Maury and Barth on election



In these two extracts below from Pierre Maury and Karl Barth, it is evident how Maury’s paper gave Barth a ‘decisive impetus’ in his massive reworking of the classic Reformed doctrine of predestination/election. As Barth said: “The Christological meaning and basis of the doctrine of election have been brought out afresh in our own time, and with an impressive treatment of Jesus Christ as the original and decisive object of the divine election and rejection. This service has been rendered by Pierre Maury in the fine lecture which he gave on Election et Foi at the Congrès international de théologie calviniste in Geneva, 1936 (published in Foi et Vie, April–May 1936, and in German under the title “Erwählung und Glaube” in Theol. Studien, Heft 8, 1940). That Congress dealt exclusively with the problem of predestination, and its records will easily show how instructive was Maury’s contribution, and how it stood out from the other papers, which were interesting historically but in content moved entirely within the circle of the traditional formulations, and were almost hopelessly embarrassed by their difficulties” (Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2, 154–5).

Below is an extract from my revised translation of Maury’s 1936 paper Election and Faith (Hattrell, Simon. Ed, Election, Barth and the French Connection, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016, 38-41).

…..Who else but he (God) could tell us that we really need election, that is to say, that we really are lost? When we look at ourselves, when we count up, by ourselves, our virtues and our failures, we would not know how to come up to such a rigorous standard, to the necessity of such a complete gift; we would still think we have some merit in the eyes of God. In Christ, that is to say, before his cross, there is only one truth, that is that he dies because of us. This is because we do not love God; this is the cause of our election, not we ourselves, because we too say: Here’s the heir, come on, let us kill him! Before the cross, before this sole place in the world, all virtues die, because we see clearly there that it is these virtues as much as vices which cause the death of the Holy and Righteous One. Before the cross we know—and we know it for ourselves—who are the elect and what election truly is: election of enemies of God, of the torturers of Christ. The elect will always be taken from among those who surround the cross, from amongst those who cry out “Crucify!” and amongst those who remained quiet, amongst those who did nothing, those who could do nothing. “It was necessary that the Son of Man be rejected.” Before the cross, too, we understand this paradox: the price of free election. For if election does not cost us anything, for God it cost his Son. For God to extend grace is to give everything, to give everything for us who cannot give him anything. There is in this word grace, which we often use very lightly, a frightening aspect. In the cross of Christ we find the mortal pains of the choice that God has made concerning us. Grace, the sheer gift of election, is the agony of Gethsemane; it is the suffering undergone right up to the harrowing cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is heaven closed. This is the Son who is no longer with the Father, because the Father is no longer with the Son. And this is, in heaven, the Father who has truly given his Son, totally abandoning him for us who had abandoned him to death. This is the night of the ninth hour. What does this darkness mean? Revelation says: punishment. And the Son believes it. Punishment, God’s wrath. The only one who will understand grace in election is the same one who understands that it is fulfilled in Christ dying, smitten by God, deserted by men. The only one who will understand how election extends grace is the one who, before the cross, does not come with arguments or with good works, with religious emotion or objections, but who stands there speechless because they have nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing to put forward. I know very well that it is not easy to trust. Here too, it is easier to argue or be unbelieving, easier to line up our questions or to say Was it really necessary for this substitution to take place? Let us put aside all these easy solutions so that this cross is not rendered powerless. All our denials will have no hope of changing the word of the Son of God himself: “The Son of man must be crucified!”

So here we are introduced to the first mystery of predestination, but introduced by the true way which is Christ: the mystery of the wrath of God. Here, we particularly see that election means ruin as much as salvation, rejection as much as adoption, that God’s choice has a ring of death about it. If election was not in Christ there would not be any double predestination, and we would not know that God is the one who causes death as much as he makes alive in order to give life. We would not know, because we would not have really encountered him, that “it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” We cannot speak of perdition[1] concerning the intention of God except at calvary, but there we have to speak of it. But what will we come and say, with all our false scales and our theories about divine justice? Did Jesus Christ protest against this justice? Did he accuse his Father? Did he renounce his existence and submit himself there to do the will of God? Did he contest with the God who inflicts mortal punishment? Did he doubt the God who abandoned him? Where then is faith? In us, with all our reasonable questions, our pious arguments about the love of God? Is it in us or in Christ?

We can go further here, those of us who say, regarding election, that it is not right that God treats each of us in the same way. In fact, he does not treat Jesus Christ and us in the same way. He strikes him, while welcoming us; he causes him to die while letting us off. If he punishes him, it is so that he can extend peace to us. This is the wonder of “negative” election, as we say. It affects the only one who did not deserve it. We are not subjected to it, we will not be subject to what the Christ was subject to and to which he should not have been subject to. The cross is unjust like election, but this injustice is our righteousness.

Whoever has understood that, whoever does not speak of this too hastily, can rejoice that such is the secret of God. He can move forward in this mystery and know that, all things considered, election is always positive when it is in Christ, that it has only been negative for him on Good Friday. Before the cross we do not understand and we worship, we do not question, we bless. And whom would we worship if not the one who has extended grace toward us? Why would we not bless, if not because of his positive grace? The cross where Christ is condemned does not condemn us, it makes us children of God. By it we pass from death to life, because the Son has made our death his and here more than ever, as Paul says “There is only yes in him.”[2]

Once more, let us say it again, that this is only true in Christ, that is to say, before the cross, in faith. Here, here alone, here truly, faith knows that double predestination has become simple and that “God is love.” This is because they have known it; this is because they have believed it, which Calvin and so many others have above all sung about, uniquely, the joy of election. Not that they were hard of heart—harder than us—that is to say more knowledgeable and more proud in their chosen discipline. Just simply, that they had understood that in Christ crucified there is only cause for the believer to experience a triumphant joy. Believing, from now on believing here in their election, cannot be to believe in their own perdition.[3] In the same way, the Apostles Creed does not say, in the third article: I believe in eternal death—but nevertheless it does not say: there is no eternal death—so in the same way, in Christ—without ever denying that one cannot not be in Christ—there is no negative election.

Below is an extract from Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics II/2, (Bromiley, Geoffrey William ; Torrance, Thomas F.: Church Dogmatics, Volume II: The Doctrine of God, Part 2. Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 2004, S. 167)

The exchange which took place on Golgotha, when God chose as His throne the malefactor’s cross, when the Son of God bore what the son of man ought to have borne, took place once and for all in fulfilment of God’s eternal will, and it can never be reversed. There is no condemnation—literally none—for those that are in Christ Jesus. For this reason faith in the divine predestination as such and per se means faith in the non-rejection of man, or disbelief in his rejection. Man is not rejected. In God’s eternal purpose it is God Himself who is rejected in His Son. The self-giving of God consists, the giving and sending of His Son is fulfilled, in the fact that He is rejected in order that we might not be rejected. Predestination means that from all eternity God has determined upon man’s acquittal at His own cost. It means that God has ordained that in the place of the one acquitted He Himself should be perishing and abandoned and rejected—the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. There is, then, no background, no decretum absolutum, no mystery of the divine good-pleasure, in which predestination might just as well be man’s rejection. On the contrary, when we look into the innermost recesses of the divine good-pleasure, predestination is the non-rejection of man. It is so because it is the rejection of the Son of God. It is so because it is indeed a foreordination of the necessary revelation of divine wrath—but a revelation whose reality was God’s own suffering in Jesus Christ. Only if we are unbelieving or disobedient or unthankful in face of what is ordained for us, only if we misunderstand completely the divine predestination, can we think of this revelation as something which has to do with our own suffering. If in face of the divine predestination we are believing and obedient and thankful, if we have a right understanding of its mystery, we shall never find there the decreed rejection either of ourselves or of any other men. This is not because we did not deserve rejection, but because God did not will it, because God willed the rejection of His Son in our stead.

[1] Or “ruin.”

[2]. Maury appears to be alluding to Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:20: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ..” (NIV).

[3]. Or “ruin.”

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