In Defence of the Faith VII.—Faith and Works rrofessor Rudolf
Otto, one of the most influential of living theologians, is well known in this country by his great work, The idea of the Holy.—ED. Spectator.] WHAT is the true meaning of the Christian doctrine of the need for " Salvation " and the "total depravity " of the " natural " man ? Ever since it was put forward in so extreme a form by Augustine this conception has retained its place as a permanent element in the mind of Christendom. Yet it propounds a chal- lenging problem in interpretation. For though attempts to tone down the doctrine or to mitigate its implications in practice have always been condemned by the conscience of the Church, it yet presents features manifestly impos- sible of acceptance.
We would urge that the Augustinian and scholastic formulation of the doctrine, adopted by Luther, involves a conceptual scheme which can never express adequately its innermost purpose and aim, and which indeed led inevitably to dogmatic statements wholly alien to the religious conviction that prompted them, and flatly opposed to the fundamental affirmations of the Christian gospel. Hence, for instance, Augustine's fatal disparage- ment of moral effort as such, where it occurs outside the bounds of Christianity, by which benevolence or dis- interested devotion are explained as disguised self-love and ambition. Sometimes Luther uses similar language, and he takes over without qualification the anti-Pelagian formulas of the " unfreedom of the will," the "passivity of man," &c. But he charges this inherited terminology with a meaning richer than that which the scholastic tradition gave it, and one which therefore inevitably tends to be obscured and distorted. The central preoccupation of the scholastic thought upon this matter was in its assertion of a " moralism " at once supernatural and sacramental, the inpouring through " grace " of a dispo- sition (habitue) whereby the enfeebled human will should- be empowered to produce the "good works" which the Law at once commanded and commended. At the same time this scholastic outlook had an essentially negative orientation—viz., towards the state of sin to be overcome. In Luther, on the contrary, the orientation is positive ; he looks to the" new righteousness "that is to be attained, consisting in the "fulfilment of the first commandment" by wholehearted reverence, love, and trust in God—a purely religious (as distinct from a moral) attitude of mind which has nothing to do with psychological questions about weakness of will, and refers to a type of experience other than that of willing and acting.
From this point of view" the flesh "is not the sensuous, self-indulgent life, to be cured by sacramental medicines, but it is rather an obstacle in the true way of Salvation, the having of God in the heart, which is both man's final goal and first requirement. So that when Luther, adopting Augustine's terminology, affirms " Justificamur non propriis operibus," he should rather have said simply non operibus ; that is " justification " is not to be found at all by the way of "works."
Luther's standpoint is obscured by the traditional interpretation of his doctrine—for which in truth he is himself in part responsible. According to this, we are justified cola fide ; but this " faith " is the fiducia, trust,- which relies on the" merit of Christ," vicariously achieved on our behalf and " credited " to the account of the believer (imputatio), who thereupon is declared "righteous.". But this whole way of regarding the matter conflicts with the real meaning of Luther and St. Paul alike. For it maintains that the way to " justification " still really is that of achievement—viz., the fulfilment of the Law, only, the way being too hard for man, the achievement of Christ is taken as a substitute ; which still leaves God dealing with man purely on, as it were, a legal basis. But this is just the point of view which both St. Paul and Luther really reject. "Justification by faith" is no mere- substitute for a genuine "justification by law." Rather; to seek to be "justified through the law" is from first to last the essence of" the flesh," is, indeed, the most heinous of "sins," for such an attitude misconceives utterly and fatally the relation of man to God. The profound con- ception of sin and deliverance from sin was thus distorted by the merely rational and ethical scheme through which it was interpreted.
A closer examination of the essential elements in Luther's real thought of "Justification" will make clear the contrast between his true point of view, falsified by an unfortunate choice of terms, and that of the traditional Augustinian doctrine. For Luther, then (as for the Scottish catechism), the "chief end of man" is not primarily "deliverance from sense" or any other moralistic aim ; nor does he look to " grace " as an "additional gift" instilled into man by supernatural and sacramental means. Rather it is that a man should have and " enjoy " God, possess the coelestia ac divina, have " piety " before God, that is, live in communion with God, in and from "faith." It is just this "faith," at once a cleaving to and trust in God (adhaerere and confid.ere deo), that God claims of man. This is the "new life" itself, the state of completed being, not merely a means to it. It signifies a profound transformation of a man's whole nature, a renewal and reorientation which sets him right outside all preoccupation with his own personal self. Until he has entered into this experience of God and faith" a man is as much out of his proper element as a fish out of water, and all that he is and does in this state so alien to his true nature and need must therefore involve confusion and error and frustration.
Accordingly this " faith " is not a mere pis aller, the substitute for another more genuine " justification " to be attained (if only that were not impossible) through "works." The fault of that point of view is, that by focussing attention on an ideal to be realized merely througlrvoluntary effort it tends to shut out the true ideal du life withand from God. And so the resultant attitude of mind; if maintained in conscious opposition to this ideal,- becomes .the fatal sin of pride, the stubborn oppo- sition to -the "one thing needful," which Luther calls the Devil's worst snare.
And it should be clear that this view should lead to a valuation of moral good as such (in the purely human sphere and apart from the delusion that salvation is to be earned by it), very different from the disparagements pro- nounced by Augustine and (sometimes) by Luther. The latter's true position gives not the slightest warrant to discredit genuine moral goodness as a counterfeit. This is indeed a standpoint which even Augustine only adopts qud apologist and theologian, and promptly forgets when, speaking merely as a man, he acknowledges his own debt to the great thinkers of Greece and Rome ; a standpoint, further, which involves either totally abandoning or distorting, in the interests of some dog- matic system, some of the purest utterances of the Gospel —for instance, the story of the Good Samaritan, who, without sacramental aid and innocent of any dogmas about original sin, &e., yet is given as an example of pure human goodness. But while insisting on the indispen- sable importance of goodness in conduct, we have still to maintain, both that "holiness," the condition of belonging to God, is not the same as moral will and moral deed, and further, that even the purest moral volition cannot in the nature of things of itself produce faith.
Here Luther took his stand inevitably and uncom- promisingly- as an Augustinian against any trace of Pela- gianism wherever he found it. But the formulas of the school acquire their own special import in his thought. He must, in the first place, obviously deny the efficacy of merely human power (non propriis viribus, meritis, sew operibus). For God himself can be found by no "force" of man, reached by no " work " of man, won by no "desert" of man. And the same is true of "faith." Faith can arise, God can be gained, only in the pure way of revela- tion. The search for God cannot even arise, except He had already shown some traces of Himself to man. Every beginning here must then be ascribed to the action of God.
And so comes Luther's harshly asseverated "by faith alone," as the article by which he is prepared to stand or fall. He is rejecting thereby the alluring Roman Catholic formula, fides caritate formata, which is really (he held) a most mischievous heresy inasmuch as it presents the poison in the subtlest form, for it makes " faith " once again an act, to be deserved and achieved, instead of being something above and beyond achievement on the part of man.
Accordingly Luther is compelled to defend justitia infusa ac passiva as against justitia acquisita. But how ill-adapted here is the terminology to the inner meaning of his thought!' For what he means is -not anything that could be " inpoured " either like a material substance or like a supernatural "disposition." Such formulas were good in so far as they excluded the notion of producing what, in fact, cannot be produced ; they are inept, in so far as they are charged with the materialistic and sacra- mental association of the schools. Instead of infusa Luther should have said incensa. For Faith is "awak- ened," reverence "stirred," Love "kindled," and all this through Word and Spirit. They are not, as it were, instilled, inffitered, like magical powers (ex opere operato non panenti obicem). So, too, when Luther insists on the "wholly passive" attitude of the believer, this expres- sion, unavoidable at that date as a shibboleth, belongs wholly to a supernaturalistic, semi-materialistic way of thinking. He Should have stressed not the passivity butt the experience. For. what, he has in mind is that divine illumination, the direct experience of God's favour, which is not dependent on man's deciding or devising, but is always a constraining -and a conquest of the "natural man." And yet the soul, so far from being inert and merely passive in this experience, attains for the first time its fullest inner vitality and activity. It is, indeed, a condition that excludes mere mental passivity, and one impossible to a torpid and fundamentally inactive being. To emphasize the " passivity " misrepresents the psychological state of mind by a false mechanical analogy : as though the soul were exposed to the divine influence as a body impelled by a mechanical force.* The " lost " state, then, from which the natural man needs deliverance is the inevitable condition attaching to creaturehood ; it has no reference to any psychological or ethical discussion on will and motive, and it is not to be overcome by any moral activity on our part. It means the incapacity of the creature to discover and possess the transcendent reality except in so far as the latter invades experience by a pure act of self-revelation, which on the human side is a mystical "rebirth" only possible" from the spirit." For the Christian this takes concrete form as "Justification by Grace purely in faith" apart from works. Only when this has been brought to pass does there result the judgment of "depravity," and then merely as a retrospective judgment upon the individual's previous life as having been in conflict with the true human ideal. But this judgment is only possible from the standpoint of religion itself. Until the transforming experience has taken place it is impossible and indeed has no meaning. And with, respect to moral goodness it leads, not to a denial of the reality of this, but rather to an acknowledg- ment of its possibility, only with the additional admission that moral effort itself in all its genuineness is " flesh " and is in antagonism to Spirit so soon as it is presented as a rival "way of salvation," shutting out thereby the vision of the transcendent supramundane goal. In a word, if it is the chief end of man that he "glorify and enjoy" God, and if God is in Himself other and more than "the moral order of the world," and to have God in faith and nothing less, then it cannot be gainsaid that whatever is not of faith is "Sin," the expression of the "lost" state of one who ha a not realized his own deepest nature. RUI)Oth' OTTO.
(Translated by Prof. Jourr W. HARVEY.)
Next week we shall publish the eighth article in this second series, "Personal Immortality," by Dr. Albert Peel. Previous articles have been "The Modern Outlook in Theology," by the Bishop of Gloucester ; "The Modem Attitude to the Bible," by Canon Vernon Store, of Westminster ; "Providence and Free Will," by Rev. F. H. Brabant ; "Christianity and the Beyond," by Dr. Edwyn Bevan ; "'The Wondrous Fellowship," by Mr. Algae Thorold ; and "The Mystery of Suffering," by the Rev. Dr. Maltby.