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:: Quotations :: Karl Barth on Roman Catholicism

“A Church which maintains that its official decisions are infallible can commit errors which are irreformable.”[1] 

-Karl Barth

[1] CD, IV/I § 61, 4; 626.  


  1. mike says:

    ha ha, very good quote. funny thing is that barth became increasingly ecumenical throughout his life, was keenly interested in vatican 2, and most barth scholars feel he became increasingly pro-catholic in his writings, letters, lectures, etc.

  2. theophilogue says:

    It’s true. It was largely due to the influence of Hans Kung.

  3. Mark Hanson says:

    The Catholic Church as an instutional whole is open to receiving input from the Protestants, even so far as to be open to looking at reinterpreting certain Catholic dogmas and their subsequent application such as the Petrine ministry and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Here are a couple of snippets (see especially the underlined parts) from Avery Cardinal Dulles on these very points (http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6081 Saving Ecumenism from Itself),

    “The Catholic Church, insofar as she was made up of human members and administered by them, was always in need of purification and reform. Through ecumenical contacts, other Christian communities could help her to correct what was amiss, to supply what was lacking, and to update what was obsolete.

    In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint he [Pope John Paul II] proposed a better alternative [in contrast with the lowest common denominator approach]. After stating that “the unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed truth in its entirety,” he went on to say that dialogue is not merely an exchange of ideas but also, in some way, “an exchange of gifts.” Later, in the same encyclical, he wrote: “Communion is made fruitful by the exchange of gifts between the churches insofar as they complement each other.” In these words he called for a new chapter in the history of ecumenism.

    Far from being embarrassed by their own distinctive doctrines and practices, each partner should feel privileged to be able to contribute something positive that the ­others still lack. This does not mean, of course, that the churches should be uncritical of themselves or others. Where they express, or hear others expressing, singular beliefs, they should carefully examine the grounds for such views.

    With this mentality, Catholics would want to hear from the churches of the Reformation the reasons they have for speaking as they do of Christ alone, Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone, while Catholics tend to speak of Christ and the Church, Scripture and tradition, grace and cooperation, faith and works. We would want to learn from them how to make better use of the laity as sharers in the priesthood of the whole People of God. We would want to hear from evangelicals about their experience of conversion and from Pentecostals about perceiving the free action of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Orthodox would have much to tell about liturgical piety, holy tradition, sacred images, and synodical styles of polity. We would not want any of these distinctive endowments of other ecclesial families to be muted or shunted aside for the sake of having shared premises or an agreed method.

    John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint expressed a desire to work with leaders and theologians of other churches in seeking ways for the Petrine office to be exercised such that it could be beneficial to them as well as to Catholics. These other churches and communities will have to consider the ways in which they could receive the primatial ministry of the bishop of Rome. A dialogue on this subject is already underway. For some communities, perhaps, the papacy will be the final piece by which to complete the jigsaw puzzle of Christian unity.

    I would also expect that any reunion to which Catholics can be a party would have to include as part of the settlement the Catholic dogmas, perhaps reinterpreted in ways that we do not now foresee. Other churches and ecclesial communities will have their own expectations. But all must be open to possible conversion. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us, as Vatican II recommended, “without obstructing the ways of divine Providence and without prejudging the future inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

    The process of growth through mutual attestation will probably never reach its final consummation within historical time, but it can bring palpable results. It can lead the churches to emerge progressively from their present isolation into something more like a harmonious chorus. Enriched by the gifts of others, they can hope to raise their voices together in a single hymn to the glory of the triune God. The result to be sought is unity in diversity.”

    Pope Benedict, Aug 19, 2005 – “We cannot “bring about” unity by our powers alone. We can only obtain unity as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, spiritual ecumenism – prayer, conversion and the sanctification of life – constitute the heart of the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 8; Ut Unum Sint, 15ff., 21, etc.). It could be said that the best form of ecumenism consists in living in accordance with the Gospel. I see good reason for optimism in the fact that today a kind of “network” of spiritual links is developing between Catholics and Christians from the different Churches and ecclesial Communities: each individual commits himself to prayer, to the examination of his own life, to the purification of memory, to the openness of charity.”

  4. theophilogue says:


    Thanks. That was a very encouraging quotation. If you can’t already tell, I am definitely sympathetic with the New Ecumenism that doesn’t compromise doctrinally but is open and willing to exchange and learn, and be more charitable.


  5. nomen stultum says:

    This is probably well worth reading, but obviously impossible.

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