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sepulchral inscriptions. And the life that moves
forward says the same.

It is the glory of France that she has been brought,
a little earlier than her sisters, to search new horizons
and make experiments which will be of use to the

The impotence of the intellectualist systems has
^bccasioned the blossoming of pragmatism in philo-
sophy; just as, in the Churches, the failure of
scholastic and rationalistic tendencies occasioned a
new apologetic, based now on history, now on expe-
rience, and sometimes upon both. 1 The thinker in

1 In the celebrated work, for example, of Auguste Sabatier,
Dean of the Paris Faculty of Protestant Theology: ff*uf*


whom the new tendencies first duly sought to realise
themselves is, if I am not mistaken, J. M. Guyau.
His fine book with an inaccurate and unfortunate
title : The hreligion of the Future having scarcely
achieved any succes d'estime among the advanced or
succes de scandale among the conservative, is perhaps
more read to-day than it was twenty years ago.

Why did he choose a title which made one antici-
pate some anti-religious prophecy * for a work which

(Tune pbilosophie de la religion d'apres la psychologie et Fhistoire,
Paris, 1901; L. Laberthonniere : Essais de philosophie religieuse,
Paris, 1903, with a letter from the Very Rev. Father Nouvelle,
General Superior of the Oratory; the same: Le Realisme chretien
et Fidealisme grec, Paris, 1901 [Encounter between Christianity
and Greek Philosophy Greek Philosophy Christianity Op-
position of Christianity and Greek Philosophy Whither the con-
flict of reason and faith is leading Two attitudes Of the part
of history in religious belief : its insufficiency and its necessity
How immutability and mobility are reconciled in Christianity] ;
Edouard Le Roy: Dogme et critique, Paris, 1907; V. Maurice
Blondel: Histoire et dogme (La Ouinzaine for Jan. 15, Feb. I and
15, 1904).

1 The first edition is that of 1887 (Paris, 8vo, xxviii, 480 pp.).
We quote from this. [There is a readable but sometimes mis-
leading English translation : Ike Non-Religion of the Future,
London, 1897. TRANSLATOR.]

" The dominant idea developed by Guyau and followed in its
principal consequences, is that of life, as the common principle
of art, morality and religion. According to him and this is the
generative conception of his whole system life, rightly understood,
involves, in its very intensity, a principle of natural expansion,
fecundity and generosity. From this he draws the inference that
normal life naturally reconciles, in itself, the individual and the
social points of view, whose more or less apparent opposition
is the reef which threatens utilitarian theories of art, morals and
religion." Alfred Fouillee, Pages choisies de J. M. Guyau, Paris,
1895, P* V11 f tne Introduction. It is a pity that the writer has
not indicated the source of each extract.


did not prophesy, and, far from being anti-religious,
is impregnated with the broadest historical and social
understanding, and shows the peerless place religion
holds, and will probably continue to hold, in the
annals of civilisation? I imagine it sprang from a
scrupulousness as honourable as it was exaggerated.
J. M. Guyau, conscious of all the faith, ardour and
life in his work, and seeing the wholly new basis it
offered to an apology for religion, was a little embar-
rassed : he wished to avoid all ambiguity and to pro-
claim from the very title on which side of the
barricade he was fighting.

But he confesses in his preface that his irreligion
retains what is purest in the religious sentiment, " On
the one hand, admiration of the universe and of the
infinite powers therein displayed; on the other, the
search after an ideal not merely individual but social
and even cosmic, which surpasses present reality. . . ."
And he concluded : " Irreligion, as we understand it,
may be considered as a higher stage of religion and
of civilisation itself."

With a wonderful sense of life, which continued
Renan without repeating him, Guyau saw the in-
numerable interpretations of religious feeling and
contemplated the unique beauty of this evolution,
wherein many of his contemporaries chose only to
perceive vulgarities, superstitions, errors and false-
hoods. Thus having, as a matter of form, declared
war upon the Churches self-styled immutable, he
showed them with an undissimulated delight that
they were more evolutive, and consequently more
alive, than they supposed.

This professed teacher of irreligion proclaims a
future in which " there will be less faith but more


free speculation; less contemplation but more reason-
ing, more hardy induction, more active impulse of
thought": in which "religious dogma will be ex-
tinct, but the best elements of religious life will be
propagated, will be augmented in intensity and exten-
sion. For he alone is religious in the philosophical
sense of the word who searches for, who thinks about,
who loves the truth." 1

With fine honesty, he does not hesitate to point out
to the Churches certain counterfeits of religion against
which he sets them on their guard. What a confes-
sion of impotence, for example, to accept the services
of certain sceptics who would carefully preserve
religion as though it were a delicate knick-knack on
a whatnot or to ally themselves with people who
would not have it disappear because its steeples,
scattered over the hills, go so well into the landscape;
or because the teaching it dispenses to the people is
a pledge of social preservation and of submission to
the powers that be!

Finally, recalling a phrase of Renan's in a letter to
Saint-Beuve : " No, indeed. I did not want to detach
an unripe soul from the old trunk," he added. " No
more than M. Renan are we of those who think they
have done all when they have shaken the trees and
flung the whole bruised crop on to the ground; but
if one must not shake down the green fruit at random,
one may seek to ripen it upon the branch."

In spite of all these strong and serene declarations,
in spite of its wonderful style, M. Guyau's book did

1 For all the preceding quotations, see Irreligion de
Introduction, pp. xiii-xxiv, and cp. Eng. trans., pp. i-i


not win the success it would have had to-day. Scien-
tists found it too poetical; anti-religionists were dis-
concerted by so much piety and mysticism; the most
liberal representatives of the Churches scarcely looked
beyond the title. 1

How could a purejtfp-clerical argue with one who
said : "At bottom^ris not such a bad thing that
fifty-five thousand mople in France should be, or
appear to be, concerned with other cares than their
material ones. DouWless, one never fulfils the task
given one, and the ideal disinterestedness of the priest
is rarely a reality : yet it is good that some men here
below should labour at a task beyond their strength;
so many others work at tasks beneath them. 5) 2

A little farther, among the pages devoted to the
progress yet to be realised, we read : " The second
thing necessary is that the priest, who is one of the
people's educators, should himself receive a higher
education than he does to-day. Far from seeking to
diminish the pay of priests a very slender economy
the State might, at need, augment it, and exact
diplomas, analogous to those of school-masters, in

1 The Rev. M. Grotz, pastor at Nimes, one of the most
distinguished and attractive figures of liberal Protestantism, made
a round of lectures against this book.

True, Guyau recalls some of the cruellest pages of Herr von
Hartmann against the liberal Protestants who, persisting in the
determination to remain in the old Churches, are as much in their
place there " as a sparrow in a swallow's nest."

Again, they resemble, always according to Herr von Hartmann,
" a man whose house is riven in many places and going to ruin, who
perceives this and does all that in him lies still further to shatter it,
but continues nevertheless tranquilly to sleep in it and^even to
call in the passers-by and offer them food and shelter." Ibid.,
p. 144 et seq. ; Eng. trans., pp. 182-3.

2 Loc. cit., p. 229 ; cp. Eng. trans., p. 275.


scientific and extended historical knowledge, and in
knowledge of religious history. Already some country
priests study botany and mineralogy, and others
music : in the ranks of the clergy there is a con-
siderable amount of live force, sterilised by the want
of an adequate primary education; by want of initia-
tive and habits of freedom. Instead of seeking to
separate Church and State by a surgical operation
which is not a cure at all, free-thinkers should take
their stand on the Concordat, and profit by the fact
that the State has the income of the priesthood in
its hands, to act upon this great torpid body and
endeavour to rouse it up. In sociology, as in
mechanics, one need not always try to break the
forces which obstruct the forward march; one must
be able to turn them to account. Whatever exists
is, in some measure, useful; by the mere fact that the
education given by the clergy still subsists, it may
be asserted that it still plays a part in social equili-
brium, if only a passive one, and one of counterpoise.
. . . We must not seek the priest's ruin, but the
transforming of his mind, by giving it other theo-
retical and practical occupations than the mechanical
one for instance of his breviary. Between the
literal religion which alone the majority of the French
clergy still teach, and that absence of positive religion
which we take to be the national and human ideal,
there are innumerable steps which can only gradually
be climbed by a slow elevation of the mind, an almost
insensible enlargement of the intellectual horizon." l

The great political value of these views will escape
no reflecting mind. Their importance was the greater

1 Loc, cit., p. 229 ft seq. ; cp, Eng. trans., pp. 275-6,


that at about the same period, for reasons naturally
very different, a section of the French episcopate was
making vigorous efforts to raise the intellectual level
of the parish clergy.

Persuaded that faith has nothing to fear from
science, various prelates were reorganising their
seminaries, and at no distant day in several dioceses
the bachelor's degree would be required of all candi-
dates for the priesthood. Among those dioceses in
which the renewal of the course of studies was in
1905 complete and especially brilliant, I will only
mention two; I choose them because they were
directed by two bishops of a widely different turn
of mind that of Mgr. Lacroix (The Tarentaise) and
that of Mgr. Turinaz (Nancy).

To-day, Guyau is being read again; and the
younger generation will soon recognise in his book
one of the finest works of the last quarter of the
nineteenth century. And he is read, loved and
admired far from us. I shall never forget the tone
of enthusiasm with which a young teacher of book-
keeping in an Italian country town, who had been
cured by Guyau of anti-religious fanaticism, read me
the passage which had set him free : " When you fill
yourself with indignation against some absurd old
prejudice, remember it has been the travelling com-
panion of humanity for perhaps ten thousand years,
that men have leaned upon it when the roads were
bad, that it has been the occasion of many a joy, and
has lived, so to speak, on the life of man; is there
not something fraternal for us in every thought of
man ? " x

1 Loc, cit., p, xxvii ; cp, Eng, trans,, p. 19, K*


It is indeed especially because he taught recon-
ciliation with the past; and because, going further
than toleration, he preached respect, understanding
and love for one's adversaries; because he set up this
disposition of soul as the crown of all scientific work,
that the name of Guyau waxes each day, and that
the last lines of his Introduction may be applied to
his own ideas :

" Sometimes, during long night marches, the
soldiers in the ranks rail asleep, without, however,
pausing; they march on in their dreams, and only
awake when they reach their destination to offer
battle. Thus advance the ideas of the human mind;
they are sometimes so benumbed that they seem
motionless, their strength and life are only felt by
the way they have made : at last the day breaks and
they appear; they are recognised and are victorious." *

We will not leave him, then, without calling atten-
tion to some of these ideas, which seem to be entirely
triumphant in thought, even if they are not as yet
in fact.

" If the love of the personal God, mystically con-
ceived, tends to be effaced in modern societies, it is
not thus with the love of the God-ideal conceived as
a practical type of action. The ideal does not indeed
oppose the world, but simply surpasses it : it is at
bottom identical with our thought itself which, while
springing out of nature, goes before it, foreseeing
and preparing perpetual progress. The real and ideal
are reconciled in life; for life, as a whole, both is and

1 Ibid., p. xxviii ; cp. Eng trans., pp. 19-20,


becomes. Whoever says life, says evolution; now
evolution is Jacob's ladder, supported at once upon
earth and heaven : at its base we feel ourselves brutes,
at its summit we divine ourselves to be gods. Thus
religious feeling is not opposed to scientific and
philosophic feeling; it completes them, or rather it
springs from the same source. We have said that
religion is a science which is beginning; a science
which is still unconscious and vague : in the same
way, science is a religion which returns to reality,
taking again its normal direction, finding itself again,
so to speak. Science says to men : c Enter into one
another.' Religion says to men : c Unite with one
another ' : these two precepts are but one.

" Finally, a substitution tends to take place in our
affections. We shall love God in man; the future
in the present; the ideal in the real. The man of
evolution is indeed the man-God of Christianity.
And then this love for the ideal, reconciled with that
for humanity, instead of being a vain contemplation
and ecstasy, will become a spring of action. We shall
love God so much the more as we shall make Him,
so to speak. If there is at the bottom of man's heart
some persistent mystical instinct, it will be employed
as an important factor in evolution itself: in love
with our ideas, the more we adore them the more
we shall realise them. Religion being transformed
into the purest thing in the world, love of the ideal,
becomes, at the same time, the most real and,
in appearance, the most humble of all things
labour." *

" We have to find gods of flesh and bone, living

1 Loc, cit., p. 169 et sey. ; cp. Eng. trans., pp. 2IO-JI,


and breathing among us not poetic creations, like
those of Homer, but visible realities. We have to
behold heaven in human souls, providence in science,
goodness at the very basis of life. We must not
project our ideas and subjective pictures outside this
world, and love them with a barren love; but love
with an active love all the creatures of this world
in so far as they are capable of conceiving and realis-
ing the same ideas as we. Just as the love of our
country tends to disappear in so far as it is the love
of an abstraction, and resolves itself into a general
sympathy for all our fellow-citizens, so the love of
God will spread over the whole earth and will be
distributed among all beings. To know living things
is to love them : thus science, in so far as it studies
life, becomes one, we believe, with the constructive
feeling of the most lofty religions, with love." 1

"Fundamentally, doubt is not so much opposed
as might be imagined to the loftiest religious feeling :
it is an evolution of this very feeling. Doubt, indeed,
is only the consciousness that our thought is not the
absolute, and cannot grasp it, either directly or in-
directly. From this point of view, doubt is the most
religious attitude of the human mind. Atheism itself
is often less irreligious than the affirmation of the
imperfect and contradictory God of the various
religions." 2

" What alone is eternal in religions is the tendency
that brought them forth, the desire to explain, to

1 Loc. "/., p. 315 ; cp. Eng. trans., pp. 366-7.

2 Ibid,, p. 329 ; cp. Eng. trans,, p. 381,


draw conclusions, to unite together everything within
and about us; the weariless activity of the mind that
cannot stand still before the brute fact; that projects
itself into everything; at first perplexed and incohe-
rent, as it was formerly, then clear, co-ordinated and
harmonious as science is to-day. What, then, is
worthy of respect in religions is precisely that spirit
of scientific and metaphysical investigation which
to-day is tending to overthrow them one after
another." l

' " Hence the belief in the divine will no longer be
a passive adoration, but an act. And in the same
way, the belief in providence will be no longer a
justification of the actual world and its ills in the
name of the divine intention, but a striving to intro-
duce into it, by human intervention, more of justice
and goodness." 2

"The cure for all the sufferings of the modern
brain lies in the enlargement of the heart." 3

It is hard to understand how so many pages, which
ought, when they were read by the Churches little
or great to have awakened in their hearts memories
of ancient days, to have recalled the enthusiasms and
flights of their jtouth, only called up instead the long,
sad stare of indifference, lack of comprehension, or
impotent wrath.

On Guyau's grave in the cemetery at Mentone,

1 Ibid., p. 331 ; cp. Eng. trans., p. 383.

2 Loc. cit., p. 394 ; cp. Eng. trans., pp. 448-9.
8 Ibid*, p. 410.


between the blue sea and the heights of which he sang
so often a pious hand has copied these words, taken
from his last book : " What has once truly lived will
live again; what seems to die is only preparing to be
born again. To conceive and choose the best, to
attempt the splendid enterprise of the ideal, this is
to invite, this is to persuade the generations that
come after us. Our highest aspirations, which seem
to be the most vain, are as waves that, being able to
reach us, will flow beyond our reach, will perhaps, as
they meet and swell together, shake the world. I
am very sure that my better part will survive me.
Not one, perhaps, of my dreams will be lost : others
will recover them and dream them after me, until
one day they are achieved. By dint of dying waves
the sea succeeds in fashioning its shore and outlining
the vast bed wherein it stirs."

These words were not the spiritual testament of
Guyau only they were that which the declining
nineteenth century bequeathed to the century follow-
ing it, by way, as it were, of preface and programme.

M. Emile Boutroux also is in love with realism,
living truth and reconciliation. He delights to show
that the oppositions which usually, in abstract reason-
ing, appear absolute and final, resolve into concrete
relations when confronted with reality. But if the
old philosophical desire to understand and explain
the universe expands for him, as for other repre-
sentatives of contemporary thought, and takes on new
vigour as it becomes a kind of communion with actual
realities, it may nevertheless be said that this tendency
goes far further with him than even with Guyau.
Guyau, having already attained the power of


seeing in all the innumerable variety of religious
institutions the external and transitory manifestation
of that eternal sentiment which leads humanity with
each renewal of its thought to make for itself a
farther ideal, would, doubtless, had he lived, have
succeeded in regarding all these institutions with
equal sincerity and equal admiration. Nevertheless
one does feel in him something of impatience, and
even here and there of anger, against those " positive
religions," as he calls them, which are so slow to
evolve. It is true that, rightly taken, this impatience
and these velleities of irritation were but the echoes of
a great love.

With M. Boutroux the serenity is complete, but
the intensity of admiration has altered its direction.
While with Guyau it went most freely and fully
toward religious essays in the distance, whether of
time or space, with M. Boutroux it follows the
opposite course : it asserts itself and increases the
more as we draw nearer to our own time and to
religious essays now in full swing. It is not merely
a high deference, somewhat resembling the respect
manifested by an ambassador on speaking to the
sovereign of a great foreign power : it is a sincere
and cordial sympathy.

That is a new event in the history of French
thought. Doubtless philosophers have been seen
before offering their aid to religion, but that was
usually for reasons not purely scientific. The great
significance of M. Boutroux's attitude toward the
Churches arises from its having in it nothing forced
or affected; it is the natural result of the situation
created by circumstances and the triumph of the new


At the very moment when superficial observers
supposed that France had become anti-religious, the
natural evolution of ideas leads the most undenomi-
national philosophy not indeed to conclude an
alliance more or less political, utilitarian or senti-
mental with religious feeling, but to meet and
co-operate with it for experimental and scientific

M. Boutroux's attitude, and that of intellectual
and religious circles in regard to M. Boutroux, could
not have been foreseen by any of those who, forty
years ago, were studying the philosophical and reli-
gious future of our country. It was not within the
logic of the systems; but it is in that of life, which
is better.

Emile Boutroux has faced reality not that he might
make it submit to him, but that he might submit to
it. He sees it interpenetrated by potential ideality,
and does for it what he did for Pascal. 1 "Pascal,
before writing, knelt down and prayed the Infinite
Being to subject all that was in him, so that this
power might accord with this lowness. By humilia-
tion he offered himself to inspiration. It seems as
though he who would understand so rare and high
a genius in its very essence must follow a similar
method; and while employing according to his power
the scholarship, analysis and criticism which are our
natural tools, must seek in docile abandonment to the
influence of Pascal himself, the inspiring grace which,
alone can direct our efforts and render them effective.'*

But from 1874 onwards, whence did there come
1 Pascal, Paris, 1900, p. 5.


to this philosopher, who was then still young, 1 the
final assurance with which, in the very title of his
doctor's thesis, he defined the fundamental point of
the system he has since only extended and developed ?
Obviously, from the happiness with which, while
speaking in his own name, he felt himself the inter-
preter of the most widespread preoccupations of the
thought of the time.

Take, indeed, the effort of contemporary thought
in Boutroux, Bergson, James, Eucken, Flournoy,
Oliver Lodge, Poincare, Le Roy, Blondel, Fonse-
grive, Laberthonniere, Tyrrell and Guyau : on every
hand it will reveal itself as an appeal to life, to
experience, to the will, against abstract reason : and
it was at the very moment when it might be supposed
that a dogma, styling itself scientific and looked upon
as absolute, was at last about to reign in France that
its relativity was proclaimed.

Now at the same moment, at the other pole of the
intellectual world, the Ghurch had just proclaimed
not only the absoluteness of its dogma, but, by defin-
ing the infallibility of the Roman pontiff, had brought
a keystone to its construction which seemed to com-
plete and finish it. But there, too, by a movement
entirely similar to the one we have just described in
undenominational thought, life was again avenged.
This was so unforeseen as to astonish even those who
were its instruments when they perceived its power
and fulness.

In that is the grandeur and beauty of the present
hour. Certainly many are disconcerted who still

1 He was born in 1845. His French Thesis was entitled De
la contingence des lots de la nature. New edition, 1896.


belong to the preceding generation, and have had

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Online LibraryPaul SabatierFrance to-day, its religious orientation → online text (page 8 of 22)