A fortnightly report of developments in religion

For the first few days of his U. S. visit Professor Karl Barth exercised due restraint and refused to share publicly any impressions of the country he was seeing for the first time. It was not long, however, until he was commenting freely on a variety of topics ranging from prisons to moon shots.

The Elephant And The Whale

What does Barth think of other eminent Protestant theologians who sharply disagree with him?

At a luncheon in Washington this month, Barth had some choice remarks about his theological contemporaries Brunner, Tillich, and Niebuhr.

His comments to 50 prominent churchmen from the national capital area were prodded by a remark that he had once made that he and Brunner were “like trains travelling in different directions.… We hail each other along the way.”

“He remains my friend,” said Barth, who appeared at the luncheon clad in a green plaid jacket and maroon tie. “In human relations we are amicable and on good terms. But as to theology nothing is changed.” Brunner is a former student and disciple of Barth who later became one of his severest critics. The two have lived in Switzerland within 60 miles of each other for years, but their meetings have been few. In a BBC television interview in 1960 Barth likened his relation to Brunner to that of an elephant and a whale.

“In his good creation, God saw fit to create such diverse creatures. Each has his own function and purpose.”

With a broad smile Barth repeated to his Washington hearers his previously stated preference to be considered the whale, which “can traverse the whole creation.”

Barth now says that it was Brunner who came out “with the notion of the new Barth.” Barth recalls that in the late twenties and early ...

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