Barth, Karl°

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BARTH, KARL° (1886–1968), Swiss Protestant theologian. From 1922, he served as professor of theology in various German universities. With the Nazi rise to power in Germany and the consequent split in German Protestantism, Barth helped to found the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche) which opposed Hitler and the National-Socialist ideology as incompatible with Christian commitment to the teaching and kingship of Jesus. In 1934, he drafted the theological declaration of Barmen, whereby the German Lutherans and Reformed united to define and defend their position against the totalitarian claims of the state. Expelled from Germany in 1935, he returned to his native Basle, where he was appointed professor of dogmatics.

His principal theological work, the monumental Kirchliche Dogmatik, which remained incomplete at his death, was published between 1932–53. While Barth took a courageous stand against antisemitism, seeing in hatred and persecution of the Jews an attack on the very foundations of the Christian message, his work evinces no understanding of actual Judaism. Throughout Barth's writings Judaism appears as a theoretical construction, a kind of figment of theological imagination, whose purpose it is to serve as a foil to the message of the gospel.

While not hostile in its intention, Barth's representation of Judaism is a complete caricature and falsification of Jewish reality. According to Barth, Israel is God's Chosen People and in spite of its obstinacy in assimilating to other peoples, the Divine election remains valid. Since the crucifixion of Jesus, there simply cannot be any normal existence for the Jewish people, for the Jew represents man as such, sinner, called by God's grace and rejecting this grace. In this exemplary role of man, the Jew necessarily irritates the nations of the world by acting as a kind of mirror in which the nations see their sinful humanity reflected. The Nazis sought to destroy the Jews, the people of Jesus, in order to liberate themselves from the rule of God and to break, as it were, the mirror in which fallen man sees himself reflected. Beside his numerous theological, literary, and political writings, Barth also wrote some works on the church in the Third Reich, and on the existence of Christians in the countries under communist rule.


W. Pauck, Karl Barth (Eng., 1931); Taubes, in: JR, 34 (1954), 14, 231–43; R. Niebuhr, Essays in Applied Christianity (1959); F.W. Marquardt, Die Entdeckung des Judentums fuer die christliche TheologieIsrael im Denken Karl Barths (1967).