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PHILOSOPHY OF REVELATION

Lecture 1 - The Idea of a Philosophy of Revelation

 

The well-known Assyrian scholar, Hugo Winckler, some years ago boldly declared that “in the whole of the historical evolution of mankind there are only two general world-views to be distinguished, —the ancient Babylonian and the modern empirico-scientific” ; “the latter of which,” he added, “is still only in process of development.”11H. Winckler, Himmels- und Weltenbild der Babylonier. Leipzig, 1903, p.9. The implication was that the religion and civilization of all peoples have had their origin in the land of Sumer and Akkad, and more particularly that the Biblical religion, in its New Testament no less than in its Old Testament form, has derived its material from that source. This pan-Babylonian construction of history has, because of its syncretistic and levelling character, justly met with much serious opposition. But there is undoubtedly an element of truth in the declaration, if it may be, taken in this wider sense,—that the religious supra-naturalistic world-view has universally prevailed among all peoples and in all ages down to our own day, and only in the last hundred and fifty years has given way in some circles to the empirico-scientific.

Humanity as a whole has been at all times supra-naturalistic to the core. Neither in thought nor in life have men been able to satisfy themselves with the things of this world; they have always assumed a heaven above the earth, and behind what is visible a persistently ignored in Romanist and liberal circles, and the Reformation movement systematically represented as the origin and source of the Revolution. Cousin and Guizot agree in this judgment with De Bonald and De Maistre.22Groen van Prinsterer, Ongeloof en Revolutie. 1862, pp.138 ff. French Protestantism finds it acceptable, and puts forward and praises the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” as a blessed fruit of the labors of Luther and Calvin. And in Germany, by men like Paulsen and Julius Kaftan, Kant is glorified as a second Luther, the true philosopher of Protestantism.33Fr. Paulsen, Philosophia militans. Berlin, 1901, pp.31 ff. J. Kaftan, Der Philosoph des Protest. Berlin, 1904. Theodor Kaftan, Moderne Theol. des alten Glaubens. 1901, pp.76, 102.

No doubt between these two mighty movements of modern history certain lines of resemblance may be traced. But formal resemblance is not the same as real likeness, analogy as identity. Between the freedom of the Christian man, on behalf of which Luther entered the lists, and the liberty, equality, fraternity, which the Revolution inscribed on its banner, the difference is fundamental. Luther and Voltaire are not men of the same spirit; Calvin and Rousseau should not be named in the same breath ; and Kant, with his epistemological and moral autonomy, was not the exponent of the Reformation, but the philosopher of Rationalism. This is implicitly acknowledged by all who accord the honor of emancipating the mind of man in the sixteenth century to Erasmus rather than to Luther, and who rank the Renascence in importance and value above the Reformation.44Busken Huet, Het Land van Rembrandt. F. Pijper, Erasmus en de Nederl. Reformatie. Leiden, 1907. Paul Wernle, Die Renaissance des Christ. im 16 Jahrh. Tubingen, 1904. According to this view Erasmus and his like-minded fellow-workers attempted a regeneration of Christianity, but sought this not, like Luther, in a repristination of the teaching of Paul, but in a return to the Sermon on the Mount. He is to be thanked, then, that supranaturalism has slowly given way to materialism, transcendence to immanence, Paulinism to the religion of Jesus, dogmatics to the science of religion. Luther remains the father of the old Protestantism; to Erasmus belongs the glory of having been the first exponent of modern Protestantism.

In this historical judgment there undoubtedly lies an element of truth. Erasmus and his kindred spirits, no less than the Reformers, aimed at a simpler and more interior type of religion to be attained through contact with the Person of Christ But the fact is lost sight of that all these men, in their conception of the essence of religion, remained entangled in mediaeval dualism, and were thus in no position to effect a fundamental reformation of the doctrine and worship of the Church of Rome. The whole mental attitude of humanism was such as to render it, above everything, afraid of tumult, and bent upon preserving the “amabilis ecclesiae concordia.” “Summa nostrae religionis pax est et unanimitas,” said Erasmus. But altogether apart from this, humanism was and remained one of the many “Aufklarungsbewegangen” which have periodically emerged in the Roman Church, and will not fail to reappear in the future. The experience of sin and grace which came to Luther in the monastery of Erfurt fixed itself in these two conceptions; the humanists felt no need of the liberty and joy which flow from the sinner’s justification in the sight of God through faith alone and without the works of the law. Humanism, therefore, was nothing more nor less than the Reformed-Catholicism of the sixteenth century; in the end it not only broke with Luther, but came to the help of Rome and the Counter-Reformation.55Lezius, Zur Charakteristik des relig. Standpunktes des Erasmus. Güterslohe, 1895. H. Hermelink, Die relig. Reformbestrebungen des deutschen Hamanismus. Tübingen, 1907 (comp. the review of this work in Theol. Lit. Zeitung, Jan. 4, 1908). Max Richter, Desiderius Erasmus und seine Stellung zu Luther auf Grund ihrer Schriften. Leipzig, 1907. Hunzinger, Der Glaube Luthers und das religions-geschichtliche Christentum der Gegenwart. Leipzig, 1907. Hunzinger strikingly observes that the laudation of Erasmus at the expense of Luther is in keeping with the attempt perceptible elsewhere to go back from the Christ of the Bible to the so-called historical Jesus, the Jesus of the Synoptics or the Sermon on the Mount. The line repre sented by Christ, Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin is abandoned in favor of that represented by Jesus, Pelagius, Abelard, Erasmus, the Enlightenment.

Nevertheless, there is this much of truth in the view in question,—that Luther and Erasmus were two different men, and the old and the new Protestantism are in principle distinct. Confirmation of this has recently come from an unprejudiced quarter, namely, from Professor Troeltsch of Heidelberg, in an important study of Protestantism contributed by him to Die Kultur der Gegenwart.66Troeltsch, Protest. Kirchentum und Kirche in der Neuzeit, pp. 253-458 of Die Christliche Religion, in: Die Kultur der Gegenwart. (comp. for the other side Kattenbusch, Theol. Rundschau, 1907, and Herrmann, Zeits. für Theol. und Kirche, 1907). Comp. also Karl Bell, Katholizismus und Protestantismus. Leipzig, 1903, pp.56 ff. F. J. Schmidt, Zur Wiedergeburt des Idealismus. Leipzig, 1908, pp.60 ff. He acknowledges, of course, that the ancient world-view was modified by the Reformation, and enriched with a new conception of religion; but he none the less maintains that its general structure was preserved intact. In their view of the world and life, sin and grace, heaven and earth, church and state, faith and knowledge, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were children of the Middle Ages, and revealed this fact at every point of their activity as Reformers. The supranaturalism which finds expression in the Gospel, and more particularly in the theology of Paul, received the fullest consent of their hearts. They, no doubt, moderated and softened the eschatological and mystic-ascetic elements which characterized primitive Christianity; but, in Troeltsch’s view, they utterly failed to perceive the great differences which exist within the New Testament itself between the Synoptics and the Apostolic Epistles, between Jesus and Paul. The Christianity of the Bible, the Christianity of the first four centuries was, to their naive conception, an undifferentiated whole, a system of faith and practice which they believed themselves to have received unmodified, and which they meant to set as the pure expression of the Christian religion over against the caricature that the Roman Church had later made of it.

On the other hand, Professor Troeltsch thinks that the modern, anti-supranaturalistic type of Protestantism gained no hearing until the eighteenth century. For this form of Protestantism is not to be understood as a logically or historically consistent development of the principles of the Reformation, but as the product of “a great and radical revolution.” In the so-called “Enlightenment” it presented the world—with a new form of culture which differed in principle from the culture-ideal of the Reformation. Consequently not the sixteenth but the eighteenth century, not the Reformation but the “Enlightenment,” is the source of that world-view which, turning its back on all supranaturalism, thinks to find in this world all that science and religion, thought and life, can ask. In point of fact, before the eighteenth century the existence of a supranatural world, and the necessity, possibility, and reality of a special revelation, had never been seriously called into question. But Deism, springing up in England, emancipated the world from God, reason from revelation, the will from grace.77Lechler, Geschichte des engl. Deismus. Stuttgart, 1841. Troeltsch, art. Deismus in PRE. In its first exponents, Herbert, Locke, Toland, Collins, and their fellows, as also later in Kant, Fichte, and Lessing, it is true, it did not yet deny in principle the possibility and reality of revelation. But in the first place, from a formal point of view, it subjected the authenticity of revelation, especially of “traditional revelation,” in distinction from “original revelation,” to the critical test of reason, as may be seen in such writers as Herbert, Hobbes, and Locke. And, secondly, with respect to the content of revelation, it laid down the canon, that since we have no power to assimilate anything else, it can comprise nothing beyond truths of reason, that is, such truths as would, no doubt, sooner or later have been discovered by reason, but have been made known earlier and more, readily by revelation. This concession, however, was deprived of all real value by adding that God had commonly given the earlier revealed truth in such a symbolical form that its essential rational content was not understood until the present age of enlightenment.88Schelling, Philos. der Offenbarung, Sämmtliche Werke II, 4, p.5. All deistic thought tended towards making revelation superfluous, and all action of God in the world unnecessary.99Lechler, op. cit., p.362. While the fact of creation was still commonly admitted, it served with the original Deists no other purpose than with Kant, and later with Darwin, namely, to give the world an independent existence. The world had in creation been so abundantly supplied with all manners of powers and gifts that it could dispense with God altogether, and could save itself without any outside aid and with completeness.

This principle of autonomy, transplanted into France, first sought to gain supremacy for itself by way of revolution. The French Revolution of 1789 furnished the first typical example of this. This was not a revolt like that of the Netherlands against Spain, or of the Puritans against the Stuarts, or of the American Colonies against Britain, for all these upheavals left untouched the political system, the fundamental principle of government, the droit divin of the magistracy. The Revolution in France sprang from a definite deistical theory, and bore from the outset a doctrinaire, specifically dogmatic character. Attaching itself to the fiction of the contrat social, it endeavored to subvert the entire existing social order, and to replace it by a newly conceived and self-manufactured order of things. It was a violent effort to establish the principle of popular sovereignty, and was hailed everywhere, even by men like Kant and Schiller, as the dawn of popular enfranchisement.1010Groen van Prinsterer, op. cit.

But, although this Revolution was launched under the most favorable circumstances, enjoyed the advantage of international sympathies, and found imitation on a smaller or larger scale in all countries on the continent of Europe Europe and in South America, it nevertheless passed beyond the experimental stage in none of these movements, but in them all, sooner or later, issued in failure. So far from realizing the ideal, they overwhelmed their fanatical adherents with grievous disappointment and a deep feeling of shame.1111Haller in Groen van Prinsterer, op. cit., pp.253 ff. In the leading thought of the world the idea of revolution gradually gave way to that of evolution. The eighteenth century principle of autonomy was not abandoned, but its application and development were sought by a different method.

It is hardly necessary to say that the term evolution has not in itself, any more than revolution, an objectionable connotation. The idea of development is not a production of modern times; it was already familiar to Greek philosophy. More particularly Aristotle raised it to the rank of the leading principle of his entire system by his significant distinction between “potentia” and “actus.” The true reality he did not place with Plato outside of and behind and above phenomenal things, but conceived of it rather as their immanent essence, not, however, as from the outset fully actualized in them, but as finding gradual realization in the form of a process. According to Aristotle, therefore, becoming and change are not to be explained by mechanical impact or pressure, nor by chemical combination or separation of atoms. On the contrary, he derived his theory of becoming from the facts of organic life, seeing in it a self-actualizing of the essential being in the phenomena, of the form in the matter. The essence, the idea of a thing, is not simply a quiescent archetype, but at the same time an immanent power propelling the thing and moving it on to its development in a definite direction. Evolution, as conceived by Aristotle, beam thus an organic and teleological character; the genesis exists for the sake of the ousia; becoming takes place because there is being.1212Comp. the author’s essay: Evolutie, in: Pro en Contra, III, 3. Baarn, 1907. Eucken, Geistige Strömungen der Gegenwart. Leipzig, 1904, pp.185 ff.

This idea of development aroused no objection whatever in Christian theology and philosophy. On the contrary, it received extension and enrichment by being linked with the principle of theism. For the essence of it, it appears also in modem philosophy, in Lessing, Herder and Goethe, Schelling and Hegel, and in many historians of distinction. Some of these, it is true, have severed the idea of development from the theistic basis on which it rests in Christianity, and by so doing have reverted to the ancient pre-Christian naturalism. Nevertheless, even so, their naturalism retains a specific character, clearly enough distinguishable from the later materialism. Whatever terms Goethe and Herder, Schelling and Hegel might employ to designate the core and essence of things, they never regarded nature as a dead mechanism, but as an eternally formative power, a creative artist. The notion that all higher forms of being have sprung through the action of purely mechanical and chemical forces from lower ones is entirely foreign to them. The ascending forms in the world of nature and spirit appear to them rather evidence of the inexhaustible fulness of life and the infinite, creative power present in the universe.1313As regards Goethe, to whom Haekel loves to appeal, this is clearly shown by Vogel, Goethes Selbstzeugnisse über seine Stellung zur Religion. Leipzig, 1906. Comp. also Frank Thilly, The World-view of a Poet: Goethe’s Philosophy, in the Hibbert Journal, April, 1908, pp.530 ff. With Hegel the entire world becomes one mighty process of thought, which in each of its moments and in each of its stages is rational, so far as it is real; but which at the same time, by the principle of immanent antithesis, to which it remains subject, is forced ever forward and upward. Whatever exists is therefore pure becoming, not being; it exists for no other purpose but to pass away; in pursuance of the law of the dialectic process the old continually gives way to the new. Hence we should draw back from all violent revolutions and futile experiments; the eternal spirit itself is unceasingly occupied in breaking down while building up, and in building up while breaking down. Process, evolution, endless and restless becoming, is the principle which governs the Hegelian system to a much higher degree, and much more one-sidedly, than those of Aristotle and Leibnitz.1414Windelband, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie. Leipzig, 1899, II, p.311.

This doctrine of evolution, however, was too rationalistic, too aprioristic, too romantic in construction to withstand the onset of the natural science which was now growing up. It soon gave way before the mechanical and anti-teleological principles of the theory of descent. Darwin was led to his agnostic naturalism as much by the misery which he observed in the world as by the facts which scientific investigation brought under his notice. There was too much strife and injustice in the world for him to believe in providence and a predetermined goal. A world so full of cruelty and pain he could not reconcile with the omniscience, the omnipotence, the goodness of God. An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is struck by lightning. “Do you believe,” asks Darwin of his friend Gray, “that God slew this man on purpose? Many or most people believe this; I cannot and will not believe it.” The discovery of the so-called law of “natural selection” brought him accordingly a real feeling of relief, for by it he escaped the necessity of assuming a conscious plan and purpose in creation. Whether God existed or not, in either case he was blameless. The immutable laws of nature, imperfect in all their operations, bore the blame for everything, while at the same time guaranteeing that the world is not a product of chance and is progressing as a whole towards a better condition.1515Bruno Wille, Darwins Weltanschauung von ihm selbst dargestellt. Heibronn, 1906, pp.4,5,16ff,25.

Just as Darwin discovered the misery in nature, so Karl Marx discovered the misery in society. In the same year in which Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, Marx’s Political Economy also appeared. At the grave of Marx, on the 17th of March, in the year 1883, Friedrich Engels declared that, as Darwin had found the law of the development of organic nature, so Marx had discovered that of the development of human society. Darwin believed that his natural selection, with its adjuncts, had once for all disposed of teleology, miracles, and all supranaturalism; Marx was convinced that he had freed Socialism from all utopianism and established it on a firm scientific foundation. Both Darwin and Marx were thorough believers in the inviolability of the laws of nature and the necessary sequence of events; both were deeply moved by the fact that this necessary process of development has both in the past an present brought into existence terrible conditions; and both cherished the fixed hope that development means progress, and carries with it the promise of a better world, a better race, and a better society.

It goes without saying that this mechanical and anti-teleological conception of evolution left no room for miracles, for a world of the supranatural, for the existence and activity of God. Darwin, while at first adhering to the deistic belief in creation, afterwards declined more and more to agnosticism. It was his custom to dismiss religious problems by saying that he had not sufficiently reflected upon them and could not lay claim to a strong religious feeling.1616Bruno Wille, op. cit., pp.5, 23. And Marx was of the opinion that religion, “that opiate of the people,” was destined to die a natural death in the perfect society of the future.1717L. Woltmann, Der hist. Materialismus. Düsseldorf, 1906, p.148. H. Pesch, Liberalismus, Sozialismus und christl. Gesellschaftsordnung. Freiburg, 1901, II, p.234. The belief that modern natural science, with its doctrine of evolution, had made an end of medieval dualism with its conception of two worlds, and the principle of naturalism had permanently triumphed, found an echo in the widest circles. Revelation could no longer be considered a possibility. Renan declared apodictically; “Il n’y a pas de surnaturel.” According to Haeckel, all revelations to which religions appeal are pure figments of human phantasy ; the one true revelation is nature itself. And Strauss, not quite so sure that the victory had been gained and the enemy slain, called to battle with the summons: “The last enemy to be conquered is the conception of another world.” The term evolution embodies in itself a harm-less conception, and the principle expressed by it is certainly operative within well-defined limits throughout the universe. But the trend of thought by which it has been monopolized, and the system built on it, in many cases at least, avail themselves of the word in order to explain the entire world, including man and religion and morality, without the aid of any supranatural factor, purely from immanent forces, and according to unvarying laws of nature.

Nevertheless, the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century has witnessed an important change in this respect. The foremost investigators in the field of science have abandoned the attempt to explain all phenomena and events by mechanico-chemical causes. Everywhere there is manifesting itself an effort to take up and incorporate Darwin’s scheme of a nature subject to law into an idealistic world-view. In fact Darwin himself, through his agnosticism, left room for different conceptions of the Absolute, nay repeatedly and emphatically gave voice to a conviction that the world is not the product of accident, brute force, or blind necessity but in its entirety has been intended for progressive improvement.1818Bruno Will, op. cit., pp.7,12,14,16,17,19,23,25. By way of Darwin, and enriched by a mass of valuable scientific material, the doctrine of evolution has returned to the fundamental idea of Hegel’s philosophy. The mechanical conception of nature has been once more replaced by the dynamical; materialism has reverted to pantheism; evolution has become again the unfolding, the revealing of absolute spirit. And the concept of revelation has held anew its triumphant entry into the realm of philosophy and even of natural science.1919For instance by von Hartmann, Religions-philosophie. Leipzig, II, pp.74 ff. A. Drews, Die Religion als Selbstbewusstsein Gottes. Jena u. Leipzig, 1906, pp.184 ff. Reinke, Die Welt als That. Berlin 1903, pp.292 ff.

Such generous concessions have not failed to meet with response from the side of theology. It is true the exponents of the, “new theology” which has made its appearance in recent years, differ greatly among themselves as to the significance which should be accorded in revelation to nature or history, to individualism or collectivism, to the intellect or the heart. Nevertheless, the movement as a whole is clearly inspired and controlled by the desire to identify revelation and evolution, and for this purpose to shift the centre of gravity from the transcendence of God to his immanence. To it God is “that which is implied in all being, the reality behind all phenomena, the sum of the forces of the universe.” It is admitted that this idea of the immanence of God was not unknown in former ages; but never until the present has it been made the lever of a “moral and spiritual movement,” such as may now be witnessed through the whole of Christendom, a movement which aims at the perfect reconciliation of religion and science and finds its highest expression in “the gospel of the humanity of God and the divinity of man.”

It needs no pointing out that on this principle, as with Hegel, the divine revelation must be coextensive with all that exists, with nature and history, with all nations and religions. Everything is a manifestation of God. The finite in all its parts is an essential element of the infinite. It is the infinite itself, as become finite in the creature. But there is a definite course and gradation in the self-realizing of God. From the inorganic it ascends to the organic, from the physical to the psychical, from nature to spirit, reaching its culminating point in man. “We are a part of the universe, and the universe is a part of God; there is no real difference between humanity and deity; every soul is a sparkle of the divine spirit.” Humanity ever increasingly reveals God to us, in the same proportion that it develops and progresses. For everything is subject to the law of progress. Everything is continually in the making. Man has sprung from the animals, and has in the civilized portion of the race risen far superior to his ancestors; but still he has before him an endless vista of development. He is not “simply what he is, but all he yet may be.” He is, and becomes ever more and more, an organ of the eternal consciousness. He was an animal, he became a man, and after humanizing comes deifying. By way of anticipation the Christian religion illustrates this principle in the person of its founder; in Christ humanity and divinity are one. According to Sir Oliver Lodge, Christ is the glorification of human effort, the upward development of manhood, the highest point of human striving, the supreme flower of our race. All men are potential Christs, all moving on by the development of the forces of our own nature into that Christhood.2020R. J. Campbell, The New Theology. London, 1907, pp.20,31,34,68ff. New Theology and Applied Religion by R. J. Campbell, etc. London, Christian Commonwealth Co., pp.12,18,60,62. Sir Oliver Lodge, The Substance of Faith allied with Science. London, pp.85ff. Comp. against this new theology among others, Charles Gore, The New Theology and the Old Religion. London, 1907.

Although the New Theology likes to represent this conception as a new movement, it is at bottom nothing but a repetition of the pantheistic world-view which has been embodied in the systems of Erigena, Spinoza, and especially Hegel. And in all probability no greater success than was attained by these philosophers will attend the present attempt to harmonize after this fashion faith and science, the revelation of the Scriptures, and a materialistically or pantheistically conceived doctrine of evolution. There is cause for rejoicing that the intellectualism of the last century has been succeeded by a feeling for religion and mysticism, for metaphysics and philosophy; and that in religion itself there is now recognized a reality and a revelation of God. But joy over this change in the attitude of the leading minds of the age should not blind us to the danger to which it exposes us. The religious craving at present asserting itself bears a pronouncedly egoistic character; it reveals a longing rather for self-satisfaction than for knowledge and service of the living God; it seeks God not above but in the world, and regards his essence as identical with that of the creature. All of which goes to show that the world-view, which formerly offered itself under the name of “the scientific,” has not essentially changed, but has simply, owing to various influences, assumed now a religious form, and taken up its position as a new faith over against the old faith.2121Funt, Religion der Immanenz oder Transcendenz? in: Religion und Geisteskultur, 1907, pp.287-294. Bachmann, Nomen est gloriosum, ibid., 1908, pp.104-114. The difference consists merely in the doctrine of evolution no longer contenting itself with standing as “science” by the side of or over against Christianity, but pressing on determinedly to usurp the place of Christianity as dogma and religion. Monism lays claim through the mouth of Haeckel and the monistic alliance not only to the title of the true science, but likewise to that of the one true religion.2222Haeckel, Der Monismus als Band zwischen Religion und Wissenschaft. Bonn, 1893. Haeckel, Die Welträthsel. Bonn, 1899, pp.381-439. R. H. Francé, Der heutige Stand der darwin’schen Lehren. Leipzig, 1907, p.17.

As a form of religion, however, monism hardly deserves serious consideration. A religion which has nothing to offer but an immanent God, identical with the world, may for a while aesthetically affect and warm man; it can never satisfy man’s religious and ethical needs. It fails to raise us above the actual, and supplies no power stronger than the world; it brings no peace, and offers no rest on the Father-heart of God. This, after all, is what man seeks in religion,—strength, life, a personal power, that can pardon sin, receive us into favor, and cause us to triumph joyfully over a world of sin and death. The true religion which shall satisfy our mind and heart, our conscience and our will, must be one that does not shut us up in, but lifts us up high above, the world; in the midst of time It must impart to us eternity; in the midst of death give us life; in the midst of the stream of change place us on the immovable rock of salvation. This is the reason why transcendence, supranaturalism, revelation, are essential to all religion.

Thus also is explained why humanity, no less than formerly, continues to think and live after a supranaturalistic fashion. As regards the heathen and Mohammedan nations, this needs no pointing out. As to Christendom, here also the Greek Church continues to occupy the orthodox position. The Roman Church, contrary to the expectation of many, has during the nineteenth century almost everywhere increased in power and influence, and yet in the encyclical letter of July 3, 1907, it repudiated without hesitation the notion that revelation involves nothing more than man’s becoming conscious of his relation to God. And while Protestantism is divided within itself even more thoroughly than Romanism, yet to a large extent, among all classes in all lands, it too still holds to the fundamental elements of the Christian confession. Thus, notwithstanding all the criticism that has been brought to bear upon the Scriptures, the Bible retains its unique place in the church,—in the sermon, in the worship, in catechetical instruction. More than this, all our modern civilization, art, science, literature, ethics, jurisprudence, society, state, politics, are leavened by religious, Christian, supranaturalistic elements, and still rest on the foundation of the old world-view. “The stamp of this education,” says Troeltsch, “Europe bears deep in its soul up to to-day.”2323Troeltsch, op. cit., p.255. Much, therefore, will have to be done before the modern, pantheistic or materialistic, world-view shall have conquered the old theistic one. Nay, in view of the past history of mankind, it may safely be added that this will never happen.

Nor is there any warrant for ascribing this loyalty to the Christian supranatural world-view, to stubborn conservatism or incorrigible lack of understanding. It requires little discernment to perceive that the revelation which every religion, and more particularly Christianity, claims for itself is something essentially different from that which the new theology and philosophy would commend to us. This was frankly acknowledged not long ago by Friedrich Delitzsch. In his first address on Babel and Bible, he had affirmed that the Old Testament idea of revelation, like many other Old Testament ideas, was in perfect accord with that found in the Babylonian religion. This identification having been contradicted, he reverted to the point in his fourth lecture entitled Rückblick und Ausblick. Here he points out that the conception of revelation is no doubt modified by many to-day so as to make of it a humanly mediated, gradual process of historical evolution. But be immediately adds that such a conception, while quite acceptable to him personally, is, after all, only a weak dilution of the Biblical and theological conception of revelations.2424Fr. Delitzsch, Babel und Bibel. Ein Rückblick und Ausblick. Berlin, 1904, p.48. Id., Zur Weiterbildung der Religion. Stuttgart, 1908, p.53. And there can hardly be two opinions on this point. Not only does Scripture draw a sharp distinction between that revelation which God continues to give to the heathen through nature and the false religion to which the heathen have abandoned themselves (Rom. 1:19-23), as well as between that special revelation which he has granted to his people Israel and the idolatry and image-worship by which the people of God were constantly led away; but it also most emphatically proclaims as a fundamental truth, that Jehovah, who revealed himself to Moses and the prophets, is the true living God, and that all the gods of the heathen are idols and things of naught.

If this be so, it must be contrary to the plain intent of Scripture to identify revelation and development, divine law and human conduct, or to consider these as two sides of one and the same process. When Hegel says of the infinite and the finite: “The truth is the inseparable union of both,”2525Hegel, Philos. der Religion, I, p.120. we recognize in this not the primum verum but the proton pseudos of his philosophy. As in science one must distinguish between the ideas which God has deposited in his works, and the errors which constantly are being drawn from them as truth, even so revelation and religion are not two manifestations of the same thing, but differ as God differs from man, the Creator from the creature. Although Gwatkin some times so widens the idea as to make revelation and discovery the same process viewed from different standpoints, he quite correctly explains that not every thought of man, but only true thought, echoes God’s thought, and that religions can be viewed as divine revelations only so far as they are true.2626Gwatkin, The Knowledge of God. Edinburgh, 1906, I, pp.92,155-156,248.

This distinction between revelation and religion, and consequently the good right of supranaturalism, begins slowly to dawn once more on people. Titius declared some time ago that it is the common conviction of all theologians from Kahler to Troeltsch that supranaturalism and Christianity stand or fall together. Certainly Troeltsch insists over against Fr. R. Lipsius upon a certain supranaturalism. Loofs maintains, no doubt, that the supranaturalism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was of too clumsy construction for the science of nature and history seriously to reckon with it. But he propounds at the same time the pertinent question, whether it is really an immutable axiom of all modern culture that natural science has made belief impossible in any kind of revelation except one that can be fully explained on the principle of evolution, and in any kind of redemption except one worked out by purely immanent forces. And returning the answer to the question himself, he declares: “The decisive battle between the ‘diesseits-religion,’ based on pantheistic ideas of immanence, and the traditions of a more robust theism has not yet been fought out.” Titius, adverting to this, gives his opinion to the effect that a more exact investigation of the problem of supranaturalism forms the chief task of the Dogmatics of the future, and is of supreme importance for the absolute character of Christianity.2727Titius, Theol. Rundschau, Nov., 1907, p.416. The address of Loofs to which Titius refers, appeared in English in the American Journal of Theol., III, pp.433-472, and has been published recently also in German. Das Evangelium der Reformation und die Gegenwart, Theol. Stud. u. Krit., 1908, pp.203-244. Kattenbusch, Die Lage der system. Theol. in der Gegenwart, Zeits. für Theol. u. Kirche, 1905, pp.103-146 ff., especially pp.128 ff.

With the reality of revelation, therefore, Christianity stands or falls. But our insight into the mode and content of revelation admits of being clarified; and, in consequence, our conception of this act of divine grace is capable of being modified. As a matter of fact, this has taken place in modern theology. In the first place, the transcendence of God has assumed for us a meaning different from what it had for our fathers. The deistic belief that God worked but a single moment, and thereafter granted to the world its own independent existence, can no longer be ours. Through the extraordinary advance of science our world-view has undergone a great change. The world has become immeasurably large for us; forwards and backwards, in length and breadth and depth and height, it has extended itself into immensity. In this world we find everywhere second causes operating both in organic and inorganic creation, in nature and history, in physical and psychical phenomena. If God’s dwelling lies somewhere far away, outside the world, and his transcendence is to be understood in the sense that he has withdrawn from creation and now stands outside of the actuality of this world, then we lose him and are unable to maintain communication with him. His existence cannot become truly real to us unless we are permitted to conceive of him as not only above the world, but in his very self in the world, and thus as indwelling in all his works.2828Steinmann, Das Bewusstsein von der vollen Wirklichkeit Gottes, Zeits. für Theol. u. Kirche, 1902, pp.429-492.

Thus the divine transcendence was understood by the Apostle Paul, who declared that God is not far from any one of us, but that “in him we live and move and have our being.” The transcendence which is inseparable from the being of God is not meant in a spatial or a quantitative sense. It is true Scripture distinguishes between heaven and earth and repeatedly affirms that God has heaven especially for his dwelling-place, and specifically reveals there his perfections in glory. But Scripture itself teaches that heaven is part of the created universe. When, therefore, God is represented as dwelling in heaven, he is not thereby placed outside but in the world, and is not removed by a spatial transcendence from his creatures. His exaltation above all that is finite, temporal, and subject to space-limitation is upheld. Although God is immanent in every part and sphere of creation with all his perfections and all his being, nevertheless, even in that most intimate union he remains transcendent. His being is of a different and higher kind than that of the world. As little as eternity and time, omnipresence and space, infinitude and finiteness can be reduced to one or conceived as reverse sides of the same reality, can God and the world, the Creator and the creature, be identified qualitatively and essentially. Not first in our time, nor by way of concession to science or philosophy, but in all ages, the great theologians have taught the transcendence of God in this Scriptural sense.

Since, however, we take this idea more seriously at present, because of the great enrichment our world-view has received from science, this needs must give rise to a somewhat modified conception of revelation. The old theology construed revelation after a quite external and mechanical fashion, and too readily identified it with Scripture. Our eyes are nowadays being more and more opened to the fact that revelation in many ways is historically and psychologically “mediated.” Not only is special revelation founded on general revelation, but it has taken over numerous elements from it. The Old and the New Testaments are no longer kept isolated from their milieu; and the affinity between them and the religious representations and customs of other peoples is recognized. Israel stands in connection with the Semites, the Bible with Babel. And although the revelation in Israel and in Christ loses nothing of its specific nature, nevertheless even it came into being not all at once but progressively, in conjunction with the progress of history and the individuality of the prophets, polumeros kai polutropos. Even as Christ the Son of God is from above, and yet his birth from Mary was in preparation for centuries, so every word of God in special revelation is both spoken from above and yet brought to us along the pathway of history. Scripture gives succinct expression to this double fact when it describes the divine word as rhethen hupo tou theou dia ton propheton.

One of the results of the trend of present-day science is that theology is just now largely occupied with the second of these two elements, that of the historical and psychological “mediation.” Its present interest centres rather in the problem how revelation has come about, than in the question what the content of revelation is. There is connected with this investigation the disadvantage that often the woods are not seen for the trees; that the striking analogies in other religions have dulled perception of what is peculiar to the religion of Israel; and that the discovery elsewhere of some trait more or less closely parallel is hastily given out as a solution of the problem of origin. But, apart from this, these historical and psychological investigations are in themselves an excellent thing. They must and will con tribute towards a better understanding of the content of revelation; the rhethen dia ton propheton will, in proportion as it is more profoundly understood, lead to a truer appreciation of the rhethen hupo tou theou. For, since all historical and psychological research into the origin and essence of the religion of Israel and Christianity must leave their peculiarity untouched, what else will remain, but either to reject them on account of their alleged foolishness or to accept them in faith as divine wisdom?

Belief in such a special revelation is the starting-point and the foundation-stone of Christian theology. As science never precedes life, but always follows it and flows from it, so the science of the knowledge of God rests on the reality of his revelation. If God does not exist, or if he has not revealed himself, and hence is unknowable, then all religion is an illusion and all theology a phantasm. But, built on the basis of revelation, theology undertakes a glorious task,—the task of unfolding the science of the revelation of God and of our knowledge concerning him. It engages in this task when seeking to ascertain by means of exegesis the content of revelation, when endeavoring to reduce to unity of thought this ascertained content, when striving to maintain its truth whether by way of aggression or defence, or to commend it to the consciences of men. But side by side with all these branches there is room also for a philosophy of revelation which will trace the idea of revelation, both in its form and in its content, and correlate it with the rest of our knowledge and life.

Theological thought has always felt the need of such a science. Not only Origen and the Gnostics, but also Augustine and the Scholastics, made it their conscious aim both to maintain Christianity in its specific character and to vindicate for it a central place in the conception of the world as a whole. And after Rationalism had set historical Christianity aside as a mass of fables, the desire has reasserted itself in modern theology and philosophy to do justice to this central fact of universal history, and to trace on all sides the, lines of connection established by God himself between revelation and the several spheres of the created universe.2929Of the many works dealing with the subject directly or incidentally the following may be named by way of example : Schelling, Philosophie der Offenbarung. Staudenmaier, Philos. des Christ., I, 1840. O. Willmann, Gesch. des Idealismus, 3 Bde, 1894-1897. James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World. Edinburgh, 1893. John Caird, The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity, 2 vols. Glasgow, 1904. A. M. Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion. London, 1905. A. Campbell Fraser, Philosophy of Theism. Edinburgh, 1899.

It must be acknowledged that the attempt to outline a philosophy of revelation exposes one to losing himself in idle speculation. But, besides appealing to the general principle that the abuse of a thing cannot forbid its proper use, we may remind ourselves that this danger is just now reduced to a minimum, because philosophy itself has become thoroughly convinced of the futility of its aprioristic, constructions, and looks to the empirical reality for the subject matter of its thought. A philosophy which, neglecting the real world, takes its start from reason, will necessarily do violence to the reality of life and resolve nature and history into a network of abstractions. This also applies to the philosophy of the Christian religion. If this be unwilling to take revelation as it offers itself, it will detach it from history and end by retaining nothing but a dry skeleton of abstract ideas. The philosophy of Hegel has supplied a deterring, example of this, as is well illustrated by the Leben Jesu and the Glaubenslehre of Strauss. Speculative rationalism, to borrow a striking word of Hamann, forgot that God is a genius who does not ask whether we find his word rational or irrational. Precisely because Christianity rests on revelation, it has a content which, while not in conflict with reason, yet greatly transcends reason; even a divine wisdom, which appears to the world foolishness. If revelation did not furnish such a content, and comprised nothing but what reason itself could sooner or later have discovered, it would not he worthy of its name. Revelation is a disclosure of mysterion tou theou. What neither nature nor history, neither mind nor heart, neither science nor art can teach us, it makes known to us,—the fixed, unalterable will of God to rescue the world and save sinners, a will at variance with well-nigh the whole appearance of things. This will is the secret of revelation. In creation God manifests the power of his mind; in revelation, which has redemption for its centre, he discloses to us the greatness of his hearts.3030Schelling, loc. cit., p.26. For the conception of revelation which it was impossible to unfold in these lectures reference may be made to the author’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 2d ed., I, pp. 291 ff. The present lectures elaborate in detail the fundamental ideas expressed by the author in an address on Christelijke Wereldbeschouwing, 1904.

The philosophy of revelation, just like that of history, art, and the rest, must take its start from its object, from revelation. Even its idea cannot be construed apriori. There is but one alternative: either there is no revelation, and then all speculation is idle; or else there comes to us out of history such a revelation, shining by its own light; and then it tells us, not only what its content is, but also how it conies into existence. The philosophy of revelation does not so much make this fit in with its system as rather so broadens itself that it can embrace revelation too in itself. And doing this, it brings to light the divine wisdom which lies concealed in it. For though the cross of Christ is to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness, it is in itself the power of God and the wisdom of God. No philosophy of revelation, any more than any other philosophy, whether of religion or art, of morals or law, shall ever be able to exhaust its subject, or thoroughly to master its material. All knowledge here on earth remains partial; it walks by faith and attains not to sight. But nevertheless it lives and works in the assurance that the ground of all things is not blind will or incalculable accident, but mind, intelligence, wisdom.

In the next place this philosophy of revelation seeks to correlate the wisdom which it finds in revelation with that which is furnished by the world at large. In former times Christian theology drew the distinction between special and general revelation. But it never wholly thought through this distinction, nor fully made clear its rich significance for the whole of human life. When modem science arose and claimed to have found a key to the solution of all mysteries in the principle of evolution, the attempt was made to withdraw successively nature, history, man, and his entire psychical life, from the control of the existence, the inworking, the revelation of God. Not a few theologians have yielded to this trend and with more or less hesitation abandoned the, entire world to modern science, provided only somewhere, in the Person of Christ, or in the inner soul of man, a place might be reserved for divine revelation. Such a retreat, however, betrays weakness and is in direct opposition to the idea of special revelation. Revelation, while having its centre in the Person of Christ in its periphery extends to the uttermost ends of creation. It does not stand isolated in nature and history, does not resemble an island in the ocean, nor a drop of oil upon water. With the whole of nature, with the whole of history, with the whole of humanity, with the family and society, with science and art it is intimately connected.

The world itself rests on revelation; revelation is the presupposition, the foundation, the secret of all that exists in all its forms. The deeper science pushes its investigations, the more clearly will it discover that revelation underlies all created being. In every moment of time beats the pulse of eternity; every point in space is filled with the omnipresence of God; the finite is supported by the infinite, all becoming is rooted in being. Together with all created things, that special revelation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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