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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Die relative Autorität des Bekenntnisses bei Karl Barth.
Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 2000. XI, 297 S. 8. Kart. Euro 39,90. ISBN 3-7887-1793-9.
Barth devoted considerable attention to the catholic creeds and the confessions of the Reformed tradition: we have from him two different expositions of the Apostles' Creed (Credo and Dogmatik im Grundriss), a number of pieces on Calvin's Catechism, two accounts of the Heidelberg Catechism, and a lengthy treatment of the 1560 Scots Confession as his 1937/38 Gifford lectures in Aberdeen (Gotteserkenntnis und Gottesdienst). In addition, in his early years as theological professor in Göttingen, Barth lectured on the Heidelberg Catechism (the manuscript has proved indecipherable and is unlikely to appear in the Gesamtausgabe), and gave a full cycle of lectures on the Reformed confessions, now published. So far, however, this material has attracted very little scholarly attention, despite its bulk and its importance for understanding Barth's conception of the content and the tasks of Christian theology. This gap in the literature is now very ably filled with this well-conceived and well-executed Göttingen Habilitation.
After an opening survey of the twentieth century history of discussion of the Bekenntnisfrage, Plasger begins his account of Barth from an interpretation of the place of revelation (that is, divine speech) in Barth's understanding of the human speech-act of confession. From here the argument moves naturally to a consideration of the relation of Scripture and confession - a topic which, from the early Reformed confessions lectures onwards, was near the heart of Barth's conception of confession. P.'s treatment of Barth's principles of biblical interpretation, of the centrality of the Scripture principle, and of the relation of Scripture and revelation, is thorough and accurate, and catches the nuances of Barth's discussions with a delicacy which is not always achieved in presentations of this topic. There follow two central chapters which treat, in turn, Barth's various expositions of confessional texts, and his theology of confession as set out in KD I/2. The first of these chapters pays particular attention to Barth's interaction with the Heidelberg Catechism, a text to which he returned at various points in his career. Barth's accounts of this text demonstrate both his freedom vis-à-vis the confession and yet his strong sense of responsibility to the confessional tradition of the church as an instance of the claim of the fifth commandment on the work of the theologian. This peculiar combination of freedom and respect is related to the different positions in the late nineteenth century Apostolikumsstreit - Harnack's historical naturalisation of the creed, and the confessionalism with which Cremer opposed it. The more systematic account of the nature of the church's act of confession in KD I/2 is traced back through various essays and lectures from the 1920s and finally to the 1923 Reformed confessions lectures (a text whose importance P. clearly recognises but which perhaps does not have quite enough profile in his study).
Three final chapters look in turn at Barth's relation to the Barmen Declaration, as an instance of the creation of a new confession in response to a particular occasion of crisis in the life of the church; at the relative authority of confessions as the Heimat and Horizont of free theological thinking; and at the confessional character of Barth's dogmatics.
P. has rendered good service to Barth scholarship by offering not only a textually detailed account of all Barth's writings on confession, but also an overall interpretation of their significance for his project as a whole. One might possibly have hoped for rather more engagement with larger issues. In particular, questions of the overall continuity of Barth's work are touched upon in passing, but not treated systematically. However, Barth's theology of confession is one of the strongly continuous trajectories in his work, which does much to challenge those theories that Barth's thinking in the KD is decidedly different from his earlier work. Again, some more searching reflection on the importance of Barth's interpretation of the sixteenth century Calvinist confessional tradition would be very illuminating, showing how his later interest in the humanity of God is a continuation and deepening of what he had found in the Reformed tradition in Göttingen. Yet P.'s book is a model of its kind, which will repay study and surely be a benchmark for future research on this aspect of Barth's work.