An Essay on Christian Dogma

By Thomas Hill Green

At a time when every thoughtful man, accustomed to call himself a Christian, is asking the faith which he professes for some account of its origin and authority, it is a pity that the answer should be confused by the habit of identifying Christianity with the collection of propositions which constitute the written New Testament. That this identification is misleading — that it not only imperils the faith by making it rest on an untenable dogma, but puts out of sight the vital essence of things necessary for salvation — we may satisfy ourselves by asking the simple question, was St. Paul a Christian, or was he not? If he was a Christian, he was so not only without any acquaintance with this collection of propositions as such, but in spite of ignorance (this is the necessary inference from his own language) of the facts of our Lord's life prior to his death, as detailed in the synoptical gospels, and with no developed consciousness of the theosophy which forms the basis of the fourth, or of the doctrines found in the canonical epistles other than his own. Christ, according to his own language, was made known to him by revelation, but by such a revelation, judging from his own description of its effects in the epistle to the Galatians, as might be vouchsafed, without a voice from heaven, or a light above the brightness of the sun, to any like spirit brooding on the bare facts of the death and resurrection of the divine son of man. The doctrine of 'inspiration,' in that sense according to which every scriptural proposition contains some absolute truth, from which trains of dogmatic reasoning may be deduced, is indeed but an accident of that enfeebled Christianity which is all that mankind has yet been able to assimilate. Men, like Luther, in whom the Christian consciousness has been manifested in its strength, have, whatever their own statements, been virtually independent of it. It has taken the place in our time which was filled before the -162- Reformation by authoritative tradition and the infallibility of the church.

The semi-regenerate man craves for positive declarations. He cannot, like the unregenerate, remain acquiescent in mere convention, nor yet on the other hand can he find an answer for all questions in the intuition of his own reason, as St. Paul did in the Christ that was 'revealed in him,' nor yet, like the modern philosopher, can he recognise in the dialectic of unsatisfied inquiry and endless contradiction that energy of thought which answers all questions by the discovery that they are its own making. Thus, when the spiritual community of Christians was hardening into the visible church, when the vision of the risen Lord, in whom all things were made one and all oppositions reconciled, had faded from the believers' eyes, men began to feel the want from time to time of some fresh assertion to silence the objections, some new dogma to harmonise the contradictions, which the 'heresy' or controversy of each generation engendered. Appeals to New Testament scripture, in the relation which it then held to the thought of the Christian, could not satisfy the want. Its canon was scarcely fixed, conventional interpretation had not then, as now, transformed the immediate apprehension of divine things, which it expresses, into a connected system of dogma, its language was elastic enough to admit of any variety of spiritual and esoteric senses, and hence the Gnostic could find confirmation in it for his theosophic dreams, no less than the orthodox believer for his practical rule of faith. Authoritative tradition, accordingly, came in to furnish the palpable standard which the interests of popular belief required. Its position was first asserted and defined by Tertullian, who may so far be regarded as the father of catholic theology. 'Non ad scripturas provocandum est' is the manly utterance of his conviction that the scripture did not furnish those distinct doctrinal statements which he needed for controversial purposes, and which the modern controversialist, with the theological mist of eighteen centuries between him and it, vainly fancies that he can find there. But what scripture could not do, in that through its spirituality it was weak in the service of the carnal understanding, the voice of the church, coarsely articulate, did. In Christ, it was argued, there did indeed dwell the fullness of truth; this he had communicated to his apostles, and they to the -163- churches which they had founded. Where the truth was ambiguously expressed or imperfectly explained in the canonical scriptures, the consent of the apostolic churches, conveyed through their bishops, might suffice for its establishment or interpretation.

Such was the origin of the creeds, whose value it would be idle to depreciate. It is true, on the one hand, that they were but the authoritative declaration of a majority; but, on the other, they served to gather up the various elements of the Christian consciousness, as represented by various churches, and thus preserved Christian truth, in a dogmatic form indeed, which did not properly belong to it, yet still in its entirety, as opposed to the partial apprehension of those who made αἱρέσεις of their own. The point, however, for us specially to observe is that in the age of creeds, Christian truth has reached quite a different phase from that presented to us in the writings of the New Testament. It is not that the creeds assert anything that may not be deduced with tolerable fairness from those writings, but they convey it in a different form, and the difference, primarily one of form, becomes one of substance. In them Christian truth is no longer the immediate expression of the highest possible spiritual life; it has become a theology, which inevitably reacts on the canonical writings, whose deficiencies it was originally introduced to supply. Tradition, of the doctrinal sort, if it is to retain any definite shape amid the changing influences which govern human opinion, must have not only a recognised mouthpiece, but some written documentary basis on which to fasten itself. Hence the tradition of the Christian church, though, according to the original theory expressed by Tertullian, it had its source in oral communications of Christ to the apostles, and was thus independent of the written scriptures, of which it was the necessary complement, soon came, by an insensible instinct of self-preservation, to affiliate itself to them, and to refashion the parent after the supposititious child's likeness.

The ordinary dilemma, that the doctrine of the creeds either is to be found in the New Testament or is not, is as inappropriate as dilemmas generally are, and simply evinces on the part of those who propound it an ignorance of the real laws of spiritual (or even vital) activity. It is to be found there, or not to be found there, just as the stalk is or is not -164- to be found in the root, and the flower in the leaf; or, to keep to illustrations more nearly 'in eodem genere,' as the abstractions of the Aristotelian metaphysic are, or are not, to be found in the concrete philosophical life of Socrates, and the British constitution according to De Lolme in Magna Charta. Christianity, on its first entrance into the world, whatever else it may have been, was not, in the natural sense of the word, a theology. By theology we understand a connected system of ideas, each qualified by every other, each serving as a middle term by which the rest are held together. The theological consciousness, if we may use the term, is a consciousness which approaches its object, God, through the medium of such a system of ideas. Christianity, in its simplest primary form, is involved in the divine consciousness of Jesus and in that of St. Paul, the spirit and work of Jesus standing, no doubt, in a relation of essential priority to the spirit and work of Paul, but implying the latter as their necessary complement. Now this consciousness of the divine, as it existed in these two parents of our faith, was essentially an immediate consciousness. It was one which penetrated to its object, as was then said, by revelation, as we should say, by intuition, without the intervention of any system of ideas. It was, therefore, according to the definition we have given, no theological consciousness, nor could its utterances constitute a theology.

To exhibit this distinction in detail would carry us beyond the limits of an essay, nor a,re we disposed to seek to penetrate the ideal vesture which shrouds from us the historical figure of the son of Mary. It is better to say vaguely but simply, that to no form less than divine could that vesture have adjusted itself, than to construct a shape, on Parisian models, as hopelessly disproportionate to it as was the Jewish phantasy of a carnal, conquering Messiah to the reality made manifest at Golgotha. Still, taking St. Matthew's Gospel as the least coloured reflex of our Lord's teaching, we may ask ourselves what are the essential elements of the consciousness there presented to us. We are met first, in the Beatitudes, by a sense of the infinite greatness of the human spirit in itself, apart from external accessories. It is the poor, the mourner, the persecuted for righteousness' sake, it is these emptied of all fulness that comes from without, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, having nothing yet possessing all things, to whom belongs the kingdom of heaven. This -165- sense of the greatness in nothingness of man as such, with its corollaries of self-abnegation and aversion to hypocrisy, forms the main purport of the Sermon on the Mount. It reappears, under altered phases, in the constant reference to the Father in heaven, whose spirit is our heritage, whose perfection is to become man's; in the use of the title 'Son of man' by him who had not where to lay his head; in the proclamation of a kingdom of heaven for which the pure activity of man's spirit was the sufficient and the only qualification. Placing itself in antagonism to Jewish pride, to Jewish anticipations of the Messiah, to the powers of this world in general, it led of necessity to the crucifixion. Then the grain of seed fell to the ground, and having died, it abode not alone. It gathered new elements for itself, and sent forth a new growth in the belief in a risen Lord.

This new growth, stunted and dwarfed, as there is reason to believe, in the conception of the original apostles, so spread abroad its branches in the thought and preaching of St. Paul, that in them all mankind might find rest. Those who imagine it an exhaustive account of Christianity, to say that it consists in the moral teaching of Jesus, would do well to ask themselves, what Christianity would have been without the teaching of St. Paul, and in what sense this teaching can be said to be derived from that of Jesus. Whatever be the true rationale of the sudden transition from Paul the eager persecutor, to Paul the ecstatic preacher of Christ — whether or no it is to be accounted for by the supposition that from the first the idea of a divine justifier, in antagonism to the Jewish apparatus for working out the Jew's own justification, had taken such hold on his mind as to awaken that deepest hate, which is but the deepest love as yet unrecognized by its subject — it is certain from, his own words that the new consciousness which came into being as he journeyed to Damascus was simply self-evolved, or, what is the same thing, communicated by an immediate revelation. God revealed his Son in him; whether in the body or out of the body he knew not, he saw the Lord Christ. Then he had no need to confer with flesh and blood. He did not 'go up to Jerusalem to those which were apostles before him,' from whom alone he could have learnt what the actual teaching of Jesus had been. His intuition of Christ was complete in itself, and through his eyes Christian men have since looked upon their Lord. What -166- then was the nature of this intuition? In its simplest expression it was the presentation to the inmost consciousness of a living person, the second Adam in whom all humanity was embodied, in whose death all men died to be all made alive in his resurrection. Such a presentation was the extinction of Judaism, as of 'a frail and feverish being,' which sought by privilege and ordinance to fence itself against that death which is the gate of the true life; it was the birth of faith in a new sense, as of the spiritual act by which the individual appropriates, is 'clothed upon by,' the being of the Son of God, who is the new man.

We have thus traced in outline the glad tidings of Jesus, and the 'mystery' revealed to St. Paul, but we do not yet find ourselves on the ground of dogmatic theology. We are dealing throughout with an inner spiritual life, which does not indeed remain inarticulate (it finds such utterance as constrains all human thought to its obedience), but which yet gives no account of itself. It is essentially unreasoning, therefore unscientific, therefore not theological. It is quite true that in St. Paul's epistles there is no lack of keen, if not very correct, argumentation. Some of them, the epistle to the Romans in particular, are cast in a dialectical form which has probably been the occasion of the popular notion that St. Paul was a cogent reasoner. But it appears on examination that his reasoning, whenever valid as such, is polemically directed against the Jews and judaisers. His reconstruction of the spiritual fabric, his positive view of God, man, and the world is, as we have seen, intuitive, and cannot really be fitted into the argumentative mould. One is sometimes asked with a grave face by a representative of the class of men who 'have difficulties,' whether one finds the reasoning in 1 Corinthians 15:12-13, satisfactory. The only answer is that in such a passage there is properly no reasoning at all. St. Paul did not mean, with all 'the foolishness of preaching,' to infer first the resurrection of Christ from that of mankind, and then that of mankind from that of Christ. But it belonged to that 'foolishness of God,' which in him had superseded the wisdom of man, that, accepting the traditional story of Christ's resurrection, he should see in the risen Lord all mankind made alive, and that conversely, looking abroad on men dead in trespasses and sins, he should see in them an ideal quickening of body as well as soul, which must have been -167- realised in their perfected head. On the one hand the Son of God, alive with his Father, but submitting to death in the flesh, to be quickened in the spirit; on the other, man dead in the flesh, but finding in that death, since the Son of God partook of it, the entrance to the same Son's resurrection; these are the two ' moments,' whose interaction, each passing into the other, formed the consciousness of St. Paul. He had no need to prove the truth of either by the other, or of both by extraneous arguments. In his own daily experience they were given in mutual involution. He 'bore about always in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in his body.'

Hitherto, then, Christianity is a work, a life, an experience. It is still as far from being dogmatic as are the Shakespearian dramas from being a system of poetics. But in this state of immediate intuition it could not long remain. How it came to pass that, under the empire of Tiberius, in an obscure corner of the earth, there was lived a life which, as represented in tradition, became the absolute form of human life for all time, so that in it the world has ever since been becoming new, is a question not lightly to be answered. For the present we may content ourselves with the fact, and with the remark that already to St. Paul this life, perfectly human and perfectly divine, is in one sense a thing of the past, though in another to be lived over again by himself in the present. The life of Jesus himself was, if the expression may be allowed, an absolutely original one. If we know anything of him, we know that it was no derived or secondary mission that he asserted. Whether Son of God or Son of Man, he was so by a direct title of his own, not, as his followers were, by a mediated heritage. As the Jews said of him, 'he bare record of himself.' St. Paul, on the other hand, bears record of Christ,' by whom he had received grace and apostleship,' not, it is true, of a dead, not of an historical Christ, not of a Christ after the flesh, yet still of a person who, though now living at the right hand of God, had at a definite time been 'made of a woman, made under the law.' With St. Paul, however, the past historical existence, the determinate individuality of Christ, are so overshadowed by his spiritual presence, by his ideal 'filling of all things,' that the former elements tend to vanish altogether, as we know that they actually did in the gnosticism based on Pauline teaching. The perfect fusion -168- of the ideal exaltation with the historical reality of Christ is effected in the gospel which we call St. John's. The ideal glory of Christ there takes the form of an eternal existence in the bosom of the Father, as the word which from the beginning had God for its object, and was the full expression, the exhaustive predicate, of him (ὁ λόγος ᾖν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν, καὶθεὸς ᾖν ὁ λόγος). But whereas with St. Paul this glory invests the historical Jesus solely in that act by which, if we may say so, he ceases to be historical, the act of his resurrection (Romans 1:4), with John it is manifested in the whole series of acts which make up his visible life on earth. The Christ of the synoptical gospels, though conceived of the Holy Ghost, is yet born and reared like other men. He 'grows in wisdom, and stature, and in favour with God and man.' His teaching, though it culminates with those utterances which provoked the crucifixion, begins merely as the echo of the Baptist's cry, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' (Matthew 4:17). The Christ of the fourth gospel, on the contrary, is from the first the complete reflex of God in human form. 'The word was made flesh and dwelt among us,' and this incarnation was but the exhibition to human eyes of the eternal indwelling of God in the natural universe, of the light which had from the beginning shined in darkness. Whatever historical value we may ascribe to the narration of this gospel, it is certain that it is but the manifestation in detail, and in the phenomena of a bodily life, of this idea announced in the proœmium {preface}.

Have we not here then, it will be asked, Christian dogma ready-made? We still answer, no. The Christ of the fourth gospel is still a present Christ. Though the word, in whom the worlds were made, he is yet a being whom the writer carries about with him in his own life; whose creative power, whose communion with the Father, he realises in his own experience, even as St. Paul 'filled up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ in his own flesh.' 'He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do likewise.' 'I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you'; 'The world seeth me no more, but ye see me; because I live, ye shall live also'; such are the words by which the writer makes the apparently parting Lord express his full and eternal presence in his disciples. The consciousness of such a presence, though it may gather into itself all the highest modes of thought which the philosophy of the time furnished, does -169- not constitute a dogma. It does not belong, like dogma, to the sphere of reasoned, or authorised, opinion, but to that of intuition or inspiration, which rejects authority, admits not of a reason why, because itself its own witness and its own demonstration.

It is not to be denied, however, that the view of Christ given in the fourth gospel is of a kind which could not fail to pass at once into the dogmatic form. Transcendental at the same time and detailed, calling upon the Christian consciousness to realise not merely, as did the Pauline doctrine, the death and resurrection of Christ, but the manifestation in the particularities of earthly life of the eternal word, it strained the power of immediate apprehension to a degree which the ordinary Christian even of that day could not sustain. It inevitably soon lost both its immediateness and totality, and broke into a series of separate dogmas, either rationally inferred or established by authority. Christianity, from being the special inspiration of a few poor men, had come to embody, and in a certain sense to overbody, itself in a great society, from which the wise men and scribes of this world were not excluded. To such men it could no longer present itself simply as a life to be lived. In that character it was to them, even more perhaps than to us, wholly out of reach. Coming into the world in the fulness of time, it found on every hand points of contact with the facts and ideas of the age. One man would see in it the needful delocalisation of religion corresponding to the absorption of national polities in the omnipresent empire of Rome. To another it would convey that idea of inward peace for which the self-introspective spirit of the later empire, debarred from outward activities, was painfully seeking. The theosophist, turning facts into abstractions, would see in Christ the final seon, in which the world, originally projected by God out of himself, after passing through a series of ascending seons, finally returns to conscious union with its author. The practical man, on the other hand, putting inspiration into rule, would deaden Christ into such a system of moralities as was shadowed forth in the later stoicism. But while in these and other modes Christianity carried out its mission of drawing all men to itself, in each of them we find it a theory or rule of action, no longer, in the sense in which it had been, an immediate intuition. The product of genius, when the genius -170- itself has passed away, may hold its ground, may remodel opinion, as a dictum of common sense, or a formula of philosophy, but it is no longer what it was to the genius with which it originated. So the Christianity on which the catholic church, in the proper sense of the word, was founded, and which through that agency has since been recasting the world, was not the Christianity of Christ himself or of St. Paul. It was a translation into the terms of the formulating intellect of acts and utterances, now contemplated in the past, but which had once been the outcome of a present experience. It was an establishment on authority of truths which to their first forth-tellers had been conscious revelations from God. In one word, it was dogmatic.

Its transition into this form, though, as we have seen, a necessary result of the impotence of the human spirit to sustain itself at the level to which it had been raised in Christ, seems to have been occasioned proximately by the struggle with gnosticism. From the first the living stream of Christian experience, though holding that onward course of which the successive flood-marks are the epistle to the Romans and the gospel ascribed to St. John, had been stagnating by the way into pools formed on the one side by Judaism, on the other by philosophic systems. The popular habit of regarding the writings of the New Testament as a body of doctrine pitched into the world all at once has caused this fact to be generally overlooked. Yet an examination of these writings themselves might satisfy us that they came into being as successive assertions of the fulness of Christian life against a contemporaneous stiffening of it either into Jewish ordinance or gentile philosophy, even if we had no direct evidence of this stiffening process in the writings of the apostolic fathers and the records preserved in Eusebius. Such an antagonistic purpose, in both directions, may be, as is now generally admitted, traced in the fourth gospel. On the one hand, against the judaiser it proclaims Christ as the true paschal lamb, to whom the whole Jewish religion had borne merely a typical relation, and in whom, therefore, as the reality at length made manifest, that religion had been at once completed and abolished. On the other hand, against the gnostic or docetist it asserts the identity of fact and idea, of the earthly and the heavenly Christ. Not only had man been divinised in idea; not only had the world, in the thought -171- of the systematising philosopher, reached the crowning æon, in which it found reconciliation with the absolute God; this divinisation, this reconciliation, had been realised in the facts of human life, in that work and consciousness of Christ which the writer believed himself to be daily renewing in his own experience. The fourth gospel is thus, if we may say so, the gospel 'par excellence,' the gospel at its highest potency and in its finest essence. It presupposes all the rest of the Bible, and the whole development of gentile philosophy, and wraps them up together in the form of a spiritual life, such as has never since been realised. The answer which it gave in this form to heresy could only be given again in the form of dogma. It, therefore, and not the Apocalypse (as the accidental position of the latter at the close of the canon has strangely led people to imagine) is the last voice of primitive Christianity.

Dogmatic Christianity is on a level with the 'heresies,' whose march in each age it has stopped as being a theory, which, however practical in its purpose, is yet not a life. It claims to be above them as being adequate to the full compass of the Christian life, of which it is the intellectual formulation, whereas each 'heresy' corresponds to but a single phase of that life; and, further, as constituting the truth for all men and all times, on which, therefore, a catholic church could be built, whereas 'heresies' are but the expression in Christian terms of passing modes of thought, which can but furnish the sandy foundation of a sectarian fabric. In speaking of it as the foundation of the catholic church, we must not allow ourselves to be deceived by our own phraseology. A certain solidification of Christianity into dogmatic form was necessary, before it could become the unifying principle of a permanent society claiming to be co-extensive with, yet distinct from, the world. On the other hand, such a society must have been already in existence before that establishment by recognised authority could be possible which is necessary to the full idea of dogma. The letter of scripture alone could not furnish this authority, for, not to mention that scripture must have already been formulated before it could afford a basis for formulae, it is only from its recognition by the church that scripture itself derives authority in the dogmatic sense. It could only be furnished in its full palpable validity when the Christian society had been compacted by external power, i.e. after the establishment of Christianity as the -172- imperial religion by Constantine. But already in the latter part of the second century there was enough outward organised communion among Christians partially to serve the purpose. 'Quod apud multos unum invenitur, non est erratum sed traditum,' is Tertullian's test of apostolic tradition, and through it of orthodoxy. It is an illustration at once of the crystallisation of the Christian life into doctrines, which in his time had taken place, and of the means employed for consolidating these doctrines into a body of catholic theology. The relation in which orthodox dogma stood then to gnosticism, and in the following century to Arianism and the kindred heresies, may fairly be taken as typical of the position it was afterwards to occupy.

The tendency of gnosticism was to evaporate the practical moral purport of Christianity. By the aid of a sublimated cosmogony, compounded from the mythologies and philosophies of the heathen world, it got rid of the difficulty which the claim of Christianity to constitute an absolute beginning 'de novo' presents to the philosopher, and reduced it to the position, in modern language, of a phase in the development of the world. At the same time it tended to wipe out of the Christian revelation the one essential feature, that it makes the reconciliation of the world with God in Christ not merely a transaction ἐντοθς ἐπουρανίοις, but something which has been and still is to be realised in a moral human life. To resist this tendency catholic dogma came to the aid of scripture, and if, in so doing, it inevitably put a veil between us and the canonical writings which prevents us from reading them as they were at first read, it has yet preserved for us an idea of Christian life, 'witnessed and kept,' if not realised by the Christian church, which is our sole title to reckon the 'least in the kingdom of heaven greater than John the Baptist.'

The tendency of Arianism was in one respect just the reverse of gnosticism. It was not the moral but the metaphysical side of Christian doctrine which it lowered, and we owe it to the firm front opposed by orthodox dogma that Christian doctrine is still a thing of the present. One need not be an orthodox trinitarian to see that, if Arianism had had its way, the theology of Christianity would have become of a kind in which no philosopher who had outgrown the dæmonism of ancient systems could for a moment acquiesce. The common characteristic of all such modern philosophy -173- as is not either sceptical or materialistic is, that it makes human thought potentially divine. Whether or no this philosophy be actually generated from the dogma of the church, it is at least certain that between this dogma and itself it finds merely a difference of form, easily to be smoothed over by religious feeling, while from Arianism it would recoil as it does from those prevailing representations of the atonement which are of Arian origin.

From the dust and mist which these controversies had raised Christianity emerges, not indeed a new religion, but a formed theology. It entered on the second century as the tradition of a spiritual experience, which had been realised and might be realised again. In the fourth it presents itself as the statement in definite formulae of certain relations subsisting in the Godhead, and certain transactions issuing therefrom. These relations and transactions are not indeed without concern for man. He has to place himself towards them in an attitude of unquestioning acquiescent belief, and as believed they involve his redemption. But they are wholly outside his personal spiritual experience. 'Certum est, quia impossible.' They are 'mysteries,' but no longer 'open' in the sense that they can be entered into; truths which, as 'revealed' not to the understanding of the believer, but to an impersonal church, may act indirectly on the consciousness, but can never form part of it. The orthodox representative of the Nicene council believes on a Son of God of one substance with his Father, but he no longer, as such, dies the death and lives the new life of Christ. He believes that the manhood has been taken into God, but he is no longer conscious of a kingdom of God within him.

As we trace the development of the dogma involved in the Nicene declarations, we find the primary experience of St. Paul and the twelve vanishing more and more into the past. The development is effected by a process of negation and abstraction which gradually effaces from the image of Christ all marks of a personality possible within the limits of human life. The Nicene council had not gone the length of determining the relation between the person of the only-begotten Son and the human nature of Christ. It did not absolutely exclude the conception of an education in time of the man Jesus, consummated by the identification, whether in his baptism or his resurrection, of this man's person with the eternal -174- word. The human nature might be the divine person in becoming, and whatever difficulties such a view might involve, it at least afforded an apparent adjustment between the dogma of the logos and the tradition of a Christ, who had grown in wisdom and stature, and lived the common life of all men. By the condemnation of the Nestorian heresy it was definitely excluded, and with its exclusion so many further features were wiped out from the representation of Christ's life as a concrete intelligible reality. Under the refusal to apply the title θεοτόκος to the virgin was covered a virtual separation between the divine and human persons in Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was not divine from his birth, but had attained to that moral perfection in which by God's good pleasure the attributes of the Son and the worship due to the Son had been transferred to him. To admit such a view of the final unification, as opposed to the primary unity, of Christ and the word, would have been to admit that it was not God himself who was born and died and rose again. The mission of Christianity, therefore, required its exclusion, but the dogma which excluded it necessitated in its turn a further abstraction from the attributes of the historical Christ, a further contradiction to the possibilities of experience. If Christ was the incarnate word, in the sense that in him the divine person was completely present from his birth, how are we to conceive of those human attributes in virtue of which he was heard and seen and handled? The natural tendency is to reduce them to a mere fleshly mask which at once hid the indwelling God from the apprehension of men and gave them the means of communicating with him. Not through a human soul, the form and essence of man, but through a human body only, as a collection of accidents, which may attach to another essence without essentially changing it, has the word been made manifest unto men. Here we are already in the fatal maze of the monophysite heresy. 'Ingemuit christianus et eutychianum se esse miratus est.' The rationalising intellect has escaped Scylla to be lost in Charybdis. In its desire to hold together the facts of Christ's life and the Nicene dogma of his divinity, it fell into the Nestorian heresy, which emptied the dogma of its value in relation to universal thought. It then abandoned half the facts in order to retain the dogma in its fulness. Still seeking to give some account of the facts that remain, and which -175- might seem compatible with the presence of a full divine consciousness in Christ from the beginning, it again mutilates the dogma. It repeats the intellectual sin of the docetists, for if the flesh only of Christ be human, his life is not really the life, nor his death the death of a man. The manhood has not in its essence been taken into God; humanity is still unredeemed; we are yet in our sins.

The dogmatic barrier against these subversive importunities of the intellect is the declaration which Pope Leo elicited from the council of Chalcedon, the declaration of two natures in Christ's person. This marks the final rupture between Christian dogma and the personal experience in which it originated. With the previous doctrines as to his person, the traditionary facts of our Lord's life may have been difficult to reconcile; before this doctrine they vanish, as facts, altogether. Two natures imply a double consciousness, and the facts of a life which is the expression of a double consciousness are no facts at all. They are unintelligible, and therefore unmeaning, miracles. Other facts, apparently miraculous, may be accepted on the ground that they admit of an explanation as yet unknown to us. But according to the dogma of Chalcedon, which we have shown to be the necessary consequent of its dogmatic antecedents, an explanation of the facts is given, and an explanation which renders them non- entities. The process of negation is now complete. Of Christ's life, as a series of occurrences enacted in this world of space and time, no concrete representation can henceforth be formed, no intelligible predicates can henceforth be applied to it. It has become a collection of names, with which no presentations to sense or imagination can be made to correspond. Reflection has triumphed over intuition, theology has devoured its parent. The dogma whose birth and growth we have traced relates primarily to the person of Christ, but its investigation may help us to answer the question, What are the characteristics of dogma generally? How is it to be distinguished from other products of the thinking spirit?

Part I. It presupposes an immediate intuition, and it is in its relation to this intuition, as at once retaining its limitations while it reduces its concrete object to an abstraction, that its first characteristic is to be found. As the Messiah in whom the prophecies were fulfilled, Christ was an object of direct apprehension to the first disciples; as the second Adam, in -176- whom the wall of partition between Jew and gentile, between man and God, was broken down, he was presented to the spiritual imagination of St. Paul. We have seen how the impossibility of retaining this primary intuition, as such, when the first access of spiritual ecstasy was over, combined with the danger of its evaporation into a gnostic theosophy, led to its content being fixed and formulated in the articles of a creed. This constitutes a change in its form. What was at first presented to the believer as a datum of his own experience is now presented to him through the medium of an authoritative declaration. It is thus in a state to be dealt with by the reflecting intellect, which soon supplements the change in form by a change in substance. Reflection elicits the oppositions of thought involved in the creed, such as that between the growing Jesus and the word complete from eternity. This necessitates a new declaration in which some abstraction is made from the matter of the original intuition. The process is continued, till nothing but the empty shell of the presupposed experience remains. Yet this shell helps to make dogma what it is. As the original experience related to a person presented under the ordinary conditions of personality, so the predicates involved in the dogma, though inconsistent with such a personality, yet continue to be applied to it. As the object of intuition, like all other such objects, seemed to be immediately given from without apart from any qualifying or conditioning action of the subject, so the dogma, though evolved by reflection, is not regarded by the subject as in any sense its own product, but as something offered to it by an unknown God. An illustration may be drawn from that early stage of Greek philosophy in which its abstractions still retained the mythical form. By us the air of Anaximenes, the fire of Heraclitus, are seen to be creations of a thinking spirit, seeking to reduce nature to a unity like its own. We see that to the fire and air of the philosophers attributes are assigned incompatible with our experience of them 'in rerum natura.' But in the eyes of the philosophers themselves they were as immediately presented to the senses as the real elements whose names they bore; they exercised as personal an agency as these elements were supposed to do according to the nature-worship of the early mythology. In like manner the Christ of dogma is an object of intuition become abstract, but not ideal. He is presented -177- to the spirit, not as its own true form objectified, but as wholly external to it. The confinement of his earthly reality, though the attributes assigned to him involve its entire negation, still clings to him. He does not yet fill all things with the fulness of the idea.

Part II. The second characteristic of dogma is expressed in the dictum, not invalidated by the questionable authority on which it has lately been presented to us, 'No church, no dogma.' We have seen how dogma originates in an appeal to the consensus of the apostolical churches. On this basis it continues to rest, for though it gradually affiliates itself to the writings of the New Testament, whose want of definite formulae it was at first its mission to supply, yet these writings are themselves offered to the acceptance of the believer, on the guarantee of the church. 'Ego vero,' says Augustin, 'evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicæ ecclesise commoveret auctoritas.' This 'note' of dogma is indeed the necessary corollary of the preceding one. The intuition and the idea are each, in different ways, their own evidence, but the dogma has lost the certainty which belongs to the immediate presentation without having been appropriated by thought as part of its own self-consciousness. It can neither pass unchallenged as a simple datum of experience, nor, when challenged, can it appeal either to its intrinsic necessity, which would be to nullify the free grace of its revealer, or to a 'verifying faculty' of the believer, which would be to substitute light for the darkness which dogma is to dispel. It accordingly appeals to the church, as an outward and purely objective authority, without asking who authorises the authority. Just as in a certain stage of philosophy ideas, as belonging to the subject, are tested by 'facts,' without its being observed that of the existence of these very facts the subject is the coefficient, so dogma, the representative of intuitions which reflection has transformed, is referred to an authority only different from its own, because not yet mediated by reflection.

Part III. A third characteristic explains itself. The dogmas, as such, in their primitive state, are not wrought into a system. To bring them into a relation of antecedence and consequence to each other, would but be preliminary to asking the reason why for dogma altogether, and this again would be to begin the modification of its immediate objective validity. -178- Taking the above to be the determining characteristics of dogma, as it appears in the fifth century A.D., we have next to inquire how it has been affected by later intellectual movements, and what is its relation to the speculative philosophy of this age. The last-mentioned characteristic vanishes first. Its suppression is due to the schoolmen, the parents of systematic theology in the strict sense of the term. They allow free play to the rationalising intellect in its action on the dogmatic material, but they apply no criticism to this material. They accept it as something given and authoritative. The order of a syllogistic series may be substituted for the inconsequential utterances of a creed, but the ultimate premiss is the statement of a 'what' which admits of no 'wherefore.' In some of them, in Abelard for instance, we may catch glimpses of the freer rationalism of later times. But these were anticipations beyond the developed philosophy of the age. The proper scholastic attitude is expressed in the well-known words of Anselm, Maximse est negligentise si non studemus quod credimus intelligere.' The 'credere' comes first; it gives the substance without any interposition of the 'intelligere,' which adds a form. Reason merely follows, binding into sheaves and threshing out the grain of the harvest which belief has gathered from the church. 'Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis.'

In scholasticism, therefore, thought holds the same relation to its theological object as in uncritical philosophy it holds to the nature of things. As philosophers prior to Hume and Kant treated things as immediate data of which thought has to discover the necessary connection, unconscious that it is thought itself which supplies this connection, so the scholastic theology assumes the dogmas without question, and by the aid of equally unquestioned forms of thought elicits their mutual dependence. They receive in consequence a new transmutation as members of a system, by which they are still farther removed from their primary source in spiritual experience. Thought spins the web, but is ignorant that it spins it out of itself. On the contrary the web seems to be wrapped round it by the divine hands of the church. The result is such a conscious entanglement in the yoke of bondage, holding back the believer from free intercourse with his Lord, as provoked the spiritual revolt of Luther.

'Justification by faith' and 'the right of private judgment' -179- are the two watchwords of the Reformation. Each indicates a new relation between the spirit and outward authority. Faith' in the lutheran language is raised to a wholly different level from that which it had occupied in the language of the church. It no longer means merely the implicit acceptance of dogma on authority for lack of which the 'infidel' was out of the pale of salvation. As with St. Paul it expressed the continuous act, in virtue of which the individual breaks loose from the outward constraint of alien ordinances, and places himself in a spiritual relation to God through union with his Son, so with Luther faith is simply the renunciation, by which man's falser self, with its surroundings of observance and received opinion, slips from him, that he may be clothed upon with the person of Christ. The ghost of scholasticism no doubt still haunted Luther, and led him astray into disquisitions on the relation of faith to other virtues. But according to his proper idea, faith was no positive, finite, virtue at all. It was the absorption of all merely finite and relative virtues, as such, in the consciousness of union with the infinite God. 'Christus est mea formalis justitia.' Faith is merely the efficient by which this righteousness, or the consciousness of it, is conveyed to the individual soul.

Such is Lutheranism on its practical side, as supplying a new principle of life. We see that it implies a penetration behind the veil of scholastic syllogisms, sacerdotal polity, mythological Christology, angelology, demonology; a reversion to the spiritual experience of him who had first learned Christ in his universality. It restores the primary fullness of the intuition, which had become abstract and empty in its dogmatic evolution. Again mankind, dead in the first Adam, is seen to be made alive in the second. Again the spirit searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God, as mysteries which Christ has opened. Again the handwriting of ordinance, which is contrary to us, is blotted out. Again the reconciled conscience moves freely in a redeemed world.

Man then, it might seem, according to the lutheran view, as identified with the Christ in whom all things are made one, should draw dogma within the region of his own self- consciousness, and fusing the limits of its mere objectivity, convert it into a proper inmate of the spirit. But theory never keeps pace with experience; nor is a new principle of -180- inner life at once able to give a sufficient speculative account of itself. With the substance of the church's dogmatic teaching the lutheran could not break for an instant. It was the medium by which alone he could approach that Pauline experience, in the appropriation of which to himself he found peace. And, conversely, as soon as he began to reflect on this appropriated experience, it would necessarily articulate itself in the formula which the church had preserved. At the same time he could not accept dogma, as offered to him on outward authority in its scholastic complexity. To do so would be to thrust himself again into the old entanglement, to build anew the barrier of alien matter which had been destroyed between the spirit and God. The temporary escape from this dilemma is the acceptance of dogma, but the acceptance of it on the warrant of private judgment. Thus vanishes the second of its characteristics, specified above.

Among the later schoolmen we find the question of the relation between reason and belief emerging into distinct consciousness. At first the rationalisation of dogma had gone on without the reason claiming for itself anything more than an instrumental office. When Anselm raises the question 'Cur Deus fit homo,' the fact of the incarnation on the one hand, the divine attributes on the other, are taken as 'believed'; reason merely shows how the fact results from the attributes. During the reign of the realistic logic, the determinations of philosophy were sufficiently accordant with those of theology for the former to appear merely as the handmaid of the latter. But the growth of nominalism disturbed this relation. Duns Scotus specially raises the question, 'utrum homini pro statu isto sit necessarium, aliquam doctrinam specialem supernaturaliter inspirari, ad quam non possit attingere lumine naturali intellectus.' He could only answer it in one way. The knowledge of 'substantiaa separatæ' (by which he seems to mean absolute substance) with their 'propria' is unattainable by us 'ex puris naturalibus.' The knowledge of the trinity is such a knowledge, and therefore presupposes a supernatural revelation. To Occam the same antagonism presents itself more strongly. His doctrine of the mere subjectivity of universals, 'nulluui universale est aliquid existens quocunque modo extra animum,' is in obvious antagonism to the doctrine of the trinity. His -181- doctrine of the limitation of possible knowledge to the sphere of intuition, excludes the natural knowledge of God. 'Nihil potest naturaliter cognosci in se, nisi cognoscatur intuitive. Sed Deus non potest cognosci a nobis intuitive ex puris naturalibus.' All theological ideas, being thus rejected or unattainable by reason, are relegated to the 'deterininatio ecclesise propter cujus auctoritatem debet omnis ratio captivari.'

Reason and belief are thus brought into contact, and reason is suppressed. Protestant theology, in its proper form, attempts their reconciliation. It refuses to treat the matter of belief as something which stands over against the spirit, demanding to be accepted, under infinite penalties, on the strength of church authority. The new meaning which it gives to 'faith' implies a new meaning of dogma. 'Faith' is a certain condition of the spiritual consciousness. Dogma is the expression of this consciousness in terms of the understanding, and at first it seems to the believer as unalterable, as inseparable from, himself, as the consciousness which it expresses. He dwells mainly on the doctrines most immediately generated by the attitude of faith, such as those of sin and grace, which stand at the head of the lutheran, as those of the trinity and incarnation stood at the head of scholastic theology. These 'find' him. They are ideas thoroughly fused with his self-consciousness, and, thus appropriated, they obtain a like unquestioning acceptance for the doctrines bound up with them in the system of the church. But this is a standing-ground which the polemic of theologians, who cling to the 'beggarly elements' of authority, will not suffer him to retain. Mistrusting reason, they torture it by the obtrusion of mysteries which it cannot assimilate, but which yet it seems impossible to reject without an abandonment of the principles of Christian life. The consciousness of a degradation not acquired but inherent, of its removal by the assumption of the degraded nature into the Godhead itself, of a consequent reconciliation between the alienated man and God, and a free efflux of divine grace in the elevation of the individual's life, these are the vital elements of the Christian's experience. But they have their dogmatic expression in those 'mysteries of original sin and the incarnation, which again involve the paradoxes of guilt without free agency and the presence of a double consciousness in Christ. How is the Christian to retain at once his experience -182- and his freedom, when the embodiment of his experience thus holds free thought in bondage?

Popular protestantism has embraced the alternative of abandoning the freedom. It accepts the mystery as guaranteed to it by authority, nor is it of any interest to the reason whether the authority be that of the church or that of miracles. The maintenance of the former may be more consistent with historical fact, for, as we have seen, dogma has no existence except in so far as it is developed by the church; while the reference of dogma to an era of miracles, supposed to have come to an end before the formation of an ecclesiastical system, allows of the removal of a good deal of surplusage from it as an ecclesiastical overgrowth. Authority of either kind remains necessarily alien to our own self-consciousness, and the acceptance of it thus restores 'the spirit of bondage again to fear.' The only popular theory which has sought to retain in freedom the fullness of the Christian experience is that of the 'inward light.' It recognises in the truths of revelation the highest utterances of the reason that is in every man, and thus rids them of their mere objectivity. But it refuses to formulate; it will not fix the relations which the various doctrines are to hold to the individual, but leaves them to 'find' him as they may. This constitutes its insufficiency. It rests on the notion that intuition is the sole or ultimate activity of the spirit, that the immediate experience of the Christian can remain such, and not strive to reflect itself in definite ideas. But Proteus will not so be bound. The individual, consciously or unconsciously, will formulate the Christian experience, and left to himself, will formulate it inadequately. Released from the dogma of the church, he will make a dogma of his own, which will react upon and limit the experience. His fathers, though themselves 'ascripti glebæ,' have subdued a wide region to his use; but, instead of appropriating it, he laboriously tills a little plat of his own, as much in bondage to the soil as they were.

Christian dogma, then, must be retained in its completeness, but it must be transformed into a philosophy. Its first characteristic, as an intuition become abstract, must vanish, that it may be assimilated by the reason as an idea. The progress of thought in general consists in its struggle to work itself free from the mere individuality and outwardness of -183- the object of intuition. The thing as sensible, i.e. as presented in an individual moment of time and space, must become the thing as known, i.e. as constituted by general attributes. Again, from being supposed to be known only so far as it exists, it must be understood also to exist only so far as it is known. Christ, as an object of intuition, must undergo a similar process. To the twelve apostles he was a visible person, and, as such, a saviour of the Jews only. By St. Paul he was known under those attributes which gentile (at least Alexandrian) philosophy had learnt to ascribe to the spirit or wisdom of the world, and as such he became the Christ of the gentiles. These attributes, however, were still referred to the historical Jesus. He was the reality of which the idea involving the attributes was the objective reflex. To the modern philosopher the idea itself is the reality. To him Christ is the necessary determination of the eternal subject, the objectification by this subject of himself in the world of nature and humanity. At first sight the two modes of apprehension might seem mutually exclusive. If the idea of the philosopher is the truth, it may be said the intuition of the philosopher must be delusion. On examination, however, it will be found that there is a sense in which the idea is at once the complement of the intuition and its justification.

Intuition implies limitations which are the less narrow as the intuition is less sensuous. The apostolic intuition of Christ before the resurrection was merely sensuous, and therefore confined to the limitations of Judaism. Christ was carnally, and by force, to restore the kingdom to Israel. From the Christ of St. Paul these sensuous limitations were wholly removed. In his risen form he is an object solely to the spiritual intuition, and to it can be represented as filling all things. Still the identification of the Son, in whom the world is reconciled to God, with Jesus of Nazareth (and this is the very essence of the Pauline intuition) necessarily confines and confuses the idea of the former. It confines it, for while it ought to include, as the idea of God's 'alterity,' the divine unity of the natural as well as of the moral world, no rhapsody of imagination can present this cosmos as involved in the consciousness of a man who walked the earth. It confuses it, for when fixed in dogma and reasoned upon, it leads to the hopeless irrationality of ascribing a double -184- consciousness to Christ. But substitute for the intuition the philosophic idea, and the confinement and confusion vanish. That evolution of dogma, which, as we have seen, emptied the intuition of Jesus of its content, constitutes a gradual determination of the idea of God as an object to himself. This idea becomes more concrete as the intuition becomes more abstract. God has died and been buried, and risen again, and realised himself in all the particularities of a moral life.

Thus the intuition finds its justification, at the same time that it finds itself to be not final or absolute. For if all human attributes, not in mutual exclusiveness but in their totality, may be ascribed to God, then that religious sense which presents its object to itself in outwardness and under limitations, has its place in the life which is assimilated to the divine. The true philosopher can find room for the saint, though not the saint for the philosopher. He drinks the juice of the wine-press which others have trodden. He roams at large in the heritage which his fathers won but might not explore. He sees that which the prophets of the past in vain desired to see: he sees through their eyes that which they saw not themselves. His 'ideology,' which the dogmatist anathematises, enables him at once to retain dogma in its essence and to account for its form. The eternal objectification of God in the world has for its temporal side the realisation of the divine unity in the perfect art of living. The development of this art consists in the gradual application to wider spheres of a type first realised under special conditions. So the Christian life, in its primary exhibition, was perhaps only possible under the peculiar circumstances of Galilee during the Roman dominion. Its apparent ossification into authoritative formulae was a necessary condition for the fulfillment of its mission as a permanent and universal religion. So long as it retained its primary form of a personal experience, it was liable to indefinite modification and mutilation according to the personal tendencies of different times and situations. Every man might make it his own, but in so doing, in appropriating it to his particular needs, might lose that universal element in it which should have raised him above himself and bound him to mankind and God. Embodied in a church and articulated in a creed, it retains its essential identity, while with the -185- gradual development of the thinking spirit it rises to a more adequate conception of itself. It is this elaboration of its speculative side which brings it into new relations with the intelligible world, and it is this which orthodox dogmatists denounce. They build the sepulchres of the prophets whom their fathers stoned. They laud the memory, they persecute in the name, of men who themselves suffered for doctrines now recognised as catholic and orthodox. They proscribe the rational evolution of the content of that dogmatic system which has itself been rationally evolved from the acts and utterances to which it appeals. Therefore they are witnesses against themselves that they are the children of them that stoned the prophets. Like them, in their zeal for the truth once delivered to the saints, they shut the door upon that power of infinite expansion in virtue of which alone it can claim to be absolute truth at all.

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Thomas Hill Green
British philosopher and social theorist,
an early leader of the British Idealists.
Elected a Fellow of Balliol College, Uiversity of Oxford, 1860, Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy, 1878, he died at the young age of 45.



Green, Thomas Hill. Works of Thomas Hill Green, "Miscellanies and Memoir," vol. 3 of 3. K. L. Nettleship, ed., London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1888 pp. pp. 159-189.