William Ralph Inge.

Personal idealism and mysticism online

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positive fact namely, that we are all so bound
up together, as sharers in the same life and
members of the same body, that selfishness is
a disease and a blunder which can only result
in mortal injury both to the offending limb and
to the whole body.

The Stoics used to say that the selfish man is
a cancer in the universe. A cancer is caused by
unchecked proliferation of cellular tissue by one
organ independently of the rest of the body.
The parallel is therefore scientifically exact.
The revelation that " God is love " means that
love has its origin in the eternal and universal
side of our nature. It is the glad recognition
of a deeper unity, beneath our superficial isola-
tion. Of all human experiences, it is the one
which most uplifts us and brings us closest to
God, just because it rends from top to bottom
the veil of separation between human beings:
it opens a wide breach in the middle wall of
partition which keeps us apart from each other,
and therefore also apart from God. And, on the
contrary, selfishness and self-consciousness, which
in the Gospels is hardly less severely dealt with
than selfishness, are at every stage " that which


letteth, and which will let, till it be taken out
of the way." It is in the nature of things that
we can do no injury, dictated by selfishness,
without suffering a corresponding loss. " The
soul which falls short of the law of universal
respect, and treats one of the least of things
as if it too were not God's creature, is struck
with a withering of which the natural issue is
death." 1 I need not remind you how dear this
doctrine was to Emerson. " The thief steals from
himself; the swindler swindles himself. You
can do no wrong without suffering wrong. No
man ever had a point of pride that was not
injurious to him."

One very great gain which would result from
this way of looking at things would be the
silencing of importunate doubts about theodicy.
It is, or should be plain that we can prefer no
claim to personal justice, compensation, or reward,
either in this life or the next, without ipso facto
putting ourselves out of relation with the God of
love revealed by Christ, and taking as our guide
what the Theologia Germanica calls " the false
light," that will-of-the-wisp which draws us astray
with its perpetual " I and Thou," " Mine and
Thine." That justice will be done we may be

1 Wallace, Lecturet and Ettayi, p. 175.


absolutely sure. We are more sure that God is
just than of anything else in the world. But the
moment we begin to weigh the claims of A and
B, especially if we ourselves are A, we enter a
region in which the divine justice can have
nothing to say to us except, " What hast thou
that thou didst not receive ? " If we would not
be judged, we must not appear as litigants
before the Almighty.

The hypothesis of a racial self, with a higher
degree of personal life than that of individual
men and women, is an attractive one, and one
which might easily be brought into connection
with the Logos-theology. Something like it is
familiar to all students of Emerson, under the
name of the Over-soul. The Over-soul is his
name for the unity within which every man's
particular being is contained and made one with
all others, " the common heart of which all
sincere conversation is the worship, to which all
right action is submission. All goes to show that
the soul in man is not the intellect, nor the will,
but the master of the intellect and the will, is
the background of our being, in which they lie.
When the soul, whose organ he is, breathes
through his intellect, it is genius; when it
breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it



flows through his affection, it is love. The
blindness of the intellect begins, when it would
be something of itself. The weakness of the
will begins when the individual would be some-
thing of himself." The Over-soul is the perceiver
and revealer of truth, and its manifestations of
its own nature we call revelation. This is the
regular mystical psychology, but Plotinus, as we
have seen, ranked vov$ above ^vxy, and might
have preferred the former name for the Over-
soul, as having more dignity. Christians have
generally preferred the word " Spirit," which in-
deed seems by far the best. The Spirit is the
higher life of humanity, which keeps alive the
results of its experience, its hardly won wisdom,
its knowledge of good and evil, its faith, its hope,
and its love. It holds steadily before it the ideal
which the human race was meant to realise, the
Kingdom of God which it is to set up upon earth.
The old theology was not afraid to identify the
Spirit, in its activities, with the Church. We
need not reject this identification, for the spiritual
life is most fully realised in the life of the
community. But perhaps we shall extend the
frontiers of " the Church " rather further than
those who first claimed it as the mouthpiece
of the Holy Ghost.


The doctrine of the Over-soul, like the older
doctrine of the Logos, obliges us to take our
choice between monism and pluralism. " We
must either reject the very idea of the Absolute
with the Pragmatists, and be content with an
experience that is not a unity, a world that is
not a cosmos, a moral law whose authority is
relative, and a God who is finite, or else we must
be prepared to assert the presence of the Absolute
in all experience, as the truth which knowledge
is progressively attaining, as the good which is
being realised in morality, as the reality in which
the religious consciousness finds its fulfilment
and satisfaction." 1 The choice lies between a
radical empiricism and a thorough-going monism,
as Professor W. James says. We must choose
between the anthropocentric and the cosmo-
centric points of view.

Such a monad ism as that of Leibnitz is no
improvement on frank pluralism, though it pro-
fesses to be a compromise between pluralism and
monism. The spiritual atoms of which his world
are composed are said to form a system " ideally,"
i.e. for the mind of an all-wise spectator. There
is no reciprocal action between the monads, but a
pre-established harmony which is due to the will

1 Professor Henry Jones, in Hibbert Journal, October, 1903.


of God, who, as in most philosophical systems of
this type, is not really God, but a finite spirit.
Leibnitz seems to have started with the assumption
that human souls are impenetrable, indiscerptible
atoms, and then to have built up his theory of
monads to account for it. And when we turn
from him to Lotze, it is difficult to see how his
monistic conclusion, edifying as it no doubt is, in
any way follows from the rest of his philosophy,
which leaves us with a world of spirits entirely
separate from each other. " What pluralism does,
consciously or unconsciously, is to separate the
unity of the world from its multiplicity. The
multiplicity is supposed to be grounded hi the
ultimate nature of the real things themselves,
their unity as a system, if they really are a
system, to be imposed upon them from without.
We cannot rest finally content with a statement
of this kind, which leaves the plurality and the
systematic unity of the real world side by side as
independent unconnected facts." 1 If we say that
the world consists of a number of independent
" spirits," who constitute a moral kingdom in
virtue of their common relation to God, this
relation is a fact as much as their separateness,
and a fact fatal to pluralism. Their union is

1 Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics, p. 89.


not an external relation, but the deepest truth
about them. We are then left with an irre-
ducible contradiction. From a pluralistic hypo-
thesis to a monistic conclusion there is no road.

I do not wish to deny that there is an element
of truth in this jealous adherence to the doctrine
of impervious spiritual atoms. In our struggles
with temptation, it is important to keep in the
foreground the doctrine of personal responsibility.
I have no doubt that the popularity of pluralism
is due to the fact that it is believed to safeguard
certain moral and religious interests. It has been
urged that it alone gives us " a real God " and
" real moral freedom." Now " a real God " is just
what this theory does not give us, but only a
limited struggling spirit a " magnified and non-
natural " conscience. That the battle with evil is
a real one, and that God is on the side of good,
are truths for the moral consciousness; but to
make this faculty and its cravings, with their
specific determinations, the sole constitutive
principle of reality, is to mutilate experience. I
have already shown, I think, that the deepest
and most characteristic doctrines of Christianity
are unintelligible and incredible on a pluralistic
hypothesis, while the whole of mysticism, which
has always supplied the life-blood of religion, is


dried up by it at the source. If pragmatical
considerations are to be admitted at all in
dealing with metaphysical problems, it would
be easy to show that they by no means tell
only on the side of pluralism or " personal

The unity which we assert, whether of the
human spirit or of the real world, is not a mere
numerical expression. It is not the kind of
unity which many of the mystics have sought
to reach by the method of negation stripping
their souls bare in their search for the infinite,
and finding at last not infinity but zero. It is
not the unity which consists in the mere aggre-
gate of parts. In a mere aggregate there is no
principle of unity inherent in the parts. We
choose to collect the pieces, and think of them
together. But this is no real unity. Nor can
we rightly think of the human soul, in Stoical
fashion, as divince particula aurce. This is nearer
the truth than the hypothesis of mere aggre-
gation, but it is not the Christian view of our
relation to God, and it is philosophically unsatis-
factory. For in a composition of this kind, the
whole cannot exist without the parts, whereas
the parts might continue to exist, though not as
parts, without the whole. God, on the other

hand, does not depend on His creatures for His
existence, but they do depend upon Him for

The figure of an organism is the truest and
most instructive that we can frame, to express
the relation of the Divine Logos to His creatures.
It is the figure which Christ Himself chose, and
which is freely used in other parts of the New
Testament. Christ proclaimed Himself the true
Vine (not, be it observed, the root or stem of the
tree, but the Vine itself), of which we are the
branches. The whole is not the resultant of the
parts, but their living unity. The members
depend for their existence on the life of the
whole. If it dies, they die ; if they are severed,
they die and are no more ; for, as Aristotle says,
a severed hand is no longer a hand, except
" equivocally." Nevertheless, it is well for us to
remember that the metaphor of an organism,
valuable as it is, is only a metaphor, and an
inadequate one, as all metaphors must be which
seek to express spiritual truths. It is inadequate,
because it does something less than justice to the
claims of human personality. A " member " can
hardly be said to exist in any degree for itself,
and still less can the whole be said to exist for
the sake of the members. But the human soul


has an independent value, though not an inde-
pendent existence. We may say, if we will, that
the unity which binds us to the Logos is that of
a system, in which parts and whole are equally
real; or we may remember and utilise the
sentence already quoted from Proclus, that the
highest kind of whole is that in which the whole
and its parts are " woven together." The psycho-
logical basis of our doctrine is that in our nature
we have correspondences with every grade of
reality, from the lowest to the highest. There
is therefore a uniqueness, a singleness, in our
nature, an image of the uniqueness and singleness
of God. At this apex of our being we have an
inkling of a fully personal life, which we may
claim in virtue of the very severity of our
monism. We believe in God, not in a God,
and " there is none beside Him " ; but we could
not have this belief about Him if there were not
the germs of a fully personal nature in ourselves.
This conception of a soul-centre, through
which we are in contact with God Himself,
though in an unspeakably dim, remote, and
faint degree, seems to me a valuable one, because
it safeguards what is true in our aspirations after
separate individuality, and asserts the funda-
mentally teleological character of these aspira-


tions. The practical difficulty in grasping the
conception is due to the fact that spiritual things
are not outside or inside each other. The
inevitable spatial symbols are very troublesome.
But we should try to make it our own, for it is
the true philosophy of the Christian religion.
" Christus in omnibus totus " supplies the neces-
sary corrective of the " whole and part " metaphor,
and also of the " organic " metaphor. The gifts
of the Spirit are divided : " Non omnia possumus
omnes " but Christ is not divided.


ONE of the strangest phenomena of our time
is the strong current of anti-intellectualism in
philosophy and theology, contrasted with the
unbroken confidence in purely intellectual
methods which is apparent in all other branches
of human thought. This is not really a sceptical
age. It has staked its all on the unity and
continuity of nature, and the possibility of a
coherent knowledge of nature as a system. It
has based its labours on this assumption, and has
reaped a rich harvest by doing so. In all the
natural sciences great and unmistakable progress
has been made; and each new discovery has
added fresh justification for the trust in nature
and the trust in reason, on which the researches
which led to it were founded. This is not an
age in which mankind will renounce either the
right or the duty to search for the truth; it is
not an age in which suggestions that the truth
is unimportant, or unknowable, or subject to



revision by " authority " (whatever that means)
are likely to be regarded favourably. If we take
up any scientific work, even of a controversial
character, we are at once struck by the whole-
hearted desire to form a judgment strictly on
the evidence, by the absence of rhetoric and
special pleading, and the confident assumption
that it must be good for us to know the facts
as they are, whether they square with our
preconceived notions of the fitness of things
or not.

And yet when we turn to the most important
subject of all whether we call it the knowledge
of ultimate truth, or the knowledge of God we
find that with many writers no effort is spared to
pour contempt on the methods which in every
other field are held in honour. Never, perhaps,
in the whole history of philosophy has there been
so much open profession of what Plato calls
fj.irro\oyla, hatred of reason, as we find in what is
now the most self-confident and aggressive school
of philosophy. In other times there have been
fiery ascetics and devout recluses who have
scorned the pride of intellect and dwelt much
upon the theme that God has chosen the weak
things of the world to confound the wise; but
never before have acute thinkers so rejoiced to


trample on the pretensions of the intellect, and
to lend the weight of their authority to the
rehabilitation of mere prejudices. How wide-
spread and influential this anti-intellectualist
movement is may be gathered by enumerating
a few names of those who have joined it. In
philosophy, not to mention the will-philosophy
of the pessimists Schopenhauer and Von Hart-
mann, the tendency of whose writings is, on the
whole, not anti-intellectualist, we have Lotze,
who positively parades his misology, stigmatising
thought as " a tool," " a means," the products of
which "have no real significance." Lotze carries
his anti-intellectualism much further than Kant.
The latter, as is well known, examined the
pretensions of the speculative reason, and con-
cluded that they must be abated. He even
|| says, "I must abolish knowledge to make room
| for belief." But in his philosophy the cleft is
still a rift within the intelligence. The dualism
thus set up would be eliminated if the reason,
the highest of the intellectual powers, could be
made consistent with itself. The successors of
Kant, notably Hegel, strove to overcome this
inner discord. But in the philosophy of Lotze,
the cleft is not within the intelligence, but
between the intellectual and emotional faculties


The dualism with which he leaves us is thus
of a far more intractable kind, and can be only
terminated by the complete subjugation of
thought to will and feeling. In this country,
as you know, there are many distinguished
advocates of pluralism and pragmatism, such as
Professor Howison of California, and Professor
William James, who seems willing to accept
even the most extreme and startling conse-
quences of his theory the rehabilitation of
pure chance, and an apotheosis of the irrational.
Even Professor Royce, in spite of his half
sympathy with absolutism, and his desire to
deal fairly and appreciatively with mysticism
and allied forms of thought, deliberately subordi-
nates thought to will.

In England, Professor Ward, of Cambridge,
has drawn the sword against naturalism as well
as agnosticism ; and Oxford has produced a
band of " Personal Idealists," some of whom
proclaim the virtues of pragmatism and sub-
jectivism with an almost blatant persistency and

Distinguished amateurs in philosophy, like Mr.
A. J. Balfour, have joined in the fray, exalting
" authority " above " reason," and attempting once
more, like Pascal and Mansel, to base religious


belief on the extreme of scepticism. Mr. Ben-
jamin Kidd achieved a considerable though brief
notoriety by turning Buckle's fundamental theory
of human progress clean upside down, and arguing
that intellectual superiority has no survival value.
In poetry we have Robert Browning, the robustest
intellect among the poets of his generation, who,
in the latter part of his life especially, gave way
to a strange /jua-oXoyia. in matters of faith, of
which the strongest example may be found in
La Saisiaz. In theology the reaction against in-
tellectualism has affected apologetics both among
Catholics and Protestants. Liberal Catholicism
is decidedly pragmatist in type, as indeed was
Newman's theology on one side. Loisy and
Tyrrell are willing to allow criticism a free
hand in the investigation of Christian origins
and biblical problems, just because all the
verdicts of science are discredited in advance, as
based upon mere facts, and therefore irrelevant
in matters of faith. For Tyrrell, the spirit-world
is the will-world: the words are used by him
interchangeably. For Loisy, no conclusions as to
facts can affect the truth of a single dogma, pre-
cisely because facts are facts, while dogmas are
representative ideas of faith. If facts are so
unimportant as this, it would seem to be hardly


worth while for any one to give his life to
the investigation of them. Protestant theology
has long been deeply affected by the same ten-
dencies. Ritschl separates faith and belief as
carefully as Loisy separates faith and fact: and
the result seems to be much the same. The
subjective impression of Christ made upon us[
by the Gospel narrative is the important thing.;
Metaphysical problems are set aside as irrelevant
and useless. Among Ritschl's followers, none
exhibits this side of his theology in a more
glaring light than Herrmann, the author of the
Communion of the Christian with God, which has
been translated into English. In this strange
book we find in an exaggerated form the hostility
to mysticism which is also apparent in Harnack
and other Protestant theologians in Germany.
Harnack thinks that any mystic who does not
become a Romanist is a dilettante, and Herrmann
argues with vehemence that "mysticism is [Roman]
Catholic piety." If it were not manifestly absurd
to confine mysticism to any one section of the
Christian world, it would be a somewhat less
perverse misstatement to say that mysticism is
Protestant piety. For the essence of Protestant-
ism is, I suppose, the right and duty of private
judgment, the belief in individual inspiration.


Protestantism, in fact, is the democracy of religion,
the claim of every one to live by the light that
God has given him. And the mystics, as Professor
Royce has well said, are the only thorough-going
empiricists. Catholicism has tolerated and used
mysticism, but has never viewed it without sus-
picion, and has often persecuted it. It is not to
be expected that the inheritor of the traditions
of the Roman Empire should view with favour a
type of religion which puts the inner light above
human authority, and finds its sacraments every-
where. To say, then, that " mysticism is Catholic
piety," is to show that the speaker entirely fails
to understand both mysticism and Catholicism.
So fundamental a misunderstanding prepares us
for strange views about the relations of faith and
knowledge. It appears, however, that according
to some of this school, the two have no relations.
The intellect takes cognisance of facts, religion
has to do only with the moral ideal, and these
two views of the world have nothing to do with
each other. " The refusal to recognise the irre-
ducible difference that exists between the feeling
of the value of goodness and the knowledge of
facts may come perhaps from the relinquishment
of the supramundane character of the Christian
idea of God. In plain words, the Christian idea


of God is lost as soon as it is not based exclu-
sively on the moral sense of the ideal, but on a
thinking contemplation of the world as well ; for
between the two, ideal and reality, there is an
irreducible difference." " What we speak of as
real in Christianity is quite different from what
we speak of as real in metaphysics. ... To
attempt to mix up the two kinds of reality is to
deny that the ethical fact, in which the religious
view of the world has its root, is a separate thing,
not to be grasped in the general forms of being
and becoming, and not within the view of meta-
physics at all." 1 This astonishingly crude dual-
ism has at least the merit of proclaiming itself
to be what it is ! But it is an uncomfortable
symptom that Herrmann is taken seriously both
in Germany and England.

In French Protestantism also a school exists,
very similar to the Ritschlian, under the some-
what cumbrous name of Symbolo-fidtisme. Its
chief founders were the late Auguste Sabatier
and his friend Mene"goz. The name, which they
chose as indicating the main characteristics of
their position, may be expanded into two propo-
sitions. The first is that all dogmas, whether
historical or theological in form, are inadequate

1 Herrmann, Metaphysics in Theology.


to their object, and should not be regarded as
literal statements of fact. The second is the
Ritschlian formula that we are saved by our
faith and not by our belief. Sabatier was a man
of wide outlook, and he does not write in the
service of any one theory, but he distinctly
subordinates scientific and philosophical judg-
ments to the value -judgments of religion and
morality; and he worked in complete harmony
with Me'ne'goz, who seems to be a pragmatist of
an extreme type.

What are the causes of this widespread move-
ment, which has made so many disciples in all
parts of the world ? We might find analogies
in the history of Greek philosophy, when the
great speculative systems were followed by in-
tellectual scepticism, and increased attention to
political and ethical problems. That this is a
true analogy is shown by the one-sidedness of
the Kantian revival. It is only the scepticism
and empiricism of Kant that are admired ; his
rationalism has been discarded or ignored. In
some ways the new school has more in common
with Locke and Hume than with Kant, a resem-
blance which comes out strongly in the writings
of Kaftan. There are many differences in these

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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 7 of 11)