IF THERE HAD BEEN NO CHRIST?
WHAT would have happened to Western mankind had there been no Christianity ? Nobody now contends that the Christian faith is universal in Christendom. If we say that it is general, we say as much as can be said with truth. The youngest and most old-fashioned of curates must take it for granted that the great company of faithful people declines. Still, the feasts of the Church do stir the minds of the thoughtful throughout Europe, and Easter brings hope or heart-sickness to all those to whom it brings anything but a holiday. Christian evidences are not studied with the zest which the Victorians brought to bear upon them. The students of those evidences have come to varying conclusions. They have disagreed. Who shall decide ? The ordinary man, even though he be a convinced Christian, more and more commonly refuses to ventttre all upon an historic likelihood. Nevertheless it is in one sense at least an historic problem which cannot fail to-day to occupy the minds of hundreds of man and women who hear the words of Good Friday and Easter services, or who even hear the church bells as they escape from the scene of their daily work to where the "sweet fields" of early summer stand "decked in living green." Only a very great scholar could answer in any detail such a question as wo imagine many of our readers to be asking themselves ; and if we proposed it to the two greatest historians in the world, whoever they may be, they would doubtless draw different conclusions from a different selection of equally well authenticated facts. All the same, the man with little historical equipment cannot help asking the question, and cannot help doing his best to find for himself an answer.
Let us imagine an ordinary man walking upon the Downs and thinking as he walks. Christianity did not kill paganism, he will reflect. Paganism was already doomed. All the philo- sophers who were not atheists were in the last resort monotheists at the time of Christ. The Western world was obviously des- tined to be monotheistic. The minds of the Jew and the Roman were drawing together in this fundamental matter. Christi- anity did not save the world from an effete mythology. The idea of one God was no new thing. Perhaps a few sentences from the Stoic philosophers may pass through the thinker's mind. He may even have committed them to memory as a boy or an undergraduate, and be able to reproduce -them more or less correctly. For instance, this passage from Seneca may come to him :—
" We understand Jove to be ruler and guardian of the whole, mind and breath of the universe, lord and artificer of this fabric. Every name is his. Would you call him fate ? You will not err. He it is on whom all things depend, the cause of causes. Would you call him Providence ? You will speak aright. He it is whose thought provides for the universe that it may move on its course unhurt and do its part. Would you call him Nature I' You would not speak amiss. He it is of whom all things are born, by whose breath we live."
Surely this represents the Stoic notion of the Deity very fairly
a great veiled figure at the back of the universe, a stupendous force without face or outline, a majestic and ennobling theory, not a god. But our wanderer under the blue sky will say to himself : "Such a conception as this would have been greatly modified by Jewish and Greek influence." The Jehovah of Hebrew history and the Jehovah of the prophets will appear before him—a deified patriotism upon the one hand, the still small voice of natural religion upon the other. The thinker we have conceived as the ordinary man of education, without special knowledge of theology or philosophy but not entirely ignorant of either, knows—so far as any one knows—what Greek writers meant by the Logos. He has heard of Clement of Alexandria. The thought which Clement brought to bear upon Christianity he could have brought to bear upon any form of monotheism. The witness to the inner life is never wanting in any religion. Even Seneca in words curiously suggestive of later Greek thought could set the monotheism of the Stoic in an inner light :— " God is near you, with you, within you ; a holy spirit sits within us, spectator of our evil and our good, and guardian. Even as he is treated by us, he treats us. None is a good man
without God... . . He gives counsel, splendid and manly ; in every good man, What god we know not, yet a god there dwells.'" Some sort of welding of all these ideals might have been without Christianity the religion of Christendom—a very grand conception not to be grasped by the 'simple. "We ought," Seneca writes, "to choose some good man and always have him before our eyes that we may live as if he watched us, and do everything as if he saw." Having visualized this altar to an unknown God, the ordinary man will turn his thoughts to ethics. Hem he will consider Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, because probably they alone are fairly well known to him. Perhaps he will say to himself that the difference between the Stoic and the Christian morality can be exaggerated. The Stoic counsels benevolence from pride, the Christian from pity. In its result the two teachings might not have been so very different Obviously the Sermon on the Mount contained something which Epictetus could not reach ; but that something, alas ! it must be admitted, has not very greatly affected the conduct of Western man.
The man whose holiday walk and holy-day musings we have tried to follow may find himself by this time approaching his destination, or at any rate the village in which he will rest. He pauses perhaps on the side of the down to review his wandering thoughts. He hardly knows what to make of them. The religious thought of Western man at the beginning of the Christian era contained very noble elements quite apart from Christianity, he is sure. Perhaps as he sits he catches sight of the cross on the top of the village church ; unfortunately in English villages very few other crosses exist to set the wayfarer upon a train of meditation. What if there had been no Crucifixion ? The colossal Deity representing early monotheism would have remained veiled among philosophers, and simple men would have set to work to model a face in accordance with their own ideas. Those ideas would have had more to do with outward than inward experience. Slaves and labourers have not much time for recollection in the spiritual sense. They would have seen—they did see—injustice triumphant, cruelty raging, the good man suffering, the weak always going to the wall ; and in the light of that experience they would have conceived that face. "Why, why," they would have asked, "are these things so ? Is not tho great God but a cruel ruler after all, greater than our rulers yet like our rulers ? " The inner voice would not have forbidden the question. Conscience itself would have counselled rebellion. Western man would have rebelled against his Maker. He is not an Indian for whom the invisible is as real as the earth he stands on, not a Buddhist content to merge his individual life. Neither has he that respect for mere power which enabled Mohammed centuries later to convert his followers, most of them by the sword, to a monotheistic faith. He has not the cold sense of the Chinese, who can accept the copy- book and find an outlet for his small religious capacity in the worship of his forbears. He is more material than the one, more spiritual than either of the others. Marcus Aurelius declared, just as Confucius declared, that to be good was the only true worship ; but the plain man of the West who works more than he thinks, the simple person whom the Emperor so benevo- lently despised, craves for Divine sympathy far more than for human righteousness. The problem of sin is for the man of social and spiritual genius. The problem of suffering is for all To neither of these great questions does Christianity give an answer so far as reason is concerned. To him who can accept it, however, the unknown God has the face of Christ—the face of perfectly courageous and perfectly pitiful man—and the flittering of man is shared by his Maker, shared down to the last throb of physical pain, the last agony of mental doubt. It is not God, then, but His purpose which is unknown, and in that unknown work man can bear to find witness. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself," wrote the first of the Christian theologians. Without the reconciling reve- lation the outlook of Western man was one of spiritual anarchy, the result of desperate rebellion. Without it he would have been ready to curse God and die. Probably he would as a power in the world have come to nothing.
It may, however, be said with truth that vast numbers of modern thinkers are returning to the Stoic philosophy—to the unknown God and the struggle for righteousness. This is true enough. But is it not also true that bitter distress of mind is increasing with each retrogressive step ? Are men sceptics now as the Victorians were sceptics, not because they cannot trust God, but because they cannot settle a few dates or accent a few miracles ? Surely no. It is because they cannot reconcile the ways of God to men, and because the prime necessity of the spiritual life is not a solution but a reconciliation—" a peace not of Caesar's proclamation."