You are here

Chapter VIII: The Image of the Creator

The boundary line between philosophy and religion is identical with the boundary line between the conceptual idea and the imaginative reality of God. The reality of God, thus, might be taken to be that reality which embodies the general and abstract idea “in individuo,” and “in concreto.” But this statement, though not directly false, nevertheless does not express the full truth about the relation between the idea and the reality of God, for God differs from all other real entities and so does the relation between the idea of Him and His reality. The idea of a tree is general because there are many trees in the world which belong to the general class; the same is true as to all objects of nature. That is not the case with God.

He (the biblical God) is unique, like the world itself. The idea of God seems, therefore, to be nearer to His reality than the idea of a tree to any particular tree. Whereas a particular tree differs from other trees, so that its particular features cannot be general features of the idea, the particular features of the only God could be contained in His idea and could be derived from it. In other words, the idea and the reality of God might be one and the same; the idea might be the reality appearing under certain circumstances, and the reality might be the idea envisaged without restrictions. This trend of thought is very suggestive, the more so because God cannot be real like the objects of sense perception or like ourselves. He is invisible, like the concepts of our mind, incorporeal and not confined to space and time. This kinship between the biblical God and the realm of the ideas was the source of all attempts to interpret God by means of Platonic philosophy; it was the source of Christian dogmatics and metaphysics from Origen to Thomas Aquinas. It was the source of the ontological proof.

But this powerful development did not realize that the step from the idea of God to the real, the living, God is even greater and more problematic than is the step from the idea of a tree to an actual tree. The tree can be viewed as an example of the idea; it can be perceived with theoretical interest only; we can neglect the idea that the real tree is included in the mystery of the Universe and that it, therefore, is more than merely a particular example of the general idea. That is not so with God. We have to abandon the realm of theoretical ideas completely in order to approach the reality of God. It is not possible to meet God with our intellect or with our reason only, the Platonist notwithstanding. God is not the idea of the ideal self transplanted in the sphere of reality or contemplated as a real entity. The living God is no mere illustration or embodiment of the abstract idea, for such an idea is inadequate to express what it should express. It fails to grasp what is the very nature of the living God: the mystery of His existence. This existence is by no means accidental as compared with His essence; on the contrary, it is the very essence of the biblical God to be existent and not only a notion. (This truth is transformed into an argument by the ontological proof of the existence of God). But this necessary connection of essence and existence cannot be demonstrated, nor even comprehended, by rational thought; on the contrary, it marks the boundary line between thought and faith, philosophy and religion.

This boundary line is indicated by the necessary antinomies which thought encounters in dealing with the notion of the universal ideal self. These antinomies reveal the mystery in a rational form, indeed, in a negative form only. Reason can reveal the nature of the mystery only in a negative form, because the mystery denies precisely this capacity of reason. The antinomy expresses this denial by means of reason. Reason, limiting itself, becomes dialectical or self-contradictory. Imagination, as compared with reason, is able to express the mystery in a positive form. It is true that even imagination cannot pass beyond a certain limit; the image cannot exhaust the depth of the mystery; it is scarcely an adequate representation of it. But the image, precisely because it is not rational, has a greater power of penetrating and representing the mysterious character of the divine. This means that the image can bring about the solution of the antinomy at a level beyond or above reason. The image makes it possible that, not the abstract idea of God, but God Himself enters the human consciousness, the human heart and imagination in a way similar to the appearance of a dramatic figure on the stage. The difference between the living God and such a figure is analogous to the difference between real life and the theatre. It is the drama of life, which is not a drama in the poetical sense of the word, that is enacted when God and man meet. It is the real self, and not imagination only, that is addressed by God.

The term “Existential,” as Kierkegaard has coined it, hints at this transition from the idea to the reality of God. The Existential attitude toward God, be it the attitude of a community or that of an individual, the attitude of a prophet or that of the common man, is always determined by the concrete situation in which the human soul meets God; and this situation can never be construed or reconstrued by means of thought. It is a living situation which embraces the whole totality of the personal life. This totality can be analyzed by the intellect, but it cannot be rebuilt out of the analyzed elements. This is impossible, not only because the analyzed elements must always be general and abstract, whereas the situation is individual and concrete; but chiefly because the situation contains something more than the sum total or synthesis of the elements: the immediacy of life, and the universal mystery which embraces all elements and all units of elements as contained in the situation. The mental instrument which equips us to deal with the immediate situation, which alone enables us to be aware of it, is not intellect, nor will, but the imagination. Imagination accompanies us, so to speak, every step we take in our life. It is imagination which circumscribes the horizon of our consciousness at every moment, even when we are not consciously aware of it, when we are paying no attention to it.

Imagination alone can integrate all single impressions and impulses of the soul and can produce that concrete and individual consciousness which characterizes our relation to the totality of the real at any definite moment. Therefore, imagination is always present where and when we encounter the universal mystery. Pragmatism accordingly is right when it declares we must renounce the attempt to deal with ultimate truth in a dialectical way: for every concrete situation we deal with in a practical way, and this way alone is possible. Rut Pragmatism forgets that an image of ultimate truth is included in every practical situation, and that this image is truly religious, or, if not, then it is pseudo-religious and superstitious. (It is superstitious even though its source be science, or the pragmatic philosophy itself.)

We are accustomed to say that we live in the world, but too often we do not consider what we mean by this expression. The word “world,” as used in common speech, is vague and fluid like most words. And even science and philosophy strive in vain to define the meaning of this term. We know that we live in a coherent whole, but this whole has so many aspects and so many segments that we cannot find the bond which holds them together. Therefore a system of philosophy must ever be postulated, but never satisfactorily built. The whole is a mystery. Nietzsche is right in pointing out that a mythos always closes the horizon of a culture. But everything depends on what kind of image is central in the mythical background of the cultural world. In any case this image cannot be produced by the intellect, it cannot be the result of philosophic reflections. It must be alive, like the meanings of words used in daily life. As it interprets the ultimate meaning of life, so also does it originate in life. Of course, the word “life” again has no meaning that could be fixed by science. It was the error of Bergson that he, in spite of his proclamation that intuition is the proper source of philosophic knowledge, nevertheless in the end used scientific categories and concepts as a means for the interpretation of life. Life includes the mystery of man and the universal mystery. Imagination alone supplies the language which can interpret it. The words which touch upon this mystery and crystallize it into an image have not the same kind of meaning as terms in logical discussions or symbols in mathematical and physical equations. They are, compared with the latter, indefinite, changing from situation to situation, and from period to period. They partake of the ever-changing life. They grow and fade, are enlarged and shrink. They cover a certain scope of possible meanings and contain the germs of new meanings which develop from them. The Bible is rich in examples of such developments. The prophetic words concerning the coming Christ in the Old Testament confirm this peculiarity of religious speech.

The word “God” itself is such a word. It is by no means a term or a concept subject to definition. It is no notion, but a living image. It is no symbol, for it exceeds and excels every possible definition. It cannot be applied in any philosophic context without losing the peculiar power and flavor which make it appropriate to express its religious sense. Logical speculation or reflection endeavors to transform the changing and dynamic multitude of meanings that cluster about this word into clear and well-defined terms. But it is just this undefined and unstable mass of meanings which is adapted to the peculiar task of this central religious word. For religion itself is life and ceases to perform its task when life has departed. Life depends on religion, because religion interprets the source of life in the human sense: the mystical intuition of the whole. It is the extraordinary virtue of the religious image that it combines both an intuitive power and a metaphysical truth which cannot be expressed by metaphysical means but which is the ultimate end of all metaphysical endeavors. The Word which contains this treasure has, therefore, been honored and esteemed, nay almost venerated and adored by the Christian religion. It is the holy shrine in which the divine mystery is hidden and at the same time revealed.

It was a fateful circumstance in the history of Christian thought that the Greek word “logos” was ambiguous and signified a logical concept and the spoken or written word as well. Thus Greek, speculation readily coalesced in the fourth Gospel with Christian imagination, and the chasm between both spheres apparently was closed. But even a Catholic thinker like Étienne Gilson must confess that the problem which the early Christian theologian faced and tried to solve, the problem of expressing the meaning of the Gospel in terms of Greek philosophic speculation, was perhaps insoluble. “If we look at this problem as historians, and view it through fifteen centuries of history, our first impulse is to declare that such a problem was not susceptible of a satisfactory solution. Perhaps it was not.”1 Certainly it was not. And Kant's Critique of Pure Reason detected and disclosed the deeper reasons why it was and must remain insoluble. Kant did not say, however, that it is the power and the secret strength of the “word” to accomplish what reason is impotent to perform. And this insight, which Kant missed, is as important and significant as the critical rejection of an adequate rational solution of that problem.

Philosophic speculation and religious imagination are contrary since logical method and the notional sphere must be maintained by speculation but must be abandoned by imagination; nevertheless they can integrate each other. They do not exclude each other; it can even be said that there is no philosophic speculation which is not affected by religious imagination to a certain degree, and that there is no religious imagination which does not contain a necessary element of speculation. Thus the writer of Genesis can be called a great thinker, although his kind of thinking, of course, is inspired and therefore revelatory. But despite this connection, they are also to be distinguished with respect to the different functions they serve. And to draw the boundary line between them is very important, in order to avoid mutual trespassing. Much damage has been wrought by such invasions. Even Augustine, to whom Gilson refers in the quotation above, did not respect this demarcation when he confused Christian faith and Greek wisdom in his early writings.2 Gilson suggests that Thomas Aquinas succeeded in transforming the biblical name of God: “I am who I am” into a philosophic concept, by expressing the act of existence as the very essence of God.3 He insists that Thomas Aquinas, therefore, was able to conceive of God as the Creator of the world, whereas Aristotle had to confine God to a mover of the world, because the Greek was not aware of the problem of existence. One is doubtful whether Aquinas really succeeded in this respect.

As long as we dwell in the sphere of philosophic concepts we cannot grasp God as an existing being that causes other things and beings to exist. We, therefore, cannot transform the living and creating God into the content or meaning of any philosophic idea whatsoever. That would be to transform the genuine revealed image into a graven image. The living God can address man by saying: “I am who I am,” just because it is impossible to comprehend him as a living God by means of rational thought, and vice versa. A person who speaks to me is, in speaking, not the content of a theoretical comprehension. A person and a theory do not pertain to the same sphere. The person belongs to the sphere of life; he is an “I,” as I am. He evokes my response by addressing me, and this response is a practical and personal act. When I comprehend God in a theoretical or speculative way I am no longer a person. I am no longer that individual self that is personally addressed, challenged, called, blessed or punished. I am exclusively “reason” or “understanding” or “mind” and I do not claim to be anything else. I cannot combine in one and the same act the attitude of theoretical comprehension and that of prayer or submission to the will of God and acknowledgement of his majesty. Comprehending the idea of God in speculation I do not comprehend the living God; believing I do so, I transform my idea into an idol. We approach nearest to the God of Augustine in the writings (especially in the Confessions) where he invokes Him personally and dramatizes his relation to Him. The living personality of God emerges only when He speaks or when the saint speaks to Him.

The concept of “being” or of “to-be” is as universal as the concept of reality or of the Real. This is not the concept of an individual or of a living being that can accost me and act on me. And I cannot love or fear this universal concept “to-be” without making it an idol. So far as I love and revere God He is no longer that universal concept, but instead a living entity, an individual being though a universal individual who meets me and whom I meet in my living imagination, and who touches my heart hereby. It is true, the idea of the ideal self suggests the identification of universality and individuality, of essence and existence, of thought and reality. And the definition of God as that being in whom those oppositions are no longer opposed, but united with each other, characterizes the nature of the ideal self. But precisely this definition demonstrates that reason here confronts a problem not to be solved by means of reason. It is a new version of the basic antinomy which indicates the limit of rational thought.

How “being,” though a universal, can exist as an individual self which commands me and punishes or loves me, which I can fear or love, that is no longer a question answerable by any philosophic method. It is true that those opposite concepts should ultimately merge, that reason itself demands this ultimate fusion. But the necessity of this demand can only be demonstrated in a negative way: by showing that the separation leads finally to unavoidable contradictions. Thus reason can achieve a negative unification. But the positive synthesis can be effected by religious imagination only. Aristotle appreciated this limit of reason when he did not endeavor to conceive of God as a living personality who cares for man and has intercourse with him. It is true that he also conceives of the highest being as that being in whom potentiality and energy (or actuality) are no longer to be distinguished; and he also touched in that way upon the limit of reason by envisaging the problem of the “coincidentia oppositorum.” But on the other hand, he restricted his theological concept to the sphere of rational thought. His God is a God of thought; indeed God is nothing save perfect thought itself, conceived as activity and as life, but this God is no living God, no personality.4 He does not exist as an individual being.

In the concepts of being and reality reason confronts the antinomy between thought and reality, or between universality and individuality, when we take the meaning of reality in an ontological context (and not merely as an epistemological category). The concept of reality means precisely the opposite of a concept; it means reality itself. Now, what does this distinction suggest? Are we able to express what we mean when we speak of reality? Is not reality in so far as we think it (and we must think it to put the question) just a universal concept or, more precisely, the content of such a concept? As long as we are eager to learn what reality is, and to answer this question, we do not reflect that whatever we may discover in this way, remains on the level of mere or pure thought. Thus we face, without realizing it, the antinomy at the outset of our undertaking. We strive to seize, not the content of a concept, but reality as such, the Real, that is, that which is present in every real thing and being, process and event, relation and activity, nay which is the real source and origin of all these lesser realities. We want to find the power which creates what is real in each special case. But in the end we must admit that we can never abandon the realm of universal shadows as long as we remain loyal to reason and logic. This intrinsic tragedy of all metaphysics was discovered and disclosed for all time by Kant. Natural theology cannot surmount the inescapable.

The last great European metaphysician was fully aware of the difficulty of his enterprise. Hegel therefore, began his logic with the category of being and proceeded to the opposite, to nothing, by noting that they are, though opposed, nevertheless united with each other. Indeed, this is the most abstract formulation of the antinomy. Being, as such, is always universal and conceptual (or notional), but being, as acting and creating, is not only universal and conceptual, it is existent and individual at the same time; it is its own logical opposite. If we call “being” the universal, then the individual is non-being. In every individual thing, process or action is a negative element compared with the pure affirmation of being as such. We confront the mystery of that “nothing” out of which God created the world. God, though being, as such, faces opposition: nothing, as such. This opposition makes creation possible. Being is creative in so far as it unites with nothing, or in so far as it is united with nothing from the start. But Hegel, though superior in his logical method, has succeeded no better than Aquinas in transforming the Creator into a philosophic concept. His attempt was frustrated by the same difficulties. It is true that Hegel, instructed by Kant, was aware of those difficulties, and he used them in the hope of mastering them. This is the function of the dialectical method. But it was an illusion to believe that the systematic development of all antinomies could overcome the contradictions inherent in them. Not philosophical speculation, but religious imagination alone, can perform this supreme task, by abandoning completely the realm and the level of rational thought.

The impossibility of a speculative natural theology which could produce a conceptional idea of the Creator turns out to be, not a deficiency of the human mind, but the necessary consequence of the peculiar excellence of the religious imagination. Not only is the human understanding thwarted by this task, but no understanding whatever could perform it. God, as the religious mind encounters him, cannot be made the content of any conceptional idea, however expanded the power of understanding or reason. Life is the sphere in which the dichotomies of the philosophizing mind have not yet arisen. Life is the sphere wherein all separations, all distinctions, and thus all “clear and distinct” concepts originate, which contains them all, but in a non-conceptional, in an undeveloped, an implicit form. This form I call “immediacy.” And this immediacy cannot be reconstructed by speculative thought. The language of this immediacy is imaginative. Imagination alone can meet the task of articulating the immediate sphere without transposing it to the level of philosophic reflection. Immediacy is characterized by the presence of mystical intuition. Rational thought tries to rationalize this intuition and in doing so it must destroy the immediate unity of life and sunder it by forming logical concepts. It is true, life itself offers the occasions of philosophizing; it prepares the way for the discrimination and reflection in which rational thought consists. Life itself philosophizes to a certain degree. But the conceptions formed in such a way are not “clear and distinct,” on the contrary, they are raw material compared with the products of philosophic reflection and speculation.

What appears as raw material, when we compare it with clearly defined logical concepts, has its own value and virtue when we consider the function of imagination in religious language. Words like God, paradise, angel, heaven, creation, grace, and so on, are not well-defined; on the contrary, they are enveloped in a mist. But it is just this misty atmosphere they emerge from which is adapted to the mystical background of their meaning. The lack of clarity and exactitude is a logical deficiency, but at the same time it is characteristic of whatever terms occur spontaneously in the religious realm. In this realm words signify something that is still embedded in the original matrix and immediacy of life, and not yet freed from the grip of the mystical intuition which embraces all the content of unreflective consciousness. Their logical weakness is just their religious strength. There are imaginative elements in them which cannot be eliminated without taking away their religious significance. This imaginative character of all religious ideas is more adequate to the solution of the speculative antinomies than any logical method can ever be.

The transformation of the religious images into logical concepts, as performed by dogma and dogmatics is, therefore, a dubious undertaking. The images lose their immediacy, the clouds which surround them are cleared away, sharp lines appear and logical demands are fulfilled. But the content of the religious images must needs be preserved and it contrasts strangely with the rigid form to which it is forced to submit. The contradictions, inherent in the meanings of all religious ideas, but not noticed as long as the imaginative form is unshattered, now become visible and disturbing. Imagination tolerates contradictions, because they agree with the immediacy of life in which contrasts are not yet developed and sharpened. There are no contradictions proper to the imaginative realm before it is rationalized. The logical medium of dogma awakes the slumbering oppositions and generates contradictions. Thus dogma and dogmatics always hover in a twilight between the imaginative, mystical sphere from which the dogmatic semi-concepts are derived and the sphere of conceptual ideas. Neither sphere comes properly into its own; the somewhat precarious function of dogma and the never quite satisfying systems of dogmatics arise out of this ambiguity. Dogma seems to be more advanced and thus superior to the naive form of images and imaginative stories, but the fact is, it marks no advance but is rather the product of a mixture of different interests. Dogma is like a bird in a cage, like a butterfly pinned in the collection of an entomologist or like a flower pressed by a botanist.

It is the peculiar performance of religious imagination that it does not separate the elements which rational thought is obliged to discern and that it, therefore, is not driven to unavoidable contradictions, as is philosophic definition and reflection. Religious imagination dwells upon the immediate realm of life in which the contrast between the subjective sphere of ideas and images, and the objective sphere of real things and beings, is not yet developed. It does not reflect on itself, it looks at the content of the images, as sense perception does not reflect on subjective impressions, but rather perceives through them the objects. Indeed, religious imagination takes the place of religious perception; it is a spiritual and mystical perception. It is the immense virtue and the unique power of the religious image that it is taken without reflection or naively. The distinction between image and thing is not imaginative, it is reflective, and does not correspond to the real meaning and the proper function of the image. Imagination, in its religious application, is realistic; it is the instrument which enables our mind to envisage God and to experience His will and His purpose; it is the organ of religious perception.

The realists and empiricists misunderstand and misinterpret this realistic religious apprehension by minimizing the tremendous difference between religious and sense perception, and by making God the object of an experience of the type of other empirical experiences. They do not recognize the central character of the religious object: the mystical, that is, the superempirical nature of God. They do not respect the function of religious imagination. Some theologians mistake the religious image for a symbol. The distinctive difference between an image and a symbol derives from the realistic purport of religious imagination. The consciousness of an image is one with the consciousness of its content; the content alone is intended and perceived through the medium of the image. We pray to God, not to the image of God, though we see Him by means of imagination only. The consciousness of a symbol, on the other hand, is always aware of the chasm between symbol and what is symbolized. The kernel of religious knowledge is not symbolic, but imaginative, though symbols, like parables, play an important part in religious communication. Imagination is the proper medium of revelation. Of course, if we reflect on religious imagination, we leave the sphere of its immediacy and we descry the duality of image and what is imaged, and we cannot reconstruct the original immediate unity by means of philosophic reflection. Religious imagination, compared with philosophic reflection, is a paradise lost. But while man cannot return to the paradise of a sinless life, he can return to the paradise of religious imagination, for he never ceases to possess the power of imagination.

The historical fact that the Christian faith conquered the ancient world and subjugated Greek philosophy by means of religious imagination shows the possibility, and even the necessity, of such a rebirth. Religious imagination is superior to speculation and reflection precisely because it is naive and has not yet abandoned the realm of immediate life. It is not only the moral innocence of the child which inspired Jesus to point to him as the noblest pattern, it is also the lack of reflection and the immediacy of his imagination. To a child God is immediately what He is in the child's own soul. Image and reality are not yet distinguished. The child experiences the original meaning and function of the image. Therefore, his experience of the living God is not broken or disturbed by reflective doubts or inhibitions. It is the business of philosophy to vindicate the right and the truth of this childish attitude, a right and a truth higher than any that could be demanded by reflective knowledge.

The words “creation” and “Creator” mean something other than the logical term “cause.” In religion God is not the cause of the world in a logical sense. The category of causality presupposes a coherent multitude of different entities which did not exist before the creation; it also presupposes succession of time in which the cause produces the effect, and this succession also needs to be created. Augustine refers to all these antinomies.5 When we refrain from making such presuppositions the category of causality is completely empty, as Kant has shown. The biblical image of creation is a non-logical analogy of causation, of a special kind of causation. It resembles the creative act of the artist who creates the work of art. It is the Word that creates the world: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” It is this word and not reason or the logical logos that made all things in the beginning. It is the creative word of imagination, not the Platonic Idea or Form that was in the beginning with God and that was God.

Origen, who was the first to philosophize about the Christian God, about the mystery of creation and about the relation between Christ and the Logos from the standpoint of a Platonist, though frequently using the doctrine of the Ideas as the patterns of all things in the mind of God or His son, nevertheless rejects explicitly in a passage of his “First Principles” the Platonic version of the Ideas, perhaps because he feels that the Word, in the sense of the fourth Gospel, is not the Logos of the philosopher. God is creative, not like the technician who by virtue of his knowledge acts to achieve a purpose, but like the genius in the realm of art, as Michael B. Foster says.6 It should be added, however, that this interpretation does not sufficiently emphasize the moral aspect of the biblical Creator and the moral purpose involved in His Creation. God is not only an artist, the world not alone a poem or a drama. He is at the same time the Lawgiver, Judge and Sovereign in the moral realm, and He is especially these as the Creator of man. Artistic genius thus may constitute an element in the image of the creative God but this element does not exhaust His nature. On the other hand, Kant's idea of the moral Author of nature fails completely to take into consideration this element of genius in the nature of God. This deficiency may be connected with Kant's failure to realize the function of religious imagination altogether.

There cannot be the slighest doubt that the image of the Creator must be seized by imagination, and not by reason. The Catholic philosophy which held and holds that natural theology can attain to the idea of the Creator is mistaken as long as this theology is based on reason alone, and not on religious imagination. But if it is based on religious imagination, it is no longer natural, i.e., rational theology. This theology cannot rival imagination in the latter's peculiar sphere; it ends where those antinomies begin. These are “solved” by spiritual imagination. This insight is the only contribution which philosophy can make to the interpretation of the biblical God, and to biblical theology. Reason cannot bring about knowledge of God as Creator; it is so remote from performing this task that it cannot even fully comprehend the positive content of the revealed image, just because it is an image. No religious image can be translated into the language of logical concepts without losing something of its imaginative character and meaning, for the meaning of an image is itself imaginative. The imaginative character of the image inheres not only in its aesthetic form, but in its content as well. The imaginative form is not externally imposed upon the kernel of its meaning. The meaning of the image is engendered by its form, and this union of form and content constitutes the peculiar power and vigor of the image, its capacity to express what mystical intuition perceives.

The image of God as the Creator “solves” in this way the antinomy of reality by unifying its two elements; the elements of abstract universality and of concrete individuality, or of thought and of the Real.7 God, the Creator, is both a real self and the all-embracing mystery of the Universe. He embodies the highest concept of speculation, the idea of the ideal self, and He preserves the character of the mystery at the same time. Reason by itself can never achieve this consummation without being untrue to its native standards.

The image of the Creator solves the antinomy contained in the ontological concept of being and reality, and at the same time the antinomy contained in the epistemological idea of the ideal self. The image of the Creator “proves” the existence of God by its own superior means which induces us to speak of revelation. Thought alone cannot abandon the sphere of the abstract and universal and enter the sphere of the concrete and individual, the sphere of real life. Faith alone, based on imagination, qualifies for this task. Faith needs imagination, for imagination exclusively can bridge the gulf in man's nature and connect thought and reality, the universal and the individual, the ideal and its immediate presence. The image of the Creator represents the actual accomplishment, a concrete embodiment of what in the human sphere is an ideal to be striven for. What reason cannot achieve is acknowledged by faith as the most genuine reality.8

Reason becomes entangled in inescapable and insoluble antinomies when it deals with the problem of a first cause or author of the world. Imagination does not solve this problem by rational means, but reason can be satisfied with its solution after having learned that there is no possible rational solution at all, and that the only reasonable solution is that offered by religious imagination. The image of the Creator causes us to marvel at the infinite creativity of the divine spirit. More cannot be done, and more should not be attempted, because the mysterious character of this spirit should not be falsified by any effort at logical clarity; instead this character must be emphasized, for it is the very essense of God to remain hidden even when He reveals Himself. The image of the Creator is not merely the imaginative illustration of a logical concept, namely of the first cause of the world, rather it expresses what mystical intuition experiences: the relation of everything to the universal mystery. In the light of this intuition everything is united with everything else, not by means of a logical coherence or by the medium of space and time, but by the common lot of being included in the same mystery and depending upon it. Thus the world becomes a unity not in any logical but in a mystical sense. And at the same time it becomes the world of God, His creation, the work of His spirit. Mystical intuition is silent; but God speaks in our mind through the religious imagination, and thus He reveals Himself. This is the only “proof” of the existence of God. God alone can demonstrate His existence, and He can demonstrate it in no other way.

The total content of all our experiences in so far as they are embraced by the ultimate mystery is called creation in biblical language. The mystery itself is called God. The word, creation, hints at the peculiar relation between the experienced world and the universal mystery. This relation is not a logical one, it is not a relation which can be found within experienced contents of the world. The category of causality is contained in the word “creation,” but with an indirect, imaginative meaning which conceals and reveals this relation at the same time. We go astray if we attempt to translate it into terms of rational thought, even in those of Kant's pure practical reason. God as the Creator is not “the moral author of nature.” This term is even inconsistent with Kant's own system, because God, as postulated by pure practical reason, should be the moral author not only of nature, but of the world, that is, the totality of the natural and the moral realm, or of the sphere in which the laws of nature, and of that in which the moral laws rule. Otherwise man would not be created by God in so far as he is a moral being, and the moral purpose of the creation, namely the harmony between man's moral value and his portion of happiness, would not be brought about. On the other hand, the idea of a moral author of nature is expected to unify the two realms, that of nature and that of morality. If this unification, under the title “world,” must be presupposed the whole idea no longer functions in the way assumed by Kant. Indeed, if there is a world in which not only the laws of nature, but also the moral laws rule, and if the latter have preponderance, as the principle of the primacy of pure practical reason over theoretical reason demands, then it is no longer necessary to add the idea of a moral author of the world. This world is a moral world in itself. What urges Kant to proceed from morality to faith is the immorality of man. But just this immorality should have prevented him from teaching that reason can attain to faith.

This consideration confirms anew the insight that the idea of a moral author of nature is not postulated and cannot be postulated by reason; in Kant's own case, it is rather the remnant of his Christian faith. It is the philosophic transcription of the biblical Creator. But this transcription is insufficient and unjustified because it is founded on reason alone, and because it omits the mystical nature of the biblical image. Reason, as such, is not obliged and not even entitled to rehabilitate the category of causality for the purpose of faith. It is the religious imagination which carries out this rehabilitation by using the logical and empirical category in a metaphorical and mythical sense. The religious imagination returns to the sphere of perception; it solves the speculative problem of the ideal self by presenting it in the fashion of a real self but at the same time it excludes the possibility of taking it as a real self in a literal, human sense. The result is the revealed image of the creative God.

This image performs what is beyond the abstract concept of an ultimate unity or an ens realissimum: it unifies the manifold of impressions and impulses, of interests and instincts, of ideas and purposes which we call the world; and at the same time it assures us that this whole, in spite of its imperfection and deficiency, is not only a physical but also a moral whole. Thus, the world is no longer “nature” in Kant's sense, but rather the Creation of God. The image of the Creator permits, on the one hand, the panoramic vision of one and the same world, and, on the other hand, the distinction between this world and the divine Creator. Thus we are enabled to comprehend the world as the world of God, but at the same time as a world separated from God, created as a work of art is created by the artist. If we neglect the relation between God and the world, then we neglect the mystical intuition and look at the world with “worldly” eyes only: we comprehend the world and ourselves as if the world were self-dependent, as if it did not point toward something beyond its limits, as if it were not mysterious at all.

The world in the biblical meaning is not the cosmos of the Greeks; their cosmos comprises the gods. Even Plato's world-architect and Aristotle's world-mover belong to the cosmos, as the commander-in-chief belongs to his army. There is no room for the mystery that embraces the whole and that makes the total a whole. Therefore, Greek philosophy could tolerate the duality between matter and form and the relative independence of matter from form and from God. The cosmos has an aesthetic or a logical unity; but it has no mystical unity. The difference between the ancient and the Christian conception of the world is marked by the fact that God, according to the Bible, transcends the cosmos of the Greeks, and therefore all reason and knowledge. Although Augustine and Aquinas philosophize with the conceptual instruments of the Greeks, their conception of God transcends the frame of the Greeks by virtue of its mystical character. Nevertheless ancient conceptions of the cosmos are partially maintained in medieval philosophy: there is no break between the opposites: “Gratia perficit naturam.” Both are united in a higher totality, which reminds one of the ancient cosmos: the hierarchy of all things and beings from soulless matter to the deity. Medieval religion and philosophy have always retained certain features of the ancient view.

Protestant faith emphasized the chasm between God and world and stressed the transcendent nature of God. To be sure, this view was brought about by a new conception of the relation, not between God and the world, but between God and man. The medieval standpoint preserved the ancient conception of man as an animal endowed with reason. Man was regarded as created in the likeness of God precisely because he is rational. Man is rational by nature and this prerogative entitles and enables him to approach deity. Faith is based on reason, and reason is a natural property. Modern philosophy discovered and emphasized the unique position of man in the world. Reason is not a natural property, but rather the lawgiver of nature: Kant made this insight the cornerstone of his transcendental philosophy. Protestantism maintains a position between the medieval and the modern standpoint. Man, as a natural being, is not able to reach God. Though created in the likeness of God, man is corrupted by original sin and no longer privileged, in spite of his reason, to attain divinity. Reason cannot lead him to God, and faith is not based on reason but on the gift of God, on His grace. Faith elevates man above the level of nature and reason. Protestantism thus destroys the cosmological unity completely. There is a break between nature and grace, between the world and God, in so far as man is concerned, and this cleft can be overcome only by God.

The principle of modern thought, consummated in Kant's “Copernican revolution,” makes man the intellectual center of the world. Man is no longer a mere part of nature. In so far as he is properly man, he is not a rational animal, but a transcendental being, i.e., a being that is elevated above the level of nature in the same sense as God is. Indeed, the transcendental nature of man implies that man in a special respect is the creator of nature: reason regarded as a transcendental faculty prescribes the laws to nature as it prescribes the moral law to man. The laws of nature are no longer cosmic laws, as in the cosmological view of antiquity, nor are they any longer divine laws as in the theological view of the Middle Ages; they are laws by virtue of human transcendental reason. Accordingly, the moral law is not a law given man as a rational animal by nature or by God, but rather a law given to man as a natural animal by man as a transcendental self. The absoluteness of the ancient cosmos and the absoluteness of the Christian God have been assumed by man. That is the real significance of the word “transcendental.” Man has been endowed with divine attributes. His theoretical reason is the source of the natural order, and his practical reason is the source of the moral order; this Kant calls “holy,” hinting at the divine nature of reason. The cosmos has been replaced by nature as the object of science, and God has become a postulate of pure practical reason and an object of rational faith.

Hegel felt that this standpoint failed to appreciate the true relation of God to the world, overrating, as it did, the importance of man as a transcendental self. In other words, Hegel saw that the world depends not on man's self, but on God's. One might conclude from this that he saw the necessity of restoring the Christian conception of the Creator and the Creation. It cannot be denied that Hegel was partly motivated by this intention. On the other hand, he was too much a disciple of Kant and too modern in temper to return to the Christian standpoint. As a result, his whole philosophy has an ambiguous character. It pretends to be theological, but it is predominantly modern, that is, “anthropological” in the transcendental sense of the word. It is a titanic undertaking to conquer the heavenly sphere by means of human thought. The human self aims to usurp the place of deity. The philosophizing spirit itself claims to be the Logos of the Christian faith. This exaggeration marks the end of modern speculation. No wonder that after Hegel the decay began. “The owl of Minerva,” which Hegel mentions in the preface of his last work, The Philosophy of Right, had, as he says, been launched into flight, while the night-shadows were gathering.

The object of the Hegelian quest nevertheless has survived. We must bring about a new Christian philosophy which renders unto God the things that are God's. At the same time we must preserve those insights of Kant which concern the position of man in the world, or over against the world as nature, as “objective reality.” The old Christian division of nature and grace, or of world and God, must be modified. The world is, though God's Creation, nevertheless not to be identified with nature. Man is in the midst of nature and God. Though a creature, he is superior to nature and a co-operator with God. On the other hand, he himself belongs to nature and is an animal; like all creatures he depends on God. But he does not depend on God in the same way as other creatures. He is a self and, as a self, he is related to the divine mystery and has access to divine revelation. Thus he transcends “nature” by means of his reason, and the “world” by means of faith. The task of the new Christian philosophy demands a new alignment between reason and faith, or between philosophy and religion. The previous lectures have endeavored to draw the boundary line between those realms. The fundamental purpose of this undertaking, however, is not the separation of these spheres but their reunion. It is clear that this reunion must be effected on the basis of the principle of the primacy of faith over reason; not in the fashion of the scholastic thinkers, for the protestant consciousness of man must be maintained. This “protestant philosophy” has yet to be constructed. The last lectures will adduce certain suggestions in view of this need.

  • 1.

    God and Philosophy, 1941, p. 47.

  • 2.

    Comp. e.g., the remark in “de vera religione”: Plato and Plotinus “paucis mutatis verbis atque sententiis Christiani fierent.” About the problem of Augustine's early period see P. Alfaric, L'évolution intellectuelle de S. Augustin, 1918, and Karl Holl, Augustins innere Entwicklung, Abh. d. pr. Ak., 1923. Both underline the “pagan” feature of Augustine's Christianity in the first period after his conversion perhaps too strongly; the opposite view is represented by E. Gilson, Introduction à l'étude de Saint Augustin, 1928.

  • 3.

    l.c. p. 63 et seq.

  • 4.

    Comp. Clement C. J. Webb, God and Personality, Gifford Lectures 1918–1919, p. 73 ff.

  • 5.

    De Gen. c. Man. I, 3.

  • 6.

    The Political Philosophies of Plato and Hegel, 1935, ch. VI. Foster discusses the conception of sovereignty and, in doing so, he shows that the political philosophy of Hegel has no true conception of sovereignty because it has none of creation and of the creative mind. Foster contrasts reason and the creative mind. Reason comprehends the essence of objects or the aim of the will by separating the essence from the accidental existence or the aim, conceived apart from the act of creation. “The act of creation is governed by no preconceived end; therefore essence is not discernible from accident without the product of creation, and the created object, though it can be criticized, is not to be criticized by reference to a standard conceived apart from it” (p. 186). Hegel ignores this difference, therefore he holds that it is possible to discover and to expound the plan of Providence by means of rational thought. He rationalizes the idea of creation and substitutes for it the conception of technical production which carries out a preconceived idea. “Hegel is not really replacing religious imagery by conceptual apprehension of the truth which it contains; he is replacing the Christian idea of Creation by the Greek one of Techne” (p. 204).

    I am indebted to Foster's argument for considerable illumination. But, perhaps one might improve his criticism of Hegel by recalling the fact that Hegel tried to transform reason itself into a creative activity and that, therefore, his conception of an end is no longer to be distinguished from that of the creative act. But it must be added that Hegel, though intending this identification of speculation and creation, nevertheless is not successful in this respect, and that, therefore, all his conceptions pretend to a meaning which they actually cannot attain. I agree perfectly with Foster in this, that Hegel “is not really replacing religious imagery by conceptual apprehension.”

  • 7.

    Comp. the discussion of the problem of Creation in God and Personality by Clement C. J. Webb, 1918, who takes a standpoint akin to that of my lectures, but not exactly the same.

  • 8.

    Plato probably would have approved of the biblical God to a higher degree than he did of the Greek gods, since the moral claims he raises concerning the content of religious images are much better complied with by the biblical God than they were in mythology. Therefore it is understandable that the first Christian thinkers adhered to Plato and tried to combine his philosophic outlook with that of Scripture.

From the book: