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the foreground. It is deemed that in this general sense
religion is present in almost all these nations. Affinity is
observed among their several religions, but also a gradual
difference. In all this it is thought that a process is percep-
tible, and it is by means of this many-sided process that the
Christian religion is brought into relation to these lower
forms. We do not take this way, because religion and
knowledge of God are not the same, and it is in the latter
that Theology finds its only point of departure. Religion
can be interpreted as a sense, a service, or an obligation, but
in none of these is it identical with the "knowledge of God."
This is most strongly emphasized by the j^ious agnostic who
claims himself to be religious, and yet on principle excludes
all knowledge of God. The loss from sight of this specific
difference between religion and Theology accounts for the
fact, that even in the science of Theology religion has been
put in the place of its original object. _

This compels us to seek the tie that binds us to pagan
nations, not in the phenomenal side of their religious life-
expressions, but, along with Scripture, in natural Theology ;
which at the same time offers this advantage, not t'o be
despised, that we need not confine ourselves to the national


forms of ritual, but can also deal with the theology which,
outside of these rituals, can be observed in their mysteries
and in their poets and philosophers. It is well said, that
even the most repulsive idolatry stands in organic relation
to the purest revelation. There is a generic unity, which in
former times was too greatly lost from sight, and is still
overlooked too much, especially by ]\Iethodism ; overlooked
also in the work of missions. The purest confession of
truth finds ultimately its starting-point in the seed of re-
ligion (semen religionis), which, thanks to common grace,
is still present in the fallen sinner ; and, on the other hand,
there is no form of idolatry so low, or so corrupted, but has
sprung from this same semen religionis. Without natural
Theology there is no Abba^ Father, conceivable, any more than
a Moloch ritual. In so far, then, we agree in principle with
the present day Science of Religion (Religionswissenschaft).
On the other hand, we place ourselves in direct opposition to
it, as soon as it tries to fill in the interval between this Abba,
Father, and the Moloch ritual with the undulations of a grad-
ually advancing process. There is here no transition nor
gradual development, but an antithesis between the positive
and negative working of a selfsame power. With natural
Theology it is the same as it is with faith and ethics. Ethi-
cal life knows only one normal development, viz. that to
holiness; but over against this positive stands the negative
development along the line of sin. Sin is an " actual depri-
vation," and not merely a want (carentia), and therefore it is
virtue turned into its opposite, and such by the negative work-
ing of all the glorious power which by nature belongs to the
ethical life. Likewise unbelief, as shown above, is no want
of faith, but an actuosa privatio fidei, i.e. the power of faith
turned into its opposite. And in the same way idolatry
also is no outcome of the imagination, nor of factors in
the human consciousness that gradually develop themselves,
but of an actuosa privatio of the natural knowledge of God.
In the idolater both the motive and the content of this natu-
ral theology are turned into their opposites. It is the same
wheel, turning itself on the same pivot, but in a reverse or

302 § 62. DEGENERATIONS OF [Div. Ill

averse direction. The Christian Religion and Paganism do
not stand related to each other as the higher and lower
forms of development of the same thing ; but the Christian
religion is the highest form of development natural theology
was capable of along the positive line ; while all paganism
is a development of that selfsame natural theology in the
negative direction. Christendom and Paganism stand to
each other as the plus and minus forms of the same series.

From this it appears that natural theology is not taken
by us in that worn-out sense in which, at the close of the
seventeenth century, a barren scheme of individual truths
was framed, which was made to stand as natural theology
alongside of the supernatural. Natural theology is with
us no schema, but the knowledge of God itself, which
still remains in the sinner and is still within his reach,
entirely in harmony with the sense of Rom. i. 19 sq.
and Rom. ii. 1-1 sq. Sin, indeed, is an absolute dark-
ening power, and were not its effect temporarily checked,
nothing but absolute darkness would have remained in and
about man ; but common grace has restrained its workings to
a very considerable degree ; also in order that the sinner
might be without excuse. In consequence of this common
grace there remain the rudera or sparks of light in the sinner,
and the curse upon nature has not yet come in such measure
but that " invisible things " are clearly seen, because under-
stood by the things that are made (Rom. i. 20). Hence the
condition of man and his world are not such as they would
have been if sin had at once accomplished its end; but,
thanks to common grace, both are of such a character that
knowledge of God is still possible, either by way of tradi-
tion, or as the result of personal insight, such as has been
found in generous measures in the midst of paganism, in its
mysteries as well as with its poets and philosophers. But,
and this is the point, instead of clinging fast to this, the
sinner in general has played a wilful game with this fruit
of common grace, and consequently his " foolish heart " has
become entirely "foolishness" and "darkness." And only
as result of this abuse which the sinner has made of natural


theology, God at last has "given him over," as Paul reiterates
it three times in Rom. i. God has let go His hold upon
him ; and in consequence of this desertion of God the curse
of self-degradation and of brutishness has come upon pagan-
ism, and now constitutes its real mark.

Hence two mistakes have here been made, and two errors
are to be guarded against. Our older theologians have too
greatly ignored paganism, and have explained it too ex-
clusively from a demoniacal motive, and thereby have not
allowed the organic relation to show itself sufficientl}",
which unmistakably exists between true and false theology,
as the normal and abnormal working" of one and the same
impelling principle ; while, on the other hand, it is the
error of our times to abandon the antithesis of true and false,
to identify the two, and to prefer the form of the process of
development to this organic relation. If formerly they
failed per defectum, we noAv fail per excessum. And true
insight into the organic relation between true Theology and
Paganism is only obtained when the antithesis is fully rec-
ognized between the positive and negative development of
common grace. There is here also an antithesis between
true and degenerate development, which the more they
progress, the farther they separate from each other, — an
antithesis wdiich is in no single particular a lesser one than
that between good and evil, as both expressions of the one
ethical principle implanted in us all.

We do not deny that a process has taken place; only this
process is twofold. As at the fork in the road where good and
evil separate a twofold process begins, of which one leads to
an ever richer revelation of that which is hol}^ and the other
to an ever sadder exhibition of that which is demoniacal in
sin, such also is here the case. From the times of Abraham
the lines of true and false theology separate. Not as
though this antithesis did not exist before ; but because at
this point the two manifestations assume each an historic
form of its own. And from this point we have on the one
hand a development of true theolog}-, which reaches poten-
tially its acme in Christ, and on the other hand also a

304 § 62. DEGENERATIONS OF [Div. Ill

deterioration of false theology, which in a negative sense
must likewise run its course to the end. In another
volume this will be more fully explained. Here \\q can
only locate the point of view where one must stand, in order
that the organic relation between our own confession and
that of Paganism may fully exhibit itself again, and at the
same time the danger be avoided of weakening the distinc-
tion between these two to a relative difference.

To preclude the possible objection, that the theology of
Greek philosophy stands higher and approaches nearer to
the truth than the Animistic and Fetishistic forms of
paganism, we observe: first, that it should not be consid-
ered proper to link the theological representations of a negro
tribe to those of a people so highly cultured as that which
gave being to Greek philosophy. The hypothesis that all
nations have begun with Animism, and have gradually
mounted the several rounds of the scale, is entirely unsup-
ported. Our second observation is, that dissimilar magni-
tudes cannot be compared, and hence the cultus-forms of
any people cannot be compared to the theological teach-
ings (theologumena) of philosophers. For comparison the
cultus-forms of paganism must be contrasted with the practi-
cal religion of these philosoiDhers, and their theological teach-
ings with the ideas concerning the infinite and its workings
which are fundamental to the cultus-forms of the nations
of lower standing, or of the Greeks. By which comparison
it appears at once that the philosophers had wo cultus-forms,
and obtained them only when in Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism,
etc., they had adopted elements from tlie Christian religion.
This shows that Natural Theology operated in them more as
an intellectual power than as a devotional impulse, — a fact
which of itself leads to our third observation, viz. that
however high, from an intellectual point of view, the theo-
logical teachings of Greek philosophy maj^ stand, in the main
they exhibit a much stronger deterioration of the true
knowledge of God, inasmuch as they destroyed the feeling
of dependence, in place of which, in Stoicism, they substi-
tuted human self-sufficiencv. In the negro, who trembles as


he kneels before his Fetish, there is more of the fear of God
than in the proud philosopher, who reasons about the gods
(or about to Oelov) as about powers, of which he will deter-
mine what they are. In the negro there is still a consider-
able degree of vitality of the seed of religion, while in the -nJ** '^"1
self-sufficient philosopher it is dead. He reasons; in how- I " ^vC^
ever imperfect a way, the negro worships. , si-'^

As Christian Ethics not only deals with the positive ^^^^
development of good, but reckons as well with the negative
development of evil, Christian theology also is not to con-
fine itself to the study of true theology, but must also deal
with false theology in paganism; and this it must do not
merely for the sake of making obvious the monstrosity
of pagan representations, — this, indeed, would not be a
proper interpretation of its task, — but rather that it may
show that this paganism also is born of natural theology,
and discover the law which this false development has
obeyed. There is no single datum in idolatry, which is
inherent in it, but has sprung from natural theology. Of
course this does not underestimate the inworkinor of tradi-
tion from paradise, nor the influence exerted by Israel.
When the antithesis between true and false theology is
sharply seen, the true must have preceded the false, and
idolatry can be nothing else than deterioration; which
implies of itself that, as with all deterioration^ some
elements of the originally pure development still co-
operate. And with reference to the inworking of special
revelation, it should not be lost from sight, that from the
days of Abraham, the people of revelation have ever been
in touch with the surrounding nations, and that extensive
journeys, for the sake of finding out what other nations
taught concerning Divine things, suited entirely the spirit
of the ancients. With this purpose in view the passes of
the Himalaya were crossed from China to the Ganges. Add
to this the great significance and calling of the empire of
Solomon, and the fact that the prophets appeared long be-
fore the Greek philosophers, and it betra^^s little historical
sense, when a priori all effect of Israel upon paganism

306 §63. FALSIFICATIONS OF [Div. Ill

and pagan philosophy is denied. But this after-effect of
tradition, as well as that possible in working of Israel, are
accidental. They are not inherent in the contrary process
of natural theology in its deterioration. Hence this pro-
cess itself must be investigated, not for the sake of paying
homage to the theology of paganism as such, but to show
that the religious life of these pagan nations was founded
upon some theology, which as such was not invented, but
is the necessary result of the sinful development of natural

Islam occupies here a somewhat separate position. Just
as with Gnosticism and Manichceism, we here deal with a
unit of theological representations which has special revela-
tion back of it, and partly included in it. This presents
three factors for our consideration. First, the contrary
development of natural theology, which here also forms
the pagan background. Secondly, the contrary devel-
opment of supranatural theology, which had an entirely
peculiar career. And, thirdly, the syncretistic element,
which united these deteriorations into one. Islam is not
merely pagan, nor is it merely heretical, but both together,
and hence it occupies an entirely peculiar place among the
deteriorations of true theology, in which it now stands alone,
simply because Manichreism, Gnosticism, etc., as religious
societies, have passed away. On the other hand, Islam, as
such, is allied to those theological representations that have
become current again, especially since the beginning of this
century, and which have embroidered the flowers of Christian
revelations upon the tapestry of a radically pagan philosophy.
With this difference, however, that these philosophic deteri-
orations have not established religious communions, but have
invaded the Church of Christ.

§ 63. Falsifications of the Conception of Theology

The falsifications of Theology as science bear an entirely dif-
ferent character. By these we do not refer to the heretical di-
vergencies, such as Protestants assert of Romanism, and Rome
in turn affirms of Protestantism. With every heretical diver-


gence both sides occupy the same pomt of view as to natural
theology; from both sides it is confessed that their theology
is derived from special Revelation ; and the difference arises
only from the diverging views of this special Revelation. In
speculative and empiric theology, on the other hand, one is
met by a falsification, which, from principle^ denies all
special Revelation, and thus in reality takes counsel with
natural theology. Both forfeit thereby the right to the
name of theology, because in this way speculative theology
really ends in Pliilosopliy^ and empiric theology disappears
in Naturalism. Natural Theology can exhibit itself as a
regnant power only when human nature receives the beams of
its light in their purity and reflects them equally completely.
At present, however, the glass has been impaired by a hun-
dred cracks, and the receiving and reflecting have become
unequal, and the image that Avas to reflect itself is hindered
in its clear reflection and thereby rendered untrue. And
for this reason you cannot depend upon natural theology as
it works in fallen man; and its imperfect lines and forms
bring you, through the broken image, in touch with the reality
of the infinite, only when an accidens enables you to recover
this defective ideal for yourself, and natural theology re-
ceives this accidens only in special revelation. Speculative
and empiric theology are correct, therefore, in their reaction
against methodistic superficiality, which actually annuls
natural theology, and accepts special revelation by faith
as something entirely independent by itself. While, on the
contrary, it is only by the natural knowledge of God, by
the semen religionis, that a special revelation is possible for
us, that our consciousness can unite itself to it, and that
certainty can be born of its reality in our sense. Yea, to
speak still stronger, we may say that special theology is
merely temporal, and natural theology eternal. This is not
stated more boldly than the Scriptures justify, when they
explain the mutual relation between the special priest-
hood of the Aaronic ceremonial and the natural priesthood
of Melcliizedek. Melchizedek appears as one standing en-
tirely outside of the special revelation; he is a priest-king.

308 § 63. FALSIFICATIONS OF [D^v. Ill

who has natural theology only, together with a weakened
tradition of the once blessed paradise. Aaron, therefore, on
whom shone the full light of special revelation, stands far
above him in knowledge of God, in loftiness of religion, and
in purity of priestly ritual. With a little less thought one
would have been tempted to place Aaron's priesthood far
above that of ]Melchizedek, in order to find the ideal high-
priesthood of Christ in Aaron, and not in the order of
Melchizedek. And yet revelation, in both Old and New
Testaments, teaches the very contrary. Aaron's ceremonial
bears merely a temporal character ; Melchizedek's office is
eternal; and Aaron disappears in Christ, in order that in
Christ Melchizedek may reappear. Thus Aaron's service
merely fulfilled the vocation of rendering the service of
Melchizedek possible again, and enabling it to resume its
original significance. And this is the point of view which
dominates also the relation between " natural theology " and
"particular grace." Undoubtedly the content of special reve-
lation is much richer than the meagre content which natu-
ral theology now offers fallen man ; and it is also evident
that without its accidens in special revelation this natural
theology is no help to you whatever. Aaron's service was
much richer than that of Melchizedek, and without the
Aaronic ordination Melchizedek's offering missed every aton-
ing merit. But this does not take away the fact, that
natural theology always remains the originally real one, and
that special revelation can never be anytliing else than acci-
dental. Hence, when it comes to a state of purity, when sin
shall have been eradicated so that its very memory shall no
longer work its after-effects in the creation of God, then all
the riches of special revelation shall merely have served the
end of bringing natural theology back again to its original
lustre, yea, of causing it to glow with a brightness which
far excels its original lustre. In the prophetic domain of the
knowledge of God, also, Aaron disappears, and Melchizedek
returns with all the glory of the original creation. This is
the deep significance of the oath sworn by the Lord in Psalm
ex., concerning the priest after the order of Melchizedek.


Jesus Himself spoke of a future in which His disciples would
no more ask Him anything, because the Father Himself loved
them. And in the perspective of 1 Cor. xv., when God
shall be "all in all," the entire special revelation has receded;
the object for which it was given has been obtained; and with
reference also to the knowledge of God, the " all in all "
expresses nothing else than what once existed in paradise.
Though this deeper truth was not recognized by Schleier-
macher, the spiritual father of subjective empiricism, and
by Hegel, the master thinker, who founded the school of
recent speculative theology, they perceived it, nevertheless,
sufficiently clearly to vindicate the primordial authority of
natural theology. Calvin saw deeper than both, when he
compared ectypal theology, as thanks to common grace it
still exists in and for the sinner, to a book the writing of
which had become blurred, so that it could only be deci-
phered with a glass, i.e. with the help of special revelation.
In this figure the thought lies expressed, that the theology
which reflects itself as such in our nature, is ever the real
theology, which, however, must be augmented and be ex-
plained, and which without this assistance remains illegible ;
but which, even during and after this help, always remains
the true divine writing. So also it is foretold in prophecy,
when Jeremiah declared that there was a time coming in
which the outward special revelation would be ended, and
every one Avould bear again in his heart the divine v/riting,
and all should know the Lord from the least unto the oldest.
This, too, is only the representation that the outward special
revelation merely serves for a time, and that it has no other
tendency than to lift natural theology from its degeneracy.
Natural theology is and always will be the natural pair of
legs on which we must walk, while special revelation is the
pair of crutches, which render help, as long as the weakened
or broken legs refuse us their service. This indeed can be
frankly acknowledged, even though it is certain, that as long
as our legs cannot carry us we can only walk by means of
the crutches, so that during this abnormal condition our legs
do not enable us to walk truly in the ways of the Lord,

310 § 03. FALSIFICATIONS OF [Div. Ill

but only our crutches, i.e. not natural theology, but only
special revelation. This last point has been less denied
than entirely abolished by Schleiermacher, as well as by
Hegel, and in so far we deny that the subjective-empiric
and the speculative schools, which they called into life, are
able to offer us any real and actual theology. But this does
not destroy the fact that the motive which impelled them con-
tained an inward truth. After the Reformation orthodoxy
withdrew itself all too quickly from general human life. It
became too greatly an isolated phenomenon, which, however
beautiful in itself, was too much disconnected ; and when it
undertook to distil a kind of compendium from the so-called
natural theology, and in all its poverty to place this by the
side of the rich display of special revelation, it belittled this
natural theology to such an extent, that rationalism could not
fail of its opportunity to show itself and to administer reproof;
while orthodoxy, removed from its basis, was bound to turn
into inwardly thin supranaturalism with its external sup-
ports. Thus there was no longer a scientific theology worthy
of the name. All that remained was, on the one hand, a m3'sti-
cism without clearness, and on the other hand a barren frame-
work of propositions and facts, without the glow of life or
of reality. This was observed with great sharpness of
vision by Schleiermacher, as well as by Hegel, and both
endeavored to find again, in the reality of life, a B6^ /xot irov
aro) (starting-point) for religion, and thus also for theology.
They did this each in his own way : Schleiermacher by
withdrawing himself into human nature, as religious and
social in character ; and Hegel, on the other hand, by ex-
tending the world of human thought so broadly, that theol-
ogy also found a place in it. From subjectivity, i.e. from
mysticism, Schleiermacher came to theological thought, Hegel,
from the thought of man, hence from intellectualism, to re-
ligion. Thus together they grasped natural reality by the
two handles which this reality presents for religion. Natu-
ral theology includes two elements : first, ectypal knowledge
of God as founded in the human consciousness, and secondly,
the pistic capacity of man to grasp this ectypal knowledge


with his inner consciousness. Hegel made the ectypal
knowledge of God to appear in the foreground of human
consciousness ; Schleiermacher, on the other hand, started
out from the pistic capacity increated in the inner nature
of man. Hence it is not surprising in the least, that both
formed a school of their own, and that only by their initia-
tive theology revived again as a science. They indeed
abandoned the isolation to which theology had fled. Each
in his Avay restored religion and theology to a proper place

Online LibraryAbraham KuyperEncyclopedia of sacred theology : its principles ... → online text (page 29 of 64)