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As a theological science ethics forms a part of systematic theology, in which it stands in closest connection with dogmatics, and has dogmatics as its immediate presupposition. The two sciences belong together in organic unity, and cannot be entirely separated from each other. Dogmatics presents the essence, the contents, and the object of the religious consciousness; ethics presents this consciousness as a power determining the human will. Dogmatics embraces the good as reality, that is, as it, through God, is, or becomes, or, by the fault of moral creatures, is 22not; ethics, on the contrary, embraces this good as a task for the free, and hence moral, activity of man; that is, as, on the basis of the religious consciousness, it should become in reality. Dogmatics presents reality, in the sphere of the divine and religious, for man, as an object of the religious consciousness; on the contrary, ethics presents the religions consciousness as a power creating a spiritual reality; that is, it presents a reality as going out from man as a religions subject. Hence dogmatics bears predominantly an objective character—relates to knowledge; and ethics predominantly a subjective character—relates to willing.
Theoretical theology—in contradistinction to practical theology, which presents the ecclesiastico-pastoral application of the subject-matter given in theoretical theology—is partly historical and partly systematic. Ethics has indeed a historical foundation, and stands in constant relation to history, but in itself it is no more history than is dogmatics; exegesis and Church history furnish only the material for ethics. The separating of ethics from dogmatics, with which it was formerly, and up to the time of Danaeus and Calixtus, intimately involved, is difficult, and, in fact, not without violence, entirely practicable; both sciences reach over into each other like two intersecting circles, and have, under all circumstances, some territory in common; the general foundations of ethics are based in the corresponding thoughts of dogmatics.
The usual and quite natural statement, that dogmatics shows what we should believe, and ethics what we should do, is only proximatively correct, and is inadequate; for also the moral laws and maxims are an object of faith; and “what we should believe” bears, even in the correct expression itself, the character of a moral requirement. Believing, itself, is of a moral character; ethics cannot confine itself to the mere outward action, but must have to do also with the inward, with the disposition. According to Harless, dogmatics presents the essence of the objective ground of salvation, and of the objective mediation of salvation, whereas ethics presents the subjective realization of the life-goal 23as established by Christ; dogmatics presents the objective salvation-power as determining the Christian; ethics presents the personal life-movement of the Christian toward his highest life-goal; ethics gives answer to the question, What thinkest thou of Christ? dogmatics to the question, What thinkest thou of the right manner of the Christian’s life in the world? This declaration limits the two sciences quite too much: dogmatics must in fact speak also of man and of the order of salvation; and ethics must speak also of the objective law and of sin. According to Schleiermacher’s theological ethics, ethics presents the Christian self-consciousness in its relative motion, while dogmatics presents the same in its relative rest; dogmatics answers the question, What must be, because the religious heart-state is? ethics the question, What must become out of the religious self-consciousness and through the same, because the religious self-consciousness is? This antithesis is not entirely to the point, for, on the one hand, dogmatics treats not merely of what is, but also of what becomes, as, e. g., in the doctrines of regeneration and of eschatology; as, on the other hand, ethics treats not only of what becomes, but necessarily also of what morally is, as well normally as abnormally. Virtue is not a mere becoming, but an ens, as Schleiermacher himself admits; the good when attained, certainly does not for that reason cease to be an object of ethics. The antithesis of motion and rest is in this sphere utterly unapt. Schleiermacher presents the matter also thus: the dogmatical propositions are those which express the relation of man to God as an interest, namely, as, under its manifold modifications, it passes over into conceptions; whereas the ethical propositions express the same thing, but as an inner impetus, ὁρμή, an impulse, which goes out into a cycle of actions. But also this is not quite correct; for also ethics expresses a relation of man to God in conceptions or thoughts, which do not per se include in themselves an inner impetus, as, e. g., in the questions as to the moral essence of man, as to the moral idea per se, and in the entire doctrine of goods.
The difficulty in defining the difference lies less in the general antithesis than rather in those points where both sciences must treat of the same topics. The doctrines of the moral essence of man, of the divine law, of sin, of sanctification, of the Church, belong strictly to dogmatics; but ethics must necessarily treat 24also of all these things, so that it might after all seem advisable, in order to avoid repetitions, to unite both into one science again, as was formerly the case, and as has been done recently by Nitzsch, and in part also by Sartorius. But the separate treatment of ethics rests in fact, aside from weighty practical reasons, upon a wide-reaching inner difference; and those points which fall within the scope of both sciences, are nevertheless treated, in each, from a different stand-point, and in a very different manner. Both of them present a life pf the spirit—of God or of man—but dogmatics views this life as an objective fact, while ethics views it as a task for the free activity of the rational subject; hence dogmatics has essentially an objective and real character, while ethics has a subjective and ideal one. Dogmatics has constantly to do with an object transcending the individual, with God, with Christ, with man in general; ethics has to do primarily always with the individual moral person, and with the totality only in so far as it rests upon the moral action of the individual personality. What dogmatics teaches relates not to me as this single person, but as a human being in general; what ethics teaches concerns me precisely as a person. Dogmatics treats of sin per se, as an objective something and as an historical fact; ethics treats of the same as a personal malady and as guilt. Dogmatics treats of the kingdom of God as an objective organism; ethics treats of the same in so far as the moral subject is an organic member thereof. Dogmatics treats of sanctification as a manifestation-forum of the kingdom of God; ethics treats of the same as a subjective life-manifestation of the person. “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer”—that is dogmatical; “but we ask in this prayer that it come also to us”—this is ethical. Dogmatics sketches the physical chart of the kingdom of God; ethics sketches the ways and dwelling-places therein. The object of dogmatics is absolutely independent of the freedom of the individual subject—is either eternal or an historical fact—is in nowise within the power of man; the object of ethics is, in its reality, absolutely dependent on the free resolution of the subject—is per se a pure idea, the realization of which is a requirement upon the free activity of man.—Dogmatics presents that which is, or was, or will be; ethics presents that which should be or should not be; hence dogmatics presents always an unconditionally-secured result, 25either of an accomplished or of a destined movement; ethics, however, presents a task, the accomplishing of which is conditioned on the free assent of man. The contents of dogmatics relate essentially to knowledge and faith; those of ethics to volition. Dogmatics wills that man accept the truth; ethics wills that he do it. Hence man’s relation to dogmatics is rather passive—womanly; and to ethics rather active—manly. In the sphere of dogmatics there is a revelation of the divine for man; in that of ethics a revelation of the divine through man, who has received this element into himself. In dogmatics the movement of the divine goes out from the divine middle-point toward the created periphery; in ethics, on the contrary, it goes back from the periphery toward God as the middle-point. In dogmatics God is conceived of as the ground, as the point of departure; in ethics as the goal of the life-movement; in dogmatics man’s relation is more epic; in ethics more dramatic. Dogmatics is predominantly ontological and historical; ethics is predominantly teleological. Both sciences treat of man and his activity—dogmatics, however, in so far as man is an object for God; ethics, in so far as God is an aimed-at object for man. Dogmatics is related to ethics, as psychology to pedagogy, as physiology to dietetics, as botany to horticulture, as animal sensation to motion.1212 Comp. Palmer: Moral, 1864, p. 21, sqq.
From all this it is apparent that ethics has dogmatics necessarily as its presupposition—that it is the second and not the first. Ethics is faith as having become a subjective life-power—faith in so far as it is an operative force, The popular instruction in the Scriptures implies, throughout, this relative position of dogmatics and ethics, in that it presents the moral command after the subject-matter of faith, and bases it thereon; thus already in the Mosaic legislation (Exod. xx, 2, sqq.), and thus again in most of the New Testament epistles. (Comp. also Matt. vii, 21, 24, sqq.; John xiii, 17; xv, 1, sqq.; 1 Cor. xiii, 2; Col. i, 4-10; 2 Tim. iii, 14, sqq.; Titus i, 1; James i, 22, sqq.; ii, 14, sqq.; 1 John ii, 4.)
Deviating entirely from this view, Rothe places ethics in a wholly different field from dogmatics. In his view ethics belongs to speculative, and dogmatics to historical, theology; they do not stand along-side of each other, do not run parallel to each 26other, but belong to entirely different forms of theology. The difference of the two sciences lies not in their respective objects, for these objects are in fact essentially the same, but in the manner of their scientific treatment. Dogmatics is the science of dogmas, that is, of the ecclesiastically-authorized articles of faith, and hence has an empirically-given historical object, and is therefore essentially historical, and not at all speculative; speculative theology is, on the contrary, the presupposition of dogmatics. But ethics has nothing whatever to do with ecclesiastical doctrines, but must be treated purely speculatively, and is, as a speculative science, a presupposition of dogmatics. The theology of the evangelical Church has had from the very beginning, in the introduction of moral theology, no intention of creating a second science along-side of dogmatics, but has tended, though without being clearly conscious of it, toward a speculative theology; and this science would necessarily lead out beyond the hitherto-observed ecclesiastical rut—would progressively metamorphose the dogmas.1313 Ethik, i, 38, sqq. All references to Rothe are to the first edition of his Ethik. This view, constituting one of the many eccentricities of the Rothean theology, is utterly without sufficient ground. It is entirely arbitrary to place speculative theology along-side of dogmatics, and to declare ethics as belonging exclusively to the former. Both sciences admit of being treated purely theologically or purely speculatively, though indeed all their contents cannot be embraced speculatively; and with the same right whereby the speculative doctrine of God and of the world is excluded from dogmatics, may also the speculative portions of ethics be excluded from this science, and ethics be, then, declared as a purely empirical science. A large portion of ethics proper lies without the scope of a purely speculative treatment, as is in fact sufficiently evinced by the third part of Rothe’s ethics. It may indeed be questioned whether speculation is admissible at all in theology; if it is, however, once admitted, then it is quite as much in place in dogmatics as in ethics—as indeed not an insignificant portion of the Rothean ethics is nothing other than speculative dogmatics; and there is no manner of justification for degrading dogmatics, as in contrast to the historical development of the science, into a merely dogmatico-historical statement of the doctrines of the Church. 27And in that Rothe regards the dogmatical field as not at all bordering upon the ethical, he obtains full liberty to extend immeasurably the boundaries of ethics, so that this science thus receives a compass elsewhere unparalleled, even in Schleiermacher’s philosophical system. Not merely does Rothe preface his ethics with a thorough presentation of the whole of speculative theology by way of introduction (in which connection he reaches far over, and not any too aptly, into the field of natural philosophy), but also he receives into ethics itself many entirely foreign subjects, e. g., eschatology. Moreover, also the facts of redemption through Christ are presupposed in this ethics, as a Christian one, not however as furnished by dogmatics, but by the immediate religious consciousness. Under such circumstances it seems more than arbitrary to declare the scientific presentation of this consciousness, not as the scientific presupposition, but as a sequence of ethics.
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