The PostBarthian

Karl Barth’s Last Words in the Church Dogmatics

Karl Barth (

Karl Barth with his wife Nelly, his son-in-law Max Zellweger and his second great grandson, June 1968. (

Jürgen Moltmann once commented on Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics:

"Well, we have more than 8,000 pages of Church Dogmatics from Karl Barth. And a very friendly critic once said, 'the truth cannot be so long'. And indeed, his fundamental ideas, you can write down in a half page. And as you know, the praise of God has not beginning and no end. And that's Church Dogmatics. Doxology."

Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics may be  unfinished, but a Summae work is never done! But how did it end for Barth? What were his last words and what words were left unwritten? The final volume of the Church Dogmatics IV.4 is a fragment, and this amazing quotation from the preface to Vol. IV.4 gives us an exciting and depressing to answer to what may have come in the infamous, enigmatic and unwritten Volume V of the Church Dogmatics.  We have an outline of what was ahead in Volume IV.4 on the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Prayer, as well as more that may be said regarding Baptism, and Barth has said that Volume V would be a work of eschatology and the work of the Holy Spirit, but we do not know what may have come.

The following quotation are the last words that explain what has happened so far, what caused Barth to end his work of Church Dogmatics in a way very much like how Thomas Aquinas ended his Summa Theologica, with some hints of what may have come.

How often in the last years I have been asked about the non-appearance of the remaining parts of the Church Dogmatics which had been announced! As things are, in spite of its not inconsiderable bulk, the work is undoubtedly an opus imperfectum. I have been tackled with particular zeal on the question of the doctrine of redemption (eschatology) projected for Volume V. Even the fourth part of the doctrine of reconciliation—the ethical section corresponding to III, 4—is, however, still unavailable. Some of those who have questioned me I have put to confusion by raising the counter-question whether, to what degree, and with what attention they have read and studied the material already to hand. Others I have asked whether they have noted how much about the desired sphere of eschatology may be gathered indirectly, and sometimes directly, from the earlier volumes. Yet others I have reminded of the unfinished nature of most of the mediæval Summae as well as many cathedrals. To others again I have pointed out that Mozart's premature death interrupted work on the Requiem in the middle of the clause Lacrimosa, and that a particularly famous composition of Schubert is the Unfinished Symphony. Finally, I have called the attention of others to the fact that not only in Holy Scripture, but also in Church Dogmatics II, 1, perfection is the epitome of the divine attributes, so that it is better not to seek or to imitate it in a human work.

Naturally these were and are excuses, and rather presumptuous ones so far as the comparisons are concerned. They conceal the simple fact that I have gradually begun to lose the physical energy and mental drive necessary to continue and to complete the work which I had started. It should be remembered that when I began work on I, 1 I was forty- five years of age, and had already kept both printers and readers quite busy. When I had finished IV, 3, however, the forty-five years had become seventy-three. There is quite a difference. In the two years which followed I made a promising beginning of IV, 4, about which I shall have something to say later. But then I had to give up. It should also be considered that though the contents of I, 1 to IV, 3 all had their origin at my desk, soon after composition they formed the text of my academic lectures (in dogmatics or ethics) and they then became the material for my seminars in German, English and French, so that year in year out there was direct contact with the students. All this came to an end when I was made a professor emeritus (amusing word!) in 1962, and when it did so, as I only now saw, there ended with it an essential part of the impulse which lay behind my work thus far. Directly after this break, at the beginning of my seventy-sixth year (younger colleagues now do this much earlier and more often), I spent seven weeks in America, where I had to give lectures at different places in the east, west and centre of the continent, to engage in public discussions, and also to visit the most important of the battlefields of the Civil War (1861–65), in which I had long been interested. When this was happily behind me, there began an indisposition which gradually developed into a regular illness in the course of which I had several periods in hospital and many operations, and caused much trouble and concern to the doctors and nurses and also to my own family. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I look back on this time with thankfulness, and I was able to read a great deal, though not to write. It ended in the late autumn of 1965, when, reasonably restored to health, I was able to return to my desk.

Mention may be made of one notable incident. Shortly before Christmas 1964 I had a slight stroke which for half a day robbed me of speech—perhaps a sign in view of the much too much that I have said in my lifetime. Then, possibly in unconscious protest against the undue disparagement of the third Evangelist by ruling New Testament scholars, and certainly to the edification of the deaconness who was caring for me, the name Zacharias (Lk. 122) clearly passed over my lips in description of my state. Quite soon afterwards I was able to say more about the situation. Nothing like this has happened to me since—not yet!

It so happened that my faithful assistant Charlotte von Kirschbaum, who had been indispensable from 1930 onwards, suffered an even more serious illness than mine (definitively from the end of 1965 and beginning of 1966), so that she was out of action in relation to the Church Dogmatics, in whose rise and progress she had played so great a part. Furthermore, I myself was now a little older. I celebrated my eightieth birthday in May 1966. Postponing for a while an autobiography which I had begun, I took an increasing interest in the results of the Second Vatican Council, and in September of this year I made the journey to Rome to hear and see for myself various matters relating to it. This stimulated me to return for a while to academic activity at least in the form of a small seminar. I mention these points here in order that it may be commonly understood why I could not think of carrying forward the Church Dogmatics to the appointed goal. For this “late Barth,” which I now am, it is indeed too late to do this in worthy fashion; he begs understanding and forgiveness.

Barth, Karl. "Church Dogmatics." (n.d.): n. pag. Bloomsbury Press. 2014. Web. 2014. <>.

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Karl Barth on the Appeal to Scripture: Have We Created a Myth?

Codex Gigas (source: wikipedia)

Codex Gigas (source: wikipedia)

Jesus Christ is the Word of God in the flesh.

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (1 John 1:1 NRSV)

How do we then come to say anything about him? Is it an appeal to ancient symbols, confessions, church history, scripture, or something else? Have we spoken truthfully about the Word of God? How do we know that we have not created a myth rather than proclaimed the crucified Word of God?

In the following quotation from the Church Dogmatics IV.2, Karl Barth writes that we ultimately have only an appeal to scripture, and even the scriptures are not a final basis of knowledge.

The question cannot be postponed any longer: How do we really know what we have declared and developed, and especially the decisive and central fact from which all the rest derives, that Jesus Christ was and is and will be the eternal Word of God in our flesh, the Son of God who becomes and is also the Son of Man, in whom, therefore, our human essence is exalted to fellowship with God? How do we really know that there is anything at all corresponding to what we have described in these formulations, and if there is, that it is actually in the one Jesus Christ? How does it come about that dogmatics has to reckon with this fact as with a prescribed text which it has only to read and expound?

For that is what we have done. Have we only been speculating about an arbitrarily presupposed or freely invented concept? Have we created a myth? That would be a sorry state of affairs. But are we really sure that it is not the case? Or, to justify our actions, can we only refer back to the Church, to its symbols and confessions in which that which is here presupposed is indeed solemnly and authoritatively handed down to us? Or can we appeal only to the history of Christian theology, in the continuity of which we are now working, and which has always set out directly or indirectly from this presupposition, both in its classical and its less classical forms, and with a larger or smaller degree of agreement or divergence? But is this really satisfactory? Even the whole Church and all its dogmas and theologians might be mistaken when it counts on this presupposition. We have to ask therefore, as Evangelical Christians, on what grounds we can recognize the authority of the Church, and appeal to it and accept its presupposition. There remains the appeal to Holy Scripture. The Church's symbols and confessions arose as summaries and repetitions and expositions of the scriptural witness to Jesus Christ. But perhaps the Church misunderstood Scripture when it took from it this presupposition. And, above all, even if we grant that the biblical authors really did bear this witness, how did they come to do it? Can we trust them unconditionally in respect of their hearing and seeing of this factor, and their reproduction or interpretation of what they saw and heard. The answer that we hold to this face, and start from it, because it is attested as such in the Bible, is not to be rejected. It can have a true sense. But it must have this true sense if we are to accept it with a good conscience. And this true sense is not the "fundamentalist" one, which would have it that the sacred text as such is the proper and final basis of knowledge.

Barth, Karl. Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Church Dogmatics: IV.2 The Doctrine of Reconciliation, 24. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 118-19. Print. Study Edition.

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Ebehard Jüngel on Justification: Hans Küng and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

Justification (source: x)

Justification (source: bloomsbury)

Ebehard Jüngel is a Lutheran theologian and Tübingen professor who is author of a book on the doctrine of justification, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith. I've been writing about The Legacy of Hans Küng's Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) and asking how to respond to Kung's question: "Is it not time to stop arguing about imaginary differences? regarding what Martin Luther called the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae ("article on which the church stands or falls"), which is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. 

I put this question to expert theologians to learn their response to Kung's question, and asked them in particular what is their assessment of Hans Küng's Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Surprisingly. Everyone referred me to read Ebehard Jüngel's Justification. The book is accessible and an excellent work on the doctrine of justification that I recommend overall, however I'm most interested in Jüngel's particular views on Küng and the JDDJ.

I've assembled the following quotations from Jüngel's Justification that exhibit Jüngel's opinions on Küng and the Joint Declaration as an answer to Küng's question.

In this first quotation from Jüngel's Justification, Hans Küng's Justification is introduced and briefly assessed positively with acknowledgement that Küng's solution has been approved by many respected theologians and church officials.

In the light of all this, there would seem to be an unbridgeable gulf between the views of the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church about our ability to contribute to our justification. Nevertheless, according to a number of notable theologians in recent times, this is not an accurate impression. Since Hans Küng's [67] attempt to demonstrate the basic compatibility of the Tridentine doctrine of justification and that of the Protestants -- mainly represented by Karl Barth -- there has been a succession of attempts to reach agreement on the matter. Among these are the official efforts at rapprochement between the German state churches. Not least of these was the revisiting of the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century, which took place after a visit to Germany by Pope John Paul II. This was undertaken by the 'Joint Ecumenical Commission', which claimed to have solved the question of the doctrine of justification (among other matters), as follows: 'the condemnations uttered at that earlier time . . . are still important as salutary warnings'. [68] The Commission continues by saying that they, however, 'no longer apply to our partner today in any sense that could divide the churches.' [69] There was a strong protest from Protestants about this. For example, Jörg Baur rejected as 'unfounded' the claim that the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century about justification could not divide the churches of today. In his polemical essay he even described the procedures of the Commission as 'spiritual poison' [71] as they apparently altered the meaning of the old texts and thus misguided the consciences of people.

Footnotes: [^67] Hans Küng, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection, trans. T. Collins, E. E. Tolk and D. Grandskou, London: Burns & Oats, 1964 [^68] K. Lehmann and W. Pannenberg, eds, The Condemnatiosn of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide?, vol. 1, trans. M. Kohl, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990, 27. [^69] Ibid., 68 [^70] J. Baur, Einig in Sachen Rechtfertigung? Zur Prüfung des Rechtfertingungkapitels der Studie des Ökumenischen Arbeitskreises evangelischer und katholischer Theologen: 'Lehrverurteilungen -- kirchentrennend?', Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1989, 109. [^71] Ibid., 42

Jüngel, Eberhard. Justification the Heart of the Christian Faith : A Theological Study with an Ecumenical Purpose. London: T & T Clark, 2006. 177. Print.

Despite the ecumenical optimism, Jüngel's following paragraph exhibits a personal skepticism of Küng's program. Although he does not deny that Küng's Justification may be correct, he certainly does not affirm it either.

I, myself, cannot always agree with the way the Ecumenical Working Group has interpreted the statements from the sixteenth century. There are times when the seriousness of the controversy as it was in those times is undermined. Present-day Roman Catholic doctrine should not be superimposed on what obtained during the controversies of the sixteenth century. Nor should Protestant theology itself be misconstrued as simply repeating the Reformers' statements of those days. It could simply be that the disputes of that age have become obsolete today because we hear and understand the gospel of justification from quite different positions -- perhaps even without taking up the confessional positions of yesterday. It could be that better insights into the biblical texts free us from the clashes of the past so that certain statements from earlier times appear today as inadequate definitions of the truth of the gospel.

Ibid. 177-178.

If Jüngel's response to Küng's Justification was waivering Maybe?, his response to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) was a firm No!  Jüngel expressed his disapproval of the JDDJ with clarity in this follow quote:

Thus the Formula of Concord rejected the Tridentine idea that 'our works either entirely or in part sustain and preserve either the righteousness of faith that we have received or even faith itself' BC, 557. The Strasbourg Institute for Ecumenical Research tried to blunted this statement by means of an unbelievable series of contortions [. . .] But what do we read in Canon 24 of the Tridentine decree? 'If anyone shall say that the justice obtained, but not the cause of its increase, anathema sit [. . .] I mention this embarrassing situation because it is typical of the defense of the Tridentine position by Lutheran theologians in the interest of ecumenism. There is nothing wrong with a Protestant attempt to understand the Tridentine decree on justification better than it understood itself! But we must do it honestly. We must defend what is there. The Joint Declaration reiterates basically the only part of the Catholic doctrine of justification that was condemned by the Lutheran Confessions, saying that it is still Catholic teaching. And then it goes on to assert that the condemnation in the Lutheran Confessions no longer applies to the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification as expounded in The Joint Declaration. This is one of the scandals in the history of theology of which that Declaration will go on to serve as an example. To accept this amounts to a sacrifice of the intellect on the part of any theologian. But enough of these shameful attempts to excuse ecumenism from due intellectual honesty! What concerns us here is to expound the doctrine of justification positively.

Ibid. 207.

In Jüngel's opinion, Küng's solution indicated that Protestants and Roman Catholics were mutually talking past each other and that the ancient anathemas were no longer relevant today, however the JDDJ was a one-sided compromise by the Lutheran signers and the Vatican signers still affirmed the ancient anathemas as still in place today. (Even Küng admitted that the JDDJ was not without controversy and lamented that his contributions were not recognized.) Again in the following quotation, careful readers will notice that the translator has pointed out a potential intentional translation error by Jüngel:

We may leave open the question whether the Tridentine condemnations of Luther's idea is at all correct. The fact remains that the formula simul iustus et peccator is still unacceptable to the Roman Catholic Church today. In its statement on The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the Catholic Church again pronounced Luther's formula (which is interpreted positively in the Joint Declaration) to be unacceptable to Catholics. It expressly disavowed the facts which this formula expresses. It even located the major difficulty 'preventing an affirmation of total consensus between the parties on the theme of Justification'. This is without any doubt to be found in 'the formula "at the same time righteous and sinner"' which is "for Catholics . . . not acceptable"' [151]. Is the formula really so important that it divides the churches? What does it mean?

Footnotes: [^151] Response of the Church to the Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on the Doctrine of Justification, Clarification 1. [Jungel makes the 'major difficulty' a singular, whereas both the German and the English forms of the document have 'major difficulties' ('die grobten Schwierigkeiten') being found in Paragraph 4.4 'The Justified as Sinner (Tr).] Cf. E. Jungel, 'Amica Exegesis einer romischen Note', ZTh 10 (1998).

Ibid. 215.

An additional important point is that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) is a Lutheran and Catholic agreement, and it addresses specific Lutheran dogmas and symbolic statements that are different than other Protestant parties concerns. A specific example would be how the Augsburg Confession should be understood. In this quote by Jüngel, he expresses his chagrin that the formula 'by faith alone' is absent from the JDDJ:

In the Joint Declaration, the Lutherans decided not to specifically include the exclusive formula by faith alone. This is disconcerting enough. But it is one of the most macabre aspects of the dispute about the Joint Declaration that the Lutheran apologists -- bishops, church officials, members of church assemblies, even professors of theology -- justified this step by saying that Melanchthon had already left out the exclusive formula by faith alone in the article on justification in the Augsburg Confession. And since Melanchthon made the claim concerning the teaching of the first 21 Articles of the Augsburg Confession that it was 'not contrary or opposed to . . . [even that] of the Roman Church' (BC, 47), they said that it was not only permitted, but in point of fact required to remove the exclusive formulae from any consensus of both churches reached today. What are we to say to this? As it is, the exclusive formula is lacking in the Augsburg Confession, Article IV. But in the next article but one, on 'The New Obedience', it says, using a quotation from the early church, that we have 'forgiveness of sins . . . through faith alone' (BC, 32_. And in the article which is so decisive for the issue of justification, on 'Faith and Good Works', we read that our reconciliation with God 'happens only through faith' (BC, 42). Since, as Melanchthon thought, the first twenty-one articles are also acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church, we ought to be able to say from the Lutheran perspective that the sola fide formula is acceptable ecumenically. But what about Trent? A number of Lutheran apologists who drafted the Joint Declaration apparently feel more strongly bound to it than to the Augsburg Confession.

Ibid. 236.

Even if the Lutheran's were to affirm the JDDJ, the Reformed Churches may not approve of the JDDJ due to it's Osianderian form of Lutheran that John Calvin rejected in the Institutes of the Christian Religion in his debates with Andreas Osiander. As an appendix, here's a footnote where Jüngel's disapproval of Osianderianism is briefly addressed:

No doubt Calvin was also influenced by this insight when he refuted Osiander's doctrine of justification. The latter countered Melanchthon's concept, which saw justification as purely imputed, by saying that justification is a making righteous (iustum efficere), not only in the presence of God, but also in us, thanks to an indwelling of the righteousness of Christ (inhabitatio iustitiae Christi).

Ibid. 213

Jüngel's conclusion is to Hans Küng's solution in Justification is a weak Maybe? and an adament No! to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

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The Myth of the Unincarnate Word (logos asarkos vs logos incarnandus)


Eastern Orthodox Icon, Resurrection: Harrowing of Hell (source: wikipedia)

The Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18) is a purple passage of the bible, and "In the beginning was the Word (λόγος), and the Word (λόγος) was with God, and the Word (λόγος) was God." (John 1:1 RSV) is among the most famous verses in the entire bible. The original Greek of John uses the ancient Stoic term λόγος (logos), which is translated as 'Word' in most all modern English translations, and occasionally as 'Speech' in some older translations.  A myriad of books have been written on John's use of this Neo-Platonic and Stoic term.

John's employment of λόγος (logos) in John 1:14 is especially signification for the Christian formation of the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. "And the Word (λόγος) became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." (John 1:14 RSV). A surface reading may suggest that the second person of the Trinity (i.e. the λόγος) existed in a pre-incarnate and eternal form, and then at some point in history the second person assumed a human nature at the Incarnation.

The older orthodox Reformed Theologians saw a two phase life of the Second Person of the Trinity, first existing as the eternal λόγος and then a temporal appearance of the incarnate word. In a famous commentary on the Johannine Prologue in Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol IV/2, Barth shows that there is no such thing as a λόγος ἄσαρκος (unincarnate Word). There is no such thing as a pre-incarnate or un-incarnate Word, and the most we may speak of an unfleshed Word is a logos incarnandus, which means 'a Word that will be incarnated'.

Karl Barth's brilliant exegesis has demonstrated that there is no "God behind God" that is unknown to us in the logos asarkos myth. The image of the invisible God, as Paul spoke, has always been the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus Christ, and if we imagine any logos asarkos, we must quickly speaks of it only as a logos incarnandus. Barth's following quotation has the great benefit, in that it does not fall into Lessing's Great Ugly Ditch, like the older Reformed explanation. Barth places the incarnation before all history, rather than being merely a contingent historical datum.

He "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col 1:15f.). It is to be noted that the One of whom all this is said is called "the head of the body, the church" and " the first-born from the dead" in Col 1:18, and that according to Col 1:20 it can be said of Him, this autos, that it pleased the Father in Him to reconcile all things to himself, "having made peace through the blood of his cross." But there could obviously be no sense in talking of the blood of the eternal Son of God as such, or of this Son as the firstborn from the dead. The declarations of predestination from Col 1:15 onwards cannot, therefore, relate only to the Son of God, to a logos asarkos.

But, again, the statement in John 1:2: "The same (autos en) was in the beginning with God," would be a meaningless repetition of the second statement in John 1:1 if it were not an anticipation of the incarnate Logos attested and declared by John the Baptist in the words: "This was he (outs en) who coming after me is preferred before me, for he was before me" (protos mou en). The result is that we cannot possibly refer abstractly to the eternal Logos either John 1:3: "All things were made by him; and without him (chorus auto) was not anything made that was made," or John 1:10 : "The world was made by him." The event attested in John 1:14 is one to which the whole Prologue looks back. So, then, the whole Prologue (with the possible exception of the first phrase of John 1:1) -- although it certainly speaks of the eternal Logos -- speaks also of the man Jesus. The saying in John 8:58, which reaches back to the Prologue: "Before Abraham was, I am," must be understood in the same way. And nothing could be more explicit than the way in which, in John 6:51, "the living bread which came down from heaven" is equated with" my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

But the same is true of Heb 1:2f., where it is said of the Son that by Him God made the aeons (the worlds), that He is "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person," and that He upholds "all things by the word of his power." For immediately after we are told that "when he had by himself purged our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the majesty in high," and (in Heb 1:4) is "made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they." This and the many statements which follow concerning his superiority to the angels would be quite inexplicable if the reference were only abstractly to the eternal Son of God, and He were supposed to stand in need of this exaltation and the inheritance of this more excellent name. Indeed, how could the eternal Son as such be put (in Heb 1:1) in the same series with the fathers by whom God spoke at sundry times and in divers manners? How could it be said of Him as such that God "hath in these last days spoken unto us" by Him? This is only explicable if, as is expressly emphasised in Heb 1:6, the reference is to the One who is brought into the world of men, the oikoumena, and therefore to the One who is both Son of God and Son of Man He as such is the One by whom God made the aeons, and who upholds all things by the Word of His power.

And so the One who (in 1 Pet 1:29) "verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times," is obviously the One of whom it is said to the readers in 1 Peter 1:18-19 that they are redeemed with His blood "as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Again, the One of whom it is said in Eph 1:4 that God "hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him" is the One of whom it is said again in Eph 1:7 that we have redemption through His blood. Again, in Rev 13:8, the book of life written before the foundation of the world (which does not contain the names of those who worship the beast) is called the book of the Lamb slain. In all these predestinarian passages the emphasising of the blood, of the putting to death, of Jesus Christ is obviously inexplicable if they are referred to a logos asarkos, and not to the eternal Son of God and therefore also to the Son of Man existing in time.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Study Edition 24. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 33-34. Print.

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The Legacy of Hans Küng’s Doctrine of Justification

Hans Küng (1928—) was ordained in 1955, and his doctoral thesis, Justification: La Doctrine de Karl Barth et Une Réflexion Catholique was published in 1957 (Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection1964 ET). Justification was Küng's first book and was a study of the Protestant and Roman Catholic teachings on the Doctrine of Justification with a special emphasis on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation conflicts that lead to the schism of Western Christianity. The remarkable conclusion of Justification is that the Protestant and Roman Catholic differences in Doctrines of Justification are only imaginary, and there is no longer any 'justification' for Protestants and Roman Catholics to remain separated brethren. I've assembled the following quotations as a brief survey of events that followed the publication of Justification.

"Trent's teaching on justification can be correctly understood only in the context of history of dogma. In this context, however, it can and must be understood correctly. This, for the time being, is our preliminary answer to Karl Barth's polemic against Trent. Protestants speak of a declaration of justice and Catholics of a making just. But Protestants speak of a declaring just which includes a making just; and Catholics of a making just which supposes a declaring just. Is it not time to stop arguing about imaginary differences?"

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 144-45. Print.

Hans Küng on Karl Barth

In Justification, Küng had chosen Karl Barth as his representative of the Protestant Doctrine of Justification (primarily using Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol. IV/1 and IV/2.) Küng (a recognized teacher in the Roman Catholic Church at that time and later a petrus at Vatican II) represented the Roman Catholicism counterpart to the Doctrine of Justification.

The question to why Küng had chosen Barth as his provost for Protestant may be partially explained by the following quotation from Hans Küng's essay, Karl Barth and the Postmodern Paradigm. If Karl Barth does not represent some Protestants, I hope that the following discourse would consider a second look at Barth's Doctrine of Reconciliation due to the hope of reunification of the divided Western Church may be found in it.

Let me begin on a personal note. I cannot, and will not, speak of Karl Barth as I would of any great theologian or philosopher of the past, Hegel, for example, Schleiermarcher, Kierkegaard, or Harnack. I cannot, and will not, pretend to a lofty objectivity and neutrality, least of all in the case of Barth. Talking about him means for me, now as ever, talking about a person and theologian who has remained alive, who was combative--and pious precisely because of this--a man whom I met in a crucial phase of my life and to whom I am indebted for basic insights into theology (without ever becoming an uncritical Barthian). I have no intention of providing an academic (in the bad sense) abstract of our common history, nor of course will I deny the fact that I disagreed with him then, as I do now. In this retrospective I should like to follow a difficult via media between sympathy and distance, as I try to convey something of the vitality of this theologian and his theology, as I have seen it not only in Barth's work but in a great and many encounters and conversations.

Küng, Hans. "Karl Barth and the Postmodern Paradigm." Princeton Seminary Bulletin (1988): 1. Web.

Council of Trent

Council of Trent

Karl Barth's Response to Justification

Karl Barth was no Roman Catholic sympathizer when Küng had chosen him. In the first part of Justification, Küng summarizes Barth's Doctrine of Justification, including Barth's criticisms of Roman Catholic. I have already written about Küng's summary of Barth's criticisms of Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification in a previous post. The following quotation is an exemplary representative of Barth's criticisms.

[Karl] Barth reacts very strongly against the decree of [the Tridentine] Session VI: “The decree itself is theologically a clever and in many respects a not unsympathetic document which has caused superficial Protestant readers to ask whether there might not be something to say for it. But if we study it more closely it is impossible to conceal the fact that not even the remotest impression seems to have been made upon its exponents by what agitated the Reformers or, for that matter, Paul himself in this whole question of faith and works" (IV/1, 624f.)

Küng, Hans. Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 75. Print.

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Küng's response to Karl Barth's criticisms of the Council of Trent

The genius of Küng's Justification is in the way Küng demonstrated that the Roman Catholics were not condemning what Protestants now believe, and also that the Protestants were not condemning what the Roman Catholic now believed regarding the Doctrine of Justification. Küng is convinced that these two parties were talking past each other as the previous quote exemplified.

Karl Barth's response to the Tridentine Canons represents the way that all Protestants have responded to the 16th century Council of Trent's Anathema sit! (anathematizing) of the Reformers doctrine of "Justification by faith alone".

"If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema." (Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon XII.)

Schaff, Philip. "Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume II. The History of Creeds.", Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009. 113. Web.

Is any Protestant 'unjustified' for reacting in such horror as Barth when they read this Tridentine anathema? This Tridentine Canon and those others like it, especially throughout Session VI, are horrifying to all Protestant ears? Küng's surprising solution does not reject the Council of Trent, but instead he explains that these anathamas do not represent a complete and systematic doctrine of the Catholic Magisterium or apply to Protestants today. Even if the statements claim to be the teaching of the Magisterium, Küng explains that in fact they are only a reaction against events that were convulsing the entire Church that no longer are in effect. Consider Küng's explanation of these events:

In similar discussions about Trent one is likely to be asked with a malicious grin whether such explanations do not produce "a bad historical conscience" among Catholics--the point being that Trent did after all wish to present a comprehensive theology of justification. It is true that Trent was not simply a discussion among confessions or simply a controversial theology but rather a cohesive, positive presentation of Catholic truth. And the Council, especially in Session VI de justificatione, did not limit itself (as it did in Session IV and for the most part in Session V) to restudy and refining texts already promulgated nor did it simply list errors in order to judge them (as did Session VII), but rather dealt directly with the problem of justification as such.

All this is true and indicates the noble and objective spirit of this ecclesiastical assembly, yet we have here no reason for historical pangs of conscience--because the point of departure and the target Council discussions, as well as the never-absent shadow over them, was clearly the Reformation teaching. The decree on justification too, was motivated not by the desire for an unbiased scholarly peace-time declaration but by heresy convulsing the Church. The introduction to the decree notwithstanding its irenic style, is clearly polemical in purpose: "Since at this time a certain erroneous teaching about justification is being broadcast with the consequent loss of many souls and serious damage to Church unity . . . this Council of Trent . . . intends to set forth for all the faithful of Christ the true, sound doctrine of justification" (CT, V, 791; D 792a). 

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 107. Print.

Karl Barth's commendation of Hans Küng's Justification

Karl Barth was a life long friend of Hans Küng, and he responded to this young theologian with a remarkable letter endorsing Justification, and this letter of retraction, in Augustinian fashion, was included as a preface to Justification. Here is a quotation from Barth's letter:

3. The negative conclusion of your critique is this: Due to my erroneous (because unhistorical) evaluation of the definitions and declarations collected in Denzinger and of the statements of the Church’s magisterium in general, I have been guilty of a thoroughgoing misunderstanding and, consequently, of a thoroughgoing injustice regarding the teaching of your Church, especially that of the Fathers of Trent. Quid dicemus ad haec? If the things you cite from Scripture, from older and more recent Roman Catholic theology, from Denzinger and hence from the Tridentine text, do actually represent the teaching of your Church and are establishable as such (Perhaps this single book of yours will be enough to create a consensus!), then, having twice gone to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Trent to commune with the genius loci, I may very well have to hasten there are third time to make a contrite confession—“Fathers, I have sinned.” But taking the statements of that Sixth Session as we now have them before us—statements correctly or incorrectly formulated for reasons then considered compelling—don’t you agree that I should be permitted to plead mitigating circumstances for the considerable difficulty I had trying to discover in that text what you have found to be true Catholic teaching? Imagine! So unexpected a view of freedom, of grace, of juridico-real justification and its realization and foundation in Christ’s death, of the and sola fide, and so on! How do you explain the fact that all this could hidden so long, and from so many, both outside and inside the Church?

Küng, Hans. Preface. Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. xl-xli. Print.

Thus we have the genesis of the healing of the rift between the Roman Catholics and Protestants by Hans Küng and Karl Barth. The question immediately arises whether this is only a compromise among friends, or truly a solution to the Roman Catholic and Protestant schism? The answer is Nein! In 1962, Pope John XXIII appointed Hans Küng as a peritus (expert) in Vatican II. Hans Küng has a significant role in the Second Vatican Council, and worked in a similar capacity to Joseph Ratzinger (who would later become Pope Benedict XVI).

Karl Rahner in 1974

Karl Rahner's commendation of Hans Küng's Justification

In 1962, Karl Rahner published an essay titled, "Questions of Controversial Theology on Justification" in Theological Investigations Vol. 4, that was an assessment of Küng's book Justification and Karl Barth's response. Karl Rahner's writings may be considered opinion or speculative, but he is no Barthian, and he is certainly well respected in Roman Catholicism. Rahner's conclusion was that Hans Küng had represented accurately the Roman Catholic view of Justification, and he also agreed that Küng's description of Barth's doctrine of Justification was compatible with the Roman Catholic view. Rahner raised some concerns regarding whether Barth's doctrine was represented accurately by Küng in Justification, but recommended that Barth's approval and affirmation Justification should be accepted from Barth over the opinion of those who say that Barth's system does not harmonize with Catholicism.

"One can be a Catholic and hold this doctrine of justification, which Karl Barth has declared to be the same as his own." [...] The history of theology is "not simply the history of the progression of dogma, but also a history of forgetting (Probleme, 126)"

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 106-7. Print.


"Thinking as we do, as we shall shortly explain, that we do not understand Barth's doctrine better than Barth, and that Küng propounds on all essential points a doctrine of justification which is in accord with Catholic doctrine, nothing very noteworthy can be said here on the actual theme of the book. Our considerations are therefore marginal notes with regard to the object and contents of the book, and we wish them to be understood as such."

Rahner, Karl. "Questions of Controversial Theology on Justification." Theological Investigations Volume IV: More Recent Writings. Vol. IV. Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966. 189. Print.

1999 signing of the Joint Doctrine of the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) with Bishop Dr. Christian Krause (left) and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy (right) (source:

The silencing of Hans Küng

Hans Küng's Justification (1957) was his doctoral thesis and first book, and such a successful book that it resulted in Küng being made a peritus (Latin for 'expert') at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). However, Küng wrote another controversial book, Infallible? An Inquiry (1971)  that criticized the Roman Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility and subsequently lead to his right to teach being revoked by the Vatican in Dec. 1979. It's important to know that the removal of Küng's right to teach was long after Justification and Vatican II, and that it was Küng's success in his book Justification that lead him to address other dogmatics, but unfortunately, Infallible? An Inquiry, did not receive the same reception as Justification. It's unfortunately that Infallible? An Inquiry left such a dark cloud over Küng.

Hans Küng's Justification and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

The Joint Doctrine on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) was a controversial ecumenical statement in 1997 and 1999 that forged agreement between the Federation of Lutheran Churches and the Roman Catholics Church. The JDDJ was approved by a supermajority vote but not unanimously (124 in favor and 35 opposed). The JDDJ was a monumental eccumentical statement of unity between the Lutherans and Catholics, but many today deny that Hans Küng work in Justification germinated the JDDC, yet the JDDC is remarkably similar to the writings of Küng's 40 years before:

1. On the basis of the agreements reached in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JD), the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church declare together: "The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics" (JD 40). On the basis of this consensus the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church declare together: “The teaching of the Lutheran Churches presented in the Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration" (JD 41).

"Official Common Statement #1" The Holy See. Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

The JDDJ did not settle all the issues dividing the Lutherans and Catholics, but laid the blue print to rebuilding the broken foundation of the divide Church. The Official Common Statement was put forth showing an unprecedented unity between Catholics and Lutherans unseen since the Reformation. Additional statements were put forward by the Vatican about the remain questions as well as by conservative Lutherans on the work left unresolved by the JDDJ.

Was Hans Küng the Forgotten Founding Father of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

"I know today that an agreement could have been arrived at over the matter of justification, as I argued in my doctoral dissertation, Justification, in 1957, and as has been confirmed in 1999 by the Roman Catholic-Lutheran consensus document."

Küng, Hans, and John Bowden. The Catholic Church: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2001. 125. Print.

In Hans Küng's Memoirs, in reference to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) [mirror], he wrote:

"It will take around 40 years, until 1999, for the breakthrough already achieved in 1957 to be officially sanctioned by the church. I once read in C.G. Jung that it takes 40 years for an idea from the higher levels of the clergy to get down to the men on the street.

Did the prelates also count on that? At any event, first of all there was some undesirable theological haggling: instead of taking the results of the book Justification, the subsequent discussion and the Malta document as presupposition of an official recognition of the consensus, the Vatican, playing for time, set up year another ecumenical commission with the Lutheran World Federation which for years had once again to chew through all the statements in the Tridentine decree on justification. Galley slaves’s work.

Küng, Hans. My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003. 144. Print.

There's a remarkable silence in the JDDJ regarding Hans Küng, especially since the JDDJ repeated the same ingenius arguments that Küng provided forty years before in Justification. In the following quotation that extends the previous quote, Küng explains this extremely awkward situation, where the the JDDJ is formed due to his ground-breaking research, yet he remains uncredited, and how others give him recognition when the ancient Catholic Church does not (forgive my protestant slant):

It goes without saying that I remain excluded from such official discussions by commissions under the conditions of an all too eternal yesterday — at the wish of Rome and with the assent of Protestants. And I’m pleased: what a waste of time! Here of course the Roman infallibles attach importance to every statement of Trent: these cannot in any way be false or even wrong, but were ‘fundamentally’ correct or were at least ‘meant to be correct’ (otherwise ‘everything would collapse’). But of necessity Lutheran biblical scholars respond to the Roman tactics accordingly: they are concerned to demonstrate that as many formulations as possible in Luther or the confessional writings are irreformably correct and, where they can be, are to be pressed into the categories of law and gospel. In a neurosis over confessional profile, some remain caught in the mediaeval paradigm, others in the Reformation paradigm. And so they lose opportunity of making clear to people in a competitive society in a quite concrete and convincing way how important it is that human beings as persons are not justified by God on the basis of achievements, successes, works of all kinds, but happily by God himself, who expects only trusting faith.

Be this as it may, finally in 1999, despite some shady moves and Luther counter-moves and after further additional declarations, on 31 October, the anniversary of the Reformation, a declaration of agreement will be signed in Augsburg. When this happens, vigorous applause spontaneously breaks out in the church and goes on for an astonishing time. For me — watching it on television — is a great delight. For the applause shows those in church and those watching on TV how great the longing is for such an ecumenical agreement. A late triumph. No doubt about it. But should I conceal the fact that at the wish of Rome the name of the author of the 1957 book Justification, which was originally top of the list of those to be invited, was again deleted — and as so often without a protest from the Protestants involved? Certainly this pettiness niggles me a little, but I can easily get over it, and in any case I am no friend of long church ceremonies. Did my former assistant and colleague Walter Kasper, now a Curia bishop, no doubt informed about the deletion of my name, perhaps sign for me in spirit? At any rate, to conclude from several reactions, including those of Bishop Karl Lehmann, I am not forgotten by the well informed. The best sign comes a few weeks later at the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, on the occasion of my lecture to the Parliament of the World Religions in December 1999. On the stage, the Lutheran Bishop of Cape Town, Nils Rohwer, gives me the fountain pen, beautifully engraved by the city of Augsburg, with which he himself signed the Augsburg document: he says that I deserve it more than he does. The Lord Mayor of the city of Augsburg is kind enough later to send him another jubilee fountain pen at my request. This is practical ecumenism in small matters."

Küng, Hans. My Struggle for Freedom: Memoirs. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003. 144-45. Print.

The Legacy of Hans Küng's Justification today

The Justification is a ground breaking event in the reunification of Western Christianity, and despite that laudable success of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, Protestants and Roman Catholics remain 'separated brethren' and the uncrossable chasm between the two branches of Western Christianity remains for the foreseeable future. It is understandable that a five hundred year family feud would not heal overnight, and that the opposing sides desire to see more resolution on other disputed dogmas than 'justification by faith alone'. We may hope that further work would continue to be done now that Küng's Justification has let forth the floodgates.

The JDDJ was a productive test case of Küng's Justification, but some of my Reformed friends have expressed that it does not address the particular Reformed criticisms of Roman Catholicism, and suggest that the JDDJ was another incarnation of Andreas Osiander's doctrine of 'Essential Righteousness'. John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion III.XI.5-13, contains Calvin's extended criticism of Osiander's Doctrine of 'Essential Righteousness.'

After contacting every Lutheran and Reformed with a Ph.D. that I could find on twitter, I received a consistent response that the JDDJ departed from Küng's Justification to the degree that they would accept Küng's Justification but not the JDDJ. And almost every person I spoke with, and there were many, referred me to Eberhard Jüngel's book, "Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith" as the most important response to the ideas Hans Küng proposed fifty years ago.

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Sign of the Gospel: A Post-Barthian Doctrine of Infant Baptism


The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth by W. Travis McMaken

Karl Barth's rejection of infant baptism is as infamous as it is controversial. Opponents of Barth's doctrine of baptism have defended infant baptism with the historical, covenantal and sacramental arguments, with Oscar Cullmann's Baptism in the New Testament being among the best representatives of these arguments. George Hunsinger recommended to me in a personal correspondence,  W. Travis McMaken's book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth as a post-Barthian solution for affirming infant baptism.

In The Sign of the Gospel, Dr. McMaken begins by assuming that Karl Barth's critique of infant baptism was correct and forges a new path for affirming infant baptism by using Barth against Barth, and therefore he goes through Karl Barth to a new and surprising solution to this ancient debate. McMaken's post-Barthian solution for affirming infant baptism may best be introduced in the following quotation from The Sign of the Gospel:

By way of recapitulation, perhaps the best way to describe my understanding in this volume is with reference to a quotation by Eberhard Jüngel. He claims that Barth's 'doctrine of baptism is . . . not an appendix to the Church Dogmatics, but rather . . . a test-case' such that anyone who 'wants infant baptism should not seek nourishment for the pulpit from Barth's doctrine of election. . . . It is one or the other—one must decide for oneself.' This volume has sought to demonstrate the former aspect of Jüngel's declaration while controverting the second. In other words, it defends two claims.

First, it demonstrates that Barth's doctrine of baptism in CD IV/4, and his rejection of infant baptism in particular, is not a final aberration of his theology but is deeply consistent with his mature theological commitments.

Second, it argues that Barth's theological commitments do not necessarily terminate in this fashion; that is, it is possible to advance a doctrine of baptism that is both consistent with Barth's mature theology and affirms infant baptism as a fitting form of baptismal administration.

McMaken, W. Travis, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. pg275, Print. (formatting slightly modified)

I am surprised and impressed by The Sign of the Gospel because this book thoroughly defends the Barthian doctrine of baptism, and then moves through it and onward to a post-Barthian doctrine of infant baptism. McMaken demonstrates that there has been a superficial rejection of Karl Barth's arguments against infant baptism, as if the CD IV/4 fragment was only an appendix, rather than a test-case (as the previous quotation described). He has also shown that Markus Barth's works rejecting infant baptism were unjustly ignored or rejected in the same way that Barth's CD IV/4 fragment has been dismissed. (Markus Barth is Karl Barth's eldest son and accomplished theologian).

The Sign of the Gospel also contains excursuses explaining Karl Barth's rejection of the traditional prooftexts for infant baptism, and helpful explanations of Karl Barth's negative assessment of the sacramental and covenantal arguments based on these texts. Instead of these traditional prooftexts, McMaken points to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 as the post-Barthian scriptural foundation for infant baptism. The Sign of the Gospel was able to explain Karl Barth's scriptural criticism in a way that I did not fully understand the first time I had read Karl Barth's CD IV/4 fragment on baptism. McMaken also demonstrates an excellent ecumenical stance on the doctrine of baptism, where those whom do not administer infant baptism and those whom do, may recognize each other's baptism. Also, I love that this book is titled, The Sign of the Gospel, which is from Calvin's commentary on the Great Commission in Calvin's commentary on the harmony of the gospels. The following second and longer quotation is a helpful overview of the arguments presented so far in The Sign of the Gospel:

I have endeavored in this chapter to construct a doctrine of baptism on the soil of Barth's mature theology where infant baptism is a legitimate form of the gospel proclamation by which the church discharges its missionary task. Although the decision for or against infant baptism must be a contextual one made by each church in its particular time and place, it is an inherently fitting mode of baptismal administration. To make this case, I undertook a reconfiguration of Barth's doctrine of baptism founded on critically assessing how he conceived of baptism's basis. By dismissing Barth's historical conjecture concerning Christian baptism's origin, and recovering the importance of Matthew 28:18-20 on Barthian grounds, I argued that baptism is best understood as a mode of gospel proclamation whereby the church discharges its missionary task, which exists in a close and mutually implicating relation with the church's instructional mode of the gospel proclamation. Jesus' baptism by John retains importance at this point insofar as it provides baptism's content, as well as its dimension of depth in Jesus Christ's saving history. With reference to baptism's goal, I argued that water baptism's primary goal is Spirit baptism and that it is thereby implicated in a stratified multiplicity of goals. The saving history of Jesus Christ grounds this relic complex, extending to the active discipleship of individual human beings that necessarily results from the Spirit's awakening work. I also argued here that the holistic particularity or objective-subjective character of water baptism when conceived as a mode of the church's gospel proclamation helps to make sense of the ethical force with which baptism is deployed in the New Testament. In terms of baptism's meaning, I argued four points.

First, Barth conceives of witness as the mode of the church's mediation, and he believes that the church's mediating witness is given a share in Jesus Christ's self-mediating self-witness in the event of awakening to conversion or, alternatively, Spirit baptism.

Second, how Barth conceives of this participation by the church's witness in Jesus Christ's self-witness is not accurately described by notions of parallel activity or of instrumentality; rather, Barth's far more radical conception of the relation between divine and human activity proposes their paradoxical identity. He arrives at this conception by rejecting the sort of causal thinking that depends on an analogia causalis between divine and human action. Instead of God simply extending his causality through the church's instrumentality or parallel with its activity, Jesus Christ himself encounters particular human beings in and as the church's proclamation.

Third, I understood to reread Barth's doctrine of baptism in order to demonstrate that such a position is not foreign to Church Dogmatics IV/4.

Fourth and finally, I argued that identifying that church's baptismal gospel proclamation as fundamentally an event of epiclesis allows for the church to administer baptism in confident and expectant hope that its prayer for the baptizand's Spirit baptism will be fulfilled, even though the church cannot say how or when that fulfillment will occur.

The doctrine of baptism that I have advanced is open to infant baptism insofar as I have argued that infant baptism is a fitting form of baptismal administration. This mirrors the New Testament witness in neither requiring nor forbidding the practice. Reading Barth against Barth, I argued that the most responsible theological position with reference to the New Testament witness requires that the church make a decision in every time and place concerning whether the baptism of infants is a proper application of the baptismal mode of its gospel proclamation undertaken in service to its missionary task. Further I argued that infant baptism practiced on the bias of the doctrine of baptism I advanced here avoids many of the dangers against which Barth warns.

McMaken, W. Travis, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. pg273-274, Print. (formatting slightly modified)


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Karl Barth on Jesus Loves Me and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.

In the lore of Karl Barth, are two nursery rhymes that Barth used his great wit to respond to questions.

Jesus Loves Me

According to the best accounts of the incident I have heard (many have taken on weird additions), Karl Barth was at Rockefeller Chapel (really a Gothic cathedral!) on the campus of the University of Chicago during his lecture tour of the U.S. in 1962. After his lecture, during the Q & A time, a student asked Barth if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence. Barth allegedly said something like “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” That is the simple, unadorned story. Many tellers have adorned it with additions of their own (in sermons, etc.).

(source: Roger E. Olson, "Did Karl Barth Really Say “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know….?”")

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

After the service in a parish church where Barth had been preaching one Sunday, he was met at the door by a man who greeted him with these words: "Professor Barth, thank you for your sermon. I'm an astronomer, you know, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of Christianity can be summed up by saying, 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.'" Barth replied: "Well, I am just a humble theologian, and as far as I am concerned, the whole of astronomy can be summed up by saying, 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.'"

(source: John D. Godsey, ed. George Hunsinger, "For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesial Theology")


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Top 10 Inspirational Quotes of Karl Barth


Karl Barth (Old Age), source:

Karl Barth is notoriously difficult to quote. Is this bad? Nein! Karl Barth won the Sigmund Freud Price in 1968 for his literary style. Barth's literary genre may not easily lend to quotations, however the following ubiquitous quotes appear again and again and attributed to Karl Barth. After scouring the internet, the following quotations are the top ten most frequently quoted online. Were these quotations ever spoken by Karl Barth or Pseudo-Karl Barth? You decide!

1. Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

2. Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.

3. Take your Bible and your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.

4. To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world

5. The best theology would need no advocates; it would prove itself.

6. Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way.

7. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

8. Preachers should have the bible in one hand and newspapers in the other

9. [To a student] I haven't even read everything I wrote.

10. When the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; when they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart and God eavesdrops

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Karl Barth’s Letter Endorsing Hans Küng’s Justification

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Hans Kung and Karl Barth

Karl Barth responded to Hans Küng's book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. in the follow letter with this remarkable endorsement of Hans Küng's book! Karl Barth had written in his Church Dogmatics Vol. 4 that only a superficial Protestant would be able to accept the Canons of Trent that condemned Justification By Faith Alone (especially Canon 12.) Yet, in the following letter, Barth changes his position after reading Küng's Justification and declares that he approves of Küng's assessment of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification, and Trent was no longer a barrier for him in terms of reconciliation between the separated Churches.

Justification has tremendously influential over the last fifty years. Karl Rahner wrote about Justification in an essay in Theological Investigations Vol. IV, that Karl Barth's approval of Hans Küng's Justification should be accepted despite critics that believed that Barth's Church Dogmatics could not be harmonzedrather than those who say that Barth's Dogmatics is not correctly represented by Küng. Karl Rahner also provides an amazing endorsement of Hans Küng in heological Investigations Vol. IV, when Rahner wrote, "One can be a Catholic and hold this doctrine of justification, which Karl Barth has declared to be the same as his own." Continue reading...

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Hans Küng explains Karl Barth’s Rejections of the Tridentine Teaching on Justification

Barth with his brother Peter, his son Markus and Ernst Wolf in Florence, on a happy trip to Italy in September 1934. In Rome Barth wrote his No!, attacking Emil Brunner, and arguing that 'natural theology' was the chief cause of the present confusion in the church. (source:

In this quotation from Hans Küng's book, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic ReflectionKarl Barth's criticisms of the Council of Trent are presented, and later in the book, Küng responds in an excellent show to Barth's critiques. So much that Barth writes an amazing letter of approval to Küng's book. I previously shared a letter containing a summary of Barth's criticisms of catholicism, but the following quotation gets to the heart of the matter, and that is the question of Justification.

Why are Catholics and Protestants separated brothers and sisters? What is the one issue the divides us all? Is it not, as Martin Luther said, that "justification by faith alone" is the "doctrine by which the church stands or falls"? Marian Dogmas or Papal Infallibility are contentious debates, but Justification is the central doctrine of the Reformation that separates Protestants and Catholics from one another. If it is justification that separates us, what is it specifically about justification that divides the Church?

Küng's Justification is a miraculous answer to our divided Church! In this book, the question of Justification is answered in a way that may unite the global church, and find fulfillment to Jesus' prayer that we would be one as he is one with the Father. Continue reading...

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