Barth's Theology of Relations, part 2

This post continues a series looking at Gary Deddo's two-volume book, "Karl Barth's Theology of Relations (Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family)." For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 3, 45.

[Revised 1/28/17]

Karl Barth
Last time we noted that Gary's goal in writing is to explore Barth's theological ethic, which begins with who God is (Trinity), then proceeds to how God acts in relation to humanity (Christology), leading to an understanding of how we humans act in correspondence with who God created us to be as bearers of his image (anthropology). Gary then explores the application of this ethic to the family, including parent-child relationships, which, according to Barth, are a human counterpart of the divine Father-Son relationship. Gary elaborates:
The divine being in act of God revealed in Jesus Christ is inherently relational, that is, is loving in freedom. In a corresponding creaturely way, our being in act is also inherently relational, first in connection with God and correspondingly with each other and with all creation. We were created, reconciled and redeemed for giving glory to God by having our being in relation reflect God's own character of being in loving communion. (p. 8, emphasis added)

Christology informs anthropology

As Barth notes, "a true knowledge of humankind, like our knowledge of God, is not gained through an autonomous human quest." As Gary notes, "the God-man Jesus Christ is the object of our faith and the object of our anthropological (and subsequently ethical) inquiry" (p. 11). Barth thus understands humankind in its relationship with God, in Christ, being the source of knowledge as to both God and humanity, with Holy Scripture testifying as to who Jesus in his divinity and humanity. In this divine-human union we find the essential basis of our identity as humans created in the image of God for relationship with God and one another. Thus theology (knowledge of God), carries within it an anthropology (knowledge of humanity)---in both instances, this knowledge is grounded in relationship, both within God (as triune), between God and humankind, and between human persons. Gary comments:
Barth's theological anthropology... is a Christological anthropology, which asks who God and mankind are and answers that they are who they are and are truly known only in this relationship. Thus, it is their being in relationship, which constitutes the content of the revelation of God and humankind. (p. 15 emphasis added)
Gary then notes how Barth sees the relational, triune God as a "commanding God" who calls people to live in relationships in ways corresponding with God's relationship with us:
Persons are created, reconciled and redeemed to become in their person those who are like Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Our relationships with one another are to become analogous to the Christological relationship of God with humankind and so become analogous also to the triune relationship. (p. 15)

Triune relationality

Rublev's Trinity (public domain)
Barth thus asserts that God is the one God of triune relations (p. 18). The revelation of this truth comes to us in and by Jesus Christ, who attests in his actions and words to the existence of the divine Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus we see both God's being and act (doing), noting that with Jesus (as with God), there is no separation, no conflict between the two. God always does who God is, and God always is what God does.

Barth declares that the triunity of the one God is fundamentally about relationship. But if God is three-in-relationship, what sort of beings are each one of these three? Barth was troubled by the use of the word "Persons" (Persona in Latin) used in the classical definition of the doctrine of the Trinity, feeling that the word Persons implies tritheism (the idea that there are three Gods, not one as Scipture attests). Instead, Barth preferred to speak of God as being One in three ways of being, noting that "the one...personal God is what He is not just in one mode, the mode of the Father, in the mode of the Son, and in the mode of the Holy Ghost" (p. 23 emphasis added). As Gary notes, Barth insists that these three modes of being God must not, in any way, be...
...exchanged or confounded or reduced [for] ...they are essential to God. God would not be the One God were He not God in these three distinct ways essential in Himself and in His relation to the world and mankind. Consequently, what is three cannot be taken either as attributes or acts of God. For these designations apply to each---Father, Son and Spirit---and therefore do not distinguish them at all. Even the fact of the differing actions of revelation does not tell of the actual distinctions between three modes of God's being, for these are also unified in their variety..... He is, as God: Giver (Father), Receiver and Giver (Son) and Receiver (Spirit). For these relations of origin there is no analogy. Consequently, Barth, along with many Church theologians, acknowledges the inadequacy of words in light of the reality to which they point. (pp.23-24)

Perichoresis (communion with distinction)

According to Barth, God is a tri-unity---a being-in-relationship. For him, this reality of God's being is summed up well in the classic doctrine of perichoresis (circumincession, in Latin), which states that in the one God there is difference (distinction), which leads to and facilitates fellowship. That fellowship (communion) is a complete, never-ending participation of each one in the mode of being of the other. Thus in God there is both complete unity of communion  as well as distinction. In this union with distinction, each one "inexists" the other, and thus there is a "co-existence" of each with the other (see p. 26).

In absolute freedom

As a God of fellowship/communion/participation, God is love. But here we must be careful to not read back into God our humanly-derived concepts of love. As a being-in-relation, it is God who defines love. Thus Barth speaks of the three persons of the Godhead, not as isolated individuals (as we tend to think of persons in our modern context), but as a tri-personal communion of love. The love that God is, is expressed both inwardly (among the divine persons) and outwardly (to God's creation) in absolute freedom. As Gary notes (commenting on, then quoting Barth):
God is free to love. He is self-moved and self-determined to love. His Lordship is one of love. His sovereignty is a sovereignty of love. We have here no abstract notion of freedom as arbitrariness. God's freedom is the exercise of his triune life of perichoretic love. God loves in freedom and is free in His love. God is free to love Himself and is freely loving in relation to His creation... [Now quoting Barth] "it is not that God first lives and then also loves. But God loves, and in this act lives." ...God is He who acts to form and sustain a communion or a fellowship of love. This communion-creating action results in a becoming with God and for humankind. It is the action of a love of God's free unconditional self-giving for the sake of love itself, which God is in Himself, that others might be included in His love.... God's loving is unconditioned, it is free, it is unbounded ...It is purely loving. (pp. 31-33)

Barth's trinitarian, relational grammar

These concepts about who God truly is (as a tri-personal communion of love lived out in absolute freedom), and about who we truly are as creatures created by God to image him in and for love (loving relationship), are what Gary refers to as Barth's "grammar of intra-trinitarian personal relations." We'll see how this grammar plays itself out in greater detail as we proceed.