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Lecture 7: The Problem of Creation

AT the end of my last Lecture I said that our next subject would be the problem of Creation; not, however, the problem of the creation of the material universe, but that of the creation of spiritual beings. We were to ask whether the relation of our spirits to God is better described as creation or as generation or emanation. All such phrases, as used in this connection, of course involve; metaphor; the question is which of these metaphors will best express what we want to express. The outstanding distinction is that between a metaphor which, like that of creation, lays stress on the difference of nature between God and our own spirits, whose relation to him is compared to the relation of a manufactured article to the craftsman who has fashioned it, and metaphors which suggest rather an identity of nature such as exists between the child and its parent, or the river and the spring from which it flows.

Scholasticism, meaning by this name the philosophy accepted by the Latin Church as providing a speculative background for her theology and a terminology in which she can approximately express it, has, I believe, been compendiously defined by one of its critics as the philosophy which denies the divinity of the human spirit.1

The intention of such a definition is of course to emphasize the difference between this way of thinking, which represents the activity of the ‘finite spirit’ even at its highest and best as still to the end distinguishable from that of God, and a way of thinking which is concerned to insist rather upon the identity of human thought, so far as it is free from error, with the divine. This latter way of thinking may be conveniently illustrated by the doctrine of Malebranche that we ‘see all things in God,’ no less than by the absolute idealism of Hegel and others in more recent times; although Malebranche would no doubt have subscribed to theological propositions for which the contrasted view, attributed above to Scholasticism, has usually been considered to afford a more congenial setting.

We have in the last Lecture criticized the position that recognition of divine immanence is inconsistent with recognition of divine personality. The stress laid by such representatives of idealism as I have just mentioned on the identity of our spiritual nature with the divine tends—though the tendency is not always prominent—to a denial not only of Divine Personality but of any sort of Divine Transcendence, except it be that of the part by the whole. I will take as an emphatic statement of this denial the following words of an eminent thinker of the present day, Signor Benedetto Croce. It is noteworthy that this writer finds the position of Hegel, with whose general view he is much in sympathy, unsatisfactory in that he has left an opening for an interpretation of his teaching which would make it lend support to faith in a God who should not be merely immanent in nature and man. “We can well think God,” says Signor Croce, “in nature and man Deus in nobis et nos, but certainly not a God outside or prior to nature.”2 I am not sure that the expressions ‘outside’ and ‘prior’ here, with their implication that they express the only possible alternatives to Deus in nobis et nos, do not beg certain important questions; but I will not dispute about this; I will only take the sentence, as I think it is meant, for an uncompromising repudiation of Divine Transcendence in any form, unless indeed it be merely in that of transcendence of the part by the whole. The Italian philosopher does not shrink from the consequences of such a repudiation. For we find him expressly rejecting the claim of Religion to stand by the side of Art, Philosophy, Natural Science, and Mathematics as an independent and permanent form of the theoretical activity of Spirit. It is, he tells us, to be resolved into Philosophy3; and Signor Croce is at pains to make it clear that this means for him something quite different from the resolution of Philosophy into Religion.

This view of Religion as in fact a rudimentary form of Philosophy certainly follows naturally enough from the repudiation of divine transcendence. But it is as impossible for those who know from within what Religion is to admit this view of it as it would be for a poet to see in his art, or a mathematician in his science, an activity which will have done its work when it has detached the soul from absorption in sensual pleasures or the mind from preoccupation with particular sensible objects and so prepared the way for morality in the one case or for metaphysics in the other. I am far from denying the intimate connexion of Religion with Philosophy. I should allow that it is normally in connection with Religion that the interest in Reality as a whole, which is the characteristic interest of Philosophy, first takes shape in the human mind.4 I should hold also that this interest does not obtain its full satisfaction while there is not found in the whole that which Religion seeks there—that is to say, while Philosophy and Religion are at odds or at least not on terms of friendship with one another. But I should insist that there are data of religious experience which, while (like all data of experience) they are the concern of Philosophy, and cannot rightly be withdrawn from her criticism, have a distinctive and specific character, and cannot be adequately described as a symbolical or mythical representation of ideas which Philosophy—at any rate in that intimate and indissoluble union with History which is ascribed to it in Signor Croce's system—possesses more securely in a purer and truer form. Signor Croce is accustomed, like Mr. Bradley, to use language which suggests that it is especially the doctrine of a ‘personal God’ which resists assimilation by Philosophy and must eventually be abandoned by any one honestly desirous of understanding the world in which he finds himself. But I venture to think that all Religion, and not only that which asserts or lays stress on Divine Personality, implies an object which is not merely immanent, though it certainly also implies one not merely transcendent, and must therefore reject the formula accepted by Signor Croce, Deus in nobis et nos, when explicitly offered as a sufficient description of that with which it has to do. It would be of course desperately untrue to history to deny that faiths which, in our common way of speaking, may be said to lack a ‘personal God’ are notwithstanding fully entitled to be called forms of Religion. Yet, as the third Lecture of this course will have shown, I am disposed to regard the express affirmation of Personality in God as something quite other than a survival of the crude anthropomorphism of primitive religion. It is rather the correlative, whether we call it the cause or the effect or both at once, of a fuller development in the believer of a sense of his own individual personality. This is sometimes concealed from us by a misinterpretation of the fact that in our part of the world it has often been among the highest minds—great poets and great philosophers—and among those of lesser calibre most sensitive to the movement of thought around them—that we observe a tendency to rebel against belief in Divine Personality and to fall back upon a conception of the Object of Religion from which this feature is eliminated.

This fact points to the danger which lies for religion in a onesided development of an aspect the appearance of which is itself a mark of progress. It will be, I think, found that in India, where there has been less progress in this direction, but where, on the other hand, the complementary sense of divine indwelling has been less thrust aside by the impact of material interests, what may be called advanced religious thought shows on the whole a theistic bent. Thus we note in liberal movements originating among men bred in Hinduism a tendency towards sympathetic approximation to Unitarian Christianity—that is to say, to the very form of European religion which, as we saw, is historically associated with the doctrine not merely of Personality in God, but of the Personality of God; or, to put it another way, in which the ascription of Personality to God is not blurred or balanced (whichever may be thought the more appropriate word) by the confession of three Persons within the unity of the Divine Nature. There are of course other circumstances of a more external kind, which have favoured the approximation of which I have been speaking; but I do not think my diagnosis of its deeper significance is wholly mistaken. And if it is not, it will confirm my previous statement that a certain tendency on the part of advanced religious thought in Europe to minimize the doctrine of Divine Personality is to be explained not so much by anything intellectually unsatisfying or un-philosophical about the doctrine itself as by the sense of a need for reaffirming other elements in Religion which are in danger of disappearance in the hurry and complexity of our civilization. Yet it may be in truth a no less urgent necessity of our spiritual well-being that in our religion the self-assertive individual personality in ourselves should shock and clash against another personality than that we should be able from time to time to go on leave, as it were, from the fighting line of our everyday life into the refreshment of a mystic reverie, where what makes up the greater part of our daily life is left behind and forgotten as though we had passed into another world.

The interest for our purpose of the thoughts suggested by Signor Croce's rejection of any transcendence in God other than the transcendence of the part by the whole, together with his consequent denial to Religion of any independent place in human life by the side of Philosophy, whereof it is, according to this view, no more than an immature form, has led us to stray somewhat aside, though not, I hope, altogether unprofitably, from the main theme of my present Lecture, namely, the problem of the best metaphor—creation, generation, or emanation—to use in expressing the relation of our own spirits to the Divine Spirit. What has been said, however, may suffice to indicate the inadequacy of such a doctrine of God as Signor Croce gives us, which makes him merely immanent. We shall do violence to deep-seated instincts of our nature and deprive of significance a whole range of religious experience no less if we suppress that sense of a distinction of nature between God and ourselves which finds expression in the metaphor of ‘creation’ than if we are deaf to those lofty claims and aspirations of the human spirit which find utterance in the counter affirmation of kinship with the Highest made in such words as that Greek poet's whom St. Paul is said to have quoted to the Athenians, “τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμεν”: “For we are also his offspring.” 5

Now I think it may fairly be said that, of the metaphors which lie ready to our hand for expressing the relation of the Divine Spirit to ours, that of creation harmonizes best with the sense of a distinction of nature between ourselves and God, those of generation or emanation with the sense of a community of nature, a kinship, between us and him. Of the two latter generation would seem so far preferable to emanation for the purpose which either might serve, in that the latter suggests a process more wholly unconscious and involuntary than the former. We are thus left with two metaphors, creation and generation, and they seem both to be required in order to express the complex relation involved in our religious experience.

A combination of the two, in which they are not merely used alternately with one another but an attempt is made to unite in an intelligible manner the two aspects of religious experience which they respectively express, is found in the doctrine of a Mediator, which, though it is more important in Christian theology than in that of any other religion, and certainly assumes in Christianity its most highly developed and probably its most defensible form, is yet by no means a doctrine peculiar to Christianity. While it is no doubt true that the identification with the Mediator of the historical Founder of that religion has powerfully contributed to keep the doctrine alive and effective in Christianity as it has not been kept alive or effective elsewhere, it is perfectly possible to maintain it apart from that identification. We may here recall Gibbon's celebrated gibe that the doctrine of the Logos was “B.C. 200 taught in the School of Alexandria, A.D. 97 revealed by the Apostle St. John” 6 and the often-quoted passage in Augustine's Confessions which tells how, before he had accepted Christianity, he had learned from the books of the Platonists the same doctrine as is contained in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel concerning the divinity and the creative and illuminating agency of the Word, but did not find it there taught that “the Word was made flesh.” 7 It is interesting to compare Coleridge's statement 8 that he held this doctrine philosophically “while in respect of revealed religion” he “remained a zealous Unitarian.” These references, indeed, are all to Neo-Platonic speculation. But, though it is true that the use there made of the notion of a Mediator is more nearly akin than what can elsewhere be found to the Christian dogma, over the presentation of which of course the speculations of the later Greek philosophy exerted no small influence, it would not be difficult to illustrate the notion from other quarters. Our present concern, however, is with the notion itself. In this way of expressing the matter, identity of nature with God, and therefore the metaphor of sonship which aims at suggesting this, is appropriated to the Mediator; the difference of nature and the corresponding metaphor of creatureship to the individual human spirit. The relation of the Mediator to the individual human spirit may be said to be that of archetype.

The individual human spirit is conscious, especially, though not exclusively, in its religious experience of its incompleteness; and it can only find satisfaction in a larger spiritual life than that which it can as an individual call its own. This larger spiritual life is at first that of a society, of which the individual feels himself to be a member; but no function in a finite society can ultimately exhaust the infinite capacities of which he is aware in himself, and which he can only conceive to be fulfilled in the infinite and absolute life of God.

It is just in this point that St. Paul's conception of our membership in the body of Christ “in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” 9 goes beyond that contained in the exposition by Plato in his Republic 10 of the necessary identity of structure between the Soul and the State.11 The principle there laid down by Plato, a principle, I am convinced, of fundamental importance, is restricted in its application by Plato's envisagement of the society which is the Soul writ large under the forms of a Greek city-state. St. Paul, no doubt, in his turn had his attention concentrated on the moral and religious activities of the human spirit to the comparative neglect of others. But the principle on which he was insisting, rather indeed as a preacher than as a philosopher, with a freer use of metaphor and much less of argument than we find in Plato—the principle that the larger inclusive Spirit, whose traits are seen, as it were, in miniature in those of each human Soul, is no other than the one Divine Life—this principle may rightly be regarded as the complement of Plato's, though indeed it is implicit in Plato's requirement that the rulers of his state should behold “all time and all existence” in the light of the one supreme Idea, the Idea of the Good.12

But it is not this aspect of St. Paul's teaching about the ‘body of Christ,’ in which it supplements the Platonic doctrine of the identity of structure in Soul and State, to which I now specially wish to call attention. To this I shall return in my second course of Lectures, in which I hope to deal with human personality in the light of the theological conclusions reached in the present series. The feature of the Pauline theory which primarily concerns us now is its introduction of a Mediator. The body of which those are figuratively described as ‘members,’ who do what in the apostle's judgment all men are called upon to do—this body is called the body, not of God, but of Christ. It is of course beyond question that, in the view of St. Paul himself, it was of the very essence of his message that the Christ of whom he speaks had actually appeared as a man among men in the person of his elder contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth. It was in virtue of this fact, as he took it to be, that he had a gospel to preach, and not merely a theological theory to propound. But for the moment it is not our business to examine into the truth of Paul's belief in the exalted nature of Jesus; we have to do at present only with the conception of the ‘body of Christ’ altogether apart from any doctrine of the Incarnation of the Mediator in a particular historical person.

The thought of St. Paul (and I am especially thinking of the Epistle to the Colossians, and taking it to be his) seems to be that though the larger and inclusive life in which that of any individual man or woman must find its completion is the life of God (and for St. Paul there can certainly be no more than one God), yet it can only find this completion in the divine life when that life is poured out, so to say, into a person who, while thus sharing the divine nature, is yet distinguishable from God. The distinction from God which Religion implies remains to the end; but the difference of the created nature from the divine is transcended through the intimate union (symbolized by that of the members of a body with its head) with a Spirit essentially one with God, though distinguishable from him, the archetype of the created spirits, who obtain in their union with this Spirit what is described as a sonship, not, like that Spirit's own, by nature, but by adoption. 13 I think that this is a true account of St. Paul's meaning in its upshot, but it must of course be remembered that we are not here interested in the question, important enough in its own place, how far St Paul himself had thought out the issues of his own view. In the above analysis the subsequent dogmatic development of the Pauline speculations has been borne in mind, and on the other hand I have deliberately neglected their historical relationship to ideas which were current in the intellectual environment of the apostle himself, but have to a great extent lost their significance for us to-day.

I do not, however, reckon among these obsolete ideas the doctrine of a Mediator. I consider it, on the contrary, a contribution of permanent value to our understanding of the nature of the spiritual world.

Two possible criticisms of this view may probably occur to my readers: one that to seek light from this doctrine is to fall back from Philosophy to Mythology; the other that any doctrine of mediation, if seriously taken and consistently followed out, will break down, because involving us in a regressus ad infinitum.

In order to meet the former of these criticisms, it will be desirable to consider somewhat carefully what we mean by Mythology, and what service Mythology of any kind can render to philosophy. The latter criticism will be discussed afterwards. The question at present before us is not whether myths may not be used for what we may call rhetorical purposes in philosophical as well as in other kinds of literature; for there can surely be no reason for debarring the philosophical writer from the employment of this kind of device on occasion; but whether myths are ever, and if ever, under what conditions, the appropriate vehicle for philosophical reflection which could not be better expressed in some other form.

There is a celebrated observation of Aristotle 14 that the lover of myths is in a sense a lover of wisdom or philosopher: ὁ ϕιλόμυθος ϕιλόσοϕός πώς ἐστιν. Another reading of this saying was formerly current, which ran thus: ϕιλόμυθος ὁ ϕιλόσοϕός πώς ὲστιν “The lover of wisdom is in a sense a lover of myths.” There can be no doubt that the former reading is correct, and that Aristotle regarded Mythology as an immature form of Philosophy, wherein the same impulse to wonder which at a more advanced stage of intellectual development sought satisfaction in such speculations as his own contented itself with an infantine diet of marvellous stories. But the false reading, according to which the philosopher himself is still a lover of myths, though it does not agree with the context of this passage, may nevertheless bear a good meaning of its own. It was probably in a recollection of the myths of Plato that the misunderstanding of Aristotle's remark originated; it might well seem natural enough that the pupil in philosophy of one who had interwoven so many immortal tales with his philosophic discourse should mention the love of tale-telling as characteristic of the philosopher.

What relation, we shall find it profitable to ask, did the myths of Plato bear to his philosophy? I will ask you to allow me to state dogmatically the answer which I should be disposed to give to this question. I think that with him the myth is not concerned, strictly speaking, with the same subject-matter as Philosophy, but rather takes the place of History, where a historical question is asked, but the materials for an historical answer are lacking.

How did the world come into being? How did society begin? What will happen to our souls after death? It is to such questions as these that Plato offers replies in the form of myths. Philosophy cannot answer such questions, any more than it can tell me where I dined this day last year or where I shall dine this day next year. For an answer to the former of these two inquiries I should consult my personal memory or my journal; and if I wished for information about something that happened before I was born, I should seek for it in the history books. But if what I want to know must have happened at a time whereof there is no record extant, what can I do? The best I can do, says Plato, is to frame a myth, a story which, if not the truth, will at any rate be like the truth.15 But this cannot merely mean that it is to be like what actually occurred, for ex hypothesi I do not know what did occur, and hence cannot tell what would be like it and what not.

What it means for Plato, however, is not doubtful. It means that the myth is to be in accord with those conclusions as to the general nature of things which I derive not from History but from Philosophy. Just as you could not tell me where and on what I dined this day last year, but could confidently assert that it was not in fairyland and not on nectar and ambrosia, so too we are sure that whatever took place in the unrecorded past must have been consistent with what we know to be the eternal nature of Reality; whatever we have reason to think is incompatible with that eternal nature of Reality we have reason to think did not occur in the past and will not occur in the future. Thus when Socrates in Plato's Republic has to lay down a law for the stories of gods and godlike men which can be tolerated in his model State, he rules out all such as violate the philosophical axiom that only what is good can be divine.16 Stories, on the other hand, which attribute good actions to the gods may be told, for such, though perhaps not true, are like the truth; whatever was done by God must have been good, whether it was just that particular good action or another. So, too, the myth of Er at the end of the same Dialogue is frankly fiction as to its details; but it is, in Plato's judgment, ‘like the truth’ in so far as it represents the good and evil in human characters as working out their consequences in a rise or fall respectively in the scale of being. That life is and always must be the scene of moral judgment, of this Plato is convinced; and therefore if we would weave stories about the future which is hidden from us (perhaps for the reason that it is not yet made) we must not allow ourselves to suppose things governed by any other principle, or we shall assuredly be disappointed.

A philosophic myth, then, after the fashion of Plato, is a story told about individuals, where memory and history and prophecy (if such a thing there be) have failed us, so that we do not know from these, the only possible sources of information about individual facts in the past and future, what was or what will be the fate of the individuals about whom we are curious. It is a story thus which is quite likely to be untrue—nay, even quite unlikely to be true in detail, but which is in the Platonic phrase ‘like the truth,’ because it is controlled by our knowledge, obtained through Philosophy, of that fundamental nature of the universal system which any particular event falling within it must of necessity exemplify. It thus illustrates our philosophical knowledge without adding to it, and gives the outline of the historical fact, which is unknown in detail, because it belongs either to a forgotten past or to an unforeseen future (I do not here inquire whether the future can ever be foreseen) or again, to a present beyond our ken.

But, if this be a true account of the part played by myths in the Platonic writings, there is another feature of the myths actually found there which deserves our attention. All the principal Platonic myths may be said to relate to the Soul. Some concern the past or future of particular souls—such are those in the Phædrus and in the last book of the Republic; while of others the theme is the origin of the World Soul (as in the Timæus) or (as in the Protagoras or in the third book of the Republic) of the community, in which, as we may learn from the second book of the latter Dialogue, we find writ large the same story as is set forth in lesser characters in the souls of its members.

Now why is it that the philosophical myth as employed by the thinker who has made most use of it, and who is also the greatest thinker that has ever made use of it, is so closely associated with the Soul? We shall find that the answer to this question will help us to see why we should not be surprised to find a conception useful to us in our present inquiry—such as that of a Mediator—lending itself to illustration by a myth, and will also perhaps throw some light on our main problem of Personality.

The Greek word which we translate Soul, the word ψυχή, is certainly not equivalent to Personality. It has a much wider range of denotation, and is used of life in plant and animal and of the universal Life which ‘rolls through all things” 17 no less than of the intellectual and moral life of human beings.

At the same time it may, I think, be said that, so far as regards Plato at any rate, it is to the human soul, to which we should attribute personality, that he goes for his clue to the nature of Soul elsewhere. We need not accept too literally the account in the myth of Er of the rebirth of human souls in the forms of those animals which exhibit the qualities that had distinguished them in their lives as men and women; but I do not think we can be wrong in taking it to hint at least at a fundamental kinship between all forms of life, which will justify us in tracing everywhere within the world of living beings the likeness of what we know more intimately as it appears in our fellow-men and in ourselves.18 And it is distinctly taught in the Philebus 19 that, just as our outward frames are built up out of elements which are found on a larger scale in the world around us, whence the stuff whereof they are made was originally taken and is during life constantly replenished; so also our reason testifies to the presence of a vaster reason “in the nature of Zeus,” the divine Soul of the World, whence alone we can suppose ours to derive its origin and maintenance. Thus to say that all the Platonic myths relate to the nature of the Soul is to say that they relate to a nature which we know most intimately in a personal form, and are thus almost constrained to construe elsewhere on the analogy of our own personal life.

Moreover in Plato's philosophy it is Soul which is the source of all motion, the active principle of the whole cosmic process.20 The Idea or Form of the Good is indeed the supreme principle of explanation, in the light of which it is the aim of the philosopher to view all reality as one harmonious system; but it is in and through Soul that this and all the Ideas, Forms, or eternal natures, among which the Idea or Form of the Good is pre-eminent as the sun among the lesser lights of heaven, initiate and carry forward the creative process which is the history of the world. Not that the Ideas are (to quote Berkeley in his latest and most Platonic mood) “creatures of the soul of man”—or, we may add, of any super-human soul conceived on the analogy of the soul of man. Rather they are, as the same philosopher goes on to tell us, “innate and originally existent therein, not as an accident in a substance, but as light to enlighten and as a guide to govern”—“not figments of the mind, nor mere mixed modes, nor yet abstract ideas in the modern sense, but the most real beings, intellectual and unchangeable and therefore more real than the fleeting, transient objects of sense.”21

I added just now to my quotation from Berkeley the words ‘nor of any superhuman soul conceived on the analogy of the soul of man,’ because I think it important to remember that, if we find it unsatisfactory to regard Goodness, Beauty, and Truth as ‘mere ideas’ in our modern sense, inhering in the mind, ‘as an accident in a substance,’ it will not be less unsatisfactory to regard them as ideas of this kind in God's mind, so far as we take the Divine Mind to be related to its thoughts and notions no otherwise than as our minds are related to our thoughts and notions. This difficulty is recognized by the scholastic theologians, who attempt to obviate it by the help of their doctrine that whatsoever God is, he is that not in virtue of a nature which he possesses or in which he shares, but in his own right and, as it is put, substantially. Thus Socrates may be wise and good, but we could not say that he is wisdom and goodness, only that he has some share of them. He may, indeed, not always have been wise and good, he may not always remain so, but wisdom and goodness are still what they are whether he or another order his ways according to them or not. On the other hand, when we call God wise and good we mean more than this. We mean that he is himself the wisdom and the goodness of which we are speaking; there is no wisdom or goodness beyond him in which he shares. We cannot conceive him apart from wisdom or goodness, nor, if we believe in him at all, can we think of wisdom and goodness apart from him.

It is probable that Plato did not identify God with the Form or Idea of the Good, but rather regarded him as a Soul, informed by that Idea, which was the source of all the glorious order and harmony which we find in the universe; but, as a great Platonic scholar, Professor Burnet of St. Andrews, has lately observed, it was in this distinction of Plato's between God and what was acknowledged to be the Highest, a distinction which the modern theist does not make (though Mr. Bradley, it is true, holds that he cannot become a philosopher without making it), that we must seek the principal source of those controversies which the Church Councils of the fourth century of our era were summoned to decide.22 I feel myself convinced that the maintenance of the Platonic distinction can never prove in the long run satisfactory to the religious consciousness. The God whom we worship must be the Highest, must be what Plato called the Idea of the Good, but this Good must not, as in the Platonic tradition (which Plotinus also followed), be something in its innermost nature above and beyond even the most exalted kind of Soul. The best Soul, the divine Spirit, which moves and works in the world, and is the source of what is good in the human souls, which derive their origin from it, must be essentially one with the Highest; even in its innermost nature the Highest must possess that spiritual life of which our personality is but a faint and imperfect likeness.

I have been dwelling on the teaching of Plato respecting the Soul, since it was in speaking of the Soul that, as we saw, he found himself led to that use of myths in connexion with philosophical speculation which is so characteristic of his writings. But I should not have dwelt on that teaching at such length did I not in the main accept it and hold that he was right in recognizing the doctrine of the Soul as the meeting-point of the Universal and the Individual, of Philosophy and History, where therefore Philosophy requires to be reinforced by History, and therefore, failing genuine history, by Myth, which, as we have seen, is in Plato's view the surrogate of History, showing what the historical fact might have been, within the limits imposed by that eternal nature of things the outlines whereof Philosophy has ascertained.

Now this sphere, in which the philosophical myth is in place, is also the sphere of Religion. In teaching Greek philosophy one has often to bid one's pupils beware of allowing the religious associations of the word ‘soul,’ as employed in our everyday language, to confuse them in studying what the Greeks have to say of ψυχή. Nevertheless those very associations of the word ‘soul’ with Religion, which may in certain circumstances prove misleading, have their roots in the fact that it is just in the experience which we call religious that we become most intimately aware of the nature of the Soul, as the meeting-point of the Universal contemplated by Philosophy with the Individual which is the subject-matter of History. In Religion we are not content (and I believe, though I cannot now go in detail into the reasons for my belief, some of which I have attempted to give elsewhere,23 that this discontent is most strongly marked in the highest forms of Religion) to treat what is historical as a mere illustration of the universally valid, or again the universal as a mere abstraction from the historically real. Nor are we even content, with some who would do neither of these two things, to keep the eternal truth of Philosophy and the individual fact of History for ever apart, as the concave and the convex in the circumference of the circle are apart, never meeting though for ever inseparable. It is indeed possible to follow a distinguished philosopher of our own day, to whose sentiments on this subject I have already referred, and whom I had in mind in what I have just said, I mean Signor Benedetto Croce, in treating Religion on this very ground as no genuinely distinct form of spiritual activity but as a naïve confusion of the infinite with the finite, of the universal with the individual, from which Philosophy, in substituting itself for it, has withdrawn all reason for existing. But this view, which sees in Religion nothing but an imperfect and inferior kind of knowledge, does not, as I have already said, stand in need of refutation for any one who knows for himself from within what Religion is. It would be as idle to seek a valuable account of Religion from a man who does not know this, even though he be as acute a thinker as Signor Croce, as it would be to go for a theory of art to a certain person—an able and in some ways highly cultivated man—who professed himself unable to see what excellence could be attributed to portraiture besides that of such a likeness to the original as we are content to look for in a photograph.

It is, then, where we can least afford, while contemplating the universal form and nature of Reality, to dispense with considering it in relation to the historical and individual Reality whereof it is the form and nature, that the philosophical myth may provisionally take the place of a history which we have not at hand in memory or on record. This will be where the Soul (which must certainly here be personal Soul, for only personal Soul can philosophize) is occupied in the task which was prescribed to it long since by the Delphic oracle,24 of investigating its own nature. And not only in ancient Greece, but here and everywhere, it is the influence of Religion which most often drives us to undertake such an investigation.

It is easy to see that a genuine ‘revelation,’ in that legitimate sense of ‘revelation’ in which it is used of the historical and individual element in religious knowledge as contrasted with the element which is rather philosophical and universal (for in another sense we must acknowledge all religious truth to be a revelation),25 would render the device of a myth unnecessary here.26

I have dwelt so long upon the nature and function of the philosophical myth because there can be no doubt that the conception of a Mediator is one which certainly lends itself to embodiment in such a myth and hence may be too hastily dismissed as merely mythological.

It seemed, therefore, worth while to make an attempt to show, by means of the discussions we have just completed, that conceptions which call for a myth to bring out their significance for the life of individual souls are not to be ruled out of court in such an investigation as that upon which we are now engaged. What I understand by the doctrine of a Mediator, apart from any mythical elaboration, is this, that religious experience in its most complete form presupposes a twofold relation of the soul to God, to which the phraseology of that doctrine gives a more satisfactory expression than any other which we can find. We may most conveniently illustrate this by comparing that phraseology with other language that has been employed in describing the implications of the religious consciousness. To one factor in that consciousness, the sense of kinship with the Highest, the lofty language of Stoicism gives an utterance which may sometimes rise into sublimity; but there is another mood which at least alternates with this in Religion, to which the unqualified claim to divinity which that language makes is repellent and even absurd. This mood sometimes takes its revenge even in Stoicism itself by intense and sometimes even morbid scorn of that side of humanity which is akin not to God but rather to the beasts that perish. On the other hand, there is a language of grovelling self-abasement in which this mood itself is found sometimes to pour itself out, which is no less repugnant to souls that cannot forget “that imperial palace whence” they “came” 27 and feel that servility does not become the “children of the Most High.”28

Where the conception of a Mediator is introduced and the individual human being conceives himself as created by God through the instrumentality and in the likeness of the Mediator, and as adopted to be God's child, not in his own right, but only as united with the Mediator, who is God's Son by nature, it is possible to reconcile and combine the two religious moods of which we have spoken and which may be said to occupy the opposite poles of the religious consciousness. The consciousness of nothingness before God is justified as befitting the creature in the presence of the Creator, but is redeemed from servility and baseness by the consciousness of divine sonship; while the unlovely pride which tends to spring up in one who holds, like the Stoics, that God has no advantage over the wise and good man except in his longer continuance,29 is checked by the sense of devout gratitude for the free gift of adoption, both towards the Father who adopts, and towards the Son the Mediator, in and through whom the adoption takes place.

In all this, even if the play of imagination be not further encouraged, there is metaphor and even myth employed; but the conception of our relation to God, in accordance with which the metaphors are selected and constructed, is one which (if I am not mistaken) satisfies better than any other which can be suggested the competing demands of the religious consciousness. Herein lies its justification as a religious doctrine; and it is a sufficient justification. It is scarcely necessary to add that, if the interpretation put by the Christian Church on certain occurrences should be admitted, genuine history would then to a certain extent supersede myth in this case; but it would be to a certain extent only, for it is obvious that, to use for the moment Christian phraseology, the pre-existent and the ascended life of Christ could not be described except in a mythical fashion. No doubt, as I have suggested above, the conviction that one is here availing oneself not merely of myth but of genuine history, has caused a conception by no means peculiar to Christian theology to persist in that theology with an intensity and practical efficacy to which it could scarcely otherwise have attained.

I shall dwell at far less length on the second objection which I mentioned earlier in this Lecture as brought against the notion of a Mediator, in addition to that of being mythological. This was the objection that if once we admit a mediator, we shall find ourselves committed to a regressus ad infinitum. I must reply to this that here, as in some other instances in which this objection has been alleged to be subversive of quite indispensable notions (I am thinking especially of Mr. Bradley's criticism of Relations) 30 it will prove on closer inspection to be an unsubstantial phantom. Where there is a significance in mediation between two terms which cannot be found in any further mediation between the mediating term and either of the extremes there is nothing to drive one to continue mediation ad infinitum; and in this present instance this would seem to be the case. The conception of a Mediator corresponds, if there be anything in what I have just put before you, to a genuine demand of the religious consciousness, which does not repeat itself ad infinitum. I am of course aware that there are certain facts in the history of Christian dogma which might appear to contradict this assertion. Into the detailed consideration of these I cannot now go, but must content myself with the following observations. In the case of some of these we have to do with fallacious subtleties corresponding in the sphere of religious speculation and devotion to the subtleties which in logic have sometimes arisen from the vain attempts to explain indispensable conceptions in terms of something else. In the case of others, again, I should admit that there may be and certainly is mediation elsewhere in the religious life than in the fundamental relation of the soul to God (for example, the truth about this or any other matter may be communicated to one man by another), but that here again in these genuine cases of mediation there is no need whatever to proceed ad infinitum.

The doctrine of a Mediator has, then, supplied us with a means of uniting the thoughts which were respectively symbolized by the metaphors of creation and of generation as descriptions of the origin of our spirits from God. In their separateness and in their actual finitude they are creatures of God and not sharers in his nature; but in their totality and ideal completeness, in their archetype (as we may say), they are sharers in it, they are ‘begotten of God,’31 and in their historical development, through an identification of themselves with the archetype which comes to pass in time (and which need not always take the form of an explicit acceptance of such a formula as we may find the best for expressing the facts), they become conscious of their divine nature as belonging to them not in their own right but as mediated through their archetype. Every soul which thus becomes conscious of her divine nature at all will express it in terms which, at least in part, may be called mythological. But we must remember that what we find taught in these matters in the writings of thinkers who avoid obviously mythological language very often differs from the teaching which we find in religious creeds not by being less mythological but only in being more prosaic.

The description and mutual reconciliation of those facts of religious experience which I have described as at first sight mutually inconsistent and so requiring to be harmonized by the help of this conception of a Mediator will, I think, be found to involve, when worked out into a theological doctrine, the recognition of a twofold Personality in the Divine Nature. For we have to express a consciousness of personal communion with God felt on the one hand to be a communion of spirit with kindred spirit, of Son with Father, and yet on the other to belong as such not to the individual in isolation and imperfection, but in the ideal and archetype of his nature, as completed in a society of which he may be a member not only in respect of a part of his capacities but of his whole being. Here the personal communion itself, as belonging to the true nature of God—and in nothing less than this can the aspiration of the religious consciousness find satisfaction—implies a personal distinction within that nature; while the individual further distinguishes his own separate and imperfect personality from the ideal personality which is thought of as eternally distinguishing itself from God in the communion which is the consummation of the religious life. No doubt such a belief as that of Christianity in the incarnation of this ideal personality, this divine Logos or Mediator, in the historical Jesus, if it introduces certain not inconsiderable difficulties of its own, also gives to these thoughts a content on which the mind and heart can feed, which is lacking while they remain in the region of speculation or are associated with figures purely imaginary, or again with spiritual realities which do not possess full personality, such as a Nation, a Church, or a Law. It is thus easily explicable that the doctrine of a Mediator should be more prominent in Christianity than elsewhere, and might easily be mistaken for a mere inference from a certain interpretation of historical facts which cannot here be assumed. But in truth it is, as was said before, a doctrine which may appear, and has appeared, in contexts other than Christian; while it must not be forgotten that Christianity itself, in its identification of the Logos or Mediator with Jesus, sees in his earthly life as a man among men no more than one stage of the manifestation of the Son of God, who is known by his Church in her theology and her worship “not after the flesh”32 but after the spirit as risen and ascended and as the head of his ‘mystical body,’ the ideal society of redeemed Humanity.

So far, in distinguishing the individual soul from that in which it seeks completion, and which may be described in religious language as the eternal Son of God, I have spoken merely of the individual soul as imperfect, not as evil or sinful. The consciousness of Sin introduces a new complication of our problem. For the existence of evil, and in particular of moral evil or sin, is held by some to be the greatest of all difficulties in admitting the presence of Personality in God, by others as a proof that God must be distinguished from the Absolute. To the consideration of this most difficult topic I shall turn in my next Lecture.

  • 1.

    I owe the knowledge of this epigram to Prof. J. A. Smith.

  • 2.

    Saggio sullo Hegel (ed. 1913), p. 137 (Eng. tr. p. 201).

  • 3.

    See The Task of Logic in Windelband and Ruge's Encyclopædia. of the Philosophical Sciences, i. Eng. tr. pp. 210; cp. Estetica, I. c. 8 (Eng. tr. p. 104).

  • 4.

    See Royce, Problems of Christianity, ii. 8, and my Group Theories of Religion, pp. 188 f. Cp. supra, Lect. V, p. 128; and infra, Lect. X, PP. 214 ff.

  • 5.

    Acts xvii. 28.

  • 6.

    In the table of contents prefixed to the Decline and Fall.

  • 7.

    Confess. vii. 9.

  • 8.

    Biog. Lit. c. 10. (ed. Shawcross, i. p. 137

  • 9.

    Col. ii. 9.

  • 10.

    See esp. Rep. ii. 368 c. ff.; iv. 435 c. ff.

  • 11.

    Cf. Problems in the Relations of God and Man, pp. 227 foll.

  • 12.

    See Rep. vi. 484B, 486A, 504D, ff.

  • 13.

    See Rom. viii. 15, Gal. iv. 5.

  • 14.

    Metaph. A. 982 b. 18.

  • 15.

    See Rep. ii. 382D.

  • 16.

    See Rep. ii. 379 ff.

  • 17.

    Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey.

  • 18.

    Cp. Nettleship, Lectures on Plato's Republic, pp. 333, 364.

  • 19.

    See Philebus, 29A ff.

  • 20.

    See Phædrus, 245 D, E.

  • 21.

    Siris, § 335.

  • 22.

    Burnet, Greek Philosophy from Thales to Plato, § 255, p. 337.

  • 23.

    See Studies in the History of Natural Theology, p. 30

  • 24.

    Γνῶθι σεαυτόν.

  • 25.

    Cp. Problems in the Relations of God and Man, pp. 48, 58 ff.

  • 26.

    Cp. Plato, Phædo, 85D.

  • 27.

    Wordsworth, Ode on Intimations of Immortality.

  • 28.

    Psa. lxxxii. 6

  • 29.

    See Seneca, Ep. lxxiii. § 13, de Providentia, i. § 5. Cp. Zeller, Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics, Eng. tr. p. 254.

  • 30.

    Appearance and Reality, c. 3.

  • 31.

    1 John v. 18.

  • 32.

    2 Cor. v. 16.

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