Reforming Rome: Karl Barth and Vatican II

By Donald W. Norwood | Go to book overview

Introduction

Karl Barth was among a select group of non–Roman Catholic observers and special guests who were invited to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) to assist the reform, renewal, or, as it was described, the aggiornamento of the Roman Catholic Church. Ill health prevented his attendance but with the help of his Roman Catholic friend, Hans Küng, one of the periti, experts at the Council, he kept himself informed about all its deliberations and a year after it ended made his own visit to Rome, armed with carefully prepared questions and comments on key documents of the Council. He became one of the first Protestant theologians ever to have an hour-long discussion with the pope. Bishop Otto Dibelius of Berlin had met with Pius XII in 1955 but the conversation only lasted a few minutes and some of that was about the weather!

Rome’s invitation to Barth was testimony to the high regard Roman Catholics had for one who can justly be regarded as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. Other observers were invited to represent their own denomination or confessional group. So Lukas Vischer as Director of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches represented the World Council. George Caird of Oxford represented the International Congregational Council, Albert Outler Methodists, Krysten Skydsgaard the Lutheran World Federation, John R. H. Moorman the Anglican Communion. These men (no women) and their colleagues of other traditions were each highly respected in their own churches and were commissioned to represent their church’s views and to report back. Barth was invited in his own right. Often a strong critic of Rome but never just of Rome, he became the non–Roman Catholic theologian who was most respected in Rome. Pope Pius XII is said to have described Barth as the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas — praise indeed since the great

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