Rosenstock-Huessy knew Barth personally, but Rosenstock wasn’t a Barthian. He anticipated the Romerbrief , only to be disappointed when he read it. For Rosenstock-Huessy, Barth was just another Platonist using Christian symbols. The reaction was visceral: “The more I read Barth, the more mythical his Christ becomes to me, which is to say the more doubtful.”

In a 1919 letter to Barth (quoted in Religion, Redemption and Revolution: The New Speech Thinking Revolution of Franz Rozenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy , 205), Rosenstock objects to the absolute otherness of Barth’s God: “Hasn’t salvation come into the world? Hasn’t God taken pity on us? Does Paul speak of the transcendent powers of a new eon or of a Father who lives up there 50 million kilometres away or does he speak of the Son of God who became man. Christ became flesh, thus we live in his name which is the addressable and effable name of God. Thus has God revealed himself. Where’s the transcendence in this?”

These criticisms hit the target insofar as they are launched against the early Barth. Rosenstock’s other criticisms seem to me to be telling even against the mature Barth: “It took a complete millennium, the first one, so that [Christ] could attract monks and martyrs. And then it took another one so that he could appeal to the rest of us, ever new parts of the world to be supplied and won by Christ through the power of love, the power of resolution . . . . we only come to eternity through time. First we have to emphasize that we are time men and time comrades. Only through that are our thoughts refined to supra-temporality.”

This, I think, pinpoints Barth’s weakness, which is a weakness in the doctrine of creation, hence in the “doctrine” of time.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart