Reader's Guide to Schleiermacher's Christian Faith

Summary and Commentary from Frank Cross

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George Cross, The Theology of Schleiermacher



Section 1. Sin as the State of Man (66-74)

The method adopted in this work requires that sin be treated from the standpoint of the personal consciousness. Sin and the consciousness of sin are not to be separated. It is an experience of the God-consciousness being hindered by sensuousness from controlling the activities of life and it is expressed in a feeling of pain, dissatisfaction. But no activities of life, not even those which are governed by the impulses of religion, are without the appearing of sin in consciousness, at least in germ, in some way--warning, presentiment, self-reproof, regret. Ami so we may say that in all the stages of human development, if we except the states of innocency and obduracy, a strife exists between the lower impulses and the higher--a struggle of flesh and spirit against each other.

Thus sin is a historical phenomenon in human consciousness and pertains to all peoples and ages. Its appearance indeed is the outcome of the perpetuation in some degree of an earlier sensuous state in which the higher functions of human nature had not yet been differentiated. Now, were the development of the capacities of human nature regular and unbroken, there would be no consciousness of the repression of the higher spiritual nature by the lower and sensuous; if the normal unfolding of the judgment were always accompanied by a parallel development of the powers of will, then there would be no consciousness of the control of spirit by flesh, no consciousness of sin, or, to state it in equivalent terms, no sin. But as a matter of fact judgment and will power are unevenly developed. Of that we are conscious as sin, and this very sin-consciousness is conditioned by the presence of the higher, the religious, consciousness. Therefore sin does not annul the original perfection of man. But for that original perfection there could be no sin. Sin is conditioned by the very capacity for the development of the God-consciousness: a bad conscience would be an impossibility but for the persistent consciousness of a something better. Yet it is the outcome of his former undeveloped sensuous state before the God-consciousness appeared.

But, on the other hand, sin is not conformable with that original perfection of human nature. Were it so, i.e., were it only a consciousness which we have of good, yet lacking when individual acts and states are held in mind, sin would be unavoidable. But this would be incompatible with the redemption, for we may feel the need of redemption and may be capable of receiving it only in case sin is unavoidable. There fore the defect of will-power in comparison with the judgment must be viewed as a confusion and damage produced in our nature. And since it is the Christian redemption which gives validity to the consciousness of sin (for sin is only in relation to redemption), the clear and full consciousness of sin cannot arise out of the precepts of the law, but from the appearing in history of a God-consciousness which developed to an absolute strength, i.e., from the manifestation in history of a sinlessly developed human perfection, which is seen in the person of the Redeemer. If this had not appeared in him, there could be no hope that it could ever appear in us.

While, however, it is true that we come to a consciousness of sin in connection with personal activities and as our own act, when the self-consciousness widens itself from the individual to the family, from the family to the state, and from the state to the race (for the self-consciousness in its widest range is a race-consciousness), the race-consciousness is seen to involve a sin-consciousness. Hence the final ground of sin is to be found, beyond the individual personal consciousness, in the race. Accordingly sin is to be considered first, as hereditary, and second, as empirical or actual.

1. Hereditary Sin

There is, then, a sinfulness already present in every man before he commits acts of sin, and coming from a source beyond his own individual existence. But in what does this sinfulness consist? It must consist in a relation to the possession of the God-consciousness as the good of man. It is not, there fore, something of positive nature in itself, but a defect consisting in a total inability to bring the activities of one's nature under the control of the religious feeling, Not that a total incapacity in relation thereto, and so a total absence of all good, is thereby presupposed, for the redemption and the preaching of it imply such a capacity as the indispensable condition of its effectuation, and without it salvation would be such a total remaking of human nature as would render redemption unmeaning; or, were it impossible to remove that inability entirely, sin would be some thing infinite in itself and the redemption impossible. That capacity to receive the God-consciousness is, then, not: a good in itself, but a good in relation to the redemption and, as we shall see, the product of it; and so it cannot be reckoned in any sense as personal righteousness. That good in human nature is, however, only receptive, and human activity cannot supply to that capacity a positive good.

But can there be personal guilt in relation to that which comes from beyond the individual himself? Not if this original sin fulness be sundered from connection with the actual sins in which it appears and be viewed as a something existing in itself. But that would remove it beyond the range of Christian piety (which is ever teleological), and therefore beyond the range of dogmatics. The guilt of sin is the individual's because the act of sin is his, but the guilt is not the isolated individual's, for the individual cannot be isolated. The self-consciousness in its full significance is a race-consciousness. The whole race is a unity, the constituent members of which propagate their activity everywhere and at all times. Every individual act of sin is, on the one hand, caused by other sins and, on the other hand, causative of other sins, it is both propagated by antecedent sin fulness and propagates sinfulness. The consciousness of sinfulness is a common, universal consciousness. The individual thus represents the whole race both in space and time; his act is the act of the race and his guilt a race guilt. (This is the truth which is relatively described in the common theological terms, reatus, corruptio naturae, vitium originis, morbus originis, etc.)

From the standpoint of the self-consciousness widened to a race-consciousness, the race-consciousness is a sin-consciousness. Yet the tendency to the God-consciousness is never wanting and the effort to realize it never vanishes. In this effort conjoined with a sense of helpfulness against the power of the flesh, there arises an anticipation of help coming from without--of redemption. As the guilt is a race-guilt, so we shall see the redemption is a race-redemption.

But the common doctrine that universal sin fulness in the race is the product of an alteration of human nature effected by an act of our first parents cannot be accepted. For if Adam's nature before the fall were different from his nature afterward and from universal human nature now; then, in the first place, the unity of the race would be destroyed and there could be no race-consciousness; and, in the second place, it involves the impossible assumption that an individual can so operate upon his own nature and that of all succeeding generations as to destroy it. The impossibility of accounting in this way for the change appears in the attempts of theologians to account for the first sin by attributing it to unbelief, pride, lust, ambition, etc., all of which presuppose it. And this failure is inevitable since no individual can act from outside his own nature, but only within it. Or else such attempts involve the assumption of a hopelessly bad being, the devil, and so lead to Manichaeism. We cannot accept the unity of the race except on the ground of a common consciousness. Consequently Adam's nature was related to his own sin in the same way as our nature to our sin. The derivation of our sinfulness from a first individual act of sin committed by our first parents can never be an element of our redemption- faith, and a natural and unprejudiced exegesis of those passages of Scripture which are supposed to support that view will yield no such result. (See Rom. 5:12-21; I Cor. 15:21, 22; II Cor. ii 13.) The same is true of the Traducianist and the Covenant theory. The Mosaic narrative cannot be viewed as a historical account of the first act of sin; its value lies in its universally representative character. Wherefore the inborn sinfulness must have existed in the race from the very commencement. Apart from this there could be no universal capacity for redemption. "Sin in general and especially `original sin' is the joint act and the joint-guilt of the whole race" (70-72).

2. Actual Sin

That hereditary sin is ever breaking forth in actual sin is an expression of the Christian consciousness. For first, the clearness with which we perceive that we are never free from sin is proportioned to the clearness with which the Redeemer is presented to our self-consciousness; and second, our consciousness of sin is not empirical or contingent, but universal and necessary. That is, it is not as isolated individuals we are conscious of sinning, but as a constituent part of the totality of mankind, and hence we are as certain that others constantly commit sin as we are of our own sinning. Thus the consciousness of universal sinfulness and of universal sinning are the same viewed from different points; were they really separable, our tendency to sin would be nothing actual, and our sinning would be traceable to external influences. Consequently, within the whole range of sinful humanity no activity is ever exerted in which the God-consciousness is pure and unopposed, and there is no form of sin which any man in himself is incapable of committing.

Apart from their relation to the redemption, there are no distinctions of worthiness among men in respect to sin, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. When, for example, one man appears better than another on the ground of possessing a more powerful religious consciousness, on the other hand he must appear worse, so soon as we consider that the actual sins he does commit indicate a stronger opposition to the spirit on the part of the flesh. The disposition to separate ourselves as better than others disappears with a vivid conception of the person of the Redeemer, for with it we become vividly conscious of our implication in the universal sinfulness and equally conscious that the Redeemer stands out of connection with it. But there is a distinction between men according as they partake of the Redeemer's God-consciousness or are destitute of it. In all men the God-consciousness and the sin-consciousness so exist, only in the case of the redeemed the God-consciousness gradually prevails over the sin-consciousness, rendering all the activities of the nature good; while in the case of the unredeemed the case is the reverse. Hence the sins of the redeemed are pardonable because they are the reaction from a sinful state whose power is diminishing and finally to disappear, and therefore they tend not to multiply or to reproduce themselves in other people; while with the sins of the unredeemed the case is the reverse. With the former good works are prevalent, while their sins are, as it were, the shadows of the sins of their earlier state; but with the latter sinful works are prevalent, while their good deeds are the still remaining, but gradually diminishing, anticipations of a better state, the reflection only of what is a living power in others (73-75).

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