Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Karl Barth's wicked sense of humour

Karl Barth had a very lively sense of humour. And at times his humour was decidedly wicked (in the best sense of the word), not least of all when he made fun of other theologians with whom he disagreed. He was, for instance, always making fun of his old friend Rudolf Bultmann. One of the most entertaining features of CD volume IV is Barth’s constant lampooning of Bultmann—while Bultmann himself is almost never named, he is the object of numerous wicked jokes about mythology, hermeneutics, self-understanding, demythologising, and so on.

Barth’s published letters also contain many funny characterisations of other theologians. For instance, after reading Pannenberg’s new book Jesus—God and Man, Barth wrote to Helmut Gollwitzer that “even the ravens I see on the top of a high tree from my seat here, though they do not do ‘biblical work,’ ... do not regard this work on christology as a good book.”

But funnier (and more wicked) still is his characterisation of Dorothee Soelle. In another letter to Gollwitzer, Barth describes Dorothee Soelle as a woman “of great brilliance and even greater lack of understanding!” And in a letter to Karl Rahner, Barth says that Soelle is “a lady of whom the only thing one can really say is that that woman should keep silence in the church.” Ouch!

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