Is Karl Barth OK?


In this year, 500 years after Luther’s theses, I am trying to understand him and especially grace, principally in St Paul’s Letters. So I am reading now about Karl Barth, the most important (perhaps) Protestant theologian of the 20th century, whose views were based on Luther’s beliefs.

Barth’s main idea (I think) is that we should look at our religion from God’s views not from human there is a complete qualitative distinction between God and humans.

To date to grasp the idea of God, his grace and justice, I consider God as a good and kind humans father, only more so. So I expect him to act as a kindly parent and hence not condemn and help everyone. But Barth says this is an incorrect approach, God should be seen in his terms, we cannot understand him on our own, we need him to reveal himself to us, and hence gain some understanding. From our point of view God is unknowable.

So we cannot judge God, we can only accept him and his ways. Trying to reconcile his love, mercy, justice and condemnations is futile.

Is this what Barth taught, and is it not in conflict with Catholicism?


There are some nuances, but yes, that is compatible with Catholic thought and classical theology.


I tried to be fair to Paul, Luther and Barth, but I find difficulty in grasping nuances, both when I agree and disagree with others.

Perhaps an important point is that those who differ from us in some points may agree in others. We can get help from many people.

But a change in mind (conversion) is needed for me, to try to see things from God’s view. Not easy.


I hope not, since he’s been buried these many years.


thanks for your reply.
You have sent me to bed laughing.


Being a Protestant, there are certainly ideas of Barth’s that run counter to the Church. That being said, he was one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century.


Yes, it is ok. Hans Ulrs von Balthasar wrote a book about him. I have always meant to read him, never have.


Karl Barth is a very rich thinker, but I’ll caution that his work is not light reading. I used to be a member of a reading group going through his Church Dogmatics. Read it academically; understand his argument, then create a counterargument of your own, and remain in a profound state of dialogue with the text as you are reading. I remember reading Heidegger and Husserl and really any deeper works of philosophy the same way.

Barth would resent my saying this, but his work reads very much like philosophy, and so we should take a similar approach when reading him.


I think so. I only have heard his assertion that the analogy of being (analogia entis) was the invention of the anti Christ. That is, religious language, the language we use to talk about God and the things we predicate of Him and those same concepts as applied to creatures, can either be equivocal (Barth), univocal (Scotus) or analogous (Aquinas, who argued against both those positions). For example, “seeing” can be analogous when I say that I see a tree and that I see why the pythagorean theorem is true. They’re not exactly the same (univocal), but they’re not entirely different either, they share some similar qualities.

So Barth contradicts Aquinas and the First Vatican Council, which stated

  1. If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

This teaching was reaffirmed at Vatican II and quoted in the Catechism.


Another one like that is Kierkegaard, whom I find painful about half the time, more than half. If you asked me to explain ‘the modern age of reflection’ right now I would really struggle but I swear I have got it through my head many times. The benefit comes much later - after you’ve figured it out and thought about it in a larger context. And thankfully aren’t reading it anymore. :smiley: Another good one - read a paragraph through no matter what gibberish it seems like; don’t stop left and right, phrase after phrase. Then read it again a second time slower. Also anticipate the argument with your own conclusion - when you get it right as you read on, you know you have grasped the concept.


Ctb95 #6
But what I wrote (I think) is not contrary to Church teaching.


**FollowChrist34 **

On a number of occasion I have tried to read Hans Urs von Balthasar, but I cannot understand him.
However I do like his idea that Catholics can hold that it is reasonable to hope that all people will be saved


thanks for your post. I am impressed that you tackled Church Dogmatics. I have not got much further that Wilipedia, where I read that Barth, a member of the Confessing Church, condemned Heidegger as a Nazi. I am not familiar with Husserl.
However I do think we should try, as best we can, to understand our faith.


How funny - I am not really on board with that part. Well, I should say I hope it’s true but think it is dependent on repentance, grace, God’s will - on an individual level of course. I love von Balthasar - The Glory of the Lord is one of my favorite works by any Catholic - though I must admit it reminded me more of history of ideas / art than the Church. Believe me, a Calvinist wouldn’t touch that thing with a barge pole. von Balthasar is more readable than Kierkegaard, probably Barth too. Your thread actually got me back into Kierkegaard a little bit last night. I realized I am not sure I even agree anymore that this is an age of reflection. Mistrust of passion. (with a passion :rolleyes:; I may still be with K. after all…) Thanks for doing the thread - it’s rare to talk about these works. Which are worth reading and thinking about. Especially in view of what we normally think and talk about in the public square these days. CNN v Fox. This is quite a breath of fresh air.


Estavao #9

To the question 'Is this what Barth taught, and is it not in conflict with Catholicism?’ You reply ‘I think so’. So you consider Barth is NOT in conflict with Catholicism.
Your reply does not seem to support this.


Kierkegaard is another writer I find hard to grasp.
The message here seems to be to take one’s time and reflect.


The focus of this thread is Barth, not universalism.

I think theology is difficult to grasp, but I think we should try, so I am making Barclay’s book a project.

As recommended here I ordered a book by Charles Journet The Meaning of Grace. I hope it will clarify Catholic teaching for me.



I am pleased that you find von Balthasar good. I have been trying to read his Engagement with God. I think a mistake I make is reading too late at night , when I am too tired. Is this only an excuse for my lack of ability? However you have encouraged me to try to get to grips better with theology.

It is interesting to note that both Barth and von Balthasar were Swiss and had great mutual respect.

So thank you (and CAF) for motivating me.


I caution, if you had trouble with Balthasar, you’re probably going to have a lot of trouble with Barth. Both write mostly for the post-graduate level scholar.

Though, if you’re interested in the relation between the thought of both, Balthasar appraised Barth’s work in The Theology of Karl Barth in 1951. As for Dare we hope, that work gets far too much credence considering its modest place within Balthasar’s complete oeuvre, and focus on it risks reducing his thought in the minds of many to that of a mere universalism. He wrote a lot, and it’s very much unfair to assess his work and impact largely on the basis of one rather ill-advised work that most Balthasar scholars don’t even pay much attention to.


If you want to understand Luther, read about Luther. There is enough material there for a lifetime, and Luther’s thoughts and beliefs about himself and God have colored all of Protestantism/bible Christianity to this day. I would caution only that one might not delve into Protestant theology until and unless they were well grounded in the Catholic faith. At some level, even subliminal, reformation theology is intended to lure you away from Catholicism. Certainly not overtly in many cases, but we all know about subtlety.

There is a Priest who wrote a rather authoritative biography of Luther - I forget his name, but someone here will know.

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