William Ralph Inge.

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to believe that the body of Christ now occupies
a local position. The material ascension was


only a picture-lesson of the " better ascension "
in the souls of Christians. This attempt to
combine the material and the spiritual was made
more difficult by the destruction of the geocentric
theory, and there is now great, and perhaps
inevitable, confusion of mind among Christians
on the whole subject. The Roman Catholic
Church still teaches not only that the purgatorial
fire is material, but that it is situated in the
middle of the earth ; but it is certain that
educated Romanists do not believe this. We
cannot cast stones at them, for in our Church
the teaching about the Ascension is equally
chaotic. The story of a literal flight through
the air is still treasured by many people, though
we have all, I suppose, abandoned the idea of a
geographical heaven, which alone gave to it a
coherent meaning.

The question of time in relation to eschatology
is even more perplexing than that of place. To
Eastern thought, time is an illusory movement,
leading to no result. Reality is stationary. This
fallacy, which deprives life of any rational or
moral meaning, was escaped, at least in theory,
by the Neoplatonists and their Christian disciples.
Plotinus realises that " Noi/? is everywhere "
that it must be at once a-Trao-i? and KIV>J<TIS, rest


and motion, and he never intended his Absolute
to represent mere stationariness. Time, as Pro-
fessor Royce says, is the form of the will. It is
fulfilled, not in stationariness nor in infinite dura-
tion, but in achieved purpose. But this achieve-
ment cannot be attained at any point of time,
for time itself is always hurling its own products
into the past. Therefore, to quote Boethius, who
puts the matter as clearly as any later writer:
" Whatever suffers the condition of tune, even
though it never began to be, and should never
cease to be, yet it cannot be called eternal. For
it does not comprehend and embrace the whole
at once ; it has lost yesterday, and has not yet
gained to-morrow." " Eternity," says Eckhart,
" is a present now, which knows nothing of time.
The day of a thousand years ago is not further
from eternity than the hour in which I stand
here." All that we call duration implies a com-
parison of two or more different experiences, any
one of which may be chosen to measure the rest
by. Absolute duration could only apply to a
Being who is all hi all its experiences. The
outcome of such thoughts is that to achieve
immortality is to have life more abundantly, to
be eternal in every moment. " He to whom time
is as eternity, and eternity as time, is free from


all stress," says Jacob Boehme. We experience a
thing just in proportion as we are in it and make
it our own. And interest in its highest power is
love. Whosoever, therefore, loves God, abideth
for ever.

This principle will prevent us from regarding
any period of time, any experience, as merely a
means to something beyond itself. To separate
entirely means from end is one of the commonest
and worst errors in religious philosophy, and
indeed in practical life also. Work without
enjoyment, and enjoyment without work, are
both evil, and it is evil to make either of them
our ideal picture of the soul's journey or its goal.
Eternity is neither the sphere of mere continu-
ance, nor of mere reward and punishment. It is
the sphere in which all values are preserved,
freed from the changes and chances of mortal
life; and therefore eternity is our heart's true
home. To sum up, if in our teaching we make
the truth of Christianity depend upon a view of
reality which satisfies the claims of Praxis, but
leaves the claims of Gnosis the best Gnosis
available in our generation utterly disregarded,
we cannot expect, and we ought not to wish, that
our message will be welcomed. Christianity has
been a philosophical religion from the time when


it first began to have a sacred literature. It
claims to be the one explanation of life as we know
it, an explanation to which heart and head and
will all contribute. In order to understand it,
we must act out our thoughts, and think out our
acts ; we must know ourselves, and we must know
the world around us, if we wish to know God,
who made both, and in whom both have their
being. It is in the interplay and frequent col-
lision of Gnosis and Praxis that sparks are struck
out which illuminate the dark places of reality.
The problems are difficult. Of course they are !
Do they not range over earth and heaven and
hell ? But assuredly those who, in the vigorous
phrase of one of the Cambridge Platonists, have
made their intellectual faculties " Gibeonites,"
hewers of wood and drawers of water those who
have made no effort to " add to their faith know-
ledge," will never reach the perfection to which
God called them, nor know Him quern nosse vivere,
cui servire regnare est.



A HORROR of sin is at the root of every vigorous
religious creed. The opposition of good and evil,
which from the moral standpoint is radical and
irreducible, must be fully recognised in religion,
unless religion is to be sublimated into a theo-
sophy, or degraded into ritual, cultus, and magic.
The most serious charge, therefore, which can be
brought against any type of religious belief is
that it promotes moral indifference. This charge
has been frequently brought against mysticism,
at any rate of the intellectual, philosophic type,
though it is not possible to bring it against the
great mystics individually. Since, then, I have
undertaken in these lectures to defend the
Christian Platonism which is the close ally of
mysticism, I can hardly avoid attempting to
grapple with this difficult question and con-
sidering briefly the great problem of Sin. The
subject is, of course, far too large for one lecture.
I can only indicate some aspects of the problem,


and the direction in which, from the standpoint
adopted in these lectures, we must look for a

For the sociologist there is no problem of
sin. Ethics, from his point of view, arose out
of co-operative action. Primitive man discovered
that he needed his fellow-inan to help him to
realise his ends. At first, perhaps, it was a
combination of purely self-seeking units. Then,
when no coherence was attainable in this way,
the germ of ethics became instinctive obedience
to a rule, without reference to the immediate
advantage of individuals. We may observe a
stereotyped example of such a system in the
polity of the bee or the ant. Theirs is a fully
organised, or rather mechanised life, a sinless life,
in which, so far as we can see, no one kicks over
the traces. The hive is a society in which the
same round of tasks is discharged in the same
way from generation to generation; a stationary
condition in which there is no ideal unrealised,
aspired to, or rejected. Why is the history of
mankind unlike that of the little busy bee, and
the ant who is an example to the sluggard ?
Apparently because from a very early date man
began to use his wits to evade or lighten his
labours, to aggrandise himself, and in one way or


another to alter his condition to what seemed to
him a better. The possibility of progress and of
retrogression came to him together. He chose
to place himself on an inclined plane, with
almost infinite possibilities of improvement and
of degradation. And all through his life, if he
attempts to rise, he has to resist the dragging
force of the old animal nature, in which his
ancestors lived so long. He has risen above
himself, though without leaving himself. And
he has lost for ever the ability to lead the purely
animal life. That stage he has cast behind him,
though the desire for it is not dead. If he gives
up the struggle to be a man and tries to live as
an animal, his doom is to become not an animal
but an idiot or a devil.

There is no problem of evil here. We cannot
eat our cake and have it. We may envy the ant
or the bee or the wolf or the tiger, but nature
has made us men, with special faculties and
special disabilities. We must accept our lot, for
better or for worse.

Neither is there any problem of evil for the
moralist. Morality tries to destroy evil, not to
account for it. Morality accepts a state of war, it
strives only for victory. If morality were the whole
of religion that religion would be Manicheism.


Religion would be service in the army of Ormazd
against Ahriman.

But morality is not the whole of religion, and
for religion there is a problem of sin. There
must be a problem, because for religion the
"ought to be" both is and is not. God is not
God unless He is all in all, but the God of re-
ligion is not all in all. This looks like an
irreconcilable contradiction at the very heart of
religion. It cannot be overcome by making the
time-process an ultimate reality, and assuming
an actual progress towards the realisation of
God's will in the universe. For a God who has
not yet come into His own is no God. We
cannot suppose that God will ever have any more
power than He has now, or that He has advanced
from a condition of impotence to the dubious and
divided sovereignty which he now appears to
exercise. Science, too, knows nothing of such
an universal progress, and will have none of it.
Every organisation, large or small, every in-
dividual and every species, has its own law of
growth and decay. Its destiny is to realise the
idea which God formed of it in His mind and
then to disappear from phenomenal existence.
This is as true of a world as of a fly. Perpetual
progress, as a religion, is a pathetic illusion.


Perfection belongs not to any condition to be
actualised in the future, but to the timeless whole.
The most real thing within our experience is
what is sometimes called the kingdom of values,
but, as I should prefer to say, of laws, which
make up the content of the mind of God. These
laws are reality. In time and place this means
that they energise and fulfil themselves. So
we can rightly pray, " Thy will be done on earth
as it is in Heaven." Among these laws or values
is the law which binds us to a life-long struggle
with what in the time-series appears as evil.
This law of struggle for the good constitutes the
chief value of life in this world. As Plotinus
says : " Our striving is after good, and our turning
away is from evil : and purposive thought is of
good and evil, and this is a good." Undoubtedly
moral goodness implies a turning away from evil
as well as a striving after good, and therefore (to
quote Plotinus again) if any one were to say that
evil has absolutely no existence, he must do away
with good at the same time, and leave us with
no object to strive after. The conflict between
good and evil belongs to life in time. Eckhart
is perfectly right in saying that " goodness "
cannot be correctly predicated of the Godhead,
who is above time. There is, of course, a


difference between super-moral and non-moral.
God is not neutral between goodness and bad-
ness, nor is His nature compounded of the two.
For since evil is inwardly self-discordant and
self-destructive, and rebellious against the law
of the whole, its inclusion in the will of God
means its complete transmutation and suppres-
sion in its character as evil. Sin (of which death
is the symbol though not the punishment) is the
last enemy that shall be destroyed. Viewed
under the form of time, figuratively, the complete
victory over sin will be the termination of the
world-order, the end of the " reign," the distinct
activities, of the Son, as St. Paul says. It is
plain that morality is entirely occupied in
striving to abolish the condition and object of
its own existence. For, unless evil had at least
a relative existence as evil, there could be no
morality. Evil is thus in a sense a cause, as
being a necessary antecedent condition, of good,
and if so, it cannot be radically bad. " Things
solely evil," says St. Augustine, "could never
exist, for even those natures which are vitiated
by an evil will, so far as they are vitiated, are
evil, but so far as they are natures they are
good," l or, as Plotinus says " vice is always

1 De Civ. Dei, xii. 3.


human, being mixed with something contrary
to itself." This is not to be confounded with the
view of Buddhism, in which evil is the true
kernel of existence, only to be removed with the
cessation of existence itself. We believe that
all that is good is preserved in the eternal world,
but not the evils which called it forth. For that
which is not only manifold but discordant cannot
exist, as such, in the life of God.

The teaching about sin in Christian theology
has been from the very first confused and in-
consistent. Even St. Paul wavers between the
Rabbinical doctrine of Adam's transgression as
the cause of human sinfulness, and the very
different theory, also held by Jewish theologians,
that the ground of sin is in our fleshly nature.
From the first century downwards Christian
teaching about ski has fluctuated according as
dogmatic, philosophical, or ethical interests held
the foremost place. St. Augustine regards evil
as a fundamentally perverted will, which proceeds
from the free guilt of Adam ; so that all men
are a mass of corruption and only the pre-
destined can be saved. The difficulties raised
by this theory are fairly obvious. Besides the
objections (not strongly felt until recently)
against the hypothesis of an original perfect


state, how could Adam have been tempted if
his will was purely good ? If we assume an
innate predisposition to evil, we must find
another origin for evil before the overt trans-
gression which only brought it into the light.
To throw back the problem into the world of
spirits by introducing an external tempter is
obviously no solution. And besides, how should
Adam's sin infect all his descendants ? The
patristic idea seems to have been that all future
generations were actually part of Adam at the
time when he sinned. " We were in the loins
of Adam," says St. Augustine. But the logical
conclusion from this would seem to be not that
we are guilty of Adam's transgression, but that
he is guilty of all ours.

Into this mass of contradictions a purely
aesthetic view, which he borrowed from Greek
philosophy, oddly intrudes itself. "As the
beauty of a picture is enhanced by well-
managed shadows, so to the eye that has skill
to discern it the universe is beautified even by
sinners, though considered by themselves their
deformity is a sad blemish." l

In short, St. Augustine's writings provide us
with admirable examples of nearly all the in-

1 De Civ. Dei, ii. 23.


compatible theories about evil which have been
propounded by thinking men ; and the fact
that his acute intellect dallies with them all
in turn illustrates the extreme difficulty of the

Contemporary theology generally adopts the
theory of a perverted will, without the exagge-
ration of "total depravity," 1 though some have
objected that if free will is the cause of evil,
it must also be the cause of good, and that
this is Pelagianism.

Others have felt that it is treating sin, as
we know it, too tragically to say that it is
essentially a revolt of the will against God.
Such language appears absurd when we apply
it to the delinquencies of children, or indeed
to most of the faults of which we ourselves are
conscious. Sin in its beginnings is no more
rebellion against God than virtue is "resistence
to the cosmic process," as Huxley suggests. It
is only when selfishness has been accepted as
a principle of action both by the intellect and
by the will, that the word "rebellion" is

1 S. T. Coleridge, while rejecting the theory of transmitted
guilt, assumes an universal and timeless act of self-degradation
in the will of the human race a theory which is as incompre-
hensible as the patristic one.


The kindred definition, that sin is lawlessness
which has the sanction of St. John is more
instructive. Schleiermacher, indeed, objects that
the law only prohibits acts, not states. But the
law may and should be regarded as the moral
idea in an imperative form. Thus Lactantius
calls Christ viva prcesensque lex. In the moral
sphere the distinction between law and morality
does not exist. But until we know what the
law is, which it is the essence of sin to con-
travene, this definition does not help us forward

Another popular theory of sin, which is often
set against the theory that sin is rebellion, is that
which identifies it with imperfection. To the bio-
logist evil (not " sin," a word which has no place
in his vocabulary) is imperfection. In theology,
this question has been one of the battle-grounds
between Catholicism and Protestantism. Bel-
larmine and other Catholics distinguish between
perfection and sinlessness, while Protestants have
maintained that omne minus lonum habet rationem
mali. This involves the admission that perpetual
progress in good involves perpetual continuance
in evil. And if, with Fichte, we hold that life is
a progressus ad infinitum, it would seem to follow
that we can never be rid of sin. Perhaps under


the form of time this conclusion cannot be
avoided. Moral good is inconceivable without
its antithesis, for without its antithesis it would
be reduced to inactivity, and we cannot imagine
that there will ever be a time when the moral
sense could say, My task is done. But in a
healthy development, nothing need be lost of
the contents of the developing being. At each
moment in our spiritual ascent, so far as we are
really advancing, we answer to the claim which
duty makes upon us at that moment. But this
response, which is all that is needed for un-
interrupted progress, is not incompatible with
the presence of much which needs to be purified
and transmuted before we can realise the will of
God in and for us. Duty is the determinate
moral requirement made upon a given individual
at a given moment of time.

Something has been already said on the
doctrine of original sin, connected by orthodox
theology with the fall of Adam. The difficulties
and contradictions of the traditional doctrine in
this form have been well brought out by Mr.
Tennant, in his recent Hulsean Lectures. But
the story of the Fall is not the origin of the
belief. " Original sin, the corruption of man's
heart," is affirmed by human experience. It has


never been asserted more strongly than by Byron,
who did not pretend to speak as a theologian :

" Our life is a false nature 'tis not in
The harmony of things this hard decree,
This uneradicable taint of sin,
Whose root is earth, whose leaves and branches be
The skies which rain their plagues on man like dew
Disease, death, bondage all the woes we see
And worse, the woes we see not which throb through
The immedicable soul, with heartaches ever new." 1

When the moral consciousness awakes, it finds
within itself a strong tendency to lawlessness,
which it cannot account for, and the source of
which is plainly racial rather than personal.
Whether the cause of the trouble is the Fall
or the ascent of man from an earlier condition,
the state of sin in ourselves is prior to self-
consciousness, and has been inherited not
acquired. Thus the doctrine which our modern
poets have defended so eloquently has a real
psychological basis, quite independent of any
theological dogmas.

It may be worth while to inquire whether the
confusion which we have found to exist about
sin has been promoted by any disturbing in-
fluences which we can now trace. There can
be no doubt that the supposed necessity for
accepting the story of the Fall of man as literal

1 Childe Harold, iv., 126.


history, has had a great influence upon Christian
theology, though, as Bishop Gore said in a recent
sermon, it has had singularly little effect on the
rest of the Old Testament; while in the New
Testament it is made the basis of an argument
only in two chapters (Rom. v. and i Cor. xv.).
The narrative in Genesis is indeed far more sober
than some comments upon it. South's words
that "an Aristotle was but the rubbish of an
Adam, and Athens but the rudiments of Para-
dise," cannot be defended from the Bible. But
there is no use in blinking the fact that we have
to choose between the biblical and the scientific
account of the early history of mankind ; and I
think it is impossible to maintain that the belief
in a momentous lapse from virtue on the part of
our first parents has been doctrinally inoperative.
Many other primitive races have had their
legends about a golden age in the past, when
men were perfect and exempt from sin, disease,
and death ; but the notion would not have
survived among civilised societies but for the
idea that it has been guaranteed by Divine
revelation. The unfortunate notion that pain
and death are punishments for man's trans-
gression comes from the same source, and has
contributed to create a morbid feeling about


both, and especially about death, which is
common among professing Christians, but quite
out of correspondence with the teaching of

The attitude of Christian theology towards sin
is, on the whole, so much more gloomy than any-
thing that we find in our Lord's teaching, that
some cause must be found for the change.
Christ Himself hardly mentions sin, except in
connection with repentance and forgiveness. He
never encourages either brooding over our past
sins or self-imposed expiatory suffering. We
hear nothing of the sense of alienation from God
in His teaching, though it appears that He
passed through this terrible experience for a
brief moment on the Cross. Our Lord's teach-
ing is very severe and exacting, but funda-
mentally happy and joyous. "The world"
human society as it organises itself apart from
God is to be renounced inwardly, but no war
is declared against the ordinary sources of human
happiness. On the contrary, the sufficiency of
these simple natural joys, when consecrated by
love and obedience to God, to make life happy,
was part of His good news. But it seems to be
the fate of great discoveries or revelations that
the reconciliation which they announce is too


profound to be understood, and they fall apart
into dualisms. Plato's ideas met with this fate,
and so, in a measure, did the greater teaching
of Jesus Christ. I have suggested that the
exceptionally severe mental struggles of such
pioneers as St. Paul, St. Augustine, and Martin
Luther may have had something to do with the
exaggerations about human depravity, and the
terrible struggle entailed upon all mankind
against the mighty forces of evil. The average
experience does not endorse this description of
a continual and severe tension. We may admit
this without having much belief in Professor
James' " sky-blue souls," whom the devil appears
to have forgotten. We all have our hard battle
to fight against temptation. But I do not think
that this battle, with most of us, has such a
tragic and terrific aspect as Christian divines
often describe; and I believe that if we took
our tone more from our Lord's own words, and
from the proportion observed in His teaching,
we should get rid of certain exaggerations which
to some appear distressing and to others unreal.
I will even go so far as to say that we should
sometimes resist, and check by our reason, those
fits of intense self-reproach which are a common
experience of the devotional life. These feelings


move in great rhythms persons of a nervous
and emotional temperament are now exalted to
heaven and now thrust down to hell. The
recluse especially, of whom it may be said, as
of Parnell's "Hermit," that "Prayer [is] all his
business, all his pleasure praise," suffers these
fluctuations of feeling in their fullest severity.
But the man who is leading a normal active
life ought not to do so ; and the expressions,
whether of union or of alienation, which a Suso
or a John of the Cross could utter honestly
would certainly not be wholesome, and would
probably be unreal, in the mouth of an ordinary
good Christian. In our experience, the conflict
in the world is more often between the worse

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Online LibraryWilliam Ralph IngePersonal idealism and mysticism → online text (page 9 of 11)