Schleiermacher – To religion’s cultured despisers (1799)

“Your very contempt for the poverty-stricken and powerless venerators of religion, in whom, from lack of nourishment, religion ever dies before it comes to birth, convinces me that you have a talent for religion…

Become conscious, then, of the call of your deepest nature and follow it…  banish the false shame of a century, which should not determine you.  …Return to what lies so near to you, the violent separation from which cannot fail to destroy the most beautiful part of your nature.”

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, F.D.E. Schleiermacher, 3d German ed. 1831, ET John Oman, 1893, Harper 1958, p.91, 92).

I continue my historical retrospect of what I would call ‘constructive orthodoxy’ with excerpts from Friedrich Schleiermacher’s literary debut, in which the thirty-year-old theologian calls out the Age of Enlightenment for the folly of its indifference and atheism.  The alienation of ‘the modern’ from God was viewed by Schleiermacher as a tragic divorcement of self-consciousness from its right relation to the ground and truth of being.  But I cannot miss the fact that he assigns a central role in this modern tragedy to the eighteenth century church itself.

People think they know Schleiermacher, but it requires more than a simple refunding of our own ideas of religious feeling, absolute dependence, and God-consciousness, to really know him.  Rightly apprehended, his work still represents, I think, the classic historical model for religions of experience, for constructive ‘methods’ of religious living.

“The religious man must, at least, be conscious of his feelings as the immediate product of a universal reality; for less would mean nothing.  He must recognize something individual in them, something that cannot be imitated, something that guarantees the purity of their origin from his own heart.  To be assured of this possession is the true belief.  To the contrary, belief usually so called – which is to accept what another has said or done, or to wish to think and feel as another has thought and felt – is a hard and base service… To wish to have and hold a faith that is an echo, proves that a man is incapable of religion; to demand it of others, shows that there is no understanding of religion” (pp.90-91).

Like him, I would try to make the higher truths of religious living accessible to some of the great minds of our day.  It is the task of the next theology to elaborate a spirit of faith and worship capable of operating in freedom from the burden of humanity’s many unrevealed, anthropological religious forms (including those which weigh heavily upon Judaism and Christianity).

“Hereafter shall each man see with his own eyes and shall produce some contribution to the treasures of religion.  Every sacred writing is in itself a speaking monument from the heroic time of religion, but, through servile reverence, it would become merely a monument that a great spirit once was there, but is now no more… You are right in despising the wretched echoes who derive their religion entirely from another, or depend on a dead writing, swearing by it and proving out of it (p.91).”

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Lux Mundi (1889)

“… Many plausible attacks upon the Christian creed are due to the inadequate methods of its professed interpreters. Fragments of doctrine, torn from their context and deprived of their due proportions, are brandished in the eyes of men by well-meaning but ignorant apologists as containing the sum total of the Christian faith, with the lamentable consequence that even earnest seekers after truth, and much more its unearnest and merely factious adversaries, mislead themselves and others into thinking Christianity discredited, when in reality they have all along been only criticizing its caricature. The general tendency of thought since the Reformation has been in the direction of these partial presentations of Christianity.” 

“The Incarnation in Relation to Development,” by the Rev. J. R. Illingworth,  in Lux Mundi:  A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation, Charles Gore, ed.; London, 1889

I couldn’t say it better myself, but this was written over 120 years ago!

Lux Mundi is an early document of what might be called “Liberal Orthodoxy,” a cross-denominational movement within Christianity which combined a strong defense of the doctrine of  the Incarnation with a very learned criticism of the unbending doctrines of evangelicals and establishment conservatives, whose views these writers judged were contributing most to the rejection of Christianity by the modern world.

“The Reformers, from various causes, were so occupied with what is now called Soteriology, or the scheme of salvation, that they paid but scant attention to the other aspects of the Gospel. And the consequence was that a whole side of the great Christian tradition, and one on which many of its greatest thinkers had lavished the labors of a lifetime, was allowed almost unconsciously to lapse into comparative oblivion; and the religion of the Incarnation was narrowed into the religion of the Atonement.  Men’s views of the faith dwindled and became subjective and self-regarding, while the gulf was daily widened between things sacred and things secular.  Such men need reminding that Christianity is greater than its isolated interpreters or misinterpreters in any age …”

Even though published under the editorship of the Bishop of Worcester, Lux Mundi was roundly attacked by evangelicals and high church conservatives.  Yet it was revised and reprinted 16 times in less than six years, and continued to be reprinted into the twentieth century.

A theological aesthetics

“Beauty is … a word with which the philosophical person does not begin, but rather concludes … a word from which religion, and theology in particular, have taken their leave and distanced themselves in modern times by a vigorous drawing of the boundaries. … It is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another.  Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness.  No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Seeing the Form (1961, 2nd 1967, ET 1982, pp. 17, 18; vol. I of The Glory of the Lord)

I made a start on Balthasar’s opus this weekend, a good slow read of the long Introduction and on into “The Light of Faith,” in Part II.  Balthasar is one of those writers whose work seems to reflect the product of an immense luxury of both time and intellect.   Notwithstanding these summary lines from the Introduction, the author manages to indulge a rich style without descending to rhetorical flourishes to get himself around a difficult problem (a characteristic I dislike in both Karl Barth and P.T. Forsyth).  I’ve had the book from the library since March without much penetration, but was moved enough by brief glances to renew it a couple times.  Now that I have a glimpse of what he is up to, I feel I should persist at least as far as his discussions of faith and of revelation.  Failing in that, I fear I will be bearing his ghost around with that haunting feeling I buried him too fast.

“Yet if the philosopher cannot begin with this word, but can at best conclude with it, should not the Christian for this very reason perhaps take it as his first word?  And since the exact sciences no longer have any time to spare for it (nor does theology, in so far as it increasingly strives to follow the method of the exact sciences), precisely for this reason it might be high time to break through this kind of exactness, which can only pertain to one particular sector of reality, in order to bring the truth of the whole again into view … not only man’s truth and that of the world, but the truth of a God who bestows himself on man, the truth not only of the historical Gospel and of the Church that preserves it, but the truth of the growing Kingdom of God …”

The Church as embassy between kingdoms

The discussion of 13 theses on the church and the world, posted by Nathan Kerr et al, at Inhabitatio Dei, got my attention yesterday and today. I want to put something up here at home to keep me in mind of issues which seem compelling to me. One is the work of Johannes Christiaan Hoekendijk, whose book, Church Inside Out (ET 1965) is, I see, waiting for me at the seminary library. Kerr cites Hoekendijk as follows:

“World (kosmos/oikoumene) and Kingdom are correlated to each other; the world is conceived as a unity, the scene of God’s great acts: it is the world which has been reconciled (II Cor. 5:19), the world which God loves (John 3:16) and which he has overcome in his love (John (16:33); the world is the field in which the seeds of the Kingdom are sown (Matt. 13:38)—the world is consequently the scene for the proclamation of the Kingdom.” (pg. 41)

I have been looking for a chance to develop an idea of church and mission under categories of diplomacy – a divine embassy – wholly in the kingdom of this world, but here in the name of ‘he who reigns’ in the next or higher kingdom.  The ‘mission’ is that of being envoys of peace to the whole world and everyone in it.  The rationale is that, since Pentecost, every human being may (through faith) access the protection and ‘good offices’ of the Spirit as citizens and subjects of a spiritually transcendent realm.  Hmm.

True, it’s a bit of a stretch from Hoekendijk – not to mention from Kerr and his friends.  I’m just jotting some notes here.  But here in Kerr’s “Thesis 2,” for example, I think I may find something to hang my hat on:

The church’s primary task is apostolic. The church exists as a function of Christ’s own singular apostolicity; that is, its existence is a matter of its participation in Christ as the “sent one” (Heb 3:1). “The church has no other existence than in actu Christi, that is, in actu Apostoli” (Hoekendijk). The church thereby exists to serve the ministerium Verbi incarnati (Barth)—the church’s share in the apostolicity of Christ consists in its being sent out by the power of the Spirit to proclaim the euangelion of Jesus Christ to the world. In this sense, the church’s “priority” with regards to the world is that of a distinctively apostolic precedence.

Apostles, ambassadors, messengers, envoys, heralds, missions, embassies – all these concepts I find applicable to the vocabularies of both the Church’s mission and to diplomatic endeavors.  Whereas they do not resonate at all with the vocabularies of temple, army, school, cult, recruitment, confession, etc., etc.

To be continued.

Fear of dining alone – proof we are made for the Gospel?

This weekend my wife traveled out of state with members of her family for a niece’s graduation. I have avoided these graduation trips from the start, and this year I successfully dodged my obligation once again (though not without blame – and a little guilt).

The 48 hours alone were fine except for one thing. I cannot abide eating alone.

Breakfast? No problem.  I’m the early riser in the family, and I am long accustomed to a quick solo breakfast, with a book to read.  The emptiness of a solo lunch or dinner, however, I cannot stand. How do other people stand it? Both of our widower fathers admit to leaving their TV sets on at meals – to fill the air with human conversation during their lonely repasts.  For me it always comes down to a book or a good magazine – at one solo meal this weekend I tried music. Not bad.

But the fact that I have access to distractions does not change the fact that without them I feel very raggedly disconnected with my higher self when dining alone.  Eating is an act I find to be a very desolate, very mechanical, almost senseless affair – almost like a force-feeding – when I do it unaccompanied by another human being.

Not to prolong this – I think there is something interesting lying at the root of this feeling of desolation I get when dining alone. I can feel in my angst a primal anthropological fact about our humanity and about the interesting rites which surround our human institutions of table fellowship.

Less feasible – but no less interesting – is the possibility that the Son, in his varied table ministry (i.e. both before and after the Passion meal), consciously utilized the power latent in the feast of fellowship to convey to us the communal bedrock of his good news of forgiveness and fellowship with God.  If Jesus was himself cognizant of the anthropological fact, it makes sense that he decided to spend so much time eating and drinking with sinners while on mission. As I suggested in a previous post, maybe that was the mission.