HENOTHEISM , a term coined from the Greek henos ("one") and theos ("god"), was for some time used by F. Max Müller interchangeably with kathenotheism, derived from the Greek kathʿhena ("one by one"). It was Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854) who first used the word henotheism in his study of mythology to indicate "relative, rudimentary monotheism," which he supposed was the idea of God in prehistoric consciousness (Philosophie der Mythologie und der Offenbarung, 1842). F. Max Müller (1823–1900), in his attempt at "tracing the origin and first growth of human thought," employed the word as a technical term of Religionswissenschaft to designate a peculiar form of polytheism that in his view was characteristic of the description of the gods in the Ṛgveda. He observed that in the Vedas—the oldest Indian religious literature—although deities are invoked by a variety of names, such as Agni ("fire"), Sūrya ("the sun"), Uṣas ("dawn"), Maruts ("the storms"), Pṛthvī ("the earth"), Āp ("the waters"), and Nadī ("the rivers"), that are closely connected with nature, as well as by proper names, such as Varuṇa, Mitra, Indra, and Aditi, "to the mind of the supplicant" each god is "at the time a real divinity, supreme and absolute," and not limited by the powers of any other gods. Müller called this "belief in single gods" henotheism or kathenotheism," a worship of one god after another" (Müller, 1881, pp. 136–137). In his lectures of 1882 he noted that rather than the term kathenotheism the "shorter term henotheism has found more general acceptance, as conveying more definitely the opposition between monotheism, the worship of only one God, and henotheism, the worship of single gods" (Müller, 1896, pp. 146–147).
Müller distinguished this Vedic plurality of gods from the idea of polytheism, which, as he pointed out, derived chiefly from Greek and Roman antiquity and designated "a certain more or less organized system of gods, different in power and rank, and all subordinate to a supreme God, a Zeus or Jupiter" (Müller, 1896, pp. 145–146).
Partly in opposition to the thesis of Ernest Renan (1823–1892) that monotheism was a unique tendency of the Semitic race, Müller suggested that a "henotheistic phase" was "a peculiar phase of religion" that was found probably everywhere preceding either polytheism or monotheism (Müller, 1873, p. 142; cf. Müller, 1881, p. 414). He asserted that such a phase existed not only in India but in Greece, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere (Müller, 1879, p. 275; cf. Müller, 1896, p. 163). Müller maintained that this henotheistic phase "tended to become a belief in one God, presiding over the other no longer supreme gods—polytheism ; or a belief in one god, excluding the very possibility of other gods—monotheism " (Müller, 1879, p. 362; cf. Müller, 1896, p. 163). In comparing monotheism and henotheism, Müller made the following observation: "There is one kind of oneness which does not exclude the idea of plurality," i.e., henotheism, and "there is another which does" exclude the idea of plurality, i.e., monotheism (Müller, 1881, p. 415).
The association of henotheism with the idea of "rudimentary monotheism," however, never completely disappeared from the minds of some scholars of religion. Thus, henotheism was sometimes confused with monolatry, a term best applied to the religion of ancient Israel before it attained monotheism, when the existence of gods other than Yahveh was admitted but their worship was strictly forbidden (see Ex. 22:20). Friedrich Heiler (1961, p. 323) and others have pointed out, however, that monolatry—the exclusive worship of a god by a certain social group—clearly differs from the idea of henotheism expounded by Müller.
Müller's idea of henotheism has a speculative dimension that deals with how a divine reality reveals itself to humans. He recognized in the Vedas a "breaking forth" of the awareness "that all the deities are but different names of one and the same godhead" and that "the primitive intuition of the godhead"—"the main-spring of all later religion"—"is neither monotheistic nor polytheistic.… God is God" (Müller, 1881, pp. 136–137 and 414–415). Thus, he asserted that "the unity of the Divine" was at the basis of the henotheistic mode of expression (Müller, 1896, p. 144). From his study of the Vedas Müller concluded that "we learn a lesson—the lesson how gods were made and unmade —how the Beyond or the Infinite was named by different names in order to bring it near to the mind of [hu]man [beings], to make it for a time comprehensible, until, when name after name had proved of no avail, a nameless God was felt to answer best the restless cravings of the human heart" (Müller, 1896, p. 163). However, if one disregards these metaphysical assertions, Müller's idea of henotheism appears to be yet another term that designates a certain plurality of gods, entailing a possible confusion with such terms as monotheism, polytheism, and monolatry.
The idea of henotheism proposed by Müller is twofold: (1) it designates a certain developmental stage within a religion preceding polytheism or monotheism, and (2) a unique, qualitative "kairological moment," or aspect, of human religious awareness itself (cf. Panikkar, p. 266). Heiler, for one, employs the word henotheism for its psychological significance, equating it with "subjective theism," which in his view paves a way to objective monotheism (Heiler, p. 460). The primordial religious intuition that attracted Müller's attention may be compared with one of the two modes of thinking Heidegger identifies, namely with the besinnliches Denken, or meditative thinking, as opposed to rechnendes Denken, or calculative thinking.
For general information on henotheism see D. W. Holsten's article "Henotheismus," in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3d ed., vol. 3 (Tübingen, 1959). See Robert Mackintosh's article "Monolatry and Henotheism," in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 8 (Edinburgh, 1915), for an excellent account of the history of henotheism and monolatry as technical terms. Raffaele Pettazzoni gives a concise historical background for the word henotheism when discussing primitive monotheism in his Essays on the History of Religions (Leiden, 1967); therein Pettazzoni assesses the influence of Schelling on F. Max Müller. For Max Müller's writings, see Chips from a German Workshop, vols. 1 and 2 (1867–1875; New York, 1895–1898). Müller's India: What Can It Teach Us? (London, 1896) contains lectures he delivered in 1882 at the University of Cambridge. His Introduction to the Science of Religion (London, 1873) includes the "Lectures on the Science of Religion." Müller's article "Henotheism, Polytheism, Monotheism, Atheism" is found in his Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (New York, 1879). Selected Essays on Language, Mythology and Religion, vol. 2 (1881; New York, 1978), contains many of Müller's essays from his Chips from a German Workshop, including "Lecture on the Vedas" and "Semitic Monotheism." For later interpretations of henotheism, see, for example, Theophile J. Meek's Hebrew Origins (1936; New York, 1960) and Friedrich Heiler's Erscheinungsformen und Wesen der Religion (Stuttgart, 1961). On the phrase "kairological moment," see Raimon (var. Raimundo) Panikkar's chapter "Silence and the Word," in Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics (New York, 1979). A good discussion of Martin Heidegger's contrasted modes of thinking is found in his Discourse on Thinking (New York, 1966).
Michiko Yusa (1987 and 2005)
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