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from The Collected Works
Deformations of Faith
Eric Voegelin delivered a lecture at Hillsdale College in 1977 as part of a symposium entitled "Between Nothingness and Paradise: Faith." Hillsdale College recorded the lecture and the recording of the lecture was transcribed and annotated by Professor Charles Embry. Voegelin never prepared the lecture for publication, perhaps because portions of it are drawn from his earlier essays. It is presented here in three parts.
What Do We Mean by "Faith?"
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for your kind introduction. Ladies and gentlemen.
The subject matter of these lectures is supposed to be "Deformations of Faith." The general topic of this meeting here is "On Faith." It was selected as a topic–not as a problem in any particular science. I shall try to stick as closely as possible to the topical implications of the problems of faith and deformations of faith.
Of course, when one speaks about deformations of faith one has first to determine what is meant by faith.
Again, adhering to the topical content, I should say the definition in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1–"Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the proof [evidence] of things unseen [not seen]”1–is the central formulation from the New Testament which has always been the basis of the theological and metaphysical examinations of what faith is–all through the Middle Ages right into the present. And we will start simply from there.
The first point that has to be made clear is what [is meant by] "the substance of things hoped for," [EV aside: Well, it is comparatively simple.] but "the proof of things unseen" already gives difficulties in translation because the Greek term elenkas (έλεγχος), which is here translated as "proof' doesn't mean exactly proof.
[There are] considerable explanations by Luther in his Bible translations as to how one should do that. He's against "proof" because it has a logical implication. He believes, however, that translating it simply as "conviction" is too little, too weak. [He] settles for something like "persuasive force" in the experience of divine reality.
Coleridge's Understanding of Faith
Now from that conception of faith we shall start. I shall select as a text–you might say for a sermon–from the formulations of the problem (which implies already the question of deformations) in [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge–a gentleman who in my opinion is much underrated as an English thinker.
In his "Essays on [the Principles of] Method"2 in 1818, he explains the following. He puts the formulation of Hebrews in the context of a philosophy of history. Let me read you a few sentences from it.
In the childhood of the human race, its education commenced with the cultivation of the moral sense: the object proposed being such as the mind only could apprehend, and the principle of obedience being placed in the will. The appeal in both was made to the inward man . . .3
Now he quotes this passage from Hebrews 11: 1 and then especially verse 3: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear . . .4