Essence of Christianity: Part II, The False or Theological Essence of Religion

Chapter XXV. The Contradiction in the Sacraments

As the objective essence of religion, the idea of God, resolves itself into mere contradictions, so also, on grounds easily understood, does its subjective essence.

The subjective elements of religion are on the one hand Faith and Love; on the other hand, so far as it presents itself externally in a cultus, the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The sacrament of Faith is Baptism, the sacrament of Love is the Lord's Supper. In strictness there are only two sacraments, as there are two subjective elements in religion, Faith and Love: for Hope is only faith in relation to the future; so that there is the same logical impropriety in making it a distinct mental act as in making the Holy Ghost a distinct being.

The identity of the sacraments with the specific essence of religion as hitherto developed is at once made evident, apart from other relations, by the fact that they have for their basis natural materials or things, to which, however, is attributed a significance and effect in contradiction with their nature. Thus the material of baptism is water, common, natural water, just as the material of religion in general is common, natural humanity. But as religion alienates our own nature from us, and represents it as not ours, so the water of baptism is regarded as quite other than common water; for it has not a physical but a hyperphysical power and significance; it is the Lavacrum regenerationis, it purifies man from the stains of original sin, expels the inborn devil, and reconciles with God. Thus it is natural water only in appearance; in truth it is supernatural. In other words: the baptismal water has supernatural effects (and that which operates supernaturally is itself supernatural) only in idea, only in the imagination.

And yet the material of Baptism is said to be natural water. Baptism has no validity and efficacy if it is not performed with water. Thus the natural quality of water has in itself value and significance, since the supernatural effect of baptism is associated in a supernatural manner with water only, and not with any other material. God, by means of his omnipotence, could have united the same effect to anything whatever. But he does not; he accommodates himself to natural qualities; he chooses an element corresponding, analogous to his operation. Thus the natural is not altogether set aside; on the contrary, there always remains a certain analog with the natural, an appearance of naturalness. In like manner wine represents blood; bread, flesh. Even miracle is guided by analogies; water is changed into wine or blood, one species into another, with the retention of the indeterminate generic idea of liquidity. So it is here. Water is the purest, clearest of liquids; in virtue of this its natural character it is the image of the spotless nature of the Divine Spirit. In short, water has a significance in itself, as water. it is on account of its natural quality that it is consecrated and selected as the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. So far there lies at the foundation of Baptism a beautiful, profound natural significance. But, at the very same time, this beautiful meaning is lost again because water has a transcendental effect, – an effect which it has only through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, and not through itself. The natural quality becomes indifferent: he who makes wine out of water, can at will unite the effects of baptismal water with any material whatsoever.

Baptism cannot be understood without the idea of miracle. Baptism is itself a miracle. The same power which works miracles, and by means of them, as a proof of the divinity of Christ, turns Jews and Pagans into Christians, – this same power has instituted baptism and operates in it. Christianity began with miracles, and it carries itself forward with miracles. If the miraculous power of baptism is denied, miracles in general must be denied. The miracle-working water of baptism springs from the same source as the water which at the wedding at Cana in Galilee was turned into wine.

The faith which is produced by miracle is not dependent on me, on my spontaneity, on freedom of judgment and conviction. A miracle which happens before my eyes I must believe, if I am not utterly obdurate. Miracle compels me to believe in the divinity of the miracle-worker. [In relation to the miracle-worker faith (confidence in God's aid) is certainly the causa efficiens of the miracle. (See Matt. xvii. 20; Acts vi. 8.) But in relation to the spectators of the miracle – and it is they who are in question here – miracle is the causa efficiens of faith.]

It is true that in some cases it presupposes faith, namely, where it appears in the light of a reward; but with that exception it presupposes not so much actual faith as a believing disposition, willingness, submission, in opposition to an unbelieving, obdurate, and malignant disposition, like that of the Pharisees. The end of miracle is to prove that the miracle-worker is really that which he assumes to be. Faith based on miracle is the only thoroughly warranted, well-grounded, objective faith. The faith which is presupposed by miracle is only faith in a Messiah, a Christ in general; but the faith that this very man is Christ – and this is the main point – is first wrought by miracle as its consequence. This presupposition even of an indeterminate faith is, however, by no means necessary. Multitudes first became believers through miracles; thus miracle was the cause of their faith. If then miracles do not contradict Christianity, – and how should they contradict it? – neither does the miraculous efficacy of baptism contradict it. On the contrary, if baptism is to have a Christian significance it must of necessity have a supernaturalistic one. Paul was converted by a sudden miraculous appearance, when he was still full of hatred to the Christians. Christianity took him by violence. It is in vain to allege that with another than Paul this appearance would not have had the same consequences, and that therefore the effect of it must still be attributed to Paul. For if the same appearance had been vouchsafed to others, they would assuredly have become as thoroughly Christian as Paul. Is not divine Grace omnipotent? The unbelief and non-convertibility of the Pharisees is no counter-argument; for from them grace was expressly withdrawn. The Messiah must necessarily, according to a divine decree, be betrayed, maltreated and crucified. For this purpose there must be individuals who should maltreat and crucify him: and hence it was a prior necessity that the divine grace should be withdrawn from those individuals. It was not indeed totally withdrawn from them, but this was only in order to aggravate their guilt, and by no means with the earnest will to convert them. How would it be possible to resist the will of God, supposing, of course that it was his real will, not a mere velleity? Paul himself represents his conversion as a work of divine grace thoroughly unmerited on his part; ["Here we see a miracle surpassing all miracles, that Christ should have so mercifully converted his greatest enemy.” – Luther (Th. xvi. p. 560)] and quite correctly. Not to resist divine grace, i.e., to accept divine grace, to allow it to work upon one, is already something good, and consequently is an effect of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is more perverse than the attempt to reconcile miracle with freedom of inquiry and thought, or grace with freedom of will. In religion the nature of man is regarded as separate from man. The activity, the grace of God is the projected spontaneity of man, Free Will made objective.

[Hence it is greatly to the honour of Luther's understanding and sense of truth that, particularly when writing against Erasmus, he unconditionally denied the free will of man as opposed to divine grace. “The name Free Will,” says Luther, quite correctly from the standpoint of religion, “is a divine title and name, which none ought to bear but the Divine Majesty alone.” (Th. XiX. P. 28).]

It is the most flagrant inconsequence to adduce the experience that men are not sanctified, not converted by baptism, as an argument against its miraculous efficacy, as is done by rationalistic orthodox theologians; [Experience indeed extorted even from the old theologians, whose faith was an uncompromising – a one, the admission that the effects of baptism are, at least in this life, very limited. “Baptismus non aufert omnes poenalitates hujus viae.” – Mezger. Theol. Schol. Th. iv. P. 251. See also Petrus L. 1. iv. dist. 4, C. 4; 1. ii. dist. 32, C – I.] for all kinds of miracles, the objective power of prayer, and in general all the supernatural truths of religion, also contradict experience. He who appeals to experience. renounces faith. Where experience is a datum, there religious faith and feeling have already vanished. The unbeliever denies the objective efficacy of prayer only because it contradicts experience; the atheist goes yet further, – he denies even the existence of God, because he does not find it in experience. Inward experience creates no difficulty to him; for what thou experiencest in thyself of another existence, proves only that there is something in thee which thou thyself art not, which works upon thee independently of thy personal will and consciousness, without thy knowing what this mysterious something is. But faith is stronger than experience. The facts which contradict faith do not disturb it; it is happy in itself; it has eyes only for itself, to all else it is blind.

It is true that religion, even on the standpoint of its mystical materialism, always requires the co-operation of subjectivity, and therefore requires it in the sacraments; but herein is exhibited its contradiction with itself. And this contradiction is particularly glaring in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; for baptism is given to infants, – though even in them, as a condition of its efficacy, the co-operation of subjectivity is insisted on, but, singularly enough, is supplied in the faith of others, in the faith of the parents, or of their representatives, or of the church in general.

[Even in the absurd fiction of the Lutherans, that “infants believe in baptism,” the action of subjectivity reduces itself to the faith of others, since the faith of infants is wrought by God through the “intercession of the god-parents and their bringing up of the children in the faith of the Christian Church.” – Luther (Th. xiil. PP. 36o, 36 i). “Thus the faith of another helps me to obtain a faith of my own.” – Ib. (T. xiv,. p. 347a).]

The object in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the body of Christ, – a real body; but the necessary predicates of reality are wanting to it. Here we have again, in an example presented to the senses, what we have found in the nature of religion in general. The object or subject in the religious syntax is always a real human or natural subject or predicate; but the closer definition, the essential predicate of this predicate is denied. The subject is sensuous, but the predicate is not sensuous, i.e., is contradictory to the subject. I distinguish a real body from an imaginary one only by this, that the former produces corporeal effects, involuntary effects, upon me. If therefore the bread be the real body of God, the partaking of it must produce in me immediate, involuntary sanctifying effects; I need to make no special preparation, to bring with me no holy disposition. If I eat an apple, the apple of itself gives rise to the taste of apple. At the utmost I need nothing more than a healthy stomach to perceive that the apple is an apple. The Catholics require a state of fasting as a condition of partaking the Lord's Supper. This is enough. I take hold of the body with my lips, I crush it with my teeth, by my oesophagus it is carried into my stomach; I assimilate it corporeally, not spiritually.

[“This,” says Luther, “is in summa our opinion, that in and with the bread, the body of Christ is truly eaten; thus, that all which the bread undergoes and affects, the body of Christ undergoes and effects; that it is divided, eaten and chewed with the teeth propter unionem sacramentalem.” (Plank's Gesch. der Entst des protest. Lehrbeg. B. viii. S. 369). Elsewhere, it is true, Luther denies that the body of Christ, although it is partaken of corporeally, “is chewed and digested like a piece of beef.” (Th. xix. P. 429.) No wonder; for that which is partaken of is an object without objectivity. a body without corporeality, flesh without the qualifies of flesh; “spiritual flesh,” as Luther says, i.e., imaginary flesh. Be it observed further, that the Protestants also take the Lord's Supper fasting, but this is merely a custom with them, not a law. (See Luther, Th. xviii. P. 200, 201.)]

Why are its effects not held to be corporeal? Why should not this body, which is a corporeal, but at the same time heavenly, supernatural substance, also bring forth in me corporeal and yet at the same time holy, supernatural effects? If it is my disposition, my faith, which alone makes the divine body a means of sanctification to me, which transubstantiates the dry bread into pneumatic animal substance, why do I still need an external object? It is I myself who give rise to the effect of the body on me, and therefore to the reality of the body; I am acted on by myself. Where is the objective truth and power? He who partakes the Lord's Supper unworthily has nothing further than the physical enjoyment of bread and wine. He who brings nothing, takes nothing away. The specific difference of this bread from common natural bread rests therefore only on the difference between the state of mind at the table of the Lord, and the state of mind at any other table. “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.” But this mental state itself is dependent only on the significance which I give to this bread. If it has for me the significance not of bread, but of the body of Christ, then it has not the effect of common bread. In the significance attached to it lies its effect. I do not eat to satisfy hunger; hence I consume only a small quantity. Thus to go no further than the quantity taken, which in every other act of taking food plays an essential part, the significance of common bread is externally set aside.

But this supernatural significance exists only in the imagination; to the senses, the wine remains wine, the bread, bread. The Schoolmen therefore had recourse to the precious distinction of substance and accidents. All the accidents which constitute the nature of wine and bread are still there; only that which is made up by these accidents, the subject, the substance, is wanting is changed into flesh and blood. But all the properties together, whose combination forms this unity, are the substance itself. What are wine and bread if I take from them the properties which make them what they are? Nothing. Flesh and blood have therefore no objective existence; otherwise they must be an object to the unbelieving senses. On the contrary: the only valid witnesses of an objective existence – taste, smell, touch, sight – testify unanimously to the reality of the wine and bread, and nothing else. The wine and bread are in reality natural, but in imagination divine substances.

Faith is the power of the imagination, which makes the real unreal, and the unreal real: in direct contradiction with the truth of the senses, with the truth of reason. Faith denies what objective reason affirms, and affirms what it denies. The mystery of the Lord's Supper is the mystery of faith: [It is so in another relation not developed here, but which may be mentioned in a note: namely, the following. – In religion, in faith, man is an object to himself as the object, i.e., the end or determining motive, of God. Man is occupied with himself in and through God. God is the means of human existence and happiness. This religious truth, embodied in a cultus, in a sensuous form, is the Lord's Supper. In this sacrament man feeds upon God – the Creator of heaven and earth – as on material food; by the act of eating and drinking he declares God to be a mere means of life to man. Here man is virtually supposed to be the God of God: hence the Lord's Supper is the highest self-enjoyment of human subjectivity. Even the Protestant – not indeed in words, but in truth – transforms God into an external thing, since he subjects Him to himself as an object of sensational enjoyment.] – hence the partaking of it is the highest, the most rapturous, blissful act of the believing soul. The negation of objective truth which is not gratifying to feeling the truth of reality, of the objective world and reason, – a negation which constitutes the essence of faith reaches its highest point in the Lord's Supper; for faith here denies an immediately present, evident, indubitable object, maintaining that it is not what the reason and senses declare it to be, that it is only in appearance bread, but in reality flesh. The position of the Schoolmen, that according to the accidents it is bread, and according to the substance flesh, is merely the abstract, explanatory, intellectual expression of what faith accepts and declares, and has therefore no other meaning, than this: to the senses or to common perception it is bread, but in truth, flesh. Where therefore the imaginative tendency of faith has assumed such power over the senses and reason as to deny the most evident sensible truths, it is no wonder if believers can raise themselves to such a degree of exaltation as actually to see blood instead of wine. Such examples Catholicism has to show. Little is wanting in order to perceive externally what faith and inactivation hold to be real.

So long as faith in the mystery of the Lord's Supper as a holy, nay the holiest, highest truth, governed man, so long was his governing principle the imagination. All criteria of reality and unreality, of unreason and reason, had disappeared: anything whatever that could be imagined passed for real possibility. Religion hallowed every contradiction of reason, of the nature of things. Do not ridicule the absurd questions of the Schoolmen! – They were necessary consequences of faith. That which is only a matter of feeling had to be made a matter of reason, that which contradicts the understanding had to be made not to contradict it. This was the fundamental contradiction of Scholasticism, whence all other contradictions followed of course.

And it is of no particular importance whether I believe the Protestant or the Catholic doctrine of the Lord's Supper. The sole distinction is, that in Protestantism it is only on the tongue, in the act of partaking, that flesh and blood are united in a thoroughly miraculous manner with bread and wine; while in Catholicism, it is before the act of partaking by the power of the priest, – who however here acts only in the name of the Almighty, – that bread and wine are really transmuted into flesh and blood. The Protestant prudently avoids a definite explanation; he does not lay himself open, like the pious, uncritical simplicity of Catholicism, whose God, as an external object, can be devoured by a mouse: he shuts up his God within himself, where he can no more be torn from him, and thus secures him as well from the power of accident as from that of ridicule; yet, notwithstanding this, he just as much as the Catholic consumes real flesh and blood in the bread and wine. Slight indeed was the difference at first between Protestants and Catholics in the doctrine of the Lord's Supper! Thus at Anspach there arose a controversy on the question, whether the body of Christ enters the stomach, and is digested like other food?

But although the imaginative activity of faith makes the objective existence the mere appearance, and the emotional, imaginary existence the truth and reality; still, in itself or in truth, that which is really objective is only the natural elements. Even the host in the pyx of the Catholic priest is in itself only to faith a divine body, – this external thing, into which he transubstantiates the divine being, is only a thing of faith; for even here the body is not visible, tangible, tastable as a body. That is: the bread is only in its significance flesh. It is true that to faith this significance has the sense of actual existence; – as, in general, in the ecstasy of fervid feeling that which signifies becomes the thing signified; – it is held not to signify, but to be flesh. But this state of being flesh is not that of real flesh; it is a state of being which is only believed in, imagined, i.e., it has only the value, the quality, of a significance, a truth conveyed in a symbol.

[“The fanatics, however, believe that it is mere bread and wine, and it is assuredly so as they believe; they have it so, and eat mere bread and wine.” – Luther (Th. xix. P. 432). That is to say, if thou believest, representest to thyself, that the bread is not bread, but the body of Christ, it – is not bread; but if thou dost not believe so, it is not so. What it is in thy belief that it actually is.]

A thing which has a special significance for me, is another thing in my imagination than in reality. The thing signifying is not itself that which is signified. What it is, is evident to the senses; what it signifies, is only in my feelings, conception, imagination, is only for me, not for others, is not objectively present. So here. When therefore Zwinglius said that the Lord's Supper has only a subjective significance, he said the same thing as his opponents; only he disturbed the illusion of the religious imagination; for that which “is” in the Lord's Supper, is only an illusion of the imagination, but with the further illusion that it is not an illusion. Zwinglius only expressed simply, nakedly, prosaically, rationalistically, and therefore offensively, what the others declared mystically, indirectly, – inasmuch as they confessed that the effect of the Lord's Supper depends only on a worthy disposition or on faith; i.e., that the bread and wine are the flesh and blood of the Lord, are the Lord himself, only for him for whom they have the supernatural significance of the divine body, for on this alone depends the worthy disposition, the religious emotion.

["If the body of Christ is in the bread and is eaten with faith, it strengthens the soul, in that the soul believes that it is the body of Christ which the mouth eats.” – Luther (Th. xix. P. 433; see also p. 265). “For what we believe that we receive, that we receive in truth.” – Ib. (Th. xxi. P. 557).]

But if the Lord's Supper effects nothing, consequently is nothing, – for only that which produces effects, is, – without a certain state of mind, without faith, then in faith alone lies its reality; the entire event goes forward in the feelings alone. – If the idea that I here receive the real body of the Saviour acts on the religious feelings, this idea itself arises from the feelings; it produces devout sentiments, because it is itself a devout idea. Thus here also the religious subject is acted on by himself as if by another being, through the conception of an imaginary object. Therefore the process of the Lord's Supper can quite well, even without the intermediation of bread and wine, without any church, ceremony, be accomplished in the imagination. There are innumerable devout poems, the sole theme of which is the blood of Christ. In these we have a genuinely poetical celebration of the Lord's Supper. In the lively representation of the suffering, bleeding Saviour, the soul identifies itself with him. here the saint in poetic exaltation drinks the pure blood, unmixed with any contradictory, material elements; here there is no disturbing object between the idea of the blood and the blood itself.

But though the Lord's Supper, or a sacrament in general, is nothing without a certain state of mind, without faith, nevertheless religion presents the sacrament at the same time as something in itself real, external, distinct from the human being, so that in the religious consciousness the true thing, which is faith, is made only a collateral thing, a condition, and the imaginary thing becomes the principal thing. And the necessary, immanent consequences and effects of this religious materialism, of this subordination of the human to the supposed divine, of the subjective to the supposed objective, of truth to imagination, of morality to religion, – the necessary consequences are superstition and immorality: superstition, because a thing has attributed to it an effect which does not lie in its nature, because a thing is held up as not being what it in truth is, because a mere conception passes for objective reality; immorality, because necessarily, in feeling, the holiness of the action as such is separated from morality, the partaking of the sacrament, even apart from the state of mind, becomes a holy and saving act. Such, at least, is the result in practice, which knows nothing of the sophistical distinctions of theology in general: wherever religion places itself in contradiction with reason, it places itself also in contradiction with the moral sense. Only with the sense of truth coexists the sense of the right and good. Depravity of understanding, is always depravity of heart. He who deludes and cheats his understanding has not a veracious, honourable heart; sophistry corrupt the whole man. And the doctrine of the Lord's Supper is sophistry.

The Truth of the disposition, or of faith as a requisite to communion, involves the Untruth of the bodily presence of God; and again the Truth of the objective existence of the divine body involves the Untruth of the disposition.

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