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The Confessional Life

The concept of the Confessional Life we will be discussing is derived from lectures by the late Prof. H. Mark Roelofs given at NYU:

The confessional life has its origin as "a component of nationalism stemming from Hebrew tradition, expressed in the Book of Job. Expanded through the writings of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, it develops into a key component in individualism and a potential justification for freedom in a liberal democracy."

In the confessional life, "the human being experiences finitude while standing alone in the context of infinity."

"The finite self, reflecting upon itself for the first time in a universal environment is universalized into 'Everyman' under a universal God."
"This solitary figure must now rely on prayer, a confession made 'as the walls come down' to reveal an infinite landscape."
"The confession becomes an effort to reach for relation to God, to enter onto speaking terms, in an attempt to deal with the problem of meaning and meaningless in life within the context of the unfathomable."

The confessional life is thus characterized by the following five elements:

  1. a condition of isolation in a universal context;
  2. an intense inward effort to stay alive (i.e., to affirm life);
  3. an attempt to identify that ground of existence which will not give way and from which one need not retreat;
  4. an ethic: to be and do the right thing with an awareness of one's finitude in a universal context; and
  5. a faith, as opposed to knowledge, which makes life livable in the face of the unknowable.