The Faith of the Millions (2nd series)
by George Tyrrell
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To "explain" is in one way or another to liken the less known to what is better known; and thus every philosophy is an attempt to express—by means of sundry extensions and limitations—the universe of our experience in the terms of some totality with which we are more familiar; plainly, it is also an endeavour to express the greater in terms of the less, and must therefore be almost infinitely inadequate even at the best. At one time the Whole has been conceived as the unity of a mere aggregate—of a heap of stones; at another, as a mere sand-storm of fortuitous atoms; there has been the egg-theory, and the tortoise-theory, and many others, no less grotesque to our seeming. But, leaving fanciful and poetical philosophies aside, and considering only those which pretend to be strictly rational, we find the objective philosophy and the subjective confronting one another; the former likening the universe to the works of men's hands; the latter likening it to man himself; the former taking its metaphors from the artificer shaping his material according to a preconceived plan for a definite purpose; the latter, from the thinking and willing self considered as the creator of its own personal experience.

There is enough uniformity of plan throughout the animal body to make any one part of the organism a likeness of the whole—the eye, the heart, or the hand. And so, presumably, there is hardly any unity we can think of in our own little corner of experience that does not offer some similitude of the universal unity. But to take this as an adequate explanation; to force the metaphor to its logical consequences, to the exclusion of every other reasonable though non-rational assent, is the commonest but most fatal form of intellectual provincialism and narrowness. Our mind is essentially limited not merely in that it cannot know everything, but in that its mode of knowledge is imperfect and analogical in regard to all that is greater than itself. It is broad only when conscious of its narrowness.

The first difficulty into which idealism gets itself is that of solipsism. According to its rigidly argued principles, "mind is separated from mind by a barrier which is, not figuratively, but literally impassable. It is impossible for any ego to leap this barrier and enter into the experience of any other ego." It is not an abstract self-in-general, but my one solitary concrete self for which all experience exists. There is no room for any other person. But this philosophy does not account for our common-sense belief in Nature as existing independently of self and of other selfs; or in those other selfs with their several and distinct spheres of experience.

The unification it effects when treated rigorously as a complete philosophy leaves out of account the best part of what it was bound to account for. In spite of idealism, the idealist goes on believing in other persons or spheres of experience, and in Nature as the experience of a Divine Person. But since, on his principles, persons are mutually exclusive, and none can enter the sphere of another's experience, to see with his eyes, or to feel with his nerves, since,

Each in his hidden sphere of joy or woe Our hermit spirits dwell and range apart,

we are thrown back on a disconnected plurality of beings, and God Himself, viewed as personal (in this sense) is but one among many. Albeit immeasurably the greatest, He cannot be regarded as the ground of the possibility and existence of all the rest—the home and bond of union of all other spirits which in Him live and move and have their being.

The belief in the personality of God is all-essential for the satisfaction of our religious cravings, as a presupposition of trust, love, prayer, obedience, and such relationships; as bringing out the transcendence in contrast with the all-pervading immanence of the deity; as checking the pantheistic perversion of this latter truth by which, in turn, its own deistic perversion is checked. God is not only in and through all things; but also outside and above all things; just as Christ is not only the soul of the Church, but also its Head and Ruler. Between these two compensating statements the exact truth is hidden from our eyes.

But it is not to the conception of the Divine personality and separateness that we are to look for the missing bond by which the head and members are to be knit together, and the essential disconnection of these "spheres of experience" overcome. The ultimate unity is a mystery; in a word, philosophy, as a quest of that unity, breaks down. The solution is suggested only by the revelation of a superpersonal unity in some sense prior to the multiplicity of Divine Persons, a unity in which they being many are one, and in which we too are, not merged, but unified without prejudice to our personal distinctness.

Hence, the writer concludes: "Materialism, when its defect is discovered and understood, points on to idealism. Idealism, when its defect is disclosed, points to Christian theism." For those who have not come to Christian theism by this thorny and circuitous path, the mode in which the idealist extricates himself from his self-wrought entanglement may seem of little interest; but inasmuch as they take for granted the existence of that same multitude of mutually impenetrable personalities which he, by a revolt of his common-sense against his philosophy is forced to confess, the problem of the ultimate unity exists for them also.

If in its endeavour to vindicate the spirituality of man against the materialist, idealism tumbles into the slough of solipsism and needs to be fetched out by the doctrine of the Trinity, it fares much the same way in its attempted defence of free-will against necessity. That freedom from determination by the "not-self" which idealism vindicates, can belong only to the all-inclusive Spirit, outside whose self nothing exists; it belongs to me only on the supposition that I am the all-inclusive; and this, as before, is the point at which common-sense revolts. "Free-will is based on man's consciousness of his moral nature. It represents not any speculative theory, but one of the great facts which every theory of things must explain or perish." If we ascribe freedom to the Absolute and to other spirits (whose existence is forced on us in spite of Idealism), it is because we first find it in ourselves as the very essence of our spiritual nature. But if we accept our freedom as a fact which it is the business of philosophy to explain and not to deny; on just the same testimony we must accept the fact of the manifold limitations of our liberty of which we are continually conscious. Now here it is that the Idealist defence of liberty against materialism fails by a deplorable nimis probat. It can only save our liberty by denying our limitations; or at least it leaves us facing a problem which can be solved only by an assumption for which Idealism offers no philosophical warrant. Hence we are brought back to the world-old dilemma "between a freedom of God which annihilates man, and a freedom of man which annihilates God." Idealism has really contributed nothing to the solution of the difficulty which is persistent as long as God is known only as a Sovereign and Infinite Personality among a multitude of finite personalities, and until revelation hints at the possibility of a higher "unity which transcends personality, by which He is to be the reconciling principle and home of the multitude of self-determining agents." "Final reconciliation of the Divine and human personality is in fact beyond us."

Similarly, in dealing with problems of moral evil, Idealism leads to an impasse. As long as we keep to the notion of one all-inclusive Spirit, the Subject of universal experience, it is easy to show that sin is but relatively evil, that it is, when viewed absolutely, as much a factor of the universal life as is righteousness; yet surely this is not to account for so large and obstinate a part of our experience, but to deny it. Nor can the ethical corollaries of such a view be tolerated for a moment. That sin is an absolute, eternal, in some sense, irreparable evil is a conception altogether fundamental to that morality with which Christianity and modern civilization have identified themselves. It is but another aspect of the doctrine of freedom and responsibility. Of physical and necessary evil it is possible to assert the merely negative or relative character; we can view it as the good in process of making; or as the good imperfectly comprehended; but if this optimism be extended to sin it can only be because sin is regarded as necessitated, i.e., as no longer sin. Hence the view in question does not account for, but implicitly denies the existence of sin.

Furthermore, the whole tendency of more recent idealism is to explain moral evil as an offence against man's social nature by which he is a member of an organism or community. It is the undue self-assertion of the part against the interests of the whole. Of course the idealist explains this organic conception with a respect for personality which is absent from socialistic and evolutionary doctrines of society. But the notion of sin as a rebellion of one member against all, is common to both. The latter consider the external life and activity of the unit as an element in the collective external life of the community—as part of a common work; the former considers the unity as a free spiritual agency, an end for itself—whose liberty is curtailed only by the claims of other like agencies, equal or greater. But by what process, apart from faith and practical postulates and regulative ideas, can subjectivism pass to belief in other free agencies outside the thinking and all-creating self? The result of Mr, D'Arcy's criticism of the matter is that "it is because the man exists as a member of a spiritual universe, and must therefore so exert his power of self-determination as to be in harmony or discord with God above him, and with other men around him, that the distinction between the good self and the bad self arises. But in this very conception of a universe of spirits we have passed beyond the bounds of a purely rational philosophy. Such a universe is not explicable by reference to the vivifying principle of the self;" and accordingly we are driven back as before upon the alternative of philosophical chaos, or else of faith in such a superpersonal unity as is suggested by the doctrine of the Trinity.

We have but hinted at the barest outlines of Mr. D'Arcy's argument which, as against Idealism, is close-reasoned and subtle; and now we have left but little space to deal with the more really interesting chapter on the "Ultimate Unity." It is not pretended that we can form any conception of the precise nature of that unity, but merely that some such unknown kind of unity is needed to deliver us from the antinomies of thought. As we could never rise to the intrinsic conception of personal unity from the consideration of some lower unity, material or mechanical; so neither can we pass from the notion of personal to that of superpersonal unity or being.

This is only a modern and Hegelian setting of the truth that "being" and "unity" are said analogously and not univocally of God and creatures. That there are grades of reality; that "substance is more real than quality and subject is more real than substance," that "the most real of all is the concrete totality, the all-inclusive universal"—the Ens determinatissimum, is not a modern discovery, but a re-discovery. That our own personality is the highest unity of which we have any proper non-analogous notion; that it is the measure by which we spontaneously try to explain to ourselves other unities, higher or lower, by means of extensions or limitations; that our first impulse, prior to correction, is to conceive everything self-wise, be it super-human or infra-human, is of course profoundly true; but for this reason to make "self" the all-explaining and only category, to deny any higher order of reality because we can have no definite conception of its precise nature, is the narrowness which has brought Idealism into such difficulties. It is probably in his notion of Divine personality that Mr. D'Arcy comes most in conflict with the technicalities of later schools. If, as he says, modern theology oscillates between the poles of Sabellianism and Tritheism, he himself inclines to the latter pole. Father de Regnon, S.J., in his work on the Trinity, shows that the Greek Fathers and the Latin viewed the problem from opposite ends. "How three can be one," was the problem with the former; "How one can be three," with the latter. These inclined to an emptier, those to a fuller notion of personality. Mr. D'Arcy's Trinitarianism is decidedly more Greek than Latin. The more "content" he gives to Divine personality, the more he is in-danger of denying identity of nature and operation; as appears later.

Plainly, the word "person," however analogously applied to God, must contain something of what we mean when we call ourselves "persons," else "we are landed in the unmeaning." When Christ spoke of Himself as "I," the selfness implied by the pronoun must have had some kind of resemblance to our own; just as when He called God His Father He intended to convey something of what fatherhood meant for His then hearers. That He intended to convey what it might come to mean in other conditions and ages seems very doubtful; and so if the word "person" has acquired a fuller and different meaning in modern philosophy, we are not at once justified in applying this fuller conception to the Divine persons, unless we can show that it is a legitimate development of the older sense.

He argues that if the Trinity be the ultimate truth, the Unitarian suppositions and conclusions of the "natural theologian" are bound to lead to antinomies and confusions; and he sees in those harmonious interferences and variations of universal import (which are no less an essential factor in the evolution of the world than the groundwork of uniformity and law), evidence of a multi-personal Divine government, of a division of labour between co-operant agencies. This, of course, goes beyond the doctrine of "appropriation;" and amounts to a denial of the singleness of the Divine operation ad extra. It seems, in short, to imply a diversity of nature in each of the persons, over and above the principle of personal distinctness. Indeed, while it offers a plausible solution of some minor perplexities, it rather weakens the value of the general argument. For the notion of a superpersonal unity is needed chiefly as suggesting a mode in which many mutually exclusive personalities or "spheres of experience" or lives, may be welded together into a coherent whole. Even could I reproduce most exactly in myself the thoughts and feelings of another, it were but a reproduction or similarity. I can know and feel the like; but I cannot know his knowing and feel his feeling; for this were to be that other and not myself.

That God's knowledge of our thoughts and feelings should be of this external, inferential kind is as intolerable to our mental needs of unification as it is to our religious sense, our hope, our confidence, our love. In Him we live and move and think and feel; and He in us. That we can say this of no other personality is what constitutes the burden of our separateness and loneliness. Our experience exists for no other; but at least it is in some mysterious way shared by That which lies behind all otherness, not destroying, but fulfilling. "We know not why it is," says St. Catherine of Genoa, "we feel an internal necessity of using the plural pronoun instead of the singular." Perhaps it was that she saw in a purer and clearer light what we only half feel in the obscurity of our grosser hearts.

But if God knows our knowing, and feels our feeling, not merely by a similitude but in itself, it is not because He is transcendent and "personal," as we understand the word, because He is immanent and "superpersonal," whatever that may mean. But it is just because revelation tells us that in God there are three selves or Egos, for each of whom the experience (i.e., the thought, love, and action) of the other two exists, not merely similar, but one and the same—the same thinking, loving, and doing, no less than the same thought, love, and deed—that we can believe in the possibility of our personal separateness being at once preserved and overcome in that mysterious unity.

That God is love; and that love, which as an affection, produces an affective unity between separate persons, can as the subsistent and primal unity produce a substantial and ineffable union of which the other is a shadow, is a view towards which revelation points. That the mere affection of love, the moral union of wills, is an insufficient unification of personalities is implied by the fact that love always tends to some sort of real union and communication; and still more, that it springs from a sense of inexplicable identity.

It is almost a crime in criticism to deal with such a multitude of deep problems in so brief and hasty an essay. But if we have roughly indicated the main outlines of the author's position, we shall have done as much as can be reasonably expected of us; though it is with great reluctance that we pass over many points, and even whole chapters, bristling with interest.

Perhaps the most important feature of the book is the prominence it gives to the difficulties and insufficiencies of idealism. With those of realism we are all familiar enough, but so far, idealism has been looked at one-sidedly as evading, if not solving, some of the antinomies of the earlier philosophy, while its own embarrassments have been condoned in hopes of future solution. The solution has not come, and now the hopes are dead or dying. What we need is a higher synthesis, if such be possible for the human mind, or else a frank admission that faith, in some sense or other, is a necessary complement of every philosophy. One thing is clear, that reconciliation can be effected, if at all, only by a fair-minded admission of difficulties inseparable from either system, and by a conscientious criticism of presuppositions. No one can deal effectually with the idealist position to whom it is simply "absurd" or "ridiculous;" who has not been to some degree intellectually entangled in it; whose realism is not more or less of an effort. Else he is dealing with some man of straw of his own fancy, and will be found, as so often happens, assuming the truth of realism in every argument he brings forward. Plainly the best minds of modern times have not been victimized by a fallacy within the competence of a school-boy. And a like intellectual self-denial is needed on the part of the idealist, who is apt to dismiss all realism as crude, uncritical, or barbaric. We have all our antinomies, our blind alleys, our crudities; and we have all to fill up awkward interstices with assumptions and postulates.

However much we may dissent from Mr. D'Arcy's theology in certain details; however little we personally may labour under the difficulties of idealism, we cannot too strongly commend the endeavour to meet the modern mind on its own platform; to speak to the cultivated in their own language. Belief is caused by the wish to believe; but it is conditioned by the removal of intellectual obstacles, different for different grades of intelligence and education. To create the "wish to believe" is largely a matter of example, of letting Christianity appear attractive and desirable, and correspondent to the deeper needs of the soul. It is also to some extent a work of exposition. But when this all-important wish has been created, the intellect can hinder its effect. It is much to know and feel that Christianity is good and useful and beautiful; "But some time or other the question must be asked: Is it true?" And to liberate the will by satisfying the intellect is work of what alone is properly called apologetic. Unless we fall back into quietism which would tell us to read a Kempis and say our prayers and wait, we must address ourselves first of all to making Christianity attractive; and then to making it intelligible. And if we do not find it against Gospel simplicity to address ourselves, as we continually do, to the intelligence of the semi-educated, we cannot allege that scruple as a reason why we should not address ourselves to the fully educated,—to those who eventually form and guide the opinions of the many.

Feb. 1901.


[Footnote 1: Idealism and Theology. By Charles D'Arcy, B.D. Hodder and Stoughton, 1900.]


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