We are now able to determine what a dogma of faith is, and what it is to believe it. A dogma is a proposition; it stands for a notion or for a thing; and to believe it is to give the assent of the mind to it, as it stands for the one or for the other. To give a real assent to it is an act of religion; to give a notional, is a theological act. It is discerned, rested in, and appropriated as a reality, by the religious imagination; it is held as a truth, by the theological intellect.
Not as if there were in fact, or could be, any line of demarcation or party-wall between these two modes of assent, the religious and the theological. As intellect is common to all men as well as imagination, every religious man is to a certain extent a theologian, and no theology can start or thrive without the initiative and abiding presence of religion. As in matters of this world, sense, sensation, instinct, intuition, supply us with facts, and the intellect uses them; so, as regards our relations with the Supreme Being, we get our facts from the witness, first of nature, then of revelation, and our doctrines, in which they issue, through the exercise of abstraction and inference. This is obvious; but it does not interfere with holding that there is a theological habit of mind, and a religious, each distinct from each, religion using theology, and theology using religion. This being understood, I propose to consider the dogmas of the Being of a God, and of the Divine Trinity in Unity, in their relation to assent, both notional and real, and principally to real assent;—however, I have not yet finished all I have to say by way of introduction.
Now first, my subject is assent, and not inference. I am not proposing to set forth the arguments which issue in the belief of these doctrines, but to investigate what it is to believe in them, what the mind does, what it contemplates, when it makes an act of faith. It is true that the same elementary facts which create an object for an assent, also furnish matter for an inference: and in showing what we believe, I shall unavoidably be in a measure showing why we believe; but this is the very reason that makes it necessary for me at the outset to insist on the real distinction between these two concurring and coincident courses of thought, and to premise by way of caution, lest I should be misunderstood, that I am not considering the question that there is a God, but rather what God is.
And secondly, I mean by belief, not precisely faith, because faith, in its theological sense, includes a belief, not only in the thing believed, but also in the ground of believing; that is, not only belief in certain doctrines, but belief in them expressly because God has revealed them; but here I am engaged only with what is called the material object of faith, not with the formal,—with the thing believed. The Almighty witnesses to Himself in Revelation; we believe that He is One and that He is Three, because He says so. We believe also what He tells us about His Attributes, His providences and dispensations, His determinations and acts, what He has done and what He will do. And if all this is too much for us, whether to bring before our minds at one time from its variety, or even to apprehend at all or enunciate from our narrowness of intellect or want of learning, then at least we believe in globo all that He has revealed to us about Himself, and that, because He has revealed it. However, this “because He says it” does not enter into the scope of the present inquiry, but only the truths themselves, and these particular truths, “He is One,” “He is Three;” and of these two, both of which are in Revelation, I shall consider “He is One,” not as a revealed truth, but as, what it is also, a natural truth, the foundation of all religion. And with it I begin.
§ 1. Belief in One God.
There is one GOD, such and such in Nature and Attributes.
I say “such and such,” for, unless I explain what I mean by “one God,” I use words which may mean any thing or nothing. I may mean a mere anima mundi; or an initial principle which once was in action and now is not; or collective humanity. I speak then of the God of the Theist and of the Christian: a God who is numerically One, who is Personal; the Author, Sustainer, and Finisher of all things, the life of Law and Order, the Moral Governor; One who is Supreme and Sole; like Himself, unlike all things besides Himself, which all are but His creatures; distinct from, independent of them all; One who is self-existing, absolutely infinite, who has ever been and ever will be, to whom nothing is past or future; who is all perfection, and the fulness and archetype of every possible excellence, the Truth Itself, Wisdom, Love, Justice, Holiness; One who is All-powerful, All-knowing, Omnipresent, Incomprehensible. These are some of the distinctive prerogatives which I ascribe unconditionally and unreservedly to the great Being whom I call God.
This being what Theists mean when they speak of God, their assent to this truth admits without difficulty of being what I have called a notional assent. It is an assent following upon acts of inference, and other purely intellectual exercises; and it is an assent to a large development of predicates, correlative to each other, or at least intimately connected together, drawn out as if on paper, as we might map a country which we had never seen, or construct mathematical tables, or master the methods of discovery of Newton or Davy, without being geographers, mathematicians, or chemists ourselves.
So far is clear; but the question follows, Can I attain to any more vivid assent to the Being of a God, than that which is given merely to notions of the intellect? Can I enter with a personal knowledge into the circle of truths which make up that great thought? Can I rise to what I have called an imaginative apprehension of it? Can I believe as if I saw? Since such a high assent requires a present experience or memory of the fact, at first sight it would seem as if the answer must be in the negative; for how can I assent as if I saw, unless I have seen? but no one in this life can see God. Yet I conceive a real assent is possible, and I proceed to show how.
When it is said that we cannot see God, this is undeniable; but in what sense have we a discernment of His creatures, of the individual beings which surround us? The evidence which we have of their presence lies in the phenomena which address our senses, and our warrant for taking these for evidence is our instinctive certitude that they are evidence. By the law of our nature we associate those sensible phenomena or impressions with certain units, individuals, substances, whatever they are to be called, which are outside and out of the reach of sense, and we picture them to ourselves in those phenomena. The phenomena are as if pictures; but at the same time they give us no exact measure or character of the unknown things beyond them;—for who will say there is any uniformity between the impressions which two of us would respectively have of some third thing, supposing one of us had only the sense of touch, and the other only the sense of hearing? Therefore, when we speak of our having a picture of the things which are perceived through the senses, we mean a certain representation, true as far as it goes, but not adequate.
And so of those intellectual and moral objects which are brought home to us through our senses:—that they exist, we know by instinct; that they are such and such, we apprehend from the impressions which they leave upon our minds. Thus the life and writings of Cicero or Dr. Johnson, of St. Jerome or St. Chrysostom, leave upon us certain impressions of the intellectual and moral character of each of them, sui generis, and unmistakable. We take up a passage of Chrysostom or a passage of Jerome; there is no possibility of confusing the one with the other; in each case we see the man in his language. And so of any great man whom we may have known: that he is not a mere impression on our senses, but a real being, we know by instinct; that he is such and such, we know by the matter or quality of that impression.
Now certainly the thought of God, as Theists entertain it, is not gained by an instinctive association of His presence with any sensible phenomena; but the office which the senses directly fulfil as regards creation that devolves indirectly on certain of our mental phenomena as regards the Creator. Those phenomena are found in the sense of moral obligation. As from a multitude of instinctive perceptions, acting in particular instances, of something beyond the senses, we generalize the notion of an external world, and then picture that world in and according to those particular phenomena from which we started, so from the perceptive power which identifies the intimations of conscience with the reverberations or echoes (so to say) of an external admonition, we proceed on to the notion of a Supreme Ruler and Judge, and then again we image Him and His attributes in those recurring intimations, out of which, as mental phenomena, our recognition of His existence was originally gained. And, if the impressions which His creatures make on us through our senses oblige us to regard those creatures as sui generis respectively, it is not wonderful that the notices, which He indirectly gives us through our conscience, of His own nature are such as to make us understand that He is like Himself and like nothing else.
I have already said I am not proposing here to prove the Being of a God; yet I have found it impossible to avoid saying where I look for the proof of it. For I am looking for that proof in the same quarter as that from which I would commence a proof of His attributes and character,—by the same means as those by which I show how we apprehend Him, not merely as a notion, but as a reality. The last indeed of these three investigations alone concerns me here, but I cannot altogether exclude the two former from my consideration. However, I repeat, what I am directly aiming at, is to explain how we gain an image of God and give a real assent to the proposition that He exists. And next, in order to do this, of course I must start from some first principle;—and that first principle, which I assume and shall not attempt to prove, is that which I should also use as a foundation in those other two inquiries, viz. that we have by nature a conscience.
I assume, then, that Conscience has a legitimate place among our mental acts; as really so, as the action of memory, of reasoning, of imagination, or as the sense of the beautiful; that, as there are objects which, when presented to the mind, cause it to feel grief, regret, joy, or desire, so there are things which excite in us approbation or blame, and which we in consequence call right or wrong; and which, experienced in ourselves, kindle in us that specific sense of pleasure or pain, which goes by the name of a good or bad conscience. This being taken for granted, I shall attempt to show that in this special feeling, which follows on the commission of what we call right or wrong, lie the materials for the real apprehension of a Divine Sovereign and Judge.
The feeling of conscience (being, I repeat, a certain keen sensibility, pleasant or painful,—self-approval and hope, or compunction and fear,—attendant on certain of our actions, which in consequence we call right or wrong) is twofold:—it is a moral sense, and a sense of duty; a judgment of the reason and a magisterial dictate. Of course its act is indivisible; still it has these two aspects, distinct from each other, and admitting of a separate consideration. Though I lost my sense of the obligation which I lie under to abstain from acts of dishonesty, I should not in consequence lose my sense that such actions were an outrage offered to my moral nature. Again; though I lost my sense of their moral deformity, I should not therefore lose my sense that they were forbidden to me. Thus conscience has both a critical and a judicial office, and though its promptings, in the breasts of the millions of human beings to whom it is given, are not in all cases correct, that does not necessarily interfere with the force of its testimony and of its sanction: its testimony that there is a right and a wrong, and its sanction to that testimony conveyed in the feelings which attend on right or wrong conduct. Here I have to speak of conscience in the latter point of view, not as supplying us, by means of its various acts, with the elements of morals, such as may be developed by the intellect into an ethical code, but simply as the dictate of an authoritative monitor bearing upon the details of conduct as they come before us, and complete in its several acts, one by one.
Let us then thus consider conscience, not as a rule of right conduct, but as a sanction of right conduct. This is its primary and most authoritative aspect; it is the ordinary sense of the word. Half the world would be puzzled to know what was meant by the moral sense; but every one knows what is meant by a good or bad conscience. Conscience is ever forcing on us by threats and by promises that we must follow the right and avoid the wrong; so far it is one and the same in the mind of every one, whatever be its particular errors in particular minds as to the acts which it orders to be done or to be avoided; and in this respect it corresponds to our perception of the beautiful and deformed. As we have naturally a sense of the beautiful and graceful in nature and art, though tastes proverbially differ, so we have a sense of duty and obligation, whether we all associate it with the same certain actions in particular or not. Here, however, Taste and Conscience part company: for the sense of beautifulness, as indeed the Moral Sense, has no special relations to persons, but contemplates objects in themselves; conscience, on the other hand, is concerned with persons primarily, and with actions mainly as viewed in their doers, or rather with self alone and one’s own actions, and with others only indirectly and as if in association with self. And further, taste is its own evidence, appealing to nothing beyond its own sense of the beautiful or the ugly, and enjoying the specimens of the beautiful simply for their own sake; but conscience does not repose on itself, but vaguely reaches forward to something beyond self, and dimly discerns a sanction higher than self for its decisions, as is evidenced in that keen sense of obligation and responsibility which informs them. And hence it is that we are accustomed to speak of conscience as a voice,—a term which we should never think of applying to the sense of the beautiful; and moreover a voice, or the echo of a voice, imperative and constraining, like no other dictate in the whole of our experience.
And again, in consequence of this prerogative of dictating and commanding, which is of its essence, Conscience has an intimate bearing on our affections and emotions, leading us to reverence and awe, hope and fear, especially fear, a feeling which is foreign for the most part, not only to Taste, but even to the Moral Sense, except in consequence of accidental associations. No fear is felt by any one who recognizes that his conduct has not been beautiful, though he may be mortified at himself, if perhaps he has thereby forfeited some advantage; but, if he has been betrayed into any kind of immorality, he has a lively sense of responsibility and guilt, though the act be no offence against society,—of distress and apprehension, even though it may be of present service to him,—of compunction and regret, though in itself it be most pleasurable,—of confusion of face, though it may have no witnesses. These various perturbations of mind, which are characteristic of a bad conscience, and may be very considerable,—self-reproach, poignant shame, haunting remorse, chill dismay at the prospect of the future,—and their contraries, when the conscience is good, as real though less forcible, self-approval, inward peace, lightness of heart, and the like,—these emotions constitute a specific difference between conscience and our other intellectual senses,—common sense, good sense, sense of expedience, taste, sense of honour, and the like,—as indeed they would also constitute between conscience and the moral sense, supposing these two were not aspects of one and the same feeling, exercised upon one and the same subject-matter.
So much for the characteristic phenomena, which conscience presents, nor is it difficult to determine what they imply. I refer once more to our sense of the beautiful. This sense is attended by an intellectual enjoyment, and is free from whatever is of the nature of emotion, except in one case, viz. when it is excited by personal objects; then it is that the tranquil feeling of admiration is exchanged for the excitement of affection and passion. Conscience too, considered as a moral sense, an intellectual sentiment, is a sense of admiration and disgust, of approbation and blame: but it is something more than a moral sense; it is always, what the sense of the beautiful is only in certain cases; it is always emotional. No wonder then that it always implies what that sense only sometimes implies; that it always involves the recognition of a living object, towards which it is directed. Inanimate things cannot stir our affections; these are correlative with persons. If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened, at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear. If, on doing wrong, we feel the same tearful, broken-hearted sorrow which overwhelms us on hurting a mother; if, on doing right, we enjoy the same sunny serenity of mind, the same soothing, satisfactory delight which follows on our receiving praise from a father, we certainly have within us the image of some person, to whom our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and waste away. These feelings in us are such as require for their exciting cause an intelligent being: we are not affectionate towards a stone, nor do we feel shame before a horse or a dog; we have no remorse or compunction on breaking mere human law: yet, so it is, conscience excites all these painful emotions, confusion, foreboding, self-condemnation; and on the other hand it sheds upon us a deep peace, a sense of security, a resignation, and a hope, which there is no sensible, no earthly object to elicit. “The wicked flees, when no one pursueth;” then why does he flee? whence his terror? Who is it that he sees in solitude, in darkness, in the hidden chambers of his heart? If the cause of these emotions does not belong to this visible world, the Object to which his perception is directed must be Supernatural and Divine; and thus the phenomena of Conscience, as a dictate, avail to impress the imagination with the picture of a Supreme Governor, a Judge, holy, just, powerful, all-seeing, retributive, and is the creative principle of religion, as the Moral Sense is the principle of ethics.
And let me here refer again to the fact, to which I have already drawn attention, that this instinct of the mind recognizing an external Master in the dictate of conscience, and imaging the thought of Him in the definite impressions which conscience creates, is parallel to that other law of, not only human, but of brute nature, by which the presence of unseen individual beings is discerned under the shifting shapes and colours of the visible world. Is it by sense, or by reason, that brutes understand the real unities, material and spiritual, which are signified by the lights and shadows, the brilliant ever-changing calidoscope, as it may be called, which plays upon their retina? Not by reason, for they have not reason; not by sense, because they are transcending sense; therefore it is an instinct. This faculty on the part of brutes, unless we were used to it, would strike us as a great mystery. It is one peculiarity of animal natures to be susceptible of phenomena through the channels of sense; it is another to have in those sensible phenomena a perception of the individuals to which this or that group of them belongs. This perception of individual things, amid the maze of shapes and colours which meets their sight, is given to brutes in large measures, and that, apparently from the moment of their birth. It is by no mere physical instinct, such as that which leads him to his mother for milk, that the new-dropped lamb recognizes each of his fellow lambkins as a whole, consisting of many parts bound up in one, and, before he is an hour old, makes experience of his and their rival individualities. And much more distinctly do the horse and dog recognize even the personality of their masters. How are we to explain this apprehension of things, which are one and individual, in the midst of a world of pluralities and transmutations, whether in the instance of brutes or again of children? But until we account for the knowledge which an infant has of his mother or his nurse, what reason have we to take exception at the doctrine, as strange and difficult, that in the dictate of conscience, without previous experiences or analogical reasoning, he is able gradually to perceive the voice, or the echoes of the voice, of a Master, living, personal, and sovereign?
I grant, of course, that we cannot assign a date, ever so early, before which he had learned nothing at all, and formed no mental associations, from the words and conduct of those who have the care of him. But still, if a child of five or six years old, when reason is at length fully awake, has already mastered and appropriated thoughts and beliefs, in consequence of their teaching, in such sort as to be able to handle and apply them familiarly, according to the occasion, as principles of intellectual action, those beliefs at the very least must be singularly congenial to his mind, if not connatural with its initial action. And that such a spontaneous reception of religious truths is common with children, I shall take for granted, till I am convinced that I am wrong in so doing. The child keenly understands that there is a difference between right and wrong; and when he has done what he believes to be wrong, he is conscious that he is offending One to whom he is amenable, whom he does not see, who sees him. His mind reaches forward with a strong presentiment to the thought of a Moral Governor, sovereign over him, mindful, and just. It comes to him like an impulse of nature to entertain it.
It is my wish to take an ordinary child, but still one who is safe from influences destructive of his religious instincts. Supposing he has offended his parents, he will all alone and without effort, as if it were the most natural of acts, place himself in the presence of God, and beg of Him to set him right with them. Let us consider how much is contained in this simple act. First, it involves the impression on his mind of an unseen Being with whom he is in immediate relation, and that relation so familiar that he can address Him whenever he himself chooses; next, of One whose goodwill towards him he is assured of, and can take for granted—nay, who loves him better, and is nearer to him, than his parents; further, of One who can hear him, wherever he happens to be, and who can read his thoughts, for his prayer need not be vocal; lastly, of One who can effect a critical change in the state of feeling of others towards him. That is, we shall not be wrong in holding that this child has in his mind the image of an Invisible Being, who exercises a particular providence among us, who is present every where, who is heart-reading, heart-changing, ever-accessible, open to impetration. What a strong and intimate vision of God must he have already attained, if, as I have supposed, an ordinary trouble of mind has the spontaneous effect of leading him for consolation and aid to an Invisible Personal Power!
Moreover, this image brought before his mental vision is the image of One who by implicit threat and promise commands certain things which he, the same child, coincidently, by the same act of his mind, approves; which receive the adhesion of his moral sense and judgment, as right and good. It is the image of One who is good, inasmuch as enjoining and enforcing what is right and good, and who, in consequence, not only excites in the child hope and fear,—nay (it may be added), gratitude towards Him, as giving a law and maintaining it by reward and punishment,—but kindles in him love towards Him, as giving him a good law, and therefore as being good Himself, for it is the property of goodness to kindle love, or rather the very object of love is goodness; and all those distinct elements of the moral law, which the typical child, whom I am supposing, more or less consciously loves and approves,—truth, purity, justice, kindness, and the like,—are but shapes and aspects of goodness. And having in his degree a sensibility towards them all, for the sake of them all he is moved to love the Lawgiver, who enjoins them upon him. And, as he can contemplate these qualities and their manifestations under the common name of goodness, he is prepared to think of them as indivisible, correlative, supplementary of each other in one and the same Personality, so that there is no aspect of goodness which God is not; and that the more, because the notion of a perfection embracing all possible excellences, both moral and intellectual, is especially congenial to the mind, and there are in fact intellectual attributes, as well as moral, included in the child’s image of God, as above represented.
Such is the apprehension which even a child may have of his Sovereign Lawgiver and Judge; which is possible in the case of children, because, at least, some children possess it, whether others possess it or no; and which, when it is found in children, is found to act promptly and keenly, by reason of the paucity of their ideas. It is an image of the good God, good in Himself, good relatively to the child, with whatever incompleteness; an image before it has been reflected on, and before it is recognized by him as a notion. Though he cannot explain or define the word “God,” when told to use it, his acts show that to him it is far more than a word. He listens, indeed, with wonder and interest to fables or tales; he has a dim, shadowy sense of what he hears about persons and matters of this world; but he has that within him which actually vibrates, responds, and gives a deep meaning to the lessons of his first teachers about the will and the providence of God.
How far this initial religious knowledge comes from without, and how far from within, how much is natural, how much implies a special divine aid which is above nature, we have no means of determining, nor is it necessary for my present purpose to determine. I am not engaged in tracing the image of God in the mind of a child or a man to its first origins, but showing that he can become possessed of such an image, over and above all mere notions of God, and in what that image consists. Whether its elements, latent in the mind, would ever be elicited without extrinsic help is very doubtful; but whatever be the actual history of the first formation of the divine image within us, so far at least is certain, that, by informations external to ourselves, as time goes on, it admits of being strengthened and improved. It is certain too, that, whether it grows brighter and stronger, or, on the other hand, is dimmed, distorted, or obliterated, depends on each of us individually, and on his circumstances. It is more than probable that, in the event, from neglect, from the temptations of life, from bad companions, or from the urgency of secular occupations, the light of the soul will fade away and die out. Men transgress their sense of duty, and gradually lose those sentiments of shame and fear, the natural supplements of transgression, which, as I have said, are the witnesses of the Unseen Judge. And, even were it deemed impossible that those who had in their first youth a genuine apprehension of Him, could ever utterly lose it, yet that apprehension may become almost undistinguishable from an inferential acceptance of the great truth, or may dwindle into a mere notion of their intellect. On the contrary, the image of God, if duly cherished, may expand, deepen, and be completed, with the growth of their powers and in the course of life, under the varied lessons, within and without them, which are brought home to them concerning that same God, One and Personal, by means of education, social intercourse, experience, and literature.
To a mind thus carefully formed upon the basis of its natural conscience, the world, both of nature and of man, does but give back a reflection of those truths about the One Living God, which have been familiar to it from childhood. Good and evil meet us daily as we pass through life, and there are those who think it philosophical to act towards the manifestations of each with some sort of impartiality, as if evil had as much right to be there as good, or even a better, as having more striking triumphs and a broader jurisdiction. And because the course of things is determined by fixed laws, they consider that those laws preclude the present agency of the Creator in the carrying out of particular issues. It is otherwise with the theology of a religious imagination. It has a living hold on truths which are really to be found in the world, though they are not upon the surface. It is able to pronounce by anticipation, what it takes a long argument to prove—that good is the rule, and evil the exception. It is able to assume that, uniform as are the laws of nature, they are consistent with a particular Providence. It interprets what it sees around it by this previous inward teaching, as the true key of that maze of vast complicated disorder; and thus it gains a more and more consistent and luminous vision of God from the most unpromising materials. Thus conscience is a connecting principle between the creature and his Creator; and the firmest hold of theological truths is gained by habits of personal religion. When men begin all their works with the thought of God, acting for His sake and to fulfil His will, when they ask His blessing on themselves and their life, pray to Him for the objects they desire, and see Him in the event, whether it be according to their prayers or not, they will find every thing that happens tend to confirm them in the truth about Him which live in their imagination, varied and unearthly as those truths may be. Then they are brought into His presence as that of a Living Person, and are able to hold converse with Him, and that with a directness and simplicity, with a confidence and intimacy, mutatis mutandis, which we use towards an earthly superior; so that it is doubtful whether we realize the company of our fellow-men with greater keenness than these favoured minds are able to contemplate and adore the Unseen, Incomprehensible Creator.
This vivid apprehension of religious objects, on which I have been enlarging, is independent of the written records of Revelation; it does not require any knowledge of Scripture, nor of the history or the teaching of the Catholic Church. It is independent of books. But if so much may be traced out in the twilight of Natural Religion, it is obvious how great an addition in fulness and exactness is made to our mental image of the Divine Personality and Attributes, by the light of Christianity. And, indeed, to give us a clear and sufficient object for our faith, is one main purpose of the supernatural Dispensations of Religion. This purpose is carried out in the written Word, with an effectiveness which inspiration alone could secure, first, by the histories which form so large a portion of the Old Testament; and scarcely less impressively in the prophetical system, as it is gradually unfolded and perfected in the writings of those who were its ministers and spokesmen. And as the exercise of the affections strengthens our apprehension of the object of them, it is impossible to exaggerate the influence exerted on the religious imagination by a book of devotions so sublime, so penetrating, so full of deep instruction as the Psalter, to say nothing of other portions of the Hagiographa. And then as regards the New Testament, the Gospels, from their subject, contain a manifestation of the Divine Nature, so special, as to make it appear from the contrast as if nothing were known of God, when they are unknown. Lastly, the Apostolic Epistles, the long history of the Church, with its fresh exhibitions of Divine Agency, the Lives of the Saints, and the reasonings, internal collisions, and decisions of the Theological School, form an extended comment on the words and works of our Lord.
I think I need not say more in illustration of the subject which I proposed for consideration in this Section. I have wished to trace the process by which the mind arrives, not only at a notional, but at an imaginative or real assent to the doctrine that there is One God, that is, an assent made with an apprehension, not only of what the words of the proposition mean, but of the object denoted by them. Without a proposition or thesis there can be no assent, no belief, at all; any more than there can be an inference without a conclusion. The proposition that there is One Personal and Present God may be held in either way; either as a theological truth, or as a religious fact or reality. The notion and the reality assented-to are represented by one and the same proposition, but serve as distinct interpretations of it. When the proposition is apprehended for the purposes of proof, analysis, comparison, and the like intellectual exercises, it is used as the expression of a notion; when for the purposes of devotion, it is the image of a reality. Theology, properly and directly, deals with notional apprehension; religion with imaginative.
Here we have the solution of the common mistake of supposing that there is a contrariety and antagonism between a dogmatic creed and vital religion. People urge that salvation consists, not in believing the propositions that there is a God, that there is a Saviour, that our Lord is God, that there is a Trinity, but in believing in God, in a Saviour, in a Sanctifier; and they object that such propositions are but a formal and human medium destroying all true reception of the Gospel, and making religion a matter of words or of logic, instead of its having its seat in the heart. They are right so far as this, that men can and sometimes do rest in the propositions themselves as expressing intellectual notions; they are wrong, when they maintain that men need do so or always do so. The propositions may and must be used, and can easily be used, as the expression of facts, not notions, and they are necessary to the mind in the same way that language is ever necessary for denoting facts, both for ourselves as individuals, and for our intercourse with others. Again, they are useful in their dogmatic aspect as ascertaining and making clear for us the truths on which the religious imagination has to rest. Knowledge must ever precede the exercise of the affections. We feel gratitude and love, we feel indignation and dislike, when we have the informations actually put before us which are to kindle those several emotions. We love our parents, as our parents, when we know them to be our parents; we must know concerning God, before we can feel love, fear, hope, or trust towards Him. Devotion must have its objects; those objects, as being supernatural, when not represented to our senses by material symbols, must be set before the mind in propositions. The formula, which embodies a dogma for the theologian, readily suggests an object for the worshipper. It seems a truism to say, yet it is all that I have been saying, that in religion the imagination and affections should always be under the control of reason. Theology may stand as a substantive science, though it be without the life of religion; but religion cannot maintain its ground at all without theology. Sentiment, whether imaginative or emotional, falls back upon the intellect for its stay, when sense cannot be called into exercise; and it is in this way that devotion falls back upon dogma.
§ 2. Belief in the Holy Trinity.
Of course I cannot hope to carry all inquiring minds with me in what I have been laying down in the foregoing Section. I have appealed to the testimony given implicitly by our conscience to the Divine Being and His Attributes, and there are those, I know, whose experience will not respond to the appeal:—doubtless; but are there any truths which have reality, whether of experience or of reason, which are not disputed by some schools of philosophy or some bodies of men? If we assume nothing but what has universal reception, the field of our possible discussions will suffer much contraction; so that it must be considered sufficient in any inquiry, if the principles or facts assumed have a large following. This condition is abundantly fulfilled as regards the authority and religious meaning of conscience;—that conscience is the voice of God has almost grown into a proverb. This solemn dogma is recognized as such by the great mass both of the young and of the uneducated, by the religious few and the irreligious many. It is proclaimed in the history and literature of nations; it has had supporters in all ages, places, creeds, forms of social life, professions, and classes. It has held its ground under great intellectual and moral disadvantages; it has recovered its supremacy, and ultimately triumphed in the minds of those who had rebelled against it. Even philosophers, who have been antagonists on other points, agree in recognizing the inward voice of that solemn Monitor, personal, peremptory, unargumentative, irresponsible, minatory, definitive. This I consider relieves me of the necessity of arguing with those who would resolve our sense of right and wrong into a sense of the Expedient or the Beautiful, or would refer its authoritative suggestions to the effect of teaching or of association. There are those who can see and hear for all the common purposes of life, yet have no eye for colours or their shades, or no ear for music; moreover, there are degrees of sensibility to colours and to sounds, in the comparison of man with man, while some men are stone-blind or stone-deaf. Again, all men, as time goes on, have the prospect of losing that keenness of sight and hearing which they possessed in their youth; and so, in like manner, we may lose in manhood and in age that sense of a Supreme Teacher and Judge which was the gift of our first years; and that the more, because in most men the imagination suffers from the lapse of time and the experience of life, long before the bodily senses fail. And this accords with the advice of the sacred writer to “remember our Creator in the days of our youth,” while our moral sensibilities are fresh, “before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars be darkened, and the clouds return after the rain.” Accordingly, if there be those who deny that the dictate of conscience is ever more than a taste, or an association, it is a less difficulty to me to believe that they are deficient either in the religious sense or in their memory of early years, than that they never had at all what those around them without hesitation profess to have received from nature.
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So much on the doctrine of the Being and Attributes of God, and of the real apprehension with which we can contemplate and assent to it:—now I turn to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, with the purpose of investigating in like manner how far it belongs to theology, how far to the faith and devotion of the individual; how far the propositions enunciating it are confined to the expression of intellectual notions, and how far they stand for things also, and admit of that assent which we give to objects presented to us by the imagination. And first I have to state what our doctrine is.
No one is to be called a Theist, who does not believe in a Personal God, whatever difficulty there may be in defining the word “Personal.” Now it is the belief of Catholics about the Supreme Being, that this essential characteristic of His Nature is reiterated in three distinct ways or modes; so that the Almighty God, instead of being One Person only, which is the teaching of Natural Religion, has Three Personalities, and is at once, according as we view Him in the one or the other of them, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit—a Divine Three, who bear towards Each Other the several relations which those names indicate, and are in that respect distinct from Each Other, and in that alone.
This is the teaching of the Athanasian Creed; viz. that the One Personal God, who is not a logical or physical unity, but a Living Monas, more really one even than an individual man is one—He (“unus,” not “unum,” because of the inseparability of His Nature and Personality),—He at once is Father, is Son, is Holy Ghost, Each of whom is that One Personal God in the fulness of His Being and Attributes; so that the Father is all that is meant by the word “God,” as if we knew nothing of Son, or of Spirit; and in like manner the Son and the Spirit are Each by Himself all that is meant by the word, as if the Other Two were unknown; moreover, that by the word “God” is meant nothing over and above what is meant by the “Father,” or by “the Son,” or by “the Holy Ghost;” and that the Father is in no sense the Son, nor the Son the Holy Ghost, nor the Holy Ghost the Father. Such is the prerogative of the Divine Infinitude, that that One and Single Personal Being, the Almighty God, is really Three, while He is absolutely One.
Indeed, the Catholic dogma may be said to be summed up in this very formula on which St. Augustine lays so much stress, “Tres et Unus,” not merely “Unum;” hence that formula is the key-note, as it may be called, of the Athanasian Creed. In that Creed we testify to the Unus Increatus, to the Unus Immensus, Omnipotens, Deus, and Dominus; yet Each of the Three also is by Himself Increatus, Immensus, Omnipotens, for Each is that One God, though Each is not the Other; Each, as is intimated by Unus Increatus, is the One Personal God of Natural Religion.
That this doctrine, thus drawn out, is of a notional character, is plain; the question before me is whether in any sense it can become the object of real apprehension, that is, whether any portion of it may be considered as addressed to the imagination, and is able to exert that living mastery over the mind, which is instanced as I have shown above, as regards the proposition, “There is a God.”
“There is a God,” when really apprehended, is the object of a strong energetic adhesion, which works a revolution in the mind; but when held merely as a notion, it requires but a cold and ineffective acceptance, though it be held ever so unconditionally. Such in its character is the assent of thousands, whose imaginations are not at all kindled, nor their hearts inflamed, nor their conduct affected, by the most august of all conceivable truths. I ask, then, as concerns the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, such as I have drawn it out to be, is it capable of being apprehended otherwise than notionally? Is it a theory, undeniable indeed, but addressed to the student, and to no one else? Is it the elaborate, subtle, triumphant exhibition of a truth, completely developed, and happily adjusted, and accurately balanced on its centre, and impregnable on every side, as a scientific view, “totus, teres, atque rotundus,” challenging all assailants, or, on the other hand, does it come to the unlearned, the young, the busy, and the afflicted, as a fact which is to arrest them, penetrate them, and to support and animate them in their passage through life? That is, does it admit of being held in the imagination, and being embraced with a real assent? I maintain it does, and that it is the normal faith which every Christian has, on which he is stayed, which is his spiritual life, there being nothing in the exposition of the dogma, as I have given it above, which does not address the imagination, as well as the intellect.
Now let us observe what is not in that exposition;—there are no scientific terms in it. I will not allow that “Personal” is such, because it is a word in common use, and though it cannot mean precisely the same when used of God as when it is used of man, yet it is sufficiently explained by that common use, to allow of its being intelligibly applied to the Divine Nature. The other words, which occur in the above account of the doctrine,—Three, One, He, God, Father, Son, Spirit,—are none of them words peculiar to theology, have all a popular meaning, and are used according to that obvious and popular meaning, when introduced into the Catholic dogma. No human words indeed are worthy of the Supreme Being, none are adequate; but we have no other words to use but human, and those in question are among the simplest and most intelligible that are to be found in language.
There are then no terms in the foregoing exposition which do not admit of a plain sense, and they are there used in that sense; and, moreover, that sense is what I have called real, for the words in their ordinary use stand for things. The words, Father, Son, Spirit, He, One, and the rest, are not abstract terms, but concrete, and adapted to excite images. And these words thus simple and clear, are embodied in simple, clear, brief, categorical propositions. There is nothing abstruse either in the terms themselves, or in their setting. It is otherwise of course with formal theological treatises on the subject of the dogma. There we find such words as substance, essence, existence, form, subsistence, notion, circumincession; and, though these are far easier to understand than might at first sight be thought, still they are doubtless addressed to the intellect, and can only command a notional assent.
It will be observed also that not even the words “mysteriousness” and “mystery” occur in the exposition which I have above given of the doctrine; I omitted them, because they are not parts of the Divine Verity as such, but in relation to creatures and to the human intellect; and because they are of a notional character. It is plain of course even at first sight that the doctrine is an inscrutable mystery, or has an inscrutable mysteriousness; few minds indeed but have theology enough to see this; and if an educated man, to whom it is presented, does not perceive that mysteriousness at once, that is a sure token that he does not rightly apprehend the propositions which contain the doctrine. Hence it follows that the thesis “the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in Unity is mysterious” is indirectly an article of faith. But such an article, being a reflection made upon a revealed truth in an inference, expresses a notion, not a thing. It does not relate to the direct apprehension of the object, but to a judgment of our reason upon the object. Accordingly the mysteriousness of the doctrine is not, strictly speaking, intrinsical to it, as it is proposed to the religious apprehension, though in matter of fact a devotional mind, on perceiving that mysteriousness, will lovingly appropriate it, as involved in the divine revelation; and, as such a mind turns all thoughts which come before it to a sacred use, so will it dwell upon the Mystery of the Trinity with awe and veneration, as a truth befitting, so to say, the Immensity and Incomprehensibility of the Supreme Being.
However, I do not put forward the mystery as the direct object of real or religious apprehension; nor again, the complex doctrine (when it is viewed, per modum unius, as one whole), in which the mystery lies. Let it be observed, it is possible for the mind to hold a number of propositions either in their combination as one whole, or one by one; one by one, with an intelligent perception indeed of each, and of the general direction of each towards the rest, yet of each separately from the rest, for its own sake only, and not in connexion and one with the rest. Thus I may know London quite well, and find my way from street to street in any part of it without difficulty, yet be quite unable to draw a map of it. Comparison, calculation, cataloguing, arranging, classifying, are intellectual acts subsequent upon, and not necessary for, a real apprehension of the things on which they are exercised. Strictly speaking then, the dogma of the Holy Trinity, as a complex whole, or as a mystery, is not the formal object of religious apprehension and assent; but as a number of propositions, taken one by one. That mystery also is of course the object of assent, but it is the notional object; and when presented to religious minds, it is received by them notionally; and again implicitly, viz. in the real assent which they give to the word of God as conveyed to them through the instrumentality of His Church. On these points it may be right to enlarge.
Of course, as I have been saying, a man of ordinary intelligence will be at once struck with the apparent contrariety between the propositions one with another which constitute the Heavenly Dogma, and, by reason of his spontaneous activity of mind and by an habitual association, he will be compelled to view the Dogma in the light of that contrariety,—so much so, that to hold one and all of these separate propositions will be to such a man all one with holding the mystery, as a mystery; and in consequence he will so hold it;—but still, I say, so far he will hold it only with a notional apprehension. He will accurately take in the meaning of each of the dogmatic propositions in its relation to the rest of them, combining them into one whole and embracing what he cannot realize, with an assent, notional indeed, but as genuine and thorough as any real assent can be. But the question is whether a real assent to the mystery, as such, is possible; and I say it is not possible, because, while we can image the separate propositions, we cannot image them all together. We cannot, because the mystery transcends all our experience; we have no experiences in our memory which we can put together, compare, contrast, unite, and thereby transmute into an image of the Ineffable Verity;—certainly; but what is in some degree a matter of experience, what is presented for the imagination, the affections, the devotion, the spiritual life of the Christian to repose upon with a real assent, what stands for things, not for notions only, is each of those propositions taken one by one, and that, not in the case of intellectual and thoughtful minds only, but of all religious minds whatever, in the case of a child or a peasant, as well as of a philosopher.
This is only one instance of a general principle which holds good in all such real apprehension as is possible to us, of God and His Attributes. Not only do we see Him at best only in shadows, but we cannot bring even those shadows together, for they flit to and fro, and are never present to us at once. We can indeed combine the various matters which we know of Him by an act of the intellect, and treat them theologically, but such theological combinations are no objects for the imagination to gaze upon. Our image of Him never is one, but broken into numberless partial aspects, independent each of each. As we cannot see the whole starry firmament at once, but have to turn ourselves from east to west, and then round to east again, sighting first one constellation and then another, and losing these in order to gain those, so it is, and much more, with such real apprehensions as we can secure of the Divine Nature. We know one truth about Him and another truth,—but we cannot image both of them together; we cannot bring them before us by one act of the mind; we drop the one while we turn to take up the other. None of them are fully dwelt on and enjoyed, when they are viewed in combination. Moreover, our devotion is tried and confused by the long list of propositions which theology is obliged to draw up, by the limitations, explanations, definitions, adjustments, balancings, cautions, arbitrary prohibitions, which are imperatively required by the weakness of human thought and the imperfections of human language. Such exercises of reasoning indeed do but increase and harmonize our notional apprehension of the dogma, but they add little to the luminousness and vital force with which its separate propositions come home to our imagination, and if they are necessary, as they certainly are, they are necessary not so much for faith, as against unbelief.
Break a ray of light into its constituent colours, each is beautiful, each may be enjoyed; attempt to unite them, and perhaps you produce only a dirty white. The pure and indivisible Light is seen only by the blessed inhabitants of heaven; here we have but such faint reflections of it as its diffraction supplies; but they are sufficient for faith and devotion. Attempt to combine them into one, and you gain nothing but a mystery, which you can describe as a notion, but cannot depict as an imagination. And this, which holds of the Divine Attributes, holds also of the Holy Trinity in Unity. And hence, perhaps, it is that the latter doctrine is never spoken of as a Mystery in the New Testament, which is addressed far more to the imagination and affections than to the intellect. Hence, too, what is more remarkable, the dogma is not called a mystery in the Creeds; not in the Apostles’ nor the Nicene, nor even in the Athanasian. The reason seems to be, that the Creeds have a place in the Ritual; they are devotional acts, and of the nature of prayers, addressed to God; and, in such addresses, to speak of intellectual difficulties would be out of place. It must be recollected especially that the Athanasian Creed has sometimes been called the “Psalmus Quicunque.” It is not a mere collection of notions, however momentous. It is a psalm or hymn of praise, of confession, and of profound, self-prostrating homage, parallel to the canticles of the elect in the Apocalypse. It appeals to the imagination quite as much as to the intellect. It is the war-song of faith, with which we warn first ourselves, then each other, and then all those who are within its hearing, and the hearing of the Truth, who our God is, and how we must worship Him, and how vast our responsibility will be, if we know what to believe, and yet believe not. It is
“The Psalm that gathers in one glorious lay
All chants that e’er from heaven to earth found way;
Creed of the Saints, and Anthem of the Blest,
And calm-breathed warning of the kindliest love
That ever heaved a wakeful mother’s breast.”
For myself, I have ever felt it as the most simple and sublime, the most devotional formulary to which Christianity has given birth, more so even than the Veni Creator and the Te Deum. Even the antithetical form of its sentences, which is a stumbling-block to so many, as seeming to force, and to exult in forcing a mystery upon recalcitrating minds, has to my apprehension, even notionally considered, a very different drift. It is intended as a check upon our reasonings, lest they rush on in one direction beyond the limits of the truth, and it turns them back into the opposite direction. Certainly it implies a glorying in the Mystery; but it is not simply a statement of the Mystery for the sake of its mysteriousness.
What is more remarkable still, a like silence as to the mysteriousness of the doctrine is observed in the successive definitions of the Church concerning it. Confession after confession, canon after canon is drawn up in the course of centuries; Popes and Councils have found it their duty to insist afresh upon the dogma; they have enunciated it in new or additional propositions; but not even in their most elaborate formularies do they use the word “mystery,” as far as I know. The great Council of Toledo pursues the scientific ramifications of the doctrine, with the exact diligence of theology, at a length four times that of the Athanasian Creed; the fourth Lateran completes, by a final enunciation, the development of the sacred doctrine after the mind of St. Augustine; the Creed of Pope Pius IV. prescribes the general rule of faith against the heresies of these latter times; but in none of them do we find either the word “mystery,” or any suggestion of mysteriousness.
Such is the usage of the Church in its dogmatic statements concerning the Holy Trinity, as if fulfilling the maxim, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” I suppose it is founded on a tradition, because the custom is otherwise as regards catechisms and theological treatises. These belong to particular ages and places, and are addressed to the intellect. In them, certainly, the mysteriousness of the doctrine is almost uniformly insisted on. But, however this contrast of usage is to be explained, the Creeds are enough to show that the dogma may be taught in its fulness for the purposes of popular faith and devotion without directly insisting on that mysteriousness, which is necessarily involved in the combined view of its separate propositions. That systematized whole is the object of notional assent, and its propositions, one by one, are the objects of real.
To show this in fact, I will enumerate the separate propositions of which the dogma consists. They are nine, and stand as follows:—
1. There are Three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word or Son, and the Holy Spirit. 2. From the Father is, and ever has been, the Son. 3. From the Father and Son is, and ever has been, the Spirit.
4. The Father is the One Eternal Personal God. 5. The Son is the One Eternal Personal God. 6. The Spirit is the One Eternal Personal God.
7. The Father is not the Son. 8. The Son is not the Holy Ghost. 9. The Holy Ghost is not the Father.
Now I think it is a fact, that, whereas these nine propositions contain the Mystery, yet, taken, not as a whole, but separately, each by itself, they are not only apprehensible, but admit of a real apprehension.
Thus, for instance, if the proposition “There is One who bears witness of Himself,” or “reveals Himself,” would admit of a real assent, why does not also the proposition “There are Three who bear witness”?
Again, if the word “God” may create an image in our minds, why may not the proposition “The Father is God”? or again, “The Son,” or “The Holy Ghost is God”?
Again, to say that “the Son is other than the Holy Ghost,” or “neither Son nor Holy Ghost is the Father,” is not a simple negative, but also a declaration that Each of the Divine Three by Himself is complete in Himself, and simply and absolutely God as though the Other Two were not revealed to us.
Again, from our experience of the works of man, we accept with a real apprehension the proposition “The Angels are made by God,” correcting the word “made,” as is required in the case of a creating Power, and a spiritual work:—why may we not in like matter refine and elevate the human analogy, yet keep the image, when a Divine Birth is set before us in terms which properly belong to what is human and earthly? If our experience enables us to apprehend the essential fact of sonship, as being a communication of being and of nature from one to another, why should we not thereby in a certain measure realize the proposition “The Word is the Son of God”?
Again, we have abundant instances in nature of the general law of one thing coming from another or from others:—as the child issues in the man as his successor, and the child and the man issue in the old man, like them both, but not the same, so different as almost to have a fresh personality distinct from each, so we may form some image, however vague, of the procession of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son. This is what I should say of the propositions which I have numbered two and three, which are the least susceptible of a real assent out of the nine.
So much at first sight; but the force of what I have been saying will be best understood, by considering what Scripture and the Ritual of the Church witness in accordance with it. In referring to these two great storehouses of faith and devotion, I must premise, as when I spoke of the Being of a God, that I am not proving by means of them the dogma of the Holy Trinity, but using the one and the other in illustration of the action of the separate articles of that dogma upon the imagination, though the complex truth, in which, when combined, they issue, is not in sympathy or correspondence with it, but altogether beyond it; and next of the action and influence of those separate articles, by means of the imagination, upon the affections and obedience of Christians, high and low.
This being understood, I ask what chapter of St. John or St. Paul is not full of the Three Divine Names, introduced in one or other of the above nine propositions, expressed or implied, or in their parallels, or in parts or equivalents of them? What lesson is there given us by these two chief writers of the New Testament, which does not grow out of Their Persons and Their Offices? At one time we read of the grace of the Second Person, the love of the First, and the communication of the Third; at another we are told by the Son, “I will pray the Father, and He will send you another Paraclete;” and then, “All that the Father hath are Mine; the Paraclete shall receive of Mine.” Then again we read of “the foreknowledge of the Father, the sanctification of the Spirit, the Blood of Jesus Christ;” and again we are to “pray in the Holy Ghost, abide in the love of God, and look for the mercy of Jesus.” And so, in like manner, to Each, in one passage or another, are ascribed the same titles and works: Each is acknowledged as Lord; Each is eternal; Each is Truth; Each is Holiness; Each is all in all; Each is Creator; Each wills with a Supreme Will; Each is the Author of the new birth; Each speaks in His ministers; Each is the Revealer; Each is the Lawgiver; Each is the Teacher of the elect; in Each the elect have fellowship; Each leads them on; Each raises them from the dead. What is all this, but “the Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Omnipotent; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost God,” of the Athanasian Creed? And if the New Testament be, as it confessedly is, so real in its teaching, so luminous, so impressive, so constraining, so full of images, so sparing in mere notions, whence is this but because, in its references to the Object of our supreme worship, it is ever ringing the changes (so to say) on the nine propositions which I have set down, and on the particular statements into which they may be severally resolved?
Take one of them, as an instance, viz. the dogmatic sentence “The Son is God.” What an illustration of the real assent which can be given to this proposition, and its power over our affections and emotions, is the first half of the first chapter of St. John’s gospel! or again the vision of our Lord in the first chapter of the Apocalypse! or the first chapter of St. John’s first Epistle! Again, how burning are St. Paul’s words when he speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion and death! what is the secret of that flame, but this same dogmatic sentence, “The Son is God”? why should the death of the Son be more awful than any other death, except that He, though man, was God? And so, again, all through the Old Testament, what is it which gives an interpretation and a persuasive power to so many passages and portions, especially of the Psalms and the Prophets, but this same theological formula, “The Messias is God,” a proposition which never could thus vivify in the religious mind the letter of the sacred text, unless it appealed to the imagination, and could be held with a much stronger assent than any that is merely notional.
This same power of the dogma may be illustrated from the Ritual. Consider the services for Christmas or Epiphany; for Easter, Ascension, and (I may say) pre-eminently Corpus Christi; what are these great Festivals but comments on the words, “The Son is God”? Yet who will say that they have the subtlety, the aridity, the coldness of mere scholastic science? Are they addressed to the pure intellect, or to the imagination? do they interest our logical faculty, or excite our devotion? Why is it that personally we often find ourselves so ill-fitted to take part in them, except that we are not good enough, that in our case the dogma is far too much a theological notion, far too little an image living within us? And so again, as to the Divinity of the Holy Ghost: consider the breviary offices for Pentecost and its Octave, the grandest perhaps in the whole year; are they created out of mere abstractions and inferences, or has not the categorical proposition of St. Athanasius, “The Holy Ghost is God,” such a place in the imagination and the heart, as suffices to give birth to the noble Hymns, Veni Creator, and Veni Sancte Spiritus?
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I sum up then to the same effect as in the preceding Section. Religion has to do with the real, and the real is the particular; theology has to do with what is notional, and the notional is the general and systematic. Hence theology has to do with the dogma of the Holy Trinity as a whole made up of many propositions; but Religion has to do with each of those separate propositions which compose it, and lives and thrives in the contemplation of them. In them it finds the motives for devotion and faithful obedience; while theology on the other hand forms and protects them by virtue of its function of regarding them, not merely one by one, but as a system of truth.
One other remark is in place here. If the separate articles of the Athanasian Creed are so closely connected with vital and personal religion as I have shown them to be, if they supply motives on which a man may act, if they determine the state of mind, the special thoughts, affections, and habits, which he carries with him from this world to the next, is there cause to wonder, that the Creed should proclaim aloud, that those who are not internally such as Christ, by means of it, came to make them, are not capable of the heaven to which He died to bring them? Is not the importance of accepting the dogma the very explanation of that careful minuteness with which the few simple truths which compose it are inculcated, are reiterated, in the Creed? And shall the Church of God, to whom “the dispensation” of the Gospel is committed, forget the concomitant obligation, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel”? Are her ministers by their silence to bring upon themselves the Prophet’s anathema, “Cursed is he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully”? Can they ever forget the lesson conveyed to them in the Apostle’s protestation, “God is faithful, as our preaching which was among you was not Yea and Nay…. For we are a good odour of Christ unto God in them that are in the way of salvation, and in them that are perishing. For we are not as the many, who adulterate the word of God; but with sincerity, but as from God, in the presence of God, so speak we in Christ”?
§ 3. Belief in Dogmatic Theology.
It is a familiar charge against the Catholic Church in the mouths of her opponents, that she imposes on her children as matters of faith, not only such dogmas as have an intimate bearing on moral conduct and character, but a great number of doctrines which none but professed theologians can understand, and which in consequence do but oppress the mind, and are the perpetual fuel of controversy. The first who made this complaint was no less a man than the great Constantine, and on no less an occasion than the rise of the Arian heresy, which he, as yet a catechumen, was pleased to consider a trifling and tolerable error. So, deciding the matter, he wrote at once a letter to Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and to Arius, who was a presbyter in the same city, exhorting them to drop the matter in dispute, and to live in peace with one another. He was answered by the meeting of the Council of Nicæa, and by the insertion of the word “Consubstantial” into the Creed of the Church.
What the Emperor thought of the controversy itself, that Bishop Jeremy Taylor thought of the insertion of the “Consubstantial,” viz. that it was a mischievous affair, and ought never to have taken place. He thus quotes and comments on the Emperor’s letter: “The Epistle of Constantine to Alexander and Arius tells the truth, and chides them both for commencing the question, Alexander for broaching it, Arius for taking it up. And although this be true, that it had been better for the Church it had never begun, yet, being begun, what is to be done with it? Of this also, in that admirable epistle, we have the Emperor’s judgment (I suppose not without the advice and privity of Hosius), … for first he calls it a certain vain piece of a question, ill begun, and more unadvisedly published,—a question which no law or ecclesiastical canon defineth; a fruitless contention; the product of idle brains; a matter so nice, so obscure, so intricate, that it was neither to be explicated by the clergy nor understood by the people; a dispute of words, a doctrine inexplicable, but most dangerous when taught, lest it introduce discord or blasphemy; and, therefore, the objector was rash, and the answer unadvised, for it concerned not the substance of faith or the worship of God, nor the chief commandment of Scripture; and, therefore, why should it be the matter of discord? for though the matter be grave, yet, because neither necessary nor explicable, the contention is trifling and toyish…. So that the matter being of no great importance, but vain and a toy in respect of the excellent blessings of peace and charity, it were good that Alexander and Arius should leave contending, keep their opinions to themselves, ask each other forgiveness, and give mutual toleration.”
Moreover, Taylor is of opinion that “they both did believe One God, and the Holy Trinity;” an opinion in the teeth of historical fact. Also he is of opinion, that “that faith is best which hath greatest simplicity, and that it is better in all cases humbly to submit, than curiously to inquire and pry into the mystery under the cloud, and to hazard our faith by improving knowledge.” He is, further, of opinion, that “if the Nicene Fathers had done so too, possibly the Church would never have repented it.” He also thinks that their insertion of the “Consubstantial” into the Creed was a bad precedent.
Whether it was likely to act as a precedent or not, it has not been so in fact, for fifteen hundred years have passed since the Nicene Council, and it is the one instance of a scientific word having been introduced into the Creed from that day to this. And after all, the word in question has a plain meaning, as the Council used it, easily stated and intelligible to all; for “consubstantial with the Father,” means nothing more than “really one with the Father,” being adopted to meet the evasion of the Arians. The Creed then remains now what it was in the beginning, a popular form of faith, suited to every age, class, and condition. Its declarations are categorical, brief, clear, elementary, of the first importance, expressive of the concrete, the objects of real apprehension, and the basis and rule of devotion. As to the proper Nicene formula itself, excepting the one term “Consubstantial,” it has not a word which does not relate to the rudimental facts of Christianity. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan and the various ante-Nicene Symbols, of which the Apostles’ is one, add summarily one or two notional articles, such as “the communion of Saints,” and “the forgiveness of sins,” which, however, may be readily converted into real propositions. On the other hand, one chief dogma, which is easy to popular apprehension, is necessarily absent from all of them, the Real Presence; but the omission is owing to the ancient “Disciplina Arcani,” which withheld the Sacred Mystery from catechumens and heathen, to whom the Creed was known.
So far the charge which Taylor brings forward has no great plausibility; but it is not the whole of his case. I cannot deny that a large and ever-increasing collection of propositions, abstract notions, not concrete truths, become, by the successive definitions of Councils, a portion of the credenda, and have an imperative claim upon the faith of every Catholic; and this being the case, it will be asked me how I am borne out by facts in enlarging, as I have done, on the simplicity and directness, on the tangible reality, of the Church’s dogmatic teaching.
I will suppose the objection urged thus:—why has not the Catholic Church limited her credenda to propositions such as those in her Creed, concrete and practical, easy of apprehension, and of a character to win assent? such as “Christ is God;” “This is My Body;” “Baptism gives life to the soul;” “The Saints intercede for us;” “Death, judgment, heaven, hell, the four last things;” “There are seven gifts of the Holy Ghost,” “three theological virtues,” “seven capital sins,” and the like, as they are found in her catechisms. On the contrary, she makes it imperative on every one, priest and layman, to profess as revealed truth all the canons of the Councils, and innumerable decisions of Popes, propositions so various, so notional, that but few can know them, and fewer can understand them. What sense, for instance, can a child or a peasant, nay, or any ordinary Catholic, put upon the Tridentine Canons, even in translation? such as, “Siquis dixerit homines sine Christi justitiâ, per quam nobis meruit, justificari, aut per eam ipsam formaliter justos esse, anathema sit;” or “Siquis dixerit justificatum peccare, dum intuitu æternæ mercedis bene operatur, anathema sit.” Or again, consider the very anathema annexed by the Nicene Council to its Creed, the language of which is so obscure, that even theologians differ about its meaning. It runs as follows:—“Those who say that once the Son was not, and before He was begotten He was not, and that He was made out of that which was not, or who pretend that He was of other hypostasis or substance, or that the Son of God is created, mutable, or alterable, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.” These doctrinal enunciations are de fide; peasants are bound to believe them as well as controversialists, and to believe them as truly as they believe that our Lord is God. How then are the Catholic credenda easy and within reach of all men?
I begin my answer to this objection by recurring to what has already been said concerning the relation of theology with its notional propositions to religious and devotional assent. Devotion is excited doubtless by the plain, categorical truths of revelation, such as the articles of the Creed; on these it depends; with these it is satisfied. It accepts them one by one; it is careless about intellectual consistency; it draws from each of them the spiritual nourishment which it was intended to supply. Far different, certainly, is the nature and duty of the intellect. It is ever active, inquisitive, penetrating; it examines doctrine and doctrine; it compares, contrasts, and forms them into a science; that science is theology. Now theological science, being thus the exercise of the intellect upon the credenda of revelation, is, though not directly devotional, at once natural, excellent, and necessary. It is natural, because the intellect is one of our highest faculties; excellent, because it is our duty to use our faculties to the full; necessary, because, unless we apply our intellect to revealed truth rightly, others will exercise their minds upon it wrongly. Accordingly, the Catholic intellect makes a survey and a catalogue of the doctrines contained in the depositum of revelation, as committed to the Church’s keeping; it locates, adjusts, defines them each, and brings them together into a whole. Moreover, it takes particular aspects or portions of them; it analyzes them, whether into first principles really such, or into hypotheses of an illustrative character. It forms generalizations, and gives names to them. All these deductions are true, if rightly deduced, because they are deduced from what is true; and therefore in one sense they are a portion of the depositum of faith or credenda, while in another sense they are additions to it: however, additions or not, they have, I readily grant, the characteristic disadvantage of being abstract and notional statements.
Nor is this all: error gives opportunity to many more additions than truth. There is another set of deductions, inevitable also, and also part or not part of the revealed credenda, according as we please to view them. If a proposition is true, its contradictory is false. If then a man believes that Christ is God, he believes also, and that necessarily, that to say He is not God is false, and that those who so say are in error. Here then again the prospect opens upon us of a countless multitude of propositions, which in their first elements are close upon devotional truth,—of groups of propositions, and those groups divergent, independent, ever springing into life with an inexhaustible fecundity, according to the ever-germinating forms of heresy, of which they are the antagonists. These too have their place in theological science.
Such is theology in contrast to religion; and as follows from the circumstances of its formation, though some of its statements easily find equivalents in the language of devotion, the greater number of them are more or less unintelligible to the ordinary Catholic, as law-books to the private citizen. And especially those portions of theology which are the indirect creation, not of orthodox, but of heretical thought, such as the repudiations of error contained in the Canons of Councils, of which specimens have been given above, will ever be foreign, strange, and hard to the pious but uncontroversial mind; for what have good Christians to do, in the ordinary course of things, with the subtle hallucinations of the intellect? This is manifest from the nature of the case; but then the question recurs, why should the refutations of heresy be our objects of faith? if no mind, theological or not, can believe what it cannot understand, in what sense can the Canons of Councils and other ecclesiastical determinations be included in those credenda which the Church presents to every Catholic as if apprehensible, and to which every Catholic gives his firm interior assent?
In solving this difficulty I wish it first observed, that, if it is the duty of the Church to act as “the pillar and ground of the Truth,” she is manifestly obliged from time to time, and to the end of time, to denounce opinions incompatible with that truth, whenever able and subtle minds in her communion venture to publish such opinions. Suppose certain Bishops and priests at this day began to teach that Islamism or Buddhism was a direct and immediate revelation from God, she would be bound to use the authority which God has given her to declare that such a proposition will not stand with Christianity, and that those who hold it are none of hers; and she would be bound to impose such a declaration on that very knot of persons who had committed themselves to the novel proposition, in order that, if they would not recant, they might be separated from her communion, as they were separate from her faith. In such a case, her masses of population would either not hear of the controversy, or they would at once take part with her, and without effort take any test, which secured the exclusion of the innovators; and she on the other hand would feel that what is a rule for some Catholics must be a rule for all. Who is to draw the line between who are to acknowledge it, and who are not? It is plain, there cannot be two rules of faith in the same communion, or rather, as the case really would be, an endless variety of rules, coming into force according to the multiplication of heretical theories, and to the degrees of knowledge and varieties of sentiment in individual Catholics. There is but one rule of faith for all; and it would be a greater difficulty to allow of an uncertain rule of faith, than (if that was the alternative, as it is not), to impose upon uneducated minds a profession which they cannot understand.
But it is not the necessary result of unity of profession, nor is it the fact, that the Church imposes dogmatic statements on the interior assent of those who cannot apprehend them. The difficulty is removed by the dogma of the Church’s infallibility, and of the consequent duty of “implicit faith” in her word. The “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is an article of the Creed, and an article, which, inclusive of her infallibility, all men, high and low, can easily master and accept with a real and operative assent. It stands in the place of all abstruse propositions in a Catholic’s mind, for to believe in her word is virtually to believe in them all. Even what he cannot understand, at least he can believe to be true; and he believes it to be true because he believes in the Church.
The rationale of this provision for unlearned devotion is as follows:—It stands to reason that all of us, learned and unlearned, are bound to believe the whole revealed doctrine in all its parts and in all that it implies, according as portion after portion is brought home to our consciousness as belonging to it; and it also stands to reason, that a doctrine, so deep and so various, as the revealed depositum of faith, cannot be brought home to us and made our own all at once. No mind, however large, however penetrating, can directly and fully by one act understand any one truth, however simple. What can be more intelligible than that “Alexander conquered Asia,” or that “Veracity is a duty”? but what a multitude of propositions is included under either of these theses! still, if we profess either, we profess all that it includes. Thus, as regards the Catholic Creed, if we really believe that our Lord is God, we believe all that is meant by such a belief; or, else, we are not in earnest, when we profess to believe the proposition. In the act of believing it at all, we forthwith commit ourselves by anticipation to believe truths which at present we do not believe, because they have never come before us;—we limit henceforth the range of our private judgment in prospect by the conditions, whatever they are, of that dogma. Thus the Arians said that they believed in our Lord’s divinity, but when they were pressed to confess His eternity, they denied it: thereby showing in fact that they never had believed in His divinity at all. In other words, a man who really believes in our Lord’s proper divinity, believes implicitè in His eternity.
And so, in like manner, of the whole depositum of faith, or the revealed word:—if we believe in the revelation, we believe in what is revealed, in all that is revealed, however it may be brought home to us, by reasoning or in any other way. He who believes that Christ is the Truth, and that the Evangelists are truthful, believes all that He has said through them, though he has only read St. Matthew and has not read St. John. He who believes in the depositum of Revelation, believes in all the doctrines of the depositum; and since he cannot know them all at once, he knows some doctrines, and does not know others; he may know only the Creed, nay, perhaps only the chief portions of the Creed; but, whether he knows little or much, he has the intention of believing all that there is to believe, whenever and as soon as it is brought home to him, if he believes in Revelation at all. All that he knows now as revealed, and all that he shall know, and all that there is to know, he embraces it all in his intention by one act of faith; otherwise, it is but an accident that he believes this or that, not because it is a revelation. This virtual, interpretative, or prospective belief is called a believing implicitè; and it follows from this, that, granting that the Canons of Councils and the other ecclesiastical documents and confessions, to which I have referred, are really involved in the depositum or revealed word, every Catholic, in accepting the depositum, does implicitè accept those dogmatic decisions.
I say, “granting these various propositions are virtually contained in the revealed word,” for this is the only question left; and that it is to be answered in the affirmative, is clear at once to the Catholic, from the fact that the Church declares that they really belong to it. To her is committed the care and the interpretation of the revelation. The word of the Church is the word of the revelation. That the Church is the infallible oracle of truth is the fundamental dogma of the Catholic religion; and “I believe what the Church proposes to be believed” is an act of real assent, including all particular assents, notional and real; and, while it is possible for unlearned as well as learned, it is imperative on learned as well as unlearned. And thus it is, that by believing the word of the Church implicitè, that is, by believing all that that word does or shall declare itself to contain, every Catholic, according to his intellectual capacity, supplements the shortcomings of his knowledge without blunting his real assent to what is elementary, and takes upon himself from the first the whole truth of revelation, progressing from one apprehension of it to another according to his opportunities of doing so.