The Holy As A Category Of Value

Sin and Atonement

We have already met that strange and profound mental reaction to the numinous which we proposed to call ' creature-feeling ' or creature-consciousness, with its concomitant feelings of abasement and prostration and of the diminution of the self into nothingness ; bearing always in mind that these expressions do not hit with precision, but merely hint at what is really meant,1 inasmuch as this ' diminution of the self ', &"c., is something very different from the littleness, weakness, or dependence of which we may become aware under other conditions than that of numinous feeling. And wre had to notice that this experience marks a definite depreciation or disvaluation of the self in respect, so to speak, of its reality and very existence. We have now to put alongside of this another sort of self-disvaluation, which has long been a matter of common observation, and only needs to be suggested in order to be recognized. ' I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips.' ' Depart from mej for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord.' So say respectively Isaiah and Peter, when the numinous reality encounters them as a present fact of consciousness. In both cases this self-depreciating feeling-response is marked by an immediate, almost instinctive, spontaneity. It is not based on deliberation, nor does it follow any rule, but breaks, as it were, palpitant from the soul - like a direct reflex movement at the stimulation of the numinous. It does not spring from

' Cf. Hugo of St. Victor's words : ' Sumpta sunt vocabula, ut intellegi aliquatenus poa*et quod comprehendi non poterat'. ('These words were chosen, that that which could not be comprehended might jet in some measure be understood.')

y the consciousness of some committed transgression, hut rather is an immediate datum given with the feeling of the numen : it proceeds to 'dis\ulue' together with the self the tribe to which the person belongs, an 1 indeed, together with that, all existence in 5 'neral. Now it is to-day pretty generally agreed that, all this being the case, these outbursts of feeling are not simply, and probably at first not at all, moral depreciations, but belong to a quite special category of valuation and appraisement. The feeling is beyond question not that of the transgression of the moral law , however evident it may be that such a transgression, where it has occurred, will involve it as a consequence : it is the feeling of absolute ' profaneness '.

Lut what is this? Again something which the 'natural'

o o man cannot, as such, know or even imagine. He, only, who is ' in the Spirit' knows and feels what this ' profaneness ' is; but to such an one it coines with piercing acuteness, and is accom-j uiied by the most uncompromising judgement of self-depreciation, a judgement passed, not upon his character, becausc of indi'- idUiil ' profane ' actions of his, but upon his own very existence as creature before that which is supreme above all creatures. And at the same moment he passes upon the numen a judgement of appreciation of a unique kind by the Category diametrically contrary to ' the profane ', the category ' holy', which is proper to the numen alone, but to it in nil absolute degree ; he says : ' Ta solus sanctus'. This ' sanctus' is not merely ' perfect' or ' beautiful' or ' sublime' or ' good ', though, being like these concept'- also a value, objective and ultimate, it has a definite, perceptible analogy with them. It is the positive numinous value or worth, and to it corresponds on the side of the creature a numinous disvalue or ' nti worth '.

hi every highly-developed religion the appreciation of moral obligation and duty, ranking as a claim of the deify upon man, ha* been developed side by side with the religious feeling itself. None the less a profoundly humble and heartfelt recognition of 'the holy' may occur in particular experiences without being always or definitely charged or infused with the sense of moral demands. The ' holy w ill then be recogni/.ed as that which commands our respect, as that whose real value is to be acknowledged inwardly. It is not that the awe of holiness is itself simply ' fear ' in face of what is absolutely overpowering, before which there is no alternative to blind, awe-struck obedience. ' Tu solus sanctus' is rather a paean of praise, which, so far from being merely a faltering confession of the divine supremacy, recognizes and extols a value, precious beyond all conceiving. The object of such praise is not simply absolute Might, making its claims and compelling their fulfilment, but a might that has at the same time the supremest right to make the highest claim to service, and receives praise because it is in an absolute sense worthy to be praised. ' Thou art worthy to receive praise and honour and power' (Rev. iv. 11).

iWhen once it has been grasped that qaddsh or sanctus is not originally a moral category at all, the most obvious rendering of the words is ' transcendent' (' suprainundane ', ulterwelllich). The one-sided character of this rendering to which we had to take exception has been supplemented by the more detailed exposition of the numinous and its implications. But its most essential defect remains to be noted: ' transcendent' is a purely ontological attribute and not an attribute of value; it denotes a character that can, if need be, abash us, but cannot inspire us with respect. It might once again, therefore, be an advantage to introduce another term to underline this side of the numinous, and the words augustus and ve/jvos suggest themselves for the purpose. ' Augustus ', ' august', no less than tre/^oy, is really appropriate only to numinous objects —to rulers only as offspring or descendants of gods. Then, while o-efiaaros indicates the being of the numen, aefiris or augustus would refer rather to its supreme worth or value, its flustriousness. There will, then, in fact be two values to distinguish in the numen ; its ' fascination ' (fascinans) will be that element in it whereby it is of subjective value (— beatitude) to man; but it is 'august' (augustum) in so far as it is recognized as possessing in itself objective value that claims our homage.

Mere ' unlawfulness ' only becomes ' sin ', ' impiety', ' sacrilege ', when the character of numinous unworthiness or disvalue goes on to be transferred to and centred in moral delinquency. And only when the mind feels it as 1 sin ' does the transgression of law become a matter of such dreadful gravity for the conscience, a catastrophe that leads it to di sj air of its own power. The meaning of ' sin ' is not understood by the ' natural ', nor even by the merely mora), man; and the theory of certain dogmatists, that the demand of morality as such urged man on to an inner collapse and then obliged him to look round for some deliverance, is palpably incorrect. There are serious-minded men of sincere moral endeavour who cannot understand v.hat such a 'deliverance or ' redsjBption ' may be, and dismiss it with a shrug of the shoulders. They are aw are that they are erring and imperfect men, but they know and put into practice the methods of self-discipliae, and so labour onward upon their way w ith sturdy resolution. The morally robust older Rationalism was lacking neither in a sincere and respectful recognition of the moral law nor in honest endeavour to conform to it. It knew well and st rnly condemned what, was 'wrong', and the aim of its exliortat ions and instruction was that men should realize better ami take more in earnest the facts of moral ri<dit and wronir.

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