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along without thought; Avithout a life with consciousness no
human life is conceivable ; every one goes out from certain
general conceptions ; and, voluntarily or otherwise, in those
who live in higher spheres those general conceptions form a
system, i.e. they stand in a certain relation to each other.
As an actual fact, therefore, the conflict against "barren
intellectualism " banishes all influence of revelation or even
of religion from the development of our world of thought ;
while eventually the world of thought, which from natural
reason has become common property, is permitted to assert it-
self as unassailable and self-evident. With these men it is
ever the old conflict between the primacy of the consciousness
and of the will, while our entire higher life is subsumed by
them under the will. With the deformations of theology,
however, we need not take this into account; since all such
efforts end in an entire falsification of the conception of
theology, and as such belong to our former paragraph.
The sceptics, on the other hand, whom we here speak of,
occupy the selfsame view-point with us of special revela-
tion; with us they feel the need of holding dogma in honor,
and readily agree that no church can get along without con-
fessional standards ; only, to all these confes"sions together
they attribute nothing but a relative value. The truth is
not contained in one confession, nor in all the confessions
taken together; to push propaganda, therefore, of one con-
fession above another is entirely void of motive. Going
from one church to another, except for the sake of marriage
or of national interests, has no significance. And the poor
martyrs who faced death for the sake of their convictions,
died like naive victims of a confessional mistake.

If thus in this confessional scepticism the energy of con-



Chap. I] § 64. DEFORMATIONS OF THEOLOGY 323

viction is wanting, the confessional absolutists, on the other
hand, sin through the excess of conviction, when they anathe-
matize everything that falls outside of their own confession.
This ground was 7iot held by the Reformers and the learned
divines who theologically expounded the confession of the
Reformers. Even Calvin is clearly conscious that he builds
on the theology of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas ; and he
who reads the original Lutheran and Reformed dogmatists,
perceives at once that they make constant use of what has
been contributed by Romish theologians. But in the sub-
sequent period this usage has become extinct. Ever}^ church
withdraws itself within its own walls ; and finally it seems
that there is no theology for the dogmatist, but that which
rests upon his own confession. Hence, not only in the case of
every antithesis, is one equally firm in cleaving to his own
conviction, and in rejecting whatever opposes it; but also
every suggestion is banished that, at least in that which is
not antithetic, some theologic depth, development and truth
may lodge with the opponent. The Romish theologians
carry this confessional absolutism to the farthest extreme.
With the Lutheran theologians this absolutism is quickly
carried into practice, even at the expense of Reformed
theology. The Reformed theologians alone have longest
reacted against this confessional absolutism. If the confes-
sional sceptic knows little besides irenics, and if in his eyes
all controversy is folly, the absolutist, on the other hand, is
averse to all irenics, and controversy or polemics is his only
point of contact with the confessions of the other churches,
which he considers simply false.

But it is readily seen that neither this sceptical nor this
absolutist point of view is in harmony with the claim of
theolog}^ Not the sceptical, for if theology is " the knowl-
edge of God," and if, consequently, theology as a science
can have no other object than to introduce that revealed
knowledge of God as clearly as possible into our human
consciousness, personal conviction must ever be the starting-
point of all theology. Taken generically, theology is, and
ahvays Avill be, knoioledge, and for this reason there can be no



324 §G4. 1)EPY)KMATI0XS OF THEOLOGY [Div. Ill

theology where the conviction that one knows is wanting.
Confessional indifferentism is in irreconcilable conflict with
this, for many things may lie in the farthest circumference
of each one's conviction which are not attached to his
personal consciousness ; but these do not belong to our con-
fession. But that which one confesses, one must mean ; of
this we must be certain; if necessary, the greatest sacrifice
must be made for this ; if needs be, the sacrifice of life. That
now this confessional conviction in the Lutheran Church is
different from that in the Eastern, and in the Reformed than
in the Church of Rome, certainly does not depend upon our
personal preference. This difference is connected, rather,
with our position in life and genealogy. No objection should
ever be raised on tliat account, however, against the reality
of our conviction, since the entire world of our representa-
tions, those of the non-religious kind also, are determined
by the circle from which we spring and the age in which
we live ; the Pelagian only may encounter some difficulty
here, because he does not believe in a divine plan, which
determines our whole position; but, for the rest, no con-
viction ever strikes deeper root than when it has been
prepared atavisticall}' in us. He, therefore, who has in this
way obtained his conviction as one with his life, does not
ascribe its possession to his own excellencies, but renders
thanks for it to the grace of God. A true theologian, there-
fore, will and must hold for real and true the theology
which he embraces, and to the further development of which
he devotes his life, and should not hesitate to consider all
other theology to be deformation. A Lutheran theologian,
who is not firmly convinced of the truth of his om'h confes-
sion and who has no courage to denounce all theology which
is opposed to it as deformation, has lost his way. The same
is true of the Romish theologian. And we as Reformed
theologians stand equally firm in our unshakable conviction
that the track, along which we move, runs the most accu-
rately, and that every other track leads to lesser or greater
deformation.

But tliough from his own point of view no single theolo-



Chap. 1] § 64. DEFOKMATIONS OF THEOLOGY 325

gian should shrink from this qualification of defoniiation,
this conception of deformation contains, on the other hand,
an element of appreciatiovi, and therefore a sentence against
confessional absolutism. Deformation passes judgment on the
imperfection of the form, but honors the essence. Whether
this deformation is the outcome of schism, and consequent
onesidedness, by the contraction of the energy of truth at one
single point; or whether it has found its origin in heresy, i.e.
in the adoption into one's confession of elements that are
foreign to the truth, can make no difference. In either case
3^ou acknowledge that there is a "knowledge of God," and
that that which calls itself theology is truly possessed of the
theologic character. It is still commonly accepted in the con-
fessions that there is an ectypal knowledge of God, that in
the natural way this cannot lead the sinner to saving results,
and that there is a special revelation to supply this want.
The canonical books also of the Old and New Testaments
are honored by all these churches together as the Divine
documentation of this revelation. Difference only begins
with the addition to these Scrij^tures of the apocrypha, of
tradition, of papal inspiration, of the mystic inspiration by
the internal light (lumen internum), etc. Thus from either
side we are abundantly able to show how the deformation
originated with the other; and this is the point of attack;
yet this does not destroy what is common in all confessions
and theologies.

And if this opens the way to the appreciation and use
of what has been prepared also by theologians of other con-
fessions, in what is common to us all, it leads at the same
time to still another consideration. Even Rome does not
deny that charismata are also at work outside of her church ;
and where in this way even Rome maintains a unitv, our
Protestant principle includes the open recognition of the
correlation of the other churches with ours. No single con-
fessional group claims to be all the church. We rather
confess that the unity of the body of Clnist extends
far beyond our confessional boundaries. The theological
gifts that operate outside of our circle may supply what



326 § 64. DEFORMATIONS OF THEOLOGY [Div. Ill

we lack, and ^elf-sufficient narrow-mindedness alone will
refuse sucli benefit. With us irenics go ever hand in hand
with polemics. Firmly and unshakably we stand in our
confession, that the track along Avliich we move is the most
accurate known to us, and in virtue of this conviction we
do not hesitate a moment to mark the divergence of the
tracks of others as deformation. Against all such deformity
we direct our polemics. But we are equally conscious of
the fact that ^ve alone do not constitute the Church of
Christ in the earth; that there is a conviction of truth
which operates also outside of our circle; and that in de-
spite of all such deformation divine gifts continue to foster
a theologic life worthy of the name. Hence our irenics.

To us, therefore, there is no theology as snch, which,
exalting itself above all special theologies, is the theology
in the absolute sense. Such a theology would effect at once
a new confession and call into life a new church organi-
zation; simply because one can hold no different conviction
as theologian than as church member. But this would
reverse the order of things. The Church does not spring
from theology, but theology has its rise in the life of the
Church. And if the objection is raised, that in this way
theology is robbed of its character of universal validity and
thus becomes unscientific, we answer: (1) that for universal
validity the acceptance of all individuals is not demanded,
but only of those who are receptive to the truth of a matter
and are well informed of it ; (2) that every convinced theo-
logian in the presence of his opponent also appeals from the
mind that has been ill-informed (male informatum) to the
mind that is to be better informed (melius informandum).
The fact that unity of conviction, which is fairly common
with the material sciences and rare with the spiritual
sciences, is altogether wanting with the highest, viz. theol-
ogy, is no plea against theology, since it merely shows that,
as it touches that which is most tender, it of necessity stands i
highest, and consequently has most to endure from the
ruin worked by sin in our spiritual life.

On this ground we maintain the confessional character of



Chap. I] § 65. RELATION OF THEOLOGY TO ITS OBJECT 327

theology, since otherwise either the unity of our theological
thinking is lost, or the integrity of our theological convic-
tion. To us who are members of the Reformed Churches
the more exactly defined object of theology is, the knowl-
edge of God, as given in the Reformed or purified confession.

§ 65. The Relation of Theology to its Object

Thus far the course of thought has run smoothly. Knowl-
edge of God is the crown of all that can be known. Knowledge
of God is inconceivable, except it is imparted to us by God
Himself. This knowledge, given us by nature in our crea-
tion, has been veiled from and darkened in us by the results
of sin. Consequently it now comes to us in the form of a
special revelation, and we have received the divine illumina-
tion, by which we can assimilate the content of that revela-
tion. And science is called in, to introduce this knowledge
of God, thus revealed, into our human thought. Just here,
however, a very serious misinterpretation is possible, which
must needs be prevented. It can be represented that it is
only science that places the revealed knowledge of God
Avithin the reach of the pious. In which case it is science
that investigates the special revelation; the results of this in-
vestigation are gradually more fully established ; that which
is established is brought to the knowledge of all ; and thus
the knowledge of God is made universal. This entirel}'"
intellectualistic way excludes, meanwhile, the spiritual ex-
perience of the Church in its entirety, as well as of indi-
vidual believers. Taken in this way, scientifically theolog-
ical study must have preceded all faith, and the knowledge of
God would only have come within our reach after theology
had as good as finished its task. This, however, is incon-
ceivable, since theology is born of the Church, and not the
Church of theolog5^ Reflection does not create life, but
suo'fure life is first, after which reflection speaks its word
concerning it. And thus spiritual life became manifest
in the Church of Christ, and as the result of Revelation
practical spiritual knowledge of God had been the rich pos-
session of thousands upon thousands, long before the idea of



328 § 65. THE RELATION OF [Div. Ill

a scientific theology was suggested. It cannot even be said
that scientific theology presented the forms of thought
which led to the formulations of dogma. Those formula-
tions were much more the product of the conflict for truth
which took place in the life of the Church, and therefore
they have borne much more an ecclesiastical than a scientific
character. The knowledge of God, held by the Church, did
not remain naively mystical, until science analyzed this
mysticism. But sharp and clear thinking was done in the
Church as such, long before the science of theology as such
had won a place for itself. The Church has not lived wicon-
sciously, but consciously^ and so far as the personal life of
believers is concerned, no urgency for a closer scientific
c, explanation has ever been observed.
, \^.: ' Much less can it be said that scientific theology is called
i^-|r to add more certainty to the confession of the Church and to

^ demonstrate its truth. The desire to have theology perform

'^ this service, so entirely foreign to it, has not originated in

times of spiritual prosperity and healthful activity of faith,
but was always the bitter fruit of the weakening of faith, and
consequently was ever incapable of checking the decline of
the life of the Church. The Church that has leaned on the-
ology, instead of presenting its arm to theology for its support,
has always lost the remnant of higher courage which re-
minded it of better days, and has always degraded itself to a
dependency upon the school. No, the need of scientific the-
ology does not spring from the need of the soul, but always
finds its motive in our human thought. There is a world of
thought which binds man to man, and which, notwithstanding
the change of individuals, passes on from generation to gen-
eration. Only a few, however, live in that world of thought
with such clear consciousness as to feel themselves at home
there. But they also who do not enter in so deeply, derive
general representations from this world of thought Mhich are
the common property of all and thereby render the mutual
correspondence among minds possible. And this world of
thought cannot resist the impulse to take all things up into
itself, and therefore also this knowledge of God ; and of this



Chap. I] THEOLOGY TO ITS OBJECT 329

impulse theology as a science is born. This seems to be other-
wise, when we observe that the practical purpose of the first
theological studies was to defend themselves apologetically, or
to train preachers for the Church ; but appearance must not
mislead us. The actual need, expressed in these attempts, was
to seek a point of support for one's propaganda in the world
of thought that was common to Jews and heathen. It was
soon learned that with one's preaching pure and simple no
gains were made. Hence the need was felt of something of
a more transparent character, to supply which the content
of the faith was gradually interpreted in the language of our
thinking consciousness. In proportion as the significance of
this effort after clearer consciousness was more sharply seen,
the sense also gradually awakened of a vocation, which, inde-
pendent of necessity and defence, should cause the content
of the revealed knowledge of God to shine likewise in this
world of thought. By obedience to this, that content was
not brought closer to our heart, but was presented with more
clearness to our consciousness. The distance was lessened
between our general conceptions and the content of that reve-
lation. The confession of that content became more trans-
parent and accurate, and though this scientific theology was
unable to add one grain to the content of this knowledge of
God, it has unquestionably heightened the pleasure of our
possession. The Church, therefore, has not hesitated to
profit by it ; and though there is no single pearl in her con-
fession which she owes theology as such, since all her pearls
are gathered from the depths of spiritual life, it is equally
certain that she would not have been able to string these
pearls so beautifully in her confession, had not the light of
theology illumined her spiritual labor. From clearer con-
sciousness to go back to mystic darkness, is obscurantism ;
and since theology has also made the scientific torch to burn,
no church that wants to avoid being wilfully " blind " can
afford to act as though this torch had never been lighted, but
must duly take it into account. In this wise, moreover, the-
ological science is no abstraction. On the contrary, it springs
of necessity from the life of the Church, upon which it exerts



330 § 65. THE RELATION OF [Div. Ill

an influence in all the stages of its development. What "sye
protest against is, that theology should be thought to exist
merely for the sake of rendering this auxiliary service, and
. that the Church by itself should be considered not to be able
/:^C>^f^'" "' to do without it. Spiritually the Church has prospered long
' ' centuries without it, and in so far can never be dependent

on it. But on the other hand, again, theology should not be
explained from utility. That it did originate, is accounted
for by the nobility of our human thought, which cannot rest,
so long as there is still a single domain within reach which
it has not annexed to itself. Thinking man, converted to
God, has felt himself called to cause the honor of God's truth
to shine also in the world of our representations and concep-
tions. If that which God causes us to perceive of Himself
were limited to a mystic esthesia, we might philosophize
about this phenomenon, but we would never be able to ana-
lyze this perception theologically. Since, however, at sun-
dry times and in divers manners God has spoken unto the
fathers, and thus light upon Crod has arisen in our conscious-
ness, that revelation itself has impelled a scientific investi-
gation, and Christendom would have done violence to the
impulse of its consciousness if it had lived without theology.
Theology, therefore, like every other science, aims at as
complete and accurate a laiowledge of its object as possible.
It too is born from the thirst after insight and clearness,
and cannot rest so long as there is still a possibility of mak-
ing the insight into its object more clear. Theology should
not be denied this ideal character of all science, and there-
fore its motive should ever be sought in knowing God, and
not in knowing religion or Christianity. Religion and Chris-
tendom by themselves are excellent and important subjects,
l)ut as such they do not cover a necessary department in
our consciousness. But this is entirely different with respect
to the Eternal Being. In every human consciousness of
higher development, or at least in the general consciousness
of humanity, there is a vacant space, which can only be filled
by the knowledge of the Eternal One. If, therefore, as was
shown above, theology is to find its object only in the re-



Chap. I] THEOLOGY TO ITS OBJECT 331

vealed, ectypal knowledge of Grod, this should never be taken
in the sense of scholastic learning. The motive for all the-
ology is and ever will be the knowledge of the Eternal
Being, not now in the interest of the needs of our heart, and
not, as a rule, for the practical purposes of life, but solely
in the interest of the world of our thought. More than
this it cannot give. As a science, it is and always will be
intellectual work^ and can never be anything else. Only as
far as the revealed knowledge of God has a logical con-
tent, is theology able to master it. Outside of the domain
of our thinking it is powerless ; but when the matter con-
cerns this thinking, it is indisputably the province of theol-
ogy to do it.

But if in this way we concentrate its calling upon the criti-
cal examination of the self-revelation of the Eternal Beincr
to us sinners, we do not mean that it is merely to explain from
this revelation what relates exclusively to God and to His
Nature. It must be strictly theological, so that from the be-
ginning to the end of its epic God Himself is the hero ; but as
was observed by the older theologians, one can treat of God
both in the direct and oblique cases (de Deo in casu recto et
obliquo). Not only, therefore, that which in revelation deals
with the being of God, but also His attributes, activities,
and creations, so far as these contribute to the knowledge
of God, should be taken up in the investigation ; nature,
therefore, as well, and history, i.e. from the theological side ;
and man likewise, provided he is taken as created after the
image of God, and thus interpreted theologically. And as
knowledge of a powerful thinker is deemed incomplete
for his biography, unless you include his ideas concerning
the significance of man, the great problems of life, and the
development which awaits us in the future, it is self-evident,
that it belongs to the knowledge of God, to investigate what
He declares concerning man, His relation to the children of
men, and His counsel which shall stand. The emphasis,
which we put upon theology, as theology, tends by no means
to impoverish it ; we take it that its content is thereby greatly
enriched ; we only claim that whatever shall belong to its



332 § 65. RELATION OF THEOLOGY TO ITS OBJECT [Div. Ill

content must be governed by one and the same leading
thought, which leading thouglit is the knowledge of God.
Tins provides at the same time a standard, as shall be shown
later on, by which to bring perspective into the Scripture ;
provided we avoid the errors of distinguishing between
Scripture and the Word of God, and of concentrating the
significance of the Scripture upon the religious-ethical. The
knowledge of God alone teaches you to distinguish between
eminent, common, and less important interests in the ScrijDt-
ure. Only that vrhich you have made your own theologi-
cally^ you possess as part of revelation ; while that which
to your sense is not connected with the knowledge of the
Eternal Being, lies still outside of it.

Even this, however, does not entirely determine the rela-
tion of theology to its object. All this concerns exclusively
the content of Revelation, and does not yet reckon with the
revealed knowledge of God as such. Thus far a dogmatic-
ethical study might develop itself, but this would not provide
room for a theology in the broader unfolding of all its depart-
ments of study. Only with the organic construction of
theology as a scientific unity can it be shown more accu-
rately of every department, in what relation it stands to the
knowledge of God, and what place, therefore, belongs to
such a department in the theologic unit. To this, then, we
refer ; but it is necessary here to indicate, in broad outline,
from whence theology derives these many departments of
study. It will not suffice to say, that they have appeared
de facto., neither will it be enough to emphasize the signifi-
cance of these departments as preparation for the preaching of
the Word. To-be capable of being scientifically interpreted,
the unit of a science must spring from the root of its object,
or, at least, its object must be its motive. This object here
is: the revealed knotoledge of God, or the theologia ectypa reve-
lata. From this it follows, that we are not simply to deal
with the content of this revelation, but also that this revela-
tion as such must be investigated ; that the activity must



Online LibraryAbraham KuyperEncyclopedia of sacred theology : its principles ... → online text (page 31 of 64)