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Lecture 3: History of the Notion of Personality as Applied to God

AS in the last Lecture, so in this, it is a historical investigation which will engage our attention. Having outlined the history of persona as a philosophical term, a history in tracing which we have often had to advert to its use in the formulation of theological dogma, I have now to invite you to a more particular consideration of its use and that of its recognized equivalents as applied to God.

It is so often taken for granted nowadays that the Personality of God is a principal tenet of Christianity that it is not without surprise that we find this expression not only entirely absent from the historical creeds and confessions of the Christian Church, but even, until quite modern times, in the estimation of all but the minority of Christians who reject the doctrine of the Trinity, regarded as unorthodox. Nevertheless it is beyond question that historically it was in connexion with the doctrine of the Trinity that the words ‘person’ and ‘personality’ came to be used of the Divine Being; and that God was first1 described as ‘a person’ by certain theologians of the sixteenth century not so much by way of positively asserting an important truth of theology as by way of denying that he was rightly said to be three persons. The most influential of the anti-Trinitarian divines of the Reformation period, Faustus Socinus, was followed by the compilers of the Racovian Catechism (the official standard of the first organized Church since the Reformation to profess Unitarianism) in expressly stating that, though God may rightly be said to be one Person, since in the case of an intellectual being numerical (as opposed to merely specific) unity is not to be distinguished from personality, yet belief in the unity of his Person is not necessary to salvation; for those who hold that he exists in three Persons, however absurd their view, may obey his will as revealed by Christ, and so may be saved.2

It would be interesting to ascertain the first occurrence of the expression ‘Personality of God’ as we are accustomed to find it used now, apart from any reference to the Christian doctrine of a Trinity of persons in one Divine Nature. There can in any case, I think, be little doubt that it should be sought among the writers of the eighteenth century, and in the period which historians of philosophy sometimes describe as that of the enlightenment.3 I may be allowed to indicate certain characteristics of the thought of this period, which would have assisted an expression with Unitarian associations, though not, so far as I know, employed by Unitarian writers (Priestley, for example, appears to avoid it) to escape, even in quarters where the Trinitarian theology was not abandoned, the suspicion which would have attached to it on that account in the preceding age. On the one hand several of the influences then most potent in the world of thought tended to draw away attention from Trinitarian speculations and to fasten it upon the unity of the Divine Nature. Such was the great progress made by mathematical and mechanical science in the period illustrated by the names of Galileo and Newton, revealing as it did with ever increasing clearness the unity of the material system, and thereby impressing with ever increasing force upon the mind the unity of its Cause, but at the same time encouraging an abstract and unhistorical mode of thinking, to which a doctrine like that of the Trinity, which seeks to construe the Highest in terms of a life of love, could make but little appeal. Such, again, was the movement in philosophy inaugurated by Descartes with its preference for ‘clear and distinct ideas’ such as are especially afforded by the sciences to which I have just referred. To those in whom this preference was strong the mysterious and enigmatic character of the doctrine of the Trinity rendered it naturally uncongenial; while there are perhaps at any time but few who, following the celebrated counsel given to Priestley4 by Bishop Horsley, to read the Parmenides, have learned from Plato that the conception of unity is also not without grave difficulties of its own.

Such, once more, was the philosophy of Locke, with its cautious resolve to plant its feet upon the firm ground of experience and to abjure excursions into regions with the knowledge of which our happiness or misery has nothing to do; and to the temperament characteristic of that age the regions of speculative theology which had exercised the subtle wits of Platonists and Schoolmen in earlier times were apt to appear regions deserving so to be described.

On the other hand, the view of St. Thomas Aquinas (which is now authoritative in the Roman Catholic Church) that, while Reason could demonstrate the unity of God, Revelation alone could make known to us the trinity of persons therein, had come to prevail among the adherents of tradition; a view which relieves a theology claiming to be Natural or Rational from any obligation to trouble itself with a doctrine which is declared by its defenders to be of necessity altogether beyond its sphere.

When we consider the direction taken by these various currents of thought, we shall not be surprised to note in the philosophical theology of the eighteenth century, even among those who had no intention of abandoning the traditional doctrines, a marked tendency towards the Unitarian conception of deity, nor to find coming into use among theologians of all schools a phrase like ‘the Personality of God,’ which, in days when sensitiveness to the points of Trinitarian controversy was greater, would have committed him who used it to a downright denial of the dogma of the Catholic Church. Accordingly we find Schleiermacher in the last year of the eighteenth century referring to it as an expression familiar to his hearers and Paley in the third year of the nineteenth devoting a chapter of his Natural Theology to the ‘Personality of the Deity.’ But even after this, it is surprising to find how little in use the phrase seems to have been at any rate among English divines until the nineteenth century had run more than half its course.

We have, then, as historians, to note this fact: that, while the affirmation of Personality in God has been a characteristic of Christian theological terminology since the third century of our era, the great majority of Christian theologians down to quite modern times have not affirmed in so many words the Personality of God. I am not, of course, asserting that the majority of Christian theologians, and indeed of Jewish and Mohammedan theologians as well, to mention no others, have not ascribed to God attributes which it may plausibly be argued can belong only to persons. At present I am concerned only with the actual ascription of Personality itself to God.

We have seen that the word persona was first used in theology to describe the respective bearers of the three names, Father, Son, and Spirit, the use of which, not alternatively but in combination, the Christian Church had early come to regard as necessary to express the fullness of the Godhead as apprehended in her worship; and that only long afterwards did it begin to be employed of the Godhead as a whole. We have seen also that the application of the word to the members of the Christian Trinity owed its currency to, if it was not originated by, Tertullian, the first of the great Christian theologians to write in the Latin tongue. Professor Harnack, to whose labours all students of the history of Christian dogma owe so great a debt, now admits that in his earlier discussion of the circumstances which may have recommended this word to Tertullian for use in this connexion, he laid an exaggerated stress upon its legal associations.5 These must certainly not be left out of account; but I think we should be nearer the truth in seeking our principal clue to the theological meaning of the term in the sense which it had come to bear and still bears in grammar, when we speak of the first, second, and third persons in the conjugation of a verb. A study of Tertullian's language will, I think, tend to show that what he had most often in his mind was the fact that the Scriptures contained passages of colloquy wherein both addressing and addressed, and sometimes also the subject of their discourse, were alike treated as divine.6

Now no doubt this uncritical use of Scripture texts as authoritative and unquestionable sources of information with respect to the Divine Nature, though not so many years since it seemed to most of our own forefathers quite fit and reasonable and is by no means even now extinct among our countrymen, may perhaps appear nowadays to a cultivated and academic audience to take away from the speculation which finds its starting-point therein any but a purely archæological interest. But to neglect that speculation altogether on this account would be unwise. For the thoughts of sincere and active minds are never fairly to be judged by a mere inspection of the form in which their reasonings are expressed. This form may often betray the presence of prejudice, illusion, or error, and we do well to be on the watch to detect any infection thereby of the substance of the conclusion; and yet that substance may itself prove to be in part, even in great part, sound and unaffected by the false opinions of the thinker.

And so in the present instance, when, in respect of Tertullian's reliance on his proof-texts from the Bible, one has made all allowances for his ignorance of Hebrew and of the history of the old Testament, for his bondage to the letter of the old Latin translation, and for his readiness to treat, in Matthew Arnold's famous phrase, ‘literature’ as ‘dogma,’ there still remains in the discussions to which I am referring a solid foundation with which we have to reckon. This solid foundation is the profound impression made by the attitude towards God attributed in the Gospels to the Founder of the Christian religion and the inference to which it had led that the personal relation—I use the term advisedly—of loving sonship in which Jesus Christ was there represented as standing towards his Father in heaven was the revelation of a permanent and essential feature of the divine life, further testimony to which it was then only natural that Christians should seek, and not surprising, considering their intellectual environment, that they should have been over-easily satisfied to find, in writings which they had always been taught to regard as verbally inspired.

It was only to express that which distinguished one from another of the members of the Trinity acknowledged by the Christian Church to exist within the unity of the Godhead that the word ‘Person’ was regularly employed in theology down to the period of the Reformation.7 During that period, even when the doctrine of the Trinity was disputed, the use of this word ‘Person’ as applied to God was so closely associated with that doctrine that those who altogether rejected the doctrine, or at least desired to let it fall into the background, either avoided the word altogether or employed it merely in defining their attitude towards the traditional system. But in the course of the last two centuries, under the influences which I have indicated, the expression ‘Personality of God,’ apart from reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, has come into general use, and in what remains of the present Lecture I will endeavour to ascertain what is really intended by those who attach importance to maintaining the truth of that which they describe by this phrase.

This can perhaps most conveniently be done by considering certain representative accounts of the Divine Nature and making up our minds how far God as described therein can be considered as a ‘personal God.’

It would be readily admitted, I suppose, on all hands that the God of Spinoza is not a ‘personal’ God. But it will be worth while to spend a few minutes in asking ourselves what it is in the Spinozistic theology that satisfies us of this. For the doctrine of the great Jewish thinker may stand as the most highly developed and therefore most adequately representative form assumed by one widely diffused type of thought concerning the nature of the Ultimate Reality—that type of thought which may be conveniently designated by the popular if ambiguous name of Pantheism.

No doubt, if by a Divine Person one were compelled to mean, in accordance with strict historical propriety, one of a plurality of beings within the Divine Nature, the God of Spinoza could not be called ‘a Person,’ for by God Spinoza undoubtedly means the absolute and all-inclusive Reality. This, however, is not by itself enough to show that Spinoza's God ought not to be called personal. For the God of Catholic Christianity is also, as we have seen, not ‘a Divine Person’ and it would seem strange to deny that the God of Catholic Christianity is personal, although he is not thought of as one Person but as three. It is easy, however, to discriminate the Spinozistic conception of God in this respect from that of Catholic Christianity. Spinoza cannot, indeed, be said to admit no distinctions in God. On the contrary he admits, as is well known, what he calls ‘Attributes’ of God, in each of which, just as, according to Catholic Christianity, in each Person of the Trinity, the whole Divine Nature is expressed.8 Of these only two, Thought and Extension, are within the sphere of our knowledge; but we have no reason to suppose but that there is an infinite number of others besides.9 But the relations of these Attributes to one another are in no sense personal relations.

However, as we have seen, the expression ‘a personal God’ is now often used without any thought of admitting a plurality of beings within the Divine Nature standing to one another in personal relations, whether after the manner of polytheism, wherein they are thought of merely as sharing in the Divine Nature just as all of us here share in the human, or after the manner of Catholic Christianity, in which the mutual unity of the three Divine Persons is of course regarded as of an infinitely closer and more intimate kind. When, however, the expression, a ‘personal God’ is thus used, without reference to any plurality within the unity of the Divine Nature, what is really in the minds of those who so use it is, I think, always the possibility of personal relations—of worship, trust, love—between oneself and God. Now here again, so far from Spinoza denying the possibility of anything of this kind, it is well known that for him the supreme happiness of man is amor intellectualis Dei,10 the love of God which comes of knowledge. But—and here is the crucial point at which any theology which is concerned to ascribe personality to God must take leave of Spinoza—it is abundantly clear that there is in this amor intellectualis Dei no question of reciprocation. According to Spinoza God neither “first loves us” nor does he return our love.11 And it is just this impossibility of a reciprocation of love which makes it—despite the religious joy and peace which we cannot for an instant doubt that Spinoza experienced in his contemplation of the eternal and unchangeable nature of the Universe—impossible to speak of him as teaching the personality of God.12

In modern times it has become usual to contrast divine immanence with divine transcendence. We shall have occasion at a later stage to examine this antithesis more closely; but at present I am content to refer to it as one familiar to all who are acquainted with contemporary theological literature.

Now it might seem, from what has just been said, that it is because Spinoza regards God as immanent or rather as immanent only, that he cannot allow him to be personal. As to this suggestion, since we are still in this Lecture dealing with the history rather than with the validity of the conceptions under discussion, I will at this point only make the following observation. There are views of God as immanent and as immanent only, for which, although they would probably not in popular discussion be treated as affirmations of a personal God, it might be easier to make out a case that they are really such. I am thinking of such a view as finds expression in a striking sentence of the elder Pliny, Deus est mortali adjuvare mortalem13: ‘This is God when one mortal helps another’; or again such as is offered to us by the Religion of Humanity inaugurated by Auguste Comte. Here it is in personal relations—relations of persons to persons—and in such relations only, that the Divine Nature is regarded as consisting. A God of this kind it is hard to say is not personal. Yet most people would be inclined to hesitate. Pliny indeed, as the context of the words I have quoted shows, meant little more than that, since there was nothing more divine than a man who helps his fellows, a ‘saviour of society’ might be properly regarded as a God. And such a deified man might seem to be beyond question a personal God. But the phrase used taken by itself may suggest a thought for which one might find a still better expression in more familiar words: “God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God and God in him.” 14 So we read in the New Testament. Here it is plain from what goes before that the writer is thinking of the mutual love which should exist between the members of the Christian brotherhood, and which he does not hesitate to identify with the Divine Nature. Did we possess this passage as a fragment only, and were ignorant of other aspects of the author's religion, we might suppose that we had to do with a theology for which God was merely immanent. But should we not in that case hesitate to describe such a theology as the doctrine of a ‘personal God’? And, when we turn to the Great Being of the Comtist faith, we should certainly be disposed to say that Humanity, though consisting wholly of persons standing to one another in personal relations, is not itself a Person with whom oneself or any other human being can be in personal relations. One is only in personal relations with some other human being whom, in relation to oneself, one would not call God. According to the language of Catholic Christianity on the other hand, every Person in God is himself God; and we finite persons, who are not ourselves God, may stand in personal relations with these Divine Persons. Our later discussions may perhaps lead us to doubt whether full justice has been done to the views to which I have just been referring in the account here given of them. But I have been intentionally describing them according to their most obvious purport, in order to show that, while of some doctrines which make God immanent only one would hesitate—as one would not in the case of Spinozism—to say that they did not make God personal, yet, on the whole, a God consisting of persons, each of whom is not entitled to be called God, and with whom as a whole we finite persons cannot stand in personal relations, is not what is generally called a personal God.

Thus, on the whole, we should not speak of a personal God, unless we supposed that we could stand in personal relations with him. And for those who conceive God as merely immanent, this would be impossible. But so it would be also for some who do not conceive God as immanent at all. This we may illustrate from the theology of Aristotle. If one meant by calling God personal no more than to ascribe to God a self-conscious individuality, we should certainly have to call the God of Aristotle a personal God. And yet I think that no one who is familiar with Aristotle's theology will deny that to do so would be to give a very misleading description of his teaching. Between the religion of Aristotle and that of Spinoza there is a close kinship. In both it is the splendid flower of a pure passion for knowledge, and in both it has nothing to do with relations between persons, such as the mutual love in which the New Testament writer whom I lately quoted finds the very essence of God. And so, though in a certain sense their theologies are diametrically opposed, that of the ancient thinker being an extreme doctrine of transcendence, and that of the modern an extreme doctrine of immanence, they are alike in this, that both may be said utterly to exclude such a possibility of personal communion between God and his worshippers as the expression ‘a personal God’ at once suggests. Both philosophers, indeed, speak of a ‘love of God,’ By this expression Aristotle means not so much a conscious emotion (though man may doubtless be conscious of it in himself) as an instinctive movement by which everything in the universe which is not the supreme good is drawn towards it, as a lover towards his beloved; for Spinoza it is indeed a personal activity of thought, amor intellectualis Dei; but by both philosophers alike the possibility of reciprocation on the part of God is entirely excluded. That this is expressly explained by Spinoza I have already observed; and, so far as regards Aristotle, the only activity which he held to be attributable to a being perfect and in need of nothing beyond himself, such as he conceived God to be, was the activity of knowledge; and the only object which, according to him, was not unworthy of God's knowledge was his own eternally perfect nature. The God of Aristotle is not, indeed, like Spinoza's, an immanent God. For Spinoza our understanding or knowledge of God is a part of God's infinite understanding or knowledge of himself, and our intellectual love of him a part of the infinite love wherewith God loves himself.15 Thus he can even speak of a love of God for us, although this does not mean something other than our love for God. It is a part of God's love for himself. This includes what can be called in a sense a love for us, since our minds and the thoughts which constitute them, so far as we think clearly and thoroughly, are parts of that one eternal system of thought which is, in Spinoza's language, God viewed under the attribute of Thought; just as our bodies are parts of that eternal system of matter in motion which is God viewed under the attribute of Extension. The love of God for us, thus understood, is no reciprocation of our love for him, and so does not warrant us in describing the relation between us and God as a personal relation.

But Aristotle does not and could not speak of a love of God for us in any sense. God, according to the principles of Aristotle's theology, can know and love nothing less than himself, and his being does not, like that of Spinoza's God, include our being within itself. He is utterly transcendent, and beyond the reach of personal communion. It is very instructive to study the modifications which Aristotle's faithful follower, St. Thomas Aquinas, has to introduce into his master's notion of God, in order to make room for the providence of God for man and the communion of man with God which his religious faith and religious experience demanded.16

Thus, though Aristotle's theology is an extreme doctrine of transcendence, while Spinoza's is an extreme doctrine of immanence, neither is a doctrine of a personal God; and this agreement between them is closely connected with that likeness between the religious temperaments, if I may so speak, of the two philosophers which strikes at once those who are acquainted with the writings of both.

No doubt it would be possible to stand in genuine personal relations with such a ‘saviour of society’ as those whom Pliny, in the passage to which I referred earlier in this Lecture, and other Romans of his age were ready to salute with the title of God, as one reserved for them after they were dead, and sometimes even as earned already in their lifetime.17 But plainly it would be out of the question for these personal relations to be at all intimate except for a very few, and even for them they would only exist during the term of the natural life of their object. Nor probably was it in the design of those who at various times have inaugurated or promoted the deification and worship of men who “exercise authority and are called benefactors”18 that the devotion which was to find expression in it should have much or anything to do with the deeper emotions of the worshipper's personal life. A ‘god’ of this kind, although certainly a person, is not the kind of God to satisfy those among ourselves who would most earnestly proclaim their need of a ‘personal God.’ For not only would he probably seem to them unworthy to be called God at all, but he would have too slight and external a connexion with the personal life of his worshippers to meet the demand which a ‘personal God’ is supposed alone capable of supplying.

We turn to the claim to be considered as a personal God of such a deified hero, when conceived as after his death raised above the vicissitudes of mortal life, henceforth to be related to his fellowmen no otherwise than as the recipient of their worship. It must be borne in mind that I am not now speaking of a sage or prophet or founder of a religious community, whom his followers honour as a God, but only of the ruler, the conqueror, or the pioneer of civilization, who is reverenced in gratitude for external benefits which he is understood to have conferred upon posterity. If the departed giver of these good gifts is realized in any fullness by the imagination, he will enter the company to which the gods of the various pagan mythologies belong; although we may not share the belief of Euhemerus that these were all originally real men who had been deified after their death.

No other nation known to us has placed at the service of religion for the construction of such a mythology so powerful a creative imagination linked with so sound an understanding and so fine a sense of form and beauty as have found expression in the poetry and sculpture of the ancient Greeks. Thus it is from a consideration of the Gods of Greece that we shall best learn whatever a mythology may have to teach us respecting the meaning of Personality as applied to an object of worship.

Now the contrast between two types of God acknowledged by the Greeks, that of the ‘mystery God’ represented by Dionysus and that of the Olympian represented by Apollo, is familiar to modern students of classical antiquity. Already recognized by Hegel,19 it has more recently been made by Nietzsche, in his essay on The Birth of Tragedy, the basis of a whole philosophy of art. A very few words will serve to explain the nature of this contrast sufficiently for our present purpose. The ‘Olympian Gods’ are described in the well-known words of Coleridge20 as “the intelligible forms of ancient poets, the fair humanities of old religion.” They are human forms of superhuman beauty and majesty, revealed through the sculptor's or the poet's art to the admiring contemplation of their worshippers but abiding themselves in their glorified existence above the “smoke and stir”21 of mortal life. On the other hand, the ‘mystery God’ is human rather as an influence intimately felt in the emotional fellowship of an initiated company, who are swayed and rapt out of their separate everyday selves by a common enthusiasm, in which they put on the attributes of the divinity who inspires them and perform in their own persons superhuman acts—as when the Bacchæ of Euripides rend asunder the cattle upon the hills in their frenzy.22 The ‘mystery God,’ though not incapable of apparition as a glorified man or of representation by an image in human shape, yet makes his presence more characteristically known in the sacramental food or drink—Dionysus, for instance, in the fruit of the “grief-assuaging vine”23 by participation in which his worshippers are made one with him—in the sacred plant or animal, or again in the celebrants of his mysteries, who, as they accomplish his rites, are changed from their own likeness into his.

I am not here concerned to examine this contrast of the Olympian and the mystery God, or to inquire how far it is actually illustrated by the history of Greek religion. It is enough to say that we certainly find in Greece and elsewhere the two distinct attitudes towards the object of religions worship to which we have just called attention, and to point out that the consideration of the difference between them is instructive in regard to the meaning of the demand often made in the interest of Religion that it should be directed towards a ‘personal God.’

For we can scarcely fail to observe that, while the Olympian God seems to be regarded as possessing ‘personality’ in himself more properly than the ‘mystery God,’ just because of his remoteness and distinctness from his worshippers, it is rather the ‘mystery God’ the relations of the worshippers to whom possess that intensity of warmth which makes us ready to describe their religion as ‘personal religion.’ His personal relation to them is all the closer in that he is not, like the ‘Olympian,’ distinct from them; because in the communion of his holy things they become one with him and he with them.

Now whatever the origin of an Olympian God may have been, he has already, as Olympian, ceased to be a purely tribal deity. Whatever the special claim which a particular city or family may have upon him, he is thought of as a power belonging to all mankind, so that it is natural to identify with him any God, even though he be the God of a quite alien people, to whom like functions are attributed. The very fullness with which the personality of the Olympian God is imagined tends to make personal sympathy and, still more, personal intimacy out of the question between the worshipper and such a different kind of person from himself as the God he worships. The revolt of Euripides against the inhumanity of these Gods of his people was the direct consequence of the full humanity with which the poetical imagination of that people had invested them; for it was this that made it possible to judge of the deeds related of them in legends handed down from ancient and barbarous times, as though they were the actions of real men, to which the standards of a more civilized age could be plausibly applied. The like treatment could not have been meted out, for instance, to beings without a definite human personality, such as were the divinities of the Roman State before the Latin poets had identified them with the Gods of Greece and told of them the stories previously attached to the names of the personages of Hellenic mythology.

Thus we see that faith in a ‘personal’ God is not (as is sometimes hinted) merely another name for anthropomorphism in theology; for a thorough-going anthropomorphism may have the effect of removing the God thus conceived far from the possibility of exhibiting the personal sympathy and attracting the personal devotion the need of which makes men demand a ‘personal God’ to worship. The Epicurean Gods, splendid beings dwelling in the intermundane spaces, the effluxes from whose majestic forms strike upon our senses in sleep, who care nothing for us, know nothing of us—these Gods are the direct descendants of the Olympians. The only worship which could be directed to them was not prayer, for in no sense do they control our destinies, but the willing tribute of admiration paid to beings so greatly superior to ourselves. And, however far we may rightly rank the Aristotelian conception of Godhead as Perfect Intelligence above the Epicurean notion of it as a peculiarly fortunate and enduring combination of atoms, yet the only reason for worshipping Aristotle's God would be of the same kind as might be alleged for worshipping those of Epicurus—the disinterested admiration of what is supremely beautiful and excellent.

We may apply to worship paid for such a reason those words of the poet:—

The worship the heart lifts above

And the heavens reject not;

The desire of the moth for the star,

Of the night for the morrow,

The devotion to something afar

From the sphere of our sorrow.24

But we must remember that, if the heavens reject it not, it is because they know nothing of it; though certainly a disinterested worship of this sort proves the worshipper to be of no ignoble spirit, yet it is not what those have in mind who insist that religion at its best demands a ‘personal God.’

If we turn from the ‘Olympians’ to the ‘mystery Gods’ we find indeed that, as we have seen, they offer greater opportunities of personal religion, just because the God does not remain so remote from his worshipper, but also that there is present in this kind of religion an opposite tendency, which may be said to be present also in every kind of mysticism, a tendency to lose the personality of the God in that of his worshipper. In the language of the popular theological antithesis of transcendence and immanence to which I referred above, the Olympian God is too transcendent, the ‘mystery God’ too immanent, to be precisely what is meant by a ‘personal God.’

Where, then, shall we look for an example of what is really meant by a ‘personal God’? We shall plainly be most likely to do so with good hope of success in the one historical religion of which, as we have seen, Personality in God (though not, until quite modern times, ‘the Personality of God’) has been a recognized tenet—that is to say, in Christianity. I think it must be admitted that here it has been found easier than elsewhere to secure what may be called a ‘personal religion’ without a mystical dissipation of the personality of its Object and to attribute personality to that Object without removing it to a distance from the worshipper too great to admit of genuine sympathy and devotion.

I can only indicate here very briefly how in my judgment this result has been obtained. It is due, as I take it, in the first place to the fact (for a fact I do not doubt it to be) that the Christian Church has worshipped as God a real historical person, of whose life and character it has preserved a genuine record; and that, as presented in this record, he is one beyond question able to make upon men of various races and belonging to various types and tenets of civilization an impression of moral and spiritual supremacy so united with an extraordinary personal charm as to arouse in them a genuine sentiment of personal love and devotion. The control exercised by the record upon the imagination on the one hand has prevented particular groups or generations of Christ's followers from so fashioning or refashioning his figure in their own likeness that it should be irretrievably lost to those of another habit or temper of soul; and on the other hand the conviction of real objective individuality which it has imposed has hindered for the most part, even among the many mystical schools which have from time to time appeared in the Christian Church, the loss of all sense of his distinctness from and transcendence of the souls which he has notwithstanding been held and felt to indwell.

To say what I have just said is to say that the success of Christianity in maintaining a doctrine of Divine Personality is due to its peculiar doctrine of Divine Incarnation; for, though there are many doctrines of Divine Incarnation beside the Christian, it will be found to be on the special features which distinguish the Christian doctrine from others that the characteristic Christian view of Personality in God depends: and these features are recognizable in the everyday piety of Christians as well as in the theology of the Christian schools. In contradistinction from the doctrine of the Incarnation the doctrine of the Trinity has often, no doubt, been by unspeculative Christians rather reverenced as a sacred formula than felt to be part of their own faith as individuals. Yet this doctrine has also been instrumental in assisting the sense of Divine Personality even in the religious life of ordinary Christians; for it has enabled the personal relation between Christ and the God whom he called his Father, with which the Gospels have familiarized them, to be regarded as a relation within the life of God himself, yet without sanctioning at any rate the tendency observable in most doctrines of Divine Personality—for it cannot be denied that this tendency has at times made itself felt even in orthodox Christian Churches—to introduce into the Godhead a clash of moral attributes fatal to that whole-hearted devotion to a single ideal of life which monotheism is especially concerned and qualified to promote.

But although, as we should expect, it is from the one historic faith which has insisted on the importance of affirming the presence of Personality in God that we can best learn what is meant by a ‘personal God,’ it is, of course, as we have already indicated, not the only faith whose adherents would usually be considered, and would in some cases consider themselves to be, in the same sense as Christians, worshipping a ‘personal God.’ I am now thinking only of faiths professed by civilized men to-day. Concerning the meaning of the expression as applied in these I will venture to add a few words, although I am profoundly sensible how difficult it is to feel at all sure that one has not missed the significance which religious and theological language may bear to those to whose traditions and fellowship one is oneself a stranger; a difficulty of which we are constantly reminded by the mistakes made by others in their discussion of beliefs and practices with which any of us chances to be acquainted from within. Even the most learned student of religions other than his own must experience this difficulty; and I, to whom Hebrew and Arabic, Sanskrit and Pali are unknown tongues, have no claim to be called a student of Judaism or Mohammedanism, Hinduism or Buddhism. I do not indeed suppose that it is necessary, in order to enter into the spirit of a religion, that one should be able to read its Scriptures and its doctors in their original languages. A man may be a very good Christian without Greek or Hebrew, and a very bad Christian with both. But for the merely external study of a religion it must be a serious disqualification to be constantly driven by ignorance of the idioms used by its chief interpreters to second-hand sources of information concerning it.

The religion most closely akin to that Catholic Christianity to which my recent observations referred is, no doubt, Unitarian Christianity. Here the Personality of God (and not only Personality in God) is certainly held and insisted upon. God is worshipped as the Father revealed by Jesus, and the attitude of Jesus towards God is taken as the great example of true religion. God is thought of as a Being having the ethical character attributed to him by the tradition of Christendom, to a share in the inheritance of which Unitarian Christianity regards itself as possessing a legitimate claim; and if certain features of this character—that, for instance, of an extreme severity to sinners which does not shrink from their eternal punishment—are frankly discarded, it is held that the retention of these is inconsistent with the main trend of the teaching of Jesus and with the general impression made upon the reader of the Gospels by the record of his life, which is thought of as the grand illustration of the type of life acceptable to God. We are not, of course, here concerned with any differences between Catholic and Unitarian Christianity except such as relate to the doctrine of Divine Personality. In respect of this doctrine we see that both conceive of God as a Being with whom personal relations are possible: but that for Unitarian Christianity such relations are not as for Catholic Christianity rooted in a like relation within the Godhead itself; and the historical personality of Jesus not being itself an object of divine worship, the control which the record of that personality exercises in Catholic Christianity over the religious imagination is only exercised indirectly in so far as the thought of God actually present to the minds of Unitarian Christians is one inherited from predecessors who with less qualification or hesitation sought their clue to the divine character in that attributed in Scripture to the Founder of their religion.

In the next place one naturally thinks of Judaism, which stands in the direct line of descent from the religion out of which Christianity sprang, and with which it preserves a more complete and obvious continuity than the sister creed. Though Jewish theology has never, I believe, made use in describing God of any word exactly corresponding to Personality, and has ever offered a resolute opposition to the Christian doctrine with which the term as employed in theology was at first associated, of a plurality of Persons in God, few would hesitate to describe Judaism as a religion with a personal God. Long before the rise of Christianity the prophets of Israel had succeeded in a task which the Greek philosophers had failed to accomplish, or indeed had scarcely attempted. They had maintained a close connection between the universal and spiritual religion to which they had attained and the religious institutions of their nation. The personal relation of the tribesman to his tribal God was preserved as the basis of piety towards the one God of all, who had chosen one family out of all the families of the earth to be his prophet to the rest.25 This piety, in which the piety of Christianity is rooted, is the treasure of Judaism. The tendency which existed at one time among the Jews, a tendency of which Christian theology itself is to a great extent an outcome, towards a doctrine of a plurality of persons within the divine nature, met, after the development of Christianity had rendered it suspect, with repression, and ultimately with extinction.26 The fear of ‘making God too much a man,’27 a fear stimulated by aversion to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, combined with the influence of Aristotle on the thought of mediæval Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, in emphasizing the distance between God and man, may have imposed a greater restraint upon developments of personal religion, which in Christianity were at once encouraged and directed by the ascription of Godhead to its historical Founder. But it would be absurd to deny that a religion has a personal God which has ever taken as its ideal the great Lawgiver to whom his God ‘spake face to face as a man speaketh unto his friend.’28

Of Mohammedanism, the other great religion of the world belonging to the same historical group as Christianity and Judaism, I take it that one might more reasonably hesitate before answering the question whether it conceives God as personal or no. It is certainly true that anthropomorphic language is used of the God of Islam and that in the teaching of the Arabian prophet he is certainly not conceived pantheistically or as immanent in his worshippers. But it would seem that the tendency of that teaching is to reduce the personal relations which can exist between man and God to the lowest terms, to those, namely, which may exist between a slave and a master of absolutely unlimited power. Still this is a personal relation, and on the whole it would seem best to describe the God of Mohammedanism as a personal God, while remembering both that Personality is not expressly reckoned among his attributes and that, when the Moslem aspires after a more intimate kind of piety than his canonical scriptures suggest, he seems to pass at once to a pantheistic mysticism wherein the personal distinction between the devotee and his God tends to disappear altogether. But in speaking at all of Islam, I occupy the room of the unlearned and speak subject to correction by those better informed.

Concerning the great religious systems of the farther East I will only here make one or two remarks with an apology for their inevitable superficiality. It would seem, speaking generally, that while the European mind is apt to associate with the word ‘person’ and its derivatives the thought not only of distinct individuality but even of a mutual exclusiveness between persons—a mutual exclusiveness, however, which as existing between God and his worshipper is in every profound religious experience found to have been done away—by Indian thought distinct individuality is comparatively little emphasized. Hence to the European Indian conceptions of the Supreme Being seem to lack the definite personality which is suggested by the ordinary religious language of Christians, Jews, or Mohammedans about God. On the other hand, religious emotion or meditation probably plays a far larger part in Indian life than in European; and this is certainly personal religion. So that if we may say that the God of much Indian worship is not what we should usually call a ‘personal God,’ we must take care not to imply by this that the Indian's religion is not his personal concern, for nothing could be less true. Moreover the important and widely prevalent type of Indian piety known as bhakti is admitted to be devotional faith in a personal God29: while Buddhism, which originally perhaps acknowledged neither God nor soul, has produced in the worship of Amitabha, the ‘Buddha of the Boundless Light,’ the ‘Lord of the Western Paradise,’ a form of piety which has seemed to some scholars too similar to the Christian to have originated except under Christian influence.30

With these observations I bring the historical portion of my course to a close, hoping that it may have prepared us by a study of what has been actually meant by Personality when applied to God to inquire further into the reasons for so applying it, to discuss the difficulties which beset the application, and to form a judgment as to its validity.

Before entering on this inquiry, however, it will be desirable to endeavour, by asking ourselves how we should distinguish Personality from certain related conceptions, to make as clear to ourselves as is possible what we have in mind when we employ the word. It is this problem which will occupy us in the next two Lectures.

  • 1.

    But see p. 68 n. below for an anticipation of this language by Paul of Samosata in the third century.

  • 2.

    See Socinus, Christianæ Religionis Institutio (Opp.; p. 652): Catech. Racov., de Cognitione Dei c. 1 (ed. Lat. 1609, p. 29). Servetus, on the other hand, called Christ, who in his view existed from the beginning of the world as the archetype of humanity, the ‘person of God.’ Nec est alia Dei persona nisi Christus, non est alia, Dei hypostasis (de Trin. erronibus ed. 1531, p. 112). His disciple, Valentinus Gentilis expressly denied the propriety of applying the term persona to God the Father (Brevis Explicatio, 1567, p. 3).

  • 3.

    On Wolff see above, Lecture II, p. 58. Kant, who defines Person (Rechtslehre: Werke, ed. Hart. vii. p. 20) as a being dessen Handlung einer Zurechnung fähig sind, could not have held the term applicable to one who was sovereign and not subject in the ‘kingdom of ends.’ I do not actually know of any instance of the use of ‘the Personality of God’ in our sense before Schleiermacher's Reden über die Religion II (Über das Wesen der Religion), but he speaks as though the expression were already known and by some insisted upon. Its currency in England is, however, most probably to be attributed to its appearance in Paley's Natural Theology, the 23rd chapter of which is devoted to ‘The Personality of the Deity.’ This work appeared in 1802.

  • 4.

    In his fifteenth letter to Priestley. See Horsley's Tracts in Controversy with Dr. Priestley (Dundee, 1812), p. 287.

  • 5.

    See Dogmengeschichte, 4th ed., i. p. 576n.

  • 6.

    See Tertullian adv. Praxean, c.c. 11, 12.

  • 7.

    Where the unipersonality of God is suggested at all, it is merely as a negative to the doctrine of his tripersonality. Thus, to take examples from two authors belonging to two very different epochs, we find the heresiarch Paul of Samosata in the third century quoted as saying that God is one Person and his Logos, πρόσωπον ἕν τὸν θεόν ἅμα τῷ λόγῳ ὡς ἄνθρωπον ἔνα καὶ τὸν αὀτοῦ λόγον (Frag. x. 1. See Journal of Theological Studies, Oct. 1917, pp. 37 ff). And in the fourteenth century Durandus a Sancto Porciano, who opposed the view common in his day, and which of course had etymology upon its side, that persona must always imply a relation, observes that if, sicut Gentiles imaginantur, there be not a. Trinity in the Godhead, then God would be a person, illi naturæ vere competeret ratio personæ (in Sent. i. dist. 23, qu. 1, § 15).

  • 8.

    See esp. the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council, c. 2 (Mansi xxii. 983). Cp. Turretinus Inst. Theol. III. 27 § 1. Unaquæsque persona habet totam diuinitatem; John of Damascus, de Fide, iii. 6.

  • 9.

    Eth. i. def. 6, prop 10; cp. Ep. 66 and see Joachim, Study of the Ethics of Spinoza, pp. 39 ff.

  • 10.

    Eth. v. prop. 33.

  • 11.

    Eth. v. prop, 19.

  • 12.

    There is an ironical reference to the theological use of the word in Cogitata Metaphysica, ii. 8 § 1.

  • 13.

    Hist. Nat. ii. § 18. See Prof Gilbert Murray, Four Stages of Greek Religion, p. 139.

  • 14.

    1 John iv. 16.

  • 15.

    Eth. ii. prop. 11, v. prop. 36.

  • 16.

    See Summa c. Gentiles, i. 44 seqq.; Summa Theol. p. I. qu. 14 cp. Studies in the History of Natural Theology, p. 246.

  • 17.

    Cp. W. Warde Fowler, Roman Ideas of Deity, c. 5.

  • 18.

    Luke xxii. 25.

  • 19.

    Phänomenologie d. Geistes E b (Werke, ii. pp. 522 ff).

  • 20.

    Piccolomini, ii. 4.

  • 21.

    Milton, Comus 5.

  • 22.

    Euripides, Bacchæ, 735 seqq.

  • 23.

    τὴν παυσίλυπον ἄμπελον, Eur. Bacch. 772. The English epithet is that in Professor Murray's translation.

  • 24.

    Shelley, ‘To——.’ (“One word is too often profaned.”)

  • 25.

    Cp. Problems in the Relations of God and Man, pp. 208 foll.

  • 26.

    See Jewish Encyclopœdia, s.v. ‘Elisha ben Abuyah’; Oesterley and Box, Religion and Worship in the Synagogue, c. ix.

  • 27.

    M. Arnold, Stanzas in Memory of the Author ofObermann,’ Nov. 1849; of Goethe: ‘For he pursued a lonely road. His eyes on Nature's plan, Neither made man too much a God, Nor God too much a man.’

  • 28.

    Exod. xxxiii. 11.

  • 29.

    See G. A. Grierson's article on ‘Bhakti-marga’ in Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics; cp. J. N. Farquhar, The Crown of Hinduism, p. 332.

  • 30.

    See A. Lloyd in Transactions of Congress for Hist. of Religion. Oxford, 1908, vol. i. pp. 132 ff.

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