How to Remember What’s Where in Barth, with St. Hereticus


Robert McAfee Brown (ed.?), The Collected Writings of St. Hereticus (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1964).

The last time we heard from St. Hereticus - or simply “The Saint,” as I am wont to say – we undertook a detailed study of his “Christmas carol.” Today, however, we turn to a subject that is near and dear to DET and its readership – Karl Barth.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming. What with knowing the blog. Oh, and reading the title of this post. But I digress…

If you look at the DET post labels there on the left-hand menu, toward the bottom, you’ll see that Barth has waaaaay more entries than anything else. More than twice as many as the next contender, in fact. So I think it’s safe to say that DET has a lot to say about Barth, and long-time DET readers have picked up at least the basics of what he was on about.

But do you know exactly what can be found in each part volume of Church Dogmatics? Perhaps you remember when Ben Myers composed a tweet for each part volume. You need to know, however, that someone beat him to the punch.

That’s right – it was The Saint.

Rather than just compose a pithy “tweet,” however, The Saint took pity on us, gentle readers, and devised a system to help us remember the primary contents of this massive work. So without further ado and adon’t, I give you The Saint himself from pp. 94-96 in the text cited above:

Now, in a Church Dogmatics twelve volumes strong . . . it is hard to remember what’s where. And when the main volumes are broken down into “part volumes” it gets even harder. Since it is quite unrealistic to expect that English-speaking-theologians are going to read the twelve volumes, I have worked out some memory devices by means of which professors, seminarians, and, of course, Intelligent Laymen, can remember what’s where in Barth.

I/1 – In English, “one-one” means a tie; no satisfactory conclusion has been reached. I/1, therefore, is introductory and methodological, and points the way to future volumes.

I/2 – “One, two, buckle my shoe.” A shoe is something on which you stand. I/2 deals with that on which the Protestant takes his stand, i.e., the authority of Scripture.

II/1 – Here we turn from nursery rhymes to mathematics. Two plus one equals three. Three equals the number of persons in the Godhead. Therefore II (plus) 1 deals with the doctrine of God.

NOTE: Since in Barth’s system the unity-in-Trinity is also a Trinity-in-unity, we find more on the doctrine of the Trinity in I/1, or I1, i.e., one-primed, to emphasize Barth’s rigorous monotheism.

II/2 – Here we resort to French, and read the volume number as “Tout? Tout!” which, roughly translated, goes, “Is everyone saved? Yes, everyone.” This, then, is the volume on the doctrine of election.

NOTE: This isn’t quite fair to Barth, who is not a universalist. If Barth is ever hung for heresy, however, it won’t be for espousing a doctrine of limited atonement.

III/1 – Easy: “Three, one, cre-a-tion.” Not only does it rhyme, but “creation” has three syllables; no need, therefore to get confused and say, “Two, one, creation,” or even “Four, one, creation.” Three, one, deals with cre-a-tion.

III/2 – Here “Three” stands for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and “Two” stands for man. (In Barth’s anthropology, “man” is understood in terms of “male” and “female.”) Thus III/2 deals with the doctrine of man in relation to God.

III/3 – Time for another jingle. Since this volume deals with providence, angels, the nihil, and all sorts of other subjects, we say, “Three, three, potpourri.” If you can’t remember where something goes, the chances are it belongs in III/3.

NOTE: Theological purists who dislike this may resort to the following mnemonic equation: III/3 = 3 x 3 = 9 = nein = no = nothing = the nihil or das Nichtige. III/3, therefore, treats the nihil, and by this time you should have your bearings.

III/4 – “Three, four, shut the door.” This is very specific, down-to-earth, concrete advice. And what do we find in III/4? Very specific, down-to-earth, concrete advice about ethical issues such as war, suicide, and marriage. III/4, then, deals with ethics.

IV/1 – This volume deals particularly with justification. Barth puts great stress on the cosmic victory, already achieved, by which we are justified in the sight of God. So: “Four, one, the battle’s won.”

IV/2 – Barth now turns to deal with sanctification, and stresses that this is a real possibility for all men. Our memory verse therefore goes, “Four, two, there’s hope for you.”

IV/3 (1) – Here is where Barth oversteps all bounds of numerical decency, by dividing the third part of the fourth volume into two halves. Our closest clue can come from quiet reflection about what should be the fate of any author who numbers a volume “Volume Four, Part Three, First Half,” and be led from this to recall that IV/3 (1) gives considerable attention to “the damnation of man.”

IV/3 (2) – This is large enough to be a phone number. When we hear someone say “BArth 432,” we naturally reply, “Who’s calling?” and the rest is easy, for IV/3 (2) is a treatment of the doctrine of the calling.

And that is as far as The Saint can take us. At the time of his writing, the smaller CD IV/4 was yet to appear. However, it just so happens that we have among us an expert on that particular corner of Barth’s opus. Therefore, I leave you with the below as a way of completing the great labor of The Saint:

IV/4 – “Four, four” sounds like “door, door” and – as any seminarian or Intelligent Person-in-the-Pews is well aware - baptism is the door to the church and her sacraments. Thus, IV/4 deals with the doctrine of baptism.

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