The Essence of Christianity/Chapter X

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach
Chapter X. The Mystery of Providence and Creation out of Nothing


Creation is the spoken word of God; the creative, cosmogonic fiat is the tacit word, identical with the thought. To speak is an act of the will; thus, creation is a product of the Will: as in the Word of God man affirms the divinity of the human word, so in creation he affirms the divinity of the Will: not, however, the will of the reason, but the will of the imagination—the absolutely subjective, unlimited will. The culminating point of the principle of subjectivity is creation out of nothing.[1] As the eternity of the world or of matter imports nothing further than the essentiality of matter, so the creation of the world out of nothing imports simply the non-essentiality, the nothingness of the world. The commencement of a thing is immediately connected, in idea if not in time, with its end. “Lightly come, lightly go.” The will has called it into existence—the will calls it back again into nothing. When? The time is indifferent: its existence or non-existence depends only on the will. But this will is not its own will:—not only because a thing cannot will its non-existence, but for the prior reason that the world is itself destitute of will. Thus the nothingness of the world expresses the power of the will. The will that it should exist is, at the same time, the will—at least the possible will—that it should not exist. The existence of the world is therefore a momentary, arbitrary, unreliable, i.e., unreal existence.

Creation out of nothing is the highest expression of omnipotence: but omnipotence is nothing else than subjectivity exempting itself from all objective conditions and limitations, and consecrating this exemption as the highest power and reality: nothing else than the ability to posit everything real as unreal—everything conceivable as possible: nothing else than the power of the imagination, or of the will as identical with the imagination, the power of self-will.[2] The strongest and most characteristic expression of subjective arbitrariness is, “it has pleased;”—the phrase, “it has pleased God to call the world of bodies and spirits into existence,” is the most undeniable proof that individual subjectivity, individual arbitrariness, is regarded as the highest essence—the omnipotent world-principle. On this ground, creation out of nothing as a work of the Almighty Will falls into the same category with miracle, or rather it is the first miracle, not only in time but in rank also;—the principle of which all further miracles are the spontaneous result. The proof of this is history itself; all miracles have been vindicated, explained, and illustrated by appeal to the omnipotence which created the world out of nothing. Why should not He who made the world out of nothing, make wine out of water, bring human speech from the mouth of an ass, and charm water out of a rock? But miracle is, as we shall see further on, only a product and object of the imagination, and hence creation out of nothing, as the primitive miracle, is of the same character. For this reason the doctrine of creation out of nothing has been pronounced a supernatural one, to which reason of itself could not have attained; and in proof of this, appeal has been made to the fact that the Pagan philosophers represented the world to have been formed by the Divine Reason out of already existing matter. But this supernatural principle is no other than the principle of subjectivity, which in Christianity exalted itself to an unlimited, universal monarchy; whereas the ancient philosophers were not subjective enough to regard the absolutely subjective being as the exclusively absolute being, because they limited subjectivity by the contemplation of the world or reality—because to them the world was a truth.

Creation out of nothing, as identical with miracle, is one with Providence; for the idea of Providence—originally, in its true religious significance, in which it is not yet infringed upon and limited by the unbelieving understanding—is one with the idea of miracle. The proof of Providence is miracle.[3] Belief in Providence is belief in a power to which all things stand at command to be used according to its pleasure, in opposition to which all the power of reality is nothing. Providence cancels the laws of Nature; it interrupts the course of necessity, the iron bond which inevitably binds effects to causes; in short, it is the same unlimited, all-powerful will, that called the world into existence out of nothing. Miracle is a creatio ex nihilo. He who turns water into wine, makes wine out of nothing, for the constituents of wine are not found in water; otherwise, the production of wine would not be a miraculous, but a natural act. The only attestation, the only proof of Providence is miracle. Thus Providence is an expression of the same idea as creation out of nothing. Creation out of nothing can only be understood and explained in connexion with Providence; for miracle properly implies nothing more than that the miracle worker is the same as he who brought forth all things by his mere will—God the Creator.

But Providence has relation essentially to man. It is for man’s sake that Providence makes of things whatever it pleases: it is for man’s sake that it supersedes the authority and reality of a law otherwise omnipotent. The admiration of Providence in Nature, especially in the animal kingdom, is nothing else than an admiration of Nature, and therefore belongs merely to naturalism, though to a religious naturalism;[4] for in Nature is revealed only natural, not divine Providence—not Providence as it is an object to religion. Religious Providence reveals itself only in miracles—especially in the miracle of the Incarnation, the central point of religion. But we nowhere read that God, for the sake of brutes, became a brute—the very idea of this is, in the eyes of religion, impious and ungodly; or that God ever performed a miracle for the sake of animals or plants. On the contrary, we read that a poor fig-tree, because it bore no fruit at a time when it could not bear it, was cursed, purely in order to give men an example of the power of faith over Nature;—and again, that when the tormenting devils were driven out of men, they were driven into brutes. It is true we also read: “No sparrow falls to the ground without your Father;” but these sparrows have no more worth and importance than the hairs on the head of a man, which are all numbered.

Apart from instinct, the brute has no other guardian spirit, no other Providence, than its senses or its organs in general. A bird which loses its eyes has lost its guardian angel; it necessarily goes to destruction if no miracle happens. We read indeed that a raven brought food to the prophet Elijah, but not (at least to my knowledge) that an animal was supported by other than natural means. But if a man believes that he also has no other Providence than the powers of his race—his senses and understanding,—he is in the eyes of religion, and of all those who speak the language of religion, an irreligious man; because he believes only in a natural Providence, and a natural Providence is in the eyes of religion as good as none. Hence Providence has relation essentially to men, and even among men only to the religious. “God is the Saviour of all men, but especially of them that believe.” It belongs, like religion, only to man; it is intended to express the essential distinction of man from the brute, to rescue man from the tyranny of the forces of Nature. Jonah in the whale, Daniel in the den of lions, are examples of the manner in which Providence distinguishes (religious) men from brutes. If therefore the Providence which manifests itself in the organs with which animals catch and devour their prey, and which is so greatly admired by Christian naturalists, is a truth, the Providence of the Bible, the Providence of religion, is a falsehood; and vice versa. What pitiable and at the same time ludicrous hypocrisy is the attempt to do homage to both, to Nature and the Bible at once! How does Nature contradict the Bible! How does the Bible contradict Nature! The God of Nature reveals himself by giving to the lion strength and appropriate organs in order that, for the preservation of his life, he may in case of necessity kill and devour even a human being; the God of the Bible reveals himself by interposing his own aid to rescue the human being from the jaws of the lion![5]

Providence is a privilege of man. It expresses the value of man, in distinction from other natural beings and things; it exempts him from the connexion of the universe. Providence is the conviction of man of the infinite value of his existence,—a conviction in which he renounces faith in the reality of external things; it is the idealism of religion. Faith in Providence is therefore identical with faith in personal immortality; save only, that in the latter the infinite value of existence is expressed in relation to time, as infinite duration. He who prefers no special claims, who is indifferent about himself, who identifies himself with the world, who sees himself as a part merged in the whole,—such a one believes in no Providence, i.e., in no special Providence; but only special Providence is Providence in the sense of religion. Faith in Providence is faith in one’s own worth, the faith of man in himself; hence the beneficent consequences of this faith, but hence also false humility, religious arrogance, which, it is true, does not rely on itself, but only because it commits the care of itself to the blessed God. God concerns himself about me; he has in view my happiness, my salvation; he wills that I shall be blest; but that is my will also: thus, my interest is God’s interest, my own will is God’s will, my own aim is God’s aim,—God’s love for me nothing else than my self-love deified. Thus when I believe in Providence, in what do I believe but in the divine reality and significance of my own being?

But where Providence is believed in, belief in God is made dependent on belief in Providence. He who denies that there is a Providence, denies that there is a God, or—what is the same thing—that God is God; for a God who is not the Providence of man, is a contemptible God, a God who is wanting in the divinest, most adorable attribute. Consequently, the belief in God is nothing but the belief in human dignity,[6] the belief in the absolute reality and significance of the human nature. But belief in a (religious) Providence is belief in creation out of nothing, and vice versa; the latter, therefore, can have no other significance than that of Providence as just developed, and it has actually no other. Religion sufficiently expresses this by making man the end of creation. All things exist, not for their own sake, but for the sake of man. He who, like the pious Christian naturalists, pronounces this to be pride, declares Christianity itself to be pride; for to say that the material world exists for the sake of man, implies infinitely less than to say that God—or at least, if we follow Paul, a being who is almost God, scarcely to be distinguished from God—becomes man for the sake of men.

But if man is the end of creation, he is also the true cause of creation, for the end is the principle of action. The distinction between man as the end of creation, and man as its cause, is only that the cause is the latent, inner man, the essential man, whereas the end is the self-evident, empirical, individual man,—that man recognises himself as the end of creation, but not as the cause, because he distinguishes the cause, the essence from himself as another personal being.[7] But this other being, this creative principle, is in fact nothing else than his subjective nature separated from the limits of individuality and materiality, i.e., of objectivity, unlimited will, personality posited out of all connexion with the world,—which by creation, i.e., the positing of the world, of objectivity, of another, as a dependent, finite, non-essential existence, gives itself the certainty of its exclusive reality. The point in question in the Creation is not the truth and reality of the world, but the truth and reality of personality, of subjectivity in distinction from the world. The point in question is the personality of God; but the personality of God is the personality of man freed from all the conditions and limitations of Nature. Hence the fervent interest in the Creation, the horror of all pantheistic cosmogonies. The Creation, like the idea of a personal God in general, is not a scientific, but a personal matter; not an object of the free intelligence, but of the feelings; for the point on which it hinges is only the guarantee, the last conceivable proof and demonstration of personality or subjectivity as an essence quite apart, having nothing in common with Nature, a supra- and extramundane entity.[8]

Man distinguishes himself from Nature. This distinction of his is his God: the distinguishing of God from Nature is nothing else than the distinguishing of man from Nature. The antithesis of pantheism and personalism resolves itself into the question: is the nature of man transcendental or immanent, supranaturalistic or naturalistic? The speculations and controversies concerning the personality or impersonality of God are therefore fruitless, idle, uncritical, and odious; for the speculatists, especially those who maintain the personality, do not call the thing by the right name; they put the light under a bushel. While they in truth speculate only concerning themselves, only in the interest of their own instinct of self-preservation; they yet will not allow that they are splitting their brains only about themselves; they speculate under the delusion that they are searching out the mysteries of another being. Pantheism identifies man with Nature, whether with its visible appearance, or its abstract essence. Personalism isolates, separates him from Nature; converts him from a part into the whole, into an absolute essence by himself. This is the distinction. If, therefore, you would be clear on these subjects, exchange your mystical, perverted anthropology, which you call theology, for real anthropology, and speculate in the light of consciousness and Nature concerning the difference or identity of the human essence with the essence of Nature. You yourselves admit that the essence of the pantheistical God is nothing but the essence of Nature. Why, then, will you only see the mote in the eyes of your opponents, and not observe the very obvious beam in your own eyes? why make yourselves an exception to a universally valid law? Admit that your personal God is nothing else than your own personal nature, that while you believe in and construct your supra- and extra-natural God, you believe in and construct nothing else than the supra- and extranaturalism of your own self.

In the Creation, as everywhere else, the true principle is concealed by the intermingling of universal, metaphysical, and even pantheistic definitions. But one need only be attentive to the closer definitions to convince oneself that the true principle of creation is the self-affirmation of subjectivity in distinction from Nature. God produces the world outside himself; at first it is only an idea, a plan, a resolve; now it becomes an act, and therewith it steps forth out of God as a distinct and, relatively at least, a self-subsistent object. But just so subjectivity in general, which distinguishes itself from the world, which takes itself for an essence distinct from the world, posits the world out of itself as a separate existence, indeed, this positing out of self, and the distinguishing of self, is one act. When therefore the world is posited outside of God, God is posited by himself, is distinguished from the world. What else then is God but your subjective nature, when the world is separated from it?[9] It is true that when astute reflection intervenes, the distinction between extra and intra is disavowed as a finite and human (?) distinction. But to the disavowal by the understanding, which in relation to religion is pure misunderstanding, no credit is due. If it is meant seriously, it destroys the foundation of the religious consciousness; it does away with the possibility, the very principle of the creation, for this rests solely on the reality of the abovementioned distinction. Moreover, the effect of the creation, all its majesty for the feelings and the imagination, is quite lost, if the production of the world out of God is not taken in the real sense. What is it to make, to create, to produce, but to make that which in the first instance is only subjective, and so far invisible, non-existent, into something objective, perceptible, so that other beings besides me may know and enjoy it, and thus to put something out of myself, to make it distinct from myself? Where there is no reality or possibility of an existence external to me, there can be no question of making or creating. God is eternal, but the world had a commencement; God was, when as yet the world was not; God is invisible, not cognizable by the senses, but the world is visible, palpable, material, and therefore outside of God; for how can the material as such, body, matter, be in God? The world exists outside of God, in the same sense in which a tree, an animal, the world in general, exists outside of my conception, outside of myself, is an existence distinct from subjectivity. Hence, only when such an external existence is admitted, as it was by the older philosophers and theologians, have we the genuine, unmixed doctrine of the religious consciousness. The speculative theologians and philosophers of modern times, on the contrary, foist in all sorts of pantheistic definitions, although they deny the principle of pantheism; and the result of this process is simply an absolutely self-contradictory, insupportable fabrication of their own.

Thus the creation of the world expresses nothing else than subjectivity, assuring itself of its own reality and infinity through the consciousness that the world is created, is a product of will, i.e., a dependent, powerless, unsubstantial existence. The “nothing” out of which the world was produced, is a still inherent nothingness. When thou sayest the world was made out of nothing, thou conceivest the world itself as nothing, thou clearest away from thy head all the limits to thy imagination, to thy feelings, to thy will, for the world is the limitation of thy will, of thy desire; the world alone obstructs thy soul; it alone is the wall of separation between thee and God,—thy beatified, perfected nature. Thus, subjectively, thou annihilatest the world; thou thinkest God by himself, i.e., absolutely unlimited subjectivity, the subjectivity or soul which enjoys itself alone, which needs not the world, which knows nothing of the painful bonds of matter. In the inmost depths of thy soul thou wouldest rather there were no world, for where the world is, there is matter, and where there is matter there is weight and resistance, space and time, limitation and necessity. Nevertheless, there is a world, there is matter. How dost thou escape from the dilemma of this contradiction? How dost thou expel the world from thy consciousness, that it may not disturb thee in the beatitude of the unlimited soul? Only by making the world itself a product of will, by giving it an arbitrary existence always hovering between existence and non-existence, always awaiting its annihilation. Certainly the act of creation does not suffice to explain the existence of the world or matter (the two are not separable), but it is a total misconception to demand this of it, for the fundamental idea of the creation is this: there is to be no world, no matter; and hence its end is daily looked forward to with longing. The world in its truth does not here exist at all, it is regarded only as the obstruction, the limitation of subjectivity; how could the world in its truth and reality be deduced from a principle which denies the world?

In order to recognise the above developed significance of the creation as the true one, it is only necessary seriously to consider the fact, that the chief point in the creation is not the production of earth and water, plants and animals, for which indeed there is no God, but the production of personal beings—of spirits, according to the ordinary phrase. God is the idea of personality as itself a person, subjectivity existing in itself apart from the world, existing for self alone, without wants, posited as absolute existence, the me without a thee. But as absolute existence for self alone contradicts the idea of true life, the idea of love; as self-consciousness is essentially united with the consciousness of a thee, as solitude cannot, at least in perpetuity, preserve itself from tedium and uniformity; thought immediately proceeds from the divine Being to other conscious beings, and expands the idea of personality which was at first condensed in one being to a plurality of persons.[10] If the person is conceived physically, as a real man, in which form he is a being with wants, he appears first at the end of the physical world, when the conditions of his existence are present,—as the goal of creation. If, on the other hand, man is conceived abstractly as a person, as is the case in religious speculation, this circuit is dispensed with, and the task is the direct deduction of the person, i.e., the self-demonstration, the ultimate self-verification of the human personality. It is true that the divine personality is distinguished in every possible way from the human in order to veil their identity; but these distinctions are either purely fantastic, or they are mere assertions, devices which exhibit the invalidity of the attempted deduction. All positive grounds of the creation reduce themselves only to the conditions, to the grounds, which urge upon the me the consciousness of the necessity of another personal being. Speculate as much as you will, you will never derive your personality from God, if you have not beforehand introduced it, if God himself be not already the idea of your personality, your own subjective nature.


  1. “Quare fecit Deus coelum et terram? Quia voluit. Voluntas enim Dei causa est coeli et terrae et ideo major est voluntas Dei quam coelum et terra. Qui autem dicit: quare voluit facere coelum et terram? majus aliquid quaerit, quam est voluntas Dei, nihil enim majus invenire potest.”—Augustinus (de Genesi adv. Manich. 1. i. c. 2).
  2. A more profound origin of the creation out of nothing lies in the emotional nature, as is both directly and indirectly declared in this work. But arbitrariness is, in fact, the will of the emotions, their external manifestation of force.
  3. “Certissimum divinae providentiae testimonium praebent miracula.”—H. Grotius (de Verit. Rel. Christ. 1. i. § 13).
  4. It is true that religious naturalism, or the acknowledgment of the Divine in Nature, is also an element of the Christian religion, and yet more of the Mosaic, which was so friendly to animals. But it is by no means the characteristic, the Christian tendency of the Christian religion. The Christian, the religious Providence, is quite another than that which clothes the lilies and feeds the ravens. The natural Providence lets a man sink in the water, if he has not learned to swim; but the Christian, the religious Providence, leads him with the hand of omnipotence over the water unharmed.
  5. In this contrast of the religious, or biblical, and the natural Providence, the author had especially in view the vapid, narrow theology of the English natural philosophers.
  6. “Qui Deos negant, nobilitatem generis humani destruunt.”—Bacon (Sermones Fideles 16).
  7. In Clemens Alex. (Coh. ad Gentes) there is an interesting passage. It runs in the Latin translation (the bad Augsburg edition, 1778) thus:—“At nos ante mundi constitutionem fuimus, ratione futurae nostrae productionis, in ipso Deo quodammodo tum præexistentes. Divini igitur Verbi sive Rationis, nos creaturæ rationales sumus, et per eum primi esse dicimur, quoniam in principio erat verbum.” Yet more decidedly, however, has Christian mysticism declared the human nature to be the creative principle, the ground of the world. “Man, who, before time was, existed in eternity, works with God all the works that God wrought a thousand years ago, and now, after a thousand years, still works.” “All creatures have sprung forth through man.”—Predigten, vor u. zu Tauleri Zeiten. (Ed. c. p. 5, p. 119).
  8. Hence is explained why all attempts of speculative theology and of its kindred philosophy to make the transition from God to the world, or to derive the world from God, have failed and must fail. Namely, because they are fundamentally false, from being made in ignorance of the idea on which the Creation really turns.
  9. It is not admissible to urge against this the omnipresence of God, the existence of God in all things, or the existence of things in God. For, apart from the consideration that the future destruction of the world expresses clearly enough its existence outside of God, i.e., its non-divineness, God is in a special manner only in man; but I am at home only where I am specially at home. “Nowhere is God properly God, but in the soul. In all creatures there is something of God; but in the soul God exists completely, for it is his resting-place.”—Predigten etzlicher Lehrer, &c., p. 19. And the existence of things in God, especially where it has no pantheistic significance, and any such is here excluded, is equally an idea without reality, and does not express the special sentiments of religion.
  10. Here is also the point where the Creation represents to us not only the Divine power, but also the Divine love. “Quia bonus est (Deus), sumus.” (Augustin.) In the beginning, before the world, God was alone. “Ante omnia Deus erat solus, ipsi sibi et mundus et locus et omnia. Solus autem; quia nihil extrinsecus præter ipsum.” (Tertullian). But there is no higher happiness than to make another happy, bliss lies in the act of imparting. And only joy, only love imparts. Hence man conceives imparting love as the principle of existence. “Extasis boni non sinit ipsum manere in se ipso.” (Dionysius A.) Everything positive establishes, attests itself, only by itself. The divine love is the joy of life, establishing itself, affirming itself. But the highest self-consciousness of life, the supreme joy of life is the love which confers happiness. God is the bliss of existence.