A PHILOSOPHER IN SEARCH OF A GOD
Ideals of Religion. By A. C. Bradley. (Macmillan, 12s. 6d. net.) Reviewed by FR. THOMAS CORBISHLEY, S.J.
SOME years ago I remember walking back from a lecture by Professor Joachim, in which he had been holding forth, in that gentle voice of his, on the Absolute (" timelessly self-fulfilling, eternally self-fulfilled "), in company with an undergraduate, who remarked: " Whenever I've been to one of Joachim's lectures I always feel as though I'd been in church for an hour."
The remark returned to me as I read through Dr. Andrew Bradley's Gifford Lectures. For, although the book is entitled Ideals of Religion, actually, if not professedly, it in an apologia for the philosophy of Hegel; but the eloquent periods and the semi-mystical language of the ardent idealist produce an effect that can only be described as " numinous." There is an atmosphere, an aura of belief (I almost said an odour of sanctity) about whole passages of a book which yet remains obstinately philosophical.
The odd thing is that Dr. Bradley sets out as an ardent anti-intellectualist. In the introduction he scorns " theology" as being " simply and solely an intellectual activity just as much as Is mathematics." And, a little later, he states his belief that " there are few things more irrational or more injurious than the disproportionate importance attached, in controversy about religion, to the question of Its truth." And, although one can hardly doubt that he has in mind the theological controversies which have marked the stages of the development of Christian doctrine, we can see the point in such remarks. Theologians themselves have a word—odiain . theologise ni—for the animosity to which over-insistence on theological debate has given rise. But that does not mean that the truth of religious ideas should be a matter of indifference. After all. religion, as Dr. Bradley himself sees, is the attitude of worship assumed by the believer in face of " one infinite perfect spiritual being, the source in some sense of nature, and both the source and the goal of humanity." Or, as he elsewhere expresses it, " religion itself, the union with God, becomes more and more an end in itself," But all this is the merest illusion unless God exists, And intellectual criticism is not only lawful within this sphere, it is absolutely imperative: it le, indeed, part of our service of God. If God exists, then He Is clearly the highest and noblest object for intellectual speculation. And, though intellectual speculation as such is not religion, and can, indeed, be an obstacle to that worshipping attitude which true religion implies, it must be an element in the totality of human activities which should all be directed Godwards.
SO much presupposed, we can welcome and enjoy many of the sublime pages in this beautifully written work We need not stay to discuss Bradley's criticisms of systems which we. no less than rre. find inadequate—the sheerly natural religion that refuses to admit the idea of any transcendental object of
worship, the religion of " ideal humanity," the teachings of Seeley, Mill and the Positivists.
MUCH is well and convincingly said. But as we read we are puzzled as to what Dr. Bradley means by " God." And he begins to approach this question when he sets out, as he must, to discuss the relation of religious ideas to truth. Unable to escape the obvious fact Cult all religions do have a " theology," he yet seeks to argue that the nature of God is irrelevant (or almost) to the religious attitude,
" God Is manifest to me in religion as infinite wisdom and love. . . . Would He become any the more adorable to me if I could discover what beyond this manifestation He may be ... ? Are not these purely intellectual inquiries?" He even asserts that " most men do not take all their religious ideas to be perfectly true; on the contrary, they use some of them knowing that they are not so. . . ." And he seeks to prove this statement by Instancing the words " Our Father which art in heaven," which do not imply that those who use them " imagine that God is related to them either physically or spiritually, exactly as an earthly father is related to his child . . or that God lives in one place called heaven which is locally separated from another called earth." But all this is very feeble and unconvincing, and quite unworthy of the subject. The simplest child knows that the statements of the Creed are merely expressions, true as far as they go, but Utterly inadequate, of mysteries whith human reason cannot adequately state or express, and one wonders why Dr. Bradley should have spent so much time on such a topic.
AND then one realises that he does so because he is so interested in this question of truth—simply as a philosophical speculation. More and more, as the book draws to its close, we come to understand that, for Dr. Bradley, religion is almost entirely what he had denied it to be. Again and again he has said, in different words, that " the main impulse to religion is not curioaity or the desire to understand . .." and we gradually realise that his intellect is taking its revenge.
If speculation is not religion, it is Dr. Bradley's substitute for It. For in the chapter which is really the climax of the book, after asserting that " the stirring of religion is the feeling that my only true self in the end is God, to be a pulse-beat of His infinite life, to feel and know that 1 am that and nothing else but that . " he seeks to ask the question : "Have we any knowledge of the infinite as this unifying of all experience . . ?" And he finds it in —intellectual activity. " The infinite, which itself is mind, appears to man as mind. . . It is true enough in one sense that God is merely the universal essence of man, and even that man makes God In his own image: but the reason is that this man is already the image of God. . . ."
It is clear thee nothing that Dr. Bradley says is said in any but the most reverent spirit, but we do feel that, for all the sublimity of his utterance, his religious ideals are poor things when compared with the fullness of the Christian revelation.
Fur the truth is not told in the story uf the ascent of man to God: rather is it to be found in the descent of God to . in the story of the God-man, risen and ascended to heaven, that in Him we too might become " sharers in the divine nature."