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. Those Attributes of God Which Are Related to Redemption (164-69)

For the Christian consciousness everything in the universe is viewed in relation to the redemption, either as organic to the self-expression of the awakened God-consciousness, or as material to be manipulated by it. From this same point of view the divine world-government requires to be described. But we are here to be on our guard against falling into the error of treating this divine government of the world as supervening upon the creation in the way of something additional or supplementary. They are at bottom the same thing. The Christian faith that all things were made with a view to the self-revelation of God in the flesh and the establishment of the kingdom of God by the extension of that revelation to the whole range of human nature, requires therefore that the divine world-government consist in no mere isolated acts of influence upon a world which pursues its own course in general independently of such interference; but rather the divine world-government and the course of Nature, the natural world and the kingdom of grace, fill the same sphere. That is to say, the whole ordering of Nature from the beginning would have been other than it is had not the redemption through Christ been determined for the sinning race. As for intelligences other than human, we have no such knowledge of their relation to us as would enable us to include more than our own human world--that realm in which redemption is effected--in our survey of the divine government.

Since, as has been already shown (46, note), that element of our self-consciousness which we call the consciousness of sin cannot be referred immediately to the divine causality, but mediately only through the consciousness of grace, the latter element must be the determining one. We may say, then, that the nature of things and all the complexity of their relations have come to be what they are on account of the revelation of God in Christ which redeems men, or develops the human spirit to perfection. Consequently the whole course of human affairs and of natural events would have been other than it is, had not God decreed the union of the divine essence with human nature in Christ and with the communion of believers through the Holy Spirit.

Accordingly from the unity of the divine causality it follows that the church or the kingdom of God, in its whole extension and in the full effect of its development, is the one object of the divine world-government, and every individual object of the divine government is such only in relation to this one object and for this alone. Hence the absurdity of a division of God's providence into general and special, and the inconsistency of eternal damnation with the divine world-government.

A distinction of attributes can appear in the divine world-government only by viewing the divine causality from human standpoints. As in our apprehension of human causality we distinguish inner intention from the mode of its execution, so also divine causality on its inner side as a unity may be described as will; but on its outer side in relation to its object as a manifold, it may be regarded as understanding. The redemption and the founding of the kingdom of God, in which there is a union of the divine essence with human nature, being the focal point of the divine world-government, the inner thought (disposition) exhibited in this is divine love, which is just the will to unite with and dwell in another. And the skill by which the totality of existences is subjected to this end of realizing the divine love is divine wisdom, which is just the perfect correspondence of processes with the end conceived in all its relations. But while in man will and understanding never perfectly correspond, in God they are one,

1. The Divine Love

The divine love, as the attribute by virtue of which the divine nature communicates itself, is made known in the work of redemption. If it be objected, on the one hand, that this view is mystical and overlooks the love of God in those courses of Nature and of human affairs that conserve and elevate the life; and, on the other hand, that it is too narrow because it fails to recognize that all spiritual development depends on the possession of reason which is the image of God in man, it may be replied to the first objection, that the highest elevation of life is in the God-consciousness, which is suppressed outside the sphere of the Christian redemption; and to the second, that while all men have the capacity for the God-consciousness, yet fear and not love pervades their minds before receiving Christ's redemption, and no human good of any kind which is not brought into connection with the God-consciousness can relate itself properly to the divine love.

When we assert that "God is love," meaning there by that love is the sole attribute which can be equated with the being or essence of God, we are not to be understood as accepting any conception of God which has been obtained in a speculative way, but we have only to show why this attribute of God is thus differentiated from the others which have been presented already.

While, as has been said already, the divine omnipotence is that attribute by virtue of which all finite things exist, this entire divine act is thereby posited without motive. The same is true of the other divine attributes treated above. None of these can be by themselves original expressions of the divine essence. Righteousness and holiness imply the antithesis between Good and Bad which cannot exist for God in himself. These attributes act in a limited sphere and they are subordinate to love and wisdom, that is, in the work of redemption they are to be reckoned as preparatory.

Again, while both love and wisdom express the very essence of God, we cannot say that God is wisdom as we say that God is love, because we have the immediate consciousness of love only in the consciousness of redemption and it is the ground of the representation of all the other divine attributes. It is when we extend our personal and our race-consciousness to the whole complex of forces in the universe that we see that wisdom is the perfection of love. Where almighty love is, there must absolute wisdom be (166, 167).

2. The Divine Wisdom

According to our position in an earlier portion of this work, wisdom and omniscience in God are the same, only the former corresponds to the antecedent view of his operations and the latter to the consequent view. Wisdom is the divine work regarded as producing such a world as if it were an absolutely coherent divine work of art; that is, such a work as, after the analogy of the human, constitutes a simple and originally perfect self-presentation or, rather, communication of the Supreme Being. The development of our consciousness of the wisdom of God consists in this, that this communication in its temporal progress becomes to us ever increasingly a perfect presentation of the almighty love of God.

We do not thereby admit the antithesis of end and means in the world, except in the sense that the means is embraced in the end, as a part in the whole.

To the Christian the redemption is the key to the understanding of the divine wisdom, and the whole divine economy is interpreted in the light of the revelation of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit. But this by no means implies a desire to find in individual occurrences a particular relation to the kingdom of God. This would degenerate into an opposition to scientific investigation. Nay, such occurrences as, presumably, are unconnected with the world-system and yet can not be separated from human concerns, must turn to the damage of the progress of the redemption and must also be excluded from the provisions of the divine wisdom. All things in the world that can be ascribed to the divine wisdom must also be referable to the redeeming new-creating revelation of God. Thus the peculiar work of the wisdom of God is just the extension of the redemption. This means, of course, that the most minute investigation of the facts of nature and the effort to penetrate into the hidden depths of the divine purpose are to be commended (168, 169).

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