Thursday, September 19, 2013

Karl Barth, Trinity, thoughts

So I'm taking a Trinity class this semester. The text is pretty good (it's St. Thomas!) but the professor is confusing sometimes (he thinks the principle of contradiction doesn't apply to God...), so I have to think harder than usual.

It's clear that the professor doesn't completely agree St. Thomas on every point in his consideration on the Trinity. My difficulty: Where else does one go to find an alternate account? I read a little of St. Gregory Nazianzus (Oratio 31), and in it I saw the doctrine of St. Thomas. I suspect that if I read St. Augustine or Hilary or Basil, I would see accounts that remind me very much of what St. Thomas says. A rejection of his account would seem in some ways to be a rejection of the Fathers, since his thought is really a synthesis of their thought. Walking through the shelves of the library, I saw for the first time Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics. I've read about Karl Barth (a Reformed theologian of sorts) but never seen this huge work. I picked it up to look at what he has to say about the Trinity, particularly what he says about Thomas' teaching on it.

Here is the last paragraph of his account:
"The second possibility [for how to explain the Trinity; the first is Sabellianism] has been adopted by Roman Catholic theology, whose doctrine of the Trinity even to this day speaks of the 'persons' as though the modern concept of personality did not exist, as though the definition of Boethius still continued to be relevant and intelligible, and above all as though the meaning of the definition had been so elucidated in the Middle Ages that it is possible with its help to speak profitably of the trinitarian three."

This reminded me of Pope Benedict's article on the definition of person in theology. Certainly, he was familiar with Barth (though I don't think he mentions him). Barth sees Boethius' definition of person as unhelpful and therefore doesn't see St. Thomas as saying the "persons" are really much more than relations. This is probably why Benedict spends time considering how the notion of relation is in the notion of person. Time is running short, but I'm not done thinking about this...I'll have to check out the book...

Something to think about: How do people try to explain the Trinity apart from Thomas' account? Before I knew Thomas' account, I knew what one had to say but not how to explain it. With St. Thomas, I have some way to reckon from two procession to three persons, from the Scripture to the defined dogma. Yet many cannot do this. Many will rightly affirm one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But how do the learned explain it? Are they ultimately Sabellians or Tritheists? Is the difference just where they draw the line of Mystery? Well, I'll at least read this one account.

Here's the quote from Ratzinger's article:
"Relativity toward the other constitutes the human person. The human person is the event or being of relativity." (Joseph Ratzinger, Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology)

Whoa, that's heavy. Will definitely consider that more later.

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