Karl Barth quotes

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Karl Barth

Birthdate: 10. May 1886
Date of death: 10. December 1968

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian who is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture, leading him to be featured on the cover of Time on April 20, 1962.

Beginning with his experience as a pastor, Barth rejected his training in the predominant liberal theology typical of 19th-century European Protestantism. He also rejected more conservative forms of Christianity. Instead he embarked on a new theological path initially called dialectical theology due to its stress on the paradoxical nature of divine truth . Many critics have referred to Barth as the father of neo-orthodoxy – a term that Barth emphatically rejected. A more charitable description of his work might be "a theology of the Word." Barth's work had a profound impact on twentieth century theology and figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who like Barth became a leader in the Confessing Church – Thomas F. Torrance, Reinhold Niebuhr, Jacques Ellul, Stanley Hauerwas, Hans Kung, Jürgen Moltmann, and novelists such as John Updike and Miklós Szentkuthy.

Barth's unease with the dominant theology which characterized Europe led him to become a leader in the Confessing Church in Germany, which actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In particular, Barth and other members of the movement vigorously attempted to prevent the Nazis from taking over the existing church and establishing a state church controlled by the regime. This culminated in Barth's authorship of the Barmen Declaration, which fiercely criticized Christians who supported the Nazis.

One of the most prolific and influential theologians of the twentieth century, Barth emphasized the sovereignty of God, particularly through his reinterpretation of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, the sinfulness of humanity, and the "infinite qualitative distinction between God and mankind". His most famous works are his The Epistle to the Romans, which marked a clear break from his earlier thinking, and his massive thirteen-volume work Church Dogmatics, one of the largest works of systematic theology ever written.

Works

„The Truth lies not in the Yes and not in the No, but in the knowledge and the beginning from which the Yes and the No arise.“

—  Karl Barth

The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928)
Context: The Truth lies not in the Yes and not in the No, but in the knowledge and the beginning from which the Yes and the No arise. <!-- p. 72

„This is the voice of our conscience, telling us of the righteousness of God. And since conscience is the perfect interpreter of life, what it tells us is no question, no riddle, no problem, but a fact — the deepest, innermost, surest fact of life: God is righteous.“

—  Karl Barth

"The Righteousness of God" (1916) in The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928) as translated by Douglas Horton; this passage begins with a quote of Isaiah 40:3-5; often quoted alone has been the phrase following it: "Conscience is the perfect interpreter of life."
Context: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed!" This is the voice of our conscience, telling us of the righteousness of God. And since conscience is the perfect interpreter of life, what it tells us is no question, no riddle, no problem, but a fact — the deepest, innermost, surest fact of life: God is righteous. Our only question is what attitude toward the fact we ought to take.
We shall hardly approach the fact with our critical reason. The reason sees the small and the larger but not the large. It sees the preliminary, but not the final, the derived but not the original, the complex but not the simple. It sees what is human but not what is divine.
We shall hardly be taught this fact by men.

„Man can certainly keep on lying (and he does so); but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel (he does so); but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God.“

—  Karl Barth, book Church Dogmatics

2:2 <!-- p. 317 -->
Paraphrased variant: Man can certainly flee from God... but he cannot escape him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God … but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in his hate.
Quoted in Simpson's Contemporary Quotations (1998) by James Beasley Simpson.
Church Dogmatics (1932–1968)
Context: Man can certainly keep on lying (and he does so); but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel (he does so); but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God. He can certainly flee from God (he does so); but he cannot escape Him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God (he does and is so); but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in His hate. He can certainly give himself to isolation (he does so — he thinks, wills and behaves godlessly, and is godless); but even in his isolation he must demonstrate that which he wishes to controvert — the impossibility of playing the "individual" over against God. He may let go of God, but God does not let go of him.

„Eternity is here (in the stable at Bethlehem and on the cross of Calvary) in time.“

—  Karl Barth

The Knowledge of God and the Service of God (1939)
Context: Eternity is here (in the stable at Bethlehem and on the cross of Calvary) in time. <!-- 78

„Our Yes towards life from the very beginning carries within it the Divine No which breaks forth from the antithesis and points away from what now was the thesis to the original and final synthesis. The No is not the last and highest truth, but the call from home which comes in answer to our asking for God in the world.“

—  Karl Barth

The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928)
Context: Our Yes towards life from the very beginning carries within it the Divine No which breaks forth from the antithesis and points away from what now was the thesis to the original and final synthesis. The No is not the last and highest truth, but the call from home which comes in answer to our asking for God in the world.<!-- p. 312

„The Resurrection is the emergence of the necessity of giving glory to God: the reckoning with what is unknown and unobservable in Jesus, the recognition of Him as Paradox, Victor and Primal History.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: The Resurrection is the revelation: the disclosing of Jesus as the Christ, the appearing of God, and the apprehending of God in Jesus. The Resurrection is the emergence of the necessity of giving glory to God: the reckoning with what is unknown and unobservable in Jesus, the recognition of Him as Paradox, Victor and Primal History. In the Resurrection the new world of the Holy Spirit touches the old world of the flesh, but touches it as a tangent touches a circle, that is, without touching it. And, precisely because it does not touch it, it touches it as its frontier — as the new world.<!-- p. 29

„The reason sees the small and the larger but not the large. It sees the preliminary, but not the final, the derived but not the original, the complex but not the simple. It sees what is human but not what is divine.“

—  Karl Barth

"The Righteousness of God" (1916) in The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928) as translated by Douglas Horton; this passage begins with a quote of Isaiah 40:3-5; often quoted alone has been the phrase following it: "Conscience is the perfect interpreter of life."
Context: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed!" This is the voice of our conscience, telling us of the righteousness of God. And since conscience is the perfect interpreter of life, what it tells us is no question, no riddle, no problem, but a fact — the deepest, innermost, surest fact of life: God is righteous. Our only question is what attitude toward the fact we ought to take.
We shall hardly approach the fact with our critical reason. The reason sees the small and the larger but not the large. It sees the preliminary, but not the final, the derived but not the original, the complex but not the simple. It sees what is human but not what is divine.
We shall hardly be taught this fact by men.

„The name Jesus defines an historical occurence and marks the point where the unknown world cuts the known world . . . as Christ Jesus is the plane which lies beyond our comprehension.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: The name Jesus defines an historical occurence and marks the point where the unknown world cuts the known world... as Christ Jesus is the plane which lies beyond our comprehension. The plane which is known to us, He intersects vertically, from above. Within history Jesus as the Christ can be understood only as Problem or Myth. As the Christ He brings the world of the Father. But we who stand in this concrete world know nothing, and are incapable of knowing anything, of that other world. The Resurrection from the dead is, however, the transformation: the establishing or declaration of that point from above, and the corresponding discerning of it below. <!-- p. 29

„He is the One who stands above us and also above our highest and deepest feelings, strivings, intuitions, above the products, even the most sublime, of the human spirit.“

—  Karl Barth

This is paraphrased in "Karl Barth's Conception of God" (1952) http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol2/520102BarthsConceptionOfGod.pdf by Martin Luther King, Jr.: God is the one who stands above our highest and deepest feelings, strivings and intuitions.
Dogmatics in Outline (1949)
Context: He is the One who stands above us and also above our highest and deepest feelings, strivings, intuitions, above the products, even the most sublime, of the human spirit. God in the highest means first of all … He who is in no way established in us, in no way corresponds to a human disposition and possibility, but who is in every sense established simply in Himself and is real in that way; and who is manifest and made manifest to us men, not because of our seeking and finding, feeling and thinking, but again and again, only through Himself. It is this God in the highest who has turned as such to man, given Himself to man, made Himself knowable to him … God in the highest, in the sense of the Christian Confession, means He who from on high has condescended to us, has come to us, has become ours.<!-- p. 37

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„We are now assuming that we have here the centre and goal of all God's works, and therefore the hidden beginning of them all.“

—  Karl Barth, book Church Dogmatics

2:1 <!-- p. 661 -->
Church Dogmatics (1932–1968)
Context: We are now assuming that we have here the centre and goal of all God's works, and therefore the hidden beginning of them all. We are also assuming that the prominent place occupied by this divine work has something corresponding to it in the essence of God, that the Son forms the centre of the Trinity, and that the essence of the divine being has, so to speak, its locus … in His work, in the name and person of Jesus Christ.

„The Gospel is not a religious message to inform mankind of their divinity or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from men.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: The Gospel is not a religious message to inform mankind of their divinity or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from men. <!-- p. 28

„He may let go of God, but God does not let go of him.“

—  Karl Barth, book Church Dogmatics

2:2 <!-- p. 317 -->
Paraphrased variant: Man can certainly flee from God... but he cannot escape him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God … but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in his hate.
Quoted in Simpson's Contemporary Quotations (1998) by James Beasley Simpson.
Church Dogmatics (1932–1968)
Context: Man can certainly keep on lying (and he does so); but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel (he does so); but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God. He can certainly flee from God (he does so); but he cannot escape Him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God (he does and is so); but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in His hate. He can certainly give himself to isolation (he does so — he thinks, wills and behaves godlessly, and is godless); but even in his isolation he must demonstrate that which he wishes to controvert — the impossibility of playing the "individual" over against God. He may let go of God, but God does not let go of him.

„The known plane is God's creation, fallen out of its union with Him, and therefore the world of the flesh needing redemption, the world of men, and of time, and of things — our world.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: The known plane is God's creation, fallen out of its union with Him, and therefore the world of the flesh needing redemption, the world of men, and of time, and of things — our world. This known plane is intersected by another plane that is unknown — the world of the Father, of the Primal Creation, and of the final Redemption. The relation between us and God, between this world and His world presses for recognition, but the line of intersection is not self-evident. <!-- p. 29

„The saving of anyone is something which is not in the power of man, but only of God. No one can be saved — in virtue of what he can do. Everyone can be saved — in virtue of what God can do.“

—  Karl Barth, book Church Dogmatics

2:2 <!-- p. 625 -->
Church Dogmatics (1932–1968)
Context: The saving of anyone is something which is not in the power of man, but only of God. No one can be saved — in virtue of what he can do. Everyone can be saved — in virtue of what God can do. The divine claim takes the form that it puts both the obedient and the disobedient together and compels them to realise this, to recognise their common status in face of the commanding God.

„The Epistle to the Romans is a revelation of the unknown God; God chooses to come to man, not man to God. Even after the revelation man cannot know God, for he is ever the unknown God.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: We know that God is He whom we do not know, and that our ignorance is precisely the problem and the source of our knowledge. The Epistle to the Romans is a revelation of the unknown God; God chooses to come to man, not man to God. Even after the revelation man cannot know God, for he is ever the unknown God. In manifesting himself to man he is farther away than before. <!-- p. 48

„In Jesus, God really becomes a mystery, makes himself known as the unknown, speaks as the eternally Silent One.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: The revelation in Jesus, just because it is the revelation of the righteousness of God is at the same time the strongest conceivable veiling and unknowableness of God. In Jesus, God really becomes a mystery, makes himself known as the unknown, speaks as the eternally Silent One.<!-- p. 73

„God is personal, but personal in an incomprehensible way, in so far as the conception of his personality surpasses all our views of personality.“

—  Karl Barth

The Knowledge of God and the Service of God (1939)
Context: God is personal, but personal in an incomprehensible way, in so far as the conception of his personality surpasses all our views of personality. <!-- p. 31

„To look to Him is to see Him at the very centre, to see Him and the history which, accomplished in Him, heals everything and all things, as the mystery, reality, origin and goal of the whole world, all men, all life.“

—  Karl Barth, book Church Dogmatics

4:4 <!-- p. 150 -->
Church Dogmatics (1932–1968)
Context: Since Jesus Christ is a servant, looking to Him cannot mean looking away from the world, from men, from life, or, as is often said, from oneself. It cannot mean looking away into some distance or height. To look to Him is to see Him at the very centre, to see Him and the history which, accomplished in Him, heals everything and all things, as the mystery, reality, origin and goal of the whole world, all men, all life. To look to Him is to cleave to Him as the One who bears away the sin of the world. It is to be bound and liberated, claimed, consoled, cheered and ruled by Him.

„The relation between us and God, between this world and His world presses for recognition, but the line of intersection is not self-evident.“

—  Karl Barth, book The Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle to the Romans (1918; 1921)
Context: The known plane is God's creation, fallen out of its union with Him, and therefore the world of the flesh needing redemption, the world of men, and of time, and of things — our world. This known plane is intersected by another plane that is unknown — the world of the Father, of the Primal Creation, and of the final Redemption. The relation between us and God, between this world and His world presses for recognition, but the line of intersection is not self-evident. <!-- p. 29

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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