Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Barth on Zwingli

A remarkably generous friend (who happens to be rather fond of Huldrych Zwingli) has sent me a lovely new copy of Karl Barth’s lectures on Zwingli, which were recently published for the first time as volume II/40 in the Karl Barth-Gesamtausgabe: Karl Barth, Die Theologie Zwinglis 1922/1923: Vorlesung Göttingen Wintersemester 1922/1923 (Zürich: TVZ, 2004), xix + 539pp.

Thanks, Jim!

Barth gave these lectures while he was Professor of Reformed Theology at the University of Göttingen. This was a time of intensive historical study for Barth: at Göttingen he gave remarkable lecture-cycles on Calvin, Schleiermacher, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Reformed confessions; and for the first and only time in his life he presented a complete dogmatics, with the Calvinist title “Institutes of the Christian Religion” (now published as Göttingen Dogmatics).

In the winter semester of 1922/1923, Barth presented a cycle of lectures on the life and theology of Zwingli, which has only now been painstakingly edited and published from Barth’s handwritten notes.Barth’s critical attitude towards Zwingli is fairly well known: he said unkind things about Zwingli in his letters to Thurneysen, and in particular he tried to establish damning connections between Zwingli and nineteenth-century liberal theology. But in these lectures, Barth also has some appreciative things to say about Zwingli, and particularly about Zwingli’s relationship to Luther.

In his final lecture, Barth concludes by saying that when Zwingli died, the real Luther—the living, reforming, prophetic Luther—died with him: “Als Zwingli starb, da starb mit ihm, dem überhörten Wächter, dem abgelehnten Widersprecher auch der eigentlich lebendige, der prophetische, der reformatorische Luther” (p. 510).

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