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. 348-355

[Emma Marie Caillard, 1852-1927, was a writer of novels, science, religion, essays, and poetry. Some of her books are online and can be accessed from The Online Books Page.]


A revelation of God, made under the conditions of actual human life, must inevitably concern man more than the rest of the universe which he knows. It must do so for two reasons:--in the first place, because the need for such a revelation lies in man himself; in the second place, because the Revealer must come in human form. The test, though not the measure, of the truth of a revelation purporting to be Divine, must therefore be its adequacy to supply those needs of man to which it is a response, and to which some reference was made in the last essay. We must now enter into them with more detail.

It has already been said that the needs are personal--that they arise out of that self-conscious life of man which his affections, intelligence and volition express. These do not, however, comprise the whole of his personal activities; there exists in him also a moral sense; he is not only impelled to action by his will, to reasonable action by his intelligence, and to self-satisfying action by his affections, but to right action by his conscience. It is beside our present purpose to investigate the manner in which the moral sense arose. Possibly some readers may be inclined to agree with Professor Huxley, that those are "on the right track" who endeavour to trace "the origin of the moral sentiments in the same way as other natural phenomena by a process of evolution." [Thomas Huxley, "Collected Essays," vol. IX., p. 79.] This view is not, as is commonly supposed, inconsonant with the Christian Revelation; and remembering the fact that the environment must always, in a certain sense, pre-determine the needs of the organic life which it sustains, and that God is the environment of nature, we cannot but perceive that on the theory of evolution, the moral sense of man has only arisen because there is in God that which calls it forth and responds to it. That it is a natural product but enables it to witness with the more force to the Divine righteousness. If man, arrived at a certain stage of his development, can only make further progress, or even maintain that which he has reached by the observance of moral obligations, it is because his environment requires such a self-adaptation on his part, and in the last resort the environment is Divine. What God is, conditions what His universe shall be.

In making this assertion, we are far, however, from having answered the ethical difficulty: we have only stated it in the form best adapted to our consideration. Granted that the moral sense in man, the imperious necessity laid on him of being guided by that moral sense if he is to maintain, much more to develope, a distinctively human life, show that on the whole Nature "makes for righteousness," and therefore that God is righteous, what are we to think of the immoral sentiments? Have not these equally been evolved? Are they not therefore equally natural? Science is supposed to answer both these questions in the affirmative, and in a sense which will presently be pointed out, she really does so; but that sense is not the one in which her dictum is generally understood, and it must therefore be made clear.

We have already repeatedly emphasized the fact that Nature is an Order. That which is "natural" must consequently be in order. An animal whose organs are all performing their functions in a normal manner,--i.e., each subserving in its own sphere the general end of ministering to the life of the body,--is in a natural condition. But let disease supervene in one or more organs, or let a derangement of the nervous system create undue activity in one part at the expense of lowered activity in other parts, and is the animal in a natural condition then? We could not say so,--and that, not because any extra-natural causes have been in action, or because any functions which the organs are performing are themselves unnatural, but simply because they are not in order. Natural activities are being misdirected; and we may say that all disease results, in the first instance, from such misdirection,--from disordered functions in fact. Now, this is equally true in the region of ethics. In its fitting place, and subserving its due end, the maintenance and development of human nature as a harmonious whole, no sentiment is wrong, and no act is wrong; but directly the former is misdirected or the latter misplaced, both become wrong,--i.e., immoral. Anger, even passionate anger, may be righteous indignation if excited at the sight of cruelty or oppression; and the conduct to which such anger leads, even though outwardly violent, may be just and reasonable. The same sentiment and the same conduct, resulting from envy of another's good, or jealousy of another's superiority, becomes malicious and reprehensible. Viewing the matter in this light, we see at once that we cannot speak of the immoral sentiments as having been separately evolved, for the simple reason that they have no independent existence; they are not different from the moral sentiments: they are the latter misdirected, and so bringing discord where there should be harmony. In a similar manner, a diseased organ is not another organ from a healthy one: it is the same organ in an abnormal condition, and therefore functioning wrongly; and that abnormal condition has itself been brought about by previous disorder in other bodily functions,--derangement of digestion, circulation, or some other important process. The question which we have to face, therefore, is the question of disordered functions in Nature;--why should these arise? If the environment of Nature be Divine, how could they arise? It will help us to understand these questions better, and therefore approach them with more hope of solution, if we commence by enquiring where we first perceive the existence of functional disorder.

It is not in inorganic nature considered per se. Within this sphere the great physical laws which long observation and experience have taught us to formulate and to regard as inviolable conduce only to perfect harmony and completeness. Not merely the uniformity, but also the marvellous variety of Nature is due to the fact that, under every conceivable collocation of conditions, the same laws act in precisely the same way. But when living things appear, then that invariable action, necessary though it be to the very continuance of the life of which it seems regardless, is fraught with pain and destruction to myriads of sentient creatures, and most of all, because of his superior powers of mind and body, to man. "The Order of Nature," says a thoughtful and suggestive writer on this subject, "is admirable, but why is it so hard towards us? A hurricane purifies the atmosphere, and is consequently beneficial to the atmosphere. Agreed; none the less does it devastate my dwelling and uproot the trees in my orchard. An earthquake is consistent with the general requirements of our globe. By all means, but it destroys Lisbon. Avalanches expedite the return of spring in high mountainous regions. So be it, but they overwhelm cottages and orchards, and bury herdsman and flock side by side. This is why we complain: we find no fault with Nature in herself, but with Nature in her relation to us. . . . . What we call evil in the physical world . . . . . is never anything but this,--a relation between Nature and ourselves, which is prejudicial to our interests or wounding to our sensibilities." ["Ernest Naville Le Probleme du Mal," pp. 61, 62, 2nd edition.] And we may with equal truth say that what we call evil in the organic world is a relation between the beings composing it, which, though promoting the interests of some, is prejudicial and even destructive to the interests of others; and what we call evil in the moral world is a relation between man and man which makes their interests appear incompatible, or between the various parts of man's own complex nature, which seems to set them at war with one another. We feel that there ought to be harmony and we find discord, and our nature cries out against this as showing a radical contradiction somewhere. It is an age-long sorrow, an age- long perplexity that, regarded from the moral standpoint, nature does not seem to be an order. With an apparently complete disregard of justice and righteousness as man understands them, she punishes ignorance more than vice; she confronts us with disease, decay, death, with countless victims to her inexorable laws, who are guiltless of any offence save that of being in existence, with a perpetual strife between the myriads of living creatures which she has brought forth. And in this strife the race is always to the swift and the battle to the strong, so that one of the first and most prominent apostles of the modern form of the evolution theory was driven to say that "the cosmic process has no sort of relation to moral ends," [Huxley, "Collected Essays," vol. IX., p. 83.] and that "laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process," [Huxley, p. 82.] as though on the assumption of evolution being the cosmic process at all, "laws and moral precepts" must not be an outcome of it. "Thousands and thousands of our fellows," says this late leader of scientific thought, "have preceded us in finding themselves face to face with the same dread problem of evil. They also have seen that the cosmic process is full of wonder, full of beauty, full of pain. They have sought to discover the bearing of these great facts on ethics: to find out whether there is or is not a sanction for morality in the ways of the Cosmos," and, according to him, when they thought they had answered this question in the affirmative, they were invariably mistaken, because, as a matter of fact, there is no such sanction. We have seen that this view is incorrect,--that there is "a sanction for morality in the ways of the Cosmos," because man is an outcome of those "ways," and because he can only live as and develope as man by giving heed "to the laws and moral precepts" which lead him ever towards a higher and higher ethical state. But as to the reason of the disorder that evidently exists, as to the apparent impossibility of man's ever attaining to the condition which with more or less adequacy according to his intellectual and moral status, he pictures to himself as the goal of his being, we cannot, from a study of the "natural" sciences alone, obtain data sufficient to venture even a guess. All we seem to perceive is, that the root of the disorder lies somehow in man himself. It is he who finds fault with cosmic conditions; it is on him they seem to bear so hardly, and in every region of human thought, human wrong and human suffering, is formulated more or less distinctly the question why.

One answer,--almost the only one which to modern ideas appears even plausible,--is imperfect development. Man, it is said, is process of formation. Great as are the advances he has made upon his primitive condition, the race is still in its childhood, and what has been accomplished already is as nothing compared to what may be justifiably and reasonably expected in the future. Granting to this argument its full weight, it takes us but a very little way towards a solution of our problem. That man is undergoing a process of development is patent even to those who object to the larger issues of the evolution theory, but that which is developing need not at any stage be inadequately adjusted to surrounding conditions. All the capacities so far evolved may be in perfect correspondence with the environment, and though the partially developed life is less full and complex than it will be when it has reached maturity, it need not be maimed, or stunted, or defrauded of a healthy activity. Yet this is what we find in man,--physical disease, mental disease, moral disease, and the first of these three we find also throughout the organic world. Imperfect development, or rather development in its earlier stages cannot account for this, and in order to satisfy either the reason or the moral sense, which alike protest against such a condition of things, we must combine with the facts of science and history the facts of the Christian Revelations.

In the first place, we must notice that in the inspired records of that Revelation, the disorder is recognized. No attempt is made to persuade us that evil is but a lower form of good,--that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds," and that "whatever is, is right." On the contrary, we are clearly given to understand that the creation of God has not attained to His ideal for it: that the world,--the universe as known to man,--has fallen into a condition which is not its true or natural condition, and that it needs a deliverer,--a Saviour. Therefore, we are told, God so loved the world that He sent His Son to save the world. It has already been pointed out, that apart from any need for redemption, a manifestation of God to man under conditions of human life,--in other words, an Incarnation,--was needed in order that the Divine environment should suffice to the needs of man's personal nature. How far more profoundly necessary does such a manifestation appear when we are confronted by the ethical aspect of the question, the need to restore order and harmony where order and harmony have been lost. "Every man's and every woman's eyes cry through dim and misty strugglings: Oh, do us justice! we have human hearts within! we are not walking statues! we can love, we can worship, we have God's Spirit in us, but we cannot believe it ourselves, or make others believe it! Oh, teach us . . . . Oh, make us one! All the world--generations have but one voice. How can we become one?--at harmony with God and with God's universe. Tell us this." [C. Kinglsey, vol. II., chap. IV., of "Life." Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of His Life, Volume 1, pg 101] And the answer to the cry is to be found in the realization of the Divine--human prayer which the Incarnation renders possible, nay, rather shows to be the one possibility for which the creation of God was brought into being: "that they all may be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us . . . . . that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one . . . . . that the love wherewith Thou lovedst Me may be in them, and I in them." [St. John xvii., 21, 22, 23, 26.] This is the remedy for the disorder which has arisen wherever it has arisen. Man knows that disorder in himself;--how far its appearance in the world external to him is a projected effect of his own condition, and how far a participation in that condition he does not know; but the revelation which makes the unity of the Divine Son with the Father the basis of the unity of God with man, and of man with his fellow-man, embraces within its scope all creaturely existence. There can be no deeper, wider basis for unity than this, no more radical or far-reaching remedy for discord, because that basis and that remedy lie in the Divine Nature Itself.

In the Divine Nature Itself also lies, according to the Christian revelation, the possibility of discord arising,--not the reason for its actually having done so: that we must seek in created, not in uncreated will,--but the possibility merely. He in whom the Cosmos lives, and moves, and has its being, reveals to us that He brought it forth after an ideal, to be realized in time, and that ideal, Sonship. Now it is easy to see that to bring forth after an ideal imposes of necessity limitation both on the Creator and on that which is brought forth. The latter is potentially all that the ideal implies; it is not potentially what the ideal does not imply. Those conditions of development are alone possible, therefore, which conduce to the actualization of the ideal, so that in revealing Himself as creating after an ideal, God reveals Himself also as self-limited in a two-fold manner. Such and no other is His ideal; such and no other must be its conditions of development; and since His ideal is Sonship, the conditions can only be such as to conduce to the attainment on the part of the creature, of such powers and capacities as shall enable it to enter into that conscious and voluntary communion with the Father which Sonship implies. To this end there must be freedom; compulsion is precluded, because it does not enter into the ideal relation between Father and Son, and therefore though the conditions of development must "make for righteousness" (as we have seen that in fact they do,) because the Father is righteous, it cannot be for enforced righteousness, any more than for enforced love, because the righteousness and love of the Father are free, the spontaneous outcome of infinite perfection. This is the righteousness and love in which the creature is brought forth to share, of which the filial utterance, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, Oh God," is the true creaturely expression, since it is the language of the eternal Son, the creature's archetype, who knows, as the creature in order to attain to the Divine ideal must also learn to know, that the Divine will is one with the highest good.

"Though He were a Son yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." This is said of Christ as the representative of the creature, the first-born of creation, and so far as suffering is concerned, it contains the clue to all which the creature is going through now. It also is learning obedience, self-surrender, the joy and glory of sacrifice, the meaning of love, which is the soul of sacrifice by the things which it suffers; and though we do not now see the consummation reached, though failure, waste, fruitless endeavour seem to be written large, not only on many human individuals, and on many nations and civilizations, but also over wide tracts of the lower organic and even the inorganic world; yet the truth which science and the Christian revelation alike insist on of the organic unity of Nature, gives us, if we look at it in the light of that revelation, just reason for the hope that if and when our knowledge is no longer "in part," we shall find--

    "That nothing walks with aimless feet
          That not one life shall be destroyed,
          Or cast as rubbish to the void
    When God hath made the pile complete.

    "That not a worm is cloven in vain;
          That not a moth with vain desire
          Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire.
    Or but subserves another's gain."
                ["In Memoriam." liv. Tennyson]

This, we say, is the light in which the Christian revelation teaches us to regard sacrifice, even compassed about with suffering as to man's apprehension it is. Sacrifice is the law of life, of all joyful and healthful activity, therefore, but because of his disordered condition, it is felt, genuinely felt, not imagined, to be a burden and a sorrow. It was so felt even by Him Who came to heal the disordered conditions of His creation, because only by truly entering into those conditions could He penetrate them with His own perfect life of sacrifice and love.

Proofread by LNL, Nov. 2020