Jewish Theology Systematically and Historically Considered (1918) [Chapter 1]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

The Meaning of Theology

(pp.1-6)

A) About the author of the chapter:

Kaufman Kohler “… was educated at the Universities of Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, (1865-69), and received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Erlangen in 1868.” [1]

“Feb. 26, 1903, he was elected to the presidency of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati.” [2]

[1] https://www.jta.org/1926/01/29/archive/dr-kaufmann-kohler-president-emeritus-of-hebrew-union-college-dies

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9419-kohler-kaufmann

B) Chapter Summary:

“The name Theology, “the teaching concerning God,” is taken from Greek philosophy. It was used by Plato and Aristotle to denote the knowledge concerning God and things godly, by which they meant the branch of Philosophy later called Metaphysics, after Aristotle.”[1]

“In the Christian Church the term gradually assumed the meaning of systematic exposition of the creed, a distinction being made between Rational, or Natural Theology, on the one hand, and Dogmatic Theology, on the other.”[2]

“In common usage Theology is understood to be the presentation of one specific system of faith after some logical method, and a distinction is made between Historical and Systematic Theology. The former traces the various doctrines of the faith in question through the different epochs and stages of culture, showing their historical process of growth and development; the latter presents these same doctrines in comprehensive form as a fixed system, as they have finally been elaborated and accepted upon the basis of the sacred scriptures and their authoritative interpretation.”[3]

“Theology and Philosophy of Religion differ widely in their character. Theology deals exclusively with a specific religion; in expounding one doctrinal system, it starts from a positive belief in a divine revelation and in the continued working of the divine spirit, affecting also the interpretation and further development of the sacred books. Philosophy of Religion, on the other hand, while dealing with the same subject matter as Theology, treats religion from a general point of view as a matter of experience, and, as every philosophy must, without any foregone conclusion. Consequently it submits the beliefs and doctrines of religion in general to an impartial investigation, recognizing neither a divine revelation nor the superior claims of any one religion above any other, its main object being to ascertain how far the universal laws of human reason agree or disagree with the assertions of faith.”[4]

“… we have learned to distinguish between subjective and objective truths, whereas theology by its very nature deals with truth as absolute. This makes it imperative for us to investigate historically the leading idea or fundamental principle underlying a doctrine, to note the different conceptions formed at various stages, and trace its process of growth.”[5]

“Judaism is a religion of historical growth, which, far from claiming to be the final truth, is ever regenerated anew at each turning point of history. The fall of the leaves at autumn requires no apology, for each successive spring testifies anew to nature’s power of resurrection.”[6]

“The object of a systematic theology of Judaism, accordingly, is to single out the essential forces of the faith.”[7]

Jewish theology differs radically from Christian theology in the following three points:

“A. The theology of Christianity deals with articles of faith formulated by the founders and heads of the Church as conditions of salvation , so that any alteration in favor of free thought threatens to undermine the very plan of salvation upon which the Church was founded. Judaism recognizes only such articles of faith as were adopted by the people voluntarily as expressions of their religious consciousness, both without external compulsion and without doing violence to the dictates of reason.”[8]

“Christian theology rests upon a formula of confession , the so-called Symbolum of the Apostolic Church, which alone makes one a Christian. Judaism has no such formula of confession which renders a Jew a Jew. No ecclesiastical authority ever dictated or regulated the belief of the Jew …”[9]

“The creed is a conditio sine qua non of the Christian Church. To disbelieve its dogmas is to cut oneself loose from membership. Judaism is quite different. The Jew is born into it and cannot extricate himself from it even by the renunciation of his faith, which would but render him an apostate Jew.”[10]

“The truth of the matter is that the aim and end of Judaism is not so much the salvation of the soul in the hereafter as the salvation of humanity in history …

It [i.e. Judaism] does not, therefore, claim to offer the final or absolute truth, as does Christian theology, whether orthodox or liberal. It simply points out the way leading to the highest obtainable truth.”[11]

 

[1] p.1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] pp.1-2

[5] pp.3-4

[6] p.4

[7] Ibid.

[8] p.5

[9] Ibid.

[10] pp.5-6

[11] p.6

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