There is an age-old dilemma, almost as old as biblical theology and doubtless prior to the origins of Christian dogmatics. The dilemma concerns the question who is accountable for the fall of man. If the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it, by whose will has it been subjected? Was it the will of the serpent, the will of the woman, the will of her husband, or was it the will of the Creator?
It may reassure you to learn that this series of lectures will not deal with that desperate dilemma, let alone try to resolve it. The task I have set myself is an incomparably less pretentious one, though, to my way of thinking, still immodest enough. None the less, my main theme will recall the famous or notorious subject of theological dispute. We shall see that this affinity is more than just a question of accidental terminology, that it touches the heart of the matter.
The main theme, running through the lectures as a whole, I describe as a “Critique of heaven and earth”. While the first series will be devoted to the “Critique of heaven”, the “Critique of earth” I am reserving for the second series which is to follow, if not within a matter of days, at any rate within a measurable space of time. Those who infer from this interval that my theme is remote enough from Genesis, Chapter One, should at once be reassured when I say that it is still less my intention to bring the succession of the two series in line with that evolutionary exegesis of the Creation story which interprets each of the creation-days as equivalent to a million years or so. But my belief in a more human measure of the creation-days may warrant a more human interval between my treatment of the “Critique of heaven” and the “Critique of earth”.
Although these terms are not derived from any biblical phraseology, at least not directly, a tantalizing affinity here can hardly be denied. I am wondering whether some among my audience may not have shared with me this puzzling impression when comparing the following two texts. The first is this: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it; in hope, because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” And the second: “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and a protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion.”
I will not try, at this moment, to analyse the strange mixture of resemblance and contradiction which is concealed in the relationship between the first text and the second one; nor is it the purpose of these lectures as a whole to attempt a solution of that particular riddle. The ambiguous nature of their affinity may be understood, however, as symptomatic of an underlying problem, which, indeed, has weighed with me in choosing the main theme, just as it will continue to be present in the background of my approach. It is surely unnecessary for me to point out that Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 8, is the source of my first quotation. Identifying the second quotation seems no less superfluous, though for less sound reasons. For while the biblical source is in almost everybody's hands, and at least some phrases of Romans 8 as well as some general notion of Christian dogmatics in many people's heads, the only phrase in the second text that shares with the term “original sin” the ambiguous honour of an almost universal fame is the slogan “opium of the people”. Along with the notion of “original sin”, it is also subject to a ridiculous as well as tragic and dangerous misunderstanding, which often goes so far as to distort the phrase “opium of the people” into “opium for the people”.
Familiarity with this slogan is apparently in inverse proportion to ignorance of its origin; and the drawback that this presents should not be overlooked. I, for one, have taken it as a challenge to devote a good part of this first series of lectures to a careful study of the sources, as it has likewise forced me to follow the texts in question literally and, when and where it seemed requisite, to introduce more or less extensive quotations in an English translation. In some circumstances this sort of procedure might seem cumbersome and heavy-handed; but where the phrase in question enjoys greater currency even than Hamlet's “To be, or not to be: that is the question”, it is no less a simple matter of conscience to go back to the sources than it would be to analyse the literal wording of Shakespeare's tragedy.
I hope I may be allowed, therefore, to continue quoting from the source in question, up to the point where the main theme of these lectures makes its entry.
“Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will continue to wear the chain devoid of both illusion and consolation, but so that he will shake the chain off and cull the living flower. The criticism of religion disenchants man in order to make him think and act and shape his reality like one who has been disenchanted and has come to reason, so that he will revolve around himself and therefore around his true sun. Religion is the illusory sun which revolves around man only so long as he does not revolve around himself.
The task of history, therefore, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world. The immediate task of philosophy, which is at the service of history, once the saintly form of human self-alienation has been unmasked, is to unmask self-alienation in its unholy forms. Thus the criticism of heaven is transmuted into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of right and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.”
The last sentence of this quotation is, indeed, the source from which the title of both series of lectures has been taken. The text which is generally considered to be the Magna Carta of the Marxist critique of religion forms part of Marx's Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. The article was published in 1844 in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), a short-lived review edited in Paris, where Marx was living at that time. My quotation made use of the familiar English translation of the German original, which reads: Die Kritik des Himmels verwandelt sich damit in die Kritik der Erde, die Kritik der Religion in die Kritik des Rechts, die Kritik der Theologie in die Kritik der Politik. The term “criticism” used in the familiar English translation differs from the term “critique” used by the same translators in connection with the title Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. This difference, probably to be explained as a peculiar feature of English idiom, might be inconsiderable, if it had not done vital harm to the German original. Apart from the fact that the German language does not know of such a difference, the identity of the term Kritik in each of these contexts is a premise of their adequate interpretation. An idiom which uses the term “critique” with reference to the philosophy of right and the term “criticism” with reference to right tends to obliterate the riddle which lies at the root of Marx's critique of religion. The full import of this must wait until I can explain it in my later lectures. At the moment, suffice it to refer to the sentence, immediately following the passage just quoted, in which Marx declares that the article Contribution to the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, to which his present article serves only as an “Introduction”, bears immediately not on the original but on a copy. In other words, he has to recognize that his critique of Hegel's philosophy of right is not the same as the critique of right, the necessity of which he has just been trying to demonstrate. The riddle concealed in this admission can be rightly understood only if and when we hold consistently to the German term Kritik.
There is yet another reason to prefer a consistent use, in English, of the term “critique”. In nineteenth-century Germany the much favoured term Kritik could not possibly be used in philosophical writings without some account being taken of its basic function in Kant's critical philosophy. The meaning of Marx's critique has to be understood as arising out of this philosophical tradition. There is a certain parallelism between the succession of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, followed by his Critique of Practical Reason and Marx's transition from theory to practice. The critique of religion and philosophy which preoccupied Marx's mind during his earlier period and the critique of political economy which absorbed the rest of his life are rooted in a joint apperception of the essence and meaning of critique. In an article written during the period when he was conceiving his critique of Hegel's philosophy of right, Marx had recognized Kant's philosophy as the German theory of the French Revolution, as contrasted with the historical school of right, which he characterized as the German theory of the French Ancien Régime. Though Kant's name is not mentioned in Marx's Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, this remark, committed to writing a year before, can serve as a key to its interpretation. The article is, basically, a devastating critique of the anachronism of the German state of affairs in 1843, which had not yet arrived at a stage equivalent to that of French history in the year 1789. It ends by looking forward expectantly to the German day of resurrection, which will be proclaimed by the crowing of the Cock of Gaul. On closer analysis we can see, under the surface, two fundamental principles which Kant had formulated in the years before the French Revolution. Kant's famous “Copernican revolution”, formulated in 1787 in the Preface to the second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason, is taken up in the passage, quoted above, which describes religion as the illusory sun which revolves around man until he learns to revolve around himself, having been disillusioned and brought to a sense of reality by the critique of religion. Subsequently, the transition of the theoretical critique into praxis pivots round the basic principle of Kant's critique of practical reason, the equally famous “categorical imperative”. “The critique of religion ends with the teaching that man is the highest essence for man, hence with the categorical imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence.”
All this will, I hope, be taken as sufficient defence of my preference for the term “critique” in the title of these lectures. Without expressing any prejudgment on the question of a material relationship between the philosophies of Kant and Marx, it is my sole intention here to stress a formal parallelism where the key-function of the term “critique” is concerned.
The immediate scope of this first series is limited to a relatively narrow field of interest. Rather than take my title from something that Marx wrote, and then use it for my own purposes, I have taken Marx's pronouncement quite seriously and have set myself the task of investigating its meaning and genesis with all the care I can muster. The difference here might be compared to that between a sermon and an exegesis based on textual criticism. Without denying the useful function of the sermon, I share the judgment of those theologians who stress the necessity for biblical exegesis as a prerequisite for trustworthy evangelism. The principle is fundamentally the same when applied to the work of an outstanding thinker or artist. One century of Marxism has already deluged mankind with Marxist, pseudo-Marxist or anti-Marxist sermons that have one feature in common, in that they have exempted themselves from the duty to study the text and to undertake exegesis of the context.
Marx's article entitled Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law could be regarded as a turning-point in his life and thought. Written in the year 1844, it was, in a sense, the confession of an emigrant who had just left his fatherland, his familiar social and cultural milieu, and was on his way to a new world of which he expected Paris to be the new capital. In the evolution of his thinking the article represented a transition from a critical philosophy to a critique of political economy. It was an attempt to reap the harvest of his formative years and at the same time contained the seed of his maturity. Therefore, adopting the main theme of my lectures from this article, I have deliberately taken up my position at a key-point from which a wider outlook on Marx's life and thought as a whole may be expected. As observed from that vantage-point, the present series of lectures on the “critique of heaven” will, so to speak, proffer a retrospective view, whilst the prospective view will be reserved for the second series. And whilst the latter, as a matter of course, will range beyond the limits of Marx's career as far as our own time, the terminus a quo for our retrospective view can be exactly defined.
Marx's formative period can be said, roughly speaking, to cover ten years. The beginning of that decade coincides with the start of his academic studies in Bonn and Berlin, 1835/36, whereas The German Ideology, written in 1845/46, is to be regarded as a definitive attempt to settle his account with the philosophical milieu to which he owed the formation of his ideas. Subsequent lectures will give priority to the beginnings of this formative period and devote particular attention to the first writings, dating between 1835 and 1841.
The earliest writings of Marx still extant are the compositions he was obliged to present for the finals of the Gymnasium in Trier. Three of these papers, dealing with subjects related to his personal prospects, to his religious and his classical education, afford us an insight into the thought of his adolescence. The first academic years are represented by a collection of poems and fragments of other literary essays; and the well-known letter to his father is rightly considered to be a biographical document of crucial importance. The doctoral dissertation, completed in March 1841, is the mature fruit of his later academic years in Berlin; it laid the foundation for his philosophical development as that was to take shape in the years to follow.
There are good reasons why this group of very early writings deserve special attention. To begin with an external consideration, these writings may be safely assumed to belong to the least known part of Marx's œuvre. This is even the case in Germany, where these sources have been an object of special study for several decades past. To mention only one product of recent research, the study by Gunther Hillmann (1966) attempts an interpretation of these earliest compositions by means of a detailed comparison with parallel parts of Hegel's writings. While the subject is difficult enough in itself, this comparative procedure is an additional handicap for reaching a wider circle of interested readers. However, this limited familiarity as far as the German language area is concerned, is far ahead of anything the English language area can boast. A good part of these sources, as far as my knowledge goes, is only accessible through selective quotations in English studies on Marx. The least incomplete English translation of the doctoral dissertation has been undertaken by Norman Livergood, who published it as an Appendix to his study on Activity in Marx's Philosophy (1967). Apart from a few misinterpretations of the German text, this translation is trustworthy: but the Notes, as well as the Appendix on Plutarch's polemic against Epicurus’ theology, have been omitted. A much graver omission concerns the manuscript of Marx's preparatory studies, the importance of which as a source of interpretation of the dissertation proper could hardly be overrated. What is announced by the author as the first complete English translation of the dissertation represents in reality, therefore, only part of the work. These considerations have induced me to give considerable attention to these sources. Thanks to Livergood, I have been able to rely on an existing translation, at least as far as the actual dissertation is concerned.
These external considerations may serve to account for the amount of attention I have felt obliged to give to the verbatim text of these earliest writings; but the intensity of my interest is due to more essential reasons. While studying the sources, I became increasingly aware of just how crucial they are for the proper interpretation of our main theme. They reveal an underlying consistency in the evolution of Marx's thinking which, like the initial theme of a symphony, continues to run through the whole course of his life, thinking and career, from his youth on. Still more important, these earliest writings allow us to trace the genesis of Marx's inner struggle, which he was afterwards to present as the necessity for a critique of heaven.
It is often supposed that Marx received the decisive stimulus for his critique of religion from Feuerbach. Another widespread prejudice has to do with his relationship to the Christian faith. Unlike his later friend, Friedrich Engels, who grew up in a pietistic milieu and passed through a genuine counter-conversion, Marx is traditionally believed to have been devoid from the very outset of anything like deep emotions regarding Christianity. This impression has doubtless been corroborated by Franz Mehring's almost classical biography, which tones down or neglects any features in the earlier writings that might point in this direction. As will become clear enough as these lectures proceed, a study of the sources has intensified my scepticism about this traditional image. I would even be inclined to suggest that Marx's early development conceals a deep-rooted dilemma very close to the heart of the Christian dilemma in a post-Christian civilization. While a relatively extrovert character and simplicity of mind enabled Friedrich Engels to settle his account with Christianity, the genesis of Karl Marx's critique of religion suggests a depth of penetration which forces the Christian faith to an unprecedented confrontation with its own situation. Marx's writings dating from the period before his friendship with Engels and before the publication of Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity reveal a genuine sensitivity to this crucial dilemma.
The doctoral dissertation, then, is not only a prerequisite for the interpretation of Marx's subsequent philosophical development, but contains his first and most purely philosophical definition of the inner contradictions inherent in the critique of heaven. This academic work shows the author patiently at work in the laboratory of European civilization, peering through his microscope, so to speak, in the hope of discovering the key to the history of Greek philosophy. In order to unravel the enigma of his own position in the contemporary historical situation, he begins to delve into an apparently remote past, and is naturally bound to strike the roots of European culture.
I have called Marx's essay Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law a turning-point in his life and thought. It is, indeed, also against the background of this essay that the wider perspective of this series on the “critique of heaven” can be outlined. The fact that this is Marx's first writing to introduce the term “proletariat” and deal with its unique place in universal history, is in itself an indication of its key-function in his development. Indeed, the subsequent lectures will focus on the period leading up to this key-point and will deal with Marx's writings of the following two years only in so far as they belong to this formative period. In other words, I shall be dealing exclusively with the so-called “young Marx”, leaving aside the “mature and older Marx” for examination in my second series of lectures.
The fact that I have divided my main theme into two sub-themes and that this distinction coincides more or less with a chronological distinction in Marx's career, will perhaps be taken to indicate that I recognize the truth and Tightness of distinguishing between the “young Marx” on one hand and the “mature Marx” on the other. But at the same time by setting this distinction under the comprehensive approach of the main theme, which brings the sub-themes together in the indivisible “critique of heaven and earth”, I have from the very outset made it plain that I do not believe it right to transform that distinction into some kind of contrast. The essential point of Marx's critique lies in the unbreakable interconnection between his critique of heaven and his critique of earth. To be sure, the problem is not one peculiar to Marx, but has a fairly general significance. I will mention, in passing, two historical examples comparable in more than one respect with the problem presented by Marx's career: the final word has certainly not been said either about the distinction between the “young Muhammad” and the “mature Muhammad” or about that between the “young Luther” and the “mature Luther”. In a sense, the problem could be extended to include the evaluation of historical movements. One might well wonder whether the crucial problem of Church history, arising out of the evolution of a “primitive Christianity” into a “mature Christianity”, is essentially different.
As far as the study of Marx is concerned, a variety of circumstances have endowed the issue with some very peculiar features. One such circumstance is connected with the relatively late publication, partly even with the rather late discovery, of some of Marx's most important early writings. I simply mention the fact that the complete texts of his dissertation and his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law were not published in German until 1927, and his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts not until 1932. The publication of the original texts had been preceded by publication in a Russian translation.
It is part of the irony or tragedy of history that free discussion of these early writings became impossible during the thirties, in both Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. It was during this period that in France the discovery of the “young Marx” became so intense and widespread a leaven in philosophical reflection that French philosophy since that time is hardly imaginable without some element of Marxist reflection in it. In a quite different form from that which Marx intended or could foretell, his prophecy has come true—that the day of German resurrection would be proclaimed by the crowing of the cock of Gaul. In one sense, such reflection and discussion in France have continued their pioneering role up to the present day. I need only mention, on one hand, the cross-fertilization between Marxism and Existentialism and, on the other hand, the increasing importance of Structuralism for the interpretation of Marx's philosophy. It is no accident that the discussions which have been carried on, for instance, between two prominent Marxist philosophers, Roger Garaudy and Louis Althusser, on the validity of the socialist humanism, are closely related to their evaluation of the young Marx.
France was also the country where already before the second world war a communist political leader, Maurice Thorez, had invited Roman Catholic Christians to enter into dialogue. The initiative has been renewed in the course of the sixties by the Centre d'Études et de Recherches marxistes. This Marxist study-centre used the celebration of the fourth centenary of John Calvin's death (1964) as occasion for inviting the Protestant Christians to engage in discussion based on one of Marx's pronouncements: “Luther shattered faith in authority because he restored the authority of faith.” Once again, it was no accident that the text was derived from Marx's Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law; for this essay could be regarded as in a sense the Magna Carta of the Marxist renaissance as well as of the Marxist-Christian dialogue.
It is impossible, within the framework of this first series of lectures, to describe the development of the Marxist renaissance and of the Marxist-Christian dialogue during the last two decades. I must content myself with a few remarks. My first one concerns the range, geographically speaking, of these developments. The Marxist renaissance and the Marxist-Christian dialogue have assumed international dimensions which not only embrace both sides of a divided Europe but reach as far as the two Americas and Japan. A second feature is the critical attitude which may be regarded as the backbone of these developments. It is a critical Marxism, on the one side, that embarks upon a dialogue with, on the other, a critical Catholicism and a critical Protestantism and, let it be added, with a critical Eastern Orthodoxy. “Critique” might well be thought to epitomize the style and aims of the discussions and arguments. It is the critics on the various sides who meet one another; and it all depends on the situation to what extent the critics of today may prove to be the “heretics” of tomorrow.
A third feature is closely connected with the two above-mentioned, namely, the emergence of what might be described as “the coming ecumenism”. What I have in mind is the prospect of a secular oikoumene which sees the reconciliation and renewal of a divided Christianity within the wider perspective of overcoming the antagonism between Christian dogmatism and atheist dogmatism and within the broader framework of the unity and renewal of humanity. I, for one, do not believe in any kind of “new reformation” which, to mention only one example, does not take Ernst Bloch's Das Prinzip Hoffnung as seriously as Jürgen Moltmann's Theologie der Hoffnung; nor do I see any real prospects of a radical renewal of theology except in the direction of what is sometimes defined as Politische Theologie.
I have deliberately quoted these terms in German. Since a broader discussion of Marx's Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law is to follow in my second series of lectures on the “critique of earth”, I must content myself with stressing the fact that this essay focuses on Germany. It could rightly be described as a paramount example of “Germanocentrism”; it is obsessed with the German question. Its last utterance is the almost eschatological promise of “the German day of resurrection”. Written in 1844 by a German exile living in Paris, “the new capital of a new world”, as a contribution to the German-French Annals, the document centres on Marx's obsession with Germany's deficiency which, so to speak, has accumulated all the sins of all state forms. Exactly one century after these words were written, the Germans’ Holy Empire, embodied in Hitler's Third Reich, had with a devilish precision fulfilled Karl Marx's prophecy in the hell of Auschwitz and of the many other concentration camps scattered across Europe. Indeed, Germany will not be able “to overthrow the specific German limitations without overthrowing the general limitation of the political present”.
But “the German day of resurrection” is still ahead. It is no accident, therefore, that Ernst Bloch, a German Marxist philosopher who as a Jew was first exiled from Hitler's Germany and would be exiled again from Walter Ulbricht's Germany of the sixties, wrote during his war-time sojourn in the United States that great work Das Prinzip Hqffnung. Nor is it accidental that its Christian counterpart, which tries to transpose Ernst Bloch's principle into the terms of a “theology of hope”, has been conceived by a German Protestant theologian, Moltmann, just as its translation into terms of a “political theology” is being attempted by a German Roman Catholic theologian, Johann Baptist Metz. Another symptomatic pointer is the fact that, as early as the beginning of the fifties, in Germany the Marxist-Christian dialogue was already being prepared by the Marxismus-Kommission der Evangelische Studiengemeinschaft, which has continued its series of Marxismus-Studien up to the present day. Again, one should notice that a number of other initiatives of international importance, such as the Marxist-Christian encounters under the auspices of the “Paulus-Gesellschaft” and the reviews “Neues Forum” and “Internationale Dialog Zeitschrift”, were also born in Germany or in Austria.
The Marxist-Christian dialogue has not simply fallen out of the blue, but is emerging at a particular juncture of modern history. If the dialogue has any meaning at all, it is the historical encounter of a Christian “theology after Auschwitz” with a Marxist “philosophy after Stalin”. For as Christian theology faces a radical break at the point where it is confronted with the abysmal riddle of how Germany's Holy Roman Empire and Germany's Reformation could finally bring forth Adolf Hitler, so Marxist philosophy faces its doomsday in the abysmal riddle of how it was that Karl Marx's humanism could finally produce Joseph Stalin. Theology today is theology after the death of the God of the Emperor Charles the Fifth and of Martin Luther, just as Marxism today is philosophy after the death of the atheist “god that failed”.
What we are facing today is the manifestation of a judgment which in the middle of the nineteenth century was only visible to the clairvoyant insight of a few prophetic minds. Karl Löwith, in his book From Hegel to Nietzsche, has described this judgment as the revolutionary break in nineteenth-century thinking. It was the break between an age-old Christian and a coming post-Christian civilization. Karl Marx was one of the few thinkers who had the radicality of insight and the merciless courage to discover that still concealed revolutionary break and to draw the necessary consequences. His contemporary, Sören Kierkegaard, drew consequences that were different but no less radical. Just as both thinkers have played a prophetic role in the history of modern philosophy, so both can be regarded as theologians. The difference is only that, while Kierkegaard's place in philosophy is generally recognized, conversely, Marx is rarely acknowledged to be a theologian.
To give just one outstanding example, the reader of Karl Barth's Die protestantische Theologie im 19. Jahrhundert (from Rousseau to Ritschl) will look in vain for the name of Karl Marx, not only in the table of contents but in the index of that book. His name is simply not there—despite the prominent place given to Hegel in the “prehistory” and in spite of the attention paid in the “history” of nineteenth-century theology to Strauss and Feuerbach. In the chapter on Feuerbach, Karl Barth has not omitted the names of Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner, that is, of the two Young Hegelian philosophers with whom Marx was most closely connected and who became his fiercest antagonists. Therefore, the omission of Karl Marx's name cannot be explained as accident or neglect; there must have been a deeper reason for it. If Feuerbach, Strauss, Bauer and Stirner have a place in the history of theology, then it is unreasonable to deny a place to Karl Marx.
The reason why Karl Barth did so has to be sought, I suppose, in his being faced with an insoluble dilemma. Or, to put it better, the dilemma is insoluble within the traditional framework of “theology” and of the “history of theology” which, for all his radicality, was still maintained and, in a sense, even reinforced, by the greatest theologian of our century. Inserting Karl Marx in the history of modern theology would, in fact, have revolutionized the whole notion of theology. I have the impression that Karl Barth sensed that dilemma and did not know how to resolve it. He cut the Gordian knot and followed the familiar Christian tack by simply leaving Marx out altogether.
A name which he could not and did not want to omit was that of Hegel, although he obscures Hegel's function somewhat by making him the last significant figure in the “prehistory” of nineteenth-century theology. The root of the dilemma lies, in fact, in Hegel's own philosophy; for it was Hegel who not only claimed to fulfil the history of Christian theology but who finally transformed theology into philosophy, and vice versa.
That transformation exhibits an extremely ambivalent character, in both directions. From a theological point of view, it can be interpreted as the culmination of a theologia gloriae; and it is particularly in the writings of the mature Hegel that this tendency is embodied. Marx had been the pupil of the mature Hegel; and his critical relationship to the master hinges on his radical critique of this tendency. There is a strange parallelism between the fate of Hegel's writings and those of Marx. Just as the discovery of the “young Marx” has had to wait for our century, so has that of the “young Hegel” too. It is of great importance that a tendency which has more and more diminished in Hegel's mature writings is to be found in the young Hegel: on the one hand, it is the tendency to carry on philosophy as a very concrete reflection on contemporary socio-political history. On the other hand, it is the peculiar feature of his theological reflection as reflection on the Old Testament, particularly on the “Abrahamite” structure of Israel's history, and, as far as the New Testament is concerned, the character of his reflection as a theologia crucis. Both features together are to be found in a famous passage, written by the young Hegel in 1802, when he was living in Jena. The passage describes the feeling that God Himself is dead (das Gefühl; Gott selbst ist tot) as the feeling of infinite grief that underlies the religion of modern times. The absolute Passion or the speculative Good Friday which was once historical (den spekulativen Charfreitag, der sonst historisch war) must be restored in the stone-hard truth of its godlessness. It is only out of this stone-hard truth that the philosophical idea of absolute freedom, the supreme totality, can and will arise.
Marx did not know this passage, but he had a thorough knowledge of Hegel's The Phenomenology of Mind. The last chapter of his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 contains Marx's Critique of Hegel's Dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole, which is devoted to the last chapter of Hegel's The Phenomenology of Mind, entitled “Absolute Knowledge”. The preceding chapter of The Phenomenology of Mind is entitled “Religion”; its last paragraph, entitled “Revealed Religion”, contains a passage closely akin to the passage above-mentioned, which Hegel had written five years earlier. This passage also relates “the grievous feeling of the contrite consciousness, that God Himself has died” to “the death of the Mediator”. Hegel takes up this thought in the last chapter on “Absolute Knowledge”. The final sentence of this chapter understands history as “the Golgotha (place of a skull) of absolute Mind, the reality, truth and certainty of its throne”. With this reference The Phenomenology of Mind closes. It reads like a final affirmation of the christological structure of Hegel's philosophy.
Marx's vehement protest against Hegel's concept of “absolute knowledge” is not directed against the dialectical method of his philosophy, but against its speculative character. In Hegel's terminology, the feeling that God Himself is dead, the feeling which underlies the religion of modern times, is present in the inner recesses of Marx's thinking. Marx's protest is directed against Hegel's concept of resurrection, which is only a speculative resurrection, a spiritual victory over death, a throne erected in the mind. If God Himself has died, then His death is an earthly reality, just as resurrection is an earthly reality.
It is this thoroughly earthy character of Marx's philosophy which it is difficult for traditional theology to absorb. Nevertheless, not only in its origin but in its very structure Marx's philosophy has a profoundly theological character. Theology will not recognize, let alone accept, Marx as a theologian, until it has recognized theology in the presentation of a critique of theology. And it will not acknowledge Marx's critique of heaven until it has acknowledged this critique as a necessary critique of earth. If the confession of the Creator of heaven and earth is the first article of the primitive Christian Creed, then the “critique of heaven and earth” might be added as its “thirteenth article”. We might do well to ask ourselves whether this “thirteenth article” which has, so to speak, been untimely born, is not destined to become the first article and cornerstone of a critical theology yet to come.