Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Karl Holl excerpt:

taken from "The Reconstruction of Morality" (pp. 74-78)

"Luther also attacked the Nominalist position on the basis of actual fact. He said the idea that the supreme achievement of morality, to love God above all things, can be realized on the basis of pure reason is a gross self-deception. The presupposition that the will is able and willing to carry into effect what reason dictates is false. For the will secretly goes its own way alongside and in spite of reason. Because the will is fundamentally selfish, it would rather have no God at all or be God itself than surrender completely to him. We are unable, by natural effort, to give the invisible God what we owe him, our whole will.

"In opposistion to the Scholastics, Luther refused to recognize as moral in any sense the still lower level of action, the deed without any reference to God, the morality without religion. Such action is defective in its decisive element: motivation. The inescapable conclusion is that where love of God is not the decisive thing, self-love prevails. There is no inbetween, such as a 'neutral act'. Luther was not impressed by the Nominalistic sophism that in that case someone who does not commit adultery, murder, or theft would be committing a sin. He affirms this conclusion wholeheartedly. The statement would be absurd only if the one who avoids the crude offense were also free from the secret impulse of desire or anger. With this in mind, one should not hesitate to call even nonadulterers sinners according to the Sermon on the Mount. Even if we grant the improbable -- that a person might act completely virtuously -- the final motive can only be a selfish one when the thought of God is completely excluded. Thus even a deed that is pure in itself becomes sinful in God's sight, since its author is really obliged to serve God.

"Luther thus consciously destroyed all the tendencies toward a so-called autonomous morality which Scholasticism had developed. In the Lectures on Romans he sharpened the judgment of Augustine concerning the virtues of the heathen and vented his full fury upon Aristotle as a moral philosopher. this was not due to a lack of education or theological narrow-mindedness. He saw that no one is devoid of good impulses, and that an autonomous morality indeed represents an ennobling of the person. But he clearly saw the profound contrast between a religiously determined and a self-centered morality, and after the pattern of Paul did not hesitate to draw our the ultimate deductions. These two interpretations of morality are not related as two stages, in which there can be progress from one to the other through the attainment of a higher point of view. They are opposites. For the attitude is fundamentally different in each case. In one case, the ultimate goal is purely immanent; moral effort aims at self-perfection. In the other, duty is defined by an a priori divine order, and there is awareness of conditioning by another will. This does not mean submission, in apathy or ease, to one's fate. One can -- and according to Luther, one should -- freely affirm the duty arising from such submission, as well as the submission itself. Only by doing so does one assume the attitude toward God which God himself regards as alone appropriate. A forced service does not please God. When Luther emphasized the freedom of this submission as essential he laid the basis for an autonomy of a higher type with respect to the obligations imposed by God. At the same time he was perfectly aware that such an affirmation of the will of God demands a rupture, a renunciation of self-seekinf, and above all the recognitions that self-seeking even in its refined 'moral' form is a violation of God's rightful claims. The self-awareness of the merely 'moral' person will always struggle against such a recognition and just for this reason a religiously determined morality, as soon as it correctly understands itself, will always regard an 'autonomous' morality as a hindrance rather than as a preparation.

"This point of view matches the severity with which Luther maintained his demand for a constant, conscious relationship to God in contrast to the more moderate expectations of Scholasticism. While the constantly repeated slogan of the 'good intention' was ringing in his ears, he noted but little real earnestness in this connection. He accordingly characterized the idea of a 'virtual intention' as an easy self-consolation that surely makes Satan rejoice, since there is no better way to teach people to neglect their perpetual responsibility toward God. In the 'actual intention' he now recognized the basic error of the Scholastic interpretation -- a deficient appreciation of the depth out of which a true act of the will must be born. The idea in the church was that an individual had accomplished somthing if a momentary good intention had been induced. But such an act is nothing more than a fleeting frame of mind, a wish , a quickly forgotten resolution. If one were serious about arousing an act of the will, the question would soon arise whether a good intention is really attainable that easily. It would then become obvious to everyone that the will is divided and, more important, that a conscious act is always influenced by the impression left by one's total previous behavior on the substratum of the personality. Every attempt at an elevation of the soul has the whole leaden weight of one's natural being to contend with, along with the results of one's development. The effort must go much deeper; it must continually try to encompass the unconscious, too, and where the ascent to God is ernestly soulght, a furious battle takes place in which success can be given only by God himself. The awakened act praised by the church is at best only a feeble 'willingness to will'; in the spirit of Jesus one must judge even more severly that it is hyposcrisy. For the actual person, the always self-seeking ego, is not at all affected by it.

"Luther thus accomplished in the moral realm what he was accomplishing in the religious realm. He cleared out everything alien and inferior, all dilutions and accommodations by which the moral idea of Christianity had been distorted in the course of its evolution, and thus restored its original vigor. To return to the New Testament interpretation of morality was equivalent, however, to perceiving once again the chasm that separated it from the ordinary secular interpretation of life and the general principles prevailing in state and society."

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