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Lecture 8: The Problem of Sin

AT the end of the last Lecture we found ourselves confronted with the fact of our consciousness of Sin, which seems to make it impossible to regard our souls as differing from the divine Spirit merely as parts differ from the whole, or even as the lower grades of one nature differ from the higher. Even the metaphor of Creation, which was invoked to express one pole of our religious consciousness, is not entirely adequate to describe the sense of alienation from God which we call the consciousness of Sin. We are, in the phraseology of Christian theology, not creatures only, but fallen creatures. There is that in us which cries out not merely for improvement and completion but for correction and forgiveness. This consciousness of Sin may not be, and is not, equally vivid in all men, or at all times, or under all circumstances. It may be intensified and fostered by a tradition which makes much account of it, weakened and discouraged by one which ignores it. But no one who has really known it can be content with theories which confound it with the consciousness of incompleteness or finitude, such as may be present where there is no thought of self-reproach, and where to entreat forgiveness for our lack of what it in no way behoves us to possess would seem inappropriate and absurd.

This distinction between the consciousness of Sin and that of incompleteness or finitude is not to be treated as negligible because there is a possibility of mistaking even in ourselves particular instances of mere incompleteness for instances of Sin and particular instances of Sin for instances of mere incompleteness. We can distinguish blue from green well enough, although we may sometimes be in doubt whether a particular shade of colour is green or blue.

It is by no means my purpose in this Lecture to enter upon a general discussion of that which Carlyle has called1 “a vain interminable controversy touching what is at present called Origin of Evil,” a controversy which, as he adds, “arises in every soul since the beginning of the world; and in every soul that would pass from idle Suffering into actual Endeavouring must first be put an end to.” I am only concerned here with the question of the bearing which the consciousness of Sin, of moral evil, in ourselves may be thought to have upon the conception of Divine Personality.

As I hinted at the end of my last Lecture, it may be argued in two ways from two opposite points of view that this consciousness is not really compatible with the recognition of Personality in the infinite and absolute Being. This is contended in one way by those who would deny Personality to the Supreme Being, in another by those who attribute Personality to the God of Religion, but refuse to identify the God of Religion with the Absolute or Ultimate Reality.

I will first call your attention to the former way of stating the difficulty and ask you to examine the supposed incompatibility of the existence of Evil with the affirmation of Personality in a Being who is conceived to be the Cause of the Universe.

There is no doubt that, in the ordinary course of events if something has taken place which we think ought not to have happened, and it seems probable that it is due to human activity, we ask: ‘Who is to blame for this?’ This would be our first question did we find a corpse with marks indicating that death was due to violence. If, however, on further investigation it is found that the cause of death was not a murderous assault by a human being but a stroke of lightning, we cease to inquire who is to blame. There was in that case no personal agency concerned in bringing about the sad occurrence; and with the elimination of personality there is eliminated also all possibility of praise or censure. If death from lightning could be considered as in literal fact what it is called in the language of English law, an ‘act of God,’ moral predicates would become applicable to it, and, the world being such as we find it, if the whole course of events is to be attributed to a person or persons, we must, it is said, consider that person or those persons as deficient either in goodness or in power. But if we refuse to suppose personal agency concerned at all in the production of that great majority of events which cannot be referred to human volitions, we get rid (so it is sometimes supposed) of any need to assign blame for the presence of Evil in the universe at all; and the controversy about the origin of Evil falls to the ground.

I question, however, whether we are not here in danger of slipping into the very common error of taking for granted that an argument valid within a restricted field must of necessity be no less valid when extended to the whole universe of reality. For the purpose of the coroner's jury it is sufficient to have ascertained that a person found dead was not killed by any one within the jurisdiction of the law of the land; so that, even though the death were undoubtedly due to human agency, it may no further concern the law, if that agency—suppose it that of a belligerent enemy—is uncontrollable by any power at the disposition of the court. Hence we see ‘the act of God and of the King's enemies’ often coupled together in legal documents. The judicial chronicler or historian has a less restricted range; his judgment is not limited by a jurisdiction, and he will appraise human agency wherever it is found. But where he finds none such—where an event is traceable to the activity of irrational animals or to the forces of inanimate nature—there he recognizes a limit to his function of distributing praise or blame. Yet this no more debars a further question arising about these events, if there be reason to think a personality other than human to be concerned in their production, than the necessary silence of the law of any country respecting the responsibility of that country's enemies for their acts of war renders those acts immune from moral censure.

And, do what we will, such further questions must inevitably arise. We may be rightly on our guard against transferring in a naïve and uncritical fashion predicates applicable to members of a society of human beings to the ultimate Ground of all existence. But in the long run we cannot avoid the question of the significance to be assigned to our moral consciousness in the formation of our general view of the world. It has been an unfortunate circumstance that what is known as Kant's moral argument2 for the existence of God—upon which that philosopher relied as a sufficient basis for Religion after the overthrow of the old metaphysical proofs which he believed himself to have brought about by the discussions in his Critique of Pure Reason—was expressed by him in an awkward and unimpressive form which has led to less than justice being done to the thought which underlies it. No one of course has insisted more strongly than Kant that absolute disinterestedness is the very hall mark of genuine morality; and when we find him going on to contend that there must be a Moral Governor of the Universe to award happiness to the virtue which deserves it, it is easy to think that he has fallen, perhaps in consequence of a timid deference to established tradition, from the height of his great argument to the level of a crude theological utilitarianism like that of Paley. But in fact the more we emphasize the independence of the moral consciousness upon considerations of private advantage, the more we exalt the “manifest authority” (to use Butler's famous phrase3) of the Law which speaks in us by the voice of conscience, the more difficult is it to find intellectual satisfaction in regarding that voice as one crying in the wilderness of an alien world, whose course is in continual contradiction with what we should expect in a realm wherein its authority should be recognized and obeyed.

We may appreciate to the full the heroic temper which inspired Huxley's doctrine of ‘ethics’ as running counter to ‘evolution,’4 and which has since found eloquent utterance in Mr. Bertrand Russell's description of the “free man's worship.”5 Who can but admire the spirit of men who thus resolve, like Louis Stevenson's “old rover with his axe”6 to enlist in defence of a cause acknowledged to be noble with clear foresight of its inevitable defeat? We may even acknowledge that perhaps only by means of such Promethean defiance of the powers that be could Religion be purified from the spirit of the facile—one may even say the smug—acquiescence in the arrangements of Divine Providence which had characterized much of the popular and some of the philosophical theology of an age against which we are still in revolt, though its heyday is now long past. But surely we must yet admit that a world which can produce a hunger and thirst after righteousness and yet nowhere contain the means of satisfying them is a world fundamentally incoherent and irrational. If, then, we pass a moral judgment upon the world to the extent of seeking a solution of the problem of the existence of Evil therein, we are not merely carrying out the consequences of a previous assumption, which we need not have made, that the Cause of all things is personal and so liable to be judged as such. We are asking a question we must needs have asked even though that assumption had not been made at all. Thus I do not think that we can get rid of the burden of the problem of the existence of Evil, especially of moral evil or Sin, simply by denying personality to the Supreme Being.

If this be our conclusion, and if our religious experience be found to imply as its foundation a personal relation to God, we may perhaps be led to think that a view which gives due recognition to this relation is so far from especially finding the existence of Evil a stumbling-block that, if it imparts to the sense of Sin a peculiar poignancy, it also provides it with a more intelligible setting than any other view. The whole cycle of ideas which we connect with such words as Probation, Judgment, Atonement, Repentance, Forgiveness, may perhaps be expressed in terms which avoid the acknowledgment of a personal relation between the individual sinner and that (however we may describe it) by which he is tested and put in his place, with which he may know himself to be in harmony or out of harmony, and upon whose resources he must draw for any recovery or improvement. But they will gain infinitely in significance, will strike home with a vastly increased sense of reality, when they are translated into the language of a personal relation to a Spirit wherein “we live and move and have our being,”7 and yet in the drama of our existence distinguish ourselves from it, in order to be able to unite ourselves again with it by an act of free and voluntary self-surrender. The possibility of Sin is after all involved in freedom to choose the good; and it would seem meaningless to find a new problem in the reality of what is already understood to be in a true sense possible.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I would here repeat that I am only attempting to meet the objection to the admission of Personality in God which is drawn from the existence of moral evil. I am not pretending to discuss the whole problem of Evil; and I am quite well aware of many points in what I have just said on which the critics might join issue with me. Thus one critic might challenge my reference to freedom as begging the question so long debated between the partisans of Liberty and Necessity; another my assumption that the sense of Sin is not an irrational survival of primitive superstition, altogether without the value in the interpretation of Reality which I have attributed to it. Others, again, might dispute my right to take for granted that even in the ultimate Reality, in the Absolute, the discords and seeming contradictions of the world of appearance are laid to rest; while, on the other hand, the followers of Mr. Bradley or Mr. Bosanquet might contend that I had overlooked the failure of Morality, when tried by the criterion of ‘non-contradiction,’8 to make good a claim to ultimate reality.

In reply to such strictures I can only say at present that I am by no means insensible to the importance of these various issues which I may seem to have left on one side; where I have by implication taken a side in any one of them, it is because I conceive that side to have the better arguments in its favour; and further, that I do not think that a different judgment upon these matters, while it might well have altered my view of the importance of the whole question, would have affected the special point at issue. That point is merely this: that the recognition of Personality in God harmonizes better than any other conception of the Supreme Reality with the experience for which the problem of Evil reveals itself in its acutest form, namely with the experience Which may be described as that of ‘conviction of Sin.’

We may now turn to the other way in which the same question we have just been examining may be expressed from an opposite point of view by those who, holding to Divine Personality, think that in the existence of Evil, and in particular of moral evil, they have the strongest possible argument for distinguishing God, the object of Religion, from the Absolute, the all-comprehending Reality. Only thus, they think, can God be relieved of responsibility for the evil in the world; and only if he be relieved of that responsibility can he be a possible object of our unqualified reverence. This, however, he may be, if he be not the all-comprehending Being, but a Being comprehended in one universe along with other beings of whose existence either he is not the cause at all, or, if he is the cause of it, is so only under conditions due to a necessity to which he himself is subject, and to the limitations imposed by which he must perforce submit. He is, on this showing, not a Being of boundless power; but he may be a Being of boundless benevolence. Only the effects of his benevolence are determined within certain bounds by the eternal nature of things, himself included.

To this way of thinking, however, there appears to me to be one fatal objection. It relieves God of the responsibility for the evil in the world only at the cost of depriving him of Godhead. I do not say that such a Being as the champions of this view describe under the name of God would not be a Being whom we could venerate, with the veneration which we pay to the saints and heroes of our race, though, if you will, indefinitely increased. But what he would not be, is what, when once we have come to mean no less than this by God, we cannot, I feel sure, cease to demand in whatever is offered to us under that name. He would not be, in a word, the ‘Supreme Being.’ He would not be, so to put it, at the back of everything. There would be for him as for us a mysterious background. It seems to me a point in which the theology of Mr. Wells's ‘new religion’ has an advantage over that of some who agree with him in affirming their God to be finite, while demurring to his distinction of God from what he calls the ‘Veiled Being,’ that it recognizes this consequence of the view in which he and they are at one.

The dogmas of no religion are to be taken by us here as authoritative. But religious dogmas may prove suggestive to us, just as do other speculations which have appeared in the course of the history of thought upon these subjects. And so it may be worth pointing out that, in affirming the bond of unity between all who share mediately or immediately in the Divine Life to be a Spirit not independent of, but ‘proceeding from’ both Father and Son, a Spirit whose concrete reality is neither greater nor less than that of those from whom it proceeds (so that it is called a person just as they are), the Christian Church has decidedly taken up a position adverse to the view which sets God against the background of a necessity which limits from without, as it were, the eternal process of love wherein the Divine Life is conceived by the Christian religion to consist.

What I have attempted to show in these last observations is that the existence of Evil, though it must always present itself as a problem for the Philosophy of Religion, does not, as is urged from two opposite quarters, so especially affect the acknowledgment of Personality in God as to put us to a choice between denying to God either personality or that, infinity’ (if we are so to call it) without which, unless I am completely mistaken, he cannot really be at all what a philosophically cultivated theology can mean by God. But we have still to ask ourselves whether the consciousness of Sin in ourselves must modify that conception of the relation between our spirits and the divine Spirit which we saw reason in the last Lecture for adopting, and, if it must, then in what way.

A young English theologian, Mr. Oliver Quick, has lately dwelt in an interesting manner upon the important fact that the problem of Sin cannot satisfactorily be treated by sinners as a merely speculative problem.9 In so far as we are not concerned to fight against Sin and overcome it we are not really conscious of it as sin. We are only conscious of a certain kind of action, which, under certain circumstances, done thus, here, now, and so forth, is sinful, but under other circumstances would be nothing of the kind. This is a fact well worth bearing in mind, when we approach the question how our spirits, conscious as they are of sin, can be taken up into the divine life, and share in that intercourse of love the presence of which therein we hold to be presupposed in the personal relation to God whereof we have experience in religion. We are all familiar with a solution of this problem expressed in the form of a myth (if we are to call that notion of a Mediator, the value of which we saw in the last Lecture, by this name of ‘myth,’ remembering, as we use that word, the dignity of its Platonic associations rather than the common custom of contrasting it with the ‘truth’). The mediator may be viewed not merely as the Perfecter but also as the Redeemer; and the religious spirit may be led to a satisfaction in the whole process which can find utterance in those bold words of the famous hymn for Easter Eve:—

O felix culpa, quæ tantum et talem meruit habere Redemptorem.

It is not altogether surprising that to some there has seemed to be an utter incompatibility between a genuine sense of the evil of Sin and the contemplation, suggested by those words, of such a transcendence of sin as to permit of satisfaction in its mediation of an ultimate good higher than without it could (for what we know) have been attained. On this subject, however, I will not dwell further, except to point out that (as I have elsewhere tried to show10) the thought implied in the hymn which I have just quoted should not really lead, as its critics would doubtless insist that it is logically bound to lead, to regarding sin as no sin. For since sin can only be done away by atonement, and the indispensable condition of an effective atonement is repentance, there is no room for the antinomian attitude, as we may call it, in which one could say ‘Let us do evil that good may come;’11 an attitude which might attempt to justify itself by an appeal to the sentiment of the apostrophe O felix culpa! Only through repentance can a sinful will pass into a good will: and “the repentance which a man could intend while sinning would be no real repentance at all. Real repentance could only supervene through a complete change of will upon the state in which a man should set out to sin with the intention of repenting and then obtaining something better than innocence.”12

Yet I do not think that Religion can finally acquiesce in the view that, as it has been put in Christian language by a modern mystic (the originality of whose genius deserves more recognition than it has received): “If God had really known all from the beginning, he would not have allowed such circumstances to arise as would make the Passion necessary.” Rather it must assure itself that, in the words of the same writer, “God does not merely get out of evil by a wonderful device, leaving the evil as a thing that had better not have been.”13

In my last Lecture I ventured to suggest that Signor Benedetto Croce had by his observations upon Religion shown himself but indifferently well qualified for forming an adequate estimate of the contribution made by religious experience toward our knowledge of Reality. But it has perhaps for this very reason been easier for him than for one better equipped in this respect to elaborate what in the phraseology of modern theology may be called a doctrine of mere immanence; for we have seen reason to think that Religion can never dispense with transcendence, although it can dispense with the representation of its transcendent object as personal. The importance assigned to History in Signor Croce's philosophy gives to it an advantage over that of Spinoza, who, as we saw in an earlier Lecture, also put forward an extreme doctrine of immanence. But I think that a comparison of the two systems will suggest that our contemporary's philosophy is, after all, even a more extreme doctrine of immanence than his predecessor's; and that this is not unconnected with the fact that, while the great Jewish thinker found a religion in his philosophy, Signor Croce (however he may sometimes claim to have done the like) has only found his philosophy enable him to dispense with a religion.

Nevertheless we shall find it instructive to consider briefly in relation to our topic of Divine Personality the principle involved in Signor Croce's theology of immanence. It is, I think, the same principle which is expressed in Hegel's doctrine that the Absolute cannot be understood except as a ‘result,’14 to the knowledge of which there can be no shorter way than that of patiently tracing out all the stages of the evolution in which its very life and being consist. The principle is also perhaps related not very distantly to James's repudiation of a ‘block-universe.’15 It is the principle that there is not to be sought beyond the Reality which lives and moves and develops around us and within us, whereof we ourselves are a product and a part, some other yet more real Being complete in itself apart from that living process which is the history of the world, a process that is going on still and is never finished. In accordance with this principle Signor Croce will not hear of a God “before the world was” or of a Last Judgment to be passed, superfluously enough, upon a world which has already come to an end and is no more.16 The divine transcendence which he is concerned to deny is a transcendence of the historic process of which our lives are an integral part and which is for him the one and only Reality.

Now I think we need have no hesitation in admitting that, whatever obligation members of particular religious communities may sometimes have considered themselves to be under to the letter of their sacred books, Religion has no real interest in maintaining (in accordance with the theology of the Wandering Jew in Shelley's Queen Mab) that God awoke “from an eternity of idleness”17 to create the world, nor yet that he is to relapse into inactivity after the destruction of the world which he then created. The religious experience of communion with God is an experience of communion not with a prehistoric or post-historic Being, but with a living God.

Again, all philosophy to which the supreme Reality is Spirit—and Signor Croce's is such a philosophy—even if, like Signor Croce's, it repudiates any suggestion of a Reality transcending the unbeginning and unending series of acts which constitute the history or evolution of the world, makes affirmations concerning the nature and character which is manifested in this perpetual process. According to Signor Croce18 himself, we may even describe this process as directed by a Providence, but by a Providence which only “becomes actual in individuals and acts not on them but in them.” “This affirmation of Providence,” he goes on to declare, “is not conjecture or faith but evidence of reason.” But what is this evidence? He goes on to tell us. “Who would feel in him the strength of life without such an intimate persuasion? Whence could he draw resignation in sorrow, encouragement to endure? Surely what the religious man says with the words ‘Let us leave it in God's hands’ is said also by the man of reason with those other words ‘Courage and forward.’” There seems to me, indeed, to be so great a difference between the temper of these two exclamations that I cannot but consider one who, with Signor Croce, sees no more in the former than in the latter as thereby showing himself a stranger to genuine religious experience. But it is not upon this point that I would dwell here. I would rather ask whether such a persuasion as the Italian philosopher here speaks of, while I should be the last to deny it to be the voice of Reason within us, is not just what has usually been meant by ‘faith’; for example, in the famous definition by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “The assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”19 things not seen because, if Signor Croce be right, they are not yet made. It is a reasonable faith indeed, though not what the rationalistic philosophy which is dominant in popular thought would recognize at once as Reason; but Signor Croce is ready to admit that there is sometimes more philosophy in Religion, “troubled by phantoms”20 though it be, than in crude Rationalism.

It is a cardinal point in Signor Croce's philosophy that mystery is to be found only in History, the future course of which cannot be foreseen and the detail of which must be first enacted before it can be known; in Philosophy, which is exclusively concerned with universals, there is no place for mystery. But it is precisely the presence of the same eternal and universal Spirit at every point of the historical process which enables Signor Croce to affirm the infinite progress of man,21 though for him neither man nor God can know the concrete forms that progress will assume. And it is this presence that I should describe as a mystery, and a mystery in Philosophy; and this is made not more but rather less obscure in the light of the religious experience of a personal relation of our individual spirits to the Spirit “which worketh in us both to will and to do.”22 The confidence which Signor Croce has in the nature and character of this Spirit is of a kind which we can hardly describe except in terms which are most properly applied to the kind of confidence which we have in a person; and it cannot be justified except by such a view of the relation of this Spirit to our individual spirits as is expressed in religious language and realized by our individual spirits in their religious experience. I do not deny, I rather desire strongly to emphasize, that religious experience differs from the experience of acquaintance with finite persons in that it is freed from what is merely casual and empirical in the latter23; just as, on the other hand, it differs from the knowledge of universals, principles, or laws by the presence therein of that peculiar rapport (I know no English word so fitting to express my meaning) which elsewhere exists only between two persons in intimate mutual intercourse. The condescending, not to say arrogant, language held by Signor Croce towards those who, though not without pretension to philosophy, are yet not ready to leave Religion behind them as “a creed outworn”24 which for the philosopher has already accomplished its work and is now ready to vanish away, ought not to divert our attention from a mystery which he has after all failed to banish from his own philosophy, and our only reasonable attitude to which is what we call Religion.

I said just now, perhaps somewhat too hastily, that Signor Croce had rather considered himself as dispensed by philosophy from the need of a religion than had, like Spinoza, found a religion in his philosophy. For after all there is religion in Signor Croce's philosophy, which, indeed, he admits will, when it has absorbed Religion, “have the value of true and complete Religion”25 and if it does not utter itself in religious language and religious practice, that is only on account of a prejudice against the associations of such language and practice which is very evident in Signor Croce's writings, but which one need not share in order to profit by what is of permanent value in his speculations.

What can better deserve the name of a mystery than that contradiction in its own nature which perpetually distracts and baffles the human soul when it realizes that it is “haunted for ever by the eternal Mind”26 and unable to set limits to the range of its thought or the scope of its concern, and yet notwithstanding is at the very same time hurried along without pause by the ever-rolling stream of Time, “never continuing in one stay,”27 but each moment leaving something of its past self behind and always beset with intimations of mortality?

No doubt the name of a mystery is misapplied when no more is meant than that some fundamental feature of our experience cannot be explained in terms of something else. The relation of the Particular to the Universal is not a mystery because it is not a case of the relation borne by a copy to its archetype or by the part of a body to the body of which it is a part. We understand quite well what it is; and, if we did not, the simplest conversation would soon become unintelligible to us. In like manner the conception of Time involves at once the evanescence of its successive moments and the persistence of its continuous course; and the relation of the former to the latter factor in so familiar and indispensable a notion is not the less understood because any attempted comparison of it to something else will prove to be in some respects inadequate. To the contemplating mind Universal and Particular, or again the permanence and the lapse of Time, are mutually correlative, each understood in its relation to the other, and neither otherwise intelligible or real. We may justly say that there is no ‘mystery’ here, properly so called.

But the case is otherwise when the Soul turns back upon itself and reflects upon its own nature, as a particular aware of itself as a particular, as transient but conscious of its transiency; and as, in that awareness, that consciousness of its transiency, apprehending its universal and eternal nature as its own, yet not its own; as its unrealized and perhaps unrealizable ideal, its unattained and perhaps unattainable perfection. I cannot persuade myself that the word ‘mystery’ is not applicable here, just as Signer Croce admits it to be applicable to the anticipation of a future the detail of which, because it does not yet exist, cannot from the very nature of the case be foreseen by the anticipating mind.

Professor Alexander, in his Gifford Lectures at Glasgow, has just been contending that the religious consciousness witnesses to the reality of such an ideal, yet not to its actuality. The world is (he tells us) pregnant with deity, and in Religion we are aware that it is so, but God is not yet born. We may, indeed, learn from the sacred stories of Buddhism and of Christianity28 that the thought of worship paid to a divine Lord while yet in his mother's womb has nothing in it uncongenial to the temper of religion; but the context, legendary and doctrinal, of these same stories testifies not less unequivocally to the impossibility of resting in the thought of the object of worship as not yet actual. The future Buddha as soon as born miraculously proclaims his own greatness and is adored by a venerable sage and by his own father; and he is further described as descending into his mother's womb from an assembly of glorified beings, the presidency among whom he is said in some later forms of the story to have left to the being who is to be the Buddha of the next age, and who even now receives prospectively the veneration of Buddhists in that capacity.29 So too the belief of the Christian Church in the pre-existence of her Founder is already manifest in the New Testament in the writings of St. Paul and of the author of the Fourth Gospel.30 I find it therefore difficult to believe that, as Professor Alexander thinks, the embryonic deity of which he tells us will satisfy all the demands of theism.

I will, then, venture to assert, in opposition to Professor Alexander, that the religious consciousness demands not merely a prospective but an actual God, already possessing all to which we can aspire. And yet at the same time it is no less true that it is not content to regard the worshipper's own religious life—which is certainly not yet complete—as without significance for God.

Hence it comes about that the religious imagination tends to represent God to itself as being already beforehand “all” (to use an expression of Green's31) “which the human spirit is capable of becoming”: and then making us with the intention that we shall become what he already is. This representation may be criticized as reducing our religious activity to a process of copying. We seem to have presented to us here a theological analogue of that ‘copying theory of truth’ with protests against which we have in late years become so familiar in discussions of the nature of Knowledge. We can understand why a philosophy deeply interested in maintaining the creative activity of the mind that thinks in us must be inevitably hostile to a scholasticism which, by reducing that activity to a mere reproduction of a reality to the constitution of which it makes no difference, “denies” according to an epigram I quoted before,32 “the divinity of the human spirit”; and why such a philosophy is even suspicious of Religion, since it seems as though Religion cannot be satisfied with any other system than one which condemns the human spirit to walk for ever in a vain show, and disquiet itself33 in order to do over again less well what has already been done perfectly.

How are we to solve the antinomy with which we are thus confronted?

I spoke just now of the ‘copying theory of truth,’ This phrase means, as I understand it, an attempt to explain what knowing is by describing it as a kind of copying. We may recall how Bacon says that templum sanctum ad exemplar mundi in intellectu humano fundamus,34 a model of the universe in the human understanding. There can, of course, be no objection taken to the occasional employment of such a metaphor, but there is a grave objection to treating it as a serious explanation of that to which such words as ‘copy’ or ‘model’ are transferred from their original significance. It is just because it is so treated in a ‘copying theory of truth’ that such a theory is rightly to be condemned. Knowing is not copying; it is quite as familiar an experience as copying; some degree of it must indeed precede any copying, as in its turn copying a thing may become a help towards knowing it better.

Those who have in recent times been most severe upon the ‘copying theory of truth’ have been, I think, specially inclined to insist upon the point that it reduced the real world to something finished and done with, beyond our mending—a ‘block universe’—and condemned our intellectual activity to a mere barren repetition, in the course of which nothing substantial is added to the universal stock. And of the defenders of any form of what is often called Realism, which asserts the independence of the object of knowledge upon the mind's activity in knowing, even though it may not vainly attempt to elucidate the meaning of knowledge by a reference to copying, it may very well be asked: What difference, on your view, does being known make to a thing?

Now it seems to me clear that in regard of the lifeless, so far forth as it is lifeless, it makes no difference. This is why the doctrine of a Naturalist like Huxley that consciousness is a mere ‘epiphenomenon’ and that of an Idealist like Green that it is not a part of nature—doctrines which, though advanced in opposite interests, make the same point—are irrefutable, so long as in speaking of nature or phenomenon we are thinking, as both Huxley and Green were thinking, of a mechanical and not a spiritual system; and if in speaking of knowledge or science we are thinking of the kind of knowledge which we have in the sciences of physics and chemistry.35 But when we come on the one hand to spiritual being and specially to that grade of spiritual being which we designate as Personality, and on the other to that sort of knowledge which we have in personal intercourse with our fellow-men, here it is no less evident that to be known makes a very great difference to the person known. The knowledge which we call ‘acquaintance’ cannot be one-sided. What has more to do with making us what we are than the knowledge others have of us, their attraction towards us or repulsion from us, their agreement or dissent, their approval or disapproval, their hatred or their love? Holding, as I do, with the Realists that it is to contradict the very notion of Knowledge to suppose its object created by the subject in the act of knowing it, I would at the same time insist that the mutual independence of subject and object is at its maximum in the lowest, at its minimum in the highest kinds of Knowledge. It is where the knowledge makes least difference to the thing known that the knower is least interested in the existence of the thing known outside of his possible experience of it. In what may be called (if we ignore for the moment the knowledge of God in Religion) the highest kind of Knowledge, the knowledge which we have of our fellowmen in social intercourse with them, we find that such intercourse makes all the difference to those who are parties to it, and also that we are profoundly interested in the independent existence of our friends; indeed in proportion to our devotion to them the greater will be our concern for them, even apart from the maintenance of their relations to ourselves.36

If we accept the testimony of religious experience to the possibility of a knowledge of God which can be in any way likened to our personal knowledge of the fellowmen with whom we are acquainted, we shall find here also this insistent interest (all the more insistent for the absence of that sensible verification which can be had in the case of our human friends) upon the existence of its object. It is in vain that certain schools of thought have attempted to evade the difficulties raised by this insistence by laying stress on the value which may be ascribed to religious emotion or religious imagination whether or no God exists independently thereof. I do not deny that such schools of thought have supplied a much-needed correction of the mistake committed by those who have sought for ‘proofs of God's existence’ apart from religious experience. For this is as great a mistake as it would be to hope to demonstrate the existence of Beauty apart from an æsthetic experience. Nevertheless the common demand for certainty that God exists, that there is a God, however it may often express itself in forms which betray a misconception of the kind of proof which could avail to satisfy it, proceeds from a sound instinct. Religion has a genuine interest in the assurance of the existence of God as no mere “vision of fulfilled desire”37 or creature of the imagination.

But can we say here, as we ought to say if our analogy is to hold, that we believe our devotion to God to make a difference to him even greater than our friendship makes to our friends? We feel a natural hesitation in answering in the affirmative. It is characteristic of Religion to shrink from such an assertion, and to make God so far the predominant partner in our intercourse with him, that even our knowledge of him is ascribed to his own activity in us. He reveals himself to us and in us; only so far as he does so can we be said to find him either in the world or in our hearts. The initiation, the action, and the success are all to be referred to him. He “worketh in us both to will and to do.”38

Nevertheless, if we are to do justice to all sides of our religious experience, it is certain that there is present in it also an element which seems to meet the expectations which our analogy with other levels of experience had led us to form.

There is the consciousness of an insistent demand upon us for our worship. It is easy to see in this no more than a survival from a primitive theology which envisaged its God as a despotic chieftain, greedy of his subjects’ abject submission. And of course such a conception of God may have left traces in our religious phraseology; though even this conception was not, when it was alive, the base thing that it seems when opposed in rivalry to the nobler thought inspired by a later teaching. But probably only those with little religious experience of their own will be content to dismiss it thus. We shall do more wisely to recognize the splendid flower sprung from that apparently unlovely seed in the passionate experience which has found immortal utterance in the greatest religious poem of our own age and country—the poem in which Francis Thompson has told us of his soul's unavailing flight from her “tremendous Lover,” the Hound of Heaven.

In such an experience the consciousness of an imperious summons of the worshipper to a complete surrender of himself is fused with the consciousness of an “unchanging love” which can say, “Can a woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion upon the son of her womb? Yea, these may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”39 It cannot be denied, then, that there is a phase of religious experience in which the devotee is conscious of his devotion as ‘making a difference’ to God.

But how, then, can God be regarded as perfect from all eternity if he can also be represented as needing and desiring our worship and our love? Are we not here in the presence of an inevitable contradiction, such as must compel us, with Mr. Bradley, to regard God, the object of religious worship, as appearance only, and not as the ultimate Reality, wherein all contradictions must of necessity be harmonized?

Now, as I have already said, there may be a sense in which Religion need have no fear of this view. As Mr. Bradley is himself fully aware, we have not to learn for the first time from the philosophical critics of to-day that God's ways are not as our ways nor his thoughts as our thoughts,40 or even that the distance between them is so great that God's cannot properly be called ‘ways’ or ‘thoughts.’41 Nor is there any novelty in the doctrine that the Word, or (as we may in this context quite legitimately translate, using Mr. Bradley's expression) the Appearance, was in the beginning with God, and was God.42 The only thing, as I venture to think, that Religion is here interested in repudiating, is an attempt to undo the work of those Christian theologians of the age of creed-making who fixed their own community in the faith that the Appearance and that of which it is the Appearance are one undivided God, the only lawful Object of worship, because the only one which will not fail the worshipper when he endeavours to give a reasonable account of the faith that is in him. It is only in so far as Mr. Bradley's distinction of God from the Absolute may be thought to “divide the Substance”43 of which these theologians affirmed the indivisible unity that it endangers Religion. And I should not speak thus if I considered that the danger was a danger merely to the religion of one particular religious community—although that community were the one of which I myself am a member—if I did not hold that the community whose explicit formula of faith is here directly threatened were in this respect the defender of a fundamental interest of Religion, the nature of which has been less fully realized by other communities than by the Christian Church.

The difficulty which we find in reconciling the divine perfection with the divine demand upon us (both of which are in my judgment what Mr. Bradley would call ‘ideas necessary to the religious consciousness,’ and therefore, in his view true, although not ultimately true)—a difficulty which we, as finite spirits, cannot, I think, so completely overcome as to possess its answer in an experienced fact—is an indication that we are here in the presence of a problem beyond our powers to solve, and therefore of one not less legitimately entitled to be described as a ‘mystery’ than that of the detail of the future, to which, as we saw, Signor Croce would allow the name.

But it is, I think, relevant to the main purpose of these Lectures to point out that it is precisely in the instance of personal character that we come nearest to understanding how perfection might not exclude the desire of self-communication; since in this instance the notion of a self-sufficient perfection strikes us as displeasing, and as really contradictory of our notion of what would be perfect in that kind. And, as Plato says,44 speaking of “the Father and Maker of the universe,” in words which were adopted by Athanasius45 as an axiom of his theology: “He was good, and therefore he grudged existence to nothing.” What I have called (using the word ‘myth’ in its high Platonic sense) the myth of a Mediator has been turned to account to express the problem before us. For here the necessity of self-communication to a perfect being is expressed in the representation of the eternal Sonship as an intrinsic factor in the Godhead; and the part of finite and imperfect beings in this self-communication is expressed in the thought of their archetypes or patterns as included within the eternal nature of the divine Son or Word. And here again we must note that in the instance of personal character we seem to find no incompatibility between the thought of a perfection on which we can place entire dependence and that of a living activity, whose course could by no means be settled beforehand, but would afford to the spectator the joy of anticipating ever new and unexpected manifestations of power and wisdom and goodness. We may here find confirmation for the view that the religious consciousness to which intercourse with the supreme Reality has the intimacy and passion of personal converse is that which takes us farthest into the heart of that Reality and gives most assurance of the solution of problems which yet to us remain mysteries indeed, but ‘joyful mysteries,’ mysteries of love, which may be said not so much to baffle Reason as to enlarge its scope and opportunity.

In the two remaining Lectures of this course I must essay, however tentatively and modestly, the difficult task of gathering together the suggestions which may be obtained from the historical and critical discussions which have in the main occupied us so far, into something which may pass for a constructive account of the place to be assigned to Personality in our conception of the Supreme Being, whom we apprehend in Religion as God; bearing in mind that, in the memorable words of Lord Gifford's will, “the true and felt knowledge—not mere nominal knowledge—of the relations of man and of the universe to him is the means of man's highest well-being and the security of his upward progress.”

  • 1.

    Sartor Resartus, ii. 9.

  • 2.

    See Kritik der praktischen Vernunft I. Th. II. B. II. Hpts. V. (Werke, ed. Hart. v. pp. 130 ff.); Kritik der Urteilskraft, § 87 (Werke, ed. Hart. v. pp. 461 ff.).

  • 3.

    Second Sermon on Human Nature.

  • 4.

    In his Romanes Lecture on Evolution and Ethics.

  • 5.

    Reprinted in his Philosophical Essays (1910) and in Mysticism and Logic (1918).

  • 6.

    In his Fable of ‘Faith, Half-Faith, and No Faith at all.’

  • 7.

    Acts xvii. 28.

  • 8.

    See above, Lecture V. p. 125.

  • 9.

    Essays in Orthodoxy, p. 78 ff.

  • 10.

    Problems in the Relations of God and Man, p. 274 ff.

  • 11.

    See Rom. iii. 8.

  • 12.

    Problems, loc. supra cit. Cp. Dante, Inferno, xxvii. 118 ff.

  • 13.

    R. M. Benson, Spiritual Readings for Advent, p. 286.

  • 14.

    See Phänom. des Geistes, Vorrede (Werke, ii. p. 15).

  • 15.

    The phrase is used by James in A Pluralistic Universe, pp. 310, 328.

  • 16.

    See Saggio sullo Hegel (ed. 1913), p. 137 (Eng. tr. p. 201); Filosofia della Pratica, pt. 1, s. 1, c. 6, p. 65 (Eng. tr. p. 93).

  • 17.

    Queen Mab, § 7.

  • 18.

    Filos. della Pratica, pt. 1, s. 2, c. 5, pp. 178 f. (Eng. tr. p. 257).

  • 19.

    Heb. xi. 1.

  • 20.

    Filos. della Pratica, pt. ii. s. 2, c. 2, p. 314 (Eng. tr. p 450).

  • 21.

    Ibid. Eng. tr. p. 260.

  • 22.

    Philipp. ii. 13.

  • 23.

    Cp. The Notion of Revelation (Pan-Anglican Paper), p. 4.

  • 24.

    Wordsworth's sonnet, “The world is too much with us.”

  • 25.

    See The Task of Logic in Windelband and Ruge's Encyclopædia of the Philosophical Sciences, Eng. ed. p. 210.

  • 26.

    Wordsworth, Ode on Intimations of Immortality, § 8.

  • 27.

    Burial Service: “Man that is born of a woman,” etc.

  • 28.

    See Luke i. 43 ff.

  • 29.

    Warren's Buddhism in Translations, pp. 42, 49; Rhys Davids’ Buddhist Birth Stories, pp. 64, 69; Bigandet, Legend of Gaudama, Eng. tr.; pp. 27, 41.

  • 30.

    E.g. 2 Cor. viii. 9; Philipp. ii. 6; John i. 1 ff, xvii. 5.

  • 31.

    Prolegomena to Ethics, iii. 2 § 187, p. 198.

  • 32.

    See above, Lecture VII, p. 156.

  • 33.

    Psa. xxxix. 6.

  • 34.

    Nov. Org. i. 120.

  • 35.

    See above, Lecture I, pp. 26 f.

  • 36.

    Cp. Problems in the Relations of God and Man, p. 37.

  • 37.

    Fitzgerald, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, § 67 (3rd ed.).

  • 38.

    Philipp. ii. 13.

  • 39.

    Isa. xlix. 15; Cowper's 18th Olney Hymn.

  • 40.

    Isa. lv. 8.

  • 41.

    Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 436n.

  • 42.

    John i. 1.

  • 43.

    See the Quicumque vult.

  • 44.

    Tim. 28 c, 29 E.

  • 45.

    de Incarnatione Verbi, iii. § 3.

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