na h-EITICE Crìosdail.
The 'Cape Horn'
of Christian ETHICS.
We have called the question concerning the modal meaning-kernel of the ethical aspect the 'Cape Horn' (i.e. the most dangerous point) of Christian ethics. In taking cognizance of different attempts to establish the real relation between the ethical sphere and the central commandment of Love we are confirmed in this opinion. We shall mention only two of them.
In his Manual of Ethics (1) the late Dutch theologian W. J. AALDERS, who was professor of ethics at the University of Groningen, clearly saw the necessity of a distinction between the ethical and the religious relation. He, too, seeks the qualifying meaning-moment of the former in love (2).
(1) Handboek der Ethiek (Amsterdam 1941). See also his De Grond der Zedelijkheid (Groningen-Den Haag) 1933.
(2) Handboek, p. 129.
But he sees no other way to distinguish ethical love from the central religious love than by introducing this distinction into the central commandment itself. The love of God, as the summary of the first table of the Decalogue, is considered as the religious relation proper which has directly to do with God. This love has a unilateral character insofar as the creature is dependent on the Creator but not vice versa. The love of the neighbour as the summary of the second table of the Decalogue, is considered as the ethical relation which has directly to do with the creation, especially with our fellow-man, and only indirectly with God. This relation is a real correlation because it is bilateral. So the author concludes that the ethical sphere of love is that of creation (3).
(3) ib., p. 123 fl.
In this way he thinks he can escape the danger of moralizing religion, on the one hand, and that of an absorption of morality by religion, on the other. The moral sphere remains dependent on the central religious one without being dissolved into the latter.
Though this intention deserves the greatest respect, it must be denied that AALDERS has succeeded in correctly delimiting the ethical aspect in its relation to the Christian religion. In our opinion it is a fundamental mistake to seek the criterion within the central commandment of Love itself. The latter is an unbreakable unity and does not permit itself to be considered as a composite of a religious and a moral part.
In its religious fulness of meaning the love of our neighbour is nothing but the love of God in His image, expressed in ourselves as well as in our fellow-men. This is why Christ said that the second commandment is equal to the first. One can also say that it is implied in it.
If the central commandment of Love is indeed the radical unity of all the temporal modal law-spheres, it must be impossible to delimit within it a specific-ethical aspect. If we see aright AALDERS has arrived at his conception under the influence of the existentialistic view of MARTIN BUBER, who considered ethics as the sphere of the I-thou relation in its dialectical opposition to the contemplative I-it relation of human experience (4).
(4) Op. cit., p. 125.
Here it appears once again that this dialectical existentialism cannot be accepted without detracting from the integral and radical meaning of the Christian religion. AALDERS doubtless would positively deny every intention to do so. Nevertheless, in spite of his unsuspected intention, he could not escape from a partial moralization of the central religious sphere in consequence of his acceptance of the dialectical opposition between the existential I-thou relation and the contemplative sphere of human experience. Starting from this opposition, he was unable to conceive of the ethical sphere as a modal aspect of the temporal horizon of experience and reality. In order to avoid its reduction to the religious sphere he could find no way out but a limitation of the latter to the effect that the central commandment of Love was divided into a religious and an ethical part. In addition, a distinction was made between the sphere of religion and the sphere of creation, and this is incompatible with the Biblical conception. The central religious sphere belongs to creation as well as the temporal sphere of human existence which embraces the ethical relation.
Together with the existentialistic opposition between the ethical sphere and the contemplative sphere of experience AALDERS accepted the dialectical Humanistic motive of nature and freedom. Morality is separated from the 'lower vegetative and animal functions of human life', ruled by natural laws, and is localized in the 'higher sphere' of freedom or 'spirit', ruled by norms (5).
(5) Op. cit., p. 84.
This means that the second part of the central religious commandment of Love, which AALDERS reserved for ethics, is related to an abstracted complex of normative functions of temporal human existence, instead of being related to the religious centre of the whole of temporal human functions. So it loses its absolute character and is denatured to a specific norm (6) regulating only the higher temporal volitional life of man.
(6) A 'norm' is always a rational standard, founded in the logical manner of distinction. Therefore it is confusing to call the central commandment of Love a norm. In my opinion this term is to be applied only to temporal standards of what ought to be. The religious commandment is identical with what we have called in the Prolegomena: the religious concentration-law of human existence. It cannot be opposed to 'laws of nature', as is done with norms.
A second example of a serious confusion of love, as the modal meaning-nucleus of the ethical aspect, with love in the fulness of its central religious sense is to be found in EMIL BRUNNER's famous work Das Gebot und die Ordnungen (Tübingen, 1932).
Already in his definition of Christian ethics: "Christian ethics is the science of human conduct determined by divine action" (7) he reveals his aim to merge Christian morals into the Christian religion, which is diametrically opposed to the moralization of religion in rationalistic Humanism. This leads to a fundamentally erroneous definition of the relation between love and justice.
(7) Op. cit., p. 73: "Christliche Ethik ist die Wissenschaft von dem durch das göttliche Handeln bestimmte menschliche Handeln".
According to BRUNNER the love mentioned in the central divine commandment is absolute. It concerns the whole person, and is concrete and not legal. Justice, on the contrary, is universal, legal, "vorausgewusst, unpersönlich-sachlich, abstrakt, rational" (known in advance, impersonal, objective, abstract, rational).
That's why, according to this writer, it is a contradictio in terminis to speak of 'perfect justice': for what is perfect cannot be justice (8)[Daarom is het volgens den schrijver een contradictio in terminis van een ‘volkomen gerechtigheid’ te spreken: ‘denn das Vollkommene kann nicht Gerechtigkeit sein.’ (WdW Deel2 p98)].
(8) Op. cit., p. 436/7.
Even when we speak of Divine justice we mean nothing concrete and material but "jene formalen Qualitäten der Entsprechung, der Zuverlässigkeit und Konstanz göttlichen Handelns" [these formal qualities of the consistency, the reliability and the constancy of divine actions]. For in the idea of justice is implied especially: 'the idea of the reliability, of the objective and active operation of a rule that has been imposed on us, and which we know as such' (9).
(9) Ib.: "Die Idee der Zuverlässigkeit der objectiven und wirksamen Geltung einer "gesetzten" und als gesetzt bekannten Regel."
Here the fundamental error in BRUNNER's view is laid bare. In this view it is forgotten that the fulness of meaning of love, as revealed in Christ's cross, is at the same time the fulness of justice. If we assign a higher place to Divine love than to Divine justice, this procedure necessarily detracts from God's holiness. In his later work Die Gerechtigkeit BRUNNER appears to have avoided this error.
In fact BRUNNER contradicted himself by saying that justice is the pre-supposition of love, and that love which has not passed through justice, is arbitrary, unreal [onzakelijk], sentimental. If love requires justice for its pre-supposition, it cannot be absolute, "unbedingt" (unconditioned), in contrast with justice.
BRUNNER's error is that he opposes love, as the exclusive content of the fulness of God's commandment, to the 'temporal ordinances', which owing to the fall show God's will only in a broken state. He wants to build Christian ethics on the basis of the actions proceeding from this love within the formal framework of all the temporal ordinances. This is an after-effect of the dualistic scheme of nature and grace in LUTHER's world of thought (10).
(10) Cf. Vol. I, ch. 3.
It leads to the identification of morality with the Christian religion, and at the same time it leads to a misinterpretation of the temporal moral meaning of love, i.e. of the moral aspect of temporal human experience and existence.
That's why everywhere in this ethics antinomies arise. For BRUNNER's conception of love as the opposite of justice is not really Biblical, but much rather an absolutizing of the temporal modal meaning of love. Only the latter can be significantly opposed to the meaning of justice as another aspect of temporal reality, and to the modal meaning of the other law-spheres. Anyone who tries to do so with the fulness of meaning of love, violates its religious fulness. He has no eye for the new religious root of creation in Christ as the concentration-point and the fulness of all the temporal meaning-aspects.
It is an essentially un-Biblical thought to deny Divine Justice its perfection by calling it a 'merely formal idea', and to seek that perfection only in love. [Het is in wezen on-Christelijk, on-schriftuurlijk gedacht, aan de Goddelijke Gerechtigheid als een ‘bloot formeele idee’ de volkomenheid te ontzeggen en die volkomenheid alleen in de liefde te zoeken. (WdW Deel 2 p 100)]
(Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol II/ Part I/ Chapt 2/§5 pp 154-158)