The relation between faith and knowledge changed when the Christian religion began its conquest of the souls of men. Whereas the pagan creeds were based on a type of religious imagination inferior to the philosophic thought of the time, represented by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the Christian creed, on the contrary, was rooted in an imagination superior to all speculation. We can express this difference by stressing that pagan religions were products of imagination alone, while the Christian religion embodies truth revealed by God Himself. But when we accept this distinction, it must not be forgotten that the Christian religion also is imaginative, just because it is a religion and not a metaphysical system.
The striking fact is that truth, as revealed by the Christian religion, cannot be ascertained by means of rational thought nor expressed in a speculative form; it transcends the sphere of thought and speculation in two directions. First, it overcomes the antinomies which bar the approach to ultimate truth; and, secondly, it seals the cleft between thought and life, between the mediated sphere of concepts and the immediacy of experience, between essence and existence. Faith is “Existential” as knowledge never can be without denying its own nature and intention. To be sure, this quality is not exclusive to the Christian religion; it characterizes all religions. But the particular excellence of the Christian religion derives from the content of its images, or, in other words, from the truth of its images. But have images any truth at all? And if they have truth, how can we know that they have? And what is the meaning of the word “truth” when applied to the products of imagination? What is the meaning of “truth” when applied to faith, supposing that faith cannot be transformed into knowledge? Is it permissible to speak of such a truth, if there is no criterion of it save personal reports which may easily be explained as inventions or dismissed as hallucinations and illusion?
To raise the question of the truth of faith opens a large field of problems, and we cannot deal with all of these in this final lecture. I must confine myself to such considerations concerning the relation of faith and knowledge as issue from the former lectures. At the outset it must be remembered that the truth of faith, if any there be, cannot be the truth of objective knowledge, not even of such objective knowledge as may transcend the possibilities of our attaining it. God does not belong to the objective world or to any world which can be made the object of objective knowledge. Therefore the substance of faith must be excluded from the realm of objective knowledge, being related to God.
God cannot be an object; the human self docs not belong to the world of objects, in so far as it is a self. Thus it follows that, if there be any truth in faith, reports and facts which belong only to this world could not possibly be taken as a criterion of it. The truth about such facts is nowise relevant to faith. All religious knowledge is of the same kind as the knowledge of God as Creator. The very suggestion that the truth of this knowledge could be tested by objective methods is absurd on its face, and no refutation is needed.
We have further seen that not only is objective knowledge helpless and powerless when confronted with the “object” of religious knowledge, but that even philosophic speculation cannot extend to the sphere of religion. Natural theology, indeed, can and must show that the problem of Being and all ontological problems lead to a conceptual idea corresponding to that of God; and especially that the concept of the ideal self is the necessary condition of all knowledge and the necessary goal of all human striving. But, on the other hand, we are obliged to acknowledge too that this concept is encumbered with inescapable and insoluble antinomies, and, moreover, that this concept is by no means identical with the image of the living God. It remains a concept whereas God, though conceived by revealing imagination and not otherwise conceivable, is an existing being, addressing man, and involved in the actuality of man's life in a definite way. To be sure, we have been able to recognize that spiritual imagination corresponds to certain speculative problems and moral experiences. But can we conclude from this that the revealed God is the only true God, that the Christian imagination alone is the source of truth?
There is one objection, raised over and over again, even in the Bible itself, namely the objection lodged in the existence of evil, especially moral evil, in the world created by God despite His alleged goodness, omnipotence and omniscience. Indeed, one need not be endowed with unusual sagacity to raise this objection. Every hour of life cries out the same protest. The assurance of the Bible seems foolish or fantastic at these moments. How can we maintain belief in the perfect goodness of almighty God and be sincere about it? We may grant that belief, in the sense of an irrational or even anti-rational credulity influenced by the wishes of the human heart, may be generated by the story of the Creation. But a mature and critical intellect could scarcely cling to it. Strange that in spite of the obviousness of this statement, so many thinking and even learned people have maintained this belief through many centuries, and that even in this sceptical age the belief has not become completely extinct. Still these considerations are superficial and do not reach the heart of the question which is the heart of life. The Bible makes no effort to conceal the mysterious character of God and His world; on the contrary it stresses this character at every turn. Were truth revealed by God not mysterious, the Bible would hardly insist on the contrast of divine revelation and human wisdom.
The world, as the Creation of God, is a mysterious world, indeed it is the familiar world looked at with the eyes of mystical intuition. The Bible emphasizes the mysterious character of Creation by depicting the first state of the world as a paradise, and averring that all evils emerged with the fall of man. Indeed, the awakening of man's self-consciousness is the origin, not only of his knowledge of good and evil, but also of all evils, for the very meaning of evil presupposes the standard of the moral values. The brute animals surely suffer as much as man; although their sufferings are only bodily, still they must be called evils. But the brute does not know the concept of evil, not possessing a moral consciousness and self-consciousness. Man in paradise was “beyond good and evil” in every respect. The fall gave rise to evil, not only in the specific sense of moral frailty and wickedness, but in the general sense too. Original sin, from which springs the origin of the human self, and the separation of God, world and man, recasts the whole creation, transforming it into that world wherein we now live.
Not God alone, but also man, has thus a part in the Creation. The mystery of God and the mystery of man cannot be separated if our belief in God is a belief in the God of revelation. It is clear that an omnipotent, omniscient, and holy Supreme Being who is not mysterious (like the God of the deists) is incompatible with the tragic fate of man and with the gloomy panorama of human history. The age of the Enlightenment, therefore, was forced to sustain an optimistic view of human existence, and the deistic creed broke down when this optimism was disappointed. The Christian creed is not optimistic at all, in spite of its affirmation that God created the world. And it is also clear that no ontological, cosmological, or other rational proof of the existence of such a mysterious God can ever be perfected.
On the other hand, we cannot believe in the Creator and in all His deeds and words on the sole ground that God has revealed Himself in Scripture, as the Barthians demand, for how can we know that God has really revealed Himself in Scripture before we believe in Him? The Catholics can base this belief on the existence of the church; they are obliged to accept first the holiness of the church they believe in as the truth of revelation. The belief in the holiness of the Catholic church, however, can be based on no authority save itself; it is the unconditional precondition of the whole Catholic faith. The Protestant cannot deduce his faith from an equally neat premise. He must trust his own judgment to a great extent. To be sure, he believes that his own judgment regarding the truth of revelation is not only his own; he believes that his faith itself originates with God. But in order to believe in the divine origin of his faith he must first believe in God, and this belief cannot be assured through any prior belief.
This is a necessary antinomy which illuminates the paradox of revelation as the word of God, written by man and handed down by the inspired authors to posterity. This paradox is linked with the mystery that veils the relation between God and man—the central mystery of the whole Christian religion. Belief in the living God is not entirely to be detached from man's own experience and judgment. Otherwise God could be an omnipotent and omniscient demon or tyrant instead of being perfectly good and holy. We believe in the holy God because we are moral beings who believe in moral goodness and in the goal of perfection. This belief is not based on biblical revelation, rather our belief in biblical revelation is based on the presumption that God who reveals Himself corresponds with the idea of perfect goodness. This idea is not revealed, it is an idea of moral reason. The Bible itself teaches that man knows good and evil after the fall, and that man is akin to God in this respect. As Protestants we believe in the Creator because He has revealed Himself in the biblical story of His creation; but we could not believe in Him if we did not believe that He who has revealed Himself is infinitely good and, therefore, the true God. Thus a link is found between natural theology and revealed theology, mediated by faith. In other words: the Bible is the Bible not because the church or any other authority decrees that it is a holy book and to be revered, but because we, as moral beings, are convinced that the spirit which reveals itself in this book is really holy and divine. The biblical God answers our moral ideas, otherwise we would be compelled to abandon our faith.
We are not mere containers, into which the oil of faith has been poured to the end that belief in the content of that faith may be kindled from without, as some theologians have taught. We are thinking and willing and feeling beings who possess a mystical intuition, and as such beings we believe in God. The fall of man, the ensuing loss of paradise, and the condition of our life on earth are instances which might cause us to succumb to doubts about the existence of the Creator (as they really do over and over again), if a way were not opened, leading back to paradise or to the original unity of God and man. The cardinal content of revelation concerns this way. It is a long journey, leading through many stages in the development of revelation and of the relation between God and man, until at last Jesus appears and announces that the final stage is at hand, and that God intends bringing about a complete reconciliation between Himself and man through the mediation of His son.
During the development of revelation, an important change occurs in the image of God. God, the Creator, becomes God, the Redeemer. The idea of redemption or salvation also alters the character of faith itself. Faith in God, the Creator, concerns the world and man in the world; faith in God the Redeemer deals with man alone. The Creator is a being beyond the world and, therefore, beyond man; the Redeemer is no longer a purely transcendent being, He has His existence nowhere but in the soul of man; He is the inward God. All the words of Jesus point to this change. The mystery He reveals is the unity of God and man! This unity was destroyed by the fall; it is repeatedly destroyed through sin. Sin is the barrier between God and man. If sin can be removed and annihilated then the barrier must vanish and the original unity must be restored. The Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the restoration of that unity by means of remission of sin. Jesus fulfills the law because through him the transcendent God who has expelled man from paradise and has sent him into the exile of this tragic life on earth, descends from His throne and enters the soul of man.
This is the greatest of all miracles and all lesser miracles are but symbols of this mystic deed. It is mystical not because it violates the laws of nature, but because it interprets the mystical intuition of man, as, in fact, does the whole of revelation. It is a miracle, not because God is a magician or exerts some witchery, but because His act transforms the innermost substance of man, his very self. Whereas this self is a self only because it strives after the infinite good without being able to reach it, now this infinite good itself appears in the selfhood of Jesus and proclaims that faith can accomplish what man of his own will never can.
Although this new turn is brought about by the man Jesus, nevertheless it is the logical consequence of the revelatory development, conceding that there is a kind of logic in religious imagination. If it be true that God, the infinite Good, imaged as a personal being, has created the world and man, and if it be true that man is man in the sense of a responsible and self-dependent self through his own guilt, but not without a mysterious fate that is not the work of his will and, therefore, not his own fault, then it is logical that God has the power to receive again and restore man, if he repents of his sin, and that God in this way re-establishes the original peace in him, the “peace of God.” The meaning of moral evil, inherent in the story of the fall, prepares the mind for this final revelation, and the work of salvation simply draws the condusion implicit in that story from the start.
Sin is not only guilt, it is fate also and, therefore tragic. Man expiates the guilt by sorrow, pain, and conflict with his fellows, all descendants of Adam. But since sin is not only a moral phenomenon, a self-negation of man's own self and thus a self-contradiction, but at the same time a metaphysical phenomenon and, as such, interpreted by spiritual imagination as man's disobedience to God after the serpent has tempted him, salvation issues as its logical conclusion. Of course, we are in the sphere of mystery and of revealing imagination and we are therefore, constrained not to speak of logical consequences as if pretending to demonstrate by means of speculation what faith alone can make clear. But faith has its own logic, the logic of heart as Pascal has called it. This logic begins where speculation ends; it perfects speculation in the direction postulated by moral reason and reflection. This is the peculiar and unique excellence of the Christian faith.
The fall of man is a tragic guilt, that is, a guilt which not only has moral motives but is rooted in the mystery of man. The antinomies concerning sin originate in this mystical root. The Gospel of man's salvation, therefore, is the final solution of those antinomies. If there were not a logical necessity in the work of salvation, men could never have understood it and believed in it. This understanding was made possible by the imaginative interpretation of God and sin as transmitted in a living faith through the whole development of religious experience down to Jesus. Jesus could not have come before this stage of the development was reached; and he could not have preached his Gospel if the whole development had not prepared the way for this final solution.
But despite this inner logic of development and its climax, no logical method, no speculative argument or proof could have achieved the same result. The real, that is, the living, performance of all deeds and words, of the sufferings and the tragic end of Jesus were necessary to bring about the religious “knowledge” of salvation. This knowledge is, therefore, not comparable to knowledge which can be found and taught by the intellect alone. It is rather comparable to that kind of knowledge which man learns by his own experience, and which equips him with personal skill and wisdom in dealing with the problems and difficulties of his career. Religious knowledge is such wisdom; it is not to be acquired by one's isolated experience as an individual but, in addition, must be amplified by prophets and expanded by social intercourse. Knowledge of this kind requires a continuous tradition and must undergo inner growth, such as took place in the history of the chosen people from the oldest times to Jesus.
Jesus revealed the inward God, but at the same time he did not break the line of tradition; he did not abolish belief in the Creator God. On the contrary, his mission had an inner consistency exactly because he kept this belief and revealed that the Creator God Himself dwells inwardly in man. Jesus transferred the religious center of gravity from the cosmological to the self-reflective sphere—a revolution which has an analogy in the philosophic turn brought about by Kant's transcendental subjectivism. Indeed, these revolutions are not only akin to each other, but it is fair to maintain that Kant was the first thinker to draw from the Christian faith its ultimate conclusions in the ontological and epistemological realm. Whereas all philosophy before Kant retained the Greek conception of the primacy of the cosmological standpoint even in the field of theological speculation, Kant rejected this view. His doctrine of the transcendental self as the highest condition of the objective world is a late philosophic effect of the religious revolution brought about by the spiritual imagination of Jesus and Paul.
Although Athanasius had previously stressed the soteriological significance of Christ over against the Greek doctrine of the Logos,1 the authority of Augustine was too strong to permit medieval scholasticism to abandon its Platonic and later its Aristotelian inheritance. Even in Kant himself the full significance of the inward direction of the Christian faith did not find complete acknowledgment and harmonious philosophic adjustment. To be sure, no philosophic conception can adapt itself to the truth revealed by the Gospel except by reflection on the boundary line between philosophy and religion, and the frank admission of the unique and primary role of faith based upon a holy imagination. Failure to recognize this occasioned Kant's doctrine of rational faith and Hegel's attempt to renew the doctrine of the Logos from the transcendental standpoint.
The reconciliation of God and man integrates the Creation, because it reconstrues the divinity of the work of God. Man disturbs and destroys this divinity by his sin, and he cannot restore the original harmony and moral purity by his own will and resources. Not the self of man, but the self of God alone, has the power of remission and of salvation. Thus, not the Creator, but the Redeemer, reveals the innermost substance of God. Not until the redemption is the image of God adequate to the concept of the ideal self disengaged from the antinomies; therefore not until the redemption is the mystery of God fully revealed. The ontological and cosmological antinomies, to be sure, are already overcome in the image of the Creator; otherwise this image could not represent God as an existing and acting being. But the ethical and anthropological antinomies make their appearance with the fall of man. And these antinomies repeat the ontological and cosmological ones since they concern God as well as man, dealing with the discord between them. Those antin-omies, seemingly solved in the image of the Creator, burst out again on the level of the conflict between God and man. It is not only the mystery of man, it is the mystery of God at the same time which manifests itself in this discord. It is (translated into the language of speculation) the ontological antinomy between being and not-being, unity and disunity which re-appears in the story of the fall. It appears, not in the form of the ontological, but in that of a moral antinomy, of a contradiction in man's own heart and conscience, as an “Existential” conflict.
The solution of this conflict in the redemption of man brings about the final victory of good over evil, and consequently of being over not-being, of unity over disunity. In the image of the divine love, as paternally forgiving, boundless, and pouring out grace upon the sinner, is the highest stage of God's self-revelation attained. Only herein does Being win full supremacy over everything negative; the image of the divine omnipotence reaches its summit. Redemption is the only possible form of a “theodicy.” It is not God who stands in need of justification, it is man. On the other hand, if man can be justified by the power of the divine love, the antinomy between a divine Creation and a wicked world is solved. This solution is no explanation. The mystery of God cannot be explained, it can explain nothing. Otherwise it would cease to be a mystery and become the content of an idea. God would cease to be God. The solution offered by the Gospel performs more than any rational system could possibly perform. It transforms the soul of man. It is a power in the immediacy of life. No knowledge whatsoever, but faith alone, can bring about such a living solution of the metaphysical problems; and in turn only such a solution is adapted to those problems, because they concern the reality of life, and not a theoretical interest isolated from the actuality of our consciousness and our conscience.
Kant was on the right scent when he proclaimed the primacy of the practical over the theoretical reason. But he did not follow the trail to the end; he did not proclaim the primacy of revealing imagination and of faith based on this imagination. He did not see that the only standpoint from which we can believe in God is the standpoint of the living faith which cannot be postulated by reason, reasonable though it be. Faith cannot be regarded as a poor substitute for the inaccessible knowledge of God; it is the only legitimate approach to the living God for He is an object of knowledge only in so far as He is an object of devotion at the same time.
There is a speculative temptation to conclude that God, by redeeming sinful man, actually redeems Himself, since it is pure Being that frees itself from its own inherent contradiction (to be restricted, that is, partially not to be) in the act of redemption, thereby overcoming within itself the evil that is born in it, and so reconciling itself with and in itself. This, in fact, is the by-path Hegel would lure us into; but this temptation must be resisted. It is meaningless to say of being that it redeems itself, since being is neither in need of, nor capable of, redemption until it has become conscious of itself; in other words, until it has become self-conscious man, with a morally striving but at the same time a stumbling will. Being can be redeemed only in the form of finite and sinful man, and in this form only through divine love descending to man.
We must be vigilantly opposed to all theosophical and gnostic theories of an instability and duality in the God-head, or of events related to a development of God to be constructed only by speculative effort. Under the guise conceptual ideas these schemes introduce into thought imaginative elements which seemingly explain difficulties of thought but which are neither really demonstrative in a logical sense nor correspond to the logic of heart and Religion. God does not redeem Himself, since He does not sin; He redeems man. No speculation, no self-styled pro-fundity can go deeper.2 On the contrary, every attempt along these lines falsifies the truth of moral experience by injecting, in its place, unexperienceable and factitious processes into the Being of God which contribute in nowise to rendering conceivable that redemption by divine love announced by Jesus. Thought cannot surpass the message of revelation nor substitute conceptual ideas for its mystical images. God, the living God, is not a logical idea nor can he be grasped thereby. Precisely because He is not such an idea can He appear in the human heart, and can this heart cleave to Him.
The language of imagination is originally the language of the human heart. God, therefore, as the object of imagination is the God of the heart; He is not a principle that explains the phenomena of the world but the living God who speaks to the soul. Not as Creator, but as Redeemer, He reveals the inward soul of Himself. He is, as the Gospel of St. John says, love. He is not that thinking spirit outside the world and outside the human heart which Aristotle called god. He is not the first mover of the physical phenomena, but the mover of the soul. He is to be found in the depth of the self; and if speculation is challenged to conceive of Him, then He must be grasped as the ideal self.
There are two ways of experiencing this self: the human way of striving after the ideal, and the divine way of appearing in human imagination as a reality. Revealing imagination proceeds from the Creator outside the world through the fall of man to the Redeemer within the human self. To be sure, this phrase “within” must be qualified. It means that the human soul must turn inwards to meet Him, and not that it possesses Him as a possibility of its own existence in its own essence or nature. God, as the Redeemer, is not merely an indwelling God. He transcends the limits of man; not as the image of the Creator transcends the outer world, but He transcends the inner center of man, where conscience abides and his love of God and longing for God. In this sense God is spirit, as St. John says. Man cannot reach his own center, because he, as self, is never at the end of his task of realizing himself. He is always in the making. But God is his end; reaching Him he reaches beyond his own limits but, at the same time, he finds his own center: the self of his self, the soul of his soul. And this inward God is the center of the world also, the Creator and the Lawgiver and the Ruler of nature and of man.
God does not directly govern history, for history originates from the activity of man's freedom. In the historic world the conflict between God and man is not yet settled, and can never be settled, because the very concept of history presupposes the loss of paradise as the state of man. Living in this world man cannot live in peaceful unity with nature, God, and his fellow-men; never perfect, he is doomed to strive for perfection and to fail in this endeavor over and over again. History is the narrative of the actions and the destiny of sinful man. Therefore, many antinomies lurk within the concept of history, one of them opposing God's providence and man's freedom, another God's omnipotence and man's sin. These antinomies cannot resolved by or within history, for they constitute the preconditions of the historical life. Consequently no historical knowledge whatsoever can produce or refute faith, on the contrary, faith necessarily holds primacy over all historical knowledge. No historical realism can be or become a religious realism. Religion transcends the historical compass and historical knowledge. There is a realm beyond history; the devout man participates in this realm in so far as he participates in the revelation of God.
But is not Jesus a historical personality? Did not his life and death take place under historical circumstances within a historical environment? Is not the Christian religion (in contrast to mythological cults) a historical religion, and consequently the Christian faith a faith based on historical antecedents? Although the first questions have to be answered in the affirmative, the last question nevertheless must be denied. If history is the record of pan's actions and destiny, if history is the realm in which sinful man strives and only partially accomplishes his mission, then God cannot enter the scene as a historical person. In so far as He enters history, He appears, not in the guise of a historical figure, but in the fashion of a miraculous event, like the appearance in the burning bush or on Mount Sinai. Religious faith accordingly cannot be founded upon historical facts and historical knowledge, nor can the truth of faith be the truth about historical incidents.
From the historical point of view a reconciliation between God and man is impossible, the resurrection of Christ is a myth like other myths, and the remission of sin is an article of a creed. The historian, as such, cannot decide on the truth of such imaginative contents of faith; his faith may be implicated when he reports the historical fact that men at certain times have accepted these events as true. But the historical fact is not the kind of fact which he believes. It may be freely admitted that a historian who shares the belief he records is more likely to ascertain the historical truth than an unbeliever. Is a historian of art who does not appreciate art competent to estimate the value of works of art? But this does not demonstrate that religious faith is a faith in historical facts. On the contrary, it demonstrates that faith rules supreme over historical facts and historical knowledge.
One must have faith to discern the meaning of historical facts. This meaning is not a historical meaning but a meaning open to faith alone. On the other hand, the connection between faith and historical knowledge must not be overemphasized. We can investigate the historical development of religions and creeds which are foreign to us and which we reject. Our own faith similarly may be a disturbing factor in investigating historical matters, because the affections of the heart may blind the eyes and render them faulty organs. These reflections serve again to confirm the disparity between historical knowledge and religious faith.
This faith is engrossed in the inner truth of images which interpret the divine mystery and the mystery of man. It is engaged in the meaning of those images, not in the actuality of historic occurrences. There is an analogy between the standpoint of the pious servant who longs to possess God and the standpoint of the thinker who quests after the truth. Neither are immediately interested in the past in so far as it is the past, while the interest of the historian concerns strictly the question of what has happened in the past. As the thinker turns to the schools of former generations, not to search out what was then taught but to glean what is true from Plato or Aristotle, what he can avail himself of and use to build a new system according to his own judgment and insight; so the man of faith betakes himself to the words and deeds reported in Scripture to learn not what happened in a part of Asia some two thousand years ago, but how to possess God and to overcome the contradictions of life and to gain peace for his soul. There is, further, a characteristic difference between the thinker and the religious man, resting on the difference between philosophy and religion. Thought seeks a truth that is impersonal and expressed by means of universal concepts, a truth similar in this respect to that sought by the mathematician and physicist, even though the problems involved pertain to the religious sphere, while religion seeks and attains a truth which affects the seeker personally. The words and deeds of the past have, therefore, still less an exclusively historical meaning to him than have the philosophies of the past to the thinker.
The content of faith has a power over heart and life, over the most inward province of the self where its mystery is intuited. As the self is primary in any historical knowledge (for no knowledge is possible without a knowing self), so life and faith are equally primary. History surveys life in an objective and contemplative manner, thus denaturalizing it, for the very core of life is personal activity. The historical world appears in the light of the historian as an objective world, like nature under the analysis of the physical sciences. History deals with circumstances, persons, facts, and deeds belonging to the past and to the past only. Faith, on the contrary, takes the events and deeds of the past as if they belonged to the present, because the meaning of them is as immediately important today as it was then. This meaning is not the property of the past at all, although the imaginative form in which it appears has or may have an historical aspect. He who mistakes the truth seized by faith for the truth set forth by historical investigation has never experienced the real meaning of faith. The meaning of the facts a believer accepts impinges upon him as words personally uttered by his father, mother, or his friend, and as paramount in his personal life.
The truth of faith does not answer the question whether those events have happened in an objective sense; but the question alone what meaning they have and what influence they exercise over personal life. It is impossible indeed to separate the occurrences and their meaning: it is their meaning that occurs. A religious occurrence is an interior one, one taking place first in the heart, in its innermost citadel where the mystery of God reveals itself.
This truth, though clothed in a historical garment and appearing at a historical moment in time, nevertheless is an eternal truth independent of time and historical surroundings. On the other hand, it is not timeless like the truth of mathematical propositions and physical equations, for it is a truth which engages the personal self. It is the truth which overcomes all separations between an object that is known and a subject that knows, between the self and the world, between essence and existence, between the universal and the individual: such is the truth of faith as opposed to the truth of knowledge. The truth of faith is much more certain than any truth found by historians and concerning the facts that happened in the past could possibly be. The faithful person is involved in this truth, and is a collaborator in the occurrence.
The story of the fall does not mean that at a certain historical or prehistorical moment this Eve plucked the fruit and this Adam consumed it, but rather that this taking and eating eternally happen—not in a timeless time, but at all times so long as men endure. All religious legends and episodes have this same meaning. They represent images which focus the light of ultimate truth. Since it is ultimate truth which is interpreted, you and I are at stake as we read them; our life and destiny, our relation to the universal mystery are summoned for interpretation. De te fabula narratur. That does not imply that Jesus did not really live, that he did not really suffer and die. But it does follow that the eating of the fruit of the tree in Eden is as relevant to us as the sufferings, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. Not the historical fact of his life, but the mystical meaning of it is important to the devout. His resurrection, by every estimate, is the central image of the Christian faith.
A historical truth bears no relation to personal guilt and destiny, to moral worth and inner peace in the sense of the truth of faith. One binds oneself by faith, but one can remain neutral and indifferent in historical affairs. Faith and salvation, therefore, cannot be founded on historical facts.3 Instead history requires illumination by the torch of faith, if it is to be envisaged as the realm wherein sinful man strives and suffers and acts. Faith has utter primacy over historical knowledge. Faith interprets the historical world as it interprets the mystery of man and of God. That is the reason man has established the chronology of the Christian era on the basis of the birth date of Jesus, instead of fitting this date in a previously ordered chronology. Jesus was not born within an historical era; instead historical time has been generated by his advent. Revolutions which have propagated new forms of faith, like the French Revolution or contemporary Fascism, have aimed to introduce new chronologies; the Jews have retained their own system, a scheme consistent with their faith. Faith does not depend on history; rather history is determined by faith. Faith is the core and the basis of man's consciousness, therefore, it must needs predominate in all matters pertaining thereto.
There is a kind of religious historical knowledge, if we so describe immersion in those stories and images which form the content of the living faith. But faith itself is no historical knowledge, although it is accompanied by such a process. Faith is life, its burning, vital center. If faith ceases to be life, then it fades and cools into mere historical knowledge. But are the religious stories not at least partly historical, you may ask? Is not a historical element embedded in religious faith? Is not the Bible partly biblical history which traces the historical development of the Israelites? That cannot be denied. But what makes this history biblical and an integral part of faith is not its historical element, but precisely its superhistorical significance. It is true that it is the peculiar nature of biblical faith to be closely connected with history, and that the biblical God is not, like the gods of the pagan mythology, a product of poetical imagination. He is instead a God of history, a God who enters the real world wherein we live, whose actions are inseparably connected with the historical fate of the chosen people. But this is correct only in so far as the concept of history is no longer taken in the exclusive sense of an objective record of past human life.
It cannot be maintained that the deeds and words of God, as recounted in the Bible, are historical in this scientific sense; they are as little historical as the account of Creation or the fall of man. If we take biblical history as history in the literal (secular) sense, then the part God plays loses its biblical affiliations entirely and can no longer impress our mystical intuition and our religions faith. His role ceases to be the action of God; instead it is degraded into the record of the beliefs which a certain historical people had concerning God, and his relation to their experiences. This people ceases to be the chosen people, instead it becomes the people that believed themselves to be the chosen people. The Bible degenerates into a historical document detailing the manner in which the Israelites experienced their fortunes, believing them given by their God, and in which they carried out or neglected to carry out, the commandments of this God. In other words, our interest in the Bible becomes historical, precisely when we no longer retain our faith. The God who reveals Himself in the Bible becomes a god among other gods, and the Christian religion becomes one religion among many.
The descent of God upon the stage of history is no historical occurrence. Instead, history ceases thereupon to be history in the proper (secular) sense of the word. It becomes sacred and holy, that is “biblical history,” as soon as God takes a hand in it. If we read biblical history with the eyes of faith we do not look upon it with the eyes of an historian or with his interest. The Bible does not teach history, it teaches revelation of God in an inner development associated with the development of a people that appears as elect in the light of that revelation.
This is even more obvious in the coming of Jesus Christ, whose personal life has not been treated by any historian as purely a historical event. (Those who essayed to treat it in this fashion falsified it and destroyed the superhistorical meaning it has in the coherent scheme of revelation.) There are no genuine historical testimonies for his life and death, because the whole sphere in which he acted and suffered was not the historical sphere but that of immediate life. To be sure, the historical time in which he lived and preached could not have been any other time; but the religious truth revealed by him does not depend on the historical view in any way. Those circumstances—the political and social background of Palestine—are a relatively unimportant setting for his divine message and mystical sacrifice. Of course, the fact that he lived and preached just at this moment of European history is in itself of the greatest historical moment, but the historical occasion contributes not a mite to the religious importance of his person and career.
History is wrought by the appearance of Jesus. No greater historical revolution has ever occurred, but his historical effect is not the religious significance of his advent. Even the skeptical or irreligious observer of European history must admit the historical weight of Jesus Christ although he will deny the religious meaning of his revelation. Faith is not historical knowledge; faith does not reside in the reality of such events or deeds as could possibly become the object of historical research.
Faith is life and concerns the substance and the truth of life. Life is not history although history deals with a certain sector of life from a restricted point of view. Faith is the innermost essence of life, for man is man because he touches the universal divine mystery. Faith is devotion to this mystery as conveyed by divine imagination in accordance with our moral experience and with our ontological, epistemological, and ethical self-reflection. But, though consistent with it, faith overleaps the boundary line of philosophic thought; therefore, its truth transcends, and cannot be proved by, any rational means. All controversies as to whether we are entitled or even obliged to obey the commandments of the biblical God, whether or not we are justified in believing that He is the true and only God and that the imagination which reveals His word and will is the language of His own revelation cannot be arbitrated by reason, cannot be compounded by historical or by any other arguments. The majesty of God neither requires nor permits logical pressure to convince the human heart. God enters the heart whenever it pleases Him to do so. But, though no human intellect will ever suffice to prove the existence of God and to substitute knowledge for faith, so no human mind will ever avail to refute His existence or to fabricate a religion out of the materials of philosophic reflections. Faith holds final sway in the kingdom of the spirit.
This primacy is a consequence of the primacy of God over man. Expressed in ontological terms this primacy means the superiority and the victory of being over not-being, or of infinity over finitude. This victory, though postulated by the ontological precedence of being and infinity, can nevertheless not be won by means of ontological thought, as Hegel erroneously believed. The antinomy between being and not-being, the infinite and the finite, cannot be solved through dialectical artifice. Even in the system of Hegel the solution is not conclusive since the transition from logic to the philosophy of nature proves that the logic is not self-sufficient. It follows that a logical solution of the antinomies is impossible. These antinomies cannot be eliminated in any philosophic system whatsoever, and neither theoretical (speculative) nor practical (moral) reason can achieve this culmination. Both types of reason are based upon the opposition between the given and the goal, between the real and the ideal, and need this opposition in order to proceed. Both are, therefore, faculties of finite man. Not-being in the field of theoretical reason erupts as error, in the field of moral reason as moral evil. Human understanding and thought can never rid itself completely of error. Human will can never completely overcome evil.
The victory of being over not-being, which is at the same time the victory of truth over error and of good over evil, cannot be brought about by human reason and activity. But it is accomplished by the grace of God. This triumph is the only one which is in accordance with the demands of reason, though reason cannot attain it. The “logic of the heart” discloses that the victory of truth and good can nowise be won but by faith. Faith claims primacy therefore in the ontological as well as in the moral field. God alone is pure being, man is a mixture of being and not-being, of truth and error, of good and evil. God alone can assist man to attain pure being, but not by means of man's understanding or will. They are but human, salvation is the reward of faith. The heart can devote itself to God and God shall dwell therein, and make His abiding place where faith abides.
Comp. v. Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, § 36.
The deliberate attempt to go deeper can be found in both old and new gnostic systems, e.g., in those of Schelling and Hegel.
Fichte says the historical does not bring salvation; this is true, but it must be added: The metaphysical also does not bring salvation. What brings salvation is rather the original, undivided unity of the historical and the metaphysical: the content of a living faith.