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SECTION LX. The Cognizing Spirit.
The self-conscious personality unfolds its life under a variety of forms.—(1) Man is a knowing, a cognoscitive, spirit,—he takes objects spiritually, that is, according to their idea, into himself, and thus makes them his enduring possession. The object of knowledge is truth, and the knowing spirit is capable of attaining thereto. Knowledge is in itself true and does not deceive, for God’s created universe is good, and hence true and in perfect harmony with itself. As a rational spirit, man knows not only the created world but also its divine source,—in fact the essence of rationality consists in the knowledge of God in his existence, his nature, his government, and his will. This God-consciousness, resting upon a self-revelation of God to man, is indeed, as finite knowledge, not capable of thoroughly comprehending the infinite essence of God, yet, with a full consciousness of its own limits, it is nevertheless a true, real, and well-grounded knowledge of the divine, and as such it is the presupposition of morality.
The human spirit is an image of the eternal divine life, though in the form of a temporal life. God, in his eternal life, is eternally self-begetting, self-knowing, and self-loving,42—absolutely his own object; and the finite spirit, reflectively manifesting the life-development of God, has a threefold object upon which its life-movement is directed, namely, itself, the external world and God. Man is God’s image in this threefold relation,—in willing, in knowing, and in feeling; but as, primarily, his reality is given to him, as already existing without his co-operation, hence these three activities appear in another and chronologically different order of succession, as knowing, feeling, and willing. Thus the finite spirit knows (takes cognizance of), feels (loves) and wills both itself, the objective world and God; and, as the life of a created being is a progressive development whose spiritual significance lies before it as a goal or purpose,—as something not as yet fully real, but rather as to be won by effort,—hence the threefold life of the spirit has also a threefold end, namely, truth, happiness, and the good; and it is only in the perfect attaining of this threefold end that the image of God in man perfects itself,—that the highest good is realized. But as the perfection of created things consists in the fact that they perfectly correspond to the divine creative idea, so the perfection of knowledge, feeling, and willing, and consequently of truth, of happiness, and of the good, consists in their so relating to God that all finite objects are known, willed, and loved only in God and as relating to him. God himself is the truth, the good and love, and whatever falls under this threefold notion, does so only in so far as it is rooted in and in harmony with God.
Man, as created good by God, must have the capacity perfectly to attain to this good state which is divinely proposed to him as his life-goal. Hence his knowledge cannot be deceptive, but must have the truth as its contents. The world would not be good, would not be in harmony, if the intellectual images of objects in the knowing spirit were not true to the originals,—if the thought as objectively real were essentially other than the subjective one. What Christ promises to his followers: “Ye shall know the truth” [John viii, 32], must also be fully applicable to man per se; redemption is in fact essentially a restoration of the lost perfection; God wills that all men should “come unto the knowledge of the truth” [1 Tim. ii, 4]. The destination of man to know the truth is 43expressed in Gen. ii, 19, 20. God brought the beasts to Adam in order “to see what he would call them,” that is, how he would distinguish them from himself and from other objects,—form of them a definite, generically-characterizing notion; the name is an expression of the obtained notion;—and whatsoever he severally called them, “that was the name thereof;”—this is not a mere experiment on the part of God, but, on the contrary, a divine guaranty for the truthfulness of human knowledge, and at the same time for the freedom of the same. God himself brings before man the outer world; thereby he guarantees to him that his knowledge is legitimate, true, and reliable; and it is not God who gives names to the objects; man himself does it, and freely; the knowing (taking cognizance) of the truth is a free, and hence a moral activity; and this calling by name, this definite, distinguishing knowing, is sealed by God as truthful,—“that was the name thereof;” man’s free knowing is not to be mere empty play, but to have a reality as its contents; and the spiritual significance of things is to find its goal only in its being spiritually appropriated by man. Our knowledge of the objective world is not to remain a mere sensuous beholding, as with the brute, but is to rise beyond that stage into the sphere of ideas; this is for us a moral duty, and one which has a divine promise. Thus the first man takes cognizance of, and names, also the woman, his created helpmeet [Gen. ii, 23]; and Eve, as well as Adam, recognizes the divine will and distinguishes it from her own as owing obedience to the former [Gen. iii, 2, 3]; in the one case as well as in the other, there is manifested at the same time a definite self-consciousness as different from the objective consciousness.
The relation of our knowledge to God is of course quite different from its relation to the world. While all worldly being may, as created, be also ultimately fully known and comprehended by man, on the contrary the infinite and eternal being and essence of God is, for the essentially limited human spirit, a thought never fully to be grasped; and the incomprehensibility of God [Psa. cxlvii, 5; Isa. xl, 28; lv, 8, 9; Job xi, 8; Rom. xi, 33] is a Christian doctrine by no means to be rejected. But this incomprehensibility does not preclude a 44very essential and true knowledge, otherwise were all Godlikeness in man a mere empty rhetorical phrase. Even as the eye is unable to take in the entire ocean, and nevertheless has a very definite intuition of its existence and peculiarities, so likewise is the finite spirit unable to take in the infinite, to fathom it in its bottomless depths, and yet it is able with constantly increasing clearness to attain to a true knowledge not only of the existence but also of the nature of God,—not, however, by means of the understanding, which relates to and is exclusively occupied with the finite, but by means of the reason, which relates essentially to the infinite. As all created being is a reflection of God, and as man is his image, hence the type leads directly to an (imperfect it may be, but yet) true knowledge of the prototype [Rom. i, 19, 20; Col. iii, 10]. The assumption that man can know of God only that he is, and what he is not, but not what he is, is self-contradictory and unbiblical; a merely negative knowledge is no knowledge at all, and of that of whose nature I know nothing I cannot affirm even, that it is. The Evangelical Church very strongly emphasizes primitive man’s capability of attaining to a knowledge of the truth, even in relation to the divine nature; the Apologia (i, § 17, 18) ascribes to him sapientia et notitia dei certior, “a correct and clear knowledge of God.” Skepticism may readily find excuse for itself outside of Christianity, but what holds good of man as estranged from God, does not hold equally of him who is in communion with that God who is himself the truth; and hence within the Christian world, skepticism has no longer any reason of existence. Also the assertion of Kant, that the object per se remains hidden from human knowledge, and that all knowledge of reality has, in the sphere of pure reason, only a formal and subjective validity, is in direct contradiction to the Christian world-view, which expresses a much greater confidence in the harmony of the universe. The perfect man and the Christian can do more than “conjecture and presume;” for, “the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord” [Prov. xx, 27].—That man’s first God-consciousness should rest on an objective self-revelation of God, was a necessary condition to his spiritual education toward finding the truth for himself.45
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