Barth: the State belongs to the order of redemption

“The State belongs to the order of redemption. It is no accident that the place where the State appears in the Creed is in the second article (‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’) and not in the first article. It is pertinent to add that if we understand the State as an institution of the wisdom and patience of God and do not split up the work of God into various departments but see it as an undivided whole, we shall see the State strictly related to the mercy of God. It is God’s intention to see that His mercy may have scope to unfold on earth. This is in fact the purpose of creation in general, to provide a theatrum gloriae suae (Calvin). In the sphere of nature there is intended to be an order of the grace of God, and this space is guaranteed by the State. If our interpretation of the relationship between the State and the heavenly powers and forces, as expounded in the New Testament, is correct, we shall know that these powers are not almighty but subject to Christ, so that even in the State we are fundamentally in the regnum Christi, which has its centre, however, in the Church. It is also no accident that there is a linguistic affinity between the inner and the outer circle. Christ is called the Messiah, the King of Israel, who has brought in the Kingdom, the basileia. And the polis is the expectation of Christians; they themselves are called citizens and dwellers in the same house together—all these are primarily political concepts which are naturally used metaphorically in the Church, but they do show that the political sphere is related to the ecclesiastical. We have to interpret creation from the standpoint of redemption and not the other way round.”

—Karl Barth, “From the Discussion in Budapest on the Morning of April 1st 1948,” Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings 1946-52 (London: SCM Press, 1954), 94-95.


peter said…
The question is to what extent can or should the State explicitly acknowledge its subservience to the kingdom of Christ. In Desire of the Nations, O'Donovan criticizes Barth on this point, claiming that Barth's conception of the State never rose to meet his radically christocentric doctrine of creation.
Halden said…
That is indeed the question. However, it is really O'Donovan, not Barth that deserves to be critiqued on that front. Barth's reticence towards the state was the result of his radical christocentricism, not a point of inconsistency with it.