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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Franz Xaver von Baader

German philosopher (1765-1841)

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Baader, FRANZ XAVER VON, German philosopher, b. at Munich, 1765; d. at the same place, May 23, 1841.

The idealistic stream of German philosophy which started with Kant and culminated, in two divergent branches, in Hegel and Schopenhauer, encountered on the one side an opposing current of empirical realism setting back from Herbart, and on the other a partly reactionary, and yet partly concurrent movement originating in certain Catholic thinkers. Prominent among the latter was Baader. Having entered the University of Ingolstadt at sixteen and taken his doctorate at nineteen, he continued his medical studies two years longer at Vienna and then assisted his father, who was court physician. He soon gave this up, however, for mining engineering and after considerable travel in Germany he spent about five years in England (1791-96), where he became acquainted with the mysticism of Bohme and with the extremely opposite empiricism of Hume and Hartley. The work of William Godwin, “Enquiry concerning Political Justice“, not only called his attention to moral and social questions but also led him to German philosophy, especially to that of Kant. Baader had a temperamental sympathy for the German Protestant mystic Bohme, but for Kant’s philosophy, especially its ethical autonomism, viz.: that human reason alone and apart from God is the primary source of the supreme rule of conduct, he had nothing but disgust. This he calls “devil’s morality” and fiercely declares that were Satan visibly to reappear on earth it would be in the garb of a professor of moral philosophy. For the English sceptics he had both a natural and an acquired aversion. Reared and educated as a Catholic, though holding some decidedly un-Catholic notions, he could find no satisfaction in reason divorced from faith. Passing through Hamburg on his return from England he met Jacoby, with whom he long lived in close friendship. Schelling likewise counted him as a friend and owed to him some of the mystical trend of his system. On his return to Germany Baader was made Superintendent of the Bavarian mines and was subsequently raised to the nobility for his services. He was awarded a prize of 12,000 gulden given by the Austrian Government for an important discovery relating to the use of Glauber salts instead of potash in the manufacture of glass. Retiring from business in 1820 he soon afterwards published his “Fragmenta Cognitionis” (1822-25), and at the opening of the University of Munich, in 1826, he was appointed professor of speculative theology. His philosophico-religious lectures (published as “Speculative Dogmatik”, 1827-36) attracted much attention. In 1838, however, a ministerial order prohibiting laymen from lecturing on such subjects obliged him to restrict himself to anthropology. Vigorous in body and in mind he pursued his intellectual work until his final illness.

Baader’s “Tag and Studien Bucher” (Diary), printed in the first volume of his works, affords an insight into the vicissitudes of his mind and the development of his ideals. It was primarily to his early religious training under his domestic tutor, Sailer, subsequently Bishop of Landshut, that he owed the convictions with which he combated the prevailing rationalism by appealing to innate experience and the subjective necessity of faith, Religious reading supplemented by prayer strengthened is natural tendency towards mysticism. Then, too, his eagerness to comprehend Christianity more thoroughly than the rationalistic theology succeeded in doing—the hope of finding the key, as he says, to the world of mind by putting himself in direct correspondence with the ideal—drew him, in an age poor in positive theology, towards a mystical literature which had combated, if not successfully, at least with earnestness and good intent, both the German and the French rationalism. Saint-Martin‘s “Philosophe inconnu”, which fell into his hands in 1787, carried him back to Bohme and thence to the whole theosophic tradition which this German mystic had given to the modern world—to Paracelsus, Meister Eckart, Eriugena, the Cabbala, and the earlier Gnostics. He encountered on his way back to the past a tangible theology, notably in the works of St. Thomas upon which he comments in his Diary, but also in the Fathers and especially in the Bible.

Since, however, it was alien doctrine which had led him to the Catholic, the authority of the latter remained more or less confounded with that of the former. Moreover, his study of the English empiricists and of Kant’s rationalism gave a critical cast to his thought if it did not add to his ideas. In placing theogonic speculations at the basis of his physical and moral ideas, and in seeking from mysticism an answer to the riddles of the universe, he thought to reach a solution of the fundamental problems of his time and realize the dream of his youth—a religious philosophy. Joining the contemplations of mysticism to the exactness of criticism he endeavored to justify the appeal to both. Mysticism was to fructify criticism and criticism authorize mysticism. He aimed thus at opposing the negative with a positive rationalism. The transcendental truths (metaphysical, and especially theological concepts declared unknowable by Kant) were to find their justification and verification in the human, but at the same time Divinely impressed, consciousness. Reason and feeling separated by Kant were reunited by Baader. Jacoby’s appeal to emotion for the certitude of transcendental truth Baader saw to be, at best, but a negative, an irrational, escape, while Fichte, by making such truth the creation of the Ego, failed to account for the Ego itself. The Hegelian logomachy of the Ego and the non-Ego could no more satisfy Baader than could Schelling’s assertion of the absolute identity of subject and object. He had seen from the start the sterility of Schelling’s principle and had confuted its pantheism.

Baader’s aim was a theistic philosophy which would embrace the worlds of nature and of spirit and afford at once a metaphysical solution of the problem of knowledge (science) and an understanding of the Christian idea and the Divine activity as manifested by revelation. Whatever be thought of this ambitious endeavor, and the Catholic student must recognize its variance both with philosophy and theology, Baader’s system surpasses both in depth and in breadth all the other philosophies of his time. He owes this preeminence not only to a deeper penetration, but likewise to a broader survey which embraced and estimated many of the facts and truths of Christianity and the science of the past. Unfortunately the false mysticism derived from Bohme led him into a fanciful interpretation of the mysteries of faith, while his attempt at rationalizing those mysteries was often hardly less bizarre. His system, therefore, if it may so be called, had the misfortune, on the one hand, of being ignored because of its purpose to synthesize Christian faith and revive the old philosophy and theology; and, on the other, of being rejected because it disfigured Christian teaching by its rationalizing spirit. It consequently may be said to have exercised an intensive and transitional, rather than an extensive and definitive, influence on the movement of thought. English sensism having resulted logically in scepticism, and Kant’s critical effort to save some certainty by purely subjective scrutiny having hopelessly lost the mind in a maze of its own spinning, Baader saw that the only salvation lay in a return to the traditional line of philosophy which had been broken off by Descartes. Unfortunately in resuming that line Baader unwound some of its essential strands and inwove others of less consistent fibre wherewith the remaining threads would not cohere. But in this very harking back to a saner past Baader was influential in hastening the healthier revival which was more definitely effected by his countrymen Kleutgen and Stockl. Moreover, in so far as Baader opposed the prevailing rationalism and defended Christian truth, his influence is declared by so unprejudiced a writer as Robert Adamson to have extended beyond the precincts of Baader’s Church. Rothe’s “Theologische Ethik” is thoroughly impregnated with his spirit, and among others, J. Muller’s “Christi. Lehre von der Siinde” and Martinsen’s “Christi. Dogmatik” show evident marks of his influence.

III. It is extremely difficult to give any satisfactory conception of Baader’s system within narrow limits. Baader was a most fertile writer but threw out his thoughts in aphorisms, some of which indeed he subsequently collected, but most of which received their development in reviews and personal correspondence. Even his two principal works, “Fragmenta Cognitionis” and “Speculative Dogmatik”, are really mosaics and one has to seek long before discovering any unifying principles. Moreover, he moves in leaps; his style lacks coherence and order. A suggestive expression, a Latin or French quotation gives an unlooked-for turn to a discourse. The reader is knocked about from one side to another. Now he may be driven from logic to metaphysics and again from theology to physical philosophy. The author’s ideas often run into those of others leaving no line of demarcation. Add to this the uncertainty of his terminology, his equivocal and often bizarre use, or abuse, of words and the reading of Baader becomes no easy occupation. A summary of his system may be given as follows: Man‘s knowledge is a participation in God‘s knowledge. The latter necessarily compenetrates the former which is therefore always conscientia. Our knowledge is a gift, something received, and in this respect is faith which is therefore a voluntary acceptance of the known object from God‘s knowing in us and hence proceeds from the will. This, however, is preceded by an involuntary subjection, a necessitated desire—Nemo vult nisi videns. We experience the Indwelling Presence soliciting us to faith. Faith however, in turn, becomes the basis of knowledge in which again faith reaches its completion. Faith is thus as necessary for knowledge as knowledge is for faith. Now the content of faith is expressed by technical formulse in religious tradition. Hence as philosophy is necessarily connected with the subjective process of faith, so is it likewise with that of tradition. Only thus can it begin and develop. Hence all science, all philosophy, is religious. Natural theology, natural ethics, etc., strictly speaking, are impossible. Philosophy arose only when religious tradition called for explication and purification. Afterwards it divorced itself, but it thus led to its own dissolution.

But faith is not simply a gift (Gabe); it is also a responsibility (Aufgabe). It must be developed byreason, penetrated, vivified, and freed from the possibility of doubt. It is not memory, nor a mere relic of the past. It must cast off the temporary but retain the abiding; be permanent but progressive. Mysteries are not impenetrable, but only concealed truths: “Deum trinum esse non creditur sed scitur” and “Deum esse non creditur sed scitur” are twin truths. The whole content of religion must be reduced to exact science. There is no closed truth just as there is no closed virtue. Science proceeds from faith, but faith is developed and recast by science.

The hopeless confusion here manifest between knowledge as a natural or purely rational process, and faith, in the Catholic sense of a supernatural virtue, finds a parallel in Baader’s ethics. With him the true, i.e. religious, and hence Christian, ethics knows that God Who gives the law also fulfils it in us, so that from being a burden it ceases to be a law. Fallen man has not the power to restore himself; hereditary sin, the seed of the Serpent, hinders him in this. Still he retains the “Idea“, the seed of the woman, i.e. redeemableness. This possibility is actualized by God‘s becoming man, and thus realizing the moral law in “the Man“, the Savior, Who by overcoming temptation has destroyed evil at its center and from within, and Who has crushed the Serpent’s head. But evil, too, must be destroyed from without by constant mortification of ego-hood. In this task man cooperating with his fellows for the attainment of happiness is neither a solitary worker, as the Kantian would say, nor completely inactive, as Luther teaches. Like hereditary sin, grace propagates itself quasi per infectionem vitae. Prayer and the Eucharist place man en rapport with Christ, through Whom man, if he cooperate, will be restored to the spiritualized condition whence he fell by sin. This spiritualization thus becomes the final subjective end for the individual and society.

The religious idea here appears as the source and the life of Baader’s sociology. The law of love for God and neighbor is the unitive principle of all social existence, liberty, and equality; as the opposite principle of self-love is the root of all disunion, slavery, and despotism. God is the binding source of all law, from Him is all social authority. Hence Baader strongly opposes the might-makes-right doctrine of Hobbes, and the social contract of Rousseau, no less than Kant’s autonomism, which regards religion as an appendage of morality. Now the religious idea and the moral and juridic law being inseparably conjoined, and neither having actual existence save in Christianity which is concrete in the Catholic Church, civil society (the State), and religious society (the Church), should cooperate. Baader apparently until towards the close of his life held that the Church should have direct—not simply indirect—authority even in civil affairs, and he was enthusiastic for a reinstatement, in a form adapted to his times, of the medieval relation between the two orders. But a change seems to have come over his mind—occasioned very probably by some personal irritation which he felt at the criticism to which his theological teachings were subjected—and he taught for a short time opinions concerning the constitution of the Church and the Papacy which were utterly irreconcilable with Catholic Faith, while the language in which these opinions was conveyed was as unbecoming the philosopher as it was his subject. Before his death, however, he retracted this portion of his teaching.

While Baader’s sociology maintains that religion is the very root and life of civil society, it takes account also of political and economic administration. Thus it contains his opinions favoring the organization of the classes, the revival of the medieval “corporations” or industrial associations, the political representation of the proletariat, and some well-reasoned objections to unlimited industrial competition and free trade. On the whole, his sociology is the wisest, strongest, sanest, and most practical part of his whole system, just as his technical theology is the weakest, the most bizarre, unsound, and impractical. The reason of the difference may not improbably be found in the fact that in the former the best elements of his own mind and character were free to assert themselves, while in his theology they seem almost throughout to be under the spell of Bohme whose fanciful mysticism bore him away to a region as far removed from experience—present and past—as from the world of reason and faith. Apart from theology Baader’s teachings have a permanent value.


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