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SECTION XXXVI.

The antagonism of the evangelical ground-thought to that of Romanism manifested itself also in ethics. In the evangelical or Protestant church the sinful corruption of the natural man was conceived much more deeply, and consequently the moral task of the Christian much more earnestly; and, as a consequence of the impossibility of meriting salvation by our works, Christian virtue was conceived, in much greater freedom from self-seeking, as the-simple fruit of faith; and the notion of supererogatory works became impossible in view of the decided recognition, that the life even of the most holy always falls short of moral perfection. The Scriptural view excludes a very essential portion of Romish ethics from that of the evangelical church.142142   Comp. H. Merz: System der christl. Sittenlehre in seiner Gestaltung nach den Grundsetzen des Protestantismus im Gegensatze zum Katholicismus, Tüb., 1841,—ingenious, but prepossessed by speculative theories, and doing injustice to both sides.

The semi-Pelagian enfeebling of the effects of sin that prevailed in the Romish church, deprived ethics of its proper deep-reaching foundation. The more deeply the moral corruption of man is conceived of, so much the greater becomes also the significancy of redemption, and likewise also of the moral struggle of the regenerated Christian against sin. Hence the, at first thought, surprising phenomenon that the rigid predestinarianism of Calvin did not lead to a decline in moral effort, but on the contrary to a very vigorous moral life. In the deep earnestness of their conception of the moral task, both evangelical churches, the Lutheran and the Reformed, stand alike.

The Holy Scriptures are the sole fountain of Christian ethics, just as, living faith in Christ as the sole cause of salvation, is 234also the subjective ground and the living fountain of morality. All blessedness is imparted to us without our meriting it, and solely of grace; but good works, as the necessary effects of true faith, are the certain verification of the same. The moral law is not. as in the Romish church, predominantly objective, but is of a strictly inward character. No one can do more than what God requires of him, for man is called to perfection; all that is truly good is a requirement of the divine law and not of any mere counsels, which, without the forfeiture of a God-pleasing life, might in so far be left undone,—all the good that we can do, we are also under obligation to do. The so-called counsels of the Romish church are rather a hindering than a furthering of the good, for they stand in the way of active love, and nourish the delusion of personal merit. Monastic vows are not consistent with vital faith. As man is saved only in virtue of redemption through Christ, hence his salvation rests solely on the worthiness of Christ, and not on personal merit; all true virtue must be simply a fruit of faith, and hence of an already-acquired divine sonship, and consequently, though it may verify this sonship, it cannot first acquire or heighten it.

Evangelical ethics is therefore apparently much less comprehensive in its subject-matter than that of the Ronlish church,—treats a not inconsiderable portion of the latter merely condemnatorily, as, e. g., the entire subject of asceticism, and of opera supererogatoria as fulfilling the counsels; on the other hand, however, it has a deeper ground and a higher earnestness. Romish asceticism simply hides from view the inner lack of a truly evangelically moral depth. He who has understood the entire and profound earnestness of the moral life-task, and is conscious, how far the reality still falls below the moral prototype, can never come upon the thought of attempting, in addition to the moral task proposed to us by God, to perform still other additional works, in order to attain to a still higher degree of sanctity. All these self-imposed works are really an implication that God placed the moral goal of man too low, and that He is thankfully pleased to accept the voluntary and non-owed over-payment of those who feel themselves superior to the ordinary assessment.

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