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When Karl met Lollo: the origins and consequences of Karl Barth's relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum

  • Stephen J. Plant (a1)

This paper extends the scope of earlier studies of Karl Barth's relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum by exploring his marriage to Nelly Barth and the deterioration in their relationship in the 1920s. It traces the development and character of Barth's relationship with Kirschbaum, and the Notgemeinschaft (emergency community) they formed with Nelly. The paper makes use of Nelly Barth's unpublished letters to her family in which she accounts for her reluctance to divorce her husband in the early 1930s. The second half of the paper explores the impact of Barth's relationship with Kirschbaum on others and goes on to suggest ways in which this had consequences for his theology, particularly in his thinking in Church Dogmatics III/4 about the relation between man and woman.

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1 Erler, Rolf-Joachim (ed.), Karl Barth–Charlotte von Kirschbaum: Briefwechsel, vol. 1, 1925–1935 (Zurich: TVZ, 2008). Translations from this volume, and from other volumes in the Barth Gesamtausgabe, are my own.

2 Tietz, Christiane, ‘Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum’, Theology Today 74/2 (2017), pp. 86111.

3 Köbler, Ranata, Schattenarbeit: Die Theologin an der Seite Karl Barths (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein Vlg., 1987), ET: In the Shadow of Karl Barth: Charlotte von Kirschbaum, trans. Keith Crim (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1989).

4 Selinger, Suzanne, Charlotte von Kirschbaum and Karl Barth: A Study in Biography and the History of Theology (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1998).

5 Karl Barth's will was signed on 11 June 1968 and notarised by Dr Conrad Gelzer.

6 Thurneysen, E. (ed.), Karl Barth-Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel, vol. 2, 19211930, Karl Barth-Gesamtausgabe Abt. V (Zurich: TVZ, 1987); and Algner, Caren (ed.), Karl Barth-Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel, vol. 3, 1930–1935, Karl Barth-Gesamtausgabe Abt. V (Zurich: TVZ, 2000).

7 Busch, Eberhard, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1975).

8 Ibid., p. xiv.

9 Karl Barth to Fritz Zulauf, 26 May 1911, unpublished letter in the Karl Barth Archive.

10 Karl Barth to Karl Huber, 13 December 1948: unpublished letter in the Karl Barth Archive.

11 In Busch, Eberhard, Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth: Tagebuch 1965–1968 (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH: 2011), he reports that Barth discussed Rösy with him on more than a dozen occasions.

12 Busch, Karl Barth, p. 42.

13 The month of January 1910 is pretty typical, with six letters or postcards either to both parents or to his father.

14 The letter is numbered KBA9311.63 in the Karl Barth Archive.

15 See e.g. Karl Barth to Nelly Barth, 30 June 1912.

16 That is, addressing her as ‘Liebe Lollo’ and using the ‘du’ form in his letter dated 4 Oct. 1925, ed. Erler, p. 3.

17 Ibid., p. 6.

18 Ibid.

19 Kirschbaum to Barth, 27 Feb. 1926; ibid., p. 22.

20 Barth to Kirschbaum, 25 May 1926; ibid., p. 46.

21 Barth to Kirschbaum, 28 Dec. 1926; ibid., p. 75.

22 E. Thurneysen to an unknown correspondent, 7 July 1931, in Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel, pp. 921-4.

23 KB-CvK Breifwechsel vol. 1, p. 23.

24 Nelly Barth to Anna Hoffmann, 25 Jan. 1930; unpublished letter in the Karl Barh Archive.

25 Nelly Barth to Anny Schuler, 20 Mar. 1932; unpublished letter.

26 Anna Barth to Karl Barth, 24 Apr. 1933. The full letter can be found in Barth, K., Briefe des Jahres 1933, ed. Busch, E. et al. (Zurich: TVZ, 2004).

27 Karl Barth to Anna Barth, 23 Apr. 1933, in ibid., Briefe, p. 170.

28 Trudi Lindt Barth to Ch. v. Kirschbaum, 11 Feb. 1935; letter in Thomas Lindt's archive, used here with his kind permission.

29 Karl Barth to Trudi Lindt-Barth, 17 Feb. 1935; letter in Thomas Lindt's archive.

30 Eduward Thurneysen to Karl Barth 20 Jan. 1927; unpublished letter in the Karl Barth Archive.

31 The case arose because Barth refused to take a personal oath of allegiance to the Führer, required of all German University Professors, without the addition of a conditional clause limiting his obedience according to his conscience as an Evangelical Christian.

32 The safety was only relative, because the threat of invasion by Germany was more than theoretical, particularly in the first years of the war.

33 Herta Baier, interview recorded in 2001 in Hamm, Germany; held in the Center for Barth Studies, Princeton.

34 Renate Barth, interview recorded in Riehen, Switzerland, 2002; held in the Princeton Center for Barth Studies.

35 Karl Barth to Markus Barth, 19 Oct. 1953.

36 25 Aug. 1933, Barth-Thurneysen Briefwechsel, vol. 3, pp. 483–4.

37 19 May 1933, Barth-Thurneysen Briefwechsel, vol. 3, p. 400.

38 Barth GA 45, p. 75

39 von Kirschbaum, Charlotte, Das Wikliche Frau (Zurich: Evangelischer Vlg.,1949). The Basler Nachrichten carried a positive review of the book on 22 Sept. 1950; the review does not mention Barth. Barth's reference can be found in Church Dogmatics, 13 vols., ed. T. F. Torrrance and G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956–74), III/4, p. 172.

40 Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/4, p. 130.

41 Ibid.; cf. the German original in Kirchliche Dogmatik, III/4, p. 144.

42 The seventh, that is, in the Reformed order: the prohibition of adultery is the sixth commandment according the Roman Catholic Catechism and Luther's Small Catechism.

43 Note, however, that both the Lutherbibel and the Zürcherbibel employ Thoren/Toren, rather than Narr to do so.

44 Karl Barth to Markus Barth, 2 Dec. 1968. I am grateful to Peter Zocher at the Karl Barth Archive in Basel for his invaluable assistance in the research leading to this paper; the views expressed are, of course, entirely my own. The research will lead to a biography of Karl Barth planned for publication in 2021 by Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Early drafts of this paper were presented at the Christian Theology Seminar at the University of Cambridge and at the Theology and Ethics Research Seminar at the University of Durham: I am grateful to all those who commented on it.

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Scottish Journal of Theology
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