Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Barth and Barrett on Criticism

Barrett comes first because he is summarizing F.C. Baur (1792-1860) with whom he is here in agreement:
"[O]ur sources . . . do not tell the same story, and the historian's task is not to harmonize them but to set them over against one another. This is criticism; and it is when the reader observes that the first Christian decades were not a period of universal peace that he begins to ask why Acts gives the impression that they were, and to inquire what tendency led Luke to write as he did" - C. K. Barrett, Acts (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 2.lxxiii.

And here is Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford: 1968):
"The commentator is thus presented with a clear 'Either--Or' The question is whether or no he is to place himself in a relation to his author of utter loyalty. Is he to read him, determined to follow him to the very last word, wholly aware of what he is doing, and assuming that the author also knew what he was doing?...Anything short of utter loyalty means a commentary ON Paul's Epistle to the Romans, not a commentary so far as is possible WITH him--even to his last word. True exegesis involves, of course, much sweat and many groans" (17).
But utter loyalty can be misunderstood:
"It is precisely a strict faithfulness which compels us to expand or to abbreviate the text, lest a too rigid attitude to the words should obscure that which is struggling to expression in them and which demands expression. this critical freedom of exegesis was used by Calvin in masterly fashion, without the slightest disregard for the discipline by which alone liberty is justified. The attentive reader will perceive that I have employed this method, believing it to be demanded by the text. ... I have resolutely determined not to make use of the method in order to criticize Paul..." (19).
I don't mean to set Barrett and Barth completely over against each other, as Barrett has been accused of being too Barthian himself. But it is interesting how Barth--fully aware how classic historical criticism operates--seeks to move beyond it:
"I have nothing whatever to say against historical criticism. I recognize it, and once more state quite definitely that it is both necessary and justified (6). . . . When, however, I examine their [historical critics'] attempts at genuine understanding and interpretation, I am again and again surprised how little they even claim for their work. By genuine understanding and interpretation I mean that creative energy which Luther exercised with intuitive certainty in his exegesis; which underlies the systematic interpretation of Calvin; and which is at least attempted by such modern writers as Hofmann, J. T. Beck, Godet, and Schlatter. For example, place the work of Jülicher side by side with that of Calvin: how energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears. The conversation between the original record and the reader moves round the subject-matter, until a distinction between yesterday and to-day becomes impossible." (7)


Isaac Gross said...

So Barth is saying there is a kind of potency that is only realized in the kind of work Calvin did?

d. miller said...

Or that Calvin is a model for potent work that is often missing in the work of historical critics. In context, Barth talks about how historical critics tend to dismiss uncomfortable or confusing elements to Paul's context or personality, which in Barth's view is not really an explanation.

I'm struck by the difference between setting an author over against himself (or his sources), which is Barrett's definition of criticism, and Barth's commitment to read with Paul.