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The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

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sacrifice is then complete and unreserved, a genuine holocaust,
for the entire victim is now consumed for the honor of God."[186]
Accordingly, in Catholic discipline, we obey our superior not as
mere man, but as the representative of Christ. Obeying God in
him by our intention, obedience is easy. But when the text-book
theologians marshal collectively all their reasons for
recommending it, the mixture sounds to our ears rather odd.

[186] Lejuene: Introduction a la Vie Mystique, 1899, p. 277.
The holocaust simile goes back at least as far as Ignatius

"One of the great consolations of the monastic life," says a
Jesuit authority, "is the assurance we have that in obeying we
can commit no fault. The Superior may commit a fault in
commanding you to do this thing or that, but you are certain that
you commit no fault so long as you obey, because God will only
ask you if you have duly performed what orders you received, and
if you can furnish a clear account in that respect, you are
absolved entirely. Whether the things you did were opportune, or
whether there were not something better that might have been
done, these are questions not asked of you, but rather of your
Superior. The moment what you did was done obediently, God wipes
it out of your account, and charges it to the Superior. So that
Saint Jerome well exclaimed, in celebrating the advantages of
obedience, 'Oh, sovereign liberty! Oh, holy and blessed security
by which one become almost impeccable!'

"Saint John Climachus is of the same sentiment when he calls
obedience an excuse before God. In fact, when God asks why you
have done this or that, and you reply, it is because I was so
ordered by my Superiors, God will ask for no other excuse. As a
passenger in a good vessel with a good pilot need give himself
no farther concern, but may go to sleep in peace, because the
pilot has charge over all, and 'watches for him'; so a religious
person who lives under the yoke of obedience goes to heaven as if
while sleeping, that is, while leaning entirely on the conduct of
his Superiors, who are the pilots of his vessel, and keep watch
for him continually. It is no small thing, of a truth, to be
able to cross the stormy sea of life on the shoulders and in the
arms of another, yet that is just the grace which God accords to
those who live under the yoke of obedience. Their Superior bears
all their burdens. . . . A certain grave doctor said that he
would rather spend his life in picking up straws by obedience,
than by his own responsible choice busy himself with the loftiest
works of charity, because one is certain of following the will of
God in whatever one may do from obedience, but never certain in
the same degree of anything which we may do of our own proper

[187] Alfonso Rodriguez, S. J.: Pratique de la Perfection
Chretienne, Part iii., Treatise v., ch. x.

One should read the letters in which Ignatius Loyola recommends
obedience as the backbone of his order, if one would gain insight
into the full spirit of its cult.[188] They are too long to
quote; but Ignatius's belief is so vividly expressed in a couple
of sayings reported by companions that, though they have been so
often cited, I will ask your permission to copy them once more:--

[188] Letters li. and cxx. of the collection translated into
French by Bouix, Paris, 1870.

"I ought," an early biographer reports him as saying, "on
entering religion, and thereafter, to place myself entirely in
the hands of God, and of him who takes His place by His
authority. I ought to desire that my Superior should oblige me to
give up my own judgment, and conquer my own mind. I ought to set
up no difference between one Superior and another, . . . but
recognize them all as equal before God, whose place they fill.
For if I distinguish persons, I weaken the spirit of obedience.
In the hands of my Superior, I must be a soft wax, a thing, from
which he is to require whatever pleases him, be it to write or
receive letters, to speak or not to speak to such a person, or
the like; and I must put all my fervor in executing zealously and
exactly what I am ordered. I must consider myself as a corpse
which has neither intelligence nor will; be like a mass of matter
which without resistance lets itself be placed wherever it may
please any one; like a stick in the hand of an old man, who uses
it according to his needs and places it where it suits him. So
must I be under the hands of the Order, to serve it in the way it
judges most useful.

"I must never ask of the Superior to be sent to a particular
place, to be employed in a particular duty. . . . I must
consider nothing as belonging to me personally, and as regards
the things I use, be like a statue which lets itself be stripped
and never opposes resistance."[189]

[189] Bartoli-Michel, ii. 13

The other saying is reported by Rodriguez in the chapter from
which I a moment ago made quotations. When speaking of the
Pope's authority, Rodriguez writes:--

"Saint Ignatius said, when general of his company, that if the
Holy Father were to order him to set sail in the first bark which
he might find in the port of Ostia, near Rome, and to abandon
himself to the sea, without a mast, without sails, without oars
or rudder or any of the things that are needful for navigation or
subsistence, he would obey not only with alacrity, but without
anxiety or repugnance, and even with a great internal

[190] Rodriguez: Op. cit., Part iii., Treatise v., ch. vi.

With a solitary concrete example of the extravagance to which the
virtue we are considering has been carried, I will pass to the
topic next in order.

"Sister Marie Claire [of Port Royal] had been greatly imbued with
the holiness and excellence of M. de Langres. This prelate,
soon after he came to Port Royal, said to her one day, seeing her
so tenderly attached to Mother Angelique, that it would perhaps
be better not to speak to her again. Marie Claire, greedy of
obedience, took this inconsiderate word for an oracle of God, and
from that day forward remained for several years without once
speaking to her sister."[191]

[191] Sainte-Beuve: Histoire de Port Royal, i. 346.

Our next topic shall be Poverty, felt at all times and under all
creeds as one adornment of a saintly life. Since the instinct of
ownership is fundamental in man's nature, this is one more
example of the ascetic paradox. Yet it appears no paradox at
all, but perfectly reasonable, the moment one recollects how
easily higher excitements hold lower cupidities in check. Having
just quoted the Jesuit Rodriguez on the subject of obedience, I
will, to give immediately a concrete turn to our discussion of
poverty, also read you a page from his chapter on this latter
virtue. You must remember that he is writing instructions for
monks of his own order, and bases them all on the text, "Blessed
are the poor in spirit."

"If any one of you," he says, "will know whether or not he is
really poor in spirit, let him consider whether he loves the
ordinary consequences and effects of poverty, which are hunger,
thirst, cold, fatigue, and the denudation of all conveniences.
See if you are glad to wear a worn-out habit full of patches.
See if you are glad when something is lacking to your meal, when
you are passed by in serving it, when what you receive is
distasteful to you, when your cell is out of repair. If you are
not glad of these things, if instead of loving them you avoid
them, then there is proof that you have not attained the
perfection of poverty of spirit." Rodriguez then goes on to
describe the practice of poverty in more detail. "The first
point is that which Saint Ignatius proposes in his constitutions,
when he says, 'Let no one use anything as if it were his private
possession.' 'A religious person,' he says, 'ought in respect to
all the things that he uses, to be like a statue which one may
drape with clothing, but which feels no grief and makes no
resistance when one strips it again. It is in this way that you
should feel towards your clothes, your books, your cell, and
everything else that you make use of; if ordered to quit them, or
to exchange them for others, have no more sorrow than if you were
a statue being uncovered. In this way you will avoid using them
as if they were your private possession. But if, when you give
up your cell, or yield possession of this or that object or
exchange it for another, you feel repugnance and are not like a
statue, that shows that you view these things as if they were
your private property.'

"And this is why our holy founder wished the superiors to test
their monks somewhat as God tested Abraham, and to put their
poverty and their obedience to trial, that by this means they may
become acquainted with the degree of their virtue, and gain a
chance to make ever farther progress in perfection, . . . making
the one move out of his room when he finds it comfortable and is
attached to it; taking away from another a book of which he is
fond; or obliging a third to exchange his garment for a worse
one. Otherwise we should end by acquiring a species of property
in all these several objects, and little by little the wall of
poverty that surrounds us and constitutes our principal defense
would be thrown down. The ancient fathers of the desert used
often thus to treat their companions. . . . Saint Dositheus,
being sick-nurse, desired a certain knife, and asked Saint
Dorotheus for it, not for his private use, but for employment in
the infirmary of which he had charge. Whereupon Saint Dorotheus
answered him: 'Ha! Dositheus, so that knife pleases you so much!
Will you be the slave of a knife or the slave of Jesus Christ! Do
you not blush with shame at wishing that a knife should be your
master? I will not let you touch it.' Which reproach and refusal
had such an effect upon the holy disciple that since that time he
never touched the knife again.' . . .

"Therefore, in our rooms," Father Rodriguez continues, "there
must be no other furniture than a bed, a table, a bench, and a
candlestick, things purely necessary, and nothing more. It is
not allowed among us that our cells should be ornamented with
pictures or aught else, neither armchairs, carpets, curtains, nor
any sort of cabinet or bureau of any elegance. Neither is it
allowed us to keep anything to eat, either for ourselves or for
those who may come to visit us. We must ask permission to go to
the refectory even for a glass of water; and finally we may not
keep a book in which we can write a line, or which we may take
away with us. One cannot deny that thus we are in great poverty.

But this poverty is at the same time a great repose and a great
perfection. For it would be inevitable, in case a religious
person were allowed to own supernuous possessions, that these
things would greatly occupy his mind, be it to acquire them, to
preserve them, or to increase them; so that in not permitting us
at all to own them, all these inconveniences are remedied. Among
the various good reasons why the company forbids secular persons
to enter our cells, the principal one is that thus we may the
easier be kept in poverty. After all, we are all men, and if we
were to receive people of the world into our rooms, we should not
have the strength to remain within the bounds prescribed, but
should at least wish to adorn them with some books to give the
visitors a better opinion of our scholarship."[192]

[192] Rodriguez: Op. cit., Part iii, Treatise iii., chaps. vi.,

Since Hindu fakirs, Buddhist monks, and Mohammedan dervishes
unite with Jesuits and Franciscans in idealizing poverty as the
loftiest individual state, it is worth while to examine into the
spiritual grounds for such a seemingly unnatural opinion. And
first, of those which lie closest to common human nature.

The opposition between the men who HAVE and the men who ARE is
immemorial. Though the gentleman, in the old- fashioned sense of
the man who is well born, has usually in point of fact been
predaceous and reveled in lands and goods, yet he has never
identified his essence with these possessions, but rather with
the personal superiorities, the courage, generosity, and pride
supposed to be his birthright. To certain huckstering kinds of
consideration he thanked God he was forever inaccessible, and if
in life's vicissitudes he should become destitute through their
lack, he was glad to think that with his sheer valor he was all
the freer to work out his salvation. "Wer nur selbst was hatte,"
says Lessing's Tempelherr, in Nathan the Wise, "mein Gott, mein
Gott, ich habe nichts!" This ideal of the well-born man without
possessions was embodied in knight-errantry and templardom; and,
hideously corrupted as it has always been, it still dominates
sentimentally, if not practically, the military and aristocratic
view of life. We glorify the soldier as the man absolutely
unincumbered. Owning nothing but his bare life, and willing to
toss that up at any moment when the cause commands him, he is the
representative of unhampered freedom in ideal directions. The
laborer who pays with his person day by day, and has no rights
invested in the future, offers also much of this ideal
detachment. Like the savage, he may make his bed wherever his
right arm can support him, and from his simple and athletic
attitude of observation, the property-owner seems buried and
smothered in ignoble externalities and trammels, "wading in straw
and rubbish to his knees." The claims which THINGS make are
corrupters of manhood, mortgages on the soul, and a drag anchor
on our progress towards the empyrean.

"Everything I meet with," writes Whitefield, "seems to carry this
voice with it--'Go thou and preach the Gospel; be a pilgrim on
earth; have no party or certain dwelling place.' My heart echoes
back, 'Lord Jesus, help me to do or suffer thy will. When thou
seest me in danger of NESTLING--in pity--in tender pity--put a
THORN in my nest to prevent me from it.'"[193]

[193] R. Philip: The Life and Times of George Whitefield,
London, 1842, p. 366.

The loathing of "capital" with which our laboring classes today
are growing more and more infected seems largely composed of this
sound sentiment of antipathy for lives based on mere having. As
an anarchist poet writes:--

"Not by accumulating riches, but by giving away that which you

"Shall you become beautiful;

"You must undo the wrappings, not case yourself in fresh ones;

"Not by multiplying clothes shall you make your body sound and
healthy, but rather by discarding them . . .

"For a soldier who is going on a campaign does not seek what
fresh furniture he can carry on his back, but rather what he can
leave behind;

"Knowing well that every additional thing which he cannot freely
use and handle is an impediment."[194]

[194] Edward Carpenter: Towards Democracy, p. 362, abridged.

In short, lives based on having are less free than lives based
either on doing or on being, and in the interest of action people
subject to spiritual excitement throw away possessions as so many
clogs. Only those who have no private interests can follow an
ideal straight away. Sloth and cowardice creep in with every
dollar or guinea we have to guard. When a brother novice came to
Saint Francis, saying: "Father, it would be a great consolation
to me to own a psalter, but even supposing that our general
should concede to me this indulgence, still I should like also to
have your consent," Francis put him off with the examples of
Charlemagne, Roland, and Oliver, pursuing the infidels in sweat
and labor, and finally dying on the field of battle. "So care
not," he said, "for owning books and knowledge, but care rather
for works of goodness." And when some weeks later the novice
came again to talk of his craving for the psalter, Francis said:
"After you have got your psalter you will crave a breviary; and
after you have got your breviary you will sit in your stall like
a grand prelate, and will say to your brother: "Hand me my
breviary.". . . And thenceforward he denied all such requests,
saying: A man possesses of learning only so much as comes out of
him in action, and a monk is a good preacher only so far as his
deeds proclaim him such, for every tree is known by its

[195] Speculum Perfectionis, ed. P. Sabatier, Paris, 1898, pp.
10, 13.

But beyond this more worthily athletic attitude involved in doing
and being, there is, in the desire of not having, something
profounder still, something related to that fundamental mystery
of religious experience, the satisfaction found in absolute
surrender to the larger power. So long as any secular safeguard
is retained, so long as any residual prudential guarantee is
clung to, so long the surrender is incomplete, the vital crisis
is not passed, fear still stands sentinel, and mistrust of the
divine obtains: we hold by two anchors, looking to God, it is
true, after a fashion, but also holding by our proper
machinations. In certain medical experiences we have the same
critical point to overcome. A drunkard, or a morphine or cocaine
maniac, offers himself to be cured. He appeals to the doctor to
wean him from his enemy, but he dares not face blank abstinence.
The tyrannical drug is still an anchor to windward: he hides
supplies of it among his clothing; arranges secretly to have it
smuggled in in case of need. Even so an incompletely regenerate
man still trusts in his own expedients. His money is like the
sleeping potion which the chronically wakeful patient keeps
beside his bed; he throws himself on God, but IF he should need
the other help, there it will be also. Every one knows cases of
this incomplete and ineffective desire for reform-drunkards whom,
with all their self-reproaches and resolves, one perceives to be
quite unwilling seriously to contemplate NEVER being drunk again!
Really to give up anything on which we have relied, to give it up
definitely, "for good and all" and forever, signifies one of
those radical alterations of character which came under our
notice in the lectures on conversion. In it the inner man rolls
over into an entirely different position of equilibrium, lives in
a new centre of energy from this time on, and the turning-point
and hinge of all such operations seems usually to involve the
sincere acceptance of certain nakednesses and destitutions.

Accordingly, throughout the annals of the saintly life, we find
this ever-recurring note: Fling yourself upon God's providence
without making any reserve whatever--take no thought for the
morrow--sell all you have and give it to the poor--only when the
sacrifice is ruthless and reckless will the higher safety really
arrive. As a concrete example let me read a page from the
biography of Antoinette Bourignon, a good woman, much persecuted
in her day by both Protestants and Catholics, because she would
not take her religion at second hand. When a young girl, in her
father's house--

"She spent whole nights in prayer, oft repeating: Lord, what
wilt thou have me to do? And being one night in a most profound
penitence, she said from the bottom of her heart: 'O my Lord!
What must I do to please thee? For I have nobody to teach me.
Speak to my soul and it will hear thee.' At that instant she
heard, as if another had spoke within her: Forsake all earthly
things. Separate thyself from the love of the creatures. Deny
thyself. She was quite astonished, not understanding this
language, and mused long on these three points, thinking how she
could fulfill them. She thought she could not live without
earthly things, nor without loving the creatures, nor without
loving herself. Yet she said, 'By thy Grace I will do it, Lord!'
But when she would perform her promise, she knew not where to
begin. Having thought on the religious in monasteries, that they
forsook all earthly things by being shut up in a cloister, and
the love of themselves by subjecting of their wills, she asked
leave of her father to enter into a cloister of the barefoot
Carmelites, but he would not permit it, saying he would rather
see her laid in her grave. This seemed to her a great cruelty,
for she thought to find in the cloister the true Christians she
had been seeking, but she found afterwards that he knew the
cloisters better than she, for after he had forbidden her, and
told her he would never permit her to be a religious, nor give
her any money to enter there, yet she went to Father Laurens, the
Director, and offered to serve in the monastery and work hard for
her bread, and be content with little, if he would receive her.
At which he smiled and said: That cannot be. We must have money
to build; we take no maids without money; you must find the way
to get it, else there is no entry here.

"This astonished her greatly, and she was thereby undeceived as
to the cloisters, resolving to forsake all company and live alone
till it should please God to show her what she ought to do and
whither to go. She asked always earnestly, 'When shall I be
perfectly thine, O my God?' And she thought he still answered
her, When thou shalt no longer possess anything, and shalt die to
thyself. 'And where shall I do that, Lord?' He answered her, In
the desert. This made so strong an impression on her soul that
she aspired after this; but being a maid of eighteen years only,
she was afraid of unlucky chances, and was never used to travel,
and knew no way. She laid aside all these doubts and said,
'Lord, thou wilt guide me how and where it shall please thee. It
is for thee that I do it. I will lay aside my habit of a maid,
and will take that of a hermit that I may pass unknown.' Having
then secretly made ready this habit, while her parents thought to
have married her, her father having promised her to a rich French
merchant, she prevented the time, and on Easter evening, having
cut her hair, put on the habit, and slept a little, she went out
of her chamber about four in the morning, taking nothing but one
penny to buy bread for that day. And it being said to her in
going out, Where is thy faith? in a penny? she threw it away,
begging pardon of God for her fault, and saying, 'No, Lord, my
faith is not in a penny, but in thee alone.' Thus she went away
wholly delivered from the heavy burthen of the cares and good
things of this world, and found her soul so satisfied that she no
longer wished for anything upon earth, resting entirely upon God,
with this only fear lest she should be discovered and be obliged
to return home; for she felt already more content in this poverty
than she had done for all her life in all the delights of the

[196] An Apology for M. Antonia Bourignon, London, 1699, pp. 269,
270, abridged.

Another example from Starbuck's MS. collection:--

"At a meeting held at six the next morning, I heard a man relate
his experience. He said: The Lord asked him if he would
confess Christ among the quarrymen with whom he worked, and he
said he would. Then he asked him if he would give up to be used
of the Lord the four hundred dollars he had laid up, and he said
he would and thus the Lord saved him. The thought came to me at
once that I had never made a real consecration either of myself
or of my property to the Lord, but had always tried to serve the
Lord in my way. Now the Lord asked me if I would serve him in
HIS way, and go out alone and penniless if he so ordered. The
question was pressed home, and I must decide: To forsake all and
have him, or have all and lose him! I soon decided to take him;
and the blessed assurance came, that he had taken me for his own,
and my joy was full. I returned home from the meeting with
feelings as simple as a child. I thought all would be glad to
hear of the joy of the Lord that possessed me, and so I began to
tell the simple story. But to my great surprise, the pastors
(for I attended meetings in three churches) opposed the
experience and said it was fanaticism, and one told the members
of his church to shun those that professed it, and I soon found
that my foes were those of my own household."

The penny was a small financial safeguard, but an effective
spiritual obstacle. Not till it was thrown away could the
character settle into the new equilibrium completely.

Over and above the mystery of self-surrender, there are in the
cult of poverty other religious mysteries. There is the mystery
of veracity: "Naked came I into the world," etc.-- whoever first
said that, possessed this mystery. My own bare entity must fight
the battle--shams cannot save me. There is also the mystery of
democracy, or sentiment of the equality before God of all his
creatures. This sentiment (which seems in general to have been
more widespread in Mohammedan than in Christian lands) tends to
nullify man's usual acquisitiveness. Those who have it spurn
dignities and honors, privileges and advantages, preferring, as I
said in a former lecture, to grovel on the common level before
the face of God. It is not exactly the sentiment of humility,
though it comes so close to it in practice. It is HUMANITY,
rather, refusing to enjoy anything that others do not share. A
profound moralist, writing of Christ's saying, "Sell all thou
hast and follow me," proceeds as follows:--

"Christ may have meant: If you love mankind absolutely you will
as a result not care for any possessions whatever, and this seems
a very likely proposition. But it is one thing to believe that a
proposition is probably true; it is another thing to see it as a
fact. If you loved mankind as Christ loved them, you would see
his conclusion as a fact. It would be obvious. You would sell
your goods, and they would be no loss to you. These truths,
while literal to Christ, and to any mind that has Christ's love
for mankind, become parables to lesser natures. There are in
every generation people who, beginning innocently, with no
predetermined intention of becoming saints, find themselves drawn
into the vortex by their interest in helping mankind, and by the
understanding that comes from actually doing it. The abandonment
of their old mode of life is like dust in the balance. It is
done gradually, incidentally, imperceptibly. Thus the whole
question of the abandonment of luxury is no question at all, but
a mere incident to another question, namely, the degree to which
we abandon ourselves to the remorseless logic of our love for

[197] J. J. Chapman, in the Political Nursery, vol. iv. p. 4,
April, 1900, abridged.

But in all these matters of sentiment one must have "been there"
one's self in order to understand them. No American can ever
attain to understanding the loyalty of a Briton towards his king,
of a German towards his emperor; nor can a Briton or German ever
understand the peace of heart of an American in having no king,
no Kaiser, no spurious nonsense, between him and the common God
of all. If sentiments as simple as these are mysteries which one
must receive as gifts of birth, how much more is this the case
with those subtler religious sentiments which we have been
considering! One can never fathom an emotion or divine its
dictates by standing outside of it. In the glowing hour of
excitement, however, all incomprehensibilities are solved, and
what was so enigmatical from without becomes transparently
obvious. Each emotion obeys a logic of its own, and makes
deductions which no other logic can draw. Piety and charity live
in a different universe from worldly lusts and fears, and form
another centre of energy altogether. As in a supreme sorrow
lesser vexations may become a consolation; as a supreme love may
turn minor sacrifices into gain; so a supreme trust may render
common safeguards odious, and in certain glows of generous
excitement it may appear unspeakably mean to retain one's hold of
personal possessions. The only sound plan, if we are ourselves
outside the pale of such emotions, is to observe as well as we
are able those who feel them, and to record faithfully what we
observe; and this, I need hardly say, is what I have striven to
do in these last two descriptive lectures, which I now hope will
have covered the ground sufficiently for our present needs.

Lectures XIV and XV


We have now passed in review the more important of the phenomena
which are regarded as fruits of genuine religion and
characteristics of men who are devout. Today we have to change
our attitude from that of description to that of appreciation; we
have to ask whether the fruits in question can help us to judge
the absolute value of what religion adds to human life. Were I
to parody Kant, I should say that a "Critique of pure
Saintliness" must be our theme.

If, in turning to this theme, we could descend upon our subject
from above like Catholic theologians, with our fixed definitions
of man and man's perfection and our positive dogmas about God, we
should have an easy time of it. Man's perfection would be the
fulfillment of his end; and his end would be union with his
Maker. That union could be pursued by him along three paths,
active, purgative, and contemplative, respectively; and progress
along either path would be a simple matter to measure by the
application of a limited number of theological and moral
conceptions and definitions. The absolute significance and value
of any bit of religious experience we might hear of would thus be
given almost mathematically into our hands.

If convenience were everything, we ought now to grieve at finding
ourselves cut off from so admirably convenient a method as this.
But we did cut ourselves off from it deliberately in those
remarks which you remember we made, in our first lecture, about
the empirical method; and it must be <321> confessed that after
that act of renunciation we can never hope for clean-cut and
scholastic results. WE cannot divide man sharply into an animal
and a rational part. WE cannot distinguish natural from
supernatural effects; nor among the latter know which are favors
of God, and which are counterfeit operations of the demon. WE
have merely to collect things together without any special a
priori theological system, and out of an aggregate of piecemeal
judgments as to the value of this and that experience--judgments
in which our general philosophic prejudices, our instincts, and
our common sense are our only guides--decide that ON THE WHOLE
one type of religion is approved by its fruits, and another type
condemned. "On the whole"--I fear we shall never escape
complicity with that qualification, so dear to your practical
man, so repugnant to your systematizer!

I also fear that as I make this frank confession, I may seem to
some of you to throw our compass overboard, and to adopt caprice
as our pilot. Skepticism or wayward choice, you may think, can
be the only results of such a formless method as I have taken up.
A few remarks in deprecation of such an opinion, and in farther
explanation of the empiricist principles which I profess, may
therefore appear at this point to be in place.

Abstractly, it would seem illogical to try to measure the worth
of a religion's fruits in merely human terms of value. How CAN
you measure their worth without considering whether the God
really exists who is supposed to inspire them? If he really
exists, then all the conduct instituted by men to meet his wants
must necessarily be a reasonable fruit of his religion--it would
be unreasonable only in case he did not exist. If, for instance,
you were to condemn a religion of human or animal sacrifices by
virtue of your subjective sentiments, and if all the while a
deity were really there demanding such sacrifices, you would be
making a theoretical mistake by tacitly assuming that the deity
must be non-existent; you would be setting up a theology of your
own as much as if you were a scholastic philosopher.

To this extent, to the extent of disbelieving peremptorily in
certain types of deity, I frankly confess that we must be
theologians. If disbeliefs can be said to constitute a theology,
then the prejudices, instincts, and common sense which I chose as
our guides make theological partisans of us whenever they make
certain beliefs abhorrent.

But such common-sense prejudices and instincts are themselves the
fruit of an empirical evolution. Nothing is more striking than
the secular alteration that goes on in the moral and religious
tone of men, as their insight into nature and their social
arrangements progressively develop. After an interval of a few
generations the mental climate proves unfavorable to notions of
the deity which at an earlier date were perfectly satisfactory:
the older gods have fallen below the common secular level, and
can no longer be believed in. Today a deity who should require
bleeding sacrifices to placate him would be too sanguinary to be
taken seriously. Even if powerful historical credentials were
put forward in his favor, we would not look at them. Once, on
the contrary, his cruel appetites were of themselves credentials.

They positively recommended him to men's imaginations in ages
when such coarse signs of power were respected and no others
could be understood. Such deities then were worshiped because
such fruits were relished.

Doubtless historic accidents always played some later part, but
the original factor in fixing the figure of the gods must always
have been psychological. The deity to whom the prophets, seers,
and devotees who founded the particular cult bore witness was
worth something to them personally. They could use him. He
guided their imagination, warranted their hopes, and controlled
their will--or else they required him as a safeguard against the
demon and a curber of other people's crimes. In any case, they
chose him for the value of the fruits he seemed to them to yield.

So soon as the fruits began to seem quite worthless; so soon as
they conflicted with indispensable human ideals, or thwarted too
extensively other values; so soon as they appeared childish,
contemptible, or immoral when reflected on, the deity grew
discredited, and was erelong neglected and forgotten. It was in
this way that the Greek and Roman gods ceased to be believed in
by educated pagans; it is thus that we ourselves judge of the
Hindu, Buddhist, and Mohammedan theologies; Protestants have so
dealt with the Catholic notions of deity, and liberal Protestants
with older Protestant notions; it is thus that Chinamen judge of
us, and that all of us now living will be judged by our
descendants. When we cease to admire or approve what the
definition of a deity implies, we end by deeming that deity

Few historic changes are more curious than these mutations of
theological opinion. The monarchical type of sovereignty was,
for example, so ineradicably planted in the mind of our own
forefathers that a dose of cruelty and arbitrariness in their
deity seems positively to have been required by their
imagination. They called the cruelty "retributive justice," and
a God without it would certainly have struck them as not
"sovereign" enough. But today we abhor the very notion of
eternal suffering inflicted; and that arbitrary dealing-out of
salvation and damnation to selected individuals, of which
Jonathan Edwards could persuade himself that he had not only a
conviction, but a "delightful conviction," as of a doctrine
"exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet," appears to us, if
sovereignly anything, sovereignly irrational and mean. Not only
the cruelty, but the paltriness of character of the gods believed
in by earlier centuries also strikes later centuries with
surprise. We shall see examples of it from the annals of
Catholic saintship which makes us rub our Protestant eyes.
Ritual worship in general appears to the modern
transcendentalist, as well as to the ultra-puritanic type of
mind, as if addressed to a deity of an almost absurdly childish
character, taking delight in toy-shop furniture, tapers and
tinsel, costume and mumbling and mummery, and finding his "glory"
incomprehensibly enhanced thereby:--just as on the other hand the
formless spaciousness of pantheism appears quite empty to
ritualistic natures, and the gaunt theism of evangelical sects
seems intolerably bald and chalky and bleak.

Luther, says Emerson, would have cut off his right hand rather
than nail his theses to the door at Wittenberg, if he had
supposed that they were destined to lead to the pale negations of
Boston Unitarianism.

So far, then, although we are compelled, whatever may be our
pretensions to empiricism, to employ some sort of a standard of
theological probability of our own whenever we assume to estimate
the fruits of other men's religion, yet this very standard has
been begotten out of the drift of common life. It is the voice
of human experience within us, judging and condemning all gods
that stand athwart the pathway along which it feels itself to be
advancing. Experience, if we take it in the largest sense, is
thus the parent of those disbeliefs which, it was charged, were
inconsistent with the experiential method. The inconsistency,
you see, is immaterial, and the charge may be neglected.

If we pass from disbeliefs to positive beliefs, it seems to me
that there is not even a formal inconsistency to be laid against
our method. The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can
use, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our
demands on ourselves and on one another. What I then propose to
do is, briefly stated, to test saintliness by common sense, to
use human standards to help us decide how far the religious life
commends itself as an ideal kind of human activity. If it
commends itself, then any theological beliefs that may inspire
it, in so far forth will stand accredited. If not, then they
will be discredited, and all without reference to anything but
human working principles. It is but the elimination of the
humanly unfit, and the survival of the humanly fittest, applied
to religious beliefs; and if we look at history candidly and
without prejudice, we have to admit that no religion has ever in
the long run established or proved itself in any other way.
Religions have APPROVED themselves; they have ministered to
sundry vital needs which they found reigning. When they violated
other needs too strongly, or when other faiths came which served
the same needs better, the first religions were supplanted.

The needs were always many, and the tests were never sharp. So
the reproach of vagueness and subjectivity and "on the
whole"-ness, which can with perfect legitimacy be addressed to
the empirical method as we are forced to use it, is after all a
reproach to which the entire life of man in dealing with these
matters is obnoxious. No religion has ever yet owed its
prevalence to "apodictic certainty." In a later lecture I will
ask whether objective certainty can ever be added by theological
reasoning to a religion that already empirically prevails.

One word, also, about the reproach that in following this sort of
an empirical method we are handing ourselves over to systematic

Since it is impossible to deny secular alterations in our
sentiments and needs, it would be absurd to affirm that one's own
age of the world can be beyond correction by the next age.
Skepticism cannot, therefore, be ruled out by any set of thinkers
as a possibility against which their conclusions are secure; and
no empiricist ought to claim exemption from this universal
liability. But to admit one's liability to correction is one
thing, and to embark upon a sea of wanton doubt is another. Of
willfully playing into the hands of skepticism we cannot be
accused. He who acknowledges the imperfectness of his
instrument, and makes allowance <326> for it in discussing his
observations, is in a much better position for gaining truth than
if he claimed his instrument to be infallible. Or is dogmatic or
scholastic theology less doubted in point of fact for claiming,
as it does, to be in point of right undoubtable? And if not,
what command over truth would this kind of theology really lose
if, instead of absolute certainty, she only claimed reasonable
probability for her conclusions? If WE claim only reasonable
probability, it will be as much as men who love the truth can
ever at any given moment hope to have within their grasp. Pretty
surely it will be more than we could have had, if we were
unconscious of our liability to err.

Nevertheless, dogmatism will doubtless continue to condemn us for
this confession. The mere outward form of inalterable certainty
is so precious to some minds that to renounce it explicitly is
for them out of the question. They will claim it even where the
facts most patently pronounce its folly. But the safe thing is
surely to recognize that all the insights of creatures of a day
like ourselves must be provisional. The wisest of critics is an
altering being, subject to the better insight of the morrow, and
right at any moment, only "up to date" and "on the whole."
When larger ranges of truth open, it is surely best to be able to
open ourselves to their reception, unfettered by our previous
pretensions. "Heartily know, when half-gods go, the gods arrive."

The fact of diverse judgments about religious phenomena is
therefore entirely unescapable, whatever may be one's own desire
to attain the irreversible. But apart from that fact, a more
fundamental question awaits us, the question whether men's
opinions ought to be expected to be absolutely uniform in this
field. Ought all men to have the same religion? Ought they to
approve the same fruits and follow the same leadings? Are they
so like in their inner needs that, for hard and soft, for proud
and humble, for strenuous and lazy, for healthy-minded and
despairing, exactly the same religious incentives are required?
Or are different functions in the organism of humanity allotted
to different types of man, so that some may really be the better
for a religion of consolation and reassurance, whilst others are
better for one of terror and reproof? It might conceivably be
so; and we shall, I think, more and more suspect it to be so as
we go on. And if it be so, how can any possible judge or critic
help being biased in favor of the religion by which his own needs
are best met? He aspires to impartiality; but he is too close to
the struggle not to be to some degree a participant, and he is
sure to approve most warmly those fruits of piety in others which
taste most good and prove most nourishing to HIM.

I am well aware of how anarchic much of what I say may sound.
Expressing myself thus abstractly and briefly, I may seem to
despair of the very notion of truth. But I beseech you to
reserve your judgment until we see it applied to the details
which lie before us. I do indeed disbelieve that we or any other
mortal men can attain on a given day to absolutely incorrigible
and unimprovable truth about such matters of fact as those with
which religions deal. But I reject this dogmatic ideal not out
of a perverse delight in intellectual instability. I am no lover
of disorder and doubt as such. Rather do I fear to lose truth by
this pretension to possess it already wholly. That we can gain
more and more of it by moving always in the right direction, I
believe as much as any one, and I hope to bring you all to my way
of thinking before the termination of these lectures. Till then,
do not, I pray you, harden your minds irrevocably against the
empiricism which I profess.

I will waste no more words, then, in abstract justification of my
method, but seek immediately to use it upon the facts.

In critically judging of the value of religious phenomena, it is
very important to insist on the distinction between religion as
an individual personal function, and religion as an
institutional, corporate, or tribal product. I drew this
distinction, you may remember, in my second lecture. The word
"religion," as ordinarily used, is equivocal. A survey of
history shows us that, as a rule, religious geniuses attract
disciples, and produce groups of sympathizers. When these groups
get strong enough to "organize" themselves, they become
ecclesiastical institutions with corporate ambitions of their
own. The spirit of politics and the lust of dogmatic rule are
then apt to enter and to contaminate the originally innocent
thing; so that when we hear the word "religion" nowadays, we
think inevitably of some "church" or other; and to some persons
the word "church" suggests so much hypocrisy and tyranny and
meanness and tenacity of superstition that in a wholesale
undiscerning way they glory in saying that they are "down" on
religion altogether. Even we who belong to churches do not
exempt other churches than our own from the general condemnation.

But in this course of lectures ecclesiastical institutions hardly
concern us at all. The religious experience which we are
studying is that which lives itself out within the private
breast. First-hand individual experience of this kind has always
appeared as a heretical sort of innovation to those who witnessed
its birth. Naked comes it into the world and lonely; and it has
always, for a time at least, driven him who had it into the
wilderness, often into the literal wilderness out of doors, where
the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, St. Francis, George Fox, and so many
others had to go. George Fox expresses well this isolation; and
I can do no better at this point than read to you a page from his
Journal, referring to the period of his youth when religion began
to ferment within him seriously.

"I fasted much," Fox says, "walked abroad in solitary places many
days, and often took my Bible, and sat in hollow trees and
lonesome places until night came on; and frequently in the night
walked mournfully about by myself; for I was a man of sorrows in
the time of the first workings of the Lord in me.

"During all this time I was never joined in profession of
religion with any, but gave up myself to the Lord, having
forsaken all evil company, taking leave of father and mother, and
all other relations, and traveled up and down as a stranger on
the earth, which way the Lord inclined my heart; taking a chamber
to myself in the town where I came, and tarrying sometimes more,
sometimes less in a place: for I durst not stay long in a place,
being afraid both of professor and profane, lest, being a tender
young man, I should be hurt by conversing much with either. For
which reason I kept much as a stranger, seeking heavenly wisdom
and getting knowledge from the Lord; and was brought off from
outward things, to rely on the Lord alone. As I had forsaken the
priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called
the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them
all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in
them and in all men were gone so that I had nothing outwardly to
help me, nor could tell what to do; then, oh then, I heard a
voice which said, 'There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can
speak to thy condition.' When I heard it, my heart did leap for
joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth
that could speak to my condition. I had not fellowship with any
people, priests, nor professors, nor any sort of separated
people. I was afraid of all carnal talk and talkers, for I could
see nothing but corruptions. When I was in the deep, under all
shut up, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my
troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great that I
often thought I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But
when Christ opened to me how he was tempted by the same devil,
and had overcome him, and had bruised his head; and that through
him and his power, life, grace, and spirit, I should overcome
also, I had confidence in him. If I had had a king's diet,
palace, and attendance, all would have been as nothing, for
nothing gave me comfort but the Lord by his power. I saw
professors, priests, and people were whole and at ease in that
condition which was my misery, and they loved that which I would
have been rid of. But the Lord did stay my desires upon himself,
and my care was cast upon him alone."[198]

[198] George Fox: Journal, Philadelphia, 1800, pp. 59-61,

A genuine first-hand religious experience like this is bound to
be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere
lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread
to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if
it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over
persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion
has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the
spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and
stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of
whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted
on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous
religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain
from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration.
Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can
make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate
designs! Of protective action of this politic sort, promptly or
tardily decided on, the dealings of the Roman ecclesiasticism
with many individual saints and prophets yield examples enough
for our instruction.

The plain fact is that men's minds are built, as has been often
said, in water-tight compartments. Religious after a fashion,
they yet have many other things in them beside their religion,
and unholy entanglements and associations inevitably obtain. The
basenesses so commonly charged to religion's account are thus,
almost all of them, not chargeable at all to religion proper, but
rather to religion's wicked practical partner, the spirit of
corporate dominion. And the bigotries are most of them in their
turn chargeable to religion's wicked intellectual partner, the
spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law
in the form of an absolutely closed-in theoretic system. The
ecclesiastical spirit in general is the sum of these two spirits
of dominion; and I beseech you never to confound the phenomena of
mere tribal or corporate psychology which it presents with those
manifestations of the purely interior life which are the
exclusive object of our study. The baiting of Jews, the hunting
of Albigenses and Waldenses, the stoning of Quakers and ducking
of Methodists, the murdering of Mormons and the massacring of
Armenians, express much rather that aboriginal human neophobia,
that pugnacity of which we all share the vestiges, and that
inborn hatred of the alien and of eccentric and non-conforming
men as aliens, than they express the positive piety of the
various perpetrators. Piety is the mask, the inner force is
tribal instinct. You believe as little as I do, in spite of the
Christian unction with which the German emperor addressed his
troops upon their way to China, that the conduct which he
suggested, and in which other Christian armies went beyond them,
had anything whatever to do with the interior religious life of
those concerned in the performance.

Well, no more for past atrocities than for this atrocity should
we make piety responsible. At most we may blame piety for not
availing to check our natural passions, and sometimes for
supplying them with hypocritical pretexts. But hypocrisy also
imposes obligations, and with the pretext usually couples some
restriction; and when the passion gust is over, the piety may
bring a reaction of repentance which the irreligious natural man
would not have shown.

For many of the historic aberrations which have been laid to her
charge, religion as such, then, is not to blame. Yet of the
charge that over-zealousness or fanaticism is one of her
liabilities we cannot wholly acquit her, so I will next make a
remark upon that point. But I will preface it by a preliminary
remark which connects itself with much that follows.

Our survey of the phenomena of saintliness has unquestionably
produced in your minds an impression of extravagance. Is it
necessary, some of you have asked, as one example after another
came before us, to be quite so fantastically good as that? We
who have no vocation for the extremer ranges of sanctity will
surely be let off at the last day if our humility, asceticism,
and devoutness prove of a less convulsive sort. This practically
amounts to saying that much that it is legitimate to admire in
this field need nevertheless not be imitated, and that religious
phenomena, like all other human phenomena, are subject to the law
of the golden mean. Political reformers accomplish their
successive tasks in the history of nations by being blind for the
time to other causes. Great schools of art work out the effects
which it is their mission to reveal, at the cost of a
one-sidedness for which other schools must make amends. We
accept a John Howard, a Mazzini, a Botticelli, a Michael Angelo,
with a kind of indulgence. We are glad they existed to show us
that way, but we are glad there are also other ways of seeing and
taking life. So of many of the saints whom we have looked at.
We are proud of a human nature that could be so passionately
extreme, but we shrink from advising others to follow the
example. The conduct we blame ourselves for not following lies
nearer to the middle line of human effort. It is less dependent
on particular beliefs and doctrines. It is such as wears well in
different ages, such as under different skies all judges are able
to commend.

The fruits of religion, in other words, are, like all human
products, liable to corruption by excess. Common sense must
judge them. It need not blame the votary; but it may be able to
praise him only conditionally, as one who acts faithfully
according to his lights. He shows us heroism in one way, but the
unconditionally good way is that for which no indulgence need be

We find that error by excess is exemplified by every saintly
virtue. Excess, in human faculties, means usually one-sidedness
or want of balance; for it is hard to imagine an essential
faculty too strong, if only other faculties equally strong be
there to cooperate with it in action. Strong affections need a
strong will; strong active powers need a strong intellect; strong
intellect needs strong sympathies, to keep life steady. If the
balance exist, no one faculty can possibly be too strong--we only
get the stronger all-round character. In the life of saints,
technically so called, the spiritual faculties are strong, but
what gives the impression of extravagance proves usually on
examination to be a relative deficiency of intellect. Spiritual
excitement takes pathological forms whenever other interests are
too few and the intellect too narrow. We find this exemplified
by all the saintly attributes in turn--devout love of God,
purity, charity, asceticism, all may lead astray. I will run
over these virtues in succession.

First of all let us take Devoutness. When unbalanced, one of its
vices is called Fanaticism. Fanaticism (when not a mere
expression of ecclesiastical ambition) is only loyalty carried to
a convulsive extreme. When an intensely loyal and narrow mind is
once grasped by the feeling that a certain superhuman person is
worthy of its exclusive devotion, one of the first things that
happens is that it idealizes the devotion itself. To adequately
realize the merits of the idol gets to be considered the one
great merit of the worshiper; and the sacrifices and servilities
by which savage tribesmen have from time immemorial exhibited
their faithfulness to chieftains are now outbid in favor of the
deity. Vocabularies are exhausted and languages altered in the
attempt to praise him enough; death is looked on as gain if it
attract his grateful notice; and the personal attitude of being
his devotee becomes what one might almost call a new and exalted
kind of professional specialty within the tribe.[199] The legends
that gather round the lives of holy persons are fruits of this
impulse to celebrate and glorify. The Buddha[200] and
Mohammed[201] and their companions and many Christian saints are
incrusted with a heavy jewelry of anecdotes which are meant to be
honorific, but are simply abgeschmackt and silly, and form a
touching expression of man's misguided propensity to praise.

[199] Christian saints have had their specialties of devotion,
Saint Francis to Christ's wounds; Saint Anthony of Padua to
Christ's childhood; Saint Bernard to his humanity; Saint Teresa
to Saint Joseph, etc. The Shi-ite Mohammedans venerate Ali, the
Prophet's son-in-law, instead of Abu-bekr, his brother-in-law.
Vambery describes a dervish whom he met in Persia, "who had
solemnly vowed, thirty years before, that he would never employ
his organs of speech otherwise but in uttering, everlastingly,
the name of his favorite, Ali, Ali. He thus wished to signify to
the world that he was the most devoted partisan of that Ali who
had been dead a thousand years. In his own home, speaking with
his wife, children, and friends, no other word but 'Ali!' ever
passed his lips. If he wanted food or drink or anything else, he
expressed his wants still by repeating 'Ali!' Begging or buying
at the bazaar, it was always 'Ali!' Treated ill or generously,
he would still harp on his monotonous 'Ali!' Latterly his zeal
assumed such tremendous proportions that, like a madman, he would
race, the whole day, up and down the streets of the town,
throwing his stick high up into the air, and shriek our, all the
while, at the top of his voice, 'Ali!' This dervish was
venerated by everybody as a saint, and received everywhere with
the greatest distinction." Arminius Vambery, his Life and
Adventures, written by Himself, London, 1889, p. 69. On the
anniversary of the death of Hussein, Ali's son, the Shi-ite
Moslems still make the air resound with cries of his name and

[200] Compare H. C. Warren: Buddhism in Translation, Cambridge,
U.S., 1898, passim.

[201] Compare J. L. Merrick: The Life and Religion of Mohammed,
as contained in the Sheeah traditions of the Hyat-ul-Kuloob,
Boston. 1850, passim.

An immediate consequence of this condition of mind is jealousy
for the deity's honor. How can the devotee show his loyalty
better than by sensitiveness in this regard? The slightest
affront or neglect must be resented, the deity's enemies must be
put to shame. In exceedingly narrow minds and active wills, such
a care may become an engrossing preoccupation; and crusades have
been preached and massacres instigated for no other reason than
to remove a fancied slight upon the God. Theologies representing
the gods as mindful of their glory, and churches with
imperialistic policies, have conspired to fan this temper to a
glow, so that intolerance and persecution have come to be vices
associated by some of us inseparably with the saintly mind. They
are unquestionably its besetting sins. The saintly temper is a
moral temper, and a moral temper has often to be cruel. It is a
partisan temper, and that is cruel. Between his own and
Jehovah's enemies a David knows no difference; a Catherine of
Siena, panting to stop the warfare among Christians which was the
scandal of her epoch, can think of no better method of union
among them than a crusade to massacre the Turks; Luther finds no
word of protest or regret over the atrocious tortures with which
the Anabaptist leaders were put to death; and a Cromwell praises
the Lord for delivering his enemies into his hands for
"execution." Politics come in in all such cases; but piety finds
the partnership not quite unnatural. So, when "freethinkers"
tell us that religion and fanaticism are twins, we cannot make an
unqualified denial of the charge.

Fanaticism must then be inscribed on the wrong side of religion's
account, so long as the religious person's intellect is on the
stage which the despotic kind of God satisfies. But as soon as
the God is represented as less intent on his own honor and glory,
it ceases to be a danger.

Fanaticism is found only where the character is masterful and
aggressive. In gentle characters, where devoutness is intense
and the intellect feeble, we have an imaginative absorption in
the love of God to the exclusion of all practical human
interests, which, though innocent enough, is too one-sided to be
admirable. A mind too narrow has room but for one kind of
affection. When the love of God takes possession of such a mind,
it expels all human loves and human uses. There is no English
name for such a sweet excess of devotion, so I will refer to it
as a theopathic condition.

The blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque may serve as an example.

"To be loved here upon the earth," her recent biographer
exclaims: "to be loved by a noble, elevated, distinguished
being; to be loved with fidelity, with devotion--what
enchantment! But to be loved by God! and loved by him to
distraction [aime jusqu'a la folie]!--Margaret melted away with
love at the thought of such a thing. Like Saint Philip of Neri
in former times, or like Saint Francis Xavier, she said to God:
'Hold back, O my God, these torrents which overwhelm me, or else
enlarge my capacity for their reception."[202]

[202] Bougaud: Hist. de la bienheureuse Marguerite Marie, Paris,
1894, p. 145.

The most signal proofs of God's love which Margaret Mary received
were her hallucinations of sight, touch, and hearing, and the
most signal in turn of these were the revelations of Christ's
sacred heart, "surrounded with rays more brilliant than the Sun,
and transparent like a crystal. The wound which he received on
the cross visibly appeared upon it. There was a crown of thorns
round about this divine Heart, and a cross above it." At the
same time Christ's voice told her that, unable longer to contain
the flames of his love for mankind, he had chosen her by a
miracle to spread the knowledge of them. He thereupon took out
her mortal heart, placed it inside of his own and inflamed it,
and then replaced it in her breast, adding: "Hitherto thou hast
taken the name of my slave, hereafter thou shalt be called the
well-beloved disciple of my Sacred Heart."

In a later vision the Saviour revealed to her in detail the
"great design" which he wished to establish through her
instrumentality. "I ask of thee to bring it about that every
first Friday after the week of holy Sacrament shall be made into
a special holy day for honoring my Heart by a general communion
and by services intended to make honorable amends for the
indignities which it has received. And I promise thee that my
Heart will dilate to shed with abundance the influences of its
love upon all those who pay to it these honors, or who bring it
about that others do the same."

"This revelation," says Mgr. Bougaud, "is unquestionably the most
important of all the revelations which have illumined the Church
since that of the Incarnation and of the Lord's Supper. . . .
After the Eucharist, the supreme effort of the Sacred
Heart."[203] Well, what were its good fruits for Margaret Mary's
life? Apparently little else but sufferings and prayers and
absences of mind and swoons and ecstasies. She became
increasingly useless about the convent, her absorption in
Christ's love--

"which grew upon her daily, rendering her more and more incapable
of attending to external duties. They tried her in the
infirmary, but without much success, although her kindness, zeal,
and devotion were without bounds, and her charity rose to acts of
such a heroism that our readers would not bear the recital of
them. They tried her in the kitchen, but were forced to give it
up as hopeless--everything dropped out of her hands. The
admirable humility with which she made amends for her clumsiness
could not prevent this from being prejudicial to the order and
regularity which must always reign in a community. They put her
in the school, where the little girls cherished her, and cut
pieces out of her clothes [for relics] as if she were already a
saint, but where she was too absorbed inwardly to pay the
necessary attention. Poor dear sister, even less after her
visions than before them was she a denizen of earth, and they had
to leave her in her heaven."[204]

[203] Bougaud: Hist. de la bienheureuse Marguerite Marie,
Paris, 1894, pp. 365, 241.

[204] Bougaud: Op. cit., p. 267.

Poor dear sister, indeed! Amiable and good, but so feeble of
intellectual outlook that it would be too much to ask of us, with
our Protestant and modern education, to feel anything but
indulgent pity for the kind of saintship which she embodies. A
lower example still of theopathic saintliness is that of Saint
Gertrude, a Benedictine nun of the thirteenth century, whose
"Revelations," a well-known mystical authority, consist mainly of
proofs of Christ's partiality for her undeserving person.
Assurances of his love, intimacies and caresses and compliments
of the most absurd and puerile sort, addressed by Christ to
Gertrude as an individual, form the tissue of this paltry-minded
recital.[205] In reading such a narrative, we realize the gap
between the thirteenth and the twentieth century, and we feel
that saintliness of character may yield almost absolutely
worthless fruits if it be associated with such inferior
intellectual sympathies. What with science, idealism, and
democracy, our own imagination has grown to need a God of an
entirely different temperament from that Being interested
exclusively in dealing out personal favors, with whom our
ancestors were so contented. Smitten as we are with the vision
of social righteousness, a God indifferent to everything but
adulation, and full of partiality for his individual favorites,
lacks an essential element of largeness; and even the best
professional sainthood of former centuries, pent in as it is to
such a conception, seems to us curiously shallow and unedifying.

[205] Examples: "Suffering from a headache, she sought, for the
glory of God, to relieve herself by holding certain odoriferous
substances in her mouth, when the Lord appeared to her to lean
over towards her lovingly, and to find comfort Himself in these
odors. After having gently breathed them in, He arose, and said
with a gratified air to the Saints, as if contented with what He
had done: 'see the new present which my betrothed has given Me!'

"One day, at chapel, she heard supernaturally sung the words
'Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.' The son of God leaning towards her
like a sweet lover, and giving to her soul the softest kiss, said
to her at the second Sanctus: 'In this Sanctus addressed to my
person, receive with this kiss all the sanctity of my divinity
and of my humanity, and let it be to thee a sufficient
preparation for approaching the communion table.' And the next
following Sunday, while she was thanking God for this favor,
behold the Son of God, more beauteous than thousands of angels,
takes her in His arms as if He were proud of her and presents her
to God the Father, in that perfection of sanctity with which He
had dowered her. And the Father took such delight in this soul
thus presented by His only son, that, as if unable longer to
restrain Himself, He gave her, and the Holy Ghost gave her also,
the sanctity attributed to each by His own Sanctus--and thus she
remained endowed with the plenary fullness of the blessing of
Sanctity, bestowed on her by Omnipotence, by Wisdom, and by
Love." Revelations de Sainte Gertrude, Paris, 1898, i. 44, 186.

Take Saint Teresa, for example, one of the ablest women, in many
respects, of whose life we have the record. She had a powerful
intellect of the practical order. She wrote admirable
descriptive psychology, possessed a will equal to any emergency,
great talent for politics and business, a buoyant disposition,
and a first-rate literary style. She was tenaciously aspiring,
and put her whole life at the service of her religious ideals.
Yet so paltry were these, according to our present way of
thinking, that (although I know that others have been moved
differently) I confess that my only feeling in reading her has
been pity that so much vitality of soul should have found such
poor employment.

In spite of the sufferings which she endured, there is a curious
flavor of superficiality about her genius. A Birmingham
anthropologist, Dr. Jordan, has divided the human race into two
types, whom he calls "shrews" and "nonshrews" respectively.[206]
The shrew-type is defined as possessing an "active unimpassioned
temperament." In other words, shrews are the "motors," rather
than the "sensories,"[207] and their expressions are as a rule
more energetic than the feelings which appear to prompt them.
Saint Teresa, paradoxical as such a judgment may sound, was a
typical shrew, in this sense of the term. The bustle of her
style, as well as of her life, proves it. Not only must she
receive unheard-of personal favors and spiritual graces from her
Saviour, but she must immediately write about them and exploiter
them professionally, and use her expertness to give instruction
to those less privileged. Her voluble egotism; her sense, not of
radical bad being, as the really contrite have it, but of her
"faults" and "imperfections" in the plural; her stereotyped
humility and return upon herself, as covered with "confusion" at
each new manifestation of God's singular partiality for a person
so unworthy, are typical of shrewdom: a paramountly feeling
nature would be objectively lost in gratitude, and silent. She
had some public instincts, it is true; she hated the Lutherans,
and longed for the church's triumph over them; but in the main
her idea of religion seems to have been that of an endless
amatory flirtation--if one may say so without irreverence--
between the devotee and the deity; and apart from helping younger
nuns to go in this direction by the inspiration of her example
and instruction, there is absolutely no human use in her, or sign
of any general human interest. Yet the spirit of her age, far
from rebuking her, exalted her as superhuman.

[206] Furneaux Jordan: Character in Birth and Parentage, first
edition. Later editions change the nomenclature.

[207] As to this distinction, see the admirably practical account
in J. M. Baldwin's little book, The Story of the Mind, 1898.

We have to pass a similar judgment on the whole notion of
saintship based on merits. Any God who, on the one hand, can
care to keep a pedantically minute account of individual
shortcomings, and on the other can feel such partialities, and
load particular creatures with such insipid marks of favor, is
too small-minded a God for our credence. When Luther, in his
immense manly way, swept off by a stroke of his hand the very
notion of a debit and credit account kept with individuals by the
Almighty, he stretched the soul's imagination and saved theology
from puerility.

So much for mere devotion, divorced from the intellectual
conceptions which might guide it towards bearing useful human

The next saintly virtue in which we find excess is Purity. In
theopathic characters, like those whom we have just considered,
the love of God must not be mixed with any other love. Father
and mother, sisters, brothers, and friends are felt as
interfering distractions; for sensitiveness and narrowness, when
they occur together, as they often do, require above all things a
simplified world to dwell in. Variety and confusion are too much
for their powers of comfortable adaptation. But whereas your
aggressive pietist reaches his unity objectively, by forcibly
stamping disorder and divergence out, your retiring pietist
reaches his subjectively, leaving disorder in the world at large,
but making a smaller world in which he dwells himself and from
which he eliminates it altogether. Thus, alongside of the church
militant with its prisons, dragonnades, and inquisition methods,
we have the church fugient, as one might call it, with its
hermitages, monasteries, and sectarian organizations, both
churches pursuing the same object--to unify the life,[208] and
simplify the spectacle presented to the soul. A mind extremely
sensitive to inner discords will drop one external relation after
another, as interfering with the absorption of consciousness in
spiritual things. Amusements must go first, then conventional
"society," then business, then family duties, until at last
seclusion, with a subdivision of the day into hours for stated
religious acts, is the only thing that can be borne. The lives
of saints are a history of successive renunciations of
complication, one form of contact with the outer life being
dropped after another, to save the purity of inner tone.[209]
"Is it not better," a young sister asks her Superior, "that I
should not speak at all during the hour of recreation, so as not
to run the risk, by speaking, of falling into some sin of which I
might not be conscious?"[210] If the life remains a social one
at all, those who take part in it must follow one identical rule.

Embosomed in this monotony, the zealot for purity feels clean and
free once more. The minuteness of uniformity maintained in
certain sectarian communities, whether monastic or not, is
something almost inconceivable to a man of the world. Costume,
phraseology, hours, and habits are absolutely stereotyped, and
there is no doubt that some persons are so made as to find in
this stability an incomparable kind of mental rest.

[208] On this subject I refer to the work of M. Murisier (Les
Maladies du sentiment Religieux, Paris, 1901), who makes inner
unification the mainspring of the whole religious life. But ALL
strongly ideal interests, religious or irreligious, unify the
mind and tend to subordinate everything to themselves. One would
infer from M. Murisier's pages that this formal condition was
peculiarly characteristic of religion, and that one might in
comparison almost neglect material content, in studying the
latter. I trust that the present work will convince the reader
that religion has plenty of material content which is
characteristic and which is more important by far than any
general psychological form. In spite of this criticism, I find
M. Murisier's book highly instructive.

[209] Example: "At the first beginning of the Servitor's
[Suso's] interior life, after he had purified his soul properly
by confession, he marked out for himself, in thought, three
circles, within which he shut himself up, as in a spiritual
intrenchment. The first circle was his cell, his chapel, and the
choir. When he was within this circle, he seemed to himself in
complete security. The second circle was the whole monastery as
far as the outer gate. The third and outermost circle was the
gate itself, and here it was necessary for him to stand well upon
his guard. When he went outside these circles, it seemed to him
that he was in the plight of some wild animal which is outside
its hole, and surrounded by the hunt, and therefore in need of
all its cunning and watchfulness." The Life of the Blessed Henry
Suso, by Himself, translated by Knox, London, 1865, p. 168.

[210] Vie des premieres Religieuses Dominicaines de la
Congregation de St. Dominique, a Nancy; Nancy, 1896, p. 129.

We have no time to multiply examples, so I will let the case of
Saint Louis of Gonzaga serve as a type of excess in purification.

I think you will agree that this youth carried the elimination of
the external and discordant to a point which we cannot
unreservedly admire. At the age of ten, his biographer says:--

"The inspiration came to him to consecrate to the Mother of God
his own virginity--that being to her the most agreeable of
possible presents. Without delay, then, and with all the fervor
there was in him, joyous of heart, and burning with love, he made
his vow of perpetual chastity. Mary accepted the offering of his
innocent heart, and obtained for him from God, as a recompense,
the extraordinary grace of never feeling during his entire life
the slightest touch of temptation against the virtue of purity.
This was an altogether exceptional favor, rarely accorded even to
Saints themselves, and all the more marvelous in that Louis dwelt
always in courts and among great folks, where danger and
opportunity are so unusually frequent. It is true that Louis
from his earliest childhood had shown a natural repugnance for
whatever might be impure or unvirginal, and even for relations of
any sort whatever between persons of opposite sex. But this made
it all the more surprising that he should, especially since this
vow, feel it necessary to have recourse to such a number of
expedients for protecting against even the shadow of danger the
virginity which he had thus consecrated. One might suppose that
if any one could have contented himself with the ordinary
precautions, prescribed for all Christians, it would assuredly
have been he. But no! In the use of preservatives and means of
defense, in flight from the most insignificant occasions, from
every possibility of peril, just as in the mortification of his
flesh, he went farther than the majority of saints. He, who by
an extraordinary protection of God's grace was never tempted,
measured all his steps as if he were threatened on every side by
particular dangers. Thenceforward he never raised his eyes,
either when walking in the streets, or when in society. Not only
did he avoid all business with females even more scrupulously
than before, but he renounced all conversation and every kind of
social recreation with them, although his father tried to make
him take part; and he commenced only too early to deliver his
innocent body to austerities of every kind."[211]

[211] Meschler's Life of Saint Louis of Gonzaga, French
translation by Lebrequier, 1891, p. 40.

At the age of twelve, we read of this young man that "if by
chance his mother sent one of her maids of honor to him with a
message, he never allowed her to come in, but listened to her
through the barely opened door, and dismissed her immediately.
He did not like to be alone with his own mother, whether at table
or in conversation; and when the rest of the company withdrew, he
sought also a pretext for retiring. . . . Several great ladies,
relatives of his, he avoided learning to know even by sight; and
he made a sort of treaty with his father, engaging promptly and
readily to accede to all his wishes, if he might only be excused
from all visits to ladies." [212]

[212] Ibid., p. 71.

When he was seventeen years old Louis joined the Jesuit
order,[213] against his father's passionate entreaties, for he
was heir of a princely house; and when a year later the father
died, he took the loss as a "particular attention" to himself on
God's part, and wrote letters of stilted good advice, as from a
spiritual superior, to his grieving mother. He soon became so
good a monk that if any one asked him the number of his brothers
and sisters, he had to reflect and count them over before
replying. A Father asked him one day if he were never troubled
by the thought of his family, to which, "I never think of them
except when praying for them," was his only answer. Never was he
seen to hold in his hand a flower or anything perfumed, that he
might take pleasure in it. On the contrary, in the hospital, he
used to seek for whatever was most disgusting, and eagerly snatch
the bandages of ulcers, etc., from the hands of his companions.
He avoided worldly talk, and immediately tried to turn every
conversation on to pious subjects, or else he remained silent.
He systematically refused to notice his surroundings. Being
ordered one day to bring a book from the rector's seat in the
refectory, he had to ask where the rector sat, for in the three
months he had eaten bread there, so carefully did he guard his
eyes that he had not noticed the place. One day, during recess,
having looked by chance on one of his companions, he reproached
himself as for a grave sin against modesty. He cultivated
silence, as preserving from sins of the tongue; and his greatest
penance was the limit which his superiors set to his bodily
penances. He sought after false accusations and unjust
reprimands as opportunities of humility; and such was his
obedience that, when a room-mate, having no more paper, asked him
for a sheet, he did not feel free to give it to him without first
obtaining the permission of the superior, who, as such, stood in
the place of God, and transmitted his orders.

[213] In his boyish note-book he praises the monastic life for
its freedom from sin, and for the imperishable treasures, which
it enables us to store up, "of merit in God's eyes which makes of
Him our debtor for all Eternity." Loc. cit., p. 62.

I can find no other sorts of fruit than these of Louis's
saintship. He died in 1591, in his twenty-ninth year, and is
known in the Church as the patron of all young people. On his
festival, the altar in the chapel devoted to him in a certain
church in Rome "is embosomed in flowers, arranged with exquisite
taste; and a pile of letters may be seen at its foot, written to
the Saint by young men and women, and directed to 'Paradiso.'
They are supposed to be burnt unread except by San Luigi, who
must find singular petitions in these pretty little missives,
tied up now with a green ribbon, expressive of hope, now with a
red one, emblematic of love," etc.[214]

[214] Mademoiselle Mori, a novel quoted in Hare's Walks in Rome,
1900, i. 55.

I cannot resist the temptation to quote from Starbuck's book, p.
388, another case of purification by elimination. It runs as

"The signs of abnormality which sanctified persons show are of
frequent occurrence. They get out of tune with other people;
often they will have nothing to do with churches, which they
regard as worldly; they become hypercritical towards others; they
grow careless of their social, political, and financial
obligations. As an instance of this type may be mentioned a
woman of sixty-eight of whom the writer made a special study.
She had been a member of one of the most active and progressive
churches in a busy part of a large city. Her pastor described
her as having reached the censorious stage. She had grown more
and more out of sympathy with the church; her connection with it
finally consisted simply in attendance at prayer-meeting, at
which her only message was that of reproof and condemnation of
the others for living on a low plane. At last she withdrew from
fellowship with any church. The writer found her living alone in
a little room on the top story of a cheap boarding-house quite
out of touch with all human relations, but apparently happy in
the enjoyment of her own spiritual blessings. Her time was
occupied in writing booklets on sanctification--page after page
of dreamy rhapsody. She proved to be one of a small group of
persons who claim that entire salvation involves three steps
instead of two; not only must there be conversion and
sanctification, but a third, which they call 'crucifixion' or
'perfect redemption,' and which seems to bear the same relation
to sanctification that this bears to conversion. She related how
the Spirit had said to her, 'Stop going to church. Stop going to
holiness meetings. Go to your own room and I will teach you.'
She professes to care nothing for colleges, or preachers, or
churches, but only cares to listen to what God says to her. Her
description of her experience seemed entirely consistent; she is
happy and contented, and her life is entirely satisfactory to
herself. While listening to her own story, one was tempted to
forget that it was from the life of a person who could not live
by it in conjunction with her fellows."

Our final judgment of the worth of such a life as this will
depend largely on our conception of God, and of the sort of
conduct he is best pleased with in his creatures. The
Catholicism of the sixteenth century paid little heed to social
righteousness; and to leave the world to the devil whilst saving
one's own soul was then accounted no discreditable scheme.
To-day, rightly or wrongly, helpfulness in general human affairs
is, in consequence of one of those secular mutations in moral
sentiment of which I spoke, deemed an essential element of worth
in character; and to be of some public or private use is also
reckoned as a species of divine service. Other early Jesuits,
especially the missionaries among them, the Xaviers, Brebeufs,
Jogues, were objective minds, and fought in their way for the
world's welfare; so their lives to-day inspire us. But when the
intellect, as in this Louis, is originally no larger than a pin's
head, and cherishes ideas of God of corresponding smallness, the
result, notwithstanding the heroism put forth, is on the whole
repulsive. Purity, we see in the object-lesson, is NOT the one
thing needful; and it is better that a life should contract many
a dirt-mark, than forfeit usefulness in its efforts to remain

Proceeding onwards in our search of religious extravagance, we
next come upon excesses of Tenderness and Charity. Here
saintliness has to face the charge of preserving the unfit, and
breeding parasites and beggars. "Resist not evil," "Love your
enemies," these are saintly maxims of which men of this world
find it hard to speak without impatience. Are the men of this
world right, or are the saints in possession of the deeper range
of truth?

No simple answer is possible. Here, if anywhere, one feels the
complexity of the moral life, and the mysteriousness of the way
in which facts and ideals are interwoven.

Perfect conduct is a relation between three terms: the actor,
the objects for which he acts, and the recipients of the action.
In order that conduct should be abstractly perfect, all three
terms, intention, execution, and reception, should be suited to
one another. The best intention will fail if it either work by
false means or address itself to the wrong recipient. Thus no
critic or estimator of the value of conduct can confine himself
to the actor's animus alone, apart from the other elements of the
performance. As there is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood
by those who hear it, so reasonable arguments, challenges to
magnanimity, and appeals to sympathy or justice, are folly when
we are dealing with human crocodiles and boa-constrictors. The
saint may simply give the universe into the hands of the enemy by
his trustfulness. He may by non-resistance cut off his own

Herbert Spencer tells us that the perfect man's conduct will
appear perfect only when the environment is perfect: to no
inferior environment is it suitably adapted. We may paraphrase
this by cordially admitting that saintly conduct would be the
most perfect conduct conceivable in an environment where all were
saints already; but by adding that in an environment where few
are saints, and many the exact reverse of saints, it must be ill
adapted. We must frankly confess, then, using our empirical
common sense and ordinary practical prejudices, that in the world
that actually is, the virtues of sympathy, charity, and
non-resistance may be, and often have been, manifested in excess.

The powers of darkness have systematically taken advantage of
them. The whole modern scientific organization of charity is a
consequence of the failure of simply giving alms. The whole
history of constitutional government is a commentary on the
excellence of resisting evil, and when one cheek is smitten, of
smiting back and not turning the other cheek also.

You will agree to this in general, for in spite of the Gospel, in
spite of Quakerism, in spite of Tolstoi, you believe in fighting
fire with fire, in shooting down usurpers, locking up thieves,
and freezing out vagabonds and swindlers.

And yet you are sure, as I am sure, that were the world confined
to these hard-headed, hard-hearted, and hard-fisted methods
exclusively, were there no one prompt to help a brother first,
and find out afterwards whether he were worthy; no one willing to
drown his private wrongs in pity for the wronger's person; no one
ready to be duped many a time rather than live always on
suspicion; no one glad to treat individuals passionately and
impulsively rather than by general rules of prudence; the world
would be an infinitely worse place than it is now to live in.
The tender grace, not of a day that is dead, but of a day yet to
be born somehow, with the golden rule grown natural, would be cut
out from the perspective of our imaginations.

The saints, existing in this way, may, with their extravagances
of human tenderness, be prophetic. Nay, innumerable times they
have proved themselves prophetic. Treating those whom they met,
in spite of the past, in spite of all appearances, as worthy,
they have stimulated them to BE worthy, miraculously transformed
them by their radiant example and by the challenge of their

From this point of view we may admit the human charity which we
find in all saints, and the great excess of it which we find in
some saints, to be a genuinely creative social force, tending to
make real a degree of virtue which it alone is ready to assume as
possible. The saints are authors, auctores, increasers, of
goodness. The potentialities of development in human souls are
unfathomable. So many who seemed irretrievably hardened have in
point of fact been softened, converted, regenerated, in ways that
amazed the subjects even more than they surprised the spectators,
that we never can be sure in advance of any man that his
salvation by the way of love is hopeless. We have no right to
speak of human crocodiles and boa-constrictors as of fixedly
incurable beings. We know not the complexities of personality,
the smouldering emotional fires, the other facets of the
character-polyhedron, the resources of the subliminal region.
St. Paul long ago made our ancestors familiar with the idea that
every soul is virtually sacred. Since Christ died for us all
without exception, St. Paul said, we must despair of no one.
This belief in the essential sacredness of every one expresses
itself to-day in all sorts of humane customs and reformatory
institutions, and in a growing aversion to the death penalty and
to brutality in punishment. The saints, with their extravagance
of human tenderness, are the great torch-bearers of this belief,
the tip of the wedge, the clearers of the darkness. Like the
single drops which sparkle in the sun as they are flung far ahead
of the advancing edge of a wave-crest or of a flood, they show
the way and are forerunners. The world is not yet with them, so
they often seem in the midst of the world's affairs to be
preposterous. Yet they are impregnators of the world, vivifiers
and animaters of potentialities of goodness which but for them
would lie forever dormant. It is not possible to be quite as
mean as we naturally are, when they have passed before us. One
fire kindles another; and without that over-trust in human worth
which they show, the rest of us would lie in spiritual stagnancy.

Momentarily considered, then, the saint may waste his tenderness
and be the dupe and victim of his charitable fever, but the
general function of his charity in social evolution is vital and
essential. If things are ever to move upward, some one must be
ready to take the first step, and assume the risk of it. No one
who is not willing to try charity, to try non-resistance as the
saint is always willing, can tell whether these methods will or
will not succeed. When they do succeed, they are far more
powerfully successful than force or worldly prudence. Force
destroys enemies; and the best that can be said of prudence is
that it keeps what we already have in safety. But
non-resistance, when successful, turns enemies into friends; and
charity regenerates its objects. These saintly methods are, as I
said, creative energies; and genuine saints find in the elevated
excitement with which their faith endows them an authority and
impressiveness which makes them irresistible in situations where
men of shallower nature cannot get on at all without the use of
worldly prudence. This practical proof that worldly wisdom may
be safely transcended is the saint's magic gift to mankind.[215]
Not only does his vision of a better world console us for the
generally prevailing prose and barrenness; but even when on the
whole we have to confess him ill adapted, he makes some converts,
and the environment gets better for his ministry. He is an
effective ferment of goodness, a slow transmuter of the earthly
into a more heavenly order.

[215] The best missionary lives abound in the victorious
combination of non-resistance with personal authority. John G.
Paton, for example, in the New Hebrides, among brutish Melanesian
cannibals, preserves a charmed life by dint of it. When it comes
to the point, no one ever dares actually to strike him. Native
converts, inspired by him, showed analogous virtue. "One of our
chiefs, full of the Christ-kindled desire to seek and to save,
sent a message to an inland chief, that he and four attendants
would come on Sabbath and tell them the gospel of Jehovah God.
The reply came back sternly forbidding their visit, and
threatening with death any Christian that approached their
village. Our chief sent in response a loving message, telling
them that Jehovah had taught the Christians to return good for
evil, and that they would come unarmed to tell them the story of
how the Son of God came into the world and died in order to bless
and save his enemies. The heathen chief sent back a stern and
prompt reply once more: 'If you come, you will be killed.' On
Sabbath morn the Christian chief and his four companions were met
outside the village by the heathen chief, who implored and
threatened them once more. But the former said:--

"'We come to you without weapons of war! We come only to tell
you about Jesus. We believe that He will protect us to-day.'

"As they pressed steadily forward towards the village, spears
began to be thrown at them. Some they evaded, being all except
one dexterous warriors; and others they literally received with
their bare hands, and turned them aside in an incredible manner.
The heathen, apparently thunderstruck at these men thus
approaching them without weapons of war, and not even flinging
back their own spears which they had caught, after having thrown
what the old chief called 'a shower of spears,' desisted from
mere surprise. Our Christian chief called out, as he and his
companions drew up in the midst of them on the village public

"'Jehovah thus protects us. He has given us all your spears!
Once we would have thrown them back at you and killed you. But
now we come, not to fight but to tell you about Jesus. He has
changed our dark hearts. He asks you now to lay down all these
your other weapons of war, and to hear what we can tell you about
the love of God, our great Father, the only living God.'

"The heathen were perfectly overawed. They manifestly looked on
these Christians as protected by some Invisible One. They
listened for the first time to the story of the Gospel and of the
Cross. We lived to see that chief and all his tribe sitting in
the school of Christ. And there is perhaps not an island in
these southern seas, amongst all those won for Christ, where
similar acts of heroism on the part of converts cannot be
recited." John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides, An
Autobiography, second part, London, 1890, p. 243.

In this respect the Utopian dreams of social justice in which
many contemporary socialists and anarchists indulge are, in spite
of their impracticability and non-adaptation to present
environmental conditions, analogous to the saint's belief in an
existent kingdom of heaven. They help to break the edge of the
general reign of hardness and are slow leavens of a better order.

The next topic in order is Asceticism, which I fancy you are all
ready to consider without argument a virtue liable to
extravagance and excess. The optimism and refinement of the
modern imagination has, as I have already said elsewhere, changed
the attitude of the church towards corporeal mortification, and a
Suso or a Saint Peter of Alcantara[216] appear to us to-day
rather in the light of tragic mountebanks than of sane men
inspiring us with respect. If the inner dispositions are right,
we ask, what need of all this torment, this violation of the
outer nature? It keeps the outer nature too important. Any one
who is genuinely emancipated from the flesh will look on
pleasures and pains, abundance and privation, as alike irrelevant
and indifferent. He can engage in actions and experience
enjoyments without fear of corruption or enslavement. As the
Bhagavad-Gita says, only those need renounce worldly actions who
are still inwardly attached thereto. If one be really unattached
to the fruits of action, one may mix in the world with
equanimity. I quoted in a former lecture Saint Augustine's
antinomian saying: If you only love God enough, you may safely
follow all your inclinations. "He needs no devotional
practices," is one of Ramakrishna's maxims, "whose heart is moved
to tears at the mere mention of the name of <354> Hari."[217]
And the Buddha, in pointing out what he called "the middle way"
to his disciples, told them to abstain from both extremes,
excessive mortification being as unreal and unworthy as mere
desire and pleasure. The only perfect life, he said, is that of
inner wisdom, which makes one thing as indifferent to us as
another, and thus leads to rest, to peace, and to Nirvana.[218]

[216] Saint Peter, Saint Teresa tells us in her autobiography
(French translation, p. 333), "had passed forty years without
ever sleeping more than an hour and a half a day. Of all his
mortifications, this was the one that had cost him the most. To
compass it, he kept always on his knees or on his feet. The
little sleep he allowed nature to take was snatched in a sitting
posture, his head leaning against a piece of wood fixed in the
wall. Even had he wished to lie down, it would have been
impossible, because his cell was only four feet and a half long.
In the course of all these years he never raised his hood, no
matter what the ardor of the sun or the rain's strength. He
never put on a shoe. He wore a garment of coarse sackcloth, with
nothing else upon his skin. This garment was as scant as
possible, and over it a little cloak of the same stuff. When the
cold was great he took off the cloak and opened for a while the
door and little window of his cell. Then he closed them and
resumed the mantle--his way, as he told us, of warming himself,
and making his body feel a better temperature. It was a frequent
thing with him to eat once only in three days; and when I
expressed my surprise, he said that it was very easy if one once
had acquired the habit. One of his companions has assured me
that he has gone sometimes eight days without food. . . . His
poverty was extreme; and his mortification, even in his youth,
was such that he told me he had passed three years in a house of
his order without knowing any of the monks otherwise than by the
sound of their voice, for he never raised his eyes, and only
found his way about by following the others. He showed this same
modesty on public highways. He spent many years without ever
laying eyes upon a woman; but he confessed to me that at the age
he had reached it was indifferent to him whether he laid eyes on
them or not. He was very old when I first came to know him, and
his body so attenuated that it seemed formed of nothing so much
as of so many roots of trees. With all this sanctity he was very
affable. He never spoke unless he was questioned, but his
intellectual right-mindedness and grace gave to all his words an
irresistible charm."

[217] F. Max Muller: Ramakrishna, his Life and sayings, 1899, p.

[218] Oldenberg: Buddha; translated by W. Hoey, London, 1882, p.

We find accordingly that as ascetic saints have grown older, and
directors of conscience more experienced, they usually have shown
a tendency to lay less stress on special bodily mortifications.
Catholic teachers have always professed the rule that, since
health is needed for efficiency in God's service, health must not
be sacrificed to mortification. The general optimism and
healthy-mindedness of liberal Protestant circles to-day makes
mortification for mortification's sake repugnant to us. We can
no longer sympathize with cruel deities, and the notion that God
can take delight in the spectacle of sufferings self-inflicted in
his honor is abhorrent. In consequence of all these motives you
probably are disposed, unless some special utility can be shown
in some individual's discipline, to treat the general tendency to
asceticism as pathological.

Yet I believe that a more careful consideration of the whole
matter, distinguishing between the general good intention of
asceticism and the uselessness of some of the particular acts of
which it may be guilty, ought to rehabilitate it in our esteem.
For in its spiritual meaning asceticism stands for nothing less
than for the essence of the twice-born philosophy. It
symbolizes, lamely enough no doubt, but sincerely, the belief
that there is an element of real wrongness in this world, which
is neither to be ignored nor evaded, but which must be squarely
met and overcome by an appeal to the soul's heroic resources, and
neutralized and cleansed away by suffering. As against this
view, the ultra-optimistic form of the once-born philosophy
thinks we may treat evil by the method of ignoring. Let a man
who, by fortunate health and circumstances, escapes the suffering
of any great amount of evil in his own person, also close his
eyes to it as it exists in the wider universe outside his private
experience, and he will be quit of it altogether, and can sail
through life happily on a healthy-minded basis. But we saw in
our lectures on melancholy how precarious this attempt
necessarily is. Moreover it is but for the individual; and
leaves the evil outside of him, unredeemed and unprovided for in
his philosophy.

No such attempt can be a GENERAL solution of the problem; and to
minds of sombre tinge, who naturally feel life as a tragic
mystery, such optimism is a shallow dodge or mean evasion. It
accepts, in lieu of a real deliverance, what is a lucky personal
accident merely, a cranny to escape by. It leaves the general
world unhelped and still in the clutch of Satan. The real
deliverance, the twice-born folk insist, must be of universal
application. Pain and wrong and death must be fairly met and
overcome in higher excitement, or else their sting remains
essentially unbroken. If one has ever taken the fact of the
prevalence of tragic death in this world's history fairly into
his mind--freezing, drowning entombment alive, wild beasts, worse
men, and hideous diseases--he can with difficulty, it seems to
me, continue his own career of worldly prosperity without
suspecting that he may all the while not be really inside the
game, that he may lack the great initiation.

Well, this is exactly what asceticism thinks; and it voluntarily
takes the initiation. Life is neither farce nor genteel comedy,
it says, but something we must sit at in mourning garments,
hoping its bitter taste will purge us of our folly. The wild and
the heroic are indeed such rooted parts of it that
healthy-mindedness pure and simple, with its sentimental
optimism, can hardly be regarded by any thinking man as a serious
solution. Phrases of neatness, cosiness, and comfort can never
be an answer to the sphinx's riddle.

In these remarks I am leaning only upon mankind's common instinct
for reality, which in point of fact has always held the world to
be essentially a theatre for heroism. In heroism, we feel,
life's supreme mystery is hidden. We tolerate no one who has no
capacity whatever for it in any direction. On the other hand, no
matter what a man's frailties otherwise may be, if he be willing
to risk death, and still more if he suffer it heroically, in the
service he has chosen, the fact consecrates him forever.
Inferior to ourselves in this or that way, if yet we cling to
life, and he is able "to fling it away like a flower" as caring
nothing for it, we account him in the deepest way our born
superior. Each of us in his own person feels that a high-hearted
indifference to life would expiate all his shortcomings.

The metaphysical mystery, thus recognized by common sense, that
he who feeds on death that feeds on men possesses life
supereminently and excellently, and meets best the secret demands
of the universe, is the truth of which asceticism has been the
faithful champion. The folly of the cross, so inexplicable by
the intellect, has yet its indestructible vital meaning.

Representatively, then, and symbolically, and apart from the
vagaries into which the unenlightened intellect of former times
may have let it wander, asceticism must, I believe, be
acknowledged to go with the profounder way of handling the gift
of existence. Naturalistic optimism is mere syllabub and
flattery and sponge-cake in comparison. The practical course of
action for us, as religious men, would therefore, it seems to me,
not be simply to turn our backs upon the ascetic impulse, as most
of us to-day turn them, but rather to discover some outlet for it
of which the fruits in the way of privation and hardship might be
objectively useful. The older monastic asceticism occupied
itself with pathetic futilities, or terminated in the mere
egotism of the individual, increasing his own perfection.[219]
But is it not possible for us to discard most of these older
forms of mortification, and yet find saner channels for the
heroism which inspired them?

[219] "The vanities of all others may die out, but the vanity of
a saint as regards his sainthood is hard indeed to wear away."
Ramakrishna his Life and Sayings, 1899, p. 172.

Does not, for example, the worship of material luxury and wealth,
which constitutes so large a portion of the "spirit" of our age,
make somewhat for effeminacy and unmanliness? Is not the
exclusively sympathetic and facetious way in which most children
are brought up to-day--so different from the education of a
hundred years ago, especially in evangelical circles--in danger,
in spite of its many advantages, of developing a certain
trashiness of fibre? Are there not hereabouts some points of
application for a renovated and revised ascetic discipline?

Many of you would recognize such dangers, but would point to
athletics, militarism, and individual and national enterprise and
adventure as the remedies. These contemporary ideals are quite
as remarkable for the energy with which they make for heroic
standards of life, as contemporary religion is remarkable for the
way in which it neglects them.[220] War and adventure assuredly
keep all who engage in them from treating themselves too
tenderly. They demand such incredible efforts, depth beyond
depth of exertion, both in degree and in duration, that the whole
scale of motivation alters. Discomfort and annoyance, hunger and
wet, pain and cold, squalor and filth, cease to have any
deterrent operation whatever. Death turns into a commonplace
matter, and its usual power to check our action vanishes. With
the annulling of these customary inhibitions, ranges of new
energy are set free, and life seems cast upon a higher plane of

[220] "When a church has to be run by oysters, ice-cream, and
fun," I read in an American religious paper, "you may be sure
that it is running away from Christ." Such, if one may judge
by appearances, is the present plight of many of our churches.

The beauty of war in this respect is that it is so congruous with
ordinary human nature. Ancestral evolution has made us all
potential warriors; so the most insignificant individual, when
thrown into an army in the field, is weaned from whatever excess
of tenderness toward his precious person he may bring with him,
and may easily develop into a monster of insensibility.

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