University of Notre Dame
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Be Who You Are: Karl Barth's Ethics of Creation

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posted on 2010-07-19, 00:00 authored by Deonna D. Neal
Barth grounds the goodness of creation not in its own independent reality, but in the goodness of Jesus Christ, who, as Barth works out in CD II.2, is the concrete form of the command of God and fulfillment of the covenant between God and humanity. By grounding the goodness of creation in Jesus Christ, Barth makes both the ontological goodness of creation itself and the noetic basis of that goodness dependent on this Christological determination. As a result, scholars have suggested that Barth's theology really has no proper doctrine of creation at all, i.e. that Barth's doctrine of creation is simply Christology in disguise. This dissertation argues that while Barth's Christological determination of creation is central to Barth's work, it is not the case that Barth absorbs creation into Christology, i.e. nature into grace, leaving creation without any meaningful ontology of its own. Rather, this dissertation demonstrates that Barth's ontology of creation is covenantal in structure, but not equivalent to Christology. Furthermore, this dissertation shows that this covenantal structure of creation is specifically ordered so that the creature may realize her goal as God's covenant partner. In Chapter One the dissertation shows why Barth rejects any attempt to ground the moral order of creation apart from covenant and why he believes that such an independent grounding yields a created order apart from grace, a separation of law from gospel, which leads to idolatry and an ethics of self-justification. The chapter concludes by showing how Barth's doctrine of election establishes the inextricable connection between covenant and creation, gospel and law, in the person of Jesus Christ. Chapter Two shows how creation does not exist for its own sake, but is a work of God's love and freedom, thereby having a specific order and structure, boundaries and limits, which are good, and as such serve as the presupposition and external condition for God's covenant history to unfold. Chapter Three shows how the covenant is the material basis of creation and how Barth's doctrine of election provides the basis for his interpretation of the role of the two trees in the Garden of Eden, which serve as the basis for understanding the nature of creaturely freedom and obedience. The chapter also points out how the creature's existence as imago dei means that she is created for covenant relations and as such is not solitary, neutral or self-grounding. Chapter Four explains how Barth's Christology is the key to understanding the relationship between creation and covenant. This chapter demonstrates how Barth's rendering of ontology [Sein] as history [Geschichte], i.e. 'being-in-encounter,' allows him to ground anthropology in Christology without equating the two. In this chapter we see that to be human is to be a creature who can transcend her nature and limits in an encounter with the 'other,' yet such an encounter with the transcendent other allows the creature to exist more fully and properly as a covenant partner with God in creation and not outside of it.


Date Modified


Defense Date


Research Director(s)

Gerald P. McKenny

Committee Members

Randall Zachman Jean Porter Jennifer Herdt


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Alternate Identifier



University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • Theology

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