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Howard University, Washington, D.C. 

In this article the effort is made to explain the method proposed 
by Albrecht Ritschl as the only right one for the attainment of 
religious knowledge, namely, the use of "value-judgments," as 
described in his book entitled (in English translation) The Chris- 
tian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation. 

i. We must first answer the question: What does Ritschl 
mean by "religious knowledge," and how does that differ from 
other kinds of knowledge ? 

"In every religion," says Ritschl (p. 199), "what is sought, with 
the help of the superhuman, spiritual power reverenced by man, is a 
solution of the contradiction in which man finds himself, as both a 
part of the world of nature and a spiritual personality claiming 
to dominate nature." Again, referring to Christianity, particularly, 
as the highest type of religion, he says (p. 212): "Knowledge of 
God can be demonstrated as religious knowledge only when He 
is conceived as securing to the believer such a position in the world 
as more than counterbalances its restrictions." Superiority to, 
and mastery over, the world, then, is Ritschl's idea of the essence 
of that which is offered to man in religion, or at least in Christianity. 
If by " the world " we understand, not only physical nature, but also 
all within our human nature which injures, limits, or restricts 
us in our highest capabilities and aspirations, or if by the world he 
means, to use the old phrase, "the world, the flesh, and the devil," I 
think that we may regard this definition as satisfactory for our 

Religious knowledge is therefore, so far as Christianity is con- 
cerned, such knowledge of God as enables man to overcome the 
world. It will be unnecessary to linger on the argument that the 
power which is superior to the world, so that through knowledge of 



it we may also be superior to the world, is a unity and is personal. 
This sort of knowledge {ox faith, as we should ordinarily call it, and 
as Ritschl elsewhere calls it) differs from scientific or philosophic 
or theoretic knowledge, first, in the end for which it is sought or 
held, namely, the overcoming of the restrictions and evils of the 
world. No matter how we seek it or come to it, this sort of knowl- 
edge, whether as sought or as attained, is religious knowledge. 

2. The second question is: How is this religious knowledge 
attained (as knowledge), or what confirmation have we of its truth 
after the ideas involved in it have been presented, and how does the 
method of confirmation or proof of religious knowledge differ from 
the method in scientific or theoretic knowledge ? 

The answer to the first part of this question seems to be : The 
truth of our belief in God (as revealed in Christ) is confirmed by the 
fact of our experience that when we hold and act upon that belief 
we do in reality attain the end which we sought, namely, victory 
over the world. The nature of this victory is the triumphant 
feeling which we have that our personalities are severally worth 
more than the whole world (of nature considered as that which is 
not personality) and that through fellowship with God, the master 
of nature, we also share and shall more fully share in his mastery 
of nature. Now this feeling or these two feelings are judgments of 
value. In the first place, I judge of the value of my own per- 
sonality or spiritual existence that its value is greater than that 
of the whole world of nature which restricts it. It therefore ought 
to dominate or overcome the world. My second value-judgment 
concerns the Christian idea of God. When I accept it as true and 
act upon it, I find it to satisfy just my greatest spiritual need — the 
need for independence of the world and for confidence that I am 
superior to it and shall eventually triumph over it. I judge, then, 
that it is of the greatest possible value to me since it satisfies my 
greatest need. 

My confidence in the reality of the Christian God rests, accord- 
ing to this argument, on my judgment of my own value as com- 
pared with that of the world and on my judgment of what this 
valuation of myself implies — that is, the existence of one through 
whom this superiority to the world may be realized. The relation 


of this argument to the similar one in Kant's Critique of Practical 
Reason must be considered later. 

How does this method differ from the method used in attaining 
other forms of knowledge ? In seeking for theoretic knowledge we 
endeavor by observation and impartial thought to ascertain the 
relations, especially the causal relations, of the facts and phe- 
nomena of our experience to each other. This theoretic knowl- 
edge or scientific knowledge is often called "disinterested," but 
it is such only in the sense that we do not anticipate the results and 
desire them as having independent value or relate them immedi- 
ately to our moral or religious life. The method of reaching con- 
clusions, then, is that of impartial observation and of noting 
uniform and supposedly necessary relations as they actually exist 
apart from any desire on our part as to how they should exist. 

3. The third question that we must answer from Ritschl's 
standpoint consists of three parts: Can we by the methods of 
theoretic knowledge come to any legitimate conclusions on the 
questions of religious knowledge ? If so, may we not in this way 
substantiate the conclusions which we reach by the value-judgment 
method? If not, why not? 

The first part of this question restated more specifically would 
be: Can philosophy, by the methods of science or by theoretic 
knowledge, attain to a single supreme principle or power by which 
to explain the world? To this question Ritschl gives a definite 
"No!" He characterizes all attempts of philosophy to do so as 
cases in which (p. 208) "the law of a particular realm of being is 
set up as the supreme law of all being, though the other forms of 
existence neither would nor could be explained by its means." 
The materialist attempts to explain the world by the laws of me- 
chanical causality, which, however, quite fail to account for spiritual 
life, or indeed for life of any sort. "In all the combinations 
exhibited by the materialistic theory," he says (p. 209), "there is 
manifest an expenditure of the power of imagination which finds 
its closest parallel in the cosmogonies of heathenism — which is of 
itself a proof that what rules is not scientific method but an aberrant 
and confused religious impulse." Another vain effort of philosophy 
is illustrated by philosophical idealism, which, he says, assumes 


"that the laws of theoretical knowledge are the laws of the human 
spirit in all its functions" (p. 210). "But, as certainly as feeling 
and will cannot be reduced to ideational knowledge, the last- 
named is not justified in imposing its laws upon the former." These 
two illustrations indicate the general position. Philosophy has 
always sought a unified world-view, Ritschl admits, but he finds 
that it has sought it, not from the scientific, but from the religious, 
impulse, and the supreme principles which it has proposed have 
either been borrowed directly from religion or been developed by 
the imagination after the manner of polytheistic myths and in no 
case have been reached by the use of the proper scientific method. 

Here we have, then, the explanation of Ritschl's famous repudia- 
tion of any and all metaphysical systems as bases for religious 
knowledge — they are all fictions or phantasms of the imagination, 
untrue to their proper methods of theoretic cognition, or else 
they simply borrow (or steal) religious ideas directly and give them 
a pretense of scientific support by argument which is without 
value. Religious knowledge, then, if it exist at all, must depend 
on its own method of value-judgments, simply because there is 
nothing else for it to depend on. 

4. But has religious knowledge no relation whatever to theoretic 
knowledge? Does Ritschl, as Orr, for example, charges, "stretch 
faith and reason apart until no contact remains" ? By no means. 
There is a sense in which religious knowledge is a branch of theoretic 
knowledge. We noted above the similarity between Kant's argu- 
ment and Ritschl's argument for the reality of God. Kant, 
Ritschl remarks, limits his proof of the Christian conception of 
God "to the merely practical use of the reason" (p. 221). "But 
this limitation hangs together with his separation of the spheres of 
the theoretical and practical Reason, in which Kant failed to 
estimate the practical Reason at its proper value. If the exertion 
of moral will is a reality, then the practical Reason is a branch of 
theoretical cognition. These two positions Kant never reached. 
The reason for this failure lies in the fact that with him sensibility 
is the characteristic mark of reality." Thus Ritschl, and a little later 
he continues: "Besides the reality of nature, theoretical knowledge 
must recognize as given the reality of the spiritual life and the 


equal binding force of the special laws which obtain in each realm" 
(p. 222). "Spiritual life is the end," he maintains (p. 222), "while 
nature is the means. This is the general law of spiritual life, the 
validity of which science must maintain if the special character of 
the spiritual realm of existence is not to be ignored . . . ." (p. 223). 
"We must either resign the attempt to comprehend the ground and 
law of the coexistence of nature and spiritual life or we must, to attain 
our end, acknowledge the Christian conception of God as the truth 
by which our knowledge of the universe is consummated" (p. 225). 
"While, therefore, the Christian religion is thereby proved to be 
in harmony with reason, it is always with the reservation that 
knowledge of God embodies itself in judgments which differ in 
kind from those of theoretical science." The value-judgment 
still remains the bridge, and the only bridge, to the assurance of 
the reality of God, but reason in its theoretical activity is bound 
to acknowledge the existence and adequacy of this bridge. 

5. We should hardly be satisfied, even in this brief study of 
Ritschl's method, without one more illustration — perhaps the most 
famous — of his use of the value-judgment. We must try to answer 
the question : What is the content and meaning of the Ritschlian 
doctrine of the deity of Christ, and how does this differ from the 
traditional doctrine ? 

As, for Ritschl, God is just the personal being who is superior 
to the world, and through fellowship with whom we may attain to 
mastery over, and independence of, the world, so we are to recognize 
any agent or instrument of the transmission of that power to us as 
divine, and, to the extent that we, following Christ, actually attain 
such mastery over the world as he had we are also divine. The 
Godhead or deity of Christ, then, is just his mastery over the world, 
or superiority to it, and the influence of his historical life upon us, so 
that we share in his mastery of the world. Ritschl accepts the 
dogma of the Eastern church that the purpose of the incarnation was 
the deification of humanity. That deification, then, is just the 
attainment of a position of victory over, and independence of, 
the world. 

It will readily be seen that this doctrine corresponds more 
closely to what we now speak of as the divinity rather than the 


deity of Christ, where those terms are contrasted. When Ritschl 
says that Christ has for us the religious value of God, he does not 
mean, on the one hand, that Christ is the eternal God or takes the 
place of the eternal God for us, or, on the other hand, that there is 
any question about his deity, or, as we should say, divinity. He 
means that we recognize the divine nature of Christ in just that 
overcoming of the world which he accomplished for himself, in his 
patient endurance of all the hindrances and trials of life in the world, 
and in his retaining, through and in spite of them all, his love for 
men, his spiritual independence, and his confidence in the infinite 
worth of his life as compared with the world with all its limitations. 
In that overcoming of the world for himself and in the power to 
overcome the world which we receive through faith in the principles 
of his life and in that life as the manifestation of the eternal God 
who guarantees to us final superiority over the world, we recognize 
Christ's divinity. 

Christ therefore does not pre-exist as a personal being, but only 
in the eternal purpose of God. And his power as exalted, since 
his death, is known to us only in the continued influence of his 
historical, earthly life upon men. 

Replying to his opponents, who desire that he shall confess 
the deity of Christ in his supernatural birth and in the Chalce- 
donian formula of the union of the two natures, etc., he answers, 
first, that his physical origin "has never yet been reconciled with his 
historical appearance and never can be" (p. 468) and that the 
Chalcedonian formula "rests only on tradition, detached from the 
circumstances of its origin" (p. 399), whereas the Godhead which 
led to that formula, and which we now can perceive, was and 
is recognized in the experience of the saving work of Christ and 
not through the methods of theoretic or a priori knowledge. 

We must omit much that would be very interesting in the 
development of Ritschl's Christology, but we should at least 
mention the two elements in the life of Christ which make him 
unique. One of these elements is the fact that Christ stands 
historically first in revealing the world-conquering power — love — 
and thus becomes the head of all who follow him. The other is 
that "the members of Christ's community come to take this 


attitude" (that of overcoming the world through love and faith 
in God) "as those who have within them [originally] another bent 
of will; whereas the figure of Christ cannot be understood at all 
unless it is His original and distinguishing characteristic that He 
finds His own personal end in the self -end of God." This seems 
to be another way of stating the doctrine of the sinlessness of 
Jesus as contrasted with the sinfulness of all others. 

To recapitulate : We recognize the deity (or divinity) of Christ 
through that value-judgment which asserts that the power to over- 
come the world which we have through faith in God as manifested 
in him is just the greatest conceivable power, the power which our 
spirits require for their satisfaction and which we hold to as being 
God himself. 


The great question of theology or at least of Christian theology 
is: How can we know what God is and that he is ? I think that we 
may agree with Ritschl that we can never get a satisfactory answer 
to this question apart from the consideration of the spiritual nature 
of man and its needs. At any rate, we know of no answer, and 
can imagine none, which will satisfy the spiritual needs of man, 
which has been or could be deduced from the consideration of any 
other facts or principles than those which belong to that spiritual 
nature. We may go a step farther and say that no world-view or 
theory about the supreme principle or God of the universe can be 
regarded as true and sufficient which does not explain man's spiritual 
nature and needs — for they certainly form a part of reality which 
is significant, and any theory which neglects them is therefore 
inadequate and incomplete. We may agree, then, that the Chris- 
tian faith with regard to God explains the spiritual nature of man 
and the rest of reality known to man better than any other theory 
which has been proposed, and that we cannot conceive at present 
of a better explanation. 

I understand Ritschl's position to be that I accept the Christian 
conception of God as true, because I judge that it has the greatest 
conceivable value for me or that the Christlike God, if he existed, 
would have such greatest conceivable value; and, further, because 
of the experience that, when I hold that idea to be real and act 


accordingly, I do in a measure receive just the value which I should 
expect from such a being and have therefore evidence of his exist- 
ence. So far this argument seems to me to be good. 

But Ritschl seems to say that the only evidence which I have 
of the existence of God is the value which faith in him has for me 
in helping me to overcome the world. It seems quite true that 
this is the only evidence that could be called decisive. We must 
remember also the argument (which seemed a little inconsistent 
with his main contention) that this value-judgment method becomes 
after all a theoretical method, approved on logical grounds, if 
only you recognize the reality of the moral life and its laws; hence, 
it is not metaphysical systems as such that he excludes, but rather 
all metaphysical systems which attempt to explain the universe 
without taking into account all of the universe, and especially that 
which, at least for man, is most significant in it, namely, his own 
spiritual nature. Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason gave 
us a metaphysical system which attained the same end as Ritschl's, 
namely, the Christian God, but expressly limited its validity to 
the ethical life. Ritschl's system, while not identical, is very 
similar, except that he denies the limitation of validity. He agrees 
with Kant that the "pure reason" or "theoretical reason" can 
never by its proper methods reach up to God. But, when the 
Christian conception of God is once presented, Ritschl maintains 
that the theoretical reason must admit or affirm its validity, since 
the realm of the practical reason is — Kant to the contrary not- 
withstanding — a part of the realm of the theoretical reason. 

Admitting that the conception of the Christian God is reached 
directly only as the explanation and satisfaction of the spiritual 
need of man for mastery over the world, and that the strongest 
evidence of the reality of this God is the religious experience of his 
power in the attainment of this mastery by man, we may neverthe- 
less question Ritschl's right to exclude all other evidence on the 
subject. While it is true that the evidence of science and history 
is ambiguous, or that there is, if you please, evidence in them, 
both for and against the existence of the Christian God, yet one 
or the other of the contradictories must be chosen — "everything 
must either be or not be" — and under the guidance of the religious 


argument we are justified in choosing the religious interpretation 
of the scientific and historical evidence with regard to the supreme 
power in the universe — and I think that evidence will not be in- 

The value-judgment in which we assert or recognize the deity 
of Christ is of the same nature as the primary one by which we 
come to the Christian conception of God, namely, this: that in 
Christ we see manifested the power which overcomes the world, 
and through his historical influence we receive such power for our- 
selves. In brief, this means that, wherever we find this power 
manifested, we call it divine power. This we understand to be the 
main contention in Ritschl's Christology, and we shall probably 
all agree to it, even though some other elements in his doctrine of 
Christ might be open to question. 

In conclusion, we may approve Ritschl's position that the faith 
that the Christlike God and only he will satisfy the needs of the 
human spirit is a judgment of value, or perhaps two judgments of 
value — the first, that of the infinite worth of the human soul; 
the second, that the Christlike God and he alone guarantees that 
this worth of the soul shall be realized as over against the world. 
Ritschl is right in rejecting all metaphysical systems which do 
not take account of and explain the fundamental spiritual nature 
and needs of man as irrational in themselves and useless for religion. 
The Christian conception of God is the only one which is justified 
in view of this nature and these needs of the human spirit. 

But Ritschl's own system is a metaphysical system, conhrmable 
by the reason, in which the most significant facts are just this 
value-judgment or these value-judgments of the human spirit 
and the experience of satisfaction following upon the acceptance 
of the Christian idea of God as real. There seems, however, to 
be no sufficient reason why science and history should not be 
interpreted in harmony with the Christian conception of God, and 
the evidence coming from them, as so interpreted, be used in sup- 
port of the Christian doctrine. If this position be correct, we 
cannot maintain that absolute distinction between religious 
knowledge and theoretic knowledge which Ritschl generally