Hamann, Essay of a Sibyl on MarriagePicking up where we left off (see the previous post), we continue our discussion of Hamann’s wedding present to Johann Friedrich Hartknoch and Albertine Toussaint.  The unconventional gift was a short work interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the guise of a sibyl. Hartknoch, being Hamann’s publisher, found the gift worth publishing in 1775. We first took a look at how Hamann understood the relationship between God and Eros. Now we turn to the issues of the image of God and marriage.



The Image of God and Eros

As Eros is rooted in the love of the Trinity and the Trinity’s act of creation, human expression of Eros and sexual holiness must not deviate from this foundation. Eros is part of the human make-up. It is not antagonistic to what it means to be human. At the same time, no amount of human love can produce a rich and vibrant expression of Eros. Nor should Eros be understood as a postlapsarian alteration due to sin. Hence, no amount of abstinence from Eros, recalling that Eros is not sexual liberation, can result in sexual holiness. For Hamann, Eros is not a passion of love but a quality of love.

Eros, as a human characteristic, is solely due to the fact that we are created in God’s image. The “pensive god of love” “took counsel with himself” to proclaim: “Let us make human beings, an image, which is like us.”[1] This is where Eros becomes part of the human make-up. We are created in God’s image to possess, experience, and express Eros. Love and Eros is part of what it means to be created in God’s image. In other words, the question of sexual identity is not merely a matter of hetero, homo, or bi. Such categories have not fully perceived the issue of sexual identity. Rather, sexual identity is a matter of divine identity.

As image-bearers we are “a GOD of the earth.”[2] This “divinity” is not meant to puff up humanity, for “none is more… in need of a greater education than the human,” but to emphasize our “commission to be creator, self-maintainer and ever-multiplier.”[3] Created in the image of God, part of being human is the creation of more humans. Just as God’s love gave birth to the world, human Eros, gives birth to new life. We serve as God’s image bearers by following his act of creation. Hence, the “divine idea” or the command of procreation in Gen 1:28 is wrapped up in our identity as God’s image bearers.

Sex, traditionally a necessary component of procreation, is not to be belittled. Once again, the command to procreate is before the fall and not a byproduct of sin. Countering a culture of sexual impurity is not a doing away of sex. Sexual holiness is not a disparaging of Eros. Rather, sexual holiness is a contextualizing of Eros. It is developing a robust understanding and practice of sex.

The question begs, where does the shame come from when addressing matters of sex? Hamann asks, “is not this shame a secret blemish of our nature, and at the same time a mute reproach of its glorious, only-wise and highly-praised Creator?”[4] Sex is not something to be embarrassed by. Perhaps, the way society has abused sex has taught us to be uncomfortable, however, why should we be embarrassed by what was created by God? Adam and Eve were created as sexual beings and the realization of their naked state occurred only after the fall. In Gen 2:25 we read of a naked Adam and Eve unashamed, but in Gen 3:7, after the fall, a realization of their nakedness accompanied by deep shame. Hamann argues that shame has crippled us from taking up our image of God. Shame, not sexuality, is the blemish of humanity.

Unmerited shame not only injures our identity but also the one who gave us this identity. If we treat sex in a shameful manner we offend God who created us with the function and command of sex and reproduction. After the creation of man and woman as sexual beings God calls his creation good (Gen 2:31). It follows then, that as with sexual identity, sexual holiness is also a matter of divine identity. Sexual holiness does not equal the neglecting of Eros nor does a shunning of Eros foster holiness. On the contrary, the marginalization of Eros is a forfeiting not only of our divine commission, but also our identity as created in God’s image, and ultimately of God’s divine plan.

 Marriage and Eros

Hamann is not heralding a message of sexual liberation or warranting an understanding of sex that results in sexual depravity or licentiousness. There are boundaries to the “divine idea” of procreation. More accurately, there are divinely appointed outlets for sex, which liberates sex beyond shame, beyond a reactionary compulsion against this shame. Marriage, being the divinely appointed covenant, is the arena of Eros.

Of God’s creation, humans are the only ones who are created with this “purpose.” Seen in Gen 2:24, we have a “premeditated and voluntary purpose or a covenant and social contract,” which is exclusive to us.[5] Hamann argues that “Marriage is therefore a covenant constructed by the power of calm premeditation, and grounded in reason and fidelity.”[6] This does not mean that marriage is a human construct. This covenant finds its origin in God’s creation. It is the institution in which God intended Eros and the command of procreation to be carried out.

There are two ramifications to understanding marriage as a divinely gifted institution. First, Hamann states, “marriage is the precious foundation and cornerstone of the whole of society; the misanthropic spirit of our age reveals itself the most strongest in the laws of marriage.”[7] When we recognize the bond between marriage and Eros, Eros defined by Hamann (image of God, command of procreation, its foundation of divine love and creation), we begin to perceive how laws which violate this institution carry a misanthropic spirit. Laws that violate marriage, or Eros, violate the divine order and the intended creation of humanity. You cannot separate marriage from Eros, and you cannot separate Eros from humanity, and you cannot separate humanity from the God who created.

As much as an infraction of marriage is injurious, when marriage and Eros is honored according to its divine intention, it has a direct effect on society. Hamann writes that there is “nothing more beneficial for the human race and bourgeois society, than to strive for that ideal of holiness for the state of marriage.”[8] Drawing from Matthew, Hamann then proceeds to develop this striving for the ideal of holiness and the state of marriage in Jesus’ preaching on the Mount of Olives. The affirmation being that marriage, Eros, and sexual holiness are not merely inward or private matters. Sexual holiness is a societal issue.

Second, the “mystery is great!”[9] We begin to see just how mysterious marriage truly is by its association with the Trinity. In marriage “the man is related to GOD as the wife to the man, and where these three are one.”[10] Marriage, as a covenant not only between man and woman but also of human and God, forms an image of the Trinity. To unravel the “magical crafts of harmony” is to address creation, redemption, and the unity within the Trinity.[11]


The implications of Hamann’s work are many, but as we come to a close I would like to focus on three. First, we are not doing anyone any favors when we approach sexual holiness from a moralistic perspective. In a self-fulfilling manner, moralism saps the divine concept of sexuality of its divine component, leaving only the dross. Eros or sexuality is reduced to a passion. How severe the sins of moralism that it would mistake the divine for the vulgar and the vulgar for the divine?

Additionally, sexuality and Eros is part of the human make-up. This component of humanity does not separate us from God, but on the contrary, brings us closer to our creator. Moralism has a counterproductive effect on this dynamic. It breaks one of the links between God and humanity. May we not reproach our identity or the one in which we find our identity for the sake of cultural sentiments or misplaced intentions of holiness.

Second, sexual holiness is not merely a negative act of restraint, but a positive movement of taking up the divine image and being united with spouse and God. Contrary to moralism, we do not develop sexual holiness by merely combating the abuse of sex. Sexual liberation or promiscuity is certainly sin but absence of sex is not the same as sexual holiness. Sexual impurity is not a violation of some code. It is a violation of God. Hence, sexual holiness is not merely a matter of restrained purity. Restraint may be an expression of sexual holiness, but it is not the sum of sexual holiness.

Instead, sexual holiness actively fosters the divine love, unity, and purity of sex. Rather than a reactionary response to society’s abuse of sex, sexual holiness is a reactionary response to the creator of sex. Sexual holiness is recognition of the foundational divine love, which stooped to the lowly level of the material in creation. Sexual holiness is admitting that we are created with a divine purpose as God’s representative on earth. Sexual holiness is an active living out of our created nature in the image of God. Sexual holiness is the unity with God and his intended purpose for man and woman. This unity is not of two but of three; in other words, the image of the Trinity and creation according to the divine command.

Finally, the sibyl’s message is not only a descriptive account of what God has done through Eros and marriage. The message is a prophetic one. The essay begins with an admonishment to “hear the voice of a sibyl, who can prophesy splendidly.”[12] As the Old Testament prophets, the sibyl brings divine reckoning for the present but also an eschatological element. The call to sexual holiness is an urgent cry for the current state of the Church. As not merely a private matter, sexual purity holds significance for society at large and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

[1] Johann Georg Hamann, Sämtliche Werke, 6 vols., ed. Josef Nadler (Vienna: Herder, 1949-57), III, 199. Gen 1:26,27. Henceforth N. All translations from N are of my own. A translation can be found in Gwen Griffith Dickson, Johann Georg Hamann’s Relational Metacriticism (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1995).

[2] N III, 199. Gen 1:26,28

[3] N III, 199.

[4] N III, 199.

[5] N III, 199.

[6] N III, 199.

[7] N III, 200.

[8] N III, 200; (Matt 5:28, 32)

[9] N III, 200.

[10] N III, 200.

[11] N III, 199.

[12] N III, 199

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