What has Karl Barth (considered by some to be the
greatest theologian of the twentieth century) to say about
the problem of time and thus eternity? Has what he wrote
much significance and how does it relate to both the history
of theology and philosophy as well as the modern era?
The Enlightenment conditioned the thought of the
nineteenth century particularly as regards the possible
foundations of systematic theological thought. The
dialectic of antitheses (that is of eternity and time,
finite and infinite) was subsumed in the complex agnosticism
of Kant's transcendental idealism; resolved into overall
monistic synthesis by Hegel; broken apart in Trendelenburg's
critique; and, finally, reasserted in existential paradox
by Kierkegaard. Barth in his early work extended
Kierkegaard's precarious Christological Paradox to
destruction in a logical reductio thus making a new theological starting-point an imperative need.
Barth posited this new beginning in the Word of God,
the threefold occurrence of which is grounded upon God and
thus the doctrine of God. The historicity of God's own
being in his trinitarian life constitutes the 'possibility'
of the 'reality' of revelation and as such contains within
itself an understanding of time. It is this which is
explicated in the main body of the thesis.
God's being in the Trinity is being in act and the
temporal correlate of this fundamental reality is the
doctrine of eternity. Given the exclusive source of the
knowledge of God in revelation, the 'full contemporaneity*
of the divine act assumes crucial significance because the
basis of the time of revelation is to be given in revelation
itself. The doctrine of *God's time* (eternity) posits the
active triumph of God's dynamic freedom in his unseparated
past, present and future over the division and loss of
'before' and 'after* in time. The theological impulse of
Barth's thought is expressed in the integration of God's
being and his perfections.
The central doctrine of 'God's time' is exploited
throughout the Church Dogmatics in the doctrines of God,
election, incarnation, Christology, creation and of 'Man in
his Time*. The latter passage, usually seen as Barth's
definitive statement on time is in fact merely the overt
consummation of a theological theory of time which has been
used extensively. Barth's doctrine is a creative develop¬
ment of many strands to be found in the Christian tradition.
It contains, however, certain flaws and ambiguities which
reflect upon the whole theological structure of the Church
Dogmatics. Most serious of these is the linguistic
dialectic apparent in the negation of man's time and yet the
creative derivation of 'God's time' from a selective
analysis of common-sense concepts of time. This is the
logical Achilles' heel of the finest theological theory of
time in the history of the western tradition.