David Guretzki, Karl Barth on the Filioque, Barth Studies (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), xi + 224. $99.95

Reviewed by Sarah Stewart-Kroeker (February 16, 2011)

David Guretzki’s book Karl Barth on the Filioque sets out to clarify “the ‘inner theological rationality’ of Barth’s defense and use of the filioque” (17) from the earliest hints of its presence in the Epistle to the Romans through the Church Dogmatics. Guretzki, an Associate Professor and Dean of the Seminary at Briercrest College and Seminary, has revised for this publication the doctoral dissertation he completed under Douglas Farrow at McGill University. He adopts what he calls a “genetic-intrasystemic” approach, by which he examines both the historical development of the filioque in Barth’s thought and its systematic significance for Barth’s theology. Motivated by a desire to correct various false assumptions about the role of the filioque in Barth’s thought, Guretzki necessarily also examines the filioque controversy itself both past and present. In so doing, he addresses concerns surrounding the place of the filioque in ecumenical dialogue. Guretzki claims that Barth’s use and defense of the filioque is not typical of the Western filioquist tradition and that, therefore, the standard criticisms do not necessarily apply. This is not to say that others do not emerge. Guretzki provides a rich study of Barth’s position on the filioque, tracking both its development over the course of Barth’s writings and its theological functions in and implications for Barth’s theology.

In chapter one, “Karl Barth and the Filioque: History and Literature,” Guretzki calls into question “two fundamental presuppositions that characterize the majority, if not all” (52) studies on the filioque and Barth. The first presupposition is that Barth’s defense of the filioque in the CD stands alone and apart from his earlier works. The second is that Barth presupposes the filioque as a dogmatic a priori that then informs his subsequent trinitarian and pneumatological theology. Guretzki argues that Barth’s adherence to the filioque is a feature of his early dialecticism and results from (rather than determines antecedently) his analysis of the self-revelation of the triune God.

Chapter two, “The Genesis and Development of the Filioque in Barth’s Earlier Theology,” examines the pneumatological framework of Barth’s early theology, focused primarily on the Epistle to the Romans and theGöttingen Dogmatics. Guretzki argues that Barth’s “most mature application of the filioque in CD IV can be understood as a return to, and material expansion upon, the Christocentric and dialectically shaped pneumatology of the second edition of Romans” (59). While Barth does not set forward an explicitly filioquist position in Romans, Guretzki argues that his pneumatology implicitly supports such a position. Guretzki aims to demonstrate the theological affinity between the role of the Spirit in this earlier expression of the divine trinitarian dialectic and its mature articulation in CD IV. The claim is that Barth’s filioquist position is latent in the very structure of his doctrine of the Trinity from the outset not as a presupposition, but as an organic feature of Barth’s thought.

The primary point of interest for Guretzki in the Göttingen Dogmatics is that it shows how Barth “located the filioque primarily within the discussion of his doctrine of Revelation rather than as a speculative problem on the doctrine of the inner Trinitarian relations” (79). This is a crucial distinction from the filioque’s traditional understanding, which was framed as a question about the immanent being of God. For Barth, however, questions about the immanent Trinity cannot be separated from questions about revelation. According to Guretzki, Barth upholds the filioque “on the basis of the possibility of a personal reception or apprehension of the revelation of the God who is both far (the Father) and near (the Son)…for unless the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son, and proceeds from both, then temporal, contingent reception of the eternal is impossible” (82). A further point Guretzki raises is that in the GD, Barth develops the threefold form of the Word of God (revelation, scripture, preaching) on a structural analogy to the immanent Trinity. In this schema, the Spirit corresponds to preaching which, proceeding from both revelation and scripture, is thus present and ongoing. Barth will modify this analogy however, which shift Guretzki discusses in chapter three, “The Defense of the Filioque in Church Dogmatics I/1.” Here, he argues, Barth tries to address the problems encountered in the more linear trinitarian analogy of the GD with the result that the three forms become much more interdependent or perichoretic. This means, however, that the role of the filioque in the analogy is no longer obvious. While Barth continues to hold to the filioque, he no longer does so according to this structure.

Barth formally defends the doctrine of the filioque in CD I/1. As in the GD, Barth discusses the filioque in terms of the doctrine of revelation. The Spirit brings humanity into communion with the Son who reveals the Father, and this communion “is possible only because the Holy Spirit is antecedently the eternal communion of the Father and the Son” (105). Guretzki claims that the filioque expresses the revealed reality of the communion of the Father and the Son. It also expresses their differentiation, however: the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit “are dialectically related in such a way that one relies eternally and continually on the other in order to differentiate itself from the other” (111). For Barth, if the economy reveals the Spirit to have been given by the Son and the Father, then this must also be true in eternity.

Guretzki devotes chapter four, “The Function of the Filioque in the Church Dogmatics,” to pondering the necessary role of the filioque for Barth. First, the filioque is necessary for Barth because it recognizes the distinctive unity and communion between the Father and the Son to which John’s Gospel in particular attests. The relationship of Father to Son “is a unique and dialectically structured relationship which does not exclude the Holy Spirit, but is utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit for its reality” (131). Second, the filioque guarantees the communion between God and humanity – and it does so on the basis of the immanent eternal communion of the Trinity, following the rule of identity between the immanent and economic Trinity. The “unique reciprocal unity of relationship that exists between the Father and the Son in the Spirit” is the ground for the relationship between God and humanity (130).

While Barth never systematically addresses the filioque after CD I/1, Guretzki notes how he applies it at various points throughout the CD. Guretzki claims that “Barth would often relate Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that his commitment to the filioque clearly shines through” (135). The most important and unique role that the filioque plays in Barth’s theology is its positing of an “eternal ground by which it is possible for the Spirit to be the ‘indissolubly real connexion’ between God and the creature, between the Father and his Son, and between the divine and the human in Jesus Christ” (158). The Holy Spirit is the “agent of continuity” (158) both eternally and temporally, in such a way that ontological unity as well as distinction are maintained in the triune relations both ad intra and ad extra. Guretzki explains that it is “precisely because the Spirit proceeds from the common origin of the shared being of the Father and the Son that the Spirit is to be understood as the active divine agent” (160) who unites without dissolving distinction. This is the “dialectical filioquist pneumatology” (162) of the mature Barth, whose roots reach back to the Epistle to the Romans.

Guretzki raises several criticisms of Barth’s filioquist position, the most significant of which hinges on Barth’s positing of structural analogies to the Trinity: the threefold form of the Word of God and the triad of creation, history, and creation history. Guretzki perceives these to be at odds with Barth’s resistance to the analogia entis or vestigium Trinitatis. It strikes this reader, however, that Barth’s opposition to the analogia entis and Barth’s use of analogical concepts are not necessarily contradictory. Barth opposes the analogia entis andvestigium Trinitatis (which ought not to be wholly conflated) as statements of ontological affinity that allow for human knowledge of God apart from revelation. Analogical concepts are not necessarily subject to the same criticism; Barth does not object to the interpretation of revelation, but to side-stepping it altogether. Guretzki argues that the analogy of creation, history, and creation history seems to be an abstraction read into the immanent Trinity, rather than an economic revelation of triune relations concretely located in the biblical narrative. It is not clear, Guretzki posits, that Barth “found a filioquist structure displayed in the relationship of creation and history, but rather that he sought to relate creation and history on the basis of a doctrine of the filioque already presupposed” (162). This second, stronger point also suffers from the imprecision regarding Barth’s position on analogy. If Barth found the triune and filioquist structure to be revealed in the economy, is there necessarily a problem for Barth in using an analogical description of its unveiling in creation, history and creation history? If, as Guretzki claims, Barth’s trinitarian and specifically filioquist positions arise early in his thought from his analysis of revelation, then it seems that the analogy might not be problematic in exactly the same way as a dogmatic a prioriapplied to the economy independently of revelation.

Barth’s distinction between the possible true use the vestigium Trinitatis and its historical use, which he opposes, might be helpful in untangling his position. In his discussion of the vestigium in CD I/1, Barth admits that God’s impartation of a distinct form to creaturely reality such that it becomes a divine instrument might properly be called a vestigium Trinitatis. Thus if creation, history, and creation history (and revelation, scripture, and preaching) can be called creaturely realities made mediums of divine revelation, albeit in a general or abstract way, then it is conceivable that Barth might positively call them vestigia Trinitatis without implying that they create a noetic path to God in creation itself apart from revelation. Indeed, on this reading, it is revelation that makes them vestiges of the Trinity, not an inherent vestigial quality that makes them revelatory. The troubling aspect of these analogies is perhaps not that they are analogical (or rather, vestigial), but that they are formalized systematically in Barth’s thought, as Guretzki rightly points out. The systematic formalization of the analogies lends them the false appearance of being revelatory in themselves, rather than as the imperfect but faithful labor of human speech about the self-unveiling God. Guretzki’s criticism is well-placed, but a more rigorous examination of how analogy functions for Barth is necessary for precise criticism on this point.

Guretzki’s study raises several intriguing questions for further scholarly pursuit, and does so engagingly. He revisits several of the questions posed throughout the book in his conclusion, such as the degree to which Barth’s filioque is Hegelian, whether Barth has an ecumenical contribution to make to the filioque debate, and whether the filioque contributes to a conflation of the economic and immanent Trinity. Guretzki’s work is an excellent introduction to the presence and significance of the filioque in Barth. He covers a broad swath of material which orients the reader to various controversies and potential inconsistencies at stake in Barth’s adherence to the filioque, as well as to its theological richness and complexity. He offers a view of the difficulties as well as the resources to be found in Barth’s filioque both in the context of Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity, as well as in the ecumenical context of Eastern-Western dialogue. Given its tight focus on the particular dogma of the filioque, readers of this book would benefit from theological background in trinitarian doctrines and debates. The work will be an invaluable read for academics interested in Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity or the history of the filioque controversy and its ongoing importance in modern ecumenical efforts.

The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.