The Essence of Christianity/Chapter XXII


The grand principle, the central point of Christian sophistry, is the idea of God. God is the human being, and yet he must be regarded as another, a superhuman being. God is universal, abstract Being, simply the idea of Being; and yet he must be conceived as a personal, individual being;—or God is a person, and yet he must be regarded as God, as universal, i.e., not as a personal being. God is; his existence is certain, more certain than ours; he has an existence distinct from us and from things in general, i.e., an individual existence; and yet his existence must be held a spiritual one, i.e., an existence not perceptible as a special one. One half of the definition is always in contradiction with the other half: the statement of what must be held always annihilates the statement of what is. The fundamental idea is a contradiction which can be concealed only by sophisms. A God who does not trouble himself about us, who does not hear our prayers, who does not see us and love us, is no God; thus humanity is made an essential predicate of God;—but at the same time it is said: a God who does not exist in and by himself, out of men, above men, as another being, is a phantom; and thus it is made an essential predicate of God that he is non-human and extra-human. A God who is not as we are, who has not consciousness, not intelligence, i.e., not a personal understanding, a personal consciousness, (as, for example, the “substance” of Spinoza,) is no God. Essential identity with us is the chief condition of deity; the idea of deity is made dependent on the idea of personality, of consciousness, quo nihil majus cogitari potest. But, it is said in the same breath, a God who is not essentially distinguished from us is no God.

The essence of religion is the immediate, involuntary, unconscious contemplation of the human nature as another, a distinct nature. But when this projected image of human nature is made an object of reflection, of theology, it becomes an inexhaustible mine of falsehoods, illusions, contradictions, and sophisms.

A peculiarly characteristic artifice and pretext of Christian sophistry is the doctrine of the unsearchableness, the incomprehensibility of the divine nature. But, as will be shown, the secret of this incomprehensibility is nothing further than that a known quality is made into an unknown one, a natural quality into a supernatural, i.e., an unnatural one, so as to produce the appearance, the illusion, that the divine nature is different from the human, and is eo ipso an incomprehensible one.

In the original sense of religion, the incomprehensibility of God has only the significance of an impassioned expression. Thus, when we are affected by a surprising phenomenon, we exclaim: It is incredible, it is beyond conception! though afterwards, when we recover our self-possession, we find the object of our astonishment nothing less than incomprehensible. In the truly religious sense, incomprehensibility is not the dead full stop which reflection places wherever understanding deserts it, but a pathetic note of exclamation marking the impression which the imagination makes on the feelings. The imagination is the original organ of religion. Between God and man, in the primitive sense of religion, there is on the one hand only a distinction in relation to existence, according to which God as a self-subsistent being is the antithesis of man as a dependent being; on the other hand there is only a quantitative distinction, i.e., a distinction derived from the imagination, for the distinctions of the imagination are only quantitative. The infinity of God in religion is quantitative infinity; God is and has all that man has, but in an infinitely greater measure. The nature of God is the nature of the imagination unfolded, made objective.[1] God is a being conceived under the forms of the senses, but freed from the limits of sense,—a being at once unlimited and sensational. But what is the imagination?—limitless activity of the senses. God is eternal, i.e., he exists at all times; God is omnipresent, i.e., he exists in all places; God is the omniscient being, i.e., the being to whom every individual thing, every sensible existence, is an object without distinction, without limitation of time and place.

Eternity and omnipresence are sensational qualities, for in them there is no negation of existence in time and space, but only of exclusive limitation to a particular time, to a particular place. In like manner omniscience is a sensational quality, a sensational knowledge. Religion has no hesitation in attributing to God himself the nobler senses: God sees and hears all things. But the divine omniscience is a power of knowing through the senses while yet the necessary quality, the essential determination of actual knowledge through the senses is denied to it. My senses present sensible objects to me only separately and in succession; but God sees all sensible things at once, all locality in an unlocal manner, all temporal things in an untemporal manner, all objects of sense in an unsensational manner.[2] That is to say: I extend the horizon of my senses by the imagination; I form to myself a confused conception of the whole of things; and this conception, which exalts me above the limited stand-point of the senses, and therefore affects me agreeably, I posit as a divine reality. I feel the fact that my knowledge is tied to a local stand-point, to sensational experience, as a limitation; what I feel as a limitation I do away with in my imagination, which furnishes free space for the play of my feelings. This negativing of limits by the imagination is the positing of omniscience as a divine power and reality. But at the same time there is only a quantitative distinction between omniscience and my knowledge; the quality of the knowledge is the same. In fact it would be impossible for me to predicate omniscience of an object or being external to myself, if this omniscience were essentially different from my own knowledge, if it were not a mode of perception of my own, if it had nothing in common with my own power of cognition. That which is recognised by the senses is as much the object and content of the divine omniscience as of my knowledge. Imagination does away only with the limit of quantity, not of quality. The proposition that our knowledge is limited, means: we know only some things, a few things, not all.

The beneficial influence of religion rests on this extension of the sensational consciousness. In religion man is in the open air, sub deo; in the sensational consciousness he is in his narrow confined dwelling-house. Religion has relation essentially, originally—and only in its origin is it something holy, true, pure, and good—to the immediate sensational consciousness alone; it is the setting aside of the limits of sense. Isolated, uninstructed men and nations preserve religion in its original sense, because they themselves remain in that mental state which is the source of religion. The more limited a man’s sphere of vision, the less he knows of history, Nature, philosophy—the more ardently does he cling to his religion.

For this reason the religious man feels no need of culture. Why had the Hebrews no art, no science, as the Greeks had? Because they felt no need of it. To them this need was supplied by Jehovah. In the divine omniscience man raises himself above the limits of his own knowledge;[3] in the divine omnipresence, above the limits of his local stand-point; in the divine eternity, above the limits of his time. The religious man is happy in his imagination; he has all things in nuce; his possessions are always portable. Jehovah accompanies me everywhere; I need not travel out of myself; I have in my God the sum of all treasures and precious things, of all that is worth knowledge and remembrance. But culture is dependent on external things; it has many and various wants, for it overcomes the limits of sensational consciousness and life by real activity, not by the magical power of the religious imagination. Hence the Christian religion also, as has been often mentioned already, has in its essence no principle of culture, for it triumphs over the limitations and difficulties of earthly life only through the imagination, only in God, in heaven. God is all that the heart needs and desires—all good things, all blessings. “Dost thou desire love, or faithfulness, or truth, or consolation, or perpetual presence, this is always in Him without measure. Dost thou desire beauty—He is the supremely beautiful. Dost thou desire riches—all riches are in Him. Dost thou desire power—He is supremely powerful. Or whatever thy heart desires, it is found a thousandfold in Him, in the best, the single good, which is God.”[4] But how can he who has all in God, who already enjoys heavenly bliss in the imagination, experience that want, that sense of poverty, which is the impulse to all culture? Culture has no other object than to realize an earthly heaven; and the religious heaven is only realized or won by religious activity.

The difference, however, between God and man, which is originally only quantitative, is by reflection developed into a qualitative difference; and thus what was originally only an emotional impression, an immediate expression of admiration, of rapture, an influence of the imagination on the feelings, has fixity given to it as an objective quality, as real incomprehensibility. The favourite expression of reflection in relation to this subject is, that we can indeed know concerning God that he has such and such attributes, but not how he has them. For example, that the predicate of the Creator essentially belongs to God, that he created the world, and not out of matter already existing, but out of nothing, by an act of almighty power,—this is clear, certain—yes, indubitable; but how this is possible naturally passes our understanding. That is to say: the generic idea is clear, certain, but the specific idea is unclear, uncertain.

The idea of activity, of making, of creation, is in itself a divine idea; it is therefore unhesitatingly applied to God. In activity, man feels himself free, unlimited, happy; in passivity, limited, oppressed, unhappy. Activity is the positive sense of one’s personality. That is positive which in man is accompanied with joy; hence God is, as we have already said, the idea of pure, unlimited joy. We succeed only in what we do willingly; joyful effort conquers all things. But that is joyful activity which is in accordance with our nature, which we do not feel as a limitation, and consequently not as a constraint. And the happiest, the most blissful activity is that which is productive. To read is delightful, reading is passive activity; but to produce what is worthy to be read is more delightful still. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Hence this attribute of the species—productive activity—is assigned to God; that is, realized and made objective as divine activity. But every special determination, every mode of activity is abstracted, and only the fundamental determination, which however is essentially human, namely, production of what is external to self, is retained. God has not, like man, produced something in particular, this or that, but all things; his activity is absolutely universal, unlimited. Hence it is self-evident, it is a necessary consequence, that the mode in which God has produced the All is incomprehensible, because this activity is no mode of activity, because the question concerning the how is here an absurdity, a question which is excluded by the fundamental idea of unlimited activity. Every special activity produces its effects in a special manner, because there the activity itself is a determinate mode of activity; and thence necessarily arises the question: How did it produce this? But the answer to the question: How did God make the world? has necessarily a negative issue, because the world-creating activity in itself negatives every determinate activity, such as would alone warrant the question, every mode of activity connected with a determinate medium, i.e., with matter. This question illegitimately foists in between the subject or producing activity, and the object or thing produced, an irrelevant, nay, an excluded intermediate idea, namely, the idea of particular, individual existence. The activity in question has relation only to the collective—the All, the world; God created all things, not some particular thing; the indefinite whole, the All, as it is embraced by the imagination,—not the determinate, the particular, as, in its particularity, it presents itself to the senses, and as, in its totality as the universe, it presents itself to the reason. Every particular thing arises in a natural way; it is something determinate, and as such it has—what it is only tautology to state—a determinate cause. It was not God, but carbon, that produced the diamond; a given salt owes its origin, not to God, but to the combination of a particular acid with a particular base. God only created all things together without distinction.

It is true that according to the religious conception, God has created every individual thing, as included in the whole;—but only indirectly; for he has not produced the individual in an individual manner, the determinate in a determinate manner; otherwise he would be a determinate or conditioned being. It is certainly incomprehensible how out of this general, indeterminate or unconditioned activity the particular, the determinate, can have proceeded; but it is so only because I here intrude the object of sensational, natural experience, because I assign to the divine activity another object than that which is proper to it. Religion has no physical conception of the world; it has no interest in a natural explanation, which can never be given but with a mode of origin. Origin is a theoretical, natural-philosophical idea. The heathen philosophers busied themselves with the origin of things. But the Christian religious consciousness abhorred this idea as heathen, irreligious, and substituted the practical or subjective idea of Creation, which is nothing else than a prohibition to conceive things as having arisen in a natural way, an interdict on all physical science. The religious consciousness connects the world immediately with God; it derives all from God, because nothing is an object to him in its particularity and reality, nothing is to him as it presents itself to our reason. All proceeds from God:—that is enough, that perfectly satisfies the religious consciousness. The question, how did God create? is an indirect doubt that he did create the world. It was this question which brought man to atheism, materialism, naturalism. To him who asks it, the world is already an object of theory, of physical science, i.e., it is an object to him in its reality, in its determinate constituents. It is this mode of viewing the world which contradicts the idea of unconditioned, immaterial activity: and this contradiction leads to the negation of the fundamental idea—the creation.

The creation by omnipotence is in its place, is a truth, only when all the phenomena of the world are derived from God. It becomes, as has been already observed, a myth of past ages where physical science introduces itself, where man makes the determinate causes, the how of phenomena, the object of investigation. To the religious consciousness, therefore, the creation is nothing incomprehensible, i.e., unsatisfying; at least it is so only in moments of irreligiousness, of doubt, when the mind turns away from God to actual things; but it is highly unsatisfactory to reflection, to theology, which looks with one eye at heaven and with the other at earth. As the cause, so is the effect. A flute sends forth the tones of a flute, not those of a bassoon or a trumpet. If thou hearest the tones of a bassoon, but hast never before seen or heard any wind-instrument but the flute, it will certainly be inconceivable to thee how such tones can come out of a flute. Thus it is here:—the comparison is only so far inappropriate as the flute itself is a particular instrument. But imagine, if it be possible, an absolutely universal instrument, which united in itself all instruments, without being itself a particular one; thou wilt then see that it is an absurd contradiction to desire a particular tone which only belongs to a particular instrument, from an instrument which thou hast divested precisely of that which is characteristic in all particular instruments.

But there also lies at the foundation of this dogma of incomprehensibility the design of keeping the divine activity apart from the human, of doing away with their similarity, or rather their essential identity, so as to make the divine activity essentially different from the human. This distinction between the divine and human activity is “nothing.” God makes,—he makes something external to himself, as man does. Making is a genuine human idea. Nature gives birth to, brings forth; man makes. Making is an act which I can omit, a designed, premeditated, external act;—an act in which my inmost being is not immediately concerned, in which, while active, I am not at the same time passive, carried away by an internal impulse. On the contrary, an activity which is identical with my being is not indifferent, is necessary to me, as for example intellectual production, which is an inward necessity to me; and for that reason lays a deep hold on me, affects me pathologically. Intellectual works are not made,—making is only the external activity applied to them;—they arise in us. To make is an indifferent, therefore a free, i.e., optional activity. Thus far then—that He makes—God is entirely at one with man, not at all distinguished from him; but an especial emphasis is laid on this, that his making is free, arbitrary, at his pleasure. “It has pleased God” to create a world. Thus man here deifies satisfaction in self-pleasing, in caprice and groundless arbitrariness. The fundamentally human character of the divine activity is by the idea of arbitrariness degraded into a human manifestation of a low kind; God, from a mirror of human nature is converted into a mirror of human vanity and self-complacency.

And now all at once the harmony is changed into discord; man, hitherto at one with himself, becomes divided:—God makes out of nothing; he creates,—to make out of nothing is to create,—this is the distinction. The positive condition—the act of making—is a human one; but inasmuch as all that is determinate in this conception is immediately denied, reflection steps in and makes the divine activity not human. But with this negation, comprehension, understanding comes to a stand; there remains only a negative, empty notion, because conceivability is already exhausted, i.e., the distinction between the divine and human determination is in truth a nothing, a nihil negativum of the understanding. The naïve confession of this is made in the supposition of “nothing” as an object.

God is Love, but not human love; Understanding, but not human understanding,—no! an essentially different understanding. But wherein consists this difference? I cannot conceive an understanding which acts under other forms than those of our own understanding; I cannot halve or quarter understanding so as to have several understandings; I can only conceive one and the same understanding. It is true that I can and even must conceive understanding in itself, i.e., free from the limits of my individuality; but in so doing I only release it from limitations essentially foreign to it; I do not set aside its essential determinations or forms. Religious reflection, on the contrary, denies precisely that determination or quality which makes a thing what it is. Only that in which the divine understanding is identical with the human, is something, is understanding, is a real idea; while that which is supposed to make it another, yes, essentially another than the human, is objectively nothing, subjectively a mere chimera.

In all other definitions of the Divine Being the “nothing” which constitutes the distinction is hidden; in the creation, on the contrary, it is an evident, declared, objective nothing;—and is therefore the official, notorious nothing of theology in distinction from anthropology.

But the fundamental determination by which man makes his own nature a foreign, incomprehensible nature, is the idea of individuality or—what is only a more abstract expression—personality. The idea of the existence of God first realizes itself in the idea of revelation, and the idea of revelation first realizes itself in the idea of personality. God is a personal being:—this is the spell, which charms the ideal into the real, the subjective into the objective. All predicates, all attributes of the divine being are fundamentally human; but as attributes of a personal being, and therefore of a being distinct from man and existing independently, they appear immediately to be really other than human, yet so as that at the same time the essential identity always remains at the foundation. Hence reflection gives rise to the idea of so-called anthropomorphisms. Anthropomorphisms are resemblances between God and man. The attributes of the divine and of the human being are not indeed the same, but they are analogous.

Thus personality is the antidote to Pantheism; i.e., by the idea of personality religious reflection expels from its thought the identity of the divine and human nature. The rude but characteristic expression of pantheism is: man is an effluence or a portion of the divine being; the religious expression is: man is the image of God, or a being akin to God;—for according to religion man does not spring from Nature, but is of divine race, of divine origin. But kinship is a vague, evasive expression. There are degrees of kinship, near and distant. What sort of kinship is intended? For the relation of man to God, there is but one form of kinship which is appropriate,—the nearest, profoundest, most sacred that can be conceived,—the relation of the child to the father. According to this God is the Father of man, man the son, the child of God. Here is posited at once the self-subsistence of God and the dependence of man, and posited as an immediate object of feeling; whereas in Pantheism the part appears just as self-subsistent as the whole, since this is represented as made up of its parts. Nevertheless this distinction is only an appearance. The father is not a father without the child; both together form a correlated being. In love man renounces his independence, and reduces himself to a part:—a self-humiliation which is only compensated by the fact that the one whom he loves at the same time voluntarily becomes a part also; that they both submit to a higher power, the power of the spirit of family, the power of love. Thus there is here the same relation between God and man as in pantheism, save that in the one it is represented as a personal, patriarchal relation, in the other as an impersonal, general one,—save that pantheism expresses logically and therefore definitely, directly, what religion invests with the imagination. The correlation or rather the identity of God and man is veiled in religion by representing both as persons or individuals, and God as a self-subsistent, independent being apart from his paternity:—an independence which however is only apparent, for he who, like the God of religion, is a father from the depths of the heart, has his very life and being in his child.

The reciprocal and profound relation of dependence between God as father and man as child, cannot be shaken by the distinction, that only Christ is the true, natural son of God, and that men are but his adopted sons; so that it is only to Christ as the only-begotten Son, and by no means to men, that God stands in an essential relation of dependence. For this distinction is only a theological, i.e., an illusory one. God adopts only men, not brutes. The ground of adoption lies in the human nature. The man adopted by divine grace is only the man conscious of his divine nature and dignity. Moreover, the only-begotten Son himself is nothing else than the idea of humanity, than man preoccupied with himself, man hiding from himself and the world in God,—the heavenly man. The Logos is latent, tacit man; man is the revealed, expressed Logos. The Logos is only the prelude of man. That which applies to the Logos applies also to the nature of man.[5] But between God and the only-begotten Son there is no real distinction,—he who knows the Son knows the Father also,—and thus there is none between God and man.

It is the same with the idea that man is the image of God. The image is here no dead, inanimate thing, but a living being. “Man is the image of God,” means nothing more than that man is a being who resembles God. Similarity between living beings rests on natural relationship. The idea of man being the image of God reduces itself therefore to kinship; man is like God, because he is the child of God. Resemblance is only kinship presented to the senses; from the former we infer the latter.

But resemblance is just as deceptive, illusory, evasive an idea as kinship. It is only the idea of personality which does away with the identity of nature. Resemblance is identity which will not admit itself to be identity, which hides itself behind a dim medium, behind the vapour of the imagination. If I disperse this vapour, I come to naked identity. The more similar beings are, the less are they to be distinguished; if I know the one, I know the other. It is true that resemblance has its degrees. But also the resemblance between God and man has its degrees. The good, pious man is more like God than the man whose resemblance to Him is founded only on the nature of man in general. And even with the pious man there is a highest degree of resemblance to be supposed, though this may not be obtained here below, but only in the future life. But that which man is to become, belongs already to him, at least so far as possibility is concerned. The highest degree of resemblance is that where there is no further distinction between two individuals or beings than that they are two. The essential qualities, those by which we distinguish things from each other, are the same in both. Hence I cannot distinguish them in thought, by the Reason,—for this all data are wanting;—I can only distinguish them by figuring them as visible in my imagination or by actually seeing them. If my eyes do not say—there are really two separately existent beings, my reason will take both for one and the same being. Nay, even my eyes may confound the one with the other. Things are capable of being confounded with each other which are distinguishable by the sense and not by the reason, or rather which are different only as to existence, not as to essence. Persons altogether alike have an extraordinary attraction not only for each other, but for the imagination. Resemblance gives occasion to all kinds of mystifications and illusions, because it is itself only an illusion; my eyes mock my reason, for which the idea of an independent existence is always allied to the idea of a determinate difference.

Religion is the mind’s light, the rays of which are broken by the medium of the imagination and the feelings, so as to make the same being appear a double one. Resemblance is to the Reason identity, which in the realm of reality is divided or broken up by immediate sensational impressions, in the sphere of religion by the illusions of the imagination; in short, that which is identical to the reason is made separate by the idea of individuality or personality. I can discover no distinction between father and child, archetype and image, God and man, if I do not introduce the idea of personality. Resemblance is here the external guise of identity;—the identity which reason, the sense of truth, affirms, but which the imagination denies; the identity which allows an appearance of distinction to remain,—a mere phantasm, which says neither directly yes, nor directly no.


  1. This is especially apparent in the superlative, and the preposition super, ύπερ, which distinguish the divine predicates, and which very early—as, for example, with the Neo-Platonists, the Christians among heathen philosophers—played a chief part in theology.
  2. “Scit itaque Deus, quanta sit multitudo pulicum, culicum, muscarum et piscium et quot nascantur, quotve moriantur, sed non scit hoc per momenta singula, imo simul et semel omnia.”—Petrus L. (l. i. dist. 39. c. 3).
  3. “Qui scientem cuncta sciunt, quid nescire nequeunt?”—Liber Meditat. c. 26 (among the spurious writings of Augustine).
  4. Tauler, l. c. p. 312.
  5. “The closest union which Christ possessed with the Father, it is possible for me to win . . . . All that God gave to his only-begotten Son, he has given to me as perfectly as to him.”—Predigten etzlicher Lehrer vor und zu Tauleri Zeiten. Hamburg, 1621, p. 14. “Between the only-begotten Son and the Soul there is no distinction.”—Ib. p. 68.