Karl Barth on the hymns of his childhood

The children songs of Abel Burckhart gave Karl Barth his first theological education. Later Barth wrote:

What made an indelible impression on me was the homely self-assurance with which these unpretentious verses spoke of the vents of Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, as though they could have taken place that very morning in Basel or nearby, like any other exciting event.

History? Doctrine? Dogma? Myth? No! It was all things actually taking place. You could see everything for yourself and listen to it and take it to heart by hearing one of these songs sung in the language you were hearing elsewhere and beginning to speak, and you could join in the song yourself. Holding your mother’s hand you went to the stable in Bethlehem, along the streets of Jerusalem, into which the savior was making his entry, hailed by children of your own age. you climbed the grim hill of Golgotha and walked in Joseph’s garden at daybreak.

This was all very naive, but perhaps the deepest wisdom, with its fullest force, lies in naivety, and this kind of wisdom, once gained, can carry a man over whole oceans of historicism and anti-historicism, mysticism and rationalism, orthodoxy, liberalism and existentialism.

Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life, p 9.


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