[Footnote 859: Neander's "Church History," vol. i. p. 4.]
The arrival of Paul at Athens, in the close of this brilliant period of Greek philosophy, now assumes an aspect of deeper interest and profounder significance. It was a grand climacteric in the life of humanity—an epoch in the moral and religious history of the world. It marked the consummation of a periodic dispensation, and it opened a new era in that wonderful progression through which an overruling Providence is carrying the human race. As the coming of the Son of God to Judea in the ripeness of events—"the fullness of time"—was the consummation of the Jewish dispensation, and the event for which the Jewish age had been a preparatory discipline, so the coming of a Christian teacher to Athens, in the person of "the Apostle of the Gentiles," was the terminus ad quem towards which all the phases in the past history of philosophic thought had looked, and for which they had prepared. Christianity was brought to Athens—brought into contact with Grecian philosophy at the moment of its exhaustion—at the moment when, after ages of unwearied effort, it had become conscious of its weakness, and its comparative failure, and had abandoned many questions in despair. Greek philosophy had therefore its place in the plan of Divine Providence. It had a mission to the world; that mission was now fulfilled. If it had laid any foundation in the Athenian mind on which the Christian system could plant its higher truths—if it had raised up into the clearer light of consciousness any of those ideas imbedded in the human reason which are germane to Christian truth—if it had revealed more fully the wants and instincts of the human heart, or if it had attained the least knowledge of eternal truth and immutable right, upon this Christianity placed its imprimatur. And at those points where human reason had been made conscious of its own inefficiency, and compelled to own its weakness and its failure, Christianity shed an effulgent and convincing light.
Therefore the preparatory office of Greek religion and Greek philosophy is fully recognized by Paul in his address to the Athenians. He begins by saying that the observations he had made enabled him to bear witness that the Athenians were indeed, in every respect, "a God-fearing people;"—that the God whom they knew so imperfectly as to designate Him "the Unknown," but whom "they worshipped," was the God he worshipped, and would now more fully declare to them. He assures them that their past history, and their present geographical position, had been the object of Divine foreknowledge and determination. "He hath determined beforehand the times of each nation's existence, and fixed the geographical boundaries of their habitation," all with this specific design, that they might "seek after," "feel after," and "find the Lord," who had never been far from any one of them. He admits that their poet-philosophers had risen to a lofty apprehension of "the Fatherhood of God," for they had taught that "we are all his offspring;" and he seems to have felt that in asserting the common brotherhood of our race, he would strike a chord of sympathy in the loftiest school of Gentile philosophy. He thus "recognized the Spirit of God brooding over the face of heathenism, and fructifying the spiritual element in the heart even of the natural man. He feels that in these human principles there were some faint adumbrations of the divine, and he looked for their firmer delineation to the figure of that gracious Master, higher and holier than man, whom he contemplated in his own imagination, and whom he was about to present to them."
[Footnote 860: Merivale's "Conversion of the Roman Empire," p. 78.]
This function of ancient philosophy is distinctly recognized by many of the greatest of the Fathers, as Justin, Clement, Origen, Augustine, and Theodoret. Justin Martyr believed that a ray of the Divine Logos shone on the mind of the heathen, and that the human soul instinctively turned towards God as the plant turns towards the sun. "Every race of men participated in the Word. And they who lived with the Word were Christians, even if they were held to be godless; as, for example, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and those like them." Clement taught that "philosophy, before the coming of the Lord, was necessary to the Greeks for righteousness; and now it proved useful for godliness, being a sort of preliminary discipline for those who reap the fruits of faith through demonstration.... Perhaps we may say that it was given to the Greeks with this special object, for it brought the Greek nation to Christ as the Law brought the Hebrews." "Philosophy was given as a peculiar testament to the Greeks, as forming the basis of the Christian philosophy." Referring to the words of Paul, Origen says, the truths which philosophers taught were from God, for "God manifested these to them, and all things that have been nobly said." And Augustine, whilst deprecating the extravagant claims made for the great Gentile teachers, allows "that some of them made great discoveries, so far as they received help from heaven; whilst they erred as far as they were hindered by human frailty." They had, as he elsewhere observes, "a distant vision of the truth, and learnt, from the teaching of nature, what prophets learnt from the spirit." In addressing the Greeks, Theodoret says, "Obey your own philosophers; let them be your initiators; for they announced beforehand our doctrines." He held that "in the depths of human nature there are characters inscribed by the hand of God." And that "if the race of Abraham received the divine law, and the gift of prophecy, the God of the universe led other nations to piety by natural revelation, and the spectacle of nature."
[Footnote 861: "First Apology," ch. xlvi.]
[Footnote 862: "Stromata," bk. i. ch. v.]
[Footnote 863: "Stromata," bk. vi. ch. viii.]
[Footnote 864: "Contra Celsum," bk. vi. ch. iii.]
[Footnote 865: "De Civitate Dei," bk. ii. ch. vii.]
[Footnote 866: Sermon lxviii. 3.]
[Footnote 867: See Smith's "Bible Dictionary," article "Philosophy;" Pressense, "Religions before Christ," p. II; Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. pp. 28-40.]
In attempting to account for this partial harmony between Philosophy and Revelation, we find the Patristic writers adopting different theories. They are generally agreed in maintaining some original connection, but they differ as to its immediate source. Some of them maintained that the ancient philosophers derived their purest light from the fountain of Divine Revelation. The doctrines of the Old Testament Scriptures were traditionally diffused throughout the West before the rise of philosophic speculation. If the theistic conceptions of Plato are superior to those of Homer it is accounted for by his (hypothetical) tour of inquiry among the Hebrew nation, as well as his Egyptian investigations. Others maintained that the similarity of views on the character of the Supreme Being and the ultimate destination of humanity which is found in the writings of Plato and the teachings of the Bible is the consequence of immediate inspiration. Origen, Jerome, Eusebius, Clement, do not hesitate to affirm that Christ himself revealed his own high prerogatives to the gifted Grecian. From this hypothesis, however, the facts of the case compel them to make some abatements. In the mid-current of this divine revelation are found many acknowledged errors, which it is impossible to ascribe to the celestial illuminator. Plato, then, was partially inspired, and clouded the heavenly beam with the remaining grossnesses of the natural sense. Whilst a third, and more reasonable, hypothesis was maintained by others. They regarded man as "the offspring and image of the Deity," and maintained there must be a correlation of the human and divine reason, and, consequently, of all discovered truth to God. Therefore they expected to find some traces of connection and correspondence between Divine and human thought, and some kindred ideas in Philosophy and Revelation. "Ideas," says St. Augustine, "are the primordial forms, as it were, the immutable reason of things; they are not created, they are eternal, and always the same: they are contained in the Divine intelligence and without being subject to birth and death, they are types according to which is formed every thing that is born and dies." The copies of these archetypes are seen in nature, and are participated in by the reason of man; and there may therefore be some community of idea between man and God, and some relation between Philosophy and Christianity.
[Footnote 868: Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. p. 41.]
The various attempts which have been made to trace the elevated theism and morality of Socrates and Plato to Jewish sources have signally failed. Justin Martyr and Tertullian claim that the ancient philosophers "borrowed from the Jewish prophets." Pythagoras and Plato are supposed to have travelled in the East in quest of knowledge. The latter is imagined to have had access to an existing Greek version of the Old Testament in Egypt, and a strange oversight in chronology brings him into personal intercourse with the prophet Jeremiah. A sober and enlightened criticism is compelled to pronounce all these statements as mere exaggerations of later times. They are obviously mere suppositions by which over-zealous Christians sought to maintain the supremacy and authority of Scripture. The travels of Pythagoras are altogether mythical, the mere invention of Alexandrian writers, who believed that all wisdom flowed from the East. That Plato visited Egypt at all, rests on the single authority of Strabo, who lived at least four centuries after Plato; there is no trace in his own works of Egyptian research. His pretended travels in Phoenicia, where he gained from the Jews a knowledge of the true God, are more unreliable still. Plato lived in the fourth century before Christ (born B.C. 430), and there is no good evidence of the existence of a Greek version of the Old Testament before that of "the Seventy" (Septuagint), made by order of Ptolemy Philadelphus, B.C. 270. Jeremiah, the prophet of Israel, lived two centuries before Plato; consequently any personal intercourse between the two was simply impossible. Greek philosophy was unquestionably a development of Reason alone.
[Footnote 869: Mr. Watson adopts this hypothesis to account for the theistic opinions of the ancient philosophers of Greece. See "Institutes of Theology," vol. i. pp. 26-34.]
[Footnote 870: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. p. 147.]
[Footnote 871: Max Muller, "Science of Language," p. 94.]
[Footnote 872: See on this subject, Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 147, 148; Encyclopaedia Britannica, article "Plato," vol. xvii. p. 787; Smith's "Bible Dictionary," article "Philosophy;" and Thompson's "Laws of Thought," p. 326.]
Some of the ablest Christian scholars and divines of modern times, as Cudworth, Neander, Trench, Pressense, Merivale, Schaff, after the most careful and conscientious investigation, have come to this conclusion, that Greek philosophy fulfilled a preparatory mission for Christianity. The general conclusions they reached are forcibly presented in the words of Pressense:
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Greek philosophy when viewed as a preparation to Christianity. Disinterested pursuit of truth is always a great and noble task. The imperishable want of the human mind to go back to first principles, suffices to prove that this principle is divine. We may abuse speculation; we may turn it into one of the most powerful dissolvents of moral truths; and the defenders of positive creeds, alarmed by the attitude too often assumed by speculation in the presence of religion, have condemned it as mischievous in itself, confounding in their unjust prejudice its use and its abuse. But, for all serious thinkers, philosophy is one of the highest titles of nobility that humanity possesses: and when we consider its mission previous to Christianity, we feel convinced that it had its place in the Divine plan. It was not religion in itself that philosophy, through its noblest representatives, combated, but polytheism. It dethroned the false gods. Adopting what was best in paganism, philosophy employed it as an instrument to destroy paganism, and thus clear the way for definite religion. Above all, it effectually contributed to purify the idea of Divinity, though this purification was but an approximation. If at times it caught glimpses of the highest spiritualism, yet it was unable to protect itself against the return and reaction of Oriental dualism. In spite of this imperfection, which in its way served the cause of Christianity by demonstrating the necessity of revelation, men like Socrates and Plato fulfilled amongst their people a really sublime mission.
They were to the heathen world the great prophets of the human conscience, which woke up at their call. And the awakening of the moral sense was at once the glory and ruin of philosophy; for conscience, once aroused, could only be satisfied by One greater than they, and must necessarily reject all systems which proved themselves insufficient to realize the moral idea they had evoked.
"But to perish thus, and for such a cause, is a high honor to a philosophy. It was this made the philosophy of Greece, like the Hebrew laws, though in an inferior sense, a schoolmaster that led to Jesus Christ, according to the expression of Clement of Alexandria. Viewed in this light, it was a true gift of God, and had, too, the shadow of good things to come, awakening the presentiment and desire of them, though it could not communicate them. Nor can we conceive a better way to prepare for the advent of Him who was to be 'the Desire of Nations' before becoming their Saviour."
[Footnote 873: "Religions before Christ," pp. 101, 102.]
In previous chapters we have endeavored to sketch the history of the development of metaphysical thought, of moral feeling and idea, and of religious sentiment and want, which characterized Grecian civilization. In now offering a brief resume of the history of that development, with the design of more fully exhibiting the preparatory office it fulfilled for Christianity, we shall assume that the mind of the reader has already been furnished and disciplined by preparatory principles. He can scarce have failed to recognize that this development obeyed a general law, however modified by exterior and geographical conditions; the same law, in fact, which governs the development of all individual finite minds, and which law may be formulated thus:—All finite mind develops itself, first, in instinctive determinations and spontaneous faiths; then in rising doubt, and earnest questioning, and ill-directed inquiry; and, finally, in systematic philosophic thought, and rational belief. These different stages succeed each other in the individual mind. There is, first, the simplicity and trust of childhood; secondly, the undirected and unsettled force of youth; and, thirdly, the wisdom of mature age. And these different stages have also succeeded each other in the universal mind of humanity. There has been, 1st. The era of spontaneous beliefs—of popular and semi-conscious theism, morality, and religion, 2d. The transitional age—the age of doubt, of inquiry, and of ill-directed mental effort, ending in fruitless sophism, or in skepticism. 3d. The philosophic or conscious age—the age of reflective consciousness, in which, by the analysis of thought, the first principles of knowledge are attained, the necessary laws of thought are discovered, and man arrives at positive convictions, and rational beliefs. In the history of Grecian civilization, the first is the Homeric age; the second is the pre-Socratic age, ending with the Sophists; and the third is the grand Socratic period. History is thus the development of the fundamental elements of humanity, according to an established law, and under conditions which are ordained and supervised by the providence of God. "The unity of civilization is in the unity of human nature; its varieties, in the variety of the elements of humanity," which elements have been successively developed in the course of history. All that is fundamental in human nature passes into the movement of civilization. "I say all that is fundamental; for it is the excellency of history to take out, and throw away all that is not necessary and essential. That which is individual shines for a day, and is extinguished forever, or stops at biography." Nothing endures, except that which is fundamental and true—that which is vital, and organizes itself, develops itself, and arrives at an historical existence. "Therefore as human nature is the matter and basis of history, history is, so to speak, the judge of human nature, and historical analysis is the counter-proof of psychological analysis."
[Footnote 874: Cousin's "Lectures on the History of Philosophy," vol. i. p. 31.] Nature, individual mind, and collective humanity, all obey the law of progressive development; otherwise there could be no history, for history is only of that which has movement and progress. Now, all progress is from the indefinite to the definite, from the inorganic to the organic and vital, from the instinctive to the rational, from a dim, nebulous self-feeling to a high reflective consciousness, from sensuous images to abstract conceptions and spiritual ideas. This progressive development of nature and humanity has not been a series of creations de novo, without any relation, in matter or form, to that which preceded. All of the present was contained in embryonic infoldment in the past, and the past has contributed its results to the present. The present, both in nature, and history, and civilization, is, so to speak, the aggregate and sum-total of the past. As the natural history of the earth may now be read in the successive strata and deposits which form its crust, so the history of humanity may be read in the successive deposits of thought and language, of philosophy and art, which register its gradual progression. As the paleontological remains imbedded in the rocks present a succession of organic types which gradually improve in form and function, from the first sea-weed to the palm-tree, and from the protozoa to the highest vertebrate, so the history of ancient philosophy presents a gradual progress in metaphysical, ethical, and theistic conceptions, from the unreflective consciousness of the Homeric age, to the high reflective consciousness of the Platonic period. And as all the successive forms of life in pre-Adamic ages were a preparation for and a prophecy of the coming of man, so the advancing forms of philosophic thought, during the grand ages of Grecian civilization, were a preparation and a prophecy of the coming of the Son of God.
[Footnote 875: The writer would not be understood as favoring the idea that this development is simply the result of "natural law." The connection between the past and the present is not a material, but a mental connection. It is the bond of Creative Thought and Will giving to organic forces a foreseen direction towards the working out of a grand plan. See Agassiz, "Contributions to Natural History," vol. i. pp. 9, 10; Duke of Argyll, "Reign of Law," ch. v.]
We shall now endeavor to trace this process of gradual preparation for Christianity in the Greek mind—
(i.) In the field of THEISTIC conceptions.
(ii.) In the department of ETHICAL ideas and principles.
(iii.) In the region of RELIGIOUS sentiment.
In the field of theistic conception the propaedeutic office of Grecian philosophy is seen—
I. In the release of the popular mind from Polytheistic notion, and the purifying and spiritualizing of the Theistic idea.
The idea of a Supreme Power, a living Personality, energizing in nature, and presiding over the affairs of men, is not the product of philosophy. It is the immanent, spontaneous thought of humanity. It has, therefore, existed in all ages, and revealed itself in all minds, even when it has not been presented to the understanding as a definite conception, and expressed by human language in a logical form. It is the thought which instinctively arises in the opening reason of childhood, as the dim and shadowy consciousness of a living mind behind all the movement and change of the universe. Then comes the period of doubt, of anxious questioning, and independent inquiry. The youth seeks to account to himself for this peculiar sentiment. He turns his earnest gaze towards nature, and through this living vesture of the infinite he seeks to catch some glimpses of the living Soul. In some fact appreciable to sense, in some phenomenon he can see, or hear, or touch, he would fain grasp the cause and reason of all that is. But in this field of inquiry and by this method he finds only a "receding God," who falls back as he approaches, and is ever still beyond; and he sinks down in exhaustion and feebleness, the victim of doubt, perhaps despair. Still the sentiment of the Divine remains, a living force, in the centre of his moral being. He turns his scrutinizing gaze within, and by self-reflection seeks for some rational ground for his instinctive faith. There he finds some convictions he can not doubt, some ideas he can not call in question, some thoughts he is compelled to think, some necessary and universal principles which in their natural and logical development ally him to an unseen world, and correlate and bind him fast to an invisible, but real God. The more his mind is disciplined by abstract thought, the clearer do these necessary and universal principles become, and the purer and more spiritual his ideas of God. God is now for him the First Principle of all principles, the First Truth of all truths; the Eternal Reason, the Immutable Righteousness, the Supreme Good. The normal and healthy development of reason, the maturity of thought, conduct to the recognition of the true God.
And so it has been in the universal consciousness of our race as revealed in history. There was first a period of spontaneous and unreflective Theism, in which man felt the consciousness of God, but could not or did not attempt a rational explanation of his instinctive faith. He saw God in clouds and heard Him in the wind. His smile nourished the corn, and cheered the vine. The lightnings were the flashes of his vengeful ire, and the thunder was his angry voice. But the unity of God was feebly grasped, the rays of the Divinity seemed divided and scattered amidst the separate manifestations of power, and wisdom, and goodness, and retribution, which nature presented. Then plastic art, to aid and impress the imagination, created its symbols of these separate powers and principles, chiefly in human form, and gods were multiplied. But all this polytheism still rested on a dim monotheistic background, and all the gods were subordinated to Zeus—"the Father of gods and men." Humanity had still the sense of the dependence of all finite being on one great fountain-head of Intelligence and Power, and all the "generated gods" were the subjects and ministers of that One Supreme. This was the childhood of humanity so vividly represented in Homeric poetry.
Then came a period of incipient reflection, and speculative thought, in which the attention of man is drawn outward to the study of nature, of which he can yet only recognize himself as an integral part. He searches for some arche—some first principle, appreciable to sense, which in its evolution shall furnish an explanation of the problem of existence. He tries the hypothesis of "water" then of "air" then of "fire" as the primal element, which either is itself, or in some way infolds within itself an informing Soul, and out of which, by vital transformation, all things else are produced. But here he failed to find an adequate explanation; his reason was not satisfied. Then he sought his first principle in "numbers" as symbols, and, in some sense, as the embodiment of the rational conceptions of order, proportion, and harmony,—God is the original monas—unity—One;—or else he sought it in purely abstract "ideas" as unity, infinity, identity, and all things are the evolution of an eternal thought, one and identical, which is God. And here again he fails. Then he supposes an unlimited migma—a chaotic mixture of elements existing from eternity, which was separated, combined, and organized by the energy of a Supreme Mind, the nous of Anaxagoras. But he holds not firmly to this great principle; "he recurs again to air, and ether, and water, as causes for the ordering of all things." And after repeated attempts and failures, he is disappointed in his inquiry, and falls a prey to doubt and skepticism. This was the early youth of our humanity, the period that opens with Thales and ends with the Sophists.
[Footnote 876: Thus Socrates complains of Anaxagoras. See "Phaedo," Sec. 108.]
The problem of existence still waits for and demands a solution. The heart of man, also, still cries out for the living God. The Socratic maxim, "know thyself," introverts the mental gaze, and self-reflection now becomes the method of philosophy. The Platonic analysis of thought reveals elements of knowledge which are not derived from the outer world. There are universal and necessary principles revealed in consciousness which, in their natural and logical development, transcend consciousness, and furnish the cognition of a world of Real Being, beyond the world of sense. There are absolute truths which bridge the chasm between the seen and the unseen, the fleeting and the permanent, the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal. There are necessary laws of thought which are also found to be laws of things, and which correlate man to a living, personal, righteous Lord and Lawgiver. From absolute ideas Plato ascends to an absolute Being, the author of all finite existence. From absolute truths to an absolute Reason, the foundation and essence of all truth. From the principle of immutable right to an absolutely righteous Being. From the necessary idea of the good to a being of absolute Goodness—that is, to God. This is the maturity of humanity, the ripening manhood of our race which was attained in the Socratic age.
The inevitable tendency of this effort of speculative thought, spread over ages, and of the intellectual culture which necessarily resulted, was to undermine the old polytheistic religion, and to purify and elevate the theistic conception. The school of Elea rejected the gross anthropomorphism of the Homeric theology. Xenophanes, the founder of the school, was a believer in
" One God, of all beings divine and human the greatest, Neither in body alike unto mortals, neither in ideas."
And he repels with indignation the anthropomorphic representations of the Deity.
"But men foolishly think that gods are born as men are, And have, too, a dress like their own, and their voice, and their figure: But if oxen and lions had hands like ours, and fingers, Then would horses like unto horses, and oxen to oxen, Paint and fashion their god-forms, and give to them bodies Of like shape to their own, as they themselves too are fashioned."
Empedocles also wages uncompromising war against all representations of the Deity in human form—
"For neither with head adjusted to limbs, like the human, Nor yet with two branches down from the shoulders outstretching, Neither with feet, nor swift-moving limbs,.... He is, wholly and perfectly, mind, ineffable, holy, With rapid and swift-glancing thought pervading the world."
[Footnote 877: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. pp. 431, 432.]
[Footnote 878: Ibid., vol. i. pp. 495, 496.]
When speaking of the mythology of the older Greeks, Socrates maintains a becoming prudence; he is evidently desirous to avoid every thing which would tend to loosen the popular reverence for divine things. But he was opposed to all anthropomorphic conceptions of the Deity. His fundamental position was that the Deity is the Supreme Reason, which is to be honored by men as the source of all existence and the end of all human endeavor. Notwithstanding his recognition of a number of subordinate divinities, he held that the Divine is one, because Reason is one. He taught that the Supreme Being is the immaterial, infinite Governor of all; that the world bears the stamp of his intelligence, and attests it by irrefragable evidence; and that he is the author and vindicator of all moral laws. So that, in reality, he did more to overthrow polytheism than any of his predecessors, and on that account was doomed to death.
[Footnote 879: Xenophon, "Memorabilia," bk. i. ch. iii. Sec. 3.]
[Footnote 880: Id., ib., bk. i. ch. iv. Secs. 17, 18.]
[Footnote 881: Id., ib., bk. i. ch. i. Sec. 19.]
[Footnote 882: Ritter's "History of Ancient Philosophy," vol. ii. p. 63; Butler's "Lectures on Ancient Philosophy," vol. i. p. 359.]
It was, however, the matured dialectic of Plato which gave the death-blow to polytheism. "Plato, the poet-philosopher, sacrificed Homer himself to monotheism. We may measure the energy of his conviction by the greatness of the sacrifice. He could not pardon the syren whose songs had fascinated Greece, the fresh brilliant poetry that had inspired its religion. He crowned it with flowers, but banished it, because it had lowered the religious ideal of conscience." He was sensible of the beauty of the Homeric fables, but he was also keenly alive to their religious falsehood, and therefore he excluded the poets from his ideal republic. In the education of youth, he would forbid parents and teachers repeating "the stories which Hesiod and Homer and the other poets told us." And after instancing a number of these stories "which deserve the gravest condemnation," he enjoins that God must be represented as he is in reality. "God," says he, "is, beyond all else, good in reality, and therefore so to be represented;" "he can not do evil, or be the cause of evil;" "he is of simple essence, and can not change, or be the subject of change;" "there is no imperfection in the beauty or goodness of God;" "he is a God of truth, and can not lie;" "he is a being of perfect simplicity and truth in deed and word." The reader can not fail to recognize the close resemblance between the language of Plato and the language of inspiration.
The theistic conception, in Plato, reaches the highest purity and spirituality. God is "the Supreme Mind," "incorporeal," "unchangeable," "infinite," "absolutely perfect," "essentially good," "unoriginated and eternal." He is "the Father and Maker of the world," "the efficient Cause of all things," "the Monarch and Ruler of the world," "the Sovereign Mind that orders all things," and "pervades all things." He is "the sole principle of all things," "the beginning of all truth," "the fountain of all law and justice," "the source of all order and beauty;" in short, He is "the beginning, middle, and end of all things."
[Footnote 883: "Republic," bk. ii. Secs. 18-21.]
[Footnote 884: See ante, ch. xi. pp. 377, 378, where the references to Plato's writings are given.]
Aristotle continued the work of undermining polytheism. He defines God as "the Eternal Reason"—the Supreme Mind. "He is the immovable cause of all movement in the universe, the all-perfect principle. This principle or essence pervades all things. It eternally possesses perfect happiness, and its happiness consists in energy. This primeval mover is immaterial, for its essence is energy—it is pure thought, thought thinking itself—the thought of thought." Polytheism is thus swept away from the higher regions of the intelligence. "For several to command," says he, "is not good, there should be but one chief. A tradition, handed down from the remotest antiguity, and transmitted under the veil of fable, says that all the stars are gods, and that the Divinity embraces the whole of nature. And round this idea other mythical statements have been agglomerated, with a view to influencing the vulgar, and for political and moral expediency; as for instance, they feigned that these gods have human shape, and are like certain of the animals; and other stories of the kind are added on. Now, if any one will separate from all this the first point alone, namely, that they thought the first and deepest grounds of existence to be Divine, he may consider it a divine utterance." The popular polytheism, then, was but a perverted fragment of a deeper and purer "Theology." This passage is a sort of obituary of polytheism. The ancient glory of paganism had passed away. Philosophy had exploded the old theology. Man had learned enough to make him renounce the ancient religion, but not enough to found a new faith that could satisfy both the intellect and the heart. "Wherefore we are not to be surprised that the grand philosophic period should be followed by one of incredulity and moral collapse, inaugurating the long and universal decadence which was, perhaps, as necessary to the work of preparation, as was the period of religious and philosophic development."
[Footnote 885: "Metaphysics," bk. xii.]
[Footnote 886: "Metaphysics," bk. xi. ch. viii. Sec. 19.]
The preparatory office of Greek philosophy in the region of speculative thought is seen—
2. In the development of the Theistic argument in a logical form.—Every form of the theistic proof which is now employed by writers on natural theology to demonstrate the being of God was apprehended, and logically presented, by one or other of the ancient philosophers, excepting, perhaps, the "moral argument" drawn from the facts of conscience.
(I.) The AETIOLOGICAL proof, or the argument based upon the principle of causality, which may be presented in the following form:
All genesis or becoming supposes a permanent and uncaused Being, adequate to the production of all phenomena.
The sensible universe is a perpetual genesis, a succession of appearances: it is "always becoming, and never really is."
Therefore, it must have its cause and origin in a permanent and unoriginated Being, adequate to its production.
The major premise of this syllogism is a fundamental principle of reason—a self-evident truth, an axiom of common sense, and as such has been recognized from the very dawn of philosophy. [Greek: Adounaton ginesthai ti ek medenos prouparxonios]—Ex nihilo nihil—Nothing which once was not, could ever of itself come into being. Nothing can be made or produced without an efficient cause, is the oldest maxim of philosophy. It is true that this maxim was abusively employed by Democritus and Epicurus to disprove a Divine creation of any thing out of nothing, yet the great body of ancient philosophers, as Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Plato, and Aristotle, regarded it as the announcement of an universal conviction, that nothing can be produced without an efficient cause;—order can not be generated out of chaos, life out of dead matter, consciousness out of unconsciousness, reason out of unreason. A first principle of life, of order, of reason, must have existed anterior to all manifestions of order, of life, of intelligence, in the visible universe. It was clearly in this sense that Cicero understood this great maxim of the ancient philosophers of Greece. With him "De nihilo nihil fit" is equivalent to "Nihil sine causa"—nothing exists without a cause. This is unquestionably the form in which that fundamental law of thought is stated by Plato: "Whatever is generated is necessarily generated from a certain cause, for it is wholly impossible that any thing should be generated without a cause." And the efficient cause is defined as "a power whereby that which did not previously exist was afterwards made to be." It is scarcely needful to remark that Aristotle, the scholar of Plato, frequently lays it down as a postulate of reason, "that we admit nothing without a cause." By an irresistible law of thought, "all phenomena present themselves to us as the expression of power, and refer us to a causal ground whence they issue."
[Footnote 887: "Timaeus," ch. ix.; also "Philebus," Sec. 45.]
[Footnote 888: "Sophist," Sec. 109.]
[Footnote 889: "Post. Analytic," bk. ii. ch. xvi.; "Metaphysics," bk. i. ch. i. Sec. 3.]
The major premise of this syllogism is a fact of observation.
To the eye of sense and sensible observation, to scientific induction even in its highest generalizations, the visible universe presents nothing but a history and aggregation of phenomena—a succession of appearances or effects having more or less resemblance. It is a ceaseless flow and change, "a generation and corruption," "a becoming, but never really is;" it is never in two successive moments the same. All our cognitions of sameness, uniformity, causal connection, permanent Being, real Power, are purely rational conceptions given in thought, supplied by the spontaneous intuition of reason as the correlative prefix to the phenomena observed.
[Footnote 890: "Timaeus," ch. ix.]
[Footnote 891: Ibid.]
Therefore the ancient philosophers concluded justly, there must be something [Greek: agenneton]—something which was never generated, something [Greek: autophyes] and [Greek: authypostaton]—self-originated and self-existing, something [Greek: tauton] and [Greek: aionion]—immutable and eternal, the object of rational apperception—which is the real ground and efficient cause of all that appears.
(2.) The COSMOLOGICAL proof, or the argument based upon the principle of order, and thus presented:
Order, proportion, harmony, are the product and expression of Mind.
The created universe reveals order, proportion, and harmony.
Therefore, the created universe is the product of Mind.
The fundamental law of thought which underlies this mode of proof was clearly recognized by Pythagoras. All harmony and proportion and symmetry is the result of unity evolving itself in and pervading multiplicity. Mind or reason is unity and indivisibility; matter is diverse and multiple. Mind is the determinating principle; matter is indeterminate and indefinite. Confused matter receives form, and proportion, and order, and symmetry, by the action and interpenetration of the spiritual and indivisible element. In presence of facts of order, the human reason instinctively and necessarily affirms the presence and action of Mind.
"Pythagoras had long devoted his intellectual adoration to the lofty idea of Order. To his mind it seemed as the presiding genius of the serene and silent world. He had from his youth dwelt with delight upon the eternal relations of space and number, in which the very idea of proportion seems to find its first and immediate development, until at length it seemed as if the whole secret of the universe was hidden in these mysterious correspondences. The world, in all its departments, moral and material, is a living arithmetic in its development, a realized geometry in its repose; it is a 'cosmos' (for the word is Pythagorean), the expression of harmony, the manifestation to sense of everlasting order; and the science of numbers is the truest representation of its eternal laws." Therefore, argued Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, as the reason of man can perceive the relations of an eternal order in the proportions of extension and number, the laws of proportion, and symmetry, and harmony must inhere in a Divine reason, an intelligent soul, which moves and animates the universe. The harmonies of the world which address themselves to the human mind must be the product of a Divine mind. The world, in its real structure, must be the image and copy of that divine proportion which the mind of man adores. It is the sensible type of the Divinity, the outward and multiple development of the Eternal Unity, the Eternal One—that is, God.
The same argument is elaborated by Plato in his philosophy of beauty. God is with him the last reason, the ultimate foundation, the perfect ideal of all beauty—of all the order, proportion, harmony, sublimity, and excellence which reigns in the physical, the intellectual, and the moral world. He is the "Eternal Beauty, unbegotten and imperishable, exempt from all decay as well as increase—the perfect—the Divine Beauty" which is beheld by the pure mind in the celestial world.
[Footnote 892: "Banquet," Sec. 35.]
(3.) The Teleological proof, or the argument based upon the principle of intentionality or Final Cause, and is presented in the following form:
The choice and adaptation of means to the accomplishment of special ends supposes an intelligent purpose, a Designing Mind.
In the universe we see such choice and adaptation of means to ends.
Therefore, the universe is the product of an intelligent, personal Cause.
This is peculiarly the Socratic proof. He recognized the necessity and the irresistibility of the conviction that the choice and adaptation of means to ends is the effect of Purpose, the expression of Will. There is an obviousness and a directness in this mode of argument which is felt by every human mind. In the "Memorabilia" Xenophon has preserved a conversation of Socrates with Aristodemus in which he develops this proof at great length. In reading the dialogue in which Socrates instances the adaptation of our organization to the external world, and the examples of design in the human frame, we are forcibly reminded of the chapters of Paley, Whewell, and M'Cosh. Well might Aristodemus exclaim: "The more I consider it, the more it is evident to me that man must be the masterpiece of some great Artificer, carrying along with it infinite marks of the love and favor of Him who has thus formed it." The argument from Final Causes is pursued by Plato in the "Timaeus;" and in Aristotle, God is the Final Cause of all things.
[Footnote 893: "Canst thou doubt, Aristodemus, whether a disposition of parts like this (in the human body) should be the work of chance, or of wisdom and contrivance?"—"Memorabilia," bk. i. ch. iv.]
[Footnote 894: "Memorabilia," bk. i. ch. iv.]
[Footnote 895: Aristotle clearly recognizes that an end or final cause implies Intelligence. "The appearance of ends and means is a proof of Design."—"Nat. Ausc.," bk. ii. ch. viii.]
(4.) The Ontological or Ideological proof, or the argument grounded on necessary and absolute ideas, which may be thrown into the following syllogism:
Every attribute or quality implies a subject, and absolute modes necessarily suppose an Absolute Being. Necessary and absolute truths or ideas are revealed in human reason as absolute modes.
Therefore universal, necessary, and absolute ideas are modes of the absolute subject—that is, God, the foundation and source of all truth.
This is the Platonic proof. Plato recognized the principle of substance ([Greek: ousia ypokeimenon]), and therefore he proceeds in the "Timaeus" to inquire for the real ground of all existence; and in the "Republic," for the real ground of all truth and certitude.
The universe consists of two parts, permanent existences and transient phenomena—being and genesis; the one eternally constant, the other mutable and subject to change; the former apprehended by the reason, the latter perceived by sense. For each of these there must be a principle, subject, or substratum—a principle or subject-matter, which is the ground or condition of the sensible world, and a principle or substance, which is the ground and reason of the intelligible world or world of ideas. The subject-matter, or ground of the sensible world, is "the receptacle" and "nurse" of forms, an "invisible species and formless receiver (which is not earth, or air, or fire, or water) which receives the immanence of the intelligible." The subject or ground of the intelligible world is that in which ideal forms, or eternal archetypes inhere, and which impresses form upon the transitional element, and fashions the world after its own eternal models. This eternal and immutable substance is God, who created the universe as a copy of the eternal archetypes—the everlasting thoughts which dwell in his infinite mind.
[Footnote 896: "Timaeus," ch. xxiv.]
These copies of the eternal archetypes or models are perceived by the reason of man in virtue of its participation in the Ultimate Reason. The reason of man is the organ of truth; by an innate and inalienable right, it grasps unseen and eternal realities. The essence of the soul is akin to that which is real, permanent, and eternal;—It is the offspring and image of God; therefore it has a true communion with the realities of things, by virtue of this kindred and homogeneous nature. It can, therefore, ascend from the universal and necessary ideas, which are apprehended by the reason, to the absolute and supreme Idea, which is the attribute and perfection of God. When the human mind has contemplated any object of beauty, any fact of order, proportion, harmony, and excellency, it may rise to the notion of a quality common to all objects of beauty—from a single beautiful body to two, from two to all others; from beautiful bodies to beautiful sentiments, from beautiful sentiments to beautiful thoughts, until, from thought to thought, we arrive at the highest thought, which has no other object than the perfect, absolute, Divine Beauty. When a man has, from the contemplation of instances of virtue, risen to the notion of a quality common to all these instances, this quality becomes the representative of an ineffable something which, in the sphere of immutable reality, answers to the conception in his soul. "At the extreme limits of the intellectual world is the Idea of the Good, which is perceived with difficulty, but, in fine, can not be perceived without concluding that it is the source of all that is beautiful and good; that in the visible world it produces light, and the star whence light directly comes; that in the invisible world it directly produces truth and intelligence." This absolute Good is God.
[Footnote 897: "Banquet," Sec. 34.]
[Footnote 898: "Republic," bk. vii. ch. iii.]
The order in which these several methods of proof were developed, will at once present itself to the mind of the reader as the natural order of thought. The first and most obvious aspect which nature presents to the opening mind is that of movement and change—a succession of phenomena suggesting the idea of power. Secondly, a closer attention reveals a resemblance of phenomena among themselves, a uniformity of nature—an order, proportion, and harmony pervading the cosmos, which suggest an identity and unity of power and of reason, pervading and controlling all things. Thirdly, a still closer inspection of nature reveals a wonderful adaptation of means to the fulfillment of special ends, of organs designed to fulfill specific functions, suggesting the idea of purpose, contrivance, and choice, and indicating that the power which moves and determines the universe is a personal, thinking, and voluntary agent. And fourthly, a profounder study of the nature of thought, an analysis of personal consciousness, reveals that there are necessary principles, ideas, and laws, which universally govern and determine thought to definite and immovable conceptions—as, for example, the principles of causality, of substance, of identity or unity, of order, of intentionality; and that it is only under these laws that we can conceive the universe. By the law of substance we are compelled to regard these ideas, which are not only laws of thought but also of things, as inherent in a subject, or Being, who made all things, and whose ideas are reflected in the reason of man. Thus from universal and necessary ideas we rise to the absolute Idea, from immutable principles to a First Principle of all principles, a First Thought of all thoughts—that is, to God. This is the history of the development of thought in the individual, and in the race—cause, order, design, idea, being, GOD.
THE PROPAEDEUTIC OFFICE OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY (continued).
"If we regard this sublime philosophy as a preparation for Christianity instead of seeking in it a substitute for the Gospel, we shall not need to overstate its grandeur in order to estimate its real value."—Pressense.
"Plato made me to know the true God. Jesus Christ showed me the way to Him."—St. Augustine.
The preparatory office of Grecian philosophy is also seen in the department of morals.
I. In the awakening and enthronement of Conscience as a law of duty, and the elevation and purification of the Moral Idea.
The same law of evolution, which we have seen governing the history of speculative thought, may also be traced as determining the progress of ethical inquiry. In this department there are successive stages marked, both in the individual and the national mind. There is, first, the simplicity and trust of childhood, submitting with unquestioning faith to prescribed and arbitrary laws; then the unsettled and ill-directed force of youth, questioning the authority of laws, and asking reasons why this or that is obligatory; then the philosophic wisdom of riper years, recognizing an inherent law of duty, which has an absolute rightness and an imperative obligation. There is first a dim and shadowy apprehension of some lines of moral distinction, and some consciousness of obligation, but these rest mainly upon an outward law—the observed practice of others, or the command of the parent as, in some sense, the command of God. Then, to attain to personal convictions, man passes through a stage of doubt; he asks for a ground of obligation, for an authority that shall approve itself to his own judgment and reason. At last he arrives at some ultimate principles of right, some immutable standard of duty; he recognizes an inward law of conscience, and it becomes to him as the voice of God. He extends his analysis to history, and he finds that the universal conscience of the race has, in all ages, uttered the same behest. Should he live in Christian times, he discovers a wondrous harmony between the voice of God within the heart, and the voice of God within the pages of inspiration. And now the convention of public opinion, and the laws of the state, are revered and upheld by him, just so far as they bear the imprimatur of reason and of conscience—that is, of God.
This history of the normal development of the individual mind has its counterpart in the history of humanity. There is (1.) The age of popular and unconscious morality; (2.) The transitional, skeptical, or sophistical age; and (3.) The philosophic or conscious age of morality. In the "Republic" of Plato, we have these three eras represented by different persons, through the course of the dialogue. The question is started—what is Justice? and an answer is given from the stand-point of popular morality, by Polemarchus, who quotes the words of the poet Simonides,
"To give to each his due is just;"
that is, justice is paying your debts. This doctrine being proved inadequate, an answer is given from the Sophistical point of view by Thrasymachus, who defines justice as "the advantage of the strongest"—that is, might is right, and right is might. This answer being sharply refuted, the way is opened for a more philosophic account, which is gradually evolved in book iv., Glaucon and Adimantus personifying the practical understanding, which is gradually brought into harmony with philosophy, and Socrates the higher reason, as the purely philosophic conception. Justice is found to be the right proportion and harmonious development of all the elements of the soul, and the equal balance of all the interests of society, so as to secure a well-regulated and harmonious whole.
[Footnote 899: Grant's "Aristotle's Ethics," vol. i. p. 46.]
[Footnote 900: "Republic," bk. i. Sec. 6.]
[Footnote 901: Ibid., bk. i. Sec. 12.]
The era of popular and unconscious morality is represented by the times of Homer, Hesiod, the Gnomic poets, and "the Seven Wise Men of Greece."
This was an age of instinctive action, rather than reflection—of poetry and feeling, rather than analytic thought. The rules of life were presented in maxims and proverbs, which do not rise above prudential counsels or empirical deductions. Morality was immediately associated with the religion of the state, and the will of the gods was the highest law for men. "Homer and Hesiod, and the Gnomic poets, constituted the educational course," to which may be added the saws and aphorisms of the Seven Wise Men, and we have before us the main sources of Greek views of duty. When the question was asked—"What is right?" the answer was given by a quotation from Homer, Hesiod, Simonides, and the like. The morality of Homer "is concrete, not abstract; it expresses the conception of a heroic life, rather than a philosophic theory. It is mixed up with a religion which really consists in a celebration of the beauty of nature, and in a deification of the strong and brilliant qualities of human nature. It is a morality uninfluenced by a regard for a future life. It clings with intense enjoyment and love to the present world, and the state after death looms up in the distance as a cold and repugnant shadow. And yet it would often hold death preferable to disgrace. The distinction between a noble and ignoble life is strongly marked in Homer, and yet a sense of right and wrong about particular actions seems fluctuating" and confused. A sensuous conception of happiness is the chief good, and mere temporal advantage the principal reward of virtue. We hear nothing of the approving smile of conscience, of inward self-satisfaction, and peace, and harmony, resulting from the practice of virtue. Justice, energy, temperance, chastity, are enjoined, because they secure temporal good. And yet, with all this imperfection, the poets present "a remarkable picture of primitive simplicity, chastity, justice, and practical piety, under the three-fold influence of right moral feeling, mutual and fear of the divine displeasure."
[Footnote 902: Grant's "Aristotle's Ethics," vol. i. p. 51.]
[Footnote 903: Tyler, "Theology of the Greek Poets," p. 167.]
The transitional, skeptical, or sophistical era begins with Protagoras. Poetry and proverbs had ceased to satisfy the reason of man. The awakening intellect had begun to call in question the old maxims and "wise saws," to dispute the arbitrary authority of the poets, and even to arraign the institutions of society. It had already begun to seek for some reasonable foundation of authority for the opinions, customs, laws, and institutions which had descended to them from the past, and to ask why men were obliged to do this or that? The question whether there is at bottom any real difference between truth and error, right and wrong, was now fairly before the human mind. The ultimate standard of all truth and all right, was now the grand object of pursuit. These inquiries were not, however, conducted by the Sophists with the best motives. They were not always prompted by an earnest desire to know the truth, and an earnest purpose to embrace and do the right. They talked and argued for mere effect—to display their dialectic subtilty, or their rhetorical power. They taught virtue for mere emolument and pay. They delighted, as Cicero tells us, to plead the opposite sides of a cause with equal effect. And they found exquisite pleasure in raising difficulties, maintaining paradoxes, and passing off mere tricks of oratory for solid proofs. This is the uniform representation of the sophistical spirit which is given by all the best writers who lived nearest to their times, and who are, therefore, to be presumed to have known them best. Grote has made an elaborate defense of the Sophists; he charges Plato with gross misrepresentation. His portraits of them are denounced as mere caricatures, prompted by a spirit of antagonism; all antiquity is presumed to have been misled by him. No one, however, can read Grant's "Essay on the History of Moral Philosophy in Greece" without feeling that his vindication of Plato is complete and unanswerable: "Plato never represents the Sophists as teaching a lax morality to their disciples. He does not make sophistry to consist in holding wicked opinions; he represents them as only too orthodox in general, but capable of giving utterance to immoral paradoxes for the sake of vanity. Sophistry rather tampers and trifles with the moral convictions than directly attacks them." The Sophists were wanting in deep conviction, in moral earnestness, in sincere love of truth, in reverence for goodness and purity, and therefore their trifling, insincere, and paradoxical teaching was unfavorable to goodness of life. The tendency of their method is forcibly depicted in the words of Plato: "There are certain dogmas relating to what is just and good in which we have been brought up from childhood—obeying and reverencing them. Other opinions recommending pleasure and license we resist, out of respect for the old hereditary maxims. Well, then, a question comes up concerning what is right? He gives some answer such as he has been taught, and straightway is refuted. He tries again, and is again refuted. And, when this has happened pretty often, he is reduced to the opinion that nothing is either right or wrong; and in the same way it happens about the just and the good, and all that before we have held in reverence. On this, he naturally abandons his allegiance to the old principles and takes up with those he before resisted, and so, from being a good citizen, he becomes lawless." And, in point of fact, this was the theoretical landing-place of the Sophists. We do not say they became practically "lawless" and antinomian, but they did arrive at the settled opinion that right and wrong, truth and error, are solely matter of private opinion and conventional usage. Man's own fluctuating opinion is the measure and standard of all things. They who "make the laws, make them for their own advantage." There is no such thing as Eternal Right. "That which appears just and honorable to each city is so for that city, as long as the opinion prevails."
[Footnote 904: "History of Greece."]
[Footnote 905: Aristotle's "Ethics," vol. i. ch. ii.]
[Footnote 906: "His teachings will be good counsels about a man's own affairs, how best to govern his family; and also about the affairs of the state, how most ably to administer and speak of state affairs."—"Protag.," Sec. 26.]
[Footnote 907: "Republic," bk. vii. ch. xvii.]
[Footnote 908: "Theaetetus," Sec. 23.]
[Footnote 909: "Gorgias," Secs. 85-89.]
[Footnote 910: "Theaetetus," Secs. 65-75.]
The age of the Sophists was a transitional period—a necessary, though, in itself considered, an unhappy stage in the progress of the human mind; but it opened the way for, The Socratic, philosophic, or conscious age of morals. It has been said that "before Socrates there was no morality in Greece, but only propriety of conduct." If by this is meant that prior to Socrates men simply followed the maxims of "the Theologians," and obeyed the laws of the state, without reflection and inquiry as to the intrinsic character of the acts, and without any analysis and exact definition, so as to attain to principles of ultimate and absolute right, it must be accepted as true—there was no philosophy of morals. Socrates is therefore justly regarded as "the father of moral philosophy." Aristotle says that he confined himself chiefly to ethical inquiries. He sought a determinate conception and an exact definition of virtue. As Xenophon has said of him, "he never ceased asking, What is piety? what is impiety? what is noble? what is base? what is just? what is unjust? what is temperance? what is madness?" And these questions were not asked in the Sophistic spirit, as a dialectic exercise, or from idle curiosity. He was a perfect contrast to the Sophists. They had slighted Truth, he made her the mistress of his soul. They had turned away from her, he longed for more perfect communion with her. They had deserted her for money and renown, he was faithful to her in poverty. He wanted to know what piety was, that he might be pious. He desired to know what justice, temperance, nobility, courage were, that he might cultivate and practise them. He wrote no books, delivered no lectures; he instituted no school; he simply conversed in the shop, the market-place, the banquet-hall, and the prison. This philosophy was not so much a doctrine as a life. "What is remarkable in him is not the system but the man. The memory he left behind him amongst his disciples, though idealized—the affection, blended with reverence, which they never ceased to feel for his person, bear testimony to the elevation of his character and his moral purity. We recognize in him a Greek of Athens—one who had imbibed many dangerous errors, and on whom the yoke of pagan custom still weighed; but his life was nevertheless a noble life; and it is to calumny we must have recourse if we are to tarnish its beauty by odious insinuations, as Lucian did, and as has been too frequently done, after him, by unskillful defenders of Christianity, who imagine it is the gainer by all that degrades human nature. Born in a humble position, destitute of all the temporal advantages which the Greeks so passionately loved, Socrates exerted a kingship over minds. His dominion was the more real for being less apparent.... His power consisted of three things: his devoted affection for his disciples, his disinterested love of truth, and the perfect harmony of his life and doctrine.... If he recommended temperance and sobriety, he also set the example; poorly clad, satisfied with little, he disdained all the delicacies of life. He possessed every species of courage. On the field of battle he was intrepid, and still more intrepid when he resisted the caprices of the multitude who demanded of him, when he was a senator, to commit the injustice of summoning ten generals before the tribunals. He also infringed the iniquitous orders of the thirty tyrants of Athens. The satires of Aristophanes neither moved nor irritated him. The same dauntless firmness he displayed when brought before his judges, charged with impiety. 'If it is your wish to absolve me on condition that I henceforth be silent, I reply I love and honor you, but I ought rather to obey the gods than you. Neither in the presence of judges nor of the enemy is it permitted me, or any other man, to use every sort of means to escape death. It is not death but crime that it is difficult to avoid; crime moves faster than death. So I, old and heavy as I am, have allowed myself to be overtaken by death, while my accusers, light and vigorous, have allowed themselves to be overtaken by the light-footed crime. I go, then, to suffer death; they to suffer shame and iniquity. I abide by my punishment, as they by theirs. All is according to order.' It was the same fidelity to duty that made Socrates refuse to escape from prison, in order not to violate the laws of his country, to which, even though irritated, more respect is due than to a father. 'Let us walk in the path,' he says 'that God has traced for us.' These last words show the profound religious sentiment which animated Socrates.... It is impossible not to feel that there was something divine in such a life crowned with such a death."
[Footnote 911: Homer, Hesiod, etc.]
[Footnote 912: "Memorabilia," bk. i. ch. i. p. 16.]
[Footnote 913: Lewes's "Biographical History of Philosophy," p. 122.]
[Footnote 914: Watson's "Institutes of Theology," vol. i. p. 374.]
[Footnote 915: Pressense, "Religions before Christ," pp. 109-111.]
Socrates laid the foundation for conscious morality by placing the ground of right and wrong in an eternal and unchangeable reason which illuminates the reason and conscience of every man. He often asserted that morality is a science which can not be taught. It depends mainly upon principles which are discovered by an inward light. Accordingly he regarded it as the main business of education to "draw out" into the light of consciousness the principles of right and justice which are infolded within the conscience of man—to deliver the mind of the secret truth which was striving towards the light of day. Therefore he called his method the "maieutic" or "obstetric" art. He felt there was something divine in all men (answering to his to daimonion or daimonion ti—a divine and supernatural something—a warning "voice"—a gnomic "sign"—a "law of God written on the heart"), which by a system of skillful interrogations he sought to elicit, so that each might hear for himself the voice of God, and, hearing, might obey. Thus was he the "great prophet of the human conscience," and a messenger of God to the heathen world, to prepare the way of the Lord.
The morality of conscience was carried to its highest point by Plato. From the moment he became the disciple of Socrates he sympathized deeply with the spirit and the method of his master. He had the same deep seriousness of spirit, that same earnestness of purpose, that same inward reverence for justice, and purity, and goodness, which dwelt in the heart of Socrates. A naturally noble nature, he loved truth with all the glow and fervor of his young heart. He felt that if any thing gave meaning and value to life, it must be the contemplation of absolute truth, absolute beauty, and absolute Good. This absolute Good is God, who is the first principle of all ideas, the fountain of all the order and proportion and beauty of the universe, the source of all the good which exists in nature and in man. To practise goodness—to conform the character to the eternal models of order, proportion, and excellence, is to resemble God. To aspire after perfection of moral being, to secure assimilation to God ([Greek: omoiosis Theo]) is the noble aspiration of Plato's soul.
When we read the "Gorgias," the "Philebus," and especially the "Republic," with what noble joy are we filled on hearing the voice of conscience, like a harp swept by a seraph's hand, uttering such deep-toned melodies! How does he drown the clamors of passion, the calculations of mere expediency, the sophism of mere personal interest and utility. If he calls us to witness the triumph of the wicked in the first part of the "Republic," it is in order that we may at the end of the book see the deceitfulness of their triumph. "As to the wicked," he says, "I maintain that even if they succeed at first in concealing what they are, most of them betray themselves at the end of their career. They are covered with opprobrium, and present evils are nothing compared with those that await them in the other life. As to the just man, whether in sickness or in poverty, these imaginary evils will turn to his advantage in this life, and after his death; because the providence of the gods is necessarily attentive to the interests of him who labors to become just, and to attain, by the practice of virtue, to the most perfect resemblance to God which is possible to man." He rises above all "greatest happiness principles," and asserts distinctly in the "Gorgias" that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. "I maintain," says he, "that what is most shameful is not to be struck unjustly on the cheek, or to be wounded in the body; but that to strike and wound me unjustly, to rob me, or reduce me to slavery—to commit, in a word, any kind of injustice towards me, or what is mine—is a thing far worse and more odious for him who commits the injustice, than for me who suffer it." It is a great combat, he says, greater than we think, that wherein the issue is whether we shall be virtuous or wicked. Neither glory, nor riches, nor dignities, nor poetry, deserves that we should neglect justice for them. The moral idea in Plato has such intense truth and force, that it has at times a striking analogy with the language of the Holy Scriptures.
[Footnote 916: "Republic," bk. x. ch. xii.]
[Footnote 917: "Gorgias," Secs. 59-80.]
[Footnote 918: Ibid., Sec. 137.]
[Footnote 919: Pressense, "Religions before Christ," p. 129.]
The obligation of moral rectitude is, by Plato, derived from the authoritative utterances of conscience as the voice of God. We must do right because reason and conscience say it is right. In the "Euthyphron" he maintains that the moral quality of actions is not dependent on the arbitrary will of a Supreme Governor;—"an act is not holy because the gods love it, but the gods love it because it is holy." The eternal law of right dwells in the Eternal Reason of God, the idea of right in all human minds is a ray of that Eternal Reason; and the requirement of the divine law that we shall do right is, and must be, in harmony with both.
The present life is regarded by Plato as a state of probation and discipline, the future life as one of reward and punishment.
[Footnote 920: "Republic," bk. x. ch. xv., xvi.; "Laws," bk. x. ch. xiii.]
Plato was thus to the heathen world "the great apostle of the moral idea;" he followed up and completed the work of Socrates. "The voice of God, that still found a profound echo in man's heart, possessed in him an organ to which all Greece gave ear; and the austere revelation of conscience this time embodied in language too harmonious not to entice by the beauty of form, a nation of artists, they received it. The tables of the eternal law, carved in purest marble and marvellously sculptured, were read by them."
In Plato both the theistic conception and the moral idea seem to have touched the zenith. The philosophy of Aristotle, considered as a whole, appears on one side to have passed the line of the great Hellenic period. If it did not inaugurate, it at least prepared the way for the decline. It perfected logic, as the instrument of ratiocination, and gave it exactness and precision, Yet taken all in all, it was greatly inferior to its predecessor. From the moral point of view it is a decided retrogression. The god of Aristotle is indifferent to virtue. He is pure thought rather than moral perfection. He takes no cognizance of man. Morality has no eternal basis, no divine type, and no future reward. Therefore Aristotle's philosophy had little power over the conscience and heart.
During the grand Platonic period human reason made its loftiest flight, it rose aloft and soared towards heaven, but alas! its wings, like those of Icarus, melted in the sun and it fell to earth again. Instead of wax it needed the strong "eagle pinions of faith" which revelation only can supply. The decadence is strongly marked both in the Epicurean and Stoic schools. They both express the feeling of exhaustion, disappointment, and despair. The popular theology had lost its hold upon the public mind. The gods no longer visited the earth. "The mysterious voice which, according to the poetic legend related by Plutarch, was heard out at sea—'Great Pan is dead'—rose up from every heart; the voice of an incredulous age proclaimed the coming end of paganism. The oracles were dumb." There was no vision in the land. All faith in a beneficent overruling Providence was lost, and the hope of immortality was well-nigh gone. The doctrines of a resurrection and a judgment to come, were objects of derisive mockery. Philosophy directed her attention solely to the problem of individual well-being on earth; it became simply a philosophy of life, and not, as with Plato, "a preparation for death." The grosser minds sought refuge in the doctrines of Epicurus. They said, "Pleasure is the chief good, the end of life is to enjoy yourself;" to this end "dismiss the fear of gods, and, above all, the fear of death." The nobler souls found an asylum with the Stoics. They said, "Fata nos ducunt—The Fates lead us! Live conformable to reason. Endure and abstain!" Notwithstanding numerous and serious errors, the ethical system of the Stoics was wonderfully pure. This must be confessed by any one who reads the "Enchiridion" of Epictetus, and the "Meditations" of Aurelius. "The highest end of life is to contemplate truth and to obey the Eternal Reason. God is to be reverenced above all things, and universally submitted to. The noblest office of reason is to subjugate passion and conduct to virtue. Virtue is the supreme good, which is to be pursued for its own sake, and not from fear or hope. That is sufficient for happiness which is seated only in the mind, and therefore independent of external things. The consciousness of well-doing is reward enough without the applause of others. And no fear of loss, or pain, or even death, must be suffered to turn us aside from truth and virtue."
[Footnote 921: Acts xvii. 32.]
[Footnote 922: Marcus Aurelius.]
The preparatory office of Christianity in the field of ethics is further seen,
II. In the fact that, by an experiment conducted on the largest scale, it demonstrated the insufficiency of reason to elaborate a perfect ideal of moral excellence, and develop the moral forces necessary to secure its realization.
We have seen that the moral idea in Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca rose to a sublime height, and that, under its influence, they developed a noble and heroic character. At the same time it must be conceded that their ethical system was marked by signal blemishes and radical defects. After all its excellence, it did not give roundness, completeness, and symmetry to moral life. The elements which really purify and ennoble man, and lend grace and beauty to life, were utterly wanting. Their systems were rather a discipline of the reason than a culture of the heart. The reason held in check the lower passions and propensities of the nature but it did not evoke the softer, gentler, purer emotions of the soul. The cardinal virtues of the ancient ethical systems are Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage, all which are in the last analysis reduced to Wisdom. Humility, Meekness, Forgiveness of injuries, Love of even enemies, Universal Benevolence, Real Philanthropy, the graces which give beauty to character and bless society, are scarcely known. It is true that in Epictetus and Seneca we have some counsels to humility, to forbearance, and forgiveness; but it must be borne in mind that Christianity was now in the air, exerting an indirect influence beyond the limits of the labors of the indefatigable missionaries of the Cross. By their predecessors, these qualities were disparaged rather than upheld. Resentment of injuries was applauded as a virtue, and meekness was proclaimed a defect and a weakness. They knew nothing of a forgiving spirit, and were strangers to the charity "which endureth all things, hopeth all things, and never fails." The enlarged philanthrophy which overleaps the bounds of kindred and nationality, and embraces a common humanity in its compassionate regards and benevolent efforts, was unknown. Socrates, the noblest of all the Grecians, was in no sense cosmopolitan in his feeling. His whole nature and character wore a Greek impress. He could scarce be tempted to go beyond the gates of Athens, and his care was all for the Athenian people. He could not conceive an universal philanthropy. Plato, in his solicitude to reduce his ideal state to a harmonious whole, answering to his idea of Justice, sacrificed the individual. He superseded private property, broke up the sacred relations of family and home, degraded woman, and tolerated slavery. Selfishness was to be overcome, and political order maintained, by a rigid communism. To harmonize individual rights and national interests, was the wisdom reserved for the fishermen of Galilee. The whole method of Plato's "Politeia," breathes the spirit of legalism in all its severity, untempered by the spirit of Love. This was the living force which was wanting to give energy to the ideals of the reason and conscience, to furnish high motive to virtue, to prompt to deeds of heroic sacrifice and suffering for the good of others; and this could not be inspired by philosophy, nor constrained by legislation. This love must descend from above. "The Platonic love" was a mere intellectual appreciation of beauty, and order, and proportion, and excellence. It was not the love of man as the offspring and image of God, as the partaker of a common nature, and the heir of a common immortality. Such love was first revealed on earth by the incarnate Son of God, and can only be attained by human hearts under the inspiration of his teaching and life, and the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit. "Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God." To "love our neighbor as ourself" is the golden precept of the Son of God, who is incarnate Love. The equality of all men as "the offspring of God" had been nominally recognized by the Stoic philosophers; its realization had been rendered possible to the popular thought by Roman conquest, law, and jurisprudence; these had prepared the way for its fullest announcement and practical recognition by the world. At this providential juncture St. Paul appears on Mars' Hill, and in the presence of the assembled philosophers proclaims, "God hath made of one blood all nations of men." A lofty ideal of moral excellence had been attained by Plato—the conception of a high and inflexible morality, which contrasted most vividly with the depravity which prevailed in Athenian society. The education "of the public assemblies, the courts, the theatres, or wherever the multitude gathered" was unfavorable to virtue. And the inadequacy of all mere human teaching to resist this current of evil, and save the young men of the age from ruin, is touchingly and mournfully confessed by Plato. "There is not, there never was, there never will be a moral education possible that can countervail the education of which these are the dispensers; that is, human education: I except, with the proverb, that which is Divine. And, truly, any soul that in such governments escapes the common wreck, can only escape by the special favor of heaven." He affirms again and again that man can not by himself rise to purity and goodness. "Virtue is not natural to man, neither is it to be learned, but it comes to us by a divine influence. Virtue is the gift of God in those who possess it." That "gift of God" was about to be bestowed, in all its fullness of power and blessing, "through Jesus Christ our Lord."
[Footnote 923: Seneca lived in the second century; Epictetus, in the latter part of the first century.]
[Footnote 924: "Republic," bk. vi. ch. vi., vii.]
[Footnote 925: "Meno;" see conclusion.]
In the department of religious feeling and sentiment, the propaedeutic office of Greek philosophy is seen, in general, in the revealing of the immediate spiritual wants of the soul, and the distinct presentation of the problem which Christianity alone can solve.
I. It awakened in man the sense of distance and estrangement from God, and the need of a Mediator—"a daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both"
[Footnote 926: Job ix. 33.]
During the period of unconscious and unreflective theism, the sentiment of the Divine was one of objective nearness and personal intimacy. The gods interposed directly in the affairs of men, and held frequent and familiar intercourse with our race. They descend to the battle-field of Troy, and mingle in the bloody strife. They grace the wedding-feast by their presence, and heighten the gladness with celestial music. They visit the poor and the stranger, and sometimes clothe the old and shrivelled beggar with celestial beauty. They inspire their favorites with strength and courage, and fill their mouths with wisdom and eloquence. They manifest their presence by signs and wonders, by visions and dreams, by auguries and prophetic voices. But more frequently than all, they are seen in the ordinary phenomena of nature, the sunshine and storm, the winds and tempests, the hail and rain. The natural is, in fact, the supernatural, and all the changes of nature are the movement and action of the Divine. The feeling of dependence is immediate and universal, and worship is the natural and spontaneous act of man.
But the period of reflection is inevitable. Man turns his inquiring gaze towards nature and desires, by an imperfect effort of physical induction, to reach "the first principle and cause of things." Soon he discovers the prevalence of uniformity in nature, the actions of physical properties and agencies, and he catches some glimpses of the reign of universal law. The natural tendency of this discovery is obvious in the weakening of his sense of dependence on the immediate agency of God. The Egyptians told Herodotus that, as their fields were regularly irrigated by the waters of the Nile, they were less dependent on God than the Greeks, whose lands were watered by rains, and who must perish if Jupiter did not send them showers. As man advances in the field of mere physical inquiry, God recedes; from the region of explained phenomena, he retires into the region of unexplained phenomena—the border-land of mystery. The gods are driven from the woods and streams, the winds and waves. Neptune does not absolutely control the seas, nor AEolus the winds. The Divine becomes, no more a physical arche—a nature-power, but a Supreme Mind, an ineffable Spirit, an invisible God, the Supreme Essence of Essences, the Supreme Idea of Ideas (eidos auto kath auto) apprehended by human reason alone, but having an independent, eternal, substantial, personal being. Through the instrumentality of Platonism, the idea of God becomes clearer and purer. Man had learned that communion with the Divinity was something more than an apotheosis of humanity, or a pantheistic absorption. He caught glimpses of a higher and holier union. He had surrendered the ideal of a national communion with God, and of personal protection through a federal religion, and now was thrown back upon himself to find some channel of personal approach to God. But alas! he could not find it. A God so vastly elevated beyond human comprehension, who could only be apprehended by the most painful effort of abstract thought; a God so infinitely removed from man by the purity and rectitude of his character; a God who was all pure reason, seemed alien to all the yearnings and sympathies of the human heart; and such a God, dwelling in pure light, seemed inapproachable and inacessible to man. The purifying of the religious idea had evoked a new ideal, and this ideal was painfully remote. By the energy of abstract thought man had striven to pierce the veil, and press into "the Holy of Holies," to come into the presence of God, and he had failed. And he had sought by moral discipline, by self-mortification, by inward purification, to raise himself to that lofty plane of purity, where he might catch some glimpses of the vision of a holy God, and still he failed. Nay, more, he had tried the power of prayer. Socrates, and Plato, and Cleanthes had bowed the knee and moved the lips in prayer. The emperor Aurelius, and the slave Epictetus had prayed, and prayer, no doubt, intensified their longing, and sharpened and agonized their desire, but it did not raise them to a satisfying and holy koinonia in the divine life. "It seems to me"—said Plato—as Homer says of Minerva, that she removed the mist from before the eyes of Diomede,
'That he might clearly see 'twixt Gods and men.'
so must he, in the first place, remove from your soul the mist that now dwells there, and then apply those things through which you will be able to know and rightly pray to God.
[Footnote 927: Herodotus, vol. ii. bk. ii. ch. xiii. p. 14 (Rawlinson's edition).]
[Footnote 928: "To discover the Maker and Father of the universe is a hard task;.... to make him known to all is impossible."—"Timaeus," ch. ix.]
[Footnote 929: "Second Alcibiades," Sec. 23.]
To develop this innate desire and "feeling after God" was the grand design of providence in "fixing the times" of the Greek nation, and "the boundaries of their habitation." Man was brought, through a period of discipline, to feel his need of a personal relation to God. He was made to long for a realizing sense of his presence—to desire above all things a Father, a Counsellor, and a Friend—a living ear into which he might groan his anguish, or hymn his joy; and a living heart that could beat towards him in compassion, and prompt immediate succor and aid. The idea of a pure Spiritual Essence without form, and without emotion, pervading all, and transcending all, is too vague and abstract to yield us comfort, and to exert over us any persuasive power. "Our moral weakness shrinks from it in trembling awe. The heart can not feed on sublimities. We can not make a home of cold magnificence; we can not take immensity by the hand." Hence the need and the desire that God shall condescendingly approach to man, and by some manifestation of himself in human form, and through the sensibilities of the human heart, commend himself to the heart of man—in other words, the need of an Incarnation. Thus did the education of our race, by the dispensation of philosophy, prepare the way for him who was consciously or unconsciously "the Desire of Nations," and the deepening earnestness and spiritual solicitude of the heathen world heralded the near approach of Him who was not only "the Hope of Israel" but "the Saviour of the world."
[Footnote 930: Acts xvii. 26, 27.]
[Footnote 931: Caird.]
The idea of an Incarnation was not unfamiliar to human thought, it was no new or strange idea to the heathen mind. The numberless metamorphoses of Grecian mythology, the incarnations of Brahm, the avatars of Vishnu, and the human form of Krishna had naturalized the thought. So that when the people of Lystra saw the apostles Paul and Barnabas exercising supernatural powers of healing, they said, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" and they called Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul, Mercurius. The idea in its more definite form may have been, and indeed was, communicated to the world through the agency of the dispersed Jews. So that Virgil, the Roman poet, who was contemporary with Christ, seems to re-echo the prophecy of Isaiah—
The last age decreed by the Fates is come, And a new frame of all things does begin; A holy progeny from heaven descends Auspicious in his birth, which puts an end To the iron age, and from which shall arise A golden age, most glorious to behold.
[Footnote 932: Young's "Christ of History," p. 248.]
II. Finally, Greek philosophy prepared the way for Christianity by awakening and deepening the consciousness of guilt, and the desire for Redemption.
The consciousness of sin, and the consequent need of expiation for sin, were gradually unfolded in the Greek mind. The idea of sin was at first revealed in a confused and indefinite feeling of some external, supernatural, and bewildering influence which man can not successfully resist; but yet so in harmony with the sinner's inclination, that he can not divest himself of all responsibility. "Homer has no word answering in comprehensiveness or depth of meaning to the word sin, as it is used in the Bible..... The noun amartia which is appropriated to express this idea in the Greek of the New Testament, does not occur in the Homeric poems..... The word which is most frequently employed to express wrong-doing of every kind is ate, with its corresponding verb..... The radical signification of the word seems to be a befooling—a depriving one of his senses and his reason, as by unseasonable sleep, and excess of wine, joined with the influence of evil companions, and the power of destiny, or the deity. Hence, the Greek imagination, which impersonated every great power, very naturally conceived of Ate as a person, a sort of omnipresent and universal cause of folly and sin, of mischief and misery, who, though the daughter of Jupiter, yet once fooled or misled Jupiter himself, and thenceforth, cast down from heaven to earth, walks with light feet over the heads of men, and makes all things go wrong. Hence, too, when men come to their senses, and see what folly and wrong they have perpetrated, they cast the blame on Ate, and so, ultimately, on Jupiter and the gods."
[Footnote 933: Tyler, "Theology of the Greek Poets," pp. 174, 175.]
"Oft hath this matter been by Greeks discussed, And I their frequent censure have incurred: Yet was not I the cause; but Jove, and Fate, And gloomy Erinnys, who combined to throw A strong delusion o'er my mind, that day I robb'd Achilles of his lawful prize. What could I do? a Goddess all o'erruled, Daughter of Jove, dread Ate, baleful power Misleading all; with light step she moves, Not on the earth, but o'er the heads of men. With blighting touch, and many hath caused to err."
And yet, though Agamemnon here attempts to shuffle off the guilt of his transgression upon Ate, Jove, and Fate, yet at other times he confesses his folly and wrong, and makes no attempt to cast the responsibility on the gods. Though misled by a "baleful power," he was not compelled. Though tempted by an evil goddess, he yet followed his own sinful passions, and therefore he owns himself responsible.