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THE discovery of God, the discovery of the Soul, and the discovery of the oneness of God and the Soul, such have been the three principal themes of my Gifford Lectures, and I have ventured to make at least an attempt to treat each of them, not simply as a philosopher, but as an historian. While the philosophy of religion treats the belief in a First Cause of the universe, and in an Ego or Self, and in the true relation between the two, as matters of psychological development, or of logical consecution, it was my purpose to show, not what the process of each of these discoveries may or must have been, but what it has been in the history of the world, so far as it is known to us at present. I am fully aware that this historical method is beset with grave difficulties, and has in consequence found but little favour in the eyes of speculative philosophers. So long as we look on the history of the human race as something that might or might not have been, we cannot wonder that the student of religion should prefer to form his opinions of the nature of religion and the laws of its growth from the masterwork of Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Sacrae Theologiae, rather than from the Sacred Books of the East. But when we have learnt to recognise in history the realisation of a rational purpose, when we have learnt to look upon it as in the truest sense of the word a Divine Drama, the plot revealed in it ought to assume in the eyes of the philosopher also a meaning and a value far beyond the speculations of even the most enlightened and logical theologians.

I am not ignorant of the dangers of such an undertaking, and painfully conscious of the imperfections inevitable in a first attempt. The chief danger is that we are very prone to find in the facts of history the lesson which we wish to find. It is well known how misleading the Hegelian method has proved, because, differing in this respect from Herder and from the historical school in general, Hegel was bent on seeing in the history of religion what ought to be there according to his view of the logical necessity in the development of the idea, if not of the psychological growth of the human mind. The result has been that the historical side in Hegel's Philosophy of Religion is almost entirely untrustworthy. My endeavour has been on the contrary to yield to no presumptions, but to submit to facts only, such as we find them in the Sacred Books of the East, to try to decipher and understand them as we try to decipher and understand the geological annals of the earth, and to discover in them reason, cause and effect, and, if possible, that close genealogical coherence which alone can change empirical into scientific knowledge. This genealogical method is no doubt the most perfect when we can follow the growth of religious ideas, as it were, from son to father, from pupil to teacher, from the negative to the positive stage. But where this is impossible, the analogical method also has its advantages, enabling us to watch the same dogmas springing up independently in various places, and to discover from their similarities and dissimilarities what is due to our common nature, and what must be attributed to the influence of individual thinkers. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus is not necessarily what is true, but it is what is natural, it constitutes what we have accustomed ourselves to call Natural Religion, though few historical students would now maintain that Supernatural Religion has no right to the name of Natural Religion, or that it forms no part of the Divine Drama of Man as acted from age to age on the historical stage of the world.

It has been my object in these three consecutive courses of Lectures on Physical, Anthropological, and Psychological religion to prove that what in my first volume I put forward as a preliminary definition of religion in its widest sense, namely the Perception of the Infinite, can be shown by historical evidence to have been the one element shared in common by all religions. Only we must not forget that, like every other concept, that of the Infinite also had to pass through many phases in its historical evolution, beginning with the simple negation of what is finite, and the assertion of an invisible Beyond, and leading up to a perceptive belief in that most real Infinite in which we live and move and have our being. This historical evolution of the concept of the objective Infinite I tried to trace in my Lectures on Physical Religion, that of the concept of the subjective Infinite in my Lectures on Anthropological Religion, while this last volume was reserved for the study of the discovery of the oneness of the objective God and the subjective Soul which forms the final consummation of all religion and all philosophy.

The imperfections to which a first attempt in a comparative study of religions is liable arise from the enormous amount of the materials that have to be consulted, and from the ever-increasing number of books devoted to their interpretation. The amount, of reading that would be required in order to treat this subject as it ought to be treated is more than any single scholar can possibly force into the small span of his life. It is easy to find fault and say, Qui trop embrasse, mal étreint, but in comparative studies it is impossible to embrace too much, and critics must learn to be reasonable and not expect from a scholar engaged in a comparative study of many religions the same thorough acquaintance with every one of them which they have a right to expect from a specialist. No one has felt more keenly than myself the annoyance whenever I had to be satisfied with a mere relata refero, or had to accept the judgments of others, even when I knew that they were better qualified to judge than myself.

This applies more particularly to my concluding Lectures, Lect. XII to XV in this volume. These Lectures contain the key to the whole series, and they formed from the very beginning my final aim. They are meant as the coping-stone of the arch that rests on the two pillars of Physical and Anthropological Religion, and unites the two into the true gate of the temple of the religion of the future. They are to show that from a purely historical point of view Christianity is not a mere continuation or even reform of Judaism, but that, particularly in its theology or theosophy it represents a synthesis of Semitic and Aryan thought which forms its real strength and its power of satisfying not only the requirements of the heart, but likewise the postulates of reason.

My object was to show that there is a constant action and reaction in the growth of religious ideas, and that the first action by which the Divine was separated from and placed almost beyond the reach of the human mind, was followed by a reaction which tried to reunite the two. This process, though visible in many religions, more particularly in that of the Vedânta, was most pronounced in Judaism in its transition to Christianity. Nowhere had the invisible God been further removed from the visible world than in the ancient Jewish religion, and nowhere have the two been so closely drawn together again and made one as by that fundamental doctrine of Christianity, the divine sonship of man. It has been my chief object to show that this reaction was produced or at least accelerated by the historical contact between Semitic and Aryan thought, chiefly at Alexandria, and on this point I have to confess that I have ventured to go far beyond Harnack, Drummond, Westcott, and others. They seem to me to ascribe too little importance to the influence of Greek philosophy in, the formation of the earliest Christian theology, while I feel convinced that without that influence, the theology of Alexandria would have been simply impossible, or would probably never have advanced beyond that of the Talmud. What weighs with me more than anything else in forming this opinion are the facts of language, the philosophical terminology which both Jews like Philo and Christians like St. Clement employ, and which is clearly taken over from Greek philosophy. Whoever uses such words as Logos, the Word, Monogenês, the Only-begotten, Prototokos, the First-born, Hyios tou theou, the Son of God, has borrowed the very germs of his religious thoughts from Greek philosophy. To suppose that the Fathers of the Church took these words without borrowing the ideas, is like supposing that savages would carry away fire-aims without getting at the same time powder and shot for firing them. Words may be borrowed and their ideas may be modified, purified, magnified by the borrower, but the substance is always the same, and the gold that is in a gold coin will always remain the same gold, even though it is turned into a divine image. I have tried to show that the doctrine of the Logos, the very life-blood of Christianity, is exclusively Aryan, and that it is one of the simplest and truest conclusions at which the human mind can arrive, if the presence of Reason or reasons in the world has once been recognised.

We all know the words of Lucretius:

‘Praeterea caeli rations ordine certo

Et varia annorum cernebant tempora verti.’ (v. 1182.)

If the human reason has once recognised Reason or reasons (logoi) in the universe, Lucretius may call it a fatal error to ascribe them to the gods, but are they to be ascribed to no one? Is the Reason or the Logos in the world nothing but a name, a mere generalisation or abstraction, or is it a real power, and, if so, whose power is it? If the Klamaths, a tribe of Red Indians, declared that the world was thought and willed by the Old One on high, the Greeks went only one step further by maintaining that this thought of the Supreme Being, this Logos, as they called it, was the issue, the offspring, the Son of God, and that it consisted of the logoi or ideas or, as we now say, the types of all created things. The highest of these types being the type of manhood, the Alexandrian Fathers of the Church in calling Christ the Logos or the Word or the Son of God, were bestowing the highest predicate which they possessed in their vocabulary on Christ, in whom they believed that the divine thought of manhood bad been realised in all its fulness. That predicate, however, was not of their own workmanship, nor was it a mere modification of the Semitic Wisdom, which in the beginning was with God. That Wisdom, a feminine, may be recognised in the Epistêmê or knowledge with which the Father begets the Son, but it cannot be taken at the same time as the prototype of the masculine Logos or the spoken Word or the Son of God.

This philosophical concept of the Son of God cannot be derived from the Old Testament concept of Israel as the son of God, nor from the occasional expressions of personal piety addressed to Yahweh as the Father of all the sons of man. ‘Son of God,’ as applied to Jesus, loses its true meaning unless we take it in its idiomatic Greek sense, as the Logos1, and unless we learn to understand what the Fathers of the Church had fully understood, that the Logos or the Word of God could become manifest to mankind in one form only, namely, in that of man, the ideal or perfect man. I am quite willing to admit, on the other hand, that an expression such as ‘Son of Man’ is of Semitic growth. It is a solecism even when translated into Greek. No Greek would ever have said son of man in the sense of man, as little as any Roman would ever have spoken of Agnus Dei, except under the influence of Jewish thought. Son of man meant simply man, before it was applied to the Messiah. Thus only can we understand the antithesis which meets us as early as the first century,’ the Son of God, not the son of man2.’

If we have once entered into the thoughts of Philo and St. Clement as the representatives of Jewish and Christian theology at Alexandria, we shall perceive how closely the doctrine of the Incarnation is connected with that of the Logos, and receives its true historical explanation from it and from it alone. It was only on the strength of their old belief in the Logos that the earliest Greek converts could with perfect honesty, and, in spite of the sneers of Celsus and other Greek philosophers, bring themselves to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Logos, as the Word or the Son of God. If they bad taken any lower view of Christ, if they had been satisfied with a mythological Son of God, or with a Nazarene Christ, and if they had held, as some theologians held afterwards, nay as some hold even now, that there was between Christ and His brethren what they call a difference of kind, not of degree, however wide, they could not have answered the taunts of their former fellow-students, they could not have joined the Catechetical School at Alexandria or followed such teachers as Athenagoras, Pantaenus, St. Clement, and Origen.

What Athenagoras, one of the earliest apologetes of Christianity, thought about the Son of God, we can learn from his defence which was addressed to Marcus Aurelius, where he says (cap. x): ‘Let no one think it ridiculous that God should have a son. For though the poets in their fictions represent the gods as no better than men (that is, as begetting sons), our mode of thinking is not the same as theirs, concerning either God the Father or the Son. But the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, in idea and in operation; for after the pattern of Him and by Him were all things made, the Father and the Son being one.’

All this refers to Christian theology or theosophy only, and not to what we mean by Christian religion. This drew its life from another source, from the historical personality of Jesus, and not from the Alexandrian Logos. This distinction is very important for the early history of Christianity, and we must never forget that the Greek philosophers who joined the Christian community, after they bad once made their peace with their philosophical conscience, became true disciples of Christ and accepted with all their heart the moral law which He had preached, the law of love on which hang all His commandments. What that personality was they must have known far better than we can, for Clement, having been born in the middle of the second century, may possibly have known Papias or some of his friends, who knew the Apostles, and he certainly knew many Christian writings which are lost to us1. To restore the image of that personality must be left to each believer in Christ, according to the ideals of which his mind is capable, and according to his capacity of comprehending the deep significance of the few words of Christ that have been preserved to us by the Apostles and their disciples. What interests the historian is to understand how the belief of a small brotherhood of Galilean fishermen and their devotion to their Master could have influenced, as they did, the religious beliefs and the philosophical convictions of the whole of the ancient world. The key to that riddle should be sought for, I believe, at Alexandria rather than at Jerusalem. But if that riddle is ever to be solved, it is the duty of the historian to examine the facts and the facts only, without any bias whether of orthodoxy, of rationalism, or of agnosticism. To the historian orthodoxy has no existence. He has to deal with facts only, and with deductions that can be justified by facts.

I cannot give here the names of all the books which have been of use to me in preparing these Lectures. Many of them are quoted in the notes. My earliest acquaintance with the subject treated in this volume goes back to the lectures of Weisse, Lotze, and Niedner at Leipzig, and of Schelling and Neander at Berlin, which I attended more than fifty years ago. Since then the additions to our knowledge of ancient religions, and of Christianity in its most ancient form, have been so enormous that even a bibliographical index would form a volume. I cannot, however, conclude this preface without acknowledging my obligations to the authors of some of the more recent works which have been of the greatest use to me. I feel deeply grateful to Professor Harnack, whose Dogmengeschichte, 1888, is the most marvelous storehouse of well-authenticated facts in the history of the Christian Church, to Dr. Charles Bigg, whose learned Bampton Lectures on the Christian Platonists, 1888, make us regret that they were never continued, and to Dr. James Drummond, whose work on Philo Judaeus, 1888, has supplied me not only with most valuable evidence, but likewise with the most careful analysis of whatever evidence there exists in illustration of the epoch of Philo Judaeus. That epoch was an epoch in the true sense of the word, for it made both Greeks and Jews pause for a time before they went on, each on their own way. It was a real epoch in the history of Christianity, for Philo's works were studied by St. Clement and the other Fathers of the Alexandrian Church, and opened their, eyes to see the truth in the inspired writings of Moses and the Prophets, and likewise in the, inspired writings of Plato and Aristotle. It was a real epoch in the history of the world, if we are right in supposing that we owe to the philosophical defenders of the Christian faith at Alexandria the final victory of Christian philosophy and Christian religion over the religion and philosophy of the whole Roman Empire.

I ought, perhaps, to explain why, to the title of Psychological Religion, originally chosen for this my final course of Gifford Lectures, I have added that of Theosophy. It seemed to me that this venerable name, so well known among early Christian thinkers, as expressing the highest conception of God within the reach of the human mind, has of late been so greatly misappropriated that it was high time to restore it to its proper function. It should be known once for all that one may call oneself a theosophist, without being suspected of believing in spirit-rappings, table-turnings, or any other occult sciences and black arts.

I am painfully aware that at seventy my eyes are not so keen as they were at seventeen, and I must not conclude this preface without craving the indulgence of my readers for any misprints or wrong references that may have escaped me.

OXFORD, February, 1893.