I actually finished reading Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968 (translated by Geoffrey W Bromiley) a few weeks ago, but find myself returning to it to reflect on his take on certain topics. Much of it reads like an extended Q&A, so you get clarification on some things that aren’t as accessible in his other writings. You can read other excerpts I’ve shared here, here and here. Better yet, find a copy of the book and dig in! (I believe my used copy was delivered to my door for less than $4, and well worth it!)
Below is from a letter written to Christine Barth (his grandniece), dated February 18, 1965, in response to a letter written to him in December (the delay was because of some health problems he had). Continue reading
Below is a portion of another one of Barth’s Letters. A bit strongly worded, but perhaps this is exactly what must be said to those who say many true things, but do not “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15)?
You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true. You do not speak kindly in a single line.You utter a powerful No on all possible sides. It is indeed necessary to say No too. But the right No can only be one which derives from and is upheld by an even more powerful Yes. I hear you say only No.
You accuse. That, too, has to be done. But again, if this is Christian accusation, it has to be enclosed in the promise, in the glad tidings of God’s grace. In you it is naked accusation.
You demand that others repent. Sometimes one must dare to do this. But only he may do so who himself repents and lives in repentance. You preach down from your high horse, righteous amid the unrighteous, pure among the impure. Continue reading
It’s always interesting to see how a theologian concisely answers life’s basic questions. Here’s Karl Barth’s one sentence answer to the question of “what is the most important and essential thing in the life of a man”.
You have put to me two questions inexhaustible in scope. Permit me to answer you briefly as follows:
1. What do you regard as the most important and essential thing in the life of a man?
That he should use his understanding in such a way as to learn to live responsibly. 2. What do you regard as the most important and essential thing in the life of a theologian?
That he should exercise his responsibility in such a way as to learn to reflect (think after).
With friendly greetings,
Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #299 (p. 310)
One of the fascinating features of Barth’s later letters is his ongoing (and increasingly fruitful) ecumenical dialog with Catholics. Here is part of a letter he wrote to some Catholic sisters at the Institute of the Sacred Heart of Mary (Hannut, Belgium), dated February 12, 1962.
You are right to tell me that much of the route to the unity of the church is laid when we come together again in love. Being the friend of many Roman Catholic theologians, I add that I am happy to affirm that in truth as well we have come closer on both sides than could ever have been imagined fifty years ago. One thing is certain: the more both your theology and ours concentrate on the person and work of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, our sovereign Lord and only Savior, the more we shall find ourselves already united in spite of some important differences. Do you not also think the day will one day come when we shall no longer speak of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians but simply of Evangelical Christians forming one body and one people? Veni Creator Spiritus. [Come Creator Spirit]
Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #25 (p. 34-35)
Despite his clear disagreements with the papacy on some very important points (my friend Wyatt posted a different letter of Barth’s which highlights some of them), this letter seems to betray genuine optimism regarding unity within the church…. not a unity that compromises truth (as though the differences don’t matter), but a unity that enters more deeply into the truth, sharing a common Christological center.