Karl Barth ‘For the moment only the angels in heaven know where the way of this Church Dogmatics will finally lead.’


When he penned his preface to CD IV/2, Barth wryly concluded with some general observations, which many theologians today would do well to emulate. This was because of a comment that someone had made: For the moment only the angels in heaven know where the way of this Church Dogmatics will finally lead.

“The writer presumably meant that its future way—on which there may well be some further surprises—could easily end in the darkness of more or less serious heterodoxies or even heresies. Well, we shall have to hope for the best. I can certainly confirm his view to this extent. When I take up the theme of each part-volume, or even embark upon each new section, although I keep to a general direction, only the angels in heaven do actually know in detail what form the material will take. But to me it is very comforting that the angels in heaven do know, and as far as I am concerned it is enough if I am clear that at each point I listen as unreservedly as possible to the witness of Scripture and as impartially as possible to that of the Church, and then consider and formulate whatever may be the result. I am, therefore, a continual learner, and in consequence the aspect of this Church Dogmatics is always that of quiet but persistent movement. But is the same not true of the Church itself if it is not a dead Church but a Church which is engaged in a living consideration of its Lord? Would it not be abnormal if I were in a position to show the eternal mysteries, and the truths of the Christian faith as they are revealed in time, like a film which has been taken and fixed, as though I were myself the master of them? Of course it would. Am I then groping in the dark? Is anything and everything possible? Not at all. In the twenty-three years since I started this work I have found myself so held and directed that, as far as I can see, there have so far been no important breaks or contradictions in the presentation; no retractations have been necessary (except in detail); and above all—for all the constant critical freedom which I have had to exercise in this respect—I have always found myself content with the broad lines of Christian tradition. That is how I myself see it, and it is my own view that my contemporaries (and even perhaps successors) ought to speak at least more circumspectly when at this point or that they think they have discovered a “new Barth,” or, what is worse, a heresy which has seriously to be contested as such. Naturally, I do not regard myself as infallible. But there is perhaps more inward and outward continuity in the matter than some hasty observers and rash interjectors can at first sight credit”.

Barth, Karl ; Bromiley, Geoffrey William ; Torrance, Thomas F.: Church Dogmatics, Volume IV : The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part 2. Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 2004, x.

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