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Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History

by Karl Barth

Buy the book: Karl Barth. Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History

Release Date: July, 2002

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Karl Barth. Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History

Really better on the Eighteenth Century

The first Complete English Edition had almost 400 pages for Part 1 - Background, before the few hundred pages of History which cover the century mentioned in the title, including chapters on Schleiermacher, Baur, Feuerbach, and Strauss. Most of the chapters have a heavy philosophical theme, but lines of verse liven up Barth's analysis of Lessing's play, "Nathan the Wise," the poems of Herder, and much of what Barth has to say about Novalis, who proclaimed, "The secret path leads inwards. Eternity with its worlds, the past and the future, is within us, or nowhere." Most pages in this book which have footnotes start with a footnote number 1, and anyone flipping through pages might well forget where "Frag., 593" can be found. An earlier review of this book has incorrect citations on David Friedrich Strauss. Albert Schweitzer wrote about Strauss in his THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS, a book which covered a topic on which Struass wrote three books with varying points of view and for different audiences. The biography called D. FR. STRAUSS AND THE THEOLOGY OF HIS TIME was by Hausrath, who called him "essentially a pathological figure."

The last page on Hegel provides the kind of contrast which makes a comparison of the two parts of this book imperative. "Theology had, and still has, no occasion to throw stones at Hegel, as if it had not trodden the same path as he, only not in so firm or so logical a manner as he did. When we come to consider Schleiermacher we shall have to ask very seriously whether his secret is a different one from that of Hegel, only that with Hegel it might be a secret which was to a great extent more respectable and at all events more instructive than that of Schleiermacher."

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Well informed about some things I know

As philosophy has developed into a field in which a prime consideration is whether it is possible to catch someone in the act of thinking, theology is expected to be something a bit different. In Chapter 23, on Richard Rothe, Karl Barth wrote: "His biographer Hausrath reports in amazement that one never seemed to meet him when he was not in secret conversation with an invisible power and reality; on one bright day during his lifetime he is said to have appeared to one of his pupils `in a transfigured form'." For those who lack such attributes, as in the case of the most typical, Barth observed, "We may reflect upon the great practical problem he raised, which caused him to be so violently rejected, and think how he was in fact unable to find an effective counter to this rejection; we may observe him in the grief and loneliness which was brought upon him on the one hand by the truth he unwillingly represented, and on the other by the insufficiency and lack of fertility of his zeal for truth. Observing these things we involuntarily see not only him, bit in a certain aspect the typical theologian of the century, so that we are not then content, like Hausrath, to establish that Strauss was `essentially a pathological figure.' " I'm not giving a page number for anything in this review, knowing that a 1959 translation of eleven chapters of this book was published with the title FROM ROUSSEAU TO RITSCHL, the complete book was prepared from lectures "which Hitler prevented him from finishing" according to the Preface to the First Complete English Edition in the Judson Press edition, 1973, and I have not had an opportunity to compare either with whatever might be currently available.

What strikes me about the book, as a whole, is that it attempts to cover religious thought at a time which coincides with the concepts of Karl Jaspers in his unfinished history of THE GREAT PHILOSOPHERS VOLUME IV, subtitled: The Disturbers. Barth died in 1968 and Jaspers in 1969, though Jaspers was born in 1883 and Barth in 1886, and both were concerned about German thought in the century that produced them. Jaspers sees a relationship between Kant and Lessing, though "Kant's CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON appeared a few weeks after Lessing's death." Lessing might not have learned much from Kant, but Kant "learned aesthetics and religion from him. . . . Seen objectively, here were two Germans who overcame and went beyond the halfhearted and shallow Enlightenment of reason to the true enlightenment, which is the medium and presupposition of the philosophy of Existenz." Kant and Lessing are both considered in Part I/Background of PROTESTANT THEOLOGY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Karl Barth.

A big difference between Barth and Jaspers is on David Friedrich Strauss, who gets credit, in Jaspers, for information on a huge volume by Reimarus, which "became known at a time when it had lost most of its interest. A quarter of the material was published in 1850-52 in Niedner's JOURNAL OF HISTORICAL THEOLOGY; the rest was reported on in a careful analysis by D. F. Strauss." Barth is more interested in what Strauss might have been thinking, and quotes that, "he found it possible to write, as early as 7th April, 1837: `I am beginning to find the manner of pure science a dry one. I was not really meant to be a scholar; I am much too dependent upon mood, and far too self-occupied.' " (Chapter 19/Strauss). Barth even quotes Albert Schweitzer, [this is not in the book, D. FR. STRAUSS UND DIE THEOLOGIE SEINER ZEIT], who wrote, "Strauss must be loved in order to be understood." Barth suggests that we sympathize. "It may well be that in David Friedrich Strauss, just because there is no tragic quality in him, a secret ailment of the whole of modern theology is focused and represented in a special way, so that it was not without justice that he was probably the best-known and most influential theologian of the nineteenth century, in non-theological and non-church circles." It is in the field of music, in which the praise of Strauss for Mozart, the universal genius, where Barth found Strauss superior to those who most ferociously were his detractors. "In this poor Strauss really seems to have chosen the better part, as against Nietzsche, who, as is well known, was the helpless slave of the dreadful Wagner at the time of his great deriding of Strauss."

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