Barth's Christological Harmatiology in Mahāyāna Perspective

Barth's Christological Harmatiology in Mahāyāna Perspective

LAI Pan Chiu

The main aim of this essay is twofold. Firstly, it attempts to explore Barth's Christological anthropology and harmatiology, especially their implications for Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Secondly, it endeavors to provide a rejoinder to Andres Tang's response to the present author's previously published essays related to Buddhist-Christian studies.

In the first part of this essay, Barth's anthropology and harmatiology in his Church Dogmatics are explored. In the perspective of Barth's Chalcedonian Christology, especially viewed from the perspective of the resurrected Christ who has overcome sin, sin is considered as an impossible possibility. This implies the view that though sin is a human phenomenon, authentic humanity, as it is revealed in Jesus Christ, excludes sin.

The second part explains the practical considerations and implications underlying Barth's Christological anthropology and harmatiology. For Barth, as possibility sin is regarded as an impossible having no necessity in authentic humanity, which is determined by God's graceful election instead of sin, there is no reason whatsoever to justify it dogmatically or practically. According to Barth, every human being is on the way to sanctification though not everyone has been awakened to faith. This view is similar to the Tathāgatagarbha thought formulated in the Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna.

On the basis of the first two parts, the third part gives a response to Andres Tang's view that Barth's Christology, with its emphasis on Christ's participation in human sinfulness, is very similar to the perfect doctrine proposed by Tien-tai Buddhism, which emphasizes the character of coherence. This paper suggests that this is a rather one-sided reading of Barth's Christology, overlooking the aspects of Barth's Christology explored in the earlier part of this paper. This paper further argues that Barth's Christology as a whole comes even closer to the perfect doctrine proposed by the Hua-yen school of Buddhism, which emphasizes the character of completion; and hence it combines both the characteristics of the perfect doctrine proposed by Hua-yen and Tien-tai.

The last part responds to the first five points raised in Tang's essay published earlier in Hill Road.

Firstly, this paper clarifies that the issue at stake is not whether Christ had a human and sinful body, but whether this sinful body is a necessary and indispensable part of his humanity. This paper reiterates the point that as sin is not a necessary part of humanity, it can be removed without diminishing Christ humanity. In this sense, sinful flesh is not a necessary constituent part of Christ humanity. Its dispensability is demonstrated by the resurrected Christ, who is fully human with a human body but without sin. This paper further suggests that Tang's worry that using the model of “one heart with two gates” of the Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna to explain Christ's humanity will lead to Docetism is not well-grounded. According to the treatise the two gates (one is pure and the other impure) are not actual entities referring to soul and body respectively—impurity to body and purity to soul. Instead , the treatise's view of human nature comes rather close to that of Barth in its affirmation that though impurity is a human phenomenon, authentic humanity remains pure.

Secondly, this paper attempts to clarify what the present author endeavored to discuss in a previous essay is which the term—”sinful flesh” or “sinful nature”—is more adequate. The author did not assume that there were two distinct or separate entities —one is sinful flesh and the other sinful nature.

Thirdly, the author agrees with Tang's suggestion that Irving's understanding of the dependence on the Holy Spirit can be reinterpreted in terms of the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness. However, the author would like to point out that this remains inadequate on two accounts. Considering Irving's anthropology , dependence on the Holy Spirit is only one of the aspects and the other aspect is human free will, which is related to the image of God. Referring to the Chalcedon formula, which emphasizes that the distinctions between the two natures of Christ are preserved in the union, the concept of emptiness as such fails to explain the distinctions between Christ's human and divine natures as both of them are empty. This consideration made the author introduce the doctrine of Tathāgatagarbha in addition to the philosophy of Mādhyamika when attempting to explain the Chalcedon formula in Buddhist terms.

Fourthly, though the primary focus of the Chalcedon formula is the relationship between the two natures, one should not overlook its implication for anthropology. This is because the Chalcedon formula has its soteriological concern and anthropological implications, which have been spelt out by Barth rather clearly . These implications can contribute to a fuller understanding of the formula and are important for Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

Finally, the author basically agrees with the fifth point raised by Tang. What the author stated in his previous essay is not that Tien-tai and Hua-yen are two mutually exclusive systems, but that the criteria for perfect teaching proposed by the two Buddhist schools are incommensurable. While Hua-yen takes eschatological completion as the criterion for perfect teaching, Tien-tai treasures coherence without obstruction or separation as the criterion. However, for individual doctrine, eg Barth's Christology, it is quite possible to combine the features treasured by Tien-tai and Hua-yen respectively.

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