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 3. The Attributes of God Which are Related to the Consciousness of Sin (70-85)

In the religious consciousness all experience is referred to the absolute causality of God; therefore sin and evil as elements of that consciousness imply divine attributes which are comprehended in the divine causality or omnipotence. For us sin exists as a universal fact of consciousness. Therefore there is a sense in which God is the author of sin; but, on the other hand, in the Christian consciousness sin and grace are antithetical, and therefore, if there is not an antithesis within the divine nature, God cannot be the author of sin in the same sense in which he is the author of grace.

Now it has been shown that neither sin nor grace exists in and for itself but each only in relation to the other; both are implicated in redemption. The solution of the difficulty in connection with the reference of sin to God cannot, therefore, be found by making a distinction between God's permission and God's decree, for these are equivalent to his preservation and creation, which for the religious consciousness are the same. But the solution is found thus: In redemption there is the consciousness of special divine communication in regard to sin--a communication of power to overcome it. But with the reception of this communication the sin-consciousness does not disappear instantaneously, but only gradually, and therefore to our actual experience never entirely. It is, therefore, God's will that sin should gradually be banished through grace, but this is to say that it is God's will that sin should exist (for us, not for him), else the redemption could not occur. So that the conclusion of the matter is: God is the author of sin, but the author of sin only in the sense that it should exist as gradually disappearing in the presence of grace.

The Pelagian attempts at a solution by attributing sin and grace, as regards the exertion of energy in them, to man alone, abandons a practical (ethico-religious) interest, which postulates the impartation of a perfectly pure moral impulse, in the divine omnipotence to a theoretical interest, which advocates a similar relation to God on the part of all forms of living activity; for the denial of the operation of divine causality in redemption makes the redemption a mere seeming. The Manichaeans, on the contrary, sacrifice the theoretical interest to the practical by confining the exercise of divine causality to grace and denying it to sin (which supposes the operation of another will independently of the divine and limiting its operation), so that the feeling of absolute dependence, and with it, the absolute divine causality, is lost.

Hence if we are not, with the Manichaeans, to ascribe to sin an existence in itself, independent and op posed to God; or, with the Pelagians, to minimize and gradually annul the antithesis of sin and grace, the ecclesiastical doctrine that God is not the author of sin but that it is founded in human freedom, needs amendment. For while it is true that every act of sin is the definite act of the individual himself and is neither to be charged to a nature which is common to all men nor to other individuals, yet human freedom, to be real, must be grounded in the divine causality, and consequently human sin, if it be mere appearance, must have the same ground. The consciousness of sin, and therefore sin itself, pertains to the truth of our existence--but only in relation to redemption. The consciousness of sin is the consciousness of an opposition to the divine will that is to be removed. These conditions, namely, that the God-consciousness is to be developed in men through the gradual annulling of an opposition in man to the divine will, have themselves been appointed by God. For an absolute contradiction to the will of God, i.e., absolute obduracy, does not pertain to human existence. That is, God has ordered sin as that which makes the redemption necessary. Sin is ordered of God because otherwise the redemption also could not be ordered of him, and, therefore, not sin in-and-for-itself, but sin in reference to the redemption. . . . . It is ordered of God that natural imperfections should be apprehended by us as evil in the measure in which the God-consciousness is not yet dominant in us (82:2). Or, if we may distinguish between God's commanding will which requires the absolute control of all energies by the religious feeling, and God's producing will, in accordance with which the power of the God-consciousness is only gradually realized and therefore always defective in actuality, then we may say, God has ordered that that defect in the lordship of the spirit over the flesh should be sin to us, i.e., that it should produce in us a consciousness of the need of redemption.

From this the doctrine of evil follows naturally. Sin being the joint guilt of the race, evil is its joint punishment. Evil is thus produced by human freedom, but is grounded ultimately in the divine causality. But evil is not in-and-for-itself, but only in reference to sin, as sin also is only in reference to the redemption. Consequently evil becomes a source of a stimulus to the consciousness of the need of redemption. Other wise evil would seem to be joined to sin by arbitrary divine determination.

Since all divine attributes must be viewed as modes of the divine causality, and sin and evil are ultimately grounded in the divine causality, the divine attributes which correspond with sin and evil will be the divine holiness and righteousness.

1. God is Holy

Those actions which flow from the God-consciousness possess such a worth in our self-consciousness that every deviation from them in action is apprehended as a limitation of life, i.e., as sin. The activity of the self-consciousness as the apprehension of this inequality of judgment and will is what we mean by conscience. Without this inequality there would not be conscience, and without conscience the acts which result from this inequality would not be sin. Sin therefore, as the universal human state of the need of redemption, implies the activity of conscience in all mankind. This is the purely Christian expression of the need of redemption, but it is in nowise to be under stood as if we would admit the existence of conscience only when the need of redemption is acknowledged. To put it differently: implicated in the consciousness of sin by conscience is the apprehension of the divine causality as legislative for all mankind; this legislative divine causality is what we mean by holiness; holiness in God Is that attribute whose reflection is conscience in man. The usual and popular definition of holiness in the liturgical and homiletical field to the effect that it is the divine pleasure in the good and displeasure with the bad, assuming as it does that "good" and "bad" are to be understood as the actions of finite free beings, is open to the objection that it implies passivity in God, and since a state of God is thus determined by human actions he is placed in a relation of reciprocity with men. Such a static attribute of God is no predicate of our religious consciousness (83).

2. God is Righteous

Similarly the righteousness of God is that attribute which corresponds to our consciousness of the connection between actual sins and evil. Evil is indeed the effect of the universal sin fulness, as has been shown; but evil is apprehended as evil, i.e., as punishment of sin, only in and with the consciousness of actual sin. But with this consciousness of actual sin is involved the universal sin fulness of man and hence universal desert of punishment in man. Hence the divine righteousness is the divine causality apprehended as producing in the human soul the consciousness of the desert of punishment. And as the idea of desert of punishment, or the idea of evil as necessarily connected with sin, has meaning only in reference to the redemption, so also it is only in reference to the redemption that the divine righteousness is fully to be understood. If it be objected that this definition makes no room in the idea of righteousness for the reward of well doing, among other things we may say in reply that the Christian consciousness admits no actual rewards but regards all rewards as undeserved and therefore referable to the divine grace.

Our exposition brings out the truth that the divine holiness and righteousness cohere but at the same time are differentiated (84, 85)

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