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Sin and Atonement

WE have already met that strange and profound mental reaction to the numinous which we proposed to call creature feeling or creature-consciousness, with its concomitant feelings of abasement and prostration and of the diminution of the self into nothingness ; bearing always in mind that these expres sions do not hit with precision, but merely hint at what is really meant, 11   Cf. Hugo of St. Victor s words : Sumpta sunt vocabula, ut intellegi aliquatenus posset quod comprehend! non poterat . ( These words were chosen, that that which could not be comprehended might yet in some measure be understood. ) inasmuch as this diminution of the self , &c., is something very different from the littleness, weakness, or dependence of which we may become aware under other conditions than that of numinous feeling. And we had to notice that this experience marks a definite depreciation or disvaluation of the self in respect, so to speak, of its reality and very existence. We have now to put alongside of this another sort of self-disvaluation, which has long been a matter of common observation, and only needs to be suggested in order to be recognized. I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips. Depart from me^ for I am a sinful man, O Lord. So say respectively Isaiah and Peter, when the numinous reality encounters them as a present fact of consciousness. In both cases this self depreciating feeling-response is marked by an immediate, almost instinctive, spontaneity. It is not based on delibera tion, nor does it follow any rule, but breaks, as it were, palpitant from the soul like a direct reflex movement at the stimulation of the numinous. It does not spring from



the consciousness of some committed transgression, but rather is an immediate datum given with the feeling of the nutnen : it proceeds to disvalue together with the self the tribe to which the person belongs, and indeed, together with that, all existence in general. Now it is to-day pretty generally agreed that, all this being the case, these outbursts of feeling are not simply, and probably at first not at all, moral deprecia tions, but belong to a quite special category of valuation and appraisement. The feeling is beyond question not that of the transgression of the moral law, however evident it may be that such a transgression, where it has occurred, will involve it as a consequence : it is the feeling of absolute * profaueness .

But what is this 1 Again something which the natural man cannot, as such, know or even imagine. He, only, who is in the Spirit knows and feels what this profaneness is ; but to such an one it comes with piercing acuteness, and is accom panied by the most uncompromising judgement of self-deprecia tion, a judgement passed, not upon his character, because of individual profane actions of his, but upon his own very existence as creature before that which is supreme above all creatures. And at the same moment he passes upon the liumcn a judgement of appreciation of a unique kind by the ^Cfttegorv diametrically contrary to the profane , the category hoTpjwinch~is proper to the numen alone, but to it in an aUsoIute degree ; he says : Tu solus sanctus . This sanctus is not merely perfect or beautiful or sublime or good , though, being like these concepts also a value, objective and ultimate, it has a definite, perceptible analogy with them. It is the positive numinous value or worth, and to it corre sponds on the side of the creature a numinous disvalue or 1 unworth .

In every highly-developed religion the appreciation of moral obligation and duty, ranking as a claim of the deity upon man, has been developed side by side with the religious feeling itself. None the less a profoundly humble and heartfelt recognition of the holy may occur in particular experiences without being always or definitely charged or infused with the Hense of moral demands. The holy will then be recognized as



that which commands our respect, as that whose real value is to be acknowledged inwardly. It is not that the awe of holiness is itself simply fear in face of what is absolutely overpower ing, before which there is no alternative to blind, awe-struck obedience. Tu solus sanctus is rather a paean of praise, which, so far from being merely a faltering confession of the divine supremacy, recognizes and extols a value, precious beyond all conceiving. The object of such praise is not simply absolute Might, making its claims and compelling their fulfilment, but a might that has at the same time the supremest right to make the highest claim to service, and receives praise because it is in an absolute sense worthy to be praised. Thou art worthy to ^receive praise and honour and power (Rev. iv. 11).

When once it has been grasped that qdddsh or sanctus is not | originally a moral category at all, the most obvious rendering L of the words is transcendent ( supramundane , uberweltlich). The one-sided character of this rendering to which we had to take exception has been supplemented by the more detailed exposition of the numinous and its implications. But its most essential defect remains to be noted : transcendent is a purely ontological attribute and not an attribute of value ; it denotes a character that can, if need be, abash us, but cannot inspire us with respect. It might once again, therefore, be an advantage to introduce another term to underline this side of the numinous, and the words augustus and o-e/^oy suggest themselves for the purpose. Augustus , august , no less than o-e/zj/6?, is really appropriate only to numinous objects to rulers only as offspring or descendants of gods. Then, while <j/3ao-r6? indicates the being of the numen, creyui/o? or augustus would refer rather to its supreme worth or value, its illustriousness. There will, then, in fact be two values to dis tinguish in the numen ; its fascination (fascinans) will be that element in it whereby it is of subjective value ( = beatitude) to man; but it is august (augustum) in so far as it is recognized as possessing in itself objective value that claims our homage.

Mere unlawfulness only becomes sin , impiety , sacri lege , when the character of numinous unworthiness or disvalue goes on to be transferred to and centred in moral



delinquency. And only when the mind feels it as sin does the trans<a*ession of law become a matter of such dreadful


gravity for the conscience, a catastrophe that leads it to despair of its own power. The meaning of * sin is not under stood by the natural , nor even by the merely moral, man ; and the theory of certain dogmatists, that the demand of morality as such urged man on to an inner collapse and then obliged him to look round for some deliverance, is palpably incorrect. There are serious-minded men of sincere moral endeavour who cannot understand what such a deliverance or redemption may be, and dismiss it with a shrug of the shoulders. They are aware that they are erring and imperfectmen, but they know and put into practice the methods of selfdiscipline, and so labour onward upon their way with sturdy resolution. The morally robust older Rationalism was lacking neither in a sincere and respectful recognition of the moral law nor in honest endeavour to conform to it. It knew well and sternly condemned what was wrong , and the aim of its exhortations and instruction was that men should realize better and take more in earnest the facts of moral ri<rht and wron<r.

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But no downfall or collapse and no need of redemption came within its scheme, because the objection brought against it by its opponents was in fact just ; Rationalism lacked under standing of what sin is. 11   Cf. the testimony of Theodore Parker certainly a man of far from crude mental development -as to his own experience, given by W.James, Varieties, p. 81 : Mere morality is not the soil from which grows either the need of redemption and deliverance or the need for that other unique good which is likewise

They (HC. the heathen of classical antiquity) were conscious of wrath, of cruelty, avarice, drunkenness, lust, sloth, cowardice, and other actual vices, and struggled and got rid of the deformities; but they were not conscious of " enmity against God " and didn t sit down and whine and groun against non-exihtt-nt evil. I have done wrong things enough in my life, and do them now: I miss the mark, draw bow, and try again. Hut ... 11   Cf. the testimony of Theodore Parker certainly a man of far from crude mental development -as to his own experience, given by W.James, Varieties, p. 81 : know there IB much "health in me"; and in my body, even now, there dwelk-th many a good thing, spite of consumption aud Saint Paul.

If there is nothing crude about such a statement, it is at any rate ntpttjicial. The depths of the non-rational consciousness must be stirred to Cud with Anselm quanti ponderiu bit peccatum .



altogether and specifically numinous in character, covering , and atonement . There would perhaps be less disputing as to the warrant and value of these latter in Christian doctrine if dogmatic theology itself had not transferred them from their mystical sphere into that of rational ethics and attenuated them into moral concepts. They were thus taken from a sphere where they have an authentic and necessary place to one where their validity is most disputable.

We meet the moment of covering in specially clear form in the religion of Yahweh, in its rites and the emotion they excite ; but it is contained also, though more obscurely, in many other religions. It comprises, first, a manifestation of the numinous awe, viz. the feeling that the profane creature can not forthwith approach the numen, but has need of a covering or shield against the opyij of the numen. Such a covering is then a consecration , i.e. a procedure that renders the approacher himself numinous , frees him from his profane being and fits him for intercourse with the numen. The means of consecration , however means of grace in the proper sense are derived from, or conferred and appointed by, the numen itself, which bestows something of its own quality to make man capable of communion with it. And this act is something very different from the annulment of mistrust , the phrase in which Ritschl seeks to rationalize these relations between God and man.

c Atonement , following our view, is a sheltering or cover ing , but a profounder form of it. It springs directly from the idea of numinous value or worth and numinous disvalue or unworth as soon as these have been developed. Mere awe, mere need of shelter from the tremendum , has here been elevated to the feeling that man in his profaneness is not worthy to stand in the presence of the holy one, and that his own entire personal unworthiness might defile even holiness itself. This is obviously the case in the vision of the call of Isaiah ; and the same note recurs, less emphatically but quite unmistakably, in the story of the centurion of Capernaum (St. Luke vii. 1-10), and his words : I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof . Here we have both the light thrill of awe before the



Here, then, comes in the felt necessity and longing for atonement , and all the more strongly when the close presence of the nuinen, intercourse with it, and enduring possession of it, becomes an object of craving, is even desired as the sumwum bonum. It amounts to a longing to transcend this sundering un worthiness, given with the self s existence as creature and profane natural being. It is an element in the religious con sciousness, which, so far from vanishing in the measure in which religion is deepened and heightened, grows on the contrary continually stronger and more marked. Belonging, as it does, wholly to the non-rational side of religion, it may remain latent while, in the course of religious evolution, the rational side at first unfolds and assumes vigorous and definite form ; it may retire for a time behind other elements and apparently die away, but only to return more powerfully and insistently than before. And again it may grow to be the sole, one-sided, exclusive interest, a cry that drowns all other notes, so that the religious consciousness is distorted and disfigured ; as may readily happen where through long periods of time the rational aspects of religion have been fostered unduly and at the cost of the non-rational.

The special character of this consciousness of need for atonement may perhaps be brought home more clearly by an analogy from our natural emotional life ; but at the same time it is important that the religious feeling we are con sidering should itself be kept distinct from its analogue, as the two are frequently confounded. The analogy is with the feeling arising from moral transgression. There, too, we practise a kind of self-depreciation which is clear and familiar and perfectly intelligible to us, when we esteem ourselves guilty of a bad action and the action itself as morally evil. The evil of the action weighs upon us and deprives us of our self-respect. We accuse ourselves and remome sets in. But alongside this self -depreciation stands a second one, which



while it may have reference to the same action as the other yet avails itself of definitely different categories. The same perverse action that before weighed upon us now pollutes us ; we do not accuse ourselves, we are defiled in our own eyes. And the characteristic form of emotional reaction is no longer remorse but loathing. The man feels a need, to express which he has recourse to images of washing and cleansing. The two kinds of self-depreciation proceed on parallel lines and may relate to the same action ; but none the less it is obvious that they are, inwardly and in their essence, determinately different. Now the second of them has a plain analogy with the need for atonement , and so can fairly be drawn upon for its elucidation ; while at the same time it is yet nothing more than an analogy from another sphere, viz. that of morality.

No religion has brought the mystery of the need for atonement or expiation to so complete, so profound, or so powerful expression as Christianity. And in this, too, it shows its superiority over others. It is a more perfect religion and more perfectly religion than they, in so far as what is potential in religion in general becomes in Christianity a pure actuality. And the distrust and suspicion which so widely obtains with regard to this mystery is only to be explained from the general custom for which our theoretical cult of homiletics, liturgy, and catechism is largely responsible of taking into account only the rational side of religion. Yet this atonement mystery is a moment which no Christian teaching that purports to represent the religious experience of the Christian and biblical tradition can afford to surrender. The teacher will have to make explicit, by an analysis of the Christian religious experience, how the very numen , by imparting itself to the worshipper, becomes itself the means of atonement . And in this regard it does not matter so very much what the decisions of the commentators are as to what, if anything, Paul or Peter wrote on the sub ject of expiation and atonement, or whether, indeed, there is any scriptural authority for the thing at all. Were there in scripture no word written about it, it might still



be written to-day from our own experience. But it would indeed be extraordinary if it had not long ago been written of. For the God of the New Testament is not less holy than the God of the Old Testament, but more holy. The interval between the creature and Him is not diminished but made absolute ; the unworthiness of the profane in contrast to Him is not extenuated but enhanced. That God none the less admits access to Himself and intimacy with Himself is not a mere matter of course ; it is a grace beyond our power to apprehend, a prodigious paradox. To take this paradox out of Christianity is to make it shallow and superficial beyond recognition. But if this is so, the intuitions concerning, and the need felt for, Covering and Atonement result imme


diately. And the divinely appointed means of God s selfrevelation, where experienced and appraised as such the Word , the Spirit , the Person of Christ , become that to which the man flees , in which he finds refuge, and in which he locks himself, in order that, consecrated and cleansed of his profaneness thereby, he may come into the presence of Holiness itself.

That these ideas are viewed with a certain distrust may be traced to two causes. One is, that what is a specifically religious element is distortingly moralized. If we start from mere morality and in relation to a God understood as being the personification of the moral order endowed with love, then all these things are wholly inapplicable and a source of genuine difficulty. But we are concerned with religious (not merely moral) intuitions, and it is impossible to dispute how right or wrong they are with a man whose interest is wholly in morality and not in religion, and who is therefore quite incapable of appreciating them. Whoever, on the other hand, penetrates to the unique centre of the religious experience, so that it starts awake in his own consciousness, finds that the truth of these intuitions is experienced directly, as soon as he penetrates into their depths.

The other ground of distrust is that usually in our theo logical systems an attempt is made to develop conceptual theories of these ideas, which are all pure intuitions, emotional



rather than conceptual in character. They are thus made objects of speculation, and the final outcome is the quasi mathematical Doctrine of Imputation and its drastic ascrip tion to the credit of the sinner of the merit of Christ, not to mention the learned inquiry whether this transaction involves an analytic or a { synthetic judgement of God.

Let us look back once more from the point we have reached over the course our inquiry has so far taken. As the sub title of this book suggests, we were to investigate the non rational element in the idea of the divine. The words non rational and irrational are to-day used almost at random. The non-rational is sought over the most widely different regions, and writers generally shirk the trouble of putting down precisely what they intend by the term, giving it often the most multifarious meanings or applying it with such vague generality that it admits of the most diverse interpretations. Pure fact in contrast to law, the empirical in contrast to reason, the contingent in contrast to the necessary, the psycho logical in contrast to transcendental fact, that which is known a posteriori in contrast to that which is determinable a priori ; power, will, and arbitrary choice in contrast to reason, know ledge, and determination by value ; impulse, instinct, and the obscure forces of the subconscious in contrast to insight, reflection, and intelligible plan ; mystical depths and stirrings in the soul, surmise, presentiment, intuition, prophecy, and finally the f occult powders also ; or, in general, the uneasy stress and universal fermentation of the time, with its groping after the thing never yet heard or seen in poetry or the plastic arts all these and more may claim the names non rational , irrational , and according to circumstances are extolled or condemned as modern irrationalism . Whoever makes use of the word non-rational to-day ought to say what he actually means by it. This we did in our intro ductory chapter. We began with the rational in the idea of God and the divine, meaning by the term that in it which is clearly to be grasped by our power of conceiving, and enters the domain of familiar and definable conceptions. We went on to



maintain that beneath this sphere of clarity and lucidity lies a hidden depth, inaccessible to our conceptual thought, which we in so far call the non-rational*.

The meaning of the two contrasted terms may be made plainer by an illustration. A deep joy may fill our minds without any clear realization upon our part of its source and the object to which it refers, though some such objective reference there must always be. But as attention is directed to it the obscure object becomes clearly identified in precise conceptual terms. Such an object cannot, then, be called, in our sense of the word, non-rational . But it is quite otherwise with religious bliss and its essentially numinous aspect, the fascinans . Not the most concentrated attention can elucidate the object to which this state of mind refers, bringing it out of the impenetrable obscurity of feeling into the domain of the conceptual understanding. It remains purely a felt experience, only to be indicated symbolically by ideo grams . That is what we mean by saying, it is non-rational.

And the same is true of all the moments of the numinous experience. The consciousness of a wholly other evades precise formulation in words, and we have to employ symbolic phrases which seem sometimes sheer paradox, that is, irrational not merely non-rational in import. So with religious awe and reverence. In ordinary fear and in moral reverence I can indicate in conceptual terms what it is that I fear or revere ; in jury, e. g. or ruin in the one case, heroism or strength of character in the other. But the object of religious awe or reverence the tremendum and augustum, cannot be fully determined conceptually : it is non-rational, as is the beauty of a musical composition, which no less eludes complete conceptual analysis.

Confronted by the fact of the non-rational thus interpreted we cannot be satisfied with a mere bare statement, which would open the door to all the vague and arbitrary phraseology of an emotionalist irrationalism. We are bound to try, by means of the most precise and unambiguous symbolic and figurative terms that we can find, to discriminate the different elements of the experience so far as we can in a way that can claim general validity.


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