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Part II: The Immanence of the Transcendent

Lecture XVI: The Commonwealth of Value

It has been already suggested in these Lectures that the period of European thought and history commonly called Modern is even now reaching its natural term. That fact is, indeed, a main occasion of the bewilderment characteristic in our era—a bewilderment to which there is no parallel since the time when the transition from the “mediaeval” to the “modern” epoch was effected. The ancient Mediterranean civilisation gave place to the chaos of the Dark Ages. Gradually a new order was fashioned under the twofold influence of the prestige of the Roman Empire and so much of the Christian revelation as had taken a hold upon the minds of men. The result was mediaeval Christendom, ordered under the authority of the Papacy, which Hobbes was not wholly incorrect in describing as “the Ghost of the deceased Romane Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof”.1 This order was shaken by the Renaissance and shattered by the Reformation. The characteristic of the new period was departmentalism—politics, art and science all winning emancipation from theology, the queen of the sciences, who had once been a benefactress through the bestowal of universal order but was becoming a tyrant in that this order was too narrow for an expanding experience. The disappearance of the old order led to new forms of authority—in politics the divine right of the state as actually constituted, in art the acceptance of beauty as a value not only ultimate but absolute, in ethics the unquestioned supremacy of individual conscience.

There is no possibility of going back on this. Our new appreciation of the Middle Ages as a period when a theory of world-order was accepted, however little conduct conformed to the theory, must not lead us to suppose that recovery from the modern welter is possible by any retracing of our steps. The antithesis of Luther and Descartes has so shattered the thesis of Hildebrand and Aquinas that it cannot be re-established. But the antithesis also is moribund if not extinct.2 We are driven, whether we will or not, towards a synthesis which resembles mediaevalism in possessing an order and which resembles the modern period (soon to be described as the last or late period) in accepting liberty for individuals and associations, so that the Empire and the Sovereign States give place to the League of Nations, while universal civilisation increasingly assumes a federal structure, and in the moral sphere dogmatic authority and unfettered individualism give place to the Commonwealth of Value.

Our discussion of Moral Goodness3 left us with some problems on our hands which seem to provide the best starting-point for our next advance. The popular riddle concerning the reconciliation of an absolute moral obligation with the variety of actual moral codes or conventions did not of itself cause very much trouble, for we found that universal obligation attaches not to particular judgements of conscience but to conscientiousness. What acts are right may depend on circumstances, social history and context, personal relationships, and a host of other considerations. But there is an absolute obligation to will whatever may on each occasion be right; in practice we have even to say whatever may on each occasion seem to be right, but then it is necessary to remember that this includes an obligation to secure that what seems right and what is right are as nearly as possible identical. But though that riddle seems easy, it is after all the superficial reflection of a very serious difficulty. For when we turned to ask what acts are right, we found ourselves driven to the view sometimes known as Optimific—that is, the view that those acts are right which are productive of most good; and then we had to recognise that this criterion, however sound in principle, is inapplicable on any large scale in practice, partly because no one knows the whole train of consequences that will follow from his action, but partly also because it provides no criterion by which to frame a comparative estimate of different kinds of good. If, for example, I can either add to the world’s store of beauty by painting a masterpiece or else remove some one instance of acute physical pain, which is the greater good? I am to do the greatest good that I can, but how am I to know what that is? And this perplexity we found to be crossed by another. For there are some acts which are right if done by the right agent, but wrong if done by any one else. And the Optimific theory gives little help in determining who are the proper agents of such acts. We found a provisional resting-place in the recognition that the one absolutely and universally binding form of the Moral Law is the command “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, and that the Good of personal relationships is the highest form of Good, and also in the perception of a certain logic of our true nature which requires of us conformity to its conclusions. So long as we remained on strictly ethical ground it was not possible to go further.

But we have seen sufficient ground for the conviction common to all great religious traditions, that the whole universe, the whole process of the world, is grounded in the Will of creative Deity, so that this divine Will is at once the source of world-order, and also the determinant for every finite mind of its special place within that order and of the appropriate contribution of each such mind to the life of the whole. If this be true, the solution of the outstanding problems of Ethics is to be sought in terms neither of Utilitarianism however ideal, nor of Intuitionism, but of Vocation. Admittedly this carries us beyond the sphere of scientific Ethics; but to claim that Ethics, or any other departmental enquiry, must be able to solve all its own problems is to accept the fissiparous tendencies of the late epoch and to renounce the hope of recovering some form of world order. The moralist, if he would retain that hope, must, therefore, like every other student of a department of reality, either claim that his own study supplies the norm for all departments besides its own, or else admit that his department like the rest is only rightly understood when it is seen in the context of the whole and is subjected to principles which inform the whole. Those principles are the various strands that are combined in the divine purpose. Therefore, as the chief practical problem of ethics is solved not by volition but by conversion, so the chief theoretical problems are solved not by reference to a Categorical Imperative but by reference to Vocation.

Inasmuch as vocation is of its very nature individual, and to each individual his own vocation is peculiar, the guiding of men towards the discovery of their vocations is a task for the evangelist and pastor rather than for the philosopher. But the discussion of the general conditions to be fulfilled may be undertaken by the philosophy of religion or natural theology, and the implications of the actual occurrence of vocation can hardly be ignored. It is evident that the whole doctrine of Providence is involved. For the divine will or purpose, which determines my vocation, also determines all events or occurrences whatsoever, at least in the sense of fixing the order within which they take place. It must therefore be possible in principle for a man to discover his vocation by considering with sufficient thoroughness his own nature and his circumstances. In practice, however, to achieve the necessary degree of thoroughness is often so difficult as fairly to be called impossible; where all possible effort has been made to ascertain by such means the direction of vocation, it is sometimes at least found by a conscious communion of the mind with God. Such guidance by an Inner Light is an experience common among those who make a serious practice of religion in any of its higher forms, and in some of these, as, for example, among Christians in the Society of Friends, it becomes the dominant element of a great tradition. But it is not only so that vocation is discovered; it may also be found by the ordinary exercise of a mind which has in prayer committed itself to the divine guidance. That vocation exists, and where experienced provides the practical solution of the main ethical problems, is the clear testimony of religious history.

This principle enables us to bring together the two apparently incompatible lines of thought concerning acts and actions which we found ourselves led to follow at the earlier stage. A man’s act, we said, is the whole train of consequences which he initiates; and the right act is the best possible train of consequences. That, so far as it goes, is an objective account of rightness; the question of motive does not yet come in. His action, on the other hand, which includes his motive, and is not the train of consequence initiated, but precisely the initiation of it, must in practice be determined not by a full calculation of the best possible effect to be produced (for accurate knowledge of this is unattainable), but by the logic of a man’s own true nature, which leads him, being the man he is, to act thus and thus in view of circumstances being what they are. It has lately been suggested that what is sound in these two can be combined by adopting as our watchword “the Rightness of Goodness”.4 The proposal is that we should invert the Optimific or Maximalist doctrine, and, instead of saying that the right act is right because it is the best train of consequences, we should say that the act is the best because it is right. Our view would agree that “whatever is right is eo ipso best”, but not by making either right or good subordinate to the other, except so far as right is a form of good and therefore a narrower term than good. Our contention rather is that when the act is apprehended in its completeness as the entire train of consequence initiated by the action, right and best, as predicates of that act, denote the same quality in the act, while right connotes obligation and good connotes fruition. Right is the Good as presented to mind practical; Good (as applied to an act) is Right as presented to mind contemplative. But this thoroughgoing identification of Right and Good is only possible on the hypothesis that history is itself an ordered process in which the order is expressive of divine purpose.5

Admittedly each individual’s obligation must be discharged within some relatively confined area of relationships. Social obligation in principle extends to the limits of humanity, and is not even restricted to men and women alive at the moment of action. But we cannot offer direct service to mankind as a whole, partly because we cannot envisage the good of mankind in sufficient detail, partly because the structure of Humanity regarded as a unit is itself composed of other social structures within it; if there is any structure of mankind as a whole, it is, in Mr. Leon’s phrase, a “structure of structures”.6 A man must in practice serve his family, his city, his firm, his trade union or what not; the over-riding obligation to the entire spiritual fellowship can in practice only be expressed through the prohibition of any service to the narrower unit or structure which involves injury to the wider.7 And the man is himself a “structure”, with its own immanent logic. There is no solution, even in principle, of the divergent claims thus indicated unless there is one creative Mind which orders both the structure which is a single moral agent, the social structure in and on which he acts, and the ultimate “Structure of structures” which is the universal spiritual fellowship. But if there be such a Mind, in whose creative activity all other existents are grounded, then the following by each individual of his own immanent logic—the fulfilment of his true being—must issue in the right act, conceived as the best possible train of consequences. It does not follow that the right act for him is also right for all agents and not only for this agent. It is the best train of consequences for him to initiate because it is his destined contribution to the all-inclusive divine purpose. So far we must agree that it is best because it is right; but on another view it is equally true to say that it is right because it is best, for the essential wrong in any deviation from it is the breach of the order of that fellowship wherein all social good consists.

In actual practice it is seldom possible to trace these various lines of enquiry. A man must follow his own conscience, which is more closely connected with the inner logic of his being than with estimates of the total effect of his activity. But the fact that the latter alone supplies the test of the rightness of his act should remind him that he is not morally at liberty to do harm with benevolent intention. His duty is both to intend and to accomplish good.

The principle of divine vocation wherein we have found the solution of our outstanding ethical problems not only relieves the moral philosopher from every claim that he should so articulate the conception of moral good as to provide clear guidance for individual action; it positively forbids him to attempt any such task except to the extent—always so small as to be negligible—to which he apprehends the divine purpose in detail; to apprehend it in principle is his function, and to fail here is to fail completely; but the detail must ever escape him. As the general ethical problem finds its solution in general religious principles, so the personal problem of each individual finds its solution in personal religious practice. In the life of personal devotion to God, known as Righteous love, the answer to problems of conduct otherwise unanswerable may be found. Thus the adventurous element, found to be always present in moral choice,8 is discovered to be no leap in the dark but the hazard of confident faith, and the individualism admitted to be ineradicable from the practical problem of moral judgement is found to be the expression not of general chaos but of providential order. There are some acts of which we can say with confidence that they are wrong; and sometimes positive obligation is also plain. But the difficult choices, in which the individual is most conscious of the need for guidance, are not capable of determination by general principles alone. When the philosopher has stated what are the general principles bearing on the situation his task is finished. Each finite mind must find its own solution of its own problem, without definitive direction from any other finite mind. The sympathetic friend may help with suggestions and so come nearer to the concrete issue than the philosopher with his general principles. But even he cannot safely make the delicate choice. That each must do for himself, and none may rightly judge his act. “A man’s soul is sometimes wont to bring him tidings more than seven watchmen that sit on high on a watch-tower.”9

This point has been, perhaps, more laboured than enough so far as it concerns moral judgement. There is, however, another aspect of it which, if practically less important, is of the highest significance for any world-view. We have found that there are at least some Goods of which it is true to say that though Objective in essence they are subjectively conditioned. Of these the most conspicuous is Beauty. The aesthetic experience repudiates with vehemence any suggestion that Beauty has its being in the mind which appreciates it; and though, if there is no appreciation, the good of Beauty is potential only, yet when appreciation occurs the good is in the Beauty as appreciated, not in the appreciation. The appreciation is the condition of its potential good becoming actual, but the good remains objective. There is a good also in the appreciation, but this is derivative and secondary; it consists in the joyous apprehension of the good that is objectively present as Beauty. Now if the good which resides in appreciation were the only good, or the chief good, in question, it would be a matter of comparative indifference how many minds had this experience. The more, the better—no doubt. But the non-existence of any would only involve loss on the part of so many enjoying minds. As ex hypothesi those minds would not exist at all, there would not be any unfulfilled promise in the actual scheme of things. There is, indeed, a bewildering abundance of such unfulfilled promise in the lives of multitudes whom circumstances have hindered from fulfilling their own true destiny; in that fact the social reformer finds a great part of the impetus which urges him to action. But our problem is a different one. If Beauty as a positive good is subjectively conditioned, then there is much Beauty which can be no more than potential good until the condition is supplied. As I write these words the Everest expedition is on the march. Those mountaineers are passing through scenes never before beheld by human eyes. We must suppose that there are sublimities now, by the fact of appreciation, passing from potential to actual good. For the form of appreciation made possible by the expedition is different from any which was possible to angels or other discarnate intelligences, or even to God Himself.

For as the Divine Mind cannot experience error or sin as among its own states, but only as states of other minds and as contrary to itself, so it cannot in its divine infinity directly experience the appreciation won by courage and toil, through which the finite mind gives actuality to some new aspect of Beauty. It may be that within the mystery of Godhead there are such distinctions as make possible for God a real experience of awe; perhaps (if Christian terminology be assumed to shadow forth reality) in the relation of the Son to the Father there is the divine counterpart of that wonder and joy which in men is reverence, awe and adoration. But if God Himself is conceived as sharing such emotions, both feeling subject and occasioning object must be within the divine being; it is not possible that God should feel awe towards anything other than Himself. That appreciation which certain mountaineers are feeling as I write towards the Himalayan splendours is not only new in itself but supplies the condition hitherto lacking for actualisation of part of the value of that Sublimity. There is a new good, as well as new appreciation of good, in the universe; a new element in that good, for the sake of which God is Creator, has been actualised; and therein a purpose of God is fulfilled.

This is a consideration of the very highest importance for any effort to understand the world in relation to God, and therefore for the enterprise of natural theology. The instances cited, indeed, are not of the highest importance; but the principle involved undoubtedly is. That principle is twofold: first it asserts that there is potential spiritual worth which awaits appreciation as the condition of its actualisation; secondly it asserts that there is an appropriate appreciation for each individual to exercise, so that each contributes to the entire scheme of good not only his individual fruition but also the actualisation of potential worth or good which this occasions. These assertions give a new emphasis to the place in the world-process not only of consciousness in general, but of the finite consciousness associated with particular organisms; for the special experience of each organism supplies the consciousness which arises as a function of it with the special opportunity for appreciation that is proper to it.

But if this conception heightens the cosmic significance of the individual consciousness, still more does it emphasise the central importance of what Plato called Justice. For the contribution to the scheme of things which is due from each finite consciousness will be forthcoming only if each finds and fulfils its own place in that scheme. This may be missed, as is evident, in a great variety of ways; the road to destruction is not only broad, but has many different tracks along it, whereas the way that leads to life is narrow and, for each pilgrim at least, has only one track. It may be true that all who start down the way to destruction are called back before they reach its end, and even that when so called back they are found to have contributed to the excellence of the whole scheme—the “joy in heaven”—more than those who never left the right way. But if that is true at all, it is most conspicuously one of those truths which are dangerous while held as general propositions and only become safe when apprehended in living experience. For the man who holds Universalism as a general proposition may easily draw the conclusion that what he does is of no consequence, because it will work out to good anyhow; but such moral indifferentism is quite impossible to the man who is conscious of the appeal of divine grace winning the response of his heart and will, especially if with this he is conscious of an infinite cost to the divine love willingly accepted, which saves that appeal itself from the charge of moral indifference and at the same time makes it effective.10 There is much in the relations between God and man which we can only apprehend truly as we look back upon the event when it is past, not as we look forward to it while it is still in the future. It may be bad for the sinner to know that God is going to save him, unless he has at least some present experience of the process of that salvation; but it is supremely good for the sinner to know as a fact of his own experience that God has saved him—indeed that is, in the last resort, the only good for him that there is.

This salvation, however, if all our argument has any validity, is not a fixed state, identical for all, to which each mind individually and separately attains. It is in its own nature a fellowship primarily with God, and secondarily (and derivatively) of all souls with one another. At this point our argument demands some doctrine of Immortality. It does not appear to be possible that there should be eternal life for any isolated finite mind. For if eternity is a mere everlastingness, that for the isolated finite mind would be intolerable. The finite self is constituted in very large measure by its social relationships, and only attains to real unity or to self-consciousness through those relationships. To exist in isolation from them would be spiritual death. And if eternity, as will be argued later,11 is something more than everlastingness, then the finite self needs its neighbours as the condition of reaching and maintaining its superiority to the flux of successiveness and the divisive force of mere extension. A mind to which “then” is merely “not now”, or to which “there” is merely “not here,” or to which “They” are merely “not I”, is no candidate for eternal life. But so far as the finite mind is isolated from other minds, it is condemned to this relation to time and space. It may expand its “now”—its “specious present” which we have seen to be the real present—to cover the period of its own existence; it may expand its “here” to cover all of which it is directly conscious in space: but so long as space and time, with the events of which these are the forms, have meaning for it only as related to itself, that meaning is so chaotic that the world must appear mad and reduce to madness any mind condemned to feed upon it as its only object of contemplation. Everlasting life for the isolated soul is neither possible nor (for any one who knows what he is talking about) desirable; so far as it could occur it would be hell.

But there is no reason to suppose that such an isolated finite mind either does or can exist. Finite minds are, indeed, marked from their origin with a self-centredness which is disastrous in whatever degree it persists. But that is never the whole, or the only, quality of the finite mind. From its origin it also has love and trust, or at least is marked by the germinal form of these. And the only question of ultimate importance for each finite mind is the question whether love or self-centredness is becoming predominant over the other. All distinctions between venial and mortal sins are provisional makeshifts to be applied with great caution and elasticity of rule. In the last resort there are God and Self; and the soul is at any one time, and in any one department of its life, increasingly finding its centre of reference in one of these or the other; that alone is of vital consequence, though all the elaborations of moral theology and of psychology are useful as means to assist diagnosis of each soul’s disease and to suggest appropriate remedies.

Here something further must be said about the relation of natural generosity and pagan virtue to the religious doctrine of divine grace. The difficulty is rather to find expressive and unambiguous language than to see the principle involved. According to the position which we have adopted, and which is at least so far identical with the universal tradition of Christian theology, all movement of love within the soul is a movement of the divine spirit. Consequently we shall say without hesitation that the atheist who is moved by love is moved by the spirit of God;12 an atheist who lives by love is saved by his faith in the God whose existence (under that name) he denies. Then what is to be said of such a declaration as that made in the thirteenth of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion:

“Works done before the grace of Christ and the Inspiration of his Spirit are not pleasant to God, for as much as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the Schoolmen say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”

That the Article is unfortunately, even calamitously, expressed, is evident. In the stress of the Reformation men had little leisure to remember that the light which is declared to have shone forth in its fullness in Jesus Christ is by equal authority spoken of as “lighting every man”.13 If we limit “the grace of Christ” and “faith in Jesus Christ” to the activity of God in Jesus of Nazareth and the response of men to Jesus of Nazareth, it would indeed be rash to make the affirmation of the Article. But Christians believe that in Jesus Christ that Eternal Word was Incarnate, by agency of which all things were made, so that to every soul of man at all times and in all places that Word, which Christians know as Jesus Christ, has spoken and is speaking; and the answer that arises in their hearts is fashioned by the inspiration of His Spirit. So there may be many a heathen or Moslem whose works were “done as God hath willed and commanded”. The question is not primarily concerned with our relation to a historic Figure, but with our relation to the divine wisdom and love incarnate in that Figure.14

But to say that only may be deceptive. In most human generosity there is much of self as well as of love. No Christian dare deny that there may be instances of genuine sainthood among the heathen; but knowing his own heart, and the source of any emancipation from self-centredness that has been given to him, he will sympathetically recognise how very hard it must be to reach fellowship with the Eternal Word of God for one who has not heard any clear and definitive utterance of that Word.

If the spiritual realm consisted only of finite spirits, it would be no more than reckless speculation to conceive them as so interacting upon one another that in the end the full self-realisation of each ministered to the perfect harmony of all. It is true that the calamity resulting from self-centredness is evidence that the order of life proper to finite selves is co-operative in fundamental principle rather than competitive. But though the self qua self may be “naturally” co-operative, the finite self qua finite is, as we have seen,15 inevitably and, at least in that sense, “naturally” competitive. The spiritual republicanism of Dr. McTaggart’s Absolute appears to be a postulate which explains nothing, facilitates nothing, and contradicts the plain testimony of experience. There is nothing about the society of finite spirits as now known to us to suggest that its inmost reality is a perfect harmony; the main practical problem of individuals and statesmen is to turn it into harmony from jangling discord and sheer cacophony. To be told that the discord belongs to appearance, but that the reality none the less is harmony in the Absolute, is small comfort; for to us (on that view) the appearance is more important than the reality. Such a proposition is, no doubt, a blasphemy, and argues a profane mind in him who makes it. Yet it is an inevitable blasphemy and a predestined profanity, unless it can be shown how this appearance springs from or helps to sustain that reality. Of Optimism Bradley has said that “the world is the best of all possible worlds, and everything in it is a necessary evil”.16 But he does not ask us to take this very seriously. Yet it is something like this that Absolutism leaves on our hands unless it can show how the evil is necessary to the good, so that the good is a permanent end to which the evil is a transient means or in which it is a subordinate moment. This, of which the possibility is illustrated elsewhere,17 is part of the meaning of History. But at this point it is appropriate to notice the difference that is made by our doctrine of divine transcendence and of the mode of divine immanence. For if the divine spirit is only something “deeply interfused” it is hard to see what security we can have, other than a baseless optimism, for supposing that the spirit immanent in the world we know is guiding that world to such a harmony as by resolving present discords shall make them contributory to an all-embracing perfection of harmony. We find indeed noble achievement? and aspirations in man; and we infer some power in the source of man’s being that is adequate to give rise to these. Yet, as has been already argued, this would seem a precarious basis on which to rest a refutation of the view that the universe, though embodying the principles of intelligence as known in ourselves, and especially mathematical principles, is altogether indifferent to human values, when so much of actual experience can be cited in support of that view. Admittedly the argument for the supremacy of goodness must be a priori; and the claim that the ground of all things must be such as to account for human goodness is, in that form, irresistible. But to insist that only the greater goodness of Ultimate Reality itself can suffice for this is temerarious if there is no more to be said.

Our whole argument, however, consisting of many interwoven strands has led us to claim that the ground of all things is not an immanent principle, of which the character must be inferred from the whole range of observed occurrences, but a living God, able to make Himself known by decisive and characteristic acts. If He has thus made Himself known, that manifestation becomes a possible focus for the universal harmony of the various subjects of value-judgements. As each finds there the centre of his own being he is also related to all others who do the same. The Commonwealth of Value is a real possibility if it is also a Monarchy; on republican principles there is no sufficient ground to hope for its actualisation. It is the main contention of these Lectures that the monarchic basis is assured, so that the hope can be reasonably entertained.

This hope posits, however, something besides Theism. In itself it is one form of the doctrine of Freedom, for it asserts that each mind is its own master in the sense at least that it is governed by its own conception of good and can—nay, must—stand by that “against all the might of nature”, if the two conflict; and though in the end it can only attain to its own true freedom by surrender to the grace of God, yet this never overrides or coerces it, but controls it by causing the true good to appear as good to it, so that in its surrender the mind is still adhering to its own essential principle. Our conception of the Commonwealth of Value starts from this belief, adding a new insistence upon the distinct individuality of every finite mind, which is an element in the doctrine of Freedom. It is not surprising to any one acquainted with the history of thought to find any part of this doctrine leading first to a fresh emphasis upon Theism and next to a demand for Immortality.

We have already said that for the isolated self everlasting existence would be undesirable and even unendurable. We have now to see that for the self in fellowship everlasting existence is desirable, and for the ideal perfection of the fellowship is necessary. The life of the mind or soul depends on perception and assimilation of its environment, as the life of the body depends on the reception and assimilation of environment. But the relevant environment is different. The body, being physical, receives and absorbs elements of the physical environment, assimilating these by digestion, so that its food becomes part of its own texture. So the mind receives and assimilates its environment of truth, beauty and goodness, so that these become part of its own texture. To forward this is the task of “education”; that very word means “nourishment”, for which the vitally important matter is not the mere absorption of food and drink, but its assimilation. The self-centred or self-concerned soul, making itself the object of its contemplation, and seeing all else as related to itself, is trying to feed upon itself. The food may be congenial, but the process is inevitably one of wastage. Such a soul must shrink and shrivel, suffering at last both the pain of unsatisfied hunger and the pain of contraction. On the other hand, the mind or soul that is set on an object capable of truly feeding it may still, and perhaps for ever, suffer the pain of expansion, as it seeks to absorb a proffered wealth to which its capacity is unequal, but that pain is accompanied and transmuted by the joy of perpetual attainment.18

Now finite souls are to a very great extent reciprocally constitutive of one another. We have our whole being in fellowship with each other, and are what we are because of the tradition that we inherit and the influences that play upon us. Something of our own we bring to this, but only the omniscience of God can discriminate between this original contribution and the work of social influences. It is partly because of this essentially social character of finite mind that self-centredness and self-concern are suicidal; they set up an absolute contradiction between the activity of mind and its own nature. But if the mind or soul is thus constituted, then it may at least reasonably be regarded as requiring for its own fulfilment the special social relationship that may exist between it and every other mind, while every other will be the poorer for the lack of social relationship with it. Moreover, what is in question here is not only the good enjoyed by each in proper appreciation of the other, but the special good of each waiting to be actualised by others’ appreciation of it. It is possible, no doubt, to conceive the Commonwealth as a series of eccentric circles, each representing the sphere of social relationships proper to an individual soul. And some such notion would be natural if not inevitable if the Commonwealth itself were conceived on republican principles, that is to say, as a fellowship cohering by the attachment of members to one another. But we have seen reason for conceiving it as a Monarchy, so that the fellowship coheres by the allegiance of all members to the King or Head, and to one another in and through Him. The conception congruous with this is that each member should have, or be destined to have, through Him a fellowship with all others who owe to Him the same allegiance.

Such a commonwealth must bind into unity all spirits of all periods of time. In other words it involves everlasting life for all who are its members; but this life is something more than everlasting. It must, at least progressively even if never completely, partake of the nature of eternity, wherein all successiveness is united in a single apprehension. Only so could the whole value of all the social relationships comprised in it be actualised. That the human mind is capable of such apprehension on a limited scale we have already seen in our discussion of the relation of Process to Value.19 We found not only that the mind can apprehend a stretch of successiveness as a unit, in the way in which an aviator sees below him a great stretch of extension as a unit, but that the unity of the successive is so intimate that the course of events may lead to an alteration in the value of a past event when it is seen in the light of its own consequences. This conquest of the mere successiveness of the temporal can be rendered more complete by practice in the appropriate exercise of concentration. It finds its most intimate and vivid illustration in the experience of forgiven sin, and its most penetrating and pervasive illustration in the constancy of a dedicated life. But it is only possible when the mind has been endowed with that objectivity of direction which is called humility, and which consists not in thinking little of self but in not thinking of self at all. The forgiven sinner who rejoices chiefly in his own forgiven state has not fully appropriated the forgiveness offered or fully escaped from the sin which called for it. The fully forgiven man does not rejoice in his own forgiven-ness but in the divine love to which he owes it; and his past sin persists in his experience no longer as a source of shame but as the occasion of a new wonder in his adoration of the love divine. It is such a going-forth of the mind to greet what is akin to it in its object that may fitly lead it to desire everlasting life that it may achieve a joy in God and His creation that is perpetually nearer to being in the full sense eternal.

But we are not primarily concerned to argue that the Commonwealth of Value requires for its perfection the eternal life of those who are its members, for in any case it is not itself the true ground either of eternal life or of belief in it. That ground is God Himself and God alone. What is now our primary concern is the truth that the condition of eternal life is such a Commonwealth of Value. If every finite spirit had the same experience of Value, even in the apprehension of God, there would be no advantage, except for each such spirit separately considered, in the eternal life of finite spirits. But if each is different both in itself, and in what it apprehends, and therefore also in respect of the value which by its apprehension it makes actual, then eternal life must be the life of such a Commonwealth and of spirits that know themselves to be members of it. This knowledge need not, of course, be theoretical or present to consciousness in the form of any proposition, nor will propositional knowledge of itself suffice; the knowledge required is that of living and active experience, wherein each spirit actually finds its joy in fellowship. On the other hand for the self-centred spirit there can be no eternal life. Even if it should exist for ever, its existence could only be an ever deepening chill of death. Because it seeks its satisfaction in itself, where none is to be found, it must suffer an always intenser pang of spiritual hunger, which cannot be allayed until that spirit turns to another source of satisfaction. In the self which it contemplates there can only be successive states. The self is not sufficient to inspire a dedication such as brings purposive unity into life. Self-seeking may express itself as aspiration after wealth, or power, or popularity, or any other occasion of self-gratification. And any one of these may occupy a man’s energies in the few years of his life on earth,—may even give to them a concentrated unity to which among those whose devotion is to worthier objects only the saints attain. But there is in these no abiding value. Even the soul that lives to be loved by others, and has thus in a perverted fashion understood that love is the supreme good, yet fails of its object, because it is impossible to win and hold the love of others if no love goes forth to them; and as soon as it does, that soul already lives to love, not only to be loved, and its salvation is begun. Eternal life is the life of love—not primarily of being loved, but of loving, admiring, and (in love and admiration) forgetting self. Such a life is not only an entering into, but is the actual building of, that fellowship of mutually enriching selves which we have called the Commonwealth of Value.

This Commonwealth finds its centre and even the ground of its possibility in God. And God Himself, unless all our experience is illusory, claims for the fullness of His own delight in His creation the special excellence that resides in each finite spirit as it both achieves and appreciates the values that are proper to it alone.

Morning, evening, noon and night

“Praise God!” sang Theocrite.

But the unwise admiration of a sympathetic friend kindled an ambition in the boy to praise God “the Pope’s great way”. An archangel carried him to St. Peter’s and took his place; but he could not give to God the joy of Theocrite’s appropriate praise.

God said, “A praise is in mine ear;

There is no doubt in it, no fear;

“Clearer loves sound other ways;

I miss my little human praise.”

Then the Archangel took Pope Theocrite and set him again in the craftsman’s cell, saying:

“I bore thee from the craftsman’s cell

And set thee here; I did not well.

“Vainly I left my angel-sphere,

Vain was thy dream of many a year.

“Thy voice’s praise seemed weak; it dropped—

Creation’s music stopped!”20

The whole harmony of creation depends upon the offering by each humblest spirit of its own appropriate note of music which no other can sound without discord. It is impossible to stress too strongly the individualism of the spiritual world; each is himself alone, and each, because an object of divine love, has infinite value. But it is equally impossible to stress too strongly the communism of that world, if for once we may use the word “communism” with what ought to be its meaning; for each individual becomes his true self only so far as he fastens his attention not on his own fulfilment but on God and on God’s work in creation. This is the road which leads to Peace, “that Harmony of Harmonies which calms destructive turbulence and completes civilisation”, and to which, as an “intuition of permanence” in the midst of “the passing of so much beauty, so much heroism, so much daring”, Professor Whitehead calls our attention in his latest book,21 It is indeed “the peace of God which passeth understanding”. It is a Harmony of Harmonies, for it takes into itself all lesser loyalties and fellowships, using them as elements in its own abundant richness, preserving them from doing to each other injury through any self-centred temper still un-purged from them; it is the peace of eternity, wherein all successiveness is comprised and all discords are resolved. We have called it the Commonwealth of Value; its Christian name is the Communion of Saints; its perfection is in eternity, but to bring its divided and warring members into that Harmony and Peace wherein alone it is actual is the purpose which gives meaning to History.

  • 1. Hobbes, Leviathan, Part IV. chap. xlvii.
  • 2. With this view Professor Whitehead agrees; see Adventures of Ideas, chap. x. But he advocates a reconstruction on lines of pure Immanence, which we have already seen reason to discard. It is most significant that he advocates (as an illustration) the substitution of Pericles’ Funeral Oration for the Revelation of St. John the Divine. That Thucydidean composition is an exquisite expression of purely pagan ethics. The conduct it commends would befit a Christian; but the scale of motives which it would cultivate is the diametrical opposite of the Christian scale.
  • 3. In Lecture VII.
  • 4. P. Leon, “The Rightness of Goodness” in Mind, N.S. 166, pp. 180–185.
  • 5. The identification of Right and Good, except in the form stated earlier, is impossible for Mr. Leon because of his view that history is a chaos: op. cit. p. 173.
  • 6. Cf. Mind, N.S. 166, pp. 183, 184.
  • 7. Cf. supra, Lecture VII. p. 192.
  • 8. Supra, p. 183.
  • 9. Ecclesiasticus xxxvii. 14.
  • 10. See Christus Veritas, pp. 259–264.
  • 11. Lectures XVII. and XIX.
  • 12. Cf. I John iv. 16. God is love; and be that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.
  • 13. St. John i. 9.
  • 14. Cf. Spinoza, Epistle lxxii.
  • 15. Lecture XIV.
  • 16. Appearance and Reality, p. xiv.
  • 17. See Lectures VIII. pp. 209–212, and XX. pp. 509–511.
  • 18. Cf. F. Von Hügel, “What do we mean by Heaven and what do we mean by Hell?” in Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion, pp. 195–224.
  • 19. See Lecture VIII.
  • 20. Browning, The Boy and the Angel.
  • 21. Adventures of Ideas, pp. 367, 369.
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