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NOTE L.—P. 64.
THE RITSCHLIAN DOCTRINE OF REVELATION.
The Ritschlian theologians found everything on positive Revelation. This is their distinctive position, and their merit as a protest against a one-sided intellectualism and idealism. They will not allow even of the possibility of any knowledge of God outside the Revelation of His grace in Jesus Christ.887887See this position slightly modified in the second edition of Herrmann’s Verkehr, p. 49. Herrmann’s general views on Revelation are stated in his Giessen Lecture on Der Begriff der Offenbarung (1887). Kaftan discusses the subject in his Das Wesen, etc., pp. 171–201. Natural theology and theoretic proofs for the existence of God are tabooed by them. A few remarks maybe made here on this theory byway of further explanation and criticism.
I. On the theory itself:—
1. As regards the nature of this Revelation, the Ritschlians are agreed that it comes to us solely through the self-presentation of Christ in His historical manifestation. He is the only vehicle of Revelation recognised by them. It is not a Revelation through doctrine, but through the felt presence of God in Christ, and through the living and acting in which Christ exemplifies to us the right relation of sonship to God, and makes manifest the character and purposes of God, as these bear on our salvation and well-being.
2. As regards the content of this Revelation, its central point is found in the design of God to found a kingdom of God on the earth, and to gather men into it, and induce them to make its ends their own, through the right knowledge of His character, and their acceptance of the right relation of sonship to Him. All Christ’s work—His doing and dying—has this for its aim. His unity with God in His world-purpose is a feature in His Divinity; the significance of His death is, that it guarantees to us supremely the reality of that religious relation to God into which He invites us in His Gospel.888888Kaftan, however, views the kingdom of God as belonging. not to this world, but the next.406
3. As regards the proof of this Revelation, the Ritschlians are obviously in a difficulty, since proof means that a thing is shown to be objectively true (apart from our subjective thoughts about it), while yet it is a cardinal principle with them that religion moves only in the sphere of value-judgments, i.e. judgments on the relation of things to our states of pleasure and pain. They cannot, however, refuse the demand for proof that this which they present as Revelation from God is really such, and not a subjective illusion of our own minds. And here—
First, and negatively, they reject, as inappropriate to religion, all merely historical evidence, or proof from objective facts, as miracles, or the resurrection of Christ (which it is doubtful if most of them accept as objective fact).
Second, and positively, the proof alleged is of two kinds:—
(l) Immediate—consisting of the irresistible impression (Eindruck) which Christ makes on the soul historically confronted with Him, compelling the acknowledgment that God is with Him. This is the theme on which the changes are incessantly rung by Professor Herrmann in his recent writings.
(2) Scientific—consisting in showing the correspondence which exists between Christianity and the religious needs of man, as these may be deduced from the consideration of his nature and history; otherwise, the agreement of Christianity with the practical postulates of religion. This is the sort of proof which Ritschl hints at when he says: “Its representation in theology will, therefore, come to a conclusion in the proof that the Christian ideal of life, and no other, altogether satisfies the claims of the human spirit to a knowledge of things”; i.e. yields a practically satisfying view of the world (Recht. und Ver. iii. p. 25, 3rd ed.); and which is undertaken in detail by Kaftan in his Wahrheit d. Christ. Religion (though on different fundamental lines from Ritschl’s).
II. On this view I would offer the following brief criticisms:—
1. It is to be observed that this basing of everything by the
Ritschlians on positive Revelation does not harmonise well with the premises of the school.
(l) It does not consist well with their fundamental position that religion moves solely in the sphere of value-judgments. For if we really get out to objective Revelation, we have clearly broken through this magic circle of value-judgments, and are in the domain of judgments of fact and truth. Or is our judgment that this is a Divine Revelation itself also only a value-judgment?
(2) The theory of Revelation does not consist well with the Ritschlian theory of knowledge. For Ritschl is thoroughly at one with Kant in the view that the theoretic reason can give us no knowledge of God, or proof of His existence. We are thus driven back on practical postulates, or “Vorstellungen,” beyond which, as it would seem, even Revelation cannot raise us, for Revelation cannot take us outside the essential limitations of our faculties.
2. It is to be observed, further, that this theory has no proper answer to give to the question of the nature of Revelation. With its 407general avoidance of the speculative, it gives us no distinct specification of what precisely this term means, or how much it is supposed to cover. Enough that we receive from Christ the impression that—in some undefined sense—God is with Him, and in Him is drawing near to us; this is to us (subjectively) the Revelation, and nothing else is of importance. Yet it is very obvious that multitudes of questions may arise just at this point as to the character, degree, purity, limits, reliableness, and authority of this Revelation, which Ritschlianism gives us no help to answer. We cannot but ask, e.g., respecting a Revelation mediated to us in this way through the consciousness of another human being—How did it originate? What did Revelation mean to Him, the original recipient? Was it a really supernatural act? or partly supernatural and partly natural, with a correspondingly mixed result? How is such a Revelation even possible, since, according to another part of the theory, there is no direct (mystical) communication between the soul and God?889889Cf. Herrmann’s Verkehr des Christen mit Gott. Is there not large room left here, which the Ritschlian (e.g. Wendt) are not slow to avail themselves of, for distinction and criticism even in the contents of Christ’s own consciousness and utterances? Are we not in danger of coming hack to the view that in the last analysis Christ’s religious conceptions do not differ in origin or character from those of any other great religious genius?
3. It is again to be observed that the character of this system compels it to limit very greatly the contents of the Revelation. Ritschlianism is, as said, essentially a system of religious positivism. It starts with data of experience,—the direct impression made on us by Christ, and the experimental knowledge we have of His power to give us deliverance and freedom,—and beyond this it declines to go. All in the Christian system which it regards as transcendental or metaphysical—however guaranteed by words of Christ or His Apostles—it refuses to inquire into, or sets aside as of no importance to faith. The pre-existence of Christ, e.g., His supernatural birth, His heavenly reign, the constitution of His Person, the Trinity of the Godhead, the eschatological doctrines, are thus swept aside. It has no doctrine of objective Atonement, but only one of subjective reconciliation. Other great doctrines of Scripture are either absent, or have a large part of their meaning taken from them.
4. Finally, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, while the members of this school profess to derive their theology from positive Revelation, what really governs their construction is, not the objective Revelation, but their particular theories of religion, and their ideas of what is necessary for the realisation of man’s practical ends. Every one of the members of this school has his theory of religion independently determined (the theories, however, widely differing from each other), and agreement with this theory is not only employed for the proof of the Revelation, but is also the standard, practically, of what is accepted or rejected in its contents. The Revelation, in other words, does not come with authority, but rather 408derives it’s authority from its agreement with the practical postulates, which are previously established on quite other grounds. This is true of all the leading members of the party—Ritschl. Herrmann, Kaftan, etc. So far as relates to the proof of Revelation, it is not easy to avoid the appearance of moving in a circle. E.g., in Kaftan’s Wahrheit, while the test of the truth of the Revelation is its agreement with the practical postulates above referred to, these in turn are supposed to he confirmed by the fact of the Revelation, and thus proved to he no subjective illusion. I would not press this too far, since the argument from agreement with rational and moral postulates is in itself a sound one, and the only objection that can be raised is to the particular way of stating it, and the exclusive use made of it.890890In Kant’s hands, as is well known, this method was employed to eviscerate the gospel of all peculiar supernatural content, and to reduce it to a nucleus of moral notions.409
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