Letters of Frederick Engels

To Friedrich Graeber

Source: MECW Volume 2, p. 476
Written: 29 October 1839
First published: in: F. Engels, Schriften der Frühzeit, Berlin, 1920

Bremen, October 29, 1839

My dear Fritz,

I am not of the same mind as Pastor Stier. — On October 29, after a jolly fair, and one involving a difficult, dreadful correspondence, which by chance went to Berlin, and after a letter to W. Blank, who had to wait a long time, I am at last free for a good friendly tussle with you. You seem to have dashed off your essay on inspiration in a bit of a hurry, for it is hardly to be taken literally when you write: The apostles preached the Gospel in its purity and that ceased after their death. Among the apostles you must in that case also count the author of the Acts of the Apostles and of the Epistle to the Hebrews and prove that the Gospels were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, whereas in respect of the first three the opposite is established. Further you say: I don’t believe that we must look in the Bible for any other inspiration than when the apostles and prophets came forward and preached to the people. Good; but does it not again require inspiration to record those sermons correctly? And if you concede to me in this sentence that there are uninspired passages in the Bible, where will you draw the line? Take the Bible and read — you won’t want to have a line missing except where there are real contradictions; but these contradictions entail a mass of consequences; the contradiction, for instance, that the stay of the children of Israel in Egypt only lasted four generations, while Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians (nisi erro [if I am not mistaken]) gives 430 years [Galatians 3: 17], which even my pastor, [Georg Gottfried Treviranus] who is eager to keep me in the dark, admits is a contradiction. You will not tell me that Paul’s words don’t count as inspired because he mentions the matter incidentally and is not writing history — what do I care for a revelation in which such superfluous and useless things occur. But if the contradiction is acknowledged both may be equally wrong, and Old Testament history appears in an ambiguous light, as in general — everybody admits it, except Pastor Tiele in Oberneuland near Bremen-biblical chronology is hopelessly lost as far as inspiration is concerned. This ranks Old Testament history even more in the realm of mythology, and it will not be long before this is generally acknowledged in the pulpits. — As regards Joshua’s making the sun stand still, the most telling argument you can use is that when Joshua said this, he was not yet inspired, and that later when, being in a state of inspiration, he wrote the book, he only told the story. The doctrine of redemption. — “Man is so fallen that of himself he can do nothing good.” Dear Fritz, please drop this hyperorthodox and not even biblical nonsense. When Börne, who himself had barely enough to live on in Paris, gave all the fees for his writings to poor Germans, for which he did not even get any thanks, that was, I hope, something good? And Börne had certainly not been “born again”. — You don’t need this sentence at all, provided you have original sin. Christ does not know it either, like so much else from the teaching of the apostles. — The doctrine of sin is what I have thought least about, but nevertheless it is clear to me that sin is necessary for mankind. Orthodoxy rightly perceives a connection between sin and earthly deficiencies, disease, etc., but it errs in presenting sin as the cause of these deficiencies, which occurs only in isolated cases. The two, sin and deficiency, condition each other, one cannot exist without the other. And since the powers of man are not divine, the possibility of sin is a necessity; that it actually had to occur was given in the crude stage of the first human beings, and that it has not ceased since is again quite psychological. Nor can it cease on earth since it is conditioned by all earthly circumstances, and God would otherwise have had to create men quite differently. But since He has created them thus He cannot demand of them to be absolutely without sin, but only to fight against sin; that this fight would suddenly cease with death and a dolce far niente would ensue, only the neglected psychology of earlier centuries could conclude. Indeed, if these premises are granted, moral perfection can be achieved only with the perfection of all other spiritual powers, with a merging into the world soul, and there I am with the Hegelian doctrine, which Leo attacked so violently. This last metaphysical sentence is, by the way, the kind of conclusion of which I do not yet know myself what to think. — Further, according to these premises the story of Adam can only be a myth, since Adam either had to be equal to God if he was created so free from sin, or had to sin if he was created with otherwise human powers. — That is my doctrine of sin, which is indeed still enormously crude and incomplete; but what need have I here of a redemption? — “ If God wanted to find a way out between punitive justice and redeeming love, the only means left was substitution.” Now just take a look at yourselves and see what sort of people you are. You reproach us with lowering our critical sounding lead into the depths of divine wisdom, and here you are actually setting limits to divine wisdom. Herr Professor Philippi could not have gone back on himself more flagrantly. And even granted the need of it as the only means — does substitution cease to be an injustice? If God is really so severe with men He must be severe here also and not turn a blind eye. Work this system out for yourself in sharp, definite terms, and the sore points will not escape you. — Then comes a really pompous contradiction to “substitution as the only means” when you say: “A man cannot be mediator even if by an act of God’s omnipotence he were freed of all sin.” So there is another way after all? If orthodoxy has no better representative in Berlin than Professor Philippi it is indeed in a bad way. — Throughout the entire deduction tacitly runs the principle that substitution is justifiable. That is a murderer whom you have hired for your purposes and who afterwards stabs you to death yourselves. Nor do you really want to tackle the job of proving that this principle does not contradict divine justice and, be honest and admit it, you yourselves feel that you would have to prove this against your innermost conscience; so you whisk past the principle and silently take the fact, dressed up in fine words about merciful love, etc., for granted. — “The Trinity is a condition of redemption.” That again is one of those half-true conclusions of your system. Two hypostases, of course, it would be necessary to assume, but the third only because it is traditional to do so.

“But in order to suffer and to die God had to become man, for apart from its being metaphysically unthinkable to postulate in God as such a capacity to suffer, there was also the ethical necessity conditioned by justice.” — But if you admit that it is unthinkable that God should be able to suffer, then it was not the God who suffered in Christ, but only the man, and “a man could not be mediator”. You are still so reasonable that unlike so many here you do not push the conclusion to the extreme point: “hence God must have suffered”, and hold fast to that. And what exactly this has to do with “ethical necessity conditioned by justice” also remains to be seen. If once the principle of substitution is to be granted, it is not necessary that the sufferer should be a man, if he is only God. But God cannot suffer — ergo we are no further than we were before. That is just the trouble with your deduction, at every step I must make new concessions to you. Nothing develops fully and entirely out of what has gone before. So here again I must concede to you that the mediator had also to be man, which has not yet been proved at all; for if I didn’t concede it I couldn’t accept what follows. “But the incarnation could not have taken place by means of natural procreation, for even if God had united Himself with a person born to a mother and father and freed from sin by His omnipotence, He would only have united Himself with that person and not with human nature. — In the body of the Virgin Mary Christ only assumed human nature, the person-forming power lay in his divinity.” — Do please see, this is sheer sophistry and is forced on you by the attacks on the necessity of supernatural generation. In order to put this matter in a different light, the professor interposes a third thing: personality. That has nothing to do with it. On the contrary, the union with human nature is the more intimate the more the personality is human and the spirit which animates it divine. A second misunderstanding here lies hidden in the background. You confuse the body and the person; that emerges even more clearly from the words: “On the other hand, God could not make Himself human quite so abruptly as He did the first Adam, otherwise He would not have stood in any connection with the substance of our fallen nature.” So it is a question of the substance, of the palpable, the corporeal? But the best of it is that the finest reason for the supernatural generation, the dogma of the impersonality of the human nature in Christ, is merely a gnostic consequence of the supernatural generation. (Gnostic, of course, not in reference to the sect but to gnwsis [Gnosis] in general.) If the God in Christ could not suffer, then still less could the impersonal man, and that is what comes of being profound. “So Christ appears without a single human trait.” That is a random assertion; all four Evangelists give a definite picture of the character of Jesus which in most of its features is the same in any of them. Thus we can maintain that the character of the apostle John was nearest to that of Jesus; but now if Christ had no human trait, this implies that John was the most excellent; and that might be a questionable assertion.

Thus far the reply to your deduction. I have not succeeded very well with it, I had no college notebooks, only invoice and account books. So please excuse unclarities here and there. — Your brother [Wilhelm Graeber] has not yet been heard of by letter. Du reste, if you acknowledge the honesty of my doubt, how will you explain such a phenomenon? Your orthodox psychology must necessarily rank me among the most wicked, obdurate sinners, especially as I am now wholly and utterly lost. For I have taken the oath to the flag of David Friedrich Strauss and am a first-class mythic; I tell you, Strauss is a grand fellow and a genius, and with powers of discernment such as nobody else has. He has taken away the ground from under your views, the historical foundation is lost beyond recall, and the dogmatic foundation will go down after it. Strauss cannot be refuted, that is why the pietists are so furious with him; Hengstenberg is making tremendous efforts in the [Evangelische] Kirchen-Zeitung to draw false conclusions from his words and to combine with that spiteful attacks on his character. That is what I hate in Hengstenherg and company. Strauss’ personality is no concern of theirs; but they strain themselves to blacken his character so that people should be afraid to join him. The best proof that they are unable to refute him.

But now I have theologised enough and will turn my eyes elsewhere. How splendid are the discoveries which the Deutsche Bund has made of demagogy and all so-called conspiracies is to be gathered from the fact that they could be printed on seventy-five’ pages. I have not yet seen the book, [218] but have read excerpts in newspapers which show me what precious lies our damned administration dishes out to the German people. The Deutsche Bund alleges with the most brazen effrontery that the political criminals were sentenced by their “legitimate judges”, although everybody knows that everywhere, especially where a public judicature exists, commissions were instituted, and what happened there under cover of darkness nobody knows, for the defendants had to swear not to say anything about the hearing. That is the justice which exists in Germany — and we have nothing, but nothing to complain of! — About six weeks ago there appeared an excellent book: Preussen und Preussenthum by J. Venedey, Mannheim, 1839, in which Prussian legislation, state administration, tax distribution, etc., are subjected to strict scrutiny, and the results are convincing: favours for the money aristocracy against the poor, endeavours to perpetuate absolutism, and the means to do this: suppression of political education, stupefying of the mass of the people, utilisation of religion; outward brilliance, restraintless bragging and a pretence of favouring education. The Deutsche Bund at once took care to ban the book and to confiscate the copies in stock; the last is only a pretence, since the booksellers are at most asked if they have any copies, to which, of course, every decent fellow says: No. — If you can get hold of the book there, do read it, for it isn’t just rodomontades, but adduces proofs from the Prussian Law. — What I would like best of all is if you could get Börne’s Menzel, der Franzosenfresser. This work is without doubt the best we have in German prose, both in respect of style and of power and wealth of thought; it is marvellous; anyone who doesn’t know it will not believe that our language possesses such power. ... [The end of the letter is missing]