Copyright
William Ralph Inge.

Personal idealism and mysticism online

. (page 2 of 11)
Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 2 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


14 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Himself to finite creatures in various stages of
imperfection. The God of religion is not the
Father of lights with whom is no variableness,
for life without change is a state of which we
have no experience, but the Father revealed byi
the Son. " No man hath seen God at any time.j
The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of
the Father, He hath declared Him."

The ethical system which corresponds to this
philosophy of religion is not, as is often supposed,
dreamy or unpractical. The so-called civic virtues
are placed by Plotinus at the bottom of the scale,
not at all to disparage them, but because they
must be practised by all, though all are not called
to contemplation. Next to them come the cath-
artic virtues, by which our characters are purified.
When a man has advanced as far as this, he is an
efficient and useful member of society, and he has
acquired self-control. Intellectually, his discipline
has impressed upon him just those facts about
God which those who aspire to be mystics without
going through it never perceive. He has learned
that God is not " the Infinite " that, on the
contrary, He is known to us as the Principle of
order and limitation (rdfys and Trepas). He has
learned that " all 's Law," as he will some day learn
that " all 's Love." His experience so far has been



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 15

definite and concrete. He has learned quid possit
oriri, quid nequeat ; he has no love for the " loose
types of things through all degrees " which fasci-
nate the shallow pseudo-mystic; he knows the
value of sharp outlines, and the importance of
exact information. He has also learned the great
lesson that illumination is not granted to the
mere thinker, but to him who acts while he
thinks, and thinks while he acts. Lastly, he
knows the meaning of sin. No one can try to
purify himself even as God is pure, without
knowing the meaning and power of sin.

But this severe mental and moral discipline
brings its reward in its own partial supersession.
Dualism is, after all, appearance and not reality.
Apparent contradictions in the nature of things,
when faced perfectly fairly, can be lived down.
And so the inner discord of flesh and spirit is
attuned, and even sin itself, whether in ourselves
or in the world, is partly seen to be " behovable,"
as Julian of Norwich says. The will, no longer
divided against itself, passes into intelligence ; we
become fellow- workers with God, rather than day-
labourers in His service. The broken images
of order and beauty, which we have trained our-
selves to observe and reverence in the world,
begin to form themselves into a glorious universe



16 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

of gracious design, through which the Divine
Wisdom passes and penetrates, mightily and
sweetly ordering all things.

The human soul leaps forward to greet this
vision of glory and harmony, as a child recognises
and greets his father's house. It is at home
there ; this is the heaven in which it was meant
to dwell. Meanwhile, the virtues which it
learned at the earlier stages are still practised,
but without the old strain. They have become
habitual ; and the approving intellect now holds
the reins instead of the struggling will. And
when at last love suffuses all the mind love
of God and His laws, and love for our neighbour
as made in His image, and the chief mirror of
His goodness, then indeed the yoke becomes easy
and the burden light. "The toil and sweat of
virtue," says Hesiod, " the immortal gods have
set at the beginning of the journey; long and
hard and rough is the path that leads thereto,
at first ; but when we reach the top, then indeed
it becomes easy, though hard."

Such is the general scheme of the "Scale of
Perfection " as accepted by the Neoplatonists,
and by the Christian mystics who owed so much
to them. I do not think that it is out of date,
nor that it ever will be out of date.



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 17

A very important question may here suggest
itself. Is the ascent purely and exclusively
ethical? Does the fifteenth psalm give us all
the conditions under which a man may ascend
unto the hill of the Lord ? We may be content
to follow Plotinus in using " the Good " as
another name for the supreme category which
he calls the One, though strictly speaking the
Absolute must be beyond the Good which we
contrast with the Bad. But, though it perhaps
requires some courage to say so, I do not think
that we have any right to assume that God is
a purely ethical Being. The. True and the
Beautiful seem also to be roads up the hill!
of the Lord, as well as the Good ; and though i
we are fully convinced that they all meet at
the top, we are doing considerable violence to
parts of our experience if we determine rigorously
that God can have no other motive in His
creation except a purely ethical one. Much of
nature's plan impresses us as a work of sublime
intellect and ingenuity, but not as a scheme in
which these are wholly subordinated to moral
evolution. And is it not more than probable,
judging from what we see around us, that becmty
also must be an end in itself to the Creator of
our universe ? It seems to me that Truth and

8



18 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

Beauty are ideals too august to be ever regarded
as means only. Science and Art are both false
to themselves if they suffer themselves to be
mere hajidmaids^ of morality. Writers on re-
ligion and morals generally regard it as a point
of honour to prove that conduct is the whole of
life, as if any other interest was unworthy of
God. But if a large measure of intellectual
and aesthetic interest is a worthy ingredient in
the highest human character, if it is an enrich-
ment and adornment enhancing the value of the
most saintly life, why should not the same
qualities, infinitely magnified, and exalted above
all impurities and imperfections, hold a place
in the character of God Himself? I do not
see why they should not; and I see many
reasons for thinking that they actually do.
The kind of ethical obsession which dominates
many religious thinkers is, in my opinion, the
cause of errors and defects in their view of
life.

I believe that the determination to find in
God's government of the world the rule of a
moralist pure and simple has been a great
obstacle to understanding the actual laws under
which we live. These laws, we must believe,
contain nothing contrary to the moral goodness



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 19

of the Creator; but I repeat that I can see
nothing derogatory to the character of God in
supposing that other considerations, besides those
which we call moral, have entered into their
texture. If so, it is our duty to study reverently
that most wonderful mechanism, that complex
yet harmonious wisdom which is manifested alike
in the infinitely great and the infinitesimally
small, and we shall recognise cheerfully that
scientific ignorance, as well as moral turpitude,
deserves and will suffer God's displeasure. It is
easy to see what a large part of the problem of
Divine justice receives here a solution which the
mere moralist is precluded from offering. It is
also clear that, if we are right, the scientific
investigator should be given an honoured place
among the priests and prophets. He should
work as a servant of God, and should be recog-
nised as such. The metaphysician should work
in the same spirit, and should receive the same
reverence. " Mein Hebe Fran, das Denken 1st
auch Gottesdienst," as Hegel said to his house-
keeper. I think that this is a truth which needs
to be urged at the present time, especially as
regards the natural sciences. We are living just
after a real Jin de stick the end of one of the
most remarkable epochs since the human race



20 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

began its course. The nineteenth century
cannot, perhaps, claim the foremost place for
brilliancy of imagination or keenness of insight ;
but it gave mankind for the first time a firm
grasp on the continuity and unity of nature,
and it reaped a rich harvest in applying this
hypothesis to scientific investigation. " The
scientific mind," says Merz, in his interesting
book, The History of European Thought in
the Nineteenth Century, " advances from the
idea of order or arrangement to that of unity,
through the idea of continuity." This reminds
us of Plotinus' claim that the study of nature
and the practice of social virtues teach us the
place of ra/y and irepas in God's world. That
these intellectual discoveries have a moral and
religious significance is well shown by the same
author. " The reason," he says, " why the con-
cepts of order and unity have received so much
attention lies in this, that they have not only
a logical meaning as instruments, but also, as
the words themselves indicate, a practical mean-
ing, being bound up with the highest ethical
and sesthetical, as well as with our social and
religious interests."

One would have supposed that this particular
avenue to the knowledge of God would have



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 21

been trodden by many religious thinkers in our
generation. But it is not so. The over-confid-
ence and optimism of the great scientists in the
middle of the nineteenth century have been fol-
lowed by a vehement reaction against the religion
of nature. It is almost denied that nature bears
any impress of the Creator's character. " Con-
sidered apart from its relation to the moral and
religious life of the subject," says Tyrrell, who hi
this passage speaks for a large class of thinkers,
" the world is stamped with no more than a
footprint of the Divinity with a sign that He
was once there and has passed by. It shows
a limited and unconscious intelligence and pur-
pose, such as a mechanism might owe to the
past creative act of its contriver. Its goodness
and wisdom are but caricatures of the Divine,
blasphemous because of their very traces of like-
ness ; mimicking the Creator as a marionette
mimicks its living maker. Nor must we be
deceived by the vast scale on which these traces
are manifested ; for if there are signs of an
intelligence and benevolence beyond all possible
measure of human capacity, these are more than
cancelled by the scale on which failure in both
respects is apparent. If no man could be so good
or wise as nature seems, neither could any man



22 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

be so cruel or so wanton. Only in goodness of
character have we anything that may reverently
be called an image of the indwelling goodness of
God. The conception of nature as being, apart
from man, a direct expression or self-manifesta-
tion of the Divine character, is responsible for
the moral and spiritual perversions that are
everywhere associated with polytheistic or pan-
theistic nature-worship. To worship the carica-
ture of Divinity there revealed to us is really
to worship the Devil." l Now there is an ambi-
guity in this phrase about worshipping nature
apart from man. Assuredly man is part of
nature, and if we wish to pronounce judgment
on the mercy or justice of nature's methods, we
are bound to take into consideration that mercy
and justice are honoured, and often practised, in
one part of nature, namely, that part in which
alone the claim for them is understood. Nature
includes man, and man at his best. Nature
includes the best man that ever lived it includes
the divine life on earth of Jesus Christ. When,
therefore, it is declared that nature, as revealed to
us by science, including man as known to anthro-
pology, is a godless, even a devilish system,
which can only become worthy of respect when

1 Lex Orandi, p. 145.



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 23

translated somehow into the categories of the
" will-world," and so transformed and moralised
throughout, we are exercising a right which leads
to disaster even in the " will- world," and which
is not recognised in the world of reason the
right to be wilful. We have no licence to
rebuild the world of experience in accordance
with our shallow notions of what ought to be.
If our notions of morality conflict with the
known laws of the universe, it is not always
the laws which have to be changed. Tyrrell's
tirade against naturalism seems to involve him
first in deism, when he speaks of such limited
intelligence as a mechanism might owe to the
past creative act of its contriver, and then in
Manicheism, when he seems ready to hand over
the natural order to the devil. This last notion
finds an unexpected supporter in Huxley, who
in his well-known Romanes Lecture regards
man's highest ethical ideals and the cosmic
process as hopelessly antagonistic a view which
implies either that God is divided against Hun-
self, or that the God of nature is the enemy
of the God of conscience. If this were a true
account of the matter, the world would indeed
be a moral chaos. Another statement, of the
same tendency, and almost equally unsatisfactory ;



24 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

is that nature is merely a system of instruments,
having no independent existence or reality, but
designed to be used by personal spirits for their
own ends. But the proposed line between spirits
and instruments, wherever we draw it, must be
purely arbitrary and artificial. Science knows no
such demarcation. Science and sound philosophy
teach us that all nature is of one piece, animated
hi various degrees by one and the self -same spirit
and obeying the self-same laws.

Lotze, from whom, in spite of his efforts to
arrive at a monistic conclusion, much of this
pluralistic " will-philosophy " is derived, is equally
unsympathetic with regard to the approach to
God through the appreciation of beauty. In flat
contradiction to all Platonists, he holds that the
reality of the external world is utterly severed
from our senses. It is vain, he says, to call the
eye sun-like, as if it needed a special occult
power to copy what it has itself produced :
" fruitless are all mystic efforts to restore to the
intuitions of sense, by means of a secret identity
of mind with things, a reality outside ourselves."
In proof, he suggests that mountaineers are not,
in point of fact, conspicuous for the broad and
rich spiritual interests which the habitual con-
templation of nature's grandest scenes might (on



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 25

Plato's theory) have been expected to produce.
He protests against the notion that nature has
any symbolic value ; if it has suggestions to offer
in the sphere of conduct, they are, he thinks,
not very moral ones. For my own part, I believe
that the Platonists and Wordsworth are right,
and Lotze wrong. I agree with Scotus Erigena
that " every visible and invisible creature is a
theophany," and with Charles Kingsley that " all
symmetrical natural objects are types of some
spiritual truth and existence." I hold no brief
for the so-called " mysticism " which arouses the
ire of writers like Max Nordau. I have already
disclaimed any sympathy with fanciful symbolism,
as being above all else alien to the true spirit
of mysticism. We must treat fact with the
utmost reverence, and merely subjective inter-
pretations of fact with a wholesome scepticism.
But the approach to God through beauty, whether
in nature or art, is not in any way hampered by
this caution. For though the ideals of truth
and beauty may seem like rivals, as being alike
universal in their claims, and demanding a
wholly disinterested mind in their respective
worshippers, they clash with each other singularly
little, less than either of them does with the
moral ideal, and they help each other in many



26 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

ways. I believe, then, that the moral conscious-
ness is not the only faculty by which we apprehend
God, but that the laws of nature and the beauty
of the external world are also revelations of His
being and character.

What, now, is the general character of the
revelation of God which is made to us along
these three lines ? By " revelation " I under-
stand, with Emerson, " the announcements of
the soul, its manifestations of its own nature."
" This communication," he says, " which is always
attended by an emotion of the sublime, is an
influx of the Divine mind into our mind. . . .
By the necessity of our constitution a certain
enthusiasm attends the individual's conscious-
ness of that Divine presence. The character
and duration of this enthusiasm varies with
the state of the individual, from the ecstasy of
prophetic inspiration to the faintest glow of
virtuous emotion." The consciousness of God is
always accompanied by a stirring of the soul's
inmost depths, whether it is aroused by the
operation of the will, intellect, or aesthetic feel-
ings. Religious utterance, therefore, has always
a poetic or prophetic character. A hymn like
the Te Deum is a better expression of the
Christian faith than the Athanasian or even



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 27

the Nicene Creed. But since the realisation
of God's presence is always fitful and difficult,
nothing in the least like a scheme of theology
is given intuitively. This latter is the creation
of the imaginative intelligence, which has to
form out of its prior experience some picture,
idea, or history of the world, to which the
religious conviction may correspond, and in
which its activity may find scope. Parts of the
framework may afterwards prove to be unsound
and to need reconstruction. In this sense it is
permissible to say that illusion has played an
important part in the history of religious belief.
Such illusions have been the nationalism of the
old Hebraic religion, and the belief of the early
Christians in the approaching return of Christ
in glory. In secular history, various enthusiasms,
patriotic and political, have been illusions of
the same kind. So much we must admit. But
when some thinkers go further than this, and
assert that religious truth is " poetic " in the
sense that its objective correspondence with fact
is a matter of indifference, we cannot agree.
Such writers as Comte and Lange seem to
think that mere ideals, which are not even
supposed to correspond with any reality, are
enough to sustain religious faith and zeal. But



28 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

this is obviously to confound religion and poetry,
which are quite different things. We can ap-
preciate the Epic and Tragic poetry of the
Greeks as much as if we believed that Poly-
phemus, Prometheus, and Medea were real
persons ; but we cannot any longer value a
religious dogma which we have come to believe
to be only a figment of the imagination. It
would be hardly worth asserting, if it had not
been so often questioned, that religious belief
claims objective truth for the articles of its
creed, and cannot continue to hold them if it
is obliged to give up their objective truth. And
yet this belief in the objective truth of our
beliefs may I had almost said must have a
psychological basis. For instance, I hope to
show that the concrete monotheism of our
Trinitarian doctrine is not less, but more worthy
of acceptance, because we can find what Julian
of Norwich calls " a made Trinity, like the un-
made blessed Trinity," in our own souls. For
that very reason, we cannot explain it to our-
selves. We are unable to conceive clearly of a
Being in whom Power, Wisdom, and Goodness
are one, because this unification is still an un-
realised ideal in ourselves, nor can we see it
fully realised hi the world around us. The



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 29

doctrine must therefore remain a "mystery" to
us, that is, a truth which we can apprehend
but not comprehend, a truth which we can
only represent by means of inadequate symbols.

The importance of Trinitarian doctrine centres
in the question, What think ye of Christ ?
The opponents of mysticism, and especially of
mysticism in its Platonic or " Alexandrian "
form, have made the most of the charge that
this type of Christianity refuses to know Christ
after the flesh, and ultimately leaves Him behind
altogether. I wish to deal with this charge,
and with the question how far the doctrine of
the Incarnate Logos has a permanent value for
Christian philosophy.

I must also deal with the problem of person-
ality, and with the question whether the God
of Christianity is finite and relative, a Spirit
among other spirits, or the "All in all," the
Absolute. In this introductory lecture it will
be enough to point out that the psychological
basis of both problems is apparent. It is be-
cause our personality is limited and contingent
that we find it easier to believe in a God than
in God. I agree with Tyrrell that " the fiction
of God's fmitude and relativity is a necessity of
man's religious life, but that the interests both



30 OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

of intellectual truth and of religion require us
to recognise this fiction as such, under pain of
mental incoherence on one side and of super-
stition and idolatry on the other." Acceptance
of the finitude of God is closely connected with
the volitive psychology, and with the rigorous
moralism which we have seen to be frequently
joined with it. It is the conscience in her
struggle with evil that demands a God seriously
engaged in the same conflict. Perhaps we may
say that the notion of a finite God is one that
the moralist can never afford to forget, nor the
metaphysician to remember.

Lastly, the problem of Sin is one which a
sympathiser with mysticism cannot honestly
omit, just because it is the most difficult for
him to deal with. The " problem of evil " is
manifestly insoluble ; we have to make our
choice between theories, none of which is free
from grave difficulties and objections. But the
religious problem of Sin has in our day entered
upon new phases, partly in response to what
seems to me a remarkable change in the feeling
about moral guilt and punishment among re-
ligious people, and partly as the result of new
views about Inspiration, affecting the value
attached to the narrative of the Fall.



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD 31

My object in these lectures is quite frankly
to urge the claims of what may be shortly
called Christian Platonism, as a corrective to
certain tendencies in modern thought which I
regret. Truth has many sides; and even those
who do not agree with me will perhaps sym-
pathise with my anxiety that certain very
beautiful hues in the "many-coloured wisdom
of God" shall not be lost to our generation.



II

SOURCES AND GROWTH OF THE LOGOS-
CHRISTOLOGY

THE doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testa-
ment may be best understood by collecting the
passages which speak of the Divine indwelling
in the human soul. Jesus Christ came to earth
to reveal the Father, and the Holy Ghost came to
reveal the Son. Nevertheless, there is no ques-
tion of a dynasty in three reigns, that of the
Father before the Incarnation, that of the Son
during the Incarnation, and that of the Holy
Ghost from Pentecost onwards. Neither the
Son nor the Holy Ghost " speaks of Himself."
The Son is the " Word " of the Father, and the
Holy Ghost, in our Lord's words, " shall take of
mine and shall show it unto you." So hi
St. Paul, we find the Divine immanence in the
soul of the spiritual Christian spoken of quite
indifferently as the indwelling of God, of Christ,
of the Spirit of God, of the Spirit of Christ, and
of the Spirit. In one passage 1 we have what is

1 2 Cor. iii. 17.
32



THE LOGOS-CHRISTOLOGY 33

really a formal identification, as regards their
operations, of the glorified Christ and the Holy
Ghost. " The Lord is the Spirit," we read, " and
where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Bengel's words, " conversio jit ad Dominmn ut
Spiritum," are therefore thoroughly Pauline.

Our modern conceptions of personality, alien
even to Roman, much more to Greek thought,
have created difficulties and contradictions in
the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as in those
doctrines which concern human nature. The
word persona is a legal term, denoting an indi-
vidual as the subject of rights and duties. In
modern philosophy personality is the attribute
of the thinking subject, the ego who is supposed
to be able to say, Cogito, ergo sum. But it cannot
be too strongly emphasised that neither the
word nor the Western idea of a " person " has
any existence in Greek, or in the theology of
Greek-speaking Christians. I think I cannot
illustrate this statement better than by quoting
the following sentence from the treatise De Persona
et duabus Naturis, falsely ascribed to Boethius.
The writer is defining, and finding Latin equiva-
lents for, the Greek philosophical terms which
express being. " Man," he says, "is ova- la, quoniam
est ; he is ovaiwa-i? (subsistentia) quoniam hi nullo


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 2 of 11)