Philologia (Con’t.)

  • W. M. Alexander


The task of the Christian thinker does not come to an end with reflection on the Word in the Bible. Nature is also a “book” and history as well: these are filled with “ciphers” — “signs with concealed meaning” — which point to this same word contained therein. The Philologian is a hearer and interpreter of this universal and omnipresent Word.


Mother Nature Philosophical Knowledge Christian Thinker Theological Language True Doctrine 
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  1. 1.
    There is also a possibility that he thought of himself as “John”, one of the “Sons of Thunder” (Mk. 3: 17), having in mind his own passionate spirit. Cf. Hamann to his brother, 21 May 1760.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Apparently he saw a connection between the humility of the Christ girded with a towel and the humility of his father’s occupation (town bather). He would reproduce his father’s work in his own life, being the “metacritic” who would purify (“wash the feet of”) his age.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    “The entire Bible appears to be written precisely for this purpose, to teach us the providence of God in the smallest matters.” (Thoughts on the Course of My Life, II, 46). “Everywhere I see traces of the Providence which guides my every step and shows me the right way” (To Jacobi, 2 June 1787).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    “Which as the sand of the sea dam up the pride of the waves” (To Herder, 25–26 Nov. 1778).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Mention has already been made of Hamann’s interest — in an age which wrote “natural histories” of more worthy subjects — in “the natural history of weeds”! (To Jacobi, 22–23 May 1788).Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    One should “prefer the revelation of His providence in the common events of human life to the unusual and extraordinary” (I, 36). Yet on the other hand Hamann can reverse himself and speak of a Nature whose “exceptions merit our attention just as much as her regularity and design. Wisdom and power lie in her caprices also, which must not be despicable but instructive to us.” (To Jacobi, 22-23 May 1788). These two quotes in juxtaposition should illustrate as well as any the point (discussed in more detail below) that Hamann has in mind something else than an argument from design.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Cf. this passage from the first version of the Flying Letter: “The spirit of observation and the spirit of prophecy are the wings of human genius. To the domain of the first belongs the present; to the domain of the latter belong all things missing, things from the past and in the future” (III, 382).Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    Cf. the discussion in Chapter VI.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    “The creation of the theater [of the world] is related to the creation of man as epic to. dramatic poetry. The former happens through word, the latter through acting” (II, 200)Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    Cf. also this reference in the Clover Leaf of Hellenistic Letters: “In order to understand the present, poetry is of assistance to us in a synthetic, and philosophy in an analytic way” (II, 176). In these contexts “philosophy” probably represents the negative, critical, dissolving, discriminating power of the reason, and “poetry” the positive, uniting, envisioning power in, symbol, image and myth.Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    Elsewhere (and earlier) the contrast was emphasized between nature and the Bible: “God, what wonders in Your redemption! in Your being! in Your properties! Nature disappears before Your word. Here is the most holy; the entire creation is only a vestibule before what we see in this word.” (I, 49). “Nature is glorious; who can overlook it? Who understands its language? It is dumb, it is lifeless for the natural man. But Scripture, God’s Word, the Bible, is more glorious, more complete. It is the nurse which gives us our first food, — milk, and makes us strong enough gradually to walk upon our own feet …” (I, 91).Google Scholar
  12. 2.
    “We still lack a Derham who will uncover for us not the God of naked reason … but the God of the Holy Scriptures in the riches of nature, who will show us that all her treasures are nothing but an allegory, a mythological painting of heavenly systems — just as all events of terrestrial history are shadows of secret actions and unbosomed miracles” (I, 304).Google Scholar
  13. 1.
    “Man enjoys infinitely more than he has need of, and wastes infinitely more than he enjoys. What a prodigal mother Nature is to her children and how great her condescension when she diminishes the scale and proportion of our wants, but sets herself to supply sumptuously the hunger and extravagance of our desires. Must she not be the daughter of a loving and benevolent Father?” (Fragments, I, 298). This God cannot be derived from nature, but, being known, He can be recognized in nature.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    “Just as the whole plan of nature is based upon the outer bodily needs and conveniences of man, so is the entire plan of grace upon the nature, needs and secret claims of our souls and our immortal spirits.” (I, 286).Google Scholar
  15. 1.
    In the middle period of his career, during the time of the writing of the Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage (1775) and Skirts of Fig Leaves (1777), Hamann showed particular interest in the sexual aspect of EROS. Cf. also the last line of a poem he quotes in his notebook: “Wer mich und Ilse sieht im Grase, Sieht in das Centrum der Natur.” (V, 266). Nadler’s thesis (that to Hamann God and the world are a “mystical body” with sex in the middle — cf. Biography, p. 467) is possible if one ignores Hamann’s principles in the interpretation of the EROS-drives of nature. The real issue raised by Nadler is not Hamann’s positive valuation of sex, — this is undeniable — but whether EROS is to be interpreted by the grace of God, or the grace of God by EROS. Hamann’s approach should be clear.Google Scholar
  16. 2.
    “God has given our souls a hunger after knowledge, a longing to know, an unrest when we find ourselves in a dark and obscure place; He has given our souls a thirst of desire which yearns for, which cries out after a Good which we as little know how to name as the deer the fresh water, which we however recognize and lap up as soon as we encounter it.” (I, 162-163).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1966

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. M. Alexander
    • 1
  1. 1.St. Andrews CollegeCanada

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