There have been "Aids to Faitti" produced lately, and "Replies to the Seven Essayists," "Answers to Colenso," and much else of the kind. We regret to say that they have done little for us. The very life of our souls is at issue in the questions which have been raised, and we are fed with the professional commonplaces of the members of a close guild, men holding high office in the Church, or expecting to hold high office there; in either case with a strong temporal interest in the defence of the institution which they represent. We desire to know what those of the clergy think whose love of truth is unconnected with their prospects in life; we desire to know what the educated laymen, the lawyers, the historians, the men of science, the statesmen think; and these are for the most part silent, or confess themselves modestly uncertain. The professional theologians alone are loud and confident; but they speak in the old angry tone which rarely accompanies deep and wise convictions. They do not meet the real difficulties; they mistake them, misrepresent them, claim victories over adversaries with whom they have never even crossed swords, and leap to conclusions with a precipitancy at which we can only smile. It has been the unhappy manner of their class from immemorial time; they call it zeal for the Lord, as if it were beyond all doubt that they were on God's side, as if serious inquiry after truth was something which they were entitled to resent. They treat intellectual difficulties as if they deserved rather to be condemned and punished than considered and weighed, and rather stop their ears and run with one accord upon any one who disagrees with them than listen patiently to what he has to say.
We do not propose to enter in detail upon the particular points which demand re-discussion. It is enough that the more exact habit of thought which science has engendered, and the closer knowledge of the value and nature of evidence, has notoriously made it necessary that the grounds should be reconsidered on which we are to believe that one country and one people was governed for sixteen centuries on principles different from those which we now find to prevail universally. One of many questions, however, shall be briefly glanced at, on which the real issue seems habitually to be evaded.
Much has been lately said and written on the authenticity of the Pentateuch and the other historical books of the Old Testament. The Bishop of Natal has thrown out in a crude form the critical results of the inquiries of the Germans, coupled with certain arithmetical calculations, for which he has a special aptitude. He supposes himself to have proved that the first five books of the Bible are a compilation of uncertain date, full of inconsistencies and impossibilities. The apologists have replied that the objections are not absolutely conclusive, that the events described in the book of Exodus might possibly, under certain combinations of circumstances, have actually taken place; and they then pass to the assumption that because a story is not necessarily false, therefore it is necessarily true. We have no intention of vindicating Dr. Colenso. His theological training makes his arguments very like those of his opponents, and he and Dr. M'Call may settle their differences between themselves. The question is at once wider and simpler than any which has been raised in that controversy. Were it proved beyond possibility of error that the Pentateuch was written by Moses, that those and all the books of the 01d and New Testaments were really the work of the writers whose names they bear; were the Mosaic cosmogony in harmony with physical discoveries; and were the supposed inconsistencies and contradictions shown to have no existence except in Dr. Colenso's imagination—we should not have advanced a single step towards making good the claim put forward for the Bible, that it is absolutely and unexceptionably true in all its parts. The "genuineness and authenticity" argument is irrelevant and needless. The clearest demonstration of the human authorship of the Pentateuch proves nothing about its immunity from errors. If there are no mistakes in it, it was not the workmanship of man; and if it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, there is no occasion to show that the hand of Moses was the instrument made use of. To the most excellent of contemporary histories, to histories written by eye-witnesses of the facts which they describe, we accord but a limited confidence. The highest intellectual competence, the most admitted truthfulness, immunity from prejudice, and the absence of temptation to mis-state the truth; these things may secure general credibility, but they are no guarantee for minute and circumstantial exactness. Two historians, though with equal gifts and equal opportunities, never describe events in exactly the same way. Two witnesses in a court of law, while they agree in the main, invariably differ in some particulars. It appears as if men could not relate facts precisely as they saw or as they heard them. The different parts of a story strike different imaginations unequally; and the mind, as the circumstances pass through it, alters their proportions unconsciously, or shifts the perspective. The credit which we give to the most authentic work of a man has no resemblance to that universal acceptance which is demanded for the Bible. It is not a difference of degree: it is a difference in kind; and we desire to know on what ground this infallibility, which we do not question, but which is not proved, demands our belief. Very likely the Bible is thus infallible. Unless it is, there can be no moral obligation to accept the facts which it records: and though there may be intellectual error in denying them, there can be no moral sin. Facts may be better or worse authenticated; but all the proofs in the world of the genuineness and authenticity of the human handiwork cannot establish a claim upon the conscience. It might be foolish to question Thucydides' account of Pericles, but no one would call it sinful. Men part with all sobriety of judgment when they come on ground of this kind. When Sir Henry Rawlinson read the name of Sennacherib on the Assyrian marbles, and found allusions there to the Israelites in Palestine, we were told that a triumphant answer had been found to the cavils of sceptics, and a convincing proof of the inspired truth of the Divine Oracles. Bad arguments in a good cause are a sure way to bring distrust upon it. The Divine Oracles may be true, and may be inspired; but the discoveries at Nineveh certainly do not prove them so. No one supposes that the Books of Kings or the prophesies of Isaiah and Ezekiel were the work of men who had no knowledge of Assyria or the Assyrian Princes. It is possible that in the excavations at Carthage some Punic inscription may be found confirming Livy's account of the battle of Cannae; but we shall not be obliged to believe therefore in the inspiration of Livy, or rather (for the argument comes to that) in the inspiration of the whole Latin literature.
We are not questioning the fact that the Bible is infallible; we desire only to be told on what evidence that great and awful fact concerning it properly rests. It would seem, indeed, as if instinct had been wiser than argument—as if it had been felt that nothing short of this literal and close inspiration could preserve the facts on which Christianity depends. The history of the early world is a history everywhere of marvels. The legendary literature of every nation upon earth tells the same stories of prodigies and wonders, of the appearances of the gods upon earth, and of their intercourse with men. The lives of the saints of the Catholic Church, from the time of the Apostles till the present day, are a complete tissue of miracles resembling and rivalling those of the Gospels. Some of these stories are romantic and imaginative; some clear, literal, and prosaic: some rest on mere tradition; some on the sworn testimony of eye-witnesses; some are obvious fables; some are as well authenticated as facts of such a kind can be authenticated at all. The Protestant Christian rejects every one of them—rejects them without inquiry—involves those for which there is good authority and those for which there is none or little in one absolute, contemptuous, and sweeping denial. The Protestant Christian feels it more likely, in the words of Hume, that men should deceive or be deceived, than that the laws of nature should be violated. At this moment we are beset with reports of conversations with spirits, of tables miraculously lifted, of hands projected out of the world of shadows into this mortal life. An unusually able, accomplished person, accustomed to deal with common-sense facts, a celebrated political economist, and notorious for business-like habits, assured this writer that a certain mesmerist, who was my informant's intimate friend, had raised a dead girl to life. We should believe the people who tell us these things in any ordinary matter: they would be admitted in a court of justice as good witnesses in a criminal case, and a jury would hang a man on their word. The person just now alluded to is incapable of telling a wilful lie; yet our experience of the regularity of nature on one side is so uniform, and our experience of the capacities of human folly on the other is so large, that when they tell us these wonderful stories, most of us are contented to smile; we do not care so much as to turn out of our way to examine them.
The Bible is equally a record of miracles; but as from other histories we reject miracles without hesitation, so of those in the Bible we insist on the universal acceptance: the former are all false, the latter are all true. It is evident that, in forming conclusions so sweeping as these, we cannot even suppose that we are being guided by what is called historical evidence. Were it admitted that as a whole the miracles of the Bible are better authenticated than the miracles of the saints, we should be far removed still from any large inference, that in the one set there is no room for falsehood, in the other no room for truth. The writer or writers of the Books of Kings are not known. The books themselves are in fact confessedly taken from older writings which are lost; and the accounts of the great prophets of Israel are a counterpart, curiously like, of those of the mediaeval saints. In many instances the authors of the lives of these saints were their companions and friends. Why do we feel so sure that what we are told of Elijah or Elisha took place exactly as we read it? Why do we reject the account of St. Columba or St. Martin as a tissue of idle fable? Why should not God give a power to the saint which he had given to the prophet? We can produce no reason from the nature of things, for we know not what the nature of things is; and if down to the death of the Apostles the ministers of religion were allowed to prove their commission by working miracles, what right have we, on grounds either of history or philosophy, to draw a clear line at the death of St. John, to say that before that time all such stories were true, and after it all were false?
There is no point on which Protestant controversialists evade the real question more habitually than on that of miracles. They accuse those who withhold that unreserved and absolute belief which they require for all which they accept themselves, of denying that miracles are possible. That they assume to be the position taken up by the objector, and proceed easily to argue that man is no judge of the power of God. Of course he is not. No sane man ever raised his narrow understanding into a measure of the possibilities of the universe; nor does any person with any pretensions to religion disbelieve in miracles of some kind. To pray is to expect a miracle. When we pray for the recovery of a sick friend, for the gift of any blessing, or the removal of any calamity, we expect that God will do something by an act of his personal will which otherwise would not have been done—that he will suspend the ordinary relations of natural cause and effect; and this is the very idea of a miracle. The thing we pray for may be given us, and no miracle may have taken place. It may be given to us by natural causes, and would have occurred whether we had prayed or not. But prayer itself in its very essence implies a belief in the possible intervention of a power which is above nature. The question about miracles is simply one of evidence—whether in any given case the proof is so strong that no room is left for mistake, exaggeration, or illusion, while more evidence is required to establish a fact antecedently improbable than is sufficient for a common occurrence.
It has been said recently by "A Layman," in a letter to Mr. Maurice, that the resurrection of our Lord is as well authenticated as the death of Julius Caesar. It is far better authenticated, unless we are mistaken in supposing the Bible inspired; or if we admit as evidence that inward assurance of the Christian, which would make him rather die than disbelieve a truth so dear to him. But if the layman meant that there was as much proof of it, in the sense in which proof is understood in a court of justice, he could scarcely have considered what he was saying. Julius Caesar was killed in a public place, in the presence of friend and foe, in a remarkable but still perfectly natural manner. The circumstances were minutely known to all the world, and were never denied or doubted by any one. Our Lord, however, seems purposely to have withheld such public proof of his resurrection as would have left no room for unbelief. He showed himself, "not to all the people" —not to his enemies, whom his appearance would have overwhelmed—but "to witnesses chosen before;" to the circle of his own friends. There is no evidence which a jury could admit that he was ever actually dead. So unusual was it for persons crucified to die so soon, that Pilate, we are told, "marvelled." The subsequent appearances were strange, and scarcely intelligible. Those who saw him did not recognize him till he was made known to them in the breaking of bread. He was visible and invisible. He was mistaken by those who were most intimate with him for another person; nor do the accounts agree which are given by the different Evangelists. Of investigation in the modern sense (except in the one instance of St. Thomas, and St. Thomas was rather rebuked than praised,) there was none, and could be none. The evidence offered was different in kind, and the blessing was not to those who satisfied themselves of the truth of the fact by a searching inquiry, but who gave their assent with the unhesitating confidence of love.
St. Paul's account of his own conversion is an instance of the kind of testimony which then worked the strongest conviction. St. Paul, a fiery fanatic on a mission of persecution, with the midday Syrian sun streaming down upon his head, was struck to the ground, and saw in a vision our Lord in the air. If such a thing were to occur at the present day, and if a modern physician were consulted about it, he would say without hesitation, that it was an effect of an over-heated brain, and that there was nothing in it extraordinary or unusual. If the impression left by the appearance had been too strong for such an explanation to be satisfactory, the person to whom it occurred, especially if he was a man of St. Paul's intellectual stature, would have at once examined into the facts otherwise known, connected with the subject of what he had seen. St. Paul had evidently before disbelieved our Lord's resurrection, had disbelieved it fiercely and passionately; we should have expected that he would at once have sought for those who could best have told him the details of the truth. St. Paul, however, did nothing of the kind. He went for a year into Arabia, and when at last he returned to Jerusalem, he rather held aloof from those who had been our Lord's companions, and who had witnessed his ascension. He saw Peter, he saw James; "of the rest of the apostles saw he none." To him evidently the proof of the resurrection was the vision which he had himself seen. It was to that which he always referred when called on for a defence of his faith.
Of evidence for the resurrection in the common sense of the word there may be enough to show that something extraordinary occurred; but not enough, unless we assume the fact to be true on far other grounds, to produce any absolute and unhesitating conviction; and inasmuch as the resurrection is the keystone of Christianity, the belief in it must be something far different from that suspended judgment in which history alone would leave us.
Human testimony, we repeat, under the most favourable circumstances imaginable, knows nothing of "absolute certainty;" and if historical facts are bound up with the creed, and if they are to be received with the same completeness as the laws of conscience, they rest, and must rest, either on the divine truth of Scripture, or on the divine witness in ourselves. On human evidence, the miracles of St. Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi are as well established as those of the New Testament.
M. Ernest Renan has recently produced an account of the Gospel story which, written as it is by a man of piety, intellect, and imagination, is spreading rapidly through the educated world. Carrying out the principles with which Protestants have swept modern history clear of miracles to their natural conclusions, he dismisses all that is miraculous from the life of our Lord, and endeavours to reproduce the original Galilean youth who lived, and taught, and died in Palestine eighteen hundred years ago. We have no intention of reviewing M. Renan. He will be read soon enough by many who would better consider their peace of mind by leaving him alone. For ourselves we are unable to see by what right, if he rejects the miraculous part of the narrative, he retains the rest; the imagination and the credulity which invent extraordinary incidents invent ordinary incidents also; and if the divine element in the life is legendary, the human may be legendary also. But there is one lucid passage in the introduction which we commend to the perusal of controversial theologians:—
No miracle such as those of which early histories are full has taken place under conditions which science can accept. Experience shows, without exception, that miracles occur only in times and in countries in which miracles are believed in, and in the presence of persons who are disposed to believe them. No miracle has ever been performed before an assemblage of spectators capable of testing its reality. Neither uneducated people, nor even men of the world, have the requisite capacity; great precautions are needed, and a long habit of scientific research. Have we not seen men of the world in our own time become the dupes of the most childish and absurd illusions? And if it be certain that no contemporary miracles will bear investigation, is it not possible that the miracles of the past, were we able to examine into them in detail, would be found equally to contain an element of error? It is not in the name of this or that philosophy, it is in the name of an experience which never varies that we banish miracles from history. We do not say a miracle is impossible, we say only that no miracle has ever yet been proved. Let a worker of miracles come forward to-morrow with pretensions serious enough to deserve examination. Let us suppose him to announce that he is able to raise a dead man to life. What would be done? A committee would be appointed, composed of physiologists, physicians, chemists, and persons accustomed to exact investigation; a body would then be selected which the committee would assure itself was really dead; and a place would be chosen where the experiment was to take place. Every precaution would be taken to leave no opening for uncertainty; and if, under those conditions, the restoration to life was effected, a probability would be arrived at which would be almost equal to certainty. An experiment, however, should always admit of being repeated. What a man has done once he should be able to do again, and in miracles there can be no question of ease or difficulty. The performer would be requested to repeat the operation under other circumstances upon other bodies; and if he succeeded on every occasion, two points would be established: first, that there may be in this world such things as supernatural operations; and, secondly, that the power to perform them is delegated to, or belongs to, particular persons.
But who does not perceive that no miracle was ever performed under such conditions as these?
We have quoted this passage because it expresses with extreme precision and clearness the common-sense principle which we apply to all supernatural stories of our own time, which Protestant theologians employ against the whole cycle of Catholic miracles, and which M. Renan is only carrying to its logical conclusions in applying to the history of our Lord, if the Gospels are tried by the mere tests of historical criticism. The Gospels themselves tell us why M. Renan's conditions were never satisfied. Miracles were not displayed in the presence of sceptics to establish scientific truths, When the adulterous generation sought after a sign, the sign was not given; nay, it is even said that in the presence of unbelief our Lord was not able to work miracles. But science has less respect for that undoubting and submissive willingness to believe; and it is quite certain that if we attempt to establish the truth of the New Testament on the principles of Paley, if with Professor Jowett "we interpret the Bible as any other book," the element of miracle which has evaporated from the entire surface of human history will not maintain itself in the sacred ground of the Gospels, and the facts of Christianity will melt in our hands like a snow-ball.
Nothing less than a miraculous history can sustain the credibility of miracles, and nothing could be more likely if revelation be a reality and not a dream than that the history containing it should be saved in its composition from the intermixture of human infirmity. This is the position in which instinct long ago taught Protestants to entrench themselves, and where alone they can hope to hold their ground: once established in these lines, they were safe and unassailable, unless it could be demonstrated that any fact or facts related in the Bible were certainly untrue.
Nor would it be necessary to say any more upon the subject. Those who believed Christianity would admit the assumption; those who disbelieved Christianity would repudiate it. The argument would be narrowed to that plain and single issue, and the elaborate treatises upon external evidence would cease to bring discredit upon the cause by their feebleness. Unfortunately— and this is the true secret of our present distractions—it seems certain that in some way or other this belief in inspiration itself requires to be revised. We are compelled to examine more precisely what we mean by the word. The account of the creation of man and the world which is given in Genesis, and which is made by St. Paul the basis of his theology, has not yet been reconciled with facts which science knows to be true. Death was in the world before Adam's sin, and unless Adam's age be thrust back to a distance which no ingenuity can torture the letter of Scripture into recognizing, men and women lived and died upon the earth whole millenniums before the Eve of Sacred History listened to the temptation of the snake. Neither has any such deluge as that from which, according to the received interpretation, the ark saved Noah, swept over the globe within the human period. We are told that it was not God's purpose to anticipate the natural course of discovery: as the story of the creation was written in human language, so the details of it may have been adapted to the existing state of human knowledge. The Bible it is said was not intended to teach men science, but to teach them what was necessary for the moral training of their souls. It may be that this is true. Spiritual grace affects the moral character of men, but leaves their intellect unimproved. The most religious men are as liable as atheists to ignorance of ordinary facts, and inspiration may be only infallible when it touches on truths necessary to salvation. But if it be so, there are many things in the Bible which must become as uncertain as its geology or its astronomy. There is the long secular history of the Jewish people. Let it be once established that there is room for error anywhere, and we have no security for secular history. The inspiration of the Bible is the foundation of our whole belief; and it is a grave matter if we are uncertain to what extent it reaches, or how much and what it guarantees to us as true. We cannot live on probabilities. The faith in which we can live bravely and die in peace must be a certainty, so far as it professes to be a faith at all, or it is nothing. It may be that all intellectual efforts to arrive at it are in vain; that it is given to those to whom it is given, and withheld from those from whom it is withheld. It may be that the existing belief is undergoing a silent modification, like those to which the dispensations of religion have been successively subjected; or, again, it may be that to the creed as it is already established there is nothing to be added, and nothing any more to be taken from it. At this moment, however, the most vigorous minds appear least to see their way to a conclusion; and notwithstanding all the school and church building, the extended episcopate, and the religious newspapers, a general doubt is coming up like a thunderstorm against the wind, and blackening the sky. Those who cling most tenaciously to the faith in which they were educated yet confess themselves perplexed. They know what they believe; but why they believe it, or why they should require others to believe, they cannot tell or cannot agree. Between the authority of the Church and the authority of the Bible, the testimony of history and the testimony of the Spirit, the ascertained facts of science and the contradictory facts which seem to be revealed, the minds of men are tossed to and fro, harassed by the changed attitude in which scientific investigation has placed us all towards accounts of supernatural occurrences. We thrust the subject aside; we take refuge in practical work; we believe perhaps that the situation is desperate and hopeless of improvement; we refuse to let the question be disturbed. But we cannot escape from our shadow, and the spirit of uncertainty will haunt the world like an uneasy ghost, till we take it by the throat like men.
We return then to the point from which we set out. The time is past for repression. Despotism has done its work; but the day of despotism is gone, and the only remedy is a full and fair investigation. Things will never right themselves if they are let alone. It is idle to say peace when there is no peace; and the concealed imposthume is more dangerous than an open wound. The law in this country has postponed our trial, but cannot save us from it; and the questions which have agitated the Continent are agitating us at last. The student who twenty years ago was contented with the Greek and Latin fathers and the Anglican divines, now reads Ewald and Renan. The Church authorities still refuse to look their difficulties in the face: they prescribe for mental troubles the established doses of Paley and Pearson; they refuse dangerous questions as sinful, and tread the round of commonplace in placid comfort. But it will not avail. Their pupils grow to manhood, and fight the battle for themselves, unaided by those who ought to have stood by them in their trial, and could not or would not; and the bitterness of those conflicts and the end of most of them in heart-broken uncertainty or careless indifference, is too notorious to all who care to know about such things.
We cannot afford year after year to be distracted with the tentative scepticism of essayists and reviewers. In a healthy condition of public opinion such a book as Bishop Colenso's would have passed unnoticed, or rather would never have been written, for the difficulties with which it deals would have been long ago met and disposed of. When questions rose in the early and middle ages of the Church, they were decided by councils of the wisest: those best able to judge met together, and compared their thoughts, and conclusions were arrived at which individuals could accept and act upon. At the beginning of the English Reformation, when Protestant doctrine was struggling for reception, and the old belief was merging in the new, the country was deliberately held in formal suspense. Protestants and Catholics were set to preach on alternate Sundays in the same pulpit; the subject was discussed freely in the ears of the people, and at last, when all had been said on both sides, Convocation and Parliament embodied the result in formulas. Councils will no longer answer the purpose; the clergy have no longer a superiority of intellect or cultivation; and a conference of prelates from all parts of Christendom, or even from all departments of the English Church, would not present an edifying spectacle. Parliament may no longer meddle with opinions unless it be to untie the chains which it forged three centuries ago. But better than Councils, better than sermons, better than Parliament, is that free discussion through a free press which is the best instrument for the discovery of truth, and the most effectual means for preserving it.
We shall be told, perhaps, that we are beating the air, that the press is free, and that all men may and do write what they please. It is not so. Discussion is not free so long as the clergy who take any side but one are liable to be prosecuted and deprived of their means of living; it is not free so long as the expression of doubt is considered as a sin by public opinion and as a crime by the law. So far are we from free discussion that the world is not yet agreed that a free discussion is desirable; and till it be so agreed, the substantial intellect of the country will not throw itself into the question. The battle will continue to be fought by outsiders, who suffice to disturb a repose which they cannot restore; and that collective voice of the national understanding, which alone can give back to us a peaceful and assured conviction, will not be heard. _
Benedicti de Spinoza Tractatus de Deo et Homine ejusque Felicitate Lineamenta Alque Annotationes ad Traclatum Theologico Politicum. Edidit et illustravit EDWARDUS BOEHMER. Halae ad Salam. J. F. Lippert. 1852.
This little volume is one evidence among many of the interest which continues to be felt by the German students in Spinoza. The actual merit of the book itself is little or nothing; but it shows the industry with which they are gleaning among the libraries of Holland for any traces of him which they can recover; and the smallest fragments of his writings are acquiring that factitious importance which attaches to the most insignificant relics of acknowledged greatness. Such industry cannot be otherwise than laudable, but we do not think it at present altogether wisely directed. Nothing is likely to be brought to light which will much illustrate Spinoza's philosophy. He himself spent the better part of his life in working the language in which he expressed it clear of ambiguities; and such earlier draughts of his system as are supposed still to be extant in MS., and a specimen of which M. Boehmer believes himself to have discovered, contribute only obscurity to what is in no need of additional difficulty. Of Spinoza's private history, on the contrary, rich as it must have been, and abundant traces of it as must be extant somewhere in his own and his friends' correspondence, we know only enough to feel how vast a chasm remains to be filled. It is not often that any man in this world lives a life so well worth writing as Spinoza lived; not for striking incidents or large events connected with it; but because (and no sympathy with his peculiar opinions disposes us to exaggerate his merit) he was one of the very best men whom these modern times have seen. Excommunicated, disinherited, and thrown upon the world when a mere boy to seek his livelihood, he resisted the inducements which on all sides were urged upon him to come forward in the world; refusing pensions, legacies, money in many forms, he maintained himself with grinding glasses for optical instruments, an art which he had been taught in early life, and in which he excelled the best workmen in Holland; and when he died, which was at the early age of forty-four, the affection with which he was regarded showed itself singularly in the endorsement of a tradesman's bill which was sent in to his executors, in which he was described as M. Spinoza of "blessed memory."
The account which remains of him we owe not to an admiring disciple, but to a clergyman, to whom his theories were detestable; and his biographer allows that the most malignant scrutiny had failed to detect a blemish in his character,—that except so far as his opinions were blameable, he had lived to all outward appearances free from fault. We desire, in what we are going to say of him, to avoid offensive collision with even popular prejudices, and still more with the earnest convictions of serious persons: our business is to relate what he was, and leave others to form their own conclusions. But one lesson there does seem to lie in such a life of such a man,—a lesson deeper than any which is to be found in his philosophy,—that wherever there is genuine and thorough love for good and goodness, no speculative superstructure of opinion can be so extravagant as to forfeit those graces which are promised not to clearness of intellect, but to purity of heart. In Spinoza's own beautiful language,—"justitia et caritas unicum et certissimum verae fidei Catholicae signurn est, et veri Spiritus sancti fructus: et ubicumque haec reperiuntur, ibi Christus re verg est, et ubicumque haec desunt deest Christus. Solo namque Christi Spiritu duci possumus in amorem justitiae et caritatis." We may deny his conclusions; we may consider his system of thought preposterous and even pernicious, but we cannot refuse him the respect which is the right of all sincere and honourable men. We will say, indeed, as much as this, that wherever and on whatever questions good men are found ranged on opposite sides, one of three alternatives is always true:—either that the points of disagreement are purely speculative and of no moral importance, or that there is a misunderstanding of language, and the same thing is meant under difference of words, or else that the real truth is something different from what is held by any of the disputants, and that each is representing some important element which the other ignores or forgets. In either case, a certain calmness and good temper is necessary, if we would understand what we disagree with, or would oppose it with success. Spinoza's influence over European thought is too great to be denied or set aside, and if his doctrines be false in part, or false altogether, we cannot do their work more surely than by calumny or misrepresentation—a most obvious truism, which no one now living will deny in words, and which a century or two hence perhaps will begin to produce some effects upon the popular judgment.
Bearing it in mind, then, ourselves, as far as we are able, we propose to examine the Pantheistic philosophy in the first and only logical form which as yet it has assumed. Whatever may have been the case with his disciples, in the author of this system there was no unwillingness to look closely at it, or follow it out to its conclusions; and whatever other merits or demerits belong to Spinoza, at least he has done as much as with language can be done to make himself thoroughly understood—a merit in which it cannot be said that his followers have imitated him—Pantheism, as it is known in England, being a very synonym of vagueness and mysticism.
The fact is, that both in friend and enemy alike, there has been a reluctance to see Spinoza as he really was. The Herder and Schleiermacher school have claimed him as a Christian—a position which no little disguise was necessary to make tenable; the orthodox Protestants and Catholics have called him an Atheist —which is still more extravagant; and even a man like Novalis, who, it might have been expected, would have had something reasonable to say, could find no better name for him than a Colt trunkner Mann—a God intoxicated man; an expression which has been quoted by everybody who has since written upon the subject, and which is about as inapplicable as those laboriously pregnant sayings usually are. With due allowance for exaggeration, such a name would describe tolerably the Transcendental mystics, a Toler, a Boehmen, or a Swedenborg; but with what justice can it be applied to the cautious, methodical Spinoza, who carried his thoughts about with him for twenty years, deliberately shaping them, and who gave them at last to the world in a form more severe than with such subjects had ever been so much as attempted? With him, as with all great men, there was no effort after sublime emotions. A plain, practical person, his object in philosophy was only to find a rule on which he could depend to govern his own actions and his own judgment: and his treatises contain no more than the conclusions at which he arrived in this purely personal search, and the grounds on which he rested them.
We cannot do better than follow his own account of himself as he has given it in the opening of his unfinished Tract, "De Emendatione Intellectas." His language is very beautiful, but elaborate and full; and, as we have a long journey before us, we must be content to epitomize it.
Looking round him on his entrance into life, and asking himself what was his place and business in it, he turned for examples to his fellow-men, and found little that he could venture to imitate. Whatever they professed, they all really guided themselves by their different notions of what they thought desirable; and these notions themselves resting on no more secure foundation than a vague, inconsistent experience, the experience of one not being the experience of another, men were all, so to say, rather playing experiments with life than living, and the larger portion of them miserably failing. Their mistakes arising, as it seemed to Spinoza, from inadequate knowledge, things which at one time looked desirable disappointing expectation when obtained, and the wiser course concealing itself often under an uninviting exterior, he desired to substitute certainty for conjecture, and endeavour to find, by some surer method, where the real good of man lay. All this may sound very Pagan, and perhaps it is so. We must remember that he had been brought up a Jew, and had been driven out of the Jews' communion; his mind was therefore in contact with the bare facts of life, with no creed or system lying between them and himself as the interpreter of it. Some true account of things, however, he thought it likely that there must be, and the question was, how to find it. Of all forms of human thought, but one, he reflected, would admit of the certainty which he required—the mathematical; and, therefore, if certain knowledge were attainable at all, it must be looked for under the mathematical or demonstrative method; by tracing from ideas clearly conceived the consequences which were formally involved in them. The question was, therefore, of these ideas, these verae ideae, as he calls them,—what were they, and how were they to be obtained: if they were to serve as the axioms of his system, they must, he felt, be self-evident truths, of which no proof was required; and the illustration which he gives of the character of such ideas is ingenious and Platonic.
In order to produce any mechanical instrument, he says, we require others with which to manufacture it; and others again to manufacture those; and it would seem thus as if the process must be an infinite one, and as if nothing could ever be made at all. Nature, however, has provided for the difficulty in creating of her own accord certain rude instruments, with the help of which we can make others better; and others again with the help of those. And so he thinks it must be with the mind, and there must be somewhere similar original instruments provided also as the first outfit of intellectual enterprise. To discover them, he examines the various senses in which men are said to know anything, and he finds that these senses resolve themselves into three, or, as he elsewhere divides it, four:— We know a thing,
1. i. Ex mero auditu: because we have heard it from some person or persons whose veracity we have no reason to question. ii. Ab experientia vaga: from general experience: for instance, all facts or phenomena which come to us through our senses as phenomena, but of the causes of which we are ignorant.
2. These two in Ethics are classed together.
As we have correctly conceived the laws of such phenomena, and see them following in their sequence m the order of nature.
3. Ex scientia intuitiva: which alone is absolutely clear and certain.
To illustrate these divisions, suppose it be required to find a fourth proportional which shall stand to the third of three numbers as the second does to the first. The merchant's clerk knows his rule; he multiplies the second into the third and divides by the first. He neither knows nor cares to know why the result is the number which he seeks, but he has learnt the fact that it is so, and he remembers it.
A person a little wiser has tried the experiment in a variety of simple cases; he has discovered the rule by induction, but still does not understand it.
A third has mastered the laws of proportion mathematically, as he has found them in Euclid or other geometrical treatise.
A fourth with the plain numbers of 1, 2, and 3, sees for himself by simple intuitive force that 1:2 = 3:6.
Of these several kinds of knowledge the third and fourth alone deserve to be called knowledge, the others being no more than opinions more or less justly founded. The last is the only real insight, although the third, being exact in its form, may be depended upon as a basis of certainty. Under this last, as Spinoza allows, nothing except the very simplest truths non nisi simplicissimae veritates can be perceived, but, such as they are, they are the foundation of all after science; and the true ideas, the verae ideae, which are apprehended by this faculty of intuition, are the primitive instruments with which nature has furnished us. If we ask for a test by which to distinguish them, he has none to give us. "Veritas," he says to his friends, in answer to their question, "veritas index sui est et falsi. Veritas se ipsam patefacit." These original truths are of such a kind that they cannot without absurdity even be conceived to be false; the opposites of them are contradictions in terms:—"Ut sciam me scire necessario debeo prius scire. Hinc pater quod certitudo nihil est praeter ipsam essentiam objectivam. ...Cum itaque veritas nullo egeat signo, sed sufficiat habere essentiam rerum objectivam, aut quod idem est ideas, ut omne tollatur dubium; hint sequitur quod vera non est methodus, signum veritatis quaerere post acquisitionem idearum; sed quod vera methodus est via, et ipsa vetitas, aut essentiae objectivae rerum, aut ideae (omnia illa idem significant) debito ordine quaerantur." (De Emend. Intell.)
The opinion of this Review on reasonings of such a kind has been too often expressed to require us now to say how insecure they appear to us. When we remember the thousand conflicting opinions, the truth of which their several advocates have as little doubted as they have doubted their own existence, we require some better evidence than a mere feeling of certainty; and Aristotle's less pretending canon promises a safer road. Ho pasi dokei, "what all men think," says Aristotle, touto einai phamen, "this we say is,"—"and if you will not have this to be a fair ground of conviction, you will scarcely find one which will serve you better." We are to see, however, what these idete are which Spinoza offers as self-evident. All will turn upon that; for, of course, if they are self-evident, if they do produce conviction, nothing more is to be said; but it does, indeed, appear strange to us that Spinoza was not staggered as to the validity of his canon, when his friends, every one of them, so floundered and stumbled among what he regarded as his simplest propositions, requiring endless signa veritalis, and unable for a long time even to understand their meaning, far less to "recognize them as elementary certainties." Modern readers may, perhaps, be more fortunate. We produce at length the definitions and axioms of the first book of the "Ethica," and they may judge for themselves:—
1. By a thing which is causa sui, its own cause, I mean a thing the essence of which involves the existence of it, or a thing which cannot be conceived of except as existing. 2. I call a thing finite, suo genere, when it can be circumscribed by another (or others) of the same nature, e.g. a given body is called finite, because we can always conceive another body larger than it; but body is not circumscribed by thought, nor thought by body. 3. By substance I mean what exists in itself and is conceived of by itself; the conception of which, that is, does not involve the conception of anything else as the cause of it. 4. By attribute I mean whatever the intellect perceives of substance as constituting the essence of substance. 5. Mode is an affection of substance, or is that which is in something else, by and through which it is conceived. 6. God is a being absolutely infinite; a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses His eternal and infinite essence.
I say absolutely infinite, not infinite suo genere, for of what is infinite sua genere only, the attributes are not infinite but finite; whereas what is infinite absolutely contains in its own essence everything by which substance can be expressed and which involves no impossibility.
7. That thing is "free" which exists by the sole necessity of its own nature, and is determined in its operation by itself only. That is "not free" which is called into existence by something else, and is determined in its operation according to a fixed and definite method. 8. Eternity is existence itself, conceived as following necessarily and solely from the definition of the thing which is eternal.
Because existence of this kind is conceived as an eternal verity, and, therefore, cannot be explained by duration, even though the duration be without beginning or end.
So far the definitions; then follow the
1. All things that exist, exist either of themselves or in virtue of something else. 2. What we cannot conceive of as existing in virtue of something else, we must conceive through and in itself. 3. From a given cause an effect necessarily follows, and if there be no given cause no effect can follow. 4. Things which have nothing in common with each other cannot be understood through one another; i.e. the conception of one does not involve the conception of the other. 5. To understand an effect implies that we understand the cause of it. 6. A true idea is one which corresponds with its ideate. 7. The essence of anything which can be conceived as non-existent does not involve existence.
Such is our metaphysical outfit of simple ideas with which to start upon our enterprise of learning, the larger number of which, so far from being simple, must be absolutely without meaning to persons whose minds are undisciplined in metaphysical abstraction, and which become only intelligible propositions as we look back upon them after having become acquainted with the system which they are supposed to contain.
Although, however, we may justly quarrel with such unlooked-for difficulties, the important question, after all, is not of their obscurity but of their truth. Many things in all the sciences are obscure to an unpractised understanding, which are true enough and clear enough to people acquainted with the subjects, and may be fairly laid as foundations of a scientific system, although rudimentary students must be contented to accept them upon faith. Of course it is entirely competent to Spinoza, or to any one, to define the terms which he intends to use just as he pleases, provided it be understood that any conclusions which he derives out of them apply only to the ideas so defined, and not to any supposed object existing which corresponds with them. Euclid defines his triangles and circles, and discovers that to figures so described certain properties previously unknown may be proved to belong; but as in nature there are no such things as triangles and circles exactly answering the definition, his conclusions, as applied to actually existing objects, are either not true at all or only proximately so. Whether it be possible to bridge over the gulf between existing things and the abstract conception of them, as Spinoza attempts to do, we shall presently see. It is a royal road to certainty if it be a practicable one, but we cannot say that we ever met any one who could say honestly Spinoza had convinced him; and power of demonstration, like all other powers, can be judged only by its effects. Does it prove? does it produce conviction? If not, it is nothing. We need not detain our readers among these abstractions. The real power of Spinozism does not lie so remote from ordinary appreciation, or we should long ago have heard the last of it. Like all other systems which have attracted followers, it addresses itself not to the logical intellect but to the imagination, which it affects to set aside. We refuse to submit to the demonstrations by which it thrusts itself upon our reception, but regarding it as a whole, as an attempt to explain the nature of the world, of which we are a part, we can still ask ourselves how far the attempt is successful. Some account of these things we know that there must be, and the curiosity which asks the question regards itself, of course, as competent in some degree to judge of the answer to it. Before proceeding, however, to regard this philosophy in the aspect in which it is really powerful, we must clear our way through the fallacy of the method.
The system is evolved in a series of theorems in severely demonstrative order out of the definitions and axioms which we have translated. To propositions 1—6 we have nothing to object; they will not, probably, convey any very clear ideas, but they are so far purely abstract, and seem to follow (as far as we can speak of "following," in such subjects), by fair reasoning. "Substance is prior in nature to its affections." "Substances with different attributes have nothing in common," and therefore "one cannot be the cause of the other." "Things really distinct are distinguished by difference either of attribute or mode (there being nothing else by which they can be distinguished), and therefore, because things modally distinguished do not qua substance differ from one another, there cannot be more than one substance of the same attribute; and therefore (let us remind our readers that we are among what Spinoza calls notiones simplicissimas), since there cannot be two substances of the same attribute and substances of different attributes cannot be the cause one of the other, it follows that no substances can be produced by another substance."
The existence of substance, he then concludes, is involved in the nature of the thing itself. Substance exists. It does and must. We ask, why? and we are answered, because there is nothing capable of producing it, and therefore it is self-caused; i.e. by the first definition the essence of it implies existence as part of the idea. It is astonishing that Spinoza should not have seen that he assumes the fact that substance does exist in order to prove that it must. If it cannot be produced and exists, then, of course, it exists in virtue of its own nature. But supposing it does not exist, supposing it is all a delusion, the proof falls to pieces, unless we fall back on the facts of experience, on the obscure and unscientific certainty that the thing which we call the world, and the personalities which we call ourselves, are a real substantial something. Conscious of the infirmity of his demonstration, he winds round it and round it, adding proof to proof, but never escaping the same vicious circle: substance exists because it exists, and the ultimate experience of existence, so far from being of that clear kind which can be accepted as an axiom, is the most confused of all our sensations. What is existence? and what is that something which we say exists? Things—essences— existences; these are but the vague names with which faculties, constructed only to deal with conditional phenomena, disguise their incapacity. The world in the Hindoo legend rested upon the back of the tortoise. It was a step between the world and nothingness, and served to cheat the imagination with ideas of a fictitious resting-place.
"If any one affirms," says Spinoza, "that he has a clear, distinct—that is to say, a true idea of substance, but that nevertheless he is uncertain whether any such substance exist, it is the same as if he were to affirm that he had a true idea, but yet was uncertain whether it was not false. Or if he says that substance can be created, it is like saying that a false idea can become a true idea—as absurd a thing as it is possible to conceive; and therefore the existence of substance, as well as the essence of it, must be acknowledged as an eternal verity."
It is again the same story. He speaks of a clear idea of substance; but he has not proved that such an idea is within the compass of the mind. A man's own notion that he sees clearly, is no proof that he really sees clearly; and the distinctness of a definition in itself is no evidence that it corresponds adequately with the object of it. No doubt a man who professes to have an idea of substance as an existing thing, cannot doubt, as long as he has it, that substance so exists. It is merely to say that as long as a man is certain of this or that fact, he has no doubt of it. But neither his certainty nor Spinoza's will be of any use to a man who has no such idea, and who cannot recognize the lawfulness of the method by which it is arrived at.
From the self-existing substance it is a short step to the existence of God. After a few more propositions following one another with the same kind of coherence, we arrive successively at the conclusions that there is but one substance, that this substance being necessarily existent, it is also infinite, and that it is therefore identical with the Being who had been previously defined as the "Ens absolute perfectum," consisting of infinite "attributes, each of which expresses His eternal and infinite essence." Demonstrations of this kind were the characteristics of the period. Des Cartes had set the example of constructing them, and was followed by Cudworth, Clerke, Berkeley, and many others besides Spinoza. The inconclusiveness of their reasoning may perhaps be observed most readily in the strangely opposite conceptions formed by all these writers of the nature of that Being whose existence they nevertheless agreed, by the same method, to gather each out of their ideas. It is important, however, to examine it carefully, for it is the very key-stone of the Pantheistic system. As stated by Des Cartes, the argument stands something as follows:—God is an all-perfect Being,—perfection is the idea which we form of him: existence is a mode of perfection, and therefore God exists. The sophism we are told is only apparent; existence is part of the idea; it is as much involved in it, as the equality of all lines drawn from the centre to the circumference of a circle is involved in the idea of a circle, and a non-existent all-perfect Being is as inconceivable as a quadrilateral triangle. It is sometimes answered that in this way we may prove the existence of anything, —Titans, Chimaeras, or the Olympian Gods; we have but to define them as existing, and the proof is complete. But in this objection there is really nothing of weight; none of these beings are by hypothesis absolutely perfect, and, therefore, of their existence we can conclude nothing. With greater justice, however, we may say, that of such terms as perfection and existence we know too little to speculate in this way. Existence may be an imperfection for all we can tell; we know nothing about the matter. Such arguments are but endless petilianes principii, like the self-devouring serpent resolving themselves into nothing. We wander round and round them, in the hope of finding some tangible point at which we can seize their meaning; but we are presented everywhere with the same impracticable surface, from which our grasp glides off ineffectual.
The idea, however, lying at the bottom of the conviction, which obviously Spinoza felt upon the matter, is stated with sufficient distinctness in one of his letters. "Nothing is more clear," he writes to his pupil De Vries, "than that, on the one hand, everything which exists is conceived by or under some attribute or other; that the more reality, therefore, a being or thing has, the more attributes must be assigned to it;" "and conversely," (and this he calls his argumentum palmarium in proof of the existence of God,) "the more attributes I assign to a thing, the more I am forced to conceive it as existing." Arrange the argument how we please, we shall never get it into a form clearer than this:—The more perfect a thing is, the more it must exist (as if existence could admit of more or less); and therefore the all-perfect Being must exist absolutely. There is no flaw, we are told, in the reasoning; and if we are not convinced, it is solely from the confused habits of our own minds.
It may seem to some persons that all arguments are good when on the right side, and that it is a gratuitous impertinence to quarrel with the proofs of a conclusion which it is so desirable that all should receive. As yet, however, we are but inadequately acquainted with the idea attached by Spinoza to the word perfection, and if we commit ourselves to this logic, it may lead us out to some unexpected consequences. Obviously all such reasonings presume, as a first condition, that we men possess faculties capable of dealing with absolute ideas; that we can understand the nature of things external to ourselves as they really are in their absolute relation to one another, independent of our own conception. The question immediately before us is one which can never be determined. The truth which is to be proved is one which we already believe; and if, as we believe also, our conviction of God's existence is, like that of our own existence, intuitive and immediate, the grounds of it can never adequately be analysed; we cannot say exactly what they are, and therefore we cannot say what they are not; whatever we receive intuitively, we receive without proof; and stated as a naked proposition, it must involve necessarily a petitio principii. We have a right, however, to object at once to an argument in which the conclusion is more obvious than the premises; and if it lead on to other consequences which we disapprove in themselves, we reject it without difficulty or hesitation. We ourselves believe that God is, because we experience the control of a "power" which is stronger than we; and our instincts teach us so much of the nature of that power as our own relation to it requires us to know. God is the being to whom our obedience is due; and the perfections which we attribute to Him are those moral perfections which are the proper object of our reverence. Strange to say, the perfections of Spinoza, which appear so clear to him, are without any moral character whatever; and for men to speak of the justice of God, he tells us, is but to see in Him a reflection of themselves: as if a triangle were to conceive of Him as eminenter triangularis, or a circle to give Him the property of circularity.
Having arrived, however, at existence, we soon find ourselves among ideas, which at least are intelligible, if the character of them is as far removed as before from the circle of ordinary thought. Nothing exists except substance, the attributes under which substance is ex expressed, and the modes or affections of those attributes. There is but one substance self-existent, eternal, necessary, and that is the absolutely Infinite all-perfect Being. Substance cannot produce substance; and, therefore, there is no such thing as creation, and everything which exists, is either an attribute of Him, or an affection of some attribute of Him, modified in this manner or in that. Beyond Him there is nothing, and nothing like Him or equal to Him; He therefore alone in Himself is absolutely free, uninfiuenced by anything, for nothing is except Himself; and from Him and from His supreme power, essence, intelligence (for all these words mean the same thing) all things have necessarily flowed, and will and must flow on for ever, in the same manner as from the nature of a triangle it follows, and has followed, and will follow from eternity to eternity, that the angles of it are equal to two right angles. It would seem as if the analogy were but an artificial play upon words, and that it was only metaphorically that in mathematical demonstration we speak of one thing as following from another. The properties of a curve or a triangle are what they are at all times, and the sequence is merely in the order in which they are successively known to ourselves. But according to Spinoza, this is the only true sequence; and what we call the universe, and all the series of incidents upon it, are involved formally and mathematically in the definition of God.
Each attribute is infinite suo genere; and it is time that we should know distinctly the meaning which Spinoza attaches to that important word. Out of the infinite number of the attributes of God two only are known to us—"extension," and "thought," or "mind." Duration, even though it be without beginning or end, is not an attribute; it is not even a real thing. It has no relation to being conceived mathematically, in the same way as it would be absurd to speak of circles or triangles as any older to-day than they were at the beginning of the world. These and everything of the same kind are conceived, as Spinoza rightly says, sub quadam specie aeternitatis. But extension, or substance extended, and thought, or substance perceiving, are real, absolute, and objective. We must not confound extension with body, for though body be a mode of extension, there is extension which is not body, and it is infinite because we cannot conceive it to be limited except by itself—-or, in other words, to be limited at all. And as it is with extension, so it is with mind, which is also infinite with the infinity of its object. Thus there is no such thing as creation, and no beginning or end. All things of which our faculties are cognizant under one or other of these attributes are produced from God, and in Him they have their being, and without Him they would cease to be.
Proceeding by steps of rigid demonstration in this strange logic, (and most admirably indeed is the form of the philosophy adapted to the spirit of it,) we learn that God is the only causa libera; that no other thing or being has any power of self-determination: all move by fixed laws of causation, motive upon motive, act upon act; there is no free will, and no contingency; and however necessary it may be for our incapacity to consider future things as in a sense contingent (see Tractat. Theol. Polit. cap. iv. sec. 4), this is but one of the thousand convenient deceptions which we are obliged to employ with ourselves. God is the causa immanens omnium; He is not a personal being existing apart from the universe; but Himself in His own reality, He is expressed in the universe, which is His living garment. Keeping to the philosophical language of the term, Spinoza preserves the distinction between natura nalurans and natura naturala. The first is being in itself, the attributes of substance as they are conceived simply and alone; the second is the infinite series of modifications which follow out of the properties of these attributes. And thus all which is, is what it is by an absolute necessity, and could not have been other than it is. God is free, because no causes external to Himself have power over Him; and as good men are most free when most a law to themselves, so it is no infringement on God's freedom to say that He must have acted as He has acted, but rather He is absolutely free because absolutely a law Himself to Himself.
Here ends the first book of the Ethics, the book which contains, as we said, the nolianes simplicissimas, and the primary and rudimental deductions from them. his Dei naturam, Spinoza says in his lofty confidence, ejusque proprietates explicui. But as if conscious that his method will never convince, he concludes this portion of his subject with an analytical appendix; not to explain or apologize, but to show us clearly, in practical detail, the position into which he has led us. The root, we are told, of all philosophical errors, lies in our notion of final causes; we invert the order of nature, and interpret God's action through our own; we speak of His intentions, as if he were a man; we assume that we are capable of measuring them, and finally erect ourselves, and our own interests, into the centre and criterion of all things. Hence arises our notion of evil. If the universe be what this philosophy has described it, the perfection which it assigns to God is extended to everything, and evil is of course impossible; there is no shortcoming either in nature or in man; each person and each thing is exactly what it has the power to be, and nothing more. But men imagining that all things exist on their account, and perceiving their own interests, bodily and spiritual, capable of being variously affected, have conceived these opposite influences to result from opposite and contradictory powers, and call what contributes to their advantage good, and whatever obstructs it evil. For our convenience we form generic conceptions of human excellence, as archetypes after which to strive, and such of us as approach nearest to such archetypes are supposed to be virtuous, and those who are most remote from them to be wicked. But such generic abstractions are but entia imaginationis, and have no real existence. In the eyes of God each thing is what it has the means of being. There is no rebellion against Him, and no resistance of His will; in truth, therefore, there neither is nor can be such a thing as a bad action in the common sense of the word. Actions are good or bad, not in themselves, but as compared with the nature of the agent; what we censure in men, we tolerate and even admire in animals, and as soon as we are aware of our mistake in assigning to the former a power of free volition, our notion of evil as a positive thing will cease to exist.
"If I am asked," concludes Spinoza, "why then all mankind were not created by God, so as to be governed solely by reason? it was because, I reply, there was to Him no lack of matter to create all things from the highest to the lowest grade of perfection; or, to speak more properly, because the laws of His nature were ample enough to suffice for the production of all things which can be conceived by an Infinite Intelligence."
It is possible that readers who have followed us so far will now turn away with no disposition to learn more philosophy which issues in such conclusions; and resentful perhaps that it should have been ever laid before them at all, in language so little expressive of aversion and displeasure. We must claim however, in Spinoza's name, the right which he claims for himself. His system must be judged as a whole; and whatever we may think ourselves would be the moral effect of it if it were generally received, in his hands and in his heart it is worked into maxims of the purest and loftiest morality. And at least we are bound to remember that some account of this great mystery of evil there must be; and although familiarity with commonly-received explanations may disguise from us the difficulties with which they too, as well as that of Spinoza, are embarrassed, such difficulties none the less exist; the fact is the grand perplexity, and for ourselves we acknowledge that of all theories about it Spinoza's would appear to us the least irrational, if our conscience did not forbid us to listen to it. The objections, with the replies to them, are well drawn out in the correspondence with William de Blyenburg; and it will be seen from this with how little justice the denial of evil as a positive thing can be called equivalent to denying it relatively to man, or to confusing the moral distinctions between virtue and vice.
"We speak," writes Spinoza, in answer to Blyenburg, who had urged something of the kind, "we speak of this or that man having done a wrong thing, when we compare him with a general standard of humanity; but inasmuch as God neither perceives things in such abstract manner, nor forms to himself such kind of generic definitions, and since there is no more reality in anything than God has assigned to it, it follows, surely, that the absence of good exists only in respect of man's understanding, not in respect of God's."
"If this be so," then replies Blyenburg, "bad men fulfil God's will as well as good."
"It is true," Spinoza answers, "they fulfil it, yet not as the good nor as well as the good, nor are they to be compared with them. The better a thing or a person be, the more there is in him of God's spirit, and the more he expresses God's will; while the bad, being without that divine love which arises from the knowledge of God, and through which alone we are called (in respect of our understandings) his servants, are but as instruments in the hand of the artificer, —they serve unconsciously, and are consumed in their service."
Spinoza, after all, is but stating in philosophical language the extreme doctrine of Grace: and St. Paul, if we interpret his real belief by the one passage so often quoted, in which he compares us to "clay in the hands of the potter, who maketh one vessel to honour and another to dishonour," may be accused with justice of having held the same opinion. If Calvinism be pressed to its logical consequences, it either becomes an intolerable falsehood, or it resolves itself into the philosophy of Spinoza. It is monstrous to call evil a positive thing, and to assert that God has predetermined it,—to tell us that he has ordained what he hates, and hates what he has ordained. It is incredible that we should be without power to obey him except through his free grace, and yet be held responsible for our failures when that grace has been withheld. And it is idle to call a philosopher sacrilegious who has but systematized the faith which so many believe, and cleared it of its most hideous features.
At all events, Spinoza flinches from nothing, and disguises no conclusions either from himself or from his readers. We believe that logic has no business with such questions; that the answer to them lies in the conscience and not in the intellect,—that it is practical merely, and not speculative. Spinoza thinks otherwise; and he is at least true to the guide which he has chosen. Blyenburg presses him with instances of horrid crime, such as bring home to the heart the natural horror of it. He speaks of Nero's murder of Agrippina, and asks if God can be called the cause of such an act as that.
"God," replies Spinoza, calmly, "is the cause of all things which have reality. If you can show that evil, errors, crimes express any real things, I agree readily that God is the cause of them; but I conceive myself to have proved that what constitutes the essence of evil is not a real thing at all, and therefore that God cannot be the cause of it. Nero's matricide was not a crime, in so far as it was a positive outward act. Orestes also killed his mother; and we do not judge Orestes as we judge Nero. The crime of the latter lay in his being without pity, without obedience, without natural affection,—none of which things express any positive essence, but the absence of it: and therefore God was not the cause of these, although he was the cause of the act and the intention.
"But once for all," he adds, "this aspect of things will remain intolerable and unintelligible as long as the common notions of free will remain unimproved."
And of course, and we shall all confess it, if these notions are as false as he supposes them, and we have no power to be anything but what we are, there neither is nor can be such a thing as moral evil; and what we call crimes will no more involve a violation of the will of God, they will no more impair his moral attributes if we suppose him to have willed them, than the same actions, whether of lust, ferocity, or cruelty, in the inferior animals. There will be but, as Spinoza says, an infinite gradation in created things, the poorest life being more than none, the meanest active disposition something better than inertia, and the smallest exercise of reason better than mere ferocity. Moral evil need not disturb us, if—if we can be nothing but what we are, if we are but as clay.
The moral aspect of the matter will be more clear as we proceed. We pause, however, to notice one difficulty of a metaphysical kind, which is best disposed of in passing. Whatever obscurity may lie about the thing which we call Time (philosophers not being able to agree what it is, or whether properly it is anything), the words past, present, future do undoubtedly convey some definite idea with them: things will be which are not yet, and have been which are no longer. Now if everything which exists be a necessary mathematical consequence from the nature or definition of the One Being, we cannot see how there can be any time but the present, or how past and future have room for a meaning. God is, and therefore all properties of him are, just as every property of a circle exists in it as soon as the circle exists. We may if we like, for convenience, throw our theorems into the future, and say, e.g. that if two lines in a circle cut each other, the rectangle under the parts of the one will equal that under the parts of the other. But we only mean in reality that these rectangles are equal; and the future relates only to our knowledge of the fact. Allowing, however, as much as we please, that the condition of England a hundred years hence lies already in embryo in existing causes, it is a paradox to say that such condition exists already in the sense in which the properties of the circle exist; and yet Spinoza insists on the illustration.
It is singular that he should not have noticed the difficulty; not that either it or the answer to it (which no doubt would have been ready enough) are likely to interest any person except metaphysicians, a class of thinkers, happily, which is rapidly diminishing.
We proceed to more important matters—to Spinoza's detailed theory of Nature chiefly as exhibited in man and in man's mind, a theory which for its bold ingenuity is the most remarkable which on this dark subject has ever been proposed. Whether we can believe it or not, is another question; yet undoubtedly it provides an answer for every difficulty; it accepts with equal welcome the extremes of materialism and of spiritualism: and if it be the test of the soundness of a philosophy that it will explain phenomena and reconcile difficulties, it is hard to account for the fact that a system which bears such a test so admirably, should nevertheless be so incredible as it is.
Most people have heard of the "Harmonie Pre-etablie" of Leibnitz; it is borrowed without acknowledgment from Spinoza, and adapted to the Leibnitzian system. "Man," says Leibnitz, "is composed of mind and body; but what is mind and what is body, and what is the nature of their union? Substances so opposite in kind, it is impossible to suppose can affect one another; mind cannot act on matter, or matter upon mind; and the appearance of such mutual action of them on each other is an appearance only and a delusion." A delusion so general, however, required to be accounted for; and Leibnitz accounted for it by supposing that God in creating a world, composed of material and spiritual phenomena, ordained from the beginning that these several phenomena should proceed in parallel lines side by side in a constantly corresponding harmony. The sense of seeing results, it appears to us, from the formation of a picture upon the retina. The motion of the arm or the leg appears to result from an act of will; but in either case we mistake coincidence for causation. Between substances so wholly alien there can be no intercommunion; and we only suppose that the object seen produces the idea, and that the desire produces the movement, because the phenomena of matter and the phenomena of spirit are so contrived as to flow always in the same order and sequence. This hypothesis, as coming from Leibnitz, has been, if not accepted, at least listened to respectfully; because while taking it out of its proper place, he contrived to graft it upon Christianity; and succeeded, with a sort of speculative legerdemain, in making it appear to be in harmony with revealed religion. Disguised as a philosophy of Predestination, and connected with the Christian doctrine of Retribution, it steps forward with an air of unconscious innocence, as if interfering with nothing which Christians generally believe. And yet, leaving as it does no larger scope for liberty or responsibility than when in the hands of Spinoza,* Leibnitz, in our opinion, has only succeeded in making it infinitely more revolting. Spinoza could not regard the bad man as an object of Divine anger and a subject of retributory punishment. He was not a Christian, and made no pretension to be considered such; and it did not occur to him to regard the actions of a being which, both with Leibnitz and himself, is (to use his own expression) an automaton spirituale, as deserving a fiery indignation and everlasting vengeance.
* Since these words were written a book [Refutation lnedite de Spinoza. Par Leibnitz. Precedee d'une Memoire, par Foucher de Carell. Paris. 1854.] has appeared in Paris by an able disciple of Leibnitz, which, although it does not lead us to modify the opinion expressed in them, yet obliges us to give our reasons for speaking as we do. M. de Careil has discovered in the library at Hanover a MS. in the handwriting of Leibnitz, containing a series of remarks on the book of a certain John Wachter. It does not appear who this John Wachter was, nor by what accident he came to have so distinguished a critic. If we may judge by the extracts at present before us, he seems to have been an absurd and extravagant person, who had attempted to combine the theology of the Cabbala with the very little which he was able to understand of the philosophy of Spinoza; and, as far as he is concerned, neither his writings nor the reflections upon them are of interest to any human being. The extravagance of Spinoza's followers, however, furnished Leibnitz with an opportunity of noticing the points on which he most disapproved of Spinoza himself; and these few notices M. de Caroil has now for the first time published as "The Refutation of Spinoza. by Leibnitz." They are exceedingly brief and scanty; and the writer of them would assuredly have hesitated to describe an imperfect criticism by so ambitious a title. The modern editor, however, must be allowed the privilege of a worshipper, and we will not quarrel with him for an exaggerated estimate of what his master had accomplished. We are indebted to his enthusiasm for what is at least a curious discovery, and we will not qualify the gratitude which he has earned by industry and good will. At the same time, the notes themselves confirm the opinion which we have always entertained, that Leibnitz did not understand Spinoza. Leibnitz did not understand him, and the followers of Leibnitz do not understand him now. If he were no more than what he is described in the book before us.—if his metaphysics were "miserable," if his philosophy was absurd, and he himself nothing more than a second-rate disciple of Descartes,—we can assure M. de Caroil that we should long ago have heard the last of him.
There must be something else, something very different from this, to explain the position which he holds in Germany, or the fascination which his writings exerted over such minds as those of Lessing or of Goethe; and the fact of so enduring an influence is more than a sufficient answer to mere depreciating criticism. This. however, is not a point which there is any use in pressing. Our present business is to justify the two assertions which we have made. First, that Leibnitz conceived his "Theory of the Harmonic Pre-etablie" from Spinoza, without acknowledgment; and, secondly, that this theory is quite as inconsistent with religion as is that of Spinoza, and only differs from it in disguising its real character.
First for the "Harmonic Pre-etablie." Spinoza's "Ethics" appeared in 1677; and we know that they were read by Leibnitz. In 1696, Leibnitz announced as a discovery of his own, a Theory of "The Communication of Substances," which he illustrates in the following manner:—
"Vous ne comprenez pas, dites-vous, comment je pourrois prouver ce que j'ai ovance touchant la communication, ou l'harmonie de deux suhstances aussi differentes que l'ame et le corps? Il est vrai que je crois en avoir trouve le moyen; et voici comment je pretends vous satisfaire. Figurez-vous deux horologes ou montres qui s'accordent parfaitement. Or cela se pent faire de trots manieres. La 1^0 consiste dans une influence mutuelle. La 2^0 est d'y artocher un ouvrier hobile qui les redresse, et lea mette d'accord a tous moments. La 3^0 eat de fabriquer ces deux pendules avec taut d'art et de justesse, qu'on se puisse assurer de leur accord dana la suite. Menez maintenant l'ame et le corps a la place de ces deux pendules; leur accord pent arriver par l'une de ces trois manieres. La voye d'influence eat celle de la philosophic vulgaire; mais comme l'on ne sauroit concevoir des particules materielles qui putssent passer d'une de ces substances dana l'autre, il faut abandonner ce sentiment. La voye de l'assistance continuelle du Createur est celle du systeme des causes occasionnelles; mais je tiens que c'est fake intervenir Deus ex machina dans une chose naturelle et ordinaire, ou selon la raison il ne doit concourir, que de la maniere qu'il concourt a toutes les autres choses naturelles. Ainsi il ne reste que mon hypothese; c'est-a-dire que la voye de l'harmonie. Dieu a fait des le commencement chacune de ces deux substances de telle nature, qu'en ne suivant que ces propres loix qu'elle a recues avec son etre, elle s'accorde pourtant avec l'autre tout comme s'il y avoit une influence mutuelle, ou comme si Dieu y mettoit toujours la main au de-la de son coneours general. Apres cela je n'ai pas besoin de rien prouver a moins qu'on ne veuille exiger que je prouve que Dieu est assez habile pout se servir de cette artifice," &c.—leibnitz Opera, p. 133. Berlin edition, 1840.