If we think how small and insignificant was the orbis terrarum to which St. Augustine could appeal and yet how powerful the effect which that appeal produced at the time and produced even in our own time on such a mind as Newman's we are surely justified in appealing to the orbis terrarum in its widest sense in support of the universal belief in God whatever the images by which He was represented whatever the names by which He was called2. And yet people ask what can be gained by a comprehensive study of religions by showing that as yet no race has been discovered without some word for what is not-visible not-finite not-human for something super-human and divine.
Lecture 4. The Historical Proof of the Existence of God.
Securus Judicat Orbis Terrarum.
WE have lately been told that what finally determined Newman to leave the English Church and to join the communion of Rome was a short sentence of St. Augustine Secures judicat orbis terrarum ‘Cardinal Wiseman’ we are told1 ‘had written an article on the Donatist Schism with an application to the Church of England. Newman read it and did not see much in it. But one of his friends called his attention to St. Augustine's phrase Securus judicat orbis terrarum quoted in the article. The friend repeated these words again and again says Newman; and when he was gone they kept running in my ears…“For a mere sentence” he says “the words of St. Augustine struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words before. To take a familiar instance they were like the ‘Turn again Whittington’ of the chime; or to take a more serious one they were like the ‘Tolle lege; tolle lege’ of the child which converted St. Augustine himself.” Securus judicat orbis terrarum by those great words of the ancient Father interpreting and summing up the long and varied course of ecclesiastical history the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverised.’
It is curious that some theologians go even so far as to resent the discovery of the universality of such a belief. They are anxious to prove that human reason alone could never have arrived at a conception of God. They would much rather believe that God had left Himself without witness than that a belief in something higher than the Finite could spring up in the human heart from gratitude to Him who gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons filling our hearts with food and gladness. At a recent Missionary Conference held in London it was gravely asserted by Dr. David Brown that the apostle Paul made a mistake at Athens that he when he appealed to the god whom the heathens ignorantly worship meddled with philosophy and therefore had few converts3. And such irreverence is called Bible Christianity.
Universality of a Belief in God does not prove its Truth.
But there is another class of critics far more difficult to deal with. Granted they say that a belief in gods or even a belief in one Supreme God can be discovered in every corner of the orbis terrarum as known to us—how does that prove that such a belief is true and that either these different gods or a supreme deity really exist? In reply to the argument securus judicat orbis terrarum ‘the judgment of the whole world is safe’ it has been pointed out that the same orbis terrarum has been deceived again and again. We live in times of serious nay if you like of honest atheism. People have not parted with their belief in the existence of a god without a hard a heart-breaking struggle. They declare that the old proofs for the existence of a divine Being the teleological the ontological and the cosmological have all failed them and that a belief in revelation without a previous belief in the existence of a divine Being is impossible.
Let me remark that even if we admitted the truth of these objections we might still claim for the history of religions the same right to a place among our academic studies which is conceded to other historical studies. If at our schools and universities we teach the history of literature of art and of the various branches of physical science surely the history of religion ought to form a recognised department in the teaching of every university. Knowledge has a value of its own even if it should not be of practical or marketable utility. Even if religion were nothing but hallucination as we have lately been told an accurate knowledge of the causes and the different phases of this universal disease might prove useful for its final cure.
But I claim a great deal more for an historical study of the religions of the world. To my mind the historical proof of the existence of God which is supplied to us by the history of the religions of the world has never been refuted and cannot be refuted. It forms the foundation of all the other proofs call them cosmological ontological or teleological; or rather it absorbs them all and makes them superfluous.
There are those who declare that they require no proof at all for the existence of a Supreme Being or if they did that they would find it in revelation and nowhere else. Suppose they wanted no proof themselves would they really not care at all to know how the human race and how they themselves came in possession of what I suppose they value as their most precious inheritance? Do they really think that in this case an examination of the ancient title-deeds might safely be dispensed with while with regard to much less precious holdings it is considered a plain duty to guard these documents with the greatest care?
An appeal to revelation is of no avail in deciding questions of this kind unless it is first explained what is really meant by revelation. The history of religions teaches us that the same appeal to a special revelation is made not only by Christianity but by the defenders of Brâhmanism. Of Zoroastrianism and of Mohammedanism and where is the tribunal to adjudicate on the conflicting appeals of these and other claimants? The believer in the Vedas is as thoroughly convinced of the superhuman origin of his ancient hymns as the Zoroastrian of that of the Gâthas and the Mohammedan of that of the Sûrahs; and the subtle arguments by which each but more particularly the Brâhman supports his claims would put some of our ablest casuists to shame. The followers of every one of these religions declare their belief in the revealed character of their own religion never in that of any other religion. Many persons believe and believe honestly in visions they have had themselves never in the visions claimed by other people. There is no doubt a revelation to which we may appeal in the court of our own conscience but before the court of universal appeal we require different proofs for the faith that is in us.
Let our antagonists bear in mind that in what I call Physical Religion the subject of my lectures of last year we have proved not only the universality of a belief in something beyond the finite in something infinite in something divine. Even that would be something considering the repeated attempts that have been made by students of great learning and research to prove the contrary. We have proved more than that. We have proved that given man such as he is and given the world such as it is a belief in divine beings and at last in one Divine Being is not only a universal but an inevitable fact.
Those who doubt the universality of the fact have to take up the challenge and produce their instances or at least one undoubted instance of a really atheistic race I mean a race that not yet believes in superhuman beings. The case of people who no longer believe in gods is quite different and has to be considered by itself.
What we have to consider at present is how it follows that the universal belief in the Infinite under all its various disguises is true.
Belief in God inevitable.
True is a strong word for any human being to use. But suppose we could prove that universal dogma to be inevitable would not that suffice? Does it not suffice us for all geometrical calculations to know that in this world at least there are only three dimensions that the straight line is always the shortest and that two parallel lines can never meet? Why then should it not suffice us to know that in this world at least the belief in a Supreme Being is inevitable for human beings such as we are?
In former times it was the fashion to say that the gods and all that was to be believed about them had been invented by the priests in order that they might be better able to control the passions of men and to establish law and order on a firm basis. We saw on the contrary that the gods were believed in long before any priests were heard of and that there was no extraneous motive whatever for that belief. Unless all historical evidence deceived us that belief arose everywhere naturally irresistibly and at first we might almost say unconsciously. We may safely say therefore that as far as historical evidence goes man cannot escape from a belief in gods whether many or one. Philosophy may go so far as to teach that the senses the understanding the whole intellect of man are all a fraud; but even philosophy will never teach us how to be anything but what we are namely human beings and in that sense liable to human error. There may be truth beyond the reach of the human intellect but that truth is not for us.
Philosophy has taught us to distinguish between what is phenomenal and what is real but it stands to reason that we can know the real as phenomenal only. Everything we know by the very fact that we know it becomes phenomenal. To attempt to know what a thing is by itself the Noumenon das Ding an sich is to attempt to know a thing as we do not know it and this is a contradiction in itself. Nothing can be real to us unless it submits to be phenomenal; nothing can be objective to us except in the forms of our own subjective consciousness. It is strange that even philosophers should not see this—at least some of them; and that they should attempt what even the ancient metaphysicians called a most troublesome athletic performance namely to stand on their own shoulders to see beyond their own horizon.
Even physical science ought to have opened people's eyes. In music for instance we speak of tones yet we know that by itself that is if not taken in by our ear what we call Α΄ the Α΄ of our tuning-forks consists really of 875 single vibrations in one second. If we speak of colours we know that by itself that is if not taken in by our eye what we call red is simply so many millions of vibrations of ether in one second. I use these of course as illustrations only for even the number of these vibrations is phenomenal or based on phenomenal experience. But as illustrations they might teach us that whatever we perceive we must perceive by our senses whatever we know we must know by our own mind and call by our own language that all our knowledge in fact must be phenomenal or relative must be human knowledge.
All therefore that the historical student of religion maintains that he has proved is that man being what he is and simply using the instruments of knowledge which he possesses cannot escape from a belief in an infinite Being whatever forms it may assume in the historical development of the human race.
If then from the standpoint of human reason no flaw can be pointed out in that intellectual process which led to the admission of something within behind or beyond nature call it the Infinite or any other name you like it follows that the history of that process is really at the same time the best proof of the legitimacy and truth of the conclusions to which it has led.
History of the Belief in gods and God.
And here it is where our historical studies which to some appear so far removed from the burning interests of the hour touch the springs of our deepest religious convictions. Our own belief in God as the author of all that exists whether we call Him father or creator or supporter of the world has its deepest its only living roots in that ancient universal stratum of thought which postulated an agent in the sky the sun the fire and the storm-wind; which was not satisfied with the mere play of appearances in nature but yearned to know what it was that appeared; which felt the limits of the finite in all its sensuous perceptions and in feeling the limits felt at the same time the presence of something that was beyond those limits. This dissatisfaction with the finite this struggle after the non-finite this search for an agent for every act of a mover for every movement whatever shape it took whatever name it claimed forms the primitive and indestructible foundation of man's faith in God. If it is taken away people may indeed have dogma and creeds but they cannot have their own ineradicable conviction that there is and that there must be a God. Dogma can supply no argument against atheism. Dogma is what my excellent colleague at Edinburgh Mr. Hutchinson Stirling (p. 12) has very truly called mere Vorstellung which requires for its philosophical foundation the Begriff. But that Begriff has a history and it is this history of the Begriff; which to my mind is the true because unanswerable answer to all atheism. I should go so far as to say that the history of religion is the best proof of religion just as the growth of the oak-tree is the best proof of the oak-tree. There may be excrescences there may be dead leaves there may be broken branches but the oak-tree is there once for all whether in the sacred groves of Germany or at Dodona or in the Himalayan forests. It is there not by our own will but by itself or by a Higher Will. There may be corruptions there may be antiquated formulas there may be sacred writings flung to the wind but religion is there once for all in all its various representations. You can as little sweep away the oak-tree with its millions of seeds from the face of the earth as you can eradicate religion true religion from the human heart.
But it may be objected that if everything at which man by his unassisted intellect arrives were true then all religious would be true and as many of them contradict either themselves or one another this cannot be.
This is the very objection which nothing I believe can meet and repel except an appeal to history.
History teaches us how all the predicates which were bestowed by man on the Transcendent or what was beyond the finite or what I call the Infinite proved insufficient. One after another they were chosen as the best that the human mind possessed but one after another they were rejected as inadequate for their highest purpose.
You remember how the Peruvian Inca who had all his life looked upon the Sun as the true manifestation of the Divine as the maker and ruler of the world nay as his father and the father of his own royal race was suddenly disturbed in his mind because the sun seemed to rise and set to come and go not of his own free will but at the command of some one else. Hence he decided that the Sun could not be the true God and that that name however sacred must be surrendered and replaced by another a better a higher name. But though he rejected the predicate he did not reject the subject; on the contrary the rejection of that predicate served only to raise the subject for which it had been intended to a higher level.
Let us suppose that the same thoughtful Inca after renouncing the name of Sun had only retained the name of Father for that which ho was searching for. That name might have satisfied him for a time. But in moments of more serious reflection the same difficulties would have returned. Father could not have remained for a long time a satisfactory predicate of the godhead; for is not every father the son of another father? Is not a father dependent on a mother? Is not the son of the same substance as the father? and if the son is mortal is not the father mortal also? All these and many more objections might have troubled our conscientious Inca and might have led him after a time to discard the predicate father as he had discarded before the predicate sun. And if he had carried his speculations further he would probably in the end have arrived at the conclusion at which the worshipper of the Vedic deities arrived that there is no predicate in human language worthy of God and that all we can say of Him is what as you may remember the Upanishads said of Him No no!
The Gradual Elimination of what is imperfect.
What does that mean? It meant that if God is called all-powerful we have to say No because whatever we comprehend by powerful is nothing compared with the power of God. If God is called all-wise we have again to say No because what we call wisdom cannot approach the wisdom of God. If God is called holy again we have to say No for what can our conception of holiness be compared with the holiness of God! This is what the thinkers of the Upanishads meant when they said that all we can say of God is No no.
Negative Definition in Greek Philosophy.
Nor were the philosophers of Greece behind the philosophers of India in denying the possibility of naming or predicating anything rightly of the Deity. We know the protests of Xenophon of Plato and of Aristotle against all attempts of applying human names and concepts to the Supreme Being. But even in later times in the second century A.D. we find philosophers such as Maximus Tyrius for instance still repeating the same protest. ‘God’ he writes (Dissert. viii. 10) ‘the father and maker of all things who is older than the sun older than the sky who is beyond time and age and all changing nature is without a name given Him by legislators inexpressible by language invisible to the eyes. And as we cannot grasp His essence we try to approach Him through words names pictures images of gold ivory and silver through plants rivers mountains and lakes yearning to know Him but from our weakness predicating all that we know as most beautiful of His nature 4.’
In all this we can still clearly perceive the spirit of Plato. In fact Maximus Tyrius quotes Plato in his seventeenth Dissertation when he says: ‘Thus this messenger from the Academy places before us the father and creator of the universe. He does not tell his name for he knew it not; he does not tell his colour for he saw it not; he does not tell his size for he touched it not. These natural qualities are the perceptions of the flesh and the eyes but the Divine itself is not seen by the eyes nor spoken by the voice nor touched by the flesh nor heard by the ear. Only by what is most beautiful most pure most clear-sighted most swift and most ancient in the soul is it seen through likeness and heard through kinship taken in whole and complete by complete perception.’
Negative Definition in Christian Theology.
The early Christians also many of whom as the late Dr. Hatch has clearly shown in his Hibbert Lectures were Greek rather than Jewish who had been brought up in the schools of Plato and Aristotle and were perfectly familiar with the metaphysical terminology of these powerful thinkers spoke of the Deity in the same abstract language in the same negative terms. To them God was no longer simply Jehovah the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob the God who walked in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day not even the God who maketh the clouds His chariot who walketh upon the wings of the wind. ‘Listen my friend’ writes Theophilus when asked by a heathen opponent to describe the form of the Christian God: ‘the form of God is unutterable and indescribable nor can it be seen with fleshly eyes for His glory is uncontained His size is incomprehensible His loftiness is inconceivable His strength is incomparable His wisdom is unrivalled His goodness beyond imitation His beneficence beyond description. If I speak of Him as light I mention His handiwork: if I speak of Him as reason I mention His government: if I speak of Him as spirit I mention His breath: if I speak of Him as wisdom I mention His offspring: if I speak of Him as strength I mention His might: if I speak of Him as providence I mention His goodness: if I speak of His Kingdom I mention His glory’ (Hatch 1. c. p. 253). Clement of Alexandria (Strom. v. 12) asserts still more strongly that there is no name that can properly be named of Him—‘neither the One nor the Good nor Mind nor Absolute Being nor Father nor Creator nor Lord’ (Hatch l.c. p. 255).
Would not many of these early Christians be condemned for such utterances as Agnostics by our modern theologians—at least by some of them? And yet it was not pride of intellect it was on the contrary intellectual humility that made them silent before the majesty of an infinite Being.
True Agnosticism so far from being a negation of all true religion seems to me the only safe foundation of it. How can we be said to know what we cannot name and who is there that would maintain that God can be named? Let us hear what Philo says on this point:
‘God is invisible’ he writes ‘for how can eyes that are too weak to gaze upon the sun be strong enough to gaze upon its Maker? He is incomprehensible; not even the whole universe much less the human mind can contain the conception of Him. We know that He is we cannot know what He is. We may see the manifestation of Him in His works but it were monstrous folly to go behind His works and inquire into His essence. Hence He is unnamed for names are the symbols of created things whereas His only attribute is to be5.’
And if Philo is not considered as an authority perhaps Cardinal Newman may be with some at least of my hearers. Yet he expresses exactly the same conviction when he says: ‘God is incommunicable in all His attributes.’
If people would only define what they mean by knowing they would shrink from the very idea that God could ever be known by us in the same sense in which everything else is known or that with regard to Him we could ever be anything but Agnostics. All human knowledge begins with the senses and goes on from sensations to percepts from percepts to concepts and names. And yet the same people who insist that they know God will declare in the same breath that no one can see God and live and that no flesh that hath beard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire can live (Deuter. v. 26) Let us only define the meaning of knowing and keep the different senses in which this word has been used carefully apart and I doubt whether any one would venture to say that in the true sense of the word he is not an Agnostic as regards the true nature of God. If any one doubts let him read the almost-forgotten works of Cusanus particularly his Docta Ignorantia and let him remember that before the Reformation such true Agnosticism was not only tolerated but that Cusanus who held it and taught it died as a Cardinal and as a friend of Pope Nicolaus V.
This silence before a nameless Being does not exclude a true belief in God nor devotion nor love of a Being beyond our senses beyond our understanding beyond our reason and therefore beyond all names.
All Names well meant.
On the contrary every one of the names given to this infinite Being by finite beings marks a stage in the evolution of religious truth. If only we try to understand these names we shall find that they were all well meant that for the time being they were probably the only possible names. Dyaus Zeus whether it was meant for light or for sky was originally a well-meant name. It did not mean at first the material sky only as an object but it meant as we saw the agent postulated behind or within the sky what Plato meant by the soul of the sky. If the agent or the sky was often mistaken for the sky itself and many things that could be truly predicated of the material sky only were predicated of Dyaus or Zeus or Jupiter history teaches us how this confusion arose and thus warns us against similar errors.
In China also the name of the supreme deity is Tien or sky. And not only Chinese scholars in Europe but scholars in China also have been disputing for centuries whether what is meant by Tien is the real sky or the Supreme Being supposed to be residing in the sky or invoked by the name of the sky. We ourselves should never be in doubt if we heard any one say ‘Heaven knows.’ We should know at once that he did not mean the visible heaven but much the same as if he were to say ‘God knows.’ When the prodigal son says ‘I have sinned against Heaven and in Thy sight’ we know that against Heaven means against God.
But most missionaries will assure us that when the Chinese address their prayers to Tien when they say ‘Tien knows’ when they say ‘I have sinned before Tien’ they mean the blue sky and nothing else. It is quite possible that thousands of uneducated Chinese would give the same answer. But when the once famous Commissioner Yeh was asked to give an account of what an educated Chinese meant by Tien he said that Tien meant no doubt the material heaven but that it also meant Shang-te the supreme ruler or God. It is not lawful he added to use the name of Shang-te lightly and therefore we name him by his residence which is tien6.
Let it be clearly understood therefore that the Historical School does not look upon all the names that were given to divine powers as simply true or simply false. We look upon all of them as well meant and true for the time being as steps on the ladder on which the angels of God ascend and descend. There was no harm in the ancient people when they were thirsting for rain involving the sky and saying ‘O dear sky send us rain.’ There was no harm when they saw their stable struck by lightning in their imploring the thunderer to spare their home and their children. There was no harm when they were dying of cold in their greeting the rising sun as a dear friend and protector. And when after a time they used more and more general words when they addressed these powers as bright or rich or mighty as kings and lords as friends and fathers all these were meant for something else for something they were seeking for if haply they might feel after Him and find Him. This is St. Paul's view of the growth of religion this is the view defended and supported by new evidence by the Historical School—and this is the view condemned as heretical and blasphemous by men who call themselves Christian Divines.
Names of the Infinite.
When I said that all these names had been from the beginning names of the Infinite I hardly expected that I could have been so far misunderstood as if I supposed that the name and concept of the Infinite had been fully elaborated before it was called Sky and Earth Sun and Moon Day and Night Lord Maker Ruler Friend and Father. I have actually boon told as something I ought to have known that when the prehistoric Semite built altars to and called on the name of Shaddai Jehovah or Baal the object of his worship was not at first conceived as Infinite but as very local and limited and finite indeed. The Himalayan mountain range has different names in different dialects and in different parts of its long extent. We who know its unbroken continuity from east to west speak of the whole as the Himalayan range; but the inhabitants of every small valley by whatever name they call their own hills mean likewise the Himalayan range though they have as yet no name for it. It is in that sense that the people who spoke of their own gods as Zeus or Apollo or Athene meant the Infinite that was behind or in these names though as yet they had no name for it. When I speak of the Infinite I simply use the widest generalisation within my reach wider even than what is comprehended by the name of the Unknowable. To suppose that such generalisations had been realised in the minds of the earliest observers of thunder and lightning would be to invert the whole historical growth of the human mind. But as soon as an altar was built to Shaddai as the giver of rain as soon as such a name was formed something more was meant than the visible cloud or the finite sky something which by the most general term I shall continue to call the Non-Finite and the Infinite.
There are indeed misapprehensions against which it is almost degrading to defend oneself.
I Am that I Am.
When we find in the old Testament such names as Elohim Adonai Jehovah or Jah we never doubt that they were all meant for the same Being. But when as we are told in the book of Exodus iii. 14 Moses asked the God of his fathers what was His true name is it not wonderful that that name contains no predicate whatever ‘no manner of similitude’ but is simply ‘I Am that I Am’?
To a student of the history of religion such unexpected rays of light are quite dazzling. I call them unexpected because the language in which Jehovah is spoken of in the Old Testament is often as you know not very different from the language applied to the deity in other ancient religions. It is human language full of metaphor; it is what is called anthropomorphic; and what else could it be?
It is true that in India also we meet with the same or a very similar name. We read in one of the Upanishads7 ‘He looking round saw nothing but himself. He first said: “This is I;” and therefore ho became “I” by name.’
But in India we can see how the way was slowly prepared for so abstract so unmetaphorical and in no sense anthropomorphic a name as ‘I am I.’ We can see there a class of philosophic theologians working hard to free their thoughts from the inevitable leading-strings of language. But among the Jews at the time of Moses (placing ourselves on the ordinary standpoint of readers of the Old Testament) so sudden a burst of the purest light so transcendent a name of the deity as ‘I am’ comes upon us indeed like a revelation in the truest sense of the word.
And what is more marvellous still we find joined with this the most abstract conception of the deity that truly human feeling for God which is expressed in such words as: ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might’ (Deuter. vi. 4). I doubt whether we can find anything like this anywhere else. When God has once been conceived without ‘any manner of similitude’ He may be meditated on revered and adored but that fervent passion of the human breast that love with all our heart and all our soul and all our might seems to become hushed before that solemn presence. We may love our father and mother with all our heart we may cling to our children with all our soul we may be devoted to our wives and husbands and friends with all our might but to throw all these feelings in their concentrated force and truth on the deity has been given to very few elect souls only the true Saints of the world. Others must rest content with the hope that true love shown to any human being to father and mother to husband and wife to sons and daughters aye to the stranger also if there is a stranger may take the place of that love of God which Moses demanded and that ‘what ye have done unto one of the least of these My brethren ye have done it unto Me’ (Matth. xxv. 40).
The Three Vedânta Predicates.
But while in some places the ancient philosophers of India would go so far as to protest against all predicates of the deity even against that of existence lest it might be mistaken as identical with the transient existence of human or any other beings we find that even in the Vedânta philosophy these Indian metaphysicians condescended to recognise a somewhat more human view of the Supreme Being and allowed at least three predicates. They were to be to know and to rejoice or possibly to love and I doubt whether the most rigid metaphysician could rightly object to any one of them. When in the historical process of name-giving and name-removing the Infinite has been freed again of all names that proved inadequate no philosophy and no religion need give up these three predicates. What is meant by the Infinite or the Unknown or the Divine for all these names have the same intention must be allowed to be must be allowed to know and must be allowed to rejoice or as others will have it to love to be blessed in itself to be satisfied. The opposite of these three propositions is unthinkable and this must suffice for us as long as we are what we are. We cannot conceive the Infinite or the Unknown or the Divine and conceive it as not being. This is the purely human side of the ontological argument. Nor can we conceive it as not-knowing however different its knowledge may be from human knowledge. Esse with the Infinite is in reality percipi and who should be the percipient if not the Infinite itself? We may be more doubtful about the third predicate that of bliss or love because it seems to have too much of a human character too much of a πÿθος about it. But again the absence of bliss satisfaction and love would be a defect I mean from a human point of view.
It is well known that even the Epicureans who predicated so little of their gods predicated of them perfect blessedness. ‘Eternal existence and perfect happiness are according to Epicurus the two fundamental elements which in all ages and nations constitute the true idea of godhead—an idea which is as widespread as the human race8.’
We may therefore grant the Hindu triad of divine predicates and say if there is an Infinite an indefinable and unnameable Being if there is an Agent behind all acts we cannot deny its perfect bliss its perfect knowledge and its everlasting existence.
Masculine or Neuter.
You may have observed how difficult it is when speaking of that infinite Being to know whether we ought to speak of it as He or It. With us that distinction always implies something human. He implies masculine gender and excludes feminine gender and from either point of view it is inapplicable to God while It implying neither seems preferable. But on the other hand He implies agency activity not to say life while It implies mere objectivity passivity not to say lifelessness. In languages which distinguish no gender this difficulty does not exist. In languages again which distinguish two classes only one of animate the other of inanimate beings the choice is much easier. But being what we are speaking an Aryan language and thinking Aryan thoughts there can be no doubt that we must speak of the Infinite as He though with certain reservations and not as either She or It.
Hero then is the last point at which we arrive by a continuous progress from the lowest perception of the unknown Infinite to the highest expression that poor human nature can find for it. The predicates become wider and wider purer and purer truer we hope and truer and yet their subject is always beyond their reach. The last result of physical Religion will always remain that there is something within or behind the finite world which by a most comprehensive but from one point of view no doubt by a very empty name we may call the Infinite. But the history of religion and a knowledge of our own human nature teaches us likewise that so vague and so cold a name ceases to be religious and cannot satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart.
Return to the Old Names.
In times of trouble and despair and in moments of intensest happiness too the heart falls back on the old names and utters once more the language of the childhood of the world and of its own childhood. It does not call for help on the Infinite but though feeling the overwhelming presence of the Infinite it says Lord it says my God it says Our Father. And what harm is there? If we have understood the lessons of the history of religion we know that all these names and even much less perfect names were well meant were all meant for the same and that He who is beyond all names understands them all. I have often quoted the words placed in the mouth of Krishna ‘Even those who worship idols worship me.’ Whatever we do however pure and abstract our language may be in one sense we are all idolators we idolise the deity in the imperfect ideas which we have formed of it; and under the ever-varying names which we have given to it.
What however we may say with a good conscience both as philosophers and as historians is this that how high so ever above all our ideas and all our names and concepts the Infinite may be that Infinite is at least the source of light that beams from heaven it is at least the giver of the fire that warms and cheers us it is at least in the storm-wind it is at least the Lord it is at least the Father whatever else He may be. We still use the name of Jehovah though we know how many things have been predicated of Jehovah which are incompatible with our reverence for the Deity. We shrink from using the names of Zeus and Jupiter but the early Christians had no such fears. Thus Tertullian (ad Scap. 4) speaks of ‘the people shouting to the God of gods who alone is powerful as bearing witness to our God by the name of Jupiter’ while in another passage he actually appeals to ‘Jovem Christianum.’ Dante also still uses Giove in the sense of God when he says (Purg. vi. 118):
‘O sommo Giove che foste in terra per noi crucifisso.’
And Petrarca does not hesitate to say (Son. 133):
‘Se l'eterno Giove della sua grazia sovra me non piovi.’
Nor are we ourselves afraid to speak of God as the Deus Optimus Maximus though the word deus also is of heathen workmanship and was meant originally for the bright powers of the sky the sun the moon the dawn and the spring; though maximus meant probably no more at first than the greatest among such gods as Mars Janus Quirinus and Bellona (Liv. viii. 6 9; 10; x. 28; 29) while Optimus conveyed at first the idea of the richest rather than of the best.
I could hardly have believed it if I had not seen it black on white that there are some classical scholars left who seem to look upon Jupiter as a real person and who have asked me whether I really mean that Jupiter is the same individual as the God of the Jews and the Christians. What meaning can they connect with such words? Do they really imagine that Jupiter was some kind of potentate who lived on Mount Olympus and then after changing his name and clothing emigrated to Mount Zion? If they do not mean that what do they mean?
The Names and what is named.
Surely if the study of the history of religion has taught us anything it has taught us to distinguish between the names and what is named. The names may change they may become more and more perfect and as they become more perfect our concepts of the deity may become more perfect also but the deity itself is not affected by our names. However much the names may differ and change there remains as the last result of the study of religion the everlasting conviction that behind all the names there is a something named that there is an agent behind all acts that there is an Infinite behind the Finite that there is a God in Nature. That God is the abiding goal of many names all well meant and well aimed and yet all far far away from the goal which no man can see—and live. Convince the human understanding that there can be acts without agents that there can be a limit without something beyond that there can be a Finite without a Non-Finite and you have proved that there is no God. But let it be shown that the universality of that belief rests on that without which sense would not be sense reason would not be reason man would not be man and we may say that for man as he is for reason as it is nay even for the perceptions of the senses as they are belief in something infinite in an agent in a God is irresistible. All names that human language has invented may be imperfect. But the name ‘I Am that I Am’ will remain for those who think Semitic thought while to those who speak Aryan languages it will be difficult to invent a better name than that of the Vedânta Sak-kid-ânanda He who is who knows and who is blessed.
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