What is demanded by the Nature of its Principium
The legend is still current that the Reformers intended to represent the Holy Scripture as a sort of a code, in which certain articles were set down in ready form, some as things to be believed, and some as rules for practice (credenda and agenda). According to this representation the Holy Scripture consists of four parts: (1) a notarially prepared official report of certain facts; (2) an exposition of certain doctrines drawn up by way of articles; (3) an instituted law in the form of rules; and (4) an official program of things to come. Over against this legend stands the fact that the content and the character of the Holy Scripture correspond in no particular to this representation, and that psychologically it will not do to attribute such a view of the Holy Scripture to any theologian worthy the name. This legend, however, is not the product of pure invention. The way in which Scholastics used to demonstrate from the Holy Scripture consisted almost exclusively of citations of this or that Bible text. Neither did the Reformers abandon this method entirely; they made free use of it; but no one of them employed this method exclusively. They compared Scripture with Scripture. They looked for an analogy of faith. They were thus led to enter more deeply into the organic life of the Scripture. And he who gives Voetius' treatise quousque sese extendat S. Scripturae auctoritas? (Select. Disp., Tom. I, p. 29) even a hasty perusal only, perceives at once that the view-point held by the theologians of that day was very just. The narrator of this legend is so far correct, however, that in the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, under the influences of pietism and methodism, this unscientific method became ever more popular, and that this grotesque representation of the Holy Scripture found acceptance with the less thoughtful among simple believers. Scripture-proof seemed to them to be presented only by the quotation of some Bible verse that literally and fully expressed the given assertion. This is a severe demand, which, on the other hand, excuses one from all further investigation; and, provided you but quote Scripture, does not inquire whether your citation is borrowed from the Old Testament or the New, whether it was spoken by Job or by his friends, or whether it occurs absolutely, or in application to a given case. This makes the Bible your code, a concordance your register, and with the help of that register you quote from that code as occasion requires.
It needs scarcely be said that this method is utterly objectionable. If this were the true method, the Holy Scripture would have to be an entirely differently compiled book from what it is. As to its facts, it should present an accurate, precise, singular story made up in notarial form. It would have to give the program of things to come with the indication of persons, place, time and succession of the several acts in the drama still to be performed. With respect to truth, it ought to present this in the form of a precisely formulated and systematically constructed dogmatic. And as for the rules of practice, you ought to find in the Holy Scripture a regular codification of a series of general and concretely applied directions, indicating what you should do and leave undone. This is no exaggeration. The question of the Holy Scripture involves nothing short of the question of a Divine authority, which imposes faith in facts and teachings, and subjection to rules and commandments. Hence your demonstration must be unimpeachable. And the method that is applicable only to an authenticated official report, a carefully formulated confession and an accurately recorded law, must be objected to as long as it is not shown that the Scripture, from which the quotation is made, exhibits the character asserted. If such, however, is not the case, and if on the contrary it is certain that the whole disposition, nature and character of the Holy Scripture resemble in no particular such an official report and codification, it needs no further comment that this method is altogether useless and has no claim therefore on our consideration.
Nevertheless it would be a mistake to explain the popularity which this objectionable method captured for itself, on the simple ground of a lack of understanding. Call to mind the use made of the Old Testament Scripture by Christ and His apostles, and it not infrequently has the appearance that they freely followed this objectionable method. If it can readily be shown that Christ and His apostles also argue from the Scripture in an entirely different way (see Matt. xix. 8 and Heb. vii.), the fact nevertheless cannot be denied that literal citations from the Old Testament, as " the Scripture" or "it is written," repeatedly occur in the Gospels and in the apostolic discourses and epistles. Hence a distinction here is necessary. If we note in what form the Holy Scripture presents itself to us, it certainly has nothing in common with an official report or a code; but it contains, nevertheless, extended series of definite and positive utterances respecting faith and practice, which utterances leave nothing to be desired either in clearness or in accuracy of formulation. Such utterances stand not by themselves, but occur mostly in organic connection with events and conversations. The flower in bloom that exhales its fragrance is attached to a stem, and as a rule that stem is still joined to the plant. But even so, that utterance is there, and by its positiveness demands a hearing. Hence with reference to such utterances the task of the human mind has been reduced to a minimum. In controversy and exhortation these utterances render most ready service. And this explains the fact that the appeal to this category of utterances has occurred most often, still occurs, and ever will continue to occur. Even in the hour of dying it is this sort of utterances that refreshes and comforts most quickly and soothingly, and with the lowly especially will ever cany the most telling effect. But though we grant this, and though this easily explains the fact that the methodistic idea so quickly gained the day, it should not be admitted for a moment that this use of the Scripture is the general and exclusive method.
The task imposed on us is much more difficult and intricate; and so far from consisting of a mechanical quotation with the help of the concordance, the production of what the Scripture contains demands gigantic labor. Beyond doubt the ectype of the archetypal self-knowledge of God is contained in the Scripture according to human capacity with respect to both fallen and regenerate man (pro mensura humana, respectu hominis lapsi, and pro captu hominis renati); but for the most part in the sense in which it can be said by the mine-owner, that gold is at hand, when with folded arms he looks across the fields, beneath which his gold-mines hide. The special revelation does not encourage idleness, neither does it intend to offer you the knowledge of God as bread baked and cut, but it is so constructed and it is presented in such a form, that the utmost effort is required to reach the desired results. With reference also to this, you eat no bread except in the sweat of your brow. We do not imply that this whole task must be performed by every believer personally. The very best of us would faint beneath its load. But we recall what has been said before, viz., that the subject of science is not the individual, but the consciousness of humanity; and that therefore in the same way the subject of the science of theology is not the individual believer, but the consciousness of our regenerated race. Hence it is a task which is in process century upon century, and from its very nature is still far from being completed. And in the absolute sense it can as little be completed as any other scientific task. In the Holy Scripture God the Lord offers us ectypal theology in an organically connected section of human life, permeated by many Divine agencies, out of which a number of blindingly brilliant utterances strike out as sparks from fire. But the treasures thus presented are without further effort not yet reflected in and reproduced by the consciousness of regenerated man. To realize this purpose our thinking consciousness must descend into this gold mine, and dig out from its treasure, and then assimilate that treasure thus obtained; and not leave it as something apart from the other content of our consciousness, but systematize it with all the rest into one whole. Christian thinking, i.e. scientific theology, has been at work on this task for eighteen centuries; among all nations; under all sorts of constellations. This had to be so, simply because no single nation represents the absolute consciousness of humanity, but eveiy nation, and every period of time, according to their nature and opportunity, has the power and the capacity to do this in a peculiar way; and because the natural content of the consciousness, with which this knowledge of God must be placed in connection, continually changes.
But amid all these changes the threefold task is ever prosecuted: (1) to determine, (2) to assimilate and (3) to reproduce the contents of the Holy Scripture. This task of determination covers, indeed, a broad field, and is, moreover, exceedingly intricate. The pertinent utterances of Scripture are, of course, invaluable aids; but more than aids they are not. The content of the Scripture lies before you in the form of an historic process, which covers centuries, and, therefore, ever presents itself in different forms. The Scripture reveals ectypal theology mostly in facts, which must be understood; in symbols and types, which must be interpreted. All sorts of persons make their appearance in strange commingling, one of whom is, and another is not, a partaker of Divine grace. The rule for practice presents itself in numerous concrete applications, from which the general rule can only be derived by dint of logical thinking. Thus what stands written is not merely to be understood as it was meant by the writer, but its significance must be estimated in separation from its accidental connection. The several revelations must be taken in their true unity after the analogy of faith. And, finally, from behind the meaning of the writers there must be brought out the things, which often they themselves did not perceive, but which, nevertheless, they were called upon to announce to the world, as the mystery of the thoughts of God inworked in their thoughts. Hence, the free citation of pertinent utterances is lawful; but the person should be considered who spoke them, the antithesis which they opposed, the cause that invited them, as well as the persons to whom they were directed. If this had been observed, the statement, for instance, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," would never have been misused, to represent the spiritual needs as more important than the material needs. The thoughtless citation of this has been very misleading; and this is the more serious, since such classic utterances are indeed authoritative, and when wrongly interpreted confuse and mislead.
In the second place, follows the task of assimilating the ectypal theology offered us in the Scripture. We do not speak now of the action of the spiritual factors required for this, but limit ourselves exclusively to the task of taking up into our human consciousness the content found. This content to be assimilated comes to us in language both symbolical and mystical, which reveals and again conceals. Hence, the purpose must be to analyze this content, to transpose the parts discovered into conceptions, and to reconstruct these conceptions thus found into a synthesis adapted to our thinking. This is the more exceedingly difficult because an analysis made too hastily so readily destroys the mystical element, and thus leads to rationalism, while, on the other hand, the synthesis must be able to enter into our thinking. To this the fact is added that in this work no one is able to separate himself from his personal limitation and from his limited personality. This assimilation is, therefore, possible for individuals only in so far as the limits of their spiritual and mental action extends, and still it should ever be our effort to assimilate in such a way as to promote this assimilation-process in others. Otherwise there might, indeed, be a spiritual upbuilding of self, but no scientific study. If there is to be scientific study, one must be able, by giving an account, to objectify the assimilation-process one has himself experienced. This task demands intense application of thought, because it is not enough that we take up in ourselves the loose elements of the revelation, but we must take those elements as constitutive parts of one organic whole, and thus in our thoughts, also, order them in one system. This would require great energy of thought in a consciousness otherwise empty; but it does this the more, since our consciousness is already occupied. Now it becomes our duty to expel from our consciousness what is criticised by revelation as untrue, and to weave together what remains with the content of revelation, so that the unity of our world- and life-view shall not be lost.
And then follows the third part of the task, by which we are called to reproduce what is thus acquired. The duty of witness-bearing and confession calls us to this third action, but also, without abandoning this practical end, the claim of science itself. Apart, also, from the maintenance of God's honor in the face of the denier of His truth, God counts it His glory that in the human consciousness which He had disposed to His truth, and which we had applied to the service of error and falsehood, His truth is again reflected. The Scripture offers us the grain of wheat, but we may not rest until the golden ears are seen in the fields, by which to prove the power potentially hidden in the seed. Hence, it is not enough that the knowledge of God, which, as a flower in the bud, is hidden and covered in the Scripture, is set forth hy us in its excellency; but that bud must be unfolded, the flower must make exhibition of its beauty, and scent the air with its fragrance. This can be done spiritually by piety of mind, practically by deeds of faith, aesthetically in hymns, parenetically in exhortation, but must also be done by scientific exposition and description.
No theologian, therefore, can go to work in an empirical or in a speculative manner. He who empirically takes religious phenomena as his starting-point is no theologian, but an ethnological or philosophical investigator of religions. Neither is a speculative thinker a theologian. We do not question the relative right of the speculative method. Conceptions also generate, and rich harvests may be gathered from the fields of logical thought, but he who goes to work in this manner is no theologian. Theology is a positive science, which finds the object of its investigation, i.e. ectypal knowledge of God, in the Holy Scripture, and therefore must draw the insight into its object from the Scripture. The reason why abstract intellectualism is insufficient for this will appear later; but in so far as now we limit ourselves exclusively to this intellectual task, it follows from the nature of the object and from the principium of theology that it must determine, assimilate and reproduce, but with this its task is ended. For the sake of completeness, we may add that this includes the investigation of the instrument of revelation, i.e. the Holy Scripture; which task is the more extensive, as that Scripture has not come to us in autographs, nor in our own language, but in foreign languages and in apographa, which are in many respects corrupt, so that it requires an entirely independent effort of the mind, by the study of criticism and language, so to approach the Scripture as to render an investigation of its content possible. Meanwhile this detracts nothing from the character of principium which is possessed by the Holy Scripture as the effective cause of all true theology. In view of the full demonstration of the former chapter, this requires no further emphasis.
§ 88. The Principium of Theology in Action
Without further explanation the impression would be conveyed, that the method of theological investigation, as described in the preceding section, makes theology to terminate in dogmatics. The more so, since earlier dogmaticians frequently named their dogmatics "Theologia Christiana." Even Calvin's Institutes is based on such a supposition. It is readily seen, however, that in this way theology as a science would be curtailed. To mention one particular only, we ask, what would become of Church history? In this second section, therefore, we observe that he who investigates a given object, obtains full knowledge of it only by the study of its states both of rest and action. This applies also to the ectypal knowledge of God, which, in behalf of the Church, is deposited in the Holy Scripture. The Word of God also has its action. It is "quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword," "a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." It works also as a living seed that is sown, and which, according to the nature of the soil, germinates and brings forth fruit. Hence the task of the theologian is by no means ended when he has formulated, assimilated and reproduced the content of the Word in its state of rest; it is his duty, also, to trace the working of this principium, when the fountain is flowing. After it was finished, the Holy Scripture was not hidden in some sacred grotto, to wait for the theologian to read and to make scientific exhibition of its content; no, it was carried into the world, by reading and recitation, by teaching and by preaching, in apologetic and in polemic writings. And once brought into the world, it has exerted an influence upon the consciousness-form of the circle which it entered. Both its authority, and the consequent activity which it created, are no mean factors in the rise of an ecclesiastical confession and in the institution of an ecclesiastical communion. The Holy Scripture and the Church, therefore, are no foreign phenomena to each other, but the former should be looked upon as the mother of the latter. Not that the Word by itself was able to found a Church or a church life. The Holy Scripture does not possess such an inherent mystical power, and it is self-evident that the transcendental action of the regeneration of the elect had to go hand in hand with the noetic action of the Word, in order to give rise to the Church and to maintain it. This second element, also, will be explained later. But however much it may be bound to this spiritual antecedent, in itself the church-forming and church-maintaining action of the Word cannot be denied, and, cum grano salis, the domain of the Church can be described as the domain within which the Holy Scripture prevails and operates.
From this it follows that he who tries to understand the Holy Scripture, and to reproduce its content in a scientific way, may not pass its action by, nor the product of this action. Theological science, therefore, must also institute an investigation into the Church, into its character, jurisdiction, history, etc. He who neglects this has not investigated his subject fully. It cannot be said, therefore, that church history, church law, etc., are added to the real theological studies as so many loose supplements. On the contrary, in the theological whole they form organic, and therefore indispensable, members. If it is not in itself objectionable to compare the Holy Scripture to a gold mine, this comparison nevertheless fails as soon as an attempt is made to view the method of theology as a whole. Then, indeed, there is not a question of a quiescent, passive gold mine which awaits the coming of a miner, but rather of a power propelled by the Holy Spirit, and propelling the spirits of men, which has drawn its furrows deep in the past, and which, from the living phenomenon of the Church, still appeals to us as a principium full of action. We do not step thus a handbreadth aside from the conception of theology as we found it. Theology remains to us theology in the strictest sense of the word, i.e. that science whose object is ectypal theology, given in the Holy Scripture, which is the principium of theology; but we refuse to eliminate the action of this Word from our reckoning. Not only the statics, but also the dynamics must be given a hearing. Hence, as a product of the energy of the Word, the Church may not be cut off, but it must find a place of its own in theological science as a whole. So far as this produces an effect upon the organic system of theologic science, this point will be treated in the last chapter but one of this volume; here it is mentioned only in so far as it produces an effect upon the method of theology. In this form it comes nearest to what is generally called the relation of theology to the Church, even though it creates some surprise that this question has almost always been separated from the question about the method. If a fixed relation between theology and the Church is to be treated in another than an outward sense, this relation must also appear in the method.
An outward relation between the Church and the practice of theology is surely conceivable, in so far as the Church as an institution has herself taken it frequently in hand through the organ of her appointed theologians. She can bind such theologians to her confession; she can forbid them to publish anything in conflict with it; and by discipline she can prevent them from every effort directed against it. But this outward relation is entirely accidental. Civil government can act along the same lines, and has often done it. Individuals, also, in free institutions can do the same thing. On the other hand, the Church may found a theological school of an entirely different kind, to which it allows entire freedom of faith and doctrine. And therefore we did not take our start in these outward and by consequence accidental relations, but in the essential and necessary relation which exists between the Holy Scripture and the Church as its product, in order that from this we might borrow the rule for the relation between the Church and theology which is to appear in its method.
There is, to be sure, a theological illusion abroad, which has its relative right, which conveys the impression that, with the Holy Scripture in hand, one can independently construct his theology from this principium. This position was defended only recently by a Protestant theologian at Vienna, Professor Dr. Bohl (Dogmatik, Amst. 1887, p. xiii, v); and it must be conceded to him that in the days of the Reformation, also, it was generally imagined that a leap backward had been taken across fourteen centuries, for the sake of repeating what had once been done by the first Christians; viz. to investigate the Bible, while yet no confession or dogma had been framed. But from the nature of the case this illusion is not for a moment tenable. He who harbors it claims for himself the unattainable honor of doing the work of bygone generations. And besides being unhistoric to this extent, he forgets also that no single person, but thinking, regenerated humanity, is the subject of theology. Isolated investigation can never furnish what can only be the result of the cooperation and mental effort of all. Actually, therefore, this illusion is a denial of the historic and the organic character of the study of theology, and for this reason it is inwardly untrue. No theologian, following the direction of his own compass, would ever have found by himself what he now confesses and defends on the ground of the Holy Scripture. By far the largest part of his results is adopted by him from theological tradition, and even the proofs, which he cites from the Scripture, at least as a rule, have not been discovered by himself, but have been suggested to him by his predecessors. Thus, it is noteworthy that Calvin, who, undeniably, wrote at times as though affected by this same illusion, appeals constantly to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, which shows that this illusion did not govern his method. The true element in this representation, meanwhile, should not be overlooked. And this is grasped at once if one places at the end of the way what Professor Dr. Bohl has held as truth at its beginning. He makes it to appear as if by making a tabula rasa the theologian reverts at once to the Holy Scripture and nothing but the Scripture. The actual course pursued, however, is this. The beginning is made under the influence of all sorts of other factors, while the task is not ended until, at the end of the way, all these factors are made to disappear, so that finally our well-balanced conviction rests upon nothing but the Holy Scripture. Then the scaffold is taken away, and we stand on the pinnacle of the temple. This is the final ground that must be reached if the theological motive is to attain to its point of rest. And it is from the exalted feeling which then inspires the theologian that the illusion objected to above is born.
Without hesitation, therefore, the factor of the Church must be included in theological investigation. From the life of the Church it appears, what activity the Holy Scripture occasions, which activity in turn sheds light upon its content. This would not have been the case to so great an extent if there had been only one interpretation of the Holy Scripture prevalent in the Church; for this would have tended to likeness of formulation. But such was not the case. Almost all possible interpretations have been tried; all these interpretations have sought to maintain themselves and to reach fixed forms of expression, and the fruit and effect of these several interpretations are manifest in history and in present conditions. Hence the domain of the Holy Scripture is no longer unexplored territory, on the contrary it is a variegated highland, crossed in all directions, all the mountain passes and paths of which are known, while the goal of each is freely told by experienced guides. As it would be the height of folly, on one's first arrival in Switzerland, to make it appear that he is the first to investigate the Berner Oberland, since common sense compels him on the contrary to begin his journey by making inquiry among the guides of the country, the same is true here. In its rich and many-sided life, extending across so many ages, the Church tells you at once what fallible interpretations you need no longer try, and what interpretation on the other hand offers you the best chances for success. On this ground the claim must be put, that the investigator of the Holy Scripture shall take account of what history and the life of the Church teaches concerning the general points of view, from which to start his investigation, and which paths it is useless to further reconnoitre.
But the influence of this factor does not limit itself to this. The investigator does not stand outside of the Church, but is himself a member of it. Hence into his own consciousness there is interwoven the historic consciousness of his Church. In this historic consciousness of his Church he finds not merely the tradition of theologians and the data by which to form an estimate of the results of their studies, but also the confessional utterances of the Church. And this implies more. These utterances of his Church do not consist of the interpretation of one or another theologian, but of the ripest fruit of a spiritual and dogmatic strife, battled through by a whole circle of confessors in violent combat, which enlightened their spiritual sense, sharpened their judgment, and stimulated their perception of the truth; which fruit, moreover, has been handed down to him by the Church through its divinely appointed organs. It will not do, therefore, to place these dogmatical utterances on the same plane with the opinions of individual theologians. In a much deeper sense than they, they provide a guarantee for freedom from error, and he who belongs to such a Church has himself been moulded in part by them. This gives rise to the demand, that every theologian shall, in his investigations, reckon with all those things that are taught him by the history of the churches concerning well and badly chosen paths in this territory to be investigated; and, also, in the second place, that he shall take the dogmas of his Church as his guide, and that he shall not diverge from them until he is compelled to do this by the Word of God. Hence, one should not begin by doubting everything, and by experimenting to see whether on the ground of his own investigation he arrives at the same point where the confession of his Church stands; but, on the contrary, he should start out from the assumption that his Church is right, while at the same time he should investigate it, and only oppose it when he finds himself compelled to do so by the Word of God. If such prove the case, of course, it must be done; and if it concerns any point of importance, an immediate break with his Church is the necessary result, unless the Church herself should modify her confession agreeably to his view. History, however, teaches that ordinary differences in details of opinion among theologians have implied no departure from essentials, and that the conflict between God's Word and error in the confession has been carried to the end in those great movements onty, which have brought about a change in the entire thinking consciousness. Great carefulness is always safe. The proclamation of new discoveries is not always a proof of devotion to the truth, it is sometimes a tribute to self-esteem. Nevertheless, the point of support for theology may never be looked for in the Church. It only finds that point of support when it shows that what the Church has offered it as acquired treasures, were really taken from. the Scripture and after the rule of the Scripture.
This decides at the same time the question, whether the Church should prosecute the study of theology, or whether theology grows on a root of its own. The question cannot detain us here, whether in times of need we are not warranted in establishing church-seminaries, and, in the absence of university training, to provide for a need, whose supply admits of no delay. There is no question here of the education of untrained persons for the ministry of the Word, but of theology as a science. And, from the nature of the case, there can be no question of theology outside the pale of the Church, because outside of this pale there is neither palingenesis nor a spiritual enlightening, both of which are indispensable to theology. But from this it does not follow, that, as an instituted corporation, the Church itself should study theology. This institution has a limited official task, and covers, by no means, the whole of our Christian life. Outside of this institution endless factors of our human life are at work within the pale of the Church taken as an organism, upon each of which the Spirit of Christ must exert His influence. One of these factors is science, and so far from proceeding from the instituted Church, science includes the Church in its object, and must be subservient to her in the accomplishment of her task. The subject of Christian science is also the subject of Christian theology; or, how could theology otherwise take a place in the organism of science? The instituted Church can never be the subject of the Christian science, and consequently it cannot be this of the science of theology. Hence, the dilemma: Your theology has the instituted Church for its subject, in which case it is no science; or if it is a science, the Church as an institution cannot be its subject.
§ 89. Relation to the Spiritual Reality
In connection with this there is still another, no less important, factor which both affects theology and is indispensable to it. The Church owes its rise not to the Word alone, but in a deeper sense to the supernatural spiritual workings, which go out among men, and whose central point is palingenesis. In a supernatural sense this creates a spiritual reality, which, in so far as the sphere of the consciousness is concerned, cannot dispense with the Holy Scripture, but which potentially does not proceed from the Scripture, but from the Holy Ghost, or if you please concentrically from Christ. This spiritual reality does not consist merely in the deed and in the thing wrought by palingenesis, but from this central point it radiates also subjectively in those who are sanctified and enlightened, and objectively finds its basis in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ. The preaching of the Word joins itself to this spiritual reality, becomes conscious of its inspiration, imparts to it a conscious form, and the Church, as it actually appears, is not merely the product of the Word of God, but at the same time of this spiritual reality. Not as an institution, but as an organism is she a house of the living God. The purer a revelation the instituted Church is of her hidden, organic, spiritual life, the greater is the authority in the spiritual sense exercised by the Church upon the consciousness of the theologian. But that which on the other hand also is of great importance to the method of theology, is the fact that this spiritual reality alone provides that affinity to the Divine life which is indispensable to the knowledge of God.
The "knowledge of God" is here taken as naturally communicated knowledge, but not in the exclusively intellectual sense. In our self-knowledge and in our knowledge of our fellow-men there is also a component part, which is not obtained by observation and reasoning built on this, but which is of itself revealed in us. Without this working of the sense-of-self and of sympathy, abstract intellectual knowledge of ourselves or of others would be unable to grasp the reality of its object. And in like manner, on the ground of our creation after the Divine Image, a holy affinity and a spiritual sympathy with the life of God must be manifest in our spirit, if the revelations of the Holy Scripture are to be real to us and to refer to an object grasped by us as a real object. Both together are the constituent parts of our knowledge of God. Spiritual affinity to the life of God enables us to grasp the "things of God" as real in our deepest perception. The revelation of the Holy Scripture interprets that reality to our consciousness. There is no conscious knowledge without a mystic knowledge, and there is no mystic knowledge without the light of the Scripture that shines in our consciousness. Alas, that these two should be so rudely separated. For this gives on the one hand an intellectualism, which can do nothing but construe theoretical systems from the Scripture, and on the other hand a mystical attempt to attain unto a vision of God outside and above the Scripture. Violence is done to the method of theology by this intellectualism as well as by this one-sided mysticism. That method must adapt itself to the fact of the actual cooperation of both factors. This is possible only, when this spiritual reality is postulated in the theologian, and demands the consequent union of his spirit and the spiritual reality which exists concretely outside of him, and which allows him to borrow from the Scripture only the conscious form for this reality. The first was called of old not incorrectly Theology of our inclinations (theologia habitualis), or Theology of use (theologia utens); we should rather call it the mystical knowledge of God in antithesis with intellectual; but by whatever name it goes, from the nature of the case it assumes regeneration, the photismos and the communion of saints, since by these alone one is brought into this spiritual reality and becomes sufficiently spiritual to grasp in his innermost soul the reality of those things revealed to us in the Scripture. He who is deaf must first be healed from his deafness in order to be placed in true touch with the world of sounds. When this contact has been restored, the study of music can again be begun by him. This is the case with reference to the study of theology. Taken as the knowledge of God it is only conceivable, when the spiritual ear is opened in him who prosecutes the study, and to whom the reality of the unseen discovers itself. Palingenesis, therefore, is a requirement which may not be abandoned. Without palingenesis one stands antipathetically opposed to the object of theology. Hence there is no love to quicken communion. But we may not limit ourselves to this. Regeneration by itself is no enlightening. By regeneration the wheel of life in the centrum of our being (the wheel of nature or of birth, James iii. 6) is merely replaced upon its pivot; but this by itself has not changed the world of our conscious life. This occurs only when the Holy Spirit, having taken up His abode in us, transfers His working from this centrum to our facultates, to the faculty of the understanding by enlightening and to the faculty of the will by sanctification. If, in a more solemn sense than the ordinary believer, the theologian is called to enter into the revealed knowledge of God with his understanding, it is evident that so long as he lacks this enlightening he can make no progress. To regeneration and enlightening, is added in the third place the communion of saints. The theologian is no isolated worker, but in the world of thought he is in his way the organ of restored humanity. The subject of theology presents itself to us in the renewed consciousness of restored humanity, and every individual theologian allows this subject to work its effect pro parte virili. The farther he isolates himself from restored humanity the more this action must weaken, while on the other hand its gain in energy keeps pace with his progress in vital communion with this restored humanity. It is and remains an "apprehending with all the saints" (Eph. iii. 18), and the apostles do not hesitate to say, that by this fellowship with them alone does one come to the fellowship of the Father and of the Son (1 John i. 3).
By this we do not claim, that in the field of theological science, intelligent persons, who still lack this palingenesis, photismos and fellowship, cannot furnish results that are productive of lasting good. The labor to be done in the field of theology is by no means all of one kind. This can be distinguished into central and peripheral study. To search out, decipher and compare documents and monuments, for instance, to collect and arrange historical data, the writing of monographs on the Cathedral of Cologne, on some order of monks, or of Wessel Gansfort, etc., is altogether work which lies in the periphery, and which in itself has little to do with the research into the knowledge of God. It is all equivalent to the services which were rendered by Hiram of Tyre for the temple on Sion, but which had next to nothing in common with the sacred ministry behind the veil. These studies are certainly indispensable, even as the work of Hiram was indispensable in order that the High Priest might perform his sacred office, but this did not require in the Tyrian architect what was required in the Minister of the Sanctuary. Spiritual affinity to this centrum is certainly not a matter of indifference in these peripherical studies. What Aholiab and Bezaleel did for the tabernacle, was much more inspired work than what Hiram wrought on Sion's mount. And if, instead of Hiram, a master builder of Israel, rejoicing in Jehovah, could have built the Temple of Solomon, the work undoubtedly would have been inspired by a higher impulse of art. Our observation merely tends to do full justice to the intelligence which, without being interwoven with the life of the Holy Spirit, has been expended upon these peripherical studies in the field of theology.
So far as connection with the spiritual reality is merely put as a requisite in the theologian, it does not touch the method of theology. But it is not difficult to show how there flows an immediate result from this requisite for the method of theology. For fellowship with this spiritual reality is not a constant conception, but it changes and is susceptible to becoming both faint and strong. This fellowship with the Father and with the Son will at one time react strongly, and again weakly in one and the same person, and in the long run a lasting increase will follow. If the person himself were passive in this, and went through these changes merely as nature goes through the changes of heat and cold, it would not affect the method of theology. But this is not the case. He who has been regenerated is a fellow-worker with God, and according as he neglects or practises holy living, his fellowship with the Unseen diminishes or increases. And from this follows the demand of theological method, that the theologian shall be on the alert to feed and to strengthen this fellowship. He who fails in this dulls the spiritual sense by which he must observe what goes on in the sacred domain; while on the contrary he who wants to perfect himself in the accuracy of his observations within this sacred domain, is bound to apply himself to mystical devotion as well as to pietistic practice of holiness. As the pianist must make his fingers supple in order by a greater velocity to accommodate them to the vibrations of the world of sounds, so the theologian must tune his inner being and hold it to that pitch by prayer, meditation, self-denial and daily practice in order to accommodate himself to the sound of heavenly things. Not in the sense that prayer and meditation could ever take the place of alacrity and intelligence or of the "body of doctrine" (copia doctrinae). By his supple fingers the pianist cannot produce a single tone, if he has not the instrument itself at his disposal. But however strenuously we emphasize this intellectual development, unless a spiritual development be its guide, it degenerates of necessity into intellectualism, and becomes cold, barren and unfruitful. Only when the theologian applies himself in harmonious relation to the development of both, does he offer himself to the Holy Spirit as a prepared instrument, and is able to reveal even more fully the strength of this instrument.
§ 90. The Holy Spirit as Teacher (Spiritus Sanctus Doctor)
In this connection only can it be explained what has been implied in the worship of the Holy Spirit by the Church of Christ as the Teacher of the Church (Doctor ecclesiae). This confession must now be considered, because it implies that the action of the human mind, in order to attain to the true "knowledge of God," and thus of all theology, stands subject to his guidance. To understand this well, we must first distinguish between the several sorts of activities that go out from the Holy Ghost. From Him all animation proceeds, as well as the whole creation, and wherever life glows, its flame is ignited by the Holy Ghost. That flame is wanting in the chaotic mass, and then the Holy Spirit moves as yet separate above the chaos. But when the chaos becomes cosmos, the fiery flame of the Spirit glows and scintillates throughout the entire creation. In all conscious life this working of the Holy Spirit reveals itself more intensively and more definitely in the psychical life of man. Not because the Holy Spirit is here a different one, but because this plane of life stands higher, possesses the form of conscious life, and is consequently able to cause the energy of the Holy Spirit to appear in a much higher form. In this sense all light in us, in our emotional life as well as in the domain of science and art, is light ignited by the Holy Ghost. But this does not touch the highest sphere of His activity. This is reached only, when from his side the creature places himself in conscious communion with this energy of the Holy Spirit, whereby the Holy Spirit becomes the "Gemeingeist" in the organism of humanity. And this is wanting in the life without palingenesis. There the "Gemeingeist" is sought in a national spirit, in a spirit of the times, in a prevailing tendency of spirits, and this effort sets itself in opposition to the Holy Spirit. But it is different with that tree of humanity upon which the "Edelreis " has been grafted by God. For humanity thus restored is identical with the body of Christ, and in this body of Christ no other " Gemeingeist" but the Holy Spirit is conceivable. This lies expressed in the Pentecost miracle, by which this indwelling of the Holy Spirit was accomplished. Beautiful confession is made of this by the Heidelberg Catechism, when it speaks of the Holy Spirit as "He who dwells in Christ as the Head and in us as His members." Hence there can be but one thought entertained concerning the subject of restored humanity: viz., that it is led and guided by the Holy Spirit, and this is the profounder sense of what Jesus spake, that the Holy Spirit shall guide into all the truth (John xvi. 13); which utterance by itself simply implies that the Church of Christ should have a guide on her way, and that this guide would lead her ever more deeply into the knowledge of the truth. It is this Holy Spirit, who alone is able to "search all the deep things of God" (1 Cor. ii. 10). It is this same Holy Spirit who reveals these mysteries unto us. And finally, it is this Holy Spirit who, by His communion, makes us spiritual, gives us the mind of Christ, and thereby enables us to judge spiritually (1 Cor. ii. 10-16).
From the nature of the case it is this fact that dominates theology. Theology is studied age after age, among all classes of people and in all kinds of lands, in various circles and under the influence of numerous factors, ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical. In itself, therefore, this sundry task would bear a broken and atomistic character. All unity and all growth would be wanting. If it is nevertheless a fact that this growth is not wanting, and that in the midst of changes and variations unity and progress are apparent, then a higher subject, standing outside and above the subjects of individual theologians and dominating them, must have caused these many rills to flow in one bed, and in that bed must have determined the direction of the stream. With the other sciences this higher subject is given of itself in the immanent logica, in the Logos of the object, which corresponds to the Logos in the subject and aids the logical understanding of the object after a fixed law. That higher power which guarantees unity and growth in these sciences is certainly given in Creation. But such is not the case with theology. This directs itself to a life, which is the fruit of recreation; of re-creation in being as well as in consciousness; and therefore only the Holy Spirit, who is the author of this double re-creation, can here give the impulse, guidance and direction to the spirits, and introduce unity in what goes out from the individuals. And this claims a still stronger emphasis, because the development of the re-created consciousness is conditioned by the Holy Scripture, of which the Holy Spirit is the "primary author" (auctor primarius). If it is a fact that the secondary authors (auctores secundarii) intended to convey much less of a meaning in their writings than the Holy Spirit, under whose impulse they went to work, then from the nature of the case the Holy Spirit alone is able to reveal to the Church His rich and full intention regarding the Holy Scripture. Hence there is unity in the theological effort only because it is the selfsame Holy Spirit who gave us the principium of theology and superintends the effect and the application of this principium. The exegesis of the Holy Scripture is correct and complete only when the Holy Spirit interprets that Scripture in the Church of God. And the reflection of the content of the Scripture in our consciousness, and the reproduction of it by our consciousness, is true and pure and entire only when the Holy Spirit gives command and direction to this activity of the re-created consciousness.
The way in which this is done by the Church, in connection with the office, will be shown in the following section. Even without the influence of the instituted Church, it follows that the individual theologian should always be conscious of this working of the Holy Spirit. This is something both different from and greater than his mystical fellowship with the spiritual reality which was explained in the former section. Without more, this mystical fellowship simply referred to the tenor of his inner life. But it is entirely different when the theologian understands and feels that he is an organ of service, on the ground of which he may confidently expect lasting fruit of his labors so long as he puts himself in the service of the Holy Ghost. This is entirely analogous to the difference between the plodder on his own responsibility and the man of science who labors in the service of the truth. What in every other department of study is service of the truth, is here service of the Holy Ghost. Without this sense of service all study becomes subjectivistic, unhistorical, and arrogant, while, on the contrary, the placing of oneself at the service of the truth, i.e. in this instance of the Holy Ghost, banishes all pride, curbs the desire to be interesting by exhibiting new discoveries, feeds the desire of theological fellowship, and thereby sharpens that historic sense which impels the theologian to join himself to that great work of the Holy Spirit effected in past ages, which at most he may help advance a few paces.
This, however, should not be interpreted in the sense that the service of the Holy Spirit is antagonistic to the service of the truth. The domain of paUngenesis is no newly created ground, but the outcome of re-creation. Hence the natural life is subsumed in it, the natural consciousness also, i.e. those powers, attributes, and laws of being, to which the human consciousness is subject by its nature, in virtue of the creation. As was seen above, the light of the Holy Spirit operates also in this natural consciousness, and of itself this lower light is adopted and included in the higher. If this were not so, theology would be merely a mystical beholding (Oea>pia): but for the reason alone that it is so, it appears as an intellectual and rational discipline (disciplina noetica and dianoetica). On this depends also the old question, which from the days of Arius has repeated itself in the Church, even this: whether theology is authorized to draw out by logical sequence what is not written airoXe-^ei in the Holy Scripture. Almost every tendency, whose interest it was to attach itself to the letter of the Scripture, and to oppose inferences from Scripture, has stated its objections against logical deduction in its polemical writings. Even by Franciscus Veronius from the side of Rome a similar objection was raised against the theology of the Reformers (see Voetius, Disp. Theol. I. pp. 5-12). In theory, however, this position has been defended only by some Anabaptists, and later by the Methodists, although they themselves did not strictly adhere to it. This whole conception meanwhile starts out from a mechanical Scripture-view, and is not worthy of refutation. It is of importance only in so far as it may be asked, whether in His revelation the Holy Spirit was bound to logic. In principle this is denied by all dualistic tendencies. They view the spiritual life of palingenesis and the intellectual life of sinful nature as two spheres which do not touch each other. The refutation of this false assertion must be sought in this: (1) in that palingenesis is represented as a re-creation, which implies the subsumption of the natural life; (2) in that the Holy Spirit is the author of the logical in the natural life as well as of the spiritual in the regenerated life; and (3) in that the Holy Spirit Himself, as the "Gemeingeist," leads and directs not merely the mystic-spiritual, but also the logical-dianoetical action of the Church, and therefore also of theology.
§ 91. The Church and the Office
As the result of the two preceding sections no other inference is possible, than that theological science can only exist in the Church of Christ. Outside of her pale palingenesis is wanting, faith is wanting, and the enlightening, and the fellowship of saints, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as "Gemeingeist." By this, however, it is by no means meant, that the organ for theological science is given in the instituted Church. The conception of the instituted Church is much narrower than the Church of Christ when taken as the body of Christ, for this includes in itself all the powers and workings that arise from re-creation. There is a Christian disposition and a Christian fellowship, there is a Christian knowledge and a Christian art, etc., which indeed spring from the field of the Church and can flourish on this field alone, but which by no means therefore proceed from the instituted Church. The instituted Church finds her province bounded by her offices, and these offices are limited to the ministry of the Word, the Sacraments, Benevolence, and Church government. These are the only offices that have been appointed as special functions in her life. All other expressions of Christian life do not work by the organ of the special offices, but by the organs of the re-created natural life; the Christian family by the believing father and mother, Christian art by the believing artist, and Christian schools by the believing magister. From which it follows that in this domain of palingenesis science also does not come to revelation by organs specially appointed for this purpose, but by the regenerated natural organs. By making an exception of theology here, it is assigned a place outside the organism of Christian knowledge, which prevents it from having one and the same subject in common with the other, Christianly understood, sciences. If then for want of a better school, or in behalf of her own safety, the instituted Church may found a seminary for the education of her ministry, such a seminary is never a scientific institution in its absolute sense. Neither are we authorized, in view of such a seminary, to withdraw ourselves from the obligation of prosecuting the science of theology for its own sake. If preachers are to be not merely Ministers of the Word, but theologians as well, the university training is indispensable.
But from this it does not follow that the instituted Church as such should not be of profound significance to the science of theology. The case indeed is this: sufficient knowledge of God ad hoc flows from the Holy Scripture in a threefold way: personal, ecclesiastical and scientific. If now we consider scientific theology first, then it is clear that its beginnings are very slow, that its growth covers the lapse of ages, and that it is not only still very incomplete, but it will never be finished, because as a science it can never be at a standstill, but will always advance without ever being able to reach completion. In the earlier ages especially it was very imperfect. If then for the sake of procuring the necessary knowledge of God, the Church, which we referred to in the second place, should have had to wait for the result of this study, generation after generation would have passed away before the Church could have begun her task. And this was not to be allowed. The Church had to be in immediate readiness. She could not be held back by any embarrassment. Neither has this taken place. From the very beginning, before there could be so much as a question of science, the Church has borrowed the content of her preaching from the Scripture and thereby has made use of a knowledge of God, which was sufficient ad hoc, i.e. for the life of the Church. What was needed in the churchly life gradually increased also, but in connection with this the Church unfolded the content of her preaching ever more richly, at the same time profiting by the fruit of scientific theology that gradually arose. Thus churchly confessions originated, which were increasingly rich and full, but these churchly confessions have never announced themselves as the results of science. And it is different again in the third place with the personal knowledge of God of each individual. The individual person, whose life is measured by the day, was still less able than the Church, to wait till science had ended her combats and finished her task. In a sense even more definite than the Church each individual must personally be in instant readiness, and have convictions, which for him, ad hoc, can alone be obtained by personal faith and personal experience. Every other conception is unmerciful, since it is unable to give the elect, at every given moment, according to his several condition, that knowledge of God which he needs. Distinction meanwhile is readily made between this personal, churchly and scientific theology (or knowledge of God). The first tends to supply each child of God his comfort in life and in death. The second, to enable the Church to preach and to maintain her confession in the face of the world. And the third is charged with the introduction of the knowledge of God into the human consciousness. The first has for its circle the life's-sphere of the individual, the second the circle of the instituted Church, and the third the circle of the church taken as an organism. In connection with this the form of the knowledge of God is distinguished also in these three ways. Personal faith does not formulate, but, as the fathers since Augustine said," appropriates and enjoys " (utitur et fruitur). The churchly confession formulates in dogmata. Scientific theology sifts and tries, analyzes and draws inferences, constructs systems and places in connection with what lies outside. And, finally, the first is fruit of personal enlightenment and experience; the second, of the official activity of the Church, also in her struggles with heresy; and the third is the independent fruit of study.
If, now, we bring this in connection with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then this guidance in the case of the personal knowledge of God consists in the providential and spiritual leading, by which the heart of the individual is influenced and his world of thought is formed; in the case of the ecclesiastical knowledge of God it is the guidance of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon the Churches through the office; and in the case of the scientific knowledge it consists in the clarifying of the consciousness. This, however, must not be understood in the sense that these three factors are isolated, and work each by itself. No man is a theologian in a scientific sense unless he is also a partaker of personal enlightenment and spiritual experience. For, unless this is the case, his starting-point is wanting, and he has no contact with the principium of theology. Neither can the theologian stand outside the church relation, and thus outside of personal union with the churchly confession, for then he finds himself outside the historic process, and, in fact, the organic contact is broken with the lifecircle, within which his studies must flourish, so far as is possible to him. The personal faith, which simply touches the principium, and which as being entirely individual is an inestimable magnitude, needs receive no further mention here. For the theologian, it is the starting-point; but it is nothing more. It is very different, on the other hand, with the churchly confession. An objective condition lies in this. It is a product of the life of the Church, as in an ever richer form it has revealed itself officially, i.e. in ecclesiastical assemblies, under the special guidance of the Holy Spirit. Two things are contained in this confession. First, the self-consciousness of the Church, as it has developed itself historically, which, consequently, is the result of a spiritual experience and a spiritual struggle that fills in the gap between the present and the first appearance of the Christian Church. And in the second place, the result of the special leading of the Holy Spirit, vouchsafed in the course of ages to the Church, and to the knowledge of God that has developed itself within her pale. For this reason the theologian should not undervalue the confession of his Church, as if in it a mere opinion presented itself to him over against which, with equal if not with better right, he might place his opinion. The life of the Church, and the forming and reforming of her self-consciousness, is an action which is uninterruptedly continued. Scientific study unquestionably does and must exert an influence upon this, but for this reason this action should not sacrifice its independent character and motive of its own. A company charged with the public water-works may change the direction of some part of a river-bed by cutting off some needless bend or obstructive turn, but this does not render the company the original creator of the river who causes its waters to flow. In the same way, the scientific theologian may exert a corrective power here and there upon the confessional life of the Church, but this does not constitute him the man who sets this life in motion. That life pursues its own course, the stream of that life creates a bed for itself. To the theologian, therefore, the confession of his Church does not merely possess the presumption of truth; it appears objectively before him clothed with authority: with that authority which the many wield over the individual, with the authority of the ages in the face of ephemeral excitements; with the authority of the office in distinction from personal life; and with the authority which is due to the churchly life by virtue of the guidance of the Holy Ghost. It is not lawful, therefore, for him simply to slight this confessional life of the Church in order, while drifting on his own oars, to construct in his own way a new system of knowledge of God. He who undertakes to do this is bound in the end to see his labor stricken with unfruitfulness, or he destroys the churchly life, whose welfare his study ought to further.
From this, however, it does not follow that his studies are to have no other tendency than to confirm the confession of his Church, as if this were clothed with infallible authority. This was the fault committed by Scholasticism. The guidance of the Holy Spirit truly intends to be immediately effective in its final result; but it compels itself least of all to be this in every part of its action. A guide is given you of whom you know that in the end he will bring you where you want to be, but he does not necessarily lead you along a straight line and at once to that end. You approach this end only by stages; and for the sake of having your own thought and activity develop themselves, this guide allows you to take circuitous routes, and to try roads that run out, from which you will return of your own accord; while amid all these apparently contradictory movements he keeps the end in view, and brings it to pass, that finally you go to it of yourself. And in this very connection scientific theology is of a practical significance to the Church. It carries, indeed, the end in itself, of causing the glory of God's truth to shine also in the world of our consciousness. But it is equally called to examine critically the confessional life of the Church, by ever and anon testing the confession of the Church by the principium of theology, i.e. the Word of God. For which reason the theologian can never be a man of abstract study. Of two things he must do one. As a man of study he must remain in harmonious contact with the Church, whose confession he confirms by his study. Or he must enter an ever dangerous suit against the Church, whose confession he antagonizes in one point or another, on the ground of the Word of God. If now this touches an inferential question, which lies in the most distant circumference of dogma, the character of this struggle is less serious. But if the difference concerns the centrum of the confession, i.e. the real knowledge of God, the Church must either consent to his view and modify her confession, or he must break with the Church, whose confession he has found to be false. In this it is assumed, of course, that both he and his Church stand upon the basis of God's Word. Otherwise either the Church or the theologian who criticises her is wanting, so that there may be a good deal of quarrelling, as the outcome of dishonesty, but there can be no question of a spiritual struggle. But that spiritual struggle is the very thing in question. From both sides it must be carried on for the sake of the truth of God. And even as the martyr, the theologian must have courage to hazard his whole position in this struggle. Either he must be convinced, or the Church must be convinced by him. If one of these two things does not take place, there is no escape from a final breach. Hence, even when apprehended centrally, theological science owes the Church a bounden duty in service of the Holy Spirit. Not the duty of supplying her with the assurance of the faith; this the theologian must derive from the life of the Church. And a theology which makes it appear that it has to furnish the assurance of faith, cuts away the knowledge of God from its moorings, and builds by the authority of reason. But, in the service of the Holy Spirit, theology is called ever and anon to test the historic, confessional life of the Church by its source, and to this end to examine it after the norm of the Holy Scripture. By itself confessional life tends to petrify and to fall asleep, and it is theology that keeps the Church awake; that lends its aid in times of conflict with oft-recurring heresies; that rouses her self-consciousness anew to a giving of account, and in this way averts the danger of petrifaction.
§ 92. The Liberty of Scientific Theology
To be able, however, to accomplish this task, scientific theology must be entirely free in her movement. This, of course, does not imply license. Every study is bound by the nature of its object, and subjected to the laws that govern the activity of our consciousness. But this is so far from a limitation of its liberty, that its very liberty consists in being bound to these laws. The railway train is free, so long as the rails hold its wheels in their embrace. But it becomes unfree, works itself in the ground, and cannot go on as soon as the wheels jump the track. Hence there is no question of desiring to free the theologian as such at the bar of his own conscience from his obligation to his subject, his principium, or the historic authority of the Church; what we should object to is, that the study should be prevented from pursuing its own way. That a Church should forbid a minister of the Word the further use of her pulpit when he antagonizes her confession, or that a board of trustees should dismiss a professor, who, according to their view, does not serve the end for which he was appointed, has nothing whatever to do with this liberty of studies. A ship-owner, who dismisses a captain because he sails the ship to a different point of destination from what the ship-owner designated, in no wise violates thereby the personal rights of the captain. When a Church appoints a minister of the Word, she and she alone is to determine what she desires of him, and when he is no longer able to perform this, she can no longer retain him in her service. And in the same way, when the curators of a university appoint some one to teach Lutheran dogmatics, and this theologian meanwhile becomes Romish, it is not merely their right but their duty to displace him. Yea, stronger still, a theologian who, in such a case, does not withdraw, is dishonest, and as such cannot be upheld. But these cases have nothing to do with the liberty of studies, and at no time does the churchly liberty of the theologian consist of anything but his right to appeal to the Word of God, on the ground of which he may enter into a spiritual conflict with his Church, and if he fails in this, to withdraw. Thus when the liberty of theology is spoken of, we do not mean theology as attached to any office, but theology as an independent phenomenon. The question simply is, whether, after it has separated itself from this office, and thus makes its appearance as theology only, it is or is not free.
And the answer is, that every effort to circumscribe theology by any obstacle whatever is antagonistic to her nature, and disables her for her calling. The law of thought will not allow you to call the thing black, which you see to be white. As a thing presents itself to you, so does it cast its image in your consciousness. To say that you see a thing in this way, but that you must represent it to yourself in the other way, is to violate the freedom of thought. We grant that a man of study is frequently blinded by superficiality, by want of thoroughness and sobriety, and sometimes even by conceit and arrogance, so that he has a false view of his object. Formally, however, this does not alter the case; even when his view is false, he is bound to describe a thing as he sees it. We are concerned here with the same problem as with the erring conscience. When Saul before his conversion worked havoc among the churches of God, his conscience erred, in so far as he deemed this to be his duty to God. If, however, he had remained quiescent and allowed the thing free course which he thought it his duty to oppose, at that moment he would have violated his conscience and have formally sinned. Whoever, therefore, may please to be a theologian, and whatever conclusions he may reach by his investigations, and may publish as results of his study, you must quietly allow. Even when the Church or a curatorium decides that his views disqualify him for the office he may hold, neither his theory nor his liberty of speech or writing may be denied him. Of course he must be willing to risk his office and his position; but what is this, compared to what was risked by the martyrs for their conviction? If he is a man of principle, and means what he says, he will not hesitate to make this sacrifice. And how great an influence one may exert upon theology, even without office, has sufficiently been shown by Spinoza. All the theologian can ask is, liberty to investigate, speak and write agreeably to the claims of his conviction. If only he is not impeded in this, he is free. And that is the liberty in which he may not be hindered in the least.
We grant that this may give rise to the case, that he who began as theologian will cease to be a theologian, in order that he may speak as a philosopher. He who chooses another object than that of theology and consequently goes out from another principium, and investigates agreeably to another method, may still be a man of learning, but he is no longer a theologian. But even this must be left to the free operation of minds. The persistent heretic must be banished from the Church; a professor, whose presence is a menace to the highest interests of a school, must be dismissed; but from the field of theology no one can disappear, unless he leaves it of his own free will. He may do this consciously by the open declaration: I am no longer a theologian; or, again, the results of his investigations may bring it about, that at length nobody numbers him any more among theologians. But so long as it pleases him to pose as a theologian, no one can prevent him; even when he has undermined, as far as he was able, successively, the object, principle and method of theology. However just, therefore, the people's protest is, when from the pulpit a theologian attacks the confession of the Church which he serves, or when from the platform a professor antagonizes the standards of the school for whose principles he ought to make propaganda, that protest becomes unwarranted and may not be tolerated when it directs itself against the liberty of the man of science. Expression may be given to the indignation which smarts under an assault on sacred things; but in his personal liberty the man of science must be respected. And when he shows that for the sake of his scientific conviction there is no sacrifice too great for him, so that he bravely defies opposition from every quarter, praise must not be withheld from him for such heroic strength of character. This praise must be withheld from the man who, for the sake of saving his position, sacrifices his Church or his school; but it is due to those titanic spirits who show, indeed, that they do not contend for their position, but simply for the liberty of science and the liberty of their deepest conviction.
This absolute liberty is, moreover, indispensable, if theology is to discharge her duty to the confessional life of the Church. Not that the Church should yield summarily to every criticism of her confession. The Church may not modify her confession, unless the conviction takes hold of her that some part of her confession cannot stand before the bar of the Word of God. But on the other hand, also, her confession must be alive; in its truth and clearness it must rest upon the Church's consciousness of life itself, and thereby be so firmly rooted, that it cannot stand in fear of criticism. Real gold will court trial; and theology is not able to try, test and criticise, if she is withheld the right to do this freely and radically. The history of Scholasticism shows, that when the expression of free thought is choked, and criticism of the confession becomes a question of life and death, theology fails of her task in many respects. And on the other hand, the Church has nothing to fear from this liberty of studies, provided she but do her duty within her own pale. Of course, she must not permit her confession to be attacked or ignored in her pulpits. The Church undertakes the propaganda of her life and consciousness, and he who does not share her life, or does not think from her world of thought, cannot be her organ. She must also apply Christian discipline, in order to keep the purity of confession intact among her members. But provided she is not behind in this, the criticism of theological science can bring her blessings only. For this provides the constant stimulus to turn back from the confession to the Word of God, and so prevents the Church from living on the water in the pitcher, and allowing itself to be cut off from the Fountain whence that water was drawn. A sharp, critical development of theology will ever entail a keener wakefulness of historical-positive theology, to make the Church understand anew the treasure she holds in her creed. In this way also the confessional development of the Church will not be at a standstill, but be ever making advance. And if for a while negative criticism carries the greatest weight, it will not last long, since the theologians who stand outside the life of the Church are bound to lose, sooner or later, their interest in theological studies.
If revelation were given in a dialectically prepared form, so that it consisted of a confession given by God Himself, of a catechism and of a law worked out in detailed particulars; if such a dialectically prepared form were given us in our own language, and if the copy of this lay before us in the original, infallible manuscript: the majesty of God would not invite, but forbid, such criticism and such a liberty of studies. But such was not the appointment of God. Revelation was given in a historic and symbolic form to be worked into a dialectic form by us; it was given in a language that is foreign to us; and the manuscripts which are at our disposal are very different from each other and not free from faults. We are offered no bread cut and sliced, but seed-grain, from which, by our labor, wheat grows, in turn to be ground into meal and made into bread. Hence the human factor is not doomed to inactivity, but stimulated to highest action, which action must always go through all sorts of uncertainty and commotion. By feeling only we find the way. In doing this our consciousness tries to grasp, assimilate and reproduce its object with the aid of both actions of which our consciousness is capable: viz. immediate faith and discursive thought. At one time the results of this twofold action coincide, and at another time they antagonize each other, and from this tumult that activity is born by which we make personal, ecclesiastical and scientific advances. There is here no papal infallibility to furnish a final decision, and least of all should this be taken as the continuation of infallible inspiration, since it differs entirely in form, character and tendency from the inspiration of the Scripture. Moreover, such a papal infallibility can have no other result than is actually seen in the Church of Rome; viz. that faith in the rich treasure of revelation is superseded by a faith in the Church, and that the healthy reaction of free theology upon the confessional life of the Church is entirely excluded. Such a papal infallibility aims at an outward, mathematical certainty which is irreconcilably opposed to the whole manner of existence of the revelation of God. To a certain extent it may even be said that in an empirical sense there is nothing certain here. There is conflict of opinion concerning the reading of the manuscripts, concerning the interpretation of every book and pericope, concerning every abstraction and deduction, and concerning every formulation and every application of the thought obtained. He who desires notarial accuracy is disappointed at every step in this sanctuary. But when the outcome shows that, notwithstanding all these difficulties, thousands and tens of thousands have obtained full assurance and certainty, to our Protestant consciousness it implies the guarantee that the Holy Spirit has not merely given us a Book and then withdrawn Himself from our human scene of action, but that that same Holy Spirit continues to be our leader, and in that very freedom of the action of our spirit causes His dominion to triumph.