Monday, 29 April 2013

Doodlings from the dugout

by Kim Fabricius

This Sunday, the sermon – will it be a sacrament of divine disclosure, or a sacrilege of self-deception? There is, of course, no guarantee. And that goes for the eucharist as well.

Last Saturday the theme of Swansea’s most confrontational city-centre evangelist was evolution. The earth, he shouted, is six-and-a-half thousand years old, so why would you believe a newfangled 19th century theory that says man is descended from monkeys? And I thought: what a prodigy of self-refutation: Ecce simius!

I think that we should look more to Cain than to Adam if we want to understand the phenomenology of original sin. Surely the fundamental primal feeling of human beings is not that I have done something wrong but that someone has done something wrong to me – and that I am owed. Hence our rebellion against grace and the challenge of a truly disinterested faith.

That God is a speaker, not a writer, is clear from Genesis 2:18. A writer can never get enough solitude.

“Religion is what one does with one’s solitude.” No, that’s masturbation. Alas, solitude is what people often do with their religion.

In his recent Assholes: A Theory (2013), Aaron James argues that the distinguishing features of the asshole are his entrenched sense of entitlement and his immunization from critique. Add American exceptionalism, and throw in the state of Texas or the city of New York, and the theory has extraordinary explanatory demographic power.

“The poor you will always have with you.” Yes, and the rich too. Not to mention the assholes (Jesus was, after all, responding to Judas in all his sense of self-importance).

Many US citizens seem to keep their baptismal certificates and their passports in the same drawer. The ones that have passports.

Grief, great grief, psalmist grief, pitched-past-pitch-of grief (Hopkins) – it is, literally, overwhelming. Not inner-whelming, it does not just well up, it crashes down with crushing force, dense with affliction. And because this weight drops extra nos, it can only be lifted or borne extra nos. Grief is death at work in the living. Only the one who has rolled away the stone can remove the burden of grief, or at least help us carry the load.

With one voice the British press proclaims that the death of Margaret Thatcher marks the “end of an error”. Or did I mishear?

“It is just this lack of connection to a concern with the truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.” That’s Harry Frankfurt (in On Bullshit), perfectly articulating my thoughts on the apotheosis of Margaret Thatcher, as the commentariat took leave of its senses. But as an American living in the UK I have not been smug. Déjà vu: I happened to be in the US at the time of the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

Then there was Boston. Bombast and bomb-blast. It was a good week for the principalities and power. Btw, P + P were also observed in Washington hobnobbing with morally and mathematically challenged congressmen – 3 bomb-dead is .0001% of 30,000 annual gun-dead. Finally (barely worth a parenthesis, I know), on the day of the Boston bombing, over 30 people were killed in car-bombings in Iraq.

In Alice Sebald’s The Lovely Bones, the heroine Susie Salmon says, “There wasn’t a lot of bullshit in my heaven.” See I Corinthians 2:9.

The events in a graveyard just outside Jerusalem around 30 CE explain why Christ is Lord of the dance – and the origins of rock-and-roll.

Many thanks to Jason Goroncy at Per Crucem ad Lucem for his heads-up post on David Lipsey’s new biography (and long-awaited retrieval) of Dag Hammarskjöld, Dag Hammarskjöld: A Life, in which he refers to Rowan Williams’ review of the book. Williams mentions Lipsey’s judicious treatment of the issue of Hammarskjöld’s homosexuality. Conclusion: Hammarskjöld might have been gay; on the other hand, he might have been “that most alarming of sexual deviants in twenty-first century eyes, a willing and self-aware celibate.” So much for the old saying that to a Hammarskjöld everything looks like a Niels.

That God might be angry with me doesn’t move me to repentance, but that God might be disappointed with me, even ashamed of me, above all, that he might be saddened, even hurt by me – Dad, I’m so sorry!

There are prayers of praise and petition, prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, prayers of confession and commitment. Big prayers, fine prayers. But God is our friend as well as our Lord, so don’t forget the small-talk, just shooting the breeze (πνεύμα).

The wise know when and when not to give a shit.

Very few people know what the hell they are doing, but staying with that thought for very long is a sure way to paralysis and madness.

He had the kind of OCP that when you met him on the street and said, “Hi. Nice day, isn’t it? How are you?”, he would answer with meteorological and medical reports including temperatures, pressures, and prognostications.

That the good are often worse – much worse – than the bad is rather evident from the gospels. After all, it was a cabal of pastors and politicians, not publicans and prostitutes, that conspired to kill Jesus. Which is why I take Luke 5:32 to be one of our Lord’s more ironic statements.

In Luke, Jesus dies the serene death of the proto-martyr. In John, Jesus dies with an exclamation of conclusive triumph. And many apologists place the cry of dereliction in Mark and Matthew in the context of the affirmative ending of Psalm 22 (a truly Christological hermeneutic would reverse the framing). No, Jesus dies with a woeful wail in absolute despair, identifying with our own experiences of God-forsakenness, precisely so that utter hopelessness henceforth becomes an impossible possibility. And God is silent – until Sunday. The unassumed is the unhealed.

Here is the difference between envy and jealousy: I am envious of the dead; I am jealous of the living.

Why, when I visit people with severe dementia, do I feel that I should take off my shoes? Why this sense of the holy, of the divine presence? (Which, I suggest, makes sense of the world’s strategic way of dealing with the aged-demented by clinical ostracism and senicide: it materially focusses the marginalisation and death of God.) It can’t be just their helplessness and powerlessness, a diminishment they share with the gravely frail and disabled. No, I think it is the fact that they simply are, that they live in a kind of eternal now. Does that make sense?

I turn 65 in October and become a pensioner. Several colleagues have spoken to me about the difficulties of retirement, particularly their manifold feelings of dislocation and loss – the painful withdrawals from their intimate family of faith, from their role as local leader, and from their sense of pastoral neededness. So I will no longer be the Reverend Fabricius, I’ll just be Kim. In fact, however, that’s all I’ve ever been – just Kim. No, the real angst of retirement is that it prefigures your expirement. It is the vocation of ministers to teach the art of dying. Physician, heal thyself.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Letter to a Chinese student, baptised on Easter Sunday

Dear K.,

I don't mind admitting that I'm always a bit worried when I turn up to church on Easter Sunday. Worried that we'll get it all wrong. That there will be no joy, no amazement, no startling sense of the magic of the thing. I worry that the songs will be gloomy museum pieces, the prayers morbidly introspective, the sermon a self-congratulatory piece of apologetics or a few sneering scraps of historical criticism.

I worry that we will sing our songs and pray our prayers and have our tea and biscuits and then all go home afterwards without actually celebrating anything. This worries me especially here, in Australia, where (you will have noticed) we are not very good at celebrating things. On occasions when other people would celebrate, we Australians mill about uncertainly, hands in pockets, vaguely or acutely embarrassed. You can turn up to a wedding, a funeral, the birth of a baby, even Easter Sunday, and you'll always find us standing about like that, exchanging dry remarks about the traffic and the weather, just when we ought to be shouting, weeping, rending our clothes, kissing strangers, firing pistols in the air. We like the idea of celebration, we have heard of it, but it is a language we never learned, and our bodies don't know the rules.

That's why Australians don't do Easter very well. That's why I was worried, as always – half hopeful and half already-depressed – when I turned up to church on Easter Sunday.

Yet there you were, a university student from China. You had come to be baptised.

You looked pretty nervous when they brought you ought in front of everyone. Someone poured water into the big marble font. You made promises. You turned to Christ. You confessed your belief in God the creator, God the redeemer, God the sanctifier. Then you made a profound bow from the waist – we Australians could never bow like that – and water was poured over your heard, three times, your baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Watching all this, I thought we would hear mighty trumpets and see the sky roll up like a scroll. When the water ran down your head I clutched the pew in front of me, expecting earthquakes. When the Name of the Trinity was pronounced I thought it was the end of the world. I expected zombies or something of that order – that all the graves would open and the grinning dead would rise. When you stood up straight and faced us, I thought the last judgment had come. I thought every woman who had ever longed for motherhood would know all of a sudden that she was, miraculously, with child. I thought the violent and the proud and the ones who stir up war would all be cast aside like rag dolls, and the refugees and homeless would be out there dancing in the streets in shining clothes. I thought we would all find out we'd won the lottery and we would all join hands together, and all the children would go home to find their houses made of gingerbread.

But there was nothing like that. Just you, standing there facing us with your wet black hair, your lovely Chinese eyes, smiling. A candle burning on the table. Water dripping on the floor.

I thought: a baptism – a real Easter!

And for one big glad moment I believed everything, Christ's dying and rising, the truest thing that ever happened, I believed it all and saw the truth of it as clear as water, saw it right there written on your face, written all over your baptised body.

I left the church and went out in the dark. Everything was the same, everything was different. I walked under the trees. A car went by. It might have been raining. Right there on the path I danced a little jig. It was Easter Sunday, Christ was risen, you were risen with him, it was the first day of creation, and I felt for all the world like Fred Astaire.

Yours, &c.,

Friday, 12 April 2013

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus: Origen and Augustine on the roomy heart

As a little boy there was a song I loved to sing. I learned it from my mother. She taught it to me and I sang it, and all my life it has replayed inside my mind.

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

It was (or so I thought in those days) a song about conversion, about getting saved, being born again. A Sinner's Prayer. At Sunday School they were always warning us to make sure we'd invited Jesus into our hearts. In another song I remember from those days, the human heart was compared to a castle where Jesus lives:

Joy is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart,
For the King is in residence there.

It seemed a pretty grand thing, to have Jesus living in your heart. And we always felt sorry for the poor non-Christians, those people who went about like walking ghost towns, their interior houses empty and abandoned. Our most fervent wish was that they too might one day invite Jesus into their hearts, that they too might one day be able to run the royal insignia up the flagpole.

I suppose it's good to learn that sort of thing when you're still a child, before you get too disillusioned about the capacities of your own (or anybody else's) heart. It never occurred to me to doubt that my heart was spacious enough to accommodate a person like Jesus, or that it was the kind of place a person like that would want to live. When I invited Jesus, rather generously, to come into the house of my heart, it never occurred to me that he might take one look inside and say, "Sorry, this isn't quite what I had in mind. Do you have anything with an extra bedroom? And a view?" Nor did it occur to me that he might want to buy the house (like so many people in my neighbourhood in Sydney) only in order to demolish or renovate – that he might show up on the first day with trucks, sledgehammers, men in hardhats; that he might be the kind of homeowner who tears out the kitchen sink and knocks down walls.

That's the way some of the great patristic writers spoke about Jesus. They described the heart as a house for Jesus – but a house in dire need of rebuilding and repair. To start with, it's far too small. If Jesus is going to live here, there will have to be extensions. And it's all looking pretty rundown. The roof leaks. Mold is growing on the walls. The front door is hanging off its hinges. There are strange smells in the hallway. Weeds are growing up through the floorboards. Jesus is moving into your heart not because these surroundings are fit for him, but because he enjoys the challenge of fixing up old places like this – a broken-down dump of a house.

In the opening pages of his Confessions, Augustine poses the riddle of how an infinite God could be contained in any place. If God is the one who contains all things – if God is the environment in which all creatures live – then how could God be located within any of those creatures? What part of creation could possibly contain God? The very thought of it is absurd, like trying to grasp the horizon in your hand, like trying to pour the ocean into a teacup. "To what place can I invite you, then, since I am in you? Or where could you come from, in order to come into me?" (Confessions, 1.2.2). Yet God loves the human heart and wants to dwell there. Augustine is deeply moved by this thought, that God would choose to take up lodgings in such a humble dwelling.

But there's a problem. God arrives, suitcase in hand, and knocks on the door of our heart. And he can hardly fit inside. The place is too small. And it's a mess, a ruin, a veritable pigsty. Yet God isn't deterred. God wants to live here: the place has a lot of promise; and besides, God likes the neighbourhood. So there's only one for it: God rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. 

As Augustine puts it: "The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it" (Confessions, 1.5.6).

What Augustine is describing here is not what we would call a conversion experience. He's describing a process that will continue for the rest of his life. God renovates slowly, persistently, with boundless patience, and with loving attention to even the smallest details. My whole life will be nothing but the story of God's renovation. My whole life is one of God's repair projects. It's not the once-off experiences that matter – not any single episode of inviting Jesus into my heart. What matters is the process; what matters is that my heart gradually becomes bigger, wider, cleaner, more orderly. What matters is that it slowly becomes, over a whole lifetime, an inhabitable place for God.

Two centuries before Augustine, Origen had also spoken of the gradual process by which our hearts become dwelling places for God. But if Augustine's language evokes scenes of a dilapidated Roman villa, Origen's language has about it a certain characteristic oriental, Jewish, Old Testament flavour: his themes are learning and feasting.

For Origen, the heart is repaired and expanded by learning. As we learn more about God, gradually increasing our knowledge by daily increments, our hearts grow wider. At first the heart is too small, like (he says) the heart of a little child. But when it has grown big enough, Jesus is able to move in and take up residence there. And the goal of life, Origen thinks, is to become roomy for Jesus – to give Jesus room to move about easily and freely. As we grow, we are able to "offer such roomy hearts to the Word of God that he may even be said to walk about in them, that is, in the open spaces of a fuller understanding and a wider knowledge" (Commentary on the Song of Songs, 2.8).

To you and me, this vision – of God inhabiting the domain of our understanding – might seem rather dry, too cold and intellectual. But for Origen it is the highest mysticism. To be sure, the whole process involves thought, reflection, study of scripture: all this is the necessary work of renovating our shabby home. But once Jesus moves in, he is festive and full of cheer. He lays a feast, and the Father and the Spirit celebrate together at the table: "Blessed is that roomy soul [latitudo animae, in Rufinus' Latin translation], blessed the couches of her mind, where both the Father and the Son, surely together with the Holy Spirit, recline and sup and have their dwelling-place!"

Moreover, when Jesus takes up residence in the house of the heart, he brings with him every good thing. "With what precious stores, think you, with what abundance are such Guests regaled?" The purpose of life, in Origen's view, is to grow through learning – not because learning is an end in itself, but because through learning the heart grows wider, and such a spacious life can be a home where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit recline together and share a feast.

In Rublev's icon of the Trinity, it is usually said that we are invited to take up a seat, that the fourth place at the table is for us. But here is how Origen might see the icon: Jesus has laid a feast; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are reclining together at table; and the human heart is that table, the humble venue of eternal feasting, eternal joy.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Dipsy doodlings

by Kim Fabricius

Sometimes someone will say to me after a service, “That sermon really made us think.” Which vexes me because it suggests, first, that some Christians have to be made to think, and second, that the church is some kind of discussion group. They shouldn’t and it’s not.

I’ve preached people into my church and I’ve preached people out of it. I’ve no doubt which were the better sermons.

A woman once asked me why I never preach on taking Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour. “Because, ma’am, I preach on the Bible.”

So you’ve taken Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour. Where? Bowling?

I’m all for being born again, as long as it’s again and again … and again. Otherwise, I’m for rebirth control.

Any preacher who brandishes a book and declares “God says …!” can only be waving the Qur’an, not the Bible.

Paul – great writer, lousy speaker (II Corinthians 10:10, 11:6): i.e., better read than said.

Some evangelists put notches in their Bible the way gunslingers put notches in their Colt 45. Indeed for some evangelists their Bible is their Colt 45. Come to think of it, vice versa too.

He was one of those haunted, hunted Christians who, I imagine, when he was four or five, saw a picture of the crucifixion, asked his parents why this man looks so unhappy, and was told, “Because of you!”

What is the difference between evangelism and proselytism? That’s easy. Proselytism has no ears, it’s all mouth. Some Christians speak of evangelism and dialogue, or even pit the former against the latter. No! Evangelism is intrinsically dialogical, or it is – exactly! – proselytism.

How powerful is the love of God? So powerful that it can do absolutely nothing to protect us.

Word-care is only half the battle – and the second half. Ear-care comes first.

Christianity is small in the UK, BIG in the US. That is partially because the secularisation thesis has purchase in the UK in a way that it doesn’t in the US – yet. But it’s also because American religious space contains such influential church leaders as Osteen, Dobson, Driscoll, Warren, and Piper, and such hot button theological issues as creationism, the historical Adam, complementarianism, premillennialism, and eternal damnation. (One issue, really: biblical inerrancy.) Compared to such cyclopean religion, small is beautiful.

It is true that, for church or society, sexuality cannot be a purely private matter, but it is a shame the way it dominates debate in the pubic square.

Sometimes when talking ecumenism with Catholics (“My way or the highway” – the Via Appia – heading southeast), I think, “When in Rome, do as the Visigoths”.

The History Channel’s The Bible is not a docudrama. It is not even a documelodrama. It is a docusoap, so embarrassingly awful that cardboard cut-outs would deepen the characterisation and speech balloons would improve the dialogue. When will the doyens of evangelical culture learn that crap religious painting, poetry, music – and film – do the faith no favours. Indeed, it would seem that the more “called” and “inspired” the creators feel, the tackier their productions. It takes a Pasolini (gay and atheist) or a Monty Python (satirists, parodists) to make a good film on a religious theme; and, ironically, it is kitsch like The Bible that is an insult to the Lord.

In Jesus God takes time to have a word with us.

The difference between a charlatan and a sage is that the one speaks imperiously about truth, the other speaks modestly about truthfulness.

People mainly leave the church for one of two reasons: it’s either the assholes or the problem of suffering. And I always think: What’s taken you so long?

Faith without works or works without faith? Hmm… I’ll take the latter: I may still be sinful (Romans 14:23), but at least I’m still alive (James 2:20).

“Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Hmm… Often used at meetings, as an introduction to an intervention, a kind of biblical “With respect …” But it’s not the pretence of affection that concerns me. Indeed the more genuine the affection, the more I get nervous, lest it lead me to drop my guard when it comes to the “truth”. After all, Job’s friends were utterly sincere in their companionate compassion – and then they spoke theology so pernicious that it pissed off not only their mate but the Lord himself. Only then, after Job refuses to play ball, do they get nasty.

The book of Job is not a theodicy, it is (a) an exercise in theological bullshit detection, and (b) a theological therapeutics, the divine healing of the suffering ego incurvatus in se by exocentric expansion, first in solidarity with the poor, then in wonder at the universe.

In 2004, the Philosophy Department at Swansea University, once world renown as a Centre of Wittgenstein studies, was terminated (Wittgenstein’s “full stop” with a vengeance). Last summer, the front of the main administrative building, Fulton House, was renovated (it now looks like a mini mall, with the Chaplaincy Centre cunningly reshituated between the men’s and women’s toilets). Last September, the University launched its £200 million second campus expansion plan (called the “Humanities and Other Useless Knowledge Campus” – just kidding: the “Science and Innovation Campus” – what else?). And now, at the end of April, the University Bookshop will sell its last tome and textbook (a university without a bookstore, for Chrissake!). Instead of publishing an Annual Report this year, the University Council should write a suicide note.

The trick is to walk on your knees and pray on your feet.

We are most at worship when we are not at worship.

Friday, 5 April 2013

What do Barth, Paul, Wesley, and German Protestantism all have in common?

You guessed it: they each have an upcoming conference.

In May, the University of Geneva is hosting a conference on The Wisdom and Foolishness of God: Reconsidering 1 Corinthians 1-2.

In June, Princeton Seminary is hosting a conference on Karl Barth in Dialogue: Encounters with Major Figures.

In July, the Australasian Centre for Wesleyan Research is hosting a conference in Sydney on Holy Trinity – Holy People.

Also in July, there will be a conference in Heidelberg to mark the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism: Our Only Comfort.

Any other interesting conferences on the horizon?

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Update on the Barth manuscript!

Thanks for all the interesting emails I received concerning the amazing discovery of material from Barth's Church Dogmatics, Volume V. Thanks especially to the journals and magazines who made inquiries about publishing special features on this exciting manuscript discovery: you made my day!

I hope you enjoyed the rest of your April Fools' Day too.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Notes on a manuscript discovery: Karl Barth's rough outlines for Church Dogmatics, Volume V

If you move in Barthian circles, you've probably heard by now about the rumored discovery a few weeks ago at the Barth-Archiv in Basel. While examining some of Barth's handwritten lecture notes from the 1960s, a Hungarian doctoral researcher claimed to have discovered a series of handwritten outlines for the fifth volume of Barth's Church Dogmatics – the unwritten final volume on eschatology (die Lehre von der Erlösung) that had formed part of Barth's original plan, though he died before completing even the fourth volume. Towards the end of his life Barth was often asked about the last volume of his Dogmatics, but he refused to speculate about it. It has always been believed that he never committed any thoughts to paper about this projected volume. But the Hungarian researcher identified a sequence of notes that look like a series of alternative plans for Volume V. The notes are interspersed haphazardly through an exercise book containing jottings for two public lectures that Barth delivered in 1968, the last year of his life.

When I heard about this manuscript discovery a couple of weeks ago, I was sceptical. Since then, I've exchanged a long string emails with the director of the Barth-Archiv, who has been busily studying the sequence of notes, trying to decipher Barth's (notoriously illegible) handwriting and to piece together the various fragments of notes. In the latest communication from him (which I received about an hour ago), he confirmed that he believes these are indeed a series of short sketches for a final volume of Church Dogmatics. It is hoped that a simple transcription of Barth's notes will be published later this year in the Basel journal, Theologische Zeitschrift, so that scholars can have access to the material as soon as possible.

In the mean time, I have been given permission to say a few things here about these handwritten notes. Please understand that what I will supply here are only provisional summaries; I have received these details by email from the director of the Barth-Archiv as he has been working through the material. I haven't seen this material at first hand, and I've been asked to emphasise the difficulty and ambiguity of some of Barth's notes, not only on account of Barth's handwriting and the damage to some parts of the manuscript (see below), but also because of the way these notes are freely interspersed throughout the exercise book, more or less seamlessly interwoven with other notes that Barth was preparing for the two public lectures. (Luckily we have the full text of these two lectures, which has made it possible to distinguish the notes associated with the lectures from this other layer of material.)

Keeping all that in mind, here are some of the general details as I have received them. Barth appears to have sketched out several different possible approaches to the doctrine of redemption, as follows:
(1) In one approach, he proposes revisiting each previous doctrine from the Dogmatics in reverse order, showing how the conceptual architecture of each doctrine is broken open – and ultimately reorganised – when it is reinterpreted as part of a theology of the Holy Spirit. After working back through reconciliation (volume IV), creation (volume III), election (volume II), and revelation (volume I), the Dogmatics would end where it began: in the doctrine of the Trinity – not, this time, as a doctrine of revelation, but as a doctrine of final redemption.

(2) In another approach, Barth loosely structures the doctrine around the Old Testament canon, with doctrinal sections corresponding to Law, Prophets, and Writings. Most of his notes concentrate on the second category; what he seems to have in mind is a schema in which the whole Bible (and the whole of dogmatics) is permeated by a prophetic dimension. In what looks like a programmatic statement, he writes: "Dogmatics in whole, and not just in part, is prophecy. The Spirit of which it partakes is always and everywhere a Spirit of prophecy."

(3) In another approach, Barth sketches out three eschatological temptations, modelled on the three temptations of Jesus in Luke's Gospel: his headings are "Turning Stones to Bread"; "Power and Glory"; and "The Pinnacle of the Temple". He notes how in each instance Jesus resists and disarms the temptation of eschatological triumph. This is followed by notes on what might be called an eschatology of the cross (my phrase, not Barth's).

(4) In yet another approach, Barth has some brief (still undeciphered) notes under six paired categories: God and the angels; the angels and man; man and the demons; the demons and nothingness; nothingness and creation; creation and God. On the page he has drawn a circle, tracing a line of thought that begins and ends at the same place (i.e., God). Barth notes that the doctrine of redemption has to be understood as a doctrine of God the Redeemer, not of redemption viewed in abstract terms. Beneath this, he has added a curious gnomic comment: "Apokatastasis: untie the knot!"

(5) In one part of the book, Barth seems to have been making notes on several of Mozart's operas. It appears that he was trying (seriously? or in jest?) to derive a principle of doctrinal categorisation from the operas. These notes have covered two sides of a page in the exercise book; however, the page is badly water damaged, and only the first two lines, together with a few words and phrases here and there, remain visible.

(6) Elsewhere, Barth  considers organising his doctrine around four main sections, each corresponding to one of the letters of the Hebrew tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable name of God. There are some comments here that seem to relate to Kabbalah. There is a passage that looks like an experiment in automatic writing. Barth's notes here seem confused, and he does not develop this plan in any clear direction. But what he seems to have in mind is eschatology as an utterance of God's name in which ("nevertheless – or precisely thereby!") God remains hidden, veiled in the very act of God's final unveiling. There is a cryptic comment in this connection too: "Rapprochement with v. Balthasar. Mysticism!"

It must be emphasised again that these approaches to the doctrine of redemption are not always clearly delineated. The notes for one approach sometimes blend imperceptibly into the next. Barth drops a line of thought and then picks it up again later in the exercise book. Most importantly, it is not clear whether these notes were envisaged as distinct possibilities, or – as I have begun to hypothesise – the various dimensions of a wider picture.

But what is that wider picture? Under what imaginable circumstances could these wildly different theological arrangements all fit together? And what does it mean for our reading of the Church Dogmatics – that majestic bastion of theological rationality – if its author was, in his last days, looking for a way to transform the whole elaborate edifice into a gesture of mysticism?


Update: I hope you enjoyed the rest of your April Fools' Day too!

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