Lecture III. Pantheism in Its Applications
IT was our object, in the preceding lecture, to present the system commonly known by the name of Pantheism, in its correct, scientific form. You are now aware that the word is not a mere vague term, nor one which may be loosely applied to almost any error against which the controversialist may desire to protest; but that it is the distinctive appellation of a theory as clear, as consistent, as intelligible as any that the mind of man or devil ever framed to hide the truth of God.
Having displayed the scheme in its crude form and in its technical expression, our next step must be to trace it in its practical applications. The system has a history of its own. [See Note B.] It is first encountered by the student when he investigates the Brahminism of India; and it formed the basis of the Egyptian and Chaldean religions, and of the philosophy of Greece. It was revived by the Alexandrine school, in the vain attempt to resist and oppose the advancing power of the faith of Jesus Christ. In the Middle Ages it again appeared; and after some preludes and preparatory motions, it burst forth once more, full formed, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In modern times it has been taught with assiduity by the French and German metaphysicians, who have accurately reproduced the principles of the ancient paganism; and front these new sources its leading ideas have been once more diffused throughout the province of human thought, in all their traditional antagonism to natural and revealed religion.
You must, therefore, observe that there has been in the world from very ancient times a vast metaphysical and historic doctrine, invented by men, and displacing the revelations made to them from time to time by our heavenly Father. Towards this scheme the mind naturally gravitates the instant it throws away the ideas of submission and obedience, and enters upon the path of free and licentious speculation. [See Note C.] This theory is now alive and active; and it forms the secret inspiration of the rationalistic systems of the day. We do not assert that it is held, to any considerable extent, in the shape in which it was exhibited in the preceding lecture. Few writers or speakers in this community would openly profess the pantheistic creed in the terms in which it has been formalized abroad. But we claim that the system has attained to an influence unsuspected by those who have not looked into this subject with attention. The historic, ethical, and psychological schemes of the "liberal" writers of the day have been framed alongside of this great heresy; and the popular idea of progress, apart from Christianity, and independent of religion and revelation, is but an application of its fatal principles. The doctrine of which we speak is everywhere and in everything. Its signs may be traced in quarters where the word "Pantheism" is repudiated. Its presence may be discovered in the very midst of those who know it not by name. Its secret workings are betrayed in speculations accounted harmless by the characteristic indifference of the day. If this be so, and if the age be full of pantheistic tendencies, if the metaphysical, moral, and social sciences be infected with them, though their maintainers and teachers ignore or conceal the fact, then must it be a matter of prime importance to trace the influence and operations of the system wherever they may be discerned, and to show how men may be tempted, seduced, tainted, poisoned by it almost at unawares.
But let me dwell for a moment on the fact that a system may exercise great power even where in its theoretic shape it is not understood. A man needs not to have an intelligent- or, so to express it, a philosophical--knowledge of a system, in order to be influenced or governed by it. Although quite ignorant of it, he may notwithstanding be wholly in its power. Much of our action, physical and moral, is involuntary action. Take, for example, Christians in general, how few there are who have a thorough and what we should call a scientific knowledge of all the articles of the Creed! It is not necessary that they should. The scientific knowledge of the faith is what we term the "Science of Theology." But theology is the study of a very limited number. It is not necessary that every Christian should be a theologian; it is neither necessary nor possible. To hold the Creed, to live thereafter, to be moulded by Church principles, to be thus fitted for heaven, all this may be without any scientific theological acquaintance with the dogmas of religion. Nor is this true alone of things ethical and spiritual; it is true of things physical as well. How little is ordinarily known of the science of common things! What a world of wisdom and wonder is there all about us, and yet how little is it understood! But such scientific acquaintance with the material world is, for the masses of the community, unnecessary and unattainable. A knowledge of the science of anatomy is not indispensable to enable one to walk. He who is ignorant of even the rudiments of physiology digests and breathes as well as the profoundest student of that branch of knowledge. The soldier fights well and wins the victory though he have no conception of the plan of the battle. But what is true of the good is just as true of the evil. What is true of Catholic theology is just as true of heresy. As, on the one hand, a man may guide his way by holy principles with which he has no formal acquaintance, and may beautifully exemplify in his life the power of a system which he would be utterly at a loss to comment on or to explain, so on the other hand may a man be holding and acting on principles subversive of revelation, while he is without a suspicion of their origin, their connections, their consequences. The very man who would revolt at the theory of Pantheism nakedly stated, may yet be holding the essentials of that system. He may be advocating pure pantheistic principles, though he knows nought of the scientific form of that monstrous scheme. Two things, therefore, are necessary: First, to see the thing itself just as it is, to discern its form and features, to visit the lair and to look at the monster in the remote retired places of its retreat; and secondly, to trace its footprints outside, to show where it has been and how it has wrought, though itself unseen, to convince men in a word that they may be its bond-slaves, though they have never looked on the face of their tyrant. The former of these necessary works was performed in the preceding lecture. To the latter will this present lecture be devoted.
What, then, are the offspring of this most repulsive parent? and what the brood which comes forth from this abominable womb? Let us consider.
The crime of Pantheism is this: that it removes God entirely from the scheme of the universe. It leaves no place, no work for God. It is a theory with which the idea of a personal, an intelligent, a living, thinking, speaking, acting God is wholly incompatible. Although it admit the terms "God" and "the Deity," yet it does so merely for convenience or as a concession to the popular belief. But the personal God, the eternal God, the creator, the ruler, the redeemer, the judge, the God who is infinitely distinct from his works, this God has no place in the pantheistic scheme.
The leading principles of the scheme are these:
Firstly, that the universe is substantially eternal.
Secondly, that things are what they are, not by creation, but by emanation and development.
Thirdly, that the order of events is not determined by a mind outside the world, but is a sequence from laws within it.
Fourthly, that all movement and advance and accession are from within and not from without.
It may therefore be stated as probable or certain that all propositions, all theories, all views which suppose or imply the absence of a personal God, and attach a quality of dignity, sufficiency, divinity, to finite things, are logically connected with the dark and hopeless system of which we are treating, and ought to be referred to it as to their genealogical tree. I propose to illustrate this proposition by reference to these six tendencies of our day.
Firstly, the tendency to assign to the world a very high antiquity.
Secondly, the tendency to make of history a fatuitous and fatal sequence of events.
Thirdly, the tendency to represent mankind as having been originally a set of barbarians but little if at all above the brutes.
Fourthly, the tendency to exalt the human reason above revelation.
Fifthly, the tendency to affect an ignorance about God.
And sixthly, the tendency to deny all and any objective truth.
There are many developments of Pantheism besides these, but to the consideration of these will our present remarks be limited.
And first. We often hear the Mosaic account of the creation impugned on the ground that the world must be much older than that account would seem to make it. We are told that the earth must have existed in its present state very much longer than the account in Genesis would lead us to suppose, and we are informed that there are grounds for assigning a very great antiquity to the human race. It is asserted that in ancient geological formations there have been found the remains of implements which must have been made by men, or bones which must have belonged to human beings; and that their presence in such positions proves the existence here on earth of men long before the times of Adam and Eve. Now it is not designed to discuss these points, but simply to trace the relationship of particular views and opinions. And all these theories, of the very great age of this globe, in its present form, of the very remote antiquity of the human race, these we hold to be but tendencies toward the pantheistic position of the eternity of matter. Men do not like to say so; they would not admit it; but the appetency is that way. They long to get rid of the Mosaic history simply because it is the history of a creation by God. Indulge them in this desire, permit them to date back the origin of this present order of things, say sixty thousand years, and they will next insist on carrying it back six hundred thousand; they will look farther and farther backward for its origin toward the eternity which at length they would demand. Whenever you hear these views expressed, ascribe them to their proper place. To claim that the earth and man, as now existing, are of very great and vast antiquity, is hesitatingly to move towards the assertion that all matter and all substance are eternal. It is, to feel that way, to try you whether you will follow, to invite you toward the brink of that gulf. Such opinions are advanced, for the most part, by those who give themselves to scientific study, and neglect or decline to hear the word of God, by such as deal exclusively or mainly in physical science, by such as hold the modern forms of science to be completed and perfect, rather than what they are, conjectural shapes which another century's discoveries and growth may revolutionize and wholly change.
And secondly, you find persons at this day who would make of history a fortuitous or fatal sequence of events. This is of the essence of Pantheism. Whenever any one speaks of the history, whether of the world at large or of any particular tribe or family or nation, as if some finite agents controlled, some finite power directed it, you are ignorant, indeed, if you know not precisely what this means and implies. As, in the pantheistic scheme, there is no place for a Creator, so there is none for a Governor. "O Lord, our Governor, how excellent is Thy name in all the world!" This is the language of the Church. But such language cannot be uttered by philosophy. On the other hand, you hear such propositions as these:--that history is but the result of the development of the human mind; that the eras and epochs of history are times at which some idea prevails so powerfully as to rule and guide the course of affairs; that the careers of nations are but the steps and pathway of successive dominant thoughts; that at each epoch constitutions and governments, art and letters, religion and morals, are determined as to their quality or character by a common motive principle, the spirit of the age; that the development of the absolute essence, that eternal substance of which we spoke, is always taking increasingly perfect manifestations. The basis of these and all similar statements is one and the same,--the denial that God bears any active and intelligent part in the regulation and direction of the affairs of nations or men. He who makes that denial may perhaps acknowledge that a God exists. But what and who is a God who is nowhere efficiently, and who does and knows and sees nothing? It is a mere delusion. If you separate God from the historical course of this world, you thereby play into the hands of those who, in their impious theory, would remove Him not from history alone, but from the universe, and from our very thoughts. The idea that history is but a fatal sequence of events is an idea of Pantheism, and as near to it as a rib taken from its very side.
But thirdly, you will hear it often said that men in their original state were rude barbarians and grovelling degraded savages. It is asserted that the first men went on all-fours; that they had no intelligible language; that they lived on roots; that they were but a step above the beasts of the field: then that they advanced by degrees to their present state; that they invented language; that they formed themselves into society; that they arrived by degrees at the possession of laws, arts, religion. Now what does all this mean, and with what theory is it allied? With none save that theory of development which is part and parcel of the pantheistic scheme, and has no logical relation to any other philosophy under heaven. When you hear any one talk of a supposed original brute-like condition of mankind,--when you hear the assertion that language is the invention of man and not the gift of God to us,--when you hear of the successive acquirements of our race, and of their actual position as far superior to any enjoyed by them heretofore,--mistrust the speaker, or rather be sure that he too is anchored fast, though he perchance may not know it, to the pantheistic platform. For, according to that theory, there was no God to make man, no God to teach him, no God to enlighten him; therefore, he developed by degrees to what he is become. And back of all this miserable trifling about a primitive state of utter barbarism, and about a language of growls or grunts slowly working up to the fulness of such a system as the English tongue,--back of all this lie the less conspicuous but not worse downfalls of the doctrine that man was a brute before he became a man, and before that a fish, and before that a gluten, and before that an infusorial point. It is all part and parcel of one and the same falsehood, that things are what they are, not because God made them so, but because the eternal substance developed blindly into these forms. And that is the tenet of Pantheism.
In the fourth place, brethren, I call your attention to the evident vestiges and foot-tracks of this heresy in all that you hear so often and so boastfully said of the sufficiency of the human reason to itself, and of its power of independent and salutary action apart from the revelation of God. If there be no God whose mind made known to it shall constitute the law of human thought, then indeed must the reason be regarded as adequate to itself. But to say that it is thus adequate is to imply that there is no God. All, therefore, that we hear of the native powers of man, of the sufficiency of the human mind, of our ability to formalize all faith, all works, all belief, all duty, after our own will, all that men claim as a kind of royal prerogative and birthright in this behalf, smells of the system under discussion. Reflect, again, my hearers, that under that system there is really no God distinct from the common substance of which we all are parts; that the human mind is that substance, or a portion of it; that the human consciousness is that substance recognizing and comprehending itself. This tenet, although blasphemous, is in fact the real ground and source of all the high claims in behalf of the reason of man; it is associated with them, and they are affiliated with it. Why should we be bidden to rely upon our native powers alone, except that they who so exhort us doubt the existence of any other powers in which to rest? If there be no God, the reason must be sufficient to itself; and if you claim for it such sufficiency, you are practically denying the need of a God. I point you, therefore, to all these statements and to all these claims made and set up by men in the pride and naughtiness of their hearts, and affirm that however they may be smoothed over or toned down, or qualified for decency's sake, or through fear of pushing matters to extremes, there is underneath, notwithstanding, the same rank poison. No man can serve two masters. If you make of intellect a God, you dethrone the true God, and cast Him out. There is but one choice for the mind,--to submit to God, or to curse Him and die.
And fifthly, the presence of pantheistic error may be detected in another direction; as when any one is found affecting an ignorance of God, which he ascribes to the extreme difficulty of knowing Him. This sometimes sounds like a sheer affectation, and it seems to be fashionable and is thought to be impressive, especially among the poets. But there is something beneath. It is a solemn trifling with the hope of the world. In knowledge of God standeth our eternal life. In knowledge of Him and of His word modern civilization has been built up. What were man if he knew not God at all? And how much below his rightful place if he know Him but imperfectly? Therefore, to say that there is any supreme difficulty about knowing God, or learning of God, or coming to Him, is to imperil the very bond of all our strength, the very spring of all our hopes. Yet this is just what men do: affected men, conceited men, who stop their ears to His voice, and then complain that they can hear nothing; who turn their faces away, and then morbidly lament their misfortune in not enjoying the sight of Him. Distrust all this fashionable, this modern, this poetical cant (for you find it full often in our nineteenth-century poets) about the dimness of all the future and the dread uncertainties of our position, and the sadness of our lot in being forced to dwell with doubtfulness and uncertainty for our constant companions. Not half, not a quarter of this is genuine. In a Christian land like ours, in any land where there flourishes a branch of Christ's Church, there is no real difficulty in knowing God. We all know Him well enough for practical purposes. We all know Him well enough for our eternal salvation, and there are those who know Him too well for their soul's peace. Whenever you hear this disavowed,--whenever you hear loose, vague talk about God, as though it were next to impossible to satisfy one's self who He is, or what He is, or where He is, how He exists, how He has acted, or is acting now, whether He be or be not a person as we are persons,--then mistrust the words and look beneath for the scales, and the cloven feet, and the slime of the vast heresy of the ages. Pantheism has for her office to obscure all clearness of view, to destroy the power of lucid thought about the Deity,--making of Him, not a person, but an abstraction; not a being, but an influence or impression; not a reality, but a shadowy intangibility; not a Creator and Governor distinct from that world which He governs and created, but a kind of chemical base of the world; not a Lord upon the throne of the universe, but an all-pervading substance, without concentration, intelligence, power, force, or will. Such a God is utterly inconceivable, utterly unimaginable; a fleeting phantom to mock the weary sight, the stumbling foot, the empty hand. And the loose, discursive speech about the difficulty of knowing Him is true alone on the hypothesis that He is such a nonentity as has been described.
And sixthly, and finally, you may rest assured of the presence of pantheistic error in every case of denial of objective truth, of truth apart from him who holds it to be true. For there are those who tell us that all is true to him which any man thinks to be true. This is to say that the truth is in us, in our consciousness and in our thoughts. And there are those who say that every man may believe just as he chooses to believe,--as much, as little. This is to say that there is nothing which any of us ought to believe to his soul's health. Down these chasms the truth slides helplessly away,--for they are chasms, and below are spread the black, deep waters of the same heresy, the limbus of the lost,--for these denials of a truth outside of us, apart from us, independent of us, are based upon the assumption that all is one and the same substance, and that all things which we see are but transient and temporary modifications thereof. In face of such a principle no doctrine, no fact, no article of faith, could for one moment live. When men say that what any one thinks to be true is true for him; that for truth we must look within; that every one of us is, in his sphere, the judge of truth; that each man's mind shall dictate or determine his belief, and that each man's feelings do witness infallibly to his true condition;--when they say these things, they do but flatter with their lips and dissemble in their double heart. For it is to say, that there is no truth; nothing outside; all within. This is the pantheistic dogma. Nothing outside this world; nothing greater, wiser, better, nobler than the human mind; no evidence so good as internal evidence; no test of use against a man's deliberate convictions. And in such a scheme there can be nothing but truth; there can be no error and no falsehood, no wrong, no evil; all is good, and true, and right, and excellent; for all is God. I care not what schools of theology this may touch, what man's views it may impugn; but let it be affirmed, that he who says that you may repose secure in any Creed, if conscientious,--that you should rest, not in outward forms and agencies, but on inward feelings and conviction,--this man is playing into the hands of Pantheism, is helping on the work of those who would bind you and give you over to the monster, hand and foot.
Brethren, there is no proof that the earth in its present state has that high antiquity which the philosophers claim. And man was not at first a semibrute; but God made him perfect, and saw the work that it was very good. And history is not a play of chance or fate, but a drama conducted by God in person. And God is not far off; and hard to know, but close to us and easy of access; nor hath He ever left Himself without a witness among His creatures. And the human mind is not sufficient to itself, but is without His revelation just where the eye is without light. And truth is not variable, but constant; not within us, but without, for us to make it ours, by reaching forth to it from out ourselves. And the Catholic religion, which thus corrects all falsehoods, is the only teacher under God whom we may safely follow; and the school of heresy, in which not merely the hard, gaunt theory is taught, but all its ingenious applications are made, that school is the council-room of confusion, and the entrance of ruin for the mind and soul and heart of all those who abide and continue therein.