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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."
The Intellectual Position of Christians

by E. M. Caillard
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 538-544


The briefest reflection suffices to make evident the deep and intimate connexion which the Christian doctrine, forming the title of the present essay, bears to the whole subject which we have now for many months been considering. That subject is the Intellectual Position of Christians,--the position which belongs to them in virtue of their religious belief, and which therefore cannot belong to any who are not Christians. Now the resurrection of the body may justly be regarded as a test--article of the Christian creed viewed in relation to the intellectual position of those who hold it, and that for two reasons: (1) Because from the earliest times was proclaimed as fundamental, [See I Cor. xv. 12-20; Rom. viii. 11; Acts xiii. 34-38; xvii. 31, 32; Phil. iii. 21, and many other passages.] and (2) Because of the profound and characteristic significance which, in view of modern scientific knowledge, it gives to the belief in immortality.

This belief is, of course, not peculiar to Christianity. We find it in one form or another in nearly all the great religions of the world; sometimes taking the form of re-absorption into the Divine universal Being, sometimes in the sensual delights of a Mahommedan paradise, sometimes in the melancholy survival in shadowy regions of "bloodless, bodiless ghosts," deprived with the loss of the body of all those warm and intimate connexions with the physical environment which enter so largely into our ordinary human idea of life.

In turning from these various conceptions to examine that which is characteristic of Christianity, we find a recognition all consecration of what is highest in them all.

Before pursuing the subject further, however, it will be of advantage to recapitulate, very briefly, the line of thought hitherto followed, and state the conclusions which have been arrived at.

In Essays I. and II. it was pointed out that there is a fundamental contradiction in the ordinary scientific conception of the Order of Nature, because the human attributes of self-conscious intelligence and volition, which, according to the theory of evolution, are the outcome of that Order find no place in it. In Essays III. and IV. we found that according to the Christian Revelation the Personal Being of God is the basis of the Order of Nature, of that variety in unity, whose fit and necessary culmination is the personality of the creature. In Essays V. and VI. it was shown that in the deeper teachings of science there is nothing to contradict, but much to corroborate this view of the matter. In Essay VII. we reviewed the ethical aspect of the question, and found that the very ideal Creation, Sonship, implies and necessitates a freedom which can be abused, that it have been abused, and that the only remedy lies in a return to obedience through the things which we suffer. Finally, in Essay VIII., the necessity of realizing the universal and eternal aspect of the Life of Christ, instead of resting in the partial and historical aspect, was shown, while at the same time it was pointed out that only through the historical can we reach the universal.

The argument thus briefly recapitulated, must have been even more inadequate to its subject than the writer fears, if it has not to some extent made clear that the great strength of the intellectual appeal of Christianity lies in its comprehensive. No part of our complex nature is left out of account; and, moreover, the intimate connexion between ourselves and the rest of the creation is fully acknowledged, the latter being specially included in that "redemption of the body," which is so profoundly characteristic of Christian hope and faith. The recognition of the material is therefore a distinguishing mark of Christianity, and of the inspired Christian writings. Man is never treated in the New Testament as if he were only "an immortal soul" as so many expounders of and commentators on the New Testament have treated him, to the great detriment both of faith and practice. The words in which our Lord proclaims His own relation to the resurrection,--those great words which stand at the head of our Burial Service, and which have afforded such unspeakable consolation to countless mourning hearts: "I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth on Me though he die yet shall he live, and he that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die," would be strained out of all natural connexion with the peculiar circumstances under which they were spoken, and deprived of their most obvious sense if we did not understand them to refer to the whole man, soul and body alike. [St. John xi. 17-45] Again, in His answer to the hypothetical case with which the Sadducees, who believed neither "in angel nor spirit," endeavoured to perplex Him, He enters into no argument, and adduces no considerations in favour of the immortality of the soul, but simply reminds His questioners that the living God cannot be the God of the dead, and that since they call Him the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, they themselves testify that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live as "all live, unto Him." Not more in those days than in these would "life" be separated in the minds of ordinary men from all that makes life a reality to them under actual conditions. If desire, love, hope, memory could not be annihilated without the annihilation of the individual soul which desires, loves, hopes, remembers, neither could they, failing of any physical expression, be what men, being men, mean by them.

Now this same truth is what modern science is constantly reiterating in the assertion that mind and body,--so far as our experience goes,--are inseparable, and that we cannot have a human mind apart from the human brain, which is its necessary correlative. There is not the smallest shadow of a doubt that this teaching, becoming almost daily more wide-spread and irrefutable, does undermine the doctrine of "the immorality of the soul"; but then this doctrine is not Christian. What the Christian creed teaches is the indestructibility of both soul and body, which have alike received the Divine impress, and are alike included in the all-embracing redemption of the "Word made flesh." The difficulties that are supposed to surround the subject are almost all shadows, which, once brought into the light, are immediately recognized for the unsubstantial illusions which they are. Not of course that we are freed from mystery; that confronts us here and everywhere. The fact that soul and body are united now, is quite as much beyond explanation as that once united they are inseparable, and that death destroys neither. In fact the first mystery is by far the most profound: on the two last modern science does throw some light if we will avail ourselves of it.

It is of course true that at one time the great body of the Christian Church believed, as the ignorant and unreflecting among its members believe to this day, that the resurrection of the body meant the re-informing with organic life of the very same material particles which entered into the constitution of the body at the time of its death. It is quite possible for Christians to hold this belief, if they are not sufficiently instructed to perceive its intrinsic absurdity, just as it was possible for Christians to hold the opinion that the sun revolved round the earth. But we have no right at all, because want of knowledge and thought, or crude and unverified scientific theories have fathered upon Christian doctrines impossible interpretations of the truths which they express, to look upon the doctrines as standing or falling with the false interpretations. Those persons who hold that the Resurrection means the revivifying of the same material particles which compose the body at the time of death, would also naturally believe that at that period all the particles of matter which had ever formed part of the body since birth, did so still. Now we know on the contrary that the matter composing the body at any given instant, is in a continual state of change. Waste, decay, repair go on all through life, and a man who dies at an average age has certainly changed his whole body several times. This has not interrupted the continuity of either his mental or his physical existence. We are therefore making a very unwarrantable assumption if we assert that it must even be interrupted, much less annihilated, because a more comprehensive and apparently more sudden change takes place at death than during life. What we are assuming is that life and consciousness are indissolubly associated with a particular agglomeration of material particles. This is demonstrably untrue, because life and consciousness have preserved their continuity ever since birth in association with different material particles. What they are apparently indissolubly connected with is some kind of formative power which builds up the body. We have no data whatever upon which to found the assertion that because we do not see that formative power at work upon one particular set of particles, therefore it has ceased to exist. On the contrary, analogy would lead us to precisely the opposite conclusion, for the very essence of this power appears to consist in perpetually utilizing fresh and fresh matter. Without doubt we have here a profound mystery: it is the mystery of life, which not the wisest and most diligent students of nature have yet arrived even at stating in terms that do more than reveal the complete ignorance of those who formulate them. How foolish then to perplex ourselves by defining and measuring the scope of that whose most familiar manifestations lie so far beyond our understanding, and of which one of the most certain and important things we know is that it is not dependent for continuance upon association with any special portions of matter.

Perhaps one difficulty which the writer has heard stated in connexion with this subject may be mentioned here. It is that if the union between soul and body is not an arbitrary connexion, lasting for the short period of life on earth and then dissolved, but a union which belongs to "the nature of things,"--in fact, an expression of the will of God,--how can we reconcile this with the axiom which is one of the cornerstones of physical science, that the quantity of matter in the universe is constant: i.e., that none is ever either created or destroyed. Granting this, must there not come a time when all the available matter will be used up by the continually increasing demand upon it? Without going into any speculations, dangerous in the present state of knowledge, as to what the functions of the "ether" might be in this respect,--that invisible, intangible medium which pervades all space, and interpenetrates all matter, and through whose agency we are sensible alike of heat, of light, and of electrical phenomena, it suffices to remark that the axiom of the uncreatibility of matter belongs only to the known universe. However far we may extend its boundaries, we cannot now persuade ourselves that they are all embracing, so that beyond what we know or can infer there lies nothing. The late Professor Clifford has some striking observations on this subject which well deserve attention: "Before the time of Copernicus," he says, "men knew all about the universe. They could tell you in the schools pat off by heart all that it was, and what it had been, and what it would be......Its history could be traced back to a certain definite time when it began; behind that was a changeless eternity that needed no further history. Its future could be predicted in general terms as far forward as a certain epoch,.....but after that would come again a changeless eternity, which was fully accounted for and described. But in any case the universe was a known thing. Now the enormous effect of the Copernican system and of the astronomical discoveries that followed it is, that in place of this knowledge of a little which was called knowledge of the Universe, of Eternity and Immensity, we have now got knowledge of a great deal more; but we only call it the knowledge of Here and Now. We can tell a great deal about the solar system, but after all it is our house and not the city. We can tell something about the star-system to which our sun belongs, but after all it is our star-system and not the universe. We are talking about Here with the consciousness of a There beyond it, which we may know some time, but do not at all know now." Professor Clifford then goes on to show that even our knowledge of space is limited in the same way: "The geometer of to-day knows nothing about the nature of actually existing space at infinite distance . . . He knows indeed that the laws assumed by Euclid are true with an accuracy no direct experiment can approach, not only in this place where we are, but in places at a distance from us that no geometer has conceived; but he knows this of Here and Now. Beyond his range is a There and Then of which he knows nothing at present, but may ultimately come to know more." [Clifford "Philosophy of the Pure Sciences." in vol. I. of "Lectures and Essays."]

What a comment is this language of agnostic science on our Lord's words to the Sadducees: "Is it not for this cause that ye err that ye know not.....the power of God?" [St. Matt. xii. 24] Here and Now, through the action of that Divine power, the union between spirit and matter is one of the great facts of the universe: it is the condition of self-conscious life as man knows it. There and Then we are told by the Christian revelation that, by the action of the same power, it will be one of the great facts of the universe still, that self-conscious life will still for man be human.

Thus we are comforted by the assurance, impossible to a science of Here and Now, that the mode of existence to which we are to look forward will not be altogether strange, but rather the perfecting and exalting of that with which in a lower stage we are already familiar. Further than this "it is not yet made manifest what we shall be," [1 John iii. 2] save that "we shall be like Him" in Whom we are created, and Who is "the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation," [Col. i. 15] for "we shall see Him even as He is." [1 John iii. 2] In that vision all doubts will be answered, all difficulties resolved, all shadows dispelled. What wonder that in anticipation of its ineffable light and truth one apostle warns us that "he that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as He is pure;" [1 John iii. 3] and another cheers us with the encouraging words: "Be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." [1 Cor. xv. 58]