Correlating Sobornost. Conversatoins between Karl Barth and the Russian Orthodox Tradition. Ashley John Moyse, Scott A. Kirkland, and John C. McDowell, editors. Fortress Press. Minneapolis, 2016.



“A Supertemporal Continuum”: Christocentric Trinity and the Dialectical Reenvisioning of Divine Freedom in Bulgakov and Barth


Brandon Gallaher


The natural or prima facie reaction to the comparison of Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Sergius Bulgakov (1871–1944) is revulsion or even a slight absurdity.1 But is this correct? Rowan Williams observed more than twenty-five years ago that Barth was “almost alone among twentieth-century dogmaticians” in undertaking “to present Trinitarian doctrine as foundational for theology as a whole.” The


1. This chapter is based on Brandon Gallaher, Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).



illumination of his proviso is left for a footnote, where we are told “Perhaps the closest comparison is with the Russian émigré theologian, Sergei Bulgakov.”2

Williams returns more specifically to the similarities of Barth’s and Bulgakov’s doctrine of God in his introduction to his selection from Bulgakov’s The Lamb of God (1933). Williams describes how Bulgakov argues that God as Trinity must certainly be defined as absolute, but he is also necessarily relational, being defined as the absolute in his relation to the world (i.e., absolute-relative). One cannot think of God outside the relations to the world he himself has established, and those relations and what revelation tells us about his triune life “make it actively misleading to talk of creation as only arbitrarily or accidentally related to its maker.”3 Bulgakov, in this context, Williams contends, is certainly close to G. W. F. Hegel but, more interestingly, closer to Barth, who argues that God as Trinity chose neither necessarily nor arbitrarily in Jesus Christ not to be God without the world he creates and redeems.4

Williams is not alone in seeing, despite the vast differences, the closeness of these two figures’ theologies. The Russian theologian and historian Georges Florovsky (1893–1979),5 who knew both men personally and opposed in different ways the work of the two older theologians, juxtaposed their work back in 1968. In an unpublished talk on Russian émigré theology, Florovsky argued that both men create a “supertemporal continuum” between God and creation,


2. Rowan Williams, “Barth on the Triune God,” in Karl Barth: Studies of His Theological Method, ed. S. W. Sykes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 191 (emphasis added).

3. Rowan Williams, ed., trans., and introd., Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 169.

4. Ibid., 169n.

5. See Georges Florovsky, The Patristic Witness of Georges Florovsky: Essential Theological Writings, eds. Brandon Gallaher and Paul Ladouceur (London: T & T Clark, forthcoming); For commentary see Brandon Gallaher, “‘Waiting for the Barbarians’: Identity and Polemicism in the Neo-Patristic Synthesis of Georges Florovsky,” Modern Theology 27, no. 4 (October 2011): 659–91.



focused on the God-man, in which “real time plays very little role.” In Bulgakov’s The Lamb of God (1933), the Son of God is a member of the Holy Trinity and as such “is already the Lamb of God sent from eternity,” such that there is one unified story of God and man, “a story of God through Man, in Man, and in the cosmos.” In Barth’s CD IV/1 (1953), we see in turn, Florovsky claims, that the “Jesus of history actually has been eternally with the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity never existed without Jesus.” Florovsky then claims, mischievously, that he sometimes “plays tricks” on people with English translations of both men by asking them to identify their author and “Usually they were wrong.”6

This work, among other things, aims to tease out some of the parallels of these two thinkers, noted by Williams and Florovsky, but also to use the parallels as a sort of hermeneutical tool to illumine Barth and the recent critical debate concerning election and the Trinity. I will first lay out something of a synopsis of the main lines of Bulgakov’s theology, which might be described as a “sophiological antinomism.” I will then argue that Barth’s apparent inconsistencies on election and the Trinity, reflected in the sharp contemporary debate surrounding it, might helpfully be seen in light of his dialectical theology, not dissimilar to Bulgakov’s thinking on the relationship of the immanent to the economic Trinity. What appear to be diametrically opposed readings of Barth in the contemporary election and the Trinity debate both may well have a ground within Barth’s theology if it is viewed dialectically.


Sergius Bulgakov: Sophiological Antinomism


In order to understand Bulgakov’s theology, which he called


6. Georges Florovsky, “The Renewal of Orthodox Theology, Florensky, Bulgakov and the Others (New Title): On the Way to a Christian Philosophy,” typescript/transcript 1968, 5–6, Princeton CO586, box 5, f6.



“sophiology,” one must begin with his theological methodology, which is a type of dialecticism. It is precisely here that I want to make a case for Bulgakov and Barth’s alignment. Both men have a type of radical christocentrism (even christomonism), which causes problems for their respective doctrines of God in regards to divine freedom. For Barth, as we shall argue, this is a type of historicized Christology that he thinks through in Trinitarian terms via the doctrine of election. For Bulgakov, in contrast, as we shall soon see, this leads to his sophiology, where God the Father through his Spirit eternally imprints his divine nature with the image of his Son (“Godmanhood”), which is then freely expressed in creation and redemption in Jesus Christ.

Trinitarian theology, for Barth and Bulgakov, is in no way abstractly concerned with the pure relations of divine hypostases apart from and even opposed to what is creaturely. On the contrary, the doctrine of the Trinity is above all concerned with the eternal relationship between creation, represented by humanity as its head, and the triune God, as given in revelation. Both thinkers ultimately see this revelation as being expressed preeminently in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus Trinitarian theology is foundational for theology as a whole, in both Barth and Bulgakov, but it is only foundational insofar as the Trinity as a teaching presupposes the eternal unity of God and humanity in Christ or the teaching of Christology. Yet, as I hope to show, by weaving Christology into the fundamental fabric of Trinitarian theology both men end up having to rethink divine freedom, and the means at their disposal was antinomy/dialectic.

Bulgakov’s dialectical methodology is called “antinomism,” and it is a creative development of Immanuel Kant and Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), among others. Kant held that, without holding to his epistemological dualism, reason is led “unavoidably” to certain necessary “rational” (or “sophistical,” as he prefers) illusions,7 the most



famous of which are his four rational antinomies.8 Creatively developing Kant, Bulgakov’s close friend and mentor, the theologian, philosopher, and polymath Pavel Florensky, in his Stolp i utverzhdenie istiny (The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 1914), held that truth itself must take the formal logical form of an antinomy or “selfcontradictory judgement,” where the antithesis entrains its thesis and vice versa.9 Bulgakov later took this position in a whole series of publications (e.g., Svet Nevechernii [Unfading Light] [1917], Die Tragödie der Philosophie [1927], and Ikona i Ikonopochitanie [Icons and Icon-veneration, 1931]). Truth is a coincidentia oppositorum (Nicholas of Cusa) of multiple affirmations that logically cancel one another out but that are held together in faith.10 While in heaven there is one truth, here on earth we are faced with “a multitude of truths, fragments of the Truth, noncongruent to one another.”11 Florensky applied this antinomic vision of truth to all the major Christian dogmas from the Trinity to the Chalcedonian definition to eschatology, and Bulgakov did likewise but in a far more systematic fashion.12

Bulgakov argues that antinomy, a contradiction for rational thought, is especially characteristic of religious consciousness and its experience of the mystery of the “transcendent, outside-the-limits, divine world.”13 Antinomy admits of two contradictory, logically


7. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), A339/B397, p. 409, A582/B610, p. 559, A619/B647, p. 577, A644–65/B6727–30, p. 591, A702–3/B730–31, p. 622.

8. Ibid., A405–567/B432–595, pp. 459–550.

9. Pavel Florensky, Stolp i utverzhdenie istiny: opyt pravoslavnoi teoditsei v dvenadtsati pis’makh (Moscow: Put’, 1914; repr., Lepta, 2002), 147–53, 153. ET: The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 109–14.

10. Florensky, Stolp i utverzhdenie istiny, 156–57; Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 116.

11. Florensky, Stolp i utverzhdenie istiny, 158; Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 117.

12. Florensky, Stolp i utverzhdenie istiny, 164–65; Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 121–23.

13. Sergius Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii: Sozertsaniia i Umozreniia (1917), in Sergii Bulgakov: Pervoobraz i Obraz: Sochineniia v Dvukh Tomakh (Moscow/St. Petersburg: Iskusstvo/Inapress,



incompatible, but “ontologically equally necessary assertions,” which testify to the existence of a mystery beyond which reason cannot penetrate but that is “actualized and lived in religious experience.”14 An unsurpassable abyss exists for reason between the antinomy of the “no” of apophatic theology and the “yes” of kataphatic theology. This abyss cannot be crossed through rational dialectic15 but only through reason’s stepping back in all humility from the abyss of the incomprehensible, the mysterious, which is its admission that it can go no further. For faith there can be nothing that can be understood to its end, for “faith is the child of mystery, a podvig of love and freedom,” which must not fear “rational absurdity,” for precisely in such absurdity “is revealed eternal life, the boundlessness of the Godhead.”16 To humble faith, the unknowable and unnamable God reveals himself by a name, a word, a cult, different manifestations, and finally by the incarnation.17 Just as in Florensky, when applied to theological truths (“dogma”), we are forced to hold both thesis and antithesis of the dogma together through an “ascetic struggle [podvig, “spiritual feat”] of faith” that is transformative.18

Bulgakov’s theological antinomism can be seen particularly clearly in three key theological antinomies, which are laid out in the second chapter of his book on icons:


1999), 1:99; Sergius Bulgakov, Unfading Light: Contemplations and Speculations, trans. and ed. Thomas Allan Smith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 103–4.

14. Sergius Bulgakov, Sophia, The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology, trans. Patrick Thompson et al. (Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne, 1937, 1993), 77n18.

15. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 1:141; Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 153.

16. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 1:104 (see Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 110 [my translation]).

17. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 1:146; Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 159.

18. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 1:141, and see 104; Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 153, and see 110.



I. Theological Antinomy (God in Himself)

THESIS: God is the Absolute, consequently, the pure NOT, the Divine Nothing

(Apophatic theology)

ANTITHESIS: God is the Absolute-in-Itself self-relation, the Holy Trinity

Kataphatic theology).


II. Cosmological Antinomy (God in Himself and in creation)

THESIS: God in the Holy Trinity has all fullness and all-bliss; He is selfexistent, unchanging, eternal, and therefore absolute.

(God in Himself).

ANTITHESIS: God creates the world out of love for creation, with its temporal, relative, becoming being, and becomes for it God, correlates Himself with it.

(God in creation).


III. Sophiological Antinomy (Divine Wisdom in God and in the world)

THESIS: God, unisubstantial in the Holy Trinity, reveals Himself in His Wisdom, which is His Divine life and the Divine world in eternity, fullness and perfection.

(Noncreaturely Sophia—Divinity in God).

ANTITHESIS: God creates the world by His Wisdom, and this Wisdom, constituting the Divine foundation of the world, abides in temporal-spatial becoming, submerged in non-being.

(Creaturely Sophia—Divinity outside God, in the world).19


He argues, first, in the thesis of his “Theological Antinomy,” that “God” in himself, insofar as one can say anything about him, is an absolute “Not-is” or divine nothingness beyond all relations, that is, theological apophaticism.20 Yet God is simultaneously—moving to the antithesis of the Theological Antinomy—absolute relation in himself (immanent Trinity), that is, theological kataphaticism. The


19. Sergius Bulgakov, Ikona i Ikonopochitanie: Dogmaticheskii ocherk (1931), in Sergii Bulgakov: Pervoobraz i Obraz, 2:241–310, at 264; Sergius Bulgakov, The Icon and Its Veneration (A Dogmatic Essay), in Icons and the Name of God, ed. and trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 1–114, at 35–36.

20. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 1:102; Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 107.



absolute “God” in himself also is not only the absolute “no,” complete absence of relationality, but is joined antinomically with an absolute “yes,” absolute relationality, difference, and definition in himself, that is, the Holy Trinity as the tri-hypostatic, unisubstantial Spirit or Personality, the immanent Trinity in unity and unity in Trinity (divine triunity)—a perfect fullness and completeness of absolute free eternal life as a synthesis of freedom and necessity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Bulgakov characterizes this free life of love as being one of complete self-giving and self-emptying of the persons between one another. He would have no difficulty, therefore, with speaking of an eternal obedience of the Son to the Father, as is found in Barth.21 Hans Urs von Balthasar, indeed, borrowed his intra-Trinitarian kenoticism from Bulgakov.22 Both apophatic (thesis of the theological antinomy) and kataphatic (antithesis of the theological antinomy) absoluteness are equally primordial to the Godhead and can only be taken together as “an identity of contraries (coincidentia oppositorum).”23 For God as immanent Trinity, creation need not have existed, and he creates and redeems us in a contingent gracious act of love that could have been otherwise, a free loving expression of his perfect, eternal self-giving. This emphasis on creation’s contingency, and the sheer graciousness of creation and redemption, is also found famously found in Barth.

An apophatic understanding of God, without being tempered by kataphaticism, ultimately negates everything, including being itself, which implies a relationship, including God’s relationship to creation. One must, therefore, inevitably turn to God’s relationship to a


21. CD IV/1, 201.

22. Here see Jennifer Newsome Martin, “The ‘Whence’ and the ‘Whither’ of Balthasar’s Gendered Theology: Rehabilitating Kenosis for Feminist Theology,” Modern Theology, 31, no. 2 (2015), 211–34; and Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought (Notre Dame, IN.: University of Notre Dame, 2015).

23. Bulgakov, Ikona i Ikonopochitanie, 2:260; Bulgakov, Icon and Its Veneration, 29 (my translation).



creation over against him that defines him as its “God.” One is immediately faced here with a cosmological antinomy between (in its thesis) God as absolute self-relation in himself (immanent Trinity), who is perfect eternal fullness and completeness, and (turning to the antithesis), as God creates the world out of love, putting himself in relation to it with its temporal relative and becoming being, God as absolute-relative (economic Trinity). For God as absolute selfrelation in himself, creation need not have been created or redeemed; it is the product of an utterly contingent divine free act that could have been otherwise, but for God as absolute-relative creation is a part of God’s own self-definition as Creator and Redeemer and could not be otherwise; indeed, it is nonsensical to say the opposite. Indeed, and here we see another alignment with Barth, we can only really speak about the immanent Trinity in light of the economic (i.e., revelation) as the presupposition of its free gracious character as divine gift. I hope to show that a version of Bulgakov’s antinomy exists in Barth’s dialectical doctrine of God. For God to be God creation had to be on this side of the antinomy or, if one prefers, dialectic. Thus “God,” for Bulgakov, is not only the absolute or immanent Trinity, He is also the absolute-relative, CreatorRedeemer, economic Trinity, the antithesis of the cosmological antinomy. Both self-definitions must be held together in faith.

He exists—adapting Palamite language to sophiology24—in the sense of divine energy, by a freedom where he can remain himself in renouncing the bliss of his essence by changing the mode by which he enacts that essence, entering into becoming as “a special form of the fullness of Being,” limiting and emptying himself by embracing


24. For Bulgakov and Palamas see Joost van Rossum, “Palamisme et Sophiologie,” Contacts, Revue française d’orthodoxie 222 (2008): 133–45; and Roman Zaviyskyy, Shaping Modern Russian Orthodox Trinitarian Theology: A Critical Study of Sergii Bulgakov with Reference to Vladimir Lossky and Georgii Florovsky (DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2011), esp. chaps. 2–4.



change and process in the creation and redemption of the world.25 In paradoxical language, Bulgakov argues that God as absolute, without ceasing to be absolute, posits in himself “the relative as independent Being—a real, living principle.” He thereby introduces “duality” into the “unity of that which is without distinction,” thereby establishing in the absolute a “coincidentia oppositorum.”26 Where once there was only “absolute self-relation in Himself, the Holy Trinity” now there appears the difference between God and the world.27 The absolute stands over against itself as absolute-relative; “it becomes correlative to itself as relative, for God is correlated to the world, Deus est vox relativa, and, creating the world, the Absolute posits itself as God.”28 One can then say on this side of the absolute-relative that there never was “one point of being” at which the eternal free act of the Creator (and Redeemer!) was absent whatsoever or ceased as unneeded, as all Being would then cease to be; so “the Lord is the Creator always now and ever unto ages of ages,” and the “creature is co-eternal with Creator,” as time is “a face of eternity turned towards the creature as a kind of creaturely eternity” and “light is co-existent with the sun.”29 Thus “God,” as absolute immanent Trinity, without ceasing to be transcendent, “by the very act of this creation gives birth also to God. God is born with the world and in the world,” and religion, which presupposes divine self-revelation, begins.30

At least ideally, Bulgakov holds to a unity between these two selfdefinitions of God with the absolute being in the absolute-relative


25. Sergius Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii (Paris: YMCA Press, 1933), 333; Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, trans. and abridged by Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 302.

26. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 167 (see Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 184 [my translation]).

27. Bulgakov, Ikona i Ikonopochitanie, 2:264 (see Bulgakov, Icon and Its Veneration, 35 [my translation]).

28. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 167 (see Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 184 [my translation]).

29. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 189 (see Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 209–10 [my translation]).

30. Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 104 (see Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 110 [my translation] and compare Bulgakov, Svet Nevechernii, 192 [see Bulgakov, Unfading Light, 214–15]).



or the immanent in the economic Trinity, and in this way one never loses the sense that, though it could not be otherwise that God has given himself to us in Christ, he still, on the other side of the antinomy, could have done otherwise, as our salvation in him is a free gift of love. However, in his late work Bulgakov sometimes argues that God as absolute-relative is “united and coposited” with himself as absolute, which either means that he collapses the antinomy between the immanent and economic Trinity or simply regards each as valid self-definitions of God, as equiprimordial.31

Bulgakov’s last antinomy is between the uncreated or divine Sophia (thesis), which is the eternal ousia/Godmanhood (divinehumanity) of the Holy Trinity by which God the Father reveals himself to himself through his “Dyad” of the Son and Spirit, and the created Sophia (antithesis), which is (variously—Bulgakov is not consistent) the divine basis of creation, divine energy, and (more often) creation itself, which is the divine wisdom dwelling in nonbeing and becoming and in this way “creating” the world. When sophiology is applied to creation, Bulgakov argues, here following Vladimir Solovyev’s (1853–1900) and Lurianic Kabbalism’s idea of zimsum—or divine retraction, made famous by Jürgen Moltmann (1926– ) 32—one must envision creation out of nothing as a process internal to God by which he allows for a “nothing” in his divine being (divine Sophia), which he then plunges within becoming God in becoming, a divine repetition in creation (created Sophia).33 At this


31. Sergius Bulgakov, Nevesta Agntsa (Paris: YMCA Press, 1945), 251; Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, trans. and abridged by Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 230.

32. See Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 59–60, 108–11; and God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God: The Gifford Lectures 1984–1985, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 86–93, 155–57.

33. See Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 146–50; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 124–27.



very point we can see how sophiology is inextricably bound up with antinomism and so might be called, more precisely, “sophiological antinomism.” “Sophia,” for Bulgakov, is a living antinomy insofar as she is uncreated-created, divine-creaturely, being a “both-and” taking in God and the world. He applies this antinomic vision of sophiology to Chalcedon and develops a “two-Sophias Christology”34 where Christ has two natures being perfect God (the divine Sophia) and perfect man (created Sophia).

But how does Christ fit into this complex theological system? To explain this we must double back to the doctrine of God. God, for Bulgakov, is described as a Trinity of hypostases who ceaselessly reveal and gift themselves to each other in and by their own common divinity, but more precisely, ousia, which he called Sophia. This ousia, “divine Sophia,” is imprinted through the love of the Spirit between the Father and the Son with the Son’s image. This is the image of the heavenly man or “Godmanhood” (Bogochelovechestvo).35 God, then, reminiscent of Barth, has his being as one who is eternally, freely, and lovingly for humanity. The Father discloses his divine essence (Sophia) in the Logos or Son as truth and in the Spirit as glory or beauty. This movement of self-revelation in and by Sophia is conceived as a kenotic self-emptying of each hypostasis, which gives itself to the other. It begins as a divine, preeternal, “sacrificial ecstasy of all-consuming, jealous love for the Other,” which is the perichoretic life of the Godhead,36 with the unbegotten Father’s “selfrenunciation” and “self-emptying,” his “sacrifice of love,” in begetting, gifting into being, his only begotten Son;37 the Son’s


34. See Brandon Gallaher, “Graced Creatureliness: Ontological Tension in the Uncreated/Created Distinction in the Sophiologies of Solov’ev, Bulgakov and Milbank,” Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 47, no. 1–2 (2006): 163–90, at 172–74.

35. Sergius Bulgakov, “Evkharisticheskii Dogmat” (1930), in Evkharistiia (Moscow/Paris: Russkii put’/YMCA, 2005), 138–205, at 191–92; ‘The Eucharistic Dogma’, in The Holy Grail and the Eucharist, trans./ed. Boris Jakim (Hudson: Lindisfarne Press, 1997), 63–138 at 128–29.

36. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 121; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 98.



active accepting of his being begotten and his response in giving the being he received from the Father back to him;38 and the Holy Spirit’s proceeding from the Father and resting on the Son as the union of the two—their mutual self-gift—in infinite difference, that is, their “hypostatic relation,” namely, their “mutual love.”39 God is love, and God is Sophia, so Sophia herself is love (more precisely, the “love of love”) as various preeternal relations of love understood as pure self-giving. Bulgakov was just as much an actualist as Barth. Love-ousia-Sophia is God’s preeternal divine activity (actus purissimus) of self-revelation as a substance of freely but necessarily loving himself as Trinity: “But such self-positing of itself in the Other and through the Other is Love as an ebcacious act, the ontology of love. God is love, and, as Love, He is the Holy Trinity,” and “Nature in the Godhead is His eternal life, self-determination, self-positing, actus purissimus.” 40

Yet this love of God that is God (“God-love”) cannot remain simply expressed in God himself, and so the ecstatic love of the Trinity freely pours forth outside his limits into “extra-divine but divinely posited Being-nonbeing, i.e. creation,”41 which Bulgakov calls the “created (or creaturely) Sophia.” God as absolute-relative is love, and “it is proper for love to love” not only in the “confines [predely, “bounds,” “limits,” “frontiers”]” of the divine life of absoluteness but “to expand in love” “beyond [za] these confines” of that absolute life.42 If this were not the case, then God would be limited by his own absoluteness in self-love or self-affirmation,


37. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 122; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 99 (translation adapted).

38. “Sonship is already a pre-eternal kenosis” (Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 122 [Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 98, translation adapted]).

39. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 123; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 100.

40. Sergius Bulgakov, “Glavy o Troichnosti,” part 1, Pravoslavnaia Mysl’ (1928): 31–88, at 68, 59 (part 2, [1930]: 57–85); cf. Bulgakov, Nevesta Agntsa, 50–51; Bulgakov, Bride of the Lamb, 43.

41. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 251; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 223.

42. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 142; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 120.



and God would not be omnipotent, since he would be trapped by his own limits as absolute. God “needs the world, and it could not have remained uncreated,” not for himself but for love of the world. He could not have failed to create the world (actualizing this possibility of love) because he needs to create it “in order to love, no longer only in His own life, but also outside Himself, in creation.”43 This free spilling out of the love of God, gifting of God by which creation is given to be, is the immersion of the divine Sophia, as the prototype of creation, into nothingness, or the entry of being into the stream of becoming. In the process of creation, the prototype of creation, the divine Sophia, is realized more and more fully in the life of the world or the created Sophia until God becomes truly all in all, and divine self-gift and the gift of creation into being by God are one reality. This is the general process of entheosis, or the accomplishment of Godmanhood in the world—divinization.44 Creation, then, is uncreated-created, or has a basis in God himself and indeed is united with God in Christ: “Imprinted in the world is the face of the Logos.”45

Divinization or entheosis, then, is the process by which God, as the prototype of creation, the divine Sophia, becomes all in all in the world as the type of created Sophia: this is the union between the divine and creaturely Sophias. Since the nature of God is Godmanhood or divine-humanity, this must be expressed in a world in which God takes flesh. One can therefore interpret entheosis as the gradual accomplishment of Godmanhood in the world, necessarily


43. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 142; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 120.

44. In what follows see Sergius Bulgakov, “A Summary of Sophiology” (1936), ed. Brandon Gallaher, appendix to “Protopresbyter Sergii Bulgakov: Hypostasis and Hypostaticity: Scholia to the Unfading Light,” 41–46, revised trans., ed., and intro. of A. F. Dobbie Bateman by Brandon Gallaher and Irina Kukota in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 49, no. 1–2 (2005): 5–46.

45. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 218; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 193.



culminating in Christ, as he is the very Logos whose face is imprinted in the divine being and in creation itself. Given that God is Godmanhood and this entheotic process culminates in Christ, indeed in a way the whole Godhead is directed to the incarnation; one can trace its gestation above all in humanity, which is a “concentrated world” or microcosm by being the summit of creation, which itself reflects his headship as an “anthropocosmos.”46 Humankind bears the image of God or the sophianic prototype of Godmanhood in its hypostasis, “whereby created Wisdom lies.” Humanity realizes the likeness of this image in its freedom, its divine cooperation with its Creator, but in its freedom it falls prey to temptation and falls, so obscuring the image that is only restored by the incarnation. In Christ one has not only the redemption of humanity but also its deification through Christ’s perfect divine-human cooperation, synergism of divine and creaturely freedoms. Christ’s perfect humanity, which is the created Sophia as worldly “type,” “becomes completely transparent” to his perfect deity or the divine prototype, the divine Sophia, which has “kenotically adapt[ed] itself to the measure set by the created Sophia.” In other words, in Christ the created Sophia as type is glorified or deified by being raised by the Spirit to its heavenly prototype, the divine Sophia, in the hypostatic union.47

This raising happens through the kenosis of the divinity. God lowers himself to the level of humanity and raises it in the exchange of properties (communicatio idiomatum), with the humanity being given the very life of God and the divinity entering into suffering and humiliation. Type is raised to prototype as humanity is raised up to God, although God, for Bulgakov, is already tacitly “human” being, Godmanhood, and humanity is already tacitly “divine” as


46. Bulgakov, “Summary,” 43.

47. Ibid., 44.



creation is the created Sophia. Bulgakov does not see this divinehuman communication as being asymmetrical, such that while the human is divinized, the divine is unaffected by the human, which, a traditional opinion says, would only result in its carnalization. (Indeed, he talks about “suffering” in God, albeit in non-carnal terms.) The work of redemption and deification of creation in Christ is accomplished in cooperation with the Spirit and is actualized in the birth of the church, through which creation is transfigured. Bulgakov structures this work, moreover, in terms of Christ’s threefold office as priest, king, and prophet.

However, with the last antinomy of the two Sophias, serious problems arise in Bulgakov’s theology. He blurs the line between the created and the uncreated. Bulgakov argues that two modes/ images of Sophias apparently “exist,” one primary and divine—that is, the divine world, the ousia of the Holy Trinity as a movement of love—and one secondary and created—that is, the created being of creation, which is the divine love/Sophia of God poured forth in becoming—but they are one in a unity in difference.48 Bulgakov certainly favors this “antinomic” conception of Sophia, but he stresses that they are one reality, and the created Sophia (creation) is the divine Sophia (the divine substance) in becoming. He expresses this in unitary language, which emphasizes creation as a mode of God: “God in creation, which is the Divine Sophia.”49 Furthermore, he argues that the only being that exists is divine being, and that creation only has autonomy and otherness, because its foundation is uncreated. In other words, creation is “uncreated-created.” Thus, for example, without any violence to his nature, humanity can naturally “receive” the hypostasis of the Logos, in place of its own creaturely


48. Bulgakov, Nevesta Agntsa, 70; Bulgakov, Bride of the Lamb, 60; compare Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 148; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 126.

49. Bulgakov, Ikona i Ikonopochitanie, 2:262 (see Bulgakov, Icon and Its Veneration, 32–33 [my translation]).



hypostasis, as it constitutes a perfect “ontological ‘site.’”50 Sophia as the common element between God and humankind is the ” ontological bridge” between both.51 Chalcedon, for Bulgakov, is absolutely fundamental, but he saw its negative expression in the four a-privatives of its horos as preliminary, and so awaiting its continuation in a truly positive (not simply apophatic) definition; here he arguably breaks with the Orthodox tradition, where the uncreated/created distinction is nonnegotiable, and betrays his roots in idealism.52 This tacit pantheism (though Bulgakov protests that he is a “panentheist”) would seem to be the major difference between Barth and Bulgakov. However, if one presses Barth’s understanding of election hard enough, then one has related difficulties in creation being (at the very least) implicit in God’s eternal self-determination to be God with us in Christ.

What I hope is clearer about Bulgakov’s very complex theology is that it is (like Barth) wholly Trinitarian and absolutely christocentric. Indeed, one of the key ways of characterizing the life of God or ousia/Sophia is as Godmanhood so that, viewed from one side of the antinomy, his doctrine of God is essentially christocentrically focused, and it is this (to borrow a phrase from Barth) “Christological concentration”53 that, arguably not unlike Barth, causes so many problems for Bulgakov’s doctrine of God and requires him to reenvision divine freedom as involving necessity. For Bulgakov, following his antinomism, and this is arguably similar to Barth with his dialecticism, creation and redemption in Christ both could and could not have been otherwise. Both these theses must be held together in a miraculous act of faith.


50. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 209; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 186.

51. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 249; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 220.

52. Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii, 79–80, 220–21; Bulgakov, Lamb of God, 61–62, 195–96.

53. Karl Barth, How I Changed My Mind (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrews Press, 1969), 43.



Barth: Trinity, Election, and Dialecticism


With this Bulgakovian theological context of God and the world, let us turn to Barth, where we hope we shall see some resonances—despite the manifest differences, from the figure of Sophia to their contrasting attitudes toward deification, philosophy, and tradition—in the wholly different context of the problem of divine election. The primary resonance that I hope becomes clear is that with both thinkers one sees a common thinking through of Trinitarian theology wholly in light of Christology. This leads both theologians to embrace some form of dialecticism in their theological methodology. They come to see humanity and creation in light of the doctrine of God and end up rejecting a voluntarist understanding of freedom. Absolute divine freedom, for Bulgakov and Barth, contains moments of something like what we call freedom and moments of something like what we call necessity, though determined utterly uniquely by the one life act of love of God as Holy Trinity.

Barth argues that God determines or elects himself as the one who loves in freedom to be God for us in Jesus Christ and that this elective moment is one with its content, so that Jesus Christ is both the subject and object of the divine election. Barth not only puts divine election at the heart of the doctrine of God but also does this simultaneously in Christ as both the elector and the elected. “Who” God is is determined by his eternal self-determination to be the God of grace by becoming incarnate through electing both humanity and himself in one eternal act. Christ is first the subject of this election as “electing God,” and then simultaneously the object of this election as “elected man.”54 By Jesus Christ, as God, electing himself as humanity, he thereby elects all humakind “in Him” so that


54. CD II/2, 103; and see 104.



“His election is the original and all-inclusive election.”55 Thus God determines himself in the election of Jesus Christ, who as very God is the elector, in company with the Father and the Spirit, of himself, and, as very man, is the elected.56 Christ is God’s manifest grace for all of us, as a man wholly obedient to God even unto death on a cross, calling all of us, his people, to faith in him and revealing to all of us that we are children of God, our Father, in him.57

In Jesus Christ’s electing to take on himself sinful humanity, we understand that, in God’s eternal counsel, as the content of predestination, God “has determined upon man’s acquittal at His own cost,” taking his place so that “He Himself should be perishing and abandoned and rejected—the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”58 Thus the eternal God determines himself or elects himself by a specific act in time to eternally not be God without humanity but to be a particular man, Jesus Christ,59 as Lord of Israel and the church and in this Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer.60 Christ, as the judge, takes to or on himself as the judged61 the “rejection of sinful man with all its consequences and elected this man—our present theme—to participation in His own holiness and glory—humiliation for Himself and exaltation for man.”62 Thus, just as we saw earlier in Bulgakov, Christology in a way is thought out within the context of Trinitarian theology and even becomes the motor of it so that (arguably) God’s being is to be a God for us in Christ, a God for humanity, just as in Bulgakov’s God’s being is Godmanhood or divine humanity. This, I think, is what Florovsky meant when he said


55. CD II/2, 117.

56. CD II/2, 162.

57. CD II/2, 103–6; and see IV/2, 84.

58. CD II/2, 167.

59. CD IV/2, 100.

60. CD II/2, 91.

61. CD IV/1, 211–83.

62. CD IV/2, 31–32.



that both men create a supratemporal continuum in their theologies focused on the life of Christ as the life of God in which real time plays no part. Thus creation is in some sense eternalized or swallowed up by God. Conversely, one might argue that both men historicize the divine life. Of course, as I hope to show, this is but one side of the story or the dialectic, as it were.

Yet the context of this love of God for humanity in Christ is the eternal being of God. But to say that God eternally chooses to be with us in Christ, that he seeks and creates fellowship with us, putting himself in relation to us, is to say that he wishes to seek and create with us what he is in himself—pure fellowship. God is in himself the free act of love (loving), since “He is the One who loves. That He is God—the Godhead of God—consists in the fact that He loves, and it is the expression of His loving that He seeks and creates fellowship with us.”63 In himself as Trinity God includes both an eternal prius, a superiority of the Father to his Son and Spirit, and an eternal posterius, or obedient subordination of the Son and Spirit to their Father.64 Such a movement of love might be characterized as both a dependent freedom that totally gives itself over to the other and an eternal acceptance and commitment of this free self-giving or free dependence. Therefore the love at work in Christ is not a divine mechanism that falls from above but God’s act, only insofar as it is a free loving choice, since “God is in Himself free event, free act and free life.”65 If God determines himself in Christ, and he does this as the one who loves, we must emphasize that this love is free, since he is the “One who loves in freedom.”66 Here we are reminded of Bulgakov’s understanding of the immanent Trinity as a perfect act of self-giving


63. CD II/1, 275; cf. II/2, 79.

64. CD IV/1, 201–2.

65. CD II/1, 264.

66. CD II/1, 257; and see 283–87, 297–321. (esp. 301, 321).



love of each hypostasis to the other, but with the Logos impressing the divine being with its face and thereby allowing a place for the relative in itself, creation and redemption, which spills out of God as divine love culminating in Jesus Christ. But what did Barth mean when he spoke of election in reference to God as the one who loves in freedom? We cannot understand this free life of love as Trinity and election unless we understand Barth’s later theology dialectically.

Barth’s CD, as many recent scholars have shown, is deeply dialectical, from first to last.67 There is no fundamental break in his methodology from the theology of the 1920s68—a turn toward analogy away from dialectic in the Anselm book from 1931—as is sometimes heard following Hans Urs von Balthasar. Barth argues, for example, in CD I/1 (1932), that because both the divine content and secular form belong to the word of God, it is impossible to identify the word of God by either the secular form in which the divine content veils itself or the divine content without its secular form.69 Here the affirmation and negation of the earlier dialectic is rearticulated in terms of an often intensely dizzying veiling and unveiling of the word of God in Christ. When the word of God is spoken to us it, as the divine content, is at once only heard, that is, unveiled, in its secularity or secular form in which it was said to us or veiled. But this is but the first moment of the dialectic, for then at once it can also mean that we hear it in its secular form as veiled but


67. See Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909–1936 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 312, 464–65; Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 109–80; Terry L. Cross, Dialectic in Karl Barth’s Doctrine of God (New York: Peter Lang, 2001); and Peter S. Oh, Karl Barth’s Trinitarian Theology: A Study in Karl Barth’s Analogical Use of the Trinitarian Relation (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 17–67.

68. Here see Karl Barth, “The Word of God and the Task of Ministry” (1925), in The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1928), 183–217, and esp. 200, 206–7 (see McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, 307–14).

69. See CD I/1, 174–76, and see 165–66, 168–69, 178–79.



really hear it thus as unveiled. The word’s veiling can change for us into an unveiling, and its unveiling into a veiling, but it is the same word in itself

However, it is for us two distinct realities unless we receive it as the one reality it is for God himself by faith. One cannot “see” the form and content at the same time so that one might compare them, since there is a fundamental “antithesis of form and content,” a distinction that cannot be erased by us without losing the word itself. How form and content coincide is known only to God, not to us, since we can only see form without content and content without form. No rational synthesis is possible of the two, since faith “means recognizing that synthesis cannot be attained and committing it to God and seeking and finding it in Him.”70 This means, quite simply, that there never can be a wholly rationally consistent expression of the mystery of God’s self-revelation, as we only perceive this revelation under different aspects, although by faith we know that these aspects are one reality of the incarnate Word.71 Here we are reminded of Bulgakov’s “spiritual feat or ascetic struggle of faith” (podvig) that holds the antinomies together despite their conceptual contradiction, trusting that they are one reality in God, in whom there is no clash.

With this understanding of Barth’s methodology as fundamentally dialectical, let us turn briefly to the election and Trinity debate, for here I want to propose that a comparison with Bulgakov’s antinomism may unusually bring a new perspective to this difficult discussion. On the basis of his own careful historical work, Bruce McCormack has advanced a highly controversial and greatly influential interpretation of Barth’s theology that has inflamed the normally staid circles of English-speaking Barth studies. Particular


70. CD I/1, 175.

71. See CD I/1, 180–81.



attention has been directed especially to a now infamous (for some) essay in The Cambridge Companion to Barth (2000): “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology.”72 We do not have the space to enter into a detailed discussion of this debate, which has generated a flurry of articles,73 but a few words on it are in order.

McCormack claims that Barth—beginning roughly with his lecturing (winter semester of 1939–40) on the material that would become II/2 (1942)74 and its revision of election and consequent transformation of his whole theology—aimed to go beyond classical metaphysics, becoming a “‘post-metaphysical’ theologian.”75 He does this through a radical historicizing of his Christology but thought through in Trinitarian terms. When Barth argues that divine election is the event whereby God chooses to be God for us in Jesus Christ (Logos ensarkos/incarnatus) what he actually means, when he is being “consistent” with himself, is that this eternal self-election is “God’s act of determining himself to be God for us in Jesus Christ which constitutes God as triune.”76 In the “primal decision” of pretemporal eternity, God is already always “by way of anticipation” what he would become in time (Logos incarnandus).77 He is “already what He will


72. See Bruce L. McCormack, “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Barth, ed. John Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 92–110.

73. See Michael T. Dempsey, ed., Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011); and Bruce L. McCormack, “Trinity and Election: A Progress Report,” in Akke van der Kooi et al., eds., Ontmoetingen-Tijdgenoten en getuigen: Studies Aangeboden Aan Gerrit Neven (Kampen: Kok, 2009), 14–35; George Hunsinger, Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015).

74. Bruce L. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found: A Response to Edwin Chr. van Driel,” SJT 60, no. 1 (2007): 62–79, at 64; Bruce L. McCormack, “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 185–241, at 213n59.

75. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 65; and see McCormack, “Actuality of God,” 211.

76. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 67.

77. McCormack, “Grace and Being,” 100.



become,” since his being and humanity are one in Jesus’ history, and that history “constitutes the second person of the Trinity,” not after the fact but before it, in that what happens in history as God suffers and dies in Jesus Christ—and here we are reminded of sophiology, where God is eternally divine-human, and this reaches out ecstatically into creation culminating in Christ—“represents the outworking of the event in which God gives himself his Being in eternity. Here God is seen as essentially God-human.”78

If God is God only insofar as he elects to be God for us in Christ, then “God is triune for the sake of his revelation.”79 There is, quite simply, no mode or existence in God as Trinity above and prior to the eternal act of God’s self-determination, in which God constitutes himself as God for us in Christ.80 The only way we can properly speak of the Logos asarkos is as the one word, Jesus Christ, by anticipation (Logos incarnandus) identified with the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, in time that God has eternally willed to become (Logos incarnatus/ ensarkos).81 There is no abstract eternal word in itself that exists prior to God’s eternal self-determination. That is a myth. Election logically (not ontologically) grounds God’s triunity, or triunity is a function of election82 so that the eternal act in which God gives himself his being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is “one and the same act” as the eternal act in which God chooses to be God “in the covenant of grace with human beings” in Christ.83 No eternal subject behind the act needs


78. Summary of keynote address on May 15, 2009, at “Trinitarian Theology after Barth,” Karl Barth Society Newsletter 29 (Fall 2009): 2–6, at 3.

79. McCormack, “Grace and Being,” 101.

80. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 66.

81. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 63, 67–68; McCormack, “Grace and Being,” 96.

82. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 67; and see McCormack, “Grace and Being,” 103. See clarification in Bruce L. McCormack, “Processions and Missions: A Point of Convergence between Karl Barth and Thomas Aquinas,” in Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth, ed. Bruce L. McCormack and Thomas Joseph White (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 99–127, at 119–20.



to be or indeed can be presupposed—to presuppose it and to pose related questions such as “Would God have been the triune God had he not created the world?” is nonsense without a tacit metaphysical turn to speculation and natural theology with it—since “God’s being is a being in the act of electing that constitutes him as triune—and that is all that can be said.”84

McCormack regards his interpretation of Barth as a “reconstruction” of Barth’s basic position.85 He advances many passages in its favor but argues that others that contradict it are instances of Barth not being consistent with or true to the basic thrust of his work.86 He acknowledges that his reading—in seeing God’s being as self-posited in relation to the divine economy—seems to bring Barth closer to Hegel than is normally thought to be the case, but he points to Barth’s statement from the 1950s that he enjoyed a little “Hegeling” as evidence that Barth was playing with Hegelian ideas.87 He holds to there being a vast difference between the two thinkers but sees his project as building on a whole variety of German critics,88 especially the famous “Hegelian” reading of Barth by Eberhard Jüngel (1934– ).89 Moreover, in a 2010 piece in the Scottish Journal of Theology, responding to a 2008 essay by


83. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 66.

84. McCormack, “Processions and Missions,” 122.

85. McCormack, “Actuality of God,” 211n57.

86. See McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 77; McCormack, “Actuality of God,” 211–12; Bruce L. McCormack, “Election and the Trinity: Theses in Response to George Hunsinger,” SJT 63, no. 2 (2010): 203–24, at 220–21.

87. See Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 387.

88. See McCormack, “Election and the Trinity,” 204n3; McCormack, “Processions and Missions”, 120n57.

89. McCormack, “Seek God Where He May Be Found,” 69–70, 72, 78-79; summary of keynote address of May 15, 2009, 3; McCormack, “Election and the Trinity,” 204–5, 207–10; Bruce L. McCormack, “Let’s Speak Plainly: A Response to Paul Molnar,” Theology Today 67, no. 1 (April 2010): 57–65, at 63n13; Eberhard Jüngel, God’s Being Is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth, trans. John Webster (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001).



Hunsinger,90 McCormack was quite forthright that he is also reading Barth constructively: “With Barth and Beyond Barth.”91

McCormack’s thesis has been developed and nuanced by a few theologians (notably, Kevin Hector), but, more importantly, it has been strongly attacked by a number of eminent Barth scholars (notably George Hunsinger, and especially Paul Molnar) who are particularly concerned by what they see as the Hegelian overtones of McCormack’s reading of Barth.92 These critics claim, with some justification, that just too many passages in Barth contradict McCormack’s thesis. Thus Barth argues in IV/1—so after the key volume of II/2, where he is supposed to be shifting his position following his rediscovery of the doctrine of election—that the second person of the Trinity “in Himself and as such” is not revealed to us, but he is not in se “God the Reconciler [. . .] In Himself and as such He is not Deus pro nobis, either ontologically or epistemologically.” The logos asarkos, Barth argues, is a crucial concept for Trinitarian doctrine when we attempt to understand divine revelation in light of its “free basis” in the inner being and essence of God. However, this does immediately follow (and, as I believe, revealingly) after having said that in this context one must not refer to this second person of the Trinity, logos asarkos, eternal Son or Word, in abstracto, which he then clearly does.93 Furthermore, Barth writes explicitly that “the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God does not rest on the election.”94 Nor is God’s eternal willing of himself as Trinity and the eternal election of God taken to be one act but two, with the first being necessary


90. George Hunsinger, “Election and the Trinity: Twenty-Five Theses on the Theology of Karl Barth,” Modern Theology 24, no. 2 (April 2008): 179–98.

91. McCormack, “Election and the Trinity,” 221–24; and see the constructive McCormack, “Processions and Missions,” 119–26.

92. See Dempsey, Trinity and Election in Contemporary Theology; and Hunsinger, Reading Barth with Charity.

93. CD IV/1, 52, and compare to III/1, 54.

94. CD II/2, 107.



to God as God and the second as an eternal act that God could have chosen not to do.95

The critics of McCormack’s thesis have pointed out that if election precedes the Trinity and grounds it, then, it would seem to be impossible to speak of the freedom of God’s gracious gift in Jesus Christ; that is, the thesis negates God’s freedom to be otherwise than he is in fact for us in Christ because he need not have redeemed us. Furthermore, such a thesis would reject as irredeemable statements in Barth that hold that the Son of God is strictly speaking logos asarkos and that God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could exist separately from God’s self-determination to be God for us in Christ. Election under McCormack’s thesis, it is alleged, becomes necessary for the Trinity to be Trinity. In addition, creation by extension becomes necessary to God and constitutive of the triune being, insofar as the sort of reading of Barth advocated by McCormack and Hector results in the collapse of the immanent and the economic Trinity,96 which, it might be added, seems like it comes dangerously close to a form of pantheism. With such a scheme where triunity is constituted by election, then, it is held, only the Father would be the subject of election and not Christ (as Barth held), as the hypostases of the Son and the Spirit would not take place without the decision of the Father for election—subordinationism results, the Son and the Spirit being bound up with creation and in this way ultimately destroying the eternal koinonia. 97 In fact, election in Barth, they argue, does not give rise to the Trinity, but the Trinity is “election’s essential


95. CD II/1, 590.

96. E.g., Paul D. Molnar, “The Trinity, Election and God’s Ontological Freedom: A Response to Kevin W. Hector,” IJST 8, no. 3 (July 2006): 294–306, at 299; “Can the Electing God Be God without Us? Some Implications of Bruce McCormack’s Understanding of Barth’s Doctrine of Election for the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 49, no. 2 (November 2007): 199–222, at 204, 208–9, 218; and Hunsinger, “Election and the Trinity,” 189, 194–95. See McCormack, “Let’s Speak Plainly,” 63–64.

97. See Hunsinger, “Election and the Trinity,” 192–93; Reading Barth with Charity, 10–38, 157–62.



presupposition and ground.”98 God is absolutely free as the one who loves (immanent Trinity), and by a “free overflow of his love” he eternally determines himself as the God of grace for us (economic Trinity) in Jesus Christ.99

However, Barth also says—different from the passages just cited and seeming to support McCormack and contradict his critics—that in the fullness of the Godhead, where God might have been satisfied with himself, “He wills Himself together with us. He wills Himself in fellowship with us,”100 which is reminiscent of Bulgakov’s later thought, where God as absolute-relative (economic Trinity) is “united and co-posited” with himself as absolute (immanent Trinity).101 A typical passage from CD II/2 says that the triune being “does not exist and cannot be known as a being which rests or moves purely within itself,” since he is not “in abstracto Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the triune God,” but he is Trinity with a “definite purpose and reference; in virtue of the love and freedom in which in the bosom of His triune being He has foreordained Himself from and to all eternity.” One cannot, Barth writes, speak of the being of God without at once speaking of the interna actio of the divine being (election); and, conversely, we cannot speak of election “without speaking of the concrete life of the very being of God.”102 And, even more strongly, he says that “There is no such thing as a will of God apart from the will of Jesus Christ,” since “In no depth of the Godhead shall we encounter any other but Him. There is no such thing as Godhead in itself. Godhead is always the Godhead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But the Father is the Father of Jesus Christ


98. Hunsinger, “Election and the Trinity,” 179; Reading Barth with Charity, 42–72, 157–62.

99. Molnar, “Trinity, Election,” 303–4.

100. CD IV/2, 777.

101. Bulgakov, Nevesta Agntsa, 251; Bulgakov, Bride of the Lamb, 230.

102. CD II/2, 79.



and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”103

Thus Barth seems to say things that back up both McCormack’s reading as well as things that support Hunsinger and Molnar. All of the parties have attempted to save the appearances by contextualizing, historicizing, ignoring, and even sometimes dismissing difficult passages in order to make them cohere in one broad reading of the theologian when there may be a simpler solution: perhaps Barth intended dialectically to say two quite different things; perhaps he even, God forbid, knew he was saying things that were apparently contradictory, could not be synthesized, and needed to be held together through faith. With his doctrine of election he is tracing a dialectical movement of continuity and difference between God and creation, a yes and a no, a free dependence and a dependent freedom of God in relation to creation. But the continuity and difference are always seen together dialectically in and through Jesus Christ. Barth here is in a bit of a bind: on the one hand he wishes to say that what God is in himself is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one who eternally lives and loves104 quite apart from living and loving for us in Jesus Christ. This is not dissimilar to what we saw in Bulgakov, when he described God as absolute, holy Trinity, an eternal selfgiving hypostatic movement generating the eternal Sophia as the love of love, actus purissimus. However, on the other hand, Barth also wishes to say that, precisely because he is God as a free eternal act of love, he has in himself in his essence (understood as an act), in his own being as God, the “basis and prototype” of “creation, reconciliation, the whole Being, speech and action in which He wills to be our God.” The famous phrase, God being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is, “so to speak, ours in advance [sozusagen im voraus


103. CD II/2, 115.

104. CD II/1, 297.



der unsrige].”105 The question is how does one hold these two broad theological positions together without alienating the immanent from the economic Trinity or without collapsing them together. This does not seem so far off then from Bulgakov, with his sophiological antinomism, who faced a similar problem brought on by his own (quite different!) form of christological concentration.

According to Barth, on the one hand, Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father is the subject insofar as in free obedience to the will of his Father He eternally elected himself to be man.106 But, on the other hand, Jesus Christ is the object of divine election as man, the electing God creating humanity over against himself. Yet, in a twist, in electing the Son of Man, God “evokes and awakens faith, and meets and answers that faith as human decision,” so that the Son of Man responds once again as the subject of election by an obedient following after his Father. This human decision is the decision by the Son of Man to follow obediently the Father God, to choose him as his God and Father, so that “for his part man can and actually does elect God thus attesting and activating himself as elected man.”107 The purpose and meaning of the eternal divine election, we are told, is that humanity, who is the one elected from all eternity in Christ, “can and does elect God in return.”108 Jesus Christ is then the subject of election also as its object.

In Jesus Christ, as the revelation of God’s eternal decree, we see not “merely a temporal event, but the eternal will of God temporally actualized and revealed in that event.”109 God’s eternal decree is the “one event” in the bosom of the living God himself in the beginning of all his ways, and this one event is the “history, encounter and


105. CD I/1, 383; KD I/1, 404; and see CD IV/2, 345.

106. CD II/2, 65, 105.

107. CD II/2, 177.

108. CD II/2, 178.

109. CD II/2, 179.



decision between God and man” in Jesus Christ. In Jesus God elects humanity, and this election “becomes actual in man’s own electing of God,” so that he is liberated to do God’s will and thereby has individuality and autonomy before God his Father. But if humanity is freed in this election of God to be autonomous before God, then this incomparable dialogue of two unequal partners in Christ is one where “man can and should elect and affirm and activate himself.”110

Although Barth continually emphasizes the divine sovereignty and initiative in divine election in Christ, one cannot get around the fact, though Barth never uses this language, that if God is elected by humanity, and indeed, his election of humanity is said to be temporally actualized and revealed in Jesus Christ, then not only is humanity the object of election by God as the subject in election, but God is the object of election by humanity as the subject in election. Divine election, then, is not sufficient as a description of God’s gracious choice for us in Christ. To it must be added, at least, divine-human election.

But if the act of Christ in choosing the way of the cross is a divine-human act, then it must be identified with God’s eternal determination of himself as the covenanting God in Christ. Christ goes into the far country, and God determines God-self in him through the application of a definite capacity of power (potentia ordinata) in the choice of a definite divine possibility among “an infinity of very different inward or even outward possibilities” (potentia absoluta).111 Thus we are told that in Christ obediently entering into the far country there is no chance of his being controlled by caprice or chance, since his freedom corresponds “to the potentia ordinata which is the real freedom and omnipotence of God,”112 and because by this ordered power “He acts in the freedom


110. CD II/2, 180.

111. CD II/1, 539.



of God making use of a possibility grounded in the being of God,” which is to be the covenanting God.113 And here we arrive at an unusual and radical conclusion.

If divine election is only actualized in time, then God to be God for us would seem to be freely dependent on humanity, insofar as humanity’s attesting of its own election by God in faith, as an election of God, is freely necessary (as an act of condescension) for God’s own self-determination as God for us in Jesus Christ. This would mean that God, although he is absolutely free, becomes freely dependent on his creation in order to be God for us in Christ, which gives creation a certain necessity for God. In a related fashion, McCormack, Kevin Hector, and Kevin Diller114 all have suggested that for Barth divine absolute freedom in regard to election and self-determination is not incompatible with a variety of nuanced senses of “necessity.” The eternal life-act in which God is the one who loves us in Christ defines his absolute freedom (or, better, is identical with that “freedom” as a perfect synthesis of freedom and necessity), giving creation and redemption thereby a certain “necessity”/“fitness”/“inevitability,” but in this absolute freedom there is no “necessity” insofar as it is the opposite of (or defined over against) “freedom.”115

Barth, quite traditionally, and similar to Bulgakov’s understanding


112. CD II/2, 606.

113. CD IV/1, 194.

114. See McCormack, “Let’s Speak Plainly,” 64; McCormack, “Processions and Missions,” 123–24; Kevin Hector, “God’s Triunity and Self-determination: A Conversation with Karl Barth, Bruce McCormack and Paul Molnar,” IJST 7, no. 3 (July 2005): 246–61; idem, “Immutability, Necessity and Triunity: Towards a Resolution of the Trinity and Election Controversy,” SJT 65, no. 1 (February 2012): 64–81; and Kevin Diller, “Is God Necessarily Who God Is? Alternatives for the Trinity and Election Debate,” SJT 66, no. 2 (2013): 209–20.

115. For these themes in Barth or in a Barthian theology see McCormack, “Let’s Speak Plainly,” 64; McCormack, “Processions and Missions,” 123–24; and see Matthew J. Aragon Bruce, Theology without Voluntarism: Understanding Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Divine Freedom (PhD diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 2013), chap. 5 (thanks to Prof. Bruce for a copy). More generally see Jesse Couenhoven, “The Necessities of Perfect Freedom,” IJST 14, no. 4 (October 2012): 396–419; and Gallaher, Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology, chaps. 1–3, 12.



of God as the absolute, argues that the eternal divine movement of love that is the Holy Trinity, where God wills to be God in himself, is a necessary reality, since God is the “One who properly and necessarily exists” and cannot cease to be such.116 God cannot cease to be God: He is necessarily (and freely and naturally!) God. However, in contrast, he does not stop at the traditional position, in which it is “natural or necessary for God to will himself” and in willing himself being the “basis and standard of everything else,” for in identifying the act of election with the inner life of God as Trinity he ends up arguing that God’s willing of all things ad extra in willing to be God for us in Christ is also necessary. But it is necessary in presupposing freedom: “But He wills freely the possibility and reality of everything else. . . . The will of God is free even in His necessity to will Himself, and necessary even in His freedom to will everything else.”117

Now, this could simply mean that God necessarily has the freedom to will in all his activity, but, given that in Barth election and self-will coincide, it seems more likely that he also is saying that his freedom and necessity coincide118 in willing creation in Christ. God then wills himself and creation in a synthesis of freedom and necessity, but the second willing, which we might call a de facto necessity of divine, loving lordship,119 is ostensibly contingent, although it is unclear why this is the case and what separates it from the first noncontingent willing. In a characteristic dialectical phrase of Barth: “God is not bound to the world. He binds Himself! The covenant is His eternal will, but His free will.”120


116. CD II/1, 305; and see I/1, 434; II/1, 280, 283; IV/2, 40.

117. CD II/1, 591.

118. E.g., CD IV/1, 239; II/1, 547–48.

119. See CD II/1, 301; and see CD I/1, 140: “factual necessity.”

120. Karl Barth’s Table Talk, ed. John D. Godsey (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1963), 14; and compare CD II/1, 260.



All of the tensions I have mentioned come to the surface in Barth when he is discussing creation and covenant. Barth argues, from the side of the dialectic that emphasizes necessity, that if God’s willing of himself is bound up with his choice of humanity in Jesus Christ, then this requires creation to exist as John Calvin’s “theatre of God’s glory”:121 “God’s glory is what he does in the world, but in order to do what he does, he must have this theatre, this place and realm—heaven and earth, creation, the creature, man himself.”122 Indeed, creation is said to be in the will of God the “External Basis of the Covenant,” this covenant with humanity in Christ being determinative of God’s being, but, more importantly in the divine decree, the “Covenant is the Internal Basis of Creation.”123 In other words, creation does not exist independently of God’s reconciliation of humanity with himself, but it is, as it were, spiritually instrumental, by providing the means by which God might redeem us: “Creation is the natural ground for redemption, and redemption is the spiritual ground of creation.”124 Therefore, since Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is in “God’s eternal counsel [Ratschluß, “decree,” “decision,” “resolution”] in the freedom of His love,” it becomes divinely necessary for God to be Creator, although “To be sure, there was no other necessity than that of His own love.”125 God simply must be the Creator of the world if he is to love that creation eternally in Jesus Christ: “If by the Son or the Word of God we understand concretely Jesus, the Christ, and therefore very God and very man, as He existed in the counsel [Ratschluß] of God from all eternity and before creation, we can see how far it was not only appropriate and worthy but necessary that


121. John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. J. K. S. Reid (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 97.

122. Karl Barth, “A Theological Dialogue,” Theology Today 19, no. 2 (July 1962): 171–77, at 172.

123. CD III/1, 94–329.

124. Barth, “Theological Dialogue,” 172.

125. CD III/1, 51, revised: translator has qualified “love” by “free,” contrary to KD III/1, 54; see Bruce, Theology without Voluntarism, chap. 5 (for a new translation and discussion).



God should be Creator.”126 Creation, in Jesus Christ as the elector and the elect, would then seem to have a necessary (de facto) relation to the will and being of God. God has determined himself to be God for us in Christ, but to be such he must be the Creator of the world, for if there is no world then there can be no Christ. Yet as Creator he exists, Barth writes, only together “with this One who also exists as a man,” whose “life-action is identical with that of God Himself, His history with the divine history,” but each and every thing in creation likewise exists together with Christ.

This leads us to the unavoidable consequence that God, to be God as he determines himself, must be the Creator, and as Creator he must be eternally in Christ with us, since he exists with the world in “in an inviolable and indissoluble co-existence and conjunction.”127 This means quite simply that, like Bulgakov before him, Barth argues that the world is an external necessity for God, which then becomes an internal necessity, on one side of the dialectic, but, on the other side, it is not a necessity at all, for God does not need creation. He would still be God without having it as an object to love.

God’s self-determination for us in Christ allows for no independent doctrines of creation and providence and of anthropology outside a creation grounded in the covenant and a humanity that is restored in Christ as the second Adam. The one doctrine remaining dialectically free of this form of christocentrism is the doctrine of God, specifically in regard to the teaching concerning the immanent Trinity. Barth appears to have felt that he had at once to bind the doctrine of God to the doctrine of election and, at once, in contrast, to release the immanent Trinity from this christological concentration in order that God’s own self-determination in Christ would be free grace rather than his self-completion in creation. God is not tied to us as his


126. CD III/1, 51 (KD III/1, 54).

127. CD IV/3, 39–40.



object,128 and God freely loves us as he loves himself as an object, even if we did not exist as an object different from him to love.129 Barth, therefore, refuses to wholly identify the Logos ensarkos and the Logos asarkos or, more precisely, he refuses to deny that God is Logos asarkos, that there is not some (although abstract) internal divine possibility that he could be not the Word incarnate.130 If Barth had simply, without a dialectical assertion to the contrary, identified the immanent and economic Trinities, then that would mean that the ontological possibility that God need not have been with us in Christ would be eliminated, and with it, he believed, the freedom of God as Trinity and the character of grace as a gift that need not have been given.131 The being of God would have been turned from free love into a “world-principle.”132 Grace is both a free gift that need not have been given and the divine givenness of love, which has a de facto necessity, as it is God himself. Barth consciously retained, therefore, even at the cost of dogmatic coherence, as one moment of his dialectic, some notion of the immanent Trinity, because without such a notion, even if largely abstract, he believed that one cannot say that God was free to choose or not to choose to be our gracious Redeemer.133 Dialectic, for Barth, as it is antinomy for Bulgakov, is the means by which he solves the problems he creates for his Trinitarian theology by his christocentrism. Only a dialectically reconceived divine freedom can save us!


128. CD II/2, 6.

129. CD II/1, 280.

130. CD IV/1, 52.

131. CD II/1, 281.

132. CD II/1, 321; cf. IV/1, 187.

133. Cf. Paul D. Molnar, Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity in Dialogue with Karl Barth and Contemporary Theology (New York: T&T Clark, 2002), 62–64, 150–55, 274–77, 312–16.



The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology Is a Renewal of Christology: Beginning and Ending with the Divine Freedom for Creation


Barth’s dialectical response to the problematic thrust on him by his christological concentration and focus on election is very similar to Bulgakov’s antinomy between the absolute and the absolute-relative, which is to affirm in faith a unity between the different sides of the Trinitarian dialectic that God could and could not have acted otherwise in divine election. The two thinkers, though in so many ways vastly different, were grasping toward similar solutions to their common commitment to not think of God apart from his life with us in Jesus Christ. The Trinity, for both men, is not God’s selfidentification apart from and against creation, but his self-identity is Trinity in and through the creation in the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ crucified and risen, according to the Scriptures. The wellknown twentieth-century “renewal of Trinitarian theology” exhibited in the work of Bulgakov and Barth, on this argument, is simultaneously a renewal of Christology.

However, this christological reconception of the Trinity is conceived quite differently according to whether one begins with Barth’s methodological christocentrism or Bulgakov’s sophiology. And, as we have tried to show, sophiology is a type of christocentrism, with its emphasis on divine being as Godmanhood. Barth reconceived the doctrine of God as the free and loving selfdetermination of God as Trinity in creation and redemption in Christ, necessitous only in light of the fact of God’s eternal choice. Bulgakov, in contrast, reconceived the doctrine of God as the free but necessitous love of God (in an eternal synthesis) as Trinity in creation and redemption in Christ. Barth and Bulgakov’s systems, in attempting to embody the necessary but free nature of the incarnation, are not without problems in their respective attempts



to reimagine the doctrine of God in terms of the primacy of Christology. Both thinkers, as I have tried to show, were forced to rethink the meaning of divine freedom as involving necessity, and it is here that we have seen some of their most creative, if not problematic, constructive theology. They knew that if one is resolved to know nothing “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) one must begin and end with the divine freedom of the Trinity for creation.

Bulgakov and Barth both attempted to balance the theological demand for a conception of God’s freedom that would allow him to be utterly transcendent at the same time as it allowed for a conception of the divine economy that conceived it as a necessary reality—neither capricious, nor accidental—fundamental to God’s own self-identity as a free God of love. More technically, the problem of divine freedom and the necessity of love is the problem of how it is possible in theology to think together (in a unity in diversity) God’s existence as an immanent and economic Trinity. Christian theology is always engaged in a balancing act where it simultaneously affirms, in its doctrine of God, the radical transcendence of him who “alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16) and the equally radical immanence of God in creation and creation in God, as given to us in Jesus Christ as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8 KJV; cf. 1 Pet. 1:20). Hence the discussion of divine freedom and the necessity of love here explored in Bulgakov and Barth is far from being of merely metaphysical import. It is part of the gracious appropriation of spiritual freedom for which we were liberated and called by our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and therefore, necessarily, it is the entry into, to adapt a phrase from Barth, “the strange new world within the Bible.”134

Are they twins separated at birth or theologians who have nothing


134. Karl Barth, “The Strange New World within the Bible,” in Word of God and the Word of Man, 28–50.



in common at all? Georges Florovsky’s hypothesis now needs a closer look. Indeed, it may not only advance the election and Trinity debate but also open up a new theological way of thinking about freedom and the Trinity.




Поделиться в социальных сетях: