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Part II: The Immanence of the Transcendent

Lecture XIX: The Sacramental Universe

Our argument has led us to the belief in a living God, who, because He is such, is transcendent over the universe, which owes its origin to His creative act and which He sustains by His immanence within it. The created universe, at least as known to us, is historical; it is marked at every point by successiveness or process. That process is traced out by the sciences of astronomy, geology and biology. But the data for a comprehensive science of the universe are not available to us. We have no knowledge of life in any portion of it except upon our own planet. The conditions necessary for the support of life as we know it do not certainly exist anywhere else, and the supposition that they occur belongs to speculation if not to guess-work. It is true that such conditions may exist elsewhere; it is also true that life in the general sense of organic responsiveness in physical objects may occur in forms quite unknown to us and unimaginable by us. Yet our ignorance on these points need not lead us to hesitate in attributing to life a great place among the factors determining our estimate of the Universe. It is the quality of life, not the extent of its diffusion in space, which endows it with importance for the philosopher. Even more true is this concerning mind. It is a late-comer in the historical process, as far as we know. When it comes it is at first so rudimentary, and of so little influence on the conduct of the organism in which it is found, that its existence may be plausibly denied or its significance dismissed by the process of dubbing it epiphenomenal. Yet so soon as there is an entity which has even once been determined in its conduct, not by the impulsion of efficient causation but by the lure of apparent good, a new principle, utterly incapable of reduction to efficient causation, has made its appearance, and any coherent account of the universe must allow for it. But to do this is at once to pass from a materialistic to a spiritual interpretation of the universe. For if among the principles found to be operative in it is determination by good, no limit can be set a priori to the application of this. Indeed, as we have seen, it becomes a necessity of reason to test the hypothesis that this is itself the supreme principle of reality.

A great part of these Lectures has been concerned with one method of testing that hypothesis, namely the attempt to see what follows from its adoption. In this attempt we have drawn upon the tradition and experience of religion, and more especially of the Christian religion, as a main source of our data. But it is at once evident that the general outline of the structure of the universe, as presented by science to-day, is far more congenial to the theistic hypothesis, as we have been considering it, than were the scientific theories prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. That remains true even though we go on to admit that in some respects those earlier theories were influenced by ideas drawn from religious sources to a greater extent than the scientific theories of our own time. Truth is one, and the progress towards truth in religion and in science follows converging lines. We serve truth as a whole most effectively, not when we seek to impose religious ideas upon science, nor when we seek to impose scientific ideas upon religion, but when studying both religion and the physical world with open and unprejudiced minds we seek to read their lesson.

Broadly speaking, the modern scientific view affords an apprehension of the world as existing in a series of strata, of such sort that the lower is necessary to the actuality of the higher but only finds its own fullness of being when thus used by the higher as its means of self-actualisation. Without the mechanical basis in matter, there could be no life of the kind that we know. Without living matter—bodily organisms—mind, as we know it, does not arise. Without animal mind (seeking means to an end presented as good) there could be no spirit such as we know (choosing between ends by reference to an ideal standard of good).1 Now such a scheme can be regarded from two points of view; but whichever is adopted, care must be taken to avoid obliterating what is evident from the other. We may begin at the lower end of the series, and then there is no doubt about the reality of the material world. But the fact that this is real, and is the necessary basis of the world of life and mind and spirit as known to us, must not lead us to the supposition that there is nothing in these which is not observable in the material world as such. In the last resort it is, no doubt, true that there is only one world, and each department in isolation is an abstraction. We can say if we like that there is only one substance, and that the different sciences study not different substances, but different modes of action and reaction on the part of the same substance. But then we must be careful not to say that, because the actions and reactions studied in physics and chemistry are certainly real, therefore those studied in biology, in aesthetics, in ethics, in theology, are either unreal or else are only complicated forms of the other group.

If we begin at the other end, the temptation to bias is reversed. Because the actuality of the spiritual is assumed, the equal actuality of the physical tends to be doubted or denied. Now there is a sense in which a doctrine of Degrees of Reality may be true and important; but in that sense this doctrine does not affirm that some things more genuinely exist than others. Between bare existence and bare non-existence there is no middle term; any alleged entity either exists or it does not. If it exists, a question may be raised concerning the manner of its existence, and concerning the extent to which the ultimate principle of reality is expressed in, or qualified by, its existence. Thus I am prepared to affirm that in this year 1934 “the present King of France” does not exist. Some contemporary logicians, including Lord Russell if I understand him rightly, say that “the present King of France” has being but not existence. That seems to me an unnecessary refinement, which only confuses the issue unless it be held that every thought which can be framed without internal contradiction is balanced by somewhat possessed of Being, whatever that may be. This would lead us in the direction of an Idealism even more remote than are most varieties of that philosophical tradition from the position which these Lectures have sought to vindicate. But though “the present King of France” has no existence, and “the King of France reigning in 1934” never will have existence,2 Shakespeare’s Ariel has existence—the existence of a poetic phantasy; and the atoms of hydrogen have existence—the existence of physical actuality; and “the present King of England” has existence, the existence of historical actuality. Now Shakespeare’s Ariel, possessing existence as a phantasy, possesses actuality also in a secondary degree. He is not, so to speak, a primary entity, like atoms, or animals, or individual persons, or nations; he exists in imagination only. As imaginary, he is actual; but what is meant by an actual man is one who exists, not only in the thought or imagination of other men, but in himself and for himself, so that if all else were abolished he would still exist, indefinitely modified but subsistent; whereas if Shakespeare and all his readers were abolished, Ariel would simply not exist at all.

It is with actualities—primary existents—that philosophy or metaphysics, the science of the real as such,3 is concerned. It does well to attend to such secondary actualities as Ariel, because the genius of a great poet partly consists in the penetration of his insight, and his imagination, though in one sense truly creative, yet draws its material from what it perceives in the world about it. A view of reality to which Ariel is merely irrelevant seems to involve a view of Shakespeare as partly lunatic; and that is strong evidence against it. But while we call on the creations of poets for illumination and suggestion, our concern as philosophers is with primary actualities. Among these there may be degrees of reality if by that is meant that they represent, or express, the ultimate principle of Reality with varying degrees of completeness. But all truly exist. And to deny the real existence of matter is as fatal to a truly spiritual conception of spirit as is materialism, or the denial of all spiritual actuality. For as it is true that matter is the necessary condition for the actuality of life and this also of spirit so also is it true that, in our experience at least spirit arises within and as part of an organism which is also material, and expresses its spirituality, not by ignoring matter but by controlling it.

It must be admitted that the testimony of the great religions is not unanimous on this point. The religions of the East, and conspicuously of India, seek to affirm the supremacy of the spiritual by the denial of reality to the material; but the result is, in fact, a materialistic doctrine of the soul, and the invasion of religion itself by materialism in the form of sensuality. The latter is not denied as regards popular Hinduism. It is not so widely recognised that the doctrine of Karma is essentially materialistic. But it is hard to acquit of that charge a doctrine which attributes continuity of moral being, and liability to the penal consequences of acts done in a former existence, to a soul-substance which has no persistent self-consciousness. By such a theory the moral regulation of the universe is reduced from action according to good conceived as, in its fullness, a personal relationship, to the plane of efficient causation, which is the plane of the material par excellence. For it would be no unfair description of the material world to speak of it as, in itself, the sphere of efficient causation, while the distinctive feature of life, more profoundly of mind, and essentially of spirit, is determination not by any impulsion of force but by the attraction of, and responsiveness to, apparent good.

It may safely be said that one ground for the hope of Christianity that it may make good its claim to be the true faith lies in the fact that it is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions. It affords an expectation that it may be able to control the material, precisely because it does not ignore it or deny it, but roundly asserts alike the reality of matter and its subordination. Its own most central saying is: “The Word was made flesh”, where the last term was, no doubt, chosen because of its specially materialistic associations. By the very nature of its central doctrine Christianity is committed to a belief in the ultimate significance of the historical process, and in the reality of matter and its place in the divine scheme.

Now if spirit is real in our experience at all, it is real by the effectiveness of the control which it exercises. This is true of each higher grade as it supervenes upon that lower grade which supplies the indispensible condition of its actualisation. The higher can only exist by means of the lower; but, far from being controlled by that lower, takes control of it. The life of the plant subsists by means of chemical energy absorbed from the soil, but turns this to its own functions. In the animal organism much that occurs belongs to the realms of physics and chemistry; the vegetable principle is also active; but the organism as a whole is animal, and the principle of life at the animal grade takes charge of these other processes, neither dispensing with them nor superseding them, but making them subordinate to its own proper functions. So it is, once more, with the human being; the organism that is called a man obeys the laws of physics and chemistry and is fitly studied by biology, zoology and physiology; yet its organic principle of unity—what Thornton calls its highest law of being4—is spiritual. It may be true of any—or every— particular man that in fact he behaves for the most part exactly as he would if he had no spiritual capacity. But even when this is true of his acts, it is not true of his action in doing them. When a being capable of spiritual discrimination blindly obeys an appetite, this is not, as moral conduct, identical with obedience to the same appetite on the part of an animal which has no power of spiritual discrimination. In the animal it is natural, even when to human taste it is distressing; in the man it is evidence of defect when it is not proof of depravity. In that distinction is implicit the naturally controlling efficacy of spirit wherever it is present at all.

From this it follows that in so far as the universe is a single system, its “highest principle of unity” must be sought in spirit. This is not merely an affirmation that in the hierarchy of modes of being the spiritual is to be recognised as having some pre-eminence of honour. It is a claim that where spirit exists it exercises control, so that if, as we have tried to establish, there are not only sporadic spirits active by means of particular organisms, but the whole cosmic system exists by the will of a Creative Spirit, then in all things that Creative Spirit exercises control, and all other entities are truly intelligible and explicable only by reference to Him. He is pantokravtwr. The whole universe is the expression of His will. But if we go so far as this we must go further. For we have seen that History is not adequately represented as “the moving image of eternity”. The Eternal is self-expressed in History; but this act of self-expression is not epiphenomenal to the Eternal—a mere by-product of its own unmoved perfection. The Eternal fulfils itself in its historical self-expression, so that if this were abolished, it would in its own nature be other than it is. The relation is not one of complete, or approximately complete, reciprocity; yet it is not one of subservience on the one side and detachment on the other. In terms of dependence for actual existence there is complete disparity, for the historical depends on the eternal for its very existence, and the eternal does not, for its existence, in the smallest degree depend on the historical. But the values found in the historical, and pre-eminently those found in that sphere by Christianity, are such as belong essentially to the eternal. If the eternal is indifferent to these, a cleavage of the totality of things is effected so complete as to make the world unintelligible. The historical is of significance and importance to the eternal inasmuch as the eternal is such as to create it, so that if it were not created that would prove the eternal to be other than, in the light of its creativity, it is known to be. The relationship is one which we can only hope to understand in part, and then only if we take alternately the two standpoints so far as we are able. Here is the world, existing as a historical process. Both general consideration of Process as such, and observation of this actual process in particular, point to an eternal ground of the process as its only possible explanation. This ground, we have found, must be spiritual; in all positive content of the term “personal” it must be personal; it must be the living God. Upon God the world depends for its existence; in no sense does God depend upon the world for His existence. But when we turn to the nature of the world as we know it, with its aspirations and heroisms, its beauty and its love, we must needs say that these have value for God as the only alternative to saying that God is inadequate, even inferior, to the world which has proceeded from His creative act; and if it were true that the world, though dependent on Him for its existence, was superior to Him in its nature, it would follow that the principle introduced as explanation of the world (the eternal or God) accounts for it only by some form of efficient causation; and this can never account for that determination by good which we know to exist. In other words, the explanatory principle would cease to explain. But if God made the world, being determined thereto by good (which is His own nature, so that for Him self-determination and determination by the good are identical), then He must prize what is good in it; its beauty and its love must be dear to Him; so that the spiritual richness of His eternal being is in some measure constituted by the moral achievements of His temporal creatures. To put the matter once more in the terms of Christian belief; the death and resurrection of Christ did not cause God to be after their occurrence what He was not before, but neither are those events without meaning and value for His eternal being. On the contrary, His eternal being, in being what it is, requires self-expression in those events, and while the events make no difference in the quality of love which is expressed in them, yet the activity of the expression is a part of the fullness of the eternal love. Thus we may truly say that the glory of God is not only revealed in, but actually in part consists in, the death and resurrection of Christ. This is the more true if the Christian interpretation of the events be adopted, but it is also true on a purely humanitarian hypothesis; and it is true concerning the death even if the historical resurrection be doubted or denied, though of course the significance of the one event alone is not the same as that of the two together.

It is clear that, as in Lecture XVII, we are trying to frame a conception which is not identical with any of the commonly offered suggestions concerning the relation of the eternal and the historical, and are now extending its application so as to include the relation of the spiritual and material. It is not simply the relation of ground and consequent, nor of cause and effect, nor of thought and expression, nor of purpose and instrument, nor of end and means; but it is all of these at once. We need for it another name; and there is in some religious traditions an element which is, in the belief of adherents of those religions, so close akin to what we want that we may most suitably call this conception of the relation of the eternal to history, of spirit to matter, the sacramental conception.

No doubt the term “sacrament” covers a wide diversity of meaning; but there is always a central core which is found in all interpretations of supposed sacraments. If we attend to this, and to some at least of the diverse views which it holds together by their relationship to itself, we may find that we have in familiar religious experience exactly what is wanted as a clue to our metaphysical problem. The interpretation of sacraments is notoriously a focus of contention among rival schools of theology. But we are only concerned with two points, on one of which there is no disagreement, and the other of which is supremely valued by those who find most value in sacraments. The first is that, within the sacramental scheme or order, the outward and visible sign is a necessary means for conveyance of the inward and spiritual grace, but has its whole significance in that function. It is not maintained that the spiritual grace cannot be imparted in any other way; but it is universally agreed that when it is otherwise conveyed—as for example through instruction, through personal influence, or through mystic rapture—there is no sacrament. What in that case is the special importance of sacraments is a question for the dogmatic rather than for the natural theologian. But the use of sacramental rites is a common feature of human religion; it is especially prominent in Christianity; and, whatever may be thought about the comparative merits of sacramental and non-sacramental religion, it is agreed that if there is to be a sacrament there must be the material sign. We are confronted therefore with this fact: in many forms of religion, and conspicuously in the most extensive tradition of Christianity, prominence is given to rites in which the spiritual and the material are intimately intertwined. That proves nothing; but for those who on other grounds expect to find in religion guidance for the ultimate interpretation of reality it is suggestive.

Further, among those traditions which give most prominence to sacraments in the ordering of religious practice, the sacramental rite is regarded as effectual ex opere operato. This is said, of course, not by way of contrast with the doctrine that the benefit of the sacrament is received by faith alone, for in one form or another this is again common ground;5 it is said in contrast with any notion that the sacrament is effective ex opere operantis or through the personality of the administrant, though it is required that he have the intention to “do what the Church does”.

There is here an assertion—not indeed of identity, as that word is commonly understood—but of the unity of matter and spirit which is even more suggestive than the intimate relationship between them which is asserted by all use of sacraments whatsoever. But those who have clung to this conception as an interpretation of sacramental experience as an element of worship have seldom used it as a clue to the general interpretation of the universe. It is precisely this that we desire to suggest, always bearing in mind the constant and irreducible difference between man’s utilisation of existent matter and God’s creation of matter ab initio.

A sacrament, regarded as effective ex opere operato in the sense explained, is not regarded as only or chiefly a stimulus to a psychological process issuing in some spiritual apprehension; it is this, but it is also an actual conveyance of spiritual meaning and power by a material process. We find a real analogy to this in the familiar use of written or spoken language, when this takes the form of poetry. A word is in itself only a noise or a set of marks on paper. But by a social convention it is secured that, when one man speaks or writes a word, another apprehends his meaning. In so far as the word only denotes some object, this is an instance of sheer occasionalism operating by means of a convention. The meaning here is not in the word at all. It is first in the mind of the speaker, and then, on the occasion of his utterance, it is also in the mind of the hearer. But when a poet takes words as his instruments, that account of the matter becomes inadequate. The very sound of the words is now part of the meaning; that meaning can never be apprehended or recovered except by re-hearing physically or in imagination the actual sound of the words. It is not the sound apart from the meaning which exercises the magic spell; it would not exercise any such spell upon a person ignorant of the language used. Nor is it the meaning apart from the sound, for that simply does not exist; in the divorce of one from the other the meaning vanishes away. It exists as significant form or sound. Here we are near to a sacrament; but the sound that is thus filled with spiritual quality remains (for the physicist) no more than a movement of inorganic particles. The conferring of spiritual quality upon inorganic matter, of which the bare possibility is sometimes denied, is one of the commonest experiences of life; the phrase is almost a definition of Art.

But to convey meaning is not to convey the self. A sacrament is something more than a divine poem, because it conveys (as is believed by those who make use of it) not only God’s meaning to the mind, but God Himself to the whole person of the worshipper. No doubt it is “Grace” which is commonly spoken of as thus conveyed; but Grace is not something other than God, imparted by Him; it is the very Love of God (which is Himself) approaching and seeking entry to the soul of man. How can this intimately spiritual process be mediated by a material rite ex opere operato? We here come to a point where the sacraments of religion are unique. The finite spirit can impart his thought through a physical, even an inorganic, medium; he cannot so impart himself. But the divine spirit can so impart Himself, because He is the omnipresent. All things are present to Him, and are what they are by His creative will. In and through all of them He is accessible; there is therefore no contradiction in the supposition that in and through certain physical elements, by methods which He has chosen because of their appropriateness to our psycho-physical nature, He renders Himself in a peculiar degree accessible to those who seek Him through such media. Whether in fact He does this, only specific experience can decide—not, indeed, the momentary experience of the individual worshipper, but the whole experience of the adherents of a religion which finds in sacramental worship its focal points.

We are not now concerned to justify the religious use of sacraments, still less the particular sacraments of any positive religion, but only to vindicate the principle on which belief in sacraments reposes, in order that we may be secure in using it as a clue to the understanding of the relation of spirit to matter in the universe. From two sides there is a constant pressure to separate these two as widely as possible. From the scientific side pressure is exerted by the proper and necessary insistence that physical phenomena shall be accounted for in physical categories, and that reference to spirit—to determination by the good rather than by efficient causes—shall be excluded from physical enquiry. If this demand of the scientist be pushed to the uttermost, spirit is made to appear an alien sojourner in this material world, and its connexion with its physical counterpart is a mystery not only unsolved but demonstrably insoluble. From the religious side there is constant pressure to keep the spiritual free from what is felt to be the contamination of the material world, which is regarded as in some way gross and unworthy. Because the life of the spirit is characterised by determination by the good, the physical world of mechanical forces and chemical compounds is regarded as merely alien from it. But this results, as logic would lead us to anticipate and history proves to be the fact, in leaving the physical to go its own way unchecked by spirit, so that the vaunted spiritual exaltation has its counterpart in bodily immorality. In either case the unity of man’s life is broken; the material world, with all man’s economic activity, becomes a happy hunting-ground for uncurbed acquisitiveness, and religion becomes a refined occupation for the leisure of the mystical. It is in the sacramental view of the universe, both of its material and of its spiritual elements, that there is given hope of making human both politics and economics and of making effectual both faith and love.

It is to such a view that our whole course of enquiry has been leading us; and it is such a view which affords the strongest hope for the continuance in reality and power of religious faith and practice.

(1) In the view which we have outlined, the transition from the material to the spiritual is no more sudden and abrupt than other transitions in the course of cosmic history. Perhaps the inorganic is potentially spiritual; but if it is purely inorganic, it is determined wholly from without, contributing to its own reaction only inertia. At a certain stage of complexity of organisation, elementary consciousness shows itself in the fact of self-motion. Already the basis of spiritual life is present; for already there is in some measure determination by the good. At first this “good” is fixed. There are not yet “free ideas” by means of which the fully mental organism exercises comparison of one good with another. But it is impossible to say of any organism capable of either desire or affection that at some one point the stage of “free ideas” is reached. In the psycho-physical organism of man that stage is already established. Man can form ideas drawn from his experience, and attend to them in detachment from the experience which gave rise to them. He can unite them in new combinations of which experience gives no illustration. He can work upon his environment to ensure that it shall in future afford illustrations of those combinations of elements which hitherto have existed only in his thought. He can compare the good offered by circumstance with a good apprehended only in idea, and can deliberately forgo the former in hope of thereby making actual the latter. All this is very far from the reaction of mere inertia, or of the most elementary stages of life. Yet it is one with them, and they are to be understood as potentialities of this which has proceeded from them. The magnitude of the difference is both evident and important; but the continuity need not be denied on that account. As the flower turns to the sun, or the dog to his master, so the soul turns to God. My consciousness is not something else within the entire organism which is myself, taking note of the relations of that organism to its environment; my consciousness is itself that organism, being not only physical but psycho-physical, as related to its environment, namely to the universe of which it is a part, though as the spiritual elements in the organism become predominant, the concomitant physical relations become relatively less important and may finally drop away.

(2) There is reason to think that this conception of the intimate unity of spirit and matter affords the chief hope of securing for the spiritual an effective control over matter throughout any period now worth considering. This may surprise those who recognise it as closely akin to the so-called Dialectical Materialism of Marx, Engels and Lenin. But a close examination of this Dialectical Materialism, strongly distinguished as it is by its upholders from Mechanistic Materialism, suggests that its own dialectic will destroy its character as materialist, except in so far as it is opposed to the idealistic view of matter as existing only “for mind” Dialectical Materialism so-called, asserts the temporal priority of matter, as we have been led to do; it regards mind as appearing within matter, as we have done; it asserts that mind, so appearing, acts by its own principles, which are not reducible to the categories of physics and chemistry; while mind is regarded as originating in, and out of, what is material, it is not itself regarded as identical with matter. What is postulated by this view is not an identity of mind and matter, but a unity of mind and matter; to present mind and matter as identical is condemned as Mechanistic Materialism.

But so soon as the distinctive nature of mind is admitted, nothing can check its predominance, just because it is moved from within by appreciation of apparent good (its own self or kin presented to it from without) and not only from without by conquest of its inertia. There are those who seek to represent matter itself as quasi spiritual, using for this purpose the notion expressed by Smuts as follows:

“The old, contradictory notion of dead matter as the vehicle of life must disappear in the light of our new knowledge. The difference between matter and life is no longer measured by the distance between an absolute passivity on the one hand and activity on the other—a distance so great as to constitute an impassable gulf in thought. The difference between them is merely a difference in the character of their activities. So far from matter being pure inertia or passivity, it is in reality a mass of seething, palpitating energies and activities. Its very dead weight simply means the push of inner activities. Its inertia, which is apparently its most distinctive quality, and has been consecrated by Newton in his first Law, has received its deathblow at the hands of Einstein. From the new point of view the inertia of matter is simply the result of the movements of Nature’s internal energies: its apparent passivity is merely the other side of its real activity”.6

To interpret matter as more akin to life and mind than it had been recognised to be, certainly does not strengthen the case for materialism as a philosophy which denies the independence or the supremacy of mind. But it is hardly conceivable that the revision of Physics will go so far as to assert that the vagaries of electrons are due to appreciation of apparent good on the part of the electrons, or in other words to their own choice. Till that assertion is made, the essential difference between mind and matter remains. It may be a difference of mode in the activity of one entity; indeed that view seems more probable than one which asserts either the existence of a “mind-stuff” or the activity of thought apart from anything which thinks. But the difference remains—the difference between, action in response to stimuli without any contribution except inertia, and action initiated by appetitive appreciation of presented or imagined good.

We have seen reason to hold, first, that experience manifestly contains instances of such determination by good; kinei¤ wJ~ ejrwvmenon—“It initiates movement as does an object of desire”—is a perfectly familiar fact of experience. We have further seen reason to hold that when once the actual operation of this principle in experience has been recognised, it is impossible to prevent its attaining, hypothetically at least, the status of a pretender to the supreme place in the universe. From Plato’s assertion that the Idea of Good is the source alike of existence and of knowledge, or (as some modern philosophers would prefer to say) of both the objective and the subjective elements in experience, to the Hebrew doctrine of creation by the living God, and the Christian incorporation of both in the doctrine of the Divine Trinity, we find the successful claim of this principle to be regarded as supplying the ultimate explanation of the universe. If Materialism once becomes Dialectical, it is doomed as Materialism; its own dialectic will transform it into Theism.

But not into Idealism, which we regard as an error due to the effort to construct philosophy as a theory of cognition rather than as a theory of living experience. No doubt it is true that a study of knowledge in isolation easily leads to Idealism; for what is then studied is the relation of the apprehending mind to its own activity of apprehension. The starting-point is the mind and its thoughts or ideas. The inference to Idealism is most nearly inevitable when the ideas in question are the elaborate intellectual constructions of modern science, which it is impossible to verify by direct experience. But such isolated departmental enquiries do not represent the impact of the data of experience as a whole upon the enquiring mind. So soon as the whole range of living experience is allowed to exercise its influence upon the theory which is to articulate it, mind is seen as above all an element in the cosmos distinguished by its capacity to apprehend and progressively to understand the process within which, and out of which, it arises. In the phrase of Whitehead already quoted, “consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness”.7 But if the Process of the cosmos produces beings capable of understanding and evaluating the cosmos, that tells us, as has been repeatedly urged, a great deal about the process itself. The more deeply mind is seen to be rooted in nature—in matter if you like—the more manifestly is it impossible to account for nature or matter in any other terms than those of mind; and so soon as that enterprise is attempted, mind increasingly discloses itself as qualified to be the ultimate ground of all things.8 But we must not, in our concern for the conclusion, ignore the course of argument which leads us to this result; it is an argument based on investigation of nature regarded at first as material. We reach a conviction of the independence and the supremacy of mind or spirit; we do not reach a conviction of the non-existence of matter. On the contrary, it is from an assertion of the reality of matter that we reach our conviction of the supremacy of spirit. It is from the strong-assertion of both convictions together—of the reality of matter and of the supremacy of spirit—that we are led to enquire whether there is any further illumination to be gained by consideration of that element in some religions wherein the material and the spiritual are inseparably conjoined.

Now a sacrament, as understood by those who prize sacraments most highly, is an instance of a very definite and special relationship of spirit and matter. We have already distinguished it from mere conventional symbolism such as we find in ordinary speech or (more accurately) in nomenclature. We have also pointed to the less marked distinction which separates it from the “essential symbolism” of poetry.9 It is a spiritual utilisation of a material object whereby a spiritual result is effected. Its operation is not independent of symbolism or of the psychological processes set in motion by symbols; but its operation and effectiveness does not consist in these. Indeed many of those who set special store by the sacramental mode of worship value it because of their belief that the efficacy of the sacramental rite is totally independent of any conscious apprehension or other form of spiritual experience at that time. When faith exists as a struggle to believe in spite of empirical and temperamental pressure to unbelief, when the whole life of feeling is dead, when nothing is left but stark loyalty to God as He is dimly and waveringly apprehended to be—then the sheer objectivity, even the express materialism, of a sacrament gives it a value that nothing else can have. And when faith revives its ardour, and feeling is once more aglow, when the activity of prayers spoken and praises sung is again a natural expression of devotion, the rite which is believed to have retained its efficacy when all else failed becomes a focus of grateful adoration to the God who therein offered grace—that is, His love in action—to a soul that could receive Him in no other way. All turns, of course, on the conviction that in the sacrament God acts, fulfilling His own promise. This distinguishes the sacrament from magic, of which the essence is that man through the rite puts compulsion on the god, while it also endows the sacrament with the virtue and potency which magic falsely claims to offer.

In the sacrament then the order of thought is spirit first and spirit last, with matter as the effectual expression or symbolic instrument of spirit. That is the formula which we suggest as an articulation of the essential relations of spirit and matter in the universe. Our enquiry starts from matter, or at least from physical process. But that process produces centres of spiritual life, which, once manifested, displays its true nature as logical prius as well as temporal resultant. Consequently we reach, from the consideration of the world as apprehended, and without any reference to the data of distinctive religious experience, the scheme familiar in the religious interpretation of the world: (a) God, supreme, and perfectly free to express Himself according to His own nature of perfect spirit; (b) the world, at first in its crudest material form of inorganic matter—or at least of matter not yet perceptibly or effectively organic; then organic matter exhibiting the activities of life; then mind directing vital activities by selection of appropriate means to an end fixed by its correspondence to the nature and needs of the organism; then mind forming free ideas, and thus becoming capable of self-determination in accordance with apparent good, making selection among ends presented by outward experience and ends held in thought and imagination as true ideals or principles of conduct; (c) the world, thus understood as a sphere of finite spirits self-expressed through their own physical organisms, now transformed into the Kingdom of God by the uniting of finite spirits in a fellowship which reproduces in the creature the love which is the essential being of the Creator. Thus we pass from God through the world of process and history to God. But God is God in the activity which sustains the process and directs the history. If He did not create He would still exist, for He is not dependent for existence on His creation. But if He did not create, He would not be what He is, for He is Creator.

Thus the view of the universe which I have called sacramental asserts the supremacy and absolute freedom of God; the reality of the physical world and its process as His creation; the vital significance of the material and temporal world to the eternal Spirit; and the spiritual issue of the process in a fellowship of the finite and time-enduring spirits in the infinite and eternal Spirit. Matter exists in full reality but at a secondary level. It is created by spirit—the Divine Spirit—to be the vehicle of spirit and the sphere of spirit’s self-realisation in and through the activity of controlling it.

This conception does not only mean that a mind of sufficient insight can detect the activity of God in all that happens if it be seen in its true context and perspective, so that the sublimity of nature is an expression of the divine majesty, and its beauty of the divine artistry, and love’s sacrifice (wherever it be offered) of the divine heroism. That is true and precious. But more than this is involved. The world, which is the self-expressive utterance of the Divine Word, becomes itself a true revelation, in which (as we saw10) what comes is not truth concerning God, but God Himself. This (as we also saw11) does not exclude the possibility of special revelations; rather it is the condition of that possibility. The spiritually sensitive mind can be in personal communion with God, in, and by means of, all its experience. It is probable that no adequately sensitive mind exists, and that all must deepen their insight by periods of adoring contemplation, which alternate with periods of activity inspired and guided by what is then apprehended. But the goal is to fuse action and worship into the continuous life of worshipful service; in the holy city which came down from God out of heaven the seer beheld no place of worship because the divine presence pervaded all its life.12

The significance of this conception from the side of the historical process we have tried already to adumbrate.13 We must also attempt to grasp its significance, in what restricted fashion we may, from the side of the eternal and divine. One aspect at least of the Divine Glory is the triumphant self-sacrifice of love. This is God’s very being—not perhaps its entirety, but truly a part of its essence. That fact determines the dominant issue of history, which is the prevailing and increasing supremacy of love in all its forms over self-centredness in all its forms—a supremacy both won and sustained by love’s own method of self-sacrifice. This is the divine glory whereof the heaven and the earth are full. If heaven and earth did not contain this, it could not be the glory of God who is creator of earth and heaven. It is in and through being such as we find Him in the course of history at its greatest moments to be, that He is eternally love and joy and peace. Even to the eternal life of God His created universe is sacramental of Himself. If He had no creatures to redeem, or if He had not redeemed them, He would not be what He is. Neither does His historical achievement make Him eternally Redeemer, nor does His eternal redemptive love simply express itself in history while remaining unaffected. But each is what it is in and through the other, like spirit and matter in a sacramental rite, yet so that the eternal and spiritual is first and last, with the historical and material as its medium of self-actualisation.

The thought seems tangled. Yet I believe that is only because we are attempting the inevitable, yet impossible task of expressing in conceptual terms what is nothing less than life itself. Let us take an analogy from an enquiry apparently remote. The question has lately been revived whether thought most fitly precedes action, to determine its direction, or follows it, to account for what has occurred. If our whole position is sound we shall repudiate the implied dilemma. Thought and action, if separated from one another, are abstractions and falsifications; the real fact is active rational life; and this is best expressed in rational activity, where thought and conduct are inextricably united. The man of trained and disciplined mind spontaneously acts in relation to an emergency in a manner quite different from that adopted by the thoughtless or undisciplined man. He may not consciously think for a single moment about the situation; perhaps there is not time for thought; yet his action is rational, and he can, if desired, afterwards articulate its principles. Here the logical, if not also the temporal, order is thought first and thought last with physical movement as its mode not only of expression but of self-actualisation. This complete integration is not always attained; when it is lacking, the question whether thought or conduct takes precedence must be settled by circumstance. But action without understanding is likely to be misguided, and abstract thought in detachment from the detail of the concrete situation is sure to be misleading. Thought is most of all itself in and through the process of determining rational action in face of the complexity of a given situation.

So God, who is spirit, is His eternal self in and through the historical process of creating a world and winning it to union with Himself. His creation is sacramental of Himself to His creatures; but in effectively fulfilling that function it becomes sacramental of Him to Himself—the means whereby He is eternally that which eternally He is.

  • 1. I have outlined this view in the first chapter of Christus Veritas; there is a fuller statement of it in L. S. Thornton’s The Incarnate Lord specially in chapter .
  • 2. Unless indeed he obtains through Lord Russell’s speculations an existence similar to that which Ariel obtains through Shakespeare’s creative imagination.
  • 3. ejpisthvmh h] qewrei¤ to; o}n hó| o]n.—Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1003 a 21.
  • 4. Op. cit. p. 37 and then passim.
  • 5. The Roman Catholic doctrine is that grace is conveyed to those who put no bar to its entry—non ponentibus obicem (Tridentine Canon VI). Impenitence, lack of faith or uncharity would be such a bar. Other traditions hold that a positive appropriation by faith is requisite; but many among these latter would also hold that a general devout intention and reliance upon the promise of Christ qualify the worshipper to receive grace, apart from any distinct consciousness of reception in the moment of the sacramental act. The difference between Roman Catholic and Evangelical teaching at this point is therefore far less than is often supposed. The former says: the sacramental act is effective for you unless you hinder it by (e.g.) lack of faith; the latter says, if you have faith, the sacramental act is effective for you, while, if you have none, it is not.
  • 6. J. C. Smuts, Holism and Evolution, p. 51.
  • 7. Process and Reality, p. 68; cf. supra, p. 112.
  • 8. Cf. Lecture X.
  • 9. See above, p. 484, and my Mens Creatrix, pp. 129–134.
  • 10. See p. 306.
  • 11. Ibid. 306.
  • 12. Revelation xxi. 22.
  • 13. In Lecture XVII.
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