Karl Barth was an incredibly productive writer for more than 50 years. During his lifetime he published more than 600 writings, including a 13-volume, 9,300-pages, yet unfinished work on Christian doctrine. Additionally, he wrote numerous unpublished papers such as sermons, lectures, manuscripts, letters, and other items. After Barth’s death in 1968 it became clear that it was necessary to undertake a Collected Edition (“Gesamtausgabe”) of his works.
The Collected Edition has the objective to:
- collect and order texts, some of which had been long out of print or were first published in hard-to-find volumes, according to their literary genres
- add the unpublished texts from Barth’s literary estate
- make Barth’s writings, given their particular historical context and their complexity of expression, accessible to contemporary readers.
The Collected Edition provides historical introductions and clarifies the manifold theological, philosophical, historical, political, autobiographical, and literary allusions of Barth’s writing. It also explains – not least of all – distinctive Swiss German words and phrases for readers outside Switzerland.
The publication of the Collected Edition is managed by the director of the Karl Barth Archive, who also serves as editor-in-chief. Numerous well-known theologians, including Eberhard Busch, Ingolf U. Dalferth, Eberhard Juengel and Gerhard Sauter, have supported the editorial work.
The editors of the Collected Edition aim to provide the information necessary to make Barth’s language as accessible as it would have been to contemporaries hearing his talks and lectures in person. Frequently, the first step in preparing the edition is the painstaking process of deciphering Barth’s difficult handwriting, itself an indispensible contribution to Barth scholarship, which takes place in the Karl Barth Archive.
Since its inception in 1971, forty-seven volumes have been published in five series:
- I: Sermons
- II: Academic Works
- III: Lectures and Shorter Articles
- IV: Conversations
- V: Letters
The volumes represent either newly reissued critical editions of texts published by Barth (for example, the Epistle to the Romans of 1919 and the Christian Dogmatics of 1927) or previously unpublished texts with particular significance for the interpretation of Barth’s intellectual development made available for the first time (as with the Göttingen Lectures on Dogmatics of 1923-1925).
Significant goals guide the future of the Collected Edition; above all, the publication of the lectures and shorter articles from the 1930s and 1940s, which document among other matters Barth‘s struggle against the influence of National Socialism on the Protestant Church and his subsequent concern for Christian responsibility during the Second World War. Another goal is the publication of the previously unpublished lectures from the 1920s and 1930s, which still raise fruitful questions for the Church and theology and point the way toward new answers.