Karl Holl was a German theologian who lived from 1866-1926. He taught at Tuebingen, and of the great Twentieth-Century theologians, Holl is among those who stand the closest to the animating concerns of Mockingbird. This is because he writes about issues of grace and law, freedom and bondage, spontaneity and calculation, in a forceful manner that is both analytic and feeling. He seems to have sight of the pastoral and experiential in a tone that is unusual for an academic theologian. He seldom loses sight of what we would call the ‘gut level’.

I don’t quite understand why Karl Holl’s theological work is not consulted more widely today. The usual explanation seems to be that he verged on German nationalism during a period which culminated in National Socialism, and that one of his students was Hirsch, who did become a Nazi. But when you read Holl, you have to look for right-wing tendencies. They are not present in the great majority of what he wrote. Only in his essay entitled “The Cultural Significance of the Reformation” does an element of pro-German cultural boosterism seem to come out at you. In almost everything else, from his lectures on Martin Luther to his studies of Greek Orthodoxy, which was a specialty, to his unusual defense of Christian Science in the light of a celebrated court case in Germany, you see a synthetic mind at work. He starts from Justification by Faith, practically understood and applied; and moves out from there, and in any number of directions.

Karl Holl was something!

For the next month or so, Mockingbird will present a Karl Holl Quote at the beginning of each week. We hope these short excerpts will create discussion. Today’s, the first Karl Holl Quote for the Summer of 2010, is from The Distinctive Elements in Christianity, T & T Clark, 1937.  The original essay was published in the German language in 1925, and translated into English by Norman V. Hope.  This excerpt is from pages 17 and 19.  The emphases are by Mockingbird.

I have never understood how any one could doubt that Jesus taught a new idea of God as compared with the Old Testament. The passages of the Old Testament where God is called Father may be examined and in them evidence of a certain progressive development found. At first only the nation ranked as God’s son, then in a special sense the King, and finally in the Psalms of Solomon the righteous individual. This approaches the standpoint of Jesus. But the principal element is still absent… Jesus, however, addresses Himself not to the righteous but to sinners … Such a belief in God as was preached by Jesus, according to which God gives Himself to the sinner, was the end of all serious moral effort.”

Read the other installments here.