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The Philosopher’s Ripest Life Thought

Let us now see how the truths we have already set forth stand in reference to the thought of the philosopher Fichte. Truth, the highest truth, and truth for its own sake, was the one supreme object of his life. And in order to discern this clearly himself, that he in turn might point it out clearly to others, he stood erect and alone, free from connection with any institution, organisation, or system of thought that would distort or limit his vision and induce him either intentionally or unintentionally to interpret truth by bending it to suit the tenets of the system of thought or the institution to which he might be, even though inadvertently, bound.

It was of Fichte that an eminent English scholar once said: “Far above the dark vortex of theological strife in which punier intellects chafe and vex themselves in vain, Fichte struggles forward in the sunshine of pure thought which sectarianism cannot see, because its weakened vision is already filled with a borrowed and imperfect light.”

It is, moreover, always of value to know how the truth that one finds and endeavours to give to others finds embodiment in his own life, for this is the sure and unfailing test of its vitality, if not indeed of its reality. A word or two, therefore, in reference to the life of Fichte may not be inappropriate here, a word or two from the same eminent English scholar quoted above, the translator of his works from the German to the English, for he knew well his life the same as he knew also his philosophy. “We prize his philosophy deeply,” says he; “it is to us an invaluable possession, for it seems the noblest exposition to which we have yet listened of human nature and divine truth; but with reverent thankfulness we acknowledge a still higher debt, for he has left behind him the best gift which man can bequeath to man—a brave, heroic human life.” “In the strong reality of his life,—in his intense love for all things beautiful and true,—in his incorruptible integrity and heroic devotion to the right, we see a living manifestation of his principles. His life is the true counterpart of his philosophy—it is that of a strong, free, incorruptible man.”

And now to a few paragraphs of Fichte’s thought bearing more or less directly upon the theme immediately in hand. After setting forth in a very comprehensive manner the truth in regard to Being, which he identifies with Life much in the same general manner as we have already endeavoured to set it forth, and then after making it clear that by God he means this Infinite Being, this Spirit of Infinite Life, he says: “God alone is, and nothing besides him,—a principle which, it seems to me, may be easily comprehended, and which is the indispensable condition of all religious insight.” “But beyond this mere empty and imaginary conception, and as we have carefully set forth this matter above, God enters into us in His actual, true, and immediate life,—or, to express it more strictly, we ourselves are this His immediate Life. But we are not conscious of this immediate Divine Life; and since, as we have also already seen, our own Existence—that which properly belongs to us—is that only which we can embrace in consciousness, so our Being in God, notwithstanding that at bottom it is indeed ours, remains nevertheless forever foreign to us, and thus, in deed and truth, to ourselves is not our Being; we are in no respect the better of this insight, and remain as far removed as ever from God.”

“We know nothing of this immediate Divine Life, I said; for even at the first touch of consciousness it is changed into a dead World. . . . The form forever veils the substance from us; our vision itself conceals its object; our eye stands in its own light. I say unto thee who thus complainest: ‘Raise thyself to the standing-point of Religion, and all these veils are drawn aside; the World, with its dead principle, disappears from before thee, and the Godhead once more resumes its place within thee, in its first and original form, as Life,—as thine own Life, which thou oughtest to live and shalt live.’ ”

In setting forth how universally Divine Being incarnates itself in human Life, he says: “From the first standing-point the Eternal Word becomes flesh, assumes personal, sensible, and human existence, without obstruction or reserve, in all times, and in every individual man who has a living insight into his unity with God, and who actually and in truth gives up his personal life to the Divine Life within him,—precisely in the same way as it became incarnate in Jesus Christ.”

Speaking, then, of the great fundamental fact of the Truth that Jesus Himself perceived and gave to the world, and also of the manner whereby He came into the perception of it, he says: “Jesus of Nazareth undoubtedly possessed the highest perception containing the foundation of all other truth, of the absolute identity of Humanity with the Godhead, as regards what is essentially real in the former.” “His self-consciousness was at once the pure and absolute Truth of Reason itself, self-existent and independent, the simple fact of consciousness.” Then in showing that Jesus as He is presented to us by the apostle John never conceived of His life in any other light than as one with the Father’s Life, he says: “But it is precisely the most prominent and striking trait in the character of the Johannean Jesus, ever recurring in the same shape, that He will know nothing of such a separation of His personality from His Father, and that He earnestly rebukes others who attempt to make such a distinction; while He constantly assumes that he who sees Him sees the Father, that he who hears Him hears the Father, and that He and the Father are wholly one; and He unconditionally denies and rejects the notion of an independent being in Himself, such an unbecoming elevation of Himself having been made an objection against Him by misunderstanding. To Him Jesus was not God, for to Him there was no independent Jesus whatever; but God was Jesus, and manifested Himself as Jesus.”

To show, then, that this is a universal truth, brought in its fulness, and with a living exemplified vitality, first to the world by Jesus, but by no means applicable to Him alone, he says: “An insight into the absolute unity of the Human Existence with the Divine is certainly the profoundest Knowledge that man can attain. Before Jesus this Knowledge had nowhere existed; and since His time, we may say, even down to the present day, it has been again as good as rooted out and lost, at least in profane literature.”

That we must come into the same living realisation of this great, transcendent Truth that Jesus came into, either through His teaching and exemplified realisation of it, or through whatever channel it may come, he clearly indicates by the following: “The living possession of the theory we have now set forth—not the dry, dead, and merely historical knowledge of it—is, according to our doctrine, the highest, and indeed the only possible, Blessedness.” “The Metaphysical only, and not the Historical, can give us Blessedness; the latter can only give us understanding. If any man be truly united with God, and dwell in Him, it is altogether an indifferent thing how he may have reached this state; and it would be a most useless and perverse employment, instead of living in the thing, to be continually repeating over our recollections of the way. Could Jesus return into the world, we might expect Him to be thoroughly satisfied, if He found Christianity actually reigning in the minds of men, whether His merit in the work were recognised or overlooked; and this is, in fact, the very least that might be expected from a man who, while He lived on earth, sought not His own glory, but the glory of God who sent Him.”

And what in the eyes of Fichte are the results that follow and hence the tests of the genuineness of this higher realisation, this True Religion, as he sometimes terms it? His words in this connection are: “True Religion, notwithstanding that it raises the view of those who are inspired by it to its own region, nevertheless retains their Life firmly in the domain of action, and of right moral action. The true and real Religious Life is not alone percipient and contemplative, does not merely brood over devout thoughts, but is essentially active. It consists, as we have seen, in the intimate consciousness that God actually lives, moves, and perfects His work in us. If therefore there is in us no real Life, if no activity and no visible work proceed forth from us, then is God not active in us. Our consciousness of union with God is then deceptive and vain, and the empty shadow of a condition that is not ours; perhaps the general, but lifeless, insight that such a condition is possible, and in others may be actual, but that we ourselves have, nevertheless, not the least portion in it.”

“Religion does not consist in mere devout dreams, I said: Religion is not a business by and for itself, which a man may practice apart from his other occupations, perhaps on certain fixed days and hours; but it is the inmost spirit that penetrates, inspires, and pervades all our Thought and Action, which in other respects pursue their appointed course without change or interruption. That the Divine Life and Energy actually lives in us is inseparable from Religion, I said.”

To show, then, how completely at one in his or her consciousness this truly religious man or woman becomes, how his or her own personal will is lost in, and so transmuted into, the Divine Will, as also the calmness and tranquillity with which his or her life forever thereafter flows along, he says: “The expression of the constant mind of the truly Moral and Religious man is this prayer: ‘Lord! let but thy will be done, then is mine also done; for I have no other will than this—that thy will be done.”

“This Divine Life now continually develops itself within him, without hindrance or obstruction, as it can and must develop itself only in him and his individuality; this alone it is that he properly wills; his will is therefore always accomplished, and it is absolutely impossible that anything contrary to it should ever come to pass.” “Whatever comes to pass around him, nothing appears to him strange or unaccountable—he knows assuredly, whether he understand it or not, that it is in God’s World, and that there nothing can be that does not directly tend to Good. In him there is no fear for the future, for the absolute fountain of all Blessedness eternally beats him on towards it; no sorrow for the past, for in so far as he was not in God he was nothing, and this is now at an end, and since he has dwelt in God he has been born into Light; while in so far as he was in God, that which he has done is assuredly right and good. He has never aught to deny himself, nor aught to long for; for he is at all times in eternal possession of the fulness of all that he is capable of enjoying. For him all labour and effort have vanished; his whole Outward Existence flows forth, softly and gently, from his Inward Being, and issues out into Reality without difficulty or hindrance.”

Speaking, then, of how we may at once enter into and live in the full realisation of this real life, and also of those who, instead of entering immediately into the Kingdom and thus finding the highest happiness and joy here and now, are expecting to find it in its completeness after the transition we call death, he says: “Full surely indeed there lies a Blessedness beyond the grave for those who have already entered upon it here, and in no other form or way than that by which they can already enter upon it here in this moment; but by mere burial man cannot arrive at Blessedness—and in the future life, and throughout the whole infinite range of all future life, they would seek for happiness as vainly as they have already sought it here, if they were to seek it in aught else but that which already surrounds them so closely here below that throughout Eternity it can never be brought nearer to them in the Infinite. And thus does the poor child of Eternity, cast forth from his native home, and surrounded all sides by his heavenly inheritance which yet his trembling hand fears to grasp, wander with fugitive and uncertain step throughout the waste, everywhere labouring to establish for himself a dwelling place but happily ever reminded, by the speedy downfall of each of his successive habitations, that he can find peace nowhere but in his Father’s house.”

Finally, speaking of how completely doubt and uncertainty are eliminated from the life of him who through the realisation of the Truth we have set forth becomes thereby centred in the Infinite, he says: “The Religious man is forever secured from the possibility of doubt and uncertainty. In every moment he knows distinctly what he wills, and ought to will; for the innermost root of his life—his will—forever flows forth from the Divinity, immediately and without the possibility of error; its indication is infallible, and for that indication he has an infallible perception. In every moment he knows that in all Eternity he shall know what he shall will, and ought to will; that in all Eternity the fountain of Divine Love which has burst forth in him shall never be dried up, but shall uphold him securely and bear him on forever”

Such, then, in general, are fragments of the thought, and, let it be added, the ripest thought, of one who has exerted perhaps as great a direct influence upon the life of his own immediate as well as succeeding ages as any man who has lived in modern times. It is to Fichte that, to a very great extent, Germany owes the splendid educational system it has today. His thought began to exert its influence at the time when the country’s educational system was falling into a state of chaos, and, acting to a greater or less extent through the minds of Froebel and Pestalozzi, his thought has aided in giving to the world one of the truest systems of education it has yet seen. If the truth and vitality of a man’s thought are to be judged by its permanent as well as its immediate influence, surely the thought of Fichte found its life in the realms of the highest Truth, through which alone real vitality comes, for it has exerted and is still exerting a most powerful life-giving influence, an influence, indeed, that will never end.


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