Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 7


There are two objections which may be anticipated to such descriptions as have been presented to you in my last lecture, and which require consideration:—First, that everything we have adduced may indeed exist in Human Nature generally, but not in the constitution of any particular Age; and hence may chance to be found in all Times: Second, that the whole view is one-sided;—that we have only adduced whatever is defective in the Age, and set it in an unfavourable light, but have passed over in silence the good which is nevertheless to be found in it. The former objection may be best met by recalling to mind Ages in which it has been otherwise than we have described, and showing historically how, and by what causes, the present state of things has arisen. The latter objection cannot affect us, if we only keep in mind the nature and purpose of our present undertaking. We have asserted nothing whatever upon the ground of experience, but on the contrary, have deduced the different elements of our description from principle alone. If our deduction has been correct and rigid, we have no occasion to inquire whether these things are so in present reality or not. Are they not so?—then we do not live in the Third Age. The sufficient justification of our description—that these phenomena constitute a real stage in the progress of Humanity, which our Race must of necessity pass through;—this has not been denied. We must also keep in view the general remark made in an early portion of these lectures, that the elements of very different Ages may often be found coexistent in the same period of chronological time, and may intermingle or cross each other; and in accordance with this remark, our case may be thus stated:—We have not taken up empirically the literary condition of our own Time, as such; but we have put together a philosophical picture of that of the Third Age:—it was this which we had to make out, and not its opposite; and it was of it alone that we undertook to speak. If in the same period of Time there are found other elements, then these are either the remnants of a Past or the forecasts of a Future Age;—neither of which we are now called upon to notice.

Nevertheless, to guard ourselves in every possible way against misconception, and particularly against that most hateful of all misconceptions,—that we have denied everything good which exists in our Age,—and also in order to make a distinct and complete separation of whatever belongs to different Ages,—it will be proper to show in the latter respect, how the Scientific world ought to be constituted. Both of these questions,—the last which we have mentioned, as well as the first,—we shall consider in this day’s discourse.

In the first place:—we have to show that the state of literature has not always been such as we have described in our last lecture; and to declare how it has now become so. Among the two classical nations of antiquity with which we are best acquainted, the Greeks and Romans, there was much less written and read than among ourselves; while, on the contrary, there was much more spoken, and vocal discourse was much more carefully cultivated. Almost all their writings were in the first place delivered in speech, and were thus only copies of spoken discourses for the use of those who could not themselves be present at their delivery; and from this circumstance arises, amongst other advantages, the great superiority of the Ancients over the Moderns in respect of style, since, among the latter, written productions claim a peculiar value for themselves, and, for the most part, want the corrective of living speech. Among the Ancients there existed no particular interest in spreading scientific culture among the people;—the culture in which they actually participated was chiefly accidental and more a culture of Art than of Science.

Christianity appeared in the world and there arose an entirely new interest in general cultivation,—for the sake of Religion to which all men were now called. There are in our opinion two very different forms of Christianity:—the one contained in the Gospel of John, and the other in the writings of the Apostle Paul; to which latter party the other Evangelists for the most part, and particularly Luke, belong. The Johannean Jesus knows no other God than the True God, in whom we all are, and live, and may be blessed, and out of whom there is only Death and Nothingness; and he appeals, and rightly appeals, in support of this Truth, not to reasoning, but to the inward practical sense of Truth in man,—not even knowing any other proof than this inward testimony. ‘If any man will do the will of Him who sent me, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God:’—such is his teaching. As to its historical aspect, his doctrine is to him as old as the creation,—it is the first and primitive Religion;—Judaism, on the contrary, as a corruption of later times, he unconditionally and unsparingly rejects:—‘Your father is Abraham; mine is God,’—he says to the Jews;—‘Before Abraham was, I am;—Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad.’ This latter assertion,—that Abraham saw Jesus’ day,—refers without doubt to the occasion when Melchizedek, the Priest of The Most High God,—(which Most High God is expressly opposed, throughout the whole first chapter of the first book of Moses, to the subordinate and creating God Jehovah)—when, I say, this Priest of the Most High God blessed Abraham, the servant of Jehovah, and took tithes from him; from which latter circumstance the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews very fully and acutely proves the greater antiquity and superior rank of Christianity over Judaism, and expressly calls Jesus a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and thus represents him as the restorer of the Religion of Melchizedek;—without doubt entirely in the sense of that peculiar revelation of Jesus which is given by John. In this Evangelist it remains wholly doubtful whether or not Jesus was of Jewish origin at all;—or if he were, what was his descent and parentage. Quite otherwise is it with Paul, by whom, even from the commencement of a Christian Church, John has been superseded. Paul, having become a Christian, would not admit that he had been in the wrong in having been once a Jew; both systems must therefore be united, and fitly accommodate themselves to each other. This is brought about in the following way, as indeed it could not easily have been effected in any other:—He sets out from the powerful, angry, and jealous God of Judaism; the same whom we have already depicted as the God of the whole Ancient World. With this God, according to Paul, the Jews had made a Covenant;—this was their advantage over the Heathen. During the existence of this Covenant they had but to keep the Law, and they were justified before God; that is, they had no farther evil to fear from him. By the murder of Jesus, however, they had broken this Covenant; and since that time it no longer availed them to keep the Law. On the contrary, since the death of Jesus, a New Covenant came into operation, to which both Jews and Heathen were invited. According to this New Covenant, both had only to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah, and were thereby justified; as the Jews had been justified before the death of Jesus by the keeping of the Law. Christianity became a New Testament or Covenant, existing now for the first time, and abolishing the Old Testament or Covenant. Now, indeed, it was necessary that Jesus should become a Jewish Messiah, and be made a son of David, that the prophecies might be fulfilled;—genealogies were discovered, and a history of his birth and of his childhood,—which, however, in both the shapes in which they appear in our canon, strikingly enough contradict each other. I do not say that in Paul, generally, true Christianity is not to be found: when he is not directly engaged with the great problem of his life,—the intercalation of the two systems,—he speaks so justly and so excellently, and knows the True God of Jesus so truly, that we seem to listen to another man altogether. But wherever he treats of his favourite theme, it is as we have stated it above.

The immediate consequence of this Paulinean system;—a system which undertook to remove the objections raised by the disputatious reasonings of the Jews;—(the first principle of which reasonings, i.e. that Judaism was once the True Religion,—which is wholly denied by the Johannean Jesus,—is in the Paulinean system not only not denied but fully asserted:)—I say, that the immediate and necessary consequence of such a system was that it should itself appeal to argumentative reasoning as its judge;—and indeed, since Christianity is addressed to all men,—that it should appeal to the reasoning of all men. And so did Paul in reality;—he reasoned and disputed with the pertinacity of a master; and gloried in having taken captive—i.e. convinced—all minds. Thus the Understanding was already to him the highest Authority, and it necessarily assumed this position in a system of Christianity of which Paul was the author. But by this means the way was already prepared for the ruin of Christianity. ‘You have challenged me to reason;—I, with your good leave, will reason for myself. You have indeed tacitly taken it for granted that my reasoning cannot issue in any result different from your own; but should it fall out otherwise, and I should arrive at some wholly opposite conclusion,—as will unquestionably happen should I proceed upon some other prevalent philosophy,—then must I prefer my own conclusions to yours, and that too with your own approval, if you are consistent with your own teaching.’ Such liberty was very assiduously cultivated in the first centuries of the Christian Church, and arguments without end were carried on respecting dogmas which owed their origin wholly to the Paulinean scheme of Mediation; and there arose in the One Church the greatest possible variety of opinions and disputes;—all proceeding upon the maxim that the Understanding is the Supreme Authority:—and this scheme of Christianity, I may once for all term Gnosticism. But in this way it was impossible to preserve the unity of the Church; and since all parties were equally far from discovering the true source of the evil in the original departure from the simplicity of Christianity for the purpose of gaining the good graces of Judaism, there was nothing left but a very heroic expedient; this, namely, to forbid all farther thought, and to maintain that, by a special providence of God, the Truth was deposited in the Written Word and the existing Oral Traditions, and must be believed whether it was understood or not;—and as any farther interpretation of those infallible sources of Truth which might be necessary rested with the Church at large, or with a majority of the voices of the Church, it followed that the statutes in which this interpretation was contained demanded a faith as unconditional as the original media themselves. Henceforward all invitations on the part of Christianity to individual thought and conviction were at an end: on the contrary, such thought became a forbidden enterprise, visited with all the punishments of the Church; so that he who could not abandon it must pursue it at his own peril.

In this condition the matter remained for a long time, until the Reformation broke forth;—the Art of Printing, the most important instrument of this Reformation, having been previously discovered. This Reformation was as far removed as the original self-constituted Church from perceiving the true ground of the degeneration of Christianity; it remained at one with the Church in its rejection of Gnosticism, and in its demand for unconditional Faith even without Understanding;—only it directed this Faith towards another object; rejecting the Infallibility of Oral Tradition and of the Decrees of Councils, and taking its stand upon that of the Written Word. The inconsistency of this position,—that the Authenticity of this Written Word itself rested upon Oral Tradition and upon the Infallibility of the Councils who collected and fixed our Canon,—was overlooked. And thus, for the first time in the world, a Written Book was formally installed as the highest Standard of Truth and the only Teacher of the way of Salvation.

Out of this Book, thus elevated to be the sole criterion of Truth, the Reformers combated whatever flowed from the other two sources of belief; thus obviously reasoning in a circle, and ascribing to their opponents a principle which they disowned; these asserting that without Oral Tradition and the Decrees of the Church it is impossible to understand the Scriptures of which they contain the only authentic interpretation. In this position of their cause, and its absolute untenableness for an educated public who were acquainted with the points at issue, they had no course remaining open to them except an appeal to the people. For them, therefore, the Bible had to be translated into the vulgar tongues, and thus placed in their own hands; and they had to be called upon to read and to judge for themselves, whether that which the Reformers found in the Scriptures is not clearly contained therein. These means could not but succeed. The people were flattered by the privilege conferred upon them, and eagerly availed themselves of it on every opportunity; and by means of this principle, indeed, the Reformation would certainly have spread over the whole of Christian Europe, had not the authorities set themselves against it, and hit upon the only certain antidote to its progress; i.e. to prevent the Protestant translations of the Bible, and the other writings of the Reformers, from falling into the hands of the people.

It was only through this zeal for Christianity, as represented by the Bible, which Protestantism called forth, that the printed letter acquired the high and universal value which it has possessed since the Reformation: it became the almost indispensable means of salvation; and without being able to read, a man could no longer, properly speaking, be a Christian, or be tolerated in any Christian and Protestant State. Hence the prevailing notions on the subject of popular education; hence the universality of reading and writing. We need not be surprised that the primary object,—Christianity,—was afterwards forgotten, and that what was at first only the means became in itself the end: this is the common fate of all human arrangements after they have endured for any length of time.

This abandonment of the end for the means was more particularly promoted by a circumstance which, for other reasons, we cannot leave untouched. The Old Church, wherever she was enabled to maintain herself against the first assaults of the Reformation, soon discovered new means of defence, whereby she was relieved from all dread of the new power; and this the more easily that Protestantism itself placed these means in her hands. There soon arose, namely, in the bosom of the latter, a new Gnostiscism; bearing indeed the form of Protestantism and taking its stand on the Bible, but, like the old Gnostiscism, maintaining the principle that the Bible must be interpreted by Reason; that is, by such Reason as these Gnostics themselves possessed;—and they were just so far reasonable as the worst of all philosophical systems, that of Locke, enabled them to be. They did no other service than combating some of the Paulinean notions;—that of vicarious satisfaction, saving faith in this satisfaction, &c.;—leaving untouched the great leading error of an arbitrary God, now making Covenants, and now abolishing them, according to time and circumstances. By this means Protestantism lost almost every feature of Positive Religion, and the followers of the old faith were enabled, aptly enough, to represent it as absolute Infidelity. Thus securely protected against its assailants, the Church had nothing more to fear from Authorship and its attendant tribe of Readers; and these could now propagate their opinions out of Protestant into Catholic States under the name of Independent Philosophy.

Thus much it was necessary for me to say in order to resolve the question with which we set out, as to the origin of the high value which is now set upon the printed letter. In this inquiry, I have had to touch upon matters which possess great value for many who associate them with what alone is possessed of absolute value—with Religion. I have spoken of Catholicism and Protestantism, so that it may be seen that I hold them both to be in error in the most important matter at issue; and I would not willingly leave this matter without, at least, declaring my own view of it.

In my opinion, both parties stand on one common ground which is wholly untenable,—the Paulinean theory;—which, in order to give validity to Judaism, even for a limited time, had necessarily to proceed upon the conception of an arbitrary God; and both parties being completely at one as to the truth of this theory, and not harbouring the slightest doubt regarding it, dispute only concerning the grounds upon which the Paulinean scheme is to be maintained. Thus peace and unity are no more to be thought of; nay, it were far from desirable that a peace should be concluded in favour of either side. Peace, however, would forthwith be the result, were mankind to throw aside this theory altogether, and return to Christianity in its original form as it exists in the Gospel of John. There no proof is recognised but the Inward Testimony,—the appeal to man’s own sense of Truth, and to his spiritual Nature. Who Jesus himself, in his mere personality, was or was not, is of importance only to the follower of Paul, who would make him the abrogator of an Old Covenant with God, and the mediator of a New one in the same name, for which business it was of essential importance that he should possess a significant descent. The true Christian knows no Covenant or Mediation with God, but only the Old, Eternal, and Unchangeable Relation, that in Him we live, and move, and have our being; and he asks not who has said this, but only what has been said;—even the book wherein this may be written is nothing to him as a proof, but only as a means of culture; he bears the proof in his own breast. This is my view of the matter, which does not seem to contain anything very dangerous, and does not overstep the limits of the freedom of philosophical inquiry into religious topics recognised among Protestants; and I have communicated it to you in order that you may test it by your own knowledge of Religion and its history, and may try whether by means of it, light, order, and connexion are introduced into the whole;—but I have no wish to invite the Theologian to a discussion of it. Educated myself in the schools of the Theologians, I am well acquainted with their weapons, and I know that upon their own ground they are invincible; but I also know my own theory, which I have now communicated to you, too well not to perceive that it altogether supersedes the whole present Theology, with all its pretensions; and that whatever is valuable in the inquiries of these men, has reference only to the departments of historical and philological learning, without possessing any influence upon Religion or Happiness;—and thus I cannot join issue with the Theologian who desires to remain a Theologian rather than a Teacher of the People.

So much for our first business,—to exhibit historically the way in which that state of Literature and Science, already described as characteristic of the Third Age, has actually arisen. Now to our second task,—to show how this Literary and Scientific world ought to be constituted.

In the first place:—All the existing relations of actual life, which can only be superseded in and by the Age of the perfect Art of Reason, demand that only a few shall devote their lives to Science, and by far the majority to other pursuits;—that thus the distinction between the Scholar, or let us rather say between the Learned, and the Unlearned, must still subsist for a long period. Both have yet to raise themselves to the real substance of Knowledge, to the true creative Reason; and the formalism of mere unreasoning Conception must be wholly got rid of. The people, in particular, must be raised to Pure Christianity, such as we have described it above, as the only medium through which at first Ideas can be communicated to them. In this respect both parties, Learned as well as Unlearned, are in the same position. They are separated in the following way:—the Learned find Reason itself, and all its modifications, in a system of connected and consecutive Thought; to them, the Universe of Reason, as we have elsewhere expressed it, reveals itself in pure Thought as such. This knowledge they then communicate to the Unlearned, unaccompanied however by the strict proof of which it is susceptible in the system of pure Thought,—to adduce which would render the communication itself Learned and Scholastic;—which knowledge is then authenticated immediately by the Unlearned themselves through their own natural sense of Truth; just as we have proceeded in these lectures which we have announced as popular discourses. I myself have found what has been here taught in a consecutive system of Thought, but I have not communicated it to you in this shape. In one of our first lectures I requested you to inquire whether you could withhold your approval from such a way of thinking as I there described, and if you should find it impossible to do so, I asked you whether, within your own selves, Reason does not in this way declare in favour of such a mode of Thought:—in the two last lectures I have presented the opposite view to you in such a light that its falsehood and perversion must have been immediately evident; and if I made myself intelligible to you it must have excited, at least, inward amusement. Other proofs I have not here adduced. I teach the same things in my scientific philosophical lectures; but there I accompany my teachings with proofs of another description. Further,—these lectures have been addressed,—as popular-philosophical discourses,—to a cultivated audience, and therefore I have clothed them in cultivated language, and in that garb of metaphor which belongs to it. I might have taught the same things to the people, from the pulpit, in the character of a preacher, and then it would have been necessary to make use of Bible language:—for example, what I have here termed the Life in the Idea, should in that case have been named Resignation to the Will of God; or Devotion to the Will of God, &c. This popular communication of knowledge by the Learned to the Unlearned, can only be effected in discourses,—or by means of the press if those to whom it is addressed possess at least the art of reading.

Secondly:—In the cultivation of the whole domain of Science, and therefore in the constitution of the Literary Republic, plan, order, and system are requisite. From Reason as Knowledge, or the Absolute Philosophy, the whole domain of Science may be completely surveyed, and the office of each individual strictly defined. Every one who lays claim to the name of a Scholar must necessarily be in possession of this pure Reason; otherwise, however well-informed he may think himself in some particular department,—if he be ignorant of the ultimate ground of all Science, upon which his own Science depends, then of a surety he cannot understand even his own Science in its ultimate foundations, and indeed has not yet thoroughly penetrated into its significance. Every one can in this way distinctly see when there is something yet awanting in the circle of Science, and what it is which is awanting; and can thus select some particular department as the field of his own exertion. He will not think of completing anew what has been already completed.

All Knowledge which is strictly a priori may be completed and the inquiry closed; and it will be brought to this conclusion so soon as the Literary Republic shall carry on its labours systematically. Empiricism only is infinite; as well in its fixed department, i.e. Nature, in Physics,—as in its changing department, i.e. the varying phenomena of the Human Race, in History. The first, Physics, when all its a priori elements have been distinguished, completed and perfected in their several forms by the higher Reason, will be limited to Experiment; and receive from Reason the Art of rightly comprehending the significance of Experiment, and the knowledge how Nature is to be again interrogated. The second, History, will by the same Reason be relieved of the myths respecting the origin of the Human Race which properly belong to Metaphysics; and will receive instead a distinct conception of the true objects of historical inquiry, and what belongs to them; with a Logic of historical Truth:—and thus, even in this inexhaustible province, we shall have a sure progress according to rule instead of an uncertain groping in the dark.

As the substance of all Knowledge has its fixed law, so both its scientific and popular expression have their settled rules. Have these been transgressed?—then the error may perhaps be discovered by some one else, and corrected in a new work:—have they not been transgressed, or am I unable to make any improvement on that which already exists?—why should I change it for the mere sake of change? In every Science let the best scientific and the best popular works remain the only ones, until something really better appear to take their place;—then let the former be altogether laid aside, and the latter alone remain. True, the unlearned public is a progressive body; for its members are presumed to advance in the ranks of culture by means of the fit teaching of the Learned, and what they already know they do not need to be taught again. It is thus quite conceivable that a popular work, which is well suited to the period of its appearance, may afterwards, when the Time has changed, become no longer adequate to its purpose, and must be replaced by another; but this progress will certainly not be so rapid that the people shall need to be supplied with something new every half-year.

From Reason as Knowledge, I have said above, the whole domain of Science may be surveyed. Every Scholar must be in possession of this Knowledge, were it only that he may thereby be able at all times to understand the actual state of the scientific world, and thus to know at what point his labour may be most advantageously applied. There is no reason why this actual condition of the scientific world should not be chronicled in a continuous work devoted to that purpose, and a survey of it recorded there, partly for the use of cotemporaries, and partly for future history. Something similar to this was said in our description of the Third Age as the function of the Literary Journals and Magazines. Thus if we describe how such a Review would be executed in the Age of Reason as Knowledge, we shall at the same time declare how a Literary Journal ought to be conducted, if such Journals must exist; and from the contrast, it may also become obvious why such Journals, in their common form, are good for nothing, and can be good for nothing. To complete the antithesis between our last lecture and our present one, we must now proceed to this description.

The scientific position of every point of Time must manifest itself according to the Idea which we have already announced; and the supposition is that it will so manifest itself in the works of the Time. These lie open to every eye; and all who are interested in the question which we have proposed can answer it, without our aid, by reference to the same source from which we, without their help, have answered it. We see not to what end our assistance is needful here. If we would make our aid necessary, we must do something which others either cannot do at all, or cannot do without some specific labour of which we can relieve them. We cannot again inform the Reader of what the Author himself has said; for the Author has already said this for himself, and the Reader may satisfactorily learn it from him. What we must declare for him, is precisely that which the Author has not said, but from which he has drawn everything which he has said; we must lay bare what the Author himself really is, perhaps unconsciously to himself, and how all which he has said has become to him such as it is;—we must extract the spirit from his letter. If this spirit in the individual be also the spirit of the Time, and if we have made it manifest in any one instance belonging to the Time, and possibly in that instance in which it is most clearly visible, then I do not see why we should repeat the same thing with reference to others, in whom there may indeed be some accidental and outward difference, but internally an exact similitude;—and thus become mere copyists of ourselves. The question is not concerning the position of Sempronius, or Caius, or Titus, but concerning the position of the Age;—if we have already made this manifest by the example of Sempronius, then we have, at most, to add the remark that Caius and Titus are examples of the same kind; so that no one may expect that they should be separately considered. Should these possess, in addition to the essential and prevailing spirit of the Age, such and such subsidiary and characteristic tendencies, then we must thoroughly investigate these tendencies, and exhibit each of them clearly by means of its most remarkable example:—as for the other instances belonging to the same class, we may, at most, apply to them the remark already suggested.

It is not otherwise with the estimate of the Age in reference to Art; in which department we here confine ourselves to Literature. The measure of excellence is the elevated purity, the ethereal clearness, the serene calmness, untroubled by individual imperfection or by any relation which does not belong to the domain of pure Art, which the work displays. Have we set these forth as they exist in the masterworks of the Age;—why need we concern ourselves with the efforts of mere aspirants? or even with the studies of the master? The latter we employ, in order thereby the better to penetrate and understand the individuality of the Artist,—which, as such, is never a sensuous, but always an ideal individuality,—and by means of this knowledge of his individuality to attain a more thorough comprehension of his work. In short, such a Review must be nothing else, and desire to be nothing else, than a record of the essential spirit of Science and of Art;—whatever cannot be regarded as a variation and farther embodiment of this spirit, should have no place in it, and should not enter within the circle of its observation. It matters not that each day in the calendar may not send forth its printed sheet of such a Review; nor every month, nor even perhaps every half-year, its volume;—in that case paper has been saved and the Reader has been spared much useless labour. Does no continuation appear?—it is a sign that nothing new has occurred in the intellectual world, but that everything moves in its old round:—has something new occurred?—the record will not be wanting to announce it.

With regard to Art alone an exception to the strictness of this rule may be permitted. Humanity is as yet much further removed from true Knowledge in Art than in Science, and there will be needed a much longer course of preparation before it can arrive at the former, than may be required in its progress towards the latter. In this respect, even feeble efforts employed on the interpretation of imperfect works of Art may be welcomed,—not indeed as portions of our true spiritual record, which can only describe the real, living movement of Humanity; but only as popular aids, that thereby the general public may become more conversant with the art of understanding a work;—and if the common Journals of Criticism only sometimes made such attempts they might be entitled to our thanks. But with reference to Science no such exception to the strictness of the rule can be admitted:—for beginners in this department there are Schools and Universities in existence.