Essence of Christianity: PART I, The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion

Chapter IX. The Mystery of Mysticism, or of Nature in God

INTERESTING material for the criticism of cosmogonic and theogonic fancies is furnished in the doctrine – revived by Schelling and drawn from Jacob Böhme – of eternal Nature in God.

God is pure spirit, clear self-consciousness, moral personality; Nature, on the contrary, is, at least partially, confused, dark, desolate, immoral, or to say no more, unmoral. But it is self-contradictory that the impure should proceed from the pure, darkness from light. How then can we remove these obvious difficulties in the way of assigning a divine origin to Nature? Only by positing this impurity, this darkness in God, by distinguishing in God himself a principle of light and a principle of darkness. In other words, we can only explain the origin of darkness by renouncing, the idea of origin, and presupposing darkness as existing from the beginning. [It is beside our purpose to criticise this crass mystical theory. We merely remark here, that darkness can be explained only when it is derived from light; that the derivation of the darkness in Nature from light appears an ability only when it is not perceived that even in darkness there is a residue of light, that the darkness in Nature is not an absolute, but a modified darkness, tempered by light.]

But that which is dark in Nature is the irrational, the material, Nature strictly, as distinguished from intelligence. Hence the simple meaning of this doctrine is, that Nature, Matter, cannot be explained as a result of intelligence; on the contrary, it is the basis of intelligence, the basis of personality, without itself having, any basis; spirit without Nature is an unreal abstraction; consciousness develops itself only out of Nature. But this materialistic doctrine is veiled in a mystical yet attractive obscurity, inasmuch as it is not expressed in the clear, simple language of reason, but emphatically enunciated in that consecrated word of the emotions – God. If the light in God springs out of the darkness in God, this is only because it is involved in the idea of light in general, that it illuminates darkness, thus presupposing darkness, not making, it. If then God is once subjected to a general law, – as he must necessarily be unless he be made the arena of conflict for the most senseless notions, – if self-consciousness in God as well as in itself, as in general, is evolved from a principle in Nature, why is not this natural principle abstracted from God? That which is a law of consciousness in itself is a law for the consciousness of every personal being, whether man, angel, demon, God, or whatever else thou mayest conceive to thyself as a being. To what then, seen in their true light, do the two principles in God reduce themselves? The one to Nature, at least to Nature as it exists in the conception, abstracted from its reality; the other to mind, consciousness, personality. The one half, the reverse side, thou dost not name God, but only the obverse side, on which lie presents to thee mind, consciousness: thus his specific essence, that whereby he is God, is mind, intelligence, consciousness. Why then dost thou make that which is properly the subject in God as God, i.e., as mind, into a mere predicate, as if God existed as God apart from mind, from consciousness? Why, but because thou art enslaved by mystical religious speculation, because the primary principle in thee is the imagination, thought being only secondary and serving but to throw into formula the products of the imagination, – because thou feelest at ease and at home only in the deceptive twilight of mysticism.

Mysticism is deuteroscopy – a fabrication of phrases having a double meaning The mystic speculates concerning the essence of Nature or of man, but under, and by means of, the supposition that he is speculating, concerning another, a personal being, distinct from both. The mystic has the same objects as the plain, self-conscious thinker; but the real object is re(larded by the mystic, not as itself, but as an imaginary being and hence the imaginary object is to him the real object. Thus here, in the mystical doctrine of the two principles in God, the real object is pathology, the imaginary one, theology; i.e., pathology is converted into theology. There would be nothing, to urge against this, if consciously real pathology were recognised and expressed as theology; indeed, it is precisely our task to show that theology is nothing else than an unconscious, esoteric pathology, anthropology, and psychology, and that therefore real anthropology, real pathology, and real psychology have far more claim to the name of theology than has theology itself, because this is nothing more than an imaginary psychology and anthropology. But this doctrine or theory is supposed – and for this reason it is mystical and fantastic – to be not pathology, but theology, in the old or ordinary sense of the word; it is supposed that we have here unfolded to us the life of a Being distinct from us, while nevertheless it is only our own nature which is unfolded, though at the same time again shut up from us by the fact that this nature is represented as inhering in another being. The mystic philosopher supposes that in God, not in us human individuals, – that would be far too trivial a truth, – reason first appears after the Passion of Nature: – that not man, but God, has wrestled himself out of the obscurity of confused feelings and impulses into the clearness of knowledge; that not in our subjective, limited mode of conception, but in God himself, the nervous tremors of darkness precede the joyful consciousness of light; in ,short, he supposes that his theory presents not a history of human throes, but a history of the development, ie., the throes of God – for developments (or transitions) are birth-struggles. But, alas! this supposition itself belongs only to the pathological element.

If, therefore, the cosmogonic process presents to us the Light of the power of distinction as belonging to the divine essence; so, on the other hand, the Night or Nature in God represents to us the Pensées confuses of Leibnitz as divine powers. But the Pensées confuses – confused, obscure conceptions and thoughts, or more correctly images – represent the flesh, matter; – a pure intelligence, separate from matter, has only clear, free thoughts, no obscure, i.e., fleshly ideas, no material images, exciting, the imagination and setting, the blood in commotion. The Night in God, therefore, implies nothing, else than this: God is not only a spiritual, but also a material, corporeal, fleshly being; but as man is man, and receives his designation, in virtue not of his fleshly nature, but of his mind, so is it with God.

But the mystic philosopher expresses this only in obscure, mystical, indefinite, dissembling images. Instead of the rude, but hence all the more precise and striking expression, flesh, it substitutes the equivocal, abstract words nature and ground. “As nothing is before or out of God, he must have the ground of his existence in himself. This all philosophies say, but they speak of this around as a mere idea, without making it something, real. This ground of his existence which God has in himself, is not God considered absolutely, i.e., in so far as he exists; it is only the ground of his existence. It is Nature – in God; an existence inseparable from him, it is true, but still distinct. Analogically (?), this relation may be illustrated by Gravitation and light in Nature.” But this ground is the non-intelligent in God. “That which is the commencement of an intelligence (in itself) cannot also be intelligent.” “In the strict sense, intelligence is born of this unintelligent principle. Without this antecedent darkness there is no reality of the Creator.” “With abstract ideas of God as actus purissimus, such as were laid down by the older philosophy, or such as the modern, out of anxiety to remove God far from Nature, is always reproducing, we can effect nothing. God is something more real than a mere moral order of the world, and has quite another and a more living, motive power in himself than is ascribed to him by the jejune' subtlety of abstract idealists. Idealism, if it has not a living realism as its basis, is as empty and abstract a system as that of Leibnitz or Spinoza, or as any other dogmatic system.” “So long as the God of modern theism remains the simple, supposed purely essential, but in fact non-essential Being that all modern systems make him, so long as a real duality is not recognised in God, and a limiting, negativing force, opposed to the expansive affirming force, so long will the denial of a personal God be scientific honesty.” “All consciousness is concentration, is a gathering together, a collecting of oneself. This negativing force, by which a being turns back upon itself, is the true force of personality, the force of egoism.” “How should there be a fear of God if there were no strength in him? But that there should be something in God which is mere force and strength cannot be held astonishing if only it be not maintained that he is this alone and nothing besides.” [Schelling, Über das Wesen der Menschlichen Freiheit, 429, 432, 427.]

But what then is force and strength which is merely such, if not corporeal force and strength? Dost thou know any power which stands at thy command, in distinction from the power of kindness and reason, besides muscular power? If thou canst effect nothing through kindness and the arguments of reason, force is what thou must take refuge in. But canst thou “effect” anything without strong arms and fists? Is there known to thee, in distinction from the power of the moral order of the world, “another and more living motive power” than the lever of the criminal court? Is not Nature without body also an “empty, abstract “ idea, a “jejune subtlety”? Is not the mystery of Nature the mystery of corporeality? Is not the system of a “living realism” the system of the organised body? Is there, in general, any other force, the opposite of intelligence, than the force of flesh and blood, – any other strength of Nature than the strength of the fleshly impulses? And the strongest of the impulses of Nature, is it not the sexual feeling? Who does not remember the old proverb: “Amare et severe vix Deo competit?” So that if we would posit in God a nature, an existence opposed to the light of intelligence, – can we think of a more living, a more real antithesis, than that of amare and sapere, of spirit and flesh, of freedom and the sexual impulse?

Personality, individuality, consciousness, without Nature, is nothing; or, which is the same thing, an empty, unsubstantial abstraction. But Nature, as has been shown and is obvious, is nothing without corporeality. The body alone is that negativing, limiting, concentrating, circumscribing force, without which no personality is conceivable. Take away from thy personality its body, and thou takest away that which holds it together. The body is the basis, the subject of personality. Only by the body is a real personality distinguished from the imaginary one of a spectre. What sort of abstract, vague, empty personalities should we be, if we had not the property of impenetrability, – if in the same place, in the same form in which we are, others might stand at the same time? Only by the exclusion of others from the space it occupies does personality prove itself to be real. But a body does not exist without flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is life, and life alone is corporeal reality. But flesh and blood is nothing without the oxygen of sexual distinction. The distinction of sex is not superficial, or limited to certain parts of the body; it is an essential one: it penetrates bones and marrow. The substance of man is manhood; that of woman, womanhood. However spiritual and supersensual the man may be, lie remains always a man; and it is the same with the woman. Hence personality is nothing without distinction of sex; personality is essentially distinguished into masculine and feminine. Where there is no thou, there is no I; but the distinction between I and thou, the fundamental condition of all personality, of all consciousness, is only real, living, ardent, when felt as the distinction between man and woman. The thou between man and woman has quite another sound than the monotonous thou between friends.

Nature in distinction from personality can signify nothing else than difference of sex. A personal being apart from Nature is nothing else than a being without sex, and conversely. Nature is said to be predicated of God, “in the sense in which it is said of a man that he is of a strong, healthy nature.” But what is more feeble, what more insupportable, what more contrary to Nature, than a person without sex, or a person who in character, manners, or feelings denies sex? What is virtue, the excellence of man as man? Manhood. Of man as woman? Womanhood. But man exists only as man and woman. The strength, the healthiness of man consists therefore in this: that as a woman, he be truly woman; as man, truly man. Thou repudiatest “the horror of all that is real, which supposes the spiritual to be polluted by contact with the real.” Repudiate then, before all, thy own horror for the distinction of sex. If God is not polluted by Nature, neither is he polluted by being associated with the idea of sex. In renouncing sex, thou renouncest thy whole principle. A moral God apart from Nature is without basis; but the basis of morality is the distinction of sex. Even the brute is capable of self-sacrificing love in virtue of the sexual distinction. All the glory of Nature, all its power, all its wisdom and profundity, concentrates and individualises itself in distinction of sex. Why then dost thou shrink from naming, the nature of God by its true name? Evidently, only because thou hast a general horror of thing in their truth and reality; because thou lookest at all things through the deceptive vapours of mysticism. For this very reason then, because Nature in God is only a delusive, unsubstantial appearance, a fantastic ghost of Nature, – for it is based, as we have said, not on flesh and blood, not on a real ground, – this attempt to establish a personal God is once more a failure, and I, too, conclude with the words, “The denial of a personal God will be scientific honesty:” – and, I add, scientific truth, so long as it is not declared and shown in unequivocal terms, first à priori, on speculative grounds, that form, place, corporeality, and sex do not contradict the idea of the Godhead; and secondly, à posteriori, – for the reality of a personal being is sustained only on empirical grounds, – what sort of form God has, where he exists, – in heaven, – and lastly, of what sex he is.

Let the profound, speculative religious philosophers of Germany courageously shake off the embarrassing remnant of rationalism which yet clings to them, in flagrant contradiction with their true character; and let them complete their system, by converting the mystical “potence” of Nature in God into a really powerful, generating God.

The doctrine of Nature in God is borrowed from Jacob Böhme. But in the original it has a far deeper and more interesting significance than in its second modernised and emasculated edition. Jacob Böhme has a profoundly religious mind. Religion is the centre of his life and thought.

But at the same time, the significance which has been given to Nature in modern times – by the study of natural science, by Spinozism, materialism, empiricism – has taken possession of his religious sentiment. He has opened his senses to Nature, thrown a glance into her mysterious being; but it alarms him, and he cannot harmonise this terror at Nature with his religious conceptions. “When I looked into the great depths of this world, and at the sun and stars, also at the clouds, also at the rain and snow, and considered in my mind the whole creation of this world; then I found in all things evil and good, love and anger, – in unreasoning things, such as wood, stone, earth, and the elements, as well as in men and beasts. ... But because I found that in all things there was good and evil, in the elements as well as in the creatures, and that it goes as well in the world with the godless as with the pious, also that the barbarous nations possess the best lands, and have more prosperity than the godly; I was therefore altogether melancholy and extremely troubled, and the Scriptures could not console me, though almost all well known to me; and therewith assuredly the devil was not idle, for he often thrust upon me heathenish thoughts, of which I will here be silent.” But while his mind seized with fearful earnestness the dark side of Nature, which did not harmonise with the religious idea of a heavenly Creator, he was on the other hand rapturously affected by her resplendent aspects. Jacob Böhme has a sense for Nature. He preconceives, nay, he feels the joys of the mineralogist, of the botanist, of the chemist – the joys of godless natural science.” He is enraptured by the splendour of jewels, the tones of metals, the hues and odours of plants, the beauty and gentleness of many animals. In another place, speaking of the revelation of God in the phenomena of light, the process by which “there arises in the Godhead the wondrous and beautiful structure of the heavens in various colours and kinds, and every spirit shows itself in its form specially,” he says, “I can compare it with nothing but with the noblest precious stones, such as the ruby, emerald, epidote, onyx, sapphire, diamond, jasper, hyacinth, amethyst, beryl, sardine, carbuncle, and the like.” Elsewhere: “But regarding the precious stones, such as the carbuncle, ruby, emerald, epidote, onyx, and the like, which are the very best, these have the very same origin – the flash of light in love. For that flesh is born in tenderness, and is the heart in the centre of the Fountain-spirit, wherefore those stones also are mild, powerful, and lovely.” It is evident that Jacob Böhme had no bad taste in mineralogy; that he had delight in flowers also, and consequently a faculty for botany, is proved by the following passages among others: – “The heavenly powers gave birth to heavenly joy-giving fruits and colours, to all sorts of trees and shrubs, whereupon grows the beauteous and lovely fruit of life: also there spring up in these powers all sorts of flowers with beauteous heavenly colours and scents. Their taste is various, in each according to its quality and kind, altogether holy, divine, and joy-giving.” “If thou desirest to contemplate the heavenly, divine pomp and glory, as they are, and to know what sort of products, pleasure, or joys there are above: look diligently at this world, at the varieties of fruits and plants that crow upon the earth, – trees, shrubs, vegetables, roots, flowers, oils, wines, corn, and everything that is there, and that thy Heart can search out. All this is an image of the heavenly pomp.”

A despotic fiat could not suffice as an explanation of the origin of Nature to Jacob Böhme; Nature appealed too strongly to his senses, and lay too near his heart; hence he sought for a natural explanation of Nature; but he necessarily found no other ground of explanation than those qualities of Nature which made the strongest impression on him. Jacob Böhme – this is his essential character – is a mystical natural philosopher, a theosophic Vulcanist and Neptunist, [The Philosophus teutonicus walked physically as well as mentally on volcanic ground. “The town of Görlitz is paved throughout with pure basalt.” Charpentier, Mineral. Geographic der Chursächsischen Lande, p. 19.] for according to him “all things had their origin in fire and water.” Nature had fascinated Jacob's religious sentiments, – not in vain did he receive his mystical light from the shining of tin utensils; but the religious sentiment works only within itself; it has not the force, not the courage, to press forward to the examination of things in their reality; it looks at all things through the medium of religion, it sees all in God, i.e., in the entrancing soul-possessing splendour of the imagination, it sees all in images and as an image. But Nature affected his mind in an opposite manner; hence he must place this opposition in God himself, – for the supposition of two independently existing, opposite, original principles would have afflicted his religious sentiment; – he must distinguish in God himself a gentle, beneficent element, and a fierce consuming, one. Everything fiery, bitter, harsh, contracting dark, cold, comes from a divine harshness and bitterness; everything mild, lustrous, warming, tender, soft, yielding from a mild, soft, luminous quality in God. “Thus are the creatures on the earth, in the water, and in the air, each creature out of its own science, out of good and evil. ... As one sees before one's eyes that there are good and evil creatures; as venomous beasts and serpents from the centre of the nature of darkness, from the power of the fierce quality, which only want to dwell in darkness, abiding in caves and hiding themselves from the sun. By each animal's food and dwelling we see whence they have sprung for every creature needs to dwell with its mother, and yearns after her, as is plain to the sight.” “Gold, silver, precious stones, and all bright metal, has its origin in the light, which appeared before the times of anger,” &c. “Everything which in the substance of this world is yielding soft, and thin, is flowing and gives itself forth, and the ground and origin of it is in the eternal Unity, for unity ever flows forth from itself; for in the nature of things not dense, as water and air, we can understand no susceptibility or pain, they being one in themselves. In short, heaven is as rich as the earth. Everything that is on this earth is in heaven, [According to Swedenborg, the angels in heaven have clothes and dwellings. “Their dwellings are altogether such as the dwellings or houses on earth, but far more beautiful; there are apartments, rooms, and sleeping chambers therein in great number, and entrance-courts, and round about gardens, flowers, meadows, and fields.” (E, v. S. Auserlesene Schriften, i Th. Frankf. a. M. 1776, p. 100 and 96.) Thus to the mystic this world is the other world; but for that reason the other world is this world.] all that is in Nature is in God. But in the latter it is divine, heavenly; in the former, earthly, visible, external, material, but yet the same.” “When I write of trees, shrubs and fruits, thou must not understand me of earthly things, such as are in this world; for it is not my meaning that in heaven there grows a dead, hard, wooden tree,. or a stone of earthly qualities. No: my meaning is heavenly and spiritual, but yet truthful and literal; thus, I mean no other things than what I write in the letters of the alphabet;” i.e., in heaven there are the same trees and flowers, but the trees in heaven are the trees which bloom and exhale in my imagination, without making coarse material impressions upon me; the trees on earth are the trees which I perceive through my senses. The distinction is the distinction between imagination and perception. “It is not my undertaking,” says Jacob Böhme himself, “to describe the course of all stars, their place and name, or how they have yearly their conjunction or opposition, or quadrate, or the like, – what they do yearly and hourly, – which through loner years has been discovered by wise, skilful, ingenious men, by diligent contemplation and observation, and deep thought and calculation. I have not learned and studied these things, and leave scholars to treat of them, but my undertaking is to write according, to the spirit and thought, not according to sight.”

The doctrine of Nature in God aims, by naturalism, to establish theism, especially the theism which regards the Supreme Being as a personal being But personal theism conceives God as a personal being, separate from all material things; it excludes from him all development, because that is nothing else than the self-separation of a being from circumstances and conditions which do not correspond to its true idea. And this does not take place in God, because in him beginning, end, middle, are not to be distinguished, because he is at once what he is, is from the beginning what he is to be, what he can be; he is the pure unity of existence and essence, reality and idea, act and will. Deus suum Esse est. Herein theism accords with the essence of religion. All religions, however positive they may be, rest on abstraction; they are distinguished only in that from which the abstraction is made. Even the Homeric gods, with all their living strength and likeness to man, are abstract forms; they have bodies, like men, but bodies from which the limitations and difficulties of the human body are eliminated. The idea of a divine being is essentially an abstracted, distilled idea. It is obvious that this abstraction is no arbitrary one, but is determined by the essential stand-point of man. As he is, as he thinks, so does he make his abstraction.

The abstraction expresses a judgment, – an affirmative and a negative one at the same time, praise and blame. What man praises and approves, that is God to him; what he blames, condemns, is the non-divine. Religion is a judgment. The most essential condition in religion – in the idea of the divine being – is accordingly the discrimination of the praiseworthy from the blameworthy, of the perfect from the imperfect; in a word, of the positive from the negative. The cultus itself consists in nothing else than in the continual renewal of the origin of religion – a solemnising of the critical discrimination between the divine and the non-divine.

The Divine Being is the human being glorified by the death of abstraction; it is the departed spirit of man. In religion man frees himself from the limits of life; he here lets 0 fall what oppresses him, obstructs him, affects him repulsively; God is the self-consciousness of man freed from all discordant elements; man feels himself free, happy, blessed in his religion, because he only here lives the life of genius, and keeps holiday. The basis of the divine idea lies for him outside of that idea itself; its truth lies in the prior judgment, in the fact that all which he excludes from God is previously judged by him to be non-divine, and what is non-divine to be worthless, nothing. If he were to include the attaining of this idea in the idea itself, it would lose its most essential significance, its true value, its beatifying, charm. The divine being is the pure subjectivity of man, freed from all else, from everything objective, having relation only to itself, enjoying only itself, reverencing only itself – his most subjective, his inmost self. The process of discrimination, the separating of the intelligent from the non-intelligent, of personality from Nature, of the perfect from the imperfect, necessarily therefore takes place in the subject, not in the object, and the idea of God lies not at the beginning but at the end of sensible existence, of the world, of Nature. “Where Nature ceases, God begins,” because God is the ne plus ultra, the last limit of abstraction. That from which I can no longer abstract is God, the last thought which I am capable of grasping – the last, i.e., the highest. Id quo nihil majus cogitari potest, Deus est. That this Omega of sensible existence becomes an Alpha also, is easily comprehensible; but the essential point is,. that he is the Omega. The Alpha is primarily a consequence; because God is the last or highest, he is also the first. And this predicate – the first Being, has by no means immediately a cosmogonic significance, but only implies the highest rank. The creation in the Mosaic religion has for its end to secure to Jehovah the predicate of the highest and first the true and exclusive God in opposition to idols.

The effort to establish the personality of God through Nature has therefore at its foundation an illegitimate, profane mingling of philosophy and religion, a complete absence of criticism and knowledge concerning the genesis of the personal God. Where personality is held the essential attribute of God, where it is said – an impersonal God is no God; there personality is held to be in and by itself the highest and most real thing, there it is presupposed that everything which is not a person is dead, is nothing, that only personal existence is real, absolute existence, is life and truth – but Nature is impersonal, and is therefore a trivial thing. The truth of personality rests only on the untruth of Nature. To predicate personality of God is nothing else than to declare personality as the absolute essence; but personality is only conceived in distinction, in abstraction from Nature. Certainly a merely personal God is an abstract God; but so he ought to be – that is involved in the idea of him; for he is nothing else than the personal nature of man positing itself out of all connection with the world, making itself free from all dependence on nature. In the personality of God man consecrates the super-naturalness, immortality, independence, unlimitedness of his own personality.

In general, the need of a personal God has its foundation in this, that only in the attribute of personality does the personal man meet with himself, find himself. Substance, pure spirit, mere reason, does not satisfy him, is too abstract for him, ie., does not express himself, does not lead him back to himself. And man is content, happy, only when he is with himself, with his. own nature. Hence, the more personal a man is, the stronger is his need of a personal God. The free, abstract thinker knows nothing higher than freedom; he does not need to attach it to a personal being; for him freedom in itself, as such, is a real positive thing. A mathematical, astronomical mind, a man of pure understanding, an objective man, who is not shut up in himself, who feels free and happy only in the contemplation of objective rational relations, in the reason which lies in things in themselves – such a man will regard the substance of Spinoza, or some similar idea, as his highest being, and be full of antipathy towards a personal, i.e., subjective God. Jacobi therefore was a classic philosopher, because (in this respect, at least) he was consistent, he was at unity with himself; as was his God, so was his philosophy – personal, subjective. The personal God cannot be established otherwise than as he is established by Jacobi and his disciples. Personality is proved only in a personal manner.

Personality may be, nay, must be, founded on a natural basis; but this natural basis is attained only when I cease to grope in the darkness of mysticism, when I step forth into the clear daylight of real Nature, and exchange the idea of the personal God for the idea of personality in general. But into the idea of the personal God, the positive idea of whom is liberated, disembodied personality, released from the limiting force of Nature, to smuggle again this very Nature, is as perverse as if I were to mix Brunswick mum with the nectar of the gods, in order to give the ethereal beverage a solid foundation. Certainly the ingredients of animal blood are not to be derived from the celestial juice which nourishes the gods. But the flower of sublimation arises only through the evaporation of matter; why, then, wilt thou mix with the sublimate that very matter from which thou hast disengaged it? Certainly, the impersonal existence of Nature is not to be explained by the idea of personality; but where personality is a truth, or, rather, the absolute truth, Nature has no positive significance, and consequently no positive basis. The literal creation out of nothing is here the only sufficient ground of explanation; for it simply says this: Nature is nothing – and this precisely expresses the significance which Nature has for absolute personality.

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