Sunday, December 5, 2010

Karl Barth

One hope for our trip was the possibility of visiting Karl Barth's city and, perhaps, visiting his home and seeing his archives. When we were in school in the 60's Barth was probably the most prominent Reformed theologian, known for his prodigious output of scholarly writing and his generous attention to his students. Several of Jack's professors had studied here with Barth, and students who could arrange it were still coming here to study. In those days we could only dimly imagine what studing in Basel might involve, so we were delighted for the chance to come, even so many years later, and imagine what it might have been like to study here.

Our friend and landlord called for us, and we were given an appointment for Wednesday afternoon. We made our way up to the Bruderhaus district by tram in the midst of falling snow.

The Karl Barth home...

Dr. Drewes met us at the door and graciously invited us inside and upstairs to Barth's personal study where we visited for over an hour.

The walls were lined in two rooms with his personal library, including his own edition of his monumental "Church Dogmatics," as well as other works he valued.

Over the doorways were etchings, one of Mozart who "provided him natural revelation" and one of John Calvin who "provided him special revelation."
Over Barth's desk where he wrote long hand his many, many letters, articles and books, hung a reproduction of the crucufiction from the center panel of the altarpiece of the cathedral in Colmar by Gruenwald. The hallmark of Barth's theology has always been its high Christology.

Karl Barth was born in Basel but educated in Germany where he began teaching. With the rise of the Nazis he was expelled, and returned to Basel where he lived and taught until his death in 1968.

The Barth personal letters are kept and still being catalogued here. Dr. Drewes, who personally attended Barth's last series of public Saturday lectures, showed us some of the correspondence, at first all hand written and later typed. The original edition of "Church Dogmatics" is in Barth's own hand, with the transcription by his secretary on the verso (see below).

Some of the letters which are being transcribed onto computer files....

We were able to ask about Barth's contacts with Bonhoeffer, and discuss his contacts with the Catholic theologian Hans Kuhn. All of this discussion is certainly dated and not of much interest anymore, but we both found it fascinating, and we were so pleased with the opportunity.

We asked Dr. Dewes if students were still studying Barth. "Not so much, now," he said. The last entry in the guest book before ours was November 4, and ours was December 1. We were both certainly privileged to have studied Barth in our day.

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