The Theologian's Almanac: December 10, 2012
“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.