Barth on Anselm (2)

Some reasons why Barth’s Anselm book interests me as a book to focus on this year:

1) Barth sees Anselm as an especially important and relevant theologian.  He calls him “one of those phenomena which simply must be known and respected” (8) and says, “I find more of value and significance in this theologian than in others” (7).  Given Barth’s broad acquaintance with historical theology, I think its worth investigating what it was that made Anselm particularly stand out to him.

2) Barth represents a break from traditional interpretation of Anselm (both liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic).  He says that Kant and Aquinas were at one in their mistaken rejection of Anselm’s argument (8) and sets out to “deal with Anselm quite differently from hitherto” (7).  I think its worth exploring what Barth saw in Anselm that he thought others had missed.

3) Barth’s study on Anselm is important for his own theological development.  Even if we reject von Balthasar’s 3-stage paradigm of Barth’s development (with the shift from dialectical to analogical thought coinciding with the Anselm project) in favor of Bruce McCormack’s 2-stage thesis of post-1915 continuity, there can still be no question of a more general importance to Barth’s 1930-1 Anselm project.  It is, by his own testimony, an integral piece of the puzzle of how his thought continued to unfold throughout his career.  As he puts it: “my interest in Anselm was never a side-issue for me….  In this book on Anselm I am working with a vital key, if not the key, to an understanding of that whole process of thought that has impressed me more and more in my Church Dogmatics as the only one proper to theology.”  Or as he puts it in the Church Dogmatics, II.1: “I learned the fundamental attitude to the problem of the knowledge and existence of God at the feet of Anselm of Canterbury, and in particular from his proofs of God set out in Proslogion 2-4.”  In other words, this little book is not only an important part of the conversation among Anselm scholarship, but a window into Barth’s development.

4) Finally, it deals with some basic issues that have always interested me, like theological epistemology and the ontological argument and the doctrine of God.

I also got Jasper Hopkins’ 1972 book on Anselm, which I’ll read after Barth.  Between these two books, and Ian Logan’s recent book on Proslogion, I think I’ll get pretty well exposed to Anselm scholarship.  Its fun to have a little project to be chipping away at.  A few other isolated books I am hoping to read in 2011:

-Paul Johnson’s biography of Winston Churchill

-Dallimore’s shorter biography of Whitefield

-Metaxas’ biography on Bonhoeffer

-Copleston’s book on Aquinas

-Kostenberger and Swain’s book on Trinitarianism in John in the NSBT series

The Lord of the Rings (maybe I’ll finally finish it!)

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