Buy it now!

Valid HTML 4.01!
Valid CSS!

The Idea of the Holy

by Rudolf Otto
First published in 1923
  1. The Rational and the Non-Rational — Experiencing the fullness of God must include both the rational aspect of intellectual concepts (theology) and the non-rational aspect of the emotional content of the religious life.
  2. ‘Numen’ and the ‘Numinous’ — The rational concept of holiness usually constitutes moral goodness. The reality of holiness includes more ineffable attributes. The term coined for the holy minus its moral factor is the ‘numinous.’
  3. The Elements in the ‘Numinous’ — Chapters three through six discuss various elements in the numinous:
    • Creature-Feeling — The emotion of a creature submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures.
  4. ‘Mysterium Tremendum’
    • The Analysis of ‘Tremendum’
      1. The Element of Awefulness — A sense of supernatural dread in varying stages from the feeling of something uncanny, eerie, or creepy to a fear of God which is more akin to an inward shuddering from a sense of awe than to a any natural fear. Such feelings may arise in response to an encounter with demons, ghosts, or the otherworldly or in response to the apprehension of that which is called the wrath of God.
      2. The Element of ‘Overpoweringness’ — A sense of majesty that in its very power or might evokes a feeling of the submergence of the self before the divine transcendence. This humility is ironically the foundation of true identification of the self with the transcendent reality, for it is only as we see ourselves as nothing and God as all that the sense of oneness can be realized.
      3. The Element of ‘Energy’ or Urgency — The factor that prompts the fiercest opposition to the merely rational god of the philosophers. Vitality, passion, emotional temper, will, force, movement, excitement, activity, and impetus are characteristic of a living God who is a ‘consuming fire.’
  5. The Analysis of ‘Mysterium’
    1. The ‘Wholly Other’ — That which is beyond the sphere of the familiar and the intelligible, which therefore falls outside the limits of the canny, and is contrasted with it, filling the mind with blank wonder and astonishment.
  6. 5. The Element of Fascination — The creature, at the same moment as he trembles before the transcendent, seeks to turn to it and make it his own. Love, mercy, comfort, and even salvation are the rational parallels of this element that make possession of and by the numen something to be sought for its own sake.
  7. Analogies and Associated Feelings
    • The Law of the Association of Feelings — A feeling can arouse a similar feeling. The presence of one in the consciousness may be the occasion for entertaining the other. Natural feelings may stimulate and be replaced by numinous feelings.
    • Schematization — Numinous feelings have connections with those associated ordinary feelings which afford analogies and run parallel to them here and there, but do not coincide with them in a detailed point-to-point correspondence.
  8. The Holy as a Category of Value: Sin and Atonement — The sense of the creature-consciousness marks a disvaluation of the self. This feeling of being profane or unworthy corresponds to the sense of the value or worthiness of the numinous. Power and authority alone merely intimidate, but that which has real value is worthy of praise and respect. The merely moral man does not understand sin. He misses the mark, and tries again. The man who understands sin also recognizes a need for atonement, in which the numinous actually bestows something of its own quality to make man capable of communion with it. This is the significance of the Christ, who in this way becomes our refuge in which we hide ourselves so that we may be washed, cleansed, and consecrated, and able therefore to come into the presence of Holiness itself. Grace renders us numinous, frees us from our profane being and fits us for intercourse with the numen.
  9. Means of Expression of the Numinous:
    1. Direct Means — The numinous consciousness cannot be taught, it must be awakened from the spirit. If a person does not feel what the numinous is when it is encountered, no amount of preaching or teaching will communicate it.
    2. Indirect Means — The expression of kindred feelings in the natural sphere may present and evoke numinous feelings.
    3. Means by which the Numinous is expressed in Art — Various artistic techniques express the numinous. The sublime may be expressed by the solemn and imposing magnitude of a mighty architectural structure. The magical is expressed through musical notes, gestures, ornaments, or symbols. Negative methods include darkness, which is used in painting as a contrast with some extinguishing brightness; silence, which in music or poetry denotes the response or spontaneous reaction to the numinous; and emptiness or empty distances, which expresses the sublime in the horizontal.
  10. The Numinous in the Old Testament — Although the author’s study of the numinous in the Old Testament takes the view of the higher criticism of secular academics, this chapter does give several instances that illustrate the various elements of the numen presented earlier. Also, the importance of properly balancing the rational and non-rational elements in our understanding of the numinous is emphasized.
  11. The Numinous in the New Testament — The examples under consideration here center more around the theological concepts than the pure revelation of the divine Persons. Some of the concepts discussed include the intuition that the commission of sin is the angry God’s punishment for sin, the idea that the Kingdom of God is something ‘mysterious’ and ‘wholly other’ — greatness and marvel absolute contrasted with the world of here and now, and Paul’s depreciation of the flesh as an expression of the creature-feeling of nothingness or worthlessness. Also a most valuable explanation of the numinous origin of the concept of election/predestination is presented, showing that it is a numinous sense in which the awareness of salvation is comprehended as a divine work which cannot be reduced to simple rationalism. The rational conclusion that divine choice for salvation necessitates divine choice for rejection does not capture the essence of the truth that is being sensed. Rather, it actually an expression again of the creature-consciousness which, apart from denying free will, actually recognizes it as part of the creature, and therefore reduced to naught in the face of the eternal power.
  12. The Numinous in Luther — A study of the expressions of the numinous in the writings of Martin Luther. For Luther, faith was not the mere rational or doctrinal element that the students of Luther have made it, but rather it is a unique power of the soul which unites man with God.
  13. The Two Processes of Development — The ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ is not the merely numinous, but rather the numinous permeated and saturated with rationality, purpose, personality, and morality.
  14. The Holy as an A Priori Category. Part I — Religious ideas and feelings are formed from a hidden substantive source which lies in the mind independently of sense-experience. This source is a predisposition of the human spirit producing a religious impulsion which drives the individual toward spiritual development. We are seekers by nature.
  15. Its Earliest Manifestations — Studies of numinous phenomena in the most primitive societies: magic, worship of the dead, the idea of ‘souls’ and ‘spirits,’ the idea of ‘power,’ seeing volcanoes, sun, moon, and clouds as alive or animate, the element of wonder in fairy-stories, the awareness of daemons, the notions of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ or ‘pure’ and ‘impure,’ a primal numinous awe such as marks out ‘sacred places,’ and the elements present in the mythologies of savage tribes that reach beyond the point those peoples have attained in religious rites.
  16. The ‘Cruder’ Phases — Partial revelation produces in many religions only crude representations of the numinous. More complete revelation, however, does not make the numinous more intelligible and comprehensible. To know and to understand conceptually are two different things.
  17. The Holy as an A Priori Category. Part II — There is an inward and necessary union of the rational and the non-rational elements in religion. Our understanding can only compass the relative. That which is absolute exceeds our power to comprehend. The continual living activity of the non-rational elements guards a religion from passing into mere rationalism, while being steeped in and saturated with rational elements guards it from sinking into fanaticism or mere mysticality.
  18. The Manifestations of the ‘Holy’ and the Faculty of ‘Divination’ — The word ‘divination’ is here used to refer to the faculty of recognizing the outward revelation of the divine nature in particular occurrences or displayed in actions. This interpretation of the intuitions, symbols, and signs which we take as being prophetic is more closely aligned with aesthetic judgement than logical judgement. They are not worked out in accordance with a clear intellectual scheme, but in conformity to obscure, dim principles which must be felt rather than stated explicitly.
  19. Divination in Primitive Christianity — The inherent (a priori) ability to sense the holy by intuition and feeling is displayed in early Christianity by the ‘divination’ of Jesus Christ by His followers as being holiness made manifest.
  20. Divination in Christianity To-Day — The numinous concepts underlying most of the theology and doctrines of Christianity must be understood through contemplation of their non-rational elements, as well as understood through the intellectual exposition of their rational elements. The example of the cross shows this in its co-mingling of the most exalted love with the most awe-inspiring wrath, making it so much more than a mere instrument of legal satisfaction for the broken law of God.
  21. History and the A Priori in Religion: Summary and Conclusion — A real narration of a real life involves the interplay of stimulus and experience on one side and natural endowment on the other, bringing something individual and unique into being. In this way, everyone is capable of having intuitions of ‘divination’ as their spiritual senses are exercised. The prophet has this ability not as a faculty of mere receptivity, but as a special endowment. Beyond this stage is the son, who actually expresses the numinous in his very person, becoming the object of such ‘divination.’
  1. Chrysostom on the Inconceivable in God
  2. The Numinous in Poetry, Hymn, and Liturgy
  3. Original Numinous Sounds
  4. ‘Spirit’ and ‘Soul’ as Numinous Entities
  5. The Supra-personal in the Numinous — A discussion of the qualities of God which transcend our concepts of personality.
  6. The Mystical Element in Luther’s Conception of ‘Faith’
  7. ‘Signs Following’
  8. Silent Worship — The numinous silence of Sacrament, the silence of waiting in expectation of the Spirit and its message, the silence of union or fellowship which is the completion of the first two silences.
  9. A Numinous Experience of John Ruskin
  10. The Expression of the Numinous in English
  11. The Mysterium Tremendum in Robertson and Watts
  12. The Resurrection as a Spiritual Experience
  13. Religious Essays, A Supplement to ‘The Idea of the Holy’: table of contents