(Excerpt from 1964 lecture by Herman Dooyeweerd, entitled ‘Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a changing world’ – translated by Dr J. Glenn Friesen.)
“Oswald Spengler’s important book was published in Germany: Der Untergang des Abendlandes [The Decline of the West]. This book was not written with the First World War in mind, for according to his own testimony, [the decline] was already there in principle before the outbreak of that war.
In its catastrophic and impressive background there could already be seen a prophecy of its (ie the West’s) downfall. This book set out the logical consequences of a way of thinking about history that had become absolutized by a radical historicism, which reduced the whole human horizon of experience into its cultural-historical aspect.
According to Spengler, man has no vantage point from which he can direct his view to that which is found outside the stream of historical development in which he is placed. If man has no view outside of the stream of historical development, then he also can no longer obtain any distance or perspective, no final goal that world history is to serve. And that was exactly what Spengler meant.
[…] And in this view, Western civilization, which previously had been regarded as central, and as giving direction, and in which all classical values – including those for other cultures – had been united, was wholly forced from out of its central position. Western culture was viewed as one culture alongside of others.
[…] He said that Western culture has for a long time been past the period of manhood; it is in its last phase of old age. And now as an irrevocable fatum, a “Schicksal” [destiny] as Spengler called it, the decline of the West would follow.
In this view of history, there was missing a true idea of historical development.
That is to say, it lacked a guideline to direct the cultural-historical for us in a process of unfolding and deepening, a process that is directed to a final goal, a final perspective. This final goal is something that itself transcends the historical aspect of our experiential world.
[…] Yes, this was historicism at its most logically consistent. A consistency that ends in nothing, in decline.
And it is not often noticed that Spengler already made use of all kinds of terms and categories of modern existential thought. For example, he used terms like ‘Sorge’ [concern], ‘Geschick’ [fate], and ’Schicksal’ [destiny], which today have been worked out by Martin Heidegger in an extensive, systematic whole.”
(“Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a changing world” by Herman Dooyeweerd. Lecture given on Thursday, January 2, 1964). TRANSLATED BY DR J. GLENN FRIESEN
The central and radical unity of our existence is at the same time individual and supra-individual; that is to say, in the individual I-ness it points beyond the individual ego toward that which makes the whole of mankind spiritually one in root in its creation, fall and redemption.
According to our Christian faith, all humanity is spiritually included in Adam. In him the whole human race has fallen, and in mankind also the entire temporal cosmos, which was concentrated in it. In Jesus Christ, the entire new humanity is one in root, as the members of one body.
Our I-ness is, in other words, rooted in the spiritual community of mankind. It is no self-sufficient “substance”, no “windowless monad“, but it lives in the spiritual community of the we, which is directed to a Divine Thou, according to the original meaning of creation.
This is the deep meaning of the central command of love: Thou shalt love God above all and thy neighbour as thyself…
(Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol 1, pp 60-64)
It may be true that a segment of the reading public prefers not to concern itself with the deepest motives in life and seeks discussion for the sake of entertainment instead of insight.
But this attitude is hardly a criterion for distinguishing readers with scientific training from those who have little or none. It is a fact that among scientists too there are those who would rather escape from themselves and find some kind of ‘diversion.’ Indeed, experience tells me that many in academic circles belong to this class. Unfortunately, many view the realm of science as a haven where they think they can escape from themselves by means of the ‘diversion’ of theoretical inquiry which in their opinion is quite unrelated to the deepest root of their life. And precisely the opposite situation is often found among those who are not scientifically schooled; they frequently put the shallowness of the educated to shame.
[…] This road is indeed accessible to every serious reader and not merely to a select company of ‘intellectuals’. It is the way of self-examination and not the way of abstract theoretical inquiry.”
(Herman Dooyeweerd: “Roots of Western Culture, Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options”, Paideia Press, 2012, p 6)
NOTE: This brief post regarding the term “dunamis” exemplifies terminal misunderstandings of Dooyeweerd’s thought by influential Reformed thinkers such as Cornelius Van Til and John M. Frame.
Cornelius Van Til writes:
“Dooyeweerd speaks of the ‘central dunamis’ of the Divine ‘Word’ as taking hold of us in the depth of our being. If this idea of dunamis is not to lead us into a Kantian sort of noumenal, then it must be based upon the spoken Word, full of thought-content.… Dooyeweerd’s discussion of the dunamis of the divine revelation as over against the simple thought-content of Scripture adds still further to the ambiguity.…The whole attempt at reforming philosophical thought in terms of the modalities of thought as set forth by Dooyeweerd breaks down unless he reforms the concept of dunamis.” (Context online HERE)
John Frame writes:
“Dooyeweerd is fond of speaking of “the central ground-motive of the biblical revelation or dunamis…” [Context online HERE]. This language raises the question of the extent to which this “Word” resembles other words. Is there any sense in which this Word, in its central meaning, is appropriated by hearing, understanding, believing, obeying?Or is the Word a kind of blind force which “grips” a person and changes him, without giving him any information, commands, questions, promises, etc.? […] The Amsterdam philosophers…are indeed fond of saying that Scripture addresses the heart, that it bears on all aspects of life, etc. It appears, however, that when they use this sort of language, they are thinking of Scripture, not as a book with words and sentences, but as a vehicle of that dunamis, that “power” which Dooyeweerd describes as the Word of God.” (PDF: The Amsterdam Philosophy: A Preliminary Critiqueby John M. Frame)
DOOYEWEERD WRITES (1):
”God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture as Creator and Redeemer concerns the central religious [deepest selfhood] relation of man to his absolute Origin.
Its true meaning is to be understood by man only if his heart has been opened up to it through the moving power of the Holy Spirit, who is the dunamis of the biblical Word-revelation.
“What is said here about the dunamis of the biblical Word-revelation and the central role of the heart in the understanding of its meaning is in complete accordance with the biblical testimony, cf. Isa. 6:10-13…
‘And he said, “Go, and tell this people, ‘In hearing you hear, but do not understand; and seeing you see, but do not perceive.’ The heart of this people has grown dull, and their ears sluggish, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn back, and I would heal them.’ (New Heart English Version)
And Acts 16:14…
‘One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.’ (NIV)
and with the opinion of Calvin:
‘And it will not have been sufficient that the mind is illuminated by the Spirit of God, unless also by its virtue the heart is made firm and is strengthened’. (Institutes III, ii, 33)”
(Excerpt from the chapter ‘Herman Dooyeweerd: II. CORNELIUS VAN TIL AND THE TRANSCENDENTAL CRITIQUE OF THEORETICAL THOUGHT, in the book Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, Edited by E.R. Geehan, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974, pp 81-84)
“Since the fall and the promise of the coming Redeemer, there are two central mainsprings operative in the heart of human existence.
The first is the dynamis of the Holy Spirit,
which by the moving power of God’s Word, incarnated in Jesus Christ, re-directs to its Creator the creation that had apostatized in the fall from its true Origin.
This dynamis brings man into the relationship of sonship to the Divine Father. Its religious ground-motive is that of the Divine Word-Revelation, which is the key to the understanding of Holy Scripture: the motive of creation, fall, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
(Herman Dooyeweerd: A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol 1, pp 60-64)
[…] Kuyper had died, and as could have been predicted, after his death there was a battle with respect to his spiritual heritage. In which line should reformational thought further develop? For it was clear that two lines could be observed. And not only in Kuyper but also in Herman Bavinck — one of the other leading members of the older generation — and also in Jan Woltjer.
There was a truly reformational line, which sought an inner reformation, an inner re-forming of the whole attitude towards life and thought, which came from out of the driving force, the dunamis of the divine Word.
And the other direction, which merely proceeded in the old scholastic line and that did not want to know about reformation, inner formation of thought. But as Voetius had named it, they wanted accommodation, adaptation, an external adaptation of thought to traditional theology, which itself appeared in every respect to be infected by Greek philosophy, which cannot be reconciled with the Biblical basic principle [grondgedachte].
The Philosophy of the Law-Idea immediately chose the reformational line, in this radical sense. It concerns reformation, inner reformation of our attitude of thought, through God’s Word – and, as was always added, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That’s what it’s about. It was against the scholastic accommodation.
[…] From the very beginning I have said that, as philosophy, the Philosophy of the Law-Idea is human work, fallible. I have said that it requires no privileged position with respect to other philosophical systems. That is something that could easily happen, to hide oneself behind the name ‘Christian,’ or ‘reformational,’ and to say, “Yes, but this is a philosophy that is a better guarantee against error than the others.” No. Every time I have warned against that and with great emphasis. That is not the way it is. Philosophy itself remains human work.
But it is human work that is directed from out of a spiritual driving force that does not come from man, but which comes forth from out of the Word of God, and which works in the community, de communio, Spiritus sanctus, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, whenever these Ground-motives – I am convinced that there still is much misunderstanding about them, also in our circle, also in the circle of our own Association. Some have become afraid when they have heard this and they have thought, “Here a selection is being made.” For the Ground-motive is described as that of creation, fall into sin, and redemption through Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And then it is said, “And after this the Bible can remain closed. If that alone is the Ground-motive that leads this philosophy, then the Bible can remain closed.” Now, it was so difficult to remove this misunderstanding.
For I have said that the Ground-motive is the key of knowledge of Holy Scripture, and a key serves in order to open something up. And what must be opened up, that is Holy Scripture. Thus the key belongs to Holy Scripture, and it is itself only to be understood from out of Holy Scripture. It is not something that is imposed upon it,
but it is certainly something, this motive in its completely central, in its radical, character, that completely fits with the revelation given by God in the beginning, in the first chapter of Genesis, of the creation of man according to the image of God. If you read that further in relation to everything that the Bible also teaches us about the religious center of human existence, then it must become clear that the divine revelation, the revelation of the Word, which became flesh, must be adapted to human existence as it was created by God. Otherwise there would be no revelation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ became man. Jesus Christ, and lived among us.
And God’s Word has spoken in our human language and in our human world and has thereby also entered our human horizon of experience.
And just as man, who was created by God, with a great diversity of functions and structures with respect to his bodily existence, but with one central unity. The heart of his existence, that religious center, out of which are the issues of life, and which according to the order of creation was destined to concentrically direct all the powers that God had placed in the temporal world. These were to be directed in the service of love to God and to our neighbour as the bearer of the image of God. For our neighbour, too, is created according to the image of God.
When you see that, then it is no longer strange that Holy Scripture also has a center, a religious center and a periphery, which belong to each other in an unbreakable way. That center is the spiritual dunamis, the spiritual driving force that proceeds from God’s Word in this central, all-inclusive motive of creation, revelation of the fall into sin, redemption through Jesus Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
And naturally, we can also speak about creation as an article of faith, a doctrine, and that is also clear. Naturally. And one can theologize about that. Of course that can occur. It is also necessary. But when it concerns true knowledge of God and true knowledge of self, then we must say, “There is no theology in the world and no philosophy in the world that can achieve that for man. It is the immediate fruit of the working, the central working of God’s Word itself in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, in the heart, the radix, the root unity of human existence. […]
Oh, you can make that foundation as good and as excellent as you want, but if the SpiritofGod does not breathe into it, then it is nothing. It is then less then nothing, chaff and not wheat. And no foundation, no basis that we ourselves may lay down and that we ourselves may formulate can really give the reformational, Christian, Biblical direction to our thought. That is the work of God’s Word by the working of the HolySpirit, Who is always at work in fellowship.”
(Extracts from: “Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a changing world”. A 1964 lecture by Herman Dooyeweerd. Translation by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen.)( PDF 70 pages.)
“As we noted earlier, individuality structures are time-structures of individual totalities such as things, concrete events or acts, societal forms (family, state, church, business enterprise), and so on. A concrete entity, such as this tree in front of my house, is more than the sum of its modal functions of number, space, movement, organic life, and so on. Before all else it is a temporal individual whole with a relative persistence that lies at the basis of all its modal functions.
Traditional metaphysics used to speak in this context of a substance. The Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea distanced itself on principle from the philosophical substance concept, and it did so on solid grounds.
The “thing-in-itself”, in whatever way it is conceived, is nothing but a theoretical abstraction from temporal reality which is reified [objectified] into an independent substance. […] What then constitutes the basic difference between the individuality structures of temporal reality? Without a doubt it is found in the typical totality character of these structures.
Ultimately this character remains inaccessible to scientific analysis, for the same reason that cosmic time in its continuity cannot be theoretically analyzed. The inner nature of an individual totality simply impinges itself upon our experience.
The moment one attempts to enter into a theoretical analysis of such a totality one is dependent upon the modal aspects in which that totality functions but which can never exhaust its existence. In this analysis, the totality, just like cosmic time, remains that which is presupposed. In its totality it precedes theoretical analysis and one can never afterwards construct it from “elements”.
(Herman Dooyeweerd, ‘Time, Law, and History: Selected Essays’, Collected Works, Series B – Volume 14, Paideia Press 2017, pp 89-94) (FREE DIRECT DOWNLOAD of this book – 482 pages)
“Christ has freed us from the ‘law of sin’ and from the Jewish ceremonial law. But the cosmic law, in its religious [ultimate] fulness and temporal diversity of meaning, is not a burdensome yoke imposed upon us because of sin, but it is a blessing in Christ. Without its determination and limitation, the subject would sink away into chaos. Therefore, Calvin recognized the intrinsic subjection of the Christian to the decalogue, and did not see any intrinsic antinomy between the central commandment of love as the religious [ultimate] root of God’s ordinances, and the juridical or economic law-spheres, or the inner structural law of the state.”
The walls of the absolutization of personal individuality have no windows.”
“The Christian speaks with awe about the living personal God, Who in His mercy and grace has revealed His identity to fallen humanity. But also in the communion with this God in Christ, the Christian remains within the human creaturely limits of the possibility of experience.
Subjective individuality can never determine the structural horizon of human experience and of the cosmos.
“This horizon is a structural order, the Divine order of the creation itself. It comprises in its determining and limiting structure the individuality of human personality, its religious [core selfhood] root as well as its temporal existence. Creaturely subjective individuality cannot determine and limit itself, but is a priori determined and limited by the Divine order.
But for its super-individual law-conformity, individual subjectivity would be an ‘apeiron’, a meaningless indeterminateness.
“The possibility of subjective experience would be cancelled, if the horizon of human experience were subjectively individual. The cosmic self-consciousness in which all cosmological knowledge remains founded, is not an experiential entrance into the absolutely individual horizon of some ‘personal world’, of a ‘microcosm’ (Scheler). It enters into the full, unique cosmos created by God within the temporal horizon, in the full meaning-coherence of all its modal and plastic structures.
“Naive [concrete] experience, the great primary datum of all epistemology, does not know anything of a cosmos as a ‘personal world’ supposed to be identical with countless other ‘personal worlds’ in an abstract, universal, merely intended [mental] essential structure alone. This is already precluded by…the plastic horizon of human experience.
“Human beings experience their individual existence within the temporal horizon exclusively in the one and only cosmos into which they been integrated together with all creatures. They also experience their individuality in the various structures of the temporal societal relationships.
“The individuality of human experience within the temporal horizon has a societal structure excluding any possibility of a hermetically closed ‘microcosm’.
(Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol 2: pp 592-594)
“It is a profound fallacy to insist that in this temporal world order there has to be an authority that is capable of overruling absolutely every other authority in a juridical sense, under the pretense that otherwise anarchy would reign. God did not ordain any ‘absolute power’ in time. The truth is that it is precisely the theory of the state’s totality of juridical power that rests on an anarchistic, revolutionary basis, because it ignores the divine structural laws of human society.
Everyone acquainted with life knows that there are material limits to the competence of the state. It is unworthy of legal science to ignore the connection between law and life through a sterile formalism. Rather it should base itself on a cosmology that is capable of meaningfully clarifying these limits and indicating an unambiguous criterion for them…
…Neither the arbitrariness of a government nor an arbitrary contract is in itself a [structurally sound]source of law. In all its individual forms, positive law is always the positivizing of divine jural principles, whose structure is determined by the divine world order.”
The above is an extract from “The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory” by Herman Dooyeweerd (1931) (Paedia Press, 2010, pp 152-161, 178-179) [DIRECT PDF DOWNLOAD OF THIS BOOK]
“In an unsurpassed manner Calvin expounded in his Institutio the authentic Christian conception of Augustine which made all knowledge of the cosmos dependent upon self-knowledge, and made our self-knowledge dependent upon our knowledge of God.” (Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol 1, p 196)
“OUR wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. […] On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” (Opening of Chapter 1 of Jean Calvin’s Institutes.)
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state”. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 16:3 and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 23:1)
“There is an inextricable link between the protection of the family and the protection of fundamental freedoms in liberal democracies…The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.” (UK Supreme Court Judgement contra Scottish Gov ‘Named Person Scheme’, 28 July 2016, Para 73, pages 32, 33)
“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Justice McReynolds, delivering the Opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States: Pierce v Society of Sisters 268 US 510, 1925, 534-535)
“So long as organized communities are a necessary factor in the inner vitality of a nation, the state has indeed the… juridical task… to take measures that support, restore and stimulate the life of non-political communities. Primarily this applies to the natural organized communal life of the nuclear family…” (“The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory” by Herman Dooyeweerd, 1931, Paideia Press, 2010, p 178)