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Chapter VIII: From Religion to Morality


We have seen that morality, when incorporated into the life of religion, takes on a new shape as “infused virtue”. This transformation of moral into religious praxis is one question; how religion in turn reacts upon secular morality is another. When a highly developed religion (say, Christianity) finds itself in contact, within a given cultural area—e.g., that of western Europe and America—with an equally developed code of secular morality, its effect on the latter will be twofold. It will both leaven and repel. Ideas that have their source in religion will permeate the ethical code; but at the same time they provoke the moralist to criticism and even to hostility. In considering these effects, I shall keep in view throughout the religion and morality prevalent in modern Christendom. We are living in a time when old pieties are being called in question and when new programmes of conduct are being advocated with enthusiasm. These programmes are for the most part frankly secularist, though they are often championed with a passion and by methods of propaganda characteristic of religious rather than of ethical controversy. The morality they represent is assuredly dynamic, not static; detached from historic traditions, it is far removed from the discharge of conventional social obligations. Yet even in the most revolutionary gospels we find that ideas of Jewish and Christian origin are not so wanting as is commonly supposed; so deeply, in the course of nineteen centuries, has the Christian way of life permeated western civilization.1

We have, then, first, to speak of Christian ethics, in the strict meaning of this much-used and often-abused term. Its proper application is to those elements in secular morality which had their origin in Christianity, and survive as ideals of conduct independently of their former religious associations. But the term is generally understood with reference to the recorded teaching of the Founder of Christianity, and the way of life professed, on the basis of that teaching, by his followers. Thus we find the Bishop of Durham defining Christian morality as “the morality inculcated by Jesus Christ and illustrated by his example. It is the morality implicit in the Christian discipleship, and properly required by the Christian profession. Finally, it is the morality which historically has had its roots in the Christian religion, has been enjoined by the Christian church, and has given its distinctive character to the civilization of Christendom.”2 This usage seems somewhat to confuse the distinction between religious and ethical praxis. Christ, as the Bishop allows, was much more than the founder of a new morality. His life, and the principles he laid down for his disciples, were rather the expression of religious theoria. He came to do the Father's will, and to reveal that will to men, in order that they might follow his example. The Sermon on the Mount, which is often loosely spoken of as though it were a manual of social ethics, contains few precepts that can be brought under that heading; and of these almost all are regulative of motives rather than of actions. Even in those injunctions which are directly relevant to man's temporal conduct, the appeal is to an authority that is supersensible and eternal, to the will of “our Father which art in heaven”. Not one of the Beatitudes is capable of interpretation, save with a religious reference. The dominant note throughout the Sermon is: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (i.e., the revealed principle of conduct) “and all these things” (i.e., earthly as well as heavenly goods) “shall be added unto you”. The same is true of the parables. They unfold the character of the kingdom of heaven, the manner of its divine government, and the way of life demanded of its members. When we turn to the other books of the New Testament, to the Acts and the Epistles, we find the apostles faithful to the spirit of their Master. Their exhortations comprise, for obvious reasons, much that concerns directly the Christian's obligations towards his fellow-men; but the duties that coincide with properly ethical requirements are set in a distinctively religious context. They form part of a religious way of life. The morality is a new morality, and the transforming agency is religion. The like holds of the Christian ideal of conduct, and of Christian practice in so far as it is the living expression of that ideal, all down the ages. The lives of Augustine, of St. Bernard and St. Francis, of Father Dantien or Father Dolling, were informed, as is all dynamic Christianity, by the virtus infusa that lifts their conduct above the purely moral plane.


To illustrate how modern ethics has been leavened by ideas of Christian origin, I select the second of Kant's three formulas for the moral imperative. “So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never merely as a means.” This formula, when disentangled, as it legitimately can be, from Kant's doctrine of the noumenal self, expresses a dominant principle, perhaps the dominant principle, of contemporary morals. Doubtless the Fascist would replace the word “humanity” by “your fellow-nationals”, and the Communist by “the proletariat”, and both would claim a right for the State to treat individual citizens as means; but in so doing they would be raising the standard of an ethical revolution. Kant's famous dictum reflects the tradition of the dignity of man as man inherited from his lowland Scottish ancestry and deeply implanted in his youthful mind in his humble and austere home in Konigsberg. Its immediate source of inspiration was Rousseau, the prophet of the French Revolution, whom Kant reverenced as “the discoverer of the lost title-deeds of humanity.” It summarizes, in the language of philosophy, all that was positive I'll the popular war-cry of the Revolution—liberty, equality and fraternity. It has been echoed by almost all the champions of reform throughout the nineteenth century, be they rationalists or romantics, secularists or Christians: by Condorcet, Comte and the British Utilitarians, by the pioneers of co-operation and of socialism, by Wordsworth and Shelley, Carlyle and Mazzini, George Sand, Lamermais and Hugo, and among philosophers by Fichte in the first quarter of the century and by T. H. Green and William James towards its close. The formula can be adapted to the tenets of the most varied political, religious and metaphysical schools. For it affirms in one breath the intrinsic worth of the individual and his integration with a social order embracing all mankind. In every man, whatever his status in the actual “closed” society, lies an infinite capacity, a dignity (Würde) incommensurable with any assigned value (Preis), which is his inalienable prerogative by virtue of his rational nature and his membership of the kingdom of ends.3 Here, then, is all absolute principle, susceptible of a purely ethical interpretation, and regulative of a man's whole conduct towards his fellows. Small wonder that it has struck root in the mind and conscience of the public, and is today an essential factor in the moral outlook of the civilized world.

Yet Kant's principle is of religious origin, and has passed into secular ethics from Christianity. Let us take the two governing concepts, personality and humanity.

(A) Personality. Leaving aside its primary application to the drama, the relevant use of the Latin term persona was to mark the citizens’ status in the closed community of Rome.4 If a man bore no legalized status, if he were not a freeman but a slave, he was, for the Roman lawyer, no “person”, but a “thing”. He was not treated as an end in himself, but merely as a means. True the Stoic philosophers had declared that every rational being as such was a persona in the cosmopolis, thus foreshadowing the ground and scope of Kant's kingdom of ends; but the conception remained, like the καλλιπολις of Plato's Republic, a pattern in heaven, powerless to regenerate human nature or to refashion man's practice upon earth. To the Stoic sage it mattered not—this at least was gained by the doctrine—whether he were emperor like Marcus Antoninus or a slave like Epictetus; but what equality could be recognized between the sage and the ignorant vulgar, and what infinitude of promise or dignity could be ascribed to either? It was only in the light of a new vision, in which all were called, by adoption—note the fresh point given to the old legal rubric—as sons of God, to inherit eternal life, that the thoughts of human perfectibility, of man's infinite worth, of the equality of all in the sight of one who is “no respecter of personae” ( = status), ceased to be mere catchwords of the schools and won power to shape the course of human conduct. Verbally, indeed, Boethius’ classic definition naturae rationabilis individua substantia (the individual substance of a rational nature) can be regarded as a republication of Stoic teaching, but to a Christian thinker the words were pregnant with a new and far richer meaning.5 They implied a synthesis of two antitheses, such as was possible only in the light of the Christian faith. In the first place, the concept of personality had always a double reference, to the unique rôle of the actor or of the citizen, and to the social context in which he played his part before the audience in the theatre or his fellow-citizens in the State. These two aspects, private and public, of individuality and sociality, stood over against one another in an opposition that could only be partially reconciled either on juristic or on psychological grounds.6 In no actual community are the claims of the individual wholly in harmony with those of his fellow-citizens; the formula “my station and its duties” fails, as we have seen, to cover the whole compass of the moral life. The same is the case with psychological personality; despite all the bonds of affection and affinity that tie a man to his fellows, he remains other than they, and in the great crises of his personal history is doomed to act and suffer in isolation. Only in the conception of an other-worldly fellowship, where all are members of one body in Christ, are those barriers broken down without detriment either to the individual or to the social implications of personality. The second antithesis is that of the actual and the ideal. Juristic and psychological personality are relevant, the one only to a man's actual status in an existing society, the other only to his actual self. Yet the Stoic appeal to man's rational nature as the basis of his claim to personality implies already that personality is the goal of a man's being rather than his actualized achievement.

It indicates the purpose he is marked out to fulfil in the world-order, the unique part assigned to him in the drama of life, which he is free to play well or badly or not at all. It is not a fait accompli; it is an ideal that never attains its consummation under actual conditions of time and place. This antithesis also was harmonized in Christianity, when it revealed the course of man's temporal history and the whole realm of actuality in its due place, as an episode in the manifestation of God's eternal kingdom. For Christianity, reason is the image stamped by the Creator on the creature, pointing him to a destiny beyond nature and history. We recall how Kant saw in the faith of practical reason the revelation of a supersensible order that lifts man above the spurious infinities of space and time. By virtue of his membership of God's kingdom, personality is thus invested for the Christian with an absolute worth.

Take from the ideal of personality all that it owes to religion, and what have you left? An empty form, a mere Unding of man's imagining, with no attachments to bind it to reality. Such would be the fate of the Kantian principle of duty, if severed from its roots in the noumenal world. This is precisely what happened in the course of the eighteenth century, as humanism cut the connexions, one by one, with its Christian ancestry. on was the first to go by the board, then the postulate of a Creator; when God ceased to be s “everlasting hope”, he became irrelevant as a “final hypothesis”. The modern world drifted back Stoicism, the creed of natural reason, freed from the spectre of pessimism by the promises of the new science to ensure man's mastery of his environment. Man, as a denizen of earth, would vindicate his own grandeur without the uncomfortable nightmare of his misère. Rid, once and for all, of the consciousness of sin, his faith in the infinite worth of personality, the perfectibility of human nature, and the sure progress of civilization, would sweep him forward to the haven of a terrestrial Paradise. V hat has in fact been the issue of this orgy of secularist optimism? Can a cool observer, looking out upon the world to-day, discern the fulfillment of the promises? The blank cheques, drawn by humanism upon the future, have been returned dishonoured. Science has proved a two-edged sword in the hands of those who apply it. Out of its mouth have come weal and woe, blessing and cursing, according to its use or abuse by human will. Destined to be the instrument of man's redemption, it has too often led to the asphyxiation of his soul in peace and the destruction of his body in war. There is truth in Lawrence's cry, the voice of the miner's son struggling in vain for self-expression amid the ever-swelling tide of mechanization:

“What is the good of an industrial system piling up rubbish while nobody lives?

For God's sake, let us be men

Not monkeys minding machines

Or sitting with our tails curled

While the machine amuses us, radio or film or gramophone,

Monkeys with a bland grin on our faces.”7

As for the progress of civilization, what of the war? And what of the ensuing peace? %Il the resources of human thought and energy seem powerless to offer more than a slender palliative for the evils that threaten the very foundations of culture. I have no wish to indulge in jeremiads, and there is, I know, another side to the picture. Religion is still a power in the lives of men. But if Christianity be set aside, if we refuse to acknowledge the religious implications that alone give content to the form of personality, we are left with an idea as barren as the Benthamite formula for justice—“One to count as one, and as one only”. The human person is but a self-conscious atom, one among countless others, and no more. Can this be the essential core of truth in the ideal of personality?

(B) We turn to the concept of humanity. All men are brothers, or, if not brothers, at least comrades; but what significance are we to attach to this conviction, so deeply ingrained in the conscience of the modern world? As M. Bergson has pointed out, the first two members of the Revolutionary triad—liberty and equality—were signals of protest against the corruptions of the existing order of society.8 Their import was negative, a summons to the peoples to overthrow political and ecclesiastical authority, and to wipe out the last survivals of medieval feudalism. The revolutionaries were thorough-going individualists, mistrustful of any corporate unity, whether of Church or State. Fraternity, on the other hand, was a concept that appealed to the sociality of human nature. It was pregnant with the seeds of reconstruction, and in the age that followed gave birth to socialism, and, in the realm of theory, to Comte's religion of humanity. “The individual man,” wrote Comte, “is a mere, abstraction, and there is nothing real but humanity.” The God-man of Christianity was dethroned, and the man-god of positivism reigned in his stead.

The religion of humanity died still-born, for it was merely the creature of Comte's imagination, with no toots in the faith and worship of the past. Man knows too well that, for all his assurances of perfectibility, he is not a god. What lived on, and is living still, was the Christian ideal of human brotherhood. For the ancients, fraternity was either restricted to a closed society, holding between fellow-tribesmen, fellow-citizens, or fellow-Hellenes, together with the “strangers within the gates”; or else, when stretched, as by the Stoics, to cover the whole body of mankind, it remained, as we have seen, a speculative ideal, powerless to change the course of history. So, too, in the Last, Buddhist universalism hid remained, for all practical purposes, a counsel of perfection; the Arahat lived on principle in detachment from the world, and to interest himself in his struggling fellows was a derogation from his spiritual calling. fie could show pity for the victim of ignorance and error, and give him help in need; but he could not love. Like the Stoic, He was debarred by his requirement of indifference to all desire. Brotherly love, as an unrestricted and compelling passion, felt by any man towards any other, only becomes possible when grounded in the love of God. The concept of humanity is found on examination to stand for nothing actual, save when interpreted, as by Christianity, in intrinsic relation to an other-worldly society. It is instructive to note how the eighteenth-century moralists wrestled vainly with the task of finding, within the bounds of ethics, a content for the principle of general benevolence. Hume denied the existence of any such virtue.9 Butler, while affirming it as a rational principle in human nature, admitted the difficulty of assigning to it a specific field of exercise, distinct from particular desires for the welfare of individuals and finite groups.10 What meaning can be attached to the term “humanity” if we disregard its implications for religion? Does it mean the collection of all human beings, actual and possible, past, present and to come? There is here no definite object before the mind, which is set wandering over an indeterminate aggregate that battles the faculty of conceiving. The same is true, if we exclude past members of the race, and think only of the present and the future. Or does it mean the essential form of human nature, the Platonic eidos, what Kant called the rational self, and Green the divine principle immanent in mankind? In this case we are driven forward, as were Plato, Kant and Green, to the acknowledgement of a super-sensible reality. So long as we confine ourselves within the bounds of the spatiotemporal process and seek for the content of the ideal of humanity in history, it eludes our grasp, and, like the ideal of personality, becomes an empty form. We can conceive a man blind to any other-worldly vision, yet sacrificing his all for others of his kind, for his family, his country, or for a federation of peoples; but we cannot conceive him doing this for an abstraction.11 I am not disparaging—far from it—loyalty to finite groups, a virtue as much in the eyes of a Christian as of a secularist; what calls for criticism is its enlargement in the name of an ideal which is meaningless apart from the religion in which it had its birth. There is a strange lack of logic in the use by agnostic reformers of expressions, such as “the infinite possibilities of human nature“ and” “devotion to humanity”, which, when taken seriously, are wholly incompatible with their agnosticism. Men should not talk in Christian language while repudiating every trace of Christian meaning. And there is a further point to be noted. The secularist reformer can with perfect consistency strive to promote the welfare of future generations, without barrier of race or class; and many have been stirred to lives of unselfish devotion by this motive. But the prospect ceases to be practical if extended beyond a narrow compass. And what about the countless millions in the past? Have these not as fair a title to inclusion in “humanity” as those now living or yet unborn? To give life to what is otherwise an empty form, we must revert to the vision in which it had its origin, of all mankind, past present and to come, as “very members incorporate” in an other-worldly fellowship, as citizens of the kingdom of which God is king.

Enough has been said to show how deep a mark has been left by Christianity on the ethical outlook of the modern world.12 The legacy survives even where the moorings that bound it to religion have been cut. How long, we wonder, will it maintain its hold on the structure of secularized morality? There are signs abroad that faith in the worth of personality, in the brotherhood of mankind, and in the love and service of our fellows may go the way of the religion in which it had its source. In morals, as in religion, an easy tolerance may breed indifference. These are not matters in which an individual can believe and act as his taste or fancy leads him; for morality like religion rests on truth. That is why I have throughout these lectures stressed their objective character as activities of reason. Nor is the cure for the present crisis to be found in a this-worldly ethic. All that has come to be, said Plato, must one day perish; no code of conduct, however deep-rooted and pervasive, that rests for its maintenance on secular civilization can escape the inexorable destiny. Now, as in the past, the hope for moral regeneration lies in religion. Grounded on a reality beyond time and change, religious faith alone has the power to renew the historic association, and to rekindle, by the flame of infused virtue, the slumbering embers of the moral life.


Hitherto we have taken for granted that the religious way of life is on a higher plane of excellence than the ethical. Its superiority, from the standpoint of reason, is not hard to establish. For, as we have seen, morality points forward to religion and finds there a solution for many of its own unanswered problems. Further, being an activity of knowledge as well as of practice, religion is able to achieve a wider speculatives synthesis. Even those thinkers who depreciate religious knowledge as a popular makeshift for metaphysics are wont to admit its primacy within practical experience.13 But its superiority is not beyond question. There are many who not only reject the belief in God, or in any other-worldly reality, as error, but condemn the religious life as morally pernicious. The advocates of Dialectical materialism, for example, regard religion as the enemy, to be combated à l' outrance by aid of weapons borrowed from the religious armoury—an apocalyptic gospel, missionary propaganda, a ruthless suppression of heresy, a rigid seminar training for the teachers, and for the masses an educational discipline that safeguards them front infancy to manhood from any infection of unorthodoxy. Religion is branded as dope, drugging the proletariat into subservience to capitalism, and paralysing the effort to realize a classless society. In face of such opponents, Christianity can but reaffirm its faith in the power of love to conquer hate, and in an otherworldy gospel of redemption to dispel the illusion of a temporal millennium. The responsibility for the spiritual drug-traffic lies, not with Christianity, but with the false prophets who feed the passions of their disciples with empty dreams. Others, again, reverting to the Hellenic ideal of a character strong in its own strength, would replace the slave-morality of Christianity, with its exaltation of humility, its reliance upon God, and its care for the weak and helpless, by a masculine and lordly rule of life, heralding the advent of a race of nobler type; appealing either, as did Nietzsche, to the teachings of evolutionary science, or, like the Nazi leaders in modern Germany, to the practical interests of a nation-state. Here, too, the issue is one of principle, on which Christianity at all events can entertain no thought of compromise. It is the issue of this-worldliness against other-worldliness, on which it is unnecessary to dwell further.

The case is less simple when we turn to the chronique scandaleuse of ecclesiastical history. Christians themselves acknowledge that the weight of the evidence is almost overpowering. Hear the Bishop of Durham:—

“Christianity is the religion of peace, yet it has occasioned more destructive wars than any other: it is the religion of truth, yet no forms of falsehood have been more subtle and depraving than those which its casuists; have imagined and defended: it is the religion of humility, and yet the extreme expressions of human pride have been seen in its ordained exponents: it is the religion of love, yet no persecutions have been more relentless and persistent than those organized in its professed interest: it is the religion of freedom, and yet no type and measure of bondage, social, political and economic have been absent from Christendom: it is the religion of spiritual franchise, yet nowhere else has sacerdotal pretension been more extravagant or superstition more abject.”14

An adequate discussion of these charges is here impossible. But even if their truth be admitted, the value of the Christian religion remains unimpaired. The following considerations will, I think, serve to make this clear

(I) Corruptio optimi pessima. The higher the ideal, the harder is it of attainment, and the wider the gulf that severs profession from performance. Moreover, the more glaring is the travesty of the ideal in all but the few who can travel the narrow way that leads to it. “By their fruits ye shall know them”: yes, but the fruits must be judged, in religion as in morality, art, or science, by those of the best exponents of the experience in question. You do not gauge the scientific advance of the Restoration era by the speculative achievements of Eleanor Gwynn or Titus Oates, but by those of Locke or Newton. So with religion; it is the saints and prophets of a faith whose witness alone is relevant to its power to recreate the image of God in man and to enlighten the world.

(2.) It must be remembered that the charges against Christianity are levelled in the name of a morality that already bears the hall-mark of its Christian origin. The sentence of condemnation is inspired by the very rebellion whose vices are condemned. Hence it is not surprising that the severest censure has come, not from outside critics or in the interests of secularism, but from within the Christian pale. Religion is very jealous alike of its speculative and of its ethical credentials. This temper of self-criticism, we saw, is most active in the corporate life of religious communities. The practical shortcomings of professing Christians were foreseen by Christ himself, who had no illusions as to the difficulty of leading the Christian life. “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven”; “When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith upon the earth?”

(3) Critics of Christianity, both within and outside the Church, are wont to betray an almost childish ignorance of the true nature of its faith and mission. In matters of belief, for example, how often have certain statements made in the heat of controversy by Augustine, on predestination and eternal punishment, been wrested to an interpretation alien to the central tradition of Christian theology? When James Mill, for instance, declared that the God of Christianity was the supreme embodiment of evil, had he even studied to enlarge his view beyond the confines of a contemporary travesty of Calvinism?15 Even to-day, scientists and philosophers show themselves very imperfectly instructed in the nature of the beliefs they hold up for reprobation. Too frequently their theological equipment is restricted to a bowing acquaintance with the New Testament, plus the recollection of popular expositions heard from the pulpit in their childhood and youth. Yet criticism of rebellious doctrine calls, as truly as does criticism of scientific theories, for expert knowledge and a firsthand study of the authoritative evidence.

(4) So, too, in regard to the world-mission of Christianity; ignorance is largely responsible for misrepresentation of its institutional practice. I have in mind the charges of superstition and indifference to truth. “Superstition”, like “formalism”, is a question-begging term, often stretched to cover practices which, so far from being an offence against morals, have a legitimate and necessary place in the good life. We have seen that a measure of external habituation and routine behaviour is essential, if the whole personality, body as well as mind and spirit, is to be disciplined to God's service. Religion apart, such exercises are integral to any adequate moral training. It is a question of degree, not of principle; the weaker the vessel, the more need is there for routine practice. Christianity is a religion with a democratic mission; if it is to be faithful to its Founder's intention, its methods must be applicable to all sorts and conditions, to the ignorant and feeble-minded, to the Sicilian peasant or the African negro, as well as to the masters in spiritual proficiency. It is here that the secularist humanism of to-day most lamentably fails; the apostles of self-expression, while ready enough to condone the lapses of their weaker brethren, offer them no protection against ruin.16 Nor is it only the simple and unlearned who stand in need of what has been called “economy” in the expression of religious faith and worship. Symbolism and imagery are a safeguard against anthropomorphism, as well as a handle to its indulgence. Sculpture, painting, music and ritual may be more efficacious instruments than words. Sacramentalism, in its widest sense of the use of sensible signs to convey a spiritual meaning, is liable to abuse, but neither religion nor morality can dispense with it. Family life is not enriched in proportion to its lack of ceremonial observances.17 When a soldier salutes the colours or places a wreath upon the Cenotaph, he is not yielding to superstition. But let us take the cases, all too frequent in religious history, where the term “superstition” is properly employed; for example, the holocausts of victims tortured and burnt, alike by Catholics and Protestants, on the charge of sorcery and witchcraft. The horror we feel must not blind us to the fact that the motive prompting to these tragedies was not love of cruelty, but terror born of ignorance. Neither the ignorance nor the terror was peculiar to the religious; they were shared by the intelligent laity of the age. The worst that can be said against the clergy is that in rational knowledge they were not ahead of their time. For the most art they honestly believed that they were suppressing superstition in the name of truth. On the general issue of regard for truth, Christianity has no cause to be ashamed of its record. In the early centuries, when the great Neo-Platonist philosophers acquiesced in divination and magic as sops for the vulgar, the Church resolutely condemned such practices as rooted in a lie. And to-day, when the wildest untruths are being enforced by the German Government in the interest of the national State, the staunchest opposition has come from the Catholic and Confessional clergy, and in the name of truth. Alike in speculation and in conduct, Christianity has stood firm against the lures of anthropomorphism and pragmatism.

(5) A similar discrimination is necessary in assessing the charges of intolerance and persecution. The real ground for censure is that the Church has reflected and followed, instead of reforming, the current standards of the time. Moreover, an unprejudiced study shows that the secular powers must bear at least an equal share of responsibility. The harrowing of the Cathari and the Albigeois, for instance, in the thirteenth century was largely the vengeance of Simon de Montfort and the feudal baronage on the Bolsheviks of the Middle Ages, who threatened the sacred institution of private property. The horrors of the Thirty Years’ War were as much the handiwork of ruthless soldiers as of religious fanatics. The victory of toleration at long last was due, in part to the presence in European states of powerful religious minorities, in part to the growth of international trade, but most of all to the temper of eighteenth-century rationalism. The “crowning mercy” in the warfare against persecution was Voltaire's exposure of the Calas tragedy, perhaps the most important event in modern history.18 Our own generation is witnessing a melancholy reversal of the triumph. It is no longer the Church in unison with the State, but the State in opposition to the Church that is crushing liberty of thought with a rigour that recalls the darkest hours of religious persecution. The lesson of the Calas tragedy will have to be learnt over again by the peoples of the modern world.

(6) The real gravamen of the case against Christianity lies, not in the counts above mentioned, but on those of pride and apathy. These are just the charges which the true Christian, in his exercise of self-criticism, is most ready to endorse. In his eyes they are the supreme expressions of evil will. For superstition and intolerance there are palliatives in men's lack of enlightenment and their zeal for truth; but for pride—the lust of power for self—and for sloth—the inertia of self-complacency—there are none. The greatest saints bear witness how their most subtle and insistent temptation has ever been to glory in their spiritual achievement and to misuse the gifts of grace to gratify personal resentment or wordly ambition. Religious torpor, or, as the medievals termed it, accidia, was the besetting danger of the monastic life. But the pride and the apathy that outside critics have most in mind are the abuse by high ecclesiastics of temporal authority and their passive acquiescence in the established order.19 They think of the secular ambitions of the medieval papacy, and of the time-serving prelates in eighteenth-century France and England. Christianity as a missionary faith has the double task of preserving the integrity of its other-worldly vision and of adjusting its practice to the imperfections inherent in man's earthly state. It has to steer a troubled course between two ever-present perils; the peril of misdirected zeal, luring men of talent to seek temporal power in the professed interest of the faith, and the peril of misdirected liberalism, beguiling the tolerant and easy-going into base compromises with the world.20 The latter temptation is the more common; but the former is the more calamitous and the more arresting. As we read the dramatic story of sacerdotal pride, of the egotism, personal and institutional, of popes and presbyters, we can but echo the lament with which Dante closed his passionate Invective against the worldliness of the Church's princess:

“Ahi, Constantin, di quanto mal fu matre,

non la tua conversion, ma quella dote

Che da te prese il primo ricco patre”.21


Enough has been said to show how each charge brought by morality against religion can be met by counter-argument. Every religion has its spiritual assets as well as its abuses, its heroes and saints as well as its traitors, its self-seekers and its parasites; and in every religion the latter outnumber the former. The issue is one of quality against quantity, and when the cause is tried on ethical ground, the claims of religion stand little chance of a fair hearing. The appeal of religion is to the excellence and truth of its revelation rather than to the praxis of its adherents. Whereas the judgement of morality is passed, not on ideal vision, but on conduct, not on profession but on performance. Morality has its life and being in the conflict against evil, and its valuations are relative to the varying fortunes of the day. Even its ideals must draw their content from the ever-changing course of human history.

This brings me to my conclusion. We have seen that religion, drawing life from the vision, though “in a glass darkly”, of the absolute good, teaches a “more excellent way”. Its way is also the more rational. Activity of reason is displayed, not only in the logical constructions of metaphysics, but also in the confession of a reasonable faith. Reason, in Butler's words, “is indeed the only faculty we have wherewith to judge concerning anything, even revelation itself”.22 God, the supreme object of religious faith, is himself perfect reason. He is above reason only in the sense that no reason can be sought for his being, save himself. He is at once ratio sui and causa sui, the all-sufficient ground of his own nature and existence. We have been told by the mystics of an older age, and by not a few among living teachers, that God is above reason, as he is also above good and evil, and that to speak of his reason or of his goodness is to derogate from the infinite majesty of his being. So taught Eckhardt and Boehme; so, in their several ways, Barth and Berdyaev are teaching now. But I am sure they are wrong. Only when, in our arrogance, we take the human mind as the measure, can we plausibly speak of God as superrational, or of our faith in his revelation as transcending the bounds of reason. It is an old story. For four centuries reason and faith have been drifting apart, on roads that lead logically, the one to a philosophy of mind and nature that negates the claims of the supernatural, the other to a religious supernaturalism that negates the claims of mind and nature. For the severance, Descartes and Luther must bear their share of responsibility: Descartes, in that he restricted reason to the processes of inference from clearly defined concepts, exemplified in mathematical physics; Luther, in that, anticipating the restriction, he refused to the “harlot reason” any part in the knowledge vouchsafed to faith. We need to return to the wider view of reason prevalent in Greek and medieval thought, not in a temper of subservience to historic tradition, but in order to fashion a new synthesis of metaphysical and religious knowledge. The task is no longer, as in the thirteenth century, within the compass of a single mind. It calls for the collaboration of many thinkers, working forward, each from his chosen angle, to the unification of the fruits of rational inquiry in science, history, art, morals and metaphysics, with the knowledge revealed in religious experience. To this task the present lectures offer a fragmentary contribution, fragmentary even as a study of the relations between religion and morality. But this, at least, I have tried to show, and on grounds conformable to intellect: that religion is able not only to resolve the dualism inherent in ethical experience, and to liberate ethical principles from formalism and ideality, but to raise morality to a higher plane of goodness through the motive of love to God.

  • 1.

    Broadly we can distinguish two groups among those who preach new moral values, the revolutionaries and the reformers. There are those who, like the Dialectical materialists in Russia and elsewhere, are actively hostile to religion, and seek to rid morality of all traces of religious inheritance. There are others whose secularist outlook in morals is still influenced by principles that had their origin in the tradition of Christianity. Such were the Utilitarian reformers of last century, and, in their several ways, Bertrand Russell and Aldous Huxley at the present day. It is chiefly to these last that we look for the effects of religion upon non-religious morality.

  • 2.

    Op. cit., p. 32.

  • 3.

    Kant, Grundlegung, Sect. II (E.T., Abbott, p. 53).

  • 4.

    See Dr. C. J. J. Webb's Gifford Lectures on God and Personality, Lecture II.

  • 5.

    Boethius, contra Eutychen et Nestorium, ch. 3.

  • 6.

    In using the term “juristic”, I am not thinking of the concept of corporate personality, consideration of which lies outside my present purpose.

  • 7.

    To Charles Wilson, Dec. 28, 1928: see Letters, ed. Aldous Huxley, p. 771.

  • 8.

    Les Deux Sources, pp. 304–306: “Les formulas démocratiques, énoncées d'abord dans une pensée de protestation, se sont ressenties de leur origine. On les trouve commodes pour empêcher, pour rejeter, pour renverser; il est moins facile d'en tirer l'indication positive de ce qu'il faut faire”; “La démocratie théorique … proclame la liberté, réclame l'égalité, et réconcilie ces deux sæurs ennemies en leur rappelant qu'elles sont saeurs, en mettant audessus de tout la fraternité … La fraternité est l'essentiel”. M. Berdyaev has made the same point frequently in his writings, see The End of our Time, pp. 174 ff., on democracy. Democracy, he says, is complete relativism, the negation of all absolutes, a formal theory of means to an indetermined end. Hence its tolerance and tendency to level everyone down. It is powerless to organize itself, save—here is the point—in the service of a religious ideal.

  • 9.

    “In general, it may be affirm'd, that there is no such passion in human minds, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, of services, or of relation to ourself,” Treatise, of Morals, Part II, Sect.I.

  • 10.

    Cf. Sermon V, § 12 (ed. Gladstone).

  • 11.

    Men may sacrifice themselves heroically for what seems a mere catch-word; but the word is fraught for them with a fullness of concrete meaning.

  • 12.

    For a further illustration the reader is referred to the pages in Les Deux Sources (pp. 67–80) where Bergson traces the history of the notion of justice and, particularly, the Christian origin of the ideal of universal justice.

  • 13.

    E.g., the Italian Idealists and Mr. Oakeshott (following Bradley's earlier view) in this country. In his later writings Bradley laid more stress on religious truth: see the references in my Towards a Religious Philosophy, p. 25 and note.

  • 14.

    Op. cit.,, pp. 185–186.

  • 15.

    J. S. Mill, Autobiography, pp. 40–41, writing of his father: “I have a hundred times heard him say, that all ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in a constantly increasing progression, that mankind have one on adding trait after trait till they reached the most perfect conception of wickedness which the human mind can devise, and have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. This ne plus ultra of wickedness he considered to be embodied in what is commonly presented to mankind as the creed of Christianity”, He instances the making of a hell with the fore-knowledge, and therefore with the intention, that the great majority were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment.

  • 16.

    In thus claiming to be a law for themselves and for those who, like themselves, can dispense with the traditional restrictions without danger, they are unawares indulging in the temper which they would elsewhere condemn as that of the “bloated aristocracy”. In their subsequent condonation of the acts that have led their weaker brethren into disaster they show a contrary and a democratic spirit. This palliable inconsistence is the natural outcome of a secularist outlook upon life.

  • 17.

    See Taylor, Faith of a Moralist, II, 247 f.

  • 18.

    See Mark Pattison, Essays, vol. II (Essay XV).

  • 19.

    The former of these vices is most evident in the history of Catholicism, the latter in the history of the Protestant churches. There is a constant tendency in Protestantism for the church to become virtually a department: of the civil service. Calvinism has always refused to yield to this temptation.

  • 20.

    The term “liberalism” is ambiguous, especially when addressed to the ears of Englishmen, who interpret it at once in the sense it bears in party-politics. When Newman and Karl Barth, from their different angles, declare their enmity to liberalism, they mean by it the indifference to positive religious doctrine and the acquiescence in a religion of humanistic culture that marked the outlook of the rationalist “enlightenment”. I give as an example the words quoted by Niebuhr (op. cit., p. 180, in a chapter headed “Criticism of Christian liberalism”) from Thomas Jefferson: “When we shall have done with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that the three are one and the one three, when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mark the simple structure of Jesus, when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day and got back to the pure and simple doctrines which he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily, disciples, and my opinion is, if nothing had been added to what flowed from his lips, the whole world would all this day be Christian”. If this is what is understood by liberalism in religion—and Jefferson's conception of Christianity is still widely prevalent in Europe and in America—then the protests of Newman and Barth are fully justified. We may content ourselves, without probing deeper, with recalling Disraeli's remark that the Unitarians in religion, like the Utilitarians in politics, were lacking in imagination, “and imagination rules the world”. But perhaps it is best to eschew the use of a term that is so misleading.

  • 21.

    Inf., c. XIX, 115–117:: “Ah, Constantine, how sore the evil born, not of thy conversion, but of that dowry that the first rich father took from thy hand.”

  • 22.

    Anal., II, 3. Butler did not mean, of course, that human reason could reach unaided to the knowledge revealed in Christianity; he meant that the revelation once delivered is found to satisfy the otherwise unsatisfied requirements of reason.