20 JUNE 1931, Page 22

The Supreme Reality

The Reality of God ; and Religion and Agnosticism. Being the literary remains of Baron Friedrich von Hugel.

Edited by Edmund G. Gardner, M.A. (Dent and Sons. 15s.)

Tam book gives us all that it has been possible to rescue and arrange for publication of the material left unfinished by Baron von Hfigel at the time of his death. It consists of fragments from two projected works. First come extracts from the long treatise on " The Reality of God," which was originally intended to be delivered as Gifford Lectures and on which the Baron was intermittently at work during his last three years. In this he had hoped to sum up the fruit of his life of thought and faith ; and such parts as were left fit for publication, representing as they do his final positions, will be eagerly welcomed by his countless disciples. The last half of the book contains the beginning of a study of the religious outlook of his friend, Sir Alfred Lyall, which was finally abandoned in 1915. In this review I shall concern myself only with the passages which it has been possible to publish from The Reality of God. Professor Gardner, in his admirable introduction, tells us that the general belief that the first part of this book had been left in a substantially complete state was unfortunately mistaken : it came into his hands in " a formless and tentative condition that the author would assuredly never have contemplated giving to the public." Some chapters were merely sketched out, others were masses of quotations awaiting analysis. Much had been dictated with effort in times of increasing ill-health, and left unrevised. Nevertheless, all that is truly characteristic of its great writer, including many passages which will confirm his reputation and nothing that will detract from it, has at last been isolated and arranged. The literary tact and devoted care with which this most delicate task has been performed is beyond praise, and deserves the warmest gratitude of all those who revere in Von Hiigel one of the greatest spiritual influences of our time.

The Baron's own introduction, which was finished and is given in full, and Professor Gardner's account of the general - lay-out" of the work enable us to realize the great lines on which it had been designed. The full title, which its author had placed at the head of the MS., was " Concerning the Reality of Finites and the Reality of God : a study of their Inter-relations and their Effects and Requirements within the Human Mind." What was intended, therefore, was a study from the metaphysical angle of that close inter- penetration yet distinctness of Nature and Supemature, Sense and Spirit, which was central for the Baron's religions philosophy. This vast theme was to be developed under three heads ; the Theory of Knowledge, Ethics, and Institu- tional Religion ; each being made to witness to that graded realism which more and more, as his thought developed; seemed to Von Hilgel the only metaphysic adequate to the mysterious richness of our human experience. The genuine reality of that finite world which surrounds us, an acceptance of it as truly and objectively there, distinct from the mind that knows yet never knows fully, was, he thought, the essential condition of any true apprehension of the Reality pZ God. " It makes an- .enormous difference -whether

come to religion with the - habit of admitting and rejoicing in realities distinct from ourselves in all the other subject- matters which we love, or if we come to the- study of religion with subjectivist habits of mind."

These " subjectivist habits," fostered by nineteenth- century idealism, were in his view chiefly responsible for the weaknesses of contemporary religion ; the trend of pantheism, immanentism, and " sentimental anthropo- morphism" which he never ceased to deplore. God the Infinite Mind, producer of all existents, and Man the finite mind, apprehender of all such existents, stood in his thought over against one another. Between them lay the many- graded world of our possible experience. Only by restoring to men a full sense of that " great world of realities around us " should we lead them on to an apprehension of the infinite reality of God, " a Presence essentially other than and more than any and all Beauty " ; self-revealed, yet never wholly known, through and in these finite realities :

" The ceaseless contention and implication of this long book is, in its degree and character, that it is in the contact, as close and penetrating as possible, with the concrete, with history, with institutions, with social groups, that men are most fully awakened to and steadied in the sense of the Unconditioned, the Abiding, the Prevenient, the Beginning and the End and Crown of light and life and love."

Following here the well-known doctrine of Troeltsch that in the development of religion the historical and institutional always comes first, and the mystical arises as an experience and interpretation within this matrix, penetrating and savouring its eternal significance, the Baron shows the process to be already at work in the Psalms and the New Testament, even in the Synoptics—a process " essential to religion in the long run and on the whole," and safe so long as it takes the form of humbly tunnelling the material offered, not erecting " would-be triumphal arches " upon it : but always closely dependent on the historic reality which it penetrates and transforms. Thus once more man's apprehension of the Reality of God depends upon taking seriously the reality of finites. He cannot lay hold on the eternal by the mere abandonment of the successive. There is always something sacramental in his contact with truth.

" What is the good of saying that Baptism is a superstition since God's grace is not water ? . . . I might as well refuse any aid from the stimulation of my senses towards my apprehension of spiritual Reality, on the ground that God is not a bluebell, that His grace is not a fern."

But as to the ceaseless discipline and tension involved in such a winning of the freedom of the spirit through a humble subordination to the limitations of sense, the Baron had no illusions. And, indeed, it is the resolution with which he keePs in the foreground this intellectual cross which gives to his teaching its virile power. Yet even so religion, he insists, is never to be thought of as " so much hair shirt." Its true goal is not conduct, or even transformation of character, but a habit, a temper of mind, a sense of Presence, seldom achieved without suffering, but always where full and steady crowned with joy. Joy is the ordained end, of

the spiritual life : for it seeks God, and finds perfection in " a becoming like to God "—the very principle of- generosity and selfless delight.

" We have soon reached the limit of what we ourselves can ever become : it is the joy for the others, for the countless constellations of the spiritual heavens, it is only there—but even there, at bottom because of God, the Sustainer and Fulfiller of all that splendour —that our poor hearts and wills find their peace."