Barth on the Pharisaism of Self-Righteousness and the Pharisaism of Humility
What can we know of the actions and the works of God? In all this questioning we are threatened by a great misunderstanding. We may think of knowledge of the Last Things as the supreme achievement of human intelligence; or we may think of silence before God as the final leap of human piety – as, for example, when we read the mystical sayings of Angelus Silesius as so many psychological recipes; or we may suppose that a supreme human experience will be ours, if we take up our position at the eschatological ‘Moment’ – which is, however, no moment; or we may perhaps imagine the ‘wisdom of death’ (Overbeck) to be the most up-to-date wisdom of life. But this is the triumph of Pharisaism appearing in a new and far more terrible form; for it is the Pharisaism of humility taking the place of the Pharisaism of self-righteousness. There is no limit to the possibilities of the righteousness of men: it may run not only to self-glorification, but also to self-annihilation, as it does in Buddhism and mysticism and pietism. The latter is a more terrible misunderstanding than the former, because it lies so near to the righteousness of God, and it too is excluded – at the last moment.