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Chapter I: Biblical and Natural Theology

The Bible shows us, with overwhelming power, that the nature of God is deeply hidden and that reason alone cannot disclose the divine mystery. Even to a man who cannot share the belief of the church or its dogmatic theology the language of the Bible attests that truth with convincing clarity. God is a hidden God. Thus the third commandment warns against abusing His holy name. We are forbidden to mention His name in a way that would lead us to believe we know His nature, or have dispelled the mystery that covers it. We should never forget that we are speaking of His mystery when we are speaking of Him, for He is His mystery.

He who does not recognize this nature of God, may be learned, but he is more remote from the knowledge of God than the simple believer. Partial knowledge has robbed him of the capacity for religious awe. Actually those who deny God pretend to greater knowledge than the believer. To the believer the fundamental fact is the vast enigma of things divine. This fact makes him humble, and humility is the precondition and prerequisite of faith. Because God is a mystery we are forbidden to use His name in vain, which is to allege that we know His nature as we know the nature of other things. God is mystery; this is implied in the attribute of holiness. A thing fully understandable cannot be holy, though of course a certain acquaintance is presupposed in calling God holy. But His holiness cannot be ascertained and tested in the way of empirical things, their properties and their modes of existence. His holiness is beyond empirical experience, beyond empirical comprehension. God is beyond human capacity altogether.

All reports about the Highest, therefore, are veiled, always hinting at something that can never be disclosed and reported. Revelation does not remove this veil; on the contrary it reveals the inaccessibility, the transcendence, the majesty of the Lord. Accordingly the Bible uses an indirect form of speech when the Supreme Being is introduced. Its language becomes imaginative. Symbolic and parabolic expressions, metaphors and figurative style suggest what cannot be said in plain, literal fashion. Mysticism pervades the whole Scripture. There is an insuperable barrier between man and God. Man is not able to understand fully the purpose and action of the Creator. And His unfathomable character extends to His creation. We do not fully understand the work of His hands and His spirit; they are and remain for all time wondrous. Even man himself, if we look at him as a creature of God, assumes this marvellous character. We cannot fully understand ourselves, we are included in the universal mystery of all being. This is the impression wrought by the Bible, and it agrees with man's deepest feeling. The enduring influence and appeal of this book rests upon the agreement between the thing written and the reader.

The language of Scripture seems childish, as compared with the language of modern science and philosophy. It pertains to the mystery of things divine and only such language can reveal the truth about them. The apostles of modern science who boast of the exactitude, the certainty and efficiency of their knowledge, are mistaken if they look contemptuously upon the primitive simplicity of the oldest book. This book is more profound than science admits it to be, more profound than science can possibly be itself. This point of view, axiomatic in former generations, we must now recapture. It is not a deficiency that makes the Biblical language appear immature compared with that of science; this contrast stems from the difference between the entire purport and intention of religion and science. The scientist who thinks his own outlook superior to the Biblical shows only that he does not understand the essence of faith.

Whereas science tries to discover the way in which nature operates, religion appeals to the consciousness of the mystery that underlies nature and human life. Science and religion, from this point of view, are strictly opposed to each other. Science endeavors to diminish the realm of the unknown, religion stresses the fact that there is an unknowable; that even the smallest and most unimportant thing is ultimately unknowable. Everything is embraced in universal mystery: the lowest and the highest, matter as well as mind, soul and spirit. This aspect of unknowability, of course, pertains only to one side of religion. There is another side also. Religion does not offer knowledge in the sense of scientific knowledge, but it does open an access to the unknowable and it does even offer a certain knowledge of the all-embracing mystery: it teaches us to meet it with awe, with confidence, with hope, love and faith. The Bible thus addresses man not as an isolated intellect, but as a total personality possessing a moral will and centered in a feeling heart. Appealing to emotion and volition, it necessarily appeals to reason and intellect also, for the heart and will are human precisely because they are connected with, and influenced by, intellectual faculties. Thus the Scripture gives reasons for belief in God, and provides us with a kind of knowledge. But this knowledge is neither scientific nor philosophic, strictly speaking; it is not conceptual and not rational. Rather it is imaginative. Compare the style of Biblical writers, even of those who are involved in theological thought like Paul, with the style of scientific works, be they demonstrative or predominantly descriptive, be they rational or empirical, critical or speculative. And the difference of style hints at a difference of purpose and purport. Religious knowledge is not disinterested, it intends no objective truth; on the contrary it stirs our conscience and touches our heart. This is the reason it is legitimately imaginative, not only occasionally using figurative speech or poetical metaphor, but rather imbued with imaginative elements in all its conceptions, in all its ideas, even and especially in the idea of God. Religion and science need not interfere with each other. Their realms are wholly different. Science can never produce images in the religious sense, religion can never produce concepts instrumental in science and theoretical knowledge. Religion cannot supersede scientific investigation, but science also cannot replace religious imagination. A sharp boundary line divides these realms.

In spite of this acknowledged difference of interest, intention, and method, these varieties of knowledge do not dwell in peace together. On the contrary a struggle has raged between them since the beginning of Greek thought. In ancient times intellectual thought seemed to have overcome religious knowledge as represented by polytheistic belief in the mythical gods. Greek philosophy held more or less in contempt the images of the gods and strove to supplant them by abstract knowledge. Aristotle was convinced that his theological insight was much more adequate to the nature of the divine than the religious belief of his fellow countrymen. He was convinced that rational thought was able to penetrate the essence of things, and therefore the essence of the divine also. The mythical form of religious knowledge, he says, is fit for “the persuasion of the multitude and for legal and utilitarian expediency.”1 According to him the true knowledge of God is to be achieved by metaphysical inquiry and discourse. Aristotle became thus the founder of “natural theology.”

Greek thought preceded and initiated Christian theology. This historical fact proves that the human mind can find a certain kind of knowledge of the divine through its own resources, unsupported by, and even unaware of, other means. The similarity between certain doctrines of Greek philosophy and Biblical views is so striking that Philo, Clement of Alexandria, and other theologians saw no explanation for it but to assume that Plato had been influenced by the “barbarian philosophy.” Later the congeniality of Aristotle's natural theology and the Christian faith generated their close alliance in the Middle Ages. But there is a profound difference between the Aristotelian attitude towards faith and the attitude of the Christian thinkers. Aristotle could feel that thought was superior to the images of the mythical gods; that metaphysical discernment and argument could penetrate deeper into the hidden nature of the deity than religious imagination. Thus he could attain to a philosophic theology without any internal struggle between faith and thought. Mythological religion had no dogma and no doctrine; it was the pure product of an imagination nourished and enlarged from generation to generation by poets and by the poetical fancy of the Greek people. Greek religion could not rival the acuteness and consistency of metaphysical considerations. And still in another respect philosophy was superior to folk religion: it developed morally higher conceptions of the deity. “Xenophanes had boldly accused men of having attributed to the heavenly ones all that was disgraceful among men.”2 Plato's indignation on this score is well known.

These historical data demonstrate that the boundary line between revealed and natural theology involves an intricate problem, despite the fact that philosophy as a science, and religion as based on revelation, have different domains and different jurisdictions. This difference is obvious. Philosophy is basically and essentially theoretical. It rests upon logical argumentation and conclusion, it aims at doctrines, theories and systematic, methodical knowledge, while religion is related to life in its wholeness, especially to moral life, to conscience and conduct. Religion, therefore, comprises the whole of life, not only as philosophy does, by means of thought and concepts, but in the omnivorous fashion of life itself. Indeed, there is a religious aspect to every domain of life: there is a specific religious morality, there are religious virtues, religious obligations and actions; there is a religious art; there is a religious community, a religious law, a religious right; there is a religious science; in short, the whole cosmos of human activity is imbued with the religious spirit and controlled by religious authorities and tradition. Nothing of this kind corresponds within the province of philosophy, although, especially in the ancient times, philosophy strove to take the place of religion and to organize the whole of life. The difference between the realms of thought and faith, nevertheless, is unmistakable and inextinguishable.

Philosophy teaches, religion preaches. Philosophy is always the business of a single thinker, though he may form a school; religion is the common concern of a community though inaugurated by a founder. Philosophy has no priests, no cult; religion has no logical methods, no sober investigations. To be sure, certain philosophical schools have had a religious or semi-religious character and authority like the Pythagoreans, the Stoics, the Neo-Platonists; some philosophers seem akin to prophets and religious leaders. Christianity, on the other hand, had its own philosophers, professors, school systems, and methodical teaching. There is obviously a certain rivalry between the realms and their representatives. Philosophy is concerned with the ultimate meaning of life and reality; so is religion. The metaphysician is not a sober scientist, he has no exact experiments, and his statements never enjoy the same validity and acceptance as those of the mathematicians and physicists. A certain analogy between Socrates and Jesus, despite the huge gulf that separates them, cannot be denied; there is a similarity, too, between the writings of Plato where Socrates is the central figure and the Gospel. Philosophy and religion, though widely differing, are intimately connected; they even overlap in some respects and in some sectors.

Thus peace between the rivals is not guaranteed from the outset; they resemble two nations with adjacent territories. A boundary line divides them, but there is a bit of disputed country between them that continually threatens war. This intermediate both-man's-land arouses perennial quarrels. Its name is “theology.” Religion proposes to construct its own theology, philosophy does likewise. To be sure, they proceed from different bases though they move to a common goal. This goal, a methodical and logical science of God, is identical. Both religious and philosophic, Biblical and natural, revelatory and rational theology represent different forms of the same science, namely theology. Therefore the task of relating them to each other is urgent. In the Middle Ages they were united under the sway of Christianity. Since the Renaissance they have been separated and their relation has never been clear. This condition is becoming more and more scandalous. It mirrors the general gulf between religion and modern culture, between life and thought which characterizes our age. Philosophy pays little attention to religious theology, for religious theology claims special sources of knowledge. Some attempts have been made to bridge the chasm between these antagonists, undertaken by religious theologians, but the task is still undone. To outline the nature of this task and to suggest a solution is the purpose of these lectures. It is the same task which confronted men like Origen, Augustine, and the medieval thinkers, and which has been abandoned since the beginning of modern times without having been discharged satisfactorily. Modern science was believed to have found a new method. But the old task could not be taken over by science, nor by a philosophy which was based on scientific presuppositions or preoccupied with scientific problems and views (using the word “scientific” in the narrower sense of the natural sciences).

The conquest of philosophy by modern science caused all relations between philosophy and religion to become dubious, and every attempt to reconcile them became suspect. Philosophy boasted that it was entirely free from prejudices and could build up its theories on the same solid ground as mathematics and mathematical physics, that is on empirical experience and rational conclusions. The modern outlook is exactly opposite to that of the medieval scholar. Whereas Anselm had said: “Credo ut intelligam,”3 the modern thinker says: “We must abandon every belief before we begin to investigate nature. Only thus can objective knowledge arise.” Belief implies an assumption that is not verified by experiment and critical observation. We must not admit such a hypothetical element in the field of philosophy since we do not admit it in that of science. This is the modern postulate. The difference in character between unwarranted assumption and religious faith was no longer felt and conceded. The need to reconcile knowledge and faith was no longer acknowledged as affecting the standpoint and the outlook of philosophy.

The sphere of science, based on sense experience and inference, on the one side, and, on the other, the sphere of religion based on revelation, seemed perfectly separated, an eternal peace between them seemed achieved. But this is only the outer impression which deceives the spectator. It is not the inner truth of the state of modern man. Here in his inner life he is divided against himself. Intellect and heart are not in harmony with each other. Their sound order is disturbed. Man has to decide whether he will trust the guide of science and scientific philosophy or the guide of revealed religion. No clear relation exists between these opposite poles. Has science the primacy or has faith the primacy? This is the question.

Philosophy can and should contribute its resources to the task of restoring and reconciling man with himself again. Religion has a legitimate right to interfere with philosophy, when ultimate questions concerning the meaning of life and reality are raised, as religion or religious theology should admit that philosophy is entitled and even obliged to participate in the endeavor to fathom the depths of deity. The calamitous chasm between these parties should be filled by mutual good will. Both have a common interest at stake, both the theologian and the philosopher are actually persons involved in both religion and philosophy, because they are both feeling and thinking, beings. Philosophy must abstain from the attempt to replace religion, or to deliver a theology which requires no revelation, as the natural theology of the eighteenth century did. It has to forego the temptation to regard religion as a lower form of metaphysical insight. Philosophy and religion are different paths to the same destination. Religion is superior in a certain sense, because God is a mystery, and because the language of religion is better adapted to the nature of this mystery than is the language of philosophy. On the other hand, philosophy is superior in respect to the rational side of theological method. Religious theology, therefore, must cease regarding as contemptible the share which philosophy can contribute to the common task.

When Lord Gifford, the founder of these lectures, wrote the regulations concerning their content and method, a generation existed which still believed in the possibility of natural theology as a strictly natural science. This science, he says, should be treated “without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special exceptional or so-called miraculous revelation. I wish it considered just as astronomy or chemistry is.” Times have changed. It is unlikely that a thinker today would strive to initiate a theology in the fashion and with the methods of chemistry or astronomy. We feel again that God is a hidden God, and that the natural and the supernatural cannot be treated in the same manner. Even when we think it possible to approach the divine by means of thought without relying upon any religious source, we can no longer ignore the gap between the physical and the metaphysical realms. It is no longer admissible to think of God in terms of natural causality or substantiality. And, therefore, the question whether any science or any human knowledge about God is possible at all can no longer be answered in the affirmative without severe consideration and inquiry. Was Kant not right in forbidding such a science altogether? Is any philosopher entitled to return to natural theology after having studied Kant's criticism of all knowledge of the Supreme Being? And are not perhaps those Christian theologians right who assert that there is no access to the divine mystery save through divine revelation?

Natural theology is threatened by two powerful and allied foes, one of them undertaking to destroy it from within by means of rational criticism, the other from without by means of faith and dogmatics. Critical or anti-metaphysical philosophy and anti-philosophical theology unite in opposing all attempts of pure reason to inquire into the mystery of God. Nevertheless the attempt must be renewed. Perhaps never before has it been so necessary, so urgent to renew it as today. For never before has the chasm between faith and secular culture widened so dangerously. The illness of our culture cannot be cured except by reconciling the sundered parts of the human mind and of human society. Philosophy must participate in this task by showing that there is a bridge between faith and reason, that there is a natural theology in the sense of a rational or speculative discipline which is in agreement with Biblical theology. On the other hand, it does not suffice to repeat the content of faith and to re-establish dogma without taking into consideration the judgment of pure reason. Too many people have lost their confidence in tradition and no longer understand the truth of revealed religion unsupported by philosophical thought. Such a system of thought, it is true, can never supersede or generate faith; but it can justify and reinforce the religious outlook, it can disclose the inner alliance of faith and reason, of imaginative and abstract knowledge. In these lectures I shall first discuss this problem and its solution within the philosophy of Kant. I should like to add some remarks about the verdict on rational theology delivered by the most rigorous modern representative of an exclusively scriptural standpoint, Karl Barth.

It is a real merit of Karl Barth to have rediscovered the logical consistency and strength of reformed theology. The level of the discussion is elevated by his emphasis on this classical virtue. The Barthian theology has sharpened the conscience of the philosopher trying to maintain a rational theology, and it has deepened the understanding of what revelation and the word of God mean. But philosophy should not be discouraged by the stern attitude of the dogmatic thinker and by his inexorable rejection of all philosophic collaboration in the field of theological knowledge. The dogmatic theologian is perfectly right in defending the dominion of religious tradition. He fails, however, to keep his claim legitimate when he begins to contest the right of philosophy to deal with theological problems in its own way. He transgresses the limit which he has himself laid when he judges about problems which can never arise as long as he remains on the ground of biblical revelation.

Only he who believes in the necessity and in the possibility of uniting biblical and natural (or rational) theology is able and entitled to determine what contribution can be given by philosophy to theology and where philosophy loses its power.4 Even if it be true that the Bible, as the word of God, is the purest source of religious knowledge and the only genuine basis of faith, it does not follow that theological knowledge cannot be attained also by means of speculative thought. Biblical theology, keeping within the bounds of biblical revelation, cannot envisage the scope of possible philosophic solutions in any field, not even in the field of speculative theology. The dogmatic theologian cannot inquire into the possibility of approaching the divine mystery by means of thought, because, as a dogmatic theologian, he has never explored the conditions and the limits of rational speculation. It is perfectly true that God, as He reveals Himself in the Bible, cannot be met by such speculation. He is a person, and thought or reason cannot meet a person, even if it should be possible to answer the question whether or not God must be thought of as a person. But the problem concerning the relation of the different levels of religious revelation and rational speculation lies outside the possible considerations and decisions of dogmatic theology.

The biblical point of view does not forbid reasoning about God, the world, and man. To be sure, the Bible does not permit any doubt as to the ability of man to reach ultimate truth. The Bible denies man's ability to solve all problems by asserting that there is an impenetrable and inscrutable mystery. But the Bible does not say how far human understanding can penetrate this mystery. It hints at the limit when it warns that God's thoughts are not our thoughts or that we cannot see God face to face as long as we live on earth. But this imaginative distinction is not confined to the contrast of revelation and speculation; on the contrary, it characterizes even revealed knowledge as insufficient. If it is true that God has created man in his image, then we should be permitted to use the mental power which He has given to us in order to seek for traces of His creatorship throughout the world, and within our own reason too. Even Barth himself deals with this possibility, but he comes to a purely negative result: man is completely barred out, he cannot reach the divine mystery in any way. Barth is not only a dogmatist in the justified religious sense of this term, but he is also dogmatic in the sense of being inclined to prejudge and to yield to prejudice. Such an attitude is not dictated by faith nor by the word of God, but by lack of philosophical interest and insight.

Christian theology is not entitled to make any statement about the relation between reason and the divine mystery in terms of reason, simply because such theology does not speak in terms of reason at all. It envisages philosophical problems no more than philosophy envisages the living God. And this status cannot be altered until a territory has been found where both Christian and natural theology can meet to be reconciled and united. Biblical theology teaches that man has fallen and that he lies in the fetters of sin; that he, therefore, is unable to return to God through his own power. That may be true, but it does not exclude the possibility of using those powers for the purpose of knowledge of a sort. No dogmatist can tell us how far we can go in this way, and what we can or cannot attain. It is undeniable that there is a limit. But the question where it must be drawn cannot be answered by biblical theology. It is the task of philosophical inquiry and speculation to find out the nature and the place of this limit. Even the expression “mystery,” applied by biblical theology to characterize the limit of human understanding and rational speculation, requires a philosophic interpretation. This interpretation is by no means self-evident and simple; on the contrary, it is extremely difficult and raises questions which perhaps cannot be answered. Thus, it is clear that dogmatic theology and speculative philosophy, though they are striving after the same ideal of truth in the same field of knowledge, nevertheless have different standards of logical perfection. Dogmatic theology is neither able nor entitled to prejudice the results of philosophic reflection. The difference of principles and methods and of the spheres from which they issue makes the task of the unification of the two different ways of theology hazardous and toilsome.

Karl Barth denies categorically and “dogmatically” that there is any access to the mystery of God save the word of God Himself, as revealed in the Bible. God is a living God, His will is a free will; therefore the only way of meeting Him is the way of hearing and obeying His commandments. Man has no power to open the holy shrine of truth; God alone keeps the key. We have no adequate notion of God; God can never become the object of any human science. If He could, man would be able to “dispose” of God, whereas God instead disposes of man. “An idea, made up with the claim to be the idea of God, is, not as an idea, but on account of this claim—an idol. Even the idea of God as conceived by Plato, a really pure idea which can almost fascinate by its purity, cannot be exempted from this verdict.”5

Is that verdict justified? Why does Plato fascinate Karl Barth as he has fascinated so vast a number of Christian theologians at all epochs in every country? Does not this fascination suggest the point where the Platonic and the Christian knowledge of God coincide to a certain degree? If that holds good, how is it possible that purely human knowledge can find a way to an idea of God consistent with that which is revealed by God Himself? Neither religious theology alone nor philosophical or natural theology alone can answer this question. On the other hand, the Christian theologian, as well as the worldly thinker, is urged to put this question, like Clement, the first thinker, who tried to combine Greek philosophy and Christian faith.

Of course, Karl Barth is perfectly right when he points out that despite the fascination emanating from the platonic doctrine of the supreme idea of the Good, no idea whatsoever can take the place of the living God. If we replace the living God by a philosophic idea, we really deify our idea, making it an idol. Such a deification has to be duly rejected not only by the dogmatist but by every Christian thinker. On the other hand, the dogmatist is compelled to speak of the mystery of God and to admit that his knowledge of God is limited as is that of the philosopher. Were either of them entitled to claim unrestricted knowledge, he then could contest the right of the other to claim any knowledge of God at all, as Barth in fact does. But neither Barth nor the philosopher can legitimately claim exclusive right. Neither one can know how far knowledge can reach in this sublime field. It is as impossible to imprison the divine in a dogmatic theology as it is impossible to confine the highest Being within the limits of a speculative metaphysics. We can and must approach theological knowledge in two different ways, and we do not know how these two ways are connected in the divine itself, for we cannot carry either to completion. Both lead into the darkness of mystery.

Karl Barth defines dogmatics as “the rational endeavor to grasp the divine mystery.” “The more serious,” he says, “this endeavor is, the more it will end in understanding or conceiving the divine mystery as a mystery. Therefore it can be worth while to devote oneself to this endeavor.”6 Precisely the same is true in the case of philosophical or natural theology. The word or term “mystery” indicates in both cases the same fact, that we cannot penetrate to the final end of knowledge. There is something that God has not revealed and that cannot be revealed as long as we live on earth; and there is also much that cannot be grasped by means of thought. It is just this “something” which makes possible the duality of revelation and reason, of imaginative and notional knowledge, of positive and natural theology. Neither way nor form of knowledge is adequate in the last analysis. The inadequacy of each of them demands and permits the legitimacy of the other. They supplement each other. But we cannot fully understand how, since we do not know the final end of either way, which is their common end. It is this insight which reconciles them, although it is not possible to unify them completely nor to derive the duality from one and the same highest insight or principle.

All these statements are based on one definite presupposition, namely, that man has access to the divine mystery, not only through revelation, but also through his own understanding and reason. Dogmatic theology cannot refute this presupposition, as Karl Barth declares. The divine mystery has two different aspects according to the two forms of knowledge or approach. We can call them the aspect of personality, and the aspect of universality. The divine, as revealed or revealing Himself, is a living person; as conceived in the realm of abstract knowledge, He is universal truth. Or in other words: universal truth, as revealed in the Bible, is God; God, as conceived in or by our understanding, is universal truth.

But these definitions are not yet complete and perfect, though they are not erroneous; they demand further investigation and analysis. Barth has too low an idea of what philosophy is and aims at doing, when he categorically rejects the claim of philosophy to deal with the divine mystery. Reading his dogmatics, one has the definite impression that he knows only the alternative between revelation and the trivial consciousness of ordinary life. As a dogmatist, nay, as a Christian, he is right in dividing the sacred from the profane, the eternal from the temporal, the spiritual from the rational, but this dichotomy is not complete. If it is true that man can approach the divine mystery along the path of rational inquiry, then a particular sphere of human activity, though profane in the highest religious sense, is nevertheless not included in his bifurcation. The profane sphere is not uniform; it contains various strata, lower and higher stages. The highest stage neighbors the sacred sphere and in the boundary line both spheres seem to overlap. May we say that religion leads from God to man, philosophy from man to God? Religion does not attain the rationality of philosophy, philosophy does not reach the personality of God. But there is a meeting point between the extremes. Could we take our stand at this point, we should be able to reconcile the antagonistic views of dogmatic and natural theology.

In any case, the two opposite ways have one common ground: this is the mystery of the divine. But, unfortunately, the character of mystery allows us no footing; mystery affords no ground for an argument nor a premise that can yield a train of deductions. On the contrary, mystery destroys all arguments, it deprives us of the solid ground on which we, as thinkers, can stand. Both biblical and natural theology confront ultimate problems they cannot solve and even contradictions they cannot evade. It is a contradiction in itself that knowledge should be rooted in mystery. The very phrase “knowledge of the divine mystery” is baffling. How can mystery be the object of knowledge? Is it not by its very nature the unknowable? Thus, do not knowledge and mystery exclude each other?

It seems to be extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, to find a language common to both kinds of theology, or to fix the point at which they would meet. The Christian theologian cannot speak of the divine as the content of a conceptual idea, and the philosopher cannot speak of God as revealed or revealing Himself in Scripture. How then accomplish the task of reconciling the opponents or of reconciling ourselves in so far as we are at the same time both thinkers and believers, persons endowed with an autonomous intellect and children of God? How can we ever hope to unite knowledge and faith, if we are not even able to combine both in one and the same personal attitude? With what right can we assert that natural and inspired theology aim at the knowledge of the same ultimate mystery, since we have no access to this mystery except the antagonistic ways of thought and faith? The point where they would meet lies beyond the grasp of both. On the other hand, it is the apex to which both are striving. The identity of our own self seems to guarantee this identity of the Ultimate. Although the Ultimate can never be completely encompassed by either theology, in so far as we can conceive of it as the Ultimate, we can be sure that it is one and the same, common to both the theology of reason and the theology of revelation.

The fact that each of us is one and the same person permits us and even commands us to assert that it is one and the same divine mystery that confronts us in religion as well as in philosophy. This sameness is the reason religious and philosophic language use one and the same central word to express their ultimate goal and concern, the word: truth. And both know that ultimate truth is hidden, and that neither religious revelation nor metaphysical knowledge can ever contain the full and unrestricted truth. It is just this immediate awareness which unites and reconciles both approaches to the Ultimate without altering or lessening their differences. Thus the theology of faith is bound not to render impossible the theology of thought, while metaphysics is bound not to assert anything that could weaken or diminish the position of revealed knowledge. Philosophy should be warned never to forget that there is an ultimate mystery and that revelation is the form in which this mystery is brought to us in religion. If philosophy acknowledges the legitimacy of revelation and gives up the vain attempt to make itself a substitute for it, the path to reconciliation is opened. For it is the task of philosophy, not of religion, to bring about this reconciliation, since there is a philosophy of religion, but not a corresponding department within religion. Philosophy, in other words, must understand religion, not religion philosophy. Clemens Alexandrinus became a philosopher to do this very thing.

Although philosophy must make religion the object of reflection, it must respect the line of demarcation between the realms. Thus it must restrict itself. Indeed, it is the consequence of a right appreciation of religion on the part of philosophy to draw the line which limits the prerogative of philosophic reflection. This was the intention of the criticism of Kant, and in this respect his standpoint is a permanent contribution. It is the noblest task of philosophy to discover and to exhibit the ultimate mystery in all spheres of human experience; it is not its task to supplant revelation by speculation, be it ever so refined. Kant was right in bridling the aspirations of metaphysics.

Philosophy must—to use an expression of Plato—save the ultimate mystery. It must trace all problems back to mystery. But philosophy is not entitled to violate the character of this mystery by the attempt to transform it into conceptual knowledge and so to deprive it of its nature. Philosophy does not come to an end: the nature of the Ultimate as mystery forbids ultimate solutions. The manner in which Plato leads the reader of the dialogues on and on without ever coming to a definite and final destination is consequently more philosophic than is the happy ending of other systems. Philosophy not only begins but also terminates in the feeling of wonder. This feeling is akin to religious awe, indeed it is the same feeling transferred to another domain. Philosophy is the elaborate attempt of the thinking mind to approach the ultimate, all-embracing and all-penetrating mystery, called by the holy book God.

Divine mystery is the universal mystery. There is nothing outside it, no being and no idea, no existence and no essence, nothing real and nothing ideal. This is the reason why religion speaks of God as the Creator of the world, and even of Christ as begotten by God, and of the Holy Spirit as having proceeded from God; and the reason why the earliest fathers of the church insisted that even physical matter is created by God, and that there is nothing whatever that is not created by Him. It has often been said that Christianity is dualistic because of the duality of Creator and creation, Eternity and temporal life, Spirit and flesh, Grace and nature, heaven and hell. That dualism is true, but it is only one aspect; in another aspect Christianity is thoroughly monistic, and this aspect is basic. Christianity is monistic, because it teaches that God originally is all in all, that He alone is the source of everything that is or can be, that this world is His, and that the difference between those opposite sides is no final one. At the end of time He will become again “all in all,” an idea stressed by Origen. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things.” Philosophy achieves its best when it tries to understand this monistic and that dualistic outlook in its own way, and to explain how both can be aspects of the same ultimate reality.

Karl Barth distinguishes “God in Himself” and “God for us,” or the “eternal history of God” and “God's revelation as history,” and frequently admits that the word of God, as revealed to us, is always mixed with worldly or human elements; and that dogma has originated from the attempt to formulate biblical revelation in the terms of contemporary philosophy.7 Barth thus admits that what we know about God in dogmatic theology is always restricted by man's capacity to understand God. How can it be justifiable that contemporary philosophy has been used for the purpose of dogmatics, if there is an irreconcilable cleavage between revelation and speculation, holy and profane theological knowledge? Only an inner relationship between the two opponents, only an ultimately common ground can explain and vindicate this fusion. As God's own revelation is necessarily adapted to man's capacity, conversely man's speculation is necessarily adapted to the character of the Ultimate as it appears before the thinking mind. Both are determined by ultimate truth. Man has not arbitrarily invented or molded the possibilities of metaphysical speculation, he has stamped his concepts in accordance with the exigencies of the object of speculation, however problematical these concepts may be. We are not entitled to say that the Ultimate reveals itself in the medium of thought, for this expression vitiates the peculiar nature of revelation and does not characterize the real method of speculation; but, on the other hand, we must remain aware of the parallelism between natural and revealed theology. As dogma and dogmatics are influenced by contemporary philosophy, so was philosophy influenced by contemporary theology, not only in the Middle Ages, but also in modern times, in Locke and Berkeley, in Descartes and Leibniz, in Kant and his successors.

To be sure, natural theology underwent momentous alterations during its development from ancient times. It was severely criticized by Kant, and it seemed condemned to death by his verdict. Is this doom final? To answer this question we must carefully examine the Critique of Pure Reason.

  • 1.

    Met. 1074 b.

  • 2.

    William Wallace, Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology and Ethics (ed. by Edw. Caird, Oxford, 1898, p. 27).

  • 3.

    In substance this thesis of course is older than the word of Anselm. Augustine has similar phrases, e.g., “si non potes intelligere, crede ut intelligas” (Sermo 118, 1); cp. c. Acad. III, 43; de ord. II, 26; Solil. I. 9; Hom. Ev. Joh. XXIX, 6.

  • 4.

    Cf. Clemens Alexandrinus: “But if we are not to philosophize, what then? For no one can condemn a thing without first knowing it. Consequently we must philosophize.” (Stromata, Book VI, Chap. XVIII.)

  • 5.

    Die kirchliche Dogmatik, Bd. I, Halbbd. I, 2. Aufl., München 1935, p. 412.

  • 6.

    l.c. p. 388.

  • 7.

    l.c. pp. 171 ff., 359, 399.

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