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Part II: The Immanence of the Transcendent

Lecture XI: The Immanence of the Transcendent

Our review of the cosmic process, of our own place in it, and of our apprehension alike of the process itself and of our relation to it, led us to the conviction that there is at work within and throughout it a Mind which also transcends it. When Mind, by means of its free ideas, becomes active not only in choosing means to ends, but in choosing between ends, it is rightly called Spirit. This activity manifestly belongs to that Mind in which the cosmic process is grounded, so that this Mind is fitly called the Supreme Spirit. For the process, of course, is process; as such, its successive moments come into being and pass away. But among the successive occurrences—or, more accurately, occurrents—are entities of such sort as to be the subject of value-judgements—to wit, ourselves; these entities find their circumstances, and indeed also themselves, to be good and evil. They find in their experience not only events but significance. As they seek to understand this quality in things, and how it can be possible, they are led to postulate a general significance of the process itself; they leap to the assumption or the demand that taken in its entirety it is good; and they make experiment, both theoretical and practical, with this hypothesis, thus becoming philosophers or pioneers. Those who have made the initial demand or assumption with the most vigorous apprehension of its nature usually find that experience fortifies them in that basic conviction. Those who begin more tentatively are seldom led by their own experience to any very confident affirmation, though they may be infected with the enthusiasm of others and so led confidently and energetically to make of life and experience the demand which hitherto they had put forward with hesitation. Those who make no initial demand that experience shall show itself to be good will seldom be converted by its course to a belief that it has that character. Moreover, it is energy of action rather than range or subtlety of thought which is as a rule found most potent in confirming the optimist hypothesis.

These considerations do not provide a basis for any hope of creating universal agreement in favour of belief in the goodness of the world or against it. Whatever a man starts by believing, it appears that experience is likely to confirm him in that belief. The process, which throws up human intelligences as episodes of its unending transitoriness, endows some of them with an optimistic temper and some with the reverse; and whatever outlook it supplies, it offers a corresponding view to be looked-out upon. So it appears. And it may at once be said that this is so far true that hardly any one was ever turned from pessimism to optimism by any activity of intellectual reflection, though some have been turned the other way by brooding over “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. The conviction that there is a meaning in life and that this meaning is good belongs not to science but to faith; and while a faith which is shown to be irrational must perish, faith is never a product of scientific observation and induction alone.

Yet this does not mean that from the standpoint of reason there is nothing to choose between optimistic faith and pessimistic agnosticism or despair. The whole endeavour of the former series of these lectures was to show that there is a vast abundance of evidence in our experience which calls for the optimistic interpretation. There is also, no doubt, very much that tends to deny it. So far the balance may hang evenly. But if it appears that the optimistic hypothesis supplies an explanation of what tends to pessimism without distorting this, while the pessimistic can only handle the portion of experience which tends to optimism by explaining it away, then the former must be pronounced to have the wider range of comprehension, and therefore, on a scientific view, the higher probability.

Now the first of the elements in experience challenging this choice of methods is the occurrence in the world-process of intelligences which even purport to estimate value and to find things good or evil. At the risk of tediousness we must once more, and for the last time, claim for this fact a place in the field of attention which men of science are often unwilling to accord it. Quite as impressive as the vastness of the universe or the infinite delicacy of its articulation is the apprehension of these qualities by beings who, from one point of view, are mere episodes of its continually changing process.1 This apprehension of the whole—or at least of stupendous ranges of it—by very small parts of itself cannot be taken for granted and passed over as without significance. If all theories which seek to relate this fact to the nature of the Whole itself are found to present insuperable difficulties, we may be driven to fall back upon a materialism which regards this fact as an interesting but uninstructive episode, or upon an agnosticism which avowedly refuses to attempt any explanation of that fact which, in all our experience, most loudly demands one. It is clear that to adopt either of these latter courses is to proclaim the bankruptcy of philosophy. And this verdict on such a theory would not be in the smallest degree affected by a complete demonstration, were such a thing possible, that consciousness and thought are a secretion of the brain. No mystery could well be greater than that the brains of certain organisms should produce secretions which correspond with the structure of the universe in such a way that to act upon the impulsion supplied by them is found to result in further correspondence with a modified structure of the universe at a later date, as appears to happen, on this theory, when we calculate the hour of to-morrow’s sunrise, lay plans accordingly, and put them in practice when to-morrow comes.

Repelled by such Bedlamite ravings, we adopt instead the hypothesis to which all scientific activity points, and assume that mind as we know it in ourselves is akin to what guides and orders the universe in all its parts. It seems, as has been said, not to affect our argument whether it be held that all existence and all existing things are in some degree mental, though in stocks and stones this element is so rudimentary as to be negligible, or that the whole is the self-expression of a Mind which is able to use what is truly non-mental and even inorganic, as well as what is organic and mental, as the vehicle of its utterance. That may be in itself an interesting enquiry, and, before any philosophy can be final, it must rest on or supply a correct answer to that question. For us at this stage it is enough to establish the kinship of the human mind with the Principle which rules all things, and of that Principle with the human mind.

This human mind is not merely an energy active in tracing out logical correlations or observing uniform sequences. It is also, as we reminded ourselves at the outset of this lecture, a centre of value or subject of value-judgements. Indeed this characteristic is empirically prior to its purely logical qualities. It only begins to seek truth because it is already appreciative and appetitive of good; at first the good it aims at may be the comfort of its own organism; to secure this it must correctly apprehend the nature and reactions of a considerable part of its environment. Later, in the activity of seeking truth as a means to quite non-intellectual ends, it becomes aware of good in the very search for truth itself and in the grasp of it. Thus science is born. And it would seem strangely paradoxical to say that though science is a product of the mind as appreciative of value, yet value and appreciation have no ultimate significance or importance in that real world which science apprehends. We must repeat at this level the arguments of the former section. When we remember the place which belongs to mind as a subject of value-judgements in the initiation of scientific enterprise, it becomes absurd to say that value itself has no place in the world which science seeks to comprehend. For, once more, the thinking and valuing mind is part of that world; it is indeed the part which makes possible the existence of science. The man of science is part of the world which he studies, and for our purposes the most important part. Let him by all means be self-forgetful when he studies stars or electrons; but let him not generalise about the moral character of the universe or the mind expressed in it on a basis which omits the only evidence relevant to that subject.

Mind in pursuit of good is purposive and is known as Will. Will, we have seen, is the only principle known to man which supplies a finally satisfactory explanation of anything whatever. The effective action of will is, almost certainly, the prototype of all concepts of causation, and it is noticeable that all attempts to account for efficient causation otherwise than by reference to Will have broken down. Some scientists urge us to abandon the category of causation as being hopelessly obscure and confused. But in fact we cannot do without it.2 And this will cause no dismay to any one who is ready to find the explanation of the world in a Cosmic Mind which is akin to the mind of man, and which is therefore appreciative and purposive as well as accurate and coherent.

So far we have been engaged in recapitulation of points urged in the former series of lectures. It is unnecessary here to refer to special occasions which seem to require a transcendent rather than a purely immanent Mind to account for them. They are found in connexion with all the three traditional forms of ultimate value—Knowledge, Beauty, and Goodness.3 But the notions of Immanence and Transcendence themselves call for further consideration.

It is not difficult to see what is meant by an immanent principle; indeed the difficulty is to see how a principle can ever be other than immanent. On the other hand it is very difficult to see what is meant by an immanent person, or how a person can be other than (relatively) transcendent. This contrast states the most relevant points in the meaning of all the four terms; and it may be well to affirm dogmatically, before we go any further, that the main interest alike of philosophy and of religion is with the question whether the Cosmic Mind is truly conceived as personal. Yet there is a provisional convenience in the familiar terms, and an examination of their appropriate use will help us to avoid ambiguities; in the course of this examination we must repeat, from a different angle of approach, certain considerations urged in the last lecture; for we are in this series beginning where the last series left off and in some sense covering the same ground in the reverse direction.

The classical case of Immanence is of course the relationship of mind to body in any rational organism. Mind is immanent in the body which is organic to it.4 A conception of the relation of God to the World, based on this analogy, is expressed in Pope’s famous couplet:

All are but parts of one stupendous Whole

Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.5

But to represent the cosmic system in this crude way as the body organic to the Divine Mind involves, not only the difficulties noted in our last series as besetting Whitehead’s presentation, but also quite special and ruinous difficulties when we consider the relation of the Divine Mind to our own; for our minds, and the bodies which they govern, are not organic to the Divine Mind in the sense of always moving in immediate conformity with it. We may return to this analogy of mind and body. At present the terms with which we began will serve us better.

A principle is properly spoken of as immanent in the occasions or processes which conform to it. These illustrate it, and it is other than they; but it has no being apart from them. Gravitation does not first exist on its own account, and compel material particles to conform to itself. It exists in the mutual attraction of the material particles. So Nationalism is a principle to which certain policies and politicians conform; it explains their particular methods and actions. It is other than these, but it has no existence apart from these. In other words it is distinguishable, but not separable, from them. And because it is not separable from them, it has no element of transcendence.

A person is properly described as transcendent of his acts. He is expressed in these, but he has an existence apart from them. His circumstances on any occasion may be strictly accidental; that is to say, the causes conditioning them may be wholly other than his own will or any causes conditioning this,6 so that it is possible to conceive him, while himself unaltered, being at that time in other circumstances instead. His acts in the two sets of circumstances would be quite different. Indeed he would express that special identity which he is by the difference in his acts in different circumstances. His self is not only distinguishable but separable from the acts in which it is revealed. What is important in the assertion of transcendence is the affirmation, not of unexhausted resources, though this may be true, but of capacity for that infinite delicacy of adjustment to varying conditions in which purposive as distinct from mechanical or chemical action consists. An unusual or unexpected act may appear to exhibit a special volume of energy, but that is because our minds are obsessed by the mechanical categories, and we suppose that additional energy is needed to counteract a supposed natural tendency to do always the same thing—a moral inertia. But what is required for heroic sacrifice as compared with selfish acquisitiveness is not more volitional force; it is a different volitional direction. What a true doctrine of divine transcendence will assert is not a reservoir of normally unutilised energy, but a volitional as contrasted with a mechanical direction of the energy utilised.

In what sense, then, if any, can a person be described as immanent? We may mark certain distinct grades. It is sometimes said, though probably only by those who wish to illustrate something else, that the thought of an inventor is immanent in the machine constructed in accordance with his idea, or that the mind of a poet is immanent in his works. Certainly in the case of a machine it is only the inventor’s thought that can be so described, not his mind as possessed of subjective functions. There may be thought in the machine in the sense that it expresses and corresponds to thought; but this does not mean that the machine thinks. When men speak of divine immanence they always mean more than this. We come nearer to what is intended in the other illustration. For when a man says that the mind of Shakespeare is immanent in his plays, he does not only mean that Shakespeare’s mind determined the arrangement of the words which we read (as the inventor’s mind determined the arrangement of wheels and rods); but that when we read the plays we are entering into a certain commerce with the mind which conceived them, analogous to that intercourse of mind with mind which takes place in conversation but conducted through the medium of written instead of spoken words. So far as the change is in the medium of communication, the substitution of marks on paper for vibrations in the air, no important or relevant difference is discernible. The difference, which is obviously great, lies in the fact that the play is written and remains unaltered by any comment of ours, whereas when we hold conversation with a living person we receive not only an expression of his mind, but an expression of it adjusted to correspond to the expression of our own; we watch not merely the expression of that mind as fixed once for all, but the living play of that mind in sympathetic reaction to the play of our own. The text of Hamlet will not be affected by anything that I may say as the play proceeds; but my friend’s next remark may be very greatly affected by my reply to what he said last. It is for this reason that there is still a sense of uneasiness in any doctrine of immanence which tries at once to assert the personality of the being held to be immanent, and yet to illustrate his immanence by reference to the relation of a poet to his poem.

The only true immanence of a person is in his conduct as it occurs. A person is not immanent in his past conduct, or in the record of it. You may infer his personality from these, but you cannot meet it in these. There is, however, a real sense in which a personality is immanent in his present conduct; it gives to that conduct its direction, its quality, its energy. And the conduct itself consists of that perpetual and delicate adjustment to varying and never wholly foreseen contingencies wherein the life of personality or purposive intelligence resides. Shakespeare himself was immanent in the composition of his plays; he is not himself immanent in the plays composed. You may interrupt Othello or insult it in its actual process, and provoke no personal reactions; if you interrupted the actual composition of Othello you might provoke a personal reaction which would illustrate that treasury of language from which so many dramatic characters drew the vehicle of their self-expression.

The more the matter is considered, the plainer does it become that we can only speak of the immanence of what is personal in processes which are not irrevocably fixed but are open to determination by the activity of mind, which, as we saw, is in varying degrees free from the pressure of that process in and out of which it emerges, and directs its activity according to its own principles and interests. To assert the immanence of a personal being in a process is to assert the indeterminacy of that process when considered in abstraction from the mind supposedly immanent in it.

The point we have reached may be put in another way, and it will then be seen that our contention is diametrically opposed to the interest with which the notion of divine immanence has commonly been invoked. It has commonly been suggested that immanent Deity may be conceived not only as a constant principle of action, but as a principle of constant action, while transcendent Deity, or Deity qua transcendent, possesses reserves of power which may be exercised by way of miracle and in a manner unpredictable by us. It is easy to see how this conception arose. Natural science was tracing uniformities of procedure in one department of existence after another, and asserted the uniformity of nature as the one indisputable axiom. Science triumphantly vindicated its methods by its resounding success. It was not easy at first for philosophy and theology to keep their balance. There was an obvious duty to welcome the new revelation. In some sense at least, science was grasping truth. If as we look back we judge the philosophers and especially the theologians of the latter nineteenth century and first decade of the twentieth to have been rather pusillanimous we must, in fairness to them, remember the immense impact of a scientific movement which seemed to be united in itself, and especially united in its proclamation of the dogma of uniformity. In our day the scientific phalanx has dissolved into unco-ordinated units; men of science repudiate one another’s conclusions; the same scientist works at different times with contradictory theories; and many students of science are become sceptical about the capacity of science to lead to any apprehension of the real world. It is easy now for the theologian to be bold in claiming for the branch of experience and study which is his special concern its full weight in any philosophy which purports to be a survey of reality.

Yielding to the pressure of their times, the theologians of the last two generations submissively accepted the dogma of the scientists, and then set themselves to relate this to that belief in divine personality to which every western or Biblical religion is committed, by means of the thought of divine immanence. The laws of nature were taken to be a mode of that immanence; God as immanent was thought to be constant in His action, in the mechanical sense of constancy. There was also posited a divine transcendence, whereby God was conceived as able to modify His normal constancy of action by the occasional exercise of reserved powers in acts called miracles. Then of necessity came the struggle to eliminate or to establish this transcendence. For if it were established, it introduced an uncertainty into our expectation that laws of nature will continue to operate; who knows when they may be set side? But if the belief in divine transcendence be abolished, religion is in a parlous state, for a mechanically constant order (which is all that is then left, however much it be called divine immanence) is no object of worship or fount of love.

The mistake was to admit the assertion of natural uniformity at the physical level, or to suppose that variations in it must be due to the introduction of some power not normally utilised or the action of some “higher law” not normally operative. Obviously it has a provisional truth, which has been enough to carry science to its victories. The theologian who quarrels with science on its own ground is but a presumptuous fool. But the scientist who quarrels with theology on its own ground is no better. If there is mutual respect and common reverence for truth in all its forms there may still be divergence and even what we have called tension; but there will be no quarrel.

The impressiveness of the scientific advance in the nineteenth century was mainly due to the fact that science was then preponderantly occupied with physics and chemistry, and what is most intimately allied to these. It is true that the chief public controversy of the century was concerned with biology. But it was very early apparent that in this field there was less unanimity among students than in the others. The general hypothesis of Evolution was accepted, but its precise mode was debated, and for philosophic purposes the precise mode is as significant as the general hypothesis. It is obvious that for some students at least the impulsion towards acceptance of “natural selection” as the one and only mode of evolution came from a mechanistic habit of mind and a desire at all costs to dispense with providential “design”. That is sheer prejudice of a grossly unscientific character. The fact is that “uniformity” takes a new meaning when applied to organisms, and when applied to persons is so transformed that it is misleading to use the word without careful explanation. Its true sphere, in the sense in which it was for a time dogmatic among scientists, is the sphere of what can be precisely weighed and measured—the sphere of mass and motion; beyond that it expands until in the spiritual sphere it becomes the “principle of sufficient reason”.

The day is past, then, when the theologian can with self-respect accept from a department other than his own a dogma which reduces his own to insignificance, and then, by what is little more than verbal jugglery, try to save from the wreck what is vital to his special interest. He finds that the religious interest demands the assertion of personality in the Ultimate Reality itself. Further he finds that on a survey of existence in all its grades as a single whole he has abundant reason for this same conviction. We have attempted in the former series of lectures to show the grounds for that conclusion and have already recapitulated some of these. From that conviction, therefore, we now make our start in the endeavour to trace some of the ways in which the Personal Reality thus affirmed is related to our life and experience. In that enterprise we inevitably follow the analogy of personal conduct and action, though fully aware that this is in human beings subject to many limitations which can have no application to the ultimate Being.

Now so far as a person is made known in his conduct it is by a perpetual variation of reaction to varied conditions, which has its explanation in the identity of his personality and character. In so far as this is still in process of development under the discipline of experience, there may be actions which are really inconsistent with each other. Because of such growth, we do not call a man a liar on the ground that he is known to have told lies as a schoolboy. There may also be inconsistency, because even in mature life character has not been fully formed. But personality in a grown man shows its special quality neither in mechanical constancy of reaction, such as that of those who always, or never, fall in with suggestions made to them, nor in caprice, so that they are unreliable, but in a discriminating control of actions in the light of accepted principles of established sentiments. Thus the good father may be indulgent to one son and stern to another, if at different times they commit some outwardly identical offence, because from his knowledge of their characters as thus far formed he can be sure that he is in each case supplying what will most help moral progress. But no one could forecast his action who did not intimately know him and the sons and his love for and knowledge of them. It is thus that a person is immanent in his conduct. And if a personal God is to be described as immanent in the world, this must mean that the action and reaction of all parts of the world are determined at every moment by the wisdom of God, and if they are observed to be constant, that is because the wisdom of God so orders. Socrates was quite right in principle when he demanded of Anaxagoras, who had said all things were in chaos till reason ordered them, that he should say whether the earth is round or flat by showing which it is better that it should be.7

But though the principle was right, it was inapplicable by any finite mind. For no finite mind can say with certainty what is that good of the whole universe which dictates the detailed arrangements of its parts. In the sphere of morality we can without question or hesitation condemn some types of character and principles of action as bad, and commend others as good. But to determine the truth about the levels of being lower than the ethical and aesthetic by means of value-judgements passes the wit of man. We have here to call in aid the distinction, dear to Aristotle, between the order of being and the order of experience or discovery. It may be perfectly true that all things are as they are only because the Will of God, which is the Good as efficient cause, has so decided: good determines fact. But we can only find out what is in accordance with the Will of God in other than the ethical and aesthetic spheres by observing the facts and remembering that they are as they are because God so willed. In this activity of observation and in co-ordination of the facts observed, science has its being. It must not itself call in the hypothesis of Divine Volition in relation to any particular event, for that is to leave observation and co-ordination for the value-judgements which, admittedly, have here no scientific application. Yet if it be true that the Divine Will, though we can never fathom it, is none the less the real cause of all things being as they are, then science must admit that its own method affords only provisional assurance with regard to its results.

What follows from such a view? There is a point at which the behaviour of the natural world directly affects the moral interests of men; it is the point where natural conditions are integral to men’s fulfilment of their intentions. What men call an “accident” is an event in which some causal sequence in nature comes into intimate relationship with the purposive action of a mind that had not taken that sequence into account. All purposive action of men rests upon and presupposes the constant operation of natural forces. I plan for to-morrow and for next year on the supposition that the revolution of the earth upon its own axis and about the sun will continue. If in following up my plan I walk along a street at the precise moment when a chimney is blown down so that it nearly or quite kills me, that is an “accident”; the fall of rocks from a mountain into an empty valley is not called an accident unless there is a person, or a building representing the purpose of a person, near where the rocks fall. It appears then that while the constancy of natural processes is the necessary prerequisite for intelligent, purposive and moral action, that same constancy may sometimes cut across the sequence of purposive actions and hinder the fulfilment of purpose. It is at such times that religious people are driven to ask why God permits the occurrence of events that involve apparently useless waste and sorrow. It would hardly be appropriate in this series of Lectures to discuss the principles on which it may be possible to “justify the ways of God to men” in the detail of personal experience.8 But some of them may be indicated. First, the whole possibility of that moral life, from the implications of which the difficulty arises, depends upon the general constancy of natural processes, which leads to the particular regretted accident. If that constancy is to be modified every time it would lead to what is in itself regrettable for somebody, it would become a totally insecure foundation for the purposiveness of the moral life. Secondly, it is good for a man to know that the course of nature is not devised for his convenience; for his benefit indeed it is devised—for it is to his benefit that his individual convenience should not be considered. Consequently there is an immense a priori probability that it is good for the normal process to take its course, even though it make havoc of many human purposes and even of human affections. But the religious man’s difficulty is not imaginary; it springs from a principle more fundamental than that of nature’s constancy; it springs from recognition of what is implied by belief in Divine Personality.

For Personality, as was said, manifests its identity through an infinite variety of adaptation. The man who always acts in the same way, whatever the circumstances, is reliable indeed, but is not strong or loving or wise; he is only obstinate and stupid. If we believe in a personal God, we may believe that having created the world He leaves it to move by the laws implanted in it by the act of creation, or we may believe that He guides and governs it at every stage. If we accept the former view, we exclude present divine action from the greater part of the world of our experience. If we thus make a total severance between God and the world, as between a carpenter and a box that he has made, or, to take Paley’s famous illustration, between a watchmaker and a watch, we are on the way to that separation between sacred and secular which ends by making religion a special and peculiar interest of persons constituted in a particular way. Moreover, it is of little help to attribute capacity for intervention to the Creator who normally leaves the mechanism of the universe to grind remorselessly on, for it appears that the instances of His intervention are, at any rate, very few, and indeed we see good reason why that should be so. God, who is in this fashion transcendent only, is too remote to be object and occasion of the religious experience of mankind as that has actually occurred. We are left with this result: a purely transcendent God, who intervenes often to give special direction to the course of events, is incompatible with a scientific apprehension of the world; while a purely transcendent God who never intervenes at all, or has done so only once or twice in recorded history, is incompatible with vital religion. The only way to hold together a vital religion and a scientific apprehension of the world is to assert some form of Divine Immanence.

We do a great disservice alike to philosophy and to religion if we minimise the divergence of the tendencies proper to science and to religion at this point. Because science works with uniformities it is unable to allow in its own processes for any variability in nature; and it is not easy for the man of science to admit that such variability may be real, even though science can take no account of it. Similarly because religion is concerned with Divine Personality it must assert the variability of a natural order which is the expression of that Personality, though for such variation, as for constancy, there must be “sufficient reason”.

The scientist is free to pursue his own method and justified in pursuing it; but he must not dogmatise about what can or cannot happen; he must not allow the habit of mind which is appropriate and congenial to his special studies to become exalted as the only habit of mind appropriate to and worthy of the Creator of the cosmic system and of the purposive intelligences which inhabit it, apprehend it, and, in their degree, modify it. The religious man is free to insist that in every detail of experience the mind and hand of God are traceable, but he must not suppose that he sufficiently apprehends the nature and scope of the divine purpose to say independently of evidence what has happened or is about to happen. Above all, he must not postulate reserves of energy or power which may break in upon the ordinary course of events from without but must recognise that the normal constancy of nature expresses the will of God no less truly than occasional variation, and that the explanation of what he calls a miracle is exactly the same as the ultimate explanation of the most commonplace event.

There is here a genuine difference between the outlook natural to religion and that natural to science. “Modern Science”, says Dr. Streeter, in a lecture which (he assures us) was submitted for criticism and amendment to a scientific friend,

“is founded on two closely related conceptions, mechanism and law; and it works mainly with two implements, experiment and measurement. To a scientist the verbs ‘to explain’ or ‘to understand’ mean to see the individual fact as an instance of a general law, or to see a departmental law as an instance of a more general law, and then to see all the phenomena concerned as connected in a relation of cause and effect mechanically conceived.”9

To the religious man the verbs “to explain” or “to understand” mean to see the phenomenon in relation to the Divine Purpose. These are not necessarily incompatible; but they are very different. And the religious outlook has this advantage, that it is able when taken as ultimate, to allow free play to the scientific interest, provided only that this be regarded as provisional and not exclusive or ultimate; while the scientific interest, if treated as ultimate, cannot find room for the religious interest or interpretation at all.

If the insistence on this point is becoming tedious, I must urge that it is of crucial importance and is commonly ignored. If uniformity in nature is not only usual but universal—still more if it is necessary—the personality of God is denied, unless God is conceived as purely transcendent in the way repudiated above. If the personality of God is affirmed, this affirmation carries with it that of the essential variability of nature. There is a sharp choice to be made here; the tension between the habit of mind congenial to religion and the habit of mind congenial to science is acute. But the way to deal with it is not to deny it, nor to let one habit extrude the other, nor to mitigate the tension itself, but to recognise its necessity and its origin, so that neither religion nor science may in practice encroach upon the other.

This position should not involve difficulty for any except believers in mechanical Determinism. If in any sense man has freedom to choose and to act on his choice, this of itself involves a breach in the rigid uniformity of nature. I am free to choose whether I shall stand still or walk across the room. If I choose the latter, I effect a redistribution of the mass of the world and shift its centre of gravity. That I only do so to an extent negligible in the most precise astronomical calculation possible to man, does not affect the principle. And if I can do this to any extent at all, then God, if He exists, can do it to any extent that He pleases.

Personality, whether human or divine, is, in so far as it is immanent, a principle of variation. There is in the world an immanent Reason—a Logos. If this is impersonal, it may be only a principle of logical coherence. If it is personal, it must be a principle of perpetual adjustment according to “sufficient reason”. But behind, or above, the successive moments of conduct in which personality is immanent, there is the personality itself, transcendent, and, in proportion to its completeness of integration, unchangeable. Miracles, if they occur, are as much the manifestation of God immanent as are the regular processes of Nature. God immanent is a principle or energy of adjustment and therefore of variation; God transcendent is the eternally self-identical—the I AM.

But while personality is immanent in all its conduct, it is not equally expressed in all. The hero and the coward perform most actions of their lives quite indistinguishably; nothing reveals the heroism of the one or the cowardice of the other until some crisis arises— truly called a crisis, because it is the judgement on their two characters. The hero does not at that moment become brave or the coward timid; but the event displays what each had been in the time when no difference appeared between them. The heroic act is not done by some strange power which the agent had not previously called into play; his will, which had caused all his previous and undistinguished actions, now, because circumstances require it, causes the act of courage. No doubt the human hero becomes braver through doing the brave action, but that is an accident of finitude. If he were a perfected character in all respects it is still true that his constant will would express itself in undistinguished action when this is appropriate and in awe-inspiring self-sacrifice when that is appropriate. But it is the latter and not the former which exhibits his character truly.

So the Personal Deity universally immanent—the Logos—may for centuries act in ways that very imperfectly disclose His Character; yet when time is appropriate may Himself submit to conditions which reveal that Character as it had always been. There is no novelty of causal energy. If He use some way of becoming Himself an historical episode other than that by which other similar episodes are initiated, such for example as birth from a Virgin, this is no manifestation of new and usually dormant power, but is due to the same cause as other and normal births, namely, the Will of this same Logos, now aiming at a special and unique result. In other words, if the immanent principle is personal, we must not only see the whole universe as the expression and utterance of His activity, but must expect to find in its course special characteristic and revealing acts, which are no more truly His than the rest, but do more fully express Him than the rest.

There is ground for believing that there are infinite gradations of such adjustment and adaptation as find their climax in these alleged revelatory acts. The actual practice of religion in any of its forms admits men to experience of the personal action of God in many degrees of self-disclosure. This field has not been worked over by scientific students of the subject with the diligence which it deserves. That is natural enough, because precise and critical observation is very difficult and experiment is from the nature of the case impossible. What is very startling to the philosopher whose mental habit is controlled by scientific interests is the abundance of testimony given by those who have had intimate experience of men’s spiritual life to the conviction that in the early stages prayer receives literal fulfilment with great frequency; that later on this becomes less frequent, until it seems almost to cease, as though God at first gives encouragement of the most obvious kind and later withdraws this in order to evoke a deeper trust. Such theories call for scientific investigation; the evidence should be weighed and tested. But if this very common assertion of the persons best qualified to know is well founded, it indicates not only a power, but a readiness, to practise with much freedom that adaptation to circumstances which we have asserted as a necessary inference from the Personality of God.

To assert the adaptability and variability of nature is not to introduce chaos or caprice as a characteristic of the universe, because the assertion is made concerning the immanent activity of a Personal Deity, who, because Personal, is also transcendent, and as transcendent is eternally Himself, self-identical, “with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning”. His Will, that is to say His Character in action, is the explanation of all that is. If Nature is uniform, it is because, for His own purposes, He so wills; if it is variable, it is because He so wills. That it is sufficiently uniform for us safely to assume its uniformity for action and for study of its own processes, is evident. To assert that it is absolutely uniform is not open to any man unless he either denies the existence of Divine Personality or else can show, as Socrates demanded of Anaxagoras, that this is best. The believer in Divine Personality will not be ready to accept with credulity stories of capricious behaviour in nature, but if he is given evidence of some apparent variation where there is also moral or spiritual occasion, he will receive it with respect and investigate it without prejudice.

Immanence and Transcendence are not sharply contrasted terms. It is the Transcendent who is immanent, and it is the Immanent who transcends. If the norm of immanence is taken to be the relation of mind to body, then a doctrine of divine immanence may easily lead to an assertion of that parallelism of God and Nature which Dr. Whitehead outlines in the closing section of Process and Reality, and to which reference has already been made. But such a view supplies no “explanation” of the world; the sum total of God-plus-World remains a brute fact—it is what it is, and there is no more to be said. It does not explain itself—and it is marked by this fatal defect because it seeks to reduce all relations to those of the organism to its own parts or to its environment. Only Personality is a true principle of explanation, for only of its intelligent purpose has reason no desire to reiterate its perpetual question “Why?”10 If, however, with the classical instance of Mind and Body we couple that of Person and Conduct—or indeed if we only remember that impersonal mind is always undeveloped mind, so that mind in its true nature is always personal—then our doctrine of divine immanence must be that which has been outlined in this Lecture. The living God is indeed at work—fully at work—in Nature, in human experience, and in the course of history. But He is at work as a Person, exhibiting the identity of His character in the infinitely delicate variations of adjustment to varying circumstance. He is not at work there as a static principle, always acting in the same way, though reserving in His transcendence a capacity to intrude with variation into the uniformity of His own immanent action; He is at work there as a living Person, expressing His constancy through appropriate variations, which are guaranteed against caprice or incoherence by that transcendent self-identity in which they are grounded. Such a view gives to science all it needs or can rightly claim in assurance of the actual constancy of Nature, while it also secures for religion its vital need for a God who is in all things supreme and unfettered.

For some it may make clearer the point that is being urged if it is put in the traditional terms of Christian theology. God as immanent is the Eternal Logos, the personal expression of the divine character, thought and purpose; this Logos is the explanation of all things that occur,11 whether it be the regular and customary growth of the seed into the plant, or the birth of His own fleshly tabernacle from a Virgin-Mother;12 neither of these is more or less divine than the other; neither represents a divine intrusion from without; each is a manifestation of divine activity appropriate to the occasion. But in the variety of activity there is no instability or incoherence, if only because the personal Logos does nothing of Himself, but in all things expresses the transcendent God.13 Yet once more, that transcendent God is unknown to finite minds except through His self-expression in the immanent activity of His Word or Son.14

For this, too, is involved in our position. God—the Absolute, Eternal, Self-identical God, whose only Name is I Am That I Am—is for ever unknown and unknowable except so far as He reveals Himself. And every revelation is an utterance of His Word. His Eternity becomes known in the variety of its temporal manifestations. The God whom we learn to know in Nature or in spiritual experience is no other than the eternal God. There is no “Veiled Being” behind that “Invisible King” who governs the series of temporal occurrences.15 We know that God is more than His actions in time, as a man is more than his conduct. But He is known by His actions as a man is known—not by a doubtful and precarious inference, but by the certainty of sympathetic apprehension. God is known only as He reveals Himself; but He truly is what He reveals Himself to be. As our consideration of the world in which He is self-expressed led us to the assertion that His immanent presence and energy therein pointed to that transcendence which is proper to personality, and before which alone, when it is personality at the full, our personalities may fitly bow in the total self-surrender of adoration, so now we are led to the conviction that in that evidence of divine transcendence which our experience affords we have the true explanation of the immanent activity of God and therefore of the universe and all that it contains. To use the Johannine term once more, the “Word” is not adventitious to God but integral. There is at the heart of things such a balance or parallelism as Dr. Whitehead sets forth; but it is not directly between God and the World; it is between God transcendent and God immanent—not between God and the World, but between the eternal God and that Word, wherein He is self-expressed and the World is implicit.

  • 1. Sir James Jeans writes a book to describe the Mysterious Universe, But he is himself quite as mysterious as all that he describes: and nothing is so mysterious as the fact that he can describe it.
  • 2. I cannot claim to have seriously studied the recent discussions of Causation, but an effort to follow their general course leaves me persuaded that nothing important has been added to Lotze’s treatment of the subject in his Microcosm, vol. i. pp. 259–261, 276–283.
  • 3. See pp. 249–255.
  • 4. We should maintain that mind transcends it; that is to say, the mind never receives full and exhaustive expression through the body: it is always more and other than the ground of the body’s movements. But this is a further consideration.
  • 5. Pope, Essay on Man.
  • 6. An “accident” is an event due to the convergence of two independent chains of causation. See infra, p. 291.
  • 7. Plato, Phaedo, 97 D, E.
  • 8. I have attempted the outline of such a theology of accident in Christus Veritas, pp. 192–199.
  • 9. B. H. Streeter, The Buddha and the Christ, p. 11.
  • 10. See Lecture VI., p. 145.
  • 11. St. John i. 31.
  • 12. St. John i. 14 (cf. 13).
  • 13. St. John v. 19, 30.
  • 14. St. John i. 18.
  • 15. The terms are taken from Mr. H. G. Wells’ book, God the Invisible King.
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