Treatise on Love of God

Treatise on Love of God

by Miguel de Unamuno

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Miguel de Unamuno, perhaps the most influential author of modern Spain, wrote his Treatise on Love of God at the height of his career after suffering a crisis of religious faith. Like Saint Augustine’s Confessions and much of Kierkegaard, the Treatise is a study of religious inwardness and proposes to analyze how God can be found within


Miguel de Unamuno, perhaps the most influential author of modern Spain, wrote his Treatise on Love of God at the height of his career after suffering a crisis of religious faith. Like Saint Augustine’s Confessions and much of Kierkegaard, the Treatise is a study of religious inwardness and proposes to analyze how God can be found within as a beloved person.
Not content with simple introspection, Unamuno considers Church fathers such as Athanasius, Origen, and Tertullian as well as modern religious scholars including Albrecht Ritschl, Auguste Sabatier, and Ernest Renan. Although Unamuno abandoned plans to publish the Treatise after Pope Pius X issued an encyclical against modernist theology, it deserves serious study as a prelude to his immensely successful Tragic Sense of Life and the concentrated work of a great thinker on a deeply serious subject.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Gracefully translated from the manuscript with Unamuno's notations, and lucidly annotated by Orringer. . . . The notes contain such a wealth of learning and information to elucidate this seminal work that one can only thank Orringer for his heroic effort. Essential."—Choice

"The Treatise remained unknown to the reading public, its manuscript in the author's archives, until Nelson R. Orringer prepared it for publication, with a careful introduction and ample annotation. . . . [Orringer's] version is reliable and clear, his erudition informative. He situates the work in the context of Unamuno's unfolding religious thought, and relates it to historical context."—Times Literary Supplement

"We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Nelson Orringer for bringing to light Treatise on Love of God, a little gem of an essay by Miguel de Unamuno. . . . Orringer’s translation is fluid, accurate, and eminently readable; his meaty notes are a book unto themselves. You can read the text without referring to the notes, but with them, one savors the fullness of Unamuno’s powerful mind and hungry spirit."—Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies Bulletin

Product Details

University of Illinois Press
Publication date:
Hispanisms Series
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.60(d)

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Treatise on Love of God



Heirs of Miguel de Unamuno
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-252-03124-5


Problems posed by the unpublished manuscript

Tratado del amor de Dios (Treatise on Love of God) has remained unpublished for nearly a century. Yet the stature of the author, the circumstances of its composition, and its intrinsic value should have justified its printing. The philosopher of religion, educator, novelist, and poet Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) is a widely read and translated author of contemporary Spain. The present translation stems from a manuscript in Unamuno's hand, written in a script as clear as possible to be read without difficulty by José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), significant academic philosopher in Spain of the early twentieth century. The writing, composed between 1905 and 1908, has the following intention, revealed by Unamuno in an unfinished, discarded introduction, whose sentence fragments convey a transparent meaning: "Treatise on love of God and not on knowledge; not on the objective existence of God, but on His subjective existence. And not a guide nor an exercise of love, but a treatise, that is, disquisition on the subjective value of God. In order to love, it is necessary to personalize."

Unamuno proposes to analyze how God is found within him as a beloved and loving Person. The writing is a confession in Saint Augustine's sense, while at the same time pinpointing-and defending-the form of Unamuno's religiousinwardness, much as Søren Kierkegaard does his own in his works. Why a new treatment of an old theme, with title, form, and content modernizing a Christian tradition of confessional, apologetic, mystic, and ascetic treatises? Since Unamuno was a classicist, occupying a Chair in Greek at the Universidad de Salamanca, Church fathers like Athanasius, Origen-even the Latin-writing Tertullian-coexist in his pages with more modern religious treatise-writers like Albrecht Ritschl, Auguste Sabatier, and Ernest Renan. Unamuno was writing, apart from intimate reasons, to stimulate Ortega, then a philosopher of culture, to reflect on religion. Yet we still have to wonder why: Unamuno, then serving as rector of Spain's oldest university, was approaching the height of his creative powers; Ortega, nineteen years his junior, was a fledgling philosopher at the time, living in Madrid when not studying in Germany, without a single major publication to his credit.

Correspondence between Unamuno and Ortega shows that Unamuno at one point intended to send the Tratado by express mail to Ortega. But no record is found that it ever reached Ortega or that Unamuno even mailed it. He severely revised it, abandoning some of its ideas, modifying others, while reorganizing and incorporating the whole into a different work, his main philosophical writing, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos (The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations). This study came out as an article series in 1911 and 1912 in the cultural review La España Moderna, and appeared as a full book in 1912. Why, if Unamuno once felt the Tratado worthy of Ortega's eyes, did he leave it unpublished in his personal archives, along with notes on which it was based? Answers to all these questions lie in Unamuno's biography, between early adolescence and 1911, as well as in his notes, identifying thematic concerns and influences on his thinking.

Unamuno's Spiritual Biography from 1864 to 1897

Unamuno's copious production, overflowing the nine-volume Escelicer collection of his misnamed Obras Completas, tells in essays, novels, lyric poetry, dramas, and newspaper articles of his lifelong struggle to reconcile reason and religious faith. The inner conflict began in early adolescence, in his native Bilbao. The product of a Basque family, with a liberal father who died early, and a conservative, devoutly Catholic mother, Unamuno soon learned to question his faith with his reason. Even during his most pious period, as a preadolescent and a member of the Congregation of Saint Louis Gonzaga, he mistrusted the apparent overzealousness of that saint, whose mischief-making at age four was to cause him bitter remorse to the end of his days. Further, as a teenager, Unamuno lost his fear of hell and with it his orthodox Catholic faith. Instead, he found the possibility of falling into the nothingness after death a far more frightful prospect, a dread he would carry with him to the grave.

Whether he reasoned his faith to the point of destroying it and became an atheist for a brief period, or throughout his life, has long remained a subject of controversy among critics. He tended to see himself as intellectually a skeptic, while subconsciously, emotionally, a believer. Certainly his attempts to reconcile reason and faith in his significant philosophical writings up to the Tratado evince failure, either at the time of composition, or afterwards, when he reflected on them. Between 1880 and 1884, while studying philosophy and letters in Madrid, he abandoned traditional Catholicism forever. He rejected the thought of Spanish Catholic apologists Jaime Balmes and Donoso Cortés, along with that of Zeferino González, Bishop of Cordova, whose neo-Scholastic primers of philosophy confused and embarrassed him for their obscure style. Rationalizing his faith as a sixteen-year-old, amidst the welter of intellectual currents in Madrid at the end of the nineteenth century, generated his skepticism.

A chaotic panorama of intellectual currents dominated the Spanish capital at the time: the Krausism of Julián Sanz del Río and the propensity to reconcile that neo-Kantian idealism with five kinds of positivisms then exported into Spain; in particular, the prestigious positivism of Herbert Spencer with its consequence of agnosticism; ideas for national regeneration in accordance with Krausist ideologues like Joaquín Costa; higher biblical criticism practiced in neighboring France by Ernest Renan and his followers and in Germany by post-Hegelian and neo-Kantian theologians; political radicalism of Marxists and anarchists; and more traditional Catholic voices like those of Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo.

To harmonize reason and faith, young Unamuno tried to graft the thought of German rationalist G. W. F. Hegel onto that of the English positivist Spencer. Balmes had given him, as a boy, a first confused glimpse of Hegel's dialectic, with its puzzling identification of being and nothingness. In all likelihood, Unamuno had carried that memory of Hegel with him from Bilbao to Madrid. The recollection revived when his faith began to waiver and he started fearing the nothingness for the first time. Enrique Rivera de Ventosa has perceived that Unamuno always translated problems of ontology into problems of anthropology, questions of being into issues about being human. This may have happened upon his first direct reading of Hegel, and it may help to explain his Hegelian reading of Spencer to supply the metaphysics he missed in the British positivist.

To be specific, Unamuno learned to read German by translating Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik (Science of Logic). This work rests on an ontic assumption: what is immediately given is being (the thesis). But this being is undetermined. Its lack of determination implies nonbeing (the antithesis). In Hegel's dialectic or reasoning process, thesis and antithesis rise to a new level of discourse by virtue of a new principle, the synthesis. This proposition denies part of the thesis and part of the antithesis while producing a contradiction between what it saves from each of them. Yet being and non-being (or nothingness) become partially identical in the higher synthesis. The synthesis receives the name of the becoming (das Werden) in Hegel. It is a proposition which, in turn, serves as a new thesis and renews the dialectical process.

Unamuno's personal copy of the Wissenschaft der Logik bears suggestive annotations. He has marked Hegel's admission that it is paradoxical to identify being and non-being in the higher synthesis, but that logic goes beyond the mental powers of the common individual. In fact, Hegel defines the human being as thinking, and human existence itself as thinking being. Unamuno responds to this opinion with the word "intellectualism." It is impossible to date these annotations neatly written inside the back cover, but undoubtedly common sense is often associated in Unamuno's mind with Herbert Spencer, who reveres such knowledge. According to Rivera de Ventosa, the combination of Hegel and Spencer robs Unamuno of religious faith.

How and where does this happen? The answer may lie in an incomplete "Filosofía lógica" (Philosophy of Logic), written by Unamuno in 1886, at age twenty-two. The manuscript, discovered by Armando F. Zubizarreta, contains a partial reaction against Spencer. In his book First Principles, Spencer asserts the relativism of all subject-object relationships while stressing the importance of the individual for knowledge: "The existence of each individual as known to himself, has always been held by mankind at large, the most incontrovertible of truths." Spencer adds, "The fact of personal existence ... has been made the basis of sundry philosophies." Indeed, this truth of all truths will one day resurface in the first chapter of Del sentimiento trágico. Meanwhile, in the "Filosofía lógica," Unamuno apparently follows Spencer in affirming the relativity of every subject-object relationship, including the mental image of God and that of the soul. These mental images are equivalent for Unamuno to mere "Ideas" in Hegel's acceptance of a form or proposition lying beyond common sense. However, Unamuno interrupts his "Filosofía lógica" right at this point. The interruption signals failure in his first formal attempt to reconcile reason (Hegel's dialectic) with faith (the Idea of God, raised by Spencer). We may derive a biographical allegory from this failure in view of Unamuno's documented propensity to personalize ontology, relating it to himself. Unamuno's thinking being, springing from a will to live (which we may call a Hegelian thesis), clashes with the annihilating force of reasoned religious doubt (conceivable as an antithesis), and the contradiction gets internalized as the crux of his existence-his Werden, his becoming, his maturing (synthesis), his ever-renewed attempt to harmonize faith and reason on higher levels of reflection. In Unamuno, ontology, the science of being, is made to coincide with philosophical anthropology, the science of human being.

In maturing, Unamuno seems to have undergone the impact of Spanish Krausism, that strange mystical neo-Kantianism, once mercilessly ridiculed in the Germany of Goethe, yet coming to pervade many liberal educational institutions in Spain from about 1868 to 1936. This philosophy rests on the doctrine of pan-en-theism, teaching that everything is in God and God in everything, like an ocean surrounding and permeating a sea-creature, or like the air around and within our bodies. Defining itself as pan-harmonic realism, Krausism in Spain endeavors to reconcile religious faith with the material sciences. Around 1875, the more progressive Spanish Krausists, with Francisco Giner de los Ríos in the lead, temper their idealistic speculation by absorbing empirical methods from positivistic philosophers like Spencer. This trend is what Antonio Jiménez García calls "Krausopositivism." In Unamuno's personal library, many books by positivists coexist with eight volumes by the Krauso-positivist Giner de los Ríos, revered by Unamuno as a great educator in Spain. Unamuno's first major book of essays, En torno al casticismo (On Authentic Tradition, 1895), typifies Krauso-positivism. This five-chapter work was decisively influential on the group of writers who, along with Unamuno, were poetically known in their own times as the "Generation of 1898"-"Azorín" (José Martínez Ruiz), Pío Baroja, Ángel Ganivet, Antonio Machado, Ramiro de Maeztu, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, and initially José Ortega y Gasset, among others. The major speculative ideas of the book derive from the Krausist Julián Sanz del Río and from the Krauso-positivist Francisco Giner de los Ríos, while Unamuno buttresses all this speculation on scientific data drawn from the positivist Herbert Spencer.

A major idea passes from here into the Tratado del amor de Dios, begun only a decade afterwards. This is the doctrine that each being has a double obligation to be itself and, at the same time, without losing its own identity, to be all other beings. Panentheism-the notion of the dwelling of God in everything and of everything in God-lies at the root of this imperative and serves as a paradigm in all spheres of life. Sanz del Río, the founder of Spanish Krausism, holds with Krause that "the most civilized European peoples aspire ... to unity and totality, to an equal and harmonic culture." In En torno al casticismo, probably following Giner, who favors strengthening indigenous Spanish culture while opening it to culture beyond the Pyrenees, Unamuno urges delving into popular Spanish usages while Europeanizing Spain. Therefore Unamuno criticizes the Castilian tradition tending toward exclusivity and divisiveness, as distinguished from provincial usages, more open to universal currents. His analysis of Spanish culture as a whole leads him to differentiate two types of mystics: a closed Castilian variety like that of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, introspective and exclusivist; and a more open, cosmopolitan kind, like that of the Salamancan theologian Fray Luis de León, who, like Saint Francis of Assisi, reaches out to nature to attain God.

* * *

Unamuno garners from Fray Luis's main philosophical work, De los nombres de Cristo (Names of Christ), an ontological principle that comes to underlie all he writes in the Tratado del amor de Dios: "Consiste ... la perfección de las cosas en que cada uno de nosotros sea un mundo perfecto, para que por esta manera, estando todos en mí y yo en todos los otros, y teniendo yo su ser de todos ellos, y todos y cada uno de ellos teniendo el ser mío, se abrace y eslabone toda esta máquina del universo" (The perfection of all things is that each of us strive to be a perfect world so that in this way, I being in everything and everything being in me, and I having being from all things and things having my being, we all embrace and link this whole universal mechanism). In this fashion, each individual approaches God, Who contains everything in Himself. The more the entity increases, absorbing all others while remaining itself, the more it assumes the image and likeness of God. Such a likeness Fray Luis defines as the general desire (pío absoluto) of all things and the end of all creatural yearnings.

The self-affirmation of a being as such is what Unamuno terms its individuality. Its harmonious absorption of diverse contents into itself is what Unamuno calls its personality. God, the Being toward Whom all others aspire, is definable as the maximum of individuality with the maximum of personality. In Fray Luis's words, God is an infinite number of incomprehensible excellences within one perfect, simple excellence. Both in Fray Luis and in the Unamuno of En torno al casticismo, the striving of creatures toward the Creator and the tending of the Creator toward all creatures describe the love of every being. All creatures want to be all in Him and with Him in all. This notion will become seminal in the Tratado del amor de Dios.


Excerpted from Treatise on Love of God by MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) won international renown for the courage and intelligence of his repeated challenges to the Spanish government. His Tragic Sense of Life remains a touchstone text in the modern quarrel between rationality and religion. Nelson R. Orringer is a professor emeritus of modern and classical languages at the University of Connecticut and the author of Ortega y sus fuentes germanicas and other books.

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