Rudolf Otto

Rudolf
Otto
1869
1937

German Lutheran Theologian and Scholar of Comparative Religion

Author Quotes

Christianity expresses the mysterious need for atonement or expiation more fully and effectively than any other religion. And in this too, it shows its superiority over others. It is a more perfect religion and more perfectly religion than they, in so far as what is potential in religion in general becomes in Christianity pure actuality?[teachers will have to demonstrate how] the Christian religious experience, how the ?very numen?, by imparting itself to the worshipper, becomes itself the means of ?atonement.

I shall speak, then, of a unique ?numinous? category of value and of a definitely ?numinous? state of mind, which is always found wherever the category is applied. This mental state is perfectly sui generis and irreducible to any other; and therefore, like every absolutely primary and elementary datum, while it admits of being discussed, it cannot be strictly defined.

If we study the world unprejudiced by the naturalistic interpretation, or having shaken ourselves free from it, we are most powerfully impressed by one fundamental phenomenon of all existence: it is the fact of evolution.

Mysticism continues to its extreme point this contrasting of the numinous object (the numen), as the ?wholly other?, with ordinary experience.

Omen has given us ?ominous?, and there is no reason why from numen we should not similarly form a word ?numinous.

So far from keeping the non-rational element in religion alive in the heart of the religious experience, orthodox Christianity manifestly failed to recognize its value, and by this failure gave to the idea of God a one-sidedly intellectualistic and rationalistic interpretation.

The experience is] inexpressible, ineffable... it grips or stirs the human mind. The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its "profane," non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strongest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering.

The magical is nothing but a suppressed and dimmed form of the numinous, a crude form of it which great art purifies and ennobles.

The numinous is thus felt as objective and outside the self.

The small change of popular edification, that soothes itself with the thought that God?s ways are too high for us men? is not simply to note this as an inconceivable paradox, to acknowledge it and bow before it but to recognize that a paradox is essential to the nature of God and even its distinguishing characteristic.

?Numinous dread? or awe characterizes the so-called ?religion of primitive man?, where it appears as ?daemonic dread.? This crudely naive and primordial emotional disturbance, and the fantastic images to which it gives rise, are later overbourne and ousted by more highly developed forms of the numinous emotion, with all its mysteriously impelling power? It may mean evil or imposing, potent and strange, queer and marvelous, horrifying and fascinating, divine and daemonic, and a source of ?energy.

And if we try to limit ourselves to this, in order to find a basis for discussion, it spreads out before us all splendours (sic) of a great nature pantheism, including even the ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful. One thing only it neglects, and that is, to show where its two very different halves meet, and what inner bond unites them. Thus if we are to discuss it at all, we must first of all pick out and arrange all the foreign and mutually contradictory constituents it has incorporated, then deal with Pantheism and Animism, and with the problem of the possibility of ?the true, the good, the beautiful? on the naturalistic-empiric basis, and finally there would remain a readily-grasped residue of naturalism of the second form [the true naturalism defined earlier], to come to some understanding with which is both necessary and instructive.

But naturalism becomes fundamentally different when it ceases to remain at the level of na‹ve or fancifully conceived ideas of ?nature? and ?natural occurrences,? when, instead of poetry or religious sentiments, it incorporates something else, namely, exact natural science and the idea of a mathematical-mechanical calculability in the whole system of nature. ?Nature? and ?happening naturally,? as used by the na‹ve intelligence, are half animistic ideas and modes of expression, which import into nature, or leave in it, life and soul, impulse, and a kind of will. And that speculative form of naturalism which tends to become religious develops this fault to its utmost. But a ?nature? like this is not at all a possible subject for natural science and exact methods, not a subject for experiment, calculation, and fixed laws, for precise interpretation, or for interpretation on simple rational principles. Instead of the na‹ve, poetical, and half mystical conceptions of nature we must have a really scientific one, so that, so to speak, the supernatural may be eliminated from nature, and the apparently irrational rationalized; that is, so that all its phenomena may be traced back to simple, unequivocal, and easily understood processes, the actual why and how of all things perceived, and thus, it may be, understood; so that, in short everything may be seen to come about ?by natural means.

A child does not notice the greatness and the beauty of nature and the splendor of God in his works.

But aesthetics is not religion, and the origins of religion lie somewhere completely different. They lie anyway, these roses smell too sweet and the deep roar of the breaking waves is too splendid, to do justice to such weighty matters now.

Down below the broad, roaring waves of the sea break against the deep foundation of the rock. But high above the mountain, the sea, and the peaks of rock the eternal ornamentation blooms silently from the dark depths of the universe.

Heavy pillars, carved from the rock, bear the roof. Slowly, one's eyes become accustomed to the dim light; then they can make out marvelous representations from Indian mythology carved on the walls.

Here, then, comes in the felt necessity and longing for ‘atonement’, and all the more strongly when the close presence of the numen, intercourse with it, and enduring possession of it, becomes and object of craving, is even desired as the summum bonum. It amounts to a longing to transcend this sundering unworthiness, given with the self’s existence as ‘creature’ and profane natural being.

It is especially in relation to this element of majesty or absolute overpoweringness that the creature consciousness, of which we have already spoken, comes upon the scene, as a sort of shadow or subjective reflection of it. Thus, in contrast to ‘the overpowering’ of which we are conscious as an object over against the self, there is the feeling of one’s own submergence, of being but ‘dust and ashes’ and nothingness. And this forms the numinous raw material for the feeling of religious humility.

The feeling of it [the mysterium tremendum] may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes it ‘profane’, non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of—whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.

The God of the New Testament is not less holy that the God of the Old Testament, but more holy. The interval between the creature and Him is not diminished but made absolute; the unworthiness of the profane in contrast to Him is not extenuated but enhanced. That God none the less admits access to Himself and intimacy with Himself is not a mere matter of course; it is a grace beyond our power to apprehend, a prodigious paradox.

The proof that in the numinous we have to deal with purely a priori cognitive elements is to be reached by introspection and a critical examination of reason such as Kant instituted. We find, that is, involved in the numinous experience, beliefs and feelings qualitatively different from anything that ‘natural’ sense-perception is capable of giving us. They are themselves not perceptions at all, but peculiar interpretations and valuations, at first of perceptual data, and then—at a higher level—of posited objects and entities, which themselves no longer belong to the perceptual world, but are thought of as supplementing and transcending it… The facts of the numinous consciousness point therefore—as likewise do also the ‘pure concepts of the understanding’ of Kant and the ideas and value-judgements of ethics or aesthetics—to a hidden substantive source, from which the religious ideas and feelings are formed, which lies in the mind independently of sense-experience; a ‘pure reason’ in the profoundest sense, which because of the ‘surpassingness’ of its content, must be distinguished from both the pure theoretical and pure practical reason of Kant, as something yet higher or deeper than they.

The truly mysterious ‘object’ is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come upon something inherently `wholly other’, whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in wonder that strikes us chill and numb.

To see this place would truly be worth a trip to India in itself, and from the spirit of the religion that lived here one can learn more in an hour of viewing than from all the books ever written.

God established the world as “A will to existence, to consciousness, to spirit.” He established it, not as complete, but as becoming. He does not build it as a house, but plants it, like a flower, in the seed, that it may grow, that it may struggle upwards stage by stage to fuller existence, aspiring with toil and endeavor towards the height where, in the image of the Creator, as a free and reasonable spirit capable of personality, it may realize the aim of its being.

Author Picture
First Name
Rudolf
Last Name
Otto
Birth Date
1869
Death Date
1937
Bio

German Lutheran Theologian and Scholar of Comparative Religion