William Ralph Inge.

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part of the New Testament that we have probably
seldom thought about what is surely a very strange
and remarkable feature in them the extreme
paucity of references to the human life of Christ :
to His pithy, illuminating sayings, which fix
themselves so firmly in the memory, and lend
themselves so readily to quotation ; to His
parables; to His works of healing, and so on.
We should have expected a priori that such a
number of didactic and hortatory epistles on the
religion of Christ, written within a few years of
His death, would have supplied us with almost
enough material for a fifth Gospel. Instead of
that, there is hardly a word, hardly an incident,
for which the biographer of Christ can appeal to
St. Paul. He seems determined to know nothing
of Jesus but the bare facts of the crucifixion and
resurrection. In one place he says that he wishes
to know no man, not even Christ, any more after
the flesh. I do not wish to lay undue stress
on this last passage, for I believe " to know no


longer after the flesh " means mainly to know as
an immortal spirit, to view personality sub specie
ccternitatis ; but surely, when we consider the
circumstances of St. Paul's conversion, it is very
significant that he did not trouble himself to
collect all the information he could procure
about the earthly life and teaching of His
Master. If he had done so, if he had learnt by
heart or transcribed for his own use even as
much of our Lord's discourses as have survived
in the synoptic Gospels, we must have had frequent
quotations and references to them in his Epistles.
As such quotations and references are conspicu-
ously absent, we are driven to the conclusion that
St. Paul was content with the most general in-
formation as to the main heads of our Lord's
teaching and the impression which His character
made on those who had known Him, and that he
preferred to rest his own religion and theology
entirely on the inner light vouchsafed to him, and
on the bare facts of the death and resurrection of
the Son of God. And what especially interested
him about the death and resurrection was the
light which they throw on the spiritual life of
human beings. The life and death and rising
again of Christ are to him a kind of dramatisa-
tion of the normal psychological experience. We,


too, must die to sin and rise again to righteous-
ness ; nay, we must die daily, crucifying the old
man and putting on the new man the true
likeness of Him who created us. And this is
why the identification of Christ with the world-
principle was so essential for him. The " whole
process of Christ " (as some of our English divines
called it) was thus proved to be the great spiritual
law under which we all live. Whatever it be-
hoved Christ to do and to suffer, that we, as
members of His body, must be prepared to do
and suffer also. If God was pleased highly to
exalt Him who in human form did and suffered
such things, then for us too death has lost its
sting and the grave its victory. The law of the
universe is proved to be not the law of sin and
death, but the law of redemption through suffer-
ing, ending in triumph over sin and death. This
I believe is the leading thought in St. Paul's
theology ; and it is easy to see that it is in
no way dependent on any historical details about
the human Christ. Having once accepted the
" revelation " made to him about the Person of
Christ, he was, we may say boldly, independent
of the history.

When we turn to St. John, we find a great
difference St. John chose to make his main


work a Gospel, not an epistle or a series of
epistles. And in his first Epistle he insists with
the strongest emphasis on the historical facts
which he has himself seen and heard, and on
the decisive importance of " confessing that Jesus
Christ has come in the flesh." Indeed, except
hi the prologue, the cosmological side of the
Logos-doctrine falls very much into the back-
ground. It is assumed, but not insisted on,
as it is by St. Paul. The relation of the Word
to the universe generally does not occupy St.
John's thoughts; his mind is less philosophical
than St. Paul's. The two men lay hold of the
Gospel message from different sides. Instead of
"Christ who died, nay rather, who is risen again,"
the central doctrine for St. John is " the Word
was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and
we beheld His glory." St. Paul thinks more of
redemption, St. John of revelation. St. Paul
loves to dwell on the crucifixion, St. John on the
incarnation. Both alike lay the greatest possible
stress on the mystical union between the risen
Christ and His members, and (which is the same
thing) the inspiring, illuminating, and sanctifying
presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church ; but
St. John includes in his teaching, and regards
as an essential part of it, a clear and definite


presentation of the life and work of Christ on
earth. According to him, the office of the Spirit
is not to act in us as an independent and in-
fallible source of spiritual knowledge, but to
bring to our remembrance the teachings of
Christ which we read in the Gospels. No doubt
our Lord promises that the Spirit of truth shall
guide the Church into all truth, including some
things which the earliest disciples " could not
bear " to hear, but the historical records remain
as a check and test ; those who follow St. John
cannot allow themselves quite so much liberty as
some expressions in St. Paul seem to sanction.

The fourth Gospel is frankly and avowedly
written with a purpose. Its materials are selected
and arranged with a definite object, which is
stated at the conclusion of chapter xx., where the
Gospel really ends chapter xxi. is merely an
appendix. St. John's object is to make his'
readers believe that the man Jesus is (i) the
Messiah, (2) the Son of God or the Logos (as
those terms were understood by religious thinkers
at that time), and " that believing they might
have life through His name."

His treatment of history is very characteristic.
He combines Philo's allegorism with the posit-
ivism which is more natural to Jewish thought.


He would accept Goethe's dictum that " all that
is transitory is only a symbol," with the excep-
tion of the word only. In his hands every event
is a type, a symbol, an illustration of some aspect
of the nature and character of the Divine Logos.
Our Lord's miracles are all acted parables, and
the evangelist generally gives us the key to their
interpretation, e.g. " I am the Bread of Life," " I
am the Light of the World." Even accidental
coincidences have a meaning for him, as when
Judas turns away from the supper-table and
goes out to his doom " and it was night " ; or
when Caiaphas spoke more truly than he knew,
and said, " It is expedient that one man should
die for the people." Every incident in the
Gospel is selected for its symbolical value ; the
events, miracles, and discourses are so arranged
as to exhibit in a series of pictures the various
aspects of the Incarnate Word. But even when
so treated, St. John does not wish us to make
the outward history the basis of our faith. The
various " works " which our Lord did, as parts of
His one "work," the "work" which the Father
" gave Him to do " (xvii. 4), whether natural or
supernatural (it is needless to say that there is
no trace of this unfortunate classification in St.
John), are a "witness" to Him (v. 36, xiv. n),


a witness " greater " than that of John the
Baptist (v. 3 6) ; but they are a lower kind of
witness than His words. The Johannine Christ
puts the words above the works. He tells
Philip that " he that believeth on Him shall
do even greater works than these," but He does
not say, and could not say, "greater words than
these shall he speak." And in the sixth chapter,
when both " Jews " and " disciples " show such a
strange inability to grasp the symbolic meaning
of the "bread which came down from heaven,"
our Lord closes the discussion by saying, " It is
the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth
nothing. The words that / have spoken" (the
pronoun is emphatic and the verb is in the
perfect tense) the words that I have spoken,
not the miracle that I have wrought " they are
spirit and they are life." And in the twentieth
chapter, who can fail to see that the climax
even of the resurrection story and the conclusion
of the whole narrative of our Lord's ministry is
to be sought in that most impressive sentence,
the last words of our Lord in the Gospel proper,
" Blessed are they that have not seen and yet
have believed." It is impossible to exaggerate
the importance of these words, coming where
they do, at the end of a great historical narrative,


and in closest connection with the evidence for
the resurrection. St. John, the historian of our
Lord's death and resurrection, deliberately records
and gives the supreme place of honour to the
beatitude which our Lord refused to the man who
demanded evidence of a miracle, and bestowed
on those who believe without such evidence.
For this and nothing else is the meaning of the
whole story, as every candid reader must admit.
And it is, I believe, one of the most precious
lessons of the fourth Gospel. I shall not be
suspected of holding a brief for those who believe
"because they choose," or because "doubt is a
sin." But I see in this deliberate placing of
our Lord's words above His works a recognition
of a truth which some of us are, from the best
of motives, too reluctant to admit. I mean,
that a purely historical faith appeals only to the
understanding, to the faculty which judges of
scientific or historical truth in other fields ; that
the conclusions it arrives at are as liable to be
upset as the conclusions of secular historians ;
and that it is subject to the limitations which
Bacon asserts of intellectual investigations gener-
ally "Studies teach not their own use." The
words of Christ appeal not to the senses and
understanding, but to the heart and higher


reason. They sound in our ears as coming
from another, but they are echoed within us
by that " Witness " of which St. John speaks in
his Epistle that still small voice which is
nothing else than the voice of the Paraclete
who dwells within us for this very purpose.
" The words which I speak unto you, they are
spirit and they are life." They never lose their
freshness; they are exempt from change and
decay ; though heaven and earth pass, they shall
not fail; they are the living thoughts of the
ever-living and never- changing Logos, thoughts
of which all things that happen on this planet
are but illustrations and examples.

The historical facts are important no one
feels this more strongly than St. John : they are
important because they once happened, and
everything that has happened lives for ever
in the mind of God. But their importance
does not lie in the fact that they happened
only once. That is a strange notion which many
people seem to cherish about the Gospel history,
and it makes them terribly distressed when any
attacks are made upon what they call the foun-
dations of their faith. St. John sees in Christ
the Light that lighteth every man, to know whom
is eternal life. He thus allows the experience of


the Christian Church to throw light upon the
Gospel history, instead of making the historical
records bear the whole weight of the Church's
faith. "These things are written," he says,
" that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God." St. John never calls the
body of his teaching a knowledge, a 'yi/oxny.
Fond as he is of the verb to know, he studiously
avoids the substantive, just as he avoids the
substantive " faith " (Trlo-ris) while frequently
using the verb " to believe." These are not
insignificant facts ; they are all part of St. John's
religious philosophy. The Gospel narrative is to
be studied " in order that we may know " : it does
not convey knowledge immediately. " Getting
to know " is a gradual process, a progressive inner
experience. God reveals Himself within us as we
are able to receive Him, and at each stage the
figure of the historical Christ becomes clearer
and more intelligible to us. In this way the
faith that began as an experiment ends as an
experience; the body of teaching which we at
first received from outside becomes part of our
very selves. " If any man willeth to do His will,
he shall know of the doctrine," is the promise.
Let us once and for all have done with the
apprehension that that which shines and burns


among us as the very life of our life, closer to us
than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet,
can ever be " disproved," " refuted," or filched
from us in any way, by the digging up of an old
scrap of papyrus, or the ingenious lucubrations
of some German professor. The history of the world
is for St. John the history of a living and growing
organism. What the Logos is, that He was two
thousand years ago. What He is, we may in some
sort hope to know even better than those who then
heard Him, for the Spirit of Truth cannot have
been teaching mankind for two thousand years
entirely in vain. And the way to know Him as He
is is always the same, to keep His commandments.
I have expatiated on the Johannine view of
history, and its relation to universal and eternal
truth, because I have found it myself the most
steadying and reassuring doctrine in this age of
doubt. It sets us free from that haunting fear
which is surely an unworthy and faithless fear
that the honest exercise of the highest intel-
lectual faculties, whether in scholarship, criticism,
or the study of nature's laws, may lead to the
discovery of something that had better not have
been discovered. St. John has no fears that his
portrait of Jesus Christ will ever fade or be
convicted of untruthfulness. He appeals with


absolute confidence to the " witness " which every
man's heart will bear, to the end of time, to his
veracity. The Spirit of Truth will never leave
the human race, and will always tell them the
same tale. " Let that, therefore, abide in you
which ye have heard from the beginning. The
anointing which ye have received of Him abideth
in you, and ye need not that any man teach you ;
but as the same anointing teacheth you of all
things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it
has taught you, ye shall abide in Him." I ask
you to consider the sublime confidence in the
unity and rationality of the world's life, which
this attitude of the evangelist towards posterity
displays. He tells us a wonderful story, and asks
all future ages to believe it on his testimony.
And he has no doubt that they will believe it.
Why ? Simply because it is the truth, and what
has happened once is and must be part of the
law of the universe, which verifies itself afresh in
each generation. Never once does he corroborate
his narrative by "witnesses" in his own generation :
the witnesses on whom he relies are his readers
themselves, most of them yet unborn, and the never-
silent voice of the Spirit of Truth in their hearts.
I know of no more splendid instance of the faith
that magnet est veritas, et prcevalebit.



IT is not part of my plan in these lectures to
deal historically with the old Christological con-
troversies ; but since the questions which divide
theologians to-day are at bottom very much the
same as those which agitated the Church in
the second, third, and fourth centuries, it may
be convenient to take two or three of these early
divisions as examples of permanent tendencies.
We find almost from the first a school of theology
which had no room for speculations about the
Logos I mean the Adoptian theology. To this
school belonged the so-called "Alogi" of the
second century, who ascribed the Johannine
writings to Cerinthus, and rejected the whole
Logos- theology, claiming, like their modern suc-
cessors, to " return to the historical Christ," whose
portrait they found, again like their modern suc-
cessors, in St. Mark. They hated " prophesyings "
of the Puritan or Montanist kind, and eschewed




emotional mystical religion. The Roman Adop-
tians were exegetical scholars and Aristotelians,
like the Ritschlians to-day: the Antiochene
school took up their work and their principles
half a century later. Paul of Samosata was a
vigorous representative of this type. He wished
to get rid of metaphysics and Platonism, and
taught that the uniqueness of Christ was in
His character, not in His nature. Then came
Arianism, which was a compromise between the
Logos-doctrine and the Adoptian theology. It
would have led Christianity back towards both
Judaism and Paganism. Towards Paganism, in
so far as it deifies a creature and abolishes the
unity of God; towards Judaism, as it makes the
union of God and man impossible, by the inter-
polation of a third being who is neither God nor
man. All competent theologians now agree that
Arianism was one of the most illogical and con-
tradictory of heresies, and that Athanasius was
absolutely justified hi refusing any of the plausible
compromises that were offered to him.

But the most vigorous though not the most
irreconcilable opponent of the Logos-Christology
from 1 80-300 was Modalism. This controversy
was singularly like that which had raged between
Stoicism and Platonism, the Medalists or Mon-


archians being the representatives of the Stoics.
In fact these Church controversies were the old
philosophical battles fought out again with new
weapons. As the Adoptianists were Aristotelian,
so the Modalists were Stoic, and (to use a later
word) nominalist. They taught that such designa-
tions as Father and Son are merely accidental
attributes, so that the same subject can in one
relation be Father, in another Son, hi one rela-
tion visible, in another invisible. On the other
hand, orthodox Catholicism, or rather that which
after its victory was recognised as such, was
Platonic. Even to this day, I doubt whether
any one can be an orthodox theologian without
being a Platonist. Our creeds are the formulae
of victorious Platonism. The Monarchians or
Modalists, however, were not wholly in the wrong
as against the Platonists. The Logos of Alex-
andrian Platonism was not " equal to the Father "
even as touching his Godhead. The mere fact
of His being derived, and not the fountain-head
of Godhead, proved him (according to this
school) to be inferior. And so we find that even
Alexandrian orthodoxy was half-subordinationist
in the third century. The Sabellians were more
orthodox in maintaining the identity, and there-
fore the equality, of the revealed God with the


Father. In the fourth century, however, the
Arian danger drove orthodoxy into something
like a compromise with Modalism. The test-
word o/Aoowno9 gave the Monarchians most of
what they wanted, and its adoption soon ended
the hostility of this school.

But we must consider a little more closely the
attitude of Athanasius, the dominant spirit of the
anti-Arian controversy, towards the Alexandrian
Platonism which remains the classical example
of a Christianity based on the Logos-doctrine.
Harnack is strongly convinced that the Athanasian
theology virtually discards the Logos, as under-
stood by Clement and Origen. " The Logos of
the philosophers was no longer the Logos whom
he (Athanasius) knew and adored." By this he
means that in Athanasius the close connection
of the second Person of the Trinity with the life
of the universe is dissolved. Nature and Revela-
tion are no longer regarded as different aspects
of the same thing. The Logos is no longer a
world-principle, but a salvation-principle. The
Divine in Christ is for him no longer the world-
reason, the world -spirit.

These statements raise very difficult questions.
The Logos-doctrine of Clement and Origen is none
too clear. These Christian thinkers found ready


to their hand the Stoic distinction between the
Logos evSidOeros and the Logos irpocfiopiKos : they
tended to accept this distinction, and to speak
almost as if there was one Logos of the Father
(impersonal) and another of the Son. Both
Clement and Origen, especially the former, were
accused of making two Logoi. This seems to
have been actually the view of some Gnostic
sects, for in the apocryphal Acts of John, Jesus
is represented as saying, " Glory to Thee, Father,
glory to Thee, Logos, glory to Thee, Holy Spirit,"
and in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, the
dying Christ cries, "My Power, my Power,
thou hast forsaken me," the " Power " being the
heavenly Christ, who for a time had been associ-
ated with the earthly person of the Redeemer.
The difficulty was to reconcile the doctrine of the
unchangeableness of God, to which they attached
great importance, with the changes and con-
tingencies of terrestrial life. The Alexandrians
were deeply imbued with the Platonic or idealistic
belief that everything that happens is the outer
manifestation of a timeless, supramundane truth.
From this point of view, historical events, however
sublime, are but illustrations, not causes, of eternal
facts. This leads Clement and Origen to take
a rather independent and high-handed line with


regard to Scripture history. They considered
that what is important in history is not the facts
themselves, but the universal truths which they
illustrate or symbolise. So Origen speaks of the
actions of Christ during his ministry as alvl.yiJ.ara
acted parables. Athanasius felt more strongly
than the Alexandrians the importance of the
redemptive side of Christ's work; this part of
Christian teaching receives quite a new emphasis
in his writings. And also, which is more to the
point for our present subject, he is determined
that the Son of God, the Logos, shall nqt^ be
identified with the world-iolea. He insists (to use
modern language) that the Son as well as the
Father is transcendent and not merely immanent.
This leads him to the very verge of Sabellianism ;
for while he calls the Son o/uooi/ovo? TW Trarpi, he
repeatedly identifies ova-la with uxocrracn?, and
uTToVracri? is, as we have seen, the accepted Greek
word for person. In one passage only he takes
fright, and says that 6/u.oova-ios is not the same as
/uiovoova-ios, " as the Sabellians think," but he does
not explain the difference. And yet I believe
we may say that this part of Athanasius' teach-
ing not only does not overthrow or discard the
Logos-doctrine, but that it is of the highest value
as rescuing it from the danger of Pantheism.


Those Christian philosophers who had identified
the Logos with the Neoplatonic Noi/9 could not
indeed be accused of disparaging the Son, for they
left nothing above him but the First Person of the
Neoplatonic Trinity, the super-essential, super-
personal One, the Absolute. But the great
religious danger was that this unapproachable
God might be hidden in His own darkness, and
that the Logos - Christ, only accidentally, as it
were, connected with the man Christ Jesus,
might no longer bring men into communion with
Him. The Neoplatonists indeed had their /coV/xo?
voyros their ideal world, the sphere of the
thoughts of God, and therefore of the highest
reality, between " the One " and the self-evolving
World-Spirit; but Christian theology tended to
identify the Not/? with the Logos, and had no
equivalent for the Neoplatonic third Person, the
"Soul" or World -Spirit. The Arian created
Logos was nearly in the place of this third prin-
ciple, and he was in no essential connection with
the Father. The Athanasian doctrine, which
became fixed as the orthodox one, safeguards the
transcendence and the immanence of the God
who made the world, and in so doing returns more
completely to the doctrine of the fourth Gospel
than had any earlier scheme. I cannot agree


with Harnack that the oyuoouo-io? doctrine is a
tissue of absurdities and contradictions, any more
than I can agree that it sacrifices the Logos-
doctrine. It was only to be expected that the
life-and-death struggle with Arianism should drive
orthodoxy, for the time, a little too far in the
direction of Modalism ; but it was quite possible

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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 4 of 11)