Pannenberg, in Chapter 8 of his Systematic Theology, discusses the dignity and misery of humanity. This will be his way of re-thinking another doctrine of Christianity. For him, Christianity will need to re-think the doctrine of original sin. He wrote What is Man? (1962), brief book representing his first explorations into theological anthropology. He wrote Anthropology in a Theological Perspective (1985) as his full reflections on the topic. At various points in this chapter, he will summarize his thoughts in these two works. In both books, his focus is on the openness of humanity to its world. Such openness involves the growth of identity throughout the course of life. The idea that our identity is one we discover as we engage the world is a hint that our openness relates us to God. Such openness leads him to reflect upon the dignity of humanity in this light. Of course, as human beings close themselves from this openness, it leads him to reflect upon the misery of humanity. It makes sense, of course, to follow a discussion of creation in Chapter 7 with a discussion of the unique place humanity has within creation. Karl Barth will do the same, following his discussion of creation in Church Dogmatics III.1 with a discussion of the creature in III.2 (1948). Here is, in my judgment, is the best volume in CD, incorporating deep reflections on the unity of soul and body and temporality. Paul Tillich will explore similar authors, biblical texts, and themes in Volume II of his Systematic Theology, pages 17-78. Peter Hodgson will discuss similar themes in Winds of the Spirit: A Constructive Christian Theology (1994) in Chapter 14 (pages 197-230). Robert W. Jensen will discuss these topics in a quite different way in Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology (1999) in Chapters 18-20, 22, (pages 53-111, 133-152). Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapters 9-11) will arrive at similar conclusions as does Pannenberg here.
Pannenberg begins connecting Chapters 7 and 8. From an evolutionary perspective, for example, we could imagine an advance beyond humanity. From a theological perspective, creation culminates in humanity and the destiny of fellowship with God. He will want to look at the world as a whole (God as Creator), in spite of the openness of nature, showing that humanity has a unique relation to the origin of the universe, and that in humanity we find the purpose of finite life (Incarnation). The destiny of humanity for fellowship with God lifts the individual above the natural and social order. It becomes the basis for inalienable dignity of each individual person. To use the terminology of John Keats (April 21, 1810) the world God has made is not so much a vale of tears as a place of making souls. Pannenberg stresses that the concept of human dignity has Christian roots. The actual course of sin, suffering and injustice in human history cannot erase the destiny of humanity. The plight of our human condition shown in its misery is the result of human beings who do not treat each other with this dignity. The root of this misery is that death place itself in opposition to our destiny for fellowship with God. Misery is the result of a human life deprived of fellowship with God. Augustine would say that we are most miserable when we are not aware of our plight and forget God. Misery refers to our detachment from God, autonomy, and alienation (as in a foreign country). The modern cultural setting reveals misery in its art and literature. In the Christian setting, reflections on creation in the divine image and human sin are the presupposition of the redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ. He stresses that presentation of this doctrine needs a general anthropological basis. For a brief accounting of his views here, read his What is Man? For his full exploration in this field, you can read among the best books he has written, Anthropology in Theological Perspective to have a thorough grasp of his philosophical anthropology. In these works, he pursues the biological foundation of human life as its basis as well as the social relation in which human beings live.
In Section 1, Pannenberg discusses the personal unity of body and soul. This section summarizes large portions of his Anthropology. He will write favorably of Bergson, William James, M. Merlau-Ponty, M. Scheler, K. Rahner, Barth, T. Nagel (The View from Nowhere), and J. Moltmann (God in Creation).
Pannenberg says a basic fact of human life is consciousness, self-consciousness, and bodily life. Soul and body are constitutive elements of the unity of human life. Soul and consciousness have deep roots in bodily life. Thus, when the dualism of soul and body entered Christianity, it did so from a Hellenistic philosophical life. Jewish biblical reflections (Genesis 2:7 receives much attention) united soul and body, thereby making sense of the eschatological hope of bodily resurrection. It opposed Platonism at this point in making it clear that the soul is not divine and that there is no preexistence of souls. These reflections could only mean that the re-discovery of Aristotle would lead to a proper philosophical grounding of Christian theology. The ensouled body has an orientation to things that might meet its desires and is in fact searching for such things. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 10) finds Gestalt psychology a helpful model here. “Spirit” refers to the vital creative force. The working of the Spirit in creatures gives human life its eccentric character. Thus, he thinks it unfortunate that the patristic era developed the notion of a human spirit-soul in that it contrasts with the biblical notion of soul and spirit. As important as language and rationality are to human life, the distinct advantage of humans over all other creatures is its destiny of fellowship with God and its consequent position of rule. He refers to the life of imagination in the activity of reason. He refers to consciousness relating to the infinite basis of life, even pointing to the early symbiotic relation of self and world. Feelings of pleasure and pain, the development of an explicit self-consciousness, and perception leading to the basic relation of I and world, suggest the infinite ground of being. He thus opposes the Kantian transcendental philosophy of the I as the basis for the unity of experience. We start with an awareness of unity and slowly develop distinctions. The ego, for example, arises slowly in the process of objective experience by learning distinctions. The social nexus precedes the “I.” What he argues here is that if we focus on the isolated self, we focus upon an abstraction. The emergence of individual identity out of social relations means that our “center” is actually outside of us! We see this social nexus in the family, the interaction of male and female (sexuality), and in the character of the political order, as both Peter Hodgson and Robert W. Jensen identify clearly in a way that Pannenberg does not. We also see it in the use of language that we do not create. Thus, the divine Spirit is the basis for the interrelatedness of that which is distinct, rather than some metaphysical notion of the “I.” Awareness of the infinite is always “ecstatic” in relation to the other. He sees a rational distinction of each finite thing from the infinite as a manifestation of the divine Logos. The biblical view is that the Spirit of God is the creative principle of everything. He wants to explain this for our setting in terms of the varied nature of the consciousness and the activity of reason. Consciousness “stands outside” itself in its worldly interactions and thus involves an increasingly intense participation in the Spirit as the creative origin of all life. The Spirit expands the experience of soul. The Spirit runs through all social relations. Personality has its ground in the destiny that transcends our empirical reality, especially in our experience of the other. The ground of our existence meets us in the person of the other. The concept of person arose from the sacredness of human life (Genesis 9:6), in the message of Jesus in seeking the lost, and in reflection upon the “persons” of the Trinity. Selfhood means the growth of individual identity personhood draws upon the relation to God as the source of the integrity of the person. The person is the result of the integration of the individual moments of life that results in an identity of authentic selfhood. The philosophical and theological tradition, which Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 9) seems to argue against, discussed the leadership role of the rational consciousness from the standpoint of the governing of the body by the soul. One can have no unity or integrity of the person apart from self-rule. Yet, action presupposes the identity of those who act.
I have been interested in the similarity and difference between Pannenberg and Moltmann. What I want to explore is the way in which they reflect upon Karl Barth and his notion of the ruling of the soul over the body. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 10) will stress that Barth is wrong to give priority of soul over the body. What I find interesting here is that Pannenberg will part company with Moltmann and defend Barth. Given some of my previous comments, and the impression of many devoted followers of Barth, this will feel strange. Pannenberg is hardly shy about his disagreement with Barth, but in several places, he will largely agree. Pannenberg says that this rejection by Moltmann of the rule of soul over the body is due to his notion of rule as tyrannical perversion of rule. He describes Barth as affirming theological sovereignty corresponding to his notion of the intra-Trinitarian order of a ruling Father and obedience of the Son. He notes that Barth nowhere mentions any right of the misused body to resist, or any right to feeling to have a voice in the decisions of the rational soul, or any desirable agreement of the body with the soul that governs it. Nevertheless, his idea of a partnership of mutual influencing entails far too ideal a notion of harmony and agreement without any problems. The aim of all just government is to achieve such an agreement when it is not self-evident at the outset. He also does not want to reject out of hand the thought of the rule of the Father, to which the Son obediently subjects himself. He refers to the New Testament passages one would have to ignore. In contrast to Moltmann, Pannenberg will affirm the monarchy of the Father, mediated as it is through the free obedience of the Son.
In Section 2, Pannenberg discusses human destiny. He will again refer to his Anthropology regularly. He has already referred to the importance of this notion, and he will now give further content to it.
In subsection (a) of Section 2, he discusses the image of God in Adam and Christ. The biblical texts are Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:26-27. He observes that exegesis suggests no discernible difference between “image” and “likeness.” He rejects the notion popularized by Lynn White that the biblical notion of dominion let to an ecological crisis. Human beings exercise dominion because they reflect the image of God. It excludes arbitrary control or exploitation. In fact, Genesis 2:15 suggests the dominion is more like that of a gardener. Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 9) will also write of the ruling implication of the image of God in the sense that human beings are representatives of God on earth. Yet, the image of God, understood in a Trinitarian way as dwelling in fellowship with one another, is the other side of the image of God. Are Moltmann and Pannenberg being simply European males in emphasizing the ruling quality of the image of God? My defense of both is that the rule both envision has the pattern of the mutual fellowship of the Trinity rather than a hierarchy of command and subjection. For Pannenberg, the modern era with its emancipation from accountability to God has made possible a notion of human dominion without limits, opening the door to the ecological crisis. Of course, Christians must read such Old Testament statements in light of what Paul says of Jesus being the image of God in II Corinthians 4:4, as well as Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3. He also writes of the transforming of believers into this image in Romans 8:29, I Corinthians 15:49, and II Corinthians 3:18. He also refers to the notion of Irenaeus that Christ restores the image of God in Adam and that humanity lost, only to regain it in Christ. He will argue against this notion. In a similar way, Moltmann (God in Creation, Chapter 9) will look upon the image of God as the original designation of human beings, the image of Christ as the messianic calling of human beings, and the eschatological glory of human beings.
In subsection (b) of Section 2, Pannenberg discusses the image of God and our first estate. His point the image of God is a “copy” that is in the process of forming in the course of human life and in the course of human history. Thus, the image of God is not “perfect” or “immortal.” When we understand the image of God in the context of Jesus Christ, then we see that it refers to the destiny toward fellowship with God. He sees no basis for a paradise of perfection and the integrity of human life before the Fall. He sees no biblical basis that the first parents possessed perfect knowledge before the Fall. He also sees no basis in biblical writings for the notion of a loss of the divine image. As an aside, John Wesley may argue against this in his sermon “Original Sin.” He focuses upon Genesis 6:5 when it says that God the imagination of human beings was evil continually. He concludes that God saw no good in humanity, in contrast to being “very good” in Genesis 1. He concludes that humanity has no knowledge, love, or fear of God. The result is setting up idols within the heart. Yet, Pannenberg refers to Genesis 5:1ff repeating the notion of the image of God in Genesis 1:26. Genesis 9:6 protects human beings from murder because of the divine likeness. He connects the ongoing reality of creation he discussed in Chapter 7 to the divine image in Christ as defining our destiny as human beings. While human beings in varying degrees reflect the image of God, Jesus Christ clarifies what that image means. Humanity did not have the image of God fully. In fact, that image is still in process. The full actualization of the image is in Christ. We participate in that image through personal transformation. John Wesley, in his sermon on the New Birth, stresses that the image of God refers to the moral image, which could go a moralistic direction, but instead he identifies righteousness and holiness as love. In this view of transformation, Wesley and Pannenberg agree. The transformation of which Pannenberg writes is a shift from excessive love of self and the things one makes to the love of God and therefore life and fellowship with God.
In subsection (c) of Section 2, he discusses the divine likeness as human destiny. His point is that divine likeness has an actual effect on human life toward God that Jesus Christ anticipates. The thought of destiny has a link to our creation in the divine image in both the notion of dominion and above all to our destiny in fellowship with God. Eschatology is informing here. He points to Kant and Fichte as encouraging a moral interpretation of the divine likeness. The point of creation in the divine image is fellowship with God. Such a destiny is not for the abstracted individual, but the incorporation of humanity into the reign of God. Fellowship with God underlies and governs human relations. Such a destiny resists the disintegrating trends of human caprice. This means that religion is indispensable in the search for a proper understanding of human reality and the God of the Bible is the definitive revelation of the reality of God that the world of nature and human life otherwise hides. He is critical of the notion of “co-humanity” that Barth expounds in CD III.2. In contrast, Pannenberg thinks that humanity has a disposition to seek God, no matter how little we see of it in a given case. Our destiny toward fellowship with God is internal to the actual living of our lives. If not, the purpose of God would become impotent. Human life is inwardly moved by its divine destiny, and therefore by its divine likeness. The theology of Wesley would refer to this as the working of prevenient grace. We see the goal is not clear to us. It begins as an indefinite trust that opens us to the horizon of the world and in the restless overcoming of the finite. Unrest and dissatisfaction is an expression of human weakness, but it also gives evidence of a knowledge that the final horizon will unveil. He will again refer to the unthematic awareness of the infinite and openness beyond everything finite as important here. The destiny for fellowship with God is also our temptation as humanity seeks it on its own conditions and snatch it as if our prey (see Genesis 3:5 and Philippians 2:6.) Religion can be such a temptation, as can be our emancipation from religious ties. The independence of human life and its resulting summons to live in accord with our own choices can lead to crossing every boundary in self-assertion. When we accept our finitude as given by God we attain to the fellowship with God implied in our destiny. He sees the relation between Father and Son as an anticipatory fulfillment of this destiny of human beings.
In Section 3, Pannenberg discusses sin and original sin. This powerful exposition will explore moralism, pietism and revivalism. It will explore the unmasking involved in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Freud. He will discuss solidarity with evildoers. He will discuss the danger of localizing evil in particular groups. Of course, he will refer to his Anthropology extensively. He will also refer to Augustine, Kant, and Hegel in their discussions of sin and evil.
In subsection (a) of Section 3, he discusses the difficulty of the topic. Pannenberg thinks that no other theme in Christian anthropology is as obscure to us who live in a modern context than that of sin and our approach to it. He will expose us to his attempt to re-think this notion. He notes that the emphasis placed upon sin in the Reformation and in evangelical piety has become problematic. The reason is inauthentic guilt feelings as the result of such preaching and teaching. John Wesley, in his sermon “The New Birth,” stresses that we must first conceive of the wrath of God turned away in justification. Only then can we conceive of the work of the Spirit in us in new birth. As Pannenberg sees it, an emotional taboo surrounds the theme of sin in the public consciousness of secular societies. Historically, Socinians rejected the teaching on original sin as unbiblical because it was morally unacceptable for God to impute the sin of Adam on future generations. It went against the growing awareness of responsibility for one’s actions. The biblical basis in Romans 5:12 is doubtful on exegetical grounds. The decay of the teaching led to a focus on acts of sin. Christian moralism became a sign of life-denying rigidity and extended guilt feelings that became neurotic, as examined by Nietzsche and Freud. Their projects of unmasking of the neurotic character of the Christian sense of guilt demonstrated the oppressive nature of Christian belief in God. He says we need to understand this movement toward marginalizing the term “sin” to church usage. The formal use of the term involves a moralizing of the concept. Its lighthearted use in the public sphere is also a sign of the liberation from traditional morality. Christian theology must not take this decline lightly. The credibility of the Christian notion of sin is at stake. Theology must not withdraw into itself and lament the decline. Rather, theology must draw from this process self-critical inferences that will lead to re-thinking of the notion of sin. He admits that such re-thinking is difficult. He begins by saying that the Christian faith presupposes the fact of sin. Sin refers to the corruption in the structure of human conduct. What Christians say about sin is something one must know apart from revelation, even if revelation will deepen this knowledge. He links himself to those who say that the loss of meaning is often where the modern consciousness begins. In his continuing effort to show modernity that theology has something important to say to it, he notes that awareness of evil remains part of the modern discussion. I would point to movies and television series, as well as the attempts to define Islamic fundamentalism, as evidence of this interest. Yet, his corrective notes that in turning away from God, as secularity will do, it deepens the problem of facing evil and its destructive effects. The turn from God means we are now responsible for evil and for the victory over it. At this point, I wonder if behind this subsection is the political debate he had with Moltmann. At the same time, in an interview with Patrick Oden, he indicated that he had nothing to add to what Pannenberg and others have written on sin. My wonderment here is whether Moltmann would consider this portion of the discussion an expression of middle class (bourgeois) ideas. I will say that in God in Creation Moltmann and Pannenberg agree that humanity as the image of God and humanity as sinner constitute the core of theological anthropology. In any case, Pannenberg says that typically, we now place the blame for evil on others, especially on anonymous structures and pressures in the social system. We localize evil in others or in groups. In the process, we exonerate the group to which we belong. In contrast, Christianity locates sin and its resultant evil as residing in each of us. If evil could find its localization in a group (the rich, the capitalist, a race, a gender) then all one has to do is single out, isolate, or destroy the group. Of course, if we step back, even if we could destroy the group, evil would remain. As I see it, George Orwell told his parable in Animal Farm, and it remains a powerful reminder of this truth. The concern of Pannenberg with moralism at this point is that it will not accept the fact that one thing that unites human beings is their sinfulness. The doctrine of original sin preserved the notion of the solidarity of us all with evildoers. He thinks the anti-moralistic function of the doctrine is one too often underrated.
In subsection (b) of Section 3, Pannenberg deals with the forms of sin and the question of their root. The argument here is powerful in the sense that he sees successive deepening of the notion of sin, beginning with the Old Testament and continuing through various philosophers and psychologists. His argument reflects his notion that the Bible, while the original witness to revelation, is not the end of the discussion. “Sin” will move from focusing upon what one does to focusing upon the structure of human existence. Let us see if we can trace his argument. In the Old Testament, for example, sin is missing the mark, which suggests carelessness. The various words used suggest transgression of norms. In Paul, by way of contrast, sin precedes the commands of the law, even if the law discloses sin (Romans 7). Concupiscence or desire is a manifestation of sin, a fact that Augustine teased out of Paul. For Augustine, the perversion of sinful desire rests on a perversion of will. In assessing priorities, the will sets lesser good above the supreme good. The autonomy of the will puts the self in the center and uses everything else as a means to the self as an end. He defined this as pride. Pride is the core of perverted desire. At this point, Augustine improved on Paul, for he directs us to the structural principle of perverted desire. He points to a notion of sin that has greater universality and psychological validity. Thus, Paul equates desire and sin by referring to the striving against the law of God. Augustine relates desire to an anthropological phenomenon. He brings to light the opposition to God in the general structure of desire rooted in the overvaluation of the self that wills. Unfortunately, Augustine tied these insights to his notion of the inheritance of sin and sexuality, something no longer needed, given his psychological analysis that linked concupiscence and the love of self. In fact, Kant also deepened this notion of sin in his exposition of radical evil. Locating evil in subjectivity, Kant opened the possibility of treating sin as a failure of the self. However, Kant also weakened his argument theologically by focusing upon the moral law that speaks to us rather than to a proper human relation to God. I would add that John Wesley, in his sermon “The New Birth,” pointed to sin as the turning from the rule of God in order to seek happiness in the world and in human projects rather than in God. Such sin is a matter of leaving the home of the love of God (alienation) and making a home for oneself. True fellowship or life with God is in the future, for the structure of human life is one of alienation. Hegel deepened our understanding in that desire characterizes human will. We are not what we ought to be. We ought to lift ourselves above specificity to the universal or Infinite. Yet, the self can make infinite the finite contents of its consciousness, thereby becoming evil. The I places itself in the place of the true Infinite and Absolute. Kierkegaard deepened Hegel at this point by saying that self-fulfillment based on our subjectivity and finitude is a perversion of the basic relation to the Infinite and Eternal. The result is the desperate character of our strivings for self-fulfillment, resulting in anxiety and despair. We can see here a radical criticism of all faith in the power of selfhood. Excessive focusing on our own identity is a deformation of the theme of human life. Anxiety becomes the source of despair, care, and aggressiveness. Need and desire characterize human life. However, the step to excessive desire that sins takes in anxiety leads to attempts to ensure the self by possession of what we desire. Anxiety and the related fixation on the self also are behind the search for confirmation from others. We want recognition by others. When we seek it at any price to secure own identity, the search springs from an anxiety about the self that expresses a self-fixation along the lines of self-love in Augustine. Uncertainty of the future and the incomplete nature of our identity feed the anxiety. Anxiety makes us cling to the self. The alternative is confidence in the future. Our lives are a gift for which we can be thankful and with which we can move confidently into the future. Anxiety keeps us from this confidence. Such everyday manifestations of sin are its true nature, which remains concealed for the most part from us. Here is the basis of its seduction.
In subsection (c) of Section 3, Pannenberg discusses the universality of sin and the problem of guilt. He will want to show the social nexus of sin while maintaining human choice. He will also stress that God accepts the responsibility for the possibility of sin. He thinks his discussion in the previous subsections intensifies the problem of responsibility for sin. He focuses on the social nexus of sin as the mediator of sin through the social relations between individuals. This means the social nexus has a deformation that we can hardly deny. Sin, as Robert W. Jensen helpfully clarifies, (Volume 2, p. 134-48) will show itself in the idolatry we see in the excess of self-affirmation, in lust as a refusal to mature our love, in injustice as we make others serve us and in the despair that leads us to the failure to risk creative action. Yet, we cannot separate ourselves from sin. Thus, the roots of sin are not in society. Sin has its root in the heart, as Romans 7 makes clear, and thus, the social nexus fails to explain the universality of sin. The matter of choice is difficult, for many things that are part of our lives are not the result of choices made. For most people, for example, our choice of self over God is not explicit. We naturally choose, out of our anxiety, the priority of self. We normally attach guilt to specific acts that transgress some norm. As Paul sees it Romans 7, sin precedes all human acts a power that dwells in us. It represents alienation from God. Yet, this alienation comes through our cooperation with it. We engage in sin because of its deceptive character. He thinks Christian theology ought to find in the permission of sin the cost of the creaturely independence at which the creative action of God aims. We humans must develop and become what we are and ought to be.
In Section 4, Pannenberg discusses sin, death, and life. He will engage some of the philosophical themes proposed by existentialism and offer his theological criticism of them. He will want to link sin to death. He will stress that sin is a life and death matter. Yet, all living things die. He points the way toward a psychology of living with death. He will again refer to various parts of his Anthropology. Sin promises a richer and fuller life. The command of God had a view to life. The desire oriented to the forbidden thinks it has better knowledge that will promote life. Romans 7, even after 2000 years, needs no commentary as an example to a greediness for life that in all cases ends in death. The link of sin and death arises from the presupposition that all life comes from God. The consequence of turning from the source of life, God, is death. He will explore the notion that death, far from being a punishment for sin, is a result of our finitude. The problem he sees here is that such psychologizing led to the loss of the sense that our relation to God is a life-and-death matter. Nietzsche developed his psychologizing to the validity of moral norms in his Genealogy of Morals. He points out that Paul could look upon death positively due to the resurrection of Jesus, especially in Philippians 1:21 and Romans 14:8. The theological argument against the notion of linking finitude and death is that Christian eschatology looks to finite life without death. Such participation in Eternity will lead to the preservation of fellowship with God for finite life. Thus, participation in time means finite life will die. Eschatology reminds us that that the wholeness of finite life cannot exist in time. The end yet to come casts its shadow in advance and defines the whole path of life as a being for death in the sense that we cannot integrate our end into our existence. Rather, our end threatens each moment of our living self-affirmation with nothingness. We lead our temporal lives under the shadow of death (Luke 1:79 and Matthew 4:16). Yet, our self-affirmation of life is an antithesis to our end in death. Fear of death pierces deep into life. It motivates us to unrestricted self-affirmation. It robs us of the power to accept life. We see a close link between sin and death. The link has its root in sin in that sin is does not accept our finitude, making us see it as a threat of nothingness. Fear of death pushes us deeply into sin. Acceptance of our finitude is hard for us because of the self-affirmation of our lives and projects. Our end, and with it our wholeness, is still ahead of us. Our unrestricted self-affirmation (we might call it idolatry) is the origin of apostasy from God and implies death as the end of our existence. He will refer to the discussions of Karl Rahner and M Heidegger here. He will stress that God, rather than death, brings our lives to the wholeness we desire. We can see the patience of God, however, in repeatedly bringing good out of evil. In spite of sin and its consequences, we repeatedly know the original joy in life, joy in the richness, breadth, and beauty of creation and in each new day, joy in the illuminations of the life of the spirit, power from action within the order of community life, and a turning to others and participation in their joys and sorrows. We have achieved astonishing things and known periods of high cultural blossoming. Yet, even in the best of times, dark forces have been at work through anxiety and desire that have brought death and destruction.