The Essence of Christianity/Chapter XIV

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The Essence of Christianity
Ludwig Feuerbach
Chapter XIV
The Mystery of the Resurrection and of the Miraculous Conception
CHAPTER XIV.


THE MYSTERY OF THE RESURRECTION AND OF THE MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION.


The quality of being agreeable to subjective inclination belongs not only to practical miracles, in which it is conspicuous, as they have immediate reference to the interest or wish of the human individual; it belongs also to theoretical, or more properly dogmatic miracles, and hence to the Resurrection and the Miraculous Conception.

Man, at least in a state of ordinary well-being, has the wish not to die. This wish is originally identical with the instinct of self-preservation. Whatever lives seeks to maintain itself, to continue alive, and consequently not to die. Subsequently, when reflection and feeling are developed under the urgency of life, especially of social and political life, this primary negative wish becomes the positive wish for a life, and that a better life, after death. But this wish involves the further wish for the certainty of its fulfilment. Reason can afford no such certainty. It has therefore been said that all proofs of immortality are insufficient, and even that unassisted reason is not capable of apprehending it, still less of proving it. And with justice; for reason furnishes only general proofs; it cannot give the certainty of any personal immortality, and it is precisely this certainty which is desired. Such a certainty requires an immediate personal assurance, a practical demonstration. This can only be given to me by the fact of a dead person, whose death has been previously certified, rising again from the grave; and he must be no indifferent person, but on the contrary the type and representative of all others, so that his resurrection also may be the type, the guarantee of theirs. The resurrection of Christ is therefore the satisfied desire of man for an immediate certainty of his personal existence after death, — personal immortality as a sensible, indubitable fact.

Immortality was with the heathen philosophers a question in which the personal interest was only a collateral point. They concerned themselves chiefly with the nature of the soul, of mind, of the vital principle. The immortality of the vital principle by no means involves the idea, not to mention the certainty, of personal immortality. Hence the vagueness, discrepancy, and dubiousness with which the ancients express themselves on this subject. The Christians, on the contrary, in the undoubting certainty that their personal, self-flattering wishes will be fulfilled, i.e., in the certainty of the divine nature of their emotions, the truth and unassailableness of their subjective feelings, converted that which to the ancients was a theoretic problem, into an immediate fact, — converted a theoretic, and in itself open question, into a matter of conscience, the denial of which was equivalent to the high treason of atheism. He who denies the resurrection denies the resurrection of Christ, but he who denies the resurrection of Christ denies Christ himself, and he who denies Christ denies God. Thus did “spiritual” Christianity unspiritualize what was spiritual! To the Christians the immortality of the reason, of the soul, was far too abstract and negative; they had at heart only a personal immortality, such as would gratify their feelings; and the guarantee of this lies in a bodily resurrection alone. The resurrection of the body is the highest triumph of Christianity over the sublime, but certainly abstract spirituality and objectivity of the ancients. For this reason the idea of the resurrection could never be assimilated by the pagan mind.

As the Resurrection, which terminates the sacred history, (to the Christian not a mere history, but the truth itself,) is a realized wish, so also is that which commences it, namely, the Miraculous Conception, though this has relation not so much to an immediately personal interest as to a particular subjective feeling.

The more man alienates himself from Nature, the more subjective, i.e., supranatural, or antinatural, is his view of things, the greater the horror he has of Nature, or at least of those natural objects and processes which displease his imagination, which affect him disagreeably.[1] The free, objective man doubtless finds things repugnant and distasteful in Nature, but he regards them as natural, inevitable results, and under this conviction he subdues his feeling as a merely subjective and untrue one. On the contrary, the subjective man, who lives only in the feelings and imagination, regards these things with a quite peculiar aversion. He has the eye of that unhappy foundling, who even in looking at the loveliest flower could pay attention only to the little “black beetle,” which crawled over it, and who by this perversity of perception had his enjoyment in the sight of flowers always embittered. Moreover, the subjective man makes his feelings the measure, the standard of what ought to be. That which does not please him, which offends his transcendental, supranatural, or antinatural feelings, ought not to be. Even if that which pleases him cannot exist without being associated with that which displeases him, the subjective man is not guided by the wearisome laws of logic and physics but by the self-will of the imagination; hence he drops what is disagreeable in a fact, and holds fast alone what is agreeable. Thus the idea of the pure, holy Virgin pleases him; still he is also pleased with the idea of the Mother, but only of the Mother who already carries the infant on her arms.

Virginity in itself is to him the highest moral idea, the cornu copiae of his supranaturalistic feelings and ideas, his personified sense of honour and of shame before common nature.[2] Nevertheless, there stirs in his bosom a natural feeling also, the compassionate feeling which makes the Mother beloved. What then is to be done in this difficulty of the heart, in this conflict between a natural and a supranatural feeling? The supranaturalist must unite the two, must comprise in one and the same subject two predicates which exclude each other.[3] O what a plenitude of agreeable, sweet, supersensual, sensual emotions lies in this combination!

Here we have the key to the contradiction in Catholicism, that at the same time marriage is holy and celibacy is holy. This simply realizes, as a practical contradiction, the dogmatic contradiction of the Virgin Mother. But this wondrous union of virginity and maternity, contradicting Nature and reason, but in the highest degree accordant with the feelings and imagination, is no product of Catholicism; it lies already in the twofold part which marriage plays in the Bible, especially in the view of the Apostle Paul. The supernatural conception of Christ is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, a doctrine which expresses its inmost dogmatic essence, and which rests on the same foundation as all other miracles and articles of faith. As death, which the philosopher, the man of science, the free objective thinker in general, accepts as a natural necessity, and as indeed all the limits of nature, which are impediments to feeling, but to reason are rational laws, were repugnant to the Christians, and were set aside by them through the supposed agency of miraculous power; so, necessarily, they had an equal repugnance to the natural process of generation, and superseded it by miracle. The Miraculous Conception is not less welcome than the Resurrection, to all believers; for it was the first step towards the purification of mankind, polluted by sin and Nature. Only because the God-man was not infected with original sin, could he, the pure one, purify mankind in the eyes of God, to whom the natural process of generation was an object of aversion, because he himself is nothing else but supranatural feeling.

Even the arid Protestant orthodoxy, so arbitrary in its criticism, regarded the conception of the God-producing Virgin, as a great, adorable, amazing, holy mystery of faith, transcending reason.[4] But with the Protestants, who confined the speciality of the Christian to the domain of faith, and with whom, in life, it was allowable to be a man, even this mystery had only a dogmatic, and no longer a practical significance; they did not allow it to interfere with their desire of marriage. With the Catholics, and with all the old, uncompromising, uncritical Christians, that which was a mystery of faith, was a mystery of life, of morality.[5] Catholic morality is Christian, mystical; Protestant morality was, in its very beginning, rationalistic. Protestant morality is, and was, a carnal mingling of the Christian with the man, the natural, political, civil, social man, or whatever else he may be called in distinction from the Christian; Catholic morality cherished in its heart the mystery of the unspotted virginity. Catholic morality was the Mater dolorosa; Protestant morality a comely, fruitful matron. Protestantism is from beginning to end the contradiction between faith and love; for which very reason it has been the source, or at least the condition, of freedom. Just because the mystery of the Virgo Deipara had with the Protestants a place only in theory, or rather in dogma, and no longer in practice, they declared that it was impossible to express oneself with sufficient care and reserve concerning it, and that it ought not to be made an object of speculation. That which is denied in practice has no true basis and durability in man, is a mere spectre of the mind; and hence it is withdrawn from the investigation of the understanding. Ghosts do not brook daylight.

Even the later doctrine, (which, however, had been already enunciated in a letter to St. Bernard, who rejects it,) that Mary herself was conceived without taint of original sin, is by no means a “strange school-bred doctrine,” as it is called by a modern historian. That which gives birth to a miracle, which brings forth God, must itself be of miraculous, divine origin, or nature. How could Mary have had the honour of being overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, if she had not been from the first pure? Could the Holy Ghost take up his abode in a body polluted by original sin? If the principle of Christianity, the miraculous birth of the Saviour, does not appear strange to you, why think strange the naive, well-meaning inferences of Catholicism?

Footnotes[edit]

  1. “If Adam had not fallen into sin, nothing would have been known of the cruelty of wolves, lions, bears, &c., and there would not have been in all creation anything vexatious and dangerous to man . . .; no thorns, or thistles, or diseases . . .; his brow would not have been wrinkled; no foot or hand, or other member of the body would have been feeble or infirm.” — “But now, since the Fall, we all know and feel what a fury lurks in our flesh, which not only burns and rages with lust and desire, but also loathes, when once obtained, the very thing it has desired. But this is the fault of original sin, which has polluted all creatures; wherefore I believe that before the Fall the sun was much brighter, water much clearer, and the land much richer, and fuller of all sorts of plants.” — Luther (Th. i. s. 322, 323, 329, 337).
  2. “Tantum denique abest incesti cupido, ut nonnullis rabori sit etiam pudica conjunctio.”—M. Felicis, Oct. c. 31. One Father was so extraordinarily chaste he had never seen a woman’s face, nay, he dreaded even touching himself, “se quoque ipsum attingere quodammodo horrebat.” Another Father had so fine an olfactory sense in this matter, that on the approach of an unchaste person he perceived an insupportable odour.—Bayle (Dict. Art. Mariana Rem. C.). But the supreme, the divine principle of this hyperphysical delicacy, is the Virgin Mary; hence the Catholics name her Virginum Gloria, Virginitatis corona, Virginitatis typua et forma puritatis, Virginum vexillifera, Virginitatis magistra, Virginum prima, Virginitatis primiceria.
  3.  “Salve sancta parens, enixa puerpera Regem,
     Gaudia matris habens cum virginitatis honore.”
     Theol. Schol. Mezger. t. iv. p. 132.
  4. See e.g. J. D. Winckler, Philolog. Lactant. s. Brunsvigae, 1754, pp. 247-254.
  5. See on this subject Ueber Philosophie und Christenthum, by L. Feuerbach.