The Essence of Christianity/Chapter XIII

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach
Chapter XIII. The Mystery of Faith—the Mystery of Miracle
CHAPTER XIII.


THE MYSTERY OF FAITH—THE MYSTERY OF MIRACLE.


Faith in the power of prayer—and only where a power, an objective power, is ascribed to it, is prayer still a religious truth,—is identical with faith in miraculous power; and faith in miracles is identical with the essence of faith in general. Faith alone prays; the prayer of faith is alone effectual. But faith is nothing else than confidence in the reality of the subjective in opposition to the limitations or laws of nature and reason,—that is, of natural reason. The specific object of faith therefore is miracle; faith is the belief in miracle; faith and miracle are absolutely inseparable. That which is objectively miracle, or miraculous power, is subjectively faith; miracle is the outward aspect of faith, faith the inward soul of miracle; faith is the miracle of mind, the miracle of feeling, which merely becomes objective in external miracles. To faith nothing is impossible, and miracle only gives actuality to this omnipotence of faith: miracles are but a visible example of what faith can effect. Unlimitedness, supernaturalness, exaltation of feeling,—transcendence is therefore the essence of faith. Faith has reference only to things which, in contradiction with the limits or laws of Nature and reason, give objective reality to human feelings and human desires. Faith unfetters the wishes of subjectivity from the bonds of natural reason; it confers what nature and reason deny; hence it makes man happy, for it satisfies his most personal wishes. And true faith is discomposed by no doubt. Doubt arises only where I go out of myself, overstep the bounds of my personality, concede reality and a right of suffrage to that which is distinct from myself;—where I know myself to be a subjective, i.e., a limited being, and seek to widen my limits by admitting things external to myself. But in faith the very principle of doubt is annulled; for to faith the subjective is in and by itself the objective—nay, the absolute. Faith is nothing else than belief in the absolute reality of subjectivity. “Faith is that courage in the heart which trusts for all good to God. Such a faith, in which the heart places its reliance on God alone, is enjoined by God in the first commandment, where he says, I am the Lord thy God . . . That is, I alone will be thy God, thou shalt seek no other God; I will help thee out of all trouble. Thou shalt not think that I am an enemy to thee, and will not help thee. When thou thinkest so, thou makest me in thine heart into another God than I am. Wherefore hold it for certain that I am willing to be merciful to thee.”—“As thou behavest thyself, so does God behave. If thou thinkest that he is angry with thee, He is angry; if thou thinkest that He is unmerciful, and will cast thee into hell, He is so. As thou believest of God, so is He to thee.”—“If thou believest it, thou hast it; but if thou believest not, thou hast none of it.”—“Therefore, as we believe, so does it happen to us. If we regard him as our God, He will not be our devil. But if we regard him not as our God, then truly he is not our God, but must be a consuming fire.”—“By unbelief we make God a devil.”[1] Thus, if I believe in a God, I have a God, i.e., faith in God is the God of man. If God is such, whatever it may be, as I believe Him, what else is the nature of God than the nature of faith? Is it possible for thee to believe in a God who regards thee favourably, if thou dost not regard thyself favourably, if thou despairest of man, if he is nothing to thee? What else then is the being of God but the being of man, the absolute self-love of man? If thou believest that God is for thee, thou believest that nothing is or can be against thee, that nothing contradicts thee. But if thou believest that nothing is or can be against thee, thou believest—what?—nothing less than that thou art God.[2] That God is another being is only illusion, only imagination. In declaring that God is for thee, thou declarest that he is thy own being. What then is faith but the infinite self-certainty of man, the undoubting certainty that his own subjective being is the objective, absolute being, the being of beings?

Faith does not limit itself by the idea of a world, a universe, a necessity. For faith there is nothing but God, i.e., limitless subjectivity. Where faith rises the world sinks, nay, has already sunk into nothing. Faith in the real annihilation of the world—in an immediately approaching, a mentally present annihilation of this world, a world antagonistic to the wishes of the Christian, is therefore a phenomenon belonging to the inmost essence of Christianity; a faith which is not properly separable from the other elements of Christian belief, and with the renunciation of which, true, positive Christianity is renounced and denied.[3] The essence of faith, as may be confirmed by an examination of its objects down to the minutest speciality, is the idea that that which man wishes actually is: he wishes to be immortal, therefore he is immortal; he wishes for the existence of a being who can do everything which is impossible to Nature and reason, therefore such a being exists; he wishes for a world which corresponds to the desires of the heart, a world of unlimited subjectivity, i.e., of unperturbed feeling, of uninterrupted bliss, while nevertheless there exists a world the opposite of that subjective one, and hence this world must pass away,—as necessarily pass away as God, or absolute subjectivity, must remain. Faith, love, hope, are the Christian Trinity. Hope has relation to the fulfilment of the promises, the wishes which are not yet fulfilled, but which are to be fulfilled; love has relation to the Being who gives and fulfils these promises; faith to the promises, the wishes, which are already fulfilled, which are historical facts.

Miracle is an essential object of Christianity, an essential article of faith. But what is miracle? A supranaturalistic wish realized—nothing more. The Apostle Paul illustrates the nature of Christian faith by the example of Abraham. Abraham could not, in a natural way, ever hope for posterity; Jehovah nevertheless promised it to him out of special favour; and Abraham believed in spite of Nature. Hence this faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, as merit; for it implies great force of subjectivity to accept as certain something in contradiction with experience, at least with rational, normal experience. But what was the object of this divine promise? Posterity: the object of a human wish. And in what did Abraham believe when he believed in Jehovah? In a Being who can do everything, and can fulfil all wishes. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”[4]

But why do we go so far back as to Abraham? We have the most striking examples much nearer to us. Miracle feeds the hungry, cures men born blind, deaf, and lame, rescues from fatal diseases, and even raises the dead at the prayer of relatives. Thus it satisfies human wishes, and wishes which, though not always intrinsically like the wish for the restoration of the dead, yet in so far as they appeal to miraculous power, to miraculous aid, are transcendental, supranaturalistic. But miracle is distinguished from that mode of satisfying human wishes and needs which is in accordance with Nature and reason, in this respect, that it satisfies the wishes of men in a way corresponding to the nature of wishes—in the most desirable way. Wishes own no restraint, no law, no time; they would be fulfilled without delay on the instant. And behold! miracle is as rapid as a wish is impatient. Miraculous power realizes human wishes in a moment, at one stroke, without any hindrance. That the sick should become well is no miracle; but that they should become so immediately, at a mere word of command,—that is the mystery of miracle. Thus it is not in its product or object that miraculous agency is distinguished from the agency of nature and reason, but only in its mode and process; for if miraculous power were to effect something absolutely new, never before beheld, never conceived, or not even conceivable, it would be practically proved to be an essentially different, and at the same time objective agency. But the agency which in essence, in substance, is natural and accordant with the forms of the senses, and which is supernatural, supersensual, only in the mode or process, is the agency of the imagination. The power of miracle is therefore nothing else than the power of the imagination.

Miraculous agency, is agency directed to an end. The yearning after the departed Lazarus, the desire of his relatives to possess him again, was the motive of the miraculous resuscitation; the satisfaction of this wish, the end. It is true that the miracle happened “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby;” but the message sent to the Master by the sisters of Lazarus, “Behold, he whom thou lovest, is sick,” and the tears which Jesus shed, vindicate for the miracle a human origin and end. The meaning is: to that power which can awaken the dead, no human wish is impossible to accomplish.[5] And the glory of the Son consists in this: that he is acknowledged and reverenced as the being who is able to do what man is unable, but wishes to do. Activity towards an end, is well known to describe a circle: in the end it returns upon its beginning. But miraculous agency is distinguished from the ordinary realization of an object, in that it realizes the end without means, that it effects an immediate identity of the wish and its fulfilment; that consequently it describes a circle, not in a curved, but in a straight line, that is, the shortest line. A circle in a straight line is the mathematical symbol of miracle. The attempt to construct a circle with a straight line, would not be more ridiculous than the attempt to deduce miracle philosophically. To reason, miracle is absurd, inconceivable; as inconceivable as wooden iron, or a circle without a periphery. Before it is discussed whether a miracle can happen, let it be shown that miracle, i.e., the inconceivable, is conceivable.

What suggests to man the notion that miracle is conceivable is, that miracle is represented as an event perceptible by the senses, and hence man cheats his reason by material images which screen the contradiction. The miracle of the turning of water into wine, for example, implies in fact nothing else than that water is wine,—nothing else than that two absolutely contradictory predicates or subjects are identical; for in the hand of the miracle-worker there is no distinction between the two substances; the transformation is only the visible appearance of this identity of two contradictories. But the transformation conceals the contradiction, because the natural conception of change is interposed. Here, however, is no gradual, no natural, or, so to speak, organic change; but an absolute, immaterial one; a pure creatio ex nihilo. In the mysterious and momentous act of miraculous power, in the act which constitutes the miracle, water is suddenly and imperceptibly wine: which is equivalent to saying that iron is wood, or wooden iron.

The miraculous act—and miracle is only a transient act—is therefore not an object of thought, for it nullifies the very principle of thought; but it is just as little an object of sense, an object of real or even possible experience. Water is indeed an object of sense, and wine also; I first see water, and then wine; but the miracle itself, that which makes this water suddenly wine,—this, not being a natural process, but a pure perfect without any antecedent imperfect, without any modus, without way or means, is no object of real, or even of possible experience. Miracle is a thing of the imagination; and on that very account is it so agreeable: for the imagination is the faculty which alone corresponds to personal feeling, because it sets aside all limits, all laws which are painful to the feelings, and thus makes objective to man the immediate, absolutely unlimited satisfaction of his subjective wishes.[6] Accordance with subjective inclination, is the essential characteristic of miracle. It is true that miracle produces also an awful, agitating impression, so far as it expresses a power which nothing can resist,—the power of the imagination. But this impression lies only in the transient miraculous act; the abiding, essential impression is the agreeable one. At the moment in which the beloved Lazarus is raised up, the surrounding relatives and friends are awe-struck at the extraordinary, almighty power which transforms the dead into the living; but soon the relatives fall into the arms of the risen one, and lead him with tears of joy to his home, there to celebrate a festival of rejoicing. Miracle springs out of feeling, and has its end in feeling. Even in the traditional representation it does not deny its origin; the representation which gratifies the feelings is alone the adequate one. Who can fail to recognise in the narrative of the resurrection of Lazarus, the tender, pleasing, legendary tone?[7] Miracle is agreeable, because, as has been said, it satisfies the wishes of man without labour, without effort. Labour is unimpassioned, unbelieving, rationalistic; for man here makes his existence dependent on activity directed to an end, which activity again is itself determined solely by the idea of the objective world. But feeling does not at all trouble itself about the objective world; it does not go out of or beyond itself; it is happy in itself. The element of culture, the northern principle of self-renunciation, is wanting to the emotional nature. The Apostles and Evangelists were no scientifically cultivated men. Culture, in general, is nothing else than the exaltation of the individual above his subjectivity to objective universal ideas, to the contemplation of the world. The Apostles were men of the people; the people live only in themselves, in their feelings: therefore Christianity took possession of the people. Vox populi vox Dei. Did Christianity conquer a single philosopher, historian, or poet, of the classical period? The philosophers who went over to Christianity were feeble, contemptible philosophers. All who had yet the classic spirit in them were hostile, or at least indifferent to Christianity. The decline of culture was identical with the victory of Christianity. The classic spirit, the spirit of culture, limits itself by laws,—not indeed by arbitrary, finite laws, but by inherently true and valid ones; it is determined by the necessity, the truth of the nature of things; in a word, it is the objective spirit. In place of this, there entered with Christianity the principle of unlimited, extravagant, fanatical, supranaturalistic subjectivity; a principle intrinsically opposed to that of science, of culture.[8] With Christianity man lost the capability of conceiving himself as a part of Nature, of the universe. As long as true, unfeigned, unfalsified, uncompromising Christianity existed, as long as Christianity was a living, practical truth, so long did real miracles happen; and they necessarily happened, for faith in dead, historical, past miracles is itself a dead faith, the first step towards unbelief, or rather the first and therefore the timid, uncandid, servile mode in which unbelief in miracle finds vent. But where miracles happen, all definite forms melt in the golden haze of imagination and feeling; there the world, reality, is no truth; there the miracle-working, emotional, i.e., subjective being, is held to be alone the objective, real being.

To the merely emotional man the imagination is immediately, without his willing or knowing it, the highest, the dominant activity; and being the highest, it is the activity of God, the creative activity. To him feeling is an immediate truth and reality; he cannot abstract himself from his feelings, he cannot get beyond them: and equally real is his imagination. The imagination is not to him what it is to us men of active understanding, who distinguish it as subjective from objective cognition; it is immediately identical with himself, with his feelings, and since it is identical with his being, it is his essential, objective, necessary view of things. For us, indeed, imagination is an arbitrary activity; but where man has not imbibed the principle of culture, of theory, where he lives and moves only in his feelings, the imagination is an immediate, involuntary activity.

The explanation of miracles by feeling and imagination is regarded by many in the present day as superficial. But let any one transport himself to the time when living, present miracles were believed in; when the reality of things without us was as yet no sacred article of faith; when men were so void of any theoretic interest in the world, that they from day to day looked forward to its destruction; when they lived only in the rapturous prospect and hope of heaven, that is, in the imagination of it (for whatever heaven may be, for them, so long as they were on earth, it existed only in the imagination); when this imagination was not a fiction but a truth, nay, the eternal, alone abiding truth, not an inert, idle source of consolation, but a practical moral principle determining actions, a principle to which men joyfully sacrificed real life, the real world with all its glories;—let him transport himself to those times and he must himself be very superficial to pronounce the psychological genesis of miracles superficial. It is no valid objection that miracles have happened, or are supposed to have happened, in the presence of whole assemblies: no man was independent, all were filled with exalted supranaturalistic ideas and feelings; all were animated by the same faith, the same hope, the same hallucinations. And who does not know that there are common or similar dreams, common or similar visions, especially among impassioned individuals who are closely united and restricted to their own circle? But be that as it may. If the explanation of miracles by feeling and imagination is superficial, the charge of superficiality falls not on the explainer but on that which he explains, namely, on miracle; for, seen in clear daylight, miracle presents absolutely nothing else than the sorcery of the imagination, which satisfies without contradiction all the wishes of the heart.[9]


Footnotes

  1. Luther (T. xv. p. 282. T. xvi. pp. 491-493).
  2. “God is Almighty; but he who believes is a God.” Luther (in Chr. Kapps Christus u. die Weltgeschichte, s. 11). In another place Luther calls faith the “Creator of the Godhead;” it is true that he immediately adds, as he must necessarily do on his standpoint, the following limitation:—“Not that it creates anything in the Divine Eternal Being, but that it creates that Being in us.” (Th. xi. p. 161).
  3. This belief is so essential to the Bible, that without it the biblical writers can scarcely be understood. The passage, 2 Pet. iii. 8, as is evident from the tenor of the whole chapter, says nothing in opposition to an immediate destruction of the world; for though with the Lord a thousand years are as one day, yet at the same time one day is as a thousand years, and therefore the world may, even by tomorrow, no longer exist. That in the Bible a very near end of the world is expected and prophesied, although the day and hour are not determined, only falsehood or blindness can deny.—See on this subject Lützelberger. Hence religious Christians, in almost all times, have believed that the destruction of the world is near at hand—Luther, for example, often says that “The last day is not far off,” (e.g., Th. xvi. p. 26);—or at least their souls have longed for the end of the world, though they have prudently left it undecided whether it be near or distant. See Augustin (de Fine Saeculi ad Hesychium, c. 13).
  4. Gen. xviii. 14.
  5. “To the whole world it is impossible to raise the dead, but to the Lord Christ, not only is it not impossible, but it is no trouble or labour to him. . . . This Christ did as a witness and a sign that he can and will raise from death. He does it not at all times and to every one. . . . It is enough that he has done it a few times; the rest he leaves to the last day.”—Luther (Th. xvi. p. 518). The positive, essential significance of miracle is therefore that the divine nature is the human nature. Miracles confirm, authenticate doctrine. What doctrine? Simply this, that God is a Saviour of men, their Redeemer out of all trouble, i.e., a being corresponding to the wants and wishes of man, and therefore a human being. What the God-man declares in words, miracle demonstrates ad oculos by deeds.
  6. This satisfaction is certainly so far limited, that it is united to religion, to faith in God: a remark which however is so obvious as to be superfluous. But this limitation is in fact no limitation, for God himself is unlimited, absolutely satisfied, self-contented human feeling.
  7. The legends of Catholicism—of course only the best, the really pleasing ones—are, as it were, only the echo of the key-note which predominates in this New Testament narrative. Miracle might be fitly defined as religious humour. Catholicism especially has developed miracle on this its humorous side.
  8. Culture in the sense in which it is here taken. It is highly characteristic of Christianity, and a popular proof of our positions, that the only language in which the Divine Spirit was and is held to reveal himself in Christianity is not the language of a Sophocles or a Plato, of art and philosophy, but the vague, unformed, crudely emotional language of the Bible.
  9. Many miracles may really have had originally a physical or physiological phenomenon as their foundation. But we are here considering only the religious significance and genesis of miracle.