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Schiller and Hlderlin: From Beauty to Religion

Stefanie Hlscher

To cite this article: Stefanie Hlscher (2006) Schiller and Hlderlin: From Beauty to Religion,
Publications of the English Goethe Society, 75:2, 83-94, DOI: 10.1179/174962806X115262

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Published online: 19 Jul 2013.

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Publications of the English Goethe Society, lxxv:ii, 2006


By Stefanie Hlscher

In his essay ber Religion, Hlderlin develops his philosophy of religion in close dialogue
with Schillers letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man. He shares Schillers aim to over-
come the Kantian dualism of nature on the one hand and morality and freedom on the other, but
sees the solution in religion rather than in beauty. The paper shows how far Hlderlins concept
of religion remains indebted to the theoretical framework he had inherited from Schiller, and
asks what reasons he might have had to introduce into this framework the divine and, more
specifically, a multitude of gods who can exist alongside one another.

ehind the title of this paper lies a question which has never really been
asked.1 While it seems to be an obvious one, it is difficult to answer. Asking
the question and pinpointing the difficulties in finding the answer can, never-
theless, shed light on the relationship between Schiller and Hlderlin, and on the
transition from beauty as a key concept of Schillers thought to religion as a if not
the central theme in Hlderlins writings.
If one looks at Hlderlins work in comparison with Schillers, the first difference
that comes to mind is the religious character of Hlderlins writings. And yet, among
all his contemporaries Hlderlin admired no one more than Schiller, to whom he
once famously wrote:
Ich habe Muth und eignes Urtheil genug, um mich von andern Kunstrichtern und Meistern
unabhngig zu machen [. . .], aber von Ihnen dependir ich unberwindlich.2
During the short span of his productive life, Hlderlin wrote a number of philo-
sophical essays, most of which he did not publish. Over the past four decades, these
essays have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, not least because their signifi-
cance for the development of German Idealism was recognized. Among them there
is one in which religion, together with myth, is the central topic, and accordingly it
was given the title ber Religion by Hlderlins earlier editors (StA, IV, 27581).
It seems that Hlderlin never finished it, and in the manuscript a title is missing.
This essay conveys the impression that the way from Schillers conception of
beauty and art to Hlderlins concept of religion is a very short one. And still, it
is difficult to say what led from the former to the latter: what motivated Hlderlin to

1 The paper is based on my Ph.D. thesis Die Philosophie der Religionsgeschichte in Hlderlins Sptwerk. Mit
besonderer Bercksichtigung der theoretischen Schriften und der Friedensfeier (University of London, 2002).
It develops some questions for which there was no space within the framework of the thesis. The secondary litera-
ture on Hlderlins ber Religion is cited and discussed in my chapter on this essay (pp. 1668), which also
explains in greater detail many of the things which I can only claim in this paper.
2 Hlderlin, Smtliche Werke, Groe Stuttgarter Ausgabe, ed. by F. Beiner, Stuttgart, 194685 (hereafter referred
to as StA), VI, 241, ll. 47.

The English Goethe Society 2006 DOI: 10.1179/174962806X115262


go beyond Schillers aesthetics and develop a theory of religion? Why was he not
content with the philosophical framework Schiller had laid out in his Aesthetic
Letters? I will start to develop these questions by making a few remarks about the
so-called lteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus (StA, IV, 29799),
and will then concentrate on the essay ber Religion and its relation to Schillers
First, though, a few words about the biographical context might be helpful.
Hlderlin came to admire Schiller very early on, while he was still studying theol-
ogy at the Tbinger Stift, and modelled his early hymns on Schillers. He met Schiller
for the first time in 1793 and, on Schillers recommendation, became the private
tutor of the son of Schillers friend Charlotte von Kalb. With the von Kalb family, he
moved to Jena towards the end of 1794, where, over the following months, he saw
Schiller regularly, met Goethe, Herder, and Novalis, and attended Fichtes lectures.
Schiller published an early version of Hlderlins novel Hyperion in one of his
journals, and recommended him to the publisher Friedrich Cotta, who agreed to
publish the final version of the novel. In the summer of 1795, however, Hlderlin
fled from Jena, and while the reasons for his sudden departure are still not entirely
clear, it seems that Schiller was one of them. Hlderlin apparently feared that the
close contact with Schiller would endanger his own literary productivity. Yet, the
first letter he wrote to Schiller after his flight speaks of the severe loss Hlderlin had
inflicted on himself by removing himself from Schiller (StA, VI, 175 f.).
1795 was also the year in which Schiller published his Letters ber die sthetische
Erziehung des Menschen. These Aesthetic Letters arguably the centre-piece of
Schillers aesthetics are the background against which Hlderlins essay ber
Religion has to be read. In the last letter, Schiller develops the idea of the aesthetic
state, an ideal society which is governed by taste and the aesthetic semblance
(schner Schein).3 In his praise of taste, he writes:
Aus den Mysterien der Wissenschaft fhrt der Geschmack die Erkenntni unter den offenen
Himmel des Gemeinsinns heraus, und verwandelt das Eigenthum der Schulen in ein
Gemeingut der ganzen menschlichen Gesellschaft.4
Taste can make knowledge (die Erkenntni) accessible to everyone because
it presents knowledge, which is acquired by human reason, in a beautiful form, i.e.,
in a form that appeals both to reason and to the senses. Shortly after the publication
of the Aesthetic Letters, the so-called lteste Systemprogramm des deutschen
Idealismus, too, culminates in an enthusiastic vision of a future human society. The
text has survived in Hegels handwriting, but the debate among scholars about its
author whether it was Schelling, Hlderlin, Hegel himself, or someone else
has never come to a final conclusion. The closing paragraph of this short text begins

3 I quote the following translation of Schillers Aesthetic Letters: Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, On the
Aesthetic Education of Man. In a Series of Letters, ed. and transl. by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby,
Oxford, 1967.
4 Schiller, Werke, Nationalausgabe, ed. by N. Oellers, Weimar, 1943 (hereafter referred to as NA); XX, 412, ll.

Ehe wir die Ideen sthetisch d.h. mythologisch machen, haben sie fr das Volk kein
Interesse und umgekehrt ehe die Mythologie vernnftig ist, mu sich der Philosoph ihrer
schmen. (StA, IV, 299, ll. 46)
Here, too, the ideas, which are generated by reason, have to appear in an aesthetic
form if everyone is to participate in them, and here, too, aesthetic means rational
and sensuous at the same time. The medium in which ideas can become aesthetic is
mythology, not art as in Schillers Letters. However, the new mythology the author
envisages has consequences for society which again remind one of Schillers aesthetic
state. The text of the Systemprogramm continues:
So mssen endlich aufgeklrte und Unaufgeklrte sich die Hand reichen, die Mythologie mu
philosophisch werden, um das Volk vernnftig, und die Philosophie mu mythologisch
werden, um die Philosophen sinnlich zu machen. Dann herrscht ewige Einheit unter uns.
Nimmer der verachtende Blik, nimmer das blinde Zittern des Volks vor seinen Weisen und
Priestern. Dann erst erwartet uns gleiche Ausbildung aller Krfte, des Einzelnen sowohl
als aller Individuen. Keine Kraft wird mehr unterdrkt werden, dann herrscht allgemeine
Freiheit und Gleichheit der Geister! (StA, IV, 299, ll. 615)
The demand that the philosopher should develop his sensuous side and that the
people, who are dominated by the senses, should become more rational, this
demand for gleiche Ausbildung aller Krfte, des Einzelnen is a or rather the
central demand in Schillers Aesthetic Letters. In the Systemprogramm, the harmony
thus created in every human being leads to a harmonious society, in which ewige
Einheit prevails. It furthermore brings about Gleichheit and Freiheit, and one can
hear all too clearly the motto of the French Revolution behind this vision of human
society. The same is true for Schillers idea of the aesthetic state:
Der Geschmack allein bringt Harmonie in die Gesellschaft, weil er Harmonie in dem Indi-
viduum stiftet. (NA, XX, 410, ll. 31 f.; my italics). [. . .] In dem sthetischen Staate ist alles
auch das dienende Werkzeug ein freyer Brger, der mit dem edelsten gleiche Rechte hat
[. . .]. Hier also in dem Reiche des sthetischen Scheins wird das Ideal der Gleichheit erfllt,
welches der Schwrmer so gern auch dem Wesen nach realisiert sehen mchte. (NA, XX,
412, ll. 1724; my italics)
It need not be stressed that this passage also implies a refusal of the political aims of
the French Revolution and of those who wished for a revolution in Germany.
Given the similarities between the end of the Systemprogramm and the end of
Schillers Letters, it is all the more surprising that the Systemprogramm goes beyond
Schiller in demanding a Neue Mythologie. The new myths are to fulfil the same
function as art in Schillers theory, namely to cultivate all human powers and facul-
ties, and they can fulfil this function because they are what art is for Schiller: both
rational and sensuous. Moreover, they are works of art themselves:
Monotheismus der Vernunft und des Herzens, Polytheismus der Einbildungskraft und der
Kunst, dis ists, was wir bedrfen! [. . .] wir mssen eine neue Mythologie haben [. . .] (StA,
IV, 298, ll. 31299, l. 2)
This raises two questions. What distinguishes the concept of myth in the lteste
Systemprogramm from Schillers conception of art? And why did the author (or the

authors) of the Systemprogramm feel the need to surpass Schiller while at the same
time sticking so closely to his premises?
The text of the Systemprogramm does not give us any clue to a satisfactory
answer to the first question, and thereby does not allow us to answer the second one
either. The fact that myth and art seem very close in this text reflects the meaning the
German word Mythos had in the second half of the eighteenth century.5 In
Aristotles Poetics, mhoz had been a key concept in his theory of tragedy. Here, it
simply means the representation or mimesis of an action, the plot of a tragedy, or, as
one used to say in German, the Fabel; and Aristotle holds that the mhoz and
not the characters is the first essential, the life and soul, so to speak, of tragedy.6
In the eighteenth century, this meaning of Mythos was still very much alive,
and the word was often used synonymously with Fabel. On the other hand, the
term Fabel could be employed where today we would rather say Mythos. The
opening sentence of Schillers ber Anmuth und Wrde runs: Die griechische Fabel
legt der Gttinn der Schnheit einen Grtel bey (NA, XX, 251, l. 2 f.).
The Aristotelian meaning of Mythos can explain the ease with which the author
of the Systemprogramm links myth and art, especially since it seems to be primarily
literature which he has in mind when talking about art. And yet, it would be impos-
sible to maintain that myth and art are synonyms in this text, as the phrase sthetisch
d.h. mythologisch might suggest. After all, the Neue Mythologie is supposed to be
the new religion which the very last sentence of the Systemprogramm anticipates:
Ein hherer Geist vom Himmel gesandt, mu diese neue Religion unter uns stiften, sie
wird das lezte, grste Werk der Menschheit seyn. (StA, IV, 299, ll. 1517)
However, even this explicit religious dimension of myth does not distinguish myth
sufficiently from art as Schiller had conceived it. For the Systemprogramm does not
show that myth can accomplish anything that art itself could not, and it does not try
to tell us that the new myths will achieve the aims of art better than art alone could
do. And so it remains unclear why the author introduces the idea of a Neue
Mythologie and why he was not satisfied with the results of Schillers Aesthetic Letters.
At the beginning of 1796, after the publication of Schillers Letters, but before the
Systemprogramm was drafted, Hlderlin was planning an essay for a journal edited
by his mentor and friend Immanuel Niethammer. At the time, Niethammer was
professor of philosophy in Jena, and like Schiller, he had reservations about the
perceived hostility towards the senses in Kants ethics. Hlderlin outlines his essay in
a letter to Niethammer, in which he also discloses the title he had in mind: Neue
Briefe ber die sthetische Erziehung des Menschen (StA, VI, 203, l. 37). At the
end of the brief outline, he states:
Auch werde ich darin [i.e., in the letters] von der Philosophie auf Posie und Religion
kommen. (StA,VI, 203, ll. 38 f.)
By his title, Hlderlin indicates that, like the author of the Systemprogramm, he
intends to follow Schiller and to go beyond him, and as in the Systemprogramm,

5 Cf. Ulrich Gaier, Anfnge der romantischen Theorie des Mythos, in Kritische Revisionen. Gender und Mythos im
literarischen Diskurs, ed. by the Japanische Gesellschaft fr Germanistik, Munich, 1998, pp. 287307.
6 Aristoteles, Poetik, Griechisch/Deutsch, ed. by Manfred Fuhrmann, Stuttgart, 1982, p. 22.

the latter ambition is combined with a turn towards religion. Hlderlin never
published these letters, but fragments of a draft might have survived. It was the
Frankfurter Hlderlin Ausgabe which first claimed that the essay ber Religion was
in fact a part of the draft of Hlderlins Neue Briefe.7 The debate surrounding
this claim has not come to an end, and it is unlikely that it will ever reach a definite
conclusion. What is, however, beyond doubt, is the fact that ber Religion
follows Schillers Aesthetic Letters in their criticism of Kant, and that the essay uses
Schillers answer to Kant in order to develop its idea of religion.
Among Hlderlins non-fictional writings his essays and his letters ber
Religion gives the deepest insight into his thoughts about religion, even though the
surviving text is only a few pages long and only a fragment of what Hlderlin had
actually written. It would of course be simplistic to regard the essay as the theoretical
basis of his poetry; but still, it allows us to understand better why almost every aspect
of Hlderlins work is somehow rooted in religion. ber Religion also gives
philosophical reasons for Hlderlins belief in a multitude of gods (a belief which
even many Hlderlin scholars often find difficult to take literally). Understanding
how Hlderlin developed a theory of religion, and his version of polytheism in
particular, in an intense dialogue with Kant and Schiller can help to see him as a
participant in the debates of his time without having to reduce his gods to
metaphors, a solution to which many scholars tend to retreat.
ber Religion talks less about religion as such and more about something
Hlderlin calls religise Verhltnisse a characteristic I will try to explain later.
These religious relations are a certain kind of relation between a human being
and the world surrounding him. They are distinguished from two other types of
relations, namely intellectualen moralischen rechtlichen Verhltnissen on the one
hand and physischen mechanischen historischen Verhltnissen on the other. By
defining our moral and legal behaviour as intellectual, Hlderlin follows Kant
and his claim that in the realm of morality human reason is autonomous and inde-
pendent from the senses both in finding the moral laws and in executing them.8
By opposing the moral and legal relations to physical, mechanical ones, ber
Religion takes up Kants fundamental opposition between the world of morality
and human freedom and the physical world, of which man is also a part, yet in
which freedom is impossible. This is not the place to analyse Hlderlins description
of the two opposing types of relations in any greater detail.9 In this context, it is
sufficient to say that in a moral relation a human being realizes his freedom by
acting according to moral laws and respects the freedom of those around him. In
contrast, in a physical relation he behaves as a natural force and according to the
laws of nature, and he treats the world surrounding him as something purely natural.
The religious relations are then defined as the simultaneous realization or the
unity of the two opposing types of relations. It is easy to see behind this synthesis

7 Friedrich Hlderlin, Smtliche Werke, Frankfurter Ausgabe, ed. by D.E. Sattler, Frankfurt a.M., Basel, 1975,
XIV, 11.
8 See Dieter Henrich, Ethik der Autonomie, in Dieter Henrich, Selbstverhltnisse. Gedanken und Auslegungen zu
den Grundlagen der klassischen deutschen Philosophie, Stuttgart, 1982, pp. 656.
9 Cf. my thesis, where I show how deeply rooted in Kants philosophy they are (see fn. 1).

Schillers objection to Kants ethics and his ideal of a harmony between Pflicht and
Neigung, or, in the terminology of the Aesthetic Letters, between mans Formtrieb
and his sinnliche Trieb or Stofftrieb. The framework in which Hlderlin devel-
ops his philosophy of religion is therefore a fundamental ethical problem which had
also troubled Schiller, as well as Hlderlins friend Niethammer. However, before
trying to explain the exact relationship between Hlderlins theory of religion and
Schillers aesthetics, the former should be outlined a little further.
Religious relations are relations between a human being and the world sur-
rounding him, or, as Hlderlin specifies, between a human being and the field of
his actions, the Sphre [. . .], in der er wirkt und die er erfhrt (StA, IV, 278, l. 13).
This sphere is usually a limited one, so that each person has his own, individual
sphere, distinct from anyone elses. The consequence is that the religious relations
between human beings and the world are manifold as well. A parallel to this idea,
which might help to elucidate it, can be found in Hegels early writing Der Geist des
Christentums und sein Schicksal, written around the same time as or maybe a little later
than ber Religion. What Hegel calls Liebe here, is, to a certain extent, the same
as Hlderlins religise Verhltnisse, a relationship in which Pflicht and Neigung
stop being opposed to each other. Hegel interprets Jesuss message as precisely this
kind of love, yet in opposition to the Christian dogma he writes:
Die Menschenliebe, die sich auf alle erstrecken soll, von denen man auch nichts wei, die
man nicht kennt [. . .], diese allgemeine Menschenliebe ist eine schale, aber charakte-
ristische Erfindung der Zeiten, welche nicht umhin knnen, idealische Forderungen,
Tugenden gegen ein Gedankending [i.e. mankind as a whole] aufzustellen, um in solchen
gedachten Objekten recht prchtig zu erscheinen, da ihre Wirklichkeit so arm ist. Die
Liebe zu dem Nchsten ist Liebe zu den Menschen, mit denen man [. . .] in Beziehung
kommt. Ein Gedachtes kann kein Geliebtes sein.10
Love, by its very nature, is not a relationship we can form with the entire world.
Hlderlins religious relation is one in which we have an effect on the world
around us, and the world has an effect on us. And his argument was, I assume, that
our actions and their effects are usually limited to a very small part of the world, and
that it therefore makes no sense to claim that our behaviour in the world should be
subject to universal norms and standards. This is Hlderlins second main objection
to Kant, whose categorical imperative, the moral law, is the same for all people and
for all times.
Hlderlins conception of the religious relations between man and world also
shows that he does not conceive of religion as something that takes place primarily
in someones thoughts or feelings. It is the life one leads that is either religious or
not, and as Hlderlins essay states very clearly, the beliefs someone holds depend
on the kind of life he leads, and not the other way round. This is also why ber
Religion says a great deal about religise Verhltnisse and relatively little about
religion in the sense of a set of ideas and beliefs.

10 G.W.F. Hegel, Werke, ed. by E. Moldenhauer and K.M. Michel, Frankfurt a.M., 1990, I, 362.

However, Hlderlin does not stop at the assertion that the religious relation one
person maintains with his Sphre is different in its character from another persons
relation to his Sphre. He takes this argument one step further when he writes:
Und jeder htte demnach seinen eigenen Gott, in so ferne jeder seine eigene Sphre hat, in
der er wirkt und die er erfhrt, und nur in so ferne mehrere Menschen eine gemein-
schaftliche Sphre haben, in der sie menschlich [. . .] wirken und leiden, nur in so ferne
haben sie eine gemeinschaftliche Gottheit; und wenn es eine Sphre giebt, in der alle
zugleich leben [. . .], dann, aber auch nur in so ferne, haben sie alle eine gemeinschaftliche
Gottheit. (StA, IV, 278, ll. 1219)
If everyone has his own, individual sphere, and if therefore everyones religious
relation to the world is an individual one, then every person must also have his
own, individual god. Hlderlin takes it for granted that each of us has his own
sphere and thus his own god. He is less certain whether people can always share a
sphere with others and have a common god; and his tone becomes quite doubtful
when he talks about the possibility that the whole of mankind can believe in the
same god. This possibility is a theoretical one, but whether it becomes a reality, is a
question left open. It is needless to point out how far Hlderlin has left his Christian
roots behind here.
The individualistic nature of religion in Hlderlins essay connects his philosophy
of religion with Schleiermacher and his Reden ber die Religion published in 1799.
These are equally radical in the way in which they embrace all religions known
to mankind. The conception of Hlderlins essay is a polytheistic one, because
not only does the author of the text accept the existence of a multitude of gods;
Hlderlin also explains how each individual can come to accept the respective gods
of other people. If Hlderlins idea of religise Verhltnisse can be regarded as his
answer to both Kant and Schiller, it can now be seen that his polytheism, too,
at least in the form in which it is put forward in ber Religion is part of that
answer. Kant kept our existence as a moral being and our existence as a natural
being apart. Schiller wanted to overcome this dualism and argued that in beauty
and in our experience of beauty the two sides can come together. Hlderlin shares
Schillers general ambition, but for him the place where the synthesis happens
is religion, a religious relation between man and world. And he maintains that
the synthesis can be realized in many different forms and that therefore different
human beings must have different gods. If one looks at Hlderlins polytheism
from this perspective, it starts to look less anachronistic, and it becomes easier to take
it literally.
A difficulty one faces when reading ber Religion is that the text does not
explain anywhere what a god is; and, more specifically, it does not say what role a
god plays in a relation between man and his Sphre if this relation can be called a
religious one. The text gives only indirect hints. This lack might be due to the fact
that parts of the essay are now lost. The indirect hints, however, together with other
works by Hlderlin support the following hypothesis: that the gods are the unifying
forces which make the synthesis of our natural existence and our existence as moral
beings possible.
As we have seen, both for Schiller and for the author of the lteste
Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus the harmony between the two natures

of man leads to an ideal society. The philosophy of religion in ber Religion

implies a theory of society which is presented in a less enthusiastic tone; but in
contrast to Schillers Aesthetic Letters, it shows how the individual can reach perfec-
tion only through and in society. Schillers ideal human being can exist in isolation
from others, and the aesthetic state only results from the perfection the individuals
have reached as individuals. For Hlderlin, the religious relation between an indi-
vidual and his Sphre excludes other possible religious relations, and is therefore
limited. Equally, the idea of god someone has as an individual excludes other
gods and is thus only an incomplete representation of the divine. And so Hlderlin
Es ist [. . .] Bedrfni der Menschen [. . .], ihre verschiedenen Vorstellungsarten von
Gttlichem [. . .] sich einander zuzugesellen, und so der Beschrnktheit, die jede einzelne
Vorstellungsart hat und haben mu, ihre Freiheit zu geben, indem sie in einem
harmonischen Ganzen von Vorstellungsarten begriffen ist, und zugleich, eben, weil in jeder
besondern Vorstellungsart auch die Bedeutung der besonderen Lebensweise liegt, die jeder
hat, der nothwendigen Beschrnktheit dieser Lebensweise ihre Freiheit zu geben, indem sie
in einem harmonischen Ganzen von Lebensweisen begriffen ist. (StA, IV, 279, ll. 1223)
Because of the limitations of each individual idea of the divine, human beings feel
the need to form a community. The aim here is not to leave the manifold gods, the
manifold perceptions of the divine, behind and to develop a better, more compre-
hensive idea of the divine. The limitations are to be overcome by starting a dialogue
between the different ideas, by bringing about harmony between the different gods,
which then together form a whole that has no limitations. In this religious commu-
nity, the different ways of life the different religious relations between human
beings and their respective spheres complement each other, too. Each god can
represent the specific character of the individual life in which he rules. By establish-
ing a dialogue about their different gods, people will therefore automatically rise
above the limitations of their respective lives. Society, as it is conceived here, is held
together primarily by religion.
At the end of ber Religion, Hlderlin reiterates his idea of a religious
community when he talks about
die Vereinigung mehrerer zu einer Religion, wo jeder seinen Gott und alle einen
gemeinschaftlichen in dichterischen Vorstellungen ehren, wo jeder sein hheres Leben und
alle ein gemeinschaftliches hheres Leben, die Feier des Lebens mythisch feiern. (StA, IV,
281, ll. 1822)
The hhere Leben, i.e. the religious relation between man and his sphere, can
be represented adequately only in myth, or in a mythische Vorstellung.
(Vorstellung is difficult to translate here, because both in Kants terminology and
then in Hlderlins, too, it is a very general term which comprises everything from
perception and imagination to concept and idea. Kants translators often use
representation, because the Latin term is repraesentatio.) Hlderlins definition of
the mythical Vorstellung is that it is weder intellectuell noch historisch, sondern
intellectuell historisch (StA, IV, 280, ll. 23 f.). Historisch does not have the
meaning here which it has today, but should be taken in the sense of empirical.
Agreeing with Kant, Hlderlin assumes that we can gain empirical knowledge only

through the senses.11 A mythical Vorstellung is therefore both sensuous and intel-
lectual or rational and so we face the same questions as at the beginning when
we looked at the idea of a new mythology in the lteste Systemprogramm. For
the mythical Vorstellung in Hlderlins essay seems to be indistinguishable from
Schillers schne Vorstellung:
Alle andre Formen der Vorstellung [Schiller writes in the Aesthetic Letters] trennen den
Menschen, weil sie sich ausschlieend entweder auf den sinnlichen oder auf den geistigen
Theil seines Wesens grnden; nur die schne Vorstellung macht ein Ganzes aus ihm, weil
seine beyden Naturen dazu zusammen stimmen mssen. (NA, XX, 410, ll. 3237)
Moreover, for Hlderlin the mythical Vorstellung cannot remain a mere idea, but
has to be expressed in an artefact, namely a myth. And a myth or, as Hlderlin says,
die Mythe is always a work of art and, more specifically, it is poetry. Mythical and
poetic can therefore even appear to be mutually exchangeable terms in Hlderlins
The question all of this leads to can be put like this: Hlderlins religise
Verhltnisse are the synthesis which for Schiller could be achieved only through
beauty, and in an sthetischen Stimmung the synthesis between our existence as
a part of nature and our existence as moral beings. And Hlderlins Mythe, in
which religious relations can be represented, reflects this synthesis in the same way
as art does for Schiller, namely by combining a sensuous element with a rational
one. So why was Hlderlin not content with Schillers aesthetics, why did he think
he had to go beyond Schiller and introduce religion and myth into a theoretical
framework that Schiller had established in his aesthetic writings? Or, to put it in
a different way, what leads from Schillers aesthetics to Hlderlins philosophy
of religion? The way from one to the other appears to be so short because the
starting-point and the end-point can seem indistinguishable.
Before trying to find an answer to these questions, we should take a little detour.
There is a curious letter by Hlderlin to his brother Karl written on New Years Day
1799. A major theme of this rather long letter is the Bildung unserer Nation one
of the main concerns of Schillers Aesthetic Letters and the influence of philoso-
phy, politics and poetry on the Germans. Hlderlins tone becomes very polemical
when he turns to the positive effects poetry could have on the nation:
[. . .] und es wre zu wnschen, da der grnzenlose Misverstand einmal aufhrte, womit
die Kunst, und besonders die Posie, bei denen, die sie treiben und denen, die sie genieen
wollen, herabgewrdigt wird. Man hat schon so viel gesagt ber den Einflu der schnen
Knste auf die Bildung der Menschen,
Hlderlin must have Schiller in mind here
aber es kam immer heraus, als wr es keinem Ernst damit [. . .] (StA, VI, 305, ll. 11924)
Hlderlin seems to be in opposition to all his contemporaries, and to Schiller, too.
And one expects that he is going to develop an alternative to Schillers idea of the
aesthetic education of man. The apparent attack on Schiller continues:

11 This idea is not made explicit in ber Religion, but can be deduced from the beginning of the essay, StA, IV,
275, ll. 1314.

man nahm sie [die Kunst, und besonders die Posie] fr Spiel, weil sie in der bescheidenen
Gestalt des Spiels erscheint, und so konnte sich auch vernnftiger weise keine andere
Wirkung von ihr ergeben, als die des Spiels. (ibid., ll. 12931)
Again, it is almost impossible to think that Hlderlin did not mean to refer to
Schiller here and to his theory of the Spieltrieb. However, what follows is almost as
close to Schillers Aesthetic Letters as Schiller himself could have got. The Wirkung
des Spiels, Hlderlin goes on to say, is
Zerstreuung, beinahe das gerade Gegentheil von dem, was sie [die Kunst und Poesie]
wirket, wo sie in ihrer wahren Natur vorhanden ist. Denn alsdann sammelt sich der Mensch
bei ihr, und sie giebt ihm Ruhe, nicht die leere, sondern die lebendige Ruhe, wo alle
Krfte regsam sind, und nur wegen ihrer innigen Harmonie nicht als thtig erkannt
werden. Sie nhert die Menschen, und bringt sie zusammen, nicht wie das Spiel [!], wo sie
nur dadurch vereiniget sind, da jeder sich vergit und die lebendige Eigentmlichkeit von
keinem zum Vorschein kmmt. (ibid., ll. 13139)
There is not enough space to quote all the passages from the Aesthetic Letters which
could prove my point, but they are easy to find. The Ruhe, for example, where all
of mans powers or faculties are active but because of their harmony they are not
perceived as being active, is a parallel to what Schiller had called the sthetischen
Zustand or the sthetische Stimmung, in which, on the one hand, man is Nought
(Null, NA, XX, 377, l. 20), and which, on the other hand, is
ein Zustand der hchsten Realit t [. . .], insofern man dabey [. . .] auf die Summe der
Krfte achtet, die in derselben gemeinschaftlich thtig sind. (NA, XX, 379, ll. 58)
Hlderlins letter is puzzling because he seems to distance himself vehemently
from Schiller but then fails to offer an alternative concept of art and poetry. What-
ever explanation one might find for this discrepancy, the letter illustrates how diffi-
cult it was for Hlderlin to free himself from the influence of Schillers theory even
when he wanted to do so or when at least he wanted to appear to have gone beyond
Schillers theory.
One has to bear this in mind when reading ber Religion. Was Hlderlin
aware of how close his philosophy of religion and myth was to Schillers aesthetics?
Was his lack of awareness the reason why he didnt make explicit why, for him,
Schillers aesthetics did not give an adequate account of human life in its highest
fulfilment, and why, for him, the adequate representation of this life was not art as
such but myth? Of course, one can only speculate here. However, with regard to
ber Religion one is in a much better situation than with regard to Hlderlins
letter to his brother or to the lteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus.
For not only can we see very easily what distinguishes Hlderlins theory in this
essay from Schillers theory one can also give a tentative answer to the question
why Hlderlin moved away from Schiller and towards a philosophy of religion. The
answer can only be tentative because ber Religion doesnt address the question
If the differences between ber Religion and Schillers aesthetics seem obvious,
they are still worth pointing out here. The religious relations might come very
close to Schillers ideal of a harmony between Pflicht and Neigung, but what
distinguishes them are the gods who this is my hypothesis are forces which

unite our moral life with our physical life. Equally, myths, according to Hlderlin,
are not just works of art they are, as ber Religion stresses, works of art in
which the gods are die Hauptparthie (StA, IV, 281, l. 7), the central theme.
If the question now is: why did Hlderlin introduce the gods into the theoretical
framework he had, to a large extent, inherited from Schiller?, we can also turn this
question around and ask: why did Schiller leave the gods out?
Schillers main concern is the unity of human life, the unity between mans sensu-
ous and physical side and his moral side. What he is not concerned about is, to put
it simply, the unity of the world. Kant had distinguished the mundus sensibilis and
the mundus intelligibilis the realm of nature, the world in which we exist as natural
beings on the one hand, and the world to which we belong as moral beings on
the other. How these two worlds can coexist, was a question Kant believed could not
be answered. Schiller follows him in this point, as the fifteenth of his Aesthetic Letters
illustrates. In this letter, Schiller gives the definition of beauty as lebende Gestalt.
Just as the Spieltrieb combines Stofftrieb and Formtrieb, its object unites the
respective objects of the two other drives, Leben and Gestalt. Schiller then writes:
Dadurch aber, da wir die Bestandtheile anzugeben wissen, die in ihrer Vereinigung die
Schnheit hervorbringen [i.e. Leben and Gestalt], ist die Genesis derselben [der
Schnheit] auf keine Weise noch erklrt; denn dazu wrde erfodert, da man j e n e
Vereinigung selbst begriffe, die uns [. . .] unerforschlich bleibt. (NA, XX, 356, ll. 16)
Leben, according to Schillers definition, is ein Begriff, der alles materiale Seyn,
und alle unmittelbare Gegenwart in den Sinnen bedeutet (NA, XX, 355, ll. 1214)
Kants mundus sensibilis , while Gestalt is ein Begriff, der alle formalen
Beschaffenheiten der Dinge und alle Beziehungen derselben auf die Denkkrfte
unter sich fat (NA, XX, 355, ll. 1618) this is Kants mundus intelligibilis. How
the two, Leben and Gestalt, can be combined and form a new whole in beauty,
cannot be understood by human beings. And Schiller does not even ask how the
two worlds relate to each other outside the domain of beauty.
This is the point where Hlderlin differs from Schiller and goes further beyond
Kant than Schiller had done. In the letter in which he outlines his Neue Briefe ber
die sthetische Erziehung des Menschen, he states:
In den philosophischen Briefen will ich das Prinzip finden, das mir die Trennungen, in
denen wir denken und existiren, erklrt, das aber auch vermgend ist, den Widerstreit
verschwinden zu machen. (StA, VI, 203, ll. 2931)
Among the Trennungen referred to here is the opposition between nature on the
one hand and the realm of freedom and morality on the other. Hlderlin not only
wants to make the antagonism between the two worlds disappear, he wants to do so
by finding the principle in which both are one. This attempt does away with the
limits of human reason Kants Critique of Pure Reason had so carefully established. For
Hlderlin, Pflicht and Neigung, the two opposing drives in a human being, are in
harmony if the world itself is one. In the words of the hero of his novel, Hyperion:
Eines zu seyn mit Allem, was lebt! Mit diesem Worte legt die Tugend den zrnenden
Harnisch [. . .] weg (StA, III, 9)
because the inclinations are not in opposition to virtue any more.

Hlderlins desire to demonstrate not just the unity of human life but the unity
of the world is apparent also in ber Religion. The gods in this text are certainly
more than a unifying principle, for we do not worship a principle, and, furthermore,
the principle that guarantees the unity of the world must be one, while the gods in
ber Religion are many. But and this is my answer to the question I have been
asking here if Hlderlin wanted to go beyond Schiller and overcome Kants
dualism of the natural and the moral world, then he had to introduce some kind
of force that can guarantee the unity between these two worlds. And my hypothesis
is, as I said before, that the gods represent this force. Though they are many, they
can, together, form what Hlderlin calls a harmonisches Ganzes so that the unity
of the world is guaranteed despite the multitude of gods.
To conclude, Hlderlin takes up the central ideas of Schillers aesthetics, but then
develops them into something quite different, a philosophy of religion. The same
could be said about Hegel, who in Der Geist des Christentums und sein Schicksal inter-
prets the Christian message as the harmony between duty and inclination. Schillers
influence can thus be felt even where he himself might not have liked to see it.