How Religious Success Can Threaten Faith

How Religious Success Can Threaten Faith May 9, 2018


Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) is a thinker I want to look into more, writing as he does about civilizational change and the dire influence of gnosticism.  In this quotation, he says that the “worldly success” of a religion brings on its decline.  This is because a religion of power is incompatible with a religion of faith.

From The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, pp. 122-123: 

The life of the soul in openness toward God, the waiting, the periods of aridity and dulness, guilt and despondency, contrition and repentance, forsakenness and hope against hope, the silent stirrings of love and grace, trembling on the verge of a certainty which if gained is loss—the very lightness of this fabric may prove too heavy a burden for men who lust for massively possessive experience. The danger of a breakdown of faith to a socially relevant degree, now, will increase in the measure in which Christianity is a worldly success, that is, it will grow when Christianity penetrates a civilizational area thoroughly, supported by institutional pressure. . . . The more people are drawn or pressured into the Christian orbit, the greater will be the number among them who do not have the spiritual stamina for the heroic adventure of the soul that is Christianity; and the likeliness of a fall from faith will increase when civilizational progress of education, literacy, and intellectual debate will bring the full seriousness of Christianity to the understanding of ever more individuals. Both of these processes characterized the high Middle Ages.” 

Voegelin, who resisted labels and did not seem to belong to a specific church body, identified himself as a “pre-Nicene Christian.”

Though this passage contrasts the religion of power and worldly success of the Middle Ages–what we might call the theology of glory–with the life of faith, Voegelin is critical of Luther.  And yet, he had a Lutheran funeral.

Other Voegelians, though, say that Voegelin was unfair to Luther, missing, for example, his doctrine of vocation.  See the following excellent articles on the website Voegelinview:

Ellis Sandoz, Voegelin’s Relationship to Christianity

Henrik Syse, Was Eric Voegelin Fair To Martin Luther? Reflections On Voegelin’s Treatment Of Luther In The History Of Political Ideas

Joshua Mitchell, Voegelin And The Scandal Of Luther: Philosophy, Faith, And The Modern Age

HT:  George Strieter, who put me onto Voegelin and who gave me the above quotation.



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