A Reply to the Theses of J. Schniewind by Rudolf Bultmann
On Thesis I
I need only say how pleased I am that you have so clearly recognized my aims, and that you agree in principle that the mythology of the New Testament constitutes a very real problem.
On Thesis II A
I agree that my definition of “myth” is open to misunderstanding, but at the same time I am convinced that it is more satisfactory than the alternative you suggest (“By ‘mythological’ we mean the presentation of unobservable realities in terms of observable phenomena”) For one thing, “observable” may prove too narrow a term and “unobservable” too broad, since all spiritual attitudes are unobservable. In mythology — e.g. in the legends about the gods — we constantly meet such unobservable phenomena as will, wrath, fear, etc. Hence the term “observable” is just as misleading as “unworldly”. The degree of elaboration in any given piece of mythology is irrelevant for its classification as mythology, whereas to define myth in terms of “observable” and “unobservable” tends to suggest the contrary. The New Testament pictures of heaven or of the resurrection of Jesus are, despite their reserve, just as mythological in principle as the corresponding pictures in Jewish literature or in the Gospel of Peter. It may be true that the result of modern atomic research is to convert natural phenomena into processes which are no longer accessible to observation, but those phenomena do not thereby cease to be “worldly” in character.
You ask whether we can ever really dispense with myth. That is in my view an ambiguous question. Much of our ordinary language is based on mythology in any case, and there are certain concepts which are fundamentally mythological, and with which we shall never be able to dispense — e.g. the idea of transcendence. In such cases, however, the original mythological meaning has been lost, and they have become mere metaphors or ciphers. As for mythology in its original sense, I maintain not only that we can dispense with it, but that it is essential to do so. You ask who would be so rash as to try and demythologize Plato. G. Krüger in his Einsicht und Leidenschaft shows that even Plato himself indulges in demythologizing.
When you say that natural science thinks in mythological terms, you are using the word “myth” in an improper sense. After all, it is in the nature of things that the sciences should evolve a system of concepts derived from the visible world of time and space, for that is the world with which it has to deal. If any particular series of concepts subsequently proves inadequate, that does not make them “mythological” in the proper sense of the word. If science attributes natural phenomena to non-natural causes, it may degenerate into mythology, but then it will have ceased to be science. But things have not reached that pass when it employs such concepts as “totality” and “source”. And when such terms are used in philosophy, they do not necessarily retain their original reference to the realm of time and space. I see no need whatever to say that the philosophers can speak of ultimate questions only in mythological terms, however hypothetical their speculations must inevitably be. They may tell us that in dealing with such phenomena as “religiosity” or “humanism” it is irrelevant and out of order to inquire about the “something” that lies behind them, and thereby protest against the conclusion that the only answer to all ultimate questions is the Nihil. If, on the other hand, they choose to postulate the existence of God in order to account for these phenomena, as Kant and Hegel did, and as Krüger has recently done, I would contend that it is really God they are talking about, not, however, in the mythological sense, but in the Greek sense of the Arché.
You appear to have been misled by Karl Heim. To point to revelation as the only solution to the dilemma is to labor from the outset under a false assumption about the answer of revelation to the question of faith, and to substitute a Weltanschauung for faith. The question which faith asks is quite different from that asked by philosophy or by the natural sciences. And conversely, the revelation of God in Christ gives no answer whatever to the questions asked by philosophy and the natural sciences. You say: “All our thinking leaves us with the question mark: has the invisible ever been made visible, and if so, where?” That would seem to be the wrong question, at any rate if by “invisible” you mean what faith means by it. For the only invisible reality which science can seek is the Arché.
You doubt whether I am doing justice to the faith of the New Testament when I call Jesus “the agent of God’s presence and activity” (sc. towards us). Whether you are right or not will only appear from the subsequent argument. At any rate, it should be clear that I have done justice to the ephapax of the New Testament, from the fact that this characteristic is postulated precisely of the unique, historical Jesus. The addition of “in a unique and final present” seems to me to lead to misunderstanding. But this will become clear when we deal with the thesis on eschatology.
On Thesis II B
I deny that the Christian faith is for man intrinsically mythological. At any rate, it is not so for modern man in the sense in which I speak of the myth of the New Testament. You tell us that even when Christianity has been emancipated from myth modern man continues to reject it because it speaks of an act of God and of sin. But that is another matter altogether. Christianity is then rejected not because it is myth, but because it is skandalon.
I left the question as to whether it was mythological to speak of an act of God unanswered on, only to answer it later on. Of course a philosopher cannot in his official capacity speak of an act of God, for he never speaks of concrete events such as transactions between persons. All he can do is to show what is meant by personal event in general. But this is just the point at which he can help the theologian to find a non-mythological language in which to speak of God.
Similarly the philosopher can help the theologian to give a sound definition of aversio a deo. Of course he cannot identify his “Verfallenheit” with the theologian’s aversio a deo: only faith can do that. For it is only by faith that God is encountered as Person. Yet the only way to rescue aversio a deo from mythology is to show that it corresponds to a real experience in human life — that in fact it is equivalent to the ” Verfallenheit” of which the existentialists speak. This is where I part company with Thielicke.( Deutsches Pfarrerblatt, 1943.) When we preach that life before faith is sin, we must show what life before faith is like, otherwise it is just a piece of mythology.
This is one of the crucial points in my restatement of the kerygma. Hence I am bound to say that to speak of faith in the living God and in his presence in Christ is pure myth unless these things are given an existentialist (N.B., Not “Existential”.) interpretation. This explains why I deny that Christianity is intrinsically mythological. It would be true to say that natural man finds it to be pure skandalon precisely when it is made intellectually intelligible to him. The Christian preacher can demand faith only when he has demonstrated sin and grace to be real possibilities of human life, and their denial and repudiation to be unbelief and guilt. It is the great merit of the existentialist interpretation that it makes this clear. Or perhaps it would be more modest to claim that such is my conviction, unless someone can show me a better interpretation.
On Thesis III
If we are to arrive at a satisfactory definition of forgiveness and freedom, the need for an existentialist interpretation again becomes vital. True, freedom, in the New Testament sense of the word, means facultas standi extra se coram deo, freedom from condemnation, freedom from the bondage of the law, etc. But all this requires interpretation; these things must be shown to be real experiences in human life. The same applies to the judgment of God and to Christ as our freedom from the curse and condemnation. Otherwise all this is simply unintelligible mythology. I am seeking to elucidate this freedom by interpreting it as the freedom of man from himself and his past for himself and his future. And it is quite legitimate to look for parallels in the other religions or in mysticism or in Goethe’s Stirb und Werde in order to show that man as man can know that the trouble with man is himself, and that in order to achieve authentic Being he must be delivered from self. Apart from such an interpretation the New Testament message of freedom remains utterly unintelligible. At the same time, by defining freedom as freedom from my own particular past for my own particular future, I have made my difference from Goethe and the mystics self-evident. For they speak not of freedom from the past for the future, but of escape from history into non-history.
This notion of freedom from the past does not in my opinion lack a qualitative reference, for it is concerned with my own particular past, with what I have made of my self under the illusion that self-hood is something to be achieved by my own efforts. Here we have your primal sin of rebellion against God. Similarly, the future I speak of is my own particular future in which true self-hood is received as a gift. The future is thus always extra me, and my past, my “old” self, is always present as a state of being forgiven. Deliverance is not therefore a vague kind of new ego. That is why I may rightly claim that faith means to open ourselves to the future.
I do not see why the terms of the argument should be reversed. If faith (and, after all, I did say so) is possible only as faith in the love of God, then “it is because and in so far as we have become the objects of God’s love that we are free from our past and open to God’s future”. But there is no need to stress the contrast between our past and God’s future. After all, God’s future is our future too, and unless it is shown to be so it remains a myth. I agree with your remarks.. That is just what I am trying to put into effect by my restatement of the kerygma.
I would interpret eschatology and the day of judgment along similar lines. It is not enough merely to abandon the elaborate mythological symbolism, nor to define eschatology as that which lies “beyond the bounds of time and space”. The only true interpretation of eschatology is one which makes it a real experience of human life. You say: “Our acquittal is Christ himself. He is the embodiment of the righteousness of God. ” But surely that requires interpretation. And such a metaphorical statement as “He incorporates his own in himself as a king includes his people” serves only to darken counsel.
Again, I asserted that eschatological existence has become a possibility because human life has been refashioned by the act of God. You say I should reverse this, but again I cannot see why. I do not deny that God and his impending judgment (“impending” in the sense that it confronts us already here and now) is the primary consideration. Nor do I deny that we can know the true nature of eschatological existence only through God’s revelation of himself in Christ. Our previous knowledge of it was but ignorance or error, but it was not purely negative, otherwise the revelation could not convey any real knowledge. That revelation would not be a life-shattering event, but merely the imparting of information on the subject. It would be better to call it “suppressed knowledge” such as blossoms forth in a perverted form in mysticism and idealism.
Yes, indeed. Forgiveness shows itself in freedom from sin, and that in turn in obedience to the imperative. Of course, I do not mean that ethical renewal is the real end and forgiveness merely the means, for that would exalt the imperative above the indicative. There can never be a second moment parallel with or additional to justification. The whole gift of God is comprised in the forgiveness of sins. But I am quite sure that we will not understand this aright unless we insist that forgiveness is freedom from sin, not only from past guilt, but also from sinful behavior in the future. It is “access to God”, certainly, but what do we mean by that? What does it mean in actual experience? Human life continues to be “historic” even when it is eschatological — for that I take it is what you mean by “the eschatological judgment still lies in the future” — and it issues forth in a new life. It is therefore controlled by the imperative. Through the gift of God “Thou shalt” becomes “I will”. We are “led by the Spirit”. The peculiar quality of the indicative is manifested in its inseparable unity with the imperative, and vice versa. It was Karl Barth, I believe, who first charged me with substituting anthropology for theology. This is an easy misunderstanding of the existentialist position. Anthropology is here being used rather as Feuerbach used it, and existence is identified with subjectivity. Using “anthropology” differently, I would heartily agree: I am trying to substitute anthropology for theology, for I am interpreting theological affirmations as assertions about human life. What I mean is that the God of the Christian revelation is the answer to the vital questions, the existential questions. But he is not the answer to the theoretical questions raised by the existentialist philosophers. That is why, in my opinion, you cannot write off existentialism as atheistic for not taking God into account. Such an objection is wholly irrelevant. After all, why should you take God into account? Are the existentialists raising the wrong questions? Is it impossible to analyze the meaning of existence in the abstract? I do not think so. They would be wrong if they tried to discover what gives meaning to my own particular existence. This question they rightly leave for the individual to answer for himself, and they do so just because they are concerned with the meaning of existence in the abstract.
Thesis IV A
First let me repeat that I do not mean that to be free from sin is something more than the forgiveness of sins. That would be a one-sided interpretation, as if it were no more than the blotting out of past sins. It may be that I have laid too much stress on the future reference of forgiveness, but I did not forget to insist that there can only be freedom for the future where there has been deliverance from my own particular past. All I need do is to elucidate what I said. I agree with what you say.
I still maintain that the underlying assumptions of sacrifice as practiced in the primitive cults and in the religions of classical antiquity (including the Old Testament) are incurably mythological. There may of course be nothing mythological in the belief that man must be ready to sacrifice to the deity what is dearest to him. But such a belief becomes mythological the moment it ceases to be controlled by a true conception of God. Take for instance the case of a child being sacrificed in order to insure the success of an enterprise or to avert misfortune. Such a practice implies a crude mythological conception of God. It cannot be denied that a similar belief underlies the practice of sacrifice in the Old Testament — the belief that God will accept the life of a substitute when the offerer’s own life is forfeit. The modern use of sacrifice in connection with the mother or the soldier is entirely different. In these cases the offerer is himself the victim. He is not seeking to insure his own safety by offering a substitute, or to gain anything for himself.
The idea of atonement is juridical, and when applied to God mythological; so is the doctrine of satisfaction, which is at least echoed in the teaching of St. Paul. I cannot see how Isa. 53 and Dan. 7 make St. Paul’s assertions about the sinlessness and pre-existence of Jesus any less mythological. And to say that “Jesus entered into our deprivation from God” is in my view undeniably mythological, unless indeed you are prepared to interpret it. It makes no difference that the New Testament avoids all pictorial elaboration. The fact itself is still mythological, and still requires interpretation. And if that is the meaning of every pericope of the gospels and epistles, it is even more imperative to interpret it.
You say that no attempt is made to elaborate the picture of Christ’s enthronement and heavenly intercession. But that again does not make them any less mythological. It is true that the variations in the formulae and the vagueness of the terminology is a warning that when we have stigmatized them as mythological we have not pronounced the last word on the subject: all the more need then for an interpretation in non-mythological terms. But you have not gone far enough to give us that. Above all, I cannot discover the hermeneutical principle behind your interpretation.
I must now confess — and here perhaps the gulf between us is most obvious — that the language of personal relationship with Christ is just as mythological as the other imagery you favor; that is, unless it is strictly conceived on the lines of John 14: 9 or of Herrmann’s “God is in Christ”. You ask: “What do we mean when we say that Jesus has entered into our deprivation from God? What do we mean by a personal relation with the exalted Christ?” Your questions only go to show how mythological in form is the New Testament theology of the cross. It is highly significant that these questions come not from one committed to agnosticism, but from a Christian exegete. Surely you are confounding the stumbling-block of the mythological language with the real skandalon of the cross, and the exegetical problem with that of faith. It seems that you are afraid to abandon mythology lest you should surrender the real skandalon with the preliminary stumbling-block.
You say “That sentence is intelligible and tolerable only because God has changed it into an acquittal by a unique act of his own.” I agree with this. But when you say: “So heinous is our guilt that God delivered up his Son in order to remove it”, I can regard that only as mythological. “Everything hinges upon God’s judgment. ” Granted, though exactly how that judgment was wrought out in Christ is just what we have to explain. The explanation I proposed was this: when we appropriate the judgment of God we have to take up the cross for ourselves and affirm the divine judgment in self-judgment. I think that here I have St. Paul and Luther on my side, and hope you agree too.
On Thesis IV B
To ignore the connection between faith on the one hand and the cross of Christ as a past event on the other would certainly mean surrendering the confession and the kerygma. But that was not at all my meaning. What I am concerned with is the “historic” significance of the unique event of past history, in virtue of which it possesses eschatological significance although it is a unique event of past history. That is how the New Testament interprets that event, and it is the task of the theologian to decide whether this is just mythology, or whether it is capable of an existentialist interpretation.
Now, it seems to me that the only way to explain this event is by means of a paradox. The unique event of past history is an ever-present reality. I do not mean that it is timeless like an abstract idea, for that would make the cross a bare symbol. I am seeking rather to give full weight to the New Testament conception of the cross as an ever-present reality, first in the kerygma and the sacraments (both of which are forms of personal encounter) and secondly in the daily life of the Christians. For faith the unique event of the past is an ever-present reality. You speak of “a unique event wrought out in the personal relation between God and man on the stage of history”. I have no objection to such language, especially in liturgy. But it still requires interpretation if it is not to remain mythological, and that is what I am trying to do. After all, we have to remember that we are using history in a different sense from what it bears in a phrase like “the history of Anglo-German relations”.
Nor, again, do I object to your speaking of a unique and final revelation of God in history, so long as the context puts the meaning beyond all doubt. It would, for instance, be quite legitimate to use such language in refuting a pantheistic conception of revelation. At the same time such language is dangerous, for it is liable to obscure the eschatological character of the Christian faith in revelation, and to make that revelation a revelatum, something which took place in the past and now an object of detached observation, and the kerygma a bare report about something now dead and done with. And that is to forget that “now is the day of salvation”.
It cannot be denied that as a past fact the cross cannot be an event in our own lives. It is only through the proclamation that the cross can become a personal encounter and so an ever-present reality. But this is not to deny the uniqueness of Christ. On the contrary, it gives full weight to “the word made flesh”, in which alone the proclamation has its origin and its credentials. So far from denying that uniqueness I am therefore confirming it. Behind your whole argument there lies the difficult problem of our relation to Jesus, though I would rather not embark upon that at this point.
Certainly we must avoid driving a wedge between the two halves of the New Testament, the gospels and the epistles. But the relation between those two halves still requires explanation, and to my mind it is by no means easy to explain it. I agree with your remarks; it is indeed part of the skandalon that, “as the Christian Church has always asserted, our salvation is One who is involved in all the relativity of history”. But did I not say the same, only in a different way? It was what I meant, anyhow.
On Thesis V
With regard to the resurrection, let me begin by assuring you that I have no intention whatever of denying the uniqueness of the first Easter Day, in spite of my insistence on the “historic”, significance of our being crucified and risen with Christ. But I would not call dying and rising again with Christ a subjective experience, for it can occur only through an encounter with the proclamation and the present act of God in it.
You say: “God’s judgment of the world, which is at the same time its salvation, and which therefore deprives death of its power, is in the first instance the judgment of God upon Christ. This judgment vindicates him who is forsaken by God and man. It glorifies him and enthrones him as Lord. ” I should accept such a statement only with reservations, for it seems to me wrong to isolate the person of Jesus in this way. When St. Paul speaks of Jesus as the last Adam or the Second Man (l Cor. 15:45, 47; cf. Rom.5:12ff.; 1 Cor. 15:20ff. and the exposition of the Church as the Body of Christ), he uses these concepts of Gnostic cosmology because he refuses to isolate the person of Jesus. His destiny was bound up with that of the whole human race, though of course its universal significance can be realized only through encounter with the kerygma and the response of faith. This seems to me to be identical in effect with the extra nos of the Reformers. And this is exactly what gives the event of Christ its eschatological significance. It anticipates that future event in which the time process is destined to culminate, while to speak of it as happening “first” is to speak in terms of the empirical time-process, not in terms of the eschatological event. Similarly, the events of Good Friday and Easter Day are two separate events only from the standpoint of man in time; in their eschatological character they are a single indivisible event.
I gladly accept your criticism that what encounters us in the Church’s kerygma is not the Easter faith, but the Easter testimony of the original disciples. It is the purpose of the resurrection narratives to record that witness in its full authoritative force. But I cannot accept 1 Cor. 15:3-8 as kerygma. I call that line of argument fatal because it tries to adduce a proof for the kerygma. Nor am I convinced that the legend of the Empty Tomb was part of the kerygma, or that St. Paul himself knew anything about it. But I am glad to note your agreement with me on the other points, and I do not deny that the resurrection kerygma is firmly rooted to the earthly figure of the crucified Jesus.
I did not mean that the eschatological event is no more than the conviction of the reality of an invisible world. It would be better to say that it means translation into an unworldly existence, or, in New Testament language, being in Christ. It is certainly wrong to interpret Christ “merely in terms of our existence as persons in history”, if that existence is understood in a purely idealistic sense. That would be to reduce the great Christological events to bare symbols or stimuli to religious devotion. But, granted a true conception of historicity, granted that our “historic” self transcends our subjectivity, so that we are always extra nos as well as in ourselves, in good as well as in evil, then the above quotation is perfectly correct, and the word “merely” serves only to protect the Christological event from a mythological interpretation. For the fact is that we can apprehend invisible reality only in the light of a fact encountered in a concrete encounter in life. We cannot prove theoretically that this fact is Christ; we can only know it in faith.
On Thesis VI A
That which happened in the years 1-30 has, as the act of God, no end. Nor have faith, hope, and love, which are grounded in that act and have it for their object. That there is an end of those things that were written, that Christ is the end of the law, does after all mean that God has set an end to all purely historical happening (cf. Th.L.Z., 1939, 255, on H. D. Wendland, Geschichtsanschauun und Geschichtsbewasstsein im N. T.).
I do not believe that “a life based on invisible, intangible realities” is too wide a definition of eschatology. If this covers religion as a whole, that only goes to show that the definition is correct. For the chief aim of every genuine religion is to escape from the world, and in that sense every genuine cult is an eschatological phenomenon. That is particularly true of the Old Testament, for which cf. my Glauben und Verstehen, p. 162f. If in the Old Testament, in Judaism, and in the New Testament, the unworldly takes the form of a future hope, of eschata — “last things” in the traditional sense — that is only one among other possible conceptions of man’s relation to the unworldly, though no doubt it enshrines a genuine insight into human existence, namely that from a human perspective the eschaton can only be future. (In mythological thought a future event in time is substituted for futurity in the abstract.) Now, the New Testament advances the paradoxical claim that to faith the future has become a present reality. This point could be illustrated from the New Testament doctrine of righteousness.
It is equally true that eschatology in the New Testament sense of the word is controlled by the idea of the day of judgment (p. 78). Hence my insistence that faith, in the sense of openness for the future, is also an acceptance of the judgment of God which has happened and still happens in the cross. On the other hand, I maintain that the “last day” is a mythological concept, which must be replaced by the language of death. To ignore with the Gnostics the certainty of death is to forget that our existence is and remains essentially “historic” and that the future, though apprehended, is never an assured possession so long as our earthly “historic” existence endures and so long as faith is still in via (Phil. 3:12-14). I am surprised how readily people conclude that my interpretation of the New Testament eschatology implies a timeless “now”. To say that two ages or cosmic periods overlap is to my mind totally inadequate. If the point of the contrast between the two ages is that the present age is evil and that in the age to come there will be no more temptation or death, the age to come cannot be conceived as a further period in history or as overlapping the old age like two epochs in history. It would be better to say that in the new age the indispensable conditions of the time process come to an end. The overlapping is possible and the age to come a present reality only in virtue of certain events and responses to those events within the old age. Faith interprets these as the irruption of the new age. I refer of course to the event of Christ, the kerygma, the response of faith, and the church or community of believers. What happens in these phenomena now — that is, at particular points along the time process — has ceased to be an event in time. Therefore in the last analysis each particular Now is to the eyes of faith that one Now which is the fullness of time.
We may perhaps say that the Now of the New Testament is both timeless and temporal. Here we have the exact equivalent of the paradox in the assertion that “the Word was made flesh”. This is not the timeless Now of the mystics, stoics, or idealists. It is not as if all events in time were but parables of eternity. Rather, the Now of the New Testament implies that the supra-temporal reality becomes an event for each particular individual only by virtue of an encounter in time; it has itself the character of encounter. This realization of the supra-temporal as event, this entrance of the supra-mundane into the world, the “Word made flesh” — this is the mystery of the New Testament eschatology. I think this does full justice to the ephapax. And I also think that my emphasis on our relation to Christ as one of encounter gives full weight to the idea of extra nos.
I cannot regard the reproduction of the events of the years 1-30 in memory as the equivalent of the eschatological encounter. Of course, memory plays an important part in human life, but it has existential significance only when I make my own particular past present through recollection. In so far as the history from which I come is operative in my past, the recollection of that history also belongs thereto. But the memory with which the historian is concerned, in so far as it reproduces facts of the past in their purely worldly actuality, is of wholly different order, and memory in that sense can imperil and even destroy “historic” existence, as Nietzsche showed in Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben. Of course, there is also the historian’s personal encounter with the past. But this takes place not by his reproducing the events of the past in memory, but by his encountering in those events of the past (as his own history) human existence and its interpretation. With the recollection of the kerygma it is otherwise. This does not present us with facts of the past in their bare actuality, nor does it lead to encounter with human existence and its interpretation, but, as a sacramental event, it re-presents the events of the past in such a way that it renews them, and thus becomes a personal encounter for me.
Nevertheless, like the sacraments (which would otherwise become bare symbols), the kerygma necessarily assumes the form of tradition, for it is more than a summary of general truths, and is itself part of the eschatological event. The Now of the kerygma (2 Cor. 6:2) is not purely fortuitous, but identical with the advent of Jesus and his passion. On the other hand, I do not think that trust in the reliability of the tradition should be identified with fiducial faith. Of course, the reliability of the kerygmatic tradition must not be questioned, for otherwise the eschatological event to which the kerygma testifies would be implicated in the relativity of all historical knowledge. But for the moment I will leave aside the difficulties which this raises.
On Thesis VI B
1. We possess the present through encounter, and encounter imposes the necessity of decision. I do not identify the present tout court with the eschaton, for that would be an over-simplification, but I do assert with the New Testament that we are confronted with the eschaton in the Now of encounter, in a Now which is neither an eternal nor a timeless present nor a nearer or remoter future. Here indeed is the paradox of the faith of the New Testament, and here is the answer to the question of eis ti and of the telos. Eschatology tells us the meaning and goal of the time process, but that answer does not consist in a philosophy of history, like pantheism, where the meaning and goal of history are to be seen in each successive moment, or like the belief in progress, where the goal is realized in a future Utopia, or myth, which offers an elaborate picture of the end of the world. Indeed, eschatology is not at all concerned with the meaning and goal of secular history, for secular history belongs to the old aeon, and therefore can have neither meaning nor goal. It is concerned rather with the meaning and goal of the history of the individual and of the eschatological community. Moreover, the meaning is fulfilled and the goal attained in the fullness of time — that is, wherever the word of the proclamation establishes an encounter (Rev. 12:10-13; John 12:31; 4:73; 5:25; 2 Cor. 6:2, etc.). Certainly, the world is hastening towards judgment, but that judgment cannot be called the meaning and goal of history, for now is the judgment of this world (John 12:31). You also say: “Eschatology in its strictest sense is paradoxically already present in the words and works of Jesus, in his cross and resurrection”. But what is the relation between the present and the future eschatological event? For my part, the only interpretation I can give to the Pauline and a fortiori the synoptic eschatology is a critical one.
Decision, in existentialist thought, is always a phenomenon in time. I trust I have sufficiently allayed your suspicions on that score by my emphasis on the Now as encounter.
2. Geschichte and Historie, as you rightly observe, are closely connected and yet distinguishable. I can also agree with other things you say. All the same, I do not think that it really gets to the root of the problem.
It would certainly be wrong to run away from Historie and take refuge in Geschichte. If I desire an encounter with the Jesus of history, it is true that I must rely on certain historical documents. Yet the study of those documents can bring us to an encounter with the historical phenomenon “Jesus” only on the basis of one phenomenon of past history. Yet we can hope, by means of this study, to recognize the historical phenomenon “Jesus” only on the basis of one’s own historic (geschichtlich) encounter. That was the aim and method of my Jesus and the Word.
The Jesus of history is not kerygma, any more than my book was. For in the kerygma Jesus encounters us as the Christ — that is, as the eschatological phenomenon par excellence. Neither St. Paul nor St. John mediate an historic encounter with the historic Jesus. Even if the synoptic gospels appear to do so, that is only when they are read in the light of the historical problems which have arisen since their day, not when they are read in their original sense. To understand Jesus as the eschatological phenomenon (that is, as the Savior through whom God delivers the world by passing judgment on it and granting the future as a gift to those who believe on him), all that is necessary is to proclaim that he has come, and that is what St. John does so clearly.
So far, then, from running away from Historie and taking refuge in Geschichte, I am deliberately renouncing any form of encounter with a phenomenon of past history, including an encounter with the Christ after the flesh, in order to encounter the Christ proclaimed in the kerygma, which confronts me in my historic situation. That, in my view, is the only way to preserve the paradox or skandalon of Christian eschatology, which asserts that the eschaton has actually entered history.
3. The skandalon may perhaps be brought out by demonstrating the fact of the Lord’s humanity from the story of his life as portrayed in the Gospels, though it must always be remembered that the disciples’ apprehension of him was conditioned by the limitations of their age. Though I am prepared to agree with your argument, I still deny that historical research can ever encounter any traces of the epiphany of God in Christ; all it can do is to confront us with the Jesus of history. Only the Church’s proclamation can bring us face to face with Kyrios Christos.
4. The impossibility of proving the kerygma need not surprise us, for the Savior, as he appears in history, identifies himself completely with men (Phil. 2: 7). This Scriptural incognito is something very different from the veil in which the Gnostics enshrouded him, for the Gnostic Jesus did not identify himself with men. Of course, this impossibility of proving the truth of the kerygma is an offense to human thought as such. I did not wish to deny that. What I do maintain, however, is that myth makes the mistake of getting rid of the offense as it does the incognito. The modern opponent of Christianity cannot charge it with being mythical because it cannot be proved, at least if he is using myth in the sense in which we have been using it, and not in the sense of “fable” as in the Pastorals and 2 Pet. 1:16. Of course, our opponents are bound to dismiss this claim that a unique event in past history is the eschatological event as an absurdity. But that is another matter. The way in which the transcendence of God is reduced to immanence here is quite different.
I think the line you adopt is dangerous. For an eternal idea is just as discernible in the mythical presentation of the cross as it is in pagan mythology — e.g. the idea of sacrifice or heroism. There is nothing to prevent the cross from being interpreted as the symbol of a sentimental or pessimistic Weltanschauung. The real offense in the fact that we cannot prove the kerygma lies rather in the “formal” sphere, in the historical fact of the eschatological Redeemer. To the formal naturally corresponds the “material”, the cross, which makes the fact clear in all its paradox.
On Thesis VII
(a) Eschatology.– I do not see why it is necessary to think of a temporal end of time. Indeed, it is impossible to do so. All we can think of is the end in time of everything that characterizes the world of time, the end of time as we know it. That in my opinion is all that need concern us. Hence I cannot see what right you (Schniewind) have to insist on the permanent truth of the New Testament mythology, or how exactly the Now is relevant at this point. The idea of the remarkable overlapping of two periods of time does after all require interpretation. Your interpretation strikes me as a curious blend of mythology and existentialism. I agree, of course, that the naïveté may arise less from the obsolete world view than from the peculiar character of Christian experience, but that is just what my existentialist interpretation is intended to show. How music has something eschatological about it I really fail to see.
(b) Christology. — I will not allow that the New Testament language about Christ’s dereliction and his heavenly intercession contains no mythology. Nor is it true to say that the “blood” of Christ is just a striking metaphor for the surrender of his life. I would agree that it is in ordinary secular use — e.g. of the soldier’s death on the field of battle — but in the case of Christ it means something entirely different. It is sacrificial blood in a cultic sense, and moreover it is the blood of the pre-existent Son of God. Of course it was the blood of his human body, but that gives his self-surrender quite a different meaning from what it has in an ordinary secular context.
Of course, “in Christ” means that Christ includes his own in himself, but everything turns upon how that is understood. Thus you seem to go some distance along the road of demythologizing, but not far enough, and you fail to bring out the scandal of mythology in the New Testament language about Christ’s dereliction and his heavenly intercession. I agree that the real skandalon was the same in New Testament times as it is for us today. But I object to the ease with which you make the unreal skandalon — i.e. the mythology of the New Testament language — the real skandalon.
(c) Demonology. — I still maintain that the belief in evil spirits is obsolete. I agree with you that it enshrines the important truth of the trans-subjective reality of evil. This is one of the points I am trying to bring out in my restatement. But I cannot accept what you say about an organized rebellion against God, for that is undoubtedly mythological. Who organized the rebellion ? Satan is a mythological figure, however cautiously we speak of him
You say it is impossible to separate the trans-subjective reality of the evil one from that of evil as an impersonal force. This raises a theological problem which bristles with difficulties. The same applies to wickedness and evil as “powers”. But I need not dwell on this now, for I am sure I agree with what you say. At the same time, I maintain that to revive or perpetuate the demonology of the New Testament in the modern world is to incur the charge of obscurantism and superstition. The Church should do all in her power to root it out, for it can only stultify her proclamation. The Blumhardt legends are to my mind preposterous.
Your argument is right as far as it goes, but I think it obscures the real problem. Everything turns upon how precisely we abandon natural causation in favor of supernatural explanations — i.e. whether by the “nevertheless” of faith (cf. Glauben und Verstehen, pp. 214ff.), or by recourse to mythology. The real skandalon of faith in God vis-à-vis modern technology can become clear only when we have abandoned the false view of God which that technology has exploded.
(d) The Spirit. — I am inclined to agree with your criticism about modern man’s understanding of himself as a unity. I am of the opinion that, as the understanding of historicity itself implies, he is wrong in identifying his authentic ego with his subjectivity. Considerations of psychology, philosophy, and theology do not appear to shed any light on the problem or help us to define the ego. This much, however, is clear: while modern man may be wrong in identifying his ego with his subjectivity, he is undoubtedly right in regarding it in its subjective aspect as a unity, and in refusing to allow any room for alien powers to interfere in his subjective life. The mythical thought of the New Testament on the other hand, does reckon with such interferences, and if such thought enshrines a profound and genuine insight into the nature of the human ego, it requires restatement to make it plain, and that means the complete abandonment of mythology.
Your argument seems to me only to obscure the problem. After all, it is not to be doubted that the Old Testament, as also the popular view in the New Testament, regards the Spirit as a supernatural power, a kind of mysterious fluid, a “mana”, to which it attributes all abnormal phenomena, including those of art and warfare. But this does not mean that those phenomena are attributed to the God of revelation. For the God of revelation is the God of judgment and forgiveness, not the Cause of abnormal phenomena. To think otherwise is to surrender faith in God for an abstraction. Of course, the presence of that God is discernible in art or any other achievement of man, but only in the light of his word, only as he makes himself known as the author of judgment and grace. To put it another way, God’s handiwork cannot be labeled and docketed like the work of an artist or an engineer.
Miracles and ecstasies may of course, be the signs of the advent of the new age; the only question is, to what extent? They certainly cannot be conclusive proofs, but only encounters in a concrete situation in life. And since miracle is an essential feature of the Spirit in the New Testament, we must interpret the meaning of miracle. We must show that it is a phenomenon of the historical life, not one of nature. Nor do I think it wrong to use the distinction between the personal and the natural. It is quite true that the drifting of the Corinthian Gnostics spelt a decision against God. They preferred a naturalistic to an “historic” understanding of self. To that extent the distinction between right and wrong decision is identical with that between nature and decision.
You say: “The Spirit is the gift of God, and the man who has it becomes God-controlled instead of self-controlled.” I say: “The Spirit is the possibility of a new life which has to be appropriated by a deliberate resolve.” I do not see there is any essential difference between these two statements. For (1) The content of God’s gift to us requires definition, and I think “possibility of life” is adequate. (2) The resolve by which the gift is apprehended is identical with the abandonment of control of one’s own life. Moreover, in this resolve, so clearly demanded by St. Paul, the gift of God is already at work. The Spirit is not the prime cause behind the human will, but operates in that will. To be led by the Spirit means not only that we are called sons of God but that we can appropriate the sonship and discern the imperative in the indicative. The decision God pronounces over man takes effect in the resolve of the human will.
It is my aim also to show that the appearance or garb of mythology can to a large extent be removed from the New Testament kerygma. We agree about this, and also, in principle at least, that demythologizing throws into sharper relief the paradoxical or scandalous character of its claims, so that they become as clear for modern man as they were in apostolic times. But I would not say that the paradox or skandalon is due to the limitations of the human mind. This is obviously a place where you are under the influence of Karl Heim. It is due rather to the natural self-understanding of man.
I would not deny that the reconstruction offered by the History of Religions school was frequently an exaggeration and a caricature, or that the Old Testament as well as the New provides precedents for demythologizing.
I do not see why it is necessary to speak of the unobservable in terms of the observable. Why could we not substitute an intelligible language for an unintelligible imagery? Or, if the traditional imagery is preserved — e.g. in liturgy, where its use is perfectly legitimate — we should see that its real meaning is given adequate interpretation. Your sample interpretation, however, does not go far enough. You interpret eschatology, for example, as the word of the age to come now realized in the words and deeds of Jesus. But “age to come” is still a mythological expression, and to say that ‘‘Jesus is present in person to his own” does not make matters any clearer. When you say that he “is in person forever the Crucified pleading for his own”, that again is a mythological statement.
You observe that modern man is returning to myth, but that is true only if myth bears a different sense from that which it has borne in the present discussion. Modern man par excellence is technological man, and for that reason he is doubly enslaved to the modern scientific world view, even if in theory he disclaims all interest in and knowledge of it. If he is prepared to take seriously the question of God, he ought not to be burdened with the mythological element in Christianity. We must help him to come to grips with the real skandalon and make his decision accordingly. The preaching of Christ must not remain myth for him. If he still calls it a myth even after we have emancipated it from mythology, he is using myth in a false sense of that word.
It is interesting to note that my discussion with Kamlah did not begin until after I had endeavored to make the Christian view of life intelligible by removing the mythology and restating it in existentialist terms. (Incidentally, Kamlah is an old Marburg pupil of mine.) This shows that we can establish communication with modern man only when the unreal skandalon has been set aside by demythologizing, and that in such a discussion it is for the Christian to take the initiative. We can talk to modern man about the crisis in which he stands in rebellion against God only after the question of mythology has been solved. The Church can re-establish communication with modern man and speak with an authentic voice only after she has resolutely abandoned mythology. In this connection it would be pertinent to ask why Kamlah is prepared to discuss matters with me and not with yourself, or with Schlatter or Büchsel. The discussion mooted can take place only when the preliminary question of mythology has been settled, so that it ceases to side-track or obscure the real points at issue.
I am glad that I can agree with you that our domestic discussions as Christians do not differ in principle from our approach to those outside the fold. And that is why I believe that the issue of demythologizing is a burning issue for our own domestic discussions.