Project Canterbury

Turning Points in My Life.

By William Porcher Du Bose, M.A., S.T.D.

New York, London, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912.

Chapter IV. Catholic Principles

WHEN I speak of my life as catholic, I use the adjective as expressive of freedom or liberty of thought and conviction in religious matters. My aim is to determine what is the true freedom or liberty in such matters. It is not freedom from any authority whatever, for if there be any real authority, freedom will consist in and be measured by the ability to recognize, regard, and obey it. Freedom is not freedom from law, but freedom to obey one's law; the law of a thing is only the expression of the normal being and activity of the thing, its completion and perfection. The law of a person is the mode of his true self-determination or liberty. Whatever expresses that for us possesses a real authority over us. To illustrate in anticipation, on to the very end: If Jesus Christ is indeed the revelation to us both of God and of ourselves--of the ultimate unity of God and ourselves, and so of the Life which is our end and destiny--then Jesus Christ posesses a supreme and final authority over us as Lord of our life, obedience to which is upon penalty, not of any external or arbitrary sanction or consequence, but of our own sacrifice of life and liberty and true selfhood. So, too, the process and progress of our freedom is conditioned upon our determining the true sources and bases of authority and conforming ourselves to them.

We say, "All things change, and we change with or in them." It would be even more true, perhaps, to say, "We change, and all things change in or with us." Our world is very different from that of one or two or three thousand years ago; but the change has been primarily and mainly in us not in it. Men change, not nature; or nature changes, chiefly if not exclusively, through men's discovery, control, and use of it. Evolution now is that/ of the human, the personal, the spiritual. Nature is so wonderfully other and more than it used to be, because we are so other and more in our relations with it. In itself it does not really change;--and in ourselves we do not really and truly change, except to higher and more of ourselves. In the right sense our creeds--our holds upon eternity and infinity, upon life and destiny--are our most intimate and permanent part, and are as unchangeable as ourselves. And yet, too, our creeds change with us, change in the respects in which we necessarily change if we are to go further and be more. Our creeds then do change and are always changing--because we change and are always changing in our conception and comprehension of them, in our appreciation, appropriation, and realization of them. I hold that the Creed ought to be other chiefly in the sense of being more and truer to us than it was even to those who first framed it, and in this way: In humanity and in everything human, and so no less in our hold upon God and upon things divine, in our Creed, there is a natural and a spiritual element, there is something which changes with our change and is therefore subject to constant change; and again there is something which belongs to and ministers to the abiding and the unchangeable, the eternal, in us and never changes except to become more, and more true, to us. There is no use for the temporal in religion except to be the figure and symbol of the eternal, and the longer and fuller and firmer our grasp upon the eternal, the less our dependence upon, the greater our independence of the merely natural or temporal. I look upon the creed from its spiritual and eternal End, from which there can be no possible question or doubt of it, because it simply is the truth, and the truth seen cannot be mistaken. I have ceased to look upon it in the merely natural setting of its temporal and sensible, because human, origin and process. There is a necessary mystery and veil over anything like a revelation, an inspiration, an incarnation, or any other form or degree of the union or uniting of the divine and the human--when looked at from only the human or the natural side. It can never be explained, investigated, verified, or even perceived from that side only: except one be born again, he cannot see it. It requires other eyes, other observation and experience, other tests and criteria than those of natural science or criticism. One who genuinely and really applies and thoroughly applies to the things of the spirit enumerated in the Creed the only possible and proper scepticism and criticism, investigation, evidence, and verification, will learn and be content to leave the mere natural fringes and joinings of such truth under the veil and in the mystery that belongs to them. If the natural language applied to the fact of the Incarnation is an enigma to you, pass by the word and take the thing: test, prove, verify that, and the mystery will not trouble you.

I believe that I am naturally sensitive to mental movements and changes. I think that my mind has become a thoroughly modern mind; I feel and know that, for example, the speech and language of medievalism, of the pre-scientific and pre-historic age, is already one "not understanded of the people." We still use older words and phrases, we still say "The sun rises"--but they stand for different conceptions of the thing, and the thing is what we are after and not the mere historic ways of seeing or saying it. It is useless to fight against actual movements and changes; our wisdom is to see in them the truth, the whole truth, and then, if possible, nothing but the truth, and let the rest pass by, as it surely will. The best way to dispose of the error is to establish the truth; emphasize, prove, demonstrate, and manifest that, and time and inanition will take care of the other. There was an incalculable wealth of truth and devotion, as of unqualified good, in the scientific revival of the last century; as there was no little of perversion, pretension, and wide-spread harm upon the mere top. I believe that I always felt that scepticism and criticism were inevitable instruments of truth and righteousness and life, and that nothing in this world was proved, tested, or verified that had not passed through them to the uttermost end and limit. What is scepticism in principle but enquiry, investigation, examination? and what is criticism but separating, distinguishing, judging, determining between the true and the false, the good and the bad? We must not judge these divine instruments by their superficial perversions and abuses, but by their necessary and salutary uses. Our Lord says, "For krisis am I come into this world." He Himself was spared no question or test, and He is the supreme Critic and Judge of our lives: "The Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, and is critical of all thoughts and intents of the heart." "His fan is in His hand and He will thoroughly purge His floor." The truth or right that cannot stand all test is not genuine, and that which has not stood all test is not only unproven, but in us it is unpurified truth or righteousness.

I was myself, as doubtless many others were, subject to a very specious and dangerous temptation. There was no little insinuation and actual charge against Christianity that it was not willing to go with science all the way to the end of truth, wherever it might lead. There was the assumption here that scientific investigation or historical criticism could lead all the way to the very end of truth, and many, through fear of unveracity and dishonesty, of unwillingness to accept the truth to the very end, were misled by it. The mere natural cannot and is not intended to compass that which is beyond it, cannot pierce the mystery of even such palpable earthly facts as human freedom and personality, much less that of such heavenly things as divine revelations, inspirations, and incarnations. Yet, if there be any God at all, or God to any human purpose, there must be such things--whether they be palpable to the faculties of mere evolutional nature or not.

My own experience was this: many a time I was impressed and attracted by the honesty and thoroughness of natural truth, unequalled, as I feared, in my observation or experience, by our spiritual truth, which seemed ever afraid to be brought to full or final proof. I might at any time have been led away by this; and then, under the stimulus and satisfaction of the sacrifice, drawn more and more into the noble pursuit and love of natural truth, and more and more out of that of spiritual things; I might have lived and died in the conviction that I had done the hard, the real, and the true thing; and doubtless God would have forgiven me the wrong, if indeed I was sincere in believing I was doing the right. I thank God He did not let me take that course. I reflected that there was another course which I was under obligation not to despise and dismiss without at least as full and fair trial as the other. Our Lord teaches us of a truth of God, a will of God, a work of God, which He says consists in believing in Him Whom God has sent. And He tells us that he who will do the will shall know the truth and work the work of God. The only and whole test and proving of the truth is in the doing. This is not unreasonable; it is a question of what life is, and there is no way of verifying and knowing life but by living it. He who will do the will of God, which our Lord says is to believe in the Son of God, will have the witness in himself. And this is the witness, That God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son: he that hath the Son hath the life. If we will give to the testing and proving, the verifying, of that truth the thorough-going honesty and devotion that science gives to natural knowledge, there will be no doubt of it in us, and there will be no doubt of it in the world. For the world does not doubt what is actual and real; its doubt of Christianity is disbelief in us Christians. My experience was that if I suffered myself to be drawn away from spiritual things into only natural things, I found myself coming to think that truth and reality and honesty lay only there; but that if, on the other hand, without at all having to give up the natural, I was equally honest and in earnest in applying God's test to God's truth of faith and life in Jesus Christ, I soon became a thousand-fold more certain that all reality lay there--even the reality, the meaning and end, of natural science itself. That which makes you the most in yourself in making you most to all else, you cannot but accept as truth for you and the truth of you.

The contribution of modern thought or the modern mind to Christianity has been chiefly the doing away the chasm which had been widening between the natural and the spiritual. We find God now not only in the non-natural, but wholly in the natural. This is not to deny the supernatural, but to see in it the essential, the higher and ultimate natural. "There is a natural, and there is a spiritual; howbeit, that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual." It is more natural and rational that we should grow up spiritually from ourselves into Christ than that we should have developed naturally from the brute into the man. The more fully we know Christianity, the better we know not only the spiritual but the natural also--the natural as explicable and justifiable only as ground and setting of the spiritual.

It was through Bishop Butler that I came first to meditate deeply upon the relation of the natural and the spiritual--and to feel not merely the analogy between, but the identity within them. Later it was Aristotle's "Ethics" that trained me to see, along with the difference and distance between, no less the unity within the life and principles of nature and those of grace--as only stages of the same evolution.

I may illustrate certain respects in which the modern mind, while it enables us to hold truths of religion even more clearly, compels us to see and understand them differently. Take, for example, the truth of the divine Providence: the old idea of "special providences" was distinctly that even in natural events God acted outside and independently of a course of nature, or of an invariable natural sequence. We can no longer, or shall not much longer be able to hold the truth of providence in that form. And yet I confess that I hold the truth of a universal and particular providence more firmly and I believe more really than I ever did before. I believe in a personal providence in nature, because I believe that nature is God, is how God is and acts in those things that we call natural because they are the operation of fixed and invariable laws. If those laws and operations were not fixed and invariable, we could not live and be rational and be free in this world. Therefore God in natural things acts naturally and never contradicts or is inconsistent with Himself. In so far then as His providence is in and through natural things, there is no deviation by any hair's breadth from the course or what we call the causation of nature. And yet, within the course of nature, if any Christian man will, as St. Paul says, love God and enter into the meaning and operation of His eternal and divine purpose, I know that he will find that literally all things are working together, that God is working all things together, for his individual and particular good: "If God be for us, what can be against us?" "They have not known my ways," is God's charge against His people. God's ways are riot easy, He did not spare His own Son, and He does not spare any that are His sons; but some of us live long enough to know that His ways are better than our ways, and that He never fails to help those whom He brings up in His steadfast fear and love. I cannot see where God ever promises to change natural things or natural sequences for us. I do see where He promises that in them all and through them all we shall be more than conquerors. To St. Paul's prayer to take away, the answer was, My grace shall be sufficient for you. Our Lord did not wait for that answer: He preferred for Himself God's will and way as eternally and essentially best. "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt." I may not see how God in a uniform course of nature can provide what is best for each soul in each case any more than I can understand that I myself am free in such a sequence of nature. But what actually is, is--whether it be possible or no. There are more things than we think that we accept simply upon that ground.

The question of Prayer is not separate from that of Providence, in so far as prayer is connected with natural or temporal benefits. The principle of prayer is rooted in the fact of need, want, poverty. Our Lord makes poverty the first condition of spiritual blessedness, because in it begins all that dependence upon God the end of which is oneness with Him. Out of that poverty come all godly sorrow, all noble meekness and humility, all hunger and thirst for Tightness and fulness of life, all faith in God, all hope in self, all true self-realization and soul satisfaction. Nature is meant to be deficient and self to be insufficient: the natural is complete only in the spiritual, and every self only in God. Therefore prayer is the breath and life of the soul: we want God as we want the air we breathe and the food we eat. Prayer is properly for all we want, from the daily bread of the body to that which nourisheth to life eternal. We pray for natural and temporal things as well as spiritual and eternal. But there ought to be a difference: when we pray for natural goods, we ought to pray for them "as God wills"--that is to say, as they are given, naturally; and when we pray for spiritual things, we ought to pray for them spiritually.

What I mean by praying for natural things naturally is this: we ought to recognize that they come to us in the way and course and order of nature. But nature is not a dead thing, a senseless mechanism or blind fortuity: is not God in nature, and is not nature God? Let us pray to God for all we want in the way it comes,--but let us learn more and more just what we want, and just how it comes: let us learn His ways. There are two ways of God, or two modes of the one way: First, He will not change nature for us, but He will, if we love Him and enter into His purpose, make everything in nature, the good and the evil, good to us, work together for our good. I do not mean that He will do this merely by fitting or adjusting us to things as they are, but that He will make the things, whatever they are, actual instruments and ministers of our good--as He made Judas and Herod and Pontius Pilate, and Satan and death and hell all minister to the human glorification, because spiritual perfection, of Jesus Christ. Sin is the deepest, the only essential evil, and He makes our sin itself the instrument of our good, as that which drives us out of nature and self into Him and holiness. And second, I do not say that God will not change nature, do away with natural evils and provide natural goods, but only that He will not do it for us, in the sense of instead of us: He will not do it magically or miraculously, or by what we mean by "special providences." There is absolutely no limit to what He will do through us and by us in these ways if only we will be workers with Him for good. God does not want to put away our sin by magic, He wants us to put it away by holiness; and so He does not work upon us by miracle, but works in us by grace: which means that He calls and moves and enables us to put away our sin by repentance and to put on holiness and life by faith. And so in natural as well as spiritual matters, God does not want merely a clean, healthy, wholesome earth; He wants us to make the earth clean, healthy, and wholesome by living so in it. He is not going to convert the wilderness into a garden for us; what He wants is not the work but the working and the workers, the love that bears all, believes all, endures and survives all, accomplishes all, and so at last becomes and is all. And so what do we come at last to pray for, and how? By at last I mean when we have passed beyond praying for things as we think we want them and come to take them as God knows we want them. I am a thorough-going Trinitarian in prayer: I find God personally only in the person of Jesus Christ, and Christ only by His presence to me and with me and in me by the Holy Ghost. I pray to God only for God, to Christ only for Christ, to the Holy Ghost only for the Holy Ghost, and for everything else natural and spiritual only as through them and by them God will give me Himself. Have we not been assured that "All things are ours"? And I see nowhere or how otherwise they are so than by the love of the Father, through the grace of the Son, and in the unity and fellowship of the Spirit; let the distinction or the identity of these be defined or left undefined as they may, they both exist somehow for me.

As the modern mind in me has corrected and enlightened, without weakening my faith in providence and prayer, so has it acted in other ways. We have our Christianity through the Scriptures and through the living witness and tradition of the Church. These are human records and evidence; they are part and parcel of human history and cannot escape the natural tests of historical scepticism and criticism. Nor can we escape, if (alas!) we would, the actual and real results of such inevitable handling--our Lord in the flesh was handled yet more roughly and survived it. There is no question that the case has been made out for the very humanness and fallibility of the Scriptures as of the Church. Is their divine origin and authority gone with it? I confess that the Scriptures are more divine to me now than they ever were before, that I was never more a believer in their inspiration. If there has ever been anything in all my life verified by actual experience, it has been the divinity of the New Testament, after all that criticism has done with it. Just as I have been brought to see and feel the utter humanity of our Lord down to its very depths, and have been only thus the more convinced of His deity: it is the utterness of His humanity that is the proof of His divinity. "The work that Thou gavest me to accomplish, that work which I have accomplished, beareth witness of me."

So with the Church and its witness: surely, if anything has ever manifested itself in fact and in history, it is the humanness and the fallibility of the Church. Men may well exclaim, where is the Church?--and what is Christianity? Yet I take my stand upon the fact of the Church and upon the truth of Christianity. I believe that our Lord will be with us to the end of the world, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him. There is a Spirit of truth, of whom our Lord says, "The world cannot receive Him, for it seeth Him not neither knoweth Him: ye know Him; for He abideth with you and shall be in you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you." Is there no real experience expressed in these words, nor any real evidence given or verification reached through it? The wisdom of a merely natural scepticism or investigation is to recognize its natural limitation, to be satisfied with its own proper agnosticism as pertaining to the facts of the spirit. The "comparing, or combining, spiritual things with spiritual," of which St. Paul speaks, is best accomplished by meeting spiritual truths with spiritual minds, proving and verifying them by spiritual tests and experiences. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: he cannot know them, because they are spiritually examined and judged."

I have striven to keep a free and an open mind, and it seems to me that the freest mind is that which is open alike to the claims of the natural and of the spiritual in us, not to either as against the other. I should rather try to hold both, though in unsuccessful combination and adjustment, than to be, through a narrow and one-sided devotion, ever so expert in the one at the sacrifice of possible untried and unknown worth and value in the other. But again, I am not only as I was before the nineteenth century opened and liberated my mind. I see all that is divine and permanent in Christianity, in my Christian Creed, in a clearer light, in better perspective and truer proportions, than I ever did before. What if on the natural edges and joinings of it, as I have said, all is not perfectly even yet clear and smooth--I have learned to hold my mind in suspense upon matters which we have eternity in which to know, and to know which eternity will not be too long.

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