Barth’s legacy (or lack thereof?)
November 10, 2007
“Karl Barth may have been the greatest theologian of the past century, but he has nary a successor among today’s Protestants. No institution furthers his work.”
Well, someone needs to tell Aberdeen Divinity that, and our friends across the pond at PTS. However, I think there’s a valid point here. Barth may have academic successors, but what about ecclesial influence? This reminds me of something Fr. Richard John Neuhaus wrote earlier this year:
“Many years ago, I asked [Jaroslav] Pelikan who was the most influential theological mind of the past two hundred years. I had suggested thinkers such as Schleiermacher, Harnack, and Barth. Without hesitation, he said John Henry Newman. I expressed surprise at the certainty with which he named Newman. I may not recall the exact words, but he explained that Newman’s thought has been received into the tradition of the Catholic Church, whereas Schleiermacher and Harnack, brilliant though they were, wrote against the tradition, and Barth was, as he claimed to be, a “church theologian” but a church theologian without a church capable of bearing his contribution through successive generations. Pelikan understood, as Wilken said at Yale, that it is orthodoxy that is the most consequential, the most adaptable, the most enduring.”
For the Asia Times reviewer, the same point is made when reflecting on the immense ecclesiastical influence had by the Communio theologians, such as Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar, on the Catholic Church, especially as embodied in the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a great Communio theologian himself. Why does Barth not have this influence? Historical happenstance, or is it in the nature of Catholic ecclesiology to be able to better absorb these theologians and their great contributions into the living dogmatic structure of the church? I have to say it’s more of the latter.