A tourist who roams for a brief while through some great country like England or Russia may jot down a few of the impressions which come home to him, making no pretense at completeness or symmetry of description. So, one who has journeyed like a hasty traveler over some passages in that vast tract of years which we describe as the classic and Christian civilizations, notes down in the following pages a few of the salient features that have impressed him. He has already prefaced this with a sort of outline map, drawn largely from familiar authorities, under the title |Our Spiritual Ancestry;| and has further ventured to interpret some phases of our own time, as |The Ideal of To-Day.| Now he goes on to group a few observations on some special phases of the historical survey, disclaiming any attempt at exact proportion and perspective, but lingering where the prospect has pleased his fancy, or at points which seemed to yield some necessary clew or fruitful suggestion.
When, in the poems bearing the name of Homer, the curtain rises on the drama of man as it was acted in Greece, after the immeasurable prehistoric space, we are amazed at the sudden brilliance. The men and deeds brought before us are various in character and worth, -- savage, heroic, repulsive, beautiful, by turns. But the ever-present charm is man seeing the world about him. It is the vividness with which every object is seen in its distinctive form and spirit, and conveyed by the fit word and phrase. So seen and spoken, the commonest object becomes a thing of delight. The high-roofed house, the brazen threshold, the polished chest, the silver-studded sword, the purple robes, -- the tawny oxen, the hollow ships, the tapering oars, -- the wine-dark sea, the rosy-fingered dawn, the gold-throned morning, -- Hector of the nodding plume, the white-armed Nausicaa, -- so in long procession moves the spectacle. A like distinctness invests all the actions and emotions of the story with charm. To us, as to the poet, the world becomes enchanted simply in being seen.
And presently we discover a strange transfiguration that is being wrought. Experiences which were painful or grievous to the actors and sufferers become in the representation the source of keen pleasure to the hearers or readers. The Iliad is mainly a story of men destroying one another. The Odyssey depicts a long strife with hardship and danger. The men who heard those songs were themselves familiar with the fight, with the wounds and terrors mixed with its energies and elations; they had tasted the perils of shipwreck and of pirates. But as they listened, the rehearsal of trials the counterpart of their own filled them with exhilaration. We who read in modern days, if less experienced in bloodshed and bodily peril, yet in some fashion have had our share of battle and storm; and we, too, like the first listeners, drink in the tale with delight. The poet, in other words, has the secret not only of seeing but of idealizing the actual world. We catch from him some subtle art by which, standing a little aloof from the pressure and turmoil around us, often felt as painful or degrading, we see it through an atmosphere in which it becomes a splendid and heart-stirring scene. At a later stage we may perhaps in a degree analyze the change of view; we may partly understand how through the struggle with evil man is strengthened and ennobled; how in such strife courage and sympathy and tenderness are engendered. But long before we can thus philosophize, and to a degree which our philosophy can hardly explain, we are affected by this beauty and elevation imparted to the spectacle of human life by the true poets.
We moderns read Homer with delight in the roll of the music, the vividness of the pictures, the humanity so near us in its essence and so unlike in its dress. When we inquire what are the moral ideals, we are often uncertain how far the impressions made on us may differ from those of the original audience, or the intention of the singer. But often his work is like the painting of great Nature herself. We pass upon it as we pass upon the facts of life.
The supernal features in the story are not here discussed. The deities, judged by our standards, have little of divinity. Beyond the grave lies a dim and dreamy realm. All this, with its great significance, we here omit, to linger a little on the essential and permanent humanity.
Achilles, the embodiment of power and passion, just touched with human ruth; Hector, the selfless, brave and gentle champion; Odysseus, victor in the long pilgrimage by fortitude and by wisdom, -- these are the three ideal types of the early world, portrayed by its noblest genius.
The Iliad culminates in the triumph of pity. The heart of Zeus is melted, the harder heart of Achilles is melted, before the sorrows of bereaved old age. An exquisite gentleness breathes through the closing scenes. All the wrath and terror and savagery of the story have led up to this height of pure compassion. A new light falls on all that has gone before. Achilles, the fierce hero of the earlier story, is outshone by his victim, Hector of the great and gentle heart. The crowning word of praise, after father, mother, wife have uttered their lament, is spoken by the frail woman whose sin had brought ruin on Hector and his people: |If any other haply upbraided me in the palace halls, then wouldst thou soothe such with words, and refrain them by the gentleness of thy spirit and by thy gentle words. Therefore bewail I thee with pain at heart, and my hapless self with thee, for no more is any left in wide Troy-land to be my friend and kind to me, but all men shudder at me.|
We see the sin of man and woman wrecking nations and leaving the sinner in dreary isolation. We see unrelenting wrath, even when provoked by wrong, spreading woe upon the innocent, and at last smiting the wrathful man through his dearest affections. We see the heroism which meets death in defense of the beloved, yet has only tender pity for her who has wrought the ruin.
The Iliad is mostly war, -- men acting hell on earth, as Goethe said. But in the Odyssey the goal of the hero is his home. The magnet is not Helen's beauty, but Penelope's faithfulness. Odysseus, mighty warrior, crafty leader, -- who with his sword has smitten the Trojans, by his wiles destroyed their city, -- Odysseus is driven for ten years through hostile seas and men and gods by the compelling passion of home-sickness!
In the Odyssey, it is the battle with the sea which does most to toughen and supple and make indomitable. The soldier and sailor are the pioneers of the race. These and the tiller of the earth are the strong roots out of which are to grow the flower and fruit.
In the Iliad, woman appears in Helen as the tempting prize and the gage of battle, and in Andromeda as the tender wife foredoomed to bereavement and captivity. In the Odyssey, woman plays a higher part -- as Penelope, faithful and prudent and patient wife, fit spouse for Odysseus; as Eurydice, the devoted old nurse; and as Nausicaa, loveliest of pristine maidens.
|The story of her worth shall never die; but for all humankind immortal ones shall make a gladsome song in praise of steadfast Penelope.| It is a noble story: the fidelity of a wife, the undaunted courage of a man; a long battle with adversity, crowned with the joy of love's reunion; the meeting with servant, nurse, dog, son, wife, father.
Odysseus fights his battle as every hero must, -- against hostile nature and man, -- by courage and patience and craft, and a confidence that the heavenly power will somehow bring him through.
So at the heart of the Iliad and the Odyssey is an austere and sweet message. The singers who embodied it in tales which stir every pulse with delight were among the supreme teachers of mankind. The inner meaning of humanity's story which their songs display is still the lesson set us, -- out of adversity man may win fortitude; through battle, shipwreck, and overthrow he scales the heights of manhood; and the faithful pilgrimage ends in a home which is dearer for all troubles past.
The Homeric poems show man in his first full awaking to beauty and to music. They show more. The fashioning of the supernal world in man's mind varies with people and with time. Here it is Zeus and Hades, again it will be Jehovah and Satan, and then Heaven and Hell. But in the Iliad and Odyssey the human heart recognizes its rightful lords as long as it shall endure, -- Courage and Pity, Fortitude and Fidelity.
Socrates is the man who has actually achieved goodness, and tries to make a science and art of goodness, to find a way in which it can be clearly known and rationally and effectively taught. |Can virtue be taught?| is his characteristic question. The chief result of his keen scrutiny is to bring to light how little men really know of the higher life, -- how little he knows of it himself. The effect of this revelation of ignorance is not a despair of truth, but a humility which is the beginning of wisdom. The deepest thing in Socrates is his knowledge of the good life as a reality, and of the joy and peace which it brings. Secure in this, he can go on in the most fearless temper, and even with light-hearted jesting, to sift the questions. Intellectually, his main achievement is to bring out clearly the problems to be faced, and to give an immense stimulus to the higher class of minds.
In the picture of Socrates by Xenophon in the Memorabilia, which bears all the marks of true portraiture, goodness goes with happiness and knowledge. It is a most winning combination -- beautiful as a Greek statue. Xenophon lays stress on his happiness, but the basis is self-command. Among a people where even religion and philosophy were tolerant of sensuality, he was pure. He was hardy, trained to bear heat and cold, temperate, simple, faithful to civic duty, a reverent worshiper of the gods, watchful for the divine leading.
Xenophon shows him absorbed in teaching, imparting the best he has found, never so happy as when he can win a young man to virtue. His ideal society is the union of those who together are seeking goodness and knowledge.
His patience is shown under the worst of domestic annoyances, a scolding wife, -- he says he thus learns to bear all other crosses. His admonition to his son to bear with her shows genuine tenderness.
He has the heroic quality. He resists the raging people, and refuses the part assigned him in voting the death sentence on the generals whose defeat had been a misfortune and not a fault. He calmly disobeys the Thirty Tyrants, at the risk of his life. He dies at last, a tranquil martyr to fearless truth-speaking.
He teaches nobly of Providence, the Supreme, the guidance from above. He conforms to the religion of his people, while planting a higher truth. When Athens, faithfully warned by him in vain, was sinking toward ruin and decay, he was sowing the seeds of spiritual harvests for future generations, like Jesus when Judea was tottering to its fall. In the intellectual development of man's higher life he holds a place not unlike that of Jesus in the emotional development.
Socrates, as Xenophon describes him, goes no farther as a teacher than to impress the principles of conduct as they were generally accepted by good men of the time, with peculiar persuasiveness. But Plato shows him as an original investigator of the human mind and the universe. In this there is an undoubted trait of true portraiture, but its limit is very difficult to trace, because in Plato's dialogues the master is made the mouthpiece of all the pupil's philosophy. The most distinctive feature which can be identified as that of Socrates himself is the cross-examination. Under this process, high-sounding generalities, -- put in the mouths of speakers in the dialogues, the whole word-play set forth with exquisite grace and charm, -- are shown by a rigid sifting to resolve themselves into nebulous and baseless figments, -- the mere simulacra of true knowledge.
The conversations glide from this destructive analysis into a constructive philosophy, and then we soon feel that it is Plato rather than Socrates whom we are getting. The great contribution of Socrates himself to philosophy is the attitude he impressed -- of inquiry which is serious because seeking the foundations of virtue and happiness, and is inexorable in its insistence on nothing less than solid reality. Against all allurements of indolence, comfort, and social convention he presses the question, What is true? His characteristic word is:
|Some things, Meno, I have said of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to inquire than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in searching after what we know not; that is a theme upon which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power.|
Plato took from Socrates not method but inspiration, and soared into speculation. He wrote over the door of the Academy, |Let no one enter here who does not know geometry.| That is, you are first to acquire absolute confidence, by familiarity with the demonstrations of mathematics, that real and certain knowledge is accessible to the human mind. Thus planting his foot on firmest certainty, Plato leaps off into a glorious sea of clouds. Flashes of insight and sublime allegory mix with fantastic theory and word-play.
The vast range of his thought we will touch only at two points. In the Symposium and the Phaedrus he discusses in his most brilliant vein the problem of love. To the reader who has inherited the ethical ideal of Christianity, Plato's love will seem like the image in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, -- the head of gold, the feet of miry clay. He has a toleration for some aspects of sensuality of which Paul said, |it is a shame even to speak;| and this tolerance, in the greatest of the classic philosophers, is the most pregnant suggestion of the cleansing work which it was left for Christianity to undertake. Yet Plato teaches most impressively the subordination of sense to spirit in love, and the struggle of the two in man has seldom been set forth more powerfully than in his figure of the two yoked horses: the white, celestial steed struggling upward; the black, unruly one plunging down, while Reason, the charioteer, strives to guide. In the description of Love which Socrates professes to quote from the wise woman of Mantineia, there is the very height of the Platonic philosophy, -- the gradual sublimation of human passion to the recognition of all noble forms and ideas, and at last to the vision of the Divine Beauty which is one with Wisdom and with Love.
|The true order of going or being led by another to the things of love is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which he mounts upwards for the sake of that other beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is.
|What if man had eyes to see the true beauty -- the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollution of mortality, and all the colors and vanities of human life -- thither looking and holding converse with the true beauty divine and simple, and bringing into being and educating true creations of virtue, and not idols only? Do you not see that in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities; for he has hold not of an image but of a reality, -- and will be enabled, bringing forth and educating true virtue, to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.|
It is largely to Plato that we owe the idea of immortality as it exists in the mind of the civilized world to-day. The belief in a continued existence beyond death is much older; it is seen in the Iliad, where the appearance of the dead Patroclus to Achilles in a dream is accepted as the assurance of a shadowy and forlorn hereafter; and in the Odyssey the visit of the hero to the land of shades is portrayed with a free and gloomy imagination. It was a belief which among the earlier Greeks had little power either to console or to guide. In the age of Socrates, it seems to have signified little in the minds of the orthodox and pious. The great tragedians, who sublimate the popular mythology, for the most part regard the after-life as only a sad inevitable sequel; and to be snatched back from it for even a brief reprieve, like Alkestis, is miraculous good fortune. The greatest of the tragedians in his highest reach, Sophocles in Oedipus at Colonus, invests the departure of the hero, who has been purified by suffering, with a mystic radiance, a |light that never was on sea or land,| the promise as it were of some future too sublime for mortal words. But the philosophy of Socrates was directed rather to the clear penetration of the method and secret of earthly life, than to any vision of the hereafter. It is noticeable that Xenophon, the loyal disciple and biographer of Socrates, himself of the best type of orthodox piety, and zealous to vindicate his master from the charge of irreligion, -- Xenophon, in all the story of the master's life and death, gives not a hint of any future hope. But Plato developed the idea that in man there resides an essential, indestructible principle, superior to the physical frame which is its home and may be either its servant or master -- a principle which manifests itself in thought, aspiration, virtue; which has existed before the body and will exist after it; which chooses for itself an upward or downward path; and which rightly tends to a celestial and immortal destiny. The thought never won universal acceptance even among philosophers; it had only an indirect and slight effect on the Stoicism which was the best religious product of ancient philosophy. But it wrought by degrees all effect on the thinking of mankind. While the lofty faith of the Egyptian passed away leaving no visible fruit, the idea of Plato slowly suffused with its light and warmth the current of human aspirations. Meantime, the later Jewish belief in a hereafter -- in its form a much cruder conception of a physical revival from the grave -- flamed up in a passionate ardor, as the sequence of the life and teaching of Jesus. The Platonic and the Christian belief sprang from a like source. Each was born from the death of a man so great and so beloved as to give the impression of some imperishable quality.
Socrates, with his noble character and aim, was put to death as a criminal. Was that the end of it all? Impossible -- monstrous -- never, if this world be indeed a cosmos. The one firm certainty which Socrates seems to have held, |No evil can happen to a good man in life or death,| -- flashes in Plato's mind into a glorious hope of immortality, embodied in his loftiest passage, the picture of the dying Socrates.
The soul when withdrawn from all outward objects and rapt in contemplation is nearest to the divine, -- this is the central thought of the Phaedo. It is pursued with much subtle argumentation, of which the essential residuum is this: the soul's action is purest and most intense when farthest withdrawn from the visible and tangible world, -- and hence we guess that her true and eternal home is in that invisible realm of which all this material universe is but the veil and symbol.
But more impressive than the argument, more moving to the human heart, is the picture which is given of Socrates himself as the hour of death comes on, -- the exaltation of all his familiar traits, the playfulness so exquisitely blent with seriousness, the searching thought, the frank human desire to be convinced by his own argument, -- the charm of his friendly ways, the hand playing with Phaedo's hair, the taking of the cup |in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color, looking at the man with all his eyes as his manner was,| -- the last word, of calm reminder of a trivial obligation, -- the whole scene of majestic and tender peace, like a sunset. It is a scene which reconciles us to life, and makes us no longer impatient even of our uncertainties. It speaks with a voice like that of Landor's verse: --
|Death stands above me, whispering low,
I know not what into my ear,
Of his strange language all I know
Is, -- there is not a word of fear.|
To the modern reader there is a singular contradiction between the doctrine of Lucretius and his temper. The denial of any divine supervision of human life, or any hereafter for man; the dominion over all existence of purely material law, -- this seems to us to destroy man's dearest faith and hope. This is the teaching of Lucretius, yet on this road he marches with a step so firm and buoyant, an eye so awake to all beauty and grandeur, a spirit so elate, that as we read we catch the energy and elation. The reading of the riddle is this: the religion against which Lucretius made his attack was not the soaring idealism of Plato, nor the inspiring and consolatory faith of Christianity, but an outworn mythology in which this world was ruled by capricious and unworthy despots, and the next world was gloomy with terrors and almost unlighted by hopes. Such had become the popular mythology in its later day, and as contrasted with this the view and temper of Lucretius are rational and manly. His message went far beyond a negation; he announced one of the greatest discoveries of the human spirit -- the uniformity of nature. Well might the genius of poetry and the vigor of manhood unite to make the message impressive and splendid. Not caprice, but order, -- not conflict, but harmony, -- not deified partialities and spites and lusts, but exalted and unchanging law, rules the universe!
When Lucretius essayed to define in what this law consists, he fell hopelessly short of the mark. In his revulsion from the chaos and pettiness of man-like divinities, he fixed on material forces, -- clearly to be seen and permanent in their operation, -- as the only and sufficient cause and order. Those forces, by a brilliant guess, he resolved into an interplay of atoms. From this basis he projected a physical theory, which we know now was quite inadequate even for material phenomena, while the application of it to human thought and will was hopelessly insufficient. Viewed from this standpoint, the spectacle of human life takes on a sadness which the poet's genius cannot dispel, and sometimes intensifies. To man's inner world Lucretius has no serviceable key. But he is to be judged not by what he missed but by what he gained. He above all others stands as the discoverer of one of the few cardinal truths by which to-day we interpret the universe, -- the constancy of nature.
The genius of Lucretius did for the realm of thought what Roman statesmanship did for the nations, -- it brought peace and order among warring elements, by the imposition of a rule which was often narrow and harsh, but which was firm, stable, and the foundation for fairer and freer growths.
Already in Lucretius, and now again in Epictetus, we have passed from the Greek into the Roman world. It is a change partly of race, partly of time, and it is in close analogy with the successive phases of the human spirit. The mythology which satisfied the youth of the world had grown unlovely and unreal. Plato's splendid imaginings had yielded neither a secure basis to the thinker nor a moral guidance to the common man. Lucretius's interpretation of all events as the product of material law had small power to sustain or cheer when the intellectual glow of the bold innovator had subsided. Thoughtful men sought as their one supreme necessity an adequate and worthy rule of life. So there was wrought out, or grew, the Stoic philosophy. Based on an intellectual theory, its working strength lay in its consonance with the best habits and aptitudes engendered in the world's actual experience. The Greek type was beauty, pleasure, thought, freedom; the Roman type was law, obedience, self-mastery. The legion was the school of discipline and fidelity. The forum was the theatre where classes and parties, through rude jostling, worked out an efficient political order. A Greek thinker gave the mould, and Roman virtue gave the metal, of the Stoic type.
We may best study that type in Epictetus, -- once a slave, afterward a teacher; so careless of fame that he left no written work, and we have only the priceless notes taken down by a faithful scholar, making a book whose stamp of heroic manhood twenty centuries have not dimmed.
|Man is master of his fate.| The true aim of life is goodness, and goodness is within the command of the will. The lawgiver is Nature, and Nature bids us to be just, strong, pure, and to seek the good of our fellows. Such was the essence of Stoicism. As to deity, providence, or a hereafter, -- belief and hope varied, according to the individual; but to the true Stoic the all-important matter was, Act well your part, here and now.
In Epictetus is always the note of reality and of victory. While actually a slave, he has learned the secret of inward freedom. His essential doctrine is that good and evil reside wholly in the will, and the will is free. As we choose, so we are. And by the right choice we find ourselves in harmony with the universe.
Though Epictetus continually appeals to reason, his basal word is to the will. Be constant to duty -- accept the order of things as good, and be true to the highest law -- revere |nature,| the established order; obey |nature,| the ideal law. Take all for the best, and you make all for the best.
Most practical and inspiring are his counsels. The war must be waged in the inmost thoughts. The images that rise to seduce, the images that rise to dismay, are to be fought down and driven away. |Be not hurried away by the rapidity of the appearance, but say, Appearances, wait for me a little; let me see who you are and what you are about; let me put you to the test. And then do not allow the appearance to lead you on and draw lively pictures of the things which will follow, for if you do, it will carry you off wherever it pleases. But rather bring to oppose it some other beautiful and noble appearance, and cast out this base appearance. And if you are accustomed to be exercised in this way, you will see what shoulders, what sinews, what strength you have.|
|Be willing at length to be approved by yourself, be willing to appear beautiful to God, desire to be in purity with your own pure self and with God. Then, when any such appearance visits you, Plato says, Have recourse to expiations, go a suppliant to the temples of the averting Deities. It is even sufficient if you resort to the society of noble and just men, and compare yourself with them, whether you find one who is living or dead.|
|This is the true athlete, the man who exercises himself against such appearances. Stay, wretch, do not be carried away. Great is the combat, divine is the work; it is for kingship, for freedom, for happiness, for freedom from perturbation. Remember God, call on him as a helper and protector, as men at sea call on the Dioscuri in a storm. For what is a greater storm than that which comes from appearances which are violent and drive away the reason?|
Epictetus, compared with Plato, is the warrior philosopher beside the seeing philosopher. He is in closest grip with the foe, and his calm is the calm of the victor holding down his enemy.
His apparent unconcern as to the hereafter is in keeping with his whole attitude, which is that of cheerful acquiescence in the divine order, whatever it be. |To be free, not hindered, not compelled, conforming yourself to the administration of Zeus, obeying it, well satisfied with this, blaming no one, charging no one with fault, able from your whole soul to utter these verses: --
|Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, too, Destiny.|
He vindicates Providence against injustice. |The unjust man has the advantage, -- in what? In money. But the just man has the advantage in that he is faithful and modest.|
|We ought to have these two principles in readiness, that except the will nothing is good nor bad; and that we ought not to lead events, but to follow them. My brother ought not to have behaved thus to me. No, but he will see to that; and, however he may behave, I will conduct myself toward him as I ought.|
|As a mark is not set up for the purpose of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.|
That is, it is inconceivable that the universe is a blunder. This is one of the fundamental ideas of Epictetus. The inference is, that man has only to define his true end and pursue it, which is the right action of the will, or as we should say, right character. Pursuing this, he never finds himself thwarted or unfriended, never rebels or mistrusts the gods.
The substance of his message is: |On the occasion of every accident (event) that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.|
|God has delivered yourself to your own care, and says, 'I had no fitter one to intrust him to than yourself; keep him for me such as he is by nature, modest, faithful, erect, unterrified, free from passion and perturbation.'|
God, says Epictetus, has made me his witness to men. |For this purpose he leads me at one time hither, at another time sends me thither; shows me to men as poor, without authority and sick; sends me to Gyara, leads me into prison, not because he hates me, -- far from him be such a meaning, for who hates the best of his servants? nor yet because he cares not for me, for he does not neglect any, even of the smallest things; but he does this for the purpose of exercising me and making use of me as a witness to others. Being appointed to such a service, do I still care about the place in which I am, or with whom I am, or what men say about me? and do I not entirely direct my thoughts to God, and to his instructions and commands?|
Thus he falls back on the life of the spirit, -- simple, sure, victorious. To place all good in character is the secret. From virtue grows piety. It is desire set on externals, and so disappointed, that brings discontent, repining, impiety.
Yet Epictetus has distinct and serious limitations. He assumes that to avoid all perturbation is the aim of the wise man. This can be accomplished only by the sacrifice of all objects of desire which lie outside of the control of the will, and he advises this sacrifice. |If you love an earthen vessel, say it is an earthen vessel which you love; for when it has been broken you will not be disturbed. If you are kissing your child or wife, say that it is a human being whom you are kissing, for when the wife or child dies you will not be disturbed.|
All joys but the purely moral are to be despised. In going to the theatre one should be indifferent to who gains the prize. This attempted indifference to all the great and little pleasures of life which have no distinct moral character, if successful, makes an ascetic, and of most men is liable to make prigs. It is the vice of Puritanism.
The modern world is riper and richer than the Roman world. We say now, the ideal man is not |unperturbed.| Perturbations are inevitable to the man normally and highly developed, with sensibilities and sympathies keenly alive. The true aim is to include composure, but not as sole and supreme. This is a more complex development than the Stoic, less capable perhaps of symmetrical completeness, but grander, as a Gothic church is grander than a Greek temple.
Again, the assumption of Epictetus and of all the Stoics that the will is wholly free, that man has only to choose and seek goodness and he can perfectly achieve it, misses the familiar and bitter experience of humanity, that too often man carries his prison and fetters within himself. A Roman poet voiced it: Meliora video proboque, deteriora sequor. Paul spoke it: |The good that I would, I do not; and the evil I would not, that I do.|
But Epictetus himself is one of the great souls who are not to be described by the label of any creed. He has in himself the secret of spiritual victory, and he has a peculiar power to impart it. The limitations of Stoicism as a creed are more plainly seen in Marcus Aurelius. His character, revealed in the |fierce light that beats upon a throne,| is of rare nobility and beauty. To a man's strength he unites a woman's tenderness. Just because of that tenderness, and the deep heart of which it is the flower, the philosophy he so bravely practices gives him but a bleak and chill abiding-place. Through his Meditations -- manly, wise, and gracious -- there runs a deep note of sadness. For this man's nature cried out for love, and not even faithfulest duty can take the place of love.
Stoicism was the most distinct embodiment of the virtues of the classic world. Those virtues shone in many who did not profess themselves to be of the Stoic school. Plutarch's gallery of portraits is a part of the world's best possession. His heroes belong not to their own time alone. They may be distinguished in some broad respects from the saints and sages of other lands and times; some advance of type may be traced in the highest products of the successive ages; but while one turns the pages of Plutarch, he scarcely asks for better company.
Why, then, did Stoic philosophy fail of more wide or lasting success among mankind? Because -- we may perhaps answer -- its chief weapon was the reasoning intellect, in which only a few could be proficient. Because, fixing its ideal in imperturbability, it denied sensibilities of affection, joy, and hope, which are a large part of normal humanity. Because, in its lack of natural science, and its revulsion from the mythologic deities, it isolated man in the universe, claiming for the individual will a sovereignty which ignored the ensphering play of natural forces, and denying to the heart any outreach beyond the earthly and finite. If we may venture to summarize the defects of ancient philosophy in two words -- it lacked womanliness and it lacked knowledge.
We are now to study the building up of another side of the ideal man. Philosophy had essayed a religion of the intellect and the will; now from Judaism sprang Christianity, a religion of the imagination and the heart.
The highest outcome of the classic civilization was the clear conception and strenuous practice of right for its own sake. The outcome of Judaism in Christianity was essentially the belief and feeling of an intimate union between man and a higher power, with love and obedience on the one side, love and providence on the other.
In the vast tract of Greek-Roman history, we have looked at only a few of the highest mountain peaks -- the noblest contributions. But since the Christian church still treats the Old Testament as one of its charter documents, we need to enlarge a little upon the general outline and color of Jewish history, and we must recognize the shadows as well as the lights.
The traditional interpretation of the Old Testament which is still current is based on successive misconceptions, overlaying and blending with each other like close-piled geologic strata. Pious intent of the original writers, shaping their facts to suit their theories -- later assumptions of inspiration and infallibility in the records -- theologic systems quarried and built out of these materials -- the supposed dependence of the most precious faiths of mankind upon these misreadings of history, -- all these influences, with the lapse of time, have buried so deeply the original facts, that the exhuming and revivifying of the true story, or at least a tolerable similitude of its main lines, has imposed a gigantic task upon modern scholarship. Of the results of this scholarship, we may give here only a kind of shorthand memorandum.
The Old Testament as a whole, with precious exceptions, can only by a great stretch of imagination be claimed as an integral part of |the book of religion| -- the title which Matthew Arnold asserts for the entire Bible. The phrase can scarcely be applied to the Old Testament, unless it be read through a medium surcharged with association and prepossession. Much of its morality has been outgrown; many of its early stories are revolting to us: much, of which the inner meaning is at one with our deepest life, is disguised under phraseology wholly alien to our modern thought and speech. As a manual of devotion, or as a textbook for the young, the Old Testament can never again fill such a place as it filled to our fathers. But we can still trace in it many of the upward steps of the race, and there are portions which still hold a deep place in the affections of the truly religious.
The mind at certain stages personifies the Deity with the greatest ease and naturalness. The primitive man interprets the whole world about him by the analogy of his own activity. He sees in all the phenomena of nature the presence of personal beings, -- beings who act and suffer and enjoy and love and hate as he does himself. The sky, the sun, the wind, the ocean, represent each a separate deity. Next, each clan, or city, or nation, comes to regard itself as under the patronage of one of these deities. The national god of the Israelites, at the earliest time we know them, bore the name of Yahveh, -- a name more familiar to us under the form Jehovah. Originally he was probably the god of the sun and fire. His acts were seen everywhere, his motives guessed. The heat and light of the sun -- now illumining, now fructifying, now blasting -- were his immediate manifestations.
Later, he was conceived to favor certain kinds of human action. He was at first appeased under the influences of analogies from the lower side of human nature, -- Give him a present, something to eat, or to smell, or to see. Then came the idea that he was the friend and favorer of the righteous, -- of the merciful and just. The turning-point in the history of Judaism -- the birth-hour of religion as it has come down to us -- is marked by that great dimly-seen personality, Moses, who taught that the worship of Yahveh forbade murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness.
The Jews had neither science nor logic; they had no intelligent induction as to nature, -- hence they never got beyond the idea of supernatural intervention. Apparently they never challenged and sifted their fundamental ideas, -- never raised the question as to the actual existence of Yahveh. They saw and felt the incongruities of the world as a moral administration, and sometimes pressed the inquiry, as in Job, Why does Yahveh thus? But the denial of any ruling personal Will, as by Lucretius, was impossible to them. They were imaginative, intense, and their imagination got the saving ethical impress especially from the prophets.
Judaism as a religion grew from |the Law and the Prophets.| From almost the earliest historic time there existed some brief code of precepts, -- probably an abbreviated form of what we know as the Ten Commandments. Later came the impassioned preaching of the prophets. Still later, there was formulated that elaborate statute-book for which by a pious fiction was claimed the authority of Moses.
The prophets spoke out of an exaltation of which no other account was given than it was the inspiration of Yahveh, -- |Thus saith the Lord!| They did not argue, they asserted -- with a passion that bred conviction, or at least fear and respect.
It is here that the distinction between the Greek and the Hebrew method is most marked. Socrates, for example, called himself the midwife of men's thoughts. His maxim was, |Know thyself.| His cross-examination was designed to make men see for themselves. That is, he taught by reason. But the prophet's claim was, |Thus saith the Lord!| He spoke out of his personal and passionate conviction, for which he believed he had the highest supernatural sanction.
The heart of the typical prophetic message was that the Ruler of the world is a righteous ruler, and that the service he desires is righteousness. The early prophets -- such as Micah, Hosea, Amos -- speak with scorn of the worship by sacrifices, -- whether the fruits of the earth, or slaughtered beasts, or the ghastly offering of human life. Hosea cries: |I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.| So Micah speaks: |Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?|
Further, the prophets assumed to know and declare Yahveh's will on public affairs, especially on the government of the nation. They tried to dictate the attitude of Judea toward other kingdoms -- an attitude generally of proud defiance. Often their counsel ignored the actualities, and helped to precipitate Judah and Israel into hopeless conflicts with their mighty neighbors. When in these conflicts they were worsted, the prophets laid the disaster to the idolatry or other wickedness of the people. Finally came utter defeat and dispersal, and an exile for generations in a foreign land. Then the prophets rose to an intenser faith, -- purer, tenderer, more spiritual. Some time and somehow the Lord would surely be gracious to his people!
But when the captives, or a part of them, were restored to their own land, -- with lowered fortunes and humbled pride, half dependent still on a foreign master, -- the prophetic enthusiasm no longer availed to give a fresh message from the Lord. Instead, the leaders and founders of the restoration -- Ezra, Nehemiah, and their associates and followers -- built up a well-organized, well-enforced system of discipline. They reshaped the old traditions, enlarged and codified them; they shaped the Pentateuch and book of Joshua, as we know them now; they purified and beautified the Temple service; they instituted synagogues in every town, where religious teaching should be regular and constant; they developed a class of |Scribes,| or expositors of the Law; they multiplied ceremonial observances; they rewrote the national history, and invested their laws with the sacredness of divine oracles, under the august name of Moses; they imposed deadly penalties and bitter hatred on all who deviated from the established religion. All this was the work of centuries, and its important result was that by a manifold and perpetual drill certain religious ideas were stamped upon the minds of the people, until beliefs and usages and sentiments ran in their very blood and were transmitted from father to son.
As types of the Hebrew religion in its advancing stages we may note: first, Jacob, winning his way by craft and subtlety, gaining the favor of his god by a fidelity which expresses itself by vows and sacrifices and scarcely at all by morality; and hardly attractive except in the tenderness of his family relations. A mythical figure, he is a marvelous embodiment of the persistent race-traits of the Jew -- tenacity, craft, devoutness -- in the early phase. It is a very earthly phase, but with the germs of a marvelous development. Later, we have David, the warrior king. Still later comes Elijah, the prophet of a Deity who now stands for chastity and justice against gods of sensuality and cruelty, and defying wicked kings in the name of that God. Then in the line of prophets we may pass to their greatest, Isaiah, -- both first and second of the name, -- each of whom in the deepest adversity of the people is inspired by a hope, vague in its expectation, but so deep, so fervid, so sweet, that to this day it lends its language to hearts which in darkness look for the morning. Next we may take Ezra, rebuilding the shattered nationality, not on a political basis, but by a law of personal conduct in which a genuine morality is mixed with a ceremonial code. And here really belongs the legislation ascribed to Moses and given in the Pentateuch; the law-giver having an original in some great, dim, historic figure, long treasured in the popular imagination, but rehabilitated by priestly art as the author of a great volume of minute legislation, to which dignity is lent by the legends of a personality sublime yet meek. We have then the flowering of the inner life, in the book of Psalms, -- the single name of the Psalmist covering the products of many minds and successive generations. In the course of affairs, the hero's place belongs next to Judas Maccabaeus, the patriot leader against the heathen Greek; and we may take the books of the Maccabees and the book of Daniel as giving the ideal thought of the period, -- the matrix of belief and hope from which was to spring the crowning flower of Judaism.
It will suffice for our purpose if from this series we touch upon David, the Psalms, the book of Job, Isaiah, and the literature of the Maccabean time.
The real place of David is that of the warrior-king who gave independence, unity, and victory to the people of Israel. It was he who broke the yoke of the Philistines which Saul had weakened, and slew in fight their gigantic champion. He conquered and subjected the neighboring tribes; he put down the rebellions headed by his own sons; he made and kept Israel for a brief term a proud and victorious military monarchy. Within a single generation after his death it was divided into two hostile fragments, and both of these gradually fell under foreign conquerors. Very short was the period of Israel's warlike glory, and for a thousand years afterward the national heart turned in love and reverence to the hero of that time. As the Saxons remembered Alfred, as Americans remember Washington, so the Israelites remembered David. It was in his image and under his name that they pictured a future which should outshine their past. Israel throughout the period when she is most distinctly before us was a subject people. It was largely the presence of a foreign oppressor which gave to the national voice that tone of intense entreaty toward a divine friend and deliverer which runs its pathos through psalm and history and prophecy. There had been a better day for Israel, before Assyrian and Egyptian trampled her. There had been a day when Philistia and Edom quailed and fell before her, and the Lord wrought victory by the hand of David. So it is David's history that stands out fullest and clearest in the whole record, from Abraham onward. How much is true history and how much is imaginative addition must be largely guesswork. But we see in David the ideal hero and type of that period of Jewish history as we see in Achilles and Odysseus the ideal types of primitive Greece.
And the story of David is as deeply colored with the primal passions of humanity as are the songs of Homer. There is the picture of the shepherd-boy, to which must be added the exquisite psalm which later traditions put in his mouth; the victory over the giant; the most pathetic story of the moody and wayward Saul -- the power of music over his melancholy, the alternations of jealous rage and compunction; the friendship with Jonathan, more tender and pure than the friendships Plato pictures; the dramatic fortunes of the outlaw; the family tragedies full of crime and horror; the dark story of Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom; the passion of fatherhood in fullest intensity, with the agonized prayers for the sick child and the heartbroken lament over Absalom; the group of valiant captains and their chivalrous exploits; the risk of life to bring to their homesick chief a drink from the well of Bethlehem; the story of Bathsheba and Uriah -- lust, treachery, and murder; the prophet's rebuke; the years declining under heavy shadows. How full of lifeblood it all is! Every chapter is an idyl, an epic, or a tragedy.
It is largely this picturesque dramatic quality which made the English Bible in its early days the favorite book of the English people, and has kept for it always so high a place. But the attempt to reduce a story like David's to terms of spiritual edification has been difficult above measure, ever since mankind advanced beyond the half-barbaric age in which the story was told. Judged by our standards, the ethics of the story are often low, and its religion is largely a superstition. What brings the Almighty on the scene is most frequently some great calamity, which priest or soothsayer interprets as a divine judgment. Often there is attributed to him the quality of a jealous Oriental despot. The justice he enforces is often injustice and savagery. Take the story of the Gibeonites. A three years' famine in Israel was explained by Yahveh's oracle as a retribution for the breach of faith by Saul, many years before, with the Gibeonites, whom he had persecuted in defiance of ancient compact. David thereupon invited the Gibeonites to name the requital which would appease them, and they asked for the death of seven sons of Saul. So David delivered the seven innocent men into their hands, |and they hanged them before the Lord.|
The Zeus of Homer is offensive to religious feeling because he fully shares the sensuality which we account one of the great defects of humanity. From that blemish the Hebrew idea of God is always free. The hostility between Yahveh and the heathen gods has its deep ethical significance in the struggle of chastity against licentiousness, to which the religious sanction brings reinforcement. But the Hebrew God has a savage and vindictive quality, which only slowly and partially disappears. Originally, it is probable, the God of the sun and fire, beneficent to illumine, malevolent to burn, he remains always in some degree a God of wrath.
It was by one of the strange growths of the advancing popular thought that David, the valiant, passionate soldier-king, came to be conceived of as the writer of the book of Psalms. Historically a misconception, it yet lent a continuity and ideal unity to the nation's self-interpretation.
The book of Psalms, says Dean Stanley, is the selected hymns of the Jewish people, for a period as long as from Chaucer to Tennyson. The service-book of the Second Temple is Kuenen's description. Beyond any other single book, it shows us the heart of Judaism in its ripest, most characteristic development. Its language has become saturated with the associations of many centuries. In these intense, direct, and fervid utterances we can see the form and lineaments of a faith which was the ancestor of our own, yet is not the same.
The religion of the Psalms has different phases. We have here the experiences of many souls, with a certain kinship, yet with wide differences. In many of these hymns one recognizes the religion in which Jesus was cradled. Imagination and feeling have full scope. The constant idea is of Yahveh, ruler of the world and its inhabitants, the judge of the wicked and friend of the good. |Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.| |How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.| |Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments as a great deep.| |The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants, and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.| |Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him.|
The depth and passion of the struggle against sin is shown in the fifty-first Psalm. |Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.| |Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.| |Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.| |Make me to hear joy and gladness.| |Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.| |Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.|
This passion against sin -- this cry for inward purity -- is the root of the religion of Jesus, the blessedness of the pure in heart; the warfare of Paul, the spirit against the flesh.
In other psalms, again, is a poignant cry for help and deliverance. It is the expostulation of the soul with Fate, the cry to a Power who should be a friend, but hides his face. There, is a pathetic sense of man's frailty and mortality. |Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears, for I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.|
Praise for God's greatness and awe for his eternity are joined with the sad sense of man's mortality. |Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?|
Very often again the burden is the cry of the weak against the oppressor. Man, wronged by his fellow, cries to God, and can imagine no deliverance save by the ruin of his enemies. The cursing is tremendous. |O daughter of Babylon, happy shall he be that taketh thy little ones and dasheth them against the stones!| At this point is the widest ethical difference between |them of old time| and our own religion. In them, abhorrence of sin was not yet distinguished from hatred of the sinner, and the foes of the Psalmist or his nation were always identified with the foes of God. To hate thine enemy seemed as righteous as to love thy friend.
In a sense we may say the Psalms are a cry to which Jesus is the answer: |Lord, save me, and destroy my enemies!| |Love your enemies, and in loving you are saved.|
In the book of Psalms there blends and alternates with the old theory of reward and punishment a later idea, -- that goodness carries its own blessing with it, -- that better than oil and wine, flocks and herds, health and friends, is the peace of well-doing, the joy of gratitude, yes, even the passionate contrition in which the soul revolts from its own sin and finds again the sweetness of the upward effort and a response to that effort like heaven's own smile. Not, goodness brings blessings, but goodness is blessed; not, the wicked shall perish, but wickedness is perdition; this is the deep undertone of the best of the Psalms.
Among these hymns are some which are filled with a noble delight in the works of nature, -- a fresh, glad pleasure in the whole spectacle of creation, from sun and stars, sea and mountains, to the goats among the hills, and the conies of the rock. There is frank satisfaction in the bread which strengtheneth man's heart and the wine that makes him glad. And all this free human joy in the activities and splendors of nature never so much as approaches the perilous slope towards sensuality. It is everywhere sublimated by the all-pervading recognition of a holy and beneficent God.
What may be said of the Psalms generally is this: they express the most vivid and various play of human emotions, -- sorrow, wrath, repentance, joy, dread, hope, -- always exercised as in the presence of an Almighty being, holy, righteous, and the friend of righteous men. In this is their abiding power, -- this close reflection of the fluctuations in every sensitive heart under the play of life's experiences, -- encompassed with an atmosphere of noble seriousness, and outreaching toward a higher Power.
In the story of the Jewish mind, the book of Job stands by itself. It is not so much a stage in the progressive development of a faith, as a powerful and unanswered challenge to the current assertions of that faith. The characteristic idea of Judaism was that God rules the world in the interest of the good man. Not so, says Job, the facts are against it. Hear the complaint of a good man to whom life has brought trouble and sorrow, without remedy and without hope! So stood first the bold arraignment, the earliest voice of truly religious skepticism. Job is skeptical, not from any want of goodness, -- he has been strenuously good; even now in all his darkness, |my righteousness I hold fast and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.| His goodness is of no narrow sort; justice, protection of the oppressed, help to the suffering, these have been his delight; from wantonness of sense he has kept himself pure; not even against wrong-doers and enemies has his hate gone out; he has not |rejoiced at the destruction of them that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him; neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul.| Yet, after a life of this sort, he finds himself bereft, impoverished, tormented. Where is the righteousness of God? He turns to his friends for sympathy. |Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.| His friends for reply justify God by blaming Job. Doubtless you deserve it all: you must have done all manner of wrong, and been a hypocrite to boot! That is all the comfort they give him. Dreary and desolate he stands, no good in the present, no hope in the future. |I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not. Thou art become cruel to me; with thy strong hand thou opposest thyself against me. I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living.|
Upon that gloom the curtain falls. |The words of Job are ended.|
The later chapters of the book seem added by successive hands. They introduce a fresh speaker, to help out the argument for God. They make the Almighty speak in his own behalf. His answer is simply an appeal to the wonders of physical nature. Look, vain man, at my works; consider the war-horse, the behemoth, the leviathan; how can your petty mind judge the creator of these? This strikes a note which is still heard in the music of to-day, the awe and reverence before the grandeur of nature which can sometimes soothe the restlessness of man and hush his anxieties, as the harp of David brought peace to the moody Saul. Yet such thoughts do not suffice for the man whose personal suffering is keen. They silence rather than answer the question which presses upon Job.
The story must be otherwise helped out, so some kindly champion of orthodoxy put in a fairy-story climax, -- Job got well of his boils, had more sheep and oxen than ever, had other children born to him. And so the difficulty is happily solved!
But the earlier and deeper words remain, with their unanswerable challenge to the comfortable creed that God will always make the good man happy. The book stands, the expression of a typical, a mournful but sublime attitude of the human mind. It is a facing of truth when truth looks darkest, rather than to take refuge in comfortable make-believe. And it shows man falling back on his innermost stronghold of all. If God himself fail me, -- if the power of the universe be cruel or indifferent, -- yet |my righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.|
The habitual weapon of the Prophets is denunciation. They pour out on their opponents a wrath which is the hotter because it involves a moral condemnation, and the heavier because it claims the sanction of Deity. Among their exemplars are Samuel deposing Saul, and scaring him from the tomb, and Elijah slaying the priests of Baal. Of the written prophecies the characteristic word is |Woe unto you!| They are the prototypes of Jesus assailing the Pharisees and driving out the money-changers; of the book of Revelation; of Tertullian proclaiming the torments of the damned; of the mediaeval ban on the heretic; of Puritan and Catholic hurling anathemas at each other; of Carlyle, of Garrison. But in the greatest of the prophets the threat is almost hidden by the promise, and instead of cursing there is benediction.
Whoever would get at the heart of the Old Testament, and understand the spell which the religion first of Judaism and then of Christianity has cast upon the world for thousands of years, should ponder the book of Isaiah. It blends the work of two authors, but their spirit is closely akin. In each case the prophet is full of a conviction so intense that he propounds it with perfect confidence as the word of God. By the boldest personification, he speaks continually in the name of God. This was the characteristic method of Hebrew prophecy. The prophetic books all stand as for the most part the direct word of God. This way of thought and speech was possible only to men in an early stage of intellectual development and under the highest pressure of conviction and emotion.
The traditional repute of these Jewish prophets and the record of their words were accepted by both Jews and Christians. Their writings were taken as the authoritative voice of God. The same credit came to be extended to all the ancient books of the Jewish religion, -- psalms, histories, genealogies, ritual, and all. But it is mainly the prophecies to which this character originally belonged. The Psalms are, with few exceptions, purely human in their standpoint. In them, it is avowedly a man who mourns, rejoices, repents, prays, curses, or gives thanks. But in the prophecies God himself is presented as the speaker.
In both the earlier and later Isaiah, God appears as speaking to men in extreme need, in words of incomparable comfort, inspiration, and hope. To whatever special exigency of Israel they were first addressed, the language, stripped of all local references, comes home to the universal human heart in its deepest experiences. To the divine favor this teaching sets only one condition: |Cease to do evil, learn to do well.| |Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.| |If ye be willing and obedient.| |Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked; it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him.| On the one simple condition of turning from moral evil to good, the blessings of the inner life are promised in every tone of assurance, consolation, promise. |Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.| |Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.| |He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.| |Sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth, and break forth into singing, O mountains, for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.|
The most triumphant word in the New Testament, and its tenderest word, both are drawn from one verse in the elder Isaiah: |He will swallow up death in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.|
The distinctive word and thought of Jesus toward God is first found in the later Isaiah, -- |our Father.| |Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not; thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.| The word recurs, together with an image which by a later than Jesus was made the symbol of an arbitrary divine despotism, but which Isaiah first employed to blend the idea of omnipotent power with closest affection: |O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay and thou the potter; and we are all the work of thy hand.| A similitude is used even gentler than a father's care: |As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.| |Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.|
By the later Isaiah is shown the figure of an innocent sufferer, whose sorrows are to issue in the widest blessing. This sufferer has been interpreted sometimes as typifying the few heroic souls among the people of Israel, sometimes as a prophet in Isaiah's day, last and most fondly as Christ. Whomever the prophet had in mind, the idea goes home to the heart; somehow, undeserved sorrow borne blamelessly, bravely, even gladly, since for love's sake, is to have a celestial fruitage. |Despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;| |he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,| -- and at last |he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.| Then the strain breaks into an exultant tenderness, weaving into one chord the deepest griefs and consolations of woman, the sublimities of nature, all the passion and all the peace of the heart. |Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed. For thy Maker is thy husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and thy redeemer the Holy One of Israel. For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; and all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.|
To such words men and women in all times have clung, and always will cling. For, so first spoke a voice in some soul which in the heart of the storm had found peace. He called it the voice of God. What better name can we give it?
In the prophecies and the psalms we have seen the high-wrought poetry of Israel's religion. For the requirements of daily life there needs a more prosaic, definite, and minute guidance. This the Jew found in the body of usages and precepts which gradually grew up under the care of the priesthood. The prescriptive sanction of habit attached to these observances was at certain memorable epochs exchanged for a belief in the direct communication of the code from heaven. One such occasion was the finding of the |book of the Law| by the high priest, and its presentation and enforcement on king and people which is recorded in 2 Kings xxii. and xxiii. The strong indications are that this was the book known to us as Deuteronomy, and that instead of the rediscovery of a forgotten book there was in truth a new book set forth, claiming the authority of Moses, and enlarging and enriching the traditional observances according to the most |advanced| ideas of the time. A similar occasion, at a later period, is described at length in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The new legislation there imposed in the name of Moses and the fathers -- or rather of Yahveh himself, as he spoke to the men of old -- was probably in substance the regulations contained in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
By our standards of judgment, these acts were pious forgeries. The mental conditions under which they were done, the psychologic state which prompted them, the ethical standards which sanctioned them, are matter for curious study. It would be crude to class them as the deliberate and inexcusable crimes which they would be in our day. The claim of a divine authority for human beliefs -- the idea that what is morally beneficial may be asserted as historically true -- has worked in many strange forms. We see it here in its early phase, among a people in whom, as in mankind at large, the virtue and obligation of truthfulness was a late and slow discovery. The same instinct -- to claim for what we wish to believe a sanction of infallible revelation -- works in subtle forms to-day.
As to the contents of the Law which thus gradually took form, a distinction may easily be traced even by the cursory reader. The earlier code, Deuteronomy, is full of a generous and lofty temper. It is one of the most impressive documents of the Jewish scriptures. Here is that which Jesus named as the first and great commandment: |Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.| The teaching of the book is primarily the worship of Yahveh, -- a holy, loving, and judging God, -- who rewards his people with blessings or punishes them with disasters. Promises and threats are equally distinct and vivid: never were blessing and cursing more emphatic. The morality enjoined is charitable and pure. With an equal insistence is enjoined a certain method and form of worship, including sacrifices at the temple, three yearly feasts, the observance of the Sabbath, the due maintenance of the priesthood, and the utter rejection of all other gods.
When we turn to the other books of the Law, we come into an atmosphere less exalted, and with a multiplicity of ceremonial details. There is endless regulation as to varieties of sacrifice, cleansing from technical uncleanness, and the like. Interwoven with these, as if on an equal footing, are special applications of morality -- inculcations of chastity, justice, and good neighborhood. The principles of the Ten Words -- themselves an inheritance from a very early day -- are applied in many particulars. Occasionally is a lofty sentiment, a clear advance. Thus we find in Leviticus the |second commandment| of Jesus, |Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.|
The general increase in rigidity of ceremonial in these books is to be read along with the stern decrees of Ezra as to separation from family and friendly relations with non-Jewish neighbors. It was, in a word, a Puritan reformation. There was just the same combination of heightened moral conviction with urgency upon matters of form and detail, and hostility to all outside of one special church, which belonged to the Puritan. But the Jewish reformer, unlike the English, enlarged instead of simplifying his ritual. It is this interblending of outward observance with moral and spiritual quality which stumbles the modern reader at every page. It was a confusion which needed the spiritual genius of Jesus to dissolve, and the leadership of Paul to definitely renounce.
By the side of the ceremonial element in the Law there ripened gradually an expansion of its moral precepts. The sacred books were expounded by the Scribes. The preacher in the synagogue came to touch the people's heart often more closely and delicately than the priest with his bloody sacrifices and his imposing liturgies. Spontaneity, inspiration, prophetic power, was no longer present, but in the guise of comment and interpretation there grew up a gentler, humaner morality. The moral value of labor and industry came into recognition. There were teachers like Hillel and Gamaliel in whom devout piety and homely practice went hand in hand. In the ethics of Judaism -- under all these various forms of |the Law and the Prophets| -- the distinctive note, compared with the ethics of Greece and Rome, was chastity. The ideal Greece represented wisdom and beauty; the ideal Rome was valor and self-control; the ideal Israel was the subjugation of sense to spirit, the approach of man to God by purity of life.
The twofold service of Judaism was to impress this special note of chastity on human virtue, and to give to virtue the wings of a great hope. The flowering of that hope was in Christianity; the preparation for it comes now before us.
Under the rule of Alexander's successors the Jewish system, with its mixture of ethics and ritual, came in collision with the ideas and practice of degenerate Greek culture, -- pleasure-loving, nature-worshiping, sensual, with gymnastics and aesthetics, tolerant and tyrannical. The two systems were hostile alike in their virtues and vices. The Greek ruler put down with a strong hand the religious and patriotic scruples of his Jewish subject. The Jew bore persecution with the tough endurance of his race, then rose in revolt with the fierce courage and religious fervor of his race. He won his last victory in the field of arms. Brief was the independence, soon followed by inglorious servitude; but its sufferings and triumphs had fused the nation once more into invincible devotion to the Law of their God, and had rooted in their hearts a principle of hope which in varying forms and growing power was to change the aspect of human life.
It seems natural to man to ascribe some impressive origin, some dramatic birth, to the beliefs that are dearest to him. But if we trace back through Christian and Jewish lineage the idea of immortality, we are quite unable to discover the time or place of its beginning. The early Jew thought of death much as did the early Greek, -- as the extinction of all that was precious in life, and the transition to a shadowy and forlorn existence in the realm of shades. The Hades of Homer seems much to resemble the Sheol of the Old Testament, though more vividly conceived. The strong, ruddy, passionate life of the Hebrew found as little to cheer it in the outlook beyond death as did the energetic, graceful, joyful life of the Greek. Ancient Egypt had, at least for the initiate, a noble teaching of retribution hereafter to crown the mortal career with fit consummation of joy or woe. Ancient Persia had in its own form a like doctrine. The Hebrews in their servile period caught not a scintilla of the Egyptian faith. In their exile it is probable that they did get some unrecorded influence from their Persian neighbors. Unmistakably, their emigrants to Alexandria, meeting there the nobler form of Greek culture while the Palestinian Jews encountered its baser side, caught some inspiration from the philosophy which followed, though afar off, the noble visions of Plato. Whether Persia or Greece was more directly the source of the new hope which crept almost unperceived into the stern bosom of Judaism is not certain. But the first clear voice of that hope comes from the time of the martyrs. In the second book of the Maccabees is told -- probably by an Alexandrian Jew -- the story of the men and women who faced a dreadful death rather than disobey the Law of their God. In that last extremity -- that confrontal of the soul by the bitterest choice, and its acceptance of death rather than wrong-doing -- comes the sudden voice of a hope triumphant over the tyrant. |Thou like a fury takest us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life.| So in succession bear testimony the seven sons of one mother, herself the bravest of them all. |She exhorted every one of them in her own language, filled with courageous spirit; and stirring up her womanish thoughts with a manly courage, she said unto them: 'I cannot tell how ye came into my womb: for I neither gave you breath nor life, neither was it I that formed the members of every one of you. But doubtless the Creator of the world who formed the generations of man, and found out the beginning of all things, will also of his due mercy give you breath and life again, as ye now regard not your own selves for his laws' sake. Fear not this tormentor, but, being worthy of thy brethren, take thy death, that I may receive thee again in mercy with thy brethren.'|
Just as the death of Socrates inspired in Plato the out-reaching hope of a hereafter, so these Jewish martyrdoms quickened the doubtful guess, the dim conjecture, into fervid conviction. From this period dates the settled Jewish belief in immortality.
The form which that belief assumed is seen in the book of Daniel. That book was a creation of this period, inspired by its sufferings, aspirations, and hopes. The writer, assuming the name and authority of a traditional hero, -- by that easy confusion of the ideal and the historical which we have seen before, -- blends with stories of unconquerable fidelity and divine deliverance his own interpretation of the world's recent history and probable future. It is an early essay in what we call the philosophy of history, the first recorded conception of a world-drama. Median, Persian, Greek, and Roman monarchies move their appointed course and pass away. God's plan is working itself out, and the culmination is yet to come. In vision the prophet beholds it: the |Ancient of days,| with garment white as snow and hair like pure wool, upon a throne like fiery flame, with wheels as burning fire. Thousands of thousands minister before him: the judgment is set and the books are opened. One like the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven, and there is given to him dominion and glory and a kingdom which shall not pass away. In his kingdom shall be gathered the saints of the Most High. Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to ever-lasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
This was the figure in which the Jewish imagination clothed the Jewish hope. The national and the individual future blent in one anticipation. The dead were to |sleep in the dust| until the day when the divine kingdom was established, and then were to rise again to life, and according to their deserts were to share the endless glory or shame.
So philosophy makes its essay at the destiny of mankind. So imagination fashions its pictures. And back of philosophy and imagination we trace the elemental and highest forces of the soul. It is martyrdom and motherhood that inspire the immortal hope. Man faces the worst that can befall him -- drinks the hemlock or suffers the torture -- rather than be false to duty. The mother broods over the life mysteriously sprung from her own, and given back by her as a sacred trust to the service of the right and to an unseen keeping. And to martyr and mother comes the voice, |All shall be well with thee and thine.|
Christianity, inheriting from Judaism the belief in immortality, gave it a more central place, and a more appealing force. Of the older religion, the special characteristic -- compared with the Greek and Roman world -- was the impressing upon a whole people of a law of conduct, in which with a multitude of external ceremonies were bound up the fundamental principles of justice, benevolence, and chastity, enforced by the authority of a personal and righteous God. We see the educational effect upon the religious Hebrew of this clearly personal God. It constantly lifted him out of the littleness of self-consciousness, setting before his imagination the loftiest object. It gave definiteness and impressiveness to his best ideals. And, further, this anthropomorphism, as we name it now, was but the primitive expression of the principle which is central in all forms of religious faith, that man and the universe are in some deepest sense at one, and that man's closest approach to the secret of the universe lies through his own noblest development. That is one way of saying what the Jew felt when his imagination gave to the sternest command and the highest promise the sanction, |Thus saith the Lord.|
The Hebrew religion was wrought out under constant pressure of disaster. It was the religion of a proud, brave people, who were constantly held in subjection to foreign conquerors. Hence came a quality of intense hostility to these tyrannical foes, and also a constant appeal to the Divine Power which seemed often to conceal itself. Hence -- and from that sorrowful lot of the individual which often matches this national tragedy -- hence comes the passionate, pleading, poignant quality through which the Old Testament has always spoken to the struggling and suffering, -- with gleams of hope, the more intense from the clouds through which they shine.
The note of the New Testament is exultant. There is keen sense of present evil, endurance, struggle; but there is a deeper sense of a great deliverance already begun and to be perfected in the future. The heart of this new energy, joy, and hope is love for a human yet celestial friend. This love was awakened by a personality of extraordinary nobility and attractiveness. The personal affection inspired imagination and ideality to their highest flights. Its original object became invested with superhuman traits and elevated to a deity. To trace with certainty and minuteness the historic lineaments of the real man is not altogether possible; but the essential truth concerning him is sufficiently plain.
The biographies which we possess of Jesus were written from thirty to a hundred years after his death. In these records memory and imagination are intimately blended. On the one hand, the power and loftiness of his character and words stamped certain traits unmistakably and indelibly on the minds of his followers. But on the other hand, he was so suggestive and inspiring -- there were among his disciples natures so susceptible, responsive, yet untrained, and their community was soon fused in such a contagion of passionate feeling unchecked by reason -- that the seeds of his words and acts fruited in a rich growth of imagination, which blent closely with the historic reality. And with the central inspiration of his life there mixed in his followers ideas more or less foreign to him, so that the result in the Gospels is a composite which often defies certainty of analysis.
If we read with open mind the Gospel narratives, the foremost, vivid impression we get is of a personage using superhuman power over natural forces for the benefit of mankind. As he is described, Jesus is before all a worker of beneficent miracles. He is a teacher, too, and an unexampled one. But he enforces his teaching by means utterly transcending the credentials of other teachers. He is a tender human friend, but he expresses his friendship by services such as no other friend can render. He allays tempests by a word. He creates bread and wine at will. He heals the fevered, the lunatic, the blind. He raises the dead. In a word, he constantly exercises superhuman power. It is this, not less than the excellence of his teaching, which has distinguished him in the eyes of his worshipers. What is the wisest word about immortality worth -- what do we care for what Socrates or Plato said -- when here is one who raised Lazarus from the dead and rose himself? What need for any argument or assurance about Providence, when here is one through whom the very order of nature is set aside at the impulse of beneficent love?
But the growing difficulty in really believing the miracles and the growing preference for the purely human elements of the story have led in our time to a different conception.
The secret of Jesus was the idea and reality of a pure and ardent life. His genius lay in showing the possibilities of the human spirit, in its interior harmony and its relations with the world about it. Love your enemies, -- in that word he reached the hardest and highest achievement of conduct. The pure in heart shall see God, -- with that he put in the hands of the humblest man the key of the heavenly vision.
The Hebrew idea was righteousness, in the sense of chastity, justice, and piety. Jesus sublimated this, -- in him chastity becomes purity; in place of justice dawns brotherhood; and piety changes from personal homage to a love embracing earth and heaven.
Jesus taught in parables. A story -- an outward, objective fact, something which the imagination can body forth -- often facilitates the impartation to another mind of a spiritual experience. The soul has no adequate language of its own, -- it must borrow from the senses and the imagination.
The central idea of Jesus is expressed in the saying, |No man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son.| That is, man is a mystery except to his Maker; he does not even understand himself. And correspondingly, |No man knoweth the Father save the Son:| only the obedient and loving heart recognizes the Divinity. God is not known by the intellect: he is felt through the moral nature. Peace, assurance, sense of inmost reality, comes through steadfast goodness.
Jesus impressed this idea by the figure of father and son. What symbol could he have used more intelligible? more universally coming home? Like all statements of highest truth, all symbols, it was imperfect; it did not furnish an adequate explanation of the workings of the universe. But, under the homeliest figure, under the guise of the nearest human relation, it expressed the greatest truth of the inner life.
Further, Jesus threw his emphasis where men need it thrown, -- not on abstract ideas, but on action. His teaching was always as to conduct. Purity, forgiveness, rightness of heart were his themes.
Above all, he lived what he taught. He left the memory of a life which to his followers seemed faultless. And ever since, those who felt their own inadequacy have laid closest hold on his success, his victory, as somehow the pledge of theirs.
Jesus was a Jew, but in him there was born into the world a higher principle than Judaism. The historic lineage is not to be too much insisted on. When he said, |Love your enemies,| |Forgive that ye may be forgiven,| he brought into the traditional religion a revolutionary idea. Judaism was largely a religion of wrath. Jesus planted a religion of love.
The tender plant was soon half choked by the old coarse growth, and for many centuries the religion named after Christ had a vein of hate as fierce as the old Judaism. But blending with it, and struggling always for ascendency, was the religion of love, symbolized by the cradle of Bethlehem and the cross of Calvary.
Of the Judaic traits in Jesus, conspicuous was the prophetic feeling and tone. He was possessed with an absolute fullness of conviction, and spoke in a tone of blended ardor and certitude. |He taught as one having authority.| He rarely gave reasons. If in his words we find appeal to precedent or argument, it is really as little more than illustration or picture to clothe his own intuition. His followers believed his words, either because of some conscious witness in their breasts, or because their love and reverence for him won for his assertions an unquestioning acceptance.
From Judaism he took the familiar idea of one all-powerful and holy God; a moral ideal which was chiefly distinguished from that of the Greek-Roman world by its greater emphasis on chastity; and also the belief in a constant divine interposition in human affairs, which soon was to culminate in the establishment of a divine kingdom on earth.
Jesus woke in his followers an ardor for goodness, a tenderness for their fellow men, and a supreme devotion to himself. His words went straight to the springs of character. He brushed aside religious ceremonial as of no importance. He sent the searching light of purity into the recesses of the heart. He made love the law of life and the key of the universe. He interpreted love, as a principle of human conduct, by illustrations the most homely, real, and tender. Love is no mere delicious emotion: it is giving our bread to the hungry, ourselves to the needy. It is not a mere felicity of kindred spirits, -- love them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you!
Jesus was the greatest of poets. To every fact, to every idea, he gave its most beautiful and spiritual interpretation. When he speaks of God, his speech is the pure poetry of the soul. Yahveh becomes to him the All-father. His providence is over the lilies and the sparrows. His rain and sunshine are shed on the unjust as on the just. His inmost nature is set forth by the human father meeting his returning prodigal a great way off. His very life is shared with his children. It wells up in Jesus himself: the light in his eyes, the tenderness in his tones, the yearning in his heart, -- it is my Father ye know in me!
How does that Divine Power appear in the procedure of the universe? What real providence is there for the slain sparrow? What is the actual destiny of those human lives which show only frustration and failure? Jesus does not answer these questions. It does not appear that he tried to answer them. His words are filled with a glad, unquestioning trust. He is not the philosopher seeking to measure life. He is the lover living it, the poet delighting in it.
The secret of Jesus lay in his sense of the |kingdom of God| within him, -- of obedience, peace, and joy, which was in itself sufficient. Simply to communicate and impart that was to spread the Kingdom among men.
A teacher like John the Baptist -- possessed by the idea of righteousness, and of the world's deficiency, but without tranquillity in his own heart -- could look only for a divine interposition, a catastrophe. John is a sort of Carlyle. But Jesus, hearing him, and brooding the deeper truth, goes about proclaiming a present heaven.
The marks of this inner state defined themselves against the conditions of life he saw about him.
Thus, he shows his estimate of wealth in the story of the young ruler. |Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor!|
Toward the other prize which men most seek, reputation, his feeling is expressed to the two brethren asking chief places: |He that will be chief among you, let him be your servant.|
As to learning, intellectual attainment, his characteristic word is, |Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.| |Be as little children.|
The prevalent forms of religious observance he quietly acquiesced in, except where they barred the free play of human charity. Then he set the form aside, as being only the servant of the spirit. |The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.|
Such was his attitude toward wealth, honor, intellectual wisdom, ceremonial.
Toward the outcasts, the publican and harlots, his attitude was of pure compassion. Toward the Pharisees it was denunciatory. Wealth of ceremony and poverty of spirit, self-complacency mixed with scorn for others and with hostility to new light and love, roused in him a wrath which broke in lightning-flashes. |Woe unto you! whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones, children of hell!|
In the ethics of Jesus chastity has a high place, yet he has few words about it. His is an exalted and ardent goodness, of which purity is an almost silent element. His effect is like that of a noble woman, whose presence is felt as an atmosphere. When he speaks, his words set the highest mark, -- |Be pure in heart.|
We may contrast the scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene with that between Socrates and the courtesan Theodota. The philosopher is proof against allurement, and gives kindly advice, which clearly will have no effect; Jesus, without conscious effort, wakes a passion of repentance which transforms the life. So again we may compare the check which Epictetus prescribes against undue tenderness, |Say while you kiss your child, he is mortal,| with the habitual attitude of Jesus toward children, -- taking them in his arms, and saying, |Of such is the kingdom of heaven.| It is in such scenes as these -- in his relations especially with women and with children -- that we best see the genius of the heart, the newness which came into the world with Jesus.
While dwelling in an inner realm of joy, he had the keenest sense of the sin and sorrow in men's lives. |He was filled with compassion for the multitude, as sheep having no shepherd.| Their epilepsies, leprosies, -- the hardness of heart, the insensibility to the higher life, -- these moved him with a great pity. Scarcely save in little children did he see the heart-free joy, the natural freedom and happiness, which was his own. The hard-heartedness of the rich, the scorn of the self-righteous for the outcasts, moved his indignation. Thus the holy happiness of his own life was mingled with a profound sense of the trouble of other lives.
His reading of the trouble was very simple: there were but two forces in the world, moral good and evil, God and Satan, and God was shortly to give an absolute triumph to the good.
Among the chief impressions he made was that of commanding power. He must have been full of healthy and majestic manhood. Women and children were attracted to him, as the weak are attracted by the strong. In the storm on the lake, his spirit so rose above the elemental rage -- as if upborne with delight by the sublime scene -- that his companions forgot their fears, and in the remembrance it appeared to them that the sea and wind grew calm at his word. His strength seemed to impart itself to the weak, his health to the sick. The stories of marvel which richly embroider the whole story are partly the halos of imagination investing a personality which commanded, charmed, inspired.
Sometimes evil was considered the work of wicked spirits, -- so especially in cases of lunacy. Over some such cases Jesus had a peculiar power. He even imparted this power to some of the disciples, who caught his inspiration. The disciples, and probably Jesus, believed that this power extended to other sicknesses. Of the uniformity of nature there is no recognition in the New Testament. Man's power over events is believed to be measured by his spiritual nearness to God. |If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,| ye can cast mountains into the sea.
When the soul exchanges its solitary communing for the actual world, it needs to see manifested there the divinity it has felt. Jesus found this manifestation partly in his power through faith to do |mighty works,| partly in the expectation of the near coming of the Kingdom.
These in one sense typify the forms in which the religious soul always and everywhere finds the divine presence. Man himself masters the forces of nature, and as he does so has the consciousness of some higher power working through him. And he looks for a better future for himself and for mankind.
But the peculiarity of Jesus -- looked at from a modern standpoint -- was that he combined the most ardent, pure, and tender feeling and conduct with a simple belief that in the course of events only moral and spiritual forces are to be reckoned with; that man has power over nature in proportion to the purity and intensity of his trust in God; and that the whole order of society is to be speedily transformed by a divine interposition. These ideas were inwrought in Jesus, and blended with his ardor of goodness, his tenderness, his sense of a mission to seek and save the lost.
In his teaching, God feeds and clothes his children as he feeds the birds and clothes the grass. There is no need that they should be anxious about their physical wants. Their troubles will be banished if they will pray in faith. Disease, lunacy, all devilish evil, will vanish before the presence of the trusting child of God. All the injustice and wrong of the world are speedily to vanish through the direct intervention of God. It is the old anthropomorphic idea of God -- the idea of the Prophet and Psalmist, wholly untouched by the questioning of Job; become tender, through the mellowing growth of centuries; sublimated in a heart of exquisite goodness and tenderness; and mixed with a visionary interpretation of the world.
What the ruling power of the universe will do he infers from the most attractive human analogy. If even an unjust human judge yields to the importunity of a petitioner, much more will the divine judge listen to the cry of the wronged and suffering. If a human father gives bread to his children when they ask, much more will the divine father.
We are to remember that Jesus shared the inheritance, the education, and the beliefs of the Galilean peasantry of his time. The force in him which winnowed the ideas of his people, selecting and sublimating the higher elements, was an exceptional moral and spiritual insight. This insight guided him far upward in truths of conduct and of emotional life. But it could not suffice to disclose those broad facts as to the procedure of the phenomena of nature which we call science. To the Jew of the New Testament period, -- to Paul as much as to the fishermen of Galilee, -- the world was directly administered by a personal being who habitually set aside for his own purposes the ordinary course of events. The higher minds of the Greek-Roman world had reached a different conception. Thinkers like Aristotle had assumed the constancy of nature as the basis of their teaching, poets like Lucretius had proclaimed it. But the great mass of the Greek-Roman world still believed, as the entire Jewish people believed, in the habitual intervention of some divine personality. What distinguished and dignified the Jewish belief was that it attributed all such interventions to a single deity who embodied the highest moral perfection, instead of to a mixed multitude representing evil as well as good impulses. All Jewish history was written on this hypothesis. The only records of the past which Jesus knew were the Old Testament and its Apocrypha, in which each crisis of the nation or the individual displayed the decisive interference of the heavenly power. The occurrences which we name miracles were hardly distinguished by the Jew as generically different from ordinary occurrences; they were only more marked and special instances of God's working. That a man especially beloved of God for his goodness should be given power to heal the blind and the lunatic seemed as natural as it was that his loving compassion should win the outcast and his fiery rebuke appall the hypocrite.
It seems clear that Jesus, not less than his disciples, regarded his power over physical ills as just as truly an incident of his character and mission as was the power to inspire conduct and reclaim the erring. What differentiated him from them was that he held the physical marvels of far less relative account than they did. Obscure as the detailed narratives must remain to us, it seems unmistakable that he habitually discouraged all publicity and prominence for his works of healing. His spiritual genius showed him that the stimulation of curiosity and expectation in this direction diverted men from the principal business of life, and the essential purport of his message, -- to love, obey, and trust.
The point at which the idea of divine intervention most seriously affected his work seems to have been in his growing expectation of a speedy consummation which should in a day establish on earth the kingdom of truth and righteousness. His earlier teachings include striking utterances upon the gradual development of character in man, the slow ripening of society, as in the parables of the leaven and the sower. Here he was on the firm ground of his own observation and consciousness. But as the problem of his own mission pressed for an explicit solution; as the lofty passion of the idealist, the yearning tenderness of the lover of men, were thwarted and baffled by the prodigious inertia of humanity, -- so he was thrown back more and more on that promise of some swift catastrophic judgment and triumph which was the closing word of ancient prophecy, and which seemed to answer the cry of his soul.
The later chapters of the synoptic Gospels are intensely colored with this anticipation of a divine judgment close at hand. The promise, the threat, the tremendous imagery, were dear to the heart of the early church. They fed the imagination of the mediaeval church. But that modern Christianity which finds in Christ the source and embodiment of all its own refined and exalted conceptions is inclined to look away from all this millennial prophecy; to weaken or ignore its significance, or to attribute it to the misconception of the disciples. This modern Christianity fastens its attention on those teachings of purely spiritual and universal truth in which Jesus indeed spoke as never other man spoke. This exclusive insistence on the ethical and spiritual element may suffice for those to whom Christ is an ideal or a divinity. But if we are to study the historical development of our religion, and not merely its present form, it seems necessary to recognize this belief in the Judgment and Advent as a very important factor in the story.
Unless we attribute to his disciples and biographers a misunderstanding almost inconceivable, he identified himself with the Son of Man whom the prophecy of Daniel and the popular belief expected to set up a divine kingdom on earth. The whole story in the later chapters of the Gospels is pervaded by this idea. The powerful imagery of a Day of Judgment, the splendid promises and lurid threatenings, the specific incidents of teaching and event, the overstrained eagerness, -- which will not suffer a son to wait to bury his father, or allow a fig-tree to refuse miraculous fruit, -- all agree in the presentation of Jesus as absorbed with this tremendous expectation.
That he was on the whole so little unsteadied by this anticipation seems due to his profound, sympathetic sense of the sad and sorrowful elements which somehow mingle with human destiny. He was not thinking chiefly of himself, -- not even though he was to be God's vicegerent. What filled his heart, was the destiny of men. He wept over Jerusalem, -- he mourned for those who would go away into darkness. The realities of human experience, widened by sympathy, came close home to him.
It seems plain -- so far as anything can be plain in the details of the story -- that as his mission went on his temper of a pure spiritual idealism changed into a controversy with the leaders of the established religion. He went to Jerusalem, foreseeing that the controversy would there take an acute form, with the gravest issues. At times the presage rose of his own defeat and death. Suppose that were to happen? Still -- so spoke his victorious faith -- God's cause would triumph. And it would triumph speedily and visibly. So he heartened his followers for any event. |Be prepared -- you who are to me brothers and sisters and mother -- be prepared even for my death. All the same, my truth will vindicate itself, God will triumph, you shall be saved!|
Jerusalem, it is plain, struck him much as Rome did Luther. Gorgeous buildings, splendid ceremonies, august authorities, and along with it a mass of greed, formality, worldliness.
A solemn sense comes over him that this cannot endure. The disciples childishly marvel at the splendid Temple, but its gorgeousness strikes him as earthly, sensuous, perishable, and he says, |There shall not one stone be left upon another.|
His indignation rises and seeks expression in some outward act which shall blaze upon the dull multitude the sense of their sinful state. He goes into the courts of the Temple, drives out the money-changers and merchants, overthrows their tables, scatters all the apparatus of trade. This is the turning-point in his career; he has given an effective handle against him to the formalists and bigots who already hated him, and they speedily bring about his ruin.
The life of Jesus culminates in the scenes of the last night. At the supper, sure now of his impending fate, his willing self-devotion expresses himself in that poetry of humble objects which was characteristic of him, and with passionate intensity. |This bread is my body.| |This wine is my blood.| |I give myself for you.|
The scene in Gethsemane shows the dismay and recoil of the hour when his ardent faith met full the stern actuality. God was not to interfere, defeat and death were before him. All was hidden, save a fate which rose upon his imagination in dark terror. |O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!| Then comes the victory of absolute self-surrender, |Not my will, but thine, be done.|
The birth-hour of the religion of Jesus was that in which he began to declare forgiveness to the outcast and good tidings to the poor. But the birth-hour of Christianity, as the worship of Jesus, was that in which Mary Magdalene saw her master as risen and eternally living.
The impulse which caught up and gave wings to his work just when it seemed crushed came from the heart of Mary. In a spiritual sense the mother of Christianity was a woman who had been a sinner, and was forgiven because she loved much. The faith that sent the disciples forth to conquer the world was the faith that their Lord was not dead but living, not a memory but a perpetual presence. That conviction first flashed into the heart of Mary. It was born of a love stronger than death, the love of a rescued soul for its savior. It sprang up in a mind simple as a child's, incapable of distinguishing between what it felt and what it saw, between its own yearning or instinct and the actualities of the outward world. It took bodily form under a glow of exaltation that knew not itself, whether in the body or out of the body. It crystallized instantly into a story of outward fact. It communicated itself by sympathetic intensity to other loving and credulous hearts. They too saw the heavenly vision. Its acceptance as a reality became the corner-stone of the new society. About it grew up, in ever increasing fullness and definiteness of outline, a whole supernal world of celestial personalities. But the initial fact was the heart's conviction -- Jesus lives! Our friend and master is not in the grave, nor in the cold underworld; he is the child of the living God, and he draws us toward him in that divine and eternal life.
To get some partial comprehension of how the belief in Jesus' resurrection took possession of the disciples' minds, we are to remember that during the last months of their master's life he was in a state of tense, high-wrought expectation, which communicated itself to them. Something wonderful was just about to happen. There was to be a sudden and amazing manifestation of divine power, by which the kingdom of God was to triumph and thenceforth to reign. But the way to this consummation might lead through the valley of the shadow of death. In the soul of Jesus a sublime hope and a dark presage alternated and mingled. It is not to be supposed that he held a definite and unchanging conception. Cloud-shadows and sunbursts played by turns across him, with the intensity natural to a soul of vast emotions. Constant through it all was the fixed purpose to be true to his mission, and with victorious recurrence came his confidence in the divine issue. His sympathetic disciples were vaguely, profoundly stirred by this elemental struggle and victory. They too became intensely expectant of some great catastrophe and triumph. After the first shock of the Master's death, all this emotion surged up in them afresh, with their love heightened as death always heightens love, with the fresh and vivid memories of their leader sweeping them on in the current of his purpose and hope and faith. His words were true, -- he must, he will, conquer and reign. If he has gone to the underworld, he will live again. |Will,| -- nay, is he not here with us now? Is he not more real to our thought and love than ever before? And first in one mind, then in another, the conviction flashes into bodily image. Mary has seen the Master! Peter has seen him! And for a little time -- for |forty days| -- the electric air seems often to body forth that luminous shape. The story, as it grew with years, took on one detail after another, became definite and coherent, was accepted as the charter and foundation of the little society.
To rightly understand the faith of the disciples in the risen Christ, we must look below the stories of sense-appearance in which that faith clothed itself. What they essentially felt -- what distinguished their faith from a mere opinion or dogma -- was not a mere expectation, |The dead will rise;| not a mere fact of history, |Some one did rise;| it was the conviction and consciousness, |Our friend is living.| It was an experience -- including and transcending memory and hope -- of present love, present communion, present life.
Sight and speech lent their forms to clothe the ineffable experience of Mary and the disciples. For us, the story of outward events -- the visible form, the eating of bread and fish, the conversations, the floating up into the clouds -- all this fades away as a mirage. The reality below this symbol -- the sense of the human friend's continued and higher life -- this abides and renews itself; not as an isolated historic fact, but as an instance and counterpart of the message which in every age comes to the bereaved heart -- of a love greater than loss, a life in which death is swallowed up.
The religion of the followers of Jesus became a centring of every affection, obligation, and hope, in him.
For the first few years all this was merged in the eager expectation of his return. While this lasted in its fullness, even memory was far less to them than hope. They did not attempt any complete records of his earthly life, -- what need of that, when the life was so soon to be resumed? The bride on the eve of her marriage is not reading her old love-letters, -- she is looking to the morrow.
That first eager flush had already passed when the earliest gospels were written. By that time hope had begun to prop its wavering confidence, by looks turned back even to a remote past. Hence the constant appeals to the supposed predictions of the Old Testament; hence even the imagining of special events in the life of Jesus to fulfill those predictions.
The Old Testament as conceived by the writers of the New is fantastically unlike the original writings. The Evangelists found Messianic prophecies everywhere. The writers of the Epistles, Paul and the rest, dealt with ceremonies and histories as a quarry out of which to hew whatever allegory or argument suited their purpose.
In Luke's Gospel we first see fully displayed the idea of Christ which took possession of the common mind, and has largely held it ever since, -- a personal Savior, -- a gracious, merciful, all-powerful deliverer. It is a gospel of the imagination and the heart -- inspired by the actual Jesus, but half-created by ardent, adoring imagination.
This conception grew up side by side with Paul's. It is far closer to the popular mind and heart than Paul's idea, -- his was philosophic and metaphysic; this is pictorial. Paul has been studied by theologians, but the Gospels have given the Christ of the common people.
The early church was divided into two parties, of which one was led by Paul, who stood for the free inclusion of all who would accept Jesus as the Messiah, and would impose no further requirement of ceremony or dogma, trusting all to the guidance of |the Spirit| -- the Spirit of which the sufficient fruit and evidence was |love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.| The other party, led by disciples who had known and followed Jesus himself, maintained that the entire Jewish law was still in force, and treated Paul as a dangerous heretic. To narrate the struggle and the final reconcilement is beyond the purpose of this book, but we must pause a moment on the figure of Paul.
It marks the extraordinary force and vividness of Paul's character, that in a few pages of letters, in which the autobiography is only brief and incidental, he has so displayed himself that few historical characters are more familiar.
We see him, -- deep-hearted, vehement, irascible, tender, self-assertive; intensely bent on the higher life; thwarted in that aspiration by unruly passion, -- lust of the flesh and pride of the spirit; stumbling, stammering, conquering; a nature full of internal conflict, brought into harmony by one sublime spiritual affection; thenceforth throwing its whole energy into the diffusion of a like harmony throughout this world of troubled conflict.
We see a mind guided in its deepest workings by the realities of personal experience, but wholly untrained in logic, unversed in accurate knowledge; acquainted with history only through the Old Testament; ignorant of the philosophy of Greece; taught by intimate association with many men and women in their deepest personal experiences; familiar by travel and observation with the broad life of the time, and judging it from a lofty ethical standpoint; wholly credulous as to miracle; wholly confident in its own theories -- theories gendered in the strangest wedding of fact and fancy; using constantly the form of argument, which often is pure fantasy; illumined by gleams of spiritual insight, which sometimes broaden into pure radiance; striving always to express the conscious fact of a great freedom of the soul which binds it fast to all duty; aiming at a human society dominated wholly and solely by the same spiritual principle; but often clothing both the personal and social ideal in forms of thought which have become obsolete, so that for us to-day his truth has to be stated in other language, and broadened by other truths.
Where Paul has always touched men closest is in the earnestness and difficulty of his struggle for the good life, and in the sense of a celestial aid, -- he calls it |the love of Christ,| -- which somehow brings habitual victory in the conflict, and sheds peace in its pauses, and gives assurance of ultimate triumph and perfect fruition.
The main theme for which Paul contends in most of his epistles was vital to the life of the early church, -- that its members were not to be held to observance of the Jewish ritual. In support of that theme, Paul develops his philosophy of the universe. The main lines of that philosophy are essentially these: that when God had created man, man's sin incurred the penalty of death; that God chose the Jews as his peculiar people, and gave them the code of laws contained in the books of Moses; that the law was too difficult for weak human nature to perfectly obey, so that death still reigned on earth, with dire penalty impending in the afterworld; that God then had recourse to another plan. He sent his Son into the world, who became a man, taking on him that fleshly nature which is the occasion and the symbol of human transgression, but which he wore in perfect holiness. God then caused this fleshly nature of Jesus to die upon the cross, while the spiritual nature outlived the perishing body, appeared in radiant form to men, and returned to the eternal realm. By this visible sign God made proclamation to mankind, |Die unto sin by forsaking sin, and I will give you holiness which issues in eternal life. The death and resurrection of my son, Jesus Christ, are the token and promise of my free gift, which only asks your acceptance. Accept it, by turning from sin, and you shall receive the sense of companionship with Christ, and the consciousness of a divine power working in you and in the world. Of set laws you have no longer need; rites and ceremonies were but the type of the reality which now is freely given to you. Your sole obligation is to love; your fidelity to that shall constantly merge in the sense of joyful freedom; the imperfect attainment of earth shall issue into the eternal felicity of heaven.|
In such language we try to restate Paul's philosophy. Thus, or somewhat thus, he thought. Just how he thought we can never be sure, nor does it matter. The mould of his belief was so different from ours that all which closely concerns us is to discern if we can what was the kernel of genuine experience, the permanent reality and truth, which vivified this world-scheme.
In Paul before his conversion we see the man who struggles to conform to a standard of conduct so high, exacting, and minute, that it touches every particular of life, and who yet is beset by a constant sense of failure and disappointment. From this slough of despond he is lifted -- how? By the sense of a love which extends to him from the unseen world. It takes form to him as the personal love of one who has lived, has died, and in some inexpressible way still lives. This friendship in the unseen world is the sufficient, the absolute pledge of a God who loves and saves. No matter what be the theory about it, of incarnation or atonement, here is the reality as it comes home: the man Jesus, highest, noblest, dearest, makes himself real and present to me, though long ago he died and was laid in the grave. This one fact carries answer enough for all the craving of heart and soul. That I shall at last triumph over all besetting evils, that the ruler of the universe is my friend, that earth is the vestibule of heaven, -- all this I can joyfully believe when once I have the sense of that single human friend still befriending me in the unseen world.
This was what the risen Christ meant to the early church. This was the common belief that bound its two parties, the Jewish and the Pauline Christians, at last into one. This was what gave the full meaning to all the stories of Jesus told over and over and at last written down. This was what fired the common heart of mankind as not the wisdom of Plato nor the nobility of Epictetus had touched it.
Paul's experience is the more remarkable because he had never even seen Jesus in the flesh. He had borne in a sense a personal relation to him, in the fact that he had hated and persecuted his followers. The conviction that he had been in the wrong came to him with a tremendous revulsion of feeling. The poignancy of remorse was followed by an exquisite sense of forgiveness, which shed its depth and tenderness on his whole after-life. In him we first see the power of the personality of Jesus to touch those who never had seen him.
At such points we feel how shallow is the plummet-line with which our so-called psychology measures the |soul| it deals with. The influence, the presence, the living love, of one who has died, -- how paradoxical, how unintelligible, to our human science; how significant to our human experience!
What concerns us historically as to Paul is that he was the conspicuous agent in transforming this sentiment into a moral force. The belief that Jesus was risen had great emotional power, but that emotion might easily waste itself, might even undermine the solid foundations of character. Paul held the belief in its literal form, but it had for him a further significance, as the symbol and type of the soul's experience in its every-day walk. The death we are most concerned about is the extinction of evil act and desire. Life -- the only life worth thinking of, here or hereafter -- is lofty, pure, and tender life. Die to sin, live to holiness, and present or future is safe with God.
Paul's theology is in one sense a passage in a long chapter of pseudo-science. It is one of a series of attempts to explain the universe from a starting-point of fable. These have been the accompaniment -- sometimes as help, sometimes as obstacle -- of a spiritual life far deeper than the stammering language they found. And it is to be noted that Paul himself when at his best rises above his theology or forgets it. The words of his which have lodged deepest in the world's heart are the vital precepts of conduct, and the utterances of love and hope. In one matchless passage, he celebrates |charity| -- simple human love -- as the one sufficient, supreme, and eternal good.
Some misconceptions in his philosophy became the fruitful seeds of mischievous harvests. One such seed was the ambiguous sense of |faith| -- the confusing of intellectual credence with moral fidelity. This misconception -- which underlies much of the New Testament -- was an almost inevitable incident of a religion generated as this was. Christianity based itself, in its own theory, on the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This was offered as a basis for the whole appeal which the church made to the world. Thus Belief -- or Credulity -- usurped the place among the virtues which of right belongs to Truth.
Another misconception lay in the use of |flesh,| the antithesis of |spirit,| as the name of the evil principle. Paul indeed uses |the flesh| in no restricted sense of merely sensual sin. With him it equally includes all other forms of wrong, like malevolence and pride and self-seeking. But the nomenclature and the way of thought which it reflected put a stigma on the whole physical nature of man. In that stigma lay the germ of asceticism, hostility to marriage, depreciation of some vital elements of man's nature.
Paul's conception of the church never was fully realized. He expected to see the whole body of believers filled with a |holy spirit,| a divine-human inspiration, which should of itself guide them into all truth and duty. Outward law or doctrine there needed none, beyond the acceptance of Christ as God's son who had lived and died and risen. Accept that, and the divine spirit would be given you. No need then of circumcision or sacrifice, of Sabbath or fast, of written code or human ruler. The saint is free from all law but that of love; the company of saints needs no control or guidance but that.
The beautiful ideal shattered itself against a stubborn fact. Love of Christ did not guide his followers into all truth, or into harmony with each other. Paul's life was half spent in a bitter contest with men who loved Christ as well as he did. His epistles are full of the struggle with that great party of Christ's followers who called him a heretic and sought to win away his converts. Suppose any one had asked him: |You say the spirit of Christ will guide his followers into all truth, -- why does it not guide these Christian Jews and you into so much of truth as will make you friends instead of foes?|
Paul was hoping too much. The new impulse in the world -- sublime, beautiful, full of power and promise -- was by no means sufficient to lead the world straight and sure to harmonious perfection. There was no such gift of |the spirit| as to supersede all search, all struggle, all human leadership and human groping. That hope was almost as exaggerated as the expectation -- with which in Paul's mind it mingled -- of Christ's bodily return. The road to be traveled by mankind was still long and arduous.
Any complete history of the early church must deal largely with the stubborn and bitter contest between the Jewish and Pauline parties, -- the champions of the law and the champions of liberty. That contest gave its stamp to the epistles of Paul, and was indeed their most frequent occasion. At a later time the attempt to harmonize the two parties seems to have given birth to the book of Acts, in which history mixes with fiction. But we are here concerned only with such features of the history as made the most vital and permanent contributions to religion, and for this purpose we need only specify the Epistle to the Ephesians.
This epistle opens the heart of the early church. It assumes to be written by Paul, but there are some indications that this name was borrowed by the real author. This assumption of a great name, so common in this age, as in the books of Daniel, Wisdom of Solomon, Enoch, and others, marks a timidity, a deference to authority of the past. Only the greatest, like Jesus and Paul, dared to speak in their own name.
Primarily the epistle is a plea for unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians, -- broadening into an appeal for unity between all classes and individuals, an appeal for purity and holiness, in the name of Christ the head. Occasional sentences and phrases will sufficiently show its tenor and spirit.
|That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.|
|There is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in you all.| |Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.|
Each has his appointed place, some as apostles, some as prophets, some for humbler service, -- for |the building up of the body of Christ,| |till we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.|
|Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.| |Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.|
The note of purity is far higher than in Stoic or Platonist. Uncleanness is spurned with the horror which pure love and holiness inspire.
|Fornication, and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints. Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not becoming, but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger nor unclean person nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.| |Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the spirit.|
There is a tender exhortation to husband and wife, based on the likeness of their union to Christ and his church. There is a special word to children, servants, masters. The sweetness is matched by the strength. |Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.|
The epistle is full of the spirit of a present heaven. There is scarcely any thought of the future, no reference to the second coming, no dwelling on the hereafter. It is all-sufficient, all-uniting love, -- Christ, a spiritual presence, as the head -- God the Father of all. The love of Christ is a pure spiritual passion. There is no theorizing about him, not even much personal distinctness, -- only the consciousness as of some celestial personality. The seen and unseen worlds seem to blend in a common atmosphere.
Even as an ideal, this transcends the philosophy of Epictetus, and outshines the vision of Plato. As one of the charter documents of a society which had come into an actual existence, -- as the aim toward which thousands of men and women were struggling, however imperfectly, -- it marks the coming of a new life into the world.
The Pauline idea of Christ is shown as it worked itself out in the brain and heart of Paul himself. In the Fourth Gospel we have, not the experience of an individual, but an idealized portrait of the Master.
The germ may have lain in some genuine tradition of his words, as they were caught and treasured by some disciple more susceptible than the rest to the mystical and contemplative element in Jesus. These words, handed down through congenial spirits, and deeply brooded; these ideas caught by minds schooled in the blending of Hebraic with Platonic thought, -- minds accustomed to rely on the contemplative imagination as the discloser of absolute truth; the waning of the hope of Messiah's return in the clouds; the growth in its place of a personal and interior communion with the divine beauty and glory as imaged in Jesus; a temper almost indifferent to outward event, too full of present emotion to strain anxiously toward a future, yet confident of a transcendent future in due season; an assumption that in this belief lay the sole good and hope of humanity, and that the rejection of this was an impulse of the evil principle warring against God; the crystallization of these memories, hopes, and beliefs into a dramatic portraiture of acts and words appropriate to Christ as so conceived; a temper in which a portraiture so inspired was identified with actual and absolute truth -- some such genesis we may suppose for the Gospel which bears the name of John.
The writer shows no such close contact with the actual struggle of life as vivifies the other biographies of Jesus and the impassioned pleadings of Paul. He is a pure and lofty soul, but he writes as if in seclusion from the world. His favorite words are abstract and general. The parable and precept of the early gospels give place to polemic and metaphysic disquisition. The Christian communities for which he writes have left behind them the sharp antagonisms of the first generation, and have drawn together into a harmonious society, strong in their mutual affection, their inspiring faith, and their rule of life, and facing together the cruelty of the persecutor and the scorn of the philosopher. To this writer, all who are outside of the Christian fold and the Christian belief seem leagued together by the power of evil. The secret of their perversity and the seal of their doom is unbelief. Let them accept the Christ he portrays, and good shall supplant evil in their hearts. The ground of the acceptance is to be simply the self-evident beauty and therefore the self-evident truth of the Christ here set forth.
And so we have a portrayal of Christ which at many points profoundly appeals to the heart, yet which constantly dissipates into a metaphysical mythology; together with the admonition that only a full belief can save the soul and the world from ruin. The ethical and emotional elements of the new religion have thoroughly fused with the elements of dogma and exclusiveness.
A kind of self-exaltation is by this writer imputed to Jesus, which is as much less attractive than his attitude in the Synoptics as it is less genuine. |All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers| -- this is the word of an idolatrous worshiper; far different from him whose only sense of superiority was expressed in a longing to impart his own treasure: |Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.|
But the writer rises to a lofty plane where he conceives the parting words of Jesus to his friends. Here he is on the ground of what we know did in some wise really happen -- a last interview between the Master and his disciples, when clouds of defeat and death lowered close before him, and his words deepened in their hearts the devotion which animated all their after-lives. That parting scene, preserved elsewhere in delineations brief and impressive, was now expanded by the brooding, creative thought of some one in closest sympathy with the occasion and with the vital impulse it had given. Literal and historical fidelity the description may lack, but it is in close accord with the realities of experience. The tender assurances, the prophecies beyond hope, which the Master is here supposed to speak, had indeed been fulfilled. The loss of his earthly presence had been more than made good to those in whose lives he had been felt as a saving power. The Comforter had truly come. The mutual love of the disciples, and their loyalty to the Master as they understood him, had planted a new social force in the world, and was working slowly to transform the world. Thoughts which had been the possession of philosophers in the schools were become working forces in the lives of common men and women and children. That deliverance from the fear of death which thinkers had vainly sought had been won even by the poor and lowly. All this and more was set forth as in a psalm or prophecy, in the parting words ascribed to Christ.
|Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you.| |Ye shall see me again, and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.|
The predominant notes of the New Testament are tenderness and ardor, but inwrought with these is a vein of terror and sometimes of fierce wrath. It is like the denunciation in the Old Testament, to which the vision of a future world has added a more lurid hue. |Asia's rancor| has not disappeared, even in the presence of |Bethlehem's heart.| Among the words attributed to Jesus are the threat of that perdition where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. To him is ascribed (whether truly or not) the story of Dives in hell, and father Abraham in whose bosom Lazarus is reposing denies even his prayer for a drop of water to cool his tongue. Here is the germ of all the horrors of the mediaeval imagination. The germs bore an early fruitage in that book which bears the name of |Revelation.| It mirrors the passions which spring up amid the heats of faction and of persecution. Fell hatred fills its pages for the persecutor and for the heretic. The few gleams of Paradise for the saved are pale in comparison with the ghastly terrors. It is the first full outbreak of that disease of the imagination, bred of disease of the heart, which was to be the curse of Christianity.
We have dwelt upon the central facts and ideas in which Christianity took its rise. We shall pass with a few brief glances over a tract of many centuries. Our special concern in this work is with the birth-periods of the vital and lasting principles of man's higher life. One such phase was the Greek-Roman philosophy of which the best outcome was Stoicism. Another critical era was the birth of Christianity from its immediate lineage of Judaism. The next great epoch is the marriage of rational knowledge with the spiritual life -- which is the story of these last centuries, in mid-action of which we are standing.
Viewing man's higher life upon its intellectual side, the common characteristic of the period between the time of the Apostles and our immediate forefathers is the prevalence of what may be called the Christian mythology. In other words, the moral rules and spiritual ideals were almost inextricably bound up with and based upon the conception of a supernatural world, certainly and definitely known, and disclosed to mankind through a series of revelations which centred in the incarnation of God in the man Jesus Christ. Upon this basis was reared a vast intellectual and imaginative structure -- embodied in many creeds, pictured in visions of Dante and Milton and Bunyan, enforced by multitudinous appeals to emotion and reason, to love, hope, and terror.
It is the dissolving of this elaborate supernaturalism, and the growth of a different conception of the spiritual life, which is now going on before our eyes. To measure the essential significance of the change, we need not linger long upon the successive steps by which the mythology expanded and solidified itself. We have seen its germs in the story of Judaism, of Jesus and his immediate successors. The method and nature of its growth may be briefly indicated.
We are following only a single thread in the vast web of history. All the threads work in together, but we must be well content if we can trace the general line of one or two. It is the history of the moral ideas which have most directly and closely influenced the life of men, that we are trying to pursue. There was a wonderful embodiment and outshining of such ideas in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. The truth he taught and lived was in some ways made more applicable and transmissible by his followers, and in some ways lowered. There grew up the society of the Christian church. Gradually it took its place among the important forces of the Roman empire. It won at last the nominal allegiance of the civilized world. Aiding or thwarting it, coloring and changing it, were a thousand influences, -- side-currents from other religions and philosophies, social changes, Roman law and tradition, the new life of the barbarians; old ingrained habits of blood and brain; the constant push of primal instincts -- hunger and sex; tides of war and trade and industry; slavery and serfdom; strong human personalities, swaying a little the tide that bore them; all the myriad forces that are always at work in history.
One can scarcely pass by a leap of thought from the age of Paul to the age of Dante without an instant's glance at the intervening tract. There are the early Christian communities, bound together by tender ties of brotherhood; storms of persecution fanning high the flame of courage and faith; a new purity and sweetness of domestic life spreading itself like the coming of the dawn. There are wild vagaries of the mind, taking shape in fantastic heresies. There is the degeneracy of a faith held in pureness and peril into a popular and fashionable religion. There are enthroned monsters like Nero and Commodus; |Christian| emperors, like Constantine, ambitious, crafty, and blood-guilty; and noble |heathen| emperors like Trajan and Aurelius. There is the peace of the Empire in its best days, with some wide diffusion of prosperity and content. There are incursions of barbarians -- the strange, little-known life of nomadic tribes -- with pristine virtues of valor and chastity, half-pictured, half-imagined, by Tacitus. There is conquest, rapine, subjugation, suffering. There are ages in which violence is master, and in the disordered struggle of the violent among themselves the weak are trampled under foot. There are scenes of humble happiness and content, the toiler in the fields, the family about the hearth-stone, which scarcely are seen by the chronicler busy with kings and popes. There are superstitions and mummeries; wild fears of spectres and devils; sentimental piety handed with cruelty and debauchery. There are inward struggles, sorrows, achievements; rapturous glimpses, tender consolations; the ministry of faithful priests; the comforting of women and the purifying of men by the thought of the Virgin Mother and the saints. There are civilizers in state and church, -- Alfred, Charlemagne, Hildebrand. There is the emergence of a social and ecclesiastical order; the ranking of kings, barons, and vassals; of priests, bishops, and popes; the establishment of laws and charters; the growth of liturgies and cathedrals.
The contrast is great between the simplicity of a high moral ideal, like that of Jesus or Paul, which claims, and with such show of reason and right, the whole allegiance of man, and the vast complexity of good and evil in which the ideal works only as one obscure and partial element. How simple, how clear, how sweetly inviting sounds the call, -- how strange and discordant the response!
That inconsistency was explained by the church fathers, like Augustine, as due to the inherent badness of human nature. That universal badness flowed from one sin of the common ancestor. That sin was induced by the machinations of Satan, arch-enemy of God, and practically dividing the rule of the universe with him. A logical and symmetrical explanation in its day, but it no longer explains.
Neither does it explain, but it may profit, if the wondering inquirer turns his thoughts for a moment on his personal history. He has had his hours of clear vision and high resolve, -- why have they borne such poor fruit in his actual life? His own riddle is one with the riddle of history.
Again we may say, with no pretense of probing the mystery in its depths, but as gaining a touch of side-light, it is plain that what we look at as the strictly moral forces of mankind -- the clear thinking, the definite purpose, the pure aspiration -- must be reckoned with as only a part of the volume of force that carries along the individual and the race. Other elements of that force are the physical needs; the push and play of passions ingrained in human nature; the inherited bias; the strength of habits formed before childhood had begun to reflect, -- the thousand forces which blend with reason and choice to make up our destiny. Man's noblest aim is to make reason and purpose the rulers in his little republic, but at the best those rulers must deal with a set of very vigorous and often mutinous subjects.
Let us not at least wonder, though for the moment we sigh, that neither did the kingdom of God at once establish itself on earth, as Jesus hoped, nor did the Spirit guide mankind by a brief and sure path into full felicity and holiness, as Paul hoped.
The disappointment is a blank contradiction only for those who assume a superhuman revelation in Scripture or in church, and then have to reconcile this infallibility with that most fallible groping by which alone mankind gets along. Unembarrassed at least by that difficulty, let us note one natural cause of the imperfect progress of Christianity, namely, the substitution of fancy for clear and sound knowledge of nature and man, which was inwrought from the beginning in its creed.
We may recall the piercing question of Socrates, |Can virtue be taught?| Can the best life be so clearly shown and so skillfully inculcated, that it may be transmitted from man to man and from generation to generation as surely and safely as the knowledge of a mechanical art or a physical science? Socrates owned that he knew of no such way to teach virtue, -- that while Pericles could teach his son to be a good horseman, he could not so guide him but that he became a bad man, -- and Socrates himself found no sure way to guide men into the heroic path he walked himself.
Now Christianity offered a sort of knowledge as the proper training to produce virtue. Its knowledge included certain genuine and precious elements, such as the essential blessedness of purity and love; the trust and peace which flow from duty done; the hope which springs from the grave of a holy man; -- ideas not new in substance, but wonderfully vivified and vitalized. But along with this genuine knowledge, Christianity blended in ever-growing volume a pseudo-knowledge. It had a professed explanation of the nature of Deity, the nature of humanity, and their mutual relation, which was so unreal that when applied to the conduct of human life its fruit was often as ashes and the east wind.
To sum up the method by which Christianity wrought: its vital ideas of character were infolded in a triple crust of Authority, Ceremony, Dogma. Its ideas could scarcely have been propagated except under some such incrustation. Pure gold must be mixed with alloy before it can be worked. The new society would have quickly dissolved into chaos if it had not had established laws and usages and discipline and rulers. The craving of the average man for definite symbols fastened eagerly on the cleansing water of baptism and the bread and wine of the love-feast. The thoughtful mind must needs seek to assign to the Master his true place and relation as between God and man. Here were the germs of hierarchy, ceremonial, and dogma. Internal order, self-protection against persecuting emperors and then against barbarian invaders, led to a gradual strengthening and perfecting of the organization. The craving for intellectual consistency and symmetry urged on the elaboration of the creed.
That development of the Christian creed, -- in one view, how natural and inevitable a process; yet what enormous waste of intellect, what diversion from sound inquiry! The original hypothesis being pure fancy, all the ingenious deductions are mere excursions into cloudland.
We need not follow in any detail these speculations. A certain purity and loftiness marks their early stages, in which the Greek theologians were occupied in blending a sort of Platonic theory of deity with the historic fact of a noble human personality. With the emergence of the church from persecution to power, we see that the intellectual degeneracy has set in along with the moral. The first great council, that of Nicaea, occupied itself in settling by a majority of votes whether Christ was of like substance with the Father or of the same substance with the Father. The assertion of his full equality was in due time followed by a similar definition of the personality and equality of the Holy Spirit, with the full doctrine of the Trinity; the double nature of Christ; the rank of the Virgin Mary. The authoritative interpretation of human nature had its source in the personal experience and later theorizing of Augustine. Himself emergent after long struggles from the tyranny of evil desire, by a transcendent experience in which he saw the hand of God, -- he in effect generalized from this to the inherent and utter depravity of all mankind, and its entire dependence on a divine grace which might with equal justice be given or withheld. The lurid hell which had always shared with a radiant heaven the imagination of the church took from Augustine a grimmer horror: in the fearful thought of men, its foundations were now deep sunk in eternal justice, man being himself from birth a wretch so abominable that hell was his natural destiny, save as mercy might by inscrutable selection deliver some portion of mankind.
Later ages brought their own problems. What was the nature of the atonement, -- a compact between God and the Devil, by which Christ was made a ransom for man, the Devil being unexpectedly cheated of his pay? Or was Christ's death simply the transfer of a debt on the books of divine justice? The sacraments, again, what was their precise nature? And so the scheme was worked out in all its details.
The triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit; a hierarchy of angels; the creation of man, his seduction by a revolted and fallen angel, and the exposure of his entire posterity to the just retribution of everlasting misery; an arrangement between the persons of the Trinity by which the incarnation and death of the Son became a ransom for mankind; the establishment by Christ of a visible church, divinely guided to reveal to men the truth, and impart to them the divine grace; the offer of salvation upon condition of faith, repentance, and obedience; sacraments which were channels of divine grace; an endless heaven of bliss for the submissive and obedient, an endless hell of torment for the negligent or rebellious, -- this was the universe as it existed to the belief and imagination of the Christian world for many centuries.
Thus Christianity, instead of following a true inquiry into the facts of the moral life, -- in place of cultivating that sound knowledge of man in which Socrates led the way, or that knowledge of the natural world in which Aristotle and the Greek physicists had wrought, -- instead of such study, the church based its ideals, its appeals, its helps, on a purely fanciful interpretation of the universe. Its refined and ingenious speculations were wasted upon a fantasy.
This want of sound knowledge has for us here a twofold significance. It points to one cause of the imperfect success of the ideals of Jesus and of Paul. And by its defect it points us forward to a fulfillment, when at a later age Virtue and Knowledge should be wed.
But we need to distinguish and to reverence the deep utterances of the human heart which spoke with stammering tongue in these crude symbols.
The Catholic church was a second Roman empire in its extent and power, and with an inspiration loftier than that of the empire. For, judged by what was most essential to it, the Catholic church -- human to the core, human in its errors and sins, human in its upward striving -- was, at its best, a society for disciplining men in the higher life. And that creed which sounds so strange to our ears, we may best translate thus: Eternity bids you to goodness. However much there was of error, of misapplied force, of moral injury, there was a vast, multiform, mighty culture of men in chastity, in charity, in the victories and the joys of the spirit. The church set the Virgin Mother as a heavenly consoler, and showed as the divinest thing a man who died for love of men. Before the imagination of the oppressor, the robber, the licentious, it set a flaming sword of retribution. To the poor, the sorrowful, the broken-hearted, it offered the blessed assurance, This world and the next are God's. It opened to them a communion in thought and feeling with holy and blessed souls in the invisible realm. Life was hard and troublous; priests and bishops sometimes made the trouble worse; but there was the sense of a heavenly rule over all, the struggle toward a heavenly attainment.
The whole moral appeal of the church rested on the superterrestrial world which it asserted and pictured. It was a world whose existence was vouched solely by an inward assent of the mind. For outward government, there were bishops and popes, kings and magistrates. But all moral authority, all incitement to holiness, all spiritual joy and hope, rested on this unseen world as accepted by the mind. Disbelieve, and all was lost! And so, of necessity, belief was the fundamental, the essential thing. Obey the church, believe the creed, -- that was the supreme double requirement.
That imaginations when believed as these were believed exercised a mighty power is beyond question. That the power was in a degree for good is also clear. But the vast dislocation between the supposed and the real worlds involved enormous failure and waste.
On the one hand, the whole tremendous imagery of the supernal world simply slipped off altogether from a great proportion of the men and women whose time and thought were absorbed in the toils and sorrows and pleasures of the world about them. To make a future heaven and hell take any hold of them at all, the church had to translate its mysteries and sublimities into a very material and crude ceremonial. It brought in penalties of a substantial sort, -- penance and excommunication, the rack and the stake. It constantly appealed to fear. And after all, there remained always an enormous amount of stolid and mostly silent indifference and unbelief. The priest said these things were so, -- the priests all said so, -- and the priest was backed by the bishop, and the bishop by the Pope. Well, perhaps they knew -- and perhaps they did n't. The chance that they were right made it worth while to go to church on Sunday, and to confession sometimes; to have one's children baptized; to avoid giving offense to the clergy; and to make sure of their good offices when one came to die. But the belief in their heaven and hell was not strong enough to very much expel the greed, sloth, lust, avarice, pride to which men were prone.
That same silent practical unbelief has been equally prevalent under all the forms of Protestant supernaturalism. Part of it, no doubt, may be referred to the difficulty with which human nature responds to any appeal to look much beyond the immediate present. But in great part too it springs from a suspicion of unreality in that supernatural world which the preacher so fluently and fervently declares.
It may be said that in a more ignorant and credulous age the mass of men did believe unquestioningly in the teachings of the church. But what hardly admits of debate is the misconception which the mediaeval church's doctrine involved as to some of the cardinal facts of life.
This religion dealt with such primary facts of real life as the human body and its laws, the passion of sex, productive industry, the organization of society, -- in short, with all the impulses, instincts, and powers of man, -- through a cloud of misapprehension.
The central misconception was the idea that this life is only significant as the antechamber to another. Hence its occupations, responsibilities, joys, and troubles are of little account except as they are directly related to the other life. This naturally bred a false attitude toward many of the subjects which both actually and of right do largely engage the attention of men.
The body was regarded as not the servant but the enemy of the spirit. The highest state was celibacy, and marriage was a concession to human weakness.
Study of nature was an unprofitable pursuit. The charter of divine truth was the Bible, and its interpreter was the church. Since this world was only the scene of a brief discipline, and was itself to pass away, it was idle to spend much study on it.
Speculative thought was profitable only so long as it was a mere elucidation of the dogmas of the church. As soon as those dogmas were even remotely questioned, the thinker's soul was in peril. In repressing heretical suggestions by the sternest measures, the church was discharging a plain duty.
Earthly pleasure was dangerous, but in suffering lay medicinal virtue. One mark of the saint was self-inflicted pain. The highest symbol of religion was the cross, emblem of torture and death.
The belief in a hell of endless suffering was the parent of a monstrous and ghastly brood of imaginations. How far the dread thus inspired acted as a wholesome deterrent we can only guess. Too well we know the torture it wrought in sensitive and apprehensive natures, the pangs of fear which mothers suffered, the sense of a curse overhanging a part of mankind, which even in our own day darkens many a life, and which in a more unquestioning age rested like a pall on countless hearts.
Such were among the beliefs, the consistent and logical beliefs, of the mediaeval churchmen. Thus the moral mischiefs which infested society had their roots partly in that conception of religion which in other directions bore noble fruit.
Dante shows the culmination of the Catholic idea; he shows emerging from it a new idealization of human relations; and he stands as one of the master-spirits of humanity, to whom all after-ages listen reverently.
There is in Dante a boundless terror and a boundless hope. Compared with the antique world there is a new tenderness and a new remorse. Hell, Purgatory, Heaven are the projections of man's fear, his purification, his hope.
Dante shows the vision which had grown up and possessed the belief of men -- a terror matched with a glory and tenderness. But in Dante is a force beyond this theologic belief -- the spiritual love of a man and woman. It is personal, intense, pure, sacramental. Thirteen hundred years of Christianity had inwrought a new purity. Out of chivalry, half-barbaric, had grown a new sentiment toward woman. If was truly a |new life.|
Through Dante's early story, -- the vestibule by which we are led to the |Divina Commedia,| -- through this |Vita Nuova,| there runs a poignancy which has almost more of pain than pleasure. Under an earthly symbol it is the vision of the ideal -- the unattainable -- the passion of the soul for what lies beyond its full grasp.
In form Dante reproduces the Catholic theology. In reality he lives by the ideal relation with Beatrice. For him the true Purgatory is his self-reproach in her presence. The boundless joy of reunion after a lifelong separation is checked on the threshold, that the intense light of that moment may illumine the soul's past unworthiness, and touch it with a remorse deeper than all the horrors of hell could awaken. The anguish purifies, and wins the boon of a Lethe in which the past wrong is absolutely forgotten. Then comes the full fruition, and the mated souls traverse a Paradise which still is dearest to Dante as he watches its reflection in the eyes of Beatrice.
Yet, what does Dante show as the actuality of the world after thirteen centuries of Christianity? He shows evil existing in its worst forms and in wide extent. The horrors of the Inferno are the retribution which seemed to Dante appropriate for the crimes going on about him. The sin whose punishment he depicts is not a figment of the theologians, an imaginary participation in Adam's trespass, or the mere human shadows against a dazzling ideal of purity. In the men of his own time and in his own community he saw flagrant wrong of every sort, -- lust, cruelty, treachery. The physical hell he imagines in another world is the counterpart of the moral hell he sees about him in this world. In his Inferno, Hate and Horror hold high carnival. Much of it is to the modern reader like a frightful nightmare of the imagination.
In the progress of the centuries, along with the growth of ethical and spiritual ideals has been the movement of coarser forces -- often seeming to destroy the ethical, yet giving power for the upward movement.
In the reconstruction of European society, the first power was that of military force. Out of this grew feudalism, -- a kind of order, with its own code of duties; and chivalry, with an atmosphere of noble sentiment running into fantasy.
Next came the powers of wealth and of knowledge. Wealth grew first by the association of craftsmen, -- the guilds, the free cities.
Then commerce spread, as in the trade of Italy and the Low Countries with the East.
A succession of discoveries and inventions in the physical world advanced society.
Gunpowder helped to overthrow feudalism.
Printing made the Reformation possible.
The Copernican theory had its practical result in the stimulation of discovery and commerce; its intellectual issue in the weakening of the church's cosmogony, and a discredit of the church's claim to real knowledge.
The growing wealth of the middle class gave freedom to England, -- the merchants and cities were the strength of the Puritan and Parliamentary party.
A series of inventions has within the last century multiplied wealth -- the use of canals, textile machinery, steam, electricity. This has created a new class of rich. It has improved the condition of the laboring man, not enough to satisfy him, but enough to strengthen him to demand more.
Thus, military force giving strength; its organization as feudalism, giving the chivalric virtues and training an upper class; commerce, discovery, invention, raising first the middle class and then the lower, -- these forces, not on the surface ethical, have cooperated to realize the ideal.
Luther led a revolt which in its issue freed half Europe from the Roman court. He made the quarrel on a moral question. No man, he said, could sell a license from God to commit sin. If the Pope said otherwise, the Pope was a liar and no vicegerent of God. So he put in the forefront of the revolting forces a moral idea.
He showed that the spiritual life, with all its aspirations, struggles, and victories, was open to man without help from Pope or priesthood. He gave the German people the Bible in their own tongue. He taught by word and example that marriage was the rightful accompaniment of a life consecrated to God.
He had many of the limitations of the peasant and the priest. He was wholly inadequate to any comprehensive conception of the higher life of humanity. His ideal of character was based on a mystical experience, under the forms of an antiquated theology. He was narrow; he confounded the friends with the foes of progress; he had no clear understanding of the social and political needs of the time; he was full of superstition, and saw the Devil present in every mischief; he was often violent and wrathful. But he had a great and tender heart; he had the soldierly temper which prompted him to strike when more sensitive and reflective men held back; and he won the leadership of the new age when against all the pomp and power of Emperor and Pope he planted himself on the truth as he saw the truth: |Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!|
Copernicus died in 1543 -- two years before Luther. For thirty-six years -- all through the Reformation struggle -- he was quietly working out his theory. The book containing it he did not venture to publish, till under Paul III. there was a lull in the storm. He was a loyal Catholic, but his teaching was sure to conflict with the church. He kept alive just long enough to see his book come from the printers -- dying at the age of seventy. Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo came later.
The Protestants in the name of religion defied and set aside the Catholic church. They were impelled to do it because they saw that the church, claiming infallibility, was practically fallible and faulty in its morals, as in the matter of the indulgences. They found courage to do it, because men like Luther learned by experience that the sense of pardoned sin, of a divine communion, of peace and joy, of which the church had claimed the exclusive possession, were possible to them wholly without the church's intervention. That was one side of the revolt: the other side was that the civil society, as in England, had grown strong enough, and the monarchical and national temper bold enough, to be impatient of any foreign control.
But the Protestant reformers in an intellectual sense simply remoulded a little the old creed, detaching so much only as was inextricably blended with the authority of the Roman priesthood. Theirs was in no sense an intellectually creative movement. Politically and socially it had great effects. Intellectually it did hardly more than to set the door open. Even this it did unconsciously and unwillingly. The early Protestants found themselves face to face with elemental forces of human nature, -- with misery, sin, and greed, with passions stimulated by the sense that authority was weakening. They saw no other resource, their own minds prompted no other thought, their spiritual experience brought no other suggestion, than to continue the old appeal to the supernatural world. The creed of Calvin is harsher than the creed of Rome; its spiritual world no less definitely conceived and authoritatively taught; its insistence on belief no less absolute. The traditional Protestant orthodoxy is only the Catholic theology a little shrunken and dwindled. Its appeal to the reason is hardly stronger, and its appeal to the imagination is less strong.
But for more than three hundred years the whole conception of a supernatural universe has been growing weaker and weaker in its hold on the minds of men. Shakspere paints the most various, active, and passionate world of humanity, -- a humanity brilliant with virtues, dark with crimes, rich in tenderness, humor, loveliness, awe, yet almost unaffected by any consideration of the supernatural world. On Hamlet's brooding there breaks no ray from Christian revelation. No hope of a hereafter soothes Lear as he bends over dead Cordelia. Macbeth, hesitating on the verge of crime, throws out of the scale any dread of future retribution, -- assure him only of success here, and
|We 'd jump the life to come.|
It is impossible to pass the exhaustless Shakspere without some further word of inadequate comment. Apparently no one in his day guessed that among the jostling throng of soldiers, statesmen, and philosophers this obscure playwright was the intellectual king. But Time has more than redressed the wrong, for now he is not only reverenced as a sovereign but sometimes worshiped as an oracle. The prime secret of his power, compared with the men before him and about him, is his return to reality. It is the actual world, the actual men and women in it, that he portrays, and not the puppets or shadows of a made-up world. It is a change of standpoint such as Bacon made when he recalled philosophy from abstract speculation to the study of concrete facts, and calmly told men that their past achievements were as nothing compared to the truth they were to attain with the new weapons. Shakspere has no thought of mankind's advance, no method or system to offer, but as seer and artist he beholds and portrays the universe about him. We get some idea of what the change means when we compare the humanity which he depicts with the account of mankind given by a logical theologian like Calvin; the simple, sharp division between saints and sinners, against the mixed, particolored, genuinely human people who touch our tears and laughter on the dramatist's page. Or again, contrast his world with Dante's, where the profoundest imagination and sensibility project themselves into a phantasmagoria. In the change to Shakspere we are tempted to say that we have lost heaven and escaped hell, but have taken fresh hold on earthly life and found in it unmeasured richness and significance.
In reading Shakspere we are never confused or weakened as between virtue and vice. In simply showing us this life as it is acted out by all kinds of people, he shows perpetually the beauty of courage, truth, tenderness, purity, and the ugliness of their opposites. Measure him at the most critical point, chastity. His plays have plenty of coarseness; they have touches, though very rarely, of voluptuous description; but they always leave us with the sense that purity is noble and impurity is evil. It is striking to note the tone in this respect of his successive productions. His youthful poem, |Venus and Adonis,| is touched with the disease which had blighted the literature and the life of southern Europe, -- the infection of the imagination by sensuality, a sort of intellectual putrescence. In the frank daylight of the early dramas this nightmare has disappeared, yet in the generally clean atmosphere there occurs sometimes a touch of depraved Italian manners, as in |All's Well that Ends Well,| the deliberate seduction attempted by Bertram, bringing little discredit and no punishment. Later in the great plays the note of chastity is always clear and firm. In his women, purity is nobly depicted; in his men there appears no such attainment, but often a passionate abhorrence of vice. In only one play, |Antony and Cleopatra,| it might superficially appear that there is a glorification of lawless love; but in the action of the story their lawlessness ruins Antony's and Cleopatra's fortunes; then, with the imminence of death, their passion, escaping from the thralldom of flesh, soars into a sublimation that redeems Antony's error and half transforms Cleopatra.
In Shakspere's world the supernatural sanctions have almost disappeared, but the moral law is still supreme. Yet in some ways it is a very unsatisfying world. In its deeper aspects woe predominates over joy. All phases of suffering and anguish find their language here; but of rapture there are only transient glimpses, of great and abiding happiness there is almost none, and there is scarcely a suggestion of |the peace that passeth understanding.| We sometimes feel the sharpest pressure of the problems to which Christianity had addressed itself, unlightened by any solution. There is the echo of Paul's cry, |O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death!| -- as in the king at prayer, in |Hamlet;| but nowhere is Paul's note of triumphant deliverance. We see men overwhelmed by temptation, as Macbeth and Angelo; we nowhere see men rising over conquered temptation to higher manhood. Man in Shakspere is generally the creature of Fate. Man's confrontal by the mystery of existence is the real theme of |Hamlet.| The true unity of that drama is not in the action nor in the characters; it is the underlying and unanswered problem, -- man, in his finest sensibilities and noblest aspirations, beset by a world of trouble, of confusion, of unfathomable mystery. The ghost from the other world is a mere piece of stage scenery; to the real sentiment belongs the frank paganism of Hamlet as he holds the skull, -- this is the end of Yorick, and that anything of Yorick may still live except these mouldering bones does not even occur to Hamlet as a question. Yet when he is tempted to take refuge in suicide, the possibility of |something after death| is sufficient to deter him. The thought suggests no hope, only a vague restraining fear. But to the guilty king there is a terrible reality in the divine law which he has broken; he struggles to reconcile himself with heaven, but his will seems paralyzed to retrace the path of wrong-doing. The incapable will, the baffled intellect, cast a gloom over the whole drama.
It is not only a clew to man's relation with the unseen and eternal that we miss in Shakspere. He fails to show one trait which belongs to human nature as truly as Hotspur's courage or Falstaff's drollery. He nowhere depicts a life controlled by a moral ideal, deliberately chosen and resolutely pursued. His world is rich in passion, but deficient in clear and high purpose and soldierly resolve. The metal of mastery is lacking. He shows us life as a wonderful spectacle, but he does not directly aid us to live our own life. His amazing treasury of wisdom seldom lends a phrase that flashes comfort into our sorrow, hope into our dejection, or strength to our wavering will.
Yet when this has been said, it remains true that Shakspere's atmosphere is wholesome and even invigorating. We are helped in our higher life by many influences besides direct moral teaching. One takes a twenty-mile tramp over moor and mountain, and no word of admonition or guidance comes from rock or tree, but he comes back stronger and serener. So from an hour among Shakspere's people one may well emerge with a fuller, happier being. It is the inscrutable power of real life truly seen, even though seen but in part.
The wish is as inevitable as it is hopeless that we might know the personality of Shakspere, the medium through which the light passing was thus colored. We get but rare and slight glimpses; the boyhood in the sweet Avon country; the stumble on the threshold of manhood in his marriage; the plunge into roaring London; the theatrical surroundings; the great encompassing drama of Elizabeth's England; the slow winning of a competence; the quiet years at the end, a burgess of Stratford town. There is a rich, tantalizing disclosure of a phase of the inner life in the Sonnets; what they seem to convey is a passion delicate and profound, striving to sublimate and satisfy itself, but baffled by unworthiness in the object, and perhaps by some unworthiness in the lover. More distinct is the outward closing scene; the retirement to the native country town, the modest prosperity, the business-like making of the will. Prosaic enough it sounds, yet in substance it has this significance, that this great genius and passionate soul bore himself among the materialities, where so many make shipwreck, with a practical sense and steadiness which brought him to the haven at least of a comfortable and honorable age. So much Shakspere certainly had in himself, -- this homely yet vital self-command. With this is to be taken that he had also that intellectual mastery of himself of which the highest proof is the creation of great works of art. Self-control, prudential and intellectual, was one element of Shakspere, one secret of his sanity and strength.
One loves to see in |The Tempest| the crowning utterance of his maturity. How wise, how noble it is, and the wisdom and nobility set forth in what exquisite play of fancy and wealth of humor! As in Hamlet we seem to see Shakspere in his mid-life storm and stress, so in Prospero we think we recognize the ideal of his ripeness. There is the wise man torn from books and reverie, and rudely thrust upon treachery and the stormy sea; there is control gained over airy powers and ethereal beauties; struggle with bestial evil; forgiveness of the wrong-doer; happiness in the happiness of his child, and willing surrender of her to her lover; the admonition that love perfect itself by the mastery of passion. So wise, so beneficent, so lofty is Shakspere's latest creation. A shadow flits across, in the thought of mortal transiency: --
|We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded by a sleep.|
Yet instantly Prospero marks this as the utterance of a disturbed moment: |Bear with my weakness, my old brain is troubled;| the coming encounter with Caliban has shaken him. Most Shaksperean, too, is this: alternating impulses of trust and doubt; now a sense of being led |by Providence divine;| an instinct of a |divinity that shapes our ends;| and again, the mood that sees beyond the present scene only blankness and the end.
Those elements which in Shakspere are absent or dim, -- the belief in a divine rule and celestial destiny, and a high and fixed moral purpose, -- these appear in full strength in men of Shakspere's time, the men of religion; but in their minds inextricably blent with a scheme of the universe which it is plain was to Shakspere as unreal as the mythology of the Greeks, and which he treats in much the same way, merely borrowing it for a dramatic purpose. The men of religion had no such consummate expression in literature as Shakspere, though they had their Taylor and Herbert and Milton; but to appreciate them we must look at them in action, and we may take the Puritan as their type.
But first let us note that in Catholicism as early as in Protestantism appeared the sharp rift between intellect and belief. Montaigne, a man of the world, is outwardly a conformist, but a real skeptic. A nominal Catholic, he corresponds to Shakspere, a nominal Protestant. Montaigne reveals the world of one personality as, frankly as Shakspere pictures a world of humanity, and in each the purely religious element is almost totally absent.
Shakspere shows the widest reach of the mind apart from a definite religious purpose or a strong religious faith. In contrast with him is the Puritan effort to apprehend and follow a divine rule and achieve a divine destiny. The typical Puritan addressed himself to man's foes, -- all griefs and sufferings culminating in Death; all wrong-doing, as Sin; and the retribution and woe hereafter, as Hell. To escape from these was his supreme object, and to win what he as firmly believed in -- Holiness, Life, and Heaven.
The creed was accepted as the form of this truth, but the earnest men sought to know its truths experimentally, -- to take home the full sense of them. This was found in the consciousness of man's supreme need; and, responding to that, a divine command, an invitation, and a threat. The result of this was to set man upon a struggle so intense that it was indeed a warfare, -- first, against his own lusts, then against the evils in the world around him. These evils were to him embodied -- in the Pope, the head of a false religion, the oppressor of God's people; in the imitation and approach to Popery in the church of England; in all false belief and error, all wrong-doers, and Satan himself.
The Puritan believed that the sublimest possibility was open to man, and purposed at every cost to achieve it. |Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.| There was also the most dreadful possibility to be shunned. All earthly pleasure he held in suspicion, as a bait of the great adversary of souls.
The belief of serious men in the seventeenth century was that theology was the guide to heaven. They believed this as modern men believe that science is the guide to human life. Hence, an infinite diversity of sects, and hence the attempts to enforce each by authority.
The Bible fed the deeper substratum of the Puritan life. It touched and fired the imagination of the common people. The dominant idea on which the English Puritan laid hold was the Old Testament idea of God's chosen people, -- separate from the rest of the world, given a code of written laws, led by a divinely appointed priesthood and prophets, disciplined by a constant intervention of rewards and punishments. This conception they transferred to the faithful of their own time; and against them was Antichrist, in the Roman church, to which the English prelates seemed traitorously to incline. They proposed to purify and maintain the church in England, or, failing there, to transplant it to America.
The typical Puritan character, as most fully worked out in Scotland and New England, was a mixture of intense idealism and sternest practicality. The idealism aimed to control every action of life, and to base itself on the ultimate reality. It renounced the aid of art and embodied imagination; it renounced human authority; it had no aid from material beauty, none from knowledge of nature.
This religion had an appalling side. Foremost among its teachings was man's depravity and the terrible wrath of God. The worst cruelty of the Iroquois was mercy compared to God's dealing with sinners. This was an inheritance from an older religion. But the condition of salvation in the Catholic church -- and in all high church religion -- was practically obedience to the church. But the Puritan required a conscious change of heart, which to many was impossible. The utmost pains were taken that the most laborious right-doing should count for nothing, unless accompanied by this mystic experience.
Catholicism put man under guardianship through the hierarchy, the confessional, the whole church system. Calvinism threw him on his own resources, -- set him face to face with God. It, too, set a church to help him, but even the minister of the church exhorted him to make his own peace with God. This responsibility weighted men heavily, and made them sombre. It crushed the feeble, but made strong men stronger.
The first half of the seventeenth century was full of religious enthusiasms, which carried high expectations. Milton looked for a wonderful advance in truth. The Puritan sought to build a church simple in forms, austere in morals and manners, exacting personal holiness of its members, and subjecting the ungodly to a rule of the saints. Charles the First and Archbishop Laud believed in a religious monarchy; that the king should be chief in church and state; that beauty of ritual should go along with the encouragement of festivity and joyousness; and that the ultimate aim was a reunited Christendom.
The wave passed, and these expectations had failed. But the force of the Puritan movement had accomplished certain things. It had turned the tide of the English civil war, it had leavened the more serious portion of the nation, and it had planted the New England colonies.
In England the Puritan zeal gave force to overthrow despotism, but it then plunged the nation into chaos; it could not rule or harmonize the composite forces of national life; constitutional monarchy was established at last under William of Orange, by men of less fervent and lofty temper than the Puritans, but better conversant with the wants and possibilities of the actual world.
Milton was a man of heroic mould. He governed himself by a deliberate and lofty moral purpose. The thirst for |moral perfection| inspired and ruled his life. He was far from the narrowness of the typical Puritan. He was open on all sides to the noblest influences. The heroic antique temper, the beauty and richness of the Greek, the religious seriousness of the Puritan, the English love of freedom, all met in him. He was at heart a poet and scholar, but he threw himself into the active life of his time.
Yet his genius was cramped by his theology. He could not fuse the conflicting elements of thought, -- just as the heroes of the Revolution, Pym and Hampden and Cromwell and Falkland, could not blend the elements of English political society. He is like his own lion |struggling to get free.| His epic is a story of disaster. His deity is undivine. There is more that touches sympathy and admiration in his Satan than in his Jehovah or Adam.
The best thing he gives us is his own noble personality, imbuing the majestic rhythm with a kind of moral power. Servant and friend of Cromwell, sacrificing all scholarly delight to his country's need, champion of freedom, worshiper of truth, building in neglected solitude his epic, -- his works are less than Shakspere's, but he is greater than the imaginary Hamlet, Othello, or Brutus.
Cromwell is in action the counterpart of Milton in thought, -- a heroic nature struggling with irreconcilable elements. Each is confronted by a situation as difficult as Hamlet's; but though they cannot fully master it, they deal with it like men.
Here is the true advantage of the men of religion over Shakspere and his creations, -- here is the greater world than Shakspere saw, -- men grappling with their fate and in the struggle working out heroic lives.
The finest type of the New England colonists is seen in the Winthrops, father and son. When the migration is determined on, the son writes: |For myself, I have seen so much of the variety of the world that I esteem no more of the diversities of countries than as so many inns, whereof the traveler that hath lodged in the best or the worst findeth no difference when he cometh to his journey's end; and I shall call that my country where I may most glorify God and enjoy the presence of my dearest friends. Therefore herein I submit myself to God's will and yours, and, with your leave, do dedicate myself (laying by all desire of other employments whatsoever) to the service of God and the company herein, with the whole endeavors both of body and mind.|
The elder Winthrop is shown to us in the Journal or chronicle of the Massachusetts colony, a sombre record of seemingly petty events; in his religious diary of an earlier period; and in his domestic letters, which are full of manly strength and sweetness. He combined some of the chief elements of greatness, -- loftiness of aim; a character disinterested, patient, modest, brave; deep religious experience; and personal tenderness.
To a man like Winthrop, the heart of his creed was that man's true aim is moral perfection and a living relation with a Divine Lover. The sense of a Divine Presence -- inspiring, ruling, gladdening -- is what his religion means to him. In this quiet country gentleman, portrayed in his private diary, is an intense play of feeling and imagination, concentrated on the attainment of a personal and social ideal.
All this introspective fervor merged into a public enterprise, -- the transplanting of a church and colony to Massachusetts Bay. The last half of his life was spent in the most assiduous, minute, exacting labors. The self-watchful diary gives place to a public chronicle, prosaic as a ship's log-book -- and, like the log-book, the shorthand record of adventures, heroisms, and sublimities.
In the Puritan of Winthrop's type the flame of spiritual emotion was harnessed and made to serve. The drudgery of founding New England was done by men whose hearts were touched with fire, -- men such as Lowell sings of: --
|Who, dowered with every gift of passion,
In that fierce flame can forge and fashion
Of self and sin the anchor strong;
Can thence compel the driving force
Of daily life's mechanic course.|
Winthrop set out with a great ideal -- shown with statesmanlike breadth in the |Considerations,| and with apostolic fervor in the |Model of Christian Charity.| His conception was cramped into conformity with the far narrower views of the ministers who were the leaders in the colony. Yet it was his ideal and his personality which gave most to success.
The letters between Winthrop and his wife are an example of human love perfected by a higher love. He writes to her: |Neither can the sea drown thy husband, nor enemies destroy, nor any adversity deprive thee of thy husband.| Shakspere has no note like that. Margaret writes from her country home to her husband in London: |My good husband, cheer up thy heart in the expectation of God's goodness to us, and let nothing dismay or discourage thee; if the Lord be with us, who can be against us? My grief is the fear of staying behind thee, but I must leave all to the good providence of God.| She was obliged to stay behind in England, awaiting the birth of a child. On the eve of sailing he writes her: |I purpose, if God will, to be with thee upon Thursday come sen'night, and then I must take my leave of thee for a summer's day and a winter's day. The Lord our good God will (I hope) send us a happy meeting again in his good time. Amen! Being now ready to send away my letters, I received thine; the reading of it has dissolved my head into tears. Can write no more. If I live, I will see thee ere I go. I shall part from thee with sorrow enough; be comfortable, my most sweet wife, our God will be with thee. Farewell.|
A few months later, across the pages of the Journal, full of the cares and anxieties of the struggling colony, shines a ray of pure joy. Margaret has come! And the whole community rejoices and makes cheer, with homely and hearty feasting, for the happiness of their good governor.
The actual conditions nourished homely virtues, -- industry, thrift, self-reliance, family affection, civic responsibility. The greatness of early New England is partly measured by the fact that there were comparatively no dregs, no mass of ignorance and vice. It was not the individuals who rise into sight at this distance who were superior to the prominent men of England or France, -- it was the lower stratum which was above that elsewhere. Two prime causes worked to this elevation, -- the spiritual estimate of man and the economic conditions which offered independence to every one on the condition |work and save.| The social and political conditions were largely shaped by these underlying facts.
The wrestle for a livelihood under stern material conditions was a prime factor in the making of New England. Whatever the creed might say, in practice Work was the equal partner of Faith in building manhood and the state. The soil was to their bodies what Calvinism was to their souls, -- yielding nourishment, but only through a hard struggle. Its sterility drove them to the sea for a livelihood; they became fishermen; then, carrying their fish and lumber abroad, they grew into commerce. They traded along the coast, to the West Indies, to Europe, and so into their little province came the winds of the larger world. They learned the sailor's virtues, -- his courage, his mingled awe and mastery of elemental forces, his sense of lands beyond the horizon. Well might Winthrop name the first ship he launched |The Blessing of the Bay.|
The austere land had small room for slaves, dependent and incapable. One of the first large companies included some scores of bondmen; they landed to face a fierce and hungry winter, and straightway the bondmen were set free, -- as slaves they would be an incumbrance; as freemen they could get their own living. The thrifty colonists of a later generation did a driving business in African slaves for their southern neighbors, but they had small use for them at home.
Winthrop's constant effort, as shown in his Journal, is for reason and right. It is the arguments for and against any course that he elaborates. Scarce a word of their sufferings or of his own feelings -- but to know and do the right was all-important. The greatness of his own ideal is shown when he draws with a free hand, in the |Conclusions| or the |Model.| In the Journal, he is laboring toward this under the iron conditions of actualities. He and his associates had to be strong-willed and stern; they were warring against tremendous difficulties -- more tremendous to them because interpreted as the work of Satan, while even their God was an awful being.
Superstition throws a dark shadow over the chronicle. Even Winthrop was deeply infected by it. Disasters small and great were interpreted, on the Old Testament idea, as divine judgments. A boy seven years old fell through the ice and was drowned while his parents were at lecture, and his sister was drowned in trying to save him. |The parents had no more sons, and confessed they had been too indulgent towards him, and had set their hearts overmuch on him.| A man working on a milldam kept on for an hour after nightfall on Saturday to finish it, and next day his child fell into a well and was drowned. The father confessed it as a judgment of God for his Sabbath-breaking.
There is not unfrequent mention of some woman driven by religious brooding to frenzy, sometimes to murder. The awful possibilities of hell for herself and her children wrought the mother-heart to madness. The religious guides of the people used unsparingly the appeal to fear. The belief in witchcraft, which long had scourged Europe, broke out in a panic of fear and cruelty. It was a tragic culmination of the worst elements, -- superstition, malignity, ministerial tyranny. Then came the reaction, and with it a triumph of the wiser sense, the cooler temper, the layman's moderation, which thenceforth were to guide the commonwealth on a humbler but safer road.
In a dramatic sense the turning-point of the story -- and the revelation of the saving power at the heart of this grim people -- was when, after the witchcraft frenzy had subsided, Samuel Sewall, the chief justice of the colony, rose in his place in the meeting-house and humbly confessed before God and man that he had erred and shed innocent blood.
In the more prosaic temper of the next stage, a sturdy manhood sometimes flashes into poetry. So John Wise, a minister but the leader of the popular party in church government, strikes the high note of courage: |If men are trusted with duty, they must trust that, and not events. If men are placed at the helm to steer in all weather that blows, they must not be afraid of the waves or a wet coat.|
In personal religion there was from the outset the intense struggle for an inward peace and joy, with tears and groanings, -- the victory sometimes found, sometimes missed. There was a resolute facing of what was held as truth. The ministers and laymen battled with the problems of the infinite. The issue after two centuries was an open break from Calvinism in Channing, and the glad vision of Emerson.
A feature in the story is the New Englander's relation with Nature as he found her, -- first like a terrible power of destruction, by cold and hunger; this he conquers by endurance. Then for generations he wrings a hard livelihood out of her. Then by his wits he makes her serve him more completely. At last her beauty is disclosed to him, -- a beauty which has its roots in the very struggles he has had, and the contrasts they afford, -- no child of the tropics loves Nature as he does.
So of the sea: first he dares it as explorer and voyager; then he makes it his feeding-ground -- catches the cod and chases the whale; in his ships he does battle against pirate and public foe; he makes the deep the highway of his commerce; and at last he feels its grandeur, into which enters the reminiscence of all his combats.
Elements which Puritanism had renounced came in later from other sources. The fresh contact with truth and reality was given by Franklin. The free joy of religion, its aggressive love, came in Methodism. Beautiful ritual returned in Episcopacy. The frank enjoyment of life developed in the South, transmitted from the country life of the English squire and mellowed on American soil.
At the outset of the story of America stands the Puritan, his heart set on subduing the infernal element and winning the celestial; regarding this life as a stern warfare, but the possible pathway to an infinite happiness beyond; fierce to beat down the emissaries of evil, -- heretic, witch, or devil; yet tender at inmost heart, and valiant for the truth as he sees it. After a century, behold the Yankee, -- the shrewd, toilful, thrifty occupant of the homely earth; one side of his brain speculating on the eternities, and the other side devising wealth, comfort, personal and social good. And to-day, successor of Puritan and Yankee, Cavalier and Quaker, stands the American, composite of a thousand elements, with a destiny which seems to hover between heights and abysses, but amid all whose vicissitudes and faults we still see faith and courage and manly purpose working toward a kingdom of God on earth and in heaven.
The Protestant way of salvation was through |experimental religion.| This meant the appropriation as a personal experience of the truths of human guilt and divine mercy. A man must not only believe but intensely feel that he was wholly guilty before God and in danger of everlasting damnation. He must then have a vivid appreciation that Christ out of pure love had died for him, and that on this ground alone God offered him pardon and salvation. This offer he must consciously accept, with emotions of profound remorse for his wrong-doing, gratitude for his deliverance, and absolute dependence upon divine grace for help against future sin and for final reception to an endless heaven.
To attain this experience was the aim and goal of the religious man, under all the more strenuous forms of Protestantism. Until it was reached, all good actions, all fair traits of character, were worthless. Without it there was no escape from the unquenchable fire. If it came as a genuine experience, it was the passage from death unto life. But as there was great possibility of self-deception in the matter, the mind was constantly thrown back on self-examination, and in sensitive natures there was often an alternation of terrors and transports.
This experience of saving faith, of experimental religion, must be translated for us into very different language and symbols from those which our ancestors used before we can have any sympathy with it. Perhaps the truest account of the matter for us is something like this: the Christian theology was a system of myths, which had grown out of facts of human experience. The initial fact was a good man whose love went out to bad men, and woke in them a sense of their own wrong along with a new joy and hope. From this centre the influence spread in widening circles, and was gradually transformed in the expression, -- mixed too with earlier notions, with crudities, with sophistications, -- until Justice and Love and Punishment and Forgiveness were personified and dramatized and a whole cloud-world of fancy built up. Already in the age of the Reformation the human intellect was sapping the foundations of the structure. But the religious imagination was still intensely susceptible, and when the moral sense was sharply awakened by the reformers both within and without the Catholic church, it fell back on the imagination as its familiar ally, and clothed with new life the ancient forms. The Catholic turned with fresh ardor to mass and miracle and holy church. The Protestant fell back on a more personal and inward experience; he conceived that in each heart and mind the whole drama from Eden to Calvary and on to the Judgment Day must be realized and appropriated as the working principle of life.
To the mystical, the sentimental, the self-confident, it was a welcome and uplifting exercise. To the timid and self-distrustful it was a terrible ordeal. To the intellectual it was a perpetual challenge to skepticism. Even Bunyan puts as his first and worst temptation, |to question the being of God and the truth of his gospel.| To the prosaic and practical minds it made the whole business of religion a dim and far-away affair.
Experimental religion was the core of Protestantism for more than three centuries. It was blended with other elements in a series of great movements. In Puritanism it united with an ascetic and militant temper, a metaphysical theology, a stern rule of life, and a conception of the nation as under a divine law like that of ancient Israel.
Then came Quakerism, a religion of the quiet, illumined heart, and the peaceful life. Next, Methodism, a wave of aggressive love, seeking to save others where Puritanism had been self-saving, appealing less to the head and more to the heart. Following this, in England, came Evangelicalism, a revival of self-conscious experience, but flowing out now not only as in Methodism into a crusade to save souls, but into labors for criminals, for slaves, for the poor, under such leaders as Howard and Wilberforce and Shaftesbury.
These phases are from English and American history. They might largely be paralleled elsewhere. And along with them, it is to be remembered, went always not only a party imbued with the Catholic or high church idea, but also a moderate party, holding a more broadly and simply religious view.
Perhaps the most effective type of Christianity has been the simple acceptance of the familiar laws of goodness, having in the Bible their express sanction, with a great promise and an awful warning for the future, and the embodiment of holiness, love, and help, in Christ. This has been the religion of a multitude of faithful souls, manly men and womanly women, who did not concern themselves with any elaborate theology, but went along their daily way, strong in obedience to duty, trustful in a divine guidance, and with serene hope for what may come after death. Their souls have been nurtured on whatever was most vital and most tender in the words of Scripture and the services of the church, and whatever was unintelligible or innutritions they have quietly passed by. This is the essential religion of humanity, made definite and vivid by accepted symbols and rules, and made warm by the sense of fellowship with a great company.
Recurring to the successive phases of religious thought, the next development of Protestantism, while in a sense world-wide, may be most clearly seen in America. By Jonathan Edwards there was begun the application of a rationalizing process to the theology of Calvin and to experimental religion. In Edwards almost the only result was a more lurid and tremendous affirmation of the old dogma and the old requirement. But the New England mind, speculative, practical, and intense, worked rapidly on. In Channing and his associates came the renunciation of Depravity, Atonement, and the Trinity. In the next generation, Unitarianism expressed itself through Theodore Parker as simple theism. A little later than the Unitarian movement, the old Orthodoxy itself became transformed into a new Orthodoxy. The foremost interpreters of the transformation were Bushnell and Beecher; Bushnell translating the Atonement into terms of purely natural goodness, -- not as a transaction, but an expression; and Beecher finding in Christ simply the truth that Love is sovereign of the universe. To Bushnell and Beecher the historical Christ remained in a unique sense an incarnation of God. By later voices of the new Orthodoxy -- for example, Phillips Brooks -- he is spoken of rather as the one actual instance of perfect humanity, and in this sense a manifestation of God and the spiritual leader of mankind.
But for three centuries men have been studying the facts of existence from an entirely different side from that whence the church takes its outlook. They have been finding out all kinds of curious facts, totally unconnected with any supernatural sphere. First, they made such discoveries as that the world is not flat, but round; not stationary, but doubly revolving. And so they went on. The stars, the plants, the animals, the human body, yielded all manner of curious knowledge. New powers came into men's hands through this knowledge; new avenues to happiness were opened. Facts wove themselves together in wider and wider combinations. Orderly procedure was found where there had seemed such confusion as only capricious spirits could occasion. It is learned, too, that even as the individual man has grown up from babyhood, so the race of man has grown up from the beast. The globe itself has grown from a simple origin into infinite diversity and complexity. There has been a universal, orderly growth, -- what we name |Evolution.| And it is learned that all mental phenomena, so far as we can explore them, stand in some close relation to a physical basis in the brain, and to a train of physical antecedents.
And now the men who have come up by the path of this knowledge stand face to face with the men who have been climbing in the path whose signboards are such as |Duty,| |Worship,| |Aspiration;| and the question arises, Do our paths lie henceforth together, or do they separate, and is the one party losing its travel?
Perhaps the best example of the union of the two pursuits in one man is given by Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin worked out, through a very genuine, homely, and personal experience, the conviction that moral perfection is the only true aim. He reached this conviction while still a young man, and in the main tenor of his life he was faithful to it. He made no vaunt of his religion, founded no sect, gave his words and deeds chiefly to practical affairs; and perhaps few guessed, until at the close of his life he told his own story with consummate charm, that the secret motive and mainspring of his life had been the same that animates the saints and saviors, -- the thirst for moral perfection. The motive and method had been hidden, but the result had long been clear to the eyes of the whole world. Franklin's character was reverenced alike in the court of France and the farmhouses of Pennsylvania and New England. To the Old World he seemed the heroic and coming man of the New World, side by side with Washington. The Virginian embodied the highest traditional virtues of the race, self-mastery, patience, magnanimity, devotion to the common good; the Pennsylvanian, if less called on for the heroic forms of antique virtue, added to its substance new traits of wisdom, progress, and happiness, -- signs of a better age to be.
Moral perfection was Franklin's secret and ruling principle. But his life was conspicuously engaged in the fields of science and of statesmanship. He was a leader in exploring the material world, skillful to trace its secrets, fertile to apply them to human use. He was a pioneer and founder of the new nation, projecting its union before others had desired or dreamed of it; sharing in its first hazardous fortunes; winning by his personal weight and wisdom the foreign alliance which turned the scale of victory; laying with the other master shipwrights the keel and ribs of the new Constitution. Moral perfection for himself, and, as the outcome to the world, not a new church or a theology or a missionary enterprise, but a winning of the forces of nature to the service of man, and a shaping of the social organism for the benefit of all. That is the originality of Franklin, -- that he carries the old moral purpose into the new fields of science and of social ordering. His desire for moral perfection and his confidence that the universe is ordered rightly are not dependent on any visionary scheme of heaven and hell; they rest not on any doubtful argument; they bring sanction from no transport mixed of soul and sense. He walks firm on the solid earth. He has found for himself that goodness is the only thing that satisfies. That this is an ordered universe comes home to him with every step of his study of actuality. What need of a supernatural religion to a man who finds religion in his own nature and in the nature of the world?
Such confidence and such purpose are as old as Socrates. But come, now, let us go where Socrates did not go; let us put the ideas of Jesus and Paul to some further application; let us use our freedom from pope and tyrant for some solid good! And so he goes on, cheerfully and delightedly, to question the thunder-cloud and make acquaintance with its wild steeds, -- presently some one will put them in harness. He is always inventing. Now it is a stove, now it is a fire-brigade, -- a public library, -- a post-office, -- a Federal Union! And be his invention smaller or greater, he takes out no patent, but tenders it freely into the common stock.
The prophets introducing this age are Carlyle and Emerson. Carlyle sees the disease -- he convinces of sin. Emerson sees the solution. Carlyle reflects in his own troubled nature the disorder he portrays. He is physically unsound; his dyspepsia exaggerates to him the evils of the world. Emerson's disciplined and noble character mirrors the present and eternal order, and forecasts its triumph.
Carlyle and Emerson give two different phases of life as experienced. Carlyle gives the experience of good and evil, -- the tremendous sanctions of right against wrong, wisdom against folly. He is not triumphant, but he is not hopeless. |Work, and despair not| is to him |the marching music of the Teutonic race.| Emerson, from the height of personal victory, sees all as harmonious. One shows the struggle up the mountain path, the other the view from the summit.
Carlyle's gospel is summed up in |Work, and despair not.| |Work| was his own addition to Goethe's line. |Do the duty that lies nearest thee;| action, as the escape from the puzzles of the intellect and the griefs of the heart, is his special message.
Emerson is a precursor of the day when |No man shall say to his neighbors, Know ye the Lord, for all shall know him, from the least unto the greatest.| He is the first of the prophets to rise above anxiety as to the success of his mission. He lives his life, says his word, sheds his light -- concerned to be faithful, but wholly unanxious as to personal success.
As the tribes of ancient Israel stood arrayed, the one half on Mount Ebal, the other on Mount Gerizim, -- the one to pronounce the blessing, the other to utter the curse, -- so Emerson is like an embodied promise and Carlyle a perpetual warning. In Emerson we see the hero triumphant and serene. Carlyle shows him at close grips with the devil. |Pain, danger, difficulty, steady slaving toil, shall in no wise be shirked by any brightest mortal that will approve himself loyal to his mission in this world; nay, precisely the higher he is the deeper will be the disagreeableness, and the detestability to flesh and blood, of the tasks laid on him; and the heavier, too, and more tragic, his penalties if he neglect them.|
The background for Emerson is the life of early New England. The secret of New England's greatness was the combination from the first of the profoundest interest in man's spiritual destiny with the closest grip on homely facts.
In Calvinism, and in Christianity, the universe was at eternal war within itself; this was man's projection upon the world of his own moral conflict. Emerson sees the universe as a harmony. Many influences have contributed to this idea; it becomes distinct and vivid in a man whose own life is a moral harmony. Himself truly a cosmos, he recognizes the answering tokens of the greater cosmos.
The religious sentiment had become so inwoven with institutions, creeds, usages, conventionalisms, -- each man believing because his neighbors do, or his father did, -- that it was necessary to take a new observation. What says the heart of man at its highest? For this Emerson is singled out; for him an ancestry is trained through generations; he is drawn apart from the church, set aside from government and all institutional work; practical functions are denied him; he is made an eye, -- an organ of pure vision.
To him God is not afar off but in himself. The heart in its own purity, tenderness, and strength recognizes the Divine Presence. |The soul gives itself, alone, original, and pure, to the Lonely, Original, and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads, and speaks through it.| The order of physical nature is the symbol and the instrument of a moral order. The beauty and sublimity of nature are the manifestation through sense of the Divine Reality.
So high a revelation can come at first only to souls which in their greatness are isolated, as the highest mountain peaks stand alone in the earliest sunbeams. It is for a later time to fit such truth to all the conditions of human life, to fully assimilate it with older lessons, to weave it into the warp and woof of society.
It is Emerson, child of the Puritan and disciple of the new knowledge, in whom joy is most abiding -- its roots are in faithful living, brave and high thinking, the spirit of love, oneness with nature and humanity.
Emerson dwells in an ideal yet real world. He cannot give the password that will certainly admit; inheritance and temperament must contribute to that. But he sees that one principle is the rightful sovereign in his inner world and in the universe, -- allegiance to highest known law. It is a sublimation of the idea familiar to the religious mind, but he gives it a new and larger interpretation; for, in place of the written Word, beyond the social and civic obligation, greater than the accepted moralities, superseding the ecclesiastical virtues, wider than the overworked altruism of Christianity, is the complete ideal of Man, from his roughest force to his finest perception.
Talk about duty had become wearisome. |Thou shalt not preach!| says Emerson. So he discourses as the observer of man and nature, and bids men to look at realities.
His imitators were beguiled into a theoretical exposition of the universe. A sense of thinness and unreality accompanies much of their talk, because it is not, like Emerson's, in constant touch with active duty and fresh observation.
His ideal includes worship, but to this he brings above all the quality of sincerity. He will not observe a sacrament which has lost its significance to him. He will not use language of a personal God which is not natural to him, nor affirm a certainty as to immortality when his conviction is not always clear. But he has the profoundest sense and the simplest expression of that reality which we call |the presence of God in man.| In him it is not involved with miracle or metaphysic; it is a personal experience, the source of humility, energy, and peace. |I recognize the distinction of the outer and inner self; the double consciousness that within this erring, passionate, mortal self sits a supreme, calm, immortal mind, whose powers I do not know, but it is stronger than I; it is wiser than I; it never approved me in any wrong; I seek counsel of it in my doubts; I repair to it in my dangers; I pray to it in my undertakings. It seems to me the face which the Creator uncovers to his child.|
Emerson represents thought in its highest form -- perception, vision. The world interpreted by such vision supplies motive, support, and rapture. He is essentially and above all a poet, and to whoever can follow him he opens a celestial world in which the homeliest earthly fact is irradiated by indwelling divinity.
Emerson's escape from evil is by rising to such a height of contemplation that evil is seen as only an element of good. He sits like an astronomer, viewing the procession of the worlds in their sublime harmony. For most men, the jar and dust of daily life largely shut out that glorious view. They catch hope and strength from the voice of the seer upon his heights. But they need other help; they need some one by their side; they need the love of a stronger brother, who takes their hand. This men found in Jesus the friend of sinners, who went about doing good; they idealized it as Christ -- a divinity who took upon him the form of a servant. The higher stooping to the lower is still the world's salvation.
In teaching, Emerson generalized for all men from his own experience. He said, |Be yourself! Follow the law of your own nature. Trust the all-moving Spirit. Be above convention and rule, above vulgarities and insipidities. Give way to the God within you!|
Literally obeyed, it was insufficient advice for most men, for it ignored what Emerson's modesty forbade him to recognize, -- the vast difference between his own nature and bent and that of most men. When ordinary men and women tried to imitate him the result was sometimes a lamentable failure. But he was genuine and lofty always. He failed in no homely duty. The great trial and discipline to him was the alternation in himself of the commonplace with the high. In individuals he was forever disappointed, always looking for heroes, saints, and saviors, and seldom finding them. His own work bore little visible fruit; his own teaching fell for a long time on scornful ears. This perpetual disappointment he took with perpetual constancy, always serene under disappointment, gracious to the dull, indifferent to fame, careless of his own obscurity. The typical man of letters has his own besetting sins, -- neglect of homely duties, self-consciousness, vanity, -- from all of which Emerson was free.
The faults we allege against his philosophy -- its scanty recognition of sin and sorrow -- were the natural incidents of his character and work. They do not debase, though they sometimes limit, his influence for good; his is always the speech of an angel; it strengthens, uplifts, gladdens us. There are other angels to whom we must listen, -- others, perhaps, who speak more nearly the speech of our own experience, -- but his music always chords with theirs.
In Emerson, a soul inheriting centuries of Catholic and Puritan training, until obedience was its instinct and purity its native atmosphere, -- a soul endowed with genius, -- spread its wings and flew with the suddenness and joy of a young bird's first flight. He saw good everywhere, beauty everywhere, and was glad with the gladness of a seer and savior. He is one of those of whom he speaks, as belonging to a better world which is yet to come, and who touch us with a sense of a heaven on which we are just beginning to enter.
Though he professes an idealist philosophy, and that way of thinking can be traced in all his writings, he never makes of it a creed or dogma. His children are welcome to worship in the church which has lost its attraction for him. The skeptic may freely question immortality, -- nay, Emerson himself sometimes feels uncertainty. The personal God, and man's personal immortality, which the idealist is wont to affirm as definite certainties, Emerson will not explicitly avow or define. Universal good, beauty, order, -- these he sees, feels, is sure of. What form belongs to them, let each imagine as best he can. So free, so generous, so simply true is he that not only men of an idealist way of thinking, but all strong and high souls own impulse from him, -- the scientist, the positivist, the churchman.
His distinctive note is not self-abnegation, but it is the note which with that makes a perfect harmony. Joy in God and self-sacrificing love are the two wings of the angelic life. Long have the preachers taught self-sacrifice, -- now let one child of God sing the joy of God!
The latest chapter in the story of the higher life is the conception of man and the world which has grown up under the influence of modern science. The most original and effective expression of this philosophy is given by Herbert Spencer. What new light does the evolutionary philosophy throw on man's chief problem, the right conduct of his own life?
First, it defines with clearness two great forces which bear on the individual life, as Heredity and Environment. Next, it defines the ideal to be sought, by reaffirming in substance the familiar conception of human morality, showing its sanctions on purely natural grounds, and giving new applications and extensions of its principles. And finally, compared with the traditional theology, it leads to a new conception of the relation between man and the higher power, and necessitates, what Spencer does not supply, a new expression of the religious life.
The discovery of Darwin, supplying the final link to the growing proofs of the evolutionary development of man, opened an amazing panorama of the past history of the planet's inhabitants. The predecessors and successors of Darwin added to the panorama one after another scene of wonder. The standpoint of thought seemed wholly changed, and a readjustment necessary which threatened overthrow to all the old creeds and standards. Spencer, who has been the most successful in generalizing the new knowledge, comes back to the inquiry, By what law shall man guide his own conduct? His answer is substantially a reaffirmation of the principles which good men have acknowledged for many ages. Whatever else is changed, it remains true that justice, fidelity, chastity, honor, regard for others, are man's safest guides and his lawful rulers. Altruism is only a new word for the golden rule. But the advance of society has brought wider and finer applications: the claim of the whole community comes closer home; the principles which have been recognized within the church and the neighborhood must be carried on to reshape institutions, industries, the whole social organism.
The moral idea is thus reaffirmed and extended, but how can man attain that ideal? By using his free will, said the Stoic. By the grace of God obtained through prayer, said the Christian. Is man then free, or is he the passive creature of a greater power, and of what nature is that power? Now, where theologians have sought to define the Deity, and to conceive his government of his creatures in terms of a personal affection and will, scientists, contenting themselves with observation of facts, have shown that each man is what he is and does what he does partly because of what his parents and remoter ancestors were and did before him, and partly because of the forces of climate, institutions, education, companionship, event, which surround him from his birth to his grave. Heredity and Environment, these are
That reach through Nature, moulding Man.|
It looks at first as if the old dispute between free will and necessity were settled at last, and man were indeed a creature of inscrutable fate. Yet, in the very act of acknowledging certain ideals of character as desirable, we become conscious of an impulse and initial effort -- call it automatic or call it voluntary -- toward attaining those ideals. As a matter of practice, we speedily recognize that both Heredity and Environment are in a degree under human control. If they are deities, they are accessible to prayers, the prayers which are watchfulness and obedience. Man is always at work to better the environment of himself and his fellows. As he sees more clearly that his true good is character and the noble self, he shapes his environment more intelligently and resolutely to that end. As to heredity, while the individual is powerless over his own lot, he is in a degree potential over those who are to succeed him. The conception of duty is enlarged by the obligations of marriage and parenthood, in a wise selection and thoughtful care for the future offspring.
Heredity and Environment, then, are partly the servants of man. Yet largely they are his lords and masters. In a degree, but only in a degree, do we make ourselves what we are. And while the degree of that self-determining power can never be known, we learn to be charitable toward others and exacting toward ourselves.
The new philosophy has its chief bearing on conduct, not in abstract conceptions about fate, free will, and responsibility, but in the stimulus it gives to find new tools and weapons of moral achievement. How shall we make men good? No longer by the mere appeal to reason; no longer mainly by promise of heaven and threat of hell. Still appealing to reason, to hope and fear, to imagination, we must go on to put about men all stimulating influences, all guiding appliances. We must begin in the formative stage. The hope of the future is in the child; we must educate the child by putting him in true touch with realities, -- realities of form, color, and number; of plant and animal life; of play and pleasure; of imagination; of sympathetic companionship; of a miniature society; of a firm yet gentle government. The education must go on through youth, and must introduce him to industry not as drudgery but as fine achievement. So of every phase of humanity. The criminal is to be met not with mere penalty but with remedial treatment. In the sordid quarter must be planted a settlement which shall radiate true neighborhood. The state must be so ordered as best to promote the material good and the essential manhood of its citizens. The church must serve some distinct purpose -- of ethical guidance, of emotional uplift, of social service -- in character-building. Such are the forces to which we now are turning. Where ancient philosophy appealed through the lecturer at his desk, where Christianity sent its missionary to proclaim a faith, or set its priest to celebrate mass, or its minister to preach a sermon, -- in place of these partial resources we now realize that every normal activity of humanity is to serve in building up man, and that |the true church of God is organized human society.|
The church of God, -- but has man a God? There is, says Spencer, some inscrutable power from which all this vast procedure springs; its nature we know not and cannot know. The thought of it moves us to wonder and awe, -- and this is the legitimate satisfaction of the religious sense. And here it is that his philosophy utterly fails to satisfy. Yet it marks the passing away of the attempt to interpret Deity in terms of exact knowledge. Whatever form religion may hereafter wear, the old precision of statement must be abandoned; the intellect must be more humble. And further, the Spencerian view is wholly different from atheism. It leaves the door open. It recognizes that some supreme reality exists beyond and above man. That reality is not intelligible to the intellect which analyzes and generalizes. But may it not be approachable through another side of man's nature, -- accessible through gates like those by which one human spirit recognizes another human spirit? The evolutionary philosophy, in an enlarged construction, raised no barrier against the access to divinity through the noblest exercise of humanity.
Live the personal life toward the highest ideals, with the faithfulest endeavor, -- and peace, trust, hope, spring up in the soul. So does man find access to the supreme power; so does he find himself encompassed and upborne by it; so is he drawn into closest union with his fellow-creatures and with the divine source of all. It is the old answer and the new; it is figured in the Hebrew's assurance that the Lord loveth the righteous; it gives strength and courage to Epictetus; it inspires the confidence of Jesus, the loving and holy soul finding its heavenly Father; it speaks with glad voice in Emerson, -- |contenting himself with obedience, man becomes divine.|
The essential truth is old, but in our day it is being disencumbered of the husk of myth and dogma which obscured it; while by the growth of new powers and finer sensibilities in man his access to highest reality becomes more intimate.
As the evolutionary philosophy has already reaffirmed, clarified, and enriched the moral life, so, blending with the clearest interpretation of man's deepest experience, it is to reaffirm, purify, and deepen the religious life.
One disciple of Spencer has applied herself with great genius and art to creative fiction. George Eliot is a thorough Spencerian, and she is constantly, effectively, almost with over-insistence, a moralist. Life may be ruined by self-indulgence, -- that is her perpetual theme. Of wide range and variety, she is powerful above all in picturing the appeal of temptation, the gradual surrender, the fatal consequence. Shakspere does not show the inner springs of the fall of Macbeth or Angelo so clearly as she shows the catastrophe of Arthur Donnithorne, of Tito Melema, of Gwendolen Harleth. Readers from whom the threat of hell would fall off as an old wife's tale, feel the dark power of reality in the mischief which dogs each of her wrong-doers. More scantly, and with growing infrequence, there are scenes of a natural gospel of redemption and salvation, -- Hetty reached in her misery by the Christian love of Dinah, Silas Marner won back to happiness by the little child, Gwendolen saved from her selfishness through dire disaster and a strong man's help.
The prevailing atmosphere of George Eliot's later books is sad, and the sadness deepens as they go on. A labored, over-strenuous tone increases; the style loses in simplicity and is overburdened with reflection. The note of struggle is everywhere present, and shuts out repose, freedom, joy. The sensitive reader can hardly escape an undertone of suggestion, -- yes, life must be made the best of, but it seems scarcely worth the cost. Is it the entire absence of any outlook beyond this life which makes the gloom of the later works? Yet this seems only partially to explain. One seeks inevitably the clew to the writing in the life. George Eliot's story as a woman is an open one. She took as her life companion a man who was legally united to another woman. Her justification apparently was that they were suited to each other, and that with the support of this mutual tie they could best do their work. Stated in plain terms, the moral question involved seems hardly to admit of any debate. There is no more vital point in social morality than the relation of the sexes, and George Eliot's own teaching reverts most often to this topic, and always with its emphasis on restraint. Her actual course assumed that the established and accepted law of society may be set aside by a man and woman upon their own judgment that their need of each other is paramount to the social law. A position more contradictory to her avowed principles could hardly be stated. It was no new claim of immunity; it had been professed and preached, especially on the Continent, with results patent to all, of the subversion of social foundations; it marks the especial danger-point of a time of swiftly changing standards. It is impossible not to feel that her course was a precedent and example in flat contradiction of the teaching she so assiduously gave. Doubtless she persuaded herself she was right, but such persuasion must have involved, the most dangerous sophistication which besets man in his groping struggle, -- a claim by a leader for exemption from the common obligation on the plea that his welfare (that is, his comfort) is especially necessary for the good of mankind. As one reads George Eliot's pages with her own story in mind, the shadows are heavy. In the over-active, restless reflections, one feels the working of a mind incessantly exercised by its own self-defense. The suggestion comes to us of a nature which has lavished all its energies on thinking, and lacked strength for living, and so has failed of that vision which comes not from thought but from life. The cramping horizon, the low sky, the earthly limit within which love saddens and hope dies, -- all seem to bespeak that loss of truest touch with the universe which comes when one is not true in act to the law he acknowledges. The sense of a tragedy in herself, more pathetic than any she has depicted, touches us with awe, with tenderness, with compunctious thought of our own failures. We are |purified by terror and by pity.|
The largest wisdom and the finest insight of our age are blended in Tennyson's |In Memoriam.| Written half a century ago, its truth not less than its beauty stands unshaken by the later thought and knowledge. Antedating the work of Darwin and Spencer, it accepts the principles of Evolution. Its atmosphere is wholly modern. It is pervaded by the sentiment of Christian faith, but it does not lean for support on dogma or miracle. The difficulties it encounters are neither the terror in the old view of the hereafter nor the problems incident to the supernatural theology. The poet stands before the amazing spectacle of nature as seen by science, beholding along with its prodigal beauty its appalling destruction and its unswerving march. It is no longer hell, but extinction, which seems to threaten man.
The intellectual problem of the universe is faced, but the medium through which it is seen is the experience of a human heart filled by a sacred love and then struck by bereavement. It is the old, typical, deepest experience of man, -- love confronted by death.
The poem moves like a symphony, weaving together requiem, cradle-song, battle-march, and psalm, to a consummation of tender and majestic peace. As the recurrent theme which governs the whole may be taken this: -- -
|How pure at heart and sound in head,
With what divine affection bold,
Should be the man whose thoughts would hold
An hour's communion with the dead.|
These are the conditions, -- fidelity, sanity, divinely bold affections; this is the fruition, the sense of a mystic communion with the unseen friend.
One passage gives the reconciliation between the evolutionary view of the universe and a divine possibility for the individual. The evolutionary process of nature is regarded as the type of the development of the soul: -- -
|Contemplate all this work of Time,
The giant laboring in his youth;
Nor dream of human love and truth,
As dying Nature's earth and lime;
|But trust that those we call the dead
Are breathers of an ampler day
For ever nobler ends. They say,
The solid earth whereon we tread
|In tracts of fluent heat began,
And grew to seeming-random forms,
The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
Till at the last arose the man;
|Who throve and branched from clime to clime,
The herald of a higher race,
And of himself in higher place,
If so he type this work of time
|Within himself, from more to more;
Or, crowned with attributes of woe
Like glories, move his course, and show
That life is not as idle ore,
|But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And battered with the shocks of doom
|To shape and use. Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.|
Thus do the moral purpose and the immortal hope define themselves in the terms of the new philosophy. How are they related to the terms of the old religion? The poet's attitude toward the historic Christ is wholly reverent. Incidents of the gospel story are vivified by a creative imagination. But Christ is no longer an isolated historic fact; he is the symbol of all divine influence and celestial presence, -- |the Christ that is to be.| The resurrection story is reverently touched, but it is not upon this as a proof or argument that the poet dwells in regaining his lost friend under a higher relation. That experience is to him personal, at first hand. His comfort is not solely that in some future heaven he shall rejoin his Arthur. The beloved one comes to him now in moments of highest consciousness; associated profoundly, mysteriously, vitally, with the fairest aspects of nature, with the loftiest purposes of the will, with the most sympathetic regard of all fellow creatures.
In the experience which is supremely voiced in |In Memoriam,| but which is also recorded in many an utterance which the attentive ear may discern, we recognize this: that the sense of the risen Christ which inspired his disciples and founded the church was in truth an instance -- clad in imaginative, pictorial form -- of what proves to be an abiding law of human nature -- the vivid realization of the continued and higher existence of a noble and beloved life.
We may believe that in the progress of the race this faculty is being developed. In its first emergence it was confused by crude misinterpretations. A single instance of it was for two thousand years construed as a unique event, the reversal of ordinary procedure, and the basis of a supernatural religion. Now at last we correlate it with other experiences, and interpret it as a part of the universal order.
Tennyson expresses that present heaven which is sometimes revealed to the soul: --
|Strange friend, past, present, and to be;
Loved deeplier, darklier understood;
Behold, I dream a dream of good,
And mingle all the world with thee.
|Thy voice is on the rolling air;
I hear thee where the waters run;
Thou standest in the rising sun,
And in the setting thou art fair.
|What art thou, then? I cannot guess;
But though I seem in star and flower
To feel thee some diffusive power,
I do not therefore love thee less:
|My love involves the love before;
My love is vaster passion now;
Though mixed with God and Nature thou,
I seem to love thee more and more.
|Far off thou art, but ever nigh;
I have thee still, and I rejoice;
I prosper, circled with thy voice;
I shall not lose thee though I die.|
Two men beyond all others in America have interpreted the higher life. Emerson revealed it through the medium of thought, beauty, and joy. Lincoln showed it in action, sympathy, and suffering.
Lincoln had the deepest cravings of love, of ambition, and of religion. His love brought him first to bereavement which shook his reason, then to the daily tragedy of an unhappy marriage. His ambition -- he said when he entered his contest with Douglas -- had proved |a failure, a flat failure.| In his crude youth he exulted in the rejection of Christianity; then he felt the pressure of life's problems, and was powerless before them. He could believe only what was proved, -- all beyond was a sad mystery. He bore himself for many years with honesty, kindness, humor, sadness, and infinite patience. He did not for a while rise to the perception of the highest truth in politics, but he was faithful to what he did see. He lived in closest contact with ordinary men and knew them thoroughly. His training was as a lawyer and a politician. This brought him in touch with the every-day actuality and all its hard and mean facts. He was disciplined in that attempt to reach justice under a code of laws which is the practical administration of society, distinct from the idealist's vision of perfection.
The time came when in the new birth of politics he rose to the perception of a great moral principle, -- the nation's duty toward slavery. At the same time, his ambition again saw its opportunity. He had a strong man's love of power, but he deliberately subordinated his personal success to his convictions when he risked and lost the fight with Douglas for the senatorship by the |house-divided-against-itself| speech.
In the anxious interval between his election and inauguration, he went through, as he said long afterward, |a process of crystallization,| -- a religious consecration. He made no talk about it, but all his words and acts thenceforth show a selfless, devoted temper.
He bore incalculable burdens and perplexities for the sake of the people. He met the vast complication of forces which mix in politics and war -- the selfishness, hatred, meanness, triviality, along with the higher elements -- with the rarest union of shrewdness, flexibility, and steadfastness. His humor saved him from being crushed. The atmosphere he lived in permitted no illusions. |Politics,| said he, |is the art of combining individual meannesses for the general good.|
He came to the sense of a divine purpose in which he had a part. He grew in charity, in sympathy, in wisdom. His private griefs, such as the death of his boy, deepened his nature. He bore burdens beyond Hamlet's, -- a temperament prone to melancholy, the death of the woman he loved, a wife who was little comfort, an ambition which long found no fruition and no adequate field, a baffled gaze into life's mystery; then the responsibility of a nation in its supreme crisis, and the sense of the nation's woe. Through it all he held fast the clew of moral fidelity.
A lover of peace, he was forced to be captain in a terrible war. |You know me, Voorhees,| he said to an old friend; |I can't bear to cut off the head of a chicken, and here I stand among rivers of blood!|
Under overwhelming perplexities and responsibilities, amid a ceaseless drain on his sympathies, he learned and practiced a higher fidelity and deeper trust. At the outset was |the process of crystallization;| at the end came |malice toward none, charity for all,| |fidelity to the right as God gives us to see the right.| At last the sunrise of the nation's new day shone full upon him. Then suddenly, painlessly, he passed into the mystery beyond. He was loved by his people as they never loved any other man. The world prizes its happy souls, but it takes to its inmost heart him who is faithful in darkness.
I have followed George Long's translation of Epictetus.
In the language of Renan: |By this word [supernatural] I always mean the special supernatural act, miracle, or the divine intervention for a particular end; not the general supernatural force, the hidden Soul of the Universe, the ideal, source, and final cause of all movements in the system of things.|