The Sophianic Thought of F. W. J. Schelling

By Fadi Abu Deeb

(An Excerpt from an unrevised draft chapter in my ongoing PhD dissertation)


One can plausibly argue that Schelling exercised the strongest influence on Solovyov.  However, this influence should be traced through Solovyov’s texts, line by line, if one is determined to know the magnitude of this influence.  This is mainly because what Paul Valliere calls “Solov’ёv’s nonchalance about citing sources.”[1] But as mentioned previously about Boehme’s influence on Solovyov, it is beyond the scope of this research to trace the details of Solovyov’s appropriation of Schelling’s conceptions.  It will be sufficient for the purpose of this research to introduce what Schelling’s thought about Sophia, the Wisdom of God.

Schelling declares the Absolute as the highest truth, which has no limitation.[2]  He does not differentiate between the Absolute and absoluteness, eternalness and the eternal.[3]  This is why Shelling cannot conceive of God as a personality higher than the Absolute.  Anything like that is nothing more than an illusion.[4]  In this Absolute all differentiations, like subject and object or ideal and real, disappear.[5]  Or as Jacques Matter explains this coneption: “This which is, that which thinks and that which is thought, is one and the same.[6]  From this basic idea, Schelling goes further to understand all that exist as one, i.e. as All-Unity, the natura naturans, because “all that exists is one and the same in its essence, and its essence is essentially life and activity.”[7]  But this is not from the beginning.  The oneness here is a possibility, not an actuality.  The created world, i.e., the natura naturata, is subject to development and becoming, but both these two states of being has one and the same ground, which is the Absolute.[8]

Schelling sees three potencies in the Absolute. The progression from one to another is notional, i.e., logical, not temporal, for “it happens as if by a single blow.”[9]  This triad of potencies consists of the ideal-per-se, the form of the determination of the real by the ideal, and then the real.  Schelling calls this ideal-per-se God, and since the real-per-se cannot be the real of the Absolute, the ideal-per-se, without being another Absolute, Absoluteness seems to have two poles or centers, just to use the terminology of Solovyov.[10]  In fact, Schelling finds a good assistance in Boehme’s notion of the mirror to illustrate how the Absolute can be both subject (idea) and object (real) without being divided.[11]

This reality, which is born from the pure ideality, manifests in multiplicity of forms.  Schelling asserts that this multiplicity is in essence only one idea, because each form is indeed an individual that embodies the unity of the universal with the particular, in a way that none of the two cancels the other.  Schelling emphasizes “the differences exist in the ideas only as possibilities, not as actual differences, for each idea is a universe in itself, and all ideas are but one idea.[12]

As mentioned above, all these processes take place in the logical realm.  So all the previous depictions of multiplicity and particular forms are only ‘manifestations’ in the ideal realm, i.e., the world of possibilities.  Beyond that, Schelling insistently argues that the transition from the logical to the natural is impossible in philosophy.  This is to say that the Hegelian attempt to find a strict “scientific” (i.e., conceptual and strictly dialectic) explanation of the world is doomed to failure from the beginning.[13]  In other words, philosophy cannot determine the logical moment at which reality emerges out of ideality, i.e., nature comes out of God.  This is the task of revelation.  Schelling explains that “]t[here can be no continuous passage into the exact opposite, the absolute privation of all ideality, nor can the finite arise from the infinite by decrements.”[14]  And again he states: “There is no positive effect coming out of the Absolute that creates a conduit or bridge between the infinite and the finite.  Furthermore: Philosophy has only a negative relation to phenomenal objects;…, How could it therefore ascribe to them a positive relationship to God?”[15]

Thus, it becomes clear why Schelling moves toward something that would sound obscure for Kantian or ‘orthodox’ Hegelian thinkers.  He decides, then, that God should be conceded, as we will see with Solovyov later.  Schelling admits this necessity noting that

A principle which is outside and above the world must be conceded to man. For how could he alone of all creatures retrace the long course of developments from the present back into the deepest night of the past, he alone ascend to the beginning of the ages, if there were not in him a principle of the beginning of the ages?[16]

Thus, Schelling decides that philosophy must co-work with theology or revelation, in what he called “Positive Philosophy.”  For him, Christianity is the revelation that he needed to presuppose God in his ‘new’ philosophy.[17]   In this way, Schelling moves towards a more personal concept of God.  Schmitt summarizes Schelling’s doctrine of potencies by which Schelling demonstrates the Trinity as Father, Son and a Spirit.  As Schmitt notes that “for Schelling at this stage in his thought on Trinity, Father refers to God as such in his original and potentially originating unity…. Here this latter reference to Father is to be taken in a wider sense to refer to what today is often called ‘immanent’ Trinity.”[18]  That was the first potency in which resides the second, that is, the potentiality to become real or actual.  In other words, “the second potency is not one which gives rise to but which is given rise to. It is the arising of an essence homogeneous with the first potency but in such a way that it needs to actualize itself.”[19]  This second potency, named by Schelling as “the Son” is re-united to the first potency, the Father, in the third and final potency, which he names “the Spirt”.[20]

Continuing this line of philosophically-theological (or theologically-philosophical) thought, Schelling also finds it necessary to consider and include the concept of fall or falling-away (abfall) in his exposition.  In fact, he had already done that in Philosophy and Religion, wherein he regarded the phenomenal world as a falling-away from the Absolute.[21]  He rejects some of the old views emanation that admits some sort of continuity between the Absolute and the world as well as pantheism (or close to it, since Schelling does not name such opinions) that claims that the natural objects have a direct relation to the divine essence.[22]  Nevertheless, the absence of this direct relation does not mean that the world is essentially different from the absolute.  Schelling seems to be talking about a necessity in the falling-away of the world because of freedom.[23]  When the Absolute “bestows its essentiality on upon it is counter-image, it also bestows upon it its self-dependence,” which is freedom, the last trace of divine origin in the phenomenal fallen-away world.[24]  In order to be as the other Absolute, the world must be fallen-away, i.e., to become absolutely objectified in and for the true (first) Absolute, qua its self-objectification.[25]

This mythological/religious language of the fall is an expression of the necessity of announcing the limits of formal logic and philosophical deduction.  The same should be said about the language used by Solovyov when he addresses the same issue, especially in his work La Russie et L’Eglise Universelle, as it will be seen in the next chapter, which is largely borrowed, as in Schelling’s case, from Gnosticism.

Sophia of Schelling appears in the role of the Soul (as, or the World Soul.  According to De Courten, Schelling revived, in his philosophy, the relationship between the human being and the material world,  and he, in fact, the one who “reanimated the concept of the World Soul,” in the Western philosophy.[26]  In his Philosophy of Mythology, Schelling defines the World Soul as “that what God is and at the same time is different from him.  She is the mediator, who leads the divided and material being to eternal unity.”[27]  But this concept never makes its way into his Philosophy of Revelation. Instead, the concept of Wisdom of the Old Testament appears, although Schelling does not make an effort to figure out a relationship between Wisdom and the World Soul.[28]

But even without Sophia, Schelling attempts at finding a relationship between God and the world through the Son.  He rejects the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, preferring to see Him more related to the creation.  He, however, does not mean that the Son is not eternal.  It is not just the He is not eternally generated.[29]  According to Schelling, “]t[he generation of the Son is both appearance of the world and the Son’s appearance in the world.”[30]   Schelling seems to iterate the dichotomy of the created wisdom and the uncreated wisdom, but this time regarding the Son. Hence, he considers that the Son loses his divinity when he comes out of the Father and becomes (in) the world.  Thus, the Son is divine in essence (uncreated) but he is also worldly in state and works now to return the world to the Father.  Schmitt explains that

]T[he Son is no longer divine for he is no longer in the Father, who is pure being. This obliges the Son to develop on his own and to work to bring the world back to God. He is at work in the world, slowly reestablishing its unity with the Father. In this work the Son reveals to the world not his own but the Father’s will, which he has received from the Father.[31]

In other places, Schelling expresses a similar conceptualization but with different terms, when he addresses the fallen-away soul.  Taking the Absolute, or the idea, as a “producing” ]producirende[ agent that produces the sensate and conditional world, he explains that this producing agent, or the idea, is the same as the soul “insofar as it is destined to produce finiteness and to intuit itself in it.”[32]

Therefore, the depiction here is similar to the one of the Son above: There is a divine essence that emerges to become (in) the finite and then develops back to be re-united with the divine.  This final result schelling calls ”the product”, which is identical with the producing agent.  In other words, the real is identical with the absolute world.  There will be time when both will be restored together.[33]

Thus, Schelling’s sophiology could express itself without always mentioning the World Soul, for sophiology is about the relationship between God and the world, in a way that depicts the existence a bridge between them, even if Schelling sometimes rejects this direct relation between both as mentioned previously.  Thus, the world will come finally to the Father through the Son, realizing its being as kingdom, or rather, realizing the kingdom of God as its divine being.[34]

End notes:

[1] Paul Valliere, ”Solov’ёv and Schelling’s Philosophy of Revelation,” Vladimir Solov’ёv: Reconciler and Polemicist, ed. Wil van den Bercken, Manon de Courten and Evert van der Zweerde (Leuven, Paris, Sterling, Virginia: Peeters, 2000), 119.

[2] F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophy and Religion, trans. Klaus Ottmann, 11.

[3] Solovyov will criticize this idea that submerge the personal in the impersonal.  He will emphasize the Truly Existent as the subject of being, or the thinker as the subject of thought, i.e., the One that does the deed.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 12.

[6] Jacque Matter, Schelling Ou La Philosophie De La Nature Et La Philosophie De La Revelation (1845), 75.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 75-6.

[9] Schelling, Philosophy and Religion, 19.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 21-2.

[12] Ibid., 22.

[13] As an example of that, in his preface of the Phenomenology of Mind, 39, Hegel argues that “]p[hilosophical exposition, faithfully following its insight into the nature of speculative truth, must retain the dialectical form, and exclude everything which is not grasped conceptually and is conception.” Hence, Hegel wants to avoid the word “God” because it is not a conception.  As Stace also explains in The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition, 53-54., Hegel’s rationality means the necessity of moving from one category to another: “]A[ reason must be followed by its consequent.  It is a logical necessity,….The idea of the reason does involve the idea of the consequent.”  Thus, if there should be any explanation of the emergence of the world out of a first principle, it must be a logical necessity.

[14] Ibid., 24.

[15] Ibid., 26.

[16] F. W. J. Schelling, The Ages of the World, 84.

[17] Dale M. Schmitt, German Idealism’s Trinitarian Legacy, 25.

[18] Ibid., 27.

[19] Ibid., 28.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Schelling, Philosophy and Religion, 26.

[22] Ibid., 24-26.

[23] Cf. footnote 179, Ch. 4 in De Courten, 260.

[24] Ibid., 28.

[25] Ibid.  Solovyov will reproduce this necessity of the Absolute to actualize itself, saying that “the divine being cannot content itself with the eternal contemplation of the ideal essences…; it is not sufficient for it to possess them as its object, its idea, and to be for them only an idea…it desires their own real life. (Lectures, 171.)

[26] De Courten, 261.

[27] Madey, 133, quoted in ibid.

[28] De Courten, 262.

[29] Schmitt, 30.

[30] Ibid., 31.

[31] Ibid.  Schmitt continues his exposition, affirming that Schelling did not agree with the Arians: ” Schelling knows quite well various Trinitarian traditions. He furthers his argument by claiming that the error on the part of the Arians, for example, was to say that the Son was created. So the Son has his being only outside of God, which Schelling of course denies. The Arians had drawn the wrong conclusion when they thought that what Schelling describes as the Son’s loss of divinity at the moment of creation meant the Son was created. Rather, for Schelling what really happened was that the Son emptied out his divinity with creation and then, as potency, must regain this divinity.”

[32] Schelling, Philosophy and Religion, 29.

[33] Ibid., 31.

[34] Schmitt, 33.


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