V. The Truth of Faith
1. Faith and Reason
We have pointed to the limitless variety of symbols and to the many contrasting types of faith. This seems to imply a complete denial of the claim these symbols and types have to truth. Therefore, we must now discuss the question whether, and in what sense, faith can be judged in terms of truth.
The most usual way in which this problem has been discussed is to contrast faith with reason, and to ask whether they exclude each other or whether they can be united in a reasonable faith. If the latter is possible, how are the elements of rationality and of faith related to each other? Obviously, if the meaning of faith is misunderstood in the ways we have indicated before, faith and reason exclude each other. If, however, faith is understood as the state of being ultimately concerned, no conflict need exist.
But this answer is insufficient, because man’s spiritual life is a unity and does not admit elements alongside each other. All spiritual elements of man, in spite of their distinct character, are within each other. This is true also of faith and reason. Therefore, it is not enough to assert that the state of being ultimately concerned is in no conflict with the rational structure of the human mind. One also must show their actual relationship, namely, the way in which they lie within each other. In which sense, one must ask first, is the word “reason” used when confronted with faith? Is it meant, as is often the case today, in the sense of scientific method, logical strictness and technical calculation? Or is it used, as in most periods of Western culture, in the sense of the source of meaning, of structure, of norms and principles? In the first case, reason gives the tools for recognizing and controlling reality, and faith gives the direction in which this control may be exercised. One could call this kind of reason technical reason, providing for means but not for ends. Reason in this sense concerns the daily life of everybody and is the power which determines the technical civilization of our time. In the second case, reason is identical with the humanity of man in contrast to all other beings. It is the basis of language, of freedom, of creativity. It is involved in the search for knowledge, the experience of art, the actualization of moral commands; it makes a centered personal life and a participation in community possible. If faith were the opposite of reason, it would tend to dehumanize man. This consequence has been drawn, theoretically and practically, in religious and political authoritarian systems. A faith which destroys reason destroys itself and the humanity of man. For only a being who has the structure of reason is able to be ultimately concerned, to distinguish ultimate and preliminary concerns, to understand the unconditional commands of the ethical imperative, and to be aware of the presence of the holy. All this is valid only if the second meaning of reason is presupposed: reason as the meaningful structure of mind and reality; and not the first meaning: reason as a technical tool.
Reason is the precondition of faith; faith is the act in which reason reaches ecstatically beyond itself. This is the opposite side of their being within each other. Man’s reason is finite; it moves within finite relations when dealing with the universe and with man himself. All cultural activities in which man perceives his world and those in which he shapes his world have this character of finitude. Therefore, they are not matters of infinite concern. But reason is not bound to its own finitude. It is aware of it and, in so doing, rises above it. Man experiences a belonging to the infinite which, however, is neither a part of himself nor something in his power. It must grasp him, and if it does, it is a matter of infinite concern. Man is finite, man’s reason lives in preliminary concerns; but man is also aware of his potential infinity, and this awareness appears as his ultimate concern, as faith. If reason is grasped by an ultimate concern, it is driven beyond itself; but it does not cease to be reason, finite reason. The ecstatic experience of an ultimate concern does not destroy the structure of reason. Ecstasy is fulfilled, not denied, rationality. Reason can be fulfilled only if it is driven beyond the limits of its finitude, and experiences the presence of the ultimate, the holy. Without such an experience reason exhausts itself and its finite contents. Finally, it becomes filled with irrational or demonic contents and is destroyed by them. The road leads from reason fulfilled in faith through reason without faith to reason filled with demonic-destructive faith. The second stage is only a point of transition, since there is no vacuum in the spiritual life, as there is none in nature. Reason is the presupposition of faith, and faith is the fulfillment of reason. Faith as the state of ultimate concern is reason in ecstasy. There is no conflict between the nature of faith and the nature of reason; they are within each other.
On this point theology will ask several questions. It will ask whether the nature of faith is not distorted under the conditions of human existence, for example, if demonic-destructive forces get hold of it—as indicated before. And theology will ask whether the nature of reason is not distorted with man’s estrangement from himself. Finally, it will ask whether the unity of faith and reason and the true nature of both of them must not be re-established by what religion calls “revelation.” And—theology will continue—if this is the case, is reason in its distorted stage not obliged to subject itself to revelation and is not this subjection to the contents of revelation the true sense of the term “faith”? The answer to these questions, asked by theology, is the matter of a whole theology itself. It cannot be given in the present book except in a few basic statements.
First, it must be acknowledged that man is in a state of estrangement from his true nature. Thus the use of his reason and the character of his faith are not what they essentially are and, therefore, ought to be. This leads to actual conflicts between a distorted use of reason and an idolatrous faith. The solution we gave with respect to the true nature of faith and the true nature of reason cannot be applied without this fundamental qualification to the actual life of faith and reason under the conditions of human existence.
The consequence of this qualification is that the estrangement of faith and of reason in themselves and in their mutual relationship must be overcome and their true nature and relation must be established within actual life. The experience in which this happens is a revelatory experience. The term “revelation” has been misused so much that it is difficult to use it at all, even more so than the term “reason.” Revelation is popularly understood as a divine information about divine matters, given to prophets and apostles and dictated by the divine Spirit to the writers of the Bible, or the Koran, or other sacred books. Acceptance of such divine informations, however absurd and irrational they may be, is then called faith. Every word of the present discussion contradicts this distortion of the meaning of revelation. Revelation is first of all the experience in which an ultimate concern grasps the human mind and creates a community in which this concern expresses itself in symbols of action, imagination and thought. Wherever such a revelatory experience occurs, both faith and reason are renewed. Their internal and mutual conflicts are conquered, and estrangement is replaced by reconciliation. This is what revelation means, or should mean. It is an event in which the ultimate becomes manifest in an ultimate concern, shaking and transforming the given situation in religion and culture. In such an experience no conflict between faith and reason is possible; for it is man’s total structure as a rational being which is grasped and changed by the revelatory manifestation of an ultimate concern. But revelation is relevation to man in his state of corrupted faith and corrupted rationality. And the corruption, although broken in its final power, is conquered but not removed. It enters the new revelatory experience as it had entered the old ones. It makes faith idolatrous, confusing the bearer and the manifestations of the ultimate with the ultimate itself. It deprives reason of its ecstatic power, of its tendency to transcend itself in the direction of the ultimate. In consequence of this dual distortion, it distorts the relation of faith and reason, reducing faith to a preliminary concern which interferes with the preliminary concerns of reason, and elevates reason to ultimacy in spite of its essential finitude. Out of this double corruption there arise new conflicts between faith and reason and with them the quest for a new and superior revelation. The history of faith is a permanent fight with the corruption of faith, and the conflict with reason is one of its most conspicuous symptoms. The decisive battles in this fight are the great revelatory events, and the victorious battle would be a final revelation in which the distortion of faith and reason is definitely overcome. Christianity claims to be based on this revelation. Its claim is exposed to the continuous pragmatic test of history.
2. The Truth of Faith and Scientific Truth
There is no conflict between faith in its true nature and reason in its true nature. This includes the assertion that there is no essential conflict between faith and the cognitive function of reason. Cognition in all its forms was always considered as that function of man’s reason which comes most easily into conflict with faith. This was especially so when faith was defined as a lower form of knowledge and was accepted because the divine authority guaranteed its truth. We have rejected this distortion of the meaning of faith, and in doing so have removed one of the most frequent causes for the conflicts between faith and knowledge. But we must show beyond this the concrete relation of faith to the several forms of cognitive reason: the scientific, the historical and the philosophical. The truth of faith is different from the meaning of truth in each of these ways of knowledge. Nevertheless, it is truth they all try to reach, truth in the sense of the “really real” received adequately by the cognitive function of the human mind. Error takes place if man’s cognitive endeavor misses the really real and takes that which is only seemingly real for real; or if it hits the really real but expresses it in a distorted way. Often it is difficult to say whether the real is missed or whether its expression is inadequate, because the two forms of error are interdependent. In any case, where there is the attempt to know, there is truth or error or one of the many degrees of transition between truth and error. In faith man’s cognitive function is at work. Therefore, we must ask what the meaning of truth in faith is, what its criteria are, and how it is related to other forms of truth with other kinds of criteria.
Science tries to describe and to explain the structures and relations in the universe, in so far as they can be tested by experiment and calculated in quantitative terms. The truth of a scientific statement is the adequacy of the description of the structural laws which determine reality, and it is the verification of this description by experimental repetitions. Every scientific truth is preliminary and subject to changes both in grasping reality and in expressing it adequately. This element of uncertainty does not diminish the truth value of a tested and verified scientific assertion. It only prevents scientific dogmatism and absolutism.
Therefore, it is a very poor method of defending the truth of faith against the truth of science, if theologians point to the preliminary character of every scientific statement in order to provide a place of retreat for the truth of faith. If tomorrow scientific progress reduced the sphere of uncertainty, faith would have to continue its retreat— an undignified and unnecessary procedure, for scientific truth and the truth of faith do not belong to the same dimension of meaning. Science has no right and no power to interfere with faith and faith has no power to interfere with science. One dimension of meaning is not able to interfere with another dimension.
If this is understood, the previous conflicts between faith and science appear in a quite different light. The conflict was actually not between faith and science but between a faith and a science each of which was not aware of its own valid dimension. When the representatives of faith impeded the beginning of modern astronomy they were not aware that the Christian symbols, although using the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic astronomy, were not tied up with this astronomy. Only if the symbols of “God in heaven” and “man on earth” and “demons below the earth” are taken as descriptions of places, populated by divine or demonic beings, can modern astronomy conflict with the Christian faith. On the other hand, if representatives of modern physics reduce the whole of reality to the mechanical movement of the smallest particles of matter, denying the really real quality of life and mind, they express a faith, objectively as well as subjectively. Subjectively science is their ultimate concern—and they are ready to sacrifice everything, including their lives, for this ultimate. Objectively, they create a monstrous symbol of this concern, namely, a universe in which everything, including their own scientific passion, is swallowed by a meaningless mechanism. In opposing this symbol of faith Christian faith is right.
Science can conflict only with science, and faith only with faith; science which remains science cannot conflict with faith which remains faith. This is true also of other spheres of scientific research, such as biology and psychology. The famous struggle between the theory of evolution and the theology of some Christian groups was not a struggle between science and faith, but between a science whose faith deprived man of his humanity and a faith whose expression was distorted by Biblical literalism. It is obvious that a theology which interprets the Biblical story of creation as a scientific description of an event which happened once upon a time interferes with the methodologically controlled scientific work; and that a theory of evolution which interprets man’s descendance from older forms of life in a way that removes the infinite, qualitative difference between man and animal is faith and not science.
The same consideration must be given to present and future conflicts between faith and contemporary psychology. Modern psychology is afraid of the concept of soul because it seems to establish a reality which is unapproachable by scientific methods and may interfere with their results. This fear is not unfounded; psychology should not accept any concept which is not produced by its own scientific work. Its function is to describe man’s processes as adequately as possible, and to be open to replacement of these descriptions at any time. This is true of the modern concepts of ego, superego, self, personality, unconsciousness, mind, as well as of the traditional concepts of soul, spirit, will, etc. Methodological psychology is subject to scientific verification, as is every other scientific endeavor. All its concepts and definitions, even those most validated, are preliminary.
When faith speaks of the ultimate dimension in which man lives, and in which he can win or lose his soul, or of the ultimate meaning of his existence, it is not interfering at all with the scientific rejection of the concept of the soul. A psychology without soul cannot deny this nor can a psychology with soul confirm it. The truth of man’s eternal meaning lies in a dimension other than the truth of adequate psychological concepts. Contemporary analytic or depth psychology has in many instances conflicted with pre- theological and theological expressions of faith. It is, however, not difficult in the statements of depth psychology to distinguish the more or less verified observations and hypotheses from assertions about man’s nature and destiny which are clearly expressions of faith. The naturalistic elements which Freud carried from the nineteenth into the twentieth century, his basic puritanism with respect to love, his pessimism about culture, and his reduction of religion to ideological projection are all expressions of faith and not the result of scientific analysis. There is no reason to deny to a scholar who deals with man and his predicament the right to introduce elements of faith. But if he attacks other forms of faith in the name of scientific psychology, as Freud and many of his followers do, he is confusing dimensions. In this case those who represent another kind of faith are justified in resisting these attacks. It is not always easy to distinguish the element of faith from the element of scientific hypothesis in a psychological assertion, but it is possible and often necessary.
The distinction between the truth of faith and the truth of science leads to a warning, directed to theologians, not to use recent scientific discoveries to confirm the truth of faith. Microphysics have undercut some scientific hypotheses concerning the calculability of the universe. The theory of quantum and the principle of indeterminacy have had this effect. Immediately religious writers use these insights for the confirmation of their own ideas of human freedom, divine creativity, and miracles. But there is no justification for such a procedure at all, neither from the point of view of physics nor from the point of view of religion. The physical theories referred to have no direct relation to the infinitely complex phenomenon of human freedom, and the emission of power in quantums has no direct relation to the meaning of miracles. Theology, in using physical theories in this way, confuses the dimension of science with the dimension of faith. The truth of faith cannot be confirmed by latest physical or biological or psychological discoveries—as it cannot be denied by them.
3. The Truth of Faith and Historical Truth
Historical truth has a character quite different from that of scientific truth. History reports unique events, not repetitious processes which can be tested again and again. Historical events are not subject to experiment. The only analogy in history to a physical experiment is the comparison of documents. If documents of an independent origin agree, a historical assertion is verified within its own limits. But history does not only tell a series of facts. It also tries to understand these facts in their origins, their relations, their meaning. History describes, explains and understands. And understanding presupposes participation. This is the difference between historical and scientific truth. In historical truth the interpreting subject is involved; in scientific truth it is detached. Since the truth of faith means total involvement, historical truth has often been compared with the truth of faith. A complete dependence of the historical truth on the truth of faith has been derived from such an identification. In this way it has been asserted that faith can guarantee the truth of a questionable historical statement. But he who makes such assertions forgets that in a genuine historical work detached and controlled observation is as much used as in the observation of physical or biological processes. Historical truth is first of all factual truth; in this it is distinguished from the poetic truth of epics or from the mythical truth of legend. This difference is decisive for the relation of the truth of faith to the truth of history. Faith cannot guarantee factual truth. But faith can and must interpret the meaning of facts from the point of view of man’s ultimate concern. In doing so it transfers historical truth into the dimension of the truth of faith.
This problem has come into the foreground of much popular and theological thought since historical research has discovered the literary character of the Biblical writings. It has shown that in their narrative parts of the Old and the New Testament combine historical, legendary and mythological elements and that in many cases it is impossible to separate these elements from each other with any degree of probability. Historical research has made it obvious that there is no way to get at the historical events which have produced the Biblical picture of Jesus who is called the Christ with more than a degree of probability. Similar research in the historical character of the holy writings and the legendary traditions of non-Christian religions has discovered the same situation. The truth of faith cannot be made dependent on the historical truth of the stories and legends in which faith has expressed itself. It is a disastrous distortion of the meaning of faith to identify it with the belief in the historical validity of the Biblical stories. This, however, happens on high as well as on low levels of sophistication. People say that others or they themselves are without Christian faith, because they do not believe that the New Testament miracle stories are reliably documented. Certainly they are not, and the search for the degree of probability or improbability of a Biblical story has to be made with all the tools of a solid philological and historical method. It is not a matter of faith to decide if the presently used edition of the Moslemic Koran is identical with the original text, although this is the fervent belief of most of the adherents of Mohammed. It is not a matter of faith to decide that large parts of the Pentateuch are priestly wisdom of the period after the Babylonic exile, or that the Book of Genesis contains more myths and sacred legend than actual history. It is not a matter of faith to decide whether or not the expectation of the final catastrophe of the universe as envisaged in the late books of the Old and in the New Testament originated in the Persian religion. It is not a matter of faith to decide how much legendary, mythological and historical material is amalgamated in the stories about the birth and the resurrection of the Christ. It is not a matter of faith to decide which version of the reports about the early days of the Church has the greatest probability. All these questions must be decided, in terms of more or less probability, by historical research. They are questions of historical truth, not of the truth of faith. Faith can say that something of ultimate concern has happened in history because the question of the ultimate in being and meaning is involved. Faith can say that the Old Testament law which is given as the law of Moses has unconditional validity for those who are grasped by it, no matter how much or how little can be traced to a historical figure of that name. Faith can say that the reality which is manifest in the New Testament picture of Jesus as the Christ has saving power for those who are grasped by it, no matter how much or how little can be traced to the historical figure who is called Jesus of Nazareth. Faith can ascertain its own foundation, the Mosaic law, or Jesus as the Christ, Mohammed the prophet, or Buddha the illuminated. But faith cannot ascertain the historical conditions which made it possible for these men to become matters of ultimate concern for large sections of humanity. Faith includes certitude about its own foundation—for example, an event in history which has transformed history—for the faithful. But faith does not include historical knowledge about the way in which this event took place. Therefore, faith cannot be shaken by historical research even if its results are critical of the traditions in which the event is reported. This independence of historical truth is one of the most important consequences of the understanding of faith as the state of ultimate concern. It liberates the faithful from a burden they cannot carry after the demands of scholarly honesty have shaped their conscience. If such honesty were in a necessary conflict with what has been called the “obedience of faith,” God would be seen as split in himself, as having demonic traits; and the concern about it would not be ultimate concern, but the conflict of two limited concerns. Such faith, in the last analysis, is idolatrous.
4. The Truth of Faith and Philosophical Truth
Neither scientific nor historical truth can affirm or negate the truth of faith. The truth of faith can neither affirm nor negate scientific or historical truth. Then the question arises whether philosophical truth has the same relation to the truth of faith or whether the relation is more complex. This, indeed, is the case. What is more, the complexity of the relation between philosophical truth and the truth of faith makes the relation of scientific and historical truth more complex than it appeared in the preceding analysis. This is the reason for the innumerable discussions about the relationship of faith and philosophy and for the popular opinion that philosophy is the enemy and destroyer of faith. Even theologians who have used a philosophical concept in order to express the faith of a religious community have been accused of betraying the faith.
The difficulty of every discussion concerning philosophy as such is the fact that every definition of philosophy is an expression of the point of view of the philosopher who gives the definition. Nevertheless, there is a kind of pre-philosophical agreement about the meaning of philosophy, and the only thing one can do in a discussion like the present one is to use this prephilosophical notion of what philosophy is. In this sense philosophy is the attempt to answer the most general questions about the nature of reality and human existence. Most general are those questions which do not ask about the nature of a specific sphere of reality (as the physical or the historical realms) but about the nature of reality, which is effective in all realms. Philosophy tries to find the universal categories in which being is experienced.
If such a notion of philosophy is presupposed, the relation of philosophical truth to the truth of faith can be determined. Philosophical truth is truth about the structure of being; the truth of faith is truth about one’s ultimate concern. Up to this point the relation seems to be very similar to that between the truth of faith and scientific truth. But the difference is that there is a point of identity between the ultimate of the philosophical question and the ultimate of the religious concern. In both cases ultimate reality is sought and expressed—conceptually in philosophy, symbolically in religion. Philosophical truth consists in true concepts concerning the ultimate; the truth of faith consists in true symbols concerning the ultimate. The relation between these two is the problem with which we have to deal.
The question will certainly be raised: Why does philosophy use concepts and why does faith use symbols if both try to express the same ultimate? The answer, of course, is that the relation to the ultimate is not the same in each case. The philosophical relation is in principle a detached description of the basic structure in which the ultimate manifests itself. The relation of faith is in principle an involved expression of concern about the meaning of the ultimate for the faithful. The difference is obvious and fundamental. But it is, as the phrase “in principle” indicates, a difference which is not maintained in the actual life of philosophy and of faith. It cannot be maintained, because the philosopher is a human being with an ultimate concern, hidden or open. And the faithful one is a human being with the power of thought and the need for conceptual understanding. This is not only a biographical fact. It has consequences for the life of philosophy in the philosopher and for the life of faith in the faithful.
An analysis of philosophical systems, essays or fragments of all kinds shows that the direction in which the philosopher asks the question and the preference he gives to special types of answers is determined by cognitive consideration and by a state of ultimate concern. The historically most significant philosophies show not only the greatest power of thought but the most passionate concern about the meaning of the ultimate whose manifestations they describe. One needs only to be reminded of the Indian and Greek philosophers, almost without exception, and the modern philosophers from Leibnitz and Spinoza to Kant and Hegel. If it seems that the positivistic line of philosophers from Locke and Hume to present-day logical positivism is an exception to this rule, one must consider that the task to which these philosophers restricted themselves were special problems of the doctrine of knowledge and, in our time especially, analyses of the linguistic tools of scientific knowledge. This certainly is a justified and very important endeavor, but is not philosophy in the traditional sense.
Philosophy, in its genuine meaning, is carried on by people in whom the passion of an ultimate concern is united with a clear and detached observation of the way ultimate reality manifests itself in the processes of the universe. It is this element of ultimate concern behind philosophical ideas which supplies the truth of faith in them. Their vision of the universe and of man’s predicament within it unites faith and conceptual work. Philosophy is not only the mother’s womb out of which science and history have come, it is also an ever-present element in actual scientific and historical work. The frame of reference within which the great physicists have seen and are seeing the universe of their inquiries is philosophical, even if their actual inquiries verify it. In no case is it a result of their discoveries. It is always a vision of the totality of being which consciously or unconsciously determines the frame of their thought. Because this is so one is justified in saying that even in the scientific view of reality an element of faith is effective. Scientists rightly try to prevent these elements of faith and philosophical truth from interfering with their actual research. This is possible to a great extent; but even the most protected experiment is not absolutely “pure”—pure in the sense of the exclusion of interfering factors such as the observer, and as the interest which determines the kind of question asked of nature in an experiment. What we said about the philosopher must also be said about the scientist. Even in his scientific work he is a human being, grasped by an ultimate concern, and he asks the question of the universe as such, the philosophical question.
In the same way the historian is consciously or unconsciously a philosopher. It is quite obvious that every task of the historian beyond the finding of facts is dependent on evaluations of historical factors, especially the nature of man, his freedom, his determination, his development out of nature, etc. It is less obvious but also true that even in the act of finding historical facts philosophical presuppositions are involved. This is especially true in deciding, out of the infinite number of happenings in every infinitely small moment of time, which facts shall be called historically relevant facts. The historian is further forced to give his evaluation of sources and their reliability, a task which is not independent of his interpretation of human nature. Finally, in the moment in which a historical work gives implicit or explicit assertions about the meaning of historical events for human existence, the philosophical presuppositions of history are evident. Where there is philosophy there is expression of an ultimate concern; there is an element of faith, however hidden it may be by the passion of the historian for pure facts.
All these considerations show that, in spite of their essential difference, there is an actual union of philosophical truth and the truth of faith in every philosophy and that this union is significant for the work of the scientist and the historian. This union has been called “philosophical faith.”* The term is misleading, because it seems to confuse the two elements, philosophical truth and the truth of faith. Further, the term seems to indicate that there is one philosophical faith, a “philosophia perennis,” as it has been termed. But only the philosophical question is perennial, not the answers. There is a continuous process of interpretation of philosophical elements and elements of faith, not one philosophical faith.
There is truth of faith in philosophical truth. And there is philosophical truth in the truth of faith. In order to see the latter point we must confront the conceptual expression of philosophical truth with the symbolical expression of the truth of faith. Now, one can say that most philosophical concepts have mythological ancestors and that most mythological symbols have conceptual elements which can and must be developed as soon as the philosophical consciousness has appeared. In the idea of God the concepts of being, life, spirit, unity and diversity are implied. In the symbol of the creation concepts of finitude, anxiety, freedom and time are implied. The symbol of the “fall of Adam” implies a concept of man’s essential nature, of his conflict with himself, of his estrangement from himself. Only because every religious symbol has conceptual potentialities is “theo-logy” possible. There is a philosophy implied in every symbol of faith. But faith does not determine the movement of the philosophical thought, just as philosophy does not determine the character of one’s ultimate concern. Symbols of faith can open the eyes of the philosopher to qualities of the universe which otherwise would not have been recognized by him. But faith does not command a definite philosophy, although churches and theological movements have claimed and used Platonic, Aristotelian, Kantian or Humean philosophies. The philosophical implications of the symbols of faith can be developed in many ways, but the truth of faith and the truth of philosophy have no authority over each other.
5. The Truth of Faith and Its Criteria
In what sense, then, can one speak of the truth of faith if it cannot be judged by any other kind of truth, whether scientific, historical or philosophical? The answer follows from the nature of faith as the state of being ultimately concerned. It has, as the concept of concern itself, two sides, a subjective and an objective side. The truth of faith must be considered from both sides. From the subjective side one must say that faith is true if it adequately expresses an ultimate concern. From the objective side one must say that faith is true if its content is the really ultimate. The first answer acknowledges the truth in all genuine symbols and types of faith. It justifies the history of religion and makes it understandable as a history of man’s ultimate concern, of his response to the manifestation of the holy in many places in many ways. The second answer points to a criterion of ultimacy by which the history of religion is judged, not in terms of rejection but in terms of a yes and no.
Faith has truth in so far as it adequately expresses an ultimate concern. “Adequacy” of expression means the power of expressing an ultimate concern in such a way that it creates reply, action, communication. Symbols which are able to do this are alive. But the life of symbols is limited. The relation of man to the ultimate undergoes changes. Contents of ultimate concern vanish or are replaced by others. A divine figure ceases to create reply, it ceases to be a common symbol and loses its power to move for action. Symbols which for a certain period, or in a certain place, expressed truth of faith for a certain group now only remind of the faith of the past. They have lost their truth, and it is an open question whether dead symbols can be revived. Probably not for those to whom they have died! If we look from this point of view at the history of faith, including our own period, the criterion of the truth of faith is whether or not it is alive. This, certainly, is not an exact criterion in any scientific sense, but it is a pragmatic one that can be applied rather easily to the past with its stream of obviously dead symbols. It cannot be applied so easily to the present because one never can say a symbol is definitely dead if it is still accepted. It may be dormant but capable of being reawakened.
The other criterion of the truth of a symbol of faith is that it expresses the ultimate which is really ultimate. In other words, that it is not idolatrous. In the light of this criterion the history of faith as a whole stands under judgment. The weakness of all faith is the ease with which it becomes idolatrous. The human mind, Calvin has said, is a continuously working factory of idols. This is true of all types of faith, and even if Protestant Christianity is considered as the point in which the different types converge, it is open to idolatrous distortions. It must also apply against itself the criterion which it uses against other forms of faith. Every type of faith has the tendency to elevate its concrete symbols to absolute validity. The criterion of the truth of faith, therefore, is that it implies an element of self-negation. That symbol is most adequate which expresses not only the ultimate but also its own lack of ultimacy. Christianity expresses itself in such a symbol in contrast to all other religions, namely, in the Cross of the Christ. Jesus could not have been the Christ without sacrificing himself as Jesus to himself as the Christ. Any acceptance of Jesus as the Christ which is not the acceptance of Jesus the crucified is a form of idolatry. The ultimate concern of the Christian is not Jesus, but the Christ Jesus who is manifest as the crucified. The event which has created this symbol has given the criterion by which the truth of Christianity, as well as of any other religion, must be judged. The only infallible truth of faith, the one in which the ultimate itself is unconditionally manifest, is that any truth of faith stands under a yes-or-no judgment.
Driven by this criterion, Protestantism has criticized the Roman Church. Doctrinal formulations did not divide the churches in the Reformation period; it was the rediscovery of the principle that no church has the right to put itself in the place of the ultimate. Its truth is judged by the ultimate. In the same way, Biblical research in Protestantism has shown the many levels of Biblical literature and the impossibility of considering the Bible as containing the infallible truth of faith. The same criterion is valid with respect to the whole history of religion and culture. The criterion contains a Yes—it does not reject any truth of faith in whatever form it may appear in the history of faith—and it contains a No—it does not accept any truth of faith as ultimate except the one that no man possesses it. The fact that this criterion is identical with the Protestant principle and has become reality in the Cross of the Christ constitutes the superiority of Protestant Christianity.