The Essence of Christianity/Chapter XV

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach
Chapter XV. The Mystery of the Christian Christ, or the Personal God
CHAPTER XV.


THE MYSTERY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHRIST, OR THE PERSONAL GOD.


The fundamental dogmas of Christianity are realised wishes of the heart;—the essence of Christianity is the essence of human feeling. It is pleasanter to be passive than to act, to be redeemed and made free by another than to free oneself; pleasanter to make one’s salvation dependent on a person than on the force of one’s own spontaneity; pleasanter to set before oneself an object of love than an object of effort; pleasanter to know oneself beloved by God than merely to have that simple, natural self-love which is innate in all beings; pleasanter to see oneself imaged in the love-beaming eyes of another personal being, than to look into the concave mirror of self or into the cold depths of the ocean of Nature; pleasanter, in short, to allow oneself to be acted on by one’s own feeling as by another, but yet fundamentally identical being, than to regulate oneself by reason. Feeling is the oblique case of the ego, the ego in the accusative. The ego of Fichte is destitute of feeling, because the accusative is the same as the nominative, because it is indeclinable. But feeling or sentiment is the ego acted on by itself, and by itself as another being,—the passive ego. Feeling changes the active in man into the passive, and the passive into the active. To feeling, that which thinks is the thing thought, and the thing thought is that which thinks. Feeling is the dream of Nature; and there is nothing more blissful, nothing more profound than dreaming. But what is dreaming? The reversing of the waking consciousness. In dreaming, the active is the passive, the passive the active; in dreaming, I take the spontaneous action of my own mind for an action upon me from without, my emotions for events, my conceptions and sensations for true existences apart from myself. I suffer what I also perform. Dreaming is a double refraction of the rays of light; hence its indescribable charm. It is the same ego, the same being in dreaming as in waking; the only distinction is, that in waking, the ego acts on itself; whereas in dreaming, it is acted on by itself as by another being. I think myself—is a passionless, rationalistic position; I am thought by God, and think myself only as thought by God—is a position pregnant with feeling, religious. Feeling is a dream with the eyes open; religion the dream of waking consciousness: dreaming is the key to the mysteries of religion.

The highest law of feeling is the immediate unity of will and deed, of wishing and reality. This law is fulfilled by the Redeemer. As external miracles, in opposition to natural activity, realise immediately the physical wants and wishes of man; so the Redeemer, the Mediator, the God-man, in opposition to the moral spontaneity of the natural or rationalistic man, satisfies immediately the inward moral wants and wishes, since he dispenses man on his own side from any intermediate activity. What thou wishest is already effected. Thou desirest to win, to deserve happiness. Morality is the condition, the means of happiness. But thou canst not fulfil this condition; that is, in truth, thou needest not. That which thou seekest to do has already been done. Thou hast only to be passive, thou needest only believe, only enjoy. Thou desirest to make God favourable to thee, to appease his anger, to be at peace with thy conscience. But this peace exists already; this peace is the Mediator, the God-man. He is thy appeased conscience; he is the fulfilment of the law, and therewith the fulfilment of thy own wish and effort.

Therefore it is no longer the law, but the fulfiller of the law, who is the model, the guiding thread, the rule of thy life. He who fulfils the law annuls the law. The law has authority, has validity, only in relation to him who violates it. But he who perfectly fulfils the law says to it: What thou willest I spontaneously will, and what thou commandest I enforce by deeds; my life is the true, the living law. The fulfiller of the law, therefore, necessarily steps into the place of the law; moreover he becomes a new law, one whose yoke is light and easy. For in place of the merely imperative law, he presents himself as an example, as an object of love, of admiration and emulation, and thus becomes the Saviour from sin. The law does not give me the power to fulfil the law; no! it is hard and merciless; it only commands, without troubling itself whether I can fulfil it, or how I am to fulfil it; it leaves me to myself, without counsel or aid. But he who presents himself to me as an example, lights up my path, takes me by the hand, and imparts to me his own strength. The law lends no power of resisting sin, but example works miracles. The law is dead; but example animates, inspires, carries men involuntarily along with it. The law speaks only to the understanding, and sets itself directly in opposition to the instincts; example, on the contrary, appeals to a powerful instinct immediately connected with the activity of the senses, that of involuntary imitation. Example operates on the feelings and imagination. In short, example has magical, i.e., sense-affecting powers; for the magical or involuntary force of attraction is an essential property, as of matter in general, so in particular of that which affects the senses.

The ancients said that if virtue could become visible, its beauty would win and inspire all hearts. The Christians were so happy as to see even this wish fulfilled. The heathens had an unwritten, the Jews a written law; the Christians had a model—a visible, personal, living law, a law made flesh. Hence the joyfulness especially of the primitive Christians, hence the glory of Christianity that it alone contains and bestows the power to resist sin. And this glory is not to be denied it. Only it is to be observed that the power of the exemplar of virtue is not so much the power of virtue as the power of example in general; just as the power of religious music is not the power of religion, but the power of music;[1] and that therefore, though the image of virtue has virtuous actions as its consequences, these actions are destitute of the dispositions and motives of virtue. But this simple and true sense of the redeeming and reconciling power of example in distinction from the power of law, to which we have reduced the antithesis of the law and Christ, by no means expresses the full religious significance of the Christian redemption and reconciliation. In this everything reduces itself to the personal power of that miraculous intermediate being who is neither God alone nor man alone, but a man who is also God, and a God who is also man, and who can therefore only be comprehended in connection with the significance of miracle. In this, the miraculous Redeemer is nothing else than the realised wish of feeling to be free from the laws of morality, i.e., from the conditions to which virtue is united in the natural course of things; the realised wish to be freed from moral evils instantaneously, immediately, by a stroke of magic, that is, in an absolutely subjective, agreeable way. “The word of God,” says Luther, for example, “accomplishes all things swiftly, brings forgiveness of sins, and gives thee eternal life, and costs nothing more than that thou shouldst hear the word, and when thou hast heard it shouldst believe. If thou believest, thou hast it without pains, cost, delay, or difficulty.”[2] But that hearing of the word of God which is followed by faith is itself a “gift of God.” Thus faith is nothing else than a psychological miracle, a supernatural operation of God in man, as Luther likewise says. But man becomes free from sin and from the consciousness of guilt only through faith,—morality is dependent on faith, the virtues of the heathens are only splendid sins; thus he becomes morally free and good only through miracle.

That the idea of miraculous power is one with the idea of the intermediate being, at once divine and human, has historical proof in the fact that the miracles of the Old Testament, the delivery of the law, providence—all the elements which constitute the essence of religion, were in the later Judaism attributed to the Logos. In Philo, however, this Logos still hovers in the air between heaven and earth, now as abstract, now as concrete; that is, Philo vacillates between himself as a philosopher and himself as a religious Israelite, between the positive element of religion and the metaphysical idea of deity; but in such a way that even the abstract element is with him more or less invested with imaginative forms. In Christianity this Logos first attained perfect consistence, i.e., religion now concentrated itself exclusively on that element, that object, which is the basis of its essential difference. The Logos is the personified essence of religion. Hence the definition of God as the essence of feeling has its complete truth only in the Logos.

God as God is feeling as yet shut up, hidden; only Christ is the unclosed, open feeling or heart. In Christ feeling is first perfectly certain of itself, and assured beyond doubt of the truth and divinity of its own nature; for Christ denies nothing to feeling; he fulfils all its prayers. In God the soul is still silent as to what affects it most closely,—it only sighs; but in Christ it speaks out fully; here it has no longer any reserves. To him who only sighs, wishes are still attended with disquietude; he rather complains that what he wishes is not, than openly, positively declares what he wishes; he is still in doubt whether his wishes have the force of law. But in Christ, all anxiety of the soul vanishes; he is the sighing soul passed into a song of triumph over its complete satisfaction; he is the joyful certainty of feeling that its wishes hidden in God have truth and reality, the actual victory over death, over all the powers of the world and Nature, the resurrection no longer merely hoped for, but already accomplished; he is the heart released from all oppressive limits, from all sufferings,—the soul in perfect blessedness, the Godhead made visible.[3]

To see God is the highest wish, the highest triumph of the heart. Christ is this wish, this triumph, fulfilled. God, as an object of thought only, i.e., God as God, is always a remote being; the relation to him is an abstract one, like that relation of friendship in which we stand to a man who is distant from us, and personally unknown to us. However his works, the proofs of love which he gives us, may make his nature present to us, there always remains an unfilled void,—the heart is unsatisfied, we long to see him. So long as we have not met a being face to face, we are always in doubt whether he be really such as we imagine him; actual presence alone gives final confidence, perfect repose. Christ is God known personally; Christ, therefore, is the blessed certainty that God is what the soul desires and needs him to be. God, as the object of prayer, is indeed already a human being, since he sympathizes with human misery, grants human wishes; but still he is not yet an object to the religious consciousness as a real man. Hence, only in Christ is the last wish of religion realised, the mystery of religious feeling solved:—solved however in the language of imagery proper to religion, for what God is in essence, that Christ is in actual appearance. So far the Christian religion may justly be called the absolute religion. That God, who in himself is nothing else than the nature of man, should also have a real existence as such, should be as man an object to the consciousness—this is the goal of religion; and this the Christian religion has attained in the incarnation of God, which is by no means a transitory act, for Christ remains man even after his ascension,—man in heart and man in form, only that his body is no longer an earthly one, liable to suffering.

The incarnations of the Deity with the orientals—the Hindoos, for example, have no such intense meaning as the Christian incarnation; just because they happen often they become indifferent, they lose their value. The manhood of God is his personality; the proposition, God is a personal being, means: God is a human being, God is a man. Personality is an abstraction, which has reality only in an actual man.[4] The idea which lies at the foundation of the incarnations of God is therefore infinitely better conveyed by one incarnation, one personality. Where God appears in several persons successively, these personalities are evanescent. What is required is a permanent, an exclusive personality. Where there are many incarnations, room is given for innumerable others; the imagination is not restrained; and even those incarnations which are already real pass into the category of the merely possible and conceivable, into the category of fancies or of mere appearances. But where one personality is exclusively believed in and contemplated, this at once impresses with the power of an historical personality; imagination is done away with, the freedom to imagine others is renounced. This one personality presses on me the belief in its reality. The characteristic of real personality is precisely exclusiveness,—the Leibnitzian principle of distinction, namely, that no one existence is exactly like another. The tone, the emphasis, with which the one personality is expressed, produces such an effect on the feelings, that it presents itself immediately as a real one, and is converted from an object of the imagination into an object of historical knowledge.

Longing is the necessity of feeling, and feeling longs for a personal God. But this longing after the personality of God is true, earnest, and profound only when it is the longing for one personality, when it is satisfied with one. With the plurality of persons the truth of the want vanishes, and personality becomes a mere luxury of the imagination. But that which operates with the force of necessity, operates with the force of reality on man. That which to the feelings is a necessary being, is to them immediately a real being. Longing says: There must be a personal God, i.e., it cannot be that there is not; satisfied feeling says: He is. The guarantee of his existence lies for feeling in its sense of the necessity of his existence the necessity of the satisfaction in the force of the want. Necessity knows no law besides itself; necessity breaks iron. Feeling knows no other necessity than its own, than the necessity of feeling, than longing; it holds in extreme horror the necessity of Nature, the necessity of reason. Thus to feeling, a subjective, sympathetic, personal God is necessary; but it demands one personality alone, and this an historical, real one. Only when it is satisfied in the unity of personality has feeling any concentration; plurality dissipates it.

But as the truth of personality is unity, and as the truth of unity is reality, so the truth of real personality is—blood. The last proof, announced with peculiar emphasis by the author of the fourth Gospel, that the visible person of God was no phantasm, no illusion, but a real man, is that blood flowed from his side on the cross. If the personal God has a true sympathy with distress, he must himself suffer distress. Only in his suffering lies the assurance of his reality; only on this depends the impressiveness of the incarnation. To see God does not satisfy feeling; the eyes give no sufficient guarantee. The truth of vision is confirmed only by touch. But as subjectively touch, so objectively the capability of being touched, palpability, passibility, is the last criterion of reality; hence the passion of Christ is the highest confidence, the highest self-enjoyment, the highest consolation of feeling; for only in the blood of Christ is the thirst for a personal, that is, a human, sympathizing, tender God, allayed.

“Wherefore we hold it to be a pernicious error when such (namely, divine) majesty is taken away from Christ according to his manhood, thereby depriving Christians of their highest consolation, which they have in. . . . the promise of the presence of their Head, King and High Priest, who has promised them that not his mere Godhead, which to us poor sinners is as a consuming fire to dry stubble, but he—he, the Man—who has spoken with us, who has proved all sorrows in the human form which he took upon him, who therefore can have fellow-feeling with us as his brethren,—that he will be with us in all our need, according to the nature whereby he is our brother and we are flesh of his flesh.”[5]

It is superficial to say that Christianity is not the religion of one personal God, but of three personalities. These three personalities have certainly an existence in dogma; but even there the personality of the Holy Spirit is only an arbitrary decision which is contradicted by impersonal definitions; as, for example, that the Holy Spirit is the gift of the Father and Son.[6] Already the very “procession” of the Holy Ghost presents an evil prognostic for his personality, for a personal being is produced only by generation, not by an indefinite emanation or by spiratio. And even the Father, as the representative of the rigorous idea of the Godhead, is a personal being only according to opinion and assertion, not according to his definitions; he is an abstract idea, a purely rationalistic being. Only Christ is the plastic personality. To personality belongs form; form is the reality of personality. Christ alone is the personal God; he is the real God of Christians, a truth which cannot be too often repeated.[7] In him alone is concentrated the Christian religion, the essence of religion in general. He alone meets the longing for a personal God; he alone is an existence identical with the nature of feeling; on him alone are heaped all the joys of the imagination, and all the sufferings of the heart; in him alone are feeling and imagination exhausted. Christ is the blending in one of feeling and imagination.

Christianity is distinguished from other religions by this, that in other religions the heart and imagination are divided, in Christianity they coincide. Here the imagination does not wander, left to itself; it follows the leadings of the heart; it describes a circle, whose centre is feeling. Imagination is here limited by the wants of the heart, it only realises the wishes of feeling, it has reference only to the one thing needful; in brief, it has, at least generally, a practical, concentric tendency, not a vagrant, merely poetic one. The miracles of Christianity—no product of free, spontaneous activity, but conceived in the bosom of yearning, necessitous feeling-place us immediately on the ground of common, real life; they act on the emotional man with irresistible force, because they have the necessity of feeling on their side. The power of imagination is here at the same time the power of the heart,—imagination is only the victorious, triumphant heart. With the Orientals, with the Greeks, imagination, untroubled by the wants of the heart, revelled in the enjoyment of earthly splendour and glory; in Christianity, it descended from the palace of the gods into the abode of poverty, where only want rules,—it humbled itself under the sway of the heart. But the more it limited itself in extent, the more intense became its strength. The wantonness of the Olympian gods could not maintain itself before the rigorous necessity of the heart; but imagination is omnipotent when it has a bond of union with the heart. And this bond between the freedom of the imagination and the necessity of the heart is Christ. All things are subject to Christ; he is the Lord of the world, who does with it what he will; but this unlimited power over Nature is itself again subject to the power of the heart;—Christ commands raging Nature to be still, but only that he may hear the sighs of the needy.


Footnotes

  1. In relation to this, the confession of Augustine is interesting. “Ita fluctuo inter periculum voluptatis et experimentum salubritatis: magisque adducor . . . cantandi consuetudinem approbare in ecclesia, ut per oblectamenta aurium infirmior animus in affectum pietatis assurgat. Tamen cum mihi accidit, ut nos amplius cantus, quam res quae canitur moveat, poenaliter me peccare confiteor.”—Confess. 1. x. c. 33.
  2. Th. xvi. p. 490.
  3. “Because God has given us his Son, he has with him given us everything, whether it be called devil, sin, hell, heaven, righteousness, life; all, all must be ours, because the Son is ours as included.”—Luther (T. xv. P. 311). “The best part of the resurrection has already happened; Christ, the head of through death and risen from the dead. Moreover, the most excellent part of me, my soul, has likewise passed through death, and is with Christ in the heavenly being. What harm, then, can death and the grave do me?”—Luther (T. xvi. p. 235). “A Christian man has equal power with Christ, has fellowship with him and a common tenure.” (T. xiii. p. 648.) “Whoever cleaves to Christ, has as much as he.” (T. xvi. p. 574.)
  4. This exhibits clearly the untruthfulness and vanity of the modern speculations concerning the personality of God. If you are not ashamed of a personal God, do not be ashamed of a corporeal God. An abstract colourless personality, a personality without flesh and blood, is an empty shade.
  5. Concordienb. Erklär. Art. 8.
  6. This was excellently shown by Faustus Socinus. See his Defens. Animadv. in Assert. Theol. Coll. Posnan. de trino et uno Deo. Irenopoli, 1656, c. 11.
  7. Let the reader examine, with reference to this, the writings of the Christian orthodox theologians against the heterodox; for example, against the Socinians. Modern theologians, indeed, agree with the latter, as is well known, in pronouncing the divinity of Christ as accepted by the Church to be unbiblical; but it is undeniably the characteristic principle of Christianity, and even if it does not stand in the Bible in the form which is given to it by dogma, it is nevertheless a necessary consequence of what is found in the Bible. A being who is the fulness of the godhead bodily, who is omniscient (John xvi. 30) and almighty (raises the dead, works miracles), who is before all things, both in time and rank, who has life in himself (though an imparted life) like as the father has life in himself,—what, if we follow out the consequences, can such a being be, but God? “Christ is one with the Father in will;”—but unity of will presupposes unity of nature. “Christ is the ambassador, the representative of God;”—but God can only be represented by a divine being. I can only choose as my representative one in whom I find the same or similar qualities as in myself; otherwise I belie myself.