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Man in closest fellowship with the highest must be for you all an object of esteem, nay, of reverence. No one capable of understanding such a state can, when he sees it, withhold this feeling. That is past all doubt. You may despise all whose minds are easily and entirely filled with trivial things, but in vain you attempt to depreciate one who drinks in the greatest for his nourishment. You may love him or hate him, according as he goes with you or against yon in the narrow path of activity and culture, but even the most beautiful feeling of equality you cannot entertain towards a person so far exalted above you. The seeker for the Highest Existence in the world stands above all who have not a like purpose. Your wisest men say that, even against your will, you must honour the virtuous who, in accordance with the laws of the moral nature, endeavour to determine finite concerns by infinite requirements. And were it even possible for you to find some thing ridiculous in virtue itself, because of the contrast between the limited powers and the infinite undertaking, you still could not deny esteem to one whose organs are open to the Universe, who is far from strife and opposition, exalted above all imperfect endeavour, responsive to the Universe and one with it. You cannot despise when you see man in this supreme moment of human existence and the clear beam is reflected in its purity upon you.


But whether the picture of the nature and of the life of religion I have drawn has claimed your esteem I do not inquire. Because of false conceptions and devotion to nonessentials esteem is too often refused, but I am sure of the power of the subject, as soon as it is freed from its distorting drapery. Nor do I ask whether my thoughts on the coherence of this indwelling capacity with all that is sublime and godlike in our nature, have stimulated you to an intenser study of our nature and possibilities. I also pass the question, whether you have taken the higher standpoint I showed you, and have recognized from thence, in that nobler fellowship of spirits, so much misjudged, wherein everyone freely surrenders himself, not regarding the glory of his self-will, nor the exclusive possession of his deepest, most secret individuality, that he may regard himself as a work of the eternal, the all-fashioning World-Spirit, even the holy of holies of fellowship, higher far than any earthly fellowship, holier than the tenderest tie of friendship. In short, I do not ask whether all religion, in its infinity, its divine power, has compelled you to adoration, for I leave the matter itself to work upon you.

At present I have something else to deal with, a new opposition to vanquish. I would, as it were, conduct you to the God that has become flesh; I would show you religion when it has resigned its infinity and appeared, often in sorry form, among men; I would have you discover religion in the religions. Though they are always earthly and impure, the same form of heavenly beauty that I have tried to depict is to be sought in them.

The divisions of the church and the difference of religion are almost always found together. The connection seems inseparable. There are as many creeds and confessions as churches and religious communions. Glancing at this state of things, you might easily believe that my judgment on the plurality of the church must also be my judgment on the plurality of religion. You would, 212however, entirely mistake my opinion. I condemned the plurality of the church, but my argument presupposed the plurality of religion. I showed from the nature of the case that in the church all rigid outline should be lost, that all distinct partition should disappear. Not only did I hold that all should be one indivisible whole in spirit and sympathy, but that the actual connection should have larger development and ever approach the highest, the universal unity. Now if there is not everywhere plurality of religion, if the most marked difference is not necessary and unavoidable, why should the true church need to be one? Is it not that everyone in the religion of others may see and share what he cannot find in his own? And why should the visible church be only one, if it is not that everyone may seek in it religion in the form best fitted to awake the germ that lies asleep in him? And if this germ can only be fertilized and made to grow by one definite kind of influence, it must itself be of a definite kind.

Nor can these different manifestations of religion be mere component parts, differing only in number and size, and forming, when combined, a uniform whole. In that case every one would by natural progress come to be like his neighbour. Such religion as he acquired would change into his own, and become identical with it. The church, this fellowship with all believers which I consider indispensable for every religious man, would be merely provisional. The more successful its work, the quicker would it end—a view of the institution I have never contemplated. I therefore find that multiplicity of the religions is based in the nature of religion.

That no man can perfectly possess all religion is easy to see. Men are determined in one special way, religion is endlessly determinable. But it must be equally evident that religion is not dismembered and scattered in parts by random among men, but that it must organize itself in manifestations of varying degrees of resemblance. Recall 213the several stages of religion to which I drew your attention. I said that the religion of a person, to whom the world reveals itself as a living whole, is not a mere continuation of the view of the person who only sees the world in its apparently hostile elements. By no amount of regarding the Universe as chaotic and discrete can the higher view be attained. These differences you may call kinds or degrees of religion, but in either case you will have to admit that, as in every similar case, the forms in which an infinite force divides itself is usually characteristic and different.

Wherefore, plurality of religions is another thing than plurality of the church. The essence of the church is fellowship. Its limit, therefore, cannot be the uniformity of religious persons. It is just difference that should be brought into fellowship.6363As the question of the multiplicity of religion and unity of the church, treated in earlier passages, is here expressed in short compass, I would take the occasion to add something to the explanations of this seemingly paradoxical statement. First, in every type of faith it is the narrower brethren who would make the society so exclusive, that on the one hand they would absolutely take no part in the religious exercises of other types of faith, and would remain in entire ignorance of their nature and spirit; and on the other, for the slightest deviation, they are ready to found a distinct society. The more liberal and noble again seek to have an affectionate appreciation of the mind of strange fellow believers, not only as spectators, but as far as may be by active participation in the divine services that have as their chief purpose the exhibition of this mind. Had this not taken place among the members of the two Evangelical churches, there could not be, even where they most mingle, any thought now, more than three hundred years ago, of union. A Catholic could more easily be edified by the whole Evangelical service, in which he would only miss much that in another way is made up to him, than a Protestant with the Catholic service which, as it exhibits in the most positive way the difference between the two types of faith, cannot be the expression of his own. Even for a Protestant, however, there is a way of taking part in much, by recasting, adjusting, translating in one’s own heart, that is not indifferentism. Only the Protestant who has done this can boast of understanding the Catholic type, and of having guarded his own faith when put to the touch-stone of contrast. This leads us to the second point. The endeavour to found an all-embracing society is the true and blameless principle of tolerance. Though the possibility of such a society may be remote if you take it quite away, nothing would remain but to regard the different types of religion as an unavoidable evil. It is just like the mutual toleration between differently constituted states. It continues because intercourse is still possible. When this ceases intolerance enters, and a supposed right is assumed to interfere in the affairs of other people. This can only be done by an act, by a government, taking outward destructive action, and never by reasoning or even by plausibility. Only the narrow-minded, however, assume such a right. The more liberal seek everywhere to open up intercourse, and to make manifest thereby the unity of the human race. Their love to the constitution of their Fatherland does not in the least suffer, and in religion also true tolerance is far removed from all indifferentism. You are manifestly right when you believe that the church can never in actuality be completely and uniformly one. The only reason, however, is that every society existing in space and time is thereby limited and losing in depth what it gains in breadth, falls to pieces. But religion, exactly by its multiplicity, assumes the utmost unity of the church. This multiplicity is necessary for the complete manifestation of religion. It must seek for a definite character, not only in the individual but also in the society. Did the society not contain a principle to individualize itself, it could have no existence. Hence we must assume and we must search for an endless mass of distinct forms. Each separate religion claims to be such a distinct form revealing religion, and we must see whether it is agreeable to this principle. We must make clear to ourselves wherein it is peculiar. Though the difference be hidden under strange disguises, though it be distorted, not only by the unavoidable influence of the transitory to which the enduring has condescended, but also by the unholy hand of sacrilegious men, we must find it.

To be satisfied with a mere general idea of religion would not be worthy of you. Would you then understand it as 214it really exists and displays itself, would you comprehend it as an endlessly progressive work of the Spirit that reveals Himself in all human history, you must abandon the vain and foolish wish that there should only be one religion; you must lay aside all repugnance to its multiplicity; as candidly as possible you must approach everything that has ever, in the changing shapes of humanity, been developed in its advancing career, from the ever fruitful bosom of the spiritual life.

The different existing manifestations of religion you call positive religions. Under this name they have long been the object of a quite pre-eminent hate. Despite of your repugnance to religion generally, you have always borne more easily with what for distinction is called natural religion. You have almost spoken of it with esteem.

I do not hesitate to say at once that from the heart I entirely deny this superiority. For all who have religion at all and profess to love it, it would be the vilest inconsequence to admit it. They would thereby fall into the openest self-contradiction. For my own part, if I only succeeded in recommending to you this natural religion, I would consider that I had lost my pains.

For you, indeed, to whom religion generally is offensive, I have always considered this preference natural. The so-called natural religion is usually so much refined away, and has such metaphysical and moral graces, that little of the peculiar character of religion appears. It understands so well to live in reserve, to restrain and to accommodate itself that it can be put up with anywhere. Every positive religion, on the contrary, has certain strong traits and a very marked physiognomy, so that its every movement, even to the careless glance, proclaims what it really is.

If this is the true ground of your dislike, you must now rid yourself of it. If you have now, as I hope, a better estimate of religion, it should be no longer necessary for me to contend against it. If you see that a peculiar and 215noble capacity of man underlies religion, a capacity which, of course, must be educated, it cannot be offensive to you to regard it in the most definite forms in which it has yet appeared. Rather you must the more willingly grant a form your attention the more there is developed in it the characteristic and distinctive elements of religion.

But you may not admit this argument. You may transfer all the reproaches you have formerly been accustomed to bestow on religion in general to the single religions. You may maintain that there are always, just in this element that you call positive, the occasion and the justification of those reproaches, and that in consequence the positive religions cannot be as I have sought to represent, the natural manifestations of the true religion. You would show me how, without exception, they are full of what, according to my own statement, is not religion. Consequently, must not a principle of corruption lie deep in their constitution? You will remind me that each one proclaims that it alone is true, and that what is peculiar to it is absolutely the highest. Are they not distinguished from one another by elements they should as much as possible eliminate? In disproving and contending, be it with art and understanding, or with weapons stranger and more unworthy, do they not show themselves quite contrary to the nature of true religion? You would add that, exactly in proportion as you esteem religion and acknowledge its importance, you must take a lively interest in seeing that it everywhere enjoys the greatest freedom to cultivate itself on all sides. You must, therefore, hate keenly those definite religious forms, that hold all their adherents to the same type and the same word, withdraw the freedom to follow their own nature and compress them in unnatural limits. In contrast, you would praise mightily the superiority in all these points of the natural to the positive religions.

Once more I say, I do not deny that misunderstandings and perversions exist in all religions, and I raise no objections 216to the dislike with which they inspire you. Nay, I acknowledge there is in them all this much bewailed degeneration, this divergence into alien territory. The diviner religion itself is, the less would I embellish its corruptions, or admiringly cherish its excrescences. But forget for once this one-sided view and follow me to another. Consider how much of this corruption is due to those who have dragged forth religion from the depths of the heart into the civil world. Acknowledge that much of it is unavoidable as soon as the Infinite, by descending into the sphere of time and submitting to the general influence of finite things, takes to itself a narrow shell. And however deep-rooted this corruption may be, and however much the religions may have suffered thereby, consider this also: if the proper religious view of all things is to seek even in things apparently common and base every trace of the divine, the true and the eternal, and to reverence even the faintest, you cannot omit what has the justest claims to be judged religiously.

And you would find more than remote traces of the Deity. I invite you to study every faith professed by man, every religion that has a name and a character. Though it may long ago have degenerated into a long series of empty customs, into a system of abstract ideas and theories, will you not, when you examine the original elements at the source, find that this dead dross was once the molten outpourings of the inner fire? Is there not in all religions more or less of the true nature of religion, as I have presented it to you? Must not, therefore, each religion be one of the special forms which mankind, in some region of the earth and at some stage of development, has to accept?

I must take care not to attempt anything systematic or complete, for that would be the study of a life, and not the business of a discourse. Yet you must not be allowed to wander at hazard in this endless chaos. That you may not 217be misled by the false ideas that prevail; that you may estimate by a right standard the true content and essence of any religion; that you may have some definite and sure procedure for separating the inner from the outer, the native from the borrowed and extraneous, and the sacred from the profane, forget the characteristic attributes of single religions and seek, from the centre outwards, a general view of how the essence of a positive religion is to be comprehended and determined.

You will then find that the positive religions are just the definite forms in which religion must exhibit itself—a thing to which your so-called natural religions have no claim. They are only a vague, sorry, poor thought that corresponds to no reality, and you will find that in the positive religions alone a true individual cultivation of the religious capacity is possible. Nor do they, by their nature, injure the freedom of their adherents.

Why have I assumed that religion can only be given fully in a great multitude of forms of the utmost definiteness? Only on grounds that naturally follow from what has been said of the nature of religion. The whole of religion is nothing but the sum of all relations of man to God, apprehended in all the possible ways in which any man can be immediately conscious in his life. In this sense there is but one religion, for it would be but a poverty-stricken and halting life, if all these relations did not exist wherever religion ought to be. Yet all men will not by any means apprehend them in the same way, but quite differently. Now this difference alone is felt and alone can be exhibited while the reduction of all differences is only thought.

You are wrong, therefore, with your universal religion that is natural to all, for no one will have his own true and right religion, if it is the same for all. As long as we occupy a place there must be in these relations of man to the whole a nearer and a farther, which will necessarily 218determine each feeling differently in each life. Again, as long as we are individuals, every man has greater receptiveness for some religious experiences and feelings than for others. In this way everything is different. Manifestly then, no single relation can accord to every feeling its due. It requires the sum of them. Hence, the whole of religion can be present only, when all those different views of every relation are actually given. This is not possible, except in an endless number of different forms. They must be determined adequately by a different principle of reference to the others, and in each the same religious element must be characteristically modified. In short, they must, be true individuals.

What determines and distinguishes these individuals, and what, on the other hand, is common to all their component parts, holds them together, and is their principle of adhesion, whereby any given detail is to be adjudged to its own type of religion, are implied in what has been already said. But this view can only be verified by the existing historical religions, and of them it is maintained that all this is different, and that such is not their relation to one another. This we must now examine.

First, a definite quantity of religious matter is not necessarily, in the same degree, a definite form of religion.

This is an entire misunderstanding of the nature of the different religions. Even among their adherents it is general, and causes manifold opposite and false judgments. They suppose that because so many men acknowledge the same religion, they must have the same body of religious views and feelings. Their fellow-believers must have the same opinions and the same faith as they have, and this common possession must be the essence of their religion. The peculiarly characteristic and individual element in a religion is not easy to find with certainty from instances, but, however general the idea may be, if you believe that it consists in including a definite sum of religious intuitions 219and feelings, and that as a consequence the positive religions are prejudicial to the freedom of the individual in the development of his own religion, you are in error. Single perceptions and feelings are, as you know, the elements of religion, and it can never lead to the character of any one religion to regard them as a mere heap, tossed together without regard to number, kind or purpose.

If now, as I have sought to show, religion needs to be of many types because, of every relation different views are possible, according as it stands related to the rest, how would we be helped by such a compendium of some of them that could define none? If the positive religions were only distinguished by what they exclude, they could certainly not be the individual manifestations we seek. That this is not their character, however, appears from the impossibility of arriving from this point of view at a distinct idea of them.

As they continue to exist apart, such an idea must be possible, for only what commingles in fact is inseparable in idea. It is evident that the different religious perceptions and feelings are not, in a determinate way, awakened by one another or interdependent. Now, as each exists for itself, each can lead, by the most various combinations, to every other. Hence, different religions could not continue long beside one another, if they were not otherwise distinguished. Very soon each would supplement itself into uniformity with all others.

Even in the religion of any one man, as it is fashioned in the course of life, nothing is more accidental than the quantity of religious matter that may arrive at consciousness. Some views may set and others may rise and come to clearness, and his religion in this respect is ever in flux. Much less can the boundary, which in the individual is so changeable, be permanent and essential in the religion of several associated individuals. In the highest degree it must be an unusual and accidental occurrence that, even 220for a little time, several men remain in the same circle of perceptions and advance along the same path of feeling.6464This expression savours strongly of the time when this book was written. There was then no great common interest: every man estimated his own condition according to his individual circumstances, without the smallest trace of public spirit; and the French Revolution itself, though already it had largely developed as a historical event, was regarded by us in a way thoroughly selfish and in the highest degree different and vacillating. Only at a later time, in the days of calamity which were the days of glory, did we again learn the power of common sentiments, and then the consciousness and the consolation of common piety returned. At present the patriotic and the religious sentiment may easily be measured by each other. Where empty words, instead of the deed looked for, are given in the concerns of the Fatherland, piety is also empty, however zealous its pretence; and where the interest in the improvement of our condition breaks up into morbid factions, piety again degenerates into sectarianism. It appears then that a quickening of natural, healthy public spirit contributes more to clearness in religion than all critical analysis. As is indicated by what follows in the Speech, analysis, wanting this impulse, is too apt to become sceptical. When the great social interests are weakened, piety is lamed and perplexed. Hence the religious societies that have a tendency to obscurity, do well to keep clear of all contact with other forms of religion.

Hence, among those who determine their religion in this way, there is a standing quarrel about essentials and nonessentials. They do not know what is to be laid down as characteristic and necessary, and what to separate as free and accidental; they do not find the point from which the whole can be surveyed; they do not understand the religion in which they live and for which they presume to fight; and they contribute to its degeneration, for, while they are influenced by the whole, they consciously grasp only the detail. Fortunately the instinct they do not understand, guides them better than their understandings, and nature sustains what their false reflections and the doing and striving that flow from them would destroy.

If the character of any special religion is found in a definite quantity of perceptions and feelings, some subjective and objective connection, binding exactly these elements together and excluding all others, must be assumed. This false notion agrees well enough with the way of comparing religious conceptions that is common but is not agreeable to the spirit of religion. A whole of this type would not be what we seek to give religion in its whole compass a determinate shape. It would not be a whole, but an arbitrary section of the whole; it would not be a religion, it would be a sect. Except by taking the religious experiences of one single person, and necessarily of only one short period of his life, as the norm for a society, it could hardly arise. But the forms which history has produced and which are now actually existing are not wholes of this sort. All sectarianism, be it speculative, for bringing single intuitions into a philosophical coherence, or ascetic, for reaching a system and determinate series of feelings, labours for the utmost uniformity among all who would share the same fragment of religion. Those who are infected with this mania certainly do not lack activity, and if they have never 221succeeded in reducing any one positive religion to a sect,6565I have made slight changes here, rejecting a capricious play on words that I might be more historical. The manifold divisions of one and the same type of faith are manifestly not all of equal worth. Such as recast the whole in a characteristic way have a natural worth, and have a good right to exist. All splits, however, about single points of small importance, as most of the separations from the great body of the church in the first centuries, owe their existence simply to the obstinacy of the minority. While they deviate in one point they may not, however, unless kept in breath by persistent polemies, neglect the rest. Those only are most called sects, and deserve only a name that indicates willing exclusion who absorb themselves in a few devious views and allow all the rest to grow strange. Such sects always rest on one narrow but forcible personality. you will have to acknowledge that the positive religions must be formed on another principle and must have another character.

You will see this even more clearly by thinking of the times that gave them birth. You will recall how every positive religion, in its growth and bloom, when its peculiar vigour was most youthful, fresh and evident, did not concentrate and exclude, but expanded and pushed fresh shoots and acquired more religious matter to be wrought up in accordance with its own peculiar nature.

Therefore religions are not fashioned on this false principle. It is not one with their nature, it is a corruption that has crept in from the outside, as hostile to them as to the spirit of religion generally. Their relation to it which is a standing warfare, is another proof that they actually are constituted as individual manifestations of religion should be.

Just as little could the general differences of religion suffice to produce a thoroughly definite individual form. The three ways of being conscious of existence and of its totality, as chaos, system and elemental diversity, so often mentioned, are very far from being so many single and distinct religions. Divide an idea to infinity if you will, you cannot thereby reach an individual. You only get less general ideas which may, as genus and species, embrace a mass of very different individuals. To find the character of individual beings, there must be more than the idea and its attributes. But those three differences in religion are only the usual division according to the current scheme of unity, diversity and totality. They are types of religion but not religious individualities, and the need to seek for this individuality is by no means satisfied by the existence of religion in this threefold way. It is clear as day that there are many distinct manifestations of religion belonging to each type.


Just as little are the personal and the opposing pantheistic modes of conception two such individual forms.6666On the position assigned to this difference I hope I have already sufficiently declared myself. This representation, however, of the antithesis between the personal and the pantheistic, as going through all three stages, gives me an opportunity to explain the matter from another side. In the polytheistic stage this antithesis is undeniable, only it is less clear as in everything imperfect antitheses are less pronounced. Even when all that is known of their history is put together, most of the gods of Hellenic mythology have little unity. For explanation it is necessary to go back to the rise of their service to their different countries and the character of the myths there prevalent. The personality being slight, the forms readily become symbolical. Many of foreign origin have received native names and are quite symbolical, such as the Ephesian Diana, which is a pure representation of the universal life, natura naturans, the direct opposite of the idea of personality. In the Egyptian and Indian systems the basis is either symbolic or hieroglyphic, and there is no personality underneath. Such a purely symbolical representation of first causes has properly no conscious gods, but is really pantheistic. The dramatic or epic representation of the relation of the symbolic or hieroglyphic being, however, produces an appearance of personality. The two forms of polytheism, the personal and pantheistic, thus appear to mingle, but in principle they are easy to distinguish. Analogy would show that the same antithesis exists in the chaotic stage or fetichism. Here, however, it is more difficult to recognize and exhibit, there being but larvae of the gods which only by a later development become psychic. They go through all three types of religion and, for that reason alone, cannot be individualities. They are simply another principle of division. Only recently we agreed that this antithesis rests simply on a way of regarding the religious feeling, and of ascribing to its phenomena a common object. Hence the fact that any particular religion inclines more to one form of representation and expression than to the other, no more determines its individuality than it would its worth and the stage of its development. The individual elements of religion are as indefinite, and none of the various ways of regarding them are realized, because either the one or the other thought accompanies them. This may be seen in all purely deistic manifestations of religion. Though they desire to be considered quite definite, you will find everywhere that all religious feelings, and especially what is most dwelt on—all views of the movements of humanity in the individual, of the highest unity of mankind, of everything in the mutual relations of men that lies beyond each man’s good pleasure, are utterly indefinite and ambiguous. The personal and the pantheistic conceptions, therefore, are only very general forms that may be further determined and individualized in various ways.

Perhaps you may seek this further determination by uniting the two modes of conception with the three modes of intuition. You would reach narrower sub-divisions, but not a thoroughly definite and individual whole. Neither naturalism6767I include in naturalism all the forms of religion usually known as worship of nature. They are all, in the sense given above, impersonally polytheistic. The worship of the stars is not an exception. Even the worship of the sun is only apparently monotheistic, for a wider knowledge of the system of the world must at once reduce it to worship of the stars, and, therefore, to polytheism. This departure from common usage has the disadvantage that the words naturalist and naturalism are employed among us for something quite different. I can only defend myself by hoping that every reader who does not think of the ancient usage, but of the present connection, will easily understand the expression employed and find it appropriate. Still I would have refrained, if the manner in which naturalism and rationalism were used almost synonymously as the opposite of supernaturalism had not even then so much displeased me. Even at that time I had the opinion, to which I have since given expression on different occasions, that it caused confusion. There is some sense, and more perhaps than is usually thought, in opposing reason to revelation, but there is no ground for a contrast between nature and revelation. For this antithesis the biblical foundation, to which a Christian will always return, entirely fails, and the more a matter is discussed from such a standpoint the more perplexed it will become.—meaning perception of the world limited to elemental diversity, without the conception of a personal consciousness and will in the various elements—nor pantheism, nor polytheism, nor deism are single and definite religions, such as we seek. They are simply types within which there have been, and there will still be, very many genuine individualities developed.6868The expectation that some polytheistic religions would yet develope was not expressed at random. It rested on the view also hinted at in the Introduction to my “Glaubenslehre,” that many polytheistic systems have manifestly arisen from smelting together small idolatrous clan religions, and that they are of higher value than their elements. As long as races exist that have only a fetich worship such an occurrence is possible, and at a time when Christian missions had almost gone to sleep, I regarded this as the natural road to improvement for the most rude societies. This probability has since greatly diminished, and it has grown more likely that they also can be taken hold of directly by Christianity.

Let me say then at once, that the only remaining way 223for a truly individual religion to arise is to select some one of the great relations of mankind in the world to the Highest Being, and, in a definite way, make it the centre and refer to it all the others. In respect of the idea of religion, this may appear a merely arbitrary proceeding, but, in respect of the peculiarity of the adherents, being the natural expression of their character, it is the purest necessity. Hereby a distinctive spirit and a common character enter the whole at the same time, and the ambiguous and vague reach firm ground. By every formation of this kind one of the endless number of different views and different arrangements of the single elements, which are all possible and all require to be exhibited, is fully realized. Single elements are all seen on the one side that is turned towards this central point, which makes all the feelings have a common tone and a livelier closer interaction.

The whole of religion can only be actually given in the sum of all the forms possible in this sense. It can, therefore, be exhibited only in an endless series of shapes that are gradually developed in different points of time and space, and nothing adds to its complete manifestation that is not found in one of those forms. Where religion is so moulded that everything is seen and felt in connection with one relation to the Deity that mediates it or embraces it, it matters not in what place or in what man it is formed or what relation is selected, it is a strictly positive religion. In respect of the sum of the religious elements—to use a word that should again be brought to honour—it is a heresy,6969At one time the expression heretic was honourable. Among the Greeks the schools of the philosophers and physicians, the home of all the science and art of the time, were so called. And to come nearer to our subject the different dogmatic schools of the Jews also bore among the Hellenists the same name. In ecclesiastical language the established faith of the church is no longer the orthodox or catholic heresy. Yet the exclusive use of the word for what is to be rejected does not rest on etymology. Probably it has arisen because with a different reference it is used in this bad sense in scripture. Here I use it of the positive religions in the sense in which it was used of the Hellenic schools, which together contained the whole national philosophy. It must be a bad philosophical system indeed that has not caught some truly philosophic element, and in some way sought to refer to it all other elements. The same holds of the positive religions, and we may conclude that if they were all developed there would be contained in the sum of them the whole religion of the human race. for from many equals one is chosen to be head of the rest. In respect, however, of the fellowship of all participants and their relation to the founder of their religion who first raised this central point to clear consciousness, it is a school and a discipleship.

But if, as is to be hoped, we are agreed that religion can only be exhibited in and by such definite forms, only those who with their own religion pitch their camp in some 224such positive form, have any fixed abode, and, if I might so say, any well-earned right of citizenship in the religious world. They alone can boast of contributing to the existence and the progress of the whole, and they alone are in the full sense religious persons, on one side belonging by community of type to a kindred, on the other being distinguished by persistent and definite traits from everyone else.

But many perhaps who take an interest in the affairs of religion may ask with consternation, or some evil-disposed person may ask with guile, whether every pious person must connect himself with one of the existing forms of religion. Provisionally, I would say, by no means. It is only necessary that his religion be developed in himself characteristically and definitely. That it should resemble any great, largely accepted, existing form is not equally necessary. I would remind him that I have never spoken of two or three definite forms, and said that they are to be the only ones. Rather, they may evermore develope in countless numbers from all points. Whosoever does not find himself at home in an existing religion, I might almost say whosoever is not in a position to make it if he had not found it,7070This make is, of course, to be understood with a certain limitation. In writing it I lived in the good confidence that every one would complete it for himself. For example, it could not be my meaning that he alone is a true Christian who could himself have been Christ had not Christ already been before him. But this must be admitted, that any man is a Christian only in so far as in pre-christian times he would among the Jews have held and transmitted the messianic idea, and among the heathen been convinced of the insufficiency of sensuous idolatry, only in so far as, by the feeling of his need for redemption, Christianity had attracted him and drawn him to itself. What follows shows clearly enough how little I was serious with the statement that some or perhaps many could have the germs of quite new types of religion outside of the historical forms, and that it should be their duty to bring them to the light.> must belong to none but should be held bound to produce a new one for himself. Is he alone in it and without disciples, it does not matter. Everywhere there are germs that cannot arrive at any more extended existence, and the religion of one person may have a definite form and organization, and be quite as genuinely a positive religion as if he had founded the greatest school.

In my opinion, then, you will see that the existing forms should not in themselves hinder any man from developing a religion suitable to his own nature and his own religious sense. The question of abiding in one of them or of constructing a religion of one’s own, depends entirely on what relation developes in a man as fundamental feeling and middle-point of all religions.


This is my provisional answer, but if he will hear more I would add that, except by misunderstanding, it would be very difficult to find oneself in such a position. A new revelation is never trivial, and merely personal, but always rests on something great and common. Hence adherents and fellow-believers have never failed the man really called to institute a new religion. Most men, following their nature, will belong to an existing form, and there will be only few whom none suffices.

Yet—and this is my chief point—the authority being the same for all, the many are no less free than the few, and do no less fashion something of their own. If we follow any man’s religious history, we find first dim presentiments which never quite stir the depths of the heart, and, being unrecognized, again disappear. Around every man, especially in earlier days, they doubtless hover. Some hint may awaken them, and they may again vanish without reaching any definite form and betraying aught characteristic. Afterwards it first comes to pass that the sense for the Universe rises once for all into clear consciousness. One man discovers it in one relation, another in another. Hereafter all things are referred to this relation, and so group themselves around it. Such a moment, therefore, in the strictest sense, determines every man’s religion. Now I hope you will not consider a man’s religion less characteristic, less his own, because it lies in a region where already several are collected. In this similarity you are not to find a mechanical influence of custom or birth, but, as you do in other cases, you are to recognize a common determination by higher causes. This agreement is a guarantee of naturalness and truth, and cannot, whether one is first or last, be hurtful to individuality. Though thousands before him and after him referred their religious life to one relation, would it, therefore, be the same in all?

Remember that every definite form of religion is exhaustless for any one man. In its own way it should 226embrace the whole, a thing too great for any man. And not only so, but in itself there exist endless varieties of cultivation which are, as it were, subordinate types of religion. Is there not here work and scope enough for all? I, at least, am not aware that any religion had succeeded in so taking possession of its territory, and had so determined and exhibited everything therein, according to its own spirit, that, in any one professor of distinguished gifts and individuality of mind, nothing is wanting to perfection. Only to few of our historical religion has it been granted, even in the time of their freedom and higher life, to develope rightly and perfectly the neighbourhood of the middle-point, and, in even a few forms, to give individual impress to the common character. The harvest is great but the labourers are few. An infinite field is opened in each of those religions, wherein thousands may scatter themselves. Uncultivated regions enough present themselves to every one who is capable of making and producing something of his own.7171Though I hope this passage, in its connection, could not easily be misunderstood, I would not leave it without a slight correction of both sense and expression. The expression has a certain appearance of giving countenance to the idea that it is possible, in the sphere of religion to proceed to discovery or by set purpose to produce something. Everything that is new, in particular if it is to be true and unadulterated, must issue spontaneously, as by inspiration, from the heart. This appearance, however, will not deceive those who hold fast the expression and the connection of the whole. In the second place, the sense appears to be presented too broadly and with too little regard to the great difference in various forms of religion. Every religion of the highest stage, and especially one that has constructed for itself a complete theology, must be in a position to review its whole domain. It is the business of systematic theology to draw such a map of it, that not only everything that has come to actuality in that form of religion finds its place, but that every possible place be indicated. And when such a map is looked at, we will not easily find any place empty, only some parts better filled, some less. None but subordinate forms of religion and smaller sects fail to aim at completeness. I have already shown why these sects have a natural inclination not to deal with the whole mass of religious matter, and in the smaller religious forms individuals may differ too little to be able fully to complete one another.

The charge that everyone who allows himself to be embraced in a positive religion, can only be an imitator of those who have given it currency and cannot develope himself individually, is baseless. This judgment no more applies here, than it would to the state or to society. It seems to us morbid or quixotic for any one to maintain that he has no room in any existing institution, and that he must exclude himself from society. We are convinced that every healthy person will, in common with many, have a great national character. Just because he is rooted in it and influenced by it, he can develope his individuality with the greatest precision and beauty. Similarly, in religion only morbid aberration so cuts off a man from a life in fellowship with those among whom nature has placed him, that he belongs to no great whole. Somewhere, on a great scale, everyone will find exhibited or will himself exhibit what for him is the middle-point of religion. To every such 227common sphere we ascribe a boundless activity that goes into detail, in virtue of which all individual characteristics issue from its bosom. Thus understood, the church is with right called the common mother of us all.

To take the nearest example, think of Christianity as a definite individual form of the highest order. First there is in our time the well known outward division, so definite and pronounced. Under each section there is then a mass of different views and schools. Each exhibits a characteristic development, and has a founder and adherents, yet the last and most personal development of religiousness remains for each individual, and so much is it one with his nature that no one can fully acquire it but himself. And the more a man, by his whole nature, has a claim to belong to you, ye cultured, the more religion must reach this stage in him, for his higher feeling, gradually developing and uniting with other educated capacities, must be a characteristic product.

Or if, after unknown conception and rapid birth-pangs of the spirit, the higher feelings develope, to all appearance suddenly, is not then a characteristic personality born with the religious life? There is a definite connection with a past, a present and a future. The whole subsequent religious life is linked in this way to that moment and that state in which this feeling surprised the soul. It thus maintains its connection with the earlier, poorer life, and has a natural uniform development. Nay more, in this initial consciousness there must already be a distinctive character. Only in a shape and only under circumstances thoroughly definite, could it so suddenly enter a life already developed. This distinctive character, then, every subsequent moment displays and is thus the purest expression of the whole nature. The living spirit of the earth, rending itself from itself as it were, links himself as a finite thing to one definite moment in the series of organic evolutions and a new man arises, a peculiar nature. His separate existence is independent of the mass and objective quality either of his circumstances or his 228actions. It consists in the peculiar unity of the abiding consciousness that is linked to that first moment, and in the peculiar relation to it which every later moment preserves. Wherefore, in that moment in which in any man a definite consciousness of his relation to the highest Being has, as it were, original birth, an individual religious life originates.

It is Individual, not by an irreversible limitation to a particular number and selection of feelings and intuitions, not by the quality of the religious matter. This matter all who have the spiritual birth at the same time and in the same religious surroundings have in common. But it is individual by what he can have in common with no man, by the abiding influence of the peculiar circumstances in which his spirit was first greeted and embraced by the Universe, and by the peculiar way in which he conducts his observation and reflection on the same. This character and tone of the first childhood of his religion are borne by the whole subsequent course of his views and feelings, and are never lost, however far he may advance in fellowship with the Eternal Fountainhead.

Every intelligent finite being announces its spiritual nature and individuality by taking you back to what I may call a previous marriage in him of the Infinite with the finite, and your imagination refuses to explain it from any single prior factor, whether caprice or nature. In the same way you must regard as an individual everyone who can point to the birthday of his spiritual life and relate a wondrous tale of the rise of his religion as an immediate operation of the Deity, an influence of His spirit. He must be characteristic and special, for such an event does not happen to produce in the kingdom of religion vain repetition.7272This book bears throughout the marks of opposition, and those who can call up that time will easily see that I am here chiefly defending the cause of those who refer the beginning of their religious life to one definite moment. Yet this is by no means a mere attempt to reduce the opponents of this view to silence, in the good assurance that they could not defend themselves. Singularly I have had to defend this position against an able man, now long departed, who was a distinguished teacher in a religious society I greatly value, and whose whole practice really rested on this assumption of definite moments of grace. He asked me if I actually believed in such moments and considered them necessary, so that a gradual imperceptible growth of religious life would not suffice me. He raised an objection from an experience that must have struck all attentive readers of the lives of men who have been awakened. They have moments when they receive the assurance of divine grace, when they are born to a personal, individual religious life. But, sooner or later, to most of them times of relaxation come, when this certainty is again lost. Moments of confirmation must follow, and it may be easily doubted whether the first or the second experience is the true commencement. From this doubt it follows that the truth is only in the gradual progress which the first moment prepared for, and the second and third confirmed. I reminded him of what I would here again recall, that I did not consider this the only form, but acknowledged also the imperceptible rise and growth. The inner truth, however, I held to be the union of both, one being more prominent in one case and the other in another. It was, however, one thing to postulate such moments and another to require that everyone should be able to specify it and have consciousness of the time. This idea I have further developed in a sermon. Thus we came to agree. To the way, however, in which the matter is here presented as an extraordinary moment with each life produced from it necessarily quite individual, two objections may be raised. First, even in the early times of the church, by the preaching of the apostles, there were Christian awakenings in large numbers together, and even yet, at times, not only among members of other faiths, but particularly among Christians whose piety has succumbed to worldly cares and occupation, such awakenings are, as it were, epidemic, and cannot, therefore, be regarded as extraordinary. Wherefore, secondly, it is probable that all it produces is not extraordinary and individual, more especially as these awakenings often appear as reactions against uniform, extensive indifference and licentiousness. This conclusion is supported by experience. At different times we find, just among those who hold by such authentic decisive moments, only one wearisomely uniform type of piety and the same, somewhat confused phraseology about the state of the soul that is conjoined with it. But this is connected with the uncertainty of those moments, and it is not in this sense that I contrast a life suddenly awaked with a life gradually developed. In a gradual development, the common elements dominate. By their power the individual elements are moulded and subordinated. Characteristic features are rarer and less pronounced. But the religiousness that rests apparently on a moment of awakening has the same character. Even those who effect the conversions have usually only one traditional type, which, from its very limitation to a few strong formulas, is fitted to arouse the indifferent, whether they are callous or have suffered defeat. Just because their view requires such a moment, their persistent demand actually prepares for it. By the repetition of such moments, though only in a quite general and originally passing manner, consciousness of personal worthlessness and of divine grace increase together, and a religious life is gradually established. This is the undeniable blessing that rests on this method. Yet the life adheres rigidly to that type, and is consequently careful and troubled and but sparingly equipped. If persons having such a history remain modestly in their own circle, they are for us worthy comrades. When they are highly cultured in an earthly sense and find themselves happy in this stage of religion, it is a phenomenon both elevating and humbling. But it is to none of those persons I refer here, for they have not developed an individual life. The moments I refer to are of quite a different stamp. They come to pass only where a religious tendency exists though chaotic and indefinite. They are not the result of external influences, rather they are prepared for by the ever renewed feeling that everything offered from without is precarious and inadequate. By quiet thought and aspiration the positive is fashioned from that negative, the inmost self is taken hold of by the divine, and then, comprehending itself, it more or less suddenly comes forth. These are rare occurrences, but even the most careless observer cannot deceive himself into believing that he can exhaustively describe them by one general name. Everything that originates organically and is self-contained can only be explained from itself. If its origin and individuality are not regarded as mutually explanatory and identical, it can never be quite understood. Thus you can only understand the religious person in so far as you know how to 229discover the whole in the notable moment that began his higher life, or from the developed manifestation can trace back this uniform character to the first, dimmest times of life.

All this being well considered, it will not be possible for you, I believe, to be in earnest with this complaint against the positive religions. If you still persist in it, it can only be from prejudice, for you are far too careless about the matter to be justified by your own observation. You have never felt the call to attach yourselves to the few religious men you might be able to discover. Though they are ever attractive and worthy enough of love, you have never tried by the microscope of friendship, or even of closer sympathy, to examine more accurately how they are organized both by and for the Universe.

For myself I have diligently considered them, I have sought out as patiently and studied them with the same reverent care that you devote to the curiosities of nature, and it has often occurred to me whether you would not be led to religion simply by giving heed to the almighty way in which the Deity builds up, from all that has otherwise been developed in man, that part of the soul in which He specially dwells, manifests His immediate operation, and mirrors Himself, and thus makes His sanctuary quite peculiar and distinct, and if you only noticed how He glorifies Himself in it by the exhaustless variety and opulence of forms. I, at least, am ever anew astonished at the many notable developments in a region so sparsely peopled as religion. Men are distinguished by all degrees of receptivity for the charm of the same object and by the greatest difference of effect, by the variety of tone produced by the preponderance of one or other type of feeling, by all sorts of idiosyncrasies of sensitiveness and peculiarity of temperament, and the religious view of things nevertheless is perpetually prominent. Again I see how the religious character of a man is often something quite peculiar in him, strongly marked 230off to the common eye from everything else shown in his other endowments. The most quiet and sober mind may be capable of the strongest, most passionate emotions; a sense most dull to common and earthly things feels deeply even to sadness, and sees clearly even to rapture and prophecy; a heart most timid in all worldly matters testifies even by martyrdom to the world and to the age. And how wonderfully is this religious character itself fashioned and composed. Culture and crudeness, capacity and limitation, tenderness and hardness are in each, in a peculiar way, mixed and interwoven.

Where have I seen all this? In the peculiar sphere of religion, in its individual forms, in the positive religious which you decry as utterly wanting in variety. I have seen it among the heroes and martyrs of a definite faith in a way for which the friends of natural religion are too cold, among enthusiasts for living feeling, in a way they hold as too dangerous, among the worshippers of some new sprung light and individual revelation. There I will show you them, there at all times and among all peoples. Nowhere else are they to be met. No man as a mere single being can come to actual existence. By the very fact of existence he is set in a world, in a definite order of things, and becomes an object among other objects, and a religious man, by attaining his individual life, enters by this very fact into a common life, which is to say into some definite form of religion. The two things are simply one and the same divine act, and cannot be separated. If the original capacity of a man is too weak to reach this highest stage of consciousness, by fashioning itself in a definite way, the stimulus must also be too weak to initiate the process of a characteristic and robust religious life.

And now I have rendered you my account. It is for you now to tell me how, in respect of development and individuality, it stands with your boasted natural religions. Show me among its professors an equally great variety of 231strongly marked characters. For myself I must confess that I have never found among them anything of the sort. Your boast of the freedom that this kind of religion gives its adherents to develope themselves religiously according to their own sense, seems merely of freedom to remain undeveloped, freedom neither to be, nor to see, nor to feel anything at all that is definite. Religion plays in their mind far too wretched a role. It is as if religion had no pulse, no vasculary system, no circulation, and so had no heat, no assimilative power. It has no character of its own, no peculiar presentation. Everywhere it shows itself dependent upon the cast of a man’s morals and sensibility. In union with them, or rather meekly following them, it moves idly and sparingly, and is only perceptible when it is patiently, and, as it were by drops, separated from them.

Many estimable and strong religious characters, indeed, I have met, whom the adherents of the positive religions, not without wondering at the phenomenon, regard as adherents of natural religion. But on closer view they recognized them as their confrères. Such persons have always swerved somewhat from the original parity of the religion of reason, and have accepted something arbitrary, as it is called, something positive.

But why do those who respect natural religion at once distrust everyone who introduces any characteristic feature into his religion? They also would have uniformity, though at the opposite extreme from sectarianism, the uniformity of indefiniteness. So little is any special personal cultivation through the positive religions to be thought of, that its most genuine adherents do not even wish the religion of man to have any history of its own at all or to commence with any notable event. Too much there has been already for their taste, moderation being for them the chief matter in religion, and all who can boast of religious emotions issuing suddenly from the depths of the heart, come at once into the evil repute of being 232infected by baleful enthusiasm. By little and little men are to become religious, just as they become wise and prudent and everything else they should be. All must come to them by instruction and education. There must be nothing that could be regarded as supernatural or even as singular.

I would not say that in making instruction and education everything, natural religion has pre-eminently fallen into the evil of being mixed with metaphysics and morals, nay, of being changed into them: but this at least is clear, that its adherents have not started from any living self-contemplation and allowing nothing to mark their cast of thought, whereby in any characteristic way men might be affected, they have no sure middle-point. The belief in a personal God, more or less anthropomorphic, and in a personal immortality, more or less materialized and sublimated—the two dogmas to which they reduce everything—depends, as they know themselves, on no special way of viewing or comprehending. Hence, any one who joins them is not asked how he came to his faith, but how he can demonstrate it. Thus they assume that he must have reached everything by demonstration. Any other and more definite middle-point you would have difficulty in indicating. The little that their meagre and attenuated religion does contain is of great ambiguity. They have a providence in general, a righteousness in general, a divine education in general. Now it is in this perspective and fore-shortening, now in that, so that the value of everything is perpetually changing. Or if there is any common reference to one point, it is to something alien to religion, such as how to remove obstacles from morality, or sustain the desire for happiness, or something else about which, in ordering the elements of their religion, truly religious men have never asked. Their scanty religious possessions are thereby still more scattered and dispersed.

This natural religion, then, does not unite its religious 233elements by one definite view and is no definite religious form, no proper individual representation of religion. Those who profess it have in its territory no definite dwelling, but are strangers whose home, if indeed they have any, must be elsewhere. They remind one of the thin and dispersed mass said to float between the worlds, which is here attracted by one and there by another, but not enough by any to be swept into its rotation. Why it exists the gods may know. It must be to show that the indefinite also can have a certain existence. Yet it is properly only a waiting for existence, to which they can only attain by the power of some force stronger and of a different kind from any they have been subjected to heretofore. More I cannot ascribe to them than the dim presentiments that precede that living consciousness in which religious life comes to visibility for man. There are certain dim impulses and conceptions that have no coherence with a man’s individuality and only, as it were, fill up the vacant spaces. They originate only in the collective life, and are uniformly the same in all. The religion of men of this kind is thus the inarticulate echo of the piety around them.

At the highest it is natural religion in the sense in which men used to speak of natural philosophy and natural poetry. The name was applied to such productions as lacked originality, and which, without being clumsy, conscious imitations, were but crude utterances of superficial endowments. The epithet was meant to distinguish them from the works of living, plastic science and art.

The better part found only in the productions of the religious societies, they do not wait for with longing, they do not esteem it more highly because they cannot reach it, but they oppose it with all their might. The essence of natural religion consists almost entirely in denying everything positive and characteristic in religion and in violent polemics. It is the worthy product of an age, the hobby of 234which was that wretched generality and vain soberness which in everything was most hostile to true culture. Two things are hated supremely, a commencement in anything extraordinary and incomprehensible, and subsequently any suggestion of a school. This same corruption you will find in all arts and sciences. Into religion also it has forced its way, and its product is this empty formless thing. Men would be self-produced and self-taught in religion, and they are rude and uncultured, as is common with such persons. For characteristic production they have neither power nor will. Every definite religion they resist because it is a school, and if they should light on anything whereby a religion of their own might be fashioned, they would be as violent against it, seeing that from it also a school might arise.

Hence their resistance to the positive and arbitrary is resistance to the definite and real. If a definite religion may not begin with an original fact, it cannot begin at all. There must be a common ground for selecting some one religious element and placing it at the centre, and this ground can only be a fact. And if a religion is not to be definite it is not a religion at all, for religion is not a name to be applied to loose, unconnected impulses. Recall what the poet says of a state of souls before birth. Suppose someone were to object to come into the world because he would not be this man or that, but a man in general! The polemic of natural religion against the positive is this polemic against life and it is the permanent state of its adherents.

Go back then, if you are in earnest about beholding religion in its definiteness, from this enlightened natural religion to those despised positive religions. There everything appears active, strong and secure, every single intuition has its definite content and its own relation to the rest, and every feeling has its proper sphere and its peculiar reference. You find somewhere every modification of 235religiousness and every mental state in which religion can place men, with each of its effects somewhere complete. Common institutions and single utterances alike testify that religion is valued almost to forgetfulness of all else. The holy zeal with which it is contemplated, communicated and enjoyed, and the child-like longing with which new revelations of heavenly power are expected,7373Of course it is not now revelations outside the circuit of any given religion that are here meant. A longing for such revelations could not exist in any positive religion, for even its longing must naturally bear its own characteristic form. Even the messianic hopes of the Jews were not a longing for something beyond Judaism, though they were afterwards fulfilled by the appearing of Christ In the measure of its vitality every religion has a desire to find in itself something divine yet unknown. Hence the historical consistency of any faith that is to have an extended influence for a long time is determined by its possession of some principle to which everything new may be referred. Where this fails unity tends to dissolution. Even if despite this principle there should still be divisions the largest sections will abide by it. In this sense we can say the strife between the Greek and Roman Churches is between the original and the translation, and that the strife between them both and the Evangelical Church is between scripture and tradition. guarantee that no element visible from this standpoint shall be overlooked, and that nothing has disappeared without leaving a monument. Consider the variety of forms in which every single kind of fellowship with the Universe has already appeared. Do not be scared either by mysterious darkness or by wonderful dazzling grotesque traits. Do not admit the delusion that it may all be imagination and romance. Dig ever deeper where your magic rod has once pointed, and without fail you will bring forth the heavenly stream to the light of day.

But regard also the human which is to receive the divine. Do not forget that religion bears traces of the culture of every age and of the history of every race of men. Often it must go about in the form of a servant, displaying in its surroundings and in its adorning the poverty of its home and its disciples. You must not overlook how it has often been stunted in its growth from want of room to exercise its powers, and how from childhood it has pined miserably from bad treatment and ill-chosen nourishment.

And if you would comprehend the whole, do not abide by the various forms of religion that for centuries have shone and have dominated great peoples, and have been glorified in many ways by poets and sages. Recollect that what is historically and religiously most noteworthy is often distributed among but few, and remains hidden to the common eye.7474On similar grounds this passage requires a slight explanation. It might appear as if the great historical religions were put in the shade and the noteworthy sought only in smaller modifications. In the political sphere, indeed, we are somewhat accustomed to such a procedure. Many constitutions of great peoples appear to us clumsy or insignificant, while the form of government of single towns with small dominion are admired and studied by historians as masterpieces of political art. But it is otherwise in the religious sphere. A strong religious life, even if hedged in by narrow forms, sooner or later breaks through the limits of nationality. This even Judaism did, and nothing in this sphere with character and strength can remain small for ever. But I am speaking here especially of what takes place within the great forms of religion, particularly Christianity. Here it is quite otherwise. What most easily finds an entrance with the multitude becomes great and extended, which is usually that mean between extremes which is only to be reached by active attention on every side. Now this involves to some extent a direction of the attention without, that does not encourage an inward and characteristic development. This is the dominant character of what in the ancient sense of the word we call catholic. As this is chiefly thought of when the character and development of Christianity are under discussion, it seemed to me right to direct the attention of earnest inquirers away from what impresses by its size to what was smaller. But it was less to heretical parties that are marked by special partialities than to individuals in the greater church who cannot manage to adhere to mediocrity, or if you will to circumspection, whereby alone the individual retains a distinguished place among the catholic, but who prefer their inward freedom, and are not vexed by obscurity.

But when, in this way, you have wholly and completely within your vision the right object, it will ever remain a difficult business to discover the spirit of the religions and from 236it to interpret them. Once more I warn you not to try to deduce it as an abstraction from the elements common to all the adherents. You will wander into a thousand vain researches, and come in the end not to the spirit of the religion but to a definite quantity of matter. You will remember that no religion has quite reached actuality, and that you cannot know it until, far removed from seeking it in a narrow space, you are able to complete and define it in the way it would develope if its scope had been large enough. And as this applies to every positive religion, it applies to every period of it and to every subordinate form of it. You cannot enough impress it upon yourselves that it all resolves itself into finding the fundamental relation. Without that, knowledge of details is unavailing, and you have not found it till all details are fast bound in one.

Even with this principle of research as a touchstone, you will be exposed to a thousand errors, for much will meet you to withdraw your eyes from the true path. Above all, I beseech you, never forget the difference between the essence of a religion, in so far as it is a definite form and representation of religion in general and its unity as a school.

Religious men are throughout historical. That is not their smallest praise, but it is also the source of great misunderstandings. The moment when they were first filled with that consciousness which they have made the centre of their religion is always sacred for them. Without reference to it, they never speak of what for them is characteristic in religion and of the form to which in themselves it has attained. You can easily imagine, then, how much more sacred still the moment must be in which this infinite intuition was first of all set up in the world as the foundation and centre of one peculiar religion. To it the whole development of this religion in all generations and individuals is historically linked. Now this sum of the religion, and the religious culture of a great body of mankind, is 237something infinitely greater than a man’s own religious life, and the little mirror of this religion which he personally exhibits. This fact then is glorified in all ways; every ornament of religious art is heaped upon it. It is worshipped as the greatest and most blessed miracle of the Highest. Men never speak of their religion, nor ever exhibit any of its elements except in connection with this fact.

As a consequence nothing is more natural than that this fact should be confused with the fundamental intuition of the religion. This has misled almost everyone and distorted the view of almost all religions. Never forget that the fundamental intuition of a religion must be some intuition of the Infinite in the finite, some one universal religious relation, found in every other religion that would be complete, but in this one only placed in the centre.

I beg you also not to regard everything found in the heroes of religion or in the sacred sources as religion. Do not seek in everything the decisive spirit of that religion. Nor do I exclude trifles merely, or things that on any estimate are foreign to religion, but things often mistaken for it. Recollect how undesignedly those sources were prepared, so that it was impossible to provide for the exclusion of everything not religion. And recall how the authors lived in all sorts of circumstances in the world, and could not say at every word they wrote, this does not belong to the faith. When they speak worldly wisdom and morality, or metaphysics and poetry, therefore, do not at once conclude that it must be forced into religion, or that in it the character of religion is to be sought. Morality, at least, should be everywhere only one, and religion which should not be anywhere one, cannot be distinguished by the differences of morality, which are always something to be got rid of.7575It has never seriously been my opinion that the doctrine of ethics should everywhere be one and the same. It will suffice, if I here adduce what is universally accepted. It appears to me that morality never can be everywhere the same, as all times witness that it never has been. Its form is essentially speculative, and never can be the same till speculation in general is everywhere the same. Of this, despite the great fruitfulness of the last centuries in philosophy of universal validity, there is not yet any appearance. Nor can its content be the same, even if everyone who dealt with ethics set out from pure humanity, for he only sees it through the medium of his age and his personality. Wherefore, any doctrine of morals of universal application can contain only the most general truths in formulas of varying worth. Hence the universal application is always rather apparent than real. Still the position here maintained is so far right, in that ethics applies another standard to these differences than religion. It begins by subordinating the individual and therefore the characteristic to the general. Only by this subordination does the characteristic gain a right to make itself valid. Suppose it possible to have as correct or even exactly the same system built on the opposite mode of procedure, it would never reach the universal feeling and anywhere give it effect. In religion on the contrary, everything issues from the individual life, and the more individual the more effective, and all common elements arise simply from observing affinity and connection. Hence many who are not yet conscious of their difference can adhere to one kind of religion. Many, even when they are conscious of their difference, if only their apprehension of human relations is the same, may, it is true, accept one doctrine of morals, yet there may be found among the adherents of one religion such marked difference that it is impossible for them to have even a common moral doctrine.

Above all I beg you not to be misled by the two hostile principles that everywhere, and almost from the earliest times, have sought to distort and obscure the spirit of 238religion. Some would circumscribe it to a single dogma, and exclude everything not fashioned in agreement with it, others, from hatred to polemics, or to make religion more agreeable to the irreligious, or from misunderstanding and ignorance of the matter, or from lack of religious sense, decry everything characteristic as dead letter. Guard yourselves from both. With rigid systematizers or shallow indifferentists you will not find the spirit of a religion. It is found only among those who live in it as their element, and ever advance in it without cherishing the folly that they embrace it all.

Whether with these precautions you will succeed in discovering the spirit of the religions I do not know. I fear religion is only comprehensible through itself, and that its special architecture and characteristic difference will not become clear till you yourselves belong to some one religion.

How you may succeed in deciphering the rude and undeveloped religions of remote peoples, or in unravelling the manifold, varied religious phenomena lying wrapped up in the beautiful mythologies of Greece and Rome, I care very little. May your gods guide you! But when yon approach the holiest in which the Universe in its highest unity and comprehensiveness is to be perceived, when you would contemplate the different forms of the highest stage of religion which is not foreign or strange, but more or less existent among ourselves, I cannot be indifferent as to whether or not you find the right point of view.

Of one form only I should speak, for Judaism is long since dead. Those who yet wear its livery are only sitting lamenting beside the imperishable mummy, bewailing its departure and its sad legacy. Yet I could still wish to say a word on this type of religion. My reason is not that it was the forerunner of Christianity. I hate that kind of historical reference. Each religion has in itself its own eternal necessity, and its beginning is original. But the 239beautiful childlike character of Judaism charms me. This is so entirely overlaid, and we have here such a notable example of the corruption and utter extinction of religion in a great body in which it formerly existed, that it will well repay a few words. Remove everything political and moral as well, so God will, whereby this phenomenon is supposed to be characterized. Forget the experiment of joining the state to religion, if I should not say to the church; forget that Judaism was, in a certain sense, an order founded on an ancient family history and sustained by priests. Regard only its strictly religious elements, and then say what is the human consciousness of man’s position in the Universe and his relation to the Eternal that everywhere shines through. Is it anything but a relation of universal immediate retribution, of a peculiar reaction of the Infinite against every finite thing that can be regarded as proceeding from caprice? In this way everything is regarded, growth and decay, fortune and misfortune. Even in the human soul freedom and caprice interchange with immediate operation of the Deity. All other recognized attributes of God express themselves in accordance with this principle, and are always regarded in their bearing upon it. The Deity is throughout represented as rewarding, punishing, disciplining single things in single persons. When the disciples asked Christ, “Who has sinned, this man or his parents?” the religious spirit of Judaism appeared in its most pronounced form, and his answer: “Think ye that these have sinned more than others ?” was his polemic against it.

The universal interweaving of parallelism, therefore, is not an accident, nor the value set on dialogue. All history, being an abiding interchange between this attraction and this repulsion, is presented as a colloquy in word and deed between God and man, and what unity there is, is only from the uniformity of this dealing, and hence the sacredness of the tradition in which the connection of this great dialogue 240was contained, the impossibility of attaining religion, except through initiation into this connection, and hence also, in later times, the strife among the sects about the possession of this intercourse.

Just because of this view, it came to pass that the gift of prophecy was developed in Judaism as in no other religion. Even Christians are, in comparison, mere learners. The whole idea of the religion is in the highest degree childlike. It could only work on a narrow scene, without complications, where the whole being simple, the natural consequences of actions would not be disturbed or hindered. The more the adherents of this religion advanced on the scene of the world and had relations with other peoples, the more difficult did the exhibition of this idea become. Imagination had to anticipate the word which the Almighty would speak, and, abolishing intervening time and space, bring the second part of the same transaction immediately before the eyes. That is the essence of prophecy, and the effort after it was necessarily a prominent feature of Judaism, so long as it was possible to hold fast the fundamental idea and original form of the Jewish religion.

The belief in the Messiah was its highest product, its noblest fruit, but also its last effort. A new sovereign must come to restore Zion, wherein the voice of the Lord was dumb, to its original splendour. By the subjection of the peoples to the old law, the simple course of patriarchal times, broken by the unpeaceful association of peoples, the opposition of their forces, and the difference of their customs, should again become general. This faith has long persisted, and, like a solitary fruit, after all life has vanished, hangs and dries on the withered stem till the rudest season of the year.

The limited point of view allowed this religion, as a religion, but a short duration. It died, and as its sacred books were closed, the intercourse of Jehovah with His people was looked upon as ended. The political association 241linked with it dragged on still longer a feeble existence. Till very much later its external part endured, and was that unpleasant phenomenon, a mechanical motion from which life and spirit have long vanished.

The original intuition of Christianity is more glorious, more sublime, more worthy of adult humanity, penetrates deeper into the spirit of systematic religion and extends itself further over the whole Universe. It is just the intuition of the Universal resistance of finite things to the unity of the Whole, and of the way the Deity treats this resistance. Christianity sees how He reconciles the hostility to Himself, and sets bounds to the ever-increasing alienation by scattering points here and there over the whole that are at once finite and infinite, human and divine. Corruption and redemption, hostility and mediation, are the two indivisibly united, fundamental elements of this type of feeling, and by them the whole form of Christianity and the cast of all the religious matter contained in it are determined. With ever-increasing speed the spiritual world has departed from its perfection and imperishable beauty. All evil, even this that the finite must decay before it has completed the circuit of its existence, is a consequence of the will, of the self-seeking endeavour of the isolated nature that, everywhere rending itself from its connection with the Whole, seeks to be something by itself. Death itself has come on account of sin. The spiritual world, going from bad to worse, is incapable of any production in which the Divine Spirit actually lives. The understanding being darkened has swerved from the truth; the heart is corrupt and has no praise before God; the image of the Infinite in every part of finite nature has gone extinct.

In accordance with this state of the spiritual world, all dealings of Divine Providence are calculated. They are never directed to the immediate results for feeling; they do not consider the happiness or suffering which they 242produce; they are not even for hindering or forwarding certain actions. They are simply calculated to check corruption in the great masses, to destroy, without mercy, what can no more be restored, and with new powers to give birth to new creations. Wherefore He does signs and wonders that interrupt and shake the course of things, and sends ambassadors, with more or less of divine spirit indwelling, to pour out divine powers upon men.

And when man does seek through self-consciousness to enter into fellowship with the unity of the Whole, the finite resists him, and he seeks and does not find and loses what he has found. He is defective, variable and attached to details and non-essentials. He wills rather than gives heed, and his aim vanishes from his eyes. In vain is every revelation. Everything is swallowed up by the earthly sense, everything is swept away by the innate irreligious principle. The Deity finds ever new devices. By His power alone, ever more glorious revelations issue from the bosom of the old. He sets up ever more exalted mediators between Himself and men. In every later ambassador the Deity unites with humanity ever more closely, that men may learn to know the Eternal Being. Yet the ancient complaint that man cannot comprehend what is from the Spirit of God is never taken away.

This is how Christianity most and best is conscious of God, and of the divine order in religion and history. It manipulates religion itself as matter for religion. It is thus a higher power of religion, and this most distinguishes its character and determines its whole form. Because it presupposes a widely-extended godlessness it is through and through polemical. It is polemical in its outward communication, for, to make its deepest nature evident, every corruption must be laid bare, be it in morals or in thinking. Above all it must expose the hostility to the consciousness of the Highest Being, which is the irreligious principle itself. Relentlessly it unmasks every false morality, every 243bad religion, every unhappy union of both for mutual covering of nakedness. Into the inmost secrets of the corrupt heart it presses and illumines, with the sacred torch of personal experience, every evil that creeps in darkness. Almost its first work on appearing was to destroy the last expectation of its pious contemporaries, saying it was irreligious and godless to expect any other restoration than restoration to purer faiths, to the higher view of things and to eternal life in God. Boldly it led the heathen beyond the separation they had made between the world of the gods and the world of men. Not to live and move and have the being in God is to be entirely ignorant of Him. If this natural feeling, this inner consciousness is lost amid a mass of sense impressions and desires, no religion has yet entered the narrow sense. Everywhere, then, its heralds tore open the whited sepulchres and brought the dead bones to light. Had these first heroes of Christianity been philosophers, they would have spoken as strongly against the corruption of philosophy. They never failed to recognize the outlines of the divine image. Behind all distortions and degradations they saw hidden the heavenly germ of religion. But as Christians they were chiefly concerned with the individual who was far from God and needed a mediator.

Christianity, moreover, is as sharply and strongly polemical within its own borders, and in the inmost fellowship of the saints. Just because religion is nowhere so fully idealized as in Christianity, through its original postulate, perpetual warfare against all that is actual in religion is presented as a duty that can never be sufficiently fulfilled. And just because the ungodly is everywhere operative, because all actuality together appears unholy, an infinite holiness is the aim of Christianity. Never content with its attainments, it seeks, even in its purest productions, even in its holiest feelings, traces of irreligion and of the tendency of all finite things to turn away from the unity of the 244Whole. In the tone of the highest inspiration an ancient writer criticizes the religious state of the community; in simple openness the great apostles speak of themselves. And this is how every man is to walk in the sacred circle. He is not only to be an inspired man and a teacher, but in humility he is to present himself also to the universal testing. Nor shall anything be spared, not even what is most loved and dear; nor shall anything be indolently put aside, not even what is most generally acknowledged. Though without it be praised as holy and be set up before the world as the essence of religion, within it must be subjected to a severe and repeated test. Thus impurities are to be removed, and the splendour of the heavenly colours to shine more clearly in every pious impulse of the spirit.

In nature you often see a compound mass, as soon as its chemical powers have overcome outside resistance or reduced it to equilibrium, take to fermenting, and eject one and another element. So it is with Christianity, it turns at last its polemical power against itself. Ever anxious, lest in its struggle with external irreligion it has admitted something alien, or may yet have in itself some principle of corruption, it does not avoid even the fiercest inward commotions to eject the evil.

This is the history of Christianity that is rooted in its very nature. “I am not come to bring peace, but a sword,” the Founder Himself said. His gentle soul could not possibly have meant that He was come to occasion those bloody commotions, so utterly contrary to the spirit of religion, or that wretched strife of words that deals with dead matter which living religion does not admit. But what He did foresee, and in foreseeing command, were those holy wars that spring necessarily from the essence of His teaching, and which, as bitterly as He describes, rend hearts asunder and dissolve the most intimate relations of life.

But not only are the elements of Christianity themselves subjected to this perpetual sifting; in their unbroken 245existence and life in the spirit there is an insatiable longing for ever stricter purification, ever richer fulness. Irreligion is thought to dominate every moment in which the religious principle is not evident in the mind. Religion has no other opposite than just the absence of religious purpose: every interruption of religion is irreligion. If the mind is for a moment without intuition and feeling of the Infinite, it at once becomes conscious of hostility and remoteness. Christianity then demands as first and essential that piety be a constant state. It scorns to be satisfied, even with the strongest displays of it, as soon as it only rules certain portions of the life. Piety should never rest, and there should never be anything so absolutely opposed as to be inconsistent with it. From all finite things we should see the Infinite. We should be in a position to associate religious feelings and views with all sentiments, however they may have arisen, and with all actions, whatever be their object. That is the true highest aim of mastery in Christianity.

How the fundamental view in Christianity, the view to which all others are referred, determines the character of its feelings is easy to discover. What do you call that feeling of an unsatisfied longing which is directed towards a great object, and which you are conscious is infinite? What impresses you on finding the sacred and the profane, the noble with the common and the mean intimately united? And what is the mood that urges you at times to assume the universality of this combination, and to search for it everywhere? With Christians this holy sadness is not occasional, but is the dominant tone of all their religious feelings. That is the only name which the language affords me. It accompanies every joy and every pain, every love and every fear. Nay, in its pride and in its humility it is the ground tone. If you can reconstruct the depths of a spirit from single features, undisturbed by foreign elements that have come from who knows where, you will find this feeling throughout dominant in the 246Founder of Christianity. If a writer, who has left but a few leaves in a simple speech is not too unimportant for your attention, you will discover this tone in every word remaining to us from his bosom friend.7676Nothing betrays less sense of the nature of Christianity and of the person of Christ Himself than the view that John has mixed much of his own with the speeches of Jesus. It even betrays small historical sense and understanding of what brings great events in general to pass, and of the nature the men must have on whom they are founded. This assertion was formerly but a whisper, but after strengthening itself in quiet, and providing itself with critical weapons, it makes a bolder venture, and now John did not write the gospel at all, but a later writer invented this mystic Christ. But we are left to find out for ourselves how a Jewish rabbi of philanthropic disposition, somewhat Socratic morals, a few miracles, or what others took for miracles, and a talent for striking apothegms and parables, a man to whom, according to the other evangelists, some follies will have to be forgiven, a man who could not have held water to Moses and Mohammed, could have had such an effect as to produce a new religion and a new church. But this must be fought out in a learned manner, and the friends and adorers of the Johannine Son of God are doubtless already girding themselves. The sadness of the Christians of which I have spoken can be traced in Christ in the other evangelists also, as soon we learn to understand them rightly through John. I have said that this sadness is the ground-tone in the pride as in the humility of the Christian. It may appear that, though it is generally agreed that something exists which may be described as pride which is not to be blamed, it is somewhat venturesome to call it a Christian state of mind. In the Christian disposition, humility is so essential and so predominant, that in this sphere it does not appear as if there could be anything resembling pride, even though in civil morals we would not blame it. I will not shield myself by saying that I have also put fear and love together. As love is the mark of the Christian, and perfect love casts out fear, I might say that I was thinking of a human, that is an imperfect state of things. But my meaning was this. There must be distinguished in the Christian his personal consciousness over against Christ from his personal consciousness in fellowship with Christ. The former, even after the divine spirit of goodness has accomplished much in him, can be nothing but humility, but the later, consisting in the acquisition of all Christ’s perfections, must be of quite the opposite nature. Now I know no other term that would express the contrast more strongly. To point out this feeling I only need to recall all the glorification of the Christian church in our New Testament books. But that even in this pride there should be sadness about the still narrow limits in which fellowship with Christ is actually felt, is a matter of course. And if ever a Christian has allowed you to listen in the sanctuary of his soul, you have certainly caught just the same tone.

Such is Christianity. Its distortions and manifold corruptions I will not spare, for the corruptibility of every holy thing, as soon as it becomes human, is part of its fundamental view of the world. And I will not go farther into the details of it. Its doings are before you, and I believe I have given you the thread that, guiding you through all anomalies, will make the closest scrutiny possible. From first to last look only at the clearness, the variety, and the richness with which that first idea has been developed.

When, in the mutilated delineations of His life I contemplate the sacred image of Him who has been the author of the noblest that there has yet been in religion, it is not the purity of His moral teaching, which but expressed what all men who have come to consciousness of their spiritual nature, have with Him in common, and which, neither from its expression nor its beginning, can have greater value, that I admire; and it is not the individuality of His character, the close union of high power with touching gentleness, for every noble, simple spirit must in a special situation display some traces of a great character. All those things are merely human. But the truly divine element is the glorious clearness to which the great idea He came to exhibit attained in His soul. This idea was, that all that is finite requires a higher mediation to be in accord with the Deity, and that for man under the power of the finite and particular, and too ready to imagine the divine itself in this form, salvation is only to be found in redemption. Vain folly it is to wish to remove the veil that hides the rise of this idea in Him, for every beginning in religion, as elsewhere, is mysterious. The prying 247sacrilege that has attempted it can only distort the divine. He is supposed to have taken His departure from the ancient idea of His people, and He only wished to utter its abolition which, by declaring Himself to be the Person they expected, He did most gloriously accomplish. Let us consider the living sympathy for the spiritual world that filled His soul, simply as we find it complete in Him.

If all finite things require the mediation of a higher being, if it is not to be ever further removed from the Eternal and be dispersed into the void and transitory, if its union with the Whole is to be sustained and come to consciousness, what mediates must not again require mediation, and cannot be purely finite. It must belong to both sides, participating in the Divine Essence in the same way and in the same sense in which it participates in human nature. But what did He see around Him that was not finite and in need of mediation, and where was aught that could mediate but Himself? “No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and He to whom the Son shall reveal Him.” This consciousness of the singularity of His knowledge of God and of His existence in God, of the original way in which this knowledge was in Him, and of the power thereof to communicate itself and awake religion, was at once the consciousness of His office as mediator and of His divinity.

I would not speak of Him as standing opposed to the rude power of His foes without hope of longer life, for that is unspeakably unimportant. But when, forsaken in the thought of being silenced for ever, without seeing any outward institution for fellowship among His own actually set up, when in the face of the solemn splendour of the old corrupt system that had so mightily resisted Him, when surrounded by all that could inspire awe and demand subjection, by all that, from childhood, He had been taught to honour, sustained by nothing but that feeling, He uttered without delay that Yea, the greatest word mortal ever spake, it was the most glorious apotheosis, and no divinity 248can be more certain than that which He Himself thus proclaimed.7777It is always dangerous, especially as here before unbelievers, to rest faith in Christ on any one thing in Him. Something apparently similar may only too readily be compared with it, and its inner and essential difference may not be easy to detect. Many an enthusiast has thought greatly of himself and died in that faith. How often has an error been defended with the firmest conviction at the risk of life! Such a rooted error, if indeed the proper object of the faith is not the truth to which the error has attached itself, rests only on an idiosyncrasy which cannot extend far. But of this self-consciousness of Christ, the faith of the whole company of His disciples and the joy of all the martyrs of this faith are the reflection. Such a power the self-deception of any one soul never exercised. Consider also that this claim did not have to do merely with inner phenomena of the consciousness about which men could easily deceive themselves nor with some prospect in the distant future, which offers free play to fancy. Christ had to believe that, under unfavourable circumstances, open and easily surveyed, the divine power of this abiding consciousness would approve itself. Still the vindication of faith by any one thing is always incomplete, and to attempt to plant it thereby in another is always hazardous.

With this faith in Himself, who can wonder at His assurance that He was not only a mediator for many, but would leave behind a great school that would derive their religion from His? So certain was He that before it yet existed He appointed symbols for it. This He did in the conviction that they would suffice to bring the band of His disciples to a secure existence. Nay, so sure was He that already He had spoken among His own, with prophetic enthusiasm, of the immortalization of His memory.

Yet He never maintained He was the only mediator, the only one in whom His idea actualized itself. All who attach themselves to Him and form His Church should also be mediators with Him and through Him. And He never made His school equivalent to His religion, as if His idea were to be accepted on account of His person, and not His person on account of His idea. Nay, He would even suffer His mediatorship to be undecided, if only the spirit, the principle from which His religion developed in Himself and others were not blasphemed.

His disciples also were far from confusing this school with His religion. Pupils of the Baptist, still only very imperfectly initiated into the nature of Christianity, were, without anything farther, regarded and treated by the apostles as Christians and reckoned genuine members of the community. And it should be so still. Everyone who, in his religion, sets out from the same cardinal point, whether his religion originates from himself or from another, is, without respect of school, a Christian. It will naturally follow that when Christ with His whole efficacy is shown him he must acknowledge Him, who has become historically the centre of all mediation, the true Founder of redemption and reconciliation.7878The conclusion of this exposition that, Christ is the centre of all mediation, should connect all the details in it and complete what appears insufficient. Still I would not have the reader overlook what I wish to make prominent. At that time the distinction between the teaching of Christ and the teaching about Christ was hailed as a great discovery. Even allowing its validity to some extent, the idea of mediation must in every way be reckoned the teaching of Christ. Our teaching about Christ is nothing but the ratification and application of that teaching of Christ as it is fashioned by faith and sealed by history. And if I distinguish His school from His religion it is only, as the conclusion shows quite clearly, a different consideration of the same matter from different points of view. The religion of Christ is that the idea of redemption and mediation is the centre of religion. The application, so far, however, as the reference of this idea to a person was a historical process—and on this reference the whole historical existence of the doctrine as well as of the society rests—I call, by an expression now generally used, His school. That this was for Christ only secondary appears from what is here adduced, and also from the fact that at first the kingdom of God, and He who was to come was announced, and only afterwards He is spoken of as having come. Again, when it is said further back that Christ has become a mediator for many, it is to be remembered that Christ Himself said that “He would give his life a ransom for many.” A particularist meaning is not to be drawn from my words, or at least only in accordance with my view set forth elsewhere. This is, that the actually experienced relation of man to Christ is limited, and ever will be, even when Christianity spreads over the whole earth. On the other hand, I acknowledge a purely inward and mysterious relation of Christ to human nature generally, which is absolutely general and unlimited.

Nor did Christ say that the religious views and feelings He Himself could communicate, were the whole extent of 249the religion that should proceed from this ground-feeling. He always pointed to the living truth which, though only “taking of His,” would come after Him. Similarly with His disciples. They never set limits to the Holy Spirit. His unbounded freedom and the absolute unity of His revelations are everywhere acknowledged by them.

And when, the first bloom of Christianity being past and it was appearing to rest from its works, those works, so far as they were contained in the sacred scriptures, were regarded as a finished codex of religion, it was only brought about by those who took the slumber of the Spirit for death—religion, as far as they were concerned, being dead. All who still feel the life of religion in themselves or perceive it in others, have ever protested against this unchristian proceeding. The sacred scriptures have, by their native power, become a bible, and forbid no other book to be or to become a bible. Anything written with like power they would willingly allow to be associated with themselves. Nay, should not every later utterance of the whole church, and therefore of the Divine Spirit, append itself confidently, even though there be ineffaceably in the first fruits of the Spirit a special holiness and worth?7979Many of the members of our church will perhaps consider what is here said of the Scriptures to be Catholic, and Catholics will consider it hyper-protestant; the constitution of the Scriptures by the church not being acknowledged, but the volume being declared not yet finished. This is said only in a tentative way, to distinguish clearly the shell of the matter from the kernel. If there could be a book from an author like Mark or Luke or Jude, with all the marks of authenticity, we would hardly agree unanimously to receive it into the canon. Yet it would show its native biblical power and be bible in fact. Just this power has been the ground for determining the practice of the church, and the ecclesiastical deliverance only confirmed it. How imperceptible the transition from the canonical to the apocryphal, and both in power and purity, how in strength and beauty many productions of the church approach the canonical, no Protestant with experience and love of history will deny.

In accordance with this unlimited freedom, this essential infinity, then, this leading idea of Christianity of divine mediating powers has in many ways been developed, and all intuitions and feelings of the indwelling of the Divine Being in finite nature have within Christianity been brought to perfection. Thus very soon Holy Scripture in which, in its own way, divine essence and heavenly power dwelt, was held as a logical mediator to open for the knowledge of God the finite and corrupt nature of the understanding, while the Holy Spirit, in a later acceptation of the word, was an ethical mediator, whereby to draw near to the Deity in action. Nay, a numerous party of Christians declare themselves ready to acknowledge everyone as a mediating and divine being who can prove, by a divine life 250or any impress of divineness, that he has been, for even a small circle, the first quickening of the higher sense. To others Christ has remained one and all, while others have declared that their mediators have been their own selves or some particular thing. Whatever failure there may have been in form and matter, the principle is genuinely Christian, so long as it is free. Other human situations have, in their relation to the central point of Christianity, been expressed by feelings and represented by images, of which there is no hint in the speeches of Christ or elsewhere in the sacred books. Hereafter there will be more, for the whole being of man is not yet by any means embodied in the peculiar form of Christianity, but, despite of what is said of its speedy, its already accomplished overthrow, Christianity will yet have a long history.

For why should it be overthrown? The living spirit of it, indeed, slumbers oft and long. It withdraws itself into a torpid state, into the dead shell of the letter, but it ever awakes again as soon as the season in the spiritual world is favourable for its revival and sets its sap in motion. Thus in oft repeated cycle it renews itself in various ways. The fundamental idea of every positive religion, being a component part of the infinite Whole in which all things must be eternal, is in itself eternal and universal, but its whole development, its temporal existence may not, in the same sense, be either universal or eternal. For to put the centre of religion just in that idea, it requires not only a certain mental attitude, but a certain state of mankind. Is this state, in the free play of the universal life, gone, never to return, that relation which, by its worth, made all others dependent on it, can no longer maintain itself in the feeling, and this type of religion can no more endure. This is the case with all childlike religions, as soon as men lose the consciousness of their essential power. They should be collected as monuments of the past and deposited in the magazine of history, for their life is gone, never to return.


Christianity, exalted above them all, more historical and more humble in its glory, has expressly acknowledged this transitoriness of its temporal existence. A time will come, it says, when there shall no more be any mediator, but the Father shall be all in all. But when shall this time come? I, at least, can only believe that it lies beyond all time.

One half of the original intuition of Christianity is the corruptibleness of all that is great and divine in human things. If a time should come when this—I will not say can no more be discovered, but no more obtrudes, when humanity advances so uniformly and peacefully, that only the navigator who calculates its course by the stars knows when it is somewhat driven back on the great ocean it traverses by a passing contrary wind, and the unarmed eye, looking only at what is taking place, can no more directly observe the retrogression of human affairs, I would gladly stand on the ruins of the religion I honour.

The other half of the original Christian faith is that certain brilliant and divine points are the source of every improvement in this corruption and of every new and closer union of the finite with the Deity. Should a time ever come, when the power that draws us to the Highest was so equally distributed among the great body of mankind, that persons more strongly moved should cease to mediate for others, I would fain see it, I would willingly help to level all that exalteth itself. But this equality of all equalities is least possible. Times of corruption await all human things, even though of divine origin. New ambassadors from God will be required with exalted power to draw the recreant to itself and purify the corrupt with heavenly fire, and every such epoch of humanity is a palingenesis of Christianity, and awakes its spirit in a new and more beautiful form.

And if there are always to be Christians, is Christianity, therefore, to be universal and, as the sole type of religion, to rule alone in humanity? It scorns this autocracy.


Every one of its elements it honours enough to be willing to see it the centre of a whole of its own. Not only would it produce in itself variety to infinity, but would willingly see even outside all that it cannot produce from itself. Never forgetting that it has the beat proof of its immortality in its own corruptibleness, in its own often sad history, and ever expecting a redemption from the imperfection that now oppresses it, it willingly sees other and younger, and, if possible, stronger and more beautiful types of religion arise outside of this corruption. It could see them arise close beside it, and issue from all points even from such as appear to it the utmost and most doubtful limits of religion. The religion of religions cannot collect material enough for its pure interest in all things human. As nothing is more irreligious than to demand general unifomity in mankind, so nothing is more unchristian than to seek uniformity in religion.

In all ways the Deity is to be contemplated and worshipped. Varied types of religion are possible, both in proximity and in combination, and if it is necessary that every type be actualized at one time or another, it is to be desired that, at all times, there should be a dim sense of many religions. The great moments must be few in which all things agree to ensure to one among them a wide-extended and enduring life, in which the same view is developed unanimously and irresistibly in a great body, and many persons are deeply affected by the same impression of the divine. Yet what may not be looked for from a time that is so manifestly the border land between two different orders of things? If only the intense crisis were past, such a moment might arrive. Even now a prophetic soul, such as the fiery spirits of our time have,8080This is not an addition which I now make for the first time. It was meant for the second edition, but as it seemed to me too much of a challenge I again erased it. Now that those times are past, it can stand as a monument of the impression made on me and doubtless on many. It was not that the surfeit of a senseless Christianity at that time appeared in many as irreligion, for it was to the houour of Christianity that they believed that where Christianity was nothing religion generally was nothing. But among not a few there was an endeavour to provide for natural religion, an external existence, a thing already shown in England and France to be a vain endeavour. There was also an itch for innovation that, dreaming of a symbolized or gnostic Heathenism, of a return to ancient mythologies as of a new salvation, rejoiced at the thought of seeing the fanatical Christ vanquished by the calm and cheerful Zeus. turning its thoughts to creative genius, might perhaps indicate the point that is to be for the future generations the centre for their fellowship with the Deity. But however it be, and however long such a moment may still linger, new 253developments of religion, whether under Christianity or alongside of it, must come and that soon, even though for a long time they are only discernible in isolated and fleeting manifestations. Out of nothing a new creation always comes forth, and in all living men in whom the intellectual life has power and fulness, religion is almost nothing. From some one of the countless occasions it will be developed in many and take new shape in new ground. Were but the time of caution and timidity past! Religion hates loneliness, and in youth especially, which for all things is the time of love, it wastes away in a consuming longing. When it is developed in you, when you are conscious of the first traces of its life, enter at once into the one indivisible fellowship of the saints, which embraces all religions and in which alone any can prosper. Do you think that because the saints are scattered and far apart, you must speak to unsanctified ears? You ask what language is secret enough—is it speech, writing, deed, or quiet copying of the Spirit? All ways, I answer, and you see that I have not shunned the loudest. In them all sacred things remain secret and hidden from the profane. They may gnaw at the shell as they are able, but to worship the God that is in you, do you not refuse us.

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