Quotations from Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788)
Selected and translated by Ellen Myers
1 Speak that I may see Thee! This desire was fulfilled by creation which is a speech to the creature by the creature; for day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge; there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard, their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
2. The book of creation [Genesis] contains examples of general concepts which God wanted to reveal to the creature by the creature, the books of the covenant contain examples of secret articles which God wanted by man to man. The unity of the Originator is mirrored even in the dialects of His works in all there is One sound of measureless height and depth! A proof of the most glorious majesty and the most abject humiliation
3. Finally God crowned the sensible revelation of His glory by the masterpiece of man. He created man in the image of God in the image of God created He him. This counsel of the Originator solves the most tangled knots of human nature and of its destiny.
4. This analogy of man to his Creator distributes to all creatures their content and their character on which loyalty and faith in all nature depends. The more vivid this idea, the image of the invisible GOD (Col 1:15 etc.) is in our awareness; the more able we are to see His generosity in the creatures, and to taste it, to contemplate it and to seize it with our hands. Every imprint of nature in man is not only a memento but a token of the foundation truth Who the LORD is. Every counter-imprint of man upon nature is the letter and seal of our share in God's nature (2 Peter 1:4, Romans 8:29), and that we are of His lineage (Malachi 3:2).
5. No mere potter of plastic forms, but a Father of fiery spirits and breathing powers shows Himself In His entire work.
6. The love of God was the foundation of creation God chose especially the human race, the youngest and smallest, in order to reveal His love in it, and in this love for the grasshoppers of creation to reveal His great and glorious Name to all other kinds, greater worlds, yea, even to the inhabitants and princes of heaven This love caused Him to imprint His image in us in creation God has just this love for each individual human being which He had for the entire human race, because each individual man received His image in creation. The image of your Godhood, however, 0 Lovel is restored only through faith which unites in our souls the grace of God the Father, the love of the Son, and the communion or intimate working of the Holy Spirit.
7. All creation is a trunk which expands into innumerable branches; all humankind taken together must come before us in just this picture, and each individual nation, yea, each man (as) a grain of seed in which lies the entire pattern of all creation.
8. God lets man see and taste His goodness in a thousand forms, in a thousand metamorphoses, which are nothing but the outer shells of His goodness which flows through the entire creation as the foundation of its existence and blessedness.
9. God created, 'flatter and form. The existence and determination of the same, so that nothing became something, and this something everything which He willed. How can we express this in words when we are not in a position to conceive it in the least.
II. God's Self-Revelation to Man: Scripture and Providence in Nature and History
1. God an Author the inspiration of this book [the Bible] is lust as great a condescension and humiliation of God as the creation of the Father and the Becoming Human of the Son. Meekness of heart is therefore the only state of conscious awareness which is fit for reading the Bible, and the most indispensable preparation for the same.
The Creator is denied, the Redeemer crucified, and the Spirit of Wisdom has been slandered. The word of this Spirit is lust as great a work as the creation and just as great a mystery as is the redemption of man, yea, this word is the key for the works of the former and the mysteries of the latter. The summit of atheism-mongering and the greatest sorcery of unbelief is therefore the blindness to recognize God in the Revelation and the crime to despise this means of grace. As little as an animal is able to read the fables of an Aesop, or a Phaedrus and a La Fontaine; but should it be able to read them, it would not be able to render as bestial judgments about the meaning of the stories and their aptness as man has criticized and philosophized about the book of God.
2. We see our custom to explain the works of God by natural causes in the example of those who attributed the finger of the Holy Spirit to the effect of sweet wine.
3. The Spirit of God is the historian of the Bible we must see Him brood above the waters, or else we will find nothing but desert, emptiness and darkness in the depth.
4. He who feels the Spirit of God within himself will surely also feel Him in the Scriptures.. . . it was His purpose to please none other but believers, true Christians, by His divine Word. He is not concerned with the unbeliever, no matter how simple or how scholarly he may be, he is excluded for Him; the believer is His confidant; he is fed by the simplest and the most subtle understanding with the same fervent desire, with the same measure, with the same wealth of heavenly truth and supernatural grace.
5. It has pleased God to hide His counsel with us men, to reveal to us as much as is necessary for our salvation and our comfort; but to do this in a way which is intended to deceive the wise men of this world and the masters of the same. This is why God has used things worthless, things contemptible, yea, things which are not, as the apostle says, as instruments of His more secret counsel and hidden well.
6. Would the Spirit of God Himself have needed so many books, have repeated Himself so often, have used such a cloud of testimonies and witnesses, if this had not been made indispensable by our sin, by the greatness of our unbelief?
7. Lord, Thy Word makes us wise even if it had not taught us anything but to count our days. What an illusion, what a nothing they are in our eyes when reason counts them! What an all, what an eternity, when faith counts them! Lord! teach me to number my days 50! may become wise! Everything is wisdom in Your ordering of nature when the Spirit of Your Word unlocks our spirit. Allis a maze, allis disorder, when we want to see by ourselves.
8. Nature is magnificent, who can overlook her? who understands her language? She is dumb, she is lifeless for the natural man. The Scripture, God's Word, is more magnificent, is more perfect, is the nurse who gives us the first food and who makes us strong so that we may gradually walk on our own feet.
9. All appearances of nature are dreams, visions, puzzles, which have their meaning, their secret sense. The books of nature and of history are only ciphers, hidden signs which need the key which the Holy Scripture furnishes and which is the purpose of its inspiration.
10. It belongs to the unity of divine revelation that the Spirit of God, by using the human pens of the holy men impelled by Him. demeans Himself and denudes Himself of His majesty just as much as the Son of God through appearing in the form of a servant, and as the whole creation is a work of the highest meekness. . . Thus if God's way of writing chooses also the silly the shallow the common in order to shame the strength and ingenuity of all profane scribblers.' then certainly enlightened, eager eyes armed with jealousy, the eyes of a friend, of a confidant are required to recognize in such disguise the rays of divine glory.
11. Indisputably God has found it more appropriate to His wisdom to tie this closer revelation of Himself first to one single man, thereupon to his family, and finally to a special nation before He wanted to permit (His revelation) to be more general. The reasons for this choice are as little open to our research as why He pleased to create in six days that which His will might just as fitly have made real in one single point of time.
12. Without an individual providence God cannot be regent of the universe nor judge of men and spirits. I am convinced of this truth a priori by the given Word of revelation, and a posteriori by my own and daily experience. The highest Being is in the most essential understanding an individual (person) which cannot be conceptualized or imagined by any other standard but the standard It itself gives, and not in accordance with arbitrary presuppositions of our presumption and our impertinent ignorance.
III. Man Made Whole by God
1. A world without God is a human being without head without heart, intestines or reproductive parts.
2. It is evident how necessarily our self is rooted in its Creator, so that the knowledge of self is beyond our capacity. Indeed, in order to survey its full dimensions, we must penetrate into the very person of the Godhead, which alone can determine and solve the whole secret of our existence.
3. The Christian alone is a human being, a father, a lord over the animals. He alone loves himself, his family, and his goods, because he loves God, Who first loved him. loved him before he existed and loved him after he came to be his enemy. My Lord and my God!
4. Here on this earth (here is no possibility of a metamorphosis or transfiguration into the divine nature, but only the old message of rebirth.
5. Without faith in God which is worked by His Spirit, and without the merit of the only Mediator it is impossible to love ourselves and our neighbors.
6. That which no eye has seen, that which no ear has heard, and that which has not entered into the heart of any man herein consists the only religion which is worthy of a highest Being and is acceptable to Him, and which GOD has prepared of those who love Him.
7. David says: I have seen the end of all perfection; your law is exceeding broad [Psalm 119:96]. In what lovable extension and width we see here our religion and our ethics; in what agreeable, easy liberty we as Christians can use everything, sanctify everything! Every truth of reason and of will in cognition and in deeds, whatsoever is venerable whatsoever is equitable and just whatsoever is pure whatsoever is lovely whatsoever belongs to a good name and good life whatsoever belongs to perfection of public and domestic life whatsoever can give you praise before men looking upon you as Christians make all this the object of your reflection, your investigation, your comparison, your imitation and your actions.
8. This suitability of our religion to all the inclinations, drives and requirements of our nature, this precise relation of its truths and revelations to our greatest needs and smallest imperfections as well as to our highest and most transcendent desires is a source of uncommonly fruitful and fascinating meditations and besides (hat, a more convincing proof that it has the same Author as nature.
9. The foundation of religion lies in our whole existence and beyond the sphere of our cognitive powers which all put together amount to the most coincidental and most abstract mode of our existence.
10. Our dignity is. . . not dependent on understanding, will, and activity, but remains the gift of a higher choice, not an innate, but an acquired merit, yet not self-acquired or independent, but absolutely dependent and precisely for that reason more firm and abiding.
11. This dignity . . presupposes no worthiness or merit of our nature, but is, like our nature itself, a direct gift of grace from the Giver of all things.
12. The beauty of things consists in the moment of their maturation for which God is waiting. He who would taste the blossoms of cherry trees for their fruits would give a bad judgment of them; he who would judge the cool shadow of the trees in accordance with the weather of winter or according to their form in that season wouldiudge quite blindly; yet nevertheless we make such judgments about God's government and its intents and purposes.
IV. History and Philosophy
1. Is not Christianity to be recognized as older than heathenism and Judaism, and has not the Author and Finisher of our faith Himself said: Before Abraham was -
2. Why do you stop at the perforated cisterns of the Greeks and forsake the most living wellsprings of antiquity?
3. If the smallest blade of grass is a proof of God, how should the smallest actions of men mean less? . . Nature and history are therefore the two great commentaries of God's Word, and God's Word, on the other hand, is the only key which will open to us recognition of truth in both.
4. The entire history of judaism was not only prophecy; rather, its spirit was occupied more than that of all other nations, to whom one perhaps cannot deny the analogy of a similar dark divination and anticipation, with the ideal of a saviour and judge, a man of power . . Moses' Pentateuch, the Psalms and the Prophets are full of hints and glimpses of this appearance of. . a star out of Judah, of. . the signs of contradiction in the ambiguous form of His person, His message of peace and joy, His works and pains, His obedience unto death, even death on a cross! (translated by Stephen Dunning)
5. There were godly men among the heathen (and) we should not despise the cloud of these witnesses (as) heaven anointed them as His messengers and interpreters, and ordained them for the very calling among their race which the prophets had among the Jews.
6. As no young sparrow falls to the ground without our God; thus no monument of antiquity has been lost for us which we should have need to bewail. Should not His providence extend to writings in view of the fact that He himself became a writer, and as the Spirit of God was so precise in noting down the value of the first forbidden books which a pious zeal of our religion has sacrificed to fire [Acts 19:18-19]?
7. The entire history of the Jewish people seems. . to be a living. spirit and heart-awakening elementary text of all historical literature (translated by Stephen Dunning)
8. [History is] a sealed book, a concealed witness, a riddle which is not amenable to solution without plowing with another heifer than our reason.
9. God has revealed Himself to mankind in nature and in His Word. The similarities and the relationships between these two revelations have not yet been sufficiently set forth, nor yet distinctly explained, nor yet has their harmony been pursued; in all this a healthy philosophy could open for itself a wide field for investigation.
10. Without faith we ourselves cannot understand creation and nature hence the efforts to exclude God's Word and will, to explain reality by hypotheses and probability, and the many doubts which have been raised about Moses' report.
11. That Moses should have explained himself about nature according to Aristotelian, Cartesian or Newtonian concepts would be just as ridiculous a request as that God should have revealed Himself in the general philosophical language which the stone of the wise has been in so many scholarly heads.
12. Nature is as little subject to blind chance or to eternal laws as all events can be accounted for by characteristics and reasons of state. A Newton as a physicist will be as strongly touched by the wise omnipotence of God as a historian will be touched by the wise government of God.
13. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and His evangelical love is the end and conclusion of wisdom. I know no other starting point than His Word, His oath and His lam and will be, in which consists the entire glory of His old and new Name, a name no creature is able to pronounce.
14. Flesh and blood know no other god besides the universe, no other saviour but a manufactured pseudo-man, no other spirit but the latter. A man cannot receive anything except it be given him
15. The movement of a clock presupposes a proper design of its mechanism and the condition of being wound up. Should our nature in some especially precise way depend upon the Will of a higher Being, then it follows of itself that one would need the concept of that Being in order to explain (our natural; and that the more light we would receive in contemplating this higher Being, the more our own nature would become understandable.
16. We do not owe our happiness to the tree of knowledge.
17. Reason is inclined to serve an unknown God, but infinitely far from knowing Him. She does not want to know Him and even more astounding -when she does recognize Him then she stops serving Him. . . .The Athenians were reverent enough to prostrate themselves to an unknown God; as soon as this unknown God was revealed to them they no longer cared about him.
18. If a mother does not even know what nature is forming in her bowels, how should our reason comprehend anything of what God is working in us, can work in us or will work in us?
19. Our philosophy must Start with heaven and not with the theater of anatomy and the sectioning of a cadaver may the horizon of the reader be opened to the revelation of our lost and restored dignity of the Image of God in man] Here, as far as I know, lie the sources and ground ideas of all true philosophy and history of our divine race and (our) sacred destiny for glory.
20. Our beautiful intellects who deny the Pope his infallibility assure us that something is wrong with religion in order to find us all the more gullible with regard to their own arguments, and they raise the flag of their own infallibility.
21. The opinions of the philosophers are versions of nature, and the propositions of the theologians [are] versions of the Scripture. The Author is the best interpreter of His words; He may speak through creation through events or through blood and fire and smoke, wherein consists the language of the sanctuary.
22. Woe to us if it depended upon us to become creators, inventors and forgers of our future happiness. The first commandment is: Thou shalt not eat, Genesis 2, and the last: Come, everything is ready. Eat, my beloved ones, and drink, my friends, drink to the full. But mathematical certainty? it will be all over with it when heaven and earth pass away. His words, however, will not pass away, nor will their certainty.
Note: The foregoing is an extremely small sampling of Hamann's Christ-centered thought from his voluminous writings and correspondence. As yet most of this great Christian's works have not been translated into English from the original German.
English-speaking readers desirous of learning more about and from Hamann might profitably read the following English-language commentaries: W.M. Alexander, Johann Georg Hamann: Philosophy and Faith (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966) James C. O'Flaherty, Johann Georg Hamann (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979)