Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Karl Barth: Rubbing Out the Image of God in Man

Karl Barth

THE FALL OF MAN IN ADAM according to Karl Barth wholly destroyed the image of God, the imago Dei, in man, and shattered thereby any ability of man naturally to know God and naturally to know the good and the right. Added to this, Barth had tremendous difficulty seeing how a natural theology and a natural knowledge of morality did not detract from Christ's exclusivity as God's revelation. For this reason, though perhaps with good intentions but nevertheless in error, Barth rejected any role of natural theology in the knowledge of God and natural law in the knowlege of the good. This position is against de fide Catholic teaching, and it is clear heresy.

Jacob Jordaen's Fall of Man

According to Stephen J. Grabill, for Barth the natural knowledge of God, while perhaps theoretically possible, was, in practice, absolutely foreclosed to man. Grabill, 24. "Between what is possible in principle and what is possible in fact there inexorably lies the fall," wrote Barth. Grabill, 24 (quoting Natural Theology, 106). Indeed, so extreme was this post-lapsarian chasm, that any natural knowledge of God "was nothing more than idolatry and superstition." Grabill, 25. A duplex cognitio Dei, a two-fold knowledge of God, natural and supernatural, was impossible. For Barth, Christ was the "exclusive epistemological point of entry into the knowledge of God." Grabill, 24.

In the area of morality, Barth's doctrine was similarly narrow. For Barth, the only source for our knowledge of the good and the right was God's revelation in Christ. The effect of the Fall was cataclysmic to the point where it erased any of God's image in us. There is less of God in us remaining after Adam's sin than there was left of Carthage after its sack and destruction by the Romans in the Third Punic War.
Aquí donde el romano encendimiento,
dond´el fuego y la llama licenciosa
solo el nombre dexaron a Cartago . . .
wrote the 16th century Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega in his Sonnet, "A Boscán desde la Goleta" (Sonnet XXXIII). The fire and licentious flame of the Roman, the Spanish poet tells us, left but the name of Carthage. In like manner, the fire and flame of the fall, the Swiss theologian avers, left nothing but the name of man, an empty shell, a nature wholly rendered barren by the plowing of Satan's salt. The imago Dei was thus wholly rubbed out, leaving not the least smidgen of God's plan to be salvaged from the smoldering rubble. For Barth, there was "no Anknüpfungspunkt [German = point of contact], no relics of the imago Dei," remaining in us after the Fall." Grabill, 33. Our nature was natura deleta, natura corrupta, nature totally depraved.

[T]he image of God is not just, as it is said, destroyed apart from a few relics; it is totally annihilated. What remains of the image of God even in sinful man is recta natura, to which as such a rectitudo cannot be ascribed even potentialiter.

Grabill, 34-35 (quoting Barth's Church Dogmatics, I.1, p. 238-39).

There is no good to be found in human nature, even potentially. Any "direct discernment of the original relation of God to man, the discernment of the creation of man which is also the revelation of God, has . . . been taken from us by the fall . . ." Grabill, 33 (quoting Church Dogmatics, I.1.) It follows that any attempt independent of revelation to determine morality was doomed to failure because fallen man, man in status corruptionis, "sees and thinks and knows crookedly even in relation to his crookedness." Grabill, 30 (quoting Church Dogmatics, V.1, p. 361.) "Once we begin to toy with the lex naturae as the inner lex aeterna we are well on the way to [supplanting Christ with reason]. And once the reversal has taken place . . . there can be no stopping on this way." Grabill, 31 (quoting Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 373.) So for Barth, arguments based upon the natural law compromise Christ's message, are "Janus-headed," they lead to a "misty twilight in which all cats become gray," and simply result in a pagan opposition of Apollo to Dionysius, leaving Christ out of the equation.

Ultimately, the Barthian false opposition between Christ and Nature, Faith and Reason, leads to a horrible moral exclusivity, a tragic lack of solidarity between the Christian and his unbelieving brothers. There is a certain blindness in stubbornly maintaining that morality is either/or, when it is both/and. By the will and plan of God, morality is both Nature and Christ. There must be something good in the Nature of Man after the Fall, for what else did Christ assume? What else did Christ come to save? The Barthian pseudo-Christian--disdainful of the nature he shares with all men--shares nothing with his unbelieving brother except a lifeless, stinking corpse.

As to Barth's moral doctrine, I say we ought to sentire cum ecclesia: Anathema Sit!

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