Lecture I. The Church and Philosophy
THE seasons of Advent and Lent have been from very ancient time regarded in the Church of Christ as especially suitable for the work of instructing the people in the higher mysteries of the Faith. There are at those times strong, though silent, influences about us which affect the heart with unusual force, and dispose to a more thoughtful attention to the word of life; and the power of the Spirit is upon us then in fuller measure and with more evident effect. Accordingly it is purposed, by God's permission, to devote a part of this season of Lent to studies of the class referred to, by means of a course of lectures, in which the subject shall be the EXISTENCE OF ALMIGHTY GOD.
They who watch and comprehend the current of modern thought, will not feel surprised at my choice of a theme. For the great question of our day is about the Personality of the Deity, with all that the term implies. It is not in dispute whether there be, or be not, a God; but whether the God, whose existence is in terms admitted, be, or be not, a Personal God. Upon this point the controversy is joined. On the one hand, we find a series of propositions, clear and intelligible, concerning the Almighty Being, in which are included affirmations touching His eternity, His providence, His acts in the past, His purposes in the future, and His relations to the universe and to mankind. This body of doctrine is formulated in the Creed of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, there may be noticed a class of expressions, variable, misty, vague, and unintelligible, concerning a somewhat which is, for convenience' sake, styled God. These constitute a kind of tissue in which are packed the religious thoughts of the free-thinkers and rationalizers of the period. It is proposed in the following lectures to contrast these two ideas of the Deity, so far as the looseness of the latter will permit:--to compare the dogma and the speculation, the substance and the shadow, the truth and the fable, the reality and the dream.
In position, in importance, and in necessity, this subject stands second to none.
In position; because the question about the existence of Almighty God precedes all others that can be raised whether in religion or in philosophy.
In importance; because He hath none that may be compared with Him, and we, without Him, are less than nothing.
In necessity; because of the rashness, the levity, the ignorance with which His being, His attributes, and His works are treated of or referred to by the writers and talkers of our day.
The task in hand is, therefore, approached with serious convictions of duty, as respects the honor of the Almighty and the safety of the souls of men. If He be what He is represented to be in the Creed, then is the rationalistic conception of Him an outrage on His majesty and a libel on His name. If, on the other hand, the Rationalists are correct, then are we Christians the victims of a delusion, and our hope in Him, our love for Him, our fear of Him, are but phases of childish superstition.
Let me open this great theme, by drawing a clear and sharp distinction. It is the distinction between the Church and Philosophy. All who think and believe as the Church instructs us, have a faith; while they who think and speculate independently of her definitions, can rise no higher than the level of a probable opinion. A faith is the gift of God to us in the Church; while the suggestion of an opinion is the highest attainment of Philosophy.
The Church has her Creed. It is unvariable and fixed. It has come to us from the earliest days. That Creed, so far as it relates to the Most High and undivided Trinity, is held (and we rejoice to remember this) by multitudes who are not externally in union with us. When, therefore, I speak of the faith, I mean the belief in God which is expressed in that Creed; and all who think of Him as He is therein described, we place together as holding, so far forth, the Church view, the Christian idea.
Upon the other side we set all those persons who hold opinions at variance with the articles of the Creed, and we comprehend their views under the general name of philosophy. We do this, remembering that the themes of philosophy, in the highest sense of the word, are the same as those of theology; that tile chief studies of the ancient philosophers were about God, man, the soul, our duties, and our destinies; and that it is possible to speculate on these subjects independently of revelation. Opinions about Almighty God, when formed and held without reference to the Creed of the Church, may be termed, without harshness, philosophical opinions; and their maintainers we regard, not as believers, but as philosophers. There were schools of philosophy in the time of our Lord and his apostles; St. Paul refers to them and warns the faithful against them. There are schools of philosophy now, in our own day, and in our own land, and in our very midst; and we, who stand upon the apostolic platform, must bear our witness against them. The modern schools have as little authority as the ancient; whatever they may call themselves, we owe them no more deference or respect.
We class, therefore, under the head of philosophic speculation all those views which differ from the standards of the Church; and we say, that if a man believes the Creed, he has a faith, and that if he denies it he has a philosophy, And so, in the philosophic schools of the period, we shall find ideas very different from those entertained and taught in the Church. We shall find the particular views of men, stated with grace of diction, presented with plausibility, defended by weighty arguments, asserted with zeal, full often recommended by the pure and moral lives of their maintainers. But yet we shall feel that these men are offering us a philosophy and not a faith; and that if we were to exchange what we have received for what they would give we should be bartering confidence for hesitation, assurance for doubt, and humble trust in Another for reliance in self.
To these philosophic schools must we go, however, in order to learn what are the opinions of men concerning Almighty God. Nor shall we reck, though among these schools there be some whose members style them Christian churches, and propose their own speculative theories for consideration as Christian doctrine. On the contrary, we shall regard such claims as but additional instances of groundless opinions on the part of their maintainers. To hear such claims need cause us no surprise, for it seems the most natural thing in the world that they should be made. If men entertain erroneous views of God, of Christ, of sin, of redemption, it would seem to follow of necessity that their views respecting themselves should also be incorrect. Since the philosophic schools, exhibiting no stability, vary incessantly in their opinions about Almighty God, we cannot count as better than an opinion the special views which they may hold concerning their own corporate character. We shall, therefore, go to them, whatever they may style themselves, as we would go to schools of opinion, which in fact they are; and from them we shall learn how the human mind thinks of God, when that mind has shaken itself free from the restraints of law and has rejected the traditions of the past. We shall then compare these results with the articles of faith as taught, the same everywhere and always, in the Church;--and thus we shall obtain the double advantage, first, of a clearer view of the truth, and secondly, of a more loving appreciation of its worth and power.
But a difficulty may suggest itself to the mind of some one here present; a question may arise upon the design which has been announced. To some it may appear as though the subject chosen for these lectures were too simple a one to admit of protracted discussion. It might be said, all men, or almost all, believe in God. All admit His existence; all do Him reverence, and confess their obligation to obey Him. Why then select a theme about which there is practically so little variance among men? Why not rather choose some subject distinctly characteristic of the system of the Church?
Alas, my hearers, these are but assumptions. To name the name of God is not enough; to say that a man believes in Him is not enough; to admit His existence is not sufficient. The name which you give Him must be His own name, and not the name of another. The faith in Him must not be an erroneous faith, but a true one. The confession of His existence must accord with the sublime facts of His eternal nature and being. There be gods many and lords many in these days, but unto us there is only the one God, the very and the true. The doctrine of Almighty God is indeed the first of all; but there, at the threshold and at its mere announcement, men stumble and fall. Count not too surely on the correctness of any one's conceptions of Him until you know how those conceptions have been formed; whether the mind has humbled itself before His word, or whether the will has marked out for itself a path, and struck away therein. There is not perhaps a greater want at this hour, a deeper want, a more urgent want, among our people, than that of a true and right knowledge of God. Even from the first has man erred therein. Our first parents doubted of Him; they mistook His character, and in that error they disbelieved His word. And this they did, although He was with them as a father and a friend, although He communed with them face to face, and called them by their names. It is a strange and a most instructive picture. With them, day by day; accustomed to walk with them among the trees of the garden; wont to reason with them and to teach them, as a parent deals with the child: not even then did the Lord God succeed in impressing on their minds and hearts a correct idea of Himself. They mistook Him altogether. They thought, "He will not keep His word; and, though He promise, yet He will not perform." And so, they considered, that they might with impunity taste the forbidden fruit, although He had declared in their ears, "in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." If then, in Eden, and ere yet they had fallen from original righteousness, our first parents had and acted on a false impression of God, notwithstanding the advantage of a habitual, a most intimate intercourse and communion with Him;--let us not marvel that aberrations should be found to-day, and every day, and everywhere on this subject; aberrations in the course of human thought, as men plod wearily through the world. Error there is, on this first point, on this fundamental truth; error, wide-spread and profound. It shall be shown to you; it shall be set before you, in its deepest shades of gloom; and you shall see what horrible heresies have arisen to hide from our eyes the Lord God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. You shall hear of schemes of doctrine in which the true idea of Him has vanished, although His name be, for decency's sake, retained. And then the ramifications of error shall be traced; its influence pointed out; its tracks and footprints noted in places where they were unsuspected; until you feel that for want of knowledge of this first article of the Creed, multitudes are in actual and extreme peril; and until you thank the good Lord for preserving us from the calamity of losing the truth, as many in our midst have lost it forever.
To proceed. The observations already made have been but preliminary. It was intended to introduce by them the subject to which your close attention is to be called. And in order to show in what course we are to journey together, I would next remark, that there exists, and has existed from very ancient days, a certain infidel theory which, though not widely taught at the present time in its scientific form, underlies most of the popular errors of the day. It concerns the nature and manner of existence of Almighty God, and it may be regarded as the just expression of the cast of modern philosophic thought on those mysteries. I refer to the system commonly known as Pantheism. That system will form the subject of our studies; and you are now invited to a comparative view of the philosophic theory known as Pantheism, and of the Christian faith as contained in the Creeds of the Catholic Church. The discussion will be arranged as follows:
In the next lecture, it is proposed to state the system of Pantheism in its crude, its abstract, its theoretic form.
In the third lecture of the course, I shall endeavor to show under what shapes, and in what quarters we meet with that system in its practical operation; for in its theoretic form, it is, as yet, hardly known or admitted amongst us.
In the fourth lecture, the consequences and results of the theory will be pointed out; since in these we find our strongest arguments against it.
The fifth lecture will be devoted to the presentation of the Christian ideas of Almighty God, as gathered from that revelation of Himself which He has made to us through His eternal Son.
And, in the sixth, and closing lecture, we shall contrast the life of one who holds the pantheistic scheme with that of the believer, and exhibit the probable working of the two systems in the way of this mortal existence and at the hour of death.
And now may the Holy Spirit, whose aid and blessing we invoke, guide the preacher and the hearer into the fuller knowledge and deeper love of the truth.
In bringing these introductory observations to a conclusion, two suggestions will be made on points connected with our general subject.
The first is this: that while the word Pantheism is very frequently used, the system known by that name is but imperfectly understood. And hence it has come to pass that careless, ignorant, or interested speakers allow themselves the widest latitude in its employment; while the ordinary hearer gathers from it only a vague and uncertain impression of evil because he knows not precisely what it means. It is convenient for the unlearned to have within reach some high-sounding term, with which to lay about him, in emergencies, to the surprise and alarm of the vulgar. In this manner, the term "Pantheism" has been employed. When the partisan does not know precisely what to say against some dogma or some view which he regards as erroneous or unsound, he cries out, as a last resort, that it is pantheistic, trusting with that wordy blast to make an end. But such a charge, although it may at first alarm, through its power of suggesting a freight of unknown horrors, soon ceases to terrify, especially if too frequently repeated; for the people, attaching no very precise idea to the word, are not likely to feel the proper degree of abhorrence for things pantheistic, because they do not know what Pantheism is. Full often has the preacher heard this term employed in a loose, impracticable way, and in cases where there was no ground at all for the charge. For this reason, the attempt will be made to give a clear definition of the word and an intelligible account of the system. If that attempt should prove successful, the result will follow, that, while you recoil from that dark, that gloomy, that hopeless theory with the deepest horror, you will at the same time have formed too clear an idea of it to be in danger of tracing it or thinking that you see it where it is not. The remark has been made of a certain great commentator on the Holy Scriptures, deceased some two centuries ago, that he was crazed on the subject of an early sect of heretics known as the Gnostics, so that there was hardly a chapter in St. Paul's Epistles, in which he did not think he saw allusion to gnostic opinions or gnostic error. Thus has it been in a measure with Pantheism. Men cry out that it is here, that it is there, whenever they meet with a difficulty which they are too ignorant or too lazy to grapple with and master, or whenever they would refute a doctrine unpalatable to their taste. Thus, when we speak of Christ as having the common humanity of all our race, some cry "Pantheism!" Or, when we refer to all the faithful as truly and really in Christ, and He in them, there are well-meaning folks who utter the same exclamation, because they think that they ought to make some protest, and yet can imagine nothing else to say. But, brethren, all error is not pantheistic. And our attempt to explain the system will involve an indirect defence of certain doctrines of the Church; since when you come to know what it really is, you will perceive how idle are some of those charges which are brought by sciolists against the mysteries of redemption.
The second and final suggestion for your thoughts, dear brethren in Christ, is this: that studies such as those now proposed may help to prepare us, under the blessing of God, and under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, for meeting the last danger which comes on the inhabitants of the earth, as the end of the world approaches. We are told, that, before the Lord's return to judgment, antichrist shall come. Who is antichrist? and what? The answer to these questions our studies in philosophy may help to furnish. Be not misled. Antichrist, it seems, is more likely to appear in the habit of a speculative philosopher than in the vestments of a pope. The real antichrist, I think, will be the reason of man; that reason in its final attitude, when, having first refused the guidance of revelation, having despised the Church and thrown away the scriptures, having theorized for itself, having sought out many inventions in the field of thought, having announced its own conclusions as the sum of all wisdom and knowledge, it stands, at length, erect and defiant, proclaiming its self-sufficiency and declaring its independence of any God above, of any is law, tradition, order, faith below. Do not look for antichrist in any of the temples of the Lord; nor among men, who, however grievously they may have erred, do still in substance hold the faith. He cometh not that way. But look for him in the schools of an ungodly speculation; in the labyrinths of independent thought; in the pulpits where is preached the self-glorification of man. That is the road whereby he comes. And when, according to prophecy, the night sets in, that night of falsehood and error with which he shall obscure the knowledge of God, the Lord shall save us, if we cling to the faith once delivered to the saints, utterly refusing to have any other creed than that of ancient time. And so shall we be in peace; and we, the Israel of God, shall have light in our dwellings; while beyond there shall not be an house where there is not one dead.