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Lecture 7 Divine Personality and the Religious Life

Lecture 7
Divine Personality and the Religious Life
IN the present Lecture we are to consider the bearing of a recognition of Personality in God upon the religious activity of the human spirit.

There are probably some to whom the thought of Religion apart from the acknowledgment of a personal object of worship is so unfamiliar that such an inquiry would seem to them to be unnecessary. They would echo an epigrammatic criticism on Comte's ‘Religion of Humanity’: Une réligion sans Dieu! Mon Dieu quelle réligion! But history shows that a great Religion may exist and flourish in which worship is at any rate not envisaged as essentially a relation of personal communion with a living Spirit. And it is even possible with the philosopher Schopenhauer to regard the notion of a ‘personal God’ as actually inconsistent with a truly religious frame of mind. For him the condemnation of life as evil and illusory was of the very essence of Religion; to revert for a moment to the phraseology of the second Lecture of this course he admitted only a negative relation of the religious to the economic activity of the human spirit.

The survival in Christianity from Judaism of belief in a Divine Ruler a ‘Moral Governor of the universe’ dealing out rewards to virtue and punishments to vice with the optimistic outlook which seemed to follow from it1 he considered prejudicial to that claim on the part of the younger faith to be regarded as in the proper sense a true Religion which might otherwise have been grounded upon its character as like Buddhism and the mysticism of the Upanishads a doctrine of self-renunciation.2
Holding as we have seen reason to hold that there is a positive as well as a negative relation of our religious activity to our economic we shall not in any case be able to accept this view of the great pessimist as it stands. We may indeed be ready to admit that the kind of theology which is exclusively preoccupied with the thought of a Moral Governor of the universe the kind of theology against which as we saw in a previous Lecture Blake launched his passionate invective is apt by its indifference to Mysticism which when found in connexion with any creed whatsoever always attracted the sympathy of Schopenhauer to reveal a certain inability to comprehend much of what is deepest and most intense in religious experience. But so far as this is so this same kind of theology must also tend even while describing God in terms of Personality to deny to his worshippers the possibility of intimate personal communion with him. This is especially true as we have several times had occasion to point out of the theology of Kant which Schopenhauer may be supposed to have had particularly in his mind. To deny however to the worshipper the possibility of genuinely personal intercourse with the Object of his worship is according to the view put forward in these Lectures to deny the Personality of God in any sense in which the affirmation of it has a truly religious significance.
We have seen that the representation of God as one with whom such intercourse is possible can be harmonized with the experience proper to the economic scientific artistic ethical and social activities of our spirit; but it is in religious experience that we must seek the true ground of this representation.
A distinguished philosopher and theologian of our own day Dr. Rashdall the present Dean of Carlisle has lately criticized the claim which he conceives to be implied in such language as I have not shrunk from using in these Lectures about an experience of personal intercourse in Religion to an immediate as distinct from an inferred knowledge of God. This criticism is closely connected in the same thinker's mind with the insistence which is characteristic of him upon the view that the conviction which each of us has of the existence of other persons besides himself is based upon an argument from analogy. I think that a discussion of Dr. Rashdall's position will be found to be a convenient way of dealing with the claims of religious experience which the experient takes for an experience of personal intercourse with the Supreme Reality to be considered as evidence of Divine Personality.
What Dr. Rashdall disputes is that there is an ‘immediate’ ‘intuitive’ or ‘a priori’ knowledge of God's existence.3 He points out that the “vast majority” of men “including the most religious of them” are conscious of no such knowledge. “Missionaries do not find that they can assume a knowledge of God in their hearers; they have to prove it by arguments.” “Individuals among ourselves who are brought up without religious education do not commonly possess” any belief in God. “I read fathers schoolmen modern theologians without coming across a single trace of such immediate knowledge.” “The great masters of philosophical thought including the most theistic never suggest such a notion. It is equally absent from the thought of what I may call the professional metaphysicians and from that of men of essentially religious genius.” He instances Martineau and Newman as inferring the existence of God from the experience of causality or from the consciousness of moral obligation. “A belief for which a reason a ‘because’ can be given is not immediate.” The claim to an immediate knowledge of God is almost confined to a few mystics; among whom “the great religious leaders of mankind” cannot in Dr. Rashdall's opinion be numbered any more than the “vast mass of believers in any religion or at all events in any definitely theistic religion.”
But further: “I do not know” says Dr. Rashdall “of any sort of immediate knowledge or anything which can be at all plausibly called immediate knowledge which bears the least resemblance to this alleged immediate knowledge of another spiritual being. It may be doubted whether even my knowledge of myself can properly be called immediate in the strict sense of the word since it is only by reflecting on what is implied in many successive states of mind that I construct the notion of a continuous self. I will not say that my knowledge of myself is an inference; it may better be described as an ‘intellectual construction.’ But certainly my knowledge of other people's existence is a matter of inference. No philosopher has ever doubted this so far as I know till quite recently.”
Now there is so much in all this that appears to me both true and important while at the same time the intention of the writer would seem to extend to the denial that such an experience of personal intercourse with God is possible as I have in these Lectures contended gives its religious significance to the doctrine of Divine Personality (a doctrine strongly maintained it is to be remembered by Dr. Rashdall himself) that I think it worth while to state in some detail how far I should agree with and how I should differ from the view so emphatically asserted in the words which I have quoted that our knowledge of the existence of spiritual beings whether of ourselves of our fellow men or of God is never ‘immediate’ but always the result either of ‘inference’ or of ‘intellectual construction.’
It will be however convenient to prefix to this statement some observations on the words used by Dr. Rashdall to describe the kind of knowledge of God the existence of which he disputes; for as Bacon long ago warned us4 among the prejudices which lead the mind astray in the pursuit of truth and against which we must ever be upon our guard there is a numerous class which owes its existence to an over-carelessness in scrutinizing and testing the current coin of the intellectual market-place.
The words which Dr. Rashdall employs to describe this pretended knowledge of God are these: ‘immediate’ ‘intuitive’ ‘a Priori.’ He seems to consider these three adjectives as more or less synonymous and to take for granted that knowledge reached by way of ‘inference’ can be qualified by none of them.
And first as regards the word ‘immediate.’ It is not by any means obvious that there can be no ‘immediacy’ where there is ‘inference.’ Indeed as a matter of fact the common logic books have something to tell us of ‘immediate inference.’ But even in what is called ‘mediate inference’ in syllogism for example there must at every stage be an immediate perception of the sequence of the conclusion upon the premisses and without this all progress in that kind of reasoning would be impossible. On the other hand the validity of those ‘self-evident’ laws of thought on which according to Dr. Rashdall himself all inference rests and our knowledge of which he would probably allow to be ‘immediate’ must ultimately be perceived in particular instances; and though they are used universally from the first their explicit statement in universal form as principles or axioms is the result of later reflexion. ‘Immediacy’ in a quite legitimate sense can thus perfectly well coexist with the ‘mediation’ which is characteristic of all ‘inference’; it is indeed itself as we saw a feature of every inference; and thus there can be no good reason for confining the word ‘immediate’ to experiences (if such there be) of which no analysis or rational account can be given.
Still less can the word ‘intuitive’ be rightly appropriated to what is irrational. Yet Dr. Rashdall seems so to appropriate it when he connects with his denial that there is any intuitive knowledge of God an emphatic reminder that the faith by which in theological language we are said to apprehend him is contrasted by St. Paul not with reason but with sight; as though to call it ‘intuitive’ were necessarily to contrast it with Reason. Nor is it to be denied that we do find ‘intuition’ used not so very uncommonly in a loose and general way for a belief which possesses our minds but for which we can give no reason except that we are as Descartes put it impelled by nature to hold it no less than for an apprehension of what is in the same philosopher's phraseology evident by the light of nature.5 Yet the metaphor involved in the word ‘intuition’ unquestionably fits that word for expressing the latter of these and unfits it for expressing the former.
For intuition is properly a kind of apprehension by the Reason comparable to clear and keen sight among the bodily senses. Only when we can speak of seeing into the necessity of that which we apprehend can we rightly claim an intuition of it. In such cases we do not ask ‘why’ because the question does not arise; because nothing could make us more certain than we already are of that which we apprehend; not because we despair of obtaining an answer to our question which yet if it were accessible might clear up what is now obscure to us. Holding as Dr. Rashdall does that the existence of God is not self-evident he must also hold it not to be intuitive; but if it were self-evident though it would in that case be ‘intuitive’ it would nevertheless not fall outside of the sphere of Reason except in that narrow and practically obsolete sense in which only ‘discursive’ reason with its indirect approach to its object through an intermediate term is held to be entitled to that name. Nor indeed can ‘intuition’ any more than ‘immediacy’ be regarded as excluded from the sphere of discursive reason itself. It is unfortunate that some of Aristotle's language concerning the ‘intuitive understanding’ which he calls νοῦς language which has passed into the traditional phraseology of Logic suggests that the task of this faculty is over and done with when we pass from the first principles of reasoning to the truths which by the help of these principles we may go on to discover. For the whole process of discovery is only rendered possible by the constant exercise at every stage of the power of immediately apprehending the necessity not merely of the ultimate premisses with which we start or which we find by analysis to be implied in our conclusions but also of the passage from these to the conclusions which they necessitate.
The last term employed by Dr. Rashdall to describe the kind of knowledge of which he supposes those whom he is criticizing wrongly to affirm God to be the object is ‘a priori.’ But surely it seems very strange to speak as though what is a priori cannot be ‘inferred.’ Originally indeed ‘a priori’ designated a particular sort of inference namely that which passed from cause to effect instead of from effect to cause; but no doubt the expression has come nowadays in accordance with its employment in the philosophy of Kant to be used in a somewhat different connexion. Here too however a priori is certainly not opposed to reason or to inference; it is opposed to what is empirical; and it is scarcely accurate to represent those whom Dr. Rashdall has in view as claiming to possess an a priori knowledge of God; for what they claim is rather a knowledge of God by experience analogous to though not of course identical with that which we have of objects in time and space by the bodily senses. The knowledge of God which Anselm and Descartes held that they had reached by means of the argument generally called ‘ontological’ might no doubt be called without impropriety an ‘a priori’ knowledge; but this is certainly knowledge reached by the exercise of the Reason although the reasoning employed may (like many legitimate intellectual processes) not be satisfactorily reducible to syllogistic form.
Up to this point I have it will be observed said nothing as to my own view of the nature of the knowledge of God due to religious experience in the form of personal intercourse. I have only suggested that in expressing ourselves upon this subject it is important to be very careful—more careful perhaps than Dr. Rashdall has always been—in the use of our terms since words such as these just discussed it is impossible to strip of the associations due to their original application and traditional employment.
Turning from these considerations of language to the substantial question at issue it will be convenient to consider first very briefly the nature of the knowledge which each of us has of other persons beside himself. It is true that there is a sense in which the worshipper's consciousness of the Presence of God (which as we have already seen we are compelled in the interests of the religious life to regard as in relation to our own souls both ‘immanent’ and ‘transcendent’) is the consciousness of a Presence more intimate than that of another human being can be:—
Closer is he than breathing and nearer than hands or feet.6
But in so far as it is a consciousness of the presence of a Spirit not only immanent in the spirit of the worshipper but also distinguishable from his as that of another human being is distinguishable so that we can “speak to him for he hears and Spirit with Spirit can meet” so far it is important for the understanding of religious experience to ascertain what sort of consciousness it is that we have one of another; and whether it is in truth only by an ‘argument from analogy’ that each of us comes to infer the existence of other persons beside himself. I will so far anticipate the conclusion of what I am to offer you upon this subject as to say that while I entirely reject the doctrine that we infer the existence of other persons by means of an argument from analogy I do not at all deny either the activity of Reason or the presence of what may be called ‘mediation’ in the process whereby we become aware of their existence.
The theory that I infer by analogy the existence of other persons beside myself appears to presuppose that we start from what may be called a solipsistic position—the position of one who as yet is unaware of the existence of anything—or at least of any person—beside himself. To me nothing appears more clear than that no one starts from such a position as this. It is obvious that before I can discuss with some one else the question whether or no I did start from this position I must already have abandoned it. We do no doubt seem sometimes to discuss things with other people in dreams. But we do not in such dreams regard our interlocutors as merely dream people. I am not a solipsist in my dreams although when I look back upon my dreams from the vantage-ground of waking life I regard myself as the only person concerned in them; and even then I plainly perceive my dream conversations to have been derived from or suggested by the waking experience in which I live in the society of other human beings. But in my dreams themselves I do not suppose that only I am concerned in them. On the contrary I think that I am dealing with other independently real folk who talk to me and I to them.
The case of dreams then does not seem sufficient to destroy my conviction that it is impossible to start from a solipsistic position. I do not believe that anyone actually does so; and when anyone tries to think himself into such a position in order to make a new start thence his solipsism like Descartes’ deliberate doubt of all which he had been hitherto accustomed to believe exists merely as a negation the denial of what was previously held. A real solipsism would as it seems to me exclude even the suggestion of the conceivableness of a reality beyond the self; for how and whence could such a suggestion arise? I am convinced that no one can make solipsism the starting-point of his thought without the covert assumption that something exists beyond the self that the self has an other however decisively he may refuse to undertake the attempt to make distinct to his own mind what the nature of this other really is.
Even supposing however that one could start as a solipsist how could one possibly hope to escape from this initial solipsism? We have seen that some like Dr. Rashdall—who may perhaps claim Berkeley's authority in support of his view7—would maintain that it is possible to attain to a knowledge of other people's existence by means of an argument from analogy. I it may be said observe that certain of my ideas are usually attended by certain feelings; when therefore there occur in my experience certain ideas indistinguishable from these which are not attended by such feelings I conjecture by analogy that such ideas are attended by these feelings after all only they are felt not by me but by some one else.
Now no doubt we do go through a process more or less of this kind when we desire to ascertain whether (for example) a figure in Madame Tussaud's celebrated exhibition is a real man or a wax-work image of one. If he blinks on my staring at him starts if I touch him and so forth I conclude that it is a real man and not a wax-work image. But in such cases we assume all through the existence of other men as a well-known fact; the question is only whether this is one of such other men or no. On the supposed argument from analogy to the existence of other men we are not supposed as yet to have the notion of such existence at all. But then how in the world could such an explanation of certain ideas being unaccompanied by the feelings which have actually gone along with them possibly occur to us at all?
The man in the well-known story who repeatedly pinched his neighbour's leg thinking it was his own and felt nothing exclaimed at length ‘Yes it has come at last!’ He thought not that some one else felt the pinches but that his own leg was paralysed. Our solipsist is supposed to be with respect to all the phenomena of consciousness in the same position as the man in this tale was in with respect to his neighbour's leg. He thinks that they belong to him; he expects from previous experience a certain phenomenon to be attended by a certain painful sensation; he finds it unattended by it; surely he would conclude like the man in the story that something had gone wrong with him not (as no such possibility had ex hypothesi hitherto entered his head) that some one else was feeling a painful sensation such as he generally felt on occasion of a like phenomenon.
In actual fact of course no one begins to reason before having already the notion of other people's existence. Human consciousness is from the first a social consciousness the consciousness of an objective world common to one's own self with other selves through our intercourse with whom this consciousness is developed. We have no evidence to show how apart from such intercourse this distinctively human consciousness could be attained. We should I fancy seek in vain—whether among human children stolen in earliest infancy by wolves or elsewhere—for a real prototype of the ‘Mowgli’ of Mr. Kipling's delightful fiction.
But to deny on such grounds as these that the knowledge which each of us has of the existence of other persons beside himself can possibly be explained as the result of an inference by way of analogy is not to affirm as is sometimes insinuated the possession by everyone of us of a mysterious knowledge of the existence of other persons independent of perception through the senses and similar to our knowledge of those logical or mathematical axioms whose universal validity is said to be self-evident. It does not expose us to a challenge to say prior to experience how many such other persons there are. It does not imply that we refuse to assign to the exercise of our reasoning faculty any part in the attainment of this knowledge or to acknowledge the presence in it of any kind of mediation.
Dr. Rashdall himself as we have seen hesitates to say that the knowledge which each of us has of his own existence is merely an ‘inference’—but neither can it he thinks be properly called ‘immediate’; he prefers to describe it as an ‘intellectual construction.’ Now certainly the notion of a continuous self persisting through change and distinguished from while at the same time having its actual being in successive states of mind may be very properly called an ‘intellectual construction.’ I should not myself object to anyone who so pleased calling it an ‘inference.’ Unquestionably it needs an exercise of reason to attain to it and without mediation by memory it would be impossible. Nevertheless there is presupposed in it throughout a consciousness of self which it explains or explicates but which it could not create and apart from which it could not itself exist. Nor at any point of the complex process of reflexion or ‘intellectual construction’ which we have mentioned does this consciousness cease to be in an intelligible sense ‘immediate’ though with an ‘immediacy’ quite compatible with the presence of ‘mediation’ in that process.
For my own part I should be prepared to contend that we may observe also in our knowledge of objects a like co-existence of ‘immediacy’ with ‘inference’ or ‘intellectual construction.’ It may I think be convincingly shown8 (though this is not the place to deal at length with the subject) that all attempts such as have been frequently made by psychologists to explain our perception of an external world as derived from a consciousness of mental states merely as such must be in the end unsuccessful; and that such perception is an irreducible element of our consciousness and may be described as ‘immediate’ although the elaborated notion of the world about us and of our own bodies in relation to it and within it which is characteristic of the mature human mind (not to speak of the further developments involved in the mathematical conception of Space and the scientific view of the world) is the result of a highly complicated effort of ‘intellectual construction’ and includes much that is not only mediate and inferential but even analogical and hypothetical.
In quite similar fashion do I take the recognition of an immediate experience of intercourse with other minds to be consistent with the frank admission that our developed notion of a social world is an ‘intellectual construction’ full of mediation of various kinds though presupposing the presence in it throughout of such an ‘immediate’ experience apart from which it would cease to exist. I do not think that there is in such a view anything strange or new; indeed it seems to me to be already implied in the Platonic doctrine to which I have frequently referred and which all experience appears to confirm that we learn the structure of our own souls through observation of the social structure which confronts us and which yet we can only understand by recognizing in it the expression on a larger scale of sentiments desires or impulses inherent in the nature of each one of us.
I hope that this long digression from our main topic will not be thought irrelevant and superfluous. I think it may prove to be of considerable assistance in clearing the way for a better understanding of what is meant by speaking of a religious experience of personal intercourse between the worshipper and his God.
For it will I think have become plain that it is possible to speak of having a direct or immediate knowledge of another person without intending thereby to lay claim to the possession of some mysterious or magical power of which the great majority of our fellow men have no experience and which is independent of the ordinary means of communication through sensible signs. No doubt it would be idle to deny that in passing from the mutual intercourse of human beings to the intercourse of human beings with God we have passed into a sphere less obviously familiar to all. Were it otherwise indeed there would be no significance in the time-honoured contrast to which as we saw Dr. Rashdall has directed our attention of ‘faith’ with ‘sight.’ But we may at least be prepared by our examination of the nature of our acquaintance with persons like ourselves to admit that if Religion be other than an illusion altogether there may be an immediate knowledge of God enjoyed by ordinary religious people who would ascribe their conviction of his existence and their conception of their own relation to him to the arguments or persuasions of teachers and preachers and would altogether disavow for themselves any acquaintance with such extraordinary experiences as are found in the biographies of those to whom the name of ‘mystic’ is commonly applied.
I conceive Descartes to have been right in his view9 that in the consciousness of our own incompleteness or imperfection is implicit a consciousness of that with which we are thereby contrasted; or in other words a consciousness of God. This consciousness may if we like be called ‘a Priori’ since it is not derived from any particular experience but is involved in the character of any human experience whatsoever
In the same way the perception of Space may be called ‘a Priori’ if as I hold it is vain to attempt its derivation from any more primitive perception in which it is not already involved. But our conviction of the infinity of Space is also a priori in the sense that it is obviously not obtained by an induction of particular experiences but by reflection on the nature of such experiences as involve a perception of externality. It is none the less a Priori because such reflection requires the exercise of a power of abstraction which can hardly be supposed to belong to all human minds and because even among the most civilized peoples only comparatively few individuals ever attend to this implication of their own everyday thoughts and actions. But unless we were from the first and still continued to be aware of the Space which we afterwards discover on reflexion cannot be finite this reflection itself would be impossible; and in making it we inevitably—since it is precisely that very Space wherein our bodies are and no other which we have inferred to be infinite—come at last to regard ourselves as aware of infinite Space; for though we certainly do not perceive at any time more than a finite region of space we find ourselves unable to think of this same finite region which we perceive otherwise than as a portion of infinite Space.
In like manner my agreement with Descartes that what may be called an implicit consciousness of God is bound up with our self-consciousness from the first in no wise tempts me to deny the necessity of thought and inference to the attainment of such an articulation and explication of this familiar consciousness as could deserve the name of a knowledge of God; any more than the recognition that a certain consciousness of self is presupposed in all rational activity or the conviction that it is impossible to deduce from anything which does not already imply it our perception of external objects compels us to maintain that Psychology and Natural Science or even that unsystematic familiarity with the ways of persons and things that we expect from sensible and experienced men of the world come by nature. Certainly they no more do so than despite the opinion expressed by Shakespeare's learned constable do reading and writing.10 After all to regard it as characteristic even of Mysticism as seen in its greatest representatives to rely upon some immediate impression which would render all thought and inference superfluous for the aspirant after divine knowledge would be to make a grave mistake.
Yet when a man whether he be what is called a ‘mystic’ or no has once attained to a genuine religious faith and convinced himself that he stands in the Presence of God he is sure that he has stood there from the first; and that in the whole process of his conviction although it may have included a stage at which he would have described himself as entertaining the possibility of God's existence as a mere hypothesis to account for certain experienced facts God has in truth been revealing himself to him. He will be unable to conceive even his initial seeking of God as other than a response to an action of God upon his soul11 which was none the less immediate in one sense because in another it availed itself of means; just as we should not hesitate to speak of the direct or immediate influence of a teacher in stimulating the interest of a pupil although no doubt this stimulation is mediated by voice and glance and touch by sympathy with the pupil and study of his tastes.
So far I have only been concerned to contend that we may without unfaithfulness to fact or disparagement of the part played by reason in the discovery of God speak of a direct or immediate experience of the Divine Being.
While it has perhaps seldom if ever been found possible to avoid altogether in the language of Religion the description of our relation to the Divine Being in terms of a personal intercourse it is not as we have seen true to say that in all systems this description is seriously taken. And it has not been my intention to limit the application of the remarks which I have just made to systems in which it is so taken. But since even where Personality is not ascribed to God in the theological account given of the religious experience this experience is conceived in proportion to its degree of perfection to engage the whole or at least the heart of the worshipper's personality it may I think be truly said that Religion is always the experience of a direct personal relation to the Highest.
This last sentence may perhaps require some commentary which may be most conveniently given in a brief reference to one or two forms of Religion in which this character of personal intercourse may seem especially to be lacking.
There is no doubt a widespread type of Religion in which the worshipper regards his religious life rather as a matter of social observance or of identification of himself with his people than as an individual concern of his own. Yet here we find him usually recognizing that there are members of the community who are religiously his superiors just because their relation to the Divine has an intimate and immediate character lacking to his own.
On the other hand there are cases in which although little account is made of Personality as a character of the Divine yet the religion is very much an individual religion finding its perfection in solitary asceticism and meditation and the Object of religious veneration tends to be the ‘dweller in the innermost’ the devotee's own ultimate Selfhood reached by the abnegation of whatever seems transient and separable in the constitution of his personality.
Finally in those types of philosophical Religion which expressly deny the reciprocation of the worshipper's regard by the Object of his reverence and thereby the truth of the representation of religion as personal intercourse it is nevertheless just in the fullest development of a man's personality that he is supposed to attain to the contemplation of the Supreme excellence. Thus for Aristotle the νοῦς in each man is each man's true self;12 and it is precisely in the complete understanding of our own nature as determined by our place in the Whole of reality that for Spinoza the amor intellectualis Dei consists.
Everywhere indeed our conception of Religion seems to include a certain ‘warmth and intimacy’13 which we associate with such experiences as we call emphatically personal (though of course in a sense all human experiences may be so designated). It is just this characteristic of Religion which the Founder of these Lectures had in view when he described it in his will as “a true and felt knowledge—not mere nominal knowledge—of the relations of man and of the universe to God.” When we speak of some other form of activity than that which we generally designate as specifically religious Science or Art or Morality or Politics or Philosophy being this or that man's religion we mean I think not only that his whole self is engaged in the pursuit of that activity surrendered to it and dependent upon it but also that this devotion to it is experienced with a warmth and intimacy the absence of which would make it no longer a religion but merely a task; as on the other hand the absence of a sense of self-surrender and dependence would reduce it to the standing of a hobby.14
But it is in intercourse with other persons that outside of Religion we find most readily and naturally the consciousness of ‘warmth and intimacy’ united with those sentiments of reverence and self-surrender which would appear to demand in their object a reality fully equal to that of their subject. Thus the mutual relation of persons seems to be that which bears by far the closest resemblance to the relation of the personal Soul to the Supreme Reality which we call Religion; so that we shall expect attempts to assimilate it to any other form of human activity to be less satisfactory than that which allows the mutual relation of persons to suggest the language by which it is to be described. Especially will this be so if language drawn from other regions of human experience than that of personal intercourse be employed with a deliberate intention of divorcing Religion from the associations of the latter.
The historical development of Religion points unless I mistake in a direction quite different from that in which they suppose it to point who favour a preference of impersonal to personal language in speaking of its Object. It points towards the acknowledgment that in that religious experience which is least inadequately described as an experience of personal relations to the Highest is revealed a fundamental fact of the Divine Life which thus becomes known as in its inner nature a blissful life of mutual knowledge and love.
It may however be said:15 Granted that there has been so far at any rate on any considerable scale no higher or deeper form of religious experience than that which has found its best expression in terms of a personal intercourse between the worshipper and his God; is it not premature to assume that this or any other which has as yet made a figure on the historical stage is a fixed and final form beyond which it is impossible to anticipate a further development? The answer I should give to such a question as this will be found to introduce us to the problem which I propose to discuss in the next Lecture—that namely of the criticism by Naturalism from the one side and by Absolute Idealism from the other of the claim made on behalf of Personality to immunity from dissolution either into movements of matter or into categories of thought.
It would be only a parrying of such a question as I have supposed put to me to say—and yet it is I think worth saying at the outset—that nothing appears to me more to recommend the description of the relation between the worshipper and the Object of his worship in terms of personal intercourse than the circumstance that of all forms of Reality with which we are conversant none impresses us as possessing a larger measure than Personality of freedom from predetermined external conditions which would limit the possibilities of novel development. We might speak of the infinite possibilities of a chaos; we might call a lifeless machine or a living but mindless organism a systematic and even (in the latter case) a self-determined whole; but to combine systematic order with a possibility of development in various directions determined by a self-conscious principle of choice within itself is the prerogative of Mind or Reason; and the rational living being is as we have often noted that which we call a Person. Thus it is (as I observed when discussing the problem of sin in the former course of Lectures)16 “in the instance of personal character” that “we seem to find no incompatibility between the thought of a perfection upon which we can place entire dependence and that of a living activity whose course could by no means be settled beforehand but would afford to the spectator the joy of anticipating ever new and unexpected manifestations of power and wisdom and goodness.” The ‘personal’ form of religious experience may thus fairly be said to merit less than any other the reproach of being ‘fixed and final.’
Yet this consideration though not I think wholly irrelevant does no more we may be told than parry the question with which we are dealing. May it not be said that granting the form of religious experience which finds in it a personal intercourse between the worshipper and his God to be on the whole the most satisfactory yet reached it is unnecessary to assume that the human spirit cannot pass beyond this as other forms have been left behind in the past? It is admitted that even as it is it is impossible to regard man's communion with the Divine as precisely analogous to that with his fellow man; that we must therefore supplement the statements which describe it in terms of the latter by others which emphasize God's immanence in his worshipper and the ultimate dependence of the whole process upon his activity. May not a further supplementation be eventually required which would altogether subordinate the aspect of personal intercourse in some deeper and more perfect form of religious experience than that which is more or less adequately characterized by accounts which lay the principal stress upon that aspect?
To a criticism of this kind I would reply by calling attention to the following points.
I would freely allow the need of some supplementation (if we may use the word) of the mutual intercourse of human beings in order to describe the communion of human beings with God. But I would insist that this ‘supplementation’ shall not be in fact a reduction; and that we do not end in so describing the latter that all which was gained by borrowing the language appropriate to the former is again lost. It can scarcely be doubted that this has sometimes been the ultimate result of what promised to be an elimination from religious experience as merely temporary and subjective of so essential a factor of anything at all resembling human intercourse as reciprocation by God of the worshipper's knowledge and love of him.
I would urge very strongly that we are presented with such a reduction instead of a supplementation unless there be attributed to the Object of worship a reality at least as full and concrete as is attributed to his worshipper.
But I would recognize that some of those whom I should accuse of eviscerating rather than supplementing the view of religion which takes it for personal intercourse between God and man would insist that the accusation involves a fundamental misconception of the nature of both the Absolute Reality and the individual human personality. To meet this criticism it will become necessary for us to investigate more closely the real rank to be assigned in the kingdom of Reality to the finite individual person. To this problem I shall attempt to address myself in the following Lectures.