You are here

Introduction: Religion and Science from Greek Antiquity to the Present Time


II. THE MIDDLE AGES — Christianity; the Schoolmen; the Mystics.

III. SCIENCE AND RELIGION SINCE THE RENAISSANCE — The Renaissance — Modern times: Rationalism; Romanticism — Science and Religion separated by an impassable barrier.

BEFORE coming to the study of the relations between Science and Religion, as they actually appear to-day, it is interesting to make a rapid survey of the history of those relations in the civilisations of which ours is the heir.


Religion and Philosophy in Greek Antiquity

Religion, in ancient Greece, had not to grapple with Science, as we now understand it, i.e. with the whole of positive knowledge acquired by humanity; but it encountered the philosophy, or rational interpretation, either of natural phenomena and life, or of men's traditional beliefs. Philosophy was born, in part, from Religion itself. The latter, in Greece, had not in its service an organised priesthood. Consequently it did not express itself by hard and fast dogmas. It only imposed rites—external acts—which entered into the life of the citizen. It was, moreover, rich in legends, in myths, which charmed the imagination, trained the mind, and stimulated thought. Whence came these legends? Without doubt—it was believed—from forgotten revelations; but they were so copious, so different, so shifting, and, in many cases, so contradictory, childish, offensive and absurd, that it was impossible not to see in them the work of man as well as of divine revelation. To depart, in myths, from the primitive and the adventitious would have been a vain undertaking. Essentially an artist, moreover, the Greek was conscious—even when he spoke of the gods—of playing with his subject; and he scorned the proper meaning of the stories which he told. On the other hand, those gods who, according to tradition, had taught the ancients the rudiments of the traditional legends, were themselves fallible and limited: they knew but little more of these than men. So it came about that philosophy was developed very freely under the care and protection of the popular mythology itself.

She began, in the usual way, by disowning and striking her nurse. “It is,” said Xenophanes, “men who have created the gods, for in these latter they find again their own shape, their feelings, their speech. If oxen knew how to depict, they would give to their gods the form of oxen. Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all that, among men, is shameful and criminal.” The stars, asserted Anaxagoras, were not divinities: they were incandescent masses, of the same nature as terrestrial stones. Some of the Sophists jested on the gods themselves. “It is not for me,” said Protagoras, “to seek out either if the gods exist, or if they do not exist: many things hinder me from this, notably the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life,”

So grew philosophy—critical, superior or indifferent in regard to religious beliefs, morally independent, and free even politically; for, if some philosophers were suppressed, that was only for details which appeared to contradict the public religion.

This development of philosophy was nothing but the development of human intelligence and reason; and thinkers were enamoured of reason to this extent, that they aspired to make of it the principle of man and of the universe.

The task given to reason, thenceforth, was that of proving its reality and power, as against the blind necessity, the universal flux, the indifferent chance, which appeared the sole law of the world.

Inspiration, during this task, was found in the consideration of Art, where the thought of the artist is seen struggling with a heterogeneous matter, without which there could not be any realisation. This matter—in its shape, its laws, its own tendencies—is indifferent or even impervious to the idea which one would make it express. The artist masters it, for all that: much more, he wins it over, and makes it appear supple and smiling in its borrowed form. It seems now that the marble aimed at representing Pallas or Apollo, and that the artist has only set free its properties.

Would not reason, in the face of Anankē, be in an analogous situation? According to Plato, according to Aristotle, Anankē—brute matter—is not thoroughly hostile to reason and to measure. The more we investigate the nature of reason and that of matter, the more we see them approximate, invoke one another, become reconciled. In what is apparently the most indeterminate matter, demonstrates Aristotle, there is already some form. Matter, at bottom, is only form in potency. Therefore, reason is, and is efficacious, since, without her, nothing that exists would continue as it is, but would go back to chaos. We moan over the brutality of fate, over the miseries and iniquities of life, and that is just; but disorder is only one aspect of things: he who looks at them with reason, finds again reason in them.

The Greek philosophers were bent on making more and more important, more and more powerful, that reason whose rôle in nature they had thus discerned. And the more they exalted her, the more, in comparison with beings who partook of matter and nonentity, she appeared to merit surpassingly that title of Divine which popular religion had lavished at random. All nature hangs on reason, but all nature is powerless to equal it, said Aristotle; and, proving the existence of thought in itself—of the Perfect Reason, he called this Reason “God.” If, then, reason turned aside from traditional religion, it was to establish, through knowledge of nature itself, a truer religion.

The god-reason was not, moreover, reasoning in the abstract. It was nature's master, the king who ruled all things. To it belonged properly the name of Zeus. “This entire universe which turns in the heavens,” said Cleanthes the Stoic, in addressing Zeus, “of itself goes whither thou leadest it. Thy hand, which holds the thunderbolt, submits all things—the greatest as the least—to universal reason. Nothing, anywhere, is done without thee; nothing, unless it be what the wicked do in their folly. But thou knowest how from an odd number, to make an even number; thou renderest harmonious things that are discordant; beneath thy gaze, hate is turned into friendship. O God who behind the clouds orderest the thunder, take men out of their baneful ignorance; disperse the mists that darken their minds, O father; and let them share in the intelligence by which thou rulest all things with justice, in order that we may render thee honour for honour, praising thy works without intermission, as it is fitting mortals should. For, unto mortals and gods alike, there is given no higher prerogative than that of praising eternally, in worthy speech, the Universal Law.”

That was philosophical religion. Was it the irreconcilable enemy of popular religion? Was everything in those myths which Time had spared and consecrated only fantasy, disorder, and chaos according to its view? The multitude had deified the stars. But were not the stars, with the perfect regularity of their movements, direct manifestations of law, i.e. of reason, of God? The multitude worshipped Jupiter as king of gods and men. Did not this belief contain the sense of affinity which bound together all parts of the universe, making of them one single body subject to a common soul? Religion ordered respect for the laws, fidelity to duty, piety towards the dead; it lent to human feebleness the support of tutelary deities. Was it not, in that, the interpreter and helper of reason? Reason, the true god, was not unapproachable by man; he participated in it. Religion could, therefore, be at once human and worthy of reverence. It was the part of philosophy to penetrate the secret relations between traditional doctrines and universal reason, and to preserve, among these doctrines, all that contained some soul of truth.

Thus it was that philosophy became reconciled by degrees to religion. Already Plato and Aristotle had welcomed the traditional belief in the divinity of sky and stars, and, in a general way, had sought in myths some traces or rudiments of philosophical thought.

With the Stoics, reason—become, in a pantheistic sense, the part-mistress of the soul and the principle and end of all things—was, somehow, necessarily present in men's spontaneous and general beliefs, in everything that taught them to get away from their individual opinions and passions. Most certainly, myths, legends, religious ceremonies, in so far as they lowered the gods to the level of man or below man, deserved only contempt; but at the back of these tales, if one knew how to understand them, if from the literal sense one could disentangle the allegorical, there were truths. Zeus was the symbol of God binding all things together by his unity and his omnipresence; the secondary gods were types of those divine powers which were manifested in the multiplicity and diversity of the elements, of the earth's products, of great men, of the benefactors of humanity. It was the same Zeus who, according as one considered the aspect of his being, was by turns Hermes, Dionysus, Heracles. Heracles was power, Hermes divine knowledge. The worship of Heracles meant regard for effort, for intensity, for right judgment, and contempt of slackness and luxury. On this track the Stoics did not know how to stop, and the fancifulness of their allegorical interpretations exceeded all limit. It was that they had at heart the saving, to the largest extent possible, of popular beliefs and practices; deeming that, if reason was to operate not only on a select few, but on all men, it should be clothed in sundry forms, corresponding to the variety of intellects.

The last considerable manifestation of the philosophical spirit of the Greeks was Neo-Platonism, which, speculating on the essence of reason, thought to be exalted, by its doctrine of the Infinite One, above reason itself. But the more the Deity was made transcendent with regard to things, with regard to life and thought even, the more it was judged necessary to introduce, between the inferior and superior forms of being, a hierarchy of intermediary beings. This intermedium it was which constituted the field of popular religion. Its gods, nigh to our feebleness, helped to raise us towards the supreme God. And Plotinus, but especially his disciple Porphyry, justified by degrees, from the point of view of reason, all the elements of religion: myths, traditions, worship of images, divination, prayer, sacrifices, magic. Symbols intercalated between the sensible and the intelligible, all these things were good and partaking of truth, through the necessary part they played in the conversion of man towards the immaterial and the ineffable.


The Middle Ages

Such was, as regards religion, the attitude of Greek philosophy. The Christian thought, which succeeded to it, shattered the framework of natural knowledge and action within which this philosophy was regulated. Laden with an infinity of love and power which the clear genius of the Greeks had mistrusted, the religious idea was no longer limited to being the supreme explanation, the perfect model, the life and unity of the world. It was established, from the first, by itself above and outside things, in virtue of sole excellence and absolute supremacy. God was, because He was Power, Majesty and Independence—because He was Being. Henceforward the understanding would not ascend painfully, by way of induction, from the signs of perfection that our world could offer, to a Cause scarcely more perfect than these. The God of Christianity was revealed in and through Himself, exclusive of all the beings of this world; these latter were only samples of His power, created out of nothing and that arbitrarily. Religion was going, therefore, to display herself quite freely, with look fixed on God alone. She would be herself as far as possible, while a religion based on contemplation of nature and man would always remain mingled with anthropomorphism and naturalism.

It was in this sense that Christ said to men: “You are troubled about many things, but one alone is needful”; and again: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all else shall be added unto you.”

It appeared that spirit itself, without borrowing anything from matter, was going to be realised in this world and to fashion there a supernatural body.

In fact, Christian thought had to reckon with the conditions of the world which it wished to conquer—that world with its institutions, with its customs, its beliefs, its traditions. In order to be understood, it had necessarily to speak the language of the men to whom appeal was made.

It was under the form of Greek philosophy that Christianity encountered rational and scientific thought. In a sense, it found in this encounter the opportunity of acquiring a clearer consciousness of its own mind—of developing and defining it. To a doctrine of pure light, in which God was only reckoned one with universal law, in which the world was, of itself, sensitive to the attraction of harmony and justice, Christianity opposed faith in a supernatural revelation, profound feeling for the misery and depravity of the natural man, and the affirmation of a God all love and pity, who was made man in order to save men. But, on the other hand, when pagan writers denounced these ideas as against reason, the Christians, accepting their adversaries’ point of view, protested against that accusation; and Origen, against Celsus, demonstrated the rationality of the Christian faith.

In this manner was opened out the way which necessarily led to what has been called Scholasticism,

Since Christianity aimed at mastering human life outright, it had to secure satisfaction for the needs of the intellect as well as those of will and heart. But intellect then stood for that chef-d'œuvre of clearness, of logic and of harmony which was called Greek philosophy. To go from faith to intellect, therefore, was to rejoin that philosophy. Truth could not contradict truth: it was the same God, perfect and constant, who was the author of natural enlightenment and of revelation. So, true philosophy and true religion were only, at bottom, one and the same thing.

This view of Scotus Erigena, however, was too summary. The sources, therefore the compass, of philosophy and of religion were not the same. Between philosophy and theology agreement was certain, but each in its sphere. To philosophy would be restored knowledge of created things and of that portion of God's nature which could be deduced from created things; to theology, knowledge of the character and interior life of Deity. Reason and faith would share thus the domain of existence, as, in the community, Pope and Emperor shared authority. Not with equal right, however; reason and faith formed a feudal and Aristotelian hierarchy, in which the inferior owed homage to the superior, and in which the superior ensured the security and rights of the inferior. Philosophy demonstrated the preambles of faith. Grace did not destroy, but realised in their fulness the powers of nature and of reason.

This concordat between philosophy and theology implied mutual adaptation.

As regards Greek philosophy, those parts were cultivated, preferably, which served the development of Christian dogmatics: for instance, Ontology, which was especially regarded as a doctrine of natural theology. In Aristotelian logic, that mathematic of demonstration, was sought the theory of intelligibility; and, from this point of view, there was assigned to it an exclusively formal character which it did not have with Aristotle.

On the other hand, religion was submitted to a method of accommodation. That which, in the Gospel, was essentially spirit, love, union of souls, inward life, irreducible to words and formulæ, had—in order to tally with Scholastic conditions of intelligibility—to sink itself in rigid definitions, to be regulated in long chains of syllogisms, to be transmuted into an abstract and definitive system of concepts.

It was thus that in the Middle Ages Christianity satisfied the needs of the intellect, in assuming a form borrowed from Greek philosophy. This contingent combination could not last for ever.

Already, during this same period, certain Christians more or less isolated and sometimes suspected, called Mystics, had not ceased to demand, for the individual conscience, the right of communicating with God directly, above philosophical and even theological intermediaries. To dialectics they opposed faith and love; to theory, practice. Moreover, they did not aim at concentrating the whole of religion in pure spirit and bare potentiality. They showed that two ways were open to the soul: first of all the via purgativa, in which man purified himself from the stains of the natural life; then the via illuminativa, in which, from the bosom of God, sharing in His light and power, the soul realised itself and was revealed in a new form, the creation and direct expression of the spirit itself. Deeds, taught Master Eckhart, did not stop the instant that the soul attained holiness. On the contrary, it was with holiness that there began real activity, at once free and good—the love of all creatures and of enemies even, the work of universal peace. Deeds were not the method, but they were the radiance of sanctification.

While, in effusions sometimes vague, but living and fervent, the mystics maintained, against the abstract and rigid formulæ of the School, the free spirit of Christianity, Scholasticism, by a kind of inward travail, saw the separation of those two elements which it had reconciled and striven to unite harmoniously. The categories established by Greek philosophy had been destined by their inventors to embrace and make intelligible the things of our earth. The Christian idea, except by renouncing itself, could not give way here positively, On the other hand, philosophy became aware, in Scholasticism, of its own bondage. It was charged with proving the Divine Personality and the possibility of Creation, the Immortality of the Soul, and human free-will. Was it certain that, left to its own guidance, it would reach these conclusions? Besides, was it consistent with the conditions of philosophical knowledge that dogmas should be first of all laid down, and that it should then be limited to the work of analysis and inference?


Science and Religion since the Renaissance

From the internal dissolution of Scholasticism, as also from external circumstances, there resulted the double movement which characterised the Renaissance period.

On the one side, mystical Christianity, which put the essence of religion in inward life, in the direct relation of the soul with God, in the personal experience of salvation and sanctification, broke away violently from the traditional Church. And one circumstance helped to give what was called the Reformation, precision and settled purpose, without which it would have remained, perhaps, a mere spiritual aspiration, analogous to those which manifested themselves in the Middle Ages. The need of personal religious life which was the foundation of it, came into line with that love of old texts, re-established in their genuineness and purity, which Humanism had just initiated. Just as the Catholicism of the Middle Ages had associated Aristotle and the theology of the Fathers, so Luther combined Erasmus and the mystic sense. And, thus renewed, the Christian idea yielded fresh scope.

On the other side, philosophy broke the chains which, under the Schoolmen, had bound her to theology. Leaning, sometimes on Plato, sometimes on Aristotle himself, sometimes on Stoicism or Epicureanism, or on other like doctrine of Antiquity, she shook off, with uniform energy, the yoke of theology and the yoke of the Aristotle of the Middle Ages; and, in changing her master, she set out for independence. A Nicholas of Cusa, a Bruno, a Campanella proclaimed new doctrines.

That was not all: Science properly so called, the positive Science of Nature, emerged at this epoch, and aimed at unfolding itself freely. It culminated in the ambition to produce, to convert the forces of nature to its own use, to create. Previously, it was chiefly the Devil who had the pretension to intervene in the course of things created and governed by God, and to make them produce what they did not produce of themselves; also the alchemists, who sought to make gold, and were readily confused with sorcerers. Thenceforward, the idea of a Science, active and no longer merely contemplative—faith in the possibility of man's rule over Nature, was irresistible.

In his impatience to reach the goal, Faust, disabused of the barren learning of the Schoolmen, devoted himself to magic. What mattered the means, provided there was success in winning the unknown forces which produced phenomena, and in making them act at will?

Drum hab’ ich mich der Magie ergeben.1

Thus it was that, in the sixteenth century, the occult sciences furnished the prelude to Science. They were, moreover, joined, in the mind of that time, with a naturalistic pantheism, which called for a purely natural explanation of things and the employment of the experimental method.

To this period of confusion and of fermentation succeeded, with Bacon and Descartes, a new age—an age of discipline, of order, and of equipoise. Cartesian rationalism was the most precise and the most complete expression of the mind which then prevailed.

On the one hand, the experimental science of nature, already clearly understood by Leonardo da Vinci, was, with Galileo, definitely established. Towards 1604, through the discovery of the laws of the pendulum, Galileo had proved that it was possible to explain the phenomena of nature through binding them all together, without calling for the intervention of any force existing outside them. The notion of Natural Law was, from that time, established. And this Science, which made appeal to mathematics and experience only, having been (notably by Gassendi) recombined with the ancient Epicurean Atomism, was deemed incompatible with Christian supernaturalism by numerous intellects. Some daring logicians, frivolous or serious, the freethinkers, made use of Science to support Naturalism and Atheism.

On the other hand, Religious Faith, strengthened by its very trials, manifested itself with a new vigour—now on the Protestant side, now on the Catholic. For the one, as for the other, Faith could no longer be a mere trick of disposition, joined to secular traditions and practices. It had become an inward conviction, worthy of struggle and suffering.

What, in the spiritual jurisdiction of mind, was to be the harmony of these two powers, Science and Religion, which invoked seemingly opposite principles? This question was solved by Descartes in a manner which, for long, appeared to satisfy the exigencies of the modern intellect.

Descartes started with the mutual independence of Religion and Science. Science, limited to the domain of Nature, found its object in the appropriation of natural forces, and its instruments in mathematics and experience. Religion had to do with the super-terrestrial destinies of the soul, and rested on a certain number of beliefs—very simple, moreover, and having no affinity with the subtleties of Scholastic Theology. Science and Religion could not trouble or prevail over one another, because, in their normal and legitimate development, they did not meet. The time must never return when, as in the Middle Ages, theology could impose on philosophy the conclusions which the latter had to demonstrate, and the principles from which it had to start. Science and Religion were both autonomous.

But it did not follow that the human mind had only to accept them as two orders of truth foreign to one another. A philosophical mind could not put up with Dualism pure and simple. Cartesianism was just the philosophy of the connection or relationship established between two different things—irreducible in themselves to logical standpoint. In the principle he adopted—cogito ergo sum—Descartes intended to lay down a kind of conjunction unknown to the dialectic of the School. Cogito ergo sum was not the conclusion of a syllogism: on the contrary, this proposition was itself the condition and proof of the syllogism from which it was supposed to have issued. Being presented, in this proposition, with the copula ergo, one could translate the necessity which it expressed by a universal proposition such as quid-quid cogitat, est, thereby rendering possible the construction of a syllogism ending in cogito ergo sum. The first and truly fertile knowledge was just this connection between two terms given as foreign to one another.

How was such a connection to be discovered? Experience, pointed out Descartes, offers us knowledge of exactly this kind. Now, from experimental connections, at first contingent, the mind—interpreting the experience of the senses with the help of a kind of supersensible experience, called by Descartes intuition—disengages necessary and universal knowledge. In ourselves there is a principle and foundation of necessary connection, and this principle is none other than what we call reason. Rationalism, a rationalism which attributed to reason a certain faculty of conjunction, a content, with laws and a power of its own; such was the point of view that Descartes represented.

This was how he conceived the correspondence between Religion and Science.

Just as he had found in reason the basis of a view binding sum to cogito, so, in this same reason, Descartes thought he had found the relation of man to God, and of God to the world, whence resulted the radical harmony of Science, of Nature, and of Religous Beliefs. This result was obtained, in the case of Descartes, through analysis of the content of reason, and through certain deductions, no longer syllogistic and purely formal, but mathematical and constructive, proceeding from this very content.

It is clear, moreover, that there was no question here of the fundamental principles of Religion: God, His infinity, His perfection; and our dependence upon Him. As to what concerned positive religion, philosophy had no competence to reason about it. When one thought of all the sects, heresies, disputes and calumnies to which Scholastic Theology had given rise, one could only wish for their complete disappearance. In fact, the simple and the ignorant gained heaven as well as the learned: their naïve beliefs were surer than the theology of the theologians.

Such was the Cartesian doctrine. In the bosom of reason itself appeared, according to this doctrine, both the germs out of which grew respectively Religion and Science, and the special bond which secured, along with their compatibility, their mutual independence. This original rationalism, which may be called modern rationalism, dominated the philosophical thought of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In a philosopher's category, this rationalism tends to become dogmatic. Confident in his powers, he seeks to constitute, on lines parallel with the science of nature, a science of divine things which will in no degree fall short, as regards evidence and certainty, the physical and mathematical sciences.

With Spinoza, reason established the existence of the absolutely infinite Substance, which is God, and, from the essence of that Substance, deduced the principle of the universal laws of nature. In that way the attempt of science to reduce to law the apparently confused multitude of particular things was justified. On the other hand, encountering certain texts reputed sacred, such as the Jud‚o-Christian Bible, reason laid down the principle that Scripture ought to be explained by Scripture alone, in so far as it was a question of determining the historical sense of doctrines and the intention of prophets; but that, once this work of exegesis had been accomplished, it was her province to decide whether our assent should be given to those doctrines.

Leibnitz, fathoming the distinction between the truths of reason and the truths of fact, which together, constitute science, discovers their common principle in a possible Infinite which envelopes both necessary and actual existence, and which is none other than what we call God. According to him, while the sciences study the relation of things considered, in sense perception, as external to one another, religion is at pains to embrace, in its living reality, that internal and universal harmony, that mutual penetration of beings, that aspiration of each for the well-being and joy of all, which is the hidden spring of their utmost life and endeavour: and, in this way also, men are made capable of sharing in, and contributing to the glory of God as the very end and principle of every thing that exists or aspires after existence.

Subtile and metaphysical with a Spinoza, a Malebranche, a Leibnitz, dogmatic and objective rationalism became more and more simple with Locke and the Deists, who addressed themselves to men of the world and to society. For the Deists, reason was not only the opposite of tradition and authority: it shut out all belief in those things which surpassed either our clear ideas or the nature of which we formed part. Thenceforward, reason banished systematically every mystery, every dogma transmitted by the positive religions. Nothing was allowed to stand but the religion called natural or philosophical, which was expected to provide adequate expression in the double affirmation of God's existence as Architect of the world, and the Immortality of the Soul conditional on the fulfilment of justice. In professing these doctrines, Deism regarded itself as occupying exactly the same standing-ground as the natural sciences. Entirely analogous, in its view, were physical truths and moral truths. No action, moreover, was attributed to the First Cause, which could contradict the mechanical laws proclaimed by Science. Deistic rationalism rejected miracle and special providence.

The special quality of this rationalism was that it more and more deprived Religion of its characteristic elements, so as to reduce it to a small number of very dry, very abstract formulæ, more calculated to furnish occasion for argument than to satisfy the aspirations of the human soul. Moreover, these so-called rational demonstrations of the existence of God and of the Immortality of the Soul were, in the eyes of an unprejudiced critic, far from possessing the scientific evidence that was pretended.

It was not, therefore, surprising that, in order to define the relations between Science and Religion, modern rationalism should have gone in quest of a point of view other than that which was objective or dogmatic.

Pascal had already sought the elements of his proof in the conditions of human knowledge, of life, of action, i.e. in the sphere of the Knowing Subject, and not in that of Being taken in itself. He distinguished between reason in the narrow sense of the word, and the heart: the latter, still reason of a kind, i.e. order and connection, but a reason infinitely finer, in which the original faculties—scarcely to be understood—outstripped the range of the geometrical mind. This superior reason had for object, no longer logical abstractions, but realities. To work out fully all the required proofs was a task beyond our powers. Happily, this concrete reason expressed itself in us through a direct view of truth, an intuition with which our heart, our instinct, our nature was endowed. To despise the intuitions of the heart in order to restrict our adhesion to the reasoning of the geometrical mind, was contradictory; for, in reality, it was already the heart or instinct which gave us the notions of Space and Time, of Movement and Number, the bases of our sciences. The heart was needed by reason, in order to get support for its reasonings. Moreover, just as it perceived that there were, in Space, three dimensions, so the heart, if it was not warped, perceived that there was a God.

The method called critical (previously practised by Pascal), which set out from the analysis of our means of knowing, and which, by the origin of our ideas, judged of their import and value, was clearly defined by Locke. That philosopher sets in relief a distinction upon which Descartes had already insisted: the distinction between knowledge properly so called, and assent or belief. There is knowledge properly so called in the event of our possessing incontestable proofs of the truth which we maintain. If the proofs at our disposal are not of this kind, our adhesion is only assent. Now it must be noted that, while Science seeks and acquires genuine knowledge, Practical Life rests, almost entirely, on simple beliefs. The force of custom, the obscurity of questions, the necessity, where action is concerned, of deciding without delay—these create simple assent, or belief, and not that knowledge which is the habitual principle of our judgments. Not that we judge groundlessly: we are guided by probability, especially by testimonies deserving of credit. How, then, can we discard religious beliefs, under pretence of their being only beliefs? They are all the more legitimate through having for surety the veracity of God Himself. If one is careful to retain only that which is indeed Divine revelation, and to make sure that one possesses the true meaning of it, religious faith is as certain a principle of affirmation as knowledge itself.

This acute and, broad “man of the world” philosophy was the origin of the wise and profound system of Kant. In the very constitution and in the working of reason, Kant finds all the fundamental conditions, both of Science and of Religion. Reason constructs Science. She does not fashion it (an impossible feat) with the sole elements which experience provides: it is from herself that spring the notions of space and time, of permanence, of causality, without which science would be impossible. But why should not reason, which governs the given world, purpose, not only to know, but to modify that world, and to make it more and more the expression of her own nature, of her own will? Should not reason be able to assert herself, not only as theoretical and contemplative, but yet again as active, practical, and creative? And should she not be able to exercise her control, not only over the human will, but, further, over the external and material world, with which that will is in harmony? Doubtless such a possibility can be only a matter of belief, and not of science; but we have here to do with a belief that reason, integrally consulted, justifies, enjoins, and determines. Reason is entitled to the highest place: if we can labour to procure her rule, we ought to do so. And if certain ideas are, for us, by virtue of our constitution, practically necessary auxiliaries for the accomplishment of this task, we must adhere to these ideas. Now, such are the ideas of Freedom, of God, and of Immortality, understood in a sense, no longer theoretical, but practical and moral. Religion is the practical belief that the work of reason is realisable, an indispensable belief seeing that we give ourselves whole-heartedly to this work, which implies effort and sacrifice on our part. We must include, then, moral and religious beliefs. Thus it is that, for Kant, the same reason, by turns theoretical and practical, according as she aims either at knowing things or at ruling action, establishes both Science, and Morality, whence flows Religion; assuring to each of them an independent sphere, yet knitting them together through relationship to a common principle.

This connection is further strengthened and rendered clearer among the idealists succeeding Kant. Fichte tries to show that the real world presented to scientific observation is already, by nature, impregnated with morality and with rationality; that it is only, at bottom, pure spirit, transforming itself, by an act of unconscious intelligence, into object and image, in order to reach, by reflection on that image, consciousness of self. Hence, reason, justice, humanity are no longer in the world as strangers, seeking by strategy, to establish themselves and to supersede one another in nature. The will that is free and good has, by virtue of itself, material consequences. Moral consciousness, that gleam of the Infinite, is the principle of the very life that we live in this world. Religion, which renders us sharers in the causality of reason, is to the merely verifying Science what the vapours of the sky are to the waters which fertilise the ground.

For Hegel, Science and Religion are nothing but necessary and logically successive “moments” of the spirit's development. Science is the knowledge of things in so far as they are external to one another, i.e. in so far as they are deprived of consciousness and of freedom. This condition is only a stage through which the Idea must pass in order to become personal and to labour in the realisation of spirit. Under its most complex form, which is the human organism, external and material being becomes capable of a special development, called History. And, by favour of that conflict of interests and wills, of that struggle against suffering and evil, of that rich invention of methods, of that continual experimentation, of that creation and accumulation of moral forces, which characterise History, new powers—conscience and freedom—are awakened and developed in man, i.e. in the world. Henceforward, that which was only matter becomes spiritual; form, without ever breaking up or vanishing, becomes, more and more, the free and complete realisation of spirit. The individual, the family, the community, the State—these are the successive moments of this development. And the work of the living spirit is accomplished, to the fullest possible extent, in art, in revealed religion, in philosophy; this last being, in some way, religion in itself, as it is when freed from the symbols with which art and the various religions enveloped it.

The philosophy of Hegel requires us, in the last analysis, to see God grow and gain consciousness of Himself, in the world and by the world, and to become ourselves the support and reality of this same Supreme Consciousness. Science, as such, has nothing religious about it, and remains a stranger to religion. But for the philosopher, who follows the internal and necessary evolution of the Idea, science is only a moment in the progress of Being. She (science) sets herself unwittingly towards a higher stage of knowledge, of consciousness; and, in taking the very direction thus indicated, thought arrives logically at religion and at philosophy. Faith always wishes to become understanding. That which, in science, is only blind belief in a given matter, in art, religion, and philosophy becomes expression, sentiment, knowledge of the principle of things.

Thus was developed, whether in the objective or in the subjective sense, Cartesian rationalism. A third development of that rationalism is what has been called the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Very different in its manifestations, this philosophy, which flourished in the eighteenth century, had this general character: it considered that the pure intellect, separated from feeling, i.e. clear and distinct knowledge or science, ought to be sufficient guarantee for the perfecting and happiness of humanity. In France, La Mettrie, the Encyclopædists, Helvetius and d'Holbach combined Bacon with Descartes so as to form a kind of empirical or even materialistic rationalism, thoroughly hostile to religious beliefs. The progress of science was enthusiastically upheld, and a kind of religious faith in moral and political progress, considered as the natural and necessary consequence of scientific and intellectual progress, was propagated. The finest expression of this generous confidence in the practical efficacy of the Enlightenment is the celebrated work of Condorcet entitled, Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain.

In opposition to the various forms of rationalism there appeared, as early as the second half of the seventeenth century, especially in England, a moral philosophy which found, in the irrational element of human nature, in feeling, in instinct, the primitive and fundamental fact. It is in this way that Shaftesbury, opposing to the philosophy of reflection the Hellenic sense of nature and harmony, places in an immediate and instinctive æsthetic sense the criterion of moral good. Butler gives this rôle to conscience, Hutchinson to the moral sense. The sceptical metaphysics of Hume lead up to an act of confidence in nature as the mother of custom; and his system of morals rests on the natural sympathy between man and man. Sympathy is yet again the principle of the economist Adam Smith. And the Scottish school, intending to re-establish, in every sphere, the rôle and value of intuition or immediate experience, in opposition to logic, glorifies common sense with its irreducible data whether theoretical or practical.

It is evidently with this new revival of the ancient naturalism in which instinct was placed above reflection, that the moral revolution, of which Rousseau was the exponent par excellence, allies itself. The enthusiasm with which his discourse of 1750 was received, shows to what degree the ideas therein supported were in the air. From his inward life, from his character, from his genius still more than from his lectures or from his philosophical meditations, Rousseau derived this precept, clear for him as a truth of actual experience: that feeling is, in itself, an independent and absolute principle, that it is in no way amenable to intellectual knowledge, but, on the contrary, is superior to it in the sense that our ideas are only, for the most part, logical constructions, fictions, invented too late to explain and justify our feelings. Adopting this standpoint, Rousseau believed that what were called progress and civilisation constituted, in reality, only corruption and error; for the principle of that civilisation was, in contrast with the natural order, the supremacy of mind over feeling, of the artificial over the spontaneous, of science over disposition. Guided, originally, by nature, by instinct—the very principle of life—Humanity had sinned in eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, of the proud intellect, that is, which thinks itself supreme. Henceforth the Race was dedicated to death, except through conversion and re-entrance into the path of nature. To re-establish in all matters the supremacy of feeling, of intuition, of immediate perception, and to govern the use of intellect on this principle—therein was safety, therein lay the means of realising an order of things as superior to the primitive Eden as a being who is intelligent and a man is raised above an animal that is stupid and restricted.

The ideas of Rousseau on religion are the application of his principles.

It does not much matter that he maintains nearly the same dogmas as the Deists, and that, seen from outside, his natural religion hardly differs from that of the philosophers. What is new and important is the source that he assigns to these ideas, the way in which he believes in them and professes them. They are no longer for him doctrines which are demonstrated by reasoning: they are the spontaneous effusions of his individual soul. I do not wish, says the Savoyard vicar, setting forth his profession of faith, to argue with you, nor even to aim at convincing you; enough if I can show you what I think in the simplicity of my heart. Consult your own during the whole of my address, that is all I ask of you. They tell us that conscience is the work of prejudice; nevertheless I know by my experience that she insists on following the order of nature against every law of man.

Thus religion proceeds from the heart, from feeling, from conscience, from nature, as from a first and independent source. She has in view the satisfaction off the heart's requirements, the enfranchisement, the control, the ennoblement of our moral life: everything outside this principle and this end is not only superfluous but harmful.

To have upheld these ideas with clearness and decision, while forcibly affirming their opposition to received ideas, was already a work of importance. What made this work a revolution was the enthusiasm animating it, of which the language of Rousseau was the expression. His writings were his doctrine realised: it was nature, with its irresistible dash; it was spontaneity, life, passion, faith, action, breaking in upon a literature in which mind was supreme, and compressing or bending to its ends logic, ideas, facts, arguments, all the instruments of intellectual culture.

From this conception of religion there resulted two remarkable consequences.

Brought back to feeling, as to a principle radically distinct from knowledge, absolute and original, religion had no longer to do with science. Science and religion spoke entirely different languages: they could, then, be expanded indefinitely without risk of ever meeting.

In the second place, feeling had to behave quite otherwise than reason towards the positive faiths. Reason tended to dry up religion, to deprive it of the elements which only find support in imagination and feeling, in order to reduce it to that small number of ideas which can be methodically inferred from the most assured scientific and philosophical research. Thence came Deism, that thin substitute for faith which philosophical rationalists were wont to offer.

But feeling has other needs, other resources, and other ventures. Seeing that it is quite as original as reason, perhaps more so, why should its expressions be limited to the formulæ approved by science? By nature the heart is creative: its overflowing life is poured out in images, in thought-combinations, in myths and in poems. Set at the core of religion, and declared autonomous, feeling will not be able to rest content with such a legacy of rational deism as that in which Rousseau had thought he recognised its genuine expression. Genius cannot be content with repeating ready-made phrases. The inorganic, in the living person, is either eliminated or transformed, so as to become living itself. Hence, not only will feeling, as Rousseau conceives it, replace the congealed formulæ of the philosophers by living productions; but it is clear, from its advent, that, as regards traditional forms and symbols—rich after a manner other than that of philosophical concepts—it will not maintain the systematic hostility reached by the rationalists. These forms speak to the heart and to the imagination: indeed, to this fact they owe their origin. Why should the heart reject them without testing their efficacy? I confess to you, says the Savoyard vicar, that the sanctity of the Gospel is an argument which speaks to my heart, and one to which I should even be sorry to find any good reply. Look at the books of the philosophers with all their parade; how small they are in comparison with this. You compare Socrates, his knowledge and his intellect. What a distance from him to the son of Mary! If the life and death of Socrates betoken a sage, the life and death of Jesus betoken a god.

The work of Rousseau could not, any more in religion than in politics, in ethics, or in education, claim finality: it was a starting-point. Some of the ideas which inspired it were calculated to bring about religious restoration.

The witness and herald par excellence of this restoration was the author of Le Génie du Christianisme. Falling back upon the principle of Rousseau—the sovereignty of feeling—Chateaubriand wins for individual and social life, no longer only the vague abstractions of the religion called natural, but the dogmas, rites and traditions of Catholicism, in their precise and concrete form. Far from his seeing in these particularities any frivolous overplus, under pretence that they are impossible to deduce from the principles of pure reason, it is every detail of the outside appearances, as well as the moral contents of religion, which becomes, with him, the proof of its divine origin, inasmuch as every detail strikes the imagination and the heart, charms, moves, consoles, soothes, strengthens, exalts the human conscience. To-day, says he, the way to be followed is that of going from effect to cause, and of proving, not any more that Christianity is excellent because it comes from God, but that it comes from God because it is excellent. The poetry of bells constitutes a stronger argument than a syllogism; it is felt and taken into life, while a syllogism leaves us indifferent.

But, one must ask, do all these beliefs, all these customs, so eloquently described as charming and beneficial in their results, correspond, at least, with true and existing objects; or are they only the vain satisfaction of our desires and dreams? It is clear that for the author of Le Génie du Christianisme this question is without interest. His exposition makes us love Christianity for the beauty of its worship, for the genius of its orators, for the virtues of its apostles and its disciples: what more is wanted? Is not love itself a reality, perhaps the truest and most profound of all realities? Why should the truth which is established through its agreement with the conditions of love, of life, of being, prove less true than that which is built on the abstractions of the understanding?

These ideas, more or less clearly conceived, controlled the movement which has been called Romanticism. Feeling is therein the one rule: life, the consciousness of living and feeling, is the aim that the superior man sets before himself. He shuns the abstractions which have interest only for the perfectly bare reason. He surrenders himself to poetry, to passion, to enthusiasm, these being the things that stir the soul. He loves suffering and tears, which exalt self-consciousness to a marvellous degree. He is interested in all the expressions of life that the literatures of sundry peoples and the history of sundry times can offer. He wants to resuscitate, to bring home to his own experience, the ways of thinking and feeling that belonged to vanished periods. He has a predilection for religion, which enlarges his soul through awakening and sustaining in it the haunting sense of infinity; and, if he follows the bent of his imagination, he is disposed to be specially sympathetic towards the concrete and positive institutions of revealed religion.

In thus giving way to feeling, is he running the risk of putting himself in opposition to science? The pure Romanticist ignores that problem. The scientist analyses and infers, whereas he, for his part, lives, believes and loves. How would it be possible for science to take away his very self?

This conception of things has been shown, notably in France, in the turn that college studies and philosophy have taken. Under the respective names of Sciences and Humanities, the culture of taste, of sentiment, of soul on the one side, and the knowledge of mathematics and of the laws of nature on the other, were separated and isolated. Not only was literature self-sufficing, but it readily claimed for itself the pre-eminence, since man, the heart, life were deemed superior to nature and nature's mechanism.

On the other hand, philosophy, so closely united with the sciences for a Plato, a Descartes, a Leibnitz, became—as officially taught—exclusively literary and sentimentally inclined; admitting, with Chateaubriand, that the value of her doctrines should be gauged by their consequences, according to the salutary or harmful character of their influence Generally reserved over matters religious, in so far as she hoped to maintain the classical point of view of reason, she was, in fact, driven in the direction of religion, betraying in that manner the substratum of Romantic sentimentalism which was hidden under her prudent rationalism.

This considerable revolution, which had become all-powerful after Rousseau, but had been born before him, through an awakening of the Hellenic sense of nature, in opposition to abstract ideology, was not peculiar to France: it manifested itself, under various aspects, in all the countries of Europe. It seemed especially original and fruitful in German Romanticism; the motto—if one may say so—of this last-named movement was the saying of Novalis: Die Poesie ist das ächt absolut Reelle (Poetry is absolute truth).

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the romantic principle was placed at the very heart of religion by the great theologian Schleiermacher. Neither the intellect, nor the will, according to Schleiermacher, can bring us into the religious sphere. Religion is neither an act of knowledge nor a rule: it is a life, it is an experience; and this life has its source in the deepest part of our being, viz. feeling. We cannot proceed through knowledge of religion to religion; this latter is an original fact.

The man who experiences religious emotion tends, besides, to make clear to himself, through his intellect, the nature and reason of his state of soul; and he finds that his feeling expresses, at bottom, the absolute dependence of the creature with regard to the Infinite Cause of the universe. In the development, in the spontaneous brilliancy of this feeling, is constituted the religious life. It has in view the exalting of individuality—what neither science nor morality could bring about. It tends to express itself, not through adequate ideas (that is impossible), but through symbols which can represent it in consciousness and make it yield communicable emotions. What is called dogma is nothing but an intellectual representation of the object or cause of these emotions. Sometimes the heart, enriching the intellect, creates symbols immediately by the power of genius; sometimes it makes use of the symbols offered by existing religions. But these same symbols it does not receive passively, it infuses life into them: it preserves for them, in that way, a religious character. Traditions, dogmas have only meaning, have only value, if they are constantly revivified by the feeling of individuals.

No obstacle, moreover, can be opposed by science to the creation or adoption of this or that religious symbol. Science herself is only a method of symbolical representation. She expresses in signs the endeavour of the mind to understand things, i.e. to perceive the identity of being and thought—an ideal which is for us unrealisable.

In short, with Schleiermacher, being excels knowing. Truth is hand and glove with life; the exaltation of the superior life, of the life of the soul and of feeling, is the highest truth of all. All that which is formula, dogma, letter, thing, matter, has only value as symbol of this super-intellectual truth.

More metaphysical in Germany, more literary in France, the conception of religion corresponding to Romanticism became the prevailing one in the course of the nineteenth century. Religion, during that time, rested essentially, not on the intellect, but on the heart; she had her principles, her arguments, her works, which obtruded themselves on reason in the name of a transcendent authority. Doubtless, there were not wanting apologists of religion who caught up again the rusty weapons of the great seventeenth-century rationalists, or who endeavoured to forge these anew, in order that they themselves, also, might attack, in the name of reason, the adversaries who invoked her. But life was on the side of those who, without caring for science and independent of reason, without anxiety for alliance with philosophy and with temporal powers, unfolded religious truth in all its originality and all its amplitude. What flourished was free religion, based on its own special sanctions—the heart, faith, tradition, and labouring towards the development and exaltation of spiritual forces.

On her side, Science had become accustomed to ignore Religion. More and more distinctly did she consider herself as resting on objective experience entirely, and as having no other object than the discovery of the immanent connections of phenomena. What mattered to her those doctrines founded on other principle and aiming at quite different ends? The two points of view could exist in the mind of even the same individual; they did not mingle at all. In entering his laboratory, the scientist left his religious convictions at the door, though he might take them up again on leaving.

To sum up, the relation between Religion and Science which had established itself in the course of the nineteenth century was a radical dualism. Science and Religion were no longer two expressions (analogous in spite of their unequal value) of one and the same object, viz. Divine Reason, as they were formerly in Greek philosophy; they were no longer two given truths between which the agreement was demonstrable, as with the Schoolmen; Science and Religion had no longer, as with the modern rationalists, a common surety—reason: each of them absolute in its own way, they were distinct at every point, as were distinct, according to the reigning psychology, the two faculties of the soul, intellect and feeling, to which, respectively, they corresponded. Thanks to this mutual independence, they could find themselves in one and the same consciousness; they existed there, the one beside the other, like two material, impenetrable atoms placed side by side in space. They had come to an understanding, explicitly or tacitly, in order to abstain from scrutinising one another's principles. Mutual respect for the positions achieved, and on that very account, for each, security and liberty—such was the device of the period.

  • 1.

    “That is why I have applied myself to magic.”—GOETHE, Faust.