Thursday, April 06, 2006

Food for thought from Barth

If by the concept of a "true religion" we mean truth which belongs to
religion in itself and as such, it is just as unattainable as a "good man,"
if by goodness we mean something which man can achieve on his own
initiative. No religion is true. It can only become true. ...And it can
become true only in a way in which man is justified, from without...Like justified man, religion is a creature of grace.

(Church Dogmatics, I, 2, p. 325-326)

There are tremendous implications here for how we understand the Nicene confession of "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," don't you think?


Jeff said...


And what do you think those implications are?

joseph said...

I was thinking the same thing. Will you flesh this out a little bit?

lexorandi2 said...

The claim of institutional or ecclesiastical ultimacy is a particular problem for those who also claim to embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith - whether it be the claims of Rome or the similar but different claims of the Byzantines. Even Anglicans fall into this trap but on different levels.

Barth's thought here (and in other places) is an important corrective that I feel must be considered, if not mixed into the question of what the Catholic world will look like in the Third Millennium.

Looking at the quoted statement, if "true religion" is replaced with "true Church" (and in context, this is one of the possible applications that Barth himself intended), then the creedal implications are pretty clear. Extrapolating out from there the exclusive claims of some churches to possess unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity is a claim of institutional ultimacy, i.e. that the Church (of whatever branch) is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" in itself and as such.

However, the Catholic Church is a "creature of grace," just like justified man. That there is even something that we can identify and embrace as the "Catholic faith" - manifested in unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity - is an event in the act of the grace of God.


lexorandi2 said...

Allow me to edit my penultimate paragraph:

[Looking at the quoted statement, if "true religion" is replaced with "true Church" (and in context, this is one of the possible applications that Barth himself intended), then the creedal implications are pretty clear. Extrapolating out from there the exclusive claims of some churches to possess unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity is OFTEN MADE as a claim of institutional ultimacy, i.e. that the Church (of whatever branch) is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" in itself and as such.]

The reason for the edit is that I didn't intend to absolutize the statement, merely to generalize it. Now in my experience with many Catholic and Byzantine apologists, not to mention some Anglo-Catholics, the claim of exclusivity for their churches is very often a claim to institutional ultimacy. But that need not always be the case. There are some notable exceptions.


anOther Jeff said...

I must be dense - I can't see what this insight gets you. We already know that the EO and RC believe that they, and they alone, are "Christ's One Holy Catholic and Apolstolic Church" don't we?
Are you saying that if a Church makes such a claim, it is, ipso facto also making a claim NOT to be "of Grace"?


Mark said...

This reminds me of a discussion we had some time ago. You had posted some thoughts elsewhere on the topic of ecclesiastical ultimacy and I responded with a handful of citations from S. M. Hutchen's critique of J. Pearce's C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church- a good book, incidentally.

As he matured in the faith, Lewis, who dreaded the thought of being pigeon-holed along church party lines, grew more and more catholic, but he never abandoned the CofE for Rome. Pearce attributes this to Lewis' rabidly anti-Catholic Ulster childhood; Hutchens, on the other hand, sees Lewis' refusal to convert as a matter of theological integrity based in his robust understanding of human fallenness ( thus, while he would be saddened at the mess Anglicanism has become, Lewis would not find it surprising )and his realistic assessment of the Church ( i.e. that no single church, Rome included, could legitimately argue for ITS ecclesiastical ultimacy).

Is it correct to say that insisting that one's ecclesial tradition is IN ITSELF, the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church", is to undermine the basis for making such a sweeping claim? It tends, after all, to descralize the church, by implying that she has not been a beneficiary of grace.


How would a Catholic Anglican articulate a sufficiently Catholic ecclesiology, using Barth's definition?

All the best,


joseph said...

Dr. Dunlap,
I still do not understand where you are going with Barth and the Church. I was wondering if you have read Michael Ramsey's book The Gospel and the Catholic Church? Is there any similarity between what the Archbishop says and the reasoning that you are trying to make with Barth?


lexorandi2 said...

So many questions, so little time. Check out Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece in my "Cruciform Forgiveness" post. Barth was quite fond of using the likeness of John the Baptist in this painting (the one pointing to the cross) as an illustration of the Church, institutional or otherwise. Ultimate reality is found in God's self-revealing in Christ, and the Church's task is to point the way to the cross, not to itself.

The claim of institutional ultimacy is very often the case of a particular church, or certain members thereof, pointing the way to itself as the exclusive means of salvation. I find this particularly true of Roman Catholic apologists and new converts, but not so much with prominent Roman theologians.

Vatican II wrestled with this issue in coming to terms with the status of both the Eastern churches and other separated brethren. In so doing, the Roman Church has had to recast Cyril's famous dictum (i.e., "no salvation outside the church") in a positive way so that salvation was still mediated through the institutional Church while nonetheless being available to those outside the bounds of it, albeit in an imperfect way through an imperfect connection to the institutional Church.

It's an improvement over the pre-Vatican II understanding, but I still find it theologically awkward, an attempt of Rome to have its cake and eat it too.

I'll write more on this in my next posting. So bear with me. Mark, I'll get to your question specifically.


P.S. Joseph, I did read Ramsey's book, but a very long time ago, and my memory fails me. Feel free to share some of his thoughts.

joseph said...

Michael Ramsey in his book The Gospel and the Catholic Church seeks to expound the Church as the Body of Christ crucified and risen. He seeks to explain the Church in terms of the Gospel rather than in legalistic terms. It sounds very similiar to what I hear you saying. Take another look at this book and see what you think.


Mark said...


I deeply appreciate your referencing Ramsey's profound The Gospel and the Catholic Church. Here's a section which touches on his theme of seeing the metaphysical reality of the Church in terms of the Gospel, and the points that Dan made about "ultimate reality" being found in "God's self-revealing in Christ", and the Church's duty to point beyond itself to the cross:

"The outward order of the Church therefore is no indifferent matter; it is, on the contrary, of supreme importance since it is found to be related to the Church's inner meaning and to the Gospel of God itself. For the good news that God has visited and redeemed His people includes man's knowledge of death and resurrection through his place in the one visible society and through the death to self which every member and group has died. And in telling of this one visible society the Church's outward order TELLS INDEED OF THE GOSPEL. For every part of the Church's true order will bear witness to the one universal family of God and will point to THE HISTORIC EVENTS OF THE WORD-MADE-FLESH. Thus Baptism is into the death and resurrection of Christ, and into the one Body; the Eucharist is likewise a sharing in Christ's death and a merging of the individual into the one Body; and the Apostles are both a link with the historical Jesus and also the officers of the one ecclesia whereon every local community depends. Hence the whole structure of the Church tells of the Gospel; not only by its graces and its virtues, but also by its mere organic shape it proclaims the truth".

I believe that Ramsey's point is that because "Christ's people" are uniquely the "one ecclesia", united in the "historical events of Jesus in the flesh", i.e. the "ultimate reality" of "God's self-revealing in Christ", whatever they may say with respect to themselves is ecstatic; it points beyond them, in other words, to the ultimate reality of "God's self-revealing in Christ" of which they are partakers by grace.

Good to here from you my friend,


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