The Doctrine of the Logos

by Paul Elmer More

[The following consists of the tenth and eleventh chapters of More's Christ the Word (1927)]
Our hasty survey of the literature from the fourth Gospel to the Council of Chalcedon has been directed to bring out this one fact, that the Greek Fathers of the age were concerned with the dogma of the Incarnation as the all-important basis of Christianity, so important that beside it every other question sinks into comparative insignificance. It might seem that religion was narrowed and impoverished by this focusing of attention upon a single point, but I think such a view will not be advocated by anyone who considers all that is involved in this article of faith, or who knows how thoroughly this same problem has again absorbed the minds of theologians during the past century. It is not a little thing to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God as well as the Son of man. And when this myth, in itself the amazing consummation of Hebrew prophecy, comes to us interpreted through the Hellenic philosophy of the logos, surely anyone may be satisfied with the richness of its content. And so I propose, in these remaining pages, to show what this dogma meant to the ancient Church and, incidentally, what it may mean to us.

At the outset we are met by a difficulty. How shall we translate the term logos and its derivative logikos? For the first we have grown accustomed to "word," following the Latin usage of verbum (though the Tertullian sermo was perhaps a nearer translation); and this would be fairly adequate if we could always remember that the original for which it stands meant, as its Latin and English substitutes in themselves do not mean, both an unexpressed thought within the mind and a thought expressed in words. It denotes, that is, in the most general way what is mental or spiritual as distinguished from what is physical or material, and so is often synonymous with "wisdom" or the Platonic "Idea" or, as we shall see, "purpose"; it signifies both the "large discourse of reason, looking before and after," and the means by which mind or spirit declares itself in operation or communicates with other minds and spirits. On the whole it will be better, and will cause no embarrassment, to employ the term logos itself as if it were Anglicized, as indeed it almost is. But for the derivative logikos we have no such ease. Neither "verbal" nor "spiritual" is a tolerable translation, while "logical" has become so restricted in meaning as to have lost all its religious value. In this dilemma the lesser of two evils is to fall back on the literal transcript, despite its awkwardness and its liability to misunderstanding. I must ask the reader to forget the connexion of "logical" with formal logic as a technique of syllogistic reasoning, and to take the adjective as signifying simply "that which is related to logos" or, more specifically, "that which consciously possesses logos." Such indeed was the common usage among theologians.

Now to these ancient theologians, trained in the tradition of Hebrew prophecy and in the language of the Academy and the Porch, the whole extent of the universe was permeated with logos. Looking upon the populous tribes of plants and animals, impressed, as Aristotle had been in an earlier age, by the curious adjustment of part to part in their structure and by the mutual adaptation between them and their environment, moved above all by the mystery of their beauty which seems to transcend any conscious or unconscious need in their own existence, the Fathers could explain such phenomena only as the work of a shaping and governing intelligence. To this creative logos they attributed the miraculous growth of a plant from the seed; from this they derived the cunning provision of nature by which the hare and other defenceless animals were prolific, whereas the lioness, as they thought, bore only one cub at long intervals. Only so could they understand the wisdom of the birds, which brought these aerial passengers to and fro over the wide expanses of sea and land, the providence that teaches the ants to lay up their winter store, and many another activity of the lesser creatures for which science could offer no satisfactory account. Christ, they believed, was alluding to the mystery of the logos when he bade his disciples to consider the lilies of the field, which of themselves could take no thought yet were arrayed in beauty beyond even the glory of Solomon. Above all, these theologians, like the philosophers before them and, we may add, like many a poet since, were filled with awe by the greater spectacle of inanimate nature,--the majestic revolution of the stars, the recurrent swell of the tides beneath the moon, and the restraining of the vexed waters of the sea within their bounds. These things, they argued, do not happen by chance or by some blind law of corporeal matter. All this that we see, exclaims an unknown writer, is a manifestation of the "holy and incomprehensible logos."[1]

But if the phenomenal world, including plants and animals, is a manifestation of some controlling logos, it is still not logical in the sense that it consciously possesses logos; for that gift we must look elsewhere. "What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason!" Hamlet exclaims; "how infinite in faculty!" Now that noble in reason is precisely what the Greek theologians meant by distinguishing man from other creatures as alone logical. By virtue of that faculty he, and he only, enters into the life of animals and comprehends the actions which they perform under the impulse of a reason not consciously their own. He weighs the stars and measures their orbits; to him the light of the setting sun and the birth of morning become instinct with the joys of beauty; so that the heavens are unrolled before his eyes like a celestial book. While the body sleeps, something of his mind goes forth to wander in distant places and creates for him marvellous adventures. And what else is all this but the work of a "logical soul," which enables him to behold the invisible reasons that lie behind the forms and motions of things visible?

And man is logical not only by possession of the faculty of thought and comprehension and by the gift of silent discourse within his own mind, but he is endowed also with the faculty of language, by which he embodies his ideas in symbolic sounds and signs and sends them forth to live a kind of life of their own.[2] Thus it is that logos communes with logos, and a man knows himself to be not solitary in a friendless world, but member of a great society of kindred souls.

So far the philosophy of the Church is scarcely distinguishable from that of the Porch. The divergence begins, and grows as wide as the removal of the heavens from the earth, when this doctrine is made the basis of religion. It was inevitable that the Stoic, from his conception of a conscious logos in the highest division of nature, should think of the power which governs the whole of nature as possessing the same consciousness; and what is such a power but God? There are in fact passages, and many of them, in Cleanthes and Epictetus and the Roman Stoics wherein the cosmic logos is endowed with all the characteristics of a deity worthy of homage and love; but if the disciples of Zeno sometimes worshipped, it was yet at the price of sacrificing their principles. So far as the logos could be regarded by them consistently as God, it was a divinity within and of the world, the "spirit within" and the "inexorable fate" of Virgil, and their religious emotion properly assumed that pantheistic tinge which has coloured so much of the naturalism of later ages:

A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.

I would not deny the exquisite charm of such a feeling towards nature; nevertheless, even at its best and purest, pantheism is a kind of halfway house, and no abiding place for the spirit of man. He who stops there will find himself after a while turned out upon the common highway, obliged to journey forwards to belief in a frankly personal deity, or backwards to an avowed atheism.[3] And so we meet with a curious lack of equilibrium in these ancient pantheists of the Porch. At times they beheld God and worshipped; but the backward direction was ever the easier and more consistent course for them. The legitimate goal of Stoicism, as indeed its real starting point, was the scientific conception of the universe as a product of unconscious, unpurposing, mechanistic energy, for which the feeling of reverence is a meaningless sentimentality; its native mood, as we see it in Marcus Aurelius, is rather resignation towards things as they are than adoration of a Being beyond these tides of mortal change.

Now to the Christian, for all he borrowed from the Stoic philosophy, the ultimate merging together of spirit and matter seemed to savour of the Arian blasphemies which had lowered the logos to be an integral part of creation.[4] Save in his most unguarded hours he was never a pantheist; God for him was always a Creator living outside of that which He created, immanent by His power, but essentially transcendent; the logos in the world was merely the image, or effluence, of a higher Logos identical with the wisdom and will of a supermundane Person.

To us of today, perhaps, with our larger knowledge of the complex construction of the universe and our theory of evolution, the chief interest in the logos will be its connexion with the idea of purpose, or teleology. Now the teleological view of existence was not unknown to the pagan philosophers, and in particular it plays a dominant role in the system of Aristotle. But the Peripatetic conception of telos, though in ethics it made purpose the guiding principle of conduct, quite definitely excluded the notion of cosmic purpose, and that in two ways. In the first place Aristotle looked upon the universe as without beginning or conclusion, as uncreated and eternally the same. In this scheme there is no progress from grade to grade in time, from species to species, but a coexistent scale of species showing a kind of geometric pattern. Each species is a finished unit, having its own end, while within the species each individual has a telos in itself, a potential perfection of its own nature, to which it may or may not actually attain. And in the second place, though Aristotle might seem to have raised teleology to its highest point by his conception of God as the absolute final cause, as the object, that is, of all desire and thus the source of all motion in the moving worlds, yet in reality he rendered the idea jejune by depriving this first cause of any reciprocal participation in the transactions of time. His God, so far from being personal, is not even an efficient cause, but a pure abstraction lifted out of all contact with things as they are. Aristotle perceived design in the world, but did not infer from this an interested designer; in other words his cosmic telos is in no proper sense a purpose, an end proposed by an agent who adopts means to its fulfillment, though without such an implication it is hard to see just what force is left to the term. A static impersonal teleology must be set down as one of the grandiose confusions of human thought.

Beat about as we will, there are only two conclusions in which the philosophic mind can abide. Either, as the Hindu in his more courageous moods taught, the whole thing, this globe and this life, are utterly without design, a phantasmagoria in which we can detect no meaning and to which we have no right to apply any interpretation, not even that of chance, a huge illusion of ignorance which simply vanishes into nothing at the touch of knowledge; or else, if we see design in the world, then there is no holding back from the inference of the theist. The agnostic will say that this is to fall into anthropomorphism. It is. But design itself is already an anthropomorphic term; and to admit the existence of design while refusing to see that it implies purpose, and to admit the existence of purpose while refusing to acknowledge a purposing mind, is the folly of halfheartedness. On the other hand the agnostic who, denying plan and purpose, thinks he can stop short of the philosophy of pure illusion, resembles a man who boasts that he can walk on water.

It is here that Christianity brought consistency to the teleology of the schools by going behind the logos of the Stoic and behind the Aristotelian telos to Plato's intuition of a divine Providence, which is further vitalized and enriched by grafting it upon the lore of the Hebrew prophets and the faith of the gospel. For the logos of theology was not only the manifestation of design in the world, but the wisdom of foresight (pronoia), a divine purpose realizing itself through the ages in the economy of creation and salvation, "the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose (prothesis) which He purposed in Christ Jesus." It is true, of course, that the Fathers had no more notion than did their pagan contemporaries of development in the scientific sense of the word; but it is true also that the logos-pronoia-prothesis of Christianity can be adapted perfectly to our modern views, is in fact a very natural complement of any tenable theory of evolution.

The comely order of the world, that which we mean by calling it a cosmos, was, then, to the Christian a reflection of the logos as creative purpose; while in the soul of man the logos answers to logos not as an inert reflection, but as a conscious participation. Thus to Basil, looking upon nature under the glorifying rays of the sun, it seemed as though he could hear the ancient word of commendation, "God saw the light that it was good"; and to Clement it seemed that he could behold the Lord "resting in joy upon the work of His hands."

But there was another side to the picture. This cosmos, stamped and sealed as it is with the divine signature, is yet subject to strange imperfections and marks of error,--calamities of the heavens, floods and disasters upon the earth, among living creatures the cruelty of life that depends on the death of other lives. And consider the state of man. We appear to be made for knowledge and admiration; yet how often our heritage of happiness is exchanged for cloying pleasures, and our aspiring desires into ugly lusts with their uglier consequences --sickness, envy, madness, and all their train. Read the pages of history, and it will appear almost that the divine logos has been not so much thwarted by man as turned into a diabolical ingenuity of evil. Hence the question that has troubled the minds of all philosophers and all theologians, the insistent distracting query: Unde malum?

By the Greek philosophers generally evil was defined as a form of ignorance, with the Socratic corollary that knowledge and virtue are identical. That is to say: taking evil to be by definition that which results in discomfiture and misery, they held that no man will knowingly choose his own perdition. Theoretically such a view would seem to be sound, but in practice, as Aristotle showed, it fails to explain our conduct. How shall we reconcile it with the common fact of experience, which Ovid has expressed in the familiar epigram: "I see and approve the better, I follow the worse"?

Christian theologians, on the other hand, however they wrangled in other matters, agreed almost without exception in stressing the human (or the Satanic) will as the prime factor in evil. With their theory of creation they were bound to regard existence in itself as essentially good, and to define evil as a negation of existence, or, so far as it could be called positive, as an uncaused revolt of the created will against God's will. "Man," says Methodius, speaking for the orthodox Church, "was created with free will, not as if anything already evil pre-existed which it lay in the power of man to choose if he wished,... but the act of obedience or of disobedience to God is the only cause. That is the very meaning of free will."[5] Now this association of evil with the will certainly touches a profound psychological truth; and it has this great advantage, that it accords with our sense of responsibility for wrongdoing which is one of the ultimate facts of human consciousness, and which the Greeks, including Plato, fully recognized but found difficult to reconcile with their equation of vice with ignorance. We consider the inanimate world, and the interruptions of order may perhaps have the appearance of inevitable law, as though they were necessary parts of a larger design; or we regard the miseries of human life about us, and again we may seem to discern the operation of an ineluctable fatality, as though men were the puppets of inheritance and circumstance. But we look then into ourselves, and the more honest and penetrating our gaze, the more deeply are we convinced, despite all the apologetic devices of reason, that to our own undoing we have deliberately chosen the perverse ways of wrong, that the disease is inherent in our very heart and will. The responsibility for evil, the Christian says, as Plato had said before him, lies with man, not with God. All this is well and plausible, yet something still is omitted. The innate sense of responsibility may point to the will as the errant faculty, but the question persists: how can we hold a man, how can we hold ourselves, accountable unless, when the will makes its decision, it does so with full knowledge of the consequences of our acts? In some way both the will and the intelligence must be concerned together in our definition of right and wrong.

So judged, I am inclined to admire the Athanasian theory of evil as that which, of all theories before or after, draws most deeply from the wells of human experience, and as the most thoroughly Christian.[6]

According to this theory the world, as the evocation of the divine logos, was originally without blemish, fashioned to be the fit and perfect home of creatures composed of soul and body. And the souls of men, for whom this dwelling was prepared, were created in the likeness of God, and as such possessed the special faculty of seeing and knowing their Maker; they were designed to be members of the great society of holy beings, angels and archangels, whose life consists in the joyous contemplation of spiritual things.[7] All this is implied by calling man "logical." But the principle of mutability is inherent in the very nature of all created things alike, only with this difference that to man was given the capacity of free will and self-determination which was withheld from inanimate objects and illogical animals. In this union of free will and mutability lies the honour of man, but also his peculiar peril of responsibility. His true motion, that for which he was designed, should be ever upwards to his Creator and towards a clearer vision of the fair realities of the spirit (ta onta kai kala); there is his goal, and in that direction he acquires the unity and uniformity and happiness and safety which he craves.[8] But this motion of the soul towards what is akin to its nature but ever beyond its perfect comprehension, requires a continuity of attention and energy not easy for a creature of whose very essence mutability is a constituent; there is needed a constant effort of the will, while this effort of the will is conditioned by a clear intuition of the object to be attained. Hence arise the hesitation and reluctance of the soul, its fitful purpose, and its turning away to the less exacting contemplation of itself and its own activities in the body. The beginning of evil for Athanasius was thus a kind of rhathymia, that slackness of attention or failure of energy, at once the cause and the effect of ignorance, which hinders the soul, as St. Paul lamented, from pressing on to "the mark for the prize of the high calling of God."[9]

This was the Fall, when, caught by the delusion of forbidden power that appeared to lie within their grasp, men fell into desire to themselves, humouring their own way above the contemplation of things divine. It was as if man, by shutting the eyes of the spirit, created about himself an artificial darkness, wherein these bodies and the dull objects of our touch seem alone to be visible (blepomena), while the realities of the spiritual life fade into invisibility. That which was intended to be an instrument is converted into an end, and all the orders of being are thrown into disarray. The whole scale of values is inverted; pleasure assumes an importance not properly belonging to it; new desires spring up with new objects of desire, which in their fulfilment produce greed, injustice, theft, adultery, murder, and all the train of criminal aberrations. By the defalcation of man the world is altered into something which had no place in the original design of the Creator. In the widest sense of the word this state of mind is idolatry, which, taking its start from sluggishness of will, ends in worship of mere idols of the imagination instead of the eternal realities.[10] "He (the Logos) was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not"; in the self-engendered night of evil man has ceased to be logical.

Such is the Athanasian account of evil. And on the whole I doubt if philosophy, or psychology if you prefer the word, has ever shown a profounder insight into the actual working of the human soul. For, when stripped of its mythological trappings, it is just this infirmity of rhathymia that drags us down from spiritual peace and unity to the tragical conflict of the pleasures of the senses; it is this compound of sloth and ignorance that creates the slough of sin into which the life of man has fallen. So far analysis of the actual experience of life may carry us into the what of evil. But the theory of Athanasius, it will be observed, is not metaphysical: it does not explain why this defection of will should trouble the energy of a creature endowed with free power of choice and having his natural good displayed before him; it leaves the ultimate whence of evil a mystery involved in the very act of creation, still unreconciled with any conception of an absolute cause. And in this it agrees, better perhaps than its expounder knew, with the dualism of Plato's Timaeus, which simply posits evil as a final inexplicable Necessity in the nature of things.

The Athanasian theory of the fall of man, whether it be taken as history or allegory, accords well with the actual condition of the world: on the one side a God whose logos has gone out in a vast work of creation, on the other side the most highly endowed creature, the conscious percipient of the divine purpose, falling away to worship of idols of his own imagination. As Athanasius says, "man, the logical, created in the image of deity, was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution."[11] Certainly He who wrought the design would not suffer it to perish, nor permit His purpose to be utterly frustrated, though it might be temporarily marred and hindered. And certainly "it will appear not inconsonant that the Father should effect salvation of the world by means of that through which He created it."[12] The logos was the instrument of creation, it should be the instrument of restoration: that is the sum of the Christian scheme of Soteriology. Now the mere notion that the salvation of man comes through the logos is not new; it animates the Idealism of Plato, though the word commonly employed by him is nous, reason, and it gives force to the dogma of the Stoics. But by association with the Messianic belief of Israel something is added to the philosophy of the logos which Greece had never known.

In the synoptic Gospels Jesus is regarded as the Son of God, and this belief is carried on and deepened in the body of the fourth Gospel. But also in the prologue to the fourth Gospel the idea is thrown out that the Saviour of the world is the creative logos of God. Implicitly then, though the statement is not made explicitly, the Son of God and the Logos of God are one and the same: the Son as the Logos is identified with the creative wisdom and purpose of diety, the Logos as the Son is hypostatized into a person beside the person of the Father. At one bound the philosophy of the logos has become a religion. And there is a striking corollary to this thesis: the Logos hypostatized as the only begotten Son bears a different relation to God the Father from that borne to God the Creator by the logos within man. We too as possessors of the word may be called after a fashion children of the Most High and sons of the Father, but as creatures of His will we are not of His substance and nature, however we may be like Him; and on this difference depends the possibility of our present state of disgrace. The distinction was made in Origen metaphysically by calling the Logos the eternally begotten Son, whereas the birth of man is an event in time. Athanasius expresses the same idea scripturally by a quaint interpretation of the words of Genesis: "Let us make man,in our image, after our likeness." The Father, he says, is here speaking to the Son (hence the "us"); the Logos-Son is the image, whereas man is created in the likeness of the image, to possess as it were "certain shadows of the Logos and so to be not the Logos but logical."[13] It follows also that when we speak of the human logos we do not think of this as an hypostasis distinct from the hypostasis of the man himself, but as the characteristic quality of man as man.

The drama of redemption then will be the interaction between the Logos- Son of God and the logical nature of man, whereby the effects of sin will be cancelled and man shall be restored to the likeness of the image in which he was fashioned. In that drama the great event, the peripeteia so to speak, is to the Christian the Incarnation; but this is by no means an isolated incident or unrelated to the general course of history. Rather, as Justin declared in the passage quoted at the beginning of our study, all the wisdom of the philosophers, all the precepts of the lawgivers and the example of the sages, had been a response in the heart of man to the manifestation of the logos in the world. Justin might have added that literature and art, so long as they remain true to their high function and do not sink into mere flattery of man's baser instincts, are an effort to interpret life and the phenomena of nature in the light of the logos, and to build here and now a home for the soul in the world of Ideas. And for the scholar the finest and most comprehensive name ever yet devised is the old Greek term logios, signifying one who is skilled to trace the operations of the logos, to distinguish its genuine expression in literature from shams, to know the truth, and so to dwell in the calm yet active leisure (schole) of contemplation. The scholar, the logios, in that noble sense of the word, is he who by study and reflection has recovered the birthright of humanity and holds it in fee for the generations to come.

But in our darkened state the drag of the flesh is heavy, the seductions of the world are insidious, the weight of sin, as the Christian would say, overwhelming, so that, left to itself, the spirit of man might seem bound to sit for ever in a closed prison with only narrow and fleeting glimpses of the larger light. Hence there was needed a more direct illumination than is afforded by the logical order of nature and life, and to the Christian the special work of redemption began with the self- revelation of God to Israel through the inspired lawgivers and prophets. I fancy that to the reader of today--though it would not have been so a few years since--the most surprising feature of patristic literature is the constant and systematic conversion of the Old Testament into an allegory of the Logos. This reinterpretation of Scripture was begun for the Jews themselves--so far as the records are extant--by Philo; it was turned to the service of the new faith by the earliest Christian writers and developed with all the extravagance of an uncritical imagination, particularly by Origen who raised the allegorical method of exegesis into an erudite bibliolatry. Whenever the voice of God is heard or the angel of the Lord appears, it was taken to be a direct revelation, not of the Father, but of the Logos-Son; types of Christ were discovered in the most unexpected places, all prophecy centred upon the coming event of the Incarnation, and every word, each syllable, was probed for hidden treasure. It need not be said that much of this interpretation is from one point of view without critical or historical basis; yet one may well doubt whether our present habit of rejecting the whole method and of minimizing the prophetic element of the Old Testament is not equally erroneous in the other direction. Many of the passages supposed by ancient theology to refer to the coming Messiah may have had quite a different and more literal meaning to the contemporary Jews; but to read Scripture without perceiving that an undefined Messianic hope was an inheritance of the Hebrew race throughout the ages, that in their subsconscious mind, as we might say, the notion of a divine deliverer lay always dormant, ready at any moment to flash out into clear expression, that the whole course of Israelitic history unrolls as a kind of mystical progress towards one grand event, to overlook the fact that the New Testament is a close continuation of the Old and a consummation of what had been long preparing, not to see that the Johannine Logos is the secular realization of the unquenchable Messianic hopes and can be read back legitimately into the ancient theology of Israel as, so to speak, its implicit telos,--this, I say, is the greater failure in scholarship and a more unpardonable dereliction of intelligence. Bibliolatry has slain its thousands, but bibliophoby may slay its tens of thousands; for it is still true that the letter killeth.

Thus from one point of view the Incarnation may be regarded as the closing event, in the fulness of time, of a long series of transactions, while from another point of view it is unique in character. Hitherto the Logos might be known as a creative and providential and admonitive force, manifesting itself indeed to those who could read the signs, but always as a director behind the scenes, now, at the climax of the drama, it comes forth upon the stage and takes its part openly among the actors, a veritable deus ex machina. The meaning and purpose of this theophany were concentrated by Irenaeus into a brief formula, which the Church never forgot, and about which Athanasius in particular wove the fabric of his De Incarnatione as a tremendous fugue upon a single theme: "God became man in order that man might become God."[14] The divine Logos, that is to say, condescended to the conditions of human life, in order that the logos of man might be raised to its prerogative as conscious bearer of the likeness of God. In that act of re-creation the Greek theologians by analysis discovered four leading moments: (1) revelation, (2) imitation, (3) grace, (4) vicarious atonement.

I. Obviously the epiphany of the Logos is first of all and through all an act of revelation. The consequence of the Fall, as a declension of the soul from allegiance to the Creator to concern with the creature was, in a word, idolatry. To the early converts this idolatry appeared primarily as the worship of images and of the innumerable gods who were themselves creatures fallen from grace, if not mere phantoms of human conceit; but the most stubborn foe of the Christian, as it had been of the Platonic, faith was that homage to the idols of the reason which wears the mask of philosophy. Call it Stoicism or call it Epicureanism, call it science or deism or realism or mere indifference or what you will, the most insidious and obstinate enemy of religion was, and is, the subservience of the mind content to see in the world only a huge fatalistic mechanism or a heterogeneous product of chance or, as the modern Darwinians would have it, a monstrous combination of both. Whatever form the error may take, it is a denial of the Logos as the creative wisdom and purpose of God, a magnification of the creature, a refined, but none the less devastating species of idolatry. Against this defection to idols, whether of the imagination or of the reason, God had protested by the majesty of His works and more directly through the mouth of inspired sage and prophet appealing to the silent witness within the breast of every man. There was needed a more definite and immediate manifestation of the truth, and this to the Christian was given when the Word became flesh.

The Word became flesh: it is a portentous saying, not easy for men of our day to accept in its simplicity, nor did it make its way in the ancient world without contradiction and ridicule; to the Greek it appeared at first as foolishness and to the Jew a stumbling block. I would not slur over these difficulties, but there are certain considerations, not unknown to the Greek apologists, that may mitigate the objections of reason. In the first place if there be a God, is it not reasonable that He should reveal Himself? Is it not the case that, so far as we are concerned, an unrevealed God is the same as no God? that an unrevealed God might as well not exist, properly speaking does not exist, for us? The Great Unknowable does not offer a subject very fruitful for contemplation or very serviceable for the wants of mankind. And, secondly, if God was to reveal Himself, how could this be done effectively save through some such act as the Incarnation? How should the poison of idolatry be counteracted save by some miraculous intervention manifesting the existence of a divine purpose in the world yet not of the world? How can we conceive purpose save as the will and intelligence of a person directed to the accomplishment of some end? How could man be made to grasp the reality of a person except under such conditions as surround and limit his own being? How otherwise could such conditions be assumed than through the visible embodiment of the Logos as an historical event in time and place?

All this is conveyed in the saying: The Word became flesh. But it is important to add that the Greek theologians, though they held the appearance of the Logos in human form to be a true revelation of God, were emphatic in declaring it to be not a complete revelation of God. Over and over again they are careful to assert that the expression Father and Son applied to two persons of the Godhead, while true so far as it goes, is only the translation into human language of a mystery which transcends the human understanding, and that the exhibition of the divine attributes in the life and death of the incarnate Logos did not exhaust the fulness of the divine essence. This reverent reservation was the excuse, if any there be, for their employment of such terms as infinite and omnipotent and omnipresent and the like abstractions in their definition of that which might better have been left undefined; it was a not wholly fortunate way of avowing that what we know of God by revelation is the truth but only a little of the truth.

II. The purpose of the special manifestation of divine purpose, if the play on words be permitted, was that man, made in the image of God and logical, but fallen into illogical idolatry, might be restored to his high estate, and that so the frustrated plan of creation might be fulfilled; or as some would say, preferring the language of Aristotle to that of mythology, that man in the course of time might attain in actuality to the potential perfection of his nature. So God, at the opportune moment, revealed Himself in order that man might recover, or reach, the divine likeness by imitating what he beheld.

Now this doctrine of imitation, as I have said elsewhere,[15] was not discovered or invented by those of the new faith. It lies at the very core of Plato's theology and so of the Greek tradition; and it has never been expressed more clearly than in the great passage of the Theaetetus, of which echoes can be heard in endless variations through the literature, pagan and Christian, of the following ages:

"But it is not possible that evils should cease to be--since by reason of necessity there exists always something contrary to the good--neither can they have their seat among the gods, but of necessity they haunt mortal nature and this region of ours. Wherefore our aim should be to escape hence to that other world with all speed. And the way of escape is by becoming like to God in so far as we may. And the becoming like is in becoming just and holy by taking thought .... God is never in any wise unjust, but most perfectly just, and there is nothing more like to Him than one of us who should make himself just to the limit of man's power."

At first thought on reading these words, one may ask what Christianity has to offer that is not here; but second thought makes one aware of a subtle difference. And then if, with this passage in mind, one turns to the sermons of Gregory Nyssen on the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes,[16] in which the Platonic doctrine of homoiosis, or imitation, is developed into a marvellous treatise on the Christian life, one sees how profoundly the sentiment has been transformed by its reference to the Incarnation. The change might be expressed, though inadequately of course, in epigrammatic form by saying that in Platonism man imitates God by becoming just and holy, whereas in Christianity man becomes just and holy by imitating God. With Plato, even when his philosophy slants most strongly towards religion, the ethical Ideas are the outstanding reality, the fixed point of belief, while God, for all that we hear of creation and providence, remains still a somewhat shadowy figure, now appearing and now fading into the background. It is precisely otherwise with the Christian. To him the ethical Ideas owe their cogency to the fact that they are personified in the Logos, and we are able to make them our own by imitating the Logos as revealed in a life passed under human conditions. "No one but His own Word," says Irenaeus, "could tell us the things of the Father .... And we could not apprehend them otherwise than by seeing our Master and hearing his voice, in order that by imitating his actions and fulfilling his words we might be brought into communion with him."[17]

It is properly the human aspect of the Master's life that draws us first as we read the gospel narrative, his unblemished purity and strong humility and his love for God and man.[18] The clear beauty of his character acts as an almost irresistible incentive to imitation, or at least to the desire of imitation; while his perfect humanity is like a voice saying in our ears: Thou too canst live today as he once lived, and so win for thyself such purity and humility and love. And then, perhaps, something in the story, those surprising sentences that had no place on merely mortal lips, the signals of a miraculous power and authority held in check,--something warns us that here is man yet also more than man. We remember the prologue to his life in the fourth Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God .... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.'' And so remembering, if we are capable of rising to the high theology of the Logos, we discover a new meaning in these virtues set before us as models, a meaning so sublime that, as Gregory says, the very thought thereof affects us with a dizziness like that which comes upon one who from the edge of a lofty promontory looks down upon the remote floor of the sea. He who, imitating the purity of Jesus, purges himself of the clinging passions of the world, will discern in his own heart, as in a burnished mirror, a living image of the transcendent holiness of the Father. If he imitates the humility of Jesus, he will then know that he has set himself to follow after one who, though he thought it not robbery to be the equal of God, yet humbled himself to the endurance of human infirmities and to the Cross. And beyond this purity and this humility lies the sublime charity moving within the circle of the divine nature and reaching therefrom out towards creation, of which mystery we get a glimpse in the saying: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." Does the Great Commandment imply that here, in the highest reach of imitation, we should be included in this love not by passive reception only but by active participation?

That and something more than that. In the fifth of his sermons on the Lord's Prayer, when he comes to the clause on the forgiveness of trespasses, Gregory, trembling for his own audacity, ventures to hint at a strange inversion of what might seem to be the natural order of things. Our duty and our hope of happiness, as he has shown, depend on making ourselves like to God; but here on the contrary we are bidden to ask that God should become like to us, that He should forgive as and if we forgive. In pointing to this reciprocity in the law of imitation, Gregory touches on an amazing enigma of the economy, which yet, as we see if we stop to reflect, is based on necessity. For any true similarity must be mutual, and A cannot resemble B unless at the same time B resembles A. And so, with a slight change in the language of the famous maxim, we may say indeed that God imitated (i.e. became) man in order that man might imitate God; but we may add in our thoughts that without the second clause the first would be void and meaningless. We may even go further and assert that the moral response of human nature is the cause and inevitable condition of the divine condescension, as though God could not have loved Himself and the world were there not potentially in the heart of man a similar love of his fellows and of God.

By such steps as these we are brought to comprehend how the Platonic doctrine of homoiosis, being interpreted through the words of Christ, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father," acquired a precision and a power which rendered it capable of converting the world.

III. Imitation is the effort of the human will, stirred from its lethargy by the spectacle of our celestial exemplar, to shake itself free of the idolatrous desires of the flesh and to recover its pristine, or native, energy. But the will of man, whatever the cause, is desperately enfeebled, and the heart of man deceitful above all things, and there is no health in us. How shall we, unaided and of our own volition, regain what we have deliberately east away? It is from thoughts such as these, confirmed seemingly by direct experience, that the Christian has developed the doctrine of grace. The Logos, he believes, did not simply in the Incarnation reveal itself to the logos of man as an inert object to be imitated, but came with power and purpose, with that effluence of the spoken word which passes from person to person and draws them together as it were by invisible bands. We touch here a mystery of psychology as well as of religion which our fumbling science has not yet sounded. We feel the mystic force upon us in our intercourse with men, when familiarity ripens into friendship or beyond friendship into love; we know it as something that goes out of the beloved or admired person, and gradually subdues our spirit to his. And this was what drew the disciples to Jesus when they lived with him in Palestine, drew them with a compulsion of love and homage which seemed to surpass the measure of human influence, and which came to a climax in the ejaculation wrung from the doubting Thomas: "My Lord and my God!"

Nor is this attraction limited to the means of sight and hearing. In the last discourse, recorded by the author of the fourth Gospel, Jesus, wishing to console his disciples, assured them that his going away was even expedient for them, since only so, in the severance of physical ties, should they enjoy fully the purer communion of the spirit:

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever,

"Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."

Jesus was not thinking of a third person in an imaginary Trinity, as his words might at first seem to imply and as they came later to be interpreted (or recast) under the mythopoeic influence of the age. Certainly he was but expressing in vivid metaphorical language the fact that, though he was departing in the body, his spirit should still be with them and in them, as indeed he says explicitly in the very next verse: "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you." The thought is exactly the same as that with which the first Gospel concludes: "Lo, I, am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The Holy Ghost, then, is just another name for the Grace of God, whether it be said to proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son; it is the inner compulsion of spirit upon spirit, of deep calling to deep, by a law of personality of which the outer manifestation is seen in the working of revelation and imitation. And prayer, defined by Plato and the Fathers as the soul's discourse with God, would be the voluntary disposition of the human logos to receive the gracious influence of the divine Logos.

Sure they do meet, enjoy each other there,
And mix, I know not How nor Where.
Their friendly Lights together twine,
Though we perceive 't not to be so,
Like loving Stars which oft combine,
Yet not themselves their own Conjunctions know.[19]

IV. So far we have considered the economy as a revelation of the living Logos, with its extension in imitation and grace, but our definition of this last term as the meeting and merging together of twin activities, divine and human, points to a deeper thought drawn rather from the death and resurrection than from the life of Christ,--the thought of redemption as a vicarious atonement. Here confessedly the light is dim, and the Catholic Church has wisely left the matter in the region of pious conjecture without formulating its theories into a creed or fixed dogma. In the West these theories, following the rabbinical temper of St. Paul, have tended to assume the colour of a legalistic or forensic procedure. Sin, from this point of view, is defined as a transgression of the law of God or as an offence against His divine majesty, in either case as a crime punishable by death. And since, for one reason or another, man is incapable of satisfying the requirements of infinite justice, God Himself pays to Himself the penalty by the surrender of His only begotten Son to the ignominy of the Cross, and so redeems the culprit by an act of vicarious atonement. In the East also the view of Christ's death as the purchase price for sin comes up here and there, but commonly with this curious difference. To the Oriental mind it was the devil who must be placated; man by his disobedience has sold himself to the adversary, and Calvary is regarded rather as a ransom paid by God to man's now rightful lord than as a satisfaction to Himself as judge. Occasionally this transaction takes an odd and really immoral slant from what must be deplored as an almost instinctive admiration among the Greeks for successful trickery, even swindling. The Son of God by appearing on earth masked in human form deceives the devil into supposing, and acknowledging, that in the death of this perfect and representative man he shall have received full value for his claims, only to find that he has brought into hell one who is able not merely to release himself but by his resurrection to deliver the world. Satan, as we should say, has played his trump card, and lost the game, though, in view of his further machinations, it cannot be said that he takes his defeat like a gentleman.

But these were aberrations of fancy that filtered into the faith from the surrounding mass of superstition. Behind them lies the feeling that in the Incarnation we see the middle act of a long drama in which divinity and humanity are enacting their appropriate parts. In this view the human nature of Christ would be not a man (as indeed it was never so considered in the orthodox belief), but mankind; and thus, as symbol or representative or epitome of the race, or as all three at once (since to the mystical intelligence these three things have a way of losing their distinction), would be paying the penalty for the sins of all men once for all. The beginning of our evil was a turning away from the light to that darkness wherein were engendered the manifold brood of ruinous illusions. And for us this course, if followed without cheek, leads on and on to the extinction of the logos within us, has in fact already brought us to the verge thereof. The voluntary death of the divine Logos in its assumed humanity would then be a kind of anticipation and prophetic fulfilment of man's destiny, while the resurrection of humanity by the power of the Logos would be a guarantee of the victory of man's spiritual nature over the grave.

Thus, though from one point of view, the crucifixion may be regarded as only a vivid consummation of the life of our great exemplar ("And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me"), to the more mystical eye, and contemplated under the law of sympathy or solidarity which governs the universe we know not how or why, it would be an act of vicarious atonement, whereby the incarnate Logos, taking upon himself the sins of the world, opens to all fallen souls a door of escape from the hell of idolatry. To the mind of theologians trained in the subtle ambiguity of Greek thought, these two views, imitation and redemption, the reaching of the logos from below upwards and its reaching from above downwards, merge together almost indistinguishably in the drama of the divine economy; they are both, in fact, embraced in the Irenaean theory of recapitulation.

So far the records are plain reading. But here and there we come upon suggestions of a play within the play, which the Christians borrowed unwittingly from their gnostic rivals, and never quite forgot, nor yet ever fully admitted. It will be remembered that in the Valentinian mythology the fall and restoration of man had been anticipated by a similar drama among the Aeons of the Pleroma, or, otherwise expressed, were a continuation of the agony of the celestial Sophia. And some relic of that belief, simplified and purified, I seem to detect in such a saying as that of Valentine's critic, Irenaeus: unum genus humanum, in quo perficiuntur mysteria Dei.[20] What are these mysteries which can only be carried out in the human race, which the angels desire to behold and cannot, to which the doubting frightened eyes of the early believers were directed by the spectacle of a suffering God?

Some notion of what this portent might mean is given by the age-long dispute of theology over the question whether the Incarnation was, as it might be called, an afterthought for the sake of repairing a miscarriage in the original plan of creation, or was purposed from the beginning and so was only incidentally related to the fall of man. This difference of interpretation, discoverable in the writers of the New Testament and carried on through generations of scholars, came to a head among the schoolmen in the contention between the Thomists who supported the former view by such texts as I John iii, 5 and II Peter i, 4, and the Scotists who derived the latter view from the more imaginative language of St. Paul in Ephesians i, 9-12 and Colossians i, 19. In the Occident, so far as I know, the echoes of this ancient battle have long since died away;[21] but in the eastern Church they may still be heard in the debate between such doughty champions of orthodoxy as Androutsos and Rhosses. "The perfection of man," says Rhosses, who holds the more mystical view, "is bound up with the perfecting of religion, and the necessity of perfecting religion involves necessarily the Incarnation of the Word of God in that Person in which there would be not only a perfect imparting of divine truth, power, and life, but also a perfect human vehicle to receive this imparted (divine truth, power, and life). . . Hence the Incarnation of the Word would have been necessary for the perfection of man even without (man's) sin. Still more did it become necessary because of the fact of sin, since man did slip into sin by the wrong use of his reason and free will."[22]

It might be well to stop at this point, nor search with profane and futile curiosity into things beyond our utmost comprehension; and here, in any manner of explicit theorizing, the orthodox theologians did draw the line. Yet there is a bare hint now and then, a mere fluttering of the veil of silence, indicative of strange and unacknowledged guesses at the meaning of the mysteria Dei. Such, for instance, are the halting speculations of Gregory Nyssen and others, even Athanasius, about the inevitability of imperfection in the world, owing to the fact that the very process of creation, as a passage from what was not to what is, involves change, and so introduces an element of mutability and fallibility into the sum of existence. Is this a cautious way of admitting Plato's Ananke, Necessity, into the universe as a second cause conditioning the efficiency of the divine cause? And if the result of creation is from the beginning faulty, what then of the Creator? Is He without fault? And if the Incarnation with its tragic climax is no adventitious event imposed on the creative benevolence by the arbitrary sinfulness of man, but an integral part of the eternal plan, how then? What becomes of the notion of omnipotence when the will of the omnipotent can be executed only through such a concession to the need of adversity, and victory is only possible through defeat? Pathei mathos, "by suffering comes wisdom," was said by Aeschylus, having in mind the fatality that besets all mortal schemes; must that principle be extended upward to the deity? We shudder, perhaps, at such a thought; yet, after all, how can we think of purpose save in connexion with obstacles and limitations to the will of him who purposes? And then, if the dogma of vicarious atonement leads us to find in the Incarnation an act of gracious pardon for man's miserable failure to stand beside his Master as a servant who has been called to help in the slow and toilsome task of shaping a cosmos out of chaos, who perhaps was created to that end, is it also an appeal to man's pardon--I will not say for sin, God forbid, but yet for some limitation there where we should look for perfect strength? Can there be the least shadow of truth in the audacious words of the poet,

For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd--Man's Forgiveness give--and take?

Long before such an inference the Fathers of the Church would have drawn back in pious alarm, and properly, since it springs from a presumption of knowledge where we are professedly ignorant. Yet, on the other hand, the doctrine of the Logos as the divine purpose fulfilling itself only through sacrifice and suffering must shake our confidence in the smug commonplaces of theology; the mysteria Dei are not to be clarified by the enumeration of empty absolutes. We shall believe that in some way the brief enactment in Palestine, with its tragic climax on Calvary, is an epitome or symbolic rehearsal of a secular drama at once of creation and redemption wherein the protagonist is God Himself. By the dogma of vicarious atonement the pains and losses and failures of our mortal state become part of a cosmic agony, and any feeling of resentment at the real or seeming injustices of life fades away into awe before the spectacle of the Cross.

In the end we come back to the word "purpose" as decisive of our philosophy and our religion.

Now there are those, and always have been, who fail to perceive in their own consciousness anything more than a vortex of sensations cohering together for a few years about some shadowy centre of gravitation, why no one can guess, and then losing themselves forever in the stream of phenomena that flows on and on to no conceivable goal. To talk of purpose in a world so constituted is mockery. For such men, if they have the courage of their conviction, I do not see what reasonable creed is left but that of the Epicurean: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

Again there are those for whom this visible universe is no more than an ocean of ephemeral illusions, but who nevertheless have no doubt of a spiritual law holding irresistible and relentless sway in its own separate sphere. The call within to exercise the ethical will is clear and peremptory, yet all the desires and activities connected with this transitory life are frustrate from their inception and end at last in nothing, meaningless all as is the very principle of individual consciousness. For these men I do not see what resting place remains short of the absolute mysticism of India. Purpose, if they are consistent, must be identified by them with a determination to escape utterly from a purposeless existence into some Nirvana of impersonal timeless bliss, to the nature of which no clue is given by the hopes and fears of the conscious soul in its earthly pilgrimage. Such was the creed put into the mouth of Buddha when he attained to supreme enlightenment under the Bo tree:

Through many births, a ceaseless round,
I ran in vain, nor ever found
The Builder, though the house I saw,-
For death is born again, and hard the law.

O Builder, thou art seen! not so
Again thy building shall arise;
Broken are all its rafters, low
The turret of the mansion lies:
The mind in all-dissolving peace
Hath sunk, and out of craving found release.

And, lastly, there are those who admit no such limitation to the law of purpose, but from all they learn, within and without, infer the being of a divine Builder, whose voice they think they hear calling them to labour with Him in the execution of a great and difficult design. For them this transient life is replete with lessons of infinite purport, and the outspread glories of this world, through the impediments of imperfection, bear to the discerning eye "authentic tidings of invisible things." These men, whatever their professed creed, belong to the Greek tradition, as followers of Plato and as believers in the incarnate logos; and if they hesitate to associate that belief with the ecclesiastical dogma of Christ the Word, they have at least the anima naturaliter christiana.

Certainly Jesus himself taught the doctrine of purpose conceived in the heart of a heavenly Father. The indications of purpose he beheld everywhere, in the beauty of the lily, in the fall of a sparrow, in the destiny of populous cities; and his summoning of men to repentance was to the end that, through a life of purity and humility and love, they might bring their wills into harmony with the will of God, and so be prepared for participation in that kingdom on earth and in heaven of which he, Jesus, presumed to call himself the Lord.


[1] Ep. ad Diogn., vii.--The preceding sentences and many that follow in this and the next chapter are a cento from Athanasius and other Greek theologians. To give the references for all such passages would clutter up these pages intolerably.

[2] The logos prophorikos.

[3] The former, for example, was the path taken by Wordsworth, as may be seen by comparing the Tintern Abbey from which I have quoted with the religious note of his later poems. Lucretius virtually went the other way.

[4] So Athanasius, Contra Ar., ii, 11.

[5] De Libero Arbitrio, 265 (Migne).

[6] The following exposition of the Athanasian theory of evil is based on the opening section of the Contra Gentes.

[7] Syndiaitasthai tois hagiois en te ton noeton theoria-these "spiritual things," noeta, are the Platonic Ideas. It is noteworthy that Athanasius does not merge them into the being of God.

[8] Compare the importance of the single word skoposin Laws, xii.

[9] For rhathymia as a cause of evil implicit also in Greek intellectualism, see Religion of Plato, chap. ix. Cf. Sophist 254a ta gar tes ton pollon ommata karteirein pros to theion aphoronta adonata.

This also, removed from the sphere of theology, is Aristotle's notion of dynamis and energia reaching their entelechia in pure theoria. And Plotinus, among his other views, held evil begins for the soul when it turns from the contemplation of Being to consideration of its own state of Becoming (I, viii, 4).

[10] It is not fantastic to compare this reduction of all evil to a form of idolatry with the eiooloriia which Plato, in the Sophist, held to be the characteristic activity and the initial error of those who sought for reality in the shadows of appearance instead of in the eternal Ideas. When he declares that sophistry is the "primary falsehood" in the heart, he is merely saying in other language what Christ means by calling Satan "a liar and the father of lies."

[11] De Incarnatione, vi. 1.

[12] Ibid., i:4.

[13] Ibid., iii, 3. The logos of man differs from the prototypon in being treptos, subject to mutation. This is not to say that the divine Logos, as atreptos, is fixed in stark immutability, but that through all its changes its essential nature remains unaffected. In man change is of the radical sort designated by the Stoics as "passion," pathos. See De Inc., iii, 4; Gregory Nyssen, De Hominis Op., 184c (Migne), and In Verba Faciamus Hominem, 264a, c (Migne).

[14] So it is the fashion to translate the formula as given, e.g. De Inc., liv, 3: aytos gar enethropesen ina emeis theopoiethoren. A more exact version would be: "For he himself put on human nature (or, came to live among men) in order that we might be made like to God." The theos of the compound is a word characteristically Greek in its fluidity, and may mean "god," or "a god," or a "godlike being." Here the third sense is evidently intended, and there is nothing in the orthodox use of the formula to warrant the sort of mysticism implied in the meaning "god."

[15] See the Religion of Plato, 37 ff.

[16] I should reckon these sermons De Oratione Dominica and De Beatitudinibus together about the finest treatise on Christian ethics known to me. They ought to be made available in separate publication, properly edited with text, translation, and notes.

[17] Contra Haer., V, i, 1.

[18] The place of these three virtues in the teaching of the Gospels I have discussed in The Christ of the New Testament, chaps, v and vi.

[19] Cowley, Friendship in Absence. It should be noted that by virtue of a certain ambiguity inherent in the Greek mode of speech the doctrine of grace in the eastern Church never raised the problem which so much troubled the West. Charis means both a benefit conferred and the gratitude for such a benefit. It is both active and passive, or, more precisely, like so many similar words in Greek signifies a certain relation or kind of activity between two agents without defining the direction of that activity; as Sophocles says (Ajax, 522), charis charingor estin e tiktoes aei. Charis thus implies a mutual activity between God and man, and there is no place for an antinomy between grace and faith.

[20] Contra Haer., V, xxxvi.

[21] It was, however, still active in the seventeenth century. See Bremond, Le Sentiment religieux, IV, 398 ff.

[22] Rhosses, Syetema Dogmatikes465, quoted by Frank Gavin, Some Aspects of Contemporary Greek Orthodox Thought, 173. For the contrary view of Androutsos, see his Dogmatike, 168.


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