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points, its territory, so to speak, well explored, its possessions
rounded ofT and complete on every side. It is not surpri^ng,
therefore, that the older theologians, especially in the absence of
any but the most meagre development of physical science, should
have regarded the scientific aspect of natural philosophy as be-
longing to their domain. They had to answer questions which
at the present time they would gladly leave to be settled by the
astronomer, the geologist, or the biologist Their theological
principles, the safest guides in the things of faith, could only lead
them astray in this realm that did not belong to them. Yet, since
the ground was practically unoccupied by specialists in science,
and appeals were made to theologians as men of universal
learning in their time, they felt the duty of answering according
to their lights. What must strike a Catholic as most providential,
and anyone outside the Church as extraordinary, is the absence
of any authoritative ;decisions on the part of the ecclesiastical
tribunals regarding the thousand and one questions that vexed
the mediaeval mind on points of physical science, such as, for
instance, the nature of the heavens, the shape of the earth, the
influence of the stars upon terrestrial events. When it is under-
stood that the thirteenth century was just that epoch in which
thought was most active about problems of being, knowledge,
metaphysics generally, and physics from the transcendental point
of view, it cannot but seem wonderful that the Church kept aloof
from all decisions upon matters of such import In the presence
of the strangest theories as to nature and substance, the composi-
tion of earthly bodies, the incorruptibility of the heavens, of
theories seemingly supported by quotations, applications and
interpretations of Holy Writ as difficult to understand as the
theories themselves, the Church was mute ; she saw that her
mission was not there ; and though the faithful and even her



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THEOLOGY, SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION 401

theologians were involved in the controversies, she in no way com-
mitted herself to views of any sort in matters that are now fully
recognized as lying outside the sphere of ecclesiastical pronounce-
ment

In the great change that was wrought by the revival of classical
learning the Church had indeed her part If it is to be conceded
that the Humanist reaction produced a notable growth of lay schol-
arship, we must not forget that the greatest perhaps of the expo-
nents of the new school were members of the clergy. It is true
that among the most prominent men of learning in previous ages
there had also been laymen, like Dante ; but their learning was,
if not wholly theological, at least wholly governed by a theo-
logical bias. At all events one of the important results of the
renascence of letters was the separation of the two fields of learn-
ing, lay and clerical, and the growth of quite a new school of
thought. The Church and Christianity were brought face to face
with a condition of things which was in some ways a revival of
days long past, when the learning of the world was concentrated
in the schools of Greek philosophers and rhetoricians ; and this
condition of things has lasted up to the present day.

Now it is wrong to assume that this scholastic emancipation
of the lay element from clerical control, this growth of what may
be termed secular learning, is an evil. We are accustomed to
hear the movement described by one school as an unjustifiable
rebellion against authority, and by the other as a glorious vindi-
cation of the rights of free thought against the tyranny of sacer-
dotalism. The new learning cannot, surely, be regarded as a
result of the so-called Reformation, since we know that it flourished
most in those countries that remained true to the Catholic Church.
Despite all that has been written about Galileo and his conflict
with the Inquisition, it might easily be proved that the real
mistake made by the representatives of Catholic authority and
ecclesiastical scholarship, so far as any mistake was made, arose
from a lack of appreciation of the new philosophy rather than
fi-om any desire to interfere with the acquisition of astronomical
science. The truth is that the theologians were so wrapt up in
the controversy with various sectaries that they did not see
whither the extremists of the physical school were drifting. It is



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402 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

important, therefore, to remember that lay learning is neither
Catholic nor Protestant, and that its progress has no connection
whatever with the religious rebellion of the sixteenth century ;
thus the idea that faith and scientific research and discovery are
opposed to each other, in a sense similar to that of opposition
between the Church and the Reformation, is entirely ruled out

Again, it is quite evident that theologians have given way
before science on many points ; but this does not mean that the-
ology has been defeated by science, or even that a state of war-
fare exists between them. Theology has simply yielded up a
position or positions which she only provisionally occupied on the
field of physical research. She kept strict watch and ward until
the legitimate claimant appeared, and then delivered over her
trust to him, and if the examination of his credentials caused him
anno}^ance and delay, this was no more than was to be looked for
in the nature of the case. To-day no theologian, worthy of the
name, will deny that the methods of modem science are better
for the prosecution of enquiry into the secrets of nature than the
a priori methods of the Middle Ages; at the same time no
thoughtful scientist will generalize upon the usurpations of the-
ology and the tyranny of the priesthood, because in the absence
of competitors, the only learned class of men in that age, com-
pelled by the thirst for knowledge which is the characteristic oi
our race, strove according to their knowledge and to the best of
their ability to solve the problems that are suggested by the
physical universe. What wonder that they sought in Holy
Scripture for answers to the endless questionings of the human
mind, since for them it was the principal repertory of wisdom and
science, but particularly of that wisdom and science which con-
stituted the main object of their study.

The condition of affairs in this twentieth century is in many
respects the reverse of what it was when ecclesiastics held prac-
tically all the chairs in the great universities of Europe. Secular
science reigns supreme and theology stands on the defensive.
The professors of the new learning, not content with winning for
themselves and their teaching recog^tion from the theologian
and the metaphysician, are threatening to drive theology itself
and metaphysics out of the field, and so to repeat in their own



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THEOLOGY, SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION 403

case that very crime of which they accuse the ages of faith.
This process may seem natural enough, but it is none the less
injurious to both sides. Physical science, moreover, has not the
same excuse for its action that theology had. It does not find
the ground unoccupied, neither are its methods adapted for the
investigation of the ultra-physical. The agnostic attitude is justi-
fiable in this sense that the physicist acknowledges that he can-
not, by his peculiar mode of observation and research, reach and
explore the mysterious realm of the metaphysical ; that he cannot
cross the boundary of the spirit-land, and bring his anal3rtical
processes to bear upon the substance, say of the human soul.
This is more particularly true of the supernatural orders in which
we are dealing with a set of facts beyond the reach of the human
intellect, which are known to us only by Revelation. And so the
man of science is to this extent justified in saying, *' I don't know;
all that is beyond me." For, as a matter of fact, what can the
most careful and prolonged study of phenomena tell us of sancti-
fying grace, for example ? The wrong which the agnostic does
is not in his assertion of the unknowableness of things, but in his
decrying the methods and claims of others who assert that they
can and do know what he believes unknowable.

There would be no difficulty in drawing up a treaty, at least
of neutrality, between the two apparently opposite schools of
thought, but for the fact that the two tendencies, the physical
and metaphysical, exist in the same mind, and each, unchecked,
strives to eject the other. If we could divide mankind into
physicists and ultra-physidsts, we might bring about a truce be-
tween them. But man dwells in the borderland between matter
and spirit. He has, as it were, one foot in either world, and he
does not deal alone, either with the material or the spiritual.
And in this sense the area of the great struggle can be narrowed
down to man. He is here, as in other things, the micro-cosmos,
the representation of the great world without. It is all repro-
duced within these narrow limits, and within them the contro-
versy will have to be threshed out There is here no choice.
Man cannot and will not rest content with the visible and the
material ; his whole history testifies to this inborn craving for the
unseen, the spiritual and the supernatural. If then modem



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404 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

science, by adopting the agnostic attitude, confesses its incompe-
tence to deal with this side of human nature, there is the less
reason in its further postulate that no other science can do in this
region what it has done for the physical world. So far, therefore,
as modem agnosticism seeks to eliminate or at least to disregard
this spiritual element in thought, does it run counter to its own
methods, and is therefore bound to fail. It may check undue or
abnormal developments of this tendency, but it cannot eradicate
it; and when it endeavors to carry out the complete subjugation
of the whole man to itself, it is, we repeat, guilty of that very
offence which its more militant advocates lay at the door of
ecclesiastidsm or sacerdotalism. Just as theologians have ac-
knowledged that astronomical and biological science lies outside
the scope and sphere of Revelation, that so little did the reveal-
ing power contemplate the communication of physical science
that its message itself was clothed in the often erroneous and
imperfect knowledge of the time, even so must the physicist con-
fess that there are limits beyond which his methods are not avail-
able, that there are regions in which he by virtue of his science
has no place. It is the merest folly to introduce into theology
and metaphysics experimental research; to have one measure, and
that a material one, for all knowledge of whatever kind. If you
cannot learn geology from Genesis, still less can you verify or
falsify Revelation by chemical analysis.

The coexistence of these two currents of thought in the one
mind is a phenomenon to be carefully considered. The bearing
of the one upon the other should be studied ; for in their mutual
relation, rather than in the separate consideration of each, will be
found both the source of the supposed conflict between theology
and science, and the means of settling the differences that from
time to time arise between them. It may be possible in this way
to come to an amicable adjustment of their respective claims.
In the old days of the gnostic dualism matter and spirit agreed, as
it were, to differ. That system died hard, and even yet traces of
its influence may be detected in contemporary thought ; but, on the
whole, men are satisfied with that theory which finds the explana-
tion of all things in unity, whether it be the unity of the one God,
or the unity of materialistic monism. Dualism indeed was a



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THEOLOGY, SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION 405

sufficiently satisfactory solution of all the problems of philosophy,
had it been satisfactory in itself; but being so intrinsically impos-
sible, it could never satisfy even its authors. The union of matter
and spirit in man is a sort of standing protest against all theories
that are based upon some inherent ineradicable opposition be-
tween the one and the other. At the same time the striking con-
trast between the manifestations of these two elements must, we
believe, inevitably frustrate any purely materialistic hypothesis.
Man, then, in himself must furnish the means of an adjustment,
since he himself is in reality the result of an adjustment of the
two seemingly opposite forces. His nature will reveal the secret
of reconciliation. Undoubtedly it is the peculiar constitution of
human nature which has given rise to the difficulty that troubles
both the theological and scientific world to-day, and it would only
be according to the inherent fitness of things, were it likewise to
put earnest seekers after truth on the right road to the solution.

Living as we are on the confines of the two worlds, we are
compelled to import the terms of one into the other, we describe the
one with images borrowed from the other ; thus the union of two
distinct constituents in our physical nature gives rise to a corre-
q>onding double character in thought ; and just as it is extremely
difficult on analysis to say where the material ends and the spiritual
begins in our own selves objectively considered, so the disentang-
ling, the unravelling of the imaginative from the purely intellectual
in our own minds is no easy task. Hence the part that imagina-
tion has played both in theology and science is so important that
it would be foolish to overlook it This &culty , in the view which we
are now taking of it, is the neutral ground between sense and intel-
lect It is the birthplace of language, that extraordinary power by
which one man can communicate to another the spiritual contents
of his mind through the medium of sense. Practically speaking,
therefore, the imagination is the gate or door of the mind, and all
knowledge must enter in through this door; but not only must it
pass through the door, but it must undei^o transformation on the
way. Now who can tell what contributions have been made to
theology and science in this manner ? Indeed we have here a
fertile source of error, and misunderstanding. The shape that a
thought takes in passing from mind to mind through sense and



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406 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW,

imagination is often mistaken for the substance of the idea, and
the less any one is accustomed to accurate mental work the more
sway the imaginative form of thought has upon him. In this way
the whole of the doctrines of the faith are embodied in the strange
and sometimes crude '' phantasmata '' of the people. It would be
useless to attempt to separate the form from the substance ; indeed
this could only be done by putting new forms in the place of the
old ones, which would probably be less apt for the purpose ; but
what careful and accurate instruction can do is to teach the
people gradually to discriminate between the faith and its embodi-
ment, between the essential doctrine and the accidental and tran-
sient imagery in which it has been clothed. One branch of
theology, the eschatological, would benefit enormously from such
treatment.

Would it be too much to say that the greater part of the
antagonism which we have unhappily to deplore between dogma
and modem science is the work of this faculty of imagination ?
It is not my meaning that the antagonism is imaginary, but that
the conflict which undoubtedly exists has m a great measure
arisen from the peculiar double-sided faculty which touches upon
the spiritual on one hand, and upon the material on the other. It
is really a sort of exchange and mart between the visible world of
sense and the invisible world of mind, and in consequence is the
centre of all the disputes which arise about the boundaries between
these two worlds. But since we are discussing the matter from
the standpoint of theology, the queen of sciences, let me take an
example of the great role that imagination has played in the
development of dog^a and science from one of the primary and
most important of all theological questions. This will serve to
show how scientific theology has on the one hand made great strides
to clearer, truer, more definite views of that ultra-physical region
which is peculiarly its own, and on the other has from time to
time, from the very nature of the case, given some sort of pretext
to agnostic philosophers for their charges of anthropomorphism
against all religions.

The theistic idea — the idea that is to say of a personal God,
that lies at the root of all religious thought — is the illustration
which we will take. It is the more suitable for our purpose.



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THEOLOGY, SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION. 407

because it is one of the points which the critics of the great
rationalistic school, whether Biblical or otherwise, are always
making against theology, that the professors of personal religion
ascribe to an unknown, and at most infinite energy, definite human
attributes and qualities. It will not be necessary to insist upon
strict historical accuracy in tracing very briefly the various steps
taken by the human mind which have led to the present thdstic
idea ; it will be enough if the main outline is correct According
to what we have said above, we shall find a composite character
in the idea. There will be what we may call the intellectual sub-
stratum, and the imaginative clothing of the idea. The primary
real content of the idea, the intellectual substratum, is persistent,
continuous ; the imaginative dress is constantly varying. Thus
we have unity combined with diversity. While then the history
or the development will belong to the primary idea, it will, in
reality, be the record of the modifications that it has undergone
in its outward presentment, " Surely/' says Cardinal Newman,
in his sermon on the "Theory of Religious Development," **if
Almighty God is ever one and the same, and is revealed to us as
one and the same, the true inward impression of Him, made on
the recipient of the revelation, must be one and the same ; and
since human nature proceeds on fixed laws, the statement of that
impression must be one and the same." So much for the unity
of the idea, especially when strengthened by revelation. But not
less noticeable is the succession of stages, generally of growth,
but possibly of decay, through which the form of the thought
passes. Just as personal identity persists through the seven ages
of man, from " the infant mewling and puking in the nurse's arms "
to " second childishness and mere oblivion," so, too, has this the-
istic idea come down through the ages of the world, persistently
maintaining its identity, but undergoing vicissitudes without num-
ber in its outward characteristics. And the analogy might be
pressed farther ; for as one who had known the man in any par-
ticular period of his career might be unable to recognize him in
his new state after a number of years, so, too, one who ex hypothesi
looked at this idea fi'om the point of view of an outsider, might
find difficulty in recognizing it for one and the same in the
various stages of its career. For our present purpose it is



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408 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

sufficient to state that the intellectual substratum of the idea
will be that of the uncreated Creator, the author of being, the
first of existences ; but the mind, arguing from the seen to the
unseen in its reliance on the imagination, will give tangible,
human form to the idea. Intellect and will, consciousness, per-
sonality will be grouped around as explanations of the mind to
itself of the main substratum of its thought. Now as the mind
itself grows, it will separate from these positive elements all such
notions as it comes to recognize, which involve limitation, or argue
defects. It will throw out all materialistic images as having been
intruded by the sense faculties, and it will rise, only very gradually
it is true, to the conception of pure spirit. And though all these
subsidiary processes are gone through, the result is not a bundle
of forms, but a clearer view of the first original idea. '' As God
is one, so the impression which He gives us of Himself is one ; it
is not a thing of parts ; it is not a system, nor is it anything imper-
fect, and needing a counterpart It is the vision of an object. When
we pray, we pray, not to an assemblage of notions, or to a creed,
but to one individual Being ; and when we speak of Him, we
speak of a Person, not of a Law or of a Manifestation. This being
the case, all attempts to delineate our impression of Him (f. /., to
clothe the spiritual idea in language), go to bring out one idea,
not two or three or four ; not a philosophy, but an individual idea
in its separate aspects." *

It is important to notice how the effect which the growth of
physical science has upon our knowledge of God, affects the pic-
turesque (if I might use the word) side of the idea rather than its
root or primal content. We can more easily realize, i, e, imagine,
something of His infinite perfection, in proportion as we gain a
wider view of the universe. This does not in any way involve a
correction of what we knew before ; but may imply a power of
stating it more forcibly. Hence the assumption, underlying much
that has been written about the progress of science correcting or
abolishing the crudities of primitive theology, is really based upon
a clear mistake. Because we know now that this earth is " an
insignificant speck, a mere atom of dust in the universe, and that
millions of stars, visible with any good telescope, are suns like our

* Newman : Sermon on Theory of Religious Development,



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THEOLOG K. SCIENCE AND IMA GINA TION 409

own, many being much larger, and that these are almost certainly
surrounded by encircling planets/* • it does not follow that we
must in any way change our notion of the Creator ; all that we
can say is that we have at hand a better and more telling series
of illustration of His grandeur. What, for instance, can Sir
Henry Thompson, or any other scientist, say of the power, the
intelligence and wisdom of " infinite energy " that will equal the
description of God in the fortieth chapter of Isaias ? " Who hath
measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and weighed the
heavens with his palm ? Who hath poised with three fingers the
bulk of the earth and weighed the mountains with scales, and
the hills in a balance ? Who hath forwarded the spirit of the
Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor and hath taught him. . . .
Behold the Gentiles are as a drop of a bucket and are counted as
the smallest grain of a balance : behold the islands are as a little
dust. . . . All the nations are before him as if they had no
being at all, aud are counted to him as nothing and vanity^ In
these words you have the fundamental impression of the infinite
Creator, and all the discoveries of modem science will only give
us more images to help to bring to our minds how far exceeding
all imaginable perfection is the perfection of the All Perfect

The theistic idea, then, may shake off successfully all material
limitations of time, space, human shape, passion and so forth, but
will yet continue one and the same. All such limitations are
imaginative accretions to the intellectual substratum. They serve
a definite purpose and then may be discarded without any peril to
the identity of idea, provided a wise discretion be used.

What takes place with regard to the fundamental idea of God,
may take place over the whole field of theological thought. The
danger which a careful weighing of this character of the human
mind might serve to avert is two-fold. The first is a domestic
peril, and it consists in this that the theologian should hold on to
the imaginative trappings of a religious truth long after the world
had outgrown the stage in which such a presentation of doctrine
was servicable. There is no need to point out the evil of such
persistence in the case of popular preaching on say eschatological
questions. The other danger which may be averted is one that

• Sir Henry Thompson, Fortnightly, March, 1902, p. 403.



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4IO THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

arises from without the Church. The man of science may easUy
identify the transitory form, which he finds a given doctrine to
have assumed in the course of the development of human thought,



Online LibraryCatholic University of AmericaAmerican ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 → online text (page 45 of 78)