Two: The Conquest of the Concept of Religion in the Philosophy of Religion

What is Religion?
by Paul Tillich

Two: The Conquest of the Concept of Religion in the Philosophy of Religion

The paradoxical formulation of our title stands in need of justification. "Paradoxical" can mean "ingenious," but in that case the paradox is based upon an ambiguous and contradictory verbal formulation, and belongs in the aesthetic realm. The word can also be understood dialectically. Then it refers to the tension of two patterns of thought which are contradictory, though in themselves consistent and necessary. In this sense the paradox belongs in the logical realm. In both cases the paradox is a function of the subject, either of the caprice of artistic imagination or of the necessity of logical structure in thought. But there is a point where paradox is grounded completely in the object rather than in the subject, where paradox is as necessary to every assertion as consistency is to every empirical scientific assertion: the point at which the Unconditional becomes an Object. The fact that it becomes an object is indeed the primal paradox, since by its nature the Uncon-


ditional stands beyond the antithesis of subject and object. Thus, every statement about the Unconditional is necessarily in the form of paradox. Aesthetic and logical paradoxes are in principle resolvable. Both present a problem to be solved, either by common sense or by logical thought. But the paradox of the Unconditional is not resolvable. It poses a problem that calls for intuition (Schauen).

This appears to make philosophical statements regarding the Unconditional into religious ones. To this possibility it should be remarked that a philosophy of religion which stands apart from the religious reality is as absurd as an aesthetic unrelated to the actual world of art. In both cases one seeks to speak about an object whose sole given form remains inaccessible. But at the same time, reference to the thing itself can take on a quite contradictory form, if this contradiction arises solely out of the object itself. Thus Nietzsche, since he acted in the name of the God who spoke through him, had a right to fight against God; Strauss, on the other hand, had no such right, for it was the human, the all too human, that spoke through him. In this regard, it is on the basis of the religious reality itself that I indicate my spiritual affinity in the following ideas with men like Barth and Gogarten whose concern is the religious Word. I have been surprised to see how, without mutual influence, the unqualified affirmation of the Unconditional within philosophy of religion as in religious thinking proper has led us to the same position in principle. Nevertheless, the following lines of thought are to be understood in their own right; they are philosophical ideas and they aspire to be nothing other than philosophy. The paradoxical nature of every ultimate statement concerning the Unconditional does not compromise the rationality and necessity of the fundamental relationships out of which this paradox arises.


It remains to be demonstrated that the concept of religion contains within itself a paradox. "Religion" is the concept of a reality which through this very concept is destroyed. Yet the concept is unavoidable. The point is to use it in such a way that its destructive force is eliminated through its subordination to a higher concept. That, however, is the concept of the Unconditional. To be sure, the inner dialectic of the concept of religion makes a certain amount of ambiguity unavoidable, inasmuch as the concept is used, in a general orientational sense as well as in a more precise, polemical sense. This difficulty cannot be avoided, since every relatively new conceptual creation would fall into the same dialectic, and the meaning would have to be determined contextually.

Having established our basic problem, we will address it in four stages: (1) the protest of religion against the concept of religion; (2) the dominance of the concept of religion in philosophy of religion; (3) the conquest of the concept of religion; and (4) the dialectic of autonomy.

1. The Protest of Religion Against the Concept of Religion

There are four objections that religion raises against the concept of religion. First, it makes the certainty of God relative to the certainty of the self (Ichgewissheit). Secondly, it makes God relative to the world. Thirdly, it makes religion relative to culture. Fourthly, it makes revelation relative to the history of religion. In short, through the concept of religion the Unconditional is grounded upon the conditioned and becomes itself conditioned, and thereby destroyed.

a. The certainty of the Unconditional is unconditional. Nevertheless, whenever thinking is determined by the concept of religion, another certainty is believed to be more fundamental than


that of the Unconditional, namely, the self's certainty of itself. The subject's self-certainty is given priority over the certainty of God. The self is seen capable of self-apprehension apart from any awareness of God. But self-certainty is no basis for unconditional certainty. When the objective world to which it is related dissolves into appearances, then self-certainty takes on the veil-like character of a dream. The subject falls with the object. On the other hand, the Unconditional stands beyond both subject and object. Only when the self is understood as the medium for the selfapprehension of the Unconditional, does it participate in unconditional certainty, whether this latter be expressed in terms of absolute life, as with Augustine, or in terms of absolute form, as with Descartes. But the Unconditional is always that which provides a ground, and the self is its medium and that which is grounded. Where this is not the case, and the self makes itself independent, religion, it is true, comes into being-but in losing God the self ultimately loses itself.

b. If the certainty of the Unconditional is lost, the Unconditional loses its reality as well. Religion remains as a function of the conditioned within the world of the conditioned, and it starts from this its own world in order to reach the Unconditional. Since religion has a self-sufficient conception of the world which needs only peripheral supplementation, God in this way becomes a correlate of the world but thereby himself part of the world. But the true Unconditional lies beyond both this God and the world. In this situation a God beneath God comes into being, namely, the God of deism. Or there is yet another alternative: namely, that the concept of the world needs no supplementation, that the universe is complete in itself, and God is identical with it. Here God is seen as the totality, the synthesis of all finite forms, identical with the universe of the conditioned (though this can never be the Uncon


ditional). This God is the God of pantheism. Wherever the concept of the world is complete without God, God has become an empty name that one utters for the sake of religion, but which can be dispensed with completely, since it is all the same whether the universe is called "matter" or "spirit."

c. In effect the spirit of the concept of religion destroys not only the certainty and reality of God, but also religion itself. "Religion" is a function of the human spirit. It remains so, even when (along with Scholz) one makes it into a creation of God in man. For the human spirit must at least have the functional possibility for religion, and of course, nothing more than that is intended here. Consequently, religion stands alongside the other functions of the human spirit. But where? At first it sought haven in one of the other functions, namely, the practical. But autonomous ethics is complete in itself, and thus it either assimilates religion or drives it on to the theoretical function. But autonomous philosophy likewise has no need of religion, and so subordinates it to itself as a preliminary stage, as a transitional phase, assimilates it and drives it on to feeling. Feeling, however, accompanies every function, and therefore, one must always speak of a definite feeling, such as a feeling for the universe. But then if religion is identified with feeling, it is no longer the function but the object that determines religion. Thus, attempts are made to find the homeless one a place of its own: a province within the spiritual life (Schleiermacher), a religious a priori (Troeltsch), the highest category of act (Scheler). Just as a person is ethical, scientific, aesthetic, or political, so he is also religious. Here the Unconditional stands alongside the conditioned. But religion does not allow a person to be also religious; in fact, it does not grant that a person is "religious" at all. It tolerates no co-ordination of the functions, even the hierarchical form in which religion stands at the top. It is, rather,


a consuming fire over against every autonomous function of the human spirit. He who would seek a religious a priori must be aware that all other a priori' s thereby sink into the abyss. The concept of religion, however, knows nothing of this.

d. Just as the concept of religion dissolves the unconditionality of faith into the relativity of the various spiritual functions, so it also dissolves the unconditionality of revelation into the continuous evolution and alteration within the history of religion and culture. "Religion" as a general concept is indifferent to the revelatory claims of the particular religions. Absolute religion is a "square circle." Whenever Christianity has become religion, it a priori has lost its absoluteness. In this respect, Troeltsch's insistence upon the a posteriori was legitimate. At the most, faith gives the predicate "religion" to that religion which does not bring salvation, to false religion. "Religion" is a derogatory term, indicating that inferior quality within religion which consists in its failure to go beyond the subject. In that case it is nothing more than a God-ward intention that does not have God, because God has not manifested himself within it. And the content of this derogatory term then becomes the foundation upon which revelation is supposed to ground itself-and yet cannot. For if it does, revelation either becomes a transmission of knowledge which the autonomous spirit would have discovered anyway, and thereby deteriorates into a rationalism occasionally supplemented by the supernatural. Or it becomes cultural history (Geistesgeschichte) and is dissolved into the contingencies of the cultural process. If revelation is a "religious" concept, then it is no concept at all.

This is what is involved in the protest that religion raises against the spirit of the concept of religion. Let us see how this matter has been regarded up until now in the philosophy of religion.


2. The Dominance of the Concept of Religion in Philosophy of Religion

The development of philosophy of religion in the Western world has taken place in three periods ( or typical forms) : the rational, the critical, and the intuitive. Running concurrently with all three is the empirical philosophy of religion. The latter, however, can be left out of consideration, because it can be consistent only in its statements about the actualization of religion in the individual and historical life and not in those about religion itself. As soon as it tries to say something about religion itself, it borrows from one of the other methods.

a. In the rational period the dominance of the concept of religion is unconscious, in the critical period it is conscious, and in the phenomenological period it is declining. In the philosophy of the Renaissance, world-consciousness is still embedded in a mystical or ecstatic God-consciousness. Apart from God there is no world, just as, to be sure, in contrast to the Middle Ages, apart from the world there is no God. The distinction between nature and the supernatural is abolished. Nature is supernatural in quality, and the supernatural is nature itself. However, this was but a transition. Beginning with Galileo the mathematically-oriented natural sciences banished the supernatural. Nature becomes purely objective, rational, and technical; it becomes divested of the divine. It is now possible to have a concept of the world without having a concept of God. In this manner the way was made free for the dominance of the concept of religion. This becomes immediately evident at the beginning of the whole development, namely, in Descartes. The basis for certainty is the self, and God is inferred from the self. What is historically fateful here is not the fact that


the principle of all rationality is found in the self's certainty of itself, for that principle certainly involves the unconditionality of logical form, which as unconditionality bears a quality of holiness within itself. But the real change in the total situation is to be seen in the contrast of the post-Cartesian outlook with, for example, that of Augustine. For no longer is the Unconditional element extracted out of self-certainty in order through it to apprehend God, but rather is the rational principle extracted, in order from it to deduce God. This becomes fully apparent for the first time in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, which sought, with the aid of the technical-objective category of cause and effect, to infer God from the world. The certainty of God is made to rest upon the certainty of the world and the power of logical inference. Here we see already the domination of the concept of religion, to be sure in concealed form, since in general God rather than religion remains the focus of discussion.

Kant correctly perceived that without an ontological proof this goal is unattainable. But the ontological way was no longer an open possibility. It is possible only where consciousness stands in immediate unity with the Unconditional. But then the ontological way is not a logical conclusion from the idea of the Unconditional to its existence (Sein), a procedure that, of course, is impossible. It is rather the expression of the unconditional certainty which the Unconditional has in face of everything conditioned insofar as the Unconditional stands beyond the antithesis of thought and being. As soon as consciousness of the world is rendered independent, and thinking and being are no longer connected, and God is objectified, this expression of a real (realen) state of consciousness becomes a syllogism whose premise is invalid. Thus, the critique of the ontological proof was the result of the spiritual development from the medieval to the modern period, from God


consciousness to autonomous world-consciousness. At the same time it marked the end of the rational period.

Corresponding to this concealed dissolution of the certainty of God is the concealed dissolution of his reality. Almost all the philosophers of this period have a world view in which God becomes the central element in the construction of the world. He is the bearer of world-harmony, the ingenious watchmaker of the cosmic system, the mediator between subject and object. Even when he is called the source of our ideas or that which is beyond thinking and extension, he is always understood in a technical and objectified manner, as though he were a thing. For through the deterministic idea of pre-established harmony, thinking has also become thingified (dinghaft). The God who is supposed to be a supplement to the world is not God but the world itself. Only Spinoza's religious depth overcomes these concepts unworthy of God and points toward the following period. But he, too, remained dominated by the contemporary thingified conception of the world, so that even in his view God becomes an absolute thing. He exposed the innate tendency of the concept of religion, and thus his contemporaries rightly saw in him the real danger of their time.

The unconditionality of religion over against culture was also abolished in a concealed manner. The colere et intelligere Deum stands alongside the colere et intelligere of man and the world. As God stands alongside the world, so also religion stands alongside science and politics, art and morality. Here, too, the destructive consequences of the concept of religion remain concealed. There is knowledge of the world—and also of God; there is the stateand also the church; there is art—and also cultus. Religion is still a universal phenomenon, but in all cases it is only one component and has lost its omnipresence. The same problem appears in the


relation of the Unconditional to philosophy. The absoluteness of revealed truth emerges as the absoluteness of religion based on reason. Thus, revelation has become a chapter of metaphysics, and has been drawn into the dialectic of proof and refutation. As long as faith in absolute reason prevailed, in spite of all opposition, the consequences of the concept of religion remained concealed. When reason became historical, religion based on reason developed into the history of religion.

b. In the critical period the relativistic consequences of the concept of religion became apparent. The certainty of God loses its theoretical meaning. In terms of its true import the moral proof for the existence of God can do nothing more than endow moral autonomy with the sanctity of the Unconditional. But all the attempts of philosophical and theological Kantians to extract a theoretical existence of God from the Unconditional by means of ethical postulates are in vain. In this matter Neo-Kantianism had drawn the obvious conclusion from its critical foundation. The Philosophy of "As If" performed a distinct service for philosophy of religion in perceiving the fictional character of this theoretically existing God who was supposed to be provable through moral postulates. For the idealistic Kantians a certainty of God is not possible apart from certainty of the world. Religion is a special way of experiencing the world which either is sublated into philosophy, as in Hegel, or has an abiding unique significance, as in ,Schleiermacher. The effect of the concept of religion is most evident at the point where nominalistic thinking fails to recognize any objective conception of the world, as with Simmel, and religion is -accordingly located exclusively in the subject. Religion becomes a rhythm or hue of the soul, an expression of its metaphysical significance, and thus a consecration not of the objective world, as in realism, but of the subjective life. The concept of religion, which


sought to proceed from the self to God, has relapsed into the self.

Upon the horizon of the idea of God settle the threatening clouds of Spinozism from the preceding period, but it is a Spinozism stripped of its objectifying character by the (new) idealistic point of departure. No longer is God independent of the world. Deism becomes pantheism. God is the "world idea," the form of all forms, the ultimate synthesis, conceived either as a reality or as an infinite task. He is the world sub specie aeternitatis. In this manner the unity of God and the world is restored, but not, as in the Renaissance, from the side of God who has taken the world up into himself, but rather from the side of the world, into which God has been absorbed. Thereby the objective, scientific formation of concepts becomes here the pathway to God. The concept of the world is the creative basis for the concept of God and makes the latter dependent upon itself. This dependence upon the concept of the world is true not only for idealism, but also for subsequent developments. The concept of God follows the concept of the world along the paths of materialism, voluntarism, naturalism, and positivism. In so doing it reveals the impossibility of fulfilling the romantic yearning to reach God through the structure or form of the world, to reach a new immediacy, a new ontologicallyoriented spiritual situation on the basis of the scientific apprehension of the world. Through its clear understanding of this situation it was again the Philosophy of "As If" which perceived that the concept of God had to lose its roots the moment God was degraded to the state of a derivative reality, instead of being recognized as the primordially given itself.

The results of all this also appear in the attitude of the critical period to our third point: in analogy with the transition from deism to pantheism, religion turns into culture. It is tacked on to one of the functions of the human spirit, and without fail is assim


ilated to this function. The effect of this transition upon the spiritual situation of the nineteenth century is clearly evident. Among individual Hegelian thinkers and among the working-class groups influenced by Hegel and Marx, science ( Wissenschaft) usurps the role of religion; among the ethically-oriented middle-class, morality fills the gap left by religion; and among the most highly cultivated, the arts. The attempts to preserve religion as a special function fail, because its absoluteness brooks no relativization, and because the religious function called for here must revert into culture just as surely as l:he God prescribed by the deists reverts into world. Of course, it is not to be denied that culture in this way takes on a religious tone. But this quality comes to it as a supplement, and thus it can also be absent, and indeed is so as soon as the concept of the world comes to be seen in a materialistic or a voluntaristic rather than in an idealistic framework.

The victory of historical reason within idealism in this period signifies alike the victory of the history of religion. Throughout the period the latter was conceived as the history of revelation, naturally not in a supernatural sense, but in an immanent culturalhistorical sense. It is God himself who comes to self-awareness within the finite in this history; it is the potencies of the world which become successively manifest in mythology and revelation. With the breakdown of the idealistic presupposition the history of revelation becomes a part of man's spiritual history whose meaning is absorbed into the general history of culture. Here, too, the concept of religion is completely victorious.

The critical period is more consistent than the rational period. Therein lies its superiority. It exposes the destructive consequences of the concept of religion, for religion itself, but it also achieves something positive. It represents a powerful reaction against the secularization and evisceration of the world which result from objectification. To be sure, this reaction remained ro


mantic and aesthetic, and then reverted into its own opposite. For the destroyed religious consciousness cannot be restored through the will of individuals, but only through the fate of nations and masses. Nevertheless, the romantic philosophy of religion provides the bridges and creates the forms by means of which the new spirit of an ontological consciousness of God can again flow.

The world, culture and history all have qualities of holiness. They may have them, but they need not have them. But what if the order were reversed? What if we were to ask: must they have them? How would it be, if above all the religious dimension had the qualities of unconditionality and certainty, and the world, culture and history were tentative and dubious secularizations of the holy which needed to be overcome? With this question we turn our attention to the third, the intuitive period.

c. This third period begins at the turn of the century, not only in the form of phenomenological philosophy (in its narrower sense) but also in the general movement of spiritual life away from the objective-technical apprehension of the world to an immediateintuitive one. It is more difficult to discuss this period, since it is still in process of development. Nevertheless, it is already possible to get a glimpse of its broadest contours. Its significance for the philosophy of religion lies in its conscious opposition to the dominance of the concept of religion. It seems prepared for a new ontologically-oriented spiritual situation. There are many manifestations of this tendency: Otto's apprehension of the numinous as a reality breaking through all objective forms, Scheler's elevation of the value of holiness above all other levels of value, and Scholz's complete separation of religious and theoretical existential judgments. We must now ask how successful these trends have been in exorcising the spirit of the concept of religion.


Both Scheler and Scholz seek vigorously to overcome the functional justification of religion: Scheler by ascribing primary certainty to the religious object rather than the religious act and thus by settling the God-question before considering the question of religion; Scholz by strongly opposing the interpretation of religion as an autonomous creation of the human spirit and seeing in the simple statement, "God is," the primary indication of the nature of religion. It could be argued that these views threaten to reinstate the rational method, but in reality this danger does not exist. God is not to be deduced from an established concept of the world by means of syllogisms, but rather his reality is to be directly intuited (erschaut) apart from any consideration of the world. In order to emphasize the difference of this intuitive perception (Anschauen) from objective-reflective knowledge of the world, Scheler builds up the apprehension of reality in stages: the scientific, metaphysical, and religious forms of knowledge. The way to overcome the rational as well as the critical method is without doubt thereby prepared. But it is still not attained, for it is not clear just how the levels are related to each other. The difficulties involved here become obvious when Scheler permits metaphysics to invalidate itself, by a sacrificium intellectus, for the sake of religion. Awareness of God is thereby made dependent upon a selfnegating awareness of the world. The certainty of the world is sacrificed for the sake of the certainty of God; its reality is sacrificed for the sake of his reality. Yet the world makes this sacrifice. God lives on the basis of this sacrifice, and he disappears once the autonomous spirit refuses to make such a sacrifice. The autonomous spirit, however, must refuse this sacrifice in order to avoid the inner disruption occasioned by theoretical judgments coming from alien sources.

The Protestant philosopher of religion, Scholz, does not de


mand a sacrificium intellectus, but rather attempts to demonstrate to the intellect the credibility of religion. He thus presupposes a consciousness before which this credibility would have to be demonstrated. This consciousness is that of the moral personality. Confidence in the truth of a revelation can only be awakened by the ethical character of the bearer of revelation. Who could fail to see here the moral proof for the existence of God so deeply engrained in Protestantism, simply transposed into the personal key? In the case of both Scheler and Scholz, the certainty and reality of the world are retained as the basis for the certainty and reality of God. Scheler does so by making the world a stage, Scholz by making it a criterion. The only thing achieved is this duality: God is neither deduced from the world, as in the rational period, nor is he drawn into the world, as in the critical period.

As for our two other points, the relations of religion and culture, and revelation and history, Scheler again supports his views by appeal to the idea of stages. That is to say, the religious values stand at the top of a hierarchy of values. The sacred values—the values of holiness—are placed above even those of personality. And again, among the values of holiness, God's reality in Christ stands on the highest level, beyond the prophets and saints. Religion is the highest cultural value, and the Christian religion the highest sacred value. Obviously the concept of religion still dominates even this scheme. The series of stages permits each higher level to be grounded on the lower ones, both in terms of the image and in terms of the actual matter which this image is supposed to illustrate. The thinking here continues to be an ascending movement, from the bottom upwards. But at this point we must say that there are no stages leading to the Unconditional. The highest and the lowest are equidistant from the Unconditional.

Scholz replaces the theory of stages, whose medieval Catholic


origin is evident, with the idea of the ethical-cultural personality, an idea clearly rooted in Protestantism. Religion is a reality independent of the rest of the spiritual life and can be either present or lacking. But if it is present, the norm for its evaluation is its capacity to be experienced by the contemporary cultured man, i.e., by the ethically and spiritually-formed personality. Of the experienceable religions, however, only three are finally taken into consideration: Christianity, pantheism and mysticism. It is, nevertheless, a complete contradiction of the unconditionality of the Unconditional to make its nature and scope dependent upon a particular state of ethical-spiritual personality or upon a specific cultural situation. All these ideas still come from a way of thinking that looks not to the Unconditional, but to the conditioned, in order to provide a norm for the Unconditional. They have not been able to expunge the [destructive] spirit of the concept of religion. Yet is there any way in which it can be eJ{punged? Or is it the fate of philosophy of religion to be possessed by it? Is it the fate of human history to have the capacity for only the one or the other, religion or philosophy of religion?

3. The Conquest of the Concept of Religion

The decisive objection we have raised against previous philosophy of religion is that it founds the Unconditional upon the conditioned, either by co-ordinating them or, since this is intolerable, by assimilating the Unconditional into the conditioned. A philosophy of religion that wishes to do justice to the nature of the Unconditional must apprehend the Unconditional in everything conditioned as that which grounds both itself and the conditioned. The conditioned is the medium in and through which the Unconditional is apprehended. To this medium belongs, likewise, the per


ceiving subject. It, too, never appears as something that provides the ground, but rather as the place where the Unconditional becomes manifest within the conditioned. Consequently, one must make a distinction in principle between the meaning of statements about the Unconditional and those about the conditioned. But since every statement as such is expressed in the subject-object mode, and hence in the forms of the conditioned, statements about the Unconditional must, to be sure, utilize these forms. But this must occur in such a way that their inadequacy becomes evident, i.e., they must bear the form of systematic paradox.

a. Under domination by the concept of religion the self's certainty of itself is the basis for certainty of God. But two factors are contained in the self-certainty of the ego: the unconditionality of an apprehension of reality that lies beyond subject and object, and the participation of the subjective self in this unconditional reality which supports it. The self is the medium of the unconditional apprehension of reality, and as medium it participates in the certainty of that which it mediates. Still, it participates only as a medium; it is not that which upholds, but rather that which is upheld. The possibility exists for the ego to experience its selfcertainty in such a way that the unconditional relation to reality contained within it stands in the foreground. This is the a priori religious mode of self-apprehension. On the other hand, the possibility exists for the ego to experience its self-certainty in such a manner that its relation to its own being stands in the foreground. This is the a priori unreligious mode of self-apprehension. In the first case, the self penetrates, so to speak, through the form of its consciousness to the ground of reality upon which it is based. In the second type, this underlying ground remains, to be sure, effective—without it there could be no self-certainty—but it is not touched upon; the self remains in its detached state, it settles for


the form of consciousness. One can properly call this second position unreligious, but only with regard to its intention and not with regard to its outcome. There is no consciousness unreligious in substance, though it can certainly be so in intention. Every act of self-apprehension contains, as its foundation within reality, the relation to the Unconditional, but this relation is not in every case intended. The two states of consciousness are differentiated accordingly.

The statement that the certainty of the Unconditional is apprehended in self-certainty is paradoxical, for though it has a theoretical form, it is anything but theoretical in content. When it is said that the self grasps within itself the Unconditional as the basis of its own self-certainty, the opposition of subject and object is contained in the very form of this statement. But the import of the statement stands in direct contradiction to that, for the Unconditional is neither object nor subject, but rather the presupposition for every possible antithesis of subject and object. For this reason, apprehension of the Unconditional also stands prior to every theoretical judgment; and in its foundation as well as its consequences, it is independent of every theoretical certainty. Whether the spirit's intention is religious or unreligious is a matter of theoretical indifference, since the Unconditional is certainly the supporting ground of every theoretical judgment, and can be an absolute presupposition but never an object of theory. If nevertheless it becomes an object-and it must if anything is to be said about it at all-then the following statement necessarily has a paradoxical form: God-certainty is the certainty of the Unconditional contained in and grounding the self-certainty of the ego. Certainty of God is in this way utterly independent of any other presuppositional certainty. Both the self and its religion are subordinated to the Unconditional; they first become possible through the Uncondi


tional. For this reason, there can be absolutely no certainty in which the certainty of God is not implicite present. Whether, however, it is likewise present explicite constitutes the decisive religious distinction. Objectively considered, all consciousness is related to God; but subjectively, consciousness can be God-less. Thus there is no way from the self to God, but there is, in terms of directedness rather than substance, a way from God to the self. Once one has embarked on this way, one can never go back. Only the breakthrough or eruption of the ground implicitly present in all self-consciousness through the autonomous forms of consciousness can free him from the compulsive flight from God. Religion calls this breakthrough "grace." Religion is aware that no theoretical pointing to the ground of all theory can make the Unconditional alive within consciousness. For theory makes the Unconditional into an object, i.e., precisely what it is not.

b. Under domination by the concept of religion the reality of God is grounded upon the reality of the world. Admittedly, every actuality exists in the forms of objectivity, of which one is existence itself. At the same time, however, within every actuality there is something unconditionally real to be grasped. This unconditionally real is not defined by the forms of objects and has, therefore, likewise no existence. Where the spirit directs itself upon the world and its contents in such a way that it brings to awareness the impulse of unconditionality implicit in all things, there it is directed toward God. This power of unconditional reality in every conditioned actuality is that which is the supporting ground in every thing (Ding), its very root of being, its absolute seriousness, its unfathomable depth, and its holiness. It is the import of its reality as distinguished from its accidental form.

All objective thinking must be strictly excluded here. We are not dealing with an object to be found either alongside things, or


above or within them. The material-objective (Gegenstandlichen) is not under consideration here at all, but rather the primordial (Urstandlichen) as such, that which is exempt from all form, including that of existence. But here again it is the case that every statement is expressed in a material-0bjective form, and therefore is true only as a broken, paradoxical statement. Thus, in respect to its form the statement "God is" is theoretical. No classification according to levels can change this, since God is thereby brought into the order of the world of objects. This pigeon-holing of God, however, is atheism. If the statement "God is" is likewise theoretical in its import, then it destroys the divinity of God. Meant as paradox, however, it is the necessary expression for the affirmation of the Unconditional, for it is not possible to direct oneself toward the Unconditional apart from objectification. By virtue of these considerations both deism and pantheism are overcome. Deism, which is not simply the orientation of a given historical period but an element in every representation of God, i.e., that point at which God is objectified and made finite, and which generally appears wherever the paradoxical meaning of divine being is no longer apprehended, is overcome. Pantheism, which, because the Unconditional is apprehensible within every actuality, equates the Unconditional with the universal form of materiality, i.e., with the world, is likewise overcome. It remains fixed upon an objective form, namely, the universal form of objective reality, and does not realize that the Unconditional is as far removed from the totality as it is from the individual. What is called for is a theism that has nothing in common with the customary semi-deism of the churches, a theism that says simply that the Unconditional is—the Unconditional. There is no theoretical necessity for this attitude either. It is possible to focus one's attention upon the system of conditioned


realities and to affirm it in this its character, as the autonomous self does. It is possible to disregard the relation to the unconditionally real inherent in everything that is, and to regard only the existence and form of objective reality, for everything in the world has the form of existence as well as of objectivity. This is possible without any theoretical reservation, since the Unconditional is at no time and at no point an object of theoretical contention. On the basis of theory it can be neither defended nor rejected. Nor does it venture into the arena of conflict over existential judgments, over questions of existence (Dasein) or non-existence (Nichtsein). If by renouncing the reality of God, however, one has once arrived at a reality of the world which is by intention independent of the divine-in substance, it can never be so—then there is no way back to the reality of God. For God is either the beginning or he does not exist.

c. Under domination by the concept of religion, religion is founded upon culture, either as a separate cultural function or as the synthesis of the cultural functions. This is fully analogous to the deistic and pantheistic conception of God. Yet there is a function of the spirit which neither stands alongside the other functions nor is their unity, but rather comes to expression in and through them, namely, the function of unconditionality. It is the root function, that function in which the spirit breaks through all of its forms and penetrates to its ground. For that reason it is not (properly) a form of the spirit and can only paradoxically be called a function. Phenomenologically expressed, there is a class of acts which originates out of a depth in which the contrast between one act and another is transcended. Consequently, the acts of this category can only take on a specific character by breaking into the medium of consciousness. Essentially, however, this is nothing other than the relation to the Unconditional inherent in


every act. There is, therefore, no special religious function alongside the logical, aesthetic, ethical and social functions; nor is it confined either in one of them or in the unity of them all. It is rather that which breaks through each and all of them, and it is the reality, the unconditional significance of each of them. Just as things are the medium of the Unconditional in the world, so culture is the medium of the Unconditional in the life of the spirit.

On this basis we most emphatically reject the view that through religion a new value is introduced into a system of values. There are no values of holiness as such. The Holy is rather that which gives the values their value, the conditionality of their validity and the absoluteness of their relation to reality. Philosophy of religion is, therefore, under no condition a supplement to the philosophy of the spirit (Geistesphilosophie) or to the philosophy of values. In this instance as well, the Unconditional does not enter into the discussion of conditioned realities. The quality of holiness or the function of unconditionality can be absent without causing the slightest change in the system of values. Granted, here as everywhere, it can only be absent with respect to intention and not with respect to substance. For if it were absent in substance, thinking would be without truth, intuition without reality, action without purpose, community without vitality. Its presence, however, need not be intended. The human spirit can concern itself with the autonomy of its functions, whose forms it penetrates throughout, but whose root in reality it fails to touch. Through an autonomous self the spirit can produce autonomous culture in an autonomous universe. In doing so, however, it has blocked its own way to God. Within the realm of autonomous culture there can be at best—religion.

It is at this point that the dialectic of the concept of religion is to be made fully clear. As soon as consciousness directs itself


toward the Unconditional, the duality of act and object arises. Yet, a religious act is no special act; it can only become actual in other acts of the spirit. That is to say, it must give these other acts a formation in which their religious quality is visible, and that formation is paradox, i.e., the simultaneous affirmation and negation of autonomous form. Religious thinking-and intuitive perception is thus a mode of thinking-is a "perceiving" (Anschauen) in which the autonomous forms of thought and intuition are simultaneously employed and shattered. The same holds true for the moral a~d social forms.

Thus, in the presence of the Unconditional, knowing is inspiration, intuitive perception is mystery, acting is grace, and community is the kingdom of God. These are all paradoxical concepts, i.e., concepts that immediately lose their meaning when construed objectively. Understood as a sort of supernatural transmission of knowledge, inspiration becomes a plain contradiction; mystery, understood in the sense of a real material presence of the Unconditional within the conditioned, becomes a meaningless statement; grace, understood as a supernatural impartation of power, becomes ethical nonsense; and the kingdom of God, conceived as material grandeur, becomes a utopia of mechanistic thinking. In each case the paradox has been replaced by supernaturalism, i.e., the attempt to make a conditioned reality unconditional. But corresponding to supernaturalism there is always a naturalism which attempts to eliminate the Unconditional entirely.

Yet religion can do nothing other than work with these concepts. In order to make any statements at all, it must objectify. Its desire to make assertions is its holiness; the necessary objective character of all its assertions is its secularity. Only when religion sees through its own dialectic and gives all honor to the Unconditional, can it be justified. Where it fails to do this, religion debases


the Unconditional and leads it within the arena of controversy concerning conditioned realities, where it must of necessity be overcome. Religion then becomes a cultural phenomenon that has lost all connection with the Unconditional, a way of thinking that no longer knows anything of inspiration as the breakthrough of unconditional reality, an intuition that has lost sense of the mystery of the ground within the forms of things, an acting that in the absence of grace has lapsed into law, a community that has become remote from the breakthrough of unconditional love. This is one possibility for religion. The other is a religion that has made supernatural laws of all these concepts, objectifying the paradox and rendering the Unconditional finite. Such is the state of the human spirit under the domination of the concept of religion Conquering the spirit of that concept means the redemption of religion from the fate of objectification, redemption of culture from the fate of secularization, and the Unconditional breaking through every mode of relativization.

d. Under domination by the concept of religion, revelation is based upon the autonomous life of the spirit, whether this be in the sense of a revealed religion of reason or in the sense of a history of religion. In this way the absolute divine act becomes a relative evolution of man's religious spirit. Religion, however, does not seek religion, not even absolute religion, but rather it seeks redemption, revelation, salvation, regeneration, life and consummation; it wants the t10conditionally Real, it desires God. It calls true religion that in which God manifests himself, and false religion that in which he is sought in vain. But the concept of religion cannot acknowledge such distinctions, not even in the veiled form of experienceable versus non-experienceable religion. The concept of religion is a leveler, putting the divine and the human on the same plane. Thus, whenever one particular religion


is made unconditional, this is already a result of the concept of religion, already a relativizing of the Unconditional. As religion, every religion is relative, for every religion objectifies the Unconditional. As revelation, however, every religion can be absolute, for revelation is the breakthrough of the Unconditional in its unconditionality. Every religion is absolute to the degree that it is revelation, i.e., insofar as the Unconditional manifests itself within it as something unconditional, in contrast to everything relative that belongs to it as religion.

Yet it is the character of every living religion that it carries within itself a constant opposition to its own religiosity. Protest against objectification is the pulse beat of religion. Only where this is lacking does it no longer contain anything absolute. It has then become mere religion, completely human. The typical protest of living religion against its objectification has taken three forms: mysticism, predestination, and grace. Mysticism penetrates to the paradoxical meaning of every statement about the Unconditional. It seeks unity with that which is absolutely objective, with the abyss, with the transcendent (Uberseienden), with pure "nothingness" (Nichts). It knows, furthermore, that this union can only be brought about by the Unconditional; it knows that it is a matter of grace. Nevertheless, it prepares itself to become worthy of grace, and for that end it both utilizes the forms of religion and creates forms of its own. It never leaves the soil of religion, and that is its limitation. Predestination, on the other hand, ascribes all activity on behalf of the salvation of the individual and of humanity to God. Neither religion nor the church is a precondition for election or the kingdom of God. They are at best divinely ordained mediations of those ends. As a result of this, their significance diminishes; and because the divine decree takes place in secret, all human religious activities and representations are devaluated and


soon approach the point where they completely cease and pass over into secular cultural activity. That is the danger of placing the religious element entirely within the sphere of the hidden and absolute. The third form is concrete grace. To be sure, mysticism and predestination also live from grace. However, concrete grace also locates salvation completely in the Unconditional, but in its concrete, historical self-manifestation and not in its abyss, not in its hidden will. Consequently, it issues in a vigorous affirmation of the religious and ecclesiastical media, of the mediator and means of revelation, of prayer and living fellowship with God. But this view almost inevitably goes astray at this point by elevating these media into an absolute status and thus the revelation of grace becomes a religion of the means of grace.

Each of these three forms in which religion is overcome within religion is characterized by the same dialectic as religion itself. They can set themselves in the place of God. For that reason it is likewise false to make these forms into an absolute religion. They are forms of expression for the absolute element in every living religion, but as soon as they become forms of religion they themselves become relative. Absolute religion is to be found in all religions. True religion exists wherever the Unconditional is affirmed as the Unconditional, and religion is abolished through its presence.

The presence of true religion is generally hidden. It becomes manifest "now and then" in the form of the great mystical or prophetic reactions against mere religion. The degree to which a religion is open to such reactions determines its relative rank. Absolute religion is never an objective fact, but rather a momentary and vital breakthrough of the Unconditional. God himself demonstrates what absoluteness is by shattering the claim of religion to absoluteness, not through skepticism or the history of


religion, but by revealing his unconditionality, before which all religion is nothing.

Thus here, too, the sustaining element is the Unconditional, and God's activity is the substance without which religion cannot exist. But religion can ignore this. It can consciously or unconsciously leave this substance untouched and devote attention to its own autonomous forms. Religion can become autonomous and selfsufficient, far removed from God. And it can consummate the idolatry by calling itself absolute religion.

The justifiability of the four objections religion raises against philosophy of religion has now been acknowledged. But it does not follow from this that philosophy of religion must be abolished for the sake of religion. Instead, an attempt has been made to establish a philosophy of religion upon the demands contained within these objections, i.e., a philosophy of religion that starts with the Unconditional rather than the conditioned, with God rather than religion. The fate of philosophy of religion, as well as the attitude of the life of the spirit toward religion, does not rest upon the success or failure of this present endeavor, but rather upon the success or failure of some such undertaking in general. We confront the following alternatives: either the dissolution (Aufhebung) of religion through culture, or the breakthrough of the unconditionally real as the ground or reality of the whole of culture in all its functions. The manner in which this breakthrough could be effected within the scientific realm should be indicated by the thoughts expressed in this essay. There can be no doubt for me concerning the objective (viz. breakthrough), but the form of these ideas presented here is simply an attempt and nothing more.


4. The Dialectic of Autonomy

Everything said thus far had basically one goal. It was to prepare the way for a state of mind in which the self-certainty of the conditioned was shattered before the certainty and reality of the Unconditional. My main concern was not to solve a theoretical problem, but rather to indicate a spiritual situation towards which, I am convinced, the course of spiritual development fatefully moves. Thus it is all the more needful to render an account of the methods of thought which we have employed. Two points must be considered: a particular method and a particular philosophy of history, or a logical presupposition and a metaphysical one.

a. The method employed throughout the essay but especially in the analysis of self-certainty, may be described as a criticalintuitive method. It proceeds from the conviction that neither the critical nor the intuitive method alone is capable of solving the central problem of philosophy of religion, and hence also of philosophy of culture-namely, the question concerning the ultimate meaning and reality of every actual thing. The critical method fails because under no circumstances can it get beyond the forms of the given to the given itself. The intuitive method fails because it is so immersed in every possible given that it must completely disregard the form of givenness. The critical method cannot grasp the "whatness" of things; the intuitive method cannot grasp their "thatness." In considering the problem of reality the critical method loses the reality itself, and becomes formalism. Because of its immediate intuition of what is actual the intuitive method loses sight of the problem of reality, and becomes romantic and reactionary. But the problem of the Unconditional is to determine the point where the distinction between existence and essence is tran


scended, and for that purpose the employment of these methods alongside each other is impossible. To approach that point it is absolutely imperative to have a method in which the other two are united, namely, a "critical-intuitive" method. When this demand has been fully realized, an adequate name for the method will also emerge. But it seems to me to consist essentially of the following elements: it finds its basis in the critical method, and starts from the functions of the spirit considered as the forms in which all things are given. It turns back upon itself, however, and sees that all these forms are empty unless they are filled with the import of something unconditionally real which cannot be grasped either by any single form or by the totality of all forms. That which gives meaning to all things is not itself a meaning, nor is it the totality or even the infinity of meaning. That which is the "real" (Reale) in all things is not itself a reality, nor is it the totality or even the infinity of the real. The perception of this, however, is no longer a matter of criticism but of intuition. Where criticism establishes its boundary concepts (which are testimony to its own limitedness), there intuition perceives the unconditionally real that constitutes the root of reality from which all criticism lives. Indeed, it intuits this root not beyond those boundaries set by criticism, but precisely in the midst of the critically defined realm. Intuition is the method appropriate to paradox, to the constant breakthrough and annulment of form for the sake of the reality within it. Neither formlessness nor domination by an alien form can be tolerated to break through the critically defined form, for that would be a renunciation of all methodical inquiry, and hence of philosophy. Rather, in full affirmation of autonomous critical form, the import of the Unconditional is to break forth and sharter form, not formlessly but paradoxically. Life within this highest of tensions is life from God. Intuition of this infinite paradox is thinking about God;


and if it is methodically developed, it becomes philosophy of religion or theology. Of course, no one can be systematically compelled to employ this method, as in the case of the merely critical method. It is possible to live and think without discerning the roots out of which one does so. It is possible to make the Unconditional into a boundary concept, or an ideal concept, or something similar; it is possible to push it to the side and to remain within the autonomy of mere form. All this is possible, but the result is self-destructive. That leads us to the second point, concerning philosophy of history.

b. A spiritual situation may be termed "theonomous" in which all forms of the spiritual life are an expression of the unconditionally real breaking through within them. They are forms, in other words, laws, and therefore, theonomous. But they are forms whose meaning does not lie within themselves, laws which grasp that which breaks through every law, and therefore, theonomous. In certain periods, e.g., the medieval period in the West, this spiritual situation was almost actualized. As soon as a theonomous period approaches its end, it attempts to preserve those forms which were once the adequate expression of its import. These forms, however, have become empty. If they are maintained through authority, heteronomy results. Heteronomy always emerges out of a religion that has lost God and has become mere religion. But then autonomy springs up in opposition to heteronomy. It is always in reaction against that autonomy of mere religion which seeks to subject all of culture to its heteronomy. The autonomy of religion over against God produces the autonomy of culture over against religion. The close of the Middle Ages is typical of this spiritual situation. Autonomous culture is justifiably opposed to religion. Logical form has the right to oppose an erstwhile paradoxical form that has been divested of its meaning and


now, as mere contradiction, seeks to overthrow the claims of logic. In this conflict the victory of autonomous form, whether in the logical or aesthetic, the legal or ethical sphere, has been determined from the outset. This victory signifies an insight into the objective forms of things; it signifies an exact scientific discipline, and technical-rational control of the world.

The victory is, nevertheless, a costly one. The right of auton• omy over against heteronomy becomes unjustified over against theonomy, for autonomous form is law. Things can be made technical and rational through law, but it is impossible to live under the law. When the Unconditional is grasped only as the unconditional validity of logical, ethical or aesthetic form, life is destroyed. For the Unconditional is then a judge that condemns every individual form because it fails to fulfill the law, because it fails to attain the conditionality of the Unconditional. For this reason, every period of autonomy necessarily breaks down. By means of its formal unconditionality it can rationalize and destroy everything living, but it cannot create a single content of life. It loses truth and remains in the empty form of identity; it loses personality and remains in the empty form of "thou shalt"; it loses beauty and remains in the empty form of synthesis; it loses community and remains in the empty form of equality. But every desperate struggle to fulfill these forms, in the logical as in the ethical realm, in thought as well as action, only expresses the tragedy of autonomy.

This struggle is overpowering in magnitude, and this tragedy shakes the very foundations. Out of these times of struggle great individual cultural creations have issued. Yet such periods terminate in a vacillation between pretentious rationalism and despairing skepticism in the logical sphere, and between Pharisaism and lawlessness in the ethical sphere. Autonomy breaks apart into legal


ism and antinomianism. Life remains viable only for those who evade the great tensions of the human spirit and utilize the autonomous forms for technical and tactical purposes in science and economics, in politics and art. They already have their reward; but the reward of the spirit that perseveres is the Unconditional breaking through all forms, not as law but as grace, as fate, as an immediately given overpowering reality-as, for example, it was granted to antiquity in the dual form of Neoplatonic mysticism on the logical level and Christianity on the ethical.

The theme of cultural history is the struggle between theonomy and autonomy. Theonomy is victorious so long as it remains a living breakthrough, so long as the paradoxical is experienced as paradox. But it is the fate of theonomy ever and again to transform the living paradox into an objective contradiction. Then out of the struggle against this heteronomous end of theonomy there emerges victoriously an autonomy of form, only to come in due course to its own fate of dissolution. This philosophy of history is not to be understood in a mere seriation sense, for this conflict rages in every moment of the history of the spirit. But the victory or defeat of one or the other of these spiritual possibilities does produce a sequence or philosophy of history which applies not only to the cross-section of single historical moments or periods, but also to the longitudinal development of history.

We have observed the struggle of autonomy and theonomy within the philosophy of religion. That is the place where the conflict is most visible. In its development philosophy of religion is itself a part of this struggle. It can be philosophy only because the autonomous development has provided it with forms. But it can be philosophy of religion only when theonomy provides it with import, with rootage in the Unconditional. But that can happen only if it escapes domination by that concept which is the character


istic symbol of an autonomous period that has turned away from God, namely, the concept of religion. That can happen only if philosophy of religion perceives that God and not religion is the beginning and end, the center of all things. It can happen only if it realizes that every religion and every philosophy of religion loses God the moment it forsakes this ground: lmpossibile est, sine deo discere deum. God is known only through God!