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Lecture 6 Divine Personality and the Political Life

Lecture 6
Divine Personality and the Political Life
ALTHOUGH in the last Lecture we were led to speak at some length of a problem of Political Philosophy it was because that problem was in the most intimate manner connected with a problem of individual Ethics. We have now however to turn our attention to the social or political activity of the human spirit and to inquire into the bearing upon it of those conclusions respecting Personality in God to which the reasonings of the first course of Lectures conducted us. And here we shall find ourselves confronted with a notion which has played no small part in the history of both political and religious thought—I mean the conception of corporate or collective Personality. It will be our task in the present Lecture to consider this notion its significance and validity and the relation of the Personality which may be attributed to a State or other community of human beings to the Personality of the individual members of such a community on the one hand and on the other to such personality as may be ascribed to God.

Man said Aristotle1 is a social animal πολιτικὸν ζῷον. A human being who should be able to dispense with social life would show himself thereby to be not in fact human at all but either above or below humanity ἤ θεὸς ἤ θήριον a god or a beast. The suggestion contained in this celebrated observation that the Divine nature unlike the human is not social is one that other passages of Aristotle's writings show to have been more than a passing thought with him. In the tenth book of the Nicomachean Ethics2 he surprises those whom the earlier portions of that treatise have accustomed to the thought that the only self-sufficiency attainable or desirable by a human being is one which leaves him still a focus of social relationships and that the most advantageous field of his praiseworthy activities is the closely knit political community of a Greek city-state by alleging it as a note of the superiority of the life of Knowledge to the life of Action that here less than anywhere else is a man dependent upon his fellows for the exercise of his activity; for so he is all the nearer to that supreme independence of anything in any sense beyond itself which in Aristotle's view must characterize the life of God. It was precisely this feature of the Aristotelian theology which as I contended in the third Lecture of my previous course justified us in refusing to call Aristotle's God although undoubtedly conceived by him to be an ‘individual centre of consciousness’ by the name of a ‘personal God’; since he is without social relationships of any kind whether internal (such as are affirmed by the Christian doctrine of the Trinity) or external (such as those which are mentioned in Lotze's description of the Supreme Being as “a living Love that wills the blessedness of others”3 and which appear at any rate to be presupposed in the religious experience of communion with God). A wholly unsocial being of this kind could not be called personal; for Personality is always social. But while a subject of external social relations may certainly be called a person it is less obvious that a subject of internal social relations can be so called; and indeed as we have already observed the traditional language of Christian theology does not describe its triune God as a person. The expression has however sometimes been used of communities which possess social relations both internal and external; since they consist of human beings in personal relations with one another; and are related to other communities much as the individual members of each community are related to one another. It might further be suggested that we ought to think of any Personality which we can ascribe to God rather as a corporate or collective Personality of this sort than as a Personality like that which belongs to each of the individual members of a society; and that we could thus rightly say that God is in this sense personal although not a person; unless indeed we were prepared to abandon monotheism and think of God as standing over against other Gods as one member among many of a divine society.

What then is meant by attribution of Personality to a community such as the State? It is not by any means easy to give a brief answer to this question.
No doubt it might be said that we have to do here with nothing but a figure of speech. It is as easy to personify a community as to personify a virtue like Wisdom or a passion like Love a heavenly body like the Moon or a river like the Thames as to personify Death or Poetry Philosophy or Fortune. But when we consider the part that patriotism and religious loyalty the ambition and the animosity of nations and churches—not to speak of the devotion of men to lesser societies to colleges and schools parties and clubs—have played in the history of the world we shall scarcely feel this answer to be sufficient. It is assuredly no mere care for grace or convenience in literary expression which makes us ready not only to speak of communities in terms like those which we use of men and women but to identify ourselves in pride or in shame with what they do even where as individuals we have had no part in the doing of it and to sacrifice to what we call their interests our own individual pleasure and comfort and advantage nay even our health and our life with no sense that we are thereby surrendering the freedom wherein our Personal dignity consists but rather the contrary.
There is another account of what is meant by attributing Personality to a community which is not so obviously inadequate as that of which I have just spoken. It may be said that the whole explanation of this language is to be sought in the fact that communities can be parties in a suit at law; can have rights which can be claimed and duties which can be enforced; and are thus treated as persons or rather are persons so far forth as by a person is meant a subject of legal rights and duties.
According to this view Personality whether in the case of an individual or of a community is a notion which always refers to what has been called ‘a world of claims and counterclaims’ a lawyer's world so to say. Hence where the band of union between individuals is of a nature which excludes the intervention of lawyers as in the family (for if ‘brother goes to law with brother’ or husband with wife we at once recognize that the family bond is broken and the marriage well on the way to dissolution)—in such a union the individual it is said parts with his separate personality; while it is not the husband apart from the wife or the wife apart from the husband the parents from the children or the children from the parents or from one another but the family as a whole that stands over against other families as a person over against other persons in the world of claims and counterclaims to which Personality by its very notion belongs.4
Here however there is something to be observed which may well strike us as strange and paradoxical. To such a surrender of personal independence as is involved in Marriage we attach a high degree of value just because we rate the confidence of mutual love as intrinsically something altogether better than the merely legal relation which is constituted by belonging to the same ‘world of claims and counterclaims.’ The Greek proverb κοινὰ τὰ ϕίλων ‘True friends have all things in common’ which Plato5 sought to make the principle of unity in his ideal State gives pointed expression to the thought of this supersession in friendship of the legal relation which rests upon the distinction of meum and tuum. It was the main objection brought by Aristotle against his master's scheme that the sentiment of affection which alone could claim to set that distinction at nought could not be expected to admit of extension over so large an area as Plato had contemplated that the friendship possible in so wide a circle would be but a “watery friendship”6 too greatly diluted to act as a solvent of juristic and economic independence. But the Platonic proposal and the Aristotelian criticism of it agree in their acknowledgment of the power of love or friendship when of a certain degree of intensity to emancipate those whom they unite from the restrictions of the ‘world of claims and counterclaims.’
Nevertheless according to the theory which we are now discussing we rise above this world through the intimacies of domestic life or of a comradeship only to find ourselves in it again as sharers in the corporate or collective personality wherein our individual personality has been merged. Nor is this true only of the family which may be regarded from one point of view in virtue of its more direct dependence upon animal instincts as inferior in rank to communities in whose constitution the Reason has played a larger part. Even the State itself which a very important school of thought has represented as the supreme community and the fullest expression of the social reason of man finds its inner unity most intensely realized in the patriotic enthusiasm which in time of war willingly abandons the usual safeguards of individual freedom to absorb itself in a common effort. And this takes place just when the State as a whole is asserting its ‘claims and counterclaims’ most strongly in controversy with another State. Again with respect to societies intermediate between the family and the State to take one illustration out of many the history of medieval Europe is full of the ‘claims and counterclaims’ of religious orders and houses whose individual members had renounced all private property and identified themselves for life with the society into which they had retired from the layman's world of rights and duties.
If in the facts which have just been stated we find something which seems strange and paradoxical it is because it is impossible to keep the notion of Personality within the bounds of a purely juristic circle of ideas to which it nevertheless undoubtedly belongs. If the word ‘person’ is nowhere applicable except where there is a plurality of persons standing to one another in definite relations such as are established and maintained by laws it yet carries with it the connotation of the ‘warmth and intimacy’7 which belong to self-consciousness. Thus for a society merely to be treated as a possible party to legal proceedings seems scarcely sufficient to warrant a claim to Personality apart from such a sense of intimacy of belonging in all things to one another as may be wholly absent between the members of a legal corporation but is often conspicuously present in the life of a family and on certain occasions in that of a nation also.
We are thus compelled in regard to the possession of a claim to corporate Personality to recognize two types of community the contrast between which has played a considerable part in recent political philosophy. They are already distinguished in the famous passage of Burke in which he declares that “the State ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee calico or tobacco or some other such low concern to be taken up for a little temporary interest and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are living those who are dead and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society linking the lower with the higher natures connecting the visible and invisible world according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures each in their appointed place.”8
The two types of community which are here contrasted have also been opposed to one another as true corporate personalities to mere personœ fictœ. The persona ficta is merely the creation of law; its ‘personality’ is in the proper sense a ‘fiction’ and exists merely for the purposes of convenience; it is defined by the act of the legislative authority to which it owes its being and cannot do or suffer anything which that act does not declare it capable of doing or suffering. There is thus in it no principle no possibility of growth or development. As Maitland following Gierke has pointed out9 it is agreeable to the traditions of the Roman Law as developed by the Italian commentators of the middle ages to see in all the corporations which it recognized the State alone excepted nothing but such personœ fictœ. In certain celebrated cases in the recent history of Great Britain such as that about the right of the United Free Church of Scotland to property which belonged to the Free Church before its union with the United Presbyterian Church and again that known by the name of the Taff Vale case about the right of Trades Unions to employ their funds for political purposes it was the question at issue whether a Church or a Trade Union is not after all something more than a mere persona ficta bound hand and foot by the terms of a trust deed or of articles of registration; whether it may not be entitled like a real person to develop its views to reinterpret its thought to change its mind and yet continue the same ‘person’ that it was before. There is no doubt of course that the State claims for itself this liberty which its judicial representatives are apt to deny to other corporations within the area which it controls. This is not the place to enter upon a discussion of these claims whether in the instances quoted or in others which might be alleged. It is plain that recognition of the true personality of a particular corporation would not by itself necessarily decide its right to a particular property. For even an individual person might have money left to him for certain specific purposes and afterwards might change so much that he would be incapable of carrying them out. But on the other hand the view which sees in a corporation a mere creature of the law definable in terms of its trust deeds or articles of association undoubtedly excludes the possibility of the kind of change which seems inseparable from the development of a true finite personality. The cases of doubt to which reference has been made have been mentioned merely to illustrate the fact that while some corporations may be no more than personœ fictœ and can claim personality only in a purely legal sense in others the members are conscious of a unity which is much more like that of an individual personality than the unity of merely fictitious persons cart be. To this sort of corporation the old jest does not apply that a corporation has neither a soul to be damned nor a body to be kicked; for they may do things which may deeply wound the conscience of men and women who have yet no individual responsibility for them; and the material symbols or instruments of their activity may be handled in a way which is felt by their incorporators not it is true as physical pain but yet with the same sense of indignity which would be experienced on his own account by a man who had been publicly horsewhipped.
In their desire to emphasize such facts as these some have over-hastily as it seems to me ventured to speak of a real corporate personality as though it were another person beside the persons of the individual members of the corporation. Legally it may be correct to say that such another person exists; but if this legal statement is treated as a metaphysical truth we seem to be back among the sophistries against which Aristotle was wont to bring the celebrated argument of the ‘third man.’10 No more than the universal is to be treated as another particular beside the particulars which are its instances is the corporation (or the crowd) to be treated as another person beside the persons who are its members; nor does the unquestionable fact that men gathered in crowds or organized in societies act otherwise than the same men would act apart warrant one in such neglect of differences which are no less real than the identities whereon by the use of such phraseology the whole stress is laid.
We shall find it to be the fact that ‘personality’ has generally been ascribed to a society in other than a merely legal sense by way of emphasizing the inadequacy of some other description of its nature. It is just as with the term ‘organism’ which has also been applied to some societies in order to indicate that they are not mere assemblies or even mere creatures of contract but that they change in definite directions without a deliberate intention on the part of any individual member much as vegetable and animal bodies without taking thought ‘add to their stature’ or otherwise go through a series of changes fitting them for the discharge of their specific functions. In this negative or at most analogous sense the word ‘organism’ may be conveniently used of a society; but that it is dangerous to take it as literally applicable is clearly seen in the merely fanciful comparisons in which Herbert Spencer (for example) was led to indulge when attempting to do so.
I do not indeed hold—as will be clear from what I have already said concerning corporate personality—that the word ‘personality’ when applied to a society is as merely metaphorical as ‘organism’ applied in the same way. On the contrary I hold the doctrine of Plato's Republic to be true that the structure of the individual soul is repeated in that of society and that the individual soul first learns what its own structure is as writ large in the community. A State (and a State need not be the only society of which we can say this) though its behaviour may often remind us of that of such a body is not an animal or vegetable body but is in its essence a rational and spiritual being giving effect to its will by action through material instruments in and upon the material world.
Yet if we go on to say without qualification that therefore it may be called a person we must be careful lest we repeat the mistake of those who have taken too literally the statement that it is an organism. The Swiss jurist Bluntschli is not less fantastic in his treatment of the theme of the Personality of the State11 than is Herbert Spencer in his elaboration of its organic nature; and he does not as the English thinker has done take back in a sudden perception of his mistake the extravagances which he has been betrayed into offering as serious contributions to political theory. “Everything” as Butler said “is what it is and not another thing”12 and a society is not (except in a merely legal sense) a person though as Plato showed there is nothing in it which does not express an interest or an impulse which is a factor in the personal life of some of its members. I cannot better express what I take to be the truth about this matter than by quoting the account given of it by my immediate predecessor in this Lectureship an account with which I find myself in substantial agreement.
“The phrase ‘the social mind’ is not” so says Professor Sorley “a mere metaphor. But the unity of the social mind is of a different kind from the unity of the individual mind. The limits of the latter are determined by circumstances which are largely social but the content is all related to a central point an inner or subjective unity of feeling striving and apprehension which is the first condition of there being any mental life at all and which neither psychology nor sociology has been able to explain. With the social mind it is different. Its unity is a contract which can be traced historically. Social factors must always be assumed but social unity is a growth in time and it does not start from a principle such as the subject of individual life without which the existence of his mental experience is inconceivable.”13 I should myself rather say with Plato that it starts not indeed from “a principle such as the subject of individual life” but from that principle itself without which the existence not only of the individual's mental experience but of the social unity itself is inconceivable; for the social unity is rooted in the mental experience of individuals.
The thought may not improbably suggest itself at this point that in the conception of corporate personality which we have just been discussing may be found the clue to that of Divine Personality which is the principal topic of these Lectures. We have already admitted that alike in speaking of Divine ‘personality’ and in speaking of corporate ‘personality’ we are using the word ‘personality’ in a way which does not allow us to assume that all which is true of individual human ‘personality’ will be true if transferred to a society or to God. In particular we have observed that what Professor Sorley calls “an inner or subjective unity of feeling striving and apprehension” is of the essence of individual Personality but has no analogue in corporate Personality; and I have elsewhere contended that the evidence of Divine Personality lies in the religious experience of personal intercourse or communion with God not in any insight which we possess into the nature of the divine self-consciousness. It might seem then as though Divine Personality might be conceived as analogous to the Personality of a nation or State; and as if the union in God of ‘transcendence’ with ‘immanence’ might be adequately conceived after the fashion of a like union in the case of the nation or State towards which its members can exhibit loyalty and love and devoted service and which yet lives only in and through the lives of the very citizens from whom such loyalty and love and service are demanded and obtained.
Moreover there are various facts in the history of Religion which may seem to afford support to such a train of reasoning. At a certain stage of religious development we find each people worshipping as a God the spirit of its own common life. It distinguishes this spirit from itself and pays it divine honours; but in this representation of it as a person inhabiting some sacred shrine in the midst of the people whose God it is we are apt to see only a creature of the popular imagination. We cannot believe in the objective validity of the Virgin of the Athenian Acropolis of Chemosh the god (or as the Israelites called him the abomination) of Moab or indeed even of Jahveh the God of the Israelites themselves who came into the camp when the ark was carried into it and who dwelt in the thick darkness of the most holy place at Jerusalem.14 We take it as a matter of course that the interviews of Scipio with the deities of the Roman Senate15 were a politic invention on the part of the conqueror of Hannibal; and the phrase which the other day was so familiar to us der alte deutsche Gott (though perhaps it was not intended to mean much more than the expression ‘God of our fathers’ which we have certainly not shrunk ourselves from using) struck English readers of the late German Emperor's speeches as absurd if not blasphemous in its apparent reversion to a style of theology which has become for us impossible.
I have no intention of denying the real historical connexion between the personification of the spirit of the community which we see in the local tribal and national deities of the ancient world and the religious experience of personal communion with God which is for me the sole genuine evidence of Divine Personality. The consciousness whether of the world as a whole or of God in the sense which that word bears for us for whom it must mean if it is to mean anything the Highest not only in some restricted sphere but in the world as a whole—this consciousness is mediated to man from the first through the consciousness of his group. To quote words which I have used elsewhere about one aspect of the ‘idea of God:’ “The conception of a divine reason first dawns upon the human mind in the form of a conception of a collective or social reason which the individual shares with his fellows. It first becomes distinguished from the conception of a merely social or collective reason when the individual attains the level of development at which he not only sees in that which all his fellows recognize as valid or desirable the really or objectively valid the really or objectively desirable but comes to recognize that something may be really and objectively valid or desirable which not only he but his whole group fail to accept or desire.”16
In the history of Israel we find indeed that it was precisely such lines as these that religious development followed. The very failures and disappointments which shook the national trust in the partiality of the national God for the community which was called by his name led the prophets of the nation to conceive him as the Judge of all the earth and to lay the foundations of the universal religion whose worship is neither in Jerusalem nor in Gerizim but in spirit and in truth.17
As however with the enlargement of the religious horizon if I may so express it the worship once paid to the tribal deity is seen to be due to a God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain there inevitably follows a withdrawal from the spirit of the community as such of that personal character which was attributed to it when identified with the Object of religious veneration. This is as I take it the true account of what may plausibly be represented as the gradual evolution of a religion which will ultimately dispense with Divine Personality as it grows accustomed to the thought that devotion to a community whereof one is a member requires for its justification no personal embodiment whether in a king or in a god.
What we have to note is that it is exceedingly doubtful whether nothing is lost in our attitude to a community when we realize that it is only by a figure of speech that we can be said to have personal intercourse with it. It is the justification of Kingship as an institution which the freest of commonwealths may on that account well retain that the unquestionably real personality of the Head of the State who symbolizes its unity and its tradition supplies something which is lacking in the State itself; for the State though it really possesses the unity and the tradition of which the King is but the symbol does not possess them in a form which the individual citizen recognizes as a personality no less genuine than his own. This reflexion (though Hegel18 may be quoted in support of it) will be I am well aware wholly unacceptable to a school which is often by its critics called after his name and which highly reveres his memory. For in making it I am certainly assigning to individual personality a higher value in comparison with the personality which can be attributed to a community than this school is commonly ready to grant to it. I shall not however enter here upon a defence of my estimate against the thinkers whom I have in mind for the subject will come before us again in a later Lecture of this course. All that I now wish to point out is that to the sense of something lacking in the ‘personality’ of the community is in my judgment due not only the satisfaction still so widely felt in the recognition of a single person (to use the Cromwellian phrase) who can act as the representative of the community in its claim to the loyalty of its members; but also that deification in earlier days of the spirit of the community of which I have already mentioned several prominent historical examples.
Of the conception of corporate Personality it may then be said that so far from conflicting with the acknowledgment of Personality in God it points with no uncertain finger to such an acknowledgment. As we saw in the last Lecture that our attitude toward the authority of the State finds its only satisfactory explanation in the recognition that it is the surrogate of a divine Lawgiver and Ruler who in the consciousness of obligation is revealed as standing in the fulness of personality over against the finite personalities which realize their dignity and freedom in submission to him; so now the primitive deification of the spirit of the community of which we are members is seen to be the dim consciousness that the unity of that common spiritual life which is found at last to be the private possession of no one group of men but of all rational beings is to be sought in a Supreme Being manifesting in conscious personal intercourse the full reality of spiritual existence.
It is indeed this truth which has received such striking expression in the Pauline description of a community whose life is nothing less than the life of God since it is the body of one “in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”19
The individual person is always a member of society; it is indeed as we have often had occasion to observe in virtue of his social activities that he comes to be called a ‘person’ although (reading over in the small letters what we have learned to read in the large according to the precept of Plato) we may come to recognize that in these activities a certain kind of subjectivity inwardness self-consciousness finds its function and expression. The life of God is always mediated to such individual persons through a society for it is easy to see that even the mystic who flies ‘alone to the Alone’20 is conditioned in all that he says and does by the intellectual and spiritual inheritance of the community to which he belongs. The mediating society considered apart from the life which it mediates to its members is not indeed personal in the same genuine and primary sense in which its members are personal; but the true subject and source of that life must be conceived if it is to be conceived in a manner adequate to the demands of the religious consciousness as possessing the fulness of Personality.
Now in the theology of the religion which has taken most seriously the conception of Divine Personality this Personality is represented (to employ words which I have used elsewhere21) as a complete self-consciousness or personality the fulfilment or archetype of what we have imperfectly manifested in our individual selves. For in ourselves we recognize the self as contrasted with a not-self which is thus the necessary complement of the self without which our self is incomplete. This not-self always is nay must be different from the self which is aware of it yet this difference which is necessary to knowledge or even to consciousness is felt also at the same time as the obstacle to full comprehension in so far as we cannot enter into the inmost nature of things unlike ourselves: while if the things of which we are conscious are persons like the person that knows them the ‘knowledge of acquaintance’ is possible and we are able by sympathy and love to achieve a closer union yet this too has its limitations and there remains a bar which all the love and insight in the world cannot do away with. On the other hand that consciousness of ourselves which we have in introspection self-examination and so forth seems to involve even at its best something of make-believe wherein we treat as two that which is one and single.
Now in the doctrine of the Trinity we have the divine self-consciousness represented as freed from these limitations which we find in our own. God's not-self or other is described as being wholly what he himself is and knows himself to be; yet in this inner converse of God with God the self and the other have each the satisfactory completeness of a distinct person; while on the other hand these two persons are each in the other in a mutual inwardness whereof the utmost human love and sympathy can but afford a faint image. Moreover the unity which makes possible the mutual intercourse of the two and is actualized in that intercourse is regarded as being not (as in us when we contrast ourselves as subject with any object) something to be described by some such abstract name as ‘unity’ ‘absolute’ or the like; nor (as when we are thinking of our relations with other persons) as a love which we feel an attribute which belongs to us a relation in which we are—no nor even as something individual and personal yet not fully individual or personal like a community a commonwealth or a church in which we live at one with our fellows; but as something which ‘proceeding from both’ those who are mutually subjects and objects of the eternal process possesses itself the complete reality of Personal Spirit.
The doctrine thus outlined may be justly considered as suggestive of a way in which not only may the nature of the object of our religious consciousness be conceived so as to afford satisfaction to the demand for a fully personal object of that consciousness but also the social medium through which the religious (and indeed the whole spiritual) life is imparted to the individual human soul may be exhibited as reflecting an intrinsic sociality in the ultimate sources of that life.
I may perhaps be allowed to dwell for a little while on some particular features of this representation of the Divine Nature in virtue of which it meets certain characteristic requirements of the religious consciousness with which it might at first seem difficult to reconcile the admission of the essentially social character of Personality.
In the first place we may observe that it safeguards the unity of God which might appear to be imperilled if the acknowledgment of Personality in God be found to involve the recognition of the Divine Nature as in itself social. The impulse to seek for an ultimate unity in the manifold variety of our experience is the very mainspring of our endeavour to understand the world about us and on this account no mere polytheism will ever be found adequate to the requirements of the religious consciousness; for it is indeed in connexion with the religious consciousness as I have elsewhere attempted to show22 that the first explicit efforts are made to frame in obedience to that impulse a conception of the whole. Even short of a strict dualism like that which is expressed in the Manichean doctrine of a Good and an Evil Principle the divergent and opposed characters attributed to the members of such a divine society as the Olympian pantheon render any such celestial court despite the monarchy of Zeus or of the corresponding deity in other similar systems an unacceptable representation of that supreme Object in the quest whereof the human heart must disquiet itself until it can find rest in union therewith.23
On the other hand this account of the Divine Nature while emphasizing both its Personality and its Unity yet does not endanger that very Unity itself by making it dependent for the social intercourse in virtue whereof alone it can be described as ‘personal’ upon beings which stand to it as its creatures. Where this is done the Divine Being is not self-sufficient and the Unity of the Godhead is not that which is as I have contended required by the religious consciousness namely that ultimate Unity which may be called the Unity of the Absolute but only the unity which belongs to one member of a society of persons.
I do not overlook the possibility of arguing that the Trinitarian theology for which these merits may be claimed fails after all to do what it promises in that by leaving outside of the Divine Essence a world of created spirits it has still on its hands the very same problems of unity and diversity in respect of the relations existing between God and these created spirits which it has made a show of solving by its theory of the mutual relations of the Persons included within the Divine Essence.24 I have already however in the Lecture of my previous course which dealt with the Problem of Sin suggested that since it is precisely in the instance of personal character that we come nearest to understanding how perfection may co-exist with the desire of self-communication we may if we take seriously the doctrine of Divine Personality see in the direction indicated by that doctrine the hope of a settlement of this particular difficulty. I thus do not regard the transcendence of the Deity as incompatible with his having that perfection which is required in the Object of religious worship provided that transcendence is conceived in the form which on many grounds appeared to be the most adequate to satisfy those demands of the religious consciousness which the doctrine of transcendence is designed to meet in the form that is to say of Personality.
The discussion which has occupied us in this Lecture hitherto of the notion of corporate Personality and of its relation to that of Divine Personality has been relevant to our subject because it might be suggested that a conception having its origin in the social or political activity of the human spirit would be found to throw a new light upon the significance of the tendency to ascribe Personality to God; a light in which that tendency would be seen to have been misinterpreted by us when we saw in it evidence that in Religion the worshipper does actually enjoy what may be properly called a personal intercourse with the Object of his worship.
But it remains to consider in respect of the social or political activity of the human spirit as we have previously considered in respect of its scientific artistic and moral activities how far the attribution of Personality to God harmonizes with the frame of mind produced by the activity-question. And here at first sight it might seem as if there were good reason for holding that at any rate when the development of political life has reached a certain stage the theology which represents God as personal is uncongenial to the type of character correspondent to that stage.
Those who recollect the view put forward in the preceding Lecture of the theocratic implication of the notion of obligation alike in individual and in social life will have no difficulty in divining the nature of the reasoning which I have in my mind in saying this. The progress of the social or political consciousness from that of the slave-master and his slave to that of the free citizen reveals it may plausibly be said a constant tendency to the elimination from that consciousness of the sense of personal inferiority or dependence and with the final disappearance of it must disappear all the comprehension of that worshipping attitude in Religion which reflected in other days the subject's abasement of himself before his chief or sovereign. The old fashion of worship cannot be that of the free man. The traditional phrases and observances of religion are apt to foster a temper inconsistent with and distasteful to that spirit of proud independence which recognizes no superior on earth; and this spirit cannot be at home with Religion until they are discarded.
The frame of mind which gives rise to this criticism is one which has found frequent expression in the literature of the nineteenth century. To confine ourselves to that of England the poetry of Swinburne is full of it:
Glory to Man in the highest for Man is the master of things25
and probably the strain in the thought of William Blake referred to in a previous Lecture of this course which finds expression in such a phrase as:
Thou art a Man: God is no more;
Thine own Humanity learn to adore26
had not a little to do with the attraction exercised by the older poet upon one who may almost be called his re-discoverer.
But whatever glamour may be thrown by genius and enthusiasm about the crowning ‘declaration of independence’ which is not content with casting off allegiance to every earthly authority but refuses subjection even to God it is assuredly a vain hope to think that by denying Personality to God we exalt the dignity of Personality in man. On the contrary in the last resort the affirmation of Personality in God establishes as nothing else can do in a position of unassailable eminence the image of Divine Personality in man. Without that affirmation the confident assertion of man's greatness is apt to echo among the desolate spaces of a universe wherein this evanescent Personality seems to count for nothing like the voice of a child shouting to keep his courage up among mountain solitudes by night. Personality may still be the highest thing we know as the lost child is a thing more fearfully and wonderfully made than the mighty peaks or the barren moors or even the ancient heavens and their stars. But how will it be made easier for us to hold fast to our faith in the dignity of the human person and in the strength of it to
‘write’ the style of Gods
And ‘make’ a push at chance and circumstance27
if we are convinced that there are no gods and that ‘chance and circumstance’ as they presided over the origin of ourselves and of our race shall also preside over its end and that of each of us to boot? I for my part cannot see. But in a world at the heart of which is a personal spiritual Life whereof our own is in its essence a reflection and into the fellowship of which we may be consciously brought in Religion—in such a world speech of the dignity of Personality is at once seen to be no fantastic brag flung in the face of an impenetrable mystery but a solid truth capable of becoming the principle of a social order rational enduring and progressive. Man when sincere knows himself to be little as well as great; and only if where he is little he is so in comparison with One who possesses (though not within human measures) that by reason of possessing which man is at the same time great do his littleness and his greatness appear not as contradicting one another but as alike natural consequences of his place in God's world. Nor will anyone who is aware what belief in a God as a Being with whom personal relations are possible can be or has been in the past doubt its power to inspire a spirit of independence and a love of freedom at least as lofty as the highest that there is any reason to suppose Atheism competent to produce.
The human instinct for Reverence (if we may call it an instinct remembering all the while that it is an instinct which presupposes the existence of Reason in the soul) when a speculative Atheism which finds it essential to the dignity of human Personality to deny the reality of its Divine Archetype has diverted it from what I should contend was its proper Object will seek a substitute for that Object in a great man.
This fact may be illustrated from some sayings of Blake quoted in the third Lecture of this course from the calendar of festivals prescribed by Comte for the Church which was to profess the Religion of Humanity and also from the work of the poet Swinburne to which I have referred just now as exemplifying the glorification of man when regarded as free from allegiance to God.
This hero-worship while it sufficiently testifies to a human need of personal objects for reverence cannot however be admitted without implicitly abandoning the humanitarian case (if I may so describe it for the moment) against the recognition of Divine Personality. For the hero-worshipper must allow recognition of a personal superiority in the hero resting not upon any representative character wherewith the hero has been invested by popular election or delegation. A representative character of a kind may indeed be ascribed to the hero; but only such as an hereditary king or aristocracy might claim in the political sphere. For in such cases there may be and often is a general acquiescence in their discharge of representative functions analogous to the general recognition of the hero in whatever guise—prophet or poet or patriot—as the spokesman of his people and his race. And if the human dignity of the hero-worshipper is not diminished by his hero-worship what ground can there be for considering it to be inconsistent with a full consciousness of that dignity to acknowledge the claim on our reverence of supreme Personality in God? If we feel ourselves not depressed but uplifted by the knowledge that our heroes may call us brethren why should a contrary effect be expected from the conviction that we are the children of God? It may perhaps be said that the attitude which Religion requires us to adopt towards God is one not merely of reverence but of abasement; that a claim to lordship is other than one to admiration however intense and fervent. But this objection can I think be easily met. We may be jealous of our personal dignity even in respect to our heroes in so far as we know that great as may be our debt to them for an enhancement of our personality this personality is not itself wholly dependent upon them. In respect of that part thereof which is ours and not in any sense theirs we owe it to ourselves to add to our recognition of our inferiority to them a recognition of their equality with us. But in regard to the Supreme Personality whence ours is wholly drawn we do not in any sense disparage the dignity of ours by acknowledging not only the superiority but the supremacy of the Father of spirits.28 And indeed as I attempted to show in the last Lecture only by recognition of this supremacy is the existence in the community of authority and of obligation to obedience thereunto explicable without danger to the independence and freedom of the private citizen.