aspect of the Synopsis that is articulated with the comparative (which does not necessarily have to be translated as such) found in the title to this work: a purer theology. Already in 1927 and again in 1938, Barth had spoken of Christian proclamation as ‘pure doctrine’.[21] In that context he mentioned article 7 of the Confessio Augustana (the church as the congregatio, in qua evangelium pure docetur) rather than the Synopsis, although he could indeed have referred to the latter. Christian preaching must be ‘pure’. Barth preferred this expression over ‘orthodoxy’, since the latter refers to a right doxa or opinion. The proclamation of the Gospel, however, does not deal with opinions. It teaches the way of God as Scripture speaks of Him, and thereby the way we as disciples have to follow in life and death. Preaching is not the same as dogmatics. But in theology, as it engages in preaching, our question concerns the content that we preach. And in that sense, pure doctrine is a problem for dogmatics, and to the extent that dogmatics is the proper form of theology, pure doctrine is a problem for theology. Barth’s decision in this regard may have provided the focus with which he would read the Synopsis purioris theologiae which, as a document of Reformed theology, definitely held some authority for him.

Such a reading will always find a number of focal points where the conversation proves to be more intense. When we analyse the 41 quotations and try to assemble them into clusters, we find the main subjects, as it were, for our investigation. In the next sections we will, following the sequence of the Synopsis-disputations, analyse Barth’s conversation (mainly, but not exclusive in his Prolegomena to Dogmatics) with the Leiden theologians on Scripture and revelation (disputationes 1-5, with some additions from disputations 14 and 18 (law), 26 (prophecy) and 30 (calling); a total of 13 quotations in the Church Dogmatics) [§ II], Trinity (disputations 7-9; 5 quotations) [§ III], and Incarnation (Disp. 25; 8 quotations) [§ IV]. The quotations on Providence (Disp. 11; 8 quotations) and on Predestination (Disp. 24; 6 quotations) will be not be dealt with in this article. [22]

II. Scripture and Revelation: Warm Assent but also Objections

(1) The Word of God           Christian preachers dare to talk about God. If the Church really declares that she has heard His voice in the testimonies of the men of the Bible, then she must also declare in all seriousness that God has spoken in them. Yet in that case he is still speaking now as well. Also in Holy Scripture the Word of God is an event that is present, a divine act. Given this understanding of revelation, Barth in his ‘Zusätze’ (post-1928) was delighted to note Disputatio 5 of the Synopsis: “For Holy Scripture is not a speechless or dead thing … God Himself performs what is brought to pass by the Word; because He, being present always to his churches through the Word and with his Word, works all these things in the hearts and gatherings of believers”.[23] Because the God of Israel as a living God is also now God who is present, even today he acts in His Church through His Word and with His Word. For Barth this was an unforgettable insight, and he would come back to it again and again. For that reason he had no objections to the category of a ‘Scripture Principle’ in the Reformed tradition if it referred to the priority of the Word itself in its own acting, in its character as Revelation acting over against the Church.[24] Barth in any case held it to be a better category than that of the Bible as ‘Source’, since in his opinion this incurred the risk that priority would be given to those who must be and remain witnesses: no more than witnesses, but nonetheless witnesses to their praise and honour. For that reason Barth willingly took over the following sentence from Disputation 2: Sacra Scriptura … non nisi a Deo, qui eam dedit, et a propria sua luce, quam ei indidit, pendere potest (‘Holy Scripture … can depend on nothing but God who has granted it, and on its own light, which He has put into it’).[25] Yet he at the same time also expressed some hesitations: “did she [Orthodoxy, as it speaks through the Leiden Synopsis] still know what she was saying? We have to draw the conclusions from this sentence, and therefore not read perfect but present tenses here [sc. dat, indat (‘grant’, ‘put into’) instead of dedit, indidit (‘has granted’, ‘has put into’), rrb]. In that case, the justified intention of the doctrine of verbal inspiration has been guaranteed, and the unjustified one rejected.” For Barth, therefore, it is entirely correct to stress that the Living Word has its abiding priority, where the witnesses remain dependent on that Word alone, but it is not warranted “to replace the concept of a biblical witness achieved by men in human definiteness with a concept of a heavenly dictation”. Here Barth is clearly referring to the doctrinal commitment to verbal inspiration as it was formulated in the Helvetic formula Consensus Formula of 1675, and distances himself from it. But apparently he supposed that a development had taken place in Reformed Orthodoxy in this regard, and denied that it offers an unequivocal and constant pattern. For him, the Leiden Synopsis has to be placed at the “threshold of decay at the outset”.[26] The views of the Synopsis on this topic, he continued, can be read in one of two ways. In a charitable reading, one might read it in such a way that one avoids “eliminating the character of decision in this knowledge” (that is, as it is expressed in the doctrine of verbal inspiration). Otherwise divine dictation as objectivity as such is “as dangerous as modern theology’s view of ‘God in history’, which replaced this latter orthodox theologoumenon in later days.” As a result, one might say that for Barth the authors of the Leiden Synopsis in a certain sense found themselves at a watershed. On the one hand, he argues in the Church Dogmatics, it may be dangerous, as when they assert that the prophets and apostles in composing their writings acted as actuarii (secretaries), with the suggestion that perhaps the Holy Spirit Himself alone should be the real author.[27] Yet on the other hand, Barth stresses, “the Leiden Synopsis could still maintain that the attitude of the biblical writers had been to some extent active, not passive: ‘they had a task as interpreters and authors’.”[28] In this way the freedom of the biblical witnesses in response to the divine Word and in submission to the work of the Holy Spirit had been safeguarded.[29] Something similar emerges from Barth’s answer to the question as to what he as a dogmatician would have to say about the biblical canon: it is above all else a gift of God that the church can only receive and accept, and not a choice that she arbitrarily made, but at the same time it is the church as a subject that made the decision to accept it: “through the initiative of God … (these books) were received, not by some free act of the church, but as a necessary undertaking”.[30]

(2) Indirect and direct Revelation   For Barth it is important to stress the difference between the Word of God as Revelation itself (Deus dixit) and His speaking mediated through Scripture and the preaching ministry of the çhurch. He thought to find support for this in a scholastic distinction made in disputation one of the Leiden Synopsis. This disputation deals with supernatural revelation[31] and says: “Hence the revelation of sacred theology which God gave the prophets and the apostles was direct and without intervention; however, the revelation that has been disclosed through them to the church of God was via them as intermediaries”.[32] The distinction the Synopsis draws here is not between a revelation to the prophets and the apostles and a mediated revelation of the biblical witnesses in their writings, but this still is the distinction Barth reads in it. Later on he encounters a similar distinction related to the topic of the prophetic office of Jesus Christ. He had already discovered this notion in the course of his Göttingen lectures, but it became a matter of particular weight when, in Church Dogmatics IV/3 of the late 1950s, this particular topic gave Barth the opportunity to think through the subject-matter of his prolegomena again from a new and slightly different perspective as the third and last point of view of his doctrine of reconciliation, which is there at the same time understood as a doctrine of Revelation of the living Lord. Furthermore, one finds two passages quoted from Disputatio 26. The first is found in thesis 39: “prophecy is a function with which Christ introduced his people to the truth of law and gospel (…), directly Himself, and indirectly through other administrators of his Word, who have been provided with the gifts that are needed (that is, the prophets and the apostles).”[33] The second one is found in thesis 41: “the way of prophetic instruction we state as being twofold: indirect and direct. The first one is usually used by Christ, according to his divine nature in the old covenant towards the prophets, or according to both his natures towards the apostles; in both he, as the sun of justice, illuminates with the rays of prophetic light that is in him, with appropriate power. The second one is used, when he commands his servants, prophets and apostles, to reveal to his people all the mysteries of his wisdom that must be known for salvation, by preaching as well as, after that, by writing.”[34] At first Barth stressed enthusiastically that we here again encounter a distinction between revelation and Scripture; what Christ says, he takes out of his inner self, and the prophets pass it on. They pass on what they have received from Him, not as their own but as something that belongs to someone else. Later on, however, in CD IV/3, further questions arise for Barth:

“We must first ask whether the distinction between per seipsum and per alios is really possible. Even in the Old and New Testament is there really any utterance of Christ per seipsum which is not also per alios? Surely He causes Himself to be heard only in the witness of Scripture and its proclamation, and not otherwise. Conversely, is not His whole utterance per alios true per seipsum? How could or would the witness of Scripture and its proclamation be true and powerful if He did not cause Himself to be heard in it? Yet at a pinch we might well have come to an understanding with the older dogmaticians on this point. More serious is the question whether they were right, and especially the Reformed, when they tried to think of the prophecy of Jesus Christ as limited to the Old and New Testament witnesses” [… in distinction from the Lutherans, e.g. J. Gerhard …]. “Since only the biblical prophets and apostles can be considered as administrators of the Prophet Jesus Christ, the Church of God rejects all traditions that are not included in the Sacred Book”.[35] On this point it is to be observed that the unique dignity of the “sacred book” consists in the fact that in it and it alone we have the original attestation of the being and action of Jesus Christ as the presupposition of all further proclamation by the Church. Yet there can be no question of the Church rejecting all traditions, its task being to test them by the standard of the prophetico-apostolic witness, to weigh their conformity to Scripture, which will not always lead to their total repudiation. The older Dutch [die alten Holländer] who spoke in this way did not really reject all traditions themselves; indeed, at Dort they quite freely added to the old some new ones. And can we truly maintain that only the biblical prophets and apostles are the body which has a part in the office of its Head?”[36]

(3) Prophecy            An interesting remark that occurs in the section of the Church Dogmatics on “Scripture as the Word of God” and was been derived from the Leiden Synopsis is the following:

“when the prophets were added to the Law, which alone constituted Holy Scripture in the first instance, they did not make it more complete as such, i.e., as the Word of God, but as the expounding and confirming of the first witness by a second they made it clearer. The same can also be said of the adding of the New Testament to the Old. Salvation is in fact already proclaimed and can be accepted in the Pentateuch as such. One can say this is too bold a view. In any case it is gratuitous, for we do not have to do now only with the Pentateuch. But I cannot see where it is actually wrong. If all Scripture does in fact attest one thing, it cannot be denied that if we only know one part of it, it attests it perfectly even in that part.”[37]

Apart from questions of the development of the Old Testament canon(s), this thesis formally provides the Reformed world with the possibilities to defend the thesis that the Old Testament is the Bible ‘proper’, or to advocate the biblical testimony against paganism and nihilism on the basis of the Torah, as the Dutch theologians A.A. van Ruler and K.H. Miskotte would do in the twentieth century.[38]

(4) Calling   For Barth, in his opinion not without an example in Luther, the Word of God takes on a threefold form: revealed, written, and then preached. In this respect, since Disputatio 30 in the Leiden Synopsis is found at the beginning of the section on the application of salvation,[39] also the doctrine of Calling in a sense belongs to the circular event of revelation. In the Prolegomena Barth uses the distinction found here between the externus modus vocationis by the Word and the Sacraments and the internus modus by the operation of the Holy Spirit, where the possibility of a divine act of calling that passes outside the proclamation of the church exists, albeit very rare, extraordinary, and unknown to us.[40] Barth sees this as a ‘limit-concept’ reminding the church of a situation where admittedly we are bound by the Word, but the Word is not bound by us: “God may suddenly be pleased to have Abraham blessed by Melchizedek, or Israel blessed by Balaam or helped by Cyrus. Moreover, it could hardly be denied that God can speak His Word to man quite otherwise than through the talk about Himself that is to be found in the church as known or as yet to be discovered, and therefore quite otherwise than through proclamation. He can establish the Church anew and directly when and where and how it pleases Him.”[41] This distinction, which Barth considers to be quite valuable, should not be confused with a series of other distinctions that are found at the beginning of the same disputatio, such as the vocatio universalis & naturalis over against the vocatio specialis & supernaturalis.[42] In the Göttingen Dogmatics he only mentions these distinctions with no other remark except the observation that “apparently Calling [that is, special calling against the background of the universal call], as the special gift of union with Christ, is grace”.[43] However, in his section on Calling in Church Dogmatics IV/3, Barth would show himself to be much more critical of the other member of the distinction, namely the vocatio universalis & actualis[44]: “according to the Leiden Synopsis this is an invitation to know and honour the true God which is issued to all men through certain communia documenta naturae, by which are meant certain self-declarations of this true God which are (a) inward (interna)  and impressed on the hearts of men, and (b) outward (externa) and imprinted on the whole visible creation.[45] We are thus confronted by the well-known double thesis of natural theology”, which “has been dealt with in many other previous parts of the Church Dogmatics.” For Barth, it is a comfort that the Synopsis itself takes note that these ‘documents’ produce a more theoretical than practical knowledge.[46]

(5) Religion  A related issue is the treatment of the arguments in favour of the credibility and God-given character of Holy Scripture.[47] Barth recalls that Calvin admittedly gave some secondary grounds aside from the decisive argument of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit,[48] but that in the development as it has come to expression in the Synopsis these secondary grounds apparently attained a greater importance.[49] The second Disputatio, with Walaeus presiding, points to the perfection and divinity of Holy Scripture as supported by the true religion that is found in it in order to convince profane man. The infallible marks of this true religion dictated to the conscience of men – “this is an unfortunate phrase” (“Nun geschieht ein Ungluck”), Barth remarks – are, first, the knowledge of God as the Creator and Ruler of all things, in the second place the vera ratio by which man seeks reconciliation for his sins, and in the third place the need for true worship and the perfect fulfilment of one’s obligations toward God and neighbour. All three aspects are, in a traditional way, supported by the traits of pagan religious practices and beliefs.[50] By virtue of those three aspects we believe that the Bible is of divine origin and therefore necessary. Barth remarks that this context for speaking about religion – both here in the Synopsis and in the Loci Communes of Walaeus,[51] who presided over the disputatio in question – ought to be a new one in Reformed theology. He asks: “It may be regarded as innocuous because it has importance ‘only’ apologetically, in the context[52] of arguments for the authenticity of Holy Scripture as against atheists on the one hand and the Papacy on the other. But once it is introduced, how long will it have ‘only’ an apologetic importance? Does it not actually have more weight with Walaeus than he himself concedes?”

(6) Natural Law       Finally, aside from the vocatio generalis & naturalis and the concept of a religio which may be compared with other religions and then manifests itself as the true religion, in Barth’s eyes also the concept of a lex naturalis may undermine the sola Scriptura-principle. As he does in his excursus on Religion in Church Dogmatics I/2, Barth presumes to distinguish a development in post-Reformation theology also in his excursus on the Law as the norm for uncovering and judging sin which is found in Church Dogmatics IV/1. Here too he suggests that the Leiden Synopsis went a step further than Polanus and Wollebius in Basel had gone.[53] He begins by quoting Disputation 18 on the Law, where “we learn that there is a natural law identical with the light and dictate of the recta ratio in the intellect, that informs men with common notions on the distinction of right and wrong, honour and disgrace, to understand what he has to do or to avoid. These common notions have indeed been obscured and almost extinguished, at any rate as practical principles in the human spirit, but as sparks of the fall of man they still remain in such strength – as outwardly attested by the laws of the heathen and inwardly by conscience – that they are sufficient to accuse and condemn sin.”[54] Barth then cites also Disputation 14: “According to this presentation the moral law transgressed by our first parents is simply the hypotypoosis [pattern, example] of this natural law.”[55] For many scholars who defend a ‘decay theory’ on post-Reformation theology, making room for vera ratio (Disputatio 2) or recta ratio (Disputatio 18) is in itself already a problem as an omen of an increasingly ‘rationalistic’ tendency.[56] Yet is this also the opinion and reproach of Karl Barth? This is a question which we will return to later on in this contribution (see below, IV.3).

III. Trinity: An Unforgettable Discovery

During the Göttingen Summer semester of 1924, the first locus Barth that devoted serious study to was the Trinity. From the very beginning its importance surprised him. At an earlier stage of his theological development the importance of the technical problems would never have occurred to him. Now, however, he would go so far as to remark: “You men, dear brothers, what a scramble! Now don’t you go thinking this is all old trash; seen in the light, everything, everything seems to make good sense”.[57] Barth’s point of departure was his conception of revelation: “The content of revelation is God alone, wholly God, God Himself”.[58] But if that is true, there has to be an “unsublate-able (‘unaufhebbaren’) subjectivity of God”: God must be able to reveal Himself without changing in the act of revelation. It was from the point of view of this quaestio, which no doubt was connected to the theology of The Letter to the Romans, that Barth read the trinitarian considerations of the doctrinal tradition. And he felt both alienated and very enriched. As far as the old Protestant dogmatics were concerned, Barth felt alienated because, even though they actually had a locus on this topic, it seemed to be just one locus among other loci; to Barth it appeared to be somewhat loosely connected to other aspects of the doctrine of God, instead of being the decisive aspect in talking about God. But at the same time he felt enriched, because all the classical problems appeared to be relevant problems for his own approach as well!

The tension in Barth’s encounter with this classical doctrine can be felt in his fascination with the expression mysterium trinitatis. This expression could be applied to a highest metaphysical, inaccessible entity for whom a mystical silence alone would be appropriate. But when Barth read up on this expression in his textbooks on orthodoxy, he conceived of it as an indication of the total otherness of the God of revelation. In Heppe he found the view expressed by J.H. Alsted that “the mystery of the Trinity is neither discovered by the light of nature nor by the light of grace, and even by the light of glory it cannot be understood by any creature”.[59] Barth thus concluded: the trinitarian formula “seems to be pointing us to something strangely outside or beyond as the a priori of all dogmas. Obviously its discussion is to be viewed as a prolegomenon par excellence”.[60] In Heppe the quotation from Alsted is accompanied by a quotation from the seventh Disputation of the Leiden Synopsis (Polyander presiding): “Hence the mode of this mystery, inexplicable as it is by human reason, is rather to be adored in humble faith than defined by risky phrases”.[61] In 1924 Barth neglected this expression of humanistic modesty, reminiscent of the younger Melanchthon or the younger Calvin. However, in his ‘Zusätze’ from around 1928, he noted that the Synopsis in another thesis even speaks of ‘hujus abstrusi mysterii’.[62] This remark comes in the context of the main text of Die christliche Dogmatik, where Barth once again stresses that the emphasis on the impenetrable mystery by the older dogmaticians, who “otherwise were not as much in a hurry to retreat into irrationality as later generations” (“die es sonst mit dem Rückzug ins Irrationale nicht so eilig hatten wie späteren Zeiten”) – again we see that Barth does not take the opportunity to reproach post-Reformation theology of ‘rationalism’! –, at precisely this point may be seen as an indication that the doctrine of the Trinity presents us with an insight of a fundamental nature.

As far as Barth’s enrichment by the older orthodox Trinitarian considerations is concerned, we can point to the following insights he derived from the Leiden Synopsis: (1) On the threeness of the ‘persons’: a mere unity of kind or a mere collective unity is excluded: “For the very essence of God is, in the highest possible degree, unique, individual and singular, and therefore it can in no way be said of the three persons as a species is said of individuals”.[63] (2) On using the phrase ‘modes of being’ for the three persons, preferred by Barth in the Church Dogmatics (and also by Calvin): person as divine “substance, distinguished and circumscribed by some peculiar mode of subsisting”.[64] (3) On the Father, who precisely in his distinctive as Father, never can be thought of without also thinking of the Son: “(For) it is impossible to think of the Father apart from the Son”.[65] (4) On the reality of the Holy Spirit as God’s freedom to be present to man in his own way, to bring about the encounter of revelation: the Spirit is the applicator, illuminator, sanctificator.[66] (5) As a conclusion to the treatment of the predicates which (in an earlier passage) were ascribed to the Holy Spirit, the fundamental perspective: “The word Spirit must be kept detached from any notion of a created being”.[67] (6) On the procession of the Holy Spirit as an inner-Trinitarian event: “the word ‘procession’ … should be taken according to God’s act directed toward the inside, whereby God so acts within his own essence, that the reflection upon Himself constitutes a real relationship by a communion of the divine essence”.[68] Furthermore, on the question of the procession from the Father filioque (‘and the Son’), Barth noted in 1924: “we have no reason to hold aloof from the Western form, although we can agree with some of the Reformed orthodox of the 17th century that we might understand the Greek teaching in better part”. For this last statement, it is quite probable that Barth found a quotation from the Leiden Synopsis in Heppe.[69] This reference was kept in Die christliche Dogmatik, but replaced in the Church Dogmatics by other orthodox Protestant witnesses.[70]

All these learning points from the Synopsis, one can conclude, illustrate how Barth was enriched in his doctrine of God by his encounter with it. Yet we might also come to the conclusion that his estrangement, based on the different status and weight this Locus has in the whole of his own systematic argument compared to, for example, the Synopsis, was not articulated and fully developed. The same can be said of Barth’s further theological development as it took place over the course of the Church Dogmatics. It can be argued that Barth’s choice in the doctrine of election (KD II/2) to have the concrete person of Jesus Christ replace the logos incarnandus as the subject of election must have implications for the doctrine of the Trinity.[71] One can also argue that a fundamental thesis of the first volume of the doctrine of Reconciliation (KD IV/1) must have consequences for the traditional presentation of the Trinity as well: “That God as God is able and willing and ready to condescend, to humble Himself in this way is the mystery of the ‘deity of Christ’ – although frequently it is not recognised in this concreteness”.[72] Here one might ask whether Barth himself already recognised it in this concreteness when he was writing on the Trinity in the Prolegomena. Nevertheless, since he never did present the Locus anew, we too are deprived of a new conversation on the Trinity between Barth and the older Protestant dogmaticians like the authors of the Leiden Synopsis.

IV. The Mystery of the Incarnation: its Suitability and its Rationality

IV-1. The Incarnation as a Mystery and as an Event without Analogy

After Disputation 24 on Predestination, “which primarily looks at Christ, and therefore in him at his members”, the Leiden Synopsis in Disputation 25 directly proceeds (in the words of the first thesis) to “treat separately the object of the Gospel and the foundation of the new covenant: the person of Christ or the incarnation of the Son of God and the personal union of the two natures in Christ”.[73] This unification, so thesis 2 states with a reference to the word of the apostle in 1 Timothy 3,16 (“great was the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh”) is a mystery as great as that of the Holy Trinity. “Whence”, thesis 3 continues, “also it cannot be taught or accepted by human reason, because in the whole of nature no perfect example exists which completely answers to it, although it is not at war with right reason. But it should be divinely taught and proved from Scripture and received with the eyes of faith.”[74] For Barth this insight is of such importance that he in his considerations on the Incarnation in Church Dogmatics I/2 not only quotes theses 2-3 from the Synopsis alongside 1 Timothy 3,16 and a passage from Gregory of Nyssa’s Oratio catechetica magna, but also –  perhaps, or even quite probably, inspired by these quotations from the Leiden theologians – gives the title ‘The Mystery of Revelation’ to this entire section. He continues: “The central statement of the Christology of the early Church is that God becomes one with man: Jesus Christ ‘very God and very man’. The merit of the statement is that it denotes the mystery without resolving it away. In all the (apparently and really) complicated explanations which are indispensable to the understanding of this statement of primitive Christology, we must be quite clear from the very start that it speaks not simply and clearly, but with real humility and relevance about the very mystery of revelation”.[75]

Many volumes later in the Church Dogmatics, in the second part of the Doctrine of Reconciliation where the notion of the assumption and exaltation of human flesh in the Son of Man is fundamental to the soteriological concept of the exaltation of all men in Him, the quotation from thesis 3 appears again. In that context the emphasis is not so much on the element of mystery in the thesis, but on the words quod nullum eius in tota natura perfectum et omnino respondens existet exemplum, “in the whole of nature no perfect example exists which completely answers to it (i.e., to this mystery)”. The incarnation, Barth stresses here, is without analogy:

“With a strange, one-sided, self-glorious spontaneity, we have to do here with the work and action of the faithfulness and omnipotence and mercy of God Himself, which has no ground or reality except in Himself.” “We cannot deduce and understand it as though God were under a necessity to do it. In relation to God as to man it can be acknowledged and recognised and confessed only in the light of the fact that this event had actually taken place between God and man, that it is a real fact grounded in the free and eternal counsel of the divine will and accomplished in the divine omnipotence. The incarnation of the Word in this fact, without precedence, parallel, or repetition either in the divine sphere or (much less) in the human, natural and historical creaturely sphere. The incarnation of the Word is the great ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to which theology can give only the assent that it has heard it and understood it as such, from which all reflexion which seeks and discovers analogies can only derive, but to try to subject which to analogies either in earth or heaven is quite nonsensical”

– sentences which are then followed by the quotation from thesis 3.[76]

Aside from the shift in focus between the ways these two places in the Church Dogmatics quote this one thesis from the Synopsis, we can observe another difference in the manner of quoting that may seem to be minor but is nevertheless remarkable. Thesis 3 begins by asserting “when also it (the mystery of incarnation) cannot be taught or accepted by human reason.” After it provides the foundation for this assertion (“because no example exists which answers to it”), the Synopsis concedes: “although it is not at war with right reason.” In CD I/2, Barth omits these last words and substitutes them with an ellipsis. However, in CD IV/2 he keeps this expression and even devotes a separate excursus to it: what does it mean that (assumptio carnis) recta ratione non pugnet? This is a question to which we will return below in section IV.3.

IV.2. A Definition and its Elaboration

Following the introductory remarks on the mysterious character of the incarnation, the fourth thesis of Disputation 25 can now provide a definition. The first sentence reads: “Incarnation is the work of God by which according to the divine counsel of the Father, of Himself and of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God humbled himself and took unto himself true, entire, perfect and holy flesh of the Virgin Mary by the operation and effectuality of the Holy Spirit in the unity of his person; so that the flesh should in no way have a subsistence of its own outside the Son of God, but should be sustained and borne by him and in him: two perfect natures having been mutually united inconfusedly and unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably.”[77] Barth elaborates on five elements of this definition, explicitly in connection with his examination of the Synopsis text:

(1) The incarnation is a work of God in which the Son acts according to the divine counsel of the Trinity. Already in his dogmatic lectures from Göttingen and Münster, Barth quoted the Synopsis as it further explained this part of the definition in theses 6-9, and he discovered there that the old theology asserted that the whole Trinity admittedly was the subject of this divine work – the Father as fons actionis, the Son as its medium, and the Holy Spirit, through whom the conception of the Son in human nature takes place, as its terminus –, but that strictly speaking not the divine nature as such but only the eternal Son was the subject of the assumption of the flesh.[78]

(2) The formula that “the flesh should in no way have a subsistence of its own outside the Son of God” refers to the doctrine of the anhypostasis and the enhypostasis of the human nature of Christ. “Anhypostasis asserts the negative. Since in virtue of the assumptio Christ’s human nature has its existence (technically: its ‘subsistence’) in the existence of God, meaning in the mode of being (hypostasis) of the Word, it does not possess it in and for itself, in abstracto.” “Enhypostasis asserts the positive. In virtue of the assumptio, the human nature acquires existence in the existence of God, meaning in the mode of being of the Word.”[79] Barth discovered this doctrine in Göttingen, May 1924, and immediately saw its relevance for his conception of revelation.[80] In all the stages of his following development he would come back to it again and again. Thesis 4 in particular had been quoted in the Prolegomena CD I/2 as his witness for his concept of revelation, and again in the theological anthropology of CD III/2, where Barth explained that it is only because he is the Word of God in human nature that Jesus can act for and on behalf of all other human beings as their Lord.[81]

(3) As far as the Son of God’s becoming flesh is concerned, Barth in Göttingen drew attention to a slight difference between the confessions: “The Lutherans thought it necessary to stress that the sanctification means that Christ’s human nature will have a supreme elegance and beauty of form – the Lutheran Christ is a handsome man – whereas the Reformed set no store by that and regarded the human nature as equivalent to a servant form.” This observation is confirmed by Heppe, who quotes thesis 14 of the 25th Disputation on this point.[82] Barth would go on to repeat this reference in all three editions of his Prolegomena.[83]

(4) Thesis 18 intends to give a further explication of the ‘flesh’ that was assumed by the eternal Son. ‘Flesh’, so it states, should not be understood here in the sense of our corrupted nature, as flesh that is opposed to spirit, but it is excluded from common corruption of the human race. It was not suitable for the Son of God to unite with human nature as it had fallen prey to sin, although the Apostle says that “God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh”… (Rom. 8, 3).[84] On this point, Barth disagrees decisively with the Synopsis. “Non conveniebat? (it was not suitable?) If that is true, then precisely in the critical definition of our nature Christ is not a man like us, and so He has not really come to us and represented us. In this non conveniebat, by which God’s honour is obviously being protected against any smirch, does there not lurk a secret denial of the miracle of His condescension and thereby of God’s honour itself, which according to Scripture celebrates its loftiest triumph in its very condescension?”[85] By contrast, positively it must be said that what the New Testament calls ‘flesh’ in a narrower sense is “the man who is liable to the judgment and verdict of God, who having become incapable of knowing and loving God must incur the wrath of God, whose existence had become one exposed to death because he has sinned against God. Flesh is the concrete form of human nature marked by Adam’s fall, the concrete form of that entire world which, when seen in the light of Christ’s death on the cross, must be regarded as the old world already past and gone.” Christ was born as flesh of that flesh![86]

(5) In reproducing the definition of thesis 4, Barth omitted the reference to the formula of the Creed: conceptus de Spirito Sanctu, natus ex Maria virgine.[87] The reason is not that Barth did not adhere to this article of faith. On the contrary, he had defended it from the very beginning. For him, ‘the Mystery of the incarnation’ is closely connected to ‘the Miracle of Christmas’.[88] However, in the Church Dogmatics he no longer identified the mystery with the miracle, but envisioned the relationship between the two as one of signum et res (Zeichen und Sache, sign and thing).[89] In this respect he also distanced himself from the older Protestant approach. Furthermore, as far as Mary is concerned, already in Göttingen Barth had taken note of the fact that for most post-Reformation theologians her title of theotokos (‘Mother of God’) was quite acceptable as a supporting position in a Christological context.[90]

IV.3 ‘It is not at war with right reason’

At the end of section IV.1, we observed that Barth quotes the opening theses 2-3 about the mystery of the Incarnation on two occasions in the Church Dogmatics. Both times we read: “it cannot be taught or accepted by human reason”, and yet at the first occurrence (KD I/2) Barth omitted the subordinate clause “although it is not at war with right reason”, while he retained this expression at the second (CD IV/2) and in fact devoted a separate excursus to it: what does it mean that (assumptio carnis) recta ratione non pugnet? Here we will return to this question, and begin by quoting the following from the excursus in question:

“In our last quotation from the Leiden Synopsis about the nature of the incarnation as an event which has no analogies and can therefore be known only in its self-revelation, there occurred the quite incidental observation: quamvis recta ratione non pugnet. The recta ratio which is not denied here, and therefore does not need to pick a quarrel, is not the ratio which is bound by the authority of Church dogma and therefore unfree, but the ratio which is directed to this object, which is determined by it, and therefore free in relation to it, and not burdened by any general considerations and their results. Offence at the statement about the union of the two natures in Jesus Christ is unavoidable only for a thinking which is unconditionally bound by certain general presuppositions. This unconditional binding, whether by Church dogma or general logic and metaphysics, is not proper to recta ratio, to a thinking which is basically free. Recta ratio is reason as it is ready for the realism demanded of it in face of this object, and therefore free reason – free in relation to the object.”[91]

From these remarks we can draw some conclusions regarding the position from which Barth argued in his conversation with the Leiden theological quartet. Again and again we encountered two questions across all three Loci or Disputations we discussed: 1) the reproach of intellectualism, which is commonly directed against Protestant orthodoxy; and 2) the safeguarding of human freedom in Reformed doctrine, especially in the days after the Synod of Dort. In Barth’s eyes, these two are connected to each other.

For him freedom is a gift of the triune God, and man is free when he or she can participate in the event of the divine gift, realised in the assumption of the flesh by the Son of God and received through the Holy Spirit. Where revelation happens, there the gift of freedom really is present. Outside this event there only exists a servum arbitrium. For that reason he warmly agreed when the Synopsis authors stress that the Word of God does not impede, but rather enables human freedom in responding to the Word. He expressed this agreement in the context of their doctrine of Scripture, where the Leiden theologians state that, under the inspiration and dictation of the Holy Spirit, the biblical writers had to a certain extent been active rather than passive (see above, II.1). For in the eyes of Barth, in such assertions human ratio is fully focussed and concentrated on the mysterious event of revelation, and as such is a recta ratio, and as such free.  

But at the same time he objects when, in addition to the central insight regarding the freedom of divine action which confirms the very autonomy of the creature, also other thoughts are established. Barth does so when the Synopsis in its doctrine of Scripture also understands there theologically to be room for a vocatio naturalis (II.4), for a vera ratio that makes man capable of knowing a vera religio (II.5), and for a lex naturalis as the norm for discovering and judging sin (although since the fall it does not function very well;  II.6). And he does so when the Synopsis in its doctrine of the incarnation states that it was not suitable for the Son of God to unite with human nature as it had fallen prey to sin, as if the honour of an abstract, quasi-deistic God must be protected from any smirch, and as if the real condescension of the biblical God gives rise to shame (IV.2). For in all those assertions, as Barth sees it, human ratio, aside from being focussed on revelation according to Scripture, apparently also is determined by other factors that may have origins which are, in spite of their supposedly theological character, at least unclear, and in that sense human ratio can neither be called recta ratio nor free.

In conclusion, the depth of this conversation between Karl Barth and the Leiden professors shows much greater nuance than simple slogans like the reproach of ‘intellectualism’ might at first seem to suggest. Rather, it seems to have been the very character of the intellect in theology that was at stake.

[1] This article offers fragments from Chapter 2 of Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, Karl Barth and Post-Reformation Orthodoxy, that will be published by Ashgate (Barth Studies Series) 2015.

[2] J. Reitsma & J. Lindeboom, Geschiedenis van de Hervorming en de Hervormde Kerk der Nederlanden, ’s Gravenhage: Nijhoff, 51949, 268; A. Eekhof, De theologische faculteit te Leiden in de 17e eeuw, Utrecht: Ruys, 1921, 37ff.

[3] Censura in confessionem sive declarationem sententiae eorum, qui in Foederato Belgio Remonstrantes vocantur, Lugd. Bat., 1626.

[4] G.P. van Itterzon, De Synopsis purioris theologiae. Gereformeerd leerboek der 17e eeuw, Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis 23 (1930), 161-213; 225-259; W.J. van Asselt. T.T.J. Pleizier, P.L. Rouwendal,  P.M. Wisse, Inleiding in de gereformeerde scholastiek. Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 1998, 125; ET, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.

[5] KD III/1, Vorwort (CD III/1, IX) quotes the following fragment: “(…) so that it may be clear to anyone and everyone that there is a total single-mindedness in what we believe and think, and that we share a consensus in all the headings of theology. We have no doubt whatsoever that the pastors of our churches, when they behold this work as the longed-for proof of the harmony in our teaching, will join with us in congratulating the Province that you command for the fact that by the special grace of God … [under your watch the flames of our internal dissentions have been quenched. And what is more, that they may now once again behold that] on the lecterns in our Academy and on the pulpits in our church-buildings truth and peace ‘greet and kiss one another’ (to use the words of king David the prophet [Psalm 85,10])”; ET (here and elsewhere in this article) taken from Dolf te Velde, Riemer A. Faber (translator), Rein Ferwerda, Willem J. van Asselt †, William den Boer, Andreas J. Beck, Rein Ferwerda, Philip J. Fisk, Albert Gootjes, Harm Goris, Pieter Rouwendal, Henk van den Belt, Gert van den Brink, Elco van Burg, Jan van Helden, & Antonie Vos, Synopsis Purioris Theologiae. Synopsis of a Purer Theology. Latin Text and English Translation, Volume I, Disputations 1-23 (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions), Leiden: Brill, 2014 (henceforth: SPT).

[6] Furthermore, the resolution “that no one would give his judgment on a controversy of religion, on church government, or on a case of conscience separately, but only together with his colleagues; that no theses were to be publicly disputed unless all colleagues had seen and approved of them; that no book was to be published which all colleagues had not examined and agreed upon” (Walaeus) also had the function of preventing a provincial Synod from controlling their academic labour. See Eekhof, De theologische faculteit te Leiden (ref. 2), 43.70ff.

[7] Donald Sinnema and Henk van den Belt, “The Synopsis Purioris Theologiae as a Disputation Cycle”, Church History and Religious Culture (CHRC, Leiden: Brill) 92 (2012), 505-537.

[8] Sinnema & Van den Belt (ref. 7), the Appendix, 534-537. Since the original pamphlets, paid for by the University of Leiden, have been found for a significant number of the disputations, in many cases an exact date is available.

[9] After its first publication in 1625 the Synopsis was reprinted in 1632, 1642 (that was the edition of which Barth acquired a copy; see below, ref. 16), 1652, and 1658.

[10] Sinnema & Van den Belt (ref. 7), 524-526.

[11] See Bavinck’s letter to his friend Chr. Snouck Hurgronje, as quoted by Van Itterzon 1930 (ref. 4) 258f. For the characterisation of Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics as a ‘sentence commentary’ on the textbook of Heppe (of 1861) see Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology. Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936, Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 334 and 349.

[12] K. Barth, “Unterricht in der christlichen Religion”. Erster Band: Prolegomena. 1924, ed. by Hannelotte Reiffen, Zürich, 1985 (henceforth U.P.); “Unterricht in der christlichen Religion”, 1990 (henceforth 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 (henceforth abbreviated as U.II; ET: The Göttingen Dogmatics. Instruction in the Christian Religion, trans. G. W. Bromiley, Volume I (§§ 1-18), Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991. The places in the main text that explicitly mention the Synopsis are: U.I. 147 (ET 425), 201, 271, 285; U.II 360 and 362.

[13] U.P. 159, 189 (ET 154), 193f. (ET 157), 205 (ET 166); U.I. 189 (ET 458), 197; U.II 60, 103, 165, 167, 196, 213, 254, 539. The quotation of U.II, 103 (Summer Semester 1925) also appears in the lecture “Das Schriftprinzip der reformierten Kirche” (Switzerland, April 1925): Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1922-1925, hrsg. Holger Finze, Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1990, (500-544) 507 (SPT 26, 41).

[14] From the Synopsis the following disputations are quoted: 6 (Divine Attributes) 1x, 9 (Trinity) 1x, 11 (Providence) 2x, 24 (Predestination) 3x, 25-28 (Christology) 8x, 30 (Calling) 1x, 40 (Church) 3x, 43 (Sacraments) 1x.

[15] K. Barth, Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf. Erster Band. Die Lehre vom Worte Gottes. Prolegomena zur christlichen Dogmatik 1927, hrsg. Von Gerhard Sauter, Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1982; the direct references on 298 (= U.P. 189), 300 (= U.P. 205) remained, as did the indirect quotations on 288 (= U.P. 159) and 355 (= U.P. 193); the indirect references on 242, 355 and 456 were added by the editors. In the first edition of 1927 one finds the two direct references on 298 and 300.

[16] See copy nr. R4T4B15 in the Karl Barth Archive, Basel, with the dedication: “Met hart.[elijke] Groeten A. Eekhof, Leiden, 16.III.1928”. Barth had stayed at the home of Albert Eekhof (1884-1933, professor of Church History and of Christian Doctrine) and his family during his visit to the university of Leiden from 31 March until 1 April 1927. See Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel Band 2 (1921-1930), bearbeitet und hrsg. von Eduard Thurneysen, Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1974, 491 (Letter 7 April 1927).

[17] SPT the Disputations 1-5 (principles of theology): 5x, 7-9 (Trinity) 5x, 25 (Incarnation) 2x. Four of these quotations will return in Church Dogmatics I/1 (KD I/1 117, 368, 473, 484).

[18] K. Barth, “Die Lehre von den Sakramenten” (Emden, Bern, Horgen in the neighbourhood of Zürich), Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1925-1930, hrsg. Hermann Schmid, Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1994, (393-441), 405 (SPT 43, 18), 410 (43 corr.), 418 (43, 29 and 30), 420 (43, 23), 425 (43, 10), 439 (43, 22f. and from Disputation 44 on Baptism Thesis 24), for a total of eight quotations.

[19] KD I/2, 310 (CD I/2, 285).

[20] KD I/1, 5 (CD I/1, 7). Barth acquired Antonius Walaeus, Loci communes S. theologiae Lugduni Batavorum: Franciscus Hackius 1640 before 1932 (copy nr R4T4B13 in the Karl Barth Archive). Walaeus is mentioned 10 times in the Church Dogmatics. The first quotations from this work appear in KD I/1.

[21] Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), § 23.2 “Reine Lehre als Aufgabe”, 531ff; KD I/2, § 22.2: “Reine Lehre als Aufgabe der Dogmatik”, 848ff. (CD I/2, “Pure Doctrine as the Problem of Dogmatics”, 758ff.).

[22] Further references are the following: 1. KD II/1, 317 (CD II/1, 283): SPT6 (De divinis attributis), 43; 2. KD III/2, 15 (CD III/2, 15): SPT13 (De homine ad imaginem Dei creato), 2; 3. KD III/2, 357 (CD III/2, 296, being man and woman as likeness and hope): SPT51 (De resurrectione carnis & Iudicio extremo).

[23] SPT 5 (De S. Scripturae Perspicuitate & Interpretatione, Walaeus presiding), 25 and 26 (italics by KB); Barth (1982), 438f.; Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 438f.

[24] See his reference in Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 456 footnote 48 to 3 (De Libris Canonicis et  Apocryphis, Thysius presiding), 18 (incorrectly: 16): Gerhard Sauter, the editor of the Volume in the Karl Barth Gesamtausgabe,drew attention to this reference. Quotation from Heppe, H. Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformierten Kirche. Dargestellt und aus den Quellen belegt, ed. E. Bizer. Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 21958 (henceforth: HpB), 20f. (ET, Reformed Dogmatics Set out and Illustrated from the Sources. Foreword by Karl Barth. Revised and ed. by Ernst Bizer, trans. G.T. Thomson. London, 1950: Allen & Unwin; Reprint  Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2007, 21).

[25] SPT2 (De Sacra Scripturae Necessitate & Authoritate; Walaeus presiding), 33; Die christliche Dogmatik (ref.  15), 449. The Thesis begins with the following words: “For believers the authority of the sacred books is so far from depending solely, or even mainly, on the testimony of the church that it in fact does not depend on it at all”. Of course, this statement was made against the Roman Church, although in Barth’s opinion it applies also against modern Protestantism. In the sentences that follow, the thesis uses the metaphor of law and of God as lawmaker. The beginning of the last sentence, which Barth replaces with an ellipsis, reads as follows: “Holy Scripture, the supernatural principle of all sacred teaching, and the unmoved rule of faith and moral conduct, can depend on nothing but God who has granted it…”. Of course, this is a less ‘personalistic’ or actualistic use of the category ‘principium’ than that of Barth.

[26] For the ‘decay theory’ in the assessment of post-Reformation theology, see Van Asselt and others, Inleiding (ref. 4), 26.

[27] KD I/2, 581 (CD I/2, 524, § 19.2: “Scripture as the Word of God”); ref. to SPT 2, 3: “Moreover, we define this Scripture as the divine instrument whereby the doctrine of salvation was handed down by God through the prophets, apostles, and evangelists as God’s secretaries, in the canonical books of the Old and New Testament.”

[28] SPT3, 7: “The manner of writing was as follows: Sometimes God was the one who inspired and dictated, while the writers, like secretaries, were the ones who wrote according to a fixed formula. At other times God assisted and directed, while they had a task as interpreters and authors. For they never conducted themselves purely pathētikōs, passively, but energētikōs, being involved in the process, as ones who applied their own intellect, mental activities and processes, recollection, order of the arguments, and their own style of writing (from where comes the variety of writing-styles among them). But the Holy Spirit was constantly leading them, as He directed and guided them to such an extent that they were kept from every error in thought, memory, word and pen”.

[29] In addition, Barth records the quotation he noticed in his ‘Zusätze’ from SPT2, 33 (ref. 25) at the same place of the Church Dogmatics, but now without repeating the former considerations on the perfect or (in his eyes preferable) present tense of this assertion.

[30] KD I/2, 525 (CD I/2, 474); ref. to SPT3, 13: these writings are preserved with the help of a singular Providence of God, “both by command and by the law of piety and sacred fellowship, through the initiative of God. This happened not by some free act of the Church but as a necessary undertaking. And these books contain a more fulsome exposition of the truth that brings salvation.”

[31] In KD IV/1, 409 (CD IV/1, 370) Barth shows himself to be in agreement with the sentence in SPT1 (De SS. Theologia, Polyander presiding), Thesis 9: “because in this locuswe are discussing supernatural revelation, we define Theology as the knowledge or wisdom of the divine matters that God has revealed to people in this world through ministers of his word inspired by the prophetic Spirit, and that He has adapted to their capability…”. Barth then contrasts what is presented here in the opening section with what one finds further on in Disputation 18 (De Lege Dei, also Polyander presiding), Thesis 13 about the lex naturalis (see below). However, already in Disputatio 1 one can read in Thesis 7: “We call natural revelation what is either internal, written upon the hearts of all people through natural truth and natural law (which the apostle explains in Romans 1:19 and 2:15), or external, through the contemplation of the things God has created (which the same apostle discusses in Romans 1:20”. After that, Polyander defines the theologia supernaturalis according to the distinction between revelatio immediata and mediata. Then, at the beginning of Thesis 9, one reads: “because in this locus [on this place, and for the time being, rrb] we are discussing supernatural revelation…”. But the reader does not need to be surprised when, in another context (e.g. natural law), a further discussion of the theologia naturalis can be found. Barth shows himself for a moment to have been a less careful reader.

[32] In Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 67 Barth found the distinction between verbum agraphon (by the Spirit) and engraphon (in Scripture), and between a verbum internum to the Apostles and a verbum externum of the Apostles in Heppe (HpB, ref. 24, 16f.) and, initially, the distinction between revelatio immediata et mediata in Von Hase, Hutterus redivivus oder Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche. Ein dogmatisches Repertorium für Studirende, Leipzig 101861. In the Zusätze, however, he could take over the following sentence from SPT1 Thesis 8: S. “The revelation of sacred theology which God gave the prophets and the apostles was direct and without intervention; however, the revelation that has been disclosed through them to the church of God was via them as intermediaries”. Later on the quotation was repeated in KD I/1, 117 (CD I/1, 114).

[33] SPT26 (De Officio Christi, Polyander presiding), Thesis 39. In KD IV/3, 14 (CD IV/3, 15) Barth raises some questions in connection with the expression veritas legalis et evangelica: “did this kind of expression denote a real grasp of the subject, or a reference to the self-revelation of Jesus Christ? Was there not the danger that (…) Jesus Christ would be primarily understood as legislator, i.e., as the authentic exponent of the divine Law and perhaps of general divine law, or more radically as the Revealer, not of Himself in His actuality, nor of the history of reconciliation enacted of Him, but of a principle and system of divine truth with saving significance for man?” As Wolfhart Pannenberg explains, conceiving of revelation as imparting supernatural truths is a reproach made anachronistically against older Protestantism, because the concept of revelation as God’s self-disclosure is a legacy of later German idealism.

[34] SPT26, 41 This is quoted by Barth in different forms: U.II. (ref. 12), 103 via Heppe (HpB, ref. 24, 368); “Das Schriftprinzip der reformierten Kirche” (ref. 13), 507 via Heppe; KD IV/3, 14 (CD IV/3, 15).

[35] SPT26, 41 (following the quotation of ref. 34): qua Ecclesia Dei mota consideratione omnes traditiones repudiat, quae sacro Codice non continentur.

[36] CD IV/3, 16f.

[37] KD I/2, 537 (CD I/2, 485, translation slightly changed). Reference to SPT3, 20: “The canonical books, and thus the canon, at first comprised the books of Moses. To these others were added, partly regarding the practice and the history of the Church (such as the subsequent historical books), partly for the interpretation, application, and fuller proclamation about the Messiah (namely the so-called didactic and prophetic ones), and partly to complete and fill out the preaching about the Messiah and his kingdom (namely the New Testament, etc.).”

[38] Arnold A. van Ruler, The Christian Church and the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, 1971; Kornelis Heiko Miskotte, When the Gods are Silent, New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

[39] SPT30 (De hominum vocatione ad salutem; Polyander presiding). See Henk van den Belt, “The Vocatio in the Leiden Disputations (1597-1631): The Influence of the Arminian Controversy on the Concept of the Divine Call to Salvation”, CHRC 92 (2012), 539-559.

[40] SPT30, 32: modus vocationis opposite consideratus in externum & internum distinguitur. Ille foris per verbi & Sacramentorum administrationem intus per operationem Spiritus sancti peragitur; 33: non semper Deus utrumque vocationis modum ad hominem conversionem sibi possibilem adhibet, sed quosdam interno tantum Spiritus Sancti lumine ac numine absque externo verbi sui ministerio ad se vocat. Qui vocationis modus per se quidem est ad salutem sufficiens, sed rarus admodum, extraordinarius, nobisque incognitus.

[41] KD I/1, 54 (CD I/1, 54). This was an old motive in the Swiss movement of religious socialism, especially with Hermann Kutter: Sie müssen from 1902 (‘They must’; they = the atheistic labour movement, which is actually doing what the Church preaches).

[42] SPT30, 1-6.

[43] U.II (ref. 12), § 30: “Die heilige Taufe und die Berufung”, 244ff. Quotation of Thesis 5 via Heppe (HpB, ref. 24), 412; Locus XX: De vocatione; ET, 511: “Special calling is that by which God calls some out of the entire human race from the defilements of this world to supernatural knowledge of Jesus Christ our Redeemer and to saving participation in his benefits by the ministry of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit”.

[44] KD IV/3, 554f. (CD IV/3, 482f.). In the same excursus Barth also engages the analogous treatment of the question by the Lutheran Quenstedt.

[45] SPT30, 3; HpB-ET 510: “Universal calling is that by which men one and all are invited by the common proofs of nature to the knowledge and worship of God their Creator. This may therefore be called natural calling”. Barth is aware that knowledge of God the Creator refers to a Christian theological knowledge here. Nevertheless, it is an ineffective knowledge and it presupposes a predestinarian distinction between the elect and unbelievers, which in that form was abandoned by Barth. See also J.M. Hasselaar, Wegen en kruispunten op een oude atlas. Een didactische commentaar op de ‘Reformierte Dogmatik’ van H. Heppe. Utrecht, 1974, 138f.

[46] SPT30, 6: priore vocatione Dei cognitio potius theoretica, quam practica; posteriore, cognitio Dei tam practica, quam theoretica, atque adeo fides justificans quorundam vocatorum animis ingeneratur.

[47] KD I/2, 310f. (CD I/2, 285; § 17,1; “The Problem of Religion in Theology”).

[48] See the end of Institutes I.viii, in a sentence added by Calvin in 1559: “Yet those who wish to prove to unbelievers that the Scriptures are the Word of God are completely off the mark. This knowledge is only possible through faith” (Ioannis Calvini Opera Selecta III, 81, section 13); See also KD I/2, 596ff. (CD I/2, 536f.).

[49] SPT2, 17: “This reasoning can convince the mind of an unbeliever; the ones that come next are able even to instil faith, by God’s grace. Thus the second kind of argument is drawn from the perfect integrity and divine quality of the religion that these books comprise. For no-one has ever stated that true religion did not proceed from God alone, because it constitutes God’s covenant with humanity; for that reason also the authors of false religions have feigned some divine character.”; 18: “Now the infallible marks of true religion, as the consciences of human beings prescribe, are these: First, that in it the true God, as creator and ruler of everything, is acknowledged and honoured, as is the case in the Christian religion alone”; 19: “The second mark of true religion is that only it explains the true ground on which sinful man can be restored to God, and that is to be found in the Christian religion alone.”; 20: “The third mark of the true religion is that in it are prescribed the right and complete duties towards God and the neighbor”.

[50] See Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Grand Rapids: Baker, 22003, Vol. I, 115-116 on both the scholastic and humanist use of the concept of Religion as it had been found in classic pagan authors. See also Riemer A. Faber, “Scholastic Continuities in the Reproduction of Classical Sources in the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae”, CGRC 92 (2012), (561-597) 566.

[51] A. Walaeus, Loci communes (ref. 20), p. 31f. Barth stresses the similarities of the Loci and the Synopsis on this topic. Barth’s excursus treats the history of the concept of religion in theology. In his view Walaeus represents a new step after Polanus and Wollebius, where the concept of religion had been closely connected with cultus.

[52] CD I/2, 285 erroneously writes ‘content’.

[53] KD IV/1, 409 (CD IV/1, 370): § 60.1. “The Man of Sin in the Light of the Obedience of the Son of God”.

[54] SPT 18 (De lege Dei; Polyander presiding), 13: “Natural law is the light and direction of sound reason in the intellect, informing man with common notions to distinguish right from wrong, and honorable from shameful – so that he may understand what he should do or shun”; 14. “Some of those notions are of a primary sort, and we call them practical principles; others, which are secondary, we call conclusions…”; 15. “Before the fall of man, both sorts of notions were unspoiled…”; 16. “After the fall of man, however, the first, primary notions in his intellect remained unchanged… ; but the latter, secondary notions stagger with wretched hesitation…, and they deviate from the sound rule of equity, as is shown by the examples of the very unfair laws and overly corrupt customs that are found in the histories of gentile peoples”; 17. “those notions were completely covered up and nearly wiped out…; and yet the little sparks of these common notions that do remain are sufficient to convict and condemn sin, even in those who have been darkened completely”. 

[55] SPT 14 (De lapsu Adami; Polyander presiding), 7: “By the same disobedience

[ignoring the decree of Gen. 2:16-17]

he consequently transgressed the moral law, the stated sum of the natural law implanted in him by God”.

[56] e.g. Ernst Bizer, Frühorthodoxie und Rationalismus (Theologische Studien Heft 71, Zürich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1963 (on Beza, Ursinus, Danaeu and Zanchi).

[57] Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel Band 2 (ref. 16), 253f. Letter 18th of May, 1924. („Ihr Männer, liebe Brüder, welch ein Gedränge! Meint nun ja nicht, das sei alles altes Gerümpel, alles, alles scheint, bei Licht besehen, seinen guten Sinn zu haben”).

[58] U.P. (ref. 12), ET 87; See McCormack 1997 (ref. 11), 350-358.

[59] HpB (ref. 24) 93, ET 108.

[60] U.P. (ref. 12) 119f.; ET 98.

[61] HpB 93, here quoted according to ET 108. SPT 7 (De Sacrosancta Trinitate), 14. A.J. Lamping, Johannes Polyander: een dienaar van kerk en universiteit, Leiden: Brill, 1980, 101 also quotes SPT 7,14 and considers this thesis to be a personal remark from Polyander which passes outside of the doctrinal consensus. Although it may be that a certain heritage of Erasmian scepticism was present in this moderate-orthodox theologian, I cannot find in Thesis 14 any deviation from usual orthodox reasoning. Did Lamping consult Heppe or comparable sources for this remark?

[62] Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 171; SPT 7, 38: “This mystery of the Trinity is handed down much more clearly, elegantly and frequently in the New Testament than in the Old, because surely God was pleased to delay the full and complete revelation of this profound mystery (‘hujus abstrusi mysterii’) until the coming of the Messiah”: as we see here, the ET of the new edition only speaks (rather euphemistically?) of ‘this profound mystery’.

[63] KD I/1, 370 (CD I/1, 350, § 9.1 “Unity in Trinity”); SPT7, 12: ipsa etenim Dei essentia est maxime unica individua ac singularis, idemque de tribus personis tamquam species de individuo nullo modo dici potest. In the Studienausgabe of the KD Vol. 2, Zürich : Theologischer Verlag 1987, Hinrich Stoevesandt correctly changed unita to unica.

[64] KD I/1, 380 (CD I/1, 360; § 9.2 “Trinity in Unity”); SPT 7, 10: substantia divina peculiari quodam subsistendi modo.

[65] Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 244 Zusatz (§ 11 “Gott der Vater”); SPT8 (De Persona Patris et Filii, Walaeus presiding), 10: Pater (enim) absque Filio cogitari non potest. The quotation is not repeated in KD I/1 § 10.

[66] Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 273 Zusatz (§ 13, Gott der Heilige Geist); KD I/1, 473 (CD 451; § 12 “God the Holy Spirit”); SPT9 (De Persona Spiritus Sancti, Thysius presiding), 21: “Just as the Father assumes and accomplishes the role and office of God who has been angered and who must be appeased and who is the source of our redemption, and just as the Son assumes and accomplishes the role and office of redeemer and mediator, so too the Holy Spirit assumes and accomplishes the role and office of the one who applies the merits and benefits obtained by Christ; who illuminates and sanctifies our lives”.

[67] KD I/1, 484 (CD I/1, 462, again § 12); SPT9, 2; it is important here to read the whole sentence: “… nevertheless because some kind of analogy exists between a created being and God it will not be unreasonable to explain them generally”. Barth omits the reference to the method of analogy in 1932.

[68] KD I/1, 497 (CD I/1, 474, again § 12); SPT9, 10: “the word ‘procession’ should not be taken in the sense of the flowing forth of God’s power and efficacy, insofar as the works of God proceed from Him who performs the works; nor in the sense of an interior and immanent act residing within God’s essence but aiming at an object outside of God, such as the decrees that are of God and that proceed from Him. But…”.

[69] U.P. (ref. 12) 159; ET 130; HpB (ref. 106*), ET 131; SPT9, 19.

[70] Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 288; in KD I/1, 502 (CD I/1, 478), quoting J. Coccejus, A. Quenstedt, and Fr. Turrettini.

[71] See Bruce L. McCormack, “Grace and being. The Role of God’s Gracious Election in the Theological Ontology of Karl Barth”, in: John Webster (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 92-110; for an overview of the ensuing debate see Bruce L. McCormack, “Trinity and Election. A Progress Report”, in Akke van der Kooi and others (eds.), Ontmoetingen. Tijdgenoten en getuigen. Studies aangeboden aan Gerrit Neven, Kampen: Kok, 2009, 14-35.

[72] KD IV/1, 193 (CD IV/1, 177).

[73] SPT 25 (De Filii Dei Incarnatione & Unione personali duarum naturarum in Christo, Thysius presiding), 1.

[74] SPT 25, 3: quare enim humana ratione doceri aut accipi non potest: quod nullum ejus in tota natura, perfectum & omnino respondens extet exemplum, quamvis cum recta ratione non pugnet: verum divinitus e Scriptura doceri & probari, oculisque fidei accipi debet (Atque in eo indicium est, sublimis & plane divinae doctrinae verbi Dei, ut quod superiora humanae rationi de Deo ejusque oeconomia nobis prodat & pandat, quae fide, testimonio Dei de se verissime testantis, firmissime accipere necesse est); HpB (ref. 24) 329 (Belegstelle 1); quoted here from ET 410.

[75] KD I/2, 138f. (CD I/2, 125f.): § 15: “The Mystery of Revelation”, § 15.1: “The Problem of Christology”. In the corresponding passages in U.P. and Die christliche Dogmatik, one still finds neither the quotation from the Leiden Synopsis nor the reference to the incarnation as a ‘mystery’.

[76] KD IV/2, 63 (CD IV/2, 58f).

[77] SPT 25, 4; HpB (ref. 24) 323; quoted here from ET 412f.. The second sentence of the definition connects the constitution of the person to the work that he as Mediator must fulfil. KD I/2, 176 (where Barth stresses the agreement with the Lutherans on this point, comparing the definition of the Synopsis with a similar one in Hollaz), quotes an abbreviated version: est autem Incarnatio opus Dei, quo Filius Dei, secundum oeconomiam divini consilii Patris & sui & Spiritus sancti (…) carnem (…), in unitate personae sibi assumpsit; on the omission of the reference to the virgin birth here, see point (5) below.

[78] SPT 25, 6ff.: HpB (ref. 24) 331; ET 413; U.P. (ref. 12) 189f.; ET 154f., Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 298; KD I/2, 37 (CD I/2, 33): thesis 9.

[79] KD I/2, 178 (CD I/2, 163). Here Barth quotes only the ‘ita ut…’ (‘so that’) sentence from thesis 4, as quoted above (ref. 77).

[80] McCormack 1997 (ref. 11), 361ff.; Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel Band 2 (ref. 16), 255 (28 May 1924): “Das war noch rasante Lehre, – die nun wieder auf den Leuchter sollte, wa?”

[81] KD III/2, 81 (CD III/2, 70; § 44.1 “Jesus, Man for God”. In KD IV/2, 52f. (CD IV/2, 49) the Leiden Synopsis does not function as the main witness for this doctrine; instead Barth quotes the older Protestant theologians Polanus, Hollaz, and Heidegger.

[82] SPT 25, (11-14)14: in summa, sub nomine carnis non modo verus, integer et perfectus homo intellitur, nobis homoousios, sed etiam humilis, misera et infirma hominis conditio (…) comprehenditur; unde et formam servi accepisse (Phil 2,7; Ioh 13,13-14; 2 Cor 8,9; Heb 2,17; 4,15); quae quidem omnia lubens volensque subiit; HpB (ref. 24) 335f. (Belegstelle 8); ET 419f.

[83] U.I. (ref. 12) 205 (quoted here from ET 166); Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 300f.; KD I/2, 166 (CD I/2, 152): instead of infirma Barth erroneously wrote prima; this error was corrected by Heinrich Stoevesandt in the Studienausgabe of the Church Dogmatics, Volume 3, Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1989;§ 15.2 ‘Very God and Very Man’ takes the form of a commentary on the sentence ‘The Word was made flesh’: section I explains ‘the Word’, section II ‘flesh’, and section III ‘was made’; SPT 25, 14 (together with 25, 18) is quoted in section II, and 25, 4 in section III.

[84] SPT 25, 18: veruntamen nomine carnis non intelligitur caro corrupta, qualiter fere accipitur Spiritui opposita (Ioh 3,6), sed labis communis exsors (Luc 1,35 ; Heb 4,15). Non enim conveniebat humanam naturam peccato obnoxiam Filio Dei uniri. Quamquam venit in similitudinis carnis peccati, seu peccato obnoxiae (Rom 8,3), ut cujus vestigia in fragilitate gessit.

[85] KD I/2, 168 (CD I/2, 153). Hasselaar (ref. 45), 108, connects the tendency of Reformed orthodoxy to shrink back on this point to remarks found in Heppe: “(Although he shall also have been a son of man, Christ) under the covenant of works was not contained in Adam” (HpB, ref. 24, 225; ET 291) and: “because Jesus did not belong to the covenant of works and so had not sinned in Adam, the sin of Adam was not reckoned to Jesus’ humanity” (HpB 325, ET 426). Even though Thysius would not have said it in this way, the Leiden Synopsis potentially already allowed some room for such statements.

[86] KD I/2, 165 (CD I/2, 151). Barth comes very close to the preaching of H.F. Kohlbrugge here (see the quotation KD I/2,169; CD I/2, 154).

[87] See above, ref. 77.

[88] CD I/2, § 15 “The mystery of Revelation”; § 15.3 “The Miracle of Christmas”.

[89] KD I/2, 196 (CD I/2, 179); See also Dustin Resch, Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth. A Sign of Mystery, Farnham/Burlington: Ashgate (Barth Studies Series), 2012.

[90] SPT 25, 24-25: (…) quod Filius Dei erat per naturam, id Filius hominis factus est per unionis gratiam. Atque hinc Maria mater Domini (Luc1,35) et veteribis theotokos, deipara, appellatur ; HpB ref. 24) 334 (Belegstelle 7); ET 418. References by Barth via Heppe U.P. (ref. 12) 193f. (ET 157), Die christliche Dogmatik (ref. 15), 354f.; in KD I/2, 153 (CD I/2, 138f.) Barth only mentions sources from the early Church and the Reformation and makes the general remark that “Lutheran and Reformed orthodoxy… expressly validated the use of theotokos to express the duplex nativitas in question”.

[91] KD IV/2, 66f. (CD IV/2, 62). In the last sentence of the excursus Barth makes a critical remark regarding the so-called ‘free’ scholarship of the 19th century and the bondage of theologians like Biedermann to that scholarship.

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R.H. Reeling Brouwer

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