The Crisis of Protestantism 3



The Russian religious idea of the 19 and 20 Century which awakened from his hibernation since the 14 Century took up once more the problem of religious cosmology and religious anthropology in their untearable interaction. This is the problem of God's relation to creature, to cosmos and Man, the problem of transillumination and transfiguration of the creaturely world, of the cosmical whole. In one of the directions of our religious idea this problem is viewed as problem of "sofiinost'", als problem of Wisdom (Sophia) inside of the creation. In the center of our Orthodox idea is the transfiguration and divinisation of the creature. This is only understandable out of the central mystery of Christianity, the mystery of incarnation of God. Man is in the center of the cosmos and cannot be divided from the cosmical whole. Man is consubstantial with the Manhood of Christ. Therefore the divinisation of creature is possible in Christ and through Christ. The life of one of the greatest Russian saints from the beginning of the 19 Century, St Serafim of Sarov, has the traits of a new cosmical sanctity, a transfigured creature in the Holy Spirit. The idea of justification of Man wasn't in the center for us as for Western consciousness, Protestant like Catholic, but the idea of the transfiguration of Man and of the creature which is connected with it, that means the transfiguration of the cosmos. The redemption of the world ends finally in the Resurrection of Christ. The Resurrection of Christ is a spiritual and mystical, but also a historical and cosmical fact. In it the metahistorical and the historical, the Divine and cosmical penetrate each other, and therefore a new era begins. Such a direction of the Russian Christian idea and of the Russian religious type hasn't anything in common with pantheism. For pantheism is the theosis, the transfiguration, impossible and not necessary, for pantheism is our world in and for itself divine. It doesn't know sin and the Fall. But the divinisation of creature has as condition the struggle with the sin and the evil of this world. In the Russian Orthodox idea we find two creative currents. One is first of all cosmological. In its center is the problem of Wisdom, of the creature and the sophiology and mariology which is connected with it. The other is first of all anthropological. In its center is the problem of Man, his creative profession in the world. This second current is more interested in the historiosophical problem and has an eschatological character. But both currents are a creative reaction against the idea of world and Man without God. They theologize and philosophize, proceeding not from God Who would be divided from Man (theocentrism) or Man divided from God (anthropocentrism), but from Godmanhood (theoanthropism). The holy teachers of the Church develop in their doctrine the religious cosmology and the religious anthropology, deducing all from the christological dogma. The Russian religious idea attemps to do this more than the Western idea which is very anthropological, but sees Man and the whole creature as divided from God. Out of this bottom grew the whole European humanism which is a yes to Man and a no to God. In a certain sense also the Vatican dogma is humanistical. Schleiermacher and K.Barth, the idealistic humanism and the extreme transcendentalism are antitheses which are a necessary result of dividing the two elements in Godmanhood. This leaded to a development and differenciation of the human world, to a complication and refinement of the soul, to a development of science and art, but also to an acute crisis of the European culture. Russia hadn't the humanistic development in this form and therefore hadn't a humanistic creativeness and humanistic culture. But maybe out of this reason the religious problem of Man, the question for sense and the justification of history and of culture are in its culture more sharply than in the West. We find this sharp anthropological formulation of the problem in the religious spirit of Russian literature, first of all with Dostoievskii who anticipated some of Nietzsche's motives, and then in the religious, philosophical and social world of ideas. And always is the idea of Man indissoluble connected with the idea of creature, cosmos, God. We cannot imagine creation isolated, broken, secularized. God is struggling against sin, evil, darkness, but not against His creature, nature. For our idea of God pantheism is more adept than transcendental, dualistic theism. And this kind of thinking ascends to the ontological understanding of incarnation and becoming Man of God.


K.Barth protests energically against the meaning, Protestantism as religion of freedom would be a contrast to Catholicism as religion of authority. And K.Barth is right when he speaks of orthodox and not of liberal Protestantism. Pure Protestantism is indeed fundamentally such a type of authority in Christianity like Catholicism. The question for an absolute criterion and an absolute authority is in Catholicism answered by the Vatican dogma: the Pope is an absolute criterion and an absolute authority. Protestantism sees the Bible, the Word of God as absolute criterion and as absolute authority. The need to hear an absolute authority is the need to hear the Word of God, not a word of a man. Catholicism is hearing it in the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra, Protestantism in the Holy Scripture. Tradition is for Protestantism something pure human. You hear the speech of God only in the Word of God, in the Bible. I don't want to speek here about the difficulty to recognize the Holy Scripture beyond Holy Tradition. I'm here interested only in the comparison with Orthodoxy. K.Barth doesn't see autonomy as basis of Protestantism. The human soul isn't autonomous in relation to the Word of God, this relation is based only on authority. Soul can only be autonomous in comparison with other men. K.Barth showed very well in his Dogmatic that authority presupposes freedom of conscience. Authority can effect only on a free conscience. If it want to rule without free recognition, it would be nothing else than natural necessity. But K.Barth is struggling for external authority. And that is characteristical for Western Christian thinking. I mean that Orthodoxy yet always is the less authoritative form of Christianity. My reasons are: The question for an absolute criterion, that means for an authority, is a typical Western question. It arose by the social nature of the Western Christian world, by the need to set up principles which may organize the life of the society. The authority of the Pope and the authority of the Bible arose out of the same need like the critical cognition theory of Kant. Christian East is less sociological and more ontological, and therefore less interested in this criterion. Only Church as a whole has authority, but this is no external but an internal authority, and this authority hasn't the character of an infallible social institution. The Ecumenical Council has only authority because the Holy Spirit is acting in it. There is no possibility at all to judge the genuineness of a Council according to external, formal, juridical criteria. The people of the Church as a whole recognizes the Council as expression of the Holy Spirit, but the Council doesn't get the nature of an external authority. Bible also is no external authority and the only criterion is the effect of the Holy Spirit. There is no criterion for God, He Himself is the only criterion, the lower cannot be criterion for the Higher. The effusion of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church defines itself the criteria and is the only absolute authority. The inner authority of the Church is here understood all-ecclesiastical (soborno) as unity and wholeness of the Tradition, in the connection of the single person with the ecclesiastical whole. Bearer of the Spirit of ecclesiastical universality (sobornost') is not the highest hierarch (Pope or Patriarch), not a council of hierarchs, not the single believing member of the Church, no individual. This ecclesiastical universality is a mystical collectivism which doesn't obey to any rationalizing. I as individual cannot oppose my freedom to the authority of the Church nor obey freely the authority of the Church, because Church is for me no external reality. The sobornost' is in me and I am in the sobornost'. There is no opposition between individuality and ecclesiastical collectivism because such an opposition would at once be a religious neutralization, dropping out of the Church. The individual who is inside of the ecclesiastical collectivism doesn't know external authority which is always the other side of individualism. In the Orthodox Church there is, of course, a hierarchic discipline and it may assert itself very strongly sometimes. But this belongs to the social-exoterical side of the Church and hasn't anything in common with the mystical understanding of authority. In Orthodoxy obedience plays a great role, but obedience is a very innerly, spiritual way, and it doesn't have any external authority as basis. In Orthodoxy there is an external authority, but not in the sense which liberal Protestantism doesn't accept. Orthodoxy is the most traditional form of Christianity, it estimates most Holy Tradition, faithfulness to the Fathers of the Church. Orthodoxy doesn't know any external authority, not by reason of individualism which even gives birth for the need of authority, but by reason of collectivism of the spirit of ecclesiastical universality. This is most difficult to understand for Western Christianity. Papal infallibility is individualism, in it one individual hears another, believing that it hears the voice of God. Orthodox meaning has as basis that the believing people of God (two or three in My name, Mat 18:20) hears the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Bible isn't at all external authority of the Word of God for individuals. Here the individual doesn't hear at all but the gathered Church and it hears as wholeness which itself is an effect of the Holy Spirit in the inner spiritual life of the Church. The Word of God isn't dead, it was not only spoken at a certain time but it is living, it is spoken eternally. The Word of God is understood dynamically, it is revealed in the life of the Church, it lives in the liturgy, in the sacraments. Liturgy is living Word of God. K.Barth and his school understand the Word of God more dynamic than the old orthodox Protestantism in which it is petrified. But there are to be drawn conclusions from it. The sacramental life of the Church is the sound of the Word of God, it is the continuing incarnation of the Word. In pure biblicism isn't continued this incarnation of the Word, it even never became flesh, it was only spoken to be heared. In Protestantism we like the defense of freedom of conscience, the defense of the freedom of a Christian, there is one of the great verities of Protestantism. But we cannot understand all that individualistically. We like the direct relation to the word of Scripture, but we also don't understand this relation individualistically. Orthodox world lived a wordless spiritual life for centuries, it didn't think, theologize nor philosophize. It clearly understood the word of the great Russian poet Tiutchev: "The uttered thought is lie". Orthodox saints and mystics didn't write confessions, diaries nor spiritual autobiographies, contrary to Catholic ones. (8) All remained in the depth, the original truth remained for the new historical era where must happen the contact between Christian East and West. The Orthodox idea awakened in the 19 Century under the influence of this contact with the West and revealed its creative power and its ability to put up for discussion new and complicated problems. But only in the 20 Century happened a deeper contact between Eastern and Western Christianity. East was beyond the historical struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, and the reasons for this struggle are strange to Orthodoxy. But out of this reason it may play an important role in the nearing and unifying of the Christian world, building a united Christian cosmos. The eschatological kind of the Russian Orthodox conscience is very favourable for Christian unity in so far as it brings all expectations and hopes into the metahistoric sphere without devalueing the sense for history but affirming it. The schisms in the Christian world happened historically, devided from the metahistorical.

As a result must be said that Barthianism is a very serious phenomenon in the Christian life of Europe and at the same time a very serious crisis of Protestantism. In this movement is a hunger and thirst for religious renewal and rebirth, for a return to the religious sources. Protestant liberalism must be overcome because it has exhausted itself. In Barthianism there is a very strong and exclusive conscience of the Protestant type which hinders coming near. In the Dogmatic by K.Barth there is an approximation to the Orthodox dogmatic which must frighten a Protestant. It seems that one must go through the extreme transcendentalism, through crisis and tragedy, but only to come to the fullness of Godhuman Life, to the fullness of Church life.

Notes by Heinrich Michael Knechten

The original Russian text of this article (#341) was not published. Beniamin Unruh translated it into German (see the journal Orient and Occident, 1st year, 1st fascicle 1929, pages 11-25, #341a), Heinrich Michael Knechten into English.

(1) Emil Brunner (1889-1966), Der Mittler (The Mediator, 1927). Zurich, fourth edition 1947.

(2) Karl Barth (1886-1966), Kirchliche Dogmatik (Ecclesiastic Dogmatic), voll. 1/1-4/4. Zurich, 1932-1967.

(3) Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1967), Ich glaube an den dreieinen Gott (I Believe in the Triune God). Jena, 1926; Politische Ethik (Political Ethics). Jena, 1932.

(4) Eduard Thurneysen (1888-1974) worked out the dialectic theology together with Karl Barth, first of all for preaching and pastorals.

(5) Karl Barth, Roemerbrief (The Epistle to the Romans), First edition 1919 (Theology of the Kingdom of God), second edition 1922 (Foundation of the Dialectic Theology).

(6) Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), Das Heilige. Ueber das Irrationale in der Idee des Goettlichen und sein Verhaeltnis zum Rationalen (The Idea of the Holy. An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational). Breslau, 1917; West-Oestliche Mystik (West-Eastern Mysticism). Gotha, 1925; Reich Gottes und Menschensohn (Kingdom of God and Son of Man). Munic, 1934.

(7) Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum (The Great Mystery), 1623. Leipzig, 1843 (Commentary on Genesis).

(8) But see St John of Kronstadt, Dnevnik (Diary). Fourth edition, Moscow, 1894 (My Life in Christ. Jordanville, 1963); Zapiski igumenii Taisii (avtobiografiia). Petrograd, 1916 (Abbess Thaisia of Leushino, The Autobiography of a Spiritual Daughter of St. John of Kronstadt. Platina, 1989); Priest Aleksandr El'chaninov, Zapiski. 2 voll., Paris, 1935 and 1937 (The Diary of a Russian Priest. London, 1967).