”Certainly the realm, in which ’chosen sinners’ (peccatores electi) unified and reconciled by the Word become flesh, await their redemption in the midst of history, is itself in all its aspects history and stands in the same dark shadow with all other historical realities. But that is not all that must be said about it. There is the other and the extravagant statement which must be made: this realm even in the midst of the realm of shadows is the kingdom of light, ruled by the heavenly Lord and believed by miserable men who yet are his chosen and called—the one holy, universal, apostolic Church.
That Church, in all the dubiousness of its manifestations, is through all ages the road, hidden yet not hidden, on which the revelation comes to nations and races. It is on this road that the revelation ever and again becomes the content of theology. While theology recognizes that the revelation is given to it mediated and in the form of concrete authority, theology without forgetting for an instant the historical limitations of the form also knows that theology does not depend on history. For history has no theological authority; the Church has. […]
It is (1) temporal authority, that is it is such authority as there can be on the earthly side, on this side of the second coming of Christ. It is, in fact, authority which (different from the authority of its Head) has its limit set by its very beginning, which can make no claim to infallibility and immutability in its decisions. The Church is the Church of forgiven thieves, who wait for their redemption. This fact does not destroy the authority of the Church, but it does mark its limits.
It is (2) relative authority, that is it only ’represents’, as Peterson says, the divine authority. The custom of ’physically punishing’ heretics which Peterson mentioned, not without a certain Spanish warmth, is to be judged discreetly as abuse (abusus) and not as use (usus) of the Church’s authority, since it obviously rests upon a disastrous deviation at precisely this point. The authority of the Church is not authority in itself but in relation to the real authority of the Lord in his glory. Under this presupposition, it would be judged better not to burn one another.
It is (3) formal authority, that is it does not in any way supersede revelation. It does not even limit and alter revelation, neither in content nor in force. It only provides a channel for it; the question of the water itself and the question of its flow stand in a different book. In this limited sense and not otherwise, dogma and the other components of concrete authority prescribe for us ’by divine right’. The ’divine right’ is restricted to the mediated presentation of the revelation.
The right is not such that the Church could ever, in any way, either before or after its decisions, be exempted from seeking after the Word and asking for the Holy Spirit which alone leads it to all truth. It can in no way be identified with that ’divine right’ with which Christ through Word and Spirit decides immediately, inerrantly, and unappealably as the Lord of the Church. But Christ’s immediate authority, in which the freedom of faith and of faith’s obedience is based, is for theology as constitutive as is the mediated authority of the Church.”
- Barth, Karl, 2015: Theology and Church, Shorter Writings 1920–1928. Eugene: Wipf & Stock. S. 292-295. (Utg. på tyska 1928 och på engelska 1962.)