Open main menu


Meanings of the word theism. Its generic sense.THE term theism has three significations. In its widest acceptation its object is the Divine, whether regarded as personal or impersonal, as one being or as a number of beings. In this sense theism is coextensive with religion and worship, includes all forms of polytheism and of pantheism, as well as all varieties of monotheism, and so may be said to denote the genus of which polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism are species. The conception of the Divine, in its utmost abstractness and generality, is, however, so vague that it may reason ably be doubted if the forms of theism, thus understood, can be distributed into strictly logical and natural species, with definitions at once perfectly distinct in themselves and exactly accordant with phenomena. It may seem as if polytheism and monotheism must, by arithmetical necessity, be exclusive of each other and exhaustive of theism; but this is not so. Pantheism may clearly partake of the nature of both, and has been sometimes extravagantly polytheistic, sometimes only doubtfully dis tinguishable from fully developed monotheism. Probably few, if any, polytheistic religions are purely polytheistic, or, in other words, do not imply in some mode and measure the unity as well as the plurality of the Divine. Christian monotheism answers to a formal definition of monotheism only inasmuch as it holds to the unity of the Godhead, but contravenes it inasmuch as it holds that in the one Godhead there are three Divine persons, each God.

Its negatives.The complete negation of theism in its generic sense is atheism—the denial of the existence or of the knowability of the Divine. It is only in modern times that the word atheism has acquired this meaning, only in recent times that it has come to be exclusively employed with this meaning. The Greeks meant by it simply disbelief in the Greek gods. The early Christians were called atheists because they refused to acknowledge the pagan deities. Protestants have been charged by Roman Catholics and Roman Catholics by Protestants with atheism. Through out even the 18th century the word was used in an extremely loose manner, and often affixed to systems by which the existence and agency of God were unequivocally recognized. Atheism, in the sense now generally admitted to be alone appropriate, may be of three species, namely, denial of the existence of the Divine, denial that the Divine has been shown to exist, and denial that it can be known that the Divine exists. The first species has been called dogmatic atheism, the second critical atheism; and the third has been designated, and may conveniently be de signated, religious agnosticism. Agnosticism per se should not be identified with atheism or with any of its forms. The term antitheism has been used by some theologians, e.g., Chalmers and Foster, as equivalent to dogmatic atheism; but it may with much more practical advantage be employed to denote all systems of belief opposed to theism, either in the generic sense already indicated, or in the specific sense of monotheism. Understood in this latter mode, it is much more comprehensive than the term atheism. Polytheism and pantheism are alike antitheistic theories, although on different grounds; while only those theories which deny that there is evidence for belief even in the existence of any god, any divine being, are atheistic.

Theism ordinary equivalent to monotheism.It is somewhat remarkable that the term theism by itself never occurs in its etymological and generic sense, never means as a separate word what it means in the compounds atheism, polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism. Ordinarily it is identified with monotheism, and consequently opposed to polytheism and to pantheism, as well as to atheism. Whereas polytheism acknowledges a plurality of finite gods, theism as monotheism acknowledges only one absolute infinite God. Whereas pantheism regards all finite things as merely aspects, modifications, or parts of one eternal self-existent being all material objects and all particular minds as necessarily derived from a single infinite substance, and thus combines, in its conception of the Divine, monism and determinism, theism as mono theism, while accepting monism, rejects determinism, and attributes to the Divine all that is essentially implied in free personal existence and agency. Pantheism is, how ever, wonderfully protean, and rarely conforms to its ideal; hence the systems called pantheistic are seldom purely pantheistic, and are often more monotheistic than pantheistic.

Theism and deism.Sometimes the term theism is employed in a still more special sense, namely, to denote one of two kinds of monotheism, the other kind being deism. Although deus and theos are equivalent, deism has come to be distinguished from theism. The former word first appeared in the 16th century, when it was used to designate antitrinitarian opinions. In the 17th century it came to be applied to the view that the light of nature is the only light in which man can know God, no special revelation having been given to the human race. Dr Samuel Clarke, in the Boyle Lectures preached in 1705, distributed deists into four classes. The first class " pretend to believe the existence of an eternal, infinite, independent, intelli gent being, and, to avoid the name of Epicurean atheists, teach also that this supreme being made the world; though at the same time they agree with the Epicureans in this, that they fancy God does not at all concern Himself in the government of the world, nor has any regard to, or care of, what is done therein." The second class acknow ledge not only that God made all things, but that He sustains and governs them, yet deny that He has any regard in His government to moral distinctions, these being merely the products of human will and law. The third class believe in the being, natural attributes, pro vidence, and to some extent in the moral attributes and government of God, but deny the immortality of the soul and a future state of rewards and punishments. The fourth class acknowledge the being, natural and moral perfections, and providence of God, as also the immor tality of the soul and a future state of rewards and punishments, yet profess to believe only what is discover able by the light of nature, without believing any divine revelation (Clarke, On the Attributes, pp. 140-153, ed. 1823). This division is not an exact classification, nor does it rest on any precise definition of deism, but it, with substantial accuracy, discriminates and grades the varieties of English deism. Clarke did not contrast deism with theism, or even employ the latter word. His contem porary, Lord Shaftesbury, on the other hand, generally used the term theism, yet only as synonymous with deism, and with a protest against either being opposed to revela tion (Characteristics, vol. ii. p. 209, ed. 1727). Kant, in his Kritik der reinen Vernunft, explicitly distinguished and opposed deism and theism, but in a very peculiar manner. " The person who believes in a transcendental theology alone is termed a deist; he who acknowledges the possibility of a natural theology also, a theist. The former admits that we can cognize by pure reason alone the existence of a supreme being, but at the same time maintains that our conception of this being is purely transcendental, and that all that we can say of it is that it possesses all reality, without being able to define it more closely. The second asserts that reason is capable of presenting us, from the analogy of nature, with a more definite conception of this being, and that its operations, as the cause of all things, are the results of intelligence and .free will. The former regards the supreme being as the cause of the world whether by the necessity of his nature, or as a free agent, is left undetermined; the latter considers this being as the author of the world " ( Werke, ii. 491, edited by Rosenkranz, Meiklejohn's tr., 387-8). The account here given of deism seems neither self-con sistent nor intelligible, and applies, equally well or equally ill, to every system atheistic, agnostic, pantheistic, ideal istic, or materialistic which admits the existence but not the intelligence or personality of an Urwesen, eternal being, or first cause; and the account of theism excludes all reference to revelation, and applies to every form of what has been regarded as deism. In recent theology deism has generally come to be regarded as, in common with theism, holding in opposition to atheism that there is a God, and in opposition to pantheism that God is distinct from the world, but as differing from theism in maintain ing that God is separate from the world, having endowed it with self-sustaining and self-acting powers, and then abandoned it to itself. This distinction is real, and perhaps the best attainable. At the same time many called deists must be admitted not to have taught deism thus understood; for example, most of the " English deists " did not deny that God was present and active in the laws of nature, but merely denied that He worked otherwise than through natural laws. If by deism be meant belief in a personal God who acts only through natural laws, and by theism belief in a personal God who acts both through natural laws and by special interven tions, this distinction also is real, and may be useful. The chief objection to it is that deism when so contrasted with theism does not denote, or even include, what theologians have generally agreed to call by the name.

The present article will treat specially of theism in the sense of monotheism, but not to the exclusion of the relations between theism thus understood and theism in other acceptations.

Nature of primeval religion.Monotheism has been very generally assumed to have been the primitive religion. Lord Herbert, Cudworth, and others have elaborately defended this opinion in the past, and it still finds learned advocates. On the other hand, the vast majority of recent anthropologists hold that religion originated in some rude phase of polytheism, and that monotheism has been everywhere preceded by poly theism. Schelling, Max Miiller, and Hartmann have main tained that the starting-point of religion was henotheism, an imperfect kind of monotheism, in which God was thought of as one, only because others had not yet presented them selves to the mind, a monotheism of which polytheism was not the contradiction, but the natural development. Pantheism has also been frequently represented to be the earliest phase of religion. All these representations, how ever, will be found on examination to be very conjectural. The present state of our knowledge does not warrant our holding any view regarding the nature of primeval religion as established. The data which carry us farthest in our search for the historical origin of religion are undoubtedly the names expressive of the Divine which have been pre served in the most ancient languages. They show us how men conceived of the Divinity long before the erection of the oldest monuments or the inscription of the oldest records. Language is much older than any of the state ments in language. Evidence of language inadequate.But language by no means carries us Evidence back to primitive man, or even to the historical origin of of lan ". the idea of deity. The Egyptian word nutar and the ^ a e "** names of the Egyptian gods found in the oldest Egyptian inscriptions prove that at a date long before the Egyptians wrote history, or are known to have worshipped animals or ancestors, they conceived of Divinity as power, and their deities as great cosmic forces; but, as that word and these names cannot be shown to have belonged to man's primitive speech, they cannot show what was man's primitive religious belief, and do not disprove that the forefathers of the people who first used them may have had some lower and ruder conception of the Divine than that which they convey. There are, according to Dr Legge, no words in the Chinese language known to be older than ti, fien, shang-ti, and these words are good historical evidence that the Chinese conceived of the Divine, thousands of years before the Christian era, as a universal ruling power, comprehending the visible heavens, and an invisible, infinite, omnipresent force, manifested in the azure of the firmament, possessed so far of intellectual and moral qualities, and working towards ethical ends. There is no evidence that when the Chinese first used these words they worshipped fetiches, but neither is there evidence to the contrary, and even if there were it would not disprove that the ancestors of the Chinese had passed through an era of fetichism. All members of the Semitic family of languages have the word El, or some modifica tion of it, to denote deity, and hence we may conclude that the Semites had the word in this sense before they separated and became distinct peoples, but not that the idea of God originated when the word was first thus employed. All members of the Teutonic group of languages have the word God, or some slightly modified form thereof, and all members of the Slavic group of languages have the word Bog, or some modification thereof, to express the same conception: it does not follow that either Teutons or Slavs had no idea of deity until the former so applied the word God, and the latter so applied the word Bog. Both Teutons and Slavs are Aryans, and there is an older Aryan term for deity than either God or Bog. The Sanscrit (leva, the Latin deus, and the northern ti, tivar, are forms of a word which must have been used by the Aryans to express their idea of the Divine when, in a prehistoric age, they lived together in their original home; but we are not entitled to infer that even that prehistoric Aryan term is the oldest word for deity. It may not be older than the primitive Semitic word or the primitive Turanian word, or the nutar of the Egyptians, or the fien of the Chinese, or the earliest designations for the Divine in the earliest African and American languages. And there may have been Divine names older than any of these. The science of language has been able to recon struct in part a prehistoric Aryan language, and may similarly be able to reconstruct a prehistoric Semitic language, a prehistoric Turanian, and perhaps a prehistoric Hamitic language. Should it proceed thus far it will probably perceive that all these prehistoric languages arose out of a still earlier prehistoric language in which also were words expressing ideas of the Divine. There may be many strata of language buried too deep for human excavation in the abysses of unrecorded time. By no possibility, therefore, can the analysis of existing languages disclose to us the oldest name for deity or the historical origin of the idea of deity. Geology shows the vast antiquity of man, and nothing proves that he may not have been awed or comforted by thoughts of the Divine ages before the invention of the oldest Aryan or Semitic words. It is merest conjecture to assign the formation of the conception of deity to the dawn of historic time. Between primitive speech, primitive religion, the primitive condition of man, and the little streak of light called human history there stretches an immeasurable expanse of darkness.

Evidence of book of Genesis.The belief in primitive monotheism is generally rested on the authority of the opening chapters of Genesis. It is, however, doubtful if the appeal to them be legitimate, because doubtful if their strict historicity can be proved to those who insist on judging them merely by critical and historical criteria, or even if it can be fairly inferred from the view that they form part of a revelation. Then, although these chapters plainly teach monotheism, and represent the God whose words and acts are recorded in the Bible as no mere national God but the only true God, they do not teach, what is alone in question, that there was a primitive monotheism, a monotheism revealed and known from the beginning. They give no warrant to the common assumption that God revealed monotheism to Adam, Noah, and others before the flood, and that the traces of monotheistic beliefs and tendencies in heathen dom are derivable from the tradition of this primitive and antediluvian monotheism. The one true God is repre sented in Genesis as making himself known by particular words and in particular ways to Adam, but is nowhere said to have taught him that He only was God. Adam knew, of course, only one God, as there was only one God to know; but that he knew there was only one God we are not told, nor are any grounds given us even for con jecturing that he knew it. We are told that God created the heavens and earth, but not that Adam was told it, and we know too little about Adam to be able to conceive how he could have understood the statement. We are informed that he knew God the God who manifested himself to him in particular acts, but not what general idea he formed of God whether henotheistic, pantheistic, or monotheistic, whether definitely exclusive of poly theism or not, or in what measure anthropomorphic. It is not otherwise as regards what is reported of Noah. In fact, primitive monotheism is read into the records in Genesis only because they are read in an inaccurate and uncritical manner. If read aright, it would be seen that, while they speak much of how God acted towards man, they speak so extremely little as to what early man knew of God that the appeal to them on behalf of the hypo thesis of primitive monotheism must be futile, even on the traditional view of their authorship and historicity.[1]

Evidence of history.It is impossible to prove historically that monotheism was the primitive religion. Were, then, the oldest known historical forms of religion monotheistic? Early religions not monotheistic.Many maintain they were, but adequate evidence has never been adduced for the opinion. The oldest known religion is probably the Egyptian, and for at least three thousand years its history can be traced by the aid of authentic records contemporary with the facts to which they relate. Egyptian religion.Its origin, however, is not disclosed by Egyptian history, and was unknown to the Egyptians themselves. When it first appears in the light of history it has already a definite form, a character not rude and simple, but of considerable elevation and subtility, and is complex in contents, having certain great gods, but not so many as in later times, ancestor-worship, but not so developed as in later times, and animal worship, but very little of it as compared with later times. For the opinion that its lower elements were older than the higher there is not a particle of properly historical evidence, not a trace in the inscriptions of mere propitiation of ancestors, or of belief in the absolute divinity of kings or animals; on the contrary, ancestors are always found propitiated through prayer to some of the great gods, kings worshipped as emanations and images of the sun-god, and the divine animals adored as divine symbols and incarnations. The greater gods mentioned on the oldest tombs and in the oldest writings are comparatively few, and their mere names Osiris, Horus, Thoth, Seb, Nut, Anubis, Apheru, Ra, Isis, Neith, Apis conclusively prove that they were not ancient kings or deceased ancestors, but chiefly powers of nature, and especially, although not exclusively, of the heavens; yet from the earliest historical time they were regarded as not merely elemental, but as also ethical powers, working indeed visibly and physically in the aspects and agents of nature, yet in conformity to law and with intelligence and moral purpose. Wherever the powers of nature are thus worshipped as gods, the feeling that the separate powers are not all power, that the particular deities are not the whole of divinity, must be entertained and will find expression. The Egyptians had undoubtedly such a sense of the unity of the Divine from the dawn of their history, and they expressed it so strongly in various ways from a very early period that they have been pronounced monotheists not merely by theologians attached to a traditional dogma but by most eminent Egyptologists De Rouge, Mariette, Brugsch, and Renouf. As these scholars, how ever, truthfully present the facts, they satisfactorily refute themselves. A religion with about a dozen great gods distinct as regards their names, characteristics, histories, relationships, symbols, and worship is not monotheism in the ordinary or proper sense of the term. A religion in which the Divine is viewed as merely immanent in nature, and the deities deemed physical as well as moral, elemental as well as ethical powers, is rather pantheistic than mono theistic. Further, all assertions to the effect that the unity of the Divine is most emphatically expressed in the earliest historical stages of the religion are contrary to the evidence adduced even by those who make them. To quote Patah-Hotep as a proof of the monotheism of the Egyptian religion in its oldest historical phase is as uncritical as it would be to draw Homeric theology from the dialogues of Plato. The Egyptian religion was a polytheism which implied monism; it was not mono theism, which is exclusive of polytheism. Hence, not withstanding frequent approximations to monotheism, tbe general result of the development of its monistic principles was pantheism, not monotheism. Chinese religion.As to the ancient Chinese religion, Dr Legge easily shows that Prof. Tiele's description of it as "a purified and organized worship of spirits, with a predominant fetichist tendency," has no historical warrant, but he fails completely to substantiate his own view, namely, that it was a strict and proper monotheism. The names T ien and Ti afford no evidence that the early Chinese fathers regarded deity as truly and properly spiritual and personal. It is not in the most ancient Chinese writings that spirituality and personality are ascribed to T'ien, and such ascriptions are exceptional in Chinese writings of any date. The great development of ancestor worship in China has been largely due to the impersonal character of T'ien. Semitic religions.The arguments which have been adduced in support of the hypothesis of a primitive Semitic monotheism are also insufficient. M. Kenan's belief in a monotheistic instinct peculiar to the Semitic race has been so often and so convincingly shown to be contradicted both by history and psychology that another refutation of it might well be regarded as a mere slaying of the slain. Divine names like El, Baal, Adon, and Melech, being the oldest terms in the Semitic languages expressive of the Divinity, and having been retained through all the changes and perversions of Semitic religion, have often been maintained to imply that primitive Semitic belief was monotheistic. But in reality Baal, Melech, and Adon were not names originally, or indeed at any time, given to the one Supreme God, or exclusively to any particular god; on the contrary, they were titles applicable to many different gods. Aryan religions.The oldest historical form of Aryan religion the form in which the Vedas present it is designated by Max Miiller henotheism, in opposition to the organized anthropomorphic polytheism to which he restricts the term polytheism, but henotheism thus understood includes polytheism in its wider and more ordinary acceptation, while it excludes monotheism properly so called. The oldest known form of Aryan religion was indubitably polytheistic in the sense of being the worship of various nature-deities; and everything approximating to monotheism in India, Persia, Greece, and other Aryan-peopled lands was the product of later and more advanced thought. The assertion that history everywhere or even anywhere shows religious belief to have commenced with monotheism is not only unsupported by evidence, but contrary to evidence.[2]

Early religions not mere polytheisms.While the oldest known religions of the world were thus not forms of monotheism, neither were they mere poly theisms, wholly devoid of monistic and monotheistic germs and tendencies. The Chinese religion, indeed, can hardly be said to have been at any period a polytheism, the Chinese people no more regarding spirits and deceased ancestors as gods than Roman Catholics so regard angels and saints. They have throughout their whole known history explicitly and clearly acknowledged the unity of the Divine the uniqueness of T'ien (Ti, Shang-Ti). Had they in like manner acknowledged the spirituality, personality, transcendence of the Divine, their monotheism would have been indubitable. Then, even in those ancient religions, where a plurality of deities is apparent, a sense of the unity of the Divine is notwithstanding implied, and in the course of their development comes to expression in various ways. It could not be otherwise, for in these religions the divine powers (deities) are also powers of nature, and hence sprung from and participant in a mysterious common nature, an ultimate and universal agency which is at once the source of physical and divine existences and forces. Neither nature-deities nor powers of nature are ever conceived of, or indeed can be conceived of, as entirely distinct and independent. The lowest forms of polytheism, such as fetichism and animism, have no more marked characteristic than the indefiniteness of their idea of the Divine and the imperfect individualization of their deities. In the highest forms of nature-worship, e.g., the Vedic, Egyptian, and Baby Ionian- Assyrian, the same trait is perceptible. This implicit monism of natureworship may, through the action of various causes, come to explicit utterance in diverse modes, and has in fact done so, with the result that even in the oldest known poly theisms are to be found remarkable approximations to monotheism. One form of approximation was henotheism. When worship is ardent and earnest the particular god worshipped is apt to have ascribed to him the attributes, as it were, of all the gods an almost absolute and exclusive godhead. Max Müller has shown how prominent a phenomenon henotheism is in the Vedas. Page Renouf has shown that it is very conspicuous also in the ancient inscriptions and hymns of Egypt. Horus, Ra, Osiris, Amun, Knum, were severally spoken of as if each were absolute God, invested not only with distinctive divine attributes but with all divine attributes. In the religious records of Babylon and Assyria monotheistic approximations of the same kind are likewise common. Now, in themselves such monotheistic modes of expression may truly be held to be the products of passing moods of mind, not reflexions of permanent conviction. But every mood of mind tends to perpetuate itself, and the enthusiasm of piety which utters itself in henotheistic praises and prayers may take abiding possession of the soul of a powerful ruler or even of the hearts of a whole class of society or of a whole people, and may seem to them to find the strongest possible confirmation in experience. We may illustrate from Assyrian religious history. Tiglath-Pileser showed a marked preference for the worship of Asshur, to him "king of all the gods," "he who rules supreme over the gods." Nebuchadnezzar, again, showed a great partiality for the god Merodach, and applied exclusively to him such magnificent titles as " the lord of all beings," " the lord of the house of the gods," " the lord of lords," " the lord of the gods," "the king of heaven and earth." Nabonidus, on the other hand, specially revered Sin, the moon-god, and represented him as " the great divinity," " the king of gods upon gods," " the chief and king of the gods of heaven and earth." A preference of this kind might arise from some merely accidental or personal cause, and be confirmed by experiences mainly individual, and yet have a vast historical influence. The devotional choice of a people must tend, however, still more than that of any monarch to the elevation of one god towards absolute godhead. It was accordingly what raised Asshur, the special national god of the Assyrians, to the head of the Babylonian-Assyrian pantheon during the Assyrian period. In a struggle of deities for supremacy the national god has an immense advantage in that he has both the piety and the patriotism of the people on his side. His rule is identified with providence; he is credited with all the victories and successes of the nation; and his power and godhead seem certified by fact and experience. The logic of events in every advancing nation combines with the essential tendencies of piety and with the growth of conscience and reason to promote belief in the unity and perfection of the Divine. The general course of providence is no more polytheistic than it is atheistic. The best exemplification of the operation of the piety of an influential class in transcending polytheism is Brahmanism. But for the impulse given by Brahmanical piety Brahmanical speculation would never have reduced the Vedic gods to manifestations of Brahma. Henotheistic forms of approximation to mono theism are not, however, the only ones. Particular gods all of them may be dropped out of view, and the generic thought of God alone retained. The mind and heart of the devout may be directed exclusively to the power of the powers, the God in the gods, God simply, the Divinity. The formation of names expressing Divinity in the abstract is an evidence of the existence of such a process, and names of the kind are to be found even among very rude peoples. But there are more obvious and con clusive indications. In one of the most ancient of books, for example, and probably the oldest manuscript in the world, the maxims of Patah-Hotep, a wise Egyptian prince of the fifth dynasty, God simply (nutar) is often spoken of without a name or any mythological characteristic, and in a way which is in itself quite monotheistic. "If any one beareth himself proudly he will be humbled by God, who maketh his strength." "If thou art a wise man, bring up thy son in the love of God." "God loveth the obedient, and hateth the disobedient." Sentences like these standing alone would be pronounced by every one monotheistic; and even when standing alongside of refer ences to "gods" and "powers" they show that said gods and powers were not deemed by the Egyptian sage incon sistent with oneness of power and godhead or exhaustive of their fulness. In Babylonian- Assyrian religious history there are also distinct traces of the rise of the spirits of worshippers above particular deities, simply to deity. Sometimes they appear with special clearness in con nexions which tell of awakened and afflicted conscience, of the pressure of a sense of sin and guilt forcing on the heart, as it were, a conviction of One with whom it has to deal, of its need of the forgiveness and favour, not of this god or of that, but of God. The following passage may be cited as an instance. " O my Lord, my sins are many, my trespasses are great, and the wrath of the gods has plagued me with disease, and with sickness and sorrow. I fainted, but no one stretched forth his hand! I groaned, but no one heard! O Lord, do not abandon Thy servant; in the waters of the great stream do Thou take his hand; the sins which he has committed do Thou turn to righteousness." Many parallel passages might be drawn from Hindu, Greek, and other sources. Clearness of moral perception is decidedly favourable to monotheistic belief. The practical reason contributes as well as the speculative reason, and precisely in the measure of its healthiness and vigour, to the formation of a true idea of the Divine. It was due more to their moral earnestness and insight than to their intellectual superiority that the Persians came nearer to monotheism than any other people of heathen antiquity. Ahriman was entirely evil, and therefore only to be hated and combated; while Ahuramazd was abso lutely divine, perfectly good, and therefore to be supremely worshipped and obeyed. This moral dualism approached more closely to true monotheism than the later speculative monism, which placed above both Ahuramazd and Ahriman Zervanakarene, boundless time, indeterminate being, an ethically indifferent destiny. Finally, reason in striving to understand and explain the world tends towards mono theism. The mind cannot be expected to recognize the unity of God until it recognizes the unity of nature; when it sees nature to be a whole, a universe or cosmos, it cannot but form a conception of it which will be panthe istic, if the unity of substance, law, and evolution be alone acknowledged, and monotheistic if a unity of causality, rational plan, and ethical purpose be also apprehended. In the measure in which reason advances either on the path of scientific investigation or of philosophical specu lation, polytheism must retreat and disappear; in the measure in which it discerns unity, order, system, moral government, indications of spiritual character and design in the world, monotheism must rise and spread. Now, in the chief progressive heathen nations reason, it can be proved, has gradually gained on imagination. Hence the polytheisms which they built up in their youth have been undermined and broken down by them in their maturity.[3]

Monotheistic movement ini Greece.A monotheistic movement can be clearly traced in ancient Greece. The popular religion of Greece, as it appeared in the Homeric poems, was as distinctly polytheistic and as little monotheistic as any known religion.Its gods were all finite, begotten, and thoroughly indi vidualized beings. The need of unity was responded to only by the supremacy of Zeus, and Zeus was subject to destiny, surrounded by an aristocracy far from orderly or obedient, and participant in weakness, folly, and vice. To its eternal honour the Greek spirit, however, was not content with so inadequate a conception of the Divine, but laboured to amend, enlarge, and elevate it. The poets and dramatists of Greece purified and ennobled the popular myths, and, in particular, so idealized the character and agency of Zeus as to render them accordant with a true conception of the Godhead. The Zeus of ^Eschylus and of Sophocles was not only not the Zeus of Homer, but was a god belief in whom was inconsistent with belief in any of the Homeric gods. The dramatists of Greece did not assail the popular conception of Divinity, but they sub stituted for it one which implied that it was without warrant or excuse. They developed the germs of mono theism in the Greek religion, while leaving untouched its polytheistic assumptions and affirmations. These, how ever, were not only persistently undermined, but often directly attacked by the philosophers, some of whom eventually reached a reasoned knowledge of the one absolute Mind. Xenophanes, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras were among the pre-Socratic philosophers who, on grounds of reason, rejected the polytheism and anthropomorphism of the current mythology, and advocated belief in one allperfect divine nature. Socrates, although avoiding all attacks on the popular religion calculated to weaken the popular reverence for divine things, had real faith only in the one supreme Reason, the source and end of all things; and the best representatives of later Greek philosophy were in this respect his followers. Plato attained by his dialectic a conception of God which will always deeply interest thoughtful men. God he deemed the highest object of knowledge and love, the source of all being, cognoscibility, truth, excellence, and beauty, the One, the Good. The controversy as to whether his conception may be more correctly designated theistic or pantheistic will, perhaps, never be brought to a decisive conclusion, but in its general truth and grandeur it must be admitted far to transcend either the monotheism of the vulgar or any popular form of pantheism. Aristotle's character istic cautiousness of judgment showed itself in the very meagreness of his theology. The representation which he gives of God hardly meets at all the demands of affection and of practical life, yet so far as it goes will be generally regarded as thoroughly reasonable. It is more unequivo cally theistic than that of Plato. It sets forth God as without plurality and without parts; free from matter, contingency, change, and development; the eternal un moved mover, whose essence is pure energy; absolute Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/257 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/258 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/259 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/260 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/261 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/262 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/263 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/264 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/265 Page:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, v. 23.djvu/266 His attributes and activities already fully realized in the trinitarian life can proceed outwards, not of necessity but of absolute freedom; or that the whole universe is a manifestation of His triune nature, and all finite spiritual life a reflexion of the archetypal life, selfsustained and self-fulfilled therein. All the more thoughtful trinitarian divines of the present endeavour to make it apparent that the doctrine of the Trinity is not one which has been merely imposed upon faith by external authority, but one which satisfies reason, gives expression to the self-evidencing substance of reve lation, and explains and supports religious experience. If it be thought that their success has not been great, it has to be remem bered that they have been labouring near the commencement of a movement, and so at a stage when all individual efforts can have only a very limited worth. To one general conclusion they all seem to have come, namely, that the idea of God as substance is not the only idea with which we can connect, or in which we may find implied, tri-personality. The category of substance is, in some respects, one very inapplicable to God, as the philosophy of Spinoza has indirectly shown. If the theologians referred to be correct, the doctrine of the Trinity is not specially dependent upon it. In their view God cannot be thought of consistently as, e.g., Absolute Life, Absolute Intelligence, or Absolute Love, unless He be thought of in a trinitarian manner.

Position of unitarian theism.While trinitarian theism has thus during the present century shown abundant vitality and vigour, it cannot be said to have gained any decided victory over Unitarian theism. The latter has also within the same period spread more widely and shown more practical activity, more spiritual life, than in any former age. The unitarianism represented by a Martineau is a manifest advance on that which was represented by a Priestley. Theism in its Unitarian form is the creed of very many of the most cultured and most religious minds of our time, alike in Europe and America. In this form it has also signally shown its power in contemporary India. Brahmoism is, perhaps, the most remarkable example of a Unitarian theism which exhibits all the characteristics of a positive faith and a churchly organization. The Unitarian theism of the present age is distinguished by the great variety of its kinds or types. None of these, it must be added, are very definite or stable. Hence Unitarian theism is often seen to approximate to, or become absorbed into, agnosticism or pantheism, cosmism or humanitarianism. This may be due, however, less to its own character than to the character of the age.[4]

Man's interest in the idea of God.The mind of man has clearly not yet ceased to be intensely interested in thoughts of God. There are no grounds apparent for supposing that it will ever cease to seek after Him or to strive to enlarge its knowledge of His ways. And, if the idea of God be what has been suggested in the foregoing pages, the search for God cannot fail to meet with an ever-growing response. If the idea of God be the most comprehensive of ideas, inclusive of all the cate gories of thought and implicative of their harmonious synthesis and perfect realization, all thought and experience must of its very nature tend to lead onwards to a fuller knowledge of God. For the knowledge of God, on this view, consists in no mere inference reached through a process of theological argumentation, but in an ever-growing apprehension of an ever-advancing self-revelation of God; and all philosophy, science, experience, and history must necessarily work together to promote it.

Growth of the idea in speculative thought. All speculative thought, whether professedly metaphysical or professedly theological, is conversant with ideas included in the idea of God. It deals with what is necessary in and to thought; and within that sphere, notwithstanding many aberrations, it has made slow but sure progress. The history of philosophical specu lation is not only, like the whole history of man, essentially rational, but it is, in substance, the history of reason itself in its purest form, not the record of an accidental succession of opinions, but of the progressive apprehension by reason of God's revelation of Himself in its own constitution. "There is much in the history of speculative thought, just as in the outward life of man, that belongs to the accidental and irrational errors, vagaries, paradoxes, whimsicalities, assuming in all ages the name and the guise of philosophy. But, just as the student of the constitutional history of England can trace, amidst all the complexity and contingency of outward and passing events, through successive times and dynasties, underneath the waywardness of individual passion and the struggle for ascendency of classes and orders, the silent, steady development of that system of ordered freedom which we name the constitution of England, so, looking back on the course which human thought has travelled, we shall be at no loss to discern beneath the surface change of opinions, unaffected by the abnormal displays of individual folly and unreason, the traces of a continuous onward movement of mind."[5] And this continuous onward move ment is towards the clearer and wider apprehension of the whole system of ultimate truths which is comprehended in the idea of the Absolute Truth. The thoughts of men as to God are necessarily enlarged by increase of insight into the conditions of their own thinking. The disquisitions of merely professional theologians on the nature and attributes of God have done far less to elucidate the idea of God than the philosophical views of great speculative thinkers, and would have done less than they have actually accom plished were it not for the guidance and suggestion found in these views.

Contributions of science;The sciences co-operate with speculative philosophy and with one another in aiding thought to grow in the knowledge of God. The greatness, the power, the wisdom, the goodness, of the God of creation and providence must be increasingly apprehended in the measure that nature and its course, humanity and its history, are apprehended; and that measure is given us in the stage of develop ment attained by the sciences. "God's glory in the heavens," for example, is in some degree visible to the naked eye and uiiinstructed intellect, but it becomes more perceptible and more impressive with every discovery of astronomy. Not otherwise is it as regards all the sciences. Each of them has its distinctive and appropriate contribution to bring towards the completion of the revelation of God, and cannot withhold it.

or moral experience;But the idea of God is not one which can be rightly apprehended merely through intellect speculatively exercised or operating on the findings of science. It requires to be also apprehended through moral experience and the discipline of life. Neither individuals nor communities can know more of God as a moral being than their moral condition and character permit them to know. The appre hension of God and the sense of moral distinctions and moral obli gations condition each other and correspond to each other. History shows us that sincere and pious men may receive as a supernaturally revealed truth the declaration that God is love, and yet hold that His love is very limited, being real only to a favoured class, and that He has foreordained, for His mere good pleasure, millions of the human race to eternal misery. How was such inconsistency possible? Largely because these men, notwithstanding their sincerity and piety, were lacking in that love to man through experience of which alone God's love can be truly apprehended. In like manner, it is not only the science of law which cannot advance more rapidly than the sense of justice, but also theology so far as it treats of the righteousness of God. Thus the knowledge of God is conditioned and influenced by the course of man's moral experience.

of religious experience.The same may be said of the distinctively religious experience. In it also there has been a continuous discovery and a continuous disclosure of God. It is not long since the ethnic religions were very generally regarded as merely stages of human folly, so many monuments of aversion to God and of departure from the truth as to God. It was supposed that they were adequately described when they were called "idolatries" and "superstitions." This view rested on a strangely unworthy conception both of human nature and of Divine providence, and is fast passing away. In its place has come the conviction that the history of religion has been essen tially a process of search for God on the part of man, and a process of self-revelation on the part of God to man, resulting in a continuous widening and deepening of human apprehension of the Divine. All, indeed, has not been progress in the history of religion either in the ethnic or Christian period; much has been the reverse; but all stages of religion testify that man has been seeking and finding God, and God making Himself known unto man.

Coming struggles with agnosticism.But, while knowledge of God may reasonably be expected unceasingly to grow, in all the ways which have been indicated, from more to more, it is not to be supposed that doubt or denial of God's existence must, therefore, speedily disappear. Religious agnosticism cannot fail to remain long prevalent. The very wealth of contents in the idea of God inevitably exposes the idea to the assaults of agnosticism. All kinds of agnosticism merge into agnosticism as to God, from the very fact that all knowledge implies and may contribute to the knowledge of God. The more comprehensive an idea is from the more points can it be assailed, and the idea of God, being comprehensive of all ultimate ideas, may be assailed through them all, as, for example, through the idea of being, or of infinity, or of causality, or of personality, or of rectitude. Then, in another way, the unique fulness of the idea of God explains the prevalence of agnosticism in regard to it. The ideas are not precisely in God what they are in man or nature. God is being as man or nature is not; for He is independent and necessary being, and in that sense the one true Being. God is not limited by time and space as creatures are; for, whereas duration and extension merely are predicates of creatures, the corresponding attributes of God are eternity and immensity. God as first cause is a cause in a higher and more real sense than any second cause. So as to personality, intelligence, holiness, love. Just because the idea of God is thus elevated in all respects, there are many minds which fail or refuse to rise up to it, and which because of its very truth reject it as not true at all. They will not hear of that Absolute Truth which is simply the idea of God; but that they reject it is their misfortune, not any argument against the truth itself. (R. F.)

  1. Among works in which the hypothesis of primitive monotheism is supported, the following may be mentioned:—Steuco, De Perenni Philosophia, 1540; Herbert, De Religione Gentilium, 1645; Gale, Court of the Gentiles, 1669-78; Cudworth, True Intellectual System, 1678; Bryant, Ancient Mythology, 1774-76; Creuzer, Symbolik u. Mythologie, 1819-21; DeBonald, Législation Primitive, 1819; Lüken, Traditionen des Menschengeschlechts, 1856; Gladstone, Homer and the Homeric Age, 1860; Ebrard, Apologetik, pt. ii., 1875; Zöckler, Lehre vom Urstand des Menschen, 1880; Cook, Origins of Religion and Language, 1884; Rawlinson, Early Prevalence of Monotheistic Beliefs (No. 11 of Present Day Tracts).
  2. The view opposed in the above paragraph is that maintained in the following works (as well as those mentioned in the previous note),—De Rougé, Études sur le Rituel Funéraire, 1860; Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, 1879; Brugsch, Religion u. Mythologie d. alten Aegypter, 1884; Legge, Religion of the Chinese, 1880; Renan, Hist, des Langues Sémitiques, also Considérations sur le Caractère Gen. des Peuples Semitiques, and Nouvelles Considerations; Pesch, Der Gottesbegriff in den heidnischen Religionen des Alterthums, 1886. Among the many replies to Renan, Max Müller's ("Semitic Monotheism," in Chips, vol. i.) and Steinthal's (in Z.V.S.W., i.) specially merit to be mentioned.
  3. The best literature relating to the subject of the preceding paragraph is indicated in the lists of books given in connexion with the relevant sections in Tiele's Outlines of the History of Religion, and particularly in the French translation by M. Vernes. Hegel's Philosophy of Religion, Bunsen's God in History, Freeman Clarke's Ten Great Religions, the St Giles Lectures on the Faiths of the World, still more the series of Sacred Books of the East, and of ancient texts published under the title of Records of the Past, and the volumes of the Rev. de l'Hist. des Religions, will be found useful to those wishing to make a survey of heathen thought regarding God so far as it approximated to the theistic idea. For the conceptions of the Divine entertained by non-civilized peoples, see especially Waitz's Anthropologie, and Reville's Religions des Non-Civilisés, who both give extensive lists of literature.
  4. Goblet d'Alvlella, Contemporary Evolution of Religious Thought in England, America, and India, 1885.
  5. Principal Caird, Progressiveness of the Sciences, pp. 27-28, Glasgow, 1875.