Influence of the Individual in the Development of Religion
WE shall now continue our inquiry into the laws of development both general and religious or to express it more modestly and prudently into the requisites for the promotion of development.
And the first question I propose to discuss is—What place the individual person occupies in the process of development and how far he contributes to it. As this problem is somewhat complex it is apt to be neglected but for that very reason it is one of the utmost importance. The fact that it has received so little attention is probably the result of misapprehension as some have supposed that development always meant unconscious growth which would exclude the conscious co-operation of individuals. But they have forgotten that the “development of religion” is a kind of elliptical term denoting as I have already pointed out the development of the religious man. Our science is no more a natural science than that of language; it is historical and is concerned with rational beings.
Others have thought that the individual only makes his influence felt in the higher stages of development; and you will remember Whitney's classification of religions founded on this idea into those which are the fruit of unconscious development and those founded by particular persons. I need not repeat my objections to this classification as I have already stated them. Put the idea on which it rests must not remain unnoticed as it contains an element of truth. For it cannot be denied that as mankind grows up and progresses in general civilisation so individuality becomes more pronounced. In a lower state people are much more alike; individuals have therefore less authority over their tribesmen and contemporaries and if their names survive at all they are soon forgotten. It is not till a later stage when man has become more clearly conscious of the power and independence of his mind and his intellectual capacity that there arise those rarely gifted men far surpassing their fellows who lead instead of being led who because they open up new paths are opposed hated and persecuted by many even by the great majority but who are revered followed and obeyed by an ever-increasing number of faithful disciples—yea sometimes deified and worshipped—and whose names in that case are gratefully remembered even by remote generations. But it is none the less probable that in prehistoric times also to which the imagination of the ancients loved to refer the exploits of their demigods and heroes the ancestors of their nation and the founders of their State everything that was new all progress reform discovery invention must have originated in the brain of a single individual or at most in that of several at the same time although the generality of people (as indeed still often happens) could not tell who were the authors of these new ideas. The very names of these authors therefore fall into oblivion. A proof that the power of personality made itself felt even in that primæval time of which no historical records are preserved is to be found in the numberless hero-legends of widely differing peoples which we meet with not only among highly cultured Greeks and Indians Babylonians and Chinese but also among uncivilised and barbarous peoples like the Red Indians of America the Polynesians and many others. Few of the heroes of these legends can indeed be regarded as historical persons—for if there are glorified men among them like Sargon and Cyrus most of them consist in impersonated gods who are represented as saviours in time of need averters of disaster inventors of arts founders of civilisation softeners of rude manners and protectors of their people. But such legends would not have arisen the transformation of deities into men of divine origin would not have taken place nor could even the thought of such actions fraught with blessings for humanity have been conceived unless people had experienced the influence of more highly gifted individuals and had recognised how much they owed to their agency. The force of this argument has hitherto escaped notice.
Generally speaking no one denies the fact that in history including that of religion and also in our own society certain individuals are prominent above all others in knowledge character talent and genius and that progress in every direction is mainly due to their work; nor is it denied that religious communities are founded or reformed by them that purer religious sentiments and profounder religious thoughts have first been diffused by them sentiments which have been cultivated in their own souls thoughts that have matured in their own minds and that in short they have kindled a new light in the sphere of religion and have interpreted a higher revelation. To dispute this would be to deny the whole course of history and to be blind to what we all see going on around us. But people appreciate these facts differently. The common and more or less superficial and popular conception which some have even erected into a scientific doctrine is that in human history great personalities are everything and that all progress and development must be accounted for as having emanated from them alone while they themselves stand isolated as unexplained and mysterious creations among their fellowmen. A diametrically opposite view is that all this is only appearance that individuals are really nothing or at least that they merely voice what already lives in the hearts of all and has germinated in the minds of all and that they are only the unconscious and will-less instruments of the spirit of the community. In this case also the truth lies probably between the two extremes. At all events I cannot assent to either of these views.
There is no doubt that the actual events of human history are very different from the fairy tales with which we amuse children. Those mighty spirits who enlighten and comfort the world deliver it from the bonds of ignorance and misery open up new paths and thus become the saviours and pioneers of their fellow-men—nay even the most highly gifted of geniuses—never stand entirely alone; but as they have been born and brought up in the midst of a particular people community and circle of friends and relations of their own so they have developed under the influence of these and share their often very imperfect notions of nature of the soul of history and of the world in general. To this extent they are actually the children of their age and their people the products of a preceding development. Even their new departures the ideas they express in a new and original form are not absolutely unheard of but have already hovered before the minds of others who are accordingly the first to welcome them. They have had their precursors above whom they tower like giants who perhaps deem themselves unworthy to unloose the latchets of their shoes but who yet have prepared the way for them. They are as it were expected these great reformers and founders of religion and are therefore joyfully hailed as redeemers. And if they respond to the long-felt yearnings and aspirations of the generation in which they live it is partly because these very aspirations have quickened the germ of higher life which slumbered in their own souls.
But does this imply that they themselves are nothing out of the common that as Hegel teaches they are mere “will-less tools in the hands of the world-spirit” so that though they play an important part in the world's history it is merely as actors who have not written the drama themselves or even as marionettes moved by an invisible hand? Must we like Buckle and others regard them as nothing but media in which ideas self-developing are reflected so that it is out of the question to speak of preeminent individuals or their influence on development? Or must we with Macaulay reduce all originality and all genius to the gift of greater receptivity for the ideas of others so that persons thus gifted are simply like men who stand a little higher than others and who therefore merely receive the rays of light a little earlier than dwellers in the valley?1
Surely not! What truly great religious spirit what outstanding pioneer in the domain of religion has not felt that a power “not his own” has been working within him bringing light to his mind and peace to his soul? Which of them has not acknowledged this and given utterance to it in many different figures and images? Who will maintain that they were fully conscious of the great importance and the far-reaching and momentous consequences of their reforming activity or that they always aimed designedly at the great revolution in human history they have brought about? Who will deny that they bore witness because they were constrained because they felt an inward and irresistible impulse? But who unless he has taken leave of all sense of discrimination would compare this inward impulse this constraint of a man's conscience with the wire-pulling of puppets or the repetition of a part learned by rote? We shall not be so rash as now to broach the difficult problems of Determinism and the possibility of reconciling man's dependence with his liberty. But we may venture to say this. Those who see a revelation of God in the light which—certainly not without their having eagerly sought it and profoundly pondered over it—has dawned upon their minds a revelation before which they bow and at the same time a summons from God to the fulfilment of which they dedicate themselves have indeed become one with God in will but are surely not on that account will-less. It is their own will that actuates them more powerfully and more truly than if they obeyed their lower inclinations their love of ease and fear of man. The truth in whose service they enlist whatever be its source and however they have attained to it has become their possession and in following it and proclaiming it they listen solely to dictates of their own hearts.
If therefore we entirely reject the above idealistic speculation still more positively must we refuse to acquiesce in the doctrine of materialistic positivism. The great thinkers whom we reverentially regard as the creators of new religion as reformers and prophets are nothing but media in which self-developing ideas are reflected! What after all is this but a mere phrase? What are the ideas which develop themselves as if they were bacilli wafted through the air—ideas which the highly gifted individuals do not even make their own but which are merely reflected in them? “Words words words” as Hamlet says. Macaulay for whom as a writer and an orator I entertain great respect has said nearly the same thing in a different figure of speech which I have already cited; but his figure is neither clearer nor apter. Instead of speaking of ideas floating in the air he makes a light shine. But where how and by whose agency revealed? And the sole difference between the more and the less gifted between geniuses and ordinary men is that the former behold the light a little sooner than the latter. We know of old that comparisons are lame but this one has not even a leg to stand upon. For surely it cannot be maintained that the sunlight reaches the dwellers in the valley through the medium of those who have climbed a little higher. Be this as it may the object is to deny all originality to those who are revered by men as their pioneers and masters their saviours and reformers. The development to which they apparently gave an impulse already existed and merely culminates in them so that in fact we are not indebted to them for anything new.
This I utterly dispute. However great an influence in judging of men who have gained the foremost rank in history and in that of religion in particular we may be disposed to attribute to their people and time to their upbringing and surroundings there always remains something besides which cannot be thus accounted for; and it is just this something which enabled them independently to utilise what they had received from elsewhere which gave them such power over their fellow-men and which distinguishes them from all others however like them in conceptions and views. And this something is their individuality their character. The work of religious reformers is commonly too partially regarded as the revelation of new truths or the preaching of doctrines hitherto unheard of. But it is not that alone nor is that even the chief part of it. It is above all the awakening of a new spirit of a purer religious sentiment. Nor is it always necessary that the reformers should say but rather that they should be something new. And the most powerful means of inspiring a new and higher spirit is precisely the personality of the reformer his individual character the one thing he does not owe to his ancestors or contemporaries but which is his by nature and which science may analyse but cannot explain.
Some people have been at great pains to prove not always with friendly intention towards Christianity that none of the preaching of Jesus as handed down in the Gospels is original but that the whole of it may be found though disconnectedly and sporadically in the writings of the Jewish Rabbis and the Greek philosophers. The resemblances seem to me less striking than people are sometimes pleased to suppose and most of them are somewhat far-fetched. But even if what they allege were true even if the whole Gospel had been compiled from a great variety of Jewish and Greek writings which seems very improbable to judge from the character of its first adherents yet two incontestable facts which are in reality one still remain. One is that all the truths which are said to have been recognised already are here reduced to one great principle; and the other that one personage was the prime mover who realised that principle in himself and his life and by so doing aroused enthusiasm for it in his disciples.
The power of personality is the most potent factor in development chiefly in the sphere of religion but in other spiritual spheres also to a greater extent than is commonly supposed. Communities churches and schools also contribute to it but not to the same extent and often more negatively than positively. Even when development is apparently progressing quietly and gradually of itself the influence of individuals may generally be traced although they are not always extraordinary geniuses or historic celebrities. The whole history of the development of religion proves that the Word must always become flesh in order to gain admission to the human heart.
An attempt has been made2
to classify individuals in different categories in accordance with the influence they exert upon development as for example (1) creative spirits such as prophets geniuses heroes; (2) those who utilise new creations and render them serviceable for the general good such as enthusiasts and devotees to which class belong apostles and evangelists; and (3) those who can rightly appreciate then and receive them—that is to say the believers. This classification is not unapt though one might say that the prophets generally belong to the second category or at least are not always creative spirits. At all events we must bear in mind that Professor Hoekstra the author of this classification adds that no precise line of demarcation can be drawn and that some of the most pre-eminent personalities combine several of the qualities named. Perhaps subject to the same reservation especially with regard to religious development the following classification may be found preferable. The foremost place is occupied by those who found a new order of things with whom a new era of history begins founders of religions and mighty reformers; to the second would belong their precursors as well as their disciples who were the first to understand them and be inspired by them such as apostles missionaries prophets and preachers who proclaim the glad tidings; in the third class would be placed saints and witnesses who by their life and death and great thinkers who by their instruction whether oral or written sealed and firmly established the new faith; lastly would come the more practical characters who testify of it in the everyday world by their life and work. But a further distinction must be made at least in the highest of these groups between those whose superior minds and those whose powerful characters exert influence between men of light and men of leading.
It would be a curious and interesting study to inquire what part is played by woman in the development of religion. One would expect her to feel more attracted by the emotional element in religion than by the intellectual more by the concrete than by the abstract and to value sentiment more highly than doctrine. Your philosophical-religious demonstrations your dogmatic distinctions will leave her unmoved unless by your arguments you would deprive the beloved object of her adoration of its glory and divine majesty; and in that case she will turn against you and cling to the adored object with all the more passionate love or perhaps—as not unfrequently happens at the present day—she will give up her religion altogether. It is only under compulsion that the Rachels give up their teraphîm; and the Meleket of Heaven was nearer and dearer to the women of Jerusalem than the Holy One of Israel who dwells in secret. It has been erroneously maintained that women are obstinately attached to old forms and that they are therefore more likely to hinder than to promote the development of religion. Make them believe that some one is a dangerous heretic an enemy of their religion and they will eagerly pile up the fagots around his stake like the old woman whose zeal extorted from the dying John Hus the saintly exclamation “Sancta simplicitas!” But give them a person whom they can love and the Maries and Salomes will remain faithful to him to death and beyond it. I am not aware that history records any case of a religion of note being founded by a woman; but we meet with women as priestesses oracular sibyls prophetesses and saints and above all as messengers of divine love who with gentle hand strive to alleviate poverty sickness and other miseries of this earthly existence. They are the votaries of calm consecration and contribute incalculably to the preservation of the mystic and devotional elements in religion.
As in all spiritual life so in religious life also the person or individual is a potent motor of development. Must science then rest satisfied with recognising this fact or should it go a step further and try to explain how the pioneers of religious development have come to be what they are? I fear that such an attempt would be vain or at least that the investigation of this difficult problem is not yet so far advanced as to afford any prospect of its solution. Unless our sources fail or flow too scantily much in every personality can be accounted for psychologically by their nationality the spirit of their age their lineage education course of reading career sphere of activity and other special circumstances. But there always remains something which cannot be thus accounted for and this is the chief thing of all. We cannot for example explain how it is that of two or more persons placed in the same surroundings children of the same family and brought up by the same parents one grows up to be a man of talent a genius far above his contemporaries—nay towering far above the average level of mankind—while the others remain insignificant and commonplace: like Rembrandt's brother for instance who became a common miller like his father while Rembrandt himself attained a place among the three or four greatest painters in the world; or like Beethoven's brother whose chief talent consisted in extorting money from the illustrious master and who thus embittered his life; or like the brothers of the world-ruling Napoleon the “hero as king” as your Carlyle calls him who acted their part as kings so indifferently. Some inquirers in despair I might almost say have invoked the aid of psychiatry and tried to account for genius as a deviation from the normal spiritual life as a bewilderment of intellect. Physicians like Brinton have sought for the mainspring of religious inspiration in sexual life and associated it with hysteria; while Sprenger another medical man an Arabic scholar and biographer of Mohammed has laid great stress on the fact that Mohammed was an epileptic; and a similar assertion has even been made regarding the Apostle Paul. We thus gradually drift into pathology. But surely it is an inversion of the true order of things to seek for the fountainhead of inspired ideas in aberrations of mind and nervous affections which are often caused by mental overwork and anguish of soul or by the overwhelming thoughts which are at once poor weak man's salvation and his ruin.
In any case even if this problem were not insoluble as I believe it to be we could only touch upon it here in passing as it belongs rather to the ontology of religion than to the morphology with which we are now concerned and is closely connected with the problem of the origin of religion in which our investigation must culminate. I must however try to give some answer here to several questions which may be asked and have indeed already been asked. In the first place “Does the influence of the individual really produce all the effects you ascribe to it? Are not the reform the spiritual regeneration and the inspiration which are apparently caused by the words and works of an individual really the result of the idea people form of them the result of imagination rather than of observation? Do we not remark in all the relations of men that every one who feels himself attracted who admires who loves unconsciously idealises the object of his veneration and love whether prince or statesman orator or scholar popular leader or master friend or idolised wife or mother and that he creates for himself a conception of them which is very far from according with the reality? And is this not above all the case in religion?” “Around the personality of the reformer the great teacher the founder of religion” it is further argued “spring up the magnifying legends. He is generally exalted to a supernatural sphere and then only is his power over the multitude perfected. Those who stood nearer him the more highly developed those whose faith is more ardent and vigorous do not require this conception to aid their belief; but those who can only appreciate the spiritual when it partakes of the miraculous seem to require such aid and they are therefore swayed not by the person himself but by their own conception of him.” There is some truth in this reasoning. But there is nothing new and surprising in it except to those who are simple enough to suppose that any one of our perceptions is purely objective. The influence of personality certainly consists partly in what is thought and believed of it. Or in Platonic phrase we may express it thus: it consists partly at least in the ϵἴδωλα or images given off by a personality and reflected in the minds of others. Reverence for another whoever he be and the attachment obedience and devotion it entails are in a certain sense idolatry but are very permissible. Or in other words geniuses and pioneers are not alone active in their spiritual working nor are those on whom they act solely passive; but both are active at the same time. If life emanates from them it is because it awakens living germs slumbering in the hearts of others and causes them to burst forth. Their creative spirit gives as it were voice and form to what had hitherto been powerless though potentially present in the bosoms of others. It is they who awaken this life who create this form: they are the sun without whose fostering beams the germs would die and the slumbering life would never awake. At the root of these creations of poetic fancy already referred to lies an unmistakable reality. Their heroes would never have thus been extolled if they had not been distinguished by rich endowments great moral power profound insight and above all by their character. Nay I venture to say that most of them were probably greater and loftier than was ever dreamt of by the majority of those who extolled them so highly. And even if they did not possess all the virtues and powers which people attributed to them in gratitude for what they had bestowed and in enthusiasm for what they had been their true greatness did not consist in these and could only be appreciated by the few. No one perhaps ever understood them thoroughly.
Another question is this. Admitting that the development of religion is specially promoted by personality do we not find this advantage more than counterbalanced by the injury done by other and no less powerful characters hostile to progress who do their utmost to maintain the existing state of things? No sooner does some man of conspicuous gifts or fervent piety who has ceased to find salvation in the traditional forms of religion appear on the scene and strive to deliver others also from the yoke of these forms than he is vigorously opposed not only by the ignorant many not only by the official representatives of the established religion whether from self-interest or conviction but even by inspired prophets by champions of the old system no less gifted than himself. And they are far stronger than he because they usually have the temporal powers on their side the power of the majority that of the secular arm and that of a long-established priesthood and because they lean on a powerful firmly founded organisation instead of having the arduous task of building up a new one. Yet it must not be supposed that they impede the development of religion. In the first place they cannot do so; for history proves that the new system if it be truly a clearer revelation of religious truth a higher and purer form of religious life must always triumph in the end. But they too contribute unconsciously and involuntarily to the process of development. It is an error to suppose that this is solely the work of the reformers. These can only participate in it provided they do not quit historic ground provided the reform be rooted in tradition; and the representatives of history the defenders of tradition are the vindicators of the established order of things. Genuine reformers those who have founded any permanent system are therefore at once conservative and progressive—men like Luther Zwingli and Calvin and not like Karlstadt or Servetus though these last surely need not have been persecuted like wild beasts or burnt at the stake.
But we must look a little more deeply into this subject to see if we can discover any general law of development which specially concerns religion and which requires to be studied by us from that special point of view.
When we survey the whole of history it seems at first sight to be but a series of special histories succeeding each other or sometimes running parallel—histories of peoples who grow up and flourish for a longer or shorter period but all of whom even those who took the lead and dominated others by their superior power or by their higher culture have perished to be replaced by others. But the observant spectator sees something more in it than mere change and kaleidoscopic variety; beneath the surface he detects constant progress. Human society and culture as a whole do not only assume new forms but are continually growing; and these new forms are on the whole richer ampler purer and higher than those they supersede. Of the old nothing essential is lost: it falls into the shade for a time but it reappears at last though in different form. The unity and continuity of the general development of mankind a doctrine which justifies history as a record not merely of successive stages of social life and culture but of society and civilisation as a whole has long been acknowledged by all earnest and philosophical students of history who are the only competent judges. The history of men is at the same time the history of humanity.
Does this apply to religion also? Here too we find different forms superseding each other; but can we detect any unity? The fact is that religion has hitherto proved ineradicable. She has undergone many an anxious struggle she has passed through many a crisis when those who were eager to throw off her yoke hoped and those who loved her feared she would perish in the conflict and be superseded by philosophy art or science or at most by a new doctrine of morality. Such hopes have ever been put to shame such fears have proved groundless. Religious forms have been discarded religious communities inseparably connected with a moribund nation or government have perished with it but religion herself has always survived the most critical periods and has always reasserted her sway over men's hearts with increasing force. But is there any connection between the old state of things and the new? Is there unity? or is the thread snapped each time and a new one attached? Is there continuity? or is there a constant rise and fall an alternation of bloom and decay of progress and relapse in which the ground gained is ever lost again and where if it were found impossible to arrest the decline there would be imminent risk of utter annihilation?
The first question whether there is unity connection and an unbroken thread here we unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. This is indeed already apparent from our preceding inquiries and from what I have said regarding the contribution of each religion or at least of each historical religion to religious development—a contribution taken over and independently utilised by a later system which assumes the leadership so that nothing material is ever lost which can promote the growth of religion; further from our study of the streams of development which for a long time flow through their own separate channels but always at last unite; lastly from the whole course of the history of civilisation the unity of which may now be taken as proved and of which the history of religion is in a certain sense a subdivision and not the least important. Wherever we stand upon solid historic ground and when our sources are sufficiently copious we observe how one nation joins hands with another—how the Roman civilisation blossomed forth under the influence of the Etruscan and the Greek and the Greek under the guidance of the Western Asiatic; how the peoples of Western Asia were the pupils of Babylon and Egypt while the Babylonian civilisation also yielded its fruits to Central Asia probably at a very early period but certainly after the foundation of the Persian empire; and lastly how since the conquests of Alexander Indian art and letters have felt the influence of the Greek spirit while conversely the Indian philosophy and religion had no small share in forming the later Greek philosophy especially the Neo-Platonic and the Neo-Pythagorean. As to what happened before the era of recorded history we cannot speak so positively. But we may venture to assume that what we know of historic times applies generally to the prehistoric also. The more deeply we penetrate into the past which new discoveries constantly enable us to do the more clearly do we see that not even the most ancient peoples of whom we have any record were isolated but that even then each stage of development was associated and connected with others. There are still scholars who refuse to admit that the Babylonian-Assyrian religion contains a number of elements borrowed from that of the Sumerian people whose ancient home was conquered by the Semites a people whose civilisation these scholars ignore and whose existence they even doubt. I am persuaded that they are mistaken. But even if they were right even if the Semites had been the first to establish their civilisation there even if the so-called Sumerian language were merely a very peculiar and indeed incomprehensible form of writing the Assyrian even if the Babylonians had invented their own letters and had had no foreign teachers of writing we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that their religion contains many non-Semitic elements whether these foreign elements be Sumerian or Accadian or otherwise. A most ingenious and learned attempt has lately been made to prove that even the Chinese and the Egyptian civilisation and religion owe their origin to Babylon. This is not impossible but I can hardly regard it as proved. And although we must proceed very cautiously in this matter it seems to me by no means improbable that some connection existed between Babylon and Egypt.
One might be inclined to say that the proof of the unity of development implies also the proof of its continuity or unbroken progress. But the two things are not quite the same. There is a connection between the Renaissance and the ancient Greek-Roman civilisation there is a connection between the Reformation of Luther Zwingli and Calvin and primitive Christianity. But between the one and the other lie the Middle Ages which need not be called a night of absolute barbarism to convince us that they were more remote from the civilisation of antiquity and the Pauline Christianity than the Renaissance was from the former or the Reformation from the latter. In history including that of religion also there are periods of decline and retrogression or at least apparent stagnation which are supposed to prove that development is not continuous but is sometimes interrupted although to resume its course at a later period.
But we must beware of being misled by appearances. The so-called periods of decline in which religion is thought to be on the brink of ruin afford the strongest proof that religious development far from standing still is ever progressing. What is it that declines? Religion? By no means but only one or more specific forms of religion. And why? Because they have had their time. Because they no longer satisfy those religious needs which have meanwhile developed under the influence of a more advanced civilisation. No doubt during such periods of transition there are many who can no longer rest satisfied with the old forms and are unable to create new ones or to appreciate or comprehend what is offered to them as such who despair of religion altogether and imagine that they have no further need for it. And this is why religion seems to be drawing to an end. But so little is this the case that just at such periods there arise mighty spirits from whom emanates a new revelation of religious life a higher than the preceding yet rooted in it. And what do we then see taking place? Religion which seems to be losing her hold over society concentrates herself in small groups of kindred spirits who usually rally round some distinguished leader that has arisen in their midst. Or she revives in some prophet by the grace of God inspired above all others in whom the whole of the previous religious development culminates but only through him to be still more highly developed. It seems as if the religious element in mankind just when apparently about to die out gathered itself into a focus in order thence to radiate anew with life-giving glow. The so-called periods of decline may therefore be called glittering pinnacles in the history of religions years of grace and salvation classic epochs graven on men's minds and cherished in the memory of later reformers to nerve and inspire them for their work and conflict—short but glorious seasons of a renewal of life of young enthusiasm of joyful hope.
Again therefore it is the power of personality that effects this renewal. But by what sort of persons is it effected? Those who relax the existing forms of religion often with somewhat ungentle hand with little discretion with little compassion for the weak in order to show that these forms no longer answer the requirements of the more highly developed religious feeling—as well as those who strive to inspire with new life the ancient system in its original form with its primitive doctrine and classic institutions with the object of rescuing religion—are living proofs that religion does not stand still but is ever developing and in a certain sense they also contribute to its development. But the creative spirits those from whom the new life emanates have no such bias. They have absorbed the whole of the ancient system they have neither acquired a mere smattering of it nor lightly rejected it but have pondered it and lived through it; they have grasped whatever is permanent in it by means of the experience of their own pious souls and instead of destroying they fulfil and exalt it. S´âkyamuni had sought it in the schools of the Brahmans before he appeared as the Buddha to all who were bowed down by the miseries of existence. Luther too had wrestled in his cell in prayer he had faithfully performed all that the strict monastic rule had imposed upon him he had visited the holy city in order to satisfy the yearnings of his soul for peace before he bore witness from his own experience and publicly declared that peace must be sought for in some other way. And you know who it was that said that He had come not to destroy but to fulfil.
An eminent scholar3
has recently attempted to prove that the development of religion is accomplished solely by the persons he calls ecstatics. And he mentions Seers Mystics and the like. But I fear that we are here getting beyond the limits of a healthy mysticism to which we cannot deny its proper place in religion and are drifting into morbid and fanatical mystification. Inspired with divine spirit full of God walking as if seeing the Unseen realising the Infinite in this finite existence such have been the creators of a new religious life. Not beside themselves like a medicine-man or a Shaman it was they themselves who created it aware of their object and fully conscious of their vocation. Although there were some among them who could not entirely rise above the imperfect conceptions of their time and who were sometimes overwhelmed by the thoughts crowding in upon them there is one at least whose religious life was in perfect harmony with His earthly life who spoke as one having authority but with the sublime calm and self-control of a Sage the Master of all because He was ever master of Himself.
Let me sum up what I have said. Religion develops through the medium of persons because it is the most personal attribute of man. It must constantly become man in order to continue to be his possession and to grow up with him. For such creative religious spirits stamp the impress of their genius upon a long period of development; renewed and focussed in them religious life radiates from them throughout the succeeding ages. This is the great law of the continuity of religious development.