Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 




Christianity


 


 


Gossaert
The Holy Family



 


see also:


THE BIBLE

*

The Bible illustrations by



Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"


Gustave Dore


William Blak
e "The Book of Job"

 

 

 
 
 



The Holy Family

 

 


Jan the Elder Brueghel

 


El Greco

 


Bernaert van Orley

 


Andrea del Sarto

 


Andrea del Sarto

 


Andrea del Sarto

 


Jacob Jordaens

 


Gossaert

 


Rembrandt

 


Rembrandt

 


Rembrandt

 


Raphaello Sanzio

 


Sassoferrato

 

 


The history of
Christianity

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Part XXIII
 



Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology
Natural theology is generally characterized as the attempt to establish religious truths by rational argument and without reliance upon alleged revelations. It has focused traditionally on the topics of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology » Arguments for the existence of God » The design (or teleological) argument
St. Paul, and many others in the Greco-Roman world, believed that the existence of God is evident from the appearances of nature: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). The most popular, because the most accessible, of the theistic arguments is that which infers a divine designer from perceived evidence of design in nature. The argument, propounded by medieval Christian thinkers, was developed in great detail in 17th- and 18th-century Europe by writers such as Robert Boyle, John Ray, Samuel Clarke, and William Derham and at the beginning of the 19th century by William Paley. They asked: Is not the eye as manifestly designed for seeing, and the ear for hearing, as a pen for writing or a clock for telling the time; and does not such design imply a designer? The belief that the universe is a coherent and efficiently functioning system likewise, in this view, indicates a divine intelligence behind it.

The argument from design was criticized by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). Hume conceded that the world constitutes a more or less smoothly functioning system; indeed, he points out, it could not exist otherwise. He suggests, however, that this may have come about as a result of the chance permutations of particles falling into a temporary or permanent self-sustaining order, which thus has the appearance of design. A century later the idea of order without design was rendered more plausible by Charles Darwin’s discovery that the adaptations of the forms of life are a result of the natural selection of inherited characteristics having positive, and the elimination of those having negative, survival value within a changing environment. Hume also pointed out that, even if one could infer an intelligent designer of the world, one would not thereby be entitled to claim that such a designer is the infinitely good and powerful Creator who is the object of Christian faith. For the world is apparently imperfect, containing many inbuilt occasions of pain and suffering, and one cannot legitimately infer a greater perfection in the cause than is observed in the effect.

In the 20th century, however, the design argument was reformulated in more comprehensive ways, particularly by the British philosophers Frederick R. Tennant (Philosophical Theology, 1928–30) and Richard Swinburne (using Thomas Bayes’s probability theorem in The Existence of God, 1979), taking account not only of the order and functioning of nature but also of the “fit” between human intelligence and the universe, whereby humans can understand its workings, as well as human aesthetic, moral, and religious experience. There were also attempts to show that the evolution of the universe, from the “big bang” of some 15 billion years ago to the present state that includes conscious life, required the conjunction of so many individually improbable factors as to be inexplicable except as the result of a deliberate coordinating control. If, for example, the initial heat of the expanding universe, or its total mass, or the strength of the force of gravity, or the mass of neutrinos, or the strength of the strong nuclear force, had been different by a small margin, there would have been no galaxies, no stars, no planets, and hence no life. Surely, it was argued, all this must be the work of God creating the conditions for human existence.

These probability arguments were, however, strongly criticized. A basic consideration relevant to them all is that there is by definition only one universe, and it is difficult to see how its existence, either with or without God, can be assessed as having a specific degree of probability in any objective sense. It can of course be said that any form in which the universe might be is statistically enormously improbable, as it is only one of a virtual infinity of possible forms. But its actual form is no more improbable, in this sense, than innumerable others. It is only the fact that humans are part of it that makes it seem so special, requiring a transcendent explanation. Debate about the design argument continued through the late 20th and early 21st centuries, particularly in the United States (see also intelligent design).

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology » Arguments for the existence of God » The cosmological argument
Aquinas gave the first-cause argument and the argument from contingency—both forms of cosmological reasoning—a central place for many centuries in the Christian enterprise of natural theology. (Similar arguments also appeared in parallel strands of Islamic philosophy.) Thomas’s formulations (Summa theologiae, I, Q. 2, art. 3) were refined in modern neo-Thomist discussions and remained topics of Christian philosophical reflection during the 20th century.

The first-cause argument begins with the assumption that there is change in the world. Change is always the effect of some cause or causes. Each cause is itself the effect of a further cause or set of causes; this chain moves in a series that either never ends or is completed by a first cause, which must be of a radically different nature in that it is not itself caused. Such a first cause is an important aspect, though not the entirety, of what Christianity means by God.

Although taking a different route, the argument from contingency follows the same basic movement of thought from the nature of the world to its ultimate ground. It starts with the premise that everything in the world is contingent for its existence upon other factors. Its presence is thus not self-explanatory but can only be understood by reference beyond itself to prior or wider circumstances that have brought it about. These other circumstances are also contingent, pointing beyond themselves for the ground of their intelligibility. If this explanatory regress is unending, explanation is perpetually postponed and nothing is finally explained. The existence of anything and everything thus remains ultimately unintelligible. But rational beings are committed to the search for intelligibility and cannot rest content until it is found. The universe can only finally be intelligible as the creation of an ontologically necessary being who is eternal and whose existence is not contingent upon anything else. This is also part of what Christianity has meant by God.

Criticism of these arguments points to the possibility that there is no first cause because the universe had no beginning, having existed throughout time, and is itself the necessary being that has existed eternally and without dependence upon anything else. Proponents of the cosmological argument reply that the existence of such a universe, as a procession of contingent events without beginning, would still be ultimately unintelligible. On the other hand, a personal consciousness and will, constituting a self-existent Creator of the universe, would be intrinsically intelligible; for human beings have experience in themselves of intelligence and free will as creative. Critics respond that insofar as the argument is sound it leaves one with the choice between believing that the universe is ultimately intelligible, because created by a self-existent personal will, or accepting that it is finally unintelligible, simply the ultimate given brute fact. The cosmological argument does not, however, compel one to choose the first alternative; logically, the second remains equally possible.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology » Arguments for the existence of God » The ontological argument
The ontological argument, which proceeds not from the world to its Creator but from the idea of God to the reality of God, was first clearly formulated by St. Anselm (1033/34–1109) in his Proslogion (1077–78). Anselm began with the concept of God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived (aliquid quo nihil majus cogitari possit). To think of such a being as existing only in thought and not also in reality involves a contradiction. For an X that lacks real existence is not that than which no greater can be conceived. A yet greater being would be X with the further attribute of existence. Thus the unsurpassably perfect being must exist—otherwise it would not be unsurpassably perfect.

This argument has intrigued philosophers ever since. After some discussion in the 13th century it was reformulated by Descartes in his Meditations (1641). Descartes made explicit the assumption, implicit in Anselm’s reasoning, that existence is an attribute that a given X can have or fail to have. It follows from this—together with the assumption that existence is an attribute that is better to have than to lack—that God, as unsurpassably perfect, cannot lack the attribute of existence.

It was the assumption that existence is a predicate that has, in the view of most subsequent philosophers, proved fatal to the argument. The criticism was first made by Descartes’s contemporary Pierre Gassendi and later and more prominently by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Bertrand Russell and others in the 20th century further clarified this objection. According to Russell, to say that something with stated properties—whether it be a triangle, defined as a three-sided plane figure, or God, defined as an unsurpassably perfect being—exists is not to attribute to it a further property, namely existence, but to assert that the concept is instantiated—that there actually are instances of that concept. But whether or not a given concept is instantiated is a question of fact. It cannot be determined a priori but only by whatever is the appropriate method for discovering a fact of that kind. This need for observation cannot be circumvented by writing existence into the definition of the concept (“an existing three-sided plane figure,” “an existing unsurpassably perfect being”), for the need arises again as the question of whether this enlarged concept is instantiated.

In the 20th century several Christian philosophers (notably Charles Hartshorne, Norman Malcolm, and Alvin Plantinga) asserted the validity of a second form of Anselm’s argument. This hinges upon “necessary existence,” a property with even higher value than “existence.” A being that necessarily exists cannot coherently be thought not to exist. And so God, as the unsurpassably perfect being, must have necessary existence—and therefore must exist. This argument, however, has been criticized as failing to observe the distinction between logical and ontological, or factual, necessity. Logically necessary existence, it is said, is an incoherent idea, for logical necessity applies to the relations between concepts, not to their instantiation. God’s necessity, then, must be an ontologically, or factually, rather than a logically, necessary existence: God exists as the ultimate fact, without beginning or end and without depending upon anything else for existence. But whether this concept of an ontologically necessary being is instantiated cannot be determined a priori. It cannot be validly inferred from the idea of an eternal and independent being that there actually is such a being.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology » Arguments for the existence of God » Moral arguments
Moral theistic argument belongs primarily to the modern world and perhaps reflects the modern lack of confidence in metaphysical constructions. Kant, having rejected the cosmological, ontological, and design proofs, argued in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) that the existence of God, though not directly provable, is a necessary postulate of the moral life. To take seriously the awareness of a categorical imperative to act rightly is to commit oneself to work for an ideal state of affairs in which perfect goodness and happiness coincide. But as this universal apportioning of happiness to virtue is beyond human power, a divine agent capable of bringing it about must be assumed.

Other Christian thinkers, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries, argued that to accept the absolute demands of ethical obligation is to presuppose a morally structured universe, which implies a personal God whose commands are reflected in the human conscience. It cannot be proved that this is such a universe, but it is inevitably assumed in acknowledging the claims of morality.

Attempts to trace ethical obligation to a transcendent divine source have been criticized on the grounds that it is possible to account for morality without going beyond the human realm. It has been argued that the exigencies of communal life require agreed codes of behaviour, which become internalized in the process of socialization as moral laws; and the natural affection that develops among humans produces the more occasional sense of a call to heroic self-sacrifice on behalf of others.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology » Arguments for the existence of God » Arguments from religious experience and miracles
Religious experience is used in Christian apologetics in two ways—in the argument from religious experiences to God as their cause and in the claim that it is (in the absence of contrary indications) as reasonable to trust religious as it is to trust nonreligious experience in forming beliefs about the total environment. (The first use is considered here; for the second, see below Contemporary discussions.)

The argument maintains that special episodes, such as seeing visions of Christ or Mary or hearing the voice of God, as well as the more pervasive experience of “living in God’s presence” or of “absolute dependence upon a higher power,” constitute evidence of God as their source. Although such experiences may be accepted as having occurred, their cause, as critics have noted, might be purely natural. To establish that the experiences are real, as experiences, is not to establish that they are caused by an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, divine being. As Thomas Hobbes succinctly put it, when someone says that God has spoken to him in a dream, this “is no more than to say he dreamed that God spake to him” (Leviathan, Pt. III, ch. 32).

The analogous argument, from miracles to God as their cause, is more complex and involves two sets of problems. The argument may assert that the children of Israel were miraculously rescued from Egypt or Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead and therefore that God must exist as the agent of these miracles. The first problem concerns the reports. Whereas in the case of private religious experiences the skeptic (to whom the argument is addressed) may well be willing to grant that such experiences occurred, in the case of public miracles the skeptic will require adequate evidence for the described event; and this is not forthcoming for the classic miracle stories referring to alleged extraordinary events of many centuries ago. There are, however, well-evidenced contemporary and recent accounts of “miraculous” healings and other remarkable happenings. On the assumption that some of these, and also some of the classic miracle stories, are historically accurate, the second problem arises. How can it be established that these events were caused by divine intervention rather than by the operation of natural phenomena?

Once again, strict proof seems to be lacking. These arguments, however, display aspects of the explanatory power of the idea of God. Divine activity is not the only possible way of understanding the character of the universe, its contingent existence, the unconditional claims of morality, or the occurrence of religious experiences and “miracles.” Nevertheless, the concept of deity offers a possible, satisfying answer to the fundamental questions to which these various factors point. These questions may thus be said to open the door to rational theistic belief—while still leaving the nonbeliever waiting for a positive impetus to go through that door. The work of some contemporary Christian philosophers can be characterized as a search for such a positive impetus.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » Christian philosophy as natural theology » The immortality of the soul
Human beings seem always to have had some notion of a shadowy double that survives the death of the body. But the idea of the soul as a mental entity, with intellectual and moral qualities, interacting with a physical organism but capable of continuing after its dissolution, derives in Western thought from Plato and entered into Judaism during approximately the last century before the Common Era and thence into Christianity. In Jewish and Christian thinking it has existed in tension with the idea of the resurrection of the person conceived as an indissoluble psychophysical unity. Christian thought gradually settled into a pattern that required both of these apparently divergent ideas. At death the soul is separated from the body and exists in a conscious or unconscious disembodied state. But on the future Day of Judgment souls will be re-embodied (whether in their former but now transfigured earthly bodies or in new resurrection bodies) and will live eternally in the heavenly kingdom.

Within this framework, philosophical discussion has centred mainly on the idea of the immaterial soul and its capacity to survive the death of the body. Plato, in the Phaedo, argued that the soul is inherently indestructible. To destroy something, including the body, is to disintegrate it into its constituent elements; but the soul, as a mental entity, is not composed of parts and is thus an indissoluble unity. Although Aquinas’s concept of the soul, as the “form” of the body, was derived from Aristotle rather than Plato, Aquinas too argued for its indestructibility (Summa theologiae, I, Q. 76, art. 6). The French philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882–1973), a modern Thomist, summarized the conclusion as follows: “A spiritual soul cannot be corrupted, since it possesses no matter; it cannot be disintegrated, since it has no substantial parts; it cannot lose its individual unity, since it is self-subsisting, nor its internal energy since it contains within itself all the sources of its energies” (The Range of Reason, 1952). But though it is possible to define the soul in such a way that it is incorruptible, indissoluble, and self-subsisting, critics have asked whether there is any good reason to think that souls as thus defined exist. If, on the other hand, the soul means the conscious mind or personality—something whose immortality would be of great interest to human beings—this does not seem to be an indissoluble unity. On the contrary, it seems to have a kind of organic unity that can vary in degree but that is also capable of fragmentation and dissolution.

Much modern philosophical analysis of the concept of mind is inhospitable to the idea of immortality, for it equates mental life with the functioning of the physical brain (see mind, philosophy of). Impressed by evidence of the dependence of mind on brain, some Christian thinkers have been willing to accept the view—corresponding to the ancient Hebrew understanding—of the human being as an indissoluble psychophysical unity, but these thinkers have still maintained a belief in immortality, not as the mind surviving the body, but as a divine resurrection or re-creation of the living body-mind totality. Such resurrection persons would presumably be located in a space different from that which they now inhabit and would presumably undergo a development from the condition of a dying person to that of a viable inhabitant of the resurrection world. But all theories in this area have their own difficulties, and alternative theories emerged.

Kant offered a different kind of argument for immortality—as a postulate of the moral life. The claim of the moral law demands that human beings become perfect. This is something that can never be finally achieved but only asymptotically approached, and such an unending approach requires the unending existence of the soul. This argument also is open to criticism. Are humans indeed subject to a strict obligation to attain moral perfection? Might not their obligation, as finite creatures, be to do the best they can? But this does not seem to entail immortality.

It should be noted that the debate concerning arguments about the immortality of the soul and the existence of God has been as much among Christian philosophers as between them and non-Christian thinkers. It is by no means the case that Christian thinkers have all regarded the project of natural theology as viable. There have indeed been, and are, many who hold that divine existence can be definitively proved or shown to be objectively probable. But many others not only hold that the attempted proofs all require premises that a disbeliever is under no rational obligation to accept but also question the evidentialist assumption that the only route to rational theistic belief is by inference from previously accepted evidence-stating premises.


Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » 20th-century discussions
Discussion among Christian philosophers during the 20th century was predominantly epistemological. Among Roman Catholic thinkers it included the work of Bernard Lonergan in Insight (1957), which has stimulated considerable discussion. Lonergan argued that the act of understanding, or insight, is pivotal for the apprehension of reality, and that it implies in the long run that the universe is itself due to the fiat of an “unrestricted act of understanding,” which is God. Other Roman Catholic thinkers refined and extended the Thomistic approach, particularly the idea of analogical predication in statements about God. Others, in common with non-Catholic philosophers, have discussed the traditional divine attributes—omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, immutability, personality, goodness. The concept of a finite deity developing through time was also proposed (e.g., by Charles Hartshorne) to meet objections to some of these concepts: If God is immutable, how can God be aware of successive events in time? If God has absolute self-existence, how can God respond with sympathy to the pains of creaturely life? Others defended the traditional attributes as logically coherent, both individually and in their relationship to one another, and as allowing for divine awareness of the created universe, God’s activity in history, and divine sympathy with human suffering.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » 20th-century discussions » Influence of logical positivism
Perhaps the largest body of work, however, was generated in dialogue with the linguistic turn of philosophy in the English-speaking world, concentrating on the analysis of language in its various uses. The logical positivist movement originated in the 1920s with the Vienna Circle. Although mainly concerned with the philosophy of science, it posed by implication a major challenge to the logical meaningfulness of religious language. The positivist position, in its developed form, was that a statement has factual meaning only if it is capable in principle of being verified or falsified, or at least in some degree confirmed or disconfirmed, within human experience; otherwise it is meaningless, or cognitively vacuous. In the years immediately after World War II this account of factual meaning was applied (e.g., by Antony Flew) to theological statements, raising such questions as: What observable difference does it make whether it is true or false that “God loves us”? Whatever tragedies occur, do not the faithful still maintain their belief, adding perhaps that the divine love is beyond human comprehension? But if it is not possible to conceive of circumstances in which “God loves us” would have to be judged false, is not the statement factually empty, or meaningless?

This challenge evoked three kinds of response. Some Christian philosophers declared it to be a nonchallenge, on the ground that the positivists never succeeded in finding a precise formulation of the verification criterion that was fully satisfactory even to themselves. Others held that this does not block the central thrust of the positivist challenge. Does it really make no difference within actual or possible human experience whether or not God exists and loves us; and if so, is not the significance of the belief thereby fatally damaged? Among those who felt it necessary to face this challenge, one group granted that theological statements lack factual meaning and suggested that their proper use lies elsewhere, as expressing a way of looking at the world (e.g., Richard M. Hare) or a moral point of view and commitment (e.g., R.B. Braithwaite). The other group claimed that theism is ultimately open to experiential confirmation. The theory of eschatological verification (developed by John Hick) holds that the belief in future postmortem experiences will be verified if true (though not falsified if false), and that in a divinely governed universe such experiences will take forms confirming theistic faith. Thus although the believer and the disbeliever do not have different expectations about the course of earthly history, they do expect the total course of the universe to be radically different.

In the late 20th century, under the stimulus of Wittgenstein’s posthumously published works, attention was directed to the multiple legitimate uses of language in the various language games developed within different human activities and forms of life; and it was suggested that religious belief has its own autonomous validity, not subject to verificationist or scientific or other extraneous criteria. Statements about God and eternal life do not make true-or-false factual claims but express, in religious language, a distinctive attitude to life and way of engaging in it. This suggestion formed part of the broader non-realist interpretation of religion, which held that religious beliefs do not refer to putative transcendent realities but are instead expressive of human ideals, desires, hopes, attitudes, and intentions. Such thinking goes back to the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (The Essence of Christianity, 1841) in the 19th century. It was promoted in the early 20th century by George Santayana, John Dewey, and J.H. Randall, Jr., and later by Christian writers such as D.Z. Phillips and Don Cupitt. According to them, true Christianity consists in the inner purity of an unself-centred attitude to life and does not involve belief in the objective reality of God or of a life after death. This view, however, was criticized on the grounds that to deny the transcendent reference of religious language empties it of any substantial meaning.

Aspects of the Christian religion » Christian philosophy » 20th-century discussions » Evidentialist approach
In addition to this and other work concerning religious language there was a renewal of fundamental discussion of Christian, and more broadly religious, epistemology. The natural theology tradition held that, in order to be rational, religious belief must be supported by adequate evidences or arguments. It was assumed that God’s existence must be validly inferred from generally acceptable premises. This evidentialist principle was questioned, however, not only by such earlier thinkers as Pascal and William James but also by a number of Christian philosophers of the second half of the 20th century. Evidentialist thinking was foundationalist in granting that there are some beliefs that can be reasonably held directly and not by inference from other evidence-stating beliefs. Thomas Aquinas, for example, recognized self-evident truths and the reports of the senses as basic in the sense that they do not need support from other beliefs. They thus provide the foundations on which a belief structure can properly be built. Belief in the existence of God was not regarded as basic or foundational in this way but was thought to require adequate evidence or arguments. It was argued by Alvin Plantinga that the range of properly basic beliefs is wider than classic foundationalism recognized. It can include not only beliefs about the past and the existence of other persons but also belief in the reality of God. Such beliefs can be basic (i.e., not inferred), and they are properly basic if held in appropriate circumstances. Thus, the belief that “There is a tree before me” is properly basic for one who is having the experience of seeing a tree; and the belief that “God exists” is properly basic for one who experiences God’s judgment, forgiveness, love, claim, providential care, or some other mode of divine presence.

Discussion of this proposal centred upon the criteria for proper basicality: In what circumstances is it appropriate, and in what circumstances not, to hold the basic belief in God or the basic beliefs of other religions or of the naturalistic worldviews?

A related contemporary development, pursued by William Alston and others, is the claim that religious experience constitutes an entirely proper basis for religious beliefs. The claim is not that one can validly infer God as the cause of theistic religious experience, but that one who participates in such experience is entitled to trust it as a ground for belief. It was argued that human beings all normally operate with a “principle of credulity” whereby they take what seems to be so as indeed so, unless they have some positive reason to doubt it. Accordingly, one who has the experience of living in the presence of God can properly proceed in both thought and life on the basis that God is real. Such belief inevitably involves epistemic risk—the risk of error versus the risk of missing the truth. But perhaps the right to believe that was defended by William James applies in this situation.

The discussion focused on the analogies between religious experience and sensory experience in relation to which the principle of credulity is virtually universally accepted. It is uncontroversially proper to hold beliefs reflecting sense experience, but what of beliefs reflecting religious experience? Whereas all human beings hold the former and could not survive without doing so, the latter type of belief seems to be optional. Although beliefs regarding physical objects can be empirically confirmed or denied, religious beliefs cannot. Acknowledging these differences, some Christian philosophers argued that they are to be expected, given the difference between the human relationship to the world and to God. It is necessary to human existence as physical organisms that consciousness of the material environment should be forced upon human beings. On the other hand, it is necessary for existence as relatively autonomous and responsible beings that consciousness of God should not be forced upon them, for to be compulsorily aware of God’s universal presence as limitless goodness and power, making a total claim upon human life, would deprive them of creaturely freedom. Humans are accordingly set at an epistemic distance from God that is overcome only by faith, which can be identified with the voluntary interpretive element within the experience of God’s presence.

The central Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ was another topic of discussion in the later 20th century. Philosophical questions concerning this topic were debated in the 3rd to 5th centuries, as noted above, in terms of the key notion of ousia/substantia. The concept of substance, however, although confidently used throughout the medieval period, was widely questioned by modern thinkers and found little place in distinctively 20th-century streams of philosophy. Consequently, there was a variety of attempts, in which theology and philosophy mingled inextricably, to find an interpretation that would be intelligible to the modern mind. Instead of the basically static notion of substance—Jesus qua human being of human substance and qua divine of God’s substance—many have preferred the more dynamic idea of divine action. From this point of view Jesus was divine in the sense that God was acting redemptively through him; or, instead of a homo-ousion, identity of substance, between Jesus and the heavenly Father, there was a homo-agapion, an identity of divine loving. Others, however, criticized such alternatives to the older substance language, often on the ground that, whereas “being of the same substance as” is an all-or-nothing concept, divine activity in and through a human life is capable of degrees, so that the divinity of Christ may in principle be de-absolutized.

The problems of religious pluralism were increasingly seen as requiring the attention of Christian philosophers. One reason arises from the kind of apologetic described above, hinging upon the reasonableness of basing beliefs upon religious experience. There is considerable variety within the Christian tradition itself, and in the world as a whole Muslim forms of religious experience give rise to and justify Islamic beliefs, Jewish forms of experience to Jewish beliefs, Hindu to Hindu beliefs, Buddhist to Buddhist beliefs, and so on. These different belief systems include mutually incompatible doctrines. Thus the experiential solution to the problem of justifying Christian beliefs gave rise to a new problem constituted by the conflicting truth-claims of the different religious traditions.

The other reason the great world faiths provided new issues for Christian philosophy was that some of their belief systems challenge long-standing Christian assumptions. Whereas Judaism and Islam raise theological questions, the most challenging philosophical issues are raised by Buddhism. The belief in God as the personal ultimate is challenged by the idea of the ultimacy of the nonpersonal dharma-kaya. The idea of the immortal soul is challenged by the anatta (“no soul”) doctrine, with its claim that the personal mind or soul is not an enduring substance but a succession of fleeting moments of consciousness. And yet Buddhism, teaching as it does doctrines that are radically different from those of the Christian faith, also challenges Christianity by the centrality within it of compassion, peaceableness, and a respect for all life.

These and other issues raised by the fact of religious plurality are ones that Christian philosophers have only begun to face but that suggest the possibility of major developments in Christian thinking.

John Hick

 

 

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