Full Text for The Relation of Faith and Knowledge in the Lutheran Confessions (Text)

Concoll()ia . Tbeological Montbly MAY • 1 950 ARCHIVE 322 FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS accounts for the curious phenomenon, recently noted by Karl Barth, that during the nineteenth century "der Mensch gleich­zeitig mit einem rueckartigen Fortschritt in der Entfaltung seiner Moeglichkeiten sich selbst ein Unbekannter wurde."3 As philosophy moved from the objective to the subjective and science moved from subjective to objective, doctrinal theology fol­lowed the lead of subjective philosophy. A prime example of this is Schleiermacher, who sought to develop theology from the pious self-consciousness of the theologizing subject.4 In our own time, Schleiermacher's interpretation of the relation of faith and knowl­edge has been called seriously into question, notably by Karl Barth 5 and Emil Brunner.6 But it is symptomatic of the dilemma of modern theology that Brunner's positive treatments of the question, his Divine-Human Encounter and his Revelation and Reason/ do not manage to free themselves from the very sub­jectivism which they criticize in Schleiermacher. The crucial historical nexus for the entire problem in Protestant theology is the period of the Reformation, for in that period there were set down patterns of Christian thought and expression which have occurred and recurred throughout the past four centuries. Almost without exception, both the "objectivists" and the "sub­jectivists" of Protestantism have claimed support for their views from the theology of the Reformation, and specifically from Luther and from the Lutheran Confessions.8 In a sense, the claims of both might be said to be justified, but only because the theology of the Lutheran Reformation cannot be classified as either "objec­tivist" or "subjectivist." Rather, it defines the nature of faith, and the relation of faith and knowledge, in a manner that transcends these two alternatives. Roman Catholic objectivism has accordingly interpreted the theology of the Lutheran Confessions as subjectivist.9 In the view of Albrecht Ritschl, on the other hand, the Lutheran Confessions assert "dass aHe Christen, urn Gott recht zu verehren, im Besitz seiner richtigen Erkenntnis sein sollen; und darunter lassen sie keine andere als deren technisch-theologische Darstellung ver­stehen."lo As a matter of fact, neither of these interpretations tells the whole story. In opposition to Roman Catholic objectivism and FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS 323 to Reformed subjectivism the Lutheran Confessions teach a view of faith that refuses to be compromised by either of these alterna­tives. To make that point clear, this essay will seek to present the relation between faith and knowledge according to the Lutheran Confessions; and since the Confessions claim to be nothing more nor less than a summary of Holy Scripture,l1 we shall devote con­siderable attention to the Biblical presentation of that relation as well. II The origin of all Christian faith, as of all Christian knowledge, is God. Christ is "the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1: 9) . All human wisdom is derivative wisdom, created by the Wisdom that has been with God from eternity (Proverbs 8). Indeed, by the coming of Christ Ef-twQavEv () {l-EOt; Lrrv aocp[av LOU %6Gf,lou, and He has made Christ {}wu aocp[av, which His Church proclaims as a GocpLav €V f,lUO"L'Y]QLq> (1 Cor. 1:20 to 2:7). There is no knowledge or wisdom, much less any faith, which is not grounded in God. As there is no knowledge of things without God, so there is especially no knowledge of man without God. The answer to the phenomenon noted by Barth is to be found in the fact that man cannot know himself because his knowledge of himself must be rooted in God. For "solche Erbsuende ist so gar eine tiefe, boese Verderbung der Natur, dass sie keine Vernunft nicht kennt, sondern muss aus der Schrift Offenbarung geglaubt werden." J2 "Neque enlin potest iudicari nisi ex Verbo Dei." 13 How can I know man if I do not know God, in whose linage man was created? 14 Man's knowledge of himself as sinner presupposes the knowledge of God; much less, then, can man know himself as a child of God without the knowledge of God. But what is the basis of this "knowledge of God"? The answer of the Scriptures would be that knowledge about God presupposes knowledge by God, that the phrase "of God" in "knowledge of God" must be subjective genitive before it can become objective genitive. It is because the Shepherd knows His sheep that His sheep know Him (John 10:14). It is because His knowledge of them is as complete as it is, and not because their knowledge of Him 324 FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS is complete, that no one will be able to snatch them from His hand.15 Addressing himself to the Galatians, Paul characterizes t.l}em in their previous heathen condition as 011')(. eLM'w; .aeov. By way of contrast, he describes them in their new state as viiv ~f yvovw; .aeov, l-tiiAAOV OE yvwa.atv'w; uno .awu (Gal. 4: 8-9). The l-tiiAAOV M is well taken. They had not merely passed from not knowing God to knowing God, but they had passed from not knowing God to being known by Him and therefore knowing Him. In the same way Paul portrays the present life and the future hope of the Christian. The Christian even now has a yvwaL£ h I-tEQO'tJr;, but he lives in God's EntyvwaLr; of him and therefore in the hope that he will attain to a similar ent yvwaLr; (1 Cor. 13: 12) ; a parallel to this view of yvwaL£ is 1 Cor. 8: 1-3. The setting for such a radical view of divine know ledge is provided by the Hebrew verb 1I':1~, especially as this is applied to God. "0 Lord," confesses the Psalmist, "Thou hast searched me and known me" (Ps. 13 9: 1); and the theme of the Psalm is the important truth "dass Gatt nicht allein vor dem Fall mensch­Hche Natur gescha£fen habe, sondern dass sie auch nach dem Fall eine Kreatur und Werk Gottes sei".16 Far from denoting a mere perception that a man exists, 1I'J~ here suggests God's creative knowledge, His "nosse cum effectu et affectu." It was, therefore, more than euphemism which prompted the sacred writers to employ the verb 1I'J~ for man's participation in the divine "creatio continua." 17 1I'J~ is an active, personal, intimate, creative knowing by God. No Greek could have used YLVWa1tW in this sense; for the God of the Greeks, even of the wisest Greeks, lived in unu.aELu, knowing little, and caring less, about the lives of mortal men.18 Not from Greek usage, but from the Old Testament comes the pregnant use of YLVwaxw and its derivatives in the New Testament.19 The foundation of God is as sure as it is because it has this seal: EYVW 'KUQLOr; "Cove:; ov-cur; U'lJ"COv (2 Tim. 2: 19). Realizing that the verb syvw here cannot signify a mere intellectual awareness on God's part that some persons belong to Him, the Formula of Concord saw this passage as a parallel to the promise (John 10: 27 -28) that the Shepherd knows His sheep and that therefore no one will be able to tear them from His hand.20 A similar viewpoint makes possible an answer to the critical FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS 325 question of how 1t(JOEYVCO is used in Rom. 8:29. As George Stoeck­hardt has shown with much learning, the term :11:(JOEYVCO here does not wish to say that God was aware of, much less that He took into consideration, the conduct or faith of those whom He chose.21 This was a knowledge in the Old Testament sense of ll~, a "nosse cum effectu et affectu." Stoeckhardt's interpretation is substantiated by the immediate context, where ovx O'Lbcq,tEV (v. 26) and O'LbU!-lEV (v. 28) are connected by 0 oE E(JEllVWV -rae; XU(J()[U1; OHlEV (v. 27) . We do not know what to ask for; God knows the mind of the interceding Spirit; and therefore we know that all things work together for good. Our certainty is rooted not in our knowledge of our needs, but in God's knowledge; because He knows, we can know also. III The root of man's knowledge of God, then, is God's knowledge of man. Man's knowledge is ever a response to God's knowledge. It does not arise from within man, but is given from without. For this reason, faith does not fasten upon itself; in classical terms, faith is never its own object. Luther's statement: "!eh glaube, dass ich nicht . . . glauben . . . kann" 22 is a fine summary of the divinely wrought "salutaris desperado" 23 over faith's ability to be or to create its own object. Precisely this attempt to fasten faith upon itself or upon any other good creates "Abgott".24 Because we do not know what we ought to ask, we must look outside our­selves. "Ich komme her in meinem Glauben und auch der andern, noch kann ich nicht darauf bauen, dass lch glaube, und viele Leute fuer mich bitten, sondern dar auf baue ich, dass es dein Wort und Befehl ist; gleichwie ich zum Sakrament gehe, nicht auf meinen Glauben, sondern auf Christ us' Wort, ich sd stark oder schwach, das lasse ich Gatt walten" .25 Only in this way can there be certainty of faith, if faith does not build upon faith but upon the Word of God. When directed inwardly, to his own merits or faith, a man will lose himself in despair or in "semritas," but he will never find true certainty.26 For the certainty of faith is not founded upon me but upon God. This is the meaning of Luther's classic dictum: "Nostra theologia est certa, quia ponit nos extra nos: non debeo nid in conscientia mea, sensuali persona, opere, sed in promissione divina, veritate, quae 326 FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS non potest fallere." 27 Faith, then, is tied to the promise (Rom.4: 16). The close association of faith and the promise -the Apology calls them "correlativa" 28 -is another way of showing the origin of Christian faith and knowledge. Albrecht Ritschl claims that Lutheran theology makes faith in the promise of Christ subsidiary to faith in the Bible.29 While it must be granted that there have sometimes been tendencies in that direction,30 Lutheran theology at its best has always insisted that the object of saving faith "ist nur das Evangelium, nicht auch das Gesetz oder die ganze Heilige Schrift." 31 This insight is substantiated by the Biblical use of the verb JtLO"tEVW and the noun :reLutLS. They occur with the dative, with the genitive, with the infinitive, and with various prepositions,32 but almost always in the sense of "trust" or in direct relation to the promise of Christ. Especially illuminating are the occurrences of a OtL clause with JtLutEVW. The usage is relatively' rare, rarer, it would seem, than the English "I believe that ... " 33 And in those instances where it does occur, the content of the otL clause is almost inevitably Christo logical. For example, among the almost 100 instances of JtLutEVW in the Gospel of John, there are only twelve, or perhaps thirteen,34 with a otL clause.35 Everyone of these OtL clauses refers to Christ's lordship, to His Messianic office, or to some related theme. The two instances in the Johannine epistles where :T(LotEvW is followed by a otL clause (1 John 5: 1; 5: 5) both refer to Christ's office as the Messiah and the Son of God. In Paul the combina­tion of JtLotEvW with a otL clause is even less frequent: twice in Romans (6: 8; 10: 9 ) and once in 1 Thessalonians (4: 14) . All three clauses speak of Christ's resurrection and its benefits. Thus faith and the promise are indeed correlative. An examina­tion of the New Testament use of :T(LotEvW can only confirm the correctness of the Apology's succinct and oft-repeated phrase "velle et accipere oblatam promissionem." 36 The same insight is contained in the Apology's definition of faith as obedience to the Gospel,37 and deepened when it speaks of faith as the worship of God.3s "Fides est AutQEtU, quae accipit a Deo oblata beneficia; iustitia legis est AutQcLU, quae offert Deo nostra merita. Fide sic vult coli Deus, ut ab ipso accipiamus ea, quae promittit et offert." FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS 327 Faith is obedience, but obedience to the Gospel, obedience that accepts because it has nothing to offer.3D In this sense the Apostle can speak of a v:rra:x,oYj :rrt(rtHil~ (Rom. 1: 5) and can seem to use :rrt(Jl'L~ and V:rrCL,)W~ interchangeably.40 For faith is a V:rrCLXO~, a hearkening to the promise of the Gospel. Faith hearkens to the promise of the Gospel in that it hears the Word of the Gospel. There is a close connection between v:rrCLx011 :rrt(rtE(iJ~ and the &xo~ out of which :rt(I1LL~ comes according to Rom. 10:17.41 The a1{o~, in turn, is ~tlX {J~[.laLO~ X(>LI1'tOU.42 The {JYI[.lCL XQLI1LOU is the means which calls the &xo~ and the v:rraxoTJ :rr[(m(iJ~ into being. And what is the {Jij[.lCL XQLI1LO'V but the creative "promissio" of which the Apology speaks? It is most significant that the Apology refers this passage, Rom. 10: 17, to absolution.43 For absolution, as the Apology points out more than once, is "vox evangelii" 4"'; "haec est ipsa vox evangelii propria, quod propter Christum, non propter nostra opera, fide consequamur remissionem peccatorum." 45 A faith that is born of the {Jij[!CL X(>L0LOU, spoken in the absolu­tion, is no mere intellectual assent that a set of propositions cor­responds to an external, objective reality. If it were rooted in an internal, self-acquired knowledge, it would remain such an intel­lectual assent. But since our s:rrtYV(iJI1L~ is only in response to God's s:rrtYV(iJ(jL~, as pointed out above, and since our :rrtl1n~ is s; (htofj~, ~ bE &XOTJ bLu {JYt[!CLLO~ X(>LI1LOU, it necessarily follows that Christian E:rrtYV(iJ(jL~ and Christian :rrtI1LL~ are not an "Abart des Wissens," 46 but "velIe et accipere oblatam promissionem." Failure to realize this central characteristic of Christian faith is what has led critics, ancient and modern, to deny that little children can have faith.47 If faith is interpreted as a conclusion to which I come as the result of intellectual deliberation and/or argumenta­tion, then a child, which is incapable of such deliberation and argumentation, cannot believe. But the New Testament does not evaluate the faith of children in terms of mature deliberation; it does the exact opposite, insisting that everyone must accept the Kingdom (O~ :rtmOLov (Luke 18: 17 ). "So wenig," comments Franz Pieper, "ist der Kindeszustand oder das noch nicht zur Vernunft Gekommensein ein Hindernis des Glaeubigwerdens." 48 Children really believe, theirs is a "fides actualis." 49 What is more, God 328 FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE IN THE CONFESSIONS ignites and works "rechte Erkenntnis Gottes und Glauben" 50 through Baptism, also through the Baptism of children. In both the "Erkenntnis" and the "Glaube," the otat()(u are to serve us as examples. IV Weare now in a position to delineate the relation of faith and knowledge more precisely. The medieval theologians sought to distinguish between faith and knowledge in order to provide room for t.L1.e advanced knowledge of the medieval theologians.51 As a matter of fact, they succeeded in turning faith into a "notitia historiae seu dogmatum." 52 In opposition to this, the Lutheran Confessions equate "credere" and "nosse," 53 but they do so by giving each of them a meaning it did not have in medieval theology. Knowledge becomes "beneficia Christi cognoscere" 54; faith becomes "velIe et accipere." If both terms are understood this way, they can truly be equated. So it is that knowledge and faith are sometimes virtually equated in the New Testament. Thus mO"tEuO!1EV in Rom.6:8 and £lM-rEl; in 6:9 are parallel; a siulilar instance appears in 2 Cor. 4: 13-14. To the consternation of philosophical epistemology the Apostles declare nEmaLEuxa!1Ev xal iiyvwxa!1EV (John 6:68). Whatever may be the correct text of John 10:37-38, it does command: m