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and is conceivable by me. Once it was supposed that the space between the atmospheric envelope of the earth and the sun was void. That idea has been abandoned as untenable, for it was perceived that the transmission of force, whether as light, heat or electricity, without a medium, was impossible.
If we attempt to give a rational description of God, we find it only possible to do so by negatives. We labour to emancipate the idea of the Deity from all relations, and the result is that we reduce Him to an axiomatic point, without parts and magnitude, and in Himself nothing. The defect in every theosophic system has been the admission of a relative conception into the scheme. The most gigantic efforts have been made to abstract the notion of God from all contingencies and yet preserve its reality ; but the heel of the argument by which it was held has always been outside of abstraction, and in that it has been vulnerable by the shaft of criticism.
S. Augustine, the story goes, was pacing the shore, meditating on the nature of God, and endeavouring to form a crisp definition thereof. He passed and repassed a little child engaged in pouring sea-water out of a cockle-shell into a hole in the sand.
“My son," asked the bishop, “what are you attempting?” “I am about to empty the ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible.” “Not more impossible,” replied the child, “ than for you to compress the Infinite within the circle of your skull.” And he vanished.
The intellectual conception of God becomes entirely distinct from the Ideal of perfection, for perfections are only human attributes raised to the highest pitch; and as the idea of God ceases to be the Ideal, it ceases to exercise any influence on man's heart. In face of a God known only as
a series of negations he is like the earth under an unveiled sky, radiating off all his warmth into vacuum and freezing into stone.
Here there is a problem of the highest difficulty.
In order to realize his nature man must love God, but he cannot love Him, because he can know nothing of Him. Yet a voice within him bids him love and worship God. Aristotle said that man was a political animal, he might have added, he was a religious animal also. He must form an ideal, and reason forbids that ideal to be God; for that ideal is essentially relative and human.
It is impossible for him to find in God consolation and peace, if God be of a nature wholly different from his own. He cannot partake of the satisfaction of a Being who is not identical in kind with himself. Everything that lives finds rest and contentment only in its own nature, in its own element. Consequently, if God is to complete and express man's nature, He must be the ideal of man in his entirety, not of his hard reason alone, but of his warm affections also.
Reason is rigid and bloodless, neutral, impartial and composed. It formulates law, and applies it without compunction, iron-bard and ice-cold, to the quivering flesh. It traces the nerves of man's necessities, not for the purpose of satisfying them, but that it may know them, look on them, and pass by on the other side.
The God of reason cannot be the object of religion.
Here then is an opposition. The object of reason on one side, the object of sentiment on the other; the rational ideal and the religious ideal at opposite poles.
We have seen in the first volume what have been the alternatives to men seeking their Ideal, now in religion and then in philosophy.
We have seen the religious ideal, uncorrected and unbalanced by the reason, rush into abysses of passion; and men in following it lose themselves in mysticism or in sensuality. The raptures of ecstatics, their visions and trances, are a phenomenon resulting from the prosecution of an unregulated religious passion; the orgies of Mylitta, Atergatis, and Atys arise from the same source. On the other hand, philosophy withdrew the idea of God from the range of the emotions, and left man pulseless and despairing.
The antinomy was inevitable; religion was sensuous, and philosophy was impracticable.
But is conciliation impossible? We have already seen that apparent autagonisms are not necessarily contradictory.
"To declare war against religion, in the name of philosophy,” says Victor Cousin, “is a great mistake; for philosophy cannot replace religion, and in attempting to do so it manifests its ambition and its incapacity. On the other hand, it is no less folly for men to wage war against philosophy in the name of religion, and to attract to Christianity by calumniating reason, degrading intellect, and brutalizing man. Religion and philosophy are two powers equally necessary, which, thank God, cannot destroy each other, and which might easily be united for the pacification of the world and the benefit of the human race.”
"1 It is at this point that Christianity steps forward and presents its great hypothesis of the Incarnation, as the only possible mode of escape from the dilemma, and of solving the problem.
Christianity asserts that God who, as we have seen, condescends to create, has condescended further, to meet the exigencies of the nature He had made, by conjoining the infinite to the finite," by taking of the manhood into God."
1 Preface to Pascal : by V. Cousin. Paris, 1817.
That this hypothesis is paradoxical cannot be denied. It is a contradiction of terms; for it asserts that the abstract, infinite and eternal God has become contingent, finite, and mortal. As Alexander Natalis elegantly puts it, “ Deus, factus est homo; Filius æterni Patris, filius hominis; Verbum, infans; Vita, mortalis; Lux, in tenebris.”
I said that the existence of the world is irrational, so is the dogma of the Incarnation.
I do not say that either is impossible. The existence of the world is a fact, a super-rational fact; so also, may be, the Incarnation is a fact above reason.
Take an illustration which may suggest its possibility.
Matter is necessary for the manifestation of Force. It has been supposed, not without show of reason, that matter is itself not distinct from force, but is a mode of force. That is, force alone exists, it materializes itself, not by entering into a foreign substance, but, by entering into a modification of itself, it exteriorizes and manifests itself. Thus the Incarnation is the manifestation of the Love of God, which is itself a mode, or a Personality, according to Catholic language, of the Absolute.
If the hypothesis of the Incarnation be true, God is still all that the reason can conceive of Him. He is also all that the heart can desire in Him.
If he were God alone, He would not be the ideal of man's heart, and therefore not an object of religious devotion.
If He were Man alone, He would not be the end of man's reason, and therefore not an object of philosophic thought.
But as the complete Ideal, He is God in man, and man in God, axis, centre, and circumference of all that is and all that can be. To the world of ideas and feelings He is what the centre of gravity is to the world of matter.
As Newton was led by the observation of the fall of bodies to the earth, whether at England or at the Antipodes, to conjecture the existence of a centre of gravity, so we, observing the fall from opposite directions of sentimental and rational conclusions, may produce their lines till they meet, and call that point of junction Christ.
Indivisibly Man-God, He is, as Man, the new Adam, the universal Man, who contains, without confounding, says S. John Chrysostom, all men, all humanity; of whose nature He is the archetype and perfection; so that all the manifestations of human sentiment, thought, desire, and action, must be unified and synthesized in Him.
But this universal conciliation can only be supposed to operate in virtue of His being God as well as man, so that He may efface, in the unity of love and of reason, all those diversities which are produced by the apparent contradictions and finite manifestations of man.
Christ, comprehending in one the two natures, human and divine, being the union of the relative and the absolute, is therefore the living realization of that Ideal, infinite in itself, and infinite in each of its terms, which marks the phases of His eternal work.
Mediator between the create and the uncreate, which are united in Himself, He is, in His Church, which is His body, the eternal harmonizer of all individual reasons in the unity of the Divine reason, or the Word made flesh, conceived and realized by the Spirit of infinite love, in whom all love is also universalized.
To him who accepts the dogma of the Incarnation there can be no real antagonism between reason and sentiment, philosophy and religion. The supposition forbids the