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

Chapter VII. The Mystery of the Logos and Divine Image

THE essential significance of the Trinity is, however, concentrated in the idea of the second Person. The warm interest of Christians in the Trinity has been, in the main, only an interest in the Son of God. [“Negas ergo Deum, si non omnia filio, quae Dei sunt, deferentur.” – Ambrosius de Fide ad Gratianum, 1. iii. c. 7. On the same ground the Latin Church adhered so tenaciously to the dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeded not from the Father alone, as the Greek Church maintained, but from the Son also.] The fierce contention concerning the Homousios and Homoiousios was not an empty one, although it turned upon a letter. The point in question was the co-equality and divine dignity of the second Person, and therefore the honour of the Christian religion itself; for its essential, characteristic object is the second Person; and that which is essentially the object of a religion is truly, essentially its God. The real God of any religion is the so-called Mediator, because he alone is the immediate object of religion. He who, instead of applying to God, applies to a saint, does so only on the assumption that the saint has all power with God, that what he prays for, i.e., wishes and wills, God readily performs; that thus God is entirely in the hands of the saint. Supplication is the means, under the guise of humility and submission, of exercising, one’s power and superiority over another being,. That to which my mind first turns is also, in truth, the first being to me. I turn to the saint, not because the saint is dependent on God, but because God is dependent on the saint, because God is determined and ruled by the prayers, i.e., by the wish or heart of the saint. The distinctions which the Catholic theologians made between latreia, doulia, and hyperdoulia, are absurd, groundless sophisms. The God in the background of the Mediator is only an abstract, inert conception, the conception or idea of the Godhead in general; and it is not to reconcile us with this idea, but to remove it to a distance, to negative it, because it is no object for religion, that the Mediator interposes. [This is expressed very significantly in the Incarnation. God renounces, denies his majesty, power, and affinity, in order to become a man; i.e., man denies the God who is not himself a man, and only affirms the God who affirms man. Exinanivit, says St. Bernard, majestate et potentia, non bonitate et misercordia. That which cannot be renounced, cannot be denied, is thus the Divine goodness and mercy, i.e., the self-affirmation of the human heart.] God above the Mediator is nothing else than the cold understanding above the heart, like Fate above the Olympic gods.

Man, as an emotional and sensuous being is governed and made happy only by images, by sensible representations. Mind presenting itself as at once type-creating, emotional, and sensuous, is the imagination. The second Person in God, who is in truth the first person in religion, is the nature of the imagination made objective. The definitions of the second Person are principally images or symbols; and these images do not proceed from man’s incapability of conceiving the object otherwise than symbolically, – which is an altogether false interpretation, – but the thing cannot be conceived otherwise than symbolically because the thing itself is a symbol or image. The Son is, therefore, expressly called the Image of God; his essence is that he is an image – the representation of God, the visible glory of the invisible God. The Son is the satisfaction of the need for mental images, the nature of the imaginative activity in man made objective as an absolute, divine activity. Man makes to himself an image of God, i.e., he converts the abstract being of the reason, the being of the thinking power, into an object of sense or imagination. [It is obvious that the Image of God has also another signification., namely, that the personal, visible man is God himself. But here the image is considered only as an image.] But he places this image in God himself, because his want would not be satisfied if he did not regard this image as an objective reality, if it were nothing more for him than a subjective image, separate from God, – a mere figment devised by man. And it is in fact no devised, no arbitrary image; for it expresses the necessity of the imagination, the necessity of affirming the imagination as a divine power. The Son is the reflected splendour of the imagination, the image dearest to the heart; but for the very reason that he is only an object of the imagination, he is only the nature of the imagination made objective. [Let the reader only consider, for example, the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Christ.]

It is clear from this how blinded by prejudice dogmatic speculation is, when, entirely overlooking the inward genesis of the Son of God as the Image of God, it demonstrates the Son as a metaphysical ens, as an object of thought, whereas the Son is a declension, a falling off from the metaphysical idea of the Godhead; – a falling off, however, which religion naturally places in God himself, in order to justify it, and not to feel it as a falling off. The Son is the chief and ultimate principle of image-worship, for he is the image of God; and the image necessarily takes the place of the thing. The adoration of the saint in his image is the adoration of the image as the saint. Wherever the image is the essential expression, the organ of religion, there also it is the essence of religion.

The Council of Nice adduced, amongst other grounds for the religious use of images, the authority of Greoory of Nyssa, who said that he could never look at an image which represented the sacrifice of Isaac without being moved to tears, because it so vividly brought before him that event in sacred history. But the effect of the represented object is not the effect of the object as such, but the effect of the representation. The holy object is simply the haze of holiness in which the image veils its mysterious power. The religious object is only a pretext, by means of which art or imagination can exercise its dominion over men unhindered. For the religious consciousness, it is true, the sacredness of the image is associated, and necessarily so, only with the sacredness of the object; but the religious consciousness is not the measure of truth. Indeed, the Church itself, while insisting on the distinction between the image and the object of the image, and denying that the worship is paid to the image, has at the same time made at least an indirect admission of the truth, by itself declaring the sacredness of the image.

But the ultimate, highest principle of image-worship is the worship of the Image of God in God. The Son, who is the “brightness of his glory, the express image of his person,” is the entrancing splendour of the imagination, which only manifests itself in visible images. Both to inward and outward contemplation the representation of Christ, the Image of God, was the image of images. The images of the saints are only optical multiplications of one and the same image. The speculative deduction of the Image of God is therefore nothing – more than an unconscious deduction and establishing of image-worship: for the sanction of the principle is also the sanction of its necessary consequences; the sanction of the archetype is the sanction of its semblance. If God has an image of himself, why should not I have an image of God? If God loves his Image as himself, why should not I also love the Image of God as I love God himself? If the Image of God is God himself, why should not the image of the saint be the saint himself? If it is no superstition to believe that the image which God makes of himself is no image, no mere conception, but a substance, a person, why should it be a superstition to believe that the image of the saint is the sensitive substance of the saint? The Image of God weeps and bleeds; why then should not the image of a saint also weep and bleed? Does the distinction lie in the fact that the image of the saint is a product of the hands? Why, the hands did not make this image, but the mind which animated the hands, the imagination; and if God makes an image of himself, that also is only a product of the imagination. Or does the distinction proceed from this, that the Image of God is produced by God himself, whereas the image of the saint is made by another? Why, the image of the saint is also a product of the saint himself : for he appears to the artist; the artist only represents him as he appears.

Connected with the nature of the image is another definition of the second Person, namely, that he is the Word of God.

A word is an abstract image, the imaginary thing, or, in so far as everything is ultimately an object of the thinking power, it is the imagined thought: hence men, when they know the word, the name for a thing, fancy that they know the thing also. Words are a result of the imagination. Sleepers who dream vividly and invalids who are delirious speak. The power of speech is a poetic talent. Brutes do not speak because they have no poetic faculty. Thought expresses itself only by images; the power by which thought expresses itself is the imagination; the imagination expressing itself is speech. He who speaks, lays under a spell, fascinates those to whom he speaks; but the power of words is the power of the imagination.

Therefore to the ancients, as children of the imagination, the Word was a being – a mysterious, magically powerful being. Even the Christians, and not only the vulgar among them, but also the learned, the Fathers of the Church, attached to the mere name Christ, mysterious powers of healing. And in the present day the common people still believe that it is possible to bewitch men by mere words. Whence comes this ascription of imaginary influences to words? Simply from this, that words themselves are only a result of the imagination, and hence have the effect of a narcotic on man, imprison him under the power of the imagination. Words possess a revolutionising force; words govern mankind. Words are held sacred; while the things of reason and truth are decried.

The affirming, or making objective of the nature of the imagination is therefore directly connected with the affirming or making objective of the nature of speech, of the word. Man has not only an instinct, an internal necessity, which impels him to think, to perceive, to imagine; he has also the impulse to speak, to utter, to impart his thoughts. A divine impulse this – a divine power, the power of words. The word is the imaged, revealed, radiating, lustrous, enlightening thought. The word is the light of the world. The word guides to all truth, unfolds all mysteries, reveals the unseen, makes present the past and the future, defines the infinite, perpetuates the transient. Men pass away, the word remains; the word is life and truth. All power is given to the word: the word makes the blind see and the lame walk, heals the sick, and brings the dead to life; the word works miracles, and the only rational miracles. The word is the gospel, the paraclete of mankind. To convince thyself of the divine nature of speech, imagine thyself alone and forsaken, yet acquainted with language; and imagine thyself further hearing for the first time the word of a human being: would not this word seem to thee angelic? would it not sound like the voice of God himself, like heavenly music? Words are not really less rich, less pregnant than music, though music seems to say more, and appears deeper and richer than words, for this reason simply, that it is invested with that prepossession, that illusion.

The word has power to redeem, to reconcile, to bless, to make free. The sins which we confess are forgiven us by virtue of the divine power of the word. The dying man who gives forth in speech his long-concealed sins departs reconciled. The forgiveness of sins lies in the confession of sins. The sorrows which we confide to our friend are already half healed. Whenever we speak of a subject, the passions which it has excited in us are allayed; we see more clearly; the object of anger, of vexation, of sorrow, appears to us in a light in which we perceive the unworthiness of those passions. If we are in darkness and doubt on any matter, we need only speak of it; – often in the very moment in which we open our lips to consult a friend, the doubts and difficulties disappear. The word makes man free. He who cannot express himself is a slave. Hence, excessive passion, excessive joy, excessive grief, are speechless. To speak is an act of freedom; the word is freedom. Justly therefore is language held to be the root of culture; where language is cultivated, man is cultivated. The barbarism of the Middle Ages disappeared before the revival of language.

As we can conceive nothing else as a Divine Being than the Rational which we think, the Good which we love, the Beautiful which we perceive; so we know no higher spiritually operative power and expression of power than the power of the Word. [“God reveals himself to us, as the Speaker, who has, in himself, an eternal uncreated Word, whereby he created the world and all things, with slight labour, namely, with speech, so that to God it is not more difficult to create than it is to us to name.” – Luther, Th. i. P. 302.] God is the sum of all reality. All that man feels or knows as a reality he must place in God or regard as God. Religion must therefore be conscious of the power of the word as a divine power. The Word of God is the divinity of the word, as it becomes an object to man within the sphere of religion, – the true nature of the human word. The Word of God is supposed to be distinguished from the human word in that it is no transient breath, but an imparted being. But does not the word of man also contain the being of man, his imparted self, – at least when it is a true word? Thus religion takes the appearance of the human word for its essence; hence it necessarily conceives the true nature of the Word to be a special being, distinct from the human word.


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