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Part 2: The Spiritualistic Tendency

Chapter 1: Ritschl and Radical Dualism

RECOGNITION of the fact that religion must come to terms with science.

I. RITSOHLIANISM — Ritschl: religious feeling and religious history — Wilhelm Herrmann: distinction between the groundwork and the content of faith — Auguste Sabatier: distinction between faith and belief.

II. THE VALUE OF RITSOHLUNISM — The development of the specifically religious element — The danger of anti-intellectualism: a subjectivity without content — Chimerical pursuit of an internal world unrelated to the external world.

Besides the systems in which the idea of science predominates, and in which religion is only admitted to the extent and in the sense of being capable of union with science, the philosophical history of our time sets before us other systems in which, on the contrary, the idea of religion prevails, and for which the problem consists in maintaining, to the utmost, religion in her integrity, notwithstanding that the development of science cannot henceforth be ignored. According to these systems, religion is placed by herself, and based on principles which are peculiar to her. Now, recognising the claim of modern science to rule, not only things, but minds and souls, religion can no longer be satisfied with raising, between herself and her rival, an insurmountable barrier. The age in which we live is one of general investigation and comparison. It is, therefore, in seeking to reconcile her claims with those of science which are exactly determined, in (if need be) adapting herself, without change of principle, to the admittedly lawful demands of science, that religion will manifest her vitality and her power of development. Relying exclusively upon her own formulæ, upon her certainty, and upon her authority, without paying attention to current attacks, she might delude herself for a time, but eventually she would be condemned, in spite of all her efforts, to wither away after the manner of plants deprived of air.

Tendencies of this kind were already obvious in a system, the historical beginnings of which can be traced back to Kant and Schleiermacher; but, through the considerable influence which it possessed, at the end of the last century, and which it still enjoys to-day, this system re-enters the circle of contemporary ideas. Its original framer was Albrecht Ritschl,1 the German theologian.



The controlling idea of Ritschlianism, which we may profitably consider here in its spirit and outline rather than in its special doctrines (palpably diverse as set forth by various representatives), is that religion, in order to be invulnerable and to be realised in a genuine manner, ought to be thoroughly freed from everything that does not really belong to it; but that, on the other hand, it ought to comprise, integrally, everything that is needed to develop it positively, in all its originality and breadth.

As ordinarily professed, religion is mingled with elements which are foreign to it, and which pervert it.

The first of these elements is philosophy, i.e. meta-physics and natural theology. We must, first of all, get rid of intellectualism, of scholasticism, which, after being expelled by Luther from the religious consciousness, was fraudulently reinstalled therein. Philosophy, having to do merely with the abstract, and only disposing of natural phenomena, cannot—as its very definition implies—reach the religious element which is life, being, supernatural activity. All theoretical knowledge whatsoever is powerless to grasp the object of religion; for the faculty of knowing, as it exists in man, is limited to comprehension of the laws relating to matter, and we are concerned here with purely spiritual things. Religion is made up of belief alone—not of knowledge: to blend with it philosophical or scientific elements is to corrupt it.

The second superfluous element that we must clear away from religion, is human authority, which brings it under the sway of Catholicism, and to which considerable importance is still attached in certain forms of Protestantism—Pietism in particular. The Christian has but one master, Jesus Christ.

Still, it is not sufficient to purify religion; we must realise it to the fullest extent. Schleiermacher enunciated a fundamental truth in declaring that piety is neither knowledge nor action, but a determination of feeling or immediate consciousness. We cannot, however, rest content with this very general principle, for it would be incapable of founding that systematic and specifically Christian theology, with which religion could not dispense without division into the various opinions of individuals. Feeling ought to be supplied with religious truths of a universal character. The special achievement of Ritschl lay in opposing to philosophical reason and authority, not religious feeling pure and simple, but religious history, i.e. Revelation, as the objective study of facts makes it known to us in the Gospel and in the general history of humanity.

The essential role of inward disposition is, moreover, by no means diminished under this view. It is, assuredly, in spiritual life and experience that religion is realised. Adopting the very theory of his disciple, Wilhelm Herrmann,2 Ritschl ended by reducing the difference between metaphysical judgments and religious judgments to that between judgments of existence and judgments of value, and admitted that, if the Gospel is true, it is because, in the inmost recesses of consciousness, it is deemed worthy of being so: wert, wahr zu sein.

But, at the same time, in the Bible and in general history, feeling finds and recognises, according to Ritschl, the particular content with which it could not dispense, and which it would never succeed in discovering by itself alone. For example, the heart experiences the feeling of sin and the desire of blessedness. Now, to these sentiments correspond, in Revelation, on the one hand, a just and angry God, on the other hand, a merciful God. In this God, the religious consciousness finds the ground of impressions that natural objects fail to explain. Thus seeking in Holy Writ its meaning and its foundation, feeling becomes increasingly clear, satisfying and constant; it goes beyond the individual self, and can communicate with the feelings of others in a church; it actually realises the idea of religion.

Upon this principle, Ritschl constructed, as a single whole, his system of theology, which, while it upheld the teaching of Dogmatics in all its essential parts and in all its claims, separated it from all natural science, from all philosophy, from every purely human institution. This system was set forth expressly with a view to an exact and logically co-ordinated statement of all the ideas included in the primitive Christian Revelation; it was, essentially, the spiritual and eternal content of the Gospel.

The manner in which Ritschl secured, in the depths of the human soul, the development of the genuinely religious life, while sheltering this life from the attacks of science, satisfied the bent of many minds.

Kantianism had accustomed thinkers to supplement the world of science, or nature properly so called, by another world—that of freedom and of spiritual life, considered as not interfering to any extent with the world of the senses. And, accordingly, the progress of the positive sciences, the materialistic and deterministic tendencies evinced by several of their representatives, made thinking men wish to discover, for the objects of religious belief, a resting-place situated beyond the range of these sciences.

Moreover, history, to which Ritschl was attached had become, during the nineteenth century, a science of the first rank, forming in some way an appendix to the sciences of nature; and its special task, in conformity with the Romantic spirit which had furthered its progress, was that of seeking, no longer chiefly for what is ordinarily human and identical, at bottom, in the phenomena of different periods, but what, on the contrary, is distinctive, particular characteristic and individual.

And this same Romanticism represented an exaltation of feeling and inward life; expressed and developed a disposition of mind which was especially in harmony with the spiritual and mystical form of religion.

Already the inward Christianity of Alexandre Vinet, with its double and yet essentially single foundation—human consciousness and the person of Christ,—pointed in the direction that Ritschl was bound to follow; and the profound impression left by Vinet's teaching can be traced even to-day.

It is, therefore, natural that the Ritschlian tendency, in its general traits, should again attract many religious minds of our own day. In Germany, particularly, an entire school of theologians is grounded on the thought of Ritschl, which is maintained in principle while modified in its special determinations.

One of the most serious difficulties which Ritschlianism has raised is that evoked by Wilhelm Herrmann, the famous disciple of the master. According to Ritschl, the religious consciousness ought to recognise and apprehend itself in the formulæ of Holy Writ. But the theological formulæ that one finds in St. Paul, for instance, represent religious experiences which are peculiar to him, and which we ourselves, probably, have not enjoyed. How, then, can we adopt these formulæ? As repeated by us, they will constitute no longer an act of faith, but a mechanical or hypocritical performance.

It would appear that, beneath this objection, we again meet with the difficulty that the Reformation itself bequeathed to its disciples. The Reformation consisted, historically, in the contingent reconciliation of two phenomena: the exaltation of inward faith, following the development of mysticism in the Middle Ages; and the return to ancient texts and monuments, regarded in their original purity, which occupied the humanists of the Renaissance. How from these two disparate principles, to frame a doctrine that should be one, has vexed the Protestant's soul.

The solution that Herrmann proposes, consists in separating two things which are, for Ritschl, closely united: the groundwork and the content of faith.

The groundwork, i.e. faith properly so called, is absolutely necessary, and is the same for all believers. It is this part of Revelation which has only to be accurately explained in order that every sincere soul may have an immediate experience of it.

But the special content of faith, the definite form of dogma, represents a more determinate experience, which may vary with individuals. This content, therefore, can be legitimately expressed in different ways, in accordance with the various experiences. For instance, the consideration of the inward life of Jesus produces such an impression in the human soul that, inevitably and by a moral necessity, it believes in Jesus. But the special idea of a substitutionary expiation realised by the death of Christ, is merely a contingent expression of the restorative action of Christ in us, and cannot be put on a level with the religious experience of all minds.

In France, a leading theologian, Auguste Sabatier has adopted a standpoint which recalls that of Ritschl.

Intent on escaping from all interference of the physical sciences, and on securing the absolute independence and autonomy of religion, while careful not to ask for the least indulgence from science, Auguste Sabatier seeks for religion a sanctuary that is most familiar, and yet most remote from the visible and tangible things extolled by science. Religion has its origin, he thinks, in the feeling of anguish which invades the heart of man when he considers the two-fold nature—abject and sublime—which is in him, and the ascendency that the worst part of himself has over the best. From this anguish religion saves us, not by procuring new knowledge, but by bringing us into union, through an act of confidence or of faith, with the all-powerful and perfect Principle from which our being derives its existence.

What, then, is religion? It is the heart's prayer, it is redemption.

This redemption is a miracle, it is the miracle. How is it produced? The Christian can dispense with such knowledge. The laws of nature, in that very immutability which science reveals to us, become, for the Christian consciousness, the expression of the Divine Will. In order to be able to live the religious life, I need three things, and three only: the real and active presence of God within me, the granting of prayer, and the freedom of hope. These three things are not affected by actual science—indeed, it would appear that they could not be so by any science.

If now I wish (and how, giving heed to the suggestions of my heart, can I refrain from wishing it?) to develop these primary ideas, and to realise religion in myself to the utmost possible extent, I cannot, however much they urge me to it, invoke philosophy or authority. Philosophy—a building of abstractions—counts for nothing in comparison with the intense feeling which has spontaneously sprung up within me. She could only offer purely intellectual systems which would not influence me, and which would, probably, set me at variance with science. On the other hand, the authority of any power whatsoever, were it that of an imposing Church, would fail to create in my soul that for which it asks—a conversion at once inward, free and personal.

What is needed for the development of religion within me, is the example and the influence of religion already realised. Now, I find both these desiderata in the person of Christ as put before me in the Gospel. Jesus was conscious of a filial relationship in regard to God. A man himself, he teaches us, he shows us that men are sons of God, and capable of being united with him. Through this consciousness of Jesus, we are enabled to communicate with the Universal Father. Christianity is thus the absolute and definitive religion of humanity.

Must we go further, and determine, in a precise and obligatory manner, the dogmas which shall interpret, for imagination and sense, these inexpressible mysteries? Catholicism tries to do this, and academic Protestantism follows suit. But these material additions occasion the conflicts that we see raised every day between religion and science; and, moreover, they are of no use to piety, seeing that there is even danger of their leading astray.

The Catholic religion comprehends three elements: faith, dogma and authority. Protestantism, seeking to restore Christianity in its original purity, has suppressed authority as a simply material and political principle, but has left dogma intact. It is quite time to let even dogma decay, in so far as it is an object of obligatory belief. Faith must be regarded as the religious element par excellence. Wheresoever faith exists, there is religion. What is called dogma is merely a symbolical interpretation—always inadequate and always modifiable—of the ineffable data of the religious consciousness.

All religious knowledge is necessarily and purely symbolical, seeing that mystery (as the word implies) can only be expressed through symbols.

It is between faith and its object that we are bound to distinguish. The first alone is essential, the second is a consequence and a contingent expression of the first.


The Value of Ritschlianism

Whether under their precise form in the theological schools, or under their general aspect as a phase of religious thought, the ideas of Ritschl and of his disciples are very wide-spread even to-day. A large number of thinking men are disposed to place religion, exclusively or mainly, in feeling, in the inward life, in the spiritual communion of the soul with God, and to put into the background, or even to discard altogether, the doctrines which aim at making it an object of theoretical knowledge, and which, in that very way, risk bringing it into conflict with knowledge of another order, i.e. with scientific knowledge. The distinction between faith and creed, similar to that between spirit and letter, between soul and body, between thought and speech, between idea and form, is widely approved at the present time. It enables many intellectual people, who would set aside religion if it were identified with dogmas that were repulsive to them, to continue their adherence by reason of what they regard as the principal religious aspect.

And it cannot be denied that the standpoint of Ritschl offers great advantages.

Setting aside a priori everything in the nature of science, theory and knowledge, as foreign to religion, the theologian no longer dreads that science will, at some time, disturb his freedom. He has installed himself in a domain which, by definition, has nothing in common with the scientific domain: how could he ever encounter science on the way of his choice? Science observes and links together the outward appearances of things: the pious man lives in God and in the soul of his brethren. He feels the working of God within him; in virtue of this very working he prays, he loves, he hopes. Science has no hold upon these phenomena; they are of an order other than those which she studies. Science looks for theories, and these phenomena are realities. How can theories prevent realities from existing?

If religion, understood in this rigorously spiritualistic sense, avoids all collision with science, it would be unjustifiable, according to the theologians of whom we are speaking, to maintain that this is effected through her diminishing and becoming utterly insignificant, so as to offer no resistance to her adversary. For the scientist, who has only to do with material realities, the purely spiritual may, perhaps, be a mere naught; but in this “naught” the religious man finds everything:

In deinem Nichts hoff’ ich das All zu finden,3

said Faust to Mephistopheles.

And, firstly, he finds therein autonomy, independence, freedom. The Divine is but a word, if it is conditioned by nature and by science. If it is to be at all, it must indeed stand for origin, initiative, creation. The doctrine of free and, to all appearance, arbitrary grace, signifies in truth that the divine operation cannot be determined by things, since they only exist through it, but that it is dependent on itself alone, i.e. is perfectly free. It is not right to say that religion, banished from the world of sense, is confined within the heart—limited to those objects which are the heart's special concern. Established upon the very foundations of man's conscious and moral life, she is all-powerful, quickening and determining his entire existence.

And experience actually shows that the inward religious life—what is called Mysticism—is a singularly rich and potent reality. Communion with God is not only a source of emotions that are strong or tender, secret or expansive. It makes men of faith and of will, incapable of prostituting their convictions, ready to brave everything in order to accomplish what God commands. Confidence in God involves confidence in self.

The mystic, for whom things, as they are given, represent merely scientific connection, sets his face resolutely towards practical life and towards the future. The falling back of the soul upon itself, the endeavour to find God within the ego, is only, indeed, the first moment of the mystical life. God is not an abstraction: he is the principle of things as of souls. He that is God-inspired will try to change the world, so as to bring it nearer to its principle; and under the mystic will be revealed the man of action. Considering his resolution, his energy, his abnegation, his enthusiasm, his indomitable perseverance, who would wish to deny the reality of his feelings, and regard his inward life as a worthless dream?

Thus religion, understood in the Ritschlian sense, will not only withstand the onslaughts of science, but will be able to develop in accordance with its own special genius, freely and effectually. Does this mean that the Ritschlian standpoint yields complete intellectual satisfaction?

In the first place, it is impossible to ignore the modifications which the progress of knowledge and of reflection inevitably forced upon this standpoint even within the Ritschlian school. The principle assumed was, in reality, twofold. It was, on the one hand, feeling, inward experience, consciousness of man's relation with God; on the other hand, it was history, the Bible, Revelation. Without doubt, revealed truth was not received in the sense of rational knowledge: it was not and could not become knowledge, in the strict meaning of the word. If the truths of Revelation were able and, indeed, bound to be embodied in one system, that was from a purely formal standpoint, through an entirely logical method which defines, which arranges, but which, by itself alone, does not give actual proof. The reason for admitting the truths of Revelation remained wholly practical: it was the harmony of these truths with the needs of the religious consciousness, the value that they have for man, the strength and joy with which they endow the human soul. It continued not the less true that this Revelation was, and would necessarily remain, an objective principle, capable of guiding and reconciling individuals.

Now, thus understood, how was this position made good? If, objects Herrmann, my personal experience ought to constitute for me the unique criterion of truth, can I be restricted to believing in the deeds which have been found possible by others (a St. Paul, a St. Augustine, a Luther), but which I myself have never experienced?

That is not all. At the time of Ritschl's early speculation, the argument in favour of the Scriptural Canon was still tenable: it has since been demolished through the progress of criticism. The Scriptures no longer furnish faith with the sure foundation that we formerly expected to find in them. And Auguste Sabatier went so far as to say that, if an infallible authority is necessary, Protestants ought no longer to look for it in the uncertain and frigid letter of the Bible, but, after the Catholic method, in the supple and free intelligence of a living person.

Seeing that this solution clashed with the principle of Ritschlianism, the school inclined to sacrifice, more and more, the objective element to the subjective element, revelation to faith. Herrmann no longer desired any other ground of faith than the impression felt by the individual in contemplating the inward life of Jesus. The angry God and the merciful God of the Bible, corresponding to the twofold feeling of sin and redemption, are no longer, for him, in any sense realities in themselves, originating our soul-states: our soul-states are the only certain realities, divine justice and pity being simply more or less subjective interpretations of them. Everything which is not individual faith pure and simple is merely a symbolical expression of that faith. The more dogmas, the more Churches, in the traditional meaning of these words. The individual can no longer get outside himself. He sees in dogmas metaphors that can be explained in accordance with his individual experience; a Church is, for him, an association of men united in the thought of rejecting every obligatory creed.

The weak point of this system is quite evident: it is a subjectivity without content.

Pfleiderer reproaches Herrmann with making the object of religion purely imaginary. To place God, says he, quite outside the sphere of knowledge, is to regard him as a mere object of aspiration. It is to maintain the existence of God solely on the ground that belief in God is salutary, comforting, inspiring, without asking if that belief is not contradicted by the teaching of science. Such a faith is incapable of proving that it is not a purely subjective delusion.

And it is certain that when we carry out, more and more, the refining method recommended by Ritschl, when we make it our aim to abstract from the religious consciousness everything which does not spring immediately from the subject himself, we cannot help tending to deprive him of all that would justify belief according to his own view; for a justification is a reason which goes beyond the subjective and crude fact in being characterised by universality and necessity, i.e. by objectivity.

What, at any rate, is this faith, which, rising in the face of dogmas and institutions, and scornfully rejecting their support, exclaims: “In self alone I find sufficiency”? As its very definition indicates, it is faith considered as absolutely bare and as devoid of any assignable determination. Every expression of this faith falls away under intellectual definition, and language is, in this system, merely an effort of the individual to represent and explain to himself what he experiences in connecting it with the objects that exist outside him.

But how can we see in faith, thus separated from all intellectual content, anything else than an abstraction, an empty form, a word, a nonentity? It is only too easy to declare that we can believe, with the same intensity and the same conviction, in things lovely and in ‘things hateful, and that, if pure and simple faith sufficed to characterise religion, every fanatic would be a religious man to the same extent as a St. Paul or a St. Augustine. Moreover, are we actually satisfied with faith? It is assumed, more or less tacitly, that this faith will be necessarily faith in Jesus Christ. Consciousness is invoked, but we are expected to add or to understand that Christian consciousness is here in question. Notwithstanding what may come of it, there is combined with faith an objective or intellectual element, with which, indeed, we cannot dispense if we wish to obtain a positive principle which shall have some meaning.

In fact, if we give full due to the religious consciousness, to faith, to love, without slipping into an abstract and empty subjectivism, we must not make it undergo a negative purification, a limitless mutilation and dissolution. On the contrary, we ought to enrich the subject, to enlarge it, to raise it as much as possible towards being and universality. The method to be followed, in order to get beyond the purely theoretical standpoint of the abstract understanding, consists in making use of all the resources of intellect combined with life, and not in seeking a standpoint beyond the intellect's reach. Rather than go, further and further, in search of a refuge against the attacks of science and of reason, we ought to be reconciled with this same science to the utmost extent possible, to ensure for reason all the development of which she is capable, and to create, by means of all these data, instruments for the realisation of ideal ends.

Is it really certain, moreover, that in confining themselves, as they do, within the inward tribunal of conscience, of the heart, of religious emotion, Ritachl and his disciples are sheltering themselves affectively from the incursions of science?

They argue on the hypothesis of a science which is only occupied with physical phenomena, and which would not dream of establishing a connection between these phenomena and moral phenomena. At least they admit that there are certain phenomena, emotions, impressions of the soul, which are not and cannot be subverted by science. They speak freely about two separate domains—the external world and the internal world, things and consciousness. Herein we find definitely, the basis of their doctrines. They picture consciousness as a sphere within which no natural force can enter, and which science, confining her attention to the outside of things, does not expect to investigate any more than she possesses the means thereto.

But the opposition of without and within, and the conception of a soul-sphere impenetrable by science, are simply metaphors, and metaphors which no longer conform to the state of knowledge.

Science, it is true, for a long time claimed to accommodate herself solely to the phenomena of the material world. She left to metaphysics, or to literature, the phenomena of the moral order. But it is quite another matter to-day. Having, since the time of Descartes, more and more tested the efficiency of order and method in scientific work, and the relations between the different departments of knowledge, science is henceforth prepared to begin the study of all kinds of phenomena whatsoever. However far-off an emotion of the soul may appear—however secret, however hidden, however mysterious it may be for the theologian—it is a real, given, observable thing: therefore it is a phenomenon, connected necessarily, according to law, with other phenomena. In vain does the believer protest that his act of faith, his prayer, and his sense of union with God, are to be regarded as entirely spiritual, and as in no way related to material things. Just because they fall within consciousness, they are amenable to science; for the latter is, henceforward, specially concerned in explaining, amongst other things, the genesis of states of consciousness, whatever they may be; and she possesses methods which enable her to bring nearer and nearer the internal and the external, the mysterious and the knowable, the subjective and the objective.

In a word, it is impossible to discover a retreat where we can feel sure of not being rejoined by science, unless, first of all, we ask ourselves what constitutes science, what is its range, and whether it has limits. Therein we encounter a problem which it is not sufficient to skim or to curtail by a few philosophical generalities, but which ought to be examined for its own sake, and from the standpoint of science herself.

  • 1.

    His principal work: Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versoehnung (3 vols.), appeared from 1870 to 1874.

  • 2.

    See Wilhelm Herrmann et leproblème religieux actuel, by Maurice Goguel, Paris, 1905. On the notion of value is based the doctrine that Hoeffding maintains in his recent work: Religionsphilosophie; religion (it is therein said) has to do, in its deepest essence, not with the content, but with the estimate of existence. Of. Titius: Religion und Naturwissenschaft, 1904.

  • 3.

    In thy Naught I hope to find the All.