American Christian Theological Ethicist
Richard Niebuhr, fully Helmut Richard Niebuhr
American Christian Theological Ethicist
Original sin is that thing about man which makes him capable of conceiving of his own perfection and incapable of achieving it.
The old prose writers wrote as if they were speaking to an audience; while, among us, prose is invariably written for the eye alone.
There are historic situations in which refusal to defend the inheritance of a civilization, however imperfect, against tyranny and aggression may result in consequences even worse than war.
Great talents have some admirers, but few friends.
I cannot worship the abstractions of virtue: she only charms me when she addresses herself to my heart, speaks through the love from which she springs.
I thank heaven I have often had it in my power to give help and relief, and this is still my greatest pleasure. If I could choose my sphere of action now, it would be that of the most simple and direct efforts of this kind.
I think I should know how to educate a boy, but not a girl; I should be in danger of making her too learned.
If we survive danger it steels our courage more than anything else.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love.
Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed.
The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it.
Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another.
Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.
Life is a battle between faith and reason in which each feeds upon the other, drawing sustenance from it and destroying it.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice.
Forgiveness is the final form of love.
Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity.
All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions.
A God without wrath brought human beings without sin into a kingdom without judgment through ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
We must face the recognition that what the early Christians saw in Jesus Christ, and what we must accept if we look at him rather than at our imaginations about him, was not a person characterized by universal benignity, loving God and loving man. His love of God and his love of neighbor are two distinct virtues that have no common quality but only a common source. Love of God is adoration of the only true good; it is gratitude to the bestower of all gifts; it is joy in holiness; it is "consent to Being." But the love of man is pitiful rather than adoring; it is giving and forgiving rather than grateful. It suffers for them in their viciousness and profaneness; it does not consent to accept them as they are, but calls them to repentance. The love of God is nonpossessive Eros; the love of man pure Agape; the love of God is passion; the love of man, compassion. There is duality here, but not of like-minded interest in two great values, God and man. It is rather the duality of the Son of Man and Son of God, who loves God as man should love Him, and loves man as only God can love, with powerful pity for those who are foundering.
Institutions can never conserve without betraying the movements from which they proceed. The institution is static, whereas its parent movement has been dynamic; it confines men within its limits, while the movement had liberated them from the bondage of institutions; it looks to the past, [although] the movement had pointed forward. Though in content the institution resembles the dynamic epoch whence it proceeded, in spirit it is like the [state] before the revolution. So the Christian church, after the early period, often seemed more closely related in attitude to the Jewish synagogue and the Roman state than to the age of Christ and his apostles; its creed was often more like a system of philosophy than like the living gospel.
We must fight their falsehood with our truth, but we must also fight the falsehood in our truth
It is imperative that the past of the pilgrims' progress be intentionally carried forward into the present as we work into our future. Without it we cannot know who we are, why we are here, or where we can go. Without a common past to live out of we become aimless and wandering individuals instead of a pilgrim people