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10 The Politics of Sophia in the Socialism of Barth David J. Dunn and Joshua B. Davis [D]er Mensch ist nur insofern ein gesellschaftliches Wesen . . . als er ein religiöses Wesen ist. —Sergius Bulgakov, Dva Grada1 When it comes to theological visions that entail socialist practice, Sergius Bulgakov and Karl Barth share some remarkable and surprising similarities. The overlap between the two occurs in the way they understand the implications of the union of God and humanity in Christ. The two thinkers, in their different ways, work through the meaning of Chalcedon, and a socialist vision is for both a direct implication of a Chalcedonian Christology. For Bulgakov, 1. Unpublished German translation provided by Regula Zwahlen. 273 Christian socialism is a product of cosmic theosis: God became human because God is self-abdicating love. God would have joined the divine and human nature in Jesus Christ even if we had not sinned. Redemption is more fundamentally about our cooperation with God the Holy Spirit to bring the world into communion with the divine life than it is simply about overcoming sin. Because relationships of love and sharing of goods are fundamental to this work, Christian socialism is a political expression in time of the life to come. It is thus part of the mission of the church. For Barth, this socialist vision takes shape in accordance with the ethical aspect of his doctrine of the Word of God, particularly in connection with God’s election to be God as the human being Jesus of Nazareth. In Barth’s case, the obligation to radical political action arises from the disruptive, partisan activity of God on behalf of the godless. Human acts of faithful obedience to God respond to that communication by joining God in that work, acting in favor of the poor and the alienated. Because these acts always occur in particular situations, there can be no general directives, as in legalism or casuistry, for ethical action. The faithful believer is left, in the domain of special ethics, with simply her own responsive commitment to receive the Word anew in that concrete situation. Even as the general orientation of faithful obedience will take a socialist form, what that specifically looks like in a given situation is entirely undetermined and may even change its political allegiances according to the circumstances. The believer must always be prepared to receive God’s judgment on human sin, which means being prepared for God to overturn any institution or order that has idolatrously identified itself with God. The believer must also be ready to participate with God in that work. In addition to exploring these commonalities between these otherwise very different thinkers, we will also explore which account CORRELATING SOBORNOST 274 is most adequate to these goals. Of course, we will argue, the matter is complex. On the one hand, Bulgakov’s sophiology too easily presumes that everything that is needed for a socialist practice is already accounted for in the act of creating. This is the focus of Barth’s consistent protest against non-Protestant theologies, that they do not take sin seriously enough and thus operate from an idolatrous presumption that what is needed for human redemption is already given in creation and human nature. Expelled from his homeland as an intractable enemy of the revolution, Bulgakov naturally wanted to avoid such idolatrous optimism. The question is whether his theology can do that. Or is created sophia (humanity) so eager to embrace the good, true, and beautiful in the world that it (we) may fail to recognize the presence of evil—pretensions to goodness, truth, and beauty that turn out to be, in the end, merely human? On the other hand, Barth’s ethico-political vision offers no coherent account of social mediation of the Word in union with humanity. We will argue that the tragic consequence of this for Barth is that, at least on this front, his doctrine of reconciliation does not in fact unite God and humanity in Christ but enshrines their separation in eternity. We will also argue that Bulgakov’s sophiology gives an account of the social relation within the Godhead and its extra-divine communication that can give us resources capable of avoiding this trap. By placing these two thinkers in critical dialogue, we will be exploring a single issue from a christological and metaphysical angle. Christologically, Barth and Bulgakov are surprisingly in agreement, despite their otherwise striking differences. Indeed, they share a common concern to articulate...


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