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Foreword: Changing the Subject Rowan Williams Perhaps what most deeply unites Karl Barth with the Eastern Christian theologians of his era is that they share a passion about the subject of theology—not the subject matter, but the subject who is doing theology. To put the point slightly differently, all of them insist that the question of who is doing theology is fundamental. There are disciplines in which it doesn’t greatly matter how we might answer such a question, but theology is not one of them; because the business of theology is not the description of God but the manifestation of God. God is never to be “described.” This is not a vague appeal to God’s transcendent mysteriousness, a simple retreat from language because God is beyond its scope. It is, rather, a grammatical observation: God is never inactive, God’s action is always and necessarily relational, and so to speak of God is to speak in virtue of the relation God has established with the speaker—to speak in God’s presence, “out of” God’s presence, to God or for God, but in any case to speak so as to witness to God’s action in the speaker and to work so as not to stand in the way of that action. xi Thus Barth can say that “Dogmatics must always be undertaken as an act of penitence and obedience.”1 And this is possible only because of the presence of the divine act of election that constitutes the community of faith in Christ. Because the church is simply the fact of our location as believers in the divine-human reality of Christ, the church’s teaching is meant to be the manifestation of the church’s confidence not in its innate capacity as a body of believers but in God’s act of sustaining and embracing it. Its “determination” is a wholehearted and unreserved listening in obedience to Jesus.2 And this is not the realization of a possibility innate in humanity: the address of God that creates in us relation with God is itself a gift, and a “limitation” of the human such that we cannot in this context do other than see ourselves as created and radically dependent.3 When Barth turns to general ethical questions later in the Church Dogmatics,4 he connects this determination by encounter with God directly with our confrontation with the neighbor, near and distant: this is where God summons us to obedience, and we are not human in abstraction from this summons and the givenness of the relation implied in the summons. Human existence is always coexistence, and this is a central aspect of our creation in God’s image.5 Thus to do theology is to begin by acknowledging that we are already addressed, already engaged, already judged, already elected: the subject of theology is a speaker overtaken by divine action, forestalled by divine action. In plainer terms, the subject of theology is a subject at conspicuous and irremediable disadvantage, decentered or dispossessed; able to speak of God only as the one who is not known or mastered, the one who will not wait for us but is sovereignly what he is; the essence 1. CD I/1, 22. 2. Ibid., 17. 3. Ibid., 194. 4. CD III.4, 287; cf. 535–37. 5. Ibid., 117. CORRELATING SOBORNOST xii of ungodliness, Barth had said in his Romans commentary, is any attempt to assign a place to God within the world we seek to manage, refusing to “know that God is he whom we do not know.”6 And refusing to know that we do not know God is also refusing to know ourselves for what we are; it is failing to know that we in our present state are what God is not, that our personal being is abolished and “refounded” in the confrontation with God’s personal being. And it is the same radical putting-in-question of the subject of theology that characterizes so much of the Eastern Christian theological idiom considered by the authors of these essays. Out of many examples, it is perhaps most helpful to recall Vladimir Lossky’s careful and systematic redefinition of the apophatic as a matter not of conceptual calculus but of participation in the self-emptying act of God in Trinity. He writes in his best-known work that apophasis, negative theology, is “an inward purification . . . a more existential liberation involving the whole being of him [sic...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781506401935
Related ISBN
9781506410753
MARC Record
OCLC
946725265
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2016-05-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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