MR. HERBERT SPENCER'S work on "Universal Progress," lately reprinted in this country, has appeared since these lectures were written. I could not have desired a filller illustration than that which it affords of the tone and results of modern rationalistic thought. The term which best describes his system is "Mechanical Atheism." It is the negation of a divine mind and will, and the explanation of the origin and government or course of the world by matter and movement, by purely mechanical laws, and by the blind forces of nature. The pantheistic ideas of emanation and development appear in startling rigidity; the dogma of the creation is contemptuously flouted; Christianity is accounted for as a mere phase of feeling; and every vestige of religion, as we understand it, vanishes. Lest these expressions should seem too strong, I quote from a recent review of the work by a writer not known to me, in order that my opinion may be justified:--
"'Universal Progress' is the title selected by the author .... by universal progress he means a law of evolution common to all beings and all phenomena, whether material or spiritual. Many even of the so-called powers and forces of nature are developed by new combinations and conditions that have gone before.... the same doctrine is applied to what we call mental powers. These are only new and higher manifestations of what are usually called the vital forces, when brought into activity under favoring physical conditions; and these vital forces are but similar developments of chemical and mechanical powers, under their appropriate excitants, when interposed at the proper juncture."
No one can mistake the meaning of this who knows the history of the pantheistic philosophy. Let us hear the results of this "Universal Progress" theory in its applications to the grand and supreme questions of God, man, the soul, time, and eternity:--
"Of the object of religious worship Mr. Spencer says little more than we have hinted. In his 'First Principles,' he furnishes an elaborate argument, derived from his philosophy, to show that there is a one mysterious something, a somewhat, the object of worship, whose being is manifested in the universe, but whose nature and relations are utterly unknown and unknowable. His nature is unknown, because the nature of everything great or small is unknown, and is a mystery. His relations are unknowable, because that such a being should have relations is impossible from his very nature as absolute and unrelated. That there is such a being we know; but who or what he is we do not know, nor can we ever learn. Like time, space, force, and motion, he is; but what he is cannot be conceived by human thought. The apotheosis of his system is, to set apart and consecrate the universe as an altar 'to the unknown God,' whom all men must worship, but all alike ignorantly, whom, therefore, no man can conceive or "declare" to another. Before this altar each successive generation must prostrate itself in blind devotion, evolving for itself a form of creed and worship which the next generation must inevitably abandon and outgrow."
Such are the results of the latest theory of rationalism, late in time, but in substance identical with the systems of the old pagan schools. I spoke of this scheme as "Atheism." But it is worse than Atheism in this, that, while it removes the true God from view, it does not leave the place empty, but puts in it a shadow and spectre of its own exorcising, a thing which means nothing, and serves no purpose except to deceive the minds of the ignorant. In the name of all that is fair and manly, we protest against this dissimulation; and we affirm that if these men were honest they would say at once what they really think, "There is no God." But they cannot say that, because such a declaration would kill their cause. Reason and revelation agree entirely in their estimate of the man who takes that position,--"Dixit insipiens in corde suo, non est Deus,"--and therefore our philosophers are wary, and feign this veneration for a "somewhat," to which they apply the sacred name, lest the people should call them fools.
FOR the satisfaction of those who would pursue the subject as careful students, I present a brief outline of the history of this great system. It offers itself to us under two aspects, that of a religious dogma, and that of a speculative philosophy. The latter is a development of the former. As a dogma it appears in the religions of the ancient world; as a speculation it is dominant among the philosophies of later days. Under each aspect it has been the persistent adversary of revelation: in antiquity it filled, or tried to fill, the void left by the loss or defacement of the primitive tradition; while in modern times it has constantly opposed the religion of Christ.
Beginning with the earliest days, we find this heresy in India. The system of emanation, as opposed to the idea of creation, is the fundamental principle in the Indian theology. Brahma is not a creator, but all things emanated from him. The theological system of the Brahmins represents the universe as evolved from Brahma, and as reentering into him again; he is the first and infinite substance, the cosmic unity, and in the creation and destruction of successive worlds consist his life and death. (See the Vedas, and the Code of Manou.)
In the theology of Egypt we find the same idea of emanation, and we miss that of creation proper. (The student may refer to Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, Iamblichus, and Porphyry.)
From the Indian and Egyptian systems, thus standing first, and exhibiting the pantheistic ideas in their more rigid form, we pass to those of Chaldea and Persia, which exhibit modifications of the former principle.
In Chaldea, dualism appears, a supreme deity being recognized, and, at the same time, an eternal, incorruptible, and uncreate matter.
In Persia the same dualistic idea presents itself, but the two principles are regarded as in antagonism: Ormuzd and Ahriman strive for the mastery amid ill-defined relationships.
We pass, in our survey, to the Greek religions. The subject is undoubtedly an obscure and mysterious one; and yet the old Orphic doctrines seem to be but a reproduction of the theory of emanation. But the older religious ideas, whatever they may have been, were lost in the materialism and humanitarianism which absorbed everything; and when St. Paul preached at Athens, it is evident that the idea of a God who created the world, and who governs it by His providential power, was lost to that generation.
The school of Thales was founded on the idea of a dualistic cosmogony, like that of the Phoenician and Chaldaean systems; while that of Pythagoras started with the theory of emanation, and, running through the common course of pantheistic principles, attained its full development in Timoeus of Locris and Ocellus of Lucania.
The Pythagoreans set out with the idea that all existences are included in the Absolute Unity. Their teachings on the subject of the production of things are indistinct; or, if they teach at all, they seem to teach the system of emanation.
Xenophanes took up the question of the production of things, and, beginning with the denial of a creation ex nihilo, concluded that the universe is eternal, that there is but one substance, and that thought is the only immutable reality.
Parmenides adopted this principle, and pushed it into pure idealism, denying any reality to the finite, and saying that all things that we see are but an outward show, that there is no reality in phenomena, and that the testimony of the senses is but a delusion; he also maintained that thought and the object of thought are identical.
From this extravagant idealism a reaction occurred. Leucippus and Democritus founded the materialistic school.
Heraclitus endeavored in vain to find a means of harmonizing the idealistic and materialistic systems of the day.
Then followed the reign of universal skepticism.
It was when the mind had reached that wretched position that Socrates appeared, and reformed philosophy by confounding the sophists by his well-known mode of commonsense argument; by appealing to the love of truth and virtue which still remains, notwithstanding every disadvantage, in men; and by leading them back toward intellectual life. The movement given by him led to the rise of the great schools of Plato, Epicurus, Aristotle, and Zeno; and rigid Pantheism for a time disappeared from the scene.
But in the school of Alexandria the old heresy revived, and by the Gnostics and Neo-Platonists it was formalized once more.
The Gnostic philosophy had for its base the system of emanation. It had two branches, a unitarian and a dualistic. The unitarian Gnostics held one principle, from which all spiritual and material substances emanated; while the dualistic Gnostics affirmed two eternal principles, spirit and matter, of one or the other of which all beings are developments.
The Neo-Platonists aimed at opposing Christianity and staying its triumphant progress, by effecting a reconciliation of all the philosophies and of the religious traditions of the nations. It was an immense syncretism. They then proposed a theurgic system by which to place men in connection with the gods, and to reproduce, in a purified condition, the beliefs and practices of the old polytheism.
There were three chief centres of this sect,--Alexandria, Athens, and Rome. Its great exemplars and representative men are Plotinus and Proclus. These authors drew from the old Eastern sources; the system of emanation forms the key to their whole philosophy; and in their doctrines may be found the germs of the later and modern pantheistic theories. Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, the German transcendentalists, and the French eclectics, have but reproduced their ideas. Together with their blended system of syncretistic speculations there came a revival of polytheism, of the practice of magic, and of fancied communication with genii, gods, and departed spirits, just as, in the nineteenth century, while rationalistic principles have been gaining ground in the community, the practices and arts of the table-tippers, the rappers, the spiritualists, and the dealers with the dead, have become familiar to the public. It is impossible to miss the meaning of these correspondences.
Since the Neo-Platonistic school forms the connecting link between the ancient and the modern pantheists, it seems best to present the views of that school, in order that the genealogy may be clearly seen. Maret (to whose admirable and exhaustive work I am indebted for this historic sketch) thus sums up the philosophy of Proclus: -" There is only one substance in the universe, always identical with itself; we discover this essence in ourselves by the contemplation of the Ego. This substance is the Absolute Unity; it encloses in itself the principles of multiplicity and of diversity. The primitive unity, like a luminous mass, radiates from its eternal centre, and produces the infinite series of beings which are one and manifold at once. These derived unities are incessantly brought back to their centre by the same force which flung them forth like sparks from the fire of eternal life. Thus the world is perfect. Matter is an eternal emanation from God. Evil is a mere negation; it is but the inequality of souls."
Thus far of the Alexandrian school.
The triumph of Christianity brought with it a second decay and disappearance of Pantheism. It is not until the time of Charlemagne that we trace it again. In the ninth century Scotus Erigena revived it; and other writers of less note exhibit in their works the predictions of its future appearance. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, the study of this philosophy was fully renewed, and schools were formed, the pedigree of which may be traced at once to the Neo-Platonists.
The appearance of Giordano Bruno and Spinoza upon the scene marks the commencement of the pantheistic revival. It is unnecessary to enter upon a full account of their tenets, which are already too well known. To reconcile those tenets with the Catholic faith would be impossible; their relation with the anterior philosophies is close and full; in principles and results they are the same.
Thus, descending the chronological scale, we arrive at the recent epoch when Germany became the theatre of the full development of the traditional heresy. Kant was the father of the modern intellectual movement in that country. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel followed in his steps, completing his work. In Hegel Pantheism is once more presented, pure and simple, to the world. The line, from the Brahmins of India to these rationalistic philosophers, is visible, link after link. The metaphysical systems of Germany are but the old Pantheism clad in new forms. No essential progress has been made. At bottom we find the same tenet of the unity and identity of substance, the principle which was held by the Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists, revived by Erigena, repeated by Giordano Bruno, and made the central point in the system of Spinoza.
As for ourselves, we are concerned, not so much with the system considered in its scientific form, as with its applications. These are numerous; as, for instance, to morals, history, social order, art, religion. It is in these applications that we have to meet and deal with it; whether it present itself in the shape of the historic theory of Buckle, who strives to trace all events to physical causes, discarding the idea of a superintending providence; or in the form of the materialistic atheism of Spencer in his scheme of Universal Progress; or in the socialistic experiments of Fourier and his disciples; or in the rational religionism of those who dispense with creeds and sacraments and all the framework of a visible and historic Catholicism, pretending to serve God in individual seclusion without the mediation of rite or form or consecrated priesthood; or in the dreamy and unreal poetry and literature of the day; or in the feigned conferences, through mediums, with the spirits of another realm; or in the mad attempts at advance and progress towards the idolization of humanity. It seems impossible for any candid man to read the history of human thought without perceiving that one and the same disease runs through it, and that the course is ever in the same direction when the restraints provided by Almighty God are thrown away. There is and can be no new gospel; it would seem that there can be no new heresy. These, which now assail the truth, have risen up against it heretofore, and have been as often prostrated. In like manner the reaction will presently come, and they shall be cast away as abominable, and left to smoulder again in the ashes of their burning.
I USE the word "licentious" in the sense of "unrestrained by law." It is strange that they who reprove lewdness in the flesh and in the carnal passions, seem to feel no need of restraining the mind from indulgence in speculation; for profligacy is one and the same thing, to the eye of God, whether it be that of the body amid harlots, or that of the intellect amid profane thinkers.
To the statement in the text that the mind gravitates naturally towards the pantheistic scheme, it may be objected that this is to represent the reason as tending, in its ordinary exercise, toward infidel solutions. But this objection is groundless. The reason, wrongly acting, must depart from the truth; but the reason, under the conditions necessary to its proper exercise, cannot go astray. For the reason is but an eye; and without revelation it is where the bodily eye is without light. It would be as great a misconception of our thought to say that the intellect, acting naturally, must incline to error, as to imagine us asserting that the natural use of the eye tends to blindness. The use of the eye under false conditions, as with insufficient light, or on very fine work, or in any way in which it was not intended to be used, would indeed tend toward the destruction of that organ. It is so with the reason, which, in divine and supernatural things, was not made to be used except under the illumination of the light of God. When men speculate by themselves, independently of that light, as shown to them in historic and outward revelation, they are misusing the godlike faculty, and do but weaken and ultimately destroy it.
THE French school of Philosophy traces its origin to Descartes; the principles advanced by him were perfected by Malebranche, and it would not have been difficult, at that stage, to have harmonized the system with theology and religion.
But the sensual school of Locke took its rise in England. Its principles, adapted by Gassendi and Condillac, were thrown into the philosophical schools of France, which rapidly sunk towards materialism and naturalism.
Then came the Revolution, which upturned society, and shook the nation to its centre, drenching it in its own blood.
After that social convulsion the French philosophy revived, with a powerful reaction from the materialism of its previous stage,--a reaction which was due to the rise and influence of the German schools, idealistic and spiritual in their tendencies. The result was seen in the establishment of the modern eclectic school, of which Cousin was the founder.
The eclectic school denies the charge of Pantheism: it is, however, in its principles and results essentially pantheistic. A comparison of the philosophy of Hegel (about the character of which there is no doubt) and that of the eclectics, will show practical results of the same character. The historic systems, the moral systems, the psychological systems of France have grown up together with the eclectic philosophy, and as a result of the movement and impulse which it gave to human thought. The tendencies of those systems are all in the same direction; the breach between philosophy and religion is widening continually; and the minds of the educated men of France at this hour would seem to be in almost hopeless alienation from the faith. "The longer one lives in this country," says a writer now resident in Paris, "the more deeply does one become convinced of the hopeless divorce between intellect and faith. The lay mind is totally alienated from the Church and from revealed religion. There is more external respect for the former, perhaps, than for the latter, because 'les convenances' exercise a very arbitrary power in France, and it is considered correct for women and children to be communicants. Educated men scarcely ever are so; even those who profess a kind of lax reverence for the Church and for religion tell you almost invariably that they do not 'pratiquer.'" This is the recognized phrase, which seems to be regarded as a matter of course, an almost satisfactory equivalent for the service of God. When Madame George Sand paints a young man, a Parisian, son of a philosopher, who is a deist like his father, and at the same time pure and noble in his life and feelings, she gives us, I fear, an ideal picture, little in accordance with the facts; and, indeed, elsewhere in the same book she shows young Frenchmen as generally scoffing against humanity and moral principle. But she does not exaggerate the strength of the almost universal prejudice of the educated class against the Christian faith. I told you once before that one of the most Christian-hearted Frenchmen known to me, a literary man of note, told me not long ago that it was next to impossible for an educated Frenchman to be a Christian; that the utmost he could do was to 'aspire."'
THIS idea of a progressive, advancing, and improving God, blasphemously as it sounds to us, is among the most familiar of the pantheistic notions. It is expressed in the well-known formula of the Germans, "Gott ist in werden," Deus est infieri. To show that the thought is not a strange one here at home, I make the following extracts from an article in a radical journal published in this city; the communication is a reply to the questions, "What, Where, and How is God?" The writer says "God is the intelligent, vivifying principle, pervading and developing all matter..... Eternal progress is one of the attributes of God, and is the coexistent fundamental law of the universe. All nature demonstrates this profound and all-pervading principle. God Himself cannot be exceptional to the universal law of which Himself is the enactive and vitalizing principle. Therefore God Himself progresses. God possesses sensation," &c., &c. This writer has but copied the ideas of the German pantheists.
THE Catholic dogma of the creation (using that word in its proper sense of bringing into being what was not in any way before) is, and must ever be, the test of all heresies touching the origin of the world. The philosophers repel the charge of Pantheism; they claim to believe in a God. But they will not admit that God is a creator. If; however, the dogma of the creation be denied, there remains no conceivable choice but between Dualism and Pantheism. Either God created the world, or He did not. If He did not create it, it is eternal. If eternal, it is either substantially distinct from Him, or substantially identical with Him. To take the former alternative is to admit two eternal substances; to take the latter is to hold the unity and identity of substance. There is no logical, no possible position for him who denies the Catholic dogma of the creation, save in Dualism, Pantheism, or skepticism.
To the summary presented in the text it may be added that the system, as now operative, divides itself into two branches, materialistic Pantheism, and idealistic Pantheism. The former is a gross sensualism and naturalism, which sees in the universe nothing but matter and its modifications and transformations. The latter is a more elevated and more serious speculation. In the former, God is brought down to and absorbed in the world; in the latter, the world is lifted up and translated into God. But the grand and distinctive features in each are the same,--the denial of the distinction between the finite and the infinite, and the assertion of the unity and identity of substance.
DURING the season of Lent, in 1863, when I was delivering these lectures, I received from time to time, through the mail, communications evidently written in great bitterness of spirit, denouncing my work in unmeasured terms, and especially reviling the dogma of the Holy Trinity. When the lectures were announced for repetition last winter, the attacks to which I have referred were renewed, and in divers communications, for the most part anonymous or bearing false signatures, I was assailed as an enemy of the truth, and the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity was aspersed, with a malignity which could hardly have been surpassed, while spiritual powers were appealed to and invoked as at hand to silence my utterances. I record these facts to show to what extent the simple enunciation of the truth may arouse the fury of the enemy; and also that I may notice a circumstance which profoundly impressed me at the time, which has been often referred to since its occurrence, and which, in view of the foregoing particulars, (known only to myself at the moment,) afforded, as I devoutly felt, a visible sign of the neighborhood and approval of the Almighty. At the instant of my uttering the words, "O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," the whole congregation, as though moved by a more than human power, slowly arose, and so remained, with heads bowed in adoration, during the utterance of that which followed. Never did I feel God nearer than at that moment; and never did I feel more thrillingly the certainty of the ultimate triumph of the eternal truths of the Catholic Creed. It was as if a voice from heaven were crying aloud, "Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear, saith the Lord."