More About Heschel

Theological Ideas

 
[Please note:  Material by Abraham Joshua Heschel is under copyright by Professor Susannah Heschel, Executor, and is reprinted here with permission. For permission to reprint any of this material, please contact Dr. Heschel at Dartmouth College.]

Heschel’s major theological ideas:

Depth Theology

A focus on the underpinnings of faith:  a sense of awe and radical amazement which must occur before any creed or dogma come into play—which help explain Heschel’s wide ecumenical appeal.

From an essay he wrote on Depth Theology in The Insecurity of Freedom:           

“What happens within a person to bring about faith?…  this is the concern of a special type of inquiry which may be called “depth theology,” …  its purpose being to explore the depth of faith, the substratum out of which belief arises.  It deals with acts which precede articulation and defy definition. 

... Theology declares: depth theology evokes …

… Theology is in the books; depth theology is in the hearts … Theologies divide us; depth theology unites us. 

... Depth theology warns us against intellectual self-righteousness, against self-certainty and smugness …  Theology…is always in danger of taking itself too seriously.”

Divine Pathos

A feeling God who cares deeply about humanity. Rather than “the Unmoved Mover” of Aristotle, God is “the Most Moved Mover” of the Bible.  This is a major theme in his doctoral dissertation, Die Prophetie, at the University of Berlin, later revised and translated into English in 1962 as The Prophets.  In it he writes:

“(God) is personally involved in, even stirred by, the conduct and fate of man … Man is not only an image of God; he is a perpetual concern of God … Whatever man does affects not only his own life, but also the life of God insofar as it is directed to man ... What Abraham and the prophets encountered was…the fullness of God’s care.”  

Heschel was to be a great influence on Jurgen Moltmann and other contemporary religious philosophers who would write about a Suffering God.

Religion of Sympathy

How the prophet responds to encountering God’s pathos (and by implication, how all of us might):

“The prophet not only hears and apprehends the divine pathos; he is convulsed by it to the depths of his soul ...

 “The final result is an increased sensitivity to the presence of God, not an impersonal knowledge …  His attitude … is sensed by his contemporaries to be the manifestation of his inner accord with God.

 Sympathy, however, is not an end in itself … Not mere feeling, but action will mitigate the world’s misery, society’s injustice, or the people’s alienation from God.  Only action will relieve the tension between God and man.”

God in Search of Man

A radical rethinking of traditional religious thought:

 “Over and above all things there is a sublime expectation, a waiting for.  With every child born, a new expectation enters the world …  something is being asked of me.

…  Meaning is found in responding to the demand …

God is in need of man… Our need of Him is but an echo of His need of us.

…  There is a built-in sense of indebtedness in the consciousness of man, an awareness of owing gratitude, of being called upon at certain moments to reciprocate, to answer, to live in a way which is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living.”

The Sabbath as a cathedral in time

“The modern man does not know how to stand still, how to appreciate a moment, an event for its own sake. … 

…  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon…to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world …

… The Sabbath itself is a sanctuary which we build, a sanctuary in time …  The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.”

SOURCES

Sources for the passages above are as follows: (See KEY below)

Depth Theology
IOF:  pages 116, 117-118, 119-120

Divine Pathos
Prophets, Vol. 2:  pages 4, 6, 7

Religion of Sympathy 
Prophets, Vol. 2:  pages 88, 3, 90, 89

God in Search of Man
PFT: page 259;  WIM:  pages 108, 110;  MINA:  page 248;  WIM:  page 111

The Sabbath as a cathedral in time
IOF:  page 19;  Sabbath:  pages 10, 29, 8

KEY:

IOF                               The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence
                                     New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux

MINA                           Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion
                                     New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux

Prophets, Vol. 2        The Prophets, Volume 2
                                     New York: Harper & Row

Sabbath                      The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man
                                     New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux

WIM                             Who Is Man?
                                     Stanford: Stanford University Press

[Please note:  Material by Abraham Joshua Heschel is under copyright by Professor Susannah Heschel, Executor, and is reprinted here with permission. For permission to reprint any of this material, please contact Dr. Heschel at Dartmouth College.]

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Praying With My Legs  

Praying With My Legs

Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Search
for a Meaningful Existence

A FILM BY STEVE BRAND