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THE HYPOTHESIS OF THE INCARNATION
ίνα τους δυο κτίση εν εαυτώ εις ένα καινόν άνθρωπον, ποιών ειρήνην.
-Eph. ii. 15.
The difficulty of obtaining a rational idea of God—The idea traverses two
stages, one constructive, the other destructive— The first process, the idealizing of God—The second process, the emancipation of the idea from all relations—The true rational idea of God one of negation—The rational idea opposed to the Ideal-Are philosophy and religion necessarily antagonistic?— The hypothesis of the Incarnation conciliates both-Christ is the Absolute and the Ideal-conciliates reason and sentiment- Belief and Reason necessary to one another-No system of thought without a postulate— The postulate of the Incarnation may be turned into a demonstration-Elucidation of the difficulty of identifying the Absolute with the Ideal—and of considering God as a Person.
E have seen that man cannot realize his personality,
and obtain his liberty in its entirety, except on the condition of acknowledging and loving God.
To acknowledge God he must make an act of will; to love God he must make an act of sentiment or of faith.
Here we encounter a difficulty which has been already indicated. There is a contradiction between the idea of God formed by the reason, and the idea of God desired by the heart. When Simonides was asked by King Hiero to define God, he asked a day to consider; at the end of that day, instead of giving his answer, he demanded two more, and when these were expired, he requested four; “for," said he, “the more I consider the subject, the more I find the difficulties double upon me."
These difficulties arise from the rational idea of God having to traverse two stages, very different, the first constructive, the latter destructive.
Let us consider the first process.
Our conception of God being derived from ourselves and the objects affecting us, we can form no idea except one made up of materials furnished by our experience and reflection. Therefore we select whatever powers and qualities we find amongst ourselves, and consider to be most commendable; we separate them from everything gross, material and imperfect, and heighten them to the utmost imaginable pitch;—the aggregate of all these makes up our first rational conception of God.
Consequently our idea of the Deity is that of the archetype of our own minds.
And as we perceive that virtue assumes a multitude of diverse forms, this variety discovered in intelligent beings convinces us that the most perfect Being is He who unites in Himself the greatest number, or the sum total, of all these perfections. By generalization of this sort, Plato, Descartes and Fenelon were led to the most comprehensive idea of God as the focus of all perfections of which His creatures are radiations.
But this conception of God is entirely humanistic. To say that He is infinitely powerful, infinitely wise, infinitely just, infinitely holy, is but the raising of human qualities to the nth power.
. These qualities are simply inconceivable apart from the existence of the world and man. If we give Him these qualities, save for the sake of bringing His existence within the scope of our faculties, we must allow that before the world
was they were not; because, apart from the existence of the world and man, these qualities are simply inconceivable.
Power is the exercise of superior force against a body that resists. Suppress the idea of resistance, and the idea of power disappears. Wisdom is inconceivable apart from something about which it can be called into operation. Goodness implies something towards which it can be shewn. Justice cannot be exerted in a vacuum where there is neither good nor evil, right nor wrong. Can God do wrong? Impossible. Then it is as unsuitable to apply to Him the term holy as it is to employ it of stick or stone which also cannot do what is wrong.
We pass, then, to the second stage of rationalizing on God.
The God that we have been considering is personal, and an ideal of perfection, with infinite attributes.
But this conception is defective, if not wrong; for it has been formed out of our empirical faculties, the imagination and the sentiment, and is simply an hypothesis dressed up in borrowed human attributes.
The idea of infinity which rejects every limitation, leads to the denial of attributes to God. For, if His intelligence be infinite, He does not pass from one idea to another, but knows all perfectly and instantaneously; to Him the past, the present and the future are not; therefore He can neither remember nor foresee. He can neither generalize nor analyze; for, if He were to do so, there would be some detail in things, the conception of which would be wanting to Him; He cannot reason, for reasoning is the passage from two terms to a third ; and He has no need of a middle term to perceive the relation of a principle to its consequence. He cannot think, for to think is to allow of succession in ideas.
He is therefore immutable in His essence; in Him are neither thoughts, feelings, nor will. Indeed, it is an abuse of words to speak of being, feeling, willing, in connexion with God, for these words have a sense limited to finite ideas, and are therefore inadmissible when treating of the Absolute.
The vulgar idea of God is not one that the reason can adınit. He is neither infinite, nor absolute, necessary, universal, nor perfect.
He is not infinite; for God is infinite only on condition of being All. But a God meeting His limitation in nature, the world and humanity, is not All. Also, if He be a person, He will be a being, and not merely being.
He is not absolute; for how can He be conceived apart from all relations; if He be a person, He feels, thinks, wishes, and here we have relations, conditions imposed on the Absolute, and He ceases to be absolute.
He is not necessary; the idea representing Him as necessary is the result of a psychological induction : but induction cannot confer on the ideas it discovers the character of necessity.
He is not universal; for, an individual, however great, extended, powerful, and perfect, cannot be universal. What is individual is particular, and the particular cannot be the All.
He is not perfect; for how can He be perfect to whom the universe is added. It was necessary, or it was not necessary; if necessary, He was imperfect without it; if not necessary, He is imperfect with it.
Thus we begin rationalizing on God by making Him our Ideal of all human perfections, and then we endeavour to form an idea of Him apart from these relations. We suppress them one after another, as being accidents and contradictions, and hope thus to conclude the essence of God, and we attain only a blank.
Voltaire said, “We have no adequate notion of the Divinity ; we creep along from guess to guess, from possibilities to probabilities; and we reach very few certainties. Is this supreme artizan infinite? is He everywhere? is He in one spot? We have no scale, no standpoint for judging. We feel that we are under the hand of an invisible Being; that is all, and we cannot take a step beyond. There is an insensate temerity in man endeavouring to divine what this Being is, if He be extended or not, if He exists in one place or not, how He exists, and how he operates.” 1
Plato would not say, “God is being," but merely, “God is above being."
Thus the science of God is reduced to a simple enunciation of His existence; which is a result as indifferent to man, as an affectional attraction or a moral influence, as if He were denied altogether.
For the suppression of qualities is the suppression of the idea of being. The sky is extended and blue: take from it the accidents of extension and colour, and it is not, at least, to us. So, when we put aside all determinations of God, God is to us a frost-bitten reality at best, practically nothing, and we are left indifferent whether He is or is not.
To be rigidly logical the Deist should say nothing of God; he cannot even predicate His existence without to some extent anthropomorphizing Him. “If there be a God,” said Pascal, “ He is infinitely incomprehensible; since having neither parts, nor limbs, He has no relation to us.”
Force, in like manner, can only be conceived in its relation to matter. Let matter drop out of consideration, and the idea of force has instantaneously disappeared. I can form no notion whatever of force in vacuum. Introduce a particle of matter, and it both realizes itself
1 Dictionnaire philosophique : art. Dieu.