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Chapter 8: Founded Religions and Their Founders

§ I. Religions, Spontaneous and Founded

1. THE question as to the part played by Jesus Christ in the creation of the Christian religion is particular or specific; but it involves principles and problems which belong to the philosophy of religion and to its comparative history. Founded religions constitute a class or order by themselves; their qualities can be explained only through the relations between them and their founders, and the conditions out of which they both grew. The founded may also be described as instituted or personal religions, in distinction from those which, as without any single or conscious creator, may be classified as natural, spontaneous, or impersonal. The spontaneous are products of the common or collective reason, whose units work, though without defined purpose, yet instinctively and concurrently, combined in action because conditioned throughout by time and place; but the instituted run back into certain historical personalities, and are, if not their immediate and designed creations, yet the clear outcomes of personal reasons and conscious wills. The impersonal religions are not the work of any one man or any special body of men, disciples or apostles, but rather of our common nature; and they have come to be by a process as natural and as much regulated by law as that which produced language, custom, society, and the State. But the founded or personal religions have their source or spring, if not their sufficient reason, in some particular man and are inseparably connected with certain specific beliefs as to his person, office, or work. The one class as collective live in, for, and through the tribe or people, grow with them, and form an integral part of the national order; but the other class as personal are rooted in the active reason, appeal to it, live in it, and grow with it. Spontaneous religions may be termed apotheoses of nature, or the interpretation of spirit and the expression of its ideas in sensuous forms; but instituted religions may be described as apotheoses of personality, or the interpretation of man and the expression of his ideas in the terms of mind or spirit. As a first consequence the spontaneous religions tend to be in character more consuetudinary than ethical, more legal than rational, affairs of the community rather than of individuals or societies within it; but the instituted, as more nearly allied to spirit than to nature, tend as regards matter to emphasize the ideal, and as respects form to think more of mind and character than of observance and custom. As a second consequence the spontaneous religions are not capable of detachment from the nation or tribe; while the instituted addressing themselves to the individual, working from within outward, or using the outward only to get within, constitute societies out of the likeminded, and organize them according to some dominant principle. The distinction, then, seems to be here coincident with that between national and universal or missionary religions; but it really carries us a step farther, for it enables us to trace the most distinctive attributes of the missionary religions to their sources or roots. Man is more universal than nature; the system which has most humanity in it speaks to man most intimately and is most capable of satisfying him; while the higher the moral character of him who institutes the religion, or causes it to be instituted, the finer will be its ethical qualities and the more humane its spirit.

2. But though the spontaneous and the founded religions form distinct classes, they yet stand in historical relations and appear in a determined order. Three things are indeed necessary to the creation of a personal religion: (i.) an historical background or a fit ancestry; (ii.) a creative religious genius; and (iii.) a congenial society or environment upon and within which the genius may operate.

i. The instituted religion needs a substructure on which to build. As a matter of fact no religion capable of being so described is primitive or, in the strict sense, a new or a pure. We have here, as elsewhere, first that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual. If the impersonal did not already exist, the personal could not even begin to be; the one is the parent whose being the other as child presupposes and authenticates. To be the founder of a religion is not to be its inventor—for the invented would be artificial, manufactured, arbitrary and therefore local and ephemeral; but it is to be the cause or occasion which developes a new species out of an old. Every founded religion implies therefore some ancient historical religion which it has transformed, on which it has built, and without which it would not have been possible; but not every spontaneous religion is capable of becoming the foundation or parent of a personal religion. Growth does not always mean production, or development the creation of new forms; for many religions have lived thousands of years and undergone infinite modifications without changing their nature or losing their impersonal character. Thus Hinduism and the Vedic religion are so different that they may be said to have hardly a single essential feature in common; their pantheons, priesthoods, worships, sacrifices, ceremonies; their social systems, ideals of life, personal and collective, as well as their ideas of death and the future, all differ, often radically and even diametrically. Yet if anything in history be certain, it is that Hinduism, with all it stands for, has descended without any break of continuity, though with cumulative accretions and ever increasing variations from the faith held and the order observed by the Vedic men. On the other hand, Hebraism and Christianity are much more alike than the two Indian systems and have an historical connexion even more intimate and organic. In their ideas of God, His character and His law, of man and his duty, of the prophet and his word, of life and its issues, in almost all those things in which the modern differs from the ancient Hindu, they fundamentally agree; yet they constitute not one religion but two, each incapable of fusion with the other, dissimilar in character and independent in being. The Jewish had no room for the Christian religion, the Christian has no room for the Jewish; and though they use the same name for God, speak of Him in identical terms, praise Him in the same Psalms, with equal reverence regard the same book as His inspired word, and alike enforce the need of clean hands and pure hearts in the men who would worship Him, yet one fact or belief so determines their respective qualities and relations that neither can be merged in the other. Hebraism is Christianity and Christianity is Hebraism in every respect save this one, the interpreted Person of Jesus Christ; what divides them is not the historical Jesus, the Man who was a son of Israel and lived in time, but the theological Christ, the Person who has been construed into the Son of God, whose Deity is equal to the Father's. Without this we should have had no Christian religion, but only a Jewish sect the more; with this we have a Jewish sect the less, but the largest and most missionary of religions. Yet though this belief more than any other thing divides and distinguishes the religions, the younger owes its peculiar form and quality to the elder. For it is because the antecedent religion was so essentially a religion of the Divine unity that the passion for it was so native to its successor that it could never be tempted to think of Deity as other than one; and it is because the successor not only had a new teacher but was a peculiar belief concerning Him that it became a new religion essentially distinct from the old. The revolutionary and creative power did not lie so much in the person as in the belief; and what gave the belief its power was that, so far from dissolving the monistic and exclusive quality of the theistic idea which it inherited and after which it was framed, it only helped the more to intensify and define it. And here we may see why the belief is so offensive to the Jew and so unintelligible to the Hindu. The Jew cannot conceive how his God could become incarnate in any man; the Hindu cannot conceive how any one man should be the sole and exclusive incarnation of God. He thinks of deity as incarnate in every man and in all forms of life; in so thinking he makes incarnation in the Christian sense impossible, for by deifying everything he undeifies all. The only possible form a revolt from Hinduism can assume is that of negation—a denial of the idea by which it lives, explains man, and organizes society. Buddhism was this, and because it was this, while it lived in India long enough to show that in a system that knew no deity there could be no permanent or real apotheosis of the founder, yet its inevitable fate was to perish by being absorbed into the religion it had repudiated. But an absolute monotheism is a principle of absolute coherence and individuation; it can allow no deity to stand alongside its God and share His worship and dignity. And if the idea of incarnation ever finds a foothold in connexion with such a Deity it must, unless His unity and personality are broken up, involve a unity and be expressed in a personality as absolute as His own. Hence the unity which constituted Hebraism was continued in Christianity, whose Founder became as solitary in deity and as pre-eminent in His solitude, as the Jehovah He realized rather than superseded.

ii. The founder must be an historical person of creative genius. Unless he be “an historical person” there can be no continuity in the religion, nothing to bind it to the past, connect it with the present, or transmit it to the future. A system which is without antecedents can have no consequents, but is a mere isolated, and therefore inexplicable phenomenon. To be without father and mother is to be also without descendants, a being man can neither understand nor construe, neither believe nor imitate, neither obey nor follow. The historical reality of the founder is thus a condition antecedent to the historical being of the religion which is to bear his name. “Creative genius,” again, is a term denotive of the force which enabled him to be what he was and perform what he did. It means more than intellectual, ethical, or social eminence; it means such a transcendence of local conditions as cannot be explained by the completest inheritance of the past, a personality that so embodies a new ideal as to awaken in man the imitative passion and the interpretative imagination: Thus the founder must here be distinguished from the reformer; every founder may be a reformer of religion, but not every reformer is a founder. The reformer may arise, preach a new or revive an old doctrine, call to a higher life and institute a society for its realization; and this type of man has been known to every historical religion, has appeared in some an innumerable multitude of times, though he has risen only to create a new sect or a new order within the old. To this class belong Benedict, Francis, and Dominic, and their great and saintly kinsmen in all the historical religions. What changes the reformer into the founder is not so much his own act as his people's, the creative action of his personality on their imagination forcing them to invest him with attributes and functions supersessive of the authority and worship of the ancient gods. No teacher simply as a teacher ever created a new religion, for a religion is made not by discussions but by beliefs, not by abstract principles but by a concrete object of worship, not by the quickening and cultivation of the intellect but by the operation of an authority which commands the whole man, and organizes his life on a more spiritual basis and according to a higher ideal. It is, then, not simply in what the founder was and did, but in what he was conceived to be, that the forces creative of a new religion He; but even though his historical personality be thus transformed, it does not cease to be operative; on the contrary, it becomes, by being idealized, more potent. For it is made the interpretative and normative term of the highest religious ideas; the universe, its source and meaning, its course and end, are read in the light of his personality, and God is interpreted through the man.

The founder, then, has a twofold value for the religion, an historical and an ideal. Without the historical he would have no connexion with humanity, standing outside it he would be unable to act upon it, absolved from all relations he would have no more worth than belongs to a dream or vision of the mind. Without the ideal he would have no transcendental significance, no meaning for the mystery of the universe, nothing to say to man touching the ideas by which he lives. The historical character of the founder determines the ethical quality of the faith he founds; his transcendental significance defines its higher beliefs. The two must be combined before knowledge of him can constitute a religion.

iii. The function and the need of a congenial society or medium within which the founder may live and operate will now be apparent Its function is the interpretation of his person, the practice of his worship, the imitation of his character, the study of his thought, the realization of his ideals; in a word, it is to make the religion called by his name a reality. The society may thus be defined as, on the one hand, a contributory cause, and, on the other, a condition necessary, to the being of the religion. As the founder embodies for it the ultimate truth of the universe, so it embodies for mankind his mind and life; and it is by these in their union that the religion is constituted. And there is a parallel between the creative process in the personal and in the natural religions. These latter arose from the intercourse of mind with nature; but the former from the intercourse of mind with certain historical personalities. Nature in the one case, the personality in the other, represent the objects to be interpreted; in both cases mind brings the regulative ideas and interpretative categories to the object. Those ideas and categories which are, in the one case, latent in mind, are educed, explicated, and verified in the course of its endeavour to interpret nature and comprehend itself; but in the other case, these ideas and categories which have become explicit for thought through its being exercised on the ancestral religion and the problems it has raised receive expansion and, as it were, concretion by application to the historical person. This does not mean that the parallel processes justify the very dissimilar results, but it means that as the processes are rational the formulated results must be judged by analytic and comparative criticism. But the time for applying this canon is not yet.

A founded religion may be defined, then, as a religion whose ultimate truth is an historical person speculatively construed. This definition, with the discussion which has led up to it, will help us to determine what religions fall within this category.

§ II. Impersonal Religions Classified as Personal

We must exclude three religions, which are often reckoned as founded or personal, those of ancient Persia, of China, and of Israel, which are, respectively, ascribed to Zoroaster, to Confucius, and to Moses. Of these, Zoroaster is a person known only by the aid of dubious documents, late in origin, imperfectly understood, uncertain in date and in worth, and representing a religion whose history, broken and discontinuous, it is impossible critically to construe. Taken at the best Zoroaster is a teacher and reformer, not a founder, and his religion has an archæological rather than an historical and living interest. But of the other two something more positive may be said.

1. Nothing could be less correct than to describe the classical and imperial religion of China as the Confucian. Confucius did not create it, did not mean to do more than: maintain it in its integrity, or, to use the term which best I expresses his mind, “transmit it,” just as it had been loved and observed by the fathers before him. He studiously: avoided saying or doing anything which the ancients would have disapproved; in their maxims and customs he found the wisdom which he, illumined by experience, applied to the regulation of life, public and private. He stayed within his own province, a counsellor of kings, a guide of States, an instructor of statesmen; and discouraged as needless all inquiry touching what was before birth, after death, or above and behind the visible. As a son he illustrated reverence; as a citizen he exemplified obedience, though to sovereignty rather than to any person as sovereign; as a magistrate he cultivated virtue, tempering justice with mercy and making the people's good his chief concern; as a teacher he never forgot his disciples, but loved to open their eyes to the lessons and the duties suggested by common things. The heaven he thought of and believed in was a happy kingdom; his saints and sages were the persons who could create and administer its laws; his religion was the way by which it could be made to come. He loved and observed the ceremonies that turned the peasant into a well-mannered gentleman, and made the king a man while a ruler. He collected and edited the songs of his people, for he believed that they were the best allies of law and formed in men the law-abiding mind. He recorded the words and the acts of the wisest chiefs, and described the contentment which came from a virtuous reign. He made literature a mirror into which kings and peoples alike could look, see themselves and their times, and learn to admire the good and despise the evil. But he intended only to conserve what was old, though it was an idealized age, the creature of the imagination rather than the reflexion of experience; and the last thing he dreamed of doing was to establish a new religion. And his people, who have loved him well, have understood him perfectly. He is to them the ideal embodiment of a religion at once domestic and civil, without a priesthood but with duties defined by the home and the State. They have built temples in his honour, but to him as sage, not as God. Their worship, properly so called, is reserved either for the heaven which is above all and enfolds all, or for the ancestors who have made the family and love the families they have made. In the former case the worship is conducted by the emperor as head of the State; in the latter, by the father as head of the household; for the most common of all beliefs in China is this, that the spirits of the dead can never be happy without the sacrifices and progress of their living descendants.

But this simple religion existed ages before Confucius; his words and acts may have interpreted it, his wisdom have sanctioned it, his example enriched it and stamped it with the approval of the greatest immortal of his race, but he loved it too well to wish to see it changed, especially by or because of himself. His character is best described in his own words of true yet proud humility; he was “simply a man who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgot his food; who in the joy of its attainment forgot his sorrows, and who therefore did not perceive that old age was coming on.” He who could so speak of himself might be a sage, but he was not the founder of a religion.

2. What the religion of Israel owes to Moses is a point criticism finds it hard, if not impossible, to determine; and to attempt to determine it here would carry us into a field of discussion alien to the problem and purpose of this book. But, happily, we are not specially concerned with the literary questions as to the rise of monotheism, or as to the mode and time of its origin, but with the discovery of a cause sufficient to explain it and constant enough in operation to show how it overcame a multitude of hostile forces subtly and ceaselessly active. Now the more we conceive its rise to have been gradual the less can we attribute it to any single man. And there are two significant things here: (a) the religion, when we get to know it, and so far as we do know it, is national rather than personal; and (b) the idea that governed its history was the God who gave the law and not the man who received it.

The first of these positions signifies that the constant cause which produced monotheism and never ceased to operate till it had been perfected, was more racial than individual. What used to be termed “the monotheistic instinct,”1 the peculiar endowment of the Semitic race, became in Israel the passion to conceive God as one, and Jehovah as the only God. The belief in its earliest form may have been crude, and the theistic idea may have been so loosely conceived as to be predicable of a multitude of beings of varying ranks and differing powers; but all the more is there needed for the emergence of an absolute and exclusive unity, the operation of a permanent cause like a race. Polytheism was in the air; it represented common and spontaneous beliefs; it had flourished under the older and higher civilizations; it was the faith of all the dwellers in Canaan, of all the cognate families and tribes: why, then, did Israel alone escape it? Much has been made of the fact that he is often polytheistic in idea and feeling and act, in custom, in speech and inclination; but we forget what the English civilian in India could illustrate out of his own experience, how impossible it was for Israel, situated as he was, wrestling with the poverty of speech and against strong tendencies in human nature, to be anything else. The fact we have to reckon with is the persistent growth, in the face of the mightiest adverse forces, of this monotheistic idea. And the persistence is the more extraordinary that the idea stood alone in a sort of naked simplicity, unsupported by the fellowship or countenance of kindred ideas. It was not made by any system of thought, but had to make its own system. And here the significance of the second position will appear; the history of Israel did not so much produce the monotheistic idea as the idea produced the history. It made him; it is his sole claim to remembrance: but what a claim it is! How it places this rude, fierce, and intolerant people in the forefront of the benefactors of mankind! And throughout it appears as the work of the family, rather than of any single man. Moses may have been the legislator of the family, yet he was not its sole or sovereign authority in religion; others stand by his side, come after him, rise above him, even supersede him. His name subsumes the law and he becomes the synonym of rules that bind but do not govern. The note of the founder is that he is indispensable, he without whom the religion could not have been. And monotheism could have been without Moses but not without Israel. Yet the legislator, alike in what he did not do and in what he did, perfectly impersonates the idea. If we conceive him to have lived in Egypt and to have been acquainted with its worship, it is marvellous how little of its religion he brought away with him—nothing of its ideas of the future, of the fate and treatment and judgment of the dead, of its sacred animals and signs, of its symbolism, its temples, its priesthoods, its nomenclature and its mystic lore. Yet if it suggested to him the idea that the law of God was a moral law which the state that took Him for its Sovereign was bound to obey, then it was the mother of the most potent and fruitful of all the beliefs that have worked for the amelioration of religion. For by this idea both God and religion have been moralized, and monotheism saved from falling into a monism, which must always conceive deity under physical or metaphysical, rather than under ethical categories. I then, Israel was the organ and vehicle of the religion, Moses may be described as not only its lawgiver, but, as the later literature conceived him, as its prophet, as indeed the greatest because the first of the prophets, the type of the ideal servant of God whose voice men were to hear and obey. And a higher achievement than this no reformer or legislator could perform.

§ III. Religions, Founded and Personal

There remain to be considered as in the strict or proper sense founded religions, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity the three which have already been described as missionary.2 How did they come to be religions, as distinguished from sects or schools? What part did their respective founders, Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, play in their creation? What reciprocal significance in each of these cases has the founder for the religion and the religion for the founder?


1. The significance of Buddha as a philosophical teacher3 and a religious personality4 has already been sketched. What we have now to do is to show the process by which he became what is termed the founder of a religion. We begin by noting his undisputed supremacy in his own church; it lives by faith in him and in what he stands for. There is no image so familiar to the East as his; he sits everywhere, in monastery, pagoda, and sacred place, cross-legged, meditative, impassive, resigned, the ideal of quenched desire, without any line of care or thought to disturb the ineffable calm or mar the sweetness of his unsmiling yet gracious face; a silent deity who bids the innumerable millions who worship him become as blessed by being as placid as he is. And the belief which the image symbolizes is not of yesterday; it is as old as Buddha's church. The ancient formula of discipleship confesses the sufficiency of the Teacher, his doctrine, and his order for all the needs of man. The council which met on the eve of his death knew the formula, spoke of him as the exalted, the enlightened one, whose word saved and with whom was the secret of a holy life. The second council, held about a hundred years later, proves the existence of sacred texts, definite doctrines, and an operative order. And these carry us near enough to the founder to make us sure that, however much his history may have been embellished by the retrospective imagination, he was no subjective ideal or mere lay figure arrayed in the worn out garments of the old solar mythology, but a real being of flesh and blood, though in genius ancient and Indian rather than modern and European, The world he moves in is too actual to allow us to dissolve him into unreality. It is very different from the Vedic world, but no less concrete and coherent, with men and women tempered by climate and changed by experience, but as true to type and time. Instead of the song we have the epilogue; instead of the hymn, with its clear speech and praise of a God who has never been doubted, we have minds that have speculated till faith has failed and they have been compelled to ask, Who will show us any good and tell us whether there be any God, what we may call and how we may find Him? Yet this India of the fifth century B.C. is as real as the Vedic India of five or even ten centuries earlier. It is a land where kings are powerful, chiefs are rich, priests influential, and peasants diligent; where castes are strong and jealous of privilege, and the out-casted the most pitiable of men. Religion is the great concern, and men love it too well to allow it to become an affair of the priesthood, and conceive it to be a mother of truth and thought rather than custom and ritual. And so they feel the priest's forms to be tedious and divisive, while his sacrifices seem too cruel to be acceptable to the gentleness that ought to be the soul of all things. The seekers after a more excellent way fill the land, ascetics who have renounced all worldly pleasures that they may attain a beatitude without lust or desire; mendicants who have ceased to toil and spin that they may begin the quest of the supreme good; pious men who torture themselves that they may win the applause of a deity who loves self-inflicted pain; disciples who seek a master; itinerant sages who offer to teach wisdom in the places where the consciously ignorant congregate.

In the eastern region of this land, a region imperfectly Brahmanized, which may be described, in comparison with the sacred and ancient Vedic country lying to the westward as “Galilee of the Gentiles,” the man who is to be the Buddha is born. The priest has not as yet here completed his usurpation, nor have the king and noble lost their ancient functions in religion; while the spirit which compels man to conceive himself as made for eternity rules the selecter minds. By his birth the man has in him the blood of kings and warriors, but by instinct and temper the love of eternal things. He inherited the faith of his people, believed that he was fated to move through the immense and awful cycle of successive births and deaths, and he desired early and complete emancipation. The priestly method of attaining it seemed to him too slow, circuitous, and uncertain; and was he not of the race of men Nature had made priests before art or custom created Brahmans? And so he enquired of many teachers, but they did not help; he tried many methods—asceticism, self-torture, renunciation—but in vain. At last meditation showed him how through suppression of desire to escape from sorrow and enter into the Nirvana which is perfect peace. When he had attained this knowledge he became Buddha, the enlightened; and after he had overcome the temptation to keep his secret he began to preach it, leading men through discipleship and his order into the way whose end was everlasting peace.

2. Buddha thus became a teacher of a kind as common in India then as now. There the man with a message never wants a hearing, nor, if his message has promise or helpfulness, does he ever want a following. The history of post-Vedic religion is but the biography of teachers, now ascetic, now scholastic, now social, now mystic, now rational, who have formed schools and founded sects, without ceasing to be Hindus; on the contrary, only the more expanding and realizing Hinduism. And Buddha so acted in the way of his people as to exhibit evolution rather than revolution. And he himself could not do otherwise; the logic that changed development into revolt came from his society. Yet the premisses on which it argued and acted were his. His philosophy was not orthodox; it did not build on the Vedas, it denied the reality of Brahma and the persistence of the soul. It agreed indeed with the older schools in affirming that salvation was by knowledge rather than by priestly sacrifice and ritual; but, unlike them, it did not seek the knowledge in a priestly service, or call its object by a priestly name. The Brahmans were to him like a chain of blind men, none of whom saw anything, and whose faith and discourse were alike vain. Their sacrifices were at once foolish and ineffectual, cruel and profitless. The only sacrifice that became a king was the repair of all injustice; that became a man was the cessation from lying and deceit, from the lust that coveted and worked unchastity, from the passion that killed to increase fleshly pleasure. Self-torture was no sacrifice, had no merit, and gained no good. In an unknown tongue there was no sanctity. Truth did not become truer, nor did excellence grow better by being stated in Sanskrit; the speech the people knew was the fittest medium for the teacher. And the more people knew the truth the greater the number that would be saved. But truth involved duty; by obedience the knowledge was proved to be real, and the measure of perfection was the degree of their harmony. Hence Buddha's society was twofold: an inner circle—a church or order, and an outer circle—the adherents. The former were made up of the called or chosen, men and women who renounced everything and became mendicants, monks and nuns, persons who had the vocation to a holy life. Celibacy and chastity were fundamental principles in a system which seeks to end the existence which is misery. The adherents were the devout, those who believed in the Buddha, but were not strong enough to make the great renunciation, and break the fetters that bound them to the sensuous world. The cardinal idea of the system is an individualism which is best when realized in the social medium that promises to make an end of the individual. This individualism governs it throughout. Its one authority is an individual beside whom no second stands. Every individual is a self-sufficing unit, charged with the care and the control of his own destiny, who has the right of his own free will to make the last surrender, but on whom no other has any right to lay a violent hand. The happiest being is he on whom the love of the only life he has power over—his own—has died; the next in happiness is he who so loves all being that he will inflict suffering on none. The first has become a saint and attained Nirvana; the second has entered upon the path, and will in due season reach the goal.

3. But do the narrative of Buddha's life, and the interpretation of his mind, taken by themselves, explain the rise of the religion called Buddhism? There is a teacher, a school he founds, scholars that revere him, multitudes that admire him, and a message he delivers concerning the knowledge that saves, but these things, even more in India than in Europe, do not found a religion, they only constitute a sect. Now what turned the school or sect into a religion? It was the event or process which we may term, all the more fitly that the system knows no god, the apotheosis of Buddha. The process was twofold, though the result was one, an imaginative and a speculative, or a mythological and a philosophical. The starting point was the master or teacher, the man, the Buddha, the Illuminated, who revealed to the ignorant the way of life. His manhood was not denied; on the contrary, its reality was the primary assumption which made the creative process possible. Deities are too common and too easily discovered in India to have much significance; they appear everywhere in everything, and can be made to become anything. Incarnations are as common as deities, and as insignificant; and to them it is more natural to assume an animal or a monstrous, than a human form. Hence to have conceived Buddha as a deity or as the incarnation of a deity would have been to deprive him of all distinction, to have made the fall of his school into a sect inevitable, and the rise of a religion bearing his name impossible. Individuality, then, is his attribute; he is himself, and not simply the form of another. He has incommunicable properties, has a will of his own which performs duty and shapes character, and is not the mere mask of an unknown and irresponsible power. Hence comes the belief that he is an ethical being, that his; chief qualities are moral, that his virtues, his grace and wisdom, his goodwill and kindness are his, and are real, and that out of his intrinsic qualities all his beneficent acts have issued. This was a new notion in India; it was substituting an ethical for a metaphysical conception, and reaching the universe through the idea of a moral man rather than through the abstract idea of soul or substance. And here the mythological process began; the Buddha it transformed was a living being, for the moment the imagination touches death and the abstract they are quickened and personified. He was, therefore, not allowed to begin to be with birth, or to cease to be at death; he became the personified beneficence of the universe, doing good in all worlds and in all ages to all kinds and classes of suffering creatures; and the people that meditated before his image, or spoke of him to the multitudes, clothed their faith in the forms that their imagination supplied. What the process achieved we may learn not simply from the “Birth Stories,” but from the sober and often prosaic narratives of the Chinese pilgrims. Hiuen Tsiang, a doctor learned in the law, skilled in all the subtilties of what we foolishly call Nihilistic Buddhism, gravely tells how at this stupa, or that sacred place, the Blessed One had descended and confounded a sinner, or helped a saint, or built of precious stones some tabernacle for men to pray in. And as the imagination clothed him in a suitable mythology, so the speculative reason resolved him into “the eldest, the noblest of beings,” and surrounded him with an army of “exalted, holy, universal Buddhas,” though he alone remained the author of eternal salvation. And as on the one side he personified the moral energies of the universe, so on the other he became the governing ideal and example of human duty, the humanity of the standard making the ethics humane. And it was this transcendental interpretation of its founder, his apotheosis as we have termed it, which made Buddhism a religion. The process may or may not have been legitimate, but it was here the only possible method of creation. Unless Buddha had been man, we should never have had his system or his influence; unless he had been conceived as more than man, we should never have had his religion. The elevation and beauty of his humanity, when applied to the supreme object of worship, marked an immense advance on all prior notions of deity in the Orient; but its want of a theistic basis left it nebulous and void, save for the pious imagination, which can be legitimately and finally satisfied only by the satisfaction of the reason.


1. Mohammed divides with Buddha and the Brahman the religious sovereignty of the Oriental mind, yet the sovereignties are in idea, in type, and in form worlds apart. All three are rooted in religion, but the faith of the Brahman is a polytheism so multitudinous and tolerant as to include everything that men may call deity, if only the deity will consent to be included and to be respectful to those who dwelt in the pantheon before him. The sovereignty of Buddha is that of the ideal man and the idealized pity, which, without concern or care for any god, draws humanity toward the dreamless beatitude he has himself attained; while Mohammed's is strictly derivative and representative, due to his being the one sufficient and authoritative spokesman of the one Merciful and Almighty God. The Brahman's sovereignty is social and heritable, came to him by the blood which defined his place and function in society as well as his office before the gods and on behalf of men; but both Buddha's and Mohammed's may be described as in a sense personal, though it was acquired by the one through his own efforts, achievements, and merits, and granted to the other by the will and deed of his God. The sovereignty of the Brahman is expressed in the society he has organized, the system, at once natural and artificial, of caste; while Buddha's is expressed in a society whose orders correspond to his theory of merit, and Mohammed's in a brotherhood where all are equal before a God too great to know any respect of persons. The image, or the symbol, of his god which the Brahman loves is to Mohammed but a shameful and empty idol, while the statue which the Buddhist reveres speaks to him of a still more graceless idolatry, the supersession of the uncreated God by the created man he had appointed to be his minister. But though his sovereignty is not represented to the eye by any image, it yet has a fitter and more imperious symbol, a book which reveals the mind of God and proclaims the law which man is bound under the most awful and inexorable sanctions to obey. The worship it enjoins is one of stern yet majestic simplicity; it concerns God only, and there is but the one God who has made Mohammed his final and sovereign prophet, and declared through him that all idols are “idleness and vanity.”

They have not any power; no, not over the husk of a date.

If ye call upon them, they hear not your calling.5

But though no image of God or man is to be tolerated, yet the tomb of the saint is to be visited by the foot of the pilgrim, and over it may rise the mosque where God will be all the more devoutly praised that the dust of a servant waits beneath till the resurrection of the just.

Now Mohammed is of all religious founders the most intimately known, and Islam is the only religion of which it can be said it was born in the open day. There is no book more autobiographical than the Koran, more capable or more in need of being interpreted through history. This makes it peculiarly difficult to a stolid and unimaginative Western mind to be just either to the man or the religion. Instead of standing in the workshop amid its perplexing cross-lights, lurid fires, blazing furnaces, ringing hammers, torrid heat, and perspiring craftsmen, we sit in our cool study, analyze, criticize, award, praise, and blame as if the religion had been forged in an atmosphere as undisturbed and luminous as our own, and by men as detached and cultivated as we assume ourselves to be. And so Voltaire, who knew Paris excellently, but knew nothing of Arabia, little of religion and less of man, conceived Mohammed as a lustful hypocrite, who pleaded inspiration in order that he might gain a freer and fuller licence for his vice; while Gibbon, who disliked fanaticism, whether embodied in a Julian, a Mohammed, or a Calvin, described Islam as compounded of an eternal truth and a necessary falsehood, the truth being the unity of God, the falsehood that Mohammed was His prophet. And as if to keep us humble and the balance true, we have one modern and Christian scholar tracing his inspiration to Satan, and another resolving his religion into hysteria. But in history it is a useful canon never to assume that great effects can have mean causes. In matters of faith and the Spirit nothing fails like duplicity and make-believe; nothing is so necessary to success as integrity and conviction of mind. The splendid sincerity of Mohammed's early disciples sufficiently testifies to the reality of his own; but he was sincere in the manner of an Arab and an unlettered visionary. We must imagine this Arab as a delicate, posthumous child nursed by the Bedouin, early left without a mother, first to the care of a grandfather, then of uncles kindly disposed but critical. He grew into a boy who loved to commune with nature and gather the wild berries as he tended his flocks; he became a youth with few companions, with a soul that sickened at the coarser vices, meditative, sensitive to suffering, susceptible to the finer emotions, shrinking from pain, and destitute of the physical courage which easily turned into ferocity, and which the Arab admired as the bravery proper to a man. In his solitude great thoughts came to him; travel and intercourse with men brought glimpses into a larger world than Arabia knew of. Marriage, bringing wealth, supplied him with the opportunities for silence, solitude, and visions, which reflected his richer experience. He had heard of the Jewish patriarchs, and the story of Abraham, the friend of God and the father of Ishmael; it touched his imagination, and he saw the Arab tribes unified, their sacred places purged, themselves made the heirs of the promise, and their deities, Lat and Ozza and Marat cast out by the one supreme God. He heard of Moses, and he learned to think of God, the lawgiver, calling His people into the wilderness, forming them into a state where idolatry was forbidden, and the prophet was the voice of God. He thought of these things in the way of an imaginative man till they took hold of him, possessed, inspired him, forced him into speech.

Cry! in the name of thy Lord who created—

Created man from clots of blood.6

In a passage of amazing beauty and majesty, which may well be read as a chapter from his own experience, he pictures Abraham7 called from his idols to the faith in the one God. The evening falls and the stars come out one by one in the lustrous evening heaven, and he cries, “This, indeed, is the Most High”; but the moon rises, and they fade, and he thinks, “Here is the Being I must worship.” Then the dawn breaks, the moon pales, and the sun rises out of the bosom of night, and he bends before this all-glorious luminary as the light which is God; but the day ends, night and darkness return, and Abraham thinks the Eternal can never pass and be eclipsed, and he says, “I turn my face to Him who hath created the heavens and the earth.”

2. The monotheism of the Semite, simple, inflexible, sovereign, had at last found a fit organ, and from the call of God there could be no turning back. But though Mohammed must speak, he could not always convert; a few, his wife, a slave, a friend believed; some hesitated, many doubted, the vast majority denied and hated as only the untutored mind can hate when it sees its ancient gods scorned and dismissed for a God it does not see. Hence came years of conflict, force pitted against faith, strength against weakness. Exasperation, pain, and death confronted the prophet and his religion. Then Medina opened her arms, and called, and, helped by what has ever seemed to the imagination of his people a series of miracles, he stole out of Mecca, and by his flight saved, himself and founded Islam. And what he founded was not only a religion, but a State, the two being one. The ideas were there, the omnipotent God, the mortal man; heaven for the faithful, hell for the unbeliever. But the institution was there also, the prophet, who was the voice of God, his word which was God's truth, the law which could not be broken but must be obeyed. And this law created a State, which lived, as States must, by the sword, but a sword wielded, as none had hitherto been, by the hand of the Almighty. It is not indeed, true to say “Islam is founded on the sword”; it is founded on the prophet's word, and it preaches and teaches with a zeal and a fanaticism no religion has ever surpassed. Yet the sword was used by the prophet and has been used by his successors in a way unknown to the other founded religions. Asoka, the Buddhist, may have subdued India, and Constantine may have conquered the Roman Empire in the name of the Cross; but these were acts of violent disobedience and usurpation, for Buddha did not love the battle, and Jesus expressly deplored war and condemned the sword. It is impossible, then, to acquit Mohammed of the charge of spreading his religion by the sword, although he did not found upon it. For two things of incontrovertible historical truth may here be said: (a) Without the sword he never would have converted the Arab tribes and made them the apostles and warriors of his religion; and (b) his use of the sword has sanctioned its use by all his successors. Wars of religion may be even more desolating than those of military or political ambition; but wars by religion encourage, above all others, ferocity and blood-madness. And the history of Islam, unhappily, abounds in proofs of this fact But even in his wars Mohammed did not forget his religion, though his mindfulness but showed the old Arab alive within him. The spoils taken from the enemy enriched the brotherhood, being divided according to principles of merit and equity. If the nearest kinsman was an unbeliever, he was shown no more pity than the most complete alien; if the bitterest foe became a convert, he was at once taken to the bosom of the prophet and the faith. Of an unbelieving uncle, he said:

Blasted be the hands of Abu Lahab! and let himself be blasted!

His riches shall not profit him, nor what he has earned;

He shall be cast into the broiling flame.8

When he had fought and conquered Mecca, and had thrown down her idols, for

Truth had come and falsehood gone;

For falsehood vanisheth away,9

his magnanimity reached even to his most implacable foe, who now submitted, and was bidden “Hasten to the city, and say that none who taketh refuge in the house of Abu Sofian (the man himself) shall be harmed this day.” But another and no less significant change happened at Medina. Before, Jerusalem had been his holy city, thither Gabriel had borne him on a winged steed, and he had met and been welcomed by a council of ancient prophets. Thence he had been carried into heaven, and the lips of God had commanded him and his people to pray five times daily with faces towards the holy Temple. But now Mecca was idealized; ancient memories made her beautiful in the prophet's sight. “Thou art the choicest spot upon earth to me, and the most delectable,” he cried; and the city of his love became the sacred city of his faith. The Divine voice said: “Turn thy face towards the holy temple of Mecca”;10
  • 1.

    Ante, p. 217.

  • 2.

    Ante, p. 230.

  • 3.

    Ante, pp. 118–21.

  • 4.

    pp. 240–44.

  • 5.

    Koran: Sura xxxv.

  • 6.

    Sura xcvi.

  • 7.

    Sura vi. Cf. the Jewish prototype in Geiger, Was hat Moh. aus dem Judenthum aufgenommen? pp. 123–125. It will help us the more to feel the beauty that may be conferred by the touch of genius.

  • 8.

    Sura cxi.

  • 9.

    Sura xvii. 82.

  • 10.

    Sura ii. 146.

and so it henceforth was the true kibla, the goal of pilgrimage, with its once heathenish black stone and holy well sanctified for evermore. But these ways signified a radical change in the mind of Mohammed. The prophecies he now delivered were occasional, and served the occasion; some were intended to hush scandal, others to reconcile estranged friends or despoil enemies, to proclaim wars or celebrate victories, to enhearten after defeat, to regulate worship, or even to justify the prophet in taking a new wife to his home. While he lived the law was alive, grew daily, and daily was modified and applied. When he died it was closed, became a corpus which had to be interpreted, but could itself suffer neither increase nor diminution. His death saw the Koran finished, the State constituted, and Islam founded.

3. Islam as just described may be conceived to be a State rather than a religion, but it would be wrongly so conceived. For it is both a religion and a State—a religion by virtue of its ideas and ends, a State by virtue of its forms and means. As a religion it is Semitic rather than Arabian; as a State it is Arabian rather than Semitic. As a religion it is secondary and derivative, with sources partly Jewish and partly Christian; as a State it is original though not independent, a dream of universal dominion conditioned by the local customs, tribal polities, and social order of Arabia. The force which fused these elements together and made them into the civil religion or religious State we call Islam, was Mohammed. He did not discover the ideas, for they existed before him, but he translated them into the tongue of Arabia, he made his beliefs live in forms so vivid, so picturesque, so full of poetic charm and spiritual passion and the conviction which may not be questioned, that the Imaginations and consciences of all who believed his word became as potter's clay in his hands. The Koran is indeed a marvellous book, which speaks with tremendous force to men who can and do believe it. Its God is a consuming fire in a sense quite unknown to the Old Testament. There the future has but a feeble or shadowy existence; the scene where Jehovah reigns is more this world than the next. But in the Koran if God is eternal, man is immortal, and death is no escape from His hands. In no religion is the other world so real as in Islam; heaven is described in terms most alluring to the oriental imagination, hell in words that scorch and blacken. And God holds man and his destiny in His inexorable hands, awards heaven to the believer, hell to the infidel, no one being able to escape His terrible decree. The idea is one of transcendent power, so simple, so intelligible, so commanding, especially to those who feel that there is nothing between them and this sovereign will. Polytheism leaves man the master of the gods, they are his creation, and if he despairs of one, he can find help and hope in another; but a rigorous monotheism offers no alternatives, allows no concealment, sets man as it were naked before an eternal Face whose smile is life and whose frown is death. And the duties based on the idea were as simple as the idea itself. They were prayer and fasting, which had reference to God; almsgiving, which was duty to the brotherhood; and the pilgrimage to Mecca, which was a sort of homage to the birthplace of the religion, an outward and visible sign of unity, and a witness to the power of Arabia over the founder. But above all, authenticating all, stood the prophet. The God to be believed was the God he revealed; to deny Mohammed was to disbelieve God. His authority was ultimate, for through him God had freely and finally spoken and only through him could God be really known. The primary belief, then, in Islam is not the unity of God, but the apostolate of Mohammed. The beliefs do not simply stand indissolubly together, but the greater is built upon the less. Without the prophet God would still be One, but the one God would not be believed and known of men.

4. Here, then, we can see in what sense Mohammed can be conceived as the founder of the religion. Without him it could not have been; he is not simply the medium of its realization but of its continuance. Islam is the one absolute book religion of the world, and may be most properly defined as the Apotheosis of the Word. The Koran is the mind of Mohammed immortalized for his people, speaking to them, being questioned by them, making their laws, governing their lives. His God is theirs, conceived in his terms, worshipped in his manner, obeyed in his spirit. And this means that an Arab's consciousness of the sixth century A.D. has determined the deity and governs the faith of Islam. The connexion between the man and the religion can thus be dissolved only by the death of both. It has often been said that Islam is of all the great religions the nearest a pure naturalism. Its earliest history has few miracles, perhaps none, and but for certain incidental customs the most strenuous believer in natural law might be a devout Moslem. The saying is as superficial and inaccurate as any saying of ignorance could well be. The supernatural and the miraculous are the very atmosphere which Islam breathes. Mohammed himself is to it a supreme miracle. He stands alone among men, God's apostle, without a rival and without an equal, and to question his authority is to doubt the truth and veracity of God. So cardinal is his pre-eminence to the theology of Islam that how to conceive the prophet and yet to keep him man, has been at once its most inevitable and insoluble problem. On his supremacy, as not simply personal but transmissible and hereditary, the greatest of all the Mohammedan schisms is based. And as with his person, so with his word; it is his incarnation, himself made immortal, universal, articulate. And here also we come upon a fundamental problem of the Schools: how did the Koran begin to be, and when? Truth is eternal, and the Koran is the truth. Eternity is thus its note; and though God showed it in vision to Mohammed, and he told his vision to men, yet it had ever been in God, the light of his bosom and the love of his heart. The most rigid Christian theories of the sacred canon and inspiration are but nebulous dreams compared to the dogmas which have defined and enshrined the Koran. And this brings us to the miraculous in its early history; the whole story of its coming is a miracle—the visions of the prophet, the angels that speak to him and that carry him whither they will, the God in whose name and at whose bidding he speaks, are all miracles, as full of supernatural ideas and incidents as the most credulous mind could desire. The very collection of the Koran under Abu Bekr, the destruction under Othman, fifteen years later, of all versions but one, and the consequent formation of a single authoritative text, signified that the book was held to be so miraculous that it must be preserved as their book of life, and so preserved that there should be but one form of the prophet's words, these and no other being the truth of God. And here we touch the point where the ideas of the religion and the State coalesce. Both are positive creations, i.e. are founded and built up by positive laws. Positive laws are expressions of a personal or communal will, the rules it makes and the precepts it formulates for the guidance of the individual and the ordering of society. Islam then, whether conceived as religion or as State or as both, is a creation of positive law, the work of a personal will, of the man we know as Mohammed.

§ IV. Canons of Criticism or Regulative Ideas

The relation of Jesus to the founding and formation of the Christian religion is too immense a subject to be discussed as a subordinate head in a single chapter; but we may here formulate certain regulative ideas or critical principles that seem to have emerged from these discussions.

i. The Founder and the religion stand so related that neither can be considered without the other. His historical being precedes and conditions its historical origin, and exercises a permanent effect on its development. In him its qualities lie implicit; in it his immanent character and mind are evolved. This means that the religion not only begins with or starts from him, but perpetuates and propagates the ethical type he impersonates. Moral character is thus a matter of fundamental importance to the religion.

ii. The Founder has an historical and an ideal significance both for his own religion and for philosophy or thought in general. The historical significance concerns not only the part he played in making the religion first possible and then actual, but also the influence he has exercised on its earliest behaviour and its later developments. The ideal significance concerns not only the part he has played and been the means of making his religion play in the history of man and of religion, but also the relation in which he stands to the ideal cause, process, and end of human life, individual and collective.

iii. The historical person of the Founder determines the outward character of the religion, its institutions and civil form, the means it uses to fulfil and develop its function as a factor of social order and ethical amelioration as well as to cultivate the persons it enlists and commands and relates to the Eternal. The order of Buddha and the State of Mohammed are their personal creations.

iv. The ideal significance of His person determines the permanent and essential value of the Founder to man and religion. For as the person is conceived to be supreme in history, in mind, and in the universe of actual being, he is the symbol of all that the universe is on its most real yet mysterious side: the side it turns to man as he seeks to know why he is and for what end. The theology of the person becomes then the religion's philosophy of nature and man, of mind and history.

v. If the Founder is to be known, he must never cease to speak; if he is to be a universal authority, his mind must never taste death, but be so immortalized as to be always and everywhere accessible to those who would inquire of him. This explains the need and defines the function of revelation as it exists in a personal religion; it turns the moment of the Founder's historical being into an everlasting now. To be complete the revelation must enable us to know the Founder, his personal history, what manner of man he was, how he took himself and caused himself to be taken, what he taught and what men thought concerning him, what he intended, achieved and suffered. In other words, it must enable us to judge not only as to the Founder's person and history, but as to the entire process that created the religion. It is only thus that we can discover what it really is, and conceive it according to its place and worth and work in universal history.