It’s Karl Barth’s Birthday

So, Karl Barth was born 126 years ago today. I feel like I am celebrating his birth today because I just had the pleasure of hearing a paper criticizing Protestant criticisms of Thomas Aquinas on nature and grace from one of our graduating seniors (who is, coincidentally, going on to graduate work at St. Louis University – we’re all very proud of her!), and I concluded the colloquy, if you will, by discoursing on the history of doctrine on this point from Augustine to Barth. I’m mildly ashamed of this, but comfort myself since there were no other questions / comments forthcoming at that point…

Anyway, here is an excerpt from Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts:
Karl Barth was born in Basle on 10 May 1886. He came into the world on a Monday morning, about five o’clock, at Grellingerstrasse 42, and he was called Karl after his mother’s older brother.

His parents’ names were Johann Friedrich (‘Fritz’) Barth and Anna Katharina, née Sartorius. They had only been living in Basle for a month when Karl, their first son, was born, and it was exactly a week since Johann Friedrich had taken up a new post there. Before that he had been for seven years pastor in the parish of Reitnau, in the canton of Aargau. He had lived there for five years as a bachelor before meeting Anna; by that time he had already had a patristic study published (on Tertullian’s interpretation of Paul) for which he had been awarded a doctorate of theology in 1881. This was one of the reasons why, somewhat surprisingly, at the beginning of 1886 he was invited to be a lecturer at the College of Preachers in Basle. This college had been founded ten years earlier by W. Arnold, a pastor who was also its Director, for the training of ‘scriptural’ preachers, mostly for the free churches, in opposition to liberal theology.

So Fritz and Anna Barth came to Basle. However, neither of them were strangers to the city. Both had been born and had grown up there. Their fathers, Karl’s two grandfathers, were pastors in Basle from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. The Barth family originally came from Mülligen in the Aargau. ‘My great-grandfather moved there to Kleinbasel at the beginning of the nineteenth century and was in the tobacco business.’ The oldest son of this Samuel Barth and Veronica Elisabeth, née Otto, whose name was Franz Albert (1816-79), studied theology, ‘He was one of J. T. Beck’s first Basle students, but he also held de Wette in great respect. He became pastor in Bubendorf, in Basle Land, which in 1833 had been made a separate canton, and in 1840 he was married by Beck, his teacher, to Sara Lotz. IN 1852 he became a teacher at the Girls’ High School (his subjects were religion and music!); finaly in 1861 he became what was then called “deacon” (third pastor) at St Theodore’s church in Basle.’ ‘He had a keen eye for anything contrived, inauthentic or exaggerated, and was blunt in saying what he thought about it…’
Sound like anyone we know?


***The picture is of John Drury (foreground right) holding a cake bearing the likeness of Karl Barth that was especially prepared by Amanda Drury for the student reception thrown for Daniel Migliore (foreground left) after his final lecture as Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Shannon Smythe is pictured, slightly blurrily, in the background.

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