DEATH being the end of all things for the real, that which survives can exist only in the ideal. The two elements being severed which constituted the individual, neither can undergo further change, save in respect of the limitations of the ideal. Whatever the real was in character and proportions, that it must for ever remain. Whatever, then, we are in life, that in death we continue to be, only carried forward into the realms of infinity and eternity. Should we, therefore, have grieved and quenched the ideal within us, and ensured that the judgment of which I spoke be against us, we must reconcile ourselves to a sentence of eternal condemnation.
The revolt against the doctrine of eternal condemnation is a consequence of that same neglect of the ideal which characterises this materialistic age. Let us test its significance and reasonableness by analogy.
You love flowers. Your rose-bushes are the marvel and envy of the neighbourhood. Do you
remember once pointing out to me a cluster of withered buds on a tree, all whose other buds had blossomed into fullest perfection of beauty and fragrance, while these, through some defect in themselves or in their conditions of atmosphere or nourishment, or through attack of hostile insect, failed to reach their due development, and had to be plucked from their stem, partly because their appearance was a blemish, and partly lest they should be injurious to the tree?
Well, all your love and tenderness cannot make you think of those withered buds other than as failures. Carry their memory forward in your mind as far as you will, and still it surpasses all the miracle-working power of your imagination to change the failure they were in their real, into success in your idea of them. In spite of yourself – their creator as it were – their condemnation is eternal. As they fell, so they lie, and in their grave is no repentance.
Similarly with the flowers which attained perfection. Your sense of that perfection remains with you after they have quitted the regions of the real, and through that sense they continue to flourish for evermore in the heaven of your ideal.
Thus, not for themselves do they, not for ourselves do we, continue to exist, in any sense that can be called real. But self is swallowed up in the universal ideal, absorbed in God, who alone abides
the all and in all. Such is the doctrine of all spiritual catholics whether Christian or Buddhist.
But some come to an end while on the road toward perfection, losing their chance of attaining it only through some untimely accident. Are these, you will ask, liable to like condemnation? If they are, you rebel against the sentence.
In thus stating the case you would answer your own question. You think of these not as failures and fitted for destruction, but as containing elements which, under more favourable circumstances, would have enabled them sooner or later to attain perfection; and so in idealising them you continue the process and suppose them ultimately to attain that perfection. To hopeless reprobates these, as shown by the idea they leave with you. You do not, however, place them on the same level with the actual successes. Your feeling respecting them is one of hope and expectation. They escape condemnation, truly; but they fail to attain the highest places. Promises rather than performances, you do not reject them, but the place you assign them is below the highest. In the house of your ideal are many mansions.
But they may yet fail to prove themselves worthy your regard, and ultimately fall away from the grace you have shown them, and have to be cast out?
Nay; such relapse is impossible. Their place in the ideal world is fixed by their place in the real. Promises they were, and as promises they must ever continue to be regarded.
True, a larger charity, founded on the discovery that evil, like darkness, has no absolute existence, leads us to be less ready to regard any as hopelessly reprobate, than was the custom in the days when the Creeds were composed. But for the severity of those times we must not hold the Creeds responsible. They represented humanity, and humanity had not got beyond the point of so thinking.
But let humanity advance as it will, it will never reverse the sentence pronounced against the wholly reprobate, and in favour of the good. He that is unjust, will be unjust still; he that is filthy and lives in sense only, will be filthy still; he that is righteous will be righteous still; and he that is holy and lives in the spirit, will be holy still, when he has passed from the real into the ideal state.
I see in a paper just come the deaths of two persons of whom we both had some knowledge. One, a man of singular piety and benevolence, with a clear abounding intelligence, but so humble that in all his intercourse with others, he seemed ever to be the learner rather than the teacher. The other was a cynic of the first water, hard, selfish, and tyrannical.
Shall we ever think of these men as being other than we knew them? That would be to destroy their personal identity. It would be annihilation. No, he who for us was selfish in the real, will be selfish still, when translated to the regions of the ideal. And he that was benevolent, will be benevolent still. Remember them long as we may, we cannot think of them otherwise. Nay more, we even exaggerate their dominant characteristics, and think of them as possessing them without the limitations of time and space, and so as being wholly given up to the exercise of the qualities which in life determined their place in our regards.
AH, MY friend, so sense and the things of sense dominate you after all, and you insist on regarding as worthless the perfection which is of the spirit, unless it contain the element of material perpetuity. Taken each by itself, you find the ideal inferior to the real in its power to confer happiness, and you require the addition of immortality to strike the balance in its favour.
The confidence with which you appeal to the Paul of the Epistles would be amusing were it not a yet further proof of the extent to which a Protestant régime is able to paralyse the spiritual life. Paul preaches the worthlessness of the ‘hope in Christ’ as a source of delight in the present! Paul rank duration above perfection! You have indeed misread him, and fallen short of comprehending the enthusiasm that filled him for his beloved ideal. No, we may be very sure that it was to no sentiment such as you imagine that he was giving utterance when he said, ‘If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all
men most miserable.’ Rather was he with the eagerness usual to him, overstraining the argument for the resurrection; or his appeal was addressed to those who, like yourself, were more amenable to the things of sense than to those of the spirit; or the life of which he spoke as miserable was the outward material existence, and the life of hope in Christ was life in the perfected ideal.
Your letter illustrates that habit of living and judging to which the prevalent outcry against God’s justice in the world is due. ‘There must be another world,’ meaning a future physical existence, ‘to redress the inequalities of this life, if we are to believe that God is just.’ As if in the ideal world of our own now-living spirits we had not that other world we need. As if, too, another physical and therefore finite existence could fail to repeat the limitations of this one.
No, it is not true that if in this life only we have no joy beyond that of communion with our ideal, we are to be accounted miserable. Only they whose life lies wholly in sense, and who are therefore incompetent to judge between body and soul, would impugn the divine justice on this score. Their very inability to comprehend the feeling of those ‘whose life’ to use Paul’s phrase, ‘is hid with Christ in God,’ and, to imitate the language of the fourth Gospel, are one in spirit with the ideal Son and the
Absolute Perfection his Father, even as they are one, – disables them from forming a sound judgment in the matter.
As to the perpetuity of the joy and peace which come from ‘believing,’ is it not manifest that whatever lasts as long as we last, is perpetual for us? What more can we require in the way of continuance?
As a Protestant and one therefore familiar with the text of the Bible, you readily recognise the stress continually laid in the Bible, on the inward and spiritual nature of that only true religion which consists in the cultivation of the ideal. Whether it be the sense of abstract perfection called in the Old Testament ‘the law of God in the heart,’ by Socrates his ‘dæmon,’ by Paul the ‘inward man,’ and by us the conscience; or the perfect condition called in the New Testament ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ and described as being within us; or whether it be the appreciation of the incarnate personified perfection set forth as ‘Christ,’ whose function it was to hold up as a standard towards which we should perpetually strive, rules of perfection so absolute that nought finite can attain to them; and who is described as being in us, our life and our hope, by whom we are made perfect, and in whom, when we have ‘crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts’ – sacrificed the real to the ideal – and become ‘dead to the rudiments’
of the world of sense, we ‘rise towards the things which are above;’ – no suggestion is made that all these things are of such small account in themselves that they depend for their value on their power to procure for us some other state of physical existence. Those who think otherwise have never known with Paul, or appreciated as he did, the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ,’ or comprehended the meaning of spiritual religion; have never known the intensity and abidingness of the satisfaction that comes from living up to one’s higher nature, – a satisfaction so complete and enduring in itself as to need no stimulus from the future; the sole satisfaction that knows no ebb or satiety.
Such incapacity, however, is but the natural outcome of that same materialising tendency which leads all Protestants, and not a few Catholics, to require an actual historical representation at some specified place and time, and by some specified individual, of the immutable doctrines of the Church, and to lay all the stress, not on the indwelling consciousness of humanity, but on the letter of the record which claims to give some special instance of its manifestation.
Repress, then, for the future this longing for assurance of immortality, and rather say to yourself, ‘If I am not perfect, I am not worthy to endure. If I am perfect, let me be content: I have fulfilled my
nature, and God has fulfilled himself in me.’ For this at least I hold to be self-evident: – Should immortality be a fact, the least likely way to attain the perfection which alone can fit us for it, is to convert the expectation of it into a motive either of conduct, feeling, or belief.
Such, again, is pure catholic doctrine, whether Christian or Buddhist. For, as the Buddha-Word says, –
‘To Buddhas Nirvana is the name of that which alone is good.
‘He who flees to Buddha, who clings to his doctrine and Church,
‘He will understand aright the fourfold lofty truth.
‘He who, loose from all ties of sense, has risen to the divine communion:
‘He who has thus laid aside every weight, – him alone do I call a Brahmana’ (or one who only requires death to attain Nirvana, whose self is lost, or rather found, in God, the absolute ideal.)
THE questions which throng to your mind, and which I will do my best to answer so far as my still-failing health will permit, involve more than you are aware of. For they not only range over the whole subject which has occupied us for the last ten months; but they involve a declaration of my own individual sentiments apart from Catholicism and the Church.
Well, the conclusion to which a life of close and reverential inquiry, mingled with intervals of rapt adoration, has brought me, is that nought supernatural, as the word is ordinarily used, ever has occurred or can occur. Not even ‘the original act of creation’ constitutes for me any exception to this rule. Nature, which includes all that is, consists of an element which assumes in the mind two different aspects, namely those which I have called respectively the real and the ideal. When we have conceived of nature as alive, and in the course of its eternal growth producing the whole infinite variety of forms which constitute the physical universe, we
have conceived all that the most advanced science can ascertain concerning the world of the real. When we have conceived of nature as alive, and in the course of its eternal growth producing the whole infinite variety of moral phenomena which constitute the spiritual universe, we have conceived all that religion can ascertain concerning the ideal, or God. For the rest, we must abandon the universal and absolute as insoluble by us, and restrict ourselves to the standpoint of ourselves. It is from this standpoint that every religion the world has seen or can see, has its rise. Man can recognise as good that only which he finds to be good in himself. Wherefore, as he cannot worship aught that does not appear to him to be good, he must worship his own best. Catholicism, or Christianity, differs from other religious systems in that it carries out this principle more fully than they do, and includes elements which they omit.
Thus, though wholly human in origin and character, Catholicism represents the best human, – the side of humanity so high and exquisite as to merit the epithet divine, inasmuch as it is the divinest thing humanity can know or imagine; and it is by cultivating this that Catholicism seeks to draw us up from the lower to the higher regions of our nature.
While there is thus room within the many mansions of Catholicism for all mankind, it fails to gather all in, through the operation mainly of two causes.
The first of these is the ignorance and narrowness of individuals; – ignorance of the meaning of Catholicism, and narrowness that is incapable of appreciating its breadth.
Do not suppose that I refuse the character of Catholic to all who do not adopt the name. All followers of a high and generous ideal, all seekers after perfection, in whatever department of life, are so far catholic. The narrowest sectary does but follow catholic doctrine. The tenet he selects for his special patronage is orthodox in itself; though through imperfection of his mental vision he distorts it from its true proportions in relation to the whole body of doctrine. The controversy about the respective value of Faith and Works, for instance, as agents in human redemption, is as absurd as would be a controversy about the respective values of colouring and drawing. To perfect art form and colour are alike essential; and in religion it is as impossible to show one’s faith without works, as it is necessary to prove one’s faith by works.
The essential characteristic of idolatry as distinguished from true religion, is the selection of some one quality or faculty for exclusive adoration. Seeking the realisation of his ideal in one ‘Son of man’ after another, man has had gods many and lords many, each representing for him, indeed, some quality of excellence, but none in whom he could see
of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Each, however, betokened an advance on its predecessors, until at length, in the fullness of the time, from the bosom of the infinite ideal of humanity there came forth the ‘Son,’ born like ourselves of a woman, made under the law of perfection, and fulfilling it in all imaginable high respects and resuming in himself the totality at once of human nature and of the cosmical system from which human nature is derived. This is the Catholic ideal, which the sectary is unable to grasp. Remaining still pagan and idolater in heart, he prefers to pay his homage to some limited and exclusive tenet, rather than to the whole and indivisible body of divine truth. And this with the Catholic Church matured and organised, in his view! What is this but to ignore the sun, and worship some petty star as the source of light and life?
A purely human product, Catholicism represents the divinest aspects of humanity. And to accept a part of it, as does the Protestant world, and vehemently reject the rest, is to rend in pieces the seamless garment of the ideal.
If such must be the verdict of the Catholic respecting the great seceded divisions, such as the Anglican Church, think how infinitely small in his eyes must be the bodies which have seceded from them. Parts of a part, sections of a section, the religious sects of Anglo-Saxondom are impersonations of individual
idiosyncrasies rather than of universal truth. Products indeed of burning zeal, though ofttimes of zeal inflamed by anything but love, they are products also of intense ignorance of the source and significance of that which they accept and of that which they reject. O missionary-loving England! Sending your apostles to convert the heathen from their idolatries, while yourself worshipping the sun under the name of Christ, and making a fetish of a book of palpably human origin. O Protestant England! hating and reviling the whole body of doctrine and worship from which your own is but a selection. O practical commonsense-loving England! resting all your hopes of perfection upon a particular record and taking no account of that side of humanity which alone makes such record intelligible. How gladly would Catholicism once more gather you under her wings, and make you partaker in her divine secret and method! As it is, for lack of that sense of perfection whose culture is the Church’s special function, you are year by year sinking to a lower level both of aims and of execution. Your guides –– heavens! to think of the destinies of England being entrusted to the purblind sectaries who profane the sacred name of Liberal by arrogating it to themselves. Incapable of comprehending and appreciating the ideal, how shall you shape the real? Well, well, nature works in a mysterious
way; and man can little forecast the issue from the character of the means. But for the labour of the scavenger the streets of London would be impassable, the metropolis of the world a desert. Ply then your ruthless besoms, ‘Liberals’ of Britain. If need be, use the torch. What if the Communist of Paris on being charged with setting fire to a library, justified the act by saying that he could not read!
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The road to God is paved with idols.