LET us now go back to the diagram of the universe, in other words, the philosophy which seems to be required alike by the diffuse and corporate, and by the intense and individual religious experiences of mankind: indeed, by the experience of all souls who have, under whatever symbolism, truly felt and responded to the attraction of an absolute Reality. What we have to find is a metaphysical landscape, a way of seeing the world,
which shall justify the saint, the artist and the scientist, and give each their full rights. Not a doctrine of watertight compartments, an opposition of ‘appearance’ to ‘reality’. Rather, a doctrine of the indwelling of this visible world by an invisible, yet truly existent, world of spirit; which, while infinitely transcending, yet everywhere supports and permeates the natural scene. Even to say this, is to blur the true issue by resort to the deceptive spatial language which colours and controls our thoughts, and translate the dynamic ancl spiritual into static and intellectual terms.
The first demand we must make of such a diagram is, that it shall at least safeguard, though it can never represent, all the best that man has learned to apprehend of the distinct and rich reality of God. This, I think, will be found to mean that it cannot be the diagram of the philosophic monist. For that which above all a genuine theism requires of our human, ways of thinking, is the acknowledgment of two sorts of stages of reality, which can never be washed down into one: of a two-foldness that goes right through man’s experience, and cannot without impoverishment be resolved. We may call these two sorts of reality, this two-foldness, by various names: Supernature and Nature, Eternity and Time, God and the World, Infinite and Finite, Creator and Creature. These terms do but emphasize one or another aspect of a total fact too great for us to grasp, without infringing the central truth of its mysterious duality: for ‘God’, as Plotinus says, ‘never was the All. That would make Him dependent on His universe’.(1)
Certainly we may, and indeed must, hold that there is intimate contact between these pairs of opposites. Spiritual reality is not, and never can be, cut off from
(1) En. V. 5. 12
the world of sense: were it so, we could never have guessed its existence. There is at every point and on every level a penetration of God of His world; a truth which underlies the Christian doctrines of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments. ‘What place is there within me, whither my God cannot come?’ says St. Augustine: ‘I should not exist, were Thou not already within me.’(2) But once we are tempted to define that Absolute God and this derivative world in any sense which reduces them merely to two aspects, parts or stages of a reality that is ultimately identical—two ways of regarding one ‘spiritual universe’—we are moving away from the conception of that universe which is required by all full human religion, and especially by Christianity.
‘Imagine’ says Plotinus again, ‘that a stately and varied mansion has been built ; it has never been adandoned by its Architect, who yet is not tied down to it. He has judged it worthy in all its length and breadth of all the care that can serve to its being, in so far as it can share in being, or to its beauty. . . . This gives the degree in which the cosmos is ensouled, not by a soul belonging to it but by One present to it; it is mastered, not master, not possessor, but possessed.’(3)
Man has always dimly felt this doubleness in his experience; but has not always rightly defined its character, and put the cleavage where it really comes. He has insisted at one time or other on the distinctness and opposition between matter and spirit, between good and evil, between appearance and ‘reality’. But physical science is bringing the first pair of supposed opposites into ever closer harmony; whilst the second pair, though based on a true and terrible distinction, is blurred by our unstable and childly self-interested views as to that which is evil and that which is good. The domestic proprieties and religious solemnities of Polynesia become sinful when transplanted to the European scene; popular theologians
(2) Confessions, Bk. I, cap. 2
(3) En. IV. 3. 9.
have seen in influenza an argument for original sin; and impassioned gardeners can find evidence of evil in everything that thwarts their horticultural designs. Yet if the life history of the microbe disturbs the chemical balance of its host, or the slug desires to use the delphinium for purposes of diet, and we for purposes of aesthetic contemplation, surely these misfortunes merely involve the competition of two differing wills set on one object, and no moral judgment whatever. And the third pair of opposites, logically explored, land us in philosophic scepticism. Through none of these points can we safely draw the boundary between our two experienced worlds.
In one of his last-published utterances, Baron von Hügel observed that ‘Religion has no subtler and yet also no deadlier enemy in the region of the mind, than every and all monism’: and this because ‘The Otherness, the Prevenience of God, the One-sided Relation between God and man constitute the deepest measure and touchstone of all religion.’ (4) That is of course a statement which many students of philosophy will resist; but when we consider what monism implies, and compare its declarations with those which religion requires, we begin to perceive the gulf that divides them. Monism, says Professor Whitehead, conceives God as the ‘ultimate individual entity’ within which the actual world is a phase that ‘apart from God is unreal. Its only reality is God’s reality. The actual world has the reality of being a partial description of what God is. But in itself it is merely a certain mutuality of appearance which is a phase of the Being of God.’ (5) Thus this philosophy slurs the religious distinction between Creator and Creation, and is essentially an attempt to accommodate Reality to the simplifying instinct of the childish human mind.
(4) The Mystical Element of Religion, 2nd ed., vol. I. p. xvi.
(5) A. N. Whitehead: Religion in the Making, p. 69
But the persistent witness of the saints—and I do not limit this word to the canonized members of the Christian Church—to the ‘otherness’ and utter distinctness of God, and of that supernatural life to which at least some souls are called, can never be reconciled with a metaphysic which obliterates the fundamental distinction in kind between nature and supernature, the successive and the abiding. With the deepening of his religious sensitiveness man soon comes to feel that ‘the solution of the riddle of Space and Time lies outside Space and Time’;(6) and that although this solution may always be beyond, him, yet the world in which it is hidden is also his home. He has an instinct for transcendence which only the Transcendent can satisfy. Hence, human religion in its fullness always requires ‘A clear looking forward into an otherness or difference towards which, outside ourselves, we tend as towards our blessedness. For we feel an eternal yearning toward something other than what we are ourselves.’ (7) Therefore the religious mind which capitulates to the enticing simplicities of monism, usually finds in the end that it has capitulated to pantheism in disguise; and that the richest experiences of the spiritual life are shut from those who give up this specific religious emphasis on the otherness and self-sufficing transcendence of God.
This emphasis is the unmistakable mark of first-hand spiritual experience, wherever found:
‘Unlike, much unlike,’ says a Kempis, ‘is the savour of the Creator and of the creature, of everlastingness and of time, of light uncreate and light illuminate.” (8)
‘God,’ says Augustine Baker, ‘is nothing of all that I can say or think, but a Being infinitely beyond it, and absolutely incomprehensible by a created understanding. He is what He
(6) L. Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, p. 185.
(7) Ruysbroeck: The Sparkling Stone, cap. 9.
(8) De Imitatione Christi, Bk. III. Cap. 39.
is, and what Himself only perfectly knows, and so I believe Him to be, and as such I adore and love Him.” (9)
‘In the Divine Nature,’ says Lueie-Christine, ‘is something peculiar in kind, which characterizes it, and which is infinite in its superiority to any idea which we have of spirit. How then is the soul able so to recognize that which she has never seen, exclaiming “It is God I” that it is absolutely impossible for her to doubt of it? For, not only has this mysterious Being nothing in common with created beings, but the soul sees that which He is/ in a very simple way and without means of comparison. And it is this sight, however limited and imperfect, which makes her exclaim “It is God!” and this cry of the soul is enough alone to manifest the existence of God and our divine origin.’ (10)
Such a modified dualism as this seems then essential to us, if man’s most living apprehensions of Reality are to be given intelligible form. It is true that we are not compelled to regard this duality of Nature and Supernature as ultimate but this is of slight importance, since ultimates are beyond our grasp. At this point it is perhaps enough if we say that we are obliged to divide our apprehensions, in order the better to apprehend them. We need a philosophic scheme which marks the absolute distinctness in kind between the richly personal yet spaceless Reality of God and,—depending on this, the derived reality of the God-possessed—and all that is not God or thus God-possessed: between Supernatural and Natural worlds. All religion, in its beauty and its queerness, its noble self-oblation and perverse fanaticism, arises out of this one fact; that man really is a creature of the borderland, who without ever abandoning his utterly creaturely character, is yet inherently capable of living in both these worlds one by ‘nature’, the other by ‘adoption’, as the theologians say.
The first clause of the Lord’s Prayer at once commits us to the view that we are creatures of supernatural affinities; and that our real status cannot be understood
(9) Wisdom, p. 511.
(10) Journal Spirituel de Lucie-Christine, p. 112.
merely as a development from within the natural order which only tells half the truth about the soul. Man can be a clever animal, or he can become a saint. But his second possibility cannot be actualized by mere emergence and self-development from within; by any self-impelled transcendence. It requires the free ‘gift of Eternal Life,’ from without. In other words his spiritual life, while it unfolds within the time-stream, involves a persistent appropriation and assimilation of a non-temporal and abiding life; a ‘wholly other’ order, penetrating and moulding the world of succession, and found operative on all levels of history, but nowhere so clearly craved for and discovered as in the religious field. This world, this life, is for God indeed ‘natural’, but for man in his present status, ‘supernatural’. Here our laws and generalizations cease to be applicable; for we are in the presence of the perfect freedom and spontaneity of God.
Those philosophic minds which spring to arms directly the word ‘dualism’ is mentioned, might reflect upon the fact that nothing but our own unimaginative conceit supports the belief that the unsearchable riches of Reality are in essence as simple and as amenable to our human ways of thinking, as the monist would make them out to be. Richness, variety, subtle and unnumbered differences of degree, quality and nature, are the characters of all existence as we know it. Ultimate identity is an abstraction, which the mind tries to impose upon an obstinately and delightfully diversified and many-levelled world. But this and all other simplifications of experience seem far more likely to lead us away from, than into, the truth: and land us in an arid, clever diagram with at best a certain pantheistic flavour, but which has no food for hungry souls in which the strange passion for the Absolute is awake.
The mystics at any rate, in spite of certain excesses of language which should be read in connection with their completing opposites, steadily reject this simplification. Again and again they insist on the fundamental and experienced distinction though not the separation between God and His world, between Spirit even at its homeliest and Nature even at its best. In so doing they appear to offer a valuable corrective to three aberrations which constantly appear in the history of religious thought, and are specially prominent at the present time* These are the tendencies,—first, to demand from our religious constructions an excess of this-world utility; next, to ask of them an excess of simplicity; and finally, to concentrate on the element of succession and change, to the exclusion of the element of permanence.
(1) First, as to the utilitarian tendency in current philosophies of religion; the rejection of other-worldliness, the contempt for all that is implied in asceticism, the subordination of faith to works, the immense attention paid to man and very trifling attention paid to God, the anxious determination that both world and individual shall get something out of religion. This progressive anthropocentricism is manifested in the almost exclusive emphasis now placed by many teachers on what is called ‘social Christianity’—really altruism with a little evangelical varnish—and in the ever-increasing willingness to adopt pragmatic standards in matter of doctrine, and to reduce devotional practice to a branch of applied psychology. It can only end by taking the very heart out of religion rightly understood, and thus destroying the source of its own energies.
This temper of mind, in so far as it is allowed to be central, is decisively opposed by the impassioned theocentricism which is characteristic of all high religious
experience; by the declared certitude of the mystics that there is indeed a Reality which transcends in worth and beauty, and above all in attractiveness, every lesser reality mediated by the sense-world; a reality which alone gives these lesser realities their interest and their claim. It is for this that they ‘leave all things that they can think, and choose to their love that thing that they cannot think’.(11) For them, in the last resort, only God and His interests matter. As one of their latest representatives exclaimed, they ‘lose themselves wondering at Him.’ Their essential creed is contained in the favourite prayer of St. Francis Deus meus et omnia! So the heart of human religion, wherever it appears in its strength and purity, is always adoration; and this because of that strong certitude of a one-sided relation with a transcendent Object, which is characteristic of every full awakened soul.
For religion, Becoming even that ‘becoming better’ which looms so large in its exhortations is always a secondary interest: our modern talk of self-fulfilment fades into silence before its quiet insistence that the only real fulfilment is self-loss. Its main concern is with Being: with a living and achieved Perfection within which all lesser perfections arise, and which gives to the time-process all its worth. The central aim here is therefore not the mere obtaining of some measure of the Infinite to help the best interests of the finite creature, or the finite world. It is rather such an unconditioned humble giving of the finite creature to the interests of that Infinite, as is expressed in the life of prayer, in the development of heroic virtues, and in the performance of those non-utilitarian acts of love and sacrifice which point beyond this world.
When St. Augustine said, ‘This is the happy life: to
(11) The Cloud of Unknowing, cap. vi.
rejoice concerning Thee unto Thee!’ (12) he put into words a religious ideal to which neither ‘social’ nor ‘affirmative’ Christianity is able to attain. He felt, as all deeply spiritual souls have felt, that human life taken by itself is incomplete; and derives all its worth from something ‘given’ and other than itself. Hence the purposes of God, and of religion as a graded revelation of the things of God, infinitely transcend and perhaps radically differ from any scheme based on the perfectibility of this world.
Utopia and beatitude are not the same. The true concern of religion is therefore first with this transcendent order: even though its very best apprehensions can only touch the fringe of that Reality which gives to the ‘natural’ such realness as it is found to possess. Such a faith as this, finding its focal point so far beyond the natural man’s horizon, could never have been conceived or practised without that overwhelming certitude of the distinct self-existence of that Infinite One, which it seems to be the special province of religious genius to bring into human thought. In so far as their spiritual outlook remains full and healthy, those who are most conscious of God and of a certain deep relation between His Spirit and man’s soul, always refuse to wash down this relation to mere self-mergence, or to adopt any sort of pantheistic solution of the problem of Reality.
Their spiritual greatness might almost be measured by the extent in which they realize and safeguard their own creaturely status and the pre-eminence and distinctness of God. Thus Ruysbroeck says of his own highest apprehension of Reality, that in it ‘the bare understanding is drenched through by the Eternal Brightness, even as the air is drenched though by the sunshine,’ yet that even here ‘the creature feels in its inward contemplation a distinct-
(12) Confessions, Bk. X, cap. 22.
ness and an otherness between itself and God . . . there is here an essential tending-forward, and therein an essential and abiding distinction between the being of the soul and the Being of God. And this is the highest and finest distinction which we are able to apprehend.’ (13) If we translate that from terms of religious mysticism into terms of philosophy, it surely requires an outlook which is utterly incompatible alike with monism and with subjective idealism.
(2) We are brought thus to the second point on which the findings of spiritual genius oppose prevalent tendencies in religious philosophy; that is, their firm refusal to simplify over-much their conception of God. Influenced no doubt by the successes of physical science, many thinkers now take for granted that the more spiritual facts and experiences we can assume under one so-called law, the nearer we are getting to truth: whereas the only thing to which we are actually getting nearer is philosophic tidiness—a bad trap for seekers after reality. We have no real reason, other than a scientific arrogance which has its absurd aspect, for supposing that such arbitrary simplifications are in accordance with the mind of God. Indeed, considering our limited outlook and the blurred and patchy character of our apprehensions, the insistent paradoxes and apparent contradictions of experience are surely more likely to approach objective truth, than is any neat conceptual scheme which comforts our little minds by evading these difficulties. Here the mystical witness to the richness and reality of Supernatural, the element of unsearchableness, the sense of awe, which grows ever deeper with the soul’s advance, rebuke again and again our mania for simplification, our love of easy spiritual slogans, and the pious naturalism to which all
(13) Ruysbroeck: The Book of Supreme Truth, cap. 11.
this must lead. ‘A comprehended God is no God’ says Tersteegen.
(3) That pious naturalism seems at present to tend to such an exclusive discovery of God in Nature, such an exaggerated emphasis on process, succession, and emergence, as shall, in effect, equate the life-force with the Spirit of God; and represent the spiritual life of man as simply a natural development from within the world—the crown of creative evolution. Our generation, intoxicated by theories of evolution and development borrowed and very often bowdlerized from natural science, seems to have gone headlong for that which a deeper philosophy, enriched by the experiences of the saints, recognized long ago as only one of the two movements of Reality. It has developed a superstitious cultus of continuity; which, it is felt, must somehow be made to stretch without a break all the way from the amoeba to the Absolute. It has even brought that Absolute itself within the natural scheme, and identified it with the process of Becoming. This sort of diffuse and ill-considered immanentism, which draws its intellectual energy from the more extreme utterances of Croce and Gentile, unfortunately inspires much of that current religiosity which is occupied in converting the strong meat of religion into a patent food for hungry but dyspeptic souls. But it represents a conception of reality with which that concrete certitude of God which awes and delights the great mystics, or even the rudimentary life of the Spirit as most truly experienced by our struggling selves, can never come to terms. In its extreme form it is indistinguishable from pantheism e.g. as when a philosophic essayist was lately betrayed by the attractions of Neo-Hegelianism into defining God as ‘a self-imparting life striving upwards to full expression in the development of human
consciousness’, and the philosophic goal as ‘the apprehension of Reality as a comprehensive unity, expressing itself in a universe that comes to consciousness in man.’
Such an assumption as this that Infinite Holiness is finding its fullest expression in the mental development of our doubtfully satisfactory race—this masterpiece of racial conceit of course makes nonsense of all the greatest religious experiences of man. For those experiences, one and all, require the veritable existence of a real and independent Object eternal, perfect and utterly transcendent Spirit as their precedent cause; and steadily demand of us not only self-improvement and self-development, but an abject humility and adoration too. We are a long way here from the awe-struck gladness of the supernaturalist; from the invitation of the liturgy to join with all those higher forms of consciousness beyond our ken—Angels and Archangels and all the Company of Heaven—in acknowledging that Mystery of Holiness which fills with its glory the heavens and the earth; from St. Augustine’s ‘My God, my Holy Joy!’; from the repeated ejaculation of St. Francis, ‘My God and all! What art Thou and what am I?’ Yet surely it is in these altogether apart from the theology represented by them that we hear the real accents of the spiritual life, at once profound and naïve; grounded in humility, yet full of the delighted sense of God. And it is only this outlook, so characteristic of all sanctity, which can save us from the snares lurking in systems of ‘spiritual evolution’ if these are taken alone.
IF then we allow that the persistent witness of religious genius corrects speculation on these three points, and in so doing testifies to a greater, deeper and richer
interpretation of the Universe as possible to the human soul—if we accept the mystic as a Revealer, a person dealing in his own way with genuine realities, and offering, no less than the mathematician or the scientist, genuine material to philosophy—if his greatest declarations do constitute a damaging criticism of monism, of naturalism, of ‘actual’ and ‘personal’ idealism, and of any thoroughgoing philosophy of change, what is the positive reading of Reality which those declarations require? They require, I think, such a two-fold scheme or diagram as shall embrace both the eternal and the successive, both Being and Becoming: in the language of religion, both Grace and Nature. Holding, not as philosophic ideas, but as dimly understood yet deeply experienced acts, those completing opposites which we call the transcendent and immanent, the personal and impersonal aspects of God, the spiritually awakened soul absolutely needs, if it is to describe its felt relation with Reality, both movements. It needs the eternal, abiding Reality, its pre-existence, perfection, beatitude, and givenness ; and also the serial changes in our finite selves which that all-penetrating Reality evokes. For the mystics, without ontology human life is meaningless. Dealing honestly and loyally with the material they give us, we shall be bound to confess that the trilogy of Matter, Life, and Mind, the whole immensely deepened and expanded reality we call Nature, still leaves out something which though always partially, and never steadily can be apprehended by man: something which is yet perfectly conveyed in the exclamation of the Psalmist: ‘Lord, thou has been our dwelling place in all generations!’ All the great records of religion whatever the language they may use are full of this sense of the mercy, grace, generosity of the existent and living One; a Home that is a
Father, and a Father that is a Home. They assert a reality truly penetrating and supporting us; and yet over against which, in all his deepest moments, man feels himself to be placed.
Perhaps at our present stage of growth, with its imperfect and unlevel consciousness, it does not much matter how this doubleness is conceived by us, so long as it is deeply and humbly felt: for the ultimate object of every religious exercise is to bring one or another aspect of it home to the soul. Perhaps too the distrust often felt by religious men for the so-called ‘scientific universe’ arises not so much from its apparent support of mechanistic determinism, as from its obliteration of dualism. Over and over again these persons of religious experience exist on the actual yet unknowable richness, the over-plus, of God’s self-giving perfection, the smallness and relativity of man’s best experiences of Him: and yet, the wonder and joy that there should be an experience at all. Reality is apprehended by them in such a manner, that awe and attraction are merged. In their own language, humility and love become inseparable aspects of one state. The numen of Otto, with its characters of ineffable mystery, awefulness and fascination (14) does not cover all the ground of this specific supernatural experience. It leaves out that close, all-penetrating, intimate and cherishing aspect which links the wonder of God to a heart-breaking homeliness, and transfigures awe with confident love.
‘For as the body is clad in the cloth,’ says Julian of Norwich, ‘and the flesh in the skin and the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the whole, so are we, soul and body, clad in the Goodness of God and enclosed. Yea! And more homely; for all these may waste and wear away, but the Goodness of God is ever whole, and more near to us without any likeness.” (15)
(14) R. Otto: The Idea of the Holy, caps, ii to vi.
(15) Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love, cap. vi.
This note is struck again and again in the genuine records of religious experience: and represents a factor in man’s profoundest apprehensions of the Universe, for which monism can hardly find room.
‘O God, thou are my God; early will I seek thee:
My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee In a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.’
‘I was as a beast before thee,
Yet thou art continually with me.’ (16)
(Our modern knowledge of man’s history has given a new poignancy to that.)
‘I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said,
Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.’ (17)
‘He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (18)
Strange ideas, are they not, to be distilled from the brain of a developed vertebrate who possesses all his future possibilities packed within himself? Strange; yet so persistent that they point either to a gigantic collective hallucination, or else to the perpetual presence with and through us of a really existent and operative supernatural Reality. A God whose Being is distinct from that natural world of succession which is the apparent theatre of our human life, and yet most deeply penetrates it; a free and intensely living order, a Patria of spirit, where the forces which we faintly know as Will and Love are present in perfection, and unlimited in power.
Thus, adopting this two-fold scheme, we provide places—as we can hardly hope to do in any other way—for all the best intuitions and discoveries of men. We escape too the temptation, inherent in naturalism, to wash down our highest values, our most mysterious other-worldly
(16) Psalm lxiii. 1 : Psalm lxxiii. 22.
(17) 2 Cor. Xii. 9.
(18) 9 Psalm cxlii. 5.
glimpses of the Perfect, to one dead level of ‘Spirit in the making.’ We achieve a universe in which the supreme spiritual virtue of humility can flourish. Under such a scheme we can afford to accept the fullest affirmations of naturalism, but not its negations; and by placing these majestic affirmations within the more majestic landscape of Eternal Life, we can persuade science itself to deepen our awe, and make history and development the channels of revelation of a God who transcends history and development.
It is true that our contacts with this Reality, this God, are primarily set up through history and through nature. By means of things and events, we discover That which lies beyond things and events: or, to use the language of religion, God comes to us through natural means. But the essence of the supernaturalist position is an insistence that the discovery is not merely the discovery of this world’s deepened meaning: it is rather the discovery of Something other than this world, and which alone makes this world worth while. So in the wonderful passage in which St. Augustine interrogates the natural order:
‘I asked the earth, and that answered me: I am not it; and whatsoever are in it made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things, and they answered me: We are not thy God, seek above us. I asked the fleeting winds, and the whole air with his inhabitants answered me, That Anaximenes was deceived; I am not God. I asked the heavens, the sun and moon and stars: Nor, say they, are we the God whom thou seekest. And I replied unto all these, which stand so round about these doors of my flesh: Tell me concerning my God; since you are not He, tell me something of Him. And they cried out with a loud voice: “He made us!” My question was my thought; and their answer was their beauty.’ (19)
And if we ask the same question of history, and the transcendent personalities emerging in it or of such
(19) Confessions, Bk. X, cap. 6.
examples of moral loveliness and non-utilitarian heroism as have come within our own range the answer is the same. They ‘. all point beyond the world ; and in their beauty and self-immolation so far exceeding the natural necessities of the case testify to that deeper Reality in relation with which alone we can hope to develop the true meaning, and capacity of human life. Of all these we can surely say:
‘As in God they must have their root if their values are to survive, so in God they must find their consummation if their promise is to be fulfilled. For nature, limited by naturalism, can find for them neither a beginning nor an end which is adequate to their true reality.’ (20)
Why is it that we are so strangely moved when we hear of such a life as that of Dr. Schweitzer, the brilliant scholar who heard and obeyed a supernatural call ta humble service in the African forests; or the amazing career of Charles de Foucauld, the self-indulgent young, aristocrat, called imperatively to a life and death of lonely self-immolation in the Sahara? When we think of these lives, against which common sense could say so much, most of us feel either a most poignant and admiring envy, or else that interior discomfort which leads us to turn as soon as we can to something else. Why is this, unless it be that they point decisively beyond the world, and rouse our latent sense of a supernatural call? Do they not suggest to us that we may have made the mistake of the unskilful psychoanalyst, accepted a merely natural interpretation of the assigned end of our human striving, and so harmonized our own lives at too low a level; leaving out just those objective realities towards which the mystics orientate their lives, and so missing the clue by which alone history can be understood?
(20) A. Balfour: Theism and Thought, p. 32
Many will say that all this is in the nature of speculation and specialism; and does not bear much on the religious philosophy and needs of the ordinary man. But I do not think we can get rid of it quite so easily as that. For if it be true, as the mystics insist, that we are thus the creatures of a double order, of spirit and of sense if the supernatural be unalterably present here and now, reaching and being reached by us in and through the visible world, setting up heroic standards, and making heavenly claims then, this fact is true for all, though doubtless in very different degrees. The call of the Absolute is then heard in every invitation to sacrifice; and its savour is discerned in all self-oblivious deeds. ‘I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me.’
Therefore the truth or falsehood of our religious constructions, from the simplest to the most complex, must be measured by their ability to minister to this double situation, and bring the supernatural life by natural channels to the soul. Our philosophy too is gravely defective if it fails to include both orders, and we are stunted and imperfect if we fail to respond to them; for our full life must consist in a balanced relation, a give-and-take, with both. It requires us to acknowledge the push of indwelling Spirit working through development, and urging all the many-graded efforts and self-expressions of men; yet also, the moulding influence of a transcendent and achieved Perfection—the inciting cause of all our deepest longings and most heroic activities. We only begin to grow up from the animal to the truly human, when forced to deal with visible facts, achievements, and difficulties outside ourselves; the things and problems of a truly objective world. So too, as regards that further stage of growth that truer and fuller relation to Reality to which the experiences of religion seem
to point us, we can only hope to emerge from the merely individual into the fully and richly personal, in dealing with, and receiving food and stimulus from, a really existent spiritual environment truly other than ourselves.
The perpetual demands of pure religion for self-annihilation, self-loss, which sound so arid and perverse until we realize them as one half of a completed whole surely these are simply demands for a recognition of the truth, that God alone is the meaning, origin and goal of human personality; and that any creed which puts man and man’s importance at its centre, is doomed to shipwreck against the massively superhuman realities of the spiritual world.
‘This Object Uhcreate is so far beyond and above all created being,” says Berulle, ‘that it is for us to lose ourselves and sink ourselves in Him rather than know Him; and rather to become His by His own secret operations than by means of our thoughts and particular conceptions.’ (21)
This demand for self-naughting is present in Christianity side by side with the gentlest and most genial understanding of the weakness and unsteadiness of men. In such annihilation rightly understood not loss of individual character is contemplated, but rather the subjugation and so the enhancement of its best elements; which grow and shine the more, in all their variousness, by the mergence of their deepest being in the living Source and Food of personality. This involves a view of personality incompatible with any theory of the self as an enclosed monad; another point on which philosophers must take some account of the witness of spiritual genius. For here we are presented, within the frame of history, with the spectacle of persons in whom this self-mergence and transfiguration has been accomplished; and who show us, so
(21) Oeuvres, p. 1383.
far as man has yet achieved it, the result of the correct relation of finite to Infinite Spirit. It is a result best defined in the words of the New Testament: ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind’.(22) Not the terror-struck paralysis of the tiny creature confronted by the Holiness of God; but a wonderful enhancement of each aspect of its being, the filling up of its small capacities to the brim:
‘Each faculty tasked
To perceive him, has gained an abyss, where a dewdrop was asked.’
The active and heroic careers of the greatest among the saints notoriously witness to this possible transformation of personality : to the fact that a deeply felt and trustful correspondence with that which we call the Supernatural Order is the condition under which we shall best correspond with the natural order, and do the work it demands. We may be sure that their best intuitions are relative and sidelong glimpses of a Truth we cannot see face to face, and the passion of love it inspires in them a faint shadow of the energy of love which is ceaselessly poured out upon the world; that nothing in fact which they say or feel must ever be confused with ultimates. Nevertheless, in their massive agreements, most of all in the power over circumstances which they develop, their unearthly self-forgetting charm, their transfiguring influence on other lives ; in all this, they convince us of their own contact with immense spiritual realities. And these realities, though our own consciousness seldom opens wide enough to apprehend them, none the less ceaselessly condition every detail of our own lives. In an impressive passage Baron von Hügel has ob-
(22) 2 Timothy 1. 7.
served that his long and deep studies had brought him to feel, not that we can isolate as ‘mystical’ any one sort of experience and awareness, but rather that all our acting and thinking, however little we may ourselves perceive it, is only fully explicable as determined by ‘the actual influence of the actually present God’; as the unseen planet Neptune, truly present, was the cause of those deflections through which at last he was found.(23) This is a thought which chimes well with that idea which Lord Balfour, in his Theism and Thought, has called the concept of a ‘guided universe’.(24) It may represent the line along which Christian philosophy will best escape the tangles of monism. The mystics, and those who share in lesser degrees their special qualities, are then those who feel and know more fully than any other type of mind the truth suggested by these words. Such feeling and such knowledge do and must fluctuate: for here intuition, moves upon those ‘coasts of peace’ where the historically-conditioned creature touches the fringes of Eternity by means of that most actual, yet undefined aura of awareness, which extends beyond the sensory field. But those who have known the mysterious wonder of that contact, remembering our humble origin and half-animal status, will be the last to be disconcerted at this. What matters is, that the Eternal Fact apprehended does not fluctuate, as our chain-like lives, now dim, now vivid, pass across it. And as these lives, under the twofold influences of spiritual food given from without and organic development working from within, expand into greater realization of their own meaning, more complete self-surrender to its purposes—so, and only so does the true human personality grow up. Thus only can it escape the childishness, pettiness and lack of direction so startlingly apparent in so
(23) The Mystical Element of Religion, 2nd ed., vol. I, p. xxii
(24) Op. Cit., p. 37 etc.
many adult lives, and exhibit all its latent possibilities. Drawing strength from a source of power beyond itself, and released from its pre-occupation with corporate or individual self-interest and self-preservation, it then becomes a source of power in its turn.
Lord Balfour, in the book from which I have already quoted, insists strongly on the double character of all our knowledge and convictions about life; its evolutionary and its transcendental sides. What he there says of the distinction between the historical and the ‘rational’ sources of such knowledges and beliefs, and the occasional collisions between them, can be applied with even greater appropriateness to the problem presented by man’s spiritual life:(25) for both strands are so plainly present in it.
There is first the natural and historical strand, developing in and through the life of the race, and conditioned by our past, and very largely too by our relation with our physical surroundings; the tendencies and outlooks we all inherit. These tendencies and outlooks, as we cannot doubt if we be theists, are themselves, in so far as they be innocent, due to the guiding action of creative Spirit; truly immanent in history and the processes of growth. ‘Religion’, says Troeltsch, ‘with its common goal in the unknown, has also a common ground in the Divine Spirit, ever pressing the finite mind onward towards further light and fuller consciousness—a Spirit which indwells our finite Spirit.’ (26) Through and in history, then, Reality does come to us. Therefore such manifestations of natural religion are not to be rejected by us, even though they be inevitably mixed with outgrown primitive elements, errors, and memories. Indeed, it is in religion more than elsewhere that these primitive
(25) Op. Cit., p. 21 etc.
(26) Christian Thought, p. 32.
characteristics of our inherited knowledge are seen most plainly and sometimes painfully.
But over against this real though partial truth of immanent Spirit and organic growth, is a whole realm of belief and knowledge not to be accounted for in the terms of naturalistic development. This realm of certitude points beyond the world. It is concerned with absolute values, and that abiding Perfection in which they find their meaning and their end. Here that stream of change which is the field of our ‘natural’ experience is transfused and enveloped by the strange intuition of Eternity ‘in which nothing is fitting but all is at once present, and out of which flows all that is past and to come’.(27) This intuition does not emerge from within man’s natural experience, but rather breaks in on it from another order; and does not invite him to be merely his natural best, but something quite different. The manifestation, it is true, is given in and through history; for otherwise we, immersed in history, could not conceivably receive it. And it is given by means of great spiritual personalities revealers, prophets, saints. But it is not conditioned or limited by history. Revelation, grace, given-ness, power, are its key-words: not merely evolution, growth, self-expression, development. In theological language, God’s movement towards man is in this regard considered as the precedent cause of man’s possible movement towards God. And in the degree of his response to this breaking-in of Spirit, this attraction, this grace, man discovers himself to be a spiritual thing.
‘Amavit Deus Comgilum
Bene, et ipse Dominum.’
That ancient couplet, which told the whole story of a saint, tells also, in the language of our human nature,
(27) St. Augustine: Confessions, Bk, XI, cap. 11.
the most deeply felt relation between Supernature and the soul. Surely we have here a conception within which all levels and degrees of genuine religion, from the most naïve to the most lofty, are at home; and which still leaves room for more vivid apprehensions, more profound relations, than any which man has yet attained. For this conception looks beyond all theories of evolution or development, as telling only half the truth. It points to the direct influence and immense transfiguring possibilities of God’s free action; and rebukes the human tendency to systematize the workings of His power within our world, and impose on Him the limitations of our narrow and shallow world consciousness. Thus it witnesses most splendidly to the freedom, aliveness, and spontaneity of God, the rich possibilities of His creative love, and the inadequacy of all patterns, diagrams and theories by which man, out of his tiny store of knowledge, seeks to interpret the universe and forecast His dealings with the world.
Going back then once more to the question with which we began what philosophy, what reading of Reality is required by man’s deepest experiences, and how are we to conceive the relation of that Reality with ourselves what must the answer be? Perhaps something like this. Man’s full relation with Reality, in so far as we are able to apprehend it, can only be expressed by a double formula and developed by means of a double movement. For it means his ever fuller correspondence both with Eternity and with time, and therewith a widening out of human experience and responsibility beyond the span of the ‘natural’. It means the push of indwelling Spirit working through development towards an ever richer and more various inflorescence of life.
But it also, and essentially, means the moulding influence of a transcendent and achieved Perfection; the inciting
cause of all man’s deepest longings and most heroic activities, the only source of all his keenest joys. In religious language, this means both Revelation and History, both Grace, and Nature, both Prayer and Works. It declares the fundamental religious truth, that the complete redeeming of that which we call nature can only be the work of Supernature. Thus, where it is actualized, this outlook completes and unspeakably enriches the great landscape which the human soul is able, when fully awakened, to contemplate ; and brings into our personal life a stimulating and humbling element. For it means the eternalizing of all our small and homely activities, placing them within an environment which gives them a dignity and a meaning beyond themselves; and it also means the humble acceptance of the food of Eternal Life in and through this-world conditions. It means in the realm of religion the sheer flight of the soul to God, its supernatural joy, home and end; and yet also the meek and patient discovery and service of that very God in natural and homely ways. Thus is our apparently aimless life of succession redeemed by relating it with eternal facts; and, as in Herbert’s poem, the swept room and the action of the sweeper are both alike ‘made fine’.