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Introductory

WE have reached the point where our two main lines of analysis and argument coalesce. The First Book, which was concerned with the mind and purpose of God as expressed in Nature and in the history of Man, culminated in a discussion as to religions, local and universal, and as to the relation between those founded and their founders. The Second Book has been so far occupied with the persons and processes concerned in the founding of the Christian religion; but its argument is still incomplete. We have yet to see how their ideal became actual, to ascertain whether it has qualities or attributes by virtue of which it may claim to be the only really universal religion. But before this can be attempted we must refer to certain introductory questions.

i. Terms like “founder” and “founded” need to be employed with caution. Strictly speaking, religions are not made, they grow; for growth is the process which life follows when it builds up an organism for its own inhabitation and enlargement. Opposed to growth is the process we may call contrivance or manufacture, which is represented in religion by Syncretism, or the attempt by the conscious selection and adjustment of old materials to create a new cult or system. Now this process has been known in both ancient and modern times, the age in which Christianity was born being particularly familiar with it. There were Romans who affected to think of the East as religious and wise, of Egypt as venerable and mysterious; and it became a Roman fashion to seek from the strange deities and rites of the orient replenishment for the exhausted native sources of inspiration. But Syncretism in religion, like eclecticism in philosophy, is a sign of decadence, for it creates nothing that outlives the age or the coterie that gave it birth. It signifies that mind, fallen into conscious impotence and hopelessness, has turned its back upon the future and its face to the past; and, despairing of producing or achieving anything, has begun to call upon vanished men and systems for principles which may help it to live. The mood is, as a rule, self-conscious and cynical as well as despondent, and so the formulae it borrows it builds, usually, to the music of a little disdainful and finical criticism, into a house of consolation and amusement rather than a temple of truth and worship.

ii. The last religion we could describe as a Syncretism is the Christian, and that for many reasons, though it will be enough to mention here two: (α) its founders were too completely ignorant of other theologies and philosophies to be affected by them; and (β) it was not an articulated skeleton but a living organism, carrying within itself the principle of life. This does not mean that it was without relation to the past, for without the persons, ideas, customs and influences it inherited, it never could have been; nor that it was isolated from the present, for if it had been untouched by living forces, it could not have reached living men. But it means that it behaved as a living being behaves, who, while the issue of a long ancestry, yet grows by transmuting into his own substance the matter his environment supplies. In other words, the religion grew because it lived, and it lived because it carried within it an immanent and architectonic idea, which governed it and yet was essentially its own. That idea was the belief it held concerning Jesus Christ, which double name denoted at once the historical person who was the first Christian and the transcendental ideal which had transformed God and religion, man and history.

iii. The action of this idea upon the religion may best be discussed under three heads: (α) the people, or the medium in which the religion had to live; (β) the beliefs that made it, especially the belief which determines all others, the conception of the Deity it worships; and (γ) the worship it offers Him, or the methods it follows to please Him and do Him honour, to cultivate the obedience and the virtues He approves.