Copyright
Various.

Christianity and Modern Thought online

. (page 12 of 20)
Online LibraryVariousChristianity and Modern Thought → online text (page 12 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Quixote's battle with the windmills which Cervantes imagined is as real
as the battle of Lepanto in which Cervantes fought; and Shakespeare's
Hamlet is incomparably more real than the Prince of Denmark whom Saxo
Grammaticus chronicles.

I do not underrate the importance of facts on their own historic plane.
The historian, as annalist, is bound by the rules of his craft with
conscientious investigation to ascertain, substantiate, and establish,
if he can, the precise facts of the period he explores. I only contend
that historic truth is not the only truth; that a fact, - if I may use
that term in this connection for want of a better, - that a fact which is
not historically true may yet be true on a higher plane than that of
history, true to reason, to moral and religious sentiment and human
need. The story of Christ's temptation is none the less true, but a
great deal more so, when the narrative which embodies the interior
psychological fact is conceived as myth, than when it is interpreted as
veritable history. The truth that concerns us is that the Son of Man
"was tempted in all points as we are," not that he was taken by the
Devil and set on a pinnacle of the Temple, and thence spirited away
"into an exceeding high mountain."

We have now attained a point of view from which to estimate on the one
hand the real import of what I have ventured to call the myths of the
New Testament, and on the other hand to overrule the petulant radicalism
which, not distinguishing truth of idea from truth of fact, contemns
these legends, and perhaps contemns the Gospel, on their account. I have
wished to show how unessential it is to the right enjoyment or
profitable use of those portions of the record that we receive them as
fact; to show that, if we seize and appropriate the idea, those
narratives are quite as edifying from a mythical as from an historical
point of view; in other words, that the Holy Spirit may and does
instruct by fiction as well as fact. If I am asked to draw the line
which separates fact from fiction, or to fix the criterion by which to
discriminate the one from the other, I answer that I do not pretend to
decide this point for myself, much less should I presume to attempt to
settle it for others. I am not disposed to dogmatize on the subject. It
is a matter in which each must judge for himself. I will only say that
for myself I do not place the line of demarcation between miracle and
the unmiraculous, for the reason that it seems to me, as I said before,
unphilosophical to make our every-day experience of the limits of human
power and the capabilities of nature an absolute standard by which to
measure the possible scope of the one or the other.

I content myself with a single illustration of what I regard as a
mythical formation. My example is the story known as "The Annunciation."
Luke alone, of all the evangelists, records the tale. The angel Gabriel
is sent to a virgin named Mary, and surprises her with the tidings,
"Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and shalt
call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of
the Highest. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his
father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and
of his kingdom there shall be no end." This beautiful legend, the most
beautiful, I think, of all the legends connected with the birth of
Christ, the favorite theme of Christian art, so lovingly handled by Fra
Angelico, by Correggio, Raphael, Titian, Andrea del Sarto, and a host of
others, is best understood as a Jewish-Christian conception, taking an
historic form and "shaped into a fact." The legend represents the
humility and faith of a pious maiden communing with the heavenly
Presence, drawing to herself divine revelations of grace and promise,
and thus sanctioning the hope so dear to every Jewish maiden, - that of
becoming the mother of the Messiah. The sudden inspiration of that hope
is the angel of the Annunciation.

A word more. How far is our idea of Christ affected by a mode of
interpretation which supposes a mingling of mythical with historic
elements in the Gospel record? That idea is based on the representations
of the evangelists. Will not our confidence in those representations be
impaired by this view of their contents? I see no cause to apprehend a
result so distressing to Christian faith. The mythical interpretation of
certain portions of the Gospel has no appreciable bearing on the
character of Christ. The impartial reader of the record must see that
the evangelists did not invent that character; they did not make the
Jesus of their story; on the contrary, it was he that made them. It is a
true saying that only a Christ could invent a Christ. The Christ of
history is a true reflection of the image which Jesus of Nazareth
imprinted on the mind of his contemporaries. In that image the spiritual
greatness, the moral perfection, are not more conspicuous than the
well-defined individuality which permeates the story, and which no
genius could invent.

If the Christ of the Church, of Christian faith, is, as some will have
it, an ideal being, it was Jesus of Nazareth who made the ideal. The
ideal in him is simply the result of that disengagement from the earthly
vestiture which death and distance work in all who live in history. By
the very necessity of its function, history idealizes. The historic
figure and the individual represented by it, though inseparably one in
substance, are not so identical in outline that the one exactly covers
the other, no more and no less. The individual is the bodily presence as
it dwells in space; the historic figure is the image of himself which
the individual stamps on his time, and, so far as his record reaches, on
all succeeding time, - his import to human kind. That image is a
veritable portrait, but not in the sense of a _fac-simile_. A material
portrait, a portrait painted with hands, if the painter understands his
art, is not a _fac-simile_: it presents the chronic idea or
characteristic mode, not the temporary accidents, "the fallings off, the
vanishings," of the person portrayed. In the hero-galleries of
Tradition, as in the visions of the Apocalypse, they are seen with white
robes, and palms in their hands, and unwrinkled brows of grace, who in
life were begrimed with the dust and furrowed with the cares of their
time. St. Paul is there without his thorn in the flesh, Luther without
his impatience, Washington without his fiery choler, Lincoln without his
coarseness, Dante and Milton without their scorn. History strips off the
indignities of earth when she dresses her heroes for immortality. And
the transfigurations she gives us are nearer the truth than the
limitations of ordinary life. The man is more truly himself in the epic
strain of public action, with spirit braced and harness on, than in the
subsidence and undress of the closet. It is not the gossiping anecdotes,
the spoils of the ungirt private life, so dear to antiquaries and
literary scavengers, but the things which history hastens to record,
that show the man. We must take the life at full-tide; we must view it
in its freest determination, in its supreme moment, to know the deepest
that is in him. And the deepest that is in him is the true man. That is
his idea, his mission to the world, his historic significance. It is
this that concerns us in all the great actors of history, - the historic
person, not the individual. And the more the historic person absorbs the
individual, the higher we rise in the scale of being until we reach the
idea of God, from which all individuality is excluded, and only the
Person remains, filling space and time with the ceaseless procession of
his being.

We misread the Gospel and reverse the true and divine order, if we
suppose the ideal Christ to be an essence distilled from the historical.
On the contrary, the ideal Christ is the root and ground of the
historical; and without the antecedent idea inspiring, commanding, the
history would never have been.

It has not been my intention in any thing I have said to make light of
the record. The record to me is a literary relic of inestimable value,
aboriginal memorial of the dearest and divinest appearance in human form
that ever beamed on earthly scenes. I sympathize with every attempt to
clear up and verify its minutest details, with the labors of all critics
and archæologists devoted to this end. I rejoice in all topographical
adjustments and illustrations; in all that local researches, following
in the steps of "those blessed feet," have gleaned from the soil of
Palestine. But all this is important only as it draws its inspiration
from and leads my aspiration to the ideal Christ, "the same yesterday,
to-day, and for ever." Dissociated from this idea, the acres of
Palestine are as barren as any which the ebbing of a nation's life has
left desolate.




THE PLACE OF MIND IN NATURE

AND

INTUITION IN MAN.

By JAMES MARTINEAU.

"Behold, there went forth a Sower to sow." - Mark iv. 3.


That the universe we see around us was not always there, is so little
disputed, that every philosophy and every faith undertakes to tell how
it came to be. They all assume, as the theatre of their problem, the
field of space where all objects lie, and the track of time where events
have reached the Now. But into these they carry, to aid them in
representing the origin of things, such interpreting conceptions as may
be most familiar to the knowledge or fancy of their age: first, the
_fiat of Almighty Will_, which bade the void be filled, so that the
light kindled, and the waters swayed, and the earth stood fast beneath
the vault of sky; next, when the sway of poetry and force had yielded to
the inventive arts, the idea of a _contriving and adapting power_,
building and balancing the worlds to go smoothly and keep time together,
and stocking them with self-moving and sensitive machines; and now,
since physiology has got to the front, the analogy of _the seed or
germ_, in itself the least of things, yet so prolific that, with history
long enough, it will be as spawn upon the waters, and fill every waste
with the creatures as they are. The prevalence of this newest metaphor
betrays itself in the current language of science: we now "_unfold_"
what we used to "_take to pieces_;" we "_develop_" the theory which we
used to "_construct_;" we treat the system of the world as an
"_organism_" rather than a "_mechanism_;" we search each of its members
to see, not what it is _for_, but what it is _from_; and the doctrine of
_Evolution_ only applies the image of indefinite growth of the greater
out of the less, till from some datum invisible to the microscope arises
a teeming universe.

In dealing with these three conceptions, - of _Creation_, _Construction_,
_Evolution_, - there is one thing on which Religion insists, viz., that
_Mind is first, and rules for ever_; and, whatever the process be, is
_its_ process, moving towards congenial ends. Let this be granted, and
it matters not by what path of method the Divine Thought advances, or
how long it is upon the road. Whether it flashes into realization, like
lightning out of Night; or fabricates, like a Demiurge, through a
producing season, and then beholds the perfect work; or is for ever
thinking into life the thoughts of beauty and the love of good; whether
it calls its materials out of nothing, or finds them ready, and disposes
of them from without; or throws them around as its own manifestation,
and from within shapes its own purpose into blossom, - makes no
difference that can be fatal to human piety. Time counts for nothing
with the Eternal; and though it should appear that the system of the
world and the ranks of being arose, not by a start of crystallization,
but, like the grass or the forest, by silent and seasonal gradations, as
true a worship may be paid to the Indwelling God who makes matter itself
transparent with spiritual meanings, and breathes before us in the
pulses of nature, and appeals to us in the sorrows of men, as to the
pre-existing Deity who, from an infinite loneliness, suddenly became the
Maker of all. Nay, if the poet always looks upon the world through a
suppliant eye, craving to meet his own ideal and commune with it alive;
if prayer is ever a "feeling after Him to find Him," the fervor and the
joy of both must be best sustained, if they are conscious not only of
the stillness of His presence, but of the movement of His thought, and
never quit the date of His creative moments. In the idea, therefore, of
a gradual unfolding of the creative plan, and the maturing of it by
rules of growth, there is nothing necessarily prejudicial to piety; and
so long as the Divine Mind is left in undisturbed supremacy, as the
living All in all, the belief may even foster a larger, calmer, tenderer
devotion, than the conceptions which it supersedes. But it is liable to
a special illusion, which the others by their coarsely separating lines
manage to escape. Taking all the causation of the world into the
interior, instead of setting it to operate from without, it seems to
dispense with God, and to lodge the power of indefinite development in
the first seeds of things; and the apprehension seizes us, that as the
oak will raise itself when the acorn and the elements are given, so from
its germs might the universe emerge, though nothing Divine were there.
The seeds no doubt were on the field; but who can say whether ever "a
Sower went forth to sow"? So long as you plant the Supreme Cause at a
distance from His own effects, and assign to Him a space or a time where
nothing else can be, the conception of that separate and solitary
existence, however barren, is secure. But in proportion as you think of
Him as never in an empty field, waiting for a future beginning of
activity, as you let Him mingle with the elements and blend with the
natural life of things, there is a seeming danger lest His light should
disappear behind the opaque material veil, and His Spirit be quenched
amid the shadows of inexorable Law. This danger haunts our time. The
doctrine of Evolution, setting itself to show how the greatest things
may be brought out of the least, fills us with fear whether perhaps Mind
may not be last instead of first, the hatched and full-fledged form of
the protoplasmic egg; whether at the outset any thing was there but the
raw rudiments of matter and force; whether the hierarchy of organized
beings is not due to progressive differentiation of structure, and
resolvable into splitting and agglutination of cells; whether the
Intellect of man is more than blind instinct grown self-conscious, and
shaping its beliefs by defining its own shadows; whether the Moral sense
is not simply a trained acceptance of rules worked out by human
interests, an inherited record of the utilities; so that Design in
Nature, Security in the Intuitions of Reason, Divine Obligation in the
law of Conscience, may all be an illusory semblance, a glory from the
later and ideal days thrown back upon the beginning, as a golden sunset
flings its light across the sky, and, as it sinks, dresses up the East
again with borrowed splendor.

This doubt, which besets the whole intellectual religion of our time,
assumes that we must _measure every nature in its beginnings_; admit
nothing to belong to its essence except what is found in it then; and
deny its reports of itself; so far as they depart from that original
standard. It takes two forms, according as the doctrine of Evolution is
applied to Man himself, or to the outward universe. In the former case,
it infuses distrust into our self-knowledge, weakens our subjective
religion or native faith in the intuitions of thought and conscience,
and tempts us to imagine that the higher they are, the further are they
from any assured solidity of base. In the latter case, it weakens our
objective religion, suggests that there is no originating Mind, and that
the divine look of the world is but the latest phase of its finished
surface, instead of the incandescence of its inmost heart. Let us first
glance at the theory of HUMAN evolution, and the moral illusions it is
apt to foster.

I. Under the name of the "Experience Philosophy," this theory has long
been applied to the _mind of the individual_; and has produced not a few
admirable analyses of the formation of language and the tissue of
thought; nor is there any legitimate objection to it, except so far as
its simplifications are overstrained and cannot be made good. It
undertakes, with a minimum of initial capacity, to account for the
maximum of human genius and character: give it only the sensible
pleasures and pains, the spontaneous muscular activity, and the law by
which associated mental phenomena cling together; and out of these
elements it will weave before your eyes the whole texture of the perfect
inner life, be it the patterned story of imagination, the delicate web
of the affections, or the seamless robe of moral purity. The outfit is
that of the animal; the product but "a little lower than the angel." All
the higher endowments - our apprehension of truth, our consciousness of
duty, our self-sacrificing pity, our religious reverence - are in this
view merely transformed sensations; the disinterested impulses are
refinements spun out of the coarse fibre of self-love; the subtlest
intellectual ideas are but elaborated perceptions of sight or touch;
and the sense of Right, only interest or fear under a disguise. If this
be so, how will the discovery affect our natural trust in the
intimations of our supreme faculties? Does it not discharge as dreams
their most assured revelations? By intuition of Reason we believe in the
Law of Causality, in the infinitude of Space, in the relations of
Number, in the reality of an outside world, in all the fundamental
conceptions of Science; but here are they, one and all, recalled to the
standard of Sense, which they seem to transcend, and emptied of any
meaning beyond. By vision of Imagination we see an ideal beauty
enfolding many a person and many a scene, and appealing to us as a
pathetic light gleaming from within; but here we find it all resolved
into curvature of lines and adjustments of color. By inspiration of
Conscience we learn that our sin is the defiance of a Divine authority,
and, though hid from every human eye, drives us into a wilderness of
Exile, - for "the wicked fleeth, though no man pursueth;" but here we are
told that the ultimate elements of good and evil are our own pleasures
and pains, from which the moral sanction selects as its specialty the
approbation and disapprobation of our fellow-men. Thus all the
independent values which our higher faculties had claimed for their
natural affections and beliefs are dissipated as fallacious; they are
all based upon a _sentient measure_ of worth which lies at the bottom;
they are like paper money, refined contrivances representative of the
ultimate gold of pleasure, but, where not interchangeable with this,
intrinsically worthless. And so the feeling almost inevitably spreads,
that we are dupes of our own characteristic capacities; that the loftier
air into which they lift us is a tinted and distorting medium, and
shows us glories that are not there; that the idea of an eternal Fount
of beauty, truth and goodness, behind the pleasingness and concinnity of
phenomena, is an illusion; and that the tendency, irresistible as it is,
to cling to this idea as something higher than its denial, is but a part
of the romance. Is this scepticism imaginary? Let any one, in studying
the modern writers of this school, compare the solid, manly, sensible
way in which they deal with every thing on the physiological and
sensational level, with their manner towards all the convictions and
sentiments usually recognized as the supreme lights of our nature; the
tone now of forbearing indulgence, now of sickly appreciation, often of
hardly concealed contempt, that is heard beneath the interminable
conjectural analyses of Moral and Religious affections, - and he will
feel the difference between the honor that is paid to truth, and the
constrained patience towards what other men revere.

By a recent extension, the theory of Evolution has been applied to the
whole natural history of our race; and the resources of _Habit_, already
serviceable in explaining the aptitudes of individuals, have been turned
to account on the larger scale of successive generations, transmitting
by inheritance the acquisitions hitherto made good. In the training of a
nature, the world thus becomes a permanent school, the interruption of
death is virtually abolished, and life is laid open to continuous
progress. By this immense gain of power, it is supposed, all the
differences which separate Man from other animals may be accounted for
as gradual attainments; and many an intuition of the mind, too immediate
and self-evident to be a product of personal experience, may yield to
analysis as a more protracted growth, and stand as the compend of ages
of gathering feeling and condensing thought. Among creatures that herd
together for common safety, each one learns to read the looks of anger
or of good-will in its neighbors, and discovers what it is that brings
upon him the one or other; and insensibly he forms to himself a rule for
avoiding the displeasure and conciliating the favor in which he has so
large an interest. This rudimentary experience imprints and records
itself in the nervous organization, and descends to ulterior generations
as an original and instinctive recoil from what offends and impulse
towards what gratifies the feeling of the tribe: so that the lesson
needs not be gone over again; but the offspring, taking up his education
where the parent left off, accumulates his feeling, quickens his mental
execution, and hands down fresh contributions to what at last emerges as
a Moral Sense. In this way, it is contended, the Conscience is a hoarded
fund of traditionary pressures of utility, gradually effacing the
primitive vestiges of fear, and dispensing itself with an affluence of
disinterested sympathy. And the religious consciousness that visits the
soul in its remorse, of an invisible Witness and Judge who condemns the
sin, comes, we are told, from the deification of public opinion, or the
fancy that some dead hero's ghost still watches over the conduct of his
clan.

This vast enlargement of the doctrine of Evolution, while increasing its
power, and removing it from the reach of accurate tests, alters neither
its principle nor its practical effect. It undertakes to exhibit the
highest and the greatest in our nature as ulterior phenomena of the
lowest and the least. And it usually treats as a superstition our
natural reverence for the rational, moral, and religious intuitions as
sources of independent insight and ultimate authority; and, in order to
estimate them, translates them back into short-hand expressions of
sensible experience and social utility. Nor can we wonder at this
scepticism. If the only reality at bottom of the sense of duty is fear
and submission to opinion, whatever it carries in it that transcends
this ground, and persuades us of an Obligation in which fear and opinion
have no voice, is an ideal addition got up within us by causes which
produce in us all sorts of psychological figments. If the only facts
that lie in our idea of Space are a set of feelings in the muscles and
the skin and the eye, then whatever beliefs it involves which these
cannot verify are naturally discredited, and treated as curiosities of
artificial manufacture. If our human characteristics are throughout the
developed instincts of the brute, differing only in degree, then the
moment they present us with intuitions which are distinct _in kind_,
they begin to play us false; and those who see through the cheat
naturally warn us against them. And so we are constantly told that our
highest attributes are only the lower that have lost their memory, and
mistake themselves for something else.

It is not my present intention to call in question either of these
varieties of evolution. Inadequate as the evidence of them both appears
to be, I will suppose their case to be made out: and still, I submit, it
does not justify the sceptical estimate which it habitually fosters of
the intellectual, moral, and religious intuitions of the human mind.
For,

(1) Though animal sensation, with its connected instinct, should be the
raw material of our whole mental history, it is not on that account
entitled _to measure all that comes after it_, and stand as the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryVariousChristianity and Modern Thought → online text (page 12 of 20)