Karl Barth

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Karl Barth
Birthday
BirthplaceBasel, Switzerland
Died
Occupation
Theologian, author

Barth, Karl

(bärt), 1886–1968, Swiss Protestant theologian, one of the leading thinkers of 20th-century Protestantism. He helped to found the Confessing ChurchConfessing Church,
Ger. Bekennende Kirche, German Protestant movement. It was founded in 1933 by Martin Niemoeller as the Pastors' Emergency League and was systematically opposed to the Nazi-sponsored German Christian Church.
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 and his thinking formed the theological framework for the Barmen Declaration. He taught in Germany, where he early opposed the Nazi regime. In 1935 when he refused to take the oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, he was retired from his position at the Univ. of Bonn and deported to Switzerland. There he continued to expound his views, known as dialectical theology or theology of the word. Barth's primary object was to lead theology back to the principles of the Reformation (called neo-orthodoxy). For Barth, modern theology with its assent to science, immanent philosophy, and general culture and with its stress on feeling, was marked by indifference to the word of God and to the revelation of God in Jesus, which he thought should be the central concern of theology. In the confrontation between humanity and God, which was Barth's fundamental concern, the word of God and God's revelation in Jesus are the only means God has for Self-revelation; Barth argued that people must listen in an attitude of awe, trust, and obedience. This theological position is also related to those of Emil BrunnerBrunner, Emil
, 1889–1966, Swiss Protestant theologian. A clear and systematic thinker from the school of dialectical theology, he was a professor of theology at the Univ. of Zürich (1924–53) and Christian Univ., Tokyo (1953–55).
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, Friedrich GogartenGogarten, Friedrich,
1887–1968, German theologian. He was professor of theology at the Univ. of Jena from 1927 until 1933, when he began to teach at the Univ. of Göttingen.
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, and Rudolf Bultmann, although Barth's position is the stricter. Barth's writings include The Epistle to the Romans (tr. 1933), The Word of God and the Word of Man (tr. 1928), Credo (tr. 1936), and Church Dogmatics (Vol. I-IV, tr. 1936–62).

Bibliography

See T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth (1966); R. E. Willis, The Ethics of Karl Barth (1971); E. Busch, Karl Barth (1976); G. W. Bromiley, An Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (1981).

Barth, Karl

 

Born May 10, 1886, in Basel. Swiss Protestant theologian; one of the founders of so-called dialectical theology.

Barth’s first important work, The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans (1918), was influenced by the ideas of S. Kierkegaard. It persistently emphasizes the incommensurability of the divine and the human. The objects of revelation and human knowledge are different, and that is why faith is that which dares to waver between “yes” and “no”—the courageous leap into emptiness. In the name of such an understanding of faith, Barth engaged in controversy with liberal Protestantism and Catholic religious rationalism. In addition, Barth energetically demanded social responsibility from the church; he regarded this as the criterion for distinguishing between the “true” church and the “false” church.

In his youth Barth participated in the Christian Socialist movement. In 1933 he emerged as an inspirer of Christian resistance to the Hitler regime. After the Munich Pact of 1938, Barth approved of armed struggle against fascism as a sacred cause. After World War II, Barth criticized cold war policies from the Utopian position of a “third way,” and he openly maintained relations with theological circles in both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

WORKS

Gesammelte Vorträge, vols. 1–3. Munich, 1928–57.
Die kirchliche Dogmatik, vols. 1–9. Zollikon-Zürich, 1932–55.
Theologische Existent heute. Góttingen, 1955.

REFERENCES

Balthasar, H. V. von. K. Barth: Darstellung und Deutung seiner Theologie. Olten, 1951.
Hammer, J. K. Barth. Westminster, 1962.
Machovec, M. Marxismus und dialektische Theologie. Zurich, 1965.

S. S. AVERINTSEV

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