Wednesday, August 23, 2006

GBB: God’s Being Revealed, pp. 17-27

God’s Being Is in Becoming: God’s Being Revealed, pp. 17-27: The vestigium trinitatis as a hermeneutical problem

Key Concept
: The revelation of God is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Summary: The question of vestigia trinitatis [vestiges of the Trinity] has exercised theologians throughout the history of the church. The attempt to reveal a connection between God’s being and created reality by finding trinitarian structures in nature raises the primary question of this chapter: What is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity? Vestigia present us with a hermeneutical problem by posing the more specific question: Is the root of the Trinity found in the created “trinities” that we see in nature, or is the root found elsewhere? More broadly speaking, is the doctrine of the Trinity based on something natural to this world or not? Barth offers two ways of understanding vestigia: either (1) as the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, or (2) as a mode of theological language which attempts to appropriately bring the triune God to speech. These two options will guide our overview of this section.

A second question follows from the first: What is the capacity of language? Does language have the capacity to grasp revelation? Barth presupposes that human language is “shaped in form and content” by the creaturely conditions of this world, but he also recognizes that revelation is indeed brought to speech. In light of the actuality of human speech about revelation, Barth addresses the possibility of this reality. What makes speech about God’s revelation possible? Does language grasp revelation, or is it rather the fact that revelation grasps language?

We are led, then, back to the question of vestigia trinitatis and the two options for interpretation: Either we understand God from things made, or we understand things made from God (Deum ex factis, sed ea, quae facta sunt, ex Deo); either creaturely realities form the basis for our doctrine of God, or God’s self-revelation enables expression in human speech; either the capacity to speak about God is natural to human language itself, or it is “ascribed to the language . . . from without.” Barth views the first option as the analogia entis and the latter as the analogia fidei. Insofar as vestigia determine our doctrine of God, we are dealing with a true analogia entis; but insofar as they are simply one way of expressing God’s triune self-revelation in human terms, they demonstrate the analogia fidei. In our two options, we are thus led to the heart of the problem of theological language.

Whether or not Barth properly understands the analogia entis as espoused in the Catholic tradition (and Jüngel argues in God as the Mystery of the World, pp. 281-86, that Barth actually gets it wrong), we can still use the typology of analogia entis and analogia fidei to represent two opposing strands of theological thought: the former allows created reality to determine speech about God, while the latter allows God’s revelation to determine speech about God. Barth recognizes that analogy is not only necessary but indispensable to the theological expression of revelation, yet in his analysis of analogy he has one overarching rule which is normative for all theological language: God must come to speech as God. God must not be brought to speech as the conclusion to a logical proof, or as the infinite projection of the created “trinities” found in nature. God must come to speech as God. In order for this to happen, language must be “commandeered” by God’s revelation. Where language is commandeered by revelation, “there is a gain to language. The gain consists in the fact that God comes to speech as God.” In the opposite scenario, language tries to commandeer God, in which case there is not a gain to language but rather a “loss of revelation”; God is brought to speech not as God but as an object of the world. To explain this further, Barth uses the concepts of interpretation and illustration.

According to Barth, “revelation will submit only to interpretation and not to illustration.” With this distinction, we add another layer to the distinction between analogia entis and analogia fidei. Interpretation allows revelation to come to speech by permitting the content of revelation to determine the linguistic form. Illustration adds to revelation in that it re-presents revelation in the language of the world. Interpretation assumes that language must conform (or, rather, be conformed) to what is demanded of it “from without,” from God’s self-revelation. Illustration begins with the assumption that language has the capacity to bring revelation to speech on language’s own terms. To clarify, illustration itself is not contrary to appropriate theological language, rather the “desire to illustrate revelation” results in “a desertion of revelation.”

To summarize, the interpretive analogia fidei brings revelation to speech as revelation—i.e., as the Word of God—and thus there is a gain to language. In contrast, the illustrative analogia entis brings revelation to speech as both revelation and language, which results in a loss of both revelation and language. The possibility of this actuality is grounded in the fact that revelation itself speaks and makes demands of language. Consequently, “the revelation of God itself is that which makes the interpretation of revelation possible.” We thus define revelation as the “self-interpretation of God,” and as God’s self-interpretation, revelation is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. God’s self-interpretation in revelation makes the human interpretation of revelation in the doctrine of the Trinity a possibility.

Key Quote:
When language seeks to be itself revelation, it loses itself as language. But where revelation commandeers language, there takes place the Word of God. The Word of God brings language to its true essence. . . . Yet in what sense can revelation make demands of language? It can do so only because, as revelation, revelation itself speaks. ‘If we know what revelation is, even in deliberately speaking about it we shall be content to let revelation speak for itself.’ The revelation of God thus does not ‘commandeer’ language as a dumb aggressor but rather gets involved with and in language through speaking. The revelation of God is no silent demand for language, but rather by speaking revelation makes demands of language. Thus the revelation of God itself is that which makes the interpretation of revelation possible. This is because ‘revelation is the self-interpretation of God.’ But as the self-interpretation of God, revelation is the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. Consequently, the doctrine of the Trinity is the interpretation of revelation and thus the interpretation of the being of God which is made possible by revelation as God’s self-interpretation. (26-27)


Anonymous said...

Can you please elaborate on Barth's concept of "primal decision" (CD IV/2)? As I understand the term, God in his grace decides to be a God pro nobis, a God self-revealed in three persona. God as concrete in 3 differentiations. A primal decision, however, would then indicate a God who undergoes change and who would be God without us, without hypostatic unity (ie. no unity). A concrete God within himself but with no differentiation. How am I to properly understand what Barth and Jungel's monograph on his Trinity means to say?