Essentials of the Development of Religion
WE now approach the close of our inquiry into the development of religion and we must to-day sum up its results. One great question still remains to be answered Wherein does the development of religion essentially consist? This is not the same question as we asked at the outset as to the nature of development in general including that of religion also. Development as we saw is not a supersession of the old by something new something different whether heterogeneous or not but is growth from a germ in which lies latent everything that afterwards springs from it; and by the development of religion we do not signify a vague abstraction but simply the development of men and therefore of all mankind as religious. It was necessary to begin with this definition in order that we might know the precise subject of our research. But the above answer does not solve the question as to the essential elements in the development of religion. The real answer to that question we can only now give as the result of our whole survey.
The problem we have been occupied with seemed to us so complex and intricate as to be incapable of a very brief solution. We required to trace the development of religion not only in its successive phases or stages but also in its different directions to inquire how far it is connected with general development and to try to discover some of the laws it obeys or at least to study the facts from which such laws may be deduced. The question now is What unity is to be found in all these facts? what is the fundamental law on which the various other laws depend? what in its essence is religious development itself? Now that I am prepared to answer the question I am more than ever conscious of the fact that my answer will be only a well-meant attempt but one which I hope will bring us a little nearer our goal.
I shall first clear the way by rejecting several answers that have already been given as they seem to me unsatisfactory.
The progress of religion it has been said simply means progress in morality; and the development of religion consists solely in its becoming more ethical. Such an assertion was to be expected from those who almost entirely identify religion with morality and who regard it merely as a peculiar form of moral life—a higher form according to some but a lower according to others. But this does not satisfy us who do not deny the close connection between morality and religion but are convinced that each has its own sphere and that though not separate they must be distinguished from each other. We are referred to the ethical character of the highest religions as compared with the more naturalistic character of the lower. We have admitted that character by giving the name of ethical to one of the two great categories into which we divided religions according to their stage of development. But you will remember that we only called them so for the sake of brevity and that we described them as ethico-spiritualistic revelation-religions from which it is obvious that we do not regard the ethical element as their sole feature. Moreover I have expressly stated that while these religions are the highest we know and the highest existing we can well imagine a still higher form which will doubtless present somewhat different characteristics. All the higher religions we know have arisen out of an ethical revival but we must not confound that which gives the last and most forcible impulse to a reform with the reform itself. All progress not only in morality but in knowledge and science in philosophy and rational perception in art and sense of beauty necessarily exerts an influence upon that of religion as I have expressly pointed out. But because religion assimilates from the general development whatever conduces to her own development it is not on that account identical with ethics any more than with philosophy or art. All these are manifestations of the human spirit and all respond to certain needs of man's intellect or emotions; but none of them and not even morality are capable of supplying the want which religion alone can satisfy.
There is more to be said in favour of the opinion that the essence of the development of religion may be summed up in the formula “from the sensuous to the spiritual”; and we shall immediately see that it contains a certain amount of truth. But we cannot accept this answer as conclusive. We are not yet pure spirits in this earthly existence and the sensuous element sways us as much as the spiritual. It is in vain that we try to kill it; and if we ruthlessly suppress it it will inexorably avenge itself sooner or later. But this is by no means the mission of religion: her task is rather to establish due harmony between nature and spirit. She neither may nor can eradicate the natural but must hallow it by the spiritual. To what has already been said on this subject I need not now add anything further.
Or if it is supposed that religion must become a mere sentiment or an emotional condition manifesting itself in actions and throughout the whole of life which it elevates and sanctifies—that we must gradually lay aside all forms and give up trying to form a conception of the Ineffable and Infinite or making any attempt by word or deed to place ourselves in relation to it and that we must therefore take leave of doctrine and ritual alike—I fear that we should then have to take final leave of religion itself. We know very well that no human language is capable of giving perfect expression to the supernatural the divine the infinite; that an accurate conception of God is out of the question and that no idea however sublime can be wholly adequate to denote the object of our adoration; that our worship although offered in spirit and in truth is but the feeble stammering of children. But we require these forms. And religion too requires them to secure its existence and to save it from entire dissolution. The devout soul requires symbols images and figures even if only expressed in words in which to embody its religion. For although religion must dwell in the human soul as a spiritual possession it must reach that soul through the senses through the medium of eye and ear.
And accordingly when Professor von Siebeck describes it as one of the signs of religious development “when the spiritual in the non-spiritual comes into the foreground and becomes independent” he expresses a certain amount of truth for which we shall presently give him full credit; but we cannot accept the antithesis of spiritual and non-spiritual in his description especially as it is connected with the conception of religion on which he founds his Religionsphilosophie—I mean the idea that its essence consists in renunciation of the world (Weltverneinung). The whole dualism of spiritual and non-spiritual of religious and worldly belongs doubtless to a higher stage of religious development than an earlier and more materialistic stage but to one which we have at all events outgrown. We can no longer rest satisfied with this dualism but we strive for harmony and reconciliation. World-consecration must now replace the world-denial in which a former age sought its salvation.
Or does the development of religion chiefly manifest itself in becoming more and more the sole object of life and the supreme ruler of the world? This view has sometimes been expressed and it has been supposed that religion will only reach full maturity when it obtains sole and undivided possession of man and of human life. But this has nothing to do with its development. All kinds of religions in very different stages of development have aimed at such an exclusive supremacy; they have tried to assert their authority in every sphere and they have sought to obtain jurisdiction over all rational thought and creative imagination scientific research morality and political and social institutions. And not unfrequently they have succeeded. But always to the great detriment of mankind which thus hampered in the free expansion of its powers has been miserably crippled and has no longer dared to aspire to the true the good and the beautiful but has been compelled to conform to certain religious traditions and sacerdotal precepts and has thus been seriously hindered in the fulfilment of its destiny. And above all to the great detriment of religion itself which has thus made itself hateful instead of attractive has imposed a yoke on men instead of setting them free; and instead of stimulating them to a constant cultivation of all their divine gifts has quenched their spirit clipped their wings and paralysed their noblest aspirations. If this can be called a growth of religion it is a wild growth which must be checked in the interests of religion itself as otherwise it might prove fatal to it. Religion has its own task in human life that of consoling reconciling sanctifying and of realising the infinite in the finite: to this task let her remain true; let her rule over her own province in order thence to exert a blessed influence over everything human. Exclusive supremacy over the domains of others is as prejudicial to the ruler as to the ruled.
Nor is the above view more acceptable when differently formulated as for example thus: “The development of religion consists in the increase of its power of awakening religious emotions.” Mr A. J. Balfour the Chancellor of this University a rare example of philosopher and statesman combined has discussed a similar view with reference to art in his very important work ‘The Foundations of Belief being Notes introductory to the Study of Religion’ (London 1895 p. 59 seq.) “Even in those periods” he says “when the movement of art is most striking it is dangerous to assume that movement implies progress if by progress be meant increase in the power to excite æsthetic emotion.” He then illustrates the danger of such an assumption from the case of music the development of which since ancient times has been so great in his opinion that it can scarcely be exaggerated. Yet the position and the importance of music as compared with other arts so far as he can discover have not been perceptibly altered. Four hundred years before Christ its importance was as great as it is now: it was as great in the sixteenth seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it is in the nineteenth. Whence he draws the conclusion that “this amazing musical development produced by the expenditure of so much genius has added little to the felicity of mankind; unless indeed it so happens that in this particular art a steady level of æsthetic sensation can only be maintained by increasing doses of æsthetic stimulant.” I am no judge of music. But if the premisses be sound the conclusion is quite correct. The development of music is not recognised by any greater power it exercises over the present than over earlier generations of men. Its power has remained the same; but in order to retain that power it has been obliged to keep pace with the general development of mankind.
At all events this holds true of religion which swayed men's minds and awakened their religious emotions just as powerfully twenty or thirty centuries ago as at the present day. There have even been periods in history when it possessed much greater influence than in its predominating form at least it now exerts on the hearts of the great majority of civilised men. No devout soul at the present day can more fervently long for communion with. God than the Jewish Psalmist whose soul thirsted for the living God like the hart that panteth for the water-streams. William I. of Prussia when he placed the imperial crown on his own head in order to intimate that he received it from the hand of God could not feel his dependence on God more profoundly than the great Nebuchadrezzar when he bore witness that he owed everything—his sovereignty his conquests and his whole life—to Maraduk the great Lord of Babylon. No pilgrim of the middle ages could enter the Holy Sepulchre with more heartfelt emotion than was experienced by the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hian when four centuries after Christ he visited the rock of Rajagrha where his Master the Buddha had once preached and which with tears of affection he adorned with flowers and lamps and perfumed with incense.1
In short the signs and essentials of the development of religion are not to be sought for in the increase or extension of its sway over men's hearts. If the standard of its influence is not to decline if it is to continue capable of satisfying higher demands and more complex wants it must develop proportionately with general progress. This is a law we have already considered. But it does not afford an answer to the question now before us Wherein does the development of religion essentially consist?
It is therefore time to pass from these critical discussions to a more positive answer.
If we carefully trace the course of religious development we shall at once observe a continual movement from uniformity to ever greater diversity. No doubt the lowest or least developed religions the naturistic so far as they still exist and the animistic are countless—countless as the families and tribes which still live side by side without having been united into a single great nation. Countless too at that stage are the deities or spirits of different names; and even the one revered as the highest or at least as the mightiest and most dreaded of the heavenly spirits is known to each tribe by a different name. Even where we still detect traces of an earlier unity as among the North American Indians and the Polynesians in which case the name of the supreme Spirit is only dialectically varied while several of his satellites retain the same names yet each group after the dispersion of the once united nation adopts a religion of its own and carefully distinguishes it from that of the others. We might therefore suppose that the greatest diversity would prevail here to be succeeded by greater agreement on a subsequent and higher level. Yet this is not the case. While there is endless diversity in names and in details there is really the utmost uniformity. All these gods and spirits however differently named all these rituals which people are so unwilling to exchange for those of their neighbours resemble each other. The religions swayed by Animism weary us with their hopeless monotony. Wherever we encounter Animism the same features recur as regards its foundation and its manifestations alike. Everywhere we find the same theme slightly varied yet endlessly repeated. The same customs utterly absurd and senseless as they seem to the civilised yet quite logically deduced from the animistic premisses are met with among widely sundered nations which cannot be supposed to have derived them by tradition or adoption from a common ancestral home; they are met with in the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia as well as among the Hottentots of South Africa and also as a survival among Zarathushtrian Iranians and even at Rome where the Flamen Dialis the priest of Jupiter O. M. Capitolinus performed them with the utmost gravity.
The number of religions is further diminished when larger states are formed uniting a group of tribes into a single nation and when the religions of these tribes too are fused into a single national or state religion. Yet the diversity still increases. We have seen how the Aryan and Semitic or as we preferred to call them the theanthropic and the theocratic religions differed from each other. That family character is necessarily rooted in the difference of character between the primitive Aryan and Semitic peoples. But the two peoples gradually disperse as one section after another quits its original home. New nations are formed and with these nations new religions and while all these religions as we said retain more or less of their family character each again develops independently so that even the most closely related peoples as the Indians and Persians the Greeks and Romans while retaining the names of many of the gods and many customs unaltered have considerably modified their religion in its special characteristics. And as civilisation advances the differences greatly increase. The nature-religions not even excluding the semi-ethical resemble each other much more closely in doctrine or in mythology and in sacrificial observances than the ethical do. There is for example more difference between some of the Christian churches and sects although they all appeal to the same Bible than between the mythology of Homer and that of the Veda. The higher the development we may even say the greater the diversity. Take for example the three world-religions as we have called them for the sake of brevity—Islâm still half particularistic Buddhism and Christianity. They all sought to gather the whole of mankind into a great unity yet all have broken up into a number of different parties and divergent tendencies and the two last named into distinct churches; while Christianity undoubtedly the most highly developed of the three—Christianity which began by proclaiming that “One is our Father in heaven and we are all brethren”—is the most divided of all having soon been rent asunder into two great rival churches one of which the more developed of the two is again subdivided into numerous different churches and sects. It therefore appears that where religion shows the greatest vitality the number and the diversity of its forms and manifestations will also be greatest that new varieties will constantly arise and that the course of development is from unity to plurality its essence being differentiation.
This is undoubtedly the case. But it is only one side of the truth one portion only of the course traversed by development. Let us examine the other side.
For there is another phenomenon to be noted just as carefully in this connection as the constant rise of new varieties or progress by differentiation. No less important and parallel with this movement we can detect another running throughout the whole course of the history of religion—a constant striving after unity. I do not mean by this the fusion of religions of different tribes and regions into one official State religion as for example we have seen to be the case in Babylon and Egypt. For this is not a purely religious occurrence. It is the natural result of altered political conditions. It does not arise from the requirements of the devout or from religious reflection but solely from State interests which demand such a union although it cannot fail to exert a great influence on the development of religion. It was statecraft too that induced the great Cyrus to proclaim himself at Babylon as having been summoned by the chief Babylonian god to emancipate the oppressed nation and as one of his most faithful worshippers; and it was statecraft that induced Darius Hystaspis to make amends for the fault of Cambyses in Egypt by presenting the priests of Memphis with a new Hapi-bull and erecting a temple for Amon-Râ of Thebes in the oasis of El-Khargeh although perhaps these monarchs may have seen some resemblance between these gods and their own Ahura Mazda. But it was not mere political interest which used to bring together at certain seasons a number of the tribes of North American Indians often deadly enemies for the celebration of common rites and the smoking of the pipe of peace at the Red Pipestone quarries; nor was it mere policy which made the Greeks in spite of their many differences flock to religious centres like Olympia and Delphi in order as a united people to adore the Father of gods and men at the former and his beloved son the revealer of the divine will at the latter. Nor in their origin at least can we detect a political motive in those religions which admit other nationalities than their own to their communion nor in those which proceed on the principle of promising to all men the salvation they preach and thus of embracing all mankind in a single great religious unity.
In order to demonstrate the universality of this proposition I should be obliged to review the whole history of religion. But as the facts I should have to cite are known to every one a few outlines may suffice. At every turn there arise divisions; and at every turn people regret them and seek to reconcile them. But as a rule they are partly actuated by human motives. Ambition self-interest spiritual pride obstinacy and personal prejudices play their part but they are by no means the sole motives. Beneath the surface we can always detect differences of disposition and points of view. But it is not every division not every divergence rendered necessary by the impossibility of satisfying one's religious needs in common with persons of widely different views and development that constitutes diversity. The philosophical observer rejoices in the rise of these differences as being new manifestations of the many-sided religious life. By this wealth of varying forms religion proves its vitality. But people of earnest piety deplore these divisions. Grotius himself a victim of the fierce religious dissensions of his age persecuted and exiled composed a prayer in which he implored God mercifully to heal the schisms of distracted Christendom and amid the heat of the strife fondly dreamed of a union of Calvinists Lutherans Remonstrants and other sects in a single Church. So zealous was he for union that an attempt has even been made to prove his return to the pale of the Roman Church. The Roman Church knows no higher principle. Unity is dearer to her than truth or humanity. She has vindicated it at the cost of rivers of blood; and where a rupture was inevitable she has strained every nerve to regain the lost ground. But has she done so solely to maintain and extend her authority? Certainly not. We should be prejudiced and unjust if we failed to perceive that conviction also underlies her efforts and that the aim of all religion should be to unite all men as worshippers of the same God and children of one Father. We may admit this although we refuse to believe that she has yet found the true principle of such a union—a union which cannot rest upon external authority—and although we decline to surrender our most cherished spiritual heritage in favour of her notions of unity. In other directions too voices are now raised in favour of reconciling old differences. Practical men shake their heads at this. Pious wishes they declare but never to be fulfilled because their fulfilment is inconceivable. And they are right—from their point of view. Let us admit that Grotius misunderstood his own times and that the Roman Church misunderstands the present. But is it a mere dream or a fond illusion or a beautiful prophecy that there shall be one fold under one Shepherd? At all events this is a yearning deeply implanted in the religious heart. Not only weary of strife but convinced that in spite of all diversities which even increase with advancing development schism ought not to be the normal state of things in religion people earnestly seek for common ground for ideas and forms in which they can be at one and wherever possible they reunite. Even those who consider themselves bound to exclude others from their communion because dissenting from what they deem divine truth endeavour to maintain unity in their own way but not at the cost of truth. Others averse to compulsion by external authority in matters of faith and conscience try to effect some kind of compromise. They propose to secure unity by disregarding minor points of difference and only insisting on agreement in those main points in which they think all might be at one. Experience however has shown that such a compromise is only feasible on a small scale and as a temporary measure. Others accordingly seek for other methods of reconciling differences whether by forming a league of religious communities united by some general principles but otherwise independent or by granting perfect and unrestricted liberty to all without insisting on any union beyond that of the spirit and of love which is doubtless the true and only durable union. We need not criticise these different methods here. We merely mention them in order to show that people have laboured to promote unity and reconciliation in every possible way.
The course of religious development thus appears to be this. From an originally somewhat motley and chaotic yet monotonous multiplicity of forms several more developed groups gradually detach themselves formed by the confluence of a number of hitherto distinct modes of worship. This is the genesis of a certain unification and the beginning of differentiation at the same time because new and more pronounced varieties constantly arise. And so the process goes on: union and partition the formation of great unities which again break up into new varieties until new combinations are again effected. Yet the general tendency of religious development indicates ever-diminishing particularism ever-increasing universalism and an aspiration whether conscious or not for true catholicity.
We observed the same tendency when speaking of the different streams of development flowing at first in diametrically opposite directions yet ultimately uniting. And a similar process takes place throughout the development of doctrine and ritual.
Take the conception of a God for example. The earliest was not polytheistic still less monotheistic or even what has been termed henotheistic but consisted in a vague indefinite glimmering notion of a supernatural or spirit world to which all the spirits thousands upon thousands of them belonged. As soon as certain ideas of a God have been evolved thence we find in this case also the utmost uniformity coupled with boundless multiplicity. Polytheism in the proper sense arises—and this is a great advance—as soon as the characters of the different gods have become more pronounced and their names at first names either of objects or phenomena or powers of nature have become firmly established as proper names the original meaning of which is often forgotten. But then comes reflection and with it a desire to reduce the multiplicity. This is effected in one of two ways. People either seek for unity in those attributes which their gods possess in common or they endeavour to exalt one definite god to a rank far above all the others and afterwards to substitute him for these as the only true god. The Vedic religion so far as we know was probably the first to emancipate itself to some extent from polytheism. The conception of one only god is applied in the Veda in turn to each of the principal deities; and the passages which distinctly state that when many names of gods are mentioned one and the same god is truly meant are too well known to require citation. The same idea is contained in the Latin numina sunt nomina “many gods are but many names.” The Greeks show the same intuition in calling all the chief gods of foreign nations Zeus after their own chief god whatever be their names in the languages of these nations; while they identify minor foreign deities with their own Apollo Aphrodite Artemis Asklêpius and above all their Hêraklês. Even the Babylonians knew that the names of the gods of their neighbours differed from their own and from one another but that they were truly the same gods as has been proved by lists of the names which some of the Babylonian gods bore among other nations. But a different course has sometimes been pursued and often by the same people. Princes in Assyria and in Egypt tried to get the special god of their choice worshipped as the only true god; Antiochus Epiphanes tried to impose his Zeus a compound of the Olympian and the Capitoline upon the Jews; while the Jews themselves who had advanced from monolatry to monotheism now pronounced all the gods whose existence and power they had hitherto admitted though they had declined to worship them to be idols and vain gods and proclaimed their own national God to all as the only true deity. The later history of religion testifies to the ever-extending conquests of monotheism. Polytheism constantly strives to regain the ground it has lost and it fights with the obstinacy of despair. The ancient gods of Irania reappear as servants and satellites of Ahura Mazda and profess the Zarathushtrian doctrine. Or such gods assume the form of Buddhist or Mohammedan or Christian saints. But they are no longer gods. Polytheism proper now survives only among a few uncivilised nations and among the lower classes of some of the more civilised. It has had its time. It belongs to a bygone stage. Victory and future sway are assured to monotheism.
Our limits forbid us to illustrate the above statements by other examples derived from religious doctrine or to show in detail how the desire for unity is also manifested in the development of ritual a process likewise attended with constant differentiation. At first simple rude unsophisticated and bound by no fixed rules forms of worship gradually come to be strictly regulated more complex and more abstruse so that it becomes almost impossible to approach the deity without the aid of experts. Brahmans Rabbis priests and theologians of every grade make subtle distinctions hitherto unthought of and demand ever greater and more costly sacrifices ever more exact observance of the most trivial regulations. But opposition is inevitable. The exaggeration which makes ritual degenerate into senseless trifling calls into existence an opposite exaggeration. In India for example the Pûrva-Mîmâmsâ with its elaborate karman or sacrificial service is opposed by the Uttara-Mîmâmsâ which rejects the karman altogether and seeks salvation in contemplation alone. And in cases also when such extremes have been avoided we may invariably detect the tendency towards simplification and union. In India and Persia the Soma-Haoma sacrifice becomes not only the most important but almost the only one. In Israel though not without a vehement struggle the whole cult is concentrated at Jerusalem in order thus to put an end to all local differences. And the more religion develops the more exclusively will the ritual be directed to what unites the worshippers and the less importance will be attached to minor differences which indeed have often arisen accidentally rather than of set purpose.
Lastly not only in creeds and in the regulations of worship but in what I may call the doctrine of religious life and consequently in religious life itself there is displayed a tendency to simplification a desire to reduce multiplicity to the oneness of which it is but the revelation. And the process is a similar one. (1) The chaos of obligations which the pious must rigidly fulfil and of prohibitions which they must scrupulously obey all originating in the old naturistic-animistic views of life though few remember their source and their meaning is reduced by various orders of priests or prophets in the higher nature-religions to a system and this system becomes an established tradition which is handed down to posterity. (2) After the rise of the ethical religions this tradition becomes written law and therefore assumes a precise and stereotyped form; but the laws though arranged to some extent still lack organic cohesion the purely ethical and the ceremonial being intermingled and they are destitute of any one dominating root-idea. (3) In the higher ethical religions although the law is not abrogated and is sometimes even extended the doctrines deemed essential are gradually summarised in several leading precepts until when we reach the highest stage of religious development known to us the great all-embracing principle of Love expressed in two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets is revealed as the perennial source of true religious life.
Let me now sum up what I have said regarding these two important phenomena. On the one side we observe the march of development attended by ever-multiplying varieties ever greater wealth of forms destined indeed to supersede the old but only with a section of the devout while the older forms retain their place for a time at least alongside of the new. On the other hand we observe constant simplification. The creed and the doctrine of religious life are reduced to a fixed system to a few cardinal points and at last to a single fundamental principle. There is a continual effort to penetrate from and through multiplicity to unity from and through the changing and transient to the permanent and also to give expression to this aspiration.
But this is far from implying that religious development consists in the co-operation of these two tendencies; for both belong properly to its formal side. They both form a direct manifestation and distinct proof of the constant progress of that development. Both represent what I have called the labour of the human spirit to find adequate expression for growing religious needs. They are not the essential thing but they may indicate where it is situated. They put us in the way of finding it.
But let me first call your attention to another point. The twofold process which we noticed in religious development—ever-increasing differentiation coupled with efforts for reconciliation and unity—is not observable in that sphere alone. In the wider sphere of the general development of the human mind it is no less conspicuous. Here too at first everything is chaotically intermingled. Among uncivilised and barbarous peoples the rudiments of intellectual æsthetic and ethical of social and religious life which are all present in embryo are still barely distinguishable. This state of matters prevails at the dawn of history among the earliest representatives of civilisation such as the Egyptians. It cannot be maintained that everything during that age is still under the control of religion for it might as well be said that religion science art and moral and social life are superintended and regulated by the State. Political social and religious life are still one and indivisible. The same class performs both civil and ecclesiastical functions thus taking the lead in society and it includes all the men of letters and science all the votaries of philosophy and art. At length as the individual begins to assert himself religion the State art scientific investigation philosophy and morality in succession come into conflict with the tradition which had indiscriminately linked them together and strive to throw off its yoke. It would be a most interesting study to trace the different phases of this battle sometimes waged with great vehemence and always with varying fortunes. We cannot now examine it in detail even where pertinent to our present purpose. But the outcome of it is that each in turn sooner or later conquers a province of its own and in that province attains ever greater independence. And so too religion becomes more substantive and independent but not in the sense of being indifferent to the influence of advancing civilisation and the development of art science morality and society. We have seen that the reverse is the case. There is always a certain interdependence between all the departments of human life just as the fortunes and welfare of a self-governing people or a sovereign State cannot remain unaffected by those of surrounding nations. But religion is independent in this sense that it is not controlled by the other functions of the human mind or the other phases of human life and is not hampered by limits detrimental to its growth but appropriates from them and assimilates whatever conduces to its development.
For our purpose it is chiefly important to note that throughout the course of history Religion becomes more and more independent. She gradually emancipates herself from State supremacy and begins by a natural reaction to endeavour to gain control over the State. At least she continues long to lean upon it and to invoke the aid of its physical power and legal authority fearing lest if left to herself she may be unable to maintain her position and her dominion over the hearts of believers. At last however she feels strong enough to dispense with this external buttress for which as a rule she has paid dearly. Observe however that I am speaking of religion in general not of a particular religion or church and that I leave the question of State church or free church out of view. The relation of religion towards science and philosophy art and morality is somewhat similar. If she at first enlists philosophy in her service in order to aid her in substantiating her doctrine or art in order to awaken religious emotions by its creations or morality in order to demonstrate her utility in vindicating law and order in society and the State yet in the more highly developed religious minds the conviction gradually gains ground that the province of religion is a unique province in which scientific or philosophical arguments hold as little sway and are as needless as in that of art; that there is no need of art either in order to arouse religious emotions but that this object may often be effected by the simplest means and even by the power of a single enthusiastic word; and lastly that religion does not derive her value solely from the moral fruits she yields and that she occupies too exalted a position to act the part of a mere censor in society or a mere policeman in the State. Thus she grows up in independence and she demands and exercises sovereignty within her own domain while conceding complete liberty to all other provinces. And for her right to exist and for the genuineness of her doctrine she requires no other vindication than the fact that she satisfies an unquenchable longing of the human soul and that she fills it with a peace which neither science nor art nor morality can bestow.
But this ever-growing independence does not prevent that law of the unity of the mind which we have already mentioned from taking effect; and efforts are therefore constantly made to reconcile religion with the interests of science and art of philosophy and morality of society and the State. But self-reliance and independence do not exclude the need of healing the disunion in which men cannot permanently live. On the contrary it is just when each branch of human activity confines itself to the sphere assigned to it by nature when each works in accordance with its own method and develops in conformity with its principles without attempting to lay down the law for its neighbours that most of the causes of discord disappear. It is the task of general philosophy in recognising and determining the special department of each to bring about that unity of the human spirit which will bind then into a harmonious whole.
The complex phenomenon we are studying therefore resolves itself thus. It consists in differentiation or continual detachment from the original chaotic unity manifesting itself in the formation of ever greater wealth and more pronounced individuality of varieties and in ever greater independence of the other operations of the human mind; and this is coupled with an earnest striving for the inward—that is the essential—unity of what is now externally separated. I believe that this solution throws new light on the process of development including that of religion and enables us to understand it better. And it advances us a step further. It also enables us to attempt an answer to the great question that still remains as to the essentials of development.
For the double phenomenon the peculiar march of development can as it seems to me only be accounted for by the fact that man becomes ever more clearly conscious of what he is and what he requires as a religious being and of the nature and demands of the religion within him. I do not deny that this may hold true in other domains than that of religion. I do not profess to have discovered here the specific root-principle of religious development. On the contrary I am persuaded that all spiritual development is at bottom simply progress in self-consciousness. But it is beyond our province to examine this here. We confine ourselves to our specific task. And when we ask why religious man cannot rest content with existing forms of religion but ever strives to create new forms; why he tries to make his religion ever more self-contained and independent of all the external authority which so long controlled it and thus to purge it of all elements which falsely claim to be religious; why he ever does his utmost to heal disunion; why he endeavours whilst maintaining the independence of his religious life to reconcile it with the other requirements of his heart and mind—I believe that this one answer applies to all these questions: Because he grows up in religious selfconsciousness.
Herein therefore consists the essence of religious development. For this accounts for the fact that those who require a new and richer form for their religious life can also appreciate what is kindred and genuinely religious in forms with which they them selves can no longer rest satisfied. It also accounts for the fact that as their religious life becomes purer more self-reliant and thus inwardly more vigorous so men cease to fear and have no occasion to fear what is regarded with suspicion by many as worldly science art and morality and is even stigmatised by some as godless. Their religion is too firmly rooted to be injured by such influences so firmly as rather to benefit by them and to adopt from them whatever may promote its own growth. Nor is there the least fear that this deeper penetration into the essence of religion will ultimately lead to a contempt for all forms. For the so-called purely spiritual religion about which some have raved is only possible when religion in the proper sense has vanished and resolved itself into fanatical philosophic contemplation. Wherever there is true religion it is bound to find utterance. But we may hope that men will at length learn to attach no greater value to changing and transient forms than they really possess these being necessary but always imperfect and inadequate expressions of the infinite within us and that they will at all events learn to subordinate them to what is permanent and unchanging. We may hope that with the advance of development reform though not always cordially welcomed will cease to give rise to passionate bitterness and bloody strife and that it will rather be recognised as an inevitable result of religious evolution: that men will bear in mind the words of wisdom that new wine poured into old bottles will make the bottles burst and will itself be lost but that new wine must be poured into new bottles in order that both may be preserved.
This concludes my first course of lectures treating of the morphological part of my subject. Life and health permitting I hope to deliver the second course next year treating of its ontological aspects. Following the same method as we have hitherto applied that of deduction from carefully observed data we shall then endeavour to form an idea not merely of the development of but of the essential and permanent elements in religion and thus ascend to its true and ultimate source.