The morning of December 14 the blanket of clouds that had covered Switzerland for several weeks lifted at the nation’s northwest corner, and a clear winter sun shone down on Basel. And there the memorial service for Switzerland’s grand old theologian, Karl Barth, was held in Basel Minster, in the presence of Swiss and German professors, church and civic officials, and a large throng of former students, friends, and admirers.
Barth had died quietly at home during the night of Monday the ninth, of heart failure. He had been near death several years ago, but had recovered to continue work on the five unfinished volumes of Church Dogmatics. He underwent surgery in September but had been expected to recover.
The public memorial service—following a small private burial—was simple and solemn, with a note of majesty. Despite words of sorrow and the sense of loss expressed by several speakers, the atmosphere in the great church was one of homage rather than mourning. It was in keeping with the character of a man who—as Berlin’s Professor Helmut Gollwitzer said—had spent his life witnessing to Emmanuel, God with us, and is now with him.
Tributes from members of the Basel theological faculty and the city administration emphasized his geniality as a teacher, his simplicity in dealing with the common people, his loyalty to Switzerland and Basel, his humor, and his humility.
A younger Zurich professor claimed that Barth’s greatness lay in his theological industry and sachlichkeit (matter-of-fact-ness), and appealed to theologians to honor his memory by working harder and being ever more sachlich.
This well-meant tribute sounded flat by comparison with personal homage paid by former World Council General Secretary Visser’t Hooft, and by Czech ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more