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Lecture First: The Relation of Religion to Theology

A GREAT part of the scientific and philosophical work of this century has been the application of the idea of evolution to the organic world and to the various departments and interests of human life. And, as religion is the most comprehensive of all these interests—that which goes highest and lowest in man, and, as it were, sums up in itself all other interests—it was inevitable that the attempt should be made to throw new light on it by means of this idea. I need not dwell upon the importance and extent of the researches into the whole history of man's religious life which have been prompted and guided by this conception, nor upon the variety of interpretations which have been given to it. In a set of lectures delivered in another University,1 I endeavoured to deal with certain aspects of the subject. I there tried to show, in the first place, what is the principle that underlies and finds expression in the religious life of man, or, in other words, what it is that makes him a religious being, a being who in all ages has been conscious of himself as standing in vital relation to a supreme object of reverence and worship whom he calls God. In the second place, I tried to show that, while this consciousness of God finds an adequate expression only in the highest forms of religious thought and experience, we can detect the beginnings of it, under very crude and elementary forms, even in the superstitions of savages. And, though our knowledge does not yet enable us, if it ever will enable us, to solve many of the problems connected with the transmission and filiation of the religious movements of different times and nations, yet we can trace out a fairly distinct and continuous series of stages through which the religious life of man has passed.

There is, however, one aspect of this process of development which is worthy of special attention, and on which I could only touch incidentally in my former lectures. This is the great and growing importance of reflective thought—in other words, of the conscious reaction of mind upon the results of its own unconscious or obscurely conscious movements—in the sphere of religion. The impulse which makes man religious, and which determines the character of the object worshipped as well as the manner of worship, may be a rational one, but it is certainly not due in the first instance to the activity of conscious reason. As man thinks and argues, makes judgments and draws inferences, long before he begins to examine into the nature and laws of the logical process, as he builds up for himself some kind of social order and learns to observe moral rules and customs long before he thinks of asking for any ultimate principle of ethics, so he is a religious being long before he seeks to understand or to criticise, to maintain or to dispute the validity of the religious consciousness. Theology is not religion; it is at best the philosophy of religion, the reflective reproduction and explanation of it; and, as such, it is the product of a time that has outgrown simple faith and begun to feel the necessity of understanding what it believes. Early religion does not trouble itself about its own justification: it does not even seek to make itself intelligible. It manifests itself in a ritual rather than a creed. And even when, as in Greece, it becomes more articulate and rises to some imaginative expression of itself in a mythology which can furnish a theme for art and poetry, yet, even then, it does not ask for any reason for its own existence, or attempt to gather up its general meaning and purport in a doctrine. It is intuitive rather than reflective, practical rather than speculative, conscious rather than self-conscious. It has a vigorous life, which maintains itself against all the other interests of man and strives to subdue and assimilate them to itself; but it does not endeavour to formulate its own principle or estimate its relations to these other interests. We are a long way down the stream of religious history ere we meet with anything like a book-religion, i.e. a religion that has a sufficiently definite view of itself to fix its own image in a sacred literature. And from that there is still a long way to traverse ere we find any attempt made to liberate the religious idea from its imaginative dress, to define the character of the object of worship, or to discuss its relations to nature and to man.

Nevertheless man is from the first self-conscious, and he is continually on the way to become more clearly conscious of himself and of all the elements and phases of his being. Slow as may be the movement of his advance, the time must at last come when he turns back in thought upon himself, to measure and criticise, to select and to reject, to reconsider and remould by reflexion, the immediate products of his own religious life. And though he can never metaphorically, any more than literally, ‘stand upon his head’; though the day will never come when, in Goethe's satirical phrase, the world shall be held together by philosophy and not by hunger and love; though, in short, man cannot lay the foundations of his existence in conscious reason, or build it up from beginning to end with deliberate plan and purpose; yet in the long process of his history the part played by reflexion must become more and more important. Even if we allow that reflective thought cannot originate any entirely new moral or religious movement, yet it is inevitable that it should become continually more powerful to disturb and to modify religious faith, and that, in consequence, man's hold of beliefs which he cannot justify to himself should become more and more relaxed. Nay, it is inevitable that the results of reflective criticism should enter more and more deeply into the very substance of religion itself, so that it becomes scarcely possible for those who hold it to avoid theorising it.

Thus, to take an obvious instance, the later religion of the Jews was no longer that simple religious sentiment which held the race of Israel together by binding them all to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It had become enriched with wider thoughts by the chequered experiences of its national history, by the captivity and exile—which, as it were, tore it away from its natural root and forced it to seek a new and spiritual principle of life—by the manifold relations of sympathy and antagonism with other peoples into which the Hebrews were brought. Thus it was that the most narrowly national of all races gradually became the organ of a spirit of prophecy, which looked forward to the universal reign of a God of all men, whose worshippers should be distinguished not by race but only by the energy and purity of their moral life. For it may fairly be said that if the prophets still put forward a claim for the supremacy of Israel, it was rather as the leader of humanity in the path of spiritual progress than as a specially privileged and exclusive nationality. A religion that thus rose into the atmosphere of universality, freeing the spirits of its worshippers from the bonds of time and place, was no product of mere feeling or unconscious reason. It showed in its inmost texture the working of reflexion, and its life could be sustained only by continued reflexion. It was so far lifted above all that was local and particular in Judaism that it could encounter the speculative thought of Greece almost upon equal terms. It had become itself something like a philosophy, and could, therefore, in Alexandria and elsewhere, easily make terms with another philosophy, and blend or coalesce with it into a new product.

And what is true of the religion of Israel is still more true of Christianity. Springing out of a Judaism which was already deeply tinged with Greek ideas, and developing itself under the constant pressure of Greek influences, Christianity was from the first what we may call a reflective religion, a religion which gathered into itself many of the results of both Eastern and Western thought. Already in the New Testament, it is not only a religion, but it contains, especially in the writings of St. Paul, the germs of a theology. Hence, strictly speaking, it has never been, and can never be, a religion of simple faith; or, if it ever relapses into such a faith, it immediately begins to lose its spiritual character, and to assimilate itself to religions that are lower in the scale. It is not merely that, as Anselm and the Schoolmen generally contended, it is allowable for the Christian to advance from faith to reason, from veneratio to delectatio, but that, for him, not to do so is speedily to lose hold of that which is most valuable in his faith. And if he yields to a fear of the dangers of reflexion, with the doubt and perplexity which attend it, and declines into the easier path of reliance on some kind of authority, he will inevitably turn his creed into a dead formula and his worship into a superstition. This does not, of course, mean that a true Christian must be a philosopher—philosophy is a special department of activity like any other—but it means that the Christian cannot in the long run maintain his faith unless he is continually turning it into living thought, using it as a key to the difficulties of life, and endeavouring to realise what light it throws on his own nature and on his relations to his fellowmen and to God. And, if he does so, however small may be his speculative powers, his religion is on the way to become a theology.

Here, however, we meet with one of our greatest difficulties, a difficulty which, more than any other, has embarrassed the development of religion during the last two centuries. For it is an obvious fact that philosophy or reflective thought has often been regarded, and not seldom has regarded itself, not as the ally and interpreter, but as the enemy of the faith in which religion begins; not as evolving and elucidating, but as disintegrating and destroying, the beliefs which are the immediate expression of the religious life. And sometimes also it has undertaken to provide a more or less efficient substitute for them. This was the claim put forward in behalf of the so-called Natural Religion by many representatives of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and it has been supposed to be put forward by the adherents of some later systems of thought. On the other hand, there have been, and there are, many who hold that the teaching of reason and philosophy upon religious subjects is mainly negative; that its chief result is to show that all religious faith is what Matthew Arnold called extra-belief (Aberglaube), an illusion of the imagination and the feelings for which there is no rational evidence; or at least that, if it does substitute anything for the complex creeds of Christendom, it is something so vague and general that it cannot have any important influence upon the life of man. Thus the Supreme Being of Deism was so distant and abstract a conception that it could scarcely be said to do more than keep the place open for a possible God. And Mr. Herbert Spencer does not substantially alter the case, when he claims the whole sphere of attainable knowledge for science, and generously gives up to religion the infinite spaces of the Unknowable. For a worship of the Unknowable would at best only serve the purpose of the lictor who in the midst of a Roman triumph reminded the victorious Imperator that he too was mortal. Religion, on such a basis, would be nothing but a recognition of the impassable bounds of the flammantia moenia mundi, the inevitable limits of human knowledge and human destiny. It could not be—what Christianity and all the higher religions have claimed to be—the great power that consecrates and idealises the life of man by relating it to that which is eternal and divine.

Such a view of reason as the rival or enemy of faith is naturally met, on the other side, by a proclamation of faith as the enemy of reason. If natural religion be set up as the substitute for revealed religion, it is eagerly pointed out by some theologians that the substitute is inefficient; that, as it rests upon abstract thought, it can at best meet the wants only of the few who live by thought, and that, even for them, it is a precarious and uncertain possession; since it is devoid of that power of interesting the feelings and transforming the life which belongs to the beliefs that come to us in a more direct way, prior to and independent of the deliberate action of the intelligence. On the other hand, if it be argued that reason is entirely opposed to the claims of faith, that its attempts to deal with the problem of religion inevitably lead to a conviction that the problem is insoluble by any of the methods of human science, and that, therefore, the only rational creed is Agnosticism—this very argument is apt to be accepted by religions men as a confession of the incapacity of reason to deal with the highest interests of man's spiritual life. In this way many Roman Catholic writers like De Maistre, and many Protestant writers like Mansel and, to a certain extend also, Mr. Balfour, have tried to maintain the cause of religion on the basis of philosophical scepticism. They have contended that reason, except within the limits of empirical science, is a purely analytical and therefore disintegrating agency, which can create nothing and develop nothing, and which tears up by the roots the tree of life in the effort to see how it grows. They have sometimes endeavoured, on the basis of the Kautian criticism of knowledge, to show that, in face of the great problems of life—of all the problems, in fact, with which religion is specially concerned—reason is placed between two alternatives, neither of which it is able to accept as true. And they have in various ways tried to exploit this incompetence of reason in the interests of faith, sometimes of faith in an external authority, at other times of a faith in some immediate or intuitive consciousness which is maintained to be prior to reason and above its criticism.

Now, whatever side we take in such a controversy, the result seems to be that there is a deep and apparently incurable schism in the spiritual life of man, a schism between his unconscious and his conscious life; or, as we may perhaps more accurately state it—since man is always in a sense both conscious and self-conscious—a schism between man's immediate experience and the reflexion in which he is involved whenever he attempts to understand himself. And instead of a fides quaerens intellectum, a faith which is simply the first direct grasp of the soul at truth, and which therefore leads on necessarily to the more adequate comprehension and appreciation of it, we have, on the one side, a faith that withdraws itself from criticism by raising a plea against the competence of the critic, and, on the other, a reason which treats faith as another name for illusion.

Now, it seems to me that we can to some extent sympathise with the motives of both sides in this old controversy. On the one hand, a faith which is not seeking intelligence is a faith which is stunted and perverted; for, as we have seen, the very nature of religion, and especially of the Christian religion, involves and stimulates reflexion upon the great issues of life. Hence the attempt to defend Christianity by questioning the right of the intelligence to criticise it, is suicidal. The bulwark which it sets up for the defence of religion is also a barrier in the way of its natural development; and a religion which does not develop must soon die. The faith that does not seek, but shuns and repels knowledge, is already losing its rational character. The exclusion of science from the sphere of religion—meaning, as it does, also the exclusion of religion from the sphere of science—necessarily leads to its withdrawal from other spheres of human life until, instead of being the key to all other interests, religion becomes a concern by itself, and, we might almost say, a private concern of the individual.

On the other hand, it seems difficult to admit the claim of science at all without making it so absolute as to leave no room for faith; and that whether religion be conceived as irrational or as rational. For while, in the former case, religion is set aside and Agnosticism takes its place, in the latter case it seems as if faith must equally disappear, because reason provides a complete substitute for it, a religio philosophi which is based on a definite philosophical conception of the nature of God, and a definite proof of His existence. Thus, if it be admitted that a scientific interpretation of religion is possible, it might seem that this interpretation must take the place of religion itself; that, if faith can be explained by reason, reason must become the nemesis of faith. Moreover, it is impossible that religion can be rationalised without being greatly modified; and if such a transformation be justifiable, how can we regard the first form of religion as more than a temporary and provisional scaffolding which has to be removed when the building is completed? Thus, to treat the claims of knowledge as absolute seems fatal to faith; but, on the other hand, it is futile to admit the right of intelligence to examine and criticise up to a certain point and no farther. All such compromises between reason and faith must break down, because we can find no third power beyond both to determine their respective limits; while, if we allow either reason or faith to determine them, the power which does so is ipso facto recognised as supreme. In particular, if reason be limited by anything but itself, it is enslaved; it becomes, as the Scholastic theologians maintained it should be, the ancilla fidei; and the voice of a slave has no authority: it can add no weight to the word of the master. It is impossible that religion can receive any real aid or service from the activity of philosophical reflexion unless such reflexion is absolutely free. And if it be free, it seems as if it could recognise no right but its own, as if it must set aside as irrelevant all beliefs and doctrines which have arisen independently of its own action, and as if, in building up its scientific creed, it must clear the ground of all that occupied it before. Yet, if it does so, the fate of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, and that of the Agnosticism of the present day, seem to show that religious belief is likely to evaporate in our hands, or to reduce itself to something so vague and empty that it can hardly have any influence upon the life of man.

I have been trying to put as sharply as possible a dilemma which has greatly exercised the minds of men during the last two centuries, and which is still the source of perplexity to many. On the one hand, it seems as if religious faith must seek reason, as a condition of its own life; and yet that, in seeking reason, it seeks its own destruction. It must seek reason: for it is impossible that any real faith can live without attempting to understand itself or develop its own intellectual content; and when it has once entered upon this course, it cannot stop short of the end. If it appeals to reason, to reason it must go. And if at any point it becomes apprehensive, and endeavours to put a stop to the process of reflexion and criticism, above all if it calls in the aid of scepticism to defend it against such criticism, it loses something of its sincerity, its wholeness of heart, and of the courage and freedom that goes only with such sincerity. Thus it is driven back upon itself and deprived of that firm hold upon thought and life which it formerly possessed. The result is that religion, which should be the great principle of unity in human life, becomes the source of the most unhappy of all its divisions. Or if, again, the other alternative be adopted, and it is recognised that, in an age of science, religion, like everything else, must submit to criticism on pain of losing its moral influence, it seems as if, at the best, we were inviting such an idealistic re-interpretation of Christianity as has been attempted by Kant, by Schelling, and by Hegel: and then, it is alleged by many, we are substituting for a religion of the heart and will, a religion of the intellect that dissolves away all those personal relations of God and man which constitute the living power of Christianity. And if this be the best, what is the worst? It is that all such attempts to explain or reconstitute religion upon a new basis should fail, or, like the Natural Religion of the eighteenth century, should dissolve away in abstraction, and leave us with nothing to correspond to religion except the consciousness that beyond all that we can feel and know there is an infinite unknown, and that, in short, we ourselves

“are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and oar little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Now there cannot be any doubt that this is a real difficulty, which has produced and is now more than ever producing a division in our life, and ranging us in opposite ranks, and that not on the ground of any individual or class prejudice, but on the ground of what are really the highest interests of man's intellectual and moral life: setting on the one side those who feel that the powers of man's spiritual nature can be fully drawn out only by a religion that makes the strongest personal appeal to his will and affections, and who therefore cling to forms of belief which they refuse to criticise and try to exempt from criticism: and setting on the other side those to whom the most vital of all causes is the cause of truth and intellectual honesty, and who are therefore prepared to accept the results of free enquiry, even if it should tear away from them everything they would wish to believe. Nay, this is a division which everyone who is open to the intellectual influences of the time must feel in himself, as a conflict, or apparent conflict, between two claims, both of which rise out of his own nature. There are many writings of the last century which might be adduced as evidence of the prevalence of such a state of mind. Thus in reading Mill's Essays on Religion—a book which attracted much attention when it was first published—we can see that the author is continually asking himself how much he may still believe and hope, how much of Christianity he may retain consistently with his scientific integrity. And there are at the present day numerous writers, like Professor James, who maintain that there is a point at which we have a right, without any other evidence, to take what we think most desirable for our own spiritual life as by that very fact sufficiently evidenced to be true; a point at which, in short, belief may be safely founded on the ‘will to believe.’ Yet from this there is only a step to the acceptance of the principles of Newman's Grammar of Assent, which asserts the right—in the general impossibility of finding sufficient evidence for any kind of religious truth—to treat insufficient evidence as if it were sufficient. On the other hand, there are many who regard all such expedients for the establishment or restoration of faith as more or less refined adaptations of Pascal's straightforward counsel: “Il faut s'abêtir”; and who, therefore, think themselves obliged to accept the conclusion that our advancing knowledge is only making us more clearly realise the limits of our life and the impossibility of our discovering either whence it comes or whither it goes, or what is the unknown power that rules it; and that the intense life of religious faith, in which so much that is great in the past life of man had its source and spring, was based upon an illusion, with which, for good or evil, we must learn henceforth to dispense.

Now, it cannot be denied that much remains to be done ere such difficulties as these can be solved or removed. But I think that there is already in our hands, in the idea of Evolution, a kind of Eirenicon or means of bringing the opposing sides nearer to an understanding with each other. In particular, that idea enables us to throw some new light upon the relations of the unconscious or unreflective to the conscious or reflective life, as stages or factors in the development of man; and thus, as it were, to break off the horns of the dilemma of which we have been speaking—a dilemma which really arises from their being sharply and abstractly opposed to each other. For, in the first place, in the very idea that they are two factors or stages of one life, it is involved that they are not governed by two absolutely antagonistic principles, but that there is an essential link of connexion between them. Their difference and opposition, however far it may reach, must ultimately be conceived as secondary and capable of being explained from their unity. Their conflict, in short, must be taken as analogous to the conflict of different members or forms of vital activity in one organism, a competition which in the healthy organism is always subordinated to co-operation, or at least only ceases to be co-operation at a lower stage that it may become co-operation at a higher. It is thus that in organic evolution greater differentiation of function proves itself to be the means to deeper integration and more concentrated unity. And in this unity nothing that was valuable in the lower stage of life is ultimately sacrificed, however much the form may be changed.

Applying this to the case before us, we cannot admit that there is any fatal opposition between the unconscious or unreflective movement of man's mind and that which is conscious and reflective. It is the same reason that is at work in both, and all that reflexion can do is to bring to light the processes and categories which underlie the unreflective action of the intelligence, and, in doing so, to make the use of them more definite and adequate. We must, therefore, maintain that, though reason may accidentally become opposed to faith, its ultimate and healthy action must preserve for us, or restore to us, all that is valuable in faith. Or, if it necessarily comes into collision with faith at a certain stage of development, at a further stage this antagonism must disappear, or be reduced within ever narrower limits. Nay, in the long run a living faith will absorb into itself the elements of the criticism which is directed against it, and grow by their means into a higher form of religious life. We are too often disposed to say: Fiat justitia, ruat coelum, and to forget that justice sustains the universe, and cannot be the cause of its ruin. And so we are too apt to think the division of faith and reason to be incurable, and to suppose that we must choose the one and reject the other; forgetting that a faith that really springs out of our rational or spiritual nature, or commends itself to it, cannot be fundamentally irrational or incapable of being explained and defended; and that a reason which is unable to find an intelligible meaning in some of the deepest experiences of human souls, must be one-sided and imperfectly developed. Hence, while we cannot deny the relative opposition of the two forms of spiritual life, and are indeed obliged to recognise it as one of the most potent factors in development, we cannot admit that it is an absolute opposition.

Nor, again, is it possible to be satisfied with a conception of progress that has often been advocated in the last century, by no one more forcibly than by Thomas Carlyle, the conception of an alternation of two different eras of human history—an era of intuition, faith, and unconsciousness, in which the minds of men are at one with themselves, and work joyfully and successfully in the service of some idea which inspires them, but which they never seek to question or analyse, and an era of reflexion in which the “native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,” in which faith grows weak, and the symbols which formerly satisfied the souls of men, and united them with each other, are dissected and torn to pieces by scepticism. Apparently Carlyle has little consolation for those who are born in such an unhappy age of transition, except to bid them wait for a new inspiration, a new imaginative synthesis, which shall set up another symbol in place of that which has disappeared. Least of all has he any trust in the reflective intelligence, in the work of thought, as capable of bringing about such a synthesis or substantially contributing towards it. But a deeper consideration of the process in question may show, as I have already indicated, that the two great movements which constitute it, the movement of unconscious construction, faith and intuition, and the movement of reflective analysis and critical reconstruction, are not essentially opposed, but rather form the necessary complements of each other in the development of man's spiritual life: and that, as it is essential to faith that it should develop into reason, so the criticism of faith, as it is a criticism by reason of its own unconscious products, cannot be ultimately destructive or merely negative in its effect. Its searching fires may, indeed, burn up much of the wood, hay, stubble—the perishable adjuncts that attach themselves to the edifice of human faith—but they cannot touch the stones of the building, still less the eternal foundation on which it is built. I will not conceal my conviction that its dissolving power must be fatal to many things which men have thought and still think to be bound up with their religious life, but I do not believe that it will destroy anything that is really necessary to it. Christianity is not, like some earlier religions, essentially connected with imaginative symbols, which must lose their hold upon man's mind so soon as he is able to distinguish poetry from prose. It had its origin, as we have seen, in an age which was, up to a certain point, an age of reflexion, and the first movement of its life was to break away from the local and national influences of the region in which it was born. It lived and moved from the beginning in an atmosphere of universality, and in spite of the reactionary influences to which in its further history it was exposed and which gradually affected its life and doctrine, it never lost its essentially universal character. Hence, when its official representatives had turned it into a system of superstition and obstruction, its own influences have often inspired the reformers and revolutionists who attacked and overthrew that system. It has thus, we might say, brought “not peace but a sword” into the life of men, because it would not let them rest in any partial or inadequate solution of their difficulties, or in anything short of the ideal of humanity which it set before them. Such a universal religion, built upon the idea of the unity of man with God, and therefore on the conviction that the universe in which man lives is in its ultimate meaning and reality a spiritual world, cannot be justly regarded as a transitory phase of human development, or as a creation of feeling and imagination which science and philosophy are bound ultimately to displace. Whatever may become of the special doctrines in which it has found its first reflective expression, it contains a kernel which is essentially rational and which cannot but gain greater and greater importance the more man's spiritual life is developed. It has in it a seed of ideal truth which is one with man's mind—the anima naturaliter Christiana of which Tertullian speaks—and which therefore must grow with its growth and strengthen with its strength. And philosophy, in spite, or rather because, of its critical reaction upon all the products of Christian thought and life, must in the long run supply one of the most important of all the agencies by which that seed is brought to maturity. It must show itself neither as the enemy of religion, nor as a substitute for it, but as the purest form of its consciousness of itself, and therefore as the great means of its development.

The view of the evolution of religion and of its relation to theology which I have stated is one that has been gaining ground in modern philosophy ever since the time of Leibniz. It occupies an important place in the theories of all the German idealists from Kant to Hegel, and in those of many other writers who have followed in their footsteps during the last century. From what has been said above, it will be seen that the objections brought against it may be summed up under two heads: they are either the objections of those who would separate philosophy from life or the objections of those who would separate life from philosophy.

The former class of objections have not seldom been urged by recent critics, generally in the interest of religion. If philosophy can explain and criticise religion, still more if it can in any sense be said to give it a new and more rational form, must it not, they ask, set religion aside and take its place? In other words, does not such a reflective interpretation of religion involve the substitution of the philosophy of religion for religion itself, and therefore of a mere intellectual process for an experience which embraces the whole complex nature of man, feeling, thought, and will? If so, then the change of form, which philosophical reflexion brings with it, will involve such a transformation of the whole content of religion as well as of the attitude of the individual towards it, that all the vivid interest of immediate religious experience must die out and leave in its place a mere caput mortuum of abstraction or a dialectical movement of thought, which are as far removed from life as the conceptions of pure mathematics.

Such a view, however, involves an entire misconception of the work of philosophy and its relation to life. To say that a religion must develop into a theology does not mean that theology as a system of thought must take the place of religion. It was a fatal inversion of the true order of spiritual things, when doctrines as to the nature of God were treated by so-called Natural religion as the basis of the religious life, instead of being regarded as the results of an effort to interpret it. Philosophy, if we separate it from life, can never be a substitute for life; it is only life brought to self-consciousness; and to say that it is higher than the other forms of life is either untrue, or true only in a sense to which no reasonable objection can be taken. It is true only in the sense that a religion which understands itself, which has reflected on the principles on which it is based, is an advance upon a religion that has not so reflected. But theology no more gives us a new religion than the science of ethics gives us a new morality. Under limitations shortly to be stated, they cannot do so, and if they did, they would be worse than useless. They would be carrying us to another life and another experience, when what we want is to explain the life we are actually leading and the experiences we are having here and now. They would be liable to all the objections of those who say that the philosopher builds up a purely ideal world ‘out of his own head.’ If any philosopher ever did so, he might justly be left as its sole inhabitant. The only truth in the objection is that —while it is the business of philosophy simply to explain experience, and among other things to explain the religion and morality that exist and not any other—yet it is inevitable that our ethical and religious attitude should be greatly changed by our attaining to a reflective consciousness of the principles which we had before been using without reflexion. Ethics does not, and cannot produce a morality which is essentially different from the morality of immediate experience, the morality existing in the intuitive vision of good men, who live up to the highest standard of their time, and in living up to it carry it a step higher. Yet it is true to say that reflexion contributes to moral progress. If, for example, we reflect on the order of the State and bring to light the principle that dominates its activities, the unity that pervades and connects its dispersed rules and institutions, the State becomes in a sense a new thing for us. The consciousness of the meaning of our life must react upon the life itself and conduce to its improvement by liberating the political idea from the accidents of its temporary embodiment. And so it is with religion. As relexion advances, it leads to a distinction which is continually growing clearer, between that which is accidental and of temporary value and that which is essential and fruitful for all time; and this in turn must bring about a further development of the latter at the expense of the former. Thus as man's progress, in one important aspect of it, is a progress to self-consciousness, he is in some sense a new man when he has gained a new consciousness of himself. But it would be repeating the central mistake of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century to separate speculation from life and to make it a substitute for the experience from which it springs. The main practical use of philosophy is to prune away the accretions of time, to counteract the tendency to stereotype or fossilise particular forms of life and thought, and so to give room for the further growth of the spirit of man. Philosophy is the criticism of life, and to separate it from life or substitute it for life, would be like attributing to the gardener what is due to the vital forces of the plant. The metaphor, indeed, fails to be adequate, but it fails in a way that tends further to emphasise the principle illustrated by it. For the philosophy that criticises life is an element in the life it criticises, and the treatment of it as something independent, something that sets up claims for itself, must end in depriving it of its raison d'être and making it barren and unfruitful.

On the other hand, if it be an error to attempt to separate philosophy, as the criticism of life, from life itself, it is an equal error to attempt to separate life from philosophy. There is a literal truth in the saying of Socrates, that “a life without criticism is not worthy of being lived by men”; and even that, strictly speaking, it cannot be lived by them. As I have already attempted to show, the critical reaction of the human mind upon experience begins almost as soon as the experience itself. Least of all is it possible to separate man's highest life, his religions experience, from such a critical reaction; and in this sense theology begins to exist as soon as religion has taken any definite form. At the same time it is true that the criticism does not separate itself from the thing criticised till a comparatively late stage of human history. It works rather as a silent transforming influence, modifying and improving the beliefs of men or gradually making one belief obsolete and causing another to triumph over it.

Looking at it from this point of view, therefore, we may fairly say that the beginning of theology is to be found in Greek philosophy; for it was in Greece that reflexion first became free, and at the same time systematic. It was in Greece that philosophy first organised itself as a relatively separate interest, over against the immediate practical interests of life. Philosophy, indeed, cannot detach itself from life; in so far as it does so, it must be smitten with barrenness. Its office is to bring life to clear self-consciousness, and because Greek philosophy did this, it acquired and maintained a relative independence. And it is this that gives primary importance to its contribution to theology. There is, it is true, a theological philosophy of India, which is earlier in development than Greek philosophy; but the thought of India, though often subtle and profound, is unmethodical; and when it goes beyond the most abstract ideas it mixes the forms of imagination with those of religion in a way that does not conduce to distinct and adequate thinking. And, while it is not easy to ascertain what elements it has contributed to Western theology, it may safely be asserted that its influence was secondary and subordinate. Even in the Neoplatonic philosophy, which is most kindred in spirit with it, the likeness is mainly at least the result of the independent development of Greek speculation. It was the thought of Greece which, in this as in other departments, gave to the philosophical enquiries of Christendom a definite method and a definite aim. It was from Greece that the Fathers of the Church borrowed the forms of thought, the fundamental conceptions of nature and human life, in short, all the general presuppositions which they brought to the interpretation of the Christian faith. Hence it is hardly possible to trace with intelligence the evolution of doctrines either in the early or medieval Church, or in modern times, without a previous study of the development of theology in the Greek philosophers.

  • 1. The Evolution of Religion (MacLehose & Sons, Glasgow).