"What is the greatest commandment in the law?"

The more I read Barth's Church Dogmatics, the more I find myself drawn to this question and its rabbinic understanding. So often, I see Barth's ethics being discussed in terms which he does not himself find valid: in terms of non-theological ethics. The quest is to find some hook, some peg, on which to securely hang Barth's system -- a point or at most two on which it reliably balances. Something like the ideal gas law, an elegant and compact statement from which all else neatly falls out in consequence. Matthew 22:40, "The entire law, and the prophets, hang upon these two commands." -- ἐν ταύταις ταῖς δυσὶν ἐντολαῖς ὅλος ὁ νόμος κρέμαται καὶ οἱ προφῆται.

Kremannumi: to hang, as of a household item upon a peg, and therefore figuratively of Absalom from the tree in which he became wedged, or of Jesus from a quite different tree.

One might justly say that the KD hangs upon Christ, but this is insufficiently clear. Dr. Schweiker wasn't terribly convinced that this was an answer to the complaints characteristically leveled against divine command ethics. The question is how. And I keep coming back to section 22, on how ethics is integral to dogmatics, and sections 36-39, on the nature of the command of God. I think if one gets this straight, questions about volume III and its human ethics take a more proper line. IV/4 and its associated fragments become more helpful. Without these first bits, exactly what Barth means by the command, and the relationship in which it exists, fails to become clear.

The more I read, and the more deeply, the more it becomes clear to me that everything hangs upon "Evangelium und Gesetz," and that the ethics of the dogmatics are properly a way of helping the church be and remain itself in faithful communion with God. The Church Dogmatics are the answer to faithful existence in the Kirchenkampf, in the insistence of culture that the church realign itself to German (Nazi) priorities. "Wenn ich Kulturprotestantismus höre ... entsichere ich meinen Dogmatik!" Or meinen Bekenntnisschriften. But the two are intended to fulfill like purposes in status confessionis. So you'd better have a dogmatic theology, or a confessional one, that helps you solve ethical dilemmas in faithful ways.

Perhaps it helps to approach Barth's dogmatics as a reasonably orthodox Lutheran versed in the ethical debates of orthodox Lutheranism. I must say it is a better starting point than philosophical or humanistic ethics -- than ethics built on a foundation Barth disavows up front. Such a person must be taught law/gospel, and may never properly *get* what is at stake in the question.


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