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Lecture Eleventh. The Development of Christianity Before the Reformation.

Contrast of the periods before and after the Reformation — Their Respective Relations to the Christianity of the New Testament — The Revival of the Tendencies of Objective Religion — Tendency to Abstraction in Theory and Asceticism in Practice in the Early Church — Influences of Jewish, and Greek Thought upon it — How far the Church resisted them — Effect of the Invasion of the Empire by the Barbarians — Modification of the system of Implicit Faith by Scholastic Philosophy — Reactive Power of the Christian Idea of Reconciliation — Mysticism as an Escape from Rationalistic Dogmatism.

IN the preceding lecture I have indicated in what way the Christian principle develops, and it remains very shortly to illustrate what I have said, by a general sketch of that development. Even to the most superficial view the history of Christianity breaks into two great periods: the period before, and the period after the Reformation, which are distinguished by characteristics so markedly opposed to each other, that it is difficult at first to recognise them as stages in one development. The Pre-Reformation period is one of concentration, while the Post-Reformation period seems to be rather one of dispersion. In the former, the Church builds itself up into a monarchy on the type of the imperial power of Rome, with a strict organization which extends to almost every sphere of human life and thought. In the latter, this organisation is shattered; nor do the small organisations which rise out of its ruins ever gain the same power and authority over the individual which was possessed by the old system. In the earlier period, the principle of faith successfully resists the shock of Greek philosophy, and reduces it to an ancilla fidei, an instrument for the definition or systematising of Christian doctrine. In the later period, philosophy, science, and even religion, break away from the leading-strings of the Church; the intelligence claims the right of criticising every dogma and tradition of Christianity, and of refusing it any credit except on the ground of its rationality. In the former, Christianity manifests its power by the creation of an ascetic discipline, whose aim seems to be to crush every secular ambition and desire, to repudiate every claim of individual right, and to bring all the thought and action of man into subjection to a divine law imposed upon him from without. In the latter, the current flows with equal steadiness in the direction of liberty; and Christianity is invoked as supporting the claims of the nation, the family, and the individual, and sanctioning the development of every natural tendency and sentiment. In short, the earlier time is one of repression, in which nature is mortified in the interest of spirit; whereas the later time is one of expansion, in which spirit is reconciled with nature, and is even regarded as finding in the natural life its only healthy manifestation. So great, indeed, is the contrast, that many have had difficulty in conceiving them as stages in the evolution of one principle; rather, they have been disposed to regard the earlier period as that which alone could be characterised as distinctively Christian, and to treat the later period as one in which the Christian Church was passing through the various stages of its inevitable dissolution.

Such a view, however, may be shown to be erroneous, by a comparison of the ideas of the New Testament, and especially of the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul, with the prevailing tendencies of the mediæval and the modern periods respectively. For such a comparison makes it obvious that there are elements in the original records of Christianity, which were obscured or thrown into the background in the course of the development of the Greek and Latin churches, and which only regain their original place in modern life and thought. The freedom and fulness of the religion of Christ, its proclamation of the kingdom of heaven as that which is to be immediately realised, nay, which is already realising itself on earth, contrasts vividly with the mediæval concentration of thought upon another world and its all but despairing tone in regard to this world. And St. Paul's appeal to conscience and intelligence, and his effort to theorise the whole movement of history, as the progressive self-revelation of God to and in man, contrast both in method and in matter with the teaching of the scholastic doctors, who demanded implicit faith and obedience as the first condition of the Christian life, and who viewed the earthly existence of man simply as an exile in a foreign land, and the history of the Church as little more than the account of his rescue from it.

Looking at these and other related points, it may fairly be said that modern thought and modern life have shown themselves capable of taking up and developing elements of early Christianity which were almost lost sight of in the Middle Ages. Hence it was not altogether without justification that the Reformers asserted that they were really restorers of Gospel of St. Paul and the Apostles. And we should not be without warrant in saying that men are only now, in the present age, returning from the many mazes of an ecclesiastical religion and a scholastic theology to the simplicity of the original teaching of Jesus. At least, it can scarcely be denied that we are now learning to connect the worship of God and the service of man in a more direct way than religion has ever connected them, since the time when Christ first preached the ‘Galilean Gospel’ of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. And I may add, perhaps, that modern philosophy has brought us in sight of a theoretical development of the practical idealism of Jesus, and has shown us, in a way that was not possible in any previous time, the rationality of an ideal or optimistic system of thought, not built on the neglect of experience and science, but on a deeper reflective analysis of them both.

Now the only rational explanation of such a return of the end upon the beginning is that which is derived from the idea of development. We may rightly enough speak of the simplicity of the gospel, in so far as there is a transparent unity and self-consistency in the words and deeds of Jesus, and even in the Pauline theology developed out of them. But this simplicity is not that of a single indivisible element or a single abstract idea; but rather that of a fertile and comprehensive principle, in which an immense and complex world of relations is gathered to one center, and so made luminous and transparent. For, if there is any truth in the view given in the previous lectures, Christianity is the product of a συντέλεια τω̑ν αἰώνων,—the gathered and summed up result of the whole previous process of religious development; and, in particular, it is a new religion which combines and transcends the objective and the subjective types of religion, because it rises to a point of view from which their different forms can he at once appreciated and seen to be inadequate to the idea of religion. But if this be the case, then the unity so reached must be the complex unity of a seed which, being in itself the result of a long process of evolution, contains within it a great potentiality of differences, and which can be developed farther only as these differences are brought to light and overcome. Hence, while in the Christian Church the reconciling principle is never wholly lost sight of, yet its history appears to be a reproduction of all those conflicts of objective and subjective religion which prepared the way for the advent of Christianity. These tendencies, indeed, can no longer appear in the bare and exclusive forms, under which they presented themselves in previous religions; but they often strain against the limit which Christianity has imposed upon them. Thus the period before the Reformation may be described as predominantly objective, and the period after it as predominantly subjective. In other words, the former tended to develop those elements in Christianity which are kindred with polytheism, and the latter those that are kindred with the Judaic monotheism. Or, again, taking our stand upon the ethical maxim of Christianity, “Die to live,” we might say that, though no part of the lesson was ever entirely lost sight of, yet in all the earlier period the emphasis was laid upon the word, ‘Die,’ and in the later period upon the word, ‘Live.’ And we might connect these different ways of characterising the two periods by pointing out, that the predominantly objective conceptions of the earlier period naturally led to a religion and an ethics which carried to the furthest point that is possible without altogether abandoning the principle of Christianity; the suppression of the human and the natural; while, just in so far as men began to realise that the process of the divine life was not merely an objective process revealed to them, but a subjective process realised in them, the ethics of modern life has become a positive ethics, and its religion a religion of freedom. In what remains of this lecture I must content myself with a very general description of the first of the two stages, as exhibiting one of the two great elements or tendencies which are brought to a unity in Christianity.

If the ‘points of light’ in the world's history are those in which the ideal and the real, as it were, join hands over the gulf of their utmost antagonism, the dawn Christianity is undoubtedly the most important of these points. The calm faith in good as the beginning and the end of all, and in a Father in heaven realising His kingdom on earth, with which Jesus Christ faced the world, is the high-water mark of religious intuition. In his words we have the most powerful, because the most tranquil assertion of the is beneath the ought to be—an assertion made by one who certainly did not blink the evils of the world, but saw into their inmost nature and source. But such intuitive force of vision, which sees the evil yet sees the good through it, and which thus combines sanity with the highest idealism, is hard to maintain. Even with the immediate disciples of Jeans the ‘is’ soon shrinks into a ‘will be.’ Jesus Christ has gone, and his second advent, though anticipated in the immediate future, is delayed. And soon men, unable to see the signs of his presence in the world, begin to say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’1 The natural common-sense dualism of heaven and earth begins to re-establish itself, and faith becomes more and more a power of giving ‘substance to things hoped for’ and less and less a present realisation of God in the world. We may compare this gradual lowering of the tone of faith, as it wastes, or seems to waste, its energy against the resistance of men and things, to Wordsworth's picture in the Ode on Immortality, of the way in which man gradually loses hold of the recollections of the ‘heaven’ that ‘lies about him in his infancy’—

“Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing boy…

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature's priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.”

The intense ardours of the early Church, which had just lost its Lord, and instantly expected him to return, pass into a longing aspiration for which end seems ever to become farther removed; till, finally, the Church returns to the old lament of Jewish exile, and comes to regard the world as a foreign country, a place of weary travel and sorrow, where the soul can never expect to find a home. “We are strangers and sojourners as all our fathers were, and the patria, the native land of the Christian, is beyond the grave:”—this is the constant voice of the piety of the Middle Ages. In an outward sense, the Church, during this period of its history, is gaining continual victories over the world. With Constantine, it wins the State as its ally; and though, in the period after Constantine, the Roman empire soon begins to crumble into ruins before the attacks of the barbarians, yet the Church seems only to be lifted up to more secure dominion by the collapse of its only powerful rival for universal dominion. Still all this outward success never seems to give it greater confidence in itself, or to raise within it the hope of making the world its own, and establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. On the contrary, every step towards outward victory seems to make it more hopeless of any real union of the spirit of Christianity with the secular life and the worldly interests of man. And, if the belief the possibility of a reconciliation of the natural and the spiritual cannot altogether be lost—since such a belief is of the very essence of Christianity—yet any attempt to reconcile the two on this side of the grave is regarded as involving an unworthy compromise. Practically and immediately the Church's view of the world is pessimistic, though it holds in reserve an optimism which deprives sorrow of almost all its bitterness.

That in this way the greatest effort that practical idealism has ever made to blend together the higher and the lower elements in human existence, should result in a dualism which touches the border of Manichaeism; that Christianity, whose fundamental thought is the union of the divine and the human, should lead to disunion and antagonism in every sphere of man's life, theoretical and practical,—should set faith against reason, theology against science and philosophy, the Church against the world, the secular against the religious life,—seems at first to involve an almost insoluble problem. But we find it not difficult to solve, when we consider, on the one hand, the influences to which the Christian Church in its history was subjected, and, on the other hand, the nature of the principle of Christianity itself and the necessary order of the development of the different elements involved in it.

Looking at it in the former of these aspects, we can see that there were two great influences, both of which were continually acting upon the Christian faith in the early stages of its development, and both of which worked in the direction of dualism. These were the Judaic view of the division between God and His creatures, and the Platonic or Neoplatonic conception of the opposition of the ideal to the material world. Already, at the very beginning of the Christian era, these two influences had been fused together by the Alexandrian school of Philo, who read Platonism into the Old Testament, and, on the other hand, reinforced the Platonic antithesis of the intelligible to the sensible, by the Jewish conception of the opposition of the Creator to all the things He has made. Christianity had brought the idea of reconciliation into the atmosphere of a dualistic theosophy, in whose language it had to express and develop its doctrines; and it was impossible that the expression should not react on the ideas expressed. Even in St. Paul's antithetic method of exhibiting his thought, by setting flesh and spirit, the natural and the spiritual, the Law and the Gospel, in contrast with each other, we are sensible of a certain conflict between the matter and the form in which it is presented. The lines of division seem to be so firmly drawn, that the unity of the terms is not wholly recovered; though St. Paul does attempt to recover it by means of the idea of a providential process of history, in which the higher is viewed as being developed out of the lower. Thus the natural is declared to be the seed out of which the spiritual springs; and the Law is exhibited not as a rival but as a necessary preparation for the Gospel. In the subsequent development of doctrine, however, this reconciling thought is all but lost. The Christian Gnostics adopted and even exaggerated the Platonic idea of the impurity of matter; and, as a necessary consequence, they were obliged to construe the Christian reconciliation of man with God, not as a transformation of the natural by the spiritual, but as the rescue of the spiritual part, or the spiritual class, of men out of the darkness and slavery of the natural world, in their view, therefore, Christ, the deliverer, was a purely spiritual being, who made a descent into the region of matter, and took on him the semblance of humanity, that he might annul the power of sense and matter over all those who had in them anything kindred with the divine. This Gnostic theory, indeed, was, after a severe struggle, rejected and condemned as heretical. The Church succeeded in repelling the Docetic heresy. And in asserting against it the reality of Christ's humanity. But while it did so, it yet became infected with the spirit of the doctrine it rejected, so as still farther to divide Christ from all other men, and to recall the Jewish idea of the transcendence of God. Christ was raised into even closer union with the divine, but not in such a way as to ‘draw all men after him.’ Theology, as it developed, became changed into a transcendent theory of the inner nature of God, and ceased to be one with philosophy. For philosophy, in its endeavour to reach a first principle, is not seeking to realise the idea of a Being who is removed from all experience, but simply to determine the nature of that principle of unity which is presupposed in all our consciousness of the world without and of the self within us. But the theology of the fourth and fifth centuries did not seek such an ultimate explanation of the experience of man; rather, like Neoplatonism, it devoted itself to the definition of God as a Being who is beyond the reach alike of sense and of intelligence, and who is revealed, if He can be said to be revealed to us at all, entirely as a fact presented ab extra. Hence also the acceptance of such a revelation must be purely a matter of faith—under which word is ambiguously indicated a process which is either below or above reason—below it, in so far as it is the reception of an external tradition from the hands of the Church; above it, in so far as this external reception is supposed to lead to an immediate spiritual appropriation of the truth, of which no rational explanation can be given. The theology of the Church thus carries the content of Christianity out of the region of reason and experience, and exhibits the connexion of its elements as if it were a relation of Platonic, or rather Neoplatonic ideas, in a region altogether separated from the natural world—a region into which man can rise only by the renunciation of all the light of experience and even of thought. The effect of this attitude of spirit might be put otherwise by saying that, in formulating its theology, the Church, indeed, expressed in the abstract the Christian view of the union of the spiritual with the natural, of the divine with the human; but that it separated the abstract idea so determined, from any immediate application to human life and to the world in which man actually lives. For to give a theory of the differences in the nature of the Divine Being ab intra, which is not at the same time recognised as a theory of his relations to the world, is as if one should try to explain a principle without any reference to that of which it is the principle. In this way, the very doctrine of unity and reconciliation becomes itself the parent of a new dualism; and the revelation of God, as reconciling the world to Himself, is made into a mystery, which, as it cannot itself be rationally explained, cannot cast light upon anything else.

This tendency to make the Gospel into a mystery which has to be received on authority by an implicit or uncritical faith, was greatly exaggerated by the fall of the Roman Empire under the attacks of the uncivilised races who invaded it. These races were easily converted; for the vague superstitions, in which they had previously believed, could offer no serious resistance to the systematic spiritualism and organised ritual of the Church. But to the barbarians conversion meant an absolute intellectual surrender, in which they “burnt what they had adored, and adored what they had burnt.” It had not been so with the earliest recipients of the Christian faith. The Greeks and the Romans, when they were converted, were not overpowered and enslaved by the new religion. For, although Christianity might transform their lives, they were not previously altogether strangers to the things of the spiritual world; nor could they receive the teaching of the Church without bringing it into relation with the elements of their previous culture. It, therefore, necessarily awakened in their minds many questions, which they tried to answer by means of the philosophical ideas which they brought with them. It was, indeed, just this effort of theirs to bring the new matter under the old forms of thought, which gave rise to the development of Christian doctrine in the first five centuries. After this period, however, all such development ceases. The barbarous tribes, who had invaded and in great measure conquered the empire, brought with them no system of ideas which they could compare with the new light presented to them by the Church. They had to receive what was set before them in implicit faith, if they received it at all. Their rude spirits could obey or rebel, but they could not criticise. Hence their reactive influence upon the doctrine, in the first instance at least, was entirely in the direction of externalising it, and depriving it still farther of any relation to the life arid experience of man. In fact, for them the speculative side of Christian doctrine could scarcely be said to exist: it was thought of, rather, as a special secret of the clergy with which the laity had little or nothing to do. And even the clergy themselves learned more and more to treat it, not as a key to the difficulties of life, but simply as news of another world which was altogether separated from this, and which nothing in this world could help them to understand. So much was this the case, that when at last, in the rise of Scholastic Philosophy, awakening intelligence began to react on the data of faith, it treated these data wholly as externally given facts, which thought might be allowed to arrange and systematise, but which it could in nowise criticise or explain. The premises were supposed to be entirely derived from an external tradition, and all that was left for the intelligence was to accept them, and deduce conclusions from them.

It was natural that this tendency to make theology a mystery should go along with a development of morality in a negative or ascetic direction. For, just in proportion as the divine is separated from the human, and the Christian conception of their unity loses its direct relation to life, salvation gets to be conceived as a deliverance of man from the world, and not as a deliverance of the world from itself, or as the realisation of the divine spirit in it. The idea that the natural is essentially impure, and that the ideal life is, so far as possible, to escape from it, is the necessary result of a religious doctrine that breaks the bond between God and His creatures. And another inevitable result is the creation of a double morality, for the world and the Church respectively—a lower morality for those who are not able to break away from the impure ties of earthy affection, and a higher morality for those who are capable of such a sacrifice. Thus the different classes in the social body, and even the different elements in the nature of the individual man, were set in opposition to each other, and that in the name of the very doctrine of reconciliation. The religion that first proclaimed the essential equality of men, as all alike capable of becoming kings and priests unto God, was turned into the support of a powerful ecclesiastical aristocracy, which held in its own hands the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and kept for itself the sole right to scrutinise its mysteries, and to enjoy its highest spiritual consolations. The Gospel ceased to be preached as the opening up of truth which everyone could appreciate and test by his own inner experience, and became like news of a far country given to those who could not visit it and verify the statements made to them. Divine service ceased to be the expression of the religious life of the people, and became an opus operatum performed by the priest for the laity. And even for the clergy themselves, whose life was supposed to become more pure, only because they had more thoroughly mortified nature in themselves, the superiority thus gained was robbed of its value; for they were enslaved in will and intelligence in virtue of the same principle which gave them the right to enslave others. Their life in this world was regarded as higher than that of others, only because they were more completely given up to the task of preparing for another world; only because they had, so to speak, made once for all the ‘grand renunciation,’ and did not wait to be forced to surrender their life bit by bit. Thus they, like others, had to live in preparation not in realisation; in hope and aspiration not in fruition. It is not, perhaps, too much to say with Hegel that throughout the Middle Ages the world of the living was a mere forecourt or anteroom to the greater world of the dead, and that the worth of all human things, both in the knowledge and the use of them, was estimated entirely by their reference to that other world. Dante's Divine Comedy, in which the life of man is represented only under the figure of a pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory mid Paradise, was the natural expression of the spirit of an age which could see the great interests of life in their true proportion, only when it viewed them as refracted back, in an idealised and magnified image, from another world. In Goethe's allegorical Tale we are told that the giant shadow, who represents superstition, or a religion with which much superstition is mingled, had power in the hour of twilight to lift material objects with his spectral hands. The Middle Age was, as it were, the twilight hour of the world's history, in which the vision of another world as more powerful to move the spirit of man than all the immediate interests of his life on earth.

Yet, while all this is true, we must remember that there is a limit to its truth. Dualism and asceticism, a worship of outward ceremony, and a creed which took the form of a mystery accepted in implicit faith,—all these things might establish themselves under the shadow of Christianity, but under that shadow they could not but have their results modified and controlled by a higher principle. It was possible to give a dualistic form to a religion whose central idea was reconciliation, but it was inevitable that the matter should always be reacting against the form, and should ultimately prevail over it. The idea of a divine humanity may be turned into a mystery, but it is really and in its essence a revelation that puts an end to all mystery; for it involves that man has within him the divine principle, in relation to which all things must ultimately be explained.2 Hence the inner significance of the Christian doctrine was in conflict with the mode of its reception in implicit faith. As it contained in itself the very principle of freedom, it must ere long awake those who accepted it to scrutinise its own claims, and to cast off the authority of its teachers. To the “I believe” of Christian antiquity, the Scholastic Philosophy was obliged to add, “in order that I may understand”; and understanding, when once awakened, could not confine itself to a process of reasoning from given premises, without any examination of the premises themselves.

Again, however far the Church went in the separation of the natural and the spiritual, the idea that the division could, and, indeed, must be healed, was always kept in reserve; and the negative process of abstraction and asceticism was always regarded as leading to a higher positive. Thus, even in the period when the Church was yielding most to the tendency to separate Christ from all other men, it recoiled against the Docetism that reduced his human life to a semblance; and St. Augustine, who of all the Fathers of the Church went farthest in the direction of pessimism and asceticism, yet utterly rejected the doctrine that matter, or any other substantial existence, is essentially evil, and maintained that evil is to be regarded only as a defect or negative accident which cannot subsist by itself. In other words, however deep and dark in his eyes were the antagonisms of life—and few have gone so far to fathom them as St. Augustine—he could not, as a Christian, admit that they are incapable of reconciliation. He could not believe in the substantiality of evil, but must hold that there is a point of view from which it disappears, or appears only as an instrument, or transitionary stage to higher good. And this doctrine, when fully developed, must carry with it the consequence that there is no element in nature—no material principle in the outward world, and no power of sense or passion within man—which has to be crushed or expelled, and none even which cannot be converted into an organ of good. Nature and spirit are not absolute foes but predestined friends, whose existence must remain incomplete until atonement has been made between them. The utmost dualistic tendency, which is possible within Christian limits, can only delay the moment of reconciliation. But, however the process of purification, through which sense and passion must go, may be intensified and lengthened, the end must be that natural affection should become worthy to be the organ and expression of spiritual life. The very superstitions of the Church, its Mariolatry and Saint-worship, point in this direction. For they came in only to bridge over the gulf between the human and the divine, which was no longer filled by the idealised Christ of theology.

It is this persistent faith in a unity beyond the difference, even when the difference is stretched to the utmost, that gives to the ascetic piety of mediæval Catholicism that peculiar tone of tenderness and gentleness, that penetrating charm and attraction, whereby sorrow itself is made beautiful, and the fountain of tears is turned into a mirror of the divine image. Asceticism based on dualism is of necessity harsh and unlovely, and it is apt to become as merciless to others as it is to itself. But the asceticism that renounces nature in order to purify it, that gives up father and mother and wife and child, and mortifies all the natural affections of which they are the objects, in order that it may refine away their dross, and win then all back again on a higher level—such asceticism has a spirit of love pervading it which softens its sternness, removes everything repellent and ungracious, and so produces what we might call the purest quintessence of human feeling. Thus, in the De Imitatione Christi we find the utmost renunciation of self, the deepest prostration of humility, the most complete abandonment of every earthly aim and ambition, without any of the crudity and bitterness of Stoicism. And the secret of the difference is that the saint, while he is deeply conscious of suffering and evil in himself and in the world, yet always sees beyond both, and despairs of nothing which he renounces. He has no internecine feud with nature: he believes that she can and will be purified and reconciled. But he is hard to convince that anywhere on earth she has been purified enough to make reconciliation possible; and he always listens to her voice with doubt and fear, lest she should turn out to be an enemy in disguise. If, however, he could only be once assured that nature has been refined in the furnace, and that all the dross of her selfishness has been purged away, he would accept her voice as the voice of God Himself.

One other remark in the same direction may be added. What is called mysticism is the great means whereby a religious principle supplements the defects of its own imperfect development, or anticipates the results of a more advanced stage than it has yet attained. It is the form under which feeling discounts the future gains of thought. It is the natural corrective of a rationalistic or dogmatic system, which draws hard lines of division between God and man, between spirit and nature, between finite and infinite. Hence we often find that writers who, in their professed theology, are most zealous to maintain rigidly such defining lines of doctrine, forget them altogether in their devotional utterances. Under the pressure of religious emotion, they disregard all the limitations of their theories, and rise to a region in which the division between God and man becomes, as it were, transparent. Now, this tendency could not fail to show itself with special force under a religion like Christianity, whose first and last word is the unity or reconciliation of the human and the divine. However far, under such a religion, the opposition of the terms may be stretched, pious feeling is always able to overreach it, and to anticipate a solution of the difficulty which the logic of the time cannot yet admit In this way in all ages of its history, but particularly in the age in which the dualistic tendency prevailed most completely, the Christian Church was able to escape front its own definitions into a region of inner experience, in which love became its own law. Theology could not restrict the religious life, or hinder the secret movement of the heart from breaking down barriers it had so carefully roared. Nay, we may even say that religious feeling, in this sphere, secured for itself a kind of chartered liberty to rise; above all such restraints, however carefully they were otherwise maintained. Dante, who in this respect follows the best teaching of the Church, very often indicates that there is a point at which finite limits fall away; and the soul, rising beyond all the definite thought of the understanding, becomes so identified with its object that no intervening shadow is left. His last words in the Paradiso tell us how he prayed to see the inmost truth of the union of the human and the divine. And a vision was granted to him, of three coequal circles of light, which reflected each other, and within one of which there was a figure as of a man; but when he tried to discern how these forms constituted so perfect a unity, his imagination exhausted itself in vain:—

“No wings were mine to compass such a flight;

Till, in a lightning stroke from God, on me

The consummation of my longing came.

Here all the powers of soaring phantasy

Fainted within me: only this I knew

That, like a wheel that neither hastes nor rests,

My will revolved under the sway of Love,

The Love that moves the sun and every star.”

Thus devout feeling, embracing its object and losing itself therein, develops an infinite fulness of life which it is totally unable to measure or to express.

After all that has been said it is only going a step farther to recognise that the dualistic form of doctrine and morality, which, in one point of view, seems to be imposed on Christianity from without, may, in another point of view, be regarded as a necessary stage in the development of the Christian idea. For, if we take that idea in its simplest moral meaning, as expressed in the maxim, “die to live,” it involves that the higher positive form of spiritual life is reached only through the lower negative form of it; or, in other words, that the lesson of self-renunciation must be fully learnt ere the lesson of self-realisation can be understood in its proper sense. Christianity casts man down in order to raise him up; it seeks to reduce him to that utter surrender of self to God which is necessary ere the divine can manifest itself in him. It was the hard task of the early Christian centuries to set the infinite above and before the finite, to lay the universal basis of modern civilisation, and to secure it by the most persistent and, we might even say, merciless application of the idea of renunciation to every department of thought and life. To build up a new order on the basis thus secured, and to realise, both in knowledge and in action, the fuller life which in the Middle Ages was postponed to another world, is the task of the modern time. But success could not attend it in this task—not even the imperfect measure of success which it has as yet attained—but for the long discipline of Greek and Latin Christianity.

  • 1. 2 Peter iii. 3.
  • 2.

    “The acknowledgment of God in Christ,

    Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee

    All questions in the earth and out of it,

    And has so far advanced thee to be wise.”

    Browning's Death in the Desert.