The Essence of Christianity/Chapter XXIV

CHAPTER XXIV.
THE CONTRADICTION IN THE TRINITY.


Religion gives reality or objectivity not only to the human or divine nature in general as a personal being; it further gives reality to the fundamental determinations or fundamental distinctions of that nature as persons. The Trinity is therefore originally nothing else than the sum of the essential fundamental distinctions which man perceives in the human nature. According as the mode of conceiving this nature varies, so also the fundamental determinations on which the Trinity is founded vary. But these distinctions, perceived in one and the same human nature, are hypostasized as substances, as divine persons. And herein, namely, that these different determinations are in God hypostases, subjects, is supposed to lie the distinction between these determinations as they are in God, and as they exist in man,—in accordance with the law already enunciated, that only in the idea of personality does the human personality transfer and make objective its own qualities. But the personality exists only in the imagination; the fundamental determinations are therefore only for the imagination hypostases, persons; for reason, for thought, they are mere relations or determinations. The idea of the Trinity contains in itself the contradiction of polytheism and monotheism, of imagination and reason, of fiction and reality. Imagination gives the Trinity, reason the Unity of the persons. According to reason, the things distinguished are only distinctions; according to imagination, the distinctions are things distinguished, which therefore do away with the unity of the divine being. To the reason, the divine persons are phantoms, to the imagination realities. The idea of the Trinity demands that man should think the opposite of what he imagines, and imagine the opposite of what he thinks,—that he should think phantoms realities.[1]

There are three Persons, but they are not essentially distinguished. Tres personæ, but una essentia. So far the conception is a natural one. We can conceive three and even more persons, identical in essence. Thus we men are distinguished from one another by personal differences, but in the main, in essence, in humanity, we are one. And this identification is made not only by the speculative understanding, but even by feeling. A given individual is a man as we are; punctum satis; in this feeling all distinctions vanish,—whether he be rich or poor, clever or stupid, culpable or innocent. The feeling of compassion, sympathy, is therefore a substantial, essential, speculative feeling. But the three or more human persons exist apart from each other, have a separate existence, even when they verify and confirm the unity of their nature by fervent love. They together constitute, through love, a single moral personality, but each has a physical existence for himself. Though they may be reciprocally absorbed in each other, may be unable to dispense with each other, they have yet always a formally independent existence. Independent existence, existence apart from others, is the essential characteristic of a person, of a substance. It is otherwise in God, and necessarily so; for while his personality is the same as that of man, it is held to be the same with a difference, on the ground simply of this postulate: there must be a difference. The three Persons in God have no existence out of each other; else there would meet us in the heaven of Christian dogmatics, not indeed many gods, as in Olympus, but at least three divine Persons in an individual form, three Gods. The gods of Olympus were real persons, for they existed apart from each other, they had the criterion of real personality in their individuality, though they were one in essence, in divinity; they had different personal attributes, but were each singly a god, alike in divinity, different as existing subjects or persons; they were genuine divine personalities. The three Persons of the Christian Godhead, on the contrary, are only imaginary, pretended persons, assuredly different from real persons, just because they are only phantasms, shadows of personalities, while, notwithstanding, they are assumed to be real persons. The essential characteristic of personal reality, the polytheistic element, is excluded, denied as non-divine. But by this negation their personality becomes a mere phantasm. Only in the truth of the plural lies the truth of the Persons. The three persons of the Christian Godhead are not tres Dii, three Gods;—at least they are not meant to be such;—but unus Deus, one God. The three Persons end, not, as might have been expected, in a plural, but in a singular; they are not only Unum—the gods of Olympus are that—but Unus. Unity has here the significance not of essence only, but also of existence; unity is the existential form of God. Three are one: the plural is a singular. God is a personal being consisting of three persons.[2]

The three persons are thus only phantoms in the eyes of reason, for the conditions or modes under which alone their personality could be realized, are done away with by the command of monotheism. The unity gives the lie to the personality; the self-subsistence of the persons is annihilated in the self-subsistence of the unity,—they are mere relations. The Son is not without the Father, the Father not without the Son; the Holy Spirit, who indeed spoils the symmetry, expresses nothing but the relation of the two to each other. But the divine persons are distinguished from each other only by that which constitutes their relation to each other. The essential in the Father as a person is that he is a Father, of the Son that he is a Son. What the Father is over and above his fatherhood, does not belong to his personality; therein he is God, and as God identical with the Son as God. Therefore it is said: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost:—God is in all three alike. “There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one;” i.e., they are distinct persons, but without distinction of substance. The personality, therefore, arises purely in the relation of the Fatherhood; i.e., the idea of the person is here only a relative idea, the idea of a relation. Man as a father is dependent, he is essentially the correlative of the son; he is not a father without the son; by fatherhood man reduces himself to a relative, dependent, impersonal being. It is before all things necessary not to allow oneself to be deceived by these relations as they exist in reality, in men. The human father is, over and above his paternity, an independent personal being; he has at least a formal existence for himself, an existence apart from his son; he is not merely a father, with the exclusion of all the other predicates of a real personal being. Fatherhood is a relation which the bad man can make quite an external one, not touching his personal being. But in God the Father, there is no distinction between God the Father and God the Son as God; the abstract fatherhood alone constitutes his personality, his distinction from the Son, whose personality likewise is founded only on the abstract sonship.

But at the same time these relations, as has been said, are maintained to be not mere relations, but real persons, beings, substances. Thus the truth of the plural, the truth of polytheism is again affirmed,[3] and the truth of monotheism is denied. To require the reality of the persons is to require the unreality of the unity, and conversely, to require the reality of the unity is to require the unreality of the persons. Thus in the holy mystery of the Trinity,—that is to say, so far as it is supposed to represent a truth distinct from human nature,—all resolves itself into delusions, phantasms, contradictions, and sophisms.[4]


Footnotes

  1. It is curious to observe how the speculative religious philosophy undertakes the defence of the Trinity against the godless understanding, and yet, by doing away with the personal substances, and explaining the relation of Father and Son as merely an inadequate image borrowed from organic life, robs the Trinity of its very heart and soul. Truly, if the cabbalistic artifices which the speculative religious philosophy applies in the service of the absolute religion were admissible in favour of finite religions, it would not be difficult to squeeze the Pandora’s box of Christian dogmatics out of the horns of the Egyptian Apis. Nothing further would be needed for this purpose than the ominous distinction of the understanding from the speculative reason,—a distinction which is adapted to the justification of every absurdity.
  2. The unity has not the significance of genus, not of unum but of unus. (See Augustine and Petrus Lomb. 1. i. dist. 19, c. 7, 8, 9.) “Hi ergo tres, qui unum sunt propter ineffabilem conjunctionem deitatis qua ineffabiliter copulantur, unus Deus est.” (Petrus L. l. c. c. 6.) “How can reason bring itself into accord with this, or believe, that three is one and one is three?”—Luther (T. x. iv. p. 13).
  3. “Quia ergo pater Deus et filius Deus et spiritus s. Deus cur non dicuntur tres Dii? Ecce proposuit hanc propositionem (Augustinus) attende quid respondeat . . . . Si autem dicerem: tres Deos, contradiceret scriptura dicens: Audi Israel: Deus tuus unus est. Ecce absolutio quæstionis: quare potius dicamus tres personas quam tres Deos, quia scil. illud non contradicit scriptura.”—Petrus L. (1. i. dist. 23, c. 3). How much did even Catholicism repose upon Holy Writ!
  4. A truly masterly presentation of the overwhelming contradictions in which the mystery of the Trinity involves the genuine religious sentiment, is to be found in the work already cited—Theanthropos. Eine Reihe von Aphorismen—which expresses in the form of the religious sentiment what in the present work is expressed in the form of the reason; and which is therefore especially to be recommended to women.