Barth on Credo Ut Intelligam

Product Details Some parts of Karl Barth’s Dogmatics frustrate me, upset me, and make me want to quit reading them once and for all.  Other parts make me want to finish them ASAP.  Here’s a helpful quote – one of the reasons I read this stuff.  It has to do with the first line of the Apostle’s Creed (I believe in God the Father Almighty) and Anselm’s famous line, Credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I may understand).

“In the present instance this means: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son our Lord, in order to perceive and to understand that God the Almighty, the Father, is the Creator of heaven and earth.  If I did not believe the former, I could not perceive and understand the latter.  If I perceive and understand the latter, my perception and understanding are completely established, sustained, and impelled by my believing the former.  Thus the confession of God the Creator belongs integrally to the rest of the confession.  It does not constitute a foreign body in the confession – a mere prolegomenon.  It is not for nothing that the word ‘credo’ stands before this first statement of faith.  Nor is it merely because it has to stand at the head of the whole confession.  But it is used here with its full Christian content.”

This quote is found in III.1.4 of Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

shane lems

1 thought on “Barth on Credo Ut Intelligam”

  1. I can easily empathize with your frustrations in your interaction with Barth. When he is good he is very, very good, but when he is bad he can drive you nuts! The problem is that many have never “given him a chance”. For a variety of reasons those evangelicals who have ever cracked the cover of one of his works remain in the minority. I still contend that the two greatest theological works of the 20th century are Barth’s “Church Dogmatics” and Henry’s “God, Revelation and Authority”. I have found that so long as I kept Barth in context, remembering who I was reading and when and where he was writing, I could profit greatly from his abilities with not only theological concepts, but also with communicating them in ways that stretch my thinking. In some senses his works are foundational, while in others they are quite pioneering. I have added some of my favorite material from Barth below.

    1. When Karl Barth was 75 years old he made his first trip to America. He came in 1962 and lectured at Princeton Theological Seminary, the University of Chicago Divinity School, Union Theological Seminary, and San Francisco Theological Seminary. While at the University of Chicago a question session and panel discussion was conducted on April 25-26. His concluding remarks following the panel discussion at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel there on April 26th follow:

    “If I [myself were] an American citizen and [a] Christian and [a] theologian, then I would try to elaborate a theology of freedom — a theology of freedom from, let us say, from any inferiority complex over against good old Europe from whence you all came, or your fathers. You [do not] need to have such an inferiority complex. That is what I have learned these weeks. You may also have freedom from a superiority complex, let us say, over against Asia and Africa. That’s
    a complex without reason. Then I may add — [your theology should also be marked by] freedom from fear of communism, Russia, inevitable nuclear warfare and generally speaking, from all the afore-mentioned principalities and [powers. Freedom] for which you would stand would be the freedom for — I like to say a single word — humanity. Being an American theologian, I would then look at the [Statue of Liberty] in the New York Harbor. I have [not seen] that lady, [except] in pictures. Next week I shall see [her] in person. That lady needs certainly a little or, [perhaps, a] good bit of demythologization. Nevertheless, maybe she may also be seen and interpreted and [understood as] a symbol of a true theology, not of liberty, but of freedom. Well, it would be necessarily], a theology of freedom. Of that freedom to which the Son frees us [cf. Jn 8.36], and [which] as His gift, is the one real human freedom. My last question for this evening [is this]: Will such a specific American theology one day arise? I hope so.”

    Karl Barth, “Panel Discussion in Chicago”, Aus: K. Barth, Gespräche 1964-1968, hrsg. von E. Busch (Gesamtausgabe, Abt. IV), Zürich 1995, S.489, vgl. S.279. Karl Barth Archive (Basel, 2009). The text PDF and audio mp3 files (along with others) are available on Karl Barth-Archiv at, with the text PDF at, and the audio mp3 at [accessed 15 NOV 2012]. I have bracketed places in the transcript where errors were noted while listening to the audio file. In some cases words were left out, in others words were put in the wrong order. The most significant error in this transcript, in my opinion, is the substitution of “which” for “who” in the next to the last line! I love listening to the audio file, and imagining what it must have been like to have been there to hear him in person at Princeton, New York, San Francisco, or especially Chicago.

    2. See especially the great quote from Church Dogmatics Vol. IV Part 2, p.112-113 that Fred Sanders posted as “Let the Little Children Come (Old Karl Barth Comes Back to the Matter Itself)”, on “The Scriptorium” (7 APR 2007) at [accessed 15 NOV 2012].  

    3. Finally, Karl Barth on the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Sources:

    Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/3 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004), pp. 297–99.
    “Barth on Mozart” (1 Mar 2011), posted by Jason Goroncy on Per∙Crucem∙ad∙Lucem at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    “Karl Barth’s Letter of Thanks to Mozart”, posted by Michael Dodaro (March 10, 2006) on Alienated in Church at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    Karl Barth, Final Testimonies, ed. Eberhard Busch, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977; from the German ed. Letzte Zeugnisse, Zurich: Theologischer Verlag), pp. 19-30, s.v. “Music For A Guest – A Radio Broadcast”; on Scribd at [accessed 1 MAY 2012]; and on Media Warehouse Bible (translated from Indonesian) at,%20Karl%20-%20Final%20Testimonies.pdf [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    “Karl Barth: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart”, posted by Ben Myers (8 DEC 2006), on Faith and Theology at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, foreword by John Updike, with a new foreword by Paul Louis Metzger (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1986, 2003; original Zollikon: Evangelischer Verlag, 1956), 60 pp.; on Amazon at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    Theodore A. Gill, “Barth and Mozart”, Theology Today 43:3 (Oct., 1986), pp. 403-411; on Theology Today at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    Howard Schomer, “Barth on Mozart”, Christian Century (March 21-28, 1984), pg. 309; on Religion Online at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    Philip McCosker, “‘Blessed Tension’ Barth and Von Balthasar on the Music of Mozart”, The Way 44/4 (October 2005), pp. 81-95; on The Way at [accessed 1 MAY 2012].

    Jacques Colette, “Joy, Pleasure and Anguish: Thoughts on Barth and Mozart”, Concilium 95
    (1974, No. 5), pp. 96-104.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    John T. Jeffery
    Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
    Greentown, PA


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