HISTORY AND THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT
We have already agreed that, if we wish to grasp the real character of spiritual life, we must avoid the temptation to look at it as merely a historical subject. If it is what it claims to be, it is a form of eternal life, as constant, as accessible to us here and now, as in any so-called age of faith: therefore of actual and present importance, or else nothing at all. This is why I think that the approach to it through philosophy and psychology is so much to be preferred to the approach through pure history. Yet there is a sense in which we must not neglect such history; for here, if we try to enter by sympathy into the past, we can see the life of the Spirit emerging and being lived in all degrees of perfection and under many different forms. Here, through and behind the immense diversity of temperaments which it has transfigured, we can best realise its uniform and enduring character; and therefore our own possibility of attaining to it, and the way that we must tread so to do. History does not exhort us or explain to us, but exhibits living specimens to us; and these specimens witness again and again to the fact that a compelling power does exist in the world—little understood, even by those who are inspired by it—which presses men to transcend their material limitations and mental conflicts, and live a new creative life of harmony, freedom and joy. Directly human character emerges as one of man’s prime interests, this possibility emerges too, and is never lost sight of again. Hindu, Buddhist, Egyptian, Greek, Alexandrian, Moslem and Christian all declare with more or less completeness a way of life, a path, a curve of development which shall end in its attainment; and history brings us face to face with the real and human men and women who have followed this way, and found its promise to be true.
It is, indeed, of supreme importance to us that these men and women did truly and actually thus grow, suffer and attain: did so feel the pressure of a more intense life, and the demand of a more authentic love. Their adventures, whatsoever addition legend may have made to them, belong at bottom to the realm of fact, of realistic happening, not of phantasy: and therefore speak not merely to our imagination but to our will. Unless the spiritual life were thus a part of history, it could only have for us the interest of a noble dream: an interest actually less than that of great poetry, for this has at least been given to us by man’s hard passionate work of expressing in concrete image—and ever the more concrete, the greater his art—the results of his transcendental contacts with Beauty, Power or Love. Thus, as the tracking-out of a concrete life, a Man, from Nazareth to Calvary, made of Christianity a veritable human revelation of God and not a Gnostic answer to the riddle of the soul; so the real and solid men and