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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Viazovski, Yaroslav


Image and Hope. John Calvin and Karl Barth on Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.


Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. (Lutterworth) 2016. 284 S. Kart. £ 21,00. ISBN 978-0-227-17604-7.


Joshua Kira

Image and Hope by Yaroslav Viazovski is given clear summary in its subheading, which reads: »John Calvin and Karl Barth on Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.« The book is largely based on V.’s dissertation under supervisory guidance of Paul Helm at the University of Aberdeen. In line with his previous publication, V. explores the differences between Calvin and Barth, as well as the manners in which the latter relied upon the former. His book attempts to give exposition to a controversial and frequently underplayed aspect of Barthian theology, which is the theologian’s understanding of the body’s relation to the soul and to the afterlife. V., in many ways, sees Barth’s »holism« (10) as a sufficient remedy to some of the excesses of Calvin, while critical of the dialectical theologian’s rejection of the prominence of personal immortality to the Christian tradition.
V. couches the importance of his work in terms of the contemporary debates concerning how views of the body affect existential concerns, focusing on how a deficient view of the issue could lead to such a stress on afterlife that present ministerial concerns could be understated. Though not ignoring their exegetical and pastoral works, he is concerned primarily with systematic works, ap-proaching Calvin through the Institutes and Barth through Dogmatics. V. also provides a valuable interpretation of the implica-tions of the former’s polemical treatise on soul-sleep, Psychopan-nychia. Image and Hope is organized into four parts, with the comparative fourth section being very brief. However, this is remedied by notes throughout the book on how the two scholars variously agreed and disagreed.
In Part 1, V. provides treatment of the main facets of Calvin’s understanding of body and soul. The Reformer’s understanding of the imago dei as residing primarily (if not exclusively) in the soul, leads to an »axiological dualism« (38) similar to that seen in Platon-ic philosophy. This dualism often leads to the deprecation of the body and a relativization of the significance of the present temporal life. Interestingly, V. argues that Calvin possesses foundational resources to remedy this imbalance, in his parting with Plato by emphasizing the epistemological necessity of the body for human knowledge (48 ff.). He claims the Reformer’s view of the natural immortality of man, based on both the created order and the image of God, though possessing risks in terms of dualism, allows for a preferable position on the intermediate state than soul-sleep, as well as allowing for a conscious and personal afterlife. Only in this way does Calvin think that union with Christ can lead to the »ultimate hope« of the resurrection (97).
Part 2 provides the two significant post-Reformation philo-sophical movements that provided the foundation for Barth’s departure from Calvin’s anthropology. V. rightly notes that the Kantian epistemology and Hegelian metaphysics loom large over Barthian theology. By accepting Kant’s placement of God in the realm of the noumenal, as well as his understanding of how we know, Barth reacted with a Christological and revelatory answer to the problem of knowing the divine (120–122). Moreover, Hegel’s actualistic ontology led the theologian to understand God’s being less of an issue of static attributes and more as that which is self-defined by election. This leads to Part 3 and the exposition of the image of God in Barth’s theology. In resuming an ontology based on divine choice and historical acts, he is reluctant to see the image of God as substantive and thus moves toward the renowned »re-lational« view of the imago dei (165 ff.). In doing so, the human is treated as a whole, since the body and soul are necessary for one to relate to God. Furthermore, V. argues that Barth has no place for eternal life, in the traditional sense, since one’s immortality is not natural, but relational. For Barth, death is natural and, therefore, hope is not for the »second history« of afterlife, but that one’s life is »eternalized« by being in God’s subjectivity (242–244). Humans are not resurrected unto a new body and new time, but are given new life in Christ as God eternally relates to humans through him. Consequently, there is nothing personal about the afterlife.
V.’s work is not without flaws, though none is enough to discount the significance of the work. His treatment of philosophical issues is somewhat uneven, with him focusing on Kant and Hegel, without mentioning Kierkegaard. His other major difficulty ap-pears to be more of a product of his methodology than anything else. A few of the significant Catholic perspectives on the matter remain unaddressed or only briefly so, one being explicit treatment substance metaphysics. Of greater importance is hylomorphism, however, which receives only one mention outside of footnotes. V. is right to note that Barth’s view is not exactly hylomorphism (211–212), but the Scholastics who held it, specifically Aquinas and Scotus, had some overlapping concerns with the German theologian. Thus, if Barth’s position is benefitted by holism and impaired by its lack of personal immortality, hylomorphism may be a useful dia-logue partner.
In spite of a few missteps, Image and Hope is significant in filling a gap in Barthian scholarship. It is well recognized that Barth’s eschatological perspective runs deep in his Christological and re-velatory theology. Yet, there is less frequent exposition of how he would view some of the traditional eschatological categories and concepts. Thus, V.’s clarification of Barth’s view of anthropology is helpful, but his explanation of the dialectician’s perspective on hope, resurrection, and eternal life is indispensible. Furthermore, by showing Barth in light of Calvin, he helps to provide the foundations for Barth’s work, as well as manifesting where both theologians succeed and fail to do justice to the scriptural material that they both hold central. While his style of writing is helpful, it is his style of scholarship that makes the book particularly useful. V. interacts thoughtfully with both of the scholars he examines and does not accept what they say uncritically. Furthermore, he is quick to note where the theologians accept previous Christian tradition and where they do not. Thus, his work helps to recognize Barth and Calvin in the historical continuum of Protestantism, without elevating them to dogma. For these reasons, Image and Hope deserves attention for those considering the Reformed tradition.