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The Status of Woman in the Thought of Karl Barth

The Status of Woman in the Thought of Karl Barth

Paul S. Fiddes
First published as Ch. 9,in After Eve,
edited by Janet Martin Soskice.
Collins Marshall Pickering 1990
Reproduced on our website with the necessary permissions

At the assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, in 1948, Karl Barth spent every afternoon chairing a committee on 'The Life and Work of Women in the Church'. In a letter written at the time Barth records his impression of this occasion, regretting his failure to convince the women present that: '. . . besides writing Galatians 3.28 (which was about the one thing that they joyfully affirmed), Paul also said several other things on the relation between men and women which were important and right', (1)

Without doubt, one of the texts to which Barth must have drawn their attention was 1 Corinthians 11.3, since he gives extended attention to it in several places in his Church Dogmatics: 'While every man has Christ for his head, woman's head is man, as Christ's head is God.' (2) It is apt to begin our enquiry into Barth's thought on the status of women with his exegesis of this text, not only because it provides us with a direct way into his convictions on the theme, but also because it hints at some open-endedness in his thinking. As so often with Barth, although he is constructing a complete theological system which appears on the surface to be a seamless garment of tight argument, in fact he leaves loose ends which his readers may knit up into new patterns,

1. The Covenant Relationship

In his discussion of Paul's sentence in 1 Corinthians 11.3, Barth makes the central point that Paul is not presenting a hierarchy of headship, as if there were a chain of subordination stretching from God the Father, to God the Son, to man and finally to woman (at the bottom of the pecking order). He observes that the apparently untidy order in which man, Christ, woman and God are mentioned makes clear that they are not being arranged in a scale: 'They contain neither deduction from above downwards nor induction from below upwards.' (3) This is not a hierarchy at all, but a comparison of sets of relationships - God with Christ, Christ with humankind and man with woman. To these three sets Barth adds the further one from a similar passage in Ephesians 5.22-3 - that between Christ and the Church. In the wider context of Earth's theology, these relationships are to be understood as covenants, and they stand in analogy to each other. The creaturely covenant relationship between man and woman is part of the covenant between human beings in general; this reflects the covenant between Jesus Christ and human beings, which is modelled on the covenant between God and the man Jesus, which is finally an image of the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son in the love of the Spirit.(4) In the last resort, then, Barth dares to say that the personal relationship between male and female is an image of the relations between the Persons of the Trinity. (5)

Of course, there is no possibility, in Earth's view, that these correspondences might be 'analogies of being' in the sense of classical theology. Though Barth does not always seem to understand what the scholastic theologians meant by an 'analogy of being', (6) he is emphatic that the human reason cannot discover these 'analogies of relation' for itself by reflecting upon the natural world; nor is there a graded ascent of levels of being linking God and humanity. For Barth, there is an infinite difference between Creator and creature, and the human mind can have no knowledge of God based upon human experience; all that is known of God must be revealed to human beings by God himself, through his Word. Rather, these analogies are 'analogies of grace', set up by God's free and gracious decision; they are also 'analogies of faith', which are revealed by God, and which in themselves offer no way into a knowledge of God. (7) We shall be returning to this theology of the Word of God in a moment.

In this text, then, Barth perceives not a 'ladder' of subordination, but a parallel series of I-Thou relationships. There is no question, for instance, of woman having access to God through man as her mediator. (8) Nor is there any implied domination, with ascending levels of power, as if man is to rule woman as God rules the universe. Man and woman are equal before God in their creaturely existence; they stand in exactly the same relationship to the Creator and Redeemer of their lives.(9) They are also equal in the sense that they equally need each other; they can only truly be male and female through their orientation to each other. The male, for example, only discovers what maleness means in fellowship with woman; here Barth makes the suggestion that 'the very dubious masculine enterprise of war' would become intrinsically impossible if the male remembered that his encounter with woman was the norm for all human encounters.(10) In this passage in 1 Corinthians 11, Barth identifies the focal place of verse 11: 'in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman'.

However, the conclusion which Barth draws from the statements of verse 3 about headship, is that there is an area in which man and woman are not equal; they are not equal in the order of function which God has allotted to them. It is the place of woman to be subordinate and submissive to man, and this is made clear by the analogy of covenants. As the Father comes before the Son in order of origin in the Godhead, and as the Triune God comes before the world, so man comes before woman.(11)The story of creation in Genesis 2, in which woman is taken out of man, portrays this truth of divine ordering. The man comes 'before' woman in the sense that he 'takes the lead as the inspirer, leader and initiator in their common being and action', (12) Conversely, as the Son is obedient to the Father, the creature to Creator, and the Christian community to Christ, so the woman is to submit to man, in the sense that she follows the initiative he takes. Barth works very hard at showing that this superordination of man is nothing to do with exaltation, superiority or oppression; it is merely a matter of function. Each partner is equally free, and equally honoured, in his or her own task.

Woman does not come short of man in any way, nor renounce her right, dignity and honour, nor make any surrender, when theoretically and practically she recognises that in order she is woman, and therefore [not A but] B and therefore behind and subordinate to man . . . that she is ordered, related and directed to man and thus has to follow the initiative which he must take. (13)

Such a difference in function does not glorify the status of man over woman, according to Earth, or give the male any right to oppress the female. He finds the controlling thought in the passage from Ephesians 5 to be the verse commanding husband and wife to be 'subject to one another out of reverence to Christ' (5.21); this he understands to be the principle that each should give what is due to the other because of the task assigned them. It has, he comments, 'nothing to do with patriarchalism, or with a hierarchy of domestic and civil values and powers'. (14)

Neither, Barth asserts, can this functional difference be founded upon any different gender characteristics which might bind men and women to certain vocations. Barth rejects a typology of the sexes, such as the view that man is the natural leader because of his hunting and aggressive instincts, and that the woman is the natural follower because of her guarding and tending instincts.(15) In rejecting these typologies, Barth comes surprisingly close to one strand in the modern feminist movement, which regards attempts to identify gender differences as cultural stereotyping. There is a strong (though not universal) feminist opinion that all so-called feminine aspects of the human personality are gender roles created by a male, patriarchal culture, and are part of the oppression of women by men.(16) It is men who have turned biological, or reproductive, differences into gender differences in order to subordinate women and limit their opportunities, ('The woman's place is in the home', 'not a suitable job for a woman', and so on.) While radical feminists reject gender differences altogether, Barth's point is that such characteristics, together with different functions, are called into being by the divine command. In Barth's view, the woman is submissive because God has called her to this vocation, not because she has certain natural qualities which suit her for it. Indeed, Barth has such a high view of the freedom of God's word that he believes the call to men and women to be true to their sex may take new and surprising forms, 'right outside the systems in which we like to think'(17) This is one of those open ends in Barth's thought that I want to take up later.

Basically, however, Barth is an eloquent advocate of the case for woman as 'submissive but equal', or 'subordinate in function but not in dignity'. This is a common approach to the question of women's rights and status in the Church today, and for myself I affirm that I share the feeling of many women that they are being condescended to, when it is urged that following the leadership of men in the family or in the Church does not make them any less equal or less free, but only different in their vocation.(18) If we agree with Barth that the covenant idea does present the partners as having a difference of function (and I certainly want to argue this), nevertheless we may still question whether the functional difference has to include the elements of subordination and superordination. We might well ask, with the women at the Amsterdam conference, whether the insight of Paul at least in Galatians 3.28 is not more radical than this: 'In Christ Jesus there is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female.' In fact, Barth himself hints at other ways ahead, and we can see this most clearly if we take two key points in his exposition of the human and divine covenant relationships, as they are revealed in the text of I Corinthians 11.3. We must first consider more exactly the way that Barth tries to defend the dignity and freedom of woman in her role, and second we must reflect further on the Trinity as an image of human partnership.

2. The honour of woman's service

Barth claims, as we have seen, that the subordination of women to male leadership is not an inferior status. It is a place of great honour. In the first place, this is because the vocations of men and women must be understood to be 'in Christ'. Barth plucks this phrase from Paul, and not least from the passage in 1 Corinthians II we have been discussing. Christ is the centre of the whole argument. The subordination and superordination, leading and following, which women and men exercise belong to Christ himself; men and women only represent these aspects. If the role of the woman is compared to Christ in his obedience and humiliation before his Father ('Christ's head is God'), in accepting the role of suffering unto death, then we find both exaltation and lowliness in Christ. Christ is 'the sum of all subordination and stands relatively much lower than woman under man', just as he is the sum of all superordination.(19) Woman only represents the submission of Christ, as the man only represents his cosmic leadership. So male and female functions are not a matter of 'greater or less', for they are 'the affair of Christ'; man and woman thus have equal honour in being assigned these roles. Correspondingly, they are both equally obedient to Christ in taking these roles up. In submitting to male leadership and initiative, the woman is not obeying the man; she is obeying Christ, or the order which God has established in Christ. Likewise the man is obedient in taking up the task of being submitted to. There is no question of ruling or oppressing here. Thus when we turn to the analogy between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5.22-3) we find Barth stressing that the husband as 'head' of the wife must love her with the same humble self-giving love with which Christ loved the Church.(20)

A second point made by Barth leads on from this first one. If we consider the analogy of headship between Christ and his Father, then we find that the humility of Christ is in harmony with his majesty, not in contradiction of it. A fundamental feature of Barth's Christology is his assertion that Christ is most divine in his lowly and suffering humanity; if we want to know the true nature of divinity then we do not begin with preconceived notions of a universal ruler. These are human and idolatrous ideas; we begin where God has actually revealed himself, in the stable at Bethlehem and the cross at Calvary. This is what divinity is like; in Christ Lordship and Service are the same final word.(21) The humanity of Christ is the humanity of God. If we protest that God cannot be limited and conditioned by his world and face death for our sake, then we are simply showing our pagan preconceptions; God is free to be and to do all this.(22) Thus, for woman to represent the humility and service of Christ is in fact to represent his divine Majesty. It is the eternal glory of Christ, his true divinity, to be obedient to the Father.

Barth's third argument for the honour of woman's service is based on the analogy between Christ and his Church. The Church is the human community which listens to the word of God; for humankind becomes truly human when it is the hearer and receiver of the word. In this it simply receives a gift, for there is nothing in the human mind that can make it capable of hearing the word. We cannot hear the word, and yet we do hear by a miracle of God's grace; we cannot speak the word back to God, and yet we must..(23)Now, the prime New Testament example of the receiver of the word is Mary the Mother of Jesus, and as such she is the prototype of all true humanity. The virgin birth, Barth explains, is a sign of pure receptivity; in face of the creative activity of God, the whole human race is virgo, that is: '. . . in the form of non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign man, only in the form of man who can merely receive, merely be ready, merely let something be done to and with himself.(24)Not only Mary, but the whole of Mary's sex is in Barth's view a representative of this listener to the word, since Paul explicitly compares woman to the Christian community in drawing the analogy between husband as head of wife and Christ as head of the Church (Eph. 5.23). This means, concludes Barth, that woman actually has the honour of representing the redeemed community; 'the advantage of the wife, her birthright' (says Barth) is that she, not the man, attests the reality of the Church as it listens to Christ. If the wife fulfils her function in being submissive to her husband as the whole community is subordinate to Christ, then: '. . . the wife is not less but greater than her husband in the community. She is not the second but the first. In a qualified sense she is the community. The husband has no option but to order himself by the wife as she is subordinate in this way.'(25)

Barth adds that 'the curious wish of Schleiermacher that he had been a woman is not so foolish when seen against this background'. Elsewhere, Barth offers the interesting judgment on this nineteenth century theologian, that in his development of a theology of absolute dependence he had allowed the feminine aspects of his nature to outweigh the masculine. Barth says that he does not judge Schleiermacher for this, as 'there have always been far too many male or masculine theologians', and it makes Schleiermacher 'more interesting and lovable than the majority of those who despise him'(26)

It would be hard to state better the case for the woman as 'submissive, but of equal honour': (a) the woman represents the humility of Christ, not her own; (b) this humility is in fact true glory; (c) the woman represents the whole Christian community. But I am, I confess, left very uneasy. There is a smack of masculine patronising about all this, as if the woman is to be persuaded, against her immediate reactions, that all is for the best when she admits the leadership and inspiration of man. In fact, I suggest that these very arguments may point in a rather different direction from the one which Barth intends.

(1) To begin with, if we take up Barth's description of woman as the archetypal hearer of the word of God in Christ, it would be unfair to conclude that Barth is simply placing the woman passively in the congregation of the Church, while the masculine clergy proclaim the word. This is a criticism made by one feminist theologian, Joan Romero, who complains that Barth is making the congregation take on a feminine role, 'passive and dependent'.(27) But Barth's point is that human beings can only witness to the divine word (Christ) in preaching, if they are themselves hearers of the word. It is the free act of God that he takes the human word and makes it a vehicle for the divine word, when the speaker is a listener. Barth does not only argue the need for passive receptivity in presence of the divine word; he urges a responsible speaking of the word which is required from human beings whose minds have been renewed by the Spirit. While we must not confuse the human word with the divine word, God only speaks his word (that is, unveils his very personality) through secular things such as human speech.(28) In the dialogue of the word, God calls human beings to return his own word to him.

Here again it seems to me that Joan Romero, with a proper concern about the subjection of women, has overplayed the 'master-servant' relation between God and humankind in Barth's thought. Barth believes that God could have been content to speak his word to himself, within the conversation partners of the Trinity, but as a matter of fact he has chosen to open out the circle of word and fellowship to creatures, and there is no going back on that eternal decision.(29) In the freedom of God to be what he chooses to be, he has chosen to include humanity within his own covenant life, as hearer and speaker of the word. The primordial decision of the Father, deep in eternity, is that the eternal Son should be identified with a human being, Jesus Christ. In determining his own manner of being as Son and Father in the fellowship of the Spirit, God also chooses humankind (30)and so takes the first step on his costly journey into the far country of the human world. So there is humanity in God, and a place for human speech.

Thus, the perfect hearer of the word is also the most responsible speaker of the word. And in Barth's view, Mary and all womankind are the archetypal listeners. One might say that Barth's logic would lead to the view that the best preacher would be a woman! This is rather in tension with his view that the woman's task is to follow the inspiration offered by the man, but here Barth's own theology may speak more truly than he imagines. In fact, Barth is rather cautious about drawing absolute rules from the rare injunctions in the New Testament that women should be silent in church, particularly in 1 Corinthians 14.34-5. Barth comments that the underlying principle here is that the command of God puts men and women in their proper place, but that this is a living command and not a dead law: so 'interpretations may vary as to where this place is, for the Lord is a living Lord and his command is ever new'. The essential point is that woman should always be woman, though 'it is undoubtedly the case that woman may also . . . speak in the assembly'(31)

In this flexibility one may perhaps trace the results of mutual discussion between Barth and his secretary, assistant and companion in the great labour of the Church Dogmatics, the remarkable Charlotte Von Kirschbaum. In his exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 Barth acknowledges that her own book, The Real Woman (1949) is 'along the same lines'. No doubt Barth understood their collaboration throughout the volumes of the Dogmatics from 1929 to 1965 as a matter of the woman's 'actualising the fellowship in which man can only precede her, stimulating, leading and inspiring'.(32) At any rate, in a lecture in 1951 entitled 'The Service of Woman in the Proclamation of the Word',(33) Von Kirschbaum builds a plea for the recognition of women ministers upon the Barthian argument of the woman as hearer of the word.

The implications of this argument reach, of course, beyond the question of women preachers, for Barth's whole view of humankind is as receiver of the divine word, which strikes at its existence and renews it. If the woman represents the true receiver of the word, one might think the logic to be that she would also be an initiator, inspirer and leader on the human scene.

(2) If it be protested that according to the series of analogies, it is still the man who represents Christ, who is the divine word, we notice that the terms of the analogies actually overlap. This is especially the case in Barth's presentation of the humble obedience of Christ, which is the centre point of his whole theology. In the comparison of husband and wife on the one hand, with Christ and his Church on the other, it is supposedly the wife who is to be submissive, representing the community. But, in dealing with the analogy of God as head of Christ, Barth rightly points out that there is no submission as utter and complete as that of Christ himself. No one else has been so abased. So from the perspective of one analogy it is the husband who is to represent the sacrificial and humble love of Christ, while from another it is the wife. The distinction between the submitting of the wife and the loving leadership of the man thus seems to have evaporated. It has been swallowed up in the glory and the humility of the cross. If we follow analogies of covenant, it is therefore an elusive task to try to allot the contrasting characteristics of Christ - his lordship and service, his divinity and humanity, his superordination and his subordination - to man and woman respectively. Barth tries to do this - 'His is the place of man, and His is the place of woman'.(34) But the very elusiveness of this placing ought to warn us that while human beings can bear the image of Christ as truly human, his attributes cannot be exclusively distributed between the sexes. This might in fact well lead us to a view of an overlap of true male and female qualities in men and women, a suggestion to which I want to return.

(3) But before that, there is a third point of expansion of Barth's argument about the honour of women. He is rightly troubled -even indignant - about the oppression of women by men. Since, in his view, the submission of women is to the order of Christ, there should be no question of men lording it over women. Here he refers with approval to the work of Simone de Beauvoir, and her unmasking of the myth of the 'eternal feminine' by which man makes himself master of woman.(35) But the question therefore arises as to how the emancipation of woman which Barth desires can come about. He suggests that if women remain quietly submissive under the arrogance and injustice of men, this witness will win them to repentance. If the woman keeps her place in the divine order, and is not incited into disobedience, she will shame the man into returning to his obedience and his place(36) This is also the strategy commended by Charlotte Von Kirschbaum in her study, but one is forced to doubt whether it is likely to succeed. If experience shows that it only confirms the oppression of women, one is bound to suspect this is a clue to a flaw in the whole argument. If men do not return to what Barth considers to be their proper place through the witness of the women who keep their place, one must ask whether the places have been rightly identified.

3 The image of the Trinity

We must return now to the analogy which Barth finds between the persons of the Trinity and human I-Thou relationships, typified in the male-female relationship. Barth finds a point of departure for this comparison in Genesis 1.27: 'in the image of God he created [man]; male and female he created them'. This Barth understands to mean that being created in the image of God consists in our human relationships as male and female.(37) Barth's argument is of course wider than comment on one text, finding a correspondence between the eternal covenant in which God freely determines his being as communion between Father and Son, and the covenant relationship between human persons in which they are free for each other. The consequent analogy between God as the head of Christ and man as the head of woman (1 Cor. 11.3) raises, however, some implications which Barth himself seerns unwilling to recognise.

In his exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity, Barth employs the traditional idea of perichoresis or the total indwelling of each Person in the other.(38)The Persons mutually interpenetrate in their modes of being, so that God is one complex Personality, thrice the divine 'I' one God in threefold self-repetition.(39) This means, for instance, that while the Son is the 'elected' God because he is chosen to be identified with the man Jesus, he freely shares in that choice and so can also be called the 'electing' God.(40) So the Persons of the Trinity, although they are distinct, share their functions with each other. If the male—female relationship is an image of the Trinity, we might well ask whether the doctrine of God himself does not provide a basis for sharing of functions and vocations between men and women. If human personal relationships are a copy of the relationships within God, then ought we not to look for a kind of perichoresis in human sexuality?

Barth firmly answers no, but the way he says it leaves some open ends. Barth explains that there is an interchange of functions among the divine Persons because they make up One divine Personality: there are not three 'I's and three 'Lords' but one Lord and one divine I. Human persons do not make up one individual identity. Commenting further on Genesis 1.27, Barth therefore adds that there cannot be an exact analogy with human relationships.(41) The sexual difference is the sign of the creature, and humankind stands before God in the 'either/or' of male and female. Human beings must be obedient to God by affirming their sexual difference, and this for Barth includes the difference of function to which God has called them.

However, in Barth's own thought there is some reason for finding a closer analogy between the fellowship of the Trinity and human community than this. After all, while God is One Personality he cannot be an individual being; Barth affirms that the divine 'I' eternally repeats himself in three modes of being, and this prevents us from any idolatrous thoughts about God as an 'Ego' just like a human individual.(42) This divine 'I' is free to be Spirit and Son as well as Father, to be in relationship and not in solitude. Of course, the Persons of the Trinity do not differ in sex, but Barth insists they do differ in order of origin - the Father, for instance, does not exchange his fatherhood with the Son; yet this does not prevent their sharing their acts of love and creation in the world. From another angle, we see that the person in a human society also has open boundaries; to be a person is to live in encounter, in mutual participation, and not as a private individual. All this might incline us to look for some interchange of function and characteristics between men and women, a perichoresis having some analogy at least to the sharing within the Trinity.

Barth's profound perception into Genesis 1.27 is surely that the human person can only be understood in terms of a free giving and receiving within relationships, in the image of the divine Persons. Barth has moved too quickly from the concept of person to that of 'nature' when he finds the subordination of the divine Son mirrored in the human female gender; but he does rightly see that if the image of God is to do with personal relationships, it must have some relevance to the particular human relationship between the sexes. This, I suggest, would lead us to find a reflection of perichoresis as well as difference in the partnership of men and women.

Barth in fact distinguishes between two kinds of attempt that women might make to transcend their gender difference from men, to embark upon 'a flight from one's own sex'. On the one hand, the woman might try to deny any gender difference at all, beyond a mere reproductive specialisation (a biological fact which cannot be denied). She might quest for a 'neutral humanity' which is neither male nor female but simply human. She might reject the idea of any distinct feminine qualities and functions at all, as a trap laid by males to force her into conforming to their social stereotypes. Barth mentions Simone de Beauvoir as such a feminist, with her key phrase 'one is not born a woman, but one becomes it'(43) Earth judges this to be a false reaction to male oppression, and a loss of humanity rather than a gaining of it. We ought to notice here that not all feminists agree that there are no distinct female qualities; some regret that male society has suppressed healthy female insights and approaches, and they prefer to live in women's communes where neglected qualities can flourish. In this alternative to male society, mutual creativity is to be fostered rather than competitiveness, intuition is to supplement (but not replace) argument, and the spirit of reconciliation overcomes possessiveness. If these admirable qualities are to emerge from a woman-centred culture, it does seem to be implied that they are somehow 'womanlike'. Of course, feminists will always insist that no jobs or vocations should be considered suitable or unsuitable for women on account of any presumed gender difference. Barth, as we have seen, agrees with that, but still maintains a difference of vocation based on something else - the divine command.

This brings us to the second way in which Barth finds women denying their sex and so their humanity, which is founded in the either/or of male and female. The female, he suggests, might attempt an exchange of vocation and role with the male - that is, might attempt to replace her vocation of following with his vocation of leading and inspiring. Here Barth returns to the incident described in 1 Corinthians 11 which sparked off Paul's text about headship; the women at Corinth were refusing to wear veils, and the issue here, as Barth sees it, is not the veils themselves but the fact that the women were not accepting their role as women. The veil was only the form in which the difference between male and female functions was expressed, and was really quite incidental in itself.(44) (It is, we might say, as incidental as the lost handkerchief in Othello.) As Barth reconstructs the affair, the women were 'in flight from their sex', and so from their humanity, perhaps misled by enthusiastic reports of what Paul had said in Galatians 3.28 about there being neither male nor female in Christ.

Here it seems to me that Barth's argument against role-sharing is not as strong as his argument against a neutralising of sex altogether. I mean this not only from the critic's point of view, but from what he himself has to say. In the first place, he readily admits that what the female (and male) vocation might be in any age and place is an open issue:

The question what specific activity woman will claim and make her own as woman ought certainly to be posed in each specific case as it arises, not in the light of traditional misconceptions . . . Above all, woman herself ought not to allow the uncalled-for illusions of man, and his attempts to dictate what is suitable for her and what is not, to deter her from seriously and continually putting this question to herself.(45)

The form of the divine command will differ from age to age. One might then enquire of Barth whether in our age the divine command might be taking the form of an exchange of functions and a sharing of traditional roles. Such a radical extension of Barth's thought would be in line with the Apostle Paul himself if a widespread modern exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11 is correct. Several commentators interpret Paul as insisting upon women wearing a veil because it is the sign of their own authority to prophesy and pray, a mark of their new freedom in Christ.(46)

Another point Barth himself makes is that the meaning of what it is to be male and female only emerges in their mutual fellowship and encounter. We can have no totally preconceived ideas about the nature of the sexes until one defines the other. In accord with this, Barth's interpretation of the famous text of Galatians 3.28 is that 'The male is a male in the Lord only, but precisely, to the extent that he is with the female, and the female likewise.' Barth himself believes that this principle of reciprocity takes 'absolute precedence' over any difference in order between male and female.(47) We might then ask whether their vocations can be defined in advance in the way that Barth presumes to do; perhaps his .description of the difference as lying between inspiring and following is just such a preconception.

If we accept Barth's insight into an analogy of covenant between male and female, God and man, divine Father and Son, then we are bound to agree that there are differences of function between men and women. But we might also conclude from a comparison with the Trinitarian doctrine of God that there is a mutual sharing of function and activity between them. The situation is, of course, a complicated one. A perichoresis or mutual interchange of functions and qualities cannot be simply deduced from the fact that male and female physiologies contain a blend of genetic materials of both sexes. No straight line can be drawn from a biological overlap to an overlap of either gender characteristics or social functions. The present debate about feminism has at feast shown that while male and female qualities can be often 'felt' as present, it is nevertheless curiously difficult to define what they are, and that these characteristics are not simply divided between men and women but exist in different proportions within them(48) The theologian Rosemary R. Ruether thus prefers to speak of a 'feminine way' of developing the personality and of integrating its component parts.(49) Similarly, no list of male and female functions can be simply read off from the analogy of the Trinity; Barth, as we have seen, makes too quick a leap from the obedience of the divine Son to a subordination of woman.

Barth's theology of covenant therefore leaves us with a direction and a quest. We have continually to discover what the particular functions of men and women might be, as these emerge in reciprocal relations. Such discovery will only come when women are given full access to all the jobs and vocations which are open to men, and when men take up the occupations that are often called 'women's work'. For we may take the clue from the image of the Trinity that the difference will lie in the mode of being of a person within the activity. Perhaps then we shall also discover those genuine male and female qualities which seern so elusive to define, and which have often been taken as an excuse for oppressing each other.


1. Letter to Christopher Barth, cit,Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: his life from letters and autobiographical texts, trans. J. Bowden (SCM Press, London, 1976), p. 358.

2. Translation from the New English Bible.

3. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, English Translation ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1936-77), Vol. III part 2, p. 311. Henceforth this work will be cited as CD, followed by volume number, part number and page. References to Vol. I/I are to the Second Edition, trans. G.W. Bromiley, 1975.

4. See e.g. CD I/I, pp. 393-4; III/l, pp. 183-92; III/2, pp. 219 31, 319-24-; IV/1, p. 203. For a concise summary of Barth's view of these analogies, see Karl Barth's Table Talk, Scottish Journal of Theology Occasional Papers 10, ed. J.D. Godsey (Edinburgh, 1963), p. 61.

5. CD III/1, pp. 195-6.

6. See the pertinent criticisms of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Karl Barth; Darstellung und Deutung Seiner Theologie (Jacob Hegner, Cologne, 1956), especially pp. 175ff.

7. See e.g. CD I/I, p. 243-5, 457; III/2, pp. 220-22.

8. CD III/4, p. 173.

9. Ibid., p. 169; cf. III/2, pp. 310-11.

10. CD III/4, p. 168.

11. Ibid., pp. 173-4;III/2, pp. 311, 323-4; IV/1, pp. 202-3.

12. CD III/4, p. 170.

13. CDIII/4, p. 171. Cf. ibid., p. 180: 'While she compares herself to the man, she will not compare her place and right to his' (my italics).

14. CD III/2, p. 313.

15. CD III/4, p. 152.

16. E.g. Rosemary Radford Ruether. Sexism and God-Talk. Towards a Feminist Theology (SCM Press, London, 1983) pp. 1II ff.

17. CD III/4, p. 151.

18. A representative objection is made by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her. A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (SCM Press, London, 1983), p. 207.

19. CD III/2, p. 311.

20. Ibid., pp. 315-6; CD III/4, pp. 174-5.

21. CDIII/2, p. 312,

22. CD IV/1, pp. 186-8; II/l, pp. 303-4, 313-15.

23. CD I/I, pp. 218-21, 407-8.

24. CD 1/2, p. 191.

25. CD III/2, p. 314.

26. CD III/4, p. 155.

27. Joan Arnold Romero, 'The Protestant Principle', in Religion and Sexism. Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. R.R. Ruether (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1974), p. 323.

28. CD I/I, pp. 168-9. Also see Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, trans. G. Foley (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1963), p. 23: 'Theology must listen and reply'.

29. CD I/I, p. 140; II/l, p. 281; II/2, p. 6; IV/1, p. 80.

30. See e.g. CD II/2, pp. 5-6, lOl ff.; III/1, pp. 50-1. Cf. Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, trans. C.D. Deans (Collins, London, 1961), p. 50: 'In [Christ] the fact is once and for all established that God does not exist without man.' This theme plays a central part in the valuable discussion of Barth's theology in Eberhard Jüngel, The Doctrine of the Trinity: God's Being is in Becoming, trans. H. Harris (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1975); especially see pp. 72f., 96ff.

31. CD III/4, p. 156.

32. Ibid., p. 171.

33. Charlotte Von Kirschbaum, Der Dienst der Frau in der Wortkündigung, Theol. Stud. 31, ed, Karl Barth (Evangelischer Verlag, Zurich, 1953).

34. CD III/2, p. 311.

35. CD III/4, p. 162.

36. Ibid., p. 172.

37. CD III/l, pp. 195-6; III/4, pp. 323-4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had already made this exegesis, but did not relate the male-female relationship to the triune relationships in God: see his Creation and Fall(1932-33), trans. J. C. Fletcher and repr. in Creation and Temptation (SCM Press, London, 1966), pp. 37-9.

38. CD I/I, p. 370.

39. Ibid., p. 350.

40. CD II/l, p. 103.

41. CD III/1, p. 196.

42. CD I/I, pp. 351, 366, 381.

43. CD III/4, p. 161.

44. Ibid., pp. 155-6, 174.

45. Ibid., p. 155.

46. The original study was by Morna D. Hooker, 'Authority on her Head. An Examination of 1 Cor. xi.10', New Testament Studies 10 (1963-4), pp. 410-16. In agreement are E. Schüssler Fiorenza, op. cit., p. 230 and C.K.Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (A. & C. Black, London, 1968), pp. 253-5.

47. CD III/4, p. 164.

48. I have discussed this point more fully in my article, ' "Woman's Head is Man": A Doctrinal Reflection Upon a Pauline Text', in The Baptist Quarterly XXXI(1986), pp. 370-83.

49. Ruether, op. cit., p. 113.

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