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Lecture Twenty-seventh: The Influence of Greek Philosophy upon Christian Theology

IN the last lecture we were dealing with the Neo-Platonic treatment of the critical question as to the nature of evil and its relation to the absolute Being who is called par excellence the Good. In arguing this question against the Gnostics, and perhaps against the Christians, Plotinus is brought into considerable difficulties, because he has to face those who from one point of view are greater pessimists, and from another point of view greater optimists than himself. On the one hand, the Christian Church had inherited the Jewish antagonism to all nature-worship, and even something of those darker views which the Jews had derived from Persia, according to which this present world was regarded as given over, for a time at least, to Satan and the powers of evil. And this way of thinking was exaggerated by some of the Gnostics—and obviously by those with whom Plotinus was brought into contact—into the belief that the world was created by an evil Demiurgus. In these Gnostics, indeed, the dualistic or pessimistic tendency was carried to an extreme by a combination of eastern with western elements, of the Jewish belief in demoniac possession with the Greek abhorrence of matter. Even the Christian church, though it rejected Gnostic extravagancies, was in the time of Plotinus becoming every day more ascetic and less inclined to regard this world as anything but a place in which to prepare for the next. As against such antagonists, Plotinus, in spite of the ascetic and mystic tendencies of his own philosophy, was constrained to maintain the Platonic view of natural beauty as a stepping-stone to the higher beauty of the intelligible world: and, inheriting the traditions of a religion and philosophy which had treated the heavenly bodies as of a diviner nature than men or any of the other creatures of the phenomenal world, he was particularly scandalised at the idea that the former should be regarded as the work of an evil power. For him, this world, though in a sense a world of shadow and semblance, was an image or copy of the intelligible world; and from this point of view he was obliged to palliate its evils, and to treat its existence as a good and its defects as merely the necessary drawbacks that go along with that good.

On the other hand, in Christianity and even in Gnosticism, there were elements of a deeper optimism, which were equally obnoxious to Plotinus. For apparently, in spite of their dualism, some Christian ideas as to a ‘new earth’ and a bodily resurrection of the blessed had appeared in the Gnostic writings; and these were at once rejected by Plotinus as conflicting with his conception that perfect bliss is to be found, not in any change of the material world, but in a complete escape from it. And with still more decision did he repudiate the doctrine that humanity is in itself divine, and that the highest good can be attained even by the commonest of men without ceasing to be human. The idea that union with the supreme God is for the élite of humanity, and that it can be realised only by the way of philosophic contemplation, makes him revolt against the universalism of Christianity.

Christianity then, as I have indicated, contained at once a deeper pessimism and a higher optimism than is to be found in the system of Plotinus, and just because of this, it could admit no dualism nor any of the compromises that dualism necessarily brings with it. Realising, as Plotinus on the whole refused to do, that the seat of evil is in the consciousness and will of the rational being as such, Christianity could be content with nothing less than its complete eradication; nor could it admit that there was anything in the world or in humanity that was essentially evil, or in which good could not be realised. It was a doctrine of conversion, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation: and it could not without inconsistency allow that there was anything outside of the circle of the divine life, least of all any human being, who, as such, must be made in the image of God. Yet as little was it inclined to minimise the actual facts of the division of men from God and from each other. In recognising evil as rooted in consciousness and will, it deepened very greatly the conception of its antagonism to good, at the same time that it made it possible that that antagonism should be completely overcome. What is more, it made even the existence of evil explicable, as a necessary step in the development of the finite spirit to a consciousness of the divine principle which is realising itself in and through its finitude

When, however, we say that all this was implicit in Christianity, we must make a distinction. It was clear from the beginning that Christianity involved a new conception of the relation of God and man, but this conception was at first an undeveloped germ, a germ of which the whole history of thought from that time has been the development. Presented at once as a doctrine embodied in an individual life, Christianity seemed from the beginning to be fully concrete and real; yet, just because it was so presented, it was really at first undefined and unexplained, a fruitful principle rather than a developed system. It was the idea of God as revealed in man, and the idea of man as by a supreme act of self-surrender finding the perfect realisation of himself as the son and servant of God. It was this as embodied in an individual to whom others might attach themselves, and by this attachment participate in the same life. It was man losing himself to find himself again in God, and God manifest in the flesh to draw all mankind to himself. It is this divine dialectic, as we might call it, which was directly expressed in the words of Christ as they are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels; and this also was the lesson which St. Paul generalised from the life and, above all, from the death of Christ. It was the same solution of the difficulties of life which had been suggested to the prophets by the sufferings of the people of Israel, trodden under feet of other nations, and yet conscious of itself as the people of God. And it also contained implicitly the key to all the antagonisms of thought that had been developed in Greek philosophy—the antagonism of the material and the spiritual, the antagonism of the phenomenal and the ideal or intelligible world, the antagonism of the finite and the infinite, the antagonism of the temporal and the eternal. In a word, it contained in itself the principle of an optimism which faces and overcomes the deepest pessimism, of an idealism which has room in itself for the most realistic consciousness of all the distinctions and relations of the finite.

But it contained all this only in principle, and even that principle was not distinctly expressed, but was at first wrapped up in the conscious relation of the individual to One in whom it seemed once for all to be embodied. And though there is a truth in the assertion that relation to an individual person often contains, for those who experience it, a deeper meaning than they could have received or appreciated in any other form, yet, just for that reason, they can hardly be said to understand or possess the truth by which they are thus influenced; rather we should say that it possesses them, and carries them on to results which they cannot foresee. Thus, while an ideal, apprehended in an individual form, may be significant, and even infinitely significant, its significance is always to a great extent hidden even from him who feels it, and the more closely hidden, the greater that significance is. Admiration and love often anticipate the intelligence, and the heart may obscurely realise the presence of a power which the mind cannot measure. But such realisation is a dim foretaste, an obscure anticipation, of the truth; and it may require a long process of development ere it can pass into the intelligent appropriation and conscious appreciation of the principle involved in that which is admired and loved. And there is, again, a long way to traverse between such acceptance of a principle and the recognition of all its consequences.

This will become clearer, if we bear in mind the novelty of an individualistic consciousness of God, such as that age was seeking, and such as it found in Christianity. The religion, like the morality, of earlier times was essentially social, mediated by the organisation of the community or national society, as a member of which, and only as a member of which, the individual was conscious of rights and duties in relation to other men, as well as of an ideal relation to God which consecrated both. But, as we have seen, the conquests of Rome put an end to all this. The Roman empire was the embodied negation of all such civic and national bonds, and, as such, it conquered at once the nations and their gods. But philosophy with the Greeks and Romans, and prophecy with the Jews, had provided a refuge for the religious consciousness, in the idea of a direct relation of the individual man to God, altogether independent of his relation to others as members of one political society. Already in the philosophical schools of the Greeks, and in the synagogues of the Jews, there had begun to exist what we may call a Church,1 a bond of human beings as all directly related to God, and only through God related to each other. And this bond was by its very nature altogether independent of the unity of the State, which indeed, in the Roman empire, had ceased to be an ethical organisation of life, and had become only the maintainer of outward order.

Now, the consciousness of a relation to Christ, as the personality in whom the unity of God with man was consummated and manifested, while it gave a new life to this purely spiritual organisation, could not make it more than a Church; it could not raise it to that community of all interests secular and sacred, which had formerly been embodied in the civic or national State. The brotherhood of Christ was a union of abstract charity, which united men as religious beings, without making them the members of a political society. The Catholic Church was Catholic, because it included all Christians as individuals in virtue of their universal or spiritual nature; but it separated the concerns of that nature from all the secular affairs of life, and even when it did not seek to isolate the individual from these affairs, it could not do more than put an external limitation upon them. It could not unite flesh with spirit, the particular impulses of the finite life with the highest aspirations of the religious consciousness, in such a harmony as had been in large measure achieved in some of the political societies of the ancient world.

St. Paul, indeed, gives us a picture of the Church as a body, in which each member has a special office, and yet all members contribute to one life; but the actual Church, by the very fact that it excluded from its direct purview all the secular interests of life, could not possibly realise that ideal. It could not organise men into a real social whole by means of their particular tendencies and capacities. It could produce a collective unity of individuals through one supreme interest, but it could not mould them into a real social organism, since it excluded or at least did not directly include, their other interests. In fact, it could deal with those other interests directly only by treating them as of no account, and so creating not a State but a monastery. This fundamental weakness inevitably forced it, almost in spite of itself, in spite of the idea of the essential unity of the human with the divine on which it was based, into the path of asceticism. As a consequence, it tended more and more to obscure that idea, or to give a transcendent interpretation to it as a unity of God with men which was realised only in the person of Christ, and could not in the same sense be participated in by his followers. Thus the very dualism of human and divine, which Christ seemed to have come to terminate, began to reappear in a new form, in so far as the idea of their union was, as it were, lifted into the skies, into the region of abstract dogma as to the nature of the divinity. And as this change was consummated, Christianity tended to become a religion of other-worldliness, a religion in which the life of this world was viewed merely as a preparation for another.

This tendency was at first resisted by the conception of Christ as the Jewish Messiah. For though the early Christians had learnt to regard Christ as a Messiah who conquers by suffering and death, and to look upon the world, in which this is the lot of supreme goodness, as in a sense given over to the power of evil, yet they did not despair of an earthly victory over such evil. On the contrary, it was their hope and belief that the struggle of a few years would bring about a renewal of all things, and that the church, by the return of its Lord, would be changed into a divine State, or kingdom of God upon earth. As, however, the days went on, and the ‘promise of Christ's coming’ seemed to fail, this hope passed away. The Church resigned itself to be only a church, and the world seemed to be finally given over to other powers. And, as a necessary consequence, the divine kingdom, for which the teaching and discipline of the Church was a preparation, transferred itself to another world. The Christian was a pilgrim and a stranger in this world, and his patria, the native land of his soul, where alone he could be a citizen, was to be found only in heaven. And with this transference of the realisation of Christianity beyond death and time, the elevation of humanity into unity with the divine through union with Christ inevitably took the aspect of an unrealisable ideal, unrealisable at least on earth; and, as a natural consequence, the Church was set in perennial antagonism to the State.

There was, however, a still more important influence which acted in the same direction, namely, the influence of Greek, and in particular of Neo-Platonic, philosophy. This influence had already done much to modify Jewish religion at the beginning of the Christian era, as is shown by the writings of Philo, and it could not but be felt still more powerfully in the Christian Church. For, as soon as the Messianic idea left Jewish soil, it had to find an equivalent or substitute among the conceptions of the classical nations, and no idea could seem so appropriate as that of the Logos which had already been adopted by Philo. But with this change all the limitations, which in the Jewish mind were connected with the Messianic idea, were at once thrown off. Already in the writings of St. Paul the conception of the Christ as ‘the first-born of many brethren,’ who had been raised from the dead by God as an evidence of his universal mission to men, seems to rise above every condition of finite life; and in the later Epistles he is declared to be the ‘image of the invisible God,’ the Being who ‘is before all things,’ and by whom ‘all things consist.’2 And there was a danger that the Neo-Platonic idea of the Logos should be carried so far as to reduce the whole human life of Christ to a mere illusive appearance of one who was not a real human being at all. Even the Gospel of St. John might seem to give some countenance to such a view; for while the writer protests against it, and even dwells with special force and vehemence on its opposite, speaking of ‘that which our eyes have seen and our hands have handled of the word of life,’3 and denouncing as the worst of heresies the idea that Christ had not ‘come in the flesh’; yet he himself throughout his narrative is continually insisting on the supernatural aspects of the life of Christ. It was, in fact, just because the Son of Man was so much lost in the Son of God that the assertion of his real humanity had become absolutely necessary. In the protests of St. John, therefore, we see the beginning of those controversies as to the relation of the divine to the human in Christ, which were to vex the Church through all the centuries in which it was occupied in the formulation of its creed. The two terms, God and man, were here for the first time brought together with a full consciousness of all that tends to divide and oppose them; and it was impossible that the Church should rest until the difficulties of their difference and unity should be fought out to some decided issue. It was, therefore, by no avoidable accident that these controversies arose in the Church. For so soon as the meaning of the life of Christ, and of the attitude of perfect surrender to God and unity with him, which Jesus Christ maintained both in his life and in his death, began to be realised—and this could not be long delayed in an age when Greek thought had made men so fully alive to the antagonistic elements involved in the question—it was inevitable that this problem should become all-important. Nor was it possible that the Church should rest with complete assurance in its faith, till all the various aspects of it were considered, and till the controversy regarding them was brought to a definite issue.

Now there are many writers, and not only sceptical writers, but Christian theologians—including, indeed, the most important school of German theology in recent times—who hold that the great controversies of the early Church about the Trinity and the Incarnation were controversies about words, or at best about subtilties introduced by Greek philosophy into the Christian religion, which have no real significance for later times. They are, in the language of Harnack, parts of that secularisation of the Christian faith by which it was drawn down into the sphere of an unchristian system of thought. Or, as others have held, they are meaningless attempts to define the incomprehensible, from which no satisfaction to the intelligence of man can be drawn. Such a view seems to me to show a want of the power to recognise that the controversies of an earlier time have a real meaning, though the problems discussed are not exactly our problems, and the language used in the debate has become unfamiliar. If, however, we can get over this appearance of strangeness, we shall be little inclined to the superficial view that the human mind wrestled for centuries over the difference between verbal definitions of the Unknowable. I do not believe that controversies about words ever occupy a great space in human history, although it is true that the controversies of the past often seem to us mere controversies about words. But this is simply because we have not realised what the issues really meant to those who contended so strenuously about them. In the present case we have only to go a little below the surface to discern the vital relation which the controversies of the early Christian centuries have to those which occupy our minds in the present day.

The truth is that the question of the early Christian centuries was simply the great problem as to the relation of the human to the divine, of the spirits of men to the absolute Being, which is the greatest theme of modern philosophy; but in that age the opposing views could only take the form of different conceptions of the person of Christ. Can God reveal himself to and in man? Can man be the organ and manifestation of God? Such is the perennial issue which the Christian Church has had to face; but in that age it had to face it only in relation to him, in whom the consciousness of sonship to God had shown itself in its first and most immediate form. Admitting that Christ was such a being, and that in him and to him God was revealed, could he be regarded as a real man? Was it not a degradation for him to be brought into contact with mortality, and must not his appearance be regarded as a mere semblance which was necessary for the purpose of his mission? On the other hand, if his appearance as man were such a semblance or illusion, how could he reveal the reality? How could a mediator, who was not man, unite man to God? Must not the two terms break asunder and require some new middle term to unite them, unless Christ were at once very man and very God? This was the circle within which the controversy turned during the first five centuries of the Christian era. The ultimate result of the conflict was the assertion of the unity of divinity and humanity in Christ; but at the same time this result was in two ways deprived of a great part of its meaning. In the first place, it was confined to Christ alone; and in the second place, the unity was regarded as, so to speak, rather a static than a dynamic unity, that is, not as a unity realised in the process of the Christian life, the process of self-surrender and self-sacrifice through which humanity becomes—what potentially it is—the highest organ of the divine self-manifestation, but as a unity that exists independently of any process whatsoever.

Now the imperfection of this result is partly explained by the necessity that the principle of the unity of the divine and the human should be asserted, ere it could be worked out to any farther consequences. Christ was the one crucial instance which, if it could be maintained as real, must inevitably determine the whole issue. If one man, living such a life of self-sacrifice for mankind, were in perfect unity with God, so that his consciousness of himself could be taken as the divine self-consciousness, then must not the same be true of all who followed in his footsteps? If so, then the highest goodness was shown to be only the realisation of an ideal which every human soul, as such, bears within it. God is manifested in man under the ordinary conditions of human life, whenever man gives himself up to God. The power that builds and holds the universe together is shown, in a higher form than by any creative act, in every man that lives not for himself, but as an organ and minister of divine love to men.

But this result could not be seen at first. In the early centuries the idea could not be realised except in relation to its first pure manifestation. Christianity had, indeed, revealed God in man, but at first only in the Man, who was ‘the first-born of many brethren.’ And the whole movement of thought was at first concentrated on the effort to realise this unity of humanity and divinity in the person of him, who was presented as at once the Son of Man and the Son of God. Christ must be ‘lifted up’ ere he could draw all men to him. In other men, this unity was a ‘far off divine event,’ which had to be realised by a self-conquest that could never be quite complete. Thus Christianity had cast man down, in order to raise him up; and the negative aspect of this revelation must necessarily show itself before the positive.4 This was the inner necessity of the situation. But there was also an outward necessity corresponding to it. Greek philosophy supplied the form in which the reflective thought of the time was cast, the intellectual weapons with which it worked, the categories or general conceptions by means of which it sought to deal with any new matter that was brought to it. And this philosophy was, as we have seen, profoundly dualistic, and the efforts of Neo-Platonism to overcome the dualism had only brought it into a more startling form. Its hierarchy of powers reaching up to the absolute One and down to formless matter, showed at once the need of mediation, and the impossibility of attaining it in consistency with the presuppositions from which the system started. For in a true mediation the middle term cannot be a mere intermediate, but must transcend, and comprehend in one, the two terms that are opposed. A reflexion which was guided by the ideals of such a philosophy was apt to bring division into the nature of the object to which it was applied, or, at least, to bring into active manifestation any tendency to division that belonged to it. Now, as we have seen, Christianity had in it from the first a negative side. Its essential moral idea was that of self-realisation through self-sacrifice. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” In such words Christ showed his confidence, that a new and a richer life would arise out of the death or sacrifice of the immediate natural existence; but he demanded that the old life should perish ere the new life could arise. These two elements, the negative and the positive, are held in perfect balance in the consciousness of Christ, as it is expressed in the Synoptic Gospels, with its perfect self-surrender even to death, its absolute trust in God, and its confident reading of the divine goodness in all nature and providence, in the face of the fiercest manifestations of evil passion. In Christ, we might say, optimism emerges serene and triumphant from everything that could be brought to prove its opposite. Perfect idealism shows itself stronger than all the materialism of the world. Das Ernst des Negativen, the reality of sin and misery, has full justice done to it, but the positive overreaches it, and transforms it into good. The prayer “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” with its reduction of evil to ignorance, is perhaps the most victorious assertion of the relativity of evil that ever has been made.

But it was hardly possible that this balance should be preserved, and the very exigencies of the prolonged struggle of the Church with the world tended to bring the negative aspect of its doctrines into greater and greater prominence. Moreover, modes of thought derived from Greek philosophy were constantly aiding this tendency, and even at times threatening to break up the unity of the Christian consciousness altogether. Through the more educated of the converts to the Christian faith, through the Gnostics and the Christian Fathers—who opposed the Gnostics, but in doing so received a strong reactive influence from Gnosticism—through the Alexandrian school of theology, especially as represented by Clement and Origen, and at a later date by Augustine, the ideas of Neo-Platonism invaded the Christian theology. And wherever they came, they tended to emphasise the negative and to weaken the positive elements of the Christian faith. The result was somewhat ambiguous. The fundamental idea of Christianity could not be lost; but it was, so to speak, driven back to its last entrenchment in the consciousness of Christ, and all the outworks were surrendered to the enemy. To put the matter more clearly, Christianity could not give up its central idea of the unity of the human with the divine, nor could it give up the faith that men in some sense are capable of being participators in the divine nature. But, under the influence of Neo-Platonic modes of thought, the gulf between Christ and other men tended to widen. The heresy that reduced the humanity of Christ to an illusive appearance was defeated in its direct aim, but it was victorious in so far as the glorified Christ was absolutely separated from and raised above all his fellows, till it became almost a paradox to say that “he was in all points tempted like as we are.” The strong language of St. John's Gospel, “that they may be one, even as we are one,” had to be explained away. And though St. Athanasius could still say, that “He became man that we might be made gods,”5 it was inevitable that such words should come to seem too daring.

The change which passed over the doctrine of the Trinity is another indication in the same direction. In earlier writers and in St. Athanasius it is immediately connected with the doctrine of the Incarnation; it is essentially an attempt to deal with the great question of the unity of God and man. But with St. Augustine, who was deeply under the influence of the Neo-Platonists, and from whom the Athanasian creed with its mysterious antithetic utterances is derived, it becomes an almost unintelligible account of the inner nature of the Deity.6 It might fairly be said that a change passed over the idea of the God-man very like that which passed over the idea of the world-soul between Plato and Plotinus, by which the very link between the intelligence and the matter was itself taken up into the intelligible world. And the mediation of the Virgin and the saints had to be brought in to fill up the breach thus made in the unity of the human and the divine. At the same time, the Christian view of life had to be modified in conformity with the new conception of the relation of man to God. The possibility of the realisation of the life of Christ in other men was not and could not be denied, but it was referred to another world, for which this was regarded merely as a preparation. Millennial anticipations of a regenerated earth were exchanged for the conception of the earthly life as a trial and discipline for a better world. And if the ascetic ideal could not absolutely triumph in a religion that proclaimed the resurrection of the body, if the natural feelings and affections of humanity could not be declared essentially impure, because connected with sense and matter, yet the discredit of following a lower ideal was attached to the life of the family and the State. In short, it may fairly be argued that through this whole period the development of Christianity was one-sided, and that, though it could not altogether surrender its essential character as a doctrine of reconciliation, as the revelation of a unity of human and divine that underlies their difference and overcomes it, yet it was drawn in the direction of dualism as far as was possible consistently with its retaining any hold of the life of Christ. And if it be said that this dualistic movement was itself a necessary stage in the development of the Christian idea, yet, on the other hand, we cannot doubt that the main agency by which it was accomplished was the Greek, and in particular the Neo-Platonic philosophy. In this case, even more clearly than in the case of the empire of Rome, we can see that conquered Greece laid spiritual fetters on its victor. Greece provided Christianity with the weapons of culture which enabled it to subdue the minds of its opponents, but at the same time it did much to determine the main bias and direction of the religious consciousness which was established by its means. It gave its own form to the life and doctrine of the Church, at least down to the time when, by a new reaction, the spirit of Christianity began to free itself from the tutelage that was necessary to its earlier development.

These remarks on the influence of Greek philosophy, especially in its Neo-Platonic form, upon the development of Christian doctrine, are of course not intended to be exhaustive. They are intended merely to indicate the great effect of the movement of Greek thought upon the theology of the Christian Church. In different ways Greek philosophy may be regarded as the germ out of which Christian theology sprang, or as the great adverse force which it had to combat. It was the former, if we consider that in Neo-Platonism Greek philosophy was struggling with the ideas of the antagonism between the divine and the human, and at the same time of the necessity of their relation. The problem which Christianity had to solve, reached its most definite and decisive expression in the Neo-Platonic philosophy. And we must remember that he who puts such a problem distinctly before the human mind, has already done much to help towards its solution. On the other hand, Neo-Platonism itself was not able to reach such a solution. It set the two terms in such absolute opposition that a true synthesis or reconciliation of them was impossible. It altogether separated the Infinite from the finite; or, if it tried to mediate between them by means of the intelligence and the world-soul, yet as it regarded even the world-soul as belonging entirely to the intelligible world, it could not conceive it as descending into the world of sense and matter, or as reconciling the world of sense and matter with the divine. Its last word was escape, not reconciliation, the deliverance of the soul from the bonds of finitude, and not the conversion of the finite itself into the organ and manifestation of the infinite. Hence, when brought in relation to Christianity, Neo-Platonism became an influence in favour of dualism. It tended to break the unity of life and thought which Christianity sought to establish, or at least to limit and make imperfect the reconciliation which Christianity sought to attain.

Yet, even so, it discharged a very useful office. In the region of spirit a victory won too easily is of little value. An optimism established without any difficulty becomes worse than any pessimism: an idealism that has not entered into all the differences and antagonisms of the real is futile. Even Christianity has tended to become an ignoring rather than a healing of the evils of life when it has not been based on the deepest consciousness of those evils. Hence we must regard as a friend in disguise the enemy which again and again has forced the church and the world to recognise, how imperfectly the spiritual object of Christianity has been attained, how far the actual is from the ideal, how secular and profane the life of even the most Christian of men still is, how far the kingdoms of this world are from realising the idea of the kingdom of God. As a ‘facile Monism’ is the grave of any true and comprehensive attempt to discover the ideal meaning of the universe, so the idea of the unity of God and man may itself become the most shallow of illusions, if that unity be taken as a static identity, and, if it be not recognised that the realisation of it involves the overcoming of the deepest of all antagonisms.

Now, modern philosophy from the time of the Renaissance has sought to emphasise the positive rather than the negative aspect of ethics and religion, almost as decisively as the Middle Ages emphasised their negative aspect. Sometimes, indeed, it has gone so far in this direction as to forget the negative altogether. Even where it has not proclaimed Hedonism as the principle of morals, it has tended to exalt self-development to the exclusion of self-sacrifice, and it has sought the divine in nature rather than beyond it. And a Pantheism that speaks of Deus sive Natura leaves it at least ambiguous whether nature is taken up into God, or God is merged in nature. If this tendency had gained absolute predominance, the modern world would have forgotten its Christianity, and gone back—as Heine at one time wished it to go back—to a kind of aesthetic paganism. It is essential to Christianity to maintain—in the face of all the positive tendencies of the modern spirit—that a true self-development can be attained only through self-sacrifice, and that, if God reveals himself in man, it is only as man gives himself up, to be the servant and organ of a divine purpose in humanity. Hence there is much still to be learnt from a philosophy that keeps before us the depth of the antagonism between the natural and the spiritual, between the real and the ideal, between man and God. And we may regard Greek philosophy, in spite of the negative character of its ultimate result, and perhaps because of it, as, in itself and in its influence upon Christian thought, contributing an invaluable element to theological thought.

  • 1. Cf. Wellhausen, Israelitische and Jüdische Geschichte, Chap. XV.
  • 2. Col. I, 16, 17.
  • 3. If the first Epistle be by the same writer as the Gospel.
  • 4. Cf. Evolution of Religion, II, Lect. 10.
  • 5. αὐτὸς, γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεἶς θεοποιηθῶμεν. De Incarn. Verbi, § 54.
  • 6. St. Augustine, indeed, still tries to illustrate the idea of the Trinity by several analogies, e.g, the unity of memoria, intelligentia, and voluntas in one consciousness; but otherwise he seems to lose the meaning of the distinction of Persons in the inseparabilis operatio. The Divinity, in fact, becomes with him a mystery, rather than what the doctrine first sought to be, an explanation. And this change is manifestly due to Neo-Platonic influences.