XIII A BOOK OF WISDOM
A BOOK OF WISDOM
IT is said that a certain eminent Doctor of Divinity once summed up a debate on some knotty theological problem in the following terms: "Well, gentlemen, speaking for myself, I think I may venture to say that I should feel inclined to favor a tendency in a positive direction, with reservations." It is easy to sneer at such an attitude; but in reality it is rather splendid. Here was an old man, who had spent the greater part of his life in studying the fundamental problems of metaphysics and history, and at the end of it all he had the courage to confess that he was still only at the threshold of the house of Knowledge. At least he had realized the magnitude of his subject, and if we compare him with the narrow dogmatists of other ages, we shall be forced to allow that in his exceeding humility there was some greatness, nobility of mind, and dignity. At the same time it must be confessed that such an attitude does not lend itself to expression in a terse, definite form; and that, unfortunately, is what is needed by the men who are busy doing the hard work of the world. The ordinary man wants something simple and applicable to the problems with which he has to deal. He wants a right point of view, so that he can see the hard facts which crowd his life in their proper perspective. He wants power, that he may be able to master the circumstances which threaten to swamp him. For the nebulous views of modern theology he has little use.
Of course, theoretically the pastor should mediate between theology and life, having a working knowledge of both. Unfortunately, but not altogether unnaturally, the hierarchy is timid. Ordinands are discouraged from learning too much about life., lest they err in strange paths and lose their way. Equally they are discouraged from penetrating too far into modern theology, lest they get lost in the fog. They are advised to be content with the official guides to both; and the official guides are somewhat out of date, and in them accuracy and adequacy are apt to be sacrificed to simplicity. The net result is that the ordinary man does not receive much help from the Church in his attempts to get a mental grip of life and death.
Indications are not wanting that the present crisis may evolve teachers of a new kind in the ranks of the clergy and the professors. Many clergy have enlisted in non-combatant corps, and must there have gained a much deeper sense of the needs of ordinary men than they ever acquired in the University, the clergy school, and the parish. Some of the younger dons have also plunged into life, and they may be expected to produce literature of a new type when they return to their studies. Perhaps we shall see again something analogous to the old books of wisdom: shrewd commentaries on life couched in short, pithy sentences. If so, they will be refreshing reading after the turgid inconclusiveness of most modern theology. In this article will be found what may prove the first fruits of the crisis. It is, in its way, a little book of wisdom. The writer, though not yet entirely emancipated from the traditions of his type, seems nevertheless to be feeling after greater clearness of expression and more definite views. Here is a short history of how he came to write it.
He wished to be a clergyman; but he rejected the advice of his elders, and lost himself in the mists of modern theology. There he wandered contentedly for some years, until one day he discovered that his nation had gone to war in what he conceived to be a righteous cause. To the astonishment of his friends, he immediately came out of the cloud, and announced his intention of taking part in the struggle. Being of gentle birth, he was urged to apply for a commission; but, laughingly dubbing himself "a mere dreamer," he preferred the humbler lot of a private soldier. What follows is taken from his notebook. In it he jotted down from time to time what he considered the chief truths which his study and his experience of life had impressed upon his mind. There is no conscious connection between the various groups; but the dates give one a due which enables one to see how each group is connected with a particular phase of his experience, and to trace the development of his mind due to the reaction of these successive phases. Thus June, 1914, sees him preoccupied with abstract problems, trying to mark his tracks as he wanders through the mists. August sees him turning from his mind to his conscience, and nerving himself to decisive action. In September he was already becoming an empirical rather than an abstract philosopher. In October and December the barrack-room had compelled him to try to define the place of religion in practical life. In February, 1915, he is contrasting religion with theology, to the disadvantage of the latter. In May and June death is teaching him the supreme truths. But let his words tell their own story
"June 20, '14.---Do not think to 'get to the bottom of things': most likely they have not got one.
Agnosticism is a fact: it is the starting-point of the man who has realized that to study Infinity requires Eternity.
Only he who has failed to perceive the immensity of the universe and the insignificance of man will dare to say 'I know': ignorance is always dogmatic.
Where knowledge is exact it is merely descriptive: it tells the how, but not the why, of a process.
Agnosticism is no excuse for idleness: because we cannot know all, it does not follow that we should remain wholly ignorant."
"August 5, '14.---Knowledge is not a right end in itself: the aim of the philosopher must not be to know, but to be somewhat.
The philosopher who is a bad citizen has studied in vain.
The law said: 'Thou shalt not kill'; the Gospel says: 'Thou shalt not hate.' It is possible to kill without hatred.
The Gospel says: 'Love your enemies.' That means: 'Try to make them your friends.' It may be necessary to kick one's enemy in order to make friendship possible. A nation may be in the same predicament, and be forced to fight in order to make friendship possible."
"August 10, '14.---Rank in itself is one of the false gods which it is the business of religion and philosophy to dethrone.
Outward rank deserves outward respect: genuine respect is only accorded to real usefulness.
Rank is only valued by the wise when it offers opportunity for greater usefulness.
To know one's limitations is a mark of wisdom, to rest content with them merits contempt.
There is no dishonor in a humble lot---unless one is shirking the responsibilities of one more exalted.
The wise man will take the lowest room; but only the shirker will refuse to go up higher.
To fear a change in one's manner of life is to be the slave of habit: freedom is a chief object both of religion and philosophy.
Here are two contemptible fellows: a philosopher without courage, and a Christian without faith."
"September 1, '14.---The interest of life lies largely in its contrasts: if a man finds life dull it is probably because he has lacked the courage to widen his environment.
To have a wide experience is to inherit the earth: with a narrow horizon a man cannot be a sound thinker.
Experience is the raw material of the philosopher: the wider his experience, whether personal or borrowed, the more sure the basis of his philosophy."
" October 15, '14.---Man is the creature of heredity and circumstance: he is only the master of his fate in so far as he can select his environment.
Sordid surroundings make man a brute: friendship makes him human: religion begins to make him divine.
Religion means being aware of God as a factor in one's environment: perfect religion is perceiving the true relative importance of God and the rest.
Some men are brutes: most are human: very few begin to be divine."
"December 5, '14.---Almost all men are slaves: they are mastered by foolish ambitions, vile appetites, jealousies, prejudices, the conventions and opinions of other men. These things obsess them, so that they cannot see anything in its right perspective.
For most men the world is centred in self, which is misery: to have one's world centred in God is the peace that passeth understanding.
This is liberty: to know that God alone matters."
"February 2, '15.---Optimism is the condition of successful effort: belief in God is the only rational basis of optimism.
To offer a sound basis for optimism, religion must take count of facts: the hardest fact is the existence of unmerited suffering.
Religion is feeling and aspiration: theology is the statement of its theoretical implications.
Religion is tested by experience: theology by logic and history.
Christianity survives because the Cross symbolizes the problem of pain, and because its metaphysical implications have never been finally settled.
Christianity is a way, and not an explanation of life: it implies power, and not dogma."
"May 25, '15.---In the hour of danger a man is proven: the boaster hides, the egotist trembles; only he whose care is for honor and for others forgets to be afraid.
It is blessed to give: blessed is he of whom it is said that he so loved giving that he was glad to give his life.
Death is a great teacher: from him men learn what are the things they really value.
Men live for eating and drinking, position and wealth: they die for honor and for friendship.
True religion is betting one's life that there is a God.
In the hour of danger all good men are believers: they choose the spiritual, and reject the material.
The death of a hero convinces all of eternal life: they are unable to call it a tragedy."
"June 1, '15 .---I have seen with the eyes of God. I have seen the naked souls of men, stripped of circumstance. Rank and reputation, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, manners and uncouthness, these I saw not. I saw the naked souls of men. I saw who were slaves and who were free: who were beasts and who men: who were contemptible and who honorable. I have seen with the eyes of God. I have seen the vanity of the temporal and the glory of the eternal. I have despised comfort and honored pain. I have understood the victory of the Cross. O Death, where is thy sting? Nunc dimittis, Domine. . . . "