—2 Pet. i. 19.
In the first series of these lectures we have been concerned to argue that whole–hearted acceptance of the postulates of the moral life itself involves an outlook on the world and on man’s place in it which is more than merely moralistic. The good man who thinks out to the end the implications of his loyalty to the moral good, we urged, will find that he is pledged to something more than simple recognition of an ideal of conduct as entitled to his unqualified respect. He is committed, we held, to a belief in the final coincidence of the “ought” and the “is,” in virtue of their common source in a transcendent living and personal Good—one, complete, eternal—the only belief which rightfully deserves to be called belief in God. He is also committed to the recognition that whatever is, other than God Himself, is a creature of God, having the token of its creatureliness stamped upon it by its temporality and “passage”; that for a reasonable creature, such as man, the fundamental concern of life is a reorganisation of personality, only possible as a response to an initial movement manwards on the part of the Eternal itself, by which reorganisation the creature comes to seek and find its own intimate felicity not in the temporal, but in the abiding; that the very imperativeness of this quest makes it only reasonable to anticipate ultimate attainment in a life no longer condemned to failure by its inherent successiveness. In a word, we tried to show that the moral life of man, rightly studied, bears impressive testimony to three great strictly supernatural or other–world realities—God, grace, eternal life. An attitude to life and the world dominated by these recognitions is clearly entitled to be called definitely religious, since it is they which are the mainsprings of what we know in history as the great positive religions of mankind, and can be seen to be so with increasing clearness in the proportion in which each of these religions has proved able to control the type not of some one minor social group, with special local, racial, or other characteristics, but of humanity at large.
God, grace, eternal life, we may say, are the three interconnected themes from which all the great religions have been built up, much as a whole series of musicians, from Nicolai to Mendelssohn, have left us their different versions of the melody known, I believe, as the deutsche Gloria. Or, to express the same thought in a different terminology, they might be called the “arguments” of which the great positive religions are “functions,” or the “determinables” of which these religions are “determinants.” One religion may, indeed, give special prominence to one of these “themes” or “arguments” at the cost of others, with consequent loss to itself in wealth of contents. Thus, I take it, it would not be wholly unjust to say that in Mohammedanism—I speak as a mere outsider and always subject to the correction of those who know from within—the themes of “grace,” as something distinct from a mere condonation of offences, and “eternal life,” as other than mere unending continuance of a life of strictly temporal quality, are very much in the background. In some modern versions of Christianity,1 and, again, I should suppose—speaking again as a very ill–informed outsider—in Buddhism, it is God, the most fundamental theme of all, that is relatively obscured. To preserve the right balance between all three is no easy matter, and the faith which can do this effectively may fairly be said to have made out its superior claim to be the “absolute” or final religion for man. But all three, I should say, are to be discerned in any religion which has proved on the large scale its power to govern the hearts and minds of humanity. The mere absence of any is, as it seems to me, just what makes the difference between a religion and a, possibly splendid, speculation. Spinozism, for example—I mean the convictions to which Spinoza is strictly entitled if his professed premisses are true and his conclusions validly inferred from them—remains a speculative metaphysic and nothing more, just because there is no room in the scheme for “grace,” the outgoing movement of God towards man. “Theosophy” and “spiritualism,” again, are speculations, and at bottom I think we must say irreligious speculations, because both make God really superfluous and know nothing of a genuine sense of “creatureliness”.
If we turn from our three great themes to the actual religions in which they have been embodied, we are at once struck by the fact that the three great “determinables” are never found actually operative as dominating human life in their pure metaphysical abstractness. They actually dominate only as further specified in all sorts of ways by particular “determinants.” Every religion which has ever achieved anything of moment towards lifting men above mere worldliness has been more than a metaphysic of God, grace, and eternal life. All have their philosophical side, but all have also another side, which we may call the contingent, or, in a sufficiently wide sense, the historical. For one thing, unlike tribal cults and nature–religions, all claim not to have sprung up no one knows how or when, but to trace their origins back to definite historical “founders”—Our Lord, Moses, Mohammed son of Abdullah, Zoroaster, Gautama, Orpheus.2 Each insists on at least one fact of the historical order as vital to itself, the alleged fact that its characteristic teaching, rule of life, or worship, goes back to a founder who was a genuine man among men. In each, again, this founder is held to have brought men a message of some kind not attainable, independently of his personality, by any process of demonstration, or weighing of probable arguments. The founder is always believed to have spoken with immediate knowledge of matters which the rest of mankind could never have known except as mediated by his direct apprehension. Each of these religions thus claims to be a revelation, a disclosing, through an historical personage, of some truth of the supra–historical order which we should not have learned but for that specific disclosure. In almost all cases the founder is held to have received the disclosure which constitutes his message, or mission, immediately from God. Buddhism, indeed, standing as it does on the border–line between a religion and a metaphysic, may be said to be an exception, but it is an exception of the kind which is said to “prove the rule.” Even in the Buddha’s case, his message to men, though not supposed apparently to come from God—of whom Buddhism originally apparently knew nothing—retains the significant appellation of the “great illumination.” That is, I presume, it is regarded as a sudden immediate disclosure of truth, following on, but not inferred from, the intensely concentrated meditation said in the legend to have prepared the way for its reception. In some form or other, immediate revelation, to and through a particular historical person, seems regularly to appear as the asserted origin of all the great religions which in any way lift man above mere “nature.” It is surely significant that it should be only the nature–religions that do not claim to have begun with a revelation, an intrusion of the “other” and supra–historical into the ordinary historical routine of “becoming”.
A further direct consequence of this abruptness and intrusiveness of origin is that in all the great positive religions there is a sheer authoritarian element. For the followers of any of them, there are things of the first importance to be believed, or to be done, which must, in the first instance at least, be accepted, not because their reasonableness is self–evidently or demonstrably established, nor yet because these things have been believed or done through an immemorial past, and so are a part of the “customs of our ancestors,” but because they have been asserted or commanded by an infallible voice from the “other” world. Normally, the voice is, in the last resort, that of God, the eternal source of all truths, directly disclosing truth to the founder—Moses, or Zoroaster, or Mohammed,3 or, as in the case of Christianity, speaking more directly still through the mouth of a person who is actually God as well as man. Usually, again, the authoritative revelation is not confined to a single short message; it has an extended compass and is embodied in scriptures, sacred writings of considerable magnitude, and these have consequently an authority derived from their transcendent source. An extreme example is the well–known doctrine of Mohammedan theologians that the actual vocables of the Koran are uncreated and eternal.4 The Christian scriptures have rarely, if ever, been exalted by theologians to quite this position; yet the Vatican Council was only declaring what was, until less than a century ago, the general conviction of Christians, and is still the conviction of great numbers of Christians, when it laid down that the Holy Spirit is the author of the whole of the canonical writings of the two Testaments, that is, that every statement in them is made on His authority and with His guarantee of its truth.5
Commonly, again, perhaps universally, a religion which claims to possess an authoritative Scripture claims also to enjoy a more or less ample authoritative tradition, supplying the key to the interpretation of this Scripture, and to have, by consequence, a permanent authority, vested in its officials, to determine controversies, speculative and practical, as they arise. The bitter disputes about tradition which have marked the internal history of more than one of the great religions have rarely been disputes about the existence or nonexistence of such an authoritative tradition. The rejectors of the prevalent tradition have regularly challenged it in the name of some older and purer tradition of which they have claimed to be the restorers. Thus the original Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century, in general, professed not to be rejecting tradition in principle, but to be restoring the genuine apostolic tradition which had been corrupted in the course of the dark and middle ages of “Papistry,” just as, it was held, the first Christians had rescued the truer tradition of the meaning of the Old Testament from the perversions of the “Scribes and Pharisees”.
Finally, the great organised positive religions have always been expressions of the convictions and aspirations of whole societies, and have inevitably exhibited themselves as features of the social life of communities with a common core of belief and a common worship and rule of life. They have therefore regularly found embodiment in institutions and institutional churches. So, if we try to construct a type of positive world–religion from consideration of the various actual religions which a reasonable classification would recognise as falling under the type, we may, I think, fairly say that historical origin, revelational character, authority, tradition, institutionalism, are all features of the type.
The point, then, to which I would call attention is a twofold one. In the first place, there never has been an actual religion, with real power over men’s hearts, which has had no content beyond that of such a natural, or philosophical, theology as we have been hitherto considering. There has never been a society of men with a living religion whose religion has made no appeal to the contingent, known of no historical founder, no revelation, no tradition, claimed no authority, or embodied itself in no institutions. Every great religion which has done much for the spiritual regeneration of mankind has done the work just in proportion as it has made God, grace, eternal life, realities to its followers, but none has ever made them real except through and in dependence on the contingent, insistence on historical persons and happenings, specific revelations, authoritative traditions, venerated institutions. Men have never been regenerated by a faith like that of Rousseau’s Savoyard Vicar, never been trained for eternity by the cult of Robespierre’s Être suprême. Moreover, “natural” religion and theology themselves have regularly made their appearance as products of the meditation of men brought up as members of a community with a specific religious tradition of its own; and, further, the quality of the philosophic theology and devotion of the thinkers who have been historically important in this field is found on examination to be deeply coloured by the positive religious tradition of the society in which such a thinker has been brought up, even when he happens to be personally in marked rebellion against that tradition. There seems to be little ground to believe that philosophical theology itself would flourish, except in a soil and atmosphere saturated with historical religion.
Thus in Plato we have—in the tenth book of the Laws—a resolute attempt to demonstrate the main tenets of a philosophical or natural theology, the existence of God, the moral government of the world, the eternal abidingness of the issues of human conduct, independently of any appeal to history, revelation, or authority; but if we seek to discover the source of these passionately held convictions, we surely must go back to the influence of the example of the life and death of Socrates, and the Apology of itself makes it abundantly clear that the personal faith which inspired the life of Socrates had been fed by the revelational religion of the Orphics.6 Spinoza is perhaps the most striking case among modern thinkers of a man who makes the impression of having a purely natural or philosophical religion of his own, wholly unindebted to the doctrine or practice of an historical religious community, as its author, in fact, lived an outcast from the Synagogue, without either receiving or seeking admission into the Church. If we could look anywhere for religion wholly independent of history, revelation, authority, institutions, it is hard to see where we might look with better prospect of success than in Spinoza’s Ethics. Yet, when we come to the one specifically religious element in Spinoza’s great book, the element which was manifestly more precious than any other to the philosopher himself, the doctrine of that “intellectual love” of man for God which is one with God’s “infinite” and eternal love for Himself, and, for that reason, is man’s only way of escape from slavery to paltry vanities and passions into freedom, we see at once that the whole conception of this way of salvation is at variance with the naturalistic foundations of Spinoza’s metaphysic and psychology. If “God” is only an honorific name for nature, conceived as a simple, everlastingly selfsame, “conservative system”; if love is “delight accompanied by an idea of the cause of the same,” and delight the “transition from a less to a greater perfection”—all assertions formally made in the Ethics7—to to say that “God loves himself with an infinite intellectual love,” and that man can enter into that love, is to utter a meaningless contradiction in set terms. Clearly we must look for the true source of the very doctrine which has won for Spinoza the reverence of so many fine natures, distracted by the warfare of creeds and confessions, outside the four corners of his own system. The God who thus loves Himself is not really the “substance” of the First Part of the Ethics; He is the “Blessed One” of the devout Jewish home in which the philosopher had been brought up.8
We may fairly apply to the philosophical theologian who fancies that he has cut his religion and theology loose from all attachments to the historical and contingent what von Hügel has excellently said of the type of Christian who, like George Fox,9 sets himself in violent opposition to all that is recognisably authoritarian or traditional in Christianity. The individualist is anxious to acknowledge no source of his inspiration except a strictly personal and incommunicable “inner light”; yet, since he is, after all, a man born of woman, not a solitary of nature like the fabled phoenix, he invariably reveals his own dependence on tradition and the community in the very act of defiance, as Fox did, when he announced as his own particular illumination doctrine actually to be found in set words in the Fourth Gospel, the most authoritarian and sacramentarian of the New Testament documents. Or as Descartes did, in a different sphere, when he reproduced Proclus’ doctrine of causation as a thing “immediately evident by the natural light”.10 An impressive example on the other side, illustrative of the way in which a “natural religion,” deliberately cut loose and kept loose from attachments in the historical community’s tradition of belief and worship, soon degenerates into a naturalism with nothing religious about it, is afforded by the history of English Deism in the eighteenth century, with its rapid descent from a genuine, if thin and sentimental, devoutness into coarse and commonplace worldliness.11
Reflection on these familiar facts seems to force on the thoughtful mind the question, What is the right attitude for one who agrees with the main conclusions we have so far reached to adopt towards positive institutional religion? Is the quintessence of true piety to be looked for in a purely philosophic religion, wholly detached from all the revelational, historical, authoritarian, institutional elements of the existing faiths of mankind? Is all this “contingent” factor in those faiths no more than an accidental husk of disfiguring accretions, of which we may expect to see “true” religion divest itself more and more to its own great advantage, as its spiritual and abiding significance is more clearly understood?12 Or may it possibly be that these elements of the contingent and particular are not irrelevant trappings, but themselves an integral and indispensable factor in a living religion? Possibly the very metaphor of the “husk” should serve to remind us that though the husk is not the kernel, the kernel will certainly not ripen without any protective husk, and still less can an animal thrive without its skin. When we dream of a “true” religion without creed, church, or institutions, we may be making the same mistake as those physicists of the last century who supposed themselves to be getting down to the “reality behind appearances” by converting the physical world into a vast apparatus of differential equations. This is the issue to which I propose to devote the remainder of our inquiry.
It has, indeed, been suggested to me that in even raising the question I am travelling outside the bounds set to the treatment of my subject by Lord Gifford’s directions. I cannot see that the suggestion is justified. Certainly, Lord Gifford’s expressed intentions would make it improper to convert these lectures into a simple apologetic for the specific credenda or facienda of a particular historical religion, a thing I have no desire to do. But I do not see how the instruction that the subject of religion is to be treated “from the point of view of natural reason” can in any way preclude us from raising the question whether natural reason does, or does not, demand from those who would be loyal to it an attitude of hostility to, or at least detachment from, the organised life of the religious community. Whether it is irrational to believe in the possibility or the fact of a “revelation,” to profess a creed, to join in the cultus of a specific community, are questions of vital concern for the whole future of religion among mankind, questions which the very necessity of ordering our own personal life on some definite plan forces upon each of us, and natural reason may fairly be presumed to have something to say in the matter. We cannot, even if we would, debar the intellect from asking the question whether “philosophic theology” is to be regarded as one theology among others, competing with the rest for the exclusive allegiance of mankind, or rather as an element all–pervasive in every faith worthy of respect, but incapable of constituting by itself the whole of a reasonable man’s faith. We might as well deny the right of the intellect to raise the question whether the truth about the natural world can be reached by exclusive reliance on a priori rational mechanics or not. It would, no doubt, be a violation of Lord Gifford’s instructions to make consideration of this broad issue of the relations between Faith and Reason into a polemic in favour of the distinctive credenda or practices of a particular historical religion, such as Christianity or Judaism, and against those of others, and a still worse violation of them to conduct the polemic by appeal to any extra–rational authority. I must not, for example, tell you that you are to believe or do this or that, because Scripture, or the General Councils or the Pope, has commanded so. But I see no ground for objection to discussing the question whether it is or is not reasonable to recognise the claims of an authority of some kind in matters of faith and practice, and on what grounds or within what limits such recognition of authority is reasonable, if at all. There can surely be no impropriety in illustrating a discussion of so general an issue by reference to beliefs and practices in which all of us were probably brought up, with which we are familiar, and which most of us, in some degree, presumably continue to share, or at any rate to respect.
I know, of course, that there is a certain weight of accumulated prejudice to be encountered by one who, speaking in the name of philosophy, ventures to suggest that there are reasonable grounds for doubting the satisfactoriness of a “religion within the limits of mere reason.” All through the last century, there was in the best minds a certain ingrained prejudice in favour of the view ascribed by Bishop Burnet to Algernon Sidney, that “religion ought to be a sort of divine philosophy in the mind,”13 without scriptures, creeds, or visible institutions, and that whatever in the historical religions is more than this can at most be tolerated for a time on the score of human weakness. The philosopher was commonly expected to prove his own exemption from such weakness by sitting in solitary majesty
Like God, holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all,
and consequently to withdraw himself from all active participation in the specifically religious life of his society.
Oddly enough, this distrust of historical attachments was often markedly characteristic of philosophers of the very school who made it their boast that they had learned from Hegel to think historically. I well remember the warmth with which the eminent Professor Josiah Royce explained to me that he held it a point of conscience, as a metaphysician, never to set foot in a church; yet Royce regarded himself as anything but an enemy to Christianity. An equally distinguished philosopher, well known in St. Andrews, Professor Bosanquet, exhibited the same prejudice no less unambiguously. He has laid it down in express words, in an essay reprinted very recently (1929) in the collected volume of his scattered papers called Science and Philosophy,14 that the whole historical element in the religions of the world is “mere accident,” and belongs to the “childhood of humanity,” that revelation is a word which is only harmless if it means “nothing in the world but our own common sense and reason,” and that “authority,” whether of Church or of Scripture, is a “very mischievous doctrine,” because books and men cannot have any rightful authority—“except by convincing our own minds”.15 Religion, it should seem, is a purely individualistic affair, and the Church, the Synagogue, or whatever other name man has given to the religious community, is only to be tolerated on the understanding that it is reduced to the status of an ethical society. Strangely enough, Bosanquet seems to have fancied that in saying these things he was reproducing for a perverse generation the thought of St. Paul!
Now, one understands quite well the historical causes of this attitude of ultra–individualism. No one, with the history of Europe before his eyes, can dispute the enormous spiritual evil which has been done by illegitimate insistence on the principle of authority, though it would be only fair to observe that priests and preachers have not been the only offenders in this kind. Possibly the State may have done as much harm to mankind as the Church by claims to an unlimited authority, though Bosanquet, all through his life, seems to have been in theory as favourable to the absolutism of the political Leviathan as hostile to the absolutism of the ecclesiastical civitas Dei, as anxious to maintain that the citizen has no rights against the State as to deny that the Church has any rights against its individual members.16 We have also known something of the effects of the same authoritarian temper in ecclesiastics in retarding the progress of medicine, and even of theoretical natural science, though fortunately not with the same addition to the sum of human misery. But one might suggest that there is, after all, a real difference between psychological explanation and rational justification. Memories of the fires of Smithfield, the “horrors of the Spanish Inquisition,” the fanatical opposition of misguided pietists of a later date to the introduction of anaesthetics into medicine, even of the rather farcical “persecution” of Galileo and the foolish squabbles about Darwin and Bishop Colenso, may explain a religious individualism like Bosanquet’s; they certainly do not justify it.
In our lifetime the serious dangers to reasonable personal liberty of speech and action have not in the main came from that much–abused body “the clergy”; at the present moment one might rather be tempted to accuse “the cloth” of over–eagerness to divest themselves of all vestiges of a claim to authority. There is point in the complaint I have read somewhere that the first question the modern working “parson” asks himself about everything is not “Is this true?” but “Can I induce Mr. Jones to look at the matter in this light?” I cannot help suspecting that the anti–clericalism of many philosophers, which makes them so prone to see an “obscurantist,” and possibly a concealed Torque–mada, in anyone who ventures to hint that authority has its place in religion, and that the historical may be of some importance, is little more than a belated survival of the diatribes of eighteenth–century freethinkers against “priestcraft,” and as much out of relation to the realities of life as the diatribes of the same century, which our Hegelians do not repeat, against the “barbarism” of Shakespearian drama and Gothic architecture.17 We have long enough taken a complacent pride in our possession of the historical mind; I fear there is still too much of the “old Adam” of the deistic “enlightenment” persisting unsubdued in too many of us.
It may be a suitable preparation for the balanced consideration of our problem to start from a penetrating observation made by von Hügel.18 We all remember the famous epilogue of the three rings in Lessing’s Nathan der Weise, and the complaint there suggested, that it should be so impossible to find a man content to be just a man, without further qualification as Moslem, Jew, or Christian.19 Manifestly the complaint carries its own answer with it. A man who is a religious man without having any religion in particular is hard to come by for the same reason that it would be hard to find a man who is a good citizen, but a citizen of no city in particular, or a man who is a human being without being European, Asiatic, Negro, American Indian, or anything more specific than just a member of the genus homo sapiens. The curious thing is that, except in this one matter of religion, we are all so familiar with the principle that the determinable is only to be found specified by determinants (ἐν τοῖς εἴδεσιν τοῖς αἰσθητοῖς τὰ νοητά ἐστι), and yet so obstinately prone to make an exception for this one case. We have long ago learned that it is no way to promote the spirit of devotion, to the public good of mankind, to make ourselves, like Aristippus, “aliens wherever we go,”20 that the man who sits loose to the duties of family life cannot be trusted to be a dutiful citizen, or the man who is “agin the government,” wherever he happens to find himself, to be a self–sacrificing servant of the brotherhood of man. We fully understand the point, whether or not we admit the justice, of Swinburne’s charge against Byron, that he fancied himself to be writing like a good European when he was only writing like a villainously bad Englishman. It is only of religion we tend to think as a spirit living most vigorously when denuded of the last vestige of a body.
I say this partly, though not wholly, simply to remind you that piety, like art, or science, or any other activity of life, is an affair of the community, as well as of the individual. None, I imagine, is likely to deny that intense spiritual vitality of any kind can hardly flourish in individuals unless it is nourished by a corresponding activity on the part of the community at large. No one counts on a succession of great scientific men in a society grossly indifferent to science and preoccupied with war or money–getting, nor a succession of great painters or composers in a community whose interest in painting and music are not well–developed and widely diffused.21 The society which produces great artists need not, indeed, be one in which all men, or even most men, are themselves artists. Much nonsense has been talked about the supposed passion of the “average Athenian” for art from simple neglect of this consideration. There were plenty of “Philistines” at Athens—they furnish Aristophanes with such figures as Dicaeopolis, Strepsiades, Trygaeus—just as in our “nation of shopkeepers” there are plenty of persons who could not keep shop for a month without having to put up their shutters. But though every Athenian was not a Phidias or Polyclitus, a succession of men like Phidias and Polyclitus could not have existed at Athens unless a large number of Athenians had been enough interested in their art to feel proud of it and to desire that it should be encouraged. But for this the artists would have starved for want of support, or gone elsewhere. So it will presumably be conceded that a succession of saints is only reasonably probable in a society which, at least, appreciates and admires sanctity; sanctity, like everything human, must meet with some measure of sympathetic response if it is to be kept alive. But where is the relevance of this consideration, which may be readily admitted, to the notion of authority? Greatly religious persons, when they are not the rarest of exceptions, may presuppose a religious community. How does this justify us in holding that there can be any authority in religion for the individual except that of his own “common sense and reason”?
I must not anticipate here the detailed discussion of the notion of authority in religion, which I am reserving for special treatment later. But I would at once make some remarks on a matter of general principle. Reference to the community at once carries with it acknowledgement of authority of some kind which is independent of the “common sense and reason” of the individual, and may yet properly claim a right on his allegiance and submission. Nowhere, when we are dealing with a supra–individual manifestation of rational and spiritual life, can the personal judgement of the individual be taken as the single and sufficient rule for his direction. It is constantly a problem—often a difficult, sometimes a well–nigh insoluble, problem—to decide when “private judgement” is entitled to take the lead, and when it is a positive duty to subject it to an authority external to the individual. Anyone who has tried to work at an historical or philological subject knows perfectly well that it is his business to form opinions for himself about the true sequence of events related in conflicting ways, the genuineness of a document, the soundness of a “reading”; he knows also that though he may sometimes be right in preferring his personal judgement to any consensus on the other side, he would often go wrong in doing so. There are cases in which a judicious man would think it no more than right to leave some disputed point undecided in deference to the “weight of authorities,” or to retain an MS. reading in his text of an author, though he knows that his own personal judgement all the time is that the disputed point is not really an open question, or the MS. reading not really defensible. Indeed, I believe we might say that in this field authority has so much weight that a man will at times do right to defer to it when his own individual opinion is not merely wavering, but definitely made up in a different sense. There is, for example, an amount of authority which would make it impossible for a scholar of any modesty to make a change in the reading in a classical text, even though his own definite private conviction were that the textus receptus is “not Greek,” or “not Latin,” as the case may be. The consensus of great scholars who are at issue with the individual judgement of the particular editor may be such that it is the decided probability that his strong personal conviction is mistaken after all. There are few qualities more valuable to the scholar than the flair which tells him instinctively when he should adhere to his own judgement in the face of formidable agreement against him, and when even a strong personal judgement should give way to opposing “authority.” It is chiefly because this flair is so difficult to acquire, and presupposes such delicacy of perception, that truly great scholars are as few as they are, and that mere industry, or mere brilliance, does not give a man a place among them.
The same considerations apply to “authority” in the various sciences still more obviously. The field of the sciences is so vast that no man can be personally completely at home in more than a tiny region of it. The schoolmen were therefore right in the main when they laid down the rule that the “artist,” that is, the specialist, must be believed in his own speciality, and right for two reasons. For one thing, the man who will admit the actuality of no facts which he has not ascertained by his own personal observation or experimentation, and the validity of no methods which he cannot personally follow with comprehension, is plainly likely more often to be wrong than to be right; the appeal to our own “common sense and reason,” if the phrase means, as it should, what a given person can see for himself to be rational, is notoriously the favourite controversial weapon, not of men of science conducting a scientific argument, but of the uninformed, and obstinate “faddists,” the “flat–earth men, anti–gravitationists,” fundamentalists, and their likes.22 I clearly must not deny that a proposition in the Principia is rationally demonstrated on the ground that I, who have perhaps never given an hour’s study to the elements of geometry in my life, cannot see for myself the compelling force of the proof, and that, even among the “educated,” it is only a small minority who profess to be able to see it. Moreover, in the sciences, as in the practical affairs of life, so much depends on the soundness of immediate judgements, and for this no general criterion can be laid down. Only the specialist, habitually familiar with the careful observation of facts and the weighing of evidence of a specific kind, is really competent to say with any confidence what the precise bearing of a well–established but complicated set of observations, or the probative force of an intricate piece of scientific reasoning, really is. The specialist’s judgement on such a question is a reasonable judgement, an interpretation of data by intelligence, though it would often be impossible for him to exhibit the whole of his “reasons” for his decision in a form which would carry conviction to the acutest logician not at home in this particular province of scientific work.23 It is thus intelligence itself we respect when we properly defer to a weighty “consensus” of the experts in a case where our own personal “reason and common sense,” left to themselves, might leave us in suspense, or even lead us to decide in a contrary sense.
It is also clear that, in the application of science to practice, we should often be doing grievous wrong if we did not act on such respect for authority. Thus a medical man who should insist on always following his own personal judgement exclusively in diagnosis, or in treatment, against that of colleagues or the profession at large, would often do serious harm to his patients, and I conceive that in some cases, where death had ensued, he might properly be severely censured by the coroner. There are times when the physician would be justified in taking the risk of such complete defiance of authority, as there are times when the individual scientific man does right to stand alone in rejecting an unanimously supported established theory, but it requires the nicest judgement to know when this is right and when one would be merely perverse in taking such a line, and it is always blameable to take it without a grave sense of responsibility.
The same problem meets us in questions of art or moral conduct. As Dr. Edwyn Bevan observes, in an admirable essay dealing with this very question of authority,24 a man would often be justified in saying, “Though I cannot myself see that this painting is admirable, though, in fact, I neither like nor admire it, I know it is highly admired by others whose taste in such matters is entitled to respect, and I suspect therefore that my dislike, or my inability to admire, is due to some personal defect in myself,” and a man charged with the duty of recommending the purchase of pictures for a public collection would be acting improperly if his recommendations were not influenced by this kind of deference to authority. So in difficult questions of moral conduct, it is manifest that personal inability to see the reasonableness or unreasonableness of a certain course of action may often be due to want of fine ethical discrimination, or to inability to keep all the relevant features of an unfamiliar or complicated situation clearly before the mind. This is the reason why all but the criminally rash, when they have to make a decision in such cases, are careful to allow great weight to the accepted ethical traditions of a society with which they are in general moral sympathy, and, again, to the counsels of persons for whose uprightness and clearness of moral insight they have what they believe to be a well–founded respect. It is also the reason why in dealing with situations of an unfamiliar kind—as when a retired student has to deal with a problem of investments—we do wisely not to torment ourselves with scruples which are in all probability fantastic and due to our own unfamiliarity with the kind of details in question. If I, for example had to act as trustee for a minor, I should do well to act on the principle that an investment recommended to me as morally above suspicion by a business man whom I know to be both at home with such matters and personally honest is above reproach. In practice, I believe, we all recognise that it may often be no less than a bounden duty to follow a moral judgement which is not our own, but comes to us primarily on the authority of the community, or an individual “spiritual adviser,” even though the adviser may not have been able to formulate the grounds for his counsel in a way which compels assent, or even to formulate them at all. For my own part, I confess that there are some persons whose mere declaration, “I feel sure you will be acting wrongly if you do that, though I cannot prove the point,” would, in some matters, be decisive, and I do not suppose that I stand in the least alone.
The same thing is true about issues of public morality. A modest man, for example, would not, as I think, lightly refuse services demanded by the government in war time on the ground of his inability to convince himself personally of the justice of the national cause. He would, at least, take into account the presumption that a cause seriously regarded as just by the bulk of the responsible members of the nation, and by a reasonably honest ministry, probably is just, and that his difficulty in seeing the point for himself arises from his inevitable ignorance of many of the relevant facts, or his inability to keep the facts as a whole, and in their due proportions, before his mind. This presumption, of course, would not hold if he antecedently believed the bulk of his community to be morally corrupt, or the ministry to be a set of knaves, and it is, in any case, one which consideration might destroy, but a man of modesty would, at least, recognise its existence and allow very fully for it. He might be prepared to be a “conscientious objector,” if he felt the call of duty imperative, after due consideration, but not before consideration; he would not fall into the strange mistake of supposing that loyalty to “conscience” can take only one form—that of dissent from the “general conscience” of the community.25
The same considerations probably explain the hostility of most highly conscientious men to casuistical discussion of moral situations which are merely theoretical. They have a deep, and I should say a generally reasonable, distrust of their own verdicts of right and wrong in unfamiliar and complex situations, where there is no clear social tradition with recognised authority, and a decision, if reached at all, must be reached by the individual wholly for himself. It is because casuistry, if used as a direct guide to action, threatens to make right and wrong a purely individualistic affair that it is widely felt to be destructive of the genuine spirit of morality. (At bottom, it is this same distrust which explains Hegel’s exaltation of Sittlich–keit at the expense of Moralität.)
Perhaps I am unnecessarily labouring a point which should be obvious when we consider the history of the formation of our convictions. It is surely beyond question that everywhere, alike in science, in art, in matters of conduct, the bulk of any man’s convictions are never reached in a way independent of some authority external to the individual. In all these matters we begin as learners, taking our beliefs on the authority of a scientific, artistic, or moral tradition, which we have done nothing to create, and have, in the first instance, simply to receive and assimilate.26 As we advance in discernment of the principles underlying the tradition, the case is altered. We learn, though we learn only if we begin with the docility which submits to learn before it attempts to teach, to see for ourselves the justification of much that we took at first on trust. It is but a further step in the same process by which we discover the defects in the tradition of the “elders.” No man can criticise or reform a great tradition effectively, except from within; the traditions of the “authorities” are only remoulded by those who have first proved them in use. And, again, the convictions even of the outstanding “rebels” against tradition, the eminently “original” thinkers, artists, men of action, for the most part and in most matters remain convictions which they have not originated for themselves, but taken over from the community of their fellows. Even the man who effects a “Copernican revolution” in some department of thought or life is a revolutionary only in respect of this or that principle; the body of his convictions is not a purely individualistic construction, as subsequent generations regularly discover in due course.27
It would thus be at least singular if the pure individualism of regard for nothing but what approves itself to my own personal judgement, so impossible in every other department of human thought and life, could be the one right rule in religion. Life and the human spirit are, after all, one in all their manifestations, and for that reason we may fairly expect to find that tradition and authority have their place in religion and theology, no less than in science, art, and practice. It would be really paradoxical, were it the fact, that there should be just one realm where a man is justified in refusing to acknowledge any truth but that which he has reached by his own personal efforts, or, indeed, where profitable intellectual ability is possible, except on the basis of antecedent receptivity. In principle this should be a sufficient reply to the extreme zealots of individualism who treat the very recognition of any kind of authority in matters of religion as a merely “mischievous” disloyalty to reason.
No doubt there is an important further special problem arising from the special nature of the authority which has been claimed in matters of religion for Scriptures and Churches. It may be said that in all other matters the authority for which deference is claimed is admittedly that of the body of acknowledged experts in the field in question; it is therefore never supposed to be absolute, and it is always allowed to be confined to some particular realm of knowledge or practice. But the authority claimed for Scriptures or Churches professes to be that of God, and consequently to be final and to extend to all questions whatsoever. When we respect human authority, it is thus to “reason” itself, as embodied in the accumulated tradition of the community, that our respect is paid, and therefore the respect is always qualified; our regard for the gathered wisdom achieved in the living tradition in no way precludes us from revision and purification of the tradition in the light of growing knowledge. But in every historical religion we meet with the notion of a depositum fidei which claims to be final truth, permitting of no revision. Again, since authority in the non–religious sense is always understood to be restricted in its sphere, the claim advanced for the “consensus of experts” is limited by the principle ne sutor ultra crepidam, the “artist” is only to be believed “in his own art.” There is never in theory, whatever may be the case in practice, any question of a right of the moralist to prescribe, in virtue of his authority as a moralist, what we shall receive as true in physics or physiology, or of the physicist or physiologist to prescribe what we shall believe about right and wrong, or of the historian to dictate to either moralist, physiologist, or physicist. But experience has abundantly proved that the theologian, who claims to speak with the authority of God, the source of all truth, will recognise no limitations on the scope of his competence. At any moment he may demand, in the name of God, that propositions shall be regarded as true in natural science, or in history, which the specialist in those spheres, who adheres loyally to his own canons and methods, is bound to pronounce doubtful, or actually false, or the rejection as false of propositions which the specialist in history or the sciences is bound to accept as true. What Newman said of the Christian Church might be said to be historically borne out by the procedure of every religion professing to be based upon a revelation. “It claims to know its own limits, and to decide what it can determine absolutely and what it cannot. It claims, moreover, to have a hold upon statements not directly religious, so far as this, to determine whether they indirectly relate to religion, and according to its own definitive judgement, to pronounce whether or not, in a particular case, they are consistent with revealed truth … and to allow them, or condemn and forbid them, accordingly. It claims to impose silence at will on any matters, or controversies of doctrine, which on its own ipse dixit it pronounces to be dangerous, or inexpedient, or inopportune. … And, lastly, it claims to have the right of inflicting spiritual punishment, of cutting off from the ordinary channels of the divine life, and of simply excommunicating, those who refuse to submit themselves to its formal declarations.”28
It is true that not all organised religious communities make such frequent use of this authority as that to which Newman belonged when he wrote these words, or possess the same formidable machinery for exerting it, but it is also true that if most of them refrain from making much use of this tremendous authority, and are careful not to remind us very often of its existence, the claim to possess it is still there, in the background, it may be, but ready to assert itself whenever it is felt to be challenged. Hence it may be said that the claim to authority of this kind inevitably creates a problem which can never arise in connection with the narrowly established claim of the “expert” to authority within the limits of his own competence, the problem of the legitimacy of “faith” as an independent source of knowledge. Here, it may be urged, we find real justification for such language as that of Bosanquet about the purely “mischievous” character of the claims of Churches and Scriptures to authority. What the honest philosophical thinker must not admit, we shall be told, is authority in this absolute sense, and with this unrestricted range, and his quarrel with all the positive religions is that all of them, some more and some less explicitly, lay claim to this kind of authority. And, in the last resort, it is precisely because they are all historical that they cannot avoid making the claim. The appeal to the final and imprescriptible authority of God cannot consistently be absent from a religion which professes to have originated in a direct revelation from God. Consequently in rejecting absolute authority, a philosophic, or natural, theology must inevitably reject the claim of any religious community to possess such an historical revelation. We can understand, therefore, why a metaphysician like Professor Royce should have thought it a duty to refuse the sanction of his presence to the worship of an historical Church.
The problem is undeniably a very grave one and will call for careful special discussion in a later lecture of our course. For the present I would content myself with a few preliminary remarks intended to urge the point that it is a real problem and to plead against any attempt, from the side either of “churchman” or of metaphysician, to get rid of it by a facile solution. It is easy to dismiss the whole question ab initio in either of two ways. There is the way of the pure Fideist, which is to invalidate all opposition to the extreme authoritarian position by rhetoric about the uncertainty of science and the deficiencies of human reason. Absolute and blind dependence on authority may be justified by a metaphysic of complete scepticism. We are, to put it bluntly, to take the Pope’s word, or the word of the Wesleyan Conference, or that of our favourite biblical commentary, or our favourite preacher, for everything, because there is never adequate rational ground for believing anyone’s word about anything, and where everything is so utterly uncertain, the Pope’s word—or that of any other of the “authorities” just mentioned—is in no worse case than the word of another. This, I hardly need say, is not the position of sober theologians of the Pope’s, or any other, persuasion, nor do I suppose it likely to commend itself to many of my hearers. Yet some such theory has had its defenders, and not all of them are intellectually negligible. I suppose we might say that Tertullian and Pascal, in certain moods, come near it, and we all remember the line taken by Montaigne in his Apology for Sebundus,29 and by Philo in Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, who, at least, pretends—though one may reasonably doubt his entire sincerity—that his universal scepticism is adopted as the surest way to Christianity.30 Even in our own days Lord Balfour has been, in my own opinion most unjustly, represented by hostile critics as arguing that in a world where everything is entirely uncertain we may as well acquiesce in what is put forward on authority by the established Church of our country as in anything else.
My only concern, at this moment, with this extreme Fideism is to remark that, impossible as it is for men who mean to think seriously, it reaches its conclusion by the exaggeration of what is, after all, true. It is true, and no one knows this better than the men of science themselves, that the actual achievements of science, great as they are, are much more modest than they are supposed to be by the “man in the street” and the literary representatives of his point of view. There are no specific scientific laws or theorems, not tautological, which are not provisional, and, in theory at least, subject to modifications of unknown extent, as the recent overhauling from within of the “classical” Newtonian scheme has forcibly reminded us. It is true, again, that, as Dr. Whitehead puts it, the whole body of philosophical principles of natural science, which not a hundred years ago seemed so sure and certain, has now gone into the melting–pot. (You may remember that in our first series I quoted Dr. Whitehead’s epigrammatic statement, that what seems to–day the sheerest nonsense may be the accepted scientific truth of tomorrow.31) It is true, again, that the whole theory of inductive method, without which a rational natural science cannot advance a single step, seems to have been riddled through and through by the destructive criticism of the scientific workers themselves. No one to–day seems able to give any tolerable answer to the two questions which Mill disposed of so jauntily in his famous Logic, what exactly are the methods the experimental worker follows in eliciting his scientific theories from his elaborately established records of data, and what guarantee has he that the postulates about the structure of nature which those methods presuppose may not be radically false. The writers of the textbooks of logic, for the most part propound a version of the matter which is openly inadequate, even where it is not manifestly untrue; the working men of science go on their way without asking themselves whether their methods have a rational justification or not, exactly as the Fideist in religion acquiesces passively in the declarations of his authority.32 And I understand that it it also true that, in many cases, our accepted special hypotheses are under the disadvantage of being inconsistent with some part of the very facts they are devised to explain. Men who ought to know tell us, for instance, that in the theory of light at the present moment, there seem to be only two options, to explain the facts by a theory of undulation or by a theory of emission, and that there is one group of facts which obstinately refuses to be explained by the former, a second which cannot be explained by the latter.33
Amid all these difficulties, one thing seems to be clear. Scientific theories only retain unqualified convincing force so long as we keep them strictly abstract;34 so long, that is, as the theory aims at being no more than a logical exposition of the consequences entailed by a set of initial assumptions, artificially made precise and simple. As soon as we bring a theory into connection with the “unfaked” facts of the real world, the peculiar certainty so often claimed for science as a way of knowing begins to vanish. Science, in fact, may give us our best examples of clear and transparent connection between the various consequences of a set of assumed principles, but scientific theories, if taken to be propositions asserted about the “actual facts,” are very far from being our best examples of certainty. Our existence would be far from happy, if we could not be much more sure of the truth of the propositions which matter most for the conduct of life than we can be about our scientific and philosophical theories. He would be an unfortunate man who had no more certainty of the loyalty of his friend or the fidelity of his wife than he is warranted in feeling about his metaphysical speculations, or his theories in chemistry. So much, by way of a general caution, against oversimplification of our problem by the assumption that, in a conflict between “science” and “authority,” should such a conflict arise, we may safely assume a priori that authority is a mere impostor, because “science” is the one source of assured truth and is infallible. It is the perception that this claim for “science,” that it is coextensive with knowledge, will not really stand examination which is the grain of truth contained in the wild diatribes of the Fideist.
The rival over–simplification is that of the “rationalist” of the type who understands by the “rational” that of which I have been personally convinced by arguments, or which I at least believe to be capable of being established by arguments, decisive for those who are in a position to follow them. When it is denied from this point of view that there can be any real conflict between “authority” and reason, since authority has no rightful claim upon the intellect, we must be careful to draw some necessary distinctions, if we would appreciate the force of the “rationalist’s” contention. It is not, of course, seriously meant that any proposition which is, as a matter of fact, asserted by me “on authority” must be false. It may quite well be a true proposition, but, if it is true, either there are, or there will some day be, or, at the very least, there might be, adequate grounds on which it may be justified, independently of the authority on the strength of which I am, in point of fact, advancing it. So long as this justification is not forthcoming, the authority of the person, or the body of persons, making the assertion must not be alleged as a “motive of credibility.” (Thus a statement contained in one of the books of the Bible may be true—as the extremest “rationalist,” if he is sane, will allow that hundreds of such statements are—even though there may happen to be no means of proving its truth—as, e.g., we have no means of proving that the name of King David’s father was Jesse, though no one doubts that it was so;35 but the mere fact that the work in which such a statement appears is a canonical Christian “scripture” must not be put forward as proof that the statement is true, any more than the occurrence of a statement in the works of Aristotle may be regarded as proof of its truth.)
If we take this to be the last word that can be said on the question, authority is obviously relegated to a purely subordinate place in religion. A clear–cut rationalism of this kind can, of course, afford to recognise the practical usefulness, or even the practical necessity, of some kind of administrative authority, prescribing what may be said or done publicly in the name and with the sanction of a given society. Administrative, or executive, authority is indeed the only protection of any society against the merest anarchy of individual caprice, and does not go beyond the limits of the kind of practical regulation which is exercised by a University, or an Education Department, when it has to decide what works may be used as text–books. But there is an end of all pretence that authority, as such, has any place in the determination of what is true. A University, or an Education Department, would not merely be within its rights, it would be doing no more than its plain duty, in refusing to prescribe as a textbook some work in which views were freely advanced at variance with the general body of “expert” opinion. It would, I conceive, have been unjustifiable to prescribe the Origin of Species as an “authoritative” educational text–book at a time when Darwin’s central theory was a novelty still awaiting the judgement of biologists and naturalists at large. But no one imagines that the truth of a theory is in any way affected by the fact that the “educational authority” has not yet seen fit to enjoin the teaching of it. Statements are not true because they are to be found in the standard text–books; they are found there—if the “authorities” have made their selection wisely—because there is ground for believing them to be true. Thus in matters of science there would seem to be no place for any real conflict between “reason” and authority. The issue between the scientific “paradoxist” and his opponents is, or ought to be, simply, on whose side “reason” lies.
It is naturally tempting to extend this view of the functions of authority as secondary and purely administrative to the field of religion and theology, and all the more tempting that history has striking examples to show of the mischief or futility of attempts to hold up the advance of knowledge by appeal to an authority asserted to be divine, and therefore infallible. Yet it should be clear, apart from all that we have said about the fallibility of science itself, that we are not really entitled to deal with the problem in quite this summary fashion. It is at least conceivable, until the opposite has been proved, that there may be, and actually have been, special critical contacts between the divine and the human, charged with a peculiar significance for the spiritual life of mankind. Since such contacts, if real, would be directly due to the outgoing activity of the divine and transcendent, to us they would inevitably wear the appearance of sudden and inexplicable “irruptions” into the familiar course of human life. We could not say theoretically when they may be expected, nor devise any kind of formula connecting them with “antecedent circumstances.” We could, at best, recognise their significance after the event, and note their occurrence as significant, and, from our point of view, wholly contingent matter of historical fact. “The spirit bloweth whither it listeth, and thou canst not say whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth.” Such a sudden intrusive contact, originating on the side of the transcendent, would be exactly what has always been meant by a specific historical “revelation”; its occurrence is no more to be ruled out of the scheme of things on purely a priori grounds than the similarly apparently sudden and inexplicable appearance of genius of the highest order in thought or in art. Whether this is or is not God’s way of communicating religious insight to man, we could determine only by consideration of the history of the spiritual growth of our race, not from principles of metaphysics. If it is, then revelation through definite historical persons is as much a fact as the disclosure of the meaning and resources of art through specific persons and in specific environments. Thus, for example, the old cavil that it is unreasonable to ascribe to the great succession of the Hebrew prophets a spiritual enlightenment significant for all time and strictly sui generis, mediated to the rest of mankind through this channel and no other, will lose its apparent force; the fact, if it is a fact, will be really analogous with the fact that it happened, once and only once, at a particular juncture in Attic history, that there arose a philosophical genius of the first order, Socrates, and that he exercised a dominant intellectual and moral influence on the life of a second genius of the same order, Plato; or, again, that there should have been a Beethoven just once in history, and that Beethoven should have lived just where and when he did, and have done and suffered just what he actually did and had done to him.
If these things are facts, it is also clear that the experiences of the recipient of such an enlightenment will be for himself unmediated, direct disclosures from the “wholly other” and supernatural, not reached by inference and reflection, but seen, as in everyday life the wealth and riot of colour is seen, not inferred. It will be a distinctive feature of them that the “seer” has an overwhelming sense of their givenness, comparable with our familiar sense that, when the neo–Kantian from Marburg has said all he has to say, the sensible world remains something we do not construct, but find given to us. The seer will be unable to give any grounds for this conviction of his except that it comes to him from God, haec dicit Dominus, factum est verbum Domini ad me, and his message will be believed and received by others, to whom such a direct vision has not been granted, on the strength of their conviction that it had this origin, and that the authority behind it is the authority of God. Thus, in the fact of the reality of special direct spiritual insight enjoyed by specific historical persons, if it is a fact, we should find reasonable ground for belief in divine authority as a basis for convictions in matters of religion.
In that case, such authority really would be different in kind from the secondary authority we ascribe to “experts” of all types in their own speciality. All that we mean by such secondary authority is that the expert presumably has good reasons for his conclusions, which could be convincingly presented to any second person with sufficient special training to estimate them correctly, though not to the untrained “layman.” But the givenness of the religious revelation means that the recipient cannot present compelling evidence of this kind to a second person, as he might if he were dealing with inferences of his own, any more than I can produce such evidence for the veracity of the “revelations” of my senses. If I, not being myself the recipient of the revelation, believe in its content, I am not simply accepting “for the time” a belief which I expect to find, in process of time, converted into a demonstrated conclusion, simply seeing with another man’s eyes until I have learned to see with my own. To see the same thing with my own eyes, I should need to receive the same revelation a second time in my own person; unless, or until, this happens I am believing on the word of another something for which I can have only his word. And this, of itself, means that no historical religion can be sublimated without remainder into a philosophy, however true or exalted, without destroying its peculiar character. If revelation is a fact, there must be an historical element in a true religion which cannot be eliminated, and there will be a genuine justification for the theologians who have distinguished between those truths about God and the eternal order which are cognisable by the “unaided light of natural reason,” and others, vitally significant for the spiritual life, which are not so cognisable, however hard it may be to draw the dividing line with precision.
It is plain, no doubt, that acceptance of the view that a complete religion involves this element of the historical, revelational, and authoritative makes the practice of such a religion hard for the thinking man. It confronts him at once with the difficult problem of distinguishing, in the revelation he accepts, between the divine content and the accidental and temporary form due to the personal temperament and situation of the immediate recipient, of judging how much of the always largely traditionary, “sacred story” is inseparable from the reality of the revelation, and how much is legendary accretion, of saying where the legitimate assertion of authority passes into the abuse of it. It is much easier to have a religion, like that of Plotinus or Kant, with no historical attachments, than it is to believe ex animo in any version of historical Christianity. In a critical age, like our own, the “option” for Christianity, or any other historical religion, must bring a perpetual tension into one’s intellectual life from which acquiescence in a “religion within the limits of mere reason” would leave us free. But it would be unsafe to assume that in matters of religion, or in any others, the option which makes things easiest must be the wisest. “How the world is managed, and why it was created,” says a great living scholar, “I cannot tell; but it is no featherbed for the repose of sluggards”.36 We could get rid of the tension equally readily by blind acquiescence in tradition and authority, or by a cheap and easy rejection of both. But it may well be that the sort of religion with which either simplification would leave us would be immeasurably inferior in strength and renewing power to that we may have if we are willing to pay its price. It may be, as von Hügel held it is, that the cost–ingness of a faith which will sacrifice neither history nor metaphysics, the torment of mind, if you like to call it so, by which such a faith is won, or held fast, is itself evidence of its worth.
I am thinking of the kind of religion which von Hùgel had in view in his warnings against undue “Christo–centricism.” F. H. Bradley once remarked to me years ago, in the same spirit, that “the modern Christian really worships Jesus Christ, not the Father.”
I would add that the “historicity” of the founder seems to be a genuine historical fact in all the cases mentioned except the last, and that even “Orpheus” is quite likely to be no real exception. The name probably does conceal some actual “prophet” of whose personal history we know nothing.
I do not forget here that, to be precise, the Mohammedan tradition is that the Prophet’s revelations were brought to him through the medium of the angel Gabriel, but this is a matter of detail which does not seriously affect the statement of the text. It might be urged that, according to the general view of scholars, written “scripture” is a relatively late thing in Hebrew religion, unknown to the earlier prophets. But my point is that Judaism only became a world–religion when it had come to appeal to a written “Law of Moses” as its basis.
See the article “Qur’an” in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, x. 538 ff.
“Spiritu Sancto inspirante conscripti (sc. libri canonici) Deum habent auctorem.” See the explanation of the formula (by E. L. van Becelaere) in art. “Inspiration” (Roman Catholic doctrine), E.R.E. vii. 350 ff.
I may be allowed, since the point is important, to quote my own words in another place. “The specific allusions of [Apol.] 41 A to Hesiod, Musaeus, Orpheus and the Orphic judges of the dead … make it clear that Socrates’ convictions are not meant as simply inferences from ‘natural theology’; we have to see in them the influence of the Orphic religion, though the Euthyphro and the second book of the Republic show that Socrates thought very poorly of the ordinary run of ‘professing’ Orphics in his own time” (Plato, the Man and His Work, p. 167).
Ethica i. def. 6, props. 14, 29, 33; ii. 44; iii. affectuum definitiones 2, 6. The drift of the whole is that there can be no amor where there is no laetitia, no laetitia where there is no transitio to a higher level of “perfection.” But God, or nature, the one really existing substance, is once and for all completely perfect and experiences no transitio. We cannot even say of Spinoza’s substantia, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, since, in fact, ça ne change point. Indeed, in rigour it is inconsistent with Spinoza’s nominalism about “universals” to admit that “Peter or Paul,” or anything else, can really become more or less “perfect.” In strictness all amor should be the effect of an illusion which adequate thinking dissipates.
Kant’s “moral theology,” again, is all through really moulded by the evan–gelical Pietism against which Kant himself is in such violent revolt, as is manifest to the reader of Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft.
Essays and Addresses, first series, pp. 92, 293.
Med. iii. lumine naturali manifestum est tantundem ad minimum esse debere in causa efficiente et totali, quantum in eiusdem causae effectu, etc. The causa efficiens is simply the παρακτικὸν ἄλλου of Proclus, and the principle assumed is equivalent to Inst. Theol. 7 πᾶν τὸ παρακτικὸν ἄλλου κρεῖττόν ἐστι τῆς τοῦ παραγομένου φύσεως. The distinction of formaliter, obiective, eminenter, on which Descartes’ subsequent reasoning turns, is just Proclus’ distinction of καθ᾽ ὕπαρξιν, κατὰ μέθεξιν, καθ᾽ αἰτίαν.
Contrast the temper of Shaftesbury, for example, or, for the matter of that, of Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity, with that of Collins or Toland (if, that is, the historians of philosophy, on whom I am here dependent, have not mis–represented the latter two).
Cf. the tone of Pope’s Universal Prayer, or, to take an example from a different quarter, of the quatrain numbered 34 in Whinfield’s text of Omar Khayyám. (I quote Whinfield’s version of the lines.)
“Pagodas” [the text says bluntly “idol–houses”], “just as mosques, are homes of prayer,
’Tis prayer that church–bells chime into the air,
Yea, Church and Ka’ba, Rosary and Cross
Are all but divers tongues of world–wide prayer.”
History of My Own Times (Oxford, 1833), ii. 351: “He seemed to be a Christian, but in a particular form of his own; he thought it was to be like a divine philosophy in the mind; but he was against all public worship, and everything that looked like a church.”
See the essay, “The Kingdom of God on Earth,” in Science and Philosophy, p. 333 ff.
To be “convinced” that the circle cannot be “squared,” one needs to be satisfied that it has been proved that neither π nor π2 can be the root of an algebraical equation with rational coefficients. To understand the proof one needs a fair acquaintance with a considerable amount of mathematics. It cannot “convince the mind” of a man whose mathematical knowledge, like that of most circle–squarers, is confined to the “four rules” of arithmetic. Does it follow that the consensus of mathematicians should have no weight with the mathematically uneducated circle–squarers? One has only to read the contemptuous anonymous refutations of Darwin, or the “higher criticism,” with which the correspondence columns of our evening papers abound, to see that their authors have no conception of the kind of evidence which is relevant in biological or historical study, and are therefore incapable of being “convinced.” Are we to say that their contempt is justified? Would Bosanquet himself have claimed the authority attaching to an expert pronouncement in some science with which he was personally unacquainted? I should say myself that it is an important mark of the educated man that he can judge soundly when he must be content with authority, precisely because he is not in a position to be “convinced by the evidence.” It is deplorable to find a really eminent philosopher holding out so much encouragement to the self–confident ignorance which denies that there is justification for a statement merely because it is not itself capable of seeing the justification.
Cf. the trenchant language of Prof. Hobhouse about the Hegelian theory of the State as expounded by Bosanquet. “This theory is commonly spoken of as idealism, but it is in point of fact a much more subtle and dangerous enemy to the ideal than any brute denial of idealism emanating from a one–sided science” (Metaphysical Theory of the State, p. 18); “this theory … by which, in the judgement of so many able men, the state assumes in the modern world a position which earlier ages might have given to the church or to the Deity Himself” (ib. p. 25). (Prof. Hobhouse, indeed, in my opinion, errs by going to the opposite extreme of assuming that there is an antecedent probability that any “rebel” is in the right against the institutional State.)
“I would observe that in this charge of Lysicles there is something right and something wrong. It seems right to assert, as he doth, that the real belief of natural religion will lead a man to approve of revealed; but it is as wrong to assert that Inquisitions, tyranny, and ruin must follow from thence. Your free–thinkers, without offence be it said, seem to mistake their talent. They imagine strongly, but reason weakly; mighty at exaggeration, and jejune in argument! Can no method be found to relieve them from the terror of that fierce and bloody animal an English parson?”—Berkeley, Alciphron, v.
Essays and Addresses (second series), pp. 122–3.
Nathan, iii. 7.
Xenophon, Memorab. ii. i. 13 οὐδ᾽ εἰς πολιτείαν ἐμαυτὸν κατακλείω, ἀλλά ξένος πανταχοῦ εἰμι.
A striking example is furnished by the history of philosophy: We are all accustomed to talk loosely of Athens as the very home of philosophy, and yet, as Professor Burnet has more than once remarked, there are only two philosophers of real eminence in the whole history of Athens, Socrates and his immediate disciple, Plato. The reason is that philosophy never was one of the “communal interests” of Athenian society.
For a beautiful illustration of the point compare Whewell’s crushing refutation of the circle–squarer James Smith recorded in De Morgan’s Budget of Paradoxes (ed. 2, ii. 24). The refutation consists in a single sentence, “In the whole course of the proof, though the word cycle [? circle] occurs, there is no property of the circle employed.” To anyone who understands the elements of mathematical reasoning this is final, but it made no impression on Mr. Smith’s “common sense and reason.” It is not uncommon to find it urged, even by men who are good reasoners in some quite different sphere, as a fatal objection to analysis of a work like the Pentateuch into its component parts, that no one can produce the alleged earlier documents, there is no extant copy of “D” or “JE.” An argument of this kind which, if valid, would prove that there has never been any such thing as a “composite document” of which the separate components have perished, is frequently treated as a triumphant appeal to “common sense” against the vagaries of pedantic scholars. If, however, by “common sense and reason” Bosan–quet meant, as he presumably did, something not peculiar to the individual, his remark is the emptiest of truisms, and only means that “authority” cannot establish what can be shown to be false. No one, I take it, disputes that.
Cf. Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Pt. I., i. p. I: “A man who tries to spend his life in sympathy with the ancient philosophers will sometimes find a direct conviction forcing itself upon him, the grounds of which can only be represented very imperfectly by a number of references in a foot–note. Unless the enumeration of passages is complete—and it never can be complete—and unless each passage tells in exactly the same way … the so–called proofs will not produce the same effect on any two minds. That is the sense in which philological inquiry, like every other inquiry, requires an act of faith.”
Christianity and Hellenism, p. 245 ff.
It may be true that, as the “born dissenter ”is fond of saying,
“He’s a slave, who dares not be
In the right with two or three”;
but (a) Is there any special virtue in being in the wrong with a small minority? (b) and Is the mere fact that I am in a small minority sufficient presumption that I am “in the right”?
This seems to me the truth which Professor Wm. James and others misrepresent when they talk about our “passional nature” as the source of our beliefs. The average man believes that God exists, that one must tell the truth, that the earth is round, all for much the same reason, that he has been taught all these things in early life. He could not give any very convincing reasons for any of these beliefs, but, because he has been taught to hold them when his mind was most plastic, he looks on the atheist and the earth–flattener alike as uttering absurdities. He is impatient with both for their “unreasonableness”; his “passional nature,” if it is the source of his theism, ought also to be called the source of his geography. His reason for impatience with the atheist is that he regards him as denying what is “plain” to common sense and reason.
Copernicus himself may serve as an example. In essentials his doctrine was a revival of the tradition of the heliocentric astronomers of antiquity, Aristarchus and Seleucus. He took from them both the fruitful part of their ideas, the ascription of the “annual” and “diurnal” motions to the earth, and the unfruitful and erroneous conception of the sun as “at rest” in the centre of an outermost “sphere” with the stars all equidistant at the outer surface. What was personal and specifically “Copernican” in this hypothesis was its weakest feature, the superfluous “third motion” intended to explain the parallelism of the earth’s axis to itself, and this is just the one feature of the “Copernican hypothesis” which had to be most promptly suppressed.
Apologia, pt. vii.
“Voulez–vous un homme sain, le voulez–vous reglé, et en ferme et seure posture? affublez–le de tenebres d’oysivité et de pesanteur: il nous faut abestir, pour nous assagir; et nous esblouir, pour nous guider” (Essais, ii. 12). This is presumably the source of Pascal’s famous cela vous abêtira et vous fera croire.
Hume, Philosophical Works (Green and Grose), ii. 467: “A person, seasoned with a just sense of the imperfections of natural reason, will fly to revealed truth with the greatest avidity: while the haughty Dogmatist, persuaded that he can erect a complete system of Theology by the mere help of philosophy, disdains any further aid, and rejects this adventitious instructor. To be a philosophical Sceptic is, in a man of letters, the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian.”
Science and the Modern World, pp. 24, 80, 166. Since this lecture was delivered, Professor Eddington has told us much more to the same effect, in spark–lingly epigrammatic language, in The Nature of the Physical World: “The law of gravitation is—a put–up job” (p. 143); Sir W. Bragg “was not overstating the case when he said that we [the physicists] use the classical theory on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the quantum theory on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays” (p. 194).
Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 35: “The theory of Induction is the despair of philosophy—and yet all our activities are based upon it.” Mill comes face to face with the central difficulty once (Logic, bk. iii. c. 3, § 3) when he asks “Why is a single instance, in some cases, sufficient for a complete induction, while in others myriads of concurring instances, without a single exception known or presumed, go such a very little way towards establishing a universal proposition?” That is the problem Mill ought to solve, but he finds no more to say than that the man who can solve it “knows more of the philosophy of logic than the wisest of the ancients.” As Dr. Broad remarks (The Philosophy of Francis Bacon, p. 67), Mill “closed the door of the cupboard” on the skeleton and tactfully “turned the conversation into more cheerful channels.”
Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 264: “To–day there is one large group of phenomena which can be explained only on the wave theory, and another large group which can be explained only on the corpuscular theory. Scientists have to leave it at that, and wait for the future …” Cf. Eddington, Nature of the Physical World, p. 201: “We can scarcely describe such an entity [as light] as a wave or as a particle: perhaps as a compromise we had better call it a ‘wavicle’.”
Cf. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 36: “If we confine ourselves to certain types of facts, abstracted from the complete circumstances in which they occur, the materialistic assumption expresses these facts to perfection. But when we pass beyond the abstraction … the scheme at once breaks down. The narrow efficiency of the scheme was the very cause of its methodological success.” Eddington, Nature of the Physical World, p. 53: “To think of a man without his duration is just as abstract as to think of a man without his inside. Abstractions are useful, and a man without his inside (that is to say, a surface) is a well–known geometrical conception. But we ought to realise what is an abstraction and what is not.” And on the whole subject see the third lecture in J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. i.
An interesting parallel may be adduced from so severely “rational” a discipline as pure mathematics. Some of Fermat’s most fascinating propositions in the Theory of Numbers were enunciated without proof, and were still unproved, as one sees by Legendre’s treatment of them, at the opening of the nineteenth century. For all that a non–mathematician like myself knows, some of these theorems may still be undemonstrated. But it would not be irrational to believe them true, on the ground that Fermat may have had demonstrations of some of them, which he never published, or that, even if he had not, such demonstrations may yet be discovered, since it is not probable that a Fermat should have enunciated false propositions in the Theory of Numbers. Thus Fermat enunciated the proposition that the sum of the nth powers of two integers is never itself an nth power of an integer, if n be greater than 2. The proposition is given as a truth in the relevant section of Peano’s Formulaire Mathématique, but, in vol. 4, with the observation that, though it can now be demonstrated for values of n up to 100, “la demonstration complète est encore inconnue.” (This remark no longer appears in the subsequent edition (vol. 5) of the Formulaire). It is implied, of course, that we may hope that the “complete demonstration” will not always be “unknown”; this is what differentiates the case of such a theorem from that of a truth accepted “on the authority of revelation,” according to the traditional view of the matter.
A. E. Housman, Manilius I. p. xxxii. Cf. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism1, i. 108: “Dangerous as teleological arguments in general may be, we may at least safely say the world was not designed to make science easy.”