Project Canterbury

A Century of Anglican Theology
And Other Lectures

By Clement C.J. Webb

Oxford: Blackwell, 1923


[Originally delivered as a Lecture at the Oxford University Extension Summer Meeting, 1921]

THEOLOGY is a very old name and Religious Experience is a very new one. Theology means an account of God or of the gods, and as long ago as the fourth century before our era Aristotle called by this name what we should call Metaphysics, his doctrine, that is to say, of the fundamental nature of Being or Reality. For this doctrine culminated in an account of that which is highest in the scale of being, and this is what we are accustomed to call God; for by God we always mean, as St. Anselm long after insisted, Sthat than which no greater can be conceived.' Fourteen hundred years after the time of Aristotle, in the twelfth century after Christ, lived one to whom the intellectual life of Europe owes as heavy a debt as to any but a very few men in its history. This was Peter Abelard. It was from Abelard's teaching of a band of eager students on the hill of Ste. Genevieve in Paris (which has ever since been the Quartier Latin or learned district of the French Capital) that the greatest University of the Middle Ages, the parent, in all probability, of our own University of Oxford, took its origin. Now it was Abelard, a great innovator in many things, that first introduced the use of the word Theology, which is now so familiar to us, for a regular discussion of what was taught concerning the Divine nature by Scripture and its ancient interpreters, as well as by those who, outside of the Chosen People and of the Christian Church, had come independently to the knowledge of the matters which were revealed in Scripture. Like others of Abelard's innovations, this employment of a term then unfamiliar in the field of sacred learning excited the suspicion and severe censure of his celebrated contemporary, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard was a man of great sanctity and of real religious genius; but with these high qualities he combined the less attractive characteristics (with which sanctity and genuine religion are unfortunately not always incompatible) of a keen scent for heresy and zeal which outran knowledge in following up the scent. But again, like other innovations of Abelard's, this innovation also established itself despite St. Bernard's opposition. The Universities of Europe followed the true founder of the University of Paris in calling by this name of Theology, which he had brought into vogue, the subject which occupied their highest Faculty. They were long accustomed to use as the chief authority thereon, after the Bible, the collection of Sentences or opinions of the Fathers made by one of Abelard's most distinguished disciples, Peter the "Lombard, who became Bishop of Paris, and was known from this collection of his by the title of 'Master of the Sentences.'
Theology is thus, as I have said, a very old name; but the other expression which in the note of this lecture I have brought into connexion with it is, as I also said, a very new one. Indeed in the great Oxford English Dictionary, which gives an excellent summary of the history of the word Theology, you will find that the phrase 'Religious Experience' in the sense in which it is now commonly used, and in which I am using it in this Lecture, is not mentioned or explained at all. It is probable that it owes, not indeed its origin, but its present vogue among us, to the well-known Gifford Lectures of the late Professor William James on The Varieties of Religions Experience. This book did much to familiarize us in this country with the notion of studying the records of men's religious feelings and actions, not in order to approve or to condemn, not in order to encourage or to discourage, but solely in order to know the facts, and, if possible, to discover the conditions under which those feelings are aroused and those actions done, and so to arrive at the causes in our nature and in our environment to which they may be referred; or, in other words, of studying these things with a scientific, not with an apologetic or polemical purpose.

At an earlier date the expression 'Religious Experience' would have suggested--perhaps to some it still suggests--only such feelings and emotions as some Christian communities have deliberately taught their members to watch for in themselves and to describe for the encouragement of their brethren. And it must be .admitted that James's book gave a disproportionate place to these. This was excusable, since it is precisely men and women belonging to such Christian communities as those of which I have just spoken that are, naturally enough, most ready to give an account of their religious feelings; while those bred up in other traditions would prefer to lay them up within their own hearts, and shrink from what they might think the irreverence of baring them to the gaze of an investigator who should put questions about them in the interest of the scientific study of religious phenomena. But while, in the sphere of Religion, the word Experience has thus been commonly associated with feelings, regarded and valued as such, it has elsewhere been used rather to suggest the contact of the mind with an independent object than its preoccupation with its own inner states. Especially in philosophical literature the derivation of knowledge from Experience has commonly been understood to mean its derivation from the perception of external objects by the senses. Now it is well known that, when philosophers or psychologists come to reflect upon our perception of the external world, they find difficulties in determining to what extent the form under which objects are perceived by our senses is independent of the processes by means of which they are perceived. But we do not ordinarily doubt that the objects which we perceive are themselves real, independently of the processes which take place in us when we perceive them. To deny this would generally be taken at first sight to be equivalent to denying that they are real at all, and consequently to asserting that we have to do not with the genuine perception of an object but with an hallucination or illusion. And I think that, as a rule, those who nowadays speak of Religious Experience do intend to imply that in Religion we are not the victims of hallucination or illusion; but are aware of an independent Reality, which is made known to us in and through the actions and emotions of worship, prayer, meditation, and so forth, no less truly than the material things around us become known to us through our sensations and through the organic motions which those sensations initiate. But when it is suggested that Religious Experience, rather than some authoritative sacred book or tradition, should be taken as the starting point of Theology, it is no doubt meant that the theologian should begin by discovering, by introspection and from the accounts of others, the actual characteristics of the state of mind or consciousness which we call Religion or which attends the behaviour which we designate by that name. We need not in doing this assume that it is a state of mind or consciousness which can be understood or described as, so to say, something merely internal or subjective, giving us no information about what lies beyond the individual mind that we are considering. For we must remind ourselves that it is the very nature of a mind to be aware of an object; of something, that is, distinct from and independent of the mental act whereby or wherein we are aware of it. And so whenever we think that there is no such independent object in existence as that of which someone professes to be aware, we say that such an one is out of his mind.

Now there is a certain kind of Experience which we may call the Experience of Beauty, or, if we prefer, Aesthetic Experience, from the comparison and contrast of which with the Religious Experience of which we are speaking we may, I think, learn something to our purpose. It is all the more worth our while for us to turn our attention this way, because there are not a few people who are inclined to think that Art, which is the cultivation of this Experience of Beauty, and which already takes for some the place in life formerly occupied by Religion, may end by replacing Religion altogether. Now it certainly seems to be the oase that, although the poet or the artist commonly regards himself as discovering Beauty in the world rather than as putting Beauty into the world, yet there does not appear to arise in the case of the perception of Beauty that insistent question about the reality of its object which so often vexes the religious man with respect to the existence of the God with whom he is accustomed to consider himself as in communion--a question, moreover, the difficulty of answering which to their satisfaction often prevents men from surrendering themselves to Religion at all. It is true that is not an easy matter to decide whether we ought to regard Beauty as being actually an objective quality, like their shape or their weight, belonging to the material things, star or mountain or flower, that we call beautiful; or whether we ought to follow Signer Benedetto Croce, the Italian philosopher, who is the most influential writer on this subject among our contemporaries, in holding that it is only because they express or stand for a certain kind of emotion excited in us on occasion of their presence to our senses that these things have a right to be called beautiful at all. But most of us would feel disposed to say that, however interesting this question may be to those of us who are philosophers, it makes no real difference to the experience of Beauty itself what answer we give to it. The moonlight on the sea, the lily of the field, the music of Bach, the poetry of Milton, the pictures of Titian--the beauty which we enjoy in seeing, hearing, reading these is quite indisputably and indubitably there, whatever we may hold, as philosophers, about the part played by our own minds in its creation, and, again, whether in the case of the works of art--the music, the poetry, the painting--what we call the subjects, which give their descriptive names to the pieces we admire, have any other kind of truth than that which is one with their beauty--that kind of truth of which Keats said, 'Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty; that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' For example we need not, it may be said, believe in the historical truth of the Gospels or of the Book of Genesis or of the Greek mythology, in order to appreciate the beauty of the Passion Music or of the Paradise Lost or of the Bacchus and Ariadne in the National Gallery. No doubt this is, roughly speaking, true; although I do not myself think that we should find our satisfaction in the beauty either of Nature or of Art quite unimpaired if we were to keep steadily before our minds while contemplating it the thought that the beauty we were enjoying was not really in the things we called beautiful; or perhaps even if, in the case of music or pictures or poems, we dwelt upon the thought, while reading the poems, looking at the pictures, or listening to the music, that what they professed to represent was entirely fictitious.

Aesthetic Experience then--the Experience of Beauty--is, like all experience, experience of an object, which we distinguish from the act in which we experience it. Yet we seem, so far as we are artists or men of taste, to have little or no interest in the question what this object may be outside of or apart from the experience itself. Nor do we greatly care, so far as we are artists or men of taste, what relation the object may bear to other objects which we may have before us on other occasions. Such questions may interest us as philosophers or men of science, but not as artists or men of taste. But when we turn from Aesthetic Experience to Religious Experience, we shall find that the case is quite otherwise. It is, I think, an essential feature of Religious Experience that here we always, however vaguely and indefinitely, conceive ourselves to be concerned with the very heart and inmost reality of things. Consequently we can never, in respect of Religious Experience, be indifferent, as we may be plausibly said to be indifferent in respect of Aesthetic Experience, to the question what relation our Religious Experience and its Object may bear to other forms of experience which we enjoy and to the respective objects of those forms of experience. This is the outstanding difference between Religious and Aesthefic Experience. If we attempt to assimilate Religious to Aesthetic Experience in this respect, we shall be depriving Religious Experience of its most essential characteristic.

In the title which I gave to this Lecture, I used beside the word 'Theology' and the word 'Religious Experience 'another word, the word 'Science.' I undertook to discuss 'Theology as the Science of Religious Experience.' In what sense, I would now ask, can Theology be rightly spoken of as a 'Science'? We often nowadays use the word 'Science 'as short for Natural Science. This is a more recent use of the word than is always realised. It does not indeed date back beyond the middle of the nineteenth century; but it has by to-day established itself in common parlance. Now, if Theology is to be called a Science, it cannot be, it is clear, in precisely this sense. For between Natural Science and Theology there are some marked differences. Thus Natural Science rightly and necessarily abstracts from--that is to say, it leaves out of account--the individual observer of the natural phenomena with which it is concerned. It takes note of what it calls the 'personal equation' only to discount it. But in dealing with Religious Experience the individual personality of the religious man cannot be thus discounted; and so when we call Theology the Science of Religious Experience, we can only mean that it is an orderly or systematic account of Religious Experience, ranging its phenomena under general rules and indicating principles for the conduct of further enquiry respecting them.

But, even though we bear in mind that Theology must differ from Natural Science in some important respects, and especially in that of abstracting from or leaving out of account, as Natural Science does, the personality of the man or woman who enjoys the experience of which it endeavours to give an account, we may yet be inclined to ask ourselves whether it is not misleading to call Theology by the name of Science at all. For we find Theology always employing conceptions which are rather symbols and figures of a Reality transcending our understanding than generalizations from experience gained by the use of the senses, such as those with which Natural Science works. And we may be disposed to think that, since Theology professes to deal with what lies beyond and behind all phenomena, it must always employ such conceptions. The use of such figures and symbols may then seem at once to remove Theology from the class of thought which the word Science very naturally suggests to us into another which is too unlike it to be conveniently designated by the same term.

Now I do not wish by any means to minimize the difference which undoubtedly exists between Theology and Natural Science in this respect; and yet it may be contended that it is a difference of degree rather than of kind. For Natural Science has made and still continues to make use, and profitable use, of conceptions which are rather justified by their practical convenience than verified by actual direct experience by means of the senses. I am thinking of such conceptions as those of ether, of atoms, and the like. I am by no means competent to understand, far less to criticise, the theories of Relativity associated with the name of Einstein, of which we have lately heard so much; and so I do not propose to say anything about them here. But it is plain that, whatever be the eventual fate of these theories, the acceptance of them must involve the relegation of some statements often treated in the past as unquestionably true accounts of the real world to the rank of more or less convenient fictions. The figurative or symbolical element then which is obviously present in Theology is not completely absent in Sciences to which no one would think of refusing that name. The difference between them and Theology would thus seem to be, as I said before, one rather of degree than of kind. But there are other differences beside that which we have just been considering which divide the Religious Experience of which Theology attempts to give a systematic account from the Experience of which such an account is given by the Natural Sciences. These differences place Religious Experience apart from this particular kind of Experience, but alongside of some other kinds to the reasoned accounts of which the name of Science is often given. I mean the Aesthetic and the Political kinds of Experience. For these are at once individual and social in a way in which the kind of Experience described in Natural Science is not. No doubt everything with which the biologist or chemist or physicist is concerned exists and only exists in individual instances; there is no growth in general which is not the growth of some particular organism; no oxygen in general apart from some particular particles of oxygen; no mass or motion apart from some particular moving body. But what the biologist or chemist or physicist is concerned with is always the features common to many individual things, in abstraction from their individuality. No doubt again scientific enquiry itself only exists in societies, and in societies which have attained to a high degree of development; and the language or the symbolism (the mathematical formulas, for instance) in which its results are communicated is a social product and rests upon a social convention. Yet the scientific observer or experimenter always seeks so far as possible to sink his nationality, his creed, his class, his profession, and so on, and to allow them to exercise no influence whatever on his observations and experiments. On the other hand the critic of Art or the student of Politics has always before him an individual work of art or an individual community, which he endeavours to understand or comprehend. No doubt he does this to a great extent by means of comparing or contrasting it with others in respect of features which it has in common with those others. But still it is as an individual, even as a unique individual, that he studies it. And, moreover, in order to achieve his comprehension or understanding of it, he must bring to bear a sympathy and insight which he has as belonging to his own people, and as sharing, even consciously sharing, in their common experience and history. And, just in the same way, Religion also exists always in the form of some particular religion. It is always mediated through a social life, a life belonging to a community of some kind or other.

It is of the very essence of Religion that it involves a consciousness of ourselves in relation to that which is at the heart or (if we prefer that metaphor) at the back of everything. And for this very reason it is only with the whole personality, without abstracting from what belongs to us as members of a nation or a church or other social organism, that we can enjoy the experience which we call Religion. This I venture to assert, although I am quite well aware that there are features and forms of the Religious Experience which might seem flatly to contradict my statement. There is the mystic's flight 'of the Alone to the Alone,' to use the famous and often quoted expression of the great philosophical mystic Plotinus. There is the leaving of father and mother, of wife and children and lands, which the Founder of our religion required of his followers. There is the mendicancy of the Buddhist monk or the Christian friar. I cannot now enter upon any full consideration of the problem which this seeming contradiction between these features and forms of Religion and its essentially social character, as belonging to the whole personality with all its social relations, may well raise in your minds. I can only say that I believe the contradiction to be no more than a seeming one, and'invite you to consider the question for yourselves. There is nothing which should throw more light upon Religion than such a consideration. But it is worth noticing that this seeming contradiction is only one of a number of antitheses or antinomies which characterize Religion. Thus we have Religion appearing on the one hand as something profoundly inward. In Religion, more than in any other form of spiritual experience, the soul seeks to withdraw itself from everything external and adventitious and to present itself naked before God. Yet on the other hand nothing is more evidently characteristic of Religion throughout its recorded history than its sociality, if I may use the word. Again Religion is at once the most conservative and also the most revolutionary of social forces. It is at once the root of Philosophy, that is to say of the insatiable search for ultimate truth which cannot content itself with any unproved assertion or uncriticized dogma, and also the daily bread of the spiritual life, in their need of which the wise and the simple are as one. By thus presenting to us so many antitheses or antinomies, such as I have tried to illustrate by the mention of two or three of the most obvious, Religion is marked out as being the richest or most concrete form of human experience. For here the polar opposites, whose mutual repulsion and inseparable union constitute the spiritual life, are revealed in their extreme forms, and accept of reconciliation only through the fullest working out of their several possibilities. If Theology is to be truly the Science of Religious Experience, this paradoxical union of opposites, which is characteristic of Religious Experience, must find in it due expression, and must serve to distinguish it from sciences which make it their business to set out the nature of forms of experience more departmental and abstract or finite than that particular form of experience to which we give the name of Religion.

Now the view which I am here taking of Theology as the endeavour to give a systematic and reasoned account of Religious Experience is in disagreement with any view which regards it as essentially concerned with the deductions which may be drawn from certain authoritative statements made by inspired persons or contained in inspired writings. Such a view of it has, however, often been taken and is still sometimes taken. Much Theology which I should regard as being of high value as an account of Religious Experience has been actually worked out by men who conceived themselves to be merely ascertaining and setting in order what they took to be implied in the words of such authoritative texts or statements. The space now at my disposal is not sufficient for more than a brief outline of the position which I should myself take up in reference to this matter.

We shall find that in the history of the Natural Sciences there was a stage in which men were accustomed to appeal to authoritative texts in a way in which theologians have more constantly done. And we should, I believe, be mistaken if we were to suppose that this kind of appeal was without any justification, or that genuine scientific enquiry was merely hindered by it.

Where, as was the case in the Middle Ages, the authoritative writers to whom appeal was made really possessed a wider and fuller knowledge of relevant facts, a surer grasp of the problems at issue, and a more cultivated outlook than was easily or at all attainable by those who made the appeal, there the appeal was justified. It only became a serious hindrance to scientific progress when a dictum of Aristotle or some other ancient author came to be treated as beyond criticism, to be accepted in the face of fresh observations or experiments, and not brought to the test which these might afford. It is in any science an error to treat tradition as irreformable and beyond criticism; but it is not an error to regard it with respect in the first instance, as standing for an experience larger than the individual critic's, to be examined and, if possible, its origin accounted for, before it is utterly rejected.

But in the sphere of Theology tradition may rightly be allowed to play a part larger than can be reasonably assigned to it in Natural Science. This is so for two reasons, not unconnected with each other. The _first is the social character of the Religious Experience, to which I have already referred. Normally at least, Religion is mediated to the individual through a religious society or community; in the earlier stages of civilization through a tribe or a nation, in the later through a church. This mediation does not consist solely in the handing on by instruction to the individual of knowledge already attained; this, of course, occurs in the sphere of Natural Science as well. But the Religious Experience is normally, at any rate, an experience gained in and through fellowship with the religious society of which the individual is a member. Thus the assimilation of the social tradition of such a community is an integral part of the individual's religious experience.

I now come to the second reason which may be given for the importance assigned to tradition in the sphere of Theology. We have to observe that the religious experience of a religious society is itself usually originated by the activity of some person of exceptional genius and initiation, whom we may call a Prophet, and who stands to the majority of his followers or disciples in a relation similar to that in which those whom we call original poets or artists stand to the majority of persons of taste, whose artistic life consists in the main in the appreciation and study of the works which the genius of these others has created. It is to this characteristic of the religious life that is due the prominent position held in the history of Theology by the notion of Revelation. The word Revelation is indeed a natural one enough for the process by which we obtain a knowledge of the divine nature. For while in our knowledge of things we seem to stand on a higher level than the objects which we discover around us; and in our knowledge of persons to stand as it were on a level with those with whom we are, as we say, acquainted: in our knowledge of God we can only regard ourselves as the recipients of a revelation which he makes to us. But the frequent use of this word Revelation in Theology is due not so much to its special appropriateness to describe the process by which a knowledge of God comes to us, as to the important place held in the history of Religion by those whom I have called Prophets. For they are the primary recipients of the Religious Experience, which their followers are only empowered to appropriate and share by standing in the relation of discipleship to them.

But in my judgment it is a false notion of Revelation that is held when it is contrasted with Reason or Conscience as a wholly different source of information concerning divine things. Those who entertain this notion sometimes suppose the place which in other branches of knowledge is occupied by self-evident principles, logical or moral, to be taken in Theology by pronouncements received upon authority and exempt from criticism, to be taken or left, but not, if once taken, to be called again in question. No less a philosopher than Bacon seems to have adopted this view of Theology; but, in adopting it, he has illustrated it by a comparison which may well give pause to anyone disposed to follow him in this opinion. For he compares it to a game, with rules according to which we must play it, if we play it at all, without questioning them, just because they are the rules. Theology, however, will not long remain in honour if its principles be thus regarded. Indeed, Bacon himself, though not, as I conceive, intending of set purpose to bring into contempt the science which he elsewhere finely describes as 'the port and sabbath-rest of all our contemplations,' was less concerned, it must be admitted, to insist upon its own dignity than to warn it off from intrusion into the sphere legitimately reserved for Natural Science. For it was Natural Science of whose interests he had constituted himself the champion, and whose splendid destiny he made it his chief business to announce in the resounding eloquence of which he was so great a master. It has not, however, been only those whose minds, like Bacon's, were preoccupied with other studies that have represented Theology as resting upon merely positive and arbitrary principles under the name of dogmas. Not a few of those who have themselves been eminent theologians have been willing to give a like account of their own special science. This conception, which assimilates Theology to such a purely conventional 'science '(if the word be here permitted) as Heraldry admittedly is, and as Judicial Astrology would now by most people be held to be, is quite a different one from that adopted in the present Lecture.

It will perhaps be well to suggest by taking some familiar theological doctrines as illustrations of the way in which the conception of Theology as the Science of Religious Experience, which has been adopted in this Lecture, might be carried out in detail. I should for example say that, when in Theology Personality is ascribed to God, we are expressing the experience of a personal relation to God in a way in which we can think about it and consider what it may involve or presuppose. Again, when Fatherhood is ascribed to God, we are expressing an experience in which this personal relation is found to have a more definite character, one.comparable to that which a child bears to its parent. Now this conception of sonship to God is common to the Christian religion with the Stoic philosophy (which may very well be called a religion too), but the Christian's attitude towards his Father in heaven is distinguished by a humility which contrasts very sharply with the sentiment embodied in the Stoic saying that Zeus has no advantage over the Wise Man except that he is immortal. It is in the Christian's consciousness that he is a son of God not in his own right but by the free grace of Another who is the Son of God in his own right, that this humility is grounded; and it is this experience of what I may call a mediate sonship to God which is expressed in theological terms by the doctrine of Christ's unique Sonship and mediatorial office. In the formulas devised for the settlement of the controversy which distracted the Christian Church of the fourth century about the exact relation of Christ to God the Father, we may see the result of the attempt to find an account of the matter which should do justice to the Christian's experience of communion. For this has been usually an experience of communion not with any transient manifestation of God, nor with a subordinate being who however exalted could be regarded as utterly dependent no less than we ourselves are on the good pleasure of the Supreme Power which had made and could in turn unmake it; but on the ultimate Godhead itself, to whose eternal nature the relation of sonship in which in virtue of his union with Christ the Christian knew himself to stand to the Father must therefore be conceived intrinsically and necessarily to belong. Again, behind the eucharistic controversies of a later time there lie experiences of spiritual communion in and through the sacramental rite which demanded an adequate expression in theological terms. So too, experiences of individual initiative and of individual helplessness in the moral Hie lie behind those other controversies which are concerned with the problems of predestination and freewill; problems in which, as you will remember,, the fallen angels in Milton

'Found no end, in wandering mazes lost.'

So far as theological discussions are really dealing with genuine religious experiences they have real importance; and they may often be really dealing with such, even when unfamiliarity with the traditional vocabulary employed may disguise the fact from an impatient critic. Yet no doubt it is to be recognised that questions have often been raised and discussed by theologians, which, religious experience having been left behind and the disputants having allowed themselves to be entangled in a mere dialectical manipulation of formulas, we may reasonably suspect of being unprofitable, just because they are in truth unmeaning. Among such unprofitable enquiries may perhaps be reckoned questions about the fate of sacramental elements altogether apart from and outside of the experience of sacramental communion; or again, about the sequence of the divine decrees establishing the necessary order of the universe and the supposed historical event of Adam's fall; or once more, about the inspiration of words which happen to occur in the same book or collection of books, other parts of which have served as vehicles of spiritual illumination to a religious society. On the other hand, theological speculations which in one way or another forsake traditional lines and employ a phraseology lacking traditional sanction, such as those, to take modern examples, of the poet Blake or, in our own day, of Mr. H. G. Wells, may be deserving of serious consideration, as sincere attempts to give a reasoned expression to religious experiences which the traditional formulas seemed to their authors to fail in describing or even to contradict. These speculations may point to real deficiencies in the traditional Theology, which, if it is to do its business, it must somehow make good. Such a service has often been rendered to Theology in the past by what are traditionally called heresies. We find something analogous to this in the history of physical science, where doctrines (for instance those of the earth's motion or of the atomic constitution of matter) have been suggested without sufficient evidence being alleged in their support or in unacceptable contexts, and have been therefore neglected by those who carried on the main tradition of the sciences which were eventually to resort to them as expressing better than any others the actual experience of mankind.

Nothing in the past history of Theology is more repugnant to modern sentiment than the intolerance and even persecution with which variation from the dominant theories has so often been visited by their upholders. I will conclude what I have to say by some observations, suggested by my remark about 'heresies,' which may help us to understand both how this could have justified itself to the consciences of sincerely good men, and how we can now condemn it without denying the importance of issues which were once so tragically debated.

It was a true instinct which led the Christian Church on the whole to refuse to acquiesce in the view associated with what is called Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a way of thinking which underlay the earliest group of heresies by which the peace of the Church was disturbed. It was the view of Gnosticism that the simple believer on the ground of his defect in knowledge or in intellectual gifts is to be regarded as unable to pass, as it were, beyond the outer court of the temple, and that access to the presence chamber of God is a privilege reserved for those in possession of an esoteric wisdom which enables them to look down upon the common faith of the whole Christian society as something which they have transcended and with which they can dispense. Such an aristocratic conception was justly esteemed by the main body of the Christian Church to be inconsistent with that preaching of the Gospel to the poor which Jesus himself is related to have indicated as the salient feature of his mission, and inconsistent also with the fundamental Christian conviction that in Christ the Supreme God and Father of all had once for all reconciled the world unto himself and granted access to himself through one Spirit to all believers. In this denial that infirmity in speculative insight or in recondite knowledge carried with it spiritual superiority, or brought its possessor of necessity into more intimate relations with God than were open to the humblest Christian, we may well acquiesce. But this denial has seemed to many, by what I think was a mistake, to involve the conclusion that assent to whatever formula was held to be a satisfactory account in the language of philosophy of the religious experience which was supposed to be common to all members of the Church might be, nay must be, demanded from all who were or would be members, as a test of their true Christianity. Neither inability to understand the Church's creed on the one side nor the claim to be wiser than the Church on the other could be allowed to dispense any one from accepting the creed; for the unity of the whole fellowship and the equal standing of all its members in Christ might be endangered by such a dispensation. Those who could not understand the creed were bound, it was thought, by loyalty to the community to endorse what was guaranteed by lawful authority as containing no more than the old traditional faith, even if expressed in unfamiliar terms; while hesitation to accept it on the part of the learned was suspected to imply an intention to desert that same traditional faith and to rob the simpler brethren of their security that what they were required to profess was no more than what they already believed.

But, however intelligible and however deserving of respect this anxiety to keep the intellectually rich and the intellectually poor united in the confession of one Saviour, it was condemned by its fruits; for these fruits were unquestionably the tyrannical enslavement of the understanding on the one hand, which was made to feel itself not free to make adventures; and on the other hand the encouragement, among the uneducated and those not gifted with intellectual ability, of a trust in formulas which conveyed no distinct meaning to their minds and could only have for them the significance of magical charms, or of shibboleths by which to test the party-connexion of those who would consent or decline to utter them, as the case might be.

It is a more excellent way that theological speculation should have free play, unhampered by any suspicion of disloyalty, while on the other hand those who have no bent towards such speculation should be content, without sitting in judgment on those who are called to engage in it, to be faithful to their own religious experience, and to use for its expression and as a means toward its further development the guidance of the tradition which embodies the main experience of the community. This is what men do in other departments of life. But, here as elsewhere, a greater freedom than our forefathers enjoyed brings with it a greater responsibility. Theologians are all the more bound to practise self-criticism and to avoid wilfulness and fantastic exaggeration in their speculations, and religious men who are not theologians all the more bound to cultivate loyalty and sincerity, now that all alike, those who are and those who are not theologians, are left to themselves, without the support or the opposition of an intolerant public opinion, to stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made them free.

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