The Heavenly Father - Lectures on Modern Atheism
by Ernest Naville
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The doctrine of non-existence and of illusion is entirely incomprehensible, in the sense in which to comprehend signifies to have a clear idea, and one capable of being directly apprehended. But, if one follows the chain of ideas as logically unrolled, in the way that a mathematician follows the transformations of an algebraical formula, without considering its real contents, it is easy to account for the origin of this theory. If the human mind has no rule superior to itself, if it is the absolute mind, God, all its thoughts are equally true, since we cannot point out error without having recourse to a rule of truth. If all doctrines are equally true, propositions directly and absolutely contradictory are equally true. If all is true, there is no truth; for truth is not conceived except in opposition to at least possible error. If there is no truth, the human reason, which seeks truth by a natural impulse belonging to its very essence, as the magnetized needle seeks the pole,—reason, I say, is a chimera. The truth which reason seeks is an exact relation of human thought to the reality of the world. If the search for this relation is chimerical, the two terms, mind, and the world, may be illusions. A fugitive illusion in presence of an infinite illusion: there is all. You see that these thoughts hang together with rigorous precision. The darkness is becoming visible to us, or, in other words, we are acquiring a perfect understanding of the origin and developments of the absurdity. Put God aside, the law of our will, the warrant of our thought; deify human nature; and a fatal current will run you aground twice over—on the shores of moral absurdity, and on those of intellectual absurdity. These sad shipwrecks are set before our eyes in striking examples; it has been easy to indicate their cause.

The consideration of the beautiful would give occasion to analogous observations. The human mind becoming the object of our adoration, we must give up judging it in every particular, and suppress the rules of the ideal in art, as those of morals in the conduct, and truth in the intellect. We must form a system of aesthetics which accepts all, and finds equally legitimate whatever affords recreation to the Humanity-God, in the great variety of its tastes. Then high aspirations are extinguished, the beautiful gives place to the agreeable; and since the ugly and misshapen please a vicious taste, room must be made for the ugly in the Pantheon of beauty. Art despoiled of its crown becomes the sad, and often the ignoble slave of the tastes and caprices of the public. I do not insist further. The pretension of the worshippers of humanity is to make their conscience wide enough to accept all, and to have their intellect broad enough to understand all. They explain all, except these three small particulars—the conscience, the heart, and the reason. Goodness and truth avenge themselves in the end for the long contempt cast upon them; and the first punishment those suffer who accept all, in the hope of understanding all, is no longer to understand what constitutes the life of humanity.

Let us not, Sirs, be setting up altars to the human mind; for an adulterous incense stupefies it, and ends by destroying it. Man is great, he is sublime, with immortal hope in his heart, and the divine aureole around his brow; but that he may preserve his greatness, let us leave him in his proper place. Let us leave to him the struggles which make his glory, that condemnation of his own miseries which does him honor, the tears shed over his faults which are the most unexceptionable testimony to his dignity. Let us leave him tears, repentance, conflict, and hope; but let us not deify him; for, no sooner shall he have said, "I am God," than, deprived that instant of all his blessings, he shall find himself naked and spoiled.

Before they deified man, the pagans at least transfigured him by placing him in Olympus. At this day, it is humanity as it is upon earth that is proposed to our adoration, humanity with its profound miseries and its fearful defilements. They seek to throw a veil over the mad audacity of this attempt, by telling us of the progress which is to bring about, by little and little, the realization of our divinity. But, alas! our history is long already, and no reasonable induction justifies the vague hopes of heated imaginations. Great progress is being effected, but none which gives any promise that the profound needs of our nature can ever be satisfied in this life. Charity has appeared on the earth; but there are still poor amongst us, and it seems that there always will be. A breath of justice and humanity has penetrated social institutions; still politics have not become the domain of perfect truth and of absolute justice, and there seems small likelihood that they ever will. Industry has given birth to marvels; we devour space in these days, but we shall never go so fast that suffering and death will not succeed in overtaking us. The great sources of grief are not dried up; the song of our poets causes still the chords of sorrow to vibrate as in the days of yore. Progress is being accomplished, sure witness of a beneficent Hand which is guiding humanity in its destinies; but everything tells us that the soil of our planet will be always steeped in tears, that the atmosphere which envelops us will always resound with the vibrations of sorrow. Far as our view can stretch itself, we foresee a suffering humanity, which will not be able to find peace, joy, and hope, except in the expectation of new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

If there be no God above humanity, no eternity above time, no divine world higher than our present place of sojourn; if our profoundest desires are to be for ever deceived; if the cries we raise to heaven are never to be heard; if all our hope is a future in which we shall be no more; if humanity as we know it is the perfection of the universe; if all this is so, then indeed the answer to the universal enigma is illusion and falsehood. Then, before the monster of destiny which brings us into being only to destroy us, which creates in our breast the desire of happiness only to deride our miseries; in view of that starry vault which speaks to us of the infinite, while yet there is no infinite; in presence of that lying nature which adorns itself with a thousand symbols of immortality, while yet there is no immortality; in presence of all these deceptions, man may be allowed to curse the day of his birth, or to abandon himself to the intoxication of thoughtless pleasure. But, a secret instinct tells us that wretchedness is a disorder, and thoughtless pleasure a degradation. Let us have confidence in this deep utterance of our nature. Good, truth, beauty descend as rays of streaming light into the shadows of our existence; let us follow them with the eye of faith to the divine focus from whence they proceed. All is fleeting, all is disappearing incessantly beneath our steps; but our soul is not staggered at this swift lapse of all things, only because she carries in herself the pledges of a changeless eternity. "The ephemeral spectator of an eternal spectacle, man raises for a moment his eyes to heaven, and closes them again for ever; but during the fleeting instant which is granted to him, from all points of the sky and from the bounds of the universe, sets forth from every world a consoling ray and strikes his upward gaze, announcing to him that between that measureless space and himself there exists a close relation, and that he is allied to eternity."[158]

And are these sublime pressentiments only dreams after all? Dreams! Know you not that our dreams create nothing, and that they are never anything else than confused reminiscences and fantastic combinations of the realities of our waking consciousness? What then is that mysterious waking during which we have seen the eternal, the infinite, the perfection of goodness, the fulness of joy, all those sublime images which come to haunt our spirit during the dream of life? Recollections of our origin! foreshadowings of our destinies! While then all below is transitory, and is escaping from us in a ceaseless flight, let us abandon ourselves without fear to these instincts of the soul—

As a bird, if it light on a sprig too slight The feathery freight to bear, Yet, conscious of wings, tosses fearless, and sings, Then drops—on the buoyant air.[159]


[131] Systeme de la Nature, published under the pseudonyme of Mirabaud.

[132] Systeme de la Nature, Part I. chap. 1.

[133] Ibid. Part II. chap. 14.

[134] Vie de Jesus. Dedication.

[135] Revue des Deux Mondes of 15 January, 1860.

[136] Plebeii philosophi qui a Platone et Socrate et ab ea familia dissident.

[137] Les philosophes francais du XIXe siecle, chap. XIV.

[138] Hegel et l'Hegelianisme par M. Ed. Scherer.

[139] Page 854.

[140] Page 852.

[141] Page 856.

[142] Isa. xx. 20.

[143] Essais de critique et d'histoire, pp. 8 and 9.

[144] Revue des Deux Mondes, 15 Feb. 1861, page 855.

[145] Page 853.

[146] Page 854.

[147] Revue des Deux Mondes of the 15th Feb. 1861, page 854.

[148] Introduction a l'histoire de la philosophie. Neuvieme lecon.


Il repondit, baissant un oeil humide: Jamais ce nom n'attristera mes vers.

[150] Introduction a l'histoire de la philosophie. Treizieme lecon.


Je prends tout doucement les hommes comme ils sont, J'accoutume mon ame a souffrir ce qu'ils font.

[152] Nihil nefas ducere, hanc summam inter eos religionem esse. (Tit. Liv. lib. xxxix. c. 13.)


. . . . . . Ces haines vigoureuses Que doit donner le vice aux ames vertueuses.

[154] Melanges de Toepffer. De la mauvaise presse consideree comme excellente.

[155] Revue des Deux Mondes of 15 Feb. 1861, page 854.—Etudes critiques sur la litterature contemporaine, par Edmond Scherer, page x. et xi.

[156] Sa'nkya—ka'rika', 61 and 64. The text 61 in which occur the words "Nothing exists" is hard to understand, but there appears to be no doubt of the meaning of No. 64. Non sum, non est meum, nec sum ego.

[157] Etudes critiques sur la litterature contemporaine, par Edmond Scherer.—M. Sainte-Beuve, p. 354.

[158] Xavier de Maistre.


Soyons comme l'oiseau pose pour un instant Sur des rameaux trop freles, Qui sent ployer la branche et qui chante pourtant, Sachant qu'il a des ailes.—VICTOR HUGO.



(At Geneva, 4th Dec. 1863.—At Lausanne, 27th Jan. 1864.)


Man is not a simple product of nature; in vain does he labor to degrade himself by desiring to find the explanation of his spiritual being in matter brought gradually to perfection. Man is not the summit and principle of the universe; in vain does he labor to deify himself. He is great only by reason of the divine rays which inform his heart, his conscience, and his reason. From the moment that he believes himself to be the source of light, he passes into night. When thought has risen from nature up to man, it must needs fall again, if its impetus be not strong enough to carry it on to God. These assertions do but translate the great facts of man's intellectual history. "There is no nation so barbarous," said Cicero,[160] "there are no men so savage as not to have some tincture of religion. Many there are who form false notions of the gods; ... but all admit the existence of a divine power and nature.... Now, in any matter whatever, the consent of all nations is to be reckoned a law of nature." No discovery has diminished the value of these words of the Roman orator. In the most degraded portions of human society, there remains always some vestige of the religious sentiment. The knowledge of the Creator comes to us from the Christian tradition; but the idea, more or less vague, of a divine world is found wherever there are men.

Cicero brings forward this universal consent as a very strong proof of the existence of the gods. The supporters of atheism dispute the value of this argument. They say: "General opinion proves nothing. How many fabulous legends have been set up by the common belief into historic verities! All mankind believed for a long time that the sun revolved about the earth. Truth makes way in the world only by contradicting opinions generally received. The faith of the greater number is rather a mark of error than a sign of truth." This objection rests upon a confusion of ideas. Humanity has no testimony to render upon scientific questions, the solution of which is reserved for patient study; but humanity bears witness to its own nature. The universality of religion proves that the search after the divine is, as said the Roman orator, a law of nature. When therefore we rise from matter to man, and from man to God, we are not going in an arbitrary road, but are advancing according to the law of nature ascertained by the testimony of humanity. It needs a mind at once very daring and very frivolous not to feel the importance of this consideration.

In our days atheism is being revived. In going over in your memory the symptoms of this revival, as we have pointed them out to you, you will perceive that the direct and primitive negation of God is comparatively rare; but that what is frequently attempted is, if I may venture so to speak, to effect the subtraction of God. Any religious theory whatever is put aside as inadmissible, and with some such remarks as these: "How is it that real sciences are formed? By observation on the one hand, and by reasoning on the other. By observation, and reasoning applied to observation, we obtain the science of nature and the science of humanity. But do we wish to rise above nature and humanity? We fail of all basis of observation; and reason works in a vacuum. There is therefore no possible way of reaching to God. Is God an object of experience? No. Can God be demonstrated a priori by syllogisms? No. The idea of God therefore cannot be established, as answering to a reality, either by the way of experience or by the way of reasoning; it is a mere hypothesis. We do not, however, it is added, in our view of the matter, pretend (Heaven forbid!) to exclude the sentiment of the Divine from the soul, nor the word God from fine poetry. We accept religious thoughts as dreams full of charm. But is it a question of reality? then God is an hypothesis, and hypothesis has no admission into the science of realities."

These ideas place those who accept them in a position which is not without its advantages. When a man of practical mind says with a smile, "Do you happen to believe in God?" one may reply to him, smiling in turn, "Have I said that God is a real Being?" And if a religious man asks, "Are you falling then into atheism?" one may assume an indignant tone, and say: "We have never denied God: whoever says we have is a slanderer!" So God remains, for the necessities of poetry and art. But as we cannot know either what He is, or whether He is, real life goes on in complete and entire independence of Him. The taking up of this position with regard to religion may, in certain cases, be a literary artifice. In other cases it is seriously done. There are certain natures of extreme delicacy, which, touched by the breath of modern scepticism, have lost all positive faith; but their better aspirations, and an instinctive love of purity, guard and direct them, in the absence of all belief, and they do not deny that which they believe no longer. Such a mind is in an exceptional position. Is it yours? and would you preserve it? Keep a solitary path, and do not seek to communicate your ideas to others. Contact with the public, and such an unfolding even of your own thoughts as would be required in carrying on a work of proselytism, would place you under the empire of those laws which govern the human mind in these matters. Now what are these laws? A poet has already answered for us this question:

En presence du Ciel, il faut croire ou nier.[161]

A famous writer expands the same thought as follows: "Doubt about things which it highly concerns us to know," says Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "is a condition which does too great violence to the human mind; nor does it long bear up against it, but in spite of itself comes to a decision one way or another, and likes better to be mistaken than to believe nothing."[162] Such is the law. We have met with the pretension to maintain the mind independent of God, without either denying or asserting His existence, and we have seen how completely this pretension fails in the presence of facts. The sceptic makes vain efforts to continue in a state of doubt, but the ground fails him, and he slips into negation: he affirms that humanity has been mistaken, and that God is not. But neither does this negation succeed any the more in keeping its ground; it strikes too violently against all the instincts of our nature. The human mind is under an imperious necessity to worship something; if God fails it, it sets itself to adore nature or humanity; atheism is transformed into idolatry. Recollect the destinies of the critical school and of the positive philosophy! Let us now examine, with serious attention, that attempt to eliminate God which is the starting-point in this course along which the mind is hurried so fatally.

God is not, I grant, an object of experience. I grant it at least in this sense, that God is not an object of sensible experience. The experience of God (if I may be allowed the expression), the feeling of His action upon the soul, is not a phenomenon open to the observation of all, and apart from determined spiritual conditions. In order to be sensible of the action of God, we must draw near to Him. In order to draw near to Him, we must, if not believe with firm faith in His existence, at least not deny Him. The captives of Plato's cavern can have no experience of light, so long as they heap their raillery on those who speak to them of the sun. I grant again that God cannot possibly be the object of a demonstration such as the science of geometry requires; I grant it fully, I have already said so. Every man who reasons, affirms God in one sense; and the foundation of all reasoning cannot be the conclusion of a demonstration. God therefore, in the view of science formed according to our ordinary methods, is, I grant, an hypothesis. And here, Gentlemen, allow me a passing word of explanation.

When I say that God is an hypothesis, I run the risk of exciting, in many of you, feelings of astonishment not unmixed with pain. But I must beg you to remember the nature of these lectures. We are here far from the calm retirement of the sanctuary, and from such words of solemn exhortation as flow from the lips of the religious teacher. I have introduced you to the ardent conflicts of contemporary thought, and into the midst of the clamors of the schools. The soul which is seeking to hold communion with God, and so from their fountain-head to be filled with strength and joy, has something better to do than to be listening to such discourses as these. Solitude, prayer, a calm activity pursued under the guidance of the conscience,—these are the best paths for such a soul, and the discussions in which we are now engaged are not perhaps altogether free from danger for one who has remained hitherto undisturbed in the first simplicity of his faith. But we are not masters of our own ways, and the circumstances of the present times impose upon us special duties. The barriers which separate the school and the world are everywhere thrown down. Everywhere shreds of philosophy, and very often of bad philosophy,—scattered fragments of theological science, and very often of a deplorable theological science,—are insinuating themselves into the current literature. There is not a literary review, there is scarcely a political journal, which does not speak on occasion, or without occasion, of the problems relating to our eternal interests. The most sacred beliefs are attacked every day in the organs of public opinion. At such a juncture, can men who preserve faith in their own soul remain like dumb dogs, or keep themselves shut up in the narrow limits of the schools? Assuredly not. We must descend to the common ground, and fight with equal weapons the great battles of thought. For this purpose it is necessary to make use of terms which may alarm some consciences, and to state questions which run the risk of startling sincerely religious persons. But there is no help for it, if we are to combat the adversaries on their own ground; and because it is thus only that, while we startle a few, we can prove to all that the torrent of negations is but a passing rush of waters, which, fret as they may in their channel, shall be found to have left not so much as a trace of their passage upon the Rock of Ages.

I now therefore resume my course of argument. God is neither an object of experience, nor yet of demonstration properly so called. In the view of science, as it is commonly understood, of science which follows out the chain of its deductions, without giving attention to the very foundations of all the work of the reason,—God, that chief of all realities for a believing heart, that experience of every hour, that evidence superior to all proof, God is an hypothesis. I grant it. Hence it is inferred that God has no place in science, for that hypothesis has no place in a science worthy of the name. But this I deny; and in support of this denial I proceed to show that the hypothesis which it is pretended to get quit of, is the generating principle of all human knowledge.

Whence does science proceed? Does it result from mere experience? No. What does experience teach us when quite alone? Nothing. Experience, separated from all element of reason, only reveals to us our own sensations. This, a Scotch philosopher, Hume, has proved to demonstration,—a demonstration which constitutes his glory. It is easy, without having even a smattering of philosophy, to understand quite well that science is formed by thought. Now, if we did not possess the faculty of thinking, it would not be given to us by experience. Thought does not enter by the eye or the ear. Imagine a living body not possessed of reason: its eye will reflect objects like a mirror, its tympanum will vibrate to the undulations of the air; but it will have no thoughts, and will know nothing.

Is science formed by pure reason? No. No one can say what pure reason is, for the exercise of our thought is connected indissolubly with experience. But, without pausing at this consideration, let us ask what pure reason can do, if deprived of all objects of experience? One thing only, namely, take cognizance of itself. Now the reason, in taking cognizance of itself, only creates logic, that is to say, the theory of the laws of knowledge. Some philosophers, to be sure, have undertaken to prove that reason, by dint of self-contemplation, might arrive at the knowledge of all things. They have maintained that all the secrets of the universe are contained in our thought, and that by just reasoning one may form the science of astronomy without looking at the stars, and write the history of the human race without taking the trouble to search laboriously into the annals of the past. But these attempts to construct facts, instead of observing them, have succeeded too ill to merit very serious attention.

Science does not proceed therefore either from pure experience or from pure reason; whence does it really come? From the encounter of experience and of reason. Man observes, and he ascertains that facts are governed according to intelligent design. He creates mathematics, and discovers that the phenomena of the heavens and the earth are ruled according to the laws of the calculus. His thought meets in the facts with traces of a thought similar to his own. If any one of you doubts this, I once more appeal to the almanac. Science, then, has birth only from a meeting of experience with reason; how is this meeting effected? The whole question of the origin of science is here. This encounter is not necessary; it does not result simply from perseverance in observation. The encounter of mind and of facts constitutes a discovery. The thought which has governed nature may remain long veiled from our mind. All at once perhaps the veil is lifted, and the thought of man meets and recognizes itself in the phenomena which it is contemplating. We encounter in this case the exercise of a special faculty, which is neither the faculty of observing nor the faculty of reasoning, but the faculty of discovering. When a man possesses it to a certain degree, we call him a man of genius. Genius, or the faculty of discovering, is the generating principle of science. Still, strange to say, this principle is scarcely pointed out by a great number of logicians. They develop at length the rules of observation and the rules of reasoning; and it seems that, in their idea, the conjunction of reason and experience is effected all alone and of necessity. I taught logic myself in this way for twenty years, until one day, thinking better upon the subject, I was obliged to say to myself (forgive me this rather trivial quotation):

Tu n'avais oublie qu'un point: C'etait d'eclairer ta lanterne.[163]

The meeting together of the understanding and of facts is a discovery; and discovery depends upon a faculty sung by poets, admired by mankind, and too little noticed by logicians—genius. Genius has for its characteristic a sudden illumination of the mind, a gratuitous gift and one which cannot be purchased. But let us hasten to supply a necessary explanation. Genius is a primitive fact, a gift; but the work of genius has conditions, or rather a condition—labor. Labor does not replace genius, but genius does not dispense with labor; nature only delivers up her secrets to those who observe her with long patience. Newton was asked one day how he had found out the system of the universe. He replied with a sublime naivete: "By thinking continually about it." He so pointed out the condition of every great discovery; but he forgot the cause—the peculiar nature of his own intellect. It was necessary to be always pondering the motions of the stars; but it was necessary moreover to be Isaac Newton. So many had thought on the subject, as long perhaps as he, and had not made the discovery.

Labor, the condition of discoveries, should have as its effect to recognize the methods really appropriate to the nature of the inquiries, and to keep the mind well informed in existing science. In fact, every scientific discovery supposes a series of previous discoveries which have brought the mind to the point at which it is possible to see something new. For this reason it is that a discovery often presents itself to two or three minds at once, when there are found, at the same epoch, two or three minds endowed with the same power. They see all together because the onward progress of science has brought them to the same summit: this is the condition; and because they have the same power of vision: this is the cause. There is therefore a method for putting ourselves on the road to discovery, but no method for making the discovery itself. The man of genius sees where others do not see; and when he has seen, everybody sees after him. If, furnished with Gyges' ring, you could gain access to the studies of savants at the moment when a great discovery has just been made, you would see more than one of them striking his forehead and exclaiming: "Fool that I was! how could I help seeing it? it was so simple." Truth appears simple when it has been discovered.

Discovery therefore, which has labor for its condition, is the principle of the progress of science. Under what form does a discovery present itself to the mind of its author? As a supposition, or, which is the same thing, as an hypothesis. Hypothesis is the sole process by which progress in science is effected. If we supposed nothing, we should know nothing. In vain should we look at the sky and the earth to all eternity, our eye would never read the laws of astronomy in the stars of heaven, nor the laws of life upon the bark of trees or in the entrails of animals. This is true even of mathematics. The contemplation, prolonged indefinitely, of the series of numbers, or of the forms of space, would produce neither arithmetic nor geometry, if the human mind did not suppose relations between the numbers and the lines, which it can only demonstrate after it has supposed them. The conditions are very clearly seen which have prepared and made possible a fruitful supposition, but the hypothesis does not itself follow of any necessity. It appears like a flash of light passing suddenly through the mind.

The carpenter's saw opens a plank from end to end on the sole conditions of labor and time; but the discovery of truth preserves always a sudden and unforeseen character. Archimedes leaps from a bath and rushes through the streets of Syracuse, crying out, "I have found it!" Why? The flash of genius has visited him unexpectedly. Pythagoras discovers a geometrical theorem; and he offers, it is said, a sacrifice to the gods, in testimony of his gratitude. He thought therefore, according to the fine remark of Malebranche, that labor and attention are a silent prayer which we address to the Master of truth: the labor is a prayer, and the discovery is an answer granted to it.

When this wholly spontaneous character of discovery is not recognized, and when it is thought that the observation of facts naturally produces their explanation, it must needs be granted that a discovery is confirmed by the very fact that it is made. But this is by no means the case. Hypothesis does not carry on its brow, at the moment of its birth, the certain sign of its truth. A flash of light crosses the mind of the savant; but he must enter on a course, often a long course, of study, in order to know whether it is a true light, or a momentary glare. Every supposition suggested by observation must be confirmed by its agreement with the data of experience. Let us listen to a great discoverer— Kepler. He is giving an account of the discovery of one of the laws which have immortalized his name.

"After I had found the real dimensions of the orbits, thanks to the observations of Brahe and the sustained effort of a long course of labor, I at length discovered the proportion of the periodic times to the extent of these orbits. And if you would like to know the precise date of the discovery,—it was on the eighth day of March in this year 1618 that,—first of all conceived in my mind, then awkwardly essayed by calculations, rejected in consequence as false, then reproduced on the fifteenth of May with fresh energy,—it rose at last above the darkness of my understanding, so fully confirmed by my labor of seventeen years upon Brahe's observations, and by my own meditations perfectly agreeing with them, that I thought at first I was dreaming, and making some petitio principii; but there is no more doubt about it: it is a very certain and very exact proposition."[164]

All the logic of discoveries is laid down in these lines; and these lines are a testimony rendered by one of the most competent of witnesses. You see in them the conditions of a good hypothesis: Kepler has long studied the phenomena of which he wishes to find the law; he has studied them by himself, and by means of the discoveries of his predecessor Brahe. The law has presented itself to his mind at a given moment, on the eighth of March, 1618. But he does not yet know whether it is a true light, or a deceptive gleam. He seeks the confirmation of his hypothesis; he does not find it, because he makes a mistake, and he rejects his idea as useless. The idea returns; a new course of labor confirms it; and so the hypothesis becomes a law, a certain proposition.

Such is the regular march of thought. An hypothesis has no right to be brought forward until it has passed into the condition of a law, by being duly confirmed. There are minds, however, endowed with a sort of divination, which feel as by instinct the truth of a discovery, even before it has been confirmed. It is told of Copernicus, that having discovered, or re-discovered, the true system of planetary motion, he encountered an opponent who said to him: "If your system were true, Venus would have phases like the moon; now she has none, and therefore your system is false. What have you to reply?"—"I have no reply to make," said Copernicus, (the objection was a serious one in fact); "but God will grant that the answer shall be found."[165] Galileo appeared, and by means of the telescope it was ascertained that Venus has phases like the moon;—the confidence of Copernicus was justified. The scientific career of M. Ampere, the illustrious natural philosopher, supplies an analogous fact. Trusting, like Copernicus, to a kind of intuition of truth, he read one day to the Academy of sciences the complete description of an experiment which he had never made. He made it subsequently, and the result answered completely to his anticipations. Genius is here raised to the second power, since it possesses at once the gift of discovery and the just presentiment of its confirmation; but these are exceptional cases, and in general we must say, with Mithridates, that—

.... To be approved as true Such projects must be proved, and carried through.[166]

We would encourage no one to attempt adventures so perilous, but would call to mind in a great example what is the regular march of science. Newton, after he had discovered the law which regulates the motions of the heavens, sought the confirmation of it in an immense series of calculations. A true ascetic of science, he imposed on himself a regimen as severe as that of a Trappist monk, in order that his life might be wholly concentrated upon the operations of the understanding; and it was not until after fifteen months of persistent labor that he exclaimed: "I have discovered it! My calculations have really encountered the march of the stars. Glory to God! who has permitted us to catch a glimpse of the skirts of His ways!" And astronomy, placed upon a wider and firmer basis, went forward with new energy.

It is thus that the human mind acquires knowledge. How then does hypothesis come to be made light of? How can it be seriously said that we have excluded hypothesis from the sphere of science, whereas the moment the faculty of supposing should cease to be in exercise, the march of science would be arrested; since, except a small number of principles the evidence of which is immediate, all the truths we possess are only suppositions confirmed by experiment? The reason is here: Our mind forms a thousand different suppositions at its own will and fancy; and it shrinks from that studious toil which alone puts it in a position to make fruitful suppositions. We are for ever tempted to be guessing, instead of setting ourselves, by patient observations, on the road to real discoveries. It is therefore with good reason that theories hastily built up have been condemned, and Lord Chancellor Bacon was right in thinking that the human mind requires lead to be attached to it, and not wings. Hence the inference has been drawn that the simplest plan would be to cut the wings of thought, without reflecting that thenceforward it would continue motionless. Because some had abused hypothesis, others must conclude that we could do without it altogether.

Trivial and premature suppositions have therefore discredited hypothesis, by encumbering science with a crowd of vain imaginations; but this encumbrance would have been of small importance but for the obstinacy with which false theories have too often been maintained against the evidence of facts. If Ampere had found his experiment fail, and had still continued to maintain his statements, he would not have given proof of a happy audacity, but of a ridiculous obstinacy. Genius itself makes mistakes, and experience alone distinguishes real laws from mere freaks of our thought. We have maintained the rights of reason in the spontaneous exercise of the faculty of discovery; but let us beware how we ignore the rights of experience. It alone prepares discoveries; it alone can confirm them. A system, however well put together, is convicted of error by the least fact which really contradicts it. A Greek philosopher was demonstrating by specious arguments that motion is impossible. Diogenes was one of his auditory, and he got up and began to walk: the answer was conclusive. You remember, if you have read Walter Scott, the learned demonstration of the antiquary who is settling the date of a Roman or Celtic ruin, I forget which; and the intervention of the beggar, who has no archaeological system, but who has seen the edifice in question both built and fall to decay. Reason as much as you like; if your reasonings do not accord with facts, you will have woven spider's webs, of admirable fineness perhaps, but wanting in solidity.

It is time to sum up these lengthened considerations. Science does not originate solely from experiment, nor does it proceed solely from reason; it results from the meeting together of experience and reason. Experience prepares the discovery, genius makes it, experience confirms it. What distinguishes the sciences is not the process of invention, which is everywhere the same; but the process of control over supposed truths. A mathematical discovery is confirmed by pure reasoning. A physical discovery is confirmed by sensible observation joined with calculation. A discovery in the order of morals is confirmed by observation of the facts of consciousness. Therefore it is that between the physical and moral sciences there exists a broad line of demarcation. Moral facts have not less certainty than physical phenomena; but moral facts falling under the influence of liberty, all men cannot perceive them equally under all conditions. An optical experiment presents itself to the eyes, and all the spectators see it alike, if at least they have one and the same visual organization; but a case of moral experience has a personal character, and is only communicated to another person on condition that he puts faith in the testimony of his fellow. In this order of things a man can observe directly only what he concurs in producing. With this reservation, we may say that the control of moral truths is made by experience like that of physical truths. In all departments of knowledge, a thought may be held as true when it accounts for facts.

And so, Gentlemen, we conclude that every scientific truth is, in its origin, a supposition of the mind, the result of which is to produce the meeting together of experience and reason, and so to permit the rational reconstruction of the facts.

Every system is shown to be at fault by facts, if facts contradict it.

When a system explains the facts, we hold it as proved just to the extent to which it explains them. This accordance of our thought with the nature of things is the mark of what we call truth.

If you grant me these premises, my demonstration is completed, and it only remains for me to draw my conclusions.

It is said that the idea of God can have no place in a serious science, because this idea comes neither from experience nor from reason; that it is only an hypothesis, and that hypothesis has no place in science. I reply, grounding my answer on the preceding reasonings: No science is formed otherwise than by means of hypothesis. For the solution of the universal problem there exists in the world an hypothesis, proposed to all by tradition, and which bears in particular the names of Moses and of Jesus Christ. This hypothesis has the right to be examined. If it explains the facts, it must be held for true. The idea of God comes therefore within the regular compass of science; the attempt to exclude it is sophistical.

Let us separate the idea of God from the whole body of Christian doctrine of which it forms part, in order that we may give it particular consideration. What is this hypothesis which bears the names of Moses and Jesus Christ? It is that the principle of the universe is the Eternal and Infinite Being. His power is the cause of all that exists; the consciousness of His infinite power constitutes His infinite intelligence. In Himself, He is He who is; in His relation with the world, He is the absolute cause, the Creator. This explanation of the universe is not the privilege of a few savants; it is taught and proposed to all; and this is no reason why we should despise it. If we further observe that this thought has renovated the world, that it upholds all our civilization, that thousands of our fellow-creatures raise their voice to tell us that it is only from this source they have drawn peace, light, and happiness, we shall understand perhaps that contempt would be foolish, and that everything on the contrary invites us to examine with the most serious attention an hypothesis which offers itself to us under conditions so exceptional.

The hypothesis is stated. We must now submit it to the test of facts. Where shall we find the elements of its confirmation? Everywhere, since it is the first cause of all things which is in question: we shall find them in nature and in humanity; in the motions of the stars as they sweep through the depths of space, and in the rising of the sap which nourishes a blade of grass; in the revolutions of empires, and in the simplest elements of the life of one individual. There is no science of God; but every science, every study must terminate at that sacred Name. I shall not undertake, therefore, to enumerate all the confirmations of the thought which makes of the Creator the principle of the universe: to recount all the proofs of the infinite Being would require an eternal discourse. We have stammered forth a few of the words of this endless discourse, by showing that, without God, the understanding, the conscience, and the heart lose their support and fall: this formed the subject of our second lecture. We saw further that reason makes fruitless attempts to find the universal principle in the objects of our experience—nature and humanity. Let us follow up, although we shall not be able to complete it, the study of this inexhaustible subject, by showing that the idea of the Creator alone answers to the demands of the philosophic reason.

Philosophy, in the highest acceptation of the term, is the search after a solution for the universal problem the terms of which may be stated as follows: Experience reveals to us that the world is composed of manifold and diverse beings; and, to come at once to the great division, there are in the world bodies which we are forced to suppose inert, and minds which we feel to be intelligent and free. The universe is made up of manifold existences; this is quite evident, and a matter of experience. Reason on the other hand forces us to seek for unity. To comprehend, is to reduce phenomena to their laws, to connect effects with their causes, consequences with their principles; it is to be always introducing unity into the diversity. All development of science would be at once arrested, if the mind could content itself with merely taking account of facts in the state of dispersion in which they are presented by experience. Each particular science gathers up a multitude of facts into a small number of formulae; and, above and beyond particular sciences, reason searches for the connection of all things with one single cause. To determine the relation of all particular existences with one existence which is their common cause; such is the universal problem. This problem has been very well expressed by Pythagoras in a celebrated formula, that of the Uni-multiple. In order to understand the universe, we must rise to a unity which may account for the multiplicity of things and for their harmony, which is unity itself maintained in diversity.

If you well understand this thought, you will easily comprehend the source of the great errors which flow from too strong a disposition to systematize. Men of this mind attach themselves to inadequate conceptions, and look for unity where it does not exist. The barrier which we must oppose to this spirit of system is the careful enumeration of the facts which it forgets to notice. Materialism looks for unity in inert and unintelligent bodies; it suffices to oppose to it one fact—the reality of mind. Fatalism seeks unity in necessity. Point out to it that its destiny-god does not account for the fact of repentance, for example, which implies liberty, and it is enough. The worship of humanity forces you to exclaim with Pascal—A queer God, that! There is in the bitterness of this smile a sufficient condemnation of the doctrine. To seek for unity, is the foundation of all philosophy. To seek for unity too hastily and too low, is the source of the errors of absolute minds. Absolute minds, however great they may be in other respects, are weak minds, in that they do not succeed in preserving a clear view of the diversity of the facts to be explained. Take the problem of Pythagoras; keep hold of the two extremities of the chain; never allow yourselves to deny the diversity of things, for that diversity is plainly evidenced by human experience; beware of denying their unity, because it is the foundation of reason; then search and look through the histories of philosophy: you will find one hypothesis, and one only, which answers the requirements of the problem. It goes back, as I believe, to the origin of the world; it was glimpsed by Socrates, by Aristotle, and Plato; but, in its full light, it belongs only to men who have received the God of Moses, and who have studied in the school of Jesus Christ. If this hypothesis explains the facts, it is sound, for the property of truth is to explain, as the property of light is to enlighten.

The doctrine of the Creator can alone account to us for the universe, by bringing us back to its first cause. The first cause of unity cannot be matter which could never produce mind; the first cause of unity cannot be the human mind, which, from the moment that it desires to take itself for the absolute being, is dissolved and annihilated. The unity which alone can have in itself the source of multiplicity, is neither matter nor idea, but power; power the essential characteristic of mind, and infinite, that is to say, creative power. The Creator alone could produce divers beings, because He is Almighty, and maintain harmony between those beings, because He is One. Thus is manifested an essential agreement between the requirements of philosophy and the religious sentiment; for religion, as we said at the beginning of these lectures, rests upon the idea of Divine power. Reason and faith meet together upon the lofty heights of truth. But let us not enter too far into the difficulties of philosophy. Let us confine ourselves to considerations of a less abstruse order.

The Creator is the God of nature. All the visible universe is but the work of His power, the manifestation of His wisdom. The poet of the Hebrews invites to offer praise to the Most High, not only men of every age and of all nations, but the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the cedars of the forest, the rain and the wind, the hail and the tempest.[167] In the language of a modern poet:

Thee, Lord, the wide world glorifies; The bird upon its nest replies; And for one little drop of rain Beings Thine eye doth not disdain Ten thousand more repeat the strain.[168]

And such thoughts are not vain freaks of the imagination. Man, the conscious representative of nature, the high-priest of the universe, feels himself urged by an impulse of his heart to translate the confused murmur of the creation into a hymn of praise to the Infinite Being, the absolute Source of life,—to Him who is, One, Eternal,—the first and absolute Cause of all existence.

The Creator is the God of spirits. He is not only the God of humankind; "the immense city of God contains, no doubt, nobler citizens than man, in reasoning power so weak, and in affections so poor."[169] But let us speak of what is known to us: He is the God of humankind. All nations shall one day render glory to Him. Mighty words have resounded through the world: "Henceforth there is no longer either Greek or barbarian or Jew; but one and the same God for all." The idols have begun to fall; the gods of the nations have been hurled from their pedestals; they have fallen, they are falling, they will fall, until the knowledge of the only and sovereign Creator shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

The Creator shall one day be known of all His creatures; and in each of His creatures He will be the centre and the object of the whole soul; all the functions of the spiritual life lead on to Him. What is truth, beauty, good? We have already replied to the question, but we will repeat our answer.

To possess truth is to know God; it is to know Him in the work of His hands, and it is to know Him in His absolute power, as the eternal source of all that is, of all that can ever be, of all actual or possible truth in the mind of His creatures. Truth binds us to Him, "and all science is a hymn to His glory."[170]

He is the eternal source of beauty. He it is who gives to the bird its song, and to the brook its murmur. He it is who has established between nature and man those mysterious relations which give rise to noble joys. He it is who opens, above and beyond nature, the prolific sources of art; the ideal is a distant reflection of His splendor.

And goodness, again, is none other than He; it is His plan; it is His will in regard of spirits; it is the word addressed to the free creature, which says to it: Behold thy place in the universal harmony.

Thus a triple ray descends from the uncreated light, and before that insufferable brightness I am dazzled and bewildered. There is no longer any distinction for me between profane and sacred; I no longer understand the difference of these terms. Wheresoever I meet with good, truth, beauty, be the man who brings them to me who he may, and come he whence he may, I feel that to despise in him that gleam, would be not only to be wanting to humanity, it would be to be wanting to my faith. If my prejudices or habits tend to shut up my heart or to narrow my mind, I hear a voice exclaiming to me: "Enlarge thy tent; lengthen thy cords; enlarge thy tent without measure. Be ye lift up, eternal gates, gates of the conscience and the heart! Let in the King of glory!" All truth, all beauty, all good is He. Where my God is, nothing is profane for me. To ignore any one of those rays would be to steal somewhat from His glory.

Oh! the happy liberty of the heart, when it rests on the Author of all good and of all truth. But if the heart is at liberty, how well is it guarded too! What is the most beautiful jewel (if we may venture to use such language) in the immortal crown of this King of glory? Powerful, He created power; free, He created liberty. And to the free creature, in the hour of its creation, He said: "Behold! thou art made in mine own image! my will is written in thy conscience; become a worker together with me, and realize the plans of my love." And that voice—I hear it within myself. Ah! I know that voice well, I know the secret attraction which, in spite of all my miseries, draws me towards that which is beautiful, pure, holy, and says to me: This is the will of thy Father. But I know other voices also which speak within me only too loudly: the voice of rebellion and of cowardice, the voice of baseness and ignominy. There is war in my soul. Enlightened by this inner spectacle, I cast my eyes once more over that world in which I have seen shining everywhere some divine rays; and I see that by a triple gate, lofty and wide, evil has entered thither, accompanied by error and deformity. Then I understand that all may become profane; I understand that there is an erring science, a corrupting art, a moral system full of immorality. But these words take for me a new meaning. There is no sacred evil, there is no profane good; there are no sacred errors and profane truths. Where God is, all is holy; where there is rebellion against God, all is evil. And so the God who is my light is my fortress also; my heart is strengthened while it is set at liberty, and I can join the ancient song of Israel:

Jehovah is our strength and tower.

Yes, Sirs, God is in all, because He is the universal principle of being; but He is not in all after the same manner. God is in the pure heart by the joy which He gives to it; He is in the frivolous heart by the void and the vexation which urge it to seek a better destiny; He is in the corrupt heart by that merciful remorse which does not permit it to wander, without warning, from the springs of life. God makes use of all for the good of His creatures. He is everywhere by the direct manifestation of His will, except in the acts of rebellious liberty, and in the shadow of pain which follows that evil light which leads astray from Him.

Having said that the idea of God the Creator alone satisfies the reason, and raises up, upon the basis of reason, man's conscience and heart, I should wish to show you, in conclusion, that this idea renders an account of the great systems of error which divide the human mind between them. Truth bears this lofty mark, that it never overthrows a doctrine without causing any portion of truth which it may have contained to pass into its own bosom.

What then,—apart from declared atheism, from the dualism which has almost disappeared, and from faith in God the Creator,—are the great systems which share the human mind between them? There are two: deism and pantheism.

What is deism? It is a doctrine which acknowledges that there is one God, the cause of the universe; but a God who is in a manner withdrawn from His own work, and who leaves it to go on alone. God has regulated things in the mass, but not in detail, or, to employ an expression of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (who came at a later period to entertain better opinions), "God is like a king who governs his kingdom, but who does not trouble himself to ascertain whether all the taverns in it are good ones." The idea of a general government of God which does not descend to details—such is the essence of deism.

What is pantheism, in the ordinary meaning of the word? We have already said: it is a doctrine which absorbs God in the universe, which confounds Him with nature, and makes of Him only the inert substance, the unconscious principle of the universe. These are the two great conceptions which wrestle, in the history of human thought, against the idea of the Creator. These two systems triumph easily one over the other, because each of them contains a portion of truth which is wanting to its antagonist. They cannot support themselves because each of them has in it a portion of error. This is what we must well understand.

Deism contains a portion of truth; for it maintains a Creator essentially distinct from the Creation, or, according to an expression which I translate from an ancient Indian poem: "One single act of His created the Universe, and He remained Himself whole and entire." This thought is true. What is the error of deism? It is that it makes a God like to a man who works upon matter existing previously to his action, and who puts in operation forces independent of himself, and which he does nothing but employ. In this way a watchmaker makes a watch which goes afterwards without him, because the watchmaker only sets to work forces which have an independent existence, and which continue to act when he has ceased his labor. We work upon matter foreign to us. The workman did not make matter, but only disposes of it, and he can never do more than modify the action of forces which do not proceed from his will, and have not been regulated by his understanding. But the Being who is the cause of all cannot dispose of foreign forces which act afterwards by themselves, since there exists in His work no principle of action other than those which He has Himself placed in it.

Deism results therefore from a confusion between the work of a creature placed in a preexisting world, and the work of the Supreme Will which is in itself the single and absolute cause of all. It contains an element of dualism: its God does not create; but organizes a world the being of which does not depend on him. Take what is true in deism—the existence of the only God; remember that the Creator is the absolute Cause of the universe; and the distinction between ensemble and detail will vanish, and you will understand that God is too great that there should be anything small in His eyes:

God measures not our lot by line and square: The grass-suspended drop of morning dew Reflects a firmament as vast and fair As Ocean from his boundless field of blue.[171]

In other words, take what is true in deism, and accept all the consequences of it, and you will arrive at the full doctrine of the creation.

Pantheism recognizes the omnipresence of God in the universe, or, if you like the terms of the school, the immanence of God; this is its portion of truth. When I open the Hindoos' songs of adoration, and find therein the unlimited enumeration of the manifestations of God in nature, I find nothing to complain of. But when, in those same hymns, I see liberty denied, the origin of evil attributed to the Holy One, and man cowering before Destiny, instead of turning his eyes freely towards the Heavenly Father, then I stand only more erect and say: You forget that if your God is the Cause of all, He is the Cause of liberty. If liberty exists, evil, the revolt of liberty, is not the work of the Creator. Your system contradicts itself. You make of God the universal Principle, and you are right; make of Him then the Author of free wills, so that He will be no longer the source of evil, and we shall be agreed.

Deism and pantheism therefore, pushed to their legitimate consequences, are transformed and united in the truth. And you see plainly that I am not making, for my part, an arbitrary selection in these systems. I am walking by one sole light, the light which has been given to us, and which serves me everywhere as a guiding clue:—The Lord is God, and there is no other God but He.

Such, Gentlemen, is the fundamental truth on which rests all religion, and all philosophy capable of accounting for facts. Such is the grand cause which claims all the efforts which we are wasting too often in barren conflicts—the cause of God. But do I say the truth? Is it the cause of God which is at stake? When a surgeon, by a successful operation, has restored sight to a blind man, we are not wont to say that he has rendered a service to the sun. This cause is our own; it is that of society at large, it is that of families, that of individuals; it is the cause which concerns our dignity, our happiness; it is the cause of all, even of those who attack it in words of which they do not calculate the import, and who, were they to succeed in banishing God from the public conscience, would, with us, recoil in terror at sight of the frightful abysses into which we all should fall together.

It is time to sum up these considerations.

Inert and unintelligent matter is not the cause of life and intelligence.

Human consciences would be plunged in irremediable misery, if ever they could be persuaded that there is nothing superior to man.

The universe is the work of wisdom and of power; it is the creation of the Infinite Mind. What can still be wanting to our hearts? The thought that God desires our good,—that He loves us. If it is so, we shall be able to understand that our cause is His, that He is not an impassible sun whose rays fall on us with indifference, but a Father who is moved at our sorrows, and who would have us find joy and peace in Him. This will be the subject of our next and concluding lecture.


[160] Firmissimum hoc afferri videtur, cur deos esse credamus, quod nulla gens tam fera, nemo omnium tam sit immanis, cujus mentem non imbuerit deorum opinio. Multi de diis prava sentiunt, id enim vitioso more effici solet; omnes tamen esse vim et naturam divinam arbitrantur.... Omni autem in re consentio omnium gentium, lex naturae putanda est.—Tuscul. i. 13.

[161] In presence of Heaven, we must believe or deny. See Lecture III.

[162] Profession de foi du vicaire Savoyard.


Thou hadst only forgotten one point, And that was, to light thy lantern.

[164] Harmonices mundi libri quinque.

[165] The authenticity of this reply is disputed; M. Arago gives it in different terms; but the question is of small consequence here as one of historical criticism, my object being not to establish a fact, but to put an idea in a strong light by means of an example.


.... Pour etre approuves De semblables projets veulent etre acheves.

[167] Ps. cxlviii.


Le monde entier te glorifie, L'oiseau te chante sur son nid; Et pour une goutte de pluie Des milliers d'etres t'ont beni.

[169] Albert de Haller. Lettres sur les verites les plus importantes de la revelation. Lettre 2.

[170] Et toute la science est un hymne a sa gloire.


Dieu ne mesure pas nos sorts a l'etendue. La goutte de rosee a l'herbe suspendue Y reflechit un ciel aussi vaste, aussi pur Que l'immense Ocean dans ses plaines d'azur. LAMARTINE.



(At Geneva, 8th Dec. 1863.—At Lausanne, 1st Feb. 1864.)


We have proposed for solution the problem which includes all others whatsoever—the problem of the universe. What are the laws which govern the universe? They are those which are the objects of science, taking that word in its largest and most general meaning. What is the cause of the universe? The eternal power of the Infinite Mind. These are the two answers which we have hitherto obtained, but, as we have explained, a study is not complete if it confine itself to these two answers. When we know the law and the cause of an object submitted to our study, we further look for the end designed. This is no freak of our fancy, but the direct result of the constitution of our understanding. The universe is the creation of God. What is the design of the creation? I answer: the design of the creation is the happiness of spirits. Nature is made for the spiritual beings to which it offers the condition of their life and development; spiritual beings are made for felicity. The moving spring of infinite power is goodness: this is my thesis. If I succeed in establishing it, it will follow that we shall in imagination see issuing from the supreme unity of the Infinite Being three rays: the power which creates the being of things; the intelligence which orders them; and the love which conducts them to their destination. It will also follow that I shall have justified the title under which these Lectures were announced: Power and wisdom are attributes of the Creator; the Father reveals Himself in goodness.

What shall be our method? Can we enter into the counsels of God? By what means? To place our understanding in the midst of the Divine consciousness, there to behold the spring of the determinations of the Infinite Being, were an attempt so far exceeding our capacity, that it is impossible to point out any means whatever by which it could be made. This would be to conceive of God in His eternal essence, independently of His relation to the universe, to nature, and to our reason. I do not say merely that the attempt would be fruitless; I say that we have no means of attempting this metaphysical adventure. But might we not, in looking at the work of God, discern in it the evidence of its design? This is a process which we often follow in regard to our fellow-creatures. Do we wish to know the object which a man has in view in his labor? He may himself disclose that object to us directly in words, or we may endeavor to discover it. We watch him at work, and by observing the way in which he proceeds we sometimes come to know what his thoughts are, because we find ourselves in presence of the work of a mind, and we ourselves are mind. Can we in the same way, by looking at the universe, that grand work, succeed in discovering its end?

The way on which we are entering raises two objections, which proceed from the difficulties felt by two classes of men of opposite views; and our first business will be to rid ourselves of these preliminary difficulties.

You will never succeed, it has been said to me, in proving the goodness of God, because evil is in the world. I am not inventing, Gentlemen. A letter containing this challenge has been addressed to me by one of you. It is manifest, since we propose to ourselves to recognize in the work the intention of the Worker, and since our thesis is the goodness of the First Cause of the universe, that evil, in all its forms, sin, pain, imperfection, is the main objection which can be addressed to us. Evil is real; it is a sad and great reality; I am forward to acknowledge it. Any system which would prove that evil does not exist, or, which comes to the same thing, that evil is necessary, that good and evil in short are of the same nature, is an impossible, I had almost said a culpable, system. The strongest minds have worn themselves out in such attempts with no result whatever. The great Leibnitz attempted an enterprise of this nature. His system consisted in extenuating evil as far as possible, and in pronouncing that amount of evil, of which he could not dissemble the existence, to be necessary. He failed. The strong intellectual armor of one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever seen was completely transpierced by the sharp and brilliant shaft of Voltaire.

Sad reckoners of the woes which men endure, Sharpening the pangs ye make pretence to cure, Poor comforters! in your attempts I see Nought but the pride which feigns unreal glee! O mortals, of such bliss how weak the spell! Ye cry in doleful accents—"All is well!"— And all things at the great deceit rebel. Nay, if your minds to coin the flattery dare, Your hearts as often lay the falsehood bare. The gloomy truth admits of no disguise— Evil is on the earth![172]

For once, Gentlemen, we will not contradict our old neighbor of Ferney. Yes, evil is on the earth; and it constitutes, in the question which we are discussing, the greatest of problems, the most serious of difficulties. Let us listen to a modern poet:

Why then so great, O Sovereign Lord, Came evil from thy forming hand, That Reason, yea, and Virtue stand Aghast before the sight abhorred?

And how can deeds so hideous glare Beneath the beams of holy light, That on the lips of hapless wight Dies at their view the trembling prayer?

Why do the many parts agree So scantly in thy work sublime? And what is pestilence, or crime, Or death, O righteous God, to Thee?[173]

We have only to put this poetry into common prose to obtain this argument, namely,—The presence of evil in the world is not compatible with the idea of the goodness of God. Here is the objection in all its force. And what is the answer? Simply this, that God did not create evil. It was not He who brought crime into the world. He created liberty, which is a good, and evil is the produce of created liberty in rebellion against the law of its being. I borrow from Jean-Jacques Rousseau the development of this thought. "If man," says he, "is a free agent, then he acts of himself; whatever he does freely enters not into the ordained system of Providence, and cannot be imputed to it. The Creator does not will the evil which man does, in abusing the liberty which He gives him. He has made him free in order that he may do not evil but good by choice. To murmur because God does not hinder him from doing evil, is to murmur because He made him of an excellent nature, attached to his actions the moral character which ennobles them, and gave him a right to virtue. What! in order to prevent man from being wicked, must he needs be confined to instinct and made a mere brute? No; God of my soul, never will I reproach Thee with having made it in Thine image, in order that I might be free, good, and happy, like Thyself.

"It is the abuse of our faculties which renders us unhappy and wicked. Our vexations and our cares come to us from ourselves."

Such is Rousseau's answer to the objection drawn from the existence of evil. It is a good one. It is so good that it is impossible to find a better. If we are determined not to outrage the human conscience by denying the reality of evil; if God is the sovereign good, and if there is no other principle of things than He; evil cannot be accounted for otherwise than by the rebellion of the creature. But now, Rousseau's answer, excellent in itself and in the abstract, becomes profoundly inadequate, as the citizen of Geneva goes on to develop his theory. Evil comes from the creature; but each individual is not the exclusive source of the evils which he does and suffers. To attribute to each individual, not only the responsibility of his acts, but the origin of the evil germs which exist in his soul, is the untenable proposition of a desperate individualism. There is evidently among men a common property in evil; Rousseau sees it clearly enough, but he makes vain efforts to find in the organization of society and in the condition of civilization the causes of pain and of sin. When one has come to see clearly that the source of evil is in the creature, the close mutual connection of created wills and their relations with nature present a field for long and difficult study; and Rousseau has no sooner discerned the road to truth than he wanders away into byroads in which the solution of the problem escapes him. This problem, Gentlemen, I have the intention and desire of studying some day, if God permit, with those of you who may be willing to undertake it with me. We shall then have to deal with an objection, or rather with a difficulty. But this difficulty, which we cannot now dispose of, must not hinder us from stating our thesis. In every well-conducted study, the propositions to be maintained must be laid down and supported before dealing with objections. If it were maintained that evil is the principle of things, it would be necessary first of all to endeavor to establish the thesis, in which the existence of good would be brought forward, and would constitute the objection. The objection would have to be answered—Why has good appeared in the world? And I would just say in passing, that our libraries are full of treatises upon the origin of evil, and I have never met with one upon the origin of good. It appears therefore that reason has always admitted, by a sort of instinct, the identity of good, and of the principle of being. Our thesis is that the principle of the universe is good. We are going to try to demonstrate it. Afterwards the difficulty, evil, will present itself, of which it will be necessary to seek the explanation. This will be the natural sequel, and the necessary complement of the course of lectures which we are concluding to-day.

I pass to another difficulty, another challenge which also has been addressed to me.

Your object, Christians have said to me, is to establish that the principle and ground of all things is goodness. This you will not be able to do without departing from your prescribed plan, and entering upon the domain of Christian faith properly so called. In your examination of the universe will you leave out of view Jesus Christ and His work? Do you not know that it is by means of this work that the idea of the love of God has been implanted in the world, and that it is thence you have taken it? Do you think to climb to the loftiest heights of thought, and to make the ascent by some other road than over the mountain of Nazareth and the hill of Calvary?

Gentlemen, I declared my whole mind on this subject at first starting. The complete idea of God demands, for its maintenance, the grand doctrinal foundations of our faith. Christian in its origin, firm faith in the love of God the Creator requires for its defence the armor of the Gospel. But before defending this belief, we must first establish it; we must show that it has natural roots in human nature. Christianity purifies and strengthens it, but it does not in an absolute sense create it. The mark of truth is that it does not strike us as something absolutely new, but that it finds an echo in the depths of our soul. When we meet with it, we seem to re-enter into the possession of our patrimony. The Cross of Jesus Christ is without all contradiction the most transcendent proof of the mercy of the Creator; but the Cross of Jesus Christ rather warrants the Christian in believing in the Divine love than gives him the idea of it. We must distinguish in the Gospel between the universal religion which it has restored, and the act itself of that restoration, which constitutes the Gospel in the special sense of the word. Now what I am here maintaining is the fact of the existence in modern society of the elements of the universal religion. I am far from sharing in the illusions of my fellow-countryman Rousseau, when he affirms that even if he had lived in a desert isle, and had never known a fellow-man, he would nevertheless have been able to write the Profession de foi du Vicaire Savoyard. I know very well that if I were a Brahmin, born at the foot of the Himalayas, or a Chinese mandarin, I should not be able to say all that I am saying respecting the goodness of God. The light which we have received—I know whence it radiates; but, by the help of that light, I seek its kindred rays everywhere, and everywhere I find them in humanity.

Let us endeavor, then, according to our plan, to recognize in the universe the marks of the Divine goodness. Let us first of all interrogate the human soul, which is certainly one of the essential elements of the world; and let us interrogate it with regard to the great fact of religion.

The universal religion presents to observation two principal forms of mental experience: the sense of the necessity for appeasing the Divine justice, and the sense of the necessity for obtaining the help of God.

The sense of the necessity for appeasing justice reveals itself in sacrifices. There are sacrifices which are merely offerings of gratitude, and freewill gifts of love. But when you see the blood of animals flowing in the temples, and not seldom human blood gushing forth upon the altars, you will be unable to escape the conviction that man, in presenting himself before the Deity, feels constrained to appease a justice which threatens him.

The sense of the need of help shows itself in prayer; and this must be the especial object of our study, because it is in the fact of religious invocation that we shall encounter the idea, obscure perhaps, but real, of the goodness of the First Cause of the universe.

Prayer is a fact of the universal religion. Whence is it that we derive a large part of what knowledge we have of the ancient civilizations of India and Egypt? From ruins: and the chief of these ruins are the ruins of temples, that is to say, of houses of prayer. Would we go further back than these monuments of stone? I interrogate those pioneers of science who are searching for the traces of antiquity in old languages,—in the ruins of speech. I inquire, for example, of my learned fellow-countryman, M. Adolphe Pictet: "You who have studied, with patient care, the first origins of our race—what have you discovered in the way of religion?" He replies: "When I have gone as far back as historical speculations can carry us by the aid of language, it appears to me that I no longer see temples built by the hand of man, but, beneath the open vault of heaven, I see our earliest ancestors sending up together the chant of prayer and the flame of sacrifice."[174]

And now, from this remote antiquity, I come down to the paganism, in which modern civilization had its beginning. Tertullian teaches us that the pagans, seeming to forget their idols, and to offer a spontaneous testimony to the truth, were often wont to exclaim—Great God! Good God! What in their mind was the order of these two thoughts, the thought of greatness and that of goodness? The pediment of a temple at Rome bore this famous inscription, Deo optimo maximo; and Cicero explains to us that the God of the Capitol was by the Roman people named "very good" on account of the benefits conferred by him, and "very great" on account of his power.[175] It is the idea of goodness which here appears to be first. But let us go more directly to the root of the question: What do we gather from the universality of prayer? What is it to pray? To pray is to ask. Prayer may be mingled with thanksgivings, and with expressions of adoration, but in itself prayer is a petition. This petition rises to God: and when does it so rise? In distress, in anguish. It is misery, weakness, the heart cast down, the failing will, which unite to raise from earth to heaven that long cry which resounds across all the pages of history: Help!—I analyze this fact, and inquire what it means. A request is made, and for what? For strength, for tranquillity, for peace; for happiness under all its forms. And of whom is happiness asked? Of goodness. Justice is appeased, power is dreaded, but it is goodness which is invoked. It is so in human relations. The man who supplicates the fiercest tyrant only does so because he supposes that a fibre of goodness may still vibrate in that savage heart. Take from him that thought; persuade him that the last gleam of pity is extinct in the heart to which he appeals, and you will arrest the prayer on the lips of the suppliant. There will remain for him only the silence of despair, or the heroism of resignation.

To sum up:—Religion is a universal fact. "There is no religion without prayer," said Voltaire, and he never said better. There is no prayer without a confused, perhaps, but real, conviction of the goodness of the First Cause of the universe. If you could stifle in man's heart the feeling that the Principle of things is good, you would silence over the whole globe that voice of prayer which is ever rising to God. Thus humanity itself testifies to the truth for which I am contending. Humanity prays; it believes therefore in the goodness of God. This fact is an argument. The heart of man is organized to believe that God is good: it is the mark set by the Worker Himself upon His work.

Let us study now another of the elements of the universe. We have heard the answer of man's heart; let us ask for the answer of reason. Has reason nothing to tell us respecting the intentions of the Creator? Let us place it in presence of the idea of God—of the Infinite Being, and see what it will be able to teach us.

To attain my object, I must explain more particularly than as yet I have done, a word rendered frivolous by the levity of our heart, a word defiled by the disorder of our passions, and too often by the unworthiness, and worse, of poets and novelists, but which still, in its virgin purity, is ever protesting against the outrages to which it has been subjected: that word is love.

This word has two principal meanings. In the Platonic sense of it, it is the search after what is beautiful, great, noble, pure,—after what, as being of the very real nature of the soul, attracts, fills, and delights it. But there is another sort of love, which does not pursue greatness and beauty, but which gives itself; a love which seeks the wretched to enrich him, the poor to make him happy, the fallen to raise him up. These two kinds of love seem to follow different and even contrary laws. Here, for instance, is a description of what often occurs in a large city.[176] A man leaves his house in the evening in order to be present at performances in which I am willing to believe that everything bears the stamp of nobleness and grandeur, or at least of a pure and wholesome taste. He experiences keen enjoyment, and that of an elevated kind. The spectacle over, he returns to his dwelling, and at a still later hour he retires at length to his repose. He has not long extinguished his luxurious tapers, perhaps, when other men, who have slept while others were seeking amusement, rise before daylight, and, lighting their small lanterns, go forth to succor the unfortunate, without witnesses and without ostentation.

I have taken this example from Xavier de Maistre. Let me give you another from scenes more familiar to ourselves. You know those pure summer mornings, when one may truly say that the Alp smiles and that the mountain invites. A young man quits his dwelling at the first dawning of the day, in his hand the tourist's staff, and his countenance beaming with joy. He starts on a mountain excursion. All day long he quaffs the pure air with delight, revels in the freedom of the pasture-grounds, in the view of the lofty summits and of the distant horizons. He reposes in the shade of the forest, drinks at the spring from the rock, and when he has gazed on the Alpine chain resplendent in the radiance of the setting sun, he lingers still to see—

Twilight its farewell to the hills delaying.[177]

Noble enjoyments! This young man enjoys because he loves. The spectacle of the creation speaks to his heart and elevates his thoughts. He loves that enchanting nature, which blends in a marvellous union the impressions which in human relations are produced by the strong man's majesty and the maiden's sweetest smile.

On this same summer-day, another man has also risen before the sun. He is devoted to the assuaging of human miseries, and he has had much to do. He has mounted gloomy staircases; he has entered dark chambers; he has spent time in hospitals, in the midst of the pains of sickness; he has come, in prisons, to the relief of pains which are sadder still. Day, as it dawned, gilded the summits of the Alps, but he saw not that pure light of the morning. Day, as it advanced, penetrated into the valleys, but he did not notice its progress. The sun set in his glory, but he had no opportunity to admire either the bright reflection of the waters, or the rosy tint of the mountains. And yet he too is joyful because he loves. He loves the fulfilment of stern duty, he loves poverty solaced, and suffering alleviated.

Here are the two kinds of love. The disciple of Plato rises, far from the vulgarities of life, into the lofty regions of the ideal, and feeds on beauty. Vincent de Paul takes the place of a convict at the galleys that he may restore a father to his children. These two kinds of love seem to us to be contrary one to the other: the one seeks itself, and the other gives itself. Still they are both necessary to life, for in order to give we must receive. In the accomplishment of the works of goodness, the soul would be impoverished and would end by drying up in a purely mechanical exercise of beneficence, had it no spring from which to draw forth the living waters. Man must himself find joy in order to diffuse it amongst his fellows. But mark the incomparable marvel of the spiritual order of things! The love which gives itself is able to find its worthiest object and its purest satisfaction in the very act of kindness. There is joy in self-devotion; there is happiness in self-sacrifice: the fountain furnishes its own supplies. Thus are harmonized the two contrary tendencies of the heart of man. "It is more blessed to give than to receive;" words these, of Jesus Christ, which, forgotten by the Evangelists, have been recorded by the Apostle St. Paul. And since the thought is a beautiful one, it has adorned the strains of the poets: says Lamartine—

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