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Lecture VII: Time, Space, Matter and Spirit


‘God, for some purpose of His own, calls into existence the universe, giving it the being and the mode of reality which that purpose requires.’ This, I have said, is what we should mean when we speak of creation.1 It is the postulate which we are now to examine with a view to seeing how far it will enable us to make sense of the actual universe of our experience.

If we take seriously the idea of creation we shall not be attempting to devise some metaphysical system within which we shall be able to see how God and the universe are related to one another. To seek for any such system is to abandon the idea of creation, to include God as one element in a system of forces working through Him and His so-called creation. If God be indeed the Creator ‘of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible’, then it is no good looking for some further, more ultimate, reality beyond Him the knowledge of which will explain to us how He is what He is. If the fundamental truth about this universe be that it owes its existence to His will, then in our efforts to understand it, the last word will be in terms of His intention and purpose.

To take the idea of creation seriously is to treat the world of personal relations as ultimately more real than that of impersonal forces. Later on we shall have to consider the importance of this for the study of psychology, for its bearing on belief in angels and devils, and for its relevance to R. Bultmann's so-called demythologization of the Gospels.2 Here and now we are concerned with the one point that to examine the idea of creation means to ask how far it will help towards understanding the universe if we seek for its explanation in terms of God's will.

We do not set out to try to comprehend and explain God. We set out to try to understand this space-time universe of our experience. By itself it is not self-explanatory. In our efforts to make sense of it we postulate the existence of an eternal reality which is self-explanatory, self-authenticating in its perfect goodness, and thus intelligible. What we are now to examine is the hypothesis that it will help to make sense of the universe if we think of it as related to the eternal reality after the manner of creation, using that word in the sense which I have been trying to make clear.

We do not set out to try to comprehend and explain God. But if it turns out that we are verifying a sound hypothesis, we shall find that we learn a good deal about Him. We postulate the existence of God the Creator in order to make sense of the universe, and then we accept the universe as the medium through which He wills to reveal Himself to us. We do our best to grasp the nature of the universe without ignoring, distorting or explaining away anything that actually exists or occurs; then we ask: ‘If the universe be so, what must be the character of the Creator from whose will it springs?’ What can we gather from it of the purpose for which it is created?’ This is the kind of inquiry on which we shall be engaged in the remainder of this course.

Towards the end of my last lecture I indicated certain facts which seem to me to favour the hypothesis of creation. We may class together such events as sins and stupidities with standing conditions such as contingency, freedom and evil—class them together under the common name of irrationalities. They are irrational in that, as they stand, they cannot be rationally explained in terms of either the causal or the purposive order. I suggested that our practice of deliberately creating conditions in which chance shall be a real factor in the determination of events may give us the clue we need. When we deliberately leave a decision to chance the rationality of the whole process is not to be discovered by discovering that the chance was not really chance but only appeared to be so. The lesson to be learnt is that in this world of space and time there can be real irrationalities whose justification is to be found in the contribution they make to the carrying out of rational purposes by being themselves and nothing else.

Once again we are beset by the difficulty involved by the use of the word ‘real’. What I mean by my use of it here is that as belonging to the history of this world of space and time these irrationalities can have an equal claim to reality with other things which as they stand are explicable on either mechanistic or axiological grounds. They share in whatever degree of reality appertains in general to the things and events of this world. For the rational purpose of ensuring fair play we create conditions in which decisions shall be left to chance; for the furtherance of His purpose in creation God gives to His universe a mode of reality which admits of the existence and occurrence of such irrationalities as contingency, freedom and evil.

These particular irrationalities will be the subject of my next two lectures. We must now prepare the ground by thinking further about God's creativity in general.

As I have already said, I am not concerned with the question whether the universe had some definite datable moment of origin. I am not asking you to think about what God may or may not have done at some prehistoric moment in the past. In calling Him Creator we think of Him as the ‘strength and stay upholding all creation’. Our inquiry is concerned with what He is doing now, and for evidence we have to look to the universe of His creation as it lies open to our observation.

What we see is a series of changes in space and time, a series of changes in which a stream of energy becomes organized into creatures of varying complexity, differing characteristics, and inequality of powers. In this, as Pringle-Pattison pointed out in his Gifford Lectures of 1912,3 we have to recognize both the continuity of the process and the emergence of genuine differences of kind. I am not scientist enough to know how far the later development of the quantum theory should lead us now to think of the continuity as less absolute than it appeared to be when Pringle-Pattison was writing. The point is of no importance for my present argument. In a lecture to which I have already referred, H. W. B. Joseph showed that the problem presented to the philosopher by the evolutionary process as a whole is parallel to that presented by any instance of growth. An acorn grows into an oak tree, a baby grows into a child, a boy, a youth, a man. Whether the physical development proceeds with a smoothness which would satisfy a philosopher's canon of absolute continuity, or by a series of minute leaps and bounds, the fact remains that the creature, be it plant, animal or human being, passes on from one stage of its existence to another by steps so imperceptible that we cannot draw lines to say precisely where the one stage ends and the next begins. Yet there is a real difference kind between a boy and a man. For practical purposes we have to draw lines. We decree, for example, that at the age of seventeen he can obtain a licence to drive a motor-car, ignoring the fact that he could do it as well a fortnight earlier or as badly a fortnight later. So, too, in the whole course of evolution. Vegetables, animals and human beings are genuinely different kinds of creatures, but there may be borderline cases in which it is difficult to decide to which kind a particular creature belongs.

Particular creatures grow by receiving and assimilating elements from their environment, weaving them into the pattern of their own structure. The chemical constituents of the soil, moisture, air and sunshine provide the material for the growing oak tree. The boy needs wholesome food and fresh air if he is to grow into a man. Moreover, in the case of living creatures, be they vegetable, animal or human, there is apparently some kind of an inner urge which leads them to grasp what the environment has to offer and make use of it for their own growth.

If we try to picture the development of the whole evolutionary process by analogy from the growth of particular creatures within it, two problems arise. Writing from the point of view of a biologist, S. A. McDowall asked what for the universe as a whole can correspond to the environment which within it provides individual creatures with the material for their growth.4 And what, in the earlier stages in which we can discern no trace of anything recognizable as life, corresponds to the inner urge which drives living creatures to grasp their opportunities of growing? What makes the whole process go forward?

To believe in God as Creator is to believe that whatever exists has been brought into existence, and is maintained in its existence, by His will and His gift. Whatever in His creation has any being, has it of such kind and in such measure as He thinks fit to give it. His creative activity is a continuing communication of their being to His creatures. In so far as He wills to give them any independence over against Himself, the fulfilment of His will involves a limitation of His impassibility, for He can now be the subject of a verb in the passive voice, being said to be loved or hated, obeyed or disobeyed, worshipped or blasphemed. He voluntarily accepts such possibility as is entailed by being in relation to a universe to which of His own free will He gives its existence in the mode of reality that His purpose requires.

The fundamental characteristic of the universe, as it presents itself to our observation, is its extension in space and time. Concentrating for the moment on the latter of these, and thinking of God (as we must) from the point of view of finite creatures who experience time in its successiveness, we find ourselves engaged in a process of giving and receiving which may be looked at from either end. Mutatis mutandis, the process of teaching provides the most illuminative analogy for the relation of God to His universe in His creative activity. In teaching the teacher is giving out from the store of knowledge and (let us hope) wisdom which is already there in his own mind—giving out in such measure as the pupil is able to receive. That is the process as seen from the end of the teacher. The same process, as seen from the pupil's end, is the history of the growth of the pupil's mind, as step by step he becomes capable of assimilating more of what he is given. So we may picture to ourselves the course of evolution. Our scientific exploration of it sees it from the end which corresponds to the growth of the pupil's mind. We trace its history from inorganic to organic, from vegetable through animal to human life. With the eye of faith we look at the same process as from the other end, the end which corresponds to the teacher teaching. We see it as God giving forth to His creation increasing measure of the fullness and richness of being which is eternally His own.

Our experience of this process is at the receiving end. Here we are aware of ourselves as receiving a mode of existence in which as self-conscious persons we are responsible for running our own lives. We know what it is to have desires and purposes, to seek to satisfy the one and to fulfil the other. We live in a world which also contains sub-human forms of living creatures and inanimate objects, things whose mode of existence is such that we do not commonly think of them as acting on purpose. They are moved hither and thither by impersonal forces acting upon or through them. The appearance on the scene of creatures who act on purpose comes at a comparatively late stage of the evolutionary process. At its coming creation receives from God a mode of existence embodying a measure of being fuller and richer than any that has gone before.

Through countless ages before the coming of any such beings creation has been an ongoing process. As we look back over it, we see it as leading up to their appearance. What has made it move? This is a typical instance of the kind of question that requires for its answer a Platonic myth. For some thinkers the myth takes the form of endowing all creatures with characteristics analogous to those known to us in human personality. If we cannot think of them as conceiving and fulfilling purposes, perhaps they may at least be thought to feel desires and seek their satisfaction. A. N. Whitehead's use of words like ‘prehension’ to characterize his units of creaturely existence seems to imply this kind of panpsychism. I find myself unable to credit this particular mythology. I cannot see that there is any evidence to justify it, and, given the hypothesis of creation, as I am trying to expound it, it is unnecessary. Descartes may have gone too far in his treatment of the physical universe as a machine, but there is some truth in the suggestion. The idea of creation is based on an analogy from our experience of making things. We are becoming increasingly familiar with the marvels of man-made machinery, with intricate machines in which every part functions unwittingly in accordance with the purpose of its maker. We live among persons whom we have to treat with respect as persons, things which we manipulate as we will, and forces of nature which we harness and control. All draw our being from God who gives to us our different modes of existence. He who gives to us our self-conscious personality with its accompanying freedom and responsibility gives to the forces of nature their habits and to the things their manipulable passivity. When we think of these latter as functioning in His creative process in accordance with His will, we have no need to think of them as individual centres of desire or purpose.


We are examining the hypothesis that to postulate its creation by God will help us to make sense of the universe of our experience. To postulate creation means thinking of God as communicating existence to the universe in a manner analogous to a teacher communicating knowledge to a pupil. We must now ask in what way it will help us to make sense of certain features of the universe, and we will begin with the fact that it exists in space and time.

The puzzles involved in the notions of space and time are notorious. There is the Kantian difficulty of the impossibility of thinking of them without self-contradiction: we cannot think of time or space as either finite or infinite. There is the difficulty which besets the modern physicist for whom there can be no measurement of time or space which has more than relative validity. The one leads idealists to treat time and space as ‘forms of perception’, irremovable contact lenses which inevitably affect our vision so that we cannot be sure that we see things as they are. The other brings doubts whether our scientific investigations give knowledge of a real world revealed to us through our sense impressions.5

We are not now concerned with either of these discussions. The idealist argument is based on the assumption that the aim of Philosophy is to find the point of view from which our experience of irrationalities may be explained as the mode in which the intelligible self-consistent reality appears to finite minds. For us philosophy is the attempt to make sense of what actually happens. When apparently we are confronted with irrationalities, before we try to explain them as really being something other than they appear to be, we ask whether they can be understood as playing some part in God's purpose. If physicists are puzzled to find that all their measurements of time and space are relative, it is because they are surprised to find that they must take into account a standing condition for all human search after knowledge. Nether to theologians nor to physicists has God thought fit to give the kind of revelation they feel that they would provide if they were God. Theologians, we saw in my fifth lecture, have had to adjust themselves to the fact that God's truth is not given in forms of sound words uncoloured by the outlook of those who bear witness to His revelation. Just so do physicists have to adjust themselves to the fact that all observations of the natural world are relative to the standpoint of the observer. It is equally true of God's revelation of Himself that is given through the sciences as of that which is more strictly the basis of Christian theology that to grasp it we must patiently set side by side our several apprehensions of it, asking what the truth must be if it so appears to men who see it from these various points of view. Of time and space it may be said that ‘in so far as scientific language is understood in its own proper context, the structures about which it speaks do exist in external nature, and exist just as surely as chairs and tables and scientists and philosophers exist’.6

In thus accepting space and time as objective elements in the constitution of the universe which we are trying to understand, I find myself, as a Gifford lecturer, in the tradition of Alexander and Laird. I have never felt that I really understood how Alexander thought of the space-time which for him, apparently, was the original embryonic form of all existents. It is comparatively easy to think in terms of the physicist's model, to think of the original embryonic form of existence as a stream of energy flowing through space and time, but to think of the union of space and time as, so to speak, the stuff of which the energy is made, passes beyond the limits of my mental capacity.

Alexander was not trying, as I am, to examine the postulate of a Creator. He was examining the universe with a view to discovering whether it gave any indications of immanent deity, and, if so, of what kind. He therefore found it necessary to pursue his analysis to the furthest possible limit, and arrived at space and time as its ultimately irreducible constituents. If we think of the universe as brought into being by a Creator who gives it a relatively independent existence over against Himself, we need not so press our analysis of it beyond what is thinkable. Space and time are not to be thought of as the stuff of which it is made, but as conditioning factors necessary to its having the mode of reality required for the fulfilment of His purpose in creating it.

Returning, then, to the study of the actual nature of the universe, we ask what indications of the mind and will of its Creator we may gain from our experience of it as existing in space and time. Here I have two suggestions to offer.

1. It is commonplace to contrast clock-time and yardstick space and our experience of them as measured in terms of our emotions and interests. In so far as our apprehension of them is based upon the alternation of night and day, the sequence of the seasons, the relative movement of the earth and the heavenly bodies, and the comparison of actual lengths measured on the earth's surface, it has objectivity in the sense that ‘the structures of which it speaks do exist in external nature’. But in so far as it is an objectivity of sheer successiveness or extension, it is devoid of significance for our understanding of the meaning of things. On the other hand, periods which feel short because of interest or long because of boredom may be filled with significance, but the estimates of their length are private and subjective.

There is, however, a third way in which we have experience of space and time, a way which is patient of a kind of measurement that involves quality as well as quantity, combining significance with objectivity. Questions of space and time may be relevant to value judgments on both things and events. In such cases the scale by which they are to be measured is not reckoned in seconds, minutes, inches or yards, but by asking how far in occasion or place, in duration or scale, what exists or happens approximates to what is right and proper.

This can most easily be illustrated in the sphere of the arts. Not long ago the music critic of The Times, in his account of a concert, criticized Sir Thomas Beecham for having taken a certain work too fast. A few days later there appeared in the correspondence columns a letter from Sir Thomas rebutting the charge and quoting in evidence statistics showing the times taken by various famous conductors for the performance of the same work. Logically his argument was an appeal to the authority of a consensus of experts. Possibly the critic had been so inspired and enraptured by what he heard that his ‘psychological time’ was shorter than the ‘real time’. But what was the ‘real time’? Whilst for statistical purposes, or for the purpose of fitting it into a programme of the ‘right’ length, it might be reckoned in terms of so many minutes, what really mattered can only be described in some such phrase as ‘the time required to produce the right effect’.

As with time, so with space. The subjects and the style of execution which are right for miniatures would be wrong for a large canvas or a wall fresco. Beautiful as is the west front of Wells Cathedral, it gives the impression that the masters of that particular style of architecture could not exhibit the perfection of their art when working on so large a scale. Its beauty is the beauty of each several tier; the tiers are simply laid one upon another and do not together compose a unity of the whole. In Beverley Minster one finds the perfection that is lacking at Wells. It strikes one as being the size of building ideally suited to the style.

As with the arts, so with the whole of existence in this created universe. To begin with, time and space provide the conditions in which everything that occurs in the creative process has its being. So long as they are simply this, conditions of existence measurable in successiveness and extension, they are colourless, comparatively without significance. But as conditions whose now or then, here or there, more or less, become important for the existence or happening of things and events of value, they become measurable in terms of their adequacy to the worth of their contents, and as such immeasurably more significant. They make possible, for example, the acute remark of a writer on the spiritual life, that one form of sloth is to do a thing before its proper time.7

If we now set this way of thinking of space and time in the context of our general postulate of creation, we shall think of them as conditions devised by God to characterize the mode of reality He wills to give to the universe. Whilst for our statistical and practical purposes we finite creatures, living within this universe, can measure their extension and successiveness in feet and inches, in minutes and seconds, we shall think of their most significant measurement as being in terms of their adequacy for the fulfilment of God's creative purpose. What we can learn of the nature of that purpose we have still to inquire. On the question of their limits, all we can say is that we must be content to believe that there have been, are, and will be that much space and time as are required for its fulfilment.

There emerges from this discussion a point of importance about the nature of definition. We can attempt to define a thing in one of two ways, either by an analysis of its constituent elements, or by a description of its function. We follow the first method when we define water as H2O, the second when we say that a chair is a thing to sit on and a pen is a thing to write with, no matter whether the one is made of wood and canvas, upholstery, or tubular metal, the other of goose quill, wood and steel, or plastic and gold. In so far as I have been able to follow the researches of scientists in such an account of them as is given by Miss Hesse in the book I have already referred to, the former method, while it may increase our ability to harness the forces of nature to our own ends, takes us further and further away from understanding the things and events of the world we have to live in. What I wrote nearly twenty years ago still seems to me to be true:

When we try to study the universe by scientific method, for a while it seem to respond encouragingly to our inquiries, but when we push these inquires further in an attempt to grasp its fundamental nature, it seems to slip through our fingers and elude us. It is, I believe, true to say that so far as we are seeking to know enough about it to be able to control it, it is responsive to us. It is when we seek to answer the question of what it is in itself, that we are baffled.8

I will therefore make no further apology for being unable to explain space and time as constituent elements of the universe arrived at by analysing it with a view to discovering what it is made of. Our starting-point will be the thought of them as conditions devised by God to characterize the mode of reality He wills to give His creation. What, then, is analogous to the definition of chairs and pens as things to sit on and write with?

2. ‘Time’, Bergson is reported to have said, ‘is what prevents things from happening together’.9 Certainly, so far as material bodies are concerned, this is true of time and space in conjunction: no two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time.

A few minutes ago I was speaking of the fact that we human beings, who exist as self-conscious persons individually responsible for running our own lives, have appeared at a comparatively late stage in the evolutionary process. Each of us comes into existence as the self-conscious subject of the experiences which are his because he is the self-consciousness of that particular body. This applies to characteristics we tend to call spiritual no less than to those we call physical. A man may have artistic gifts or the mind of a mathematician; in so far as either of these have been inherited from his forbears, they have come through his being the self-consciousness of the body born of his father and mother. That body was conceived through the union of genes in his mother's womb at a particular time and place, and no matter how far back he may trace through countless generations of ancestors the career of the specks of germ-plasm which ultimately combined to form his body, they can never have coincided in time and place with those which have gone to the making of anyone else. From the time of his birth influences have been pouring in upon him from father and mother, from brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins, from nurses and teachers, from people he has met and friends he has made, from books he has read, things he has heard, places he has visited, sights he has seen. All these have contributed to the content of his selfhood, and they have come to him through his being the self-conscious subject of the experiences of the body in which he was born. He is uniquely individual because the fabric of his selfhood is woven of experiences mediated through a body conditioned by space and time.

This selfhood, this self-conscious personality, is not something which a man possesses fully formed from birth. It is true of the creation of each man, as of the creative process as a whole, that he grows into his true self as he receives himself from God, for creation is the giving and receiving of increasing fullness and richness of being. In the next lecture we shall be considering in more detail the growth of human selfhood. I want now to concentrate attention on the one point, the contribution of space and time to the creation of man as this may be learned from empirical observation of what has actually taken place. Looking back from our human standpoint over the whole evolutionary process up to date, we see its conditioning by space and time to be a device which has secured the individualizing of persons when they shall come into existence as self-conscious subjects of body experience.


We have seen that the creative process, while it is a process in which it is impossible to draw lines to mark precisely where one stage passes over into the next, is one in which there do come into existence genuinely new kinds of creature. Bearing this in mind, if we now ask what are the specific characteristics which distinguish creatures at the human stage from those which came before, I would say that to be human is to be the individualized subject of self-conscious, intelligent, purposive life.

The self of which each one of us is conscious is the self of which the content is provided by his bodily inheritance and experience. We grow into this self-consciousness at some time after our physical birth. When we become aware of ourselves we are already, as physical organisms, going concerns with some capacity of sensation and habits of reaction to stimuli. A little baby, lying on his back in his cot, may play with his toes and smile at his mother: it will be some years before he is fully aware of what it means to say that the toes are his toes and the face the face of his mother. Man is a gregarious creature. I am not biologist enough to know whether our pre-human ancestors ran about in herds: it is enough for my purpose that we are born into families and come to know ourselves as members of the family circle. I do not myself believe that our awareness of the existence of other persons is a matter of inference from observing that other bodies resemble our own in appearance and behave in a similar manner. When we first have any consciousness of ourselves, before we are capable of any mental activity which could reasonably be called drawing an inference, we are conscious of ourselves as in relation to others. The selves of which we become conscious are the selves individualized through their consciousness being consciousness of the experiences mediated through the particular bodies, bodies which have been behaving gregariously prior to this individualization of self-consciousness.

At what stage it begins to be possible to credit a particular creature with purposive activity I cannot say. This is the kind of point for which we have to distinguish questions of principle from questions of empirical matter of fact, a distinction of which the importance will appear more than once in later lectures. We can say in principle that in so far as a creature is capable of consciously making up his mind to a course of action and acting upon it, to that extent he is a human being. To what extent this or that particular creature has this capacity is a question of empirical fact which it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to answer.

A grown man, visiting a strange city, and feeling hungry with the approach of his accustomed meal-time, will look about him, choose the restaurant he thinks most likely to give him the kind of food he wants, make up his mind and go in. We do not credit a baby, taking his first meal at his mother's breast, with any such prior process of ratiocination. He is moved by some spirit of the race working in him and impelling him to act in accordance with its habits, as millions of babies have done before him and millions more will do after. In so far as there is anything purposive in the action, the purpose is not that of the individual baby but of the Creator who, at this stage of His creative process, has given to the creatures habits of behaviour which by promoting the survival of the individual contribute to the preservation of the race.

Let me again quote from what I have written before:

‘Why does a hen sit on her eggs?’ ‘Maternal instinct, aiming at the propagation of the species’, says one school. ‘Nonsense’, says the other; ‘it is because a local inflammation on the underside of the hen is soothed by contact with is smooth warm surface of the eggs. Irritate a capon with red pepper, and it will sit just as well as any hen. It is nothing but reaction to stimulus, just like a dog's reaction to the scent of food’.

But the fact remains that the result of this correspondence between maternal inflammation and the soothing power of the eggs does issue in the chickens. It looks as though each school of thought had got hold of one side of the truth; as though what the fact reveals is an order of events which, regarded from the outside, bear all the marks of being both mechanistic and purposive, but cannot be ascribed to any particular purpose. The hen's action does fulfil the purpose of race preservation, but the hen is innocent of aiming at any such thing.10

If in such cases we are to recognize anything purposive at all, it seems to me that the postulate of the Creator is more reasonable than the mythology which ascribes the purpose either to the individual creature or to the race in general or to Nature with a capital N.

But if not with purposes of their own, can we in any sense and to any extent think of creatures at the pre-human stage as endowed with awareness of what they are doing, with intelligence? In the one creative process a baby turning to his mother's breast is at a stage somewhere between the attraction of iron filings to a magnet and a man turning into a restaurant. We may surely credit him with some consciousness of attraction and satisfaction, or of effort and frustration. Moreover, there is a difference between being born as a human baby and being born as a kitten or a puppy dog. But we need not now pause to consider the exact nature or extent of their respective feelings or thoughts; such questions of empirical fact may be left to professional psychologists.11 My immediate point is this. For the baby to become a man he must become a creature who as an individual is able to compare different possible courses of action, weigh them against one another, and choose between them.

This gives us the clue to the right way of distinguishing between the spiritual and the material. Once again we must give up the attempt to define our terms by asking what things are made of. Incalculable confusion has been caused by contrasting spirit with matter as though they were composed of different kinds of stuff, speaking of man as though he was a combination of a soul made of spirit-stuff with a body made of matter-stuff, imagining that if the physical universe be essentially of the nature of energy it is therefore somehow more spiritual than it would be if it were matter-in-motion. All this confusion is avoided if we draw the distinction in terms of function, if we define matter as that which is moved by forces acting upon or through it and spirit as that which expresses itself in conscious, intelligent, purposive action.

On any theory of creation God the Creator must be thought of as wholly spiritual. Whatever exists owes its existence to, and is maintained in existence by, His conscious intelligent will. In His creative activity He is communicating to the universe a measure of the reality which in its perfection exists in Himself alone. Our scientific study of His activity is the study of it at what I have called the receiving end, study of the process wherein the universe receives such increasing measure of His reality as He wills to give it. If the process begins with energy energizing in space and time, it is no more spiritual because it is energy than are the bodies we can touch and see into which it becomes organized. In so far as it has no will of its own, but functions in passive conformity to the will of its Creator, it is material. As it receives organization into perceptible bodies, and perceptible bodies receive the capacity of being also percipient, of feeling the attractions and repulsions which move them this way and that, the process approaches the stage at which it will be possible to say that there exist on earth created spiritual beings. When at last they appear, we have men and women, creatures who in their self-conscious intelligent purposive mode of existence are individual through being the self-consciousnesses of their different bodies. It is as we become individualized into this kind of creature that we may rightly be called persons.

It follows from this that between creatures there can be three kinds of relationship. At the material stage of existence relationships are mutually impersonal, as when a book lies on a table. When a man deliberately puts a book on a table, the relation is one-sidedly personal, personal on the side of the man, impersonal on that of the book and the table. Between persons relations are mutually personal whenever men speak or act together in ways which engage the conscious attention and intelligence of all concerned. Between God and His creatures there can only be two of these three. There can be no mutually impersonal relationships for the activity of God is wholly and fully personal. But when He gives its existence and its mode of reality to energy when energizes according to His will without any consciousness of its own, the relationship is one-sidedly personal: personal on the side of God, impersonal on that of the creature. When He brings His creation to the stage at which there are men who have a mode of reality in which they can respond to Him in obedience or rebellion, in worship or blasphemy, then there can be mutually personal relationships between creatures and God.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance for theology of recognizing the existence of one-sidedly personal relations between God and created beings. Neglect of it, for example, has often bedevilled discussion of sacramental religion. But this, with other similar subjects, belongs to my second series of lectures. What we must take note of here is the complication involved in our use of the words spiritual and material.

I have defined matter as that which is moved by forces acting upon or through it. But when the material forces are controlled by and express the will of a spiritual being, they may themselves in a sense be said to be spiritual. In this sense of the word, it does not mean that there is any exercise of spiritual or personal consciousness on the part of the creatures concerned; it means that they become the vehicles of the spiritual activity of the spiritual beings who make or take them for this purpose. They can be viewed, as it were, in two aspects. In themselves material, they are charged with spirituality by the context in which they are used and the use that is made of them.

To one who believes that the universe is God's creation, all the things that we commonly call material are in this sense spiritual. He will have a reverence for nature, for natural resources, for tools and for machines. As embodiments of God's creative purpose they are not to be exploited for selfish ends but to be used for His glory. But this use of the word spiritual is carefully to be distinguished from that in which it is only to be applied to creatures who are themselves centres of self-conscious, intelligent, purposive life, who are, in ordinary language, not things but persons.

We men and women are as yet, however, still in process of being created into persons. When we start on our lives as babies whose movements express the habit of the race working through the physical organisms of our bodies, we behave as creatures who are still at the material stage of the creative process. But because we are born as human babies and not as kittens or puppy dogs, God has in store for us a further development in which He will give and we may receive the power each to take charge of the physical organism through which he has come into existence as a unique individual self—to take charge of it and spiritualize it by making it the embodiment of his own self-conscious, intelligent, purposive life. This will be the subject of my next lecture. What needs now to be said is that throughout our earthly life God's relationship to us is of a mixed character. In so far as we continue to behave materially, it can only be one-sidedly personal. In so far as we can respond to Him as persons, it can be mutually so.

  • 1.

    Above, Lecture VI, p. 136.

  • 2.

    On Bultmann cp. E. Brunner: Eternal Hope (London, 1954), pp. 114 ff., 186 ff.

  • 3.

    A. S. Pringle-Pattison: The Idea of God in Recent Philosophy (Oxford, 1917), pp. 103 ff.

  • 4.

    S. A. McDowall: Evolution and the Need of Atonement (Cambridge, 1912).

  • 5.

    See, e.g., M. B. Hesse: Science and the Human Imagination (London, 1954), chs. v–viii.

  • 6.

    M. B. Hesse: Op. cit., p. 150.

  • 7.

    L. Scupoli: The Spiritual Combat (E. Tr. W. H. Hutchings, London, 1913), ch. xx.

  • 8.

    Towards a Christian Philosophy (London, 1942), p. 171.

  • 9.

    Quoted by F. H. Brabant in Rawlinson: Essays on the Trinity and Incarnation (London, 1928), p. 347.

  • 10.

    Towards a Christian Philosophy, p. 71.

  • 11.

    But see below, Lecture X, pp. 219 ff. And cp. Jacquetta Hawkes: Man on Earth (London), 1954, pp. 53–5.