Code: DP-4


"Grace, the Moral Gap and Royce’s Beloved Community"



            It has recently been suggested that our contemporary technological culture needs receptivity to grace and a way to make Christianity relevant to contemporary persons.[1] Josiah Royce did address religion’s relevance to modern man and he has a unique doctrine of grace [2]  In addressing religious experience Royce also successfully analyzed two related, important philosophical problems in ethical theory: the "moral gap," i.e. the presumed radical distance between the normative moral demand and the abilities of human persons to adequately meet that demand, and the question: "why be moral?[3]"  In The Problem of Christianity[4], and in The Sources of Religious Insight,[5] Royce conceives of religious experience in general to be concerned with a triad of objects: the ideal, the need, and the Deliverer. In explicating Royce’s understanding of this triad, I will argue that he, unlike other philosophers, neither reduces the moral demand nor exalts human capacity and he uses a doctrine of grace rather than seeking a naturalistic means to bridge the moral gap.

The Moral Demand


                The doctrine of grace addresses the question of how seemingly flawed human beings can meet the moral and/or spiritual demand placed upon them.  In the Christian tradition the demand is that persons live a life worthy of their status as children of God, in other words, the demand is linked with the essential nature of human persons, namely, that they are children of God. This status gives them intrinsic value. But it also characterizes the nature of evil or sin, namely, to act against God’s will, which is to act in a manner that negates one’s status as a child of God.  Thus to act in an immoral or non-spiritual manner is to negate or act against one’s essential nature.  The sinful act, in Christianity also arises from the creature’s free will.  Indeed, part of one’s essential nature as a child of God is the ability to act freely and to freely choose to obey or disobey God’s will in order to gain the praise of others. 

            What, then, does Royce say about the moral demand?  The ultimate moral demand, for Royce, is the principle of "loyalty to loyalty."  In his Philosophy of Loyalty, Royce declares: "In loyalty, when loyalty is properly defined, is the fulfillment of the whole moral law."[6] The proper definition of loyalty, in Royce’s view, is "The willing and practical and thorough going devotion of a person to a cause."[7] Royce identifies some key characteristics of authentic loyalty which distinguish it from some common misconceptions.  First, it is a matter of free choice: "The loyal man’s cause is his cause by virtue of the assent of his own will."[8] Royce also is clear that choosing a cause involves personal reflection and evaluation. 

Indeed, loyalty, for Royce, plays a key role in self-identity and unity.  To achieve a sense of genuine selfhood one must have a life plan.  A person is one who is engaged in developing a meaningful self-narrative, who has a remembered past and an intended future; goals have been pursued or will be pursued and value judgments are made about what has been done or thought and what is worth seeking, doing, thinking.  Part of my uniqueness as a person, for Royce, and the most valuable part, is my life plan, my set of values and ideals that distinguish me from all my fellows.  Royce emphatically asserts: "By this meaning of my life plan, by this intent always to remain other than my fellows despite my planned unity with them- by this and not by the possession of any soul-substance, I am defined and created a self."[9] For Royce, the human quest for selfhood and unity is a profound psychological fact; humans hunger for and need a life plan.[10]   In Royce’s view, being loyal to a cause helps unify a life; it brings one’s own will to self-consciousness; it helps one become morally aware and autonomous. "My duty is simply my own will brought to my clear self-consciousness."[11]

In sum, then, for Royce, loyalty is personal, involving choice and a profound sense of self.  Royce, in fact, argues that one must choose forms of loyal conduct that appeal to one’s own nature.  "Loyalty," he writes, "depends upon a very characteristic and subtle union of natural interest and of free choice…Loyalty has an elemental appeal to my whole organism."[12] Further, loyalty is a natural and basic need for human beings.  This is true, says Royce, because loyalty furnishes the solution to the hardest of human practical problems, namely, "For what do I live? Why am I here? For what am I good?  Why am I needed?"[13] Loyalty constitutes what Royce calls "conscience," and the flower of moral life. Conscience is that ideal "of life which constitutes your moral personality."[14]

      However, loyalty is also transpersonal.  If you are loyal, your cause is viewed as something objective –something that is not your private self; it is beyond your own advantage.  Moreover, loyalty is essentially social.  If one is a loyal servant of a cause, there are possible fellow servants.  Loyalty tends to unite persons in one service and, thus, it has an impersonal or super-personal quality.  Further, even with two individuals, two friends, or loyal lovers, the loyalty is to the tie, the union, the relationship, which is more than both of them viewed as individuals.[15]  We will develop this social aspect of loyalty shortly when we discuss Royce’s notion of "graced communities."

                Royce, then, holds that loyalty is the supreme good to be sought.  However, he is well aware that some causes to which men give their loyalty are evil.  This leads him to focus on loyalty as an attitude, a devotion to building genuine relationships and community.  The principle of loyalty to loyalty becomes the main criterion of causes and the main moral imperative.  Royce writes:  "Insofar as it lies in your power, so choose your cause and so serve it, that by reason of your choice and your service, there shall be more loyalty in the world rather than less.  And, in fact, so choose and serve your individual cause as to secure thereby the greatest possible increase of loyalty amongst men."[16] This moral demand is a high one indeed for it is very easy for humans to be devoted to causes which are evil and destructive of communities and of the loyalties of others; it is very easy to be loyal only to one’s own self-centered cause of the cause of one’s own small circle.  In his The Philosophy of Loyalty Royce speaks of causes unworthy of anybody’s loyalty, e.g., a robber band, a family engaged in a murderous feud, a pirate crew.[17]  In speaking of unworthy loyalties, we are addressing the problem of human failure to meet the moral demand placed upon them by Royce’s ethics.  In the Christian tradition, the failure is called "sin."

Human Failure and Sin

            Crucial to the traditional Christian notion of "grace," is a concept of a "fallen humanity," of human beings born with a propensity to evil.  In the Christian tradition there is the concept of "original sin." Such a concept, however, seems out of place in a philosophical discussion. Yet, Royce does discuss the concept of "sin" and believes in a notion of radical evil.

            Human sin or moral failure, for Royce, has both an individual and a social character.  It is fostered by both individual and social conditions and it expresses itself both individually and socially.  The first condition for human sin resides in our very finite-infinite human nature.  This is manifested first of all in the finitude of our consciousness.  "Our finitude means, then, an actual inattention—a lack of successful interest, at this conscious instant, in more than a few details of the universe."[18] This finitude of consciousness is not itself sin, but the condition of sin.  Our human finitude, argues Royce, calls upon us to do two things if we wish to be fully developed human beings. First, we must intensely develop our power of response to the universe around us, to maintain as much openness as possible. Secondly, we need to recognize that full truth and reality are still to be discovered. 

            Human sinfulness thus is twofold.  First there is what Royce calls the sin of irresponsiveness, which is a deliberate choosing to narrow our focus, to circumscribe our field of attention. Indeed, this sin is even more specifically described by Royce as "consciously to choose to forget, through a narrowing of our field of attention, an ought that one already recognizes."[19] The second form of sin is the sin of pride, the lack of humility about our limited grasp of truth and reality. These two forms of sin are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.  "Irresponsiveness to the greater world beyond is but a negative side of the inordinate responsiveness to one’s own present interests."[20]

            In The Philosophy of Loyalty, Royce speaks of the inevitable illusion of perspective that he also calls "natural selfishness":

Whether he takes account of the physical or the natural world, every

man inevitably finds himself as apparently occupying the center of his

own universe.  The starry heaven form to his eyes a sphere, and he

himself, so far as he can see, is at the center of the sphere.  Yet, the entire

and visible world, to be even more exact, seems to have its own centre about

where the bridge of your own nose chances to be.  What is very remote from

us we find difficult to regard as real in the same warm and vital sense in

which the world near to us is real.[21]


This illusion of perspective distorts the true nature of things leading each of us to see the world differently and to have differing values and loyalties.  It is not that there is not some truth in our perspectives; there is.  This is why Royce argues that we must respect the loyalties and values of others, for they contain some elements of truth.  The error, the sin, is to exalt the loyalties as all encompassing.  This is why the moral principle, for Royce, is loyalty to loyalty, namely, to broaden loyalties and perspectives so that broader truth and value may be realized.

            Returning to the topic of human sin and our finite-infinite nature, it should be clear that for Royce the infinite dimension of human nature manifests itself in the very possibility for self-transcendence and to aspiring to goals and ideals that are not finite.  Self-actualization, as we have seen, is for Royce an ethical task and self-actualization requires self-transcendence, a goal outside of oneself whereby life can be unified.

            The demand for self-actualization and its ground in self-transcendence is closely related to the finitude of our consciousness and the sins of irresponsiveness and pride.  In order to achieve self-actualization, I need self-knowledge.  But here again, narrowness of view plagues us and sinful deliberate self-forgetting easily occurs. 

            Nothing is more obvious about the natural course of our lives then is the

            narrowness of view to which we are usually subject.  We are not only the

            victims of conflicting interests, but we are all too narrow to know that

            this is true.  For we see our various interests, so to speak, one at a time.

            …We are prone to live many lives, seldom noting how ill harmonized they

            are…And…we constantly do irrevocable deeds that emphasize and

            perpetuate the results of this disharmony.  We thus come to spend our days

            thwarting ourselves.., yet without our knowing who it is that thwarts us…

            The deeper tragedies of life thus result from this our narrowness of view.[22]


In light of this, says Royce, we need our fellow human beings, for they correct our narrowness and broaden our outlook.  Our fellows steady our vision and teach us not to indulge our caprices.  Further, I cannot even judge my conduct without my fellow beings.  "It is my knowledge of my fellow’s doings, and of their behavior toward me- it is this which gives me the basis for the sort of comparisons that I use whenever I succeed in more thoughtfully observing myself or estimating myself."[23]

            The individual, then, needs self-transcendence and self-unification and the achievement of these is dependent upon others.  However, the necessity of the social context to self-development, in Royce’s view, has both its positive and negative aspects.  In fact, herein lays the second metaphysical condition for sin.  Social life helps us toward self-transcendence but, in the very process of social cultivation and self-development, the self-will and the individual focus on self are brought to fruition.  The social training which helps develop habits which bring control to our impulses and instincts also makes us acutely self-conscious and aware of our own needs and values.  We become rebellious against all external authority and more concerned with the law of our own spirit.  We also become greedy for our own social power.  Royce describes the situation as follows:

            Individualism and collectivism are tendencies each of which, as our social

            order grows, intensifies the other. The more the social will expresses itself in

            vast organizations of collective power, the more are individuals trained to be

            aware of their own personal wants, choices, ideals, and of the vast

            opportunities that would be theirs if they could but gain control of their

            social forces.[24]


What is most interesting in Royce’s understanding of the social conditions of sin is that he, like St. Paul, recognizes three possible existential conditions in which a human being can live in terms of his relation to the moral demands given by God.  These are: human beings without law; human beings under the law, and human beings under grace.  The first condition, in Royce’s view, is that experienced by primitive persons and children.  At this stage in human development, social cultivation is at a lower level and law as such does not play as fundamental a role. Further self-consciousness and individualism are absent or less obvious than at higher stages of social cultivation.  Royce believes primitive cultures

"to know little about individualism. It is also a relatively modern product of such (social) cultivation.  Where tribal custom is almighty, the individual is trained to conduct, but not to a high grade of self-consciousness. Hence, the individual in a primitive community submits, but he also has no very elaborate conscience."[25]


Royce’s understanding of human beings and their moral development does have interesting parallels to the views of St. Paul, but it also has similarities to recent theories of moral development, particularly those of Erick Erickson and Lawrence Kohlberg.[26] Erickson, Kohlberg, Paul, and Royce agree on at least two points.  First, conscience and self-consciousness developed under the direction of society are built upon authority, threat, and fear, and thus they lead one to anxiety, guilt, and self-division.  Secondly, these forms of conscience and self-consciousness must be transcended if human beings are to be truly moral individuals.  Erickson makes the following set of distinctions:

I would propose that we consider moral rules of conduct to be based on a fear of threats to be forestalled.  These may be outer threats of abandonment, punishment, and public exposure, or a threatening inner sense of guilt, of shame, of isolation. In either case, the rationale for obeying a rule may not be too clear; it is the threat that counts.  In contrast, I would consider ethical rules to be based on ideals to be striven for with a high degree of rational assent, with a ready consent to a formulated good, a definition of perfection, and some promise of self-realization.[27]


Kohlberg speaks of a high level of moral behavior called "post-conventional morality."  This morality is characterized by a "major thrust toward autonomous moral principles which have validity and application apart from the authority of the group or persons who holds them and apart from the individual’s identification with those persons or groups."[28]

However, both Erickson and Kohlberg fail to see, as does Royce, the depth and double-nature of sin as both individual and communal.  Individually, sin is a deeply rooted egoism by which the individual orients everything to self instead of opening self to others and seeking self-transcendence.  Further, however, Royce sees that this egoism is constantly fostered by the social situation itself.  He writes: "The social order, in training individuals, therefore breeds conscious sinners; and sins both in them and against them.  The natural community is, in its united collective will, a community of sin."[29]

In Royce’s view, then, the social order can lead a person to sin in two specific ways.  The first is the sin of egoism.  This consists in the belief that fulfillment of self can be achieved by the individual alone.  "It is abstractly possible, for the self to conceive its search for self-expression as simply an undertaking not to obey, but to subdue, to its own present purpose, the world which is beyond."[30] Herein lays the sin of pride.  The self and its perspective is given an absolute value and there is a withdrawal into the world of self-sufficiency.  The social order can also lead a person into sin in a second way.  It can encourage her to give into the collective will and become a ‘they,’ a part of the crowd, rather than a unique self.  One can refuse to take responsibility for one’s own existence, to be a true self.  As we recall, selfhood is achieved with a unique life plan and a collective self fails in this regard.  The egoistic self fails also to achieve selfhood because it fails to be loyal to a cause beyond itself; it does not achieve self-transcendence.

Royce thus expresses his notion of guilt in terms of a loss of self.   "…the sense of guilt, if deep and pervasive and passionate, involves at least a dim recognition that there is some central aim of life and that one has come hopelessly short of that aim…the true sense of guilt in its greatest manifestation involves a confession that the whole self is somehow tainted, the whole life, for the time being, wrecked."[31]

In Royce’s view, human sin is deep and humans will not be rescued from their moral failure by just another level of moral development or a higher level of social cultivation, for such cultivation only deepens human sin.  What is needed is a revolution of attitude, a new power. Royce believes that what is needed is an act of grace.


Royce: Salvation and Atonement

In Royce’s view, an individual cannot save herself by any word or deed of her own.  The only escape, contends Royce, is loyalty.  The loyalty of the individual is her love for a united community, expressed in a life of devotion to that community.  This loyalty allows self-transcendence and the individual to achieve a unique goal and life plan.  Also, as indicated earlier, the individual genuinely chooses and loves the goal, the social will of the community of which she is a part.  Individual will and social will become united, but not in social conformity or a blending of wills.  The individual and the community need each other, and both need to be saved.  "…if the individual needs his social world as a means of grace and a gateway to salvation, the social order, in turn¸ needs individuals that are worth saving and can never be saved unless it expresses itself through the deeds and inner lives of souls deeply conscious of the dignity of selfhood, of the infinite worth of unique and intensely conscious life."[32] Further, for Royce, the community which saves must be one which truly loves the individual and values her uniqueness.  In turn, the individual truly values and loves the community and each of its members.

            Communities which save individuals, however, in Royce’s view, cannot be achieved by any merely social will.  Human communities of whatever kind tend to prefer their own interests and to build up loyalties that are naturally exclusive..  They engage in the sins of pride and irresponsiveness.  As natural these human communities lack a moral commitment to and respect for all human selves and they tend to be disrespectful of and/or disruptive of the loyalties of other communities.

 To function as a "saving community," a community must be turned into a "genuinely loyal community," i.e. one which seeks a universal cause and seeks to promote genuine loyalty in all persons.  But, such communities, in Royce’s view, can only begin and be maintained by grace "as from above."[33]

            In his The Problem of Christianity Royce describes how a "genuinely loyal community" was created by an act of love, of grace on the part of an individual.  He cites the concrete example of the founding of the early Christian community. This was done by the act of Jesus Christ who, as a potent and loyal individual, acting as a leader, declared that for him this community was real.  In such a leader, and in his spirit, the community began its own life for this leader had the power to create what he loved.  Royce writes:

"We know how Paul conceives the beginning of the new life wherein Christian salvation is to be found.  This beginning he refers to the work of Christ…He both knew and loved his community before it existed on earth…On earth he called into this community its first members.  He suffered and died that it might have life.  Through his death and in his life the community lives.  He is now identical with the spirit of this community."[34]


            Genuine communities that can save persons, then, for Royce, are created by an act of grace.  Grace has three elements. First, it is manifested in one spiritual bond.  Secondly, it is seen in the spirit of the community, which is present both as the human individual who originated the community, and as the united spiritual activity of the whole community.  Finally, it is expressed as charity, as the love of the community by all its members and of the members of the community.[35]

            Genuine community has additional characteristics.  It must have a shared past, a shared memory and a common hope.  Socially established communities, for example, only need some kind of consensus or acceptance of some purpose and the cooperative means of achieving that purpose.   A genuine community, by contrast, seems to have a life and "mind" of its own in which all members shared.  The early church, for example, was created when the earliest Christians desired to follow the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom.  They celebrated a common memory and hope and sought to embody the teachings by deeds of a consciously cooperative life.  They believed their communal life to be guided by the Spirit in the present and toward the future.  Their rituals embodied the common memory and hope.  In all of this a spiritual bond was created.

          Further a genuine community is that which attempts to accomplish something in time and through the deeds of its members.  The early Christians felt the need to live out the teachings of Jesus about love of God and neighbor, but in order to do this their community also needed to be one of communication and interpretation.  As Royce so aptly made clear, the doctrine of loves raises the central question: "How do I love my neighbor?"  My neighbor is mysterious to me and how do I know what she needs?  One can begin to understand what the neighbor needs in a community that is constantly engaged in the task of understanding and interpreting each member of the community to each other members.  The genuine community is one engaged in a temporal, yet endless task of uniting individuals in love and understanding, in unfolding the mystery of one’s neighbors to each member.  Such a community is engaged in the work of the spirit.  Royce summarizes what he believed to be the essence of the message of grace of Christianity, namely, the creation of a genuine, universal community of all persons in which each member values each other and the community itself also values each of its members.  Human beings empower each other and are empowered by the spirit of the community to live up to the moral demand of loyalty to loyalty.  Salvation lies in loyalty and in the love of the beloved community.

          However, Royce was very aware of the depth of human failure and sin and he identified another type of sin.  This one he saw as the most tragic of all.  It is the sin of betrayal or treason.  This occurs after the individual discovers a loyalty that gains his inner commitment, a loyalty that allows him to overcome the conflicts of conformity and self-will involved in all social cultivation.  This sin occurs when, after finding a cause, he betrays it and cuts himself off from the community of loyalty.  He is now a traitor to a recognized cause whereas formerly he was only rebellious and narrow in his self-centeredness or in mere conformity to an external order, without a fully conscious life plan.

          The traitor is one who has had an ideal and has loved it with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, but now has been deliberately false to his cause.  The despair of the traitor is deep, for now an act is recognized as objectively traitorous, but it has been done.  Indeed, hell, in Royce’s view, is the awareness on the part of the sinner and the community that the deed of betrayal is an irrevocable one, such that although it may be transfigured in its meaning or changed in its consequence, it cannot be undone.  Such is the temporal nature of human action.

          The hell of the irrevocable; all of us know what it is to come to the

          border of it when we contemplate our own past mistakes or mischances

          But we can enter it and dwell in it when the fact ‘This deed is irrevocable,’

          is combined with the further fact, ‘This deed is one that unless I call treason

          my good and moral suicide my life, I cannot forgive myself for doing.[36]


                      This act of sin, this treason, in Royce’s view, can only be overcome by an act of atonement.  Royce considers two traditional doctrines of atonement, the penal and the moral.  Royce believes that the penal theory of atonement fails because there could be no substitution to pay for one’s sins. This ignores the individual personality of the sinner.  To say someone else has been substituted to pay for the sins is not to reconcile the sinner to himself or to God.  Further, this theory urges the sinner to repent.  But, in Royce’s view, the sinner has already done this. Indeed, this repentance is at the heart of what is now his moral existence in the hell of the irrevocable.[37]

          To overcome this deepest of sins, this treason, the sinner must be reconciled both to himself and to the community.  And, for Royce, it is not just a matter of love and forgiveness.  It is true, says Royce, that love must be restored, but it ‘will be the love for the member who has been a traitor, and the tragedy of the treason will permanently form part in and of this love.’[38] The treason can be overcome only by the community or by a steadfast loyal servant of the community who acts as the incarnation of the very spirit of the community itself.  Royce writes:                     

          …This faithful and suffering servant of the community may answer

          and confound treason by a work whose type I shall next venture to

          describe in my own way.  Thus: first, this creative work shall include

          a deed, or various deeds, for which only this treason furnishes the

          opportunity.  Not treason in general, but this individual treason shall

          give the occasion and supply the condition of the creative deed which

          I am in ideal describing.  Secondly, The world as transformed by this

          creative deed, is better than it would have been has all else remained

          the same, but had the deed of treason not been done at all. That is, the

          new creative deed has made the new world better than it was before the

             blow of treason fell.[39]


            Royce’s analysis of the sin of treason and the doctrine of atonement is most

innovative and for the following reasons.  First, it recognizes fully the claim of Martin Luther that the sinner is ‘Simul iustus et peccator,’ simultaneously justified (saved) and sinner.  Salvation is a continuous, never-ending process, not a single event. 

            Secondly, it recognizes that sin and salvation are both personal and communal; there are sinful individuals and sinful communities and together they provide forgiveness and atonement for each other. The consequences of sin affect both the individual sinner and other individuals.  To personally repent and achieve salvation is not enough.  There must be attempts to heal the community.  The sinner is loved, but is also a traitor, a doer of those past deeds.  Others must move out in love and initiate forgiveness and atoning acts.  And these acts must be specific and concretely relevant to the situation.  If a lie is the act of betrayal, an act of truth and openness must occur which increases the sense of trust in the community and makes the sense of individual obligation higher and stronger.  One of the ten steps in the program for Alcoholics Anonymous is to seek out those whom have been harmed by one’s acts. This act, however, is not enough in itself.  Others must act in forgiveness and reconciliation.  The deeds can never be undone, but community can be reestablished and creative acts of atonement can bring about a new and better world than existed before the treason.

            There is also communal sin.  A community can portray itself as the ultimate community, as the one worthy of ultimate loyalty, to the exclusion of all other loyalties.  In doing this, it betrays the goal of loyalty to loyalty and engages in the sin of absolutizing the finite. Interestingly, for Royce, the guilt is not "collective;" but is "individual." Just as  individuals need others to keep a proper perspective on self worth and reality; likewise the community needs its members and other communities to keep it from narrowing it view and from judging its values as the only worthy one.  The individual member of the community must, in love, be critical and remain true to the principle of loyalty to loyalty.  Royce’s principle of loyalty to loyalty should, in fact, be interpreted in light of Paul Tillich’s notion of the Protestant Principle.  This principle calls for a continual openness in our search for expression of the absolute and to guard against idolatry.  It calls, as does Royce’s principle of loyalty to loyalty, for continual criticality. There are two tests, in Royce’s view, for ideals worthy of loyalty.  These are true self-fulfillment and the expansion of community.  This is the essence of the principle of loyalty to loyalty. 

And the process is infinite just as is the need for interpretation; individual persons and communities have infinite depths of meaning and to love them requires continual interpretation.  Likewise, the potentiality for sin and treason is infinite and thus the process of salvation and atonement is an ongoing one, not a once for all event. Individuals and communities are ‘simul iustus et peccator.’

Royce does provide an answer to the question: why be moral?  Why, it is asked, should one be loyal, even though human sin and evil is a clear fact?  The answer is that "communities of grace" do exist and the "beloved community" is coming and will come to realization.  Royce writes:  "No baseness or cruelty of treason so deep or so tragic shall enter our human world, but that loyal love should be able in due time to oppose just that deed of treason its fitting deed of atonement."[40]

            "The Beloved Community," is community at the highest level of reality and possibility.  When established by an "act of grace," and founded on universal loyalty, the Universal Community is called the "Beloved Community."  It is the highest exemplification of "graced community."  One of the key aspects of the doctrine of grace is that sinful human persons are transformed into new creations by an act of grace.  This is not achieved by substitution nor by mere repentance but rather by being incorporated into a transformed way of life and becoming a member of a "beloved community."  In this "beloved community," members will become instruments of good to each other rather than instruments of evil. Members are to be vessels of grace to each other and this grace helps each to live up to the moral demand. 

Summary and Assessment

                It is my judgment that Royce provides us with a doctrine of grace that is significant and illuminating and which speaks to contemporary thought.  First of all, his identification of the "community of salvation," of the "beloved community" as the essence of Christianity is a return to what many consider a lost insight.  The strong emphasis on individual, personal salvation in much Protestant thought and especially in evangelicalism can lead to two dangers.  The first is to remain at the level of "law." At the level of law, one believes one can attain one’s own salvation and the ethic followed is a legalistic type of ethic.  Royce sees this level of moral development as one that must be transcended because it is based on fear and does not lead to a genuine new orientation to life and action.[41]

            Further to see sin and grace as individual events is to underestimate the depth of sin. Individual struggle is part of salvation. Individuals must not be given too much ability to overcome evil dispositions and to forget the inexorable nature of past evil deeds.  Royce is clear about the impact of evil acts on others and about the fact that these cannot be erased; they can only be overcome in a transformation in the future and the development of a new situation.   Royce recognizes what a number of contemporary philosophers of religion argue, namely, that salvation "is a living process that has a career."[42]

            The social conditions of sin are strong and must be recognized.  In natural communities individuals tend to stimulate each others’ sinful tendencies toward pride and self-sufficiency; toward competition and self-interest rather then mutual aid and benefit.   Sin is communal as well as individual.  It is always against others and has consequences for others.  Buber writes: "Existential guilt occurs when someone injures an order of the human world whose foundation he knows and recognizes as those of his own existence and of all common existence."[43]            

            The work of the community in the process of salvation is also important; both in its positive and negative aspects. First, there is always the problem of idolatry and the tendency to absolutize the finite; to affirm that a particular human manifestation of the beloved community is the ultimate and exclusive true church.  Royce addresses this danger: "Look forward to the human and visible triumph of no form of the Christian church."[44]

            Secondly, it must be seen that religion has its foundations in social human nature as well as in divine initiative.  Neglect of the former can only lead to skepticism concerning the latter.  Royce always addressed religion in terms of its relationship to human needs.  Royce writes: "The central and essential postulate of whatever religion we, in these lectures are to consider is The postulate that man needs to be saved."[45] Further, Royce believed that the relevance of religious practice and belief to contemporary times was to see religion and salvation as jointly a divine and human work.[46]  And, Royce discussed extensively what he names the "paradox of revelation."  We must acknowledge that there is a revelational aspect in every religion.  Yet, there is a problem of how revelation is possible as a communication between a divine source and the finite, temporal groping being of man. The revelational relationship cannot be a one-way street, but includes in its meaning some answering discernment on man’s part.  Revelation needs to be discriminatingly welcomed as that which brings an appropriate answer to the human need for salvation.  Here is where community places a key role.  In judging the appropriateness of a divine revelation and to give testimony to its religious worth the individual draws upon the religious community as a community of interpretation and as the judgmental audience for the message.  Finally, a genuine aspect of salvation is the joy of living in a Christian community. Bonhoffer writes: "Communal  life is again being recognized the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the roses and lilies of the Christian life."[47]

[1] Albert Borgmann, Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology.  Brazos Press, 2003. p. 65.

[2] Josiah Royce. The Problem of Christianity. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1913.

[3]In another context, I examine the striking similarities, as well as differences between Royce’s analysis of the parallel problems of the need of fallen creatures for salvation and grace and the moral gap and that of Immanuel Kant. See: Jacquelyn Kegley, "Kant and Royce on Grace and the Moral Gap."  A chapter to appear in a book on Grace edited by.

[4] Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity. 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1913.  Also. Ed. John E. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.  The references will be to the latter version of this work.

[5] Josiah Royce. The Sources of Religious Insight. New York: Charles Scribers, 1912.

[6] Josiah Royce. The Philosophy of Loyalty.  16-17. Italics are in the text.

[7] Ibid.17.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Josiah Royce. The World and the Individual. (Gifford Lectures) 2 Vols. New York: Macmillan, 1899 and 1901.  Reprint: New York: Dover, 1959. 2:276. Italics are in the text.

[10] Josiah Royce. The Philosophy of Loyalty. 25.

[11] Ibid. p. 130.

[12] Ibid. p. 57.

[13] Ibid. 175.

[14] Ibid. 108.

[15] Ibid. 121.

[16] Ibid. 108.

[17] Ibid. 108.

[18] Josiah Royce, The World and the Individual. New York: Dover Publications, II, 59.

[19] Ibid. 359.

[20] Paul Ramsey, "The Idealistic view of moral evil." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. VI (June, 1946). 577.  Paul Tillich speaks of absolutizing the finite or the finite absolutizing itself.

[21] Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty. 77.

[22] Josiah Royce. The World and the Individual.  48-9.

[23] Josiah Royce. The Problem of Christianity. Chicago: A Gateway Edition, Henry Regnery Company, 1968. 130-1.

[24] Ibid. 152-3.

[25] Ibid. 152-3.

[26] Erik Erickson, ‘Reflections on the dissent of contemporary youth,’ International Journal of Psycho-analysis. I, 16, and Lawrence Kohlberg, "From is to ought: how to commit the naturalistic fallacy and get away with it with the study of moral development,’ in Theodore Mischel, ed. Cognitive Development and

[27] Erick Eric son. Insight and Responsibility. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1964. 222.

[28] Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan. "The adolescent as a philosopher: the discovery of the self in a postconventional world."  Daedalus. C. Fall, 1971. 1066-7.

[29] Josiah Royce. The Problem of Christianity. I.

[30] Josiah Royce. The World and The Individual. II. 349.

[31] Josiah Royce. The  Sources of Religious Insight. (The Bross Lectures, Lake Forest College. 1911. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912. 66. 

[32] Josiah Royce, The World and the Individul, II.349.

[33] Josiah Royce. The Problem of Christianity. II, 102.

[34] Ibid. I, 186-187.

[35] Ibid. II, 387.

[36] Ibid. I. 264.

[37] Ibid. I, 302.

[38] Ibid. 291.

[39] Ibid. 307-8.

[40] Ibid. 332.

[41]  Some in fact suggest that perhaps mass evangelicalism stimulates fear of sin rather than creating a genuine change of heart and mind toward sinfulness, a genuinely new orientation John G. McKenzie. Guilt: its meaning and significance. (Abingdon, 1962). 169.

[42] Seward Hiltner, "Salvation in dynamic perspective," Southwest Journal of Theology, XX (2) (1978), 54.

[43] Martin Buber, "Existential guilt," in Smith. Guilt, Man and Society. 92.

[44] Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity, 430.

[45] Josiah Royce, The Sources of Religious Insight. 8-9.

[46] For an excellent discussion of Royce on this issue and of the relevance of Royce’s work to contemporary philosophers of religion, see: James Collins, "Josiah Royce: Analyst of Religion as Community," in Michael Novak, editor. American Philosophy and the Future. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1968, 193-218


[47] Bonhoffer writes:  "..let him who until now has the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians, let him thank God on his knees and declare:’ It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to life in community with Christian brethren. …Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today in the grace that it is, as extraordinary, the roses and lilies of the Christian life." Life Together. New York: Harper & Row. 1954.  20-21.



                                                                                                Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley

                                                                                                California State University, Bakersfield