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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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The Intellectual Position of Christians

by E. M. Caillard
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 276-281


VI.--THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECT OF NATURE AND THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION

It will be remembered that in the preceding Essay the statement was made, and various quotations were given in support of it,--that the Philosophy of the Unknowable does not hesitate to acknowledge,--nay, is actually based on the acknowledgement of a supreme and all environing Power, which though "unknowable in so far as it is infinite and absolute," is nevertheless "manifested to consciousness through the phenomenal world [and], is knowable in so far as it is thus manifested."1 This admission cuts away the ground from al a priori objections to revelation, because no revelation claims to be made otherwise than through the special case of revelation by means of inspiration, so it may with equal truth be said with regard to every form which revelation can take, "that to enlarge or inform any faculty is evidently a secondary operation of the same Power by which it was first given and quicken."2 If the Power, without which phenomena could not be, is revealed at all through them, is knowable to the extent to which Mr. Spencer and Professor Fiske and their adherents allow that it is knowable, viz.: "in the order of its phenomenal manifestations," obviously there is no reason why some phenomenal manifestations should not be "enlarged and informed [by] a secondary operation" of that Power by which in some inscrutable way they exist. There is no greater mystery, no more insurmountable contradiction here than all Nature exhibits. "The fact that man is complex and finite introduces no difficulty which is not present in the ordinary processes of thought and life."3 On the contrary his complexity acts in the exactly opposite way of reducing what difficulty there is; because if any phenomenal manifestations are "enlarged and informed" so as to reveal somewhat more of the supreme and inscrutable Power whose manifestations all phenomena are, those would inevitably be the most suitable which are richest in variety and complexity of life. Thus within the range of human appreciation, human faculties are the least inadequate to such a use; and by the necessity of the case man does always reveal more "of that absolutely highest form of Being in which all the possibilities of existence are alike comprehended," than any lower forms of life, or than inorganic nature. An inspired man, therefore, a man whose faculties are enlarged or informed beyond those of his fellows in the direction of perceiving more fully, and imparting more adequately than these can do the fundamental truths of existence, is, on the theory of the Unknowable, simply a man who realizes much more strongly than ordinary men that "he may properly consider himself as one of the myriad agencies through whom works the Unknown Cause [so that] when the Unknown Case produces in him a certain belief, he is thereby authorized to profess and act out that belief."4

We must observe, however, that a man thus professing and acting, never, if his belief have reference to religious experiences, regards himself as the agent of an "Unknown Cause." He regards himself as in direct intercourse with some Divine,--or at any rate superhuman,- Being, or Beings, owing to whose interposition the belief which he feels impelled to proclaim and act out, is produced. Here we come upon a truth which the philosophy of the Unknowable ignores. Not only is the existence of a supreme and omnipresent Power distinct from nature everywhere recognized (in however crude or diverse forms,) by the human race, but the conviction that intercourse with this Power is in some way possible, is equally widely spread. By prayer man believes that he can address himself to God. By means of inspiration (i.e.., of a special action of Divine Power on the human mind), he believes that god can make His will known to man. This belief, as Bishop Westcott justly says, "equally with the belief in a supreme Being, possesses the testimony of universal acceptance."5 By all religions, inspiration is acknowledged; but inspiration, though it may be regarded as a correlative of, is not identical with revelation. The former signifies a quickening of the spiritual perception beyond its normal human possibilities; the latter means rather the removal of a veil "from the face of things so that the true springs and issues of life stand disclosed in their eternal nature." Yet this characteristic of revelation is in no wise inconsistent with that already noticed, viz.: that it is and must be made through the phenomenal world. Just as inspiration is only the exaltation of powers already possessed, so revelation is only a fuller and more perfect vision of things already "seen through a glass darkly." The same apostle who spoke of "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,"6 reminded his converts that "the invisible things of Him [God] since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power an divinity."7 To him, therefore, as to all Christians who in some measure enter into the true meaning of the revelation they acknowledge, the manifestation of God in Christ, is but the extension and completion of His manifestation in the whole phenomenal world, as we must now endeavour to set forth. The considerations hitherto adduced suffice to show that a special revelation taking place by means of man, is in entire harmony with the recognition of a Power which, though "unknowable in so far as it is infinite and absolute," is yet knowable through "the order of phenomenal manifestations"; but it has not yet been demonstrated that such a special revelation is a necessary complement to the truth already arrived at.

In commencing the present division of our enquiry it was said that both science and the Christian revelation agree in stating that the environment of nature is God, and the way in which science would have us interpret this statement has now been briefly indicated. We must next notice that in order that the environment of any organism shall fulfil its function with regard to that organism by conducing to and sustaining its development, it must necessarily be such as to call forth and respond to all the capacities distinctive of the organism. Failures or partial failures in the environment, if they do not actually result in death, result at any rate in a maimed or stunted life. The evil results of insufficient food, too great or too sudden variations of climate, or of social surroundings, are patent to all observers. On the other hand, where all external conditions are suitable, life, if it be healthy, flourishes. If, then, God be the environment of nature, no natural instinct or capacity should be without its due response and satisfaction. Disordered functions in nature itself belong to the ethical aspect of the question, and do not here concern us,8 our contention for the present is simply that if we regard God as the origin, the goal and the environment of Nature, we are bound to regard Him also as sufficient to the needs of Nature, whether or not the latter be always able to respond to that sufficiency. Now man is a natural being. All the needs of the lower forms of life he shares, and that in an intensified degree, but he has also needs peculiar to himself. They may be summed up by saying that he requires part of his environment to be personal. Inorganic nature, and the whole organic world below him, do not suffice to his demands because they do not afford him the self-conscious intelligent response which he, as a person, requires. The possibilities of no personal existence can be realized in solitude, and, therefore, it is not good for man,--it precludes him from fulfilling the capabilities of man,-to be alone. His fellow-men, of course, meet this personal demand of his nature. Through them his intelligence, his affections, his will, meet a true response and find their widest scope. But does even an environment partly human content him? We know that it does not. He aspires still to a deeper understanding, a larger life, a more perfect love than any which he can give to or receive from his fellows. At all stages of thought and culture, he feels that there is a Power in him and about him, but not of him, with which he has an irrepressible desire,--often finding vent in the wildest vagaries of thought and act,--to enter into communion. This desire bears all the characteristics of a natural instinct proceeding from a natural capacity, and if there be no means of gratifying it, we are compelled to acknowledge that we find ourselves in presence of the solitary instance of an "instinct pointing aimlessly," which the organic world affords.

"To know God and to be known of Him." On every page of human history we find this two-fold longing deeply scored. It is the expression of a Personal need to which a Personal response can alone suffice, met by the Philosophy of the Unknowable in whatever guise the latter presents itself, whether cast in Eastern or in Western forms of thought, with the announcement that such a response is impossible, because God is Infinite and an Infinite Person--[since personality necessarily involves limitation, a distinction between the Self and the not-Self], is a contradiction in terms. We will merely observe with regard to this objection that those who make it are themselves limiting the Infinite by asserting that there is something which It cannot be, and are, therefore, stultifying their own argument. In any case, the latter is irrelevant to our present subject because according to the Christian Revelation, it is not an Infinite Person but an Infinite GOD whose existence is brought home to us,-an Infinite God in whom is revealed a three-fold Personality,-not three aspects of one Divine Person, but three Persons who are the Infinite God, thus containing the source of limitation as of all else. Turning now once more to regard Him as the environment of Nature, we ask again: How shall the human instinct which points to Him as its Object be satisfied? How shall man come not only to know God, but to know that God knows him? For this last requirement is no less imperious than the first. Man needs equally to know and to be know. That is what is meant by the demand being personal. The response must come, if it come at all, "in the order of phenomenal manifestations." To man or to nay other finite intelligence, this is a condition of knowledge-and is equivalent to saying that what he can know, must fall within the range of his consciousness. We have seen already that the highest mode of being which man is capable of appreciating is his own. He can understand that such a mode of being may be indefinitely more comprehensive than his experience of it; he can form no conception of an entirely different mode of being.

However fully, therefore, he may acknowledge that the Divine is higher than the human, even as the heavens are higher than the earth, he is bound also to acknowledge that if he is ever to have a revelation of the Divine, it can only be "in terms of humanity," and moreover to confess that if such a revelation is not given, then God, Infinite though He be, does not suffice to the needs of that Order which lives, and moves, and has its being in Him. Such a conclusion would be rejected as absurd by every school of thought which recognizes the existence of God at all, whether or not as the Unknowable. We are consequently compelled to accept the only other alternative-that, namely of His making himself known under human conditions. Such a revelation is antecedently probable; we have a right to expect it. Granting this much, however, it may be asked whether there is any obligation that this, so far as man is concerned, supreme manifestation of God should take place under conditions which even man recognizes to be imperfect. Is it not entirely conceivable that it should be made by means of a mode of being which though still in every essential particular human, and therefore intelligible to the human mind, should nevertheless so far transcend the human as to be free from many of the limitations by which man as we know him is oppressed? If he could only know God under the attributes of self- conscious intelligence and volition, yet was there any need that these should act through a human body? Or acting through a human body that it should be one "of humiliation," instead of such a fitting and perfect expression of spiritual lie as is indicated, for instance, by St. Paul's account of "the body that shall be?"9 These questions cannot be lightly passed over. They are connected with a special aspect of our subject which must be separately treated. In concluding the present essay, however, we may point out that a partial answer to them lies in the fact, that no true knowledge could be imparted to any intelligence bearing human characteristics, save under conditions of which it has experience, or to which its experience could be extended. Man only has experience of his life as it now is, not as it conceivably might be. Consequently it is the life that now is which must be used as a basis on which to found any such concrete knowledge of God as can avail to satisfy his needs. Christ manifests God to man, and represents man to God. Therefore it is as GOD-MAN, and not as God-Angel that He must reveal God to us.

1 "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy" (Fiske), vol. II., p. 470.
2 "Introduction to the Study of the Gospels" (Westcott), p. 11
3 Ibid
4 "First Principle" (Herbert Spencer), third Edition, p. 123, § 34.
5 "Introduction to the Study of the Gospels," p. 11
6 II. Cor. v. 6.
7 Rom. i. 20.
8 They will be taken into consideration in the ensuing essay.
9 I Cor. xv., 40-45.