John Webster on Barth on self-knowledge

The earlier parts of CD III/2 devote much space to securing one conviction which is basic to Barth’s anthropology and ethics: the conviction that because human persons cannot be defined remoto gratia, apart from the covenant of grace which is the creature’s end, attempts to reach self-definition through self-reflection yield only delusion. “The self-contradiction resulting from our contradiction of God is serious. It really prevents us from understanding ourselves. We are not clear nor transparent to ourselves, nor can we see ourselves from any higher standpoint. We are totally and not just partially incapable of occupying any independent vantage point from the height of which we might penetrate and judge ourselves.” The point here is not simply that Barth, like Calvin, has a profound sense of the ruinous effects of sin on human self-knowledge. It is also that in laying out a procedure for constructing anthropological doctrine, Barth declines to set theological language about humanity in a wider context of human self-reflection.

from Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation, (Cambridge, 1995), 66.

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