The thought of the discipline and renunciation of our lower nature in order to the realisation of a higher nature of mankind is written upon the very face of the second part of Faust. Certain passages in Dichtung and Wahrheit are even more familiar. ’Our physical as well as our social life, morality, custom, knowledge of the world, philosophy, religion, even many an accidental occurrence in our daily life, all tell us that we must renounce.’ ’Renunciation, once for all, in view of the eternal,’ that was the lesson which he said made him feel an atmosphere of peace breathed upon him. He perceived the supreme moral prominence of certain Christian ideas, especially that of the atonement as he interpreted it. ‘It is altogether strange to me,’ he writes to Jacobi, ’that I, an old heathen, should see the cross planted in my own garden, and hear Christ’s blood preached without its offending me.’
Goethe’s quarrel with Christianity was due to two causes. In the first place, it was due to his viewing Christianity as mainly, if not exclusively, a religion of the other world, as it has been called, a religion whose God is not the principle of all life and nature and for which nature and life are not divine. In the second place, it was due to the prominence of the negative or ascetic element in Christianity as commonly presented, to the fact that in that presentation the law of self-sacrifice bore no relation to the law of self-realisation. In both of these respects he would have found himself much more at home with the apprehension of Christianity which we have inherited from the nineteenth century. The programme of charity which he outlines in the Wanderjahre as a substitute for religion would be taken to-day, so far as it goes, as a rather moderate expression of the very spirit of the Christian religion.