Monday, 16 October 2006

Barth's encounter with Calvin

In the summer of 1922, the young Karl Barth taught a course on the theology of Calvin. As he struggled to prepare the lectures, he immersed himself passionately in Calvin – and he even cancelled his other announced course (on the Epistle to the Hebrews) so that he could concentrate solely on Calvin. He was overwhelmed by the strangeness and power of what he found in Calvin’s theology. In a letter to his closest friend, Eduard Thurneysen, Barth expressed his astonishment:

“Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from the Himalayas, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately…. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.”

—Karl Barth to Eduard Thurneysen, 8 June 1922; in Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964), p. 101.

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