The work of the Reformation in relation to the social condition is simply: the destruction of the theocratic character.[1] The Christian element, the personal will of God, stays put, but not in a theocratic way. The Reformers likewise base the ruling authority and the spiritual office on divine institution; but these are based on God’s order and commandment, not on an immediate act of God by which He introduced this particular constitution, ordained these persons. Therefore all of those investigations as to whether God set an emperor or many kings over Christendom, whether the Romans held world rule by right, whether the pope or the people transferred it to Charles the Great, all fall away. Rather, where and how ruling authority exists, it being from God and deserving of obedience. There is then no divinely prescribed form of the constitution of church and state, and the uninterrupted succession of the apostolate (successio personae) is no condition of the rightful church and its promises. In this manner the earthly world assigned to men is independent and does not coincide with the eternal kingdom of God; the supernatural aura of express authority and its unlimited power over faith and action fades; the individual person receives a sphere in which he stands immediately under God and his conscience.

But this healthy evaluation of the ethical and political situation was still without scientific setting, and initially even an attempt at such. Melanchthon’s work on moral philosophy cannot be considered such. He deals with human duties, moral and legal, entirely positively, under the direction and arrangement of the Decalogue, as those that just exist and are questioned by no one, without even examining the inner ground and the meaning thereof. For instance, he writes: sexual intercourse is necessary for the preservation of the human race, but God does not want stray copulation (vagi concubitus), so marriage is necessary. But why does God not want vagi concubitus? What is the meaning of this prohibition and therewith its morally persuasive force, through which, even apart from revelation, it must be clear to us and so vouch for the authenticity of the revelation? Likewise: the human community must have a ruler, therefore mastery or subordination is necessary, as is obedience to superiors. The human race needs protection, so penalties are needed, war is needed; and bravery, which is the champion of justice, proceeds from this. The abundance of sound striking views and doctrines which this book contains in detail does not make it into a book that builds on and executes a scientific principle, namely one that realizes the spirit of the Reformation. It is an expression of life valuation of the Reformation, but not of the scientific system for which it sowed the seed. Similarly, the natural law of Oldendorp treats legal commandments simply on the basis of the Ten Commandments, as a given, and the same is true with Winkler, namely having given a general introduction about ethics (natural law), which contains the Christian concepts of divine law, human nature before and after the fall, etc., without scientifically bringing them into contact with specific conditions, the legal system, the formation of the social condition.

It was therefore a necessity that the new world epoch founded by the Reformation would give shape to its life valuation likewise in a scientific system, just as the Middle Ages did for its. That was the impetus for the development that begins with Grotius and Descartes. But this only represents the life valuation of the new world epoch in its negative side: the destruction of the theocratic character, the liberation of the earthly life-order from the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the liberation of science from any external authority. However, it also relinquished the bond to God Himself, which the Reformation held onto despite the liberation from mediating powers. With the destruction of false authority, with the strengthening of the individual mind and its demand for its own investigation and its own freedom, the principle of subjectivity was first unleashed, the power of free personality creating of itself, resting in itself, and it tore itself away from all authority and all content over itself. The complete self-sufficiency of human knowledge (of reason), that it was in its true condition and capable of recognizing all truth from itself alone, the complete self-sufficiency of human morality [Sitte], whereby man in his own thinking, separated from God and the moral order given by God (formed in free economy), has the ground and content of all morality, and the ability to fulfill it – this is the fundamental character of rationalistic philosophy, indeed the general scientific direction from the Reformation to the Revolution. It cannot be held to be the science of the Reformation and of the world epoch founded by the Reformation, as medieval philosophy is the science of Catholicism, since it only acquired one aspect of the Reformation and not the decisive one at that – the negative polemic. This is already confirmed beyond all doubt in its contradiction of the fundamental teachings and the life-principles of the Protestant church, while medieval science was in full compliance with the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, the rationalist philosophy according to its final, to itself unconscious determination, the initial prod toward realizing the true and positive principle of the Reformation in science. Because with all the error in standpoint and result, it is yet likewise the innermost intellectual contemplation of man in himself. Making thought itself into an object of thought, to seek the connection to the eternal power in the withdrawal from the world upon itself, only to consider the clearly and distinctly (“clare et distincte” according to Descartes’ expression) acknowledged, the systematically certain, to be truly known – this really is the precondition, if the Christian truth is to completely penetrate the sphere of science, similar to self-examination in the ethical sphere.[2] But it is the wrong path to bring along the sufficiency of human thought as a prerequisite, and thereby to refuse the object offered to thought – experience and revelation. If this wrong path is eliminated, then contemplation necessarily leads to an inwardness and self-awareness, notably also to a self-awareness in all knowledge about its relation to the Christian revealed truth, and thereby a surety of the same, hence a true intellectual enlightenment such as dominated the scientific insight of the past. To fulfill this and thus to bring the life valuation of the world epoch founded by the Reformation also according to its positive aspect to scientific development in all its fullness and from its center outward, is therefore the problem of the present. The latest scientific endeavors since the Revolution wrestle for its solution, more or less consciously, in greater or lesser approximation, and often partially in yet further aberration.


These latest scientific endeavors not merely have scientifically to give shape to the inherent impulse, the principle of the Reformation according to its true, full, positive aspect, but also at the same time to revive an aspect which even the Reformation left to the side. It is precisely the ethical significance of world history as the work and manifestation of the world power. The Middle Ages took this significance theocratically, that the history of the world, as far as the possession of power is concerned, in church and state, was determined by the direct indication and formation of God. The Reformation on the other hand completely separated from [abstrahiert … von] world history. It is only concerned with the ethical rule, the commandment, only that is divine to it; by contrast, the whole of reality and history grants it no ethical defining moment. So it measures the church purely on doctrine which stands outside and above all history. By contrast, the historical realization of the church, the catholicity or the historical continuity (the unity and the connection of all those who confess Christ, and the uninterruptedness of the doctrine and constitutional development of the church throughout the ages) is absolutely not decisive to it. For Luther this element is still active, but only as the residue of his Catholic education. It is not his own and therefore not his energetic principle. His preservation of the status quo is often only a concession. For Calvin, it is entirely absent, so is generally discarded. The standard of doctrine is applied at each moment anew, not only to rectify the church, but to decide whether the church is present, as if there been not been a church.[3] Similarly, for it science (ethics and politics) simply has to do with the rule that stands outside and above all time in itself, and the world-historical progress of moral consciousness and the formation of states simply is in the position to be judged according to this rule, but not to be considered as a determining principle or manner of application of the rule itself. The general ethical commandment and the action of individuals are the only factors, with the latter standing totally isolated over against the former, without any mediation by world-historical conditions. This trait characterizes not only the rationalist, it characterizes Protestant education, it characterizes the scientific era from Melanchthon to Kant. This is the field of pure Protestant science.

It is unmistakably an enrichment of this purely Protestant conceptualization, it is a resumption of an element pertaining to the medieval period, when scientific conceptions since the Revolution attribute an ethical significance to history itself in one way or another. Thus the speculative philosophy finds the highest ethical standards in the development of world history, the gradual progress of its ideas, and thus constructs the history of the world in a manner similar to Augustine and his successors, and, in distinction to Melanchthon or Kant, as a divine work, although as the work of an entirely different God than the person in whom both Augustine and Melanchthon believed. Thus the Historical School of jurisprudence, which attaches to everything that exists, everything that is traditional, a binding regard, an ethical necessity of recognition, a commitment to piety. Thus the recent political school, which grounds the regard of historical dynasties not merely, as the Reformation did, in “where there is ruling authority, it is from God” – which de facto is true for every government – but is also filled with the holiness of the divine dispensation in history.[4]

Nevertheless, the ethical significance which according to the true and evangelical principle must be allowed for world history, is of a very different kind than that which the Catholic-medieval conceptualization ascribes to it: namely, it is always only a secondary ethical significance. The supremely ultimate must always be that which is above history, the Word of God and the ethical rule. There is – if one does not wish to fall back into the theocratic viewpoint – only divine order and divine dispensations [Fügungen] for the social condition (the state and the external church), not divine acts, not pure and direct divine sanction of certain circumstances and persons. The historical event is never the source of the ethos as it is in the Middle Ages, wherein ethics was: thou shalt recognize the event, the act of God, that He constituted the Pope and through him the Emperor, while all ethical rule (truths of faith, regulation of life, legal order) only indirectly issue therefrom (that is, the current statutes of the pope and emperor). Rather, the source of the ethos remains the commandment (the rule) alone, and every event is ethically valued only by subsumption under the commandment. But this is recognized in its enriched content. While the older Protestant intellectual culture [Bildung] recognized the ethical commandment merely as a commandment for the sporadic actions of (individual) people, in this advanced insight it is recognized at the same time as a commandment for the actions of the human community in its historically cohering unitary condition, as a commandment: thou shalt not interrupt this coherence without reason, thou shalt have reverence [Pietät] for what has come about by God’s providence or allowance in this condition, to the extent that it does not contradict the order of God (the God-given ethical rule) – the unified faith and the traditional consciousness of the church (which is not without the Holy Spirit) shall have an authority over you and yours, as long as it is not contrary to the clear Word of God – thou shalt not merely obey the ruling authority, where such exists, but thou shalt render piety and devotion to the dynasty rooted in history, as ordained by God.

This therefore distinguishes the principle of legitimacy from the theocratic principle. For the former, the chief ground of regard is always only the general rule: obedience is owed the ruling authority. But here it not only is not conceived abstractly, but also in the deeper meaning that in lengthy duration of possession a divine working is honored, and this deeper ethical valuation extends to long-existing, prescriptive authority [Gewalt]. By contrast, according to the theocratic principle the ground of regard is not the rule but simply the act of God by which he ordained authority, and of course this must be a purely divine act without the human admixture which is in all mere historical dispensation of God. The theocratic principle therefore is not satisfied with the ever so lengthy duration of a dynasty, but it goes back to the divine source, to the appearing of Christ, in order to examine whether its absolute origin is really such a divine act. For this reason the Protestant church does not consider the unbroken succession of bishops from the apostles onward to be a condition of the true church and its promises; but it holds that the ministry (even if, in case of need, it emerged again from the church, however instantly) is derived purely from itself and thus manifests itself as something ordained and dispensed by God, not as prescribed by the community. As in the lives of individuals the supremely ultimate is the ethical rule, but secondarily also the divine guidances and the promptings mediately contained in them detectable by the foreboding mind are ethically determinative (the “do nothing of my own choice”), so also in history is mankind secondarily an ethical guideline.

Finally, according to the newer conception, that in world history which is considered binding, which is recognized as being of ethical significance, extends not to the mere acquisition of outward authority, but also to the entire development of the ethical consciousness and life-affirming ideas.

Therefore, herein lies a resumption of, or at least a stronger emphasis on, an element left unheeded in the Reformation’s manner of looking at things; but purified by this and therefore also homogeneous to it. What is manifested in the most recent orientations of Protestant science, whether more clear or more veiled, is a reconciliation of the Protestant and Catholic principle, as far as such is possible.

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[1] Cf. my lecture, Der Protestantismus als politisches Princip [Protestantism as Political Principle], 1853, pp. 12-22.

[2] Der Protestantismus als politisches Princip, pp. 59-64.

[3] Der Protestantismus als politisches Princip, pp. 71-88.

[4] This thought also corresponds with the actual praxis in all times, that preferentially, only dynastic lineages come into consideration for a new occupancy of the throne.