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|Table of Contents|
|Start of eBook||1|
|B. THE BACKGROUND||17|
|RITSCHL AND THE RITSCHLIANS||65|
|LIFE OF JESUS||92|
|THE OLD TESTAMENT||94|
|THE HISTORY OF DOCTRINE||98|
|NATURALISM AND AGNOSTICISM||117|
|THE SOCIAL SCIENCES||133|
|THE ORIEL SCHOOL||145|
|ERSKINE AND CAMPBELL||145|
|THE CATHOLIC REVIVAL||153|
|THE OXFORD MOVEMENT||154|
|THE BROAD CHURCH||163|
The English-speaking peoples; action and reaction.
The poets. 195.
The oriel school. 199.
ERSINE and Campbell. 201.
The Catholic revival. 211.
The Oxford movement. 212.
Phillips Brooks. 224.
The broad church. 224.
The Protestant Reformation marked an era both in life and thought for the modern world. It ushered in a revolution in Europe. It established distinctions and initiated tendencies which are still significant. These distinctions have been significant not for Europe alone. They have had influence also upon those continents which since the Reformation have come under the dominion of Europeans. Yet few would now regard the Reformation as epoch-making in the sense in which that pre-eminence has been claimed. No one now esteems that it separates the modern from the mediaeval and ancient world in the manner once supposed. The perspective of history makes it evident that large areas of life and thought remained then untouched by the new spirit. Assumptions which had their origin in feudal or even in classical culture continued unquestioned. More than this, impulses in rational life and in the interpretation of religion, which showed themselves with clearness in one and another of the reformers themselves, were lost sight of, if not actually repudiated, by their successors. It is possible to view many things in the intellectual and religious life of the nineteenth century, even some which Protestants have passionately reprobated, as but the taking up again of clues which the reformers had let fall, the carrying out of purposes of their movement which were partly hidden from themselves.
Men have asserted that the Renaissance inaugurated a period of paganism. They have gloried that there supervened upon this paganism the religious revival which the Reformation was. Even these men will, however, not deny that it was the intellectual rejuvenation which made the religious reformation possible or, at all events, effective. Nor can it be denied that after the Revolution, in the Protestant communities the intellectual element was thrust into the background. The practical and devotional prevailed. Humanism was for a time shut out. There was more room for it in the Roman Church than
There is a remarkable unity in the history of Protestant thought in the period from the Reformation to the end of the eighteenth century. There is a still more surprising unity of Protestant thought in this period with the thought of the mediaeval and ancient Church. The basis and methods are the same. Upon many points the conclusions are identical. There was nothing of which the Protestant scholastics were more proud than of their agreement with the Fathers of the early Church. They did not perceive in how large degree they were at one with Christian thinkers of the Roman communion as well. Few seem to have realised how largely Catholic in principle Protestant thought has been. The fundamental principles at the basis of the reasoning have been the same. The notions of revelation and inspiration were identical. The idea of authority was common to both, only the instance in which that authority is lodged was different. The thoughts of God and man, of the world, of creation, of providence and prayer, of the nature and means of salvation, are similar. Newman was right in discovering that from the first he had thought, only and always, in what he called Catholic terms. It was veiled from him that many of those who ardently opposed him thought in those same terms.
It is impossible to write upon the theme which this book sets itself without using the terms Catholic and Protestant in the conventional sense. The words stand for certain historic magnitudes. It is equally impossible to conceal from ourselves how misleading the language often is. The line between that which has been happily called the religion of authority and the religion of the spirit does not run between Catholic and Protestant. It runs through the middle of many Protestant bodies, through the border only of some, and who will say that the Roman Church knows nothing of this contrast? The sole use of recurrence here to the historic distinction is to emphasise the fact that this distinction stands for less than has commonly been supposed. In a large way the history of Christian thought, from earliest times to the end of the eighteenth century, presents a very striking unity.
In contrast with this, that modern reflection which has taken the phenomenon known as religion and, specifically, that historic form of religion known as Christianity, as its object, has indeed also slowly revealed the fact that it is in possession of certain principles. Furthermore, these principles, as they have emerged, have been felt to be new and distinctive principles. They are essentially modern principles. They are the principles which, taken together, differentiate the thinker of the nineteenth century from all who have ever been before him. They are principles which unite all thinkers at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, in practically every portion of the world, as they think of all subjects except religion. It comes more and more to be felt that these principles must be reckoned with in our thought concerning religion as well.
One of these principles is, for example, that of dealing in true critical fashion with problems of history and literature. Long before the end of the age of rationalism, this principle had been applied to literature and history, other than those called sacred. The thorough going application of this scientific method to the literatures and history of the Old and New Testaments is almost wholly an achievement of the nineteenth century. It has completely altered the view of revelation and inspiration. The altered view of the nature of the documents of revelation has had immeasurable consequences for dogma.
Another of these elements is the new view of nature and of man’s relation to nature. Certain notable discoveries in physics and astronomy had proved possible of combination with traditional religion, as in the case of Newton. Or again, they had proved impossible of combination with any religion, as in the case of Laplace. The review of the religious and Christian problem in the light of the ever increasing volume of scientific discoveries—this is the new thing in the period which we have undertaken to describe. A theory of nature as a totality, in which man, not merely as physical, but even also as social and moral and religious being, has place in a series which suggests no break, has affected the doctrines of God and of man in a way which neither those who revered nor those who repudiated religion at the beginning of the nineteenth century could have imagined.
Another leading principle grows out of Kant’s distinction of two worlds and two orders of reason. That distinction issued in a new theory of knowledge. It laid a new foundation for an idealistic construing of the universe. In one way it was the answer of a profoundly religious nature to the triviality and effrontery into which the great rationalistic movement had run out. By it the philosopher gave standing forever to much that prophets and mystics in every age had felt to be true, yet had never been able to prove by any method which the ordered reasoning of man had provided. Religion as feeling regained its place. Ethics was set once more in the light of the eternal. The soul of man became the object of a scientific study.
There have been thus indicated three, at least, of the larger factors which enter into an interpretation of Christianity which may fairly be said to be new in the nineteenth century. They are new in a sense in which the intellectual elements entering into the reconsideration of Christianity in the age of the Reformation were not new. They are characteristic of the nineteenth century. They would naturally issue in an interpretation of Christianity in the general context of the life and thought of that century. The philosophical revolution inaugurated by Kant, with the general drift toward monism in the interpretation of the universe, separates from their forebears men who have lived since Kant, by a greater interval than that which divided Kant from Plato. The evolutionary view of nature, as developed from Schelling and Comte through Darwin to Bergson, divides men now living from the contemporaries of Kant in his youthful studies of nature, as those men were not divided from the followers of Aristotle.
Of purpose, the phrase Christian thought has been interpreted as thought concerning Christianity. The problem which this book essays is that of an outline of the history of the thought which has been devoted, during this period of marvellous progress, to that particular object in consciousness and history which is known as Christianity. Christianity, as object of the philosophical, critical, and scientific reflection of the age—this it is which we propose to consider. Our religion as affected in its interpretation by principles of thought which are already widespread, and bid fair to become universal among educated men—this it is which in this little volume we aim to discuss. The term religious thought has not always had this significance. Philosophy of religion has signified, often, a philosophising of which religion was, so to say, the atmosphere. We cannot wonder if, in these circumstances, to the minds of some, the atmosphere has seemed to hinder clearness of vision. The whole subject of the philosophy of religion has within the last few decades undergone a revival, since it has been accepted that the aim is not to philosophise upon things in general in a religious spirit. On the contrary, the aim is to consider religion itself, with the best aid which current philosophy and science afford. In this sense only can we give the study of religion and Christianity a place among the sciences.
It remains true, now as always, that the majority, at all events, of those who have thought profoundly concerning Christianity will be found to have been Christian men. Religion is a form of consciousness. It will be those who have had experience to which that consciousness corresponds, whose judgments can be supposed to have weight. That remark is true, for example, of aesthetic matters as well. To be a good judge of music one must have musical feeling and experience. To speak with any deeper reasonableness concerning faith, one must have faith. To think
It follows that not all of the thinkers with whom we have to deal will have been, in their own time, of the number of avowedly Christian men. Some who have greatly furthered movements which in the end proved fruitful for Christian thought, have been men who in their own time alienated from professed and official religion. In the retrospect we must often feel that their opposition to that which they took to be religion was justifiable. Yet their identification of that with religion itself, and their frank declaration of what they called their own irreligion, was often a mistake. It was a mistake to which both they and their opponents in due proportion contributed. A still larger class of those with whom we have to do have indeed asserted for themselves a personal adherence to Christianity. But their identification with Christianity, or with a particular Christian Church, has been often bitterly denied by those who bore official responsibility in the Church. The heresy of one generation is the orthodoxy of the next. There is something perverse in Gottfried Arnold’s maxim, that the true Church, in any age, is to be found with those who have just been excommunicated from the actual Church. However, the maxim points in the direction of a truth. By far the larger part of those with whom we have to do have had acknowledged relation to the Christian tradition and institution. They were Christians and, at the same time, true children of the intellectual life of their own age. They esteemed it not merely their privilege, but also their duty, to endeavour to ponder anew the religious and Christian problem, and to state that which they thought in a manner congruous with the thoughts which the men of the age would naturally have concerning other themes.
It has been to most of these men axiomatic that doctrine has only relative truth. Doctrine is but a composite of the content of the religious consciousness with materials which the intellect of a given man or age or nation in the total view of life affords. As such, doctrine is necessary and inevitable for all those who in any measure live the life of the mind. But the condition of doctrine is its mobile, its fluid and changing character. It is the combination of a more or less stable and characteristic experience, with a reflection which, exactly in proportion as it is genuine, is transformed from age to age, is modified by qualities of race and, in the last analysis, differs with individual men. Dogma is that portion of doctrine which has been elevated by decree of ecclesiastical authority, or even only by common consent, into an absoluteness which is altogether foreign to its nature. It is that part of doctrine concerning which men have forgotten that it had a history, and have decided that it shall have no more. In its very notion dogma confounds a statement of truth, which must of necessity be human, with the truth itself, which is divine. In its identification of statement and truth it demands credence instead of faith. Men have confounded doctrine and dogma; they have been taught so to do. They have felt the history of Christian doctrine to be an unfruitful and uninteresting theme. But the history of Christian thought would seek to set forth the series of interpretations put, by successive generations, upon the greatest of all human experiences, the experience of the communion of men with God. These interpretations ray out at all edges into the general intellectual life of the age. They draw one whole set of their formative impulses from the general intellectual life of the age. It is this relation of the progress of doctrine to the general history of thought in the nineteenth century, which the writer designed to emphasise in choosing the title of this work.
As was indicated in the closing paragraphs of the preceding volume of this series, the issue of the age of rationalism had been for the cause of religion on the whole a distressing one. The majority of those who were resolved to follow reason were agreed in abjuring religion. That they had, as it seems to us, but a meagre understanding of what religion is, made little difference in their conclusion. Bishop Butler complains in his Analogy that religion was in his time hardly considered a subject for discussion among reasonable men. Schleiermacher in the very title of his Discourses makes it plain that in Germany the situation was not different. If the reasonable eschewed religious protests in Germany, evangelicals in England, the men of the great revivals in America, many of them, took up a corresponding position as towards the life of reason, especially toward the use of reason in religion. The sinister cast which the word rationalism bears in much of the
We should say a word at this point as to the general relation of religion and philosophy. We realise the evil which Kant first in clearness pointed out. It was the evil of an apprehension which made the study of religion a department of metaphysics. The tendency of that apprehension was to do but scant justice to the historical content of Christianity. Religion is an historical phenomenon. Especially is this true of Christianity. It is a fact, or rather, a vast complex of facts. It is a positive religion. It is connected with personalities, above all with one transcendent personality, that of Jesus. It sprang out of another religion which had already emerged into the light of world-history. It has been associated for two thousand years with portions of the race which have made achievements in culture and left record of those achievements. It is the function of speculation to interpret this phenomenon. When speculation is tempted to spin by its own processes something which it would set beside this historic magnitude or put in place of it, and still call that Christianity, we must disallow the claim. It was the licence of its speculative endeavour, and the identification of these endeavours with Christianity, which finally discredited Hegelianism with religious men. Nor can it be denied that theologians themselves have been sinners in this respect. The disposition to regard Christianity as a revealed and divinely authoritative metaphysic began early and continued long. When the theologians also set out to interpret Christianity and end in offering us a substitute, which, if it were acknowledged as absolute truth, would do away with Christianity as historic fact, as little can we allow the claim.
Again, Christianity exists not merely as a matter of history. It exists also as a fact in living consciousness. It is the function of psychology to investigate that consciousness. We must say that, accurately speaking, there is no such thing as Christian philosophy. There are philosophies, good or bad, current or obsolete. These are Christian only in being applied to the history of Christianity and the content of the Christian consciousness. There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as Christian consciousness. There is the human consciousness, operating with and operated upon by the impulse of Christianity. It is the great human experience from which we single out for investigation that part which is concerned with religion, and call that the religious experience. It is essential, therefore, that those general investigations of human consciousness and experience, as such, which are being carried on all about us should be reckoned with, if our Christian life and thought are not altogether to fall out of touch with advancing knowledge. For this reason we have misgiving about the position of some followers of Ritschl. Their opinion, pushed to the limit, seems to mean that we have nothing to do with philosophy, or with the advance of science. Religion is a feeling of which he alone who possesses it can give account. He alone who has it can appreciate such an account when given. We acknowledge that religion is in part a feeling. But that feeling must have rational justification. It must also have rational guidance if it is to be saved from degenerating into fanaticism.
To say that we have nothing to do with philosophy ends in our having to do with a bad philosophy. In that case we have a philosophy with which we operate without having investigated it, instead of having one with which we operate because we have investigated it. The philosophy of which we are aware we have. The philosophy of which we are not aware has us. No doubt, we may have religion without philosophy, but we cannot formulate it even in the rudest way to ourselves, we cannot communicate it in any way whatsoever to others, except in the terms of a philosophy. In the general sense in which every man has a philosophy, this is merely the deposit of the regnant notions of the time. It may be amended or superseded, and our theology with it. Yet while it lasts it is our one possible vehicle of expression. It is the interpreter and the critique of what we have experienced. It is not open to a man to retreat within himself and say, I am a Christian, I feel thus, I think so, these thoughts are the content of Christianity. The consequence of that position is that we make the religious experience to be no part of the normal human experience. If we contend that the being a Christian is the great human experience, that the religious life is the true human life, we must pursue the opposite course. We must make the religious life coherent with all the other phases and elements of life. If we would contend that religious thought is the truest and deepest thought, we must begin at this very point. We must make it conform absolutely to the laws of all other thought. To contend for its isolation, as an area by itself and a process subject only to its own laws, is to court the judgment of men, that in its zeal to be Christian it has ceased to be thought.
Our most profitable mode of procedure would seem to be this. We shall seek to follow, as we may, those few main movements of thought marking the nineteenth century which have immediate bearing upon our theme. We shall try to register the effect which these movements have had upon religious conceptions. It will not be possible at any point to do more than to select typical examples. Perhaps the true method is that we should go back to the beginnings of each one of these movements. We should mark the emergence of a few great ideas. It is the emergence of an idea which is dramatically interesting. It is the moment of emergence in which that which is characteristic appears. Our subject is far too complicated to permit that the ramifications of these influences should be followed in detail. Modifications, subtractions, additions, the reader must make for himself.
These main movements of thought are, as has been said, three in number. We shall take them in their chronological order. There is first the philosophical revolution which is commonly associated with the name of Kant. If we were to seek with arbitrary exactitude to fix a date for the beginning of this movement, this might be the year of the publication of his first great work, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in 1781. Kant was indeed himself, both intellectually and spiritually, the product of tendencies which had long been gathering strength. He was the exponent of ideas which in fragmentary way had been expressed by others, but he gathered into himself in amazing fashion the impulses of his age. Out from some portion of his works lead almost all the paths which philosophical thinkers since his time have trod. One cannot say even of his work, Der Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft, 1793, that it is the sole source, or even the greatest source, of his influence upon religious thinking. But from the body of his work as a whole, there came a new theory of knowledge which has changed completely the notion of revelation. There came also a view of the universe as an ideal unity which, especially as elaborated by Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, has radically altered the traditional ideas of God, of man, of nature and of their relations, the one to the other.
[Footnote 1: In the text the titles of books which are discussed are given for the first time in the language in which they are written. Books which are merely alluded to are mentioned in English.]
We shall have then, secondly, to note the historical and critical movement. It is the effort to apply consistently and without fear the maxims of historical and literary criticism to the documents of the Old and New Testaments. With still greater arbitrariness, and yet with appreciation of the significance of Strauss’ endeavour, we might set as the date of the full impact of this movement upon cherished religious convictions, that of the publication of his Leben Jesu, 1835.
In the third place, we shall have to deal with the influence of the sciences of nature and of society, as these have been developed throughout the whole course of the nineteenth century. If one must have a date for an outstanding event in this portion of the history, perhaps that of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, 1859, would serve as well as any other. The principles of these sciences have come to underlie in a great measure all the reflection of cultivated men in our time. In amazing degree they have percolated, through elementary instruction, through popular literature, and through the newspapers, to the masses of mankind. They are recognised as the basis of a triumphant material civilisation, which has made everything pertaining to the inner and spiritual life seem remote. Through the social sciences there has come an impulse to the transfer of emphasis from the individual to society, the disposition to see everything in its social bearing, to do everything in the light of its social antecedents and of its social consequences. Here again we have to note the profoundest influence upon religious conceptions. The very notion connected with the words redemption and salvation appears to have been changed.
In the case of each of these particular movements the church, as the organ of Christianity, has passed through a period of antagonism to these influences, of fear of their consequences, of resistance to their progress. In large portions of the church at the present moment the protest is renewed. The substance of these modern teachings, which yet seem to be the very warp and woof of the intellectual life of the modern man, is repudiated and denounced. It is held to imperil the salvation of the soul. It is pronounced impossible of combination with belief in a divinely revealed truth concerning the universe and a saving faith for men. In other churches, outside the churches, the forms in which men hold their Christianity have been in large measure adjusted to the results of these great movements of thought. They have, as these men themselves believe, been immensely strengthened and made sure by those very influences which were once considered dangerous.
In connection with this indication of the nature of our materials, we have sought to say something of the time of emergence of the salient elements. It may be in point also to give some intimation of the place of their origins, that is to say, of the participation of the various nationalities in this common task of the modern Christian world. That international quality of scholarship which seems to us natural, is a thing of very recent date. That a discovery should within a reasonable interval become the property of all educated men, that scholars of one nation should profit by that which the learned of another land have done, appears to us a thing to be assumed. It has not always been so, especially not in matters of religious faith. The Roman Church and the Latin language gave to medieval Christian thought a certain international character. Again the Renaissance and Reformation had a certain world wide quality. The relations of the English Church in the reigns of the last Tudors to Germany, Switzerland, and France are not to be forgotten. But the life of the Protestant national churches in the eighteenth century shows little of this trait. The barriers of language counted for something. The provincialism of national churches and denominational predilections counted for more.
In the philosophical movement we must begin with the Germans. The movement of English thought known as deism was a distinct forerunner of the rationalist movement, within the particular area of the discussion of religion. However, it ran into the sand. The rationalist movement, considered in its other aspects, never attained in England in the eighteenth century the proportions which it assumed in France and Germany. In France that movement ran its full course, both among the learned and, equally, as a radical and revolutionary influence among the unlearned. It had momentous practical consequences. In no sphere was it more radical than in that of religion. Not in vain had Voltaire for years cried, ‘Ecrasez l’infame,’ and Rousseau preached that the youth would all be wise and pure, if only the kind of education which he had had in the religious schools were made impossible. There was for many minds no alternative between clericalism and atheism. Quite logically, therefore, after the downfall of the Republic and of the Empire there set in a great reaction. Still it was simply a reversion to the absolute religion of the Roman Catholic Church as set forth by the Jesuit party. There was no real transcending of the rationalist movement in France in the interest of religion. There has been no great constructive movement in religious thought in France in the nineteenth century. There is relatively little literature of our subject in the French language until recent years.
In Germany, on the other hand, the rationalist movement had always had over against it the great foil and counterpoise of the pietist movement. Rationalism ran a much soberer course than in France. It was never a revolutionary and destructive movement as in France. It was not a dilettante and aristocratic movement as deism had been in England. It was far more creative and constructive than elsewhere. Here also before the end of the century it had run its course. Yet here the men who transcended the rationalist movement and shaped the spiritual revival in the beginning of the nineteenth century were men who had themselves been trained in the bosom of the rationalist movement. They had appropriated the benefits of it. They did not represent a violent reaction against it, but a natural and inevitable progress within and beyond it. This it was which gave to the Germans their leadership at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the sphere of the intellectual life. It is worthy of note that the great heroes of the intellectual life in Germany, in the period of which we speak, were most of them deeply interested in the problem of religion. The first man to bring to England the leaven of this new spirit, and therewith to transcend the old philosophical standpoint of Locke and Hume, was Coleridge with his Aids to Reflection, published in 1825. But even after this impulse of Coleridge the movement remained in England a sporadic and uncertain one. It had nothing of the volume and conservativeness which belonged to it in Germany.
Coleridge left among his literary remains a work published in 1840 under the title of Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit. What is here written is largely upon the basis of intuition and forecast like that of Remarus and Lessing a half-century earlier in Germany. Strauss and others were already at work in Germany upon the problem of the New Testament, Vatke and Reuss upon that of the Old. This was a different kind of labour, and destined to have immeasurably greater significance. George Eliot’s maiden literary labour was the translation into English of Strauss’ first edition. But the results of that criticism were only slowly appropriated by the English. The ostensible results were at first radical and subversive in the extreme. They were fiercely repudiated in Strauss’ own country. Yet in the main there was acknowledgement of the correctness of the principle for which Strauss had stood. Hardly before the decade of the sixties was that method accepted in England in any wider way, and hardly before the decade of the seventies in America. Ronan was the first to set forth, in 1863, the historical and critical problem in the new spirit, in a way that the wide public which read French understood.
When we come to speak of the scientific movement it is not easy to say where the leadership lay. Many Englishmen were in the first rank of investigators and accumulators of material. The first attempt at a systematisation of the results of the modern sciences was that of Auguste Comte in his Philosophie Positive. This philosophy, however, under its name of Positivism, exerted a far greater influence, both in Comte’s time and subsequently, in England than it did in France. Herbert Spencer, after the middle of the decade of the sixties, essayed to do something of the sort which Comte had attempted. He had far greater advantages for the solution of the problem. Comte’s foil in all of his discussions of religion was the Catholicism of the south of France. None the less, the religion which in his later years he created, bears striking resemblance to that which in his earlier years he had sought to destroy. Spencer’s attitude toward religion was in his earlier work one of more pronounced antagonism or, at least, of more complete agnosticism than in later days he found requisite to the maintenance of his scientific freedom and conscientiousness. Both of these men represent the effort to construe the world, including man, from the point of view of the natural and also of the social sciences, and to define the place of religion in that view of the world which is thus set forth. The fact that there had been no such philosophical readjustment in Great Britain as in Germany, made the acceptance of the evolutionary theory of the universe, which more and more the sciences enforced, slower and more difficult. The period of resistance on the part of those interested in religion extended far into the decade of the seventies.
A word may be added concerning America. The early settlers had been proud of their connection with the English universities. An extraordinary number of them, in Massachusetts at least, had been Cambridge men. Yet a tradition of learning was later developed, which was not without the traits of isolation natural in the circumstances. The residence, for a time, even of a man like Berkeley in this country, altered that but little. The clergy remained in singular degree the educated and highly influential class. The churches had developed, in consonance with their Puritan character, a theology and philosophy so portentous in their conclusions, that we can without difficulty understand the reaction which was brought about. Wesleyanism had modified it in some portions of the country, but intensified it in others. Deism apparently had had no great influence. When the rationalist movement of the old world began to make itself felt, it was at first largely through the influence of France. The religious life of the country at the beginning of the nineteenth century was at a low ebb. Men like Belaham and Priestley were known as apostles of a freer spirit in the treatment of the problem of religion. Priestley came to
We should make a great mistake if we supposed that the progress has been an unceasing forward movement. Quite the contrary, in every aspect of it the life of the early part of the nineteenth century presents the spectacle of a great reaction. The resurgence of old ideas and forces seems almost incredible. In the political world we are wont to attribute this fact to the disillusionment which the French Revolution had wrought, and the suffering which the Napoleonic Empire had entailed. The reaction in the world of thought, and particularly of religious thought, was, moreover, as marked as that in the world of deeds. The Roman Church profited by this swing of the pendulum in the minds of men as much as did the absolute State. Almost the first act of Pius VII. after his return to Rome in 1814, was the revival of the Society of Jesus, which had been after long agony in 1773 dissolved by the papacy itself. ’Altar and throne’ became the watchword of an ardent attempt at restoration of all of that which millions had given their lives to do away. All too easily, one who writes in sympathy with that which is conventionally called
The France of the thirties and the forties saw a liberal movement within the Roman Church. The names of Lamennais, of Lacordaire, of Montalembert and Ozanam, the title l’Avenir occur to men’s minds at once. Perhaps there has never been in France a party more truly Catholic, more devout, refined and tolerant, more fitted to heal the breach between the cultivated and the Church. However, before the Second Empire, an end had been made of that. It cannot be said that the French Church exactly favoured the infallibility. It certainly did not stand against the decree as in the old days it would have done. The decree of infallibility is itself the greatest witness of the steady progress of reaction in the Roman Church. That action, theoretically at least, does away with even that measure of popular constitution in the Church to which the end of the Middle Age had held fast without wavering, which the mightiest of popes had not been able to abolish and the council of Trent had not dared earnestly to debate. Whether the decree of 1870 is viewed in the light of the Syllabus of Errors of 1864, and again of the Encyclical of 1907, or whether the encyclicals are viewed in the light of the decree, the fact remains that a power has been given to the Curia against what has come to be called Modernism such as Innocent never wielded against the heresies of his day. Meantime, so hostile are exactly those peoples among whom Roman Catholicism has had full sway, that it would almost appear that the hope of the Roman Church is in those countries in which, in the sequence of the Reformation, a religious tolerance obtains, which the Roman Church would have done everything in its power to prevent.
Again, we should deceive ourselves if we supposed that the reaction had been felt only in Roman Catholic lands. A minister of Prussia forbade Kant to speak concerning religion. The Prussia of Frederick William III. and of Frederick William IV. was almost as reactionary as if Metternich had ruled in Berlin as well as in Vienna. The history of the censorship of the press and of the repression of free thought in Germany until the year 1848 is a sad chapter. The ruling influences in the Lutheran Church in that era, practically throughout Germany, were reactionary. The universities did indeed in large measure retain their ancient freedom. But the church in which Hengstenberg could be a leader, and in which staunch seventeenth-century Lutheranism could be effectively
The England of the period after 1815 had indeed no such cause for reaction as obtained in France or even in Germany. The nation having had its Revolution in the seventeenth century escaped that of the eighteenth. Still the country was exhausted in the conflict against Napoleon. Commercial, industrial and social problems agitated it. The Church slumbered. For a time the liberal thought of England found utterance mainly through the poets. By the decade of the thirties movement had begun. The opinions of the Noetics in Oriel College, Oxford, now seem distinctly mild. They were sufficient to awaken Newman and Pusey, Froude, Keble, and the rest. Then followed the most significant ecclesiastical movement which the Church of England in the nineteenth century has seen, the Oxford or Tractarian movement, as it has been called. There was conscious recurrence of a mind like that of Newman to the Catholic position. He had never been able to conceive religion in any other terms than those of dogma, or the Christian assurance on any other basis than that of external authority. Nothing could be franker than the antagonism of the movement, from its inception, to the liberal spirit of the age. By inner logic Newman found himself at last in the Roman Church. Yet the Anglo-Catholic movement is to-day overwhelmingly in the ascendant in the English Church. The Broad Churchmen of the middle of the century have had few successors. It is the High Church which stands over against the great mass of the dissenting churches which, taken in the large, can hardly be said to be theologically more liberal than itself. It is the High Church which has showed Franciscanlike devotion in the problems of social readjustment which England to-day presents. It has shown in some part of its constituency a power of assimilation of new philosophical, critical and scientific views, which makes all comparison of it with the Roman Church misleading. And yet it remains in its own consciousness Catholic to the core.
In America also the vigour of onset of the liberalising forces at the beginning of this century tended to provoke reaction. The alarm with which the defection of so considerable a portion of the Puritan Church was viewed gave coherence to the opposition. There were those who devoutly held that the hope of religion lay in its further liberalisation. Equally there were those who deeply felt that the deliverance lay in resistance to liberalisation. One of the concrete
In England before the end of the Civil War a movement for the rationalisation of religion had begun to make itself felt. It was in full force in the time of the Revolution of 1688. It had not altogether spent itself by the middle of the eighteenth century. The movement has borne the name of Deism. In so far as it had one watchword, this came to be ‘natural religion.’ The antithesis had in mind was that to revealed religion, as this had been set forth in the tradition of the Church, and particularly under the bibliolatry of the Puritans. It is a witness to the liberty of speech enjoyed by Englishmen in
It is a great mistake, however, in describing the influence of rationalism upon Christian thought to deal mainly with deism. English deism made itself felt in France, as one may see in the case of Voltaire. Kant was at one time deeply moved by some English writers who would be assigned to this class. In a sense Kant showed traces of the deistical view to the last. The centre of the rationalistic movement had, however, long since passed from England to the Continent. The religious problem was no longer its central problem. We quite fail to appreciate what the nineteenth century owes to the eighteenth and to the rationalist movement in general, unless we view this latter in a far greater way.
In 1784 Kant wrote a tractate entitled, Was ist Aufklaerung? He said: ’Aufklaerung is the advance of man beyond the stage of voluntary immaturity. By immaturity is meant a man’s inability to use his understanding except under the guidance of another. The immaturity is voluntary when the cause is not want of intelligence but of resolution. Sapere aude! “Dare to use thine own understanding,”
There speaks, of course, the prophet of the new age which was to transcend the old rationalist movement. Men had come to harp in complacency upon reason. They had never inquired into the nature and laws of action of the reason itself. Kant, though in fullest sympathy with its fundamental principles, was yet aware of the excesses and weaknesses in which the rationalist movement was running out. No man was ever more truly a child of rationalism. No man has ever written, to whom the human reason was more divine and inviolable. Yet no man ever had greater reserves within himself which rationalism, as it had been, had never touched. It was he, therefore, who could lay the foundations for a new and nobler philosophy for the future. The word Aufklaerung, which the speech of the Fatherland furnished him, is a better word than ours. It is a better word than the French l’Illuminisme, the Enlightenment. Still we are apparently committed to the term Rationalism, although it is not an altogether fortunate designation which the English-speaking race has given to a tendency practically universal in the thinking of Europe, from about 1650 to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Historically, the rationalistic movement was the necessary preliminary for the modern period of European civilization as distinguished from the ecclesiastically and theologically determined culture which had prevailed up to that time. It marks the great cleft between the ancient and mediaeval world of culture on the one hand and the modern world on the other. The Reformation had but pushed ajar the door to the modern world and then seemed in surprise and fear about to close it again. The thread of the Renaissance was taken up again only in the Enlightenment. The stream flowed underground which was yet to fertilise the modern world.
We are here mainly concerned to note the breadth and universality of the movement. It was a transformation of culture, a change in the principles underlying civilisation, in all departments of life. It had indeed, as one of its most general traits, the antagonism to ecclesiastical and theological authority. Whatever it was doing, it was never without a sidelong glance at religion. That was because the alleged divine right of churches and states was the one might which it seemed everywhere necessary to break. The conflict with ecclesiasticism, however, was taken up also by Pietism, the other great spiritual force of the age. This was in spite of the fact that the Pietists’ view of religion was the opposite of the rationalist view. Rationalism was characterised by thorough-going antagonism to supernaturalism with all its consequences. This arose from its zeal for the natural and the human, in a day when all men, defenders and assailants of religion alike, accepted the dictum that what was human could not be divine, the divine must necessarily be the opposite of the human. In reality this general trait of opposition to religion deceives us. It is superficial. In large part the rationalists were willing to leave the question of religion on one side if the ecclesiastics would let them alone. This is true in spite of the fact that the pot-house rationalism of Germany and France in the eighteenth century found the main butt of its ridicule in the priesthood and the Church. On its sober side, in the studies of scholars, in the bureaux of statesmen, in the laboratories of discoverers, it found more solid work. It accomplished results which that other trivial aspect must not hide from us.
Troeltsch first in our own day has given us a satisfactory account of the vast achievement of the movement in every department of human life. It annihilated the theological notion of the State. In the period after the Thirty Years’ War men began to question what had been the purpose of it all. Diplomacy freed itself from Jesuitical and papal notions. It turned preponderantly to commercial and economic aims. A secular view of the purpose of God in history began to prevail in all classes of society. The Grand Monarque was ready to proclaim the divine right of the State which was himself. Still, not until the period of his dotage did that claim bear any relation to what even he would have called religion. Publicists, both Catholic and Protestant, sought to recur to the lex naturae in contradistinction with the old lex divina. The natural rights of man, the rights of the people, the rationally conditioned rights of the State, a natural, prudential, utilitarian morality interested men. One of the consequences of this theory of the State was a complete alteration in the thought of the relation of State and Church. The nature of the Church itself as an empirical institution in the midst of human society was subjected to the same criticism with the State. Men saw the Church in a new light. As the State was viewed as a kind of contract in men’s social interest, so the Church was regarded as but a voluntary association to care for their religious interests. It was to be judged according to the practical success with which it performed this function.
[Footnote 2: Troeltsch, Art. ‘Aufklaerung’ in Herzog-Hauck, Realencylopaedie, 3 Aufl., Bd. ii., s. 225 f.]
Then also, in the economic and social field the rational spirit made itself felt. Commerce and the growth of colonies, the extension of the middle class, the redistribution of wealth, the growth of cities, the dependence in relations of trade of one nation upon another, all these things shook the ancient organisation of society. The industrial system grew up upon the basis of a naturalistic theory of all economic relations. Unlimited freedom in labour and in the use of capital were claimed. There came a great revolution in public opinion upon all matters of morals. The ferocity of religious wars, the cruelty of religious controversies, the bigotry of the confessional, these all, which, only a generation earlier, had been taken by long-suffering humanity as if they had been matters of course, were now viewed with contrition by the more exalted spirits and with contempt and embitterment by the rest. Men said, if religion can give us not better morality than this, it is high time we looked to the natural basis of morality. Natural morality came to be the phrase ever on the lips of the leading spirits. Too frequently they had come to look askance at the morality of those who alleged a supernatural sanction for that which they at least enjoined upon others. We come in this field also, as in others, upon the assertion of the human as nobler and more beautiful than that which had by the theologians been alleged to be divine. The assertion came indeed to be made in ribald and blasphemous forms, but it was not without a great measure of provocation.
Then there was the altered view of nature which came through the scientific discoveries of the age. Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Gassendi, Newton, are the fathers of the modern sciences. These are the men who brought new worlds to our knowledge and new methods to our use. That the sun does not move about the earth, that the earth is but a speck in space, that heaven cannot be above nor hell beneath, these are thoughts which have consequences. Instead of the old deductive method, that of the mediaeval Aristotelianism, which had been worse than fruitless in the study of nature, men now set out with a great enthusiasm to study facts, and to observe their laws. Modern optics, acoustics, chemistry, geology, zoology, psychology and medicine, took their rises within the period of which we speak. The influence was indescribable. Newton might maintain his own simple piety side by side, so to say, with his character, as a scientific man, though even he did not escape the accusation of being a Unitarian. In the resistance which official religion offered at every step to the advance of the sciences, it is small wonder if natures less placid found the maintenance of their ancestral faith too difficult. Natural science was deistic with Locke and Voltaire, it was pantheistic in the antique
Again, in the field of the writing of history and of the critique of ancient literatures, the principles of rational criticism were worked out and applied in all seriousness. Then these maxims began to be applied, sometimes timidly and sometimes in scorn and shallowness, to the sacred history and literature as well. To claim, as the defenders of the faith were fain to do, that this one department of history was exempt, was only to tempt historians to say that this was equivalent to confession that we have not here to do with history at all.
Nor can we overlook the fact that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed a great philosophical revival. Here again it is the rationalist principle which is everywhere at work. The observations upon nature, the new feeling concerning man, the vast complex of facts and impulses which we have been able in these few words to suggest, demanded a new philosophical treatment. The philosophy which now took its rise was no longer the servant of theology. It was, at most, the friend, and even possibly the enemy, of theology. Before the end of the rationalist period it was the master of theology, though often wholly indifferent to theology, exactly because of its sense of mastery. The great philosophers of the eighteenth century, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant, belong with a part only of their work and tendency to the rationalist movement. Still their work rested upon that which had already been done by Spinoza and Malebranche, by Hobbes and Leibnitz, by Descartes and Bayle, by Locke and Wolff, by Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists. With all of the contrasts among these men there are common elements. There is an ever increasing antipathy to the thought of original sin and of supernatural revelation, there is the confidence of human reason, the trust in the will of man, the enthusiasm for the simple, the natural, the intelligible and practical, the hatred of what was scholastic and, above all, the repudiation of authority.
All these elements led, toward the end of the period, to the effort at the construction of a really rational theology. Leibnitz and Lessing both worked at that problem. However, not until after the labours of Kant was it possible to utilise the results of the rationalist movement for the reconstruction of theology. If evidence for this statement were wanting, it could be abundantly given from the work of Herder. He was younger than Kant, yet the latter seems to have exerted but slight influence upon him. He earnestly desired to reinterpret Christianity in the new light of his time, yet perhaps no part of his work is so futile.
Allusion has been made to pietism. We have no need to set forth its own achievements. We must recur to it merely as one of the influences which made the transition from the century of rationalism to bear, in Germany, an aspect different from that which it bore in any other land. Pietism had at first much in common with rationalism. It shared with the latter its opposition to the whole administration of religion established by the State, its antagonism to the social distinctions which prevailed, its individualism, its emphasis upon the practical. It was part of a general religious reaction against ecclesiasticism, as were also Jansenism in France, and Methodism in England, and the Whitefieldian revival in America. But, through the character of Spener, and through the peculiarity of German social relations, it gained an influence over the educated classes, such as Methodism never had in England, nor, on the whole, the Great Awakening in America. In virtue of this, German pietism was able, among influential persons, to present victorious opposition to the merely secular tendencies of the rationalistic movement. In no small measure it breathed into that movement a religious quality which in other lands was utterly lacking. It gave to it an ethical seriousness from which in other places it had too often set itself free.
In England there had followed upon the age of the great religious conflict one of astounding ebb of spiritual interest. Men turned with all energy to the political and economic interests of a wholly modern civilisation. They retained, after a short period of friction, a smug and latitudinarian orthodoxy, which Methodism did little to change. In France not only was the Huguenot Church annihilated, but the Jansenist movement was savagely suppressed. The tyranny of the Bourbon State and the corruption of the Gallican Church which was so deeply identified with it caused the rationalist movement to bear the trait of a passionate opposition to religion. In the time of Pascal, Jansenism had a moment when it bade fair to be to France what pietism was to Germany. Later, in the anguish and isolation of the conflict the movement lost its poise and intellectual quality. In Germany, even after the temporary alliance of pietism and rationalism against the Church had been transcended, and the length and breadth of their mutual antagonism had been revealed, there remained a deep mutual respect and salutary interaction. Obscurantists and sentimentalists might denounce rationalism. Vulgar ranters like Dippel and Barth might defame religion. That had little weight as compared with the fact that Klopstock, Hamann and Herder, Jacobi, Goethe and Jean Paul, had all passed at some time under the influence of pietism. Lessing learned from the Moravians the undogmatic essence of religion. Schleiermacher was bred among the devoted followers of Zinzendorf. Even the
We may be permitted to try to show the meaning of pietism by a concrete example. No one can read the correspondence between the youthful Schleiermacher and his loving but mistaken father, or again, the lifelong correspondence of Schleiermacher with his sister, without receiving, if he has any religion of his own, a touching impression of what the pietistic religion meant. The father had long before, unknown to the son, passed through the torments of the rational assault upon a faith which was sacred to him. He had preached, through years, in the misery of contradiction with himself. He had rescued his drowning soul in the ark of the most intolerant confessional orthodoxy. In the crisis of his son’s life he pitiably concealed these facts. They should have been the bond of sympathy. The son, a sorrowful little motherless boy, was sent to the Moravian school at Niesky, and then to Barby. He was to escape the contamination of the universities, and the woes through which his father had passed. Even there the spirit of the age pursued him. The precocious lad, in his loneliness, raised every question which the race was wrestling with. He long concealed these facts, dreading to wound the man he so revered. Then in a burst of filial candour, he threw himself upon his father’s mercy, only to be abused and measurelessly condemned. He had his way. He resorted to Halle, turned his back on sacred things, worked in titanic fashion at everything but the problem of religion. At least he kept his life clean and his soul sensitive among the flagrantly immoral who were all about him, even in the pietists’ own university. He laid the foundations for his future philosophical construction. He bathed in the sentiments and sympathies, poetic, artistic and humanitarian, of the romanticist movement. In his early Berlin period he was almost swept from his feet by its flood. He rescued himself, however, by his rationalism and romanticism into a breadth and power of faith which made him the prophet of the new age. By him, for a generation, men like-minded saved their souls. As one reads, one realises that it was the pietists’ religion which saved
Besides pietism, the Germany of the end of the eighteenth century possessed still another foil and counterpoise to its decadent rationalism. This was the so-called aesthetic-idealistic movement, which shades off into romanticism. The debt of Schleiermacher to that movement has been already hinted at. It was the revolt of those who had this in common with the pietists, that they hated and despised the outworn rationalism. They thought they wanted no religion. It is open to us to say that they misunderstood religion. It was this misunderstanding which Schleiermacher sought to bring home to them. What religion they understood, ecclesiasticism, Roman or Lutheran, or again, the banalities and fanaticisms of middle-class pietism, they despised. Their war with rationalism was not because it had deprived man of religion. It had been equally destructive of another side of the life of feeling, the aesthetic. Their war was not on behalf of the good, it was in the name of the beautiful. Rationalism had starved the soul, it had minimised and derided feeling. It had suppressed emotion. It had been fatal to art. It was barren of poetry. It had had no sympathy with history and no understanding of history. It had reduced everything to the process by which two and two make four. The pietists said that the frenzy for reason had made man oblivious of the element of the divine. The aesthetic idealists said that it had been fatal to the element of the human. From this point of view their movement has been called the new humanism. The glamour of life was gone, they said. Mystery had vanished. And mystery is the womb of every art. Rationalism had been absolutely uncreative, only and always destructive. Rousseau had earlier uttered this wail in France, and had greatly influenced certain minds in Germany. Shelley and Keats were saying something of the sort in England. Even as to Wordsworth, it may be an open question if his religion was not mainly romanticism. All these men used language which had been conventionally associated with religion, to describe this other emotion.
Rationalism had ended in proving deadly to ideals. This was true. But men forgot for the moment how glorious an ideal it had once been to be rational and to assert the rationality of the universe. Still the time had come when, in Germany at all events, the great cry was, ’back to the ideal.’ It is curious that men always cry ‘back’ when they mean ‘forward.’ For it was not the old idealism, either religious or aesthetic, which they were seeking. It was a new one in which the sober fruits of rationalism should find place. Still, for the moment, as we have seen, the air was full of the cry, ’back to the State by divine right, back to the Church, back to the Middle Age, back to the beauty of classical antiquity.’ The poetry, the romance, the artistic criticism of this movement set themselves free at a stroke from theological bondage and from the externality of conventional ethics. It shook off the dust of the doctrinaires. It ridiculed the petty utilitarianism which had been the vogue. It had such an horizon as men had never dreamed before. It owed that horizon to the rationalism it despised. From its new elevation it surveyed all the great elements of the life of man. It saw morals and religion, language and society, along with art and itself, as the free and unconscious product through the ages, of the vitality of the human spirit. It must be said that it neither solved nor put away the ancient questions. Especially through its one-sided aestheticism it veiled that element of dualism in the world which Kant clearly saw, and we now see again, after a century which has sometimes leaned to easy pantheism. However, it led to a study of the human soul and of all its activities, which came closer to living nature than anything which the world had yet seen.
To this group of aesthetic idealists belong, not to mention lesser names, Lessing and Hamann and Winckelmann, but above all Herder and Goethe. Herder was surely the finest spirit among the elder contemporaries of Goethe. Bitterly hostile to the rationalists, he had been moved by Rousseau to enthusiasm for the free creative life of the human spirit. With Lessing he felt the worth of every art in and for itself, and the greatness of life in its own fulfilment. He sets out from the analysis of the poetic and artistic powers, the appreciation of which seemed to him to be the key to the understanding of the spiritual world. Then first he approaches the analysis of the ethical and religious feeling. All the knowledge and insight thus gained he gathers together into a history of the spiritual life of mankind. This life of the human spirit comes forth everywhere from nature, is bound to nature. It constitutes one whole with a nature which the devout soul calls God, and apprehends within itself as the secret of all that it is and does. Even in the period in which he had become passionately Christian, Herder never was able to attain to a scientific establishing of his Christianity, or to any sense of the specific aim
At a period in his life when Herder had undergone conversion to court orthodoxy at Bueckeburg and threatened to throw away that for which his life had stood, he was greatly helped by Goethe. The identification of Herder with Christianity continued to be more deep and direct than that of Goethe ever became, yet Goethe has also his measure of significance for our theme. If he steadied Herder in his religious experience, he steadied others in their poetical emotionalism and artistic sentimentality, which were fast becoming vices of the time. The classic repose of his spirit, his apparently unconscious illustration of the ancient maxim, ‘nothing too much,’ was the more remarkable, because there were few influences in the whole gamut of human life to which he did not sooner or later surrender himself, few experiences which he did not seek, few areas of thought upon which he did not enter. Systems and theories were never much to his mind. A fact, even if it were inexplicable, interested him much more. To the evolution of formal thought in his age he held himself receptive rather than directing. He kept, to the last, his own manner of brooding and creating, within the limits of a poetic impressionableness which instinctively viewed the material world and the life of the soul in substantially similar fashion. There is something almost humorous in the way in which he eagerly appropriated the results of the philosophising of his time, in so far as he could use these to sustain his own positions, and caustically rejected those which he could not thus use. He soon got by heart the negative lessons of Voltaire and found, to use the words which he puts into the mouth of Faust, that while it freed him from his superstitions, at the same time it made the world empty and dismal beyond endurance. In the mechanical philosophy which presented itself in the Systeme de la Nature as a positive substitute for his lost faith, he found only that which filled his poet’s soul with horror. ’It appeared to us,’ he says, ’so grey, so cimmerian and so dead that we shuddered at it as at a ghost. We thought it the very quintessence of old age. All was said to be necessary, and therefore there was no God. Why not a necessity for a God to take its place among
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.
The causes which we have named, religious and aesthetic, as well as purely speculative, led to such a revision of philosophical principles in Germany as took place in no other land. The new idealistic philosophy, as it took shape primarily at the hands of Kant, completed the dissolution of the old rationalism. It laid the foundation for the speculative thought of the western world for the century which was to come. The answers which aestheticism and pietism gave to rationalism were incomplete. They consisted largely in calling attention to that which rationalism had overlooked. Kant’s idealism, however, met the intellectual movement on its own grounds. It triumphed over it with its own weapons. The others set feeling over against thought. He taught men a new method in thinking. The others put emotion over against reason. He criticised in drastic fashion the use which had been made of reason. He inquired into the nature of reason. He vindicated the reasonableness of some truths which men had indeed felt to be indefeasibly true, but which they had not been able to establish by reasoning.
Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Koenigsberg, possibly of remoter Scottish ancestry. His father was a saddler, as Melanchthon’s had been an armourer and Wolff’s a tanner. His native city with its university was the scene of his whole life and labour. He was never outside of Prussia except for a brief interval when Koenigsberg belonged to Russia. He was a German professor of the old style. Studying, teaching, writing books, these were his whole existence. He was the fourth of nine children of a devoted pietist household. Two of his sisters served in the houses of friends. The consistorial-rath opened the way to the university. An uncle aided him to publish his first books. His earlier interest was in the natural sciences. He was slow in coming to promotion. Only after 1770 was he full professor of logic and metaphysics. In 1781 he published the first of the books upon which rests his world-wide fame. Nevertheless, he lived to see the triumph of his philosophy in most of the German universities. His subjects are abstruse, his style involved. It never occurred to him to make the treatment of his themes easier by use of the imagination. He had but a modicum of that quality. He was hostile to the pride of intellect often manifested by petty rationalists. He was almost equally hostile to excessive enthusiasm in religion. The note of his life, apart from his intellectual power, was his ethical seriousness. He was in conflict with ecclesiastical personages and out of sympathy with much of institutional religion. None the less, he was in his own way one of the most religious of men. His brief conflict with Woellner’s government was the only instance in which his peace and public honour were disturbed. He never married. He died in Koenigsberg in 1804. He had been for ten years so much enfeebled that his death was a merciful release.
Kant used the word ‘critique’ so often that his philosophy has been called the ‘critical philosophy.’ The word therefore needs an explanation. Kant himself distinguished two types of philosophy, which he called the dogmatic and critical types. The essence of a dogmatic philosophy is that it makes belief to rest upon knowledge. Its endeavour is to demonstrate that which is believed. It brings out as its foil the characteristically sceptical philosophy. This esteems that the proofs advanced in the interest of belief are inadequate. The belief itself is therefore an illusion. The essence of a critical philosophy, on the other hand, consists in this, that it makes a distinction between the functions of knowing and believing. It distinguishes between the perception of that which is in accordance with natural law and the understanding of the moral meaning of things. Kant thus uses his word critique in accordance with the strict etymological meaning of the root. He seeks to make a clear separation between the provinces of belief and knowledge, and thus to find an adjustment of their claims. Of an object of belief we may indeed say that we know it. Yet we must make clear to ourselves that we know it in a different sense from that in which we know physical fact. Faith, since it does not spring from the pure reason, cannot indeed, as the old dogmatisms, both philosophical and theological, have united in asserting, be demonstrated by the reason. Equally it cannot, as scepticism has declared, be overthrown by the pure reason.
The ancient positive dogmatism had been the idealistic philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. The old negative dogmatism had been the materialism of the Epicureans. To Plato the world was the realisation of ideas. Ideas, spiritual entities, were the counterparts and necessary antecedents of the natural objects and actual facts of life. To the Epicureans, on the other hand, there are only material bodies and natural laws. There are no ideas or purposes. In the footsteps of the former moved all the scholastics of the Middle Age, and again, even Locke and Leibnitz in their so-called ‘natural theology.’ In the footsteps of the latter moved the men who had made materialism and scepticism to be the dominant philosophy of France in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The aim of Kant was to resolve this age-long contradiction. Free, unprejudiced investigation of the facts and laws of the phenomenal world can never touch the foundations of faith. Natural science can lead in the knowledge only of the realm of the laws of things. It cannot give us the inner moral sense of those things. To speak of the purposes of nature as men had done was absurd. Natural theology, as men had talked of it, was impossible. What science can give is a knowledge of the facts about us in the world, of the growth of the cosmos, of the development of life, of the course of history, all viewed as necessary sequences of cause and effect.
[Footnote 3: Paulsen, Kant, a. 2.]
On the other hand, with the idealists, Kant is fully persuaded that there is a meaning in things and that we can know it. There is a sense in life. With immediate certainty we set moral good as the absolute aim in life. This is done, however, not through the pure reason or by scientific thinking, but primarily through the will, or as Kant prefers to call it, the practical reason. What is meant by the practical reason is the intelligence, the will and the affections operating together; that is to say, the whole man and not merely his intellect, directed to those problems upon which, in sympathy and moral reaction, the whole man must be directed and upon which the pure reason, the mere faculty of ratiocination, does not adequately operate. In the practical reason the will is the central thing. The will is that faculty of man to which moral magnitudes appeal. It is with moral magnitudes that the will is primarily concerned. The pure reason may operate without the will and the affections. The will, as a source of knowledge, never works without the intelligence and the affections. But it is the will which alone judges according to the predicates good and evil. The pure reason judges according to the predicates true and false. It is the practical reason which ventures the credence that moral worth is the supreme worth in life. It then confirms this ventured credence in a manifold experience that yields a certainty with which no certainty of objects given in the senses is for a moment to be compared. We know that which we have believed. We know it as well as that two and two make four. Still we do not know it in the same way. Nor can we bring knowledge of it to others save through an act of freedom on their part, which is parallel to the original act of freedom on our own part.
How can these two modes of thought stand related the one to the other? Kant’s answer is that they correspond to the distinction between two worlds, the world of sense and the transcendental or supersensible world. The pure and the practical reason are the faculties of man for dealing with these two worlds respectively, the phenomenal and the noumenal. The world which is the object of scientific investigation is not the actuality itself. This is true in spite of the fact that to the common man the material and sensible is always, as he would say, the real. On the contrary, in Kant’s opinion the material world is only the presentation to our senses of something deeper, of which our senses are no judge. The reality lies behind this sensible presentation and appearance. The world of religious belief is the world of this transcendent reality. The spirit of man, which is not pure reason only, but moral will as well, recognises itself also as part of this reality. It expresses the essence of that mysterious reality in terms of its own essence. Its own essence as free spirit is the highest aspect of reality of which it is aware. It may be unconscious of the symbolic nature of its language in describing that which is higher than anything which we know, by the highest which we do know. Yet, granting that, and supposing that it is not a contradiction to attempt a description of the transcendent at all, there is no description which carries us so far.
This series of ideas was perhaps that which gave to Kant’s philosophy its immediate and immense effect upon the minds of men wearied with the endless strife and insoluble contradiction of the dogmatic and sceptical spirits. We may disagree with much else in the Kantian system. Even here we may say that we have not two reasons, but only two functionings of one. We have not two worlds. The philosophical myth of two worlds has no better standing than the religious myth of two worlds. We have two characteristic aspects of one and the same world. These perfectly interpenetrate the one the other, if we may help ourselves with the language of space. Each is everywhere present. Furthermore, these actions of reason and aspects of world shade into one another by imperceptible degrees. Almost all functionings of reason have something of the qualities of both. However, when all is said, it was of greatest worth to have had these two opposite poles of thought brought clearly to mind. The dogmatists, in the interest of faith, were resisting at every step the progress of the sciences, feeling that that progress was inimical to faith. The devotees of science were saying that its processes were of universal validity, its conclusions irresistible, the gradual dissolution of faith was certain. Kant made plain that neither party had the right to such conclusions. Each was attempting to apply the processes appropriate to one form of rational activity within the sphere which belonged to the other. Nothing but confusion could result. The religious man has no reason to be jealous of the advance of the sciences. The interests of faith itself are furthered by such investigation. Illusions as to fact which have been mistakenly identified with faith are thus done away. Nevertheless, its own eternal right is assured to faith. With it lies the interpretation of the facts of nature and of history, whatever those facts may be found to be. With the practical reason is the interpretation of these facts according to their moral worth, a worth of which the pure reason knows nothing and scientific investigation reveals nothing.
Here was a deliverance not unlike that which the Reformation had brought. The mingling of Aristotelianism and religion in the scholastic theology Luther had assailed. Instead of assent to human dogmas Luther had the immediate assurance of the heart that God was on his side. And what is that but a judgment of the practical reason, the response of the heart in man to the spiritual universe? It is given in experience. It is not mediated by argument. It cannot be destroyed by syllogism. It needs no confirmation from science. It is capable of combination with any of the changing interpretations which science may put upon the outward universe. The Reformation had, however, not held fast to its great truth. It had gone back to the old scholastic position. It had rested faith in an essentially rationalistic manner upon supposed facts in nature
Kant parted company with the empirical philosophy which had held that all knowledge arises from without, comes from experienced sensations, is essentially perception. This theory had not been able to explain the fact that human experience always conforms to certain laws. On the other hand, the philosophy of so-called innate ideas had sought to derive all knowledge from the constitution of the mind itself. It left out of consideration the dependence of the mind upon experience. It tended to confound the creations of its own speculation with reality, or rather, to claim correspondence with fact for statements which had no warrant in experience. There was no limit to which this speculative process might not be pushed. By this process the medieval theologians, with all gravity, propounded the most absurd speculations concerning nature. By this process men made the most astonishing declarations upon the basis, as they supposed, of revelation. They made allegations concerning history and the religious experience which the most rudimentary knowledge of history or reflection upon consciousness proved to be quite contrary to fact.
Both empiricism and the theory of innate ideas had agreed in regarding all knowledge as something given, from without or from within. The knowing mind was only a passive recipient of impressions thus imparted to it. It was as wax under the stylus, tabula rasa, clean paper waiting to be written upon. Kant departed from this radically. He declared that all cognition rests upon the union of the mind’s activity with its receptivity. The material of thought, or at least some of the materials of thought, must be given us in the multiformity of our perceptions, through what we call experience from the outer world. On the other hand, the formation of this material into knowledge is the work of the activity of our own minds. Knowledge is the result of the systematising of experience and of reflection upon it. This activity of the mind takes place always in accordance with the mind’s own laws. Kant held them to the absolute dependence of knowledge upon material applied in experience. He compared himself to Copernicus who had taught men that they themselves revolved around a central fact of the universe. They had supposed that the facts revolved about them. The central fact of the intellectual world is experience. This experience seems to be given us in the forms of time and space and cause. These are merely forms of the mind’s own activity. It is not possible for us to know ’the thing in itself,’ the Ding an sich in Kant’s phrase, which is the external factor in any sensation or perception. We cannot distinguish that external factor from the contribution to it, as it stands in our perception, which our own minds have made. If we cannot do that even for ourselves, how much less can we do it for others! It is the subject, the thinking being who says ‘I,’ which, by means of its characteristic and necessary active processes, in the perception of things under the forms of time and space, converts the chaotic material of knowledge into a regular and ordered world of reasoned experience. In this sense the understanding itself imposes laws, if not upon nature, yet, at least, upon nature as we can ever know it. There is thus in Kant’s philosophy a sceptical aspect. Knowledge is limited to phenomena. We cannot by pure reason know anything of the world which lies beyond experience. This thought had been put forth by Locke and Berkeley, and by Hume also, in a different way. But with Kant this scepticism was not the gist of his philosophy. It was urged rather as the basis of the unconditioned character which he proposed to assert for the practical reason. Kant’s scepticism is therefore very different from that of Hume. It does not militate against the profoundest religious conviction. Yet it prepared the way for some of the just claims of modern agnosticism.
According to Kant, it is as much the province of the practical reason to lay down laws for action as it is the province of pure reason to determine the conditions of thought, though the practical reason can define only the form of action which shall be in the spirit of duty. It cannot present duty to us as an object of desire. Desire can be only a form of self-love. In the end it reckons with the advantage of having done one’s duty. It thus becomes selfish and degraded. The identification of duty and interest was particularly offensive to Kant. He was at war with every form of hedonism. To do one’s duty because one expects to reap advantage is not to have done one’s duty. The doing of duty in this spirit simply resolves itself into a subtler and more pervasive form of selfishness. He castigates the popular presentation of religion as fostering this same fault. On the other hand, there is a trait of rigorism in Kant, a survival of the ancient dualism, which was not altogether consistent with the implications of his own philosophy. This philosophy afforded, as we have seen, the basis for a monistic view of the universe. But to his mind the natural inclinations of man are opposed to good conscience and sound reason. He had contempt for the shallow optimism of his time, according to which the nature of man was all good, and needed only to be allowed to run its natural course to produce highest ethical results. He does not seem to have penetrated to the root of Rousseau’s fallacy, the double sense in which he constantly used the words ‘nature’ and ‘natural.’ Otherwise, Kant would have been able to repudiate the preposterous doctrine of Rousseau, without himself falling back upon the doctrine of the radical evil of human nature. In this doctrine he is practically at one with the popular teaching of his own pietistic background, and with Calvinism as it prevailed with many of the religiously-minded of his day. In its extreme statements the latter reminds one of the pagan and oriental dualisms which so long ran parallel to the development of Christian thought and so profoundly influenced it.
Kant’s system is not at one with itself at this point. According to him the natural inclinations of men are such as to produce a never-ending struggle between duty and desire. To desire to do a thing made him suspicious that he was not actuated by the pure spirit of duty in doing it. The sense in which man may be in his nature both a child of God, and, at the same time, part of the great complex of nature, was not yet clear either to Kant or to his opponents. His pessimism was a reflection of his moral seriousness. Yet it failed to reckon with that which is yet a glorious fact. One of the chief results of doing one’s duty is the gradual escape from the desire to do the contrary. It is the gradual fostering by us, the ultimate dominance in us, of the desire to do that duty. Even to have seen one’s duty is the dawning in us of this high desire. In the lowest man there is
According to Kant, morality becomes religion when that which the former shows to be the end of man is conceived also to be the end of the supreme law-giver, God. Religion is the recognition of our duties as divine commands. The distinction between revealed and natural religion is stated thus: In the former we know a thing to be a divine command before we recognise it as our duty. In the latter we know it to be our duty before we recognise it as a divine command. Religion may be both natural and revealed. Its tenets may be such that man can be conceived as arriving
The orthodox had immemorially asserted that revelation imparted information not otherwise attainable, or not then attainable. The rationalists here allege the same. Kant is held fast in this view. Assuredly what revelation imparts is not information of any sort whatsoever, not even information concerning God. What revelation imparts is God himself, through the will and the affection, the practical reason. Revelation is experience, not instruction. The revealers are those who have experienced God, Jesus the foremost among them. They have experienced God, whom then they have manifested as best they could, but far more significantly in what they were than in what they said. There is surely the gravest exaggeration of what is statutory and external in that which Kant says of the relation of ethics and religion. How can we know that to be a command of God, which does not commend itself in our own heart and conscience? The traditionalist would have said, by documents miraculously confirmed. It was not in consonance with his noblest ideas for Kant to say that. On the other hand, that which I perceive to be my duty I, as religious man, feel to be a command of God, whether or not a mandate of God to that effect can be adduced. Whether an alleged revelation from God inculcates such a truth or duty may be incidental. In a sense it is accidental. The content of all historic revelation is conditioned in the circumstances of the man to whom the revelation is addressed. It is clear that the whole matter of revelation is thus apprehended by Kant with more externality than we should have believed. His thought is still essentially archaic and dualistic. He is, therefore, now and then upon the point of denying that such a thing as revelation is possible. The very idea of revelation, in this form, does violence to his fundamental principle of the autonomy of the human reason and will. At many points in his reflection it is transparently clear that nothing can ever come to a man, or be given forth by him, which is not creatively shaped by himself. As regards revelation, however, Kant never frankly took that step. The implications of his own system would have led him to that step. They led to an idea of revelation which was psychologically in harmony with the assumptions of his system, and historically could be conceived as taking place without the interjection
When we come to the more specific topics of his religious teaching, freedom, immortality, God, Kant is prompt to assert that these cannot be objects of theoretical knowledge. Insoluble contradictions arise whenever a proof of them is attempted. If an object of faith could be demonstrated it would cease to be an object of faith. It would have been brought down out of the transcendental world. Were God to us an object among other objects, he would cease to be a God. Were the soul a demonstrable object like any other object, it would cease to be the transcendental aspect of ourselves. Kant makes short work of the so-called proofs for the existence of God which had done duty in the scholastic theology. With subtilty, sometimes also with bitter irony, he shows that they one and all assume that which they set out to prove. They are theoretically insufficient and practically unnecessary. They have such high-sounding names—the ontological argument, the cosmological, the physico-theological—that almost in spite of ourselves we bring a reverential mood to them. They have been set forth with solemnity by such redoubtable thinkers that there is something almost startling in the way that Kant knocks them about. The fact that the ordinary man among us easily perceives that Kant was right shows only how the climate of the intellectual world has changed. Freedom, immortality, God, are not indeed provable. If given at all, they can be given only in the practical reason. Still they are postulates in the moral order which makes man the citizen of an intelligible world. There can be no ‘ought’ for a being who is necessitated. We can perceive, and do perceive, that we ought to do a thing. It follows that we can do it. However, the hindrances to the realisation of the moral ideal are such that it cannot be realised in a finite time. Hence the postulate of eternal life for the individual. Finally, reason demands realisation of a supreme good, both a perfect virtue and a corresponding happiness. Man is a final end only as a moral subject. There must be One who is not only a law-giver, but in himself also the realisation of the law of the moral world.
Kant’s moral argument thus steps off the line of the others. It is not a proof at all in the sense in which they attempted to be proofs. The existence of God appears as a necessary assumption, if the highest good and value in the world are to be fulfilled. But the conception and possibility of realisation of a highest good is itself something which cannot be concluded with theoretical evidentiality. It is the object of a belief which in entire freedom is directed to that end. Kant lays stress upon the fact that among the practical ideas of reason, that of freedom is the one whose reality admits most nearly of being proved by the laws of pure reason, as well as in conduct and experience. Upon an act of freedom, then, belief rests. ’It is the free holding that to be true, which for the fulfilment of a purpose we find necessary.’ Now, as object of this ‘free holding something to be true,’ he sets forth the conception of the highest good in the world, to be realised through freedom. It is clear that before this argument would prove that a God is necessary to the realisation of the moral order, it would have to be shown that there are no adequate forces immanent within society itself for the establishment and fulfilment of that order. As a matter of fact, reflexion in the nineteenth century, devoted as it has been to the evolution of society, has busied itself with hardly anything more than with the study of those immanent elements which make for morality. It is therefore not an external guarantor of morals, such as Kant thought, which is here given. It is the immanent God who is revealed in the history and life of the race, even as also it is the immanent God who is revealed in the consciousness of the individual soul. Even the moral argument, therefore, in the form in which Kant puts it, sounds remote and strange to us. His reasoning strains and creaks almost as if he were still trying to do that which he had just declared could not be done. What remains of significance for us, is this. All the debate about first causes, absolute beings, and the rest, gives us no God such as our souls need. If a man is to find the witness for soul, immortality and God at all, he must find it within himself and in the spiritual history of his fellows. He must venture, in freedom, the belief in these things, and find their corroboration in the contribution which they make to the solution of the mystery of life. One must venture to win them. One must continue to venture, to keep them. If it were not so, they would not be objects of faith.
The source of the radical evil in man is an intelligible act of human freedom not further to be explained. Moral evil is not, as such, transmitted. Moral qualities are inseparable from the responsibility of the person who commits the deeds. Yet this radical disposition to evil is to be changed into a good one, not altogether by a process of moral reformation. There is such a thing as a fundamental revolution of
For the purpose of this impulse to goodness, nothing is so effective as the contemplation of an historical example of such surpassing moral grandeur as that which we behold in Jesus. For this reason we may look to Jesus as the ideal of goodness presented to us in flesh and blood. Yet the assertion that Jesus’ historical personality altogether corresponds with the complete and eternal ethical ideal is one which we have no need to make. We do not possess in our own minds the absolute ideal with which in that assertion we compare him.
The ethical ideal of the race is still in process of development. Jesus has been the greatest factor urging forward that development. We ourselves stand at a certain point in that development. We have the ideals which we have because we stand at that point at which we do. The men who come after us will have a worthier ideal than we do. Again, to say that Jesus in his words and conduct expressed in its totality the eternal ethical ideal, would make of his life something different from the real, human life. Every real, human life is lived within certain actual antitheses which call out certain qualities and do not call out others. They demand certain reactions and not others. This is the concrete element without which nothing historical can be conceived. To say that Jesus lived in entire conformity to the ethical ideal so far as we are able to conceive it, and within the circumstances which his own time and place imposed, is the most that we can say. But in any case, Kant insists, the real object of our religious faith is not the historic man, but the ideal of humanity well-pleasing to God. Since this ideal is not of our own creation, but is given us in our super-sensible nature, it may be conceived as the Son of God come down from heaven.
The turn of this last phrase is an absolutely characteristic one, and brings out another quality of Kant’s mind in dealing with the Christian doctrines. They are to him but symbols, forms into which a variety of meanings may be run. He had no great appreciation of the historical element in doctrine. He had no deep sense of the social element and of that for which Christian institutions stand. We may illustrate with that which he says concerning Christ’s vicarious sacrifice. Substitution cannot take place in the moral world. Ethical salvation could not be conferred through such a substitution, even if this could take place. Still, the conception of the vicarious suffering of Christ may be taken as a symbolical expression of the idea that in the pain of self-discipline, of obedience and patience, the new man in us suffers, as it were vicariously, for the old. The atonement is a continual ethical process in the heart of the religious man. It is a grave defect of Kant’s religious philosophy, that it was so absolutely individualistic. Had he realised more deeply than he did the social character of religion and the meaning of these doctrines, not alone as between man and God, but as between man and man, he surely would have drawn nearer to that interpretation of the doctrine of the atonement which has come more and more to prevail. This is the solution which finds in the atonement of Christ the last and most glorious example of a universal law of human life and history. That law is that no redemptive good for men is ever secured without the suffering and sacrifice of those who seek to confer that good upon their fellows. Kant was disposed to regard the traditional forms of Christian doctrine, not as the old rationalism had done, as impositions of a priesthood or inherently absurd. He sought to divest them indeed of that which was speculatively untrue, though he saw in them only symbols of the great moral truths which lie at the heart of religion. The historical spirit of the next fifty years was to teach men a very different way of dealing with these same doctrines.
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Kant had said that the primary condition, fundamental not merely to knowledge, but to all connected experience, is the knowing, experiencing, thinking, acting self. It is that which says ‘I,’ the ego, the permanent subject. But that is not enough. The knowing self demands in turn a knowable world. It must have something outside of itself to which it yet stands related, the object of knowledge. Knowledge is somehow the combination of those two, the result of their co-operation. How have we to think of this co-operation? Both Hume and Berkeley had ended in scepticism as to the reality of knowledge. Hume was in doubt as to the reality of the subject, Berkeley as to that of the object. Kant dissented from both. He vindicated the undoubted reality of the impression which we have concerning a thing. Yet how far that impression is the reproduction of
Fichte asked, Why? Why must there be a Ding-an-sich? Why is not that also the result of the activity of the ego? Why is not the ego, the thinking subject, all that is, the creator of the world, according to the laws of thought? If so much is reduced to idea, why not all? This was Fichte’s rather forced resolution of the old dualism of thought and thing. It is not the denial of the reality of things, but the assertion that their ideal element, that part of them which is not mere ‘thing,’ the action and subject of the action, is their underlying reality. According to Kant things exist in a world beyond us. Man has no faculty by which he can penetrate into that world. Still, the farther we follow Kant in his analysis the more does the contribution to knowledge from the side of the mind tend to increase, and the more does the factor in our impressions from the side of things tend to fade away. This basis of impression being wholly unknowable is as good as non-existent for us. Yet it never actually disappears. There would seem to be inevitable a sort of kernel of matter or prick of sense about which all our thoughts are generated. Yet this residue is a vanishing quantity. This seemed to Fichte to be a self-contradiction and a half-way measure. Only two positions appeared to him thorough-going and consequent. Either one posits as fundamental the thing itself, matter, independent of any consciousness of it. So Spinoza had taught. Or else one takes consciousness, the conscious subject, independent of any matter or thing as fundamental. This last Fichte claimed to be the real issue of Kant’s thought. He asserts that from the point of view of the thing in itself we can never explain knowledge. We may be as skilful as possible in placing one thing behind another in the relation of cause to effect. It is, however, an unending series. It is like the cosmogony of the Eastern people which fabled that the earth rests upon the back of an elephant. The elephant stands upon a tortoise. The question is, upon what does the tortoise stand? So here, we may say, in the conclusive manner in which men have always said, that God made the world. Yet sooner or later we come to the child’s question: Who made God? Fichte rightly replied: ’If God is for us only an object of knowledge, the Ding-an-sich at the end of the series, there is no escape from the answer that man, the thinker, in thinking God made him.’ All the world, including man, is but the reflexion, the revelation in forms of the finite, of an unceasing action of thought of which the ego is the object. Nothing more paradoxical than this conclusion can be imagined. It seems to make the human subject, the man myself, the creator of the universe, and the universe only that which I happen to think it to be.
This interpretation was at first put upon Fichte’s reasoning with such vigour that he was accused of atheism. He was driven from his chair in Jena. Only after several years was he called to a corresponding post in Berlin. Later, in his Vocation of Man, he brought his thought to clearness in this form: ’If God be only the object of thought, it remains true that he is then but the creation of man’s thought. God is, however, to be understood as subject, as the real subject, the transcendent thinking and knowing subject, indwelling in the world and making the world what it is, indwelling in us and making us what we are. We ourselves are subjects only in so far as we are parts of God. We think and know only in so far as God thinks and knows and acts and lives in us. The world, including ourselves, is but the reflection of the thought of God, who thus only has existence. Neither the world nor we have existence apart from him.’
Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born at Rammenau in 1762. His father was a ribbon weaver. He came of a family distinguished for piety and uprightness. He studied at Jena, and became an instructor there in 1793. He was at first a devout disciple of Kant, but gradually separated himself from his master. There is a humorous tale as to one of his early books which was, through mistake of the publisher, put forth without the author’s name. For a brief time it was hailed as a work of Kant—his Critique of Revelation. Fichte was a man of high moral enthusiasm, very uncompromising, unable to put himself in the place of an opponent, in incessant strife. The great work of his Jena period was his Wissenschaftslehre, 1794. His popular Works, Die Bestimmung des Menschen and Anweisung zum seligen Leben, belong to his Berlin period. The disasters of 1806 drove him out of Berlin. Amidst the dangers and discouragements of the next few years he wrote his famous Reden an die deutsche Nation. He drew up the plan for the founding of the University of Berlin. In 1810 he was called to be rector of the newly established university. He was, perhaps, the chief adviser of Frederick William III in the laying of the foundations of the university, which was surely a notable venture for those trying years. In the autumn of 1812 and again in 1813, when the hospitals were full of sick and wounded after the Russian and Leipzig campaigns, Fichte and his wife were unceasing in their care of the sufferers. He died of fever contracted in the hospital in January 1814.
According to Fichte, as we have seen, the world of sense is the reflection of our own inner activity. It exists for us as the sphere and material of our duty. The moral order only is divine. We, the finite intelligences, exist only in and through the infinite intelligence. All our life is thus God’s life. We are immortal because he is immortal. Our consciousness is his consciousness. Our life and moral force is his, the reflection and
We have no need to follow Fichte farther. Suffice it to say, with reference to the theory of knowledge, that he had discovered that one could not stand still with Kant. One must either go back toward the position of the old empiricism which assumed the reality of the world exactly as it appeared, or else one must go forward to an idealism more thorough-going than Kant had planned. Of the two paths which, with all the vast advance of the natural sciences, the thought of the nineteenth century might traverse, that of the denial of everything except the mechanism of nature, and that of the assertion that nature is but the organ of spirit and is instinct with reason, Fichte chose the latter and blazed out the path along which all the idealists have followed him. In reference to the philosophy of religion, we must say that, with all the extravagance, the pantheism and mysticism of his phrases, Fichte’s great contribution was his breaking down of the old dualism between God and man which was still fundamental to Kant. It was his assertion of the unity of man and God and of the life of God in man. This thought has been appropriated in all of modern theology.
It was the meagreness of Fichte’s treatment of nature which impelled Schelling to what he called his outbreak into reality. Nature will not be dismissed, as simply that which is not I. You cannot say that nature is only the sphere of my self-realisation. Individuals are in their way the children of nature. They are this in respect of their souls as much as of their bodies. Nature was before they were. Nature is, moreover, not alien to intelligence. On the contrary, it is a treasure-house of intelligible forms which demand to be treated as such. It appeared to Schelling, therefore, a truer idealism to work out an intelligible system of nature, exhibiting its essential oneness with personality.
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling was born in 1775 at Leonberg in Wuerttemberg. His father was a clergyman. He was precocious in his intellectual development and much spoiled by vanity. Before he was twenty years old he had published three works upon problems suggested by Fichte. At twenty-three he was extraordinarius at Jena. He had apparently a brilliant career before him. He published his Erster Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophe, 1799, and also his System des transcendentalen Idealismus, 1800. Even his short residence at Jena was troubled by violent conflicts with his colleagues. It was brought to an end by his marriage with the wife of Augustus von Schlegel, who had been divorced for the purpose. From 1806 to 1841 he lived in Munich in retirement. The long-expected books which were to fulfil his early promise never appeared. Hegel’s stricture was just. Schelling had no taste for the prolonged and intense labour which his brilliant early works marked out. He died in 1854, having reached the age of seventy-nine years, of which at least fifty were as melancholy and fruitless as could well be imagined.
The dominating idea of Schelling’s philosophy of nature may be said to be the exhibition of nature as the progress of intelligence toward consciousness and personality. Nature is the ego in evolution, personality in the making. All natural objects are visible analogues and counterparts of mind. The intelligence which their structure reveals, men had interpreted as residing in the mind of a maker of the world. Nature had been spoken of as if it were a watch. God was its great artificer. No one asserted that its intelligence and power of development lay within itself. On the contrary, nature is always in the process of advance from lower, less highly organised and less intelligible forms, to those which are more highly organised, more nearly the counterpart of the active intelligence in man himself. The personality of man had been viewed as standing over against nature, this last being thought of as static and permanent. On the contrary, the personality of man, with all of its intelligence and free will, is but the climax and fulfilment of a long succession of intelligible forms in nature, passing upward from the inorganic to the organic, from the unconscious to the conscious, from the non-moral to the moral, as these are at last seen in man. Of course, it was the life of organic nature which first suggested this notion to Schelling. An organism is a self-moving, self-producing whole. It is an idea in process of self-realisation. What was observed in the organism was then made by Schelling the root idea of universal nature. Nature is in all its parts living, self-moving along the lines of its development, productivity and product both in one. Empirical science may deal with separate products of nature. It may treat them as objects of analysis and investigation. It may even take the whole of nature as an object. But nature is not mere object. Philosophy has to treat of the inner life which moves the whole of nature as intelligible productivity, as subject, no longer as object. Personality has slowly arisen out of nature. Nature was going through this process of self-development before there were any men to contemplate it. It would go through this process were there no longer men to contemplate it.
Schelling has here rounded out the theory of absolute idealism which Fichte had carried through in a one-sided way. He has given us also a wonderful anticipation of certain modern ideas concerning nature’s preparation for the doctrine of evolution, which was a stroke of genius in its way. He attempted to arrange the realm of unconscious intelligences in an ascending series which should bridge the gulf between the lowest of natural forms and the fully equipped organism in which self consciousness, with the intellectual, the emotional, and moral life, at last integrated. Inadequate material and a fondness for analogies led Schelling into vagaries in following out this scheme. Nevertheless, it is only in detail that we can look askance at his attempt. In principle our own conception of the universe is the same. It is the dynamic view of nature and an application of the principle of evolution in the widest sense. His errors were those into which a man was bound to fall who undertook to forestall by a sweep of the imagination that which has been the result of the detailed and patient investigation of three generations. What Schelling attempted was to take nature as we know it and to exhibit it as in reality a function of intelligence, pointing, through all the gradations of its varied forms, towards its necessary goal in self-conscious personality. Instead, therefore, of our having in nature and personality two things which cannot be brought together, these become members of one great organism of intelligence of which the immanent God is the source and the sustaining power. These ideas constitute Schelling’s contribution to an idealistic and, of course, an essentially monistic view of the universe. The unity of man with God, Fichte had asserted. Schelling set forth the oneness of God and nature, and again of man and nature. The circle was complete.
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If we have succeeded in conveying a clear idea of the movement of thought from Kant to Hegel, that idea might be stated thus. There are but three possible objects which can engage the thought of man. These are nature and man and God. There is the universe, of which we become aware through experience from our earliest childhood. Then there is man, the man given in self-consciousness, primarily the man myself. In this sense man seems to stand over against nature. Then, as the third possible object of thought, we have God. Upon the thought of God we usually come from the point of view of the category of cause. God is the name which men give to that which lies behind nature and man as the origin and explanation of both. Plato’s chief interest was in man. He talked much concerning a God who was somehow the speculative postulate of the spiritual nature in man. Aristotle began a real observation of nature. But the ancient and, still more, the mediaeval study of nature was dominated by abstract and theological assumptions. These prevented any real study of
The point of interest is this:—In all possible combinations in which, throughout the history of thought, these three objects had been set, the one with the others, they had always remained three objects. There was no essential relation of the one to the other. They were like the points of a triangle of which any one stood over against the other two. God stood over against the man whom he had fashioned, man over against the God to whom he was responsible. The consequences for theology are evident. When men wished to describe, for example, Jesus as the Son of God, they laid emphasis upon every quality which he had, or was supposed to have, which was not common to him with other men. They lost sight of that profound interest of religion which has always claimed that, in some sense, all men are sons of God and Jesus was the son of man. Jesus was then only truly honoured as divine when every trait of his humanity was ignored. Similarly, when men spoke of revelation they laid emphasis upon those particulars in which this supposed method of coming by information was unlike all other methods. Knowledge derived directly from God through revelation was in no sense the parallel of knowledge derived by men in any other way. So also God stood over against nature. God was indeed declared to have made nature. He had, however, but given it, so to say, an original impulse. That impulse also it had in some strange way lost or perverted, so that the world, though it had been made by God, was not good. For the most part it moved itself, although God’s sovereignty was evidenced in that he could still supervene upon it, if he chose. The supernatural was the realm of God. Natural and supernatural were mutually exclusive terms, just as we saw that divine and human were exclusive terms. So also, on the third side of our triangle, man stood over against nature. Nature was to primitive men the realm of caprice, in which they imagined demons, spirits and the like. These were antagonistic to men, as also hostile to God. Then, when with the advance of reflexion these spirits, and equally their counterparts, the good genii and angels, had all died, nature became the realm of iron necessity,
It was Kant who first began the resolution of this three-cornered difficulty. When he pointed out that into the world, as we know it, an element of spirit goes, that in it an element of the ideal inheres, he began a movement which has issued in modern monism. He affirmed that that element from my thought which enters into the world, as I know it, may be so great that only just a point of matter and a prick of sense remains. Fichte said: ’Why do we put it all in so perverse a way? Why reduce the world of matter to just a point? Why is it not taken for what it is, and yet understood to be all alive with God and we able to think of it, because we are parts of the great thinker God?’ Still Fichte had busied himself almost wholly with consciousness. Schelling endeavoured to correct that. Nature lives and moves in God, just as truly in one way as does man in another. Men arise out of nature. A circle has been drawn through the points of our triangle. Nature and man are in a new and deeper sense revelations of God. In fact, supplementing one another, they constitute the only possible channels for the manifestation of God. It hardly needs to be said that these thoughts are widely appropriated in our modern world. These once novel speculations of the kings of thought have made their way slowly to all strata of society. Remote and difficult in their first expression in the language of the schools, their implications are to-day on everybody’s lips. It is this unitary view of the universe which has made difficult the acceptance of a theology, the understandlng of a religion, which are still largely phrased in the language of a philosophy to which these ideas did not belong. There is not an historic creed, there is hardly a greater system of theology, which is not stated in terms of a philosophy and science which no longer reign. Men are asking: ’cannot Christianity be so stated and interpreted that it shall meet the needs of men of the twentieth century, as truly as it met those of men of the first or of the sixteenth?’ Hegel, the last of this great group of idealistic philosophers whom we shall name, enthusiastically believed in this new interpretation of the faith which was profoundly dear to him. He made important contribution to that interpretation.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in Stuttgart in 1770. His father was in the fiscal service of the King of Wuerttemberg. He studied in Tuebingen. He was heavy and slow of development, in striking contrast with Schelling. He served as tutor in Bern and Frankfort, and began to lecture in Jena in 1801. He was much overshadowed by Schelling. The victory of Napoleon at Jena in 1806 closed the university for a time. In 1818 he was called to Fichte’s old chair in Berlin. Never on very good terms with the Prussian Government, he yet showed his large sympathy with life in every way. After 1820 a school of philosophical thinkers began to gather about him. His first great book, his Phenomenologie des Geistes 1807 (translated, Baillie, London, 1910), was published at the end of his Jena period. His Philosophie der Religion and Philosophie der Geschichte were edited after his death. They are mainly in the form which his notes took between 1823 and 1827. He died during an epidemic of cholera in Berlin in 1831.
Besides his deep interest in history the most striking feature of Hegel’s preliminary training was his profound study of Christianity. He might almost be said to have turned to philosophy as a means of formulating the ideas which he had conceived concerning the development of the religious consciousness, which seemed to him to have been the bearer of all human culture. No one could fail to see that the idea of the relation of God and man, of which we have been speaking, was bound to make itself felt in the interpretation of the doctrine of the incarnation and of all the dogmas, like that of the trinity, which are connected with it. Characteristically, Hegel had pure joy in the speculative aspects of the problem. If one may speak in all reverence, and, at the same time, not without a shade of humour, Hegel rejoiced to find himself able, as he supposed, to rehabilitate the dogma of the trinity, rationalised in approved fashion. It is as if the dogma had been a revered form or mould, which was for him indeed emptied of its original content. He felt bound to fill it anew. Or to speak more justly, he was really convinced that the new meaning which he poured into the dogma was the true meaning which the Church Fathers had been seeking all the while. In the light of two generations of sober dealing, as historians, with such problems, we can but view his solution in a manner very different from that which he indulged. He was even disposed mildly to censure the professional theologians for leaving the defence of the doctrine of the trinity to the philosophers. There were then, and have since been, defenders of the doctrine who have thought that Hegel tendered them great aid. As a matter of fact, despite his own utter seriousness and reverent desire, his solution was a complete dissolution of the doctrine and of much else besides. His view
Hegel was weary of Fichte’s endless discussion of the ego and Schelling’s of the absolute. It was not the abyss of the unknowable from which things said to come, or that into which they go, which interested Hegel. It was their process and progress which we can know. It was that part of their movement which is observable within actual experience, with which he was concerned. Now one of the laws of the movement of all things, he said, is that by which every thought suggests, and every force tends directly to produce, its opposite. Nothing stands alone. Everything exists by the balance and friction of opposing tendencies. We have the universal contrasts of heat and cold, of light and darkness, of inward and outward, of static and dynamic, of yes and no. There are two sides to every case, democratic government and absolutism, freedom of religion and authority, the individualistic and the social principles, a materialistic and a spiritual interpretation of the universe. Only things which are dead have ceased to have this tide and alternation. Christ is for living religion now a man, now God, revelation now natural, now supernatural. Religion in the eternal conflict between reason and faith, morals the struggle of good and evil, God now mysterious and now manifest.
Fichte had said: The essence of the universe is spirit. Hegel said: Yes, but the true notion of spirit is that of the resolution of contradiction, of the exhibition of opposites as held together in their unity. This is the meaning of the trinity. In the trinity we have God who wills to manifest himself, Jesus in whom he is manifest, and the spirit common to them both. God’s existence is not static, it is dynamic. It is motion, not rest. God is revealer, recipient, and revelation all in one. The trinity was for Hegel the central doctrine of Christianity. Popular orthodoxy had drawn near to the assertion of three Gods. The revolt, however, in asserting the unity of God, had made of God a meaningless absolute as foundation of the universe. The orthodox, in respect to the person of Christ, had always indeed asserted in laboured way that Jesus was both God and man. Starting from their own abstract conception of God, and attributing to Jesus the qualities of that abstraction, they had ended in making of the humanity of Jesus a perfectly unreal thing. On the other hand, those who had set out from Jesus’s real humanity had been unable to see that he was anything more than a mere man, as their phrase was. On their own assumption of the mutual exclusiveness of the conceptions of God and man, they could not do otherwise.
Hegel saw clearly that God can be known to us only in and through manifestation. We can certainly make no predication as to how God exists, in himself, as men say, and apart from our knowledge. He exists for our knowledge only as manifest in nature and man. Man is for Hegel part of nature and Jesus is the highest point which the nature of God as manifest in man has reached. In this sense Hegel sometimes even calls nature the Son of God, and mankind and Jesus are thought of as parts of this one manifestation of God. If the Scripture asserts, as it seemed to the framers of the creeds to do, that God manifested himself from before all worlds in and to a self-conscious personality like his own, Hegel would answer: But the Scripture is no third source of knowledge, besides nature and man. Scripture is only the record of God’s revelation of himself in and to men. If these men framed their profoundest thought in this way, that is only because they lived in an age when men had all their thoughts of this sort in a form which we can historically trace. For Platonists and Neoplatonists, such as the makers of the creeds—and some portions of the Scripture show this influence, as well—the divine, the ideal, was always thought of as eternal. It always existed as pure archetype before it ever existed as historic fact. The rabbins had a speculation to the same effect. The divine which exists must have pre-existed. Jesus as Son of God could not be thought of by the ancient world in any terms but these. The divine was static, changelessly perfect. For the modern man the divinest of all things is the mystery of growth. The perfect man is not at the beginning, but far down the immeasurable series of approaches to perfection. The perfection of other men is the work of still other ages, in which this extraordinary and inexplicable moral magnitude which Jesus is, has had its influence, and conferred upon them power to aid them in the fulfilment of God’s intent for themselves, which is like that intent for himself which Jesus has fulfilled.
Surely enough has been said to show that what we have here is only the absorption of even the profoundest religious meanings into the vortex of an all-dissolving metaphysical system. The most obvious meaning of the phrase ‘Son of God,’ its moral and spiritual, its real religious meaning, is dwelt on, here in Hegel, as little as Hegel claimed that the Nicene trinitarians had dwelt upon it. Nothing marks more clearly the distance we have travelled since Hegel than does the general recognition that his attempted solution does not even lie in the right direction. It is an attempt within the same area as that of the Nicene Council and the creeds, namely, the metaphysical area. What is at stake is not the pre-existence or the two natures. Hegel was right in what he said concerning these. The pre-existence cannot be thought of except as ideal. The two natures we assert for every man, only not in such a manner as to destroy unity in the personality. The heart of the dogma is not in these. It is the oneness of God and man, a moral and spiritual oneness, oneness in conduct and consciousness, the presence and realisation of God, who is spirit, in a real man, the divineness of Jesus, in a sense which sees no meaning any longer in the old debate as between his divinity and his deity.
In the light of the new theory of the universe which we have reviewed, it flashes upon us that both defenders and assailants of the doctrine of the incarnation, in the age-long debate, have proceeded from the assumption that God and man are opposites. Men contended for the divineness of Jesus in terms which by definition shut out his true humanity. They asserted the identity of a real man, a true historic personage, with an abstract notion of God which had actually been framed by the denial of all human qualities. Their opponents with a like helplessness merely reversed the situation. To admit the deity of Jesus would have been for them, in all candour and clear-sightedness, absolutely impossible, because the admission would have shut out his true humanity. On the old definitions we cannot wonder that the struggle was a bitter one. Each party was on its own terms right. If God is by definition other than man, and man the opposite of God, then it is not surprising that the attempt to say that Jesus of Nazareth was both, remained mysticism to the one and seemed folly to the other.
Now, within the area of the philosophy which begins with Kant this old antinomy has been resolved. An actual circle of clear relations joins the points of the old hopeless triangle. Men are men because of God indwelling in them, working through them. The phrase ‘mere man’ is seen to be a mere phrase. To say that the Nazarene, in some way not genetically to be explained, but which is hidden within the recesses of his own personality, shows forth in incomparable fulness that relation of God and man which is the ideal for us all, seems only to be saying over again what Jesus said when he proclaimed: ’I and My Father are one.’ That Jesus actualised, not absolutely in the sense that he stood out of relation to history, but still perfectly within his relation to history, that which in us and for us is potential, the sonship of God—that seems a very simple and intelligible assertion. It certainly makes a large part of the debate of ages seem remote from us. It brings home to us that we live in a new world.
Interesting and fruitful is Hegel’s expansion of the idea of redemption beyond that of the individual to that of the whole humanity, and in every aspect of its life. In my relation to the world are given my duties. The renunciation of outward duty makes the inward life barren. The principle which is to transform the world wears an aspect very different from that of stoicism, of asceticism or even of the individualism which has sought soul-salvation. In the midst of unworthiness and helplessness there springs up the consciousness of reconciliation. Man, with all his imperfections, becomes aware that he is the object of the loving purpose of God. Still this redemption of a man is something which is to be worked out, in the individual life and on the stage of universal history. The first step beyond the individual life is that of the Church.
We have no cause to pursue the philosophical movement beyond this point. Its exponents are not without interest. Especially is this true of Schopenhauer. But the deposit from their work is for our particular purpose not great. The wonderful impulse had spent itself. These four brilliant men stand together, almost as much isolated from the generation which followed them as from that which went before. The historian of Christian thought in the nineteenth century cannot overestimate the significance of their personal interest in religion.
The outstanding trait of Kant’s reflection upon religion is its supreme interest in morals and conduct. Metaphysician that he was, Kant saw the evil which intellectualism had done to religion. Religion was a profoundly real thing to him in his own life. Religion is a life. It is a system of thought only because life is a whole. It is a system of thought only in the way of deposit from a vivid and vigorous life. A man normally reflects on the conditions and aims of what he does. Religion is conduct. Ends in character are supreme. Religions and the many interpretations of Christianity
Between Kant and Hegel came another, Schleiermacher. He too was no mean philosopher. But he was essentially a theologian, the founder of modern theology. He served in the same faculty with Hegel and was overshadowed by him. His influence upon religious thought was less immediate. It has been more permanent. It was characteristically upon the side which Kant and Hegel had neglected. That was the side of feeling. His theology has been called the theology of feeling. He defined religion as feeling. Christianity is for him a specific feeling. Because he made so much of feeling, his name has been made a theological household word by many who appropriated little else of all he had to teach. His warmth and passion, his enthusiasm for Christ, the central place of Christ in his system, made him loved by many who, had they understood him better, might have loved him less. For his real greatness lay, not in the fact that he possessed these qualities alone, but that he possessed them in a singularly beautiful combination with other qualities. The emphasis is, however, correct. He was the prophet of feeling, as Kant had been of ethical religion and Hegel of the intellectuality of faith. The entire Protestant theology of the nineteenth century has felt his influence. The English-speaking race is almost as much his debtor as is his own. The French Huguenots of the revival felt him to be one of themselves. Even to Amiel and Scherer he was a kindred spirit.
It is a true remark of Dilthey that in unusual degree an understanding of the man’s personality and career is necessary to the appreciation of his thought. Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher was born in 1768 in Breslau, the son of a chaplain in the Reformed Church. He never connected himself officially with the Lutheran Church. We have alluded to an episode broadly characteristic of his youth. He was tutor in the house of one of the landed nobility of Prussia, curate in a country parish, preacher at the Charite in Berlin in 1795, professor extraordinarius
The episode was typical of the experience he was passing through. He understood the public with which his first book dealt. That book bears the striking title, Reden ueber die Religion, an die Gebildeten unter ihren Veraechtern (translated, Oman, Oxford, 1893). His public understood him. He could reach them as perhaps no other man could do. If he had ever concealed what religion was to him, he now paid the price. If they had made light of him, he now made war on them. This meed they could hardly withhold from him, that he understood most other things quite as well as they, and religion much better than they. The rhetorical form is a fiction. The addresses were never delivered. Their tension and straining after effect is palpable. They are a cry of pain on the part of one who sees that assailed which is sacred to him, of triumph as he feels himself able to repel the assault, of brooding persuasiveness lest any should fail to be won for his truth. He concedes everything. It is part of his art to go further than his detractors. He is so well versed in his subject that he can do that with consummate mastery, where they are clumsy or dilettante. It is but a pale ghost of religion that he has left. But he has attained his purpose. He has vindicated the place of religion in the life of culture. He has shown the relation of religion to every great thing in civilisation, its affinity with art, its common quality with poetry, its identity with all profound activities of the soul. These all are religion, though their votaries know it not. These are reverence for the highest, dependence on the highest, self-surrender to the highest. No great man ever lived, no great work was ever done, save in an attitude toward the universe, which is identical with that of the religious man toward God.
The religion of feeling, as advocated in the Reden, had left much on the ethical side to be desired. This defect the author sought to remedy in his Monologen, published in 1800. The programme of theological studies for the new University of Berlin, Kurze Darstellung des Theologischen Studiums, 1811, shows his theological system already in large part matured. His Der christliche Glaube, published in 1821, revised three years before his death in 1834, is his monumental work. His Ethik, his lectures upon many subjects, numerous volumes of sermons, all published after his death, witness his versatility. His sermons have the rare note which one finds in Robertson and Brooks.
All of the immediacy of religion, its independence of rational argument, of historical tradition or institutional forms, which was characteristic of Schleiermacher to his latest day, is felt in the Reden. By it he thrilled the hearts of men as they have rarely been thrilled. It is not forms and traditions which create religion. It is religion which creates these. They cannot exist without it. It may exist without them, though not so well or so effectively. Religion is the sense of God. That sense we have, though many call it by another name. It would be more true to say that that sense has us. It is inescapable. All who have it are the religious. Those who hold to dogmas, rites, institutions in such a way as to obscure and overlay this sense of God, those who hold those as substitute for that sense, are the nearest to being irreligious. Any form, the most outre, bizarre and unconventional, is good, so only that it helps a man to God. All forms are evil, the most accredited the most evil, if they come between a man and God. The pantheism of the thought of God in all of Schleiermacher’s early work is undeniable. He never wholly put it aside. The personality of God seemed to him a limitation. Language is here only symbolical,
In his Monologues Schleiermacher first sets forth his ethical thought. As it is religion that a man feels himself dependent upon God, so is it the beginning of morality that a man feels his dependence upon his fellows and their dependence on him. Slaves of their own time and circumstance, men live out their lives in superficiality and isolation. They are a prey to their own selfishness. They never come into those relations with their fellows in which the moral ideal can be realised. Man in his isolation from his fellows is nothing and accomplishes nothing. The interests of the whole humanity are his private interests. His own happiness and welfare are not possible to be secured save through his co-operation with others, his work and service for others. The happiness and welfare of others not merely react upon his own. They are in a large sense identical with his own. This oneness of a man with all men is the basis of morality, just as the oneness of man with God is the basis of religion. In both cases the oneness exists whether or not we know it. The contradictions and miseries into which immoral or unmoral conduct plunges us, are the witness of the fact that this inviolable unity of a man with humanity is operative, even if he ignores it. Often it is his ignoring of this relation which brings him through misery to consciousness of
In the Reden Schleiermacher had contended that religion is a condition of devout feeling, specifically the feeling of dependence upon God. This view dominates his treatment of Christianity. It gives him his point of departure. A Christian is possessed of the devout feeling of dependence upon God through Jesus Christ or, as again he phrases it, of dependence upon Christ. Christianity is a positive religion in the sense that it has direct relation to certain facts in the history of the race, most of all to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. But it does not consist in any positive propositions whatsoever. These have arisen in the process of interpretation of the faith. The substance of the faith is the experience of renewal in Christ, of redemption through Christ. This inward experience is neither produced by pure thought nor dependent upon it. Like all other experience it is simply an object to be described and reckoned with. Orthodox dogmatists had held that the content of the Christian faith is a doctrine given in revelation. Schleiermacher held that it is a consciousness inspired primarily by the personality of Jesus. It must be connected with the other data and acta of our consciousness under the general laws of the operation of the mind. Against rationalism and much so-called liberal Christianity, Schleiermacher contended that Christianity is not a new set of propositions periodically brought up to date and proclaimed as if these alone were true. New propositions can have only the same relativity of truth which belonged to the old ones in their day. They may stand between men and religion as seriously as the others had done.
The condition of the heart, which is religion, the experience through Jesus which is Christianity, is primarily an individual matter. But it is not solely such. It is a common experience also. Schleiermacher recognises the common element in the Christian consciousness, the element which shows itself in the Christian experience of all ages, of different races and of countless numbers of men. By this recognition of the Christian Church in its deep and spiritual sense, Schleiermacher hopes to escape the vagaries and eccentricities, and again the narrowness and bigotries of pure individualism. No liberal theologian until Schleiermacher had had any similar sense of the meaning of the Christian Church, and of the privilege and duty of Christian thought to contribute to the welfare of that body of men believing in God and following Christ which is meant by the Church. This is in marked contrast with the individualism of Kant. Of course, Schleiermacher would never have recognised as the Church that part of humanity which is held together by adherence to particular dogmas, since, for him, Christianity is not dogma. Still less could he recognise as the Church that part of mankind which is held together by a common tradition of worship, or by a given theory of organisation, since these also are historical and incidental. He meant by the Church that part of humanity, in all places and at all times, which has been held together by the common possession of the Christian consciousness and the Christian experience. The outline of this experience, the content of this consciousness, can never be so defined as to make it legislatively operative. If it were so defined we should have dogma and not Christianity. Nevertheless, it may be practically potent. The degree in which a given man may justly identify his own consciousness and experience with that of the Christian world is problematical. In Schleiermacher’s own case, the identification of some of his contentions as, for example, the thought that God is not personal with the great Christian consciousness of the past, is more than problematical. To this Schleiermacher would reply that if these contentions were true, they would become the possession of spiritual Christendom with the lapse of time. Advance always originated with one or a few. If, however, in the end, a given portion found no place in the consciousness of generation truly evidencing their Christian life, that position would be adjudged an idiosyncrasy, a negligible quantity. This view of Schleiermacher’s as to the Church is suggestive. It is the undertone of a view which widely prevails in our own time. It is somewhat difficult of practical combination with the traditional marks of the churches, as these have been inherited even in Protestantism from the Catholic age.
In a very real sense Jesus occupied the central place in Schleiermacher’s system. The centralness of Jesus Christ he himself was never weary of emphasising. It became in the next generation a favorite phrase of some who followed Schleiermacher’s pure and bounteous spirit afar off. Too much of a mystic to assert that it is through Jesus alone that we know God, he yet accords to Jesus an absolutely unique place in revelation. It is through the character and personality of Jesus that the change in the character of man, which is redemption, is marshalled and sustained. Redemption is a man’s being brought out of the condition in which all higher self consciousness was dimmed and enfeebled, into one in which this higher consciousness is vivid and strong and the power of self-determination toward the good has been restored. Salvation is thus moral and spiritual, present as well as future. It is possible in the future only because actual in the present. It is the reconstruction of a man’s nature and life by the action of the spirit of God, conjointly with that of man’s own free spirit.
It is intelligible in Schleiermacher’s context that Jesus should be spoken of as the sole redeemer of men, their only hope, and that the Christian’s dependence upon him should be described as absolute. As a matter of fact, however, the idea of dependence upon Christ alone has been often, indeed, one may say generally, associated with a conception of salvation widely different from that of Schleiermacher. It has been oftenest associated with the notion of something purely external, forensic, even magical. It is connected, even down to our own time, with reliance upon the blood of Christ, almost as if this were externally applied. It has postulated a propitiatory sacrifice, a vicarious atonement, a completed transaction, something which was laid up for all and waiting to be availed of by some. Now every external, forensic, magical notion of salvation, as something purchased for us, imputed to us, conferred upon us, would have been utterly impossible to Schleiermacher. It is within the soul of man that redemption takes place. Conferment from the side of God and Christ, or from God through Christ, can be nothing more, as also it can be nothing less, than the imparting of wisdom and grace and spiritual power from the personality of Jesus, which a man then freely takes up within himself and gives forth as from himself. The Christian consciousness contains, along with the sense of dependence upon Jesus, the sense of moral alliance and spiritual sympathy with him, of a free relation of the will of man to the will of God as revealed in Jesus. The will of man is set upon the reproduction within himself, so far as possible, of the consciousness, experience and character of Jesus.
The sin from which man is to be delivered is described by Schleiermacher thus: It is the dominance of the lower nature in us, of the sense-consciousness. It is the determination of our course of life by the senses. This preponderance of the senses over the consciousness of God is the secret of unhappiness, of the feeling of defeat and misery in men, of the need of salvation. One has to read Schleiermacher’s phrase, ‘the senses’ here, as we read Paul’s phrase, ‘the flesh.’ On the other hand, the preponderance of the consciousness of God, the willing obedience to it in every act of life, becomes to us the secret of strength and of blessedness in life. This is the special experience of the Christian. It is the effect of the impulse and influence of Christ. We receive this impulse in a manner wholly consistent with the laws of our psychological and moral being. We carry forward this impulse with varying fortunes and by free will. It comes to us, however, from without and from above, through one who was indeed true man, but who is also, in a manner not further explicable, to be identified with the moral ideal of humanity. This identification of Jesus with the moral ideal is complete and unquestioning with Schleiermacher. It is visible in the interchangeable use of the titles Jesus and Christ. Our saving consciousness of God could proceed from the person of Jesus only if that consciousness were actually present in Jesus in an absolute measure. Ideal and person in him perfectly coincide.
As typical and ideal man, according to Schleiermacher, Jesus was distinguished from all other founders of religions. These come before us as men chosen from the number of their fellows, receiving, quite as much for themselves as for others, that which they received from God. It is nowhere implied that Jesus himself was in need of redemption, but rather that he alone possessed from earliest years the fulness of redemptive power. He was distinguished from other men by his absolute moral perfection. This excluded not merely actual sin, but all possibility of sin and, accordingly, all real moral struggle. This perfection was characterised also by his freedom from error. He never originated an erroneous notion nor adopted one from others as a conviction of his own. In this respect his person was a moral miracle in the midst of the common life of our humanity, of an order to be explained only by a new spiritually creative act of God. On the other hand, Schleiermacher says squarely that the absence of the natural paternal participation in the origin of the physical life of Jesus, according to the account in the first and third Gospels, would add nothing to the moral miracle if it could be proved and detract nothing if it should be taken away. Singular is this ability on the part of Schleiermacher to believe in the moral miracle, not upon its own terms, of which we shall speak later, but upon terms upon which the outward and physical miracle, commonly so-called,
Surely the claim that Jesus was free from error in intellectual conception is unnecessary, from the point of view of the saving influence upon character which Schleiermacher had asserted. It is in contradiction with the view of revelation to which Schleiermacher had already advanced. It is to be accounted for only from the point of view of the mistaken assumption that the divine, even in manifestation, must be perfect, in the sense of that which is static and not of that which is dynamic. The assertion is not sustained from the Gospel itself. It reduces many aspects of the life of Jesus to mere semblance. That also which is claimed in regard to the abstract impossibility of sin upon the part of Jesus is in hopeless contradiction with that which Schleiermacher had said as to the normal and actual development of Jesus, in moral as also in all other ways. Such development is impossible without struggle. Struggle is not real when failure is impossible. So far as we know, it is in struggle only that character is made. Even as to the actual commission of sin on Jesus’ part, the assertion of the abstract necessity of his sinlessness, for the work of moral redemption, goes beyond anything which we know. The question of the sinlessness of Jesus is not an a priori question. To say that he was by conception free from sin is to beg the question. We thus form a conception and then read the Gospels to find evidence to sustain it. To say that he did, though tempted in all points like as we are, yet so conduct himself in the mystery of life as to remain unstained, is indeed to allege that he achieved that which, so far us we know, is without parallel in the history of the race. But it is to leave him true man, and so the moral redeemer of men who would be true. To say that, if he were true man, he must have sinned, is again to beg the question. Let us repeat that the question is one of evidence. To say that he was, though true man, so far as we have any evidence in fact, free from sin, is only to say that his humanity was uniquely penetrated by the spirit of God for the purposes of the life which he had to live. That heart-broken recollection of his own sin which one hears in The Scarlet Letter, giving power to the preacher who would reach men in their sins, has not the remotest parallel in any reminiscence
It will be evident from all that has been said that to Schleiermacher the Scripture was not the foundation of faith. As such it was almost universally regarded in his time. The New Testament, he declared, is itself but a product of the Christian consciousness. It is a record of the Christian experience of the men of the earlier time. To us it is a means of grace because it is the vivid and original register of that experience. The Scriptures can be regarded as the work of the Holy Spirit only in so far as this was this common spirit of the early Church. This spirit has borne witness to Christ in these writings not essentially otherwise than in later writings, only more at first hand, more under the impression of intercourse with Jesus. Least of all may we base the authority of Scripture upon a theory of inspiration such as that generally current in Schleiermacher’s time. It is the personality of Jesus which is the inspiration of the New Testament. Christian faith, including the faith in the Scriptures, can rest only upon the total impression of the character of Jesus.
In the same manner Schleiermacher speaks of miracles. These cannot be regarded in the conventional manner as supports of religion, for the simplest of all reasons. They presuppose religion and faith and must be understood by means of those. The accounts of external miracles contained in the Gospels are matters for unhesitating criticism. The Christian finds, for moral reasons and because of the response of his own heart, the highest revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Extraordinary events may be expected in Jesus’ career. Yet these can be called miracles only relatively, as containing something extraordinary for contemporary knowledge. They may remain to us events wholly inexplicable, illustrating a law higher than any which we yet know. Therewith they are not taken out of the realm of the orderly phenomena of nature. In other words, the notion of the miraculous is purely subjective. What is a miracle for one age may be no miracle in the view of the next. Whatever the deeds of Jesus may have been, however inexplicable all ages may find them, we can but regard them as merely natural consequences of the personality of Jesus, unique because he was unique. ’In the interests of religion the necessity can never arise of regarding an event as taken out of its connection with nature, in consequence of its dependence upon God.’
It is not possible within the compass of this book to do more than deal with typical and representative persons. Schleiermacher was epoch-making. He gathered in himself the creative impulses of the preceding period. The characteristic theological tendencies of the two succeeding generations may be traced back to him. Many men worked in seriousness upon the theological problem. No one of them marks an era again until we come to Ritschl. The theologians of the interval between Schleiermacher and Ritschl have been divided into three groups. The first group is of distinctly philosophical tendency. The influence of Hegel was felt upon them all. To this group belong Schweitzer, Biedermann, Lipsius, and Pfleiderer. The influence of Hegel was greatest upon Biedermann, least upon Lipsius. An estimate of the influence of Schleiermacher would reverse that order. Especially did Lipsius seek to lay at the foundation of his work that exact psychological study of the phenomena of religion which Schleiermacher had declared requisite. It is possible that Lipsius will more nearly come to his own when the enthusiasm for Ritschl has waned. The second group of Schleiermacher’s followers took the direction opposite to that which we have named. They were the confessional theologians. Hoffmann shows himself learned, acute and full of power. One does not see, however, why his method should not prove anything which any confession ever claimed. He sets out from Schleiermacher’s declaration concerning the content of the Christian consciousness. In Hoffmann’s own devout consciousness there had been response, since his childhood, to every item which the creed alleged. Therefore these items must have objective truth. One is reminded of an English parallel in Newman’s Grammar of Assent. Yet another group, that of the so-called mediating theologians, contains some well-known names. Here belong Nitzsch, Rothe, Mueller, Dorner. The name had originally described the effort to find, in the Union, common ground between Lutherans and Reformed. In the fact that it made the creeds of little importance and fell back on Schleiermacher’s emphasis upon feeling, the movement came to have the character also of an attempt to find a middle way between confessionalists and rationalists. Its representatives had often the kind of breadth of sympathy which goes with lack of insight, rather than that breadth of sympathy which is due to the possession of insight. Yet Rothe rises to real distinction, especially in his forecast of the social interpretation of religion. With the men of this group arose a speculation concerning the person of Christ which for a time had some currency. It was called the theory of the kenosis. Jesus is spoken of in a famous passage of the letter to the Philippians; as having emptied himself of divine qualities that he might be found in fashion as a man. In this speculation the divine attributes were divided into two classes. Of the one class it was held Christ
If any man in the department of theology in the latter half of the nineteenth century attained a position such as to entitle him to be compared with Schleiermacher, it was Ritschl. He was long the most conspicuous figure in any chair of dogmatic theology in Germany. He established a school of theological thinkers in a sense in which Schleiermacher never desired to gain a following. He exerted ecclesiastical influence of a kind which Schleiermacher never sought. He was involved in controversy in a degree to which the life of Schleiermacher presents no parallel. He was not a preacher, he was no philosopher. He was not a man of Schleiermacher’s breadth of interest. His intellectual history presents more than one breach within itself, as that of Schleiermacher presented none, despite the wide arc which he traversed. Of Ritschl, as of Schleiermacher, it may be said that he exerted a great influence over many who have only in part agreed with him.
Albrecht Ritschl was born in 1822 in Berlin, the son of a bishop in the Lutheran Church. He was educated at Bonn and at Tuebingen. He established himself at Bonn, where, in 1853, he became professor extraordinarius and in 1860 ordinaries. In 1864 he was called to Goettingen. In 1874 he became consistorialrath in the new Prussian establishment for the Hanoverian Church. He died in 1888. These are the simple outward facts of a somewhat stormy professional career. There was pietistic influence in Ritschl’s ancestry, as also in Schleiermacher’s. Ritschl had, however, reacted violently against it. His attitude was that of repudiation of everything mystical. He had strong aversion to the type of piety which rested its assurance solely upon inward experience. This aversion is one root of the historic positivism which makes him, at the last, assert the worthlessness of all supposed revelations outside of the Bible and of all supposed Christian experience apart from the influence of the historical Christ. He began his career under the influence of Hegel. He came to the position in which he felt that the sole hope for theology was in the elimination from it of all metaphysical elements. He felt that none of his predecessors had carried out Schleiermacher’s dictum, that religion is not thought, but religious thought only one of the functions of religion. Yet, of course, he was not able to discuss fundamental theological questions without philosophical basis, particularly an explicit theory of knowledge.
There was a time in his career when Ritschl was popular with both conservatives and liberals. There were long years in which he was bitterly denounced by both. Yet there was something in the man and in his teaching which went beyond all the antagonisms of the schools. There can be no doubt that it was the intention of Ritschl to build his theology solely upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. The joy and confidence with which this theology could be preached, Ritschl awakened in his pupils in a degree which had not been equalled by any theologian since Schleiermacher himself. Numbers who, in the time of philosophical and scientific uncertainty, had lost their courage, regained it in contact with his confident and deeply religious spirit. A wholesome nature, eminently objective in temper, concentrated with all his force upon his task, of rare dialectical gifts, he had a great sense of humour and occasionally also the faculty of bitterly sarcastic speech. His very figure radiated the delight of conflict as he walked the Goettingen wall.
A devoted pupil, writing immediately after Ritschl’s death, used concerning Schleiermacher a phrase which we may transfer to Ritschl himself. ’One wonders whether such a theology ever existed as a connected whole, except in the mind of its originator. Neither by those about him, nor by those after him, has it been reproduced in its entirety or free from glaring contradictions.’ It was not free from contradictions in Ritschl’s own mind. His pupils divided his inheritance among them. Each appropriated that which accorded with his own way of looking at things and viewed the remainder as something which might be left out of the account. It is long since one could properly speak of a Ritschlian school. It will be long until we shall cease to reckon with a Ritschlian influence. He did yeoman service in breaking down the high Lutheran confessionalism which had been the order of the day. In his recognition of the excesses of the Tuebingen school all would now agree. In his feeling against mere sentimentalities of piety many sympathise. In his emphasis upon the ethical and practical, in his urgency upon the actual problem of a man’s vocation in the world, he meets in striking manner the temper of our age. In his emphasis upon the social factor in religion, he represents a popular phase of thought. With all of this, it is strange to find a man of so much learning who had so little sympathy with the comparative study of religions, who was such a dogmatist on behalf of his own inadequate notion of revelation, the logical effect of whose teaching concerning the Church would be the revival of an institutionalism and externalism such as Protestantism has hardly known.
Since Schleiermacher the German theologians had made the problem of the person of Christ the centre of discussion. In the same period the problem of the person of Christ had been the central point of debate in America. Here, as there, all the other points arranged themselves about this one. The new movement which went out from Ritschl took as its centre the work of Christ in redemption. This is obvious from the very title of Ritschl’s great book, Die Christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versoehnung. Of this work the first edition of the third and significant volume was published in 1874. Before that time the formal treatises on theology had followed a traditional order of topics. It had been assumed as self-evident that one should speak of a person before one talked of his work. It did not occur to the theologians that in the case of the divine person, at all events, we can securely say that we know something as to his work. Much concerning his person must remain a mystery to us, exactly because he is divine. Our safest course, therefore, would be to infer the unknown qualities of his person from the known traits of his work. Certainly this would be true as to the work of God in nature. This was not the way, however, in which the minds of theologians worked. The habit of dealing with conceptions as if they were facts had too deep hold upon them. So long as men believed in revelation as giving them, not primarily God and the transcendental world itself, but information about God and the transcendental, they naturally held that they knew as much of the persons of God and Christ as of their works.
Schleiermacher had opened men’s eyes to the fact that the great work of Christ in redemption is an inward one, an ethical and spiritual work, the transformation of character. He had said, not merely that the transformation of man’s character follows upon the work of redemption. It is the work of redemption. The primary witness to the work of Christ is, therefore, in the facts of consciousness and history. These are capable of empirical scrutiny. They demand psychological investigation. When thus investigated they yield our primary material for any assertion we may make concerning God. Above all, it is the nature of Jesus, as learned on the evidence of his work in the hearts of men, which is our great revelation and source of inference concerning the nature of God. Instead of saying in the famous phrase, that the Christians think of Christ as God, we say that we are able to think of God, as a religious magnitude, in no other terms than in those of his manifestation and redemptive activity in Jesus.
None since Kant, except extreme confessionalists, and those in diminishing degree, have held that the great effect of the work of Christ was upon the mind and attitude of God. Less and less have men thought of justification as forensic and judicial, a declaring sinners righteous in the eye of the divine law, the attribution of Christ’s righteousness to men, so far at least as to relieve these last of penalty. This was the Anselmic scheme. Indeed, it had been Tertullian’s. Less and less have men thought of reconciliation as that of an angry God to men, more and more as of alienated men with God. The phrases of the orthodoxy of the seventeenth century, Lutheran as well as Calvinistic, survive. More and more new meaning, not always consistent, is injected into them. No one would deny that the loftiest moral enthusiasm, the noblest sense of duty, animated the hearts of many who thought in the terms of Calvinism. The delineation of God as unreconciled, of the work and sufferings of Christ as a substitution, of salvation as a conferment, caused gratitude, tender devotion, heroic allegiance in some. It worked revulsion in others. It was protested against most radically by Kant, as indeed it had been condemned by many before him. For Kant the renovation of character was the essential salvation. Yet the development of his doctrine was deficient through the individualistic form which it took. Salvation was essentially a change in the individual mind, brought about through the practical reason, and having its ideal in Jesus. Yet for Kant our salvation had no closer relation to the historic revelation in Jesus. Furthermore, so much was this change an individual issue that we may say that the actualisation of redemption would be the same for a given man, were he the only man in the universe. To hold fast to the ethical idealism of Kant, and to overcome its subjectivity and individualism, was the problem.
The reference to experience which underlies all that was said above was particularly congruous with the mood of an age grown weary of Hegelianism and much impressed with the value of the empirical method in all the sciences. Another great contention of our age is for the recognition of the value of what is social. Its emphasis is upon that which binds men together. Salvation is not normally achieved except in the life of a man among and for his fellows. It is by doing one’s duty that one becomes good. One is saved, not in order to become a citizen of heaven by and by, but in order to be an active citizen of a kingdom of real human goodness here and now. In reality no man is being saved, except as he does actively and devotedly belong to that kingdom. The individual would hardly be in God’s eyes worth the saving, except in order that he might be the instrumentality of the realisation of the kingdom. Those are ideas which it is possible to exaggerate in statement or, at least, to set forth in all the isolation of their quality as half-truths. But it is hardly possible to exaggerate their significance as a reversal of the immemorial one-sidedness, inadequacy, and artificiality both of the official statement and of the popular apprehension of Christianity. These ideas appeal to men in our time. They are popular because men think them already. Men are pleased, even when somewhat incredulous, to learn that Christianity will bear this social interpretation. Most Christians are in our time overwhelmingly convinced that in this direction lies the interpretation which Christianity must bear, if it is to do the work and meet the needs of the age. Its consonance with some of the truths underlying socialism may account, in a measure, for the influence which the Ritschlian theology has had.
As was indicated, Ritschl’s epoch-making book bears the title, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation. The book might be described in the language of the schools as a monograph upon one great dogma of the Christian faith, around which, as the author treats it, all the other doctrines are arranged. The familiar topic of justification, of which Luther made so much, was thus given again the central place. What the book really offered was something quite different from this. It was a complete system of theology, but it differed from the traditional systems of theology. These had followed helplessly a logical scheme which begins with God as he is in himself and apart from any knowledge which we have of him. They then slowly proceeded to man and sin and redemption, one empirical object and two concrete experiences which we may know something about. Ritschl reversed the process. He aimed to begin with certain facts of life. Such facts are sin and the consciousness of forgiveness, awareness of restoration to the will and power of goodness, the gift of love and of a spirit which can feel itself victorious even in the midst of ills in
This science starts with man, who in the object of many other sciences. It confines itself to man in this one aspect of his relation to moral life and to the transcendent meaning of the universe. It notes the fact that men, when awakened, usually have the sense of not being in harmony with the life of the universe or on the way to realisation of its meaning. It notes the fact that many men have had the consciousness of progressive restoration to that harmony. It inquires as to the process of that restoration. It asks as to the power of it. It discovers that that power is a personal one. Men have believed that this power has been exerted over them, either in personal contact, or across the ages and through generations of believers, by one Jesus, whom they call Saviour. They have believed that it was God who through Jesus saved them. Jesus’ consciousness thus became to them a revelation of God. The thought leads on to the consideration of that which a saved man does, or ought to do, in the life of the world and among his fellows, of the institution in which this attitude of mind is cherished and of the sum total of human institutions and relations of which the saved life should be the inward force. There is room even for a clause in which to compress the little that we know of anything beyond this life. We have written in unconventional words. There is no one place, either in Ritschl’s work or elsewhere, where this grand and simple scheme stands together in one context. This is unfortunate. Were this the case, even wayfaring men might have understood somewhat better than they have what Ritschl was aiming at.
It is a still greater pity that the execution of the scheme should have left so much to be desired. That this execution would prove difficult needs hardly to be said. That it could never be the work of one man is certainly true. To have had so great an insight is title enough to fame. Ritschl falls off from his endeavour as often as did Schleiermacher—more often and with less excuse. The might of the past is great. The lumber which he meekly carries along with him is surprising, as one feels his lack of meekness in the handling of the lumber which he recognised as such. The putting of new wine into old bottles is so often reprobated by Ritschl that the reader is justly surprised when he nevertheless recognises the
In respect of his contention against metaphysics it is hardly necessary that we should go into detail. With his empirical and psychological point of departure, given above, most men will find themselves in entire sympathy. The confusion of religion, which is an experience, with dogma which is reasoning about it, and the acceptance of statements in Scripture which are metaphysical in nature, as if they were religious truths—these two things have, in time past, prevented many earnest thinkers from following the true road. When it comes to the constructive portion of his work, it is, of course, impossible for Ritschl to build without the theoretical supports which philosophy gives, or to follow up certain of the characteristic magnitudes of religion without following them into the realm of metaphysics, to which, quite as truly as to that of religion, they belong. It would be unjust to Ritschl to suppose that these facts were hidden from him.
As to his attitude toward mysticism, there is a word to say. In the long history of religious thought those who have revolted against metaphysical interpretation, orthodox or unorthodox, have usually taken refuge in mysticism. Hither the prophet Augustine takes refuge when he would flee the ecclesiastic Augustine, himself. The Brethren of the Free Spirit, Tauler, a Kempis, Suso, the author of the Theologia Germanica, Molinos, Madame Gayon, illustrate the thing we mean. Ritschl had seen much of mysticism in pietist circles. He knew the history of the movement well. What impressed his sane mind was the fact that unhealthy minds have often claimed, as their revelation from God, an experience which might, with more truth, be
The claim of mystics that they came, in communion with God, to the point where they have no need of Christ, seemed to him impious. There is no way of knowing that we are in fellowship with God, except by comparing what we feel that this fellowship has given us, with that which we historically learn that the fellowship with God gave to Christ. This is the sense and this the connexion in which Ritschl says that we cannot come to God save in and through the historic Christ as he is given us in the Gospels. The inner life, at least, which is there depicted for us is, in this outward and authoritative sense, our norm and guide.
Large difficulties loom upon the horizon of this positivistic insistence upon history. Can we know the inner life of Christ well enough to use it thus as test in every, or even in any case? Does not the use of such a test, or of any test in this external way, take us out of the realm of the religion of the spirit? Men once said that the Church was their guide. Others said the Scripture was their guide. Now, in the sense of the outwardness of its authority, we repudiate even this. It rings devoutly if we say Christ is our guide. Yet, as Ritschl describes this guidance, in the exigency of his contention against mysticism, have we anything different? What becomes of Confucianists and Shintoists, who have never heard of the historic Christ? And all the while we have the sense of a query in our minds. Is it open to any man to repudiate mysticism absolutely and with contumely, and then leave us to discover that he does not mean mysticism as historians of every faith have understood it, but only the margin of evil which is apparently inseparable from it? That margin of evil others see and deplore. Against it other remedies have been suggested, as, for example, intelligence. Some would feel that in Ritschl’s remedy the loss is greater than the gain.
This historical character of revelation is so truly one of the fountain heads of the theology which takes its rise in Ritschl, that it deserves to be considered somewhat more at length. The Ritschlian movement has engaged a generation of more or less notable thinkers in the period since Ritschl’s death. These have dissented at many points from Ritschl’s views, diverged from his path and marked out courses of their own. We shall do well in the remainder of this chapter to attempt the delineation in terms, not exclusively of Ritschl, but of that which may
Herrmann is the one of the Ritschlians who has dealt with this matter not only with great clearness, but also with deep Christian feeling in his Verkehr des Christen mit Gott, 1886, and notably in his address, Der Begriff der Offenbarung, 1887. If the motive of religion were an intellectual curiosity, a verbal communication would suffice. As it is a practical necessity, this must be met by actual impulse in life. That passing out of the unhappiness of sin, into the peace and larger life which is salvation, does indeed imply the movement of God’s spirit on our hearts, in conversion and thereafter. This is essentially mediated to us through the Scriptures, especially through those of the New Testament, because the New Testament contains the record of the personality of Jesus. In that our personality is filled with the spirit which breathes in him, our salvation is achieved. The image of Jesus which we receive acts upon us as something indubitably real. It vindicates itself as real, in that it takes hold upon our manhood. Of course, this assumes that the Church has been right in accepting the Gospels as historical. Herrmann candidly faces this question. Not every word or deed, he says, which is recorded concerning Jesus, belongs to this central and dynamic revelation of which we speak. We do not help men to see Jesus in a saving way if, on the strength of accounts in the New Testament, we insist concerning Jesus that he was born of a virgin, that he raised the dead, that he himself rose from the dead. We should not put these things before men with the declaration that they must assent to them. We must not try to persuade ourselves that that which acted upon the disciples as indubitably real must of necessity act similarly upon us. We are to allow ourselves to be seized and uplifted by that which, in our position, touches us as indubitably real. This is, in the first place, the moral character of Jesus. It is his inner life which, on the testimony of the disciples, meets us as something real and active in the world, as truly now as then. What are some facts of this inner life? The Jesus of the New Testament shows a firmness of religious conviction, a clearness of moral judgment, a purity and force of will, such as are not found united in any other figure
It is clear that Herrmann aims to bring to the front only those elements in the life of Jesus which are likely to prove most effectual in meeting the need and winning the faith of the men of our age. He would cast into the background those elements which are likely to awaken doubt and to hinder the approach of men’s souls to God. For Herrmann himself the virgin birth has the significance that the spiritual life of Jesus did not proceed from the sinful race. But Herrmann admits that a man could hold even that without needing to allege that the physical life of Jesus did not come into being in the ordinary way. The distinction between the inner and outward life of Jesus, and the declaration that belief in the former alone is necessary, has the result of thus ridding us of questions which can scarcely fail to be present to the mind of every modern man. Yet it would be unjust to imply that this is the purpose. Quite the contrary, the distinction is logical for this theology. Redemption is an affair of the inner life of a man. It is the force of the inner life of the Redeemer which avails for it. It is from the belief that such an inner and spiritual life was once realised here on earth, that our own faith gathers strength, and gets guidance in the conflict for the salvation of our souls. The belief in the historicity of such an inner life is necessary. So Harnack also declares in his Wesen des Christenthums, 1900. It is noteworthy that in this connexion neither of these writers advances to a form of speculation concerning the exalted Christ, which in recent years has had some currency. According to this doctrine, there is ascribed to the risen and ascended Jesus an existence with God which is thought of in terms different from those which we associate with the idea of immortality. In other words, this continued existence of Christ as God is a counterpart of that existence before the incarnation, which the doctrine of the pre-existence alleged. But surely this speculation can have no better standing than that of the pre-existence.
Sin in the language of religion is defection from the law of God. It is the transgression of the divine command. In what measure, therefore, the life of man can be thought of as sinful, depends upon his knowledge of the will of God. In Scripture, as in the legends of the early history of the race, this knowledge stands in intimate connexion with the witness to a primitive revelation. This thought
Athwart this lies the traditional dogma. The dogma took up into itself a legend of the childhood of the world. It elaborated that which in Genesis is vague and poetic into a vast scheme which has passed as a sacred philosophy of history. It postulated an original revelation. It affirmed the created state of man as one of holiness before a fall. To the framers of the dogma, if sin is the transgression of God’s will, then it must be in light of a revelation of that will. In the Scriptures we have vague intimations concerning God’s will, growingly clearer knowledge of that will, evolving through history to Jesus. In the dogma we have this grand assumption of a paradisaic state of perfectness in which the will of God was from the beginning perfectly known.
In the Platonic, as in the rabbinic, speculation the idea must precede the fact. Every step of progress is a defection from that idea. The dogma suffers from an insoluble contradiction within itself. It aims to give us the point of departure by which we are to recognise the nature of sin. At the same moment it would describe the perfection of man at which God has willed that by age-long struggle he should arrive. Now, if we place this perfection at the beginning of human history, before all human self-determination, we divest it of ethical quality. Whatever else it may be, it is not character. On the other hand, if we would make this perfection really that of moral character, then we cannot place it at the beginning of human history, but far down the course of the evolution of the higher human traits, of the consciousness of sin and of the struggle for redemption. It is not revelation from God, but naive imagination, later giving place to adventurous speculation concerning the origin of the universe, which we have in the doctrine of the primeval perfection of man. We do not really make earnest with our Christian claim that in Jesus we have our paramount revelation, until we admit this. It is through Jesus, and not from Adam that we know sin.
So we might go on to say that the dogma of inherited guilt is a contradiction in terms. Disadvantage may be inherited, weakness, proclivity to sin, but not guilt, not sin in the sense of that which entails guilt. What entails guilt is action counter to the will of God which we know. That is always the act of the individual man myself. It cannot by any possibility be the act of another. It may be the consequence of the sins of my ancestors that I do moral evil without knowing it to be such. Even my fellows view this as a mitigation, if not as an exculpation. The very same act, however, which up to this point has been only an occasion for pity, becomes sin and entails guilt, when it passes through my own mind and will as a defection from a will of God in which I believe, and as a righteousness which I refuse. The confusion of guilt and sin in order to the inclusion of all under the need of salvation, as in the Augustinian scheme, ended in bewilderment and stultification of the moral sense. It caused men to despair of themselves and gravely to misrepresent God. It is no wonder if in the age of rationalism this dogma was largely done away with. The religious sense of sin was declared to be an hallucination. Nothing is more evident in the rationalist theology than its lack of the sense of sin. This alone is sufficient explanation of the impotency and inadequacy of that theology. Kant’s doctrine of radical evil testifies to his deep sense that the rationalists were wrong. He could see also the impossibility of the ancient view. But he had no substitute. Hegel, much as he prided himself upon the restoration of dogma, viewed evil as only relative, good in the making. Schleiermacher made a beginning of construing the thought of sin from the point of view of the Christian consciousness. Ritschl was the first consistently to carry out Schleiermacher’s idea, placing the Christian consciousness in the centre and claiming that the revelation of the righteousness of God and of the perfection of man is in Jesus. All men being sinners, there is a vast solidarity, which he describes as the Kingdom of Evil and sets over against the Kingdom of God, yet not so that the freedom or responsibility of man is impaired. God forgives all sin save that of wilful resistance to the spirit of the good. That is, Ritschl regards all sin, short of this last, as mainly ignorance and weakness. It is from Ritschl, and more particularly from Kaftan, that the phrases have been mainly taken which served as introduction to this paragraph.
For the work of God through Christ, in the salvation of men from the guilt and power of sin, various terms have been used. Different aspects of the work have been described by different names. Redemption, regeneration, justification, reconciliation and election or predestination—these are the familiar words. This is the order in which the conceptions stand, if we take them as they occur in consciousness. Election then means nothing more than the ultimate
Abelard had, almost at the same time with Anselm, interpreted the death of Christ in far different fashion. It was a revelation of the love of God which wins men to love in turn. This notion of Abelard was far too subtle. The crass objective dogma of Anselm prevailed. The death of Christ was a sacrifice. The purpose was the propitiation of an angry God. The effect was that, on the side of God, a hindrance to man’s salvation was removed. The doctrine accurately reflects the feudal ideas of the time which produced it. In Grotius was done away the notion of private right, which lies at the basis of the theory of Anselm. That of public duty took its place. A sovereign need not stand upon his offended honour, as in Anselm’s thought. Still, he cannot, like a private citizen, freely forgive. He must maintain the dignity of his office, in order not to demoralise the world. The sufferings of Christ did not effect a necessary private satisfaction. They were an example which satisfied the moral order of the world. Apart from this change, the conception remains the same.
As Kaftan argues, we can escape the dreadful externality and artificiality of this scheme, only as redemption and regeneration are brought back to their primary place in consciousness. These are the initial experiences in which we become aware of God’s work through Christ in us and for us. The reconciliation is of us. The redemption is from our sins. The regeneration is to a new moral life. Through
Justification and reconciliation also are primarily acts and gifts of God. Justification is a forensic act. The sense is not that in justification we are made just. We are, so to say, temporarily thus regarded, not that leniency may become the occasion of a new offence, but that in grateful love we may make it the starting point of a new life. We must justify our justification. It is easy to see the objections to such a course on the part of a civil judge. He must consider the rights of others. It was this which brought Grotius and the rest, with the New England theologians down to Park, to feel that forgiveness could not be quite free. If we acknowledge that this symbolism of God as judge or sovereign is all symbolism, mere figure of speech, not fact at all, then that objection—and much else—falls away. If we assert that another figure of speech, that of God as Father, more perfectly suggests the relation of God and man, then forgiveness may be free. Then justification and forgiveness are only two words for one and the same idea. Then the nightmare of a God who would forgive and cannot, of a God who will forgive but may not justify until something further happens, is all done away. Then the relation of the death of Jesus to the forgiveness of our sins cannot be other than the relation of his life to that forgiveness. Both the one and the other are a revelation of the forgiving love of God. We may say that in his death the whole meaning of his life was gathered. We may say that his death was the consummation of his life, that without it his life would not have been what it is. This is, however, very far from being the ordinary statement of the relation of Jesus’ death, either to his own life or to the forgiveness of our sins.
The doctrinal tradition made much also of the deliverance from punishment which follows after the forgiveness of sin. In fact, in many forms of the dogma, it has been the escape from punishment which was chiefly had in mind. Along with the forensic notion of salvation we largely or wholly discard the notion of punishment. We retain only the sense that the consequence of continuing in sin is to become more sinful. God himself is powerless to prevent that. Punishment is immanent, vital, necessary. The penalty is gradually taken away if the sin itself is taken away—not otherwise. It returns with the sin, it continues in the sin, it is inseparable from the sin. Punishment is no longer the right word. Reward is not the true description of that growing better which is the consequence of being good. Reward or punishment as quid pro quo, as arbitrary assignments, as external equivalents, do not so much as belong to the world of ideas in which we move. For this view the idea that God laid upon Jesus penalties due to us, fades into thin air. Jesus could by no possibility have met the punishment of sin, except he himself had been a sinner. Then he must have met the punishment of his own sin and not that of others. That portion which one may gladly bear of the consequences of another’s sin may rightfully be called by almost any other name. It cannot be called punishment since punishment is immanent. Even eternal death is not a judicial assignment for our obstinate sinfulness. Eternal death is the obstinate sinfulness, and the sinfulness the death.
It must be evident that reconciliation can have, in this scheme, no meaning save that man’s being reconciled to God. Jesus reveals a God who has no need to be reconciled to us. The alienation is not on the side of God. That, being alienated from God, man may imagine that God is hostile to him, is only the working of a familiar law of the human mind. The fiction of an angry God is the most awful survival among us of primitive paganism. That which Jesus by his revelation of God brought to pass was a true ‘at-one-ment,’ a causing of God and man to be at one again. To the word atonement, as currently pronounced, and as, until a half century ago, almost universally apprehended, the notion of that which is sacrificial attached. To the life and death of Jesus, as revelation of God and Saviour of men, we can no longer attach any sacrificial meaning whatsoever. There is indeed the perfectly general sense in which so beautiful a life and so heroic a death were, of course, a grand exemplification of self-sacrifice. Yet this is a sense so different from the other and in itself so obvious, that one hesitates to use the same word in the immediate context with that other, lest it should appear that the intention was to obscure rather than to make clear the meaning. For atonement in a sense different from that of reconciliation, we have no significance whatever. Reconciliation and atonement describe one and the same fact.
THE CRITICAL AND HISTORICAL MOVEMENT
It has been said that in Christian times the relation of philosophy and religion may be determined by the attitude of reason toward a single matter, namely, the churchly doctrine of revelation. There are three possible relations of reason to this doctrine. First, it may be affirmed that the content of religion and theology is matter communicated to man in extraordinary fashion, truth otherwise unattainable, on which it is beyond the competence of reason to sit in judgment. We have then the two spheres arbitrarily separated. As regards their relation, theology is at first supreme. Reason is the handmaiden of faith. It is occupied in applying the principles which it receives at the hands of theology. These are the so-called Ages of Faith. Notably was this the attitude of the Middle Age. But in the long run either authoritative revelation, thus conceived, must extinguish reason altogether, or else reason must claim the whole man. After all, it is in virtue of his having some reason that man is the subject of revelation. He is continually asked to exercise his reason upon certain parts of the revelation, even by those who maintain that he must do so only within limits. It is only because there in a certain reasonableness in the conceptions of revealed religion that man has ever been able to make them his own or to find in them meaning and edification. This external relation of reason to revelation cannot continue. Nor can the encroachments of reason be met by temporary distinctions such as that between the natural and the supernatural. The antithesis to the natural is not the supernatural, but the unnatural. The antithesis to reason is not faith, but irrationality. The antithesis to human truth is not the divine truth. It is falsehood.
[Footnote 4: Seth Pringle-Pattison, The Philosophical Radicals, p. 216.]
When men have made this discovery, a revulsion carries their minds to the second position of which we spoke. This is, namely, the position of extreme denial. It is an attitude of negation toward revelation, such as prevailed in the barren and trivial rationalism of the end of the eighteenth century. The reason having been long repressed revenges itself, usurping everything. The explanation of the rise of positive
This brings us to the third possible position, to which the best thinkers of the nineteenth century have advanced. So long as deistic views of the relation of God to man and the world held the field, revelation meant something interjected ab extra into the established order of things. The popular theology which so abhorred deism was yet essentially deistic in its notion of God and of his separation from the world. Men did not perceive that by thus separating God from the world they set up alongside of him a sphere and an activity to which his relations were transient and accidental. No wonder that other men, finding their satisfying activity within the sphere which was thus separated from God, came to think of this absentee God as an appendage to the scheme of things. But if man himself be inexplicable, save as sharing in the wider life of universal reason, if the process of history be realised as but the working out of an inherent divine purpose, the manifestation of an indwelling divine force, then revelation denotes no longer an interference with that evolution. It is a factor in that evolution. It is but the normal relation of the immanent spirit of God to the children of men at the crises of their fate. Then revelation is an experience of men precisely in the line and according to the method of all their nobler experiences. It is itself reasonable and moral. Inspiration is the normal and continuous effect of the contact of the God who is spirit with man who is spirit too. The relation is never broken. But there are times in which it has been more particularly felt. There have been personalities to whom in eminent degree this depth of communion with God has been vouchsafed. To such persons and eras the religious sense of mankind, by a true instinct, has tended to restrict the words ‘revelation’ and ‘inspiration.’ This restriction, however, signifies the separation of the grand experience from the ordinary, only in degree and not in kind. Such an experience was that of prophets and law-givers under the ancient covenant. Such an experience, in immeasurably greater degree, was that of Jesus himself. Such a turning-point in the life of the race was the advent of Christianity. The world has not been wrong in calling the documents of
In the philosophical movement, the outline of which we have suggested, what one may call the nidus of a new faith in Scripture had been prepared. The quality had been forecast which the Scripture must be found to possess, if it were to retain its character as document of revelation. In those very same years the great movement of biblical criticism was gathering force which, in the course of the nineteenth century, was to prove by stringent literary and historical methods, what qualities the documents which we know as Scripture do possess. It was to prove in the most objective fashion that the Scripture does not possess those qualities which men had long assigned to it. It was to prove that, as a matter of fact, the literature does possess the qualities which the philosophic forecast, above hinted, required. It was thus actually to restore the Bible to an age in which many reasonable men had lost their faith in it. It was to give a genetic reconstruction of the literature and show the progress of the history which the Scripture enshrines. After a contest in which the very foundations of faith seemed to be removed, it was to afford a basis for a belief in Scripture and revelation as positive and secure as any which men ever enjoyed, with the advantage that it is a foundation upon which the modern man can and does securely build. The synchronism of the two endeavours is remarkable. The convergence upon one point, of studies starting, so to say, from opposite poles and having no apparent interest in common, is instructive. It is an illustration of that which Comte said, that all the great intellectual movements of a given time are but the manifestation of a common impulse, which pervades and possesses the minds of the men of that time.
The attempt to rationalise the narrative of Scripture was no new one. It grew in intensity in the early years of the nineteenth century. The conflict which was presently precipitated concerned primarily the Gospels. It was natural that it should do so. These contain the most important Scripture narrative, that of the life of Jesus. Strauss had in good faith turned his attention to the Gospels, precisely because he felt their central importance. His generation was to learn that they presented also the greatest difficulties. The old rationalistic
On the other hand, as Pfleiderer has said, we must remember the difficulty which beset the men of that age. Their general culture made it difficult for them to accept the miraculous element in the gospel narrative as it stood. Yet their theory of Scripture gave them no notion as to any other way in which the narratives might be understood. The men had never asked themselves how the narratives arose. In the preface to his Leben Jesu, Strauss said: ’Orthodox and rationalists alike proceed from the false assumption that we have always in the Gospels testimony, sometimes even that of eye-witnesses, to fact. They are, therefore, reduced to asking themselves what can have been the real and natural fact which is here witnessed to in such extraordinary way. We have to realise,’ Strauss proceeds, ’that the narrators testify sometimes, not to outward facts, but to ideas, often most poetical and beautiful ideas, constructions which even eye-witnesses had unconsciously put upon facts, imagination concerning them, reflexions upon them, reflexions and imaginings such as were natural to the time and at the author’s level of culture. What we have here is not falsehood, not misrepresentation of the truth. It is a plastic, naive, and, at the same time, often most profound apprehension of truth, within the area of religious feeling and poetic insight. It results in narrative, legendary, mythical in nature, illustrative often of spiritual truth in a manner more perfect than any hard, prosaic statement could achieve.’ Before Strauss men had appreciated that particular episodes, like the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection, might have some such explanation as this. No one had ever undertaken to apply this method consistently, from one end to the other of the gospel narrative. What was of more significance, no one had clearly defined the conception of legend. Strauss was sure that in the application of this notion to certain portions
There is no doubt that Strauss, who was at that time an earnest Christian, felt the relief from certain difficulties in the biography of Jesus which this theory affords. He put it forth in all sincerity as affording to others like relief. He said that while rationalists and supernaturalists alike, by their methods, sacrificed the divine content of the story and clung only to its form, his hypothesis sacrificed the historicity of the narrative form, but kept the eternal and spiritual truth. In his opinion, the lapse of a single generation was enough to give room for this process of the growth of the legendary elements which have found place in the written Gospels which we have. Ideas entertained by primitive Christians relative to their lost Master, have been, all unwittingly, transformed into facts and woven into the tale of his career. The legends of a people are in their basal elements never the work of a single individual. They are never intentionally produced. The imperceptible growth of a joint creative work of this kind was possible, however, only on the supposition that oral tradition was, for a time, the means of transmission of the reminiscences of Jesus. Strauss’ explanation of his theory has been given above, to some extent in his own words. We may see how he understood himself. We may appreciate also the genuineness of the religious spirit of his work. At the same time the thorough-going way in which he applied his principle, the relentless march of his argument, the character of his results, must sometimes have been startling even to himself. They certainly startled others. The effect of his work was instantaneous and immense. It was not at all the effect which he anticipated. The issue of the furious controversy which broke out was disastrous both to Strauss’ professional career and to his whole temperament and character.
David Friedrich Strauss was born in 1808 in Ludwigsburg in Wuerttemberg. He studied in Tuebingen and in Berlin. He became an instructor in the theological faculty in Tuebingen in 1832. He published his Leben Jesu in 1835. He was almost at once removed from his portion. In 1836 he withdrew altogether from the professorial career. His answer to his critics, written in 1837, was in bitter tone. More conciliatory was his book, Ueber Vergaengliches und Bleibendes im Christenthum, published in 1839. Indeed there were some concessions in the third edition of his Leben Jesu in 1838, but these were all repudiated in 1840. His Leben Jesu fuer das deutsche Volk, published in 1866 was the effort to popularise that which he had done. It is, however, in point of method, superior to his earlier work, Comments were met with even greater bitterness. Finally, not long before his death in 1874, he published Der Alte und der Neue Glaube, in which he definitely broke with Christianity altogether and went over to materialism and pessimism.
Pfleiderer, who had personal acquaintance with Strauss and held him in regard, once wrote: ‘Strauss’ error did not lie in his regarding some of the gospel stories as legends, and some of the narratives of the miraculous as symbols of ideal truths. So far Strauss was right. The contribution which he made is one which we have all appropriated and built upon. His error lay in his looking for those religious truths which are thus symbolised, outside of religion itself, in adventurous metaphysical speculations. He did not seek them in the facts of the devout heart and moral will, as these are illustrated in the actual life of Jesus.’ If Strauss, after the disintegration in criticism of certain elements in the biography of Jesus, had given us a positive picture of Jesus as the ideal of religious character and ethical force, his work would indeed have been attacked. But it would have outlived the attack and conferred a very great benefit. It conferred a great benefit as it was, although not the benefit which Strauss supposed. The benefit which it really conferred was in its critical method, and not at all in its results.
Of the mass of polemic and apologetic literature which Strauss’ Leben Jesu called forth, little is at this distance worth the mentioning. Ullmann, who was far more appreciative than most of his adversaries, points out the real weakness of Strauss’ work. That weakness lay in the failure to draw any distinction between the historical and the mythical. He threatened to dissolve the whole history into myth. He had no sense for the ethical element in the personality and teaching of Jesus nor of the creative force which this must have exerted. Ullmann says with cogency that, according to Strauss, the Church created its Christ virtually out of pure imagination. But we are then left with the query: What created the Church? To this query Strauss has absolutely no answer to give. The answer is, says Ullmann, that the ethical personality of Jesus created the Church. This ethical personality is thus a supreme historic fact and a sublime historic cause, to which we must endeavour to penetrate, if need be through the veil of legend. The old rationalists had made themselves ridiculous by their effort to explain everything in some natural way. Strauss and his followers often appeared frivolous, since, according to them, there was little left to be explained. If a portion of the narrative presented a difficulty, it was declared mythical. What was needed was such a discrimination between the legendary and historical elements in the Gospels as could be reached only by patient, painstaking study of the actual historical quality and standing of the documents. No adequate study of this kind had ever been undertaken. Strauss did not undertake it, nor even perceive that it was to be undertaken. There had been many men of vast learning in textual and philological criticism. Here, however, a new sort of critique was applied
Baur, Strauss’ own teacher in Tuebingen, afterward famous as biblical critic and church-historian, said of Strauss’ book, that through it was revealed in startling fashion to that generation of scholars, how little real knowledge they had of the problem which the Gospels present. To Baur it was clear that if advance was to be made beyond Strauss’ negative results, the criticism of the gospel history must wait upon an adequate criticism of the documents which are our sources for that history. Strauss’ failure had brought home to the minds of men the fact that there were certain preliminary studies which must needs be taken up. Meantime the other work must wait. As one surveys the literature of the next thirty years this fact stands out. Many apologetic lives of Jesus had to be written in reply to Strauss. But they are almost completely negligible. No constructive work was done in this field until nearly a generation had passed.
Since all history, said Baur, before it reaches us must pass through the medium of a narrator, our first question as to the gospel history is not, what objective reality can be accorded to the narrative itself. There is a previous question. This concerns the relation of the narrative to the narrator. It might be very difficult for us to make up our minds as to what it was that, in a given case, the witness saw. We have not material for such a judgment. We have probably much evidence, up and down his writings, as to what sort of man the witness was, in what manner he would be likely to see anything and with what personal equation he would relate that which he saw. Baur would seem to have been the first vigorously and consistently to apply this principle to the gospel narratives. Before we can penetrate deeply into the meaning of an author we must know, if we may, his purpose in writing. Every author belongs to the time in which he lives. The greater the importance of his subject for the parties and struggles of his day, the safer is the assumption that both he and his work will bear the impress of these struggles. He will represent the interests of one or another of the parties. His work will have a tendency of some kind. This was one of Baur’s oft-used words—the tendency of a writer and of his work. We must ascertain that tendency. The explanation of many things both in the form and substance of a writing
Ferdinand Christian Baur was born in 1793 in Schmieden, near Stuttgart. He became a professor in Tuebingen in 1826 and died there in 1860. He was an ardent disciple of Hegel. His greatest work was surely in the field of the history of dogma. His works, Die Christliche Lehre von der Vereoehnung, 1838, Die Christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes, 1841-1843, his Lehrbuch der Christlichen Dogmengeschichte, 1847, together constitute a contribution to which Harnack’s work in our own time alone furnishes a parallel. Baur had begun his thorough biblical studies before the publication of Strauss’ book. The direction of those studies was more than ever confirmed by his insight of the shortcomings of Strauss’ work. Very characteristically also he had begun his investigations, not at the most difficult point, that of the Gospels, as Strauss had done, but at the easiest point, the Epistles of Paul. As early as 1831 he had published a tractate, Die Christus-Partei in der Corinthischen Gemeinde. In that book he had delineated the bitter contest between Paul and the Judaising element in the Apostolic Church which opposed Paul whithersoever he went. In 1835 his disquisition, Die sogenannten Pastoral-Briefe, appeared. In the teachings of these letters he discovered the antithesis to the gnostic heresies of the second century. He thought also that the stage of organisation of the Church which they imply, accorded better with this supposition than with that of their apostolic authorship. The same general theme is treated in a much larger way in Baur’s Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi, in 1845. Here the results of his study of the book of the Acts are combined with those of his inquiries as to the Pauline Epistles. In the history of the apostolic age men had been accustomed to see the evidence only of peace and harmony. Baur sought to show that the period had been one of fierce struggle, between the narrow Judaic and legalistic form of faith in the Messiah and that conception, introduced by Paul, of a world-religion free from the law. Out of this conflict, which lasted a hundred and fifty years, went forth the Catholic Church. The monuments of this struggle and witnesses of this process of growth are the New Testament writings, most of which were produced in the second century. The only documents which we have which were written before A.D. 70, were the four great Epistles of Paul, those to the Galatians, to the Romans, and to the Corinthians, together with the Apocalypse.
Many details in Baur’s view are now seen to have been overstated and others false. Yet this was the first time that a true historical method had been applied to the New Testament literature as a whole. Baur’s contribution lay in the originality of his conception of Christianity, in his emphasis upon Paul, in his realisation of the magnitude of the struggle which Paul inaugurated against Jewish prejudices in the primitive Church. In his idea, the issue of that struggle was, on the one hand, the freeing of Christianity from Judaism and on the other, the developing of Christian thought into a system of dogma and of the scattered Christian communities into an organised Church. The Fourth Gospel contains, according to Baur, a Christian gnosis parallel to the gnosis which was more and more repudiated by the Church as heresy. The Logos, the divine principle of life and light, appears bodily in the phenomenal world in the person of Jesus. It enters into conflict with the darkness and evil of the world. This speculation is but thinly clothed in the form of a biography of Jesus. That an account completely dominated by speculative motives gives but slight guarantee of historical truth, was for Baur self-evident. The author remains unknown, the age uncertain. The book, however, can hardly have appeared before the time of the Montanist movement, that is, toward the end of the second century. Scholars now rate far more highly than did Baur the element of genuine Johannine tradition which may lie behind the Fourth Gospel and account for its name. They do not find traces of Montanism or of paschal controversies. But the main contention stands. The Fourth Gospel represents the beginning of elaborate reflexion upon the life and work of Jesus. It is what it is because of the fusion of the ethical and spiritual content of the revelation in the personality of Jesus, with metaphysical abstractions and philosophical interpretation.
Baur was by no means so fortunate in the solution which he offered of the problem which the synoptic Gospels present. His opinions are of no interest except as showing that he too worked diligently upon a question which for a long time seemed only to grow in complexity and which has busied scholars practically from Baur’s day to our own. His zeal here also to discover dogmatic purposes led him astray. The Tendenzkritik had its own tendencies. The chief was to exaggeration and one-sidedness. Baur had the kind of ear which hears grass grow. There is much overstrained acumen. Many radically false conclusions are reached by prejudiced operation with an historical formula, which in the last analysis is that of Hegel. Everything is to be explained on the principle of antithesis. Again, the assumption of conscious purpose in everything which men do or write is a grave exaggeration. It is often in contradiction of that wonderful unconsciousness with which men and institutions move to the fulfilment of a purpose for the good, the purpose of God, into which their own life is grandly taken up. To make each phase of such a movement the contribution of some one man’s scheme or endeavour is, as was once said, to make God act like a professor.
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The method of this book is that it seeks to deal only with men who have inaugurated movements, or marked some turning-point in their course which has proved of more than usual significance. The compass of the book demands such a limitation. But by this method whole chapters in the life of learning are passed over, in which the substance of achievement has been the carrying out of a plan of which we have been able to note only the inception. There is a sense in which the carrying out of a plan is both more difficult and more worthy than the mere setting it in motion. When one thinks of the labour and patience which have been expended, for example, upon the problem of the Gospels in the past seventy years, those truths come home to us. When one reminds himself of the hypotheses which have been made but to be abandoned, which have yet had the value that they at least indicated the area within which solutions do not lie,—when one thinks of the wellnigh immeasurable toil by which we have been led to large results which now seem secure, one is made to realise that the conditions of the advance of science are, for theologians, not different from those which obtain for scholars who, in any other field, would establish truth and lead men. In a general way, however, it may be said that the course of opinion in these two generations, in reference to such questions as those of the dates and authorship of the New Testament writings, has been one of rather noteworthy retrogression from many of the Tuebingen positions. Harnack’s Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 1893, and his Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur, 1897, present a marked contrast to Baur’s scheme.
The minds of New Testament scholars in the last generation have been engaged with a question which, in its full significance, was hardly present to the attention of Baur’s school. It is the question of the New Testament as a whole. It is the question as to the time and manner and motives of the gathering together of the separate writings into a canon of Scripture which, despite the diversity of its elements, exerted its influence as a unit and to which an authority was ascribed, which the particular writings cannot originally have had. When and how did the Christians come to have a sacred book which they placed on an equality with the Old Testament, which last they had taken over from the synagogue? How did they choose the writings which were to belong to this new collection? Why did they reject books which we know were read for edification in the early churches? Deeper even than the question of the growth of the collection is that of the growth of the apprehension concerning it. This apprehension of these twenty-seven different writings as constituting the sole document of Christian revelation, given by the Holy Spirit, the identical
It is clear that we have here a question of greatest moment. With the rise of this idea of the canon, with the assigning to this body of literature the character of Scripture, we have the beginning of the larger mastery which the New Testament has exerted over the minds and life of men. Compared with this question, investigations as to the authorship and as to the time, place and circumstance of the production of particular books, came, for the time, to occupy a secondary rank. As they have emerged again, they wear a new aspect and are approached in a different spirit. The writings are revealed as belonging to a far larger context, that of the whole body of the Christian literature of the age. It in no way follows from that which we have said that the body of documents, which ultimately found themselves together in the New Testament, have not a unity other than the outward one which was by consensus of opinion or conciliar decree imposed upon them. They do represent, in the large and in varying degrees, an inward and spiritual unity. There was an inspiration of the main body of these writings, the outward condition of which, at all events, was the nearness of their writers to Jesus or to his eye-witnesses, and the consequence of which was the unique relation which the more important of these documents historically bore to the formation of the Christian Church. There was a heaven which lay about the infancy of Christianity which only slowly faded into the common light of day. That heaven was the spirit of the Master himself. The chief of these writings do centrally enshrine the first pure illumination of that spirit. But the churchmen who made the canon and the Fathers who argued about it very often gave mistaken reasons for facts in respect of which they nevertheless were right. They gave what they considered sound external reasons. They alleged apostolic authorship. They should have been content with internal evidence and spiritual effectiveness. The apostles had come, in the mind of the early Church, to occupy a place of unique distinction. Writings long enshrined in affection for their potent influence, but whose origin had not been much considered, were now assigned to apostles, that they might have
Two things have been gained in this discussion. There is first the recognition that the canon is a growth. The holy book and the conception of its holiness, as well, were evolved. Christianity was not primarily a book-religion save in the sense that almost all Christians revered the Old Testament. Other writings than those which we esteem canonical were long used in churches. Some of those afterward canonical were not used in all the churches. In similar fashion we have learned that identical statements of faith were not current in the earliest churches. Nor was there one uniform system of organisation and government. There was a time concerning which we cannot accurately use the word Church. There were churches, very simple, worshipping communities. But the Church, as outward magnitude, as triumphant organisation, grew. So there were many creeds or, at least, informally accredited and current beginnings of doctrine. By and by there was a formally accepted creed. So there were first dearly loved memorials of Jesus and letters of apostolic men. Only by and by was there a New Testament. The first gain is the recognition of this state of things. The second follows. It is the recognition that, despite a sense in which this literature is unique, there is also a sense in which it is but a part of the whole body of early Christian literature. From the exact and exhaustive study of the early Christian literature as a whole, we are to expect a clearer understanding and a juster estimate of the canonical part of it. It is not easy to say to whom we have to ascribe the discovery and elaboration of these truths. The historians of dogma have done much for this body of opinion. The historians of Christian literature have perhaps done more. Students of institutions and of the canon law have had their share. Baur had more than an inkling of the true state of things. But by far the most conspicuous teacher of our generation, in two at least of these particular fields, has been Harnack. In his lifelong labour upon the sources of Christian history, he had come upon this question of the canon again and again. In his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 1887-1890, 4te. Aufl., 1910, the view of the canon, which was given above, is absolutely fundamental.
We said that the work of Strauss revealed nothing so clearly as the ignorance of his time concerning the documents of the early Christian movement. The labours of Baur and of his followers were directed toward overcoming this difficulty. Suddenly the public interest was stirred, and the earlier excitement recalled by the publication of a new life of Jesus. The author was a Frenchman, Ernest Renan, at one time a candidate for the priesthood in the Roman Church. He was a man of learning and literary skill, who made his Vie de Jesus, which appeared in 1863, the starting-point for a series of historical works under the general title, Les Origines de Christianisme. In the next year appeared Strauss’ popular work, Leben Jesu fuer das deutsche Volk. In 1864 was published also Weizsaecker’s contribution to the life of Christ, his Untersuchungen ueber die evangelische Geschichte. To the same year belonged Schenkel’s Charakterbild Jesu. In the years from 1867-1872 appeared Keim’s Geschichte Jesu von Nazara. There is something very striking in this recurrence to the topic. After ail, this was the point for the sake of which those laborious investigations had been undertaken. This was and is the theme of undying religious interest, the character and career of the Nazarene. Renan’s philosophical studies had been mainly in English, studies of Locke and Hume. But Herder also had been his beloved guide. For his biblical and oriental studies he had turned almost exclusively to the Germans. There is a deep religious spirit in the work of the period of his conflict with the Church. The enthusiasm for Christ sustained him in his struggle. Of the days before he withdrew from the Church he wrote: ’For two months I was a Protestant like a professor in Halle or Tuebingen.’ French was at that time a language much better known in the world at large, particularly the English-speaking world, than was German. Renan’s book had great art and charm. It took a place almost at once as a bit of world-literature. The number of editions in French and of translations into other languages is amazing. Beyond question, the critical position was made known through Renan to multitudes who would
Renan was born in 1823 in Treguier in Brittany. He set out for the priesthood, but turned aside to the study of oriental languages and history. He made long sojourn in the East. He spoke of Palestine as having been to him a fifth Gospel. He became Professor of Hebrew in the College de France. He was suspended from his office in 1863, and permitted to read again only in 1871. He had formally separated himself from the Roman Church in 1845. He was a member of the Academy. His diction is unsurpassed. He died in 1894. In his own phrase, he sought to bring Jesus forth from the darkness of dogma into the midst of the life of his people. He paints him first as an idyllic national leader, then as a struggling and erring hero, always aiming at the highest, but doomed to tragic failure through the resistance offered by reality to his ideal. He calls the traditional Christ an abstract being who never was alive. He would bring the marvellous human figure before our eyes. He heightens the brilliancy of his delineation by the deep shadows of mistakes and indiscretion upon Jesus’ part. In some respects an epic or an historical romance, without teaching us history in detail, may yet enable us by means of the artist’s intuition to realise an event or period, or make presentation to ourselves of a personality, better than the scant records acknowledged by the strict historian could ever do.
Our materials for a real biography of Jesus are inadequate. This was the fact which, by all these biographies of Jesus, was brought home to men’s minds. Keim’s book, the most learned of those mentioned, is hardly more than a vast collection of material for the history of Jesus’ age, which has now been largely superseded by Schuerer’s Geschichte des Judischen Volkes im Zeitalier Jesu Christi, 2 Bde., 1886-1890. There have been again, since the decade of the sixties, periods of approach to the great problem. Weiss and Beyschlag published at the end of the eighties lives of Jesus which, especially the former, are noteworthy in their treatment of the critical material. They do not for a moment face the question of the person of Christ. The same remark might be made, almost without exception, as to those lives of Jesus which have appeared in numbers in England and America. The best books of recent years are Albert Reville’s Jesus de Nazareth, 1897, and Oscar Holtzmann’s Leben Jesu, 1901. So great are the difficulties and in such disheartening fashion are they urged from all sides,
It is characteristic that Ritschl, notwithstanding his emphasis upon the historical Jesus, asserted the impossibility of a biography of Jesus. The understanding of Jesus is through faith. For Wrede, on the other hand, such a biography is impossible because of the nature of our sources. Not alone are they scant, but they are not biographical. They are apologetic, propagandist, interested in everything except those problems which a biographer must raise. The last few years have even conjured up the question whether Jesus ever lived. One may say with all simplicity, that the question has, of course, as much rightfulness as has any other question any man could raise. The somewhat extended discussion has, however, done nothing to make evident how it could arise, save in minds unfamiliar with the materials and unskilled in historical research. The conditions which beset us when we ask for a biography of Jesus that shall answer scientific requirement are not essentially different from those which meet us in the case of any other personage equally remote in point of time, and equally woven about—if any such have been—by the love and devotion of men. Bousset’s little book, Was Wissen wir von Jesus? 1904, convinces a quiet mind that we know a good deal. Qualities in the personality of Jesus obviously worked in transcendent measure to call out devotion. No understanding of history is adequate which has no place for the unfathomed in personality. Exactly because we ourselves share this devotion, we could earnestly wish that the situation as to the biography of Jesus were other than it is.
We have spoken thus far as if the whole biblical-critical problem had been that of the New Testament. In reality the same impulses which had opened up that question to the minds of men had set them working upon the problem of the Old Testament as well. We have seen how the Christians made for themselves a canon of the New Testament. By the force of that conception of the canon, and through the belief that, almost
The Old Testament critical movement is a parallel at all points of the one which we have described in reference to the New. Of course, elder scholars, even Spinoza, had raised the question as to the Mosaic authorship of certain portions of the Pentateuch. Roman Catholic scholars in the seventeenth century, for whom the stringent theory of inspiration had less significance than for Protestants, had set forth views which showed an awakening to the real condition. Yet, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one would have forecast a revolution in opinion which would recognise the legendary quality of considerable portions of the Pentateuch and historical books, which would leave but little that is of undisputed Mosaic authorship, which would place the prophets before the law, which would concede the growth of the Jewish canon, which would perceive the relation of Judaism to the religions of the other Semite peoples and would seek to establish the true relation of Judaism to Christianity.
In the year 1835, the same year in which Strauss’ Leben Jesu saw the light, Wilhelm Vatke published his Religion des Alten Testaments. Vatke was born in 1806, began to teach in Berlin in 1830, was professor extraordinarius there in 1837 and died in 1882, not yet holding a full professorship. His book was obscurely written and scholastic. Public attention was largely occupied by the conflict which Strauss’ work had caused. Reuss in Strassburg was working on the same lines, but published the main body of his results much later.
The truth for which these scholars and others like them argued, worked its way slowly by force of its own merit. Perhaps it was due to this fact that the development of Old Testament critical views was subject to a fluctuation less marked than that which characterised the case of the New Testament. It is not necessary to describe the earlier stages of the discussion in Vatke’s own terms. To his honour be it said that the views which he thus early enunciated were in no small degree identical with those which were in masterful fashion substantiated in Holland by Kuenen about 1870, in Germany by Wellhausen after 1878, and made known to English readers by Robertson Smith In 1881.
Budde has shown in his Kanon des Alten Testaments, 1900, that the Old Testament which lies before us finished and complete, assumed its present form only as the result of the growth of several centuries. At the beginning of this process of the canonisation stands that strange event, the sudden appearance of a holy book of the law under King Josiah, in 621 B.C. The end of the process, through the decisions of the scribes, falls after the destruction of Jerusalem, possibly even in the second century. Lagarde seems to have proved that the rabbis of the second century succeeded in destroying all copies of the Scripture which differed from the standard then set up. This state of things has enormously increased a difficulty which was already great enough, that of the detection and separation of the various elements of which many of the books in this ancient literature are made up. Certain books of the New Testament also present the problem of the discrimination of elements of different ages, which have been wrought together into the documents as we now have them, in a way that almost defies our skill to disengage. The synoptic Gospels are, of course, the great example. The book of the Acts presents a problem of the same kind. But the Pentateuch, or rather Hexateuch, the historical books in less degree, the writings even of some of the prophets, the codes which formulate the law and ritual, are composites which have been whole centuries in the making and remaking. There was no such thing as right of authorship in ancient Israel, little of it in the ancient world at all. What was once written was popular or priestly property. Histories were newly narrated, laws enlarged and rearranged, prophecies attributed to conspicuous persons. All this took place not in deliberate intention to pervert historic truth, but because there was no interest in historic truth and no conception of it. The rewriting of a nation’s history from the point of view of its priesthood bore, to the ancient Israelite, beyond question, an aspect altogether different from that which the same transaction would bear to us. The difficulty of the separation of these materials, great in any case, is enhanced by the fact alluded to, that we have none but internal evidence. The success of the achievement, and the unanimity attained with reference to the most significant questions, is one of the marvels of the life of learning of our age.
In the Jewish tradition it had been assumed that the Mosaic law was written down in the wilderness. Then, in the times of the Judges and of the Kings, the historical books took shape, with David’s Psalms and the wise words of Solomon. At the end of the period of the Kings we have the prophetic literature and finally Ezra and Nehemiah. De Wette had disputed this order, but Wellhausen in his Prolegomena zur Geshichte Israels, 1883, may be said to have proved that this view was no longer tenable. Men ask, could the law, or even any greater part of
This determination of the relative positions of law and prophets was the first step in the reconstruction of the history, both of the nation of Israel and of its literature. At the beginning, as in every literature, are songs of war and victory, of praise and grief, hymns, even riddles and phrases of magic. Everywhere poetry precedes prose. Then come myths relating to the worship and tales of the fathers and heroes. Elements of both these sorts are embedded in the simple chronicles which began now to be written, primitive historical works, such as those of the Jahvist and Elohist, of the narrators of the deeds of the judges and of David and of Saul. Perhaps at this point
In this which has been said of the literature we have the clue also for the reconstruction of the nation’s history. The naive assumption in the writing of all history had once been that one must begin with the beginning. But to Wellhausen, Stade, Eduard Meyer and Kittel and Cornill, it has been clear that the history of the earliest times is the most uncertain. It is the least adapted to furnish a secure point of departure for historical inquiry. There exist for it usually no contemporary authorities, or only such as are of problematical worth. This earliest period constitutes a problem, the solution of which, so far as any solution is possible, can be hoped for only through approach from the side of ascertained facts. We must start from a period which is historically known. For the history of the Hebrews, this is the time of the first prophets of whom we have written records, or from whom we have written prophecies. We get from these, as also from the earliest direct attempts at history writing, only that conception of Israel’s pre-historic life which was entertained in prophetic circles in the eighth century. We learn the heroic legends in the interpretation which the prophets put upon them. We have still to seek to interpret them for ourselves. We must begin in the middle and work both backward and forward. Such a view of the history of Israel affords every opportunity for the connecting of the history and religion of Israel with those of the other Semite stocks. Some of these have in recent years been discovered to offer extraordinary parallels to that which the Old Testament relates.
When speaking of Baur’s contribution to New Testament criticism, we alluded to his historical works. He was in a distinct sense a reformer of the method of the writing of church history. To us the notions of the historical and of that which is genetic are identical. Of course, naive religious chronicles do not meet that test. A glance at the histories produced by the age of rationalism will show that these also fall short of it. The perception of the relativity of institutions like the papacy
The foil to much of this in Baur’s own age was represented in the work of Neander, a converted Jew, professor of church history in Berlin, who exerted great influence upon a generation of English and American scholars. He was not an investigator of sources. He had no talent for the task. He was a delineator, one of the last of the great painters of history, if one may so describe the type. He had imagination, sympathy, a devout spirit. His great trait was his insight into personality. He wrote history with the biographical interest. He almost resolves history into a series of biographical types. He has too little sense for the connexion of things, for the laws of the evolution of the religious spirit. The great dramatic elements tend to disappear behind the emotions of individuals. The old delineators were before the age of investigation. Since that impulse became masterful, some historians have been completely absorbed in the effort to make contribution to this investigation. Others, with a sense of the impossibility of mastering the results of investigation in all fields, have lost the zeal for the writing of church history on a great scale. They have contented themselves with producing monographs upon some particular subject, in which, at the most, they may hope to embody all that is known as to some specific question.
We spoke above of the new conception of the relation of the canonical literature of the New Testament to the extracanonical. We alluded to the new sense of the continuity of the history of the apostolic churches with that of the Church of the succeeding age. The influence of these ideas has been to set all problems here involved in a new light. Until 1886 it might have been said with truth that we had no good history of the apostolic age. In that year Weizsaecker’s book, Das Apostolische Zeitalter der Christlichen Kirche, admirably filled the place. A part of the problem of the historian of the apostolic age is difficult for the same reason which was given when we were speaking of the biography of Jesus. Our materials are inadequate. First with the beginning of the activities of Paul have we sources of the first rank. The relation of statements in the Pauline letters to data in the book of the Acts was one of the earliest problems which the Tuebingen school set itself. An attempt to write the biography of Paul reminds us sharply of our limitations. We know almost nothing of Paul prior to his conversion, or subsequent to the enigmatical breaking off of the account of the beginnings of his work at Rome. Harnack’s Mission und Ausbreitung des Christenthums, 1902 (translated, Moffatt, 1908), takes up the work of Paul’s successors in that cardinal activity. It offers, strange as it may seem, the first discussion of the dissemination of Christianity which has dealt adequately with the sources. It gives also a picture of the world into which the Christian movement went. It emphasises anew the truth which has for a generation past grown in men’s apprehension that there is no possibility of understanding Christianity, except against the background of the religious life and thought of the world into which it came. Christianity had vital relation, at every step of its progress, to the religious movements and impulses of the ancient world, especially in those centres of civilisation which Paul singled out for his endeavour and which remained the centres of the Christian growth. It was an age which has often been summarily described as corrupt. Despite its corruption, or possibly because it was corrupt, it gives evidence, however, of religious stirring, of strong ethical reaction, of spiritual endeavour rarely paralleled. In the Roman Empire everything travelled. Religions travelled. In the centres of civilisation there was scarcely a faith of mankind which had not its votaries.
It was an age of religious syncretism, of hospitality to diverse religious ideas, of the commingling of those ideas. These things facilitated the progress of Christianity. They made certain that if the Christian movement had in it the divine vitality which men claimed, it would one day conquer the world. Equally, they made certain that, as the very condition of this conquest, Christianity would be itself transformed. This it is which has happened in the evolution of
To Baur the truth as to the conflict of Paul with the Judaisers had meant much. He thought, therefore, with reference to the rise of priesthood and ritual among the Christians, to the emphasis on Scripture in the fashion of the scribes, to the insistence upon rules and dogmas after the manner of the Pharisees, that they were but the evidence of the decline and defeat of Paul’s free spirit and of the resurgence of Judaism in Christianity. He sought to explain the rise of the episcopal organisation by the example of the synagogue. Ritschl in his Entstehung der alt-catholischen Kirche, 1857, had seen that Baur’s theory could not be true. Christianity did not fall back into Judaism. It went forward to embrace the Hellenic and Roman world. The institutions, dogmas, practices of that which, after A.D. 200, may with propriety be called the Catholic Church, are the fruit of that embrace. There was here a falling off from primitive and spiritual Christianity. But it was not a falling back into Judaism. There were priests and scribes and Pharisees with other names elsewhere. The phenomenon of the waning of the original enthusiasm of a period of religious revelation has been a frequent one. Christianity on a grand scale illustrated this phenomenon anew. Harnack has elaborated this thesis with unexampled brilliancy and power. He has supported it with a learning in which he has no rival and with a religious interest which not even hostile critics would deny. The phrase, ‘the Hellenisation of Christianity,’ might almost be taken as the motto of the work to which he owes his fame.
Adolf Harnack was born in 1851 in Dorpat, in one of the Baltic provinces of Russia. His father, Theodosius Harnack, was professor of pastoral theology in the University of Dorpat. Harnack studied in Leipzig and began to teach there in 1874. He was called to the chair of church history in Giessen in 1879. In 1886 he removed to Marburg and in 1889 to Berlin. Harnack’s earlier published work was almost entirely in the field of the study of the sources and materials of early church history. His first book, published in 1873, was an inquiry as to the sources for the history of Gnosticism. His Patrum Apostolicorum Opera, 1876, prepared by him jointly with von Gehhardt and Zahn, was in a way only a forecast of the great collection, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschickte der alt-christlichen Literatur, begun in 1882, upon which numbers of scholars have worked together with him. The collection has already more than thirty-five volumes. In his own two works, Die Geschichte der alt-christlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 1893, and Die Chronologie der alt-christlichen Literatur bis Eusebius, 1897, are deposited the results of his reflexion on the mass of this material. His Beitrage zur Einleitung in das Neue Testament, 1906, etc., should not be overlooked. He has had the good fortune to be among those who have discovered manuscripts of importance. He has had to do with the Prussian Academy’s edition of the Greek Fathers. A list of his published works, which was prepared in connexion with the celebration of his sixtieth birthday in 1911, bears witness to his amazing diligence and fertility. He was for thirty-five years associated with Schurer in the publication of the Theologische Literaturzeitung. He has filled important posts in the Church and under the government. To this must be added an activity as a teacher which has placed a whole generation of students from every portion of the world under undying obligation. One speaks with reserve of the living, but surely no man of our generation has done more to make the history of which we write.
Harnack’s epoch-making work was his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 1886-88, fourth edition, 1910. The book met, almost from the moment of its appearance, with the realisation of the magnitude of that which had been achieved. It rested upon a fresh and independent study of the sources. It departed from the mechanism which had made the old treatises upon the history of doctrine formal and lifeless. Harnack realised to the full how many influences other than theological had had part in the development of doctrine. He recognised the reaction of modes of life and practice, and of external circumstances on the history of thought. His history of doctrine has thus a breadth and human quality never before attained. Philosophy, worship, morals, the development of Church government and of the canon, the common interests and passions of the age and those of the individual participants, are all made tributary to his delineation.
Harnack cannot share Baur’s view that the triumph of the Logos-Christology at Nicaea and Chalcedon was inevitable. A certain historic naturalness of the movement he would concede, the world on which Christianity entered being what it was. He is aware, however, that many elements other than Christian have entered into the development. He has phrased his apprehension thus. That Hellenisation of Christianity which Gnosticism represented, and against which, in this, its acute form, the Church contended was, after all, the same thing which, by slower process and more unconsciously, befell the Church itself. That pure moral enthusiasm and inspiration which had been the gist of the Christian movement, in its endeavour to appropriate the world, had been appropriated by the world in far greater measure than its adherents knew. It had taken up its mission to change the world. It had dreamed that while changing the world it had itself remained unchanged. The world was changed, the world of life, of feeling and of thought. But Christianity was also changed. It had conquered the world. It had no perception of the fact that it illustrated the old law that the conquered give laws to the conquerors. It had fused the ancient culture with the flame of its inspiration. It did not appreciate the degree in which the elements of that ancient culture now coloured its far-shining flame. It had been a maker of history. Meantime it had been unmade and remade by its own history. It confidently carried back its canon, dogma, organisation, to Christ and the apostles. It did not realise that the very fact that it could find these things natural and declare them ancient, proved with conclusiveness that it had itself departed from the standard of Christ and the apostles. It esteemed that these were its defences against the world. It little dreamed that they were, by their very existence, the evidence of the fact that the Church had not defended itself against the world. Its dogma was the Hellenisation of its thought. Its organisation was the Romanising of its life. Its canon and ritual were the externalising, and conventionalising of its spirit and enthusiasm. These are positive and constructive statements of Harnack’s main position.
When, however, they are turned about and stated negatively, these statements all convey, more or less, the impression that the advance of Christianity had been its destruction, and the evolution of dogma had been a defection from Christ. This is the aspect of the contention which gave hostile critics opportunity to say that we have before us the history of the loss of Christianity. Harnack himself has many sentences which superficially will bear that construction. Hatch had said in his brilliant book, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 1891, that the domestication of Greek philosophy in the Church signified a defection from the Sermon on the Mount. The centre of gravity of the Gospel was changed from
The constant touchstone and point of reference for every stage of the history of the Church must be the gospel of Jesus. But what was the gospel of Jesus? In what way did the very earliest Christians apprehend that gospel? This question is far more difficult for us to answer than it was for those to whom the New Testament was a closed body of literature, externally differentiated from all other, and with a miraculous inspiration extending uniformly to every phrase in any book. These men would have said that they had but to find the proper combination of the sacred phrases. But we acknowledge that the central inspiration was the personality of Jesus. The books possess this inspiration in varying degree. Certain of the books have distinctly begun the fusion of Christian with other elements. They themselves represent the first stages of the history of doctrine. We acknowledge that those utterances of Jesus which have been preserved for us, shaped themselves by the antitheses in which Jesus stood. There is much about them that is palpably incidental, practically relevant and unquestionably only relative. In a large sense, much of the meaning of the gospel has to be gathered out of the evidence of the operation of its spirit in subsequent ages of the Christian Church, and from remoter aspects of the influence of Jesus on the world. Thus the very conception of the gospel of Jesus becomes inevitably more or less subjective. It becomes an ideal construction. The identification of this ideal with the original gospel proclamation becomes precarious. We seem to move in a circle. We derive the ideal from the history, and then judge the history by the ideal.
Is there any escape from this situation, short of the return to the authority of Church or Scripture in the ancient sense? Furthermore, even the men to whom the gospel was in the strictest sense a letter, identified the gospel with their own private interpretation of this letter. Certainly the followers of Ritschl who will acknowledge no traits of the gospel save those of which they find direct witness in the Gospels, thus ignore that the Gospels are themselves interpretations. This undue stress upon the documents which we are fortunate enough to possess, makes us forget the limitations
In the second volume Harnack treats of the development primarily of the Christological and trinitarian dogma, from the fourth to the seventh centuries. The dramatic interest of the narrative exceeds anything which has been written on this theme. A debate which to most modern men is remote and abstruse almost to the point of unintelligibility, and of which many of the external aspects are disheartening in the extreme, is here brought before us in something of the reasonableness which it must have had for those who took part in it. Tertullian shaped the problem and established the nomenclature for the Christological solution which the Orient two hundred years later made its own. It was he who, from the point of view of the Jurist, rather than of the philosopher, gave the words ‘person’ and ‘substance,’ which continually occur in this discussion, the meaning which in the Nicene Creed they bear. Most brilliant is Harnack’s characterisation of Arius and Athanasius. In Arius the notion of the Son of God is altogether done away. Only the name remains. The victory
All these questions were veiled for the early Christians behind the question of the kind of Christ in whom their hearts believed. With all that we have said about the reprehensible admixture of the metaphysical element in the dogma, with all the accusation which we bring concerning acute or gradual Hellenisation, secularisation and defection from the Christ, we ought not to hide from ourselves that in this gigantic struggle there were real religious interests at stake, and that for the men of both parties. Dimly, or perhaps vividly, the man of either party felt that the conception of the Christ which he was fighting for was congruous with the conception of religion which he had, or felt that he must have. It is this religious issue,
[Footnote 5: Wernle, Einfzhrung in das Theologische Studium, 1908, v. 204.]
In the long run, the simpler view did not maintain itself. If false gods and demons were expelled, it was the God Jesus who expelled them. The more modest faith believed that in the man Jesus, being such an one as he was, men had received the greatest gift which the love of God had to bestow. In turn the believer felt the assurance that he also was a child of God, and in the spirit of Jesus was to realise that sonship. Syncretist religions suggested other thoughts. We see that already even in the synoptic tradition the calling upon the name of Jesus had found place. One wonders whether that first apprehension ever stood alone in its purity. The Gentile Churches founded by Paul, at all events, had no such simple trust. Equally, the second form of faith seems never to have been able to stand alone in its peculiar quality. Some of the gnostic sects had it. Marcion again is our example. The new God Jesus had nothing to do with the cruel God of the Old Testament. He supplanted the old God and became the only God. In the Church the new God, come down from heaven, must be set in relation with the long-known God of Israel. No less, must he stand in relation to the simple hero of the Gospels with his human traits. The problem of theological reflexion was to find the right middle course, to keep the divine Christ in harmony, on the one side, with monotheism, and on the other, with the picture which the Gospels gave. Belief knew nothing of these contradictions. The same simple soul thanked God for Jesus with his sorrows and his sympathy, as man’s guide and helper, and again prayed to Jesus because he seemed too wonderful to be a man. The same kind of faith achieves the same wondering and touching combination to-day, after two thousand years. With thought comes trouble. Reflexion wears itself out upon the insoluble difficulty, the impossible combination, the flat contradiction, which the two views present, so soon as they are clearly seen.
In the earliest Christian writings the fruit of this reflexion lies before us in this form:—The Creator of worlds, the mediator, the lord of angels and demons, the Logos which was God and is our Saviour, was yet a humble son of man, undergoing suffering and death, having laid aside his divine glory. This picture is made with materials which the canonical writings themselves afford. Theological study had henceforth nothing to do but to avoid extremes and seek to make this image, which reflexion upon two polar opposites had yielded, as nearly thinkable as possible. It has been said that the trinitarian doctrine is not in the New Testament, that it was later elaborated by a different kind of mind. This is not true. But the inference is precisely the contrary of that which defenders of the dogma would formerly have drawn from this concession. The same kind of mind, or rather the same two kinds of mind, are at work in the New Testament. Both of the religious elements above suggested are in the Gospels and Epistles. The New Testament presents attempts at their combination. Either form may be found in the literature of the later age. If we ask ourselves, What is that in Jesus which gives us the sense of redemption, surely we should answer, It is his glad and confident resting in the love of God the Father. It is his courage, his faith in men, which becomes our faith in ourselves. It is his wonderful mingling of purity and love of righteousness with love of those who have sinned. You may find this in the ancient literature, as the Fathers describe that to which their souls cling. But this is not the point of view from which the dogma is organised. The Nicene Christology is not to be understood from this approach. The cry of a dying civilisation after power and light and life, the feeling that these might come to it, streaming down as it were, from above, as a physical, a mechanical, a magical deliverance, this is the frame within which is set what is here said of the help and redemption wrought by Christ. The resurrection and the incarnation are the points at which this streaming in of the divine light and power upon a darkened world is felt.
That religion seemed the highest, that interpretation of Christianity the truest, the absolute one, which could boast that it possessed the power of the Almighty through his physical union with men. He who contended that Jesus was God, contended therewith for a power which could come upon men and make them in some sense one with God. This is the view which has been almost exclusively held in the Greek Church. It is the view which has run under and through and around the other conception in the Roman and Protestant Churches. The sense that salvation is inward, moral, spiritual, has rarely indeed been absent from Christendom. It would be preposterous to allege that it had. Yet this sense has been overlaid and underrun and shot through with that other and disparate idea of salvation, as of a pure bestowment, something achieved
THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE NATURAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
By the middle of the nineteenth century the empirical sciences had undergone vast expansion in the study of detail and in the discovery of principles. Men felt the necessity of some adequate discussion of the relation of these sciences one to another and of their unity. There was need of the organisation of the mass of knowledge, largely new and ever increasing, which the sciences furnished. It lay in the logic of the case that some of these attempts should advance the bold claim to deal with all knowledge whatsoever and to offer a theory of the universe as a whole. Religion, both in its mythological and in its theological stages, had offered a theory of the universe as a whole. The great metaphysical systems had offered theories of the universe as a whole. Both had professed to include all facts. Notoriously both theology and metaphysics had dealt in most inadequate fashion with the material world, in the study of which the sciences were now achieving great results. Indeed, the methods current and authoritative with theologians and metaphysicians had actually prevented study of the physical universe. Both of these had invaded areas of fact to which their methods had no application and uttered dicta which had no relation to truth. The very life of the sciences depended upon deliverance from this bondage. The record of that deliverance is one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of thought. Could one be surprised if, in the resentment which long oppression had engendered and in the joy which overwhelming victory had brought, scientific men now invaded the fields of their opponents? They repaid their enemies in their own coin. There was with some a disposition to deny that there exists an area of knowledge to which the methods of metaphysicians
Meantime, after positivism was buried and agnosticism dead, a thing was achieved for which Comte himself laid the foundation and in which Spencer as he grew older was ever more deeply interested. This was the great development of the social sciences. Every aspect of the life of man, including religion itself, has been drawn within the area of the social sciences. To all these subjects, including religion, there have been applied empirical methods which have the closest analogy with those which have reigned in the physical sciences. Psychology has been made a science of experiment, and the psychology of religion has been given a place within the area of its observations and generalizations. The ethical, and again the religious consciousness has been subjected to the same kind of investigation to which all other aspects of consciousness are subjected. Effort has been made to ascertain and classify the phenomena of the religious life of the race in all lands and in all ages. A science of religions is taking its place among the other sciences. It is as purely an inductive science as is any other. The history of religions and the philosophy of religion are being rewritten from this point of view.
In the first lines of this chapter we spoke of the empirical sciences, meaning the sciences of the material world. It is clear, however, that the sciences of mind, of morals and of religion have now become empirical sciences. They have their basis in experience, the experience of individuals and the experience of masses of men, of ages of observable human life. They all proceed by the method of observation and inference, of hypothesis and verification. There is a unity of method as between the natural and social and psychical sciences, the reach of which is startling to reflect upon. Indeed, the physiological aspects of psychology, the investigations of the relation of adolescence to conversion, suggest that the distinction
Positivism was a system. Agnosticism was at least a phase of thought. The broadening of the conception of science and the invasion of every area of life by a science thus broadly conceived, has been an influence less tangible than those others but not, therefore, less effective. Positivism was bitterly hostile to Christianity, though, in the mind of Comte himself and of a few others, it produced a curious substitute, possessing many of the marks of Roman Catholicism. The name ‘agnostic’ was so loosely used that one must say that the contention was hostile to religion in the minds of some and not of others. The new movement for an inclusive science is not hostile to religion. Yet it will transform current conceptions of religion as those others never did. In proportion as it is scientific, it cannot be hostile. It may at most be indifferent. Nevertheless, in the long run, few will choose the theme of religion for the scientific labour of life who have not some interest in religion. Men of these three classes have accepted the doctrine of evolution. Comte thought he had discovered it. Spencer and those for whom we have taken him as type, did service in the elaboration of it. To the men of our third group, the truth of evolution seems no longer debatable. Here too, in the word ‘evolution,’ we have a term which has been used with laxity. It corresponds to a notion which has only gradually been evolved. Its implications were at first by no means understood. It was associated with a mechanical view of the universe which was diametrically opposed to its truth. Still, there could not be a doubt that the doctrine contravened those ideas as to the origin of the world, and more particularly of man, of the relations of species, and especially of the human species to other forms of animal life, which had immemorially prevailed in Christian circles and which had the witness of the Scriptures on their behalf. If we were to attempt, with acknowledged latitude, to name a book whose import might be said to be cardinal for the whole movement treated of in this chapter, that book would be Darwin’s Origin of Species, which was published in 1859.
Long before Darwin the creation legend had been recognised as such. The astronomy of the seventeenth century had removed the earth from its central position. The geology of the eighteenth had shown how long must have been the ages of the laying down of the earth’s strata. The question of the descent of man, however, brought home the significance of evolution for religion more forcibly than any other aspect of the debate had done. There were scientific men of distinction who were not convinced of the truth of the evolutionary hypothesis. To most Christian men the theory seemed to leave no unique distinction or spiritual quality for man. It seemed to render impossible faith in the Scriptures as revelation. To many it seemed that the whole issue as between a spiritual and a purely materialistic view of the universe was involved. Particularly was this true of the English-speaking peoples.
One other factor in the transformation of the Christian view needs to be dwelt upon. It is less theoretical than those upon which we have dwelt. It is the influence of socialism, taking that word in its largest sense. An industrial civilisation has developed both the good and the evil of individualism in incredible degree. The unity of society which the feudal system and the Church gave to Europe in the Middle Age had been destroyed. The individualism and democracy which were essential to Protestantism notoriously aided the civil and social revolution, but the centrifugal forces were too great. Initiative has been wonderful, but cohesion is lacking. Democracy is yet far from being realised. The civil liberations which were the great crises of the western world from 1640 to 1830 appear now to many as deprived of their fruit. Governments undertake on behalf of subjects that which formerly no government would have dreamed of doing. The demand is that the Church, too, become a factor in the furtherance of the outward and present welfare of mankind. If that meant the call to love and charity it would be an old refrain. That is exactly what it does not mean. It means the attack upon evils which make charity necessary. It means the taking up into the idealisation of religion the endeavour to redress all wrongs, to do away with all evils, to confer all goods, to create a new world and not, as heretofore, mainly at least, a new soul in the midst of the old world. No one can deny either the magnitude of the evils which it is sought to remedy, or the greatness of the goal which is thus set before religion. The volume of religious and Christian literature devoted to these social questions is immense. It is revolutionary in its effect. For, after all, the very gist of religion has been held to be that it deals primarily with the inner life and the transcendent world. That it has dealt with the problem of the inner life and transcendent world in such a manner as to retard, or even only not to further, the other aspects of man’s life is indeed a
This is by no means a recurrence to the old antithesis of religion and civilisation, as if these were contradictory elements. On the contrary, it is but to show that the present world of religion and of economics are not two worlds, but merely different aspects of the same world. Therewith it is not alleged that religion has not a specific contribution to make.
The permanent influence of that phase of thought which called itself Positivism has not been great. But a school of thought which numbered among its adherents such men and women as John Stuart Mill, George Henry Lewes, George Eliot, Frederic Harrison, and Matthew Arnold, cannot be said to have been without significance. A book upon the translation of which Harriet Martinean worked with sustained enthusiasm cannot be dismissed as if it were merely a curiosity. Comte’s work, Coura de Philosophie Positive, appeared between the years 1830 and 1842. Littre was his chief French interpreter. But the history of the positivist movement belongs to the history of English philosophical and religious thought, rather than to that of France.
Comte was born at Montpellier in 1798, of a family of intense Roman Catholic piety. He showed at school a precocity which might bear comparison with Mill’s. Expelled from school, cast off by his parents, dismissed by the elder Casimir Perier, whose secretary he had been, he eked out a living by tutoring in mathematics. Friends of his philosophy rallied to his support. He never occupied a post comparable with his genius. He was unhappy in his marriage. He passed through a period of mental aberration, due, perhaps, to the strain under which he worked. He did not regain his liberty without an experience which embittered him against the Church. During the fourteen years of the production of his book he cut himself off from any reading save that of current scientific discovery. He came under the influence of Madame Vaux, whom, after her death, he idolised even more than before. For the problem which, in the earlier portion of his work, he set himself, that namely, of the organising of the sciences into a compact body of doctrine, he possessed extraordinary gifts. Later, he took on rather the air of a high priest of humanity, legislating concerning a new religion.
Comte begins with the natural sciences and postulates the doctrine of evolution. To the definition of this doctrine he makes some interesting approaches. The discussion of the order and arrangement of the various sciences and of their characteristic differences is wonderful in its insight and suggestiveness. He asserts that in the study of nature we are concerned solely with the facts before us and the relations which connect those facts. We have nothing to do with the supposed essence or hidden nature and meaning of those facts. Facts and the invariable laws which govern them are the only legitimate objects of pursuit. Comte infers that because we can know, in this sense, only phenomena and their relations, we should in consequence guard against illusions which creep in again if we so much as use the words principle, or cause, or will, or force. By phenomena must be understood objects of perception, to the exclusion, for example, of psychological changes reputed to be known in self-consciousness. That there is no knowledge but of the physical, that there is no knowing except by perception—this is ever reiterated as self-evident. Even psychology, resting as it does largely upon the observation of the self by the self, must be illusive. Physiology, or even phrenology, with the value of which Comte was much impressed, must take its place. Every object of knowledge is other than the knowing subject. Whatever else the mind knows, it can never know itself. By invincible necessity the human mind can observe all phenomena except its own. Commenting upon this, James Martineau observed: ’We have had in the history of thought numerous forms of idealism which construed all outward phenomena as mere appearances within the mind. We have hitherto had no strictly corresponding materialism, which claimed certainty for the outer world precisely because it was foreign to ourselves.’ Man is the highest product of nature, the highest stage of nature’s most mature and complex form. Man as individual is nothing more. Physiology gives us not merely his external constitution and one set of relations. It is the whole science of man. There is no study of mind in which its actions and states can be contemplated apart from the physical basis in conjunction with which mind exists.
Thus far man has been treated only biologically, as individual. We must advance to man in society. Almost one half of Comte’s bulky work is devoted to this side of the inquiry. Social phenomena are a class complex beyond any which have yet been investigated. So much is this the case and so difficult is the problem presented, that Comte felt constrained in some degree to change his method. We proceed from experience, from data in fact, as before. But the facts are not mere illustrations of the so called laws of individual human nature. Social facts are the results also of situations which represent the accumulated influence of past generations. In this, as against Bentham, for example, with his endless recurrence to human nature, as he called it, Comte was right. Comte thus first gave the study of history its place in sociology. In this study of history and sociology, the collective phenomena are more accessible to us and better known by us, than are the parts of which they are composed. We therefore proceed here from the general to the particular, not from the particular to the general, as in research of the kinds previously named. The state of every part of the social organisation is ultimately connected with the contemporaneous state of all the other parts. Philosophy, science, the fine arts, commerce, navigation, government, are all in close mutual dependence. When any considerable change takes place in one, we may know that a parallel change has preceded or will follow in the others. The progress of society is not the aggregate of partial changes, but the product of a single impulse acting through all the partial agencies. It can therefore be most easily traced by studying all together. These are the main principles of sociological investigation as set forth by Comte, some of them as they have been phrased by Mill.
The most sweeping exemplification of the axiom last alluded to, as to parallel changes, is Comte’s so-called law of the three states of civilisation. Under this law, he asserts, the whole historical evolution can be summed up. It is as certain as the law of gravitation. Everything in human society has passed, as has the individual man, through the theological and then through the metaphysical stage, and so arrives at the positive stage. In this last stage of thought nothing either of superstition or of speculation will survive. Theology and metaphysics Comte repeatedly characterises as the two successive stages of nescience, unavoidable as preludes to science. Equally unavoidable is it that science shall ultimately prevail in their place. The advance of science having once begun, there is no possibility but that it will ultimately possess itself of all. One hears the echo of this confidence in Haeckel also. There is a persistence about the denial of any knowledge whatsoever that goes beyond external facts, which ill comports with the pretensions of positivism to be a philosophy. For its final claim is not that
The adjective ‘positive’ contains the same fallacy. Apparently Comte meant by the choice of it to convey the sense that he would limit research to phenomena in their orders of resemblance, co-existence and succession. But to call the inquiry into phenomena positive, in the sense that it alone deals with reality, to imply that the inquiry into causes deals with that which has no reality, is to beg the question. This is not a premise with which he may set out in the evolution of his system.
Comte denied the accusation of materialism and atheism. He did the first only by changing the meaning of the term materialism. Materialism the world has supposed to be the view of man’s condition and destiny which makes these to begin and end in nature. That certainly was Comte’s view. The accusation of atheism also he avoids by a mere play on words. He is not without a God. Humanity is God. Mankind is the positivist’s Supreme. Altruism takes the place of devotion. The devotion so long wasted upon a mere creature of the imagination, to whom it could do no good, he would now give to men who sorely need it and can obviously profit by it. Surely the antithesis between nature and the supernatural, in the form in which Comte argues against it, is now abandoned by thoughtful people. Equally the antithesis of altruism to the service of God is perverse. It arouses one’s pity that Comte should not have seen how, in true religion these two things coalesce.
Moreover, this deification of mankind, in so far as it is not a sounding phrase, is an absurdity. When Comte says, for example, that the authority of humanity must take the place of that of God, he has recognised that religion must have authority. Indeed, the whole social order must have authority. However, this is not for him, as we are accustomed to say, the authority of the truth and of the right. There is no such abstraction as the truth, coming
In the end, we are told, love is to take the place of force. Humanity is present to us first in our mothers, wives and daughters. For these it is present in their fathers, husbands, sons. From this primary circle love widens and worship extends as hearts enlarge. It is the prayer to humanity which first rises above the mere selfishness of the sort to get something out of God. Remembrance in the hearts of those who loved us and owe something to us is the only worthy form of immortality. Clearly it is only the caricature of prayer or of the desire of immortality which rises before Comte’s mind as the thing to be escaped. For this caricature religious men, both Catholic and Protestant, without doubt, gave him cause. There were to be seven sacraments, corresponding to seven significant epochs in a man’s career. There were to be priests for the performance of these sacraments and for the inculcation of the doctrines of positivism. There were to be temples of humanity, affording opportunity for and reminder of this worship. In each temple there was to be set up the symbol of the positivist religion, a woman of thirty years with her little son in her arms. Littre spoke bitterly of the positivist religion as a lapse of the author into his old aberration. This religion was certainly regarded as negligible by many to whom his system as a whole meant a great deal. At least, it is an interesting example, as is also his transformation of science into a philosophy, of the resurgence of valid elements in life, even in the case of a man who has made it his boast to do away with them.
We may take Spencer as representative of a group of men who, after the middle of the nineteenth century, laboured enthusiastically to set forth evolutionary and naturalistic theories of the universe. These theories had also, for the most part, the common trait that they professed agnosticism as to all that lay beyond the reach of the natural-scientific methods, in which the authors were adept. Both Ward and Boutroux accept Spencer as such a type. Agnosticism for obvious reasons could be no system. Naturalism is a tendency in interpretation of the universe which has many ramifications. There is no intention of making the reference to one man’s work do more than serve as introduction to the field.
Spencer was eager in denial that he had been influenced by Comte. Yet there is a certain reminder of Comte in Spencer’s monumental endeavour to systematise the whole mass of modern scientific knowledge, under the general title of ‘A Synthetic Philosophy.’ He would show the unity of the sciences and their common principles or, rather, the one great common principle which they all illustrate, the doctrine of evolution, as this had taken shape since the time of Darwin. Since 1904 we have an autobiography of Herbert Spencer, which, to be sure, seems largely to have been written prior to 1889. The book is interesting, as well in the light which it throws upon the expansion of the sciences and the development of the doctrine of evolution in those years, as in the revelation of the personal traits of the man himself. Concerning these Tolstoi wrote to a friend, apropos of a gift of the book: ’In autobiographies the most important psychological phenomena are often revealed quite independently of the author’s will.’
Spencer was born in 1820 in Derby, the son of a schoolmaster. He came of Nonconformist ancestry of most marked individuality. His early education was irregular and inadequate. Before he reached the age of seventeen his reading had been immense. He worked with an engineer in the period of the building of the railways in the Midlands. He always retained his interest in inventions. He wrote for the newspapers and magazines and definitely launched upon a literary career. At the age of thirty he published his first book, on Social Statics. He made friends among the most notable men and women of his age. So early as 1855 he was the victim of a disease of the heart which never left him. It was on his recovery from his first grave attack that he shaped the plan which henceforth held him, of organising the modern sciences and incorporating them into what he called a synthetic philosophy. There was immense increase in actual knowledge and in the power of his reflection on that knowledge, as the years went by. A generation elapsed between the publication of his First Principles and the conclusion of his more formal literary labours. There is something captivating about a man’s life, the energy of which remains so little impaired that he esteems it better to write a new book, covering some untouched portion of his scheme, than to give to an earlier volume the revision which in the light of his matured convictions it may need. His philosophical limitations he never transcended. He does not so naively offer a substitute for philosophy as does Comte. But he was no master in philosophy. There is a reflexion of the consciousness of this fact in his agnosticism.
That the effort of the agnostic contention has been great, and on the whole salutary, few would deny. Spencer’s own later work shows that his declaration, that the absolute which lies behind the universe is unknowable, is to be taken with considerable qualification. It is only a relative unknowableness which he predicates. Moreover, before Spencer’s death, the doctrine of evolution had made itself profoundly felt in the discussion of all aspects of life, including that of religion. There seemed no longer any reason for the barrier between science and religion which Spencer had once thought requisite.
The epithet agnostic, as applied to a certain attitude of scientific mind, is just, as over against excessive claims to valid knowledge made, now by theology and now by speculative philosophy. It is hardly descriptive in any absolute sense. Spencer had coined the rather fortunate illustration which describes science as a gradually increasing sphere, such that every addition to its surface does but bring us into more extensive contact with surrounding nescience. Even upon this illustration Ward has commented that the metaphor is misleading. The continent of our knowledge is not merely bounded by an ocean of ignorance. It is intersected and cut up by straits and seas of ignorance. The author of Ecce Coelum has declared: ’Things die out under the microscope into the same unfathomed and, so far as we can see, unfathomable mystery, into which they die off beyond the range of our most powerful telescope.’ This sense of the circumambient unknown has become cardinal with the best spirits of the age. Men have a more rigorous sense of what constitutes knowledge.
They have reckoned more strictly with the methods by which alone secure and solid knowledge may be attained. They have undisguised scepticism as to alleged knowledge not arrived at in those ways. It was the working of these motives which gave to the labours of the middle of the nineteenth century so prevailingly the aspect of denial, the character which Carlyle described as an everlasting No. This was but a preparatory stage, a retrogression for a new and firmer advance.
In the sense of the recognition of our ignorance and of a becoming modesty of affirmation, over against the mystery into which all our thought runs out, we cannot reject the correction which agnosticism has administered. It is a fact which has had disastrous consequences, that precisely the department of thought, namely the religious, which one might suppose would most have reminded men of the outlying mystery, that phase of life whose very atmosphere is mystery, has most often been guilty of arrant dogmatism. It has been thus guilty upon the basis of the claim that it possessed a revelation. It has allowed itself unlimited licence of affirmation concerning the most remote and difficult matters. It has alleged miraculously communicated information concerning those matters. It has clothed with a divine authoritativeness, overriding the mature reflexion and laborious investigation of learned men, that which was, after all, nothing but the innocent imaginings of the childhood of the race. In this good sense of a parallel to that agnosticism which scientists profess for themselves within their own appointed realm, there is a religious agnosticism which is one of the best fruits of the labour of the age. It is not that religious men have abandoned the thought of revelation. They apprehended more justly the nature of revelation. They confess that there is much ignorance which revelation
The strictly philosophic term phenomenon, to which science has taken so kindly, is in itself an explicit avowal of something beyond the phenomenal. Spencer is careful to insist upon this relation of the phenomenal to the noumenal. His Synthetic Philosophy opens with an exposition of this non-relative or absolute, without which the relative itself becomes contradictory. It is an essential part of Spencer’s doctrine to maintain that our consciousness of the absolute, indefinite as it is, is positive and not negative. ’Though the absolute cannot in any manner or degree be known, in the strict sense of knowing, yet we find that its positive existence is a necessary datum of consciousness. The belief which this datum of consciousness constitutes has a higher warrant than any other belief whatsoever.’ In short, the absolute or noumenal, according to Spencer, though not known as the phenomenal or relative is known, is so far from being for knowledge a pure blank, that the phenomenal, which is said to be known, is in the strict sense inconceivable without it. This actuality behind appearances, without which appearances are unthinkable, is by Spencer identified with that ultimate verity upon which religion ever insists. Religion itself is a phenomenon, and the source and secret of most complex and interesting phenomena. It has always been of the greatest importance in the history of mankind. It has been able to hold its own in face of the attacks of science. It must contain an element of truth. All religions, however, assert that their God is for us not altogether cognisable, that God is a great mystery. The higher their rank, the more do they acknowledge this. It is by the flippant invasion of this mystery that the popular religiosity offends. It talks of God as if he were a man in the next street. It does not distinguish between merely imaginative fetches into the truth, and presumably accurate definition of that truth. Equally, the attempts which are logically possible at metaphysical solutions of the problem, namely, theism, pantheism, and atheism, if they are consistently carried out, assert, each of them, more than we know and are involved in contradiction with themselves. But the results of modern physics and chemistry reveal, as the constant element in all phenomena, force. This manifests itself in various forms which are interchangeable, while amid all these changes the force remains the same. This latter must be regarded as the reality, and basis of all that is relative and phenomenal. The entire universe is to be explained from the movements of this absolute force. The phenomena of nature and of mental life come under the same general laws of matter, motion, and force.
Spencer’s doctrine, as here stated, is not adequate to account for the world of mental life or adapted to serve as the basis of a reconciliation of science and religion. It does not carry us beyond materialism. Spencer’s real intention was directed to something higher than that. If the absolute is to be conceived at all, it is as a necessary correlative of our self-consciousness. If we get the idea of force from the experience of our own power of volition, is it not natural to think of mind-force as the prius of physical force, and not the reverse? Accordingly, the absolute force, basis of all specific forces, would be mind and will. The doctrine of evolution would harmonise perfectly with these inferences. But it would have to become idealistic evolution, as in Schelling, instead of materialistic, as in Comte. We are obliged, Spencer owns, to refer the phenomenal world of law and order to a first cause. He says that this first cause is incomprehensible. Yet he further says, when the question of attributing personality to this first cause is raised, that the choice is not between personality and something lower. It is between personality and something higher. To this may belong a mode of being as much transcending intelligence and will as these transcend mechanical motion. It is strange, he says, that men should suppose the highest worship to lie in assimilating the object of worship to themselves. And yet, again, in one of the latest of his works he writes: ’Unexpected as it will be to most of my readers, I must assert that the power which manifests itself in consciousness is but a differently conditioned form of the power which manifests itself beyond consciousness. The conception to which the exploration of nature everywhere tends is much less that of a universe of dead matter than that of a universe everywhere alive.’
Similar is the issue in the reflexion of Huxley. Agnosticism had at first been asserted in relation to the spiritual and the teleological. It ended in fastening upon the material and mechanical. After all, says Huxley, in one of his essays:—’What do we know of this terrible matter, except as a name for an unknown and hypothetical cause of states of our own consciousness? Again, what do we know of that spirit over whose threatened extinction by matter so great lamentation has now arisen, except that it is also a name for an unknown and hypothetical cause of states of our consciousness?’ He concedes that matter is inconceivable apart from mind, but that mind is not inconceivable apart from matter. He concedes that the conception of universal and necessary law is an ideal. It is an invention of the mind’s own devising. It is not a physical fact. In brief, taking agnostic naturalism just as it seemed disposed a generation ago to present itself, it now appears as if it had been turned exactly inside out. Instead of the physical world being primary and fundamental and the mental world secondary, if not altogether problematical, the precise converse is true.
Nature, as science regards it, may be described as a system whose parts, be they simple or complex, are wholly governed by universal laws. Knowledge of these laws is an indispensable condition of that control of nature upon which human welfare in so large degree depends. But this reign of law is an hypothesis. It is not an axiom which it would be absurd to deny. It is not an obvious fact, thrust upon us whether we will or no. Experiences are possible without the conception of law and order. The fruit of experience in knowledge is not possible without it. That is only to say that the reason why we assume that nature is a connected system of uniform laws, lies in the fact that we ourselves are self-conscious personalities. When the naturalists say that the notion of cause is a fetish, an anthropomorphic superstition which we must eliminate, we have to answer: ’from the realm of empirical science perhaps, but not from experience as a whole.’ Indeed, a glance at the history, and particularly at the popular literature, of science affords the interesting spectacle of the rise of an hallucination, the growth of a habit of mythological speech, which is truly surprising. We begin to hear of self-existent laws which reign supreme and bind nature fast in fact. By this learned substitution for God, it was once confidently assumed that the race was to emerge from mythical dawn and metaphysical shadows into the noon-day of positive knowledge. Rather, it would appear that at this point a part of the human race plunged into a new era of myth-making and fetish worship—the homage to the fetish of law. Even the great minds do not altogether escape. ‘Fact I know and law I know,’ says Huxley, with a faint suggestion of sacred rhetoric. But surely we do not know law in the same sense in which we know fact. If there are no causes among our facts, then we do not know anything about the laws. If we do know laws it is because we assume causes. If, in the language of rational beings, laws of nature are to be spoken of as self-existent and independent of the phenomena which they are said to govern, such language must be merely analogous to the manner in which we often speak of the civil law. We say the law does that which we know the executive does. But the thorough-going naturalist cast off these implications as the last rags of a creed outworn. Physicists were fond of talking of the movement of molecules, just as the ancient astrologers imagined that the planets had souls and guided their own courses. We had supposed that this was anthropomorphism. In truth, this would-be scientific mode of speech is as anthropomorphic as is the cosmogony of Hesiod, only on a smaller scale. Primitive religion ascribed life to everything of which it talked. Polytheism in religion and independent forces and self-existent laws in science are thus upon a par. The gods many and lords many, so amenable to concrete presentation in poetry and art, have given place to one Supreme Being. So also
[Footnote 6: Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. ii. p. 248.]
In the progress of the thought of the generation, say, from 1870 to the present day, the conception of evolution has been much changed. The doctrine of evolution has itself been largely evolved within that period. The application of it has become familiar in fields of which there was at first no thought. The bearing of the acceptance of it upon religion has been seen to be quite different from that which was at first supposed. The advocacy of the doctrine was at first associated with the claims of naturalism or positivism. Wider applications of the doctrine and deeper insight into its meaning have done away with this misunderstanding. Evolution, as originally understood, was as far as possible from suggesting anything mechanical. By the term was meant primarily the gradual unfolding of a living germ from its embryonic beginning to its mature and final stage. This adult form was regarded not merely as the goal actually reached through successive stages of growth. It was conceived as the end aimed at, and achieved through the force of some vital or ideal principle shaping the plastic material and directing the process of growth. In short, evolution implied ideal ends controlling physical means. Yet we find with Spencer, as prevailingly also with others in the study of the natural sciences, the ideas of end and of cause looked at askance. They are regarded an outside the pale of the natural sciences. In a very definite sense that is true. The logical consequence of this admission should be merely the recognition that the idea of evolution as developed in the natural sciences cannot be the whole idea.
The entire history of anything, Spencer tells us, must include its appearance out of the imperceptible, and its disappearance again into the imperceptible. Be it a single object, or the whole universe, an account which begins with it in a concrete form, or leaves off with its concrete form, is incomplete. He uses a familiar instance, that of a cloud appearing when vapour drifts over a cold mountain top, and again disappearing when it emerges into warmer air. The cloud emerges from the imperceptible as heat is dissipated. It is dissolved again as heat is absorbed and the watery particles evaporate. Spencer esteems this an analogue of the appearance of the universe itself, according to the nebular hypothesis. Yet assuredly, as the cloud presupposes vapours which had previously condensed, and the vapour clouds that had previously evaporated, and as clouds dissolve in one place even at the moment that they are forming in another, so we are told of nebulae which are in every phase of advance or of decline. To ask which was first, solid masses or nebulous haze, is much like recurring to the riddle of the hen and the egg. Still, we are told, we have but to extend our thought beyond this emergence and subsidence of sidereal systems, of continents, nations, men, to find a permanent totality made up of transient individuals in every stage of change. The physical assumption with which Spencer sets out is that the mass of the universe and its energy are fixed in quantity. All the phenomena of evolution are included in the conservation of this matter and force.
Besides the criticism which was offered above, that the mere law of the persistence of force does not initiate our series, there is a further objection. Even within the series, once it has been started, this law of the persistence of force is solely a quantitative law. When energy is transformed there is an equivalence between the new form and the old. Of the reasons for the direction evolution takes, for the permanence of that direction once it has been taken, so that the sequence of forms is a progression, the explication of a latent nature—of all this, the mere law of the persistence of force gives us no explanation whatever. The change at random from one form of manifestation to another might be a striking illustration of the law of the persistence of force, but it would be the contradiction of evolution. The very notion of evolution is that of the sequence of forms, so that something is expressed or achieved. That achievement implies more than the mere force. Or rather, it involves a quality of the force with which the language of mechanism does not reckon. It assumes the idea which gives direction to the force, an ideal quality of the force.
Unquestionably that which men sought to be rid of was the idea of purpose in nature, in the old sense of design in the mind of God, external to the material universe, of force exerted upon nature from without, so as to cause nature to conform to the design of its ’Great Original,’ in Addison’s high phrase. In this effort, however, the reducing of all to mere force and permutation of force, not merely explains nothing, but contradicts facts which stare us in the face. It deprives evolution of the quality which makes it evolution. To put in this incongruous quality at the beginning, because we find it necessary at the end, is, to say the least, naive. To deny that we have put it in, to insist that in the marvellous sequence we have only an illustration of mechanism and of conservation of force, is perverse. We passed through an era in which some said that they did not believe in God; everything was accounted for by evolution. In so far as they meant that they did not believe in the God of deism and of much traditional theology, they did not stand alone in this claim. In so far as they meant by evolution mere mechanism, they explained nothing and destroyed the notion of evolution besides. In so far as they meant more than mere mechanism, they lapsed into the company of the scientific myth-makers to whom we alluded above. They attributed to their abstraction, evolution, qualities which other people found in the forms of the universe viewed as the manifestation of an immanent God. Only by so doing were they able to ascribe to evolution that which other people describe as the work of God. At this level the controversy becomes one simply about words.
Of course, the great illumination as to the meaning of evolution has come with its application to many fields besides the physical. Darwin was certainly the great inaugurator of the evolutionary movement in England. Still, Darwin’s problem was strictly limited. The impression is widespread that the biological evolutionary theories were first developed, and furnished the basis for the others. Yet both Hegel and Comte, not to speak of Schelling, were far more interested in the intellectual and historical, the ethical and social aspects of the question. Both Hegel and Comte were, whether rightly or wrongly, rather contemptuous of the appeal to biology and organic life. Both had the sense that they used a great figure of speech when they spoke of society as an organism, and compared the working of institutions to biological functions. This is indeed the question. It is a question over which Spencer sets himself lightly. He passes back and forth between organic evolution and the ethical, economic, and social movements which are described by the same term, as if we were in possession of a perfectly safe analogy, or rather as if we were assured of an identical principle. Much that is already archaic in Spencer’s economic and social, his historical and ethical, not to say his religious, chapters is due to the influence of this
It marked a great departure when Huxley began vigorously to dissent from these views. According to him evolutionary science has done nothing for ethics. Men become ethical only as they set themselves against the principles embodied in the evolutionary process of the world. Evolution is the struggle for existence. It is preposterous to say that man became good by succeeding in the struggle for existence. Instead of the old single movement, as in Spencer, straight from the nebula to the saint, Huxley has place for suffering. Suffering is most intense in man precisely under conditions most essential to the evolution of his nobler powers. The loss of ease or money may be gain in character. The cosmical process is not only full of pain. It is full of mercilessness and of wickedness. Good has been evolved, but so has evil. The fittest may have survived. There is no guarantee that they are the best. The continual struggle against our fellows poisons our higher life. It will hardly do to say with Huxley that the ethical struggle is the reverse of the cosmical process. Nevertheless, we have here a most interesting transformation in thought.
These ideas and principles, as is well known, were elaborated and advanced upon in a very popular book, Drummond’s Ascent of Man, 1894. Even the title was a happy and suggestive one. Struggle for life is a fact, but it is not the whole fact. It is balanced by the struggle for the life of others. This latter reaches far down into the levels of what we call brute life. Its divinest reach is only the fulfilment of the real nature of humanity. It is the living with men which develops the moral in man. The prolongation of infancy in the higher species has had to do with the development of moral nature. So only that we hold a sufficiently deep view of reason, provided we see clearly that reason transforms, perfects, makes new what we inherit from the beast, we need not fear for morality, though it should universally be taught that morality came into being by the slow and gradual fashioning of brute impulse.
Benjamin Kidd in his Social Evolution, 1895, has reverted again to extreme Darwinism in morals and sociology. The law is that of unceasing struggle. Reason does not teach us to moderate the struggle. It but sharpens the conflict. All religions are praeter-rational, Christianity most of all, in being the most altruistic. Kidd, not without reason, comments bitterly upon Spencer’s Utopia, the passage of militarism into industrialism. The struggle in industrialism is fiercer than ever. Reason affects the animal nature of man for the worse. Clearly conscious of what he is doing, man objects to sacrificing himself for his family or tribe. Instinct might lead an ape to do that. Intelligence warns a man against it. Reason is cruel beyond anything dreamed of in the beast. That portion of the community which loves to hear the abuse of reason, rejoiced to hear this phrase. They rejoiced when they heard that religion was the only remedy, and that religion was ultra-rational, contra-rational, supernatural, in this new sense. How one comes by it, or how one can rationally justify the yielding of allegiance to it, is not clear. One must indeed have the will to believe if one believes on these terms.
These again are but examples. They convey but a superficial impression of the effort to apply the conception of evolution to the moral and religious life of man. All this has taken place, of course, in a far larger setting that of the endeavour to elaborate the evolutionary view of politics and of the state, of economics and of trade, of social life and institutions, of culture and civilisation in every aspect. This elaboration and reiteration of the doctrine of evolution sometimes wearies us. It is but the unwearied following of the main clue to the riddle of the universe which the age has given us. It is nothing more and nothing less than the endeavour to apprehend the ideal life, no longer as something held out to us, set up before us, but also as something working within us, realising itself through us and among us. To deny the affinity of this with religion would be fatuous and also futile. Temporarily, at least, and to many interests of religion, it would be fatal.
It must be evident that the total view of the universe which the acceptance of the doctrine of evolution implies, has had effect in the diminution of the acuteness of the question concerning miracles. It certainly gives to that question a new form. A philosophy which asserts the constant presence of God in nature and the whole life of the world, a criticism which has given us a truer notion of the documents which record the biblical miracles, the reverent sense of ignorance which our increasing knowledge affords, have tended to diminish the dogmatism of men on either side of the debate. The contention on behalf of the miracle, in the traditional sense of the word, once seemed the bulwark of positive religion, the
Schleiermacher had said, and Herrmann and others repeat the thought, that, as the Christian faith finds in Christ the highest revelation, miracles may reasonably be expected of him. Nevertheless, he adds, these deeds can be called miracles or esteemed extraordinary, only as containing something which was beyond contemporary knowledge of the regular and orderly connexion between physical and spiritual life. Therewith, it must be evident, that the notion of the miraculous is fundamentally changed. So it comes to pass that we have a book like Mackintosh’s Natural History of the Christian Religion, 1894, whose avowed purpose is to do away with the miraculous altogether. Of course, the author means the traditional notion of the miraculous, according to which it is the essence of arbitrariness and the negation of law. It is not that he has less sense for the divine life of the world, or for the quality of Christianity as revelation. On the other hand, we have a book like Percy Gardner’s Exploratio Evangelica, 1899. With the most searching criticism of the narratives of some miracles, there is reverent confession, on the author’s part, that he is baffled by the reports of others. There is recognition of unknown possibilities in the case of a character like that of Jesus. It is not that Gardner has a less stringent sense of fact and of the inexorableness of law than has Mackintosh or an ardent physicist. The problem is reduced to that of the choice of expression. We are not able to withhold a justification of the scholar who declares: We must not say that we believe in the miraculous. This language is sure to be appropriated by those who still take their departure from the old
The traditional notion of the miracle arose out of the confusion of two series of ideas which, in the last analysis, have nothing to do with each other. On the one hand, there is the conception of law and order, of cause and effect, of the unbroken connexion of nature. On the other hand is the thought of the divine purpose in the life of the world and of the individual. By the aid of that first sequence of thoughts we find ourselves in the universe and interpret the world of fact to ourselves. Yet in the other sequence lies the essence of religion. The two sequences may perfectly well coexist in the same mind. Out of the attempt to combine them nothing clear or satisfying can issue. If one should be, to-day, brought face to face with a fact which was alleged to be a miracle, his instinctive effort would be, nevertheless, to seek to find its cause, to establish for it a connexion in the natural order. In the ancient world men did not argue thus, nor in the modern world until less than two hundred years ago. The presumption of the order of nature had not assumed for them the proportions which it has for us. For us it is overwhelming, self-evident. Therewith is not involved that we lack belief in a divine purpose for the world and for the individual life.
We do not deny that there are laws of nature of which we have no experience, facts which we do not understand, events which, if they should occur, would stand before us as unique. Still, the decisive thing is, that in face of such an event, instead of viewing it quite simply as a divine intervention, as men used to do, we, with equal simplicity and no less devoutness, conceive that same event as only an illustration of a connexion in nature which we do not understand. There is no inherent reason why we may not understand it. When we do understand it, there will be nothing more about it that is conceivably miraculous. There will be then no longer a unique quality attaching to the event. Therewith ends the possible significance of such an event as proof of divine intervention for our especial help. We have but a connexion in nature such that, whether understood or not, if it were to recur, the event would recur.
The miracles which are related in the Scripture may be divided for our consideration into three classes. To the first class belong most of those which are related in the Old Testament, but some also which are conspicuous in the New Testament. They are, in some cases, the poetical and imaginative representation of the profoundest religious ideas. So soon as one openly concedes this, when there is no longer any necessity either to attack or to defend the miracle in question, one is in a position to acknowledge how deep and wonderful the thoughts often are and how beautiful the form in which they are conveyed. It is through imagination and symbolism that we are able to convey the subtlest meanings which we have. Still more was this the case with men of an earlier age. In the second place, the narratives of miracles are, some of them, of such a sort that we may say that an event or circumstance in nature has been obviously apprehended in naive fashion. This by no means forbids us to interpret that same event in quite a different way. The men of former time, exactly in proportion as they had less sense of the order of nature than have we, so were they also far readier to assume the immediate forthputting of the power of God. This was true not merely of the uneducated. It is difficult, or even impossible, for us to find out what the event was. Fact and apprehension are inextricably interwoven. That which really happened is concealed from us by the tale which had intended to reveal it. In the third place, there are many cases in the history of Jesus, and some in that of the apostles and prophets, in which that which is related moves in the borderland between body and soul, spirit and matter, the region of the influence of will, one’s own or that of another, over physical conditions. Concerning such cases we are disposed, far more than were men even a few years ago, to concede that there is much that is by no means yet investigated, and the soundest judgment we can form is far from being sure. Even if we recognise to the full the lamentable resurgence of outworn superstitions and stupidities, which again pass current among us for an unhappy moment, if we detect the questionable or manifestly evil consequences of certain uses made or alleged of psychic influence, yet still we are not always in a position to say, with certainty, what is true in tales of healing which we hear in our own day. There are certain of the statements concerning Jesus’ healing power and action which are absolutely baffling. They can be eliminated from the narrative only by a procedure which might just as well eliminate the narrative. In many of the narratives there may be much that is true. In some all may be as related. In Jesus’ time, on the witness of the Scripture itself, it was assumed as something no one questioned, that miraculous deeds were performed, not alone by Jesus and the apostles, but by many others, and not always even by the good. Such deeds were
Even if we were in a position at one point or another in the life of Jesus to defend the traditional assumptions concerning the miraculous, yet it must be evident how opposed it is to right reason, to lay stress on the abstract necessity of belief in the miraculous. The traditional conception of the miraculous is done away for us. This is not at all by the fact that we are in a position to say with Matthew Arnold: ’The trouble with miracles is that they never happen.’ We do not know enough to say that. To stake all on the assertion of the impossibility of so-called miracles is as foolish as to stake much on the affirmation of their actuality. The connexion of nature is only an induction. This can never be complete. The real question is both more complex and also more simple. The question is whether, even if an event, the most unparalleled of those related in the Gospels or outside of them, should be proved before our very eyes to have taken place, the question is whether we should believe it to have been a miracle in the traditional sense, an event in which the actual—not the known, but the possible—order of nature had been broken through, and in the old sense, God had arbitrarily supervened.
Allowed that the event were, in our own experience and in the known experience of the race, unparalleled, yet it would never occur to us to suppose but that there was a law of this case, also, a connexion in nature in which, as work of God, it occurred, and in which, if the conditions were repeated, it would recur. We should unceasingly endeavour through observation, reflexion, and new knowledge, to show how we might subordinate this event in the connexion of nature which we assume. We should feel that we knew more, and not less, of God, if we should succeed. And if our effort should prove altogether futile, we should be no less sure that such natural connexion exists. This is because nature is for us the revelation of the divine. The divine, we assume, has a natural order of working. Its inviolability is the divinest thing about it. It is through this sequence of ideas that we are in a position to deny, not facts which may be inexplicable, but the traditional conception of the miracle. For surely no one needs to be told that this is not the conception of the miracle which has existed in the minds of the devout, and equally of the undevout, from the beginning of thought until the present day.
However, there is nothing in all of this which hinders us from believing with a full heart in the love and grace and care of God, in his holy and redeeming purpose for mankind and for the individual. It is true that this belief cannot any longer retain its naive and childish form. It is true that it demands of a man far more of moral force, of ethical and spiritual mastery, of insight and firm will, to sustain the belief in the purpose of God for himself and for all men, when a man believes that he sees and feels God only in and through nature and history, through personal consciousness and the personal consciousness of Jesus. It is true that it has, apparently, been easier for men to think of God as outside and above his world, and of themselves as separated from their fellows by his special providence. It is more difficult, through glad and intelligent subjection to all laws of nature and of history, to achieve the education of one’s spirit, to make good one’s inner deliverance from the world, to aid others in the same struggle and to set them on their way to God. Men grow uncertain within themselves, because they say that traditional religion has apprehended the matter in a different way. This is true. It is also misleading. Whatever miracles Jesus may have performed, no one can say that he performed them to make life easier for himself, to escape the common lot, to avoid struggle, to evade suffering and disgraceful death. On the contrary, in genuine human self-distrust, but also in genuine heroism, he gave himself to his vocation, accepting all that went therewith, and finished the work of God which he had made his own. This is the more wonderful because it lay so much nearer to him than it can lie to us, to pray for special evidence of the love of God and to set his faith on the receiving of it. He had not the conception of the relation of God to nature and history which we have.
We may well view the modern tendency to belief in healings through prayer, suggestion and faith, as an intelligible, an interesting, and in part, a touching manifestation. Of course there is mingled with it much dense ignorance, some superstition and even deception. Yet behind such a phenomenon there is meaning. Men of this mind make earnest with the thought that God cares for them. Without that thought there is no religion. They have been taught to find the evidence of God’s love and care in the unusual. They are quite logical. It has been a weak point of the traditional belief that men have said that in the time of Christ there were miracles, but since that time, no more. Why not, if we can only in spirit come near to Christ and God? They are quite logical also in that they have repudiated modern science. To be sure, no inconsiderable part of them use the word science continually.
But the very esoteric quality of their science is that it means something which no one else ever understood that it meant. In reality their breach with science is more radical than their breach with Christianity. They feel the contradiction in which most men are bound fast, who will let science have its way, up to a certain point, but who beyond that, would retain the miracle. Dimly the former appreciate that this position is impossible. They leave it to other men to become altogether scientific if they wish. For themselves they prefer to remain religious. What a revival of ancient superstitions they have brought to pass, is obvious. Still we shall never get beyond such adventurous and preposterous endeavours to rescue that which is inestimably precious in religion, until the false antithesis between reason and faith, the lying contradiction between the providence of God and the order of nature, is overcome. Some science mankind apparently must have. Altogether without religion the majority, it would seem, will never be. How these are related, the one to the other, not every one sees. Many attempt their admixture in unhappy ways. They might try letting them stand in peace as complement and supplement the one to the other. Still better, they may perhaps some day see how each penetrates, permeates and glorifies the other.
We said that the last generation had been characterised by an unexampled concentration of intellectual interest upon problems presented by the social sciences. With this has gone an unrivalled earnestness in the interpretation of religion as a social force. The great religious enthusiasm has been that of the application of Christianity to the social aspects of life. This effort has furnished most of the watchwords of religious teaching. It has laid vigorous, not to say violent, hands on religious institutions. It has given a new perspective to effort and a new impulse to devotion. The revival of religion in our age has taken this direction, with an exclusiveness which has had both good and evil consequences. Yet, before all, it should be made clear that it constitutes a religious revival. Some are deploring the prostrate condition of spiritual interests. If one judged only by conventional standards, they have much evidence upon their side. Some are seeking to galvanise religious life by recurrence to evangelistic methods successfully operative half a century ago. The outstanding fact is that the age shows immense religious vitality, so soon as one concedes that it must be allowed to show its vitality in its own way. It is the age of the social question. One must be ignorant indeed of the activity of the churches and of the productivity of religious thinkers, if he does not own that in Christian circles also no questions are so rife as these. Whether the panaceas have been all wise or profitable may be questioned.
Often indeed has the quality of Christianity been observed which is here exemplified. Each succeeding age has read into Christ’s teachings, or drawn out from his example, the special meaning which that generation, or that social level, or that individual man had need to draw. To them in their enthusiasm it has often seemed as if this were the only lesson reasonable men could draw. Nothing could be more enlightening than is reflexion upon this reading of the ever-changing ideals of man’s life into Christianity, or of Christianity into the ever-advancing ideals of man’s life. This chameleonlike quality of Christianity is the farthest possible remove from the changelessness which men love to attribute to religion. It is the most wonderful quality which Christianity possesses. It is precisely because of the recognition of this capacity for change that one may safely argue the continuance of Christianity in the world. Yet also because of this recognition, one is put upon his guard against joining too easily in the clamour that a past apprehension of religion was altogether wrong, or that a new and urgent one, in its exclusive emphasis and its entirety, is right. Our age is haunted by the sense of terrific social and economic inequalities which prevail. It has set its heart upon the elimination of those inequalities. It is an age whose disrespect for religion is in some part due to the fact that religion has not done away with these inequalities. It is an age which is immediately interested in an interpretation of religion which will make central the contention that, before all things else, these inequalities must be done away. If religion can be made a means of every man’s getting his share of the blessings of this world, well and good. If not, there are many men and women to whom religion seems utterly meaningless.
This sentence hardly overstates the case. It is the challenge of the age to religion to do something which the age profoundly needs, and which religion under its age-long dominant apprehension has not conspicuously done, nor even on a great scale attempted. It is the challenge to religion to undertake a work of surpassing grandeur—nothing less than the actualisation of the whole ideal of the life of man. Religious men respond with the quickened and conscientious conviction, not indeed that they have laid too great an emphasis upon the spiritual, but that under a dualistic conception of God and man and world, they have never sufficiently realised that the spiritual is to be realised in the material, the ideal in and not apart from the actual, the eternal in and not after the temporal. Yet with that oscillatory quality which belongs to human movements, especially where old wrongs and errors have come deeply to be felt, a part of the literature of the contention shows marked tendency to extremes. A religion in the body must become a religion of the body. A Christianity of the social state runs risk of being apprehended as merely one more means for compassing outward and material ends. Religion does stand for the inner life and the transcendent world, only not an inner life through the neglect of the outer, or a transcendent world in some far-off star or after an aeon or two. There might be meaning in the argument that, exactly because so many other forces in our age do make for the realisation of the outer life and present world with an effectiveness and success which no previous age has ever dreamed, there is the more reason, and not the less, why religion should still be religion. Exactly this is the contention of Eueken in one of the most significant contributions of recent years to the philosophy of religion, his Wahrheitsgehalt der Religion, 1901, transl. Jones, 1911. The very source and cause of the sure recovery of religion in our age will be the experience of the futility, the bankruptcy, of a civilisation without faith. No nobler argument has been heard in our time for the spiritual meaning of religion, with the fullest recognition of all its other meanings.
The modern emphasis on the social aspects of religion may be said to have been first clearly expressed in Seeley’s Ecce Homo, 1867. The pith of the book is in this phrase: ’To reorganise society and to bind the members of it together by the closest ties was the business of Jesus’ life.’ Allusion has been made to Fremantle’s The World as the Subject of Redemption, 1885. Worthy of note is also Fairbairn’s Religion in History and Modern Life, 1894; pre-eminently so is Bosanquet’s The Civilisation of Christendom, 1893. Westcott’s Incarnation and Common Life, 1893, contains utterances of weight. Peabody, in his book, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, 1905, has given, on the whole, the best resume of the discussion. He conveys incidentally
By far the largest question, however, which is raised in this connexion, is one different from any thus far intimated. It is, perhaps, the last question one would have expected the literature of the social movement to raise. It is, namely, the question of the individual. Ever since the middle of the eighteenth century a sort of universalistic optimism, to which the individual is sacrificed, has obtained. Within the period of which this book treats the world has won an enlargement of horizon of which it never dreamed. It has gained a forecast of the future of culture and civilisation which is beyond imagination. The access of comfort makes men at home in the world as they never were at home. There has been set a value on this life which life never had before. The succession of discoveries and applications of discovery makes it seem as if there were to be no end in this direction. From Rousseau to Spencer men have elaborated the view that the historical process cannot really issue in anything else than in ever higher stages of perfection and of happiness. They postulate a continuous enhancement of energy and a steady perfecting of intellectual and moral quality. As the goal of evolution appears an ideal condition which is either indefinitely remote, that is, which gives room for the bliss of infinite progress in its direction, or else a definitely attainable condition, which would have within itself the conditions of perpetuity.
The resistlessness with which this new view of the life of civilisation has won acknowledgment from men of all classes is amazing. It rests upon a belief in the self-sufficiency and the all-sufficiency of the life of this world, of the bearings of which it may be assumed that few of its votaries are aware. In reality this view cannot by any possibility be described as the result of knowledge. On the contrary, it is a venture of faith. It is the peculiar, the very characteristic and suggestive form which the faith of our age takes. Men believe in this indefinite progress of the world and of mankind, because without postulating such progress they do not see how they can assume the absolute worth of an activity which is yet the only thing which has any interest to most of them. Under this view one can assign to the individual life a definite significance, only upon the supposition that the individual is the organ of realisation of a part of this progress of mankind. All happiness and suffering, all changes in knowledge and manner of conduct, are supposed to have no worth each for itself or for the sake of the individual, but only for their relation to the movement as a whole. Surely this is an illusion. Exactly that in which the characteristic quality of the world and of life is found, the individual personalities, the single generations, the concrete events—these lose, in this view, their own particular worth. What can possibly be the worth of a whole of which the parts have no worth? We have here but a parallel on a huge scale of that deadly trait in our own private lives, according to which it makes no difference what we are doing, so only that we are doing, or whither we are going, so only that we cease not to go, or what our noise is all about, so only that there be no end of the noise. Certainly no one can establish the value of the evolutionary process in and of itself.
If the movement as a whole has no definite end that has absolute worth, then it has no worth except as the stages, the individual factors included in it, attain to something within themselves which is of increasing worth. If the movement achieves this, then it has worth, not otherwise. We may illustrate this question by asking ourselves concerning the existence and significance of suffering and of the evil and of the bad which are in the world, in their relation to this tendency to indefinite progress which is supposed to be inherent in civilisation. On this theory we have to say that the suffering of the individual is necessary for the development and perfecting of the whole. As over against the whole the individual has no right to make demands as to welfare or happiness. The bad also becomes only relative. In the movement taken as a whole, it is probably unavoidable. In any case it is negligible, since the movement is irresistible. All ethical values are absorbed in the dynamic ones, all personal values in the collective ones. Surely the sole intelligent question about any civilisation is, what sort of men does it produce. If it produces worthless individuals, it is so far forth a worthless civilisation. If it has sacrificed many worthy men in order to produce this ignoble result, then it is more obviously ignoble than ever.
Furthermore, this notion of an inherent necessity and an irresistible tendency to progress is a chimera. The progress of mankind is a task. It is something to which the worthy human spirit is called upon to make contribution. The unworthy never hear the call. Progress is not a natural necessity. It is an ethical obligation. It is a task which has been fulfilled by previous generations in varying degrees of perfectness. It will be participated in by succeeding generations with varying degrees of wisdom and success. But as to there being anything autonomous about it, this is sheer hallucination, myth-making again, on the part of those who boast that they despise the myth, miracle-mongering on the part of those who have abjured the miracle, nonsense on the part of those who boast that they alone are sane. There is no ultimate source of civilisation but the individual, as there is also no issue of civilisation but in individuals. Men, characters, personalities, are the makers of it. Men are the product which is made. The higher stages and achievements of the life of society have come to pass always and only upon condition that single personalities have recognised the problem, seen their individual duty and known how to inspire others with enthusiasm. Periods of decline are always those in which this personal element cannot make itself felt. Democracies and periods of the intensity of emphasis upon the social movement, tend directly to the depression and suppression of personality. Such reflexions will have served their purpose if they give us some clear sense of what we have to understand as the effect of the social movement on religion. They may give also some forecast of the effect of real religion on the social movement. For religion is the relation of God and personality. It can be social only in the sense that society, in all its normal relations, is the sphere within which that relation of God and personality is to be wrought out.
[Footnote 7: Siebeck, Religionsphilosophie, 1893, s. 407.]
THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES: ACTION AND REACTION
In those aspects of our subject with which we have thus far dealt, leadership has been largely with the Germans. Effort was indeed made in the chapter on the sciences to illustrate the progress of thought by reference to British writers. In this department the original and creative contribution of British authors was great. There were, however, also in the earlier portion of the nineteenth century movements of religious thought in Great Britain and America related to some of those which we have previously considered. Moreover, one of the most influential movements of English religious thought, the so-called Oxford Movement, with the Anglo-Catholic revival which it introduced, was of a reactionary tendency. It has seemed, therefore, feasible to append to this chapter that which we must briefly say concerning the
According to Pfleiderer, a new movement in philosophy may be said to have begun in Great Britain in the year 1825, with the publication of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection. In Coleridge’s Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, published six years after his death in 1834, we have a suggestion of the biblical-critical movement which was beginning to shape itself in Germany. In the same years we have evidence in the works of Erskine and the early writings of Campbell, that in Scotland theologians were thinking on Schleiermacher’s lines. In those same years books of more or less marked rationalistic tendency were put forth by the Oriel School. Finally, with Pusey’s Assize Sermon, in 1833, Newman felt that the movement later to be called Tractarian had begun. We shall not be wrong, therefore, in saying that the decade following 1825 saw the beginnings in Britain of more formal reflexion upon all the aspects of the theme with which we are concerned.
What went before that, however, in the way of liberal religious thinking, though informal in its nature, should not be ignored. It was the work of the poets of the end of the eighteenth and of the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The culmination of the great revolt against the traditional in state and society and against the conventional in religion, had been voiced in Britain largely by the poets. So vigorous was this utterance and so effective, that some have spoken of the contribution of the English poets to the theological reconstruction. It is certain that the utterances of the poets tended greatly to the dissemination of the new ideas. There was in Great Britain no such unity as we have observed among the Germans, either of the movement as a whole or in its various parts. There was a consecution nothing less than marvellous in the work of the philosophers from Kant to Hegel. There was a theological sequence from Schleiermacher to Ritschl. There was an unceasing critical advance from the days of Strauss.
In the closing years of the eighteenth century in England what claimed to be a rational supernaturalism prevailed. Men sought to combine faith in revealed religion with the empirical philosophy of Locke. They conceived God and his relation to the world under deistical forms. The educated often lacked in singular degree all deeper religious feeling. They were averse to mysticism and spurned enthusiasm. Utilitarian considerations, which formed the practical side of the empirical philosophy, played a prominent part also in orthodox belief. The theory of the universe which obtained among the religious is seen at its worst in some of the volumes of the Warburton Lectures, and at its best perhaps in Butler’s Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion. The character and views of the clergy and of the ruling class among the laity of the Church of England, early in the nineteenth century, are pictured with love and humour in Trollope’s novels. They form the background in many of George Eliot’s books, where, in more mordant manner, both their strength and weaknesses are shown. Even the remarks which introduce Dean Church’s Oxford Movement, 1891, in which the churchly element is dealt with in deep affection, give anything but an inspiring view.
The contrast with this would-be rational and unemotional religious respectability of the upper classes was furnished, for masses of the people, in the quickening of the consciousness of sin and grace after the manner of the Methodists. But the Methodism of the earlier age had as good as no intellectual relations whatsoever. The Wesleys and Whitefield had indeed influenced a considerable portion of the Anglican communion. Their pietistic trait, combined, for the most part, with a Calvinism which Wesley abhorred and an old-fashioned low church feeling with which also Wesley had no sympathy, shows itself in the so-called evangelical party which was strong before 1830. This evangelical movement in the Church of England manifested deep religious feeling, it put forth zealous philanthropic effort, it had among its representatives men and women of
It may now sound like a contradiction if we assert that the years from 1780 to 1830 constitute the era of the noblest English poetry since the times of great Elizabeth. The social direction of the new theology of the present day, with its cry against every kind of injustice, with its claim of an equal opportunity for a happy life for every man—this was the forecast of Cowper, as it had been of Blake. To Blake all outward infallible authority of books or churches was iniquitous. He was at daggers drawn with every doctrine which set limit to the freedom of all men to love God, or which could doubt that God had loved all men. Jesus alone had seen the true thing. God was a father, every man his child. Long before 1789, Burns was filled with the new ideas of the freedom and brotherhood of man, with zeal for the overthrow of unjust privilege. He had spoken in imperishable words of the holiness of the common life. He had come into contact with the most dreadful consequences of Calvinism. He has pilloried these mercilessly in his ‘Holy Tulzie’ and in his ’Holy Willie’s Prayer.’ Such poems must have shaken Calvinism more than a thousand liberal sermons could have done. What Coleridge might have done in this field, had he not
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772 at his father’s vicarage, Ottery St. Mary’s, Devonshire. He was the tenth child of his parents, weak in frame, always suffering much. He was a student at Christ’s Hospital, London, where he was properly bullied, then at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he did not take his degree. For some happy years he lived in the Lake region and was the friend of Wordsworth and Southey. He studied in Goettingen, a thing almost unheard of in his time. The years 1798 to 1813 were indeed spent in utter misery, through the opium habit which he had contracted while seeking relief from rheumatic pain. He wrote and taught and talked in Highgate from 1814 to 1834. He had planned great works which never took shape. For a brief period he severed his connexion with the English Church, coming under Unitarian influence. He then reverted to the relation in which his ecclesiastical instincts were satisfied. We read his Aids to Reflection and his Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, and wonder how they can ever have exerted a great influence. Nevertheless, they were fresh and stimulating in their time. That Coleridge was a power, we have testimony from men differing among themselves so widely as do Hare, Sterling, Newman and John Stuart Mill. He was a master of style. He had insight and breadth. Tulloch says of the Aids, that it is a book which none but a thinker upon divine things will ever like. Not all even of these have liked it. Inexcusably fragmentary it sometimes seems. One is fain to ask: What right has any man to publish a scrap-book of his musings? Coleridge had the ambition to lay anew the foundations of spiritual philosophy. The Aids were but of the nature of prolegomena. For substance his philosophy went back to Locke and Hume and to the Cambridge Platonists. He had learned of Kant and Schleiermacher as well. He was no metaphysician, but a keen interpreter of spiritual facts, who himself had been quickened by a particularly painful experience. He saw in Christianity, rightly conceived, at once the true explanation of our spiritual being and the remedy for its disorder. The evangelical tradition brought religion to a man from without. It took no account of man’s spiritual constitution, beyond the fact that he was a sinner and in danger of hell. Coleridge set out, not from sin alone, but from the whole deep basis of spiritual capacity and responsibility upon which sin rests. He asserts experience. We are as sure of the capacity for the good and of the experience of the good as we can be of the evil. The case is similar as to the truth. There are aspects of truth which transcend our powers. We use words without meaning when we talk of the plans of a being who is neither an object for our senses nor a part of our self-consciousness. All truth must be capable of being rendered into words conformable to reason. Theologians had declared
Coleridge feared that his thoughts concerning Scripture might, if published, do more harm than good. They were printed first in 1840. Their writing goes back into the period long before the conflict raised by Strauss. There is not much here that one might not have learned from Herder and Lessing. Utterances of Whately and Arnold showed that minds in England were waking. But Coleridge’s utterances rest consistently upon the philosophy of religion and theory of dogma which have been above implied. They are more significant than are mere flashes of generous insight, like those of the men named. The notion of verbal inspiration or infallible dictation of the Holy Scriptures could not possibly survive after the modern spirit of historical inquiry had made itself felt. The rabbinical idea was bound to disappear. A truer sense of the conditions attending the origins and progress of civilisation and of the immaturities through which religious as well as moral and social ideas advance, brought of necessity a changed idea of the nature of Scripture and revelation. Its literature must be read as literature, its history as history. For the answer in our hearts to the spirit in the Book, Coleridge used the phrase: ‘It finds me.’ ’Whatever finds me bears witness to itself that it has proceeded from the Holy Ghost. In the Bible there is more that finds me than in all the other books which I have read.’ Still, there is much in the Bible that does not find me. It is full of contradictions, both moral and historical. Are we to regard these as all equally inspired? The Scripture itself does not claim that. Besides, what good would it do us to claim that the original documents were inerrant, unless we could claim also that they had been inerrantly transmitted? Apparently Coleridge thought that no one would ever claim that. Coleridge wrote also concerning the Church. His volume on The Constitution of Church and State appeared in 1830. It is the least satisfactory of his works. The vacillation of Coleridge’s own course showed that upon this point his mind was never clear. Arnold also, though in a somewhat different way, was zealous for the theory that Church and State are really identical, the Church being merely the State in its educational and religious aspect and organisation. If Thomas Arnold’s moral earnestness and his generous spirit could not save this theory from being chimerical, no better result was to be expected from Coleridge.
It has often happened in the history of the English universities that a given college has become, through its body of tutors and students, through its common-room talk and literary work, the centre, for the time, of a movement of thought which gives leadership to the college. In this manner it has been customary to speak of the group of men who, before the rise of the Oxford Movement, gathered at Oriel College, as the Oriel School. Newman and Keble were both Oriel tutors. The Oriel men were of distinctly liberal tendency. There were men of note among them. There was Whately, Archbishop of Dublin after 1831, and Copleston, from whom both Keble and Newman owned that they learned much. There was Arnold, subsequently Headmaster of Rugby. There was Hampden, Professor of Divinity after 1836. The school was called from its liberalism the Noetic school. Whether this epithet contained more of satire or of complacency it is difficult to say. These men arrested attention and filled some of the older academic and ecclesiastical heads with alarm. Without disrespect one may say that it is difficult now to understand the commotion which they made. Arnold had a truly beautiful character. What he might have done as Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Oxford was never revealed, for he died in 1842. Whately, viewed as a noetic, appears commonplace.
Perhaps the only one of the group upon whom we need dwell was Hampden. In his Bampton Lectures of 1832, under the title of The Scholastic Philosophy considered in its Relation to Christian Theology, he assailed what had long been the very bulwark of traditionalism. His idea was to show how the vast fabric of scholastic theology had grown up, particularly what contributions had been made to it in the Middle Age. The traditional dogma is a structure reared upon the logical terminology of the patristic and mediaeval schools. It has little foundation in Scripture and no response in the religious consciousness. We have here the application, within set limits, of the thesis which Harnack in our own time has applied in a universal way. Hampden’s opponents were not wrong in saying that his method would dissolve, not merely that particular system of theology, but all creeds and theologies whatsoever. Patristic, mediaeval Catholic theology and scholastic Protestantism, no less, would go down before it. A pamphlet attributed to Newman, published in 1836, precipitated a discussion which, for bitterness, has rarely been surpassed in the melancholy history of theological dispute. The excitement went to almost unheard of lengths. In the controversy the Archbishop, Dr. Howley, made but a poor figure. The Duke of Wellington did not add to his fame. Wilberforce and Newman never cleared themselves of the suspicion of indirectness. This was, however, after the opening of the Oxford Movement.
The period from 1820 to 1850 was one of religious and intellectual activity in Scotland as well. Tulloch depicts with a Scotsman’s patriotism the movement which centres about the names of Erskine and Campbell. Pfleiderer also judges that their contribution was as significant as any made to dogmatic theology in Great Britain in the nineteenth century. They achieved the same reconstruction of the doctrine of salvation which had been effected by Kant and Schleiermacher. At their hands the doctrine was rescued from that forensic externality into which Calvinism had degenerated. It was given again its quality of ethical inwardness, and based directly upon religious experience. High Lutheranism had issued in the same externality in Germany before Kant and Schleiermacher, and the New England theology before Channing and Bushnell. The merits of Christ achieved an external salvation, of which a man became participant practically upon condition of assent to certain propositions. Similarly, in the Catholic revival, salvation was conceived as an external and future good, of which a man became participant through the sacraments applied to him by priests in apostolical succession. In point of externality there was not much to choose between views which were felt to be radically opposed the one to the other.
Erskine was not a man theologically educated. He led a peculiarly secluded life. He was an advocate by profession, but, withdrawing from that career, virtually gave himself up to meditation. Campbell was a minister of the Established Church of Scotland in a remote village, Row, upon the Gare Loch. When he was convicted of heresy and driven from the ministry, he also devoted himself to study and authorship. Both men seem to have come to their results largely from the application of their own sound religious sense to the Scriptures. That the Scottish Church should have rejected the truth for which these men contended was the heaviest blow which it could have inflicted on itself. Thereby it arrested its own healthy development. It perpetuated its traditional view, somewhat as New England orthodoxy was given a new lease of life through the partisanship which the Unitarian schism engendered. The matter was not mended at the time of the great rupture of the Scottish Church in 1843. That body which broke away from the Establishment, and achieved a purely ecclesiastical control of its own clergy, won, indeed, by this means the name of the Free Church, though, in point of theological opinion, it was far from representing the more free and progressive element. Tulloch pays a beautiful tribute to the character of Erskine, whom he knew. Quiet, brooding, introspective, he read his Bible and his own soul, and with singular purity of intuition generalised from his own experience. Therewith is described, however, both the power and the limitation of his work. His first book was entitled Remarks on the Internal Evidence for the Truth of Revealed Religion, 1820. The title
Campbell published, so late as 1856, his great work The Nature of the Atonement and its Relation to the Remission of Sins and Eternal Life. It was the matured result of the reflections of a quarter of a century, spent partly in enforced retirement after 1831. Campbell maintains unequivocally that the sacrifice of Christ cannot be understood as a punishment due to man’s sin, meted out to Christ in man’s stead. Viewed retrospectively, Christ’s work in the atonement is but the highest example of a law otherwise universally operative. No man can work redemption for his fellows except by entering into their condition, as if everything in that condition were his own, though much of it may be in no sense his due. It is freely borne by him because of his identification of himself with them. Campbell lingers in the myth of Christ’s being the federal head of the humanity. There is something pathetic in the struggle of his mind to save phrases and the paraphernalia of an ancient view which, however, his fundamental principle rendered obsolete, He struggles to save the word satisfaction, though it means nothing in his system save that God is satisfied as he contemplates the character of Christ. Prospectively considered, the sacrifice of Christ effects salvation by its moral power over men in example and inspiration. Vicarious sacrifice, the result of which was merely imputed, would leave the sinner just where he was before. It is an empty fiction. But the spectacle of suffering freely undertaken for our sakes discovers the treasures of the divine image in man. The love of God and a man’s own resolve make him in the end, in fact, that which he has always been in capacity and destiny, a child of God, possessed of the secret of a growing righteousness, which is itself salvation.
Scottish books seem to have been but little read in England in that day. It was Maurice who first made the substance of Campbell’s teaching known in England. Frederick Denison Maurice was the son of a Unitarian minister, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, at a time when it was impossible for a Nonconformist to obtain a degree. He was ordained a priest of the Church of England in 1834, even suffering himself to be baptised again. He was chaplain of Lincoln’s Inn and Professor of Theology in King’s College, London. After 1866 he was Professor of Moral Philosophy in Cambridge, though his life-work was over. At the heart of Maurice’s theology lies the contention to which he gave the name of universal redemption. Christ’s work is for every man. Every man is indeed in Christ. Man’s unhappiness lies only in the fact that he will not own this fact and live accordingly. Man as man is the child of God. He cannot undo that fact or alter that relation if he would. He does not need to become a child of God, as the phrase has been. He needs only to recognise that he already is such a child. He can never cease to bear this relationship. He can only refuse to fulfil it. With other words Erskine and Coleridge and Schleiermacher had said this same thing.
For the rest, one may speak briefly of Maurice. He was animated by the strongest desire for Church unity, but at the back of his mind lay a conception of the Church and an insistence upon uniformity which made unity impossible. In the light of his own inheritance his ecclesiastical positivism seems strange. Perhaps it was the course of his experience which made this irrational positivism natural. Few men in his generation suffered greater persecutions under the unwarranted supposition on the part of contemporaries that he had a liberal mind. In reality, few men in his generation had less of a quality which, had he possessed it, would have given him peace and joy even in the midst of his persecutions. The casual remark above made concerning Campbell is true in enhanced degree of Maurice. A large part of the industry of a very industrious life was devoted to the effort to convince others and himself that those few really wonderful glimpses of spiritual truth which he had, had no disastrous consequences for an inherited system of thought in which they certainly did not take their rise. His name was connected with the social enthusiasm that inaugurated a new movement in England which will claim attention in another paragraph.
Allusion has been made to a revision of traditional theology which took place in America also, upon the same general lines which we have seen in Schleiermacher and in Campbell. The typical figure here, the protagonist of the movement, is William Ellery Channing. It may be doubted whether there has ever been a civilisation more completely controlled by its Church and ministers, or a culture more entirely dominated by theology, than were those of New England until the middle of the eighteenth century. There had been indeed a marked decline in religious life. The history of the Great Awakening shows that. Remonstrances against the Great Awakening show also how men’s minds were moving away from the theory of the universe which the theology of that movement implied. One cannot say that in the preaching of Hopkins there is an appreciable relaxation of the Edwardsian scheme. Interestingly enough, it was in Newport that Channing was born and with Hopkins that he associated until the time of his licensure to preach in 1802. Many thought that Channing would stand with the most stringent of the orthodox. Deism and rationalism had made themselves felt in America after the Revolution. Channing, during his years in Harvard College, can hardly have failed to come into contact with the criticism of religion from this side. There is no such clear influence of current rationalism upon Channing as, for example, upon Schleiermacher. Yet here in the West, which most Europeans thought of as a wilderness, circumstances brought about the launching of this man upon the career of a liberal religious thinker, when as yet Schleiermacher had hardly advanced beyond the position of the Discourses, when Erskine had not yet written a line and Campbell was still a child. Channing became minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston in 1803. The appointment of Ware as Hollis Professor of Divinity in Harvard College took place in 1805. That appointment was the first clear indication of the liberal party’s strength. Channing’s Baltimore Address was delivered in 1819. He died in 1847.
In the schism among the Congregational Churches in New England, which before 1819 apparently had come to be regarded by both parties as remediless, Channing took the side of the opposition to Calvinistic orthodoxy. He developed qualities as controversialist and leader which the gentler aspect of his early years had hardly led men to suspect. This American liberal movement had been referred to by Belsham as related to English Unitarianism. After 1815, in this country, by its opponents at least, the movement was consistently called Unitarian. Channing did with zeal contend against the traditional doctrine of the atonement and of the trinity. On the other hand, he saw in Christ the perfect revelation of God to humanity and at the same time the ideal of humanity. He believed in Jesus’ sinlessness and in his miracles, especially in his resurrection. The keynote of
A very different man was Horace Bushnell, born in the year of Channing’s licensure, 1802. He was not bred under the influence of the strict Calvinism of his day. His father was an Arminian. Edwards had made Arminians detested in New England. His mother had been reared in the Episcopal Church. She was of Huguenot origin. When about seventeen, while tending a carding-machine, he wrote a paper in which he endeavoured to bring Calvinism into logical coherence and, in the interest of sound reason, to correct St. Paul’s willingness to be accursed for the sake of his brethren. He graduated from Yale College in 1827. He taught there while studying law after 1829. He describes himself at this period as sound in ethics and sceptical in religion, the soundness of his morals being due to nature and training, the scepticism, to the theology in which
His earliest book of consequence was on Christian Nurture, published in 1846. Consistent Calvinism presupposes in its converts mature years. Even an adult must pass through waters deep for him. He is not a sinful child of the Father. He is a being totally depraved and damned to everlasting punishment. God becomes his Father only after he is redeemed. The revivalists’ theory Bushnell bitterly opposed. It made of religion a transcendental matter which belonged on the outside of life, a kind of miraculous epidemic. He repudiated the prevailing individualism. He anticipated much that is now being said concerning heredity, environment and subconsciousness. He revived the sense of the Church in which Puritanism had been so sadly lacking. The book is a classic, one of the rich treasures which the nineteenth century offers to the twentieth.
Bushnell, so far as one can judge, had no knowledge of Kant. He is, nevertheless, dealing with Kant’s own problem, of the theory of knowledge, in his rather diffuse ‘Dissertation on Language,’ which is prefixed to the volume which bears the title God in Christ, 1849. He was following his living principle, the reference of doctrine to conscience. God must be a ‘right God.’ Dogma must make no assertion concerning God which will not stand this test. Not alone does the dogma make such assertions. The Scripture makes them as well. How can this be? What is the relation of language to thought and of thought to fact? How can the language of Scripture be explained, and yet the reality of the revelation not be explained away? There is a touching interest which attaches to this Hartford minister, working out, alone and clumsily, a problem the solution of which the greatest minds of the age had been gradually bringing to perfection for three-quarters of a century.
In the year 1848 Bushnell was invited to give addresses at the Commencements of three divinity schools: that at Harvard, then unqualifiedly Unitarian; that at Andover, where the battle with Unitarianism had been fought; and that at Yale, where Bushnell had been trained. The address at Cambridge was on the subject of the Atonement; the one at New Haven on the Divinity of Christ, including Bushnell’s doctrine of the trinity; the one at Andover on Dogma and Spirit, a plea for the cessation of strife. He says squarely of the old school theories of the atonement, which represent Christ as suffering the penalty of the law in our stead: ’They are capable, one and all of them, of no light in which they do not offend some right sentiment of our moral being. If the great Redeemer, in the excess of his goodness, consents to receive the penal woes of the world in his person, and if that offer is accepted, what does it signify, save that God will have his modicum of suffering somehow; and if he lets the guilty go he will yet satisfy himself out of the innocent?’ The vicariousness of love, the identification of the sufferer with the sinner, in the sense that the Saviour is involved by his desire to help us in the woes which naturally follow sin, this Bushnell mightily affirmed. Yet there is no pretence that he used vicariousness or satisfaction in the same sense in which his adversaries did. He is magnificently free from all such indirection. In the New Haven address there is this same combination of fire and light. The chief theological value of the doctrine of the trinity, as maintained by the New England Calvinistic teachers, had been to furnish the dramatis personae for the doctrine of the atonement. In the speculation as to the negotiation of this substitutionary transaction, the language of the theologians had degenerated into stark tritheism. Edwards, describing the councils of the trinity, spoke of the three persons as ‘they.’ Bushnell saw that any proper view of the unity of God made the forensic idea of the atonement incredible. He sought to replace the ontological notion of the trinity by that of a trinity of revelation, which held for him the practical truths by which his faith was nourished, and yet avoided the contradictions which the other doctrine presented both to reason and faith. Bushnell would have been far from claiming that he was the first to make this fight. The American Unitarians had been making it for more than a generation. The Unitarian protest was wholesome. It was magnificent. It was providential, but it paused in negation. It never advanced to construction. Bushnell’s significance is not that he fought this battle, but that he fought it from the ranks of the orthodox Church. He fought it with a personal equipment which Channing had not had. He was decades later in his work. He took up the central religious problem when Channing’s successors were following either Emerson or Parker.
The Andover address consisted in the statement of Bushnell’s views of the causes which had led to the schism in the New England Church. A single quotation may give the key-note of the discourse:—’We had on our side an article of the creed which asserted a metaphysical trinity. That made the assertion of the metaphysical unity inevitable and desirable. We had theories of atonement, of depravity, of original sin, which required the appearance of antagonistic theories. On our side, theological culture was so limited that we took what was really only our own opinion for the unalterable truth of God. On the other side, it was so limited that men, perceiving the insufficiency of dogma, took the opposite contention with the same seriousness and totality of conviction. They asserted liberty, as indeed they must, to vindicate their revolt. They produced, meantime, the most intensely human and, in that sense, the most intensely opinionated religion ever invented.’
The Oxford Movement has been spoken of as a reaction against the so-called Oriel Movement, a conservative tendency over against an intellectualist and progressive one. In a measure the personal animosities within the Oxford circle may be accounted for in this way. The Tractarian Movement, however, which issued, on the one hand, in the going over of Newman to the Church of Rome and, on the other, in a great revival of Catholic principles within the Anglican Church itself, stands in a far larger setting. It was not merely an English or insular movement. It was a wave from a continental flood. On its own showing it was not merely an ecclesiastical movement. It had political and social aims as well. There was a universal European reaction against the Enlightenment and the Revolution. That reaction was not simple, but complex. It was a revolt of the conservative spirit from the new ideals which had been suddenly translated into portentous realities. It was marked everywhere by hatred of the eighteenth century with all its ways and works. On the one side we have the revolutionary thesis, the rights of man, the authority of reason, the watchwords liberty, equality, fraternity. On the other side stood forth those who were prepared to assert the meaning of community, the continuity of history, spiritual as well as civil authority as the basis of order, and order as the condition of the highest good. In literature the tendency appears as romanticism, in politics as legitimism, in religion as ultramontanism. Le Maistre with his L’Eglise gallicane du Pape; Chateaubriand with his Genie du Christianisme; Lamennais with his Essai sur l’Indifference en Matiere, de Religion, were, from 1820 to 1860, the exponents of a view which has had prodigious consequences for France and Italy. The romantic movement arose outside of Catholicism. It was impersonated in Herder. Friedrich Schlegel, Werner and others
In so far as that complex of causes just alluded to made of the Oxford Movement or the Catholic revival a movement of life, ecclesiastical, social and political as well, its history falls outside the purpose of this book. We proposed to deal with the history of thought. Reactionary movements have frequently got on without much thought. They have left little deposit of their own in the realm of ideas. Their avowed principle has been that of recurrence to that which has already been thought, of fidelity to ideas which have long prevailed. This is the reason why the conservatives have not a large place in such a sketch as this. It is not that their writings have not often been full of high learning and of the subtlest of reasoning. It is only that the ideas about which they reason do not belong to the history of the nineteenth century. They belong, on the earnest contention of the conservatives themselves—those of Protestants, to the history of the Reformation—and of Catholics, both Anglican and Roman, to the history of the early or mediaeval Church.
Nevertheless, when with passionate conviction a great man, taking the reactionary course, thinks the problem through again from his own point of view, then we have a real phenomenon in the history of contemporary thought. When such an one wrestles before God to give reason to himself and to his fellows for the faith that is in him, then the reactionary’s reasoning is as imposing and suggestive as is any other. He leaves in his work an intellectual deposit which must be considered. He makes a contribution which must be reckoned with, even more seriously, perhaps, by those who dissent from it than by those who may agree with it. Such deposit Newman and the Tractarian movement certainly did make. They offered a rationale of the reaction. They gave to the Catholic revival a standing in the world of ideas, not merely in the world of action. Whether their reasoning has weight to-day, is a question upon which opinion is divided. Yet Newman and his compeers, by their character and standing, by their distinctively English qualities and by the road of reason which they took in the defence of Catholic principles, made Catholicism English again, in a sense in which it had not been English for three hundred years. Yet though Newman brought to the Roman Church in England, on his conversion to it, a prestige and qualities which in that communion were unequalled, he was never persona grata in that Church. Outwardly the Roman Catholic revival in England was not in large measure due to Newman and his arguments. It was due far more to men like Wiseman and Manning, who were not men of argument but of deeds.
John Henry Newman was born in 1801, the son of a London banker. His mother was of Huguenot descent. He came under Calvinistic influence. Through study especially, of Romaine On Faith he became the subject of an inward conversion, of which in 1864 he wrote: ’I am still more certain of it than that I have hands and feet.’ Thomas Scott, the evangelical, moved him. Before he was sixteen he made a collection of Scripture texts in proof of the doctrine of the trinity. From Newton On the Prophecies he learned to identify the Pope with anti-Christ—a doctrine by which, he adds, his imagination was stained up to the year 1843. In his Apologia, 1865, he declares: ’From the age of fifteen, dogma has been a fundamental principle of my religion. I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion.’ At the age of twenty-one, two years after he had taken his degree, he came under very different influences. He passed from Trinity College to a fellowship in Oriel. To use his own phrase, he drifted in the direction of liberalism. He was touched by Whately. He was too logical, and also too dogmatic, to be satisfied with Whately’s position. Of the years from 1823 to 1827 Mozley says: ’Probably no one who then knew Newman could have told which way he would go. It is not certain that he himself knew.’ Francis W. Newman, Newman’s brother, who later became a Unitarian, remembering his own years of stress, speaks with embitterment of his elder brother, who was profoundly uncongenial to him.
The year 1827, in which Keble’s Christian Year was published, saw another change in Newman’s views. Illness and bereavement came to him with awakening effect. He made the acquaintance of Hurrell Froude. Froude brought Newman and Keble together. Henceforth Newman bore no more traces either of evangelicalism or of liberalism. Of Froude it is difficult to speak with confidence. His brother, James Anthony Froude, the historian, author of the Nemesis of Faith, 1848, says that he was gifted, brilliant, enthusiastic. Newman speaks of him with almost boundless praise. Two volumes of his sermons, published after his death in 1836, make the impression neither of learning nor judgment. Clearly he had charm. Possibly he talked himself into a common-room reputation. Newman says: ’Froude made me look with admiration toward the Church of Rome.’ Keble never had felt the liberalism through which Newman had passed. Cradled as the Church of England had been in Puritanism, the latter was to him simply evil. Opinions differing from his own were not simply mistaken, they were sinful. He conceived no religious truth outside the Church of England. In the Christian Year one perceives an influence which Newman strongly felt. It was that of the idea of the sacramental significance of all natural objects or events. Pusey became professor of Hebrew in 1830. He lent the movement academic standing, which the others could not give. He had been in Germany, and had published an Inquiry into the Rationalist Character of German Theology, 1825. He hardly did more than expose the ignorance of Rose. He was himself denounced as a German rationalist who dared to speak of a new era in theology. Pusey, mourning the defection of Newman, whom he deeply loved, gathered in 1846 the forces of the Anglo-Catholics and continued in some sense a leader to the end of his long life in 1882.
The course of political events was fretting the Conservatives intolerably. The agitation for the Reform Bill was taking shape. Sir Robert Peel, the member for Oxford, had introduced a Bill for the emancipation of the Roman Catholics. There was violent commotion in Oxford. Keble and Newman strenuously opposed the measure. In 1830 there was revolution in France. In England the Whigs had come into power. Newman’s mind was excited in the last degree. ‘The vital question,’ he says, ’is this, how are we to keep the Church of England from being liberalised?’ At the end of 1832 Newman and Froude went abroad together. On this journey, as he lay becalmed in the straits of Bonifacio, he wrote his immortal hymn, ‘Lead, Kindly Light.’ He came home assured that he had a work to do. Keble’s Assize Sermon on the National Apostasy, preached in July 1833, on the Sunday after Newman’s return to Oxford, kindled the conflagration which had been long preparing. Newman conceived the idea of the Tracts for the Times as a means of expressing the feelings and propagating the opinions
Newman had been bred in the deepest reverence for Scripture. In a sense that reverence never left him, though it changed its form. He saw that it was absurd to appeal to the Bible in the old way as an infallible source of doctrine. How could truth be infallibly conveyed in defective and fallible expressions? Newman’s own studies in criticism, by no means profound, led him to this correct conclusion. This was the end for him of evangelical Protestantism. The recourse was then to the infallible Church. Infallible guide and authority one must have. Without these there can be no religion. To trust to reason and conscience as conveying something of the light of God is impossible. To wait in patience and to labour in fortitude for the increase of that light is unendurable. One must have certainty. There can be no certainty by the processes of the mind from within. This can come only by miraculous certification from without.
According to Newman the authority of the Church should never have been impaired in the Reformation. Or rather, in his view of that movement, this authority, for truly Christian men, had never been impaired. The intellect is aggressive, capricious, untrustworthy. Its action in religious matters is corrosive, dissolving, sceptical. ’Man’s energy of intellect must be smitten hard and thrown back by infallible authority, if religion is to be saved at all.’ Newman’s philosophy was utterly sceptical, although, unlike most absolute philosophical sceptics, he had a deep religious experience. The most complete secularist, in his negation of religion, does not differ from Newman in his low opinion of the value of the surmises of the mind as to the transcendental
His whole book, The Grammar of Assent, 1870, is pervaded by the intensest philosophical scepticism. Scepticism supplies its motives, determines its problems, necessitates its distinctions, rules over the succession and gradation of its arguments. The whole aim of the work is to withdraw religion and the proofs of it, from the region of reason into the realm of conscience and imagination, where the arguments which reign may satisfy personal experience without alleging objective validity or being able to bear the criticism which tests it. Again, he is the perverse, unconscious child of the age which he curses. Had not Kant and Schleiermacher, Coleridge and Channing sought, does not Ritschl seek, to remove religion from the realm of metaphysics and to bring it within the realm of experience? They had, however, pursued the same end by different means. One is reminded of that saying of Gretchen concerning Mephistopheles: ’He says the same thing with the pastor, only in different words.’ Newman says the same words, but means a different thing.
Assuming the reduction of religion to experience, in which Kant and Schleiermacher would have agreed, and asserting the worthlessness of mentality, which they would have denied, we are not surprised to hear Newman say that without Catholicism doubt is invincible. ’The Church’s infallibility is the provision adopted by the mercy of the Creator to preserve religion in the world. Outside the Catholic Church all things tend to atheism. The Catholic Church is the one face to face antagonist, able to withstand and baffle the fierce energy of passion and the all-dissolving scepticism of the mind. I am a Catholic by virtue of my belief in God. If I should be asked why I believe in God, I should answer, because I believe in myself. I find it impossible to believe in myself, without believing also in the existence of him who lives as a personal, all-seeing, all-judging being in my conscience.’ These passages
It is a strange thing that in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, written in 1845, Newman himself should have advanced substantially Hampden’s contention. Here are written many things concerning the development of doctrine which commend themselves to minds conversant with the application of historical criticism to the whole dogmatic structure of the Christian ages. The purpose is with Newman entirely polemical, the issue exactly that which one would not have foreseen. Precisely because the development of doctrine is so obvious, because no
[Footnote 8: Fairbairn, Catholicism, Roman and Anglican, p. 157.]
It was said that the Oxford Movement furnished the rationale of the reaction. Many causes, of course, combine to make the situation of the Roman Church and the status of religion in the Latin countries of the Continent the lamentable one that it is. That position is worst in those countries where the Roman Church has most nearly had free play. The alienation both of the intellectual and civil life from organised religion is grave. That the Roman Church occupies in England to-day a position more favourable than in almost any nation on the Continent, and better than it occupied in England at the beginning
Similarly as to the Encyclical and Syllabus of Errors of 1864, which forecast the present conflict concerning Modernism. The Syllabus had a different atmosphere from that which any Englishman in the sixties would have given it. Had not Newman, however, made passionate warfare on the liberalism of the modern world? Was it not merely a question of degrees? Was Gladstone’s attitude intelligible? The contrast of two principles in life and religion, the principles of authority and of the spirit, is being brought home to men’s consciousness as it has never been before. One reads Il Santo and learns concerning the death of Fogazzaro, one looks into the literature relating to Tyrrell, one sees the fate of Loisy, comparing the really majestic achievement in his works and the spirit of his Simple Reflections with the Encyclical Pascendi, 1907. One understands why these men have done what they could to remain within the Roman Church. One recalls the attitude of Doellinger to the inauguration of the Old Catholic Movement, reflects upon the relative futility of the Old Catholic Church, and upon the position
In no life are reflected more perfectly the spiritual conflicts of the fifth decade of the nineteenth century than in that of Frederick W. Robertson. No mind worked itself more triumphantly out of these difficulties. Descended from a family of Scottish soldiers, evangelical in piety, a student in Oxford in 1837, repelled by the Oxford Movement, he undertook his ministry under a morbid sense of responsibility. He reacted violently against his evangelicalism. He travelled abroad, read enormously, was plunged into an agony which threatened mentally to undo him. He took his charge at Brighton in 1847, still only thirty-one years old, and at once shone forth in the splendour of his genius. A martyr to disease and petty persecution, dying at thirty-seven, he yet left the impress of one of the greatest preachers whom the Church of England has produced. He left no formal literary work such as he had designed. Of his sermons we have almost none from his own manuscripts. Yet his influence is to-day almost as intense as when the sermons were delivered. It is, before all, the wealth and depth of his thought, the reality of the content of the sermons, which commands admiration. They are a classic refutation of the remark that one cannot preach theology. Out of them, even in their fragmentary state, a well-articulated system might be made. He brought to his age the living message of a man upon whom the best light of his age had shone.
Something of the same sort may be said concerning Phillips Brooks. He inherited on his father’s side the sober rationalism and the humane and secular interest of the earlier Unitarianism, on his mother’s side the intensity of evangelical pietism with the Calvinistic form of thought. The conflict of these opposing tendencies in New England was at that time so great that Brooks’s parents sought refuge with the low-church element in the Episcopal Church. Brooks’s education at Harvard College, where he took his degree in 1855, as also at Alexandria, and still more, his reading and experience, made him sympathetic with that which, in England in those years, was called the Broad Church party. He was deeply influenced by Campbell and Maurice. Later well known in England, he was the compeer of the best spirits of his generation there. Deepened by the experience of the great war, he held in succession two pulpits of large influence, dying as Bishop of Massachusetts
We have used the phrase, the Broad Church party. Stanley had employed the adjective to describe the real character of the English Church, over against the antithesis of the Low Church and the High. The designation adhered to a group of which Stanley was himself a type. They were not bound together in a party. They had no ecclesiastical end in view. They were of a common spirit. It was not the spirit of evangelicalism. Still less was it that of the Tractarians. It was that which Robertson had manifested. It aimed to hold the faith with an open mind in all the intellectual movement of the age. Maurice should be enumerated here, with reservations. Kingsley beyond question belonged to this group. There was great ardour among them for the improvement of social conditions, a sense of the social mission of Christianity. There grew up what was called a Christian Socialist movement, which, however, never attained or sought a political standing. The Broad Church movement seemed, at one time, assured of ascendancy in the Church of England. Its aims appeared congruous with the spirit of the times. Yet Dean Fremantle esteems himself perhaps the last survivor of an illustrious company.
The men who in 1860 published the volume known as Essays and Reviews would be classed with the Broad Church. In its authorship were associated seven scholars, mostly Oxford men. Some one described Essays and Reviews as the Tract Ninety of the Broad Church. It stirred public sentiment and brought the authors into conflict with authority in a somewhat similar way. The living antagonism of the Broad Church was surely with the Tractarians rather than with the evangelicals. Yet the most significant of the essays, those on miracles and on prophecy, touched opinions common to both these groups. Jowett, later Master of Balliol, contributed an essay on the ‘Interpretation of Scripture.’ It hardly belongs to Jowett’s best work. Yet the controversy then precipitated may have had to do with Jowett’s adherence to Platonic studies instead of his devoting himself to theology. The most decisive of the papers was that of Baden Powell
Similar was the issue in the case of Colenso, Bishop of Natal. Equipped mainly with Cambridge mathematics added to purest self-devotion, he had been sent out as a missionary bishop. In the process of the translation of the Pentateuch for his Zulus, he had come to reflect upon the problem which the Old Testament presents. In a manner which is altogether marvellous he worked out critical conclusions parallel to those of Old Testament scholars on the Continent. He was never really an expert, but in his main contention
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More than once in these chapters we have spoken of the service rendered to the progress of Christian thought by the criticism and interpretation of religion at the hands of literary men. That country and age may be esteemed fortunate in which religion occupies a place such that it compels the attention of men of genius. In the history of culture this has by no means always been the case. That these men do not always speak the language of edification is of minor consequence. What is of infinite worth is that the largest minds of the generation shall engage themselves with the topic of religion. A history of thought concerning Christianity cannot but reckon with the opinions, for example, of Carlyle, of Emerson, of Matthew Arnold—to mention only types.
Carlyle has pictured for us his early home at Ecclefechan on the Border; his father, a stone mason of the highest character; his mother with her frugal, pious ways; the minister, from whom he learned Latin, ’the priestliest man I ever beheld in any ecclesiastical guise.’ The picture of his mother never faded from his memory. Carlyle was destined for the Church. Such had been his mother’s prayer. He took his arts course in Edinburgh. In the university, he says, ’there was much talk about progress of the species, dark ages, and the like, but the hungry young looked to their spiritual nurses and were bidden to eat the east wind.’ He entered Divinity Hall, but already, in 1816, prohibitive doubts had arisen in his mind. Irving sought to help him. Irving was not the man for the task. The Christianity of the Church had become intellectually incredible to Carlyle. For a time he was acutely miserable, bordering upon despair. He has described his spiritual deliverance: ’Precisely that befel me which the Methodists call their conversion, the deliverance of their souls from the devil and the pit. There burst forth a sacred flame of joy in me.’ With Sartor Resartus
He was a true prophet, but, Elijah-like, he seemed to himself to be alone. His derision of the current religion seems sometimes needless. Yet even that has the grand note of sincerity. What he desired he in no small measure achieved—that his readers should be arrested and feel themselves face to face with reality. His startling intuition, his intellectual uprightness, his grasp upon things as they are, his passion for what ought to be, made a great impression upon his age. It was in itself a religious influence. Here was a mind of giant force, of sternest truthfulness. His untruths were those of exaggeration. His injustices were those of prejudice. He invested many questions of a social and moral, of a political and religious sort with a nobler meaning than they had had before. His French Revolution, his papers on Chartism, his unceasing comment on the troubled life of the years from 1830 to 1865, are of highest moment for our understanding of the growth of that social feeling in the midst of which we live and work. In his brooding sympathy with the downtrodden he was a great inaugurator of the social movement. He felt the curse of an aristocratic society, yet no one has told us with more drastic truthfulness the evils of our democratic institutions. His word was a great corrective for much ‘rose-water’ optimism which prevailed in his day. The note of hope is, however, often lacking. The mythology of an absentee God had faded from him. Yet the God who was clear to his mature consciousness, clear as the sun in the heavens, was a God over the world, to judge it inexorably. Again, it is not difficult to accumulate evidence in his words which looks toward pantheism; but what one may call the religious benefit of pantheism, the sense that God is in his world, Carlyle often loses.
Materialism is to-day so deeply discredited that we find it difficult to realise that sixty years ago the problem wore a different look. Carlyle was never weary of pouring out the vials of his contempt on ‘mud-philosophies’ and exalting the spirit as against matter. Never was a man more opposed to the idea of a godless world, in which man is his own chief end, and his sensual pleasures the main aims of his existence. His insight into the consequences of our commercialism and luxury and absorption in the outward never fails. Man is God’s son, but the effort to realise that sonship
Arnold said in one of his American addresses: ’Besides these voices—Newman, Carlyle, Goethe—there came to us in the Oxford of my youth a voice also from this side of the Atlantic, a clear and pure voice which, for my ear at any rate, brought a strain as new and moving and unforgetable as those others. Lowell has described the apparition of Emerson to your young generation here. He was your Newman, your man of soul and genius, speaking to your bodily ears, a present object for your heart and imagination.’ Then he quotes as one of the most memorable passages in English speech: ’Trust thyself. Accept the place which the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, confiding themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying a perception which was stirring in their hearts, working through their hands, dominating their whole being.’ Arnold speaks of Carlyle’s grim insistence upon labour and righteousness but of his scorn of happiness, and then says: ’But Emerson taught happiness in labour, in righteousness and veracity. In all the life of the spirit, happiness and eternal hope, that was Emerson’s gospel. By his conviction that in the life of the spirit is happiness, by his hope and expectation that this life of the spirit will more and more be understood and will prevail, by this Emerson was great.’
Seven of Emerson’s ancestors were ministers of New England churches. He inherited qualities of self-reliance, love of liberty, strenuous virtue, sincerity, sobriety and fearless loyalty to ideals. The form of his ideals was modified by the glow of transcendentalism which passed over parts of New England in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, but the spirit in which Emerson conceived the laws of life, reverenced them and lived them, was the Puritan spirit, only elevated, enlarged and beautified by the poetic temperament. Taking his degree from Harvard in 1821, despising school teaching, stirred by the passion for spiritual leadership, the ministry seemed to offer the fairest field for its satisfaction. In 1825 he entered the Divinity School in Harvard to prepare himself for the Unitarian ministry. In 1829 he became associate minister of the Second Unitarian Church in Boston. He arrived at the conviction that the Lord’s Supper was not intended by Jesus to be a permanent sacrament. He found his congregation, not unnaturally, reluctant to agree with him. He therefore retired from the pastoral office. He was always a preacher, though of a singular order. His task was to befriend and guide the inner life of man. The influences of this period in his life have been enumerated as the liberating philosophy of Coleridge, the mystical vision of Swedenborg, the intimate poetry of Wordsworth, the stimulating essays of Carlyle. His address before the graduating class of the Divinity School at Cambridge in 1838 was an impassioned protest against what he called the defects of historical Christianity, its undue reliance upon the personal authority of Jesus, its failure to explore the moral nature of man. He made a daring plea for absolute self-reliance and new inspiration in religion: ’In the soul let redemption be sought. Refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men. Cast conformity behind you. Acquaint men at first hand with deity.’ He never could have been the power he was by the force of his negations. His power lay in the wealth, the variety, the beauty and insight with which he set forth the positive side of his doctrine of the greatness of man, of the presence of God in man, of the divineness of life, of God’s judgment and mercy in the order of the world. One sees both the power and the limitation of Emerson’s religious teaching. At the root of it lay a real philosophy. He could not philosophise. He was always passing from the principle to its application. He could not systematise. He speaks of his ’formidable tendency to the lapidary style.’ Granting that one finds his philosophy in fragments, just as one finds his interpretation of religion in flashes of marvellous insight, both are worth searching for, and either, in Coleridge’s phrase, finds us, whether we search for it or not.
What shall we say of Matthew Arnold himself? Without doubt the twenty years by which Arnold was Newman’s junior at Oxford made a great difference in the intellectual atmosphere of that place, and of the English world of letters, at the time when Arnold’s mind was maturing. He was not too late to feel the spell of Newman. His mind was hardly one to appreciate the whole force of that spell. He was at Oxford too early for the full understanding of the limits within which alone the scientific conception of the world can be said to be true. Arnold often boasted that he was no metaphysician. He really need never have mentioned the fact. The assumption that whatever is true can be verified in the sense of the precise kind of verification which science implies is a very serious mistake. Yet his whole intellectual strength was devoted to the sustaining, one cannot say exactly the cause of religion, but certainly that of noble conduct, and to the assertion of the elation of duty and the joy of righteousness. With all the scorn that Arnold pours upon the trust which we place in God’s love, he yet holds to the conviction that ’the power without ourselves which makes for righteousness’ is one upon which we may in rapture rely.
Arnold had convinced himself that in an ago such as ours, which will take nothing for granted, but must verify everything, Christianity, in the old form of authoritative belief in supernatural beings and miraculous events, is no longer tenable. We must confine ourselves to such ethical truths as can be verified by experience. We must reject everything which goes beyond these. Religion has no more to do with supernatural dogma than with metaphysical philosophy. It has nothing to do with either. It has to do with conduct. It is folly to make religion depend upon the conviction of the existence of an intelligent and moral governor of the universe, as the theologians have done. For the object of faith in the ethical sense Arnold coined the phrase: ’The Eternal not ourselves which makes for righteousness.’ So soon as we go beyond this, we enter upon the region of fanciful anthropomorphism, of extra belief, aberglaube, which always revenges itself. These are the main contentions of his book, Literature and Dogma, 1875.
One feels the value of Arnold’s recall to the sense of the literary character of the Scriptural documents, as urged in his book, Saint Paul and Protestantism, 1870, and again to the sense of the influence which the imagination of mankind has had upon religion. One feels the truth of his assertion of our ignorance. One feels Arnold’s own deep earnestness. It was his concern that reason and the will of God should prevail. Though he was primarily a literary man, yet his great interest was in religion. One feels so sincerely that his main conclusion is sound, that it is the more trying that his statement of it should be often so perverse and his method of sustaining it so precarious.
He was the eldest son of Thomas Arnold of Rugby. He was educated at Winchester and Rugby and at Balliol College. He was Professor of Poetry in Oxford from 1857 to 1867. He was an inspector of schools. The years of his best literary labour were much taken up in ways which were wasteful of his rare powers. He came by literary intuition to an idea of Scripture which others had built up from the point of view of a theory of knowledge and by investigation of the facts. He is the helpless personification of a view of the relation of science and religion which has absolutely passed away. Yet Arnold died only in 1888. How much a distinguished inheritance may mean is gathered from the fact that a grand-daughter of Thomas Arnold and niece of Matthew Arnold, Mrs. Humphry Ward, in her novels, has dealt largely with problems of religious life, and more particularly of religious thoughtfulness. She has done for her generation, in her measure, that which George Eliot did for hers.
As the chapter and the book draw to their close we can think of no man whose life more nearly spanned the century, or whose work touched more fruitfully almost every aspect of Christian thoughtfulness than did that of James Martineau. We can think of no man who gathered into himself more fully the significant theological tendencies of the age, or whose utterance entitles him to be listened to more reverently as seer and saint. He was born in 1805. He was bred as an engineer. He fulfilled for years the calling of minister and preacher. He gradually exchanged this for the activity of a professor. He was a religious philosopher in the old sense, but he was also a critic and historian. His position with reference to the New Testament was partly antiquated before his Seat of Authority in Religion, 1890, made its appearance. Evolutionism never became with him a coherent and consistent assumption. Ethics never altogether got rid of the innate ideas. The social movement left him almost untouched. Yet, despite all this, he was in some sense a representative progressive theologian of the century.
There is a parallel between Newman and Martineau. Both busied themselves with the problem of authority. Criticism had been fatal to the apprehension which both had inherited concerning the authority of Scripture. From that point onward they took divergent courses. The arguments which touched the infallible and oracular authority of Scripture, for Newman established that of the Church; for Martineau they had destroyed that of the Church four hundred years ago. Martineau’s sense, even of the authority of Jesus, reverent as it is, is yet no pietistic and mystical view. The authority of Jesus is that of the truth which he speaks, of the goodness which dwells in him, of God himself and God alone. A real interest in the sciences and true learning in some of them made Martineau able to write that wonderful chapter in his Seat of Authority, which he entitled ‘God in Nature.’ Newman could see in nature, at most a sacramental suggestion, a symbol of transcendental truth.
The Martineaus came of old Huguenot stock, which in England belonged to the liberal Presbyterianism out of which much of British Unitarianism came. The righteousness of a persecuted race had left an austere impress upon their domestic and social life. Intellectually they inherited the advanced liberalism of their day. Harriet Martineau’s earlier piety had been of the most fervent sort. She reacted violently against it in later years. She had little of the politic temper and gentleness of her brother. She described one of her own later works as the last word of philosophic atheism. James was, and always remained, of deepest sensitiveness and reverence and of a gentleness which stood in high contrast with his powers of conflict, if necessity arose. Out of Martineau’s years as preacher in Liverpool and London came two books of rare devotional quality, Endeavours after the Christian Life, 1843 and 1847, and Hours of Thought on Sacred Things, 1873 and 1879. Almost all his life he was identified with Manchester College, as a student when the college was located at York, as a teacher when it returned to Manchester and again when it was removed to London. With its removal to Oxford, accomplished in 1889, he had not fully sympathised. He believed that the university itself must some day do justice to the education of men for the ministry in other churches than the Anglican. He was eighty years old when he published his Types of Ethical Theory, eighty-two when he gave to the world his Study of Religion, eighty-five when his Seat of Authority saw the light. The effect of this postponement of publication was not wholly good. The books represented marvellous learning and ripeness of reflection. But they belong to a period anterior to the dates they bear upon their title-pages. Martineau’s education and his early professional experience put him in touch with the advancing sciences. In the days when most men of progressive spirit were
It is difficult to speak of the living in these pages. Personal relations enforce reserve and brevity. Nevertheless, no one can think of Manchester College and Martineau without being reminded of Mansfield College and of Fairbairn, a Scotchman, but of the Independent Church. He also was both teacher and preacher all his days, leader of the movement which brought Mansfield College from Birmingham to Oxford, by the confession both of Anglicans and of Non-conformists the most learned man in his subjects in the Oxford of his time, an historian, touched by the social enthusiasm, but a religious philosopher, par excellence. His Religion and Modern Life, 1894, his Catholicism, Roman and Anglican, 1899, his Place of Christ in Modern Theology, 1893, his Philosophy of the Christian Religion, 1902, and his Studies in Religion and Theology, 1910, indicate the wideness of his sympathies and the scope of the application, of his powers. If imitation is homage, grateful acknowledgment is here made of rich spoil taken from his books.
Philosophy took a new turn in Britain after the middle
of the decade of the sixties. It began to be
conceded that Locke and Hume were dead. Had Mill
really appreciated that fact he might have been a philosopher
more fruitful and influential than he was. Sir
William Hamilton was dead. Mansel’s endeavour,
out of agnosticism to conjure the most absurdly positivistic
faith, had left thinking men more exposed to scepticism,
if possible, than they had been before. When
Hegel was thought in Germany to be obsolete, and everywhere
the cry was ‘back to Kant,’ some Scotch
and English scholars, the two Cairds and Seth Pringle-Pattison,
with Thomas Hill Green, made a modified Hegelianism
current in Great Britain. They led by this path
in the introduction of their countrymen to later German
idealism. By this introduction philosophy in both
Britain and America has greatly gained. Despite
these facts, John Caird’s Introduction to
the Philosophy of Religion, 1880, is still only
a religious philosophy. It is not a philosophy
of religion. His Fundamental Ideas of Christianity,
1896, hardly escapes the old antitheses among which
theological discussion moved, say, thirty years ago.
Edward Caird’s Critical Philosophy of Kant,
1889, and especially his Evolution of Religion,
1892, marked the coming change more definitely than
did any of the labours of his brother. Thomas
Hill Green gave great promise in his Introduction
to Hume, 1885, his Prolegomena to Ethics,
1883, and still more in essays and papers scattered
through the volumes edited by Nettleship after Green’s
death. His contribution to religious discussion
was such as to make his untimely end to be deeply
deplored. Seth Pringle-Pattison’s early
work, The Development from Kant to Hegel, 1881,
still has great worth. His Hegelianism and
Personality, 1893, deals with one aspect of the
topic which needs ever again to be explored, because
of the psychological basis which in religious discussion
is now assumed.
The greatest contribution of America to religious discussion in recent years is surely William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902. The book is unreservedly acknowledged in Britain, and in Germany as well, to be the best which we yet have upon the psychology of religion. Not only so, it gives a new intimation as to what psychology of religion means. It blazes a path along which investigators are eagerly following. Boyce, in his Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard in 1911, declared James to be the third representative philosopher whom America has produced. He had the form of philosophy as Emerson never had. He could realise whither he was going, as Emerson in his intuitiveness never did. He criticised the dominant monism in most pregnant way. He recurred to the problems which dualism owned but could not solve. We cannot call the new scheme dualism. The world does not go back. Yet James made an over-confident generation feel that the centuries to which dualism had seemed reasonable were not so completely without intelligence as has been supposed by some. No philosophy may claim completeness as an interpretation of the universe. No more conclusive proof of this judgment could be asked than is given quite unintentionally in Haeckel’s Weltrathsel.
At no point is this recall more earnest than in James’s dealing with the antithesis of good and evil. The reaction of the mind of the race, and primarily of individuals, upon the fact of evil, men’s consciousness of evil in themselves, their desire to be rid of it, their belief that there is a deliverance from it and that they have found that deliverance, is for James the point of departure for the study of the actual phenomena and the active principle of religion. The truest psychological and philosophical instinct of the ago thus sets the experience of conversion in the centre of discussion. Apparently most men have, at some time and in some way, the consciousness of a capacity for God which is unfulfilled, of a relation to God unrealised, which is broken and resumed, or yet to be resumed. They have the sense that their own effort must contribute to this recovery. They have the sense also that something without themselves empowers them to attempt this recovery and to persevere in the attempt. The psychology of religion is
When James’s thesis shall have been fully worked out, much supposed investigation of primitive religions, which is really nothing but imagination concerning primitive religions, will be shown in its true worthlessness. We know very little about primitive man. What we learn as to primitive man, on the side of his religion, we must learn in part from the psychology of the matured and civilised, the present living, thinking, feeling man in contact with his religion. Matured religion is not to be judged by the primitive, but the reverse. The real study of the history of religions, the study of the objective phenomena, from earliest to latest times, has its place. But the history of religions is perverted when it takes for fact in the life of primitive man that which never existed save in the imagination of twentieth century students. Early Christianity, on its inner and spiritual side, is to be judged by later Christianity, by present Christianity, by the Christian experience which we see and know to-day, and not conversely, as men have always claimed. The modern man is not to be converted after the pattern which it is alleged that his grandfather followed. For, first, there is the question as to whether his grandfather did conform to this pattern. And beyond that, it is safer to try to understand the experience of the grandfather, whom we do not know, by the psychology and experience of the grandson, whom we do know, with, of course, a judicious admixture of knowledge of the history of the nineteenth century, which would occasion characteristic differences. The modern saint is not asked to be a saint like Francis. In the first place, how do we know what Francis was like? In the second place, the experience of Francis may be most easily understood by the aid of modern experience of true revolt from worldliness and of consecration to self-sacrifice, as these exist among us, with, of course, the proper background furnished by the history of the thirteenth century. Souls are one. Our souls may be, at least in some measure, known to ourselves. Even the souls of some of our fellows may be measurably known to us. What are the facts of the religious experience? How do souls react in face of the eternal? The experience of religion, the experience of the fatherhood of God, of the sonship
It was with this contention that religion is a fact of the inner life of man, that it is to be understood through consciousness, that it is essentially and absolutely reasonable and yet belongs to the transcendental world, it was with this contention that, in the person of Immanuel Kant, the history of modern religious thought began. It is with this contention, in one of its newest and most far-reaching applications in the work of William James, that this history continues. For no one can think of the number of questions which recent years have raised, without realising that this history is by no means concluded. It is conceivable that the changes which the twentieth century will bring may be as noteworthy as those which the nineteenth century has seen. At least we may be grateful that so great and sure a foundation has been laid.
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