The Apostles' Creed is among the oldest universally accepted symbols of the Christian faith. In Karl Barth's commentary on the Apsotles' Creed, he observes that there is no mention of Satan, Hell or Eternal Death in the Apostles' Creed, there is only mention of Eternal Life. And although this creed mentions Judgement, Barth says, it is not a Judgement until Eternal Hell, but to a restoration of justice.
I've selected two quotations from The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostle's Creed According to Calvin's Catechism that include firstly, Barth's statement that we must not believe in Hell, Satan or Eternal Death, and secondly, Barth's statement that Judgment in the creed does not necessitate Hell, Satan or Eternal Death. These are not objects of faith for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church:
Question 110. Why, then, is there mention only of external life and not of hell?--Since nothing is held by faith except what contributes to the consolation of the souls of the pious. Hence there are here recalled the rewards which the Lord has prepared for his servants. Therefore it is not added what fate may await the impious whom we know to be outcasts from the Kingdom of God.
For the third time, it is a question of human life under the aspect of the future that is promised to it by God, under the aspect of its eternity. Our life in the light of eternity is the life everlasting. Justified through the forgiveness of sins, sanctified through the resurrection of the flesh, human life is glorified through the life everlasting. (Cf. Rom 8.) The Holy Spirit communicates to us communion with God not only in justifying us and in sanctifying us, but in glorifying us, that is, in communicating the glory of God to us. Glory means the splendor of God, the glory of God in the life and the revelation of God such as he is. God has but to show himself to make light and to dazzle. (Cf. Question 2.) Do note that, though it is a question of glorification, this does not mean that there is a glory within us that might start to shine, but it means that we shall partake in a glory other than ours, in the glory of God. We shall be, so to speak, draped in his light. We ourselves shall shine because we shall be lighted. God will have his glory in us and that is the goal of his creation: God does not want to remain alone. It is not enough for God to shine by his own power. He wants to shine in others and he chose us to live in us. He wants to be glorious in us and through us. The "veil" of which we spoke will be removed and human life will meet its final destination visibly.
In the sense of the Bible, the term everlasting (αἰώνιος) does not mean "which has no end," but quite simply: "which belongs to the world to come." Eternity is, in the Bible, the time of this new world. Hence it is not defined first by its unlimited characteristic (indeed it is unlimited) but by its relation to the world to come, to the glorious Kingdom of God.
According to Calvin, the Creed does not speak of hell and eternal death because its author was nice enough to be willing to speak only of comfort. But Calvin, as if to restore things, reminds us that there is also hell, although the Creed did not mention it. I think that, here too, Calvin must be slightly corrected. It is not only out of kindness, out of good nature, that the Creed does not mention hell and eternal death. But the Creed discusses only the things which are the object of the faith. We do not have to believe in hell and in eternal death. I may only believe in the resurrection and the judgment of Christ, the judge and advocate, who has loved me and defended my cause.
The Creed discusses the things to be believed. To believe. It is important to finish with faith. We believe in the Word of God and it is the word of our salvation. The kingdom, the glory, the resurrection, the life everlasting, each one is a work of rescue. Light pierces through the darkness, eternal life overcomes eternal death. We cannot "believe" in sin, in the devil, in our death sentence. We can only believe in the Christ who has overcome the devil, borne sin and removed eternal death. Devil, sin, and eternal death appear to us only when they are overcome.
And let us not add: "Yes, but sin is a grievous thing" --as though hell and so many horrors were not on earth already! If one does really believe, one cannot say: "But!" this terrible and pitiful "but." I fear that much of the weakness of our Christian witness comes from this fact that we dare not frankly confess the grandeur of God, the victory of Christ, the superiority of the Spirit. Wretched as we are, we always relapse into contemplation of ourselves and of mankind, and, naturally, eternal death comes up no sooner than we have looked on it. The world without redemption becomes again a power and a threatening force, and our message of victory ceases to be believable. But as it is written: "The victory that triumphs over the world, this is our faith (1 John 5:4)
Barth, Karl. Ed. Jean-Louis Leuba. The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostle's Creed According to Calvin's Catechism. Trans. Gabriel Vahanian. New York: Meridian, 1963. 171-4. Print.
If anyone were to object, "it may not mention hell, but it does mention judgment", here Karl Barth also responds that Judgment is about restoring what is right, not about punishing those who are in the wrong.
Question 84. Since the day of judgement is not before the end of the world, how do you say that there will be some men still alive, when it is appointed to all men to die? (Heb 9:27). --Paul answers this question when he says that they who survive will pass into a new state by a sudden change, so that, the corruption of the flesh being abolished, they will put on incorruption (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:17) [...]
As to the judgement (Question 84), we must consider that the sense of this word is objective. Judgement means: to establish, to setup, to proclaim the lawful right. This entails two consequences: a ruling on men, some of whom will be acquitted, others condemned. But also and first: the establishment of order in the world, the public and irrefutable and victorious proclamation of the truth. In our world and time, the Gospel is proclaimed, death is overcome. But we still live as if all that had not been clarified. Good and evil, justice and injustice, seemingly amount to the same for us. But this false belief shall be refuted definitively. Publicly and irrefutably, the judge shall declare what is just, and everyone shall see it.
This judgment shall be pronounced on the living and the dead, that is, on men of all times. It will not be just any event, one historical event, nor even the last of historical events. It will be the event par excellence, the disclosure of the whole perfect truth accomplished in Christ, the judgement of all men and everyone of their lives. It is interesting to note that Calvin, who was still enough of a lawyer, did not speak of this judgment in strictly juridical terms, but presented the last judgement right off from the much broader angle of the manifestation of the truth.
Barth, Karl. Ed. Jean-Louis Leuba. The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostle's Creed According to Calvin's Catechism. Trans. Gabriel Vahanian. New York: Meridian, 1963. 115-7. Print.
The Passion Narratives are notoriously difficult to harmonize, and despite ingenious solutions, there remains to be discovered a satisfactory harmonization of the events. A natural conclusion is that these conflicting narratives are not intended to be harmonized. These conflicting narratives should not be smoothed out in the same way that it would be wrong to flatten the terrain of a National Park. The Early Church understood that there is beauty in diversity, and this is why the Early Church did not allow Tatian's Dissertation to supplant the four Evangelists.
Evangelicals assume a defensive pose anytime biblical criticism suggests that the Passion Narratives are any other genre than objective eye-witness reporting or that they may allow contradictory elements. If two of the Evangelists contradict each other on the exact moment the resurrection was witnessed (before dawn, at down, after dawn, etc.), will the Resurrection really be disproved? This is absurd! Karl Barth has provided criticism as such, and this has caused many Evangelicals to hastily pronounce "Aha! See, Karl Barth denies the Resurrection, because he admits that the witnesses to the Resurrection cannot be harmonized."
In The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostle's Creed According to Calvin's Catechism, Karl Barth provides a helpful remark on the Apostles' Creed regarding the Passion Narratives that is concise and easy to understand.
REMARK on the "Historicity" of the Resurrection.
Unquestionably, the resurrection narratives are contradictory. A coherent history cannot be evolved from them. The appearances to the women and apostles, in Galilee and Jerusalem, which are reported by the Gospels and Paul, cannot be harmonized. It is a chaos. The evangelical theologians of the nineteenth century--my father, for instance--were wrong in trying to arrange things so as to prove the historicity of the resurrection. Their intention deserved praise. But they should have remembered that even the early Church had not tried to harmonize the resurrection stories. She had really felt that about this unique event there was something of an earthquake for everybody in attendance. The witnesses attended an event that went over their heads, and each told a bit of it. But these scraps are sufficient to bear witness to us of the magnitude of the event and its historicity. Every one of the witnesses declares God's free grace which surpasses all human understanding. God alone can prove the truth of that history since he himself is its subject. Fortunately, God has never ceased to work in men's hearts and send the faith needed to those things.
Barth, Karl. Ed. Jean-Louis Leuba. The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostle's Creed According to Calvin's Catechism. Trans. Gabriel Vahanian. New York: Meridian, 1963. 108. Print.
For more information, see Karl Barth's demythologizing the Empty Tomb.
Karl Barth gave a series of lectures on the Apostles' Creed from 1940 to 1943 that were recorded with a stenographer and then published with Barth's permission in a book titled, The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostles' Creed according to Calvin's Catechism. As the title indicates, Barth's lectures were a commentary on John Calvin's exposition of the Apostles' Creed from the 1545 Latin edition of the Geneva Catechism (see P. Schaff's helpful introduction to the Geneva Catechism.) Barth provides each of Calvin's questions and answers on the Apostles' Creed from the Geneva Catechism and then provides his exposition of the respective question and constructive criticism of Calvin's answers.
Many of Barth's controversial views appear in The Faith of the Church, including his position on the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, and even his famous nein to Natural Revelation that I've provided in the following quotation. Calvin's question and answer's are in italics, with Karl Barth's response immediately following.
Question 25. Why do you add: Maker of heaven and earth? -- Because he manifested himself to us through his works, and in them he is to be sought by us (Psalm 104; Rom 1:20). For our mind is incapable of entertaining his essence. Therefore there is the world itself as a kind of mirror, in which we may observe him, in so far as it concerns us to know him.
We cannot know God in his essence. "No man can see my face and live." But God makes himself known to us in the world. Here we must make several clarifications in order to avoid some big mistakes.
First of all, the world, creation, is not a part of God as the Gnostics used to represent it. The world is not an emanation from God, but the putting into being of something different from God, which is over and against God. If the world were divine in itself, it could not be said: God loves the world, for then God would be loving himself and remain alone. Love signifies: relationship between two really different beings. The world is then a reality in itself, a proof of the mercy of God who agrees to the existence of something outside of himself. There is an absolute imparity between God and the world, but, within this imparity, there is a hyphen: creation depends on God. God upholds creation and God judges what is good and what is evil. There is no good and evil "in itself," but God judges good and evil. And the sin of man consists precisely in the fact that he himself wants to judge what is good and what is evil.
Next, what is the nature of the knowledge of God which is given us in the world? Let us beware now: Man has no possibility to know God "through nature."
There is no knowledge of God which was given along with the existence and the essence of the world. We ourselves cannot say: God is in the world here or he is there. But God himself is he who, in the world, gives himself to our knowledge, according as he pleases. We notice with what reservations Calvin speaks of this knowledge the world does not stand witness of God but insofar as God wills it and wherever he wills it. It is not the history of any people which witnesses unto God, but the history of Israel, the Bible and Jesus Christ belong to the world. The world then is a mirror that reflects something found elsewhere, that reflects it insofar as God wills it and wherever God wills it.
Barth, Karl. Ed. Jean-Louis Leuba. The Faith of the Church: A Commentary on the Apostle's Creed According to Calvin's Catechism. Trans. Gabriel Vahanian. New York: Meridian, 1963. 48-49. Print.
Header Image Source: "First Four Articles of the Creed tapestry" by Unknown - mfa.org/collections/object/tapestry-the-first-four-articles-of-the-creed-37377. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Happy Birthday, Karl Barth (b. 10 May 1886 — d. 10 December 1968). Today, you are 129 years young! Karl Barth is the greatest theologian of the 19th and 20th century. The above picture is of Karl Barth and his mother, Anna Barth (source: kbarth.org) Happy Mothers Day to Anna Barth as well! There is no great man without a greater mother!
For information on Karl Barth, read this introduction to his biography: http://kbarth.org/biography/
Shusaku Endo's Silence is a historical fiction novel about Jesuit priests in 16th century Japan who apostatize for the sake of other Christians. Is it possible to deny Jesus Christ for the ministry of the gospel and is there a ministry of apostatizing? There are examples in the bible, such as Paul expressed, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3) and Moses as well, "But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written." (Ex 32:32). There is also the example in the Gospel of Judas, where Judas is described as the greatest apostle and his betrayal is commissioned by Jesus: "Jesus answered and said, 'You [Judas] will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations—and you will come to rule over them'".
In a personal letter to the Moltmanniac, Jürgen Moltmann said that Endo's Silence is "important" in the same way as Elie Weisel's Night. In The Crucified God, Moltmann discusses a section from Night, where a young boy is hanged in a concentration camp before a crowd of Jewish prisoners. The boy dies slowly from strangulation before the crowd, because his body weight was not substantial enough to break his neck during the initial fall. A man in the crowd cries out "Where is God?"
A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God's humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wisel, a survivor of Auschwitz:
"The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half and hour. 'Where is God? Where is he?' someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice in myself answer: 'Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows...'"
Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.
Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Trans. R. A. Wilson and J. Bowden. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 273-74. Print.
In Endo's Silence, a similar "Where is God" scene happens at the end of this book. Japanese Christians are suspended in torture pits, and their prayers for deliverance remain unheard. A priest is imprisoned in a cell next to them, and is forced to listen to their cries of torment. The Christians had already apostatized, but the captors refuse to release the prisoners unless the priest apostatizes by trampling on a fumie (or fumi-e). The fumi-e is a small icon of Jesus or of the Virgin Mary, that Christians were forced to step on as an act of rejecting their Christianity and publicly apostatizing. The header image of his post contains two fumie examples. The priest apostatizing by tramping on the fumie, and remains an apostate for the rest of his life for the sake of the advancement of Christianity in 16th century Japan. He rejects Jesus Christ in order to follow Jesus Christ, and for others. He is Rejected for the Rejected, in the same Theology of the Cross that Moltmann described in The Crucified God. Jesus is the rejected one, and has been rejected for us all.
Silence is historical fiction, but is based on true events that occured in 16th century Japan. The following is a quotation from the end of Endo's Silence when the priest apostatizes:
Yes, and that on this, the most important night of his whole life, he should be disturbed by such a vile and discordant noise-this realization suddenly filled him with rage. He felt that his life was simply being trifled with; and when the groaning ceased for a moment, he began to beat on the wall. But the guards, like those disciples who in Gethsemane slept in utter indifference to the torment of that man, did not get up. Again he began to beat wildly on the wall. Then there came the noise of the door being opened, and from the distance the sound of feet hastening rapidly toward the place where he was.
'Father, what is wrong? What is wrong?' It was the interpreter who spoke; and his voice was that of the cat playing with its prey. 'It's terrible, terrible! Isn't it better for you not to be so stubborn? If you simply say, "I apostatize," all will be well. Then you will be able to let your strained mind relax and be at ease.'
'It's only that snoring,' answered the priest through the darkness.
Suddenly the interpreter became silent as if in astonishment. 'You think that is snoring. . . that is. . . Sawano, did you hear what he said? He thought that sound was snoring!'
The priest had not known that Ferreira was standing beside the interpreter. 'Sawano, tell him what it is !' The priest heard the voice of Ferreira, that voice he had heard every day long ago-it was low and pitiful. 'That's not snoring. That is the moaning of Christians hanging in the pit.'
Ferreira stood there motionless, his head hanging down like an old animal. The interpreter, true to type, put his head down to the barely opened door and for a long time peered in at the scene. Waiting and waiting, he heard no sound, and uneasily whispered in a hoarse voice: 'I suppose you're not dead. Oh no! no! It's not lawful for a Christian to put an end to that life given him by God. Sawano! The rest is up to you.'With these words he turned around and disappeared from sight, his foot steps echoing in the darkness.
When the footsteps had completely died out, Ferreira; silent, his head hanging down, made no movement. His body seemed to be floating in air like a ghost; it looked thin like a piece of paper, small like that of a child. One would think that it was impossible even to Clasp his hand.
'Eh !' he said putting his face in at the door. 'Eh! Can you hear me?'
There was no answer and Ferreira repeated the same ￼￼￼ words. 'Somewhere on that wall,' he went on, 'you should be able to find the lettering that I engraved there. 'laudate eum.' Unless they have been cut away, the letters are on the right-hand wall . . . Yes, in the middle. . . Won't you touch them with your fingers?'
But from inside the cell there came not the faintest sound. Only the pitch darkness where the priest lay huddled up in the cell and through which it seemed impossible to penetrate.
'I was here just like you.' Ferreira uttered the words distinctly, separating the syllables one from another. 'I was imprisoned here, and that night was darker and colder than any night in my life.'
The priest leaned his head heavily against the wooden wall and listened vaguely to the old man's words. Even without the old man's saying so, he knew that that night had been blacker than any before. Indeed, he knew it only too well. The problem was not this; the problem was that he must not be defeated by Ferreira's temptings - the tempting of a Ferreira who had been shut up in the darkness just like himself and was now enticing him to follow the same path.
'I, too, heard those voices. I heard the groaning of men hanging in the pit.' And even as Ferreira finished speaking, the voices like snoring, now high, now low, were carried to their ears. But now the priest was aware of the truth. It was not snoring. It was the gasping and groaning of helpless men hanging in the pit. ￼
While he had been squatting here in the darkness, someone had been groaning, as the blood dripped from his nose and mouth. He had not even adverted to this ; he had uttered no prayer; he had laughed. The very thought bewildered him completely. He had thought the sound of that voice ludicrous, and he had laughed aloud. He had believed in his pride that he alone in this night was sharing in the suffering of that man. But here just beside him were people who were sharing in that suffering much more than he. Why this craziness, murmured a voice that was not his own. And you call yourself a priest! A priest who takes upon himself the sufferings of others! 'Lord, until this moment have you been mocking me?', he cried aloud.
'laudate eum ! I engraved those letters on the wall,' Ferreira repeated. 'Can't you find them? Look again!'
'I know!' The priest, carried away by anger, shouted louder than ever before. 'Keep quiet!' he said. 'You have no right to speak like this.'
'I have no right? That is certain. I have no right. Listening to those groans all night I was no longer able to give praise to the Lord. I did not apostatize because I was suspended in the pit. For three days, I who stand before you was hung in a pit of foul excrement, but I did not say a single word that might betray my God.' Ferreira raised a voice that was like a growl as he shouted : 'The reason I apostatized. . . are you ready? Listen! I was put in here and heard the voices of those people for whom God did nothing. God did not do a single thing. I prayed with all my strength ; but God did nothing.'
'Alright. Pray! But those Christians are partaking of a terrible suffering such as you cannot even understand. From yesterday-in the future-now at this very moment. Why must they suffer like this? And while this goes on, you do nothing for them . And God-he does nothing either.'
The priest shook his head wildly, putting both fingers into his ears. But the voice of Ferreira together with the groaning of the Christians broke mercilessly in. Stop ! Stop ! Lord, it is now that you should break the silence. You must not remain silent. Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love. You must say something to show the world that you are the august one.
A great shadow passed over his soul like that of the wings of a bird flying over the mast of a ship. The wings of the bird now brought to his mind the memory of the various ways in which the Christians had died. At that time, too, God had been silent. When the misty rain floated over the sea, he was silent. When the one-eyed man had been killed beneath the blazing rays of the sun, he had said nothing. But at that time, the priest had been able to stand it; or, rather than stand it, he had been able to thrust the terrible doubt far from the threshold of his mind. But now it was different. Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?
'Now they are in that courtyard.' (It was the sorrowful voice of Ferreira that whispered to him.) 'Three unfortunate Christians are hanging. They have been hanging there since you came here.
'The old man was telling no lie. As he strained his ears the groaning that had seemed to be that of a single voice suddenly revealed itself as a double one-one groaning was high (it never became low) : the high voice and the low voice were mingled with one another, coming from different persons.
'When I spent that night here five people were suspended in the pit. Five voices were carried to my ears on the wind. The official said : "If you apostatize, those people will immediately be taken out of the pit, their bonds will be loosed, and we will put medicine on their wounds." I answered : "Why do these people not apostatize?" And the official laughed as he answered me : "They have already apostatized many times. But as long as you don't apostatize these peasants cannot be saved." '
'And you. . .' The priest spoke through his tears. 'You should have prayed. . . .'
'I did pray. I kept on praying. But prayer did nothing to alleviate their suffering. Behind their ears a small incision has been made; the blood drips slowly through this incision and through the nose and mouth. I know it well, because I have experienced that same suffering in my own body. Prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering.' ￼
The priest remembered how at Saishoji when first he met Ferreira he had noticed a scar like a burn on his temples. He even remembered the brown color of the wound, and now the whole scene rose up behind his eyelids. To chase away the imagination he kept banging his head against the wall. 'In return for these earthly sufferings, those people will receive a reward of eternal joy,' he said.
'Don't deceive yourself!' said Ferreira. 'Don't disguise your own weakness with those beautiful words.'
'My weakness ?' The priest shook his head ; yet he had no self-confidence. 'What do you mean? It's because I believe in the salvation of these people. . .'
'You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation. If you say that you will apostatize, those people will be taken out of the pit. They will be saved from suffering. And you refuse to do so. It's because you dread to betray the Church. You dread to be the dregs of the Church, like me.' Until now Ferreira's words had burst out as a single breath of anger, but now his voice gradually weakened as he said : 'Yet I was the same as you. On that cold, black night I, too, was as you are now. And yet is your way of acting love? A priest ought to live in imitation of Christ. If Christ were here. . .'
For a moment Ferreira remained silent; then he suddenly broke out in a strong voice: 'Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them.' ￼
Night gradually gave place to dawn. The cell that until now had been no more than a lump of black darkness began to glimmer in a tiny flicker of whitish light. '
Christ would certainly have apostatized to help men.'
'No, no!' said the priest, covering his face with his hands and wrenching his voice through his fingers. 'No, no!'
'For love Christ would have apostatized. Even if it meant giving up everything he had.'
'Stop tormenting me! Go away, away!' shouted the priest wildly. But now the bolt was shot and the door opened-and the white light of the morning flooded into the room.
'You are now going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed,' said Ferreira, taking the priest gently by the shoulder.
Swaying as he walked, the priest dragged his feet along the corridor. Step by step he made his way forward, as if his legs were bound by heavy leaden chains-and Ferreira guided him along. In the gentle light of the morning, the corridor seemed endless; but there at the end stood the interpreter and two guards, looking just like three black dolls.
'Sawano, is it over? Shall we get out the fumie?' As he spoke the interpreter put on the ground the box he was carrying and, opening it, he took out a large wooden plaque.
'Now you are going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed.' Ferreira repeated his former words gently. 'Your brethren in the Church will judge you as they have judged me. But there is something more important than the Church, more important than missionary work: what you are now about to do.'
The fumie is now at his feet.
A simple copper medal is fixed on to a grey plank of dirty wood on which the grains run like little waves. Before him is the ugly face of Christ, crowned with thorns and the thin, outstretched arms. Eyes dimmed and confused the priest silently looks down at the face which he now meets for the first time since coming to this country.
'Ah,' says Ferreira. 'Courage !'
'Lord, since long, long ago, innumerable times I have thought of your face. Especially since coming to this country have I done so tens of times. When I was in hiding in the mountains of Tomogi; when I crossed over in the little ship; when I wandered in the mountains; when I lay in prison at night. . . Whenever I prayed your face appeared before me ; when I was alone I thought of your face imparting a blessing; when I was captured your face as it appeared when you carried your cross gave me life. This face is deeply ingrained in my soul the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world has been living in my heart. And now with this foot I am going to trample on it.' ￼
The first rays of the dawn appear. The light shines on his long neck stretched out like a chicken and upon the bony shoulders. The priest grasps the fumie with both hands bringing it close to his eyes. He would like to press to his own face that fumie trampled on by so many feet. With saddened glance he stares intently at the man in the center of the fumie, worn down and hollow with the constant trampling. A tear is about to fall from his eye. 'Ah,' he says trembling, 'the pain !'
'It is only a formality. What do formalities matter?' The interpreter urges him on excitedly. 'Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.'
The priest raises his foot. In it he feels a dull, heavy pain. This is no mere formality. He will now trample on what he has considered the.most beautiful thing in his life, on what he has believed most pure, on what is filled with the ideals and the dreams of man. How his foot aches! And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: 'Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men's pain that I carried my cross.'
The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew.
Endō, Shusaku. Silence. New York: Taplinger Pub., 1979. 250-59. Print.
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Karl Barth often preached to the Basel city prisoners at the end of his life, and these sermons were published in a collection titled: Deliverance to the Captives. On Good Friday in 1957, Karl Barth preached an outstanding sermon on the criminals crucified with Jesus (included in this collection) titled: "Criminals With Him" (Luke 23:33). I've provided several longer quotations from Barth's Criminals With Him that properly explains that these two criminals on crosses to the left and right of Jesus form the first Christian community. These criminals, against their will, are raised up publicly with Jesus, and regardless of their personal opinions, and whether they 'accept Jesus' or not, they are with Jesus and have taken up their cross with Him. These two criminals are the two who are on the left and right of Jesus as he comes into his kingdom (cf. Matthew 20:23).
Criminals With Him
My dear brothers and sisters, I should like to invite you, before I begin my sermon, to read for yourselves the story of Good Friday, the story of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, as it is recorded in the four Gospels. Why don't you read it today and again and again? If we meditate and understand it rightly, this story contains the whole history of the world and, what is more, of God's dealing with man and hence of our dealings with God, including the life history of each of us here. I would need more than a half-hour were I to give an adequate summary of this history, let alone an insight into its complexity. Let me therefore select just one sentence for our meditation together. It is written in Luke 23:33:
They crucified him with the criminals, one on either side of him.
'They crucified him with the criminals'. Which is more amazing, to find Jesus in such bad company, or to find the criminals in such good company? As a matter of fact, both are true! One thing is certain: here they hang all three, Jesus and the criminals, one at the right and one at the left, all three exposed to the same public abuse, to the same interminable pain, to the same slow and irrevocable death throes. Like Jesus, these two criminals had been arrested somewhere, locked up and sentenced by some judge in the course of the previous few days. And now they hang on their crosses with him and find themselves in solidarity and fellowship with him. They are linked in a common bondage never again to be broken, just as the nails that fastened them to the piece of wood would never break. It was as inescapable for them as it was for him. It was a point of no return for them as for him. There remained only the shameful, pain stricken present and the future of their approaching death. (Strangely enough, there are many paintings of Jesus' crucifixion were the two criminals are lost to sight. It would perhaps be more appropriate not to represent Jesus' death at all. But if it is done, then the two thieves on the right and on the left must not be left out. In any painting or representation where they are absent, an important, even an essential, element is missing.)
They crucified him with the criminals. Do you know what this implies? Don't be too surprised if I tell you that this was the first Christian fellowship, the first certain, indissoluble and indestructible Christian community. Christian community is manifest wherever there is a group of people close to Jesus who are with him in such a way that they are directly and unambiguously affected by his promise and assurance. These may hear that everything he is, he is for them, and everything he does, he does for them. To live by this promise is to be a Christian community. The two criminals were the first certain Christian community.
[. . .]
The two criminals who at this hour were crucified with him had probably never heard of him before and were certainly no believing converts, no saints. Far from it! The opposite is true! But in this hour they could not abandon him, they could not sleep. Willingly or not, they were forced to watch with him many long hours on the cross. Nor could they escape his dangerous company. They could not very well deny him, being publicly exposed as his companions. This is how they were in fact the first certain Christian community! He and they, they and he were bound together, were not and are not to be separated in all eternity. Great things had to pass before Peter and the rest of the disciples joined this first Christian community. And when they did so, they could only 'get in line behind' the two criminals who were already first, and up there in front, with Jesus on Golgotha.
[. . .]
Let us now go back to the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus according to God's will and deed. We do not know their names. We know nothing about their lives, of their misdoings and crimes. We do not know whether they could plead attenuating circumstances, or whether their guilt was even greater than we may think. We only know that the thieves were condemned, 'receiving', as one of them admitted, 'the due reward of our deeds'. We know above all that, without their consent and against their wishes, they were in fact crucified with him, with Jesus. No one before and no one afterwards has witnessed so directly and so closely God's act of reconciliation, God's glory and the redemption of the world, as these two thieves. True, only one of them acknowledged who Jesus was and what he did in his suffering and death for all men--the their not excluded. His companion, as it is later recorded in the Gospels, shared int he general, blind and hollow mockery. Why did he not, if he was really the Christ, the Son of God, help himself and them? This is certainly an important and notable difference between the two criminals. But we shall not dwell on it today. For the difference is not important enough to invalidate the promise given so clearly, so urgently to both of them, indeed without distinction.
Consider the fact: Jesus died precisely for these two criminals who were crucified on his right and on his left and went to their death with him. He did not die for the sake of the good world, he died for the sake of an evil world, not for the pious, but for the godless, not for the just, but for the unjust, for the deliverance, the victory and the joy of all, that they might have life. These two companions were evidently and undeniably criminals, evil people, god-less people, unjust people. And he, like them, was condemned and crucified as a law-breaker, a criminal. All three were under the same verdict.
[. . .]
And now, dear friends, we are not asked in the least if we want to be such people, thank God. We are such people, all of us--you in this house which is called a prison, with all the burden that brought you here and with your particular experiences in this place--those others of us outside who have different experiences and yet are, believe me, in the same predicament. In reality we all are these people, these crucified criminals. And only one thing matters now. Are we ready to be told what we are? Are we ready to hear the promise given to the condemned, to 'get in line behind'? 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Those receive the promise who regard themselves as neither so exalted nor so debased that they cannot 'get in line behind' the two criminals who were first on Golgotha. May God give us all the grace to do so! May he help us to use this grace rightly! May he bless us all as we in this freedom go to his table now! Amen.
Barth, Karl. Deliverance to the Captives. "Criminals With Him". Trans. M. Wieser. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 75-84. Print.
"Mantegna, Andrea - crucifixion - Louvre from Predella San Zeno Altarpiece Verona" by Andrea Mantegna - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Karl Barth meets Billy Graham (Eberhard Busch’s Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts)
Eberhard Busch's Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts is the autobiography that Karl Barth never wrote. Busch assembled quotations from Barth's letters, books and various autobiographical texts, and then redacted them with minimal commentary into a biography told in Barth's own words. I believe that this book is more in the category of autobiography, rather than biography due to this program of Busch (and the editing is equivalent to what may have been done in all of Barth's books by his assistants), so there is ample room for someone to write a critical biography to answer the controversial questions regarding Barth, such as the nature of his personal relationship with Charlotte Von Kirschbaum and his strained familial relationships.
The following is Busch's description of Karl Barth's meeting with Billy Graham and his negative assessment of this 'trumpeter of the gospel'. It exemplifies Busch's excellent method for assembling this biography in Barth's own words from his letters and autobiographical texts:
The same frontier was evident in a conversation Barth had with Billy Graham, in August 1960. His son Markus brought them together in the Valais. However, this meeting was also a friendly one. 'He's a "jolly good fellow", with whom one can talk easily and openly; one has the impression that he is even capable of listening, which is not always the case with such trumpeters of the gospel.' Two weeks later Barth had the same good impression after a second meeting with Graham, this time at home in Basle. But, 'it was very different when we went to hear him let loose in the St Jacob stadium that same evening and witnessed his influence on the masses.' 'I was quite horrified. He acted like a madman and what he presented was certainly not the gospel.' 'It was the gospel at gun-point . . . He preached the law, not a message to make one happy. He wanted to terrify people. Threats--they always make an impression. People would much rather be terrified than be pleased. The more one heats up hell for them, the more they come running.' But even this success did not justify such preaching. It was illegitimate to make the gospel law or 'to "push" it like an article for sale . . . We must leave the good God freedom to do his own work.'
Busch, Eberhard. Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976. 446. Print.
Header Image sources:
- Source: http://kbarth.org/gallery/nggallery/karl-barth/the-second-world-war
- "Billy Graham bw photo, April 11, 1966" by Warren K. Leffler. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Karl Barth preached to the Basel prisoners at the end of his life until his health no longer allowed it. It was often said that many considered committing crimes so that they would be privileged to hear Barth preach. Thankfully, a collection of these prison sermons from 1954-1959 have been collected and published in the book Deliverance to the Captives. I've selected a quotation from two sermons in the book as sample.
The sermons are not weighed down by theological jargon, and the language is simple. The sermons are roughly 10-15 minutes long and are based on a single verse of scripture, or even a part of a verse. The sermons begin with a prayer and the sermon text, and the content is not weighed down by theological jargon or greek words, and the language is simple. Karl Barth knows his audience who is hearing the sermon. The sermons may contain references to personal in Barth's life or real life events known to the prisoners such as folk stories or recent events in the Basel surrounding region. The conclusion is with a prayer, which Barth says that these open and closing prayers should not be separated from the sermon text, and the concluded with saying the "Our Father..." prayer.
From "Saved by Grace", preached on 14 August 1955. The text was "By grace have you been saved" (Eph 2:5).
You probably all know the legend of the rider who crossed the frozen Lake of Constance by night without knowing it. When he reached the opposite shore and was told whence he came, he broke down, horrified. This is the human situation when the sky opens and the earth is bright, when we may hear: By grace you have been saved! In such a moment we are like that terrified rider. When we hear this word we involuntarily look back, do we not, asking ourselves: Where have I been? Over an abyss, in mortal danger! What did I do? The most foolish thing I ever attempted! What happened? I was doomed and miraculously escaped and now I am safe! You ask: 'Do we really live in such danger?' Yes, we live on the brink of death. But we have been saved. Look at our Saviour and at our salvation! Look at Jesus Christ on the cross, accused, sentenced and punished instead of us! Do you know for whose sake he is hanging there? For our sake--because of our sin--sharing our captivity--burdened with our suffering! He nails our life to the cross. This is how God had to deal with us. From this darkness he has saved us. He who is not shattered after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: By grace you have been saved!
Barth, Karl. Deliverance to the Captives. Trans. M. Wieser. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 38. Print.
From "You Shall Be My People", preached on 7 October 1956. This sermon was delivered in Bruderholzkapelle, Basel. The text was "I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people." (Lev 26:12).
God continues: 'I will stand by you, I will take sides with you, I will declare my unconditional solidarity with you, against all odds, against the whole world and all of mankind if need be, in particular against your own self!' Is it not true that man is his own worst enemy? Is not the most valuable partisan and helper one who, just because he is for us, dares to be mightily against us? God is this strong partisan and helper. We might also say: God in his divine determination and his divine perfection will say 'yes' to us. But God's 'yes' is a holy and wholesome 'yes', comprising always a 'no'. It is the 'no' to everything in us and about us which he must reject for his sake and our own. He treats us like a doctor who prescribes pills and medication we utterly dislike. I shall never forget how as a little boy I had to drink a glass of cod-liver oil every morning for many years. It tasted terrible, but it obviously did me some good. The doctor may even send us to the hospital, certainly not a very cheerful place. He may perform a minor or major operation, a most disagreeable undertaking indeed, yet how important for recovery! This is how God's 'yes' with the loathsome 'no' in it works. Be not anxious. God says 'yes' to us fully, unconditionally and unquestionably. He wills, he is able, to rescue us, to support us, to put us on our feet, to make us free and joyful. This is what 'I will be your God' means. In short, I will be what is beneficial to you, your good against all evil, your production against all disaster, your peace against all strife. In this way, walking among you, I will be your God!
Barth, Karl. Deliverance to the Captives. Trans. M. Wieser. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 63-4. Print.
The Moltmanniac discovered three more Jürgen Moltmann lectures freely available via Princeton Theological Seminary. The first two are from the year Moltmann spent in America after the publication of Theology of Hope (ET), and the other corresponds to the publication of The Crucified God.
- Resurrection as Hope
(MP3 Mirror: Part 1, Part 2)
- The Future as Paradigm of Transcendence
(MP3 Mirror: Part 1, Part 2)
- The Crucified God: A Chapter in the Theology of Liberation
(MP3 Mirror: Part 1, Part 2)
(*) This audio is offered by the seminary as a free resource for personal use and is not to be sold or copied for financial gain.
In October 2001, Jürgen Moltmann delivered the Grider-Winget Lecture series at Nazarene Theological Seminary, and these have been digitized and freely provided by the moltmanniac.