Project Canterbury

Mankind and the Church
Being an Attempt to Estimate the Contribution of Great Races
To the Fulness of the Church of God

Edited by H. H. Montgomery

London, New York, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907.

VI. "The Hidden Riches of Secret Places": The Possible Service of Hinduism to the Collective Thought of the Church
The Right Rev. L. G. Mylne, D.D., formerly Bishop of Bombay

Chapter I. General Contrast between Christianity and Hinduism as Systems

Definition of terms--Christianity, the faith of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation--Hinduism, in its essence, a consistent Pantheism.

The subject abstract, not therefore useless.

The essentials of religion as such, being, (1) On the moral side, a provision for relations between man and the Higher Powers, be they personal or impersonal; (2) On the intellectual side, an answer to the great problems of the universe, as a basis for these relations; (3) A due order of subordination between the first of these as supreme, and the second as subsidiary; the contrast between Christianity and Hinduism lies not less in their respective troatment of the third than of the other two--Christianity, by maintaining both the transcendence and the immanence of God, partially sacrifices intellectual, for the sake of moral completeness; while Hinduism, by denying His transcendence, and maintaining only His immanence, totally abandons moral, in favour of intellectual, completeness.

I am to try to draw out in this article the service to be rendered to the Church, to Christian thought as a whole, by the followers of the Hindu religion, could they once be [309/310] converted to Christ. To effect this with any completeness I must compare, or rather must contrast, the two Religious Systems from several points of view--in the provision which they respectively make for the spiritual needs of men, and in the answers they respectively propound to those ultimate problems of thought which exercise the human understanding; which have, indeed, exercised it at all times since it first became conscious of itself.

Let me first make it perfectly plain, then, what are the two Systems to be compared.

By Christianity I mean the Faith of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, not the mere Theism which constantly tries to pass under that title.

The Hinduism of which I shall treat is not that degraded idolatry which prevails in the India of to-day. Its thirty-three millions of divinities are but concrete embodiments and expressions of the single pervading belief that God is all that exists, and that everything that exists is divine. For Hinduism, in its every stage, is at the bottom really Pantheistic. I shall have to draw out this idea at much greater length hereafter. Just let me say briefly here that, alike in its earliest stage when it was, nominally at least, Theistic--the stage of the Vedic hymns; in its second, or middle stage, when it was purely and professedly Pantheistic--the stage of the Vedantic books; and in its third, or final stage, where it is nakedly and unblushingly Polytheistic--the stage of the Puranic literature--in each of these stages, I say, the core of the religion was the same--God is everything, and everything is God.

The Pantheism led straight to the Polytheism, by a process absolutely inevitable, the Hindu being what he is. But in itself it is infinitely purer. And it is from this Vedantic Hinduism, from the wonderful logical completeness with which it accepted the conclusions which [310/311] follow from its single premise, that I believe we have so much to learn. From the Polytheism, as a religion, Christianity has nothing to gain. From its practical issues in life we can learn only what to avoid. There is much in the life of Hindus which is beautiful, much which is lovable. But these are in spite of their religion, just because they are better than their creed. And they are accompanied, alas! and besmirched--inextricably accompanied and most foully besmirched--with the inevitable practical results of the worship of abominable divinities.

But from the Pantheism of Vedantic Hinduism, we Christians, in England at least, have much--very much--to learn. It is on the speculative side of religion, in its answers to abstract problems, that this lesson must be sought and must be learnt. Hence a word of necessary deprecation must come in at this point of my approach to it.

I hold that the Hindu mind, of whose essential, native thought pure Pantheism is the perfect expression, has a service to offer to Christianity which no other race in the world could render with like completeness; while of all the many races which boast themselves adherents of Christianity, none perhaps needs more than ourselves the very aid which Hinduism might offer.

Yet just for this very reason--just because we so greatly require the additions to Christian thought which Pantheism is able to offer--the duty of setting this forth, to commend itself to the English mind, is perhaps as difficult a task as a writer could possibly undertake. The whole bent of the English mind trends away from the abstract, as such; while much to be dealt with in the sequel lies, I fear, in the realm of abstractions. The religious mind of our Church joys only in the practical and the concrete; the doctrinal, as such, is despised, is [311/312] regarded with suspicion and dislike by those for whom I must write; while to discharge, to approach, my task without plunging into doctrinal disquisitions is, alas! an impossibility.

I must begin, then, by appealing to the reader to try to allow a fair hearing to that which I have to advance; not simply to condemn it beforehand as necessarily unpractical and useless, because dealing with the doctrinal and the abstract. The world, as Dr. Newman said, is ruled in the long run by logic--which means that abstractions despised have a way of avenging themselves sevenfold; that to neglect them is to risk being enslaved to them; that premises lightly adopted without due regard to their consequences lead on to unexpected conclusions, perhaps to unwelcome results, which prove to be eminently practical.

It is for want of examining their premises that thousands of truth-loving Englishmen, who start with a religious mind, keep drifting inevitably towards Materialism; they begin by the acceptance of premises which tend unavoidably thither; they end by adopting the conclusions, because in spite of themselves they are logical--the more hopelessly enslaved to abstractions for having started with a total contempt for them.

It is against: this trend towards Materialism that I believe that Hindu thought can so assist the English mind. It is with a view to such assistance that the following thoughts have been worked out. Such assistance I believe that they can render, if only, in spite of being abstract, they are studied for what they may be worth.

Wherein lies, then, that inestimable service which I hold may be rendered to Christianity by minds which have been trained in sheer Pantheism?

Every system of religion, as such, be it Hindu, be it [312/313] Buddhist, be it Mohammedan, be it Christian, must present itself to the thought of mankind, and must prefer its claim on their allegiance, under two great leading aspects. It must offer, first, and above all things, a provision for their spiritual needs--must lay before them a set of relations, in the spiritual order of things, which it claims to be able to establish between them and the Power or Powers by which they and the world are ruled. It must offer an approach to those powers; a rule of life in accordance with their behests, if they are looked upon as living and personal; a way of falling in with their tendencies, of making the most of their possibilities, if they be thought of as fatal and material.

But along with, though subordinate to this, it must provide some account of the universe, of the relations of all things to each other; of man to the totality of things; of God, if it believe in a God, towards man and the universe as a whole. It must face those ultimate problems which have exercised the human understanding in every age of the world. It must reason in some sort, at any rate, "of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate; fixed fate, freewill, foreknowledge absolute." It must deal with the One and the many, and with the necessary relations between them. In a word, although it be not a philosophy, it must have some philosophy behind it; must be,' able to vindicate, and to maintain itself in the face of ontological questions. If it do not face them directly, its tenets must at any rate anticipate them. Or perhaps I ought rather to say that it is bound, if it is to hold our allegiance, to anticipate rather than to state them. It dare not commit itself directly, with its wealth of spiritual treasure, to answer, at peril of its life, for a system of philosophy, as such. But it is bound to be prepared with an answer when a hostile philosophy confronts it, and contradicts the assumptions on which [313/314] it rests. We must claim of it, when it meets such a challenge, that it can show to our entire satisfaction that it has, in its own proper way, protected itself and its followers from the charge of being pledged in theology to positions untenable in philosophy.

But if it be essential to religion that it satisfy us under both these aspects, as providing for our spiritual needs, and as answering our ultimate questions, it is not a whit less needful that it range them in their own due order in respect of their relative importance. If we dare not commit ourselves in religion to aught that is false in philosophy, if we needs must demand of religion that it never shall find itself stultified in face of the needs of our understanding, none the less must we guard ourselves strictly against sacrificing aught of its completeness, as providing for our spiritual needs, for the sake of exhaustive satisfaction to our purely logical thinking.

For here it is that Christianity and Hinduism show the first of the many contrasts which set them off, the one against the other, in total and diametrical opposition.

Christianity, true to its character as providing before aught else for the spiritual needs of its followers, is content to accept as unavoidable some gaps, some insoluble antinomies, in its answer to the problems of metaphysics. While Hinduism, which started with like pretensions, at a well-marked stage in its development abandoned the attempt to fulfil them, sold its birthright as a spiritual system for the sake of intellectual completeness on the side of ontological speculation. Indeed, each indictment of Hinduism which the following pages will contain, will be found in the ultimate analysis, to reduce itself simply to this--that for the sake of logical completeness, as a consistent system of Pantheism, it has sacrificed the spiritual needs of the nation given over to its guidance: while each claim to satisfy man's needs [314/315] which the Gospel of Christ has to offer is secured by the readiness of Christianity to acquiesce in a mystical accommodation, where perfect logical completeness is incompatible with moral satisfaction. Where Pantheism stands rounded and complete, no question left unanswered, no problem acknowledged insoluble, Christianity frankly admits that a God completely understood were to her no God at all--dethroned from His transcendent perfection by being shown to be completely apprehensible by the mind of a finite creature--that a Universe wholly accounted for, explained in its every mystery, were not that sacramental world in which she lives and moves--aye, and gropes--by faith, not sight.

The logical completeness of Pantheism has landed its Hindu votaries, bemused in their spiritual senses, confounded in their moral aspirations, among gods who are monsters of wickedness, in a world where morality is not. Christianity leads us by the hand along paths of purity and holiness; our highest aspirations satisfied, our deepest needs supplied by a relation, only half understood, between ourselves and uncreated Holiness.

There is, it must of course be admitted, a point in pure speculative thought, up to which philosophy and religion are dealing with similar considerations, are occupied with just the same problems. Yet one grand, radical difference must inevitably sever them from each other in their treatment of speculative problems--the difference of their actuating motives.

If religion, then, is to offer us a basis upon which our relations with God can be surely and satisfactorily founded, it must be able, in the ultimate resort, to explain the relations themselves, and the fact that such relations are possible. And it must not propound an explanation which cannot account for itself intelligibly at the tribunal of the human understanding. But it will deal with [315/316] purely speculative questions in such a way, and up to just such a point, as is needed for its own proper end, for justifying the spiritual guidance which it holds to be the one thing needful.

The attitude of philosophy towards them is totally different from this. It acknowledges no other motive, it aims at no other conclusion than purely speculative satisfaction.

Metaphysics, taken strictly as such, can ignore a whole world of considerations which concern religion directly. Let it approve itself on the logical side, as an account of all things that are, in all their manifold relations, and it need not concern itself with questions which affect the spiritual and the moral.

It is the duty of the Christian apologist to maintain with unflinching boldness that the call of man's spiritual being for an answer to the moral enigmas which beset him on his path through life, is as real, and as emergently imperious as those of his intellectual being--that nothing can claim to be complete as a system for the guidance of humanity, which leaves this demand unsatisfied, and that nothing can be called satisfaction which leaves our sense of accountability to be explained as a convenient abstraction; as reducible, in the ultimate analysis, to aught but a personal relation to a Personal Ruler of the universe.

And this essential difference of motive between faith and philosophy, as such, must lead to a corresponding divergence in their treatment of ultimate problems, even viewed on their speculative side. A perfect intellectual completeness, at least of a certain kind, is possible in the region of metaphysic, just because of its moral indifference, which is totally precluded to religion, whose end is moral and spiritual. To a system whose ultimate motive is conduct towards our fellows and right relations with God, it is, or at least ought [316/317] to be, impossible to accept a philosophical position which ignores, or which precludes the satisfaction of the moral and spiritual needs which that motive presupposes and cares for. It can accept no account of the universe which eliminates altogether from its purview the needs of men's spiritual nature, and which claims to be complete in itself if it satisfy the demands of mere logic. Nor, again, can it possibly admit that even these have been fully complied with by a theory of ultimate relations which denies or leaves out of account demands which it maintains to be as real as the claims of logic itself. It would assert itself to be actually completer in its appeal to reasonable beings, if it secured the full satisfaction of instincts which are primary and inevitable, a portion of the heritage of humanity, than if, leaving these last un-supplied, it were to offer a full satisfaction to the claims of but one of their faculties, to the demands of pure, isolated reason.

Truth to say, there are only two systems which, each in its own hard way, as a reasoned, ordered Monism, attain, so their followers claim, to absolute logical completeness; which account, or which claim to account for all things in all possible relations, leaving nothing unexplained. These two are Materialism and Pantheism.

With each of these religion must reckon; their claims to be guides of mankind must be met in some form or other by a system which offers to the world any tutelage in spiritual matters. For each of them professes in its way to "bestride the narrow world like a Colossus," to leave us no road by which to go, save as we "crawl under" its "huge legs."

This claim we must no more admit on the logical side than on the moral. We must maintain that the logical consistency which is claimed for Pantheism or Materialism in their answers to the riddle of the universe, [317/318] are secured by an intellectual suicide as complete in the realm of the understanding as that suicide in the region of morals to which they respectively lead--that they eliminate altogether from their field one factor of the ultimate antinomy which each professes to resolve. We must claim for our mystical solution a satisfactoriness more exhaustive and more real upon even the intellectual side than anything which they have to offer through what they vaunt as their logical completeness.

But to argue such questions at length is impossible in an article like this. The real business to be dealt with at present is to display the relations with Pantheism of Christianity and Hinduism respectively; to show how the Hindu religion, by surrendering itself wholly to Pantheism, has arrived at a logical completeness in its reading of the riddle of the universe, which renders it an invaluable ally to the Christian approach to that problem; while, on the other hand, by that very surrender, it has involved itself in a spiritual chaos, which makes it a marvellous back-ground for rendering the loveliness of the Gospel more conspicuous and more satisfying than ever.

Here I could not do better, I think, than begin by displaying to the reader two utterances which embody respectively the spirit of the Systems to be contrasted.

The soul of John Henry Newman used to rest, he tells us, in his childhood, in the thought of "two only supreme and luminously self-evident beings," himself "and his Creator."

Side by side with this precious experience, and as its completest possible contrast, I have stored for long in my mind a saying of a Hindu pantheist--repeated to me by Bishop Caldwell in words which I cannot reproduce, but practically amounting to this--that language was inadequate to embody for him the rapture of one moment [318/319] in his life, when he was finally told by his Guru, after years of preliminary training, that there subsisted no veritable distinction between himself, the human thinker, and the Deity about whom he thought; [Guru is the Hindu title for a spiritual guide.] that in brooding over the thought of the Divine, he had reached the point of indifference where all distinctions scale off, where there only remains for the thinker the absolute indeterminate One and All, the very Brahm who is everything and nothing.

The difference of the two points of view is that between Christianity and Pantheism. The Christian conceives of his God as a Being, eternally subsisting in glory transcendent and unapproachable; Who abides, it is true, in His creatures, both in providence as Creator and Sustainer, and in grace as Transformer and Sanctifier. Yet while he regards the Creation as made for the glory of God, he is constrained by his conception of the Godhead to believe that that glory was complete before anything existed save God; nay, that, at any rate from one point of view, it would have been equally complete had nothing else sprung into being. He thinks of the universe created--himself and his fellow-men with the rest--as subsisting in God the Creator, and incapable of existing apart from Him. Yet he holds that it were blasphemy against God, and falsehood to the truth of things created, to say that, while existing in Him, it is substantially indistinguishable from Him.

I shall proceed, in the course of this article, to show how this belief in His transcendence not only allows for, but necessitates a corresponding belief in His immanence--that Christianity does not run mad by insistence on a single truth, His transcendence of the finite, the created, as Hinduism does run mad by insistence on the corresponding truth of His immanence in all that He has [319/320] made. But in the mean time, and for present purposes, it is transcendence upon which I must insist as the distinguishing tenet of Christianity in contradistinction to Hinduism. In a word, while to Christian theology the immanence of God in Creation, above all in the rational Creation, is held as a necessity of thought, that immanence is not so held as that transcendence thereby be excluded.

But to the Hindu the conception of transcendence is excluded once and for all by a conception of the immanence of the Deity so completely and so logically carried out that no room is left for His transcendence. Its God is so immanent in the universe that He cannot be thought of as existing, save in so far as He realizes Himself in it: while its conception of all things that are in the universe of finite existence, is that they only exist, or seem to do so, in so far as they partake of the one Essence which alone can be held self-existent--the Divine, the Unconditioned, the Infinite, the Undivided, the Absolute Brahm.

Christianity, as I shall point out hereafter, is far from closing its eyes to the challenge which Pantheism offers. However unintelligently and blindly some very large sections of Christians may ignore, or may wilfully neglect it, the doctrine of God in the New Testament--the truths of the Blessed Trinity and of the Incarnation--do meet and acknowledge that challenge. Christianity being true to her character as before all things a spiritual system, a scheme for perfect relations between God and His creature, man, takes its stand upon a mystical recognition of the admittedly insoluble problem of the relation of Infinite and finite; and refuses, when considering that problem, to commit herself to a logical solution which shall be fatal to her spiritual aspirations.

She thereby escapes, as I believe, an act of intellectual [320/321] suicide as fatal in the realm of pure thought as that act of spiritual suicide is fatal in the spiritual region, by which Hinduism merges the finite in the solitary Being of the Infinite. But this is, for the present, incidental. The point in her relations with Pantheism which alone I will emphasize now, is that, maintaining as equally real the existence of Infinite and finite, she refuses to commit herself for a moment to a dialectical solution of the difficulty which would cost her her spiritual character, but falls back upon a mystical solution in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

The exposition of this aspect of Christianity forms so large and so all-important a portion of all that I must set before the reader, that I reserve it to be treated of later. It is as helping to emphasize this position--this Christian belief in God's immanence, this Christian Pantheism, as it has been called--that I believe that the votaries of Hinduism might render such admirable service, could they be brought within the pale of the Gospel.

Project Canterbury