MY INTELLECTUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Henry Nelson Wieman
Originally published in Bretall, Robert W., "The Empirical Theology of Henry Nelson Wieman" (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1963.)
A MAN ' S thinking can best be understood when one knows the the problem on which he has been working throughout his mature years. My intellectual life has been focused on a single problem. Every significant influence which has played upon me has been directed to this inquiry. The problem which has engaged me for the past fifty years can be put in the form of a question: What operates in human life with such character and power that it will transform man as he cannot transform himself, saving him from evil and leading him to the best that human life can ever reach, provided he meet the required conditions?
One of the required conditions is faith. Religious faith is giving oneself in the wholeness of his being, so far as he is able, to what be believes has the character and power just mentioned. This self-giving requires the purging of oneself by every means at his command of everything he can discover in himself which resists the transforming power to which he commits himself. In theological terms, this purging is called repentance and confession of sin.
Transformation can occur only in the form of events. The empirical method is the only possible way to distinguish events and to know what transformation results from them. Therefore, if the religious problem be as stated, theology must be empirical. If God is what transforms man as he cannot transform himself, to save him from self-destructive propensities and lead him to the best that human life can attain, then a theology which repudiates the empirical method of inquiry is futile and misleading.
From the beginning I have insisted that religion in great part is one of the major evils in human life because it is commitment to what men believe will transform toward the best but this commitment is often given to what in truth does the opposite. Consequently, religion based on belief not corrected by empirical inquiry is very likely to be an evil.
A change in my treatment of this religious problem has been gradually developing through the years. It is a shift of the focus of inquiry from the universe and from speculation about the power of being, allegedly creating and sustaining the universe, over to what operates in human life. Increasingly, I am convinced that religious inquiry is misdirected when some presence pervading the total cosmos is sought to solve the religious problem. It is even more futile to search infinite being which transcends the totality of all existence. It is impossible to gain knowledge of the total cosmos or to have any understanding of the infinity transcending the cosmos. Consequently, beliefs about these matters are illusions, cherished for their utility in producing desired states of mind. Scientific knowledge is not about the universe in its wholeness but only about some structure selected to fit the demands of the techniques and theories available to the human mind at any given stage in the development of scientific thought. What is true of science in this respect is true of philosophy and theology or any other way in which the human mind might attain knowledge.
Nothing can transform man unless it actually operates in human life. Therefore, in human life, in the actual processes of human existence, must be found the saving and transforming power which religious inquiry seeks and which faith must apprehend. When religious inquiry is directed to what operates in human life, and not to a realm beyond human life, the consequent form of religion is not necessarily the kind of humanism which claims that man can transform himself by setting up the proper ideals and devoting himself to desired goals. No man by conscious volition can change the established organization of his personality at those levels which are beyond the reach of his own consciousness. If psychopathology has demonstrated nothing else, it has certainly demonstrated this. Men are driven, some more and some less, by unconscious propensities which frustrate their conscious aims and often lead to self‑destruction, to the destruction of others, or to the disruption of mutual support in social relations.
The conventional religious term for creative transformation operating beyond the control of conscious volition to save from evil is grace. We need some such word to designate the fact, but by itself it gives no information and solves no problem. It only states that under some conditions men are transformed as they cannot transform themselves, in such a way as to save them from evil and lead them toward the best The word tells us nothing about how the transformation operates nor what the required conditions may be under which it can operate most effectively. Therefore, unless we have empirical knowledge of what operates in the form of "grace," the word can do nothing more than give us the exalted feeling that we are not as other men because we are the recipients of God's grace. Without empirical evidence to support the claim, this is nothing but moral arrogance with consequences which are often deadly.
The revelation of God in Jesus Christ, or in any other way, must inevitably be in the form of events. Christian faith has always claimed that divine revelation has been in the form of actual events. As said before, events can be distinguished in no other way than by sense experience. Therefore Christian theology is based on sense experience; otherwise it is unfaithful to original Christianity.
Man can have no spiritual experience which does not include sense experience, because the living organism is always sensing. A prayer is heard with the sense experience of hearing; it is uttered with the sense experience of uttering; it is silently meditated with the use of language and other symbols derived originally from sense experience. Without sense experience of sight or hearing or touch, one can know nothing of the Cross of Christ. When one is deaf and blind, the powers of the spirit must be awakened by the sense experience of touch; otherwise they remain dormant. This we know from the story of Helen Keller.
Every power of cognition, every power of appreciation, devotion, love, and aspiration requires sense experience in its beginning and in its development; and it reaches its culmination in some profound perception involving sense experience so interpreted as to reach the utmost depth and scope of meaning as one beholds the symbols which have this meaning. Furthermore there can be no sense experience without some meaning reaching into the past, into the future, and into the depth of interpretation, no matter how limited all this may be. The problem of sense experience for religious inquiry and religious devotion is not to exclude it; the problem is to develop it in such a way that it calls forth all the creative powers of human life in profound perceptions. Peter, after hearing the words and seeing the behavior of Jesus, cries: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!" This came out of sense, and without sense experience there is no revelation of God according to the Christian faith.
I shall now tell of the influences which have shaped my thinking in a way to develop this kind of empirical theology.
My father was a Presbyterian minister. My mother was a woman of profound piety and religious devotion. She shaped the religious development of her children, not by verbal instruction but by the encompassing might of her faith. She influenced others in the same way. Until she was past eighty, a company of women, some thirty in number, came regularly to her home for worship and study every week.
I graduated from Park College which was dominated and shaped by the Christian tradition, with college church, required daily worship, and many courses in Bible and religious thought. At Park, Ernest McAffee, teacher of "Comparative Religions" and son of the founder of the college, and Silas Evans, teacher of philosophy and college preacher, first awakened me to the urgency of the intellectual problem involved in the conduct of religious living. I seem to have come alive under their instruction.
Throughout high school and up to the month of April in my senior year at college, I was sure that I should be a journalist. My mother's brother was editor of a small paper, and in that unspoken way of hers my mother's expectations for me bad become my expectations for myself. But shortly before my graduation, I came to my room after the evening meal and sat alone looking at the sunset over the Missouri River. Suddenly it came over me that I should devote my life to the problems of religious inquiry. I never had a more ecstatic experience. I could not sleep all night and walked in that ecstasy for several days.
Since that evening in April I have never doubted my vocation. Never once throughout my life have I doubted the reality of God, whatever the revolutionary changes in my ideas about what, in truth, does have the character and power to transform man after the manner indicated. These changes in my religious thinking never dimmed my awareness of the reality that man is subject to transformation from the worse to the better in ways which be cannot himself determine, except in the sense of meeting certain required conditions.
I distinguish two levels in the self‑giving of faith. At one level, commitment is guided by the ideas which one happens to have at the time concerning what transforms man creatively. But there is a deeper level of commitment. At this second level, one is motivated by the intention to give himself, in the wholeness of his being so far as he is able, to what in truth does save and transform, no matter how different it may be from one's ideas about it.
If one cannot distinguish between his own ideas and what his ideas seek to apprehend, he is unfit for religious inquiry and also for every other kind of inquiry. Religious thinking is existential, engaging the total self. It becomes neurotic if it binds one to a given set of ideas. It is liberating and creative if the existential engagement is given to what actually saves and not to one's ideas about it, the ideas being constantly subject to correction. With this creative and liberating commitment, one can view his ideas critically, because a deeper commitment delivers him from bondage to them. This deeper commitment is to the actuality and not merely to ideas about it.
The decision made in April of my senior year in college did not point to the parish ministry, but it did require that I go to a graduate school to study the religious problem. At that time I knew of no such place except the theological seminaries. I spent three years at the San Francisco Seminary (Presbyterian), and on graduation was awarded a traveling fellowship giving me a year in Germany. I chose Jena because Rudolf Eucken at that time was most widely acclaimed for his work in the philosophy of religion, having won a Nobel Prize. During the second half of the school year in Germany I went to Heidelberg and studied under Windelband and Troeltsch.
During these years I was gathering ideas and doubtless was undergoing some kind of development, but I was not aware of any further insight changing the structure of my thought.
On returning to the United States I spent four years in the pastorate, most of the time at Davis, California, where the State Farm School of the University of California had recently been located. My interest in the work there was with the students attending the school. But I soon found that one cannot effectively reach college students unless one is himself a part of their institution, so in 1915 I left for Harvard to study not in the Divinity School but in the Department of Philosophy. Harvard was the most intellectually transforming experience of my life up to that time. It opened up wide, free ranges of thought.
I should say that while yet in Davis I read Bergson and found him exciting. (Ever since those days of private study my thinking has been deeply influenced by Bergson's idea of creativity, although my interpretation is different from his.) He gave to my thinking a direction which deflected the influences of Harvard and caused me to reinterpret my teachers as I would not otherwise have done.
At Harvard the two men who influenced me most were Ernest Hocking and Ralph Barton Perry. Santayana had departed, Whitehead had not arrived, and Royce died during the summer after my first year in the graduate school. I had been introduced to the philosophy of Josiah Royce at Park College when my teacher Silas Evans spent an entire course interpreting The World and the Individual. In Hocking, whose religious thinking has become an enduring part of my life, I found another devoted follower of Royce. But Bergson had already intervened to turn me away from the metaphysics of idealism, and Hocking himself was carrying further the changes initiated by Royce whereby idealism was becoming increasingly a kind of interpersonal creativity. This is the direction in which I myself had been moving, to the point where my idea of creative interchange can no longer be called idealism in the sense that Hegel intended.
Ralph Barton Perry introduced me to the problem of value as philosophically treated. This problem has been a central concern of mine ever since, although I have departed from Perry's treatment of it, or rather extended his interpretation of value into areas and forms which he does not recognize, so far as I can discover. I do not see how any penetrating and effective understanding of religion, morality, or human nature and destiny can ignore the problem of value.
While at Harvard I became acquainted with the work of John Dewey and found him highly stimulating. His influence is also an abiding part of my thought. Dewey caused me to see something I have never forgotten; Inquiry concerning what makes for the good and evil of human life must be directed to what actually and observably operates in human life. Otherwise, the inquiry will produce misleading illusions. The following statements indicate the impact of John Dewey upon my thinking.
The transcendent, the supernatural, the ineffable, the infinite, the absolute being itself, and other such ideas inevitably lead inquiry astray unless they can be identified with something which observably operates in human life. What is observed is not necessarily identical with what enters immediately into sense experience. Rather, what we observe is what we infer from sense experience by predicting specific consequences and observing or failing to observe under required conditions what was predicted. Perception, including sense experience, can engage the total personality with all its resources of inquiry‑intuition, inference, wonder, meditation, speculation, faith, love, aspiration. Perception always involves sense experience. But profound perception brings into action every means and every power by which knowledge is attained. It is a gross misunderstanding to say that sense experience can give us only knowledge of sense experience.
Whitehead was the next great thinker I encountered. Whitehead does not apply the term God to the creativity which operates in human life. He reserves the holy name for designating the primordial order which is changeless Being. But analysis of his thought seems to indicate that the primordial order can be called God only because the process which creates us and all the good which human life can ever attain does, in truth, conform to the primordial order. In such case, the primordial order is God only because it renders the process of existence progressively creative, when required conditions are present. The primordial order is not outside of the creativity which operates in human life to create, sustain, save, and transform. Rather, the primordial order is an ingredient in the creativity, in such manner that without the primordial order there would be no creativity.
Whether or not this statement about Whitehead's thought is what Whitehead himself intended to say, this is the line of thinking I developed in consequence of long study of his writing. Doubtless Whitehead would emphasize more than I do the realm of eternal possibilities allegedly ordered by the primordial order. This is a cosmic speculation about which it is difficult to get evidence. In any case religious seeking must not be led astray from its primary problem and responsibility. Religious inquiry seeks to know what operates in human life here and how to save from stagnation, perversion, and destruction, and to transform toward the best to be attained. If this problem is solved, the eternal possibilities, if any, will take care of themselves. Man in existence is the religious problem, not the cosmos and not eternal being except as these enter into man's existence. Furthermore, since all existence is process, the religious problem is man and the processes which create and destroy, save and pervert, liberate and bind.
Another potent influence in my thinking had been the analysis of language and symbols generally, with the various kinds of meaning which symbols convey. The interpretation of symbols has become a massive movement in philosophy and theology. My first book, published in 1926, was written under the influence of this movement as it was developing into its modern form. More recent work in this field by George Herbert Mead, Charles Morris, and others has turned my thought increasingly to this problem. Paul Tillich has been a powerful influence, leading theologians to interpret theology in terms of the religious symbol. I have learned much from the profound and clarifying insights of Tillich. But his theology is based upon what I consider a misunderstanding of the religious symbol. I am convinced that his use of it is leading religious thought into another of those aberrations from which it must return after futile wanderings to find the path of truth. Perhaps the best way to show bow I have been influenced by the study of symbolism is to state my criticism of Tillich, who is the leading representative of this movement in theology.
The religious symbol, according to Tillich, is not cognitive, if cognition means the use of words to designate or describe some structure in existence or possibility. Scientific language is cognitive but the religious symbol is not. It is not because, says Tillich, it points beyond the reach of knowledge to the infinite depth and power of being. The power of being cannot be confined to any form in existence or possibility. Therefore the power of being is unknowable; it is the ultimate mystery. Yet religious symbols point to it and presumably can awaken in us a qualitative experience of it.
When it is said that God is love, the word love in Tillich's theology is used as a religious symbol. It does not mean that the form of thought, feeling, and action in our experience which we call love applies to God. God is not love in that sense. The same is true of justice or any other term applied to the power of being. Even the word God, when it brings to mind a being having the characteristics with which God is conceived in Christian or other religious tradition, is a religious symbol. There is no such being beyond this construction of the human imagination. But this imagined construction points beyond itself to the power of being.
The inconceivable power of being is the "God beyond God." This expression, frequently used by Tillich, means that only the power of being and it alone can meet the demands of that "ultimate concern" which drives man to religion. According to Tillich, man's ultimate concern is to overcome non‑being. "Nonbeing" refers to all the limitations and frustrations of our existence, such as death, guilt, rejection, and (most characteristic of modern man) meaninglessness. This last term refers to what is expressed when a man asks: What's the use of it all? What makes life worth living? Why all this striving and suffering, ending in death? We can suppress these thoughts, but when we dare to let them reach our awareness, we have the feeling that we are merely waiting for death and that is all there is to it. This is the experience which goes by the name of meaninglessness. Seeking to overcome this, together with other forms of non-being, is religion, according to Tillich. Therefore, says Tillich, if "God" refers to what enables man to overcome non-being in its various forms, it must refer beyond the traditional idea of God to the power of being itself, because this and nothing else can overcome non-being. Being itself is infinite and eternal.
No matter what happens, no matter what is destroyed, whatever remains will still be an instance of being and a manifestation of the power of being. So, says Tillich, what is ultimately sought in religious faith can be nothing else than the power of being, since it alone can overcome non-being. It alone can give us the "courage to be."
This sounds very plausible until one examines what is truly involved beyond the exalted feeling generated by the words being and power of being. Being itself, or the power of being, is infinite and indestructible only in the sense that when everything else is destroyed, whatever continues will still be. Everything conceivable might be destroyed, leaving what we cannot conceive. What we cannot conceive would still be an instance of being. The slow torture of the human race to the point of extinction would still manifest the power of being.
This is the only kind of indestructibility which being itself or the power of being can provide, so long as it is not limited to some form standing in opposition to other forms. But this is exactly what Tillich means by "power of being." The eternity of being itself is nothing more than the certainty that something will be when life and virtue have ceased to exist. No matter what comes into existence in the form of horror and "nothingness," through it all the power of being will still be the power of being. This and nothing more is what we have when we cast ourselves upon the infinity of being to be saved.
I am deeply appreciative of the contributions Tillich has made to religious thought in analyzing man's predicament. My negative criticism has been entirely directed upon errors arising from his ontology, which in turn is based upon his interpretation and use of religious symbols. According to him, the religious symbol points beyond all structure to the infinite depths of being. Therefore, it points to the ultimate mystery of being, beyond all possibility of making cognitive distinctions. I have tried to show the disastrous consequences for religious faith when subjected to the guidance of religious symbols interpreted and used in this way. I agree with Tillich in saying that the non-cognitive symbol is indispensable in the conduct of human life and especially in religion. But its function is not to point to the depths where no structure can be found and no distinctions made. Rather, it has another function of supreme importance.
In opposition to Tillich, I must briefly explain what I mean by the proper use of non-cognitive symbols. The expression "darling" addressed to a child is a non-cognitive symbol. It does not describe nor designate that form of existence which distinguishes the child from other forms of existence. Rather, it refers to the total, unique individuality of the child. This individuality can never be reduced to the structures which the mind can know. We can know that the child is two years old, that he pronounces his words in a certain way, that he is dark, etc. An infinity of structures might be known about the child if we were omniscient. But all this generalization about the child would never give us the immediate experience of his unique individuality which is what we love. To express and to awaken this immediate experience of the individuality, we must use the noncognitive symbol. What we love is the unique individuality to which all these structures apply cognitively. But this individuality is more than the structure which the individual has in common with other beings of like sort. Qualities of feeling and sense immediately experienced are our apprehension of this unique individual. But these qualities cannot be described in their immediacy. Only the structures pertaining to them can be known by way of cognitive symbols. To awaken the experience of love or other qualities by which we apprehend the unique individual, we must use non-cognitive symbols.
What is said here about the beloved child can also be said about any particular, unique, existing kind of being, whether it be a person, a tree, a rock, my native land, a period of history, anything which is a unique form of existence. The qualities we experience in the particular form of existence may not be those of love. They may be the qualities of fear, boredom, ecstasy, or what have you. These words "love," "fear," and the like are cognitive symbols because they refer to the structure of the experience. They do not give us the qualities of the experience because we do not ordinarily have the experience of fear or of affection or boredom when we use these words. The non-cognitive symbol is required to awaken the qualities of the experience.
Fine art is the most common form of the non-cognitive symbol. A song or poem which is a lyrical cry expressing love, fear, horror is an example. These awaken the qualities we experience in the concrete fullness of being, whether or not they also inform us of the structure which contains these qualities.
This brings the argument to the point where I can state my agreement and disagreement with Tillich concerning the noncognitive symbol. I agree that human life cannot be sustained at the human level without a large use of the non‑cognitive symbol. Especially is this true where beauty, love, devotion, and loyalty are involved. Only the non-cognitive symbol can awaken, express, vivify, and intensify that experience of quality which is the actual content of any existing thing. But all existing things having these qualities also have structures by which they can be known and described, and by which action can be guided in dealing with them.
Now all this applies to the non‑cognitive religious symbol. Tillich says that the religious symbol points to what transcends all structure and therefore all possible knowledge. So, says Tillich, God does not exist because existence involves some limiting form, otherwise called structure. I hold to the contrary: God does exist. I agree that the non‑cognitive religious symbol is indispensable to the conduct of the religious life, even as it is indispensable to love, devotion, and much else in human existence. I agree that the religious symbol used in this way does not give us knowledge, because it has a function other than cognition: namely, to awaken, deepen, and magnify our experience of the qualities which enter into the existence of what commands our religious faith. But what commands our faith also has a structure by which it can be known and distinguished from other kinds of being. To know this structure we must have cognitive symbols.
In opposition to Tillich, I contend that God is not the unknowable mystery. Certainly, mystery is everywhere, although the word mystery has many meanings. If by mystery one means the unknowable, and if the knowable is limited to distinguishing structures, while the unknowable refers to the immediately experienced qualities pertaining to particular existing beings, then these qualities are the mystery pertaining to all existence and also pertaining to God. But this is not the same as saying that God has no knowable structure whatsoever. This is my basic point of disagreement with Tillich.
This critical comment on Tillich is the only way I have of showing how I have been influenced by him and by the widespread movement in religious thinking which emphasizes the religious symbol as having a function other than conveying knowledge, when knowledge means to distinguish and describe. Under the influence of Tillich and others, I have in recent years come to appreciate the place and the importance of the non-cognitive symbol beyond the scope of my earlier thinking. But I am convinced that Tillich's use of the religious symbol will lead to disaster if not corrected.
Karl Barth has also been a strong influence. Yet I am very far from being a Barthian. Therefore, to show the way in which my thought has been shaped by him. I must state my criticism of his theology. Barth and Tillich stand in extreme opposition to one another on many points. Bart's theology is based on concrete, particular events, or on what he believes to be such. Tillich's theology is based on an ontology which infinitely transcends everything in existence. Consequently, for Tillich, nothing in existence can be identified with God. Barth declares repeatedly that God exists and works in time and space; that God is not supra‑historical but is historical. Tillich just as emphatically reiterates that all events--hence, all existence--is "fallen," is infected with evil in the form of the "existential predicament."
Therefore, says Tillich, to say that God exists is to represent something to be God which cannot possibly be divine. To say that God exists approaches blasphemy, says Tillich. This "blasphemy" is the heart and substance of Barth's theology. Tillich says that theological language must be symbolic in the sense that I have just been explaining. Barth insists that theological language must be literal and cognitively descriptive of the actual events in which God is revealed. It is nonsense, says Tillich, to think that a man can be God. Barth reiterates many times that it is literally true to say that Jesus Christ is God, "a man who is God and God who is also man." He writes: "In Jesus Christ we have to do with God Himself, with God the Creator, who became a creature, who existed as a creature in time and space, here, there, at that time, just as we all exist." In opposition to this, Tillich writes that Jesus as the Christ reveals God only because the man is transparent, so that through his human existence we can see (apprehend) the power of being which is not limited to any form of existence and most certainly cannot be a man.
Tillich holds that the revelation of God comes to us through the New Testament in the form of a picture painted of the man Jesus. This picture, like all great works of art, reveals not the existing object (in this case the man Jesus); rather it conceals the actual man in order to give us through the picture the vision of the New Being. In opposition to this, Barth writes: ". . .everything will depend upon the Christians' not painting for nonChristians in word and deed a picture of the Lord or an idea of Christ, but in their succeeding with human words and ideas in pointing to Christ himself."
I side with Barth and against Tillich in identifying God with actual events. I agree with Barth in saying that God exists in time and space; that God is historical and not supra-historical; that God was actually in Jesus Christ in the form of actual events of creative interchange whereby men are transformed creatively and savingly.
Barth writes that no man can meet with God in the Bible or in Jesus Christ unless God takes the initiative and gives to the individual the "freedom" to know and believe the truth. With this also I agree in the sense that no man can know the living presence of God in the saving power of creativity unless this very creativity generates in him the insight by which this can be known.
While I agree with Barth on all these points and others, I specify the kind of events in Jesus Christ and the continued events through history which are identical with the living God. Barth does not do this, other than to say that the man Jesus Christ is God. This ignores all the distinctions which must be made to render the revelation intelligible. Furthermore, there is in Barth a dogmatism and a repudiation of logical coherence which render his theology impossible, as I see it. The truth about God no man can believe, says Barth, unless a special gift from God enables him to believe. The truth about God as set forth by Barth is beyond the reach of all the powers of human knowledge. Only by a special gift from God can one believe and know it. This truth cannot be found in holy scriptures unless God has given you the freedom to know and believe. Since the ordinary tests distinguishing true and false do not apply, the only way to know if one has the truth given of God is to find out if one agrees with Karl Barth.
It may be true that all those who disagree with Barth have not been chosen by God to receive the divine gift of freedom to believe the truth revealed in God's Word. If we accept the theology of Karl Barth, this must be the case. For the moment I am not disputing that point. I wish only to state what this entails. If the truth of God's revelation in Holy Scripture is, as Barth says, "inaccessible and inconceivable" to those who study the Bible devotedly and persistently with endowments equal to those of Barth, then the Bible is not the source from which the truth can be derived. Neither can this truth be had from Jesus Christ, the prophets and apostles, as recorded in the Bible. If Barth is right, the only agency enabling one to gain this truth is the special act of God bestowed upon a few; and these few are chosen by God without regard for intellectual ability, scholarship, or other natural endowment. Barth admits that this is a miracle of God's gracious love. The whole thing comes down to this: if you believe Karl Barth's exposition of God's revealed truth, you are assured that you have received God's gift of "freedom to believe." Otherwise, you are one of those for whom the truth is "inaccessible and inconceivable."
This conclusion is further corroborated by what Barth says about "freedom to believe." It is freedom to believe against all that contradicts the belief. He writes: "The glory of faith . . . is . . . that the believer in God's Word may bold on to the Word in everything, in spite of all that contradicts it." When the special gift from God is the freedom to believe in disregard of contrary evidence and despite contradiction, it is plain that there is no way to distinguish what is true and what is false in God's revelation, except by the teaching of Karl Barth. The Bible cannot inform us, because the truth of revelation is inaccessible and inconceivable without freedom to believe, miraculously given to us by God; and this belief must be held even when contradicted by evidence from science, philosophy, and common sense.
On page eleven of Dogmatics in Outline, Barth admits that dogmatics is liable to error. But how can anyone detect what is error and what is truth if all the ordinary tests are repudiated save only the freedom to believe given of God? Also, does Barth mean to say that be may be in error when be says that Jesus Christ is God, with all the many other statements which be derives from this affirmation? I do not believe that he would admit liability to error on this doctrine.
Barth says that Christian faith does not repudiate reason. But he goes on immediately to say that Christian faith is concerned not merely with reason but with "an illumination of reason . . . He [God] cannot be known by the powers of human knowledge. . . . What man can know by his own power according to the measure of his natural powers . . . has nothing to do with God."
From all this, it is apparent that when Barth speaks of "reason" in theology he does not mean what the word ordinarily designates: namely, man's natural powers for achieving knowledge. Rather, he means a special kind of reason, called "an illumination of reason." This illumination must come directly from God as a special gift granted only to a few, Barth himself being one of these few. Faith, says Barth, is "thoroughly logical," and is "a truth of facts." But this faith which is "thoroughly logical" is a belief involving contradictory statements. Also, the "facts" are "inaccessible and inconceivable" to the natural powers of the human mind.
Barth states his views as being not merely his own but those of original Christianity. Tillich calmly states the opposite view as being original Christianity. Harnack and Ritschl also state the views of original Christianity, but they do not agree with either Barth or Tillich. Such being the case, it cannot be that all these men rightly affirm the faith of original Christianity. Rather, what each proclaims is his own personal faith derived from a Christian tradition which has been changing for practice of identifying one's personal faith with original Christianity and with "biblical faith" seems to give unquestionable authority to the pronouncements made. But the authority is false because men of equal scholarship, making the same claim, disagree radically.
This intellectual autobiography has said relatively little about personal connections with individuals, groups, books, institutions, social situations, and historical developments. My religious thinking, as I see it, can best be traced by examining the problem on which I have been working and explaining what I have done with it.
I am deeply indebted to the theological thinking with which I disagree so radically, and I shall always be grateful for what it has taught me. Above all, I am grateful to those of my students and others who have supported me in the line of inquiry which I have followed.
HENRY NELSON WIEMAN
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
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