Let me now take for granted four principles which I have sought to establish in earlier lectures.
1. The history of human thought is the history of God making Himself known to men through the minds of men.
2. The men through whose minds God has been (and is) making Himself known are men whose apprehensions are conditioned by their outlook. As a result, the history of human thought proceeds by what I have called the interaction of categories and evidence, meaning by ‘categories’, in this context, the presuppositions which condition a man's outlook, and by ‘evidence’ the objective facts which he is seeking to understand.
3. The Christian claim to a special revelation is the claim that a certain series of events in the history of the world is of unique and supreme significance for our understanding of the universe as a whole and of the meaning and purpose of our lives within it; an understanding which has to grow by the same interaction of categories and evidence. This claim presupposes that the God who is giving the special revelation in these events is the same God who is making Himself known through the universe in general.
4. In the method which I am following in these lectures, the conclusions we have drawn from consideration of the nature of the universe in general give us the categories with which we approach the study of the events alleged to contain the special revelation. We have to remember that, in this case, when we say ‘events’ we mean events as seen by what last year I called the eye of faith.1 The witness of a succession of men who have seen the happenings as having this significance is itself a succession of events, part of the evidence we have to examine.
In Part I of last year's lectures I tried to elucidate the categories in general with which, as Western European thinkers of the twentieth century, we approach the study of the universe as a whole. In Part II I argued that it throws light on the mysteries of our existence to adopt the postulate of creation. Given that postulate, I went on to ask what we can learn from the actual nature of the universe of the mind and will of its Creator, and of His purpose in creating it. I propose now to treat the Christian claim to a special revelation, given in and through the events to which the Bible bears witness, in the same way in which last year I treated the idea of creation. That is to say, I shall be asking whether to postulate it will enable us to go further in making sense of the universe of our experience and in understanding the will and purpose of the Creator.
We are to take into account fresh evidence beyond that which we considered last year, scrutinizing it in the light of the categories which now possess our minds. We must begin by reminding ourselves of what these categories presuppose, remembering that in this lecture our aim is to ask what more we can learn about God.
I argued last year that we can only justify spending time in trying to think about the nature of things if we make an act of faith that whatever exists and happens fits into a pattern that makes sense, and that to make sense means to be such that we are content to have it so and cease to ask why it should be so. We can best make sense of the universe by treating it as expressing the will and purpose of an eternal personal Creator who must Himself be self-authenticating in His goodness, i.e., be such that we cease to ask why He should be what He is and rejoice to give Him our worship and adoration. As it lies open to our observation, creation is a process which issues in the existence of individualized self-conscious persons, and the irrationalities which it contains are due to God giving it the mode of reality required to make possible a community of such persons perfected through the exercise of freedom.
This summary of last year's argument should make it clear that the position arrived at has been reached as a matter of purely natural theology and is not based on any considerations drawn from religion or religious experience. It may be that to speak of the will and purpose of God is to use religious language, but it is language to which I have been driven by observing the actual nature of the evolutionary process and finding that it looks as though it were aiming at the production of this community of persons perfected through the exercise of freedom. We have now to take into account evidence provided by men who do not pretend to be detached and impartial observers of the course of events; to ask how far their seeing with the eye of religious faith either obscures and distorts, or sharpens and improves, their vision.
However much the detached observer may find himself using religious language, speaking of God in personal terms, he is not himself being religious until he seeks to enter himself into personal relations with the God of whom he has thus been speaking. Here, as on a previous occasion, I can best define what I mean by religion in words quoted from Professor Hocking and Dr. Clement Webb: ‘A conversation of the self with reality as an assertion of kinship with the controlling energies of the world’, and ‘It is, I think, true from the start that what men have sought in religion is always communication with that which is supposed or suspected to possess within itself the secret of our life and of our surroundings, and therefore to exert over us and them a mysterious power which we shall do well to enlist upon our side’.2 We have in our minds such knowledge of God as we have been able to draw from His revelation of Himself through creation in general. Thus equipped we are to ask how far this knowledge can be enriched by the study of what has been revealed to those who have sought to know Him by the way of religion.
But first we must consider an implication of the statement that the history of human thought is the history of God seeking to make Himself known to men through the minds of men. It will be remembered that we were driven into this use of religious language, into speaking of God, because we had found ourselves using such phrases as ‘the truth struggling to make itself known’, and reflected that verbs like ‘struggling’ imply a personal subject.3 Now, whether we think of God seeking, or of the truth struggling, to make themselves known, or simply of men striving to discover the truth or to know God, we may well ask why there should be this seeking, struggling, or striving at all. Why should one aspect of the creative process be the requirement of this long drawn-out, and sometimes painful, effort in order that the truth may be fully and clearly known in the minds of men?
That this is so is one piece of the evidence that creation has been infected by evil at some stage anterior to the coming of man with his potentiality of wickedness and sin. On this general question I have now nothing of substance to add to what I said last year. The question we have to ask is how the actual kinds of evil which we experience can be related to God's central purpose to create us into genuinely free persons. ‘It is not unreasonable to suppose that for the creation of genuinely free persons there is needed a world in which they can grow up amidst ignorance and error. Possibly we may also account for ugliness on the ground that, starting as we do, we need to be trained in aesthetic appreciation. God will no more be content with a parrot-like expression of conventional judgments in art than He will with a mechanical going through the right motions in morals. In the perfection of created freedom a man's acts must be his own acts and his judgments his own judgments.’4 However that may be, my point at the present moment is this. If in general the history of human thought is the history of the clarification of ideas in the minds of men through interaction of categories and evidence, and if we may think of this as the history of God making Himself known to man, we shall expect to find that what is true of the history of human thought in general is also true of that particular way of thinking, of seeking knowledge of God, which I have called religious. If we are to examine the Christian claim that the Bible bears witness to a self-revelation of God which is of supreme significance for our understanding of Him and of all things, we must set that witness in the context of the history of human religion in general. If the history of human thought is the history of men being forced to revise their notions, of their emancipation from false presuppositions which miscolour what they are trying to see, we shall expect this to be as true of their religious thought as of their secular.
‘A conversation of the self with reality… with the controlling energies of the world.’ ‘Communication with that which is supposed or suspected to contain within itself the secret of our life and of our surroundings, and therefore to exert over us and them a mysterious power which we shall do well to enlist upon our side.’ The manner of a man's approach to a power with a view to enlisting its support will naturally be governed by what he thinks its nature to be. Accordingly, from the start religious beliefs and practices have been coloured by what men thought to be the nature of the power or powers with which they had to reckon. They found themselves subject to forces sometimes helpful and sometimes destructive. If one were to speak in personal terms one might say sometimes beneficent, sometimes malevolent. Inquirers who have sought to track down the sources of religion along quite different lines are agreed that originally human ideas of God have this ambivalent character. It runs through all the various forms of religion which Dr. E. O. James has examined in evidence from Crete, Egypt, India and elsewhere5; it characterizes the libido which for Jung takes the place of God as the fundamental driving force with which men have to do.6
Not religion alone, but both religion and science derive from the efforts of men to enlist on our side the mysterious powers which pervade the universe. When to-day we seek to extend our control over the forces of nature by researches enabling us to turn to our own use the energies latent in fissile materials, we arc in the direct line of development from those who in earlier times practised what we should now call magic. We may differ from them in that we have a better informed and more intelligent understanding of how these forces work, but essentially we, like them, are seeking how we may impose our will on objects which we treat not as persons but as things. Very early, if not from the start, there were also attempts to approach these mysterious powers in a more personal manner, to seek the favour of the friendly and to propitiate the hostile. This often took forms which we should now regard as superstitious. In so far as it is possible to distinguish the two approaches in the attitude of our primitive ancestors, we may say that our science has developed from their magic and our religion from their superstition. To investigate the former of these developments is the work of the historians of science. Our concern is with the latter.
The history of human thought is the history of God making Himself known in the minds of men through the interaction of categories and evidence. The history of religion begins with men seeking to enter into personal relations with powers that are thought of as alternating between friendliness and hostility. We have to take into account a further factor which came to our notice last year: the contribution to progress in knowledge made by men gifted with a flair for seeing truths to which others are blind until their eyes are opened by those who have this gift.7 On the hypothesis that the whole process is God at work making Himself known, we shall have to think of all instances of this flair as gifts of God, as gifts of insight enabling men to make progress in the observation of new evidence and in whatever revision of categories is necessary for its assimilation. When we compare the history of the emancipation of religion from superstition with that of science from magic, we shall expect to find in it parallels to such names as Copernicus, Newton and Einstein. Here we must be careful. We must avoid making the mistake of thinking that the Christian claim to a special revelation rests on the belief that the Bible is a manual of unique statements of truths about the eternal nature of God made by men gifted with a flair for grasping them. We need make no claim for such uniqueness when, in looking back over the history of our religion, we ask at what points our spiritual ancestors were manifestly being led out of darkness into light.
From the period covered by the Old Testament I take for consideration four points in the doctrine of God: that He is one, that He is the Creator of all things, that He is good, and that the Israelites are His chosen people.
1. His researches into the origins of religion have led Dr. E. O. James to doubt the development of ‘anything in the nature of a genuine monotheism’ in primitive society. ‘That such a belief ever existed at the threshold of religion, as Fr. Schmidt and his followers have endeavoured to maintain, is highly improbable.’ There may have been belief in some kind of a Supreme Being behind and above the powers for good or evil with which men have to do, but it is with these several powers that men seek to communicate in their religion. ‘To be effective gods must be ritually accessible, efficacious, and responsive to man through the established technique of a cultus. Therefore, while the Supreme Being stands alone, head and shoulders above all secondary figures—animistic spirits, lesser divinities, deified ghosts, totems, and so on—he never holds the field in primitive society to the exclusion of all other gods.’8
If this be so, then the significant feature in Jewish monotheism is not so much the assertion that there is one Supreme Being as that it is directly with this Supreme Being that in his religion man has to do. This is the point of the preposition in the first commandment: ‘Thou shalt have none other gods before Me’, of the destruction of Aaron's golden calf in Exodus xxxii, and of the relentless warfare against the cult of the Canaanitish Baals.
It may be that the full significance of this was not realized until well after the time of Moses, that to begin with the Jahweh whom the Israelites were to worship to the exclusion of all other deities was the Thunder God of Sinai and not the one Supreme Being, Lord of all Creation. If so, the worship of this Jehovah was a stage in the pilgrimage of the Israelites towards a fuller faith. We are not now concerned to trace historically the dates at which, or the channels through which, different prophets or other teachers became possessed of this or that detail in the doctrine of God. Our subject is the significance of their beliefs as they were woven into the structure of Jewish faith at the time of the coming of Christ.
2. It is with belief in Jahweh as the sole and only Creator of all things in heaven and earth—a belief which Gilson finds in Exodus iii,9 which appears in Amos and finds full expression in Second Isaiah—that we have monotheism in the ordinary sense of the word. In so far as this is a doctrine concerning the unifying principle which we must postulate if we are to find an intelligible interpretation of experience, it is not peculiar to the biblical teaching. It is the form in which Hebrew thought, thinking in the dramatic, personal language which is natural to religion, expressed what was put in more abstract terms by the philosophically-minded Greeks. As Dr. Elmslie has put it:
For the prophetic faith God meant what the word ought to mean—the only Source and Sustainer of absolutely all that exists.… The Prophets freely spoke of God as Jehovah because the ancient name denoted in their minds not a national Deity, but the only God there is, whom Israel should revere. If the Prophets had known the term Ultimate Reality, they would surely have used it in their anxiety to emphasize how profoundly their sense of Deity differed from the utmost men had hitherto meant by ‘a God’.10
Nevertheless, if the argument of my first course of lectures be sound, in thinking in these personal terms, and speaking of creation by a Creator, the Hebrews were being used by God to make Himself more truly known to mankind.
3. It was by the combination of the doctrine of creation with that of the goodness of God that our spiritual ancestors took the step which is for us both the most inspiring and the most embarrassing. How decisive a break it was with more primitive religion, and how embarrassing it was destined to become they were probably unaware—possibly because of the piecemeal way in which they moved from the adoption of one belief to that of another without sitting back to philosophize after the Greek manner on the result of holding them all together. By the guidance of theologians who are expert in Old Testament studies we can trace the moralizing of the idea of God's holiness and the parallel extension of Jahweh's lordship into that of the sole Creator. Each by itself was a coherent advance in reasonable thinking. It is when they are put together that trouble comes.
The belief in God's goodness had an importance both negative and positive. Negatively it marked the decisive break with the past in that religion is no longer to be concerned with the effort to get in touch with, to make friends with or propitiate, whatever mysterious supernatural powers may be at work in the universe, good or bad, benevolent or maleficent. Positively it meant that henceforward men were to treat their apprehensions of moral obligation as being for them the revelation of the mind and will of God. When Nathan told David the story of the rich man seizing the poor man's ewe lamb, when Elijah rebuked Ahab for the murder of Naboth, they prepared the way for the ‘thus saith the Lord’ of prophets such as Amos, Micah, Hosea and Isaiah. In the history of our faith this is the point at which the line was crossed between superstition and the beginnings of reasonable religion. God is no longer a mysterious being, so ‘wholly other’ that His incalculable will may be whatever results from casting lots or getting a wizard to peep and mutter. The fundamental act of faith is for a man to ask himself what in his heart of hearts he honestly believes to be right and then trust God to support him in trying to live up to it. It may be that he will turn out to have been mistaken. If so, the important point is that to have been mistaken in his moral judgment is to have been mistaken in his theology too. In morals as in the sciences, in metaphysics and in aesthetics, God's education of man in knowledge of Himself comes by man learning to recognize his mistakes and revise his ideas.11 I make this reference to the sciences, metaphysics, and aesthetics because clearly the principle involved cannot be confined to the sphere of morals alone. To the Christian believer all human apprehension of truth is man by the use of his reason laying hold on what God is revealing; it is God making Himself known in the minds of men in so far as those minds are permitted by the conditions of their age and outlook to recognize Him.
This step forward from superstition to the beginning of reasonable religion is indeed inspiring. But when combined with belief in the unity of God as the sole and only source and creator of all that exists, it brings with it acute embarrassment, for it brings religious thought face to face with the problem of evil. So long as in their religion men were seeking to communicate with mysterious powers which manifested themselves indifferently as helpful or harmful, beneficent or malevolent, there was no need to ask how evil could have come to exist as it does in the creation of God who is good. Their position was not without difficulties of its own. Whether or no we believe in God there remains for the philosopher the unresolved problem of the coexistence of good and evil in one universe.12 In her broadcast talks Mrs. Margaret Knight was apparently unaware of the seriousness of this difficulty for the non-theistic philosopher, but she rightly reminded us of that which besets all who follow in the footsteps of those who lifted religion over the threshold into the realm of reasonable faith.13 What more I have to say about this must be left till the next lecture, where at last we shall find what we may claim to be the unique and distinctive element in the biblical revelation. The point we have now reached is that God is no longer to be thought of as equally manifest in all the mysterious forces at work in the universe with which man has to do. His faithful worshipper must be prepared to find Him in some and not in others; indeed, to take sides with Him in antagonism to powers of evil.
4. This belief that the God who is the creator of all things visible and invisible is nevertheless to be found revealed in some rather than others is carried a stage further in the conviction that He has chosen the children of Israel to be in a special sense His own people, and that the events of their history are acts of God in some way distinguishable from His activity in creation in general. ‘I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’14 Paradox upon paradox! We first become aware of the universe by experiencing it as a multitude of things and events. In trying to make sense of them by discovering how they can be seen to fit into a coherent pattern we are led to postulate an eternal Creator, and to look for our ultimate explanation in terms of His will. Now we find that those in whose religious tradition we stand think of Him as revealed in what is good as against what is evil, as doing particular things as well as responsible for all things in general. The question we have to ask is whether these apparent paradoxes are aids to our fundamental quest for a faith which will make sense of our experience, whether the beliefs involved can be accepted as evidence of God making Himself more truly known in the minds of men. Before we set ourselves to tackle this question we must add the witness of the New Testament to that of the Old. We must have before us the whole biblical doctrine of God.
The outstanding contribution of the New Testament is belief in the godhead of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, with the consequent doctrine of the Trinity. The beliefs about Christ and the Spirit will have to be treated in more detail in later lectures. Our present concern is with the Christian doctrine of God as a whole.
Here, as throughout, we have carefully to remind ourselves of what we are doing, of the nature of our inquiry. For us the writers of the New Testament, and the men and women of whom and for whom they wrote, are witnesses to the truth which is seeking to make itself known to us through their minds. We are only interested in what they were consciously aware of thinking and believing in so far as it is for us a guide to what the truth about God must be. As we study the Christianity of the New Testament and of the Fathers we see the truth about God forcing its way into minds only partly prepared to receive it, minds in which existing categories have to be revised in order to assimilate the new evidence.
Jesus Christ was born into a Jewish family. He and His disciples, from whom the books of the New Testament come to us, grew up thinking of God as the one and only God, the Creator of the universe, the good God who had called the Israelites to be His chosen people. They also believed that while for the time being, for some mysterious purpose of His own, God allowed His people to be ruled by an alien invader, in His own good time He would intervene in history for their rescue. This was the creed of Judaism at the time of the coming of Christ, and the original Christian creed was that Jewish creed enriched by the conviction that this coming of Christ had been the fulfilment of the promise of divine intervention. The original Christian preaching, preached to their fellow Jews by Jews who had come to this faith in Christ, proclaimed Him as fulfilling their expectations of a divine Deliverer. When the Church went on to preach its gospel to the gentile world, it could not appeal to any such expectation in the minds of its hearers. Indeed, it was only too likely that the whole notion of a chosen people to whom God had made such a promise would be dismissed as a phantasy-figment of Jewish imagination. But there was alive in Hellenistic thought the idea of the Logos as the divine agent in creation. The Jesus who had been presented to the Jews as the incarnation of their expected Messiah could be presented to Gentiles as the incarnation of the Logos.15
To what extent to begin with, in consciously formulated theology, either Jewish or Gentile, Christians would have thought of Jesus as in the full sense God incarnate, it is impossible to determine. What is certain is that at Nicaea in A.D. 325 the Church decided that henceforward there could be no place in Christian thought for belief in a divine Being of equivocal status intermediate between Creator and creation.
During those first centuries, while preaching Christ as the incarnation of the Messiah and the Logos, the Church also bore witness to its conviction that as a result of His coming, and by His gift, it had experience of a new quality of life which it called life in the Spirit. At Constantinople, fifty-six years after the Council of Nicaea, it was decided that just as Christ is to be thought of as God personally incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, so the Holy Spirit is to be thought of as God personally active in human lives.
Looking back we can see that what was going on, unrealized at the time by those who were taking part in the discussions, was a revision of the idea of unity. Greek thought reached its logical development in neo-platonism, where the ultimate reality is the One in which all inner differentiations are absorbed. ‘Even intellect has still a certain duality, because, though intelligence and intelligible are the same, that which thinks distinguishes itself from the object of thought. Beyond thought and the being which, while identical with it, is distinguishable in apprehension, is the absolute unity that is simply identical with itself. This is other than all being and is the cause of it.’16 The goal of religion is a mystical absorption of the soul into a unity with the One in which all personal distinction is lost. There was no such thought of an impersonal mystic union in the Hebrew tradition: the highest bliss to which man could aspire on earth and hope to enjoy in eternity was that of personal communion with God. But in thinking of God as personal, the Jews thought of Him as unipersonal. Christianity began as a trinitarian religion with a unitarian theology.
When we grasp this point we can understand the controversies which led to the formation of the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople. The Christian faith was this, that God had made Himself known to His people in Jesus Christ who had been crucified and risen from the dead, and in the Holy Spirit who bound them together in fellowship and was their guide. As heirs to Jewish religion and Greek philosophy it was impossible for them to be other than monotheistic. But on neither side did the idea of unity with which they had to work admit of essential inner differentiation. Hence the various experiments at explaining the new evidence to which the Christians bore witness in terms of the categories of thought with which they were equipped. For modalistic monarchians Christ and the Spirit were different modes in which the essentially unipersonal God had appeared in manifesting Himself to men. For subordinationists the divinity of Christ and the Spirit was theirs by derivation from the essential godhead of the Father; the unity was kept by making the Father the ultimately one God. But the main body of Christians insisted on bearing witness to their faith in the reality of the godhead of Christ and of the Spirit; it could not be satisfied with any explanation which compromised on this. The result was the formulation of the faith in creeds which, in terms of the categories of thought with which they were working, were a confession of contradictory beliefs—a fact which found clearest expression in the Quicunque Vult.
We can, I repeat, now see what needed to be done. Instead of treating the Father as the real one God and ascribing divinity to the Son and the Spirit either as modes of the Father's appearance, or as in some way given a share in the Father's godhead, it was necessary to put in the place of the unipersonal God of the Old Testament and the original Christian theology the tripersonal God who has His being as a unity in and through His tripersonality. There was needed a revision of the category of unity, the concept of the ultimate reality as essentially internally differentiated.
The Christian Church did not come to the doctrine of the Trinity by importing metaphysical speculation into an originally simple faith. The historical sequence was the reverse of this. The doctrine came by Christians, in defiance of contemporary metaphysics, insisting on bearing witness to what they believed to be empirical evidence of God acting on earth in Christ and in the Holy Spirit.
With the Christian doctrine of the Trinity we have come a long way from the beginning of the history of religion in efforts to communicate with whatever powers may be at work in the universe, friendly or hostile, good or evil. We have come along a road leading to the kind of idea of God that natural theology has taught us we must believe in if we are to be able to make sense of the universe of our experience: ‘an eternal personal Creator Who must Himself be self-authenticating in His goodness’.17 The connection between His goodness and the teaching of the Hebrew prophets has been made clear enough; something further must be said about that between the doctrines of the Trinity and of creation.
I have argued that in order to make sense of the universe as it actually exists we have to think of it as brought into being by the will of the Creator, that our ultimate explanations must be in terms of His purpose, and that this implies thinking of Him as personal. Now to think of God as Creator in the true sense of the word involves acknowledging the fundamental and inescapable antinomy confronting all human thought: we have to think of God-in-Himself as impassible and of God-in-relation-to-creation as passible.18 But we cannot think of God-in-Himself as unipersonal, for to be personal is to be living in personal relationship, and where God is all in all there is nothing and no one for Him to be related to. It is not for nothing that unitarian theology tends to be associated with cosmologies of the Greek rather than of the Hebrew type, to mean by ‘creation’ the activity of a demiurge imposing form on co-existent matter, rather than of ‘the only Source and Sustainer of absolutely all that exists’.19 The Hebrew prophets, it is true, thought of God in this way and thought of him as unipersonal, but that was because they did not ask philosophical questions and so become aware of the difficulty involved in their belief. Looking back we can see, as they could not, that the doctrine of the Trinity was required by their doctrine of creation.
More than once I have drawn a distinction between the doctrine of the creation and an idealist metaphysic wherein the universe of our experience is the mode in which the eternal God manifests Himself to Himself in forms of space and time.20 Now consider the following passages from the closing pages of Professor Pringle-Pattison's Aberdeen Gifford Lectures for 1913:
The accidents of language have combined with the ingrained materialism of our ordinary thinking to make the doctrine of the Trinity a supra-rational mystery concerning the inner constitution of a transcendent Godhead, instead of the profoundest, and therefore the most intelligible, attempt to express the indwelling of God in man.…
For a metaphysic which has emancipated itself from physical categories, the ultimate conception of God is not that of a pre-existent Creator, but, as it is for religion, that of the eternal Redeemer of the world. This perpetual process is the very life of God, in which, besides the effort and the pain, He tastes, we must believe, the joy of victory won.21
On the general question of Pringle-Pattison's philosophical idealism I need only remind you of what I said last year: that it seems to me to dispose too easily of the stubborn reality of such irrationalities as contingency, freedom and evil. My present concern is with his misunderstanding of Christian theology. This betrays itself at two points: the use of the words ‘supra-rational mystery’ and the insertion of the epithet ‘pre-existent’ before Creator.
Take the second point first. It is true that when we are thinking and speaking in the temporal terms that come most naturally to us, we express God's transcendence over His creation as His pre-existence. Pringle-Pattison's strictures may be deserved by those who follow Oscar Cullmann in refusing to go deeper and think out what is involved.22 But just as the Christian Church found itself unable to rest content with New Testament phrases about the pre-existence of Christ and was driven on by the logic of the facts to coin the timeless homoousion, so the Christian thinker is driven to realize that what is involved by his ordinary religious language is the antinomy required to give substance to all his judgments of value.23 To believe in the Creator is to believe in One who here and now maintains all things in their existence, who in His eternal perfection is both in Himself impassible and in relation to His creation passible. The attempt to get behind the acknowledgment of this mystery entails the explaining away of stubborn elements in our experience. Therefore it is reasonable to try another line of approach, to acknowledge the mystery and seek for light in it by ascribing its own existence to the will of the Creator. This is not to think of the ultimate reality as irrational, but as a rational Being who for a rational purpose wills to bring into existence a created universe, and to give it a mode of reality which admits of the existence of irrationalities.
To think of the ultimate reality as the Creator in whose will is to be found the ultimate explanation of all things is to think of Him as personal. The Creator who in creating creates the antinomy by voluntarily limiting His impassibility and entering into relations with the created universe, must in Himself be a rational Being who can conceive and give effect to a rational purpose. To think of the unity of God as the unity of a life in which are unified personal distinctions is the logical consequence of acknowledging the existence of irrationalities in the mode of reality characteristic of the universe that in our philosophy we are seeking to understand.
It was not by following any such line of thought that the Christian Church came to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity in its creed. In its historical origin that doctrine was an attempt to give theological expression to the idea of God implied in its religious practice. In their worship the Christians addressed both to Christ and to the Spirit a devotion which could only rightly be addressed to God. They had either to change their practice or to find some answer to charges of polytheism or idolatry. What they did was to assert as an article of faith a doctrine of Trinity in Unity which made nonsense according to contemporary categories of rational thought. Of them in their own time Pringle-Pattison's words would indeed be true: they made the doctrine of the Trinity ‘a supra-rational mystery concerning the inner constitution of a Transcendent Godhead’.
Why did they do this? They were not philosophers philosophizing, but witnesses testifying to what they believed to be facts. The more they reflected upon the evidence of what Christ and the Spirit had actually been and done, and still were being and doing, in the history of this world, the more convinced they became that in each case they had to do with God. They could not give up their belief that there was only one God. But neither could they be false to the witness they had to bear. Let the philosophers make of it what they could.
We are now trying to take up this challenge in terms, not of third, fourth or fifth, but of twentieth-century European thought. In later lectures we shall have to examine for ourselves the evidence for their beliefs about Christ and the Spirit. The point I want to make now is this. Let us assume for the moment that they were right, that they provided philosophy with reliable evidence that has to be taken into account in our attempt to make sense of the universe. Then, if this be so, the incident illustrates the nature of revelation as I have been trying to expound it throughout these lectures.
The history of human thought is the history of God making Himself known to men through minds conditioned by the circumstances of their time and place. He reveals Himself in what He does and by inspiring men to grasp the significance of events as His acts. This grasping of significance is a matter of interaction between categories and evidence, and what I have now described as being inspired by God is what earlier on I have called being gifted with a flair for diagnosis.24 The witness that the Christians bore to Christ and the Spirit was evidence of their interpretation of certain historical events. There lay behind it a series of other interpretations of events, each involving, in the continued process of interaction, the reconsideration of existing categories. There had been the interpretation of Israel's history as that of the Chosen People of God; there had been the revision of the idea of messiahship in the minds of those Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah. Now they gave evidence about what they took to be God's revelation of Himself which would not fit in with the idea of unity presupposed in the monotheism of their time.
I have traced elsewhere the course of the revision of the idea of unity necessitated by the evidence they brought, and will not go over that ground again now.25 I believe we can now see that, so far from its being a ‘supra-rational mystery’, the idea of unity implied in the doctrine of the Trinity is the only one we can reasonably entertain when thinking about God. To this may now be added the argument of these lectures, that natural theology leads us to postulate a Creator within whom are personal differentiations. If this be so, it casts some light on the relation between God's revelation of Himself through natural theology and through the witness of those who testify to what they have learnt in the practice of the Christian religion. It is well known how once there was an astronomer who deduced from his calculations that there must be a comet in a quarter of the heavens where none had been observed. The inventor of a more powerful telescope was able to say: ‘Yes, I have seen it: there it is’. In attempting to make sense of the universe of our experience, we are led by natural theology to postulate a Creator of a certain kind. When from their religious experience men draw conclusions inconsistent with what we have been led to believe the truth must be, we have to examine afresh the relative value of their testimony and of our reasoning. But when their witness dovetails into the position to which our argument has led us, then it is reasonable to believe that the interaction of categories and evidence has borne fruit of value both for the pursuit of philosophy and for the practice of religion.
One further point. If the history of human thought be the history of God making Himself known in the minds of men, it has both a negative and a positive aspect. Deeper and fuller grasp of the truth is only achieved at the cost of stripping away presuppositions which miscolour our apprehension of it. This is as true of our understanding the Christian revelation as of the history of human thought in general. What God has done in Christ stands for ever as the enduring depositum fidei of the revelation. Our understanding of it grows as we learn to discount the miscolourings of our predecessors, leaving it to those who shall follow us to discount our own. We shall find reason to think that we in our time, after nearly two thousand years of Christian history, may be only beginning to know what Christianity really is.
Vol. I, Part 1, iv, v.
References in my Towards a Christian Philosophy (London, 1942), p. 44.
Vol. I, Part 1, p. 115.
Vol. I, p. 207. On the general question see pp. 212 ff.
E. O. James: The Concept of Deity (London, 1950). Cp. the following passage from Karen Blixen: Out of Africa: ‘The Natives… had preserved a knowledge that was lost to us by our first parents; Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one’. (Penguin Edition, 1954, p. 27.)
Jung: Psychology of the Unconscious (E. Tr., London, 1922).
Vol. I, pp. 98 ff.
Op. cit., p. 28.
E. Gilson: The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy (London, 1936), pp. 51 ff.
W. A. L. Elmslie: How Came our Faith (Cambridge, 1948), p. 369.
See above, p. 23; also Vol. I, pp. 106 ff., 145 ff.
See Vol. I, pp. 198 ff.
M. Knight: Morals without Religion (London, 1955).
Exod. vi. 7.
On this, see the illuminating contrast between the opening verses of St. Mark and St. John in C. H. Dodd: The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1953), p. 8.
T. Whittaker: The Neo-Platonists (Cambridge, 1918), pp. 54, 103–4.
Above, p. 27.
Vol. I, pp. 68, 152.
Above, p. 33.
E.g., Vol. I, pp. 143 ff.
The Idea of God (Oxford, 1917), pp. 410, 412.
See Vol. I, pp. 77 ff., and below, pp. 83, 4.
Vol. I, pp. 132 ff.
Vol. I, pp. 98 ff.
The Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1943); Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. V, Pt. i, April 1964, p. 49.