24 DECEMBER 1921, Page 18

BELIEF IN GOD.* THIS is the first of three works

on the Reconstruction of Belief with which the distinguished writer proposes to occupy what we may hope will be the long evening of a strenuous life. No English bishop is as generally or more deservedly respected; though his influence was, perhaps, greater ten years ago than now. As a theologian he may seem to have a foot in more than one camp. He is a lifalleus Modernistarum, yet he edited Lux Musidi ; he stands for the elusive position of Anglo- Catholicism, yet he has been left behind by the stalwarts of that sect and is " not capable," he tells us, " of being a Roman Catholic " ; he is a champion of orthodoxy, but the ruri-decanal mind distrusts him, because ideas as such are anathema to it; and he deals with ideas.

The autobiographical touches in the preface throw light on this double personality :- " I have ever been certain that .I must be in the true sense a free thinker ; and that either not to think freely about a dis- turbing subject, or to accept ecclesiastical authority in place of the best judgment of my own reason, would be for me an impossible treason against the light."

Ewald convinced him that the received view of the Old Testa- ment was impossible ; " Father Clement " led him to Catholi- cism, or what he took for it : " I felt instinctively that this sort of sacramental religion was the religion for me." And, when " rigorous teachers seized his youth "—Carlyle, Ruskin, Bowen, T. H. Green—this predisposition remained, though it may be that " Even now their whispers pierce the gloom : What dost thou in this living tomb ? '

Certainly he is under no illusion as to the gravity of the outlook.

" As I view the world and the Church—especially the Church of England—at the present day, I cannot feel hopeful about the immediate prospect. The prophets and experience alike convince me that there can be no real social recovery except through a general return to God. And of such a return I see no signs."

His admissions leave little to be desired in the way of candour : " the world in which we live can only be described as chaotic in the matter of religions belief." And he will have nothing to do with those who "believe passionately in the Church and the Sacraments, but appear to have a very silender and meagre belief in God." Fundamental questions, he insists, must be faced, not evaded ; and, till they have been settled, the claim of authority is irrelevant. In philosophy he is an Idealist : " only for a perceiving, relating, remembering mind can a concrete object, or world of objects, exist "; and he lays stress on the argument from Beauty, particularly in inorganic Nature, where it " has no connexion with utility or survival value " ; while in the sphere of morals, even more than in that of aesthetics, " we are encompassed with the sense of what ought to be." The discussion is maintained on a high level ; and much of it is of genuinely fine quality—e.g., the distinction between prejudice and prepossession ; the recognition of the greatness of St Irenaeus ; and, perhaps not least, the generous appreciation of Professor Kirsopp Lake.

While the merits of the book are the writer's, its limitations are those of the school which he represents. And the more obvious certain criticisms appear, the more assured we may be that they have been considered by the Bishop ; that he is as well aware as his critics of the objections to which his conclusions are open ; and that he has adopted them not because he regards them as being free from difficulties, but because it seems to him that the alternative position is exposed to more and greater. Nor, if those to whom the facts indicate another point of view

• Belief in God. By Bishop Gore. London : Murray. tie. 60.1 are alive to the weakness of the compromise by which he would end the " ancient quarrel" between poetry and philosophy, should it be supposed that they think their own solution either adequate or final. Their claim is more modest : it seems to them to offer a better prospect of a modus vivendi than any other which has been proposed.

Ronan compares a Liberal theologian to a bird whose wings have been clipped. It appears to be able to fly ; but, when it attempts to do so, the failure is manifest : the power of aviation is not proximate, but remote. Bishop Gore's Liberalism is of

this type. We may, and indeed should, think freely, though his theory of " provisional decision " is open to a construction which makes this freedom sometvhat illusory ; but—we must arrive at certain prescribed conclusions. These will be discussed in the later volumes of the series ; but they rule out, it seems, not a few propositions advanced by so sound a divine as Dr. Glover, not to speak of Professor Lake and the Deans of St. Paul'i and Carlisle. And the moderation of the Bishop's lan- guage must not lull the unwary Modernist into a false sense of security. It is clear that the party of the Church Times has no intention of allowing these restrictions on thought to remain in the province of theory : " his words are smoother than oil ; yet be they very swords."

The issues centre in the question of Miracles, to which the Bishop devotes three chapters. The intellect of Europe for the last seventy years " has been occupied in substantially rewriting the Gospels." The reason is that it

" has been in rebellion against the miraculous, and generally the supernatural, of which the Gospels are confessedly full. This presupposition, which is strictly philosophical, not historical —that miraculous events cannot really have occurred—has made necessary that radical reconstruction of the Jesus of history ' which presents Him in a form so unlike that which the Gospels present in so many ways."

The fatal flaw in this statement of the case lies in the word " cannot."' This is an echo of a defunct speculative system. That the history of miracle is a history of human credulity ; that the evidence for the particular miracles on which the Bishop insists is inconclusive ; and that in any alleged " miracle " the presumption is either that the facts have been mis-stated, or that they are due to other than " supernatural " causes—this is what is now generally held. An examination of the scholastic definition of a miracle goes far to justify the view. " Miraculum est effectus cujus cause eat omnibus ocoulta ; seu (mules quia nempe omnes wires totius natures creates

excedit," is that given by an eminent neo-Thomist. But who can say that a cause is " omnibus occult& " ? or pronounce, without a comprehensive knowledge of Nature, that an effect exceeds the sum of natural forces Or, again : " Miracula dicer:de stint quae divinitus Hunt praeter ordinem communiter servatum in rebus" (Zigliara, Summa Philosophica, vol. II. 86, and De Ordine Supernaturali, 94). The second of these condi- tions is relative to the observer ; the first—which refers to the extraordinary as distinct from the ordinary action of the Deity— cannot be determined : who can say where the one begins and the other ends ? So with the common distinction between natural and supernatural. The world presents itself to us as a rational order, or Cosmos, fitted to be the home of the rational


The unity of process which thought discerns in things is, it seems, unbroken ; we find in them no arbitrary gap which know- ledge can never bridge. This is why the traditional notion of miracle, in the sense of a breach of continuity, is, in Hobbes' phrase, " insignificant "—a meaningless phrase doing duty for thought ; and, because it is itself unthinkable, explaining nothing. In having recourse to it we do but impose upon ourselves and upon those whose intellectual hunger is capable of being appeased by words. The place held by miracle in religion is based on an equivoca-

tion : the word has meant different things at different times and to men on different levels of culture.; and to the world of Chris- tian origins it did not mean what it means to ours. To this day a Southern population exclaims Miracolo !" on very slight provocation. The term is equivalent to unaccustomed and unexpected ; the notions of law and causation are foreign to them—it is the Madonna, or the Patron Saint, or the Deity who has intervened. " All things are full of gods." Miracle, i.e., is in the air ; and where everything is a miracle, nothing is a miracle. Such an atmosphere is contagious. Newman believed in the miracle of the Holy House of Loreto " because everyone at Rome believed it " ; and he had " no antecedent difficulty." Here is the gulf between two mentalities ; it has, indeed, been argued that, far from being surprised at these wonders, we should " expect" them. For persons so minded, the supply will not fail to equal the demand.

What is a condition of the acceptance of an alleged fact is not that it is not novel or wonderful—it may be both—but that it shall fall into place in the reasoned fabric of knowledge.

A striking scientific instance of a newly observed phenomenon thus finding its place in, and, as it were, falling into line with, previously acquired knowledge, was the discovery of the planet Neptune in 1846. This discovery had been foreseen ; it was made, tested, verified ; and, because it was verified, it passed out of the province of hypothesis into that of fact. It is the want of verification that is the key to the breakdown of the

popular conception of miracle. Cannot God do all things ? it is asked. Possibly ; but the question is not what God can do ;

it is what He has done, and does. And thoughtful people are increasingly slow to admit such marvels as fall under the head of Prodigies—i.e., which are isolated, unrelated to knowledge as a whole, disconnected, irrelevant, without bearing on life as we know it, and on the experienced order of things. Such prodigies, it seems to them, are not in Nature ; God does not act in this way. They fall back, then, on Humo's famous argument.

It is more probable that the evidence is at fault, or that the witnesses were mistaken or untrustworthy, than that the reported " miracle " should have taken place. Preachers inveigh against scepticism. They would do well to inveigh also against credulity. Had men been more incredulous, more sceptical, from how many evils, both in Church and State, the

world would be free ! Why should it not be so ? the Bishop asks, with regard, e.g., to the vocation of Israel; and, in general, to the

lines on which (he believes) the Divine self-disclosure has pro- ceeded. This is the question which Newman asks of Transub- stantiation; and there is no end to such inquiries ; they land us in a world where " Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus." The decline of religion in the modern world is the result of more than one cause ; but is not one, at least, of its causes the refusal of the Churches to take stook of their assets ? to with- draw damaged goods from the market ? to call in debased -coin ? and to replace paper currency by gold ? Not• till this is done will the impression of insecurity be dissipated ; credit, religious

as well as financial, is a delicate and sensitive thing. While it should be remembered that the miracles on which the Bishop most insists were intended, and have in the past been used with effeet, to facilitate belief in the dogmatic facts on which they bear. How could God become man ? it was asked. By being born of a Virgin. How was the Risen Life of Christ possible ? Because of the marvel of the Empty Tomb. In an age when such narra- tives, so far from facilitating belief, have become difficulties to be overcome, the situation is changed. They retain their value ; but it is a value for feeling and for religion, not for history or as fact.