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Lecture 1: Introduction

I HAVE, first of all, to express my thanks to the Senatus of the University of Edinburgh for the high honour which they have bestowed upon me in choosing me to be the Gifford Lecturer for this year. The greater the confidence thereby reposed in me, so much the more do I feel doubt and anxiety as to whether I shall succeed in completely satisfying this confidence. For it is not an easy matter under any circumstances to speak in a satisfactory way about the highest questions which can engage the human mind, before an assembly like this—composed as it is of highly cultivated hearers of the most varied religious and scientific views; and in the case of a stranger the difficulty is increased in many respects to the highest degree. Not only must his imperfect mastery of your language compel him to appeal for an indulgent judgment regarding the form of his Lectures, but he also finds himself in a difficult position even with regard to the selection of the subjects to be treated, because he does not possess, like a native of the country, the living feeling that animates his audience, nor does he sufficiently know the interests and questions which are specially prevailing at the time. It is but too possible that he may easily treat in too great detail much that is already known and self-evident to his hearers, and may touch only in a cursory way other themes with regard to which they would specially desire to have more thorough discussion in detail. In these respects I must certainly appeal to your consideration, although perhaps to a certain degree the difficulty is lessened in my case by the fact that, in consequence of several former visits to this city, and of friendly intercourse with some of its social circles, and the amiable hospitality which I received on these occasions, the spiritual life of Edinburgh is not quite strange to me.

I confess that the idea of appearing here, particularly in Edinburgh, as Gifford Lecturer on “Natural Religion,” has had for me a peculiar attraction and charm. This city has always had a special interest for me ever since I came to know it, because I saw here the two great living forces of Religion and Science combined with one another, and even rivalling each other, in a degree such as perhaps can be seen nowhere else. And more especially as regards the theme of “Natural Religion,” the development of this conception appears to me to be connected in the closest way with the history of the spiritual life of this city. Let me, as witnesses for this view, single out from many others only three names, those of John Knox, David Hume, and Thomas Carlyle.

Perhaps the first of these names will appear to you somewhat paradoxical in this connection. You may ask, What has the Reformer, with his belief in the Bible, to do with “Natural Religion”? Does his glowing zeal for the faith not rather stand as far as possible from the cold scepticism of a David Hume? This question I take leave to answer, in the first place, with this other question, Would such a work as David Hume's ‘Dialogues on Natural Religion’ have been ever possible in Edinburgh without the work of Reformation carried out by John Knox? If, as I suppose, you will answer this question with me in the negative, you have thereby also already admitted that, notwithstanding all the manifest opposition between these two men, John Knox and David Hume, there does in fact also exist a positive connection between them; nay more, that in the last instance no other than the Reformer of Scotland, with his strong faith, has the merit of the fact that we can to-day in Edinburgh carry on scientific discussions concerning the subject of Natural Religion. Undoubtedly such discussions would have been to Knox at best a matter of extreme indifference, if not even somewhat of a horror to him. The Reformer, as such, is not a man given to scientific investigation, but to practical action. But as regards Knox's activity, in what else did it consist but in the establishment or restoration of Natural Christianity? His object was to free Christianity from the deformations and disguises which it had suffered in the dogmas, worship, and hierarchy of the Roman Church, and to bring its genuine, original, or natural truth in faith and morals again to recognition. Hence he went back from all the conventional traditions and usages of the Church to the historical source of religion, to the Word of God in Holy Scripture, and to the inner testimony of its truth, to the voice of God in the conscience. In the harmony of this inner testimony with that historical testimony the Reformation of the sixteenth century found its fixed point, from which it was able to move the world, to shatter the ecclesiastical system of the Middle Ages, and, by its liberation of the consciences of men from priestly tyranny, also to pave the way for the civil liberty of the peoples.

It was certainly a far way from the natural—that is to say, Biblical—Christianity of the Reformer, to the natural—that is, rational—Christianity of a Locke, Toland, and Tindal, and, finally, to David Hume's ‘Dialogues on Natural Religion.’ We should never forget that the Reformation of the sixteenth century did not spring directly from an intellectual interest, but from the practical interest to purify the Christianity of the Church from the abuses which had become offensive to the pious conscience. Hence its criticism was directed only against the ecclesiastical traditions, and, moreover, against them only in so far as they had become directly prejudicial to the religious and moral life. The Reformation, however, stopped short before the Bible, and indeed even enhanced its infallible divine authority, because it needed this firm support in its struggle against the Roman Church. Besides, it had maintained the old ecclesiastical dogmas regarding the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Atonement, Grace, and Election, because it was believed that these dogmas were grounded on Holy Scripture. Thus the faith that proceeded from the Reformation was a mixture of old and new, which indeed indicated a progress in practical respects, yet still contained for the thinking reason as many points of objection as did the medieval scholasticism.

With this halfness the human mind could not permanently stop. When it had once exercised its good right to a critical testing of the traditional on one side, what was to hinder it from going still further? The impulses of this movement came from various sides. Natural Science had made powerful progress since the middle of the sixteenth century. The old idea of the world had been overturned by Copernicus; our earth had been removed from its central position, and had been shown to be one of the innumerable revolving bodies in the universe; and thereby the fixed positions of above and below, which constituted the frame of the image of the world according to the old faith, had disappeared. Thereafter the thinking mind penetrated always further into the laws of the universe by its methods of observing, calculating, and experimenting, and with every step in the progress of inquiry it strengthened itself in the conviction not only of the immutable order and regularity of the events that happened in the world, but also of its own capability of ascertaining the truth in all departments by rational thinking. And, in contrast to this proud progress of science, how melancholy was the condition of the life of the Church! Out of the Reformation had arisen various new Churches and Confessions which were engaged in the most violent quarrels with each other and with the old Church; and from the religious confusions of the time there had grown bloody wars, revolutions, and reactions in all countries. The sacrifices required on every side by these religious conflicts were innumerable. In place of the old religious compulsion of the universal Church, there had arisen the not less intolerance of the several religious parties which had attained to political power. Under such impressions the question necessarily and inevitably pressed itself upon thinking men as to whether the distinguishing forms of faith, to which these numberless sacrifices were brought, were of such high value after all. The question was asked whether the truth of Christianity really lies in the mysterious dogmas, about which the believers contended with each other all the more bitterly the less they were rationally conceivable; or whether the truth did not much rather lie in the universal truths about which all are agreed, because reason is able to comprehend their truth.

Founding upon such reflections, Lord Herbert of Cherbury published as early as 1624 his work on ‘Truth, and its Relation to Revelation,’ in which he presented five “really catholic truths,” concerning God, moral worship, and future recompense, and designated them as the true kernel which had been contained in all religions from the beginning, but which had been obscured in the course of time by the fraud or deception of priests. In the same sense John Locke, towards the end of the seventeenth century, wrote his work on ‘The Reasonableness of Christianity.’ John Toland wrote on ‘Christianity not Mysterious’; while Matthew Tindal, in 1730, published his treatise entitled ‘Christianity as old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature.’ The common thought of these writings was, that Christianity is essentially nothing else than the moral religion of reason, the truth of which is to be apprehended by the universal human reason, and which therefore was originally common to all men, but which has been distorted in later ages by manifold superstition. Christianity has, properly speaking, introduced nothing new; it only brought the original true religion of reason again to light by removing the false additions to it; but it soon again fell under the same fate of superstitious distortion by mysterious dogmas.

What gave these men courage for such bold criticism of the faith of the Church was the conviction that what still remained after their criticism—namely, the belief in God and immortality—was irrefragable truth that could be proved by reason with mathematical certainty, and had been possessed by all rational men from the first. It is the merit of David Hume that he subjected this assumption to a dissolving criticism, and thereby carried forward scepticism to absolute doubt. His celebrated ‘Dialogues on Natural Religion’ (published in 1779, three years after his death) begin with the assertion that the true—that is, the sceptical—philosophy is best at peace with theology, seeing that, next to total ignorance, nothing is so conducive to certainty of faith as the insight that we can know nothing at all, and therefore are reduced to unconditional belief. It is difficult to determine how far he was in earnest with this conclusion; it is certain only that he wished by his frequently-repeated reference to Revelation to secure a justification for the unreserved criticism of the Religion of Reason. It is specially the popular inference from the conformity to design in the world to an intelligent former of the world, against which he advanced a series of acute objections. That inference, he proceeded to say, is inadmissible, because it rests upon the analogy of the origin of the world with the origin of human works of art, whereas the origin of the world is an absolutely singular case or effect, and is not to be judged according to any human analogy. For the world as a whole, the analogy of the natural production and growth of organisms has a nearer relation than that of the artistic making of the objects of human art. Why, then, in attempting the explanation of the world, should we not rather stop at the principle of natural development, than seek a transcendental cause? Hume also referred, at least in passing, to the possibility that the apparent conformity of the world to design might be the consequence of happy accidents, seeing that among the infinitely many possible combinations of the elements of the world one might at last result so happily that the forms which had thus arisen might be able to preserve and constantly maintain themselves. Finally, he asked, With what right can one assume the complete designedness of the world, seeing that men of all ages, and not least the Christian theologians, had yet so much to complain of concerning the universal badness of the world and the endless evils of this miserable life? The actual condition of the world is so far from justifying us to infer a perfect, all-good, and all-wise Author of the world, that, as Hume believes, it might much rather be regarded as the first attempt of a beginner God, or as the weak product of an aged God; nay, even the idea of a plurality of authors, who had mutually impeded each other, appears to him to be a hypothesis worth considering. In any case—this is his result—whether we accept one God, or many Gods, or no God, the world remains always equally inconceivable; and hence any of these views has just as much, or as little, right on its side as the others. The utmost that we can assert is the probability that the cause, or the causes, of the order of the universe may have a remote similarity with human intelligence,—a proposition which, as Hume very rightly remarks, is much too indefinite to suffice as the principle of a practical religion.

A similarly negative result is also reached by the criticism of the proof of Immortality, as Hume has treated it in his essays on Suicide and Immortality. The popular proof from retribution rests on an inadmissible introduction of juridical points of view into morals, and on the unjustified assumption that retributive justice, because it does not sufficiently exhibit itself in this world, which is known to us, must work so much the more certainly in a future world. Our present experience shows us a certain retribution in the natural inward and outward consequences with which virtue and vice are wont to be accompanied. But above all this there is still a something further to be desired, or rather required—namely, that the constitution of the world should direct itself according to the wishes of our supposed standard reason. But that there lies a guarantee for immortality in the instinctive desire of the human soul for infinite development, is not admitted by Hume, since our capacities hardly appear to be sufficient for a tolerable life in time, and much less for a whole eternity. On the contrary, he finds in the powerful instinct of the fear of death an urgent warning of Nature against illusions with regard to the life beyond. In no case, therefore, can the belief in immortality be supported upon rational grounds, but only upon the revelation of the Gospel.

If, then, the grounding of religion upon reason is in every respect as problematical as Hume's criticism sought to prove, the question arises, How is it to be explained that religion could take rise at all, and become such a powerful force in human history? Hume has sought to solve this question in his work on ‘The Natural History of Religion.’ It is not the powerless reflections of reason which are the roots of religion; but, says Hume, the energetic and irrational passions of the soul, and fictions of the imagination or fantasy, fear and hope, drove men from the beginning to seek their Gods behind the unknown forces of Nature on which their weal and woe depend; and in this process the fantasy, in virtue of its anthropomorphising tendency, personified the manifestations of Nature. Hence it follows that the oldest form of religion was not Monotheism, and therefore that the primitive religion was not (as the Deists supposed) identical with the Religion of Reason. As little as men cultivated geometry before agriculture, just as little had they, before the development of civilisation in the primitive prehistoric times, already a Monotheistic knowledge of God. The primitive men much rather thought of their Gods as powerful beings like men, but neither almighty nor morally good. When, then, one God was gradually raised above the others, and especially when the God of a particular people was elevated above those of other peoples, and when, in order to win his favour, more and more flattering expressions of honour were attributed to him, at last there was reached the idea of an infinite God. Religious Monotheism is therefore, according to Hume, just as little as religion in general, a product of reason, although it coincided accidentally with the thought of God maintained by the philosophers. Besides, the more sublimely Monotheism is conceived, it does so much the less permanently satisfy the need of the multitude, who would fain represent the divine in more vivid form and in more intimate relation; and hence they have recourse to intermediate beings, which, as representatives of the highest God, now take up his place, and thereby the old Polytheism returns anew. Thus, according to Hume, the history of religion moves in a constant wavering or oscillation between Monotheism and Polytheism, the advantages and defects of which maintain a certain reciprocal equilibrium between them; and, indeed, the barbarism of Monotheistic intolerance and its tendency to persecution is, says Hume, even worse than the crudeness of the heathen forms of worship. Generally it appears to him that the influence of the popular religion upon morality is exceedingly unfavourable. The crude notions of the divine arbitrariness and of the torments of hell have a hardening effect upon the soul; and worst of all is the delusion that the favour of the Deity is not to be deserved by right conduct but by ceremonial observances, whereby morality is desecrated and the morals of a people are undermined. Thus religion, like all other things, has also its two sides; and it is difficult to say which of the two predominates in the common actuality of life.

While we are far from being able to concur in this radical scepticism, which saw in religion only an irrational pathological phenomenon, yet this must not hinder us from recognising the significance of Hume for the science of religion. By his logical criticism he has destroyed the self-sufficient dogmatism of the period of rationalistic enlightenment, whose half-criticism was neither just to faith nor to knowledge, because it imagined that it exhausted all reason in its narrow intellectual conceptions, and had no sense or comprehension either for the unconscious reason of the religious feelings and symbols, or for the development of reason in the history of religion. It has no longer been possible since Hume to speak of “Natural Religion” in such a sense as if there had been in the beginning of the human race a religion common to all, and consisting of a few simple truths of reason. To have destroyed for ever this illusion of the older rationalism is Hume's abiding merit. He has thereby paved the way for a mode of consideration which seeks and finds the natural, not outside of but in the historical, and the rational not outside of but in the actual. One of the most thoughtful representatives of this point of view was the historian Thomas Carlyle, who was also so closely connected with Edinburgh. But the way from Hume to Carlyle leads through the German idealistic philosophy.

Immanuel Kant was, according to his own confession, awakened out of his dogmatic slumber by David Hume. In his criticism of the old metaphysical proofs of the existence of God, he followed pretty closely the footsteps of the great Scottish sceptic. But whereas Hume stuck fast in the negation of dogmatism without being able to find a new position, Kant found such a position in the Practical Reason. The Unconditioned, which, according to Kant also, is unknowable by our theoretic thinking, he found given in our moral self-consciousness, not as absolute being, but as absolute obligation, or as a demand of reason to recognise the end of humanity in every man as of absolute worth. This obligation raises our existence above the conditioned phenomena of the world of sense, and makes us citizens of the intelligible world of freedom, or of the spirit. From this fact of our inner moral experience Kant has also derived the content of our religious consciousness—the “moral faith of reason,” as he called it—in distinction from all authoritative reason that rests on merely external and statutory grounds. Morality becomes religion, says Kant, when what it teaches to be recognised as the final end of man is, at the same time, thought as the final end of the supreme Law-giver and Creator of the world, or God. This religious view of our duty is indeed not needed for the grounding of our consciousness of duty, which rests exclusively upon the self-legislation of our reason; but it is certainly required as a guarantee for the possibility of our fulfilment of duty. The presuppositions without which the fulfilment of our moral destination would not be thinkable are demands or “postulates”of the practical reason. Because the moral law is not realisable in any given time without remainder, its realisation, according to Kant, thus postulates an infinite duration of the personality, and therefore immortality. And because the highest good demanded by reason also embraces, along with perfect virtue, a corresponding happiness, which we ourselves are not able to bring about, we have thus to accept the existence of God as a guarantee for the possibility of the attainment of the highest good. Literally understood, this deduction appears to come to this—that we believe in God in order to be able to hope for a future reward of our virtue by happiness; and thereby the belief in God would be grounded upon the eudæmonistic passions of the soul. The rational justification of this position is subject to all those doubts which Hume's criticism had so acutely brought into prominence. But this was not properly Kant's opinion; he wished to show that the belief in God is a necessary demand of our reason, of our moral self-consciousness, not of our sensibility. Underlying his deduction there was concealed the deeper thought (which appears more distinctly in his ‘Critique of the Judgment’) that we feel ourselves bound as moral beings to a moral world-order, which is grounded not merely in us but in God, and that the whole course of the world in nature and history is the means arranged by God for the fulfilment of our moral final end. This thought formed thereafter the standing theme of the idealistic philosophy which followed that of Kant.

By this moral issue Kant also made the specific Christian doctrines of sin and redemption more intelligible than the earlier rationalism had done. Although he did not yet reach the full sense of these doctrines, he interpreted them as moral allegories relating to the states of the moral individual. He expounded this view in his work entitled ‘Religion within the Limits of mere Reason,’ where he says that at the beginning there rules in every one a radical propensity of self-love as the consequence of an inexplicable intelligible act of freedom. The overcoming of this evil principle can only take place through a complete revolution of the disposition, or a “regeneration,” which is likewise the business of the individual freedom which can triumph over the evil because it ought. The historical Jesus comes into consideration in this regard only as an illustrating example of the moral ideal. The proper object of faith, however, is not anything historical, but the moral idea of man which is grounded in our reason. Whoever recognises this ideal, and makes it his supreme principle, is just before God in spite of defects in his individual acts. His earlier trespasses are also made up for, not indeed by a vicarious suffering on the part of another, but really by this, that the new man in ourselves continually suffers, as it were, vicariously for the old man, who alone had deserved the suffering.

It was certainly an important step in advance when Kant strove to find a rational moral meaning, not only in the faith in God, but also in the ecclesiastical doctrine of redemption. But what still prevented him from penetrating into the full sense of this cardinal Christian doctrine was the individualism which he shared with his whole century. He could think of the victory of the good over the evil principle only as a process within the individual subject, and as a work of the subjective reason of the individual; and he was even compelled to confess that this process, is inexplicable as an act of the freedom of the individual. But, at the same time, as Kant himself had designated the good as the end of God in the world, it was a small step to seeing that the victory of the good over the evil is not the work of the subjective reason of the individual, but is the advancing work of the universal reason, or of the divine spirit in the historical humanity. When the post-Kantian philosophy took this step, it broke through the limits of the earlier subjective rationalism; it awakened the sense for the objective reason in the great historical life of humanity; and it thereby also overcame the opposition between rational religion and historical religion.

This important turn in the course of our philosophical thinking took place just about the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the philosophy of Fichte. After this disciple of Kant had carried out his objective idealism with more logical sequence, and had driven it to the utmost point, he recognised the impossibility of stopping at the human Ego as ultimate, and went back to the infinite reason, whose eternal divine life obtains manifold manifestations in the whole realm of finite spirits. With this turning round from subjective to objective, or absolute, idealism, the place of the moral religion of reason was now taken up by religious mysticism, which no longer postulates a distant God for the sporadic supporting of our need of help, but feels the active presence of the divine spirit in the heart of the individual himself. In the work entitled ‘Guidance to the Blessed Life,’ Fichte described religion as the view of the world which rises above morality, which perceives the divine life in all the manifestations of the true and good, and feels it in one's own self as the power of holy living and loving—as a calm inner mood in which man feels himself animated by God's spirit, and surrenders his selfhood to God's will, and from which there springs joyous and active love of one's neighbour.

This religion of the heart, which Herder had already opposed to the religion of reason, was made by Schleiermacher the theme of his celebrated ‘Discourses on Religion to the Cultivated among its Despisers,’ Religion, he showed, is neither knowing nor doing, neither metaphysics nor morals, neither dogma nor worship, but it is our pious feeling in so far as we become conscious in it of the connection of our life with that of the All; or, as it is expressed in Schleiermacher's System of Doctrine, it is our “feeling of absolute dependence,” in which we take ourselves along with all else that is finite, and refer ourselves to the one infinite cause of the universe. The doctrines connected with religion are secondary products of reflection about the feelings, and means of expression for the communication of them to others; but they do not belong in themselves to the essence of religion. According to Schleiermacher's opinion, one may have much religion without needing the conceptions “miracle, inspiration, and revelation”; but whoever reflects upon his religion inevitably finds these conceptions upon his way. Hence they have an unlimited right in religion, but also only as religious expressions for subjective states of the soul, without their significance being entitled to be extended to the sphere of knowing, or moral acting. Schleiermacher likewise believed that as regards the conceptions “God” and “Immortality,” the very same holds good as of all religious conceptions and doctrines: that their theoretical apprehension is not of such essential significance for religion as is usually supposed. The main thing, according to him, is that one should live at all times in the eternal and have God in his feeling, whatever view may be entertained regarding the immortality of the future, and regarding the personality or impersonality of God. Actions do no more immediately belong to religion than do conceptions and doctrines; religion much rather invites one to a quiet passive enjoyment than incites to outward activity. Feelings and actions form two series, proceeding side by side with each other; nothing is to be done from religion, but everything with religion; the religious feelings ought to accompany the active life uninterruptedly, like a holy music.

Notwithstanding the one-sidedness of this theory, which would make faith the one and all in religion, and in which the influences of the then dominating romanticism betray themselves, yet its epoch-making significance for the science of religion and theology is not to be underestimated. Schleiermacher, by making religion in general, and Christianity in particular, to be understood as a mode of feeling or as a fact of the inner experience, removed the grounds of the conflict between the supra-naturalists and the rationalists regarding the derivation of the dogmatic propositions—namely, as to whether they are derived from reason or from revelation. He set himself in opposition to the supra-naturalists, by apprehending the Christian faith not as a doctrine founded upon external authority, but as an inner determination of our own self-consciousness, which must stand in connection and harmony with the other contents of our rational consciousness; and therewith Schleiermacher also introduced into theology the fundamental thought of idealism, that the mind is able to recognise as truth only that in which it finds its own nature again. On the other hand, he opposed to the rationalists the view that the Christian faith is not a product of rational reflection, but is a modification of the soul, a feeling which is given before thinking and independent of it, and indeed as a fact not merely of individual experience, but of the common experience of the historical community which is called the Christian Church. All Christian doctrines will only be descriptions of the common feeling of Christendom, which is determined by the opposition of sin and redemption, or of the restraint and liberation of the God-consciousness. Redemption is therefore, according to Schleiermacher, as well as according to Kant, not a single miraculous process that occurred once for all in the past, but it is the inner experience of the victory of the spirit over the flesh—of the advancing, strengthening divine principle in man—which is repeated again and again in the pious. But this experience has its active ground, not in the freedom of the individual, as Kant would have it, but in the common spirit of the Christian community, which has proceeded from the historical personality of Jesus, the founder of the community. Thus did Schleiermacher connect again the bonds between the subject and historical Christianity, which had been torn asunder by Kant. Instead of shutting up religion “within the limits of mere (subjective) reason,” he put it into the universal connection of the whole life of humanity, and sought to comprehend it as the product of the objective reason in history.

Schleiermacher, however, did not yet carry out logically the fruitful thought of the “development” of religion, seeing that he removed the founder of Christianity to a position above the plane on which the historical humanity moves, and he carried him back to a miraculous origin, thereby opening to supra-naturalism the entrance anew into the system of doctrine. This defect was amended and corrected by the Hegelian philosophy of religion. The strength and merit of the Hegelian philosophy lay in this, that it applied the idealism of the Kantian subjective philosophy to the historical life of humanity, and has understood that life in the light of a development of the spirit in conformity with law. Thereby this philosophy made an immense impression upon its contemporaries, who believed they found in it the word that solved all riddles. In this celebrated proposition of Hegel, “The rational is actual, and the actual is rational,” there was expressed an optimistic belief in the rational sense and the purposeful meaning of the history of the world—a belief which was a perfect consolation to a generation that was weary of conflict, and which was, at the same time, a wholesome medicine for its idealistic extravagance. Hegel recalled his contemporaries from the Utopias of the golden ages in the past and future, in which the Rousseaus, Herders, and Kants had revelled, to the solid ground of the historical life; and he showed them that undreamed-of treasures of rational ideas and of impelling and active ideals here presented themselves to the eye that was lovingly turned in that direction. He showed them how the reason that governs the world had been able to carry through its sublime purposes in every age and in the case of every people, although half unknown to men themselves; and how even the defects and evils of every time had been only the necessary means of carrying forward the stage that had been reached to a still higher and richer development of the spiritual life of the peoples and of humanity. Thereby a knowledge of history was gained which far excelled all that had been hitherto reached in impartiality and justice of judgment, and in comprehension of the connection of the individual and the whole—in short, in rational objectivity; and this view superseded the rationalistic pragmatism of the eighteenth century, by substituting for it a truly historical method.

This thoughtful view of history was fraught with special advantage to the history of religion and to the Church. Hegel recognised in this history a regular development of the divine revelation in the human consciousness of God, a development in which no point is entirely without truth, yet in which no one point is the whole truth, but in which the divine truth gradually unveils itself more purely, more spiritually, and more clearly to the human consciousness. The historical religions are accordingly neither inventions of human arbitrariness nor the expression of the accidental feelings of pious souls, but are the necessary products of the specific common spirit of the peoples, in the same way as are law and morals, art and science; and they are, therefore, likewise only to be understood in closest connection with the universal history of civilisation and culture. Christianity, however, according to Hegel, is “the absolute religion,” because in it the truth of God as the Spirit has become manifest and revealed; man has become conscious of the presence of God in his spirit, and has thereby come to his true freedom in God. Moreover, the process of the evolution of the religious spirit goes further within Christianity; because its true essence can only be realised gradually and in constant conflict with half-truth and one-sided apprehension of truth. To show this teleological rationality in the history of religion, and to overcome thereby the proud subjectivism of the period of enlightenment which had set itself above the historical by its utter lack of understanding and piety—this was the intention and the merit of the Hegelian philosophy of religion. But its defect was its one-sided intellectualism,—its mistaking the fact that religion is not, like philosophy, a thing of the thinking but of the emotional spirit, and that even thoughts only obtain religious significance by their exciting feeling and will, by their determining the disposition of the whole man, and by giving themselves abiding expression in his moral character. So far, Hegel's religion of reason needed correction by the religion of the heart as expounded by Fichte and Schleiermacher.

It is just this combination of Hegel's historical evolutionism with Fichte's ethical idealism that is represented in a classical way by your gifted countryman Thomas Carlyle. He was one of the freest spirits of our time; his keen critical understanding bowed down before no external authority, no traditional system of belief. In the dogmas and rites of all the Churches he recognised the natural products of the historical stage of culture reached by the peoples; to him they were the symbols in which the eternal idea must clothe itself for the consciousness of every age. But as is the case with all that is historical, much must also again become antiquated when the growth of time has gone beyond them. In his fundamental aversion to all religious formalism, to overestimation of what is statutory and conventional, and to all ecclesiastical form and sham, he may appear at first sight as a radical sceptic, as a second David Hume. And yet no one was further from the empty scepticism of the cold understanding than Thomas Carlyle, whose soul glowed with enthusiasm for the true and good, who bowed in reverence before the great personalities of history, in whom he recognised prophets of the true and heroes of the good. To deny and combat what is false, to believe and to honour what is true, as that in which the eternal God reveals Himself to us,—this was Carlyle's element of life; it was his religion. Has not this pathos of moral idealism the closest affinity with religious enthusiasm, with the courage that sustains the conflicts and sacrifices of the Reformers? In fact, Thomas Carlyle's character appears to stand much nearer that of John Knox than that of David Hume; or rather it may be said that Thomas Carlyle united in himself the religious reverence of the Reformer with the intellectual clearness of the modern thinker who does not fear even the sharp edge of criticism, because he knows that it is the indispensable means of penetrating from what merely seems true to what is genuinely true.

In the spirit of Carlyle, which combines the courage of the thinker in the cause of truth with the reverence of faith, Lord Gifford, the estimable founder of the Lectureship which has brought us together here, wished to see the question of religion treated. And I do not know how they could be otherwise treated successfully. The more we are filled with a sense of the incomparable worth of religion, and especially of our Christian faith, so much the more must we feel it to be incumbent upon us to overcome the impediments which have sprung up in the way of the faith from the scientific view of the world of the present day. For this end it is necessary to show that the doubts of the thinking mind do not affect the essence of the Christian faith, but apply only to the forms in which earlier generations have set forth this faith,—forms which sprang from and corresponded to the state of culture and the philosophy of former ages, but which on that very account cannot be any longer sufficient and authoritative for the advanced knowledge of our time. It will be a part of the task of these Lectures to show how these forms of faith have taken shape and developed themselves in the course of the ages, what they signify, and what religious truths they would symbolically express. First of all, however, we shall have to make intelligible what the essence of Religion is, which lies at the basis of these changing forms of the doctrines of religion. But in thus proceeding we shall not fall back again into the error of the old rationalism—namely, of seeking the essence of religion in its initial state, or in a so-called “Natural Religion,” which was held to consist in certain presumably rational universal truths, but which in truth are only abstract and colourless conceptions. David Hume, as has already been observed, irrefutably showed that there has never been such a natural religion of reason; but irrational passions of the heart and fictions of the imagination were recognised by him as forming the beginning of religion, and the historical investigations since his time have always only more confirmed this view. But from the fact that the condition of religion at the beginning of its history was everywhere more or less irrational and pathological, is the inference at all to be justified that the essence of religion also consists in irrational wishes and dreams? Such a conclusion could only be held to be correct by one who had taken no notice of the great thought which gives the whole science of nature and history in the nineteenth century its proper and specifically distinguishing characteristic in contrast to the enlightenment of the eighteenth century—namely, the thought of development.

We know that every living thing unfolds its essential nature only in the whole course of its life, and hence that its state at the beginning least enables us to obtain a knowledge of its real nature. Whoever would describe the essence of the oak, will not derive its marks from the acorn, but from the full-grown tree; and whoever would obtain a knowledge of the essence of man, will not limit himself to the observation of the infant, nor will he choose as his models the savages who are to be found in the crude state of nature. On the contrary, he will give heed to what the human race has developed itself into in the course of thousands of years; and in the highest representatives of the moral and intellectual culture of man he will find the criterion by which to judge of what the human species is by its constitution, or what its essence contains in itself. In like manner, the political philosopher who would determine the essence of the State will no doubt cherish a historical interest in the first beginnings of the historical organisation of humanity, but he will guard himself against defining the conception of the State, as we know it to-day, according to its first crude beginnings; nor will he derive the facts of moral right and the function of the State from the mode of its historical origin, but rather from the conditions and demands of our rational spirit, which has attained to clearness regarding itself by historical experience. The same holds good of Religion: its essence is least of all to be recognised in its historical beginnings; it reveals itself only through its actualisation in the course of its historical development, and most distinctly on the highest culminating point of that development, in Christianity. Only in so far as we give heed to the sum of the religious experiences of humanity as they culminate in Christianity, shall we be in a position for understanding objectively the essence of religion; and if we were to turn away from history, the great teacher in this sphere, we should not get beyond arbitrary hypotheses and empty abstractions.

Assuredly we ought not to forget that even Christianity as a historical phenomenon is not a simple quantity, but a very complicated whole, composed of the most manifold elements. Thus the question immediately arises, Which of these manifold elements are essentially religious, and which of them belong not to the essence of religion but to its more outward vestment, and even to its deformations? Or in other words, In what features of Christianity is religion presented to us in its purest and most valuable development, and in which as less pure and less valuable? Now it is clear that the relative value of individual historical appearances is only capable of being judged by reference to a universal principle, which contains the ground and law of all that is particular. If, then, religion is a universally human phenomenon, its principle can only lie in the universal essence of man, in what distinguishes him from the lower animals, and therefore in his rational endowment. The principle of religion cannot consist in individual rational judgments, propositions, or doctrines, as was maintained by the old rationalism, but must consist assuredly in reason itself. It will be the task of the next following Lectures to show that reason is so constituted in us that the consciousness of God necessarily proceeds out of its normal function, and to explain what position this consciousness occupies in the whole of our spiritual life in relation to its other functions. To-day it will only be possible to indicate in an introductory outline of our views the leading fundamental thoughts, the further exposition and establishment of which will have to occupy us in the later lectures of this course.

Reason is the synthetic thinking which arranges the manifold contents of consciousness by reference to the unity of the Ego. As theoretical reason, it arranges the mental representations; as practical reason, the appetencies and desires. The harmonious ordering of the representations is the Idea of the true; that of the desires is the Idea of the good. Now, since reason as theoretical and as practical is one and the same reason, it must strive after a supreme unity which comprehends under itself the Ideas of the true and good; and this is the Idea of God. It is only through reference to the Idea of God that the Ideas of the true and good receive their full objective significance. For, as our representations of things in themselves or of the world, their ordering in our consciousness can only be effectuated under the supposition that the world of things is likewise subject to a similar order, or is arranged by a reason similar to ours. The truth of our rational thinking thus assumes the truth of the rational order of the world—that is, of God. And seeing that the desires of each individual are conditioned by those of other men, and also by the nature of things, the harmonious order of the desires in the individual consciousness is only to be attained under the assumption that the same ordering principle also rules in other men and in nature; and thus the realisability of the Idea of the good presupposes the reality of the moral order of the world, or of God. The Idea of God, therefore, contains not merely the finishing unity or highest synthesis of the contents of consciousness within the subject, but also its unity with the trans-subjective or objective world of the real; it guarantees the objective truth of our rational thinking, and the objective realisability of our rational willing.

To the two sides of the Idea of God, in so far as it is the principle of the true and the good, or the highest law of being and of the being that ought to be, there also correspond the two sides which we have to distinguish in religion as the practical relation of man to the Idea of God. The fundamental feeling of religion is best expressed in the words of Goethe,—

“Small do I feel myself within the infinitely great.”

This is the feeling of finiteness and limitedness, of dependence on an infinitely superior power, against which we can do nothing, and by which our existence and our weal and woe are conditioned. But the religious feeling is not a mere feeling of dependence; it is not a slavish fear of an extraneous mysterious power: where it thus appears we judge it to be a deformity or malformation, a crudeness or degeneration of the religious feeling. Already by the very fact that we know our dependence, or our limit, we are in a certain sense above it; when we make the infinite power on which we feel ourselves dependent the object of our thinking, it appears no longer as entirely strange, but as related to ourselves, as a spiritual power, as the ordering principle of all that is capable of being known by us of the laws, purpose, and beauty of the world, and as what excites our wonder and reverence. Reverence is the feeling of dependence on one who is such that we feel ourselves at the same time sympathetically drawn to him; and thus it leads over to the other side of religion. In so far as we see in God the good, or the ideal of our true willing, He is the goal of the longing of our freedom, which can only be released from the pressure of the finite in that it raises itself from all limited and divided willing to the one perfect and harmonious willing of the whole, in order to realise and satisfy itself in surrender to it. From the beginning, mankind have seen in the divine not merely the power on which they feel themselves dependent, but at the same time the ideal goal of their longing, the ideal of their imperfect being, the perfect fulfilment of their highest hopes, the source of their blessedness. Thus, in the religious feeling there comes to be added to the depressing feeling of dependence, elevating trust and free self-surrendering love. The feeling of dependence, however, is not thereby in any way abolished, but, on the contrary, it only then truly becomes morally deepened. For, when man comes to know God as the good, as the ideal of true willing, he feels himself not merely dependent in his being on divine power, but also bound in his willing to the divine will, and under obligation to obey and serve it; he recognises in the purpose of God, or in the universal good, the regulating rule of authority for his conduct and his judgment of himself. And when he now recognises the distance of his being from this sublime obligation, the humble feeling of human weakness becomes a painful feeling of guilt and unworthiness. But out of this deepest humiliation there springs up again the highest elevation—namely, the desire for liberation, not merely from the pressure of the finite world and its evils, but still more from the dividedness of one's own being, from the pain of the feeling of guilt, and from the weakness of the will to do good. This moral yearning for freedom reaches its fulfilment in the full moral surrender of the individual's own will to the divine will of goodness. In obedience to God man finds his true freedom; out of the humility which overcomes itself there grows the courage of the trust which overcomes the world. The more, in any religion, these two sides of humility and trust, surrender and elevation, dependence and freedom, come to full and harmonious realisation, so much the more does it correspond to the essence of religion, and so much the more does it realise fellowship with its infinite ideal implanted in the essence of the human spirit. In this we have the criterion by which we are able to estimate the relative value of the historical religions, and by which we can understand the law of their teleological development. Hence we shall no longer seek “natural religion” in the rude beginnings of history, and just as little in meagre abstractions from actual religion, which have never been actual; but we shall find them where religion has historically unveiled its true nature, as it alone corresponds to the essence of man—namely, in Christianity.