Nov 16, 2020 in Literature

Romantic Spirit

The Romantic Age from a Biblical Worldview

The ideological system of the Renaissance gave rise to the two very different cultural movements, which were destined to define the characteristics of Western thought. One of them was the Enlightenment, which focused on rational and empirical science and skeptical secularism. Another one was the Romantic age, which sought to express those aspects of human experience, which were ignored or rejected by the militant spirit of the Enlightenment (The History Guide). Its first appearance was connected with the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau and received its development owing to Goethe, Schiller, Herder, and the German Romantics movement. This movement announced itself in a loud voice at the end of XVIII - early XIX centuries and since then, it has remained a powerful force in the Western culture and western consciousness due to the ideas of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Holderlin, Schelling, Schleiermacher, the brothers Schlegel , Madame de Stael , Shelley, Keats, Byron, Hugo, Pushkin, Carlyle, Emerson, and others. The romantic temperament had much in common with its opponent - the Enlightenment, so that it can be said that their complex interaction laid the foundations of modern consciousness. Both of them tended to stick to humanism in appreciation of the abilities and concerns of mans relation to the universe. Both of them saw in this world and in the nature the possibilities for human action and creativity. They both showed sensitivity to the phenomena of the human mind and the nature of its hidden mechanisms. They both found in ancient culture an inexhaustible source of revelations and values. They both were deeply imbued with the Promethean spirit - in their rebellion against the oppression of traditional values??, the glorification of the individual human genius, and their brave exploration of the new vistas.


However, there was a great difference between them. In contrast to the spirit of the Enlightenment, the Romantic spirit perceived the world not as an atomic machine, but as a single organism, and extolled not the unenlightened mind, but the inexpressibleness of inspiration and raised on the shield not a clear predictability of static abstractions, but the inexhaustible drama of human life. If the Enlightenment praised the person for his/her unrivaled intelligence and intellectual capacity to comprehend the laws of nature, the romance estimated a person for their creative and spiritual aspirations, depth of their feelings, artistic imagination, and ability of personal expression. The attitudes to religion presented by the Enlightenment and the Romantic age were also different. Both movements had the Reformation as their source, so both of them were characterized by individualism and religious freedom, but each of them gave them own interpretation. The spirit of the Enlightenment rebelled against the shackles of ignorance and superstition, imposed by theological dogma and belief in supernatural, and replaced them by the empirical and rational knowledge. Religion either was completely rejected or received the shape of rationalistic deism or the ethics of natural law. The romantic attitude to religion had more complex nature. They also rebelled against traditional hierarchical precepts of religion, the forcible imposition of faith, and the moralistic narrowness.

However, religion was the main and most persistent element of the Romantic spirit, whether it took the form of transcendental idealism, neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, pantheistic mystery religions, Christian mysticism, theosophy, esoteric, religious existentialism, neo-paganism, shamanism, or other (Dawson). The Romantic notion of the sacred was an unshakable category, while it did not have any sense for the Enlightenment. Almost all the representatives of the Romanticism went through a religious crisis in different degrees of intensity: Schlegel, Novalis, Jacobi, Schleiermacher, Fichte, and Shelling. They subjected religion to a deep evaluation. They saw it as the way from the finite to the infinite. The Romanticism rediscovered nature as a strong life-giving power, as God. The deistic notion of the divine as an Intelligence, Higher Mind was replaced by pantheism (God is everything), and the new kind of religiosity. The hatred of tyrants, the exalted freedom, the strong, indomitable passion, the solid and uncompromising characters they all have become the distinctive feature of the romantic century. Nature became a giant organism and a mobile game of forces with the divine power.

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Moreover, the very art, music, literature, drama, and painting, received in a Romantic mind almost religious status in the world that science has made mechanical and soulless. For the romance, the search for beauty for its own sake has gained extraordinary psychological significance. Art became a unique point of contact between the natural and the spiritual sources, and for many intellectuals of that time disillusioned with religion, art has become the main outlet and spiritual salvation. The problem of grace, or - what seemed to be the same - a mystery of inspiration, has become a very important subject for artists, composers, and writers, not theologians. Even secular-minded people admired the artistic imagination and honored the humanistic tradition of art and culture. Religion has become a mandatory element of the Romanticists life, but not in the form of traditional prayers, worship, and so on, but in the form of a deep intimate and mystical experiences, which belonged to only one man and God.

As an example, let us focus on the religious beliefs of Wolfgang Goethe. Goethes religious beliefs came out of his mental attitude to life. From his childhood, he wanted to create his own religion. He knew and deeply honored the Bible, but not as a religious, but as a historical and literary monument. The more he became acquainted with the natural sciences and arts, the more he removed from conventional religion. Because of this, he has received the nickname The Great Gentile. His final religion was pantheism, which is the doctrine that the faceless God is spilled all over the universe and is inseparable from it. This is the creative activity that generates and maintains nature. It must also be added that Goethe believed in the immortality of the soul and thought much of the ethics of Christianity. He believed that the purpose of life was the all-round development of the individual abilities and their use for the benefit of the people.

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If to consider the Romantic age from the religious point of view, it must be said that the Romanticism is an original reinterpretation of the Christian religion. The essence of this rethinking is that religion becomes a mystical experience of the human soul that sees the divine in everything that surrounds it, namely in the Nature. This is the so-called pantheism, which, unlike deism, denies the existence of a transcendent God existing independently from the world of people. Pantheism deifies Nature, which is endowed with divine status. This mystical religion permeates the various fields of art and culture and considers Art as the way for people to merge with the divine. The feature of the religious perception of the world offered by the romantics was in the deification of nature, its beauty and harmony; thus, in the deification of human as created by nature. In the religion presented by the Romantics, the main importance has not the reverence for the Christian holidays, traditions, and customs, but the state of inner admiration for the divine beauty of nature, its boundless harmony and grandeur.


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