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 2. The Nature of the World in Relation to Sin: Doctrine of Evil (75-78)

Since a doctrine of the world has a place in dogmatics only in so far as regards the world's relations to man, there can be no discussion here of sin as affecting the constituent elements of the world, but only of the relations which exist between man and the world on account of sin. Those relations may be comprehended in the two statements: that on account of sin the world appears different to man, and that the effect of sin is to destroy the original harmony between man and the world. According to the doctrine, al ready set forth, of the original perfection of man and of the world, human life is not opposed or hindered in the exercise of its energies by the forces of nature, but all that is in the world in its operation upon human nature, even when it produces weakness, sickness, and death, must be promotive of the higher consciousness, the religious life. But whenever in experience the flesh prevails over the spirit (i.e., when sin enters into the life) then these things appear as opposed to the development of human energies, that is, they appear as evil. In this respect we may speak of natural evil in the world. But evil is also social (a preferable expression to "moral" evil, which includes the bad) in that the operations of sin in one individual become productive of evil to others. Thus sin and evil are correlated. The human race is the locus of sin; sin is, in its totality, the act of the race. Correspondingly, the whole world in relation to men is the locus of evil and evil in its totality constitutes the suffering of the entire race.

Sin and evil are therefore related to each other as cause and effect. To reverse this relation and make evil the cause of sin is to contradict the teleological nature of Christianity, to turn ethic into aesthetic, and to deny the Christian conception of God. Evil is the effect, and, as referred to the divine causality (for it cannot be referred to the operation of any being or force outside of God), the punishment of sin--social evil, immediately, on account of the directness of men's relations to one another, and natural evil, mediately. But this is incapable of application to the individual in his isolation from the rest of mankind. For as sin, properly understood, is the act of the race in its entirety, and as the guilt is a race-guilt, so also evil in its totality is the punishment of the race in its unity. Otherwise the true conception of the relation between sin and evil would be found in that of heathenism, and, in a degree, of Judaism--namely, that magical view which represents suffering and misfortune as punishment for the individual's sins--which would make vicarious suffering an impossibility.

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