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limitation of its scope by pragmatic standards, it rejoices
in acts which are a revolt against moralism and intellectu-
alism alike. The aesthetic instinct is more independent
of utilitarian considerations than the intellect, and far
more than the moral sense. For this reason, in the form
of poetical and religious imagination, it penetrates and
illumines regions which are inaccessible to philosophy and
ethics. And its reaction upon life has a distinctive quality,-
the loss of which cannot be made good from any other
source. The mind that is dominated by perception
of the beautiful, and by the love of it which can hardly be
dissociated from this perception, will certainly carry its
habit and its method into every part of life. Among a
really artistic people we find a Joyful desire to do every-
thing well and appropriately. ' What has to be done is
done imaginatively ; what has to be spoken or made is
spoken or made fittingly, lovingly, beautifully.' a

Some writers have seen in ' the Sublime ' the link be-
tween sesthetical feeling and religion. Kant, in particular,
quite forgetful of the limitations which in his Critique of
Pure Reason he had laid upon all our faculties, invests
the Sublime with a mystical power of uniting the human
spirit with the infinite. * We call that sublime which is
absolutely great.' ' The sublime is that which cannot

1 Santayana, Reason in Art, p. 16.




xii.l THE AESTHETIC GKOUND OF FAITH 207



even enter our thought without the help of a faculty which
surpasses the standard of sense.' ' Nature is sublime in
those phenomena which convey an idea of its infinity.' l
So Longinus says, ' When a writer uses any other resource,
he shows himself to be a man ; but the sublime lifts
him near to the great spirit of the Deity.' Kant, like
Burke, whom he probably follows, 2 distinguishes the
Sublime from the Beautiful, instead of making sublimity
a species of beauty. This is perhaps an error. It
would be better to extend the meaning of beauty, which
has too often been confined to mere prettiness, to cover
the grander and more awe-inspiring phenomena of nature.
Winckelmann acutely observes that when we gaze over
the broad sea, our mind at first appears to shrink and lose
itself, but soon returns to itself, elevated by what it has
beheld. The perception of the Beautiful, in this wider
sense, has seemed to many to be closely akin to mystical
intuition. 3 This view is put into philosophical terminology
by Hegel, who says : ' The Beautiful is essentially the
spiritual making itself known sensuously, presenting itself
in sensuous concrete existence, but in such a manner that
that existence is wholly and entirely permeated by the
spiritual, so that the sensuous is not independent, but has
its meaning solely and exclusively through the spiritual
and in the spiritual, and exhibits not itself but the spirit-
ual.' 4 This belief is the romantic side of Greek philosophy.
It finds its classical expression in a famous passage of
Plato's Symposium 5 : ' He who has been instructed thus
far in the things of love, and has learned to see the beautiful
in due order and succession, when he comes towards the end
will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (and
this was the object of all our toils), a nature which in the

1 From the Critique of Judgment.

* Bosanquet, History of ^Esthetic, p. 275.

* Ladd, The Philosophy of Religion, vol. i. p. 441.

* Hegel, Philosophy of Religion, vol. ii. p. 8.
Plato, Symposium, pp. 210, 211.



208 FAITH [CH.

first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying, not
waxing and waning ; not fair in one point of view and
foul in another . . . but beauty absolute, separate, simple
and everlasting, which without increase or diminution or
any other change is imparted to the ever-growing and ever-
perishing beauties of other things. He who, ascending
from these under the influence of true love, begins to
perceive that beauty, is not far from the end. And the
true order ... is to begin with the beauties of earth and
mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using
these as steps only, and going on from fair forms to fair
practices, and from these to fair notions, until from fair
notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at
last knows what the essence of beauty is. ... What if
man had eyes to see the true beauty, the divine beauty,
pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollu-
tions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human
life looking thither and communing with the true beauty,
simple and divine ? In that communion, and in that only,
beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be
enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities
(for it is the reality and no image that he grasps), and
producing and cherishing true virtue he will become the
friend of God, and immortal, if mortal man can be im-
mortal.'

According to this passage, which contains the essence
of the poetical and romantic side of Plato's philosophy,
the sense of beauty is a joyous witness within us to the
kinship of the human spirit with that source of all spiritual
life from which whatever is fair and noble in the world
proceeds. Plato is not afraid to trace a high symbolic
meaning in the connection of the sesthetical sense with
sexual passion. ' All love is of the immortal. Mortal
nature seeks as far as possible to be everlasting and im-
mortal ; and since absolute unity in continuance is not to
be had, even in the life of the individual, men desire to



] THE AESTHETIC GKOUND OF FAITH 209

produce a new generation to take the place of the old.'
This transmission of life is the human substitute and
symbol for the unchanging life of Eternity.

Thus our sense of beauty is an imaginative l representa-
tion which connects our present experience with the
eternal. It is the sesthetical sense which most vividly
makes the past and future live in the present. The gift
of imagination is thus a psychological intimation of im-
mortality. This prophetic office of the imagination has
been far too much neglected by religious teachers and
philosophers. We see the result in the tendency of culti-
vated people to turn to the poets for spiritual guidance
and sympathy. The poets seem to be nearer to the heart
of things than the men of thought or the men of action.
They have the advantage of working in the most plastic
of materials, and their interpretation of ideal reality may
therefore have a higher truth than the somewhat sorry
experiments which history records in the field of the actual,
and a richer colour than the ' grey ' hues of philosophical
theory. It is for this reason that myth and legend have
played, and still play, so important a part in religion.
They are prized, consciously or unconsciously, for their
representative value. ' Poetry,' says Aristotle, 2 ' is more
philosophical and of higher worth than history ; for history
records what has actually happened, but poetry describes
what may happen ' (i.e. universal truth).

In spite of this, Faith has always looked upon the
sesthetical sense as a somewhat dangerous ally. Being
potentially of infinite scope, it endeavours to embrace all
experience and classify it according to its own standards.
And ' of all premature settlements, the most premature is
that which the fine arts are wont to establish.' 3 A lovely



1 ' Imaginative ' is not the same as ' purely subjective. ' There may be an
essential connection between the image and reality.

2 In the Poetics.

* Santayana, Reason in Art, p. 217.

O



210 FAITH [CH.

dream leaves the world no less a chaos, and makes it seem
by contrast even darker than before. Visionary pleasures
make the world no better, and generally bring visionary
pains and disorders in their wake. As soon as art loses
touch with science and morality, it becomes corrupt. Just
as morality for morality's sake is (in spite of Kant) im-
possible and self-contradictory; just as truth for truth's
sake takes us no further than pure mathematics, in which
all values are hypothetical, and the connection with the
actual world is broken off, so beauty for beauty's sake
stultifies itself and ceases even to be beautiful. Our three
strands of natural revelation are intertwined; we cannot
unravel them. And there seems to be a mysterious law
in the spiritual world, that to aim directly at a thing is not
the way to hit it. Just as pleasure, according to Aristotle,
attends virtue as the bloom upon a young face attends
health, but is not the immediate object of moral effort,
so beauty regularly appears as a by-product of ethical
striving and of intellectual search. Perhaps beauty has
an ethereal and evasive quality which belongs only to
itself. It is, says Plotinus, the light that plays over the
symmetry of things, rather than the symmetry itself.
A modern poet, William Watson, has expressed the same
idea in a fine stanza :

Forget not, brother singer, that though Prose
Can never be too truthful nor too wise,

Song is not Truth nor Wisdom, but the rose
Upon Truth's lips, the light in Wisdom's eyes.

Even in art itself, Goethe tells us, the principle is the
significant, the result the beautiful. This maxim cuts at
the root of artistic dilettantism, such as made the
'aesthetic* coterie in Victorian England ridiculous and
contemptible; for what does art 'signify' except eternal
reality, which is good and true as well as beautiful ?

The warning furnished by decadent art is indeed valuable



xii ] THE AESTHETIC GROUND OF FAITH 211

and instructive. The hero of Huysmans' unpleasant novel
A Rebours makes it the object of his life to enjoy every
kind of voluptuous thrill of which the aesthetical sense is
capable. The result, as might be expected, is spiritual
rottenness. Decadent art generally shows its character
by over-elaboration of details which have no significance
for the whole. This is a symbol of the mental disin-
tegration which accompanies it. The decadent is hi a state
of mind clean contrary to Faith. He despises life, hopes
for nothing, and loves nobody. It is no wonder that he
loves to sing the praises of death and dissolution.

Plato, whose hostility to art has surprised so many of
his admirers, dreaded its tyranny because he knew its
power. Unless it can cover all practice, ennobling action
as well as delighting the imagination, he will have none
of it. The mere artist, as he knew, is always something
less than a gentleman.

The attitude of Greek thought toward art is often mis-
understood. The defects of Greek aesthetic theory were
mainly three. First, in accordance with their preference
for plastic representation, in which their pre-eminence is
undisputed, they attributed too high a value to symmetry as
compared with expressiveness. Secondly, they only slowly
outgrew the mistaken notion that art directly copies reality
and must be judged by its fidelity to some given original.
It was this error, in part, which led Plato to disparage art,
as further removed from reality than nature. Being a
great thinker, he could not state a fallacy of this kind
without suggesting a way out of it ; but it was reserved for
Plotinus 1 to enuntiate the truth that the arts do not
simply imitate the visible, but go back to the creative
principles (Aoyoi), from which nature also derives its

1 The first clear recognition of imagination ((fiavrao'la.), as the creative
faculty in art, is due to Philostratus, who states clearly the principle that we
desire in vain to find in Aristotle's Poetics. ' It was imagination that pro
duced these masterpieces, a more cunning artist than imitation. For
imitation represents what it has seen, but imagination what it has not seen.'



212 FAITH [CH.

forms. Natural things themselves, he says, ' imitate *
something else, namely, these formative principles or types.
The arts are not, then, wholly dependent on the actual ;
they create much out of themselves, and supply defici-
encies in nature from the ideas of beauty which they find
in themselves. ' Pheidias did not create his Zeus after
any perceived pattern, but made him such as Zeus would
appear if he deigned to be visible to mortal eyes.' 1 Thirdly
(this is a feature in Greek thought which is often forgotten),
the Greeks throughout demanded that serious art shall be
morally edifying. A poet is blamed for making his
characters worse than the plot demanded. In fact, there
was a confused tendency to apply the same moral standards
to works of art as to real life. The error here is not in
holding that the good and the beautiful are ultimately one,
for this is true ; but in imposing our morality on the ideal
world, and ' playing providence ' in a region where only
the divine wisdom and goodness bear sway. It is not the
province of art to solve moral enigmas, least of all by the
cheap and facile expedient of inventing a * poetical justice '
which is untrue to experience. Our moral sense is not a
limiting sphere for the beautiful, though nothing is beautiful
which is really repugnant to the Divine purity and good-
ness. Art, when not hampered by the ' moralistic fallacy,'
may often be a moral educator, Just as goodness has
often an unstudied beauty of a very high order.

The attitude of Christianity towards art was naturally
determined in the first place by the traditions of Jewish
and Graeco-Roman culture, which coalesced in the new
religion. Hebrew art was symbolic, not pictorial, the

1 Enn. v. 8. Bosanquet (History of Esthetic, p. 113) has perhaps Riven
Plotinus too much credit for this. The illustration from the Zeus of Pheidias
must have been a commonplace: cf. Cic., Orator, 2: 'Nee vero ille artifex,
cum faceret lovis formam aut Minervae, contemplabatur aliquem e quo
simi lit udincm duceret ; sed ipsius in mente insidebat species pulchritudinis
eximia quaedam, quam intuens in eaque defixus ad illius similitudinem artem
et manum dirigebat.' Also Seneca, Controv. v. p. 36: ' Non vidit Phidias
lovem. . . . Dignus tamen ilia arte animus et concepit deoa et exhibuit.'



HI.] THE ESTHETIC GKOUND OF FAITH 213

Hebrew genius being very deficient in the sense of form.
For instance, in the Apocalypse, such images as that of a
cubic city show how vaguely the writer visualised even
his visions. On the other hand, the sense of the sublime
in nature receives a nobler expression in some of the Psalms
than in any other ancient literature. The grandeur of
some of these descriptions has indeed never been sur-
passed. We may follow Dean Church 1 in his selection of
examples :

* The day is thine and the night is thine ; thou hast
prepared the light and the sun.'

* The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firma-
ment sheweth his handiwork. One day telleth another, and
one night certifieth another. . . . Their sound is gone out
into all lands, and their words to the ends of the world.'

' Praise the Lord upon earth, ye dragons and all deeps :
fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, fulfilling
his word.'

Or that noble Psalm, which begins with Gloria in
excelsis and ends with In terris pax the twenty-ninth :
' Give unto the Lord, ye mighty, give unto the Lord
glory and strength. Give the Lord the honour due unto
his name ; worship the Lord with a holy worship. The
voice of the Lord is upon the waters ; it is the glorious
God that maketh the thunder. The voice of the Lord is
upon many waters. The voice of the Lord is mighty in
operation. The voice of the Lord is a glorious voice. The
voice of the Lord breaketh the cedar-trees ; yea, the Lord
breaketh the cedars of Libanus. He maketh them all
to skip like a calf ; Libanus also and Sirion like a young
unicorn. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness ; yea, the
Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kades. The voice of the
Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the
forests ; in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

1 Church : The Gifts of Civilisation, p. 402.



214 FAITH [CH.

The Lord sitteth above the waterflood ; the Lord remaineth
a King for ever. The Lord shall give strength unto his
people; the Lord shall give his people the blessing of
peace.'

The distinctive note of Hebrew religious poetry is that it
is never pantheistic in its homage to the glories of nature.
' The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient;
he sitteth above the waterflood, be the earth never so
unquiet.' 'The Lord is King, the earth may be glad
thereof; yea, the multitude of the isles may be glad there-
of/ The world is the living garment of God 'God
hath put on his apparel, he hath girded himself with
strength* but there is no tendency to deify the non-
moral processes of nature. Rather, God's hand is seen in
the bounty which giveth food to all flesh, and in the mercy
which is over all His works. ' Thou visitest the earth and
blessest it, thou makest it very plenteous.' 'He healeth
those that are broken in heart, and giveth medicine to
heal their sickness. He telleth the number of the stars, and
calleth them all by their names.'

This firm belief in the transcendence of the Creator gives
a richer note to the nature-poetry of the Psalms and
Prophets, in that the nothingness and vanity of the material
creation, apart from Spirit, are recognised as well as its
awful magnificence. ' Before the mountains were brought
forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. For
a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it
is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou earnest them
away as with a flood; they are as a sleep. In the morning
they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning
it flourisheth and groweth up; in the evening it is cut
down, and withereth.'

Later Judaism was prosaic; and the early Christians
also do not appear to have entered into the spirit of these
glorious hymns. In fact, the Psalms have probably been



XIL] THE .ESTHETIC GROUND OF FAITH 215

more appreciated in our own day than in any previous
century since they were written. The early Church was
not much inspired by the beauty of nature ; and in its
attitude towards art, it maintained, on the whole, the
distrust which is found in Plato. The utter inadequacy
of all sensuous representations of the divine was recognised,
(the more fully since the arts were now decaying rapidly),
and art was tolerated mainly as picture-writing for the
ignorant. Augustine, however, introduces a great deal of
Neoplatonic teaching into his theology, on aesthetics as
well as other subjects. What this teaching was will be
understood better if we quote from Plotinus, the fountain-
head, than from Augustine's paraphrases.

* Just as it would be impossible to speak of sensible
beauties if we had never seen them, so we should not be
able to speak of the arts and sciences if we were not already
in possession of this kind of beauty, nor of the splendour
of virtue if we had never contemplated the face of justice
and temperance, which are more beautiful than the even-
ing and morning star. We must contemplate these beauties
by the faculty which our soul has received for seeing them ;
then we shall feel much more pleasure, astonishment, and
admiration than we do in presence of sensible beauties.
Let us consider what it is that men experience when they
love beauties which are not corporeal. What do you feel
in presence of noble aspirations, good qualities, and all
the acts and sentiments which constitute the beauty of
souls ? What is the object which causes these emotions ?
It is no figure, or colour, or magnitude. It is that invisible
Soul in which one sees the brightness of all the virtues to
shine, when one contemplates greatness of character,
justice of the heart, pure temperance, and courage with her
stern countenance ; dignity, and modesty with her calm,
steady, imperturbable bearing, and above all the Intelli-
gence, the image of God, blazing with divine light. No one
who beholds these things can doubt that he beholds the



21C FAITH [CH

very reality. And the very reality is beautiful.' Ugliness,
for the soul, consists in intemperance, injustice, and
cowardice. The soul contracts these stains by mixing
itself with earthly and carnal things. All virtue, therefore,
is only 'purification. ' The purified soul belongs entirely
to God, in whom is the source of the beautiful and of all the
qualities which have affinity with it. The good and the
beautiful for the soul is to become like unto God ; for He
is the principle of beauty and of being ; or rather being is
beauty. And the good and the beautiful are identical. . . .
We must ascend then to the Good, for which every soul
craves. If any has seen it, he knows how beautiful it is.'
' How shall a man see the ineffable beauty, which dwells
in the inner shrine of the temple, and is not brought out to
the gaze of the profane ? When he sees the beauty of
material objects he must not pursue them, but knowing
that they are only images and shadows he must flee to
that of which they are the images. He must call into
activity a faculty of spiritual vision which all have but
few use. What then can the inner eye perceive ? Being
newly awakened it cannot at once look upon things wholly
bright. First, the soul should be accustomed to look upon
beautiful actions, then upon beautiful works (not such as
the arts produce, but such as men produce who are called
good), and then let it look upon the soul which produces
these good works. How then canst thou behold the
beauty of a fair soul ? Look within ; and if thou seest
thyself to be not yet beautiful, then, Just as a sculptor
who desires to make a beautiful statue removes this and
chisels down that, polishes here and cleanses there, until
he brings to view a beautiful countenance in the image, so
do thou take away that which is redundant, make straight
that which is crooked, cleanse that which is foul ; and
cease not to work upon this thine image until the divine
beauty of virtue shine forth upon thee.' 1

1 Plotinua, Enneads I. i. 6-9 abridged).



XIL] THE AESTHETIC GROUND OF FAITH 217

This beautiful passage shows how the later Platonism
reconciled the ascetic and aesthetic strands in Plato's
philosophy of the beautiful. Stern discipline is needed
to purify the soul from the taint which it has contracted
by contact with evil and ugliness. For only the pure in
heart can see God ; only the purged mind can behold the
loveliness of divine reality. This is no artificial combina-
tion of contradictory theories ; the two parts complement
and safeguard each other. This view passed, practically
unchanged, into Christianity. St. Thomas Aquinas argues,
quite in the manner of Plotinus, that since nature is sym-
bolic of the divine mind, and the human mind is the image
of God, the human mind, if pure from sin, can behold God
in nature.

In English theology also we find the truest appreciation
of the beauty of holiness, and of the high religious value of
the aesthetic sense, in writers who have passed under the
spell of Xeoplatonism. The Cambridge Platonists of the
seventeenth century are lifted out of scholarly pedantry
by the poetic feeling which beautifies their writings. The
following extract from John Smith's Sermons may be taken
as typical :

* Let us inform our minds as much as may be in the
excellency and loveliness of practical religion ; that behold-
ing it in its own beauty and amiableness we may the more
sincerely close with it. As there would need nothing else
to deter and affright men from sin but its own ugliness
and deformity, were it presented to a naked view and seen
as it is ; so nothing would more effectually commend
religion to the minds of men, than the displaying and un-
folding the excellencies of its nature, than the true native
beauty and inward lustre of religion itself : neither the
evening nor the morning star could so sensibly commend
themselves to our bodily eyes, and delight them with their
shining beauties, as true religion, which is an undefiled
beam of the uncreated light, would to a mind capable of



218 FAITH [CH.

conversing with it. ... Religion is not like the prophet's
roll, sweet as honey when it was in his mouth, but as bitter
as gall in his belly. Religion is no sullen Stoicism, no sour
Pharisaism ; it does not consist in a few melancholy
passions, in some dejected looks or depressions of mind ;
but it consists in freedom, love, peace, life, and power ;
the more it comes to be digested into our lives, the more
sweet and lovely we shall find it to be. Those spots and
wrinkles which corrupt minds think they see in the face


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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngeFaith and its psychology → online text (page 18 of 21)