Fiske’s Idea of God, (discussed by Moore) Lux Mundi (ed 1) pp. 95-102

Home / Fiske’s Idea of God, (discussed by Moore) Lux Mundi (ed 1) pp. 95-102

This doctrine of the omnipresence of God, as conceived by religion, had however yet to be fused with the philosophical doctrine of immanence. And here again the fusion was effected by the Christian doctrine of God, as Trinity in Unity. The earlier Apologists concern themselves first with the vindica- tion of the Divine attributes. God’s separateness from the world as against Greek Pantheism, His omnipresence in it as against a Judaising deism. But the union of God’s transcendence with His immanence, and with it the fusion of the religious with the philosophic idea of God, is only consciously completed by the Doctrine of the Trinity l . The dying words of Plotinus, expressing as they did the problem of his life, are said to have been, ‘ I am striving to bring the God which is within into harmony with the God which is in the universe.’ And the unsolved problem of Neo-Platonism, which is also the unsolved problem of non-Christian philosophy in our day, is met by the Christian doctrine of God. All and more than all that philosophy and science can demand, as to the immanence of reason in the universe, and the rational coherence of all its parts, is included in the Christian teaching : nothing which religion requires as to God’s separateness from the world, which He has made, is left unsatisfied. The old familiar Greek term which, from the days of Heracleitus, had meant to the Greek the rational unity and balance of the world, is taken up by S. John, by S. Clement, by S. Athanasius, and given a meaning which those who started from the Philonian position never reached. It is the personal Word, God of God, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is one in the Holy Spirit with the Father. ‘ The Word was God.’ ‘By Him all things were made.’ ‘He the All-powerful, All-holy Word of the Father spreads His power over all things everywhere, enlightening things seen and unseen, holding and binding all together in Himself.

The Religion of the Incarnation. Nothing is left empty of His presence, but to all things and through all, severally and collectively, He is the giver and sustainer of life. . . . He, the Wisdom of God, holds the universe like a lute, and keeps all things in earth and air and heaven in tune together. He it is Who binding all with each, and ordering all things by His will and pleasure, produces the perfect unity of nature, and the harmonious reign of law. While He abides unmoved for ever with the Father, He yet moves all things by His own appointment according to the Father’s will V The unity of nature is, thus, no longer the abstract motionless simplicity of Being, which had been so powerless to explain the metaphysical problems of Greece. It is the living Omnipresent Word, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, and the philosophical truth becomes an integral part of that Christian doctrine of God, which, while it safeguarded religion and satisfied reason, had won its first and greatest victories in the field of morals.

The Christian doctrine of God triumphed over heathen morality and heathen speculation neither by unreasoning protest nor by unreal compromise, but by taking up into itself all that was highest and truest in both. Why then is this Christian idea of God challenged in our day 1 Have we outgrown the Christian idea of God, so that it cannot claim and absorb the new truths of our scientific age 1 If not, with the lessons of the past in our mind, we may confidently ask, What fuller unfolding of the revelation of Himself has God in store for us, to be won, as in the past, through struggle and seeming antagonism?

The fact that the Christian Theology is now openly challenged by reason is obvious enough. It almost seems as if, in our intellectual life, we were passing through a transition analogous to that which, in the moral region, issued in the Reformation. Even amongst those who believe that Christian morality is true, there are to be found those who have convinced themselves that we have intellectually outgrown the Christian Faith. ‘ The only God,’ we have been told lately, ‘whom Western Europeans, with a Christian ancestry of a thousand years behind them, can worship, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ; or rather, of S. Paul, S. Augustine and S. Bernard, and of the innumerable ” blessed saints,” canonized or not, who peopled the ages of Faith. No one wants, no one can care for, an abstract God, an Unknowable, an Absolute, with whom we stand in no human or intelligible relation.’ ‘ God, as God,’ says Feuerbach, ‘the infinite, universal, non-anthropomorphic being of the understanding, has no more significance in religion than a fundamental general principle has for a special science ; it is merely the ultimate point of support, as it were, the mathematical point of religion.’ Yet it is assumed that this is all that remains to us, and we are left in the following dilemma,’ An anthropomorphic God is the only God whom men can worship, and also the God whom modern thought finds it increasingly difficult to believe in.’

In such a state of things it is natural that men should turn to pantheism as a sort of middle term between religion and philosophy, and even claim, for the unity of the world, the venerable name and associations of God. But the remarkable thing is that in the numberless attempts to attack, or defend, or find a substitute for Theism, the Christian, or Trinitarian, teaching about God rarely appears upon the scene. Devout Christians have come to think of the doctrine of the Trinity, if not exactly as a distinct revelation, yet as a doctrine necessary for holding the divinity of Christ, without sacrificing the unity of God. Ordinary people take it for granted that Trinitarianism is a sort of extra demand made on Christian faith, and that the battle must really be fought out on the Unitarian basis. If Unitarian theism can be defended, it will then be possible to go farther and accept the doctrine of the Trinity. It is natural that when Christians take this ground, those who have ceased to be Christian suppose that, though Christianity is no longer tenable, they may still cling to ‘Theism,’ and even perhaps, under cover of that nebulous term, make an alliance not only with Jews and Mahommedans, but with at least the more religious representatives of pan- theism. It is only our languid interest in speculation or a philistine dislike of metaphysics, that makes such an un- intelligent view possible. Unitarianism said its last word in the pre-Christian and early Christian period, and it failed, as it fails now, to save religion except at the cost of reason. So far from the doctrine of the Trinity being, in Mr. Gladstone’s unfortunate phrase, ‘ the scaffolding of a purer theism,’ non- Christian monotheism was the ‘ scaffolding ‘ through which already the outlines of the future building might be seen. For the modern world, the Christian doctrine of God remains as the only safeguard in reason for a permanent theistic belief.

It is not difficult to see how it is that this truth is not more generally recognised. The doctrine of the Trinity, by which the Christian idea of God absorbed Greek speculation into it- self, had but little point d’ appui in the unmetaphysical western world. It bore the imprimatur of the Church ; it was easily deducible from the words of Holy Scripture ; it was seen to be essential to the holding of the divinity of Christ. But men forgot that the doctrine was ‘ addressed to the reason;’ and so its metaphysical meaning and value were gradually lost sight of. In the days of the mediaeval Papacy, ecclesiastical were more effective than metaphysical weapons, and Scholasticism knew so much about the deepest mysteries of God, that it almost provoked an agnostic reaction, in the interests of reverence and intellectual modesty. With the Reformation came the appeal to the letter of Holy Scripture, personal God, and the age of biblical, as contrasted with scientific, theology. The only scientific theology of the Reformation period was the awful and immoral system of John Calvin, rigorously deduced from a one-sided truth.

Then came the age of physical science. The break up of the mediaeval system of thought and life resulted in an atomism, which, if it had been more perfectly consistent with itself, would have been fatal alike to knowledge and society. Translated into science it appeared as mechanism in the Baconian and Cartesian physics : translated into politics it appeared as rampant individualism, though combined by Hobbes with Stuart absolutism. Its theory of knowledge was a crude empiricism ; its theology unrelieved deism. God was ‘ throned in magnificent inactivity in a remote corner of the universe,’ and a machinery of ‘ second causes ‘ had practically taken His place. It was even doubted, in the deistic age, whether God’s delegation of His power was not so absolute as to make it impossible for Him to ‘ interfere ‘ with the laws of nature. The question of miracles became the burning question of the day, and the very existence of God was staked on His power to interrupt or override the laws of the universe. Meanwhile His immanence in nature, the ‘ higher pantheism,’ which is a truth essential to true religion, as it is to true philosophy, fell into the background.

Slowly but surely that theory of the world has been undermined. The one absolutely impossible conception of God, in the present day, is that which represents Him as an occasional Visitor. Science had pushed the deist’s God farther and farther away, and at the moment when it seemed as if He would be thrust out altogether, Darwinism appeared, and, under the disguise of a foe, did the work of a friend. It has conferred upon philosophy and religion an inestimable benefit, by shewing us that we must choose between two alternatives. Either God is everywhere present in nature, or He is nowhere. He cannot be here and not there. He cannot delegate His power to demigods called ‘ second causes In nature everything must be His work or nothing. We must frankly return to the Christian view of direct Divine agency, the immanence of Divine power in nature from end to end, the belief in a God in Whom not only we, but all things have their being, or we must banish Him altogether. It seems as if, in the providence of God, the mission of modern science was to bring home to our unmetaphysical ways of thinking the great truth of the Divine immanence in creation, which is not less essential to the Christian idea of God than to a philosophical view of nature. And it comes to us almost like a new truth, which we cannot at once fit it in with the old.

Yet the conviction that the Divine immanence must be for our age, as for the Athanasian age, the meeting point of the religious and philosophic view of God is shewing itself in the most thoughtful minds on both sides. Our modes of thought are becoming increasingly Greek, and the flood, which in our day is surging up against the traditional Christian view of God, is prevailingly pantheistic in tone. The pantheism is not less pronounced because it comes as the last word of a science of nature, for the wall which once separated physics from metaphysics has given way, and positivism, when it is not the paralysis of reason, is but a temporary resting-place, preparatory to a new departure. We are not surprised then, that one who, like Professor Fiske, holds that ‘the infinite and eternal Power that is manifested in every pulsation of the universe is none other than the living God/and who vindicates the belief in a final cause because he cannot believe that ‘ the Sustainer of the universe will put us to permanent intellectual confusion,’ should instinctively feel his kinship with Athanasianism, and vigorously contend against the view that any part of the universe is’ Godless.

Unfortunately, however, the rediscovery of the truth of God’s immanence in nature, coming, as it has done, from the side of a scientific theory, which was violently assailed by the official guardians of the Faith, has resulted for many in the throwing aside of the counter and conditioning truth, which saves religion from pantheism. It seemed as if traditional Christianity were bound up with the view that God is wholly separate from the world and not immanent in it. And Professor Fiske has been misled into the belief that S. Augustine is responsible for that false view. It is almost incredible to anyone, who has read any of S. Augustine’s writings, that, according to this view, he has to play the role of the unintelligent and unphilosophical deist, who thinks of God as ‘ a crudely anthropomorphic Being, far removed from the universe and accessible only through the mediating offices of an organized church.’ And not only is S. Augustine represented as a deist, but S. Athanasius is made a pantheist, and the supposed conflict between science and religion is, we are told, really the conflict between Athanasian and Augustinian ideas of God. Yet, as a matter of fact, S. Athanasius and S. Augustine both alike held the truths which deism and pantheism exaggerate into the destruction of religion. If S. Athanasius says, ‘ The Word of God is not contained by anything, but Himself contains all things. . . . He was in everything and was outside all beings, and was at rest in the Father alone: ‘ S. Augustine says, ‘ The same God is wholly everywhere, contained by no space, bound by no bonds, divisible into no parts, mutable in no part of His being, filling heaven and earth by the presence of His power. Though nothing can exist without Him, yet nothing is what He is.

The Christian doctrine of God, in Athanasian days, triumphed where Greek philosophy failed. It accepted the challenge of Greek thought, it recognised the demands of the speculative reason, and found in itself the answer which, before the collision with Hellenism, it unconsciously possessed. It is challenged again by the metaphysics of our day. We may be wrong to speculate at all on the nature of God, but it is not less true now than in the first centuries of Christianity, that, for those who do speculate, a Unitarian, or Arian, or Sabellian theory is as impossible as polytheism. If God is to be Personal, as religion requires, metaphysics demands still a distinction in the Unity which unitarianism is compelled to deny. But, further, the Christian doctrine of God is challenged by the science of nature. Science, imperiously and with increasing confidence, demands a unity in nature which shall be not external but immanent, giving rationality and coherence to all that is, and justifying the belief in the universal reign of law. But this immanence of God in nature Unitarian theism cannot give, save at the price of losing itself in pantheism. Deistic it might be, as it was in the last century ; deistic it can be no longer, unless it defiantly rejects the truth which science is giving us, and the claims which the scientific reason makes.