|« Prev||III. The Peculiar Nature of Christianity||Next »|
III. THE PECULIAR NATURE OF CHRISTIANITY
It is the first duty of the apologist to discover and define the peculiar essence of that faith which he defends. The difficulty of doing this is very great in the case of Christianity because the Christian communion is split up into so many relatively separate communions. The apologist has to indicate not only the essence of Christianity in general but also that of the particular communion to which he adheres. This difficulty is accentuated by the variant forms of single doctrines, the diverse attitudes with which they are approached, and the many controversies which await settlement--to say nothing of the present wretched state of the science of apologetics. On this account we must content ourselves at present with the rather meager assumptions which follow.
All Christians are agreed on two points: (1) in referring the origin of their communion to Jesus of Nazareth; (2) in the description of his work as redemption, though the term is not used by all, nor 135always occurs in the same sense. Its implications are two: passively, a transition out of a bad state into a better; actively, deliverance supplied by another. Restoration to a higher state preceding the bad is not necessarily involved in it. Since, in the Christian religion, piety is of a teleological character, this bad state is to be viewed as one in which the higher self-consciousness, the God-consciousness, is so repressed that it is difficult to unite it with the determinate sensuous experiences of life. We may call it godlessness or god-forgetfulness--not a condition in which there is an entire loss of God-consciousness, for the lack of something lying entirely outside the nature could not be felt as a want, but a state in which the religious feeling is under bondage. The two states are not thus absolutely antithetical; the opposition is one of degree. In the bad state the sensuous consciousness dominates the God-consciousness; by redemption the relation is reversed.
The penances and purifications found in all religious communions are expressions of a universal consciousness of this need of redemption, but Christianity is distinct from all other religions by regarding all its religious impulses as dependent upon the redemption effected by Jesus of Nazareth, and also in that this redemption is considered as perfected and complete. The degree in which these two elements are felt by different Christians of course varies, but neither is ever entirely wanting. Other religions express the need of redemption; Christianity presents its actualization; 136 in others the redemption is derivative and dependent on doctrines or forms; in Christianity redemption is the central point and rests on the person of its Founder. The communication and extension of his redemptive activity is the matter of supreme concern. In this relation between the members of the Christian communion and its founder lies the pre eminent distinction of Christianity. In Judaism, for example, and in Mohammedanism, the person of the founder bears no necessary relation to the communion; another might have founded it as well; he himself stood in need of the deliverance he brought. In these respects Christ stands distinct from all others. From this two conclusions follow: (1) Christianity is essentially different from all other religions and cannot be a mere perfecting of that which lay potentially in them; (2) Christianity can never progress beyond Christ.
Christianity stands in a special historical connection with Judaism, for Christ was of the Jewish race, and indeed it seems that a universal Redeemer could not have arisen except from a monotheistic people. But its relation to Judaism and heathenism were much more alike than is commonly held. For in the time of Christ Judaism had become permeated with many non-Jewish elements and many of the messianic promises had been given up or misunderstood; while, on the other hand, both Greeks and Romans had monotheistic leanings and expectations similar to the Jewish messianic hope. The demands which Christianity made on 137both were such that the cost of becoming a Christian was nearly equal in the two cases. But the leap from heathenism to Christianity seemed greater than from Judaism because monotheism already was universal among the Jews, whereas heathens had to receive it directly from Christianity without passing through Judaism. Christianity was no transformation of Juda ism or a renewing propagation of it. Christ is no more a development of Judaism than of heathen philosophy, for the self-consciousness underlying Christianity is different. Christianity is indeed a fulfilment of Old Testament promises, not, however, in regard to the self-consciousness of those to whom the promises came, but in regard to the divine counsel. It cannot be admitted that there is an identity between Christianity and either the earlier or the later Judaism, nor that Judaism without the introduction of a new element could develop by a natural progression into Christianity, nor again that Christ himself lay in this progression in such a way that the life of new communion did not begin with him.
The appearing of the Redeemer was not a something absolutely supernatural. While Christ cannot be considered as a product of the circumstances and spiritual environment in which he appeared, yet he was conditioned by them. His appearance must have been in accordance with the laws of human nature in its higher meaning. That is, the advent of such a life as his may be regarded as the work of a power of development inherent in human nature from the first, 138 and externalizing itself in certain men at certain points of time, and thence spreading out, according to laws divinely ordered but, perhaps, concealed from us. Hence the appearance from time to time of religious geniuses prior to Christ. But these earlier revelations are worthy of the name only because they are destined to lose themselves in him who is to give gradually a higher life to the entire race. The incarnation in this sense is something natural. Since Christ was a man, in human nature there must be, in the original purpose of God, the capacity for the implanting of the divine in it. That is, the implanting of the divine in human nature is an eternal act. Otherwise the incarnation in Jesus would be an arbitrary act of God.
Neither was the appearing of the Redeemer some thing absolutely super-rational. If the life-energies of Christ by which he wrought the redemption could be explained from the common reason dwelling in all men, then any other could work the redemption as well as he. That the super-rational is to be posited in the Redeemer and in the redeemed, and consequently in the whole range of the operations of Christianity, has been acknowledged almost universally by its confessors. Yet the redemption is dependent upon reason in that the state of the heart which Christ conveys to men in it could not be bestowed upon an irrational soul. If there were a total separation between the work of the Holy Spirit and the highest elevation of human reason, a consciousness of the need of redemption could never rise and never be satisfied.139
NOTE.--The doctrinal presentation of redemption is an entirely rational procedure, and doctrines are not to be divided into rational and super-rational, but they are all to constitute together a unitary system. In one reference all Christian doctrines are above reason in the inner experience to which they refer hence a proper appreciation of Christian doctrine cannot result from a purely scientific process. But in another reference all Christian doctrines are rational, in that all doctrinal constructions must follow the same laws of thought as propositions dealing with other matters. A distinction between rational theology and a theology which is above reason is inadmissible.
Entrance into the Christian communion is solely, therefore, through faith in Christ as Redeemer. The expression “faith in Christ” like “faith in God” means the reference of our religious condition as effect to Christ as cause. Like the feeling of absolute dependence, it is an inner certainty which accompanies a condition of the higher self-consciousness. That condition is one of freedom from the need of redemption and it begets in the subject an effort to draw others into the same inner experience, an effort to extend the communion of faith by an exposition of the religious life in which Christ’s own activity is present. That is to say, the representation of Christ in the Christian communion of faith is Christ’s own self-presentation. The Christian message is, thus, at bottom, a testimony to an inner experience which is referred to the activity of Christ himself, because in that presentation of his historical career and his character which the testimony involves, the impression made on the minds of those who believe 140is the same as Christ himself made on his contemporaries. Thus faith and the participation in the Christian communion from which proceeds the testimony which awakens faith are inseparable. This faith is a certainty, equal to that which accompanies objective perception, that in the Christian communion founded by Christ the religious feeling is in the position of control, that through the operation of Christ on men the feeling of absolute dependence is established in their consciousness and dominates their experience in the world. Such certainty is not to be confounded with objective certainty based on demonstration. All so-called demonstrations of the need of redemption and of Christ’s ability to effect it, whether by reference to miracles, prophetic promises, or other “evidences,” presuppose the very thing they seek to prove. Faith does not result from such demonstrations, but it is the outcome, on the one hand, of an awakening to a more perfect self-consciousness and, on the other hand, of the reception of the total impression of his person (§§ 11-14).
|« Prev||III. The Peculiar Nature of Christianity||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version