Henry Longueville Mansel.

The limits of religious thought examined : in eight lectures, preached before the University of Oxford, in the year MDCCCLVIII .. online

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BR 45 .B35 1858

Bampton lectures












Reader in Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy at Magdalen College ;
Tutor and late Fellow of St. John's College,







The objections made to faith are by no means an effect
of knowledge, but proceed rather from an ignorance
of what knowledge is.










" I give and bequeath my Lands and Estates to

" the Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the University
" of Oxford for ever, to have and to hold all and sin-
M gular the said Lands or Estates upon trust, and to the
u intents and purposes hereinafter mentioned ; that is to
" say, I will and appoint that the Vice-Chancellor of the
" University of Oxford for the time being shall take and
" receive all the rents, issues, and profits thereof, and
" (after all taxes, reparations, and necessary deductions
" made) that he pay all the remainder to the endowment
" of eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, to be established for
" ever in the said University, and to be performed in the
1 l manner following :

" I direct and appoint, that, upon the first Tuesday in
" Easter Term, a Lecturer be yearly chosen by the Heads
" of Colleges only, and by no others, in the room ad-
" joining to the Printing-House, between the hours of ten
" in the morning and two in the afternoon, to preach
" eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, the year following, at
" St. Mary's in Oxford, between the commencement of the

a 2


" Last month in Lent Term, and the end of the third week
M in Act Term.

- Also I direct anil appoint, that the eight Divinity
" Lecture Sermons shall he preached upon either of the
" following Subjects— to confirm and estahlish the Christ-
11 ian Faith, and to confute all heretics and schismatics
.. — U j) (m the divine authority of the holy Scriptures —
" upon the authority of the writings of the primitive Fa-
M then, as to the faith and practice of the primitive Church
^ — upon the Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
m Christ — upon the Divinity of the Holy Ghost — upon the
M Articles of the Christian Faith, as comprehended in the
" Apostles' 1 and Nicene Creeds.

" Also I direct, that thirty copies of the eight Divinity
" Lecture Sermons shall he always printed, within two
" months after they are preached, and one copy shall be
" given to the Chancellor of the University, and one copy
" to the Head of every College, and one copy to the Mayor
" of the city of Oxford, and one copy to be put into the
wt Bodleian Library; and the expense of printing them shall
" be paid out of the revenue of the Land or Estates given
" for establishing the Divinity Lecture Sermons; and the
" Preacher shall not be paid, nor be entitled to the revenue,
" before they are printed.

" Also I direct and appoint, that no person shall be
" qualified to preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons, un-
" less he hath taken the degree of Master of Arts at least,
" in one of the two Universities of Oxford or Cambridge;
" anil that the same person shall never preach the Divinity
M Lecture Sermons twice.'"


IT has been observed by a thoughtful writer of
the present day, that " the theological struggle of
this age, in all its more important phases, turns
upon the philosophical problem of the limits of
knowledge and the true theory of human ignor-
ance a ." The present Lectures may be regarded
as an attempt to obtain an answer to this pro-
blem, in one at least of its aspects, by shewing
what limitations to the construction of a philo-
sophical Theology necessarily exist in the con-
stitution and laws of the human mind.

The title selected may perhaps require a few
words of explanation. In the expression, religious
thought, the term thought is not intended to desig-
nate any special mode of acquiring or communi-
cating knowledge ; as if truths beyond the reach
of thought could be attained by intuition or some
other mental process. It is used as a general
term, to include all that can be distinctly appre-
hended as existing in any man's own conscious-
ness, or can be communicated to others by means
of language. Those states of mind w T hich do not
fulfil these conditions are only indirectly exa-
mined in the following pages ; but the very cir-

a Professor Fraser, Essays hi Philosophy, p. 281.


cumstance, that such states, even granting them
to exist, can neither be distinctly apprehended
Dor intelligibly communicated, renders them,
whatever may be their supposed effects on indi-
vidual minds, unavailable as instruments for the
construction or criticism of any religious doc-

Though the need of such an inquiry as is now
attempted was suggested to the Author chiefly by
the perusal of theological writings of the present
generation, he has not, in the prosecution of it,
thought it necessary to confine his remarks ex-
clusively to living writers, or to those whose
influence is extensively felt in this country.
Enough reference will be found to recent pub-
lications, to shew, it is believed, that the work
is not uncalled for at this time ; but the causes
of the evil chiefly assailed lie deep in the tenden-
cies of human nature, and are operative, with
identity of principle and but little variety of de-
tail, at different times and in different places.
In Germany, indeed, it may be said that Ra-
tionalism, properly so called, is not at present
the predominant phase of theological speculation.
Still it is found, in no sparing measure, in its
own name and character; and still more, it un-
derlies and leavens the speculations of many
writers who arc apparently pursuing a different
method. Publications whose professed object is
historical or critical, are often undertaken in the
interest of a foregone philosophical conclusion.
If 8 writer commences his inquiry by laying


down, with Strauss, as a canon of criticism, that
whatever is supernatural is necessarily unhis-
torical; or if, with Vatke or Baur, he assumes
the Hegelian theory of development as the "stand-
point" from which to contemplate the history of
nations or of doctrines, his researches will be
indirectly amenable to any criticism which may
affect the philosophical principles on which they
are conducted. But, directly, the historical and
critical researches of modern theology do not
come within the class of inquiries examined in
the present work. For, whatever may be their
merits or defects in the hands of individual writ-
ers, they cannot in themselves be regarded as
transcending the legitimate boundaries of human
thought ; but on the contrary, they are rather
legitimate, though often over-estimated, contri-
butions to the general sum of Christian Evi-

With regard to the philosophical speculations
in Theology which are the direct objects of ex-
amination in the following pages, the present
work may be regarded as an attempt to pursue,
in relation to Theology, the inquiiw instituted by
Kant in relation to Metaphysics ; namely, How
are synthetical judgments a priori possible f In
other words ; Does there exist in the human
mind any direct faculty of religious knowledge, by
which, in its speculative exercise, we are enabled
to decide, independently of all external Revela-
tion, what is the true nature of God, and the
manner in which He must manifest Himself to


the world ; and by which, in its critical exercise,
we are entitled authoritatively to decide for or
against the claims of any professed Revelation,
as containing a true or a false representation of
the Divine Nature and Attributes? And if it can
be shewn that no such faculty exists, but that
the conclusions arrived at in this respect are
gained indirectly, by transferring to the region of
Theology judgments which properly belong to
another province of human thought; there then
arises a second inquiry ; namely, What cautions
are necessary to be observed in the process of
transferring, and what is the value of the judg-
ments when transferred ? The moral and theo-
logical writings of Kant and his followers are so
far from furnishing a satisfactory answer to these
questions, that they rather seem as if they had
been written expressly for the purpose of re-
versing the method carried out with such good
effect in relation to Metaphysics.

It is rather to a philosopher of our own age
and country that we must look for the true
theory of the limits of human thought, as ap-
plicable to theological, no less than to meta-
physical researches, — a theory exhibited indeed
in a fragmentary and incomplete form, but con-
taining the germ of nearly all that is requisite
for a full exposition of the system. The cele-
brated article of Sir William Hamilton, on the
Philosophy of the Unconditioned, contains the
key to the understanding and appreciation of
nearly the whole body of modern German specu-


lation. His great principle, that "the Uncon-
ditioned is incognisable and inconceivable ; its
notion being only negative of the Conditioned,
which last can alone be positively known or
conceived," has suggested the principal part of
the inquiries pursued in the present work ; and
his practical conclusion, " We are thus taught the
salutary lesson, that the capacity of thought is
not to be constituted into the measure of exist-
ence; and are warned from recognising the do-
main of our knowledge as necessarily coextensive
with the horizon of our faith," is identical with
that which is constantly enforced throughout
these Lectures.

But if the best theoretical exposition of the
limits of human thought is to be found in the
writings of a philosopher but recently removed
from among us ; it is in a work of more than a
century old that we find the best instance of the
acknowledgment of those limits in practice. The
Analogy of Religion, natural and revealed, to the con-
stitution and course of Nature furnishes an exam-
ple of a profound and searching philosophical
spirit, combined with a just perception of the
bounds within which all human philosophy must
be confined, to which, in the whole range of simi-
lar investigations, it would be difficult, if not im-
possible, to find a parallel. The author of that
work has been justly described as " one to whose
deep sayings no thoughtful mind was ever yet
introduced for the first time, without acknow-
ledging the period an epoch in its intellectual


history*;" and it maybe added that the feeling
of admiration thus excited will only be increased
by a comparison of his writings with the preten-
tious failures of more ambitious thinkers. Con-
nected as the present Author has been for many
years with the studies of Oxford, of which those
writings have long formed an important part, he
feels that he would be wanting in his duty to the
University to which he owes so much, were he to
hesitate to declare, at this time, his deep-rooted
and increasing conviction, that sound religious
philosophy will flourish or fade within her walls,
according as she perseveres or neglects to study
the works and cultivate the spirit of her great
son and teacher. Bishop Butler.

b W. A. Butler, Letters on the Development of Christian Doc-
trine, p,



Dogmatism and Rationalism as methods of religious phi-
losophy — meaning of these terms — errors of the respective
systems denoted by each ; the one forcing reason into
agreement with revelation, the other forcing revelation into
agreement with reason. — Both methods may be regarded
as attempts, from opposite sides, to produce exact coinci-
dence between belief and thought. — Instances of each ex-
hibited and examined. — Human conceptions are unavoid-
able in Theology ; but there is need of some principle to
determine their proper place in it. — Such a principle can
only be gained by an investigation of the Limits of Human
Thought. — The proper object of criticism is not religion,
but the human mind in its relation to religion. — A direct
criticism of religion as a representation of God can only be
accomplished by the construction of a Philosophy of the
Infinite. — It is therefore necessary to inquire whether such
a philosophy is possible ; and this can only be ascertained
by an examination of the laws of human thought in general,
which will determine those of religious thought in particu-
lar. — Analogous difficulties may be expected in philosophy
and in religion, arising from the limitations of thought
common to both. — Contrast between two opposite state-
ments of the extent of human knowledge, in the words of
St. Paul and of Hegel. — Purpose of the following Lectures,
as an examination of the Limits of Religious Thought.


Statement of the two opposite methods by which a Philo-
sophy of Religion may be attempted; the Objective or


Metaphysical, based upon a supposed knowledge of the na-
ture of God, and the Subjective or Psychological, based on
a knowledge of the mental faculties of man. — Relation of
these methods respectively to the Criticism of Revelation

dependence of the former method upon the latter. — Fur-
i her examination of the Objective or Metaphysical method.
Two different modes in which man may be supposed to be
capable of attaining to a knowledge of God — specimen of
each— insufficiency of both to found a Rational Theology.

Examination of the fundamental ideas of Rational Theo-
logy, — the Absolute — the Infinite — the First Cause — mu-
tual contradictions involved in these three ideas — concep-
tion of an eternal Causation incompatible with the Abso-
lute — conception of a temporal Causation incompatible
with the Infinite. — The Absolute cannot be conceived as
a necessary and unconscious cause, — nor as a voluntary
and conscious cause, — nor as possessing consciousness at
all, — nor as containing within itself any kind of relation,
— nor as one and simple, out of all relation. Effect
of these counter impossibilities on the conceptions of
Theology — apparent contradictions in the conception of
the Divine Attributes as absolute and infinite. — Further
contradictions involved in the coexistence of the Relative
with the Absolute, and of the Finite with the Infinite.
Pantheism avoids these contradictions by denying the ex-
istence of the Finite and Relative — this solution untenable
— self-contradictions of the Pantheistic hypothesis. — Al-
ternative of Atheism, which denies the existence of the
Infinite and Absolute — contradictions involved in this hy-
pothesis. — Summary of conclusions. — Necessary failure of
all attempts to construct a Metaphysical Theology — al-
ternative necessitated by this failure. — Practical result of
the above inquiry.

Recapitulation of the results of the last Lecture. — Ne-
cessit) of examining the Philosophy of Religion from the
Subjective or Psychological side, as dependent upon a


knowledge of the laws of the human mind. — General con-
ditions of all human Consciousness. — First condition of
Consciousness, Distinction between one Object and another —
such a distinction necessarily implies Limitation — conse-
quent impossibility of conceiving the Infinite. — Explanation
of the contradictions involved in the idea of the Infinite —
this idea inadmissible as the basis of a scientific Theology.
— Second condition of Consciousness, Relation between Sub-
ject and Object — consequent impossibility of conceiving the
Absolute. — Explanation of the contradictions involved in
the idea of the Absolute. — Impossibility of a partial know-
ledge of the Infinite and Absolute. — Third condition of Con-
sciousness, Succession and Duration in Time — hence all ob-
jects are conceived as finite — consequent impossibility of
conceiving Creation, and counter impossibility of conceiving
finite existence as uncreated. — Attempt to evade this limit-
ation in Theology by the hypothesis of the existence of God
out of Time — this hypothesis untenable in philosophy and
unavailable in theology. — Fourth condition of Consciousness,
Personality — Personality a limitation and a relation, and
hence inadequate to represent the Infinite. — Theological
consequences of this condition. — Personality the source
and type of our conception of Reality, and therefore the
only fitting representation of God. — Necessity of thinking
of God as personal and yet of believing in Him as infinite
— apparent contradiction between these representations —
hence Thought cannot be the measure of Belief— Conse-
quent impossibility of constructing a Rational Theology. —
Attempt to avoid the above conclusions by placing the
Philosophy of the Infinite in a point beyond Consciousness
— necessary failure of this attempt. — Summary of conclu-
sions. — Practical lesson from the above inquiry.


Analysis of the religious Consciousness, reflective and
intuitive. — Relation of the reflective Consciousness to Theo-
logy ; its reasonings sufficient to correct our conception of
a Supreme Being, but not to originate it — examination of


some current theories on this point — statement of the
value of the reflective faculties within their proper limits.
—Reflection, as well as intuition, necessary to distinct con-
sciousness; but intuition is first in the order of nature,
though not in that of time.— Two principal modes of reli-
gious intuition— the Feeling of Dependence and the Con-
viction of Moral Obligation, giving rise respectively to
Prayer and Expiation. — Examination of these two modes
oi '< onscionsness. — Dependence implies a Personal Superior;
hence our conviction of the Power of God — Moral Obliga-
tion implies a Moral Lawgiver; hence our conviction of
the Goodness of God. — Limits of the Religious Conscious-
ness — Sense of Dependence not a consciousness of the
Absolute and Infinite — opposite theory of Schleiermacher
on this point — objections to his view. — Sense of Moral
Obligation not a consciousness of the Absolute and Infinite.
— Yet the Infinite is indirectly implied by the religious
consciousness, though not apprehended as such ; for the
consciousness of limitation carries with it an indirect con-
viction of the existence of the Infinite beyond conscious-
ness. — Result of the above analysis — our knowledge of God
relative and not absolute — the Infinite an object of belief,
but not of thought or knowledge ; hence we may know that
an Infinite God exists, but not what He is as infinite. —
Further results of an examination of the religious con-
sciousness. — God known as a Person through the conscious-
ness of ourselves as Persons — this consciousness indispensa-
ble to Theism ; for the denial of our own Personality, whe-
ther in the form of Materialism or of Pantheism, logically
loads to Atheism. — Summary of conclusions — our religious
knowledge is regulative, but not speculative — importance of
this distinction in theological reasoning — conception of the
Infinite inadmissible in Theology. — Office of religious phi-
losophy, as limited to finite conceptions. — Practical benefits
of this limitation. — Conclusion.


Distinction between Speculative and Regulative Truth


further pursued. — In Philosophy, as well as in Religion,
our highest principles of thought are regulative and not
speculative. — Instances in the ideas of Liberty and Neces-
sity ; Unity and Plurality as implied in the conception of
any object ; Commerce between Soul and Body ; Exten-
sion, as implied in external perception ; and Succession, as
implied in the entire consciousness. — Illustration thus af-
forded for determining the limits of thought — distinction
between legitimate and illegitimate thought, as determined
by their relation to the inexplicable and the self- contra-
dictory respectively. — Conclusion to be drawn as regards
the manner of the mind's operation — all Consciousness
implies a relation between Subject and Object, dependent
on their mutual action and reaction ; and thus no principle
of thought can be regarded as absolute and simple, as an
ultimate and highest truth. — Analogy in this respect be-
tween Philosophy and Natural Religion which apprehends
the Infinite under finite forms — corresponding difficulties
to be expected in each. — Provinces of Reason and Faith. —
Analogy extended to Revealed Religion — testimony of
Revelation plain and intelligible when regarded as regula-
tive, but ultimately incomprehensible to speculation — cor-
responding errors in Philosophy and Religion, illustrating
this analogy. — Regulative conceptions not therefore untrue.
— The above principles confirmed by the teaching of Scrip-
ture. — Revelation expressly adapted to the limits of human
thought. — Relation of the Infinite to the Personal in the
representations of God in the Old Testament. — Further
confirmation from the New Testament. — Doctrine of the
Incarnation ; its practical position in Theology as a regu-
lative truth ; its perversion by modern philosophy, in the
attempt to exhibit it as a speculative truth. — Instances in
Hegel, Marheineke, and Strauss. — Conclusion.


Result of the previous inquiries — religious ideas con-
tain two elements, a Form, common to them with all other
ideas, as being human thoughts ; and a Matter, peculiar to


themselves, as thoughts about religious objects — hence
there may exist two possible kinds of difficulties; the one
formal, arising from the universal laws of human thought;
the other material, arising from the peculiar nature of reli-
gious evidence. — The principal objections suggested by Ra-
tionalism are of the former kind; common to all human
thinking as such, and therefore to Rationalism itself. —
Proof of this position by the exhibition of parallel difficul-
ties in Theology and Philosophy. — Our ignorance of the
nature of God compared with our ignorance of the nature
of Causation. — Doctrine of the Trinity compared with the
philosophical conception of the Infinite and the Absolute,
as One and yet as Many. — Doctrine of the eternal genera-
tion of the Son compared with the relation of an Infinite
Substance to its Attributes. — Purpose of such comparisons,
not to prove the doctrines, but to shew the weakness of
human reason with regard to them — true evidence of the
doctrines to be found, not in Reason, but in Revelation. —
Further parallels. — Doctrine of the twofold nature of Christ
compared with the philosophical conception of the Infinite
as coexisting with the Finite. — Reason thus shewn not to
be the supreme judge of religious truth ; for Religion must
begin with that which is above Reason. — Extension of the
same argument to our conceptions of Divine Providence. —
Representations of General Law and Special Interposition
— supposed difficulty in the conception of the latter shewn
to be really common to all human conceptions of the Infi-
nite. — Both representations equally imperfect as specula-
tive truths, and both equally necessary as regulative. —
Imperfections in the conception of General Law and me-
chanical action of the universe — this conception is neither
philosophically necessary nor empirically universal ; and
hence it is not entitled to supersede all other representa-
tions — it is inapplicable to the phenomena of mind, and
only partially available in relation to those of matter. —
Conception of Miraculous Agency, as subordinate to that
of Special Providence — no sufficient ground, either from
philosophy or from experience, for asserting that mira-


cles are impossible. — Comparison between the opposite
conceptions of a miracle, as an exception to a law. or as
the result of a higher law — both these conceptions are