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The Primacy of Faith

1939 to 1940
University of St. Andrews

In chapter 1 of The Primacy of Faith, ‘Biblical and Natural Theology’, Kroner argues that whereas science tries to discover the way in which nature operates, religion appeals to the consciousness of the mystery that underlies nature and human life. Next, in an examination of philosophy and religion, Kroner observes that the medieval harmony between the two has been disrupted by two heavy attacks from Luther and Kant, respectively. The interest of Luther was dictated by his belief in the activity of God alone; the interest of Kant by his critique of pure reason. According to the author, Kant failed to recognize the deep chasm between the empirical knowledge of nature, which he deemed valid, and the rational knowledge of God, which he held illegitimate.

In chapter 3, Kroner continues to discuss Kant and suggests that Kant’s critique of speculative theology is not his last word on the relation of man and God, between philosophy and religion, reason and faith. According to the author, the most important doctrine concerning this subject is not contained in the Critique of Pure Reason, but in theCritique of Practical Reason and in Kant’s later books, in which he teaches that the right attitude toward God is not theoretical, it is practical. It is an attitude of the moral will, not of the thinking intellect; of a faith based upon a practical need, not upon speculative reasons. Kroner argues, however, that the primacy of practical reason cannot warrant the existence of a moral world order, much less the existence of a moral author of the world. Faith alone can assure this existence. Faith, not moral reason, ultimately has primacy.

From the assertion of the primacy of faith, which begins to acquire pace and prominence as the theme and argument of Kroner’s text, in chapter 4, the author addresses the problem of evil and asks: How can human imperfection be brought into harmony with the existence of God? In answering this question, Kroner turns once again to Kant as well as to Aristotle. Aristotle seeks a measure from the difference of good and evil action, and he finds this measure in the famous doctrine of the right mean or proportion. Kant draws his conclusion from the Christian concept of man being exiled from paradise—as someone who has broken the original bond between himself and nature.

Having addressed the problem of evil, in chapter 5, Kroner discusses the mystery of humankind. According to him, reason is the sign and symbol of a human being’s dignity; of a person’s being superior to the whole objective world; of a person’s being superior to his or her own animal nature. But it is not the sign and symbol of a human being’s highest value. On the contrary, a person reaches this summit only when he she conceives of the self as a mystery, as a being that cannot be conceived by reason and cannot be conceived by a conceptual means whatsoever. Thus, a person, the total person, transcends reason: his or her consciousness participates in the ultimate mystery. Furthermore, a person is not only like everything else, embraced by the mystery of the Ultimate, he or she is also conscious of being embraced by it, is ‘mystery-conscious’.

Next, the author concludes that the mysteriousness of evil arises the fact that the will, contrary to its own nature and essence, can, like any mental element, get involved in a struggle and suffer defeat in this struggle. The bad will, in succumbing to temptations, is by no means overwhelmed by impulses, desires, etc., but it turns against itself, it negates and perverts itself by negating the good. The freedom of the good will means that the will is not determined to act as its impulses and passions urge it to act. It is urged by itself to act in accordance with the good. This kind of urge is felt as the command of the moral law or of God.

From an examination of free will, in chapter 7, Kroner explores the idea of God and the religious imagination. For him, faith and imagination are closely connected. Indeed, imagination is an indispensable, integral element of faith. No faith in the religious sense is possible without this element. He further argues in chapter 8 that there cannot be the slightest doubt that the image of the Creator must be seized by the imagination, which involves faith, and not by reason.

In chapter 10, ‘The Primacy of Faith’, Kroner posits that faith has its own logic. This logic begins where speculation ends and is the peculiar and unique excellence of the Christian faith. While the author believes that Kant was right when he proclaimed the primacy of practical over theoretical reason, he thinks that he did not follow the trial to the end; he did not proclaim the primacy of revealing imagination and of faith based on this imagination. 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. The ‘logic of the heart’ ultimately, then, discloses that the victory of truth and good can nowise be won but by faith. Faith claims primacy in the ontological as well as in the moral field.


The Primacy of Faith

New York
The Macmillan Company
  • Kelly Van Andel, University of Glasgow