The Restoration of Religion

THE pendulum swings, the hands move, and we count time. Even the comets, as Halley said, do not rush off into space on straight lines : after a while they turn about and come back. The current of human life is an alternating current. All progress is made in the manner of the pedestrian, who stands first on one foot, then on the other. The small child finds this a difficult accomplishment; and the primitive man, in the childhood of the race, may well have found existence a perplexing confusion of interests; but presently the pace is set, and on we go, hay foot, straw foot, into the future. It is one of the mercies of Providence that the heresies come in single file, now this controversy and then that; and the discoveries and inventions keep the same discreet order: first, powder and printing, then steam and electricity. We are profoundly interested in one thing at a time. The fact that the emphasis is placed here by one or two generations is itself a prophecy that the following generation will place it there.

A study of the successive solutions which man has brought to what Professor Eucken calls The Problem of Human Life1 shows this continual play of light and shade, this unceasing movement of ebb and flood. First the traditionalists, then the prophets. The traditionalists receive without question the whole heritage of the past. They agree with their grandfathers. They believe all that is written in the Theogony of Hesiod and in Homer’s poems. Then, little by little, the growth of democracy awakens a sense of independence in the individual; philosophy begins to interpret the world and man and the gods in a natural way; astronomy, showing that even the stars are obedient to law, suggests that even the gods may conduct themselves not as they please but as they must; the study of medicine emphasizes the idea of causation; and the study of history develops a critical spirit, leading to an examination of authorities and a minimizing of the element of the supernatural. The result is an ‘enlightenment.’ The traditionalists are opposed, and finally overcome, by the prophets. The new teachers are alert and versatile, keenly sensitive to the conditions of their time, and intent on facts. They maintain that man is the measure of all things. They say that we must make up our own minds, regardless either of our ancestors or of our neighbors, and that we ought not to believe anything which we cannot actually and individually prove. There are no immutable and eternal standards of either truth or right. Truth is what seems true to us, and right is that which is good becauseit is profitable. Then comes Plato with the Doctrine of Ideas. The whole situation changes. The sophists are seen to be frivolous persons, occupied with the mere weather of life, measuring the wind. Earnest minds turn for substantial satisfaction to the idealists.

Thus the pendulum was swinging and the tide was changing in the fifth century before Christ. The account of it reads like a summary of the progress of thought in the last half hundred years.

Then, after Plato, comes Aristotle; after poetry, prose. In the place of Plato’s concern with the world invisible, we have in Aristotle a ’simple, serious, never-wearying effort to comprehend the objective world, to discover its actual state, and to trace all its relationships.’ And after Plato and Aristotle, and all the resulting philosophy, and all the accompanying conditions of religion, come Paul and Augustine, the great disciples of the Supreme Spiritual Master; and after them, the Middle Ages; and after the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Reformation. First one foot, and then the other; first the emphasis here, then the emphasis there; now the general concern is about things tangible, then about things intangible and spiritual. Professor Eucken’s luminous and unfailingly interesting book, tracing this progress in the work of great thinkers from Plato to the present time, is mighty encouraging. The tide goes out, and the pessimist is convinced that it will never come back; but it comes.

The inference is a prophecy of the Restoration of Religion. The inveterate process will be repeated. We have been standing upon our materialistic foot; now we are to take another step, and stand upon our idealistic foot. Professor Eucken states the present situation with all frankness. ‘The main current of intellectual work runs for the most part counter to religion. There is still a steady secession from her ranks, and the secession is spreading from one social class to another. A devitalizing rationalism is now beginning to eat its way into the masses of the people.’ At the same time, ‘ the religious problem is again knocking insistently at the doors of our intellectual life.’ And this means two things: ‘In the first place, there are other forces at work in man than mere intellectualistic reflection; and secondly, in the higher strata of the intellectual atmosphere, quite different currents prevail from those which are influencing the life of the people generally, and even the so-called cultured sphere. Do not previous experiences justify us in believing that man’s own spiritual work will, in the end, prevail against him, and body forth in some new form the truths that are eternal?’

That there are such truths persisting through all changes, operating, indeed, to compel the ever-recurrent return to idealism after naturalism, is maintained by Professor Münsterberg in his Eternal Values.2 The philosophical striving of his whole life has led him, he says, to a new idealistic standpoint from which he sees the ultimate problems of the world in a new light. He believes that our time is ‘tired of the mere naturalism and positivism and skepticism and pragmatism of the past decades.’ There are eternal values, constantly available for purposes of testing and verification, corrective and suggestive, related to our life as the pattern which was showed him in the mount was related to the work of Moses. These values are spiritual forces, ‘that give us anchorage and guidance, no matter how tumultuous the sea. . . . Throughout our life a new wave is rising, a new seeking and a new longing, a new feeling and a new certainty.’

After this enthusiastic introduction, the book is-at first disappointing. The ascent to the summit of the ideal and eternal is by a series of terraces, and our guide seems to march us around the whole mountain on each terrace. However, the longest way round, according to the proverb, may be the shortest way there. Professor Münsterberg has carefully avoided the crosscuts, and the leaps across the chasms, and the adventures for the fun of adventure, which he deplores in ‘our younger philosophers,’ whose aim seems to be ‘ the writing of philosophy in brilliant epigrams and clever discussions,’ who ‘dash down their thoughts in an impressionistic style.’ Whoever goes with him must be prepared for hard climbing. Thus we ascend along the successive values of existence and of connection, of unity and beauty, of development and achievement. But the view at the top is worth the work.

The outer world with its logical values, the fellow world with its aesthetic values, and the inner world with its ethical values, meet and are interpreted and completed in the world whose values are estimated in terms of holiness. This is that world of ideals which is the domain of philosophy and of religion, the world of God. ‘This world of God is real because our conviction, which in the sphere of religion we call belief, realizes it.’ And this belief, as Professor Miinsterberg defines it, ‘has only the word in common with that other belief which confines itself to believing because it lacks sufficient hold for a full knowledge. . . . The belief in God,’ he says, ‘is not an uncertain tentative opinion which is satisfied with an unsafe hypothesis because no sufficient proof for full certainty is at our disposal. On the contrary, the religious belief carries in itself a certainty which is superior to all logical power of demonstration.’

In religion, thus exalted as both real and essential, the vital elements are creation, revelation, and salvation. The power of God, the Creator, is ‘the beyond of the outer world,’ making the order of Nature intelligible. The revelation of God in history, in miracle, in inspired writings, and in eminent persons, is ‘ the beyond of the fellow world.’ In the inner world the true salvation is ‘the victorious arising of that willattitude in us by which every opposition of values is overcome, and the full unity of the true, the harmonious, and the good is reached in our soul.’ Dr. Gordon, in his discussion of Religion and Miracle,3 declares that the eternal values, as thus defined, are no sort of equivalent to the Eternal Gospel. He points out that Professor Miinsterberg’s doctrine of the Absolute presents us with a very remote and vague idea of God, and that his uncertain grasp of the immortality of the soul makes his whole discussion vain; for eternal values are impossible without eternal beings to value them. But Dr. Gordon himself has failed to satisfy a great many of his religious readers. His main thesis, that the miraculous is of subordinate importance in religion, is excellently defended. The fact that one may put the miracles into the unconsidered background and yet be a good Christian is verified by Dr. Gordon’s own experience, for his book makes light of the miracles and yet maintains both the Christian faith and the Christian fervor. But a good many people shake their heads, and are of the opinion that Dr. Gordon is worse than Professor Münsterberg, because he ought to know better. Indeed, in this matter, the professor is more orthodox than the preacher; for not only is his definition of the miraculous in terms of will superior to Dr. Gordon’s definition of the miraculous in terms of wonder, but he affirms that ‘ the miracle belongs to the most necessary manifestations of the evaluating consciousness.’ The plain reader of Dr. Gordon has not much idea of the ‘evaluating consciousness,’ but he somehow feels that the phrase rings true.

The fact is that in both these books we have a sense of getting on. Dr. Gordon’s quarrel with the miraculous is inspired by his conviction that a miracle is a mere material basis for spiritual truth, and that it is no more vitally related to true religion than a piano-stool is related to great music. He would press on past the natural into the spiritual. And that is Professor Miinsterberg’s purpose and spirit also. These books are to be taken in the large; and, thus taken, they are signs of the tendency of our time. With their very different appeal, they voice the minds of great numbers of thoughtful people who are weary of materialism, and are awaiting that return of the soul of man to the love of the ideal, which shall carry with it the restoration of religion.

This desire to free religion from material entanglement by the liberation of the soul of it from the body, of the spirit from the letter, holds together even such diverse books as that of Professor Foster on The Function of Religion in Man’s Struggle for Existence,4 and that of Father Figgis on The Gospel and Human Needs.5 Dr. Foster is a professor in the University of Chicago, Dr. Figgis is a member of the Community of the Resurrection, and their writings are quite as remote, the one from the other, as the institutions with which they are connected. It is plain at a glance that these brethren would be unable to carry on any conversation upon any subject without resorting to the imprecatory Psalms. And this impression is confirmed by a certain extemporary manner which is common to both. Professor Foster confesses that his book was ‘dashed off at white heat in about thirty days as a sort of “byproduct” of a more difficult task.’ Several pages bear evidence of this journalistic haste. As for Father Figgis, the contrast between the greatness of his themes and the slightness of his treatment is like the difference between a high mountain and a hasty sketch of it on the back of an envelope. The fact that the writer in his preface acknowledges with gratitude the assistance not only of his friends who read his proofs but of his friends who helped him by their prayers, shows that the value of the book is in its spirit. And the spirit of Dr. Figgis, like the spirit of Dr. Foster, is an enthusiasm for ideals; the purpose is to present Christianity as an essentially idealistic religion.

Dr. Foster would accomplish this purpose by the abolition of all spiritual authority, the ejection of the miraculous, and a complete subordination of the facts of history. To him, as to the cardinal, the appeal to history is heresy. He goes to great pains to prepare us for the time when the very name of Jesus of Nazareth shall be forgotten. We are not to be dismayed, he says; all that is essential in Christianity will remain. It is a relief to know that this obsolescence of the Gospels is not to be expected for a billion of years. Father Figgis, on the other hand, would abolish nothing. He would exalt authority, emphasize the miraculous, and make the four Gospels the four cornerstones of the whole fabric of religion. His contention is that naturalism, with its testing of all things by reason and experience, reduces religion to the barest prose. He is the champion of the romance of religion. Rationalism, he says, is deadly dull, and the world as thus interpreted is to the last degree commonplace and stupid, unrelieved by any element of mystery or imagination. He points out, with Chesterton, the impossibility of even fancying Swinburne hanging up his stocking on the eve of the birthday of Victor Hugo. ‘It is just that strangeness,’ he says, ‘that conquering charm, which men are feeling just now, and for whose lack they are crying out from other refuges, — culture, philosophy, fancy religions, and what not. . . . As I conceive it,’he adds, ‘the human spirit, in its eternal Grail-quest, has entered upon a new path. It has turned from the middle-aged prose of the nineteenth century once more to the poetry of the child.’

When we look about to discover the special form of juvenile poetry to which the soul is now turning from its dusty reading of naturalistic prose, we find it most notably in Christian Science. This is the first large, evident, popular revolt against the conventions and the respectable authorities and the materialistic view of the Universe. It is an endeavor to establish an idealistic religion. The pendulum swings, after its fashion, from the extreme to the extreme. Here is a burning of the books such as college students used to celebrate after the last examination in calculus. All the achievements and appliances of naturalism are set at naught by this new idealism. The whole materia medica, and all the doctors with it, are turned out of doors. And this movement is not only a New Medicine but a New Religion. Tired of the commonplaces of ethics, and the complications of theology, and the contentions of the critics, with their minimizing of the miraculous and their laborious rendering of the poetry of the Bible into a prose translation, these people suddenly appeal straight to God, and begin to work miracles. It is like the appearance of the Montanists in the face of the philosophers and priests of the second and third centuries.

The philosopher had reduced all truth, terrestrial and celestial, into a rational system. The priests had made laws to the effect that the prophets — unauthorized, eccentric, and unmanageable laymen — should no longer preach in the churches. The story is told by Professor Gwatkin in his Early Church History,6 and by the Abbe Duchesne in his Early History of the Church.7 Everything was ordered and settled, as -it seemed, upon enduring foundations. All that was free, original, spontaneous, informal, was under the ban of the dominant proprieties. In theology, the Gnostics were interpreting the world in terms of Orientalism; that is, with the problem of evil, philosophically considered, as the heart of interest, and the infinite remoteness of God from the world, as a solution of the difficulty. At the same time, the ecclesiastics were securing a quiet and undisturbed rendering of the services, and a manner of sermon that should not interrupt the serenity of the congregation. Into this situation the Montanists came like a gale of wind and a storm of rain in a dry time. They were a company of mystics, in immediate communication with God. Professor Gwatkin shows how they opposed themselves alike to ‘the intellectual pride of the Gnostics and to the dignified traditionalism of the Church how they accounted all human learning as a delusion and a snare; how they preached, like the Quakers, on every occasion, in defiance of all the canons, and with such excesses that they made the very name of a sermon odious to all peaceable people. The Montanist uprising ‘threw preaching into the background for a thousand years, and helped to form the mediæval conception of the priest’s duty, — to say mass and to be a spiritual director, but by no means to preach.' Monsignor Duchesne describes the Montanist expectation of the descent of the New Jerusalem upon a plain in Phrygia, and the occupation of people’s minds with the immediate realization of the heavenly ideals.

The permanent element in Montanism was in part this direct consciousness of God, and the accompanying sense of the absolute supremacy of the Spirit, both divineand human, over the material world; and in part an instinctive revolt against the increasing bondage of conventions. The Montanists rebelled against the monotony of order. They awaited the motion of the Spirit, and relied upon it to lead them into the unexpected. They regarded the precise statements of doctrine, and the formal quiet of the service of the Church, as did the bishop who had a desperate hope that certain exact and dreary parsons of his diocese might do something improper. Nothing else, he felt, would wake them up enough to save their souls. The present restoration of religion proceeds in the same direction. It appears in the endeavor to see old truth in new lights and to state it in new words. It impels men to make spiritual experiments. It is impatient of precedent and tradition. The desire is to ‘revivify and reshape religion through fresh and spontaneous experiences.’

Thus Modernism is not accidental or local, but general and characteristic. It is in the air. The modernist has no serious definite quarrel with the teachings of the Church. He is contending, not for a new doctrine, but for a new attitude. What he objects to is, not orthodoxy, but finality. He maintains the right to examine the assertions of the old divines and of the new alike, with equal freedom; he sees nothing sacrosanct in creeds; believing in the Holy Spirit, he expects a constant progress in religion, out of the imperfection of the past into the improvement of the future. He is not inclined to agree with Mr. Chesterton when he says, ‘An open mind is a mark of folly, like an open mouth. Minds, like mouths, were made to shut.’ He finds that a closed mouth may belong to a man who is dumb, or ignorant, or afraid; and he infers that the closed mind is a sign of similar conditions. He claims the right to make experiments— and mistakes. His supreme purpose is to restate religion in the terms of current thought for the better application of it to the needs of current life.

This is what Professor Bowne has admirably done in his Studies in Christianity.8 The doctrines of inspiration and incarnation and atonement and the meaning and function of the Church are here taken out of the old words and stated anew in the language of the present day. ‘The old-time naturalism,’ he says, ‘with its naive fancy, the more Nature the less God, is falling into discredit. The immanence of God in natural processes permits us to affirm a supernatural natural and a natural supernatural, to which the oldtime naturalistic objections have no application. The supernaturalism of to-day,’ he adds, ‘is concerned only to find God in Nature, life, history, miracle, no matter where, so long as it finds Him; but it finds Him predominantly in law and life. This is producing a sanity of religious thought beyond anything known in the past, and it is prophetic of still better things to come.’

Dr. Bowne is occasionally tempted to express his opinion of the belated church officials with the eloquent frankness of St. Stephen, but he realizes the important part which conservatism plays in progress, and makes allowance for the caution which goes with the sense of responsibility. He remembers how Mr. Morley denounced the principle of compromise which, as Lord Morley, he afterward used so prudently as Secretary for India. But he sees with plainness that ‘the old religion, while remaining true to type, is gradually freeing itself from the conditions of early thought’; to which freedom he makes his efficient contribution.

This spirit animates those industrious modernists,the biblical critics, who go a step further in the reshaping of religion, and proceed to details. That subjective method which is so frequent, and sometimes so exasperating, in their writings, is their way of emphasizing the fact of freedom. It is their record of a spontaneous experience. Having a choice between two interpretations of a text, — one commended by a hundred excellent but dusty commentaries, and the other occurring at that moment to the mind of the critic, — they instinctively take the new. Their grandfathers would instinctively have taken the old. It shows that the revivifying of religion is a dominant tendency. The critic desires to bring new life into the old text, to find new gold in the old mine. And the result is that the Bible, which has again and again been a potent factor in the restoration of religion, is becoming more interesting every day. For example, Professor Bacon, in his Beginnings of Gospel Story9 makes the reading of St. Mark a succession of surprises. The untechnical reader who looks into this commentary will find hardly anything that he has ever seen before. He may thus come upon much that he hesitates to accept, but the total result is a new translation of St. Mark, with a treasure of new meaning, and a new sense of reality. This comes from a free first-hand treatment.

A critic who uses the modern appliances of his art finds no difficulty in accounting for the fact that Mr. Miinsterberg’s page 357, and Mr. Foster’s page 112 are identical. They describe, in the same words and in the same series of sentences, the dancing of a tribe in Ceylon around a huge arrow stuck in the ground. Of course, either one of these writers inadvertently copied from the other; or else, more probably, they both copied from some unnamed source, which, for convenience of reference, the critic will call Q, or XYZ. But the critic nowadays will not stop here. He will show how the same source appears again in Mr. Münsterberg’s page 13, and Mr. Foster’s page 23, in which nobody else would have dreamed that there was any similarity whatever. Thus he makes an original contribution to the subject.

This fresh and spontaneous experience, when it is freed from all relation to texts or material facts, becomes mysticism, which is to be set beside modernism and criticism as another assisting force in the renewing of religion. The mystic has no interest in cause and effect, in the distinction between physiology and psychology, or in any of the concrete phenomena which satisfy the naturalist. From these he turns, as the mere wrappings and husks of truth, and looks through the visible into the invisible. Mysticism, as it is defined by Professor Rufus Jones of Haverford, in his Studies in MysticalReligion10 puts its emphasis on the ‘immediate awareness of relation with God,’ on direct consciousness of the Divine Presence. Dr. Jones, as a Quaker, leads out with sympathetic understanding the long, mysterious, queer, brilliant, and unfailingly fascinating procession of the Christian mystics. He begins with the essentially and abidingly mystical element in Christianity, as seen in St. Paul and St. John, and comes on slowly down the centuries, past the Montanists, and Dionysius the Areopagite, and Erigena, and St. Francis, and the Abbot Joachim, and Meister Eckhardt,— whose names are like the syllables of an ancient incantation, — past the Friends of God and the Brothers of the Common Life, to the period of the English Commonwealth. The interest lapses a bit with the Anabaptists and the Ranters, in whom eccentricity and even insanity seem to exceed their scant measure of inspiration; though even among the Ranters one comes with pleasure upon a smoking prayer-meeting, every saint having a pipe in his mouth; and we gladly make the acquaintance of Captain Underhill, of Dover, New Hampshire, who told Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts that ‘the Spirit had sent him into the witness of Free Grace while he was in the moderate enjoyment of the creature called tobacco.’ But ‘there are as many unveilings of God,’ said John the Scot, ‘as there are saintly souls.’ And the Studies bring us into the high and helpful friendship of a hundred saintly souls, obnoxious, indeed, to the established order, despisers of authority, but restorers of religion, whose sayings, which are liberally quoted, open, as one says, ‘the east window of divine surprise.’

When the essential motive of modernism, and criticism, and mysticism, is applied to daily life, it appears as idealism. It speaks in terms of philosophy, as in Dr. Henry Jones’s Idealism as a Practical Creed;11 or in terms of sociology, as in Dr. Francis Peabody’s Approach to the Social Question.12 The appeal is to a generation successfully engaged in business and in science, making discoveries and money, but greatly occupied with the material side of life. Dr. Jones is Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow, but he is addressing the students of the University of Sydney, in Australia. ‘You have long been engaged,’ he says, ‘in an absorbing struggle with outward and secular things. You have been striving to tame a vast continent to your use, and to establish therein an independent and self-sufficient state. If the task has taxed all your strength and claimed all your powers, and if the spirit of your people has been so immersed in it as to leave little of the leisure or the mood for aught else, who can marvel or blame? To live well, man must first live.’ He might have said this without the alteration of a word at the University of Chicago. ‘Now,’ he continues, ‘the time has come when you can with a more serious intent and a more deliberate purpose devote yourselves to the contemplation of the world within yourselves, the world in which ideals are the only powers.’ Already, in the realm of science, the Idealism of Evolution is making the supernatural commensurate with the whole horizon of the universe; and in the realm of business, the Idealism of Love is bringing back the freshness and enthusiasm of apostolic religion. The temper of the time is changing. ‘Those who have turned the world upside down have come hither also.’ ‘In this enterprise,’ says Dr. Jones, ‘the speculations of the philosopher, the inspirations of the poet, and the tumultuous strivings of the man of action, blend together.’

Dr. Peabody concerns himself with the man of action. The problem is the betterment of this present life. Business and science have built the house, strong and high, but far more important than the house is the tenant who shall occupy it. What thoughts shall he think, what ideals shall engage his soul and shape his plans, what life shall he live, what manner of man shall he be? These questions are essentially religious. They are to be answered, not in the ‘plaintive feminine voice of mediæval piety, the voice of a weary pilgrim and sojourner, longing in a vain and unsubstantial world for the native land of the soul,’ but in the robust tone of him who cries, ‘Here, too, is our home, for God is here; and the true Shekinah is in the soul of man.’

‘What is the new note,’ says Dr. Peabody, ‘in modern jurisprudence? It is the determination of rights and duties within the social order of the community, the nation, or the world. With what does modern legislation concern itself? It deals in an unparalleled degree with the obligations of associated individuals, with combinations of industry, with functions of government, with adjustments of economic and domestic life. What is modern ethics? It is no longer an enumeration of the virtues and vices of the individual, but an inquiring how the good man may make a better world. And what is modern religion? Modern religion has for its subject, not the individual detached from the world, but the world itself in whose redemption the individual has his share.’ This large service is inspired and directed by ideals. Whoever undertakes it proceeds straightway out of materialism and naturalism and pessimism into a region where the guides are philosophers and poets and prophets. The spirit of it, the splendid enthusiasm of it, possesses the souls of youth. It is characteristic of our new time. It makes its way into every department of life, and determines every worthy ambition. In the light of it a hundred lesser interests fall into the shadowsof the background. It is the native air of the spirit. Here all that is essential in religion grows and thrives. The conditions are right for spiritual renewal. Christ speaks, and men are ready to listen and respond. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Already the restoration of religion is begun.

  1. The Problem of Human Life, as Viewed by the Greatest Thinkers from Plato to the Present Time. By RUDOLPH EUCKEN. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1909.
  2. The Eternal Value. By HUGO MÜNSTERBERG. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1909.
  3. Religion and Miracle. By GEORGE A. GORDON. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1909.
  4. The Function of Religion in Man’s Struggle for Existence. By GEORGE BURMAN FOSTER. University of Chicago Press. ]909.
  5. The Gospel and Human Needs. By JOHN NEVILLE FIGGIS. London: Longmans, Green and Company. 1909.
  6. Early Church History to A. D. 313. By HENRY MELVILLE GWATKIN. London: Macmillan and Company. 1909.
  7. Early History of the Christian Church, from its Foundation to the End of the Third Century. By MONSIGNOR LOUIS DUCHESNE. New York: Longmans, Green and Company. 1909.
  8. Studies in Christianity. By BORDEN PARKER BOWNE. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1909.
  9. The Beginnings of Gospel Story. By BENJAMIN WISNER BACON. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1909.
  10. Studies in Mystical Religion. By RUFUS M. JONES. London: Macmillan and Company. 1909.
  11. Idealism as a Practical Creed. By HENRY JONES. Glasgow: James Macklehose and Sons. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1909.
  12. The Approach to the Social Question. By FRANCIS GREENWOOD PEABODY. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1909.