In a chapter on Hamann in The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods , Frank Manuel is careful to distinguish Hamann’s views from “the commonplace tradition which explained the wide usage of myths, fables, parables, allegories by the wise rational legislators of antiquity as a utilitarian mechanism necessitated by the poverty of vulgar understanding.” Hamann did not subscribe to any such “twofold philosophy” according to which “the imagery of the Bible” became “a practical limitation required by benighted primitives” (287).

Rather, in Hamann’s words, “All mortal creatures are able to recognize the truth and essence of things only in parables.” Manuel elaborates: “God spoke a pictorial language because that was the only language capable of moving man. Figurative speech was not allegorical and not a disguise; it was the language closest to reality.” Not concrete poetic language but abstraction “inevitably corrupted, demeaned, and degraded” truth.

Because He speaks as a poet, God speaks universally: “God spoke the living language of man in all its existential fullness and emotive body, not the desiccated jargon of science and philosophy. This was the original revelation, the whole word, neither moral fable nor covert science, but the living word of God made human in passionate speech. The reason of Descartes, Newton, and Leibnitz was not a universal language, as the philosophes in their arrogance supposed, but the private speech of individuals who had to be taught to be understood. The language of man was in the Testament.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart