Project Canterbury

From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp.

Christian and Catholic


LET me in love put myself beside a soul whose condition was once my own. The stones over which one has stumbled may prove perhaps stepping-stones to another.

Let me begin with a very rudimentary inquiry,—What is your definition of Religion? There have been many given. The one I suggest as a working hypothesis is this,—a personal union of an intelligent and spiritual nature with a personal God. It is somewhat of a large definition and it involves these three factors: God, man, and the union between them. Even if you believe this, it will do you no harm to try and grasp the following as one of the many lines of argument which lead to Religion.

First, let us say that we rejoice in all that modern science has demonstrated and regard its exponents as the high priests of nature. They have convicted the theologians of error in holding to a wrong interpretation of scripture and believing in six days’ creation. They have unfolded the evolutionary process by which man was made from the dust of the earth.

Scientific research has tended more and more to the idea of the unity of the material universe and, by its discovery of the correlation of its forces, to the oneness of the energy of which it is the expression. It is not ordinarily known that the first theological definition of God, as given by the schoolmen, is that of "pure activity." In this science and theology seemingly come into close agreement. The happy discoveries of the last century revealed, moreover, the processes by which the present stage of material perfection was attained. It has taken millions of years. It is like the ordered march of a drama, or a musical composition, to its climax. We could as well suppose a play of Shakespeare's capable of production by the shaking together of a million letters of the alphabet as to suppose this world and man to have been produced by a mere fortuitous collocation of material atoms. It is a reasonable deduction that the energy of which the material world is the expression, must be an intelligent one.

It manifests Itself as an intelligent Energy, for It acts in an intelligent way. A noted unbeliever once said, if there was a God He ought to write His Name where men could see it, on every blade of grass. The difficulty would then arise, in what language should He write it? Now there is one, and one only, universal language, and that is mathematics. And God has written His Name in that language and where all men may see it. There must be like intelligence employed in setting the mathematical problems involved in the movement of the stars as in the astronomers who solve them. The substances we find in nature are always the result of an exact mathematical combination of primary elements. The structure of the world and the universe is the manifestation of pure mathematical thought.

We find also a like token of this intelligence in the things beneath our feet. The ants and bees construct their fortress homes and order their interior construction with mechanical ingenuity and statesmanlike skill, but the little things never thought out their wonderful plans. They act mechanically, in obedience to an instinct they must obey. And what is instinct? It is something different from reason; for as the reasoning powers develop in nature's workshop, instinct decays. So the two things are different. What then is it? It is Wisdom in action. It is the Intelligent Energy that pulsates throughout the world. Again, the skill that so forms and paints the flowers as thereby to allure the bees within their honeyed traps and make them, despite themselves, fertilizing agents of fresh life, comes not from the flowers, for they have no minds to think with, but is the expression of that same Mind that guides unerringly the planets in their courses, and moves in insects, bees, and ants, and paints the flowers, and dwells in man as well. We are in the presence, science and philosophy attest, of an Energy Eternal and Intelligent.

This Energy, because it is also an Eternal Energy, must be a Will.

This may require a little more attention than the former point.

First, it is evident that this Energy must be an Eternal one, because something must always have existed. For if something has not always existed then once nothing existed. If once absolutely nothing existed, then this world could never have come into existence, for out of nothing nothing comes. But from the fact that we ourselves know ourselves to be, we are compelled to believe something has always existed.

Now what is this something? It cannot be a mere unintelligent physical energy, i. e., the action of atoms acting on atoms. Because all such continued movements require in every instance some antecedent movement. So-called spontaneous action is only the result in some way of antecedent co-operative or preparatory activity. Now the something which is an Eternal activity cannot be of that kind that requires perpetually an antecedent, as all the movements of matter do. Such movements as are dependent on antecedent actions are caused, whereas what is Eternal cannot be dependent on any antecedent and so must be uncaused.

We may make this clearer by an anecdote. Once a scholar came to his Indian teacher and said, "Father, what does this great world rest on?" "It rests, my son, on the back of the giant Atlas who stands upon the Turtle." "And what, father, does the Turtle rest on?" "The Turtle, my son, rests on a great rock." "And, father, what does the rock rest on?" "Why," said the teacher, somewhat impatiently, "the rock rests on another rock." "And, father, dear, what does that other rock rest on?" "You little fool," said the perplexed and irritated teacher, "there are rocks all the way down."

Where one thing rests on another, or one act necessarily precedes another, as in a chain of physical causation, a fresh antecedent is ever being demanded. Now that which requires an antecedent or a beginning cannot be eternal, for anything to be eternal must have no antecedent or beginning. "An endless chain of physical causation is unthinkable."

An Eternal Energy must then be a self-caused or self-moved Energy, in other words a self-existing, self-acting Will. "Conscious Volition," it has been said, "is the ultimate source of all force."

This leads on to another truth. The Intelligent Will-Energy must be a person.

When it is said that God is a person, some have replied, "I can go so far with you as to believe in an Intelligent Will and Power developing the universe, but I cannot conceive of It as a person." When one comes to find out what they object to, it is the notion that God is a great Being living somewhere in the sky and who from a distant throne looks down upon the earth. They have some such conception of person as is embodied in those unreal pictures which represent the blessed Trinity as consisting of three individuals. They confound the notion of person with that of an individual. Now God is not an individual. He is not, as that word expresses, one of a kind. But He is a Person. For surely if He is possessed of Intelligence He knows Himself to be. If He does this He is a person, for self-consciousness is personality.

Pantheism has, in its objection to Theism, maintained that the ideas "Absolute" and Personal" are contradictory. It does this on the ground that personality is founded on the distinction between self and non-self. If it were, then self, it is obvious, would be limited by that which is not-self. But limitation is inconsistent with what is Absolute and so it is concluded the Absolute, or God, is not a person. But as an abler philosophy, by Lotze and others, has pointed out, "Personality" is not founded on the distinction between self and non-self. It is based on "self-subsistence which self-consciousness affirms." It does this without any reference to that which is not-self. You know you are, without reference to any one else. Therefore, personality is not a limitation of being. So far as it deserves the name of limitation, it is self-limitation, and "self-limitation is inseparable from a complete nature." "The Infinite and Eternal Power" may be, as Herbert Spencer is reported to have said, "beyond what our words imply," but being necessarily self-conscious He is a Person. Thus our natural reason leads us to believe there is a Personal God.

But a merely intellectual assent to this fact will be to us of no more moral benefit than our belief in a proposition of Euclid. What we need is not only to believe there is a God, but to know Him.

How can we arrive at this knowledge? There is a distinction, which is often overlooked, between "believing" and "knowing." Man has a reasoning faculty that enables him within certain limits to arrive at belief in religious matters. This belief is based on the preponderating weight of arguments. We believe what seems most probable. An examination, however, of man shows that besides having a rational mind he has a spiritual and related nature. It is by virtue of this relativity and spirituality he knows. We are not saying that man is born with innate ideas or intuitions. Innate ideas require words and man is not born with words. But the way his intellectual and spiritual nature works shows that it works in union with an intellectual and spiritual nature other than his own. Just as his body cannot stand upright save in union with its atmospheric environment, so his mental and spiritual faculties do not act rightly save in union with the Eternal Intelligence and Will.

This union is proved to us by one fact among many, that man finds himself by his nature knowing more than his reason can prove. He knows, and no argument can alter his conviction, that there is a world external to himself, though his reason alone cannot prove it. He is forced to reason according to syllogistic laws, which he did not make for himself and can no more alter than the laws which govern his digestion. He believes as certain and acts upon the universality of law, which his reason and experience alone cannot prove. He has a sense of right and wrong, of happiness when he does right and its loss when he does wrong, which is independent of his mental reasonings. The solution of all this is that his intellectual powers and thinkings are connected in their operation with the Great-Thought Thinking. "The natural light of reason," S. Thomas says, "is itself a certain participation of the divine Light." "Our own existence, that of the world, of the moral law of God," wrote Bishop Alexander, of Derry, "are given us in postulates prior to proof." And what men call conscience is not a judgment of the understanding nor an independent faculty, but is the action of our spiritual nature "knowing together" with God.

A little child was playing in a garden, and, in childlike mischief, poking with a stick a poor little toad. Presently he put down the stick and came to his mother, and sitting in her lap told her that as he was poking the toad something in him said, "Don't." "What was it?" "My child," said his mother, "some persons call it conscience; I call it God."

Rightly, then, as we trust our reason acting in its province, so we must trust our spiritual nature in its sphere. For as by our reason we are led to believe there is a God, so by the action of our spiritual nature He comes to be known.

From this consideration of man's nature we may learn two things: what Religion is, and what is its origin.

Religion is not generated from non-religious elements, such as the appearance of departed ancestors in dreams, or from the imagination which sees ghostly forms in shadowy clouds or waving trees. It is something universal. It belongs to the nature of man. It would be strange indeed if God did not thus reveal Himself to His intelligent creature. For if He did not, creation would be, not only an inexplicable act, but it would be an immoral one.

The reply to the question what is Religion is seen then to be this: It is a union between man and God.

There are three different degrees of union between man and God. These are by the ways of nature, grace, and glory. The last two will engage our attention later. We are now dwelling on the first of these,—union by the way of nature. All things are united to God and sustained by His power. From the tiniest seed sporule to the most developed organism, from the ferns waving their unspoken flowers to the oak in its triumphant strength, from the coral sea-hidden palaces teeming with industrious life, to life developing upward in conquering intellectual strength, God, in the language of our modern thought, is immanent in nature though He transcends it. In the language of Browning, our philosophical Christian poet,

"God dwells in all,
From life's minute beginnings, up at last
To man—the consummation of this scheme
Of being—the completion of this sphere
Of life."

The same truth is embodied in the old Latin hymn said daily at nones:—

"O God, creation's secret force,
Thyself unmoved, all motion's source."

God's immanence in nature has always been a familiar thought to the Church. "God," S. Gregory said, "dwelleth within all things, without all things."

While recognizing God's immanence we do well, however, not to fall into either one of two errors. There are some who hold that created things have no real existence, for uncreated Spirit alone is "Being." There is a truth and an untruth in this. All that God has created stands in two separate relations, one to God and one to themselves. In its relation to God nothing made is possessed of independent or substantial life. In the relation created things stand to each other they are correlated realities. Thus, matter is to us a true category, and pain or matter in disorder is something actual or real. The other error does not recognize God's transcendence of nature. Its postulate is that creation was a necessity of God's own life. This could not be, seeing the Eternal and Infinite must be identical with the Absolute, and so God is complete in Himself. The Christian religion explains to us this completeness and also the beatitude of which God is possessed. For the ever Blessed Trinity having in Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the perfect object and complete return of His own love, is thereby relieved from the otherwise intolerable misery of solitariness. But if creation is a necessitated action, God is neither complete in Himself nor possessed of satisfying perfection and bliss. Moreover, a necessitated creative action would involve an emanation of His own nature, and, logically, being a necessary act it would be an eternal one. The outcome of this is Pantheism. It would also make God not a permitter, but the author of evil; for in the Pantheistic system whatever sin is committed, it is God Himself who sins.

The more rational view is thus expressed by Pusey, one of modern England's greatest theologians and saints:—

"God is Omnipresent, that is, everywhere. Our earthly substances do not shut out God. God's way of being is wholly different from ours. It is not with God as when we build a house and part off what is without the house from what is within, so that God should be shut out by the works of His Own Hands. He is above them; without them, within them; not a part of them, not intermingled with them, not confused with them; nor are they part of Him; yet they hinder not His presence. He is not in one way within them, and in another way without; but one and the same God wholly everywhere. He does not fill one part with Himself, and another with another part of Himself; but is one and the same in all."

In the lately discovered "Sayings of Jesus," it is found written, "Jesus saith, wherever there are (two) they are not without God, and wherever there is one alone, I say, I am with him. Raise the stone and there shalt thou find Me; cleave the wood and there am I."

The conclusion seems to be that the All is not God though God is in All.

This mode of union, however, does not make God the author of sin, for man is a free agent. Nor does the aspect of nature, "red in tooth and claw," disprove God's goodness. Before man's advent the predatory animals lived on each other, as man now lives on them. But by this union between man and God, man may, if he will, come the better to know God. Nature will be to him but a Velamen Domini, beneath whose folds of beauty he will discern the movements of the Almighty. Nature will be to him a great Cathedral where, alone on mountain tops or in the woods or by the sea, in the gladsome hum of insect life or multitudinous laughter of the waves or message-laden woods, he may listen to the hidden Mind articulate in nature's song of life. It develops into a chorus of correlated power, a symphonic harmony of law. "And of Law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world." Overpowered by God's greatness and his own littleness, man feels himself to be like a tiny insect that can but rub its wings together and make one utterance of praise, or cry for help.

But with every effort union grows and light flows into the soul. Our faces must be turned heavenward if they are to reflect His. He cometh silently as light, unseen as sound. He cometh gently as the dew upon the earth. We must watch the promptings of our better nature, and by response learn their author. We must speak to Him in prayer if we would have Him speak to us. For by prayer our nature is trained in communion with His, and by obedience we become conscious of His guiding will.

Let one only begin to seek God and he shall find Him. He shall also find that religion brings an increase of strength and joy. It comes to man laden with both these blessings. It brings to him an increase of strength, because he becomes thereby the better master of his nature. All his faculties work more harmoniously with each other and in the true order of their subordination. For each department of our nature to work at its best, the body must be subordinated to the soul, and the soul to the spirit. So does the body work more healthily, the soul more wisely, the spirit with a higher power of usefulness. The religious man becomes a freeman, emancipated from the thraldom of passion, more than owner of himself, a monarch crowned.

Increase of strength also is his, because he lives and works in conscious union with God. He has not "hitched," as Emerson said, "his destiny to a star," but to God, and God dwelleth in him and he in God. He has set his mill on the Rock, and the river of God forever turns his wheels. He has the courage to do and endure; to do right because it is right, whatever the cost may be; to endure bravely the ills of life, for he is given a strength not his own. Poverty may come with its gaunt visage and pinching grip, sickness with its weariness and pain, disappointment breaking the crystal vase of love, and separations that seem to wipe out from earth all that makes earth dear. But like the three children in the midst of the fiery furnace, he has for his support One walking with him in the flames, Whose countenance is like that of the Son of God.

Besides the strength religion gives, it brings a joy. The religious man is in the possession of peace, in the conscious development of growth, in the satisfaction of his highest faculties, and in the enjoyment of life. For it alone makes life worth living. It adds something to every earthly pleasure. To the religious eye the earth ever takes on new beauties. The sun shines more joyfully into the humblest cabin, and God blesses all His gifts to His children.

There are presentations of religion, that seemingly ignore all earthly enjoyment. Matter is regarded as the source of all evil, and man's nature as totally depraved. Religion does not come to bless man here, but chiefly to save his soul. Such were the Puritans. They were men of grim and dour countenance. They denied themselves all pastimes, amusements, recreations. Things innocent in themselves were denounced as sins or marks of a carnal state. They turned Sunday into a day of penance, a weariness to men, and an intolerable bore to children.

But the Church teaches us that all that God has made is good, that matter is not evil, that while we are not to let our appetites run riot, God gave them and takes delight in their right exercise. God desires His children to be happy, and religion comes to bless and sanctify every enjoyment. To the true child of God all nature speaks of Him. Home is a different thing to him. Wife and children are better loved. Friendships are stronger and more unselfish. Religion fills him with joy, and its joy is renewed day by day. It is like the fabled music that issued from Memnon's Tower, that day by day welcomed the coming dawn. It reveals to man a heavenly Father whose delight is to be with the children of men.

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