« AnteriorContinuar »
HISTORY OF PANTHEISM.
PANTHEISM is a word of very wide and very vague import. It has been used to designate an immense variety of systems which have prevailed in the East and the West in ancient and modern times. It is, in fact, a word so vague that few thinkers have defined it to their own satisfaction. There is no general agreement as to its meaning, and it has been applied to all sorts of doctrines, the worst and the best. It has been so understood as to include the lowest atheism and the highest theism—the materialism of Holbach and Büchner, and the spiritualism of St Paul and St John. There is a materialistic pantheism which cannot be rigidly separated from other materialism, and there has been much talk of late of a Christian pantheism which can only be distinguished from Christian theism if theism be identified, or rather confounded, with deism. The term pantheism ought, of course, to be so understood, if possible, as to be altogether inapplicable to either atheistic or theistic systems; but we must remember that systems of thought, and especially systems of religion, are seldom, if ever, perfectly homogeneous and self-consistent. It is seldom, if ever, possible to refer them to a class with absolute accuracy, or to find that a definition exactly suits them. Even in regard to materialism, I had to remark that the only kind of system of which its history supplies no record is one which would answer truly to the name of materialism. In the same way there is probably no pure pantheism. The systems designated pantheistic are only more or less so; they contain likewise, in almost every instance, some atheistic, polytheistic, or theistic elements. It would be therefore unfair to judge any system solely and rigidly by a definition of pantheism. Each pantheistic system must be judged of in itself and as a whole in order to be impartially estimated. Why each system has come to be what it is, and why one system differs from another, are questions which the history of religious philosophy professes to answer, and which it is continually learning to answer in a more thorough and satisfactory manner, while the characteristic at once common to all the systems, and distinctive of them, is still not very clearly or.exactly determined.
What is pantheism? The following is as definite a general answer as I can give. Pantheism is the theory which regards all finite things as merely aspects, modifications, or parts of one eternal and self-existent being; which views all material objects, and all particular minds, as necessarily derived from a single infinite substance. The one absolute substance—the one all-comprehensive being—it calls God. Thus God, according to it, is all that is; and nothing is which is not essentially included in, or which has not been necessarily evolved out of, God. It may conceive of the one substance in many and most dissimilar ways, but it is only pantheism on condition of conceiving of it as one. For example, there can only be materialistic pantheism where there is believed to be materialistic monism. Its adherents are those who regard matter as ultimately not an aggregate of atoms but a unity,who are so devoid of perspicacity as not to see that materialism and monism are in reality contradictory conceptions. Pantheism may also represent the derivation of the multiplicity of phenomena from the unity of substance as taking place in many very different ways, but it cannot be truly pantheism unless it represent it as a necessary derivation. It must regard it not as a freely willed production, but as an eternal process which could not have been other than what it has been. In order that there may be pantheism, monism and determinism must be combined. It is only then
that the All of Nature is believed to be coextensive with God-only then that the Divine Being is supposed to be fully or exhaustively expressed in the Divine manifestations.
According to the view I have just stated, no system which does not include determinism and exclude freedom is truly pantheistic. I refuse to have any controversy with certain so-called forms of pantheism which I do not regard as properly pantheistic, and which are certainly not anti-theistic. If matter could be resolved into force, and force could be reasonably inferred to be a phase or exertion of Divine power—if the laws of matter could be shown to be modes of God's agency, and the properties of matter modes of His manifestation-if Berkleyanism could be proved true, some persons would say that, so far as the physical universe was concerned, pantheism had been established. I should say nothing of the kind, and should consider such an application of the term pantheism as not only unwarranted but injudicious, because unnecessarily provocative of religious prejudice. Physical nature is not represented by the view to which I refer as in the least degree more commensurate with the Divine power than by the common view. It may have been the free production of a volition, and may be an inexpressibly less adequate measure of the might of God, than a thought or word is of the power of man. It may
have left in God an infinite energy which He can direct and apply according to the good pleasure of His will. In like manner, if all human minds were proved to exist—as some have supposed them to do—through the conditions of intelligence called primary ideas; and if these primary ideas could be ascertained to be—what some hold that they arethoughts of God, not only present in the mind of man, but constituting it what it is,-although Divine thought would thereby be represented as the substance, so to speak, of human minds, yet if a distinct individuality and real freedom could be justly attributed to these minds, pantheism in the strict and proper sense would not be established. The creature is so dependent on the Creator as to exist only in, through, and by Him. What amount of being it has in itself no man can tell. The quantity of being, the degree of being, possessed by the creature is certainly indeterminate. The finite cannot weigh itself in the balances of substance or being with the Infinite. It cannot ascertain what measure of being, what amount of substance, it has, as distinguished from the Infinite. Nor is it necessary that it should try to do so in order to preserve itself from pantheism and its errors. It will be sufficient for this purpose that it adhere to the plain testimony of consciousness and conscience, to the great facts of freedom and responsibility. In knowing ourselves as self-conscious and