11 JULY 1931, Page 24

The Sum of Felicity

The Vision of God : the Christian Doctrine of the Summum. Bonum. The Bampton Lectures for 1928. By Kenneth E. Kirk. (Longmans. 25s.) "THE life of man is the vision of God." Our true existence hinges on the satisfaction of our thirst for Reality. That conviction, interpreted on many levels in many ways, runs right through the history of religion. And alongside it there develops the companion conviction, growing in precision with the growth of man's spiritual life ; that the true aim of all moral discipline is so to cleanse the soul that it shall be capable of its ordained beatitude—unsullied worship. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The real object of Christian ethic, therefore, is not merely to make man nicer, but to enable him for the fruition of Reality : and it will only be understood in so far as we understand this. Then the ideal of sanctity on one hand, and its various subtractions and aberrations—such as rigorism and quietism—on the other hand are explained; also the ceaseless religious tension between the world-renouncing and world-embracing movements of the soul. All these are ways in which man tries to satisfy his passion for God. So Dr. Kenneth Kirk's rich and exhila- rating exposition of the doctrine of the Summum Bonum, as it has been developed throughout the history of the Church, is in truth an exposition of the very principles of religion itself. For it means "God and the worship of God as the central con. cern of human life ; and declares that "the principal duty of the Christian moralist is to stimulate the spirit of worship is those to whom he addresses himself, rather than to set before them codes of behaviour." Only this primacy given to a dis- interested adoration, of which surrender is the heart, can make the doctrine of the Beatific Vision safe, and in M. Bremond's phrase, "disinfect from egoism" man's religious strivings : otherwise too apt to be tainted with a spiritual selfishness which puts in the first place, not the mighty interests of the Perfect, but those of our own small souls.

It will be seen then that Dr. Kirk's lectures chime well with one of the most living and hopeful aspects of modern religious thought—that, namely, which seeks to remind Christianity of the "primary supernaturalism of its charter," and rescue it from the humanitarian and naturalistic morass in which it was left at the close of the last century. Not only M. Brernond, to whom Dr. Kirk offers a gratitude which has been richly earned, but Barth, Otto, and Von Hugel have their part in this great revival of transcendentalism ; and these lectures, setting before us its historical credentials and the forms which it has taken in Christian faith and life, are a valuable contribution to a movement which is more and more making its influence felt, not only in the theological but also in the institutional field. The competing claims of self-discipline and service to be the essence of the Christian life are shown to be based on a false antithesis. Adoration is the essence. The discipline imposed by moral and institutional standards is meant to free the soul for this supreme activity : and as discipline is the preparation for worship, so service is its result. After a survey of pre-Christian teaching on the Vision of God, Dr. Kirk deals with its presentation in the New Testament ; and the beginnings of that rigorist morality which henceforth runs through the history of holiness. He is particularly excellent in his discussions of monasticism, and of the religious move- ments of the seventeenth century. The immense range of his reading, and the constructive sense which subordinates this wealth of material to the main design of the work, give his book real and permanent value, and place all students of religion in his debt. He writes well, and has an agreeable sense of humour which never emerges in the wrong place.

Professor Turner is known and appreciated by all those who are interested in the philosophy of religion. In his new book, which must in some respects be, regarded as a continuation of the argument developed in The Nature of Deft, he again brings into relation with the categories of modern thought—and especially with the scientific philosophy of Sir Arthur Edding- ton and Professor Whitehead—the chief principles of Christian theism. His method is philosophic and objective ; not religious and subjective. Whilst treating with the utmost respect the findings of the religious consciousness, he is here rather concerned with the evidence of Deity which presents itself to the reasoning mind. When this reasoning mind confronts the Universe, it discovers, he thinks (a) its auto- matic mechanism, (b) its dynamic energy, (c) its evolutionary tendency, and (d) the implications of its aesthetic attributes " ; and finally "the indelibly ethical aspect of the universal process " ; and these facts, fully understood, imply and pro- claim the "divine holiness." There is in the Professor's out- look a stern purity, a complete aloofness from the sentimental comforts of faith, which will reassure many of his readers. The ethical order of the Universe, he holds, is Integral to the whole of it. The Idea of the Good is not a pale phantom, but a vigorous principle of action : "an essentially dynamic quality which operates, in the long run, as irresistibly as grav- itation and as ruthlessly as natural selection ; so that to resist either is in the end absolutely fatal." How many casual readers will recognize in this sentence the doctrine of eternal damnation in a cosmic dress ? The imperative character of moral causation, and the finality inherent in its choices con- stitute a further revelation of the Divine : but it is only when we approach that mysterious category of personality which, in a measure, the small selfhood of man shares with the Supreme Self, that we reach a level of being at which the fullest disclosure of the Holy possible to humanity can take pia ep. With this Christian conclusion, illustrated by a noble and penetrating study of the character of the historic Christ, we must leave Professor Turner's book.