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an injury without resenting it cannot look his
comrades in the face. In such a society the
teaching, "If he repent, forgive him," comes
from a lofty, spiritual height. The difficulty
all centres in the word forgive. But for us
emphasis needs quite as much to be laid on
the other member of the phrase, If he repent.
Forgiveness without repentance scarcely comes

into the view of earliest Christian teaching.



It is our laxity which makes little account of
the moral character of the injury, and its
effect on the life of him who does the wrong.
Our egotism thinks of the offence only in
regard to ourselves, and our indolence makes
it seem scarcely worth while to put ourselves
to inconvenience in the matter. Could there
be a more complete caricature of Christian
principle ?


A CONTRAST which is obvious, and which is
justified by closer examination, exists between
the Greek and the mediaeval feeling in regard
to the body. The human body, alike male
and female, was regarded by the Greeks in
the age of their best development as the
most beautiful and the most precious of all
the gifts of the gods to men. In comparison
with its charm, the beauties of nature, and
even the most beautiful of animals, were re-
garded as almost beneath notice. To possess
or even to contemplate a thoroughly sound
and healthy body, tenanted by a sane and
wise spirit, seemed to them the height of
happiness. By constant avoidance of what
was morbid and decadent, by constant train-
ing and exercise of every part of the bodily
frame, they studiously tried to make their
bodies correspond to the ideal which, according



to the system of Plato, was regarded as laid
up in the world of ideas, to be reflected and
embodied in the world of sense.

In sharp contrast to these views stands
the notion as to the body held generally by
Christians in the days of the decline of the
Roman Empire and in mediaeval Europe, and
especially inculcated in the monasteries, the
most characteristic religious product of those
ages. Beauty by the Christian hierarchy was
regarded as a snare, and even a temptation
of the evil one. The natural relations of
the sexes, with which beauty is naturally;
connected, were considered to be at best ai
necessary evil, and marriage a lower form of
existence than celibacy. Even cleanliness,^
which the modern tendency places near the
head of the virtues, and which the Greeks
held in very high estimation, was not only
neglected in the cities and the cloisters of
mediaeval Europe, but was regarded as ai
thing base and worldly. The typical monkj
was filthy on principle: and the strangest J
stories were told of men who had made vows!
never to wash, and were enabled by direct!
divine intervention to cross rivers without!
becoming wet. The contrast between thei
Greek bath and the palaestra full of the!
shapely and well-developed bodies of athletes,!


and the monastery filled with men or women
living in dirt and gloom, the gloom only
sometimes lightened by an underhand in-
dulgence in illicit passion, is one of the
most striking which the world can show. I
do not mean to say that there was no com-
pensation in the developed spiritual life of
many of the religious ; or that the advantage
on the side of the Greeks was not in a measure
balanced by vices which the modern world
repudiates with horror. But yet, in regard to
the body as in regard to other things, "we
needs must love the highest when we see it."

The modern mind can most easily realise
the change by studying the successive phases
of art, especially the art of sculpture, for
sculpture must needs represent the human
body, and in so doing exhibit the views as
to the body which prevail among the con-
temporaries of the sculptor. A decay in the
ideal rendering of the body had set in in
Greece as early as the fourth century B.C. ;
and though the anatomical knowledge of the
human body steadily increased after that date,
this knowledge was at the service of less and
less noble ideas and tendencies, so that the
representation of the body, as it became more
learned and exact, became also less ideal. In
the revival of art in the reign of Hadrian,


there is an apparent return to older and
nobler models, but such return is only on the
surface, like our own return to Gothic forms
in architecture.

It was inevitable that the early Christian
Fathers should turn aside from the art of
their own time, which worked largely in the
service of paganism. And so, though the
paintings of the Catacombs and the reliefs
of early Christian sarcophagi borrow elements
from contemporary pagan art, they adopt
these as mere symbols, and no pains are taken
to keep them at a worthy artistic level. And
so for many centuries, perhaps until the year
A.D. 1000, sculpture and painting were in
Western Europe in a constantly declining
condition, least unsuccessful when following
pagan patterns most closely, quite without
the breath of life of a new enthusiasm.

Mr G. G. Coulton points out how little any '
love of art was in line with the tendencies]
of that period. " St Bruno, St Bernard, St
Francis, Savonarola, and practically all the
creative minds in medieval religion, took a
puritan view of the fine arts. Latitudinarianj
and unorthodox reformers naturally took a
similar view." *

1 Social Life in Britain from the Conquest to the Re forma- \
tion, p. 466.


There was indeed, beneath the surface of
literature, an unconscious change in the spirit
of man working in the twelfth to the four-
teenth century. A really noble Christian
architecture then arose centring in the cathe-
dral and the abbey. We still have our cathe-
drals, but they are mostly emptied of the smaller
works of painting and sculpture which embody
the ideas of the time in more articulate form.
In England, only at Wells can we find any
extensive remains of the Christian sculpture
of the great age, 1 and analyse its character.
Filled and over-filled with symbolism and
religious meaning, it is at a low level as
regards beauty. The draped figures are some-
times not unpleasing. But when the sculptor
has to depict nude bodies, as in his representa-
tion of the resurrection of the dead, he fails
egregiously. He has not the faintest con-
ception of what is meant by physical beauty.
Abroad, at Rheims and Amiens and Bamberg
and elsewhere, sculpture may be seen at a
higher level, but even there the nude human
body is represented in a way which is even re-
pulsive, in the case of men and women alike.

1 Now carefully published by Mr St John Hope in
Archceologia, vol. lix. An admirable history of English
mediaeval sculpture is now published, by Prior and A.


There are indeed kinds of beauty to which
Christianity was more sensitive than Paganism :
the sweetness of spiritual expression, the charm
of childish innocence, and the like. Yet it
can scarcely be said that Christian art did
justice even to things fairly akin to its nature
until the Renaissance enlarged its powers and
cleared its sight. At the Renaissance a sense
of human beauty, gathered from such remains
of Greek and Roman art as were then known,
spread among the painters and sculptors of Italy.
The gospel of Greece once more rose from the
tomb and fascinated the artists of Rome and
Florence. In the life of Benvenuto Cellini,
a vivid presentment of the age, we do discern
an admiration of beauty which is almost the
only redeeming feature of that striking but
unpleasant biography. What is much more
doubtful is whether the love of beauty at that
time received Christian baptism. The papal
court was then far nearer to paganism than
to Christianity, and the new movement in art
was strongly steeped in sensuality. Sensuality,
however, is not conducive to a high standard
of human beauty.

In various subsequent schools of art, both
in the south and the north of Europe, there
has been cherished a cultus of physical beauty.
But its spring and origin lies always apart


from Christianity in pagan antiquity. This
cultus, it may fairly be said, has never yet been
brought into close relation to the Christian
enthusiasm, or transfigured by the Christian
life. One sometimes thinks, though it is very
like " crying over spilt milk," that this was not
necessary from the constitution of things, or
from the essential genius of Christianity. One
sees in the very earliest Christianity, and even
in the Judaism which led up to it, a possibility
of reconciliation with the true Hellenic ideals.
The idea which lies at the root of the Greek
love of physical beauty is this that God
desires to see in every corporeal frame the
highest beauty of which it is capable, that he
has an ideal after which every person is bound
to strive. And every approach to that ideal
is in accordance with the will of God, and a
gratification of his love to men. The testi-
mony of the world of nature shows all who
have open eyes that God loves beauty as he
loves right doing. Beauty is the result of long
successful striving, the visible sign of easy
mastery of one's surroundings. The delight
in pure beauty is no sensuality ; sensuality
usually has a very low standard of beauty;
rather it is one of the noblest as well as one
of the most pleasurable powers of our nature.
And with this kind of beauty, health goes


as naturally in man as in the animal and
vegetable world. The note of the nightingale,
the flight of the swallow, the swiftness of the
wild horse, are all phases of the beautiful in
the world around.

We think of the Jews as untouched by the
Greek enthusiasm for a sound mind in a
beautiful body. Yet some of the best of
them, in a way of their own, taught that
beauty of body was acceptable to God. It is
reported of the great Hillel that when he was
about to take a bath, he said, " I am going
to perform a religious act by beautifying my
person that was created in the image of
God." 1 This saying belongs to the more
joyous side of Jewish religion, that side which
inspired the saying of the poet Judah Hellevi :
" Thy contriteness in the days of fasting does
not bring thee nearer to God than thy joy on
the Sabbath days and on festivals." "And if
thy joy in God excites thee even to the degree
of singing and dancing, it is a service to God,
keeping thee attached to him." 2

The appreciation of the charms of nature
which marks such Psalms as the 104th and
the 107th, is equally apparent in the Sermon
on the Mount and the synoptic parables,

1 S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 145.

2 Ibid., p. 146.


which are full of close observation of nature
and of delight in it as the kind gift of a
loving Father. Nothing could be further
from asceticism. But in the epistles of Paul
another stream of tendency is already making
itself felt. Paul is certainly no ascetic. He
does not, like later Christians, look on the
athletic festivals of Greece with disgust ; but
he evidently admires the persevering discipline
by which athletes brought their bodies to
perfection. Yet in the Pauline doctrine of
the warfare between the flesh and the spirit
there were hidden the germs of Oriental asceti-
cism, which soon under the influence of the
gloomy surroundings of the life of the early
Christian developed into an extreme hatred
and contempt for the body. One might have
expected that the doctrine of the resurrec-
tion of the body, universally accepted in the
Church, would have made Christians more
anxious to keep it fair and healthful; but
that seems not to have been the case. The
noble Pauline teaching that the bodies of
men are temples of the Holy Spirit may have
incited Christians to chastity arid abstinence ;
but it does not seem to have made them
anxious that the temples should be made
beautiful. The Hebrew Psalmist longs that
daughters of Israel may be as the polished


stones of the temple ; but that is no sentiment
of early Christianity. And to our day Chris-
tianity has never been able wholly to escape
from the bias given to it by the pessimism
of the ascetics of Egypt and Syria.

It was the beauty of women which mainly
inspired the artists of Italy, if we except
Michel Angelo and one or two more. A
certain degree of admiration for the beautiful
bodies of men has been fostered in England
and America by our athletic sports, an admira-
tion which one cannot too highly value, since
it encourages not excess in those sports but
moderation. It must be confessed that in all
modern countries the sense of human beauty
is in a terribly depressed condition. Largely
this is the result of the unhealthiness of our
surroundings and the utterly perverted and
contemptible influence of modern fashion in
dress. We have but to compare the modern
standard of female beauty with that of the
Greeks to see how far we have gone in the
direction of " sickly forms that err from honest
nature's rule." Compare the fashion plates of
our newspapers with a photograph of the
Venus of Melos !

Some attempt has been made in England to
connect the health and beauty of athletic
sports with Christianity by Kingsley and


Hughes and their associates. It was a noble
endeavour. But, alas ! athletic sports have in
recent years developed in directions with
which no Christian teacher, and indeed no
serious moralist, could have much sympathy.
Extreme specialism and an insane desire to
" break records " are rapidly making them dis-
tasteful not only to the lovers of ideal beauty
but to all who love reason and moderation.
Athletics have shown a tendency to repeat the
phases through which they went in later
Greece, when extreme specialism and over-
attention to training brought them into general
contempt. As I have written elsewhere, 1
" Athletic sports fell into disrepute as soon as
they ceased to be a means and usurped the
place of an end. As soon as it came about
that a boxer must devote his life to boxing
and a wrestler to wrestling, and make himself
fit for that at the expense of becoming unfit
for everything else, then all men of sense and
spirit began to despise both boxing and
wrestling. We need not point out to our own
youth the danger and discredit which threaten
their favourite pursuits, unless they take to
heart the teaching of history."

But at the moment, the necessity of military
training for young men has postponed this

1 New Chapters in Greek History, p. 303.


danger. And pursued with moderation, athletic
sports are of the greatest value to the race.

One of the most healthful and pleasing of
the modern developments of art is the sculp-
ture of athletes in America by such sculptors
as Dr Mackenzie. This school really revels in
the strength and beauty of the male form.
And they have gone a long way on the truly
Greek line of depicting not mere individuals,
but types which combine the beauties of indi-
vidual athletes. Some of the figures of Dr
Mackenzie are a true source of delight to every
man who has an aesthetic sense, and they may
stand beside the Greek statues of Polycleitus
and Lysippus without feeling ashamed.

A far less healthful tendency belongs to one
of the recent schools of human art, the school
of Rossetti and of Burne Jones, which has en-
deavoured to produce works in which the
beauty of men and women is prominent, but
in so doing has widely departed from the ideals
of ancient Greece. Though there is an un-
deniable charm and attractiveness in the paint-
ings of this school, there is in them also a
painful lack of robustness and manliness.
Nervous exhaustion is written in the faces of
their youths and maidens ; and their bodies are
of the kind which are in real life the prey of
consumption and anaemia. Fortunately these


painters really influence but a few : for if they
had power so to seize the emotions of men and
women as to have effect in the production
of the next generation, a great step would
be taken in the downward course of phy-
sique among English-speaking peoples. These
sickly forms are a sign of deep-seated un-
healthiness in the world of art.

But the art of Rossetti and Burne Jones is
after all an exotic among us, and attracts only
the few. A far deeper and stronger tendency
is that towards what is called naturalism, a
desire to render in art everything to be found
in human nature, whether foul or fair, whether
alluring or repulsive. This, being one aspect
of the great drift towards democracy, must be
taken seriously. But it must be observed that
the painters and sculptors who profess the cult
of naturalism do not attain to naturalistic re-
presentation, and for an obvious reason, because
the art which is a mere transcript of everyday
reality fails utterly in arousing interest. It is
beaten out of the field by photography, and
cannot vie with the realism of Madame Tussaud.
What the proposed naturalists really do is to
discard as conventional the notions of what is
beautiful and charming, and to substitute for
the cultus of beauty the cultus of the ugly, the
grotesque, and the horrible. This is notoriously


the case with the novels of Zola, which do not
mirror the world as it is, but the world of
nightmare. Sculpture until now has struggled
very ineffectually to substitute the ugly for the
beautiful, since the dominance of Greece in
this field is too strong to be wholly shaken off.
Painting has better succeeded in directing
attention to the things which are ugly and
distressing ; but the feeling of ordinary human
nature is so strongly set against them that they
reach only the degenerate minority.


There is doubtless a danger that a keen
sense of physical beauty, if narrowly pursued,
may produce a selfish culture, a culture which
leads a man to withdraw himself from the
painful toiling world, with its modern ugliness,
in order that he may surround himself with
things charming and attractive. Such with-
drawal, however, could never lead away a man
imbued with the spirit of Christ. No man who
has a heart can be content to enjoy delights by
himself; a pressing instinct compels him to
wish to share his pleasure with those whom he
loves. One possessed by the enthusiasm of
humanity will feel the need to do what he can
to redeem the lives of all about him, every
member of the body of Christ, from base and


sordid surroundings, and to give them an op-
portunity of expanding in the enjoyment of
the beauty and glory of things visible.

This form of Christian endeavour is visibly
at work on all sides of us, struggling often
with great pain and little success against the
foulness and hideousness of the life of great
cities. The societies like the Kyrle Society,
the societies for acquiring open spaces, the
founders of garden cities, and the like, in try-
ing to improve our visible surroundings, are
in a full sense workers for God and joint
workers with Christ. They tend to promote
the Kingdom of God, to bring down the New
Jerusalem from heaven to earth. Not only
crowded tenements, foul air, and dirt are
enemies of the Kingdom, but a thousand things
which we treat as trivial, yet which have very
serious evil effects. The vile advertisements
which make it a pain rather than a pleasure
to look out from the windows of a train at the
country round ; the flaunting lies which deform
our public places and make our newspapers
hideous ; the unloveliness of our rising suburbs ;
the destruction of our finest scenery by rail-
ways ; even the detestable course often taken
by fashion in dress, these are not really small
things, but powerful forces working towards
the degradation of our race. An earnest pro-



test against them is often met by ridicule ;
but the ridicule is the laughter of a Mephis-
topheles, to whom all attempts to raise the
level of human nature seem foolish. The
more scientifically man is studied, the more
such matters as these will rise in importance,
as in fact having a great effect on the happi-
ness and the well-being of mankind.

There are two views on which it is right
to make war. One is the view which prevails
in Protestant countries, that so long as one
lives in tolerable comfort, beauty is not a
thing that need be striven after, that it is
not an ideal but a luxury, that it has
nothing to do with religion. The other is the
view encouraged in the middle ages by the
Church of Rome, that self-limitation and the
forgoing of physical development and vigour
are actually pleasing to God. In the lives
of the saints of the mediaeval Church this
view is very prominent ; that Church taught
that every pain which a man inflicts on him-
self is pleasing to his Maker, that the maimed
and stunted is more in accord with the divine
will than what is joyful and vigorous. Sue]
shocking fanaticism could not find a place ii
any mind which was accustomed to studying
the ways of God in the world of nature an<
of history.


St Paul says that Christ is the " saviour of
the body." If the views advocated in these
chapters be true, if the mission of Jesus, the
tendency of the Incarnation, be to make the
visible world conform to the image of the in-
visible, to realise the will of God in the world,
then the culture of the body as well as the
moulding of the spirit is a high duty of
Christianity. The body of the Christian is
to become the temple of the divine Spirit.
And if we think it right that our churches
should be beautiful, should be adorned with
architecture and sculpture and be the homes of
music and song, then surely the body also should
be cultivated that it may be a worthy shrine
for the presence of God, should be by every
legitimate means made beautiful, not merely
in the eyes of those who judge by transitory
fashions, but in the eyes of Him who sees all
things as they are in the light of eternity.

But of course the nobler nature and higher
lestiny of man have a bearing even on his
physical frame. Though we admire mere
Deauty of form in man or woman, yet we
cannot consider it of the highest type unless
t be joined with a high spiritual tone. The
>ody is the outward manifestation of the
mman spirit, and is in a great degree moulded
>y the spirit : we therefore expect to find in


it not only the beauty of the most fin<
organised of animals, but also the reflectioi
of what is within, of what Milton calls " th<
mind and inward faculties which most excel.'
And in this more expressive aspect th(
testimony of the body is but little regardec
The individual cannot help being born wit!
such and such tendencies ; he cannot
himself beautiful unless he has natural ad-
vantages. But he can at least bring hij
body and especially his face nearer to tin
beauty which comes from living. He cai
avoid displaying to the world a face marn
by sensuality or a body misshapen in con;
quence of culpable self-indulgence. Many
man is not ashamed to show in his own bod;
defects which he would not tolerate in hi*
horse, and which by a little rigorous self^
discipline he could remove.

Much of this is unrecognised among u<
because of a squeamishness which avoids
mention and if possible all thought of th<
functions and needs of the body. We car(
for it quite enough ; of bodily pain we wer<
becoming, until the terrible experiences of wai
shook us out of over-sensitiveness, absurdb
intolerant ; but we have made up our minds
by a sort of spurious spirituality that it
on a lower level, and that it is outside the


pale of conscience and of religion. This
squeamish sensitiveness is the fruit of morbid
outgrowths of Christianity ; and in the organic
principles of religion there is no sanction for
it. A low ideal of humanity, and the per-
verted notion that God rejoices in self-torture
and the extreme of asceticism, have spoiled
our sense of the sacredness of the body, and
blinded our eyes to the fact that the body
is to each of us a trust given by God, a
talent to be made the most of.

It is quite true that the cult of the body
must not be pursued in an exclusive or selfish

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 10 of 15)