Directions of Development in Particular Religions and in Groups of Kindred Religions
Directions of Development in Particular Religions and in Groups of Kindred Religions
IN last lecture we were engaged in considering what I call the directions of development as distinguished from its stages. Taking the two great families of religion as an illustration I have endeavoured to show how each religion develops not harmoniously and symmetrically but one-sidedly in conformity with the peculiar character of each family and how the growth of religion is therefore not a simple but a very complex process the product of a number of different tributary streams. But as we are far from having exhausted the subject which could not be adequately treated within our allotted time we return to it again.
What holds true of the great families of religions applies also to the members of which they consist both to particular religions and to groups of kindred religions. Let me illustrate this also by a few examples.
As each nation has its peculiar character so too has each religion one originally with the nation but afterwards no longer quite coinciding with it. I know that I am entering a region where imagination often takes great liberties; and although science cannot advance a single step without its aid the student who gives too free scope to it undoubtedly runs great risks. Hegel was one of the first to attempt to characterise the chief religions. But with all deference to the genius of the great philosopher we cannot regard his efforts as a success. Thus he calls the Chinese religion that of measure the Brahmanic that of fancy and Buddhism that of “being within itself” (“in-sick-sein”). The first of these epithets is very vague and I have never been quite clear as to its drift while the last two might just as well be reversed. That he should call the Greek religion that of beauty was to be expected and we may perhaps accept his description of the Persian as that of goodness or light and of the Jewish as that of sublimity although the last epithet applies as well or even better to the Egyptian. But what does he mean by calling the Egyptian religion that of enigma unless he has confounded the Egyptian with the Theban sphinx? And surely the religion of the Syrians cannot fitly be called the religion of suffering. For though the myth and the cult of Tammuz-Adonis play a great part in Western Asia it must not be forgotten that the lamentations over his death are succeeded by shouts of exultation upon his resuscitation and that the same myth is met with in Egypt under the name of Osiris. Eduard von Hartmann who indeed had ampler data at his command than Hegel goes more deeply into the subject and his definitions are more accurate although—as is pardonable in the German but not in the philosopher—he has unduly flattered the Germanic religion. Religion owes æsthetic refinement to the Hellenes; the Romans have secularised it; but the Germans according to Von Hartmann have given it tragic-ethical depth. This may have been done by the myth of Baldur which however is perhaps not Germanic at all but due to Christian influence; but neither the myth of Odhin nor that of Thor is specially tragic nor is that of Freya or Loki ethical. But though Von Hartmann has been on the whole more successful his short descriptions of the characteristics of the different religions are too much like labels pasted outside and are not always strictly apposite.
I shall therefore not attempt to follow his example and to substitute other short characteristic names for those proposed by these philosophers. I prefer to venture upon a short description of the peculiarities which distinguish some of the chief religions from the others. Take for example the Egyptian. Even on a superficial acquaintance with that form of religion it must strike every one from the outset what a prominent place is given in the religious conceptions of the Egyptians to that of life in all its fullness—as evidenced by the ever-recurring formula ᾱnch ut᾽α seneb: “life welfare health”—life interrupted for a time only by death ever renewing itself the Permanent and Imperishable in the midst of all that is changing and transient. And this impression is confirmed by careful study of original sources. From these we learn that it is a mistake to suppose that the pious Egyptians despised this earthly life and thought of nothing and cared for nothing but to be united some day for ever with Osiris in the fields of Aälu or to go forth daily in the retinue of the Sun-god as spirits of light. The rich harvest of antiquities yielded by the exploration of the tombs—representations and writings which naturally relate to the life hereafter—made people think that this was the favourite and almost exclusive theme of Egyptian authors and artists. Other discoveries however have proved that they appreciated this earthly existence also and that for this very reason they wished to prolong it in other regions “for millions of years.” And therefore their principal sacred document is a Book of the Dead a collection of texts against whose magic efficacy the demons of darkness and destruction are powerless. In their tombs at least during the height of their prosperity they therefore represented the life of the deceased as a still more beautiful prolongation of his earthly life with all its joys and honours. They therefore carefully embalmed the body of their dead; for they were not actuated by any mere spiritualistic or sentimental longing for redemption from this miserable existence but on the contrary by hope of its renewal which impelled them to provide for the possibility of the soul's reunion with the body. For the same reason they strove to make the temples of their gods durable enough to defy the ages and all who possessed the means kings and magnates endeavoured to do the like for their tombs their everlasting dwellings. For this reason too the chief symbol of their gods was not a hewn image but preferably a living animal distinguished from all others by special marks as a pledge of the nearness and eternity of God. The “ever-reviving Ptah” is the name of the most sacred of all these animals the Hapi-bull of Memphis. The conceptions of the triumph of light over darkness of fertility and growth over barrenness and decay the subject of hundreds of ancient myths and of numerous symbols in the ethical religions were common to the Egyptian with all the nature-religions. But no religion of antiquity has applied these conceptions so emphatically to human life or elaborated them so much in doctrines and rites; so that in a single word we might justly call this religion that of Eternal Life or of Immortality. And those who have traced the importation of these conceptions from Alexandria into the Greek-Roman world into the later Judaism and into the earliest Christianity must be convinced that Egypt has thus contributed very materially to the general religious development. Assyriology or the study of Babylonian-Assyrian antiquity is a younger branch of science than Egyptology. And therefore however numerous be the sources of the history customs and religion of Babylon and Assyria revealed to us by the discoveries of recent years and however great be the progress already made in the interpretation of these documents we must here exercise more reserve and caution in drawing conclusions. Of the history of the Babylonian religion we know as yet little more than the outlines. There is no doubt however that the idea of the absolute government of God of a theocracy formed the foundation of this religion that it was thus genuinely Semitic and that although it had adopted many features of an earlier non-Semitic form of religion it had independently assimilated them. But such being its general family character the question is what its special character was or how it had developed in its own way its fundamental theocratic idea. I do not wish to speak too positively. But I may say that to the best of my judgment the Babylonian religion of which the Assyrian is only an offshoot is swayed by the root-idea of God's inscrutability which has sprung up in other specifically Semitic religions too but is here more fully elaborated. Unfathomable depth and inscrutable wisdom are expressed in the Babylonian language by the same word and this word also signifies power and in a derivative form an earnest fervent prayer.1 The government of God as a supreme power of impenetrable wisdom of profound and immeasurable knowledge appears to me to be the main dogma of the Babylonian religious doctrine. By signs and wonders by oracles and dreams the gods communicated something of this wisdom to man; and the chief business of the priests and sages was to record them and to interpret them to the laity. The fame of this Babylonian wisdom had soon spread throughout the whole civilised world; but we must not judge of it by the impostures of charlatans who abused it in order to deceive pious souls at Rome and to extort money from them a practice which justly made the conservative old Cato exclaim “Chaldaeos ne consulito!” (“Do not consult the Chaldeans!”) It need hardly be said that the same religious idea was also familiar to the Israelites. But with them it is overshadowed by another that of holiness which arising out of the conception of God's unapproachableness but developed in an ethical sense became the distinctive mark of Israel's religion.
The case of the Iranian and Indian religions has clearly shown how two religions belonging to the same family bearing the same family characteristics and more closely related to each other than to any others of the same group may develop in totally different directions. Here we have two peoples who lived together longer than the other Aryan nations. This is proved by their languages which in their oldest forms are little else than two dialects of the same language. They also have a number of myths ideas names of gods institutions and customs in common. The chief sacrifice of both is the same the Soma-Haoma sacrifice however much modified. We might cite many other instances. And yet what a difference in their special characters I do not allude to the fact that the Indian religious doctrine is expressed in an exuberant mythology with an almost unlimited number of Devas while the Iranian at least in the oldest Zarathushtrism is conspicuous for its great sobriety owns seven heavenly spirits only six of them being merely personified attributes of the one highest spirit and thus approaches monotheism with S´raosha as the only mediator apparently ignoring the ancient mythology. For in the first place this was the result of a definite reform from which moreover the influence of foreign ideas was not wholly excluded. And in the second place the theanthropic character of the Iranian religion is not disowned. Various old Aryan gods with a number of myths have also penetrated into the Zarathushtrian system and been adopted in the ritual. It is another difference that I refer to. Among the Iranians we find that a practical doctrine of morality is hallowed by religion that agriculture and a settled life are religious duties that zeal and industry and even wealth acquired by honest labour are all regarded as the foremost of virtues whilst recluses and ascetics though not unknown are little esteemed. Among the Indians on the contrary ascetic contemplation diverging ever further from practical life and withdrawing from ordinary human duties although among the Brahmans subject to certain limitations is held up as the highest rule of life among the Yogins Jainas and Bauddhas. The Iranian hopes for a life of bliss in communion with Ahura Mazda and dreams of a future when all the creations of Angra Mainyu the Evil One which mar the good creation of Mazda will be destroyed; but of this consummation this earth will be the scene and as long as he sojourns here below he takes pleasure in life and appreciates the many blessings of this imperfect existence. To the Indian this existence becomes more and more of a burden the cause of all misery from which he can only be released by being merged in the deity or by total annihilation. The Iranian worshipper of Mazda is kept down to the earth by his religion: he follows a golden middle course the carefully levelled path of decorum and social virtue; he believes that the whole drama of the world will be played out within twelve thousand years; and it is only when he returns to his old myths and deities that his imagination once more though but timidly extends her wings. The imagination of the Hindu is entirely unfettered; he reckons not by thousands of years but by thousands of ages; the safety of a middle course is not revealed to him; at one time he mounts the dizziest heights of the boldest speculation and loses himself in a spiritualism which renders him insensible to everything else; and then sinks by a natural reaction into the mire of the grossest and most revolting sensuality which he hardly takes the trouble to veil beneath a paltry mysticism. It is not our purpose to seek for the cause of this phenomenon this sharp contrast; I should merely have to repeat what I have said elsewhere on the subject (in my “History of Religion in Antiquity”). I need only remark that this contrast is not exclusively or even chiefly to be attributed to foreign influence and external circumstances but also arises from the character of the peoples themselves. The question which concerns us here is what the two religions have contributed to the general development of religion.
In order to answer this question let me call your attention to the character of Zarathushtrism. Having sprung from the ancient general antithesis of light and darkness life and death it has grown into the antithesis of good and evil of the pure and the impure. This is therefore an ethical antithesis but not in the sense of coinciding with that between this side of the grave and the other between the earthly and the heavenly between the natural and the spiritual. On the contrary the evil in nature and the world of man physical and moral is transient; it prevails in the lower dominions of the Father of Lies and exercises a certain power though for a time only over this earthly dwelling-place. It is destined to be some day utterly swept away. The Zarathushtrian doctrine is the first serious attempt to conform material interests and duties with the spiritual needs and longings of mankind and to reconcile the temporal with the eternal by regarding the former as reflecting and preparing for the latter. The religious root-idea of Zarathushtrism when first distinctly expressed which as history shows has not remained fruitless is that the life of the pious is a sacred labour and struggle constantly directed against the evil and the impure in what we are wont to distinguish as the world of nature and that of spirit in order that both may at last be thoroughly purified—in short that every pious man according to his ability is a fellow-worker with God.
India spurns the earthly and the perishable in order to exalt herself unfettered to higher spheres. She does not attempt to reconcile God and the world but explains the world as mere show and illusion. Her religion is a grand but unsuccessful attempt to grasp by force as if it were her prey the Infinite the Unlimited the Immeasurable. But just through its contempt for all reality through its exaggerated idealism Brahmanism at first so exclusive and limited to three privileged classes threw open in its later development as Buddhism the way of salvation to all who fulfilled the conditions of its attainment and of their release from all finite bonds. This religion was thus the first to rise to the idea of a redemption a salvation not destined for particular classes or a single people but for all men as men; and though not as yet with full consciousness it was the first to feel something of the unity of mankind in its aspirations for the Infinite long before this idea had occurred to the minds of the Greek philosophers or was preached in the Gospel as a positive doctrine. From the bosom of Brahmanism was born the first universalistic religion the first religion which had the ambition to embrace all men. And whatever we may think of its doctrine of redemption the fact that this idea was grasped professed and realised in one way or another is one of the greatest turning-points and most important epochs in the history of religious development.
Although not so closely related as the Indians to the Persians there is a strong affinity between the Greeks and Romans who along with Israel have justly been called our spiritual ancestors because we have inherited the treasures of their high civilisation. Moreover these sister nations were soon historically associated in ever closer and more living contact so that it is impossible to understand the one and the Roman in particular without a knowledge of the other. This requires no proof as every one knows what a mighty and commanding influence Greek civilisation art letters and philosophy exerted on the Roman culture so that the latter is really a continuation of the former and may be called the Greek-Roman. This was effected through the medium of the Etrurians the first teachers of the Romans and themselves as appears from their art and their religion the disciples and successors of the Greeks. Then followed the intercourse with Magna Græcia the southern part of the Italian peninsula where Greek culture had been established and diffused; and lastly the conquest of Hellas which brought the conquering and physically dominant people more and more into subjection to the spiritual supremacy of their subjects.
And yet what a world-wide difference there is in character and therefore in religious development too between these two nations so closely connected by lineage and by intercourse! The Greeks have done more for the development of religion than is commonly supposed and it is difficult to sum it all up in a few words. Their religion has been called that of beauty of æsthetic refinement and justly so. We naturally first think of their rare artistic endowments of the genius of their sculptors and architects. While the sculptors in their masterpieces have succeeded in representing ideal beauty in the charm the vigour and the sublimity of their ideals of gods and at the same time delineating purity earnestness wisdom and indeed all the moral attributes of the Olympians in the expression of their features the architects built them appropriate dwellings stately and elegant but simple and sober in style and therefore really grander and more impressive than the huge Egyptian and Babylonian shrines. But we also remember their poets and authors who like Homer transformed the ancient nature-myths into attractive poetry; or like the tragic poets in their dramas gave concrete form to the profoundest religious thoughts in suffering heroes hallowed by their suffering; or like Plato recorded in immortal works their speculations on the highest theme that can occupy the human mind the origin and the essence of being yet without sacrificing the depth and wealth of their subjects to beauty of form. How much of all this they borrowed from the East we need not now determine. But if they began by anxiously copying foreign models in their plastic art we need only observe how in course of time they perfected them and transformed them into ideal human figures in order that we may understand what unique artists they were. And the same holds true of their intellectual creations. I need not repeat what I have already said as to the purification to which their tragedians and philosophers subjected their mythology. But let me merely remind you of their three principal gods represented by Homer as still closely united who successively become representatives of different periods in the history of the Hellenic religion—Zeus Apollo and Athêna. Zeus in spite of his exalted position in spite of the supremacy and the spiritual attributes assigned to him is still distinctly a nature-god the celestial god of thunder and of rain. Apollo whose original physical significance is still recognisable but who is now much more detached from nature is still the revealer of the will of the Highest and the averter of disaster and pestilence but is above all the god who embodies all the wealth of the Greek spiritual life of the period the god of poetry music and song of wisdom and self-knowledge the brother of the Muses and at the same time the god of redemption and reconciliation the maintainer of peace among all Hellenes preeminently the national god but highly revered by foreigners also. And lastly Athêna the austere virgin whose luminous character is entirely transferred to the domain of the mind became the true celestial representative of all that the intellectual capital of the ancient world revered and aspired to as the loftiest of aims so that we can only conjecture the natural phenomenon of which she was once the personification. There is no doubt that the Greeks were the first to conceive as an example to all ages the divine as the eternally beautiful to create an ideal embodiment for spiritual ideals and thus to reconcile religion with art the sacred with the æsthetic.
But their signal services to the history of religious development are by no means exhausted. A nation of artists and poets the Greek people is no less rich in philosophers and thinkers. The official representatives of religious development might regard them with suspicion and denounce them popular leaders might stir up the mob against them a poet abhorring innovation might deride them in his comedies yet opposition persecution and derision could not prevent the Greek philosophers from taking even religion and the divine as subjects for their contemplation; and in so doing they discovered eternal truths and expressed ideas which only obtained general recognition at a much later period when the Gospel had caused its light to shine. If we call the Hellenes a people of artists and poets we must in justice acid that they were a people of thinkers. And with the religious element they united the intellectual as well as the æsthetic; they not only hallowed art by religion as had been done by other nations but they glorified religion by the highest art the most perfect of its kind and above all in religion too they sought after truth.
These endowments these æsthetic and philosophic efforts have determined the character of their religion a character which distinctly differentiates it from all others and from the Roman in particular. As it is pre-eminently an aristocratic religion so too it was overthrown by the democracy. Nowhere in antiquity except perhaps in India and there in a very different way does the individual element so strikingly assert its superiority to the common and traditional; nowhere has so illustrious a series of great minds exerted such dominant influence on the development of religion. Nowhere does sacerdotal power recede so far into the background; and where the priests have any real and abiding power they only obtain it by participating to the utmost of their ability in the spiritual progress of their age and by appropriating its results. This is the religion of humanity in its noblest sense.
With the Romans on the contrary it is not the personal individual element but society that predominates. The number of their own gods who have a fixed character and a definite personality is extremely limited and their characters are never so sharply defined as those of the Greek gods. Most of the ideas about higher beings which they have formed for themselves are little else than abstractions conceived as spirits such as virtues inclinations operations in which the lingering traces of Animism are unmistakable as in Aius Locutius the genius of the warning voice and in Æsculanus and Argentinus the tutelary spirits of copper and silver coins besides many others. Their mythology is remarkably poor. Most of the great gods who act a part in it are borrowed from the Greeks or from Asia Minor sometimes retaining their non-Latin names plastic representations and foreign ritual sometimes blended with native gods or goddesses and sometimes greatly modified and shorn of their original character and functions as will be obvious from a comparison of Mercury with Hermês or of Minerva with Athêna and from other cases. The Romans always felt a certain dread of making the divine powers too much like men; it was only with hesitation and from afar that they followed the anthropomorphism of the Hellenes. The qualities which distinguished them and enabled them to found a mighty empire (Tu regere imperio populos Romane memento!) and by their laws to govern not only the peoples of antiquity but later generations also long after the downfall of their empire—qualities which Mommsen characterises as a profound feeling of the general in the particular as the dedication and sacrifice of the individual to society—these qualities sway their religion also. They possess no sportive imagination no poetic sublimity no philosophic depth no rich variety but their concern is for the practical the necessary all methodically arranged in grey uniformity. But in its firmly established yet ever spreading and developing hierarchy the Roman religion exhibited the wonderful power of a religious community unswerving in its fidelity to tradition whence Christianity derived a model for its first great organisation which has defied the ages.
Let me remind you in passing that the two directions we have contrasted represented by these Aryan peoples are not unfrequently found in contact among the same people either as two rival religions or simply as two conflicting views of life within the pale of the same religion. Among the Chinese for example the former is the case. There we find the somewhat sober Confucianism the religion of the wise Kong who in the sixth century before our era reformed the then existing imperial cult a religion consisting mainly in the worship of spirits especially of deceased ancestors and in the observance of an elaborate morality adapted to practice and applied to private social and political life. And beside it we find Tao-ism the religion whose adherents appeal to Lao-tse Kong-tse's elder contemporary with his bold profound and often gloomy speculations his love of solitude and of escape from the duties of practical life his unbounded belief in miracles—a religion which among an undeveloped people incapable of following the lofty flight of the Master degenerated into dreary superstition a combination of the ancient mythology with a poor-spirited morality and the silliest sorcerics. And in order to illustrate how the two tendencies above mentioned may manifest themselves side by side in the same religion I need only refer you to your own experience of what goes on in the Christian world around you and what the history of Christianity teaches. On the one hand we find a world-despising idealism a world-shunning piety and a world-forsaking monastic and hermit life which has several features in common with the Indian. On the other hand we find an attempt to combine the demands of the religious life with those of the practical to cherish the spiritual without abandoning the earthly—an attempt which if carried to an extreme is apt consciously or unconsciously to convert religion into a mere homely morality but which rightly understood may pave the way for a solution of the great question of life the reconciliation of the human and divine of the finite and infinite in man.
But we must not discuss this further at present. The illustrations I have sketched suffice to show that development as I have already said is a very complex phenomenon that it does not proceed in a straight line or with perfect regularity but that now one side now another of religious thought and life is specially cultivated so that each religion each sect each tendency contributes its share to the general development. But they cannot do this they can yield no fruit for this purpose when they remain isolated and miss their mark owing to their extravagant bias. A reaction indeed generally sets in. But this reaction is usually a violent revolution a revulsion to the opposite extreme. The extravagant spiritualism of India which tried to rise above all sensuousness and to crush out all human feelings even the noblest passions and the purest affections in order that man may become a spirit absolutely unfettered like the Most High inevitably led to the hideous excesses and revolting orgies of the Śakti sects and to the doctrine and practice of the most brutish naturalism. Every one knows what became of the chastity the voluntary poverty and the world-abandonment of many monastic orders and how often an extravagant Mysticism (as distinct from a wholesome Mysticism) dragged them down from the ethereal heights of the purely divine to which Icarus-like they had tried to soar to the slough of the grossest sensuality. It is clear therefore that reaction especially when revolutionary in character does not necessarily conduce to progress but when carried to an extravagant pitch fatally hinders it. It has been thought by some that a law of development is discoverable here—a “law of progress by reaction” or as a recent American writer Samuel Johnson2 expresses it the law of self-recovery by reaction a law of which Guizot more practically than scientifically has said that it prevents false ideas and institutions from being carried so far as their principles would logically warrant. I once formulated the law myself as follows: “Development including that of religion always takes place in the form of a consistent elaboration and application of a definite tendency which being itself a reaction from the views prevalent in the preceding period leads to another similar reaction and thus through its very one-sidedness to progress.” Even in this form it no longer quite satisfies me. But that it contains a great and unmistakable truth is apparent from what has just been said. Development is the product of different streams each pursuing its own course to the uttermost provided they ultimately converge but not if they are suddenly diverted into totally different directions. Equilibrium must be restored. If your boat heels over and threatens to capsize you would not try to restore its equilibrium and avert the danger by suddenly and nervously shifting the whole weight to the opposite side. Yet this is just what reaction generally does. All reaction even when it cloaks itself under the name of anti-revolutionary but really is a mere repristination is in its essence revolutionary. It is useful as a warning just as a fever is salutary as the indication of a disease. It may have the effect of opening the eyes of the wise and prudent of the deeper thinkers the qualified physicians of mankind to the necessity for remedial measures and for restoration of the lost equilibrium. But reaction can do no more. It cannot of itself bring relief for it usually misjudges all that is good and true in the system opposed to it. Left to itself it can only lead from bad to worse. For it is in fact a symptom of disease which calls for cure and at most it affords an indication of the way to cure it and the remedies to be applied.
Now the cure can only be effected by reconciliation by which the equilibrium is restored or (to use an apter image) by which tendencies apparently antagonistic and incompatible owing to their one-sidedness are merged in harmonious co-operation. But this combination will still of course be incomplete as everything human is imperfect and will at first be rather an aspiration an ideal to be but slowly realised; yet it will at least be a step in the right direction. The bond which unites what was formerly separate stands higher on that account. For it teaches us to value as equally legitimate—nay as necessary for religious life and thought—those elements in each tendency which the opposite tendency slights or misjudges and it thus preserves whatever is good in each and renders it conducive to the further development of religion. The famous triology of Hegel thesis antithesis synthesis may perhaps rather be called an a priori speculation applied to history than a well-founded hypothesis derived from it and at all events does not apply invariably to the development of mankind; but it is really more complete and therefore more appropriate than the law of self-recovery by reaction. Restoration and progress are not the results of antithesis for antithesis makes us fall from one extreme into the other; but they are produced solely by synthesis whether this process be employed advisedly or take place involuntarily by the blunting of opposing forces brought into collision. If therefore there be any such law at all we prefer to call it the law of progress by synthesis or reconciliation. But we shall see afterwards that it is only one phase a single manifestation of the main law that governs all development including that of religion.
Call this phenomenon what we please it is a fact and not a mere freak of fancy or the offspring of speculation. When two streams of development hitherto running their own separate courses meet and unite there arises a higher form of religion or as we should call it in natural life a new and richer variety the product of a crossing. An early example of this is the religion of Zarathuslitra. It still belongs undoubtedly to the theanthropic forms of religion but is much more strongly tinctured with theocratic elements than others such as the Indian. This has long been felt; and traces of Semitic influence more particularly have been sought for. But of this no proof based on historic records can be adduced. The origins of the Zarathushtrian reformation are too much shrouded in obscurity; and the hypothesis that it took place at a comparatively recent period and that its new doctrine was borrowed from the Greek philosophy must be regarded as a failure. We cannot tell what historical circumstances gave it an impulse or whence the spirit proceeded that transformed the ancient Iranian Daêva cult into the mainly ethical worship of Ahura. But it is certain that Zarathushtrism is based upon a reconciliation not merely as we have said between the demands of the practical and the heavenly but also and chiefly between the traditional dualistic-theanthropic ideas and the theocratic monism so clearly expressed in the exaltation of Mazda Ahura the creator of heaven and earth far above his satellites and in the almost pure monotheistic doctrine of the earliest records.
Judaism forms another example. It is well known that a great difference exists between the as yet pure theocratic doctrine of Mosaism before the Captivity and the later Jewish doctrine mingled with a variety of theanthropic ideas. These changes particularly the elaborated doctrine of angels and devils and notably the eschatology which were unknown to ancient Israel have hitherto been ascribed to the intercourse of the people with the Persians. Scholars are now more inclined to attribute these differences to spontaneous native development. I am convinced however that the new doctrines were borrowed but rather from the Chaldaeans or the Babylonians than from the Iranians. But leaving this an open question we know for certain that there are here two different streams though rising within the bosom of the same nation which meet and unite. And the consequence is that Judaism casts off the fetters of particularism that it is transformed from a purely national into an almost universalistic—that is a generally human—religion and that it thus paves the way for Christianity.
From a different direction the way was paved by the Greek-Roman religion. The whole history of the Roman religion is that of a constant and systematic importation of Greek ideas and usages into the firmly established edifice of the Roman cult. But the Greek religion itself was by no means unmixed. Its form as reflected in the rich literature of that most gifted of the peoples of antiquity was due to contact with the East. Theanthropic by descent and in character it bears unmistakable traces of the influence of theocratic ideas. It would be a most important and attractive though a very difficult task to determine how much the Greek religion owed to the peoples of Asia Minor with whom the Hellenes associated and how much mediately or immediately to the Semites. But this we cannot at present attempt. I shall not even venture to state the opinion I have formed on this subject as I should require to add a detailed explanation of the grounds on which it rests. I should not however go so far as to maintain like some scholars of repute that the result would show how very little that was originally Greek was retained in the Greek religion and how by far the greater and more important part was derived from the East and specially from the Semites though thoroughly assimilated by the Greeks modified by their spirit and their needs and above all glorified by their artistic genius. But even if we assume nothing for the present beyond what is admitted by all impartial inquirers and even if we hold nothing as proved beyond the foreign elements in the myths of Hêraklês of Europa of Pygmalion in the service of the Cretenzian Zeus of the Cabires of Samothrace of Apollo Dionysos and Aphroditê in the Mysteries in the Pythagorean and the Stoic philosophy yet it cannot be denied that we discern here for the first time the meeting and union of East and West that the Hellenic religion never could have attained its full development and that Greek religious thought could never have yielded the material out of which the Christian dogmatic wove her first garment unless from a very early period the theanthropic views had been modified by the theocratic and unless oriental mysticism had been wedded to Greek rationalism.
In Christianity this confluence of the two great streams of development is consummated. While Buddhism has reached the extreme limit in the theanthropic direction and all the divine unites in the Illuminated but soon again to degenerate into a complex mythology and abject superstition and while Islam in its almost fatalistic Monotheism represents the extremest theocracy and at the same time falls back to a great extent into the old particularism Christianity unites the two opposite doctrines of transcendency and immanency by its ethical conception of the Fatherhood of God which embraces both the exaltation of God above man and man's relationship with God. Christianity is the most many-sided of all religions and families of religion and it thus possesses an adaptability or elasticity as it has been called which explains its great wealth and variety of forms. In more than one respect and more than any other creed it is the religion of reconciliation; and in this sense also that it combines those apparently irreconcilable elements of religious life which are separately represented and singly developed in other religions and in other periods of greater or less duration. For it unites other elements also besides the opposite doctrines of theocracy and theanthropism. In its proclamation of the kingdom of God which exists not only in the future or exclusively in heaven but within ourselves and which must also be realised upon earth and in its beautiful doctrine of the communion of saints and the brotherhood of all men and their equality before God it aims at the closest union of all men whatever be their origin language or colour; but it leaves the individual perfectly free by declaring the unity of the spirit to be the sole bond of communion and every man to be solely responsible to his own conscience—far different from Buddhism which crushes out all individuality inasmuch as it abolishes personality and imposes upon every votary passive obedience to the powers above him. Christianity neither is hostile to the world nor mingles with it and has therefore neither an optimistic nor a pessimistic bias; it values and commends the utmost self-denial and renunciation of everything for a pious object but it condemns aimless self-abnegation fasting and abstinence for their own sake as if they were meritorious in themselves. It contrasts the austere prophet of repentance in his raiment of camel's hair who ate nothing but what the desert afforded with the far greater “Son of Man who came eating and drinking” the kindly Master who sat at feasts and marriages with Pharisees and publicans with friends and disciples. It proclaims itself as the light of the world the salt of the earth pervading and hallowing everything by the leaven of its spirit.
I do not maintain that the reconciliation of these antinomies the confluence of these divergent tendencies has been fully accomplished in historic Christianity. We still often find them there side by side or in conflict; sometimes one sometimes another religious idea is cultivated with special preference embodied in different churches and sects and advocated by biassed adherents. But we also find—and this distinguishes it from all other ethical religions even the most universalistic of which have indeed but one norm of religious life—we also find within the pale of Christianity all the different tendencies and all appealing with some right to the same authority.
I am therefore far from saying that the reconciliation of all the religious differences which have hitherto divided mankind has been accomplished. This work has been carried on in the Christian world for nearly nineteen centuries partly unconsciously partly designedly; but although it has yielded fruit it is far from being completed. The whole history of religion externally viewed is the history of a succession of a great variety of one-sided forms of religion in which the religious elements are differently mingled and which vie with each other spring up flourish and perish or at least cease to grow. The history of Christianity is the continuation of that earlier history but in a more perfect many-sided and comprehensive form. I simply mean that if we take the trouble to penetrate to the kernel of the Gospel in which all the varieties of Christian life originate we shall there find the solution of these conflicts in its germ and principle. I do not say this from partiality to the religion which I myself profess. Were I to express my full religious conviction I should confess that true religion the religion of humanity has been revealed in Christ a religion which creates ever new and higher forms yet ever defective because they are human and which thus develops more and more in and through humanity. But this is a matter of faith and I must here maintain my purely scientific and impartial position. But even from this point of view and as the result of historic and philosophic investigation I maintain that the appearance of Christianity inaugurated ail entirely new epoch in the development of religion; that all the streams of the religious life of man once separate unite in it; and that religious development will henceforth consist in an ever higher realisation of the principles of that religion.