Essence of Christianity: Introduction

§1 The Being of Man
in General

Religion has its genesis in the essential difference between man and the animal – the animals have no religion. Although it is true that the old uncritical zoographers attributed to the elephant, among other laudable qualities, the virtue of religiousness, the fact is that such a thing as the religion of elephants belongs to the realm of fable. Cuvier, one of the greatest authorities on the animal world, concludes from the evidence provided by his own investigations that the elephant possesses no higher degree of intelligence than the dog.

But what constitutes the essential difference between man and the animal? The most simple, general, and also the most widely held answer to this question is consciousness. Consciousness, however, is to be taken here in the strict sense, for consciousness in the sense of the feeling of self, in the sense of the ability to distinguish one sensuous object from another, to perceive – even judge – external things according to definite sensuous characteristics emanating from them, consciousness in this sense cannot be denied of the animal. Strictly speaking, consciousness is given only in the case of a being to whom his species, his mode of being is an object of thought. Although the animal experiences itself as an individual – this is what is meant by saying that it has a feeling of itself – it does not do so as a species. It is in this sense that the animal lacks consciousness, for consciousness deserves to be called by that name only because of its link with knowledge. Where there is consciousness in this sense, there is also the capacity to produce systematic knowledge or science. Science is the consciousness of species. In life we are concerned with individuals, but in science, with species. Only a being to whom his own species, his characteristic mode of being, is an object of thought can make the essential nature of other things and beings an object of thought.

Thus understood, the animal has a simple, but man a twofold, life. In the case of the animal the inner life is one with the outer, whereas in the case of man there is an inner and an outer life. The inner life of man is constituted by the fact that man relates himself to his species, to his mode of being. Man thinks, that is to say, he converses, enters into a dialogue with himself. The animal, on the other hand, cannot perform the function characteristic to its species without the existence of another individual external to itself. But man can perform the functions characteristic to his species – thought and speech – in isolation from another individual. Man is in himself both “I” and “You”; he can put himself in the place of another precisely because his species, his essential mode of being – not only his individuality – is an object of thought to him.

The characteristic human mode of being, as distinct from that of the animal, is not only the basis, but also the object of religion. But religion is the consciousness of the infinite; hence it is, and cannot be anything other than, man’s consciousness of his own essential nature, understood not as a finite or limited, but as an infinite nature. A really finite being has not even the slightest inkling, let alone consciousness, of what an infinite being is, for the mode of consciousness is limited by the mode of being. The consciousness of the caterpillar, whose life is confined to a particular species of plant, does not extend beyond this limited sphere; it is, of course, able to distinguish this plant from other plants, but that is the entire extent of its knowledge. In a case where consciousness is so limited but where, precisely because of this limitation, it is also infallible and unerring, we speak of instinct rather than consciousness. Consciousness in the strict sense, or consciousness properly speaking, and consciousness of the infinite cannot be separated from each other; a limited consciousness is no consciousness; consciousness is essentially infinite and all-encompassing. The consciousness of the infinite is nothing else than the consciousness of the infinity of consciousness. To put it in other words, in its consciousness of infinity, the conscious being is conscious of the infinity of its own being.

But what is the being of man of which he is conscious, or what is that which constitutes in him his species, his humanity proper? [1] Reason, Will, and Heart. To a complete man belongs the power of thought, the power of will, and the power of heart. The power of thought is the light of knowledge, the power of will is the energy of character, the power of heart is love. Reason, love, and power of will are perfections of man; they are his highest powers, his absolute essence in so far as he is man, the purpose of his existence. Man exists in order to think, love, and will. What is the end of reason? Reason. Of love? Love. Of will? The freedom to will. We pursue knowledge in order to know; love in order to love; will in order to will, that is, in order to be free. Truly to be is to be able to think, love, and will. Only that which exists for its own sake is true, perfect, and divine. But such is love, such is reason, and such is will. The divine trinity in man, but transcending the individual man, is the unity of reason, love, and will. Reason (imagination, fantasy, conception, opinion), will, and love or heart are powers that man does not possess, although he is nothing without them but is what he is through them. As elements constituting his essence which he neither possesses nor makes, they are the very powers that animate, determine, and govern him – divine, absolute powers that he is powerless to resist. [2]

Is it at all possible for the feeling man to resist feeling, for the loving man to resist love, for the rational man to resist reason? Who has not experienced the irresistible power of musical sounds? And what else is this power if not the power of feeling? Music is the language of feeling – a musical note is sonorous feeling or feeling communicating itself. Who has not experienced the power of love, or at least not heard of it? Each is the stronger – love or the individual man? Does man possess love, or is it rather love that possesses man? When, impelled by love, a man gladly sacrifices his life for his beloved, is this his own strength that makes him overcome death, or is it rather the power of love? And who has not experienced the silent power of thought, given that he has truly experienced the activity of thinking? When, submerged in deep reflection, you forget both yourself and your surroundings, is it you who controls reason, or is it rather reason that controls and absorbs you? Does not reason celebrate its greatest triumph over you in your enthusiasm for science? Is not the drive for knowledge simply an irresistible and all-conquering power? And when you suppress a passion, give up a habit, in short, when you win a victory over yourself, is this victorious power your own personal power existing, so to speak, in isolation, or is it rather the energy of will, the power of morality which imposes its rule over you and fills you with indignation of yourself and your individual weaknesses? [3]

Man is nothing without the objects that express his being. The truth of this proposition is borne out by great men whose lives we emulate in so far as they reveal the essence of man. They had only one basic and dominant passion – the realisation of the goal which constituted the essential object of their activity. But the object to which a subject essentially and necessarily relates himself is nothing except the subject’s own objective being. If an object is common to several individuals belonging to the same species, but differing in terms of their characteristics, it is still, at least in so far as it is an object to each of them according to their respective differences, their own objective being.

In this sense the sun is the common object of the planets, but it is not an object for the Earth in the same way as it is for Mercury, Venus, Saturn, or Uranus. Each planet has its own sun. The sun which lights and warms Uranus – and the way it does so – has no physical (only an astronomic or scientific) existence for the Earth. Not only does the sun appear different, but it really is another sun on Uranus than on the Earth. Hence, Earth’s relationship to the sun is at the same time the Earth’s relationship to itself, to its own being, for the measure of the magnitude and intensity of light which is decisive as to the way the sun is an object for the earth is also the measure of the Earth’s distance from the sun, that is, the measure that determines the nature of the Earth. The sun is therefore the mirror in which the being of each planet is reflected.

Thus, man becomes conscious of himself through the object that reflects his being; man’s self-consciousness is his consciousness of the object. One knows the man by the object that reflects his being; the object lets his being appear to you; the object is his manifest being, his true, objective ego. This is true not only of intellectual but also of sensuous objects. Even those objects which are farthest removed from man are manifestations of his own specific mode of being because, and in so far as, they are objects for him. Even the moon, the sun, the stars say to man: Gnthi seantou – know thyself. That he sees them, that he sees them the way he does, bears witness to his own nature. The animal is moved only by the rays of light, which are essential for its life, but man is also moved by the rays from the remotest star, which are indifferent to his life. Only man knows pure, intellectual, disinterested joys and emotions; only man celebrates the theoretical feasts of vision. The eye that looks into the starry heavens, that contemplates the light that bears neither use nor harm, that has nothing in common with the earth and its needs, this eye contemplates its own nature, its own origin in that light. The eye is heavenly in its nature. Hence, it is only through the eye that man rises above the earth; hence theory begins only when man directs his gaze towards the heavens. The first philosophers were astronomers. The heavens remind man of his destination, remind him that he is destined not merely to act, but also to contemplate.

What man calls Absolute Being, his God, is his own being. The power of the object over him is therefore the power of his own being. Thus, the power of the object of feeling is the power of feeling itself; the power of the object of reason is the power of reason itself; and the power of the object of will is the power of the will itself. The man whose being is determined by sound is governed by feeling, at least by a feeling that finds its corresponding element in sound. But only the sound that is charged with content, meaning, and feeling possesses power over feeling – not sound as such. Feeling is determined only by that which is charged with feeling, that is, only by itself, by its own being. The same is true of the will, and the same of reason. Therefore, whatever the object of which we become conscious, we always become conscious of our own being; we cannot set anything in motion without setting ourselves in motion. And since willing, feeling, and thinking are perfections, essences, and realities, it is impossible that while indulging in them we experience reason, feeling, and will as limited or finite; namely, as worthless. Finiteness and nothingness are identical; finiteness is only a euphemism for nothingness. Finiteness is a metaphysical, a theoretical expression, while nothingness is a pathological, a practical one. That which is finite to the intellect is nothing to the heart. But it is impossible to be conscious of will, feeling, and reason, only as finite powers, because every perfection, every power, every being is the immediate verification and confirmation of itself. One cannot love, will, or think without experiencing these activities as perfections; one cannot perceive oneself to be a loving, willing, and thinking being without experiencing an infinite joy in being so. Consciousness is given when a being is its own object; consequently, it is nothing by itself and as distinct from the being that is conscious. How else could it be conscious of itself? Therefore it is impossible to be conscious of a perfection as an imperfection; impossible to experience feeling as limited; impossible to experience thought as limited.

Consciousness is self-sustained activity, self-affirmation, and self-love – it is joy in one’s own perfection. Consciousness is the characteristic mark of a perfect being; consciousness exists only in a plenitudinous, accomplished being. Even human vanity confirms this truth. A man sees himself in the mirror; he is pleased with his form. This feeling of pleasure is a necessary, involuntary consequence of the perfect beauty of his form. A beautiful form is perfect in itself; it is, in view of its perfection, necessarily pleased with itself – hence the necessary urge to behold itself in its own mirror. A man is self-complacent when he is enamoured of his own looks, but not when he admires the human form in himself. Indeed, he must even admire this form, for he simply cannot imagine any other form that is more beautiful, more noble than the human form. [4] Naturally, every being loves itself, loves the way it is – and this is how it should be. Being is a good. “Anything ” , says Bacon, “that deserves to be, also deserves to be known.” Everything that exists is of value, is a being possessing a distinction; that is why it affirms and asserts itself. But the highest form of self-affirmation, the form that is itself a matter of distinction, a bliss, a good – that form is consciousness.

Every limitation of reason, or of human nature in general, rests on a delusion, an error. To be sure, the human individual can, even must, feel and know himself to be limited – and this is what distinguishes him from the animal – but he can become conscious of his limits, his finiteness, only because he can make the perfection and infinity of his species the object either of his feeling, conscience, or thought But if his limitations appear to him as emanating from the species, this can only be due to his delusion that he is identical with the species, a delusion intimately linked with the individual’s love of case, lethargy, vanity, and selfishness; for a limit which I know to be mine alone, humiliates, shames, and disquiets me. Hence, in order to free myself of this feeling of shame, this uneasiness, I make the limits of my individuality the limits of man’s being itself. What is incomprehensible to me is incomprehensible to others; why should this worry me at all? It is not due to any fault of mine or of my understanding; the cause lies in the understanding of the species itself. But it is a folly, a ludicrous and frivolous folly to designate that which constitutes the nature of man and the absolute nature of the individual, the essence of the species, as finite and limited. Every being is sufficient to itself. No being can deny itself, its own nature; no being is intrinsically limited. Rather, every being is in itself infinite; it carries its God – that which is the highest being to it – within itself. Every limit of a being is a limit only for another being that is outside and above it. The life of the ephemera is extraordinarily short as compared with animals whose life span is longer; and yet this short span of life is just as long for them as a life of many years for others. The leaf on which the caterpillar lives is for it a world, an infinite space.

That which makes a being what it is, is its talent, its power, its wealth, and its adornment. How can it possibly regard its being as nothing, its abundance as lack, or its talent as incapacity? If plants could see, taste, and judge, each would claim its own blossom to be the most beautiful; for its understanding and taste would be limited by the productive power of its being. What the productive power of a plant has brought forth as its highest achievement, that must be confirmed and recognised as the highest also by its taste, its power of judgment. What the nature of a being affirms, that cannot be denied by its understanding, taste, and judgment; otherwise this intellect, this power of judgment would not be that belonging to this particular being, but rather to some other being. The measure of being is also the measure of the understanding. If the being concerned is limited, its feeling and understanding would be limited, too. But, to a limited being, its limited understanding is not a limitation. On the contrary, it is perfectly happy and satisfied with it; it experiences, praises, and values it as a glorious, divine power; and the limited understanding praises, in its turn, the limited being to whom it belongs. Both harmonise so completely that the question of any discord between them does not arise. The understanding of a being is its horizon. The horizon of your being is limited by what you can see, just as what you can see is limited by the horizon of your being. The eye of the animal does not see beyond what it needs. And so far as the power of your being, so far as your unlimited feeling of self reaches – so far are you God. The conflict in human consciousness between understanding and being, between the power of thought and the power to produce, is only an individual conflict having no general significance; but it is a conflict only in appearance. He who has written a bad poem and knows it to be bad, is in his knowledge – and hence in his being – not so limited as he who, having written a bad poem, thinks it is good.

In keeping with this, if you therefore think the infinite, you think and confirm the infinity of the power of thought; if you feel the infinite, you feel and confirm the infinity of the power of feeling. The object of reason is reason as its own object; the object of feeling is feeling as its own object. If you have no sensibility, no feeling for music, you perceive in the most beautiful music nothing more than what you perceive in the wind that whistles past your cars or in the brook that rushes past your feet. What is it in the sound that grips you? What do you perceive in it? What else if not the voice of your own heart? Hence, feeling addresses itself to feeling; hence, feeling is comprehensible only to feeling, that is, to itself – because the object of feeling is feeling itself. Music is a monologue of feeling. But even the dialogue of philosophy is in reality a monologue of reason – thought speaking to thought. The colourful splendour of crystals ravishes the senses, but only the laws of crystallonomy interest reason. The rational alone is the object of reason. [5]

Hence, all that has, in the sense of superhuman speculation and theology, the significance only of the derivative, the subjective, the means, or the organ, has in truth the significance of the original, of the divine, of the essential being, and of the object itself. If, for example, feeling is the essential organ of religion, the essence of God expresses nothing else than the essence of feeling. The true, albeit hidden, sense of the saying “Feeling is the organ of the divine” is that feeling is the noblest, the most excellent, i.e., the divine, in man. How could you perceive the divine through feeling if feeling itself were not divine? The divine can be known only through that which is itself divine – “God can be known only through himself.” The Divine Being perceived by feeling is in reality nothing but the being of feeling itself which is enraptured and fascinated by itself – feeling that is blissful in itself, intoxicated with joy.

This goes to explain that where feeling is made the organ of the infinite, the subjective essence of religion, the object of religion loses its objective value. Hence, it is understandable that ever since feeling became the mainstay of religion, the otherwise sacred content of Christian belief fell to indifference. If, from the standpoint of feeling, some value is still conceded to the content of Christianity, the fact remains that this value owes itself to feeling which is perhaps only accidentally connected with the object of religion; if some other object would excite the same feelings, it would be just as welcome. But the object of feeling is reduced to indifference precisely because feeling is proclaimed to be the subjective essence of religion only where it is also in actual fact its objective essence, even if it is not – at least not directly – expressed as such. I say directly, for indirectly this is certainly admitted when feeling, as such, is declared to be religious, that is, when the difference between what are characteristically religious and what are irreligious – or at least non-religious – feelings is eliminated – a consequence necessitated by the standpoint which holds feeling alone to be the organ of the divine. For what other reason do you have to regard feeling as the organ of the infinite, of the divine, if not because of the essential nature of feeling? But is not the nature of feeling in general also the nature of every special feeling, whatever its IF object? The question therefore is: What makes feeling religious? Perhaps its specific object? Not at all, for this object is a religious one only if it is not an object of cold intellect or memory, but of feeling. What then? The answer is: The nature of feeling of which every feeling, whatever be its object, partakes. Feeling has thus been declared sacred simply on the ground that it is feeling; the ground of the religiousness of feeling is its nature and lies in itself. But is not feeling itself thereby pronounced to be the absolute, the divine? If it is only through itself that feeling is good or religious, i.e., sacred or divine, does it then not have its god within itself?

But if you want, on the one hand, to give feeling an unequivocal object, and, on the other, to interpret what your feeling truly is without letting any foreign element interfere with your reflection, what else can you do except make a distinction between your individual feelings and the universal essence and nature of feeling; what else can you do except separate the essence of feeling from the disturbing and contaminating influences with which feeling is bound up in you as a particular individual? Hence, what you can alone have as an object of thought, express as the infinite, determine as the essential nature of the infinite is merely the nature of feeling. You have no other determination of God here than the following one: God is pure, unlimited, free feeling. Every other God, whom you posited here, would be a God imposed upon your feeling from outside. From the point of view of the orthodox form of belief, which is decisive as to the manner in which religion relates itself to an external object, feeling is atheistic; it denies an objective God – it is its own God. From the standpoint of feeling, the denial of feeling is only the denial of God. You are either only too cowardly or too limited to admit in words what your feeling tacitly affirms. Bound to external considerations and unable to grasp the inner sublimeness of feeling, you recoil from acknowledging the religious atheism of your heart, thus destroying the unity of your feeling with itself by perpetrating on yourself the delusion of an objective being separate from feeling. This act of self-delusion throws you back to the old questions and doubts: Is there a God or not? The questions and doubts vanish – they are, indeed, impossible – when feeling is defined as the essence of religion. Feeling is your innermost power, and yet it is a power that is separate from and independent of you; existing inside you, it is above you; it is your very own being, yet it seizes hold of you as another being. In short, it is your God. How can it therefore be possible for you to distinguish from this being in you another objective being? How can you get beyond your feeling?

But feeling has been taken here only as an example. The same holds true of every other power, faculty, potentiality, reality, or activity – the name is of no consequence – which one determines as the essential organ of an object. Whatever has the significance of being subjective or from the side of man has for that very reason the significance of being also objective or from the side of the object. It is simply impossible for man to get beyond the true horizon of his being. It is true that he can imagine individuals of a different, and allegedly higher, kind, but he cannot conceive of himself in abstraction from his species, from his mode of being. The essential determinations he attributes to those other individuals must always be determinations emanating from his own being – determinations in which he in truth only projects himself, which only represent his self-objectifications. it may certainly be true that thinking beings exist also on other planets; but by assuming their existence, we do not change our standpoint, we only enrich it quantitatively not qualitatively; for just as the same laws of motion apply on other planets as they do here, so also the same laws of feeling and thought apply there as here. In fact, the reason why we project life on other planets is not that there are beings different from ourselves there, but that there may be more beings there identical with or similar to our being. [6]


1. The uninspired materialist says: “Man is distinguished from the animal only by consciousness; he is an animal, but one possessing consciousness in addition.” He does not take into account that a being who awakes to consciousness is thereby qualitatively changed. Moreover, what we have just said is by no means intended to belittle the animal. This is not the place to go deeper into this question.

2. “A strong opinion expresses itself even at the cost of life.” – Montaigne

3. Whether this distinction between the individual – naturally, a word that, like all other abstract words, is highly indeterminate, equivocal, and misleading – and love, reason, or will is borne out by nature or not, is quite irrelevant to the theme of the present work. Religion abstracts from man his powers, qualities, and essential determinations and deifies them as independent beings, no matter whether each one of them is singly turned into a being – as in polytheism – or all of them are turned into one being – as in monotheism. That means that this distinction must also be made while explaining these divine beings and tracing their origin. Moreover, it is not only indicated by the object, it is also linguistically and, which is the same, logically evidenced; for man distinguishes himself from his mind, his heart, as if he were a being without them.

4. “Nothing is more beautiful to man than man himself.” (Cicero, de natura deorum, lib., l.) And this is no sign of limitation, for man also regards other beings as beautiful besides himself, delights in the beautiful forms of animals, in the beautiful forms of plants, in the beauty of nature in general. But only a form that is absolutely perfect can delight without envy in the form of other beings.

5. “The intellect is percipient only to the intellect and to that which flows from it.” – Reimarus. (Wahrheit der natürlichen Religion, IV. Abt., § 8.)

6. “It is probable that the ability to enjoy music and mathematics is not unique to man, but extends to many other beings as well.” – Christ. Hugenius (Cosmotheoros, Lib. I.) This means that a quality does not change; the capability for music, for mathematics is the same; only the number of those capable of enjoying them should be unlimited.

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