IS it possible to maintain that conception of man's nature which we have seen to be implied in its being made in the image of God, consistently with what experience teaches of the moral and spiritual history of the world? This question, as well as many other speculative difficulties, is pressed upon us in the problem as to the origin and nature of evil. For that problem has an obvious bearing on our belief in God and a moral order of the universe. It affects our view of human freedom and responsibility, of the relation of the individual to the race, of the future hopes and destinies of humanity. Can we hold together in our thought the notion of a world which is the manifestation of infinite goodness, and that of a world in which sin and sorrow prevail; or reconcile our belief in an absolutely beneficent will as the origin and end of all, with our experience of a state of things in which that will seems to be everywhere opposed and frustrated? Must not our sense of responsibility, again, be greatly affected by the notion of an inborn, hereditary bias to evil as the universal condition of our moral life; and does not our reception or rejection of this notion involve all the difficult questions as to the measure in which individual freedom and responsibility are affected by the relation of the individual to his social environment—to the past history of the race and the present moral atmosphere in which he lives? Finally, as the diagnosis of a disease must precede and determine our view of the remedy, must not our conception of the work of redemption be determined or modified by our idea of the moral and spiritual exigency which it is intended to meet?
But, apart from these more general aspects of the problem of evil, the primary difficulty with which, at this stage of our inquiry, we have to do, is that which is involved in the rise or emergence of sin in a nature which is by its very essence a reflexion of the nature of God. How can evil be conceived to arise in a nature created good? Without modifying the idea of its being made in the image of God and presupposing a latent tendency to evil in its very structure, does it not seem impossible to account for the moral blight which has fallen upon it? Do not all the various theories that have been propounded as to the origin of sin virtually trace it to some original flaw or defect in man's nature; and do they not thus presuppose the thing they would account for, and necessarily ascribe this evil element to the immediate causation of Him from whom man's nature proceeds?
Shall we explain the existence of sin, for example, as due to some malign external influence acting on a nature originally pure and good, marring the beauty of God's fair handiwork and introducing into it disorder and defilement? Not only, however, does the existence of any such foreign evil influence simply reproduce the difficulty in question at an earlier stage, but its triumph over man would be inconceivable, apart from the existence of something in his own nature to which it could appeal, some predisposition or tendency to evil by means of which alone any external temptation could prove successful. In a nature absolutely pure the seed of evil would find no soil in which to germinate.
Or, again, shall we have recourse to the only too easy and plausible solution that moral action implies in the agent an absolute freedom of choice between good and evil—that to lend any moral value to his actions he must be not only “sufficient to have stood” but “free to fall”? The inadequacy of any such solution is at once obvious when we reflect that a moral nature cannot be conceived of as one which is possessed of an absolute “freedom of indifference” between good and evil, but one which must be thought of as having a predisposition towards good as the realization of its own essence. An absolute equilibrium between good and evil would itself be of the nature of evil. Further, even if any such original equilibrium could be conceived of, it would not, in any given instance, account for the adoption of either of the opposite alternatives, still less for the persistent swaying of the balance to one or other of the two sides. From the point of view of absolute or indeterminate freedom as the inherent prerogative of human nature, it would be plausible to say that at least one half of the human race, or each individual in one half of his actions, should have gone right instead of wrong; but it would be only plausible, for, to account for the turn of the balance either way, some new motive power or deflecting influence other than the will itself is needed.
Once more, shall we, with many, seek the explanation of man's fall from original innocence and of the universal prevalence of evil, in the power of the flesh over the spirit? But here again the futility of the explanation seems to be obvious; for either we must suppose the flesh, the carnal or sensuous side of man's nature, with its appetites and passions, to be in itself evil, in which case the evil element is presupposed in its original constitution and its existence can only be ascribed to the author of that constitution; or, if we conceive the original evil to lie, not in the sensuous appetites and impulses—which are no more evil in man than in the lower animals—but in the preponderance of these over the spiritual nature, then, either that preponderance must be natural or inevitable, and the responsibility must pertain to Him who made the flesh strong and the spirit weak; or, if it be not inevitable, but due to the voluntary succumbing of the higher nature to the lower, then we only recur to that solution of the problem in the idea of freedom, which we have already seen to be inadequate and illusory.
Or, finally, to name no other solution, shall we accept the view of those theorists who see in evil only a necessary step or stage in the development of a finite spirit, and regard the final perfection of a moral nature as attainable only under the condition of its passing through the experience of evil? Then, indeed, in so far as this explanation rests on the idea already adverted to, that the true “image of God” is that which pertains, not to the origin but to the end of man's career, and that the glorious future which is God's purpose for humanity, the perfect reconciliation of man with God which is to be brought about by redemption and grace, presupposes that division and discord which sin has introduced into the world—in so far as the theory in question finds its basis in this idea, it contains an element which is profoundly true. Yet, on the other hand, it would seem to involve a principle from which the unsophisticated moral consciousness shrinks. The necessity of physical evil it may be possible to justify. The purest happiness, the highest good may be that which is attainable only through suffering and sacrifice, but can we say also that it is that which is attainable only through sin? Is it not possible to conceive of a spiritual perfection which is the result of a continuous and uninterrupted development, or, at most, of the struggle with temptation by a nature that never yields to it? And even if it be not so, can we conceive of a moral perfection for which sin is the necessary price? Could we legitimately purchase any good however great for ourselves or others at the cost of an immoral act; and if not, can the system of the universe be based on a principle from which the healthy moral sense revolts? Moreover, is not the necessity of sin a self-contradictory notion, denying in the predicate what the subject affirms? Are not guilt, and liability to condemnation and punishment, essential elements in the notion of sin; and can we connect penal desert with that which, in the order of the world or the nature of things, is the necessary condition of moral attainment?
These considerations may serve to indicate some of the difficulties which beset the problem of evil. Are we, because of these difficulties, compelled to abandon it as insoluble? It is true, indeed, that no theoretical difficulties can quell or over-ride the practical instincts that are the springs of our moral life. That God is good and can never be the author of evil, that we are responsible for our actions and justly punishable for our misdeeds, that no speculative theorizing can explain away the terrible reality of moral evil, that the voice of conscience tells us that we ought to struggle with it and therefore may hope to overcome it, and that there is no moral disability in our nature which exempts us from the conflict—these and the like are convictions which no speculative difficulties can subvert. On the other hand, it is hard to suppose that there should be any such cleft between the intellectual and the moral life as would be implied in saying that convictions, which are imperative to the conscience, are contradictory or inexplicable to the reason. At any rate, it would be at least a partial reward of inquiry to discover, by a careful review of past attempts, what the point is at which light fails us, and from which all future endeavours must take their start.
In what follows, therefore, I shall examine the various attempts, to some of which I have above briefly adverted, to throw light on the question as to the nature and origin of moral evil, and endeavour to show how far on this, as on other religious doctrines, philosophy is in harmony withChristian faith. In what remains of this lecture I shall deal with what may be called the ecclesiastical theory, that which since the time of Augustine has dominated the mind of the Christian Church, and which has found its formal expression, under various modifications, in the Catholic and Protestant confessions and creeds.
The Church doctrine as to the present moral condition of human nature has for its necessary presupposition its further doctrine as to the status integritatis, the original, unfallen condition of man. The present state of the world, morally and physically, implies a previous part of the drama of human life without which it would be inexplicable. The course of history begins at a point where it can become intelligible only as the sequel to a prehistoric stage. Now, and as far back as history and tradition extend, man is seen to be not only subjected to physical evils, which seem to be irreconcilable with a beneficent and righteous moral government save as the penalty of moral transgression, but he comes into the world with an evil moral bias, which can be accounted for only as the result of a past moral history. As in the individual life we connect a man's present character with his past actions, and find, for instance, theexplanation of an enfeebled constitution in former vicious excess, of evil habits in the depraving influence of past vices and sins; so, the disastrous physical and moral conditions, to which from the birth all mankind are subjected, seem to point backwards to a stage of human history of which the present is the natural and necessary sequel. The old doctrine of Metempsychosis attempted to explain these unfortunate conditions, by regarding them as the results of the doings of men in a previous state of existence. By an analogous device the Augustinian theory would account for the innate bias to evil which is the universal characteristic of human life, not indeed as the result of a pre-existent or pre-natal individual life, but by regarding the moral life of the race as one connected whole, and its present condition as the fatal result of a moral probation to which, in the person of its first progenitor, it was subjected. The apparent anomalies of human life cease to be anomalous when we rise to a more comprehensive point of view, and, contemplating the race as one collective personality, discern in these evils the natural consequences of its own voluntary aberration from a state of innocence. If the creation of a race of beings, with a naturemorally tainted or having in it the seeds of moral pravity, makes God the author of evil, such an inference seems to be no longer necessary when we conceive of human nature, as it comes from the hand of God, as morally pure and good. If responsibility implies freedom, and if a moral depravity and guilt, not the result of the subject's own acts, seem to involve a contradiction in terms, this apparent contradiction is obviated by the conception of human nature as originally endowed with an absolute freedom of choice between good and evil, and of its present deterioration as the natural consequence of its own misuse of that freedom. The physical evils which are the universal lot of humanity lose the aspect of arbitrariness and injustice, when we see in them the penal inflictions of divine justice for the sin of the race.
According to this theory, then, the sin to which all other sins are traceable is the sin, not simply of an individual historic person, but of humanity as represented or embodied in him. The first transgression poisoned human nature at the root. The direful consequences which are ascribed to it,— moral guilt and condemnation, the loss of original righteousness, estrangement from God, the total depravation of man's inward nature, including a fatalproclivity to sin, together with all the outward and physical ills to which flesh is heir—toil and trouble, pain and sorrow, disease and death,—these fatal effects of the first lapse from goodness, are to be regarded as affecting not merely the first transgressor, but human nature, as subjected in his person to moral probation, and as having misused its original gift of freedom. The link, therefore, on which the whole theory turns is the universal or generic character which is ascribed to the progenitor of the race. He stands out, in distinction from all the other members of it, as a unique personality, a kind of universal man, the idealized symbol or embodiment of humanity; and the incidents of his moral history are lifted out of the character that belongs to them as the events of an individual life, and become invested with a universal significance, as the first acts of the tragedy of which humanity itself, regarded as one collective personality, is the hero.
And if we ask how we are to conceive of this universal character as pertaining to the first man, and of the generic significance that is ascribed to his acts, the answer of the Augustinian theologians has taken various forms. In what may perhaps be termed the crudest andharshest form, the generic significance of the moral history of the first man is represented as due simply to an arbitrary juridical arrangement on God's part, according to which the first man became the moral representative of the race, and by a divine determination or decree, the fate of the whole human race was made to turn on the issue of his probation. Various analogies—such as the act of attainder by which the descendants of a traitor are implicated in his treason, or a community or nation are held accountable for the acts of its head or representative—are appealed to as giving a colour of reasonableness to this supposed divine economy. In what is called the “Federal Theology,” the figure of a covenant or pact between God and man is employed, not as an illustration, but as the account of an actual transaction, in which Adam, as the “covenant head” of mankind, concluded in his state of innocence a treaty with the Creator, according to which his moral failure or success should count as that of his whole posterity.
Or, again, finding it impossible to meet the objection that it is only for the acts or intromissions of a representative whom they themselves have chosen that his constituents can be justly heldaccountable, the idea has been gravely propounded that Adam, though not actually the representative, was in the divine foreknowledge the type, of all other members of the race; and that the Omniscient Being, who foresaw that in every other case the moral trial would issue in a like result, might fairly regard them as acting as the first probationer acted, and condemn and punish them accordingly. But the failure of these and similar theological devices to give a colour of rationality to the notion of imputed sin, led to a modification of the doctrine of the relation of the race to its first progenitor. If there was nothing in that relation which made men actually partakers of Adam's guilt, an arbitrary decree or determination to hold them guilty was obviously nothing more than a legal fiction. Accordingly the attempt was made by St. Augustine, in what may be termed the second or modified form of the doctrine of imputation, to conceive, though in a way scarcely less fictitious than in the doctrine of arbitrary or constructive imputation, of an actual participation by the race in the sin of its prototype. “We were all,” Augustine writes, “in that one man, when we were all that one man, who fell into sin. Not as yet was the particular form created and distributed to each of us in which we were individually to live, but already the seminal nature existed from which we were to be propagated; and this being vitiated by sin was bound by the chain of death and justly condemned.”1
The harshness, or rather irrationality of the notion of constructive guilt or of the transference of the demerit of one man, not merely to all other men, but to the myriads of the race who at the time of the transaction did not even exist, Augustine conceived it possible to obviate by the conception that the unborn generations were seminally present in the person of the first man. By means of this conception we do not create an impossible separation of guilt from sin, or make those to share in condemnation and punishment who were not sharers in the offence. As the whole plant is virtually present in the seed or germ, or as the embryo contains in it the whole future of the organism, so all the generations of men were virtually present in the individual man from whom they sprang, and became culpablebecause in a sense co-operating or consenting parties to the act by which he fell. But rightly construed, the conception of seminal guilt, or of a sin which contains or involves all future sins, if any real meaning could be attached to it, would seem to imply that Adam was guilty of all the sins of his descendants, rather than they of his. On the other hand, the logical consequence of the idea of actual participation in the sin of one from whom we are lineally descended, would be that every successive generation is guilty of the sins of all preceding generations; that on every individual, irrespective of his personal character, rests the accumulated burden of all the sins and crimes of his ancestry, and that it is the last and not the first man on whom rests the guilt of the whole race. That such a doctrine should have been seriously propounded by Augustine, only serves to show the extravagance into which a great and subtle mind may be led by controversial exigencies.
The last and simplest form in which the doctrine of original sin, or of the implication of the race in the sin of its first parent, has been held, is that which makes that sin consist simply in an inherited or innate bias of our nature to evil. Not by any participation, constructive or actual, in the first sin, but by the vitiating influence which it has wrought on the minds and wills of the first sinner's descendants, can we be said to participate in his guilt. We are guilty from the birth because we are sinful from the birth. Universal experience seems to corroborate in this respect the teaching of Scripture. The doctrine which the Biblical narrative of the Fall, interpreted in the light of St. Paul's reproduction of it in the Epistle to the Romans, seems to teach, is that the entail of moral, is as universal as that of physical evil. As all men are by nature liable to pain and sorrow and death, and as these evils affect us independently of any will or act of the individual, so all men are by nature inheritors, independently of any individual action, nay, prior to the dawn of self-consciousness, of an inborn propensity or proclivity to sin; and this congenital evil bias can be traced back, through the whole past history of the race, to the progenitor in whose person the virus of moral evil was first introduced into the originally pure and perfect nature of man.
Nor is this notion inconsistent with the well-known laws which determine the character and complexion of our individual life. The principle of heredity notoriously applies, not merely to our corporeal, but also to our spiritual nature. None can doubt the transmissibility of physical disease, or of liability to special forms of such disease, from parent to child; and not seldom a constitution congenitally weak and sickly can be traced back for generations to some remote ancestor of the subject of it. Equally undeniable are the facts which seem to sanction the idea of hereditary moral characteristics. Vicious and criminal propensities, tendencies to intemperance, sensuality, dishonesty, and other vices, seem not seldom to run in the blood. Nor, however much we may pity the victims of such tendencies, do we regard these as in any individual case suspending responsibility, or exempting the perpetrator of immoral or criminal acts from moral censure and punishment. The Church doctrine, therefore, of original sin as an inborn predisposition to evil prior to actual sin, in virtue of which the subject of it lies under the wrath and curse of God, whatever speculative difficulties it may involve, is, it has been maintained, consistent with the facts of human experience, and with the principles by which our moral judgments are determined.
The doctrine of original sin, as I have now explained it, is in many points open to objection, and in its bare and literal form is no longer accepted by modern thought as a true representation of the spiritual life and history of mankind. Nevertheless, reflection, I think, will lead us to see that it contains, under a hard, and, in the view of many, even revolting form, a substantial basis of truth. It may be useful to notice briefly some of the objections which have been urged against it, and then to point out what we conceive to be the element of truth that underlies it.
1. It may be remarked at the outset that this explanation is not really relevant to our present inquiry. It is not a doctrine of the origin of evil. It records the fact, but it does not explain the process by which sin emerges in a nature originally innocent or good. It seems, indeed, to rest on the principle that moral guilt and penal desert are conditioned by the free will of the agent; and this free will, which it nowhere finds in the present experience of a corrupt and guilty race, it supposes to have existed in a pristine or pre-historic stage of its moral life. But it does not attempt to define or give any speculative account of the nature of human freedom; or, in so far as it does so, it seems to waver between the freedom which pertains to a perfect moral nature, the freedom of complete harmony with the will of God, and thefreedom which is termed the liberum arbitrium, that absolute indifference or equilibrium between good and evil to which I have already referred. If we take it in the former sense, it lay beyond the province of the Augustinian theologians to enter on the purely philosophical inquiry as to the nature and definition of freedom, and that task, as we shall see in the sequel, it has left to modern philosophy to undertake. If we take it in the latter sense, which is by no means that of the ablest exponents of the doctrine, the freedom of indifference or indetermination is a notion which would now be regarded as untenable or even meaningless. A will that is endowed with absolute freedom of choice is a will that swings free from all motives. It exists in a moral vacuum; it is incapable of any positive action, and if it could be supposed to act at all, its manner of acting would be purely a matter of accident. Neither within nor without is there any reason why it should depart from its moveless equilibrium. Not within, for the slightest movement of the balance would imply the surrender of its prerogative of indifference. Not without, for whatever external motives, whatever appeals to reason or passion, to interest or affection, hope or fear, may be addressed to it, it still retains by sup-position the capacity to set them at naught, to resist all external impulse and retain in its own hands that absolute liberty of choice, which yet by its very nature it can never exert. If the state of innocence be conceived of as that in which human nature was possessed of freedom in the sense now described, it was an innocence from which there could have been no departure; a fall or descent from this imaginary elevation would have been an impossibility. It is obvious, therefore, that from this point of view, the objection urged by the opponents of the Augustinian doctrine, namely, that it failed to account, not only for the first sin itself, but also for the disastrous effects ascribed to it, was a valid one. A freedom of indifference, once possessed, could never be lost by any act of our own. It is impossible that a faculty should be lost or destroyed by the fulfilment of its natural or normal functions. An evil choice, quite as much as a good choice, is within the proper province of a will whose very nature is absolute freedom of choice. The loss of freedom and subsequent moral bondage of the will which is ascribed to the first sin means simply the suspension of the power to choose by reason of choosing, the paralysis of the power of motion by reason of moving.
2. But, again, apart from any definition of freedom, it has been urged that the effects ascribed to the first sin are altogether disproportionate to the cause. No human being is ever rendered totally corrupt by a single lapse from the path of virtue. Even when the conditions of a life are altogether hostile to goodness, when the moral atmosphere into which a human spirit is born is charged with the germs of vice, the transition from innocence to moral depravity is a gradual one; and the case before us is that of a human being subjected to no unfavourable conditions, under no contaminating influence of evil example, breathing the pure air of paradisaical innocence, if not of paradisaical perfection. Whether, therefore, we suppose the pristine state of man to have been one of childlike ignorance of good and evil, or of moral perfection, that he should have become totally corrupt by a leap, through a single lapse from rectitude, is inconsistent with the laws which determine the formation of character.
It is to be remarked, however, that this objection, though plausible, is less cogent than it seems, and that there is a basis of truth underlying the Augustinian theory which it overlooks. When we reflect on the moral significance of action, we find,it is true, that single acts do not often of themselves exert a sudden or violent deteriorating influence on the spiritual nature; and that moral declension or depravation is usually the result of a long series of such acts accumulating their force in the blinding and hardening influence of habit. But it is also true that human experience includes such a thing as critical acts, events that constitute the crisis of a lifetime, occasions when the whole forces of good or evil are roused into unwonted and decisive conflict, and when one fatal step may be said to carry with it incalculable results, if not to determine the whole course of a man's moral history. Moreover, it is also to be considered that if there be such a thing as an initiative act of our moral life, a significance belongs to it which attaches to no other. Even where it is not in itself of the nature of those critical acts which bring into play the deeper moral forces of our nature, even where, isolated from all subsequent acts, its moral importance may be slight; yet, taken in connection with them, set before the imagination in its relation to them, its importance may be incalculable. If we could in any case retrace the moral history of a man back to the first sin of childhood, that sin could not be other than of an order possible to childhood—a trivial yielding to appetite, a slight act of insubordination or disobedience to a positive command or prohibition, or the like. But whatever its external form, a deep significance would attach to it: not, indeed, as the cause of all the other sins of a lifetime, but as the start on a new stage of a human spirit's history: as marking the waking up from the sleep of nature to self-consciousness and self-determination, and so, in a sense, as fraught with the moral interest of its whole subsequent career. And if we apply the same principle to the generic history of the race, perhaps we may find here the underlying meaning of the simple, natïve, Mosaic story of the fall, and of the seemingly trivial nature of the temptation to which consequences so momentous are ascribed. If the origin of generic character be traced back to the childhood of the race, it is not surprising to find in this simple, pictorial narrative the transgression which marked man's first deviation from innocence represented as a childish one, whilst at the same time, in its real and hidden meaning, it expressed a transition so tremendous as to be described in the words, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Whilst, therefore, in one point of view, the effects ascribed in the Augustinian doctrine to the first transgression may be regarded as disproportionate and exaggerated; yet if it is viewed in the light of the analogy between the individual and the generic life, as the initiative act that marked a momentous transition in the moral history of mankind, the doctrine in question is no longer untenable, but may, rightly understood, be regarded as the expression of a deep and far-reaching truth.
3. It remains to consider, lastly, the most formidable objection urged by Pelagius and others to the Augustinian doctrine, namely, that which relates to the notion of innate or inherited sin. According to this notion, as we have seen, men are not by an impossible fiction made to participate in the guilt of the first sin, but they are inheritors of a sinful and guilty nature. They enter on existence with a bias or predisposition to sin, which not only leads, with the development of consciousness, to the commission of actual sins, but is in itself of the nature of sin, and therefore amenable to the divine condemnation and wrath, and to all the penalties, temporal and eternal, to which sin is justly liable. But any such economy as this, it was with great emphasis urged by the opponents of Augustine, in so far as it is not self-contradictory and unthinkable, is inconsistent with the fundamental principle of human responsibility. Sin and guilt, anterior to any moral act or the possibility of any such act, is an impossible notion. A being in whom reason and conscience are not yet actually present, is a being who does not yet exist as a moral agent, and who cannot therefore be the object of moral approval or condemnation. If what is condemned in him is not sin, but only a latent and inherited proclivity to sin; if, in other words, the alleged sinfulness is transferred from the actions to the nature of the being implicated, the objections to the doctrine are not obviated by any such device.
It is true that disposition or inward tendency to evil is, apart from positive overt acts, an object of moral censure. What we condemn, indeed, in a bad action is the bad motive from which it springs, and not the mere outward form in which it is expressed; and a bad character, even though the power of outward action be suspended, is in itself an object of moral condemnation. But the ground of our condemnation of character is, that the agent himself has created it, that it is the result of acts committed by him in the exercise of his own freedom, the concentrated form of innumerable bygone sins. But in an evil bias or propensity infused into the individual nature from the beginning, no such ground for disapproval is present. The supposed bias represents nothing in the past history of the agent, nothing in which his own will has played any part, or for which he is more responsible than for a physical mal-formation or congenital disease.
Moreover, if, as Augustine contended, we cannot separate in our thought the original evil bias from the actual sins of which it is the source, if in condemning the latter we must needs carry back our censure to that of which they are only the manifold outward expression, then the original evil tendency, instead of increasing or intensifying, actually extenuates, if it does not wholly remove, the culpability of the subsequent actual transgression. If the supposed tendency be irresistible, the agent is as little responsible for its results as for actions done under physical coercion. If the tendency be resistible, to mean anything it must be of the nature of a provocative or temptation to evil or of a hindrance to good; in either case it handicaps the agent in his moral career, and must be discounted in our estimate of his moral failures or shortcomings.
Finally, it was urged that it is difficult, if not impossible, to compass the notion of inherited sin, that is, of the transmission of moral qualities, good or bad, from parent to child. That by physical generation physical qualities should be transmitted, that the child should resemble the parent in its bodily structure, and that beauty or deformity, health or disease, should, in man as in the animal creation generally, be propagated by lineal descent; or again, in so far as mental characteristics are conditioned by bodily organization, that indirectly the former should in many instances be traceable to the latter—all this is no more than may be capable of explanation by physiological laws. But the transmissibility of moral qualities by physical generation is, it was alleged, either a grossly materialistic notion, or a process inconsistent with the known laws on which moral agency depends. Nor, it was held, is any such arbitrary hypothesis necessary to account for the fact, in so far as it is a fact, of the moral resemblance often traceable between parent and child. There is nothing more here than can be explained on rational grounds by the potent influence, especially in the early and receptive period of life, of example, imitation, a neglected or bad education,—the manifold outward elements which constitute the moral atmosphere of a household.
It would appear, then, that the doctrine of original sin is open to grave and perhaps unanswerable objections. But some of these objections are applicable only to the form in which the doctrine has been presented in the writings of Augustine and other Church writers, and not to what may be regarded as its real and essential import. When we examine the foregoing criticism, I think we shall find that it is based on a purely individualistic view of the spiritual nature and life of man, and that much of its plausibility is due to the abstract and one-sided principle from which it starts. That principle is the apparently irrefragable one of the absolute and inalienable responsibility of each individual for his own character and conduct. In the moral and spiritual life “every man must bear his own burden.” Before the law of right, each individual stands isolated and independent. No other can share his responsibility, nor he that of any other. And if no other can share the responsibility of a moral act, no other can share in its production. From beginning to end the agent must be author of his own actions and shaper of his own destiny. He must start from a position of innocence, with a nature free from all moral bias; and in the working out of his career he must be exempt from allimplication with the lives of other men, from all social and other influences that operate behind the will, or mould the moral character irrespective of his own volition. Whatever his relation to the outward world, whatever the influences of his social environment, there must be a point where they are arrested, a sphere of free self-determination into which they cannot intrude. However closely he may be connected with his fellowmen, by the tie of a common nature, by intercommunication of thought and feeling, by the links of kindred and affection, there must be a moral boundary surrounding the innermost citadel of the spirit's life; and all external influences must be regarded at most as furnishing only the materials of moral action, which, to have any real moral bearing, must be translated by his own volition into the hidden fibre of his spiritual life.
Plausible, however, as this representation is, I think it may be shown to owe much of its cogency to the fact, that it leaves out of sight that aspect of man's moral and spiritual nature on which the Augustinian doctrine mainly rests. Results, which are reached by regarding man simply as an abstract or isolated individual and ignoring those influences which are due to his social nature, cannot be other than inadequate and erroneous. The moral history of the world is not that of an aggregate of separate individualities, each working out his own character and determining the course and issue of his own career in absolute independence of the rest. On the contrary, it would be nearer the truth to say that the individual life is meaningless apart from other lives, and from that universal life of which all alike are only constituent elements or factors; and that the drama of human history derives its profoundest significance from the fact that, for good or evil, the life and destiny of every member of the race is implicated in the life and destiny of the whole. There are many considerations which lead to the conclusion that the moral order under which we live is inexplicable, if it be regarded from a purely individualistic point of view; and that it can only be understood in the light of what has been termed the corporate or organic life of the race. The popular notion which claims, on the score of justice, for each human spirit an absolutely isolated sphere of action, is based on a superficial view of the relation between the individual and the social life.
At first sight, indeed, the conception of society into which we naturally fall is that simply of an aggregate or sum of separate individuals, a multiplicity of independent units, each endowed with a complete, self-contained personality, prior to and apart from the external relations into which he enters with other individuals. Society, from this point of view, has no existence other than that of the individuals who compose it. It is only a name for the combination of these individuals, and these are the only real or actually existing elements in the associations which we designate as the family, the nation, the race. Their combination does not add anything to their essential nature; nor can it infringe or modify that self-conscious, self-determined individuality which is the inalienable characteristic of each member of the community. Thus it is the individuals who create society, and we could conceive of each individual as existing and continuing to exist as really as now, even if all the other members of society became extinct.
Yet it needs little reflection to see that the order of things in which we live does not correspond to this conception of human nature and life. It would be nearer the truth to say that it is society which creates the individual, rather than the individual society. If individuals are the materials out of which society is created, there is a sense in which these materials were, in the first place, of its own creation. Society, like every other organism, is a whole which is ideally prior to its parts. The latter have no reality in which the former is not presupposed. It enters into their very essence, lives and breathes in them; and they in turn have no moral life which is not due to their action and reaction with the social medium in which they live.
In the first place, each individual nature does not come into existence a mere passive, colourless substance, a blank tablet on which external agencies may write whatever character they will. It has in it not only physical, but intellectual and moral possibilities, which determine the limits within which its future course must be run, and greatly contribute to shape it. Nor are we to think of these inborn capabilities and tendencies as the original endowments of a nature emerging out of nothingness, or dropped full-fledged from the skies. In many ways they can no more be accounted for as an entirely new creation, apart from the anterior life of the family or the nationality from which they spring, than the fruit apart from the tree on which it hangs, or the flower apart from the plant on which it blossoms. Of the transmission at least of physical qualities by physical generation, there can, as we have already said, be no question; and in so far as mental characteristics are conditioned by or correlated to physical, the former are, at least indirectly, an inheritance of the child from the parent. And not from the immediate parents only. The brain and nervous system of the infant born of a civilized race, his whole physical organization and capabilities, differ from those of the child born of a community in a state of barbarism; but in both cases they are, whether in the way of development or deterioration, the slow result of a process that has been going on from generation to generation; and every successive age from the remotest past has contributed to, and may be said to live in, the more or less perfect organization of the existing individual. Nor does it involve any concession to materialism to admit that the more or less perfect physical organization carries with it incalculable influences on the mental and moral life. If, therefore, there is any connection between a high or low type of brain and the intellectual and even moral possibilities of a human agent, and if in either type we can trace the inherited product of ancestry and race, it is obvious that the purely individualistic theory will not apply to the very beginning of human life, and that, even at his entrance on his earthly career, the individual is steeped in influences which are due to the past history of his kind.
But, again, the world into which he enters, and in which his spiritual life begins to unfold itself, is not a moral vacuum. From the very outset he is surrounded by an atmosphere charged with moral influences. If we recoil from the notion of directly inherited moral qualities, we are still as far as ever from the absolutely isolated and independent life of the individualistic theory. If not by inheritance, yet by influences—which, as they long precede the age of reflection, are equivalent to inheritance—the mental and moral life of the individual is coloured. The social environment into which he is born, and which is itself the product of a long process of historic evolution, is, in the earlier and more passive stage of human life, the main factor in his moral development. Long before the period of reflection, the self of which he is to become conscious is steeped and suffused in influences, that stream into it from the moral medium in which it lives. Not merely by positive teaching, by the educational discipline to which it is subjected, but also by the more continuous and potent influence of example, by the tone and spirit that prevail in the family or community, by the quick imitative instincts unconsciously reflecting the character, the tone of thought and speech, the very look and bearing of those with whom he is in daily contact, —by the unconscious action of these and similar forces playing on his ductile susceptibilities, the life of society, which is itself the distilled result of the life of the past, enters into and becomes part and parcel of the life of the individual.
Nor does this process cease with the waking up of the individual to self-consciousness and self-determination. The language he speaks, itself the silent growth, the crystallized product of the life of ages, and which is not only the expression of thought, but the mould which shapes and modifies it; the laws, customs, civil and political institutions, the current beliefs and accepted standards of judgment in literature, art, philosophy, and even religion,— these constitute all through life the mould into which the moral and intellectual being of the great mass of men is run, and against the dominating force of which only a few original and exceptional minds, and even they only to a very limited extent, can assert themselves.
It would thus appear that a purely individualistic conception of human nature and human life runs counter to the most obvious facts of observation and experience. The abstract individual, starting from a position of unconditioned freedom, charged with his own destiny and working it out unaffected by anything outside of his own volition, is a conception which, however much it may seem to be the condition of moral responsibility, is ludicrously inconsistent with the actual moral order of the world. On the other hand, whatever exception we may take to the Augustinian doctrine as an explanation of the origin of moral evil, yet in its recognition of the organic unity of the race, and of the consequent implication of every individual member of it with its past history and its present moral complexion and character, it far surpasses the shallow philosophy which seeks a solution of the problem only by ignoring the stern facts of human history and experience, and it has in it, as a philosophy of life, a depth and significance which the latter cannot claim.
END OF VOL. I.
GLASGOW: PRINTED AT THE UNIVERSITY PEESS BY ROBERT MACLEHOSE AND CO.