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Lecture 5: The Revelation of God in the Natural Order of the World

IT may be accepted as a recognised position that, since the criticism of Hume and Kant, the so-called proofs of the existence of God can no longer be maintained in their common scholastic form. No one holds it still to be possible to prove the existence of God from an abstract conception of God, by means of a process of inference, or from an abstract conception of the world to infer its cause in a God separated from it. But, from the fact that the old scholastic demonstrations no longer hold good, it would, however, be very precipitate to conclude that the question regarding the truth of the belief in God cannot be an object of our reflection at all. However often this question may be put aside, it will, nevertheless, always press itself again upon the human mind as the greatest problem for its thought. And especially in the present day, when the bases of religion appear to be wavering in so many ways, it has become a more burning question than ever. But if it be said that it is unnecessary that we should trouble ourselves to prove God's existence, seeing that He Himself does in fact prove Himself to us by His living revelation which He permits us to experience, then we reply that this is just the very problem at issue—namely, how to demonstrate the revelation of God in human experience; how to bring it to the consciousness of men, to awaken the understanding and interest for it in the doubters and the indifferent, and then to obtain from the manifold revelations in the different spheres of life the corresponding expressions regarding the divine government and being. This was just the sum and substance of what was always meant and aimed at in the “Demonstrations of God” in the earlier examples of them. They were designed to point out the way by which mankind came to the consciousness of God by the reflecting understanding; and to show, from the analysis of human experience, the justification, the good ground, and meaning of the belief in God. In order to avoid misunderstandings which cling to the term “Proofs” or “Demonstrations,” we therefore rather say that our task is to describe the revelation of God in the Natural, Moral, and Religious Order of the World. And to-day we shall be occupied in the first place with the Natural World-Order, which is related to the moral and religious Order of the World, as the universal is to the particular, and to the most particular; or as the base of the pyramid is to its middle and apex. On each of these stages of the Order of the World we have to distinguish a subjective and an objective side, a world of consciousness and of existence, which correspond to each other in such a manner that neither side can be understood without reference to the other. It is just in this reciprocal relatedness and orderedness of the two to each other that the one single ordering principle of the whole reveals itself; and this principle is God. It is of importance to recognise this double-sidedness of the Order of the World, because thereby the attempt, which has been often recently made, to put the Order of the World itself in the place of God, is excluded from the outset. For a conception, which when more exactly examined resolves itself into a duality of correlative conceptions, cannot possibly be the highest concluding Idea; but it certainly contains the unfolding and manifestation of the One in the many, the revelation of God in the world of internal and external experience.

When the “Natural Order of the World” is spoken of, we usually think only of the order of external Nature, as a whole of things and effects, which exist independent of our thinking. But David Hume has already shown that the radical conceptions of substantiality and causality, by means of which we think the ordered world, are not given to us from without, but are added by our own thought to the impressions of the senses. Thereafter Kant taught that the forms of perception and thought, by means of which we connect the sensations into ideas and judgments, originally belong to our mind, and he has accordingly called our understanding on that account “the Legislator of Nature”—that is to say, of the Nature represented by us, and which forms the content of our consciousness. In fact, it cannot be disputed that the world of which we know immediately is just the world of our consciousness, which at all events rests primarily upon the functions and laws of our mind. Hence the question immediately arises, Is there corresponding to this our subjective world of consciousness, also an objective world of existence independent of our consciousness, or is there not? If this question is affirmed, we then stand before the cardinal question of the theory of knowledge, How the agreement of our thought-world with the real world, upon which the truth of our knowledge rests, is thinkable? This question is simply evaded by the subjective idealism which denies a real world and only accepts the thought-world of our consciousness.

Although this idealistic way of thinking has in our day not very many representatives, we will yet try to transfer ourselves hypothetically, for a moment, to its standpoint. Now so much at all events is clear, that even the idealist, if he would not fall into the absurdity of “Solipsism,” must at least accept a plurality of subjects of consciousness which stand related to one another in the exchange of thoughts, through the medium of language. But then, it is asked, how do these different minds come to the harmonious representation of a nature common to them, and that is the medium of their reciprocal action? To this Fichte has answered, that the agreement of finite minds in the notion of an external world is explained by the fact that they are only the limited forms of the manifestation of a universal reason. In a similar sense Berkeley had already said that the idea of external things is produced in human minds by God. But if any one perhaps preferred to say that the similarity in the human representations of an external nature is explained by the similar psychological laws of our process of representation, the question would thereby only be driven further back. For whence, we must then necessarily ask, this similarity of the psychological processes and states, if the individual minds were originally separate independent monads, and were not bound to each other by a universal consciousness that embraced all the individuals? If, in accordance with a logical individualism, we hold every individual Ego to be a monad which shuts itself up in its own ideal world, and that its representations flow on independently of any universal spiritual principle, then the agreement in the representations of the individual Egos regarding the common world surrounding them would be an inconceivable mystery. And, moreover, we can no longer speak of error and truth in the representations of each individual, because there would be no universal criterion by which to judge them; the course of the representations of every individual consciousness would then be just as true as that of every other, and the movement of the waking consciousness would be no more true than that of one who dreamed. In short, there would be in this intellectual anarchy, as such, no longer any truth or any order, or a Cosmos, but only a Chaos of many associations of ideas, running on side by side. Therefore, even in the hypothetically assumed case, that there is only an ideal nature in the consciousness of thinking minds, we could not escape from the question how the different subjects come to a corresponding image of the world, and how they are able to distinguish what is merely subjectively represented, from the common or objective mode of representation—that is to say, how they can distinguish error from truth. This question, however, can hardly be solved otherwise than by the assumption of a universal consciousness, which must be the common ground, as well as the ruling law, of all individual consciousnesses or minds.

But we are not able seriously to appropriate or hold the hypothesis of subjective idealism. How high soever we may think of our spiritual life as elevated above external Nature, we cannot, however, establish such an absolute gulf between the two that reality should only pertain to the former and not to the latter. We cannot shut out the consideration that a life nearly related to human consciousness is also found in the sub-human world among the lower animals; and how then can we deny them real existence? And, besides, seeing that there are only graduated distinctions existing between the animal and the vegetable manifestations, and again between the latter and the minerals, no reason can be seen why a real existence by itself can be denied to any one part of the phenomena which we call “Nature.” The view which is self-evident to the sound human understanding, that with all our consciousness of the world there corresponds a real world existing by itself independent of our thinking, is certainly not merely the simplest but also the most correct hypothesis for the explanation of the facts of our consciousness. Wherein “naïve Realism”—the realism of common-sense—errs, and requires and needs justification by philosophical reflection, is only in the opinion that the world of reality as existing in itself entirely corresponds to the world represented by us, and that the latter is only a passively received copy of the former. This error has been refuted by the critical analysis of the process of cognition showing that we build up our world of consciousness self-actively out of the raw material of sensations, by means of the forms of perception and thinking that are innate in us. The truth which we are accustomed to ascribe to this world of consciousness cannot indeed consist in its being the exact copy of a world of reality that has just the same colours and sounds belonging to it; but the truth lies properly in this, that the subjectively conditioned images of our consciousness contain the representative signs, by which we know the relations of real existences to each other and to us. As the letters of a writing are the written signs by means of which we are able to reproduce the thoughts of the author, so the representations and associations of representation in our consciousness are the sign-language by means of which we reproduce the relations of things to one another and to ourselves, or make the real world an object of our knowledge. And thus arises the question which has been already indicated, namely, How is it possible that our connection of sensations into representations and of representations into judgments, which we ourselves carry on according to our subjective forms of perception and thinking, is the correct sign and correlative of real things and of their relations, as they are in themselves independent of our representing of them? This correspondence between the world thought by us, and the real world as it exists in itself, upon which all the truth of our knowing rests, appears to me only explicable on the assumption that the Order of the Real World is subject to analogous laws of being and working, as the Order of our Ideal World is to laws of perceiving and thinking.

That it actually is so, is, in the first place, a postulate of our theoretical reason, without which we should be compelled entirely to despair of all truth in our knowing. But we also have a proof of the correctness of this postulate in daily experience as often as we see results, which were expected on the grounds of the laws of Nature as thought by us, correctly appear. For example, the astronomer may calculate a future celestial phenomenon, on the basis of the laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies, which he has nowhere deciphered in the heavens, but which his own understanding has thought out in order by means of them to explain and arrange the Chaos of the manifold terrestrial phenomena. If, then, the phenomenon calculated by him presents itself punctually at the minute to his perception, this is manifestly a proof of the correctness of the laws thought out by the astronomer—i.e., a proof of their agreement with the laws according to which the heavenly bodies actually move. Hence the laws according to which the human understanding thinks and calculates, arranges the given phenomena and anticipates future ones, correspond to the laws according to which things hang together and work upon each other in the real world. How is this correspondence between the laws of our thinking, which are not given to us from without, and the laws of being, which are not made by us, explained? So far as I see, only from this, that the two have their common ground in a Divine thinking, in a creative Reason which manifests its thoughts partly in the Order of the real world and partly in the thinking of our understanding as it copies that Order. The agreement of our thinking with the being of the world rests on the fact that it is the reproduction of the creative thoughts of the Infinite mind, a reproduction which is always imperfect according to the measure of the finite mind. The truth of our cognition is a participating in the truth which God essentially is.

This is the proper sense and the abiding truth contained in the so-called “Ontological Argument,” the tenor of which refers to the relation of thinking and being so understood. This argument is as old as religious reflection. It is already contained in the words of the Psalmist, “In Thy light we see light.” It forms the hinge of the philosophy of Plato, according to which the highest Idea, or God, is the ground both of knowing and of being, and all true cognition is a participation in the world of the Ideas of the Divine reason. In like manner, according to Augustine, God is the eternal truth, the ground and goal of all the true thinking of man. According to Thomas Aquinas, we see and judge all things in the light of God, in so far as the natural light of our reason is a participating in the Divine light. In the hands of Anselm this thought, which is distinctly found exhibited in his ‘Proslogium,’ received the unfortunate scholastic turn, that from the conception of God as the most perfect Being, an inference is drawn of His existence as one of the attributes contained in the conception. This inference, which is also found repeated by Descartes and Wolff, has been rightly disposed of by Kant as a piece of school wit; but his criticism shot beyond the mark and overlooked the deeper correct thought, which is concealed under the deceptive scholastic form of the ontological argument. Kant, in setting up such an opposition between Thinking and Being as that no way led from the former to the latter at all, makes not merely the Being of God, but likewise that of the world, unknowable. Knowledge being separated from Being, is limited to mere subjective phenomena, and is consequently at bottom robbed of all truth. The philosophy of Hegel reacted against this exaggerated dualism, but it fell again, in its turn, into just as exaggerated a monism in simply identifying Thinking and Being. Thereby the problem of the theory of Knowledge was not so much solved as rather cut in pieces by the sword, and the distinction between the real creative thinking of God and our ideally reproductive thinking was so confounded, that Strauss and Feuerbach were able to draw from it the absurd consequence of explaining the human thinking itself as the absolute self-deification of speculative philosophy, a view which soon enough was bitterly revenged by its passing into materialism. The point of the “Ontological” argument lies rather just in this, that our Thinking and Being are indeed different, yet are constituted for each other by the conformity of the laws on both sides, and that in this agreement—or pre-established harmony, according to Leibnitz—of the two sides, the unity of the ordering principle, i.e. of the effectuating Thinking or the Omnipotent Reason of God, reveals itself.

In our consideration of the Natural Order of the World we started from its ideal side, or the side of consciousness. The result found in this relation will be completed and confirmed if we now also consider it from the real side. In doing so we come to the subject of the “Cosmological” and “Teleological” arguments. Kant's criticism has shown on philosophical grounds that these two arguments are untenable in their traditional scholastic form, and these grounds are further strengthened by the Natural Science of the present day. The “Cosmological” argument reasoned from the contingency of the world to its having been produced by a necessary extra-mundane cause; and the well-founded objection has been raised against it by Hume and Kant that the argument starts from an arbitrary view, for, from the fact that every individual thing in the world is a contingent thing—i.e., is conditioned by something else—it does not at all follow that the same relation holds good of the world as a whole,—that it is contingent, and must have its ground in an extra-mundane cause. It is not the contingency, but the universal and constant conformity of nature to law, that is the fundamental presupposition of the science of the present day—a presupposition which certainly cannot be proved, but which must be accepted if there is to be an inductive investigation of Nature, and which is always confirmed anew by every step in the advance of our knowledge of Nature, so that its probability approaches certainty. But because we in the present day know Nature as a connected order of causes and effects better than former ages knew it, shall the words of the apostle on that account be less valid for us, that “the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead”? (Rom. i. 20.)

If we hold Nature to be a system of forces which stand in regulated reciprocal action with each other, the ultimate riddle of the universe is thereby so far from being solved that the question rather first arises, How, then, is a causal working of one being upon another at all to be explained? The popular statement, that an influence passes from the one to the other, is an image which can explain nothing; for the state which has appeared through a change in the first thing cannot leave this thing and pass over to a second or third thing, and so on, but it has only as a consequence that in the second thing, the third thing, and so on, corresponding states also appear. What we call the causal working of things upon each other consists in this, that upon an alteration in the one thing corresponding alterations necessarily follow in the other things. This, however, as Lotze has luminously shown, would be inconceivable under the supposition that the individual things are independent existences and were indifferent towards each other; it becomes conceivable, however, on the view that they are embraced as parts or members in an all-comprehending living unity. For then the alteration in a part is at the same time an alteration in the state of the whole, and accordingly calls forth the alteration in another part as its completing compensation. If, therefore, the mystery of transeunt causality is solved by this, that we refer it to the immanent causality within an organic whole, we come to see in the regulated reciprocity of the individual forces, or in “Nature,” the manifestation of a single primary force or “Omnipotence” which unfolds itself in an infinite multiplicity of mutually related effects.

But how shall we now have to think more precisely of this primary force? Are we to conceive of it as a material and blindly working force, or as a spiritual and intelligent power? The deciding grounds for answering this question will indeed only be shown in consideration of the moral and religious World Order in the next lecture; yet, even upon the standpoint of our present more general consideration, certain grounds may be recognised which speak for the spiritual character of the principle of the Order of Nature. Let us first of all recall to mind whence our conception of an efficient force is derived. It cannot be given to us from without, for what we immediately perceive are only changing phenomena; if we see in them effects of forces, this is already an interpretation which we laws, and which connects them into an ordered image of the world, so we may behold in the corresponding order of the real world the unfolding of the thoughts of the creative reason of God. If this analogical inference were not justified, neither should we have any right to hold the view that there is a real Order of the World, corresponding to the Order of the World thought by us, and consequently we should have no right to ascribe objective truth to our thinking. That we think causally—i.e., connect Cause and Effect by a super-temporal logical necessity—presupposes that in the real world Cause and Effect also hang together through an equally logical necessity, which cannot be grounded in the temporal phenomena but only in the supra-temporal logical principle which rules over and combines them. In short, the logical truth of the principle of the sufficient reason presupposes that the ground and law of the temporal phenomena lie in a Divine Logos.

But our thinking is as essentially teleological as causal; both are grounded on the same original experience in ourselves. For the alterations which we evoke in external states by the exercise of our will have been, before they appeared, already present to us in more or less clear consciousness, as internally represented objects or ends of our activity. Along with the conception of causality there arises to us, therefore, out of the same experience of our own activity, also at the same time, that of purpose or end; the two are only different modes of contemplating the same process. Hence the connection of the two modes of contemplating things is inherently so natural and inevitable that we only learn gradually to separate the two more definitely, but we are never able to dispense entirely with either of them. It was so natural for religious reflection to see a revelation of the divine reason in the positiveness of Nature, that we are not surprised when we meet with this mode of contemplation in the earliest antiquity. Kant rightly called the Teleological Argument the oldest, the clearest, and the best adapted to the common reason, and he says that it always deserves to be mentioned with respect. The objections which he raises to it rather strike the popular anthropomorphic form of the argument than its proper kernel. So far as the argument only proceeds from the form of things as purposively arranged, it brings us, Kant said, to a mere author of this form, an Architect of the world, and not a Creator of the world. And as experience, nevertheless, shows us no unlimited purposiveness, but much that is contrary to design in detail, the inference of a perfect designing intelligence is not justified,—certainly a very noteworthy objection to the popular apprehension of the argument, in which the conclusion drawn proceeds from the artificial constitution of the world to an extra-mundane Creator of perfect wisdom and unconditioned power. But the main question is, whether this whole way of viewing the subject is at all correct? To represent the world as an artificial machine, and God as the skilful maker of it, might indeed appear natural to the mechanical way of thinking prevalent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but to us of the present day this representation has become strange and impossible to be thought. Since Herder and Goethe, we have learned to see in Nature not a made work of Art but a living organism whose life is unfolded and formed from within, according to its own impulse and laws. And this way of contemplating Nature, which was already anticipated in genial intuition by the poets and thinkers at the beginning of the century, has received a magnificent confirmation in our age through Darwin's investigation of nature. The theory of development, in its fundamental idea at least, is accepted generally nowadays as one of the most certain conquests of scientific investigation. It is now clear that by it the earlier form of the Teleological Argument has become untenable; for if the living beings have become such as we know them of themselves through natural causes, the question as to an external author through whom they have been made has begun to give way. Yet the opinion, not unfrequently heard, that with the theory of development the conception of purpose or end in general, and with it all ideal principles, have been banished from the thinking contemplation of the world, may nevertheless be very precipitate. The teleological way of viewing things, as Kant has already shown in the ‘Critique of the Judgment,’ is for us as irrefragable a psychological necessity as the causal connection of phenomena. The only question at issue is the correct combination of the two, and for this question the conception of “Development” is of the greatest importance.

The modern Theory of Development appears to me so little to contradict the acceptance of an immanent rational principle of the world, that, when rightly understood, it may rather serve as a powerful support of it. The kernel of this theory, when collateral and disputable determinations are left out of view, will be found in the following two propositions: (1) All the life of the earth is one uninterrupted connected process of development, which has reached its goal in man, and from this point the natural process passes over into the historical process; (2) all the forms of life from the lowest to the highest are developed out of simple fundamental forms, under the co-operation of inner vital impulses and external conditions of life. That in the case of some the external conditions of life are more accentuated, and in the case of others the internal vital impulses are more accentuated, may be of important consequence in the application of the theory to investigation in detail, but it nevertheless makes no difference in principle. In Darwin's theory the inner vital impulse is not wanting, however it may appear to retreat behind the external conditions of life; for what else is the “struggle for existence” but the exercise of the impulse of self-preservation? Yet the other impulses will not have to be excluded—namely, those which aim at the invigoration, expansion, and perfection of life, according to the tendency determined by its inherent nature. All life effectuates itself in the exercise of impulses which strive after those states in which the living being finds satisfaction, and which therefore correspond to its nature, and promote its preservation and perfectionment. May it not, then, be rightly said, that all life is determined by ends which, although unconscious to the individual being itself, yet as impulse and instinct predetermine from the beginning the direction and the course of the development of its life? And was not, therefore, Aristotle right when he taught that the end is not only the last, but also the first, and the impelling power of the whole movement? But if it holds true of the individual being, that the final end which results from the development of its life is also already the ideal prius of the whole process, then we shall be able to apply the same thought to the whole process of the life of our earth, and to draw therefrom a conclusion as to the principle of this process. And we are justified in doing so by the very fundamental thought of modern biology, according to which all the life of the earth forms one advancing development from the lowest to the highest forms of existence. If we survey the whole of this development, we see how with the growing differentiation and refinement of the sensible organisation there comes in at the same time a growing, deepening, and clearing of the psychical life, rising up from the dull sensations of the lowest living beings to the dawning consciousness of the higher animals, and at last to the clear human consciousness, which objectifies its representations in language, and thereby attains and secures the independence of the spiritual life. Shall we not, then, be entitled to draw the conclusion, that this very spiritual life of man has been the end to which the whole process of life on our earth strove from the beginning and constantly through all transformations of the organisation—that it was the final end for which all previous natural existence has been only the preparatory stage, the subservient means, the causal mechanism? But how, we ask, is it to be made intelligible that our earth, which was once on a time a glowing ball, produced life which had spirit as its end, if it were not that this spirit of the life of the earth, in its process of becoming, had its ultimate ground in the eternal spirit of the universal life?—if it had not been the purposive thought of the creative reason of God, which realised itself in the teleological process of the movement of all life in the terrestrial sphere of the world, and indeed in every other sphere as well? As little as biological science can be prevented from searching into the causal conditions and connections of the terrestrial development of life in detail, just as little are we hindered, on the other hand, from seeing in the whole of this causal mechanism the means by which the timeless universal consciousness of the infinite Spirit reproduces itself in that advancing movement in time in which the terrestrial life becomes conscious.

It may be said that this view is just a hypothesis, in contrast to which other hypotheses for the explanation of nature stand with equal right, while none of them all can yet be positively verified. Certainly all theories regarding the ultimate basis of life and of its development are hypothetical, and remain hypothetical to the exact science which is directed to individual phenomena. Yet I think that the hypothesis which has just been presented has the advantage that it admits the right which is claimed for the ideal side of the order of nature, the facts of our consciousness; whereas in the materialistic hypotheses, which see in nature merely the causal mechanism of forces, or matter without spirit and end, the fact of the knowing spirit itself always remains an uncomprehended and incomprehensible riddle. Now, as was said at the beginning of this lecture, if there belong to the whole of the order of nature the two sides—namely, the knowing spirit and the nature that is to be known—then the higher claim to truth may well be admitted to belong to that hypothesis which is able to explain, not merely one of the two sides while leaving out the other, but both sides equally, and which can conceive their reciprocal correspondence from the unity of their common ground.

That the scientific consideration of nature, which is directed to the causal conformity of phenomena to law, is not the only justifiable way of regarding it, may be proved even from the daily experience of common life. For the impression of the beautiful which nature makes upon the human mind is quite independent of the intellectual knowledge which relates to causal connection; and it presses itself upon the learned investigator of nature, who perhaps denies all Teleology in principle and all that is Ideal in nature, with the same necessity as on the simple sense of the uneducated man who has never formed any thoughts regarding the grounds of the origin of phenomena, and yet involuntarily feels and admires their sublimity and beauty. Now it is of course said that the impression of the beautiful is a purely subjective feeling, from which no conclusions whatever can be drawn regarding the constitution of nature. This is, indeed, so far correct, that the æsthetic sensation is subjectively conditioned by the disposition, not merely of the senses, but still more of the soul of the individual; and that the æsthetic capacity, like every other, must also be developed and cultivated to a certain degree in order that the individual may receive the impression of the beautiful from nature. And yet it does not follow from this that the sensation of the beautiful is something merely subjective, an arbitrary product of our fantasy, which we groundlessly assign to external nature when we feel our æsthetic sense excited by nature. There must just as certainly be an objective qualification of real nature corresponding to this our subjective sensation, as there are real objects and their relations in the world corresponding to our representations and the connections of our representations. What, then, may that qualification of nature be which we perceive by means of the æsthetic sensation, and which we have accordingly to conceive as the objective correlate of the subjective impression of the beautiful? Kant already pointed out, and the more recent æsthetics have put it into still clearer light, that the modification of nature which is perceived by us as beauty is its immanent purposiveness, the harmonious relation of the parts to the whole, the rational necessity which governs the free play of forces, and which establishes unity in a multiplicity. And hence the teleological ideal background of reality, the shining of the Idea through phenomena, is that which we feel as the beauty of nature; and assuredly we could not feel it if the receptivity for it were not also given in the rational constitution of our soul. In this there is also established that correspondence of the inner and outer, of subjective and objective rationality, which is the ground of all our knowing of the world. We are therefore led from this side of the contemplation of nature again to the same conclusion, that the beauty of nature stands to us as a revelation of the creative spirit, which has also lent us the capacity to recognise the glory of His works, and to imitate it in creating artistic forms.

We have considered the order of nature from its two sides, the Ideal and Real, and have come on both sides to the same harmonious result. We have recognised in it the revelation of one principle, which is universal consciousness as well as omnipotence, and which is therefore the revelation of a thinking and willing spirit, or God. But here there arises a difficulty which is too important for us to leave unnoticed. We know thinking and willing only in the form of a human consciousness, to which the limits of finiteness essentially belong. Consciousness is a distinguishing of the knowing subject from the known object to which it stands opposed, and by which it is limited. It does not itself create its material, but finds it presented and given to it. It relates itself passively to the impressions of things, and is therefore dependent on a presented world. In like manner, the will is a form of desire which presupposes a want in the willer, and it directs itself to objects in which it finds the material and means of its activity, and at the same time a restraint of that activity, or a resistance which it has to overcome. All this appears to presuppose a limited individual being which is conditioned and limited by another. How then, it may be asked, can such determination be transferred or assigned to God without making Him finite, or without making Him a man enlarged to gigantic proportions, which is making Him a mythical phantom? Certainly this is a question which requires earnest consideration, which at all events warns us to great caution in the transference of human qualities to the Divine Being. Shall we, then, under the weight of this difficulty, simply desist from speaking of a Thinking and Willing of God? Shall we deny Him conscious spiritual life, and designate Him only as the unconscious soul of the world, or still more indefinitely, as an active force? I fear that if we were to follow this suggestion we should get still further away from the truth, and fall into a still worse error in a practical respect than would be the case in following an uncritical Anthropomorphism.

The self-conscious and self-determining life of man is unquestionably the highest form of life which we know at all. Now if it be admitted that in the case of man it is confined to the limit of finitude, and cannot in this human finite form find place in God, yet it does not yet follow from this that we must deny to God the highest that we know from our experience. As there cannot lie less in the cause than in the effect, nor less in the whole than in the part, the infinite principle of the world, which produces the human spirit along with all else and embraces them in itself, cannot possess the spiritual energy of life in less measure, but rather in a much more perfect degree, than man. But what gives the self-conscious spirit of man its peculiar prerogative above the sub-human life is not the side of finiteness which it has in common with the latter, but that self-activity of the Ego, which distinguishes itself as the permanent and governing unity, from the manifold and changing contents of consciousness, and which even thereby raises itself above dependence on the matter presented to it, and lowers it to the position of a means serving its free self. The usual opinion that self-consciousness is only the distinguishing of the Ego from the non-Ego is not correct; rather is the self-consciousness primarily and essentially a distinguishing of itself from itself—that is to say, of the abiding and combining unity of the self from the plurality and mutability of its contents. So also the will is not primarily a desire that is directed to external things; but it is self-determination—i.e., determination of the manifold divided expressions of life, by the unity of the thinking which posits ends to itself. Now it is incontestably true that consciousness and will in the case of man presuppose a given material, and therefore the fact on the one hand of their being conditioned by another, or of passivity and finiteness; but it is not less certain on the other hand that just that which distinguishes the human spirit from the sub-human life—namely, its self-consciousness and its self-determination—does not consist essentially of passivity, but of the spontaneity of the Ego as existing by itself, which in the changing of its elements asserts itself as the persistent and governing unity of that which is manifold and changeable. This free self-activity which unfolds its inner unity into a multiplicity of living forms and states, in the act of distinguishing itself, abides with itself, and makes itself actually into that which it is in itself potentially: this is the spiritual being of man by which he rises over all merely finite and conditioned existence, and has a certain, although still weak, participation in that infiniteness and unconditionedness which is original and perfect only in God. What, then, can hinder us from thinking these qualities, which constitute the prerogative of the human mind over spiritless nature, as being posited in God in a perfect manner without their human limit? Why should we not accept something analogous to the human spirit in God, a self-distinguishing of His single and eternal unchangeable Self from the plurality and changeableness of His operations, which form the world of divided temporal phenomena? Without accepting this view it would be difficult to escape from the pantheistic opinion, that the unity of God resolves itself into the coexistence of phenomena in space and their succession in time, so that we can no longer find in Him what we sought in Him—namely, the connecting and ruling power of the world-order. If there is “a resting pole in the flight of phenomena” not merely in our representations but in truth, in being itself, we shall have to seek it in the living spirit of God, who asserts Himself as the independent and permanent Lord of the changing phenomena—as “King of the Æons”—by this, that He distinguishes in His thinking, His eternal inner essence from His changeable working in the world. If the world is an order of events happening according to law and purpose, it is the revelation of an ordering Spirit, who governs the becoming or process of the world with His eternal thoughts, and who therefore is not Himself merged in its process, but knows and effectuates Himself as eternally the same, in distinction from the temporal beings of the world. It is certainly not to be denied that we cannot form a representation of the infinite Spirit whose life is pure self-activity without any conditionedness and dependence, because that transcends all analogy of our experience. But what follows from this? Mayhap that the thought of the unconditioned spirit, because not representable in the mind, is also not true? Certainly not; for the principle of the world is assuredly not representable, under whatever categories we may attempt it. Yet according to what has been previously adduced, what corresponds best to the need which our thinking has to recognise in the principle of the world the sufficient ground of the order of the world, is the category of the thinking spirit which knows and determines itself; and accordingly we are entitled to hold the view that it is this very category which is most fitted for the designation of the divine essence, and which comes nearest the truth. But what certainly follows from the unrepresentableness of the infinite Spirit is the warning that we are not to attempt to make an image to ourselves of the inner life of God, according to human analogy. All the questions which refer to the inner nature of God, whether it be to His hidden decrees, or to the way in which the existence of the world is reflected in His inner being, or to how His eternal essence is related to the succession of time—whether there is also in Him a remembering and a foreseeing, or whether to Him all is eternally the same present, without past and future,—all such and similar questions pass entirely beyond the limits of our knowledge. In order to be able to answer them we should necessarily have to possess God's omniscience. Here the words of Scripture hold true, “My thoughts are not your thoughts; for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts.” How often have these words been forgotten by theologians and philosophers, who have had the hardihood in their titanic Gnosticism to analyse the inmost nature of Deity, and to mete it out in their formulæ! As a reaction against this arrogant Gnosticism, the faint-hearted Agnosticism of the present day has a relative justification. It is, in fact, true that we are able to know God only so far as He has revealed Himself to us through His working in the whole order of the world, and still continually so reveals Himself. That beyond this side which is turned to us, this being of God for us, there lies beyond another inner side in the being of God for Himself, is a position which has been established to us as true by all that has been said above. But to try to know anything more closely concerning the What and How of this being of God for Himself, to embrace it in conceptions, to picture it in images,—this we ought never to presume to do. By doing so we should inevitably fall into mythological fantasies which would draw down the Holy mystery of the Godhead into the common distinctness of earthly things, and put empty fabrications in place of the true revelation of God in the order of the world,—fictions which would have as little value for the religious consciousness of the present day as the myths of the Gnostics had in the second century. If those who deny consciousness and personality to God mean only thereby to say that we cannot think of God as affected with human limitations, there would be nothing to object to that position. But the designations “unconscious,” “impersonal,” may but too easily lead to the misunderstanding that the divine being were less spiritual, consequently more imperfect, than the human; and against this we must decidedly protest. This misunderstanding would, however, be avoided by using the expressions “superconscious,” “superpersonal,” and accordingly I would hold this to be an incontestable formula, in which all those who are convinced of the ideal spiritual essence of the principle of the world might perhaps unite.

With this view the ecclesiastical doctrine is found to be in essential agreement; for, as is well known, the teachers of the Church from the outset, in their determination of the divine attributes, have striven so earnestly to strip off the human limits that very little of the human analogy remains. But the Church has undoubtedly always failed to draw the necessary conclusions from these her correct principles. While her theologians accentuated in the strictest way the timeless unchangeableness of God, they yet represented His omnipotence as revealing itself now in the order of the world, and again without and contrary to it as miracle-working arbitrariness. And thereby they left the door open to the popular anthropomorphism, with all the adjuncts of the belief in miracles and magic. To remove this inconsequence, which has run through the ecclesiastical system of doctrine since the time of Augustine, is a pressing task of our time. It lies as much in the interest of the moral purity of the faith as of the scientific knowledge of the world, that the abstract supra-naturalism of the popular conception of divine omnipotence—that inheritance of Christianity from the Jewish and heathen ways of thinking—should be at last overcome, and the insight disseminated that God is Spirit, infinite Spirit, who as such reveals Himself in the whole of the rational order of the world, according to law and purpose, to which order also the inviolable conformity of nature to law belongs. It is not in the occasional interruption and disturbance of the regulated order by individual miracles, but in the constant regularity, purposiveness, and beauty of nature, that we have to find the sublime revelation of the Eternal Spirit, who, according to the words of Holy Scripture, is a “God of Order,” and who has wisely ordered all His works. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handywork.”