—R. L. Stevenson.
Among the writings accepted by antiquity as Platonic there is a curious fragment of a few pages called Cleitophon which raises a perturbing question. (Its authenticity has been generally denied throughout the last hundred years on grounds which, if not absolutely conclusive, are reasonably cogent.) The writer, whoever he may have been, urges that there is a formidable practical defect in the familiar Socratic doctrine of ethics. Socrates can succeed in convincing an auditor beyond all doubt of the supreme importance of having the right moral ideal and being in dead earnest with the business of “making the soul as good as possible”. But when we go on to ask what are the steps to be taken in setting about this chief business of life, Socrates has nothing to tell us. He has convinced us, to speak in a metaphor, of the necessity of knowing the true route across the troubled and uncharted waters of life, but he cannot tell us how to set our vessel’s course. In this respect, Cleitophon is made to say, even the slap-dash Thrasymachus has the advantage of Socrates. Whatever we may think of the goal Thrasymachus sets before us, at least he can give us definite directions for reaching it. It looks, then, as if Socrates has an unrivalled gift of awakening the “unconverted,” but no message of guidance for the once awakened.1
As the fragment breaks off at this point, and has the appearance of never having been completed, we do not know how the writer meant to treat the difficulty he has raised. Conceivably his intention was to urge that the seemingly annihilating criticism is, after all, not valid, and it would not be difficult to suggest the line of argument he might have adopted for this purpose.2 But his difficulty may be restated in a way which indicates the existence of a real standing limitation inherent in all moral theory, so long as it is content to remain moral theory and nothing more. It would not, indeed, be a sound criticism if it were taken to mean only that the moralist can give no such precise and specific instructions for living a good life as the boat-builder can furnish for the construction of a seaworthy craft, or the physician for correcting a definite physical defect by regimen and diet. For it might be properly retorted that the physician, too, can give no precise directions for securing a lifetime of physical well-being, and that the moralist is not confined to mere generalities when the problem before him is that of getting the mastery of a specific evil propensity or habit. When his problem is narrowed down to the treatment of a particular fault, such as impatience of temper or undue cupidity for some particular carnal gratification, he, like the physician, can suggest useful special rules of hygiene. The serious difficulty is more fundamental. How are our desires for what, in our moments of insight, we can recognise intellectually to be the best to be made effectual enough to compete victoriously in practice with our strong concupiscences for things our understanding can clearly enough see to be not good, or, at any rate, not best? It may be true to say with Socrates that we all at heart desire good, or felicity, and nothing else; the trouble is that the desire is commonly a languid one, and yet has to become a “passion” if real progress in good is to be made. What is to supply the driving force which will fan languid and faint desire for the best into a flame? How are we to be made to care enough for the highest?
Mankind in general, and individual persons in particular, will not be regenerated unless moral aspiration becomes an overpowering passion; and how is such devotion to be secured? There may be a few men, like Socrates himself, in whom the intellectual discernment of a better seems directly able to arouse a passion for its attainment, but these are the exceptions among mankind, not the rule. It is the common experience of most of us that we assent pretty readily to the theses that ends to which the life of another man is consecrated are worthier than those we are pursuing ourselves, that we should be better men if we cared less for things we actually care a great deal about, and more for others in which our interest is actually lukewarm, or, again, if we could only get rid of what we know to be our special infirmities and vices. But our assent to these theses often provokes at best only a passing wish that we were men of different mould; it does not usually stimulate to devoted and unremitting labour at the task of the remaking of the self. For the work of life we need not only a vision of good, but adequate motivation to live by the vision. Mere philosophy tends to regard its business as confined to the delineation of the moral ideal, and to disclaim all pretension to the harder achievement of supplying the motive for devotion. In this sense, at least, ethics has always been what Bradley insisted it ought to be, a speculative, not a practical pursuit.
There can, of course, be no objection to the view that, for the convenience of the student, there should be this division of labour. There is no reason why the man who is trying to become a better man should be compelled also to work at the task of analysing the moral ideal which inspires him, or the man who is trying to analyse the good forced also to play the part of a preacher of righteousness, any more than a convalescent should study medicine, or a medical student convalesce. Each task is likely to be most effectually executed if the two are kept distinct. Thus we have no right to blame the moral philosopher if, on grounds of method, he confines himself to the attempt to tell us what, in principle, the best life for man is. To be sure, unless he is also seriously trying to live that life himself, his statements about its character are bound to be gravely defective. Yet he may have a special superior intellectual penetration, not shared by better but less reflective men, though some of these men may be actually living the best life more effectually than himself, just as we know that, though a man of a prosaic turn of mind will never be a good critic of poetry, the best critic is usually not a great poet, and the great poet often shows himself a mediocre critic. So far there is some real justification for the claim of Schopenhauer that he could depict sanctity without being himself a saint. But the very admission that the moral philosopher is not necessarily saint or hero in the same degree in which he is a good philosopher, while the men who are heroes and saints may have no articulate philosophy, involves the further admission that moral philosophy itself is not rightfully entitled to the position of supreme mistress and directress of human action. A φιλοσοφία which is to be what Socrates and Plato meant φιλοσοφία to be, the sovereign guide and support of life, must supply adequate motivation to the pursuit of the apprehended good as well as a sound conception of that good. The problem is whether this adequate motivation can be found anywhere in a life of response to solicitations to action which come solely from the human and infra-human environment, or whether it has not rather to be sought in actual contact with a strictly superhuman source.
This is an issue which seems to be forced upon us whenever we study the ethical deliverances of the greatest philosophers, not as youthful aspirants to qualify for the rank of doctors in spiritual medicine, but as patients seeking spiritual truth with a view to our own moral health. The doubt expressed by the writer of the fragment Cleitophon, whether the exhortations of a Socrates can really do more than make his hearers, like himself, eloquent preachers of the necessity of “care for the soul,” whether they can actually contribute anything to the cure of the diseased moral personality,3 is not to be stifled. Plato, for example, may convince us that only the man who makes “follow God” his rule will ever achieve true felicity. But suppose that a man—and this is the case with all of us for much of the time and with many of us all the time—does not care very much about “following God,” how is he to be got to care? Diotima in the Symposium may be quite right when she teaches that the man who has once entered the right path by becoming awake to all that the beauty of one beautiful person means has only to “follow his nose” persistently enough, to find that his nose will lead him into the presence of the eternal Beauty. But to take even the first step on this road, you must first be already awakened from the deep sleep in which we all begin by being immersed, and what is it that effects the wakening? Aristotle’s careful discussion of moral weakness (ἀκρασία)—the condition popularly described as knowing the good but doing the evil you know to be evil—raises the same question in a still acuter form. According to Aristotle, the man who yields to the suggestions of his worse nature is in a state analogous to that of a sleep-walker, or a man in his cups. He talks as though he knew the major premiss of the “syllogism of action,” but his talk is mere babbling of words, with no more significance behind it than a drunken man’s scraps of verse, or the apparently intelligent reply of a sleep-walker to a question.4 When the man has recovered from his infatuation he will say the same things again, but with the difference that there will now be intelligent purpose behind his articulations, his words will really express his thought. And Aristotle goes on to suggest that there is a rhythm of spiritual waking and slumber in the moral life, exactly as there is a periodic rhythm of waking and sleeping in the bodily life.5 We cannot help asking with some bitterness whether, when all is said, the exaltation of “practical intellect” really comes to no more than this singularly lame conclusion. Cannot a man be so effectually awakened that he will not often or lightly fall back into periodical sleep? Must we all be morally “in our cups” when the appointed hour comes round? If we must, the analysis of the “best life for man” is much of a mockery; it is only a picture of a heaven which we may be sure none of us will reach. We find the same thing once more in Kant. Kant has set the life of “heteronomy,” the life in which intelligence is only what Hume had maintained it ought to be, an ingenious minister to imperious lusts and cupidities, in the strongest contrast with the life of “autonomy,” the life in which intelligence is pursuing an end which is its own, and is thus master in its own house. But what he never explains is how the man who is assumed to be, at the start, bound hand and foot in the chains of “inclination” is ever to get loose from them. It is to no purpose to urge that the chains will fall off of themselves if a man once cultivates the spirit of unqualified reverence for the law of duty. The whole problem is how a man who is absolutely under the domination of “inclination” ever comes to exhibit pure “reverence for duty,” uncontaminated by all “inclination,” in any the least and most trivial act of life.
Kant is admirably clear on the point that such reverence will never be produced by any demonstration, however successful, that the results of wrong-doing are unhappy, since no man can be made disinterested by an appeal to self-interest, and, for this reason, he, like Socrates in the Republic, proposes a revolutionary reform in the moral teaching of the nursery.6 What he does not explain is how, if human nature in the as yet unmoralised child is what he takes it to be, the appeal to reverence for duty on which he would base the earliest moral instruction is ever to “get home”. The famous Kantian mythus of the “ante-temporal” intelligible act of choice which fixes our status as sheep or goats once and for all7 is no more than a confession that no explanation is forthcoming. At bottom Kant is merely reverting to the Augustinian nightmare of the massa perditionis, though he tries to “save the face” of his Deity by pretending that it is we who “reprobate” ourselves for all eternity.
Perhaps the difficulty is seen at its acutest in the ethics of Spinoza, as has been powerfully urged by a recent expositor, Mr. Guzzo.8 As Spinoza conceives the moral problem, true virtue and true felicity, which are in the end the same thing, depend wholly on ability to base our conduct on “adequate” thought, a true conception of ourselves and our place in the cosmic system. But we all, without exception, have to begin life with highly inaccurate and inadequate conceptions, and to base our action on them; hence our unavoidable condition is initially that of “bondage” in which every man is a potential enemy and source of peril to every other, because all are rival competitors for the false goods which are competitive in character, and so only to be enjoyed by me on condition that I can exclude the rest of mankind from enjoyment. Now, if this is universally the “state of man by nature,” how do we even begin to advance towards that true and adequate conception of human good which, as Spinoza agrees with T. H. Green in teaching, would disclose the truth that real good is not only non-competitive but can only be enjoyed by oneself in proportion as it is enjoyed by all? We might, as Mr. Guzzo says, conceive two possible alternative answers to the question. We might think that human regeneration begins in an intellectual enlightenment. Reflection might be supposed to convince my understanding of the inadequacy of my old notions of good and bad, and lead me to replace them by more rational conceptions. It is, one might suppose, a consequence of this intellectual enlightenment that as the belief that the “competitive goods” are the worthiest objects of pursuit fades, attachment to them and lust after them will likewise fade, and thus there will be an end of the “passions” which made human life a chaos of mutual jealousies and aggressions. The cleansing of the “heart,” in that case, would be an effect of an initial illumination of the intellect. But progress from bondage to freedom by this route is stopped completely by Spinoza’s express declaration that our thought never can be adequate until we have emancipated ourselves from “passion,”9 the purification of emotion being thus called for as a pre-condition of the enlightenment.
Shall we say, then, that our deliverance is effected by the opposite route? That an elevated emotional mood, an attachment to something better than the “goods” coveted by the average sensual man, comes first and produces clarification of “practical” thinking as its effect? That it is noble emotion which purges the films from the vision of the “eye of the soul”? No doubt, we might point to examples from actual life where this process seems to be taking place under our observation, cases in which “passionate” devotion to a worthy person, or a worthy cause, seems to work a transformation of a man’s whole outlook on life and estimate of its goods. But, again, Spinoza is debarred from accepting such an analysis of what happens in these cases by one of his own doctrines. So long as we have false and “inadequate” ideas, he holds, we are and must be at the mercy of “passion,” the unworthy emotion and desire which are the inevitable outcome of false intellectual presuppositions.10 There are thus only two conceivable paths from bondage to freedom, and both seem to be barred. False thinking and unworthy action go together. So long as we think falsely we cannot act worthily, and therefore the regeneration cannot begin with the “passional” side of our nature. But equally it cannot begin with a “day of Damascus” in which the eye of the soul beholds a new and transcendent light, for it is our unworthy passions and the habits of action in which they have become embodied that are themselves the “scales” on the eyes of understanding.
In the sequel, it is true, Spinoza seems to fall back on one of the very ways to freedom which he has barred against himself. The practical rules laid down in the early proposition of Ethics v. are all rules for contemplating what befalls us as the inevitable result of a chain of causation which embraces the whole history of the universe, and where no link could be other than it is. Spinoza trusts to this speculative intellectual vision of all things as necessary to effect a practical moral regeneration for two reasons. When every event in an infinite series is thought of as playing its part in causing our joys and sorrows, it will be only a vanishingly small part of the effect we shall attribute to each particular member of the series, and this, it is held, will eliminate partial jealousies, rivalries, and hatreds, thus leading to settled contentment and general good will. Further, the same line of thinking will lead us, in the end, to regard God as the one real cause of everything which happens, and “no one can hate God,” and thus we are led to “intellectual love of God” as our standing emotional habit.11 But I think it may be replied that the line of reflection Spinoza recommends really leads to the conclusion that any specific person, act, or event must be as impotent and unimportant for good as for evil. The strictly “logical” consequence of preoccupation with the thought that no one agent or event plays any decisive part in effecting our felicity or misery should be not a spirit of universal cheerfulness or good will, but one of sullen, or apathetic, indifference to all events and agents alike. And similarly, the identification of God with an indifferent and non-ethical first source of good and evil alike ought in consistency to lead to unconcern about God, and is only too likely in practice, in the case of those whose lot in the world is a hard one, to beget downright hatred of God. Spinoza’s recommendations are as likely to lead to blasphemy as to piety, and in most cases likeliest of all to lead to the dull apathy which wiser men know as acedia and reckon among “deadly sins”. If Spinoza was led by them to the amor intellectualis Dei, the manifest reason is to be found not in his philosophy, but in his personality. Like more than one other great philosopher, he clearly had a personal religion which finds no adequate expression in his professed metaphysic. The source of his actual piety towards God and the happiness it brought him is not to be found in the doctrine of Deus-substantia expounded in the First Part of the E·thics; we have to look for it in deep impressions of early life based on intimate membership of a Jewish family and a Jewish community, familiar with utterances of psalmists and prophets who most emphatically did not identify Deus and Natura, but gave whole-hearted adoration to the Deus absconditus who sits above the waterspouts, “rage they never so horribly”. There is something in Spinoza’s Deity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as of the Dieu des savants et des philosophes.
You see the point I am concerned to make. If a man is to be raised in his whole being above his present unsatisfactory level, it is not enough that he should be able to conceive of a self better than that he now possesses. The “ideal” must be able to draw him with an overpowering force; it must be an efficient as well as a final cause.12 And it is only an efficient cause when the recognition of its goodness is accompanied by faith in its existence as the most assured of realities. The old Aristotelian principle that ens in potentia can only be “reduced to act” by that which is itself “in act,” after all, holds good. The separation of existence and value uncritically acquiesced in by so many of our contemporary thinkers would be fatal to moral progress towards good in any man who should seriously believe in such a separation, where the important purposes of life are concerned. It is from its acknowledged and overpowering reality that the valuable draws its motive power. As Dr. Whitehead has recently said,13 “There is no such thing as mere value. Value is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event.”
We get here a hint of the true solution of the apparently desperate problem, how comes a man, being what at this moment he is and having just the worth he has, neither more nor less, at once to conceive the ideal of the better and to be drawn to it. If a man were really “what he now is,” if his being were really a being and not rather a becoming, and a becoming open to the influence and pressure of the eternal Being which envelops all becomings, if in fact a man were a true Leibnizian “monad,” self-developing and self-contained, the process would be wholly unintelligible. It is actually intelligible only because the human “monad,” in spite of Leibniz’s denials, has “windows,” and windows which are open to the Infinite. To be quite plain, in all moral advance the ultimate “efficient cause” must be the real eternal source of both becoming and value. The initiative in the process of “assimilation to God” must come from the side of the eternal; it must be God who first comes to meet us, and who, all through the moral life itself, “works in us,” in a sense which is more than metaphorical. Our moral endeavours must be genuinely ours, but they must be responses to intimate actual contacts in which a real God moves outward to meet His creatures, and by the contact at once sustains and inspires the appropriate response on the creature’s part.
But to say as much as this is to say that the everyday moral life of simple discharge of recognised duty transcends the artificial limits we set to it, for our intellectual convenience, when we discriminate between morality and religion. Such a life itself is, after all, from first to last, a life inspired by “faith”. The notion that whereas religion makes the demand for faith in the beyond and dimly descried, morality does not, but is a matter of walking in the full daylight, can only arise when we mistakenly think of moral virtue as being nothing more than the routine practice of a set of duties which are perfectly familiar to us all, from our inheritance of social rules and traditions. The life of genuine morality is always something indefinitely more than this. It involves a progress which is not merely improvement in the performance of tasks we have always known to be incumbent on us, or the correction of faults which we have seen, or could have seen, at any moment to be faults. In truth, with every step taken towards a life of more habitual loyalty to known duty, or correction of known faults, we also discern new and unexpected duties with claims on our loyalty, and unsuspected faults calling for correction. Every self-surrender not only receives its reward in the enrichment of the personality we had set on the hazard; it also points the way to undreamed-of greater surrenders. Consequently, the common saying of the old poets, that the uphill road to the dwelling of virtue is steep at first, but becomes easier at each successive step, is a dangerous half-truth; the gradient is really growing steeper all the time. Years of self-discipline may make it easier for a man to practise duties he once shirked or ignored, or to avoid vicious courses which were once alluring, but they also bring their own fresh demands with them, and compliance with the new demands “costs” more than compliance with the old. The way of life does not merely begin as a via crucis, it remains a via cruris all through. The attempt to walk that road simply in my own strength is as likely to be fatal to my moral being if I make it late as if I make it early. Morality itself, when taken in earnest, thus leads direct to the same problems about “grace” and “nature,” “faith” and “works,” with which we are familiar in the history of Christianity, the religion which stands supreme above all others in its “inwardness” and takes the thought of regeneration of the self from its centre with unqualified seriousness.
At the risk of a short digression from our immediate topic, it may be worth while to point out that this problem of divine initiative equally arises outside the strictly practical domain of the moral and religious conduct of life. It even meets us, in a more external form, in the course of reflection on nature and natural causality. We may readily illustrate the point from the natural theology of Aristotle, the least “inward” of all philosophers of the first order of greatness. Of all great metaphysicians Aristotle is perhaps the one of whom we can most safely say that his vision in metaphysics is in least danger of being distorted by excessive preoccupation with the problems of the moral life. No one can reasonably suspect him of being unduly inclined by personal temperament to over-ethicise his metaphysic, since he is curiously devoid of the moral inspiration so manifest in Plato and Kant, and, with a good deal of detriment to logical consistency, in Spinoza. So far as the Nicomachean Ethics go, indeed, their doctrine is excellent enough. Aristotle has a high standard of personal behaviour, and is anxious that it should be faithfully lived up to; his practical counsel on the formation of good habits and the avoidance of bad is admirable in its common sense. A society trained as he would have it trained would be eminently law-abiding, orderly, and decent. Yet his treatment of “practice” has always been felt to be wholly devoid of “inwardness”. His morality is a highly “this-world” affair of setting up a manifestly sensible rule of behaviour and observing the rule carefully. Only in one matter does he get perceptibly beyond this very “external” conception of the moral life—in the matter of the analysis of the personal affections on which the worthiest human friendship is based. The sense of sin, so conspicuous in Platonic and Christian ethics, is conspicuously wanting in him, and he seems to have no idea of any moral life which aims at more than the punctual discharge of the social obligations which must be enforced, if a community is to be free from serious disorders. It is not from him that we learn of the moral life as a pilgrimage from bondage to freedom, or an escape from the intolerable burden of an unworthy selfhood. We can hardly say that he feels, as Plato, Spinoza, or Kant felt, that there is any grievous burden or bondage to escape from. The Hang zum Bösen in the human heart is not a reality to him. And the reason is not far to seek. Aristotle’s interest in human life itself is at best secondary. What he really cares intensely for is the scientific contemplation of the natural world; he values morality chiefly as a means to something other than itself. A well-ordered πόλις, fair-dealing neighbours, and a good personal character are but prerequisites indispensable if the “fine flower” of the community are to have the security, quiet, and leisure they require, in order to devote themselves to cosmology and astronomy. You cannot give your heart to the prosecution of such studies if you are all the while set on the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, or the accumulation of wealth, if you are at the mercy of ill-educated neighbours, or if your city is incessantly contending with enemies from without, or distracted by the factions of the malcontents within. But the supreme business of life is to be neither saint nor hero; it is to be something like a President or Fellow of a Royal Society.14
Yet the problem we might imagine evaded by this relegation of the life of moral inwardness to a wholly secondary position breaks out even in the theology of Aristotle. The one and only purpose for which his philosophy requires God is a strictly naturalistic one. God is there, not to supply moral initiative by the drawings of “grace,” nor even to provide an ideal of perfected personality, to which we might aspire in our own strength. Aristotle, as you know, thinks it actually absurd to ascribe moral personality to his God. God is wanted simply to provide initiative and support for a physical movement, the supposed eternal and uniform diurnal revolution of the outermost “heaven”. One could not well go much further in the reduction of God to a mere “unknown x,” necessary to complete a system of sidereal mechanics, and so having the same status as the problematical “cause of gravity” mentioned in the Scholium Generale at the end of Newton’s Principia. Yet Aristotle, if we are to take him at his word, goes rather further. His God is to be only the “First Mover,” the postulated solution of a real or supposed problem in dynamics. But the movement he initiates and supports apparently involves no outgoing activity on his own part. We are told that he moves the “first heaven” in the same way in which the object of concupiscence or love moves love or concupiscence.15 The point of the comparison is that, in both cases, the whole process falls wholly within the being who is “moved”. To repeat an illustration I have used elsewhere, the Princess of Tripoli, in a sense, “moved” Jauffré Rudel, by supplying the initiative for his famous voyage. Yet it may well have been the case that the Princess was not so much as aware of the existence of her lover. And, since Aristotle insists that the life of God is one unbroken contemplation of a single object, himself, to the exclusion of all others, it would seem to follow that God does not even know of that existence of the “heaven” which he “moves”.16
As a fact of history, this was the interpretation put on the doctrine by the soundest Aristotelian expositor of antiquity, Alexander of Aphrodisias. Alexander was careful to explain that God, in Aristotle’s system, is only the τελικὴ αἰτία, the “final” cause, of the diurnal revolution; the universe finds its satisfaction, exercises its function, in executing this uniform unending revolution, and this is the only way in which there is any connection between the world and God. That one does not need to be biassed by specifically Christian sentiment to find this doctrine of a merely self-absorbed Deity intolerable is shown by the zeal with which it is denounced, for example, by the learned Neo-Platonic scholar Simplicius. Simplicius is no Christian—in fact he was one of the sturdy pagans who migrated to Persia from antipathy to Christianity when the schools of Athens were closed by Justinian—but he is a Platonist, and as such determined to find nothing in Aristotle incompatible with the definitely ethical and theistic philosophy of Plato. Accordingly, he sets himself to argue more ingeniously than successfully for an interpretation by which God shall be less completely cut off from contact with the world.17 If Simplicius cannot break with Aristotle in his exaltation of the “theoretical life,” he is bound, as a Neo-Platonist, to give his supreme principle, as an essential consequence of its inward activity of self-concentration, a further outgoing activity, in virtue of which it παράγει, produces, creates, the world. Thus the attempt to adjust Aristotle with Plato leads directly up to the recognition of what is now called divine “transcendence” and the problem of the relation of this transcendence to the divine “immanence”. This problem may occupy us further in the sequel, but for the present I would be content merely to note that no philosophy of pure “immanence” can take the moral life seriously. The special problem of the ultimate source of initiative towards the morally better, which is familiar in theology as the problem of “grace,” is but the particular form assumed by the more general problem of “transcendence” when raised with special reference to human personal activities. The metaphysical denial of divine transcendence carries with it self-righteousness in morality, as well as Pelagianism in theological speculation. (It is only just to add that exclusive insistence on transcendence has its dangers too; it leads to “supralapsarian” theology and an anti-nomian “going as you please” in morality. Such is the price we have to pay for over-simplification of our problems.)
I must be content, then, at the risk of being thought, as Socrates anticipates in the Phaedo that he may be thought in a similar case, “naïf and rather simple,”18 to insist on one point. A man cannot receive the power to rise above his present moral level from his own inherent strength, because the process is one of rising above himself, and, in the moral as in the physical world, you cannot lift yourself by the hair of your own head. Nothing can rise in virtue of its inherent gravity. And, again, you cannot borrow strength from an ideal which is only an ideal, a value without actuality. If the ideal indeed draws you upward, and unless it does so it is not your ideal, it does this because it is not divorced from reality, but is more real than anything else you know. It is what we too often call the “actual,” that which we are here and now, that is relatively unreal. It is relatively unreal because our life is a becoming, and therefore the so-called actual is always slipping away into the no longer actual. To-day’s actuality is tomorrow’s “dead past”. The “ideal” is above becoming, and escapes this fate. We cannot say of it that the ideal of to-day gives place to the different ideal of to-morrow by becoming to-morrow’s mere actuality. As we make moral progress, we do not reach and pass the ideal of to-day, and say good-bye to it. What happens is that we discover to-morrow that to-day’s ideal “had more in it” than we had supposed. Life is not a succession of excursions, each with a destination which is reached and left behind; it is a single journey towards a goal which, in what we see of life, or should see if its duration could be indefinitely prolonged, is never finally reached. The task of putting off temporality can no more be finished at a given date than the evaluation of a “surd” can ever be completed by writing down the last significant digit of the unending “decimal”.
A great deal of otherwise admirable ethical literature seems to me to commit a fundamental error by conceiving of the moral life too simply, as a giving expression, through outward speech and action, to our inward personality. The real task is not merely that; it is rather the task of the reshaping and transfiguration of the inward personality itself, and the initiative to such an undertaking manifestly cannot come simply from within the personality which is to be remade. It must come in the end from contact with an ἀρχὴ κινήσεως which lies outside and around what is, at any given time, internal to the self, and the whole problem is how to live on this source in such a way that it is steadily drawn more and more into the self and yet never brought completely within it. When St. Paul writes to his converts that the life he is now living is “not I, but Christ alive in me,” he is using the language of exalted religious adoration, but a not dissimilar statement, pitched in a lower key, would be in principle true of the life of any man who is seriously trying, in however humble a fashion, to be a “better man”. Morality itself, taken in earnest, thus involves the “supernatural,” in the proper sense of that word, as its environment and daily nutriment. A morality without an ultimate source of initiative in the eternal would amount to a prolonged attempt to breathe in vacuo, or to feed one’s body on its own fat. We all know what would happen to an animal if it always “hibernated,” or if it had to inhale endlessly air which had already passed through its lungs; yet, except in the New Testament and in Plato, the indispensability of τροφή from without for the moral life seems never to have found adequate recognition.
To say this is not in any way to deny the equal indispensability of personal effort and persistence for all moral and spiritual progress. Not only may “tasks in hours of insight willed” be fulfilled in hours of “dryness” and gloom, but we may add that they never will be fulfilled in any other and easier fashion. The refashioning of personality will no more take place in a man without sheer hard work and endurance on his own part than a great work of art will ever be thrown off without effort in an hour of indolence. In sudore vultus tui comedes panem. But the question is about the hours of insight themselves, and the inspiration which is received in them. And with regard to them the truth seems to be that vision, in the moral as in the physical world, presupposes a real object of vision. The revelation of physical beauty begins not with a discovery of the beauty of the visual organ, but with perception of the loveliness of the colours and lines of things seen. In like manner discernment of “moral” beauty begins with the contemplation of an object which gives itself to the inward eye. In moral and physical vision alike, we have first to look away from ourselves. If we are to grow into the likeness of the thing we contemplate, this can only be because the thing we contemplate is not, in the first instance, the thing we are; it is not in rerum natura at all.
Here, in fact, we have a characteristic of the moral life which removes it definitely from the domain of “nature,” even as understood by a thinker like Dr. Whitehead, who is thoroughly in earnest with the conception of nature as an unresting “becoming”. It is true that such a conception as this breaks once for all with that uncritical materialism which confuses the “real” with the contents of a “cross-section” of space19 “at the moment t”; it brings us back to the Leibnizian view of nature as a system in which every constituent is weighted by the whole “past” and pregnant with the whole “future,” and so delivers us from confusion of the infinite riches of the real with the poverty-stricken abstraction “nature at a given instant”. But even the Leibnizian has to admit that, though every “monad” may be big with the future, we can only read the future of the system by the light of its past; the way in which its members have become what they are is our only clue to what they will yet become. In moral experience it is different. We do not first decipher from the past the route towards the better future, and then take the path so deciphered. It is very often aprèe coup, after we have already taken the decisive movement for the better, that we discern by later reflection the continuity of the path we have traversed. In a moral interpretation of history it is actually by the consideration of the future that we discover the true significance of the past. It is not nature but super-nature that can say “what I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter”.
I do not, of course, forget that, in the study of the natural sciences themselves, the true significance of the stages by which an organ or structure has been developed can only be comprehended properly when we first know the function the developed organ or structure is to discharge, and that this lies in the future relatively to the process of development. But relatively to us who are fashioning the natural sciences, the function is not in the future. For us the functioning organ must be already there and functioning, if we are to read its prehistory by its own light. But in all moral appreciation the ex hypothesi unattained ideal of the best is always actually apprehended, in however vague a fashion. Der Mensch ist etwas, das überwunden werden muss. Perhaps; but we have not to wait until the problematical “superman” appears before we can pronounce on the question whether Nietzsche’s Weg zum Übermenschen is the road to heaven or to hell.
If the considerations so far urged are sound, we may proceed to formulate some important conclusions concerning the type of doctrine about God which ought to characterise any “natural” theology which takes the moral being of man into account as part, and the most important part, of what it regards as the φύσις, natura, or given reality which is not to be paltered with or explained away.
(1) Since the moral life, rightly conceived, is no mere readjustment of outward reactions of a self, given once and for all, to its environment, but a reconstruction of the whole personality round a new centre, an ethical religion is inevitably, in the jargon made popular by William James, a religion for the “twice-born”. Thou must be born again is the central proposition of all genuine morality, and it is therefore indispensable to an ethical theology that it should conceive its God not only as the Maker who has brought man, like the rest of the creatures, into temporal actuality, but as the source and sustainer of the aspirations by which man is made a new creature and puts off his first merely self-contained and temporally confined selfhood. God, that is, to use language technical in the thought of Christianity, must be conceived not only as Creator, but also as Redeemer and Sanctifier. From the ethical point of view, acquirement of our heritage of true personality demands something much more than the correction of bad habits and the formation of good; it demands the transformation of what is best in its own kind into something which is good in a higher kind, and it is here that most of us come so lamentably short in our practice.
To illustrate the point more fully by an example, let us consider any morally valuable institution, such as permanent human marriage. So long as we see nothing in the consortium totius vitae but an excellent social arrangement for the rearing of successive generations of the physically and mentally sound, and the maintenance of social quiet and order by the canalisation of a dangerous source of jealousies and rivalries, we are thinking what is true enough, but still we are not thinking worthily of human marriage. It is the fact that, as Milton says, it is the source of our best natural affections, and that by it
adulterous lust was driv’n from men
Among the bestial herds to raunge;20
but this is less than half of the truth. The Greek formula that the end of matrimony is παιδοποιία γνησίων τέκνων, the perpetuation of the civic life, in fact, even when the words are made to mean the utmost that can be fairly read into them, does not exhaust all the significance of the conception of Roman lawyers that matrimonium is consortium totius vitae. The end conceived as a partnership in the whole of life, a complete sharing of all interests such that every joy and every sorrow is the joy or the sorrow of two, is something which immeasurably transcends the mere association of man and woman in the work of bringing a new generation of public-spirited citizens into the world and preparing them for maturity. It already involves a genuine enriching transformation of personality, and one which, if we will be honest with ourselves, most of us must, to our shame, confess ourselves to attain only very imperfectly and with grievous lapses. It is hard, terribly hard, not to have some interests which are not thus completely shared, some joys and sorrows, hopes and fears which remain incommunicable, even in the most successful of family lives. And so long as there is this hard core of unshared experiences, the ideal of the Institutes remains something not wholly realised or even in process of steady realisation, however true it may be that the failure to realise it may be traceable to no voluntary fault of the parties concerned. The interest from which a man’s wife, or a woman’s husband, is shut out, remains as an obstacle to the ethical transfiguration of personality from the form of I to that of We.
But, further, so long as we think of the life which is to be “shared” only as one of secular and temporal joys and sorrows, we are not yet thinking of it as it is in its full ethical significance; our conception is still only very imperfectly moralised and humanised. The complete transfiguration of the animal into the human is only effected when the shared life is itself a life of common aspiration after the supreme moral good. In such a life it is not enough that there should be nothing which would commonly be recognised as a clash of incompatible interests, or that either party should feel pleasure and pain in the pleasure and pain of the other. Every incident and every act of the rightly shared life would be one in which either party was assistant and co-operant with the endeavour of the other towards the putting on of a personality purified from the last taint of native egotism and secured against mutability, a ministrant to the other of a spiritual sacrament.
We do not, except in a distressingly inadequate fashion, find ourselves attaining such an ideal; if we did, it would not be the fact, as it so often is, that the least animal and most human of our personal affections prove, to the noble mind, the sources of the most dangerous temptations to be false, for the sake of a loved person, to the demands of the ideal for the supreme surrenders. It would not be a duty demanded of the dutifully minded man that he must be prepared, if the call comes, to forsake parents and wife and children, since when personality had become what it ought to be and is always striving to be, the parent, or wife, or child would not feel the surrender to be a forsaking. It would be impossible any longer to say
I could not love thee, dear, so much
Loved I not honour more,
since the two loves contrasted by the poet would be too completely one to be opposed, even in thought. Only where such an ideal had become matter of fact would it be possible, from the ethical point of view, to pronounce the most intimate and devoted of human attachments an unqualified good. And the ideal simply cannot become matter of fact in our natural life.
The reason is not merely that our moral will is infirm and suffers constantly recurring lapses, true as this is. Even if we could always presuppose a maximum of good will, the conditions under which we have to gain insight into another’s personality set limits to the insight so gained. For those who love to be thus entirely at one, it would be needed that each should read the other’s personality to its depths with the knowledge of direct and infallible vision, and in the life we are conversant with there is- no such scientia visionis of one another, nor even of ourselves. There is always something hidden from us in those who have stood longest most near to ourselves; there are things hidden from us in our very selves. Thus it is only the bare truth that realisation of the moral ideal in the simplest relations of human life is a thing impossible, if it has to be achieved purely by our own strength, and in the light of our own insight; as divines have said, every marriage—and we might add every other personal relation of life—is an adventure which is only kept from ending in disaster by the perpetual influence of transforming and sanctifying grace. So long as any human relation rests for its support on a basis of untransformed “nature,” it must inevitably be numbered among the things of which we must expect, sooner or later, to have to say, “I have no more pleasure in them”.
(2) Now if this is so, the God of a Theism which is definitely ethical cannot be thought of as related to man, and the system of creatures generally, simply as Creator or a “great First Cause”. If natural religion be taken, as it was taken in the eighteenth century, to mean no more than recognition of such a “First Cause,” it becomes a mere hypothesis for cosmology and loses all moral significance. In doing so it loses its right to the name “religion,” and all that remains to be said of it has been said in five words in the title of one of Blake’s tracts, There is no natural religion. On this point enough has been said already in connection with our comments on the theology of Aristotle. But it is equally true that the God of a true ethical Theism cannot be thought of adequately as no more than an embodied, or personalised, moral end, as the “great example” whom we are to follow—a representation common in philosophies of a Platonising type. It is, indeed, already much that God should be thought of in this way; we are already delivered from the depreciation of moral values inevitably prompted by a merely cosmological theology into which God enters, as with Aristotle, as a non-ethical being. We have an inspiring rule and an end set before us which we cannot simply reach and leave behind, when we are commanded to “follow God,” to grow, as nearly as may be, into the likeness of that which the “father and maker of all” eternally is. But with all its moral elevation the conception fails us when we ask how this work of becoming like God is to be set about.
The first step towards the “conversion” of the soul from the world to God, as we learn from the Platonic Socrates, is that knowledge of self which is also the knowledge of our own ignorance of true good. How do we pass from the discovery that we are in this miserable and shameful ignorance of the one thing it is incumbent on us to know to apprehension of the scale of true good? How do we get even so far beyond our initial complete ignorance as to be able to say that a good soul is immeasurably better than a good body, and a good body than abundance of possessions? We know how the Augustinian doctrine, which is Christian as well as Platonic, answers the question. It does so by its conception, traceable back to the New Testament, that God Himself is the lumen intellectus, a view which has been, in substance, that of all the classical British moral philosophers from Cudworth to Green, and seems, in fact, to be, in principle, the only solution of the difficulty. We know our true good, which is no other than God Himself, by obscure, but none the less real and impressive, personal contacts with God. Without this real contact with the eternal, the process of winning a true personality could not be begun. Any such view further implies that because God is the lumen intellectus, He is also the inspirer of endeavour in all of us, since each of us, as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle agree in teaching, always endeavours after what appears to him his good. An ethical Theism has then to conceive God as the “efficient,” as well as the “exemplary” cause of the whole moral life. From its humblest beginnings that life is, at every step, one of transformation into the likeness of that which we contemplate.
(3) This may seem an obvious point, but it carries far-reaching applications. If God is not only the goal, but the author and sustainer of moral effort, the whole moral endeavour of man must be a response to what we can only call a movement from the other side. It is, indeed, our own because it is the response of such moral personality as we already possess, but none the less it is a response to a divine initiative. In that language of human social relations on which we have to fall back whenever we try to speak of these matters, we love God because God first loved us. The “good shepherd” does not leave his strayed sheep to find its own way back; he goes out into the darkness and dangers of the wilderness to find it. When we use such language, we know, of course, that we are speaking “anthropomorphically,” and that all “anthropomorphic” utterances about the divine are imperfect and attended with danger. But the attempt to expel anthropomorphism from our language about God is attended with worse dangers. Indeed, since we, who have fashioned language, are men, the only language we can use or understand is necessarily anthropomorphic, no matter what its reference may be. We can see nothing outside ourselves, except through a human medium. Even when we talk of “inanimate nature” we never really succeed in getting quite rid of “anthropomorphism”.
This was patent enough in the ordinary old-fashioned textbooks with their free employment of such words as “force,” “constraint,” “cause”; it is only half-hidden even in the phraseology of the thoroughgoing “positivists” of science who have demanded that physics shall be denuded of the last rags of a terminology which goes beyond the extreme abstractness of pure kinematics. No one has yet succeeded, and no one ever will succeed, in banishing the notions of change and process even from a natural science reduced to pure kinematics. And change is as completely an anthropomorphic conception as “force”. If there is any living philosopher of whom we could say that the elimination of the anthropomorphic is a passion with him we must say it of Professor Alexander. Yet when Professor Alexander finds himself called on to assign a reason for the unceasing “emergence” of novel and, according to him, always brighter and better orders of existents, he finds the reason in what he calls the “restlessness” of space-time, thus simply transferring to his ultimates Locke’s doctrine of the “greatest present uneasiness” as the standing incentive to action. If this notion of “restlessness” as the source of progressive efforts after betterment is not anthropomorphic, or rather, perhaps, theriomorphic, one would be glad to know what is.21
It ought to be obvious that we cannot speak at all of the superhuman or the infrahuman except in terms which derive all their significance, in the first instance, from that with which alone we are immediately familiar from its presence in our own experience of living and striving—the strictly human. We cannot make our science or our theology really non-anthropomorphic, even if we would. Our choice is between speaking of the divine in terms of what is richest and most fully human in our own lives, or in terms of what is poorest and least human. And there should be no difficulty in making the choice, if once we are in earnest, as any genuine recognition of the moral life of man as a manifestation of the real compels us to be, with the notion of the divine as an efficient cause, and, in the end, the “first” efficient cause, of human moral advance. We must think of the divine on the analogy of all that is richest and most human, not only in our actual character, but in the better we aspire to be. The danger incurred when we represent God, for example, as standing to us in the relation of a noble human lover to the object of his love is not that we are attributing too much to God—it is the “natural” sciences in which that kind of risk is real—but that we are attributing too little. For so much of what we call love, when we speak “after the manner of men,” is unworthy of the name.
Sometimes we mean by the word little more than a mere amor concupiscentiae, a carnal passion in which we care for the object only as an instrument of our own enjoyment and as nothing more.22 When we mean more, as, thank God, most of us usually do, we still do not always discriminate very clearly between a “love” which is still mainly infrahuman and is concerned chiefly with “taking” and the love which is primarily anxious to “give”. There are presumably few human relations in which the two are not inextricably bound up together. We talk, for example, of Lear’s feeling for his daughters, as Lear himself does, as a “love” of peculiar intensity. But Lear’s vehement fury of recoil at the first manifestations of coldness and ingratitude on the other side shows that, if he is to be called a passionate lover at all, his passion is overwhelmingly of the kind which is much more eager to take than to give. He calls himself, indeed, a father whose kind old heart “gave all,” but the words are profoundly untrue. He gave, what after all cost him little, kingdoms, because he wanted to take what he cared more about, caresses and câlineries. Brought face to face, in the case of Cordelia, with the love which really gives all, he confuses it with want of “natural affection”. At heart, Lear is as much one of “nature’s takers” as Goneril or Regan, though the thing he lusts to take is less sordid.
Again, even when we are alive to the distinction between the taker’s love and the giver’s love, we continually confuse the love which aims at giving what is best with that which is content to give the second-rate or third-rate. We do not distinguish, as we ought, between a seeing love and a blind. By a loving father we mean, only too often, more precisely one whose only desire is to give his children what they like rather than what is good for them. In especial, we are apt to be blind to the reality of a love which demands high performance and lays hard tasks on its recipient, for the sake of the strength and beauty of personal character which are not to be had on easier terms. We confuse love with weakness, and this confusion is the source of a great deal of the current literary revolt against the idea of God.
It is held either that all love must be weak indulgence, and that the conception of God as loving us is therefore an unworthy one, or, on the other side, that the undeniable hardness of the tasks life sets to the best men is proof that the author of life is profoundly unloving, and so morally inferior to ourselves. The source of all this confusion is the assumption that, if we speak of God’s love for men, we are not to interpret such language in the light of the strongest and wisest human love, but in that of weak and unwise love. That error arises not from too much anthropomorphism, but from too little, from readiness to think of God in terms of something lower than our highest human standard of excellence. An ethical theology is necessarily anthropomorphic, in the sense that it interprets God and God’s ways by the analogy of all that is most nobly human, and always with the further caution that as a completely humanised man would be all we can picture to ourselves of what is admirable in man and something more, which we cannot yet picture because we ourselves are so far from being wholly humanised, so God is all that perfect human excellence would be and abundantly more. Thus the simple statement that God, whose initiative is the source of all our advance in good, loves man as a father loves his children is inaccurate only because it ascribes too little to God. It falls short because no actual human father loves his children with a love which is wholly bent on giving, wholly wise and wholly unspoiled by facile sentimentality.
(4) The main point on which I would wish to be clear, however, is that to think ethically of God means to break finally with the bad “deistic” tradition which finds its clearest expression in the Aristotelian theology. The God of a truly moral Theism cannot be a purely self-centred being, “making eyes at Himself,” to borrow a phrase from Bradley, like some Narcissus. His fundamental activity must involve expansion. And when we would think of His action upon the world, we can only think of it as a life in which He gives Himself freely and generously to His creatures that they may be able to give themselves to Him. As Timaeus says in Plato23 the very reason why there is a world of creatures at all is that the All-good is wholly free from φθόνος, the “dog-in-the-manger” spirit which seeks to engross felicity to itself, and therefore makes the creatures for His goodness to flow out upon. He cannot be wholly blessed, except in blessing.
I may, perhaps, be reminded at this point that, on a prima facie view, the tradition of Christian orthodoxy would seem to be at variance with the spirit of what has just been said. It is notorious that Christian theologians have all but unanimously agreed in rejecting the view, characteristic of Neo-Platonism, that the world of creatures emanates, or emerges, from the Creator by some sort of “natural necessity”; creation, they have taught, is a freely willed act of God. He might conceivably have willed to create no world at all, or to create one different in every detail from that which is actual. Not a few eminent Christian philosophers and theologians have gone still further. They have denied that the divine choice to create the actual world is due to its superior goodness when compared with other possible worlds, and some of them apparently have even denied that there is any reason whatever for the choice, thus apparently making both the existence of a world of creatures and its specific character the outcome of something like a divine “whim”. Against all such language I would venture, with due modesty, to suggest that both the rival doctrines of a necessitated creation and of a capricious creation rest, in the end, on confusion of thought. It is important to an ethical Theism to insist that there is no necessity external and superior to the Creator; He neither creates because He is constrained to create, nor gives the created world the structure it actually has because that structure is dictated by antecedent conditions. He is the foundation and absolute prius of all actuality and all possibility, and He is all, and more than all, we understand by an intelligent and righteous will. To safeguard such a Theism it is needful that we should clearly repudiate the suggestion, which haunts all philosophies of the Neo-Platonic type, that the Creator “has” to create, and to create the world we know, so to say, “willy-nilly,” and this cannot be better done than by saying that creation is an act of free and intelligent choice.
But when we go on to add that, therefore, “God might have willed to create no world at all, or might have willed to create an entirely different world,” we are, it seems to me, at least on the verge of a dangerous fallacy of ambiguity. We may mean only to give a piquant expression to the thought that the world is and is what it is because God is and is what He is. But we may also mean, and theologians seem sometimes actually to have meant, that God might be the God He is and yet that His creative will might be absent from His being, or might be other than it is. And if we mean this, then, I should say, we are introducing into the divine being itself the element of contingency, or, what comes to the same thing, we are making a distinction, and a real distinction, between God and God’s will. That is, we are reintroducing the distinction between the possible and the actual into that which we also recognise as the foundation of both possibility and actuality, and so allowing ourselves to forget that God’s will is God, that Deus est suum velle. When once we understand that this distinction can have no place within the being of God, it seems to make no real difference whether we say that God produces the creatures by an act of free will, or, with Spinoza,24 that He produces them “by the law of his own nature,” since in God, who is the absolute prius, there can be no distinction between Deus and deltas, such as there is in us, who are always in fieri, between the man and the humanity he is ever “putting on,” but has never fully put on. In us it is true that there is a distinction between natura and voluntas, for the simple reason that we have to become true persons with a reasonable will by a gradual and difficult process; in God, who does not become but is, the distinction seems to have no place. My objection to Spinoza’s formula would be based not on what it asserts but on what it denies. It asserts, truly as it seems to me, that God acts “by the law of his own nature,” but falsely sets such action in God in opposition to “free action,” as though the complete identity of voluntas and natura were not itself the very ideal of perfect freedom.25
Whatever may be thought of these remarks, it seems at least plain that anxiety to banish the last vestiges of egoistic self-concentration from the idea of God must have been at work all through the formative period of Christian doctrine in leading up to the final elaboration of the great theological dogma of the Trinity. Why, we may reasonably ask, was the Church so profoundly dissatisfied with what looks, at first sight, the simple and intelligible doctrine of an “economic Trinity,” a trinity of “parts” sustained by God as successively the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier? Why were the thinkers who gave orthodox Christianity its pattern driven, we might say in spite of themselves, to make the distinctions of “persons” something more than a distinction of simple temporal rôles, to make it “essential” and eternal? And what did they mean by introducing the supreme difficulty involved in the culminating assertion that, in spite of this essential and eternal distinction, there is a perfect circumincession of the three “persons,” such that each eternally contains and is contained in each? Was it from mere caprice that the apparently simple and intelligible was persistently rejected for the admittedly mysterious and paradoxical? The typical eighteenth-century answer to the question is that of Gibbon,26 that contradiction and nonsense have an inherent attractiveness of their own for an ambitious “priesthood” bent on enslaving the human mind; the consecration of gibberish is the supreme triumph of a caste set on domination. Such an explanation can only satisfy an age which thinks so unhistorically as to mistake the makers of a great theological tradition for designing and clear-sighted hypocrites not themselves imposed on by their own decisions, and nothing can be clearer than the historical fact that if the Christian divines who drew up the standard formula were indeed canonising gibberish, they at least believed ardently themselves in their own gibberish.
The real source of their most paradoxical definitions seems to me to have been mainly ethical. It was felt that the doctrine of an “economic” Trinity does not make giving as fully and inwardly characteristic of the divine life as it requires to be made. With such a doctrine, the giving and self-emptying may, no doubt, be real, but it remains something external, an incident arising from the relation of the Creator to a creation which has somehow “gone off the lines”. Room is left for the thought that if there had been no “fall,” if the creature had not “gone wrong,” there is no inherent reason why the divine activity should have been one of utter and complete self-bestowal, and thus the possibility is left open of regarding that activity, even in its relation to the creatures we know with all their faults and defects, as not penetrating the inmost depths of the divine life. The god of such a theology may, after all, have a core of self-centredness; he may be, like a magnified Stoic sage who, when all is said, at bottom “keeps himself to himself,” in spite of his apparent preoccupation with the “common” good, always at heart frigid and unsympathetic, because the thing of highest worth in the scale of goods is just that in himself which he never shares.
This, I take it, is the reason which would not let Christian divines rest until they had declared that the “personal” distinctions are eternal, internal, and essential to the divine being itself. The thought was not merely that, as was generally assumed, creation had only happened some few thousand years before their own time, and that some activity must be found for the divine which has no beginning. There was, further, a consideration which would still remain, even if the world of creatures were held to be without beginning. The divine, infinite, and eternal can only communicate to the created and finite so much of itself as the creature can receive without ceasing to be a creature. Hence if the world of finite creatures is the only object on which the divine activity of giving can be exercised, the riches of the divine nature must remain as good as uncommunicated; in its foundations the divine life must be egoistic. To love with the love that gives must be only a surface characteristic of the life of God. And since such isolated selfhood is unethical, there is no room for the ethical in the inmost life of God, when it is conceived thus. To make room for the ethical we have to think of the divine, even apart from its relation to the creatures, as having a life in which there is, within the Godhead itself, an object adequate to the complete and absolute reception of an activity of giving which extends to the whole fullness of the divine nature, so that there is nothing which is not imparted and nothing which is not received. Because the mutual love in which each party bestows himself freely and completely and is freely and completely received is ethically the supreme spiritual activity, the life of God is thought of as involving an internal distinction as well as an internal unity, in order that the whole activity of the divine life may be one of perfect and unlimited self-bestowal.
Est totus in Nato Pater,
in Patre totus Filius;
Natoque plenus et Patri
inest utrique Spiritus.27
The motives which led to the foundation of the doctrine of circumincession, called by Gibbon the “darkest corner of the whole theological abyss,”28 cease to be so perplexing if we regard them as arising in the attempt to say what God must be if we are to take the moral relations of persons as the least hopelessly inadequate clue to the inmost character of the real.
(5) These observations, however, are by the way. A point of more immediate moment is that, in the recognition that a moral Theism must take account of the initiative of the divine, and so reckon seriously with grace, free movement outward on the divine side, as the ultimate source of human moral endeavour itself, we are implicitly abandoning the deep-seated prejudice that there is any real opposition in principle between “philosophical” or “natural,” and “historical” or “revealed” theology, or between a philosophical and an institutional religion. If it is true that our most inchoate visions of an ideal good are themselves the issue of actual imperfect contacts with a divine reality, then the supposed opposition becomes only a distinction, and, I would add, a distinction which it is a mistake to make too rigid. All our moral vision of good may be truly said to be due, in the end, to revelation, self-communication on the part of the divine reality, and it will become impossible to deny that the value of what is revealed regularly depends on the capacity of the recipient to whom the disclosure is made. Quidquid recipitur recipitur ad modum recipientis. And clearly, again, no metaphysician has the right to pretend to determine a priori beforehand what form the contacts with the divine from which living inspiration to good arises must take. That we must be content to learn from the event. Since they are all contacts in caligine, we should be prepared to find that their occasions are often such as might have been thought unlikely and surprising; it is of the nature of the case that they should, for example, occur in the lives of the “babes and sucklings” and should appear mere foolishness to the worldly-wise. It is no derogation from the genuinely supernatural character of these self-disclosures of God to men to say that the “rationalistic” attempt to judge of them otherwise than by the effects, where they are accepted, on a man’s life, is of a piece with the similar less often advanced pretence to say what must be the quarter in which “original genius” of any kind should be looked for, or in what strange and unexpected ways it may disclose its presence.
The true distinction will not be between a certain type of religious life or theological belief which is complete in itself and justifiable by “human reason,” and another which is wholly non-rational or super-rational and has simply to be accepted on authority of some kind. The true distinction will be rather between that in the divine which is generally disclosed to men with a very commonplace level of moral insight and practice and that which is only directly disclosed to special recipients, why selected we cannot always say, and justifies itself, in the end, by its practical effect in the inward reconstitution of the lives of those who accept the disclosure in good faith. There is no philosophical justification for confining the channels by which the divine may disclose itself, or the persons to whom the disclosure may be made, within limits marked out antecedently by a human theorist.
We may not, for instance, assume that whereas the vision of the divine in Hebrew prophecy must have come simply by “revelation,” the insight of the Hellenic moralists must everywhere have a less exalted source; or, again, that though a man cannot afford to lose the religious guidance and support of the lessons of great poets and philosophers, he can afford to dispense, and it will make for his spiritual progress to dispense, with membership of a society of worshippers with a definite tradition of doctrine and worship. We may not assume at this stage of our discussion that the highest attainments in the spiritual life can only be mediated through membership of some specific community and participation in its distinctive rites, but neither have we any right to deny the truth of this assumption on general and a priori grounds. It may be that in every religion, as it actually exists in the life of the community which lives by it, there are apprehensions involving real and direct contacts with the divine, and that thus, in the end, every religion contains its basis of “revealed” truth. Yet it does not follow that the quality of all the revelations is the same, nor even that among the revelations of the divine to be found in the history of mankind there may not be some one which corrects and integrates the partial lights of the rest, while not itself calling for correction by any “higher synthesis”. In that case there will be, as Christians claim that there is, an historical religion which is, in principle, final and absolute, and not a mere best among many good, or a best as yet accessible. But these are problems which will concern us further in the sequel.
So it may perfectly well be that direct access to the divine has been provided for men in countless ways. Perhaps the “one true light” may at times be caught in the “tavern,” though the poet from whom the sentiment comes29 has generally been regarded as a light-hearted mocker by those who know him at first-hand. And no doubt it is better to catch a distant glimpse of the light in the tavern than to miss it altogether in the temple. Yet it may also be that though many who worship in the temple are blind to the light, he who refuses to cross its threshold will never enjoy the fullest illuminations. That the Highest should communicate spiritual life to us through the institutions of a particular society with their physical instruments may be strange, but no stranger than that poetical and musical genius of the first order should make its appearance in the seemingly untoward circumstances among which it often displays itself. Could we have been told at the beginning of the last century that the world was on the eve of receiving the gift of a supreme poet with a direct vision of beauty which would inspire and support the poetic literature of a hundred years and still remain unexhausted, probably the last place where we should have been predisposed to look for the man who was to make us see beauty again would have been the quarter from which John Keats actually emerged. We might not have been clear about the fact even in 1821, when the poet’s own short life had come to an end; we know now, because we see the facts in the light of the influence he has exercised, and thus know, for example, how all that is best in Tennyson comes out of Keats.
So it is with the institutions of a living religion. What they are we can only judge by the quality of the life they bring into the world. Antecedently we might be disposed to say, for example, that the ritual breaking and pouring and sharing of bread and wine would be very unlikely to mediate, to those who participate in it with simple and humble hearts, a quality of life they could win in no other fashion. But whether it is so or no cannot be decided by consideration of antecedent probabilities; the appeal has to be made to the effects revealed in the lives of the worshippers. We cannot come to the philosophic study of religion or of theology, the theory of the life of which religion is the practice, with too open minds. It would be very unsafe to infer that what claims to be a special self-disclosure of the divine must be what it claims to be, because it is surprising. But it would probably be a good rule to say that God does “move in a mysterious way,” and that the most unlikely thing of all would be that a true religion should contain no surprises. But this, again, is a thought we shall need to develop further.
Op. cit. 410 B-C νομίσας σε τὸ μὲν προτρέπειν εἰς ἀρετῆς ἐπιμελειαν κάλλιστ᾿ ἀνθρώπων δύνασθαι, δυοῖν δὲ θάτερον, ἢ τοσοῦτον μόνον δύνασθαι, μακρότερον δὲ οὐδὲν … ταὐτὸν δὴ καί σοί τις ἐπενέγκοι τάχ᾿ ἂν περὶ δικαιοσύνης, ὡς οὐ μᾶλλον ὄντι δικαιοσύνης ἐπιστήμονι, διότι καλῶς αὐτὴν ἐγκωμιάζεις • οὐ μὴν τό γε ἐμὸν οὕτως ἔχει • δυοῖν δὲ θάτερον, ἢ οὐκ εἰδἑναι σε ἢ οὐκ ἐθέλειν αὐτῆς ἐμοὶ κοινωνεῖν. διὰ ταῦτα δὴ καἰ πρὸς Θρασύμαχον οἷμαι πορεύσομαι καὶ ἄλλοσε ὅποι δύναμαι.
Cf. my Plato, the Man and His Work3, Appendix, p. 537.
Op. cit. 409 B ἰατρική πού τις λέγεται τέχνη•ταύτης ὃ᾽ ἐστὶν διττὰ τὰ ἀποτελούμενα, τὸ μὲν ἰατροὺς ἀεὶ πρὸς τοῖς οὖσιν ἑτέρους ἐξεργάζεσθαι, τὸ δὲ ὑγίειαν … τῆς δὴ δικαιοσύνης ὡσαύτως τὸ μὲν δικαίους ἔστω ποιεῖν … τὸ δ᾽ ἔτερον, ὃ δύναται ποιεῖν ἡμῖν ἔργον ὁ δίκαιος, τί τοῦτό φαμεν;
E.N. 1147 b 9 ff.
E.N. 1147 b 6 (with Burnet’s note in loc).
Kdpr V. ii. Th. (Werke2, v. 158 ff.).
Werke2, vi. 125.
Guzzo, Il pensiero di Spinoza, pp. 290 ff.
Ethica, iv. 14 “vera boni et mali cognitio, quatenus vera, nullum affectum coercere potest, sed tantum quatenus ut affectus consideratur”. In other words, our emotions must be engaged on behalf of “true good” as a pre-condition of our recognition of it as such. See on this point Guzzo, op. cit. 146 ff.
Ethica, iv. 17 schol., v. 20 schol.
Ethica, v. 18, 32.
As Kant says, the “good will” must be a will, not a mere wish. The problem is how it is to become more than a fleeting wish.
Science and the Modern World, p. 136.
Cf. E.N. 1178 b 3 τῷ δὲ θεωροῦντι οὐδένος τῶν τοιούτων (sc. τῶν ἐκτὸς αγαθῶν) πρός τὴν ἐνέργειαν χρεία … ᾑ δ᾽ ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν καἰ πλείοσι συζῇ, αἱρεῖται τὰ κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν πράττειν.
Metaphys., 1072 a 26 ff.
It would be unjustifiable to interpret Aristotle in the light of the later scholastic doctrine that God, cognoscendo se, et alia cognosciı. That presupposes the Trinity.
See the polemic on this point in his commentary on the Physics (Diels, pp. 1360–1363).
Phaedo, 100 D 3 τοῦτο δὲ ἀπλῶς καὶ ἀτέχνως καὶ ἴσως εὐήθως ἔχω παρ᾽ ἐμαυτῷ.
Or, rather, of the spatial-temporal continuum.
P.L. iv. 753.
S. Alexander, Space, Time and Deity, ii. 345 ff.
“He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force, Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.”
Even this, however, is something. There are men who “love” a woman, or a fellow-man, much as an epicure “loves” truffles or claret.
Tim. 29 E I, ἀγαθὸς ἦν, ἀγαθᾠ δὲ οὐδεὶς περὶ οὐδένος οὐδέποτε ἐγγὶγνεται φθόνος.
Ethica, i. 16 ex necessitate divinae naturae infinita infinitis modis (hoc est omnia quae sub intellectum infinitum cadere possunt) sequi debent; i. 17 Deus ex solis suae naturae legibus, et a nemine coactus agit. But I regard it as mere confusion to say that “all that can be known by an infinite intellect is actual,” and, as Spinoza adds at i. 33, that “things could not have been produced by God in any order other than that in which they have been produced”.
On the other hand, I find myself in full agreement with the conclusion of St. Thomas (Quaest. disp. depotentia q. 3, art. 15), that things have proceeded from God per arbitrium voluntatis, and with the reason he gives for the conclusion, but dissatisfied with the rejection of the alternative per necessitatem naturae, unless it is understood that “nature” is here taken to be something other than “the nature of God”. I desire more emphasis to be laid on what St. Thomas himself asserts, that voluntas and natura, prout in Deo sunt, are secundum rem idem.
Decline and Fall, c. xxi. “an eager spirit of curiosity urged them to explore the secrets of the abyss; and the pride of the professors, and of their disciples, was satisfied with the science of words … the Christians proved a numerous and disciplined society; and the jurisdiction of their laws and magistrates was strictly exercised over the minds of the faithful … the authority of a theologian was determined by his ecclesiastical rank,” etc., etc.
Paris Breviary, Office Hymn for Lauds of Trinity Sunday.
Decline and Fall, c. xxi. n. 59.
For the original verses see Whinfield’s text of Omar Khayyám, quatrain 262. (“To speak in secret with Thee in taverns is better than to offer prayer without Thee in the mihráb. ‘Tis in Thy will, O Thou, beginning and end at once of Thy creatures, to burn me, and in Thy will to cherish me.”)