Sittler Terms Persistent Negation Part of 'Faith's Inmost Character'

Negation is a part of faith's inmost character, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Sittler said last night in his fourth Noble lecture. Drawing up a "catalogue of forms of negation," Sittler first listed the "negation of no concern." If a man is absorbed solely in the "sheer operational activities" of human existence, he lacks "ultimate concern," and his negation is the "sheer stupidity of an ossified heart."

In another form of negation, a man may lose confidence that his fellows possess the strength and wisdom to put their ideals into practice. Especially among students, negation may shield the "nascent frailty" of spiritual apprehensions that are not "sufficiently matured for either private acknowledgement or public exposure."

Further, men may violently repudiate "prudential reasons" when they are used to support secular ends. The promise that Grace will lead to "an enhancement of happiness, security, status, or the integrated personality," changes "an affirmation as big as life" into "a gimmick as old as Luther's bitter epigram: 'Man seeks himself in everything--even in God'."

Dawning Ambiguity

In addition, negation may arise from past disappointments, as a conditioned reflex. When Christianity is offered as "a huge and rosy simplicity, gallant promises either crumple up in the hard clutch of need, or become mockingly simple symbols of childhood as they retreat before the dawning ambiguity in the moral intelligence." The Christian story, said Sittler, has "a tough, penetrating, hard purpose whose theatre is the dark dreads, tormenting anxieties, and constructive demands of life."

Finally, negation may be the "protest of affirmative nature against what seems to be the sterilizing claims of grace." But all that man can know of God is the way in which he cannot know God," Sittler explained, and therefore negation "brings to decisive clarity precisely what is involved in the affirmation of Grace and Nature." Faith has its peculiar courage in virtue of the persistent negation that accompanies it; faith is the ultimate risk, not a freedom from risk.