15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


Additional Links

The etymological opposite of theism can only be atheism, since the word designates a conception of the universe according to which a Deity rules over nature and men, and the atheistic view denies the existence of the Deity and divine powers. Various specific contrasts are, however, contained under this general meaning of the term, as monotheism and polytheism, or deism and pantheism.

The dispute between monotheism and polytheism is no longer open. Philosophy and theology have long been agreed that the Deity can be but one, and that the idea of a multiplicity of gods involves a contradictio in adjeco. There can be but one supreme, perfect, absolute Being, and such a Being is required even if the superior orders generally of supernatural beings be included under the idea of the Deity. This doctrine has, moreover, the support of human experience, since history shows that in every instance where a thorough development of polytheism has been reached, it eventuates in monotheism to the extent of subordinating,the many gods to one who is supreme, or of regarding them as simple modes of conceiving of his nature, powers, or manifestations. It may be added that the converse idea, on which the origin of polytheism is found in pantheistic identifications of the Deity with nature and its forces, affords the most satisfactory explanation possible of the beginnings and growth of this error. The monotheistic conception once received, however, opens the way to discussions respecting the nature of the Deity and of his relations to the universe, and compels recognition of the issue between deism and pantheism. For the conceptions which underlie the terms, we refer to the articles (See PANTHEISM) and (See DEISM), and in this place note merely that the term deism designates that conception of the world on which God is not only different, but also distinct, from the universe, and which therefore denies the immanence of God in the world under any form, and constitutes the direct contradiction to pantheism. It is evident that this deism harmonizes with Christianity as little as does pantheism itself. It is to be noted, however, that the Scriptures return no direct and positive answer to the question, How is the relation of God to the universe to be conceived?' and speculation is accordingly compelled to attempt the solution of the problem after its own fashion. Theology has attempted the solution-with what degree of success it does not belong to this article to determine, since theism is not a theological, but a philosophical, term.

The modern literature of philosophy apprehends the idea of theism in a more limited meaning than that indicated above, and understands by the term that tendency and those systems which attempt to mediate between pantheism and deism, and seek to solve the theological problem in question by the method of free philosophical inquiry. Such endeavors grew directly out of the development of the modern philosophy of Germany, beginning with Kant and passing through Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Herbart, etc., until deism and pantheism came to be direct contradictories within the domain of philosophy itself. A removal of the difficulty was evidently demanded by the state of philosophy; by the considerations that pantheism inevitably leads to atheism or anthropotheism by including the world of nature and mankind in the essence of the Deity, and that it contradicts the indestructible and. undeniable facts of human consciousness; while deism renders an infinite and absolute Being impossible by its denial of any substantial bond which connects God and the world, and its consequent assertion of the limitation of the Deity.

The object of theistic speculation, it may be assumed, was correctly stated by the younger Fichte in his essay Ueber den Unterschied zwischen ethischem und naturalistischem Theismus, in the Zeitschr. fur Philosophie u. philosopische Kritik (Halle, 1856), p. 229, in these words: "Theism denotes for us the altogether general idea that the absolute world-principle, whatever differences of opinion respecting the, limits within which it may be objectively apprehended may obtain, can yet in no case be conceived of as blind and unconscious power under the category either of a universal substance or of an abstract impersonal reason, and must be apprehended as a being having existence in and for itself; to whose fundamental attribute human thought can find no other analogy and form of expression than that of absolute self-consciousness. Connected with this conception of the Absolute Spirit, and necessarily leading up to it, is the equally general idea that the universal fact of the interconnection of the world indicates a beginning in accident and blind chance no more than it affords room for the thought of an absolute necessity which could not be otherwise. The only appropriate thought, in view of the conditions of the world, is the intermediate idea of adaptation to an end, which, on the one hand, implies the possibility of a differently conditioned world order, but, on the other, asserts that the existing order is most perfect, and projected in harmony with the ideas of the good and the beautiful. This result of an empirical observation of the world, which may infinitely enlarge itself by the study of particulars in all the departments of nature, and may advance to a steadily in-creasing degree of certainty, compels metaphysical thought to ascend to the idea of an absolute original reason which determines the end; to whose attributes, as demonstrated in the universe, human language is once more unable to find other designations than perfect thought and a will which requires the good." It will be observed that the leading idea in this definition is the existence of God in and for himself, or of his absolute self- conscious being. The prevalence of this idea determined the general current of speculation to disagree with the Hegelian doctrine of the Absolute, according to which God is impersonal and unconscious reason, and attains to consciousness of himself only in man. The distinction between ethical and-naturalistic theism is of secondary importance, but, nevertheless, deserves notice to the extent of observing that it grew out of Schelling's advance towards theistic views, in which he attained to the recognition of God as an independent Being, and as the "Lord of Being;" but as he persisted in retaining the theoceniric position of his early teachings, and "derived" the finite world out of the absolute essence of God, he really conceived of God simply as a cosmical principle, as the younger Fichte observes. Other philosophers followed in his track, e.g. the Roman Catholic Baader (q.v.); but the representatives of the theistic tendency belonged rather to the school of Hegel than that of Schelling, as a rule, though they "passed beyond" the master and differed widely among themselves, as they adhered more or less closely to his views. The principal names in this class are J. H. Fichte (Bedingungen eines spekulativen Theismus [Elberfeld, 1835]) and K. P. Fischer (Encykl. d. philos. Wissenschaften [Frainkf. on-Main, 1848; vol. 3 1855]).

The present status of philosophical theism is significantly illustrated in the works of Chr. H. Weisse. This writer regards the dialectics of Hegel as the "completed form of philosophical inquiry," but rejects the pantheism to which its application brought Hegel. He holds that the teleological proof is necessary to lead to the theistic idea of God and counteract the pantheistic tendency of the ontological and cosmological arguments. The world was created for God, and finds its end in him. In his absolute essence God is absolute personality, but necessarily a trinity of persons; and in this trinity the second person, or Son, prior to the creation and independently of it, represents the eternal reason and possibility of the creation of the world. but with the creation is "infused into it," "enters into it," "gives himself to it." This second person of the trinity is, however to be regarded as the absolute Primus of the world, and not be identified with the latter, etc.. To avoid the contradiction of an absolute dualism in the Deity, it becomes necessary to postulate a third person in the trinity, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and is coequal with them. In harmony with this view, the creation is not to be regarded as "the effect of a sufficient reason, but as the result of the self-renunciation of the second Divine Personality." This self-renunciation, though represented as the free act of God, comes to pass, however, because only in creation can God become the "God who exists as God," the "really Supreme Being," since "it is only thus that he can be the all embracing, supermundane, self-conscious Divine Spirit in whom all newly originating beings are preformed, and all existing ones are combined into a higher unity of expression or idea." At the point of his renunciation, the idea of God is seen to coincide with that which is usually termed matte?; the activity of the Deity becoming the matter of the creation. See Weisse, Philosoph. Dogmatik oder Philosophie d. Christenthums (Leips. 1855).

A review of the progress of theistic speculation reveals the fact that the demands of pantheism (monism) have been fully met in the principal endeavors to establish the theistic conception of the world on a philosophical basis. The world is represented as having, emanated from the being-the nature, essentiality, substance-of the Deity, as the realizing, renunciation, viewing; completing, of himself; his self-consciousness and subjectivity, however, being regarded as existing independently of the world. But no similar justice has been done to the claims of deism; for the leading and fundamental demand of the deistic conception of the world is the idea of God as the Absolute Spirit who is eternally complete in himself through his absolute power and goodness, as contrasted with the world, which is bound by conditions and constantly engaged in the process of becoming and developing. This idea is contradicted by every view, which makes the world to be in any way a part of the essence of God himself, since such a view transfers the becoming and developing condition of the world into the nature of God. The absolute is necessarily complete and perfect.

Literature. Schelling, Philosophied. Mythologie; id. Philosophie d. Offenbarung; Fischer, Die Idee d. Gottheit (Stuttg. 1839), and the Encyklop. mentioned above; Wirth, Die Spekul. Idee Gottes, etc. (Stuttg. 1845); Chalybasus,System d. Wissenschffelehre (Kiel, 1846); Schwarz, Weiterbildung d. Theismus, in Zeitschr. f. Philosophie (Halle, 1847), vol.18; id. Gö tt, Natur u. Mensch (Hanov. 1857); Von Schaden, Geqensat d. theist. u. pantheist. Standpunkts (Erlangen, 1848); Mayer, Theisnus u. Pantheismus (Freiburg, 1849); Schenach, Metaphysik (Innspruck, 1856); Eckart, Theistische Begrü nddurn d. Aesthetik (Jena, 1857); Hoffnann, Theismus u. Pantheismus (Wurzburg, 1861); Ulrici, Gö tt u. die Natur (Leips. 1861); Bowne, Studies in Theism (N.Y. 1879). Herzog, Real- Encyklop. s.v.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Theism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Next Entry