To save this undefined to your undefined account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your undefined account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Blaise Pascal once pointed out in connection with mathematical demonstration that it is impossible to operate only with explicit propositions or definitions, for whenever we seek to define the meaning of something in precise terms we have to make use of other terms which for this purpose must themselves remain undefined. Michael Polanyi has shown that this applies no less to all acts of knowledge whether in everyday life or in rigorous scientific inquiry, for any formal account of what we know rests upon a base of informal undefined knowledge, from which it cannot be cut off without becoming empty and useless. This means that a complete formalisation of knowledge in explicit terms is impossible. A cognate reason for this is to be discerned in the fact that in objective knowledge the realities we seek to know inevitably break through any frame of concepts and statements which we use to describe them even though they are developed under the constraint of those realities. Concepts and statements of this kind do not have their truth in themselves but in the realities to which they refer. Hence if we are to do justice to the integrity and nature of the objects of our knowledge we must discriminate them from our knowing of them, and let them confer relativity upon our concepts and statements about them. Thus in all authentic knowledge we have to take into account an informal undefined knowledge grounded in the inherent intelligibility of what we know and must constantly find appropriate ways of letting it exercise a regulative force in all our explicit formulations of it.
In 1520 Luther wrote To the Christian Nobility urging 27 proposals for the reformation of the Church. One of these called for the reform of the universities. Taking up the humanist principle of returning to ancient sources, its aim was to encourage the intensive study of Scripture. Four years later Luther developed this proposal when he wrote To the Councillors of all German Towns, That they should Establish and Maintain Christian Schools. Luther started from the rediscovery of the Gospel; his concern was that this precious experience might be lost again, and that the ‘thunderstorm of God's Word’ might move away. Appropriate forms of education therefore needed to be developed both for young people and for the clergy, in order that the rediscovered Gospel might be preserved: ‘Whoever can grip and hold must grip tight and hold fast.’
Those who oppose the use of the biblical account of creation in classes in science often do so in the spirit with which the great formalist, Hilbert, sundered pure and applied mathematics. One day he was asked to substitute in a class at a nearby technical school for his colleague, Felix Klein, where Klein used his intuitive approach to mathematics to obtain practical applications. Hilbert said to the engineers, ‘I understand that there are those.who feel there is some conflict between pure and applied mathematics. But this cannot be. Sie haben nichts mit einander zu tun.’
This article concentrates on the double foci of its sub-title which may be described as biblical and ecclesiastical, or historical and contemporary. It does not intend to offer a plan for the evangelisation of the Jews, but rather a perspective from which the Christian church may rethink an issue which has been with it from its inception.
In November 1981 I was asked to speak as a historian to the Karl- Heim-Gesellschaft in Schloss Craheim in Germany on ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ’, and specifically to consider the question of the Resurrection both as an act of salvation and as a matter which admits of historical research. This request placed me in a dilemma as I was faced with the task of making not only historical but also theological statements based on the Easter texts in the Synoptic Gospels. The occasion seemed to me, however, to be a suitable opportunity to say something about the types of historical questioning and about the customary methods used in our branch of scholarship, and thereby to show the difficulties in applying such questionings and methods to texts which as ‘Word of God’ proclaim acts of salvation. The following paper is therefore concerned with the legitimate aims and limits of historical research, and is also designed to show the application of historical method to the Scriptures. The paper is substantially that which was delivered to the Karl-Heim-Gesellschaft, and may serve as a reminder that, when theologians claim to speak as historians, they cannot ignore the customary methods used in historical scholarship. The procedure is briefly this.
While the other lectures at this Conference have explored the deeper theological issues raised by the Nicene Creed, the aims of this lecture are primarily historical. I should like to tell you something of the origins of the creed, and how it came to be adopted — or at least used — at the First Council of Constantinople in October 381. Theology will of course make its appearance, for it was in the context of the acrimonious theological debates of the fourth century that the creed emerged; and there is a profound sense in which, as I shall very briefly suggest, its adoption marked a significant turning-point. But my treatment of the theological background, and of the theological revolution of which it was the token, will remain historical.
Our peculiar dignity as persons seems to rest on our freedom of action, since freedom of action is required to make sense both out of moral responsibility and out of the God—man relationship. Indeed, the possession of freedom seems to be a (if not the) major justification for claims that humans are in an important way images of God. Furthermore, the most promising theodicies all ascribe a good portion of the evil experienced in the world to the free actions of human beings.
Several years before the mode of Christ's eucharistic presence became a controverted issue which would presently provoke a lasting schism among the Churches of the Reformation, Luther could unaffectedly propound the traditional dogma of the bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar as a necessary consequence of the evangelical quest for the sensus grammaticus of the words of institution. The same exegetical method which led to his reappropriation of the doctrine of the justification of the sinner ‘by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith’ obliged him to confess that ‘the bread is the body of Christ’. Already here, in the mordantly anti-Roman treatise On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther has laid his finger on the model in terms of which he will understand the real presence to the end of his days: the consecrated host is the body of Christ, just as the assumed humanity of jesus Christ is the Son of God. The displacement of the scholastic theory of transubstantiation by the model of the incarnate person illustrates the Reformer's allegiance to the Chalcedonian Definition: ‘Luther is really replacing Aristotelian categories by those derived from Chalcedonian christology, to which he remained faithful: “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”.’ While the doctrine of the real presence moved from the periphery to the centre of Luther's theology and piety as the 1520s wore on, his conception of the modality of the eucharistic presence remained constant throughout.
In determining the meaning of the expression ‘the substance of the Faith’, it seems right to go back to the act of the Scottish Parliament in 1690 which ratified the Westminster Confession of Faith ‘as the publick and avowed Confession of this Church, containing the summe and substance of the doctrine of the Reformed Churches.’ There the WCF was regarded as containing the sum and substance of some thirty Reformed Confessions, including the Scots Confession, the First and Second Helvetic Confessions. These confessions expressly acknowledged the ancient Catholic Creeds and Conciliar Statements of the Church, the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Formulations of Ephesus and Chalcedon, and the so-called ‘Athanasian Creed’, and embodied all their main statements as essential articles of belief. This was true of the WCF which, as James Denney once pointed out, ‘contains everything that is in the Nicene Creed’ (Jesus and the Gospel, p. 39If). That is to say, there was no move away from what the Athanasian Creed and the Second Helvetic Confession called ‘the Catholic Faith’, although the basic articles of faith handed down through the Creeds were set within a confessional frame of distinctively Reformed character. It was inevitable, therefore, that a distinction was made between what Samuel Rutherford called (Due Right Presbyteries, p. 13) ‘a confession dejure, what everyman ought to believe, as the Nicene Creed, and the Creed of Athanasius’, and a wider summation of teaching common to ‘true Reformed Protestant religion’.
When we read the Creed of Constantinople of the year 381, which is generally called the Nicene Creed, we gain the unmistakable impression that we have travelled a long way from the opening verses of St. Mark's Gospel. This paper will consist of an attempt to answer the question, Was this journey really necessary? A number of negatives have been given to this question. It has been asserted that the doctrine of this creed was reached because the spirit of useless intellectual curiosity and of metaphysical speculation had gripped the theologians of the Church, so that the creed became only a stage towards ‘the bankruptcy of Patristic theology’ which was to be reached by the middle of the next century. It has been suggested, perhaps as a variant of the same argument, that this creed represents the capture of the original Judaeo-Christian message or gospel of primitive Christianity by a process of Hellenisation, a gradual approximation to late Greek, mainly Platonic, philosophy. The theory has even been put forward with a wholly misplaced confidence that the doctrine of the Trinity was produced in order to guarantee a celestial order and security corresponding to and supporting the order and security represented by the Christian Emperor himself. These are all explanations of the doctrinal journey which in one way or another see it as a superfluity or a deviation.
There was once a man who, upon asking about Presbyterianism, was handed the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Having read it, he replied: ‘This is all very well; I now understand the official beliefs of Presbyterians. But I am after not just beliefs, but the reality of everyday life: what is it like to be a Presbyterian? How does one distinctively feel about himself and the world, and to what practical consequences does this lead?’
‘The Holy Scriptures teach ethics, or the theory of duties, far better than any Ciceros or Aristotles’, claimed Luther, comparing the Bible with the standard ethical handbooks of antiquity, both Latin (Cicero's De Officiis) and Greek (Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics). Luther had in fact lectured on Aristotle's Ethics in 1508/9, a few years before he received the degree of ‘Doctor in Biblia’. It was as a Professor of Bible, mainly of the OT, that Luther earned his living for over thirty years, and Calvin too expended a large proportion of his efforts as preacher, commentator and lecturer on the OT. Comparisons of their use of the OT have tended to concentrate on the law and to a lesser extent on Christological (Christocentric) hermeneutics. This essay will endeavour to cast the net more widely and to broach the question of the law as it arises within a broader context.
On the one hand, if Christianity is not to be cut adrift from its historical roots, the question … is the gospel true? must be answered at the first level by a rigorous application of historical criticism, with all its techniques and methods for assessing the reliability of evidence about the past. But historical criticism is essentially a secular tool, fashioned to meet secular interests, and thus by its very nature useless to evaluate the religious affirmations of Faith. Yet the very documents which we seek to examine historically were written from Faith to Faith, bearing witness to the Word which became Flesh, dwelling amongst us, and revealing the glory of the Only-begotten Son of God. How this dilemma is to be resolved is the most pressing problem in the field of Christian apologetic.
Tillich claimed often and vehemently that the risk of faith in Jesus as the Christ ‘lies in quite a different dimension from the risk of accepting uncertain historical facts’.1 The ultimate concern expressed in and through Christology is free from the contingencies of history and the consequent possibility of falsification. Yet many critics have accused Tillich of making covert historical assumptions in an inconsistent manner, thus failing in practice to make good his claims. I wish to defend Tillich on his own systematic grounds from such criticism, but also finally to raise the question whether his grounds are tenable.
In a recent article in this journal, Professor Wiebe has attempted to discard the traditional thesis about the relationship between faith and reason in Kant's critical philosophy and substitute a decidedly novel and superficially attractive interpretation. While traditional readings of Kant's theology have taken his denial of knowledge in order to make room for faith at more or less face value and have thus attributed to him a rather different sort of theology, Professor Wiebe rejects this polarity of knowledge and faith. Kant's faith, according to Wiebe, is a ‘cognitive faith — a source of belief that can quite legitimately, even if only in a weak sense, be referred to as religious knowledge’. This claim in turn rests upon the assertion that the traditional distinction between belief and knowledge is untenable, that ‘… “knowledge” and “justified belief” are indistinguishable’. Wiebe would thus recast Kant's claim of denying knowledge to make room for faith to denying theoretical knowledge to make room for practical knowledge. Kantian faith then, ‘is not outside the realm of reason, but is rather one aspect of reason, as is knowledge’. It is in this sense that there is ‘a basic continuity in Kant's thoughts on religion with the theologies of the past’
Exhaustive studies of Martin Luther's preaching are few, and for good reason. The persistence of his scribes has resulted in a corpus of more than 2,000 sermons — and a tangle of questions concerning their authenticity and integrity. His theological program was such that in matters of content he did not maintain a rigid distinction between treatise and sermon. Everything we have from Luther ‘preaches’. Complicating the picture are the various postils, which are usually identified as ‘sermons’. The postils were not intended to do more than set a standard for others; yet they probably were delivered verbatim from some pulpits, and in The German Mass Luther says they should be!
Whether or not one may wish to call it a renaissance in the doctrine of the Trinity, there has been a notable resurgence of interest in trinitarian thinking in recent theology. Some of the most suggestive contributions have been made by two theologians whose works are generally regarded as ‘eschatologically’ oriented. In a volume recently published in English as The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, Jürgen Moltmann attempts to develop a comprehensive doctrine of the trinitarian being of God taking up and expanding themes already set forth in such earlier works as The Crucified God, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, and several journal articles dealing with the ‘trinitarian history of God’. Throughout these works Moltmann was concerned to demonstrate the openness of the being of God for man and history and toward the future. The trinitarian differentiation and unity of God, he argued in various ways, is to be closely identified with the events of salvation history, especially the cross of Jesus. In his most recent book, he attempts to systematise this approach to the doctrine of God through a ‘salvation historical’ and ‘social’ doctrine of the Trinity. This work represents a major contribution to trinitarian thought and is both complex and wide-ranging in its treatment of the subject. It will be our concern here simply to investigate some of the major themes related to the problem of God's relationship to history, that is, God's ‘historicality’.
From those high fountains where now she drinks her fill of the waters of life the woman of Samaria may permit herself a wry smile at the curiously contorted ways in which some of her modern commentators re-tell her story. It is not that they take the incident at Jacob's well too seriously. In a way they do not take it seriously enough. Those few minutes of conversation by the well-side were for her the beginning of the new and abundant life which she now lives to all eternity — and nothing could be more serious and important than that. No, it is rather that the conversation is given the wrong sort of seriousness. It is invested with an earnest solemnity of which the event itself was entirely free. I fear she hardly recognises herself in the pasteboard caricature which is held up to our inspection by over-earnest, perhaps overlearned, exegetes.
In Otto's mature philosophy of religion, as presented in Das Heilige, religions are viewed as consisting of both rational and non-rational elements. While religions have to do with theoretical and moral ideas, they are nonetheless not finally dependent on these. Rather, these rational components are ultimately referable to an object or ‘subject’ that can only be apprehended in a non-rational ‘unique original feeling-response’ that is the innermost core of all religions. The analysis of this non-rational numinous core of religion, and of its connection to religion's rational factors, is the overall aim of Das Heilige, indeed of Otto's work as a whole.
The paradigm for Christians' descriptions of their liturgy occurs at 1 Cor. 11:
The Lord Jesus on the night that he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said. ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’