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Chapter IX: The Origin of Evil and Original Sin

The biblical account of the origin of evil is, like all religious knowledge, imaginative. It is found in the story of the fall of man.1 Man, as man, is a sinner, despite his being created by God. He is a sinner not as a natural being, but by reason of his own guilt. He has fallen away from God through his free decision. Man possesses a free will; he, therefore, is not completely dependent on God as regards his selfhood. Through his selfhood, which is centered in his free will, man is akin to God; but this kinship, though emphasized previously in the story of his creation, nevertheless does not develop until the fall; through the fall man attains the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, the story of the fall discloses the tragic and paradoxical truth that man precisely by his disobedience to God attains selfhood; that he, through the loss of his innocence and original unity with God, gains his dignity as man.

Can philosophy contribute to the understanding of this obscure and perplexing account? Certainly not in the way the metaphysicians of former times have undertaken it, by offering their own speculative conceptions of the nature of man and by demonstrating that the biblical narrative introduces errors and is at best an imaginative presentation of the truth, set forth more adequately by their own systems. We need to be more modest, and to revere more highly the very mystery which the biblical story incorporates. This account is imaginative, not because it has not yet reached the level of conceptual explanation, but because it concerns a problem which demands an imaginative solution since no logical or ontological solution can be adequate. Just as modern aesthetics has recognized that the older conception of poetry which degraded it into a kind of lower knowledge is false, so also we must acknowledge that the imaginative language of religion cannot be replaced by any metaphysical elaboration.

Another view of imagination has been disclosed in the foregoing lectures. We have shown that spiritual imagination assumes the burden where rational thought comes to an end, and that it solves in a peculiar way the problems that cannot be solved by means of philosophical methods. Religious revelation proceeds when speculation can no longer carry on; it performs a task that cannot be performed by any other kind of knowledge. Thus religion supplements and completes the work of thought, although the means it employs seem to be more naive and more primitive than those of logical procedure. Religion, by completing the work of thought, is in a sense a priori to thought; it does not carry out consciously and deliberately what reflection and speculation have begun but cannot finish by themselves. Rather, since it uses the language, not of logical definitions and conclusions, but of life and the heart, revelation does not depend on any previous development. It belongs to the very nature of the ultimate mystery that human pride, in developing the intellectual faculties for the sake of the discovery of truth, and in applying the dialectical methods of analysis and synthesis, be humbled before it. What thought is impotent to effect—the complete penetration of immediate life and the transformation of the mystery into conceptual knowledge—this cannot be done by imagination either. But in its own way imagination reconciles thought and life as a work of art also does in its special realm. The truth at which reflection and speculation aim in vain is revealed by that kind of imaginative language which characterizes the Christian faith. The historical development of European philosophy from Greek speculation through Christian revelation to scholasticism and finally to Kant's criticism confirms the rectitude of this view.

Whereas philosophic speculation must rely on the self-reflection of the human consciousness and rise from this beginning to the concept of the ideal self, imagination, on the contrary, starts with the fact of God's creation. The picture of man, therefore, is painted within the frame of the image of the Creator and his creation. The concept of the supreme self is deduced from the concept of the never-perfected human self and, though in itself contradictory, nevertheless indicates the direction in which the solution of the highest problem must be sought. The image of God in the Bible, on the contrary, is not deduced from anything else; it stands on its own ground and becomes the matrix of the whole biblical story, while the interpretation of man follows entirely from it. (This is, by the way, the means which Hegel tries to duplicate in his system, beginning with the concept of Being as representing God in the most simple logical and ontological category, and proceeding to all other categories and through nature finally to man.) Man appears at the end of the work of creation; he is the climax of creation not only in point of time but also in the course of God's intention in creating the world. The world is not created for its own sake but for the sake of man. It is divided into heaven, the dwelling place of God and his angels, and the earth, the abode of all other beings but especially of man, for he shall have dominion “over all the earth.”

Man in the story of the fall is not characterized by being a self in a philosophic sense; nor by virtue of the consciousness that he faces the universal mystery and is, therefore, able to distinguish himself from all other things; nor by the reflection that he transcends the objective world and that he, as a transcendental self, is able to acquire an objective knowledge of nature and to submit his individual inclinations to the universal moral law. Still, all these peculiarities of man which philosophic self-reflection discloses are included in the imaginative insight that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God.” Since the Bible begins with God, the Creator, it follows that man is a creator also, but on a smaller scale and restricted in many respects. The unique position of man in the creation, the difference between him and all other things, the transcendental function of his reason are illuminated by envisioning him as an image of God. His faculty of attaining objective knowledge and his mental power over all other beings are indicated by telling how God brought every beast of the field and every fowl of the air unto Adam “to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” Man is not only a creature like other creatures, he is at the same time akin to the Creator Himself: a transcendental self. Man is thus implicitly interpreted by reference to his peculiar relation to the universal mystery. But this reference is not made in these terms, since the ultimate is revealed from the outset as God the Creator. The Bible assumes that man understands the word “God” out of himself, for Genesis does not refer to any definite instruction given by God in this regard. God does not Himself address man, yet the narrative sets out with the words: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”

Since the ultimate mystery is revealed as God, the evil inherent in the mystery of man can be interpreted as having its source in man's disobedience to the commandment of the Creator. Moral evil appears thus as sin, for sin is no longer the negation of man's own self by his own will and action, it is rather the negation of God's will by man. Man's moral failure is no longer the self-perversion and self-contradiction of his will; sin is a revolt against God. Self-contradiction resolves into a separation of man from God. Man declares himself independent, the master of himself, a lord over what he pleases to do or not to do. He separates himself from his divine master and lord. Of course, the self-contradiction of the evil will does not disappear in this religious interpretation of it; it is contained in man's disobedience to God, since the will of God, as the perfectly good will, is man's own moral will in the state of perfection. It is precisely this truth which man discovers from the fall, for he learns thereby the difference between good and evil, and he learns that he failed to do the good when he ate the fruit and disobeyed. Experiencing the meaning of good and evil, he experiences his own moral self. This element in the story is its profoundest feature; it reveals the mystery of man. Man, at the same time, falls and rises. He falls away from the immediate unity with God and he rises to a new relation to Him by attaining moral consciousness. Only through the fall can man acquire this new likeness to God. This insight has been completely neglected by the dogma of original sin as the source of man's corruption. There is a “semi-pelagian” element in the very story of the fall!

Man's situation with respect to good and evil is connected with the problem of the relation between mystical intuition and moral reason; this is solved in the peculiar form of religious imagination. By virtue of his intuition man embraces the mystical unity of all things. The paradise is the imaginative idea which corresponds to the original concord between God, world (or nature), and man. To be sure, mystical intuition is silent, and needs elaboration by means of imagination to be articulated and “revealed.” This is the burden of the biblical narrative. The image of paradise conforms to the image of the world as the Creation of God. The world created by God is true and good; there is no room for error and sin, there is no division between man's existence and man's essence, between what he is and what he ought to be, between his real and his ideal self. Indeed, there is not yet any self at all! Mystical intuition does not differentiate and discriminate between things and the self of man. As long as man lives in the paradise of this intuition he faces no problem: problems are first raised by the radical split in man's consciousness. This split originates in the duality of intuition and reflection. In the state of paradise, this duality is not yet overt or actual; intuition is predominant. Or, in other words, the overwhelming sight of the ultimate mystery still covers and checks reflection on the nature of man. Man's intellect is confined to the intuitive knowledge of things and beings around him, and this knowledge is wrapped in the mystery of God. He still sees all things in God. He is in a state of innocence.

From the standpoint of philosophy this mystery is a mystery only as contrasted with the non-mystical consciousness in which reason prevails. The opposition between mystical intuition and the claim of reason generates the metaphysical problems which lead to antinomies. From the standpoint of religious imagination the antinomies are solved by the revealed interpretation of the ultimate mystery. How does religious imagination proceed from the original unity to the status of division, from mystical intuition to intellectual reflection? Or in other words: how can religious imagination leave the standpoint from which the divine mystery is not yet problematic, for a standpoint from which the problem of man appears? This transition is made in the story of the fall. The fall is the awakening of man's self-consciousness. Adam discovers that he is naked. This discovery represents the act of self-separation of man from nature, on the one hand, and from God, on the other. Both are one and the same awakening. Man becomes man by removing himself from nature and from God. By means of this withdrawal he becomes the peculiar being that is subjugated to the sway of nature, yet, nevertheless, can cooperate with God. The Creation of man is not finished until man himself acquires self-consciousness. By behaving as he does in the story man participates in his own spiritual formation. This cooperation with God in His creation, which means at the same time man's revolt against God, is necessary to culminate the Creation of man. The problem of man is thus raised in an imaginative way. And from this problem at once stem all other metaphysical problems.

Religious imagination is not involved in these metaphysical problems. It does not formulate antinomies. Instead, it speaks of conflicts in life. Man suffers as a result of his trespassing. He is driven out of paradise. He has to take over responsibility for himself. He has to work in order to live. Death threatens him. Sorrow accompanies him. His life is no longer peaceful nor protected by God. The mystery is no longer preserved in the form of the undisturbed unity of God and man. It has resolved itself into the mystery of man's self, divided against itself and separated from God. This state has been provoked by man himself and has been brought about by disobedience to his Creator. Philosophic reflection and religious imagination meet at this point. The biblical interpretation of man agrees with man's self-reflection, though their languages are different. While the Bible speaks of the conflict between man and God, self-reflection speaks of the antinomy in man's own consciousness, originating from his duality, which in turn is generated by man's intuition of the universal mystery and the moral duty to respond to the infinite good. The Bible proceeds from the image of the Creator to the disobedience of man; in other words from the mystery of God to the mystery of man, while self-reflection takes the opposite course. The story of the fall translates the antinomy of the human self into the language of imagination so that it comes to the fore as the conflict between man and God.

At first sight, it appears that man alone initiates the break between God and himself; it is not the mystery of God, but that of man, which is expressed by the story. But there are two minor points which indicate that the fall occurs only because a latent tension between God and man becomes overt. The final outbreak of the conflict is anticipated by two forebodings. The first is the warning not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The existence of this tree in the garden of paradise demonstrates that God and man are not fully united, that man is not yet created in the image of God; that, on the contrary, the peculiar feature of man, his participation in the knowledge of God concerning the difference between good and evil, is not yet accomplished. Since God warns man not to attain this knowledge by eating the fruit, an unrevealed mystery remains in the image of the Creator. On the other hand, man seems to long for this knowledge; curiosity seems to be his first sin, although this sin is ambiguous, since curiosity may be interpreted as thirst for knowledge, by no means evil in itself. Perhaps the story suggests that thirst for knowledge can become sinful when it exceeds a certain limit. Thus it has been said that the inquiry into the origin of evil is the original evil itself. In any case the warning adumbrates the future conflict and is the first sign of it on the part of God. God knows that man, though created in His image, is nevertheless not His equal. God alone knows the difference between good and evil without having experienced sin.

The second point concerns man's temptation by the serpent. Again, this occurrence suggests that man alone is not the initiator of his fall. The serpent represents a power not human but inferior to man, nevertheless superior to him in so far as it knows the difference between good and evil and acts upon this knowledge in seducing man. The serpent indicates that paradise conceals a demon. This fact emphasizes the mysterious character of the Creation and the Creator, and it mitigates the guilt of man without diminishing his responsibility. Taken together with the suggested thirst for knowledge it confers a tragic character upon the image of man. The antinomies which bar the way to the knowledge of God as the existent ideal self are—as far as they have an ontological root—to be traced to the cardinal opposition of Being and Not-Being. This Not-Being, which is indispensable even in the theological statement that God has created the world out of nothing, emerges in the demon of the serpent. The ideal self cannot appear in the imaginative form of the Creator without being accompanied by this demon, the origin of which is not disclosed in the story, and has produced all the legendary explanations which culminate in Milton's Paradise Lost. The imaginative solution of the antinomies is not yet complete; it cannot be complete until the demon and the consequences of his deed are defeated and abolished. And this cannot ensue save by the salvation of man. This salvation, therefore, is the necessary completion of the solution of the antinomies accomplished by religious revelation. “Necessity” means, to be sure, not an ontological or a metaphysical consequence, if the logic of imagination and faith concerning the moral fate of man is to be adopted. The transformation of ontological and metaphysical problems into moral conflicts and the moral solution of those conflicts is the peculiar performance of religious imagination. Of course, this transformation is not the intention of the Bible; it is a meaning to be discovered by the thinker in striving to understand the revealed image of man.

The two items mentioned touch other problems connected with the problem of evil; and they show that the spiritual imagination of the Bible “solves” antinomies which encumber the concept of man. The warning deals with the dialectical relation of knowledge and will; the temptation with the dialectical relation between causality and freedom of the will. Both problems must be considered in connection with the respective solutions given in the story; then we are prepared to understand and appreciate rightly the philosophic meaning of this profound doctrine of man. There is a strange tension between knowledge and will in respect to the origin of evil. Both knowledge and will claim primacy over each other. Greek and Thomistic philosophy stressed the primacy of the intellect over the will, whereas the biblical interpretation of man and modern philosophy stress the decision of the will as the primary source of evil. It is obvious that these aspects of the human spirit are connected. The question is, which predominates? Man cannot commit sin without knowing the difference between good and evil. But sin is not the consequence of wrong insight or error, it is not based on a false concept of the good, rather it is the consequence of a wrong will, it is a transgression against a commandment of the good or of God, which is known, and acknowledged as such. Sin is a revolt. Therefore, this knowledge cannot be acquired in a theoretical way only. A will that has never succumbed to any temptation cannot know what moral evil means. This knowledge cannot be acquired except by a bad conscience, or, as Kierkegaard calls it in Existential language, by individual experience. In conscience alone is revealed the knowledge of good and evil, since this knowledge is not a mathematical axiom to be attained by means of theoretical judgment or apprehension but by the straying will alone. Our conscience is, in contrast to science, the source of this knowledge of the will.

To be sure, there is also a warning prior to the action of the will and to the knowledge of evil attained by the reaction of the bad conscience. But one cannot hear this warning voice until one has become acquainted with the judicial power that has condemned some previous act of the will. An angel, who has never yielded to temptation, nay, who has never felt any lure, cannot understand the meaning of the word “sin.” It is, therefore, incomprehensible to us how God understands it; and the Gospel cautions that this understanding transcends all human limits, otherwise Jesus would not have behaved toward sinners as he did. The mystery of God includes the mystery of sin. This mystery shows its power in the antinomies we encounter in trying to think it out. One of these antinomies concerns the relation between knowledge and will in the origin of sin. I must know what is evil before I can trespass against my better judgment. Some evil thing must lure me, although I know it is evil. On the other hand, evil willing must precede this knowledge; only a bad conscience or a punishment felt as punishment can enlighten me about the meaning of evil. How can this meaning appear in the mind? If I do not know anything about good and evil, before I act, I cannot suffer a bad conscience, and I cannot understand the moral meaning of punishment. On the other hand, I cannot learn this meaning without experience. There is no other alternative: evil must be in our breast before we actually commit any specific sin. But this necessity appears to contradict the voice of conscience, since I cannot accuse and condemn myself on account of a moral deficiency that is not generated by my will. The antinomy of knowledge and will expands to the antinomy of responsibility and fate, or of individual, personal freedom in committing sin and a general sinfulness imposed on a man as a specimen of the genus man.

The biblical story answers the first antinomy by introducing the warning before the temptation, the second by executing the temptation through the mouth of the serpent. To be sure, the warning is hardly to be interpreted as a moral prohibition as long as man lacks the knowledge of good and evil (as he does before the fall). But the logic of imagination does not take offense at this difficulty; the story has the function of solving the antinomies by means, not of dialectical distinctions, but, on the contrary, of imaginative suggestions which deny the character of the distinctions. The logic of thought must conclude that there is only the following alternative: either man understands the meaning of the prohibition, in which case he does not attain the knowledge of good and evil by the fall; or he attains this knowledge by the fall, in which case he cannot understand the moral meaning of the warning, and accordingly he does not commit sin at all. But this is not the logic of faith. The story does not veil the mysterious character of the origin of sin; on the contrary, it emphasizes this character. The report of the seven days' work of God has a legendary appearance; the picture of paradise permits no doubt that this marvelous scene images a mystery; and so does the miraculous serpent. But behind those mysterious and legendary features looms a profound truth; our logical separations and definitions break down before the ultimate mystery.

Warning and temptation suggest that despite man's own responsibility in committing the first sin a certain potentiality of sin in man must be admitted; that there is a cosmological or ontological origin of sin in addition to man's own act. Before the actual sin is committed and even before it could be committed logically (i.e., in accordance with the logic of moral experience) sin already had a potential existence exhibited by the existence of the tree and the proclamation of the prohibition, on the one hand, and by the existence of the serpent and its seductive words, on the other hand. Sin originates not from man's rational will, not from man's will alone, but is inherent in the ultimate mystery. The story images this truth, and embodies it in the profoundest manner. No wonder this story has captured the imagination of the European world, and has stimulated innumerable hearts and inspired innumerable works of fine art, and of poetry. Moreover, the revelation of the mystery of sin hints at the possibility of man's salvation by divine action. If there is a potential origin of evil before the actual sin has been committed by man, man is not as devilish as the devil. He does not really will the evil; he succumbs to it. The fall is not only a moral, it is a tragic event. And a tragic event can be expiated. Genesis is the first act of a cosmic drama in which God and man are first estranged and finally reconciled—the death and Resurrection of Christ are the last act in the drama whose first act is Genesis.

The narrative of the temptation by the serpent concerns the antinomy of freedom and fate. The possibility of evil, as the potential ability of the will to do evil is its liability to yield. Vulnerability to temptation is the stimulus to evil action, a stimulus which does not exist outside myself and enter into me from without, but which I myself implant in myself. The metaphysical possibility of evil nevertheless exists, so to speak, outside my will, and it is this possibility which is represented by the voice of the serpent. The temptation, to be sure, becomes a temptation only because I listen to its voice; nevertheless its impact comes from without. The temptations to which I am prone are always concrete situations, and of those situations both the tempting object and my own self are parts. How far the self can resist—that is, how far it can resist being led astray—cannot in general be determined; and so my liability to fall is at all times my fault, even though I think the frontiers of self-control ever so well fortified. But I could not be tempted at all, if I did not previously commit a transgression which taught me what a temptation is or means. I could not sin if I had not already sinned. Sin presupposes sin, as Kierkegaard says, insisting on the dialectical character of sin. My will makes manifest the metaphysical possibility of evil in the capacity to be tempted and in real temptation. I am tempted by my own will in so far as the will departs from the straight path leading to the good. But my will cannot be tempted if it does not know the meaning of temptation; it can be affected by desires or urges, but those motives become temptations only after I have learned what a transgression is, and I cannot learn this until I have experienced it.

Thus the origin of moral evil in the course of time appears inexplicable and self-contradictory. That is the reason why the scriptural narrative introduces the serpent which represents, as it were, the demon of temptation in the breast of man. Because the biblical writer felt the difficulty of any explanation, he rightly had recourse to the imaginative idea of the devil. Of course, this recourse does not offer a metaphysical solution, but it affords a religious solution—the only possible one. The imaginative idea of the devil is the idea of a being that wills evil for evil's sake, which man never does. A being that wills evil need not first be tempted. His will is evil by its nature. He is the very idea of evil incarnate or personified.

Sin presupposes sin. On the other hand, sin is a phenomenon happening in time, and thus it must begin at some time, last for a time, and end in time. If, however, every sin presupposes a priori sin, then this phenomenon is as inexplicable and incomprehensible as time itself or as the beginning of the world in time. Indeed, sin belongs to that realm of things which involve reason in unavoidable antinomies. Evil cannot be derived save from evil itself; therefore Scripture introduces the devil as personified evil. Evil cannot be derived, but it can be traced to an original discord in which all divisions within the human self and the opposition of self and world must originate. Evil springs from the same source from which spring man's selfhood, will, and freedom. There is no possible transition from the beast to man, from nature to self-consciousness, however small we reduce the steps from the one state to the other; there is a sudden leap or break, if we try to describe the original separation as a temporal act (which we are not entitled to do).

Verily we cannot think of our being tempted and our knowing the difference between good and evil as two stages following each other in time. Temptation and knowledge arise together. I can only know good and evil by knowing them in myself; and this knowledge can only come to me through my own good and evil action; therefore evil action and knowledge of my temptability and sinfulness is indispensable for moral consciousness. So, the eating of the fruit is indeed the decisive feature. In committing sin man awakes to selfhood, to manhood, to freedom. He awakes to freedom only by misusing it. In order to know freedom's true and right use the will must disturb the unconscious paradisiacal harmony between nature and man, and between him and God. This disruption is at the same time a particular sin and the birth of all sin. It is the original sin. Not pride and not curiosity, no special vice at all is the source of the first sinful act, but the destruction by man's self-dependent will of the original unity of man, nature, and God as imaged in paradise. In a way one could call this destruction an act of pride on the part of man; but this metaphysical pride is the very precondition of man's moral freedom and autonomy. Original sin and the origin of man's selfhood cannot be separated. This is the mystery of man, and this mystery is revealed through imagination in the narrative of the fall.

The narrative reveals still another mystery that can be formulated in the antinomy of individuality. Man is an individual, not in the same manner as other entities or things are individuals; he is what he ought to be, an infinite potentiality which cannot be conceived of in terms of any genus or species, indeed in any logical terms whatever. Therefore man's moral decisions cannot be anticipated by any theoretical concept of the nature of man. Man has no nature, so to speak, from a metaphysical point of view; he has a nature only from a physical or psychological point of view. His metaphysical aspect is at the same time his moral aspect. Man is free and responsible. He can be free and responsible not as man in general, but only as an individual that acts with the consciousness of freedom and responsibility. Man is not free; individuals may act without any freedom at all. But in this case they act without moral dignity and responsibility. Man may so act. Therefore every single human act decides anew the “nature” of man. Man has to demonstrate by his own decision and action what he is. No law, in the sense of a necessitating power or a determinating general rule, no type or concept can determine what man is; not man in general, but every individual man must answer this question on his own behalf, by his own decision and conduct. Man can, as Pico della Mirandola says, sink to the level of the beasts, and he can rise to the level of the angels and of God. His potentiality is not prescribed by any positive law or rule.

If that be true, then every theory, doctrine, or dogma which asserts man's sinfulness as a general mark of all individuals of the genus “man” must be wrong. The individual, with respect to his moral worth, is the process of his self-actualization; every individual decides, by his own willing and acting, the very issues which the doctrine or the dogma of the human sinfulness pretends to settle by way of a general theory.

But, on the other hand, no one can deny that every man has Adam in him; that no man can go through his life without being tempted and without succumbing; that no man, as long as he is man, can be exempted from the reproach of being frail and prone to yield; that nobody can fulfill the commandment of Jesus: “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect,” throughout his life. This antinomy is akin to that of freedom and fatality, but not identical, since the opposition between the individual and the genus “man” concerns not only the relation of the individual to a necessitating law, but also his relation to his fellow men, to the whole family of men as the race grows and increases from generation to generation. All men are akin to one another, and this kinship means a certain likeness, certain ties and bonds, spun and woven by education, tradition, common inclinations, interests, and so on, in spite of all the differences between individuals, nations, and epochs. A certain solidarity welds all men into one.

This solidarity is stressed in the Genesis story which declares the common descent of all men from one and the same parent. And this common descent, this solidarity and equality of all men, limits the possibilities open to the individual and confines him to the conditions of human existence. Adam is, from this point of view, not an individual but man as such, and his fall entails the tragic guilt of all his descendants, or the guilt which nobody can escape who descends from him. The doctrine of original sin, as Augustine worked it out, shows the antinomies hidden in the relation of the individual to the family of men. The biblical story, however, is no logical doctrine. It is not encumbered by those antinomies because it manifests the mystical character of man. Man is a being replete with contradiction; but this is not amazing since reality, as such, is full of contradiction. Revelation does not conceal this fact, nor does it develop it in logical fashion. Instead the Bible achieves its grandeur, its beauty and truth by depicting images which contain the mystery in the entire scope of its profundity.

Individual guilt is imaged in the fall of Adam; the solidarity of all his descendants in the curse which has befallen the whole genus. No individual dwells in the paradise after the expulsion of Adam. Although Adam alone has committed the sin, all are guilty with him, for everyone commits the same sin on his own account and in his peculiar manner. Thought separates individuality and generality or universality, but the immediacy of life contains both elements in an undivided original unity. To be sure, in life, too, conflicts arise out of hidden oppositions, and these conflicts urge the thinking mind to philosophize. But even the most advanced speculation cannot solve the antinomies formulated by rational thought; on the contrary, the more advanced, the more acute and refined the speculation, the more obvious and pressing appear the contradictions. Reason ultimately must resign; but this does not mean an “agnosticism” as the standpoint of Kant has often been understood to imply. It does not mean that our philosophy ends in scepticism. On the contrary, it ends in faith. And just because it ends in faith, reason must resign and must yield to imagination. Man is advised by reason to return to the paradise of spirit. We must “become as little children.” Only by advancing toward the childhood of spirit can we find the solution of ultimate problems.

Revelation shows that the severest conflict in life is caused by sin, and that sin is, though the best-known fact in life, nevertheless the most problematic. Revelation envisages this mystical character of sin as a conflict between man and God, the Creator. If sin had not this mystical character, no salvation or redemption would have been possible. If man transgressed without any warning from God and without any temptation from the devil, his guilt could not be forgiven; there would be no way back to the original unity of God, world, and man. Man would be completely isolated; even the community between him and his fellow-men could not soften his conscience and mitigate his guilt. Man, detached from the consciousness of the universal mystery and delivered up to the tribunal of moral judgment without an advocate, is obliged to despair, provided he does not deceive himself by evading the judge within, not solving the conflict thereby but rending himself all the more. The bare consciousness of the ultimate mystery cannot acquit him, for it is silent as long as it remains an intuition without spiritual interpretation. Mystical intuition alone cannot reconcile man with his own conscience nor with the reality and life that enmeshes him. Revelation must intervene. It cannot restore the original unity destroyed by sin. The Christian religion has stressed this truth in deepening man's conscience and sense of sin. Christianity is a moral religion; the Creator is a moral God. Not man's happiness is the purpose of God's creation, but man's reconciliation with God. And this reconciliation is not brought about through a theodicy, since God cannot be accused, but in the form of an anthropodicy, for man needs be accused. The final act of the tragic drama of man, therefore, is the crucifixion of Him who had come among men to acquit man.

  • 1.

    The problem of the historical origin and of the original meaning of the story cannot of course be discussed here. The ethical meaning was probably not implied in it from the outset, but was developed in ancient times. Comp. F. R. Tennant, The Fall Story. 1905: “In its theological and ethical implications, which constitute the real worth of the narrative, the Fall-story has liberated itself from the qualities of primitive mythological speculation, and has transcended them. It therefore deserves to be ranked among the early attempts at theological philosophy” (p. 29).

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