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ments and papal supremacy, the Reformers
with energy denied : others, such as the infalli-
bility of the Bible and the doctrine of salvation
by the one sacrifice of Christ, they retained
and insisted upon. In the same manner,
though they rejected the teaching of submis-
sion to the Roman Church and the virtues of
the monastic life, they .retained the practical
teaching of the clergy as to the nature of
Christian charity, the individual character
of goodness, and the like. The notion, no
doubt, was that these teachings had an un-
deniable root in the books of the New Testa-
ment. And so they had ; but there were in
the New Testament also other principles
which might correct their excess. An un-
critical age was not in an intellectual position
which enabled it to judge of the temporary
conditions which guided the application of
such teaching. And we have good right to


insist that a great deal which still passes in
the minds of men as essentially Christian in
ethics and conduct shall be examined in the
spirit of historic research as well as in that
of reason and experience.


The ethics of ancient paganism had, however,
reached a higher level than that of the Lives
of Plutarch, in the Stoic philosophy, which not
only inculcated the virtues of manliness, self-
discipline, and loyalty, but also had a distinct
view of the summum bonum or the end of
human existence. This end it found in self-
subordination to the scheme of the universe :
that every man had to take his place, like a
soldier on guard, and to do his share in order
that goodness and order might prevail over
vice and disorder.

The highest pagan and the primitive Chris-
tian ethics were at one in regarding it as the
highest duty and greatest privilege of men to
further in the world the divine logos. But they
differed profoundly in their way of approach
to that Word. The Stoic found it in the visible
order of the world and of human society ; the
Christian thought that the will of God, though
to be traced in the world of sense, was far
more fully displayed in the spiritual world


which lies behind mere sensuous experience,
and further, that in the life of Jesus Christ the
divine will was revealed to men most fully.

If the great mission of every man in the
world is to conform to the divine will, and to
further its working in the world, we must
consider the three aspects which that will offers
to the human faculties. To the human intel-
lect the greatest of all tasks is to know the
divine will. To the active faculties the supreme
task is to be on its side, to work with it in the
world. To the emotions what is needful is a
love of the will of God, which shall make its
cult no mere spiritless doing of duty, but a
rousing enthusiasm.

There is in the original teaching of Chris-
tianity nothing which conflicts with the Stoic
principle that for a consistent and full realisa-
tion of the divine order in the world, study of
the facts of nature and of society is neces-
sary. As we shall see later, Jesus appeals
frequently to the sights and events of the
visible world as not merely illustrating in
parable the divine government of the world,
but even as showing it forth. The principle
of ordered working, of evolution, of divine
power among men, is in the Gospels set forth
in many maxims and many parables. Its ways
may be traced in the succession of the seasons,


the growth of crops, the interaction of natural
forces, That righteousness in man has a
natural correspondence with the action of God
in nature is a notion to be found alike in the
Sermon on the Mount and in St Paul's letters
to the converts. But though Stoicism and
Christianity go thus far together, Christianity
soon outruns Stoicism even in the domain of
intellect. For it taught from the first that in
the life and death of the Founder the ways
and the principles of the divine working were
more fully shown than in anything which could
be derived from the mere exercise of sense and
understanding. The divine Word, it held,
is a light which lights every man who comes
into the world. The incarnation of God is its
root-principle ; and from the incarnation a
new and superhuman light is shed on the
divine purposes .in the world.

But the differences between Stoicism and
Christianity are even more conspicuous in the
field of will arid emotion. Stoicism called on
men to set themselves consciously, in manly
fashion, on the side of the divine working, and
to regard it with feelings of awe and subor-
dination, to look tip to it always as that after
which one should strive as one's highest good.
But Christianity approaches the w r ill of man
from the side, not of intelligence, but of feeling.


It has fully grasped the truth that when men
love and desire a thing, they will be almost
sure to attain to it. So it urges them to love
God and to desire that his will may be done
in the world. It puts the determination to
do good to one's neighbours not on the basis
of duty to him, but on the ground of " the
enthusiasm of humanity." Love, as Paul says,
works no ill to a neighbour, but is keen and
eager to help and benefit him.

Looking at the matter in the light of
psychology, we easily see that Christianity
here has an enormous advantage. For whereas
a sense of duty and of human dignity can only
act powerfully in , the case of the few who
are highly developed on the side of intellect,
enthusiasm and love will stir to action alike
the unintelligent and the slothful. To act
from an impulse is to go with the grain of
human nature ; to act on principle is to go
against that grain. In the former case, every
action towards good makes further action
more easy. In the latter case, every action
is a greater strain, and causes more weariness.
Everyone knows that if one takes exercise in
games which one enjoys, the result is far better
than if one merely goes through monotonous
exercises every day. The child who learns for
love of the subject or the teacher, will soon


distance the child who learns in fear of punish-
ment, or even from a sense of duty. So we
can easily understand the enormous advantage
of the power in the world wielded by Chris-
tianity over the power wielded by Stoicism.
Stoicism has been of great value, especially in
laying down the principles of that Roman law
which has been for two thousand years the
greatest power of order in the world. But
Christianity, whatever be the defects in its
practical working, has had enormous social
power. It has reached classes which Stoicism
could never reach. It has caused thousands
to choose a life of pain and asceticism rather
than of worldly wealth and enjoyment, and
actually to prefer that life. It has built of
unpromising materials the life of the modern
world, though it has often failed to check the
aberrations which have deformed it.

But it must be confessed that as Stoicism
has been weak on the side of emotion and
impulse, so Christianity has frequently been
weak on the side of intelligence. In laying
so much stress on the goodness of motive and
love of mankind, it has not been sufficiently
careful to study the question what kinds of
action really most benefit the race. Chris-
tianity, unlike most religions, started without
any defined and consistent code of ethics and


methods of life. It was a religion of the
spirit and not of the world. No doubt the
organisation of the Christian Church which
soon sprang up as a necessary husk to the
kernel of Christianity, did set itself to define
the ways of good and evil, to set forth the
nature of duty and of virtue. But it has
never done so with anything like an adequate
knowledge of the consequences of actions and
the best path of progress. Partly it was the
ignorance of these matters natural in the dark
ages, partly it was the vested interests of the
sacerdotal class. If it had not been for the
traditions of Jewish morality, incorporated in
the Pauline epistles, and for the survival of the
ethical works of Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, and
other eminent pagans, Christian ethics would
have rested on a very narrow basis, and might
have suffered extraordinary perversion, as in
fact they did suffer in many places which
were out of the current of civilisation.

Hence have arisen great difficulties for the
modern world. As I have observed, the
original ethics of the nascent society were
only suited to a small and ascetic society ; and
did not give definite precepts applicable to
men in the world, to families, and to nations.
In a great measure, St Paul supplied the gap ;
but even he did not contemplate a Christian


society so greatly expanded as to take in whole
cities and peoples. And on the other side the
ethics of Aristotle, admirable as they are from
a common-sense point of view, were in many
points, such as the teaching in regard to
slavery, incompatible with the deepest feel-
ings of Christianity.

In recent times the whole question of ethics
has been investigated by many schools of
thinkers in a more methodical and scientific
way. Some schools have taken their starting-
point from an assumed fixed constitution of
man, some from a calculation of the conse-
quences of actions. I must in another chapter
(IV) consider the relations of Christianity to
modern scientific systems of ethics.


We must, however, not forget that Chris-
tianity came into contact with another form of
paganism, we may say another kind of pagan
virtue. The Teutonic races of Europe, Frank
and Saxon and Norman, had also virtues which
they inherited from their ancestors : courage,
love of truth, respect for women. These were
originally attached to a pagan background :
but when Christianity came in, they were
detached from it. Odin, Thor, and Freya
passed into limbo. But the strong and manly


virtues of the race lived on, finding some com-
pensation for the religious basis which they
had lost in the bonds of nation arid family.
For all their fierceness and brutality, the
Teutonic races had virtues. The extreme and
almost insane views of Nietzsche are a reaction
against their undervaluing. Nietzsche, like
most original thinkers, had grounds for his
views, though he developed them into utter

Christianity in the Middle Ages did not
accept the untempered excess of the northern
manliness, but tried to colour and refine it.
The result was a very noble construction,
noble at least in theory and when accepted by
fine natures, but in the practical world too
often diluted with brutality and even besti-
ality. I speak, of course, of the spirit and the
institutions of chivalry.

Chivalry, whatever we may think of its
appropriateness in modern democratic com-
munities, has in the past been the nurse of
high virtues. And it had in it a Christian
element, however Christianity may have
opposed its abuses and excesses.

This Christian element in chivalry was of
great value. The model of chivalric virtue
was Louis, King of France, who was also a
saint, and entirely devoted to Christianity.


And the lofty position assigned by chivalry
to women was in great part the result of the
veneration in which the Virgin Mary was
held. Chivalry was in a measure baptised
into Christ : yet the roots of it were fixed in
the barbarous manliness of the invaders of the
Roman Empire. Certainly there was no trace
of it among the Jews, or among the Christians
before the barbarian invasions. The best proof,
however, that after all the influence of Chris-
tianity on the military spirit was only superficial
is to be found in the custom of duelling, which
was entirely opposed to Christianity, yet which
held its place among the peoples of Europe
most persistently until quite recent times.

Even now, though, at least in most western
countries, the nobles have ceased as a class to
have great importance, tradition keeps up a
certain echo of the code of honour of the
noble. The saying "noblesse oblige" has
often more power to regulate action, and to
keep men in the path of manliness and gener-
osity, than all the precepts of Christianity
and the wisdom of Aristotle combined. In
England, the term gentleman is still used in
an idealising sense, and hardly anyone would
be willing to do what would in popular opinion
cause him to forfeit the appellation. Excellent
judges think that the venality of public life in


America is largely the result of the destruc-
tion of all feeling of caste by the growth of
democracy, and attribute the comparative
freedom from bribery which marks popular
government in England to the persistence of
a tradition of gentility. 1

Chivalry may be, as Burke maintained, a
spent force in modern Europe, but there are
elements in it which may be modernised,
and may be a corrective to the democratic
materialism, the mere worship of money and
of material progress, which is rampant among
us. The end of life is not merely the comfort
of the greatest number, but to live nobly, and
if necessary to die valiantly. If the spirit of
chivalry was exclusive and cruel, the courage
and the self-devotion which it encouraged may
be applied to nobler ends. If an aristocracy
of birth be out of date, and an aristocracy of
wealth vile and degrading, there may yet be
place for an aristocracy of intelligence, of
virtue, and of devotion to high purposes.

Carlyle in England half a century ago led
the way in this direction. He was filled
with scorn of a materialised democracy, and
he maintained with the austere passion of a
prophet that it was by its great men that a
nation is saved from decay and dissolution ;

1 I owe this remark to a valued American friend.


that in every age it is the few, not the many,
who climb the higher path, and are the
saviours of society from its ever-invading

I have noticed with great interest that in
recent years some of our younger writers,
especially young Oxford and Cambridge men,
have been drawn by the spirit of the time and
their own reflections in this direction. They
have come to see the dangers of a mawkish
and sentimental humanity. They have recog-
nised that we owe a great part, not only of
practical efficiency, but of our best virtues, to
sources little recognised either in the pulpit
or the newspaper, to the ancestral spirit of
honour and courage of which Christianity
has in the past made but small account, yet
which keep the blood of our race healthy,
and enable us still to bear the white man's
burden in leading and controlling the races
of less endowments and poorer history. They
have discovered that Christianity as it is
taught covers but a part of our lives, that
the traditions of chivalry are as important
to us as the precepts of church and chapel.
Humanism is most happily still a great power
among us, and the Lives of Plutarch serve to
fill up the deficiencies of the stories of Jewish
patriarchs and the deeds of Christian saints.



IN all European countries there is at present
a tendency to set aside those axioms of
Christianity on which European society has
been largely based, and to substitute others.
Christianity has always taught that it is possible
to lose one's life through love of it, and to save
one's life by disregarding it ; that one must
raise oneself above the obvious shows of things
before one can see them as they really are ;
that the evident is full of illusion, and that the
eternal is the invisible. Of course the mass of
mankind has never been able to live by these
paradoxes of the higher life ; but a few saints
and heroes have accepted them and carried
them out in practice, and people in general
have admired where they could not follow.
The new spirit which opposes and denies them
may perhaps best be called the spirit of secu-
larity. And secularity has its axioms and



principles, which it is the purpose of this
chapter to examine. But let us first more
closely define the nature of secularity.

Let us turn back to the saying of the
Founder of Christianity, " Thou shalt love the
Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all
thy soul and with all thy strength, and thy
neighbour as thyself." Here the main stress
is clearly laid upon the first clause : love for
God was in the speaker's mind the greatest of
man's duties ; and love to man, however
important, was only second to it. It is an
assertion of the preponderant value for life of
the ideal, of sympathy with the ideas according
to which God works in the world, devotion to
the unseen and the eternal. The secular creed
accepts only the last clause of the Christian
formula. Love to man it regards as the main
and necessary spring of all virtue. The phrase
as to love of God it regards as either unmean-
ing or fraught with superstition. But when
we remove the idea of God we remove the
spiritual elements of the present life and the
hope of a future existence. There remains
the world in which we live, and human beings
as capable of pleasure and of pain. And we
are urged to promote the pleasure and remove
the pain, not troubling too much as to the
nature of either, not anxious to discern what


is higher and lower, what is more or less
worthy. Of course, as matters stand in the
world, those who reject Theism and Chris-
tianity yet retain many Christian ideals and
practices ; but in a totally unchristian society
these ideals, cut away from their basis of
belief, would soon wither, and the secular
spirit would triumph. The pursuit of "the
greatest good of the greatest number " would
come more and more to mean merely the
attempt to improve the physical condition of
mankind, and to make life more pleasant.
More and more, kindness and good nature
would be placed at the head of the virtues,
and the following of conscience, which has
sometimes a sour aspect, would be regarded as
anti-social. Human affection and the sacrifice
of one's own happiness to that of one's friends
would remain as the highest phase of morality.
Of the various enthusiasms of our day there
is probably none save secularity which is not
to be reconciled with Christianity. Socialism
in some of its numerous forms may easily be
Christian. In the first ardour of the Christian
Church, as everyone knows, property was
sometimes regarded as common, and in all
ages since, some Christian societies and cor-
porations have shown a tendency to socialism.
It is true that there is a radical opposition of


view between most socialists of our day and
those enthusiastic Christians. For most social-
ists clamour for redistribution of property
because they believe that a man's happiness
mainly depends on the extent of his possessions.
Christianity, on the other hand, tends to social-
ism because it encourages the notion that
possession or non-possession of property is a
matter of small and transitory importance.
But the fact remains that Christian socialism
is quite possible ; and the opposition of modern
secular socialists to it arises not because it is
false socialism but because it is Christian.

Patriotism, again, which in some countries,
as in France, Italy, and elsewhere, may fairly
be called a religion, is only in opposition to
Christianity in those circles where the secular
national ideal prevails. It is well known that
in Bulgaria, Armenia, and other countries the
national feeling has been kept alive through
centuries of tyranny and repression only by
the instrumentality of the Christian Church.
We come back to the assertion that as an
enthusiasm only secularity can be considered
as irreconcilable with Christianity.

It is not hard to discern the origin of
secularity. It has naturally arisen in those
societies in which two sets of circumstances
met, an outworn and formal kind of religion,


and misery and oppression in the body of the
people. The more ardent and sympathetic
natures in such a society feel intensely the
evils under which their comrades lie suffering.
Merely to remove or even to moderate those
sufferings seems a noble end in life. They
naturally turn for a remedy first to the
ministers of religion. If these fail to satisfy
them, or speak of the sufferings of the many
as natural, or to be compensated in a future
world only, then they are apt to fling aside
the whole of religion, as a contrivance of
impostors who would fain make men docile
in the present life by promising chimerical
happiness hereafter. They devote themselves
to a good, clear, obvious, and real, the helping
of their fellow-men. And altruism has in the
nature of things such sweet rewards of happi-
ness and satisfaction that it has led thousands
to a blessed life and a steady contempt of

A passion of secular altruism may for a
time have marvellous force in uniting and
strengthening a nation. This was sufficiently
proved at the time of the French Revolution.
And it has since been proved by the heroism
of the nihilists in Russia that its contagion
can make men superior to cruel punishment
and indifferent to death. But if oppression


ceased, the motive power of secular altruism
would be gone. It is a force of revolt and
negation, not a power of order. If the bitter
wrongs on which it feeds were remedied, it
would soon lose its explosive force. This
also was clearly shown at the time of the
French Revolution, when the enthusiasm of
altruism died away in a few years with the
destruction of the upper classes, and gave
place to a fury of military passion. France
has not succeeded in making a permanent
working religion of altruism, nor will the
nihilists of Russia succeed.

In countries where the people are not down-
trodden and where misery is not oppressively
dominant, secularity exists in abundance, but
it can only be called a religion in the sense
in which the principles of many easy-going
and respectable Christians can be called a
religion. It is in such countries mainly
negative, rather materialist than enthusiastic,
and little likely to bring its votaries into
persecution. Yet its power is widely spread
and insidious, and important in the absence
of counteracting forces.

It is now many years since a text-book of
secularity for thoughtful readers appeared in
Mr Cotter Morison's Service of Man. This
is a calm work addressed to the intellect.


But the rising generation has been fed upon
works of another kind, which appeal primarily
to the feelings and imagination. Such books
as those of H. G. Wells, 1 Bellamy, and
Bernard Shaw, before the great war, adopted
the secular tone, and appealed to secular
ideals, although perhaps these writers would
not deny the existence of overruling spiritual
powers. What is of more importance than
the works of any individual writers is the
general vogue of a secular spirit in most of
our newspapers and magazines. It is not so
much that religion is attacked or denied :
rather that it is generally assumed to be out
of date, and that it need not be taken into
practical account. By the secularist party it
is assumed that children can be taught all
they need to know, and can be trained in
the ways ( of moral behaviour, without the
help of religion. We know that in some of
the Colonies secularist education has gone
great lengths : but its obvious insufficiency
has in some places resulted in a reaction.

More recently Sir F. Younghusband has
produced a book 2 which contains what may
fairly be called a secular imitation of Christian-

1 Recent events seem greatly to have altered Mr Wells'

2 Mutual Influence.


ity, in which the spirit of the nation or the
community is put in the place of the Divine
Spirit as the inspiration of a good life.

It is, however, unnecessary to say more as
to the nature of secularity, or its prevalence
among us. I must pass to the immediate
subject of the present chapter. My contention
is this : Christianity starts with paradoxical
axioms, which lead to a life which has for
eighteen centuries passed as noble and lofty.
Secularity starts from axioms apparently
obvious and full of common sense ; yet it

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 3 of 15)