This post is the second in a two-part series on Barth’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit as articulated by George Hunsinger.
REFERENCE: G. Hunsinger, “The Mediator of Communion: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth,” ed. John Webster, (Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 177-194).
Communal in Content
For Barth, the work of the Spirit is “communal” in content. Communion takes three specific forms: 1) with Christ, 2) with the Holy Trinity and 3) among believers (“with one another”). As Hunsinger notes,” “‘Communion’ means love in knowledge, and knowledge in love, thus fellowship and mutual self-giving. It means sharing and participating in the being of one another, without the loss of identity by either partner; for in true fellowship the identity of each is not effaced but enhanced; indeed, the identity of each is constituted not in isolation but only in encounter with one another.” Communion is an “I-Thou” encounter of “ineffable spiritual intimacy” (koinonia), depicted in the New Testament as “mutual indwelling.” The Spirit “is at once the mediator of this indwelling and yet also the indwelling itself, the mediator, the mediation, and the very essence of what is mediated. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of koinonia.”
For Barth, the Spirit effects communion between disparate elements. Like the “strong force” which holds together the disparate elements of the atom, “the work of the Spirit is to bring and hold together that which is different” (CD IV/3, p. 761). For example, the Spirit is the “unifying ground” of the divine and human natures in the incarnate Jesus, holding together the otherwise disparate elements of deity and humanity. Likewise, the Spirit unites the seemingly necessarily and inexorably disparate elements in the relationship of Jesus Christ and his Church. As in the incarnation, there is a linking of the divine and human. By mediating Christ to the community and the community to Christ, the Spirit establishes the unity of Christ “in the heights and in the depths,” that is, in both his transcendence and immanence, as “heavenly head” of the “earthly body,” his Church. As Barth argues, the Spirit “brings and holds together Christ and his community, not to identify, intermingle or confound them, not to change the one into another, or to merge the one into the other, but to coordinate them, to make them parallel, to bring them into harmony and therefore to bind them into a true unity” (CD IV/3, p. 761).
Communion with Christ in the Spirit involves participation in the communion of the Holy Trinity. As Hunsinger notes, “Those joined to Christ by faith are granted a share through him in that communion where God is eternally God: the primordial communion of love and knowledge between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” To be sure, God seeks and creates fellowship with us solely for this “end” or goal: that we may participate in the eternal love and knowledge shared among the Father, Son and Spirit. For Barth, loves means “not to wish any longer to be and have oneself without the beloved” (CD II/I, p. 33 rev.). God seeks communion so that he may be ours and we may be his. “He does not will to be without us, and he does not will that we should be without him” (CD II/1, p. 274). This is the God of love who, through his Son in the Spirit, takes us into communion with himself. In bringing us to participate in the eternal, mutual love between the Father and Son, God makes our action “a reflection of his eternal love,” making us “into those who may and will love in return” (CD IV/2, p. 779).
Our participation in the Holy Trinity is grounded solely in divine freedom. Notwithstanding the ontological divide, the Creator is free to be present with the creature. [This is, of course, radically contrary to the purported divine-material divide (“dualism”) of Greek philosophy.] Divine freedom for fellowship (koinonia) with the other is what Barth means by “the absoluteness of God.” This phrase means that God is free to be present with that which is not God, to communicate and unite himself with that which is other than himself (CD II/1, p. 313). As Hunsinger notes, “Divine freedom for koinonia is another name for the Holy Spirit, who unites us with Christ, and through him with the eternal Trinity, in unsurpassable communion.”
Our participation in the eternal love of the Holy Trinity is effected by “revelation.” Thus, participation necessarily entails the truth of God’s self-knowledge. No knowledge of God [revelation] occurs apart from fellowship with God (CD II/1, p. 182), so that “knowing and loving God are inseparable” (CD II/1, pp. 32ff). No dualistic wedge may be driven between revelation and communion in Barth’s theology. For Barth, knowledge of God is a form of koinonia, where “participation” is integral. At the same time, as Hunsinger notes, our participation in God’s self-knowledge, while true and real, is “indirect.” It is indirect because it is mediated in and through Jesus Christ. “Through the true humanity of Jesus (with whom we are united in koinonia by faith) we come to share, indirectly, in God’s own trinitarian self-knowledge.” In the humanity of Jesus Christ, God has lowered himself to us in order to raise us up to him” (CD II/1, p. 55). As God’s “one true covenant partner,” Jesus is the “first and proper (human) subject of the knowledge of God.” Through our union with Christ, as effected by the Spirit, we are given a share in Jesus’ knowing of the Father. Everything depends on Jesus’ knowledge of the Father, for, as the eternal Son who is both human and divine, he is “the appointed vehicle of mediation through which we come to take part in the truth of God’s self-knowledge” (CD II/1, p. 252). As we are taken into fellowship with Jesus by the Spirit, we are given “fellowship in the knowledge of God” (CD II/1, p. 252).
As the Spirit incorporates us into Christ, and thereby into the Holy Trinity, we also become “members one of another.” As Hunsinger notes, ‘Between the first and second coming of Christ, the principal work of the Spirit is to form the community of Christ” [emphasis added]. The Spirit gathers the community in “faith,” builds it up in “love” and sends it out into the world in “hope.” Thus, for Barth, the Holy Spirit is no “private” spirit. “In Christ, the individual presupposes the community, even as the community comes to fruition in each member.” There cannot be one without the other. For Barth, however, community is no “abstract collective,” wherein the individual is not needed. For Barth, there can be no individualism at the expense of community and no collectivism at the expense of the individual. The community is a “union in freedom,” in which the individual does not cease to be him/herself in all his/her particularity (CD IV/2, p. 635).
Nevertheless, the Spirit works first in the community and only then in the individual Christian (CD IV/1, p. 54). Scripture ascribes salvation to the individual only within the existence of the community, while salvation is appropriated by the community only in the existence of the individuals who compose it. Thus, without minimizing the importance of the individual, we must not fail to see that “the being of the Christian . . . is a being in relation” (CD IV/1, p. 153). It is primarily in the fellowship (koinonia) of the community, not in the isolated individual, that the work of the Spirit is fulfilled (CD IV/1, pp. 150ff).
What makes the Christian community distinctive is that its members uphold one another rather than causing one another to fall (CD IV/2, pp. 816ff). The community lives by the forgiveness of sins, where one sinner may love another, because the sin of all has been taken away in Jesus. It is a community where its members bear faithful, joyous witness to Christ for the sake of one another and for the world. By the Holy Spirit, the members of the community of faith are set free for relationships, wherein they are loved and may love in return. At the same time, the fellowship established by the Spirit “equips the community in freedom for solidarity (though not conformity) with the world” (CD IV/3, pp. 762-95).
In conclusion, Hunsinger writes: “The saving activity of the Holy Spirit, as understood by Barth, is therefore communal in content. The Spirit is the presence and power of koinonia joining believers to Christ and through him to God and one another.” In the Holy Spirit, we know ourselves to be in union with Christ and also with one another in the fellowship of faith, love and hope. “Koinonia with Christ in the Spirit means koinonia with the Trinity and with one another, including solidarity with the world.”
Rev. Dr. Martin M. Davis (Ph.D.)
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