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INSTITUTIONAL RELIGION AND THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT
So far, in considering what psychology had to tell us about the conditions in which our spiritual life can develop, and the mental machinery it can use, we have been, deliberately, looking at men one by one. We have left on one side all those questions which relate to the corporate aspect of the spiritual life, and its expression in religious institutions; that is to say, in churches and cults. We have looked upon it as a personal growth and response; a personal reception of, and self-orientation to, Reality. But we cannot get away from the fact that this regenerate life does most frequently appear in history associated with, or creating for itself, a special kind of institution. Although it is impossible to look upon it as the appearance of a favourable variation within the species, it is also just as possible to look upon it as the formation of a new herd or tribe. Where the variation appears, and in its sense of newness, youth and vigour breaks away from the institution within which it has arisen, it generally becomes the nucleus about which a new group is formed. So that individualism and gregariousness are both represented in the full life of the Spirit; and however personal its achievement may seem to us, it has also a definitely corporate and institutional aspect.
I now propose to take up this side of the subject, and try to suggest one or two lines of thought which may help us to discover the meaning and worth of such societies and institutions. For after all, some explanation is needed of these often strange symbolic systems, and often rigid mechanizations, imposed on the free responses to Eternal Reality which we found to constitute the essence of religious experience. Any one who has known even such direct communion with the Spirit as is possible to normal human nature must, if he thinks out the implications of his own experience, feel it to be inconsistent that this most universal of all acts should be associated by men with the most exclusive of all types of institution. It is only because we are so accustomed to this—taking churches for granted, even when we reject them—that we do not see how odd they really are: how curious it is that men do not set up exclusive and mutually hostile clubs full of rules and regulations to enjoy the light of the sun in particular times and fashions, but do persistently set up such exclusives clubs full of rules and regulations, so to enjoy the free Spirit of God.
When we look into history we see the life of the Spirit, even from its crudest beginnings, closely associated with two movements. First with the tendency to organize it in communities or churches, living under special sanctions and rules. Next, with the tendency of its greatest, most arresting personalities either to revolt from these organisms or to reform, rekindle them from within. So that the institutional life of religion persists through or in spite of its own constant tendency to stiffen and lose fervour, and the secessions, protests, or renewals which are occasioned by its greatest sons. Thus our Lord protested against Jewish formalism; many Catholic mystics, and afterwards the best of the Protestant reformers, against Roman formalism; George Fox against one type of Protestant formalism; the Oxford movement against another. This constant antagonism of church and prophet, of institutional authority and individual vision, is not only true of Christianity but of all great historical faiths. In the middle ages Kabir and Nanak, and in our own times the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj, break away from and denounce ceremonial Hinduism: again and again the great Sufis have led reforms within Islam. That which we are now concerned to discover is the necessity underlying this conflict: the extent in which the institution on one hand serves the spiritual life, and on the other cramps or opposes its free development. It is a truism that all such institutions tend to degenerate, to become mechanical, and to tyrannize. Are they then, in spite of these adverse characters, to be looked on as essential, inevitable, or merely desirable expressions of the spiritual life in man; or can this spiritual life flourish in pure freedom?
This question, often put in the crucial form, "Did Jesus Christ intend to form a Church?" is well worth asking. Indeed, it is of great pressing importance to those who now have the spiritual reconstruction of society at heart. It means, in practice: can men best be saved, regenerated, one by one, by their direct responses to the action of the Spirit; or, is the life of the Spirit best found and actualized through submission to tradition and contacts with other men—that is, in a group or church? And if in a group or church, what should the character of this society be? But we shall make no real movement towards solving this problem, unless we abandon both the standpoint of authority, and that of naïve religious individualism; and consent to look at it as a part of the general problem of human society, in the light of history, of psychology, and of ethics.
I think we may say without exaggeration that the general modern judgment—not, of course, the clerical or orthodox judgment—is adverse to institutionalism; at least as it now exists. In spite of the enormous improvement which would certainly be visible, were we to compare the average ecclesiastical attitude and average Church service in this country with those of a hundred years ago, the sense that religion involves submission to the rules and discipline of a closed society—that definite spiritual gains are attached to spiritual incorporation—that church-going, formal and corporate worship, is a normal and necessary part of the routine of a good life: all this has certainly ceased to be general amongst us. If we include the whole population, and not the pious fraction in our view, this is true both of so-called Catholic and so-called Protestant countries. Professor Pratt has lately described 80 per cent. of the population of the United States as being "unchurched"; and all who worked among our soldiers at the front were struck by the paradox of the immense amount of natural religion existing among them, combined with almost total alienation from religious institutions. Those, too, who study and care for the spiritual life seem most often to conceive it in the terms of William James's well-known definition of religion as "the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the Divine."119119 William James: "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 31.
Such a life of the Spirit—and the majority of educated men would probably accept this description of it—seems little if at all conditioned by Church membership. It speaks in secret to its Father in secret; and private devotion and self-discipline seem to be all it needs. Yet looking at history, we see that this conception, this completeness of emphasis on first-hand solitary seeking, this one-by-one achievement of Eternity, has not in fact proved truly fruitful in the past. Where it seems so to be fruitful, the solitude is illusory. Each great regenerator and revealer of Reality, each God-intoxicated soul achieving transcendence, owes something to its predecessors and contemporaries.120120 On this point compare Von Hügel: "Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion," pp. 230 et seq. All great spiritual achievement, like all great artistic achievement, however spontaneous it may seem to be, however much the fruit of a personal love and vision, is firmly rooted in the racial past. If fulfills rather than destroys; and unless its free movement towards novelty, fresh levels of pure experience, be thus balanced by the stability which is given us by our hoarded traditions and formed habits, it will degenerate into eccentricity and fail of its full effect. Although nothing but first-hand discovery of and response to spiritual values is in the end of any use to us, that discovery and that response are never quite such a single-handed affair as we like to suppose. Memory and environment, natural and cultural, play their part. And the next most natural and fruitful movement after such a personal discovery of abiding Reality, such a transfiguration of life, is always back towards our fellow-men; to learn more from them, to unite with them, to help them,—anyhow to reaffirm our solidarity with them. The great men and women of the Spirit, then, either use their new power and joy to restore existing institutions to fuller vitality, as did the successive regenerators of the monastic life, such as St. Bernard and St. Teresa and many Sufi saints; or they form new groups, new organisms which they can animate, as did St. Paul, St. Francis, Kabir, Fox, Wesley, Booth. One and all, they feel that the full robust life of the Spirit demands some incarnation, some place in history and social outlet, and also some fixed discipline and tradition.
In fact, not only the history of the soul, but that of all full human achievement, as studied in great creative personalities, shows us that such achievement has always two sides. (1) There is the solitary vision or revelation, and personal work in accordance with that vision. The religious man's direct experience of God and his effort to correspond with it; the artist's lonely and intense apprehension of beauty, and hard translation of it; the poet's dream and its difficult expression in speech; the philosopher's intuition of reality, hammered into thought. These are personal immediate experiences, and no human soul will reach its full stature unless it can have the measure of freedom and withdrawal which they demand. But (2) there are the social and historical contacts which are made by all these creative types with the past and with the present; all the big rich thick stream of human history and effort, giving them, however little they may recognize it, the very initial concepts with which they go to their special contact with reality, and which colour it; supporting them and demanding from them again their contribution to the racial treasury, and to the present too. Thus the artist, as, well as his solitary hours of contemplation and effort, ought to have his times alike of humble study of the past and of intercourse with other living artists; and great and enduring art forms more often arise within a school, than in complete independence of tradition. It seems, then, that the advocates of corporate and personal religion are both, in a measure, right: and that once again a middle path, avoiding both extremes of simplification, keeps nearest to the facts of life. We have no reason for supposing that these principles, which history shows us, have ceased to be operative: or that we can secure the best kind of spiritual progress for the race by breaking with the past and the institutions in which it is conserved. Institutions are in some sort needful if life's balance between stability and novelty, and our links with history and our fellow-men, are to be preserved; and if we are to achieve such a fullness both of individual and of corporate life on highest levels as history and psychology recommend to us.
The question of this institutional side of religion and what we should demand from it falls into two parts, which will best be treated separately. First, that which concerns the character and usefulness of the group-organization or society: the Church. Secondly, that which relates to its peculiar practices: the Cult. We must enquire under each head what are their necessary characters, their essential gifts to the soul, and what their dangers and limitations.
First, then, the Church. What does a Church really do for the God-desiring individual; the soul that wants to live a full, complete and real life, which has "felt in its solitude" the presence and compulsion of Eternal Reality under one or other of the forms of religious experience?
I think we can say that the Church or institution gives to its loyal members:—
(2) Religious union, not only with its contemporaries
but with the race, that is with
history. This we may regard as an extension
into the past—and so an enrichment—of
(3) Discipline; and with discipline a sort of
spiritual grit, which carries our fluctuating
souls past and over the inevitably recurring
periods of slackness, and corrects subjectivism.
(4) It gives Culture, handing on the discoveries
of the saints.
In so far as the free-lance gets any of these four things, he gets them ultimately, though indirectly, from some institutional source.
On the other hand the institution, since it represents the element of stability in life, does not give, and must not be expected to give, direct spiritual experience; or any onward push towards novelty, freshness of discovery and interpretation in the spiritual sphere. Its dangers and limitations will abide in a certain dislike of such freshness of discovery; the tendency to exalt the corporate and stable and discount the mobile and individual. Its natural instinct will be for exclusivism, the club-idea, conservatism and cosiness; it will, if left to itself, revel in the middle-aged atmosphere and exhibit the middle-aged point of view.
We can now consider these points in greater detail: and first that of the religious group-consciousness which a church should give its members. This is of a special kind. It is axiomatic that group-organization of some sort is a necessity of human life. History showed us the tendency of all spiritual movements to embody themselves, if not in churches at least in some group-form; the paradox of each successive revolt from a narrow or decadent institutionalism forming a group in its turn, or perishing when its first fervour died. But this social impulse, these spontaneous group-formations of master and disciples, valuable though they may be, do not fully exhibit all that is meant or done by a church. True, the Church is or should be at each moment of its career such a living spiritual society or household of faith. It is, essentially, a community of persons, who have or should have a common sentiment—belief in, and reverence for, their God—and a common defined aim, the furtherance of the spiritual life under the special religious sanctions which they accept. But every sect, every religious order or guild, every class-meeting, might claim this much; yet none of these can claim to be a church.
A church is far more than this. In so far as it is truly alive, it is a real organism, as distinguished from a crowd or collection of persons with a common purpose. It exhibits on the religious plane the ruling characters of such organized life: that is to say, the development of tradition and complex habits, the differentiation of function, the docility to leadership, the conservation of values, or carrying forward of the past into the present. It is, like the State, embodied history; and as such lives with its own life, a life transcending and embracing that of the individual souls of which it is built. And here, in its combined social and historic character, lie the sources alike of its enormous importance for human life and of its inevitable defects.
Professor McDougall, in his discussion of national groups,121121 W. McDougall: "The Group Mind," Cap. 3. has laid down the conditions which are necessary to the development of such a true organic group life as is seen in a living church. These are: first, continuity of existence, involving the development of a body of traditions, customs and practices—that is, for religion, a Cultus. Next, an authoritative organization through which custom and belief can be transmitted—that is, a Hierarchy, order of ministers, or its equivalent. Third, a conscious common interest, belief, or idea—Creed. Last, the existence of antagonistic groups or conditions, developing loyalty or keenness. These characters—continuity, authority, common belief and loyalty—which are shown, as he says, in their completeness in a patriot army, are I think no less marked features of a living spiritual society. Plain examples are the primitive Christian communities, the great religious orders in their flourishing time, the Society of Friends. They are on the whole more fully evident in the Catholic than in the Protestant type of church. But I think that we may look upon them, in some form or another, as essential to any institutional framework which shall really help the spiritual life in man.
We find ourselves, then, committed to the picture of a church or spiritual institution which is in essence Liturgic, Ecclesiastical, Dogmatic, and Militant, as best fulfilling the requirements of group psychology. Four decidedly indigestible morsels for the modern mind. Yet, group-feeling demands common expression if it is to be lifted from notion to fact. Discipline requires some authority, and some devotion to it. Culture involves a tradition handed on. And these, we said, were the chief gifts which the institution had to give to its members. We may therefore keep them in mind, as representing actual values, and warning us that neither history nor psychology encourages the belief that an amiable fluidity serves the highest purposes of life. Some common practice and custom, keeping the individual in line with the main tendencies of the group, providing rails on which the instinctive life can run and machinery by which fruitful suggestions can be spread. Some real discipline and humbling submission to rule. Some traditional and theological standard. Some missionary effort and enthusiasm. For these four things we must find place in any incorporation of the spiritual life which is to have its full effect upon the souls of men. And as a matter of fact, the periodical revolts against churches and ecclesiasticism, are never against societies in which all these characteristics are still alive; but against those which retain and exaggerate formal tradition and authority, whilst they have lost zest and identity of aim.
A real Church has therefore something to give to, and something to demand from each of its members, and there is a genuine loss for man in being unchurched. Because it endures through a perpetual process of discarding and renewal, those members will share the richness and experience of a spiritual life far exceeding their own time-span; a truth which is enshrined in the beautiful conception of the Communion of Saints. They enter a group consciousness which reinforces their own in the extent to which they surrender to it; which surrounds them with favourable suggestions and gives the precision of habit to their instinct for Eternity. The special atmosphere, the hoarded beauty, the evocative yet often archaic symbolism, of a Gothic Cathedral, with its constant reminiscences of past civilizations and old levels of culture, its broken fragments and abandoned altars, its conservation of eternal truths—the intimate union in it of the sublime and homely, the successive and abiding aspects of reality—make it the most fitting of all images of the Church, regarded as the spiritual institution of humanity. And the perhaps undue conservatism commonly associated with Cathedral circles represents too the chief reproach which can be brought against churches—their tendency to preserve stability at the expense of novelty, to crystallize, to cling to habits and customs which no longer serve a useful end. In this a church is like a home; where old bits of furniture have a way of hanging on, and old habits, sometimes absurd, endure. Yet both the home and the church can give something which is nowhere else obtainable by us, and represent values which it is perilous to ignore. When once the historical character of reality is fully grasped by us, we see that some such organization through which achieved values are conserved and carried forward, useful habits are learned and practised, the direct intuitions of genius, the prophet's revelation of reality are interpreted and handed on, is essential to the spiritual continuity of the race; and that definite churchmanship of some sort, or its equivalent, must be a factor in the spiritual reconstruction of society. As, other things being equal, a baby benefits enormously by being born within the social framework rather than in the illusory freedom of "pure" nature; so the growth of the soul is, or should be, helped and not hindered by the nurture it receives from the religious society in which it is born. Only indeed by attachment, open or virtual, through life or through literature, to some such group can the new soul link itself with history, and so participate in the hoarded spiritual values of humanity. Thus even a general survey of life inclines us at least to some appreciation of the principle laid down by Baron von Hügel in "Eternal Life"—namely, that "souls who live an heroic spiritual life within great religious traditions and institutions, attain to a rare volume and vividness of religious insight, conviction and reality"122122 Von Hügel "Eternal Life," p. 377.—seldom within reach of the contemplative, however ardent, who walks by himself.
History has given one reason for this; psychology gives another. These souls, living it is true with intensity their own life towards God, share and are bathed in the group consciousness of their church; as members of a family, distinct in temperament, share and are modified by the group consciousness of the home. The mental process of the individual is profoundly affected when he thus thinks and acts as a member of a group. Suggestibility is then enormously increased; and we know how much suggestion means to us. Moreover, suggestions emanating from the group always take priority of those of the outside world: for man is a gregarious animal, intensely sensitive to the mentality of the herd.123123 Cf. Trotter: "Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War." The Mind of the Church is therefore a real thing. The individual easily takes colour from it and the tradition it embodies, tends to imitate his fellow-members: and each such deed and thought is a step taken in the formation of habit, and leaves him other than he was before.
To say this is not to discredit church-membership as placing us at the mercy of emotional suggestion, reducing spontaneity to custom, and lessening the energy and responsibility of the individual soul towards God. On the contrary, right group suggestion reinforces, stimulates, does not stultify such individual action. If the prayerful attitude of my fellow worshippers helps me to pray better, surely it is a very mean kind of conceit on my part which would prompt me to despise their help, and refuse to acknowledge Creative Spirit acting on me through other men? It is one of the most beautiful features of a real and living corporate religion, that within it ordinary people at all levels help each other to be a little more supernatural than would have been alone. I do not now speak of individuals possessing special zeal and special aptitude; though, as the lives of the Saints assure us, even the best of these fluctuate, and need social support at times. Anyhow such persons of special spiritual aptitude, as life is now, are as rare as persons of special aptitude in other walks of life. But that which we seek for the life of to-day and of the future, is such a planning of it as shall give all men their spiritual chance. And it is abundantly clear upon all levels of life, that men are chiefly formed and changed by the power of suggestion, sympathy and imitation; and only reach full development when assembled in groups, giving full opportunity for the benevolent action of these forces. So too in the life of the Spirit, incorporation plays a part which nothing can replace. Goodness and devotion are more easily caught than taught; by association in groups, holy and strong souls—both living and dead—make their full gift to society, weak, undeveloped, and arrogant souls receive that of which they are in need. On this point we may agree with a great ecclesiastical scholar of our own day that "the more the educated and intellectual partake with sympathy of heart in the ordinary devotions and pious practices of the poor, the higher will they rise in the religion of the Spirit."124124 Dom Cuthbert Butler in the "Hibbert Journal," 1906, p. 502.
Yet this family life of the ideal religious institution, with its reasonable and bracing discipline, its gift of shelter, its care for tradition, its habit-formation and group consciousness—all this is given, as we may as well acknowledge, at the price which is exacted by all family life; namely, mutual accommodation and sacrifice, place made for the childish, the dull, the slow, and the aged, a toning-down of the somewhat imperious demands of the entirely efficient and clear-minded, a tolerance of imperfection. Thus for these efficient and clear-minded members there is always, in the church as in the family, a perpetual opportunity of humility, self-effacement, gentle acceptance; of exerting that love which must be joined to power and a sound mind if the full life of the Spirit is to be lived. In the realm of the supernatural this is a solid gain; though not a gain which we are very quick to appreciate in our vigorous youth. Did we look upon the religious institution not as an end in itself, but simply as fulfilling the function of a home—giving shelter and nurture, opportunity of loyalty and mutual service on one hand, conserving stability and good custom on the other—then, we should better appreciate its gifts to us, and be more merciful to its necessary defects. We should be tolerant to its inevitable conservatism, its tendency to encourage dependence and obedience to distrust individual initiative. We should no longer expect it to provide or specially to approve novelty and freedom, to be in the van of life's forward thrust. For this we must go not to the institution, which is the vehicle of history; but to the adventurous, forward moving soul, which is the vehicle of progress—to the prophet, not to the priest. These two great figures, the Keeper and the Revealer, which are prominent in every historical religion, represent the two halves of the fully-lived spiritual life. The progress of man depends both on conserving and on exploring: and any full incorporation of that life which will serve man's spiritual interests now, must find place for both.
Such an application of the institutional idea to present needs is required, in fact, to fulfil at least four primary conditions:—
(1) It must give a social life that shall develop group consciousness in respect of our eternal interests and responsibilities: using for this real discipline, and the influences of liturgy and creed.
(2) Yet it must not so standardize and socialize this life as to leave no room for personal freedom in the realm of Spirit: for those "experiences of men in their solitude" which form the very heart of religion.
(3) It must not be so ring-fenced, so exclusive, so wholly conditioned by the past, that the voice of the future, that is of the prophet giving fresh expression to eternal truths, cannot clearly be heard in it; not only from within its own borders but also from outside. But
(4) On the other hand, it must not be so contemptuous of the past and its priceless symbols that it breaks with tradition, and so loses that very element of stability which it is its special province to preserve.
I go on now to the second aspect of institutional religion: Cultus.
We at once make the transition from Church to Cultus, when we ask ourselves: how does, how can, the Church as an organized and enduring society do its special work of creating an atmosphere and imparting a secret? How is the traditional deposit of spiritual experience handed on, the individual drawn into the stream of spiritual history and held there? Remember, the Church exists to foster and hand on, not merely the moral life, the life of this-world perfection; but the spiritual life in all its mystery and splendour—the life of more than this-world perfection, the poetry of goodness, the life that aims at God. And this, not only in elect souls, which might conceivably make and keep direct contacts without her help, but in greater or less degree in the mass of men, who do need help. How is this done? The answer can only be, that it is mostly done through symbolic acts, and by means of suggestion and imitation.
All organized churches find themselves committed sooner or later to an organized cultus. It may be rudimentary. It may reach a high pitch of æsthetic and symbolic perfection. But even the successive rebels against dead ceremony are found as a rule to invent some ceremony in their turn. They learn by experience the truth that men most easily form religious habits and tend, to have religious experiences when they are assembled in groups, and caused to perform the same acts. This is so because as we have already seen, the human psyche is plastic to the suggestions made to it; and this suggestibility is greatly increased when it is living a gregarious life as a member of a united congregation or flock, and is engaged in performing corporate acts. The soldiers' drill is essential to the solidarity of the army, and the religious service in some form is—apart from all other considerations—essential to the solidarity of the Church.
We need not be afraid to acknowledge that from the point of view of the psychologist one prime reason of the value and need of religious ceremonies abides in this corporate suggestibility of man: or that one of their chief works is the production in him of mobility of the threshold, and hence of spiritual awareness of a generalized kind. As the modern mother whispers beneficent suggestions into the ear of her sleeping child125125 Baudouin: "Suggestion and Auto-Suggestion," Cap. VII. so the Church takes her children at their moment of least resistance, and suggests to them all that she desires them to be. It is interesting to note how perfectly adapted the rituals of historic Christianity are to this end, of provoking the emergence of the intuitive mind and securing a state of maximum suggestibility. The more complex and solemn the ritual, the more archaic and universal the symbols it employs, so much the more powerful—for those natures able to yield to it—the suggestion becomes. Music, rhythmic chanting, symbolic gesture, the solemn periods of recited prayer, are all contributory to this, effect In churches of the Catholic type every object that meets the eye, every scent, every attitude that we are encouraged to assume, gives us a push in the same direction if we let it do its rightful work. For other temperaments the collective, deliberate, and really ceremonial silence of the Quakers—the hush of the waiting mind, the unforced attitude of expectation, the abstraction from visual image—works to the same end. In either case, the aim is the production of a special group-consciousness; the reinforcing of languid or undeveloped individual feeling and aptitude by the suggestion of the crowd. This, and its result, is seen of course in its crudest form in revivalism: and on higher levels, in such elaborate dramatic ceremonies as those which are a feature of the Catholic celebrations of Holy Week. But the nice warm devotional feeling with which what is called a good congregation finishes the singing of a favourite hymn belongs to the same order of phenomena. The rhythmic phrases—not as a rule very full of meaning or intellectual appeal—exercise a slightly hypnotic effect on the analyzing surface-mind; and induce a condition of suggestibility open to all the influences of the place and of our fellow worshippers. The authorized translation of Ephesians v. 19: "speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," whatever we may think of its accuracy does as it stands describe one of the chief functions of religious services of the "hearty congregational" sort. We do speak to ourselves—our deeper, and more plastic selves—in our psalms and hymns; so too in the common recitation, especially the chanting, of a creed. We administer through these rhythmic affirmations, so long as we sing them with intention, a powerful suggestion to ourselves and every one else within reach. We gather up in them—or should do—the whole tendency of our worship and aspiration, and in the very form in which it can most easily sink in. This lays a considerable responsibility on those who choose psalms and hymns for congregational singing; for these can as easily be the instruments of fanatical melancholy and devitalizing, as of charitable life-giving and constructive ideas.
In saying all this I do not seek to discredit religious ceremony; either of the naïve or of the sophisticated type. On the contrary, I think that in effecting this change in our mental tone and colour, in prompting this emergence of a mood which, in the mass of men, is commonly suppressed, these ceremonies do their true work. They should stimulate and give social expression to that mood of adoration which is the very heart of religion; helping those who cannot be devotional alone to participate in the common devotional feeling. If, then, we desire to receive the gifts which corporate worship can most certainly make to us, we ought to yield ourselves without resistance or criticism to its influence; as we yield ourselves to the influence of a great work of art. That influence is able to tune us up, at least to a fleeting awareness of spiritual reality; and each such emergence of transcendental feeling is to the good. It is true that the objects which immediately evoke this feeling will only be symbolic; but after all, our very best conceptions of God are bound to be that. We do not, or should not, demand scientific truth of them. Their business is rather to give us poetry, a concrete artistic intuition of reality, and to place us in the mood of poetry. The great thing is, that by these corporate liturgic practices and surrenders, we can prevent that terrible freezing up of the deep wells of our being which so easily comes to those who must lead an exacting material or intellectual life. We keep ourselves supple; the spiritual faculties are within reach, and susceptible to education.
Organized ceremonial religion insists upon it, that at least for a certain time each day or week we shall attend to the things of the Spirit. It offers us its suggestions, and shuts off as well as it can conflicting suggestions: though, human as we are, the mere appearance of our neighbours is often enough to bring these in. Nothing is more certain than this: first that we shall never know the spiritual world unless we give ourselves the chance of attending to it, clear a space for it in our busy lives; and next, that it will not produce its real effect in us, unless it penetrates below the conscious surface into the deeps of the instinctive mind, and moulds this in accordance with the regnant idea. If we are to receive the gifts of the cultus, we on our part must bring to it at the very least what we bring to all great works of art that speak to us: that is to say, attention, surrender, sympathetic emotion. Otherwise, like all other works of art, it will remain external to us. Much of the perfectly sincere denunciation and dislike of religious ceremony which now finds frequent utterance comes from those who have failed thus to do their share. They are like the hasty critics who dismiss some great work of art because it is not representative, or historically accurate; and so entirely miss the æsthetic values which it was created to impart.
Consider a picture of the Madonna. Minds at different levels may find in this pure representation, Bible history, theology, æsthetic satisfaction, spiritual truth. The peasant may see in it the portrait of the Mother of God, the critic a phase in artistic evolution; whilst the mystic may pass through it to new contacts with the Spirit of life. We shall receive according to the measure of what we bring. Now consider the parallel case of some great dramatic liturgy, rich with the meanings which history has poured into it. Take, as an example which every one can examine for themselves, the Roman Mass. Different levels of mind will find here magic, theology, deep mystery, the commemoration under archaic symbols of an event. But above and beyond all these, they can find the solemn incorporated emotion, of the Christian Church, and a liturgic recapitulation of the movement of the human soul towards fullness of life: through confession and reconciliation to adoration and intercession—that is, to charity—and thence to direct communion with and feeding on the Divine World.
To the mind which refuses to yield to it, to move with its movement, but remains in critical isolation, the Mass like all other ceremonies will seem external, dead, unreal; lacking in religious content. But if we do give ourselves completely and unselfconsciously to the movement of such a ceremony, at the end of it we may not have learnt anything, but we have lived something. And when we remember that no experience of our devotional life is lost, surely we may regard it as worth while to submit ourselves to an experience by which, if only for a few minutes, we are thus lifted to richer levels of life and brought into touch with higher values? We have indeed only to observe the enrichment of life so often produced in those who thus dwell meekly and without inner conflict in the symbolic world of ceremonial religion, and accept its discipline and its gifts, to be led at least to a humble suspension of judgment as to its value. A whole world of spiritual experience separates the humble little church mouse rising at six every morning to attend a service which she believes to be pleasing to a personal God, from the philosopher who meditates on the Absolute in a comfortable armchair; and no one will feel much doubt as to which side the advantage lies.
Here we approach the next point. The cultus, with its liturgy and its discipline, exists for and promotes the repetition of acts which are primarily the expression of man's instinct for God; and by these—or any other repeated acts—our ductile instinctive life is given a definite trend. We know from Semon's researches126126 Cf. R. Semon: "Die Mneme." that the performance of any given act by a living creature influences all future performances of similar acts. That is to say, memory combines with each fresh stimulus to control our reaction to it. "In the case of living organisms," says Bertrand Russell, "practically everything that is distinctive both of their physical and mental behaviour is bound up with this persistent influence of the past": and most actions and responses "can only be brought under causal laws by including past occurrences in the history of the organism as part of the causes of the present response."127127 Bertrand Russell: "The Analysis of Mind," p. 78. The phenomena of apperception, in fact, form only one aspect of a general law. As that which we have perceived conditions what we can now perceive, so that which we have done conditions what we shall do. It therefore appears that in spite of angry youthful revolts or mature sophistications, early religious training, and especially repeated religious acts, are likely to influence the whole of our future lives. Though all they meant to us seems dead or unreal, they have retreated to the dark background of consciousness and there live on. The tendency which they have given persists; we never get away from them. A church may often seem to lose her children, as human parents do; but in spite of themselves they retain her invisible seal, and are her children still. In nearly all conversions in middle life, or dramatic returns from scepticism to traditional belief, a large, part is undoubtedly played by forgotten childish memories and early religious discipline, surging up and contributing their part to the self's new apprehensions of Reality.
If, then, the cultus did nothing else, it would do these two highly important things. It would influence our whole present attitude by its suggestions, and our whole future attitude through unconscious memory of the acts which it demands. But it does more than this. It has as perhaps its greatest function the providing of a concrete artistic expression for our spiritual perceptions, adorations and desires. It links the visible with the invisible, by translating transcendent fact into symbolic and even sensuous terms. And for this reason men, having bodies no less surely than spirits, can never afford wholly to dispense with it. Hasty transcendentalists often forget this; and set us spiritual standards to which the race, so long as it is anchored to this planet and to the physical order, cannot conform.
A convert from agnosticism with whom I was acquainted, was once receiving religious instruction from a devout and simple-minded nun. They were discussing the story of the Annunciation, which presented some difficulties to her. At last she said to the nun, "Well, anyhow, I suppose that one is not obliged to believe that the Blessed Virgin was visited by a solid angel, dressed in a white robe?" To this the nun replied doubtfully, "No, dear, perhaps not. But still, you know, he would have to wear something."
Now here, as it seems to me, we have a great theological truth in a few words. The elusive contacts and subtle realities of the world of spirit have got to wear something, if we are to grasp them at all. Moreover, if the mass of men are to grasp them ever so little, they must wear something which is easily recognized by the human eye and human heart; more, by the primitive, half-conscious folk-soul existing in each one of us, stirring in the depths and reaching out in its own way towards God. It is a delicate matter to discuss religious symbols. They are like our intimate friends: though at the bottom of our hearts we may know that they are only human, we hate other people to tell us so. And, even as the love of human beings in its most perfect state passes beyond its immediate object, is transfigured, and merged in the nature of all love; so too, the devotion which a purely symbolic figure calls forth from the ardently religious nature—whether this figure be the divine Krishna of Hinduism, the Buddhist's Mother of Mercy, the Sūfi's Beloved, or those objects of traditional Christian piety which are familiar to all of us—this devotion too passes beyond its immediate goal and the relative truth there embodied, and is eternalized. It is characteristic of the primitive mind that it finds a difficulty about universals, and is most at home with particulars. The success of Christianity as a world-religion largely abides in the way in which it meets this need. It is notorious that the person of Jesus, rather than the Absolute God, is the object of average Protestant devotion. So too the Catholic peasant may find it easier to approach God through and in his special saint, or even a special local form of the Madonna. This is the inevitable corollary of the psychic level at which he lives; and to speak contemptuously of his "superstition" is wholly beside the point. Other great faiths have been compelled by experience to meet need of a particular object on which the primitive religious consciousness can fasten itself: conspicuous examples being the development within Buddhism of the cult of the Great Mother, and within pore Brahminism of Krishna worship. Wherever it may be destined to end, here it is that the life of the Spirit begins; emerging very gently from our simplest human impulses and needs. Yet, since the Universal, the Idea, is manifested in each such particular, we need not refuse to allow that the mass of men do thus enjoy—in a way that their psychic level makes natural to them—their own measure of communion with the Creative Spirit of God; and already live according to their measure a spiritual life.
These objects of religious cultus, then, and the whole symbolic faith-world which is built up of them, with its angels and demons, its sharply defined heaven and hell, the Divine personifications which embody certain attributes of God for us, the purity and gentleness of the Mother, the simplicity and infinite possibility of the Child, the divine self-giving of the Cross;—more, the Lamb, the Blood and the Fire of the revivalists, the oil and water, bread and wine, of a finished Sacramentalism—all these may be regarded as the vestures placed by man, at one stage or another of his progress, on the freely-given but ineffable spiritual fact. Like other clothes, they have now become closely identified with that which wears them. And we strip them off at our own peril: for this proceeding, grateful as it may be to our intellects, may leave us face to face with a mystery which we dare not look at, and cannot grasp.
So, cultus has done a mighty thing for humanity, in evolving and conserving the system of symbols through which the Infinite and Eternal can be in some measure expressed. The history of these symbols goes back, as we now know, to the infancy of the race, and forward to the last productions of the religious imagination; all of which bear the image of our past They are like coins, varying in beauty, and often of slight intrinsic value; but of enormous importance for our spiritual currency, because accepted as the representatives of a real wealth. In its symbols, the cultus preserves all the past levels of religious response achieved by the race; weaving them into the fabric of religion, and carrying them forward into the present. All the instinctive movements of the primitive mind; its fear of the invisible, its self-subjection, its trust in ritual acts, amulets, spells, sacrifices, its tendency to localize Deity in certain places or shrines, to buy off the unknown, to set up magicians and mediators, are represented in it. Its function is racial more than individual. It is the art-work of the folk-soul in the religious sphere. Here man's inveterate creative faculty seizes on the raw material given him by religious-intuition, and constructs from it significant shapes. We misunderstand, then, the whole character of religious symbolism if we either demand rationality from it, or try to adapt its imagery to the lucid and probably mistaken conclusions of the sophisticated, modern mind.
We are learning to recognize these primitive and racial elements in popular religion, and to endure their presence with tolerance; because they are necessary, and match a level of mental life which is still active in the race. This more primitive life emerges to dominate all crowds—where the collective mental level is inevitably lower than that of the best individuals immersed in it—and still conditions many of our beliefs and deeds. There is the propitiatory attitude to unseen Divine powers; which the primitive mind, in defiance of theology, insists on regarding as somehow hostile to us and wanting to be bought off. There is the whole idea and apparatus of sacrifice; even though no more than the big apples and vegetable marrows of the harvest festival be involved in it. There is the continued belief in a Deity who can and should be persuaded to change the weather, or who punishes those who offend Him by famine, earthquake and pestilence. Vestigial relics of all these phases can still be discovered in the Book of Common Prayer. There is further the undying vogue of the religious amulet. There is the purely magical efficacy which some churches attribute to their sacraments, rites, shrines, liturgic formulæ and religious objects; others, to the texts of their scriptures.128128 A quaint example of this occurred in a recent revival, where the exclamation "We believe in the Word of God from cover to cover, Alleluia!" received the fervent reply, "And the covers too!" These things, and others like them, are not only significant survivals from the past. They also represent the religious side of something that continues active in us at present. Since, then, it should clearly be the object of all spiritual endeavor to win the whole man and not only his reason for God, speaking to his instincts in language that they understand, we should not too hurriedly despise or denounce these things. Far better that our primitive emotions, with their vast store of potential energy, should be won for spiritual interests on the only terms which they can grasp, than that they should be left to spend themselves on lower objects.
If therefore the spiritual or the regenerate life is not likely to prosper without some incorporation in institutions, some definite link with the past, it seems also likely to need for its full working-out and propaganda the symbols and liturgy of a cultus. Here again, the right path will be that of fulfilment, not of destruction; a deeper investigation of the full meaning of cultus, the values it conserves and the needs it must meet, a clearer and humbler understanding of our human limitations. We must also clearly realize as makers of the future, that as the Church has its special dangers of conservatism, cosiness, intolerance, a checking of initiative, the domestic tendency to enclose itself and shirk reality; so the cultus has also its special dangers, of which the chief are perhaps formalism, magic, and spiritual sloth. Receiving and conserving as it does all the successive deposits of racial experience, it is the very home of magic: of the archaic tendency to attribute words and deeds, special power to a priestly caste, and to make of itself the essential mediator between Creative Spirit and the soul. Further, using perpetually as it does and must symbols of the most archaic sort, directly appealing to the latent primitive in each of us, it offers us a perpetual temptation to fall back into something below our best possible. The impulsive mind is inevitably conservative; always at the mercy of memorized images. Hence its delighted self-yielding to traditional symbols, its uncritical emotionalism, its easy slip-back into traditional and even archaic and self-contradictory beliefs: the way in which it pops out and enjoys itself at a service of the hearty congregational sort, or may even lead its unresisting owner to the revivalists' penitent-bench.
But on the other hand, Creative Spirit is not merely conservative. The Lord and Giver of Life presses forward, and perpetually brings novelty to birth; and in so far as we are dedicated to Him, we must not make an unconditional surrender to psychic indolence, or to the pull-back of the religious past. We may not, as Christians, accept easy emotions in the place of heroic and difficult actualizations: make external religion an excuse for dodging reality, immerse ourselves in an exquisite dream, or tolerate any real conflict between old cultus and actual living faith. A most delicate discrimination is therefore demanded from us; the striking of a balance between the rightful conservatism of the cultus and the rightful independence of the soul. Yet, this is not to justify even in the most advanced a wholesale iconoclasm. Time after time, experience has proved that the attempt to approach God "without means," though it may seem to describe the rare and sacred moments of the personal life of the Spirit, is beyond the power of the mass of men; and even those who do achieve it are, as it were, most often supported from behind by religious history and the religious culture of their day. I do not think it can be doubted that the right use of cultus does-increase religious sensitiveness. Therefore here the difficult task of the future must be to preserve and carry forward its essential elements, all the symbolic significance, all the incorporated emotion, which make it one of man's greatest works of art; whilst eliminating those features which are, in the bad sense, conventional and no longer answer to experience or communicate life.
Were we truly reasonable human beings, we should perhaps provide openly and as a matter of course within the Christian frame widely different types of ceremonial religion, suited to different levels of mind and different developments of the religious consciousness. To some extent this is already done: traditionalism and liberalism, sacramentalism, revivalism, quietism, have each their existing cults. But these varying types of church now appear as competitors, too often hostile; not as the complementary and graded expressions of one life, each having truth in the relative though none in the absolute sense. Did we more openly acknowledge the character of that life, the historic Churches would no longer invite the sophisticated to play down to their own primitive fantasies; to sing meaningless hymns and recite vindictive psalms, or lull themselves by the recitation of litany or rosary which, admirable as the instruments of suggestion, are inadequate expressions of the awakened spiritual life. On the one hand, they would not require the simple to express their corporate religious feeling in Elizabethan English or Patristic Latin; on the other, expect the educated to accept at face-value symbols of which the unreal character is patent to them. Nor would they represent these activities as possessing absolute value in themselves.
To join in simplicity and without criticism in the common worship, humbly receiving its good influences, is one thing. This is like the drill of the loyal soldier; welding him to his neighbours, giving him the corporate spirit and forming in him the habits he needs. But to stop short at that drill, and tell the individual that drill is the essence of his life and all his duty, is another thing altogether. It confuses means and end; destroys the balance between liberty and law. If the religious institution is to do its real work in furthering the life of the Spirit, it must introduce a more rich variety into its methods; and thus educate souls of every type not only to be members of the group but also to grow up to the full richness of the personal life. It must offer them—as indeed Catholicism does to some extent already—both easy emotion and difficult mystery; both dramatic ceremony and ceremonial silence. It must also give to them all its hoarded knowledge of the inner life of prayer and contemplation, of the remaking of the moral nature on supernatural levels: all the gold that there is in the deposit of faith. And it must not be afraid to impart that knowledge in modern terms which all can understand. All this it can and will do if its members sufficiently desire it: which means, if those who care intensely for the life of the Spirit accept their corporate responsibilities. In the last resort, criticism of the Church, of Christian institutionalism, is really criticism of ourselves. Were we more spiritually alive, our spiritual homes would be the real nesting places of new life. That which the Church is to us is the result of all that we bring to, and ask from, history: the impact of our present and its past.
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