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Jurgen Moltmann: The Theology of Hope
A famous chapter in an important work in public theology.
Jurgen Moltmann's Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology was published in 1967 by Harper and Row, New York. It is one of the most famous and widely read books in contemporary theology. The book is now available online and we have copied the files to make sure we also have a copy here. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Click items below to read the book.
Chapter 1: Eschatology And Revelation
Chapter 2: Promise and History
Chapter 3: The Resurrection and the Future of Jesus Christ
Chapter 4: Eschatology and History
Chapter 5: Exodus Church: Observations on the Eschatological Understanding of Christianity in Modern Society
We now raise in a concluding chapter the question of the concrete form assumed by a live escahatological hope in modern society. Here the title 'Exodus Church' is meant to focus attention on the reality of Christianity as that of the 'pilgrim people of God', as described in the Epistle to the Hebrews: 'Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come' (Heb. 13.13f). What does this mean for the social shape of Christianity in 'modern society' and for the task it has there to fulfil in the field of social ethics?
In this context we cannot speak simply of the 'Church' and mean by this the orgnized institution with all its public functions. Nor can we speak merely of the 'congregation' and thereby mean the company that gathers around the word and sacrament in divine service. We must follow the Reformation, and especially Luther, in speaking of 'Christianity' as represented in 'church' and 'congregation' and in Christians at their worldly callings. According to the Schmalkald Articles of 1537 'by the grace of God alone our churches are thus illumined and nurtured by the pure word and the right use of the sacrament and the knowledge of all kinds of stations and right works (cognitione vocationum et verorum operum)'. This means, however, that Christianity must also continually present itself, and does de facto always present itself, in the weekday obedience and the worldly callings of Christians and in their social roles. This third insight on the part of the Reformation has receded unduly into the background in the movements of the modern evangelical church towards reform. From the standpoint of sociology this is understandable, for modern, emancipated society seems to offer no chance for peculiarly Christian obedience. But from the standpoint of theology it is unintelligible, for it is precisely at this point, at which it is a question of the Christian's call in our social callings, that the decision falls as to whether Christians can become an accommodating group, or whether their existence within the horizon of eschatological hope makes them resist accommodation and their presence has something peculiar to say to the world.
When in this context we speak of modern society, we mean the society that has established itself with the rise of the modern industrial system. We mean, in negative terms, not the state and not the family, but that sphere of public life which is governed by the conduct of business, by production, consumption nd commerce - the realm in which the relations between person and person are determined by the things of the business world and by the businesslike approach. Naturally, this social intercourse in terms of things and functions extends far into the spheres of political and family life, yet the reduction of all relationships to terms of things and facts does not have its origin in these spheres, but in the advancing possibilities of scientific, technical civilization. The society which is dominated by the modernity and progressiveness of this civilization has the peculiar characteristic of considering itself to be neutral towards matters of religion and questions of value and consequently emancipating itself from the control of history and tradition, whereby it also withdraws itself from the influence of religions and religious bodies. What are the social roles in which this modern society places faith, the congregation, the Church and finally Christianity?
Ever since classical times our Western societies had always had a definite, clearly outlined concept of religion. Since the rise of 'bourgeois society' and the 'system of needs' in industrial society, however, modern society has emancipated itself from the classical concept of religion. The Christian church can consequently no longer present itself to this society as the religion of society.
From the days of the Emperor Constantine until far into the nineteenth century the Christian Church, despite many reformations and despite many changes in society, had possessed a clearly defined character in public social life. The place and function of the Church were firmly established. Everyone knew what was to be expected of it. It was the rise of industrial society that first destroyed the old harmony between ecclesia and societas. From the standpoint of the history of religion, the former public claims of the Christian Church had their source in the public claims of the Roman state religion. Beginning with Constantine, and then consolidated in the legislation of the Emperors Theodosius and Justinian, the Christian religion took over the social place of the old Roman state religion. The Christian religion became the cultus publicus. It became the protector and perserver of the sacra publica. According to the classical view of society, it is the supreme duty (finis principalis) of human societas to see that the gods are given their due veneration. Peace and prosperity depend on the favour of the national gods. The public wellbeing and enduring stability of the state depend on the blessing of the gods of the state. 'Religion' here has the sense of pious veneration for the powers in which the divine eternity of Rome is represented, and without which there can be no such thing as 'Rome' in the fullest sense. When the Christian faith took the place of the Roman state religion, then of course the public state sacrifices ceased, yet their place was taken by the Christian prayers of inercession for the state and the emperor. Thus the Christian faith became the 'religion of society'. It fulfilled the supreme end of state and society. Hence titles of the Roman emperor-priest were transferred to the pope. State and society understood the Christian faith as their religion.
In the Protestant humanism of Melanchthon, too, without which the Reformation would presumably not have got moving, princes and magistrates were appealed to in the interestes of society's religious duty as understood in the classical sense. The highest goal of society is the true veneration of God - so it is affirmed here also, though here to be sure in expounding the First Commandment in terms of the usus politicus. What is 'true veneration of God'? The answer was: the carrying out of the Reformation as a restoration of true religion of the one God. A government which seeks to be religiously neutral and to restrict itself to the cultivation of peace and worldly wellbeing, was here, too, with the help of arguments from the classical view of society, represented as lunacy.
Thus the understanding of society in classical and premodern times always in itself implies a religious goal of society. Here we have the source of the images which are still employed today to describe the role of the Church in society: 'crown of society', 'healing centre of society', 'inner principle of the life of society'. In its worship and its moral precepts, the human and material is raised to the plane of the divine, and the Eternal and Absolute stoops to the plane of earthly society. When today the 'loss of a centre' is lamented in a disintegrating society, then that is an expression of the longing for such a pre-modern, religious integration of people combined to form a society.
Modern society, however, acquired its nature and its power precisely through its emancipation from this religious centre. Hegel was one of the first to perceive the rise of the modern, emancipated society which destroys all the forces of tradition, and to analyse it, following the British national economy, as a 'system of needs'. It is the society which emancipates itself in principle from all presuppositions in regard to the orders of human life as laid down by historic tradition, and finds its content solely in the constant and consistent nature of the [human needs of each individual] and their satisfaction by means of collective and divided labour. According to its own principles, it contains nothing but what is demanded by 'the ascertaining of needs and the satisfying of the individual by means of his labour and by means of the labour and satisfaction of the needs of all the rest'. That means that this society, in contradistinction to all previous societies, restricts itself to such social relationships as bind individuals together in the satisfying of their needs by means of their divided labour. [People] here associate themselves with each other necessarily only as the bearers of needs, as producers and consumers. Everything else that makes up a person's life - culture, religion, tradition, nationality, morals, etc. - is excluded from the necessary social relationships and left to each person's individual freedom. Social intercourse thus becomes abstract. It emancipates itself from the particular historic conditions from which we have come, and becomes irresistibly universal. 'The non-historic nature of society is its historic sense.' The future and the progressiveness of this society bear no relation to its origin. This, however, makes social intercourse totalitarian. 'Need and labour, when exalted to such universality, thus form in themselves a tremendous system of community and mutual interdependence, a self-propelled system of dead creatures.' 'Civil society...is the tremendous power which seizes hold of man and demands from him that he work for it and make it the medium of all he is and does.' Hegel sees in this the approach of the age of universal conformity, of mediocrity and the mass. But he differes from modern critics of culture in seeing also the other side of the dialectic. The general objetification of social intercourse in the modern world, and its reduction to a question of things and facts and functions, bring at the same time also a tremdendous disburdening of the individual. Beyond the system of needs and of division of labour in civil society, the 'private person whose aim is his own interest' necessarily becomes the citizen (citoyen) and subject of society. The individual becomes the 'son of civil society'. Thus the revolutionary idea of the freedom of all people which goes back to the French revolution comes to its own with the birth of modern working society from the industrial revolution. The latter is its necessary presupposition and the condition on which it becomes possible. 'It is precisely through its abstract, non-historic character that society gives free rein to subjectivity's right to particularity.' In its emancipation from history, society finds its ground in the satisfying of needs through labour, and thus gives man free rein in all his other life relationships. All other life relationships are relieved of social necessity. It is only from the standpoint of need that we can speak of 'the concrete conception that is called man'. In civil society man counts because he is man, and not because he is a Jew, Catholic, Protestant, German or Italian. The modern subjectivity in which we today experience ourselves as individual and personal human beings, is a result of the disburdening of social intercourse by reducing it to terms of practical affairs.
Hegel's analyses thus make it clear that the age of increasing mass organization is at the same time dialectically also the age of indivduality, and that the age of socialization at the same time became the age of free associations. Any critic of culture who attacks the age of mass movement, of objectification, of materialism, etc., and sees the salvation of culture in the regaining of personal humanity, accordingly fails to recognize the nature of modern society, and is himself moving within that dualism of subjectivity and objectification which is the basic principle of this very society.
'The society of conformity and mediocrity supplies the individual with a tremendous diversity of individual variations in matters of taste, evaluation and opinion, so that the most motley assortment of informal groupings weaves its way across the constant bureaucratic uniformity of the major organizations, and the age of a new uniformity of conduct is yet at the same time also the age of a peculiar unfolding of the things of the soul and the intellect.' 'Conformity and individualization both have their roots in the fact that the social ties and relationships are becoming slacker and less binding, that...while the mobility of industrial society facilitates accommodation to the model of uniform social behavior, it is equally favourable towards the opportunity of reserving the private and personal sphere from social conventions and constraints.' Hence the dilemma does not by any means consist in the fct that man, who is conditioned and claimed by modern social intercourse only in functions which only partially involve him, now encounters his fellow man only as a 'representative' of socially predetermined roles. Rather, it lies in the question how man can endure, and even live in, the state of being torn between the rational objectification of his social life on the one hand and the free and infinitely variable subjectivity conferred on him on the other.
There arises also the further question whether everything that is thus dismissed from modern society's abstract bond of association, and left to the freedom of the subject, does not become functionless and necessarily fall to pieces, when it can no longer acquire any social relevance. This applies especially to religion and culture. Once bereft of social necessity, they threaten to become the playthings of inclination and the tumbling ground for varieties of unreal and ineffective beliefs and opinions.
Hegel, however, was able to recognize the movement of the spirit as acting precisely in this torn and divided state of objectification and subjectivity. It is not the romanticist's self-perservation from this tornness and his way of shutting himself off from it, but only self-emptying surrender to it that proves the power of the spirit.
What became of the Christian Church in its social significance as a result of this development in society? The result of this development was, that it lost the character of cultus publicus to which it had been accustomed for more than a thousand years. It became something which in its religious form it never was and which, moreover, from the theological standpoint of the New Testament it can never seek to be - namely, a cultus privatus. The cult of the Absolute is no longer necessary for the integration of this society. The Absolute is now sought and experienced only in our liberated, socially disburdened subjectivity. 'Religion' ceases to be a public, social duty and becomes a voluntary, private activity. 'Religion' in the course of the nineteenth century becomes the religiosity of the individual, private, inward, edifying. By giving free rein to religion and leaving it to the free unfolding of the personality in complete freedom of religious choice, modern society as a modern 'society of needs' emancipates itself from religious needs. This process was furthered by many revivalist and pietist movements within Christianity. There prevailed within it a pious individualism, which for its own part was romanticist in form and withdrew itself from the material entanglements of society. The Church thus slipped over into the modern cultus privatus and produced in theology and pastoral care a corresponding self-consciousness as a haven of intimacy and guardian of personality for a race that had developed a materialist society and felt itself not at home there. This certainly means that the Christian religion is dismissed from the integrating centre of modern society and relieved of its duty of having to represent the highest goal of society, but that is not by any means the end of it. On the contrary, society can assign to it other roles in which it is expected to be effective. While it is true that in these roles it has nothing more to do with the finis principalis of modern society, yet it can exercise dialectical functions of disburdening for the men who have to live in this society. This allows it infinite possibilities of variation, but they are the possibilities of self-propulsion and self-development within the bounds of the general social stagnation imposed on the Christian faith as being a matter of religion.
From Jurgen Moltmann. The Theology of Hope. New York: Harper, 1967.
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