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IV. THE RELATION OF DOGMATICS TO CHRISTIAN PIETY

Like all other modifications of the self-consciousness, pious excitations have a tendency toward external expression, as in look, movement, tone, gesture. This is the source of systems of sacred signs and symbolic actions. It is inevitable that in the higher stages of mental development there should be an attempt to apprehend religious experiences in the form of idea 141and to retain them in the forms of thought. The connection and combination of these ideas in such a manner as to express the religious consciousness in a definite way and thus to give range to its circulation constitutes a religious doctrine, a declaration of faith. Christianity throughout the whole course of its progress from the Redeemer’s personal teaching to the present has been characterized by this method of propagation, that is, it has been spread abroad by preaching. Every statement of Christian doctrine is a part of the preaching, for it aims at communicating the inner certainty of blessedness bestowed by the Redeemer. The form of the preaching is threefold--poetical, oratorical, and didactic. The last is of special importance when the other two forms of utterance fall into apparent contradictions because of their abundant use of figures. In those communions, particularly, which possess a high degree of culture and scientific knowledge, there is a felt necessity of connecting religious knowledge organically with the whole body of knowledge; there is a need of dogmatics.

Dogmatics, then, arises primarily out of the demands of the religious consciousness. As to subject-matter, it is a description of subjective states of mind and it claims no validity beyond that of the inner certainty which is the Christian’s possession. It is a necessary expression of the Christian consciousness, for it appears in obedience to the impulse of religion universally to exhibit itself and, in the case of Christianity particularly, to the impulse to extend the redeeming 142 activity of Christ. On its own account the Christian communion requires a clear expression of its own peculiar possession; without such a description of the common faith piety in its membership could not reach the highest development nor could it be propagated effectively in the world.

Tributary to the religious interest there is also a scientific interest to be satisfied. The human mind craves for unity, coherence, system, and the religious consciousness itself must remain unsatisfied until it has perceived the relation which faith bears to the other activities of the mind. A truly dogmatical statement must serve both of these interests, and its ecclesiastical worth is determined by its perfect correspondence with both. The same interests involve the combination of single dogmatical utterances into an interrelated and integrated whole, so that every potency of the religious consciousness in its full range may find an adequate expression.

Dogmatics stands in a derivative relation to the Christian religious experience and not the reverse. As to its content it is not made up of a series or system of propositions unfolded from some objective truth obtained by a speculative process, nor is it a combination of doctrines supernaturally revealed; because in neither of these cases would Christian dogmatics stand in any necessary relation to Christian piety, nor would it possess any necessary validity for the Christian communion. Besides, since in both its origin would lie in a source external to the Christian consciousness as 143such, dogmatics would be dependent for its substance upon the products of philosophy and historical criticism and be subject to all the changes and uncertainties which pertain to these sciences. A dogmatic which consisted of such supposedly objective truths could not minister to religious needs.

Christian piety expresses itself in the world in a multiplicity of ways, varying with the conditions of human progress in various places and ages. Its nature will, accordingly, be understood with growing perfection, as its expression in the many forms of Christian activity becomes ever more complete. Thus while dogmatics may gather its statement of doctrines from all this ever-varying and ever-growing material, it must itself ever remain incomplete, ever capable of fuller and more accurate expression, and ever in need of new scientific treatment. Dogmatic theology may be defined as “the science of the combination of the doctrines which are valid in a Christian church-communion at a given time.” From this, three conclusions may be drawn: (1) No statement of doctrines can be final but Christian dogmatics must be ever progressive; (2) Yet there is a standard for the testing of dogmatical expression the fundamental Christian self-consciousness; (3) The teacher of dogmatics must be in personal possession of the definite Christian consciousness pervading a Christian Church-communion (§§ 15-19).

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