Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Delivers Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh

Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Delivers Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh

Program for Niebuhr's Gifford Lectures


Gifford Lectureship
in Natural Theology

(First Series)


Union Theological Seminary, New York



In the RAINY HALL, New College
At 5.15 p.m. each day

Opening Lecture, MONDAY, 24TH APRIL, 1939

First Series: "HUMAN NATURE"

I. Monday, 24th April.
"Man as a Problem to Himself."
(a) The classical interpretation of man. Its emphasis upon his rational faculties. Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic elements in this emphasis. The pessimistic element in classical thought; its reflections on the brevity of life and the paucity of true wisdom and happiness.
(b) The Christian interpretation of man. The conception of the unity of man in his body and soul as a derivative of the Biblical concept of God as Creator of the world. The idea of the "image of God" and of spirit (pneuma) in distinction to classical idea of spirit as mind (nous). The emphasis upon man's dependence and finiteness: Man as creature. The Christian doctrine of the Fall: Man as sinner
(c) The Modern View of Man. Classical, Christian, and distinctively modern and naturalistic elements in the modern interpretation of human nature. The conflicting emphases in modern culture:

1. The conflict between idealists and naturalists.
2. The conflict between mechanistic and vitalistic naturalists.
3. The conflict between individualistic and collectivistic interpretations. The unanimous rejection in modern thought of the "uneasy conscience" of Christianity.

II. Wednesday, 26th April.
"The Problem of Vitality and Form in Modern Culture."
(a) The idealistic view of man as reason and reason as the forming and creative principle in both the world and man. The relation of this view to the classical view.
(b) The similarities and differences between idealistic and naturalistic rationalism in their view of human nature.
(c) The vitalistic (romantic) protest against the interpretation of man as reason.

1. Romanticism as a protest against the enervation of man as reason.
2. The Marxian and romantic protest against the dishonest pretensions of reason. Common elements in Marx and Freud.
3. The romantic protest against the divisiveness of reason, from Schopenhauer to Bergson. The contradiction between types of romanticism, which assert vitality and depreciate reason for opposite reasons.

(d) The truth in romanticism's protest against rationalism and its failure to comprehend the uniqueness of man.

III. Friday, 28th April.
"The Concept of Individuality in Modern Culture."
(a) Nature and spirit as sources of individuality.
(b) The Christian concept of individuality which is heightened and dissipated in modern culture.
(c) The autonomous individual of Renaissance culture. Christian and bourgeois elements in this concept.
(d) The destruction of individuality in the transmutation of a bourgeois civilization from a commercial to and industrial form.
(e) The dissipation of the concept of individuality in modern culture.

1. The loss of the ego in naturalistic thought.
2. The loss of the ego in idealistic thought.
3. The development from individualism to collectivism in romanticism. (Schleiermacher to Hitler.)
4. The point of contact between idealistic and romantic collectivism. (Fichte.)

IV. Monday, 1st May.
"The Easy Conscience of Modern Man."
(a) The unanimity of the modern protest against the Christian doctrine of original sin.
(b) The effort to discover the root of human evil in a particular mistake or specific source of corruption in history: The priest and the tyrant in bourgeois radicalism and the emergence of class societies in Marxian thought. The hope of eliminating human evil through social reorganization alone.
(c) The idea that reason can beguile man back to the harmony of nature as found in bourgeois naturalism.
(d) The emancipation of mind from nature in idealism.
(e) Romantic pessimism in distinction from Christian pessimism (Nietzsche, Freud, and Spengler).

V. Wednesday, 3rd May.
"The Christian View of Man in General Outline."
(a) Christian revelation and its mythical forms. God as Creator, Judge, and Redeemer, and his revelation in Christ. Distinction between the basic presuppositions of the Christian faith and rationalistic and mystical religions.
(b) The theological bases of Christian anthropology.

1. Divine goodness as the norm for man: Man's unlimited possibilities.
2. The humanity of Christ: Salvation without absorption into the eternal.
3. The Crucifixion and Atonement: Sin rather than finiteness as creating the need of redemption.
4. The Fall and the doctrine of sin as pride: The spiritual nature of sin.
5. Justification and Sanctification: Christ as human possibility and as a revelation of divine mercy.

VI. Friday, 5th May.
"Man as Image of God and as Creature."
(a) Man as Image of God. The freedom of man's spirit. The Biblical concepts of ruach and pneuma. Self-transcendence and man's relation to God. The significance of Augustinian anthropology in elaborating the Biblical concept of the image of God. The relation of the rational faculty to the spiritual capacity for self-transcendence in indeterminate regression.
(b) Man as Creature. The relation of man's freedom to his dependence and finiteness. The Biblical emphasis upon man's finiteness and dependence in its relation to the Biblical idea of the goodness of creation. The conflict between the Biblical and the Platonic conception of man's relation to the natural order. The Christian rejection of the idea that mortality is the cause of sin and its general, though dubious, acceptance of the idea that sin is the cause of mortality.

VII. Monday, 8th May.
"Man as Sinner."
(a) Pride as the basic sin. Man's effort to obscure or deny his finiteness.
(b) The temptation to pride: The anxiety and insecurity which is the consequence of both freedom and natural necessity.
(c) The forms and degrees of pride.

1. Pride of power. Power over men and power over nature.
2. Pride of intellect. The problem of ideology.
3. Moral pride. The problem of Pharisaeism.
4. Spiritual pride. Explicit forms of idolatry.

(d) The relation of dishonesty to pride. The devil as the father of lies.

VIII. Wednesday, 10th May.
"Man as Sinner"-Continued
(a) The Collective Egotism of Man. The relation of Hebrew prophecy, Augustinian Catholicism, Thomistic Catholicism, and Protestantism to national pride.
(b) The Equality of Sin and the Inequality of Guilt. The Biblical emphasis upon the equal sinfulness of all men. The special condemnation of the wise, the mighty, and the noble. The necessity of discriminate moral judgments and indiscriminate religious judgments.
(c) The Relation of Sensuality to Self-love. The heretical identification of sin with sensuality. Sensuality as a consequence of and punishment for self-love. Sensuality as a form of self-love and as an escape from it. Sex as the symbol of sensuality.

IX. Friday, 12th May.

"Original Sin and Man's Responsibility"

(a) The rational absurdity of the doctrine of original sin. Responsibility for the inevitable. Man's freedom and the bondage of the will.
(b) The Pelagian effort to escape the absurdity. The inability of Pelagianism and moralism to do justice to the complex facts of human behaviour.
(c) Anxiety as the seeming cause of sin's inevitability. Anxiety as the natural concomitant of freedom and as the consequence of a lost faith in God. The significance of the Pauline affirmation: "They are without excuse."
(d) The testimony of remorse and repentance to the fact of freedom and responsibility. The inability of habitual sin to destroy the reality of responsibility.
(e) The solving concept: The freedom of the self asserted in the discovery of the self in the bondage of sin.

X. Monday, 15th May.
"Perfection Before the Fall"
(a) Refutations of the doctrine of the total depravity of man in experience: Man's essential nature.
(b) The Biblical idea of the state of perfection before the Fall. The confusion of the meaning of this idea through Biblical literalism in Augustinian Christianity.
(c) Man's essential nature and the virtue which conforms to it. Faith, hope, and love (the theological virtues of Catholic thought) as essentials of man's freedom.
(d) Man's possession of these essentials as law but not as reality.
(e) The locus of this perfection which man has and yet does not have. The distinction between the self in contemplation and the self in action.
(f) The relation of the requirements of man's freedom to the requirements of the "natural law." The ultimate law which is both a higher law and the fulfillment of the law.

Reinhold Niebuhr Papers: Library of Congress, Manuscript Reading Room

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Paul Elie

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Jean Bethke Elshtain

is an author and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Robin Lovin

is Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the author of Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism.