W. E. (William Ewart) Gladstone.

Address on the place of ancient Greece in the providential order of the world : delivered before the University of Edinburgh, on the third of November, 1865 (Volume Talbot online

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Online LibraryW. E. (William Ewart) GladstoneAddress on the place of ancient Greece in the providential order of the world : delivered before the University of Edinburgh, on the third of November, 1865 (Volume Talbot → online text (page 4 of 5)
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makes all things find their level, and since it came
into existence it has never ceased to be in the most
instructed periods the chief criterion and means of
the highest intellectual training: not, of course,
necessarily for each individual, but for classes and
for countries.

The point, however, to which I wish to draw
particular attention at this moment, is the large and


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well-balanced view, to which Greek Philosophy
attained, of the compound nature of man.

Never, probably, has there appeared upon the
stage of the world so remarkable an union, as in the
Gi-reeks, of corporal with mental excellence. From
the beginning of the race. Homer shared the privi-
lege of his most gorgeous epithet * between battle
and debate. The Odes of such a poet as Pindar,
handing onwards the tradition of the Twenty- third
Iliad, commemorate, so to speak, the marriage of
athletic exercise with the gift of Song. We do not
trace among the Greeks that contrast, which is found
so rude and sharp elsewhere, between energy in the
body and energy in the brain. The Greek was in
this respect like Adam in the noble verse of Milton,

" For contemplation he and valour form'd."

And the Greek philosophy was for nothing more
remarkable than the manner in which it not only
asserted but felt, as an elementary law, the place of
the Body in human education.

This was with no exclusive or peculiar view to
what we should call utilitarian purposes, such as
those of defence or industry, or even art. It seems
to have been rather an ample recognition of the right
of the body to be cared for, and to be reared in its
various organs up to the highest excellence it is
capable of attaining, as being, what indeed it is, not

* KvSuiveipa. II. i. 490 ; iv. 225, et alibi.

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a mere A^estiire, or tool, or appendage of the soul, but,
like the soul, an integral part of man himself.

This plenitude arid accuracy of view on such a
subject is the more to be regarded on some special
grounds. In general, the philosophies of the world,
outside of Christianity, have shown a tendency to
fluctuate between sensuality on the one hand, and on
the other a contempt and hatred of matter, and a
disposition to identify it with the principle of evil.
The philosophy of Socrates, of Plato, and of Aris-
totle, seems to have steered clear and safe between
this Scylla and this Charybdis. But again, the
G-reek saw, as all men see, the body parted from
the soul at death, and hastening rapidly, as by the
law of its nature, to corruption. To none could this
severance, and its mournful and painful incidents, be
more repulsive than to him, with his delicate percep-
tions and his lively emotions. Of a future existence
in any shape he usually knew or even surmised little ;
of the revival of the body, or of the reunion hereafter
of the two great factors of the human being, he had yet
less conception. We may say then that he lay under
every temptation to a disparaging view of the body
and of its office. Yet, in spite of his immense disad-
vantage, it fell to him to find a place for the body in
the philosophy of human nature, and to incorporate
the principle thus conceived in laws, usages, and insti-
tutions, with a clearness and general justness of view,
by which Christian learning has done and will yet do
well to profit. What with us is somewhat dubious
and fluctuating both in theory and in practice, with

E 2

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him was familiar and elementary in both; and the
teachers of mental accomplishment taught also the
science, if not the art, of bodily excellence.

Thus for example Plato, in his Treatise on the
State, has to consider what men are fit to be chosen
for rulers. They should if possible, he says, have
the advantage of personal beauty. They must be
energetic : and he therefore proceeds to treat of the
character of the ^f\o7roi/o9,* or diligent man. He must
be ready and keen in study : for human souls are
much more cowardly in strong studies than in exer-
cises of corporal strength : as in the former they bear
all the burden, instead of sharing it with the body.
But philosophy itself, he admits, has fallen into some
dishonour, from a tendency to partiality in handling
this question. The truly diligent man, then, must not
be halt or one-sided in his diligence. If he be fond of
athletic exercise and of sports, but not apt for learn-
ing and inquiry, then he is but half-diligent. And
no less " lame " will he be, says the philosopher, if,
addicted to mental pursuits, he neglects the training
of the body, and of the organs with which it is
endowed. This may serve for a sample, but it is a
sample only, of the large and complete grasp of the
Greek philosophy upon the nature of man : and I
connect this largeness and completeness with the
fact that the Greek, from the nature of his religion,
cherished in a special degree the idea of the near
association of human existence, in soul and body,

* Plat, de Rep. B. vii. p. 535.

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with that existence which we necessarily regard as the
largest and most complete, namely with the Divine.

It may indeed be said, that the Grreek lowered and
contaminated the Divine idea by weak and by vile
elements carried into it from the human. Yes : this
and much more may be said, and said with truth.
Nothing can be more humbling or more instructive,
than the total failure of the Grreek mind with all its
powers either to attain or even to make progress
towards attaining the greater ends of creation by
rendering man either good or happy. This is the
negative but most important purpose, which the
Greek of old may have been destined to fulfil ;
the purpose of casting down the strongholds of our
pride, by first showing us how great he is, and
then leaving us to see how little, when standing
alone, is all his greatness, if it be measured with
reference to its results in accomplishing those ends of
life, without which every other end is vain. But I
am not now engaged in endeavouring to ascertain
what Greek life or what the Greek mind was in
itself, and for itself; nor for what negative or
secondary uses the study of it may be available. I
wish to point out in some degree what it was for a
purpose beyond itself, what materials it was pre-
paring for our use, how it was, if I may so express
myself, the secular counterpart of the Gospel ; and
how it became, in one word, the great intellectual
factor of the Christian civilisation.

Now it is not I think difficult to see that materials
and instruments, such as it furnished, were required.

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I will not attempt by argument to show, that all the
powers and capacities of man, being the work of God,
must have their proper place in His designs ; and that
the evil in the world arises not from their use but
from their misuse, not from their active working each
according to its place in the Providential order, but
from their having gone astray, as the planets would
if the centripetal force, that controls their action,
were withdrawn.

We see then in the Grreeks, beyond all question,
these two things : first, a peculiar and powerful ele-
ment of anthropomorphism pervading their religion,
and giving it its distinctive character : secondly, a
remarkable fulness, largeness, subtlety, elevation, and
precision in their conception of human nature ; taking
form in, or at least accompanying, an immense vigour
both of speculation and of action ; a language of
marvellous reach, elasticity, variety, and power ; a
scientific excellence in art never elsewhere attained ;
and an eminence in the various branches of letters
which has given to them, for more than two thousand
years, the place of first authority in the cultivated
world. The Latin literature, though it has both a
character and a purpose of its own, is, in its most
splendid elements, derivative from the Greek.

Now, if we survey with care and candour the
present wealth of the world^ — I mean its wealth intel-
lectual, moral, and spiritual — we find that Christianity
has not only contributed to the patrimony of man its
brightest and most precious jewels, but has likewise
been what our Saviour pronounced it, the salt or

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preserving principle of all the residue, and has main-
tained its health, so far as it has been maintained at
all, against corrupting agencies. But, the salt is one
thing, the thing salted is another : and, as in the world
of nature, so in the world of mind and of human
action, there is much that is outside of Christianity,
that harmonises with it, that revolves, so to speak,
around it, but that did not and could not grow out of
it. It seems to have been for the filling up of this
outline, for the occupation of this broad sphere of
exertion and enjoyment, that the Greeks were, in
the counsels of Providence, ordained to labour : that so
the Gospel, produced in the fulness of time, after the
world's long gestation, might have its accomplished
work in rearing mankind up to his perfection, first
in the spiritual life, but also, and through that spi-
ritual life, in every form of excellence, for which
his varied powers and capacities have been created.

If this be so, it is quite plain that the Greeks have
their place in the Providential order, ay, and in the
Evangelical Preparation, as truly and really as the
children of Abraham themselves.

But indeed there is no need, in order to a due
appreciation of our debt to the ancient Greeks, that
we should either forget or disparage the function
which was assigned by the Almighty Father to His
most favoured people. Much profit, says St. Paul,
had the Jew in every way. He had the oracles of
God : he had the custody of the promises : he was the
steward of the great and fandamental conception of
the unity ul God, the sole and absolute condition under

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which the Divine idea could be upheld among men at
its just elevation. No poetry, no philosophy, no art
of Grreece, ever embraced, in its most soaring and
widest conceptions, that simple law of love towards
God and towards our neighbour, on which " two com-
" mandments hang all the law and the prophets," and
which supplied the moral basis of the new dispensa-
tion. There is one history, and that the most touching
and most profound of all, for which we should search
in vain through all the pages of the classics, — I mean
the history of the human soul in its relations with its
Maker; the history of its sin, and grief, and death,
and of the way of its recovery to hope and life, and to
enduring joy. For the exercises of strength and skill,
for the achievements and for the enchantments of
wit, of eloquence, of art, of genius, for the imperial
games of politics and war, let us seek them on the
shores of Greece. But if the first among the pro-
blems of life be how to establish the peace and restore
the bala of our inward being ; if the highest of all
conditions in the existence of the creature be his
aspect towards the God to whom he owes his being,
and in whose great hand he stands ; then let us make
our search elsewhere. All the wonders of the Greek
civilisation heaped together are less wonderful than
is the single Book of Psalms. Palestine was weak
and despised, always obscure, oftentimes and long
trodden down beneath the feet of imperious masters.
Greece for a thousand years,

" Confident from foreign purposes," *
* King John, ii. 1.

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repelled every invader from her shores, and, fostering
her strength in the keen air of freedom, she defied,
and at length overthrew, the mightiest of empires ;
and when finally she felt the resistless grasp of the
masters of all the world, them too, at the very moment
of her subjugation, she herself subdued to her litera-
ture, language, arts, and manners.* Palestine, in a
word, had no share of the glories of our race ; they
blaze on every page of the history of Greece with an
overpowering splendour. Greece had valour, policy,
renown, genius, wisdom, wit, — she had all, in a word,
that this world could give her ; but the flowers of
Paradise, which blossom at the best but thinly,
blossomed in Palestine alone.

And yet, as the lower parts of our bodily organiza-
tion are not less material than the higher to the
safety and well-being of the whole, so Christianity
itself was not ordained to a solitary existence in man,
but to find helps meet for itself in the legitimate use
of every faculty, and in the gradually accumulated
treasures of the genius, sagacity, and industry of the
human family.

Besides the loftiest part of the work of Providence
entrusted to the Hebrew race, there was other work
to do, and it was done elsewhere. It was requisite
to make ready the materials not only of a divine
renewal and of a moral harmony for the world, but
also for a thorough and searching culture of every
power and gift of man, in all his relations to the

* Note XVI.

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world and to his kind ; so as to lift up his universal
nature to the level upon which his relation as a
creature to his Creator, and as a child to his Father,
was ahout to be established.

And the question arises whether, among the auxi-
liaries required to complete the training process for
our race, there were not to be found some which
were of a quality, I will not say to act as a corrective
to Christianity, but to act as a corrective to the nar-
row views and the excesses which might follow upon
certain modes of conceiving and of applying it.
Doubtless the just idea of their general purpose is
that they were a collection of implements and mate-
rials to assist in the cultivation of tbe entire nature of
man, and to consecrate all his being to the glory and
the designs of his Maker. Yet in part they might
have a purpose more special still, — tlie purpose of
assigning due bounds to the action of impulses spring-
ing out of Christianity itself.

Now, that narrow conception, which I have men-
tioned, of the Jews as virtually the sole object of the
Providential designs of God, while it began doubtless
in a devout sentiment, passed into superstition when
it led men to assign to the Jewish people every ima-
ginable gift and accomplishment, and into virtual
impiety when it came to imply that the Almighty
had little care for the residue of His creatures. And
certainly it was not to Scripture itself that opinions
like these were due. In a Dissertation ' On the Pro-
phecies of the Messiah dispersed among the Heathen,'
Bishop Horsley has shown what a large amount of

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testimony is yielded by the Sacred Books to the
remaining knowledge of the true God among the races
in the neighbourhood of Judea. With them religion
seems to have been for long periods, as was also to no
small extent the religious practice of the Jews, an incon-
sistent combination of lingering and struggling truth
with rampant error. Melchisedec, the type of Christ,
Job, one of the chosen patrons of faith and patience,
were of blood foreign to the patriarchal race ; and
the same agency of the prophetic order, which was
employed to correct and guide the Jew, was not
withheld from his neighbours : Balaam, among the
Moabites, was a prophet inspired by the Most High.
Of the minor prophetical books of the Old Testament
two are expressly devoted to setting forth the burden
of Nineveh and the dealings of Grod with its inhabit-
ants : and Eastern Magi were, in the words of Bishop
Horsley, " the first worshi^^pers of Mary's Holy
Child." *

A system of religion, however absolutely perfect
for its purpose, however divine in its conception and
expression, yet of necessity becomes human too, from
the first moment of its contact with humanity ; from
the very time, that is to say, when it begins to do its
projoer work by laying hold upon the hearts and
minds of men, mingling, as the leaven in the dough,
with all that they contain, and unfolding and apply-
ing itself in the life and conduct of the individual,
and in the laws, institutions, and usages of society.

* 'Dissertation,' ifec, p. 117.


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Online LibraryW. E. (William Ewart) GladstoneAddress on the place of ancient Greece in the providential order of the world : delivered before the University of Edinburgh, on the third of November, 1865 (Volume Talbot → online text (page 4 of 5)