The Kingdom of God on Earth

By Bernard Bosanquet

Much is said in the New Testament, with very various meanings, about the Kingdom of Christ or the Kingdom of God. I want to consider, this evening, some of the forms which this idea has taken in the New Testament and elsewhere, and what meaning it can have for us today.

Part I. "Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." "Grant that we may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left, in Thy kingdom." "Now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." In such passages as these we think that we find two ideas which have had enormous influence on the world.

1. Heaven is to right the wrongs, and to compensate the injustices of this world. "Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." Part of this natural conception has been a comfort to those for whom the world seemed to have nothing but misery, and part has rudely represented a wild feeling of justice. But at all times, and especially in modern times, it has had another and a very mischievous influence. It can be turned round the other way. God, we think, will look after those who are ill-off on earth, -109- and therefore we need not trouble ourselves about them. Heaven becomes a sort of poor-law, to which we refer the cases of distress that we do not know how to deal with. We even feel very virtuous in doing this. It is so humble of us to be content with this world’s goods, and to leave the next world to our poorer neighbours. And it makes everything easy; it cuts the knot of all those troublesome questions, how every member of a great nation can have a man’s share in the work and knowledge of the world. Let him read his Bible and believe what he is told, and then, after a few years, which do not much matter, he will be as well off as an emperor; or perhaps better, for he will go to heaven, and many emperors will not.

This belief has great power for good and for evil. It has raised men’s estimate of their dignity, and has made them feel the value of a soul. But it has made them careless of the world in which they live, and has narrowed their notions of duty and of manliness. Life must not be split up into a present of endurance, and a future of enjoyment. Injustice must be redressed, beauty enjoyed, knowledge won, and goodness attained, here on this earth of ours.

2. Then there is the other common idea, very like the last. "Great is your reward in heaven." "Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." This is the notion, not very marked, I think, in the New Testament, of a moral government of the world by rewards and punishments. The Churchmen who write about religion have made a fatal delusion out of this conception too. But I do not think that sensible people have taken it very seriously. We all know that we are not to do good for the sake of what we expect to get by it; and if a preacher tells us that we are to be good Christians in order to go to heaven and keep out of hell, we -110- think that he does not quite understand what he is saying. A man who tells you that is mixing up two notions. One notion is that you are to obey God’s will in order to gain the pleasure of heaven and escape the pains of hell. And the other notion is that you are to obey God’s will, because in doing that you get rid of the bad in your own heart, and make your will rest or repose in the good will. This hope of finding peace, of resting your will in something greater than yourself, of being at one with the good purpose of humanity, is the very mainspring of life. But it is here on earth that we want our will to be good, and to get rid of the bad in our own hearts. There is no reason in putting it off to a future life, of which we know nothing. If we must have something future to hope for, let us put our hopes on our children, and do something to carry them out. However, this desire to be good and to be at one with a society of good people is the root of our life. But that other notion, that we are to be good in order to gain the pleasures of heaven, is very wrong, or rather, it is absolute nonsense. I should like to explain why I say that it is absolute nonsense.

A man is good when his will is good, and bad when his will is bad. It all depends upon what kind of thing he really has at heart when he acts. It does not depend on what he does, if you look at it from the outside. If a man says he meant well, when he did not, then he is a hypocrite. But we all know that a man may really mean well, and yet may make a mistake and do great harm. Then we do not call him a bad man, though we may call him a fool. This shows that it is the will which makes a man good or bad," and a man’s will is his choice; it is what his heart is really set on when he acts. So, when we talk of being good or doing good, for the sake of what we can get by it, this can only be a pretence of being or -111- doing good. You may do, for reward, something that on the outside looks like doing good, but it is not doing good, because the will is selfish — your heart is set on your own pleasure or comfort, and not on a substantial good for its own sake. A man who really thought of nothing but getting safe to heaven would be as bad as a man in a shipwreck who thought of nothing but getting himself safe into a boat. There are a few such people, I daresay. But of course most people are better than they make out. When they speak of reward and punishment, they do not mean merely pleasures and pains; they mean, in part at least, the goodness which causes the pleasure, and the badness which causes the pain. We can see that true Christians have never thought the reward the chief thing. St. Paul was ready to give up his own reward, to be accursed from Christ, if that would save the souls he loved. And to go from great things to small, there is a fine scene in a novel which I once read. A young man is afraid to go to the rescue of some people in a flood, because he has a conviction that if he is drowned then, he will go to hell. And the old man, an old Scotchman, to whom he tells this, shouts out to him in reply, "Better be damned doing the will of God than saved doing nothing." This is the instinct of true religion revolting against the false doctrine of rewards; and I believe that this revolt has the sympathy of all true Christians.

Of course this fancy of rewards and punishments has had its uses. It has enabled people to believe against appearances that good was stronger than evil. And it has helped to make good stronger than evil. We cannot judge these old beliefs fairly, unless we think of the power they had and the way in which they were used. In rough ages it was a gain that men should recognise anything as above themselves. There is a striking picture in a poem of Longfellow’s of a -112- monk forcing a Norman Baron in England, on his death-bed, to set his serfs free.

In his chamber, weak and dying,
Was the Norman Baron lying;
     * * * *
And, as on the sacred missal.
He recorded their dismissal,
Death relaxed his iron features.
And the Monk replied, ’Amen.’

I do not say that this picture represents a fact; but no one can doubt that the thought of heaven and hell must often have reinforced the appeal of conscience, and kept alive the persuasion that there was a power higher than the sword.

These were the old convictions about heaven and the kingdom of God, — that it was an invisible future world, in which wrong was to be righted, and good and bad men rewarded and punished. These fancies have not in reality a great place in the New Testament; but they were known to the Greeks and to many other nations. Plato speaks with scorn of the priests and charlatans of his time, four centuries before Christ, who go about telling men that they can make it all safe for them in the next world by their prayers and ceremonies. So these notions are as old as civilized mankind; and the right way to look at them is to see that people naturally came upon them when they felt sure that there was a right somewhere, and that it was better to be good. The last thing people understand is what is before their eyes. It is so much easier just to fancy that something used to be, or that something will be, instead of looking patiently at what actually is. Men look round them and see that the world seems very bad, but they feel sure that there is a real good somewhere; and so they make up a story that it was all very good once, and then the devil put it wrong; but God will put it all right again someday, -113- — at least for some of us. It is just as people say, "How do there come to be so many kinds of plants and animals?" And they answer that God created them a long time ago, and Adam gave them names. Well, of course, if we look carefully at what is under our eyes, we see that this is a fantastic idea. The kinds of plants and animals are always changing now, precisely as they always have been changing since they began.

“Good is not a thing which can be made up by deferred payments.”

Just in the same way, when you look patiently and carefully at the world we live in, you see that those ideas of another world are nothing but imperfect explanations or reflections of the good that is being worked out in this world, and are of no value, excepting as they contribute to the furtherance of this real good. Good is not a thing which can be made up by deferred payments.

3. In the same way, again, God has been thought of as a king or master, somewhere outside the world we live in, and the Bible as the book of his decrees; as if God could make anything right by choosing to command it. This is the old meaning of revelation; that man had no way of knowing God’s will, and so God had this book written to tell us what his will was, and we have to do everything that is commanded in this book. Of course this idea turns things upside down. Things are not right because the Bible says them, but the Bible says them, if it does say them, because they are right. And when we say now that anything is God’s command, we ought to know that we are using a figure of speech, which means something quite different from the command of a person outside ourselves and having power over us.

“Things are not right because the Bible says them, but the Bible says them because they are right.”

4. And this makes an enormous difference; because, if you have a master in heaven, whose orders you must obey, and if he has had a book written to tell you what to do, then the -114- most important people in the world are the people who spend their lives in interpreting this book. And in fact, as you and I have not time to be studying a book written in Hebrew and Greek all our lives, we should be under the thumb of these gentlemen, who say they know all about it, and some of them even say they have a special commission from God to tell us about it, and we are not to listen to any one else. This is plainly a mere dream. There is no great harm in talking of a revelation, but it means nothing in the world but our own common sense and reason, dealing with the circumstances of our lives.

All these ideas, — compensation, rewards and punishments, God’s commands in the Bible, the authority of the clergy, — are closely connected together. They are all fancies that men have had, just as though they were children, and being children, knew that they must be treated like children. Children do things because they are told, until they have learnt to behave themselves. And so men had to learn to behave themselves, only they had to fancy that there was a parent or schoolmaster looking after them. They naturally invented the only sort of instruction they could receive.

Part II. But then, in the New Testament we find yet other ideas mixed with those which we have been speaking of. The kingdom of God is within you (or perhaps "among you"); it is like leaven; it is like a seed; it is not of this world. This might mean it is in heaven, but I do not think it does; I think it means that the kingdom of God is not what people in this world call a kingdom. The New Testament writers did, in fact, think that the next world was to be on earth, and that it was to begin soon, and had in truth begun already. But we must not count this altogether on our side, because there was to be a miraculous end to the old earth, and a new one was to -115- be made. Still, we may fairly say that they thought the kingdom of God was a moral kingdom; that it was to come on earth; that it was something quite close to them; and that it had partly begun with Christ’s life. The idea of the Church grew up in place of this conviction, when the belief in Christ’s coming gave way.

This moral kingdom of God is what is meant in the prayer, "Thy kingdom come," which is explained by the next petition, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Most of the New Testament writers, and, it would seem, Christ himself, expected this kingdom to come within a man’s lifetime. We may leave out these words, "as in heaven," which belong to the fancies of which we have been speaking, fancies that the good which we do not see here is real somewhere else.

But the kingdom of God on earth, is here, as the Lord’s prayer implies, in as far as what we call God’s will is done on earth. But now there is a question which stares us in the face.

What have we men to do with God’s will? The question has two forms:

1. How are we to know what is God’s will? And 2. Why should we do God’s will when we do know it?

We have destroyed the vulgar answers to these two questions. I will repeat briefly how we have destroyed them. They were — "We are to know God’s will from his inspired revelation in the Bible," or "from the Catholic Church" — a very mischievous doctrine; and "we are to do God’s will because he will reward or punish us according as we do it or not." The first of these answers is a mistake, because books and men are just books and men, and they cannot have authority except by convincing our own minds. And the -116- second is an absurdity, because the nature of what we do depends upon our will in doing it; and if what we will is to get a reward, then our action is not good. Rewards and punishments are legal sanctions and not moral influences.

There is only one true way of answering these questions. We must know what is right, what we call God’s will, by finding it in our own will. And we must do what is right, what we call God’s will, because we find that it is our own will. We must look at it in this way.

If we come to think over our lives, and to ask ourselves what fills up the greater part of our thoughts and purposes, we shall find, if we are decent people, that it mostly comes back to our station in life, {This portion of the address consists in the main of an attempt to popularise the ideas contained in Mr. F. H. Bradley’s Ethical Studies, and especially in Essay V. of that work, "My Station and its Duties."} and the duties that are recognised by ourselves and by others as belonging to it; and also in certain duties and interests, usually connected with our station, which we have taken up and made our own. A man can hardly live without something or other which is required of him by others, and which he requires of himself. Those whom we call idle people have their duties, but partly they are mistaken about them, partly they neglect them. In judging morally you must take a man’s own point of view, at least in part. You and I may think fox-hunting a waste of time and money; but a master of fox-hounds does not think himself an idle or useless man. He does what he and all his friends believe to be a social duty; and it is very necessary that we should recognise this, because it helps us to see that man really does not exist as man without some station and duties. Our station and its duties are the greatest part and the simplest part of the right will or the good will, which is also our own will. Without -117- this object and interest in life, a man is like a boat without sail or helm. This sounds rather commonplace, and it is rather commonplace. If it were not, in a sense, known to every one, I do not see how it could be imagined to be every one’s guide through life. If a preacher should come here and tell us that he had a brand-new set of duties, which we never heard of before, that we ought to do, I should myself be inclined to vote for sending him away again. Still, most things that we know have a good deal in them that we do not notice. And I will try to point out some truths about our station and its duties which we are apt to forget.

Our station and its duties: —

1. Tells us what to do, for it is the very heart and spirit of our little individual life; and 2. It gives the reason for doing what we ought to do; for, just because it is the heart of our individual life, it raises our weak and ignorant will into the good will, which is the real will that unites mankind together.

Our station and its duties is the heart and spirit of our own little life. I may say that I make no distinction, morally, between rights and duties. That which our station demands of us is a duty, if the difficulty in doing it is in ourselves, and a right if the difficulty is in some one else. Suppose you are the head of a family. That is part of your station. It is the duty of the head of a family to rule and educate his children; and it is the right of the head of the family that his children should obey him, and that they should attend to their schooling; and it is his right, moreover, that society should provide, somehow, that there shall be schools and teachers. Then, again, it is the right of the children to be properly ruled and taught to behave, and to be educated; and it is the duty of the children to obey the head of the family, and to make the -118- best use of their schooling. It is the duty of society to see that there shall be schools and teachers, and it is the right of society that both the head of the family and the children shall do their part in making proper use of the schools and teachers. The same social good or social purpose is a right or a duty, according to the source of the opposition it meets with.

Now these requirements or demands, which are recognised by society, and which we recognise in our turn, make us what we are. Apart from them we should be nothing at all. Suppose a man has a brain fever, and all these ideas and purposes are wiped out of his mind. Suppose he forgets that he has a wife and children, forgets how to do his daily work, and does not know his friends when he meets them, does not remember the kindnesses which have been done him, nor the services which he owes to others; the man may still be alive, and you may know his face, but his own self, all that made up his individual life, is lost and has vanished. I have heard of someone to whose wife this happened; and when, two years after the loss of her mind, the poor lady died, her husband said, "In fact, I lost my dear wife two years ago."

This helps to show how we ourselves are really made up of all these ties and relationships, all these rights and duties, purposes, feelings, and hopes. We spoke about people’s ideas of the invisible world. Here is the invisible world which really does concern us, which is our own very self, which we and all others recognise, and which has its existence simply in this invisible fact, that it is so recognised. And this, our own self, is what makes up our own will, by giving us something definite to do, which is the particular purpose of our own particular self. This is the chief thing that tells us what to do.

Perhaps this seems too simple, and it may be said, "Every decent man does the duties of his station; cannot something -119- be suggested which is higher and harder than that?" I shall try to answer this question in part, presently, but first I must confess that the whole principle of what I am saying is against overmuch dictating and giving moral advice. I know well enough what I ought to do; but it is very difficult to talk about what other people ought to do, because one does not know the ins and outs of their station. But if any one says that he habitually does all the duties of his station, thoroughly, with good heart and good sense, one would be inclined to suspect in one’s own mind that his standard is rather low. A few points may be enumerated, by way of illustrating what one’s station really means. There are the simple duties of honesty and thoroughness in all work; there is education; there is wise and painstaking help of our neighbours; there is wise management of societies or clubs which we have to do with; there is forming an enlightened judgment on trade questions and on questions that concern us as citizens; and there is the attempt to make the tone of our society a little higher, more full of real interests, more free from vice and vulgarity. Every man is responsible for the tone of the society in which he moves, and for the influence which he spreads round him, hour by hour.

“If any one says that he habitually does all the duties of his station, thoroughly, with good heart and good sense, one would be inclined to suspect that his standard is rather low.”

I do not know whether all this is really so simple, when you come to act upon it. Plato wrote an account of an imaginary commonwealth, in which goodness was to be the ruling principle. And the one great root of all virtue in this commonwealth was simply this, that in it every one was to mind his own business. Plato thus thought one’s station and its duties the root of all the virtues. And he was right. But Plato’s commonwealth, in which every one was to mind his own business, has become a byword for an impossible imagination.

2. Then, again, I said our station and its duties give the -120- reason for doing right. It not only gives us something to do, but it makes us feel that what we do is right. This is the very root of the matter.

There are two ways of doing what you have to do. You may do it like a machine, or you may do it like a man. If you do it like a machine, that is not really doing the duties of your station, for our station is, above all things, to be men. He who is a machine has no heart in his work. His family and his country mean nothing to him. Most likely it is not his own fault, but all the same this is very sad. But now I want to speak of the other way of working. We all know what it is to feel that we are not alone in our work; that we are working together with others for a common good, and each doing the best he can. One who feels this about the duties of his station is a man, and not a machine. He knows, indeed, that he can do very little with his single arm. Even a great statesman or a great poet is merely guiding the forces or uttering the feelings of mankind. If a man thinks of the common purpose, of the good cause, and knows his will and effort are devoted to it, then he will not complain because he can do so little. The great thing is that his will is at one with the real will or the right will; and because it is so, he is content in the common work, and knows he is doing right. Think of a family all working hard to make their living. One of the children will earn only a little compared with the father; but if the child does his best, and puts his heart into it for the common good, then he has a right to be satisfied in the happiness of the family as the achievement of his purpose. A man who does the duties of an undistinguished station with goodwill is just the same in society as such a child is in a family. He is not a wheel in a machine, nor an animal trying to get food; but he is a man whose will is inspired by the common -121- purpose of mankind, and whose little private piece of work is a pledge to him that the general purpose is his purpose.

This, then, is why we should do God’s will, that is, why we should do our duty. If "why" meant a reason outside the duty, like a reward or punishment, then it would be nonsense, as we saw, to ask why we should do our duty. But the reason why we do it is that we find the good will to be really and at bottom our own will. That is to say, it is through our station and its duties that we take hold of our humanity and bring it home to our particular selves. On the one hand, the good will is ourself; and on the other hand, it is the common aim and spirit of society and of mankind. The goodness of our own particular private will consists in grasping this common aim and spirit, and applying it in the particular duties of our daily life, which gains all its reality and vigour from its particular form of this aim or purpose, and vanishes, as we saw, if the common purpose is entirely destroyed in us — if a man forgets his family, and his work, and his friends.

All that we mean by the kingdom of God on earth is the society of human beings who have a common life and are working for a common social good. The kingdom of God has come on earth in every civilized society where men live and work together, doing their best for the whole society and for mankind. When two or three are gathered together, cooperating for a social good, there is the Divine Spirit in the midst of them.

And there is something more, which may meet a difficulty that I mentioned just now, A man may be a good doctor or a good painter, or a good engine-driver, and yet he may be a brute, or a liar, or a cheat. How will the duties of his station prevent this? First, we saw just now that there is a good deal belonging to our station which we are apt to forget. A -122- man’s station is not merely his trade. His family and his neighbours and the commonwealth are part of it. If he does his duty to all of these with sense and goodwill, there will not be room for very much vice. But then, secondly, we must bear in mind that he is to make his own particular will harmonize with the purpose of society; now any vice or sin would so far cut him off from that, and make a contradiction between the spirit in which he seeks his own particular pleasure, and the spirit in which he seeks the common good. No man can serve two masters. The bad will is our own particular will, when it rebels against the moral spirit of society.

And this common spirit or conviction of society explains another difficulty. It may be asked. Are we to stand still for ever? Are we not to try to be better than people are now? Are we to obey society, and never to reform it? I do not think that this difficulty really perplexes any one, though it sounds very formidable. Of course every society is moving, and has a spirit of reform in it, and an ideal before it. We can only live by striving after an ideal; but our ideal must not be a whim of our own vanity, not something all for ourself and by ourself. It must be a social ideal, rooted in and founded upon what is real. Every sound ideal grows out of something real. For we saw that our very self, our life, is a purpose; and this purpose is the ideal which is in great part real as well as ideal. Thus a great nation, such as England, is a living real purpose, which exists, and prescribes our ideal to us. Today is real and tomorrow is ideal, but you cannot draw a line between them. Our own life, and still more the life of a nation, is something that goes beyond the present moment; and so, in trying to be better and to do better, we are only carrying out the higher mind of society. We are born into our ideal, just as we are into our actual life. Of -123- course the reformer does not in truth invent his ideal; it is "in the air."

I do not think it matters whether we call the community in which we have our station a Christian community. If we keep the substance of Christianity, we may let the shadow, the name, take care of itself.

Part III. Is the kingdom of God on earth a Church? I will say a very few words about this. Wherever there is a community of persons working together for a social good, there is a portion of the kingdom of God on earth. A visible Church, like the Church of England, or of Rome, if it is useful for good life, may be a part of the kingdom of God on earth. But a family, or a nation like the English nation, is a far more sacred thing than any Church, because these are what prescribe our duty and educate our will.

What we are to remember about a visible Church, like the Church of England, is this. It is a good thing if it makes our wills good, and points out, or helps us to feel, duties which form a part of the good will. We judge whether a Church is a useful society just as we judge any other society. "By their fruits ye shall know them." But we must remember that no visible Church, Christian or Comtist {socialist}, has any authority; and no church service is a duty, except in as far as it makes us better.

On the other hand, we may say if we like, that the kingdom of God on earth is the same thing as the invisible Church; "the blessed company of all faithful people." I will explain directly what I mean by faithful. The invisible Church, like true religion, is wide enough for all mankind. It is invisible, not because it is in heaven — for it is on earth, — but because it extends so far in past and future, and is bound together not by such symbols as buildings or creeds, or books, but by -124- the great achievements and purposes which form the life of mankind.

Part IV. I wish, before I conclude, to say something of what we mean by religion. I have been speaking about the duties of our station and the spirit in which we ought to do them. I said that we ought to feel that we are not alone in our work, and that the good purpose which others achieve is ours, just as our good purpose is theirs. This is, so far, morality.

“It is not possible to act, unless you believe that what you are trying to do can be done.”

Even this morality requires some faith. It is not possible to act, unless you believe that what you are trying to do can be done. In everyday life we do not trouble ourselves with a general belief; but we never doubt that the particular aim which we have in view is possible in the nature of things. If we did not believe this, we should be paralysed. We should not even eat, if we did not believe that food would sustain life.

Thus, in everyday life we need the belief that the good is a reality. If we hold this belief more distinctly and more intensely, it amounts to this, that nothing but good is a reality.

This faith is what people mean by religion. Of course it is a faith in spite of appearances. But it does not recognise the appearances against it as worth noticing. A man, in as far as he has this faith, does not admit that the bad in his own heart is his real self at all, and so he does not admit that the bad in the world is the reality of the world. This has been twisted, like everything, as if religion could mean that you were to be indifferent to sin, because you say, "It really does not belong to me." That is sham religion. The truth is that nothing gives such force in getting rid of evil as this belief that the good is the only reality. Nothing gives such confidence in a battle as thinking that your enemy is only a sham. Stopping short of the good seems something mad and incredible, when you believe that nothing else is real. Yet, on the other hand, -125- the man who has this faith is not worried or uneasy. He knows that he is on the side of the reality, and his heart is one with it, and he is not afraid of anything. Even his own wickedness is like something that comes to nothing, and is sure to fade away, as long as his heart is really and truly set right.

The difference between morality and religion seems then to be that in morality we know that the good purpose is real, in religion we believe that nothing else is real. It is the same faith, differently held.

An all-important truth follows from this — from religion and morality being the same in principle. The duties of religion are the same as the duties of morality. If we speak of duties to God, we mean the same duties as duties to man. Worship or prayer, in the sense of meditation, are good things if they help us to do our real duties. But it is a sad degradation of words to speak of a ceremony in a church as Divine Service.

And it follows from this that there is only one religion; though there are many creeds, and for every creed a particular book and tradition. All these creeds and Churches and ecclesiastical precepts are mere vehicles of one religion, and what each of them superadds in forms, ceremonies, and doctrines are mere historical accident, and belong to the childhood of humanity.

These ideas are not new. It would be ridiculous to try and invent new ideas about what men are to find in their inmost hearts. European morality, in all its essentials, was built up in life and expressed in language more than two thousand years ago, by men who lived and spoke and wrote in the cities of ancient Greece. One of such men, the story goes, being asked by another, "How shall I educate my son?" replied, "Make him a citizen of a city that has good -126- laws." And when three hundred citizens of Sparta had fallen before overwhelming numbers in a battle that largely contributed to save Europe from an Asiatic despotism, a great Greek poet could devise for their grave no better epitaph than the two simple lines which say, "Go, you who pass by, and tell the Spartans that we lie here in obedience to their commands."

And the citizen of Athens, when he attained the age of eighteen, and his name was entered on the civic register, received in an ancient temple the shield and spear which symbolised his entrance into the citizen array, and publicly made oath to the following effect: "I will not dishonour my sacred shield. I will not abandon my fellow-soldier in the ranks. I will do battle for our altars and our homes, whether aided or unaided. I will leave our country not less but greater and nobler than she is now entrusted to me. I will reverently obey the citizens who shall act as judges. I will obey the laws which have been ordained, and which in time to come shall be ordained, by the national will. And whoever would subvert the laws, or would disobey them, I will not suffer him, but I will do battle for them, whether aided or unaided. And I will reverence our ancestral temples. Of which things the gods are my witness." This formula errs, to our minds, both by omission and commission, {The word translated "greater" means in the first instance "larger," and I fear that this meaning was realized in the Athenian disposition.} yet the root of the matter is in it, and I have always regarded it with reverence as, to the best of my knowledge, the earliest European creed.

The Christian religion deepened and widened these convictions, and proclaimed that the freedom of living well was the birthright of humanity, and not merely of the noble, the -127- citizen, the wealthy, or the wise. For Divinity, the Christian religion said, was to be looked for in the spirit of man, implying, as we now see, that it need be looked for nowhere else. This was the distinct announcement of what had really been working in the mind of Greece and Rome. I should like to read you a paraphrase of some verses by Lucan, written, I suppose, a few years before the date at which the Gospel of Matthew was composed. The hero of his poem, Cato, had been asked by a friend to make some inquiry of the oracle of Jupiter Ammon in Africa, which they passed in their march. And Cato, in the poem, answers thus:

What wouldst, my friend, that Cato should inquire?
Needs he be told what conscience bids desire?
Whether ’twere better die in arms, and free,
Than see Rome sink into a tyranny?
If man’s mere life be nought that merits praise,
And to live long but lengthens out his days?
{He implies that life is desirable not for its length,
but only for its nobleness.}
If that the just can fear no violence,
Nor fortune against virtue do offence?
If ’tis enough that men will what they should,
And triumph adds no lustre to the good?
All this we know, nor is our certain sense
One jot more sure for Ammon’s evidence.
Heaven lies about us, and we do its will,
Not uninspired, though all the shrines be still;
God needs no language, for at birth he taught
All man can know, and that is all he ought:
Nor has Jove willed in Afric’s burning zone
To preach his truth to wandering tribes alone;
Nor buried here, amid the shifting sands,
That revelation all the world demands;
For where is God, but in the earth and sea,
And clouds and sky — and truth and purity?
Why blindly seek we other gods to know?
God is where’er we look, where’er we go.

And if I may conclude with a further quotation — for I think that it strengthens us to feel that we are not alone — I will read an extract from a work written one hundred years ago by a man whose name is honoured wherever the great thinkers of Europe are known. By this work, the philosopher Kant sounded the death-knell of European superstition in a deeper strain than his contemporaries Hume or Voltaire. And the new reformation which began in that springtime of genius has advanced steadily during the present century, which it will undoubtedly characterize in history. Kant wrote as follows in his work entitled, Religion within the Limits of Pure Reason:

"The moral capacity of man is the foundation and the interpreter of all religion. Religion, for this reason, must come to be gradually liberated from all arbitrary ordinances, from all commands which rest merely on history, and which unite men in the advancement of the good for a time only, and by means of the creed of a Church. … The leading strings of sacred tradition, with its appurtenance of rules and observances, which did good service in their time, gradually become superfluous, and even become a bondage when man approaches years of discretion. When he was a child he understood as a child, and he found that scriptural learning and even a sort of church-philosophy agreed very well with commands imposed upon him from without. But when he becomes a man, he puts away childish things. The degrading distinction between layman and priest disappears. True freedom demands equality. But equality is not anarchy, because every one obeys the law — not a command imposed upon him, but the law which he dictates to himself This law he cannot but regard at the same time as the will of the Ruler of the world, presented to man by his own reason. And this will -129- unites all men invisibly into a community, which before was very meagerly represented and foreshadowed by the visible Church."

(The conception of a Ruler of the world, apparently external to the spirit of man, and of a future life, continued in Kant’s philosophy as survivals, though they are, in my judgment, quite unessential to it.)

"All this is not to be expected from an external revolution" (Kant was writing during the French Revolution), "which is attended with storm and violence, and yet has an effect largely dependent upon chance. In a new constitution thus created, any maladaptation has to be reluctantly borne with for centuries, because it could not be altered without another equally dangerous revolution.

"The transition to a new order of things ought rather to be effected by the principle of a pure religion according to reason, considered as a Divine revelation constantly being made to all men through their reason only. Such a principle, when once grasped by mature consideration, will be realized by gradually progressive reform, in so far as its realization depends upon human intelligence; revolutions are providential, and you cannot reckon ontheir results.

"But we may reasonably say that the kingdom of God is come on earth, as soon as ever the principle has taken root, generally, and in the public mind, that the creeds of the Churches have gradually to pass into the universal religion of reason, and so into a moral, that is, a Divine community on earth; although the establishment of such a community may still be infinitely remote from us. For this principle, because it contains the motive force of a continual approach to perfection, is like a seed which grows up, and scatters other seed such as itself; and it bears within it invisibly the whole fabric which will one day illuminate and rule the world. Truth and goodness have their basis in the natural disposition -130- of every human being, both in his reason and in his heart. And because of this affinity with the moral nature of rational beings, truth and goodness will not fail to spread in every direction. Hindrances arising from political and social causes, which may from time to time interfere with this expansion, serve rather to draw closer the union of hearts in the good. For the good, when once it has been clearly perceived, never abandons the mind.

"This, then, though invisible to the human eye, is the constantly progressive operation of the good principle. It works towards erecting in the human race, as a community under moral laws, a power and a kingdom which shall maintain the victory over evil, and secure to the world under its dominion an eternal peace."

These words were published in 1793, and in consequence of the book which contained them, the veteran philosopher, then in his seventieth year, received a warning from the Prussian Government, and had to undertake to teach no more about religion. And we may be glad that they now appear to us to be no dangerous speculation, but the utterance of the most sober common sense; for it is none the less true that they contain the essence of European civilization, — a hard-won inheritance, which it is our duty, in the words of the Athenian’s oath, to leave to others, "not less, but greater and nobler, than it is now intrusted to us."

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Bernard Bosanquet
British Idealist Philosopher,
Professor of Moral Philosophy,
University of St. Andrews
Fellow of the British Academy


An address given before the Ethical Society. It also appears in Bosanquet’s Essays and Addresses, 1891.


Bosanquet, Bernard, M.A. "Prefatory Remarks," Essays and Addresses. 2nd ed., pp. 108-130. London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1891. This work is in the Public Domain.