BARTH Karl—theologian and philosopher, the chief author of the great change in evangelical theology that occurred after the First World War, b. May 10, 1886 in Basil, d. December 10, 1968 in Basel.
Karl Barth began philosophical studies in Bern. He then went to Germany to attend lectures of the most eminent representatives of liberal theology of the time (the Church historian A. von Harnack, the biblical scholar A. Schlatter, and that dogmatic scholar W. Herrmann). After completing his studies (1908) he became a collaborator in the journal “Christliche Welt”. This journal was a focal point for people who wanted to join Christian doctrine with idealistic bourgeois culture. Very pressing social problems arose during that time. He associated himself with the religious socialism of L. Ragaz. He became a defender of workers and supported the foundation of local trade unions.
A manifesto of August 4, 1914, in which several dozen German intellectuals expressed their complete solidarity with the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s war policy, was of great importance for his path in life. The names of his teachers in theology also appeared on the manifesto. His critical commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Der Römerbrief (Bn 1919) was a response to the increasingly acute crisis in liberal theology. In it he emphasized the role of God’s Spirit, which disturbs but also renews the things of this world. In the second edition in 1922 he explained that it is a question of God’s otherness, which interrupts the course of all history. This warning irritated, among others, religious socialists who were oriented to the ethical character of the Kingdom of God.
In 1921, Karl Barth became an honorary member of the newly founded chair of Reform theology in the University of Gottingen. A renaissance started by the publication of the second version of Der Römerbrief led to a new movement among theologians, who then published their own organ called “Zwischen den Zeiten”. Others besides Barth who published or worked in the journal were E. Thurneysen, F. Gogarten, G. Merz, E. Brunner, and R. Bultmann. With Barth, all these scholars began a new theological direction thereafter called dialectical theology.
In 1930 Barth was appointed to the chair of systematic theology in Bonn. After Hitler came to power Barth opposed the infiltration of Nazi ideology in the Evangelical Church and firmly supported opposition within the Church, called the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche). He inspired and was the main author of the Barmen Theological Declaration (1934), which contained directives for the Confessing Church and warned against non-Christian views and actions. In 1935 he refused to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler. As a result he had to quit the chair and leave the Third Reich. In 1935 he took the chair of systematic theology and homiletics in his native Basel.
In 1927 his first outline of dogmatics was published under the title Die christliche Dogmatik. Shortly thereafter, however, Barth abandoned this title and in 1932 he published the first volume of Die kirchliche Dogmatik. He justified this change by saying that dogmatics is not a “free science” but a science connected with the area of the Church. Thirteen volumes containing 10,000 pages were published. This work, Barth’s greatest work but unfinished, was highly esteemed by both Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians.
The bibliography of Barth’s works includes around 600 works. They include autobiographical texts, his correspondence with Bultmann and Thurneysen, collections of sermons, and lectures. He devoted a separate work to the theological thought of Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109)—Fides quaerens intellectum (Mn 1931, Zol 19582). In the treatise Evangelium und Gesetz (Zol 1935, 19402) he opposed a non-biblical interpretation of law (order). In turn, in his work Rechtfertigung und Recht (Zol 1938) he developed his understanding of law and democracy. After 1945, this most vehement critic of natural theology came out in support of a humanism whose foundation is “God’s humanity” (Die Menschlichkeit Gottes, Zol 1956). He devoted his work Die protestantische Theologie im 19. Jahrhundert. Ihre Vorgeschichte und ihre Geschichte (Zol 1947, B 19613) to the theology of the nineteenth century. His lectures in Bonn of 1946 were published as a separate book by the title of Dogmatik im Grundriss (Zol 1947, 19592). This was his only work that has been translated into Polish (Dogmatyka w zarysie, Wwa 1994).
Barth completely rejected his teachers of theology, Harnack, Herrmann, Schlatter, and others. He wanted nothing in common with the father of liberal theology, F. Schleiermacher, nor with the leading representative of this line in the late nineteenth century—A. Ritschle. Instead, he often cited the demasking judgments and pronouncements of the philosopher F. Nietzsche concerning bourgeois society. In philosophy and theology he was also inspired by the Danish thinker S. Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard’s influence can be seen on almost every page of Der Römerbrief. He also found inspiration in the Russian writer, F. Dostoyevsky.
In the sphere of theology and ecclesiology, those who inspired Barth included the theologians and religious socialists C. Blumhard and H. Kutter, and the Basel theologian F. Overbeck. They were all opposed to the prevailing theology that sought and held its modus vivendi with contemporary philosophy and culture, and so they were his allies in debate with twentieth-century Protestant culture.
Barth regarded the prophet Jeremiah, the apostle Paul, and the sixteenth-century reformers, M. Luther and J. Calvin, as sources of inspiration in his theology. Luther and Calvin speak in his works in a way that is beyond particular confessions, which would later have great ecumenical significance.
The starting point in Barth’s thought is the two short words: Dominus dixit—“The Lord said”. Since God was pleased to speak, theology as human speech about God can only ever be listening to God’s speech, thinking through this speech, and the secondary articulation of this speech. The theologian cannot draw out God’s truth from history, nor can he possess it by man’s pious experience, nor can he arrive at it by way of speculation starting from some philosophical concept of infinity or the absolute. The theologian can only do one thing: listen to the word of God and expound upon it despite all history, psychology, and speculation. The complete concentration on God’s word was the reason why the theology he represented was called the theology of the Word.
The trend started by Barth has also been called the theology of crisis. He understands this concept in a specifically theological sense, that God’s revelation is a crisis of the world. There is a third name for Barth’s theology based on the method he applied when he wrote of God—dialectical theology. This is not Hegelian dialectic, or the type of dialectic practiced by Kierkegaard. There is no synthesis here. “Yes” and “no” remain always as thesis and antithesis and cannot be reduced to a synthetic unity of a higher order. Barth used this specific dialectical method because he thought that we cannot speak directly about God and God’s revelation. God’s truth cannot be expressed in one human word, but must always be expressed with the help of a thesis and antithesis. Thus, he who speaks of man’s likeness to God must at the same time speak of his sin and insignificance. Barth was opposed to all attempts to begin from man’s religious experience with the aim of obtaining certainty about the Christian faith.
Barth’s theology is in principle a Christology, a doctrine about Christ. This theology defines everything, not only a doctrine of justification, reconciliation, and salvation, but also a doctrine about creation, election, the Church, and the last things. His dogmatics, as a doctrine about Jesus Christ, is a doctrine about the Holy Trinity. Everything is concentrated in Christ: the beginning and end, not only time, but also eternity. On earth, for men, God realized only that which he had already done in heaven, in eternity.
In Die Kirchliche Dogmatik we often encounter statements that between God and man, nature and grace, creation and salvation, there is a relation of far-reaching analogy. Yet this analogy is not based on any property or disposition of man, e.g., that God and man participate in the same being, and that man therefore possesses the ability to form a judgment about God. The so-called analogia entis makes such an attempt, but for this very reason Barth radically rejects it. According to him the analogy between God and man exists only because God revealed to man his divine essence. Therefore this is never an analogy leading from creation to Creator, but always only an analogy in a secondary and irreversible direction—from Creator to creation. Barth in this context spoke of the analogia relationis, with the desire express thereby the view that an analogy truly occurs on the basis of the relation between God and the world, but it is God who reveals this analogy, and the analogy can be known only in faith.
The basic meaning of analogy can be seen only when one considers that Barth’s doctrine on Jesus Christ is a doctrine on the Holy Trinity. His analogia entis is nothing other than a doctrine concerning the relation of the three Persons to each other and to the world. God, in revealing the divine essence to man, reveals to man the relation between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The relation between God and man, God and the world, is an analogy of the relation between the Persons of the Trinity. For example, what God as the Creator does in the world, can be seen and understood in a Christian sense only as the reflection of the internal relation between God the Father and the Son, namely when God the Father “begot” the Son.
Thus instead of the dialectical method from the period of Der Römerbrief, a method of analogy appeared in Die Kirchliche Dogmatik. Taking the biblical expression “as in heaven, so also on earth” for direction, Barth drew an image of the world and man analogous to the image of God.
Barth’s doctrine of predestination is, as it were, the crowning point of his theology. In it we may best see his Christocentrism and intense universalism. Barth himself called predestination, that is, the doctrine of election, the “common denominator” of his theology. Here is the focus of everything he says about God and the world, creation and salvation, providence and reconciliation, the Church and the last times. The entire Church dogmatics is nothing other than one great hymn about the grace of God. From Barth’s teaching about grace we can present statements that show a tendency to apocatastasis, i.e., the doctrine of the complete reconciliation of the world. It is not surprising, then, that his closest friend E. Thurneysen titled his posthumous memoir: “Karl Barth—troubador of God’s grace”.
K. Karski, Teologia protestancka XX wieku, Wwa 1971, 27–49; E. Busch, Karl Barth Lebenslauf, Mn 1975; W. Kreck, Grundentscheidungen in Karl B. Dogmatik, Nk 1978; E. Jüngel, B.-Studien, Z 1982; C. Frey, Die Theologie Karl B., F 1988; E. Busch, Die große Leidenschaft. Einführung in die Theologie Karl B., Gü 1998.