The second volume of Philosophy and Development of Religion moves into a systematic study of the Judaic and Christian traditions through to the Reformation. Pfleiderer argues that the Jewish tradition that gave shape to the Old Testament was formulated around the anticipation of the Messiah and built around hope and promise. This set the stage for the coming of Jesus, but the patterns of expectation established in the traditions of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes failed to grasp the breadth of God’s redemptive plan. The gospel made manifest in the life of Christ departed radically from the expectations formulated in the established Jewish traditions.
For Pfleiderer, the greatest expression of the message is the power of ‘innocent suffering’. As he describes it, this is the agency by which a corrupted world can be transformed by goodness. The early church did not wish to be distinct from the Jewish faith, but rather viewed itself as participating in a radically different experience of a Messianic kingdom manifested in community and the ‘purest social regeneration’. The community rooted itself in ministry and ‘enduring love’, not in dogmatic hegemony. It was through Paul’s theology, Pfleiderer argues, that the Christian tradition was released from its Jewish roots. While Paul accepted that the nation of Israel had a religious tradition superior to the Gentiles through the historical revelation they had received, the death of Christ suspended this by freeing both Jews and Gentiles from adherence to the Law. Pfleiderer viewed this as approaching a concept of universalism: ‘[D]oes there not lie in this thought the germ of the modern conception of the development of a religious spirit of humanity through the manifold forms of the national religions to the concluding unity of the universal kingdom of God’. He even alludes to a belief in Paul’s theology that when the restoration of humanity to its ideal state has been attained, Christ will ‘subordinate Himself to the Father . . . and retire into the series of the creatures in order that God might be all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28). Beyond this distinct christological position, Pfleiderer argues that Pauline theology makes a distinction between what should be held as transitory and enduring. Whereas Paul called for the slave to be a faithful servant and the Christian to respect the state as divinely ordained, his theology was underpinned by ethical ideals which are transformative in their nature. The purpose of the gospel for Paul is neither an individual soteriology nor a call for radical upheaval, but rather the gradual restoration of humanity to God’s ideal.
Through the philosophical works of Philo a fusion took place between the Hellenistic belief in the other-worldly and the historically revelatory monotheism of Judaism. According to Pfleiderer, this gave the Platonic belief of transcendent ideas and perfection a footing in the teleological history of revelation. Philo placed Christ as the ‘Logos’ who mediates between God and world. Pfleiderer argues that the Johannine tradition took Philo’s philosophical framework and established Christ as, above all other things, the incarnation of the Divine in human form so that every aspect of Christ’s life is the revelation of divine will. ‘In John . . . the heavenly Logos has so become flesh in the terrestrial Jesus that His whole public life and work is a constant revelation of the Divine truth and Grace’. He takes John’s intention to be to stress the religious significance of Christ’s ‘word and works as an indisputable means of salvation’ beyond a theology based solely upon the crucifixion. That is to say, God’s soteriological action in Christ is the whole of his public life and not just his death. In the process of defining Christ’s incarnation, Pfleiderer argues that the emphasis was put so heavily upon the divine that the Alexandrian definition served to diminish the humanity of Christ. This has, over the centuries, had a profound impact on the Christian concept of humanity and, as a result, the pursuit of godliness has meant the neglect of what is inherently human. Through the process of dogmatic formulation of Trinitarian theology and definition of the natures of Christ, the ‘living religious faith of Christianity’ was buried in ‘abstractions of transcendental speculation’. This theology fuelled asceticism and the rise of monastic movements which withdrew from the world. Augustine took this further with a thoroughly supernatural theology. Compelled by his own sense of the sinfulness of the human condition, Augustine defined salvation as redemption from human nature rather than the redemption of human nature. The fallibility of human nature was evident in the political state as well, and Augustine called for the church to be a dominant force prepared to use coercive means to convey its will as the instrument of salvation in the world. As much as Pfleiderer believes this was an error in relation to the intended role of the church, he viewed it ultimately as a ‘providential means of education for the nations of the world in order to lead them to that Christian perfection which in the surrender of the self to the universal ends of the kingdom of God does not lose its own freedom but first truly wins it’.
In the Reformation, Luther and the other Reformers reconnected with what had previously been lost in the Christian understanding of salvation, namely, that faith is both ‘the religious possession of salvation’ and ‘the moral motive of sanctification’. Luther, like Augustine, held a deep sense of human sinfulness. However, in Luther the answer was not to be found in the mediation of the church but in Christ, whose gospel fostered the spiritual life of the believer and commanded regenerative action in society. Luther restored the place of the state in serving a moral purpose, defined marriage as a spiritually valuable state, called the faithful believer out of the seclusion of the monastery into an active role in the wider community and removed the stigma of unholiness from the nature of human life and society. While Pfleiderer argues these to have been advances in the gospel purpose of bringing about an ideal humanity, the dogmatic formulations that plagued Protestantism stifled the movement. Luther came to view the limitation of reason and logic as a necessity to protect the precious doctrinal positions Protestantism had formulated. Pfleiderer closes by arguing that the future of Christianity is fundamentally at risk if it persists in adhering to structures of belief that lag behind the advance of knowledge. In order to avert the very real possibility of the Christian faith facing ‘euthanasia’, he advocates the re-formation ‘of our Christian faith as will stand in harmony with the secular knowledge of the present and no longer exact from us any sacrifice of reason’.