Bultmann Replies to his Critics
I. Demythologizing and the Philosophy of Existence
As a hermeneutic method, demythologizing has raised the question of the — appropriate terminology which exposition should employ. It has thus called attention to a science concerning itself with the systematic development of the understanding of existence which is involved in existence itself — in other words, to the philosophy of existence. The objection that this means subordinating the interpretation of Christianity to a discipline intrinsically alien to it has already been given preliminary attention, but it must now be reconsidered in the light of the particular objection that it is the existentialist interpretation which results in the subordination of the Kerygma to philosophy.
In the first place, it is important to remember that every interpretation is actuated by the framing of specific questions, and without this there could be no interpretation at all. Of course these questions need not be framed explicitly or consciously, but unless they are framed the texts have nothing to say to us. It is self-evident that the framing of the questions must not be allowed to prejudice us about the content of the objects we are asking about. So far from anticipating particular results of our exegesis, it should open our eyes to the precise content of the text. (Cp. my essay on “Das Problem der Hermeneutik”. Zeitschrit für Theol. und Kirche, 1950, p. 47ff. I am not convinced by H. Diem [“Grundfragen der Hermenentik” in Theol. Existenz Heute. N.F. 26, 1951] when he contends that it is wrong to raise the question of hermeneutics at this point, and in particular I think he is evading the issue when he says that the controversy as to whether there is a special theological hermeneutics as well as hermeneutics in general is not very fruitful. It is a controversy which must be settled in the interests of clarity.)
I think I may take for granted that the right question to frame with regard to the Bible — at any rate within the Church — is the question of human existence. I am driven to that by the urge to inquire existentially about my own existence. But that is a question which at bottom determines our approach to and interpretation of all historical documents. For the ultimate purpose in the study of history is to realize consciously the possibilities it affords for the understanding of human existence. Of course there is a further reason why I should approach the Bible with such a question, and that is because the Church’s proclamation refers me to the Scriptures as the place where I shall hear things about my own existence which vitally concern me, a circumstance which on secularist presuppositions is merely accidental. (Diem has rightly seen this.)
The Bible not only shows me, like other historical documents, a possible way of understanding my own existence, a way which I am free to accept or reject: more than that, it assumes the shape of a word which addresses me personally. But that is something which I cannot anticipate or take into account as a systematic principle for my exposition. For, in traditional language, that is the work of the Holy Ghost.
A further objection against the existentialist interpretation is that in order to put the right questions to the text it is necessary to have in advance a vital relation to the subject matter of the text, whereas it is impossible to have such a relation to the revelation of God as it is testified in the Scriptures. This objection is equally untenable. For the fact is that I have such a relationship to the question about God, a truth to which St. Augustine gave classical expression in the words: “Tu nos fecisti ad te, et cor nostrum inquietum est, donec requiescat in te.” Human life is — consciously or unconsciously — impelled by the question about God.
If faith in the Word of God can only be the work of the Holy Ghost operating through intelligent decision, it follows that the understanding of the text is attainable only in systematic interpretation, and the terminology which directs this understanding can be acquired only from profane reflection, which is the business of the philosophical analysis of existence.
Now, this means subordinating the work of exegesis to that of the philosopher. But it would be a fallacy to suppose that exegesis can ever be pursued independently of profane terminology. Every exegete is dependent upon a terminology which has come down to him by tradition, though it is accepted uncritically and without reflection, and every traditional terminology is in one way or another dependent upon a particular philosophy. But it is vital that we should proceed neither uncritically nor without reflection. (In the course of the nineteenth century interest in hermeneutics continually diminished, and lectures on hermeneutics disappeared from the lecture lists. Any surviving interest in the subject was confined to specific hermeneutic rules (cp. my essay on the problem of hermeneutics), and ignored the question of terminology and its sources.) It is imperative that we should consider the nature and the source of the terminology which directs our exposition. In fact, there is no reason why we should not admit that what we are concerned with is the “right” philosophy.
No reason at all, for I am not suggesting that there is actually a final philosophical system — e.g. idealism, and Hegelianism in particular — or that it is necessary for our exegesis to take over the actual answers that philosophy gives to the existential question of the meaning of my own particular existence. The “right” philosophy is simply one which has worked out an appropriate terminology for the understanding of existence, an understanding involved in human existence itself. Hence it does not pose the problem of existence as an existential question, but asks in existentialist analysis about the meaning of existence in the abstract: for it is aware that the existential problem can be answered only in existence itself.
An objection could be sustained at this point only if the conception of authentic existence propounded by this philosophy implied a material ideal of existence — if, in other words, this philosophy told us how we ought to exist. In fact, however, all it says is: You ought to exist, or, if even this is going too far, it shows us what existence means. It tells us that human Being, as distinct from all other Being, means existing, a form of Being which assumes complete responsibility for itself. It tells us that our authentic existence is realizable only in existence, which means existing always in the concrete here and now. But it does not claim that existentialist analysis can create the existential understanding of the here and now. So far from relieving us of our personal responsibility, it actually lays it upon us. (Behind all W. Wiesner’s objections lies a complete misconception of the object of the existentialist analysis of Being)
Clearly, existentialist analysis is founded upon the existential questions of existence, for otherwise it is hard to see how it could know anything about existence. Indeed, its work consists in systematizing the understanding of existence involved in existence itself. It is precisely on this consideration that K. F. Schumann bases his acute criticism that the existentialist analysis implies a decision in favor of a particular understanding of existence.
Schumann is right enough when he says that it is impossible “to have a formal analysis of human existence which can be detached from every ‘existentialist’ attitude, from every actual disposition to one’s own existence”, and that “no existential analysis can be achieved in complete detachment from the understanding of existence which is presupposed, accepted, and applied”. But this is only to say what I have myself repeatedly emphasized, viz., that existentialist analysis is simply the systematization of the self-understanding of existence involved in existence itself. If such an analysis involves any decision at all, it is the decision to exist; for it distinguishes human Being as existing from the “being to hand” (Vorhandensein) (Vide Heidegger, Existance and Being, p. 185f. [translator]) of worldly phenomena which may be apprehended in objective thought. So far, however, from excluding the concrete possibilities of existential self-understanding, such a decision actually paves the way for them. This decision is not an act of systematic philosophic thought: rather, it furnishes the philosopher with his premises. Or, if it must be called a philosophical decision, that is an appropriate designation so long as the philosopher’s activity is understood as an essential impulse of human Being. Apart from this decision, or, to reduce the whole matter to its simplest terms, apart from the resolve to be a human being, a person who accepts responsibility for his own Being, not a single word of Scripture is intelligible as a word with an existential relevance.
But to deny that philosophic thought can use this basic decision as the premisses for a “purely formal” analysis of existence is to my mind sheer prejudice. How far such an attempt can succeed is of course another question, but in the last resort it is no more relevant than the insight that conclusive knowledge is impossible in any science or philosophy. Any resultant analysis is still open to correction, and here as elsewhere discussion is the sine qua non of progress.
Discussion on this subject is possible because every existential self-understanding lies within the possibilities of human existence, and therefore every existentialist analysis based upon an existential self-understanding is generally intelligible. Hence there is sense in trying to work out a formal analysis of existence.
Of course such an analysis does in effect become a ‘‘norm’’ (Schumann, p. 186) in so far as an attempt is made to make the phenomena of existence intelligible, as for instance to keep to Schumann’s own illustration, the phenomenon of love. Yet it is a misconception to suppose that this involves a decision “as to what each man’s . . . love means for him”. (Schumann, P. 186) Rather, the reverse is true. Existentialist analysis can only make clear to me that each concrete instance of love can only be understood existentially, and that no man can be deprived of his understanding of his own particular love by any existentialist analysis.
Certainly pure existentialist analysis involves the judgment “that it is possible to analyze the Being of man without taking into account his relation to God’’. (Schumann p. 186) But is there any point in analyzing human Being in relation to God if the relation between man and God is possible only as an event in the concrete encounter between man and God? A pure analysis of Being cannot take the relation between man and God into consideration at all, since it disregards the concrete encounters in which existence is realized on each successive occasion. But it is just this procedure which gives that analysis its freedom. If the revelation of God becomes effective only on specific occasions in the “now” of Being (as an eschatological event), and if existentialist analysis points us to the temporality in which we have to exist, an aspect of Being is thereby exposed which faith, but only with, understands as the relatedness of man to God. So far, however, from being undermined by a formal analysis of Being, this understanding is in fact illuminated by it, just as it illuminates the question about the meaning of existence and shows that it is really the question about God.
But are we to call this judgment, that an analysis of Being without reference to God is not only possible but makes sense, an anterior existential decision, as Schumann does? I think we may, though not in Schumann’s sense as implying a decision in favor of existence without God. It is an existential decision inasmuch as it is based upon an insight which can only be achieved existentially — namely, that the idea of God cannot be used to sketch out a theory of Being. Yet this judgment cannot be called an anterior decision as though it were made conclusively before embarking upon the analysis. Rather, it accompanies the analysis all through. I may also add that this judgment is an understanding of self which can only be reached existentially, the acknowledgment that when I look into myself I do not find God. It is just this disclaimer which gives the analysis of existence its “neutrality”.
2 . The “Act of God”
Perhaps we may say that behind all the objections raised against demythologizing there lurks a fear that if it were carried to its logical conclusion it would make it impossible for us to speak of an act of God, or if we did it would only be the symbolical description of a subjective experience. For is it not mythology to speak of an act of God as though it were an objective event in which the grace of God encounters man?
In the first place, we must reply that if such language is- to have any meaning at all it must denote an act in a real, objective sense, and not just a symbolical or pictorial expression. On the other hand, if the action of God is not to be conceived as a worldly phenomenon capable of being apprehended apart from its existential reference, it can only be spoken of by speaking simultaneously of myself as the person who is existentially concerned. To speak of the act of God means to speak at the same time of my existence. Since human life is lived out in time and space, man’s encounter with God can only be a specific event here and now. This event, our being addressed by God here and now, our being questioned, judged, and blessed by him, is what we mean when we speak of an act of God.
Such language is therefore neither symbolical nor pictorial, though it is certainly analogical (On the subject of analogy cp. Erich Frank, Philosophical Language and Religious Truth, 1945, pp. 44, 161-4, 179, etc.) for it assumes an analogy between the activity of God and that of man and between the fellowship of God and man and that of man with man.
The meaning of this language requires further clarification. Mythological thought regards the divine activity, whether in nature or in history, as an interference with the course of nature, history, or the life of the soul, a tearing of it asunder — a miracle, in fact. Thus it objectifies the divine activity and projects it on to the plane of worldly happenings. A miracle — i.e. an act of God — is not visible or ascertainable like worldly events. The only way to preserve the unworldly, transcendental character of the divine activity is to regard it not as an interference in worldly happenings, but something accomplished in them in such a way that the closed weft of history as it presents itself to objective observation is left undisturbed. To every other eye than the eye of faith the action of God is hidden Only the “natural” happening is generally visible and ascertainable. In it is accomplished the hidden act of God.
It is easy to object that this is to transform Christian faith into a pantheistic piety. But pantheism believes in a direct identity of worldly happening with the divine activity, whereas faith asserts their paradoxical identity, which can only be believed on in the concrete here and now and in the teeth of outward appearance. When I am encountered by such an event, I can in faith accept it as the gift of God or as his judgment, although I can also see it within its context in nature or history. In faith I can understand a thought or a resolve as something which is the work of God without necessarily removing it from its place in the chain of cause and effect.
Christian faith is not a Weltanschauung like pantheism. Pantheism is an anterior conviction that everything that happens is the work of God, since God is thought to be immanent in the world. Christian faith, on the other hand, believes that God acts upon us and addresses us in the specific here and now. This belief springs from an awareness of being addressed by the grace of God which confronts us in Jesus Christ. By this grace we are enabled to see that God makes all things work together for good to them that love him (Rom. 8: 28). This kind of faith, however, is not a knowledge possessed once and for all, not a Weltanschanuug. It can only be an event occurring on specific occasions, and it can remain alive only when the believer is constantly asking himself what God is saying to him here and now. God is generally just as hidden for him as he is for everyone else. But from time to time the believer sees concrete happenings in the light of the word of grace which is addressed to him, and then faith can and ought to apprehend it as the act of God, even if its meaning is still enigmatic. If pantheism can say that any event it likes is the work of the Godhead, quite apart from its meaning in personal encounter, Christian faith can only say that in such-and-such an event God is acting in a hidden way. What God is doing now — it is of course not to be identified tout court with the visible occurrence — I may not know as yet, and perhaps I shall never know. But still I must ask what he is trying to say to me through it, even if all he has to say is that I must just grin and bear it.
Similarly, faith in God as Creator is not a piece of knowledge given in advance, in virtue of which every happening may be designated an act of God. Such faith is genuine only when I understand myself here and now existentially to be the creature of God, though it need not necessarily take the form of knowledge consciously acquired as the result of reflection. Faith in the divine omnipotence is not an anterior conviction that there is a Being who can do everything: it can only be attained existentially by submitting to the power of God exercising pressure upon me here and now, and this too need not necessarily be raised to the level of consciousness. The propositions of faith are not abstract truths. Those who have endured the hardships of a Russian prison camp know better than anyone else that you cannot say “Terra ubique Domini” as an explicit dogma: it is something which can be uttered only on specific occasions in existential decision.
Hence it is clear that for my existential life, realized as it is in decision in face of encounter, the world is no longer a closed weft of cause and effect. In faith the closed weft presented or produced by objective observation is transcended, though not as in mythological thought. For mythology imagines it to be torn asunder, whereas faith transcends it as a whole when it speaks of the activity of God. In the last resort it is already transcended when I speak of myself, for I myself, my real self; am no more visible or ascertainable than an act of God. When worldly happenings are viewed as a closed series, as not only scientific understanding but even workaday life requires, there is certainly no room for any act of God. But this is just the paradox of faith: it understands an ascertainable event in its context in nature and history as the act of God. Faith cannot dispense with its “nevertheless”.
This is the only genuine faith in miracle. (Cp. Glauben und Verstehen, pp. 214-28, esp. p. 224f.; W. Herrmann, Offenbarung und Wunder, 1908, esp. pp. 33ff. Herrmann rightly observes that faith in prayer, like belief in miracles, transcends the idea of nature.) The conception of miracles as ascertainable processes is incompatible with the hidden character of God’s activity. It surrenders the acts of God to objective observation, and thus makes belief in miracles (or rather superstition) susceptible to the justifiable criticisms of science.
If then it be true that we cannot speak of an act of God without speaking simultaneously of our own existence, if such an act cannot be established apart from its existential reference, if it dispenses with the objectivity attainable by impartial scientific investigation (e.g. by experiment), we inevitably ask whether divine activity has any objective reality at all. Does it exist apart from our own subjective experience? Is not faith reduced to experience pure and simple? Is God no more than an experience in the soul, despite the fact that faith only makes sense when it is directed towards a God with a real existence outside the believer?
This objection rests upon a psychological misconception of what is meant by the existential life of man. (I might also say “by human subjectivity”, provided this is understood in Kierkegaard’s sense as “being subject” — i.e., the personal being of man.) When we say that faith alone, the faith which is aware of the divine encounter, can speak of God, and that therefore when the believer speaks of an act of God he is ipso facto speaking of himself as well, it by no means follows that God has no real existence apart from the believer or the act of believing. It follows only if faith and experience are interpreted in a psychologizing sense. (When W. Herrmann and A. Schlatter speak of experience, neither of them means a bare psychic phenomenon.) If human Being is properly understood as historic Being, whose experiences consist of encounters, it is clear that faith, which speaks of its encounter with the acts of God, cannot defend itself against the charge of illusion, for the encounter with God is not objective like a worldly event. Yet there is no need for faith, in the sense of an existential encounter, to refute that charge, and indeed it could not do so without misunderstanding its own meaning.
What encounter means as such may be illustrated from our own life in history. The love of another is an encounter whose essential character depends upon its being an event. For it cannot be apprehended as love by objective observation, but only by myself who am encountered by it. (I cannot see why E. Schweizer calls the love awakened by another an “inner-psychic” process. For love can only exist in encounter or mutual relationship, He completely fails to grasp the existential meaning of love when he writes: “Love awakens more in man than does an ideal. It awakens the desire for fellowship, a concern of the I for the Thou, sexuality, or what you will (!). But it is still an inner-psychic process, for the love of the other is only an external stimulus. Admittedly it affects the whole range of our emotional life, and not only the mind, as when we receive instruction, or our enthusiasm, as when we are presented with an ideal.”) Looked at from the outside, it is certainly not visible as love in the real sense of the word, but only as a phenomenon of spiritual or psychic history which is open to various interpretations. Of course the love with which a man loves me does not depend for its reality upon my understanding or reciprocating it. (E. Schweizer, “Zur Interpretation des Krenzes bei R. Bultmann” (Festschrift für Maurice Goguel, 1950). This is just what we learn when we do reciprocate another’s love. Even if we fail to understand it or open our hearts to it, it still evokes a kind of existential reaction. For to fail to understand it, to close our hearts to it, to respond by hatred — all these are still existential reactions. In each case we are no longer the same after the encounter as we were before it, though that does not for a moment alter the fact that it is only in encounter that it can be seen as love.
That God cannot be seen apart from faith does not mean that he does not exist apart from it. That an encounter with the Word of God makes a difference to man, whether he opens his heart to it or not, is a fact which only faith can know, the faith which understands that unbelief is a token of God’s judgment.
True faith is not demonstrable in relation to its object. But, as Herrmann taught us long ago, it is just here that its strength lies. For if it were susceptible to proof it would mean that we could know and establish God apart from faith, and that would be placing him on a level with the world of tangible, objective reality. (This does not of course imply that the idea of God is properly inconceivable apart from faith. The idea of God is an expression of man’s search for him, a search which motivates all human existence. Vide supra, p, 192, and cp. my essay, “Die Frage der natürlichen Offenbarung” in Offenbarung und Heilsgeschchen, pp. 1-26) In that realm we are certainly justified in demanding proof.
If faith is man’s response to the proclamation of the word of God’s grace, a word whose origin and credentials are to be found in the New Testament, must we say that it cannot be proved by the appeal to Scripture ? Is not faith simply the hearing of Scripture as the Word of God? That is indeed so, but only when Scripture is understood neither as a compendium of doctrines nor as a document enshrining the beliefs of other people, yet inspiring enough to evoke religious experience in us. It is so only when Scripture is heard as a word addressed personally to ourselves, as kerygma — i.e. when the experience consists in encounter and response to the address. That Scripture is the Word of God is something which happens only in the here and now of encounter; it is not a fact susceptible to objective proof. The Word of God is hidden in Scripture, just like any other act of his. (Cp. H. Diem’s criticism of the view that the Word of God is available in the Bible ante et extra usum [ibid., p. 5]).
Nor has God offered a proof of himself in the so-called facts of salvation. For these too are objects of faith, and as facts of salvation are ascertainable and visible to faith alone. Our knowledge of them does not precede our faith, or provide a basis for it, as other convictions are based on proven facts. In a sense, of course, they so provide a basis for faith, but only as facts which are themselves apprehended in faith. It is just the same with human trust and love. These too are not based on any trustworthiness or lovableness in another which could be objectively ascertained, but upon the nature of the other apprehended in the love and in the trust. There can be no trust and no love without this element of risk. Hence, as Herrmann used to say, the ground and object of faith do not fall apart, but are identical, for the very reason that we cannot say what God is like in himself, but only what he does to us.
If then the activity of God is not visible or open to proof like worldly entities, if the event of redemption is not an ascertainable process, if, we may add, the Spirit granted to the believer is not a phenomenon susceptible to worldly apprehension, if we cannot speak of these things without speaking of our own existence, it follows that faith is a new understanding of existence, and that the activity of God vouchsafes to us a new understanding of self, as Luther said: “et ita Deus per suum exire nos facit ad nos ipsos introire, et per sui cognitionem infert nobis et nostri cognitionem’’. Schol. ad Rom.3:5, ed. Ficker, p.67,21-3
It is my definition of faith as an understanding of existence which has evoked the most opposition. (E.g. H. Thielicke, Deutsches Pfarrerblatt 46 (1942), pp. 129ff., Keryma and Myth, p. ‘46f. No wonder that the declaration of the Provincial Council of the Evangelical Confessional Fellowship in Württemberg (in Für Arbelt und Besinnung, 1952, 18-23) echoes this complaint. The only amusing thing about it is that the declaration rules out in advance any chance of clearing up possible misunderstandings). Is it really so difficult to understand what existential self-understanding means ? At any rate it shows a complete failure to understand its meaning when it is objected that my definition reduces the event of revelation to a cause which sets self-understanding in motion, so that it is no longer a fact which interferes and changes reality, like a miracle. All that happens, it is claimed, is consciousness, and the content of the self-understanding is a timeless truth, which once perceived remains true quite apart from the cause which set it in motion and “cranked it Up”. (Thielicke, 148. cp. also my reply to Thielicke in Deutsches Pfarrerblatt, 1943, 3ff.) Is this what Luther meant by “cognitio nostri” ?
But perhaps I did not express myself clearly enough, and am therefore myself to blame for the confusion which lies at the root of this misunderstanding. Existential self-understanding is being confounded with the existentialist understanding of human Being elaborated by philosophical analysis. The affirmations of the latter are certainly meant to be timeless truths, and in so far as they are adequate, they may pass as such. But existentialist analysis points so to speak beyond itself, by showing (what in itself would be a timeless truth) that existential self-understanding can be appropriated only existentially. In my existential self-understanding I do not learn what existence means in the abstract, but I understand myself in my concrete here and now, in my concrete encounters.
It goes without saying that this existential self-understanding need not be conscious. It permeates and controls imperceptibly all anxiety and resolve, all joy and dread, and is called in question at every encounter. It is something which sustains us even in childhood. For the child understands himself as a child (and therefore those who produced him as his parents) in his life, his trust, his sense of security, in his gratitude, his reverence, and in his obedience. When he is disobedient he forfeits this self-understanding, though never completely, for it makes itself known in a guilty conscience.
This illustration is enough to show that in existential self-understanding there is an understanding not only of self but also of the object of encounter, the person or the environment which is encountered. As a self who exists historically I am not isolated either from my environment or from my own past and future, which are in a special way a part of my environment. If, for instance, my encounter with another’s love should vouchsafe to me a new understanding of self, what happens is by no means restricted to consciousness, at least if consciousness is to be taken as a psychic rather than as an existential phenomenon, which is what Thielicke and others wrongly suppose. By understanding myself in this encounter I understand the other in such a way that the whole world appears in a new light, which means that it has in fact become an entirely different world. I acquire a new insight into and a new judgment of my own past and future, which means that they have become my past and future in a new sense. I submit to new demands and acquire a new readiness for further encounters. Clearly such an understanding cannot be possessed as a timeless truth, for its validity depends upon its being constantly renewed, and upon an understanding of the imperative it involves. We may say with St. Paul, mutatis mutandis: “If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit also let us walk” (Gal. 5:25).
For exactly the same applies to the self-understanding of faith, in which man understands himself anew under the word of encounter. And just as in human contacts the new understanding created by encountering another in love and trust is kept pure only when it permanently retains its connection with the other who is encountered, so too the self-understanding granted by faith never becomes a possession, but is kept pure only as a response to the repeated encounter of the Word of God, which proclaims the act of God in Christ in such a way as continually to represent it. (Hence Wiesner [“Anthropologische oder theologische Schriftauslegung?”] Evangelische Theologie, 1950/51, p. 49ff.) completely misses the point when he charges me with reducing the Biblical understanding of human existence to man’s understanding of himself, and therefore secularizing the Christian proclamation, and with reducing the redemptive act of God in Christ to the immanence of human existence and its realization in our life in time [ibid., p. 60]).
“His compassions fail not, they are new every morning.” True, but I can only be genuinely aware of it when I perceive it anew every morning, for as a timeless truth it is meaningless. Granted this, however, I can know that I myself am renewed every morning by it, that I am one who allows myself to be renewed by it. (E. Schweizer thinks that I am bound to make a theoretical distinction “between an act of faith which sees in the event of the cross the revelation of the love of God, and a second act of faith for which the first act sets us free . . ., an act which consists in a radical change of self-understanding”. No, not at any price! For I cannot imagine how we can see and believe the revelation of God’s love without being at the same time set free for a new understanding of self. I simply cannot understand how I can believe that I am really delivered from sin before I “change” my self-understanding [this is what Schweizer actually says, instead of saying “my self-understanding is changed”]. I am afraid my answer to this must be: “nondum considasti quanti ponderis sit peccatum“. The love of God is not a phenomenon whose apprehension leaves a man the same as he was before. Hence even the apprehension itself must be attributed to the operation of the Holy Ghost. No proclamation which possesses “the character of a simple Biblical report of what has happened” can tell a man “that this liberation is a reality antecedent to and transcending all his understanding”. For the reality of the deliverance is not something which a report of a happening can display. I hope the ensuing argument will demonstrate Schweizer’s failure to recognize the eschatological import of the event of redemption.)
Further, my critics have objected that my demythologizing of the New Testament results in the elimination of its eschatology. On the contrary, I am convinced that my interpretation exposes its meaning as never before, at least for those who have given up thinking in terms of mythology. For my restatement of it demonstrates the character of faith as freedom for the future
Certainly existentialist analysis may assert that freedom for the future is a mark of authentic Being. But is this knowledge sufficient to enable man as he actually is to attain it? It cannot do this any more than it can impart existence as a whole. All it can do is to tell us that if we want to attain authentic existence we must be free for the future. It can only bring home to us the awful reality of this fact by saying that for it — i.e. for philosophical analysis each man’s particular future can in the last resort be defined as “nothingness”, and that it can understand freedom for the future solely as “the readiness for dread” (Angstbereitschaft), which man has to accept by an act of resolve.
Indeed, faith is identical with this readiness for dread, for faith knows that God encounters us at the very point where the human prospect is nothingness, and only at that point. This is exactly how Luther interprets “Let us rejoice in our tribulations” (Rom. 5. 4): “Unde cum Dominus habet nomen Salvatoris, adjutoris in tribulationibus, in multis locis, qui noluerit pati, quantum in ipso est, spoliat eum suis propriis titulis et nominibus. Sic enim nullus erit ei homini Jhesus, i.e. Salvator, quia non vult esse damnatus; nullus eius Deus creator, quia non vult esse nihil, cuius ille sit creator” (Schol. in Rom. 5: 3; ed. Ficker, p. 135, 20ff.). Similarly: “…. quia natura Dei est, prius destruere et annihilare, quicquid in nobis est, antequam sua donet” Those “qui sibi sancti videntur” are those who “Deum amore concupiscentiae diligunt, i.e. propter salutem et requiem aeternam aut propter fugam inferni, hoc est non propter Deum, sed propter se ipsos”. With them are contrasted those “qui vere Deum diligunt amore filiali et amicitiae . . . . Tales enim libere sese offerunt in omnem voluntatem Dei, etiam ad infernum et mortem aeternaliter, si Deus vellet tantum, ut sua voluntas plene fiat”. God “non potest ostendere virtutem suam in electis, nisi prius ostendat eis infirmitatem eorum et abscondat virtutem eorum ad nihilumque redigat, ut non glorientur in virtute sua propria”, “Deus non salrat nisi peccatores, non erudit nisi stultos et insipientes, non ditat nisi pauperes, non vivificat nisi mortuos”. (Cp. also ibid., p. 206, 10ff.; 216, 18ff.; 24s, 4ff. (Man stands in a relation of guilt both towards God and towards his creatures; he who would atone for this guilt “Iibens ac volens it in nihilum et mortem et damnotionem . . .”.). Cp. also the quotations from Luther in F. Gogarten, Die Verkündigung Jesu Christi.) Of course that “amor filialis et amicitiae” does not arise through the resolute acceptance of readiness for dread, for “non est ex natura, sed spiritu sancto solum“. Readiness for dread is thus the gift of faith, and is identical with freedom from ourselves (= our old self) for ourselves (= our new self), freedom from the fallacy which lies at the root of sin — namely, that we can base our own existence upon our own resolve, and thus attain freedom for the future. As St. Paul himself put it: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:54).
But our critics are still not satisfied. If it is possible to speak of an act of God only in the sense of what he does to me on specific occasions, is this not to deny that he has acted once and for all in Christ on behalf of the whole world? Does it not eliminate the e _a p a S : of Rom. 6: 10? (Emil Brunner, Die christliche Lehre von der Schöpfung (Dogmatik II), 1950, p. 314f.; E. Schweizer, op. cit. pp. 231ff,Cf.; Schniewind, supra, p. 66ff.) Am I really “eliminating the reality of time as a unique fact of the past [sic] from our understanding of the event of redemption in the New Testament sense of the word” ? (Kümmel, Coniect. Neotest., p. 115; “Mythos im Neuen Testament” Theol. Ztschr., 19S0, p. 3llff. Cf. A. N. Wilder, Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus, 1950, p. 126f.)
From what has already been said it should be clear that I am not talking about an idea of God, but am trying to speak of the living God in whose hands our time rests, and who encounters us at specific moments in our time. But since further explanation is required, the answer may be given in a single sentence: God encounters us in His Word — i.e. in a particular word, in the proclamation inaugurated with Jesus Christ. True, God encounters us at all times and in all places, but he cannot be seen everywhere unless his Word comes as well and makes the moment of revelation intelligible to us in its own light, as Luther not infrequently observed. Just as the divine omnipotence and omniscience cannot be realized existentially apart from his word uttered with reference to a particular moment and heard in that moment, so this Word is what it is only in the moment in reference to which it is uttered. It is not a timeless truth, but a definite word addressed at a particular occasion, whose eternal quality lies not in endless endurance but in its actual presence at specific moments. It is the Word of God only in so far as it is a word which happens on specific occasions, and not in virtue of the ideas it contains — e.g. the mercy and grace of God (however true these things may be). It is the Word of God because it confronts me with his mercy and grace. It is only in this way that it is really the verbum externum: it is not a possession secured in knowledge, but an address which encounters us ever and again.
This is why it is a word addressed realiter to me on a specific occasion, whether it be in the Church’s proclamation, or in the Bible mediated through the Church as the Word of God addressed to me, or through the word of my fellow Christian. (It goes without saying that this Word need not necessarily be uttered at the same moment of time in which it becomes a decisive word for me. It is possible for something I heard yesterday or even thirty years ago to became a decisive word for me now; then it begins [or perhaps begins once more] to be a word spoken to me, and is therefore shown to be a word addressed with reference to my present situation.) That is why the living Word of God is never a word of human wisdom but an event encountered in history. The fact that it originates in an historical event provides the credentials for its utterance on each specific occasion. This event is Jesus Christ.
That God has acted in Jesus Christ is, however, not a fact of past history open to historical verification. That Jesus Christ is the Logos of God can never be proved by the objective investigation of the historian. (That is why I cannot share Wilder’s concern that the actual history of Jesus should be verifiable by the historian, or Wiesner’s concern that it should at least be relatively ascertainable. If Wiesner imagines that by saying, “It is not the event of redemption because it is the cross of Christ, but it is the cross of Christ because it is the event of redemption”, I am turning the whole thing upside down, he obviously does not see that this affirmation about the cross of Christ can never be a statement of fact, but only a confession of faith.) Rather, the fact that the New Testament describes the figure and work of Christ in mythological terms is enough to show that if they are the act of redemption they must not be understood in their context of world history. The paradox is just this, that a human figure, Jesus of Nazareth see esp. John 6: 42), and the destiny of that figure — i.e. a human being and his fate, with a recognizable place in world history, and therefore exposed to the objective observation of the historian and intelligible within their context in world history — are not thus apprehended and understood as what they really are, namely, as the act of God, as the eschatological event.
But this is how Jesus Christ is understood in the New Testament (e.g. Gal. 4:4; John 3:17-19). The only question is whether this understanding is necessarily bound up with the cosmic eschatology in which the New Testament places it — with the exception of the Fourth Gospel, where the cosmic eschatology has already become picture language, and where the eschatological event is seen in the coming of Jesus as the Word, the Word of God which is continually represented in the word of proclamation. But the way for this demythologizing was already paved in the primitive Church with its understanding of itself as the eschatological community, the congregation of the saints. The process was carried a stage further by St. Paul with his conception of the believer as a “new creature”, since the old is passed away and the new already come (2 Cor. 5:17). Henceforward faith means to exist eschatologically, to exist in detachment from the world, to have passed over from death unto life (1Cor. 7:29-31; John 5:24; 1 John 4:14). At the same time eschatological existence is possible only in faith; it is not yet realized in sight (2 Cor. 5:7.). That is to say, it is not a worldly phenomenon, but is realized in the new self-understanding which faith imparts. Since it is faith in the crucified and risen Christ, this self-understanding is not an autonomous movement of the human will, but the response to the Word of God, which proclaims the manifestation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Since he is the Word of God, Christ is ante et extra me, not, however, as a fact open to objective verification and chronologically datable before me, but as the Christus pro me, who encounters me as the Word. The eschatological event, which Christ is, is consequently realized invariably and solely in concreto here and now, where the Word is proclaimed (2 Cor. 6:2; John 5:24) and meets with faith or unbelief (2 Cor. 2:15f.; John 3:18; 9:39).
Thus the e _a p a (is understood as never before in its true sense of the “once” of the eschatological event. For it does not mean the datable uniqueness and finality of an event of past history, but teaches us in a high degree of paradox to believe that just such an event of the past is the once-and-for-all eschatological event, which is continually re-enacted in the word of proclamation. This proclamation is a word which addresses me personally, and tells me that the prevenient grace of God has already acted on my behalf, though not in such a way that I can look back upon this act of God as a datable event of the past, but in the sense that God’s having acted is present as an eschatological Now.
The Word of God is what it is only in event, and the paradox lies in the fact that this Word is identical with the Word which originated in the apostolic preaching, which has been fixed in Scripture and which is handed on by men in the Church’s proclamation; (In other words, a man just like myself speaks to me the Word of God: in him the Word of God becomes incarnate. For the incarnation is likewise an eschatological event and not a datable event of the past; it is an event which is continually being re-enacted in the event of the proclamation. I may refer at this point to my essay on “The Christological Confession of the World Council of Churches”. Ev. Theologie, 1951, p. Iff. It seems high time that Christology was emancipated from its subordination to an ontology of objective thought and re-stated in a new ontological terminology.) the word of Christ whose contents may also be formulated in a series of abstract propositions. The e _a p a (means that it cannot be the one without being the other, and that the abstract propositions can only become the Word of God when it is proclamation — i.e. when it takes the shape of an event here and now in the viva vox — that is the eschatological meaning of the e _a p a S .
The Word of God and the Church are inseparable. The Church is constituted by the Word of God as the congregation of the elect, and the proclamation of the Word is not a statement of abstract truths, but a proclamation which is duly authorized and therefore needs bearers with proper credentials (2 Cor. 5:18f.). Just as the Word of God becomes his Word only in event, so the Church is really the Church only when it too becomes an event. For the Church is the eschatological congregation of the saints whose identity with a sociological institution and a phenomenon of the world’s history can be asserted only in terms of paradox. (A. Wilder appears to have overlooked the paradoxical character of this identity when he criticizes my interpretation for its excessive individualism, on the ground that the acts of God always have “a social and corporate reference” (Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus), 1950, p. 65). While the acts of God undoubtedly have this reference, it is hard to see how a “social and corporate” nature can be predicated of an eschatological community).
If the challenge of demythologizing was first raised by the conflict between the mythological world-view of the Bible and the modern scientific world view, it at once became evident that the restatement of mythology is a requirement of faith itself. For faith needs to be emancipated from its association with every world view expressed in objective terms, whether it be a mythical or a scientific one. That conflict is a proof that faith has not yet discovered the proper terms in which to express itself, it has not realized that it cannot be logically proven, it has not clearly understood that its basis and its object are identical, it has not clearly apprehended the transcendental and hidden character of the divine activity, and by its failure to perceive its own “Nevertheless” it has tried to project God and his acts into the sphere of objective reality. Starting as it does from the modern world view, and challenging the Biblical mythology and the traditional proclamation of the Church, this new kind of criticism is performing for faith the supreme service of recalling it to a radical consideration of its own nature. It is just this call that our demythologizing seeks to follow.
The invisibility of God excludes every myth which tries to make him and his acts visible. Because of this, however, it also excludes every conception of invisibility and mystery which is formulated in terms of objective thought. God withdraws himself from the objective view: he can only be believed upon in defiance of all outward appearance, just as the justification of the sinner can only be believed upon in defiance of the accusations of the conscience.
Our radical attempt to demythologize the New Testament is in fact a perfect parallel to St. Paul’s and Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from the works of the Law. Or rather, it carries this doctrine to its logical conclusion in the field of epistemology. Like the doctrine of justification it destroys every false security and every false demand for it on the part of man, whether he seeks it in his good works or in his ascertainable knowledge. The man who wishes to believe in God as his God must realize that he has nothing in his hand on which to base his faith. He is suspended in mid-air, and cannot demand a proof of the Word which addresses him. For the ground and object of faith are identical. Security can be found only by abandoning all security, by being ready, as Luther put it, to plunge into the inner darkness.
Faith in God means faith in justification, a faith which rejects the idea that certain actions can be marked off as conveying sanctification. Faith in God means faith in creation, and this likewise rejects the idea that certain areas of status and event in the world can be marked off as holy. We have learned from Luther that there are no holy places anywhere in the world. The whole world is profane, though this does not make any difference to the fact that “Terra ubique Domini“, which is something which can only be believed in contrary to all appearance. It is not priestly consecration which makes the house of God holy, but only the word of proclamation. Similarly, the framework of nature and history is profane, and it is only in the light of the word of proclamation that nature and history become for the believer, contrary to all appearance, the field of the divine activity. It is faith which makes the world profane and restores to it its proper autonomy as the field of man’s labors. But it is just for this reason that the believer’s relation to the world and to the world view of modern science is the paradoxical relation of w V m h .