Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Glory of the Lord



One positive dimension of the affective life is the aesthetic experience. What people describe as an aesthetic experience is simply a dimension of common human experience available to us all. Aesthetic experience typically relieves tension and quiets destructive impulses. It resolves lesser conflicts in the self and assists toward interpretation. It refines perception and discrimination. It develops the imagination and the ability to put oneself in the place of others. It is an aid to mental health. It fosters mutual sympathy and understanding. It offers an ideal for human life. Aesthetic experience is momentary. The original emotion disrupts normal consciousness, experience, and behavior. What occupied our attention before is not as interesting. We abandon occupations. It disorients our situation. It checks our daily experience. Eventually, we must resume daily experience, we must return. It satisfies our desire to see the object of reflection. We satisfy the hunger with this experience. Yet, it contains within it the beginning of a new longing or desire. In an aesthetic experience or love experience, the self does not disappear, even though one may direct one's attention so fully outside the self that it feels as if the self disappears. Such peak experiences have their own intrinsic value. Truth, goodness, and beauty form into a unity in such moments. Peak experiences bring momentary loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defense and control, a giving up of renunciation, delay and restraint. As a peak experience, one feels more integrated than at other times. The greatest attainment of identity is a transcending of self, a going beyond and above selfhood. We feel ourselves to be at the peak of our powers, using all our capacities at the best and fullest. People feel lucky, fortunate, and graced. Joy surprises us. Aesthetic contemplation is for the sake of enjoyment. We would not continue to attend to the object of contemplation if doing so were not enjoyable. We savor the experience, rather than classify and identify it. Although analysis may enhance such savoring of experience, it often stifles it. The object of contemplation goes beyond practical use as well. We often quickly determine the utility of an object. When something in our world overwhelms us, forces itself upon us, disrupts us, we have gone beyond utility. Aesthetic experience brings us to see the surplus of human experience.

A second positive dimension of the affective life is beauty. It involves the individual in an inward mental self-transfiguration, even if only for the moment when the beautiful captures the eye. The unity that explorations in truth and goodness seek is already present in the aesthetic experience. As such, the experience hints at and anticipates a unity or harmony human beings seek. The beautiful simply strikes as such, and we contemplate it. Our intuition that something is beautiful becomes the basis for the aesthetic moment. We might think of the moment as more like a form of intoxication or dream, as over against the Idealist notion that one encountered it in the imagination.

An occasion of beauty incites and requires an act of replication. An occasion of beauty prompts the begetting of children; it prompts a copy of itself. We are willing to revise our own location in order to place ourselves in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. We cannot conceive of a beautiful thing that does not have the quality of replication as an impulse toward creation that results in both the famous painting and in the mundane act of staring.

Beauty takes place in particulars - a painting, a symphony, a poem, a novel, etc. Beauty has a sacred and unprecedented character. Beauty saves lives and confers the gift of life; it quickens adrenalin, making the heartbeat faster. It makes life increasingly vivid, animated, living, and worth living. The beauty of a phenomenon captures our attention, puts us out of gear with practical life, and forces us to view it on the level of aesthetic consciousness. The object focuses our attention outside self. Beauty also incites deliberation; it fills the mind and invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger with which we need to bring it into relation. Beauty causes us to gape and suspend thought, while also causing us to reflect upon precedents and parallels and move forward toward new acts of creation. It causes us to bring things into relation with a kind of urgency as though one's life depended upon it. Beautiful things have a forward momentum, inciting the desire to bring new things into the world. Beautiful things also incite us to move backward, to the ground out of which we may rediscover and whatever makes a new thing.

What can we hope to bring about in ourselves when we open ourselves to and actively pursue beauty? As those who behold beauty, we seek to bring new beauty into the world and may become successful in this endeavor. We become increasingly beautiful in our interior life. Further, beauty is life-saving and life-restoring. We receive the gift of life in our perception of beauty, as well as bestow life.

The aesthetic moment and the experience of beauty is an analogy to the experience one may have of God. Such experiences focus upon the moment that captures us. It focuses our attention upon the event. To see God in revelation is to refuse to allow human history to be nothing other than the accidental truths of history. A moment that we come to see as divine revelation stands out, captures our attention and disrupts us. That moment is no longer like any other moment of history or like our daily life. We orient our lives around the center, from which the light of beauty shines. The Bible refers to this as the glory of the Lord that human beings experience as shining forth as light. Such light intends to enlighten our path. Theology itself can have its beauty. The theologian can see, hear, and behold that which captures her or him. It can capture us, rapture us, and even transform us. Revelation directs our attention to that which outside us, to its time and place. This gives us the appearance of pure objectivity. Yet, the “exterior” witness must unite with an “interior” witness, with the light of faith. It may well begin as a largely personal experience, but the fact that one has responded to a witness from history will quickly bring us to that which transcends the personal.[1] If we understand aesthetic appreciation on analogy with the response of faith in revelation, then we are embarking upon a theological analysis of existence. This will require close attention to the understanding of Christian existence that we find in Paul and John. Faith is attentive to the divine voice. On analogy with the experience of beauty, human experience is an event. Within Christianity, faith is surrender to one who has surrendered himself for us. Therefore, as beauty moves us toward its object and away from self, so faith moves us away from self and toward the object of revelation. Since Christian existence is movement toward its goal, it is more like a flight toward a destination than a state or condition at which one arrives. The point of the response of faith is attunement or consonance with God. To state it philosophically, the soul learns to attune itself with being. Such attunement is a response to grace and is the ontological elevation of human life. In the church, the reception of sacraments is a sign that grace comes toward us. The danger in focusing upon experience is that it will overwhelm the objectivity of the event of revelation. In the Christian tradition, the mystical and the ordinary must find their unity. We can best see these explorations in the writings of Irenaeus, the Philolakia, and the Middle Ages.[2] If we were to explore these matters from psychology, we might consider the nature of archetypes. The archetype lifts one into the image enables participation in it. The perception of God through revelation, then, depends on God becoming world in the Incarnation. The total revelation of God is that to which eschatology points. Yet, that total revelation will be homogenous with its beginning and continuation in human history. The Bible shows revelation as sensory and objective (not simply inward and spiritual). Revelation always has a proleptic or anticipatory element. For example, the Old Testament has myth behind it and the Incarnation ahead of it. The Old Testament has a proleptic element in that sense.[3] The unity of body and soul we find in Barth, Romano Guardini, and Paul Claudel is consistent with the Christian notion of Incarnation, as God confronts humanity in the act of kenosis or self-emptying. Experience needs the objectivity that the Body of Christ. In all our explorations of Christian existence, we need to remember that we must never close it off. It must always remain open to the freedom of revelation. Christ is the epiphany of God for the world. People receive Christ within the context of the church, where Christ shines. Christ reaches the generations through the Sacrament and the Word. Yet, Christ stands apart from the church, as the one who died for us.[4] What we have seen thus far is that an objective form stimulates the subjective aesthetic experience. In that way, subjective experience is an anticipation of the fullness of the object that stimulates the experience. Applied to the discussion concerning divine revelation, this means that the Infinite and Eternal God is beyond human experience. The form of revelation must be a form of the world and must be the perfection of what God intended in creation in order for humanity to see, hear, and respond.[5] The form of revelation is the specific focus of John 1:1-18, Hebrews 1:1-4, and II Corinthians 3:13-4:6. Yet, the revelation always contains a hidden quality. As an analogy, the work of art is an expression of the artist without fully disclosing the artist. The accompanying, sustaining, and life-giving activity of God represents the commitment of God to what God has created. For that reason, human beings can reasonably entrust themselves to God. This revelation occurs in the Word and in humanity, yet, concealment is an implication of revelation.[6] Of course, in Christianity is the center of the form of revelation. In fact, the plausibility of Christianity presenting a true view of God rests upon the plausibility of this fact. Any Christian presentation of the New Testament will show both the inherent power of the form of divine revelation in Christ by focusing upon the work of the Spirit through Christ, presenting the uniqueness of the form. The form of Christ is inseparable from the work of God in Israel. The form of Christ also fulfills the religious hopes of humanity. Yet, Christ is also accessible through the historical moment he appeared. We do not read of his conversion or calling precisely because his life is identical to the form of revelation. As the bringer of salvation, he comes in an historical rather than mythological or eschatological figure he is the image of God. Yet, any Christian presentation of Christ must also show the hiddenness and misapprehension of Jesus. Along with the nature of divine revelation having hidden quality, human guilt and blindness contribute to such hiddenness. The Gospel presentation of Jesus presents both his inherent power in the Spirit and his hiddenness as divine revelation.[7] The form of divine revelation in Christ comes to us through scripture and through the church. We receive the form of Christ in the sacraments and in proclamation of the kerygma.[8] The attestation of the form comes to us through the witness of the Father. It comes to us through the testimony of history, especially in the discontinuity and continuity we find in Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament provides us with a basic anthropology, a basic eschatology, and a focus upon divine judgment that opens the door for us to hear the message of grace. We also have the testimony of the cosmos, which the Bible expresses in terms of the powers, the miraculous, and angels.[9] Myth returns in the eschatological reduction of all things to the forming work of the divine potter over the clay of this world. It refers to divine judgment of all that opposes God. It also refers to the fulfillment of the work of God in salvation history. The Lord will make all things new because the old has passed away.[10] What we have done is consider revelation from the standpoint of beauty. The fineness and beauty in the world is an analogy to the beauty, splendor, and glory of Christ. The gift of love is that God wills to be with us. Revelation perfects created nature. Beauty rises into relationship with God. The motivation of a great theology invites us to gaze upon divine splendor. One might provide historical color by exploring theological styles from the standpoint of beauty of those who have received ordination.[11] One might also explore the theological styles of laity. Dante represents a conversion to the vernacular, history, laity, and Eros. St. John of the Cross will have the message that God alone suffices in a world increasingly convinced of its importance. Pascal the “seer” saw the finite in need of an infinite medium. Falling from love is the mystery of original sin. Johann George Hamann offered an ironic view of the aesthetic and suggested the infinite wrongness our relation to God. Vladimer Soloviev was under the influence of Hegel. Gerard Hopkins offered trans-mythologizing and the immanence of the absolute. Charles Peguy is similar to Kierkegaard.[12] All of this leads us to consider the fact that we cannot explore the glory or beauty of divine revelation without metaphysics. Such a fundamental notion in the Bible that had no echo in our hearts and lives would remain incomprehensible. God is at work beyond the historical bounds of revelation. We need to understand the significance of the fact that theology and philosophy have their origin in poets and myth.[13] If we explore myth in antiquity, we explore Homer, Hesiod, Pinder, and the tragedy of Aeschylus and Sophocles. We see the encounter between the hero and the gods.[14] Philosophy in antiquity, especially as seen in Plato, considers the totality and harmony, which means it considers aesthetics. It submits itself to reality and seeks a better understanding of it. Inspiration through the daimonion is a recurring theme in Plato.[15] Religion in antiquity sought a bridge between myth and openness to being. As Aristotle put it, philosophy, begins in the experience of wonder, which is a religious experience. Christianity is religion, philosophy, and myth, and thus, to get rid of any of them is to deny Christianity.[16] We then need to learn the theological apriori, or knowledge the proceeds from deductive reasoning, of the philosophy of beauty. Christians begin with the fathers of the early church, with the middle ages, especially Boethius, Cassiodorus, Benedict, Gregory, and John Erigena, the transition to philosophy that occurs in the Victorines and the school of Chartres, and the transcendental aesthetic of Francis, Alexander, Albert, and Mechtild. Thomas Aquinas will explore the inheritance of this tradition. He will consider being as likeness to God and metaphysics as aesthetics. The point is that the Christ event is a new experience of divine glory and a unique experience of it three themes found in antiquity are the procession from God and back to God, Eros as the yearning of the finite for transcendence and the beauty of the soul. Can we re-affirm the radiant goodwill of being? Music represents our thirst for wholeness. Beauty exists because wholeness and harmony exist.[17] We can then explore the Aesthetics of transcendental reason. The notion of Being becomes a parting of the ways. Philosophy will tend to view Being as undifferentiated. Occam viewed theology as fideistic and practical, dispensing with metaphysics. Suarez viewed Being as neutral. With Eckhart, Being is God.[18] The metaphysics of the saints involved the tragedy of suffering and abandonment combined with imitation in Tauler and Theologica Germanica. The language of espousal arises with female saints and the Cloud of Unknowing. Ignatius of Loyola had a vision from the gospel narrative.[19] The metaphysics of the saints includes folly and glory. The saint, rather than the hero of antiquity, is more like the fool, as in Erasmus, Ship of Fools, Idiot, and even Hamlet. Like Jesus, people think of them as mad or possessed, as in the Don Quixote of Cervantes. They could even write of Christ the clown.[20] Nicolas of Cusa suggested absolute knowledge and total glory.[21] Classical mediation can go the direction of becoming seeking refuge in the past. Eros can lead to the glory of melancholy. One can retreat to the human person as center, which happens in the Reformation and science. The mediation provided by the Middle Ages breaks down. Holderlin may found a new Christian idolatry as he contemplates the wonder of the ancient world by transferring the glories of revelation to it. In particular, he sees it as the glory of love. Nature is glorious in that it reveals God. Time and history are not divine, but dreadful and godless. He risks his life as the presence and mystery of love. He chooses the poet rather than the preacher. Goethe is an example of poetry uniting heaven and earth. Creativity is at the heart of nature. Of course, the problem with many persons today is that the creativity involved is that of creative destruction. In order for the new to emerge, suffering and death must occur. However, for Goethe, God speaks in the purity and beauty of the universe. Nature is an organ of the divine. God works and creates in nature and nature lives in God, for eternity. The influence of Goethe is in the area of the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of life. His thoughts led to harmony between the soul of the poet and the world Heidegger provides fertile ground here as well for a potential philosophy of glory. He warns against technocracy. Yet he fails in intellectual courage because he does not address the question of existence, especially as to how God enters philosophy.[22] We can then discuss the metaphysics of Spirit. The return to antiquity may have worked if one understood it as openness to revelation rather than a reflection of revelation. Antiquity could have anticipated revelation in a similar way that the Old Testament anticipates Christian revelation. Philosophical nominalism loses the radiance of the universe. The devout encounter God only within self. It also becomes the source of a form of the materialist mentality. Exact natural science is the progeny of positivistic nominalism. Descartes is the beginning of the modern philosophy of Spirit. He has a spare system. Spinoza levels distinction between God and World. Leibniz has triumphalist claims to a system that knows all things. He is an advocate for God and for the world, a phrasing that is so appropriate to the writing of Leibniz. He affirms every partial truth with the courageous act of secondary integration. Malebranche adds to the uniting of the immediacy of God and humanity. Kant is a solitary figure between epochs. His critical philosophy does not present space for an epiphany of the divine glory as an experience of worldly Being. The ethical consists of the Law within that has its source in the Law above. He is conscious of mystery, but has no room for the supernatural. Kant links beauty with the true and the good. Edmund Burke is worth exploring in these matters as well. Thus, Kant also accepts the broad categories of the beautiful, the good, and the true. The self-glorification of the Spirit occurs in Schiller. Absolute Spirit is in a process of becoming, living only in reference to an end the individual constructs. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel find humanity within this wholeness of Absolute Spirit. God and humanity evolve in Schelling. Philosophy requires heroic defiance of the Abyss. Hegel views himself as commissioned by the World Spirit to open up the future. He is the final stage of this world as the self-manifestation of God. In this view of Hegel, von Balthasar joins many critics and is a possible reading of Hegel. I do not share that view. Hegel does separate Judaism from Christianity by placing antiquity between them. Yet, it certainly served his interests as a Christian philosopher, which I believe Hegel thought of himself as such, to show that philosophy of antiquity anticipated basic themes of revelation.[23] We can also look upon aesthetics as science. Being no longer has radiance and beauty. The beautiful is appearance, form, and the actual. The beautiful creates a space of charis, virtue, grace, and appearance.[24] We can then think of the site of glory in metaphysics. For one thing, we need to ponder the miracle of Being. Why is there something rather than nothing? Science presupposes what it sees and studies. Yet, I am within a community of beings, which is also a source of wonder. I and Thou awaken in the encounter of each other. Others stand in the same relation to Being as I do. Being is indifferent in its abundance. Thus, it does not have essential form. My accidental existence does not integrate into being, which is fullness and poverty at the same time. For another thing, we need to ponder the theological a priori as an element in metaphysics is in that revelation assumes a distinction between God and world and radiates from the moment of revelation. Therefore, metaphysics attains its fulfillment in the event of revelation.[25] Finally, love is a custodian of glory. We can see this as we consider the light of Being and love. A journey toward transcendence shows that nothing is beyond love. Love is what awakens us beyond departure, abandonment, privation, disappointment, pain, and death. All of that is an interpolation. Love permits me entry into life. We see in such love an anticipation of the welcome of Being, which is light and glory. The fundamental metaphysical act is love. All of this suggests mutually conditioned freedom and the freedom of Being to shine, but behind it, the pure act of Being untouched by Nothingness. We can also see this as we consider the Christian contribution to metaphysics. It guards metaphysical wonder. Beauty and terror complement each other. Even sin is against the background of divine love. Christians need a comprehensive metaphysics, but modern life has forgotten Being. The service of the world needs integration with human openness to Being. “Service” in this context is responsibility for the destiny of Being. We need metaphysics of wholeness.[26]
A well-known praise song captures the spirit of this approach to the Lord. It refers to the light of the world, who stepped into our darkness. It asks the Lord to open our eyes to see beauty that made this heart to adore the Lord. We worship and affirm that the Lord is our God, who is altogether lovely, worthy, and wonderful to me. The Lord, glorious in heaven, humbly came to the earth the Lord had created. For the sake of love, the Lord became poor. Therefore, I worship the one who is altogether lovely, worthy, and wonderful to me. I will never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross. Thus, I am here to worship the one who is altogether lovely, worthy, and wonderful to me.[27]


[1] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 57-218.
[2] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 219-301.
[3] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 301-365.
[4] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 365-428.
[5] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 429-435.
[6] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 435-463.
[7] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 463-527.
[8] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 527-604.
[9] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 605-678.
[10] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume I, 679-683.
[11] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume 2, 11-30, where he will want to provide historical color to the first volume by considering the clergy styles in the second volume of Irenaeus, Augustine, Denys or Dionysius the Areopogite, Anselm, and Bonaventure.
[12] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume III, an exploration of laity theological styles
[13] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume IV, Introduction, 11-42.
[14] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume IV, Myth, 43-154..
[15] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume IV, Philosophy, 155-215.
[16] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume IV, Religion, 216-316.
[17] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume IV, Elaporation of the theological apriori of the philosophy of beauty, 317-412.
[18] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), Volume 5, 9-47.
[19] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 48-140.
[20] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 141-204.
[21] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 205-246.
[22] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 247-450.
[23] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 451-596.
[24] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 597-612.
[25] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982),  5, 613-634.
[26] (von Balthasar 1961, 1967, 1982), 5, 635-656.
[27] Here I am to worship, Songwriters: DEBBIE SMITH, MICHAEL W. SMITH, MICHAEL WHITAKER SMITH, PAUL BALOCHE

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Schleiermacher: The Christian Faith 157-172


The fifth and final discussion of Schleiermacher that focuses on his theology.

The final two sections of the exposition by Schleiermacher offer to me the impression that he either lacks interest or is tired. I do not mind. If we look upon his work to this point, he has made some of the most creative breakthroughs that continue to inspire theologians today, even if they find themselves in disagreement. He shifted philosophical theology from it discussion of natural theology to the philosophy of religion. He also shifted philosophical theology from the various proofs for the existence of God to a consideration of philosophical anthropology. The significance of these efforts is that he has attempted to persuade us that humanity is intrinsically religious, which means that we depend upon openness to the experience of the Eternal for authentic living. He tries to show that Christianity is a particular mode of this experience of the Eternal. Theology has integrity as it accurately portrays this experience of the Eternal.[1] He showed the weakness of the two natures theory in Christology, paving the way for re-thinking that doctrine. He placed the doctrine of election and predestination in its proper context of the historical working of God in the church and world. For these reasons, I think we can have some graciousness toward him if he did not have the interest in paving the way for re-considering eschatology and the Trinity. He has done enough. We can properly stand upon his shoulders and learn from him.

The consummation of the church is in the return of Christ, resurrection, and last judgment. My impression is that he has little interest in these matters. Schleiermacher is an example of the opening of modern theology and before the re-discovery of apocalyptic. He is a worthy example of what it was like before the work on apocalyptic by Johannes Weiss in the 1890s. He says that we do not need any notion of the “return of Christ.” Apart from literal exegesis, we have no biblical warrant for the position that the reunion of believers is conditional on such a personal return (160). His point is that other biblical statements emphasize that after death, Christ already unites believers in fellowship with Christ. Therefore, we have no need of another “return” that unites believers to Christ in some other way. Nor can he imagine some supposed intermediate state where Christians await the resurrection of the body, for such a state would consist in some type of fellowship with Christ. If it were not, it would amount to a lapse of grace and be an experience of punishment (161). His position has much to commend it. Exactly what does the return of Christ add to our continuing fellowship with Christ immediately after death? He also thinks the notion of the last judgment is primarily to remove from the church the forces that hold it back from enjoying fellowship with each other and with Christ (162). He thinks that any notion of blessedness or the vision of God that does not include communion with others would be insufficient. We are simply too communal as God made us to not have community to be an important element of our understanding of the end (163). In an appendix to this section, he thinks that theology must omit any notion of eternal damnation, for it would create a sense of emptiness and loss for those who receive the blessing of eternal life. He has made any discussion of the consummation of human activity focus upon the individual and the church, separating it from apocalyptic hopes of divine intervention in natural and world history.

He is wrestling with the difficult notion of the end of nature and world history, as we know it. The Newtonian universe he knew has given way to the universe of Einstein. Neither of them will find the notion of an intervention from God compatible. The place of apocalyptic in the preaching of Jesus or the early church was hardly a burning issue for his time. For Schleiermacher,[2] it will be impossible for the theologian to develop a doctrine of last things, for our consciousness of God does not include a future that is beyond our ability to know. His focus on developing a notion of the “consummation of the church” that arises out of our personal consciousness of God meant anything that he has to say will be at the periphery of his theology, a fact he readily admits. If it were important, he says, it would have arisen sooner in his theology. He accepts that a few statements of Jesus suggest personal survival, and that this should be enough for us to have the same hope (158). In fact, his concern is that saying anything about last things and eschatology will take us “away from the domain of the inner life with which alone we are concerned (159).”

Such thinking is in sharp contrast to certain strands of theology today. In this Romans commentary, Barth wanted to recover eschatology for theological thinking. Bultmann will do so as well. The theologians of hope, Pannenberg and Moltmann, restructured theology so that at every theme, eschatology must receive serious consideration. The shift is dramatic. J├╝rgen Moltmann thinks of theologians who robbed eschatology of its “directive, uplifting, and critical significance for all the days” that we spend here, thereby turning eschatology into “a peculiarly barren existence” that relegated it to “a loosely attached appendix.”[3] He was thinking of Schleiermacher. Thus, it would seem that much of theology today would disagree with Schleiermacher that theologians could dismiss the future dimension of Christian thought quite as easily as he did. In the end (164-169), divine love and divine wisdom are the goal, as Schleiermacher sees it, of all the works of God, whether in world, church, or individual. It may well be that we can say little more than this. It may well be the best hope for humanity and the universe that this would be true.

            Schleiermacher concludes with a brief discussion of the Trinity (170-172). A popular saying among ministers and theologians is that as soon as one speaks about the Trinity or tries to describe or explain it, one enters the realm of heresy. Schleiermacher is going to say as little as he can. He is tipping his hat to the tradition, pointing out problems in the classical position, and not attempting resolution. He has already told us that he cannot complete the Doctrine of God until the end of his consideration. In a sense, then, even if brief, his considerations represent his attempt to conclude his theological system. He has discussed the union of the divine essence with human nature in the personality of Christ and in the common Spirit of the church. He has pointed us to the essential elements of the Doctrine of the Trinity. In that sense, the Trinity is the summit of his reflection on God. Yet, since he begins with the Christian consciousness, he cannot make the Trinity a constitutive aspect of his theology. Just as the matter of last things were important to him he would have brought it up earlier, we might assume the same with the Trinity. If it were important to him, he would have dealt with it sooner. Clearly, if the Trinity is to be formative at a deep level in a theological enterprise, then a theologian accepts the revelatory basis of the teaching. The important point here is that if one accepts revelation as constitutive for the formation a theological system, then one can hardly accept the view that one must begin with Christian consciousness.[4] Yet, we might pursue a different course as well. We might conclude that we cannot properly discuss the Trinity until we have discussed Christology, the relation of Christ and Spirit, and the experience of the Spirit in the community. Christology is not complete without pneumatology, of course. To take the approach of Barth and put discussion of the Trinity in the Prolegomena is to make it seem as if it drops from heaven rather than arises out of an event in history.[5] In this sense, then, Schleiermacher may well have a quite legitimate and reasonable approach to placing discussion of the Trinity at the end of his considering of The Christian Faith. He clearly finds it difficult to think of distinctions within the divine essence. He refers to the divine essence as the Supreme Being. His own insight of the feeling of absolute dependence creates a problem for formulating the Trinity. He has said that this feeling connects us with the divine causality of creation and preservation. We depend upon the prior activity of God for our existence and the conditions for the fullness of human life. Yet, how would this feeling relate to the Trinity? Beyond that, other problems confront us in the formulation of a doctrine of the Trinity. For example, if we are to think of Father and Son, Son is dependent upon Father. Father begets Son, but Son does not beget anything. In fact, if the Christian consciousness includes the divinity of the Son and the divinity of the Spirit, it could lapse into tri-theism. He thinks that much of the church is secretly on the side of Origen, who said that the Father is God absolutely, while the Son and Spirit are divine only by participation in the divine essence. Is Schleiermacher a modalist?[6] Such language suggests he might have been. To say the divine essence is present in Jesus and the Spirit is to suggest this to be the case. The type of criticism he offers of the classical doctrine of the Trinity trends in the direction of modalism. He does think the tendency of Trinitarian discussion is toward showing that the consciousness of Son and Spirit that resides in the Christian consciousness is not hyperbole.  He does not think we have the terms to adequately deal with this matter. Equality and subordination, Tri-theism and Unitarianism, seem to keep presenting themselves. His concern is that many people turn away from such speculations, but their piety remains faithfully Christian. He thinks the traditional doctrine needs thorough criticism. Even his positioning of the doctrine as a harmless appendix (Barth) may help serve the purpose of re-thinking the Doctrine. Of course, if that happens, the positioning provided by Schleiermacher is not so harmless. For him, considering the doctrine at the beginning (Barth) would give the impression that one must accept this teaching before one can faith in redemption and in the founding of the rule of God through the divine essence present in Christ and the Spirit. He does not want to see the shipwreck of individual faith on the difficult shore of the Trinity. He sees two difficulties. One is the tension between the unity of the divine essence and its relation to the distinction of the persons. Two is the tension between the first person as Father and the supposed equality with that which is terminologically subordinate, Son and Spirit. If one combined the two difficulties, one might “easily” arrive at a new construction. He suggests seeking “new solutions.”

Well, he makes it clear he is willing to go no further. I concur in that I think he has done enough for the history of theology. He has also hinted at future issues theology would need to resolve. He has offered his gift. Theologians today would do well to receive the gift and move forward.

It looks like Barth took Schleiermacher seriously enough to use him as a foil and do the opposite.

It looks like Pannenberg adopted much of the basic insights of Schleiermacher, but updated them. His theology is so different from that of Schleiermacher because he takes the event of Jesus Christ seriously. This means he will take revelation as providing the content of Christian theology rather than the pious consciousness of the church today. He also takes eschatology and the Trinity and includes them throughout his theology. Moltmann will do the same. Rahner and Tillich have some interesting key places where they intersect with Schleiermacher. If time permits, I would like to see if John Wesley, influenced as he was by the pietist movement, has some places where he would both push back to Schleiermacher and would seem to intersect with him.

John Calvin opens his Institutes of the Christian Religion with the observation that wisdom in life consists in knowing God and knowing ourselves. Yet, he finds the knowledge of God and self so closely connected that he finds it difficult to know which knowledge precedes the other. He thinks no one can survey oneself without turning thoughts towards God. He points to the gifts or blessings in life that true knowledge of self will lead us to consider the source. He points to true knowledge of self as needing to face the misery and ruin we have made of self and world. This ought to lead us to aspire to and seek God, the source of wisdom, virtue, and goodness. Calvin will begin his work in the Institutes focusing upon the knowledge of God we have in revelation. However, I wonder if we do not see in Schleiermacher what happens when we begin with knowledge of self, which he finds so intertwined with God that we cannot know one without the other. As Calvin puts it, our being subsists in God. As Schleiermacher might put it, our finitude will find fulfillment and meaning in the Infinite. The fragment that is our life will need to find its place in the picture God is painting. The little storyline of our lives will need to find its place in the larger story God is telling. He hopes that such a procedure will help the secular person reconsider the role God and the religious community might play in their lives.
Yes, I think this is a worthy objective.


[1] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1, 8-9.
[2] (The Christian Faith, 1830, par. 157)
[3] (Theology of Hope, 1965, p. 15)
[4] Barth, I.1, 303-4
[5] Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume III, 285.
[6] Barth, CD, I.1, 353.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Schleiermacher: The Christian Faith, 86-156


          
This is the fourth in a series on Frederick Schleiermacher.
           
Schleiermacher will now have a much longer exploration of grace (86-169) as the experience of vital fellowship that brings moral transformation. The present sense of the Christian fellowship consists of the need humanity has for redemption. This awareness is the basis for his concept of Jesus as the Redeemer. Tillich will admit that much of his discussion of Jesus as the New Being is similar to what Schleiermacher says here, although he cautions that they are not identical presentations.[1]

Schleiermacher begins with Christian consciousness and asks how it posits the redeemer.[2] He is trying to derive the contents of the Christian faith from the Christian consciousness. The Lutheran School of Erlangen sought to do something similar. Such an attempt is an illusion. The event on which Christianity has its basis is not the regenerated Christian, but the event given to the community in history. Experience is not the source from which the contents of systematic theology come. Rather, experience is the medium through which we receive the contents of the faith.[3] The theologian needs to hold both the revelatory event in Jesus of Nazareth and the event nature of the act of faith. Schleiermacher has a loose grip on the event of the past or the event nature of the present act of faith. In a fine phrase,[4] Christ is human nature complete for the first time.[5] He recaptured the insight of Irenaeus at this point.[6] His primary interest is in the God-consciousness Jesus possessed. He has interest in the event of Jesus Christ to this extent. He founded a community defined by the rule of God among them. Such a community is separate from the State in that this community has the purpose of deepening the God-consciousness of each other. Yet, this means he has less interest in the story of Jesus as related in the Gospels.[7] Among the challenges in reading Schleiermacher is at this point. The fellowship of the redeemer must have a historical starting point. Yet, this did not lead him to the historicity of details in the story of Jesus, the passion or the resurrection of Jesus. His teaching actually led to the revivalist notion that found in faith consciousness a guarantee of the historical reality of the biblical Christ. Thus, one accepts by faith a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. “The Bible said it; I believe it; that settles it,” I have heard some people say. However, the thinking of Schleiermacher also led others in another direction in which the historical contents of the biblical traditions are not important for faith.[8] He will assume, along with much of the tradition of his time, the unity of the person and work of Christ.[9]

As redeemer, Christ (93-99) is the fulfillment of a human nature that already existed in provisional form in every human being. Our lives are anticipations of the fulfillment we find in Christ. Christ is the completion of humanity.[10] He will again affirm that the Redeemer is original in relation to the common life he founded.[11] The constant force of his God-consciousness was the true being of God in him.[12] Thus, our feeling for absolute dependence, our openness to the Infinite, finds its fullness in Jesus. Here again, we find the strength and weakness of Schleiermacher. As much as he wants to see Jesus as Redeemer related to the whole human race, he failed to see that the title “Christ” had this link because of the cross and resurrection. Paul showed that Jesus became Messiah through his vicarious suffering for human sins, thereby changing the Jewish hope. He opened it up with a view to the reconciliation of the Gentile world with Israel and its God.[13] In spite of this weakness, we can also express some gratitude that Schleiermacher offered effective criticism of the notion that the divine and human nature stand ontologically on the same level. In this theory, the two natures would have nothing to do with each other apart from their union in the person of the God-man. Two complete and independently existing essences cannot form a union.[14] For Schleiermacher, to round out this discussion, the virgin birth is a sign of a new beginning rather than a condition of that beginning.[15]

The work of Christ (100-105) consists in his prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles. He will treat reconciliation and redemption as parallel. Together, they constitute the work of Christ. The point of reconciliation was to communicate the God-consciousness of Christ to us. The work of the Redeemer is at the forefront of the presentation it consists of his taking us up into the dynamic of his God-consciousness. Reconciliation is simply a special element in the general work of redemption, namely, the vanishing of the old person and the sense of guilt that accompanies adoption into living fellowship with Christ. The reconciling work of Christ confers a sense of the forgiveness of sins. He breaks with the “magical” satisfaction theory and with the idea of penal suffering. He is closer to the Pauline idea of an act of reconciliation that originates in God and through Christ as the world as its target. In historical theology, this puts him with Abelard and against Anselm. Yet, we must admit that his presentation carries no reference to the fundamental significance of the death of Christ that reconciles us to God. However, he does have a place for the passion of Christ. He understands the suffering of Christ with reference to the resistance of sin that the work of the Redeemer encounters. The work of Christ, oriented to the rule of God among us, gave ground to no opposition, not even to that which resulted in his death. He does, then, link reconciliation to the obedience of the Son (Romans 5:19). He finds a place in the form of the faithfulness of Christ to his vocational duty as the Redeemer. Yet, we will look in vain for anything that corresponds to the statement of Paul that God reconciles us by the death of the Son (Romans 5:10). He directly admits that the cross is a secondary element to his notion of the work of Christ as Redeemer.[16] He proposes a subjective theory of the atonement. As such, he focused upon the effects of his death in us. The action of God in the cross is to reconcile us to God. The death of Christ can truly be for us only within the unity of the church. We cannot understand atonement without explicit reference to this new community. Christ suffered the evil of sin for others, facing history of sin in humanity in order to establish a new community. Atonement is from beginning to end a description of the human action of Christ, which as such is divine action. Atonement is the redeeming effect of the entire life of Christ in that he communicates his unbroken God-relationship to us through the church. Redemption and reconciliation are identical. Christ dies as a duty of this calling, as that to which the selfless love with which he pursued his mission led him. The uniqueness of the cross is that he suffered in especially gripping fashion.  The difficulty of such a subjective theory is that he will find it difficult to say how the human situation is different because of the cross.[17] He concludes this section by saying that the rise of the community is the result of the perfection and blessedness of the person of Jesus.[18]

The fellowship of the redeemer (106-112) must express itself in the individual, which will occur in regeneration (conversion and justification) and sanctification. He will unite the negative of forgiveness in justification with the positive side of adoption as a child of God, a notion with which Barth will agree.[19] He will also be instrumental in beginning the notion of linking justification and ethical renewal.[20] Such a fellowship will lead to a changed life.

Such a fellowship of the redeemer also leads us into the church (113-163) as mutual interaction and cooperation. In this section, his dogmatic statements will relate to the world and to the attributes of God. He will slowly unveil his basis for a discussion of the Spirit. This discussion occurs through his valuable insights concerning election and predestination, where God foresees the faith of individuals. He continues the tradition of discussing individual appropriation of salvation before he discussed the concept of the church. He treated the fellowship of individuals with Christ in close relation to Christology. The doctrine of the church receives treatment only from the angle of the disposition of the world for redemption.[21] He also suggests that the fellowship arises out of the innate human inclination toward fellowship and the related need for sharing. The question is whether this is enough to justify the presence of the church.[22] Due to his religious view of the rule of God, linking it to the effects deriving from Christ as Redeemer, he equated the church with the rule of God that Christ founded. In light of later theological developments, his position has obvious weakness in ignoring the apocalyptic nature of the rule of God. Yet, such an ethical understanding of the concept of the rule of God had the lasting merit of breaking through the lengthy dominance of a false ecclesiology center in handling the theme, showing that the rule of God transcends the church. He showed that the church must relate to the rule of God for its existence.[23]

Among the most important lasting achievements of Schleiermacher is that he recaptured a historical reference to human history for the thought election. In this framework, he related historical calling, or justification, to eternal election. He therefore transcended the classical form of the doctrine of predestination in its abstraction and direct relating of election to isolated individuals. In doing this, he shattered the individualism in the doctrine of election we may trace back to Augustine and developed in its awful fullness in Calvin. Instead, he related election as God aiming at the consummation of our creation and therefore to the totality of the new creation. For reasons unknown to me, but incredibly suspicious, Barth will not mention that his rejection of the classical position on election was the same path down which Schleiermacher walked before him.[24] He linked the coming of Christ to the new common life of the church that results from it. Christ and the common life of the church complete human nature. For him, election and foreordination describes the order in which redemption finds actualization in each person. For him, the order is the sequence and relationships of various points in time for incorporation into the redemptive nexus emanating from Christ. The integration of each person at the right time into the fellowship of Christ is simply a result of the fact that in the manifestation the divine work of justifying, its determination is by the universal world order and is a part of this order. Those not elect at any given phase of history God simply passed over for this particular point in time but God has not finally rejected them. Divine providence directs history while he thus presents the divine election that manifests itself in the justification of individuals as a process in human history. He will see the incarnation of Christ as the beginning of the regeneration of the human race. He saw election as the way to achieve this goal by the divine world government.[25] Pannenberg will follow Schleiermacher in this view of election and predestination.

Through the church, one receives the communication of the Holy Spirit. The leading of the Spirit is nothing other than the virtue of Christ. Schleiermacher will stress the common nature of endowment by the Spirit that thus links individual Christians to the fellowship of the church.[26] He can emphasize that the unity of the common spirit of the church rests on the fact that it all comes from the one, namely, from Jesus Christ. Yet, it would seem that the Spirit is more than simply the common spirit of the church. Thus, a weakness here is that he does not make the required distinction of the presence of the divine Spirit from analogous experiences of spirit, such as the spirit of a nation.[27]  At the same time, Schleiermacher is one who, along with Hegel, presents the idea of the church as a spiritual community.[28]

The church in its relation to the world has several invariable factors, such as scripture, ministry, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, the power of the keys, and prayers. He will say that the divine Word is simply the spirit in all persons. The ministry of the Word of God is the act of the community and the relation of the active toward the receptive and the influence of the stronger on the weaker. The ministry of the Word embraces the whole of Christian life. It only needs special management for the sake of good order and preservation of the common consciousness.[29] I should note that Schleiermacher rightly places his discussion of Scripture after his discussion of reconciliation. The point here is that our faith in the reconciliation offered by God in Christ comes prior to our acceptance of the role of Scripture in the formation of Christian life. Thus, contrary to Barth, then, consideration of the role of Scripture does not belong in the Prolegomena of Church Dogmatics. It does not belong within the doctrine of the church. Rather, scripture remains the primary witness to the revelation of the reconciling work of God in Christ.[30] Pannenberg will go with Schleiermacher and turn from Barth at this point. Regarding Baptism, Barth commends Schleiermacher for being one of the few to see the problem with infant baptism when he stresses that infant baptism needs its completion in a personal confession of faith.[31] Prayer is petition in the name of Jesus. Prayer is the inner link between wishes oriented to supreme success and the God consciousness. He will distinguish such prayer from surrender or thanksgiving.[32] The church in its relation to the world has several mutable elements, such as the plurality of the churches and the fallibility of the church. He stresses that the inner unity of the churches consists in taking sides with Jesus and the life-giving Spirit that thirsts for unity. 


[1] Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume II, 153.
[2] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 280.
[3] Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume I, 42.
[4] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol 2, 41.
[5] Barth, CD I.2, 134.
[6] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 212.
[7] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 306-310.
[8] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology III, 149.
[9] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume II, 444.
[10] Barth, CD I.2, 180.
[11] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 280.
[12] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume II, 280.
[13] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 315.
[14] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume II, 385; Jesus-God and Man, 285.
[15] Barth, CD I.2, 189.
[16] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 408-9.
[17] Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume I, 186-7.
[18] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 459.
[19] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 212; Barth, IV.1, 594.
[20] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 230-31.
[21] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 24.
[22] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 110.
[23] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 34-35.
[24] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 458-9.
[25] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 450-1, 452.
[26] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume III, 3.
[27] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 19, 132.
[28] Peter Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit, 296.
[29] Barth, CD, I.2, 62.
[30] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 464.
[31] Barth, CD IV.4, 188.
[32] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume III, 207.