Philosophy in dialectical theology and in theology of the Word of God by Karl Barth.

Maxim Pylaev


The article analyses the concept of the Word of God in theocentric theology of Karl Barth, as well as a number of aspects of his early theology in terms of their philosophical foundations. The author compares the block of philosophical-theological themes: the theory of temporality, dialectic, the concept of the beginning (Ursprung) and other types in philosophical discourses, used by Barth (Platonism, neo-kantianism, existentialism, scholasticism, phenomenological philosophy and other), with his theology. The article provides a brief reconstruction of Barth’s theology of the Word of God, as it is presented in “Church Dogmatics” (Kirchliche Dogmatik). The article proposes the hypothesis that at the early and late stage of his work Barth tried to explicate the form of Christian theology which absorbs primarily the most important achievements of philosophy ΧΙΧ-ΧΧ centuries yet tries to stay free of them. Using various forms of philosophical discourses Barth implements his own task to build a Christian theology without metaphysics (philosophy in general), history, and human existence. Thus for example, the article discloses Barth’s non-metaphysical concept of the nature of God in its founding on dialogical and existential philosophy. For Barth God as event of his Word is not a substance but identified with the speech. The Word of God is aimed at allocution (speech) (Anrede), it is spiritual, that is correlated with the hearing, obeying and understanding, and it is personal. Moreover, Barth understood personhood as language in the human system. God’s speech is simultaneously concrete and timeless. We may assume that Barth holds the view of communicative nature of personality in terms of the primacy of language (even special) in the theology of the Word of God. Barth interprets the Word of God as an act, a specific event in God’s speaking, his address and existential dialogue. In our opinion, this attempt to modernize theology is impossible without a number of discoveries of the philosophy of dialogue, especially that of F. Ebner. For Ebner the starting point of knowledge becomes not “I”, as in German idealism, but the relation “I-You”. He contrasts the primacy of transcending speech in the dialogue “I-You”, the real breaking into “I”, to the development of monological consciousness, for example, in antithetic “I” and “not-I”, by Fichte. In this interpretation of consciousness, it really ceases to be an object, as in the German idealism, and turns into a real subject.

Another philosophical discourse, with which Barth interacts, is dialectic. E. Jüngel demonstrated dissimilarity of Kierkegaard’s existential dialectic and Barth’s Christocentric dialectic. According to Jüngel Kierkegaard’s resolution (removing) of the paradox of “either – or” occurs in the act of faith that stems from the very existence of man. In Barth, the way out of rationally irresolvable paradox of “either – or” is carried on the basis of event of God’s Incarnation. Jüngel juxtaposes Kierkegaard’s dialectic as the project of existential thinking, which represents the supreme paradox of thinking, namely, that it itself cannot longer think. This concerns only the transformation of existence. Barth’s dialectic, on the contrary, is not only a project of thinking. The event of Revelation of the Word of God precedes existential concerns of a person. Jüngel’s conclusion on the nature of dialectics in Barth is extremely important. The author of The Epistle to the Romans uses philosophical existential dialectic and turns it into a Christocentric theological dialectic. In Barth the dialectic as a method of philosophy, not subordinates kerygma but serves its explication. Beyntker, as well as Jüngel, analysing Barth’s dialectic focuses not on the concept of “infinite qualitative difference” resulting from the antithesis of time and eternity in Kierkegaard, but on the contrariness of sin and God’s grace, thus suggesting soteriological nature of dialectic of the author of the second edition of The Epistle to the Romans. Beyntker’s conclusion with regards of Barth’s dialectical thinking is this: “We want to understand the dialectic of question and answer as a noetic-hermeneutic line that expresses in the motif of the crisis ... the real dialectic of thesis and antithesis.”


Karl Barth; the Word of God; the Revelation; theology; existential philosophy; scholasticism; phenomenological philosophy


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