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Why is Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics Not a ‘Theology of Hope’? Some Observations on Barth's Understanding of Eschatology1.

  • Gerhard Sauter (a1)


Early in the year 1968 Karl Barth invited me to a discussion that touched upon, among other topics, my second [habilitation] thesis Zukunft und Verheifiung [Future and Promise], which had appeared three years earlier. In it I had attempted to trace the ground of theology eschatologically in God's word of promise, yet without putting the cart before the horse. Barth dressed his inquiry in a comment accented with self-irony. As I recall, it went as follows: ‘Even I began with eschatology and ascribed to it a decisive role for theology. I gave the future priority—but over the years I was forced to realize that I could not maintain this. The more time passed on, the more I became aware that I could not remain standing where I was. Present and past are equally important for theology if theology allows itself to be oriented by God's time. And theology must not confuse this time with one of the dimensions of the human experience of time’. Itsounded as if beginning with eschatology was something like a sin of youthfulness, possibly even like a theological childhood illness which every more or less normal theologian would grow out of in time.



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page 407 note 2 Sauter, Gerhard, Zukunft und Verheibung. Das Problem der Zukunft in der gegenwärtigen philosophischen und theologischen Diskussion (Zurich / Stuttgart: Zwingli Verlag, 1965).

page 408 note 3 Cf., for example, Friedrich Schelling, Wilhelm Joseph, System der gesammten Philosophie und der Naturphilosophie insbesondere (1804) in idem, Gesammelte Werke, ed. Schelling, K. J A., Vol. 1/6 (1856), 275 (= Ausgewählle Schtiften, ed. Frank, M., Vol. III [Frankfurt a.M.: 1995, 2nd ed.], 285): ‘The first dimension in time is the future’; that is, in reference to the idea of time.

page 409 note 4 Barth, K., Der Römerbrief. Zweite Auflage (1922) as cited and translated in idem, Church Dogmatics [hereafter CD] II/I, trans. Bromiley, G. W. and Torrance, T. F. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957, 1980), 634f. [ Hoskyns's, E C. translation of the text is not reliable at this point: The Epistle to the Romans (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 314—Trans.].

page 409 note 5 K. Barth, CD 11/1, 635.

page 410 note 6 Schäfer, Rolf, ‘Christentum, Wesen des’, Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, ed. Ritter, Joachim, Vol. I (Basel / Stuttgart: Schwabe, 1971), 10081016, 1012.

page 412 note 7 Barth, K., Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwutf, Vol. 1: Die Lehre vom Worte Gotles, Prolegomena tur christlichen Dogmatik, ed. Sauter, Gerhard (Zürich: TVZ, 1982), 150, 162, 489, 583; CD I/I, 269.

For the Festschrift in honor of Karl Barth's 80th birthday I contributed a study on the phrase:‘Dogma—ein eschatologischer Begriff in Busch, Eberhard, Fangmeier, Jürgen, and Geiger, Max, eds., PARRHESIA (Zürich: EVZ, 1966), 173191; published in a revised form in Sauter, G., Erwartung und Erfahrung. Predigten, Vorträge und Aufsätze (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1972), 1646.

page 413 note 8 Moltmann, J., Theology of Hope. On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, trans. Leitch, J. W. (London: SCM Press, 1967).

page 413 note 9 Barth, K., Letters 1961–1968, eds. Fangmeier, J and Stoevesandt, H., trans, and ed. by Bromiley, G. W. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), # 172, 174–176, 175.

page 413 note 10 Ibid.

page 414 note 11 Ibid., 175f.

page 414 note 12 Moltmann, J., Theology of Hope, 102112.

page 414 note 13 Ibid., 288f.

page 415 note 14 Ibid., 260.

page 415 note 15 At this point Moltmann has been inspired by Dutch apostolate theology, according to his student Hans Georg Link (‘Hoffnung’, Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, III [1974], 1157–1166, 1166). Yet this theology is interested in programs for shaping or altering the world in a Christian manner, and to this extent stands close to Culture Protestantism — though with different political signs than the latter. Nothing of that however can be found by Barth in CDIV/3, § 72 (‘The Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Christian Community’), despite occasional programatic erruptions. In this connection, cf. Beintker, Michael, ‘Die politische Verantwortung der Christengemeinde im Denken Karl Barths’, Zeitschrifi für dialtktische Theologie 12 (1996), 149174, esp. 161ff.

page 416 note 16 Barth, K., Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History, trans.Bowden, J. et al. (London: SCM Press, 1972), 646.

page 416 note 17 Ibid., 648.

page 416 note 18 Ibid., 652 [ET incorrecdy translates Glaube (faith) as ‘grace’ — Trans.].

page 416 note 19 Blumhardt, Christoph, ed., Gesammelte Werke von Joh. Christoph Btumhardt, Vol. III, Gesammdte Aufsätze, pt 1: Besprechung wichtiger Glaubensfragen (Karlsruhe, 1888), 52.

page 416 note 20 Barth, K., Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, 647.

page 417 note 21 Schweitzer, Albert, The Quest for the Historical Jcsus:A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, trans. Montgomery, W. (London: A.& C. Black, 1910; reprinted by Macmillan, 1968) [Montgomery translates konsequente Eschatohgieas ‘thoroughgoing eschatology’ — Trans].

page 418 note 22 On June 5, 1915 Barth wrote his friend Eduard Thurneysen, who had given him books on the writings of the elder and younger Blumhardt: ‘I am now reading the life of J. Chr. Blumhardt [Zündel, Friedrich, Johann Christoph Blumhardt. Ein Lebensbild (Zürich/Heilbronn, 1880)] and I am totally amazed how powerfully all ‘our’ best ideas are already understood and expressed there’. Reprinted in Karl Barth — Eduard Thumeysm, Briefwechsel, Vol.I. 1913–1921, ed. Thurneysen, E. (Zürich: TVZ, 1973), 51 [This letter is not included in the ET of this book — Trans.].

page 418 note 23 Busch, Eberhard, Karl Barth. His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, trans. Bowden, J. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 8387. Cf. also Barth's, ‘Autobiographical sketch from the faculty album of the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at Münster (1927)’ in Karl Barth — Rudolf Bultmann: Letters, 1922–1966, ed. Jaspert, B., trans. Bromiley, G. W. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), # 38:1, 150–157, 154.

page 419 note 24 ‘Past and Future: Friedrich Naumann and Christoph Blumhardt’ (1919), translated and reprinted in The Beginnings of Dialectical Theology, Vol. I, ed. Robinson, J. M., trans. Crim, K. R. and De Grazia, L. (Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1968), 3545, 45.

page 419 note 25 Ibid.

page 419 note 26 Es werden Zeichen geschehen’, Biblische Zeugnisse 28 (1930), 353363, cited in Barth, Karl / Thumeysen, Eduard, Die große Barmhenigkeit. Predigten 1921–1935 (Munich, 1935), 154164; reprinted in Barth, K., Predigten 1921–1935, ed. Finze, H., Gesamtausgabe, Abt. I (Zurich: TVZ, 1998), 230241.

Walter Kreck once told me that in the week following this sermon Barth sharply rejected any historico-theological or-philosophical interpretation of the ‘signs of the time’ in his seminar. In this regard the student Kreck asked if Barth had not carried out exactly such an interpretation in his sermon on the previous Sunday. This led to a very intense discussion, which Barth concluded with the verdict: ‘You are simply not to ask me such questions!’

page 419 note 27 Ibid., 236.

page 420 note 28 lbid., 239f.

page 420 note 29 Ibid., 241.

page 420 note 30 CD II/l, 619–640; cf. also CD III/2, § 47.1: ‘Jesus, Lord of Time’.

page 420 note 31 Barth, K., Letters 19611968, 176.

page 420 note 32 CD IV/3, 294. This motif is taken up by Kreck, Walter in Die Zukunft des Gekommenen. Grundprobleme der Eschatologie (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1961).

page 421 note 33 Ibid.

page 421 note 34 Ibid., 296.

page 421 note 35 Ibid., 295.

page 421 note 36 This doctrine is thoroughly praised by Gotthard Oblau, Gotteszeit und Menschenzeit. Eschatologie in der Dogmatik, KirchlichenKarl Barths (NBST 6) (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1988). Cf. also Klappert, Bertold, Versöhnung und Befreiung. Vemuhe, Karl Barth kontextuellzu verstehen (NBST 14) (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1994), 354358. Klappert stresses the teleological aspect of Barth's eschatology.

page 421 note 37 K. Barth, CD IV/3, 10.

page 422 note 38 This is now documented in detail in: Blumhardt, Johann Christoph, Der Kampf in Möttlingen, #Gesammelte Werke, Vol. I/1 and 1/2, ed. Schäfer, G. with Ernst, P. [Vol. 1/2 also ed. by D. Ising] (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979).

page 422 note 39 K. Barth, CD IV/3, 172.

page 422 note 40 De triomf der genade in de theotogie van Karl Barth, trans. Boer, H. R. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956).

page 422 note 41 K. Barth, CD IV/3, 174.

page 422 note 42 Ibid., 176.

page 423 note 43 Barth, K., Letters 19611968, # 272, 274–276.

page 423 note 44 Ibid., 275.

page 423 note 45 The relation of promise ‘to the existing and given reality is that of a specific inadaequatio rei et intellectus’ (Moltmann, , Theology of Hope, 85).

page 424 note 46 With regards to this structure, cf. Dalferth, Ingolf U., ‘Theologischer Realismus und realistische Theologie bei Karl Barth’, Evangelische Theologie 46 (1986), 402422; idem, ‘Karl Barth's Eschatological Realism’ in Sykcs, S. W., ed., Karl Barth: Centenary Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

page 426 note 47 Letter to Werner Rüegg, July 6, 1961, in Letters 1961–1968, # 4, 9.

page 426 note 48 In CD III/2, 107 Barth uses the metaphor ‘veil of eternal life’ in a paraphrase of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Die Bestimmung des Menschen [The Destiny of Man]. In CD III/4, 560f. Barth speaks about the transcendence of active life: ‘But the matter is not so simple that man has only to halt in his work, or in some sense to pass trough the veil on the frontier of his work, to stumble at once and per se upon God’.

page 427 note 49 This has been masterfully elucidated by Traub, Hellmut, a colleague and friend of Barth since the years in Bonn, in his theological sketch, ‘Worauf hoffen wir eigentlich?’ in sRechtfertigung und Erfahrung, eds. Beintker, Michael, Manrer, Ernstpeter, Stoevesandt, Hinrich, and Ulrich, Hans G. (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus/Chr. Kaiser, 1995), 185207.

page 428 note 50 Cited by Lichtenfeld, Manacnuc, ‘Georg Mere—Pastoraltheologe zwischen den Zeiten. Leben und Werk in Weimarer Republik und Kirchenkampf als theologischer Beitrag zur Praxis der Kirche’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Erlangen, 1996), 223. This quotation was given to me by Hinrich Stoevesandt.

page 428 note 51 K. Barth, CD III/2, 624.

page 428 note 52 Ibid., 632f.

page 429 note 53 CD IV/3, 312.

page 429 note 54 CD IV/3, 315.

page 429 note 55 For example, cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, who at the very least cites Barth incompletely.Pannenberg writes that ‘Barth speaks of the ‘eternalizing’ of the earthly life-story of human beings’ of the ‘pure etemalizing of the actual life-story’ (‘Tod und Auferstehung in der Sicht christlicher Dogmatik’, Grundfragen systematischer Theobgie. Gesammelte Aufsätze, Vol. II [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980], 146159, 156).

1 Presented at the Meeting of the American Karl Barth Society, November 21, 1997 in San Francisco. Translated by Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, Ph.D.

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Scottish Journal of Theology
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