Church Dogmatics IV.3.1 The Light of Life
“Jesus Christ as such is light, that His being is also name, His reality truth, His history revelation, His act Word or Logos. We have simply ascribed to Him what the Bible calls glory and therefore his prophetic office.” We may assert that he is the one Light of life and true Word because his presence and action give substance to this claim (74). Barth’s initial argument is that we call Christ’s life Light and Word because he is the bearer of grace and revealer of the being and character of God. “Grace means that God expresses himself before man, declaring Himself as the truth in his existence. It means that he causes himself to be perceived by this one who is not his equal, who is merely his creature, and who has willfully closed his eyes and ears and heart to him. It means the free revelation of God. This takes place in the life of Jesus Christ.” Christ is the grace revealed, willed, and enacted by God. This is both self-disclosure and self-impartation grounded in the being of God. Grace and revelation are thus inseparable because they are grounded in God’s being. This for Barth is the reason why Christ is the one grace and the one revelation, the one Light and the one Word.
After Barth presents his thesis that Christ is the one grace, one revelation, one Light, and one Word he moves on to address the validity of other lights and words of truth (83). He says, “ Noble rivalry or peaceful co-existence is possible with those who prefer other lights of life or words of God. And, of course we maintain our own liberty to hear other such words as well, and perhaps even to prefer them.” It is quite interesting that Barth moves from Christ as the one Light of life and Word of God to other lights and other words of God. He even acknowledges that the statement, Christ is the one Light of life and Word of God, is one that is dangerous (84). Barth elaborates on the idea of other lights, words, and truths, but he does so quite cautiously. He maintains that Christ is the one Light of life and Word of God so there can be no other witnesses to the truth of God that do not stand side by side with Christ. So, if we hear a truth apart from Christ, it is not a truth in itself; what has happened is that Christ has freely and miraculously spoken through a person(s) or event. This consistently grounds all truth and light in the one grace and revelation of Christ. Barth maintains that all divine utterances are not to be taken as independent truths, but as the utterances of God himself (89).
Barth moves on to addresses specific examples of other lights that bear witness and words that speak truth. Concerning the Bible and the Church Barth says, “But the Bible as such is not the one Word of God. Indirect witness is also borne to Jesus Christ in the message, activity and life of the Christian Church, whose whole raison d’être is to make him known as the one Word of God.” The Bible is not the one Word of God, but exists to make Jesus Christ known as such. Even the lights of the Church and Bible shine as lights only because the Light of life shines. Contrary to popular belief Barth actually does speak of bright lights of humanity that carry both importance and significance. Not all words spoken outside of the Bible and the Church are valueless, empty, corrupt, misleading, and untrue. They are words of seriousness, profound wisdom, and comfort. They are good because they are in the commission and will of God. They are words of truth and light only in relation to Jesus Christ. For Barth these lights are incomplete and Christ himself as the Light of life is the one Light who is complete.
Barth begins to further explicate Christ’s involvement with other lights. He states, “As the one Word of God, he can bring himself into the closest conjunction with such words. He can make use of certain men, making them his witnesses and confessing their witness in such a way that to hear them is to hear him (Lk. 10.16).” But, in order for these words to be true they must be in substantial conformity and agreement with the one Word. “The truth proper to the one Word of God must dwell within them. Applied to such words, ‘true’ must imply that they say the same thing as the one Word of God, and are true for this reason.” These truths participate and share in the content and truth of Christ. They have no truth in themselves, but are moved and empowered by the Spirit to speak truth that attests to the one Word of God. Barth likens these true words to parables that have been instituted by Christ, bear witness to Him, and are true because he is true. For the sake of avoiding confusion it may be best to refer to the light of Christ and the luminosity of creation (133).
Barth argues that Christ’s capacity to present these parables, lights, and words of truth transcend both the secular sphere and that of the Church. Therefore we must expect to hear these words and see these lights from both within the Church and beyond it. Barth’s Christ has the ability to awaken and raise up witnesses to speak true words no matter the sphere in which the witness resides. Yet, these witnesses and true words are only true in regards to the truth of Christ, which allows them to participate in his truth and light. This for Barth presents us with a Christ who is neither narrow nor static, but rather a Christ who is broad and dynamic, grounding all truth and light in himself as the one Light of life and Word of God. There is indeed for Barth not one square inch in creation, which Jesus Christ has abandoned and not one square inch where he is not active (114).
Although Barth asserts that there are in fact other lights and words worth hearing, we must not call into question whether or not these lights and words are more than signs of Christ’s coming glory and testimony to the risen Lord. “Yet they express the one and total truth from a particular angle, and to that extent only implicitly and not explicitly in its unity and totality.” These lights are the herald of the king, but not the King himself, and are true only insofar as they refer back to their origin. Barth argues that these other lights and other words must always be put to the test by their comparison to the words and character of the Light of life, the historical dogmas, confessions of the Church, scripture, and the fruits they bear. Although these lights and words may be true, they may not be universally heard and therefore must never be canonized. They may not be given a normative function in the Church for they cannot be explicitly pinpointed (127).
Barth’s final point is that there are also lights and truths that can be communicate creature to creature. These are not lights and truths that bear witness to God, but lights and truth that speak of the consistent order and patterns of creation. Creation can speak truth to creation not of God, unless enlisted by the Light of life, but of the contours of life. It seems as though Barth is hinting at a quasi form of natural law in which there are consistent contours, orders, processes, and sequences of creation. These are forms of nature itself, created by God (139). Creation bears truth of itself, that it is in fact the cosmos. “The light in which this is declared and perceived is only a created light. But it is certainly a light.” These lights still find their grounding in God because he created them. These lights cease to lack only if and when they are called into the service of God and taken up into association with the risen Lord.
In conclusion, Christ is the one Light of life and Word of God. There are in fact other lights and words, but we can only speak of them in plurality because they are not light and word proper, they are finite and rely solely on the empowerment and call of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. They are lights and words only because he is the Light of life and Word of God. There are created lights that speak of truth, but only of the truth of creation. They are part of the theatrum gloriae Dei, but they speak only of the theater itself and not of the glory of God unless commissioned by Christ. God speaks in every sphere of life and there is not one inch of the world where Christ is not working. He speaks by means of the Spirit both extra muros ecclesiae and intra muros ecclesiae. He is not bound by the walls of the Church, he is active in the secular world, his Spirit works miraculously in the hearts of the just and the unjust, he is the director and creator of his theater, he is the King and creation his herald. We are lights and speak words of truth that bear witness to Christ because he himself has commissioned us. We shine and speak truth because he is light and he is truth. Christ is himself the one grace, the one revelation and therefore the one Light of life, the one Word of God, he is this because he is the revelation of the being and character of God and his creation bears witness and testifies to this universal truth.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Barth’s book on Mozart is a collection of 4 short essays. The first essay being a testimonial to Mozart, the second a letter of thanks to Mozart, the third a short history of Mozart and his influence, and the fourth on the freedom of Mozart.
In Barth’s very short piece A Testimonial to Mozart he begins by stating his devotion to Mozart. He gives thanks for having the possibility of listening to his music. Barth regards Mozart so highly that says, “I even have to confess that if I ever get to heaven, I would first of all seek out Mozart and only then inquire after Augustine, St. Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and Schleiermacher.” This is quite a bold statement. It shows Barth’s devotion and gratitude to Mozart’s music and speaks to his influence on his life.
In A Letter of Thanks to Mozart Barth speaks of his gratitude to Mozart in quite a fanatical way. He speaks of a dream in which he quizzes Mozart on the meaning of Dogmatics and Dogma, but to his despair there was no answer. He finishes this paragraph by saying that he was surprised because he knew that Mozart would not be allowed to fail. Not only do I find this odd, but also puzzling. Is Barth considering Mozart’s failure as a musician or in all facets of life? Barth thanks Mozart because whenever he listens to him he is “…transported to the threshold of a world which in sunlight and storm, by day and by night, is a good and ordered world.” It’s as if Mozart has transformative power, as if he is an opiate bearing dreams of utopia. Barth ascribes heroic properties to Mozart and his language parallels language used when referring to Christ. Barth says, “…I believe that in its growing darkness our age needs your help—for these reasons I am grateful that you walked among us, that in the few short decades of your life you wanted only to make pure music and that in your music you are still vitally with us.” It’s as if Barth is comparing Mozart to Christ. Mozart came to help a dark age and walked among us in only a few short decades, and he is still with us because he has left his music to be heard. This is a stark parallel to Christ coming to save a lost people, walking among humanity for only a few short decades, and being vitally with us through his Spirit, which he gave to us.
In Barth’s third piece on Mozart he gives brief background of his life and death. He says that Mozart was a Catholic who died with last rites and that he became a Freemason and that did not detract him from his Catholic worship. Barth very much so puts Mozart on a pedestal. He says, “Zwingli, taking into account the curious Christendom of Mozart’s day, would probably have granted him a unique, direct access to God, which, to be sure, he granted even to all kinds of virtuous pagans. In the case of Mozart, we must certainly assume that the dear Lord had a special, direct contact with him. “He who has ears, let him hear!” This resonates with CD IV/3.1. Mozart appears to be, according to Barth, a light in which God has commissioned him for the service of his Kingdom. Barth truly believed that Mozart was a gift and instrument of God. He goes on to comment about Mozart unique and incomparable work. But he also discusses Mozart’s unhappiness and questions how a man could be so unhappy yet write such beautiful music. Barth explains the loveliness of Mozart’s music in this manner,
“One marvels again and again how everything comes to expression in him: heaven and earth, nature and man, comedy and tragedy, passion in all its forms and the most profound inner peace, the Virgin Mary and the demons, the church mass, the curious solemnity of the Freemasons and the dance hall, ignorant and sophisticated people, cowards and heroes (genuine or bogus), the faithful and the faithless, aristocrats and peasants, Papageno and Sarastro. And he seems to concern himself with each of these in turn not only partially but fully; rain and sunshine fall on all.”
Barth later goes on to say that Mozart does not will to praise God, but his music does in its humility. For Barth Mozart’s music is so beautiful and flawless that its only explanation is that it comes from God. He views Mozart’s music as being prophetic.
In his last essay Mozart’s Freedom Barth comments on Mozart’s freedom to play beautiful music and its freeing effects. “Mozart’s music always sounds unburdened, effortless, and light. This is why it unburdens, releases and liberates us.” Barth saw his music as both free and freeing. Barth believed that this freedom was given to Mozart for freeing purposes. Barth moves on to ask the question, “How can I as an evangelical Christian and theologian proclaim Mozart.” Barth parallels Mozart to a parable of the Kingdom of heaven. He is a light outside the sphere of the Church being used as an instrument of Christ. How? I am not quite sure. Barth doesn’t really answer this question very well.
It is clear that Barth believes Mozart to be so perfect that his music could be none other than from God. It is then also clear that his music is beautiful, good, and freeing only by the miraculous work of the Spirit in Mozart. Barth praises Mozart, who wasn’t a good guy, a bit too much. I understand how beautiful his music is, but I don’t think that merits Christ-like language and almost salvific properties. Although this may be true, Mozart’s music was beautiful and Barth gives no indication that Mozart himself is revelation, his music is merely beauty bearing witness to the beauty of God.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV.3.1 (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 69
 Karl Barth, 78
 Barth, 84
 Reason for being
 Barth, 92
 Barth 93/97
 Barth 97/102
 Barth, 106/111
 Barth, 117/123
 Barth, 137
 Barth, 152
 Theater of the glory of God
 Outside the walls of the Church
 Inside the walls of the Church
 Karl Barth, “A Testimonial to Mozart” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 17
 Karl Barth, “A Letter of Thanks to Mozart” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 21
 Karl Barth, 23
 Karl Barth, 23-24
 Karl Barth, “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 27
 Karl Barth, 35
 Karl Barth, “Mozart’s Freedom” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 48
 Karl Barth, 57-58