Saturday, September 30, 2006

J. Huxley on the Trinity . . .

Chapter 2
A Preliminary Interpretation

If what I have said in the preceding chapter is in principle correct (In which he professes a disbelief in either revelation or prophecy or the supernatural), then current theology requires re-interpretation. It is also evident that many differences of details would be possible in the interpretation, according both to the church or the sect chosen and to the individual temperament of the interpreter. That elasticity of framework which has made it possible for Christianity to appeal to men of all grades of culture and to societies in all stages of developments is one of the most noticeable facts about it. God the Father, for instance, must wear very different aspects to a Catholic mystic and a Hell-fire revivalist preacher.

But the broad outlines of the picture were drawn alike for all by the council of Nicæa, when it laid down the doctrine of the Trinity with its three co-equal persons. That doctrine, inspite of occasional intellectual revolts from its incomprehensibility, has appealed to the European mind for so many centuries that even the most bigoted opponent of Christianity would have to admit that the doctrine satisfies certain human needs and corresponds in some way with reality.

As I see it broadly, 'God the Father' is a personification of the forces of non-human nature; 'God the Holy Ghost' represents all ideals; and 'God the Son' personifies human nature at its highest, as actually incarnate in bodies and organised in minds, bridging the gulf between the other two, and between each of them and every day human life. And the unity of the three persons as 'One God' represents the fact that all these aspects of reality are inextricably interconnected.

The First Person of the Trinity, on this view, would be the theological name for the outer force and law which surround man whether he likes it or not. There may be mind and spirit behind these powers, but there is none in them. The powers thus symbolised are strange, often seeming definitely alien, or even hostile to man and his desires. They go their ways inevitably, without regard for human emotions or wishes. They constitute the mysterium tremendum of religion. On the other hand, they are not always hostile or alien. The spring follows the winter; nature may bring the storm and the flood, but she also blesses with abundance; the powers of nature kill and terrify, but they also bring the sun to shine, and the breeze to blow, and the birds to sing; they are powers of generation as well as of death.

In general, the forces and powers personified as the First Person are those which affect human life not only with their inevitability, but also with their quality of being entirely outside man. They may influence and subdue man, or man may influence them and control them; they and man's mind may be fused in experience; but in themselves thay are not only given, but external.

The realities symbolised in the Third Person of the Trinity, however, if my reading of theology is at all correct, are those which are equally given, but, from the point of view of humanity as a whole, internal. From the point of view of the individual man, on the other hand, they have the peculiar quality of being felt as partly internal, immanent, belonging to the self; partly external, transcendent, and far greater than the personal self. They are ideals of value, and are inevitable to an organism which like man has reached the level of conceptual thought.

Once general ideals are possible, they come to include abstract ideas and ideals. If I can make use of conceptual thought at all, I can have the general idea of truth in the same way as I can have the general ideas of circularity or hardness. But the general idea of circularity embraces not only the individual circular objects I have known, but includes them all in and refers them all to an abstract idea of perfect circularity, to which only approximations can ever in actual fact be made. So, with even more force, as regards hardness; and so with truth. Truth includes not only all the true propositions that I know and their individual if partial trueness, but also the ideal of complete and absolute truth by which every proposition must be judged as to its individual truth. And the same is the case with the moral virtues like mercy or courage or justice, with the ethical virtues of righteousness, with the æsthetic virtue of beauty. As soon as we begin to think at all, we perceive there is an ideal beyond every actual; and the more we think, the higher and the more extensive does that ideal become.

As we advance in experience, we find that our own discoveries, however intense, are but a limited and minute fraction of those that are possible; our knowledge of the actual and our conception of the ideal both enlarge enormously as a result of discovering the discoveries of others. With this the ideal becomes less merely personal, and is discovered as coextensive with humanity and thus, while losing nothing of its height, acquires new vastness of extension.

The rôle [sic] of different ideals within that sphere of reality which has been personified as the Holy Spirit has differed enormously in different ages and in different individuals and sects. It differs according to the scale of values which is adopted.

To take a few extreme cases, partly from other fields, there have been artists to whom æsthetic truth, artistic rightness of perception and expression, have been infinitely more important , more valuable to them, than intellectual truth or any moral qualities. Their contemporaries have generally rebrobated them, but posterity has been blessed in their achievements. In precisely the same way the man of science may live mainly and chiefly for the discovery of new truth, and put that at the top of his pyramid of values, neglecting beauty and the more human and domestic virtues. Or, finally, there have been many religious men and women who have found the assurance of salvation, the sense of righteousness, or the delights of religious contemplation, so far more valuable than anything else that they have 'made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake' or in other ways expressed their asceticism and their contempt for so-called earthly values, or have given themselves up so completely to the mystic life, neglecting good works and ordinary religious observance as well as secular values, that they have become objects of scandal even to the faithful.

In general, however, the ideals enshrined in the conception of the Holy Ghost include in the highest rank those of Righteousness with special reference to purity, and of Truth with special reference to the sense of illumination, though they, of course, include many others as well. But it should not be supposed that the reality behind the Third Person of the Trinity consists solely of ideals. It includes also all those 'winds of the spirit' which appear to come from some extra-personal region to fill the sails of the mind. We all know well enough that we may perceive an ideal, understand that it should be followed, and yet draw on no interior force which enables us to live by it or through it; and equally that we may be seized and possessed by spiritual forces which we do not recognise as having previously been part of our personality, uprushing we know not whence to drive us onwards in the service of some ideal. This, in some form or another, appears to be the almost universal experience of those who in obedience to their temperament and gifts have devoted themselves to pure art, pure science, pure philosophy, or pure religion: they seem when most successful in their work to be least personal. The same in its degree is true of all of us in our everyday life. General Booth once said that religion was something that came to us from outside: this is a singularly unsatisfactory definition, since it would apply equally well to a dozen other activities of the mind -- we have only to recollect what we experienced when we first fell in love, or when we performed some action in obedience to a sense of inward compulsion, but against all the feelings of our everyday personality.

The reality behind all these cases of irruptive spiritual force is constituted by those parts of the inborn capacities of mind and soul which have not been utilised in the building-up of personality. These inborn capacities of men, theirs through no merit or fault of their own, are given to them once and for all by heredity and early environment. The utmost that we, as individuals and persons, can do is to utilise fully the capacities which are thus presented for our use; we often do not even use them, but leave them to rust.

The contemplation of our own selves and human nature, the miracle of its existence as a product of natural evolution, the amazing fact that a man is a mere portion of the common and universal substance of the world, but so organised as to be able to know truth, will the control of nature, aspire to goodness, and experience unutterable beauty -- that is perhaps the fullest way in which the givenness of our capacities comes home to us. But it is not everyone who is prone to contemplation. To most people the two chief ways in which this reality (which I have assumed to be one basis for the doctrine for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) becomes realised are in the irruption into conscious life of mental powers not at all or not fully utilised in the building up of personality, and in the swallowing up of self or personality in the consciousness of something larger and more embracing. The building up of personality consists in adjusting the wholly or partially disconnected instincts and tendencies with which we are born into a connected whole in which the parts are in organic relation with each other; to this we are forced by experience, by the outer and inner conflicts which naturally occur but must be adjusted if we are to lead a life worth living, and by the light of reason which confronts the actual with the possible and the ideal.

This organised mutual relation of mental capacities and tendencies, each adjusted in some measure to the rest, and each thus becoming not merely one in a sum of properties, but an essential part of an organic unity, is what we call the personal self. But it is by no means necessary that all our capacities should be early or indeed ever thus organised, they remain outside the self, outside the personality. On the other hand, it is always possible for some experience to bring any such disconnected portion of our mental and spiritual outfit into connection with the organised part, and for this connection to be not merely a transitory one, but to remain, and to involve the permanent addition of something new to the personal organism. Whether the connection be permanent or merely temporary, it is often experienced as the irruption of something outside the self into the self; it is also often experienced as a recognition of mental forces within the self which had previously been unrecognised -- a bewildering sense of powers which seem at the same time immanent and transcendent in regard to the self. Both these ways of experience will be realised to be perfectly natural if the principle which I have outlined of the upbuilding of personality is accepted. There must always be a fringe of faculty only in part and dimly connected with the strongly personal central core where organisation has proceeded furthest. There may also be wholly untapped regions, or, more frequently, minor systems which are definitely kept apart from the majority by the psychological forces of repression. The more apart or the more unrealised the faculty has been, the more its recognition will come as a sense of an external gift: the more it has been un subconscious connection with the rest, the more it will appear as immanent. But in most cases at least the experience will combine the two at first sight incompatible notions of invasion of the self from outside, and the discovery of powers that are permanently and inevitably immanent within the self.

The other aspect of this problem to which I referred consists in the process, in a sense opposite to that we have just been considering, in which the personality, instead of adding to itself, has the sensation of being swallowed up in something larger than personality. This, however, will occur naturally whenever the pursuit of some ideal comes to dominate strongly over the immediate interests of the self. Any ideal, by its very nature, is beyond the limitations of the individual, beyond the particulars of place or time: and yet, or course, the ideal in any actual case is grasped and acted upon by an individual personality. Here again, therefore, there comes in the double sense of internal and external, immanence and transcendence in combination. Complete absorption in a mathematical problem, complete disregard of danger in the wish to save a child from a burning house, complete neglect of all the ordinary business of life by the man or woman in love, complete oblivion of the outer world in mystical contemplation, whether religious or æsthetic -- in all such occasions self is forgotten, the ordinary interests of the personality are swallowed up and dominated by a supra-personal interest which yet is organically connected with the personality.

In all cases, in our attempt to translate the terms of Christian theology into terms of our own, we may say that what has been described as the Holy Spirit is that part of human nature which impresses by its givenness, by its transcendence of the personal self regarded as a self-centered mental organisation, and by its compulsive power of driving human nature on towards an ideal.

Finally, there remains the second person, the Logos, the Son. In order not to be misinterpreted, let me remind my readers at the outset that orthodox theology, in regard to the Second Person of the Trinity, presents us with a doctrine far from simple, the result of a long process of development. The original idea of a temporal Messiah, destined in his lifetime to lead the chosen people to success, soon gave place to that of a Messiah shortly to come again in glory and bring the end of the world and the justification of the elect. As time went slowly by and the Second Coming tarried, this idea too faded, and the messianic idea was transferred more and more to the kingdom that is within, to the problem of personal salvation. Here it made intimate contact with various of the existing mystery religions, which, long before the birth of Jesus, were built upon the idea od worshippers obtaining holiness through some form of mystical communion with the god, and upon the possibility of transfering sacredness from god to man; Christianity both borrowed and lent to these, on the whole receiving more than it gave. In the first few centuries of its existence (almost one century, actually; the earliest fragment of an NT manuscript that we have - a fragment of the Gospel of John, a work which begins with this concept of the Logos which Philo had previously described in the forties - a decade before Saul of Tarsus wrote his surviving letters - dates to circa 125 c.e. - ed.) it also made intimate contact with the Judaised Greek philosophy of which Philo is the most celebrated representative. Here it encountered the idea of the Logos and eventually incorporated it, in a way peculiarly its own, with the messianic idea, both of course being linked with the historical figure of Jesus. But even so, the doctrine of the Second Person was by no means established. As everyone who has an elementary acquaintance with Church history is aware, the full divinity of the Son -- Messiah-Logos-Jesus -- was long in dispute. For a large and important body, Christ was definitely less than divine, subordinate to God; and it was only after three centuries of theological dispute and development that the council of Nicea gave Christianity the doctrine of Christ as co-equal with God the Father, which it has retained with little or no modification to the present day.

When I speak of the Second Person of the Trinity, therefore, I am not referring to the historical Jesus, nor to the idea of Jesus which was present to the minds of the twelve apostles or the early church, but to this complex idea, as presented in the Nicene creed and subsequent theology, deriving from Jewish and pagan religious sources, from Greek philosophy, and from patristic theology, as well as from the man Jesus, the facts of his life and death, and the legends associated with him.

Ad this, I make bold to say, embodies the fundamental reality that only through human nature, through personalities with all their limitations, is the infinite of the ideal made finite and actual, is the potential which we have recognized behind the term Holy Spirit realised in the world, is the apparently discontinuity between matter and spirit bridged over. Modern science is able in one not unimportant particular to amplify the original doctrine. Through our knowledge of evolutionary biology, we can see that human nature is not, as a matter of fact, alone in this; but that human nature merely does more efficiently, more completely, consciously, and on a definitely higher plane, what other life had been doing gropingly, unconsciously, and partially for æons before man ever was. We can therefore say that the nature which finds its highest expression in human nature constitutes this bridge; since, however, it is, so far as we know, only human nature which mediates fully, or indeed at all in certain domains, between ideal and actual, between spiritual and material, it is only human nature which need be fully considered, although the evolutionary background lends a richness and solidity of foundation to all the conceptions involved.

This same conception, of human nature being in its highest aspects divine, is found in many places. It animates the myth of Prometheus who stole divine fire from heaven for man. It underlies the frequent deification, usually after death, of heroes and great men. Even in our own days there has been a definite cult of Lenin in Russia, his picture taking precisely the same place in some households which the sacred ikons do in others; and Mussolini was known as 'the Myth' by the more enthusiatic of his followers. It is at the root of Blake's allegorical mysticiam, and Wordsworth's famous Ode. It made possible the existence and power of such ideas as the divine right of kings or the infallibility and supreme power of the popes, as well as the actual deification and worship of the Roman Emperors during their lifetime.

To me it is simply the obverse of the ideas which have already been considered in relation to the Christian doctrine of the Holy Ghost. It is a matter of plain fact that all the faculties of human nature which seem most obviously immanent, yet posses in some degree the property of transcendence, in the same way in which the reverse was also found true. And this, as I have already tried to indicate, follows inevitably from the human faculty of conceptual thought, the concept always, by its mere nature, transcending every particular in general, and automatically providing an ideal goal for every direction and every striving.

Orthodox theology, naturally moving within the bounds of the theistic conception, prefers to interpret these facts by saying that God was incarnated in human nature in the person of Jesus; and, when both liberal and logical, by admitting also that God is partially incarnated in all human beings.

I prefer to say that the spiritual elements which are usually styled divine are part and parcel of human nature. Thus, the reality personified as the Second Person of the Trinity becomes to our re-interpretation the mediating faculty of human persons between the infinity of the ideal and the finite actuality of existence.

Finally, there remains the relation between the three persons of the Trinity, regarded as personifications of three aspects of reality. It has been in one sense the great triumph of Christianity to have built up this elastic and vital doctrine of the Trinity, in spite of its apparent incomprehensibility. This doctrine, for instance, made it clear that the object of worship was not merely external power which must be feared or loved as the case may be, but also internal power, immanent in or at least entering into human nature, and operating through and by means of human nature. In thus combining external and internal, it has been at a considerable advantage over completely monotheistic religions like Islam, which inevitably lay too much stress upon external power, and also over non-theistic religions like pure Buddhism, which inevitably lay too much stress upon the inner life and divorce it as far as possible from outer realities. It also, through having the three persons combined into an indivisible whole, has been at an advantage over all polytheistic religions (Santeria? - ed), in which various aspects of reality are inevitably given too great sharpness and independence of each other.

In our task of re-interpretation, we must ask what is the reality which is symbolised by the union of the three persons in one God. It is in this aspect of theology that I think the facts of science may be seen to have the greatest value. Science has gone a very long way towards providing an essential unity of all phenomena. It has at least provided a strong basis for a reasonable belief in their unity and continuity, which, in the way in which it formulates itself to me personally, I will do my best to summarise here.

I personally believe in the uniformity of nature, in other words, that Nature is seen to be orderly once we take the trouble to find out the way of her orderliness, and that there are not two realms of reality, one natural, the other supernatural and from time to time invading and altering the course of events in the natural.

I believe also in the unity of nature. Scientific discovery has tended without ceasing to reduce the number of substances with which we have to deal. There exist a milliom different species of animals and plants, each chemically different from the rest; each species contains thousands or millions of chemically different individuals; there exist almost an equally unlimited number of separate and different substances of non-living matter. Yet all these, whether alive or not, work with the same energy, are built up out of the same matter, resolvable into the same few score elements, and these very elements in their turn (so the physicists tell us) are merely so many different quantitative arrangements of two kind of units, of positive and negative electricity. If the trend of discovery continue, we shall eventually be enabled to see these positive and negative electricities as two modifications of the same basic unitary substance.

I believe in unity by continuity. Matter does not appear or disappear, nor do living things arise except from previously existing things essentially like themselves. The more complex matter that is alive must at some time have originated from matter that was not alive, but again by gradual continuity, so that only by comparing the last stage with the first could one see how considerable had been the achievement. I believe in the continuity of all matter, living or non-living; and I believe also in the continuity of mind. If, as is the case, mind and matter coexist in the higher animals and man; and if, as is now certain, the higher animals and man are descended from lower animals, and these in their turn from lifeless matter, then there seems no escape from the belief that all reality has both a material and a mental side, however rudimentary and below the level of anything like our consciousness that mental side may be.

In any case, I believe in the unity of mind and matterin the one ultimate world-substance, as two of its aspects. Such a view makes it unnecessary and ideed impossible to ask the question whether matter can have a direct effect on mind or mind on matter. I believe that whenever a thought passes in the mind, it is accompanied by a definite physical change in the brain. That particular physical change could no more happen without the passage of that particular thought than vise versa. When we say that a drug affects the mind, we mean that the drug affects the physical brain-process, and therefore the thought. When we say that the will affects the body, we mean that the body could only be affected in that particular way by a mental process called willing together with its necessary physical accompaniment. Mental and material are thus, to my belief, but two aspects of one reality, two abstractions made by us from the concrete ground of experience; they cannot really be separated, and it is false philosophy to try to think them apart.

This does not, of course, imply that the mental side of one process of reality may not be negligible, while in some other process it overshadows the material; any more than that it is impossible for one aspect of the material side--say the mechanical--to preponderate in one process, another--say the chemical--in another.

All reality then consists, as Whitehead put it, of events. The events are all the events in the history of a single substance. The events looked at from outside are matter; experienced from inside, they are mind.

These assurances of unity, uniformity, and continuity, derived from the discoveries of physico-chemical science and evolutionary biology were not available to the intellectual enquirers of earlier ages, who could thus only guess in the dark. The speculations of the Greek philosophers, for instance, as to the ultimate elements out of which the world is built and as to the evolution of life are in no way comparable to the view of science to-day. The one can rightly be described as a set of philosophic myths, while the other reposes upon tested and organised experience.

Utilising these assurances as part of our background, we can then proceed to envisage the relation between the three aspects of the unity of nature symbolised as the three persons of the Trinity somewhat as follows. The first person represents the power and externality of matter and material law, given and inexplicable. The third person represents the illumination and compulsive power of thought, feeling, will--thefaculties of mind in its highest ranges and at the level when it deals with universals; these are also inexplicable, but must be accepted as given. The second person is the link between the other two; it is life, in concrete actuality, mediating between ideal and practice, incarnating (in perfectly literal phrase) more and more of spirit in matter. This progressive incarnation may be unconscious, as appears to be the case with organic evolution, or conscious, as in the deliberate attempt in man to realise his visions.

And all non-living nature is one matter; all life is constructed of and sprung from this same matter. Further, all thought and emotion, even the highest, spring from natural mind, whose slow development can be traced in life's evolution, so that life in general and man in particular are those parts of the world substance in which the latent mental properties are revealed to their fullest extent. Thus, the three apects of reality, so separate at first glance, are in point of fact genetically related in a single unity.

On the Moral side too this unity underlying apparent diversity can also be traced. It may not solve the problem of evil, which is probably insoluble in the form in which it is usually stated, but it does contribute to the idea of a moral unity when movements and actions which at first sight seem neutral or evil are found on analysis to be inextricably part and parcel of a larger movement towards good. This is quite definitely so in regard to biological progress, and is also a commonplace of the human moralist.


Julian Huxley
Religion Without Revelation