Lecture II. Pantheism in Its Theoretic Form
IN the opening lecture of this course, its general subject was announced to be, a comparison between the speculative theory known as Pantheism, and the Christian faith as contained in the Creed. It is now proposed to present, in its scientific form, the theory referred to, and to show what is the pantheistic conception of God. The word has an ill-starred sound; to place it in conjunction with the symbol of the Catholic faith is to set death and life in contrast. But perhaps the term would be less appalling if better understood. Regarded at a distance, the spectre looms before us with formidable mien; but it might yield to a vigorous blow, or even melt in the ray of a light held full in front. To those who are bewitched by Pantheism it is, indeed, as fatal an adversary as a man could encounter on his pathway. But there is actually no reason why any one should be led off by it. For it is marked by that weakness which belongs to the illogical and the absurd. It is repulsive, it is cold. It has grandeur, but that grandeur is the grandeur of obscurity. Its language is impressive, but this results from a profitless mysticism. This evening we will consider the theory in its simple and abstract form. Afterwards, its application will be pointed out, and its falseness exposed. In all this, may that blessed Spirit be our guide whose aid we still invoke!
A distinction has already been drawn between the Church and the School of Philosophy. The Church is that divinely appointed institution in and by which the simple and unalterable revelation of God is preserved in the world and everywhere presented to mankind. The Philosophic School, on the other hand, is an invention of human origin, where changeful and complex opinions are ventilated and discussed. Now, the first question in philosophy is that which touches the existence of God, and the second concerns His nature. And since the Church and the School differ mainly in this, that the latter perpetually asks questions while the former constantly instructs, the first article of the Christian faith is that which declares the existence of the Almighty, and the next is that which tells us who and what He is, and what He has done.
Philosophy, however, (and by this I mean the human reason speculating freely without reference to revelation,) admits at the outset that there is a God. To do this is doubtless unavoidable; for atheism is moral, intellectual, and spiritual death, and genuine atheists are, and always have been, and always must be, very few and very far between. Philosophy, therefore, repels with virtuous indignation the charge of denying the existence of a Deity. It has ever been so. The ancient schools and the modern were alike in this point. The epicureans and the stoics whom St. Paul encountered on Mars' Hill, acknowledged, after their own fashion, the gods. The rationalists of to-day, be they German, French, English, or American, admit the term and employ the sacred name; and among the leading heresiarchs might be mentioned some who have expended much power in framing ingenious demonstrations of a religious character to show that there is a Supreme Being, and to clear up the mystery of His nature.
It is not, therefore, on the question whether there be a God that the Church and the Philosophers join issue. So far they agree. But when they go on to speak of His nature they differ. When it is asked, "What is God?" the systems part, never to meet again.
The ground of this divergence is the total antagonism in views respecting the personality of the Deity. Does God exist as an impersonal substance, like air, or water? or has He a true personality, like men? This question is met by opposite replies.
The Church declares a personality in the Deity; a personality in the highest and fullest sense of the word. She teaches her children to believe, that as each one of them has a true, distinct, practical personality, so likewise is it with the God who made them all. Nay; she does not merely say that what is true of them is true of Him; she implies that it is true of Him in a higher sense, in a completed sense. So that, whatever may be the elements of proper personality, they exist in us but imperfectly, in Him with absolute fulness. This is the Catholic faith. Philosophy, on the other hand, opines that God has no personality; that He is an absolute, omnipresent, and impersonal substance; as it were, all atmosphere in which everything lives; a heat diffused in which everything is kept warm; an element in which everything swims. In that sense philosophy considers that there is a God, and admits that God to be eternal.
The personality of Almighty God is either in terms or by implication, incessantly denied, even by those who admit their belief in His existence. This is a phenomenon so strange as to invite to investigation. To us Christians there seems to be a contradiction here, and, although the persons to whom we refer may not be aware of the true state of the case, we cannot but conjecture that there is something behind to account for their position. The human reason, when acting in pure independence, is the least logical, the most unreasonable agent that can be named. Still, we ought not to ascribe so singular a phenomenon as that under consideration to mere caprice, unless it can be accounted for in no other way. To admit that there is a God, and yet to say that He has no personal qualities or attributes, sounds indeed, to Christian ears, like trifling; it seems as much as to say, with one breath, that God is, and with the next, that He is not. But may there not be something behind and beyond--something to account for this apparent contradiction, to harmonize this seeming discrepancy. May we not guess at a basis of some sort on which these statements rest, and may there not be some baleful light in which, if viewed, they will assume a horrible consistency? I think and hope to show that this is the case; that the apparently flippant denials of God's providence, and power, and active interest and interference in our affairs, are all cognate to a philosophic scheme of great gravity and importance; that these assertions are not the assertions of levity, but the postulates of intellectual rebellion against the truth; that these opinions are not mere heterogeneous notions thrown carelessly together, or uttered just as they chance to rise to the surface in the seething-pot of this uneasy, bubbling, frothy mind of ours, but part and parcel of a well-conceived and carefully digested theory. By that theory only can they be explained. That theory is the theory of Pantheism. So that if one should ask what the popular language of the day means, and why any one should refuse to admit a personality in Almighty God, why any man should think concerning Him, not as we Christian believers think, but as if He were like unto an aeriform fluid, a gas, a force, an element, the true answer would be that the explanation of these strange notions must be sought in the theory of Pantheism. It is not, of course, intended to say that all who hold the loose speech so often heard about us accept and profess the system to which that kind of speech belongs; but we affirm that the connection between the system and the language is direct. The pantheistic theory is the proper and natural theory of intellectual philosophy regarded as independent of revelation; and by it only can these conceptions, which otherwise were mere fantastic crudities, be explained. Hence may be inferred the vast importance of an acquaintance with that execrable system; for, when once a man has mastered it he will know the real meaning of what he hears, and he shall never again be at a loss to explain these false, delusive dreams about Almighty God. For the whole system is one vast dream, one shapeless sea of gloom and woe, without light, without life, cold, remorseless, devouring- an abyss in which all honest conviction is engulfed, all manly belief buried- and the opinions to which we have referred are but the vapors of the surface of that waste, the steam from its unwholesome face.
Let us then, without delay, proceed to consider the theory of Pantheism in its abstract and philosophic form, that having measured the depth thereof, and having learned, by lead and plummet, the foulness of the slime below, we may forever abhor the system as it deserves to be abhorred, and denounce it as it ought to be denounced.
The theory of Pantheism may be thus expressed: it asserts the unity and identity of substance, and denies to the finite any real existence apart from the infinite. I hasten, however, to present these thoughts in more popular terms. It is held by the maintainers of the system now under consideration that there is only one substance throughout the universe. Of that substance everything is formed. The sea and the dry land, the mountain and the river, the bird and the beast, the flowers and the trees, the bodies and souls of men, the skies, the stars, the suns, the world, the universe throughout, all are of one and the selfsame substance. It matters not what differences or what varieties there be in form, figure, properties, or uses; all things at last are essentially one and the same. "Unity and identity of substance." This is the pantheistic principle. Earth, air, fire, water, all at last, one. The ground on which you walk is substantially the same as you that walk on it. The book in which you read is of the same substance as your mind which comprehends it. This pulpit in which I preach is of the same substance as I. All things one and the same. But where is God? you ask. Ah, brethren, this one substance is God also. This substance is the only God.
But how did the world, in its present state, come into existence? That is the question which the philosophers profess to answer. They speak with contempt of the Catholic dogma of creation, styling it "The Manufacture Theory." They find it impossible to conceive of a Deity who is able to cause anything to be which was not before; and they propose to give us in place of the ridiculous idea of a production, by manufacture, as they term it, a rational, intelligible, and satisfactory explanation of the origin of the universe. Let us hear this explanation and consider how charmingly it smoothes the way before us, and how admirably it is fitted to satisfy the religious and candid mind.
The universe was not created; it came by development or emanation. Does any one comprehend what that means?
If it means anything intelligible, or if we may gather its meaning by study of the whole tenor of their thoughts, that meaning would seem to be as follows:
There is but one single substance throughout the universe. That substance is eternal; there never was a time before which it was not. So existing from eternity, it had no personality nor any qualities, attributes, or powers, such as we understand to belong to persons and to constitute them such. It was without consciousness, without knowledge, without activity. It WAS; no more. The idea thus presented to us is that of a vast, illimitable flood; of a great, unfathomable deep; of a hollow silence, a heave unconsciousness, a condition, mute, speechless, thoughtless. Imagine, if you can, this indescribable, this immense condition, or mass, or state, (or by whatever name you may choose to call it,) and you have before you the only eternal being. Let us apply to it, for the sake of convenience, the term God.
Such, then, from eternity; still, sombre, vast, infinite; without knowledge, or thought, or action, or result; such would this substance ever have remained but for an agency within itself. That agency was a kind of inner movement. The mass so indescribable, so incomprehensible, was agitated from within by an equally indescribable and incomprehensible motion. There was, from within, a tendency toward the surface. The great belly of blackness and unconscious horror, rumbled as it were, and the abyss, for it seems no better, was in labor and would bring forth. The result of this movement was seen in the uprising of certain definite forms and shapes. The substance, working from within, threw itself out into visible phenomena. Thus, there came forth a sky; and thus by aggregation stole forth the planets and the stars. And thus, to limit ourselves to this mundane sphere, the round world resulted from that inner force. The earth was then a part of that eternal substance, localized; a finite form of that infinite. And since that substance was God, therefore the earth was God. It was God made visible in the form of ground, and seas, and hills, and plains. The same is affirmed of the animals. They were forms thrown out from that inner germination, all of the same substance, and all parts of God, or realizations of God.
We have next to hear the pantheistic explanation of the existence of mankind. It has been remarked that the eternal substance now spoken of and which the pantheists call God, had, at first, no knowledge and no consciousness. When, agitated by the inner motive force, it threw itself out into visible forms, as described, each of those forms expressed some tendency, some capability of this eternal substance. But as yet it had no consciousness, there was nought but a blind appetency, and a pushing forth on every hand, and a groping in and through the gloom. At length, however, the time arrived at which a higher development should take place. For out of these unconscious efforts there was at length evolved a higher form thaii any which had yet occurred. This new phenomenon, so thrust upward as from the inner heave and surge of the vast womb, in some manner not explained, suddenly advanced to the perception of its own existence. This fraction of the eternal substance suddenly perceived the fact expressed in the words, "I exist, I am." It saw that it was. It beheld in front of it the universe; it perceived itself to be therewith, face to face. It was conscious at length; the infinite substance thought and reasoned and took counsel with itself at last. This was, of course, God. It was God arriving at a higher development than any yet reached. It was God coming to the consciousness of Himself. When God was only that great illimitable waste, God had no knowledge of His own existence, no personality, no power. When God developed into stars, and suns, and an earth, there was as yet no personality, because they are not persons but things, and they were but the substance, God realized in forms. When God developed into trees and animals, there were motion, and force, and appetite, and instinct, but no more. When, however, at the last, God took this higher form and passed to consciousness, then, for the first time, God saw Himself; God became fully aware of His own existence; God arrived at the knowledge of God in becoming man. Man is a developed form of the Eternal Being; he is that being reasoning, thinking, perceiving, knowing, speaking. That substance never reasoned, nor thought, nor perceived, nor knew, nor spake, before. And that substance is eternal and is the only God; and, therefore, God perceives not, nor knows, nor reasons, nor thinks, nor speaks, but in man. There is the sequence, the clear, necessary conclusion from the premises. Man is God come to consciousness of Himself; and God has no personality, and no consciousness but in man.
This, my hearers, is the philosophic theory which underlies the speculative infidelity of the present age and the present generation. I leave to another lecture the work of tracing in its indications a view too monstrous, too forbidding, to be openly and boldly taught, and would therefore limit the remainder of this evening's observations to reflection on the prospect to which that theory would invite us. Look about you, then, and consider how, according to that system, you must interpret, and how understand, the phenomena which meet your eyes. All that you behold is the one eternal substance in divers forms. There is nothing eternal but that substance. The forms are not eternal; that only is eternal of which they are made up. So that all which you see is part and parcel of God. There never was a creation. The story in Genesis about the six days is but a fable. There is no Creator, and therefore nothing was made. All things have come to be what they are in their own times and seasons by development, without a plan, without a purpose, without the guidance and direction of a mind. An impersonal and eternal substance is the only God. These outward shapes on which we look are the figures which that impersonal essence has taken, without consciousness and without method. All visible phenomena are God; God under certain conditions of size, of color, of property. Look at the dull, inert stones of the wilderness; it is God sleeping. Look at the brutes endowed with instinct, but without intellect; that is God dreaming. Look at the thing which we call man; that is God thinking, reasoning, desiring, willing. The sky spread over all in its vaporous, palpitating blue; that is the eternal substance spreading itself forth as a firmament above. The seas slow heaving to the sunlight, or dark below the nocturnal shade; they are the same eternal substance, moaning through zone and hemisphere in blind pursuit of higher realizations. The mountain ranges, those spinal columns of this earthly frame, they are but God, the eternal substance, consolidated in progressive development. Nor may the survey cease at this point. As with material nature so with spiritual; they are one. The mind of man is substantially one with his body. The spirit, the soul, the affections, have no real existence apart from the corruptible frame in which they dwell. They are but higher manifestations of the same eternal substance, the highest to which, by inward movement, it has yet attained. [See Note A.] And as for all and each of these, material and immaterial, corporeal and spiritual alike, no one of them has promise or prospect of permanence, for nothing is eternal but that one universal substance, and no mind guides its development; therefore, there can be no foretelling its future directions. The skies, the seas, the hills, may all pass away, and other formations take their place. A few years and there may be left no insect, no bird, no gentle beast. A few ages and there may exist no trace of man. The substance which now shows itself in these present forms is ever agitated from below and from within; and not one form is permanent; not the earth, not man, not the soul. All came forth by unconscious and unintelligent development. All is moving on and passing away. The finite has no real existence. Man himself is but a transient phenomenon,--a shadow,--and all his works are dreams rather than realities. Before this world was evolved there was no personal agent to determine what should be; and now that it exists there is no reason why it should remain; no will orders its continuance, no intelligent power keeps it in. being. There is not a form that hath permanency; there is nothing visible or invisible that can last. The material of yonder columns is fully as durable as your souls; the whole thing is but a passing show. All came forth out of darkness; all is drawn in perpetually and swallowed up. Everything perishes but the one substance; that does not perish, for that is God.
To revolt with horror from this appalling theory, to cry aloud against it, to stop the ear to its merciless, its diabolical utterances, this must surely be the course of every healthy mind. In its naked form, as now presented, it might be almost universally repelled and rejected. But I maintain that this is the system on which all the speculative infidelity of our age does actually rest, and that it contains the only logical explanation of the popular heresies touching the impersonality of the Divine Being. This consanguinity it will be my design in the next lecture to display so clearly that even the unlearned must recognize it. And, to approach the conclusion of the present remarks, let no one flatter himself with the idea that a system such as this could never attain a hold upon the public mind. Why might it not. What should restrain its growth were it not resisted and kept under by the word and sacramental power of the Holy Ghost? There are parts of the globe to-day wherein this system flourishes as the basis of the popular religion; and even here, where we hold high conceptions of our intelligence, there are writers and teachers whose thoughts are steeped in this poisonous compound, and who, notwithstanding, are esteemed and eulogized as the wisest and most judicious of men. But while we admit with shame that this is the case, we are glad to remember the history of the past and to observe how certainly the truth reasserts itself, though for the time depressed. Wherever they have thrown away the glorious faith in the living God and have lain them down in pantheistic dreams, the race has declined, men have fallen into degradation and intellectual torpor, and the way for the inevitable reaction has been prepared. In time the truth avenges itself. It did so memorably in the seventh century. About the year of our Lord 600, when the East lay sleeping and buried in the philosophic stupor, its limbs relaxed, its energies gone, on a sudden, and in the dead midnight, the avenger came. There arose in Arabia a man mighty in word and deed, whose mission seemed to be (and I doubt not that he had a mission) to revive that grand, that sacred truth, the personality and unity of God. Mohammed did not live in vain. Infidel though he was, impostor though he was, he yet spake truth when he denied the pantheistic lie, when he asserted a God creator of heaven and earth, when he affirmed that God alone is from eternity, that all things were made by His mind, His hand, His will, that He and His universe are in substance distinct. That was the creed of Mohammed. In that name the scimitars flashed to the light. In that name those scimitars swept the rank fields like the sickles through the standing grain. In that name his followers overran the East, the Persian empire and old Assyria, the African wilds, the far Cathay, the shores of Indus and the Ganges. It was but one word of truth against the brood, voluminous and interminable, of philosophy. One word of truth, but that word enough, the truth that God is God. Before the Saracens everything fell, simply because there was life in their creed, and because the countries that they overran were morally, intellectually, spiritually, physically dead. Before the Saracens everything fell. Everything, for a time, but not forever. Everything, till they were met, at the West, by the soldiers of the cross; by men who had a higher faith, a fuller knowledge, even the faith in the high and undivided Trinity, sublimest of all truths, the faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, grandest and most consoling of all that the mind of man hath received. There, against the cross-hilted swords of the good knights, was the scimitar broken. But elsewhere it did its work and well. Remember now for your comfort, that its main strength lay in its proclamation of one personal and living God to people who denied that personality and who confounded the Creator and His works. And I would ask, in conclusion, if this were the case when human agents alone were visibly engaged,--if the mere idea of the existence of such a being could so transform, strengthen, nerve the men who held it,- if the absence of that idea could so have demoralized and degraded the men who had lost it,--what should be the effect of the appearance among us of that very Being himself? He cometh now, He cometh at the last. Oh that it be not in burning wrath against the falsehoods of mankind! Oh that it be not in judgment, but in mercy! But be it as it may, cease we not our confession of Him as He is revealed unto us in the Church's Creed; and as for the theories of the schools of the day, let them be to us as the accursed thing wherein the children of the Lord will have no dealings whatever, lest they commit folly in Israel and be consumed at the last and awful account.