S.P.D.S.V.B.E.E.V.

Time Magazine: 31 May 1963 (Vol. LXXXI No. 22)

The greatest living Protestant theologian retired from his professorship at the University of Basel last year, presumably with nothing to do but listen to Mozart records and finish the 13th volume of his masterwork, Church Dogmatics. But at the age of 77, Karl Barth (TIME cover, April 20, 1962) has found himself so busy that he wonders if he will ever finish the book at all. Two evenings a week he holds a trilingual “colloquia” with divinity students in the nearby Bruderholz Restaurant. He keeps up a worldwide correspondence, dutifully reads theses mailed in by budding theologians for his approval, and receives a constant stream of visitors, ranging from old pastoral friends to a delegation of Swiss prohibitionists. “I told them,” says Barth, sipping vermouth, “that it was a good thing they existed, but theirs was not the main problem in the world.”

Barth seems to be resigned to the fact that there may be no additions to the Dogmatics. “Let people read my first twelve volumes,” he says, in dry awareness that they are heavy going. He has “written more than any other contemporary theologian,” and fears overdoing it: “I definitely don’t wish to be another Adenauer.” He is in good health, still full of sly wit and provocative opinions. A sampling of the latest Barthian views:

∙ON ROMAN CATHOLICS: Barth believes that thanks to Pope John XXIII “we are witnessing a complete reinterpretation of Roman Catholic dogma. The thoughts expounded by Hans Kűng and other modern theologians in Germany, Holland, France and elsewhere are no longer views of a small spearhead minority, but form the very ground swell of Catholic renovation.” It would be “terrible if the Pope died now,” but the trend of Catholic thinking “looks to me irreversible.” Barth scoffs at the widespread Protestant view that Rome is at last catching up with the Reformation churches, says “it might well be that we Protestants are the ones who will have to do the catching up.”

∙ON COMMUNISM: Thanks to Pope John’s new opening toward the East, Roman Catholicism “may succeed in reaching a sensible accord with Communist countries before Protestants do.” Unchanged are Barth’s often-argued views that “the subtle forms of materialist atheism in the West are a much graver threat to Christianity than the overtly trumpeted atheism of the Communists. I don’t take this Communist atheism too dramatically. At least we know where we stand with them.”

∙ON THEOLOGY AND JOURNALISM: Barth recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians to “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Newspapers, he says, are so important that “I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church—in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him—either East or West. He should make it his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?”

(C) Time Magzine 1963

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