Saturday 28 December 2013

Karl Barth, the Monty Python of Theologians

Karl Barth had a sense of humour. No, really.
Karl Barth has an undeserved reputation in some circles as a misanthropic stick-in-the-mud, based on an equally undeserved caricature of Barth as the anachronistic opponent of all things good and beautiful. References to his sly sense of humor are therefore often met with puzzled stutters. His work is read “with a Teutonic lack of humour,” T. F. Torrance observes, in spite of “the silver thread of sheer fun that runs throughout his account of the theologians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” While Barth once complained about Calvin’s seeming inability to laugh, this is certainly not a problem one encounters with Barth himself, who devoted eight full pages of the Church Dogmatics to a facetious book review of the 1740 Insecto-Theologia and an analysis of eighteenth-century hymns that portray God as, in Barth’s words, “the supreme Giver of so much cheese.”
This surprising quote comes from the introduction to an article by Jessica DeCou in the Spring 2012 issue of Word and World (downloadable here).

I'm not sure this makes me feel any more kindly about Barth, but I suppose it does provide possible evidence that he had his redeeming features. Then again, one might suspect that his entire Church Dogmatics was designed as a sophisticated joke...

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