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Lecture 9: The Religious View of Man

1. Idealism and Naturalism

THE thought that the world has its sole ground in God is regarded in the Monotheistic religions as an almost self-evident cardinal proposition. But the history of religion teaches that this thought only grew very gradually to maturity in the consciousness of men. The devotees of Nature-religion did not yet know it. As its Gods are themselves Nature-beings, they cannot be the ultimate ground of Nature, but they arise at the same time with it. Where men reflected in the sphere of the Nature-religions regarding the origin of the universe, they thought that the visible world, together with the Gods and spirits, had arisen of themselves out of original germs or material elements; their Cosmogony was one with their Theogony. The notion was widely spread of a world-egg which, having burst, became heaven and earth, and out of whose contents even the Gods had arisen along with other beings. Or they thought of Chaos as being the first, that formless mass in which all the germs of life, and of Gods and men, are still together; and which then by gradual separation and combination of the individual forces, unfolded itself into the world of the Gods and of earthly beings. According to Hesiod's cosmogony, for example, there was in the beginning Chaos and Eros (the vital impulse). Chaos divided itself into Tartaros and the Earth, and Earth brought forth out of herself the Sky and the Ocean. Uranos, moved by the vital impulse, fertilised Gæa and begot the Titans and Cyclops, but was mutilated by the Titan Kronos, and deposed from his lordship. Yet neither was the lordship of Kronos lasting; for he too was only the wild purposeless and untamable nature-force which swallows again its own children. He was overpowered by the youngest of his sons, Zeus, who shared the lordship of the world with his brothers Poseidon and Aidoneus. But even Zeus had still to secure his lordship from the revolt of the giants, the successors of the Titans; and it was only with the conquest of these that the crude elementary forces of Nature were for ever subdued by the rational and harmonious ruling of the Olympians, those human Gods. Thus, according to Hesiod's cosmogony, the present world of the Gods and men is the last product of a gradual development of higher and higher formations out of the primal Chaos. The same thought was carried out by the Ionian Nature-philosophy, which made the world arise out of one or several elements through separation and combination, or constructed it out of compositions of the original simple atoms. The first of the Greek philosophers who represented the chaotic first matter as formed through the ordering understanding of God (the νόϋς) was Anaxagoras, whom Aristotle on that account called “the first sober one among drunken ones.”

There is not unfrequently found in the mythology of the Nature-religions a combination of Theogony and a divine formation of matter in such a way that the Gods—whether all or some or one of them—are the first products of Chaos, but then they form the rest of the world out of it. Thus, for example, in the Indian mythology Prajapati proceeded out of the golden world-egg, and then became the creative former of the world. Likewise, in the Chaldean mythology the great Gods arose at first out of Chaos, and they then created the other Gods and the living beings of heaven and earth.

The doctrine first expressed among the Greeks by Anaxagoras, that the rational spirit is the world-ordering principle, is found outside of the Biblical religion only among the Persians whose legend of Creation has a close affinity with the Biblical account, and perhaps even exercised a historical influence upon it. According to the Zendavesta, the all-wise spirit Ahura created the world in so far as it is good by his excellent word, with the purpose of forming a bulwark between the hostile kingdoms of the uncreated light and the uncreated darkness. The Creation was accomplished in 365 days and in six acts, in the course of which were formed the heavens and the lights of heaven, water, earth, plants, beasts, and men. Every earthly class of beings is the copy of a heavenly ideal—that is, is the realising of a divine idea. Ahura made the first human pair grow out of a twin-tree, and he implanted in their bodies their pre-created souls. This creation of Ahura was, like himself, perfectly good and pure; but it was spoiled by the hostile spirit Ahriman (Angromainyu), who to the good everywhere added the bad and pernicious—the naïvest solution of the question regarding the origin of evil, in which the greatest difficulty of the abstract super-naturalistic doctrine of Creation lies.

Whereas Nature-religion made Nature the absolute principle out of which even the spiritual and divine was to arise, on the other hand the Biblical religion puts in the first place the supernatural Spirit of God as the omnipotent principle of all becoming, and explains the world from His will, which expressed itself in His word of command. Yet it is not exactly a Creation out of nothing that is taught even in Genesis, but a formation of the world out of the initial Chaos, which is consequently presupposed as formless matter present to the divine creative activity. The description in Genesis i. of the gradual separation of Chaos into light and darkness, above and below, wet and dry, and then of the filling up of these spheres of the world with their appurtenant living beings in the work of six days, has a close affinity with the Persian and Chaldean legend. It is a religious speculation in which reflection is already much further advanced than in the naïver narrative of Genesis ii. While in Genesis i. a uniform plan reigns, and the acts of Creation proceed in a teleological series of stages, in Genesis ii., on the other hand, the Creation begins with the formation of the man out of a clod of earth; and thereupon the Garden of Eden is planted for his dwelling-place, then the beasts are created as his helpers, and finally the woman was formed out of a rib of the man. Here no regular planned progress finds place, but what is most immediately necessary is only created as occasion required, and in it a defect always again exhibits itself, and this impels to further creating. Even the mode of the creating is represented still more naïvely: the beings are not called into existence by the simple word of command, but God Himself puts His hand to the work; He plants the garden, forms Adam out of the earth, breathes breath into his nostrils, frames Eve out of his rib, and afterwards makes for our first parents their first clothing out of skins. The striking naïveté of these ideas seemed to the Greek fathers to be a clear proof that this whole narrative was not meant to be taken literally but allegorically.

The Christian doctrine of Creation is distinguished from the Old Testament doctrine by the significant thought that the world was created through the divine Logos—by which is now no longer meant the mere word of command, but the divine Spirit which is active in the world, and which finds the culmination of its revelation in the Son of God, on which account the Son Himself is also designated as the Mediator and final end of the Creation (John i. 1; Heb. i. 2; Col. i. 16). The meaning of this New Testament doctrine is seldom understood in its far-reaching significance; and this is natural, because we are not accustomed to distinguish between the divine Logos and the man Jesus. Absurd as would be the notion that the world was created by and for Jesus, as profoundly true is the thought that it is a work of the divine reason which orders the chaos of forces from eternity to eternity, and guides the course of the development of the world to the final end of a moral kingdom of spirits. That the divine idea of man as “the son of His love,” and of humanity as the kingdom of this Son of God (Col. i. 13), is the immanent final cause of all existence and development even in the prior world of Nature,—this has been the fundamental thought of the Christian Gnosis since the apostolic age, and I think that no philosophy has yet been able to shake or to surpass this thought—the corner-stone of an idealistic view of the world. The whole idealistic philosophy of modern times is in fact only the carrying out and grounding of the conviction, that Nature is ordered by spirit and for spirit as a subservient means for its eternal ends; that it is therefore not, as the heathen naturalism thought, the one and all, the last and highest of things, but has the spirit and its moral ends over it as its lord and master. This is the true, the only genuine supernaturalism, which is just as far removed from the abstract Jewish supernaturalism as from the heathen naturalism. For if the Logos is the rational purposive thinking of God, the ordering power over Nature, then Nature is an ordered system of final thoughts, its process of becoming is a development from lower to higher, in the whole of which every individual thing has its determined place, and serves the whole according to the law of its kind. As the order of means for the ends of the spirit, as the causal mechanism for the teleological idea, Nature comes to its full right, asserts its inner conformity to law and purpose, and does not become the football of an external arbitrary will or the playground of a divine omnipotence whose “supernatural miracles” would put in the place of the real Nature an imaginary super-nature, which would be no Nature at all. The view of the world which alone truly corresponds to the principle of Christianity is this moral idealism, which perfectly accords with intellectual realism, being as far removed from the Jewish fantastic-apocalyptic supra-naturalism as from the heathen spiritless and godless naturalism. These two extremes are the ever-threatening enemies of Christian truth, and to them are due, even in our own day, the conflicts between faith and knowledge.

The Church of the second century had to guard itself from the danger of falling back into heathen naturalism, a danger which threatened it from Gnosticism. In the course of this conflict, however, the Church itself fell into the abstract Jewish supernaturalism, to which it gave the harshest expression in the doctrine that the world was created out of nothing by a free act of the divine omnipotence in time—with which position the reality of Nature was as much put in question theoretically as its right was practically denied in Asceticism. The hostility to Nature of the medieval supernaturalistic Christianity was the opposite extreme to the naturalism of the ancient world. With the Renascence of the ancient culture, love of Nature, and consequently also the study of it, began to waken anew; and out of it arose the collisions between the science of Nature and the doctrine of Creation, which have never since ceased.

The discoveries of astronomy gave occasion to the first conflict. The Heliocentric system of the world of Copernicus appeared to the theologian Melanchthon, otherwise so mild, as a godless innovation which the government ought to suppress. It cannot be denied that in taking this view he showed more insight into the bearing of this innovation than do most of the theologians of our day, who are wont to ignore, or at least as far as possible to minimise, the antagonism between the Copernican and the Biblical or Geocentric view of the world. The opposition in fact affects not the Biblical history of Creation only, but its consequences reach still further. If the resting earth becomes a rolling globe, and the fixed vault of the heavens becomes the infinite space of the world, then for the religious fantasy, with the fixed above and below, disappears also the frame within which it had localised the chief acts of the divine-human drama of the history of salvation, from Paradise on till the second coming of Christ. But if the external theatre in space is withdrawn from these acts, they can no longer be represented as external events, and the necessity therefore appears imposed on the religious thinker to apprehend the divine revelation as not in space and not in sense, but as a spiritual process in the human consciousness. Further, when it is held that the earth is no longer to be regarded as the centre of the universe, the position of man in relation to the order of the whole appears also to be changed. As the inhabitant of a small province of the universe, he can no longer claim that the whole world should direct itself according to his wishes, that from regard to his wants the sun should stand still several hours, or the shadow of the sun-dial go backwards. When the conformity to law in the movement of the heavenly bodies was once recognised, it was a near consequence that the processes of earthly nature are also subject to the same conformity to law. The progress of mathematics and physics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to an entirely new conception of “Nature.” The place of final causes was taken by mechanical causalism; the place of angels and demons and of arbitrary acts of omnipotence was taken by the universal inviolable law of the universe.

To this revolution in the view of nature philosophical expression was given by Spinoza. The keystone of his philosophy is the thought that God is the causa immanens of the world, and that the divine causality does not work with arbitrariness, but that all its operations follow as necessarily from its nature as the properties of the triangle do from its essence. Regarding the traditional conception of Creation, Spinoza judged that it turns God into arbitrariness, and the world into chance; and instead of it, according to him, God should be thought as the natura naturans which unfolds itself naturally in the natura naturata, just as every force unfolds itself in the totality of its effects. As long as men wish to find everywhere in nature the particular intentions of one governor or of several, who arbitrarily direct things with reference to the advantage or harm of men, so long is a sound knowledge of nature impossible. The delusive idea, that in all the processes of nature extramundane powers have their hand in play, and prosecute their particular intentions, is, according to Spinoza, an asylum ignorantiœ ministering to human selfishness, a superstition which makes men the slaves of their own imaginations and passions; and in opposition to which, the true piety consists in recognising God's revelation in the eternal laws of the world's order, and in accommodating one's self to it submissively. Certainly Spinoza was right in combating the abstract supernaturalism with its external and arbitrary directing of things according to particular intentions, and in energetically representing the conformity to law of all that happens in nature, which is the principle of modern science. But in his polemical zeal Spinoza shot beyond the mark in understanding the conformity to law of what happens so that it excludes all purposiveness,—a view in agreement with this other that he was able to apprehend God only as substance, as efficient force, and not as spirit or as active thought positing ends. The consequence of this was, that his view of the world had a wavering tendency towards a naturalism with which the Biblical idealism cannot be combined.

Leibnitz sought to remove this defect by thinking of nature as the system of both efficient causes and of final causes at once—the former according to its corporeal manifestation, the latter according to its inward psychical side. In like manner Leibnitz sought to understand God's causality as free and necessary at the same time, in so far as God has created the world as it is, not indeed with physical but with moral necessity, by choosing out of many possible worlds the best for actualisation. This position had the effect, not in the intention of Leibnitz himself, but according to the way in which it was apprehended by his followers, of opening the door anew to the Deistic separation of God from the world, and to the arbitrary teleology which then diffused itself and made itself ridiculous in the popular Physico-theology of the eighteenth century. Hence profounder minds like Lessing, Herder, and Goethe returned again to Spinoza, yet in such a way that they completed the abstract Monism of substance by Leibnitz's Monadology, and the ateleological causalism by Leibnitz's teleology. God is conceived as the spirit which inwardly moves and rules Nature, and Nature as the manifestation of His rational purposive thoughts, as “the living garment of the Deity” (Goethe). In Fichte's high-strung idealism Nature lost all reality, and became the mere representation of the mind, which in this image of its own imagination creates the material of its moral activity. For the rest, Fichte rejected as decidedly as Spinoza the super-naturalistic conception of Creation: he called it the fundamental error of all false metaphysics, a Jewish and heathen principle by which the conception of the Deity is fundamentally corrupted, and invested with an arbitrariness which operates prejudicially upon the whole religious system. It was Fichte's conception of the moral world-order which excluded the lawless arbitrariness of the abstract super-naturalism. Schelling's nature-philosophy restored to nature its reality, but conceived of it as the means subservient to the ideal ends of the spirit which develops itself through the stages of the existence in nature in order to come to itself in man as spirit. Nature thus appears as the means posited by the spirit for the self-realisation of the spirit; and its becoming thus appears as the preliminary history of the development of the human spirit.

However much the philosophy of nature may have erred by arbitrary hypotheses and a priori constructions, yet this one merit must be conceded to it, that it first applied the great principle of development to nature, and thereby showed the way which can lead men beyond the antagonism of the traditional super-naturalism and the mechanism which reigned in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first who trod this so important way was Herder. In his ‘Ideas for a Philosophy of History’ he viewed man as the final goal to which the terrestrial organisation strove. Through the whole scale of beings, from the stone to the animal, and at last to man, the form of organisation rose higher and higher; the impulses and forces of the creatures became more multifarious in kind, and at last they were all combined in the form of man. The beasts, says Herder, are men's elder brothers, the prior stages upon which formative nature exhibited separately, in passing, what it wished to realise in man. Man can only obtain his lordship over the other creatures by combating for it. For all things are in conflict with each other, because all are hard beset. Every species cares for itself as if it were the only one; but at its side there stands another which restricts it to certain limits, and only in this relationship of opposite species did nature find the means for the preservation of the whole. It is only through the equilibrium of forces that peace comes about in the Creation. Herder therefore conceived the becoming of the terrestrial nature as a development of more and more complicated organisms out of simple organisms, a development in which even the conflict of living beings with each other, the “struggle for existence,” played an essential part. The question, however, as to the How? of the proceeding of one form of life out of the other forms of life, still remained undetermined in the speculations of the nature-philosophers. This was supplemented and completed by the scientific investigators of nature. Lamarck, at the beginning of our century, taught that the various species had proceeded out of the simplest organisms, which had arisen by original generation through accommodation to the altered conditions of life; but he found no approval as yet in his own time. It was first through Darwin that the doctrine of development obtained prominent recognition. As is well known, he started from the observation that in the breeding of plants and animals great varieties of species can be attained by individuals possessing definite properties being used for propagation, whose specific peculiarity is then increased more and more by inheritance from generation to generation. From this he inferred that it was through a similar procedure in nature, called “Natural Selection,” that all organic species had developed themselves out of an original fundamental form. Natural selection was explained by Darwin from the fact that in the universal struggle for existence, it is always only the individuals best adapted to their conditions of life that survive; and as these individuals transmit their peculiarly favourable qualifications to their descendants with a continuous increase of their peculiarity, the manifold species are thus formed in the course of generations out of the gradual accumulation of the specific differences.

The justification of this theory of natural science—which we, of course, have not to examine here in detail—appears to me to consist in this, that it is in full earnest with the thought of the development of all life. To every view that regards things as having been artificially made according to accidental designs, there is herewith opposed the insight that all that lives is a becoming from within through proper self-activity which unfolds the germs lying in a being according to its own law, and makes itself in actuality that for which the real potentiality lay in its nature. But at the same time there must always be presupposed an inner living impulse which strives after, not its preservation merely, but also its exertion and unfolding in a definite direction. This inner factor was not quite overlooked by Darwin, as he lays it at the very basis of the struggle for existence as well as of sexual attraction; but Darwin has ascribed less significance to this inner psychical principle than to the external conditions of life, from which he derived all variations. In this it appears to me that there lies a one-sidedness, which, however, does not affect the theory of development as such, but only the application to which it has been put, and this not so much by Darwin himself as rather by the successors of that great investigator of nature, in so far as it has been turned by them to account in order to found upon it a materialistic view of the world. The opinion prevailing on this point, that through the causal development of life all and every teleology is excluded, is a fatal error. That causality and teleology are rather the inseparably coherent sides of all organic life, was already known by Aristotle, and has been irrefutably shown by Leibnitz and Kant. What else, then, is the living impulse of a being which struggles for self-preservation in conflict with the external world, than a striving after the realisation of the possibility inherent in its essence, and therefore after an indwelling end? If, however, nature is a system of unconscious correlative final causes, or forces striving towards a goal, then it presupposes a universal purposive thought, and consequently an end-positing reason, as the organising purposive cause of the whole. If the Darwinian doctrine of development has been made use of in order by its aid to derive life itself from the primal matter; and to give an apparently scientific grounding to materialism, this has been an inconsiderate confounding of the most heterogeneous things. David Friedrich Strauss in his last book, ‘The Old Faith and the New,’ has set forth the opinion that motion may be transformed under certain circumstances as well into sensation as into heat; but Zeller has rightly objected to this view that the transmutation of motion into ideas not only lacks all relevant analogy, but that this assumption also involves the clear contradiction that the embracing of the manifold into the unity of consciousness would have to be explained without a single subject of consciousness. This is generally the cardinal error of all materialism, that it would explain the world out of mere states and processes of external objective being, and does not pause to think that we should know nothing at all of this being without a subjective consciousness, which is therefore to be always presupposed in our knowing of things, and therefore cannot be derived from it. How, then, could we know anything, even of the conformity to law of the motion of bodies, without our embracing the perceptions that follow each other in time, in the unity of an act of thought which presupposes a consciousness that continues identical with itself in the change of its ideas, and which refers the change of its contents to the identity of its self-activity? Moreover, it has been at length openly confessed by the more circumspect even among the investigators of nature, that it is impossible to explain sensation and consciousness, and therefore the actual human world itself, by materialistic presuppositions. With this all reason for any anxiety concerning the irreligious consequences of the doctrine of development falls away; but if its extravagances are set aside, we may with the more freedom from bias examine its true significance for the religious view of the world, and we may draw the balance of loss and gain resulting from it as regards the traditional supernaturalistic doctrine of creation.

And first of all, from the standpoint of the doctrine of development, the literal truth of the Biblical narrative of the six days' work of Creation—according to which the world has been called into existence “cut and dried” out of nothing, by means of certain divine miraculous acts—is a position which must be given up. Therewith we undoubtedly lose a convenient answer to the question regarding the Whence of the world, which seemed to be so simply solved by the six days' work. But yet only seemed! For it could not escape any one who reflected in any measure upon it that that answer was sketched from the standpoint of a still very childish view of the world, which our present knowledge has far outgrown. We need no longer enter upon the details of the Biblical history of Creation, after having shown its contradiction in principle with the Copernican system of the world. But even the dogmatic formulæ of the supernaturalistic doctrine of Creation are of no greater value. With the proposition that God has called the world out of nothing into existence, no positive thought can be connected. “Out of nothing comes nothing,” or what appears to have come out of it has merely an apparent being; it is an enchanted nothing, an illusionary phantasm like the dream of Maya: but such a merely apparent existence cannot be seriously ascribed by us to the world, for we know at least that we ourselves and our fellow-men are something, and do not merely appear to be. We have also come to know God's being from His revelation in the order of the world; and if the reality of the world became doubtful to us, the being of God would also become subject to the same doubt, and then we would have to go through the same dialectic again, by which the Brahmanic Akosmism, that had explained the world as mere seeming, led to the Buddhistic Atheism. Hence we cannot give up the reality of the world, both on account of our own selves and on account of the reality of God; and hence we cannot rest in the position that the world, having arisen out of nothing, is, as it were, an enchanted nothing. Much rather would we prefer to say with ancient Church fathers and modern philosophers, that the world has its substance from the will of God, and its form from the understanding of God. Further, a beginning and ending in time of the creating of God are not thinkable. That would be to suppose a change of creating and resting in God, which would equalise God's being with the changeable course of human life. Nor could it be conceived what should have hindered God from creating the world up to the beginning of His creating. If He had previously either not yet had the power or not the will to do it, He would have been in so far imperfect, and therefore not yet true God; but this would contradict the conception of His eternity and unchangeableness. But as regards the ending of Creation with the six days' work, this opinion is corrected by the doctrine of the Church itself, in so far as it designates the preservation of the world as a “continual creation,” and consequently will not think of creation as concluded at any one time. Moreover, geology teaches us that the earth has passed through various periods of indefinitely long duration before it attained a formation of its surface that was fitted to be a dwelling-place for man; while astronomy teaches that in the universe there are always celestial bodies and even whole sun-systems still arising, and therefore that creation is not yet ended to-day. All this agrees in leading to the conclusion that we must give up the assumption of a creation that happened but once, and that has begun and ended in time; and instead of it we prefer to say rather with Scotus Erigena that the divine creating is equally eternal with His being. Hence the world thus viewed continues to be the region of temporal, changeable, and transitory being, even if this whole of risen and perishing parts has itself never begun nor will cease to exist. If we therefore put in the place of single supernaturalistic acts of creation rather the eternal and omnipresent activity of the divine omnipotence and omniscience in the world, then, as it seems to me, we have lost nothing at all for the religious view of the world, but we have won for science freedom to investigate the efficient causes and laws in the natural connection of things, without coming into collision with religious presuppositions, since the divine omnipotence, as eternally omnipresent, works not without but through the order of finite causes in conformity with law. What leads to the endless conflicts with natural science is not the idealism of the religious view of the world as such, but only its traditional investment in that abstract supernaturalism which makes omnipotence work as an anthropomorphic cause without and against the order of the whole. This anthropomorphic and miraculous supernaturalism invariably calls forth the reaction of naturalism, which then rejects with the mythical envelope also the true religious kernel, the lordship of the spirit over nature, and leads to the heathen deification of material existence. If we would protect ourselves from that unspiritual and godless naturalism, which in fact contains the greatest danger for religion and morality, we ought not to seek our refuge with the supernaturalism which puts God out of the world, and which on that account can never become truly master of naturalism, because it is at bottom itself only another refined form of it, in so far as it rears up a second fantastic nature above the real nature. Nay, we must rather seek escape from this “vicious circle” in the idealism of the truly religious view of the world, which finds the divine spirit everywhere present and active in the world,—without in nature as creative vital force, and within in our own heart as the voice of truth and love. This is what the apostle meant when he said, “He is not far from any one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being.” And it is what Goethe means in the classical passage: “What were a God who only gave the world a push from without, or let it spin round His finger? It is fitting for Him to move the world from within, to foster Nature in Himself, Himself in Nature; so that whatever lives and moves and has its being in Him, never lacks His power or His spirit.”1

A special objection to the doctrine of development is often raised with regard to the position of man in relation to the sub-human nature. If a continuous natural development between the sphere of nature below man and man is accepted, does not man then lose his distinguished position and distinguishing dignity, and is he not lowered to the level of the beasts? I can assign no great importance to this objection. The religious dignity of man rests, after all, in any case upon what he is, not upon the mode and manner in which he has become what he is. It is his rational capacity which makes him man, and distinguishes him from the beast; and this prerogative remains precisely the same in whatever way the entering of this rational being into terrestrial existence may be thought to have been brought about. Whether God immediately formed him out of a lump of earth—which is, after all, no peculiarly distinguished material—or caused him to be gradually developed out of unnumbered generations of the terrestrial Fauna, the one is no better and no worse than the other, and neither of them can occasion any disparagement whatever to the dignity of man. We do not feel ourselves at all degraded by the fact that during our embryonic pre-existence we must pass through various forms of lower animal existence; why then should the human species be more ignoble if it lived through as many thousand years of preliminary animal stages upon earth before it entered into the appearance of man, as the individual now lives through days of embryonic animal pre-existence? Are not a thousand years before God as one day? Instead of the loss that is feared, the doctrine of development might rather indicate a gain for the position of humanity in the universe. If man is the crown of creation in the sense that the whole process of development in nature has striven towards his appearance, then he stands no longer in opposition to nature as to an alien and hostile power, but he recognises in it a fore-stage of his own life, a divining and yearning of the still unfree spirit in its animal state, for which the fulfilment and liberation has come, and will further come, in himself. Thus has the apostle Paul said that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, and waiteth for the glorious freedom of the children of God. And thus did Jesus see in the natural life the likeness of the spiritual life, both of them governed by the same eternal laws of the divine world-order, revealing themselves in nature and in the life of man, only in different stages of their development. If the pious man finds everywhere in nature the signs and wonders of his God; if the poet sees in it the mirror of his own soul, and hears in its manifold voices the echo of his own joys and sorrows; if even the philosopher beholds in the starry heavens the image of the moral order of the world which lives in his heart,—all this is not mere arbitrary imagining, but it is the proper manifestation of the harmony of nature and spirit as eternally grounded in God. The reconciliation of these two things, long since recognised by Christianity in prophetic intuition, and expressed in the words “the incarnation of the Logos,” has been raised to scientific knowledge in the modern doctrine of development.

In this spiritualised view of nature lies also a rich compensation for the loss of the supernatural miracles, which undoubtedly have no longer any place in a world of continuous development in conformity with law. Goethe has said that

“Miracle is faith's own dearest child.”

And he is right; for miracle is for the childish view of the world the most natural expression of the conviction that the power of God reigns throughout the world and controls it. So long as the divine omnipotence is still represented in a natural fashion as an individual cause along with and above other causes, the religious consciousness clothes itself in the representation of individual miraculous operations which break through the familiar course of nature. Yet the boundary between miracles and nature is still a shifting one so long as the conformity of nature to law is not yet clearly known. It is with this knowledge that miracle first ceases to be a mere extraordinary occurrence, and becomes an absolutely supernatural miracle contrary to law. But as soon as the idea has obtained this significance, it is no longer tenable by any logical thinking, as all the philosophers since Spinoza have acknowledged. But even the religious faith, if it rightly understands itself, has no interest in maintaining the supernaturalist conception of miracle. Schleiermacher has strikingly remarked that in his judgment it cannot be seen how the divine omnipotence should show itself greater in the interruptions of the connection of nature than in the unchangeable course of it, which in fact also rests upon divine arrangement. Through every absolute miracle the whole connection of nature, both forwards and backwards, would be destroyed, and the conception of nature itself abolished; the divine activity would become an unordered magical mode of working; God would be co-ordinated with finite causes, and thereby even be made finite. On the other hand, when it is said as a defence of miracles that they are a sign of the livingness and freedom of God, it appears to be supposed that God is usually unliving and unfree, and comes only in the rare exceptional cases of miracles to free life and exercise of power; but this is precisely what a decided faith in the omnipresent and continually active divine government of the world cannot possibly admit. Besides, it would manifestly contradict the divine unchangeableness if He should work now according to order and again not according to order, now in founding and again in annulling the order of the world. And in particular, as we have recognised the order of nature as the revelation of the divine omnipotence, we cannot establish such an opposition between the one and the other as that God would be fettered or limited by the order of nature, and could now and again feel a need to break through or limit this fetter. As little as God is confined within limits by the moral order of the world, just as little is He so limited by the natural order. Both are in fact posited wholly and equally by His will, and are revelations of His eternal Logos—a violation of which would therefore be a self-contradiction of God, which is excluded by His eternal perfection. And as miracle contradicts the right conception of God, so does it also contradict the conception of Nature as the connection of causes and effects in conformity with law. Nor can appeal to our unacquaintedness with the individual laws of nature alter anything in this position; for a process which did not correspond to our known laws of nature, but which was to be explained from other laws of nature still unknown to us at the time, would on that account not be a real miracle, a supernatural occurrence and object of faith, but would be a problem of natural science, and therefore not of any direct religious significance. Nor can any valid argument be adduced from reference to the “elasticity of the laws of nature.” The laws themselves are not elastic, but are inviolable necessities of working under given conditions. Wherever an expected effect does not or does not completely appear, we there assume as self-evident that collateral causes concurred with the principal causes, and that these checked or modified its operation; but even this check still takes place always according to determinate and calculable laws. When, for example, the astronomer Leverrier perceived deviations in the path of the planet Uranus which could not be explained from the positions of the planets hitherto known, he did not satisfy himself somehow with the assumption of elastic laws of nature, but he thought that the cause of the deviations lay in the influence of a planet not yet discovered at the time, the approximate place of which he accordingly determined; and this then led to the discovery of the planet Neptune. Were the laws of nature “elastic”—i.e., did their working vary in an accidental and groundless way—then there would neither be possible an exact knowledge of nature nor a sure mode of action on the ground of the known laws of nature. With such a view we should be transported out of the real world, in which the order of events happens in accordance with law, into the fantastic world of fables and magic, where we should lose all our bearings both theoretical and practical.

If we must accordingly deny the reality of miracles in the strict super-naturalistic sense of the word, we cannot escape from the question how we are to explain the rise and significance of the belief in miracle in religion? Here, of course, it would not he in place to give an exhaustive answer to this question, which would lead us deep into the labyrinth of historical investigation. I should like to give only a few suggestive hints which seem fitted for the elucidation of the religious view of the world. Miraculous legends arise in a twofold way—partly out of the idealising of the real, and partly out of the realising of the ideal. Every occurrence, through whatever natural causes it is to be explained, may obtain for the religious judgment the significance of a “sign” or proof of the world-governing power, wisdom, justice, or goodness of God. This ideal significance, which the real cause does not at all exclude, rests upon the subjective interpretation of the occurrence, which interpretation is not arbitrary but describes the impression which the occurrence made upon the religious sense of the perceiver. But again, it is quite conceivable on psychological grounds that occurrences which have made a deep and lasting impression not merely on individuals but on whole circles of religiously excited men, become involuntarily idealised, even on the occasion of their being perceived by the first eyewitnesses, and still more in their recollection of them. That is to say, the features of the reality which are not essential, or which disturb the ideal impression, are suppressed, and the significant elevating features are heightened above the measure of the reality; or the intermediate members of an operation which withdraw themselves from the notice of the observer are suppressed, and a supernatural power is put into the place of the natural causal connection. Thus arise the relative miraculous histories, in which a real historical background is to be presupposed, but which was overlaid with mythical accessories by the idealising fantasy. It is in this way that the numberless half-historical and half-poetical “legends” in the history of religion may have arisen. But the religious spirit idealises not merely real occurrences of the external world; it also produces of its own spontaneity ideas and ideals to which nothing real in the outer world corresponds, but in which only inner living experiences of the pious soul, its struggles and triumphs, its beliefs and hopes, are brought to expression. These ideas are now involuntarily invested by the fantasy in symbolical images which are taken from the external world, but which, because they serve to give expression to a supersensible ideal, must themselves consist of supernatural processes. Thus are formed the purely ideal miracle-legends which have no external reality as their foundation, but in which only inner pious experiences, aspirations, and hopes of the soul find a symbolical figurative expression. Yet it must be carefully borne in mind that the religious fantasy, in producing such poetic symbolical legends, is not in the habit of distinguishing, nor can distinguish, between the ideal truth and its sensible investment. It becomes conscious of the ideal truth, not in a purely spiritual form and in abstract conceptions, but only in the sensible form of poetic intuition; and therefore it believes in the reality of the miraculous history produced by itself, with the same immediate certainty with which it is convinced of the truth of the religious idea contained in it. The history of all the higher religions, and in particular of Christianity, is rich in examples of such miraculous histories, in which the historical understanding can perceive nothing but a poetic realising of religious ideas. But in thus explaining the rise of these narratives out of psychological conditions and motives of the religious spirit of individuals and communities, we are far from that iconoclastic rationalism which combated miracles from an intellectual fanaticism, and made them contemptible, because it was not able to transport itself into the religious consciousness of past times. It is just the doctrine of development which is able to heal again the wounds which it inflicts upon simple faith; for it teaches us that even the highest spiritual truths can develop themselves only gradually in the human consciousness, and that it is a condition belonging to the laws of this development, that the spiritual invests itself at first in a sensible vesture, and only gradually frees itself from this disguise. Whoever has once apprehended this law is as far removed from wishing to destroy the husk prematurely before the fruit has ripened, as from desiring to defend the shell as a thing for ever necessary and not to be meddled with. To the matured faith the world itself is the one great miracle of the successive realising of the divine ideal; and therefore such faith honours in all miracle-legends the beautiful symbols of the one great miracle of the divine government of the world and of the education of humanity, that heavenly treasure which mankind could not hide otherwise than in earthen vessels. Thus for us too the words of Goethe hold true, that

“Miracle is faith's own dearest child.”

  • 1.

    “Was wär ein Gott, der nur von aussen stiesse,

    Im Kreis das All am Finger laufen liesse?
    Ihm ziemt's die Welt im Innern zu bewegen,
    Sich in Natur, Natur in Sich zu hegen,
    So dass, was in Ihm lebt und webt und ist,
    Nie seine Kraft, nie seinen Geist vermisst!”