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VII: The Moral Attributes of God

The inquiry in the former lecture was limited to the political aspect of the deity as the ruler of the State. The present theme, the investigation of the moral attributes attached to the Godhead, is wider, for it deals with the relation of the deity not only to the social life but also to the soul-life of the individual. The idea of a moral deity, the guardian of the moral order, is a human rather than a cosmic conception, for divine morality is a reflex of human ethic raised to its highest imaginable power.

The concept of God as good and beneficent may be maintained to be an a priori postulate of higher theistic religion. Yet there is a long history behind it, showing progress and evolution at certain periods of our mental life. It may be asked whether the history of religion shows the prevalence at any period of a belief in an evil God. We might expect to find it in the earlier thought of man; for if, as we have reason to suppose, he was led to affirm the existence of a beneficent high power partly by his personal experience that his impulses towards good came to him from a higher source outside himself, he was liable to a similar perception of the demoniac source of his evil passions; and if the one projected a beneficent deity, the other might be expected to project a maleficent.

Another likely motive for the assumption of malevolent supernatural powers is the observation of nature, in which the destructive and terrible forces are at least as powerful and as obvious as the kindly.

It is difficult to sum up the multifarious evidence concerning the savage mind; but generally it is near to the truth to say that for most savage communities the belief is attested in a good and kindly God or spirit, who however is often regarded as too remote or too indolent for worship; so that most of the religious rites are concerned with the propitiation or the repelling of evil spirits. Also, in certain cases it is conceivable that one of these evil spirits may have risen to the status of a deity without discarding his evil nature.

We have also in our appreciation of the polytheisms of the peoples of the higher culture to recognize that the idea of goodness as an essential attribute of God by no means prevailed everywhere even in the organized worship and established belief, not to speak of the immoralities of casual mythology. Indra in Vedic literature, Set in the pyramid-texts of Egypt, Ares in Homeric poetry, are presented more or less as evil gods, at least at times. The poet of the Odyssey reveals a belief or half-belief that the god of the sea delights in drowning men.1 The high-thinking Aeschylus, the champion of the idea of monotheism and of the supreme righteousness of Zeus, yet represents him in the tragedy of Prometheus Bound as the enemy of man, grudging him his good luck and tormenting his benefactor. And we may regard it as probable that the long-abiding belief in evil spirits, jealous, irritable, and vindictive, coloured and infected at times some of the attributes and imagined actions of the higher divinities; and some one of them, generally beneficent, might even be worshipped under a malevolent title. We are also well acquainted with a pessimistic and immoral trend in folk-lore and mythology, which the higher ethical religion of the community is not always able to control or to purify.

Yet it is a fact of great significance that the history of religions nowhere presents us with the phenomenon of a High God conceived as malevolent and definitely accepted by the worshipper as such: unless we are to admit that Ahriman in the Zarathustrian system was of this type. But Moulton has given strong reasons for believing that this apparent equality of Ahriman, the evil god, with Ahura Mazdāh in a dualistic world was not part of the original message delivered by Zarathustra, but was a degeneracy in later Magianism; in any case there is no evidence that Ahriman received any kind of worship from the good Mazdean, who was his mortal foe. And a god who receives no worship may be a cosmic force but does not belong to positive religion. We must not take as evidence of belief in an evil god passages in higher religious literature that lay stress on the terrible aspect of the deity as a Destroyer; for instance, the terrible and destructive power of the Word is emphasized in certain Babylonian hymns,2 yet the High Powers of Sumeria and Babylon were merciful and beneficent; and in Indian polytheism where Siva looms large as a demoniac destroyer, he is yet ‘one of the three appearances of the Father-God with Brahma the Creator and Krishna the Protector’.3

We must not be misled in our judgement of the figures of many polytheisms by the cruelty or impurity we may discern in some part of their ritual. A deity who demanded human sacrifice or the sacrifice of virginity need not therefore be regarded by the worshipper as evil or malevolent. The Mexican deities for their cruelty appeared as devils even to the Spaniards; but to the Mexican they were kindly powers guarding the welfare and the moral code of their worshippers; and the cruel ritual persisted by the side of a high morality instinct with religious feeling. There is the frequent paradox of anti-moral rites clashing with the higher religious thought and ethic of the people who maintain them. Nevertheless they do not prevail against the belief in the goodness and beneficence of the High God.

It has been suggested in a previous lecture that that faith was engendered and prompted by the necessities of the worshipper and by his prayers against evils and for forgiveness of sins; in order to give hope for the fulfilment of his prayers a benevolent and merciful nature must be imputed to the deity addressed. This is sufficient to explain why the religions of the world had no place for an Ahriman.

In studying the content of the various moral concepts that define the character and attributes of the deity we must always bear in mind that these reflect the changing morality of human society at different periods, and nowhere so clearly as in the moral sphere does our imagination of the Godhead reveal the advance from cruder to more refined thought.

In all the higher religions of the older world the most prominent attribute of the divine character has been justice. We should expect this, for the chief function of the divinity, as dealt with in the preceding lecture, was to preserve the social order and the right relations between man and man, and justice is an essential virtue equally for the State and for private life: therefore, failing man's justice, man relies on God to protect him and to punish the unjust. In the Old Testament this is the dominant aspect of the deity. It is also dominant in the Koran as part of Mahomet's message: ‘We did send to you the Book and the balance, that men might stand by Justice.’4 Greek thought was at least as enthusiastic as the Judaic in exalting justice as a divine virtue and function, personifying Dike as the daughter of Zeus; and no poet or prophet has ever glorified it in such noble words as Euripides, who speaks of ‘the golden-gleaming countenance of Justice, nor is evening-star nor morning-star so wonderful as this’.5 And Greek imagination refined the concept more sympathetically than the Hebraic or the Islamic, extending the idea beyond the world of man to the world of animals.6 Being a practical and social rather than a metaphysical and cosmic idea it does not so interest the mind of the Vedic theologian: in the Vedic system we might say that it was subsumed under Dharma, the Law of Life and the world, personified at times as a God.7

This belief, fundamental in the higher religions of the older societies, that God is the just Providence of the world, was often brought up against the ugly facts of life, and the shock gave rise to the dark problem of moral casuistry, the apparent prosperity of the unjust and the afflictions of the just. It is of interest to mark the various solutions attempted. The locus classicus, the Book of Job, finds no solution at all. But in one passage of the Psalms the easy solution is offered that we must not judge too hastily of God, must give time for his judgements to strike, and the Psalmist is sure that at last before the end of their lives the unjust is cast down and the just raised up. And sometimes the divine justice is exalted in this respect at the expense of man's—‘The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small: though He stands and waits with patience, with exactness grinds he all’;8 or a still better apology is suggested by Solon: ‘God is not like a hasty-tempered man, venting his anger at once on the occasion of every wrong.’9 Meredith's expression of the same thought is masterly, if somewhat ‘pagan’:

Forgetful is green earth: the Gods alone

Remember everlastingly: they strike

Remorselessly, and ever like for like.

By their great memories the Gods are known.

This view is more thoughtful than that of the average mind. But it is not confirmed by invariable experience, and meantime the just man suffers and the unjust prospers.

The idea of belated justice has also suggested another solution, namely that though the unjust man will escape punishment in his own life, retribution will fall upon his children and his children's children; the theory of vicarious punishment familiar to the old world and prominent in the Old Testament. We have already considered this and observed how it was challenged by advanced ethical thinkers as early as the sixth century B.C. It belongs to the crude plane of social thought before the emergence of the sense of the individual's free responsibility.

Another and more fertile solution that has deeply influenced the life of more than one religion is the belief in a posthumous judgement. As faith in a just deity could not be reconciled with the facts of this world, we must wait for the final consummation and triumph of this justice in the life to come. The simplest expression of this idea would seem to be that each individual would be judged by a divine power immediately after death and his due reward or punishment would be meted out to him. Among the higher religions of the old world this was most clearly expressed in the Egyptian; and the type of the angel weighing the souls that appears in Christian representations of the Day of Judgement was derived from Egyptian sepulchral art. The idea of separate and individual judgement following immediately upon death is found clearly shown in Etruscan tomb-paintings, where a genius of death is shown writing on a scroll.10 We find a glimpse of the same belief in Aeschylus who speaks of Hades, the Lord of the lower world, as inscribing on tablets the deeds of each man's life.11 The same theory rules the Apocalypse of Peter, and though not accepted as orthodox must have kept its hold on the popular mind through many centuries; for we note that the greatest poet of medieval Christendom has presented throughout the whole of his Divina Commedia no other than this simpler form of the belief in posthumous judgement.12 More grandiose and awe-inspiring was the imagination of a great day of universal judgement, a cosmic catastrophe, which was to be not only the full and perfect consummation of God's justice, but the end of all created things. The Zarathustrian religion was the first to give expression to such a belief. Next it appears in power and force in Israel, shaping the vision of the Jewish Apocalypses; and Christianity, deriving it thence, has made it hitherto the keystone of orthodox faith. No other dogma has exercised so momentous an influence on life and conduct, or has coloured so deeply the minds and the moods of men and their theory of human life. At times it has worked with such morbid influence upon certain imaginations as to darken wholly the earthly life and to belittle its value, with uncivilizing and antisocial effects. We are chiefly concerned with it here as an expression of man's thoughts concerning the divine justice. If we reflect on the various visions of judgement and the discourses on the theme contained in a vast body of literature sacred and profane, the Jewish apocalyptic books, the writings of the Christian fathers, the creeds of the Church, the works of the theologians of the Middle Ages and the Reformation and post-Reformation periods down to recent times, we discern how the ideas of divine justice embodied in them have been infected with human passion, human vindictiveness and intolerance, and are dictated by ethical standards of action that are no longer accepted by the highest modern thought. For throughout this long period the award of salvation and happy immortality has been made to depend not on pure righteousness, but on dogmatic belief, ceremonial sacraments, or, in Gnostic systems, on the knowledge of certain formulae; therefore St. Augustine is obliged to relegate the unbaptized infant and the virtuous Pagan to hell. But if it is repugnant to our thought and to our highest conception of divine justice that a man's life should be judged by his dogmatic creed, still more repugnant to us is the doctrine of eternal damnation, a doctrine that is obviously losing its hold on the popular religious mind and is no longer clamant in our pulpits. Some of our leading theological scholars and ecclesiastics proffer the humaner suggestion that the hopeless souls are not punished after death but extinguished, a dispensation which Milton's Belial eloquently declares is worse than Hell—

for who would lose,

Though full of pain, this intellectual being,

Those thoughts that wander through eternity,

To perish rather, swallowed up and lost

In the wide womb of uncreated night?

But the archangel, like his poet, was a highly intellectual spirit. Painless extinction has probably no terrors for the multitude.

We scarcely seem to realize how great is this silent revolution in our religion; for we are abandoning the doctrine silently on the whole, without the intellectual labour of disproving it or of reconciling our abandonment with the authority of Scripture; we abandon it merely with deep instinctive abhorrence; and with a higher intuition of God's justice we refuse to stain it with the cruelty with which the theologians of many ages, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem have constructed their visions of Hell. In places these visions reveal the savage vindictiveness of man's nature stirred up by tribulation from its primitive depths: and at times they display that ugliest of all human defects, which the Greeks called evpicairekaki,a and the Germans call Schadenfreude and for which our language happily has no word, exultation over the miseries of others. In the tragic history of this belief we are reminded of Euripides' aphorism: ‘Men impute their evil nature to God.’

The Hellenes, though they held some theory of Hell which was deepened by Orphism, were saved generally by their temperament from brooding on it with that insistence which has darkened the imagination of so many of the Christian and Moslem world. And Neoplatonism could at least expunge the idea of cruelty and vindictiveness from the character of God by interpreting Hell as a state of the mind: the true Hell is the life of the wicked man: this thought may have suggested certain great lines to Marlow and to Milton as ‘why, this is Hell nor am I out of it’; ‘Which way I fly is Hell, myself am Hell.’ And at least one early Christian father could rise above the orthodox view, namely Origen, who maintained that all God's punishments were purgative merely, not vindictive, and that ultimately all souls will be saved.13

The darker side of the traditional doctrine of the Day of Judgement rests on an ethical theory of justice, human and divine, that is called the vindictive theory—‘ good must be meted out for good, evil for evil.’ Jewish theology never seems to have risen above this in its exposition of the ultimate divine purpose. And the defect of the Jewish presentation of God in much of the Old Testament is the imputation to him of strong vindictiveness with liability to such passing human emotions as rage, fury, jealousy: hence the thoughtful and refined heretic Marcion pronounced the God of the Jews just but not wholly good. And Christianity down to our own day has been in its doctrine of judgement in bondage to the Judaic spirit, of which it inherited a large measure from the beginning.

The vindictive theory as it is passing from our secular, ethical, and legal systems, will probably pass wholly from our religions.14 It was first challenged, as we should expect, by the humanitarian ethics and philosophy of the Greeks. In conformity with Plato's theory of human punishment, that its intention should be reformative and remedial only, Greek speculation on the whole purified God's justice of any element of vindictiveness and explained it as directed to the good of mankind or the whole cosmos. This was part of a more general advance in thought, of which we have seen the first glimmering in Homer,15 suggesting a conviction that the Gods send no evil to men, either in this life or the next; or that apparent evil is in reality a blessing. It is their own sins that injure men, or their ignorance of God, but in no case God's anger, for anger is alien to the nature of God,16 and envy has no place in the divine circle.17 We might conclude from passages in Plato's Republic that he could condemn the Christian traditional doctrine of the Day of Judgement on the view that it tends to base morality on a system of rewards and punishments and thereby to degrade its essential value: the true value of morality, and especially of justice, according to the highest teaching of Greek ethic is that it assimilates man to God.18 And the problem raised by the Book of Job, to which the Apocalypses claimed to give the final answer, was avoided altogether by the Aristotelian theory that God is not concerned at all with the dispensation of external advantages but only with the spiritual life,19 man's higher part.

Nevertheless, in Hellenic as in other religions, the idea of vengeance as a divine function and the cult of God the Avenger were retained by the popular faith, wherever faith in a personal deity remained. But in the later period the interpretation of the divine justice and retribution was deepened by the belief, which is expressed occasionally in the Greek as in the Hebraic literature, that God punishes not only outward acts of wrong but sins of the heart and evil intention;20 and thus the later conscience could deliver itself from the grim terrors of the older moral code, whereby certain acts, though committed innocently or by accident, inevitably brought down the wrath of God.

At the same time, both in Greece and in Israel and in certain later societies of Europe and elsewhere, the popular beliefs concerning the divine dispensation both in this world and the next contain a crude and non-moral element, in respect namely to the doctrine of ‘Nemesis’. In certain applications the doctrine admitted satisfactory moral justification; it had also the social value of preaching moderation and decorum in act and speech; it repressed the insolence of the braggart and excessive exultation over the fallen foe: ‘it is not lawful to exult over the slain,’ and Homer in this phrase21 uses a term that implies an offence against the Gods. But in one of its commonest applications, namely in the belief that great prosperity was in itself dangerous, apart from the mental qualities it might engender, because it was likely to arouse divine envy or jealousy, the doctrine is non-moral and has an evil ancestry; for it can be proved to descend from the savage belief in the ubiquity of evil demons who grudge man his good luck and try to spoil it, a superstition still prevalent in Mediterranean lands, which terrifies the peasant woman if she hears her child or her needlework highly praised. This is the fqo,noj or the evil eye of the Gods, an evil attribute that came from polydaemonism into theism. The Greek philosophers and the poet Aeschylus protested and tried to raise the minds of their race above the low superstition; but many of us still ‘touch wood’. It is more serious that it should have coloured men's imaginations of the judgement after death, and have suggested the theory that the dispensation of happiness and unhappiness in the next world will be the exact reversal of that which prevails in this, so as to make things equal as between one world and the other. It strangely appears as the motive of the parable of Dives and Lazarus, and on the surface of such beatitudes as ‘blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh’;22 and in the counter-utterance ‘woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation’.23 In such passages we have a picture of the two worlds as each mechanically adjusting the inequalities of the other; and such a vision of judgement differs toto caelo from that other wherein the divine justice is dispensed according to the tests of righteousness, faith, and good works.

The attribute of justice, though essential to the conception of a righteous Ruler of the world, is naturally tempered in all the higher religions with the humaner qualities of pitifulness and mercifulness; for, as we have seen, it was inevitable that the worshipper, suffering from his own wrongdoing and from the evils of the world, should, as religion developed, ascribe to his divinity such qualities as those whereby alone He might be moved to forgive and to heal him. Therefore, however grim and terrible the deity may be presented habitually in the popular mythology or theology, he is likely to be invoked in some occasional prayer or liturgy as ‘the Merciful’ or the ‘Compassionate’. The Babylonian Marduk, imagined generally as terrible, is yet praised ‘as the Compassionate among the Gods, thou who lovest the awakening of the dead’.24 The dominant presentation of Jahwé in the Old Testament is stern and relentless, and this has darkened our later theology, especially the Protestant; but the prophetic writings and the Psalms give often deep and beautiful expression to the idea of a merciful God; and the apocryphal epistle of Jeremiah includes among the tests of true Godhead ‘to show mercy unto the widow and to do good to the fatherless’.25 Even Islam, which emphasized even more than Israel the relentlessness of God against sinners and unbelievers, has yet the other aspect of him vividly presented by Mahomet, who prefaces his chapters in the Qur'an with the formula ‘in the name of the Merciful and Compassionate God’;26 and among the ninety-nine ‘good names’ by which he is invoked by the Muslim occur such as ‘the Merciful, the Clement, the Pardoner, the Forgiver’.27

In the humanitarian religion of Greece, it is generally true that the merciful aspect of the High God is more prominent than the vindictive, even in the mythology which is so often on a lower plane than the actual worship. There were no cosmic and no human myths in which Zeus appeared as the destroyer on a great scale, condemning hosts of conquered angels or powers to everlasting torment.28

Having conquered the Titans Zeus released them; and this divine legend is quoted by Pindar as a lesson to men to forgive their own enemies.29 The merciful character of Zeus is expressed in many cults and cult-epithets. He is Aivdoi/oj, the Pitiful one, and Pity was personified as a divine emanation; and the altars erected to her show that the refined thought of Sophocles, beautifully expressed in the Oedipus Coloneus,30 ‘Pity shares the throne of Zeus, his peer in power over all the deeds of men’, was not merely the thought of a gifted and advanced thinker, but had penetrated the popular religion.

And whatever power such faith had over conduct, there was real faith in the heart of the normal citizen that Zeus maintained the cause of the widow and the fatherless and had pity for the outcast and oppressed. This human view of the essential attributes of divinity is specially marked in the Greek literature of the fourth century, and is reflected in certain utterances of the Delphic oracle on questions of private morality: ‘God pardons all that is done under stress of necessity’31 is a pregnant aphorism that is parallel to the Euripidean ‘the divinity is not senseless, but knows how to make allowances’.32

The recognition of mercifulness and pity as the dominant attributes of the High God might have a momentous influence on the social-ethical code, if it brought the conviction that active philanthropic service was a primary duty of each member of the community. It is the distinction of the New Testament that it sets forth this idea in full light. The Christian Churches have kept it bright through all the ages, and it glows most vividly to-day. Later Judaism also cherished it, and Islam accepted it. But in the other religions of ancient culture it nowhere appears, save faintly in a few Egyptian texts: we find for instance in the Book of the Dead a phrase that strangely recalls certain passages in the New Testament, occurring in the appeal of the dead soul to Osiris—‘I have lived by the Truth: I have propitiated God by my love: I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, garments to the naked.’33 Hellenic ethics were fully conversant with the idea of mercy as a human virtue of divine sanction; but the religious ideal of this people does not comprehend any spirit of active philanthropy; it is only of interest to note that in the recently discovered fragments of the philosopher, Kerkidas of Megalopolis, of the third century B.C., the new and strange personification Meta,dwj appears, suggesting the idea of a spirit of self-sacrifice as a divine power.34

We know how deeply the character and the theology of a religion is affected according as it dwells with greater emphasis on the mercy of a compassionate or on the wrath of a just deity. Our orthodox Christology appears to hold the balance between both, though at different periods and according to the different temperaments of individual teachers, according also, we may say, as the spirit of the Old Testament or the New has dominated their minds, stress is laid on the one aspect or on the other, the darker for instance in Calvinism, the brighter in Christian Platonism.

Other religions besides our own have been vitally transformed by the preoccupation of the leaders of religious thought with the divine attribute of compassionateness. For it has engendered at times the appealing and momentous doctrine of the Saviour-God, either in the form of the descent of the God into the world of man or the ascent of the saviour-man. We can discern that the minds of the earliest Christians were troubled as between these two theories of Christ, until the ultimate decision was reached by the Church. The concept of the Saviour-God has been discovered also in Indian theology, in the later presentation in the Bhagavadgita of Krishna who ‘at the call of human need “is born from age to age”’35… ‘he serves men according as they approach him and the best of all ways by which he is approached is that of love’. In Hellenic religion the concept of the divine saviour tends rather to be embodied in the belief that a particular man of superhuman qualities attains at last to Godhead through his services to mankind; such were Herakles and Asklepios, who after their apotheosis remain essentially the saviours and helpers of men, the latter being specially marked out by the loving devotion of his worshippers as the compassionate God who felt for human weakness and who was ‘a lover of the people’.36 The title ‘Saviour’ is attached to him with special emphasis; it was attached occasionally to other deities, but only as a rule in reference to some special need such as salvation from the perils of battle or shipwreck.37 It is only to Asklepios that it is attached, as to Christ, permanently and with intention to express his whole attitude to man. In the Messianic thought of pure Judaism there is no clear expression of the idea of the Saviour-God descending or of a saviour man-God ascending; and it is entirely absent in Islam.

Finally, through dwelling on the divine attribute of compassionateness and religious thought has evolved the concept of a suffering God, in the unique sense of a God who suffers for mankind. In its undeveloped and unmoralized form it has become a commonplace of comparative religion and belongs to a low level of thought and ritual, the level at which the worshipper is apt to cause his Gods to suffer by beating, drowning, starving, or burning them. The idea only begins to be of significance for higher religion when it is embodied in the belief that a High God chooses suffering out of love of mankind, for the service or the redemption of the world or of the human race. There is no such interpretation possible of the legends of the sufferings of Asklepios, Herakles, Dionysos, or Osiris, though M. Moret would associate the death and pains of the Egyptian God with some of the ideas attaching to the Crucifixion.38 But no hint is given of any ancient belief that Osiris died willingly or that his death was a benefit to mankind; although this might be said of his resurrection, since men obtained immortality for themselves by magical imitation of it. Perhaps it is only in the Saivite religion that began to spread over South India from the tenth century of our era that we find a parallel to the idea with which our own religion has familiarized us: Siva drinks deadly poison to deliver the Gods in a great world-crisis and his throat is blackened for ever by the draught; and his black throat is to his worshippers ‘a constant reminder of his grace’; the Saivite text is here of value:

Thou mad'st me thine: didst fiery poison eat, pitying poor souls, That I might ambrosia taste, I meanest one.39

Here is something closely akin to the Christian thought; but the legend is uncouth and inhuman as compared with the moving and human narrative of the Gospels. It is upon this that the momentous structure of our theology has been raised, of which the keystone is the concept of the Highest God deliberately choosing to suffer and die for mankind; and this willingness of self-sacrifice is proclaimed as the highest attribute of divinity by an eminent contemporary writer on the philosophy of religion.40

We discern here the triumph of anthropomorphism, and the most daring application of that ‘pragmatic’ principle of shaping our concept of God to suit our cravings and needs. We have discerned that principle in the evolution of certain forms of Greek religion; but nowhere has its operation issued in results of such transcendent importance as in our Christology. The idea of a suffering god was alien to the highest Greek thought on the divine nature in all periods of Greek speculation, most alien to the later Stoics, who would not even include compassionateness among the divine attributes; it was alien to the Judaic tradition and to Islam; it was a stumbling-block to many of the earlier Christian converts, and the great Arian and Doketist schisms provided a way of escape from it. In the vast literature of controversy that has raged around it, we discern that the final victory of the idea was due to two determinations of religious thought, the determination to maintain the divinity of Christ and to reconcile it with his life-drama, and on the other hand the determination to preserve the unity of the Godhead. But these speculative reasons have been fortified by the popular craving for a compassionate God, a craving which could be satisfied at last by the faith that God condescended to suffer as a man. At no period of its history has Christendom been wholly united in respect of this vital article; and the question is always taxing our deepest thought whether the idea inspiring this faith is reconcilable with philosophic concepts of an Absolute, Unchangeable, and Infinite God.

The moral attributes hitherto considered may be distinguished as functional and directly relative to human society. There are others that in the development of religion have come to be regarded as essential to the highest conception of Godhead, but fundamental in the divine nature considered in itself rather than in relation to ourselves or our social life. Primary among these are purity and holiness, spiritual ideas that at the same time concern ethical thought and feeling. These terms, which find their counterparts in the vocabularies of all the higher religions, are closely related and shade off the one into the other, but are not wholly identical in respect of extent and content. The attribute of purity belongs equally to the human as to the divine sphere; it is as natural to speak of a pure human heart or a pure virgin as of a pure God. Holiness on the other hand even as vaguely expressed as by the Latin word ‘sacer’ or the Hebrew ‘Qādōsh’ is always related to the supernatural; for though we may speak of a holy man or a holy place, and though Jahwé might bid his people ‘to be holy as he is holy’, it is only because the man or the place stands in some close relation to the divinity, is touched or possessed with his power or presence that either could be called ‘holy’ or sacrosanct.

The distinction is delicate, but for those interested in the origins of our religious imagination of some importance. Purity is a possible quality or condition of the human body and soul, whence it has been transferred transcendentally to the character of high divinity; holiness is essentially a superhuman quality of the divine being, from whom it may descend and touch a mortal or an earthly place or thing. Our ethical conception of the deity has varied with the changes of our own mental history; but in all stages, wherever theistic belief has prevailed, holiness has belonged to the essence of the idea, though the influence of the consciousness of it on the mood of the individual worshipper or his society has varied greatly in intensity. In the presence of the supernatural, the mysterious and ineffable, the natural response of the human consciousness is awe and dread: ‘how dreadful is this place’;41 ‘woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’42 This emotion in its highest manifestation is far removed from ordinary fear; it is so even in its lower manifestations among primitive peoples, who may not have reached the stage of theistic belief but are specially susceptible to the dread of the ‘sacred’ or the ‘tabu’. That which is holy is also dangerous, as the Philistines discovered to their cost, when they captured the Ark; holiness is a supernatural quality inherent in a person, a thing, or a place, withering and blasting the rash intruder or those who handle the thing or approach the presence without due preparation, such as spells, fasting, or purification; this is the savage and primitive view which strongly survives in advanced and higher religions, and dictates much of their precautionary ritual. It may be that we shall rise above it if we can achieve the highest refinement of religious feeling and accept as the highest utterance of religious psychology ‘perfect love casteth out fear’. At least we have risen above the level of the writers of Leviticus and of Samuel, at which it was possible to believe that Jahwé withered the arm that was stretched out to save the ark and threatened Aaron with death if he entered the holy place unprepared.43 We can moralize the attribute of holiness, which in its cruder aspects had nothing to do with morality. But a recent writer on the psychology of religion is probably correct in maintaining that the sentiment of dread, elevated into solemn awe, is an inevitable part of the deeper religious consciousness. Its infusion in greater or less degree helps to differentiate religions, the Babylonian and Judaic for instance, where it was strongest, from the Greek, where it was weak. For while the boldness and freedom of the Greeks in their attitude towards their deities had the advantage of saving them from any hypocritical servility, the comparative weakness in them of the emotion of awe exposed their religious life to the touch of frivolity and the common-place.44 Generally it is true that the spiritual emotion of awe is likely to be less intense in the polytheist than in the monotheist. Yet it is deeply impressed on the Babylonian liturgies; for the Babylonian worshipper, polytheist as he was, had the faculty of concentrating the whole of his soul on the particular deity whom he was addressing. Also we may observe that it varies inversely with the degree of vividness in the anthropomorphic imagination on the principle semno,tht e;cei sko,toj: thus it is stronger in the Roman religion than in the Greek. One strange phenomenon may be noted in this context; religious awe implies humility and the self-abasement of the mortal before the supramortal; it is therefore inconsistent with any belief that the deity is dependent on his worshipper's service or sacrifice; still more with the daring practice on the part of the worshipper of applying magical compulsion to his Gods. Yet so full of inconsistencies is the religious world that the belief of the deity's dependence on the sacrifice is found in such august religions as those of Vedic India and Babylonia; and the practice referred to, whereby the mortal asserts his superior power over the divinity, was prevalent in all periods of the Egyptian religion and was its salient infirmity. It is an outrage on the sense of divine holiness from which the Hellenic worship was happily free on the whole. Against the danger of its intrusion the highest religions have to be on the guard; for so deeply embedded in the religious soil are the roots of ancient magic that the magical thought of controlling or manipulating the divine power by an opus operatum can intrude itself under refined disguises, especially in the sphere of sacramental ritual. The Gnostic heresy was specially dangerous to Christianity from the prevalence in it of the conviction that by the magical use of mystic names and formulae the soul could secure its own salvation and, as it were, take the kingdom of heaven by force. A later parallel is found in the Sikh religion, in the belief that the utterance, even in blasphemy, of the sacred name Amitabha secures rebirth in paradise.45

The subject of purity as a divine attribute is more intricate and far more interwoven with the history of many of our social institutions, both legal and ethical. Only the main salient points need be here adumbrated, especially as much recent anthropologia and theologic work has been published on the theme. The phenomena concerned belong to the stranges chapter in the history of human psychology. In their origin they have nothing to do with theistic worship, and even in a later stage are more concerned with demons than with gods. They reflect the primeval instincts of our race, its shuddering aversions from certain natural objects, animals, states of the body, especially blood, dirt, death, childbirth evil smells. As the emotion is deep and aboriginal reason and reflection have played little part in the system of rules that it has evolved. Every people has had such a system, and its progress has sometimes been helped and sometimes hindered by its greater or lesser degree of bondage to it. The code of purity and the distinction between pure and impure things and states only begin to be of religious importance when they are imputed to the divinity and regarded as of divine origin. Historically such imputation is always a delusion, for the code did not arise from religion, and its origin is the concern of primitive anthropology. But it was inevitable that such imputation should be made, and that when the faith in High Gods was established, what was impure in the sight of men should be regarded as impure in the eyes of God.46 For impure things and states, especially blood, death, childbirth, evil smells and evil food, came to be linked with a demonology, with a belief that they expose us to the assaults of evil spirits; the High Gods are our protectors against evil spirits and are petitioned to guard us from the effects of impurity. Hence there could arise in the human imagination the suggestion or intuition of the high deities as the source of all purity and finally of God as a being ineffably pure. Other circumstances could contribute at certain times and among certain peoples to strengthen and build up this concept. The sun's warmth and the light of the sky are the chief natural phenomena regarded as essentially pure and purifying; on the other hand night and darkness are closely associated with the impure spirits that vanish at the dawning of day, as the Babylonian exorcisms amply attest. And the imagination that shaped the religions of the ancient culture borrowed much from the sun and the light of the sky, and these cosmic forces irradiated the imagined personality of God; so that even the religions that rose above nature-worship, the Zarathustrian and the Moslem, could use light as the nearest analogue for the divine substance,47 and it enters as a powerfully-working metaphor into Christian phraseology. And light, radiance, and purity are cognate ideas.

It is interesting to trace in the history of religions the manifold results of this sanctification by religion of the various codes of purity and purification, a subject that has never been completely handled and is far beyond our present scope. We owe to them certain elementary rules safeguarding the decency and decorum of temple-worship found among all peoples of lower and higher culture; as that the temples must not be polluted with blood, dirt, childbirth, sex-intercourse except as part of a religious ritual, quarrelling, blasphemy. Such rules, like those concerning pure and impure food, concern physical purity rather than moral. But the character of a deity is apt to be coloured differently according to the greater or lesser degree of severity in the application of these rules. The divine character may be narrowed and chilled by an over-great insistence on the rule of physical purity. In Greek polytheism, for example, Apollo is far excellence the ‘pure’ God and the God who purifies; so sensitive is he imagined to any stain, that no taint of death must ever come near him, the dying must be hurriedly removed from the sacred island of Delos, and he is sometimes regarded as standing unsympathetically aloof from the sorrowful life of men: he is only with them in their gladness and their triumph, and as Aeschylus says of him, ‘he is not one to stand by us in our lamentations’.48 There is much beauty in the cool virginity of Artemis; in the drama of Euripides on the fate of Hippolytus, she comes to comfort him, her beloved votary, in the hour of death, but hastily leaves him lest his death pollute her; and there is a pathetic bitterness in his beautiful last words addressed to her ‘Lightly thou dost abandon a lifelong fellowship’. Divine purity, then, may be repellent and unloving. It is still more serious that the burdensome and meticulous codes of purity that disfigure spiritual systems, such as the later Mazdeism and Judaism, and set a heavy clog on the conscience and progress of these peoples, should be given forth as the authoritative utterances of Ahura or Jahwé: the character of the High God thus being tainted with the petty punctiliousness of sacerdotalism. Hellenic polytheism was at least favoured by comparative freedom from such bondage, so that it could take its cathartic code more lightly and use it for progressive purposes in law and ethics. The theory of ritualistic purity is in itself non-moral, and does not necessarily foster a higher human morality or a higher moral characterization of the divine nature. For instance, Apollo's purity is merely ritualistic and connected with temple-ceremoniousness; the bloodstained murderer brings impurity into his sanctuary; on his altar, called ‘the pure’, at Delos no blood-sacrifice must be offered: yet he has no concern with sexual morality in itself, and impure myths were current about him. The theory rests on deep, primeval emotions of a physical origin, and being independent of logical reasoning is rarely worked out into logical conclusions concerning the origin of the created world; it clashes hopelessly, though in Judaism and other advanced creeds it might be long before the clash was felt, with any consistent theory about the divine and beneficent creation of the world, such as is presented in Genesis; for as the High God pronounced that everything that he made was very good it was difficult to reconcile this with the feeling that both the method of generation necessary to all organic life and certain created beings were intrinsically noisome and impure; and the contradiction is not wholly dispelled by the higher message sent to St. Peter: ‘what God hath cleansed, that call thou not common.’ In fact the theory, when brought to the test of explaining the cosmos, is only consistent with a pessimistic dogma either that all matter is impure and not the creation of a pure God or that a part at least of it is impure and the work of an evil power. To the former doctrine there appears an approximation in some of the Gnostics, and in some passages of the Neoplatonists; and Porphyry quotes with approval an aphorism that he attributes to Apollonios of Tyana: ‘there is nothing material that is not intrinsically impure in relation to the immaterial.’49 The other and less extreme alternative was adopted by the later Mazdeism, which having inherited a high religious tradition perverted it and built up an elaborate cosmic code of dualism, dividing the whole created world of animals, plants, and inanimate things into two classes good and evil, each the creation of a good and of an evil deity. We are not now concerned with the philosophic difficulties of this dualistic creed, which in its remote affiliations spilt much blood in Europe. It at least secured, what Judaism failed to secure, consistence between its religion and its oppressive cathartic system.

More pregnant of possibilities of religious progress is the doctrine attested of the religion of the Sikhs that there is nothing at all in the created world that is intrinsically impure.50 Equally liberative and daring was the view suggested once by Sophocles51 and once by Euripides52 that nothing which mortals or the creatures of this earth could do could possibly pollute the divine powers; as though their height was so transcendent, their purity so secure, that no miasma from this world could sully it. This thought is above the level of any popular religion, and it is probable that no religion is wholly free from some ritual of purification that reflects however dimly the ancient emotion. Only it is always possible to quicken dead ritual with a new intention; as we see in the church-service of the churching of women, which was suggested by the primitive feeling of the impurity of childbirth, but has been transformed into an act of thanksgiving.

But the human and divine attribute that we are discussing only begins to be of vital concern for higher religion when the idea of purity has taken on a moral or spiritual sense as purity from moral stain, and when sin is regarded as the only real or chief source of impurity. This momentous transition from the physical to the spiritual sphere was made possible even for the primitive mind by its aptness to discover a mysterious association between sin and dirt;53 and it was achieved by all the religions of ancient culture that have left us full record of themselves. We are familiar with the exaltation of the idea in the prophetic books of the Old Testament and in the Gospels; and texts of the same high level can be quoted from Babylonian and Hellenic religious literature; for instance a Babylonian text from Sippar, ‘In the sight of thy God thou shalt be pure of heart, for that is the distinction of the Godhead;’54 and in Greek poetry and philosophy we find such high utterances as ‘if thou art pure of soul, thou art pure of all thy body’;55 and the Delphic oracle was credited with pronouncements of much spiritual refinement on this theme—‘Oh stranger, if holy of soul, enter the shrine of the holy God, having but touched the lustral water: lustration is an easy matter for the good, but all ocean with its streams cannot cleanse the evil man’;56 and ‘the temples of the Gods are open to all good men, nor is there any need for purification: no stain can ever cleave to virtue. But depart, whosoever is evil at heart, for thy soul will never be cleansed by the washing of thy body’57. And that these were not merely the views of the higher-minded elite is somewhat attested by the fact that in the precincts of the temple of Asklepios at Epidauros was inscribed the text ‘within the sanctuary one must be pure, and purity is to have righteous thoughts’.58

It is evident that if this exalted conception of purity, familiar to early Christianity and the best Pagan thought, had been worked out to its logical consequences, the civilized religions generally might have been delivered, as we ourselves are for the most part, from the burden of cathartic ritual: but ritual is most enduring, for it is often a bond of racial unity, and it is the interest of the sacerdotal class to conserve it; therefore Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are still in bondage.

But though this exaltation of the concept has not effected a general deliverance, its influence on the moral and religious consciousness has been great. Its potency reaches its maximum under the belief to which St. Paul gives expression,59 namely that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that therefore any foul thought or word or act is sacrilege against the sanctuary. And this thought is not exclusively Christian, for Epictetus expresses it in the dictum: ‘Thou bearest God about with thee within thyself; and thou dost not realize that thou art outraging him with thy impure thoughts and unclean deeds.’60 As in this ideal view all sin may come to be regarded as defilement, purity may stand as the full equivalent of sinlessness. Yet it is not an ideal that naturally embraces the whole moral code, for both in its ritualistic and spiritual significance, it has primarily a negative connotation, the freedom from stain; it may preserve us ‘unspotted from the world’ but it does not directly prompt to active benevolence and social service. In respect of our attitude towards our fellows, there is in it an aloofness, a self-reference, and therefore it is ethically inferior to the ideals of charity and love: therefore, also, in the scale of divine attributes, it ranks below the attributes of mercy and loving-kindness. But in the evolution of our highest conception of divine personality, it has helped to exorcise the lower anthropomorphism which among so many peoples has attributed sexual passion to the deity, and it has thus strengthened the religious emotion of awe and the sense of holiness.

There are also certain special phenomena in the history both of creeds and of human society that may be ascribed to its influence. That all sex-intercourse is intrinsically impure is a widespread feeling among primitive peoples, and this has evoked certain ritualistic rules of serious import for the history of even advanced religions, such as the demand for celibacy and chastity in priests and priestesses, either lifelong or at certain periods, and the belief that only a virgin could be the organ of prophecy. We can give no general explanation why some cults of the ancient polytheism imposed this rule on their ministrants, while others did not. Strictly Protestant Christianity, obeying the Judaic tradition, and perhaps influenced unconsciously by old religious tradition of the north, has favoured a married priesthood; on the other hand the Catholic rule of celibacy was determined on after long controversy in the early Church under Mediterranean influences. It may be that the growing exaltation of the Virgin Mary contributed much to the enforcement of the ascetic rule. For it might be supposed that a Virgin-Goddess would demand virginity in her ministers, though where such cults were prominent this is by no means a universal custom. Where it prevails it does not necessarily carry with it the corollary that virginity is generally for each individual a more blessed state than the sex-life. Nor can we explain the prevalence in the pre-Christian communities of the Mediterranean of the cults of virgin goddesses as inspired by the belief that this was an essentially characteristic attribute of the supreme goddess; for most of such goddesses were worshipped at times not only as ‘Maid’ but as ‘Mother’, without clear recognition of any contradiction. Nor am I aware of any utterance in pre-Christian literature of the Mediterranean area that exalts virginity as a more blessed state for humanity as bringing it nearer to the divine life, except certain doubtful expressions of the early Pythagorean asceticism. The drama of Euripides called ‘Hippolytos’ appears in passages to eulogize the ascetic and virginal character of the young votary of the maiden-goddess Artemis and his aversion to the married state: but though the poet may have been aware of such temperaments, he uses the motive for dramatic purposes only and builds no theory of life upon it. The aversion to marriage, a degenerate sign in the later social world of Greece, certainly did not arise from any ideal of purity; and the later Cynic philosophy which paraded that aversion tolerated gross sex-indulgence at times. Buddhistic asceticism springs from no religious dogma but merely from a pessimistic view of matter and of the fleshly existence; and that of the older Brahminical discipline was only a privilege reserved for the ‘twice-born’ and the higher caste. The healthy-minded pronouncement of Zarathustrian ethics that ‘the man who has a wife is far above him who lives in continence’61 agrees with what was on the whole the Judaic view.

The idea of the total renunciation of the sex-life began to be of importance for religion and ethics near the beginning of our era. The much-debated accounts that have come to us from Philo and Josephus of the mysterious sect of the Essenes, a probably Judaic community in the vicinity of the Red Sea, imply their disapproval of any intercourse between the sexes; but these accounts are not wholly consistent; and we cannot believe that the doctrine of the Essenes affected the growth of Christian sentiment in this respect. But it much concerns the history of our own religion to consider whether we can find germs of the anti-sexual feeling in the New Testament. No one could reasonably maintain that the exaltation of virginity was part of the original teaching of Christ; most of the Apostles appear to have been married, and in none of the Apostolic writings is there any clear hints of the idea, save in the well-known passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians who attaches to his advice on marriage the unfortunate expression ‘I would that all men were even as I myself’,62 that is to say, ‘unmarried’. We may suppose that he added these words not as a practical injunction but as a wish or a preference in view of the troubles of the time, and in the belief of the near approach of the end of this world. But they had momentous consequences for later Christendom. And we can understand that St. Paul's theory of the impurity of the flesh might be wrested, though he did not so wrest it himself, to a radical condemnation of flesh-life and flesh-generation. Finally we have the fact, for which nothing else in the New Testament prepares us, that in the Johannine Apocalypse virgins are invested with a special glory and distinction in the kingdom of Heaven.

But, apart from any definite teaching in the New Testament on this matter, we have evidence from St. Paul's statements concerning the virgins maintained by his Corinthian converts that some of the early Gentile Christians were beginning to try experiments in sex-abstinence. Further, we have testimony that some of the earlier Gnostic sects, whose heresies were partly dangerous to real Christianity, partly in the end favourable to the establishment of some compromising form of it, were fanatical on this matter: in the Gnostic Gospel of St. Philip the soul after death makes her claim before the tribunal of the High Powers on the assertion ‘I have not begotten children for the Archon’,63 the Archon being the lower ruler of our evil world, wherein to beget children is to continue the evil; and Hippolytus attributes the view to the Gnostic founder Saturninus that ‘marriage and the begetting of children are from Satan’.64 This anti-social pessimism is the natural corollary of the dualism inherent in Gnosticism and their uncompromising dogma concerning the evil of matter. Whether from Gnosticism or Neoplatonism or purely social causes the spirit of ascetism came to be powerful in the early Christian Church, evoking the dogma of the superiority of the celibate life, of which among the early fathers Origen was the prominent champion.65 Then arose the singular and momentous movement towards monasticism, which having gained strength in Egypt spread itself throughout central Europe and has not yet wholly spent itself. It was accompanied by the exaltation of virginity, which finds its expression in medieval effusions, De laudibus Virginitatis, often of morbid extravagance. Doubtless this phenomenon, antisocial as from its main effects we must pronounce it—this ‘flight from the world’—was powerfully influenced by the prevailing social conditions of violence and wickedness. But we must reckon with the religious factor also, the imagination brooding on the stainless purity of God and especially of the Divine Mother and the sharp contrast between the sense of this and the long-inherited feeling of the intrinsic impurity of sex-life. Also, apart from this religious factor, we may suppose that the influence of the spiritual Neoplatonic theory of the world was one of the forces beneath the surface making for the monastic ideal. For Porphyry, in his letter to Marcellinus, influenced not by any appeal from the cult of virgin-goddesses but by his Neoplatonic theory of the illusion and corruption of matter, is as extravagant in his appreciation of the value of virginity as any medieval monk.

We have here then an interesting example of a divine attribute, suggested originally by human emotion, working on the evolution of a social growth of great moment in the history of the European communities. It has worked no less momentously in the religious sphere in favour of the early acceptance of the orthodox dogma of the Incarnation, the virgin-birth of our Lord, and the dogma proclaimed by later Catholicism of the Immaculate Conception.

But it is not enough to say that the consciousness of the purity of the Godhead and of the intrinsic impurity of the ordinary process of birth could alone have evoked these beliefs. It was inevitable that to explain the incarnation of the Godhead in humanity, the descent of the Logos into our world, miraculous operation should be demanded. A different miraculous operation might have been imagined, such as we find in Gnostic mythology, dispensing altogether with the human mother; but this would have seriously impaired the essential Christian belief in the reality of Christ's humanity and would have clashed with the historical remembered fact. And it was equally necessary to protect the belief in the divine paternity from any pagan grossness of realism; therefore the miracle of the virgin-birth was the natural solution; and even this did not wholly satisfy the hyper-purism of some later Christian imagination, which represented the divine infant emerging as a ray of light from the side of the virgin.

Beneath all this we still can recognize the influence of the immemorial feeling of the impurity of the processes of birth and their offensiveness to the purity of the deity, a feeling never reconcilable with any coherent theory of the divine creation of the world of matter. In proportion as we escape from that feeling the belief in the virgin-birth loses its emotional force. We can then imagine the Incarnation as coming to pass otherwise without any offence to our sensitiveness.

The discussion has handled sufficiently, perhaps, for the present purpose the more important moral attributes attached to the divinity. Some general reflections now suggest themselves. There is no need to enlarge on the vital and far-reaching influence on human morality of the belief that our ethics are of divine origin, or at least are in harmony with the divine character. That

Man's justice from the all-just Gods was given,

A Light that from some upper fount did beam,

Some better archetype whose seat was Heaven,

that ‘earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice’ are beliefs that for many ages have inspired, tempered, and restrained the actions and wills of men: of this the record of human society in sacred and secular literature gives ample testimony. We have also noted how strong is the tendency in ancient and also in primitive societies to invest the whole body of social institutions, custom, and moral laws, with the halo of divine sanction. Moreover, much emphasis has been laid by modern anthropology66 on the powerful formative influence of religion in shaping both the moral and the legal code, and all this has been supposed to justify two pronouncements of the highest practical and theoretical importance; first, that religion was the source and formative cause of all morality; secondly, that religion, in the clear sense of belief in a personal moral deity, gives the only sure basis and ultimate validity to the moral life; and a natural corollary of this second judgement is that morality will be imperilled if such a belief disappears. The two pronouncements need not be mutually interdependent, at least for those who deny that origin affects validity. But each must be examined on its merits.

It is obvious that to sanction anything is not the same as to originate it: therefore the observed fact that in ancient society, and to some extent in modern, religion sanctions law and morality, is no proof that herein lay their origin. To discover the origin of each special institution or item in the code is a matter of arduous historical and anthropological study. An easy and salient example is the moral law against perjury, a sin which excites more moral reprobation than ordinary lying. The Greek conscience was as sensitive in this matter as the Hebraic, and the third commandment appealed to all the cultured races of antiquity. The moral law rested directly on the old religious feeling that prompted it, namely that to swear in the name of the divinity was to put oneself into direct and dangerous rapport with him, the oath being often strengthened by actual contact with some sacred object as by kissing the book in a modern law-court; therefore perjury was a personal insult to the dignity of the divinity which he was certain to avenge. Now that the religious sentiment is weakened, perjury is scandalously common in our courts, far more common than it probably was in the old Mediterranean societies where the standard of general truthfulness was much lower. Here then is special evidence in favour of the two pronouncements mentioned above. On the other hand, we cannot discover a religious origin for the ordinary virtue of truthfulness, which is still slightly more prevalent in some of the North-European peoples than in the Mediterranean area, and which is probably to be connected with the northern tradition of honour and courage: it was scarcely sanctified in the religion of the peoples of ancient culture, save in a special sense in the Persian. It is also to be observed that a large and important part of our moral code rests on the altruistic feelings of love and kindliness inspired by the sense of kinship; and the sense of duty to parents, to children, to kinsmen, and neighbours cannot be traced back to a definite religious origin, though all the more advanced religions have sanctioned the code of conduct resulting. The sense itself rests on the primeval family-love that is older than any proved belief in personal deities, and which we share with the higher animals; and the same feeling in a feebler degree prevails between members of the same primitive group or tribe. In fact we may find primitive tribes without any clear belief in personal deities; but we find none without morality.

We cannot then unhesitatingly accept the second pronouncement that morality cannot maintain itself without theistic faith; still less the more partisan assertion, sometimes proclaimed in support of a tottering religion, that the abandonment of a particular creed means the extinction of all morality. This is the short-sighted prejudice that impelled some of the early Christian fathers to deny any ethical value to the virtues of the most virtuous pagans; for among the tragedies of our Christian history was the growth of the illusion that orthodoxy was the crown of all virtues which alone could give validity to all the others. In basing morality wholly on religion, Christianity agrees with Judaism and Moslemism, and is differentiated from some of the other religious and ethical constructions of the old world. As regards early Indian thought as expressed in the Rigveda and the Buddhistic teaching, the moral order was not the creation of any god. Greek religion made no clear pronouncement; but Greek ethical speculation was mainly secular; and though Plato's was tinged with religion, we may feel that when the Christian Platonists of Cambridge declared that a moral God was the only source of the absolute validity of the moral Law they were speaking as Christians rather than as Platonists. The opposition between the two views as to the source of moral validity, the secular and the religious, may be most strongly presented by contrasting Aristotelian ethics with the theories of the medieval disciples of Occam: the Aristotelian system is secular almost throughout, based on a subtle analysis of human society and the human soul; the practically wise and good man gives the standard for the moral judgement, and it is valid because it is intrinsically reasonable; but for the Occamist it was only valid because God pronounced it, and his paradox, though quaint, is logical that, if God had ordered us to hate him, it would be our moral duty to hate God.67

The secular and the religious points of view are combined by maintaining that the moral judgement is valid because it is reasonable, and being reasonable it is also God's injunction. Only, then, we must allow that its validity would remain even if belief in its divine origin disappeared.

Or it may be that the surest method for harmonizing the secular and the religious aspect of morality is to maintain that the power of pronouncing a moral judgement comes to us from the intuitive perception of moral values, the perception that something is morally good and must therefore be done or chosen, and that this is a value-judgement belonging, like the value-judgements on beauty and truth, to the spiritual order; and that the spiritual order is permeated with the power and essence of God. This is a stronger position than that of those who would have us believe that God has dictated to us any special code. For history may reply to them that it is rather we who have dictated our varying codes to God, and made many mistakes in our dictation.

  • 1.

    13. 173 (he is there on the moral level of folk-lore).

  • 2.

    Langdon, Babylonian and Sumerian Hymns, 1, p. 411.

  • 3.

    MacNicol, op. cit. p. 92.

  • 4.

    57. 25.

  • 5.

    Nauck, Frag. 486.

  • 6.

    e.g. Archil. Frag. 88.

  • 7.

    Keith, op. cit. p. 70.

  • 8.

    Sextus Empiricus, pro.j grammatikou,j, 287.

  • 9.

    Frag. 13, 1. 25.

  • 10.

    See Poulsen, Etruscan Tombs, p. 54.

  • 11.

    Eumen. 273.

  • 12.

    Vide Burkitt, Schweich Lectures, 1913, pp. 44–5.

  • 13.

    Vide Inge's Plotinus, 2, pp. 17–19.

  • 14.

    The Cambridge Platonists, unlike their master, have not wholly abandoned it; e.g. Campagnac, Cambridge Platonists, p. 39. The last conspicuous champion of it in modern philosophy was Kant; and his theory shows a strange atavistic survival of the savage spirit of the blood-feud in this harmless sedentary man.

  • 15.

    Od. 1. 31.

  • 16.

    Pythagorean maxim, Mullach, Frag. Phil. Grate. I, p. 497.

  • 17.

    Plat. Phaedr. p. 247 A.

  • 18.

    Plato, Theaet. p. 176 B.

  • 19.

    Magn. Moral. 2, c. viii.

  • 20.

    Vide my Higher Aspects of Greek Religion, p. 143.

  • 21.

    Od. 22. 412. The same rule is prescribed in Proverbs, 24. 17, 18, but the motive given for it is offensive: ‘Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth: and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: lest the Lord see it and it displease him and he turn away his wrath from him’; this is malice masking as morality.

  • 22.

    Luke 6. 21.

  • 23.

    Ib. 6. 24.

  • 24.

    Roscher, Lexikon, 2, p. 2355.

  • 25.


  • 26.

    Palmer (Qur'an, p. xviii) is of opinion that this is borrowed from the Zoroastrian formula ‘in the name of God the merciful, the just’.

  • 27.

    Ib. p. 1 xvii.

  • 28.

    The story of the Deluge and the Cilician story of Typhoeus are almost certainly borrowed from Mesopotamia.

  • 29.

    Pyth. 4. 291.

  • 30.

    1. 1275: cf. ‘He wants nothing of a God but eternity, and a heaven to throne in. Yes, mercy, if you report him truly.’ Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act v, sc. iv.

  • 31.

    Plut. De Pyth. Orac. p. 404 B.

  • 32.

    Iph. Aul. 394.

  • 33.

    Moret, Gods and Kings of Egypt, p. 139.

  • 34.

    Oxyr. Papyr. 8, p. 31.

  • 35.

    MacNicol, Indian Theism, pp. 80–1.

  • 36.

    Vide my former Gifford Lectures: Greek Hero-Cults, p. 277.

  • 37.

    It may be that the title in the cult of ‘Kore Soteira’ at Megalopolis bore the same allusion as it bears in our Christian vocabulary to salvation after death; Cults, 3, pp. 198–9.

  • 38.

    Op. cit. p. 90.

  • 39.

    MacNicol, op. cit. p. 175.

  • 40.

    Dean Inge in Plotinus, 2, p. 232.

  • 41.

    Gen. 28. 17.

  • 42.

    Isa. 6. 5.

  • 43.

    Lev. 16. 2.

  • 44.

    This view appears justified on the whole in spite of such masterful expressions of religious thrill as in Soph. Oed. Col. 1649; Antig. 450–7; Eur. Bacch. 580–93.

  • 45.

    Keith, op. cit. p. 299.

  • 46.

    For references and fuller discussion, vide my Evolution of Religion, ‘The Ritual of Purification’, pp. 88–162.

  • 47.

    ‘The body of Ahura is like the light.’ Porph. Vit. Pyth. 41; Qur'an, 24. 35, ‘God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth’.

  • 48.

    Ag. 1079.

  • 49.

    De Abstin, 2. 34; cf. Euseb. Praep. Evang. 2, p. 150 c.

  • 50.

    Macauliffe, Sikh Eelig. 1, p. 242.

  • 51.

    Antig. 1043.

  • 52.

    Her. Main. 1232.

  • 53.

    Vide my Evolution of Religion, p. 112, n. 1.

  • 54.

    Jeremias, Die Cultus-Tafel von Sippar, p. 29.

  • 55.

    Epicharmos in Clem. Alex. Strom, p. 844.

  • 56.

    Anth. Pal. 14. 71.

  • 57.

    Ib., 14. 74.

  • 58.

    Wilamowitz, Isyllos, 6

  • 59.

    1 Cor. 6. 19.

  • 60.

    Diss. 2. 8. 11.

  • 61.

    Fargard, 4, iii b, Sacred Books of the East, 4, p. 46.

  • 62.

    Ist Ep. 7. 7.

  • 63.

    Epiphanius, Haeres, 26. 13, p. 190 (Oehler).

  • 64.

    vii. c. 28.

  • 65.

    c. Cels. 1. 26; 7. 48; 8. 55; other references in Hastings, E. R. E. vol. 2, p. 75.

  • 66.

    Vide specially Frazer's Psyche's Task.

  • 67.

    A touch of the same casuistry appears in Aeschylus' tragedy of the Choephoroi: ‘is matricide ever justifiable? Yes, if the gods order it.’ The answer did not altogether satisfy Greek ethical sentiment.

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