The Religious Situation by Paul Tillich
Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
III: Religious Situations in the Church
1.Catholicism. The fundamental difficulty in the situation of the churches today is due to the inner antagonism between religion and capitalist society. We have considered the beginnings of the movement to overcome this antagonism as it proceeded from the side of culture. An approach is also being made, as we have seen, in the religious movements outside the churches. Our final task is the consideration of the way in which the churches themselves are seeking to adjust themselves to the fundamental problem in their situation. Theoretically there are three possibilities: the denial of the capitalist spirit, surrender to it, and the attempt to overcome it on the basis of its own presuppositions. All three forms are present in both the Catholic and Protestant churches, but the Catholic church is by nature inclined to reject the capitalist spirit while Protestantism tends rather to seek union with it.
Since the Counter-Reformation Catholicism has been fighting a defensive war directed equally against Protestantism on the one hand and autonomous civilization on the other. In contrast to both of these the medieval form of religious, spiritual and social life, as theoretically formulated by Thomas Aquinas, is regarded as the ideal. But the religious situation in both the early and middle periods of medievalism was the direct antithesis in every point to the religious situation prevailing in the reign of capitalist society. The former in all its forms and symbols was directed toward the eternal. In principle it acknowledged no self-sufficient finite entity either in science or in economics, either in law or in political life. It might seem therefore that the defeat of the capitalist spirit would lead men back to a new medievalism, back necessarily into the Catholic church. The extraordinarily strong sense of victorious power which prevails in contemporary Catholicism rests upon this conviction. It believes that it can see the approach of its hour of triumph. There is a general turning away from the capitalist spirit. Protestantism is in a very difficult situation. The period of separation from the priestly mother church is over. All Catholic literature is full of these ideas and they are made practically effective in propaganda and in ecclesiastical missionary activity.
In this connection the universalist character of Catholicism, its idea of a religious culture, is important. It allows the church to express its opinions in the political sphere through party organizations such as the Center party in Germany and corresponding parties in other countries and in the sphere of theory, in science and art, through journals such as Hochland and others. In both respects Protestantism is in an entirely different position and even its attempts to found Protestant literary journals, such as Die Zeitwende, will be unable to change the situation despite the interest which these attempts deserve. The simple reason for this fact is that Protestantism does not possess an independent culture apart from capitalist society.
The various fundamental tendencies in the Catholic attitude follow from the application of the medieval ideal to the present situation. The idea of humanity is accepted on the basis of the idea of a unified Christendom, not in a democratic, idealistic sense but from the point of view of a religious, hierarchical unity to which the individual nations are to subordinate themselves. Nationalism in either the liberal or conservative form is rejected. In internal political relations the ruling idea is that of organic structure, again not in the conservative and aristocratic sense but as a Christian solidarity—a term which is being used at present not without considerable distortion of its original meaning. The unifying principle in the social structure is the church with its hierarchical order superior to all mundane powers. By this means the class-conflict is to be overcome. It is scarcely possible to oppose capitalism directly in the economic life. But the whole temper of the Catholic world is unfavorable to the capitalist principle. It does not thrive there as well as it does on Protestant, Jewish or Humanist soil. With reference to the separate social problems the church emphasizes medieval ethics as strongly as possible and frequently in opposition to the customary social views of the day. The Catholic youth movement has developed with particular vitality; in general it is analogous to the rest of the youth movement but emphasizes the mystic side more strongly. At this point, but not only here, a romantic Catholicism is growing up; it has a peculiar charm even for many non-Catholics and enters into the anti-capitalist movement in many instances.
Catholicism is developing less impressively in the theoretical than in the practical spheres. Its vitality and adaptability are less considerable in this field, for here it is bound, in science and philosophy by dogma and the authority of the church, in art by the ritual and its tradition. Nevertheless an indirect influence is evident in this case also. The rediscovery of the art of the early Middle Ages, the growing interest of modern philosophy in scholasticism, the importance of medieval, intuitive conceptual realism for the contemporary phenomenological school—all these indicate that the Catholic spirit is exerting an influence such as would have been impossible even a few years ago.
After all that has been said it might seem as though the Catholic church were the leading power in the battle against the spirit of capitalist society. It possesses the great uninterrupted tradition which derives from the spiritual situation of the pre-capitalist period. At the same time it possesses a positive content which makes it superior to all other movements of antagonism to the spirit of self-sufficient finitude. This judgment, however, which is also the judgment Catholicism is making about its future, is inadmissible from the point of view of our interpretation of the day. We have seen that even the spirit of capitalist society contains elements which were originally derived from prophetic vision and which were only gradually secularized. Catholicism has ignored these elements. At decisive points it has remained aloof from the destructive invasions of the eternal. For the church the only sphere in which there can be an invasion of the eternal is its doctrine and its ritual. The eternal is bound to a certain, temporal entity, to the church and its tradition. That means that the church itself has fallen prey in a certain fashion to the spirit of self-sufficient finitude. It has lost the vitality, the directness and receptiveness which it had preserved until late in the medieval period. As a result of its defensive attitude against Protestantism and Humanism it has allowed itself to become an objective, fixed, finite entity. In Jesuitism particularly the rationalism of the church’s finite and, at the same time, endless will-to-power achieved a complete expression, similar in many respects to growing capitalism. The church became a piece of self-sufficient finitude and therewith really resigned rulership to the spirit of capitalist society. It could have conquered the latter only if it had been ready to give up its claims to its own absoluteness and inviolability.
There are no indications of any sort that it is ready to surrender these claims. Catholic theology is being confined by the church within ever narrower limits; the scientific interpretation of Scripture is made impossible, systematic theology must accept Saint Thomas as its unalterable norm. The central, papal power is being constantly strengthened; the pope is regarded not only as the chief bishop but as the universal bishop—a change which has taken place only recently and which excludes the possibility of episcopal counter-actions against the rule of the curia. Movements in favor of a reform of the ritual are concerned only with its psychological and esthetic aspects. The substantial content remains unchanged and labor on its form results only in reappropriations of ancient material, not in new creation. Wherever there are movements which might develop into real revolts against Counter-Reformation Catholicism they are tolerated only so long as they are of value for purposes of propaganda. As soon as they become dangerous to the centralization and the absoluteness of the church they are destroyed. When and how this fate will come upon the romantic Catholicism of our time cannot be predicted. But it is certain that unless romantic Catholicism calls a halt to its development in time this fate will visit it also. Whether it will then be able to summon up the power for a creative, intra-catholic movement is very doubtful. At all events ecclesiastically limited Catholicism, petrified and mechanized in its forms, is not the superior antagonist of the spirit of capitalist society for which it is often mistaken. But it is only this kind of Catholicism that can be considered seriously in our review of the present situation.
The situation in Greek Catholicism is quite different. It did not pass through Reformation, Humanism and Counter-Reformation. It belongs to a time which preceded the period of petrifaction and rationalization. It stands upon the level of a primitive mysticism and sacramentalism which men of the capitalist period cannot possibly accept save they go to pieces completely. Its meaning for the religious situation of the present can therefore be only indirect. It was possible for strong mystical forces to enter the Occident by a roundabout way through Russian literature, art and philosophy. It was possible, furthermore, for this effect to be increased through the presence of numerous, intellectually eminent representatives of Russian orthodoxy in the western nations and through the strong impression which its religious directness and solidity made upon the confused, disintegrated temper of the West. The question whether the Russian church, as a result of the deep catastrophes of the Russian spirit, will be able to take new and significant directions of development is wholly obscure for us. At present it cannot be regarded as an essential element in the religious situation of the West.
2.Judaism. Before we proceed to the consideration of the Protestant churches, it will be in order to pay attention to Judaism as a religious phenomenon. Judaism, like Protestantism in this respect, is in much closer contact with the spirit of capitalist society than is Catholicism, Roman or Greek. The close connection between religion and morality, the high evaluation of personality, the devaluation of the sacramental sphere, the secularization of nature, the exaltation of the law, religiously inspired intra-worldly activity—all this is present in Judaism as in Protestantism and in capitalist society. It is common to all three not only because they are related types but also as a result of the historical influence of Judaism on the rise of capitalist society. It is not strange therefore that certain groups in humanistic, cultured Judaism readily and easily abandoned their religious heritage and transferred their loyalty to capitalist society. Yet the spirit of ancient prophecy continues to be effective even in religiously liberal circles.
For that reason it was possible for Jews such as Marx, Lassalle, Adler, Landauer and, in part, the leaders of the Russian revolution, to give expression to this spirit in their conflict with capitalistic society and to proclaim it in truly prophetic manner as in the Communist Manifesto. But because the religious heritage had been lost the after-effects of the activity of these men could not escape the fate of becoming subject to the spirit of bourgeois society.
The situation in orthodox Judaism is different. It is bound to tradition and contains valuable religious forces. But it carries them beneath an armor of Jewish ritualism. Therefore it is not of direct significance for the religious situation of the present. Eastern Judaism particularly is a reservoir of genuine and powerful religious tradition but a reservoir which cannot be directly tapped by the capitalist West.
A peculiar mixture of national and religious motives is evident in the Zionist movement. It is the expression of the longing for a national, religious center by a Judaism which though scattered among all the nations yet is religiously united. The nationalism which is stirring in this movement is not typical Western nationalism but a return to the original unity of religious prophecy and national existence. Opposition to the movement within Judaism itself is based on the danger which would attend the realization of the Zionist ideal. The peril is that the Jews scattered throughout the world would become foreigners everywhere, that a secular Jewish nationalism might develop and that the universal, messianic, world-uniting mission of Judaism would suffer. Martin Buber represents a mystically profound Zionism. He envisions a mystical ideal which the Jews are to realize and which is to become a powerful symbol and emanative force for the rest of the world. Buber’s presentations of Jewish mysticism, which have literary as well as other values, belong to the whole mystical movement against the spirit of capitalist society. But this Jewish mysticism is always connected with the prophetic element of hope of the consummation.
In many ways therefore there is evidence that in Judaism also there is reaction—not without backslidings—against the spirit of capitalist society. But the revolt encounters particular difficulties because of the close interrelation of large circles of Jews with the capitalist system and its exclusively commercial type of life.
3. Protestantism. (a) Protestantism and Culture. Protestantism stands at the very center of the problem of church and capitalist society. Its history has proceeded in very close connection with the history of the capitalist spirit. Indeed, the popular exaggeration of Max Weber’s thesis about the significance of Calvinism for the rise of the, capitalist spirit often makes it appear as though Protestantism itself were nothing but the capitalist spirit. On the contrary it may be asserted that original Protestantism was the sharpest protest it is possible to think of against the spirit of self-sufficient finitude, in its ecclesiastical and hierarchical as well as in its humanistic and rationalistic form. Luther raised his protest against both of these with dynamic, prophetic force in the name of that which is absolutely beyond, of the divine reality which prevails over all human activity. This protest was and remains alive, whether continued by orthodox Protestantism or by Protestant pietism. The peril of Protestantism lay in the fact that it was a protest and that it did not achieve an adequate realization. No church can be founded on a protest, yet Protestantism became a church. Consequently it needed to adopt positive elements out of tradition, but in such a way that they would not take the edge off the force of the protest; therefore it limited them and crowded them into the background to the point of neglect. As a result the protest lost its ultimate meaning and became a doctrine alongside of other doctrines. The inner dilemma of Protestantism lies in this, that it must protest against every religious or cultural realization which seeks to be intrinsically valid, but that it needs such realization if it is to be able to make its protest in any meaningful way.
All the separate problems of Protestantism in the present situation grow out of this inner contradiction which constitutes at the same time its greatness and its tragedy. Under the force of its prophetic attack the reign of the Catholic hierarchy broke down in broad territories. The religiously finite priesthood, claiming absoluteness, was set aside. But therewith the question arose as to what was to take its place and the question remained unanswered. A new priesthood of pure doctrine, which in its hierarchical self-esteem conceded nothing to the old priesthood, arose within orthodoxy, it is true. But the development was only transitory and could not maintain itself in face of the Protestant principle of the general priesthood of believers. In addition the preaching office lacked the political power of the Catholic hierarchy. The result was that the vacant position was occupied by secular powers, in Lutheranism by the state, in Calvinism by society.
The relationship of Protestantism to these two secular powers can be deduced from this fact. Lutheranism became more and more dependent on the state. The church became a department of administration and could not think of antagonizing the state in any way. The union with an absolute or, in case of need, with a limited monarchy and with aristocratic, conservative forces seemed to be indissoluble. Throne and altar were brought into such close proximity that the only role left to the latter was the role of a servant. Under the circumstances the destruction of the hierarchical structure and the proclamation of the absolute transcendence of God were avenged through the reduction of religion to a subordinate, this-worldly thing. It needed the state in order that it might exist and consequently it was used and ruled by the state.
In the immediate present the situation is such that the Lutheran church stands in inner antagonism to the state which grew out of the democratic revolution, that it finds its main support in the conservative, nationalist groups and, in turn, recruits not inconsiderable reënforcements for these groups. In theory it rejects every political alliance. Practically it is orientated by its history toward a conservative, monarchical, agrarian, bureaucratic, national and military ideal. In all of this there is a large measure of the pre-capitalist temper and it is intelligible that the fundamental attitude of large groups of great agrarians, peasants and laborers finds its proper expression in the Lutheran church. The Protestant church in Lutheran regions really became bourgeois only at the moment when national Liberalism began its triumphant march. The triumph was achieved in part with the aid of liberal Protestant theologians who, under the protection of the nation’s enforcement of peace within the church, arrived at positions of influence and proclaimed Protestantism as a religion of national culture in which a self-sufficient finitude was religiously consecrated but was not invaded and questioned by the eternal. Nationalist suggestions and the hate of democracy and socialism are still too strong for Lutheran Protestantism as a whole to become aware of its apostasy. But at least the pagan extremes of the nationalist movement receive only limited applause within Protestantism and in an official proclamation the German Protestant churches have indicated their resolution to reject the extreme capitalistic principle.
The real difficulty which Lutheran Protestantism faces appears most clearly in those movements within it which are seeking for a solution of the social problem: the Church and Social Problems movement, the Evangelical Social movement, and Religious Socialism. The first of these represents an attempt to win the workers to a conservative Christian philosophy and attitude toward life. The attempt has failed on both sides. A truly earnest social passion on the part of the ruling powers, even on the part of the conservative party, was not to be thought of after the victory of the philosophy of national liberalism. On the other hand labor as a whole was absolutely incapable of adopting the conservative Protestant attitude which had been developed under entirely different social conditions than now prevail. The effectiveness of this movement at present is therefore inconsiderable and it was logical that the Christian Social party should have been taken up into the German National party. The Evangelical Social Congress is working more in the sphere of theory and from the viewpoint of liberal Protestantism. It has made many valuable scientific contributions but it is suffering, even from the point of view of science, from the fact that it does not subject Protestantism itself and capitalist society as a whole to fundamental criticism. It lacks the power of a hope for the future, of the consciousness of a real turn in time which will put all things in question. Consequently it is working not only too much in the realm of theory—which does no harm if the theory be good—but also without enthusiasm. It is too deeply immersed in the spirit of capitalist society to be able to go beyond it.
But the religious social movement also—more accurately Religious Socialism—is saddled with the burden of the fundamental problem of Protestantism. After its origins in the prophetic spirit of the Blumhardts it was brought into close relationship with socialism and pacifism by Ragaz in Switzerland, was referred by Kutter and in radical fashion by Barth and his school to its religious source, and finally robbed of any relation to socialism or to concrete social movements. It became in this instance a theoretical tendency in which the Protestant theme of the pure transcendence of God is expressed with great emphasis. But the question about realization, the question about the social environment which is necessary before such a proclamation can even be heard, the question as to the ability of our time to understand the proclamation—that is to say, all questions about the religious situation of our time as a concrete, unique reality are rejected by this tendency. In practice this naturally means the support of that which is, in our case the support of the spirit of a time controlled and formed by capitalist society.
The League of Religious Socialists has an ecclesiastical political character. It seeks to reconcile socialism and the Protestant church without radically changing either. But this intention must probably be accounted impractical in view of the present structure of both these entities.
The group whose organ is the journal Blaetter fuer Religioesen Sozialismus has not established a confessional test but the Protestant spirit is strong enough in it to make the question about the relationship of divine transcendence to socialist realization in time of decisive importance. Whether the answer to this question will be such that it will have significance within Protestantism cannot be predicted. At all events all of these movements show the difficulty which exists for Protestantism when it attempts to offer practical opposition to the spirit of capitalist society.
This becomes even more apparent in the case of Calvinism. The position which was occupied in Lutheranism by the state at first and which now seems to be in danger of being occupied by the German National party was occupied in Calvinism by society since early times. In the conflict of Calvinism with princely authorities it was victorious in almost every instance. Often it was represented by emigrant communities. In neither case was it possible for the state to take the place of the old hierarchy. Hence the churches needed to create and administer their own constitution out of their own resources. The principle of voluntary membership and the democratic structure brought this type of Protestantism into close relation to the sectarian type and made the union of the two possible. The soil was prepared for the individualism of capitalist society, for the emasculation of the state, for the fundamental significance of the individual. The isolated individual is originally and in principle the religious individual; gradually he becomes more and more the type of individual who corresponds to the concept of democratic, capitalist society. The spirit of the religious community is impregnated with the spirit of capitalist society. On the other hand the latter receives constant reënforcement from the spirit of the Calvinist church. And therein lies its power. For this fact prevents its relapse into the open brutality of a demonic naturalism. Hence the faith is awakened in large sections of the church that capitalist humanism is the realization of the Christian ideal. A humanization of Christianity takes place which is always at the same time a Christianization of humanism. It is evident that on this soil a revolt against the spirit of capitalism is almost impossible. Despite the unprecedented and extreme development of the capitalistic system in the Anglo-American world capitalism has not yet revealed its true features and its demonic character to the consciousness of those nations. Even the socialism of these countries is more of an economic attack carried on by the laboring class for the sake of gaining a larger participation in the advantages of the system than an attack on the system itself. And the older manifestations of religious socialism rest on the Calvinist principle of the church and on the demand that a large part of one’s economic gain be devoted to the church and the poor. In this movement also no fundamental opposition to the system itself can be discovered. Accordingly there is no sign of a consciousness of the crisis of the time and of capitalist society.( When the German edition of this book was published in 1926 Tillich’s comment on the situation in England and America was more applicable than it is in 1932. Even so, native observers of earlier events and movements in these countries will need to disagree with his interpretation at some points, though they may agree with the description as a whole.—Translator). An activist and tremendously effective optimism instinctively identified the Kingdom of God with a thoroughly humanized, pacifist, Christianized bourgeois humanity. This does not mean that the problems which have arisen in Europe are not important for America. They are present in the nature of the case and must appear in all their sharpness sooner or later. At all events, for the present the close relation between Calvinist Protestantism and capitalist society is an historic fact, the significance of which for the contemporary religious situation cannot be overestimated.
The attitude of both Lutheranism and Calvinism toward the various social problems is extremely conservative and legal in the religious sense. The relationship of the sexes is governed by the unconditional demand for exclusive monogamy. This is even truer of the Calvinist than of the Lutheran form of Protestantism. But the latter also has closed its mind almost completely to the problems which are present in this sphere. The churches do not see that through their shyness they support the hypocrisy of bourgeois conventionality on the one hand and, on the other, exclude themselves from the great, continentwide discussion of the sex-relationship. Hence they do not come to grips with the task of offering a solution which will point to the transcendent sphere but which will not be purely legal and conventional. In this case also it becomes apparent how difficult is the situation into which they have been forced by their destruction of the sacramental character of marriage on the one hand and of voluntary celibacy on the other. They have no point of departure from which they can make the attempt to emancipate themselves from their union with bourgeois convention.
It has been pointed out above that the youth movement within the Protestant churches was least able of all to find a soil friendly to its development. Its antithesis to the spirit of capitalist society necessarily brought it into antithesis to the characteristic Protestant attitude in view of the deep roots of that spirit in Protestantism as well as in Judaism.
Because Protestantism has no definite ideal of culture, education in its sphere of influence can result only in a dualism of religious faith and humanistic idealism in which the former is ultimately forced aside. The situation in our whole higher educational system speaks eloquently of this fact. It is well known how destructive of religion is the influence exercised by a religious instruction which is carried on in connection with the other subjects of the curriculum. It is one of the most important causes of the abandonment of the Protestant church by the larger part of the educated world.
The roots of all these problems of Protestantism lie in the difficulty of the Protestant ethics. The destruction of the Catholic ideal of saintliness and the emphasis on the transcendence of God, which makes every religious realization questionable, leave a vacuum which is occupied by the humanistic ideal, the emotional motive of which is the appeal to obedience to law and the actual character of which is conformity to bourgeois convention. At scarcely any point have the Protestant churches made a serious attempt to surmount this difficulty. On the contrary the extreme tendency in Protestant theology is inclined to banish ethics entirely out of the theological system; only the religious socialist and the religious nationalist movements are seeking new paths in this region, partly in connection with the theology of German idealism and romanticism and with recourse to the theologians of culture such as Schleiermacher and Richard Rothe. It is very doubtful whether these attempts will have any success within the Protestant churches and the danger is great that even should they succeed to a certain extent they will adjust themselves again to the spirit of capitalist society. For the problem is rooted very deeply in the whole Protestant attitude.
In the theoretic sphere not even an earnest attempt has been made to attain to a Protestant ideal of culture. Protestantism avoids every direct and indirect influence upon art without noticing that art is constantly exercising influences which run counter to the Protestant conception of the transcendence of God and the secular character of nature and which are leading the mind away from bourgeois Protestantism. There really is no relationship of Protestantism to painting and sculpture. A smooth, idealized realism in the spirit of bourgeois convention is almost exclusively dominant. The new forms created or discovered by expressionism meet violent opposition, particularly on the part of the church. A happier situation prevails in literature although in this case also the really great artists have scarcely been recognized by the Protestant church. Happiest of all is the situation in music, where the old Protestant tradition has not wholly ceased and where Bach and the Protestant choral reveal the superiority of the heroic old Protestant spirit over capitalist society.
In science and philosophy the wearisome ineffective battle waged by the church in self-defense came to an end through the radical separation of the territories of faith and of knowledge and through the unconditional surrender of the field of battle to autonomous science. One postulated the existence of a pagan brain beside a Christian heart and rested content. The solution had the value of putting an end to all attempts to deduce proofs of the eternal from the finite and its forms. It made impossible the use of gaps in scientific knowledge for the sake of introducing God as a gap-filler in the scientific description of the world. It forced the recognition that the eternal appears at a deeper level than the level of rational thought. But, on the other hand, the definition of this level as feeling and the inability of bringing it into relationship to the scientific view of reality led to the separation of the whole sphere of truth from religion. Religion left it alone to work out its finite realization. And religion itself was dealt with as a matter of subjective moods which could make no claims to understand or reform the world. Thus the typically impressionistic, bourgeois attitude entered into religion: upon the one side rational science, a system of self-sufficient forms, on the other side subjective feeling, which did not have the power to break through the finite.
Orthodoxy fought against this secularization constantly and with emphasis. It taught that there were invasions of the system of finite forms—miracles, inspiration, creation, beginning and end. Yet it regarded these concepts not as religious ideas but as scientific and theoretical concepts which were used not so much to break through as to break up the system of finite forms. The result was that it entered into a fruitless opposition and was gradually forced to adopt the strategy of that constantly retreating apologetics, surrendering position after position, to which we referred above. When orthodoxy conceived its ideas in theoretical, scientific fashion it had accepted so much of the bourgeois spirit that it could not escape defeat.
The change which took place in this situation is connected with the entrance of mystical and intuitive elements into Protestant theology. Rudolf Otto’s book on Religion and Naturalism was an attempt to go beyond the dilemma of the situation, to grasp the unique, independent character of religious concepts and to free apologetics of its intolerable burden. One must rejoice over the fact that since that time the situation with regard particularly to the natural sciences has been cleared up to a great extent even within the churches. History still creates difficulties. For the religious view there is in history a super-temporal element, which cannot be reduced to historical terms but which must not be placed alongside of secular history as something which has a separate history. The problem gave rise to the same antithesis as did the problem of nature. On the one side there was the rationalized, orthodox theory that a sacred history of miraculous sort parallels secular history—a theory which breaks up the unity of historical knowledge. On the other side there was the rational, liberal theory that sacred history is nothing but a part of general history— a theory which leaves the self-sufficient finitude of the historical untouched and unbroken. The struggle for a new metaphysics of history has led us somewhat beyond these alternatives.
So theology is laboring to gain a right relationship to the scientific sphere and to seize upon the approaches made to it from the side of science. The development is still in its beginnings. It can arrive at its goal only when the situation in the religious, theological sphere, in the narrow sense, has come to sufficient maturity.
(b) Religious Life in Protestantism. From an early time onward two tendencies have been evident in the religious life of Protestantism, the ecclesiastical dogmatic tendency and the pietistic. Both tendencies had their sources in Luther’s attitude and both have developed in Protestantism down to the present day. At the end of the seventeenth century they stood in sharp contrast to each other as Orthodoxy and Pietism; in the eighteenth century rationalism was added as a third element. At present actual Protestant religion is influenced by all three forms. There is the ecclesiastical, positive tendency which must be described as a greatly softened orthodoxy; the antithesis to this tendency is the ecclesiastical liberal movement, which may be defined as a moderate Illuminism; the pietist tendency with its fellowships stands in contrast to both of the former movements but at the same time it has peculiar positive relations to both. The liberal tendency approaches closely to, or is almost absorbed by, the temper of capitalist society. It attempts to make religion a part of the system of finite forms, either as their crown or their unity. It represents itself to be a cultural Protestantism which is quite aware of morality but little aware of the shaking of culture by the eternal. It has relatively little significance for the religious life. Its sermons are not wanted for they contain nothing that points beyond the self-sufficient finite world. Autonomous culture does not require the religious change of names which liberal Protestantism wants to bestow upon it. It tolerates this liberalism, defends it even, but does not really respect it because it does not have the power to oppose the culture. The excellence of liberal Protestantism lies in the scientific sphere, in theology insofar as theology must be the science of religion. But even in systematic theology the same limitations become apparent which are present in the practical religious attitude. The spirit of self-sufficient finitude is not transcended by liberalism either theoretically or practically.
The positive tendency in contrast to liberalism has a great advantage. It possesses the old, pre-capitalist tradition; it is sharply negative towards civilization and this-worldliness; it is always willing to allow the unity of the autonomous spirit to come to grief in every sphere. Therefore its effectiveness continues to be great and its sermons are still listened to. It controls the church almost completely. At the same time it is not stiff and petrified but elastic, particularly in its reception of modern science. One may even say that its antithesis to liberal theology has been canceled in the whole field of scientific research in religion even where this research deals with the Bible and the church. Yet even this positive tendency has shown no evidence of ability to conquer the capitalist spirit. In part it has rejected the latter by relying on methods which were quite as irreligious and as rationalistic as those which were rejected; in part it has made compromises which have robbed it of its deepest strength without being adequate to the justifiable claims of autonomous science. Because of this half and half character it is weaker than is the liberal tendency. Its strength lies in the fact that it encourages preaching to tap the springs of the pre-capitalist, prophetic and priestly spirit in religion.
Pietistic religion develops its practice and theory without making the compromises of orthodoxy. It is an attempt to realize Protestantism not only in ecclesiastical and dogmatic but in vital forms. It is connected by many lines with Catholic Jesus-mysticism which; however, it has bent in a strongly personalistic and ethical direction. It is a constant source of religious power for Protestantism. Again and again it has given birth to revolts against the spirit of capitalist society. On the one hand its transcendence of all this-worldliness and bondage to civilization, on the other hand its strong interest in fellowship, stands in violent antithesis to bourgeois this-worldliness and to spiritual individualism. In addition, pietism has conserved the religious tradition of the past on the practical religious side to a much greater extent than orthodoxy has done. Yet in pietism also the total situation of our time becomes evident. First of all for pietism as for Protestantism in general the personal character of religion is of decisive importance. Therein the individualism of capitalist society is represented. Furthermore, pietism in common with the rest of Protestantism lacks a permanent, priestly actualization of religion. It is quite logical therefore that the old pietism should have prepared the way to a large extent for the Illumination and that contemporary pietism should not have the power to conquer the spirit of capitalist society. On the contrary, it has aided this spirit in many ways. Upon the one hand it took over from orthodoxy that fruitless dogmatic rigidity which orthodoxy itself has softened so that at this point a complete change of front occurred; on the other hand in most recent times it has diverged into the camp of the nationalists in a most peculiar and inexplicable fashion and in contradiction to its own spirit. With all of this it combines great activity in church politics in an extremely orthodox direction. These processes in which the contraction and secularization of pietism become evident at the same time, indicate clearly how tremendous is the power which the spirit of the present exercises even upon movements which are opposed to it.
Such is the character of the three main tendencies in the Protestant church. None of them leads us beyond the present situation. They vacillate between protest against and compromise with the spirit of capitalist society. Other movements have not as yet gone beyond the stage of theological consideration. Movements which are of importance for religious life and which have prospects of future development are not to be found at the present time in the Protestant church. Even religious socialism, whether represented by the Neuwerk group or the Berlin circle or by the church-political League of Religious Socialists, cannot make the claim to such significance. What Protestantism possesses in the way of significant movements is to be found in the theological sphere—which is quite characteristic of Protestantism.
This judgment denies the decisive importance of two factors which are receiving a great deal of attention. The first of these is the increase of the influence of the church, the second is the high church movement. It is not strange that the evangelical church should also profit by the general turn toward religion. But to account for the increase of the influence of the church other factors besides this one must be taken into consideration. The alliance of the church with the conservative nationalist attitude has greatly strengthened its reputation in all circles which represent the latter tendency. But the question whether this political, ecclesiastical gain has not been purchased at the cost of great religious loss must be raised emphatically. A further reason for the increase of ecclesiastical influence even upon labor is that many parents, including socialist parents and particularly mothers, feel that education without religion and a philosophy of life lacks content. Since socialism stands for the secularized school—a position which is logical from the capitalist but doubtful from the socialist point of view—it contributes indirectly to the strengthening of evangelical Parents’ Leagues and so to the strengthening of the evangelical church in general. Yet no essential significance for our religious situation can be ascribed to the contemporary increase of the power of the church. These things are all too superficial for that.
The high church movement, that is the attempt to increase the psychological effectiveness of the evangelical churches through reforms of worship and constitution, is more important. These efforts evidently start with the problem of actualizing the Protestant principle which is the fundamental Protestant problem and they therefore deserve attention. Naturally they tend toward Catholic forms of life, a fact which makes them a part of the general Catholicizing tendency of the time and which has led to divisions within the movement itself. On the principle of the movement the following judgment may be passed—the hierarchy and ritual of Catholicism rest upon the Catholic sacraments and their unassailable objectivity. But this is just what has been destroyed by Protestantism. Every attempt at a new Catholic actualization of the ideas of priesthood or ritual must either violate the Protestant principle or remain a matter of pedagogic compromises. Protestantism rests upon preaching, on the proclamation of a transcendent God who is above all attempts at human actualization. This God has no sacraments which can be divorced from the prophetic message and therefore no priesthood and no genuine cult. Yet even preaching when it is not inspired prophecy presupposes a priestly and ritual attitude. Essentially it is the negation of priesthood and ritual yet at the same time it becomes a new basis for both. At this point again the fundamental problem of Protestantism appears, a problem which high-church movements will not solve at all events. Therefore a decisive significance for our present religious situation can be ascribed to this tendency as little as to the increased power of the church. For that matter it is developing within very modest limits, both in theory and in influence.
The rejection of the spirit of capitalist society and the search for a new fulfillment of the Christian idea are more clearly evident in Protestant theology than in the movements just mentioned. Liberalism was and, to a certain extent, remains dominant in theology. Positive theology was unable to offer anything even remotely equal in value to the brilliant achievements of liberal scholarship in the field of history. As a result of the destruction of the -specious historical foundations of the orthodox system—particularly through the critical study of the gospels and the interpretation of primitive Christianity from the point of view of history of religion—the situation of positive theology, even in dogmatics, became constantly more difficult. Its strength lay in its content, its weakness in its scientific form. It lost ground steadily and even in the thoughtful form of modern-positive theology it was unable to regain anything of essential importance.
The most significant change came from other quarters. First of all it occurred in liberal theology itself. The historical method logically led to the comprehensive, penetrating study of the whole history of religion. Psychology of religion and disinterested evaluation of religious phenomena rendered important aid. The world of religious life disclosed its great originality and universality. The rationalistic and moralistic interpretation of religion which had prevailed in liberal theology broke down. The ecstatic, form-destroying character of religion with its divine and demonic aspects was recognized. Working on these bases Rudolf Otto offered a splendidly developed phenomenology of religion in his book on The Idea of the Holy. From this point lines of relationship to idealistic and romantic theology could be traced. On all sides theology broke through the Kantian walls which surrounded it. The eternal was apprehended as the ground of meaning and the abyss of reality and only in the second place as a demand and as law. It was possible to speak again of a fundamental, divine revelation which lies at a deeper level than every concrete revelation.
Therewith the alternative between liberalism and orthodoxy was surmounted. The religious ideas and religious forms of life are neither to be reduced after the fashion of liberalism to parts of the system of finite forms nor are they to be apprehended in orthodox fashion as destructive of that system. They are concepts of transcendence beyond the form, not of the breaking of forms. Neither capitalist autonomy nor ecclesiastical heteronomy—for both belong together—but theonomy, the free devotion of finite forms to the eternal, is the goal. No systematic elaboration of these ideas has as yet been made. It would entail a thoroughgoing transformation of tradition and of the liberal forms into which they were analyzed, but it would need to carry on a constant battle against both sides; yet it would also be able to aid the religious symbols to regain the expressive force which will allow a whole period to find its eternal meaning in them.
Alongside of this tendency which is greatly under the influence of the whole mystical movement of our times, there is another tendency which consciously and emphatically seeks to return to Luther. Karl Holl’s book on Luther is the strongest expression of this theology. Its influence is rather considerable, particularly on the young theologians. They are actually speaking of a Luther-Renaissance. In this movement also there is the desire to go beyond the antithesis of orthodox and liberal and to open up again the fountains of prophetic religion. And it also has lines of relationship to idealism and romanticism. But no decisive importance for the total movement of our times can be conceded to this movement, for it knows nothing of an explicit denial of the spirit of capitalist society and in consequence it appears in its practical effects and in part in its theoretical expressions also to strengthen that spirit. A Luther-Renaissance on the basis of the present religious situation, regarded as a whole, is an impossibility.
This is also true of the third theological tendency, the dialectical or, as it is now also called, the Neo-Reformed theology. It grew out of religious socialism and is extremely powerful. Its fundamental document is Karl Barth’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, a book of truly prophetic power and penetration. This theology lets the judgment of the unconditionedly transcendent God fall upon every attempt of culture or religion to claim value before him. In its conception the only relation which the world has to God is that the world stands in the divine negation, in the crisis, in the shaking of time by eternity. In consequence mysticism and romanticism, idealism and the religious ideal of civilization are sharply rejected. Civilization may go on its own independent way but it must be subjected as a whole to the judgment. The system of finite forms is to remain as it is, but must be broken through as a whole. There can be no doubt that this theology is of the highest importance for the religious situation of the present. But it is also clear that it can turn into an actual reenforcement of the spirit of capitalist society and of its orthodox correlate as soon as the prophetic disturbance of our days has ceased—as it must cease—and as soon as self-sufficient finitude stands before us once more unassailed and unchanged.
The present situation in theology can be surmounted only by way of a union of the priestly spirit of the first and the prophetic spirit of the third of the above-mentioned movements. Such a union we can again designate as belief-ful realism. At all events abundant and strong life is moving in the Protestant theology of our time. There is apparent in it the will to break through futile antitheses within the bourgeois situation. The decisive turn if it is to take place anywhere in Protestantism may be expected in theology.
We have arrived at the end of our study. It has shown us in every sphere from the natural sciences to ritual and dogma the turning away from the spirit of self-sufficient finitude, from the spirit of capitalist society. It has also shown us the difficulties, aberrations and reactions of this movement and has designated belief-ful realism as the attitude which is proper to our present situation. One thing however must be remembered in connection with all of these observations: they can have meaning only for those who are themselves engaged in the movement and for them they are not only meaningful but also full of responsibility. Such men are not permitted to stand aloof as non-participating observers, but it is demanded of them that they think and speak about the religious situation of the present with unconditioned, active responsibility.
Viewed 79255 times.