The Protestant Era 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. The Protestant Era was published by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois in 1948. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock<
Chapter 14: The Formative Power of Protestantism
I. The Problem
Formative power is the power of creating a form; Protestantism is the attitude of protest against form. How can they be united? Stated in such a degree of abstraction, they are irreconcilable. But actually they have been united, namely, in historical Protestantism, in the development of its churches, in the life of every Protestant. A union of Protestantism and formative power must be possible, since it has been and still is real. On the other hand, it is not surprising that this unity is full of tensions, restless, and threatened in its existence. These tensions in historical Protestantism will be the subject of this chapter. We raise the question as to how formative power and protest against form can live together in a church, how form and the protest against form can create a new, overarching form.
It is a general axiom concerning all being that the negative can manifest itself only in connection with something positive (as the lie can exist only through the element of truth in it). According to this axiom, we must say that protest cannot exist without a "Gestalt" to which it belongs.(In the following discussion we shall use the German word Gestalt in order to refer to the total structure of a living reality, such as a social group, an individual person, or a biological body. The German word is permissible since "Gestalt psychology" has introduced it into general scientific terminology. We shall use the word "form" whenever we refer to the different organic expressions of the total structure, for instance, the cult of a church or the character traits of a personality.) The Gestalt embraces itself and the protest against itself; it comprises form and negation of form. There is no "absolute" negation and there is no "absolute" protest—absolute in the literary sense of "absolved from any involvement." Negation, if it lives, is involved in affirmation; and protest, if it lives, is involved in form. This is also true of Protestantism. Its protest is dependent on its Gestalt, its form-negating on its form-creating power, its "No"—however it may prevail—on its "Yes." Its "No" would fall into nothingness without the creativity of its "Yes." This union of protest and creation we call "the Gestalt of grace."
The prophetic protest of Protestantism has been proclaimed in recent years by Karl Barth and his friends with such power and out of such depth that the attention not only of world Protestantism but also of large groups outside the churches has been aroused. Perhaps one is justified in saying that the radical character of this protest—the impressive and convincing form in which it was directed against both religion and culture—has saved contemporary Protestantism from sectarian seclusion, on the one hand, and from secularism and insignificance, on the other hand. It is not surprising that the impetus of the protest prevented those who pronounced it from raising the question of the Gestalt out of which the protest came. This is not surprising in view of the fact that protest is not only an essential element of Protestantism at all times but is also very urgently needed in our time. Neither the churches nor society has given heed to it as they should. Theology still has no more important task than to express the Protestant protest radically and penetratingly in its own doctrinal work and in its dealing with every aspect of contemporary life. It must issue the protest unconditionally because of the unconditional character of the divine, and it must express it concretely because of the concrete character of every historical situation. A theology that has not passed through the shattering effect of the "theology of crisis" but has dismissed its prophetic "No" with a polite bow or with an easy criticism of its method and form, cannot be taken very seriously. For a long time to come—and in some way always—the Protestant protest must have priority.
And yet the question of the Protestant Gestalt cannot longer be neglected. The fact that it has been overlooked by the "theology of crisis" has already produced some unfortunate effects. The important liturgical movements in Protestantism have been repelled by the radical character of the critical "No." The same is true of the attempts to unite Christianity with the spirit of the youth movement and with the aims of socialism. After a certain amount of co-operation these new attempts had to separate themselves from the theology of crisis. There can be no doubt, however, that they are badly needed. The decline in liturgical taste (in architecture, poetry, and music) during the nineteenth century made a creative reaction necessary. The help given to it by expressionistic art and by its ability to rediscover the great cultic art of the past was invaluable. The same is true of the longing of youth for new symbols over against the utilitarianism of bourgeois civilization, and it is true also of the attempts to unite Protestantism and socialism. All this is needed. But these attempts can preserve their Protestant character and avoid a hopeless competition with Roman Catholicism only if they pass through the fire of prophetic criticism. The theology of crisis has lighted this fire. But it was a merely burning and in no way a warming and illuminating fire. Consequently, these movements went their own, often very unprotestant, ways. At the same time the theology of crisis itself took a dangerous turn. It seems as if Barth and his followers, in a good orthodox style, are interested only in the form of doctrine in Protestantism. Moreover, the way in which they work for the doctrine is not very much affected by the "No" of the Protestant principle; it has itself not passed through the fire of its own protest. Indeed, it sometimes appears as if the absolute, religious criticism of the theology of crisis has strangled the relative, scientific criticism found in liberal theology. This is a very unfortunate result, certainly not intended by Barth and even less by great and radical biblical scholars like Bultmann, who unite higher criticism and Barthian theology. But, though not intended, it has occurred, especially in the younger generation of theologians, who are no longer conscious of the heroic struggle of nearly two centuries in which scientific honesty in historical matters conquered sacred superstitions and ecclesiastical compromises. It is a real danger to the future of Protestantism that the prophetic spirit of the original theology of crisis will be abused in favor of the re-establishment of an orthodoxy that feels safe against the Protestant protest.
These are consequences of the failure of the theology of crisis to raise the question of the Protestant Gestalt in its relation to the Protestant protest. But the question is unavoidable, and an answer must he found if there is to be a future for Protestantism. What is the Gestalt, we ask, out of which the Protestant protest can come without destroying its own foundation? What are the principles of the formative power of Protestantism? And how can criticism and creation be united in the different directions of its self-realization? Against a possible misunderstanding, it may be emphasized that we do not agree with a type of liberal Protestantism which identifies Protestantism with the attitude of a permanent protest in the sense of a negative intellectual criticism. Such an attitude is rejected by the Protestant principle.
II The Reality of Grace
By what authority does Protestantism raise its protest against every sacred and secular reality? There must be such an authority which, of course, cannot be any human authority. But if Protestantism tries to protect the majesty of the unconditional against every attempt of a finite reality to set itself up as unconditioned, it must somehow participate in the unconditional. If Protestant criticism is not the criticism with which one finite being challenges other finite beings but a criticism coming from beyond finitude, Protestantism must participate in the infinite. But participating in the infinite, in the unconditional, in a trans-human authority, means living in the reality of grace or—to use the term already explained—in a "Gestalt of grace," in a sacred structure of reality. No Protestant protest is possible unless it is rooted in a Gestalt in which grace is embodied
Grace-embodied, reality of grace, Gestalt of grace—all these sound strange and dangerous for Protestants. "Grace" is supposed to be something intangible and unsubstantial, while "embodiment" and "Gestalt" seem to point to something that can be grasped and touched. An embodied grace seems to lose its character as grace and to become a "law" in the sense of Catholic sacramentalism. The struggle of the Reformers against the Roman system of legalized grace seems to have been fought in vain if Protestants start speaking of a sacred structure of reality. Such a view of grace, the Reformers asserted against the pope, deprives the church of its spiritual, invisible character, divides the one unconditional grace into many conditioned "graces," makes the hierarchy the proprietor of the power of grace and therefore the authority to which one must submit for the sake of salvation. A concept like "Gestalt of grace" seems to indicate the end of the Protestant protest and the victory of Rome. The grace of forgiveness, which is a divine judgment over every human achievement and above any perceptible form, seems to be replaced by a conditioned, immanent structure which must be constructed by human activity.
We might in this way express our doubt about Protestantism’s possession of a formative power. If the doubt were justified, the concept of a Gestalt of grace would have to be rejected. But does the alternative between Romanism, on the one side, and an unstructured (Gestalt-less) Protestantism, on the other side, really exhaust the possibilities? In contrast to the Reformers, we are no longer involved in a life-and-death struggle with Rome. We are able to decide in terms of principles and not of controversy; and we are not bound in our decision to a classical period of Protestantism. It belongs to the nature of Protestantism that it has no classical period. Every period stands under the Protestant protest, even the age of the Reformation.
There is in the center of Protestant doctrine a point at which it presupposes what we call a "divine structure of reality," namely, faith. The divine judgment, in spite of its transcendence and independence, has meaning and power only if it is appropriated by faith, in the church and in the Christian. Faith is the faith of man. It does not come from man, but it is effective in man. And in so far as faith is in a community or personality, they are embodiments of grace. Faith is created by the bearing of the "Word." The Word is said from beyond us, to us. But, if it is received, it is no longer only transcendent. It is also immanent, creating a divine structure of reality. Thus it creates faith as the formative power of a personal life and of a community. The Word is said from beyond man, but it is said through men. Men must be able to say it, they must be grasped and transformed by it, and this must have happened ever since the Word became manifest in history. Structures of grace must be permanently actual in history—though they do not derive from history—if in any moment of history the Word is to be pronounced.
A theology that wishes to avoid these implications is confronted with the following alternatives: either faith is itself a creation of grace (of the divine Spirit), or it is a human act of subjection to a report about grace. Either the authority of those who preach the Word is the expression of grace working in their personality, or it is the detached description of something outside the preacher. Either faith means being grasped by the power of the unconditional, or it is objective knowledge with a lower degree of evidence. In the second case it is inexplicable how a personality and community without grace can know and preach grace. In the first case it is understandable that grace is preached and faith is created. We decide for this alternative and say that the presupposition of the formative power of Protestantism is the unity of protest and form in a Gestalt of grace.
It is important to emphasize the reality of grace—in whatever terminology—because Protestant theology (as early as in Melanchthon) showed an inclination to intellectualize religion. This is historically understandable. The radicalism of the Protestant protest against any visible representation of the divine made such an intellectualization almost unavoidable. But it cannot be justified. And the recently influential "theology of the Word" should be careful not to confuse the divine "Word," which has appeared as a personal life and is the Gestalt of grace, with the biblical or ecclesiastical word. For Christian theology Jesus as the Christ is the Word (i.e., the divine self-manifestation); and this involves his being in its totality, to which his deeds and his suffering belong, and not his words alone. "Word of God" in Christian theology, therefore, has an obviously symbolic sense. If we say that his total being and not merely his words (or the words about him) is the Word of God, we are saying that the reality of grace and not the speaking about grace is the source of Christianity. The words of the Bible and of preaching claim to speak not only about the reality of grace but as an expression of this reality, not detached from their object but grasped by it. The reality of grace is the prius of all speaking and hearing about it; being moved by the Spirit is the prius of faith, not the reverse. But to be moved by the Spirit or to be grasped by the unconditional means to be drawn into the reality and the life of a Gestalt of grace.
The emphasis on the reality of grace protects theology against orthodox (and rationalistic) intellectualism. But it has, at the same time, the function of protecting Protestantism against a new—or a very old— sacramentalism. In every theology there is the danger that the reality of grace will be interpreted in terms of an "objective" reality, i.e., of a reality that is given like any other object, to be known and used by everybody who wants to know and to use it. But the Gestalt of grace is not a Gestalt beside others. It is the manifestation of what is beyond every Gestalt through a Gestalt. Here we see the profoundest difference between the Protestant and the Catholic idea of the reality of grace. In the Catholic view the finite form is transmuted into a divine form; the human in Christ is received in his divine nature (the monophysitic trend in all Catholic Christology); the historical relativity of the church is sanctified by its divine character (the exclusiveness of the Roman church); the material of the sacrament is as such filled with grace (the dogma of transubstantiation). In all this, grace is interpreted as a tangible, special reality—an object like other natural or historical objects—and this in spite of its transcendent, and therefore unconditional, meaning. In contrast to this Catholic understanding of the reality of grace (which attempts to make a Protestant protest against dogma, church, and sacrament impossible), Protestantism asserts that grace appears through a living Gestalt which remains in itself what it is. The divine appears through the humanity of the Christ, through the historical weakness of the church, through the finite material of the sacrament. The divine appears through the finite realities as their transcendent meaning. Forms of grace are finite forms, pointing beyond themselves. They are forms that are, so to speak, selected by grace, that it may appear through them; but they are not forms that are transmuted by grace so that they may become identical with it. The Protestant protest prohibits the appearance of grace through finite forms from becoming an identification of grace with finite forms. Such an identification is, according to the Protestant principle, demonic hybris. And examples of just such a demonic hybris must be seen in the hierarchical possession of the sacramental grace, in the orthodox possession of the infallible Word of God and the "pure doctrine," and in the scientific possession of the "historical Jesus" and his new law.
The Gestalt of grace is not something tangible. You cannot see or touch grace in the personal life or in the life of a community. But perhaps we might say that a Gestalt of grace is a possible object of "imaginative intuition." The transcendent meaning of a finite reality is not an abstract concept but a matter of imaginative perception. The New Testament picture of Jesus as the Christ is open to a nonsensuous intuition. Its character as the central Gestalt of grace can grasp us before any conceptual interpretation. Grace, of course, is not perceptible, but the manifestation of grace through a finite medium can be perceived. A Gestalt of grace is a "transparent" Gestalt. Something shines through it which is more than it. The church is church because it is transparent as a Gestalt of grace. The saint is saint, not because he is "good," but because he is transparent for something that is more than he himself is. Faith alone can perceive the grace in a Gestalt of grace; for faith means being grasped and being transformed by grace.
III. Protestant Secularism
The Protestant church, according to its claim, is a Gestalt of grace. It unites protest and form. This is its idea, but not necessarily its reality. In contrast to Catholicism’s claim for itself, the Protestant church must emphasize that it is a historical phenomenon, subjected to sociological and psychological conditions. It is not a "transubstantiated" community, but it may be a "transparent" community, a Gestalt of grace. How is that possible? How can the Protestant church incorporate within itself the protest against itself? How can it be the bearer of grace without identifying itself with grace? The Protestant protest against itself must not remain merely dialectical. It must not become—as the doctrine of justification by grace often has become—a part of its dogmatic possession. Speaking dialectically against one’s self can be a more refined form of speaking for one’s self. (Observe the fanatical self-affirmation under the cloak of self-negation in some so-called "dialectical" theologians.) The Protestant protest against itself must become concrete, and it has, in fact, become concrete in its history: it is concrete in the very existence of a secular world. In so far as secularism is an offspring of Protestantism and is related to it in co-operation or enmity, we may call it "Protestant secularism." According to the Protestant principle, it is possible that within the secular world grace is operating not in a tangible but in a transparent form. This possibility implies that grace is not bound to any finite form, not even to a religious form. It is sovereign even with respect to forms that by their very nature are supposed to be bearers of grace, such as the churches. The fathers of Continental religious socialism (for instance, as represented by the Blumhardts) recognized that God may speak for a time more powerfully through a nonreligious, and even anti-Christian, movement, such as the early social democracy, than through the Christian churches. For their period (which is still largely our period) they expressed in this way the Protestant protest against ecclesiastical arrogance. They understood that the church whose nature it is to be a Gestalt of grace may lose its true nature and that a secular group or movement may be called to become a bearer of grace, though latently. From this it follows that Protestantism bears a unique relationship to secularism: Protestantism, by its very nature, demands a secular reality. It demands a concrete protest against the sacred sphere and against ecclesiastical pride, a protest that is incorporated in secularism. Protestant secularism is a necessary element of Protestant realization. The formative power of Protestantism is always tested by its relation to the secular world. If Protestantism surrenders to secularism, it ceases to be a Gestalt of grace. If it retires from secularism, it ceases to be Protestant, namely, a Gestalt that includes within it the protest against itself.
These considerations lead to the first principle of Protestant form-creation: In every Protestant form the religious element must be related to, and questioned by, a secular element. How is this possible? Secular forms are forms in which the finite structure of reality is expressed—poetically, scientifically, ethically, politically—and in which the relation of every finite to the infinite is expressed only indirectly. Secularism is not irreligious or atheistic (atheism is an impossibility and an illusion), but it does not express its latent religion in religious forms. And that is just what Protestantism needs as a corrective against the temptation of every religious sphere and every ecclesiastical system, to identify itself with the unconditional to which it points.
Secular forms are open to a continuous transformation by autonomous creativity. Nothing is less Protestant than the Catholic sanctification of a special philosophy, a special art, a special ethics. This is just the way in which the Roman church tries to prevent secular culture from raising a protest against the ecclesiastical forms. But this is not the Protestant way. Protestantism considers secularism as a continuous, ever changing task for its formative power. There is no fixed, not even a classical, solution. There are preliminary affirmations, constructions, solutions; but nothing is final. The Protestant Gestalt of grace is dynamic and flexible. The "present" decides about the special task. Its problems and tensions, its trends and creations, determine the direction in which the formative power of Protestantism must work. This leads to the second principle of Protestant form-creation: In every Protestant form the eternal element must be expressed in relation to a "present situation."
What kind of relation to the "present" is demanded in this principle of contemporaneousness? It cannot, of course, mean bondage to the moment. Not the appearance but the depth of the present is decisive. But the depth, the dynamic structure of a historical situation, cannot be understood by a detached description of as many facts as possible. It must be experienced in life and action. The depth of every present is its power to transform the past into a future. It is, therefore, a matter of venture and decision. This holds true also of Protestant contemporaneousness. It involves daring and risk; it has no safe standards, no spiritual guaranties. It pushes forward, and it may find that it has merely forged ahead into the void and has missed its mark. And yet it cannot do other than venture and risk. Protestantism denies the security of sacramental systems with inviolable forms, sacred laws, eternal structures. It questions every claim of absoluteness; it remains dynamic even if it tries to become conservative. All this, of course, does not mean that Protestantism must surrender its own foundation, the Gestalt of grace, and the Protestant principle protecting it. The formative power of Protestantism is not the power of self-negation—the dissolution of form. Protestant form-creation is not venture in general; it is venture on the basis and within the limits of the reality of grace. It transcends every form which it creates, but it does not transcend the reality of grace which is expressed in these forms. Venture in abstracto (apart from the Gestalt of grace) is a jump from one finite possibility to another one. This is relativism; it is not Protestant protest. From this follows a third principle of Protestant form-creation:
In every Protestant form the given reality of grace must be expressed with daring and risk.
The venture of Protestant form-creation does not result in arbitrariness because it is made in obedience to the Protestant principle, on the one hand, to the demands implied in the reality of the present, on the other hand. Venturing without obedience to reality is willful. But, without venturing, reality cannot be discovered. The "really real" cannot be reached under logical or methodological guaranties. A daring act is demanded, an act that penetrates to the deepest level of reality, to its transcendent ground. Such an act is what in the religious tradition is called "faith" and what we have called a "belief-ful" or "selftranscending realism." Only such a realism is truly realistic. It refuses to be caught by any preliminary level of being and meaning; it cuts through to the ultimate level. In this way belief-ful realism liberates from cynical realism as well as from utopian realism.
But what is "really real" among all the things and events that offer themselves as reality? That which resists me so that I cannot pretend its not-being. The really real is what limits me. There are two powers in the whole of our experience which do not admit any attempt to remove them, the unconditional and "the other," i.e., the other human being. They are united in their resistance against me, in their manifestation as the really real. The unconditional could be an illusion if it did not appear through the unconditional demand of the other person to acknowledge him as a person. And, conversely, "the other," if he did not demand an unconditional acknowledgment of his personal dignity, could be used as a tool for my purposes; as a consequence he would lose his power of resistance and his ultimate reality. The unity of the personal and the unconditional, or of the ethical and the religious, is the manifestation of the really real, for it resists absolutely any attempt to be dissolved into subjectivity. From this follows a fourth principle of Protestant form-creation: In every Protestant form the attitude of a belief-ful realism must be expressed. Protestant formative power must grasp reality in its unconditional and irresistible seriousness and must not build on a place before or beyond the really real.
IV. Protestant Form-Creation and Religious Knowledge
Having developed four principles that should determine every Protestant form, we shall now give some examples for a possible application of these principles. Let us turn, first, to the sphere of religious knowledge. The life of a Protestant church includes the seeking for, and expressing of, the truth out of which it lives. It finds this truth as something given, formulated in the tradition but requiring experience, reinterpretation, and new formulation. It knows about the Protestant protest against every tradition, and it knows that this protest is real and concrete in secular knowledge about man, history, and nature. Therefore, it must receive secular knowledge as an element of its own self-interpretation. In some quarters it has been said that secular thought should not be allowed to enter Protestant theology. But philosophy and theology are not a priori in conflict. Whether they are or not depends on the special character of both. In any case, Protestant theology should do frankly what all theology always does, even if it denies passionately any connection with philosophy, it should relate itself to philosophy, and courageously so, though under the criterion of the Protestant principle.
The way in which this can be done we have called "belief-ful realism." Religious knowledge is knowledge of things and events in their religious significance, in their relationship to their transcendent ground. Religious knowledge is the knowledge of the really real. It is not the development of a tradition, it is not the discussion of antiquated problems, it is not the answer to the question of the meaning and truth of ancient concepts. Religious self-interpretation may do all this also. But, first and foremost, it is a turning toward reality, a questioning of reality, a penetrating into existence, a driving to the level where the world points beyond itself to its ground and ultimate meaning. If, out of such a penetration into reality, concepts and words grow which are its genuine expression, they may become keys to an understanding and a new interpretation of the tradition. Protestant theology is not for traditional reasons obliged to speak of the creation of the world and its mythical connotations, but it must analyze the creatureliness of all things and their relation to the creative ground. The religious-mythical term "creation" must be interpreted by the religious-empirical term "creaturely." Nor is it the task of Protestant theology to develop further the traditional problems of Christology and soteriology but rather to describe the New Being, which is manifest in Jesus Christ in relation to nature and history. This "Being" which is in history, though not from history, is the present problem of the "person and the work of the Christ." It is an actual problem with which reality confronts us at every moment; it is a realistic problem of our present situation. And our answer to it may become a way to understand the realistic meaning of the answers to similar questions given in former periods. Nor is it the task of Protestant theology to defend or deny the Jewish-Christian eschatological imagery. Its task is rather to ask: What is the ultimate meaning in all historical activity? How do we interpret time in the light of the eternal which breaks into it? The "end of time" must be understood as a quality of time, namely, as the quality of historical time which is directed toward the ultimate goal, toward salvation and fulfillment. And it is not the task of Protestant theology to continue discussing the nature and attributes of God, enriching or restricting the traditional statements, but rather it is its task to contemplate the real in such a way that its divine ground becomes transparent in it and through it. The profoundest demand of all is that we learn to speak of God in such a way that he appears not as an object above all other objects, nor as a mere symbol, but as the really real in everything that claims reality. Obviously, that can be done only in the power of a Gestalt of grace, i.e., in faith. We do not know when and where it might be done. We cannot bring it about by willing and acting. It occurs, or it does not occur. But, if it occurs, it is not only revealing for our time but also illuminating for the past, making its concepts and words contemporary, pointing to their depth and reality. Protestant formative power is at work wherever reality is interpreted with respect to its ground and ultimate meaning.
V. Protestant Form-Creation and Religious Action
Religious action in contrast to ethical action is "cultus" (colere deum). It is interdependent with religious thought. The idea of the Gestalt of grace gives new meaning and vitality to the cultus in Protestantism. "Cultus" becomes the term for the perceivable expression of the Gestalt of grace. The Protestant cultus, which traditionally was centered around the preaching of the word, gains a larger field. It liberates itself from the confusion between "the Word of God" and the written or spoken word of Christian preaching. The Word of God is his self-communication which can occur in many forms and is not bound to the human word. It may occur through actions, gestures, forms—of course, not ex opere operato (by their mere performance) but, nevertheless, without any accompanying word. Sacraments, visible symbols, bodily, musical, artistic expressions are "Word of God" even if nothing is spoken—that is, for those who accept them spiritually (as the spoken word is Word of God only if it is received spiritually).
The Protestant cultus in this wider sense poses a difficult problem for us. The cultus uses special forms in which the Gestalt of grace expresses itself. But, according to the Protestant principle, these forms through their beauty and sacred tradition are temptations to identify grace with some special expressions of grace. Therefore, a corrective is needed which must be derived from the principles of Protestant form-creation. The principles that are especially pertinent here are secular autonomy and the demand of contemporaneousness. The opposition to the cultus on this basis has taken on such dimensions that the majority of people within the Protestant nations have no approach whatsoever to the cultus. This is due not only to the consequences resulting from an exaggerated emphasis on the sermon but also to the feeling that the decisive elements of our present life are not reflected in this cultus. In spite of all the improvement of the liturgical form achieved by the rediscovery of the treasures of the liturgical past, the reform of the cultus has not been able to overcome this feeling. It has brought an aesthetic progress (in contrast to the aesthetic poverty of the later nineteenth century). But it has not created a religious impression strong enough to elicit a new attitude to the Protestant cultus; for being grasped aesthetically is not being grasped by the ultimate.
Religious action—cultus—like religious knowledge, must create its forms out of the experiences of the daily life and the actual situation. The cultus is supposed to give an ultimate meaning to the daily life. It is not so important to produce new liturgies as it is to penetrate into the depths of what happens day by day, in labor and industry, in marriage and friendship, in social relations and recreation, in meditation and tranquillity, in the unconscious and the conscious life. To elevate all this into the light of the eternal is the great task of cultus, and not to reshape a tradition traditionally. It is an infinite task, demanding venturing courage and vision, especially in a period of radical transformations such as ours. In the measure in which Protestantism takes up this task successfully, the liturgical tradition will become contemporaneous and powerful. Protestant formative power is at work wherever reality is transformed into an active expression of a Gestalt of grace.
VI. The Spirit of Protestantism and Autonomous Culture
The formative power of Protestantism expresses itself not only in the religious sphere (in the narrower sense of the word) but also in the totality of the personal, social, and intellectual existence in the whole of a civilization (the Anglo-Saxon term) or culture (the German term). This problem, of course, transcends the limitations of this chapter and is treated, at least partially, in several other chapters of this book. Only a few ideas about Protestantism and culture will be derived here from the principles developed above.
The more that Protestantism is able and willing to accept secular criticism of itself, the more it acquires the right and the power to criticize secularism. The secular world must be permanently subjected to such a criticism because it has the tendency to separate itself from the Gestalt of grace in spite of its essential relation to it. Secularism wants to escape the prophetic judgment and promise, both of which seem to threaten secular autonomy. It is afraid of the will-to-power of organized religion from which it had to liberate itself in a tremendous struggle. The secular world does not want to return into heteronomy and ecclesiastical servitude. Protestantism stands above this alternative. It has no ecclesiastical aspirations but subjects them, wherever they appear, to the same criticism to which it subjects arrogant secularism, scientific, political, or moral. It tries to create a Protestant secularism, a culture related to a Gestalt of grace as its spiritual center.
To the extent to which this attempt is successful, the secular forms in thought and action approach the specially religious ones, without becoming religious themselves. They remain secular, but they show the spiritual influence that permanently emanates from a Gestalt of grace, even if it appears as weak as the Protestant churches often do. Under this "silent" influence of Protestantism on the culture to which it belongs, secular thinking is driven to the question of its own foundation and meaning, i.e., to the question of religious knowledge; and secular action is driven to the question of its ultimate purpose and fulfillment, i.e., to the question of religious action, individual and social. For this "dialectical" relation between the secular world and the Gestalt of grace I like to use the word "theonomy," which indicates that neither ecclesiastical heteronomy nor secular autonomy can have the last word in human culture. The term "theonomy" may be objected to because its use by Catholics has created connotations of a clearly heteronomous character. Therefore, it may be wise to speak, in certain cases, of "Protestant secularism," a term that sharply indicates the ambiguous character of the relation between the Protestant Gestalt of grace and the secular world.
If there is a Protestant secular culture—and it has a very manifest and very powerful reality in most of the Protestant countries—Protestant form-creation is of tremendous significance. It does not determine the secular forms of life, but it creates forms that represent the spiritual meaning of life. Religious thinking and acting represent manifestly what is hidden in secular thinking and acting; they are not something beside the secular or above it or against it or a part of it; they are the representative expression of its ground and aim. Without such an expression, secularism becomes empty and the victim of "demonic" self-destruction. Protestant formative power is needed in a secular world; and it is at work wherever the autonomous forms become bearers of ultimate meaning.
The problem of Protestant form-creation confronts us with a far-reaching decision. Either we decide for a mere preaching of the word, unrelated to a Gestalt of grace and, therefore, necessarily degenerating into an intellectual report about grace and allowing a secular world to remain untouched by it. Or we decide for Protestant form-creation as the expression of a Gestalt of grace in thinking and acting and, therefore, for the possibility of representing the ultimate meaning of the secular world. Both the general situation and the crisis of Protestantism urge upon us the decision for Protestant form-creation. Either the Protestant churches will be reduced to insignificance between Catholicism and secularism, or they will prevail against both of them, in the power of the Protestant principle and of the reality to which it witnesses. Either Protestantism will become a sect, isolated from the main trend of history, or it will become the starting-point of a new embodiment of the spirit of Christianity in which a demonic sacramentalism and an empty secularism are overcome.
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