Thursday, January 11, 2007

Excepts from the Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence (1)

Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 (James D Smart, trans.; Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964).
“What have you to say concerning Peace Sunday and the fine prayers? The prayer by the Pope is really just as good. Yesterday, I had a great snowball fight with the boys of my confirmation class. I do that for them every year in order to improve the general joyousness.” (28; Barth to Thurneysen, 2.5.1915)
“The idea of reading the Bible together had already occurred to me, too. Could not something of the kind be done in the Aargau? But Bader is right: one must regularly, and indeed frequently and preferably for a whole morning, make oneself available for it. At least that would be a way in which one could get ahead, and almost certainly there would be something in it for everyone.” (31-2; Barth to Thurneysen, 9.8.1915)
“If this were ‘pietism,’ we would never again believe that there was even the slightest point of contact between us and the pietists…This is psychologizing in its worst form, just a describing of ‘Christian’ spiritual experiences: here an awakening, a conversion, a sealing, then five different levels of resistance to the Holy Spirit, then the blood of Christ flows as medicine for the soul, and finally everything comes to a climax in the appeal to the ‘awakened’: (a) to visit an after-meeting in the chapel, (b) to pray frequently on their knees, (c) to buy a little book, (d) to subscribe to the magazine, Tabernacle Greeting. Then continually there were the open jaws of hell into which a man could disappear in spite of all these splendors. And over it all brooded an atmosphere of fear as though the ship were sinking and there were no rescue ship for most people anyhow, although the music was playing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ with might and main. No, that really isn’t it.” (40; Barth to Thurneysen, 11.20.1916)
“It is a quite unique new kind of working and speaking, just as absorbing and breathtaking as in the pastorate but – and this I find pleasant – it does not make quite such steep demands as the performance there for which the claim has to be made that it stands in place of the sacrifice in the Catholic mass. Not longer is there the pressure rhetorically somehow to speak impressively of God, but rather it all takes place at a certain good distance from the holy of holies: One tells this or that, one develops, one cites, one celebrates a little Reformed triumph against the Lutherans, one makes a little sortie against Schleiermacher, and, at most once in the hour, or not even that, the finger is raised and ‘Gentlemen!’ rings out to introduce a direct word.” (76; Barth to Thurneysen, 11.18.1921)
“The situation here during the last week was characterized by the awakening of a certain opposition among the students…After an aggressive lecture yesterday the whole afternoon was spent walking with seven men on the Nikolausberg during which time I had to answer question after question without a break: Sir, what do you think of…? How do you know that…! What do you mean when…?…And these are only the torpedo boats of the enemy. How will it be when Romans brings the battleships, the teachers of all these students, into action?” (79; Barth to Thurneysen, 12.11.1921)
“Now when everything is quiet round about me I am much more conscious of my thorn in the flesh, my dreadful theological ignorance, sharpened by my quite miserable memory that constantly retains only quite decisive things. During the term when I keep talking I am able to preserve the sweet illusion that I indeed know something…Oh! If only someone would give me time, time, time, to do everything properly, to read everything at my own tempo, to take it apart and put it together again.” (92-3; Barth to Thurneysen, 3.26.1922)

4 comments:

GoobyNelly said...

Thanks Travis. These were excellent! I need some more background for those quotes, such as the one on pietism. I especially liked the last one about needing more time.

WTM said...

The pietism material comes from late in the Safenwil period when a traveling preacher (of the type that we in the USA would call "revivalist") visited Barth's church for a week of meetings.

The desire for more time comes from Barth's entry into teaching responsibilities, but I can't remember from which of Barth's pre-Berlin posts.

GoobyNelly said...

Have you read Busch's book on Barth and his critique of Pietism? Is it worth picking up?

WTM said...

I haven't read it, but I've been meaning to. Busch is well regarded; his "autobiography" of Barth was good; so I would imagine that the volume in question is fairly solid.