Moltmann, Barth, Bloch, and Blumhardt (any 'B's missing?)

While reading Moltmann’s autobiography I came across an interesting reflection on his relationship to Barth and Barth’s reaction to his Theology of Hope. And his reflections are too interesting to not share with you, gentle readers. So I have done so below. I’ve taken out some references and such to streamline I a bit, and I’ve inserted some of my own editorial comments. As usual, bold is mine.

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place (Fortress, 2009), 109–11.

By Maeterlinck (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Karl Barth read the Theology of Hope together with Eduard Thurneysen immediately after its publication. On 8 November 1964 he wrote to an old friend that he found it ‘very stimulating and exciting, because the young author makes a vigorous attempt to cope better with the eschatological aspect of the gospel than the old man in Basel did in his Romans commentary and his CD. I read him with a completely open mind, but hesitate to follow him because this new systematization, though much can be said in its favour, is almost too good to be true.’ To me personally he wrote more critically, so that the young theologian wouldn’t get a swelled head [Ed. note: ! ]: ‘To put it somewhat brutally: isn’t your Theology of Hope just a baptized version of Herr Bloch’s Principle of Hope?’ I suspect that he had in fact never read a word of Bloch’s [Ed. note: ! ], so the admission that follows is more important: ‘You know that I also once had it in mind to strike out in this direction, but that I then decided not to touch it.’ It was only later that I followed up this hint of Barth’s about his youthful decision and came upon his love for Christoph Blumhardt, whom he had visited in Bad Boll in 1915. In his Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, he called Blumhardt a ‘theologian of hope,’ and his first commentary on Romans of 1919 is still full of Blumhardt’s spirit of hope. . . .

Barth presumably ‘decided not to touch it’ because in the end, like Franz Overbeck, he viewed such an eschatological theology as too radical, and because, on the other hand, Blumhardt was still very much imprisoned in the nineteenth century’s faith in progress. In 1922 Barth’s second commentary on Romans appeared, and lo and behind: Blumhardt has now been replaced by Kierkegaard, and the time-eternity paradox has superseded the dynamic dialectic of past-future. Blumhardt’s dynamic forward-looking hope has fallen victim to the enveloping mantle of eternity in the moment of time, and Blumhardt’s importunate expectation of Christ’s future has been replaced by the contentedness of faith in the eternally bounteous God. Eternity is now supposed to encompass time from all sides—pre-temporally—con-temporally—post-temporally—but it is no longer to have any particular ties with the future of the God ‘who will come.’ My Theology of Hope had reminded Barth of this key turning point in his theological development in 1920–21. Hence the contradictory reaction.



This is fascinating, but I'm perplexed by some of Moltmann's comments re: Blumhardt. I wonder if you or any of our readers who are following along might be able to shed some light on any of this.

After initial enthusiasm for the Bad Boll prophet, we learn here, Barth's attraction begins to cool, between Romans1 and Romans2. JM: "Barth presumably ‘decided not to touch it’ because in the end, like Franz Overbeck, he viewed such an eschatological theology as too radical, and because, on the other hand, Blumhardt was still very much imprisoned in the nineteenth century’s faith in progress." I wonder: Did Barth publish these criticisms somewhere, or is his Moltmann recalling a conversation with Barth, or maybe just drawing his own conclusions?

And his suggestion that Blumhardt's name has been expunged from Romans2, having been ostensibly "replaced" by S.K. and the time-eternity dialectic. Of course, is not quite right, because Barth does cite him from time to time in the commentary -- if with diminished impact I know that Christian T. Collins Winn has written a fine volume on Barth and the Blumhardts, but I confess (to my embarrassment) that I only once scanned it, and that years ago.

I also find intriguing Moltmann's surmise that Barth's objection to his political theology might have stemmed in part from wistfulness about Barth's on loss of innocence (naivete?) early in his career, and I wonder what folks make of that.
Travis, I am sure you are aware of this, but in addition to the autobiography, we have actual letters between the two.
On November 17, 1964, Barth wrote a letter to Jürgen Moltmann after he read Theology of Hope. We see that Barth is looking for the “child of peace and promise,” someone in the next generation who would go beyond Church Dogmatics. The varied scholarship, spiritual force, and systematic power of the book impressed him. He does not see his book as the hoped for refinement of his Church Dogmatics. He wonders if Moltmann subsumes all theology in eschatology, especially baptizing the principle of hope of Ernst Bloch. Theology becomes an eschatological principle, a path down which Barth toyed going but rejected, a decision for which Moltmann criticized Barth. He thinks Moltmann should accept the immanent Trinity. He puzzles whether Moltmann found his own concepts of threefold time in III.2, 47.1 and the threefold parousia in IV.3, 69.4 made little impact on him that he did give them critical consideration. Clearly, Barth thought he had adequately explained the role of the future and eschatology in these reflections, while Moltmann did not. In any case, Barth offers the opinion that the God of Moltmann is a pauper. Thus, Moltmann is not the “child of peace and promise” for which he had hoped, although he would like to think that Moltmann could become that child. He hopes Moltmann will outgrow the “inspired” one-sided character of his first book. He has the stuff from which a great dogmatician can arise who can further help the church and world.
On April 4, 1965, Moltmann responded that he has inspired preoccupation with this one eschatological or messianic idea. He admits the book is a prolegomena and that he lacks a concrete eschatology. The challenge from Barth to put eschatology behind him and replace it with the immanent Trinity has given him much room for thought. The work of his friend Kasemann has compelled him to work through eschatology. His plan is to focus on the economic Trinity in the foreground, and later work on the immanent Trinity. He clearly wants to focus on the Holy Spirit as the one involved in raising Jesus from the dead. Eschatology grounded in the cross and resurrection opens up to the eschaton where God will be all in all.
The only thing I notice is that in the actual correspondence, the difference seems to be theological rather than Barth being afraid of the radical conclusions. I think Barth thought he adequately explained the role of the future in theology. After reading CD several times, I have wondered if Barth simply thought that placing too much emphasis upon eschatology would make Jesus and theology irrelevant.
"I have wondered if Barth simply thought that placing too much emphasis upon eschatology would make Jesus and theology irrelevant."

I suspect you're right about that.

Thanks for the correspondence summary! It's a helpful companion to Moltmann's reflections.
Matthew Frost said…
I'm going to disagree. The correspondence, which you can find transcribed here, does not at all suggest replacing eschatology with the doctrine of God, or the "immanent trinity." It suggests a problem with Moltmann in that he may well be making of eschatology a principle and therefore be engaging in ideology. Which is, for Barth, also to say that he may be using eschatology where Barth uses the Word of God, and so creating a hierarchy of doctrinal dependencies, which Barth rejects.

"Would it not be wise to accept the doctrine of the immanent trinity of God? You may thereby achieve the freedom of three-dimensional thinking which the eschata have and retain their whole weight while the same (and not just a provisional) honor can still be shown to the kingdoms of nature and grace."

The threefold time he mentions from III.2, 47.1, is first the time of the incarnation, in which God in Christ is hidden in revelation sub contrario specie, and lives a finite and limited span; second, the time of the resurrection, in which Christ is fully revealed as God and the mystery of the first time is resolved because he has transcended that span; and third, the eternal time of God properly so-called, by which the true existence of Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine reaches, by that transcendence, to all times. And so the being of Jesus is a being in the past, in the present, and in the future, which links directly with the parousia as a coming again in the resurrection, in the giving of the Spirit, and at the coming in judgment—which will be a time of joy because it is still properly the coming-again of the Messiah.

This isn't a replacement of eschatology with the doctrine of God; this is a demonstration that eschatology is grounded in the time–eternity dialectic and the basic apocalyptic perspective that results from realizing the relativity of our time before God. It is a way of having thoroughgoing eschatology without making an idol of it, because the first reality of eschatology is revelation itself, the presence of God to us in our time that inevitably results in judgment upon us and our time because God holds us accountable.

Put it all more simply: Barth is consistently opposed to a fixation on the end times, the last things, and especially to conceptions of those nominally eschatological matters that, like Althaus', find their ground in what we see as violations of the "natural" order of the world and its presumed moral progress. Eschatologies of what we deem to be exceptional in the world we have arranged for ourselves. Moments we deem that world to be ending because our orders are breaking down. And yes: the objection is that placing too much emphasis on such things and calling them eschatology tends to make Jesus and theology irrelevant. Tends to twist theology around worldview-naturalisms that have no positive epistemological value for theology.

Barth won't bend God to the world. For him, God is doing the eschatological in every moment by bending the creature back to its rightful being responsible to God. Eschatology is about that, which he sees as the only way to do eschatology and keep it about God, first and foremost, and then and only then to let it become about us as the objects of that grace.
Matthew Frost said…
So I have quite a lot of trouble seeing where Moltmann got the idea that for Barth, because he rejected the dialectic of past and future in favor of time and eternity, there's no longer any connection to the parousia in its third sense as the final coming again of the Messiah. Barth bloody well pointed him at it!

When Barth talks about redemption, about Erlösung, it is about a future that meets history from beyond its end, a future beyond any merely historical future so that we don't mis-imagine the reality as one toward which we are headed through the course of history. An eternal future that is not consequent upon any future state of history. Yes, eternity for Barth encompasses time. It encompasses past–present–future history entirely, on all sides. The future of our history is not special in any way relative to its present or its past. It will come to be present and then past in its own time.

Which is exactly why "Blumhardt’s importunate expectation of Christ’s future" is an example of how "Blumhardt was still very much imprisoned in the nineteenth century’s faith in progress," and Barth replaces it: because we are not heading for the end, much less heading for it unprepared and with work to do before it gets here. We absolutely have work to do, and we absolutely have a time limit—we're all going to die, at some point, because we are all only given so much time. Barth has removed the "impending eschaton" threat as a moral motivator, but he hasn't stopped looking forward to the coming of the Redeemer that will bring the eschaton. Atonement isn't a sprint. It's a marathon, and God is running it, not us. Except it isn't even a marathon, for Barth, because it's not a race of any sort. It's not goal-oriented behavior in that sense; the goal of reconciliation is the restoration of the partner of God to responsible participation in that partnership.

So it's not that Barth doesn't care about eschatology, in other words; it's that you're all doing it wrong! Moltmann included, even if as I tend to say, he saw where Barth was headed and decided to get there first. Barth's impatience with Moltmann is about why and how he decided to get there, and what it meant for him to do so; Moltmann's impatience with Barth is that Barth seemed to be in no hurry ever to get there, or to have it mean that.
Matthew Frost said…
(Plus, y'know, it's a real blow to the ego to have John the Baptist look at you, raise his hand to point at you, decide you're not the one who is to come, tell you so, put his hand back down, and go back to shouting in the wilderness.)
Thanks for this, Matt. Glad to see how exercised Moltmann can get you. :-)

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