Barth on the Pharisaism of Self-Righteousness and the Pharisaism of Humility

Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Eswyn C. Hoskyns, trans.; OUP, 1968), 109-10 (bold is mine).
What can we know of the actions and the works of God? In all this questioning we are threatened by a great misunderstanding. We may think of knowledge of the Last Things as the supreme achievement of human intelligence; or we may think of silence before God as the final leap of human piety – as, for example, when we read the mystical sayings of Angelus Silesius as so many psychological recipes; or we may suppose that a supreme human experience will be ours, if we take up our position at the eschatological ‘Moment’ – which is, however, no moment; or we may perhaps imagine the ‘wisdom of death’ (Overbeck) to be the most up-to-date wisdom of life. But this is the triumph of Pharisaism appearing in a new and far more terrible form; for it is the Pharisaism of humility taking the place of the Pharisaism of self-righteousness. There is no limit to the possibilities of the righteousness of men: it may run not only to self-glorification, but also to self-annihilation, as it does in Buddhism and mysticism and pietism. The latter is a more terrible misunderstanding than the former, because it lies so near to the righteousness of God, and it too is excluded – at the last moment.


Timothy Parker said… we have to de-centre ourselves, looking to our new humanity which is seen in the face of Christ, and his life death and resurrection for us? The substitutionary life whose light shines into and makes good our inner darkness.

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