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Karl Barth on State (Polity) - Dictionary of Arguments

Brocker I 239
State/Barth: Barth interprets the figures Jesus and Pilate as actors or personalized condensations (...) ((s) of a) reconstructed double and at the same time double-stranded, namely theo-anthropological context of action. While Jesus of Nazareth proves his Christ-being (his essential belonging to God) in the fact that in him the will of God to salvation is directly asserted, in "Pilate" it is strongly mediated, namely in the medium of the opposite, as the condemnation of Jesus to crucifixion and death. Barth interprets the condemnation of Jesus by Pilate as an act for which he does in fact have the "power" ('exousia', (1) given to him by God, but which is in material contradiction to Roman law; a rightful use of state law should have led to the "acquittal", Pilate should have "granted legal protection to the Church" (2).
See also Secularization/Barth, Governance/Barth.
In this abuse or self-contradiction, the Pilate state proved to be a "demonized State", as the one "which is "not the state", which is too much, but too little state, which at the decisive moment fails to be faithful to itself" (3). Nevertheless, in this indirect way it becomes apparent that "a real showing
Brocker I 240
of the true face of the state would have ment to unfailingly legitimize the free and conscious proclamation of the [...] divine justification of the realm of Christ, which is not of this world" (4). Thus, without his will or knowledge, Pilate becomes the "human creative instrument" of the divine saving action of the justification of the ungodly, which takes place in the cross and resurrection, and at the same time, "humanly seen, he almost becomes the founder of the Church" (5).
Brocker I 243
"The state as a state knows nothing of spirit, nothing of love, nothing of forgiveness. The state carries the sword" (6).
Barth describes the "intercession" for the "bearers of the state before God" (7) as the "most intimate and as the function of the church for the state that encompasses and radicalizes all others at the same time. This practice, which goes back to the New Testament pastoral letters and is broadly anchored in the Christian tradition and it is to be understood in Barth's theological conception of the political as a practical-religious form or application of the "fundamental knowledge exclusively attributed to the church about the justification and necessity of the state" (8).


1.Karl Barth, Rechtfertigung und Recht, in: Theologische Studien 1, Zollikon 1938. Karl Barth, Rechtfertigung und Recht, in: ders., Rechtfertigung und Recht, Christengemeinde und Bürgergemeinde, Evangelium und Gesetz, Zürich 1998, S.12
2. Ibid p. 14
3. Ibid p. 15
4. Ibid
5. Ibid p. 13.
6. Ibid. p. 31
7. Ibid. p. 34
8. Ibid p. 38


Georg Pfleiderer, „Karl Barth, Rechtfertigung und Recht 1938)“ in: Manfred Brocker (Hg.) Geschichte des politischen Denkens. Das 20. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt/M. 2018.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Barth, Karl
Brocker I
Manfred Brocker
Geschichte des politischen Denkens. Das 20. Jahrhundert Frankfurt/M. 2018


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