The Theologian's Almanac: December 10, 2012

In my research for today’s almanac, which aimed at honoring one individual in particular, I learned that this date marks not the death of one, but “The Death of Two Extraordinary Christians.” The December 20, 1968 issue of Time Magazine honored them thusly:

“One was a Protestant theologian who labored quietly in university towns of Switzerland and Germany for half a century. The other was a Roman Catholic monk who worked hermitlike on his writings in the hills of central Kentucky. But while Karl Barth gave his life to scholarship and Thomas Merton to contemplation, both men were Christian activists who found in the Word a command to do. Barth stood courageously against Nazi totalitarianism. Merton drove himself endlessly in championing the cause of the poor and oppressed. On their journey toward their deaths last week, each brought to his age, and to his fellow man, a message of love that was ardently Christian.”

“To believe in Christ has always been, as Kierkegaard put it, an inexplicable leap of faith. The most profound preacher of that mystery in the 20th century was Karl Barth, who died last week at the age of 82. Eulogized as the century's most significant religious thinker, Barth changed the course of Protestant theology in his lifetime almost singlehandedly. Though he abhorred theological systems, he produced, in his 14-volume Church Dogmatics, the most powerful exposition of Protestant thought since Calvin's Institutes.”

“For 20 years Merton had been the most publicly visible Christian contemplative since St. Simeon Stylites took refuge on top of a pillar. Merton's pillar was print, and he had not exactly chosen it for himself. What he had chosen, at the age of 26 and as a new convert to Roman Catholicism, was the silent and anonymous life of the Trappist monks, who rise early, work hard, eat little and pray much. When he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, however, his abbot decreed that Merton should continue writing—as he had since the age of ten. Merton was ordained a priest in 1949, the year after his first major book, The Seven Storey Mountain, had become a bestseller and thrust him permanently into a life of books, articles, poems and a massive correspondence with friends all over the world.”

*You can find the entire article here: “Religion: The Death of Two Extraordinary Christians.” Time December 20, 1968.



Travis Pickell said…
Thanks for sharing. I never knew this about the two of them. I am reminded that Merton's "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander" begins with an entry about Barth, where Merton reflects on Barth's love of Mozart. Here are some highlights: "Karl Barth had a dream about Mozart... in his dream, he was appointed to examine Mozart in theology. He wanted to make the examination as favorable as possible, and in his questions he alluded pointedly to Mozart's masses. But Mozart did not answer a word... The dream concerns his salvation, and Barth perhaps is striving to admit that he will be saved more by the Mozart in himself than by his theology... Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation."
Thanks for that, Pickell!

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