"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, June 15, 2009

Barth: Relationship of Word and Sacrament

I am not a disciple or devotee of Karl Barth. I do, however, like his emphasis in theology on Christ, and enjoy the way he has with words on those subjects where I agree with him. Barth comes from a Reformed background though his theology does not develop in a way we would always like, he does hit the nail on the head when speaking of the difference of Word and Sacrament relations in "Evangelical-Reformed" theology and in Roman Catholic Theology:

"In [Roman Catholic] dogmatics, preaching is not only assigned less importance, but virtually no importance at all compared to the sacrament which is received and celebrated so zealously. Nor is it merely that Roman Catholicism overemphasizes the sacrament in the same way Protestantism does oral preaching.

The fate of preaching here is quite simple: Silentium altissimum. Roman Catholic dogmaticians pass on from the treatise on grace or from that on the Church to the treatise on the sacraments. They develop a doctrine of the sacrament of the priestly ordo. They consistently speak of the teaching office of the Church as though preaching did not even exist as an indispensable means of grace that demands serious attention...

[In Roman Catholicism] a man may be a priest without ever preaching...preaching can have a place only at the extreme margin of the Church's action. In Roman Catholic practice it cannot be more than instruction and exhortation. The grace of Jesus Christ can be understood as a causare gratium ex opere operato [me: as receiving grace by the mere action of doing the sacraments]...

The Reformers, however, did not see themselves as in a position to construe the grace of Jesus Christ in this way. They thought it should be understood, not as cause and effect, but as Word and faith...To be sure, they could not and would not assign to the sacrament the place which falls to preaching according to Roman dogmaticians. Proclamation...is essential for them...Hence, not the sacrament alone nor preaching alone, nor yet, to speak meticulously, preaching and the sacrament in double track, but preaching with the sacrament, with the visible act that confirms human speech as God's act, is the constitutive element, the perspicuous centre of the Church's life...the Evangelical Churches, Lutheran as well as Reformed, can and must be termed the churches of preaching."

-Karl Barth. Dogmatics Vol I.1 / 3.1

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Barth is dead on in his condemnation of Roman Catholic views on preaching, it is a terrible loss, though I'm too poorly versed in Homiletic Church History to know if the pre-Reformation Church ever had that big of a focus on preaching. I enjoy Spurgeon, he truly was the prince of preachers. Protestant converts to Catholicism are best at preaching, John Henry Newman, Richard John Neuheus, etc.

But of course with our theology of the sacraments, the Eucharist in particular, it is still understandable why we have lowered preaching. Though I still think we have more of the Word itself (I went to a Baptist Church this week and their whole passage was 3 verses, and the Catholic scriptural readings for the week were almost 3 chapters.)