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Karl Barth

Karl Barth (May 10, 1886 - Dec 10, 1968) pronounced "Bart", was a 20th-century Swiss theologian in the Reformed tradition. A vigorous opponent of theological liberalism and modernism, he is sometimes called "the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy".

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Early life and education

Karl Barth was born in Basel, Switzerland and spent his early years growing up in Bern where his father taught at the university. Barth began his studies in Bern in 1904 where he was introduced to Kant, whose Critique of Practical Reason he called 'the first book that really moved me as a student'.[1] Barth went on to study at Berlin, a center of Protestant liberalism, later studying at Tübingen and finally in Marburg in 1908. While at Marburg, Wilhelm Herrmann [2] had a great influence on Barth. After Marburg, Barth spent ten years (1911 - 1921) as a pastor. This had a profound impact on his theology as "Barth's liberal assurances were initially undermined by his exposure to the Swiss social democratic movement... The outbreak of the Great War further disillusioned him... most of his former teachers signed a declaration of support for the Kaiser." [3] Barth described his experience:

An entire world of theological exegesis, ethics, dogmatics, and preaching, which up to that point I had accepted as basically credible, was thereby shaken to the foundations, and with it everything which flowed at that time from the pens of the German theologians.[4]

Barth returned to Scripture, especially studying the Romans in 1916 which resulted in his commentary, first published in 1919.[5] His commentary resulted in a new-found prominence in Germany.

As a result, Barth was offered a position as Honorary Professor of Reformed Theology in Göttingen.[6] Teaching at Göttingen from 1921 - 1925, he later held posts at Münster (1925–1930) and Bonn (1930–1935). Other key points involve Barth's first (and later abandoned) volume of the Christian Dogmatics (1927), his study of Anselm (1930), the first volume of the Church Dogmatics (1932), his debate with Emil Brunner over natural theology,[7] the Barmen Declaration of 1934, and his travel to Rome in 1966 to talk with those involved in the Second Vatican Council among many other things. Barth retired at the end of the winter semester of 1961-62, and his health began to decline in 1964. Barth passed away on December 10, 1968.

Theological perspectives

It has been said that "a 'Barthian theology' is just as impossible as an 'Einsteinian science', but just as there is a pre-Einsteinian science and a post-Einsteinian science, so there is a pre-Barthian and post-Barthian theology, for the contribution of Karl Barth to theology is, like that of Albert Einstein to nature science, so deep-going and fundamental that it marks one of the great eras of advance in the whole history of the subject" [8]

Church Dogmatics

Barth's Church Dogmatics (CD) were written in four volumes; however, each volume contains "part volumes" which, when considered together, total fourteen volumes. The CD are sometimes cited with thirteen or fourteen volumes depending on whether the Index (vol. V) is included. The revised version published by T&T Clark (2008) is broken up into 31 volumes.[9]

Volume Title
  • I/1
  • I/2
  • II/1
  • II/2
  • III/1
  • III/2
  • III/3
  • III/4
  • IV/1
  • IV/2
  • IV/3/1
  • IV/3/2
  • IV/4
  • V
  • The Word of God as the Criterion of Dogmatics; The Revelation of God
  • The Revelation of God; Holy Scripture: The Proclamation of the Church
  • The Knowledge of God; The Reality of God
  • The Election of God; The Command of God
  • The Work of Creation
  • The Creature
  • The Creator and His Creature
  • The Command of God the Creator
  • The Subject-Matter and Problems of the Doctrine of Reconciliation
  • Jesus Christ, the Servant as Lord
  • Jesus Christ, the True Witness
  • Jesus Christ, the True Witness
  • The Foundation of Christian Life
  • Index, With Aids for the Preacher

Barth's death in 1968 left IV/4 a mere fragment. Thus, the Church Dogmatics was never completed.

Selected works


  • The Digital Karl Barth Library [1]
  • Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Eerdmans, 1994; Wipf & Stock, 2005. ISBN 1597521698
  • A late friendship: The letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer. Eerdmans, 1982. ISBN 0802835740
  • Karl Barth: Letters, 1961-1968. T&T Clark, 1987. ISBN 0567093212
  • Bernd Jaspert, ed. Karl Barth-Rudolf Bultmann letters, 1922-1966. Eerdmans, 1981. ISBN 0802835600
  • See also: Barth bibliography; for resources on Barth's theology, click here.


  1. Quoted in John Webster, Barth 2nd edition (Continuum, 2004), 3.
  2. A great dogmatician and ethicist of Barth's time
  3. Webster, Barth, 4.
  4. Ibid.
  5. A second edition was published in 1922.
  6. During his time here, Barth wrote the Göttingen Dogmatics.
  7. Published in 1946 as Nein (No!).
  8. T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology, 1910-1931, 9.
  9. Church Dogmatics: The New Edition

See also

  • Theology of Karl Barth
  • Center for Barth Studies
  • Neo-Orthodoxy

External links

Barth studies

Online writings