[Sidenote: and of courage.]
In thus meeting the world the soul without experience shows a fine courage proportionate to its own vigour. We may well imagine that lions and porpoises have a more masculine assurance that God is on their side than ever visits the breast of antelope or jelly-fish. This assurance, when put to the test in adventurous living, becomes in a strong and high-bred creature a refusal to be defeated, a gallant determination to hold the last ditch and hope for the best in spite of appearances. It is a part of Protestantism to be austere, energetic, unwearied in some laborious task. The end and profit are not so much regarded as the mere habit of self-control and practical devotion and steadiness. The point is to accomplish something, no matter particularly what; so that Protestants show on this ground some respect even for an artist when he has once achieved success. A certain experience of ill fortune is only a stimulus to this fidelity. So great is the antecedent trust in the world that the world, as it appears at first blush, may be confidently defied.
[Sidenote: but the voice of inexperience.]
Hence, in spite of a theoretic optimism, disapproval and proscription play a large part in Protestant sentiment. The zeal for righteousness, the practical expectation that all shall be well, cannot tolerate recognised evils. Evils must be abolished or at least hidden; they must not offend the face of day and give the lie to universal sanctimony. This austerity and repression, though they involve occasional hypocrisy, lead also to substantial moral reconstruction. Protestantism, springing from a pure heart, purifies convention and is a tonic to any society in which it prominently exists. It has the secret of that honest simplicity which belongs to unspoiled youth, that keen integrity native to the ungalled spirit as yet unconscious of any duplicity in itself or of any inward reason why it should fail. The only evils it recognises seem so many challenges to action, so many conditions for some glorious unthought-of victory. Such a religion is indeed profoundly ignorant, it is the religion of inexperience, yet it has, at its core, the very spirit of life. Its error is only to consider the will omnipotent and sacred and not to distinguish the field of inevitable failure from that of possible success. Success, however, would never be possible without that fund of energy and that latent resolve and determination which bring also faith in success. Animal optimism is a great renovator and disinfectant in the world.
[Sidenote: Its emancipation from Christianity.]
It was this youthful religion—profound, barbaric, poetical—that the Teutonic races insinuated into Christianity and substituted for that last sigh of two expiring worlds. In the end, with the complete crumbling away of Christian dogma and tradition, Absolute Egotism appeared openly on the surface in the shape of German speculative philosophy. This form, which Protestantism assumed at a moment of high tension and reckless self-sufficiency, it will doubtless shed in turn and take on new expressions; but that declaration of independence on the part of the Teutonic spirit marks emphatically its exit from Christianity and the end of that series of transformations in which it took the Bible and patristic dogma for its materials. It now bids fair to apply itself instead to social life and natural science and to attempt to feed its Protean hunger directly from these more homely sources.
CONFLICT OF MYTHOLOGY WITH MORAL TRUTH
[Sidenote: Myth should dissolve with the advance of science.]
That magic and mythology have no experimental sanction is clear so soon as experience begins to be gathered together with any care. As magic attempts to do work by incantations, so myth tries to attain knowledge by playing with lies. The attempt is in the first instance inevitable and even innocent, for it takes time to discriminate valid from valueless fancies in a mind in which they spring up together, with no intrinsic mark to distinguish them. The idle notion attracts attention no less than the one destined to prove significant; often it pleases more. Only watchful eyes and that rare thing, conscience applied to memory, can pluck working notions from the gay and lascivious vegetation of the mind, or learn to prefer Cinderella to her impudent sisters. If a myth has some modicum of applicability or significance it takes root all the more firmly side by side with knowledge. There are many subjects of which man is naturally so ignorant that only mythical notions can seem to do them justice; such, for instance, are the minds of other men. Myth remains for this reason a constituent part even of the most rational consciousness, and what can at present be profitably attempted is not so much to abolish myth as to become aware of its mythical character.
The mark of a myth is that it does not interpret a phenomenon in terms capable of being subsumed under the same category with that phenomenon itself, but fills it out instead with images that could never appear side by side with it or complete it on its own plane of existence. Thus if meditating on the moon I conceive her other side or the aspect she would wear if I were travelling on her surface, or the position she would assume in relation to the earth if viewed from some other planet, or the structure she would disclose could she be cut in halves, my thinking, however fanciful, would be on the scientific plane and not mythical, for it would forecast possible perceptions, complementary to those I am trying to enlarge. If, on the other hand, I say the moon is the sun's sister, that she carries a silver bow, that she is a virgin and once looked lovingly on the sleeping Endymion, only the fool never knew it—my lucubration is mythical; for I do not pretend that this embroidery on the aspects which the moon actually wears in my feeling and in the interstices of my thoughts could ever be translated into perceptions making one system with the present image. By going closer to that disc I should not see the silver bow, nor by retreating in time should I come to the moment when the sun and moon were actually born of Latona. The elements are incongruous and do not form one existence but two, the first sensible, the other only to be enacted dramatically, and having at best to the first the relation of an experience to its symbol. These fancies are not fore-tastes of possible perceptions, but are free interpretations or translations of the perceptions I have actually had.
Mythical thinking has its roots in reality, but, like a plant, touches the ground only at one end. It stands unmoved and flowers wantonly into the air, transmuting into unexpected and richer forms the substances it sucks from the soil. It is therefore a fruit of experience, an ornament, a proof of animal vitality; but it is no vehicle for experience; it cannot serve the purposes of transitive thought or action. Science, on the other hand, is constituted by those fancies which, arising like myths out of perception, retain a sensuous language and point to further perceptions of the same kind; so that the suggestions drawn from one object perceived are only ideas of other objects similarly perceptible. A scientific hypothesis is one which represents something continuous with the observed facts and conceivably existent in the same medium. Science is a bridge touching experience at both ends, over which practical thought may travel from act to act, from perception to perception.
[Sidenote: But myth is confused with the moral values it expresses.]
To separate fable from knowledge nothing is therefore requisite except close scrutiny and the principle of parsimony. Were mythology merely a poetic substitute for natural science the advance of science would sufficiently dispose of it. What remained over would, like the myths in Plato, be at least better than total silence on a subject that interests us and makes us think, although we have no means of testing our thoughts in its regard. But the chief source of perplexity and confusion in mythology is its confusion with moral truth. The myth which originally was but a symbol substituted for empirical descriptions becomes in the sequel an idol substituted for ideal values. This complication, from which half the troubles of philosophy arise, deserves our careful attention.
European history has now come twice upon the dissolution of mythologies, first among the Stoics and then among the Protestants. The circumstances in the two cases were very unlike; so were the mythical systems that were discarded; and yet the issue was in both instances similar. Greek and Christian mythology have alike ended in pantheism. So soon as the constructions of the poets and the Fathers were seen to be ingenious fictions, criticism was confronted with an obvious duty: to break up the mythical compound furnished by tradition into its elements, putting on one side what natural observation or actual history had supplied, and on the other what dramatic imagination had added. For a cool and disinterested observer the task, where evidence and records were not wanting, would be simple enough. But the critic in this case would not usually be cool or disinterested. His religion was concerned; he had no other object to hang his faith and happiness upon than just this traditional hybrid which his own enlightenment was now dissolving. To which part should he turn for support? In which quarter should he continue to place the object of his worship?
[Sidenote: Neo-Platonic revision.]
From the age of the Sophists to the final disappearance of paganism nearly a thousand years elapsed. A thousand years from the infliction of a mortal wound to the moment of extinction is a long agony. Religions do not disappear when they are discredited; it is requisite that they should be replaced. For a thousand years the augurs may have laughed, they were bound nevertheless to stand at their posts until the monks came to relieve them. During this prolonged decrepitude paganism lived on inertia, by accretions from the Orient, and by philosophic reinterpretations. Of these reinterpretations the first was that attempted by Plato, and afterward carried out by the neo-Platonists and Christians into the notion of a supernatural spiritual hierarchy; above, a dialectical deity, the hypostasis of intellect and its ontological phases; below, a host of angels and demons, hypostases of faculties, moral influences, and evil promptings. In other words, in the diremption of myths which yielded here a natural phenomenon to be explained and there a moral value to be embodied, Platonism attached divinity exclusively to the moral element. The ideas, which were essentially moral functions, were many and eternal; their physical embodiments were adventitious to them and constituted a lapse, a misfortune to be wiped out by an eventual reunion of the alienated nature with its own ideal. Religion in such a system necessarily meant redemption. In this movement paganism turned toward the future, toward supernatural and revealed religion, and away from its own naturalistic principle. Revelation, as Plato himself had said, was needed to guide a mind which distrusted phenomena and recoiled from earthly pursuits.
[Sidenote: It made mythical entities of abstractions.]
This religion had the strength of despair, but all else in it was weakness. Apart from a revelation which, until Christianity appeared, remained nebulous and arbitrary, there could be no means of maintaining the existence of those hypostasised moral entities. The effort to separate them from the natural functions which they evidently expressed could not succeed while any critical acumen or independence subsisted in the believer. Platonism, to become a religion, had to appeal to superstition. Unity, for instance (which, according to Plato himself, is a category applicable to everything concomitantly with the complementary category of multiplicity, for everything, he says, is evidently both one and many)—unity could not become the One, an independent and supreme deity, unless the meaning and function of unity were altogether forgotten and a foolish idolatry, agape at words, were substituted for understanding. Some one had to come with an air of authority and report his visions of the One before such an entity could be added to the catalogue of actual existences. The reality of all neo-Platonic hypostasis was thus dependent on revelation and on forgetting the meaning once conveyed by the terms so mysteriously transfigured into metaphysical beings.
[Sidenote: Hypostasis ruins ideals.]
This divorce of neo-Platonic ideas from the functions they originally represented in human life and discourse was found in the end to defeat the very interest that had prompted it—enthusiasm for the ideal. Enthusiasm for the ideal had led Plato to treat all beauties as stepping-stones toward a perfect beauty in which all their charms might be present together, eternally and without alloy. Enthusiasm for the ideal had persuaded him that mortal life was only an impeded effort to fall back into eternity. These inspired but strictly unthinkable suggestions fell from his lips in his zeal to express how much the burden and import of experience exceeded its sensuous vehicle in permanence and value. A thousand triangles revealed one pregnant proportion of lines and areas; a thousand beds and bridles served one perpetual purpose in human life, and found in fulfilling it their essence and standard of excellence; a thousand fascinations taught the same lesson and coalesced into one reverent devotion to beauty and nobility wherever they might bloom. It was accordingly a poignant sense for the excellence of real things that made Plato wish to transcend them; his metaphysics was nothing but a visionary intuition of values, an idealism in the proper sense of the word. But when the momentum of such enthusiasm remained without its motive power, and its transcendence without its inspiration in real experience, idealism ceased to be an idealisation, an interpretation of reality reaching prophetically to its goals. It became a super-numerary second physics, a world to which an existence was attributed which could be hardly conceived and was certainly supported by no evidence, while that significance which it really possessed in reference to natural processes was ignored, or even denied. An idealism which had consisted in understanding and discriminating values now became a superstition incapable of discerning existences. It added a prodigious fictitious setting to the cosmos in which man had to operate; it obscured his real interests and possible happiness by seeking to transport him into that unreal environment, with its fantastic and disproportionate economy; and, worst of all, it robbed the ideal of its ideality by tearing it up from its roots in natural will and in experienced earthly benefits. For an ideal is not ideal if it is the ideal of nothing. In that case it is only a ghostly existence, with no more moral significance or authority in relation to the observer than has any happy creature which may happen to exist somewhere in the unknown reaches of the universe.
[Sidenote: The Stoic revision.]
Meantime, a second reinterpretation of mythology was attempted by the Stoics. Instead of moving forward, like Plato, toward the supernaturalism that was for so many ages to dominate the world, the Stoics, with greater loyalty to pagan principles, reverted to the natural forces that had been the chief basis for the traditional deities. The progress of philosophy had given the Stoics a notion of the cosmos such as the early Aryan could not have possessed when he recorded and took to heart his scattered observations in the form of divine influences, as many and various as the observations themselves. To the Stoics the world was evidently one dynamic system. The power that animated it was therefore one God. Accordingly, after explaining away the popular myths by turning them somewhat ruthlessly into moral apologues, they proceeded to identify Zeus with the order of nature. This identification was supported by many traditional tendencies and philosophic hints. The resulting concept, though still mythical, was perhaps as rationalistic as the state of science at the time could allow. Zeus had been from the beginning a natural force, at once serene and formidable, the thunderer no less than the spirit of the blue. He was the ruler of gods and men; he was, under limitations, a sort of general providence. Anaxagoras, too, in proclaiming the cosmic function of reason, had prepared the way for the Stoics in another direction. This "reason," which in Socrates and Plato was already a deity, meant an order, an order making for the good. It was the name for a principle much like that which Aristotle called Nature, an indwelling prophetic instinct by which things strive after their perfection and happiness. Now Aristotle observed this instinct, as behoved a disciple of Socrates, in its specific cases, in which the good secured could be discriminated and visibly attained. There were many souls, each with its provident function and immutable guiding ideal, one for each man and animal, one for each heavenly sphere, and one, the prime mover, for the highest sphere of all. But the Stoics, not trained in the same humane and critical school, had felt the unity, of things more dramatically and vaguely in the realm of physics. Like Xenophanes of old, they gazed at the broad sky and exclaimed, "The All is One." Uniting these various influences, they found it easy to frame a conception of Zeus, or the world, or the universal justice and law, so as to combine in it a dynamic unity with a provident reason. A world conceived to be material and fatally determined was endowed with foresight of its own changes, perfect internal harmony, and absolute moral dignity. Thus mythology, with the Stoics, ended in pantheism.
[Sidenote: The ideal surrendered before the physical.]
By reducing their gods to a single divine influence, and identifying this in turn with natural forces, the Stoics had, in one sense, saved mythology. For no one would be inclined to deny existence or power to the cosmos, to the body the soul of which was Zeus. Pantheism, taken theoretically, is only naturalism poetically expressed. It therefore was a most legitimate and congenial interpretation of paganism for a rationalistic age. On the other hand, mythology had not been a mere poetic physics; it had formulated the object of religion; it had embodied for mankind its highest ideals in worshipful forms. It was when this religious function was transferred to the god of pantheism that the paradox and impossibility of the reform became evident. Nature neither is nor can be man's ideal. The substitution of nature for the traditional and ideal object of religion involves giving nature moral authority over man; it involves that element of Stoicism which is the synonym of inhumanity. Life and death, good and ill fortune, happiness and misery, since they flow equally from the universal order, shall be declared, in spite of reason, to be equally good. True virtue shall be reduced to conformity. He who has no ideal but that nature should possess her actual constitution will be wise and superior to all flattery and calamity; he will be equal in dignity to Zeus. He who has any less conformable and more determinate interests will be a fool and a worm.
The wise man will, meantime, perform all the offices of nature; he will lend his body and his mind to her predestined labours. For pantheistic morals, though post-rational, are not ascetic. In dislodging the natural ideal from the mind, they put in its place not its supernatural exaggeration but a curtailment of it inspired by despair. The passions are not renounced on the ground that they impede salvation or some visionary ecstasy; they are merely chilled by the sense that their defeat, when actual, is also desirable. As all the gods have been reduced to one substance or law, so all human treasures are reduced to one privilege—that of fortitude. You can always consent, and by a forced and perpetual conformity to nature lift yourself above all vicissitudes. Those tender and tentative ideals which nature really breeds, and which fill her with imperfect but genuine excellences, you will be too stolid to perceive or too proud to share.
Thus the hereditary taint of mythology, the poison of lies, survived in the two forms of philosophic paganism which it concerns us to study. In Plato's school, myth helped to hypostasise the ideas and, by divorcing them from their natural basis, to deprive them of their significance and moral function, and render the worship of them superstitious. In the Stoa the surviving mythological element turned nature, when her unity and order had been perceived, into an idol; so that the worship of her blasted all humane and plastic ideals and set men upon a vain and fanatical self-denial. Both philosophies were post-rational, as befitted a decadent age and as their rival and heir, Christianity, was also.
[Sidenote: Parallel movements in Christianity.]
Christianity had already within itself a similar duality; being a doctrine of redemption, like neo-Platonism, it tended to deny the natural values of this life; but, being a doctrine of creation and providential government, comparable in a way to the Stoic, it had an ineradicable inward tendency toward pantheism, and toward a consequent acceptance of both the goods and evils of this world as sanctioned and required by providence.
[Sidenote: Hebraism, if philosophical, must be pantheistic.]
The horror which pantheism has always inspired in the Church is like that which materialism inspires in sentimental idealists; they attack it continually, not so much because anybody else defends it as because they feel it to be implied unmistakably in half their own tenets. The non-Platonic half of Christian theology, the Mosaic half, is bound to become pantheism in the hands of a philosopher. The Jews were not pantheists themselves, because they never speculated on the relation which omnipotence stood in to natural forces and human acts. They conceived Jehovah's omnipotence dramatically, as they conceived everything. He might pounce upon anything and anybody; he might subvert or play with the laws of nature; he might laugh at men's devices, and turn them to his own ends; his craft and energy could not but succeed in every instance; but that was not to say that men and nature had no will of their own, and did not proceed naturally on their respective ways when Jehovah happened to be busy elsewhere. So soon, however, as this dramatic sort of omnipotence was made systematic by dialectic, so soon as the doctrines of creation, omniscience, and providential government were taken absolutely, pantheism was clearly involved. The consequences to moral philosophy were truly appalling, for then the sins God punished so signally were due to his own contrivance. The fervours of his saints, the fate of his chosen people and holy temples, became nothing but a puppet-show in his ironical self-consciousness.
[Sidenote: Pantheism, even when psychic, ignores ideals.]
The strangest part of this system, or what would seem so if its antecedents were not known, is that it is only half-conscious of its physical temper, and in calling itself an idealism (because it makes perception and will the substance of their objects), thinks itself an expression of human aspirations. This illusion has deep historical roots. It is the last stage of a mythical philosophy which has been earnestly criticising its metaphors, on the assumption that they were not metaphorical; whereby it has stripped them of all significance and reduced them at last to the bare principle of inversion. Nothing is any longer idealised, yet all is still called an idealism. A myth is an inverted image of things, wherein their moral effects are turned into their dramatic antecedents—as when the wind's rudeness is turned into his anger. When the natural basis of moral life is not understood, myth is the only way of expressing it theoretically, as eyes too weak to see the sun face to face may, as Plato says, for a time study its image mirrored in pools, and, as we may add, inverted there. So the good, which in itself is spiritual only, is transposed into a natural power. At first this amounts to an amiable misrepresentation of natural things; the gods inhabit Mount Olympus and the Elysian Fields are not far west of Cadiz. With the advance of geography the mythical facts recede, and in a cosmography like Hegel's, for instance, they have disappeared altogether; but there remain the mythical values once ascribed to those ideal objects but now transferred and fettered to the sad realities that have appeared in their place. The titles of honour once bestowed on a fabled world are thus applied to the real world by right of inheritance.
[Sidenote: Truly divine action limited to what makes for the good.]
Nothing could be clearer than the grounds on which pious men in the beginning recognise divine agencies. We see, they say, the hand of God in our lives. He has saved us from dangers, he has comforted us in sorrow. He has blessed us with the treasures of life, of intelligence, of affection. He has set around us a beautiful world, and one still more beautiful within us. Pondering all these blessings, we are convinced that he is mighty in the world and will know how to make all things good to those who trust in him. In other words, pious men discern God in the excellence of things. If all were well, as they hope it may some day be, God would henceforth be present in everything. While good is mixed with evil, he is active in the good alone. The pleasantness of life, the preciousness of human possessions, the beauty and promise of the world, are proof of God's power; so is the stilling of tempests and the forgiveness of sins. But the sin itself and the tempest, which optimistic theology has to attribute just as much to God's purposes, are not attributed to him at all by pious feeling, but rather to his enemies. In spite of centuries wasted in preaching God's omnipotence, his omnipotence is contradicted by every Christian judgment and every Christian prayer. If the most pious of nations is engaged in war, and suffers a great accidental disaster, such as it might expect to be safe from, Te deums are sung for those that were saved and Requiems for those that perished. God's office, in both cases, is to save only. No one seriously imagines that Providence does more than govern—that is, watch over and incidentally modify the natural course of affairs—not even in the other world, if fortunes are still changeable there.
[Sidenote: Need of an opposing principle.]
The criterion of divine activity could not be placed more squarely and unequivocally in the good. Plato and Aristotle are not in this respect better moralists than is an unsophisticated piety. God is the ideal, and what manifests the ideal manifests God. Are you confident of the permanence and triumph of the things you prize? Then you trust in God, you live in the consciousness of his presence. The proof and measure of rationality in the world, and of God's power over it, is the extent of human satisfactions. In hell, good people would disbelieve in God, and it is impious of the trembling devils to believe in him there. The existence of any evil—and if evil is felt it exists, for experience is its locus—is a proof that some accident has intruded into God's works. If that loyalty to the good, which is the prerequisite of rationality, is to remain standing, we must admit into the world, while it contains anything practically evil, a principle, however minimised, which is not rational. This irrational principle may be inertia in matter, accidental perversity in the will, or ultimate conflict of interests. Somehow an element of resistance to the rational order must be introduced somewhere. And immediately, in order to distinguish the part furnished by reason from its irrational alloy, we must find some practical test; for if we are to show that there is a great and triumphant rationality in the world, in spite of irrational accidents and brute opposition, we must frame an idea of rationality different from that of being. It will no longer do to say, with the optimists, the rational is the real, the real is the rational. For we wish to make a distinction, in order to maintain our loyalty to the good, and not to eviscerate the idea of reason by emptying it of its essential meaning, which is action addressed to the good and thought envisaging the ideal. To pious feeling, the free-will of creatures, their power, active or passive, of independent origination, is the explanation of all defects; and everything which is not helpful to men's purposes must be assigned to their own irrationality as its cause. Herein lies the explanation of that paradox in religious feeling which attributes sin to the free will, but repentance and every good work to divine grace. Physically considered—as theology must consider the matter—both acts and both volitions are equally necessary and involved in the universal order; but practical religion calls divine only what makes for the good. Whence it follows at once that, both within and without us, what is done well is God's doing, and what is done ill is not.
[Sidenote: The standard of value is human.]
Thus what we may call the practical or Hebrew theory of cosmic rationality betrays in plainest possible manner that reason is primarily a function of human nature. Reason dwells in the world in so far as the world is good, and the world is good in so far as it supports the wills it generates—the excellence of each creature, the value of its life, and the satisfaction of its ultimate desires. Thus Hebrew optimism could be moral because, although it asserted in a sense the morality of the universe, it asserted this only by virtue of a belief that the universe supported human ideals. Undoubtedly much insistence on the greatness of that power which made for righteousness was in danger of passing over into idolatry of greatness and power, for whatever they may make. Yet these relapses into Nature-worship are the more rare in that the Jews were not a speculative people, and had in the end to endow even Job with his worldly goods in order to rationalise his constancy. It was only by a scandalous heresy that Spinoza could so change the idea of God as to make him indifferent to his creatures; and this transformation, in spite of the mystic and stoical piety of its author, passed very justly for atheism; for that divine government and policy had been denied by which alone God was made manifest to the Hebrews.
If Job's reward seems to us unworthy, we must remember that we have since passed through the discipline of an extreme moral idealism, through a religion of sacrifice and sorrow. We should not confuse the principle that virtue must somehow secure the highest good (for what should not secure it would not be virtue) with the gross symbols by which the highest good might be expressed at Jerusalem. That Job should recover a thousand she-asses may seem to us a poor sop for his long anguish of mind and body, and we may hardly agree with him in finding his new set of children just as good as the old. Yet if fidelity had led to no good end, if it had not somehow brought happiness to somebody, that fidelity would have been folly. There is a noble folly which consists in pushing a principle usually beneficent to such lengths as to render it pernicious; and the pertinacity of Job would have been a case of such noble folly if we were not somehow assured of its ultimate fruits. In Christianity we have the same principle, save that the fruits of virtue are more spiritually conceived; they are inward peace, the silence of the passions, the possession of truth, and the love of God and of our fellows. This is a different conception of happiness, incomplete, perhaps, in a different direction. But were even this attenuated happiness impossible to realise, all rationality would vanish not merely from Christian charity and discipline, but from the whole Christian theory of creation, redemption, and judgment. Without some window open to heaven, religion would be more fantastic than worldliness without being less irrational and vain.
[Sidenote: Hope for happiness makes belief in God.]
Revelation has intervened to bring about a conception of the highest good which never could have been derived from an impartial synthesis of human interests. The influence of great personalities and the fanaticism of peculiar times and races have joined in imposing such variations from the natural ideal. The rationality of the world, as Christianity conceived it, is due to the plan of salvation; and the satisfaction of human nature, however purified and developed, is what salvation means. If an ascetic ideal could for a moment seem acceptable, it was because the decadence and sophistication of the world had produced a great despair in all noble minds; and they thought it better that an eye or a hand which had offended should perish, and that they should enter blind and maimed into the kingdom of heaven, than that, whole and seeing, they should remain for ever in hell-fire. Supernatural, then, as the ideal might seem, and imposed on human nature from above, it was yet accepted only because nothing else, in that state of conscience and imagination, could revive hope; nothing else seemed to offer an escape from the heart's corruption and weariness into a new existence.
THE CHRISTIAN COMPROMISE
The human spirit has not passed in historical times through a more critical situation or a greater revulsion than that involved in accepting Christianity. Was this event favourable to the life of Reason? Was it a progress in competence, understanding, and happiness? Any absolute answer would be misleading. Christianity did not come to destroy; the ancient springs were dry already, and for two or three centuries unmistakable signs of decadence had appeared in every sphere, not least in that of religion and philosophy. Christianity was a reconstruction out of ruins. In the new world competence could only be indirect, understanding mythical, happiness surreptitious; but all three subsisted, and it was Christianity that gave them their necessary disguises.
[Sidenote: Suspense between hope and disillusion.]
The young West had failed in its first great experiment, for, though classic virtue and beauty and a great classic state subsisted, the force that had created them was spent. Was it possible to try again? Was it necessary to sit down, like the Orient, in perpetual flux and eternal apathy? This question was answered by Christianity in a way, under the circumstances, extremely happy. The Gospel, on which Christianity was founded, had drawn a very sharp contrast between this world and the kingdom of heaven—a phrase admitting many interpretations. From the Jewish millennium or a celestial paradise it could shift its sense to mean the invisible Church, or even the inner life of each mystical spirit. Platonic philosophy, to which patristic theology was allied, had made a contrast not less extreme between sense and spirit, between life in time and absorption in eternity. Armed with this double dualism, Christianity could preach both renunciation and hope, both asceticism and action, both the misery of life and the blessing of creation. It even enshrined the two attitudes in its dogma, uniting the Jewish doctrine of a divine Creator and Governor of this world with that of a divine Redeemer to lead us into another. Persons were not lacking to perceive the contradiction inherent in such an eclecticism; and it was the Gnostic or neo-Platonic party, which denied creation and taught a pure asceticism, that had the best of the argument. The West, however, would not yield to their logic. It might, in an hour of trouble and weakness, make concessions to quietism and accept the cross, but it would not suffer the naturalistic note to die out altogether. It preferred an inconsistency, which it hardly perceived, to a complete surrender of its instincts. It settled down to the conviction that God created the world and redeemed it; that the soul is naturally good and needs salvation.
[Sidenote: Superficial solution.]
This contradiction can be explained exoterically by saying that time and changed circumstances separate the two situations: having made the world perfect, God redeems it after it has become corrupt; and whereas all things are naturally good, they may by accident lose their excellence, and need to have it restored. There is, however, an esoteric side to the matter. A soul that may be redeemed, a will that may look forward to a situation in which its action will not be vain or sinful, is one that in truth has never sinned; it has merely been thwarted. Its ambition is rational, and what its heart desires is essentially good and ideal. So that the whole classic attitude, the faith in action, art, and intellect, is preserved under this protecting cuticle of dogma; nothing was needed but a little courage, and circumstances somewhat more favourable, for the natural man to assert himself again. A people believing in the resurrection of the flesh in heaven will not be averse to a reawakening of the mind on earth.
[Sidenote: But from what shall we be redeemed?]
Another pitfall, however, opens here. These contrasted doctrines may change roles. So long as by redemption we understand, in the mystic way, exaltation above finitude and existence, because all particularity is sin, to be redeemed is to abandon the Life of Reason; but redemption might mean extrication from untoward accidents, so that a rational life might be led under right conditions. Instead of being like Buddha, the redeemer might be like Prometheus. In that case, however, the creator would become like Zeus—a tyrant will responsible for our conditions rather than expressive of our ideal. The doctrine of creation would become pantheism and that of redemption, formerly ascetic, would represent struggling humanity.
[Sidenote: Typical attitude of St. Augustine.]
The seething of these potent and ambiguous elements can be studied nowhere better than in Saint Augustine. He is a more genial and complete representative of Christianity than any of the Greek Fathers, in whom the Hebraic and Roman vitality was comparatively absent. Philosophy was only one phase of Augustine's genius; with him it was an instrument of zeal and a stepping-stone to salvation. Scarcely had it been born out of rhetoric when it was smothered in authority. Yet even in that precarious and episodic form it acquired a wonderful sweep, depth, and technical elaboration. He stands at the watershed of history, looking over either land; his invectives teach us almost as much of paganism and heresy as his exhortations do of Catholicism. To Greek subtlety he joins Hebrew fervour and monkish intolerance; he has a Latin amplitude and (it must be confessed) coarseness of feeling; but above all he is the illumined, enraptured, forgiven saint. In him theology, however speculative, remains a vehicle for living piety; and while he has, perhaps, done more than any other man to materialise Christianity, no one was ever more truly filled with its spirit.
[Sidenote: He achieves Platonism.]
Saint Augustine was a thorough Platonist, but to reach that position he had to pass in his youth through severe mental struggles. The difficult triumph over the sensuous imagination by which he attained the conception of intelligible objects was won only after long discipline and much reading of Platonising philosophers. Every reality seemed to him at first an object of sense: God, if he existed, must be perceptible, for to Saint Augustine's mind also, at this early and sensuous stage of its development, esse was percipi. He might never have worked himself loose from these limitations, with which his vivid fancy and not too delicate eloquence might easily have been satisfied, had it not been for his preoccupation with theology. God must somehow be conceived; for no one in that age of religious need and of theological passion felt both more intensely than Saint Augustine. If sensible objects alone were real, God must be somewhere discoverable in space; he must either have a body like the human, or be the body of the universe, or some subtler body permeating and moving all the rest.
These conceptions all offered serious dialectical difficulties, and, what was more to the point, they did not satisfy the religious and idealistic instinct which the whole movement of Saint Augustine's mind obeyed. So he pressed his inquiries farther. At length meditation, and more, perhaps, that experience of the flux and vanity of natural things on which Plato himself had built his heaven of ideas, persuaded him that reality and substantiality, in any eulogistic sense, must belong rather to the imperceptible and eternal. Only that which is never an object of sense or experience can be the root and principle of experience and sense. Only the invisible and changeless can be the substance of a moving show. God could now be apprehended and believed in precisely because he was essentially invisible: had he anywhere appeared he could not be the principle of all appearance; had he had a body and a locus in the universe, he could not have been its spiritual creator. The ultimate objects of human knowledge were accordingly ideas, not things; principles reached by the intellect, not objects by any possibility offered to sense. The methodological concepts of science, by which we pass from fact to fact and from past perception to future, did not attract Augustine's attention. He admitted, it is true, that there was a subordinate, and to him apparently uninteresting, region governed by "certissima ratione vel experientia," and he even wished science to be allowed a free hand within that empirical and logical sphere. A mystic and allegorical interpretation of Scripture was to be invoked to avoid the puerilities into which any literal interpretation—of the creation in six days, for instance—would be sure to run. Unbelievers would thus not be scandalised by mythical dogmas "concerning things which they might have actually experienced, or discovered by sure calculation."
Science was to have its way in the field of calculable experience; that region could be the more readily surrendered by Augustine because his attention was henceforth held by those ideal objects which he had so laboriously come to conceive. These were concepts of the contemplative reason or imagination, which envisages natures and eternal essences behind the variations of experience, essences which at first receive names, becoming thus the centres of rational discourse, then acquire values, becoming guides to action and measures of achievement, and finally attract unconditional worship, being regarded as the first causes and ultimate goals of all existence and aspiration.
[Sidenote: He identifies it with Christianity.]
This purely Platonic philosophy, however, was not to stand alone. Like every phase of Saint Augustine's speculation, it came, as we have said, to buttress or express some religious belief. But it is a proof of his depth and purity of soul that his searching philosophic intuition did more to spiritualise the dogmas he accepted from others than these dogmas could do to denaturalise his spontaneous philosophy. Platonic ideas had by that time long lost their moral and representative value, their Socratic significance. They had become ontological entities, whereas originally they had represented the rational functions of life. This hypostasis of the rational, by which the rational abdicates its meaning in the effort to acquire a metaphysical existence, had already been carried to its extreme by the Neo-Platonists. But Saint Augustine, while helpless as a philosopher to resist that speculative realism, was able as a Christian to infuse into those dead concepts some of the human blood which had originally quickened them. Metaphysics had turned all human interests into mythical beings, and now religion, without at all condemning or understanding that transformation, was going to adopt those mythical beings and turn them again into moral influences. In Saint Augustine's mind, fed as it was by the Psalmist, the Platonic figments became the Christian God, the Christian Church, and the Christian soul, and thus acquired an even subtler moral fragrance than that which they had lost when they were uprooted by a visionary philosophy from the soil of Greek culture.
[Sidenote: God the good.]
Saint Augustine's way of conceiving God is an excellent illustration of the power, inherent in his religious genius and sincerity, of giving life and validity to ideas which he was obliged to borrow in part from a fabulous tradition and in part from a petrified metaphysics. God, to him, was simply the ideal eternal object of human thought and love. All ideation on an intellectual plane was a vague perception of the divine essence. "The rational soul understands God, for it understands what exists always unchanged." ... "God is happiness; and in him and from him and through him all things are happy which are happy at all. God is the good and the beautiful." He was never tired of telling us that God is not true but the truth (i.e., the ideal object of thought in any sphere), not good but the good (i.e., the ideal object of will in all its rational manifestations). In other words, whenever a man, reflecting on his experience, conceived the better or the best, the perfect and the eternal, he conceived God, inadequately, of course, yet essentially, because God signified the comprehensive ideal of all the perfections which the human spirit could behold in itself or in its objects. Of this divine essence, accordingly, every interesting thing was a manifestation; all virtue and beauty were parcels of it, tokens of its superabundant grace. Hence the inexhaustible passion of Saint Augustine toward his God; hence the sweetness of that endless colloquy in prayer into which he was continually relapsing, a passion and a sweetness which no one will understand to whom God is primarily a natural power and only accidentally a moral ideal.
[Sidenote: Primary and secondary religion.]
Herein lies the chief difference between those in whom religion is spontaneous and primary—a very few—those in whom it is imitative and secondary. To the former, divine things are inward values, projected by chance into images furnished by poetic tradition or by external nature, while to the latter, divine things are in the first instance objective factors of nature or of social tradition, although they have come, perhaps, to possess some point of contact with the interests of the inner life on account of the supposed physical influence which those super-human entities have over human fortunes. In a word, theology, for those whose religion is secondary, is simply a false physics, a doctrine about eventual experience not founded on the experience of the past. Such a false physics, however, is soon discredited by events; it does not require much experience or much shrewdness to discover that supernatural beings and laws are without the empirical efficacy which was attributed to them. True physics and true history must always tend, in enlightened minds, to supplant those misinterpreted religious traditions. Therefore, those whose reflection or sentiment does not furnish them with a key to the moral symbolism and poetic validity underlying theological ideas, if they apply their intelligence to the subject at all, and care to be sincere, will very soon come to regard religion as a delusion. Where religion is primary, however, all that worldly dread of fraud and illusion becomes irrelevant, as it is irrelevant to an artist's pleasure to be warned that the beauty he expresses has no objective existence, or as it would be irrelevant to a mathematician's reasoning to suspect that Pythagoras was a myth and his supposed philosophy an abracadabra. To the religious man religion is inwardly justified. God has no need of natural or logical witnesses, but speaks himself within the heart, being indeed that ineffable attraction which dwells in whatever is good and beautiful, and that persuasive visitation of the soul by the eternal and incorruptible by which she feels herself purified, rescued from mortality, and given an inheritance in the truth. This is precisely what Saint Augustine knew and felt with remarkable clearness and persistence, and what he expressed unmistakably by saying that every intellectual perception is knowledge of God or has God's nature for its object.
Proofs of the existence of God are therefore not needed, since his existence is in one sense obvious and in another of no religious interest. It is obvious in the sense that the ideal is a term of moral experience, and that truth, goodness, and beauty are inevitably envisaged by any one whose life has in some measure a rational quality. It is of no religious interest in the sense that perhaps some physical or dynamic absolute might be scientifically discoverable in the dark entrails of nature or of mind. The great difference between religion and metaphysics is that religion looks for God at the top of life and metaphysics at the bottom; a fact which explains why metaphysics has such difficulty in finding God, while religion has never lost him.
This brings us to the grand characteristic and contradiction of Saint Augustine's philosophy, a characteristic which can be best studied, perhaps, in him, although it has been inherited by all Christian theology and was already present in Stoic and Platonic speculation, when the latter had lost its ethical moorings. This is the idea that the same God who is the ideal of human aspiration is also the creator of the universe and its only primary substance.
[Sidenote: Ambiguous efficacy of the good in Plato.]
If Plato, when he wrote that fine and profound passage in the sixth book of the Republic, where he says that the good is the cause of all intelligence in the mind and of all intelligibility in the object, and indeed the principle of all essence and existence—if Plato could have foreseen what his oracular hyperbole was to breed in the world, we may well believe that he would have expunged it from his pages with the same severity with which he banished the poets from his State. In the lips of Socrates, and at that juncture in the argument of the Republic, those sentences have a legitimate meaning. The good is the principle of benefit, and the philosophers who are to rule the state will not be alienated by their contemplations from practical wisdom, seeing that the idea of the good—i.e., of the advantageous, profitable, and beneficial—is the highest concept of the whole dialectic, that in reference to which all other ideas have place and significance. If we ventured to extend the interpretation of the passage, retaining its spirit, into fields where we have more knowledge than Plato could have, we might say that the principle of the good generates essence and existence, in the sense that all natural organs have functions and utilities by which they establish themselves in the world, and that the system of these useful functions is the true essence or idea of any living thing. But the Socratic origin and sense of such a passage as this, and of others (in the Timaeus, for instance) allied to it, was soon lost in the headlong idolatry which took possession of the neo-Platonic school; and it was through this medium that Saint Augustine received his Platonic inspiration. The good no longer meant, as it did to Plato, the principle of benefit everywhere, but it meant the good Being; and this, for a Christian, could naturally be none other than God; so that the idea that the good was the creator of all essence and existence now assumed a marvellously Mosaic significance. Here was one of those bits of primeval revelation which, it was explained, had survived in the heathen world. The hypostasis of moral conceptions, then, and of the idea of the good in particular, led up from the Platonic side to the doctrine of creation.
[Sidenote: Ambiguous goodness of the creator in Job.]
The history of the conception among the Jews was entirely different, the element of goodness in the creator being there adventitious and the element of power original. Jehovah for Job was a universal force, justified primarily by his omnipotence; but this physical authority would in the end, he hoped, be partly rationalised and made to clash less scandalously with the authority of justice. Among the Greeks, as was to be expected, the idea of justice was more independent and entire; but once named and enshrined, that divinity, too, tended to absoluteness, and could be confused with the physical basis of existence. In the Stoic philosophy the latter actually gained the upper hand, and the problem of Job reappeared on the horizon. It did not rise into painful prominence, however, until Christian times, when absolute moral perfection and absolute physical efficacy were predicated of God with equal emphasis, if not among the people who never have conceived God as either perfectly good or entirely omnipotent, at least among the theologians. If not all felt the contradiction with equal acuteness, the reason doubtless was that a large part of their thought was perfunctory and merely apologetic: they did not quite mean what they said when they spoke of perfect goodness; and we shall see how Saint Augustine himself, when reduced to extremities, surrendered his loyalty to the moral ideal rather than reconsider his traditional premisses.
[Sidenote: The Manicheans.]
How tenaciously, however, he clung to the moral in the religious, we can see by the difficulty he had in separating himself from the Manicheans. The Manicheans admitted two absolutes, the essence of the one being goodness and of the other badness. This system was logically weak, because these absolutes were in the first place two, which is one contradiction, and in the second place relative, which is another. But in spite of the pitfalls into which the Manicheans were betrayed by their pursuit of metaphysical absolutes, they were supported by a moral intuition of great truth and importance. They saw that an essentially good principle could not have essential evil for its effect. These moral terms are, we may ourselves feel sure, relative to existence and to actual impulse, and it may accordingly be always misleading to make them the essence of metaphysical realities: good and bad may be not existences but qualities which existences have only in relation to demands in themselves or in one another. Yet if we once launch, as many metaphysicians would have us do, into the hypostasis of qualities and relations, it is certainly better and more honest to make contradictory qualities into opposed entities, and not to render our metaphysical world unmeaning as well as fictitious by peopling it with concepts in which the most important categories of life are submerged and invalidated. Evil may be no more a metaphysical existence than good is; both are undoubtedly mere terms for vital utilities and impediments; but if we are to indulge in mythology at all, it is better that our mythology should do symbolic justice to experience and should represent by contrasted figures the ineradicable practical difference between the better and the worse, the beautiful and the ugly, the trustworthy and the fallacious. To discriminate between these things in practice is wisdom, and it should be the part of wisdom to discriminate between them in theory.
The Manicheans accordingly attributed what is good in the world to one power and what is bad to another. The fable is transparent enough, and we, who have only just learned to smile at a personal devil, may affect to wonder that any one should ever have taken it literally. But in an age when the assertive imagination was unchecked by any critical sense, such a device at least avoided the scandal of attributing all the evils and sins of this world to a principle essentially inviolate and pure. By avoiding what must have seemed a blasphemy to Saint Augustine, as to every one whose speculation was still relevant to his conscience and to his practical idealism, the Manicheans thus prevailed on many to overlook the contradictions which their system developed so soon as its figments were projected into the sphere of absolute existences.
[Sidenote: All things good by nature.]
The horror with which an idealistic youth at first views the truculence of nature and the turpitude of worldly life is capable of being softened by experience. Time subdues our initial preferences by showing us the complexity of moral relations in this world, and by extending our imaginative sympathy to forms of existence and passion at first repulsive, which from new and ultra-personal points of view may have their natural sweetness and value. In this way, Saint Augustine was ultimately brought to appreciate the catholicity and scope of those Greek sages who had taught that all being was to itself good, that evil was but the impediment of natural function, and that therefore the conception of anything totally or essentially evil was only a petulance or exaggeration in moral judgment that took, as it were, the bit in its teeth, and turned an incidental conflict of interests into a metaphysical opposition of natures. All definite being is in itself congruous with the true and the good, since its constitution is intelligible and its operation is creative of values. Were it not for the limitations of matter and the accidental crowding and conflict of life, all existing natures might subsist and prosper in peace and concord, just as their various ideas live without contradiction in the realm of conceptual truth. We may say of all things, in the words of the Gospel, that their angels see the face of God. Their ideals are no less cases of the good, no less instances of perfection, than is the ideal locked in our private bosom. It is the part of justice and charity to recognise this situation, in view of which we may justly say that evil is always relative and subordinate to some constituted nature in itself a standard of worth, a point of departure for the moral valuation of eventual changes and of surrounding things. Evil is accordingly accidental and unnatural; it follows upon the maladaptation of actions to natures and of natures to one another. It can be no just ground for the condemnation of any of those natural essences which only give rise to it by their imperfect realisation.
The Semitic idea of creation could now receive that philosophical interpretation which it so sadly needed. Primordially, and in respect to what was positive in them, all things might he expressions of the good; in their essence and ideal state they might be said to be created by God. For God was the supreme ideal, to which all other goods were subordinate and instrumental; and if we agree to make a cosmogony out of morals and to hypostasise the series of rational ideals, taken in the inverse order, into a series of efficient causes, it is clear that the highest good, which is at the end of the moral scale, will now figure as a first cause at the beginning of the physical sequence. This operation is what is recorded and demanded in the doctrine of creation: a doctrine which would lose its dogmatic force if we allowed either the moral ideality or the physical efficacy of the creator to drop out of sight. If the moral ideality is sacrificed, we pass to an ordinary pantheism, while if the physical efficacy is surrendered, we take refuge in a naturalistic idealism of the Aristotelian type, where the good is a function of things and neither their substance nor their cause.
[Sidenote: The doctrine of creation demands that of the fall.]
To accept the doctrine of creation, after it had become familiar, was not very hard, because the contradiction it contains could then be set down to our imperfect apprehension. The unintelligibility of matters of fact does not lead us to deny them, but merely to study them; and when the creation was accepted as a fact, its unintelligibility became merely a theological problem and a religious mystery, such as no mortal philosophy can be without. But for Saint Augustine the situation was wholly different. A doctrine of the creation had to be constructed: the disparate ideas had to be synthesised which posterity was afterward to regard as the obvious, if not wholly reconcilable, attributes of the deity. The mystery could not then be recognised; it had to be made. And Saint Augustine, with his vital religion, with his spontaneous adoration of God the ideal, could not attribute to that ideal unimpeded efficacy in the world. To admit that all natures were essentially good might dispel the Manichean fancy about an Evil Absolute engaged in single combat with an Absolute Good; but insight into the meaning and the natural conditions of evil could only make its presence more obvious and its origin more intimately bound up with the general constitution of the world. Evil is only imperfection; but everything is imperfect. Conflict is only maladaptation, but there is maladaptation everywhere. If we assume, then, what the doctrine of creation requires, that all things at first proceeded out of the potency of the good—their matter and form, their distribution and their energies, being wholly attributable to the attraction of the ultimately best—it is clear that some calamity must have immediately supervened by which the fountains of life were defiled, the strength of the ideal principle in living things weakened, and the mortal conflict instituted which not only condemns all existent things ultimately to perish, but hardly allows them, even while they painfully endure, to be truly and adequately themselves.
Original sin, with the fall of the angels and of man for its mythical ground, thus enters into the inmost web of Augustinian philosophy. This fact cannot be too much insisted upon, for only by the immediate introduction of original sin into the history of the world could a man to whom God was still a moral term believe at all in the natural and fundamental efficacy of God in the cosmos. The doctrine of the fall made it possible for Saint Augustine to accept the doctrine of the creation. Both belonged to the same mythical region in which the moral values of life were made to figure as metaphysical agents; but when once the metaphysical agency of the highest good was admitted into a poetic cosmogony, it became imperative to admit also the metaphysical agency of sin into it; for otherwise the highest good would be deprived of its ideal and moral character, would cease to be the entelechy of rational life, and be degraded into a flat principle of description or synthesis for experience and nature as they actually are. God would thus become a natural agent, like the fire of Heraclitus, in which human piety could take an interest only by force of traditional inertia and unintelligence, while the continued muttering of the ritual prevented men from awaking to the disappearance of the god. The essence of deity, as Augustine was inwardly convinced, was correspondence to human aspiration, moral perfection, and ideality. God, therefore, as the Manicheans, with Plato and Aristotle before them, had taught, could be the author of good only; or, to express the same thing in less figurative and misleading language, it was only the good in things that could contribute to our idea of divinity. What was evil must, therefore, be carried up into another concept, must be referred, if you will, to another mythical agent; and this mythical agent in Saint Augustine's theology was named sin.
[Sidenote: Original sin.]
Everything in the world which obscured the image of the creator or rebelled against his commandments (everything, that is, which prevented in things the expression of their natural ideals) was due to sin. Sin was responsible for disease of mind and body, for all suffering, for death, for ignorance, perversity, and dulness. Sin was responsible—so truly original was it—for what was painful and wrong even in the animal kingdom, and sin—such was the paradoxical apex of this inverted series of causes—sin was responsible for sin itself. The insoluble problems of the origin of evil and of freedom, in a world produced in its every fibre by omnipotent goodness, can never be understood until we remember their origin. They are artificial problems, unknown to philosophy before it betook itself to the literal justification of fables in which the objects of rational endeavour were represented as causes of natural existence. The former are internal products of life, the latter its external conditions. When the two are confused we reach the contradiction confronting Saint Augustine, and all who to this day have followed in his steps. The cause of everything must have been the cause of sin, yet the principle of good could not be the principle of evil. Both propositions were obviously true, and they were contradictory only after the mythical identification of the God which meant the ideal of life with the God which meant the forces of nature.
[Sidenote: Forced abandonment of the ideal.]
It would help us little, in trying to understand these doctrines, to work over the dialectic of them, and to express the contradiction in somewhat veiled terms or according to new pictorial analogies. Good and evil, in the context of life, undoubtedly have common causes; but that system which involves both is for that very reason not an ideal system, and to represent it as such is simply to ignore the conscience and the upward effort of life. The contradiction can be avoided only by renouncing the meaning of one of the terms; either, that is, by no longer regarding the good as an absolute creator, but merely as a partial result or tendency in a living world whose life naturally involves values, or else by no longer conceiving God as the ideal term in man's own existence. The latter is the solution adopted by metaphysicians generally, and by Saint Augustine himself when hard pressed by the exigencies of his double allegiance. God, he tells us, is just, although not just as man is, nor as man should be. In other words, God is to be called just even when he is unjust in the only sense in which the word justice has a meaning among men. We are forced, in fact, to obscure our moral concepts and make them equivocal in order to be able to apply them to the efficient forces and actual habits of this world. The essence of divinity is no longer moral excellence, but ontological and dynamic relations to the natural world, so that the love of God would have to become, not an exercise of reason and conscience, as it naturally was with Saint Augustine, but a mystical intoxication, as it was with Spinoza.
The sad effects of this degradation of God into a physical power are not hard to trace in Augustine's own doctrine and feeling. He became a champion of arbitrary grace and arbitrary predestination to perdition. The eternal damnation of innocents gave him no qualms; and in this we must admire the strength of his logic, since if it is right that there should be wrong at all, there is no particular reason for stickling at the quantity or the enormity of it. And yet there are sentences which for their brutality and sycophancy cannot be read without pain—sentences inspired by this misguided desire to apologise for the crimes of the universe. "Why should God not create beings that he foreknew were to sin, when indeed in their persons and by their fates he could manifest both what punishment their guilt deserved and what free gifts he might bestow on them by his favour?" "Thinking it more lordly and better to do well even in the presence of evil than not to allow evil to exist at all." Here the pitiful maxim of doing evil that good may come is robbed of the excuse it finds in human limitations and is made the first principle of divine morality. Repellent and contorted as these ultimate metaphysical theories may seem, we must not suppose that they destroyed in Saint Augustine that practical and devotional idealism which they contradicted: the region of Christian charity is fortunately far wider and far nearer home than that of Christian apologetics. The work of practical redemption went on, while the dialectics about the perfection of the universe were forgotten; and Saint Augustine never ceased, by a happy inconsistency, to bewail the sins and to combat the heresies which his God was stealthily nursing, so that in their melodramatic punishment his glory might be more beautifully manifested.
[Sidenote: The problem among the protestants.]
It was Saint Augustine, as we know, who, in spite of his fervid Catholicism, was the favourite master of both Luther and Calvin. They emphasised, however, his more fanatical side, and this very predestinarian and absolutist doctrine which he had prevailed on himself to accept. Here was the pantheistic leaven doing its work; and concentration of attention on the Old Testament, given the reformers' controversial and metaphysical habit of thought, could only precipitate the inevitable. While popular piety bubbled up into all sorts of emotional and captious sects, each with its pathetic insistence on some text or on some whimsey, but all inwardly inspired by an earnest religious hunger, academic and cultivated Protestantism became every day more pale and rationalistic. Mediocre natures continued to rehearse the old platitudes and tread the slippery middle courses of one orthodoxy or another; but distinguished minds could no longer treat such survivals as more than allegories, historic or mythical illustrations of general spiritual truths. So Lessing, Goethe, and the idealists in Germany, and after them such lay prophets as Carlyle and Emerson, had for Christianity only an inessential respect. They drank their genuine inspiration directly from nature, from history, from the total personal apprehension they might have of life. In them speculative theology rediscovered its affinity to neo-Platonism; in other words, Christian philosophy was washed clean of its legendary alloy to become a pure cosmic speculation. It was Gnosticism come again in a very different age to men in an opposite phase of culture, but with its logic unchanged. The creation was the self-diremption of the infinite into finite expression, the fall was the self-discovery of this finitude, the incarnation was the awakening of the finite to its essential infinity; and here, a sufficient number of pages having been engrossed, the matter generally hastened to a conclusion; for the redemption with its means of application, once the central point in Christianity, was less pliable to the new pantheistic interpretation. Neo-Platonism had indeed cultivated asceticism, ecstasies, and a hope of reabsorption into the One; but these things a modern, and especially a Teutonic, temperament could hardly relish; and though absolutism in a sense must discountenance all finite interests and dissolve all experience, in theory, into a neutral whole, yet this inevitable mysticism remained, as with the Stoics, sternly optimistic, in order to respond to the vital social forces which Protestantism embodied. The ethical part of neo-Platonism and the corresponding Christian doctrine of salvation had accordingly to be discarded; for mystical as the northern soul may gladly be in speculation, to satisfy its sentimentality, it hardly can be mystical in action, since it has to satisfy also its interest in success and its fidelity to instinct.
[Sidenote: Pantheism accepted.]
An absolutism which thus encourages and sanctions the natural will is Stoical and pantheistic; it does not, like Indian and Platonic absolutism, seek to suspend the will in view of some supernatural destiny. Pantheism subordinates morally what it finds to be dependent in existence; its religion bids human reason and interest abdicate before cosmic forces, instead of standing out, like Buddhism and Christianity, for salvation, for spiritual extrication, from a world which they regard as delusive and fallen. The world of German absolutism, like the Stoic world, was not fallen. On the contrary, it was divinely inspired and altogether authoritative; he alone who did not find his place and function in it was unholy and perverse. This world-worship, despising heartily every finite and rational ideal, gives to impulse and fact, whatever they may be, liberty to flourish under a divine warrant. Were the people accepting such a system corrupt, it would sanction their corruption, and thereby, most probably, lead to its own abandonment, for it would bring on an ascetic and supernaturalistic reaction by which its convenient sycophancy would be repudiated. But reflection and piety, even if their object be material and their worship idolatrous, exalt the mind and raise it above vulgar impulse. If you fetch from contemplation a theoretic license to be base, your contemplative habit itself will have purified you more than your doctrine will have power to degrade you afresh, for training affects instinct much more than opinion can. Antinomian theory can flourish blamelessly in a puritan soil, for there it instinctively remains theoretical. And the Teutonic pantheists are for the most part uncontaminated souls, puritan by training, and only interested in furthering the political and intellectual efficiency of the society in which they live. Their pantheism under these circumstances makes them the more energetic and turns them into practical positivists, docile to their social medium and apologists for all its conventions. So that, while they write books to disprove naturalism in natural philosophy where it belongs, in morals where naturalism is treason they are themselves naturalists of the most uncritical description, forgetting that only the interests of the finite soul introduce such a thing as good and evil into the world, and that nature and society are so far from being authoritative and divine that they have no value whatever save by the services they may render to each spirit in its specific and genuine ambitions.
[Sidenote: Plainer scorn for the ideal.]
Indeed, this pantheistic subordination of conscience to what happens to exist, this optimism annulling every human ideal, betrays its immoral tendency very clearly so soon as it descends from theological seminaries into the lay world. Poets at first begin to justify, on its authority, their favourite passions and to sing the picturesqueness of a blood-stained world. "Practical" men follow, deprecating any reflection which may cast a doubt on the providential justification of their chosen activities, and on the invisible value of the same, however sordid, brutal, or inane they may visibly be. Finally, politicians learn to invoke destiny and the movement of the age to save themselves the trouble of discerning rational ends and to colour their secret indifference to the world's happiness. The follies thus sanctioned theoretically, because they are involved in a perfect world, would doubtless be perpetrated none the less by the same persons had they absorbed in youth a different religion; for conduct is rooted in deep instincts which affect opinion more than opinion can avail to affect them in turn. Yet there is an added indignity in not preserving a clear and honest mind, and in quitting the world without having in some measure understood and appreciated it.
[Sidenote: The price of mythology is superstition.]
Pantheism is mythical and has, as we have just seen, all the subversive powers of ordinary superstition. It turns the natural world, man's stamping-ground and system of opportunities, into a self-justifying and sacred life; it endows the blameless giant with an inhuman soul and then worships the monstrous divinity it has fabricated. It thereby encounters the same dilemma that defeats all mythology when it forgets its merely poetic office and trespasses upon moral ground. It must either interpret the natural world faithfully, attributing to the mythical deity the sort of life that dramatically suits its visible behaviour, or if it idealises and moralises the spectacle it must renounce the material reality and efficacy of its gods. Either the cosmic power must cover the actual goodness and badness in nature impartially, when to worship it would be idolatrous, or it must cover only the better side of nature, those aspects of it which support and resemble human virtue. In the latter case it is human virtue that mythology is formulating in a dramatic fiction, a human ideal that is being illustrated by a poet, who selects for the purpose certain phases of nature and experience. By this idealisation the affinity which things often have to man's interests may be brought out in a striking manner; but their total and real mechanism is no better represented than that of animals in AEsop's fables. To detect the divergence it suffices to open the eyes; and while nature may be rationally admired and cherished for so supporting the soul, it is her eventual ministry to man that makes her admirable, not her independent magnitude or antiquity. To worship nature as she really is, with all her innocent crimes made intentional by our mythology and her unfathomable constitution turned into a caricature of barbarian passions, is to subvert the order of values and to falsify natural philosophy. Yet this dislocation of reason, both in its conceptions and in its allegiance, is the natural outcome of thinking on mythical lines. A myth, by turning phenomena into expressions of thought and passion, teaches man to look for models and goals of action in that external world where reason can find nothing but instruments and materials.
[Sidenote: The core of religion not theoretical.]
Hebraism is a striking example of a religion tending to discard mythology and magic. It was a Hebraising apostle who said that true religion and undefiled was to visit the fatherless and the widow, and do other works of mercy. Although a complete religion can hardly remain without theoretic and ritual expression, we must remember that after all religion has other aspects less conspicuous, perhaps, than its mythology, but often more worthy of respect. If religion be, as we have assumed, an imaginative symbol for the Life of Reason, it should contain not only symbolic ideas and rites, but also symbolic sentiments and duties. And so it everywhere does in a notable fashion. Piety and spirituality are phases of religion no less important than mythology, or than those metaphysical spectres with which mythology terminates. It is therefore time we should quite explicitly turn from religious ideas to religious emotions, from imaginative history and science to imaginative morals.
Piety, in its nobler and Roman sense, may be said to mean man's reverent attachment to the sources of his being and the steadying of his life by that attachment. A soul is but the last bubble of a long fermentation in the world. If we wish to live associated with permanent racial interests we must plant ourselves on a broad historic and human foundation, we must absorb and interpret the past which has made us, so that we may hand down its heritage reinforced, if possible, and in no way undermined or denaturalised. This consciousness that the human spirit is derived and responsible, that all its functions are heritages and trusts, involves a sentiment of gratitude and duty which we may call piety.
[Sidenote: Loyalty to the sources of our being.]
The true objects of piety are, of course, those on which life and its interests really depend: parents first, then family, ancestors, and country; finally, humanity at large and the whole natural cosmos. But had a lay sentiment toward these forces been fostered by clear knowledge of their nature and relation to ourselves, the dutifulness or cosmic emotion thereby aroused would have remained purely moral and historical. As science would not in the end admit any myth which was not avowed poetry, so it would not admit any piety which was not plain reason and duty. But man, in his perplexities and pressing needs, has plunged, once for all, into imaginative courses through which it is our business to follow him, to see if he may not eventually reach his goal even by those by-paths and dark circumlocutions.
[Sidenote: The pious AEneas.]
What makes piety an integral part of traditional religions is the fact that moral realities are represented in the popular mind by poetic symbols. The awe inspired by principles so abstract and consequences so remote and general is arrested at their conventional name. We have all read in boyhood, perhaps with derision, about the pious AEneas. His piety may have seemed to us nothing but a feminine sensibility, a faculty of shedding tears on slight provocation. But in truth AEneas's piety, as Virgil or any Roman would have conceived it, lay less in his feelings than in his function and vocation. He was bearing the Palladium of his country to a new land, to found another Troy, so that the blood and traditions of his ancestors might not perish. His emotions were only the appropriate expression of his priestly office. The hero might have been stern and stolid enough on his own martial ground, but since he bore the old Anchises from the ruins of Ilium he had assumed a sacred mission. Henceforth a sacerdotal unction and lyric pathos belonged rightfully to his person. If those embers, so religiously guarded, should by chance have been extinguished, there could never have been a Vestal fire nor any Rome. So that all that Virgil and his readers, if they had any piety, revered in the world had been hazarded in those legendary adventures. It was not AEneas's own life or private ambition that was at stake to justify his emotion. His tenderness, like Virgil's own, was ennobled and made heroic by its magnificent and impersonal object. It was truly an epic destiny that inspired both poet and hero.
[Sidenote: An ideal background required.]
If we look closer, however, we shall see that mythical and magic elements were requisite to lend this loftiness to the argument. Had AEneas not been Venus's son, had no prophetic instinct animated him, had no Juno been planning the rise of Carthage, how could the future destinies of this expedition have been imported into it, to lift it above some piratical or desperate venture? Colonists passing in our day to America or Australia might conceivably carry with them the seeds of empires as considerable as Rome's. But they would go out thinking of their private livelihood and convenience, breaking or loosening whatever pious bonds might unite them to the past, and quite irresponsibly laying the foundations for an unknown future. A poet, to raise them to the height of their unwitting function, would have to endow them with second sight and a corresponding breadth of soul and purpose. He would need, in a word, heroic figures and supernatural machinery.
Now, what supernatural machinery and heroic figures do for an epic poet piety does for a race. It endows it, through mythical and magic symbols, with something like a vision or representation of its past and future. Religion is normally the most traditional and national of things. It embodies and localises the racial heritage. Commandments of the law, feasts and fasts, temples and the tombs associated with them, are so many foci of communal life, so many points for the dissemination of custom. The Sabbath, which a critical age might justify on hygienic grounds, is inconceivable without a religious sanction. The craving for rest and emotion expressed itself spontaneously in a practice which, as it established itself, had to be sanctioned by fables till the recurrent holiday, with all its humane and chastening influences, came to be established on supernatural authority. It was now piety to observe it and to commemorate in it the sacred duties and traditions of the race. In this function, of course, lay its true justification, but the mythical one had to be assigned, since the diffused prosaic advantages of such a practice would never avail to impose it on irrational wills. Indeed, to revert to our illustration, had AEneas foreseen in detail the whole history of Rome, would not his faith in his divine mission have been considerably dashed? The reality, precious and inestimable as on the whole it was to humanity, might well have shocked him by its cruelties, shames, and disasters. He would have wished to found only a perfect nation and a city eternal indeed. A want of rationality and measure in the human will, that has not learned to prize small betterments and finite but real goods, compels it to deceive itself about the rewards of life in order to secure them. That celestial mission, those heavenly apparitions, those incalculable treasures carried through many a storm, abused AEEneas's mind in order to nerve him to his real duty. Yet his illusion was merely intellectual. The mission undertaken was truly worth carrying out. Piety thus came to bear the fruits of philanthropy in an age when the love of man was inconceivable. A dull and visionary intellect could hit on no other way of justifying a good instinct.
[Sidenote: Piety accepts natural conditions and present tasks.]
[Sidenote: The leadership of instinct is normal.]
Philosophers who harbour illusions about the status of intellect in nature may feel that this leadership of instinct in moral life is a sort of indignity, and that to dwell on it so insistently is to prolong satire without wit. But the leadership of instinct, the conscious expression of mechanism, is not merely a necessity in the Life of Reason, it is a safeguard. Piety, in spite of its allegories, contains a much greater wisdom than a half-enlightened and pert intellect can attain. Natural beings have natural obligations, and the value of things for them is qualified by distance and by accidental material connections. Intellect would tend to gauge things impersonally by their intrinsic values, since intellect is itself a sort of disembodied and universal function; it would tend to disregard material conditions and that irrational substratum of reason without which reason would have no organs and no points of application. Piety, on the contrary, esteems things apart from their intrinsic worth, on account of their relation to the agent's person and fortune. Yet such esteem is perfectly rational, partiality in man's affections and allegiance being justified by the partial nature and local status of his life. Piety is the spirit's acknowledgment of its incarnation. So, in filial and parental affection, which is piety in an elementary form, there is a moulding of will and emotion, a check to irresponsible initiative, in obedience to the facts of animal reproduction. Every living creature has an intrinsic and ideal worth; he is the centre of actual and yet more of potential interests. But this moral value, which even the remotest observer must recognise in both parent and child, is not the ground of their specific affection for each other, which no other mortal is called to feel their regard. This affection is based on the incidental and irrational fact that the one has this particular man for a father, and the other that particular man for a son. Yet, considering the animal basis of human life, an attachment resting on that circumstance is a necessary and rational attachment.
This physical bond should not, indeed, disturb the intellect in its proper function or warp its judgments; you should not, under guise of tenderness, become foolish and attribute to your father or child greater stature or cleverness or goodness than he actually possesses. To do so is a natural foible but no part of piety or true loyalty. It is one thing to lack a heart and another to possess eyes and a just imagination. Indeed, piety is never so beautiful and touching, never so thoroughly humane and invincible, as when it is joined to an impartial intellect, conscious of the relativity involved in existence and able to elude, through imaginative sympathy, the limits set to personal life by circumstance and private duty. As a man dies nobly when, awaiting his own extinction, he is interested to the last in what will continue to be the interests and joys of others, so he is most profoundly pious who loves unreservedly a country, friends, and associations which he knows very well to be not the most beautiful on earth, and who, being wholly content in his personal capacity with his natural conditions, does not need to begrudge other things whatever speculative admiration they may truly deserve. The ideal in this polyglot world, where reason can receive only local and temporal expression, is to understand all languages and to speak but one, so as to unite, in a manly fashion, comprehension with propriety.
Piety is in a sense pathetic because it involves subordination to physical accident and acceptance of finitude. But it is also noble and eminently fruitful because, in subsuming a life under the general laws of relativity, it meets fate with simple sincerity and labours in accordance with the conditions imposed. Since man, though capable of abstraction and impartiality, is rooted like a vegetable to one point in space and time, and exists by limitation, piety belongs to the equilibrium of his being. It resides, so to speak, at his centre of gravity, at the heart and magnetic focus of his complex endowment. It exercises there the eminently sane function of calling thought home. It saves speculative and emotional life from hurtful extravagance by keeping it traditional and social. Conventional absurdities have at least this advantage, that they may be taken conventionally and may come to be, in practice, mere symbols for their uses. Piety is more closely linked with custom than with thought. It exercises an irrational suasion, moralises by contagion, and brings an emotional peace.
[Sidenote: Embodiment essential to spirit.]
Patriotism is another form of piety in which its natural basis and rational function may be clearly seen. It is right to prefer our own essential to country to all others, because we are children and citizens before we can be travellers or philosophers. Specific character is a necessary point of origin for universal relations: a pure nothing can have no radiation or scope. It is no accident for the soul to be embodied; her very essence is to express and bring to fruition the body's functions and resources. Its instincts make her ideals and its relations her world. A native country is a sort of second body, another enveloping organism to give the will definition. A specific inheritance strengthens the soul. Cosmopolitanism has doubtless its place, because a man may well cultivate in himself, and represent in his nation, affinities to other peoples, and such assimilation to them as is compatible with personal integrity and clearness of purpose. Plasticity to things foreign need not be inconsistent with happiness and utility at home. But happiness and utility are possible nowhere to a man who represents nothing and who looks out on the world without a plot of his own to stand on, either on earth or in heaven. He wanders from place to place, a voluntary exile, always querulous, always uneasy, always alone. His very criticisms express no ideal. His experience is without sweetness, without cumulative fruits, and his children, if he has them, are without morality. For reason and happiness are like other flowers—they wither when plucked.
[Sidenote: Piety to the gods takes form from current ideals.]
The object most commonly associated with piety is the gods. Popular philosophy, inverting the natural order of ideas, thinks piety to the gods the source of morality. But piety, when genuine, is rather an incidental expression of morality. Its sources are perfectly natural. A volitional life that reaches the level of reflection is necessarily moral in proportion to the concreteness and harmony of its instincts. The fruits which such harmonious instincts, expressed in consciousness, may eventually bear, fruits which would be the aim of virtue, are not readily imaginable, and the description of them has long ago been intrusted to poets and mythologists. Thus the love of God, for example, is said to be the root of Christian charity, but is in reality only its symbol. For no man not having a superabundant need and faculty of loving real things could have given a meaning to the phrase, "love of God," or been moved by it to any action. History shows in unequivocal fashion that the God loved shifts his character with the shift in his worshippers' real affections. What the psalmist loves is the beauty of God's house and the place where his glory dwelleth. A priestly quietude and pride, a grateful, meditative leisure after the storms of sedition and war, some retired unity of mind after the contradictions of the world—this is what the love of God might signify for the levites. Saint John tells us that he who says he loves God and loves not his neighbour is a liar. Here the love of God is an anti-worldly estimation of things and persons, a heart set on that kingdom of heaven in which the humble and the meek should be exalted. Again, for modern Catholicism the phrase has changed its meaning remarkably and signifies in effect love for Christ's person, because piety has taken a sentimental turn and centred on maintaining imaginary personal relations with the Saviour. How should we conceive that a single supernatural influence was actually responsible for moral effects themselves so various, and producing, in spite of a consecutive tradition, such various notions concerning their object and supposed source?
[Sidenote: The religion of humanity.]
Mankind at large is also, to some minds, an object of piety. But this religion of humanity is rather a desideratum than a fact: humanity does not actually appear to anybody in a religious light. The nihil homine homini utittus remains a signal truth, but the collective influence of men and their average nature are far too mixed and ambiguous to fill the soul with veneration. Piety to mankind must be three-fourths pity. There are indeed specific human virtues, but they are those necessary to existence, like patience and courage. Supported on these indispensable habits, mankind always carries an indefinite load of misery and vice. Life spreads rankly in every wrong and impracticable direction as well as in profitable paths, and the slow and groping struggle with its own ignorance, inertia, and folly, leaves it covered in every age of history with filth and blood. It would hardly be possible to exaggerate man's wretchedness if it were not so easy to overestimate his sensibility. There is a fond of unhappiness in every bosom, but the depths are seldom probed; and there is no doubt that sometimes frivolity and sometimes sturdy habit helps to keep attention on the surface and to cover up the inner void. Certain moralists, without meaning to be satirical, often say that the sovereign cure for unhappiness is work. Unhappily, the work they recommend is better fitted to dull pain than to remove its cause. It occupies the faculties without rationalising the life. Before mankind could inspire even moderate satisfaction, not to speak of worship, its whole economy would have to be reformed, its reproduction regulated, its thoughts cleared up, its affections equalised and refined.