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.

Schleiermacher: The Christian Faith, 62-85

This is the fourth in a series of reflections on Fredrick Schleiermacher. This one will focus upon his Doctrine of Sin.

           Schleiermacher continues to affirm that every doctrine must connect with the religious or pious self-consciousness. Christian experience is aware of sin and grace (62-64). He will direct us to dogmatic statements concerning the self and then to the hints they provide of dogmatic statements we can make about God. He will remind us that if a person becomes aware of the divine attributes, as he understands them in the previous section a person is already turning toward God.

            He begins with his exploration of sin (65-85). We have awareness of sin only because we have a sense of what is good and best. Thus, our intuition of the Infinite is only in apparent contradiction with our awareness of sin. Sin is our resistance to the intuition of our dependence upon the whole or Infinite. We might also say that if we have a natural openness to the Infinite, sin is closing off ourselves off from the Infinite. This closing of the self off from the Infinite creates pain. Yet, for the Christian, sin never exists without consciousness of the power of redemption. Sin-consciousness could lurk in the most exalted moments of religious self-consciousness. Such a consciousness arises out of the universal human experience of our incapacity for good. In fact, he places the main accent of his account of sin on its communal aspect. He does not affirm the historical existence of Adam, of course, but he does affirm the social nexus of the sinfulness of the human race. Sinfulness is present in individuals prior to sinful acts and thus has its basis outside their individual existence. The common act and guilt of the human race is present prior to our individual participation in sinful acts. Although we participate in this universal sin of the human race simply by our birth, we do not have guilt until our participation continues in our willful act of sin.[1] He will offer the insight that we have difficulty explaining sin apart from a prior sinfulness. Thus, even the serpent simply exposed a prior inclination in Adam to move against his intuition of his absolute dependence upon God.[2]

Just as have a universal notion of sin, we are aware also of the universal need for redemption. We participate personally in the universality of sin or transgression. God is the author of this sin-consciousness in the sense that it makes us aware of our need for reliance upon the Infinite. This awareness is an event within our subjective consciousness. In this sense, though, God did not will it. Sin becomes the effect of the God-consciousness. Sin has reality only in our consciousness of God. Thus, God opposes that which resists God and seeks to disturb and destroy humanity and the world. Sin weakens our God-consciousness in the form of displeasure with the being and action of self. Sin has reality because God negates it in the process of salvation and redemption. If God is the author of sin in this sense, God also negates it in the sense of ignoring, rejecting, excluding, and judging it. Thus, he admirably describes the subjective experience of the reality of sin. One might suggest (with Barth), however, that we are aware of grace before we have an awareness of sin, but such matters require much thought. Sin is world-consciousness, not just sensuality, which obstructs our God-consciousness. He even has a strong conception of sin as corporate act and corporate guilt. Thus, sin is not just a psychology of voluntary actions. He takes the gravity of evil and its punishment seriously. The evils that occur in the world objectively have no connection with sin, for we find death and pain where no sin exists. However, subjectively, we experience them as punishment for sin, given our universal participation in sin.[3]

Jesus the Redeemer must be able to make a change from sin to grace. He reminds us that from the standpoint of Christology, Jesus as the Redeemer, we properly understand sin. God considered sin, looking ahead to the need for redemption and consummation.[4] Redemption means reconnecting our original goodness with the original goodness of creation, both of which arise out of divine causality. The grace of God negates sin and sin exists only in this relationship to the grace of God. The danger here is that grace seems dependent upon sin. Sin becomes positive, for without sin, grace would not exist. Yet, we can question whether grace would be grace in this scenario. He needs a more consistent application of his belief that sin opposes grace. It has only a relative existence. The conflict is a genuine encounter in our lives and in history. In this conflict, grace has priority over sin. Yet, as much as he seems to direct us to Christ, his focus seems to be the inner process of the Christian consciousness, thereby making it subjective rather than Christ centered. Our experience of sin makes us aware of the divine attributes of holiness, justice, and mercy. Divine holiness causes the discord we experience in our conscience. God is the physician who prescribes the medicine. Our consciousness of divine justice makes us aware of evil as opposition to the original goodness of humanity and of the world. Yet, he also gives us the impression that divine righteousness is a matter of rewarding the fulfillment of the divine will and punishing its rejection.[5] He also has an odd notion that divine mercy is a matter for poetry and sermons, but has nothing to do with an attribute of God. It might be better to suggest that chooses mercy as a quality of the divine self who gives mercy freely in response to human suffering.[6]

A quite real problem arises if we remember that all of this happens within the subjective consciousness of the Christian. He seems to think that the simple consciousness of our need for redemption will have the desired impact on us. He suggests that grace and redemption are operations of the consciousness. His focus is the facts and emotions of the Christian consciousness. Christ becomes one of these facts and emotions! One might rightly conclude (as Barth does) that while Schleiermacher offers a great beginning in our understanding of sin and grace, we will need a fuller understanding through closer adherence to a biblical standard. Reading this section, Schleiermacher does not seem to treat sin with as much dismay as one might wish, or grace with as much joy as one might wish. He writes from a standpoint of peace. The idea that one might actually need an encounter with God to bring the needed transformation from sin to grace seems alien to him.[7]

Let us be clear at this point. Schleiermacher has done a great service in his anthropological approach to help the reader identify the social nexus of human sinfulness and our personal participation through our thoughts and actions. If sin closes us off from the Infinite, then our redemption lays in re-opening humanity and us as individuals to the Infinite. We can also see the Christ-centered nature of his exposition in that Jesus as the redeemer reveals deeper dimensions of human sinfulness. Our sin-consciousness raises to a new level our desire for the divine as holy, just, and merciful. He has a less firm grasp on the notion that it may well take an event in our lives that will open us to Jesus the redeemer of our lives and of humanity. We can clarify that event if we are willing to explore the revelation of God we find in Scripture and in Jesus. We can clarify that event in exploring the nation of the act of faith. Bultmann can actually help us here. Schleiermacher is generally unwilling to move into these explorations.

[1] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 256-7.
[2] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 213.
[3] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 268.
[4] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume II, 264.
[5] Barth, CD II.1, 377-8.
[6] Barth, CD II.1, 370.
[7] Barth, CD III.3, 319-334 and concisely in IV.1, 376-7.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Schleiermacher: Christian Faith, 32-61

The Christian Faith, Sections 32-61

            In these sections, Schleiermacher explores the feeling of our absolute dependence further. The religious self-consciousness is an intuition that our limits of space and time, our finitude, depend upon a larger unity of the universe. When we become conscious of this dependence, we are on a journey toward the discovery of the meaning of our lives. We have an openness to that which transcends us. Schleiermacher would call such transcendence the Infinite, the Universe, or the All. We will not discover such meaning through insisting upon our isolated individuality. Individuals are not islands. The implication is that we do not discover meaning by focusing simply upon self. Rather, we discover meaning in our engagement with or openness to the world. Meaning comes from beyond us as isolated individuals. 
            Such a religious self-consciousness of absolute dependence upon God leads him to discuss God as the one who creates and sustains the world. He is connecting dogmatic statements about the self to dogmatic statements about God. Let us be clear. While this notion has some value, it does replace the need for theologians to show that God created the world science describes.[1] He places the preserving act of God ahead of the creative act of God. In doing so, he lessens the theological concern for the freedom of the divine act of creation.[2] He sets aside the notion in the Bible of angels and demons, for they have nothing to do with how we live our lives.[3] 
The proofs for the existence of God that we find in Aquinas are unnecessary in Schleiermacher, given his anthropological apologetics. The significance of his notion of our absolute dependence becomes clear as he explores certain divine attributes related to God as creator. Divine attributes like eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient are different ways of expressing our intuition of the dependence we have upon the whole.  It also suggests the goodness of the world in that the world provides the materials for the fullness of a human life. Barth would appear to be right to say that Schleiermacher comes across as nominalist here. The divine attributes are projections of the religious self-consciousness upon the simplicity of God.[4] It at least appears that what he sees in the religious consciousness he also finds in God. The attributes of God at least appear to be an objectification of what he finds in the religious consciousness.[5] The notion of God as subject over the works of God seems lost. His concern is with omnipotence as such, and even then, only as it denotes the causal basis of nature. The totality of finite being presents to us divine causality. Our sense of dependence relates to the totality of the system of nature and becomes the basis for the affirmation of divine omnipotence.[6] The difficult issue of distinctions within the divine qualities is the issue Schleiermacher is exploring. I am not sure I understand the issue, but I will try. God is present fully in each attribute. Each attribute is present fully in divine being. He will say that divine being exists only where there is power, and power shows itself in activity. Preservation, for example, implies placing all activities of any finite being under absolute dependence on God. Yet, we still need to ask if whether we might not have some point to distinguish such abstract aspects. Thus, the reality of undivided existence might need some distinguishing aspects abstractly for purposes of knowledge. The universal and particular, so much discussed in the Middle Ages, are one in actual reality, but it might make sense to distinguish the two aspects for purposes of knowledge. We might also suggest that such a distinction in the abstract is useful when discussing the preservation of God and the divine cooperation relative to the creatures God has made. Divine cooperation with the actions of creatures shows that God does not leave creatures to themselves in their activities. Every part of creation matters to God because God is there. Yet, we are also not to see in the working of God such causality that it would mean the exclusion of the autonomy of creatures and their deviation from the purposes of God.[7] Further, Schleiermacher distributes the attributes of God along the lines of the different relations of the divine causality to the creation, reconciliation, and consummation of humanity and the world. This division became possible for him because he did not relate the attributes to the being of God, but rather, only to the divine causality in creation, reconciliation, and consummation.[8] Schleiermacher related eternity as an attribute to God as the first cause. He characterized it as timeless, freeing God from time itself.[9] In defining divine eternity as timeless or non-spatial divine causality, Schleiermacher will say that eternity conditions time or space itself. In doing so, he follows the theological tradition. The danger of this view is that it sets the Infinite over against the finite and temporal, thus creating a limit for the Infinite.[10] All of this raises the question of the unity of God. Schleiermacher rightly argued that unity is not an attribute of God. Unity might be a quality of the world ruled by one God, but not of God to be only one. Rather than an attribute, unity and plurality come under the category of quantity. God is not “one” in distinction from others. It would conflict with the notion of the Infinity of God, placing a limit on that which by definition has no limits.[11] 
            In this section, for my purposes, Schleiermacher shows that his strength opens the door to his weakness. His willingness to explore our basic dependence upon and openness to the All, the Universe, or the Infinite for the health and well-being we naturally seek for our lives is an important one. He teases out of the pious consciousness some attributes of God. His willingness to let the present act of faith of individuals and the community form his view of God is admirable at many levels. Yet, his trust in philosophical anthropology limits his consideration of the dialogue that needs to happen between science and religion. As much as any genuinely pious person might want to retreat from the challenge of that discussion, the theologian must not succumb. The theologian has much to learn from science about the way the universe works. Many scientists have found that science does not have the tools to determine how it all fits together in a meaningful way.

[1] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol. 2, 52.
[2] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol. 2, 42.
[3] Barth, CD III.3, 413-4.
[4] Barth, CD, II.1, 327.
[5] Barth, CD, II.1, 338-9.
[6] Barth, CD, II.1, 529-30.
[7] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume 2, 48.
[8] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume 1, 392-3.
[9] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume 1, 404-5.
[10] Barth, CD, II.1, 466.
[11] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Volume I, 443.