The Essence of Christianity/Chapter VIII

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach
Chapter VIII. The Mystery of the Cosmogonical Principle in God


The second Person, as God revealing, manifesting, declaring himself (Deus se dicit), is the world-creating principle in God. But this means nothing else than that the second Person is intermediate between the noumenal nature of God and the phenomenal nature of the world, that he is the divine principle of the finite, of that which is distinguished from God. The second Person as begotten, as not à se, not existing of himself, has the fundamental condition of the finite in himself.[1] But at the same time, he is not yet a real finite Being, posited out of God; on the contrary, he is still identical with God,—as identical as the son is with the father, the son being indeed another person, but still of like nature with the father. The second Person, therefore, does not represent to us the pure idea of the Godhead, but neither does he represent the pure idea of humanity, or of reality in general: he is an intermediate Being between the two opposites. The opposition of the noumenal or invisible divine nature and the phenomenal or visible nature of the world, is however nothing else than the opposition between the nature of abstraction and the nature of perception; but that which connects abstraction with perception is the imagination: consequently, the transition from God to the world by means of the second Person, is only the form in which religion makes objective the transition from abstraction to perception by means of the imagination. It is the imagination alone by which man neutralizes the opposition between God and the world. All religious cosmogonies are products of the imagination. Every being, intermediate between God and the world, let it be defined how it may, is a being of the imagination. The psychological truth and necessity which lies at the foundation of all these theogonies and cosmogonies, is the truth and necessity of the imagination as a middle term between the abstract and concrete. And the task of philosophy, in investigating this subject, is to comprehend the relation of the imagination to the reason—the genesis of the image by means of which an object of thought becomes an object of sense, of feeling.

But the nature of the imagination is the complete, exhaustive truth of the cosmogonic principle, only where the antithesis of God and the world expresses nothing but the indefinite antithesis of the noumenal, invisible, incomprehensible Being, God, and the visible, tangible existence of the world. If, on the other hand, the cosmogonic being is conceived and expressed abstractly, as is the case in religious speculation, we have also to recognise a more abstract psychological truth as its foundation.

The world is not God; it is other than God, the opposite of God, or at least that which is different from God. But that which is different from God, cannot have come immediately from God, but only from a distinction of God in God. The second Person is God distinguishing himself from himself in himself, setting himself opposite to himself, hence being an object to himself. The self-distinguishing of God from himself is the ground of that which is different from himself, and thus self-consciousness is the origin of the world. God first thinks the world in thinking himself: to think oneself is to beget oneself, to think the world is to create the world. Begetting precedes creating. The idea of the production of the world, of another being who is not God, is attained through the idea of the production of another being who is like God.

This cosmogonical process is nothing else than the mystic paraphrase of a psychological process, nothing else than the unity of consciousness and self-consciousness, made objective. God thinks himself:—thus he is self-conscious. God is self-consciousness posited as an object, as a being; but inasmuch as he knows himself, thinks himself, he also thinks another than himself; for to know oneself is to distinguish oneself from another, whether this be a possible, merely conceptional, or a real being. Thus the world—at least the possibility, the idea of the world—is posited with consciousness, or rather conveyed in it. The Son, i.e., God thought by himself, objective to himself, the original reflection of God, the other God, is the principle of Creation. The truth which lies at the foundation of this is the nature of man: the identity of his self-consciousness with his consciousness of another who is identical with himself, and of another who is not identical with himself. And the second, the other who is of like nature, is necessarily the middle term between the first and third. The idea of another in general, of one who is essentially different from me arises to me first through the idea of one who is essentially like me.

Consciousness of the world is the consciousness of my limitation; if I knew nothing of a world, I should know nothing of limits: but the consciousness of my limitation stands in contradiction with the impulse of my egoism towards unlimitedness. Thus from egoism conceived as absolute (God is the absolute Self) I cannot pass immediately to its opposite; I must introduce, prelude, moderate this contradiction by the consciousness of a being who is indeed another, and in so far gives me the perception of my limitation, but in such a way as at the same time to affirm my own nature, make my nature objective to me. The consciousness of the world is a humiliating consciousness; the Creation was an “act of humility;” but the first stone against which the pride of egoism stumbles, is the thou, the alter ego. The ego first steels its glance in the eye of a thou, before it endures the contemplation of a being which does not reflect its own image. My fellow-man is the bond between me and the world. I am, and I feel myself, dependent on the world, because I first feel myself dependent on other men. If I did not need man, I should not need the world. I reconcile myself with the world only through my fellow-man. Without other men, the world would be for me not only dead and empty, but meaningless. Only through his fellow does man become clear to himself and self-conscious; but only when I am clear to myself, does the world become clear to me. A man existing absolutely alone, would lose himself without any sense of his individuality in the ocean of Nature; he would neither comprehend himself as man, nor Nature as Nature. The first object of man is man. The sense of Nature, which opens to us the consciousness of the world as a world, is a later product; for it first arises through the distinction of man from himself. The natural philosophers of Greece were preceded by the so-called seven Sages, whose wisdom had immediate reference to human life only.

The ego, then, attains to consciousness of the world through consciousness of the thou. Thus man is the God of man. That he is, he has to thank Nature; that he is man, he has to thank man; spiritually as well as physically, he can achieve nothing without his fellow-man. Four hands can do more than two; but also, four eyes can see more than two. And this combined power is distinguished not only in quantity but also in quality from that which is solitary. In isolation human power is limited, in combination it is infinite. The knowledge of a single man is limited, but reason, science, is unlimited, for it is a common act of mankind; and it is so, not only because innumerable men co-operate in the construction of science, but also in the more profound sense, that the scientific genius of a particular age comprehends in itself the thinking powers of the preceding age, though it modifies them in accordance with its own special character. Wit, acumen, imagination, feeling as distinguished from sensation, reason as a subjective faculty,—all these so-called powers of the soul, are powers of humanity, not of man as an individual; they are products of culture, products of human society. Only where man has contact and friction with his fellow-man are wit and sagacity kindled; hence there is more wit in the town than in the country, more in great towns than in small ones. Only where man suns and warms himself in the proximity of man, arise feeling and imagination. Love, which requires mutuality, is the spring of poetry; and only where man communicates with man, only in speech, a social act, awakes reason. To ask a question and to answer, are the first acts of thought. Thought originally demands two. It is not until man has reached an advanced stage of culture that he can double himself, so as to play the part of another within himself. To think and to speak are therefore with all ancient and sensuous nations, identical; they think only in speaking; their thought is only conversation. The common people, i.e., people in whom the power of abstraction has not been developed, are still incapable of understanding what is written if they do not read it audibly, if they do not pronounce what they read. In this point of view Hobbes correctly enough derives the understanding of man from his ears!

Reduced to abstract logical categories, the creative principle in God expresses nothing further than the tautological proposition: the different can only proceed from a principle of difference, not from a simple being. However the Christian philosophers and theologians insisted on the creation of the world out of nothing, they were unable altogether to evade the old axiom—“Nothing comes from nothing,” because it expresses a law of thought. It is true that they supposed no real matter as the principle of the diversity of material things, but they made the Divine understanding (and the Son is the wisdom, the science, the understanding of the Father)—as that which comprehends within itself all things, as spiritual matter—the principle of real matter. The distinction between the heathen eternity of matter and the Christian creation in this respect, is only that the heathens ascribed to the world a real, objective eternity, whereas the Christians gave it an invisible, immaterial eternity. Things were, before they existed positively,—not, indeed, as an object of sense, but of the subjective understanding. The Christians, whose principle is that of absolute subjectivity, conceive all things as effected only through this principle. The matter posited by their subjective thought, conceptional, subjective matter, is therefore to them the first matter,—far more excellent than real, objective matter. Nevertheless, this distinction is only a distinction in the mode of existence. The world is eternal in God. Or did it spring up in him as a sudden idea, a caprice? Certainly man can conceive this too; but, in doing so, he deifies nothing but his own irrationality. If, on the contrary, I abide by reason, I can only derive the world from its essence, its idea, i.e., one mode of its existence from another mode; in other words, I can derive the world only from itself. The world has its basis in itself, as has everything in the world which has a claim to the name of species. The differentia specifica, the peculiar character, that by which a given being is what it is, is always in the ordinary sense inexplicable, undeducible, is through itself, has its cause in itself.

The distinction between the world and God as the creator of the world, is therefore only a formal one. The nature of God—for the divine understanding, that which comprehends within itself all things, is the divine nature itself; hence God, inasmuch as he thinks and knows himself, thinks and knows at the same time the world and all things—the nature of God is nothing else than the abstract, thought nature of the world; the nature of the world nothing else than the real, concrete, perceptible nature of God. Hence, creation is nothing more than a formal act; for that which, before the creation, was an object of thought, of the understanding, is by creation simply made an object of sense, its ideal contents continuing the same; although it remains absolutely inexplicable how a real material thing can spring out of a pure thought.[2]

So it is with plurality and difference—if we reduce the world to these abstract categories—in opposition to the unity and identity of the Divine nature. Real difference can be derived only from a being which has a principle of difference in itself. But I posit difference in the original being, because I have originally found difference as a positive reality. Wherever difference is in itself nothing, there also no difference is conceived in the principle of things. I posit difference as an essential category, as a truth, where I derive it from the original being, and vice versa: the two propositions are identical. The rational expression is this: Difference lies as necessarily in the reason as identity.

But as difference is a positive condition of the reason, I cannot deduce it without presupposing it; I cannot explain it except by itself, because it is an original, self-luminous, self-attesting reality. Through what means arises the world, that which is distinguished from God? through the distinguishing of God from himself in himself. God thinks himself, he is an object to himself; he distinguishes himself from himself. Hence this distinction, the world, arises only from a distinction of another kind, the external distinction from an internal one, the static distinction from a dynamic one,—from an act of distinction: thus I establish difference only through itself; i.e., it is an original concept, a ne plus ultra of my thought, a law, a necessity, a truth. The last distinction that I can think, is the distinction of a being from and in itself. The distinction of one being from another is self-evident, is already implied in their existence, is a palpable truth: they are two. But I first establish difference for thought when I discern it in one and the same being, when I unite it with the law of identity. Herein lies the ultimate truth of difference. The cosmogonic principle in God, reduced to its last elements, is nothing else than the act of thought in its simplest forms, made objective. If I remove difference from God, he gives me no material for thought; he ceases to be an object of thought; for difference is an essential principle of thought. And if I consequently place difference in God, what else do I establish, what else do I make an object, than the truth and necessity of this principle of thought?


  1. “Hylarius . . . Si quis innascibilem et sine initio dicat filium, quasi duo sine principio et duo innascibilia, et duo innata dicens, duos faciat Deos, anathema sit. Caput autem quod est principium Christi, Deus . . . Filium innascibilem confiteri impiissimum est.”—Petrus Lomb. Sent. 1. i. disk 31. c. 4.
  2. It is therefore mere self-delusion to suppose that the hypothesis of a Creation explains the existence of the world.