Essence of Christianity: PART I, The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion

Chapter III. God as a Moral Being, or Law

GOD as God – the infinite, universal, non-anthropomorphic being of the understanding, has no more significance for religion than a fundamental general principle has for a special science; it is merely the ultimate point of support, as it were, the mathematical point of religion. The consciousness of human limitation or nothingness which is united with the idea of this being, is by no means a religious consciousness; on the contrary, it characterises sceptics, materialists, and pantheists. The belief in God – at least in the God of religion – is only lost where, as in scepticism, pantheism, and materialism, the belief in man is lost, at least in man such as he is presupposed in religion. As little then as religion has any influential belief in the nothingness of man, [In religion, the representation or expression of the nothingness of man before God is the anger of God; for as the love of God is the affirmation, his anger is the negation of man. But even this anger is not taken in earnest. God is not really angry. He is not thoroughly in earnest even when we think that he is angry, and punishes.” – Luther (Th. viii. p. 208).] so little has it any influential belief in that abstract being, with which the consciousness of this nothingness is united. The vital elements of religion are those only which make man an object to man. To deny man is to deny religion.

It certainly is the interest of religion that its object should be distinct from man; but it is also, nay, yet more, its interest that this object should have human attributes. That he should be a distinct being concerns his existence only; but that he should be human concerns his essence. If he be of a different nature, how can his existence or non-existence be of any importance to man? How can he take so profound an interest in an existence in which his own nature has no participation?

To give an example. “When I believe that the human nature alone has suffered for me, Christ is a poor Saviour to me: in that case, he needs a Saviour himself.” And thus, out of the need for salvation is postulated something transcending human nature, a being different from man. But no sooner is this being postulated than there arises the yearning of man after himself, after his own nature, and man is immediately re-established. “Here is God, who is not man and never yet became man. But this is not a God for me. ... That would be a miserable Christ to me, who ... should be nothing but a purely separate God and divine person ... without humanity. No, my friend; where thou givest me God, thou must give me humanity too.”

In religion man seeks contentment; religion is his highest good. But how could he find consolation and peace in God if God were an essentially different being? How can I share the peace of a being if I am not of the same nature with him? If his nature is different from mine, his peace is essentially different, – it is no peace for me. How then can I become a partaker of his peace if I am not a partaker of his nature? but how can I be a partaker of his nature if I am really of a different nature? Every being experiences peace only in its own element, only in the conditions of its own nature. Thus, if man feels peace in God, he feels it only because in God he first attains his true nature, because here, for the first time, he is with himself, because everything in which he hitherto sought peace, and which he hitherto mistook for his nature, was alien to him. Hence, if man is to find contentment in God, he must find himself in God. “No one will taste of God but as he wills, namely – in the humanity of Christ; and if thou dost not find God thus, thou wilt never have rest.” [Luther] “Everything finds rest on the place in which it was born. The place where I was born is God. God is my fatherland. Have I a father in God? Yes, I have not only a father, but I have myself in him; before I lived in myself, I lived already in God.”

A God, therefore, who expresses only the nature of the understanding does not satisfy religion, is not the God of religion. The understanding is interested not only in man, but in the things out of man, in universal nature. The intellectual man forgets even himself in the contemplation of nature. The Christians scorned the pagan philosophers because, instead of thinking, of themselves, of their own salvation, they had thought only of things out of themselves. The Christian thinks only of himself. By the understanding an insect is contemplated with as much enthusiasm as the image of God – man. The understanding is the absolute indifference and identity of all things and beings. It is not Christianity, not religious enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm of the understanding that we have to thank for botany, mineralogy, zoology, physics, and astronomy. The understanding is universal, pantheistic, the love of the universe; but the grand characteristic of religion, and of the Christian religion especially, is that it is thoroughly anthropo-theistic, the exclusive love of man for himself, the exclusive self-affirmation of the human nature, that is, of subjective human nature; for it is true that the understanding also affirms the nature of man, but it is his objective nature, which has reference to the object for the sake of the object, and the manifestation of which is science. Hence it must be something entirely different from the nature of the understanding which is an object to man in religion, if he is to find contentment therein, and this something will necessarily be the very kernel of religion.

Of all the attributes which the understanding assigns to God, that which in religion, and especially in the Christian religion, has the pre-eminence, is moral perfection. But God as a morally perfect being is nothing else than the realised idea, the fulfilled law of morality, the moral nature of man posited as the absolute being; man's own nature, for the moral God requires man to be as he himself is: Be ye holy for I am holy; man's own conscience, for how could he otherwise tremble before the Divine Being, accuse himself before him, and make him the judge of his inmost thoughts and feelings?

But the consciousness of the absolutely perfect moral nature, especially as an abstract being separate from man, leaves us cold and empty, because we feel the distance, the chasm between ourselves and this being ; – it is a dispiriting consciousness, for it is the consciousness of our personal nothingness, and of the kind which is the most acutely felt – moral nothingness. The consciousness of the divine omnipotence and eternity in opposition to my limitation in space and time does not afflict me: for omnipotence does not command me to be myself omnipotent, eternity, to be myself eternal. But I cannot have the idea of moral perfection without at the same time being conscious of it as a law for me. Moral perfection depends, at least for the moral consciousness, not on the nature, but on the will – it is a perfection of will, perfect will. I cannot conceive perfect will, the will which is in unison with law, which is itself law, without at the same time regarding, it is an object of will, i.e., as an obligation for myself. The conception of the morally perfect being is no merely theoretical, inert conception, but a practical one, calling me to action, to imitation, throwing me into strife, into disunion with myself; for while it proclaims to me what I ought to be, it also tells me to my face, without any flattery, what I am not. [“That which, in our own judgment, derogates from our self-conceit, humiliates us. Thus the moral law inevitably humiliates every man when he compares with it the sensual tendency of his nature.” – Kant, Critique of Practical Reason] And religion renders this disunion all the more painful, all the more terrible, that it sets man's own nature before him as a separate nature, and moreover as a personal being who hates and curses sinners, and excludes them from his grace, the source of all salvation and happiness.

Now, by what means does man deliver himself from this state of disunion between himself and the perfect being, from the painful consciousness of sin, from the distressing sense of his own nothingness? How does he blunt the fatal sting, of sin? Only by this; that he is conscious of love as the highest, the absolute power and truth, that he regards the Divine Being not only as a law, as a moral being as a being of the understanding; but also as a loving, tender, even subjective human being (that is, as having sympathy with individual man).

The understanding judges only according to the stringency of law; the heart accommodates itself, is considerate, lenient, relenting kat anthropou. No man is sufficient for the law which moral perfection sets before us; but, for that reason, neither is the law sufficient for man, for the heart. The law condemns the heart has compassion even on the sinner. The law affirms me only as an abstract being, – love, as a real being Love gives me the consciousness that I am a man; the law only the consciousness that I am a sinner, that I am worthless. [Luther] The law holds man in bondage; love makes him free.

Love is the middle term, the substantial bond, the principle of reconciliation between the perfect and the imperfect, the sinless and sinful being the universal and the individual, the divine and the human. Love is God himself, and apart from it there is no God. Love makes man God and God man. Love strengthens the weak and weakens the strong, abases the high and raises the lowly, idealises matter and materialises spirit. Love it the true unity of God and man, of spirit and nature. In love common nature is spirit, and the pre-eminent spirit is nature. Love is to deny spirit from the point of view of spirit, to deny matter from the point of view of matter. Love is materialism; immaterial love is a chimaera. In the longing of love after the distant object, the abstract idealist involuntarily confirms the truth of sensuousness. But love is also the idealism of nature – love is also spirit, esprit. Love alone makes the nightingale a songstress; love alone gives the plant its corolla. And what wonders does not love work in our social life! What faith, creed, opinion separates, love unites. Love even, humorously enough, identifies the High noblesse with the people. What the old magies said of God, that he is the highest and yet the commonest being, applies in truth to love, and that not a visionary, imaginary love – no! a real love, a love which has flesh and blood, which vibrates as an almighty force through all living.

Yes, it applies only to the love which has flesh and blood, for only this can absolve from the sins which flesh and blood commit. A merely moral being cannot forgive what is contrary to the law of morality. That which denies the law is denied by the law. The moral judge, who does not infuse human blood into his judgment judges the sinner relentlessly, inexorably. Since, then, God is regarded as a sin-pardoning being, he is posited, not indeed as an unmoral, but as more than a moral being, – in a word, as a human being The negation or annulling of sin is the negation of abstract moral rectitude, – the positing of love, mercy, sensuous life. Not abstract beings – no! only sensuous, living beings are merciful. Mercy is the justice of sensuous life. Hence God does not forgive the sins of men as the abstract God of the understanding but as man, as the God made flesh, the visible God. God as man sins not, it is true, but he knows, he takes on himself, the sufferings, the wants, the needs of sensuous beings. The blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins in the eyes of God; it is only his human blood that makes God merciful, allays his anger; that is, our sins are forgiven us because we axe no abstract beings, but creatures of flesh and blood. [Luther]


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