The morning of December 14 the blanket of clouds that had covered Switzerland for several weeks lifted at the nation’s northwest corner, and a clear winter sun shone down on Basel. And there the memorial service for Switzerland’s grand old theologian, Karl Barth, was held in Basel Minster, in the presence of Swiss and German professors, church and civic officials, and a large throng of former students, friends, and admirers.

Barth had died quietly at home during the night of Monday the ninth, of heart failure. He had been near death several years ago, but had recovered to continue work on the five unfinished volumes of Church Dogmatics. He underwent surgery in September but had been expected to recover.

The public memorial service—following a small private burial—was simple and solemn, with a note of majesty. Despite words of sorrow and the sense of loss expressed by several speakers, the atmosphere in the great church was one of homage rather than mourning. It was in keeping with the character of a man who—as Berlin’s Professor Helmut Gollwitzer said—had spent his life witnessing to Emmanuel, God with us, and is now with him.

Tributes from members of the Basel theological faculty and the city administration emphasized his geniality as a teacher, his simplicity in dealing with the common people, his loyalty to Switzerland and Basel, his humor, and his humility.

A younger Zurich professor claimed that Barth’s greatness lay in his theological industry and sachlichkeit (matter-of-fact-ness), and appealed to theologians to honor his memory by working harder and being ever more sachlich.

This well-meant tribute sounded flat by comparison with personal homage paid by former World Council General Secretary Visser’t Hooft, and by Czech Professor Joseph Hromádka, who, in an unexpected visit from Prague, honored Barth for his deep understanding and brotherly love for Christians in East Europe.

Gollwitzer was the first to sound a spiritual note, which was reinforced by Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng.

Küng praised Barth for protesting against a sickly, anthropocentric Roman Catholic and Protestant theology that tried to incorporate God into a man-centered framework, in order to protest for God, for Christ, and for the communion of believers.

Küng struck a deeply personal note in recalling a conversation in which Barth rejected a compliment Küng had paid to his good faith. Barth told Küng that when he stood before God he would bring neither his theological books nor his good faith but only the plea, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” For Küng there was no doubt that Barth has found that mercy.

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Despite all the praise of Barth’s scholarship, the strongest impression was made by Küng and Gollwitzer as they recalled how, early in 1945, Barth turned to a Germany smothered in blood and ashes with Christ’s message of repentance, forgiveness, and hope, showing for the Germans a love that came from his knowledge of God’s love for him.

In the magnitude of his theological productivity, Karl Barth was without parallel in our century. As a scholar he had few peers. As a scholar ready to acknowledge his debt to God’s mercy, fewer still.

The Barth Era

A lover of Mozart, American Civil War buff, and the man history will probably adjudge the twentieth century’s most important theologian, died last month.

The eighty-two years of Karl Barth’s life spanned an era of great turbulence both in world affairs and in theology. In the midst of it all, this one intellect shifted the theological spectrum away from the subjective Left and revived a biblical skepticism toward the structures of men.

Barth was born in Basel, Switzerland, in a family that had produced several generations of Swiss Reformed pastors. When Karl was 3, his father left his parish to take a New Testament and church history professorship at Bern. His father was his first theological teacher, and he went on to study in Berlin, Tübingen, and Marburg. In 1908 he was ordained in the Reformed cathedral at Bern. He worked a year on a liberal theological journal, and held pastorates in Geneva and Safenwil. In the latter town he became immersed in the cause of the factory workers, and sparked controversy by espousing socialism.

But Barth saw the weakness in such liberal mentors as Adolf von Harnack and Wilhelm Herrmann when the German theological leadership endorsed the militarism of Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914. This was the logical outcome of stress on an immanent God working through temporal movements (see editorial, page 22).

Barth’s response was the 1919 commentary on the Book of Romans, a twentieth-century equivalent of the Ninety-five Theses, nailed on the cathedral door of cultural Christianity. His concept was that of a transcendent, “Wholly Other” God.

By the time Barth’s influence had seeped to America, he was beginning to apply the same critique to a later regime in Germany. Appointed to a chair in Bonn in 1930, Barth was thus a state employee, but he refused to take the obligatory oath to Hitler or to open classes with a salute to the chancellor.

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By 1934, with Nazi pressures for a docile church and a “German Christianity,” Barth became the chief author of the “Barmen Confession,” signed by 200 leading Protestants. Its biblical invective against political encroachments in the Church steeled the opposition of the “confessing Church” through the persecution ahead, and set a new style for faith-affirmation in crisis. By 1935, Barth had been expelled from Germany and had resumed his teaching in Basel.

Much has been made of the fact that when a third totalitarianism—Communism—came along, the post-war Barth was quite conciliatory. He was much more interested in pastoral admonitions on how Christians should deal with the new regimes of East Europe than in political polemics. One reason: Barth saw the Reds’ mailed-fist atheism as an obvious enemy, of little threat within the Church, whereas Nazism had remade the faith in its own image. And Barth’s disdain for the man-made applied to what he saw as a paranoid West.

During these dramatic years in politics, Barth was carefully churning out volumes of his massive Church Dogmatics. This unsystematic systematic theology followed some of the convolutions of Barth’s own thought. Though little-read, it seemed destined at his death to have as much long-range effect as any other theological work of the century. And it was increasingly apparent that the work would be mined as much by future Catholic thinkers as by Protestants. Although he wrote 200 books in all, it was Dogmatics that led to the assessment that Barth was probably the most important Protestant theologian since Calvin.

Barth shuddered at the thought of producing “Bartbians” and was uncomfortable with the labels men put on his work: “neo-orthodoxy,” “crisis theology,” “dialectical theology.” It had to be admitted that his tremendous impact in the forties and fifties was giving way in the sixties to a theological force remarkably similar to that which he had originally protested. He scorned such radical “paperback theology.”

Many evangelical scholars, who found riches in the bulk of his work, saw this decline inevitable because of internal weaknesses in Barth’s view of revelation. Fundamentalist Carl McIntire’s curious, erroneous epitaph was that Barth “did as much as any one man in this century to destroy the historic Christian faith built upon the literal bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead and Christ’s visible ascension into Heaven.… What indeed did he find when he entered the gates of death?”

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Whatever complaints were aired about his theology, there was near-universal appreciation of Barth the man. It was typical of his personal style that about ten years ago the news leaked out that for years Barth had quietly spent his Sundays preaching to inmates at the Basel jail. In his only trip to the United States (1962), Barth expressed shock at the condition of a Chicago jail.

Despite his great influence on ecumenical theology, Barth was less than enthusiastic about formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. At his death WCC General Secretary Eugene Carson Blake said, “His influence on the ecumenical movement has been much greater than his occasional appearances at ecumenical meetings, of which he was not very fond, would indicate.” Barth urged caution about Vatican II reforms in the Catholic Church, but took great interest in developments and visited Rome to talk with scholars and Pope Paul in 1966.

Barth brought puckish humor to his work, but rarely without mixing in a serious thought. When a sophisticated American student in his Basel seminars would ask him what was the most important concept of Christian thought to him, Barth would reply, “Jesus loves me; this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Barth is survived by his wife, the former Nelly Hoffman; two sons, Professor Markus Barth of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Professor Christoph Barth of Djakarta, Indonesia; and one daughter, Franziska, wife of a Basel businessman. His son Matthias died two decades ago.

Bishop Pike’S Third Marriage

It proved impossible to eliminate James A. Pike from the Episcopal hierarchy because of his theology, but it appears he will become an excommunicated church member, on other grounds.

Pike, 55, revealed plans to marry Diane Kennedy, 30, head of his lecture and literary agency, the Friday before Christmas at Willow Glen United Methodist Church, San Jose, California. Pike said he passed up the Book of Common Prayer and its Methodist rewrite to style his own service text, to be accompanied by guitar music. Four clergymen from three denominations were to join in the rite.

Pike’s first marriage was dissolved by a church annulment. His second wife divorced him last year on grounds of mental cruelty. Although the required year has passed since that divorce, Pike—like any other Episcopalian—must have an annulment from his bishop to remarry. And his successor as head of the Diocese of California, Bishop C. Kilmer Myers, apparently has not given it. This would mean excommunication for Pike. San Francisco papers claim Pike originally asked Myers to perform the marriage in Grace Cathedral and he refused.

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The bride has been a Methodist teacher in Uruguay and a church youth director in Palo Alto. More recently, she turned literary collaborator in Pike’s latest book, The Other Side, the bishop’s account of seance contacts with a son who killed himself in 1966.

Gordon-Conwell Merger

One of the nation’s biggest breakthroughs in evangelical education may well have taken place last month, when the board at Conwell School of Theology in Philadelphia voted to negotiate toward merger with Gordon Divinity School in Wenham, Massachusetts. The merger idea was first proposed by Gordon a month before.

The Rev. Dr. Harold John Ockenga, minister of Boston’s Park Street Church, who assumes the joint presidency of Gordon College and Divinity School in April, said other plans include a school of graduate theological studies on a separate campus in the rich-blooded intellectual environs of Cambridge, and an inner-city training center, possibly in Philadelphia.

The two evangelical seminaries could unite on Gordon’s 800-acre campus by next fall, with Conwell’s second-year President Stuart Barton Babbage as top administrator of the seminary itself. Conwell, heir to Temple University’s sagging seminary, has forty-seven students; five professors and fourteen other teachers, some part-time; and impressive financial aid from the Sun Oil family trust. Gordon has 250 students and sixteen professors. Evangelist Billy Graham has joined the boards of both seminaries.

Blueprint For A Bridge

A new bridge to bring together North American churchgoers for evangelism took shape at a meeting in December of fifty specialists from thirty denominations.

The group agreed in principle to cooperate in an emphasis on spiritual renewal in 1973, with special attention to ethnic and youth interests. Churches and denominations are urged to implement the drive in their own way.

The 1973 plans have grown out of the evangelically oriented Key Bridge meetings. At the fifth and latest of these, the two-day December meeting held in St. Louis, participants reaffirmed a definition of evangelism drawn up at the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin and authorized creation of a seven-member committee to carry plans forward.

The Rev. Victor Nelson, a Presbyterian from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis, chaired the meeting. The meeting was called by three denominational officials and conducted on the basis of materials they formulated: Dr. Theodore A. Raedeke, secretary for evangelism of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Board for Missions, St. Louis; Dr. Harold Lindsey, associate director of the division of evangelism for the Southern Baptist Home Missions Board in Atlanta; and Dr. J. Sherrard Rice, secretary for Christian witness of the Board of National Ministries in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S., Atlanta. Their counterparts in other denominations made up the bulk of the meeting participants. These three were named to serve on the continuing committee and to choose four other members. The meeting approved in principle an initial seventeen-page prospectus for the 1973 effort.

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