Karl Barth on Chalcedon -- By: Cornelius Van Til

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 22:2 (May 1960)
Article: Karl Barth on Chalcedon
Author: Cornelius Van Til


Karl Barth on Chalcedon

Cornelius Van Til

As is well known Karl Barth seeks to construct his theology along strictly Christological lines. And for him the incarnation of Jesus Christ is at the center of a true Christology. It is no marvel then that he has concerned himself again and again with the Chalcedonian creed. Barth asks whether the Chalcedonian creed has given adequate expression to the fact that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man. It surely means to do so. But it must be remembered that the decisions of Chalcedon as well as the decision of other councils of the early church were polemical in character. They sought to “delimit and clarify at a specific point”.1 The decisions of Chalcedon are therefore to be used as guidelines, and not “as they have been used, as stones for the construction of an abstract doctrine of” the person of Christ.2

The men of Chalcedon were certainly right in holding that the divine and the human natures of Christ must not be confused. The men of Chalcedon were also right in maintaining that the two natures of Christ must be brought into genuine union with one another. Christ is vere Deus and vere homo. “And the more exact determination of the relationship between God and man in the famous Chalcedonian definition, which has become normative for all subsequent development in this dogma and dogmatics, is one which in our understanding has shown itself to be factually right and necessary.”3

The formula of Chalcedon can, however, be easily misused. It can be so used that by means of it God is kept from becoming really man in Christ and man is kept from participation in the being of God through Christ. It was thus misused by

orthodox theology. Orthodoxy had a static notion of the immutability of God. This notion acted like a “Soviet veto” against the idea that God could be really man in Christ.4 “It is only the pride of man, making a god in its own image, that will not hear of a determination of divine essence in Jesus Christ. The presupposition of all earlier Christology has suffered from this pride—from the fathers to both Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxy. This presupposition was a Greek conception of God, according to which God was far too exalted for His address to man, His incarnation, and therefore the reconciliation of the world and Himself, to mean anything at all for Himself, or in any way to affect His Godhead. In other words, He was the prisoner of His own Godhead.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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