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."


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 book of 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). After his ejection from the Bonn faculty for resistance to the growing National Socialist movement, he returned to Basel, where he would teach until his retirement. 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 10th, 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]^

_See also: Theology of Karl Barth_

Church Dogmatics

Barth's Church Dogmatics (CD) were written from his classroom lectures in dogmatic theology. There are fourteen volumes as the set has traditionally been published -- thirteen plus an index volume. However, each of these is considered a "part-volume" within the four volumes of the Church Dogmatics: volume 1 on the Word of God, volume 2 on the doctrine of God, volume 3 on the doctrine of Creation, and volume 4 on the doctrine of Reconciliation. The standard citation form puts these volumes in Roman numerals, followed by the part-volume number in Arabic numerals, as seen in the chart below.

The Study Edition of the Church Dogmatics, as published by T&T Clark in 2009, is broken up into 31 volumes, with references to the original set of fourteen volumes and its standard page numbering. ^[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

The Church Dogmatics was never completed as originally planned. Barth's death in 1968 left the work concluded by a fragment of the planned part-volume IV/4, on Baptism. The remainder of the manuscript was in the process of being edited at the time of his death, and remained unpublished until 1981. The existing course of four volumes (The Doctrine of the Word of God, The Doctrine of God, The Doctrine of Creation, The Doctrine of Reconciliation) was to be completed by a fifth volume following the trinitarian scheme set out early in its course: The Doctrine of Redemption.

Selected works

Suggested reading


  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

Barth studies

Online writings