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).
For Barth, revelation, reconciliation and redemption stand in subtle, complex relation to one another. Reconciliation is the “abiding ground and content” of redemption; redemption is the “dynamic consequence and goal” of reconciliation. Redemption is Barth’s category for the saving work of the Spirit. Redemption is the “future” of reconciliation. As the Spirit’s work, redemption includes the consummation of all things (including the resurrection of dead). Redemption includes the “absolute future which would at once reveal and impart Jesus Christ in his inexhaustible significance for the whole creation.” Whereas Jesus takes centre stage in revelation and reconciliation, the Spirit takes central place in redemption. From the standpoint of reconciliation, the work of the Spirit serves the work of Christ. From the standpoint of redemption, the work of Christ serves the work of the Spirit.
For Barth, the Spirit is the “mediator of communion.” The “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2Cor 13:14), in which believers are made “individually members of one another” (Rom 12:5) is established as the Spirit unites believers to Christ by faith. Through union and communion with Christ, as mediated by the Spirit, believers are given an “indirect share” in the eternal communion between the Father and Son.
Because the Spirit is the eternal “bond of love” between the Father and Son, the Spirit can serve as mediator of communion in other ways: 1) The Spirit plays a role in “originating and maintaining the incarnation.” That is, the Spirit mediates the union of divine and human natures in Jesus. 2) The Spirit sustains “through time the primordial communion between the incarnate Son and his heavenly Father.” 3) The bond between Christ and believers, by which they are incorporated into him as the body of which he is the head, is mediated by the Spirit. Thus, there is a two-way movement of mediation by the Spirit: 1) from the Father through the Son to humanity and 2) from humanity through the Son to the Father.
Trinitarian in Ground
Barth’s pneumatology is thoroughly Trinitarian. Similar to Augustine, Barth views the Spirit as the “eternal act of love, of communion, and of peace” between the Father and Son. Taking both “agential” and “non-agential” roles, the Spirit as “mediator” is “agent” of communion between the Father and Son. In addition, the Spirit “mediates” communion between Father and Son. Finally the Spirit is himself the “mediation” between the Father and Son. Barth can even say that the Spirit “is” the communion between Father and Son. In short, the Spirit is “mediator,” the Spirit “mediates” and the Spirit is “mediation” of the eternal communion between Father and Son. As Hunsinger notes, “The Spirit is the koinonia between the Father and the Son, being at once both its mediator (agential) and yet also its mediation (non-agential), but in any case a primordial, concrete form or hypostasis of the one being or ousia of God.” [In other words, the Spirit is fully and equally God with the Father and Son.]
Christocentric in Focus
Barth’s pneumatology is Christocentric in focus. As Hunsinger notes, “[I]t is the saving significance of the Holy Spirit to impart and bear witness to Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit brings no “second” or “special” revelation, “no ‘independent content’ of his own, but instead a content which is determined ‘wholly and entirely’ by Jesus Christ” (CD I/1, pp. 452, 475). The significance of the Spirit is not found directly or independently in the Spirit himself. Against “Spirit-oriented Christologies, the Spirit does not signify that salvation consists in effecting something “in us” (pro nobis), for example religious experience or piety. To the contrary, “the presence and power of the Spirit are understood to attest what the incarnate Word of God has done for our salvation apart from us (extra nos) and to mediate our participation in it by faith.” [Said another way, the Spirit makes real “in us,” subjectively and individually, the objective salvation that is already complete for all in Jesus Christ.] “The Spirit who enabled Christ alone to accomplish our salvation as a finished work there and then is the very Spirit who enables us to participate in it and attest to it here and now.” Because Jesus embodied and enacted our salvation, Jesus remains the focus of the Spirit’s work.
The operation of the Spirit and the presence of Christ coincide. The Holy Spirit “is no other than the presence and action of Jesus Christ himself.” By the power of the Spirit, Jesus enables people to see, hear and accept him for who he is―“the Son of Man who in obedience to God went to death for the reconciliation of the world and was exalted in his humiliation as the Son of God” (CD IV/2, p. 323). The Holy Spirit does not become present to us “for himself”; rather, the Spirit makes Christ present. Following Calvin, we can speak of the presence of the Spirit in relation to Christ in a twofold way: “the Spirit makes Christ and the salvation he effected present, or that Christ makes himself and the salvation he effected present through the Spirit” (see n. 5 p. 192). The Spirit is the “power” whereby the crucified and risen Jesus imparts and attests himself to us. “Thus the only content of the Holy Spirit is Jesus; his only work is provisional revelation; his only effect the human knowledge which has [Jesus] as its object” (CD IV/2, p. 654).
The knowledge of Jesus as imparted by the Spirit, however, is not merely cognitive. Rather, “it claims those who are addressed by the gospel as whole persons.” Through the proclamation of the gospel in the power of the Spirit, Jesus is present to believers and believers are present to Jesus. This “mutual self-presence” becomes the basis for “mutual self-impartation.” That is, Jesus imparts himself to the believer, while the believer is enabled to “belong” to Jesus by the Spirit. As Hunsinger argues, “Just as Jesus gives himself by the Spirit to those who receive him, so also are those who receive him enabled to belong to him by the Spirit in return. The Spirit mediates the self-impartation of Jesus himself, through which believers are drawn into union with him in order to receive and return his love.” Thus, for Barth, the Spirit’s saving activity is Christ-centred in focus. Against any notion of a “supplemental” saving work of the Spirit (as in Robert Jenson; see n. 6, 193), the Spirit’s activity is never focused on itself; rather, “in the one economy of salvation the Spirit serves the reconciliation accomplished by Christ from beginning to end.”
Miraculous in Operation
For Barth, the work of the Spirit is miraculous in operation. The Spirit is the “sole effective agent” by whom communion with God is humanly possible. Fallen human beings have no resources of their own that would allow them to enter (or recover) communion with God. The miracle of communion with God is the work of the Holy Spirit, both in initiating communion between God and man, as well as continually sustaining that communion. Faith, hope and love arise from the continuing operation of the Spirit. These qualities have no independent basis in man. Those who are “awakened” to lifelong conversion by the Spirit never cease to be sinners in themselves; yet the miracle of grace “never ceases in their hearts.”
Against deterministic understandings of divine agency, Barth insists that human beings are not merely “passive” channels through which the work of the Spirit flows. “It is not the work of the Holy Spirit to take from us our own proper capacity as human beings, or to make our capacity simply a function of his own overpowering control. Where the Spirit is present, there is no servitude but freedom” (CD IV/2, p. 785). As Hunsinger notes, “no view of Christian love would be acceptable to Barth which did not allow for genuine human agency and freedom.”
Against synergism, (the belief that human agency “cooperates” with divine grace to effect salvation), Barth rejects any “synthesis” or “systematic coordination” between nature and grace (as in Augustine or Aquinas). The Holy Spirit needs no human “point of contact” to facilitate his miraculous work in the human mind and heart. Rather, the relationship between nature and grace is entirely miraculous and solely the work of the Spirit. For Barth, notes Hunsinger, “Grace is rather that miracle by which human reason in its radical fallenness is so contradicted, disrupted, and liberated that it provisionally grasps revelation. At the same time, human volition in its radical fallenness is likewise so contradicted, disrupted, and liberated that it provisionally fulfils the divine will” (from Barth’s famous “No!” to Brunner). Only in retrospect can we reflect on the way the Spirit makes “contact” with man. The Spirit’s work, notes Hunsinger, is something “unheard of, something that is not organic but disruptive, not gradual or cumulative but instantaneous and continual, not something partial but total.” Thus, there are no suitable analogies to describe the work of the Spirit in the human mind, heart and will. Our awakening by the Spirit may be likened only to the resurrection from the dead.
Barth does not deny, however, that human freedom “cooperates” with divine grace; rather, he denies that human freedom plays any part in effecting salvation. Barth posits a strong asymmetry between divine and human agency. To be sure, the human mind “cooperates” with the divine work (against determinism), even to the extent of enacting it, but never as a synergistic, comparable “second cause.” Any awakening to conversion is solely the work of God. The fallen mind has no capacity for grace. Therefore, as Hunsinger notes, “grace means capacitating the incapacitated despite their incapacitation.” “There can be no question of cooperation between two comparable elements,” Barth argues, “but only of the absolute primacy of the divine over the creaturely” (CD IV/2, p. 557). Nevertheless, human freedom is not coerced, nor does it operate by its own strength. Rather, human freedom is “actuated” by grace. As a gift imparted to faith, grace makes human freedom possible. Thus, human freedom and cooperation is the consequence of salvation, never its cause. Through the ongoing miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit, the blind are enabled to see, the lame to walk, and the dead are raised to new life.
Rev. Dr. Martin M. Davis (Ph.D.)
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