WINDS OF DOCTRINE
STUDIES IN CONTEMPORARY OPINION
LATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY
NEW YORK: CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
FIRST PRINTED IN 1913
I. THE INTELLECTUAL TEMPER OF THE AGE
II. MODERNISM AND CHRISTIANITY
III. THE PHILOSOPHY OF M. HENRI BERGSON
IV. THE PHILOSOPHY OF MR. BERTRAND RUSSELL—
i. A NEW SCHOLASTICISM
ii. THE STUDY OF ESSENCE
iii. THE CRITIQUE OF PRAGMATISM
iv. HYPOSTATIC ETHICS
V. SHELLEY: OR THE POETIC VALUE OF REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES
VI. THE GENTEEL TRADITION IN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY
WINDS OF DOCTRINE
THE INTELLECTUAL TEMPER OF THE AGE
The present age is a critical one and interesting to live in. The civilisation characteristic of Christendom has not disappeared, yet another civilisation has begun to take its place. We still understand the value of religious faith; we still appreciate the pompous arts of our forefathers; we are brought up on academic architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, and music. We still love monarchy and aristocracy, together with that picturesque and dutiful order which rested on local institutions, class privileges, and the authority of the family. We may even feel an organic need for all these things, cling to them tenaciously, and dream of rejuvenating them. On the other hand the shell of Christendom is broken. The unconquerable mind of the East, the pagan past, the industrial socialistic future confront it with their equal authority. Our whole life and mind is saturated with the slow upward filtration of a new spirit—that of an emancipated, atheistic, international democracy.
These epithets may make us shudder; but what they describe is something positive and self-justified, something deeply rooted in our animal nature and inspiring to our hearts, something which, like every vital impulse, is pregnant with a morality of its own. In vain do we deprecate it; it has possession of us already through our propensities, fashions, and language. Our very plutocrats and monarchs are at ease only when they are vulgar. Even prelates and missionaries are hardly sincere or conscious of an honest function, save as they devote themselves to social work; for willy-nilly the new spirit has hold of our consciences as well. This spirit is amiable as well as disquieting, liberating as well as barbaric; and a philosopher in our day, conscious both of the old life and of the new, might repeat what Goethe said of his successive love affairs—that it is sweet to see the moon rise while the sun is still mildly shining.
Meantime our bodies in this generation are generally safe, and often comfortable; and for those who can suspend their irrational labours long enough to look about them, the spectacle of the world, if not particularly beautiful or touching, presents a rapid and crowded drama and (what here concerns me most) one unusually intelligible. The nations, parties, and movements that divide the scene have a known history. We are not condemned, as most generations have been, to fight and believe without an inkling of the cause. The past lies before us; the history of everything is published. Every one records his opinion, and loudly proclaims what he wants. In this Babel of ideals few demands are ever literally satisfied; but many evaporate, merge together, and reach an unintended issue, with which they are content. The whole drift of things presents a huge, good-natured comedy to the observer. It stirs not unpleasantly a certain sturdy animality and hearty self-trust which lie at the base of human nature.
A chief characteristic of the situation is that moral confusion is not limited to the world at large, always the scene of profound conflicts, but that it has penetrated to the mind and heart of the average individual. Never perhaps were men so like one another and so divided within themselves. In other ages, even more than at present, different classes of men have stood at different levels of culture, with a magnificent readiness to persecute and to be martyred for their respective principles. These militant believers have been keenly conscious that they had enemies; but their enemies were strangers to them, whom they could think of merely as such, regarding them as blank negative forces, hateful black devils, whose existence might make life difficult but could not confuse the ideal of life. No one sought to understand these enemies of his, nor even to conciliate them, unless under compulsion or out of insidious policy, to convert them against their will; he merely pelted them with blind refutations and clumsy blows. Every one sincerely felt that the right was entirely on his side, a proof that such intelligence as he had moved freely and exclusively within the lines of his faith. The result of this was that his faith was intelligent, I mean, that he understood it, and had a clear, almost instinctive perception of what was compatible or incompatible with it. He defended his walls and he cultivated his garden. His position and his possessions were unmistakable.
When men and minds were so distinct it was possible to describe and to count them. During the Reformation, when external confusion was at its height, you might have ascertained almost statistically what persons and what regions each side snatched from the other; it was not doubtful which was which. The history of their respective victories and defeats could consequently be written. So in the eighteenth century it was easy to perceive how many people Voltaire and Rousseau might be alienating from Bossuet and Fenelon. But how shall we satisfy ourselves now whether, for instance, Christianity is holding its own? Who can tell what vagary or what compromise may not be calling itself Christianity? A bishop may be a modernist, a chemist may be a mystical theologian, a psychologist may be a believer in ghosts. For science, too, which had promised to supply a new and solid foundation for philosophy, has allowed philosophy rather to undermine its foundation, and is seen eating its own words, through the mouths of some of its accredited spokesmen, and reducing itself to something utterly conventional and insecure. It is characteristic of human nature to be as impatient of ignorance regarding what is not known as lazy in acquiring such knowledge as is at hand; and even those who have not been lazy sometimes take it into their heads to disparage their science and to outdo the professional philosophers in psychological scepticism, in order to plunge with them into the most vapid speculation. Nor is this insecurity about first principles limited to abstract subjects. It reigns in politics as well. Liberalism had been supposed to advocate liberty; but what the advanced parties that still call themselves liberal now advocate is control, control over property, trade, wages, hours of work, meat and drink, amusements, and in a truly advanced country like France control over education and religion; and it is only on the subject of marriage (if we ignore eugenics) that liberalism is growing more and more liberal. Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality; how many people read and write, or how many people there are, or what is the annual value of their trade; whereas true progress would rather lie in reading or writing fewer and better things, and being fewer and better men, and enjoying life more. But the philanthropists are now preparing an absolute subjection of the individual, in soul and body, to the instincts of the majority—the most cruel and unprogressive of masters; and I am not sure that the liberal maxim, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," has not lost whatever was just or generous in its intent and come to mean the greatest idleness of the largest possible population.
Nationality offers another occasion for strange moral confusion. It had seemed that an age that was levelling and connecting all nations, an age whose real achievements were of international application, was destined to establish the solidarity of mankind as a sort of axiom. The idea of solidarity is indeed often invoked in speeches, and there is an extreme socialistic party that—when a wave of national passion does not carry it the other way—believes in international brotherhood. But even here, black men and yellow men are generally excluded; and in higher circles, where history, literature, and political ambition dominate men's minds, nationalism has become of late an omnivorous all-permeating passion. Local parliaments must be everywhere established, extinct or provincial dialects must be galvanised into national languages, philosophy must be made racial, religion must be fostered where it emphasises nationality and denounced where it transcends it. Man is certainly an animal that, when he lives at all, lives for ideals. Something must be found to occupy his imagination, to raise pleasure and pain into love and hatred, and change the prosaic alternative between comfort and discomfort into the tragic one between happiness and sorrow. Now that the hue of daily adventure is so dull, when religion for the most part is so vague and accommodating, when even war is a vast impersonal business, nationality seems to have slipped into the place of honour. It has become the one eloquent, public, intrepid illusion. Illusion, I mean, when it is taken for an ultimate good or a mystical essence, for of course nationality is a fact. People speak some particular language and are very uncomfortable where another is spoken or where their own is spoken differently. They have habits, judgments, assumptions to which they are wedded, and a society where all this is unheard of shocks them and puts them at a galling disadvantage. To ignorant people the foreigner as such is ridiculous, unless he is superior to them in numbers or prestige, when he becomes hateful. It is natural for a man to like to live at home, and to live long elsewhere without a sense of exile is not good for his moral integrity. It is right to feel a greater kinship and affection for what lies nearest to oneself. But this necessary fact and even duty of nationality is accidental; like age or sex it is a physical fatality which can be made the basis of specific and comely virtues; but it is not an end to pursue or a flag to flaunt or a privilege not balanced by a thousand incapacities. Yet of this distinction our contemporaries tend to make an idol, perhaps because it is the only distinction they feel they have left.
Anomalies of this sort will never be properly understood until people accustom themselves to a theory to which they have always turned a deaf ear, because, though simple and true, it is materialistic: namely, that mind is not the cause of our actions but an effect, collateral with our actions, of bodily growth and organisation. It may therefore easily come about that the thoughts of men, tested by the principles that seem to rule their conduct, may be belated, or irrelevant, or premonitory; for the living organism has many strata, on any of which, at a given moment, activities may exist perfect enough to involve consciousness, yet too weak and isolated to control the organs of outer expression; so that (to speak geologically) our practice may be historic, our manners glacial, and our religion palaeozoic. The ideals of the nineteenth century may be said to have been all belated; the age still yearned with Rousseau or speculated with Kant, while it moved with Darwin, Bismarck, and Nietzsche: and to-day, in the half-educated classes, among the religious or revolutionary sects, we may observe quite modern methods of work allied with a somewhat antiquated mentality. The whole nineteenth century might well cry with Faust: "Two souls, alas, dwell in my bosom!" The revolutions it witnessed filled it with horror and made it fall in love romantically with the past and dote on ruins, because they were ruins; and the best learning and fiction of the time were historical, inspired by an unprecedented effort to understand remote forms of life and feeling, to appreciate exotic arts and religions, and to rethink the blameless thoughts of savages and criminals. This sympathetic labour and retrospect, however, was far from being merely sentimental; for the other half of this divided soul was looking ahead. Those same revolutions, often so destructive, stupid, and bloody, filled it with pride, and prompted it to invent several incompatible theories concerning a steady and inevitable progress in the world. In the study of the past, side by side with romantic sympathy, there was a sort of realistic, scholarly intelligence and an adventurous love of truth; kindness too was often mingled with dramatic curiosity. The pathologists were usually healers, the philosophers of evolution were inventors or humanitarians or at least idealists: the historians of art (though optimism was impossible here) were also guides to taste, quickeners of moral sensibility, like Ruskin, or enthusiasts for the irresponsibly beautiful, like Pater and Oscar Wilde. Everywhere in the nineteenth century we find a double preoccupation with the past and with the future, a longing to know what all experience might have been hitherto, and on the other hand to hasten to some wholly different experience, to be contrived immediately with a beating heart and with flying banners. The imagination of the age was intent on history; its conscience was intent on reform.
Reform! This magic word itself covers a great equivocation. To reform means to shatter one form and to create another; but the two sides of the act are not always equally intended nor equally successful. Usually the movement starts from the mere sense of oppression, and people break down some established form, without any qualms about the capacity of their freed instincts to generate the new forms that may be needed. So the Reformation, in destroying the traditional order, intended to secure truth, spontaneity, and profuseness of religious forms; the danger of course being that each form might become meagre and the sum of them chaotic. If the accent, however, could only be laid on the second phase of the transformation, reform might mean the creation of order where it did not sufficiently appear, so that diffuse life should be concentrated into a congenial form that should render it strong and self-conscious. In this sense, if we may trust Mr. Gilbert Murray, it was a great wave of reform that created Greece, or at least all that was characteristic and admirable in it—an effort to organise, train, simplify, purify, and make beautiful the chaos of barbaric customs and passions that had preceded. The clanger here, a danger to which Greece actually succumbed, is that so refined an organism may be too fragile, not inclusive enough within, and not buttressed strongly enough without against the flux of the uncivilised world. Christianity also, in the first formative centuries of its existence, was an integrating reform of the same sort, on a different scale and in a different sphere; but here too an enslaved rabble within the soul claiming the suffrage, and better equipped intellectual empires rising round about, seem to prove that the harmony which the Christian system made for a moment out of nature and life was partial and insecure. It is a terrible dilemma in the life of reason whether it will sacrifice natural abundance to moral order, or moral order to natural abundance. Whatever compromise we choose proves unstable, and forces us to a new experiment.
Perhaps in the century that has elapsed since the French Revolution the pendulum has had time to swing as far as it will in the direction of negative reform, and may now begin to move towards that sort of reform which is integrating and creative. The veering of the advanced political parties from liberalism to socialism would seem to be a clear indication of this new tendency. It is manifest also in the love of nature, in athletics, in the new woman, and in a friendly medical attitude towards all the passions.
In the fine arts, however, and in religion and philosophy, we are still in full career towards disintegration. It might have been thought that a germ of rational order would by this time have penetrated into fine art and speculation from the prosperous constructive arts that touch the one, and the prosperous natural and mathematical sciences that touch the other. But as yet there is little sign of it. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century painting and sculpture have passed through several phases, representatives of each naturally surviving after the next had appeared. Romanticism, half lurid, half effeminate, yielded to a brutal pursuit of material truth, and a pious preference for modern and humble sentiment. This realism had a romantic vein in it, and studied vice and crime, tedium and despair, with a very genuine horrified sympathy. Some went in for a display of archaeological lore or for exotic motifs; others gave all their attention to rediscovering and emphasising abstract problems of execution, the highway of technical tradition having long been abandoned. Beginners are still supposed to study their art, but they have no masters from whom to learn it. Thus, when there seemed to be some danger that art should be drowned in science and history, the artists deftly eluded it by becoming amateurs. One gave himself to religious archaism, another to Japanese composition, a third to barbaric symphonies of colour; sculptors tried to express dramatic climaxes, or inarticulate lyrical passion, such as music might better convey; and the latest whims are apparently to abandon painful observation altogether, to be merely decorative or frankly mystical, and to be satisfied with the childishness of hieroglyphics or the crudity of caricature. The arts are like truant children who think their life will be glorious if they only run away and play for ever; no need is felt of a dominant ideal passion and theme, nor of any moral interest in the interpretation of nature. Artists have no less talent than ever; their taste, their vision, their sentiment are often interesting; they are mighty in their independence and feeble only in their works.
In philosophy there are always the professors, as in art there are always the portrait painters and the makers of official sculpture; and both sorts of academicians are often very expert and well-educated. Yet in philosophy, besides the survival of all the official and endowed systems, there has been of late a very interesting fresh movement, largely among the professors themselves, which in its various hues may be called irrationalism, vitalism, pragmatism, or pure empiricism. But this movement, far from being a reawakening of any organising instinct, is simply an extreme expression of romantic anarchy. It is in essence but a franker confession of the principle upon which modern philosophy has been building—or unbuilding—for these three hundred years, I mean the principle of subjectivity. Berkeley and Hume, the first prophets of the school, taught that experience is not a partial discovery of other things but is itself the only possible object of experience. Therefore, said Kant and the second generation of prophets, any world we may seem to live in, even those worlds of theology or of history which Berkeley or Hume had inadvertently left standing, must be an idea which our present experience suggests to us and which we frame as the principles of our mind allow and dictate that we should. But then, say the latest prophets—Avenarius, William James, M. Bergson—these mental principles are no antecedent necessities or duties imposed on our imagination; they are simply parts of flying experience itself, and the ideas—say of God or of matter—which they lead us to frame have nothing compulsory or fixed about them. Their sole authority lies in the fact that they may be more or less congenial or convenient, by enriching the flying moment aesthetically, or helping it to slip prosperously into the next moment. Immediate feeling, pure experience, is the only reality, the only fact: if notions which do not reproduce it fully as it flows are still called true (and they evidently ought not to be) it is only in a pragmatic sense of the word, in that while they present a false and heterogeneous image of reality they are not practically misleading; as, for instance, the letters on this page are no true image of the sounds they call up, nor the sounds of the thoughts, yet both may be correct enough if they lead the reader in the end to the things they symbolise. It is M. Bergson, the most circumspect and best equipped thinker of this often scatter-brained school, who has put this view in a frank and tenable form, avoiding the bungling it has sometimes led to about the "meaning of truth." Truth, according to M. Bergson, is given only in intuitions which prolong experience just as it occurs, in its full immediacy; on the other hand, all representation, thought, theory, calculation, or discourse is so much mutilation of the truth, excusable only because imposed upon us by practical exigences. The world, being a feeling, must be felt to be known, and then the world and the knowledge of it are identical; but if it is talked about or thought about it is denaturalised, although convention and utility may compel the poor human being to talk and to think, exiled as he is from reality in his Babylon of abstractions. Life, like the porcupine when not ruffled by practical alarms, can let its fretful quills subside. The mystic can live happy in the droning consciousness of his own heart-beats and those of the universe.
With this we seem to have reached the extreme of self-concentration and self-expansion, the perfect identity and involution of everything in oneself. And such indeed is the inevitable goal of the malicious theory of knowledge, to which this school is committed, remote as that goal may be from the boyish naturalism and innocent intent of many of its pupils. If all knowledge is of experience and experience cannot be knowledge of anything else, knowledge proper is evidently impossible. There can be only feeling; and the least self-transcendence, even in memory, must be an illusion. You may have the most complex images you will; but nothing pictured there can exist outside, not even past or alien experience, if you picture it. Solipsism has always been the evident implication of idealism; but the idealists, when confronted with this consequence, which is dialectically inconvenient, have never been troubled at heart by it, for at heart they accept it. To the uninitiated they have merely murmured, with a pitying smile and a wave of the hand: What! are you still troubled by that? Or if compelled to be so scholastic as to labour the point they have explained, as usual, that oneself cannot be the absolute because the idea of oneself, to arise, must be contrasted with other ideas. Therefore, you cannot well have the idea of a world in which nothing appears but the idea of yourself.
[Footnote 1: Perhaps some unsophisticated reader may wonder if I am not trying to mislead him, or if any mortal ever really maintained anything so absurd. Strictly the idealistic principle does not justify a denial that independent things, by chance resembling my ideas, may actually exist; but it justifies the denial that these things, if they existed, could be those I know. My past would not be my past if I did not appropriate it; my ideas would not refer to their objects unless both were ideas identified in my mind. In practice, therefore, idealists feel free to ignore the gratuitous possibility of existences lying outside the circle of objects knowable to the thinker, which, according to them, is the circle of his ideas. In this way they turn a human method of approach into a charter for existence and non-existence, and their point of view becomes the creative power. When the idealist studies astronomy, does he learn anything about the stars that God made? Far from him so naive a thought! His astronomy consists of two activities of his own (and he is very fond of activity): star-gazing and calculation. When he has become quite proficient he knows all about star-gazing and calculation; but he knows nothing of any stars that God made; for there are no stars except his visual images of stars, and there is no God but himself. It is true that to soften this hard saying a little he would correct me and say his higher self; but as his lower self is only the idea of himself which he may have framed, it is his higher self that is himself simply: although whether he or his idea of himself is really the higher might seem doubtful to an outsider.]
This explanation, in pretending to refute solipsism, of course assumes and confirms it; for all these cans and musts touch only your idea of yourself, not your actual being, and there is no thinkable world that is not within you, as you exist really. Thus idealists are wedded to solipsism irrevocably; and it is a happy marriage, only the name of the lady has to be changed.
Nevertheless, lest peace should come (and peace nowadays is neither possible nor desired), a counter-current at once overtakes the philosophy of the immediate and carries it violently to the opposite pole of speculation—from mystic intuition to a commercial cult of action and a materialisation of the mind such as no materialist had ever dreamt of. The tenderness which the pragmatists feel for life in general, and especially for an accelerated modern life, has doubtless contributed to this revulsion, but the speculative consideration of the immediate might have led to it independently. For in the immediate there is marked expectancy, craving, prayer; nothing absorbs consciousness so much as what is not quite given. Therefore it is a good reading of the immediate, as well as a congenial thing to say to the contemporary world, that reality is change, growth, action, creation. Similarly the sudden materialisation of mind, the unlooked-for assertion that consciousness does not exist, has its justification in the same quarter. In the immediate what appears is the thing, not the mind to which the thing appears. Even in the passions, when closely scanned introspectively, you will find a new sensitiveness or ebullition of the body, or a rush of images and words; you will hardly find a separate object called anger or love. The passions, therefore, when their moral essence is forgotten, may be said to be literally nothing but a movement of their organs and their objects, just as ideas may be said to be nothing but fragments or cross-threads of the material world. Thus the mind and the object are rolled into one moving mass; motions are identified with passions, things are perceptions extended, perceptions are things cut down. And, by a curious revolution in sentiment, it is things and motions that are reputed to have the fuller and the nobler reality. Under cover of a fusion or neutrality between idealism and realism, moral materialism, the reverence for mere existence and power, takes possession of the heart, and ethics becomes idolatrous. Idolatry, however, is hardly possible if you have a cold and clear idea of blocks and stones, attributing to them only the motions they are capable of; and accordingly idealism, by way of compensation, has to take possession of physics. The idol begins to wink and drop tears under the wistful gaze of the worshipper. Matter is felt to yearn, and evolution is held to be more divinely inspired than policy or reason could ever be.
Extremes meet, and the tendency to practical materialism was never wholly absent from the idealism of the moderns. Certainly, the tumid respectability of Anglo-German philosophy had somehow to be left behind; and Darwinian England and Bismarckian Germany had another inspiration as well to guide them, if it could only come to consciousness in the professors. The worship of power is an old religion, and Hegel, to go no farther back, is full of it; but like traditional religion his system qualified its veneration for success by attributing success, in the future at least, to what could really inspire veneration; and such a master in equivocation could have no difficulty in convincing himself that the good must conquer in the end if whatever conquers in the end is the good. Among the pragmatists the worship of power is also optimistic, but it is not to logic that power is attributed. Science, they say, is good as a help to industry, and philosophy is good for correcting whatever in science might disturb religious faith, which in turn is helpful in living. What industry or life are good for it would be unsympathetic to inquire: the stream is mighty, and we must swim with the stream. Concern for survival, however, which seems to be the pragmatic principle in morals, does not afford a remedy for moral anarchy. To take firm hold on life, according to Nietzsche, we should be imperious, poetical, atheistic; but according to William James we should be democratic, concrete, and credulous. It is hard to say whether pragmatism is come to emancipate the individual spirit and make it lord over things, or on the contrary to declare the spirit a mere instrument for the survival of the flesh. In Italy, the mind seems to be raised deliriously into an absolute creator, evoking at will, at each moment, a new past, a new future, a new earth, and a new God. In America, however, the mind is recommended rather as an unpatented device for oiling the engine of the body and making it do double work.
Trustful faith in evolution and a longing for intense life are characteristic of contemporary sentiment; but they do not appear to be consistent with that contempt for the intellect which is no less characteristic of it. Human intelligence is certainly a product, and a late and highly organised product, of evolution; it ought apparently to be as much admired as the eyes of molluscs or the antennae of ants. And if life is better the more intense and concentrated it is, intelligence would seem to be the best form of life. But the degree of intelligence which this age possesses makes it so very uncomfortable that, in this instance, it asks for something less vital, and sighs for what evolution has left behind. In the presence of such cruelly distinct things as astronomy or such cruelly confused things as theology it feels la nostalgie de la boue. It was only, M. Bergson tells us, where dead matter oppressed life that life was forced to become intelligence; for this reason intelligence kills whatever it touches; it is the tribute that life pays to death. Life would find it sweet to throw off that painful subjection to circumstance and bloom in some more congenial direction. M. Bergson's own philosophy is an effort to realise this revulsion, to disintegrate intelligence and stimulate sympathetic experience. Its charm lies in the relief which it brings to a stale imagination, an imagination from which religion has vanished and which is kept stretched on the machinery of business and society, or on small half-borrowed passions which we clothe in a mean rhetoric and dot with vulgar pleasures. Finding their intelligence enslaved, our contemporaries suppose that intelligence is essentially servile; instead of freeing it, they try to elude it. Not free enough themselves morally, but bound to the world partly by piety and partly by industrialism, they cannot think of rising to a detached contemplation of earthly things, and of life itself and evolution; they revert rather to sensibility, and seek some by-path of instinct or dramatic sympathy in which to wander. Having no stomach for the ultimate, they burrow downwards towards the primitive. But the longing to be primitive is a disease of culture; it is archaism in morals. To be so preoccupied with vitality is a symptom of anaemia. When life was really vigorous and young, in Homeric times for instance, no one seemed to fear that it might be squeezed out of existence either by the incubus of matter or by the petrifying blight of intelligence. Life was like the light of day, something to use, or to waste, or to enjoy. It was not a thing to worship; and often the chief luxury of living consisted in dealing death about vigorously. Life indeed was loved, and the beauty and pathos of it were felt exquisitely; but its beauty and pathos lay in the divineness of its model and in its own fragility. No one paid it the equivocal compliment of thinking it a substance or a material force. Nobility was not then impossible in sentiment, because there were ideals in life higher and more indestructible than life itself, which life might illustrate and to which it might fitly be sacrificed. Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape; a spirit with any honour is not willing to live except in its own way, and a spirit with any wisdom is not over-eager to live at all. In those days men recognised immortal gods and resigned themselves to being mortal. Yet those were the truly vital and instinctive days of the human spirit. Only when vitality is low do people find material things oppressive and ideal things unsubstantial. Now there is more motion than life, and more haste than force; we are driven to distraction by the ticking of the tiresome clocks, material and social, by which we are obliged to regulate our existence. We need ministering angels to fly to us from somewhere, even if it be from the depths of protoplasm. We must bathe in the currents of some non-human vital flood, like consumptives in their last extremity who must bask in the sunshine and breathe the mountain air; and our disease is not without its sophistry to convince us that we were never so well before, or so mightily conscious of being alive.
When chaos has penetrated so far into the moral being of nations they can hardly be expected to produce great men. A great man need not be virtuous, nor his opinions right, but he must have a firm mind, a distinctive, luminous character; if he is to dominate things, something must be dominant in him. We feel him to be great in that he clarifies and brings to expression something which was potential in the rest of us, but which with our burden of flesh and circumstance we were too torpid to utter. The great man is a spontaneous variation in humanity; but not in any direction. A spontaneous variation might be a mere madness or mutilation or monstrosity; in finding the variation admirable we evidently invoke some principle of order to which it conforms. Perhaps it makes explicit what was preformed in us also; as when a poet finds the absolutely right phrase for a feeling, or when nature suddenly astonishes us with a form of absolute beauty. Or perhaps it makes an unprecedented harmony out of things existing before, but jangled and detached. The first man was a great man for this latter reason; having been an ape perplexed and corrupted by his multiplying instincts, he suddenly found a new way of being decent, by harnessing all those instincts together, through memory and imagination, and giving each in turn a measure of its due; which is what we call being rational. It is a new road to happiness, if you have strength enough to castigate a little the various impulses that sway you in turn. Why then is the martyr, who sacrifices everything to one attraction, distinguished from the criminal or the fool, who do the same thing? Evidently because the spirit that in the martyr destroys the body is the very spirit which the body is stifling in the rest of us; and although his private inspiration may be irrational, the tendency of it is not, but reduces the public conscience to act before any one else has had the courage to do so. Greatness is spontaneous; simplicity, trust in some one clear instinct, are essential to it; but the spontaneous variation must be in the direction of some possible sort of order; it must exclude and leave behind what is incapable of being moralised. How, then, should there be any great heroes, saints, artists, philosophers, or legislators in an age when nobody trusts himself, or feels any confidence in reason, in an age when the word dogmatic is a term of reproach? Greatness has character and severity, it is deep and sane, it is distinct and perfect. For this reason there is none of it to-day.
There is indeed another kind of greatness, or rather largeness of mind, which consists in being a synthesis of humanity in its current phases, even if without prophetic emphasis or direction: the breadth of a Goethe, rather than the fineness of a Shelley or a Leopardi. But such largeness of mind, not to be vulgar, must be impartial, comprehensive, Olympian; it would not be greatness if its miscellany were not dominated by a clear genius and if before the confusion of things the poet or philosopher were not himself delighted, exalted, and by no means confused. Nor does this presume omniscience on his part. It is not necessary to fathom the ground or the structure of everything in order to know what to make of it. Stones do not disconcert a builder because he may not happen to know what they are chemically; and so the unsolved problems of life and nature, and the Babel of society, need not disturb the genial observer, though he may be incapable of unravelling them. He may set these dark spots down in their places, like so many caves or wells in a landscape, without feeling bound to scrutinise their depths simply because their depths are obscure. Unexplored they may have a sort of lustre, explored they might merely make him blind, and it may be a sufficient understanding of them to know that they are not worth investigating. In this way the most chaotic age and the most motley horrors might be mirrored limpidly in a great mind, as the Renaissance was mirrored in the works of Raphael and Shakespeare; but the master's eye itself must be single, his style unmistakable, his visionary interest in what he depicts frank and supreme. Hence this comprehensive sort of greatness too is impossible in an age when moral confusion is pervasive, when characters are complex, undecided, troubled by the mere existence of what is not congenial to them, eager to be not themselves; when, in a word, thought is weak and the flux of things overwhelms it.
Without great men and without clear convictions this age is nevertheless very active intellectually; it is studious, empirical, inventive, sympathetic. Its wisdom consists in a certain contrite openness of mind; it flounders, but at least in floundering it has gained a sense of possible depths in all directions. Under these circumstances, some triviality and great confusion in its positive achievements are not unpromising things, nor even unamiable. These are the Wanderjahre of faith; it looks smilingly at every new face, which might perhaps be that of a predestined friend; it chases after any engaging stranger; it even turns up again from time to time at home, full of a new tenderness for all it had abandoned there. But to settle down would be impossible now. The intellect, the judgment are in abeyance. Life is running turbid and full; and it is no marvel that reason, after vainly supposing that it ruled the world, should abdicate as gracefully as possible, when the world is so obviously the sport of cruder powers—vested interests, tribal passions, stock sentiments, and chance majorities. Having no responsibility laid upon it, reason has become irresponsible. Many critics and philosophers seem to conceive that thinking aloud is itself literature. Sometimes reason tries to lend some moral authority to its present masters, by proving how superior they are to itself; it worships evolution, instinct, novelty, action, as it does in modernism, pragmatism, and the philosophy of M. Bergson. At other times it retires into the freehold of those temperaments whom this world has ostracised, the region of the non-existent, and comforts itself with its indubitable conquests there. This happened earlier to the romanticists (in a way which I have tried to describe in the subjoined paper on Shelley) although their poetic and political illusions did not suffer them to perceive it. It is happening now, after disillusion, to some radicals and mathematicians like Mr. Bertrand Russell, and to others of us who, perhaps without being mathematicians or even radicals, feel that the sphere of what happens to exist is too alien and accidental to absorb all the play of a free mind, whose function, after it has come to clearness and made its peace with things, is to touch them with its own moral and intellectual light, and to exist for its own sake.
These are but gusts of doctrine; yet they prove that the spirit is not dead in the lull between its seasons of steady blowing. Who knows which of them may not gather force presently and carry the mind of the coming age steadily before it?
MODERNISM AND CHRISTIANITY
Prevalent winds of doctrine must needs penetrate at last into the cloister. Social instability and moral confusion, reconstructions of history and efforts after reform, are things characteristic of the present age; and under the name of modernism they have made their appearance even in that institution which is constitutionally the most stable, of most explicit mind, least inclined to revise its collective memory or established usages—I mean the Catholic church. Even after this church was constituted by the fusion of many influences and by the gradual exclusion of those heresies—some of them older than explicit orthodoxy—which seemed to misrepresent its implications or spirit, there still remained an inevitable propensity among Catholics to share the moods of their respective ages and countries, and to reconcile them if possible with their professed faith. Often these cross influences were so strong that the profession of faith was changed frankly to suit them, and Catholicism was openly abandoned; but even where this did not occur we may detect in the Catholic minds of each age some strange conjunctions and compromises with the Zeitgeist. Thus the morality of chivalry and war, the ideals of foppishness and honour, have been long maintained side by side with the maxims of the gospel, which they entirely contradict. Later the system of Copernicus, incompatible at heart with the anthropocentric and moralistic view of the world which Christianity implies, was accepted by the church with some lame attempt to render it innocuous; but it remains an alien and hostile element, like a spent bullet lodged in the flesh. In more recent times we have heard of liberal Catholicism, the attitude assumed by some generous but divided minds, too much attached to their traditional religion to abandon it, but too weak and too hopeful not to glow also with enthusiasm for modern liberty and progress. Had those minds been, I will not say intelligently Catholic but radically Christian, they would have felt that this liberty was simply liberty to be damned, and this progress not an advance towards the true good of man, but a lapse into endless and heathen wanderings. For Christianity, in its essence and origin, was an urgent summons to repent and come out of just such a worldly life as modern liberty and progress hold up as an ideal to the nations. In the Roman empire, as in the promised land of liberalism, each man sought to get and to enjoy as much as he could, and supported a ponderous government neutral as to religion and moral traditions, but favourable to the accumulation of riches; so that a certain enlightenment and cosmopolitanism were made possible, and private passions and tastes could be gratified without encountering persecution or public obloquy, though not without a general relaxation of society and a vulgarising of arts and manners. That something so self-indulgent and worldly as this ideal of liberalism could have been thought compatible with Christianity, the first initiation into which, in baptism, involves renouncing the world, might well astonish us, had we not been rendered deaf to moral discords by the very din which from our birth they have been making in our ears.
But this is not all. Primitive Christianity was not only a summons to turn one's heart and mind away from a corrupt world; it was a summons to do so under pain of instant and terrible punishment. It was the conviction of pious Jews since the days of the Prophets that mercilessness, avarice, and disobedience to revealed law were the direct path to ruin; a world so wicked as the liberal world against which St. John the Baptist thundered was necessarily on the verge of destruction. Sin, although we moderns may not think so, seemed to the ancient Jews a fearful imprudence. The hand of the Lord would descend on it heavily, and very soon. The whole Roman civilisation was to be overthrown in the twinkling of an eye. Those who hoped to be of the remnant and to be saved, so as to lead a clarified and heavenly life in the New Jerusalem, must hasten to put on sackcloth and ashes, to fast and to pray, to watch with girded loins for the coming of the kingdom; it was superfluous for them to study the dead past or to take thought for the morrow. The cataclysm was at hand; a new heaven and a new earth—far more worthy of study—would be unrolled before that very generation.
There was indeed something terribly levelling, revolutionary, serious, and expectant about that primitive gospel; and in so far as liberalism possessed similar qualities, in so far as it was moved by indignation, pity, and fervent hope, it could well preach on early Christian texts. But the liberal Catholics were liberals of the polite and governmental sort; they were shocked at suffering rather than at sin, and they feared not the Lord but the movement of public opinion. Some of them were vaguely pious men, whose conservativism in social and moral matters forbade them to acquiesce in the disappearance of the church altogether, and they thought it might be preserved, as the English church is, by making opportune concessions. Others were simply aristocrats, desirous that the pacifying influence of religion should remain strong over the masses. The clergy was not, in any considerable measure, tossed by these opposing currents; the few priests who were liberals were themselves men of the world, patriots, and orators. Such persons could not look forward to a fierce sifting of the wheat from the tares, or to any burning of whole bundles of nations, for they were nothing if not romantic nationalists, and the idea of faggots of any sort was most painful to their minds. They longed rather for a sweet cohabitation with everybody, and a mild tolerance of almost everything. A war for religion seemed to them a crime, but a war for nationality glorious and holy. No wonder that their work in nation-building has endured, while their sentiments in religion are scattered to the winds. The liberalism for the sake of which they were willing to eviscerate their Christianity has already lost its vitality; it survives as a pale parliamentary tradition, impotent before the tide of socialism rising behind its back. The Catholicism which they wished to see gently lingering is being driven out of national life by official spoliations and popular mockeries. It is fast becoming what it was in the beginning, a sect with more or less power to alienate the few who genuinely adhere to it from the pagan society in which they are forced to live.
The question what is true or essential Christianity is a thorny one, because each party gives the name of genuine Christianity to what it happens to believe. Thus Professor Harnack, not to mention less distinguished historians, makes the original essence of Christianity coincide—what a miracle!—with his own Lutheran and Kantian sentiments. But the essence of Christianity, as of everything else, is the whole of it; and the genuine nature of a seed is at least as well expressed by what it becomes in contact with the earth and air as by what it seems in its primitive minuteness. It is quite true, as the modernists tell us, that in the beginning Christian faith was not a matter of scholastic definitions, nor even of intellectual dogmas. Religions seldom begin in that form, and paganism was even less intellectual and less dogmatic than early Christianity. The most primitive Christian faith consisted in a conversion of the whole man—intellect, habits, and affections—from the life of the world to a new mystical life, in answer to a moral summons and a prophecy about destiny. The moral summons was to renounce home, kindred, possessions, the respect of men, the hypocrisies of the synagogue, and to devote oneself to a wandering and begging life, healing, praying, and preaching. And preaching what? Preaching the prophecy about destiny which justified that conversion and renunciation; preaching that the world, in its present constitution, was about to be destroyed on account of its wickedness, and that the ignorant, the poor, and the down-trodden, if they trusted this prophecy, and turned their backs at once on all the world pursues, would be saved in the new deluge, and would form a new society, of a more or less supernatural kind, to be raised on the ruins of all present institutions. The poor were called, but the rich were called also, and perhaps even the heathen; for there was in all men, even in all nature (this is the one touch of speculative feeling in the gospel), a precious potentiality of goodness. All were essentially amiable, though accidentally wretched and depraved; and by the magic of a new faith and hope this soul of goodness in all living things might be freed from the hideous incubus of circumstance that now oppresses it, and might come to bloom openly as the penetrating eye of the lover, even now, sees that it could bloom. Love, then, and sympathy, particularly towards the sinful and diseased, a love relieved of sentimentality by the deliberate practice of healing, warning, and comforting; a complete aversion from all the interests of political society, and a confident expectation of a cataclysm that should suddenly transfigure the world—such was Christian religion in its origin. The primitive Christian was filled with the sense of a special election and responsibility, and of a special hope. He was serene, abstracted, incorruptible, his inward eye fixed on a wonderful revelation. He was as incapable of attacking as of serving the state; he despised or ignored everything for which the state exists, labour, wealth, power, felicity, splendour, and learning. With Christ the natural man in him had been crucified, and in Christ he had risen again a spiritual man, to walk the earth, as a messenger from heaven, for a few more years. His whole life was an experience of perpetual graces and miracles.
The prophecy about the speedy end of this wicked world was not fulfilled as the early Christians expected; but this fact is less disconcerting to the Christian than one would suppose. The spontaneous or instinctive Christian—and there is such a type of mind, quite apart from any affiliation to historic Christianity—takes a personal and dramatic view of the world; its values and even its reality are the values and reality which it may have for him. It would profit him nothing to win it, if he lost his own soul. That prophecy about the destruction of nature springs from this attitude; nature must be subservient to the human conscience; it must satisfy the hopes of the prophet and vindicate the saints. That the years should pass and nothing should seem to happen need not shatter the force of this prophecy for those whose imagination it excites. This world must actually vanish very soon for each of us; and this is the point of view that counts with the Christian mind. Even if we consider posterity, the kingdoms and arts and philosophies of this world are short lived; they shift their aims continually and shift their substance. The prophecy of their destruction is therefore being fulfilled continually; the need of repentance, if one would be saved, is truly urgent; and the means of that salvation cannot be an operation upon this world, but faith in another world that, in the experience of each soul, is to follow upon it. Thus the summons to repent and the prophecy about destiny which were the root of Christianity, can fully retain their spirit when for "this wicked world" we read "this transitory life" and for "the coming of the Kingdom" we read "life everlasting." The change is important, but it affects the application rather than the nature of the gospel. Morally there is a loss, because men will never take so hotly what concerns another life as what affects this one; speculatively, on the other hand, there is a gain, for the expectation of total transformations and millenniums on earth is a very crude illusion, while the relation of the soul to nature is an open question in philosophy, and there will always be a great loftiness and poetic sincerity in the feeling that the soul is a stranger in this world and has other destinies in store.
What would make the preaching of the gospel utterly impossible would be the admission that it had no authority to proclaim what has happened or what is going to happen, either in this world or in another. A prophecy about destiny is an account, however vague, of events to be actually experienced, and of their causes. The whole inspiration of Hebraic religion lies in that. It was not metaphorically that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The promised land was a piece of earth. The kingdom was an historical fact. It was not symbolically that Israel was led into captivity, or that it returned and restored the Temple. It was not ideally that a Messiah was to come. Memory of such events is in the same field as history; prophecy is in the same field as natural science. Natural science too is an account of what will happen, and under what conditions. It too is a prophecy about destiny. Accordingly, while it is quite true that speculations about nature and history are not contained explicitly in the religion of the gospel, yet the message of this religion is one which speculations about nature and reconstructions of history may extend congruously, or may contradict and totally annul. If physical science should remove those threats of destruction to follow upon sin which Christian prophecy contains, or if it should prove that what brings destruction is just that unworldly, prayerful, all-forgiving, idle, and revolutionary attitude which the gospel enjoins, then physical science would be incompatible with Christianity; not with this or that text of the Bible merely, about the sun standing still or the dead rising again, but with the whole foundation of what Christ himself, with John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. James, and St. John, preached to the world.
Even the pagan poets, when they devised a myth, half believed in it for a fact. What really lent some truth—moral truth only—to their imaginations was indeed the beauty of nature, the comedy of life, or the groans of mankind, crushed between the upper and the nether millstones; but being scientifically ignorant they allowed their pictorial wisdom to pass for a revealed science, for a physics of the unseen. If even among the pagans the poetic expression of human experience could be mistaken in this way for knowledge of occult existences, how much more must this have been the case among a more ignorant and a more intense nation like the Jews? Indeed, events are what the Jews have always remembered and hoped for; if their religion was not a guide to events, an assured means towards a positive and experimental salvation, it was nothing. Their theology was meagre in the description of the Lord's nature, but rich in the description of his ways. Indeed, their belief in the existence and power of the Lord, if we take it pragmatically and not imaginatively, was simply the belief in certain moral harmonies in destiny, in the sufficiency of conduct of a certain sort to secure success and good fortune, both national and personal. This faith was partly an experience and partly a demand; it turned on history and prophecy. History was interpreted by a prophetic insight into the moral principle, believed to govern it; and prophecy was a passionate demonstration of the same principles, at work in the catastrophes of the day or of the morrow.
There is no doubt a Platonic sort of religion, a worship of the ideal apart from its power to realise itself, which has entered largely into the life of Christians; and the more mystical and disinterested they were, the more it has tended to take the place of Hebraism. But the Platonists, too, when left to their instincts, follow their master in attributing power and existence, by a sort of cumulative worship and imaginative hyperbole, to what in the first place they worship because it is good. To divorce, then, as the modernists do, the history of the world from the story of salvation, and God's government and the sanctions of religion from the operation of matter, is a fundamental apostasy from Christianity. Christianity, being a practical and living faith in a possible eventual redemption from sin, from the punishment for sin, from the thousand circumstances that make the most brilliant worldly life a sham and a failure, essentially involves a faith in a supernatural physics, in such an economy of forces, behind, within, and around the discoverable forces of nature, that the destiny which nature seems to prepare for us may be reversed, that failures may be turned into successes, ignominy into glory, and humble faith into triumphant vision: and this not merely by a change in our point of view or estimation of things, but by an actual historical, physical transformation in the things themselves. To believe this in our day may require courage, even a certain childish simplicity; but were not courage and a certain childish simplicity always requisite for Christian faith? It never was a religion for the rationalist and the worldling; it was based on alienation from the world, from the intellectual world no less than from the economic and political. It flourished in the Oriental imagination that is able to treat all existence with disdain and to hold it superbly at arm's length, and at the same time is subject to visions and false memories, is swayed by the eloquence of private passion, and raises confidently to heaven the cry of the poor, the bereaved, and the distressed. Its daily bread, from the beginning, was hope for a miraculous change of scene, for prison-walls falling to the ground about it, for a heart inwardly comforted, and a shower of good things from the sky.
It is clear that a supernaturalistic faith of this sort, which might wholly inspire some revolutionary sect, can never wholly inspire human society. Whenever a nation is converted to Christianity, its Christianity, in practice, must be largely converted into paganism. The true Christian is in all countries a pilgrim and a stranger; not his kinsmen, but whoever does the will of his Father who is in heaven is his brother and sister and mother and his real compatriot. In a nation that calls itself Christian every child may be pledged, at baptism, to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil; but the flesh will assert itself notwithstanding, the devil will have his due, and the nominal Christian, become a man of business and the head of a family, will form an integral part of that very world which he will pledge his children to renounce in turn as he holds them over the font. The lips, even the intellect, may continue to profess the Christian ideal; but public and social life will be guided by quite another. The ages of faith, the ages of Christian unity, were such only superficially. When all men are Christians only a small element can be Christian in the average man. The thirteenth century, for instance, is supposed to be the golden age of Catholicism; but what seems to have filled it, if we may judge by the witness of Dante? Little but bitter conflicts, racial and religious; faithless rebellions, both in states and in individuals, against the Christian regimen; worldliness in the church, barbarism in the people, and a dawning of all sorts of scientific and aesthetic passions, in themselves quite pagan and contrary to the spirit of the gospel. Christendom at that time was by no means a kingdom of God on earth; it was a conglomeration of incorrigible rascals, intellectually more or less Christian. We may see the same thing under different circumstances in the Spain of Philip II. Here was a government consciously labouring in the service of the church, to resist Turks, convert pagans, banish Moslems, and crush Protestants. Yet the very forces engaged in defending the church, the army and the Inquisition, were alien to the Christian life; they were fit embodiments rather of chivalry and greed, or of policy and jealous dominion. The ecclesiastical forces also, theology, ritual, and hierarchy, employed in spreading the gospel were themselves alien to the gospel. An anti-worldly religion finds itself in fact in this dilemma: if it remains merely spiritual, developing no material organs, it cannot affect the world; while if it develops organs with which to operate on the world, these organs become a part of the world from which it is trying to wean the individual spirit, so that the moment it is armed for conflict such a religion has two enemies on its hands. It is stifled by its necessary armour, and adds treason in its members to hostility in its foes. The passions and arts it uses against its opponents are as fatal to itself as those which its opponents array against it.
In every age in which a supernaturalistic system is preached we must accordingly expect to find the world standing up stubbornly against it, essentially unconverted and hostile, whatever name it may have been christened with; and we may expect the spirit of the world to find expression, not only in overt opposition to the supernaturalistic system, but also in the surviving or supervening worldliness of the faithful. Such an insidious revulsion of the natural man against a religion he does not openly discard is what, in modern Christendom, we call the Renaissance. No less than the Revolution (which is the later open rebellion against the same traditions) the Renaissance is radically inimical to Christianity. To say that Christianity survives, even if weakened or disestablished, is to say that the Renaissance and the Revolution are still incomplete, Far from being past events they are living programmes. The ideal of the Renaissance is to restore pagan standards in polite learning, in philosophy, in sentiment, and in morals. It is to abandon and exactly reverse one's baptismal vows. Instead of forsaking this wicked world, the men of the Renaissance accept, love, and cultivate the world, with all its pomp and vanities; they believe in the blamelessness of natural life and in its perfectibility; or they cling at least to a noble ambition to perfect it and a glorious ability to enjoy it. Instead of renouncing the flesh, they feed, refine, and adorn it; their arts glorify its beauty and its passions. And far from renouncing the devil—if we understand by the devil the proud assertion on the part of the finite of its autonomy, autonomy of the intellect in science, autonomy of the heart and will in morals—the men of the Renaissance are possessed by the devil altogether. They worship nothing and acknowledge authority in nothing save in their own spirit. No opposition could be more radical and complete than that between the Renaissance and the anti-worldly religion of the gospel.
"I see a vision," Nietzsche says somewhere, "so full of meaning, yet so wonderfully strange—Caesar Borgia become pope! Do you understand? Ah, that would verily have been the triumph for which I am longing to-day. Then Christianity would have been done for." And Nietzsche goes on to accuse Luther of having spoiled this lovely possibility, which was about to be realised, by frightening the papacy out of its mellow paganism into something like a restoration of the old acrid Christianity. A dream of this sort, even if less melodramatic than Nietzsche's, has visited the mind of many a neo-Catholic or neo-pagan. If the humanistic tendencies of the Renaissance could have worked on unimpeded, might not a revolution from above, a gradual rationalisation, have transformed the church? Its dogma might have been insensibly understood to be nothing but myth, its miracles nothing but legend, its sacraments mere symbols, its Bible pure literature, its liturgy just poetry, its hierarchy an administrative convenience, its ethics an historical accident, and its whole function simply to lend a warm mystical aureole to human culture and ignorance. The Reformation prevented this euthanasia of Christianity. It re-expressed the unenlightened absolutism of the old religion; it insisted that dogma was scientifically true, that salvation was urgent and fearfully doubtful, that the world, and the worldly paganised church, were as Sodom and Gomorrah, and that sin, though natural to man, was to God an abomination. In fighting this movement, which soon became heretical, the Catholic church had to fight it with its own weapons, and thereby reawakened in its own bosom the same sinister convictions. It did not have to dig deep to find them. Even without Luther, convinced Catholics would have appeared in plenty to prevent Caesar Borgia, had he secured the tiara, from being pope in any novel fashion or with any revolutionary result. The supernaturalism, the literal realism, the other-worldliness of the Catholic church are too much the soul of it to depart without causing its dissolution. While the church lives at all, it must live on the strength which these principles can lend it. And they are not altogether weak. Persons who feel themselves to be exiles in this world—and what noble mind, from Empedocles down, has not had that feeling?—are mightily inclined to believe themselves citizens of another. There will always be spontaneous, instinctive Christians; and when, under the oppression of sin, salvation is looked for and miracles are expected, the supernatural scheme of salvation which historical Christianity offers will not always be despised. The modernists think the church is doomed if it turns a deaf ear to the higher criticism or ignores the philosophy of M. Bergson. But it has outlived greater storms. A moment when any exotic superstition can find excitable minds to welcome it, when new and grotesque forms of faith can spread among the people, when the ultimate impotence of science is the theme of every cheap philosopher, when constructive philology is reefing its sails, when the judicious grieve at the portentous metaphysical shams of yesterday and smile at those of to-day—such a moment is rather ill chosen for prophesying the extinction of a deep-rooted system of religion because your own studies make it seem to you incredible; especially if you hold a theory of knowledge that regards all opinions as arbitrary postulates, which it may become convenient to abandon at any moment.
Modernism is the infiltration into minds that begin by being Catholic and wish to remain so of two contemporary influences: one the rationalistic study of the Bible and of church history, the other modern philosophy, especially in its mystical and idealistic forms. The sensitiveness of the modernists to these two influences is creditable to them as men, however perturbing it may be to them as Catholics; for what makes them adopt the views of rationalistic historians is simply the fact that those views seem, in substance, convincingly true; and what makes them wander into transcendental speculations is the warmth of their souls, needing to express their faith anew, and to follow their inmost inspiration, wherever it may lead them. A scrupulous honesty in admitting the probable facts of history, and a fresh upwelling of mystical experience, these are the motives, creditable to any spiritual man, that have made modernists of so many. But these excellent things appear in the modernists under rather unfortunate circumstances. For the modernists to begin with are Catholics, and usually priests; they are pledged to a fixed creed, touching matters both of history and of philosophy; and it would be a marvel if rationalistic criticism of the Bible and rationalistic church history confirmed that creed on its historical side, or if irresponsible personal speculations, in the manner of Ritschl or of M. Bergson, confirmed its metaphysics.
I am far from wishing to suggest that an orthodox Christian cannot be scrupulously honest in admitting the probable facts, or cannot have a fresh spiritual experience, or frame an original philosophy. But what we think probable hangs on our standard of probability and of evidence; the spiritual experiences that come to us are according to our disposition and affections; and any new philosophy we frame will be an answer to the particular problems that beset us, and an expression of the solutions we hope for. Now this standard of probability, this disposition, and these problems and hopes may be those of a Christian or they may not. The true Christian, for instance, will begin by regarding miracles as probable; he will either believe he has experienced them in his own person, or hope for them earnestly; nothing will seem to him more natural, more in consonance with the actual texture of life, than that they should have occurred abundantly and continuously in the past. When he finds the record of one he will not inquire, like the rationalist, how that false record could have been concocted; but rather he will ask how the rationalist, in spite of so many witnesses to the contrary, has acquired his fixed assurance of the universality of the commonplace. An answer perhaps could be offered of which the rationalist need not be ashamed. We might say that faith in the universality of the commonplace (in its origin, no doubt, simply an imaginative presumption) is justified by our systematic mastery of matter in the arts. The rejection of miracles a priori expresses a conviction that the laws by which we can always control or predict the movement of matter govern that movement universally; and evidently, if the material course of history is fixed mechanically, the mental and moral course of it is thereby fixed on the same plan; for a mind not expressed somehow in matter cannot be revealed to the historian. This may be good philosophy, but we could not think so if we were good Christians. We should then expect to move matter by prayer. Rationalistic history and criticism are therefore based, as Pius X. most accurately observed in his Encyclical on modernism, on rationalistic philosophy; and we might add that rationalistic philosophy is based on practical art, and that practical art, by which we help ourselves, like Prometheus, and make instruments of what religion worships, when this art is carried beyond the narrowest bounds, is the essence of pride and irreligion. Miners, machinists, and artisans are irreligious by trade. Religion is the love of life in the consciousness of impotence.
Similarly, the spontaneous insight of Christians and their new philosophies will express a Christian disposition. The chief problems in them will be sin and redemption; the conclusion will be some fresh intuition of divine love and heavenly beatitude. It would be no sign of originality in a Christian to begin discoursing on love like Ovid or on heaven like Mohammed, or stop discoursing on them at all; it would be a sign of apostasy.
Now the modernists' criterion of probability in history or of worthiness in philosophy is not the Christian criterion. It is that of their contemporaries outside the church, who are rationalists in history and egotists or voluntarists in philosophy. The biblical criticism and mystical speculations of the modernists call for no special remark; they are such as any studious or spiritual person, with no inherited religion, might compose in our day. But what is remarkable and well-nigh incredible is that even for a moment they should have supposed this non-Christian criterion in history and this non-Christian direction in metaphysics compatible with adherence to the Catholic church. That seems to presuppose, in men who in fact are particularly thoughtful and learned, an inexplicable ignorance of history, of theology, and of the world.
Everything, however, has its explanation. In a Catholic seminary, as the modernists bitterly complain, very little is heard of the views held in the learned world outside. It is not taught there that the Christian religion is only one of many, some of them older and superior to it in certain respects; that it itself is eclectic and contains inward contradictions; that it is and always has been divided into rancorous sects; that its position in the world is precarious and its future hopeless. On the contrary, everything is so presented as to persuade the innocent student that all that is good or true anywhere is founded on the faith he is preparing to preach, that the historical evidences of its truth are irrefragable, that it is logically perfect and spiritually all-sufficing. These convictions, which no breath from the outside is allowed to ruffle, are deepened in the case of pensive and studious minds, like those of the leading modernists, by their own religious experience. They understand in what they are taught more, perhaps, than their teachers intend. They understand how those ideas originated, they can trace a similar revelation in their own lives. This (which a cynic might expect would be the beginning of disillusion) only deepens their religious faith and gives it a wider basis; report and experience seem to conspire. But trouble is brewing here; for a report that can be confirmed by experience can also be enlarged by it, and it is easy to see in traditional revelation itself many diverse sources; different temperaments and different types of thought have left their impress upon it. Yet other temperaments and other types of thought might continue the task. Revelation seems to be progressive; a part may fall to us also to furnish.
This insight, for a Christian, has its dangers. No doubt it gives him a key to the understanding and therefore, in one sense, to the acceptance of many a dogma. Christian dogmas were not pieces of wanton information fallen from heaven; they were imaginative views, expressing now some primordial instinct in all men, now the national hopes and struggles of Israel, now the moral or dialectical philosophy of the later Jews and Greeks. Such a derivation does not, of itself, render these dogmas necessarily mythical. They might be ideal expressions of human experience and yet be literally true as well, provided we assume (what is assumed throughout in Christianity) that the world is made for man, and that even God is just such a God as man would have wished him to be, the existent ideal of human nature and the foregone solution to all human problems. Nevertheless, Christian dogmas are definite, while human inspirations are potentially limitless; and if the object of the two is identical either the dogmas must be stretched and ultimately abandoned, or inspiration which does not conform to them must be denounced as illusory or diabolical.
[Footnote 2: At least in their devotional and moral import. I suggest this qualification in deference to M. Le Roy's interesting theory of dogma, viz., that the verbal or intellectual definition of a dogma may be changed without changing the dogma itself (as a sentence might be translated into a new language without altering the meaning) provided the suggested conduct and feeling in the presence of the mystery remained the same. Thus the definition of transubstantiation might be modified to suit an idealistic philosophy, but the new definition would be no less orthodox than the old if it did not discourage the worship of the consecrated elements or the sense of mystical union with Christ in the sacrament.]
At this point the modernist first chooses the path which must lead him away, steadily and for ever, from the church which he did not think to desert. He chooses a personal, psychological, variable standard of inspiration; he becomes, in principle, a Protestant. Why does he not become one in name also? Because, as one of the most distinguished modernists has said, the age of partial heresy is past. It is suicidal to make one part of an organic system the instrument for attacking another part; and it is also comic. What you appeal to and stand firmly rooted in is no more credible, no more authoritative, than what you challenge in its name. In vain will you pit the church against the pope; at once you will have to pit the Bible against the church, and then the New Testament against the Old, or the genuine Jesus against the New Testament, or God revealed in nature against God revealed in the Bible, or God revealed in your own conscience or transcendental self against God revealed in nature; and you will be lucky if your conscience and transcendental self can long hold their own against the flux of immediate experience. Religion, the modernists feel, must be taken broadly and sympathetically, as a great human historical symbol for the truth. At least in Christianity you should aspire to embrace and express the whole; to seize it in its deep inward sources and follow it on all sides in its vital development. But if the age of partial heresy is past, has not the age of total heresy succeeded? What is this whole phenomenon of religion but human experience interpreted by human imagination? And what is the modernist, who would embrace it all, but a freethinker, with a sympathetic interest in religious illusions? Of course, that is just what he is; but it takes him a strangely long time to discover it. He fondly supposes (such is the prejudice imbibed by him in the cradle and in the seminary) that all human inspirations are necessarily similar and concurrent, that by trusting an inward light he cannot be led away from his particular religion, but on the contrary can only find confirmation for it, together with fresh spiritual energies. He has been reared in profound ignorance of other religions, which were presented to him, if at all, only in grotesque caricature; or if anything good had to be admitted in them, it was set down to a premonition of his own system or a derivation from it—a curious conceit, which seems somehow not to have wholly disappeared from the minds of Protestants, or even of professors of philosophy. I need not observe how completely the secret of each alien religion is thereby missed and its native accent outraged: the most serious consequence, for the modernist, of this unconsciousness of whatever is not Christian is an unconsciousness of what, in contrast to other religions, Christianity itself is. He feels himself full of love—except for the pope—of mysticism, and of a sort of archaeological piety. He is learned and eloquent and wistful. Why should he not remain in the church? Why should he not bring all its cold and recalcitrant members up to his own level of insight?
The modernist, like the Protestants before him, is certainly justified in contrasting a certain essence or true life of religion with the formulas and practices, not all equally well-chosen, which have crystallised round it. In the routine of Catholic teaching and worship there is notoriously a deal of mummery: phrases and ceremonies abound that have lost their meaning, and that people run through without even that general devout attitude and unction which, after all, is all that can be asked for in the presence of mysteries. Not only is all sense of the historical or moral basis of dogma wanting, but the dogma itself is hardly conceived explicitly; all is despatched with a stock phrase, or a quotation from some theological compendium. Ecclesiastical authority acts as if it felt that more profundity would be confusing and that more play of mind might be dangerous. This is that "Scholasticism" and "Mediaevalism" against which the modernists inveigh or under which they groan; and to this intellectual barrenness may be added the offences against taste, verisimilitude, and justice which their more critical minds may discern in many an act and pronouncement of their official superiors. Thus both their sense for historical truth and their spontaneous mysticism drive the modernists to contrast with the official religion what was pure and vital in the religion of their fathers. Like the early Protestants, they wish to revert to a more genuine Christianity; but while their historical imagination is much more accurate and well-fed than that of any one in the sixteenth century could be, they have no hold on the Protestant principle of faith. The Protestants, taking the Bible as an oracle which personal inspiration was to interpret, could reform tradition in any way and to any extent which their reason or feeling happened to prompt. But so long as their Christianity was a positive faith, the residue, when all the dross had been criticised and burned away, was of divine authority. The Bible never became for them merely an ancient Jewish encyclopaedia, often eloquent, often curious, and often barbarous. God never became a literary symbol, covering some problematical cosmic force, or some ideal of the conscience. But for the modernist this total transformation takes place at once. He keeps the whole Catholic system, but he believes in no part of it as it demands to be believed. He understands and shares the moral experience that it enshrines; but the bubble has been pricked, the painted world has been discovered to be but painted. He has ceased to be a Christian to become an amateur, or if you will a connoisseur, of Christianity. He believes—and this unquestioningly, for he is a child of his age—in history, in philology, in evolution, perhaps in German idealism; he does not believe in sin, nor in salvation, nor in revelation. His study of history has disclosed Christianity to him in its evolution and in its character of a myth; he wishes to keep it in its entirety precisely because he regards it as a convention, like a language or a school of art; whereas the Protestants wished, on the contrary, to reduce it to its original substance, because they fondly supposed that that original substance was so much literal truth. Modernism is accordingly an ambiguous and unstable thing. It is the love of all Christianity in those who perceive that it is all a fable. It is the historic attachment to his church of a Catholic who has discovered that he is a pagan.
When the modernists are pressed to explain their apparently double allegiance, they end by saying that what historical and philological criticism conjectures to be the facts must be accepted as such; while the Christian dogmas touching these things—the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, for instance—must be taken in a purely symbolic or moral sense. In saying this they may be entirely right; it seems to many of us that Christianity is indeed a fable, yet full of meaning if you take it as such; for what scraps of historical truth there may be in the Bible or of metaphysical truth in theology are of little importance; whilst the true greatness and beauty of this, as of all religions, is to be found in its moral idealism, I mean, in the expression it gives, under cover of legends, prophecies, or mysteries, of the effort, the tragedy, and the consolations of human life. Such a moral fable is what Christianity is in fact; but it is far from what it is in intention. The modernist view, the view of a sympathetic rationalism, revokes the whole Jewish tradition on which Christianity is grafted; it takes the seriousness out of religion; it sweetens the pang of sin, which becomes misfortune; it removes the urgency of salvation; it steals empirical reality away from the last judgment, from hell, and from heaven; it steals historical reality away from the Christ of religious tradition and personal devotion. The moral summons and the prophecy about destiny which were the soul of the gospel have lost all force for it and become fables.
The modernist, then, starts with the orthodox but untenable persuasion that Catholicism comprehends all that is good; he adds the heterodox though amiable sentiment that any well-meaning ambition of the mind, any hope, any illumination, any science, must be good, and therefore compatible with Catholicism. He bathes himself in idealistic philosophy, he dabbles in liberal politics, he accepts and emulates rationalistic exegesis and anti-clerical church history. Soon he finds himself, on every particular point, out of sympathy with the acts and tendencies of the church to which he belongs; and then he yields to the most pathetic of his many illusions—he sets about to purge this church, so as not to be compelled to abandon it; to purge it of its first principles, of its whole history, and of its sublime if chimerical ideal.
The modernist wishes to reconcile the church and the world. Therein he forgets what Christianity came into the world to announce and why its message was believed. It came to announce salvation from the world; there should be no more need of just those things which the modernist so deeply loves and respects and blushes that his church should not be adorned with—emancipated science, free poetic religion, optimistic politics, and dissolute art. These things, according to the Christian conscience, were all vanity and vexation of spirit, and the pagan world itself almost confessed as much. They were vexatious and vain because they were bred out of sin, out of ignoring the inward and the revealed law of God; and they would lead surely and quickly to destruction. The needful salvation from these follies, Christianity went on to announce, had come through the cross of Christ; whose grace, together with admission to his future heavenly kingdom, was offered freely to such as believed in him, separated themselves from the world, and lived in charity, humility, and innocence, waiting lamp in hand for the celestial bridegroom. These abstracted and elected spirits were the true disciples of Christ and the church itself.
Having no ears for this essential message of Christianity, the modernist also has no eyes for its history. The church converted the world only partially and inessentially; yet Christianity was outwardly established as the traditional religion of many nations. And why? Because, although the prophecies it relied on were strained and its miracles dubious, it furnished a needful sanctuary from the shames, sorrows, injustices, violence, and gathering darkness of earth; and not only a sanctuary one might fly to, but a holy precinct where one might live, where there was sacred learning, based on revelation and tradition, to occupy the inquisitive, and sacred philosophy to occupy the speculative; where there might be religious art, ministering to the faith, and a new life in the family or in the cloister, transformed by a permeating spirit of charity, sacrifice, soberness, and prayer. These principles by their very nature could not become those of the world, but they could remain in it as a leaven and an ideal. As such they remain to this day, and very efficaciously, in the Catholic church. The modernists talk a great deal of development, and they do not see that what they detest in the church is a perfect development of its original essence; that monachism, scholasticism, Jesuitism, ultramontanism, and Vaticanism are all thoroughly apostolic; beneath the overtones imposed by a series of ages they give out the full and exact note of the New Testament. Much has been added, but nothing has been lost. Development (though those who talk most of it seem to forget it) is not the same as flux and dissolution. It is not a continuity through changes of any sort, but the evolution of something latent and preformed, or else the creation of new instruments of defence for the same original life. In this sense there was an immense development of Christianity during the first three centuries, and this development has continued, more slowly, ever since, but only in the Roman church; for the Eastern churches have refused themselves all new expressions, while the Protestant churches have eaten more and more into the core. It is a striking proof of the preservative power of readjustment that the Roman church, in the midst of so many external transformations as it has undergone, still demands the same kind of faith that John the Baptist demanded, I mean faith in another world. The mise-en-scene has changed immensely. The gospel has been encased in theology, in ritual, in ecclesiastical authority, in conventional forms of charity, like some small bone of a saint in a gilded reliquary; but the relic for once is genuine, and the gospel has been preserved by those thick incrustations. Many an isolated fanatic or evangelical missionary in the slums shows a greater resemblance to the apostles in his outer situation than the pope does; but what mind-healer or revivalist nowadays preaches the doom of the natural world and its vanity, or the reversal of animal values, or the blessedness of poverty and chastity, or the inferiority of natural human bonds, or a contempt for lay philosophy? Yet in his palace full of pagan marbles the pope actually preaches all this. It is here, and certainly not among the modernists, that the gospel is still believed.
Of course, it is open to any one to say that there is a nobler religion possible without these trammels and this officialdom, that there is a deeper philosophy than this supernaturalistic rationalism, that there is a sweeter life than this legal piety. Perhaps: I think the pagan Greeks, the Buddhists, the Mohammedans would have much to say for themselves before the impartial tribunal of human nature and reason. But they are not Christians and do not wish to be. No more, in their hearts, are the modernists, and they should feel it beneath their dignity to pose as such; indeed the more sensitive of them already feel it. To say they are not Christians at heart, but diametrically opposed to the fundamental faith and purpose of Christianity, is not to say they may not be profound mystics (as many Hindus, Jews, and pagan Greeks have been), or excellent scholars, or generous philanthropists. But the very motive that attaches them to Christianity is worldly and un-Christian. They wish to preserve the continuity of moral traditions; they wish the poetry of life to flow down to them uninterruptedly and copiously from all the ages. It is an amiable and wise desire; but it shows that they are men of the Renaissance, pagan and pantheistic in their profounder sentiment, to whom the hard and narrow realism of official Christianity is offensive just because it presupposes that Christianity is true.
Yet even in this historical and poetical allegiance to Christianity I suspect the modernists suffer from a serious illusion. They think the weakness of the church lies in its not following the inspirations of the age. But when this age is past, might not that weakness be a source of strength again? For an idea ever to be fashionable is ominous, since it must afterwards be always old-fashioned. No doubt it would be dishonest in any of us now, who see clearly that Noah surely did not lead all the animals two by two into the Ark, to say that we believe he did so, on the ground that stories of that kind are rather favourable to the spread of religion. No doubt such a story, and even the fables essential to Christian theology, are now incredible to most of us. But on the other hand it would be stupid to assume that what is incredible to you or me now must always be incredible to mankind. What was foolishness to the Greeks of St. Paul's day spread mightily among them one or two hundred years later; and what is foolishness to the modernist of to-day may edify future generations. The imagination is suggestible and there is nothing men will not believe in matters of religion. These rational persuasions by which we are swayed, the conventions of unbelieving science and unbelieving history, are superficial growths; yesterday they did not exist, to-morrow they may have disappeared. This is a doctrine which the modernist philosophers themselves emphasise, as does M. Bergson, whom some of them follow, and say the Catholic church itself ought to follow in order to be saved—for prophets are constitutionally without a sense of humour. These philosophers maintain that intelligence is merely a convenient method of picking one's way through the world of matter, that it is a falsification of life, and wholly unfit to grasp the roots of it. We may well be of another opinion, if we think the roots of life are not in consciousness but in nature, which intelligence alone can reveal; but we must agree that in life itself intelligence is a superficial growth, and easily blighted, and that the experience of the vanity of the world, of sin, of salvation, of miracles, of strange revelations, and of mystic loves is a far deeper, more primitive, and therefore probably more lasting human possession than is that of clear historical or scientific ideas.
Now religious experience, as I have said, may take other forms than the Christian, and within Christianity it may take other forms than the Catholic; but the Catholic form is as good as any intrinsically for the devotee himself, and it has immense advantages over its probable rivals in charm, in comprehensiveness, in maturity, in internal rationality, in external adaptability; so much so that a strong anti-clerical government, like the French, cannot safely leave the church to be overwhelmed by the forces of science, good sense, ridicule, frivolity, and avarice (all strong forces in France), but must use violence as well to do it. In the English church, too, it is not those who accept the deluge, the resurrection, and the sacraments only as symbols that are the vital party, but those who accept them literally; for only these have anything to say to the poor, or to the rich, that can refresh them. In a frank supernaturalism, in a tight clericalism, not in a pleasant secularisation, lies the sole hope of the church. Its sole dignity also lies there. It will not convert the world; it never did and it never could. It will remain a voice crying in the wilderness; but it will believe what it cries, and there will be some to listen to it in the future, as there have been many in the past. As to modernism, it is suicide. It is the last of those concessions to the spirit of the world which half-believers and double-minded prophets have always been found making; but it is a mortal concession. It concedes everything; for it concedes that everything in Christianity, as Christians hold it, is an illusion.